Posts Tagged ‘Emily Blunt’

The end is near!

I’m fairly confident I have my list of top movies narrowed down. The problem now is getting them into the right order. A couple late-opening films forced some reorganizing, and the agonizing removal of a few titles.

But there was one movie that kept sticking with me. I couldn’t justify putting it in the Top 10 over other films, but it killed me to let it go. And so, this year’s Number 11 film is:

A Quiet Place

Within minutes of the opening credits, writer-director John Krasinski’s science-fiction/horror film lets you know that it’s playing with a different rule book. An otherwise prototypical post-apocalyptic cold open — with a family scavenging a deserted store for food and other supplies — gives way to a frightening change of stakes as the family tip-toes their way home, cautious that any sound of meaningful volume will attract nightmarish creatures lurking just out of sight.

That harsh start kicks off a tight 90-minute survival tale that inventively uses misdirection and near-silence to toy with the senses and ramp up the tension to visceral levels. And the film’s centerpiece sequence, with the main characters separated and facing a cascade of challenges — including labor — is impressively plotted out and shot for a first-time director who shows an aptitude for scene geography and set piece design.

Most impressive is how the film is built around what would otherwise be a gimmick — don’t make noise or aliens (?) will eat you — but manages to do its premise justice, taking the time to build as convincing a world as possible around that particular, and grotesque, set of circumstances.

The conclusion is perhaps a little too tidy, erring on the side of relief at the end of a dark story. But those narrative decisions also feel intentional and earned, with “A Dark Place” taking pains to show how some people could survive in such a dark reality, and centering its story on a particularly well-suited, and hopeful, group of survivors.

There is some early talk of a potential “Quiet-ER Place” sequel (my name, not theirs) and if that happens, I’ll be at the theater on opening night.

And a few more:

Last year, I included a few quick shout-outs to additional movies on my Top 10 post. It was a nice addition, IMHO, and one that maybe works best added on to the Number 11. (We’ll see, I might have more shout-outs to make next week too).

I nearly gave the 11th spot to Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse,
which I saw with step-son and like as much, if not more, than he did. It combines the retro superheroes-are-so-coooool feel of the old Saturday morning cartoons that I grew up on with a top notch animation style and *just enough* hipster cynicism.

Widdows, was very good, and was on my Top 10 until it got bumped off by the late arrivals. The ensemble work is on point, and it seamlessly blends together a good old fashioned heist flick with a moving political and social commentary.

I’m a sucker for a good period piece, and Mary Queen of Scots delivered. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are sublime as the queens of Scotland and England, respectively, who could have built a better world if not for the fickle, contentious and power-hungry men around them who refused to loosen their grasps on the levers of power.

And finally First Reformed (currently free on Amazon Prime) is a thought-provoking story of faith. The overall story was a bit too ambiguous for my taste, but Ethan Hawke, as the film’s protagonist, delivers a fascinating and understated performance.

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sicario-emily-blunt-tunnels-low-quality

Do the ends justify the means? That’s the question that FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is forced to ask herself over and over again as she tumbles down a rabbit hole into the dark world of drug cartels in Sicario, a tense, uncomfortably realistic exploration of America’s ongoing war on drugs.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, already a master of the slow burn with films like 2013’s Prisoners and Enemy, Sicario opens with a violent raid on a cartel outpost in Arizona before whisking our heroine off to join a special task force ostensibly aimed at bringing down the number one drug boss in Juarez.

The first 30 minutes are disorienting, as Macer (and the audience by proxy) are kept in the dark about what’s happening, where she’s going, why she’s going there and who exactly she’s going with. We meet a cocksure DOD “adviser” named Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, who may or may not be a CIA agent acting outside the law, and Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro, who is clearly capable of foul deeds and seems at every moment to be one second away from killing everyone in sight.

In time the picture becomes clearer, but until the final moments it’s apparent that things are not exactly what they seem. Alejandro and Graver are attempting to be a big enough thorn in the cartel’s paw that its leaders expose themselves, and why they need Agent Macer is ambiguous at best.

Villeneuve slowly tightens the screws for two hours, as the team leapfrogs the U.S.-Mexico border in a series of dangerous and violent operations. At every moment the illusion of safety is suspect, with sporadic gunfire serving as white noise for otherwise quiet moments, and every face in the crowd a potential killer.

Del Toro is menacing and Brolin is bombastic, but its Blunt who really stands out, continuing the action star streak she started with last year’s Edge of Tomorrow but dialing up the fear and vulnerability. Unlike EoT, she’s not a super-warrior battling fantastic aliens, instead, she’s a very mortal FBI agent in a very real world where death potentially hides around each corner.

Villeneuve proves once again that masked killers and elaborate effects aren’t necessary to scare an audience. The world we live in, and the monsters there, is terrifying enough.

Grade: B+

*Sicario opens nationwide on Friday, October 2.

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Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise’s last action extravaganza, 2013’s Oblivion, drew a mixed bag of reactions, drawing praise for its mood and visuals while being hit with demerits for the way its plot borrowed gingerly from a host of other, more established, sci-fi franchises.

So when the “Live. Die. Repeat.” marketing machine began revving up for Cruise’s latest, Edge of Tomorrow, you could almost hear the sound of the nation’s critics sharpening their pencils and jotting down every “Groundhog Day” pun they could think of.

Yes, we’ve seen these kind of time-loop shenanigans before and yes, combat exoskeletons are a staple of science fiction (see Aliens, Elysium, The Matrix, Avatar). But Edge of Tomorrow is more than just another cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster.

By pairing the always-game Cruise with the light-handed practical effects mastery of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) EoT succeeds as an eye-popping summer smash that bounces with an unburdened and unimposing sense of fun.

Cruise stars as Private Cage, a demoted military officer who is flung to the front lines of a major military offensive after a display of cowardice. An alien race has crashed on earth, wiping out most of Europe, but the allied human resistance are betting big that a major surge of technology-enhanced soldiers can obliterate their enemy for good.

The attack goes poorly, with the alien “Mimics” apparently aware of the humans’ plans, resulting in a frantic and chaotic scene of death and destruction in which Cage is quickly dispatched by a squirming extra-terrestrial. Only instead of going gently into that good night, Cage awakens back at the military base, in hand-cuffs, seemingly repeating the eve of the invasion.

Cage’s immortality is quickly explained as he finds a partner in the form of Emily Blunt’s Rita, who experienced a similar phenomenon before rising the ranks as the war’s most decorated soldier. Rita helps Cage hone his skills as a warrior-seer while also working with him to identify the enemy’s weakness that will end the war once and for all.

The repetitions are handled deftly, with Liman knowing precisely when and how long to play a repeat for laughs and when to slow things down to allow forward momentum in the plot. The story also cleverly hides the extent of Cage’s experience, leaving the viewer unsure at times whether he is living a moment for the first time or painting by numbers.

Most impressive is Liman’s restraint with computer effects, opting whenever possible to outfit his stars in what must be horrendously bulky contraptions to run around and squabble in the mud. Obviously with a human-alien war there’s only so much the real world allows, but the moments of digital trickery are earned and more often used as a supplement to actual steel, sweat and flesh.

Where EoT fails, unfortunately, is its ending, which trades in on the goodwill built up by 90 minutes of creative storytelling to leave a glaring plot hole in the name of a group hug and a pretty pink bow. It’s not necessarily a bad, or even unexpected, finale, but a more daring choice would have elevated the film even further above the mold.

Grade: B

*Edge of Tomorrow opens nationwide on Friday, June 6

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