Tag Archives: Benecio del Toro

The Worst Films of 2018

In previous years I’ve made an active effort to seek out the worst films possible for the primary purpose of having ammunition for an annual worst of list. Not being a paid critic my approach has softened recently, but alas 2018 still managed to inflict a number of releases for which my time could have been better spent.

The criteria for what makes a film worthy of being one of the ‘worst’ is largely contestable, but as with most year-end lists the selections are entirely subjective.


Before getting into the official list, a few Dishonourable Mentions that contained just enough redeeming qualities to avoid complete derision.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Following up 2015’s Sicario, the Stefano Sollima directed sequel features elements worthy of recommendation, particularly the performances from Benecio del Toro and Isabela Moner. However, in such a vicious political climate the opening 20-minutes of the film makes for uncomfortable viewing as people seeking asylum are depicted in a manner that fuels the hateful rhetoric espoused in the MAGA era. Released around the same time vision of children being forcibly separated from their parents and detained in cages demonstrated the lack of humanity shown by the current US administration, the set-up of Sicario: Day of the Soldado is repulsive before settling into an effective action-thriller that goes some way towards cleansing the misguided opening.

Private Life

I recognise that I am not the target audience for the latest film from Tamara Jenkins. As a 23-year-old with no aspirations to start a family in the short-term, I can see how audiences with greater life experience would get a great deal from Private Life. That said – I found the three leading characters to be unbearable in their self-absorption. When people use the term ‘white people problems’ derisively, this is what they are referring to. I’m not so bold as to suggest the personal challenges faced by middle-aged financially independent individuals lack any legitimacy; for a terrific example of how this type of film works incredibly well, I recommend Mike White’s 2017 drama Brad’s Status. I cannot say in good faith this is a bad film, but I did find watching it to be incredibly testing of my patience.

Gotti 

Off the back of terrible reviews and a loathsome marketing campaign designed to malign critics, my curiosity in seeing Gotti ended anticlimactically. Does it warrant a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes? No. Is it any good? Not really. Amid all the animosity generated my response was boredom; in a less toxic media culture this film wouldn’t warrant a mention, such is its blandness.


5. Bohemian Rhapsody

As someone who grew up loving the greatest hits of Queen I wanted Bohemian Rhapsody to be great. Instead the “Brian Singer directed” music-biopic presents the story of a creatively ambitious group in the most generic of ways – imagine Walk Hard without a shred of irony. While the musical performances skilfully convey a sense of excitement, the context in which Queen and Freddie Mercury exists within is so poorly developed that unless you come in already knowing about this period, you get no sense of what Queen’s success meant. What does it mean to grow up of Parsi descent? Why was Live Aid a significant cultural event? What was it like to be diagnosed with AIDS during a time of political and cultural hostility towards queer people? The film is not interested in any of these details. Above all the biggest issue with the film is how boring it is – I struggle to recall such a squandered waste of potential in recent memory.

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4. Unfunny Comedies (Night School / The Spy Who Dumped Me / Pitch Perfect 3)

Technically a cheat by listing multiple films under one slot; a common thread unites the three selections of not being funny despite the descriptor of ‘comedy’. Boasting star-studded casts who have demonstrated genuine laughs in the past, the combination of a lack of structure (Night School), tonal inconsistencies (The Spy Who Dumped Me) and deviating so far from what made the original delightful (Pitch Perfect 3) left me deflated having been promised laughs that never arrived. In a year that saw Game Night, Blockers, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse generate big laughs in inventive, emotional and self-referential ways, there were plenty of accessible studio comedies that warranted greater attention than the trio highlighted.

Unfunny Comedies


3. Life of the Party

What distinguishes the latest Melissa McCarthy star vehicle above the other unfunny comedies mentioned above is the structural incompetence displayed. There is a solid premise in a middle-aged woman going back to college after being left for another woman by her husband, but what follows is a collection of disparate scenes that could be assembled in any order with no impact on the film’s structure. The jokes are rarely sighted with the exception of one hilarious payoff involving the son of the other woman, but it is little consolation for a film in which nothing matters. There are no stakes, the character progression rings false and above all it isn’t consistently funny. In the hands of a better writer and director Life of the Party may not have been a film fondly remembered in years to come, but it wouldn’t be the total waste of time and talent it is.

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2. The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a good performance in one of the worst films I’ve seen for a number of years – these two thoughts can co-exist. Adapted from a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, writer/director Sara Colangelo’s second feature subscribes to a misguided view of creativity that becomes outright offensive through the actions of Gyllenhaal’s character. The Kindergarten Teacher would have viewers believe that abusing a position of authority by kidnapping a child is the tragic road taken by people who have been creatively suffocated by a world that doesn’t value art. On its own the idea of society not appreciating creativity is not without merits, but the manner in which the final shot of the film condones Gyllenhaal’s actions was an affront that I took to be a personal middle finger from the filmmaker. The only reason the philosophy of The Kindergarten Teacher avoided the ignominy of being the ‘worst film of 2018’ was that something even more reprehensible screened in theatres this year.

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1. Death of a Nation / The Trump Prophecy

In selecting a joint worst film in which the multiple-times bankrupt charlatan currently residing in the White House plays a prominent role, my own political leanings factor in less than the dangerous claims made by the respective filmmakers. Having watched several of Dinesh D’Souza’s previous ‘documentaries’ (in the loosest use of the term), the revisionist history espoused exists only to appease individuals wanting to legitimise their own prejudices, while provoking those with enough intelligence to know that the ideas put forth are false into fits of rage. Where Death of a Nation is filled with heinous lies in the name of political point scoring, The Trump Prophecy seeks to bore viewers into submission before presenting *that man* as ‘”the one anointed by god to return America to its greatness” with no case made in favour or against him. The wilful ignorance displayed by director Stephan Schultze is debatably more egregious than D’Souza’s revisionist history in that no justification is needed when “god wills it”, but for as derisible as the film’s politics are the technical qualities displayed are nothing short of inept. In a time of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, the ideas proposed by these two films aren’t just grating, but intellectually offensive in blatantly disregarding evidence that fails to align with a predetermined worldview.

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Check out other instalments in my 2018 YEAR IN REVIEW – 2018 Memorable Moments in Film and The Best Songs of 2018.

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“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” movie review

‘Ambitious sequel aims high but doesn’t nail the hit’

Taylor Sheridan may not hold the reputation of some of the biggest working names in cinema today, but in a relatively short span of time the Texas native has delivered a string of genre works received to great acclaim.

Starting out in front of the camera with recurring roles on Veronica Mars and Sons of Anarchy, his big break came in 2015 with Sicario, followed by Hell of High Water and Wind River in subsequent years. Penning all three screenplays, earning an Academy Award nomination for Hell or High Water and directing Wind River, the recently premiered Paramount series Yellowstone additionally boasts Sheridan’s talents as chief creative force behind the modern-day Western. Garnering a reputation for scripts comprising of morally ambiguous men, expansive natural settings and a depiction of violence devoid of vicarious thrills, his latest big screen outing Sicario: Day of the Soldado is in keeping with the tone of earlier works but to less effect.

Directed by Italian Stefana Sollima (Suburra) in his English-language debut, the film picks up years after the events of the original with CIA specialist Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men) continuing the war against Mexican drug cartels under the watch of US government officials Catherine Keener (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket). Tasked with starting conflict among feuding cartels as a means of destabilisation, the services of Alejandro (Benecio del Toro, The Pledge) are enlisted once again as a means of exacting revenge against those who killed his family.

After successfully kidnapping Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moren, Transformers: The Last Knight), the 16-year-old daughter of a prominent drug lord, the moments of respite are short lived as Alejandro and Matt are separated following an altercation involving the Mexican federal police. With Alejandro opting to smuggle Isabela across the border as part of an illegal ring, a government mandate tasks Matt with cleaning up the mess left in Mexico with no one to be left unaccounted for.

Whereas the Denis Villeneuve original succeeded in conveying an ‘in the dark’ sensation experienced by Emily Blunt’s idealistic FBI agent amid a host of questionable moral and legal choices taken in the war on drugs, Soldado’s lofty ambitions lack awareness of the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric espoused against Mexicans in the years that have past since 2015.

While the film never outright declares an ideological position on either side, the first act makes for uneasy viewing as undocumented immigrants are depicted committing acts of terrorism on US soil. With references to Islam made in passing, the intention of showing genuine fears of terrorism taking place in the ‘land of the free’ comes off as misguided given the conflation of Mexicans to violent criminals made by Donald Trump on a consistent basis.

By depicting people who have been demonised to such an extreme degree that recent policy has seen children held in cages whilst separated from their parents, the world of Soldado is in opposition to reality and as such cannot be divorced from the real world implications of the Trump presidency (immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes, while they overwhelmingly make positive contributions to society).

In moving past the problematic opening, the middle act is by far the film’s best with strong tension built up and moments of earnest connection between Alejandro and Isabela permeating through acts of violent bloodshed. There is a good film within Soldado and for more than half of the 122-minute running time Sheridan’s screenplay produces much of what audiences have resonated with over the years.

While the problems of the first act are rooted in real world context, the ending is similarly flawed but for entirely different reasons. Whether by a failure of nerve or a studio backed desire to produce further sequels, the way in which plot lines are tied up conveniently or unresolved goes against the film’s best interests. Where Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River departed on endings that could be expanded upon naturally, the manner in which Soldado concludes comes across as tacked on unnecessarily, dampening an otherwise effective crime thriller.

Reprising his brilliant performance as the titular assassin, Benecio del Toro’s relationship alongside teenager Isabela Moner in her first serious dramatic role is worth admission alone with the emotional core adding depth to the familiar genre trappings. Having starred in two of 2018’s biggest comic book hits Josh Brolin transitions effectively to the subject material, while supporting turns from Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine and Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) are fine but hardly scene stealing. On a technical level cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and editor Matthew Newman go about their work with skill, while Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir walks a fines line between enhancing the overall atmosphere and overbearing in self-importance towards the end by evoking similarities to recently departed composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s original score,

Sicario: Day of the Soldado may be the least of Taylor Sheridan’s run of hit screenplays, but while some grievances weigh down a sequel that has more ambition than most, there is still enough to admire about the film at its best.