Thursday, April 27, 2023

Sisu - Review


World War II is a well traversed setting for many a story of triumph and tragedy, but it’s the rare entry choosing its genre trappings on a far more specific level that surfaces from time to time just to mix it up. Sisu promises very little, a fair bit of killing and violence directed towards one of history’s worst groups in the Nazis and a main character who simply refuses to die, and it more than delivers on both. 

During the last days of World War II, a solitary prospector, Aatami (Jorma Tommila), crosses paths with Nazis on a scorched-Earth retreat in northern Finland. When the soldiers decide to steal his gold, they quickly discover they just tangled with no ordinary miner.

Director and writer Jalmari Helander breaks Aatami’s gnarly journey into chapters, each seeking to top the violence and tension of the last. Sisu never actually feels like much of a war film, but borrows the steady and well-paced escalation of westerns to get to the finish line. The carefully orchestrated action set pieces and grisly kills line up one after the other to make this satisfying display of madness and explosions.

The narrative itself is not super complicated, simply an avenue to display the action prowess of the individuals behind and in front of the camera. There’s not much in the way of character development, though one could argue its goals of portraying a legend make that a deliberate choice. Hell, the main character doesn’t speak a line of dialogue until nearly the end of the film, making Tommila’s performance entirely physical, nailing the intense glares and imposing presence that would make a man like him so worthy of the stories told of him.

Sisu captures an odd balance for action filmmaking. It’s simple premise feels very old-fashioned, while its set pieces feature a modern sense of style akin to the studio’s other action star by the name of John Wick. It’s that same sense of style and visual flare that make Sisu special. Sure, watching a seemingly un-killable man dispatch truly vile human beings in fitting and gory ways seems like enough on the surface, but Helander’s insistence on making it all look amazing as well is just icing on the cake. Even if the very clear divide between hero and enemies is so vast that it’s easy to predict where it’s all headed, the journey to get there is an absolutely wild ride.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Air - Review


Professional sports and its superhuman athletes have long been the focus of Hollywood’s eye. From the underdog stories, to the feats of legends, the movie machine has done it all to varying degrees of success. However, Air represents a different angle to the view of sports: the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of endorsements. And, despite what it sounds like, it’s a pretty solid and fascinating watch.

Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) and Nike pursue basketball rookie Michael Jordan, creating a partnership that revolutionizes the world of sports and contemporary culture.

See? Even the synopsis sounds like an attempt to capitalize on the fascination around the basketball legend, but the result is anything but that. While the aura of MJ permeates throughout, the actual absence of him as a character ensures that this doesn’t become a worship of how great he is just for being him. Instead, the story focuses on less fungible human values like grit, love and competitiveness. 

Writer Alex Convery and director Ben Affleck find a nice spot on the line between drama and comedy. There’s a balance that relies heavily on the delivery of said comedy rather than depending on the writing itself. And when you get people like Matt Damon playing the dejected but quick-witted Sonny Vaccaro, it’s going to come pretty naturally as well. 

Damon isn’t alone, though his character often feels that way, and is surrounded by other pretty memorable performances. Affleck himself plays founder Phil Knight, whose deadpan interactions with Damon’s Vaccaro are a highlight to say the least. You also get Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman to fill in some other Nike suits, adding their distinct timing and brilliance to the film. But other M.V.P, perhaps sharing the crown with Damon, is Viola Davis. In a modulated, minimalist performance as Jordan’s mother Deloris, Davis helps to deepen the story beyond the business side of things and show just how in control she is of her son’s ascendence to stardom. 

It is sometimes easy to forget how good a director can be if they miss or take a break for a while. It’s been seven years since Affleck’s last directorial outing, and eleven since his last good one, but Air is a pretty good reminder of his talents. Affleck handles the stories many parts gracefully, keeping everything rolling at a pace that isn’t too fast but doesn’t dawdle either. The final film thus becomes a perhaps overly simplified version of events, but an enjoyable and sometimes touching one.