Sign in using your account with
Desierto: Timely, Minimalist Thriller Puts Spotlight on Anti-Immigration Attitudes
Jonas Cuaron's latest thriller about a group of illegal Mexican migrants who find themselves a target of a psychotic American sniper is definitely not the most accessible of pictures. However, despite its somewhat minimalistic approach, Desierto is packed with action and palpable tension which doesn't ease up until the film's very end.
As the movie begins, the Mexican migrants in question can be seen seated in the back of an overcrowded pick-up truck on their way to illegally enter the U.S. However, they soon run into some mechanical trouble and are forced to make the rest of the journey on foot.
Battling their way through the punishing terrain, the group's mission is soon thwarted by a gun-toting militant, Sam (Morgan), who has taken it upon himself to patrol the border. What follows is a gruesome and superbly-shot series of events as the survivors try to avoid the same deadly fate.
With the film being a one-setting kind of show, there's very little clutter in the way of its storytelling and so the plot is able to focus on Gael Garcia Bernal's character, Moises; a young a man who, as we learn in the second half of the story, is looking forward to reuniting with his daughter in Oakland after being deported back to Mexico some time ago.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character, meanwhile, is a man of no morals; a drunken loner who takes pleasure in killing off the crossers using his long-range rifle, sometimes even employing his equally ruthless dog to do the deed. The two opposing characters are the heart of the movie and while both actors are finely suited for their roles, a little bit more character building could have helped cement their presence a little better as protagonist and antagonist.
Nevertheless, the violence is depicted superbly and the suspense is strong, with Cuaron making good use of the vast terrain to build fear and dread, alongside some truly captivating cinematography.
Those looking for a bit more dimension and complexity in their action-thrillers might find hard to invest in the film; but if you can stick to it, Desierto is chilling thriller that has a subtle power and a weighty political message hidden underneath.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.