Movie Review ~ Sicario: Day of the Soldado


The Facts
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Synopsis: The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine

Director: Stefano Sollima

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I must say that the thought of a sequel to 2015’s rock solid Sicario turned my stomach a bit. Why sully the original thrill of that film with a follow-up that moved forward without a few key players? Gone are the star (Emily Blunt), the director (Denis Villeneuve), the cinematographer (Roger Deakins) and the composer (the late Jóhann Jóhannsson) which just left the writer (Taylor Sheridan) along with co-stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. Originally announced as Soldado before changing to Sicario 2: Soldado and ultimately landing on Sicario: Day of the Soldado…it was getting increasingly worrisome that my initial fears would be realized.

Turns out Sony Pictures and Sheridan knew what they were doing all along. Not only is Sicario: Day of the Soldado a worthy follow-up to the original, it signals the start of something I never would have expected…a franchise.

sicario m ([s̪iˈkäːr̺io]): hitman (hired killer)

soldado m, f (solˈdado): soldier (member of an army, person who fights for a cause)

Picking up several years after the events of the first film, Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River) wastes no time in jolting audiences with an opening act that rockets all over the country. Those looking to turn their brains off best look elsewhere because Sheridan needs your attention from the word go. No time is wasted in his economical screenplay that shifts the focus from the efforts of operative Matt (Brolin, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2) to combat the trafficking of drugs along the Mexican border to a covert operation authorized by the CIA designed to pit rival Mexican drug carters against eachother.

To start this fire, Matt calls up his old friend Alejandro (Benicio del Toro, Inherent Vice) and the two men work in tandem on a kidnapping plot involving the daughter of a Mexican druglord. The plan goes awry, however, and soon Alejandro is tasked with protecting this valuable asset while keeping one step ahead of corrupt police and a whole host of ruthless killers out to recover the young girl or bury her in the desert.

Incoming director Stefano Sollima picks up the reins from Villeneuve with a little less style but no less intensity. This is a fairly straight-forward film that flexes its considerable muscle when it has to but also takes time for quieter moments, such as Alejandro’s conversation with a deaf farmer that reveals more about the family Alejandro lost and is still seeking some kind of vengeance for.

Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (Prisoners) continues the work of Jóhannsson with his ominous, omnipresent score that grinds at the nerves but doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings. Running just a minute longer than Sicario, the sequel again shows Sheridan’s uncanny knack for producing a script that doesn’t feel like it has an excess material to it. There’s none of the trite padding some lesser action/military films feel the need to employ and while it has a host of characters passing through including the droll Catherine Keener, Incredibles 2, as a gruff CIA leader and Matthew Modine, 47 Meters Down, as a government official, it’s not hard to follow who is being gunned down or who is doing the shooting.

Filled with a few surprising twists and universally strong performances (including Peruvian actress Isabela Moner, impressive as the hostage) Sicario: Day of the Soldado easily justifies it existence and creates interest in seeing these characters go deeper into the dark. Here’s hoping Sheridan has a doozy of a third entry planned…but how about bringing back Blunt? Please?

Movie Review ~ Incredibles 2


The Facts
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Synopsis: Everyone’s favorite family of superheroes is back but this time Helen is in the spotlight, leaving Bob at home with Violet and Dash to navigate the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life.

Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huckleberry “Huck” Milner, Brad Bird, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini

Director: Brad Bird

Rated: PG

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In this age of fast turnaround, never-ending binge options, and instant gratification, audiences don’t usually have to wait very long to get more of what they love. When Pixar’s The Incredibles opened in 2004, it was right in the studio’s heyday where they couldn’t lose and the spy adventure was a bona fide winner. Boasting innovative computer animation and pitched at a breakneck pace, it signaled a shift in tone that felt like a steppingstone to another level of prestige. Though Pixar famously claimed an aversion to sequels in favor of original concepts, after winning the Best Animated Feature film Oscar, it seemed like a sure bet another Incredibles adventure would be in the cards.

Well here we are 14 long years later and the Parr family has finally returned to the big screen in Incredibles 2 and the wait was most definitely worth it. Though computer animation technology has advanced leaps and bounds in the decade since the original was released, Pixar has fashioned a sequel that sits side by side with its predecessor on a high shelf. Re-watching The Incredibles in preparation for the sequel, I was struck by how, uh, quaint the film looks after all these years. It was still an entertaining ride, don’t get me wrong, but what once looked shiny and new then seems positively retro now.

Right from the start, the film hits the ground running by literally picking up where the first movie left off.  It’s a very Back to the Future II way to go by having the two films overlap in this way, effectively joining two separate movies into potentially one uninterrupted spree.  Mom Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, Copycat), Dad Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, Poltergeist), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner) spring into action against the mole-like Underminer, who first appeared at the tail end of the original. Through a city wide chase that racks up some costly amounts of destruction, it isn’t long before the family runs afoul of the government so intent on keeping superheroes illegal. When a brother and sister team intending to champion the legalization of superheroes approaches Helen, Bob, and their friend Lucious/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight), the heroes in hiding see it as an opportunity to show the world there’s still a need for crime fighters and help heroes from around the globe can come out of the shadows. Needing someone to be the face of the campaign, Helen becomes the star of this show, only to be pursued by a mysterious villain known as The Screenslaver who has big plans for a gathering of international heroes at sea.

Meanwhile, back at home, Bob is in charge of the kids. Between helping Dash with his math homework, (he learns the perils of New Math) and giving the lovesick Violet some advice on boys, he fails to notice his younger son Jack-Jack starting to develop a whole host of strange powers of his own. Jack-Jack is unquestionably the main attraction in Incredibles 2 and with good reason, his scenes are silly yet hysterical that result in some astounding physical comedy sequences that are pretty dazzling. Like much of the film, Jack-Jack’s adventures with his super powers blaze across the screen with color and sound so quickly that I’m sure I didn’t catch all of the sight gags created by the Pixar gang.

I’d put this sequel on an equal plane with the first film, maybe slightly higher just due to its clever construct and entertainment factor. The voice work is consistently good and it’s nice to hear interesting casting choices like Bob Odenkirk (Nebraska) and Catherine Keener (Peace, Love & Misunderstanding) as the brother and sister duo, not to mention the grand return of fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced by writer/director Brad Bird, Tomorrowland).  It’s also extremely funny, producing several laugh out loud moments that often caught me off-guard.  It’s sometimes easy to get a kick out animated films but it’s rare for one to elicit a well earned guffaw…and Incredibles 2 has more than a few of these instances.

At 118 minutes, Incredibles 2 is the longest Pixar film to date but it moves so fast and furious that you’re likely to either skip looking at your watch completely or sneak a peek as the film nears its conclusion. Sure, there are some overstuffed bits but if you’re going to the movies and paying through the nose for tickets and concessions for the whole family, don’t you want to get your money’s worth? Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) knows how to give fans what they want, nicely continuing the tone of a kid-friendly Bond film that’s still a bit dark and definitely not for super young tykes. Parents, heed the PG rating because this one gets a bit intense and, coupled with Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s (Star Trek) robust score, can be quite loud.

Special Note: Don’t be late!  The Pixar short shown before the movie, Bao, is another winner!

Movie Review ~ The Croods

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman

Director: Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco

Rated: PG

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I decided against seeing The Croods in the theater because when it was released last March I didn’t feel like I could stomach another frenetic computer animated comedy…much less one that features a character voiced by Nicolas Cage (Valley Girl) at his most manic.  If the film hadn’t been nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, it’s highly likely I never would have seen this prehistoric family comedy…and that would have been my misfortune.

Surprisingly, this was a fast-paced but skillfully well balanced blend of comedy and adventure painted with a palette of bright colors and warm earth tones that ranks as one of the best animated films I’ve seen in recent years.  Though the plot and its developments are fairly familiar, they’re given a nice spit shine from screenwriters Chris Sanders, Kirk De Miccio, and Monty Python’s John Cleese.

Cage is the voice of a caveman daddy that is overprotective of his small clan, never letting his children out of his sight long enough for anything bad to happen to them though he’d just as soon his mother in law played by, who else, Cloris Leachman took a night walk all by herself.  With the ground shaking more often and the arrival of a boy (Ryan Reynolds, Turbo) that catches the eye of his there’s-gotta-be-something-better-than-this-cave daughter (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man) the family dynamic shifts just as the tectonic plates get moving.  Now the family that sticks together needs to dig in to survive and make it to higher ground.

Earning its PG rating for several scary sequences, this probably isn’t one to take very small children to but if your kid can handle it this is one you’ll probably find yourself responding positively to as well.  Even the adult humor doesn’t totally go over the heads of little ones, making it possible for tykes and adults to laugh at the same joke but for different reasons.

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise of a film and one that I’ve added to my collection for repeat viewings.  Now that computer generated films for families are becoming more standard and easy to produce (see the middling The Nut Job as an example) it’s nice to see the rare occurrence of a family friendly film that may not break new ground but manages to build a nice house on top of work that has come before it.

 

Movie Review ~ Captain Phillips

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captain_phillips_ver2
The Facts
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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Max Martini, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Corey Johnson, David Warshofsky, John Magaro, Angus MacInnes

Director: Paul Greengrass

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 134 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  For some reason, I resisted seeing Captain Phillips longer than I should have.  Though I had many chances to attend it during its advance screening phase I either found another screening to attend or came up with a reason why I didn’t want to sit through it.  I got the feeling this was one movie that you had to be in the right frame of mind/mood to see and I didn’t want to see it just because it was next on my list.

Finally, in the last few weeks it was the right time and after seeing it I wished I hadn’t waited so long.  Though I knew the basic plot of the film and how it was all going to turn out, I had deliberately distanced myself from further details so I could let the movie fill in the gaps for me as it developed.  I’m glad I did too because Captain Phillips turned out to be one of the more gripping films I’ve seen all year, housing two unforgettable performances.

The film begins with two men heading to sea.  The first man is Tom Hanks (Joe Versus the Volcano, Cloud Atlas, Splash!) in the titular role, an old school sea captain that finds himself taken hostage by Somali pirates when they make their way onto the cargo ship he’s piloting.  The second man is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirates who makes a bold play for such a large ship and winds up increasingly over his head as his hurried plans go awry.  Though neither men know it at the outset, both are embarking on a trip that will alter their lives (and the lives of the men that serve under them) forever.

Director Paul Greengrass has staged his previous films (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) with a herky jerky handheld camera style that sent more than a few green faced audience members running for the bathroom but thankfully there’s precious little of that here.  The rugged camerawork of Barry Ackroyd perfectly captures the oncoming meeting of the two captains and Greengrass works with editor Christopher Rouse to amp up the tension slowly until the final act of the film turns into a total edge of your seat nailbiter.

Working with a script from Billy Ray (Color of Night, The Hunger Games) adapted from the book by the real Captain Phillips that wisely refuses to make the Somali pirates totally evil, the film gets more interesting as it goes along because we begin to understand why these Somali men have gone after the ship with such vigor.  We know they are in the wrong but without being overly sympathetic to the pirates there is empathy shown that makes the film that much more commanding.

I’ve grown accustomed to Hanks being solid in every movie he’s involved with.  Though I think his genial personality has given him a few more free passes on lousy films than the normal Hollywood star would get, there’s no denying that the man has charisma that only maturity in the business can bring.  I found him to be slightly miscast as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks with too many aw shuck-y moments but as Captain Phillips he reminds us all why he’s won two Oscars and been nominated for three more.  I had been told that Hanks was particularly effective in the final ten minutes of the movie and while that’s definitely true, I found him to be locked and loaded for greatness from the moment he appeared on screen.

If Hanks hits a home run than Abdi knocks it out of the park.  A former cab driver in Minnesota, Abdi was picked along with three other Somali actors for roles in the film and Abdi delivers one of my favorite performances of the year.  In a role that’s equal parts bravura machismo and childish naïveté to the danger he’s making for himself, Abdi dissolves completely into the role at times alternating between fear and desperation in his quest.  Without giving too much away, I think there’s one decision Abdi’s character makes with the full knowledge of what the outcome will be…yet he makes it anyway because it’s the only choice his character can live with at that point in time.  It’s a haunting performance, totally captivating, and honestly unforgettable…writing about it now I still shudder at several passages of the film he has total ownership of.

This is a great film – don’t be a wuss like me and put it off for so long that your attention is clouded with other less worthy films.  Hanks and especially Abdi do incredible work and if I’ve failed to mention anyone else in the film it’s not because they aren’t great as well…it would just be unfair to single out any one of the talented ensemble that supports Hanks/Abdi deliver the performances they have.

Not to be missed.

Movie Review ~ Enough Said

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enough_said

The Facts:

Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Eve Hewson, Tavi Gevinson, Tracey Fairaway

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Are you as weary as I am with the slate of romantic comedies that have been released in the last several years?  If so then Enough Said may be the movie that could cure your blues.  A wise film for mature adults made by mature adults, this is a sweetly winning romantic comedy that goes against some of your typical Hollywood norms.  The leads aren’t your traditional bankable hot/buff stars likely to be featured on the cover of US Weekly the same week their film opens in the #1 spot at the box office, nor are they especially bankable…certain death when it comes to major movie studios.

Director Nicole Holofcener knows her way around awkwardly real situations and displays again here what she does best: showing real life people in real life situations reacting believably.  So the result is a film that feels very naturalistic and true to the predicaments we find ourselves in…especially where romance is involved.

I always find it odd that Julia Louis-Drefyus hasn’t become a bigger movie star…then again perhaps her sly talent for wry comedy is perhaps better suited for the small screen where actors can get away with her brand of sharply observed comedic beats.  Movies don’t often give comedic actresses the chance to display the kind of range that Louis-Dreyfus gets to take on here, especially those that are primarily known for their television work.

Even more of a surprise is the late James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in his first lead in a romantic film.  Showing teddy bear-ish warmth and sensitivity that’s a far cry from the gruff mob men that made him such an in demand character actor, he fits right into the sweatpants of the character Holofcener has written.  It’s a shame that it took so long for Gandolifni to get a role like this because he’s really quite good, effectively navigating some emotions that until now had gone undocumented on the big or small screens.  The chemistry displayed between Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus is strong, and even better its believable unlike so many movies (like the recent Thanks For Sharing) that can’t muster up the same in their interactions between characters.

The supporting cast is also uniformly strong, if a bit tangential to the overall arc of the film.  Catherine Keener (Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding) is her usual acerbic self as a new friend to Louis-Dreyfus and the ex-wife of Gandolfini.  It’s nice to see her playing a woman that comes across as a self-centered bitch but who we gradually come to see is just hopelessly lonely and desperate for attention.  Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Muriel’s Wedding) and Ben Falcone (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) pop up as friends of Louis-Dreyfus with marital issues of their own.

All the characters are really just swimming around in the same universe as Louis-Dreyfus because it’s really her movie.  What I liked so much about the film and what others may find frustrating is that there’s not a lot of follow through or wrap up when it comes to these secondary characters.  Even the central plot involving Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini isn’t fully completed by the final reel…but that’s the beauty of what Holofcener achieves in her films.  She allows us to peek in on the lives of people to see what makes them tick…we don’t’ necessarily need to know where they came from or where they’re going but instead she wants us to focus on the here and now.  As in life, some things come to their own natural conclusions while other events need a little time to sink in before they can find resolution.

With two strong lead performances and a general bucking of the status-quo for these types of films, Enough Said is a nice breath of fresh air…and another winning film from the observant eye/mind of Nicole Holofcener.

The Silver Bullet ~ Enough Said

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Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts:  The sudden death of James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in June is something that many fans can’t quite wrap their heads around quite yet.  Gandolfini’s tough guy persona kept him from getting roles with a softer edge…which is why Enough Said has caught my eye.  It’s not just because it stars the invaluable (and undervalued) Julia Louis-Dreyfus and features Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Way, Way Back) in a supporting role but because it’s Gandolfini’s last film…and it’s a mature romantic comedy. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has been delivering solidly for nearly two decades yet while she’s popular in the indie film niche she’s yet to truly break into mainstream fare.  Enough Said is probably too small of a film to help make that leap but the public’s love for Gandolfini will get more than the usual amount of people to check this one out…myself included.

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain Phillips

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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Release Date:  October 11, 2013

Thoughts: Maybe it’s just me but I think that at nearly three minutes this trailer is way too long and is heavy on giving away some major plot points right off the bat.  True, if you read the description or are familiar with the true life story you know what you’re getting into and what the resolution was but there’s something to be said for keeping your cards close to the chest.  Director Paul Greengrass (United 93) has the proven experience to be the right guy to helm a picture like this but I’m not yet sold on Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Cloud Atlas, Splash) in a role that looks to be chosen mostly for Oscar potential (same goes for his other 2013 film, Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks).  Reservations aside, the final moments of this trailer did make me sit forward in my seat a little bit more…here’s hoping when Captain Phillips is released in October that it’s not waterlogged.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Croods

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Synopsis: The world’s very first prehistoric family goes on a road trip to an uncharted and fantastical world.

Release Date:  March 22, 2013

Thoughts:  I guess I kinda liked it better when it was called The Flintstones.  Well ok, the family of Neanderthals featured in The Croods may be a little pre-Flinstonian time but there’s a strange déjà vu feeling about this that doesn’t hold much appeal.  Even the vocal presence of Cage is annoying, proving that being heard and not seen can’t save his plummeting star status.  The one thing that may tip the scales on this one is a script with contirubtions from John Cleese and (aside from Cage) a nice voice cast with Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, and Cloris Leachman.