Movie Review ~ Sicario: Day of the Soldado


The Facts
:

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?

31 Days to Scare ~ 47 Meters Down

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two sisters vacationing in Mexico are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. With less than an hour of oxygen left and great white sharks circling nearby, they must fight to survive.

Stars: Claire Holt, Mandy Moore

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  If there’s one thing this critic knows and loves, it’s shark movies.  Never one to shy away from a made-for-TV yarn about sand/snow/air sharks and forever true to  big screen fare like Jaws or The Shallows, I was looking forward to 47 Meters Down no matter how bad I thought it was going to be.  You couldn’t blame me for having some low expectations, though.

Originally set for release in spring of 2016 and titled In the Deep, a few copies of the DVD were sold before the film was bought by another studio and given a late summer 2017 release.  I don’t remember the last time a movie was all set for home consumption only to be pulled off the shelves to be released in theaters.  That just doesn’t happen…it’s usually the other way around. Clearly, someone at the new studio saw some potential to make more money and made the right call because while 47 Meters Down doesn’t reinvent the shark flick in any shape or form, it provides some solid entertainment and a decent amount of thrills.

Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on holiday in Mexico trying to cheer Lisa up after a bad break-up.  Lisa is the more reserved one while Kate is the risk-taker of the two (it also should be mentioned you won’t believe these two actresses are related in the slightest) so when Kate makes nice with some local boys and they float the idea of the ladies tagging along for cage diving with sharks, it takes some convincing for Lisa to get on board (literally).  At 89 minutes, the movie has to pack a lot of information into the first 20 minutes to set-up some later conflict so you’re going to have to grit your teeth until the film moves to the high seas.

When the ladies do make it onto the rusty boat with its crusty captain (Matthew Modine, doing his best to fly under the radar) it doesn’t take long for both to have second thoughts on getting into the water in a case that doesn’t look like it would survive a strong wind, much less a two ton eating machine.  The boys go first and have a jolly time, which encourages the ladies that it isn’t all that bad and safer than they imagined.  Not long into their dive the winch breaks, which sends them, yep, you guessed it, 47 meters down.  It’s a survival tale from that point on as Lisa and Kate deal with a quickly dissipating air supply and a handful of hungry great whites that begin to stalk them.

Director Johannes Roberts manages to keep this one or two levels above your standard direct to video effort.  Most of the shark effects are executed well and the underwater cinematography in general is clear and focused.  Yeah, there are some iffy moments that suggest quick reshoots on a lower budget but for the most part the movie is an impressive little nugget of fun. Performances are about average and Roberts slips in a few white-knuckle sequences and clever gotcha surprises.

Underwater horror films are a rare breed so when you find one that does its job and does it more than halfway decently it’s perfectly ok to celebrate it.  It’s success has actually sparked talk of a sequel…48 Meters Down and no, that’s not a joke. Now available (again) for home viewing, this is one you can dive into with ease.

Movie Review ~ jOBS

jobs

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Steve Jobs’ ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 122 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  If this biopic of the late founder of Apple had been produced as a television movie for HBO I have a feeling that it would have fared a little better.  As it is, this big-screen examination of the life and career of Steve Jobs feels strangely small as it struggles against bigger ideas…in Apple speak, it’s a iPod Shuffle that wants to be an iPad.

Last week I reviewed Lovelace, another slight biopic that seemed more interested in dramatizing situations that were public knowledge rather than getting under the skin of its central character.   So instead of presenting a story that’s equal parts character study and history lesson, jOBS seems content to portray the head honcho of Apple as a prick (which is totally fine because most everyone agrees it was more or less true) but never gives us a glimpse into how his life brought him to that place.  In 2010’s similarly-themed The Social Network, we learned just as much about the life of founder Mark Zuckerberg as we did about his path to leading Facebook into history.   There’s precious little of that insight here…the movie simply tells us Jobs knew the right people, created something innovative, and continued to refashion himself and his company as the years went on.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

Though jOBS works well enough to hold the viewers interest most of the time, there’s a trivial blandness to the proceedings that the movie and performances never can seem to shake.  Lacking a true oneness between the source subject and the events of his life, the performances are middle of the road with no one really standing out.  That turns out to be a problem for its star who can’t complete the climb in transitioning Jobs from a hippie college student to a steely mogul that succumbed to cancer in 2011.  Ashton Kutcher’s boyishness gets in the way of truly succeeding in the role and instead of having the reserved character lash out from fear of failure; it only comes off as unfounded petulance.  Though Kutcher nails the shuffling gait and hushed line delivery (I swear,78% of the entire dialogue in jOBS is spoken in a near-whisper), he just isn’t able to tie the two ends of this famed life together and the result is only half convincing.

Surrounding Kutcher is a fraternity of dependable actors like Lukas Haas as a college friend of Jobs and Dermot Mulroney (Stoker, Copycat), J.K. Simmons, and Matthew Modine as Apple execs that wind up getting in the way of the plans Jobs has for the future of the company he founded.  I normally don’t care for Josh Gad (The Internship, Thanks for Sharing) but his performance as Steve Wozniak is one of his better big screen turns though it’s frustrating that the script by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely gives Gad not one but two closely timed big monologues that essentially say the exact same thing.

Director Joshua Michael Stern’s last film was 2008’s Swing Vote and he’s a surprisingly little known choice for a project with a topic as well-known as jOBS.  The film isn’t a mega-budget spectacle but it looks fine for its humble origins and the money was carefully spent on making the last three decades look especially believable without making a left turn into parody.

Perhaps reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs would be a better primer for those interested in learning more about what made this notoriously private man the way he was.  If you’re heading into jOBS thinking you’ll learn more the man who helped create the iPhone, you’ll be disappointed.  Those who prefer their late-summer films non-challenging and moderately entertaining might get a bit more out of this.

The Silver Bullet ~ Family Weekend

family_weekend

Synopsis: A 16-year-old girl takes her parents hostage after they miss her big jump-roping competition.

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Yeow!  I’m all for family togetherness but this one looks absolutely dreadful.  While I’m not the biggest fan of Kristen Chenoweth, I do think she possesses a certain charm that Hollywood hasn’t quite found a way to work with yet.  She’s struggled in both television and film, stuck in stereotypical roles that don’t suit her very well.  Being teamed with Matthew Modine makes for a strange combo – but the strangest thing of all is why anyone would want to see such a lame looking film.  Destined for the $5 bin at WalMart, Family Weekend will probably last that long in its theatrical release.