Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Sicario (2015)

2 Oct

Mexican cartels are ruthless. Most of the American public seems aware of the horrifying lengths cartel members will go to in order to secure their trade route for shipment of illicit drugs, but what happens when cartel operations start occurring deep within U.S. territory? Sicario opens with this situation, as FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) leads a raid into a suburban Phoenix home.

We learn the house is actually controlled by a notorious cartel leader named Manuel (Bernardo P. Saracino), which prompts Kate to “volunteer” joining a combined special task force led by a mysterious Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) set on taking out Manuel and other cartel leaders. Hired on as a special cartel consultant is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), another mysterious man who Kate grows increasingly skeptical of.

It becomes clear that Kate has gotten in way over her head, as her goodwill nature conflicts strongly with these rugged government types who don’t exactly play things “by the books”. But these things must be pushed aside if Kate wants any chance of survival past the border.

As the only major speaking female in the entire film, Emily Blunt has a demanding presence on screen, and her performance expertly captures a personality desperate for control in a new world fuelled by chaos. Though she has ventured into action fare before (Looper, Edge of Tomorrow) never before have we seen Blunt fierce and powerful –  even in a foreign land she clearly has no inner knowledge of.

The minor setback of Sicario lies at it’s pure narrative level. Written by Taylor Sheridan, the film never fully hashes out what it wants to say about its characters, and the plot is mostly revealed to us scene by scene via expository dialogue (think of the typical military leader standing before a projector saying “Alright guys, listen up: here is your mission….”). Still, it works, thanks to some brilliant directorial execution by Denis Villeneuve.

Like in his previous film Prisoners, the most powerful moments of Sicario hit the audience quietly as we reflect on what’s going on in between the moments of action we see. Through carefully selected collections of seemingly insignificant objects like the Mexican desert, a drainpipe, or a soccer ball, individual shots gain tremendous collective power and Villeneuve uses enough restraint to let his audience read between the lines. Shot by the great veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country For Old MenSicario looks absolutely breathtaking in every shot; dimly lit silhouettes of an American military team look terribly ominous against a softly fading Mexican sunset. The score by Oscar-winning Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson is worth mentioning as it brilliantly adds to the textual anxiety of the film.

Incredibly suspenseful, the nail-biting tension of Sicario goes on overdrive during the film’s last half; I don’t think I have sweated more in a theatre all year. Building on the unpredictability of violence and international conflict, Villeneuve is clearly a master auteur at work, and we can tell he is in complete control of every frame.

Bottom Line: Unbearingly suspenseful, Sicario is a complex and rewarding film, made possible by Villeneuve’s masterful directorial execution and a standout performance by Emily Blunt. 

You never mess with Emily Blunt when she has a gun in her hands.

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: The best episode of Breaking Bad + Zero Dark Thirty + moral ambiguity 

Inherent Vice (2014)

8 Jan

Paul Thomas Anderson, known for his recent exploration of introspective personalities with films like There Will Be Blood or The Master, returns to creating ensemble work with Inherent Vice, the first filmic adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. Pynchon is known for his complex narratives with dizzying amounts of characters and Anderson does a great job letting that complexity come to the surface here. In fact it’s too great.

The convoluted story starts with a private investigator named Doc (played by Joaquin Phoenix) having a conversation with his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson) about a Los Angeles real estate mogul named Wolfman. This evolves into a kidnapping conspiracy where Shasta plots to have Wolfman’s wife’s lover committed to an insane asylum in an attempt to take his money. And that train of thought dissolves into dope-riddled and paranoia fuelled investigation when Doc and his lawyer (Benicio Del Toro) cross paths with a determined cop named Bigfoot (Josh Brolin), an FBI drug junkie/informant (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Jenna Malone) and Doc’s DA girlfriend Penny (Reese Witherspoon) and her involvement in a sketchy dentist operation led by Dr. Blatnoid (Martin Short) and his 18-year old lover Japonica (Shasha Pieterse) and how her dad might have a connection with Bigfoot’s former partner, and something about a ship called the Golden Fang and lots and lots of hallucinogens. All the while, Doc’s experiences are being narrated to us by a character named Sortlilege (Joanna Newsom) who may or may not just be a figment of Doc’s odd imagination. I couldn’t spoil this film if I wanted to because I’m still not sure what happens.

Anderson’s seventh film really gives us a lot to chew on. Right from the offset, Inherent Vice never takes a break from characters spouting out information to each other in classic noir fashion. So and so has gone missing; so and so is protected by the aryan brotherhood; so and so has the cops watching their back. The movie makes a point to tell us we should be caring about what’s going on, but the quick pacing and sprawling stream-of-consciousness the film proudly demonstrates makes it so damn hard to actually pay attention. In his dedication to staying true to Pynchon’s signature narrative style and tone, Anderson has made us lose track of why we should even care. At a massive 148 minutes, the films far too long, even though the audience barely gets time to think about what’s taking place between the scenes of loaded dialogue.  The many bizarre characters give us something to giggle about from time to time, but Inherent Vice is far from a crowd-pleasing comedy and the narrative is composed of little puzzles stacked against each other.

The biggest puzzle of all might be that this is directed by the same man who gave us Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia – two of the best examples of character examinations in modern cinema. Why then does everyone in Inherent Vice seem so distant an unrelatable? Perhaps in his uncompromising attempt to capture the multiple details of Pynchon’s web (that works so well in literally form) Anderson forgot his most important role is to please his audience.

It might be a misfire from the man Ben Affleck praised as “a modern day Orson Welles“, but there is still something entrancing about Anderson’s wacked-out period piece. Maybe it’s the groovy free-flowing style or stellar production design or the many sexy-but-subtle performances that make Inherent Vice worth the watch – just don’t expect to make sense of what you are actually watching.

Rating – 6/10 

Similar to: Boogie Nights, The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski

 

5 Films I’m Looking Forward To In 2013

20 Dec

With a look ahead, 2013 is shaping up to be great. So far, it looks like there are a hearty amount of sci-fi epics planned including Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium,and Pacific Rim. There are also a good amount sequels in the works expanding franchises like Anchorman, 300, The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, Scary Movie, Star Trek, The Hangover, GI JoeDespicable Me and Monsters Inc.  And then of course we have the slew of remakes including The Evil Dead, Carrie, Robocob, and the superhero films The Wolverine, Thor 2, Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 all lined up for a 2013 release.

Below are my picks for the five movies I’m most excited about and why they made the list:

1-   Gangster Squad    Why? Originally planned for this year, WB decided to halt the release until after the new year in order to tone down some of the violent content.  If the all star cast (Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin) isn’t enough to reel you in, think of this as sort of the “L.A. Confidential” of the new Millennium.  The trailer looks stunning and with such great talent under a great director, you can’t go wrong. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about an upcoming neo-noir flick.  Release Date –  Jan 11th

2-  Stoker    Why? Mention psychological thriller and Chan-Wook Park in the same sentence and I’m sold.  Nicole Kidman practically guarantees a knock-out performance, but I’m interested in the supporting work from newcomers Mia Wichowski and Matthew Goode. Release Date – Feb 28th

3-  Untitled Terrence Malick Project    Why?  The mysterious director has kept tight wraps under this project – which apparently doesn’t even have a working title yet – but confirmed actors include Christian Bale, Cate Blanchet, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Benicio Del Toro, Holly Hunter, Rooney Mara and Florence Welch – WOW!!  Though Malick apparently has directed four films to come out next year, this one in particular has me overflowing with curiosity.  What we know is that the story is set around the Austin, TX music scene and involves some romantic drama of sorts. The rest is a mystery.  Release Date – Late Summer or Fall 2013

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2062700/

4-  Nymphomaniac    Why? Shia LaBeouf is leaving his Disney and family-friendly roots aside to work with one of the most well-respected art-house directors of our time: Lars Von Trier.  Expect full male nudity in the first installment of Von Trier’s three-part NC-17 project.   Release Date – Fall 2013

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1937390/

5-  A Good Day To Die Hard    Why?  Cause it’s Die Hard 5! When have we ever needed an excuse to see Bruce Willis kick some ass?  Release Date – Feb 14th