Tag Archives: josh brolin

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 

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Everest (2015)

24 Sep

“Up here… the mountain is God.”

It’s a very unsettling quote delivered from experienced mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson) about the conditions on Mt. Everest, but also a quote that rings true. In a high-altitude land known by climbers as the “death zone”, oxygen rapidly depletes the body, causing slurred speech, cloudy judgment, and slow reaction times. Even something as simple as a cut or bruise could produce a tremendous strain on the body, bringing one to exhaustion. In this land, the constant freezing temperatures, sudden danger of avalanches, or high-wind blizzards could mark an unexpected tragedy. Within the first moments of watching Everest, one thing becomes immediately clear: all who venture here really are at the mercy of the mountain.

Everest, based on the real-life events of a group of climbers in spring of 1996, starts off with bold, breathtaking mountain imagery of the world’s highest peak. We know right off the bat, this is going to be a spectacle of epic scale, and the visuals projected on an IMAX screen are nothing short of inspiring. Soon, we are introduced to our set of characters who create the backbone of the story. Rob, (Jason Clarke) is a professional climber and commercial guide for an Australian touring company that specializes in Mt. Everest expeditions. Jon, (Michael Kelly), Doug, (John Hawkes), and Beck (Josh Brolin) are the three Americans going along for the ride, while Helen, (Emily Watson), Guy, (Sam Worthington), and Caroline (Elizabeth Debicki) are the company’s support team stationed at Everest Base Camp. Scott, (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is leading another expedition at the same time, decides to join up and share guiding responsibilities. Then there are the numerous supporting characters from an ensemble cast of Thomas M. Wright, Keira Knightley, Mia Goth, and Robin Wright. It’s a lot of characters to get through, but director Baltasar Kornakur does a solid job at giving each character a unique moment to shine within the first act.

After we know who’s who, the story really starts to take off and we are scuttled around from various characters as the events among the mountain unfold. There is a lot going on; some characters get drunk, others go blind or freeze to death. Surprisingly, skipping around from the different vantage points isn’t as disorienting as it seems, and the first half of the film moves along at a tight and exciting pace.

Things get messy in the film’s second half however, after much of the excitement has worn off and the audience is expecting a resolution that ties loose ends and brings all the characters into the same sort of thematic plane. Spoiler alert: It never happens. There is no crescendoing moment of truth here – the film never tries to take any of the building narratives from the first hour and turn it into something substantial. Instead, factual events are simply presented to us in an abrupt, matter-of-fact fashion that feels hallow and distant. Yes, things happen to our characters, but what does it all mean? What message is the story trying to tell us?

Not to say that Everest is void of emotion, (there are a number of tear-jerking scenes that evoke some powerful responses) but it never adds up to anything lasting by the film’s end. A hasty, underwritten third act is the final nail in the coffin that degrades a potentially great story into just a slightly-better-than-average one. Tragically, there are hints of  interesting plot points scattered throughout Everest that never really get developed: a budding rivalry between two climbers fizzles out early on, ideas about the commercialization of danger and thrill seeking never get off the ground, and commentary about journalism’s fascination with death and tragedy are kept in the background. By and large, Everest is still a solid film with some truly thrilling moments, but by the time the credits rolled, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the filmmakers might have only just scratched the surface of something much larger and inspiring.

Bottom Line: Boasting an incredible cast and gorgeous visuals, Everest is a fast-paced epic spectacle that is unfortunately slight on drama or lasting thematic material. 

“I’m king of the world!” – Yeah, we all know how this is going to end now.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipie: The Grey 2.0 + Australian accents 

 

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

 

Top 10 Anticipated films of 2014

5 Jan

Well hats off to a new year. In the midst of all this awards season talk (you can catch my top 15 list of 2013 here) I’d like to present the films I’m most looking forward to seeing this next year. If available, I’ve provided the trailers and release dates. Make sure to let me know what films you are looking forward to seeing and if there are any I missed.

10 – Knight of Cups

This one is still a bit of a mystery as director Terrence Malick hasn’t officially said anything about Knight of Cups (or much else about his other projects). What we do know is that is stars Christian Bale, Imogen Poots, Joel Kinnaman, Cate Blanchet, Natalie Portman, Jason Clarke, Wes Bentley, and Antonio Banderas (wow!!). If the cast isn’t enough to get you excited, rumor is that Malick has a few additional films planned (though these are most likely to be pushed back to 2015 and beyond).  No release date yet.

9 – Foxcatcher

Director Bennett Miller made waves a while back with his Oscar-winning film Capote and 2011’s Moneyball. Next year he returns with a film based on Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz. Originally intended for 2013 (there was even a trailer released last fall), the film was pushed back due to editing issues and concern the awards season would be too crowded. Channing Tatum and Steve Carell (supposedly playing against type) star alongside Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, and Tara Subkoff.  Foxcatcher is rumored to be released in the spring, but could be pushed back to fall.

8 – Boyhood

This mysterious project from Richard Linklater supposedly has been in production for the last 12 years, chronicling the life of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette’s son. As a huge fan of his Before trilogy, I can’t wait to see what frequent collaborators Linklater and Hawke have in store. No release date yet.

7- Transcendence

Wally Pfister, who is mostly known for his cinematography work with Christopher Nolan, makes his directorial debut next year with a mind-bending sci-fi about artificial intelligence. This looks like it has all the right ingredients to be the next Minority Report, and I’m excited to see Johnny Depp actually using his talent. Depp stars alongside Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany and Rebecca Hall. In theaters April 14.

6 – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Boasting an amazing all-star lineup of Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Jude Law, Edwards Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, and Harvey Keitel (!!!), the film from Wes Anderson promises mystery, laughs, drama, superb music and Helvetica font. In theaters March 7.

5 – Enemy

After filming the Oscar-nominated Incendies, and last years incredible Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve is making a name for himself and this year he agian reunited with Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy. The thriller is supposedly about a man who goes after his look-alike after seeing him in a movie. I’m intrigued. In theaters March 14.

4 – Gone Girl

One of my favorite directors, David Fincher, gives us a film about a man whose wife mysteriously disappears while on honeymoon, starring Ben Affleck. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Gone Girl could become this year’s Girl With The Dragon Tatoo. In theaters October 8.

3 – Noah

Yes, you are familiar with the biblical story, but director Darren Aronofsky is sure to put a new spin on the tale. Staring Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Hopkins, and supposedly boasting some of the best digital effects ever to be done by Industrial Light and Magic, Noah arrives March 28.

2 – Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is back in action with a story about wormholes, space travel, and corn shortages. Yup. Staring Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, and Ellen Burstyn, the film is out November 7.

1 – Inherent Vice

My most anticipated film of 2014 brings back Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson into a thriller/comedy/crime story about a detective investigating the disappearance of an ex-lover.  Jena Malone, Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, and Maya Rudolph star. No release date yet.

Gangster Squad (2013)

8 Jan

Gangster Squad is to films noir what The Avegners was to superhero flicks.

It is loud, explosive, fast paced and just good ol’ crime-fighting fun. Sure, it’s not the most intellectual piece of cinema, nor the most dramatic. But Gangster Squad gets it ferocity from it’s fast-paced, episodic action sequences, and a slew of great performances.

The casting here is remarkable and the drama is cleverly paced with welcome bouts of comedic timing. Sean Penn, as the ruthless crime leader Cohen, is at the top of his game. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great together and Josh Brolin makes a whole-hearted likable good-guy (for once).

Added to the film’s style is a pitch-pefect retro look and beautiful Matrix-esc action scenes. The story is catered to meet modern audiences, but is still reminiscent of great films noir and gives heaping doses of thrills and emotion.  This film packs a violent punch and though not genre-defining, Gangster Squad is one of the best crime films I have seen in a long time.

rating 7/10 

gangster-squad-movie-image-sean-penn

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