Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sicario - Review

Sicario – Review

Around the late 1970s or early 1980's I believe I was either in my late teens or maybe early twenties when I first heard the expression by some politician who coined the phrase “the war on drugs”. Seemed like at the time a forceful enough expression that the U.S. federal government would both spend money and increase manpower as a commitment to itself for an all-out effort of defeating the ever increasing flow of illegal drugs into the country, as well as arrest and prosecute individual consumption. In essence it was a catchy enough expression to rally the nation, families and concerned citizens by connoting there was a new enhanced federal effort to stopping any and all illegal narcotics from coming across our borders dead cold in its tracks.

News flash “war on drugs” update, the drugs have won the war – it’s over. Fact is Americans have made numerous 5th grade dropouts into billionaires from the illicit drug trade mostly in the southern region of our hemisphere. And so now the federal commitment seems less a war on the flow and usage and more of a war on drug management”. Essentially speaking, to manage it in a way so as a nation we are not hit with a tsunami of uncheck drugs, violence and carnage, as well as not having users and addicts blatantly and common place getting high on their way to work or to their kids day care. And it’s this “management” theme that the movie “Sicario” picks up on starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as three law enforcement agents.

Plot wise I dare not say too much, but the film does pick up with a bang (literally) on the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, as an idealistic FBI agent named Katy (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official named Matt (Josh Brolin) to aid in the escalating flow of drugs. Coming along to round out the team is a mysterious, laconic talking and season drug consultant named Alejandro with a questionable past (Benicio Del Toro). The team sets out on a clandestine effort, not so much for making arrest, nor to confiscate drugs and or money, but rather for people who “manage” the money and drugs.

PROS: Bottom line, “Sicario” is one of the best movies for 2015. With Director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, who previous works include one of my all-time favorites films in “Incendies” and more recently the solid film “Prisoners”, he has manage to do what I dare say many directors have tried to do, but failed many times – make a Michael Mann movie about crime.

Perfectly crafted with slick camera angles, foreboding attitudes, ominous moods and almost flawless cinematography and lighting, Director Villeneuve wraps a rather tight script with these esthetic qualities around his three principle lead actors to bring to life a rare tingling sensation of a plot with real authenticity and threatening situations, all the while operating in the bleakest terrain in every frame for its two hours running time. Trust me folks, with this level of dark sinister menace all around them, neither you nor I would ever want their jobs no matter what the amount of money.

But for me the best part of “Sicario” is twofold. One it literally eviscerates any and all sanitized preconceived notions or pedestrian ideas you may have from watching a story on the nightly news of what it is really like – what is really going on at the southern border when it comes to the issue of drug trafficking - law enforcement.  With scenes of people walking to work and doing their food shopping while just above them are four bodies riddled with bullets and decapitated heads hanging from a bridge over pass, you understand early on this film is not going to be holding your hand to tell you a bed time story about some “baa baa black sheep”.

The second best part of “Sicario” is simply you never know what will happen next or what are the characters real motives are or how the movie will end or who will even survive. Combine that with some of the best shot scenes I have seen in a long, long time, including one of agents in massive force rolling on back of trucks and SUVs through Juarez Mexico armed to the teeth. Another scene involving agents approaching suspects in the desert at night with infrared and heat detecting goggles. A third scene involving a tightly confined shoot-out. And finally Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro in a night time ride along with someone (so to speak).

CONS: Can’t you tell already – zero cons.

CONLUSION:  “Sicario” is a taut extremely dark movie where constitutional or mirandized read rights don’t apply at all. Death, drugs, money and guns are the only reason to exist here with a sleek attitude and non-stop intensity. It’s a world where double digit body counts, fire arm tracers bullets light up the night sky, severed heads lay on the day time streets, eyes in the sky drones and AR-15s in your face are just common place. And with this background the viewing audience is left simply mesmerized in this thriller of very few spoken words where someone simply staring at you can be so cold blooded unnerving it can give you the viewing chills.

All of the actors were especially well cast in this effort, with a special note to Benicio Del Toro. In case you were wondering, his name means in Spanish the “benevolent bull”. In “Sicario” he is far from “kindly or caring” as Benicio would mean. Fact is Benicio the actor gives a stellar performance as both a man of mystery as well as having the feeling of a lurking ghost like figure whose presence was as creepy as one could imagine a character could ever be while holding a gun. The fact is he is so freaking good here at being both being “darkly” cool and someone not to be confronted, I would hope the Oscar Nominating Academy remembers his performance for a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In the beginning of the film, a description roles across the screen about the history of the word “Sicario”. It said it was a word that use to refer to Hebrew Zealots with the name meaning then of “dagger men" who fought to expel the Romans in Judea. Now the name is used in Mexico to refer to a hitman.

This is a must see movie and as far as the meaning of “Sicario” for me, well it translates into “a movie that was chillingly and thrillingly very good”.


4 Stars

Saturday, September 19, 2015

“Everest”, “Grandma”, & “Z for Zachariah” – My Ratings

“Everest”

Plot Summary: Inspired by the incredible events surrounding a treacherous attempt to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain, "Everest" documents the awe-inspiring journey of two different expeditions challenged beyond their limits by one of the fiercest snowstorms ever encountered by mankind. Their mettle tested by the harshest of elements found on the planet, the climbers will face nearly impossible obstacles as a lifelong obsession becomes a breathtaking struggle for survival.

Comment: Great special effects and overall entertaining with a good first half providing smart details about the preparation and dangers of climbing the world’s tallest summit. Second half levels off to mostly a procedural film by watching systemically the climbers become exhausted, disoriented, struggling for breath, snow blindness, frostbite, swelling of the brain and death. Drama: STARRING: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson & Jake Gyllenhaal.

3 -1/4 Stars

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“Grandma”

Plot Summary: In "Grandma," Lily Tomlin is Elle Reid. Elle has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when Elle’s granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing $600 bucks before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets. Drama / Comedy: STARRING: Lily Tomlin, Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Elliott.

Comment: Lily Tomlin deserves a Best Actress Nomination for her fine work here.

3 -1/2 Stars

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“Z for Zachariah”

Plot Summary: In the wake of a nuclear war, a young woman survives on her own, fearing she may actually be the proverbial last woman on earth, until she discovers the most astonishing sight of her life: another human being. A distraught scientist, he’s nearly been driven mad by radiation exposure and his desperate search for others. A fragile, imperative strand of trust connects them. But when a stranger enters the valley, their precarious bond begins to unravel. Drama: STARRING: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine and Margot Robbie.

Comment: A decent story the first half that had a quick conclusion ending which I did not see coming and left me scratching my head.

3 Stars


Friday, September 18, 2015

Black Mass - Review


Black Mass - Review
The last time I recall seeing Johnny Depp portray a meaningful real life human being it was the story brought to the big screen by Director Michael Mann’s portrayal of the 1930’s notorious bank robbing criminal John Dillinger in the film “Public Enemy”. Now leap forward almost half a century and we find Depp taking on another real life gangster in Director’s Scott Cooper film about James Whitey Bulger; essentially a cold blooded criminal and also like Dillinger became equally famous enough to make it on to the FBI’s notorious “America’s Most Wanted” list.
 
The film starts out around 1975 in South Boston, Massachusetts where we find an ambitious FBI Agent named John Connolly (Joel Edgerton seen recently in “The Gift” and previously in “Zero Dark Thirty”). A local “Southey” kid who manages to escape the easy life of local crime in his neighborhood by working his way up to being a Special Agent with the Bureau. And because he has knowledge of that area of Boston he is transferred back to his home town to deal with the wanton murderous activities of the Italian Mob who is completely out of control with crime in the area.
 
Being so ambitious to succeed, one day Agent Connolly comes up with what sounds like on the surface an absolutely ludicrous idea of the FBI working with a former childhood acquaintance and Irish mobster named James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp). His idea? To have a working collaborative relationship with the FBI by having Bulger inform on his Italian mobster contacts and activities and therefore eliminating both a common enemy for the FBI and Bulger. The catch? Bulger has to stick to petty crimes and no killing anyone. Sounds reasonable enough. What can go wrong?
Of course as you can imagine nothing can come good of any alliance when the criminal enemy of my enemy is my friend. Still the Bureau higher ups give the OK to this unholy alliance, that not only is doomed to fail, it will definitely spiral out of control due to Connolly ever deepening involvement in covering up for Bulger’s sociopath violent pension to solve all of his problems impulsively with two in the back of the head of anyone who crosses him in the slightest.
 
PROS: Depp’s powerful performance is not only riveting, captivating and mesmerizing, he is charismatic and creepy as Bulger. He reminded me without fail that he is a “Marlon Brando-esque” superb actor of the highest order when he makes up his mind to really occupying the minds of meaningful, complex and thought provoking characters instead of his typical one dimensional efforts, albeit sometime funny, with those totally fictional characters like “Captain Jack Sparrow”. And yet in an odd way, while Depp is playing a real life man of flesh blood here, he in a metaphoric kind of way is telling the story of another fictional character aka Frankenstein, only with a gun. Make no mistake about it, Depp’s Bulger is a very evil man who will kill you and eat lunch seconds later without batting an eye.
Also make no mistake about this; Depp owns the screen; intoxicatingly so every single second and frame he is on. This is brilliant acting here.

CONS: Black Mass while overall is interesting to watch by learning the depths of the murderous activities that occurred from this screwed up alliance between Bulger, his Winter Hill Gang and the FBI, the films basic problem is that is all we learn. Bulger kills and the FBI looks the other way, over and over and over again, so much so to the point of almost making and showcasing this one plot point repeatedly well over half the entire 2 hour running time.
What was missing and I wished they had told some of this story, were all of the legal intricacies involved in this arrangement and also telling more of the story of Bulger’s decade’s long run of hiding in California. There is nothing at all about Bulger’s time hiding in plain sight as a fugitive, which for me would have added several more subplots that this film seem seriously lacking in its overall development.

Finally, I am a stickler for good writing and directing and it was obvious to me Black Mass had a couple seemingly poorly edited - not so thoroughly developed scenes where the principles would almost seem to be speaking in broken English. When you tell a person’s dramatic story sometimes you got to give them just a few more words to say so as to make it sound believable to the ear and not like someone rushing to get to the next scene.
CONCLUSION: In case you were wondering "Black Mass” means in Catholicism to be a travesty of the Roman Catholic Mass by the worshiping of Satan and or witches. Watching the film story of criminal James Bulger, being a devil worshiper would of seem mild compare to the cold bloody carnage he laid waste to his victims.

I enjoyed Black Mass and overall it holds up rather well for the entire film – you should see it. It gives a reasonable sense of just how mean a man Bulger was with good, well-executed and solid story telling. But the most significant thing you will remember is Johnny Depp. When he is on the screen every word, look, gaze, frown, growl, smirk and every brown tooth smile matters and means something; even when he utters not a single word.
Depp’s performance here is masterful and brings to life a man with a dead soul just as was the case with the fictional monster of Frankenstein, only in this case our South Boston monster “Franky” here, well he got a gun.

3 -1/2 Stars

Monday, September 7, 2015

10 Fall Films That Could Be Worth Seeing


10 Fall Films That Could Be Worth Seeing


These 10 films may not be Oscar contenders, but they all could be worth your time and money to see.

“Concussion” – Starring Will Smith tells the true story of Doctor Bennet Omalu who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy CTE, the specific type of brain damage often suffered by football players – December 25th 2015

“Grandma” – With strong early Oscar Buzz for her performance here, Lily Tomlin stars as Elle who has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when Elle's granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing $600 bucks before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets – Limited September 4th 2015.

“Our Brand Is Crisis” -  Sandra Bullock, Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Joaquim de Almeida and Billy Bob Thornton. In 2002, American-educated Bolivian politician Gonzalo S├ínchez de Lozada hires Washington, D.C. based James Carville's political consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to help him win the 2002 Bolivian presidential election – October 30th 2015.

 “Pawn Sacrifice” - Tobey Maguire plays real life chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. Directed Edward Zwick “Glory” - September 18th 2015.

“Rock the Kasbah” – Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel tells the story about a has-been rock manager Richie who takes his last remaining client on a USO tour of Afghanistan. When Richie finds himself in Kabul, abandoned, penniless and without his U.S. passport, he discovers a young Afghan girl with an extraordinary voice and manages her through Afghanistan's version of American Idol – October 23rd 2015.

“Sicario” - Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, and Emily Blunt tells the timely story of the drug war and law enforcement along the Mexico border - September 18th, 2015.

“Sisters” – Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph tell the story of two sisters who throw a last party at their child hood house which their parents are about to sell – December 18, 2015.

“Spectre” - Daniel Craig as 007 James Bond and Christoph Waltz is the villain - Monica Bellucci is the bond girl. – November 6th, 2015

“Spotlight” - Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup with director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win Wintels the true story  of the Boston Globe team that broke the story of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church - November 30th, 2015

“The Intern” Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro where De Niro plays an elderly intern to his much younger corporate boss played by Hathaway – September 25th, 2015.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

30 Anticipated Films For The 2015 - 2016 Oscar Season

30 Anticipated Films For The 2015 - 2016 Oscar Season

It’s Sunday September 6th 2015 Labor Day weekend and in Hollywood it’s about that time of year again when you start to hear the faint rumblings of the names of the highly anticipated films for possible Oscars nominations. Meaning what exactly? 

Well, it means that I have to put on my reliable prognostication Nostradamus thinking cap to gaze perilously into the future to pare down the long list to about 30 films and 3 wild card films that I think will offer something in the way of high quality storytelling, directing and acting, as well as having the potential of receiving most of the coveted Oscar nominations including possibly Best Picture nominations.

Note below:

Bold Black listed films are those I believe could get Best Picture Oscar Nominations.

* The note asterisks means they are true stories or are based on true events.

1.       45 Years -  A woman’s 45th wedding anniversary is disrupted when a letter arrives for her husband about a former lover’s body that is found in the icy glaciers of the Swiss Alps  - Charlotte Rampling

2.       *Black Mass - Gangster Whitey Bulger violent crimes in South Boston – Johnny Depp

3.       *Bridge of Spies – 1960 an American lawyer helps rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union – Tom Hanks - Director Steven Spielberg

4.      Brooklyn - 1950s Ireland & New York, a young woman has two men in two countries.

5.       By the Sea - 1970s France, former dancer and her husband travel the country together trying to salvage their marriage – Brad Pitt  - Angelina Jolie

6.       Carol - 1950s NY, a young female department-store clerk falls for an older married woman -  Cate Blanchett  - Rooney Mara

7.       *Everest - A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm – Jake Gyllenhaal

8.       *Freeheld - NJ police woman & her domestic partner battle to secure benefits when diagnosed with terminal cancer – Julianne Moore – Steve Carrell.

9.       *Genius - Max Perkins's time as book editor at Scribner that oversaw works by Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald – Nicole Kidman – Jude Law - Colin Firth

10.    *I Saw the Light -  The biography of singer Hank Williams -Tom Hiddleston  

11.    In the Heart of the Sea – 1820 a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale stranding its crew at sea for 90 days – Directed by Ron Howard - Chris Hemsworth

12.   Inside Out – (Animation): A story of a young girl who is uprooted from her Midwest life to San Francisco while her inner emotions of "Joy", "Fear", "Anger", "Disgust" and "Sadness" conflict on how best to navigate her new life.

13.   *Joy - A family across four generations and the working woman who becomes founder of a powerful family business dynasty – Jennifer Lawrence - Bradley Cooper – Robert DeNiro - Director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook & American Hustle)

14.    *Legend -The story of twins Reggie and Ronald Kray reign as the most notorious gangsters in British history  - Tom Hardy aka "Mad Max" (Hardy plays both brothers in the film)

15.    *Love and Mercy - Beach Boys Brian Wilson struggles with psychosis and a shady therapist – John Cusack – Elizabeth Banks

16.    Macbeth – Shakespeare’s story of the Duke of Scotland prophecy from witches that one day he will become King of Scotland – Michael Fassbender

17.    Mad Max: Fury Road - A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in post-apocalyptic Australia - Charlize Theron – Tom Hardy

18.    *Miles Ahead – The story of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis - Don Cheadle

19.    *Snowden -  CIA employee Edward Snowden leaks classified documents to the press -  Shailene Woodley – Scott East Wood – Director Oliver Stone (Platoon)

20.    Star Wars: The Force Awakens - You been in  a cave? This film is self-explanatory - Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek films reboot). 

21.    *Steve Jobs - Follows the life and legacy of Apple’s Steve Jobs – Michael Fassbender - Director Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

22.   *Suffragette - The early feminist movement in Britain – Carey Mulligan – Meryl Streep

23.    *The Danish Girl - Artist Einar Wegener undergoes a sex-change operation in the early 1900s -  Eddie Redmayne (Last Years Best Actor Winner in "The Theory of Everything")

24.    The Hateful Eight - Post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters seek shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception – Samuel Jackson – Kurt Russell - Director Quentin Taratino's 8th film 

25.    The Martian – An Astronaut is left on Mars after he is presumed dead – Matt Damon  - Jessica Chastain  Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down & Prometheus) 

26.   *The Revenant - In 1820s a frontiersman seeks vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling – Leonardo DiCaprio – Tom Hardy aka "Mad Max"

27.   *The Walk - Frenchman Philippe Petit's attempts to cross the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 - Joseph Gordon Levitt - Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Castaway & Flight)  

28.    *Trumbo – 1940’s Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo career comes to an end when blacklisted as a Communist -  Bryan Cranston

29.    *Truth – Story of news anchor Dan Rather during his final days at CBS News when he broadcast a false report about President Bush - Cate Blanchett – Robert Redford

30.    Youth - A retired orchestra conductor receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip's birthday – Michael Caine

3 Wild Card Films

                *Straight Outta Compton - Late 1980's - 1990's story of gangster rap group N.W.A.
                 Son of Saul - 1944 Auschwitz prisoner burns corpses while trying to save a boy
                 Anomalisa  - A man crippled emotionally by his mundane life