Movie Review: “Sicario”

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber
Denis Villeneuve

One popular web site called “Sicario” an unrelenting horror story disguised as a drug-war action movie. I wish I had seen that movie, because that sounds really interesting. The “Sicario” I saw was a ‘talented but naïve FBI agent falls under tutelage of high-ranking officer of questionable intent’ story that awkwardly morphs into a revenge thriller. It is beautifully directed, it features top-notch work by its three leads, and it is all set to a dazzling, unnerving score (Johan Johannson, who wrote the gorgeous score for 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”), but the film is all undone by a script that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) has impressed many people with her work on an FBI kidnapping task force in Arizona, and is asked if she would be interested in volunteering for a Department of Defense investigation that seeks to track down the Mexican drug kingpin who owns many of the homes in which their raids take place. She accepts, and her new boss Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) tells her nothing about what they’re doing: he simply asks her to watch and learn. Matt’s right hand man is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who is valuable to Matt because of his extensive knowledge of the Mexican crime syndicates. Kate quickly realizes that Matt and Alejandro do not play by the same rule book that she does (read: the legal one), and begins to question why they brought her onto this team in the first place. That is when stuff gets real.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography, as usual, is gorgeous, but director Denis Villeneuve was thick with the symbolism. His overhead shots of the Mexican desert were bleached and reeking of death, while his landscape shots (also bleached and reeking of death) had a storm on the horizon nearly every time. In one scene, we even see lightning, but it never rains in the movie. This is a movie about drugs, and the battle to beat the people bringing them into the United States. We already knew that a storm was coming, and that the border is a hostile place. There was no need to constantly remind us of this.

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Movie Review: “Everest”

Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly
Baltasar Kormákur

It’s really not surprising that “Everest” is from the director of “2 Guns” and “Contraband.” A true-life story about survival may seem outside of Baltasar Kormákur’s wheelhouse, but that’s not the case. “Everest” is just as competently made as the director’s two action thrillers, and yet strangely, it’s also as emotionally distant and perfunctory.

“Everest” should be a harrowing story about survival, ambition and the human spirit, but it’s really none of those things, only ever scratching the surface of the story. The film follows a group of climbers as they set out to reach the top of Mount Everest. The team consists mostly of strangers, including the leaders of the expedition, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), as well as Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hanson (John Hawkes) and more. As Hall points out, humans aren’t built to survive the conditions of Mount Everest, especially once Death Valley is reached, so it’s a dangerous decision in the first place – one made only more dangerous when a brutal and violent storm hits as the team ascends the mountain.

That’s all there is to “Everest”: they go up the mountain, something awful happens, and that’s it. That’s as far as Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson’s script goes. What’s funny is that they’ve both written survivalist stories before: Beaufoy penned “127 Hours,” while Nicholson wrote last year’s “Unbroken.” “Everest,” unfortunately, is more like Angelina Jolie’s film, showing us a series of events without much meaning. There are a handful of emotional moments, but unlike “127 Hours,” there’s very little exploration. In one scene, the members of the group are asked why they’re climbing Mount Everest, and we’re given fairly basic explanations for such a complex and dangerous desire. We rarely see these motivations unfold or depicted on the mountain.

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Movie Review: “Inherent Vice”

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterson, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro
Paul Thomas Anderson

After years of toying with my patience (first with “There Will Be Blood,” and more recently with “The Master,” both of which feature such great acting that it papered over their respective cracks), Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice (or hidden defect) of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the film, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the big joke of “Inherent Vice,” it’s not a very funny one.

Set in the seedy underworld of 1970s Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a pothead private investigator who receives a visit one night from his free-spirited ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson), requesting help with a personal matter. She needs Doc to track down her new boyfriend, hotshot real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), after learning that his duplicitous wife plans to have him committed and steal his fortune, only for Shasta to go missing herself. While investigating the pair’s disappearance, Doc takes on some additional cases – including a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards, and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang – that are curiously all connected in some way. Doc doesn’t exactly know why or how, but one thing seems certain: he’s not going to get any assistance from hippie-hating LAPD detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), with whom he has a strange love-hate relationship.

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Movie Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Jamie King
Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez bring the long-awaited “Sin City” sequel to audiences after nearly a decade’s absence. Unfortunately, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” proves that no matter how many clouds and thunder you put on a screen, it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. The characters are engaging, the over-the-top violence is there in spades, but the magic that made fans scream for a sequel is somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel and the cutting room floor.

Everyone’s favorite jawline with muscles, Marv (Mickey Rourke), is back in full noir fashion. The film opens with him awakening to no memory of the cool trenchcoat he’s wearing and the not-so-cool injuries that came with it. Before he can put things together, he witnesses a guy being set afire by a bunch of frat boys. He teaches them a lesson that they’ll never forget in this world or the next. Just as in 2005’s “Sin City,” Marv is willing to nearly kill himself to bring people to justice. Although seemingly indestructible, he racks up scars by the dozens. Of course, with the six inches of prosthetics Rourke wears on his face, it starts to grow on you.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins the cast as the unstoppable gambler, Johnny. Levitt is continuing to fuel an argument as being one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood. Expect this performance to only add to that. As the slick-talking Johnny, it’s easy to believe that he can do no wrong. He’s a suited force of nature, emptying slot machines almost without pulling the handle. But Johnny boy has his eyes on the sinister Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), and as bad guys go, Roark takes the cake and smashes you in the face with it. He doesn’t suffer fools or losing lightly and quickly shows Johnny why he’s feared by almost everyone with a pulse. Another guy on the wrong end of Roark is Dwight (Josh Brolin), a private investigator who uses his fists to get to the bottom of a case, especially when it’s involving a damsel in distress. And this particular damsel is the titular dame to die for: Ava Ford (Eva Green).

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Adam F. Goldberg (‘The Goldbergs’)

If you grew up the ’80s and haven’t watched ABC’s The Goldbergs, then you’re missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season…and if you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you’re still missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season, because most of the stories are about growing up and dealing with your family, two things which are absolutely not decade-specific. Tonight’s episode is definitely going to be a treat for those folks in the former category, though, because it’s basically one big homage to The Goonies. I had a chance to chat with the show’s creator, Adam J. Goldberg, who’s basically taken his own life and turned it into a sitcom, and there’s little question that this episode is a career milestone for him. Having now seen it, I’d agree…although I hadn’t seen it when I originally hopped on the phone to talk to him.


Bullz-Eye: While I got a link to watch the Goonies episode of The Goldbergs, I didn’t get it in time to watch it, due to another deadline I was rushing to meet. But I’m rationalizing that, since the piece is going to be written for people who won’t have seen it either, I’m still on solid ground.

Adam F. Goldberg: [Laughs.] Right, exactly! And it’s technically not even finished, anyway, because I’m still editing it! I’m just so nervous about this one. ABC loved it and wanted to send it out, but I was, like, “I don’t know…” It’s the one that… There’s just a lot of writers on my staff who, like, don’t know the movie. I showed it to them as an adult, and they were just, like, “What is this?” So when they watched it, they were just baffled. So I’m hoping that people who’ve seen the movie will be reviewing it, at least…

BE: When you’re doing a show about the ‘80s, you’ve got the opportunity to pay tribute to basically anything you experienced when you were growing up. Was The Goonies always in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?

AG: Yes. From the minute I sold the show, and I think even… [Hesitates.] I don’t remember if it was in my original pitch document, because I didn’t want to alienate anybody with something that could potentially be so insane to do. But I’m a collector of the props. You know, I have an original doubloon, and fans have made replicas that I have of the various copper bones and all this stuff. I’ve seen the movie a billion times. I mean, honestly, it’s the movie that… It’s the reason I’m a writer. I know that when Peter Jackson made King Kong, that was his movie as a kid, and this is mine. So if I’m doing a show about the ‘80s, of course I’m going to pay tribute to it. And there’s a character that’s me, and since it was such a big part of my life growing up…

My siblings just tortured me about it being the dumbest movie ever, ‘cause they were teenagers. They didn’t get it, so they always made fun of me for watching it and called the movie stupid to torture me. So that’s how the episode began. And, you know, I even did something on my last show, Breaking In, which was that Goonies 2 was coming out, and they had a mission to protect the movie. So it’s always something. I pitched the musical to Richard Donner. I went in initially to pitch him Goonies 2, which he quickly said he wasn’t that into. [Laughs.] So I flipped over to the musical. So it’s, like, my dream job. I keep revisiting it in different ways. It’s my thing. My jam.

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