Sicario – Prisoners Part Deux

I spent a wonderful day at the movies last week. Sicario is currently playing in theaters.

Sicario

Sicario (2015) – Rated R

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.”

I had heard a lot about director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners before seeing it. I had heard that it was complex, nuanced, and uncompromising among other good things. It was a pretty decent film and he did get several very good performances from his cast but I didn’t really find it hype-worthy. Basically, Villeneuve stepped a little outside of the Hollywood mold but definitely not far enough.

Later, I saw the Israeli film, Big Bad Wolves. It was everything that Prisoners should have been – uncompromising, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It is currently available on instant Netflix so go watch it now, but for goodness sakes turn off your devices and pay attention.

Emily Blunt plays FBI Agent Kate Macer. I loved her as the subversive lead in the generically titled Edge of Tomorrow (a full year before Charlize Theron pulled the same trick in Mad Max Fury Road). To digress for a moment, Edge of Tomorrow is such a generic title that not only did it do poorly at the box office but when it received a home release, they rebranded it as “Live. Die. Repeat.”. To this day, many people think that is the name of the film. After all, it is actually in larger print than the title.

Emily Blunt is just as good here. She has a wonderful ability to project toughness without having it hinder her acting. Josh Brolin plays, well, a Josh Brolin-esque government agent named Matt Graver. He is a good solid actor but lately his parts can pretty much be defined as “Texan…”. He is a Texan mountain climber in Everest. Here he is a mysterious Texan agent. Unfortunately, there is no stretching of his acting abilities.

Benicio del Toro is suitably enigmatic, charming, and menacing as Alejandro. He is another actor who can act quite well but is often cast in roles he can walk through. In Sicario, his character is given a complex backstory BUT since the story isn’t really about him, it is glossed over and mostly delivered, disappointingly, as exposition.

Herein lies the crux of Denis Villeneuve’s issues. He is a director with a lot of good ideas and able to get good performances out of actors BUT he lacks subtlety and nuance. He wants to make sure audiences get it so many things are delivered by expository dump. That said the opening sequence is a stunner. The rest of the film is quite good but definitely by-the-numbers as Agent Macer gradually realizes how in-over-her-head she is and what lengths both sides are willing to take.

 

Edge of a Million Maleficent Ways to Die Tomorrow in the West

I’ve had quite a banner summer at the theater. Here are just a few quick tidbits.

Maleficent

Maleficent (2014) – Rated PG

A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.”

I both look forward to and cringe with every non-animated re-imagining from Disney. Alice in Wonderland (2010) was a gorgeous confection.but ultimately shallow. Ditto for Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Maleficent is much the same with CGI replacing plotting and character development. The story neuters the character of Maleficent, one of the great Disney villains.

Having said that, this is an enjoyable ride for the kids and Angelina Jolie IS Maleficent. Her performance at least partially redeems the movie.

A Million Ways to Die

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) – Rated R

As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival.”

The Good: It is way funnier than Neighbors and Neil Patrick Harris is always delightful.

The Bad: It is just okay. Ted was much funnier. Joke delivery could use some work – it is pretty laconic, much like the Old West.

The Ugly: While trying to be edgy, it tells endless penis and fart jokes. The western setting may be offputting for some, tired for others.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Rated PG-13

An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy.”

Groundhog Day is a fantastic movie, heartwarming and funny. The concept is so beloved that many television series have produced their own version. The X-Files and Star Trek: TNG had time loop episodes, albeit played seriously. Xena had perhaps the funniest Groundhog Day episode. In spite of it being a tired concept, it has worked time and time again (forgive me).

My dear wife and I went to Edge of Tomorrow with little in the way of expectations. Tom Cruise’s science fiction thriller last year, Oblivion, was decent but a missed opportunity. Edge of Tomorrow is fantastic. Jenny and I couldn’t stop laughing through the first half of the movie as Cruise’s soldier character dies repeatedly.