“Sicario”

Sicario
Emily Blunt’s Kate with her gun ready to fire.

“Sicario” states with a nihilistic tone that the war on drugs will never end and that you have to fight evil with evil. It’s also a very convincing look at how crippling cartel activity is in Mexico.

Emily Blunt stars as Kate; she’s the idealistic cop we’ve seen several times before, who grows cynical and horrified over a case she’s been given. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are a pair of mercenaries who act as Kate’s superiors; Brolin’s Matt is a smart ass calculating individual whilst Del Toro’s Alejandro is cold, mysterious, and trigger happy. These men are prepared to use Kate to wipe out all cartel leaders while Kate questions their morals.

“Sicario” is the third film I’ve seen of director Denis Villeneuve’s (“Prisoners” (2013),  “Enemy” (2014)), and after seeing “Sicario”, Villeneuve is here to stay. “Sicario” is a cynical masterpiece filled with endless suspense, masterful directing, and excellent performances.

Blunt is Oscar worthy as Kate, delivering a hardened and vulnerable performance. We know she’s going to become jaded by the end of the movie, but we so desperately hope she sees the light. Del Toro is the scene stealer in this movie. He uses his expressive face to bring the morally ambiguous hitman much more depth. And of course, Josh Brolin is always enjoyable to watch.

The execution of “Sicario” makes it look like a dreadful maze. Between the aerial view shots of suburban Arizona and war-torn Juarez, Mexico, we know we’re following Kate into Hell and back. She thinks she’s going into this war for the right cause, not realizing she’s aiding anarchy.

That’s the most haunting part of “Sicario” – there isn’t hope in the war on drugs and the movie perfectly states it in the final act. In season one of “True Detective,” there’s a great line about time being a flat circle and how we’ll always do the same things. This applies perfectly in the final scene of “Sicario”, demonstrating the war on drugs will never end and will only open more doors for it to continue.

Villeneuve continues to handle moral ambiguity very well and the drug war is a perfect topic to practice this storytelling style with.

Grade: A

“The Green Inferno”

Green Inferno
Star Lorena Izzo next to director Eli Roth.

“The Green Inferno” is “Hostel” (2005) in a jungle. Half way through the movie, I couldn’t tell if director/writer Eli Roth was playing it safe with his formulaic writing, or if he let his ego get the best of him. You know what you’re in for when there’s a character held captive who rubs one out so he can “think straight.”

“The Green Inferno” is Roth’s first film in eight years (last one was “Hotel: Part II” (2007)) and it stars Lorena Izzo (Roth’s off-screen wife) as Justine. Justine’s a horror archetypal innocent college student who joins a horror archetypal douchebag’s activist group to fly to the Amazon and protest against a mining company that’s destroying an ancient tribe’s village. They soon find themselves as the entree for the villagers they’re trying to help after their plane crashes.

Roth said in an interview that he imagined “The Green Inferno” as if “Cannibal Holocaust” (1979) was made by Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line” (1998)) and Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn” (2007)). Difference between Roth and his influences are that his influences have clear vision and taste. I like tasteless movies, but Roth is on par with Michael Bay in terms of  being unbearably tasteless.

SPOILER ALERT FROM HERE ON!!!

Here’s some of the scenarios we’re forced to watch in “The Green Inferno” – the archetyal stoner almost gets his penis bitten by a tarantula whilst peeing in bushes. In a later scene, we watch him get eaten by cannibals who have the munchies while he yells, “They got the munchies!”

I also wonder if Izzo sees anything perverse in her husband’s choice in filming her run in bra and panties covered in tribal makeup, avoiding the danger of genital mutilation. That happens at least twice in this movie!

Oh, and let’s not forget the film’s atrocious final act! Deus ex-machina, an anti-climactic resolution, a false jump scare nightmare sequence, a half-assed mid-credits sequence, and the main character saying the gunman who saved her were the bad guys and the tribe was nice to her? What a mess!

I’ll probably watch “The Green Inferno” again when it comes to Netflix, but that’s only with a group of friends and a case of beer to power through this juvenile disaster.

Grade: D

“Black Mass”

Well, I guess all I can say about “Black Mass” is it’s good to see Johnny Depp actually acting again… Nah, I have more to say than that!

“Black Mass” is director Scott Cooper’s (“Crazy Heart” (2009), “Out of the Furnace” (2013)) third film, and it’s a standard true crime tale of James “Whitey” Bulger. Bulger was the most notorious gangster in South Boston who used his status as an informant to not only take down a rival faction, but to get away with his myriad of crimes.

Depp plays Bulger in his hundredth makeup-fueled role, but unlike the last six movies he’s been in, Depp is acting here! Depp disappears into his role as Bulger and is terrifying, funny, and charismatic. He also leads an all-star supporting cast of solid performances.

Joel Edgerton continues to prove his talent as Bulger’s corrupt FBI agent friend, John Connolly. Connolly is currently serving a 40-year sentence for being Bulger’s accomplice and in this movie, Edgerton portrays Connolly as a man full of regret for his actions. We also get some solid work from Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”), and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) as suspicious Connolly’s FBI colleagues, Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s politician brother, and the underrated Peter Sarsgaard as an unhinged business associate of Bulger’s.

Sadly, a reviving performance from Depp and this cast isn’t enough to make up for a flawed script. The problem with a lot of true crime stories such as “Black Mass” or last year’s “Foxcatcher” (sorry, I found it boring) is that they focus on a fascinating criminal, but show us the least interesting part of the story. I didn’t want to know about Connolly’s struggles covering his own ass; I wanted to know more about Bulger’s struggles covering his!

The first half of the film is strong and we see Bulger as a dangerous and respected criminal who’s levelheaded about his own crimes. By the end of the first hour, we see what drove him overboard. At the second hour, “Black Mass” transitions into a standard police drama. We could have learned more about Bulger’s estranged relationship with his brother, but instead were stuck watching Connolly protect his job and marriage.

We’ll likely see Depp walk into the upcoming award season, but he’s ultimately the most redeemable quality of an otherwise generic and uneven film.

Grade: C+

Top 5 Summer Movies of 2015

I’ll keep this very brief, but here are my picks for the top 5 summer movies of this year.

5) Jurassic World – I know a lot of people disagree with me here, but it’s two hours of nostalgia at its finest. Funny and suspenseful, Jurassic World keeps me invested as a fan of the Jurassic Park franchise.

4) Trainwreck – I’ll ask this – why hadn’t I heard of Amy Schumer before seeing Trainwreck?! She’s fucking brilliant!

3) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise hangs on the side of a plane, nearly drowns, crashes a car, and chases bad guys in a high speed motorcycle chase in the best installment of the franchise.

2) Inside Out – You know you found a special animated film that depicts the highs and lows of growing up while paying tribute to abstract art and disaster movies.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – It’s the action movie no one expected to like then went back to see it three more times! Why? Because it’s a groundbreaking, beautiful, and thrilling spectacle.

Where’s my worst? Well, it’s no competition with “Fant4stic”, ladies and gents!

“Cop Car”

Would you steal a presumably abandoned cop car filled with loaded guns? What if you knew it belonged to a mustached, morally ambiguous sheriff? “Cop Car” is a clear warning to not mess with cop cars.

“Cop Car” is Jon Watts’s (our new “Spider-Man” reboot director) second film and opens with two friends, Travis and Harrison, wondering in a field and cursing loudly. We learn through dialogue that they’re running away from home and they come across an abandoned cop car. In an extreme case of “boys will be boys”, these naive kids take the car for a joy ride, crossing paths with a dangerous mustached sheriff (the great Kevin Bacon) in the process.

The main appeal for “Cop Car” is Bacon’s menacing and darkly funny performance as Sheriff Kretzler. He’s a unique villain because he thinks he’s smarter than he is. Kretlzer is lucky due to his law enforcement background and much younger adversaries.

Harrison (Hays Welford) and Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) are perhaps two of the most realistic child characters portrayed in film since “Stand By Me” (1986). In fact, they have a darkly funny moment involving an arsenal guns that’s very reminiscent of a particular gun scene in “Stand By Me”. As much as I liked these young knuckleheads, I wondered why are they running away?

I often had questions in the last ten minutes of “Cop Car”. The main one though, who was the villain? It definitely didn’t feel like the sheriff after a while.

SPOILER ALERT

We’re introduced to an unnamed bruised man (Shea Wigham) halfway through the movie who becomes a greater danger to the boys than Kretzler. They find this man in the trunk and we’re then uncertain of who the true villain is in the film’s climax. This is because we never learn about Kretzler’s background story or his shady side business.

“Cop Car” is a good coming-of-age thriller, but it could have easily been better without the over-reliance on ambiguity, especially with its maddeningly open conclusion.

Grade: B

“The Gift”

What makes Joel Edgerton’s (“Warrior” (2011)) directorial debut so admirable is his subtle development and revelation of horrific secrets. It’s also the film with this year’s most polarizing ending.

Edgerton writes, directs, and co-stars in “The Gift” as Gordo, A seemingly friendly loner who runs into an old acquaintance named Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), and offers his friendship. He sends them a bottle of wine, some goldfish, and window cleaner, but Simon is immediately unnerved and tells Gordo to leave them alone. He regrets it when Gordo subtly makes his life a living hell while Robyn starts to question her husband as a person.

“The Gift” is a twisted tale of revenge and karma that defies all the stalker thriller’s cliches and audiences’ expectations. It remains distinct from other thrillers because the focus isn’t on the creeper’s agenda, but on seeing Simon and Robyn’s true colors. Gordo is merely an instigator in tearing apart Simon and Robyn’s marriage. The more harm Gordo does, the more we learn how morally corrupt Simon is and how unhappy Robyn is.

Hall and Bateman carry “The Gift” and add some emotional punches to this movie. Hall is very believable as the fragile and troubled Robyn while Bateman disappears into his role as Simon, a corporate sociopath. Through shots of their facial expressions and their realistic delivery, I completely bought into their troubled relationship.

SPOILER ALERT (Seriously, this will ruin the movie if you haven’t seen it).

Edgerton is very restrained and unsettling as Gordo. While his vengeful actions are satisfying at first, I found his video involving Robyn was an insult to injury for Simon and plain disgusting; especially if you believe Gordo did what he implied (though, I personally don’t)!

Putting the uncharacteristically ending aside, “The Gift” is an otherwise brilliant mumblecore thriller featuring Bateman and Hall’s best work. They’re the stars here and seeing the story primarily from Robyn’s perspective is a breath of fresh air.

Grade: N/A

“Fant4stic”

You stylize a title as cheesy as “Fant4stic”, you bet I’m going to refer the movie by that title. The one thing I learned watching “Fant4stic” is that director Josh Trank (“Chronicle” (2012)) is better with less money in his budget.

The premise of “Fant4stic” is simple; five genius kids in either high school or college are enlisted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey from TV’s “Oz” and “House of Cards”) to research teleportation, discovering another planet in the process. You have high school genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Storm’s rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordon) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Storm’s eccentric and arrogant protege Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel).

The team are all exposed to the other planet’s fuels, mutating them in the process, which leads them against Victor on Planet Zero. There’s the premise in a nutshell!

What’s irritating about the narrative in “Fant4stic” is that there’s no development or lesson learned by the end of the movie! Ben resents Reed after their mutations, Ben and Johnny form a rivalry, Reed and Sue take a romantic interest in each other, and Reed and Johnny are clearly friends, but none of this is developed or resolved. With a running time of 100 minutes, I wonder if Trank was forced to edit the film and cut out all of the development and back story.

The small amount of development is some of the most half-assed writing in recent memory. Ben and Reed are respectively the brain and heart duo trying to change the world, Victor wants to destroy Earth and go back to Planet Zero because he feels we’re killing Earth (though not wrong there, but that’s a different conversation), and the kids get their powers due to a drunken mishap? Maybe the message of the movie was don’t drink.

As far as acting goes, Miles Teller and Kate Mara both look bored, Jamie Bell overacts as the inept and street smart muscle, Michael B Jordon and Toby Kebbel are good sports on screen, and Reg E. Cathey works well with what he has.

Trank envisioned “Fant4stic” being a blend of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), and David Cronenberg’s body horror classics “The Fly” (1986) and “Scanners” (1981). Ambitious idea, yeah, but like I said in my “True Detective” review, execution matters! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d rather rewatch the 2005 and 2007 “Fantastic 4” films before I watch “Fant4stic” again.

Grade: F