Film Review: SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (USA 2018) ***

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado Poster
The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Director:

Stefano Sollima

 

Italian director Stefano Sollima takes over the director duties from Denis Villeneuve in the SICARIO sequel, both films written by Taylor Sheridan.  The director’s imprint makes a difference with the sequel, a solid one at that playing more like a no-nonsense action suspensor.  In case one is wondering, the film translating to English would read: Hitman: Day of the Soldier.

The film’s trailer shows the film’s key scenes where the task and thus the subject of the film is at hand.  It is an operative that has no rules, and one that is as dirty as it gets.

The film is as current as it gets with Trump wanting to build a wall between the border of the the U.S. and Mexico.  The setting is the U.S. Mexican border where illegal aliens are crossing the river to get into the States.  The drug cartels are, according to the film, smuggling terrorists across the U.S. border.  When the film opens, a terrorist attack has just occurred with innocent Americans killed.  The Americans want revenge and hire CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) from the first movie to start a drug war. so that these drug lords will destroy each other.  Graver hires undercover operative Alejandro Gillick (Oscar Winner Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a drug lord, in a false flag operation designed to incite war between rival cartels.   The mission goes awry when it is discovered by the Mexican government, prompting Graver to order Reyes’ execution.  When Gillick refuses, he turns rogue to protect her as Graver assembles a new team to hunt them both.  

One of the film’s extended segments shows Isabela in school having a schoolyard fight with another girl who she punches in the face.  At the principal’s office, she challenges the principal to expel her.  Her toughness is clear but after her kidnapping, all she does is scream and get scared.  It is puzzling the reason Isabel is shown to be tough unless it is to show the trauma she is going through while being kidnapped.  The film also omits any scene with her father, Carlos Reyes.

The script by Sheridan opens the film up for many subplots.  One is the young Mexican who is an expert on the area around the border, and who is hired to guide the illegal aliens across the border.  His character is smart, merciless and yet vulnerable with a family he cares for.

Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin make the movie.  They play hard-ass characters who are violent, determined and efficient sicario (hit-men) in what they do.  Christine Keener does well as Graver’s boss who is just as brutal in the execution of her duties.  The screen lights up when these characters come head to head in confrontation.

If this SICARIO makes money, the ending prepares the audience for yet another sequel.  There are plenty of potential and opportunities for more action packed stories.  If Brolin, Del Toron and Keener are in for another SICARIO, that would indeed be a good thing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pymm6cmE9uQ

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Film Review: DEADPOOL 2 (USA 2018) ****

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Deadpool 2 Poster
Trailer

Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy of supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling mutant, Cable.

Director:

David Leitch

 

DEADPOOL 2 arrives 2 years after the first DEADPOOL, the 11th film in the X-Men film series.  The important question on everyone’s lips is how this film fares with regards to the first DEADPOOL and the recent Marvel films like BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS INFINITIY WAR.  Well, it is different and notably raucously hilarious. Co-written by star Ryan Reynolds himself who did a bit on his own character’s dialogue, there are lots of swearing, so be prepared to be hearing lots of vulgarities like “fuckshit”.

DEADPOOL (Reynolds reprising his original role) is the wisecracking Marvel Comics mercenary with accelerated healing but severe scarring over his body after undergoing an experimental regenerative mutation.   He forms the X-Force, a team of mutants, most of which hilariously die while unsuccessfully parachute landing in an attempt on the job to rescue Russell (Julian Dennison), a boy Deadpool befriended while in prison.  Foremost in the story is the character of Cable (Josh Brolin) a time travelling cybernetic mutant soldier who wishes to kill Russell.  It should be noted that DEADPOOL 2’s humour is in the extreme, from fake opening credits to ridiculous subplots to senseless dialogue.  To the credit of everyone making this movie, it actually works.  It took me a while to get into the film’s groove, admittedly a full 15 minutes or so (I initially hated it, thinking it all too silly, but the tactic grows into you quickly and the effort is soon appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed.)  The laugh-out loud jokes are too many to innumerate but there are prize one like the inside joke on Disney’s Frozen (since Disney has recently bought over Fox) and a running joke that makes no sense on the progress of dubstep.  The soundtrack that includes two new songs: “Ashes” by Céline Dion and “Welcome to the Party” by Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump are especially inventive.  Those who have seen/heard “Ashes”, released as the lead single on May 3, 2018, along with a music video of the vocalist singing the song will still be laughing.

Star Ryan Reynolds is perfect as the hilarious Deadpool.  He makes the character including the dialogue he wrote.  He was given large creative control over this film after the success of the first one that resulted in the leaving of the original’s director Tim Miller due to artistic differences.  Josh Brolin plays Cable marvellously, as Brolin does in all his roles.  Brolin was also in the last recent Marvel film AVENGERS INFINITY WAR playing the main villain Thanos.  Fortunately, the makeup of Thanos results in Brolin hardly recognizable or that would have been a problem with Brolin being in two Marvel stories.  Familiar characters from the first DEADPOOL like Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, Karan Soni as Dopinder, the taxi driver, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al (the fake opening credits has her listed as the film’s cinematographer) and T.J. Miller as Weasel, Daedpool’s best buddy bartender who has absolutely no loyalties are in the sequel.  Miller is good in this movie but was almost removed from the film due to alleged sexual misconduct and calling in a fake bomb threat during the movie filming.

DEADPOOL 2’s looks very expensive with great CGI and special effects.  The fight scenes are particularly stunning with humour always present.  Action and hilarity mix well in the funniest of the Marvel franchise.

Make sure to stay for the closing credits as they include a few extra scenes including surprises such as who is listed playing “Vanishing Man.”  The film also sets up for the next continuing film X-FORCE which may or may not be a direct sequel to DEADPOOL 2.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D86RtevtfrA

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Film Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Avengers: Infinity War Poster
Trailer

The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Directors:

Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus (screenplay by), Stephen McFeely (screenplay by) |9 more credits »

 

The first of two AVENGERS INFINITY WAR films, this is the most anticipated super action hero movie of the year and most expensive Marvel/Disney film with an estimated budget of $300-$400 million. But much of the filming had been done back to back with its sequel.

The film boasts all the marvel superheroes led by Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).  The Avengers combine forces with the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and gang to fight the most evil of all villains, Thanos (Josh Brolin) who wants to control the Universe.  In order to succeed, he has to possess 5 infinity stones, stones that were formed with the creation of the universe during the Big Bang, whatever sense this makes.  The stones are space, reality, power, should, mind and time.  There is no need to question the names or reason for these elements but the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes the story very, very seriously.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have never met the Marvel fighters, so their first meeting is done tongue-in-cheek, resulting in some humour.

There is no messing around with the Marvel superheroes, unlike the mess Warner Bros. created with the D.C. comics i.e. Batman’s identity known to everyone; Superman dying and returning to life.  Comic book and super hero fans should not be disappointed with the treatment of their super heroes in this film.  Almost every Marvel hero is present, the list too long to mention.  Of all, a few appear more (Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Spiderman, Dr. Strange) than others (White Wolf, Heimdall).  Humour is provided by one-liners and banter resulting from enmity among the Super Heroes, like between Dr. Strange and Iron Man.  Some emotion is provided during the Thanos/daughter confrontation.

For the most expensive Marvel production, the film is stunning to look at and there is no shortage of CGI and special effects.  Needless to say, it is best to pay a bit extra to watch the film in the best viewing environment be it in IMAX or 3-D.

A satisfactory action film always depends on a good villain.  Credit is given to the impressive performance of Josh Brolin who plays Thanos, the intergalactic despot from Titan who longs to collect all of the Infinity Stones in order to impose his will on the Universe.  Thanos is in the most scenes in the film, even more than Iron Man, Dr. Strange or Thor.  Thanos is so powerful that his size towers over all the super heroes.  He does not have to wear armour and his strength and might grows as he acquires more of the infinity stones.

At the press screening, reviewers were reminded to preserve the magic of movie storytelling by not revealing any surprises and plot twists in any coverage.  The film does not have as many as in the STAR WARS films, but there are a few, including some deaths and story surprises.

This film paves the way for the final part of the storm, which judging from this film should be a hit critically and at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZfuNTqbHE8

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Film Review: ONLY THE BRAVE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Only the Brave Poster
Trailer

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

Director:

Joseph Kosinski

Writers:

Sean Flynn (based on the GQ article “No Exit” by), Ken Nolan

 

Warning: This review contains spoilers.  Spoilers are highlighted in italics

ONLY THE BRAVE, based on true events is a tough American biographical action disaster drama that tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  The Hotshots are an elite crew of firefights that have first rights in the front lines to stopping fires (in decision and execution).  A local Arizona firefighting team finally gain qualification as hotshots under the leadership of Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin).

ONLY THE BRAVE is a disaster film not unlike THE TOWERING INFERNO.  It is one of the better firefighting films compared to past successes like John Wayne’s THE HELLFIGHTERS and Ron Howard’s BACKDRAFT.   A well balanced script by Ken Nolan (the excellent BLACKHAWK DOWN) and Eric Warren Singer (AMERICAN HUSTLE) ties in the human drama to the action.  As the ad goes: “It’s not what stands in front of you; It’s who stands beside you.”

There are a few human dramas on display.  They seems superfluous at the start but the actors and script hammer at the material till it finally grows on you.  The main one involves the chief Eric Marsh and the sacrifice his marriage to his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) has taken.  She sees him only 10% of the time and she wants a change in their lives.  The other deals with hot shot youngster, an ex-addict, Brendan (Miles Teller) who joins the firefighters in order to support his daughter that has resulted from an unexpected pregnancy.    Brendan is given a chance by Eric who calls him ‘donut’.  The confrontation scene between Eric and Amanda strikes fireworks.

ONLY THE BRAVE marks the other kind of action hero film – the ones (like the recent PATRIOT’S DAY) that involve real life heroes in real life events.  These are the kind of heroes America needs these days, in times of terrorist attacks in a world gone crazy.   ONLY THE BRAVE celebrates true heroes and real people in an excellent executed film.  The fire scenes are authentic, as director Kosinski has said in an interview that he had gone for authenticity.

Great performances all around, particularly from Brolin and Jeff Bridges.  Miles Teller delivers another winning performance as a bad-ass character – annoying in the beginning, but capturing the heart of the audience by the end.

For such a serious topic, the script inserts a few metaphors (like the burning bear – a terrifying yet beautiful sight) and some needed honour.  The best and funniest line is the advice given by Duane Steinbrink (the Bridges character) to Eric: “You must know what you can live with and what you can die without.”  Even Duane does not know what it really means!

The climax of the film involves the Granite Mountain Hotshots (as they then call themselves) fighting the out-of-control Yarnell Hill Fire in the June of 2013.  Those who know the history will recall the sacrifice these firefighters made in order to control the fire and save lives.  Kosinski’s film ends up a tearjerker, so make sure you bring lots of Kleenex.  But these are tears well shed.  ONLY THE BRAVE is a worthy tribute, and as the words emphasize during the losing credits dedicated to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE_GY6zccqc

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Movie Review: HAIL CAESAR! (2016)

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hail_caesar_poster.jpgHAIL, CAESAR! (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenrich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Coen Brothers remain in top form.  They etch out a film almost annually, with almost each one a critical hit.  Their films are an annual event many moviegoers now look forward to.  Their best films include TRUE GRIT, FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and BURN AFTER READING, and all their films share the Brother’s keen sense of humour.  HAIL, CAESAR! like BURN AFTER READING is pure comedy and this one is a worthy tribute to the Hollywood dream-making machine.  It has the feel of a farce yet, it total respects the Hollywood studio system, for all its faults and errors.

The lead character is a Hollywood studio fixer by the name of Mannix, subtly portrayed by Josh Brolin, in the kind of role he has mastered.  He is a dead serious character you do not want to mess around with.  Or you will get slapped around like his main star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) did, before being told to then go out and act like a star.  The film begins with Mannix in a confessional box, pouring his heart out to the priest.  Mannix is shown to be a decent man, one that respects other human beings, despite their faults and one who loves his wife and kids.  He is the backbone of America and the one that make sense in the Coen film.  Which is required – or all else will go to nought and the film degenerates into nonsense.  Of all the sins confessed, the one that affects him the most is his cigarette smoking.  He has promised his wife (Alison Pill) to cut down and is unable to do so.  The plot generally follows Mannix around while things in the Studio fall apart, while being offered a smoke most of the time.  Mannix fixes things, hilariously yet credibly, and that is the basic premise of HAIL, CAESAR!  While all these are going on, he is wooed for a better paying, better hours job at Lockheed Incorporated.

The things that can go wrong provide most of the satire and entertainment.  A famous actress, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and her image is about to be ruined.  A famous cowboy actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is unable to utter his lines to the satisfaction of his director Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  Tabloid columnist sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton wearing different hats) want a scoop trying to dig in dirt about star Whitlock.  The most jarring problem is Whitlock being kidnapped by a groups of disgruntled scriptwriters who want their far share of the dough.  Mannix has to sort them all out.

All these problems provide ample opportunity for hilarity – Coen Brothers style.  And they keep the laughs coming with twists in the story as they know best.  The brains behind kidnapping turns out to be communist Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).

The Brothers play plenty of homage to old classics.  There is a spectacular swimming Busby Berkley swimming number, Esther Williams style as in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, a one-take musical gay-type musical number with no dames to the tune of “No Dames”with nods to ANCHORS AWEIGH and Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “There is Nothing like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC and scenes that could be taken right out of William Wyler’s BEN-HUR, just to name a few.

The Brothers have also assembled quite the impressive all-star cast, though some on the list only appear for a few minutes in a scene or two.  The Jonah Hill character seems present just to utter the line  “It’s all part of the job, Miss.”  Fiennes and Johansson are only present for two scenes while Frances McDormand has only one as a chain-smoking editor who gets chokes by the film reel in the editing room.  For whatever they do, they leave the audience wanting for more.  Relative newcomer Ehrenreich steals the show as the cute cowboy who eventually helps Mannix instead of the other way around.

Great directors have made films about the passion in the making of movies.  Fellini had 81/2, Truffaut LA NUIT AMERICAINE, Almodovar BAD EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers HAIL, CASEAR!.  Everything comes clear as to what the Coens are up to by the end reel.  There are elements that don’t work that well or are overdone, but or the most part HAIL, CAESAR! is quite the movie, especially for the moviebuff.  HAIL, CAESAR is a minor classic but a major delight!  I would see it again.

 

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