In Roman ruled Judea, Jewish zealots used daggers hidden in cloaks to kill their oppressors and were thus dubbed in Latin…”Sicarious”…or dagger men. Though most of the killing in Denis Villeneuve’s latest master class in vexatious suspense is done with machine guns, there’s a climax building scene where cinematographer god Roger Deakins photographs the character Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) descending into the purple-hued darkness of a drug tunnel as he unsheathes a dagger that will make your skin scrawl.
Alejandro is man of mysterious motives and origins who with the aid of another “DOD consultant” – an eager and smiley Josh Brolin – is determined to ruffle some feathers of a cartel based in Juarez that’s been wreaking havoc as far north as Phoenix, where kidnap retrieval field agent Kate (a tense Emily Blunt) has been recently recruited for these clandestine missions after uncovering a cartel body-dump on her home turf. Meanwhile on the other side of the border, mild-mannered and weary cop Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) tries to balance playing football with his adoring son with the unfortunate mechanics of working for the cartel from hell. Continue reading →
In a cinematic world overrun by rehashed ideas, sequels, prequels and reboots…it’s both ironic and a minor miracle that a film about resetting time over and over and over would be such a solid piece of entertainment.
There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s polished adaptation of the Japanese book All You Need is Kill (a much snarkier title that fits the themes very well), yet it all works. Here’s Tom Cruise as another smug character unwittingly thrust into saving the world…yet he manages to imbue his performance with a dark sense of humor that allows you to forgive the tropes of this quasi-messianic overcooked tripe. Here’s yet another “grunts vs. aliens” invasion/war set-up…yet when handled in a competent way, the cliché can still be fun to watch. And here are the hive-like aliens…called mimics (for what reason???)…who can meld time (naturally) to anticipate enemy moves…that look something like a Lord of the Rings reject monster wrapped in Matrix machinery and move like octopi…that, hey, as silly and derivative as they are, when brought to life by slick effects and well-orchestrated battle madness can still seem special and cool. Oh, and the coup de grace…let’s add a Groundhog Day element (remember the mimics can reset time) that leads to inevitable scenes of Cruise dying over and over and over again while he tries to get others to believe him and locate the Omega mimic (essentially the queen)…and in one humorous montage repeatedly is shot by Emily Blunt (his trainer and cohort in this time tripping madness) like an injured horse. Continue reading →
I’m 60 years-old. I’m retired and living in Sri Lanka on a tea farm I purchased for my long-lost love with whom I recently reunited. Don’t ask…just go with this fantasy, okay? She’s lying in bed next to me with her back against mine. A balmy midnight breeze blows in through the window and the white curtains scale up the walls and then billow down. My mind is similarly rising and falling in humidified thought. I can’t sleep. I saw something today that reminded me of a film I once saw a long time ago but I can’t quite place the moment or the film. She’s half-awake, too. She turns over to face me and runs her hand through my hair. I whisper to her, “Were you there with me? Do you remember that movie? It was soooo good. You know, the one about time travel where the guy was on the run from his future self and he hid out on that farm in Kansas with that beautiful woman and her little kid who could…”
…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Behold the litany of reasons Rian Johnson’s Looper is an instant genre classic I will fondly recall when I’m 60 years-old: Continue reading →
Finally…a horror film for old people. Remember back in the early 1990’s when Columbia (do they even exist anymore?) tried to revive the old Universal Horror Films by using Francis Ford Coppola’s gloriously trippy Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their flagship film? I can recall being a precocious kid and seeing the film with my parents when it opened in the theaters around Thanksgiving. And I remember the audience being half filled with senior citizens who were all enthralled, half achy with nostalgia and half scared out of their wits. My parents, the old folks, my friends and I…we all ate it up back then. It was a hip, fun, scary ride totally tricked-out with every old-fashioned cinematic trick Coppola could conjure, loaded with sex and gore and over-the-top scenery chewing performances. Dialed way down and about fifteen years late, but brimming with that same sense of fogged-covered nostalgia mixed with modern gore, Joe Johnston’s gleefully un-hip update of The Wolfman would’ve been the perfect follow-up film to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Heck, we even have Anthony Hopkins — Van Helsing himself — chewing more scenery than we’ve seen him chew in years as the senior member of the cursed Talbot clan. Continue reading →
A struggling single mom named Rose (Amy Adams in her comedy/drama wheelhouse) gets tired of working for a maid service and boldly decides to branch out into crime scene clean-up with her lay-about sister Norah (Emily Blunt, ironically named) in Christine Jeffs’ observant and easy-going Sunshine Cleaning.
Although it has been marketed as one of those quirky dramedies the studios love to shove down our throats every year, Jeffs’ film (from a solid screenplay from Megan Holley) is more in tune with somber yet hopeful indie character studies. The film deals with some dark subject matter and poignantly explores grief and family dysfunction but maintains a positive outlook and contains some solid situational laughs. The combination of an interesting set-up, smart writing, likable characters and winning performances make the film, even when it teeter-totters from dark to sappy, go down smooth. None of the characters seem forced upon us, unlike the overtly quirky family from Little Miss Sunshine or the stylized dialog spewing teens from Juno. These characters talk and interact like real people and there’s a naturalism in the way their relationships develop.
It makes for engaged viewing when a film like this doesn’t feel the need to explain every detail or tie up every loose end so nicely. Some subplots involving Norah taking a personal interest in one of the clean-up jobs that leads to an awkward friendship with a blood-bank worker (Mary Lynn Rajskub of 24 fame) or a one-armed supply store guy (Clifton Collins Jr.) who takes a shine to Rose aren’t resolved in a typical fashion, and some things are never made known or left open-ended. It makes the film feel truer to life. Even when Rose’s precocious kid (Jason Spevack) tries to talk to heaven on a CB radio in what would normally be considered a contrived and cutesy moment, you feel like you’ve grown to know the character and it’s just something he would do. Likewise, Alan Arkin as the sisters’ scheming entrepreneurial father behaves and acts like a real guy who’s had to struggle raising two girls alone and is just trying to help them catch a break.
Amy Adams, of course, is an absolute delight. (An earlier ode to Ms. Adams can be read here.) Something about her girl-next-door good looks combined with her innate talents as a comedienne and her theatrical background that produces some of the best facial expressions and crying-on-cue you’ll ever see make her the perfect choice for this type of role. While it’s easy to sing the praises of Adams, and she’s never been more endearing or relatable than here, Emily Blunt proves to be an excellent foil. It’s Blunt’s sharp portrayal and her character’s story arc that provide the film its emotional weight. Both actresses deserve to be remembered come awards season, and Sunshine Cleaning is that rare spring-time bird: a film worthy of buzz.