This is a Land of Wolves Now in Sicario

Sicario Poster

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

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Avoiding Dark Unspeakable Hippy Horrors with Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

After There Will Be Blood and The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson deserved to take a break, didn’t he?  He pulled off a similar lark after Boogie Nights and Magnolia when he directed “his version” of an Adam Sandler film with Punch -Drunk Love.  Much like the main character Doc Sportello has to dig deeper and deeper for the truth in this hippy noir, viewers have to dig deep to find any of screenwriter Anderson’s trademark themes in Inherent Vice.  Maybe there’s something about makeshift dysfunctional families here?  Having never read Thomas Pynchon’s source material, I can only assume all the darkly hilarious dope-fuelled and sometimes absurd banter is pealed straight from his novel (especially Joanna Newsom’s most pleasing to the ear voice-over work) as I felt and heard none of Anderson here.

This is a true adaptation handled with artistic care.  Where one does find the director Anderson is in the visuals, pacing and music. Longtime collaborator Robert Elswit evocatively photographs this Gordita Beach 1970 set rambling comic-mystery with gritty stock, soft blues and hints of sunset orange.  He does special wonders with the beautiful actresses in their groovy and revealing period garb and make-up (look at those pores!).  Anderson peppers in his always great taste in period music, while Jonny Greenwood provides a score unlike any he’s previously done, sweetly nostalgic and understated, perfectly accentuating the cool mood of the film.

In the lead role of Doc Sportello, Joaquin Phoenix gives the comedic performance of the year as the most howlingly expressive stoner detective ever to grace to the screen.  Yet the film is very much an ensemble piece, so much so it’s hard to pick out the highlights from the carnival of stars. Continue reading

A Review of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men”

Blood, not so Simple, 12 November 2007
6/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A Vietnam vet (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and casually takes off with two million dollars that a psychopathic bounty hunter (Javier Bardem) will do anything to get back. Meanwhile, a Sheriff nearing retirement (Tommy Lee Jones) strolls behind the mayhem always a few steps behind. Set in Texas in 1980, “No Country for Old Men” is a meticulously crafted misfire from the Coen Brothers and adapted for the screen from the Cormac McCarthy novel.

Roger Deakin’s stark cinematography matches perfectly the brilliant mise-en-scene and signature Coen Brother’s pacing. The audience is also treated to a revolving door of quirky side characters and dark deadpan humor in the dialog that have become the trademarks of a Coen Brothers’ dramatic production. It would seem to be a return to form, but there’s a wandering coldness to the film that leads to grave dissatisfaction.

The most disappointing aspect is that there’s a near perfect forty-five minute “mini film” riddled with white knuckle suspense involving the cat-and-mouse shoot-em-up between Bardem and Brolin that is lost inside yet another dour opus where Tommy Lee Jones plays a grizzled but good-hearted authority figure philosophizing about the sad state of the world for the umpteenth time. While Bardem and Brolin are sensational, Tommy Lee Jones seems to be playing an on-screen persona that has trumped his ability to show any type of range. He’s typecast, and his character is made moot. Meanwhile Bardem gives a career-defining performance as the psychopath working with his own warped sense of morals. In what may prove to be ironic in the future, it’s exactly the type of portrayal that risks making Bardem typecast in the same vein Anthony Hopkins was after his Hannibal Lecter character was born.

The brooding tension built around Bardem’s unforgettable villain and the inevitable showdown with Brolin’s wayward cowboy is completely wasted in anti-climactic fashion with no resolution that leaves the film to meander in philosophies that ultimately signify nothing. Coming off three straight comedies (the last two of which, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers”, were abysmal) the Coen Brothers have clearly lost their footing in trying to get back to their roots. “No Country for Old Men” boasts many of their popular hallmarks and an instantly classic turn from Javier Bardem, but it lacks the moral fiber of “Fargo” and the dramatic climax of “Blood Simple”. Coming home, it seems, isn’t as easy as it looks when the roads are dusty and lead you nowhere.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0477348/usercomments-26

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Check out my review of “Fargo”:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0116282/usercomments-316