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Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
2018 | Crime, Thriller
Better than the first
I’m one of the few people that really didn’t rate the first Sicario film. It wasn’t bad, but neither was it the brilliant film everyone rated it to be, so I went into the sequel with a certain amount of trepidation, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m afraid to say that Emily Blunt really isn’t missed. Instead we get much more of Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, and you can’t complain about this as they’re both fantastic actors and put on brilliant performances in this. The film itself is very gritty, dark and brutal, right from the opening scenes with the suicide bombers to the gun battles and cartels scenes later on in the film. It’s very tense, and this is definitely not a feel good film at all but it’s still a gripping film to watch. The only thing that really let this down for me was the ending. Without spoilers, it’s partly ridiculous, partly a letdown as characters were going completely against the character they’d been portraying for 2 hours and also a blatant setup for a sequel. I’d have been a lot more satisfied with this film if it had been wrapped up better, but as sequels go, it’s impressive when one surpasses the original.
  
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
2018 | Crime, Thriller
The U.S.-Mexico border been a hum for human and drug trafficking, but when the cartels begin trafficking terrorist across the border the Pentagon decides enough is enough. It is time to try a different tactic. That is when agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in. Graver has been around the border before but also has been successful in the Middle East. He is brought in to start a war between the cartels. Graver knows that they only way to fight the cartels is to fight dirty. He knows what has worked before and he knows it will work here. He plans a daring daytime kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner). She is the youngest daughter of the head of the Reyes Cartel, which Graver found out was responsible for helping certain terrorist get across the border. These particular terrorist eventually blew up a store in Kansas City. Graver flies to Columbia and enlists the help of a sicario, or assassin, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) and together they set out to execute the kidnapping and kick of a war of cartels. But as they soon find out even the best laid plans can go wrong south of the border.

The follow up to the critically acclaimed 2015 film Sicario, this movie is an intense action thriller. The cast is good but Del Toro is outstanding. This character really suits him. Italian director Stefano Sollima (Suburra) does a great job taking over for Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival). The story is really well done. Writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water, Wind River) really put together a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The pace was good and the sound really added to the intense mood. I thought it flowed well with the first film, having the same writer helps, and it is a credit to Sollima. There were a few parts that went a little far in believability but overall it felt realistic.

Overall, the film was fast paced and as I mentioned before intense. There are a few twists and turns that keep you guess as to how it will all end. The movie earns it R rating with violence and a decent amount of blood. I enjoyed the first film and my expectations were high for this film. The story is similar enough that you feel like it connects to the first film but it stands on its own.
  
Snatch (2001)
Snatch (2001)
2001 | Comedy, Crime
A Movie Carried By Brilliant Performances
In Snatch, three separate groups of characters revolve around a missing diamond.

Acting: 10
In a movie like this where the character list looks more like a laundry list, you have to count on a number of solid performances to carry the film from large to small. Every performance is on point here, right down to smaller showings from guys like Ade playing the role of Tyrone the overweight getaway driver. You get to see a guy like Brad Pitt step out of his comfort zone playing a gypsy boxer by the name of Mickey O’Neil. Meanwhile Benicio Del Toro absolutely crushes his role as gangster Franky Four Fingers. None of these characters succeed without the great actors behind them.

Beginning: 10

Characters: 10

Cinematography/Visuals: 10

Conflict: 10
Each of the three groups of characters have no shortage of their share of problems in the film. The film grows and relies on conflict to keep it afloat. It’s a movie that keeps you guessing as you never know what’s going to happen next or who’s going to live to see the next scene. The conflict within ultimately gives you the motive to care about what’s happening to each of these guys.

Entertainment Value: 9

Memorability: 6

Pace: 8
Barring a couple of lulls, the movie moves at a consistent clip. There are occasions where things are happening too quickly and I wish they would slow down just a tad but, for the most part, the pace is on point. I was impressed by how quickly it moved while still managing to develop the plight of each character.

Plot: 6

Resolution: 8
Solid ending that could have been a tad better. I was hoping for a bit more closure. All things considered, it will do.

Overall: 87
Snatch kicks off with an original robbery and it’s off to the races from there. I can’t wait to watch it again to catch some of the things I might have missed. I can definitely see why the movie is beloved.
  
Savages (2012)
Savages (2012)
2012 | Drama, Mystery
6
6.7 (3 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Over the past 15 years, Oliver Stone’s films have been kind of hit or miss to me. It’s as if Stone is still trying to make the same controversial films he became popular for in the 80’s and early 90’s. Only, as an audience, we have become keen to his filmmaking style and therefore his more recent work suffers from the apathy of a “show me something new” culture. Still, despite his failures, Stone does not makes apologies for his work while he continues in his quest to make films about controversial subjects. This time around Stone strives to take us into the violent world of the Mexican drug cartels though a film adaptation of the novel Savages by Don Winslow.

As the film opens we are introduced to “O” (Blake Lively) who, as our narrator, acquaints us with the open yet loving relationship she shares with our two protagonists, Chon and Ben. Chon (Taylor Kitsch), an ex-Navy SEAL, is unquestionably the muscle of the trio’s operation. Chon was the original financier for his high school friend Ben, (Aaron Johnson) the peaceful, charitable, botany genius who has created the most potent marijuana in the world. Together these two embody the perfect man for O, while the three of them enjoy the spoils of the small marijuana empire they created in southern California.

That is until they gain the attention from a Mexican cartel intent on creating a stronger foothold in the southern California area. The cartel offers them a partnership and explains that by teaming up their business will triple in three years. But when the trio refuse the offer, the ruthless head of the cartel, Elena (Selma Hayek), instructs her enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to kidnap O and hold her hostage so the boys will cooperate. Soon our heroes use their network of connections, like crooked DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) and financial broker Spin (Emile Hirsch), to battle the cartel in a series of savage maneuvers to get back their one “shared” love.

Stone has been known to inspire his actors to give Oscar worthy performances. Sadly, you will not find any such performances here. That is not to say that the acting was terrible. It just seemed that the characters themselves are uninspired which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen some growth in this young cast, especially from Taylor Kitsch.

I feel that many critics will be hard on Taylor Kitsch because of his previous epic fails of 2012 (John Carter and Battleship) however I am surprised to admit that, for this movie at least, he gets a pass in my book. Not because he delivers a fantastic performance that makes me believe he’s truly an up and coming talent, but rather because he is convincing in his portrayal of Chon. When O describes our protagonists as each being one half of the perfect man, she refers to Chon as “Hard Steel,” which is exactly what Kitsch plays him as, a one-dimensional, emotionally devoid character with no growth or any real redeeming qualities other than the ability to go to war. Regardless of whether or not Kitsch has any additional acting range not showcased in this film, I cannot penalize him for his performance in this movie. He fit the part that he was cast in fine.

Blake Lively (Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) plays O, short for Ophelia. And yes she channels the mad, love-struck, melancholic character from Hamlet after whom she is named. And while it is easy to make those comparisons to the character of this film, they only appear to be on the surface, if anything. And herein lies the problem. Regardless of how you feel about her open relationship with Ben and Chon, the more I learned about her, the less I cared. Like Kitsch’s character, O is boring and one dimensional. She is the product of being a pretty little rich girl whose mother is off somewhere with husband number twelve. She has been getting stoned every day since she was young and the only place she finds herself loved is in with the company of Chon and Ben. Tragic, I know. While watching the film I honestly thought to myself, if I was Ben or Chon, I would say, “Fuck it. Cut her loose and let’s go to Asia.” She has no redeeming qualities other than being good looking and a good lay. So why would they go through so much trouble for her? The trio’s relationship is weakly tied together by her telling us through narration but never really materializes on screen. At times you get some of a feeling that Ben actually loves her but that love is never really reciprocated from O. It is safe to say that that I did not derive any loving connection from Lively’s performance, though her deliver as a narrator was tolerable.

Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) is the one redeeming performance from this young cast. In contrast to Chon, O describes Ben as “Soft Wood” which makes him the better half. Ben is the one character who actually goes through some kind of character arc and growth. Using the wood analogy, we watch him bend from the peaceful Buddhist businessman to the man who will sacrifice everything, to get back this woman he loves. Nowhere is this better embodied than when Ben is faced with the tough choice of sticking to his peaceful beliefs or incinerating a man in cold blood during one of their moves against the cartel. I found myself actually curious about what Ben would do next. Unlike Chon and O, Ben has some depth and struggles with his personal beliefs, his love for O and what needs to be done. Needless to say, Johnson delivers a believable performance that actually helps move along the action and was the only protagonist that kept me interested in their battle.

In addition to Johnson, the film is littered with several strong supporting cast members who all deliver solid performances. Selma Hayek is strong as Elena, the leader of the cartel that challenges Ben and Chon. She is a ruthless and shrewd businesswoman and yet has a better “sense of morality” as she explains during her interactions with O and her own daughter. Her enforcer Lado is played by Benicio Del Toro who, with the help of an uncomfortable rapist mustache, comes off as an extremely menacing character. Del Toro solidifies himself on screen by being down right creepy and yet intelligent in his own savage way. During every moment of screen time you expect him to kill someone just because it is good for business.

A needed bit of change of pace is provided by an unexpected performance by Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) as Ben and Chon’s witty financial broker, Spin. As well as by John Travolta who plays Dennis, the dirty DEA agent who’s in Ben and Chon’s pocket. In fact, even though Travolta’s screen time is maybe a total of 12 minutes, his performance steals the show with his sole bit of comic relief, for lack of a better explanation. Perhaps the strongest acted moment of this film is during a standoff scene between Del Toro and Travolta that in many ways makes me want to know more about those characters. And what that movie would be about.

In typical Stone fashion the movie is shot in a variety of film angles and stylistic devices used to foreshadow and at times create a foreboding presence. Visually the movie provides a strong and believable feeling for the world these characters live in and the way that they operate their business. In addition, narration is used at points to move along the action and provide the audience with insight that otherwise would not have been possible on performances alone. I personally have no problem with narration as long as it is set up from the beginning and used to advance the story, which it is. However in the final act, the movie introduces a film device from left field that completely kills the already weak pacing of the movie. I cannot get into it without giving away the story, but I can see how this device could completely ruin the movie for those patrons who are already disinterested by the time the final act rolls around. Especially for those who do not find any connection to any of the characters. In which case, the pacing of this film will seem slow and drawn out.

I am torn about my review of this film. Savages is something that I wanted to like more than I did. Two of the three protagonists are one dimensional and if it was not for Johnson and the strong supporting cast I might have found the movie boring. It was also completely different from the expectations set by the commercials. Those looking for an action movie will feel misled and will more than likely be disappointed with the film. Not that there is not any action, only it comes between very long periods of dialogue and slow pacing. By the end of the movie, you are either invested in these characters or just waiting for the lights to come up in the theater. And in typical Oliver Stone fashion the movie tries to make us question our own perception of just what it means to be a savage.
  
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2014 | Action, Sci-Fi
Wow. Just wow. It feels like there are no words that could describe how great Guardians of the Galaxy is. This is the first movie in a while where I walked in with high expectations, and yet they still managed to exceed them. OK. Enough gushing. Time to get to the dirt.

Guardians, while a movie about a group of people, follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as he loses his mother and then is suddenly whisked away (kidnapped) by an (at first) unknown space ship. Then we fast forward 26 years later and we see what the young kid who couldn’t handle the death of his mother has become. A quick-witted, sort of goofy, outlaw who likes to refer to himself as Star Lord. He double crosses the same people who have helped raise him to be the man he has become, and so sets off a series of events that brings Star Lord, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) together to go an insane adventure in an attempt to save the galaxy. In order to do this, they must stop Ronan, a Lieutenant in Thanos’ army, from obtaining a mysterious orb. The gang comes together through unlikely circumstances, and ultimately work very well together as a team, but do they have what it takes to get the job done?

This movie is all around genius. While I did have high expectations for the film, I was a little reticent about James Gunn directing. He has not had anything on this scale in the past, but man did he knock it out of the park. Every element of this world was working together perfectly… the soundtrack and score helped set the quirky, adventurous tone of the film. The cinematography combined with the visual effects was captivating. The acting was superb, with the standout being Dave Bautista as Drax. Who knew he had it in him? Apparently James Gunn did. But every actor played their part as if it were meant for them specifically. If I have one gripe in the department, it’s that Nebula (Karen Gillan) did not have as much screen time as she should have. You also some surprise supporting cast in their too with the likes of Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro, the movie is definitely Gunn-ing for gold. (I am so sorry. That was cheesy I know).

We saw this movie in 3D. I am not a big fan of “everything has to be 3D”, and typically space-based movies tend to overdo the 3D effects. However, I think that the 3D in this movie was slightly understated, which is a definite good thing. Sure, there were scenes that you could tell were made specifically because it would be shown in 3D, but they didn’t make you sick of the effect 5 seconds into the scene. It was very artfully done, and not too overwhelming for a space film.

This is definitely the film to see this summer. Great action, good story arch, great setup for the next movie, and a multitude of tie-ins to the other Marvel universe films. I am definitely going to be seeing this in theaters again, especially since we did not get the bonus scene at the press screening, and it will be a definite buy on Blu-Ray. Even in 3D.

I also wanted to address the rumor of Nathan Fillion being in this film. No, he is not Nova. However, he is in the film. But blink… and you will miss it. I am curious to see if anyone else can find him in the film. Please let us know in the comments!
  
The Wolfman (2010)
The Wolfman (2010)
2010 | Horror, Mystery
During the golden age of cinematic horror, Lon Chaney terrified audiences with his portrayal of the Wolfman which launched the character as a cultural mainstay.

Over the years there have been countless updates to the tale which ranged from Michael Landon in “I Was a Teenage Werewolf, to the more contemporary “An American Werewolf in London” and “Dog Soldiers”.
With remakes being all the rage in Hollywood, Universal has returned to the original source material to offer an updated version of the original classic.

Set in England near the start of the twentieth century, the film stars Benicio Del Toro as an actor named Lawrence who is summoned home when his brother goes missing. Upon returning to the lavish familial estate, he is greeted by his estranged father, (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who informs him that his brother mutilated body was discovered earlier.
Dismayed by the condition of his brother’s remains, Lawrence decides to stay and get to the bottom of the mystery. When a clue provided by his brother’s fiancé leads him to a Gypsy encampment, Lawrence learns of a curse, but before he can obtain the information he desires, the camp is attacked by a mysterious creature that leaves a horrific path of carnage in its wake and leaves Lawrence badly wounded from a bite.

Lawrence makes an amazing recovery from his wounds and in doing so raises the suspicions of the locals who now see Lawrence as cursed and a threat to their society.

Lawrence has also raised the suspicions of Scotland Yard Inspector, (Hugo Weaving) who is convinced that Lawrence may be a key player in the local horror, as he was confined to an asylum in his childhood following the death of his mother.

At first Lawrence is outraged at the accusations, but when he transforms into a deadly creature and embarks on a deadly killing spree during a full moon, he soon learns a dangerous secret that places not only his life in danger, but endangers all those around him.

In a desperate race against time, Lawrence attempts to get to the root of his troubles and set things right before the next full moon, when his animal side will take over once again.

The film is a stylish update of the original and the cast is strong. Sadly they are given little to do with the by the numbers plot, and spend much of the time looking like they are simply going through the motions which makes it difficult for the audience to develop a deep sympathy or attachment to the characters.

Oscar winner Rick Baker has done some amazing makeup work and the effects of the film are solid. It was reported that the film was delayed so Universal could punch the film up by adding some new fx and sequences.

The final result is a mixed bag as while the film is a nice update on the original, audiences have seen more so many variations of the story over the years it is hard to be surprised by anything in the picture. Despite the best efforts of the creative talent, there is little tension or drama in the film and by the time the finale plays out, many may think they have seen it all before.

Universal has released the 1941 original Lon Cheney version of the film on DVD and for those who like film history; they may gain a new insight into the film by watching the original version prior.

In the end, “The Wolfman” works as a matinee or a DVD rental, but I would not suggest it as a full priced theatrical experience for anyone other than those looking for a piece of nostalgia.