MOVIE REVIEW: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (2018)

When the man behind a suicide bombing at a Kansas City supermarket is revealed to have entered the country through the border between Texas and Mexico, the President of the United States is in a position to officially deem human trafficking a terrorist activity, giving them more latitude to deal with the controversial issue. With the intention of waging a battle on this new front in the war on terror, Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver and his team are given the task of firing the first shot.

“It might get dirty.”

“Dirty is why you’re here.”

Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is the follow up to Denis Villeneuve’s outstanding Sicario that no one really knew we needed but were all, nevertheless, curious to see. Gone is Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer, the young FBI agent who served as the conscience and the audience stand in in the first film. Returning are Graver and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), as well as their unorthodox, but unarguably effective, ways of dealing with troubles at the border. Their plan is simple. They are going to kidnap the 16 year old daughter of the cartel kingpin who killed Alejandro’s family and make it look like it was another cartel. The intention is to start a turf war between cartels so that the war on trafficking will be fought against distracted opponents. But of course, nothing is simple at the border.

To tell more would be to give too much away. Sollima has managed to craft a follow-up that perfectly inhabits the world created in Sicario. Villeneuve had a way of putting his camera in places that made the audience feel like they were in the vehicle crossing the border or in the hidden tunnels used to traffic drugs. Sollima, especially in action sequences, gives us that same perspective, heightening the tension with every note of Hildur Guonadottir’s haunting score. One of the biggest obstacles to a sequel in my mind was going to be that the protagonist (I use that term loosely) of this film was going to be a guy who we saw murder women and children in the first film. Taylor Sheridan is able to more fully round out the character of Alejandro in a way that doesn’t ask the audience to root for him but also doesn’t allow him to be despised. Once again, Del Toro is electric in the role, but at this point in his career, saying that Benicio Del Toro is great is pretty redundant because he’s just fantastic in everything. Most of the tales that Hollywood tells of hitmen either glamorize or bring a sense of humor to the profession. S:DotS shows us the blunt reality of the job, but Del Toro never lets Alejandro become a monster. Speaking of redundant, Josh Brolin is also fantastic as Graver. His character isn’t fleshed out too much more (other than apparently he’s left his flip-flops behind for a comfy pair of Crocs), but being in the dark about his past is what makes his character work so well. Isabela Moner shows a deep inner strength as Isabel Reyes, the kidnapped teen, even as she’s completely terrified and in the dark as to what’s happening to her.

This film is tight, this film is tense, and this film is timely. Child separation, human trafficking, terrorism…those are all things that you can read about on the front page of your newspaper tomorrow morning. And Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn’t presume to have any answers to these issues. While the original gave us Kate Mercer and her earnestness and her moral compass to see this world through, this film kind of just makes us sit in the filth and be disgusted (hopefully) by the machinations on both sides of this volatile scenario. There aren’t winners. There aren’t losers. It’s all just dirty.

So don’t go see Sicario: Day of the Soldado if you need a couple of hour diversion from your problems. But if you want a thoughtful, well-executed thriller, you’re not afraid to sit with a bit of ambiguity, and you enjoyed (or at least saw) the first installment, I think it’s worth your time.

Rating:


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Deadpool 2

DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

I think it’s time to change our perspective. In the world of comic book movies, there are no new stories. We’ve told them all. I don’t want to read another criticism that a film in the genre failed to tread new ground because there isn’t new ground to cover. We don’t need new stories, we need fresh ones. The original Deadpool was a fresh story. There weren’t any beats that were new, but Ryan Reynolds and company were able to inject enough fresh life into the old superhero origin story to make it the surprise hit of 2016 and guaranteed that we’d see the Merc with a Mouth on the silver screen again soon. The only question that needed to be answered was whether or not a sequel could stay fresh or if it would be nothing but a retread of its successful predecessor.

David Leitch’s Deadpool 2 puts us back in the world of Wade Wilson (Reynolds) at a time in his life where he has it all. He’s quite successful at his job and his home life couldn’t be better. But as is wont to happen in films like these, this bliss is short lived as one day, while Wilson and his wife Vanessa (Morea Baccarin) cuddle up on the couch in their Old Navy khakis and pastel sweaters discussing the expansion of their little family, some unfinished business changes his world dramatically and sends our beloved Pool on another journey of self-discovery. And all of this happens before the opening credits. From there the film embarks on what is essentially a “Would you kill baby Hitler if you could go back in time” kind of plot as DP assembles a team of mutants, the X-Force, to protect a child (and apparently future monster) caught in the crosshairs of the mysterious time-traveling Cable (Josh Brolin). That’s a pretty bare bones description, but I don’t want to give anything else away because what follows is 2 hours of violence, surprise cameos and laughs with a surprising amount of heart sprinkled in.

Unsurprisingly, Reynolds is the star of this show. Wade Wilson is the part he was born to play and he slips into Deadpool’s red pants with ease once again. Josh Brolin is very good as Cable, a man who has some very compelling reasons to do a really bad thing. Zazie Beetz was the highlight of the supporting cast as Domino, a mutant whose super power is simply good luck. While that doesn’t seem like the most cinematic of powers (at one point Deadpool criticizes the power for just that reason), Leitch and his team find a way to really make it work. My only complaint about the cast is that TJ Miller’s part wasn’t re-cast in the light of the numerous allegations about his behavior towards women. In a self-aware film of this nature, one that outright references the #MeToo movement with a joke or two, his presence sticks out like a sore thumb.

But does it stay fresh? In this reviewer’s opinion, it absolutely does. By leaning into the self-referential humor made the first film so successful, upping the ante on the action and violence and making effective pauses in the action and comedy to give itself real emotional depth, Deadpool 2 continues the trend set by the original of making the old feel new. Is it perfect? No. Some of the tonal shifts are jarring, there are some lulls in the action that last a bit longer than they ought to and a few of the jokes don’t land (but with as many of them as there are flying at the screen, the amount that do is quite impressive). Everything else adds up to a worthy continuation of the franchise that might even compete with the original. In short, if you enjoyed your first ride with Deadpool, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t love this one as well.

PS. This film has the best mid-credits stinger(s) in cinematic history. Enjoy!

Rating:


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Only the Brave

Only the Brave (2017)


Going In

You had me at… Taylor Kitsch. The All-American boy is back. Having already starred in roles as a high school football star, a Navy SEAL, and a Civil War veteran, Kitsch excels at portraying the everyman. In Only the Brave, Kitsch is Chris “Mac” MacKenzie, one of the elite wildfire specialists who made up the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The film tells the story of the Hotshots and how they risked their lives to fight off the Yarnell Hill Fire that threatened to overtake the city of Yarnell, Arizona in 2013. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy), and also starring Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, and Andie MacDowell, this biopic is one of my top five most anticipated movies of Fall 2017. With this collection of talent and a director whose visual style is often spectacular, I’m expecting to be awed and entertained. But this is a true and tragic story, so I’m also hoping to be moved.



COMING OUT

Only the Brave is not a perfect film. It has somewhat of a clunky beginning, jumping time periods without much notice as to how long has passed, and the opening quarter of the film is largely spent introducing characters through a series of quick moments. As we flash from one to another it’s not entirely certain how they’ll be connected, or when, but when the film does make that clear it improves significantly. I state these minor annoyances up front because, frankly, Only the Brave is a tremendous film and I’d rather tell you why than nitpick its small faults.

At the center of Only the Brave is its beating heart, Supervisor Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin). Marsh is the leader of the fire crew and embodies the personality traits of the men who put their lives on the line to fight these immensely devastating wildfires. When he is with his men, he is almost always 100% on point, but it’s when he is at home with his wife that his vulnerabilities come through the most. Through this relationship we see the effects that a career spent away from your spouse can have, its emotional toll bubbling beneath the surface of routine pleasantries. Brolin captures this balance of emotions perfectly and commands every single scene he is in. His performance is captivating and the biggest compliment I can give is that for two hours I simply saw Supervisor Eric Marsh and forgot that Josh Brolin was acting the part.

The other primary character in the Hotshot crew is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), the newest member of the team and a recovering drug user trying to better his life so that he can care for his newly born (and completely unexpected) child. It is mostly through Brendan’s eyes that we see the other Hotshots and learn about how they live. What Kosinski does that I really appreciate is showing us imperfect heroes. These men make inappropriate jokes, struggle in their relationship, and bully one another. But they are also a close brotherhood who stays in incredible physical shape, are ready at any moment to rush into danger, and have each other’s backs. The firefighters reminded me of my time in the Navy, when for 6-12 months at a time I had no one to rely on but my fellow Sailors. It is a hard life and one that is presented very honestly here, in all its messiness. The Granite Mountain Hotshots accomplished many things and saved many lives during their years of service, but exploring the grounded nature of what their daily routines might have been like was refreshing to see.

As for Kosinski and the visuals of the film, he delivered as expected, but I was also impressed with his restraint. Sure, there are scenes of powerful flames sweeping across mountains and devouring everything in their path, equally majestic and terrifying. There are also great aerial shots as helicopters transport the Hotshots and planes dump payloads full of water onto the burning masses. But unlike Kosinski’s previous films, Only the Brave focuses first and foremost on the men themselves, and in that lies its great impact. By the end of the film, we care about the Hotshots. We care about their futures. We care about their families. And when we care, we become able to respect their sacrifice on an entirely different level.

Verdict

Only the Brave begins with a few flickers, but like a wildfire it catches hold and swells into something so emotionally powerful that it overtakes you in a rush. The determination and sacrifice of the Granite Mountain Hotshots are handled with reverence for what these men put on the line to protect their families and town. This ensemble cast does a fantastic job with Brolin and Teller doing some of their best ever work, and Kitsch and Connelly being memorable as well. To answer the most burning question… Yes, this is the best firefighting film since Backdraft. Be prepared to ugly cry, but definitely see it, because Only the Brave is one of the year’s best films.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: April 9-15

LESSON #1: THE WORD “GENIUS” IS THROWN AROUND TOO MUCH— After hearing Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins label his much-maligned “Transformers: The Last Knight” director Michael Bay a “genius” and a “savant” recently, I’m prepared to add “genius” to a list of overused words of hyperbole that include “epic” and “great” when talking about all things movies.  All three words are used too much and not truly earned.  I’ll grant that Michael Bay is a successful driver of spectacle and cheese.  His movies make a ton of money, but I don’t see the deeper wherewithal of the craft to make him the first dictionary definition of “savant.”  I see more the second definition that dives into mental disability, but he is tone-deaf and one-dimensional.

LESSON #2: CHRISTIAN AUDIENCES DESERVE BETTER FILMSAlcohollywood podcaster Clint Worthington, a film critic colleague from mine here in Chicago, wrote a dynamite piece for Crooked Scoreboard entitled “Calling Christian Movies to Repentance.”  The editorial examines the recent rise of a certain brand of films specifically made by and targeting sympathetic Christian audiences.  He talks about message, film quality, and more.  Go read the piece yourself and measure where your taste lies.  Clint nails the faults of this trend and I agree wholeheartedly with this lesson’s statement.    To truly and triumphantly serve a purpose and engage wider audiences, better thoughts and better films need to be fostered.  Well done, Clint.

LESSON #3: LET KIDS BE KIDS— Marc Webb’s “Gifted,” starring Chris Evans arrives this week and I cannot help but share this leading life lesson from my review.  It’s too good not to echo.  The film represents this lesson perfectly and in an unpretentious way.  Allow “Gifted” or this school teacher right here tell you and show you that too much academic pressure is placed on school-aged children these days.  They take too many high-stakes tests and spend too many hours doing rote and mindless homework.  College prep can start in high school, but leave it off of seven-year-olds.  Even geniuses can cultivate being well-rounded.  Let them go outside, skin a few knees, build something, and find activities they enjoy.  Feed those brains with experiences and not just book-based knowledge. Need ideas?  Here’s just one list of many things to do instead of homework.

LESSON #4: YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE JOSH BROLIN— In a casting news surprise that dropped Wednesday, Josh Brolin signed a four-picture deal to play the pivotal role of Cable for “Deadpool 2” and beyond.  Brolin has the qualities you’re looking for.  I promise you that.  He’s the right age and has perfect masculine features chiseled from granite.  Tell all the “but he’s already Thanos” cry babies to stop.  Fox and Disney/Marvel are different worlds right now.  If Chris Evans can be readily accepted as Steve Rogers after playing Johnny Storm, then Brolin can go from an off-screen voice/performance capture role as Thanos to putting his face out there as Cable with a different tone and timbre.  Most importantly, Brolin has the right temperament to play the grizzled warrior.  His mature resume of renaissance from the last ten years speaks for itself in terms of talent and huge range to play just about anything you want, from showy to reserved.

 

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current President of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

Episode 023: The Goonies

Hey, you guys! This week’s film was determined via listener vote, and you chose a beloved 80’s adventure movie with plenty to talk about. For one of us it’s full of nostalgia and for the other it’s a totally new experience. But ultimately we both land on common ground in thinking that this is one of the most fun and well done adventure films we’ve seen. It’s a great conversation about how when we view a movie affects our experience, and we hope you enjoy.

What We’ve Been Up To – 00:01:49

Aaron (The Fits)

Patrick (Eight Men Out, Halt and Catch Fire)

The Goonies Review – 00:12:17

The Connecting Point – 00:56:07

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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