Tag Archives: film

‘Sully’ Gets Oscar Season Off to Solid Start

Sully_xxlg.jpegOh, Oscar season. How we’ve missed you so.


“Sully” stars Tom Hanks in the titular role of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 which was forced to perform an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in January 2009. Aaron Eckhart stars as Sully’s co-pilot and Laura Linney plays his wife as Clint Eastwood directs.


On paper, this has all the workings of a major Oscar player: a real-life story about an American hero, with Tom Hanks on the poster and Clint Eastwood behind the camera. So it may be a little disappointing that “Sully” is good-not-great, but it is still a confidently made adult drama that gets the fall movie season off to a steady start.


It may be somewhat lazy to do, but I find myself comparing this to Eastwood’s last directorial effort, 2014’s “American Sniper.” That was also a good film that had greatness escape its grasp due mostly a shifting narrative; however a strong central performance and powerful set pieces hold it together.


To say Tom Hanks is the reason this film works would be a waste of ink (well, characters on a keyboard). His Sully is a soft spoken, polite-to-a-fault man who hates that people think he is a hero for doing what he views as simply his job. There isn’t much to his character and if this was most any other actor than Hanks it would probably be a boring one; however as we know by this point in his career, Hanks is not most any other actor.


Eckhart turns in a quietly great performance as Sully’s co-pilot and confidant, never questioning Sully’s decision to land the plane in the Hudson but you can see the fear in his eyes. Linney simply has a few scenes talking and crying to Sully on the phone as the obligatory worried wife and she is fine, but unlike Hanks you could slip any actress into the role and it would be unchanged.


As I said earlier, the film’s biggest problem is its narrative. It is based off an event that lasted two and a half minutes but is stretched into a 96 minute movie (very short by Eastwood standards) and although the film is paced well, the way it is constructed is a tad disjointed. The film constantly jumps between the present day investigation against Sully and different perspectives of the crash, and it get a little messy at points. At other times it comes off as underwhelming, as some viewpoints of the crash simply aren’t as engaging as others.


There also isn’t a whole lot on the line, as we know historically that Sully made the right choice (despite what the film wants you to think people think). The trailers also try and paint a Denzel Washington “Flight” plot of Sully being questioned about possible alcoholism or troubles at home, but those are questions answered in one breath and never touched on again.


“Sully” has a strong performance from Tom Hanks and the main crash sequence is invigorating and looks and sounds as real as anything. It may not flow as evenly as one may like or hope based on the talent involved, but just like the white haired seasoned professional on which the film is based, Eastwood shows that even at 86 years old, he still is as capable as anyone in Hollywood to craft a solid drama.


Critics Rating: 7/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘Ben-Hur,’ Done That

Ben-Hur_2016_poster“Ben-Hur?” I hardly knew her! [cough] Well now that I got that out of my system (and I’ve wanted to use that line for a while now), on with the review!

“Ben-Hur” is the fifth adaption of the 1880 novel and the first live-action version since the famous 1959 film starring Charlton Heston. Jack Huston takes over the titular role as a Jewish prince who is betrayed by his adoptive brother (Toby Kebbell) and forced into slavery for the Roman Empire. Morgan Freeman also stars as Timur Bekmambetov directs.

There really is no reason for this film to exist, but if this summer has taught us anything it’s that sequels and remakes will always be made, even if there is no demand or purpose for them. But hey, it’s directed by the man who gave us “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” stars a guy who is best known for a small supporting role in an HBO series and is from the writer of “Undercover Brother” (in John Ridley’s defense, he also wrote the overrated “12 Years a Slave”)! The studio gave this picture a $100 million budget, so surely they had faith in it, right? Well if that were the case, any and all faith was horribly misplaced.

“Ben-Hur” the novel has been praised for nearly 150 years for its story, and rightfully so. At this point there are cliffnotes of things we have seen in films before (brother vs brother, slave against empire, etc) but somehow this latest “Ben-Hur” manages to squash all those interesting and possibly emotionally investing storylines beneath sluggish pacing. It takes nearly an hour for anything of note to truly occur, and even then still nothing truly engaging happens until the chariot race in the film’s climax.

This falls on the shoulders of director Bekmambetov, who all too often lets scenes drag on. He also implements *way* too much use of handheld shakycam, and for a film with a $100 million he sure loves to use GoPros. There was a film earlier this year, “Risen,” that cost $20 million and was set during the same time period, 33 AD; that film wasn’t very good but that’s not my point. What I’m getting at is “Ben-Hur” looks no better than that film yet it cost $80 million more.

I genuinely have no idea what all that money went to, because it certainly wasn’t on stars. Jack Huston is serviceable in the main role but he doesn’t convey the brutality or at least rage that the character of Ben-Hur should feel towards his brother and the Romans. His face is too pretty and his voice too soft (except when he’s growling) to really be taken as a threat; it is a role designed for Russell Crowe. Toby Kebbell is fine but he needs to stick to motion capture; he was great in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and the bright spot of “Warcraft” but live action isn’t his thing. Morgan Freeman, the film’s only recognizable name to mainstream audiences, cashes a paycheck while wearing hilarious dreadlocks. That’s really all I can say about him.

A few moments are genuinely thrilling and there are a couple scenes that do make you feel for the characters, but these are quickly stomped out by Bekmambetov’s heavy-handed attempts to create an epic story but try and keep it personable at the same time. The film also falls victim to being too “Hollywood.” Prior to the chariot race, Huston cuts his long hair and scraggly beard with a knife; the next scene he has a trimmed, gelled hairstyle and clean 5 o’clock shadow. It is just lazy filmmaking.

There is nothing special or truly great about “Ben-Hur” and it just feels like every other generic sword-and-sandal ever made (I guess you could say we’ve “Ben-Hur, done that”). It is going to flop hard at the box office for a dozen reasons, and it being a bad film is just one of them. It is boring, a lot of the time ugly to look at and doesn’t have any charismatic or gripping characters to hold your hand along the way.

Critics Rating: 3/10



Third ‘Purge’ a Boring Letdown

The_Purge_Election_YearFrank Grillo is one badass man.


“The Purge: Election Year” is the third installment of the Purge series and is again written and directed by James DeMonaco. Frank Grillo also reprises his role from the second film, this time as the head of security for a presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to get rid of the Purge, the annual night where every crime is legal.


The original Purge film was pretty boring, and disappointed many people because it promised a crazy “everything goes” night of violence but turned out to just be a standard home invasion “thriller” (term used very lightly). The second film, “Anarchy,” was a relatively solid action flick and showcased the chaos that viewers wanted to see in the world of the Purge. “Election Year” takes the good from “Anarchy” but the bad from the first film, and the end product is a mundane, cliché action film that tries and mostly fails to be anything more than that.


First things first, Frank Grillo is the best part of the film; I’ve liked him for a few years now, since he was in supporting roles in the likes of “Warrior” and “The Grey.” He was great in “Anarchy” and again carries the load here as the leader of the group with a pistol always drawn. Grillo has a calm demeanor about him, and he is as cool as he is intense.


The rest of the cast, however, is an entirely different story. Pretty much every single other actor in here gives a performance ranging from fine to awful, and there is some overacting that is just plain cringe-inducing. Characters widen their eyes and tilt their heads, which is one thing about the Purge series that I have always hated and never understood. Just because crime is legal for one night a year, suddenly every human being, even when it isn’t Purge night, acts and talks like they just escaped the looney bin. It takes you out of the movie and also knocks any serious undertones the film is trying to convey.


Which brings me to my next point: I am all for a film trying to be more than a by-the-numbers action/horror flick. But “Election Year” doesn’t seem to have any true messages or social commentaries on its mind; it just throws some ideas at the wall and hopes one sticks.

I’m not trying to get political, I myself try to stay out of politics and hate the two party system, but it should be noted this film almost goes out of its way to paint Conservatives as insane religious, Neo-Nazi fanatics who hate the poor and love the NRA, while the other side (led by a female Senator, I won’t name names who its likely an analogy for) have Americans’ best interests at hearts. I’m not knocking the film for choosing sides, just how out of the way they went to do so, and some viewers may be turned off altogether by it.


Unlike “Anarchy,” “Election Year” isn’t an action movie. It has three big shootouts, each of which is well-staged and entertaining, but they’re so far, few and in between that it is more of a shake awake than a well-earned treat.


“The Purge: Election Year” is better than the original and Frank Grillo is fun towatch, but the dull narrative and lack of any intelligence to back up its desire to be political satire sink it to the level of almost unrecommendable. I went into this with relative high hopes but walked out disappointed, and if this is the direction the series is headed in, perhaps it is time to purge the franchise.


Critics Rating: 4/10



‘Hateful Eight’ Not That Great

The_Hateful_EightNothing says “holiday season” like over-the-top blood and f-bombs.


“The Hateful Eight” is, ironically, the eighth feature film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino. When eight strangers (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern) get trapped in a lodge during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming, they begin to realize that not everyone is who they say they are.


I’m not a huge Tarantino fan, but I do think every one of his films are varying degrees of solid, with “Inglourious Basterds” being his crowning achievement (and one of the better films of the past 10 years). So I went into “Hateful Eight” just expecting fun dialogue and explosive shootouts, as have come associated with Tarantino films. And it is with regret that I say that this is the first time I have come out of one of his films feeling something close to disappointment.


It takes a while for “Hateful Eight” to get going, as the first almost hour is just characters coming into the story, and this is my first gripe with the film. Most every single character is introduced to fellow characters, and the audience, the same way: a third party says something along the lines of, “no way! Is that really [insert character’s name, occupation and claim to fame here]?!” It is pretty lazy to get exposition out of the way using this method, but coming from Tarantino, the so-called master of dialogue, it is almost insulting.


Once things start to get going, they do get going, with some intrigue and a nice little mystery. Only the film doesn’t allow you to play along and solve the mystery yourself, it just lets things play out. It is interesting to see how everything goes down, but since there aren’t any clues given, all you can do is sit; guessing and seeing if you were right would’ve been more fun.


There eventually is all the blood that Tarantino is known for, and as far as quantity of it this may be his most plentiful yet. But if you’re catching on to the trend of this review, this compliment is accompanied with a “but.” And the but here is since the whole film takes place inside of a one room cabin, the action feels compacted and isolated; there’s no space for the characters to really breath. One could argue that is the point of the film and it very well may be, but it does sometimes just take away a sense of fun from the Tarantino shootouts we’ve been spoiled by over the years.


I enjoyed “The Hateful Eight” in bits and pieces, but it is definitely a letdown. The twists aren’t quite mind-blowing enough, the action isn’t quite satisfying enough, and the dialogue just doesn’t have quite enough pop. There are a few smart moments of political and social insight that may get some thinking, but otherwise there isn’t much in this movie worth remembering, and that’s a gosh darn shame.

Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Ridiculous Six’ May Be Sandler’s Worst

The_Ridiculous_6_posterAdam Sandler may not be funny, but give him credit; he is one heck of a businessman.

“The Ridiculous Six” is the first of Sandler’s four film deal with Netflix (because he wised up and realized people have gotten too smart to pay theatrical price for his “comedies”). The film stars Sandler, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, and Luke Wilson as half-brothers who must set out to rescue their father (Nick Nolte) in the Wild West. Frank Coraci directs.

I personally gave up on Sandler long ago, and I was never a huge fan in the first place. I think he is great in films that he doesn’t write/produce (like the underappreciated “Funny People”), but all too often (aka always) he phones in his performances and instead just delivers an unfunny film as an excuse to go on vacation with his friends. Clearly Sandler realized audiences were wising up to his act and decided to strike up a deal with Netflix (which, why, Netflix? You’re doing so well…), where his films cannot be judged off their lack of box office success. But maybe not having the stress of the box office would make Sandler try, and maybe being with director Frank Coraci, who directed Sandler’s arguable best film, “The Wedding Singer,” would be the kick-in-the-butt he needed. Yeah. And maybe Donald Trump isn’t insane.

I went into this movie thinking it was going to be a bad, lazy, sexist, racist, unfunny Adam Sandler film, and lo and behold, I was right. But there is just something about “Ridiculous Six” that seems even worse. It is somehow worse than his film from earlier in 2015, “Pixels,” and arguably the worst film of his career (it is without a doubt his worst performance).

I guess I’ll break this film down by what it is and what it isn’t. First: in true Sandler fashion, it is lazy. You want an example of one of the jokes? A donkey projectile poops against a wall for five seconds. Now if you thought that wasn’t funny the first time, you’re going to stare in amazement at the next four occurrences. No joke, I was leaning over to say something to my friend (who had the misfortune of watching this alongside me) and the first time the donkey did its thing I genuinely exclaimed, “what the [expletive] was that!?” Not because I was frightened by a jump scare, but because it is so random and so juvenile that it mere existence took my inner-being by surprise.

The film is also racist and sexist, per ush. There are plenty of Native American “jokes” sprinkled throughout the film (and I don’t put jokes in quotes because they’re tasteless and I’m being PC; I put it in quotes because they never show anything resembling an attempt to be funny). There are also black and Mexican jokes galore; Rob Schneider plays a Hispanic man who wears a sombrero the entire film. Get it? Because he’s Mexican? And they ride donkeys and have sombreros? HA!

There’s then a scene where the Six come across Abner Doubleday as he is inventing baseball (the film’s only scene of merit, as it pokes fun at some of the sport’s sillier rules). However, and I kid you not, in the moment leading up to the scene I turned to my friend and said, “well I mean the Natives and Hispanics are getting hit pretty hard, but at least Sandler is leaving the Asians alone.” I jinxed it. Because mere moments later, the men come across Doubleday talking to a group of Asian men, all wearing stereotypical Asian headwear, and I let out a long sigh and “offff course.”

Then there’s the classic Sandler trope that God-forbid any female character impacts the plot. Also may Hell freeze over if any woman has ANYTHING to offer besides their cleavage. The one woman person who has the benefit of being more than a flesh trophy is captured and escapes in the same scene, begging the question why the scene exists, and then only returns to become a damsel in distress in the film’s climax.

And the editing in this film, oh my God. Some scenes just draw on forever (did I mention this film is two hours long?). My only theory is the film made it through the first cut of edits and the editor quit because he could not in good conscience watch any more of this film, much less take part in sending something out into the internet that would be seen by millions of innocent, underserving civilians.

I’ll give the film a pat on the back, at least it is…watchable? Like it isn’t like “Fantastic Four” bad where I was squirming in my seat and needed the film to be over. I was having a good enough time making fun of it, and I did laugh maybe three times, albeit I instantly felt guilty for doing so.

Here’s the bottom line about “The Ridiculous Six” besides “don’t watch it.” It is just another and yet somehow worse Adam Sandler film, and further proof he does not care about you or any another movie-lover. He only cares about getting richer and hanging out with his friends, and for that he is a brilliant and ruthless businessman. It will be interesting to see if Netflix honors the remaining three films on Sandler’s contract, because I cannot see a single person itching to see anymore Sandler anytime soon.

Critics Rating: 3/10


Bond Is Back But He’s Been Better

Spectre_posterI really should learn to stop getting excited for things; it only leads to heartbreak.

“Spectre” is the 24th and latest entry into the 007 franchise, with Daniel Craig returning for his fourth (and possibly final) portrayal of James Bond. This time around Bond must track down the head of a secret criminal syndicate (Christoph Waltz). Sam Mendes returns to direct and Ralph Fiennes returns as M, the head of MI6.

The opening scene of “Spectre” really is something to behold. Set in Mexico during the Day of the Dead festival, the opening sequence of the film is a four-minute single tracking shot and it is amazing. We are then treated to some more amazing cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema replaces Roger Deakins as director of photography and doesn’t miss a beat) and a very intense fist fight that takes place in a flipping helicopter. And it is after this adrenaline rush that “Spectre” decides to take a break; a break that for the most part continues through the credits.

The problem with “Spectre” is that most of the film is just Bond following paper trails and trying to find out identities. And this would be fine if (A) the hunt was exciting, or (B) it built up to something grand. But it does neither and the ultimate payoff really wasn’t worth the 2+ hour wait.

Casting Christoph Waltz as a Bond villain should have been an instant home run. He gave us one of the best bad guys in cinema history with Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds,” so he should be great and menacing facing off against James Bond, right? But aside from one scene where he just sits at a table like he’s head of a school board meeting, Waltz doesn’t show up until the final 40 minutes of the film. And the few scenes he does have he is just ranting and bragging about everything bad he’s done in the past and how he’s ruined Bond’s life.

This came off as both annoying and anticlimactic, because we never really see him do anything menacing or cool (it’s like the 50-year-old who keeps talking about how good he was at varsity football) and because from a narrative perspective it is really rather lazy to have every event from the previous three films connect back to one single point.

As I said early on, the film is shot beautifully, and the set design is great as well. This is a very good looking film; Mendes and crew know what they are doing. But Bond tossing maps and loading a gun without ever shooting it can only keep us entertained for so long (there are a few action sequences but aside from one train fight they are all brief and without tension).

I was really looking forward to “Spectre” but like many films in 2015 it disappointed. It is very well crafted and some of the throwback nods to the original Bonds are welcome, but I was disinterested throughout much of the film, and since they had all the pieces to make a classic 007 romp, the letdown is even more upsetting. It’s not a bad film, and it is better than “Quantum of Solace,” but that’s like complimenting “Revenge of the Sith” for being better than “Attack of the Clones;” that bar is just set too low to hit.

Critics Rating: 5/10



Bullock Saves ‘Brand’ from Being a Crisis

Our_Brand_Is_Crisis_(2015_film)_POSTERWell this movie may not be a crisis, but it isn’t that good, either…

“Our Brand Is Crisis” stars Sandra Bullock as a political strategist who comes out of retirement to help a Bolivia presidential candidate. Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Joaqium de Almeida also star as David Gordon Green directs. The film is partially based on the true story of the 2002 Bolivia election.

The film is produced by George Clooney, and was at one time supposed to feature him in the starring role as well as the director’s chair. But somewhere along the line the role went to Bullock and the character was rewritten as a woman, and we have the movie we have. The movie may have been different with Clooney in the starring role, however I can’t imagine it would have been much better. As I’m sure Clooney would have done, Bullock is the saving grace of the film, lifting it up and at some points saving it from a script that is scattershot and features major shifts in tone.

The interesting thing about Bullock in “Our Brand Is Crisis” (a role that screams Golden Globe nomination) is that she seems blissfully unaware of how poor the movie around her is. She skates along, spewing out quotes from politicians and military leaders, and occasionally gives passionate speeches. It is an interesting character and by far the best part of the movie. Every time things seem to be slowing down Bullock gives it a shot of energy, however her flare may expose the flaws the film has.

The tone of the film is all over the place. There are a few chuckles that come out of nowhere (thanks to the always likable Anthony Mackie) but the film isn’t constantly funny enough to be a comedy. On the flip side the film’s dramatic heft stems from randomly inserted story points, like Bullock’s character disclosing randomly halfway through the film that she suffers from depression; and then never touching on that topic again. There’s a point where Mackie’s character says negative ad campaigns are like a bomb, you can blow your opponent up but you don’t know where the votes are going to land. The tone of this film is a lot like that; they just set off an explosive in the genre factory and prayed things ended up in the right place (they didn’t).

Oh, and can we talk about Billy Bob Thornton’s character because what the heck was that? He plays the political adversary to Bullock and when he’s not making sexual innuendos at Bullock (a storyline that never reaches fruition), he’s coming off very uncomfortable for the viewer. And one may say that’s the point, he’s a sleaze ball; well the presidential candidate is a scumbag human, too, but at no point did I feel a sense of awkwardness just seeing his character on screen.

Some of the behind-the-scenes of political campaigns is fun, and like I said Bullock steals the show (and made me want to start researching quotations that I can spew out at random) but all too often I found myself disinterested in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”

Here’s the bottom line: I saw this film yesterday, and it already feels like it was a month ago, that’s how far this thing has already faded into my mind. If you’re a Bullock fan is this worth checking out if it’s on TV one Friday night? Sure. But to most everyone else, you’ll find the film about as fun as watching a real presidential debate; maybe less because there’s no Donald Trump.

Critics Rating: 5/10

our brand


‘Steve Jobs’ Near-Perfectly Acted and Written Biopic

SteveJobsposterIt’s going to be awkward when Michael Fassbender wins the Oscar for Best Actor over Leonardo DiCaprio for a role that DiCaprio turned down…

“Steve Jobs” is a biopic based on the man of the same name. Fassbender plays the titular Apple co-founder, while Seth Rogen portrays Steve Wozniak, Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, and Jeff Daniels portrays John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple. Based off a script by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, the film follows Jobs in the hours leading up to the three biggest product launches of his career in 1984, 1988 and 1999.

I have been anticipating this movie for a very long time. I am absolutely in love with Aaron Sorkin’s brand of fast-paced dialogue and long monologues, and this film is a showcase for his craft. I also enjoy Seth Rogen, so even though he isn’t smoking weed and getting into hijinks with James Franco, he was a joy to watch, and he gives the most genuine performance of his career. However the real star of the film is Fassbender who while bearing very little physical resemblance to his real-life counterpart, embodies the brilliant, calculating and at times frustrating nature of the late-great Jobs.

The film is broken up into three main acts, each taking place in the hour leading up to an important product unveiling: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT box in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each one of these time periods is shot on different types of film (16mm, 35mm and digital), so each has a different look and feel. Overall, I really liked these approaches, and thought it was a very unique way of approaching a biopic.

The writing in the film is nothing short of excellent, if not perfect. Like I said, I may be a bit biased because I love me some Sorkin (“The Social Network” is the best written film of all-time, fun fact), but his ability to have characters we should hate become likable and sympathetic. Plus his trademark rapid-fire, almost irrelevant conversations that are often side-splittingly funny, all make Steve Jobs, a man who neglects the acknowledgment of his daughter and makes the lives of all his co-workers a living hell, a man that we want to see succeed.

The acting in the film is all spot on as well, and that is likely a byproduct of the script. Like I said, Rogen is shockingly effective and emotional as the under-appreciated Wozniak, Winslet is quietly great as Jobs’ long-time confidant Joanna, and there is great fun in Michael Stuhlbarg’s abused engineer, Andy Hertzfeld. But much like the title of the film, the stage belongs to Fassbender, who is a tornado of energy and emotion. He is condescending, unreasonable and probably not a very good guy, but he continues to win us over with wise-cracks and breaking things down so that just maybe we can try and see the world how he does.

Director Danny Boyle, like Fassbender, does a great job keeping the energy going, especially for the first two thirds of the film. When Jobs is building Apple up and the trying to tear it down, it is near perfect filmmaking. It’s the third act, the final 30 minutes or so, that the film starts to get winded. It is probably just by comparison, but it felt like the stakes were never as high, and all the real conflict had already been dealt with. The third act, much like most any film, is where we get resolutions and closure with many characters, and I just wanted to go back to the days when Jobs was telling his engineers that if they didn’t fix a problem he would go out on stage and publically name them responsible.

The first act of “Steve Jobs” is fantastic, the second is great, and the third is good, which all in all combines to a pretty great end product. It is hands-down one of the best films of the year, and the writing, directing and acting will all likely win the film some shiny trophies come award season.

Critics Rating: 8/10



‘Sicario’ Offers Uneasy, Intense Thrills

Sicario_posterIf this film is good for anything, it’s reaffirming my desire to not visit Mexico anytime soon.

“Sicario” stars Emily Blunt as an ambitious FBI agent who gets involved with a government task force (led by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) in an effort to bring down a Mexican drug lord. “Prisoners” director Denis Villeneuve helms here.

This was one of my most anticipated films of the fall ever since the first trailer dropped. I adored “Prisoners,” the cast looked great, and cinematographer Roger Deakins is one of the best we’ve ever had. So even though “Sicario” isn’t the masterpiece I hoped it would be it is still an intense, wonderfully-wound thriller about the war on drugs.

The best things about “Sicario” are from the people who stand behind the camera. The film is shot beautifully, which like I said shouldn’t be a surprise since Deakins was the Director of Photography. He and Villeneuve implement aerial shots throughout the film, which shows us the vast scope of how much of a No Man’s Land the southern U.S. border and Mexico really are.

While marketed as an action film, you should know there isn’t much gunplay in here. Instead, Villeneuve makes the entire film have an uneasy, dangerous sense about it; you feel as if any character could pull put a weapon at any moment. The best sequence in the film takes place on the U.S.-Mexico border bridge, and it is as intense as any scene I’ve seen in a while, very possibly since the climax of “Prisoners” (which I’m still shaking from).

The acting in the film is solid across the board, but Del Toro stands out. Throughout most of the film he is a silent observer, you don’t know much about him or his motivations except “he goes where he’s sent”. But in the film’s final act, Del Toro flips a switch and becomes an incredibly different person, and this simple man suddenly becomes a multi-layered character study.

I wasn’t annoyed or off-put by “Sicario’s” slow pace, it adds that uneasy tension to the film, however outside of Del Toro’s character the film never truly builds to anything great. Blunt’s FBI agent is more of a pawn than an actual player in the film, and the plot itself plays out like a more sadistic version of “Breaking Bad” (to say, there aren’t any huge twists; the “twist” is pretty much given away in the trailer).

“Sicario” is one of the movies that you appreciate the more you let it soak in. It is certainly an adult film if there ever was one, and an uncomfortable one at that. There are mutilated bodies galore and the entire experience itself may make you want to take a shower, but I am glad I went on the ride. It is a good, not great film, which is a bit disappointing considering all the talent involved, but I still think “Sicario” is one of the better films of 2015.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘The Martian’ is Overlong, Underwhelming

The_Martian_film_posterWell, at least this is better than “Exodus: Gods and Kings;” whatever that’s worth.

“The Martian” is based on the bestselling novel and stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is left behind on Mars after his team must perform an emergency evacuation. He must then both find a way to grow food and contact Earth before it is too late. Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor highlight an all-star cast as Ripley Scott directs.

It seems to be a trend in the past few years to release a movie about surviving in space during the autumn season. 2013 gave us “Gravity,” and last year we had “Interstellar,” two very good movies that tinkered on great. Unfortunately “The Martian” does not continue that trend, as it a movie that is just OK, featuring flashes of what it could have been.

Like I said in the opening line, this is better than “Exodus,” and in fact may be Ripley Scott’s best film since 2003’s “Matchstick Men” (quick plug: see that if you haven’t). But the bar isn’t set very high for Scott, and many of the same problems that plagued his recent films like “Exodus” and “Prometheus,” like overstuffed plots and poor pacing, are front stage here.

“Martian” is 2 hours 20 minutes and you feel most every moment of that. I checked my phone one time expecting the film to be approaching the climax, and it was only 90 minutes in. Much of the film plays out in a rinse and repeat pattern: Damon needs to solve a problem, he solves it rather quickly, and a new problem then arises. Meanwhile the suits back at NASA argue on how to go about performing the rescue mission, which normally ends without much conflict.

The most interesting points of the film aren’t even featuring Damon trying to survive on the distant planet, it’s back on Earth where space experts Donald Glover, Ejiofor and Sean Bean all try and figure out problems and debate the best solutions. These moments are the most engaging but often end too quickly, instead sending us back to Damon who is eating potatoes for the 300th straight day.

What the film does do well, however, is establish the characters. We don’t really know about Watney before the accident (he gets left behind in the first 10 minutes of the film), so Damon’s video logs give us a feel for the character. He is a calm, down-to-earth (well, figuratively, not literally) guy who even though he just awoke 140 million miles from home with a needle plunged into his chest, still manages to crack a joke. The film itself is pretty funny, which makes sense when you have career comedians Glover, Daniels and Kristen Wiig as part of your cast.

I really wanted to like “The Martian” more than I did, but for every gorgeous shot of Mars’ desert terrain or each scene of Damon making a breakthrough, there are two or three slow scenes that add nothing but exposition to the already hefty plot. It is far from a bad film, but it is certainly one of the bigger disappointments of 2015, and kicks the Oscar movie season off with a whimper.

Critics Rating: 5/10