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Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Keener’

Isabela Moner, Benecio Del Toro

“SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO” My rating: B- 

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Sicario” was one of 2015’s best films, a (mostly) South of the Border crime drama which posited that the war on drugs is not only unwinnable but destined to make the U.S. as complicit in evil as the cartels.

Also, it starred Emily Blunt (always a welcome thing) as an F.B.I. agent who discovers the hard way that in this conflict there are no good guys.

The Blunt-less “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a step down from the original (this was pretty much inevitable); nevertheless it works reasonably well as a high-tension crime thriller.

Scripted once again by Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River,” “Hell or High Water”) and directed this time around by Stefano Solima (the Italian TV crime drama “Gomorrah”), this entry reunites Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as, respectively, CIA operative Matt Graver and his right-hand man, former cartel hitman Alejandro.

This time we don’t have to discover through a principled heroine that our government is willing to do all sorts of unpalatable things to secure our safety. Truth is, just about every character in the film is outright evil or seriously compromised.

Early on, Islamic terrorists blow up a big box store in Kansas City; the feds determine that the suicide bombers entered the U.S. as illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, guided by underlings of the Reyes drug cartel.

Graver and Alejandro are assigned to start a war among the various cartels through a series of assassinations. They also set in motion a plan to kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the teen daughter of the Reyes cartel’s leader.

Of course this skullduggery is off the books; the government bigwigs who order the mission (Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine) are all about deniability and any member of the team is expendable if it means keeping a lid on things.

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“THE INCREDIBLES 2” My rating: B 

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

“The Incredibles” (2004) always was too good for kids.

Youngsters may have made up the bulk of ticket buyers, but so much of Brad Bird’s yarn about the Parrs, an urban family with superpowers, was directed at adults — especially boomers with a collective memory of James Bond films and early ’60s kitsch.

The long-in-coming “Incredibles 2” is more of the same.  Far from being a radical departure from the original film, it picks up precisely where the first one left off (with the arrival of the John Ratzenberger-voiced Underminer and his gigantic burrowing machine); you could watch the two films back to back as one big story.

Once again, Bird’s screenplay pits the family against a villain — in this case a mysterious figure known as the Screenslaver who uses the world’s TV sets  as  invasive hypnotic devices. And the sequel continues the earlier film’s plot thread about a worldwide ban on superheroes, which forces our protagonists to operate mostly in secret.

All well and good. But the real theme of “Incredibles 2” is gender roles.

Because of its early ’60s setting, Bird can dabble in bad-old-days male chauvinism, particularly as it affects the marvelous Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), who finds herself more or less working solo to fight the Screenslaver.

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Jon Hamm

“NOSTALGIA” My rating: C-

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Nostalgia” is a points-in-heaven movie.

Basically it’s a little art film (well, it wants to be art, anyway) that has attracted an astounding cast of recognizable actors (Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, Beth Grant, Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, James le Gros, Nick Offerman, John Ortiz, Amber Tamblyn) who are working for little or no pay to be part of a noncommercial effort that they hope will have something to say.

Call it movie star penance. These actors are trying to rack up some points in heaven.

Let’s hope they do, because “Nostalgia” isn’t going to make a ding in either the box office or critical circles.

Written and directed by Mark Pellington (“Arlington Road,” “The Mothman Prophecies,” “The Last Word”), “Nostalgia” offers an interesting premise.  It’s about how humans connect with objects and how giving up or losing those possessions can result in both trauma and a positive re-examination of one’s life.

Plotted less as one contiguous story than as a series of interconnected shorts, the film begins with an insurance investigator (Ortiz) checking out the home of an old man (Dern) who is preparing to sell  everything to finance his last years.

Exactly what the insurance guy does is a bit vague. He says he’s there to see if there are items in the house worth bringing in an appraiser…but on whose behalf we don’t know.  Maybe an evaluation of home’s contents has been requested by the old man’s granddaughter and heir (Tamblyn).

Anyway, the insurance guy’s real job — narratively speaking — is to be a sounding board for other characters. (If “Nostalgia” were given to metaphysical musings, you might view the character as a sympathetic angel.)

His next “customer” is a widow (Burstyn) whose home has just burned to the ground.  She’s lost everything except her late husband’s most cherished possession, a baseball signed by Ted Williams.  Eventually the old lady will travel to Las Vegas and a sports memorabilia shop where the copacetic owner (Hamm) buys the baseball for mucho dinero.

Then we follow the sports memorabilia guy to his home town, where he joins his sister (Keener) in clearing out their late parents’ home. This reunion is marred by a family tragedy. (more…)

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Kiera Knightley, Mark Ruffalo in "Begin Again"

Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo in “Begin Again”

“BEGIN AGAIN” My rating: B (Opening July 2 at the Glenwood Arts)

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Begin Again” is only half the movie that “Once” is.

But it should still be enough to jump start the career of filmmaker John Carney.

“Once,” of course, was Carney’s 2006 art house hit about a tentative romance between a Dublin street busker and a Polish immigrant. This mini-budget wonder, largely improvised and featuring an astounding soundtrack written by the two “stars” (Glenn Hansard, Marketa Irglova), introduced the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.” It was a new kind of intimate musical, and a bittersweet romance of epic proportions. (It has gone on to become a hit on Broadway).

But the ensuing years have not been kind to writer/director Carney, who used his newfound fame to make two instantly forgettable features: the clumsy visitor-from-another-planet comedy “Zonad” (2008), which was released in the US only on home video, and the supernatural thriller “The Rafters” (2012), which as far as I can tell has been seen by practically no one.

Which brings us to “Begin Again,” an effort to recapture some of the magic of “Once.”

It’s about music. It’s about love.

And it’s actually not bad.

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