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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Maybe it was because Emily Blunt opted to make A Quiet Place. Or perhaps it was because she agreed to star in the new Mary Poppins movie. Whatever it was that kept her from saying yes to a Sicario sequel, her refusal should’ve made producers say, “Oh, well. Maybe later, when Blunt frees up?” After all, she was the main reason to watch the original.

Nope. They went for it anyway, and the result is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, an excuse to trot out Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin in a nasty film that’s plotted in such a way as to assure it will give Sean Hannity and his ilk monster boners—ginormous, Fox News red boners right there in the middle of the theater.

The timing of this movie is … shall we say, interesting. As real-life tensions build along the Mexican border, with families being separated, along comes a movie that shows ISIS terrorists crossing over the Mexican border and blowing up strip malls. Wait a minute … wasn’t Sicario supposed to be about America’s beef with drug cartels? This ISIS stuff feels, well, tacked on.

The terrorism element is introduced near the beginning of the movie, but it later falls away in favor of a subplot about a kidnapping intended to start a war between the Mexican and U.S. governments. In fact, a character dismisses the terrorist element later in the movie by saying, “Oh, they were from New Jersey,” or something along those lines. It’s as if screenwriter Taylor Sheridan started one movie, got scared and finished with another one. To say the movie lacks focus is an understatement.

Brolin returns as agent Matt Graver, a nasty guy who will blow up your brother as you watch on a laptop if you don’t tell him what he needs to hear. Del Toro is also back as Alejandro, an operative once again hired by the U.S., this time to stir up trouble with the cartels and eventually kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), a drug kingpin’s daughter.

Moner—you might remember her from her unfortunate participation in the latest Transformers movie—is a big star in the making. She gives the kind of performance that breaks your heart, because it is so good in service of something so mediocre. There are moments when she makes you forget you are watching a very unimportant movie.

Del Toro works hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings, but this is basically a sadistic action thriller with little brains. There are some decent sequences put together by director Stefano Sollima, who replaces the excellent Denis Villeneuve from the original. While Villeneuve provided real dramatic heft with the gunfights, Sollima gives us the shock minus the depth. The result is a hollow movie.

Catherine Keener shows up as Brolin’s boss, who makes him do things that only a truly despicable POTUS would put into play. It’s hard to tell if the movie is an indictment of U.S. policies, or a celebration, although the dudes whooping and drooling in the front row made me think it was more of a celebration. Matthew Modine is on hand as the secretary of defense, and plays it like a beefier meditation on his Stranger Things villain.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado avoids being one of the summer’s worst films thanks to Moner, who makes stretches of the movie worthwhile. She’s slated to play the title character in a live-action Dora the Explorer film. Whatever she does, she will probably wind up a star.

As for the Sicario franchise? It probably now has a place as what’s essentially Trump porn … intended or not.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we finally get the movie with both older Luke and Leia. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher get to do what Harrison Ford did in The Force Awakens: They spend a little more time (in the case of Hamill, a lot more time) in their iconic roles.

Both stars shine as they play in the Star Wars sandbox 40 years after the original’s release. When this film focuses on the saga of Luke and Rey, it is nothing short of epic. When the camera is on the late Carrie Fisher—who gets more quality screen time than she did with her glorified cameo in Force Awakens—it’s heartwarming and, yes, sad. (The Leia stuff gets a little kooky at times, but I’m trying to make this a spoiler-free zone.)

When writer-director Rian Johnson takes the action to the characters of Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and a new character named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the film falters. Poe, so engaging in Force Awakens, seems underdeveloped here. While the Resistance fights an oddly prolonged and bizarre space battle against the First Order, Poe just whines a lot—the point where you’re actually happy when Leia smacks him across the head.

The film picks up where The Force Awakens left off, more or less, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke in a stare-down: Rey is looking for tutelage, but Luke wants nothing to do with that Jedi stuff anymore, and desires to be left alone with his alien milk. While on the island, Rey starts having some sort of psychic Force conversations with Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Will Luke train Rey? Will Rey find out who her parents are? Will Adam Driver engage in his obligatory partial nudity in this film? I’m not telling.

What I will tell you is that there’s too much going on in The Last Jedi, and a lot of it feels like filler. Besides that stalled-out space battle, there’s a clunky sequence in a casino that goes on far too long; a lot of distracting cameos; and new characters inhabited by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro who bring little to the proceedings.

Am I overthinking this? Yeah, I am—but I’m a dude who has spent the last 40 years worshiping Star Wars. Anything you put onscreen that’s a Star Wars production is going to have me (admittedly, a loser) breaking down that shit. I’m saying that some of this movie seems a little half-baked, and also overstuffed. If there’s any movie I want to be more than 2 1/2 hours long, it’s a Star Wars movie—but at that length, it needs to be a really good Star Wars movie, not a so-so one. The Last Jedi is so-so.

I’m of two minds when it comes to The Last Jedi. It’s part Best Star Wars Ever (Luke, Leia, Rey, Ben Solo) and part Worst Star Wars Ever (Poe, Finn, the girl with the flip hair, and just about any time Domhnall Gleeson speaks). I’m recommending it for the Luke and Leia goodness, Daisy Ridley’s continued greatness as Rey, and inspired moments of fun and humor. But, man oh man, it nearly goes into “Jar Jar” territory a little too often for my tastes.

Johnson has been given a new Star Wars trilogy on which to work—a saga supposedly away from the Skywalkers. I’m hoping the guy gives us something a little more balanced. He’s made great movies (Brick, Looper) and crap movies (The Brothers Bloom) in the past. The Last Jedi falls somewhere in between.

So, as Yoda would say: A great Star Wars, this is not. Like it just fine, I did, but there is a tremor of over-indulgence in the Force. Be mindful of this for future times in edit bay, you must.”

One final note: Porgs are awesome.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who deals with kidnappings, inadvertently finds herself in the middle of a Mexican drug-cartel war after being enlisted by a shifty government type (Josh Brolin).

After she finds a houseful of dead bodies, Brolin’s character shows up, has a little meeting, recruits Kate and puts her on a private jet with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a mysterious man who seems to be some sort of consultant. After being told she is going to Texas, she winds up in Juarez, Mexico, and eventually needs to fight for her life in a border gun battle.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) keeps things intense, especially when Del Toro is on the screen. The real reason for his character’s presence, revealed late in the film, is a real kicker. Brolin is great as the crusty agent who wears sandals to meetings and sleeps on planes.

In the end, this is Blunt’s movie, and she is dynamite as Kate. It’s another action-intensive role for the versatile actress (she was great in Edge of Tomorrow)—and she’s an early contender for a Best Actress Oscar.

Sicario is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I abstain from weed because some people really shouldn’t do drugs. If you are like me, you might need two or three viewings to completely get the vibe and plot of Inherent Vice.

However, if you watch the movie while mildly high, you might follow everything in one shot.

I’ve watched director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film twice now, and it was almost like watching a different movie the second time through. I enjoyed it both times, but the language and proceedings made more sense to me on the second go-round. I must have some sort of latent stoner sensibility stored in my brain from bong hits in years past.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sloppy private investigator in 1970 Los Angeles who operates, inexplicably, out of a doctor’s office. When an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) goes missing, he conducts a haphazard investigation into her disappearance that involves dead people who aren’t dead, drug-dealers and kidnapped real estate moguls. All of these things are being investigated by a guy who is seriously high most of the time, and who pieces things together at his own mellow, clumsy pace.

Along the way, Doc comes across a parade of colorful characters—with each one played by a brilliant actor or actress. Josh Brolin is perfection as an unstable, macho cop with a penchant for kicking down Doc’s door. Phoenix and Brolin have a lot of fun making the characters bitter enemies, even though they’re almost chummy at times. Brolin’s final scene is, shall we say, surreal and bizarre on joyous levels.

Owen Wilson does some of his best work in years as a musician, believed dead, who has gone into hiding. He has scenes with Phoenix that are borderline brilliant, as does Martin Short as a lascivious dentist with a taste for young girls and pharmaceutical-grade cocaine. Anderson may have given Short his best role since his SCTV days, even though Short is only in a few scenes.

Benicio del Toro shows up as Doc’s attorney; his character reminded me of his similar role in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reese Witherspoon caps off a great year by playing Doc’s uptight current girlfriend, and Jena Malone has a terrific scene as a wife who pleasantly and happily discusses her drug addiction and missing husband.

The mystery, if you want to call it that, ties up fairly cleanly. The film, despite what some folks are saying, has a beginning, a middle and an end that makes sense. You just have to work at it a bit.

The locations, clothing and hairstyles are very 1970s. The film plays like a stoner mood piece, swinging from relaxed to paranoid, unintelligible to highly coherent—as if you are going through the various phases of some high-grade kush.

You might be thinking, “Hey, this sounds a little bit like The Big Lebowski.” Lebowski was a lot cuter, and far funnier. Both stories do, however, feature a stoner dude investigating a missing person. (It should be noted that the Coens wrote and produced Lebowski 11 years before Thomas Pynchon put out the novel on which Inherent Vice is based.)

If you’ve never smoked weed, but have a friend that does smoke, go see the movie with them. You may not get it, while your friend’s mind will be blown. He or she will explain some things to you, and you’ll be all set for a second, more-informed viewing.

Also: Do not smoke weed for the first time before seeing Inherent Vice. The stuff out there now is pretty damn powerful, and the site of Phoenix’s Wolverine chops will surely freak out a first-timer.

Inherent Vice opens Thursday, Jan. 8, at theaters including the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy is a goofy, dazzling and often hilarious convergence of inspired nuttiness.

You’ll probably hear comparisons to the original Star Wars, The Fifth Element and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension; all of those comparisons are plausible. Guardians marks a blessedly new and crazy direction for the Marvel universe, and director James Gunn (Super, Slither) has taken a huge step toward the A-list.

Also taking a giant leap toward the upper echelon of Hollywood royalty is Chris Pratt, who mixes great charm, action-hero bravado and premium comic timing as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord. After a prologue that shows the Earthly origins of his character, Pratt sets the tone for the movie during the opening credits, grooving to his cassette-playing Sony Walkman on an alien planet and using squirrelly little critters as stand-in microphones.

After unknowingly stealing a relic that could have the power to take down the entire universe, Quill finds himself in serious trouble. Events lead to his joining forces with a genetically enhanced raccoon named Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper), a gigantic tree-person thing named Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel), a muscle-bound angry alien named Drax (Dave Bautista) and an ass-kicking green woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana).

Together, they become the Guardians of the Galaxy, an unlikely troupe of mischievous outcasts that plays like the Avengers met the Marx Brothers—if the Marx Brothers had a green sister. It’s a decent comparison. Quill is Groucho; Rocket is Chico; and Groot is Harpo. (He only has one line, “I am Groot!” while Harpo only had the honking horn.) I’d say Gamora is Zeppo, but that would be insulting to Gamora.

The cast, buoyed by a spirited script co-written by Gunn, keeps things zippy and always funny. Visually, the movie is a tremendous feat. If you see it in 3-D, you will be happy with the results, because every shot seems meticulously constructed to benefit the medium. As for the makeup, just as much energy has been put into the practical effects as the digital work.

Michael Rooker, playing bad-guy Yondu, looks especially cool with his blue skin and ragged yellow teeth. Josh Brolin shows up briefly as Thanos, a major villain in the Marvel universe, while John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro are along for the ride.

With her presence here, and her work Star Trek and Avatar, Saldana has officially inherited the Queen of Science Fiction mantle from Sigourney Weaver (and she’s incredibly hot when she’s blue or green). Pratt establishes his leading-man status here, something that could be fully cemented with his turn in the Jurassic Park sequel next year.

While Guardians is a terrific visual spectacle, it also packs an emotional punch. Rocket delivers a speech about alienation that is far more moving than anything you’d expect to see in a movie like this, while Quill’s mommy issues fuel some surprising emotional moments. The cast does some real acting; Cooper’s feat is especially impressive, since we only hear his voice. Heck, even Vin Diesel packs a sentimental punch in the many ways he delivers his “I am Groot!” line.

The use of classic rock on the soundtrack is a brilliant touch. Quill’s old-school Walkman, still working decades after he left Earth, churns out the hits like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Cherry Bomb.” Like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese, Gunn is quite adept at using great music in unexpected places.

Guardians of the Galaxy rivals Edge of Tomorrow and Godzilla as this summer’s best blockbusters. As for its place in the Marvel universe, I’ll put it right alongside The Avengers as the franchise’s best.

Good news:  A sequel has already been green-lit for 2017, so this blissfully bizarre story shall continue.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens Thursday night, July 31, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

You can smell the fresh paint on the holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet highly commercialized entry in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The latest installment is a step below Kenneth Branagh’s goofy and grand first installment. While the sequel is not likely to piss off superhero-film fans, director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds, either. It’s an OK placeholder flick while we wait for the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he’s fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth.

As for bad brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who owns the role), he’s doing dungeon time in Asgard (a land seemingly named after a mini rock opera by Rush), largely because of what he did to New York City.

Things come to a head when ancient villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, who looks silly here thanks to his makeup) awakens from his slumber and seeks out a powerful dark force called the Aether. With this power harnessed, Malekith looks to cause some deep trouble during an event called the Convergence of the Nine Realms, which sounds like it could be the title of a secret third side to Yes’ Close to the Edge.

OK, I’ll stop making progressive rock jokes. 

Jane, inadvertently, gets herself involved in the universe-threatening activities, and Thor takes her to Asgard, where she meets the parents, Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). Odin wants his son to become king and marry a goddess, as most kings of the universe would want for their children. Frigga seems indifferent and happy to have some girl time.

Hiddleston might actually be out-cooling Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel universe. He’s a great talent, managing to make a malicious bastard someone who we strangely find ourselves rooting for. When Thor must call upon his nasty sibling for help in fighting Malekith, it’s one of those, “Oh, goody, goody!” moments that will have you rubbing your hands together with a sly grin on your face (perhaps confusing the person sitting next to you in the theater).

Minus Hiddleston’s excellent work, Thor: The Dark World wouldn’t be much of anything. Hemsworth is capable enough, but he’s starting to feel like more of a supporting player in the Thor movies.

I have read some fan chatter criticizing the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor, declaring that they have no real reason to be pining for each other. Here are a couple of good reasons: Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the most handsome man on Earth, and the tremendously beautiful Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster! I, for one, see no further explanation for why these two would want to see each other naked. Makes sense to me.

The credits, in keeping with Marvel tradition, contain two additional scenes—one a few moments into the credits, and another at the very end. One of them features Benicio Del Toro, and it is very weird. The other is actually the real end to this movie, so it is essential that you stick around.

As for post-Avengers Marvel movies, Iron Man 3 is far superior, because it did new things with its character and messed around with the format. Meanwhile, Thor: The Dark World, while worth seeing, is part of a franchise that has lost a bit of its heft.

Thor: The Dark World is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews