FlixChatter Review: SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (2018)

Denis Villeneuve’s SICARIO was one of the best films of 2015 and one of my favorites that year. It was well received by many movie critics, but it wasn’t a huge box office hit, so I didn’t expect or wanted to see a sequel. But these days Hollywood studios will try to turn ANY movie into a franchise and now part 2 of the hit man saga has been unleash to multiplexes.

The story kicks off with terrorist bombings, including one at a major convenient store in the heartland of America. Special agent Matt Gravers (Josh Brolin) has been summon by his boss Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) to find out who’s responsible for the bombings. With the blessing from the Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine), Gravers was given a mission to do whatever it takes to get a payback for the bombings.

After interrogating a Somalian pirate, he found out that the drug cartels in Mexico are smuggling terrorists through southern border of Texas. With a help of his trusted assassin Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), they devised a plan to kidnap a daughter of one of the big drug cartels and made it look like it’s another cartel who did it. Their goal is to start a war between the cartels, hoping they would all kill each other and wouldn’t be able to smuggle people to the United States. The victim is teenager named Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), whose father happens to be the biggest drug lord in Mexico. Once Graves and his men took Isabel, things went south fast and Alejandro must use skills to protect Isabel from danger.

With Villeneuve being busy with other projects, stepping into the director’s chair this time is Stefano Sollima, whose previous projects were mostly TV shows in Italy. I thought he did a decent job by following Villeneuve’s template, in fact I think most people would think this film was directed by Villeneuve if they didn’t know a new director was hired for the job. The look and feel were no different from the last film. There’s nothing wrong with following the previous director’s style but for me, if a new director takes over a franchise, I expect to see that person to bring in their own creative vision. Sollima did stage a pretty impressive action sequence in a desert where Graves and his men got ambushed.

Taylor Sheridan’s script is solid but not as good as the first one. Here he tackled several political subjects that are relevant to our real-world issues such as immigration debate, terrorism and politics bickering. But I thought with all those complex ideas he came up with, they just masked a very thin plot. If you’ve seen the trailers of this film, you pretty much know the whole story and that’s pretty disappointing to me. There were opportunities to make this one even compelling than the first film, but the story ended way too fast. I understand they’re planning a trilogy, so hopefully the third film will give us better story.

Performances were pretty decent all around, Brolin and Del Toro looked very comfortable in their respective roles and some of the young actors were pretty good. I thought Keener’s and Modine’s character were kind of wasted, they didn’t really have much to do and could’ve been played by unknown actors.

I was looking forward to this sequel and was a disappointed, mostly with the script. I think they missed an opportunity to make this one as good or better than the last film. Still a solid thriller and fans of the first film should check it out.

TedS_post


So have you seen Sicario: Day of the Soldado? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Incredibles 2 (2018)

The Incredibles was released 2004 when the super hero genre was starting to dominate the box office. It was one of the biggest hits of that year but somehow a sequel never got made. Now 14 years later, the Parr/Incredibles family is back to save the world from bad guys.

Set not long after the events of the first movie, The Incredibles family just saved a city from a massive disaster but were arrested right after because superheroes are still considered illegal. With the help of an old friend, they were released from the authority. But now they are broke and homeless, Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) needs to figure out how they can support their young children. The thought of going back to the workforce as regular human being doesn’t sit well with Bob but thankfully their friend Lucius/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) came to the rescue. He told both Bob and Helen that he’d met a very rich man named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who wants to make super heroes legal again and he wants to meet and offer them a new gig.

Winston runs a very successful communication firm and idolizes super heroes, he wants to convince powerful government officials to make super heroes legal and save the world from danger again. With the help of his tech expert sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston came up with a plan of having only Elastigirl go out and do all the heroics stuff first to prove to the government that super heroes are not dangerous to the public. Having always been the man of the house and the alpha male, Mr. Incredible was taken aback that Winston didn’t choose him for this gig. But since he loves his wife and kids and understands that the job will be their only option to make a living, he relented and encourage his wife to take the job.

As the story progresses, we see Elastigirl fights crime and save many lives while also trying to find the identity of the movie’s main villain who goes by the name Screensaver. Meanwhile, Bob is stuck at home playing Mr. Mom and not doing a very good job of it.

All of the actors who voiced each of the characters were great, Nelson, Hunter and Jackson slipped right back into their respective roles and we audience never get the sense that they’ve been gone for such a long time. Odenkirk’s Winston is a nice addition, he’s basically playing a rich and powerful version of Saul from Breaking Bad. Let’s hope they bring him back for the third sequel. But the character who steals the show is baby Jack Jack, he’s adorable baby with several super powers and got the most laugh from the audience. Pretty sure his toy will sell quite well during the holidays season.

This is a return to form for Brad Bird who wrote and directed the picture. I thought his last film Tomorrowland was one of the worst of 2015. He crafted a fun and exciting family superhero picture. There were some complaints from parents that the first movie was too violent, so he scaled back the action in this one. But that doesn’t mean the movie don’t have any good action scenes.

The highlight action scene for me was when Elastigirl was on her motorbike racing through the streets trying to stop an out of control train. Also, the big climatic finale where all of the super heroes used their power to save a city from destruction was well done and very exciting. The only complaint I have is that the main villain was pretty weak compare to Syndrome from the first movie.

Incredibles 2 may not be a good as the first one but it’s full laughs, exciting action sequences and some social commentary on our current pop culture. It’s still early in the summer movie season but it’s definitely my favorite so far.

TedS_post


So have you seen Incredibles 2? Well, what did you think?

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Little Pink House + The Ballad of Lefty Brown

There aren’t enough days in TCFF to post all the reviews. In fact, I still have a few more TCFF reviews coming your way next week, which will be interspersed with new release reviews such as Only The Brave, The Foreigner and The Snowman.

Thanks to TCFF blog contributor Andy Ellis for these reviews. Definitely something to check out when it’s released near you.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
review by Andy Ellis

If there is one thing that makes The Ballad of Lefty Brown stand out from other westerns it’s Bill Pullman‘s performance. The story itself is a different take on the revenge-type western, because the underdog takes center stage. Lefty Brown (Pullman) witnesses his partner get murdered in front of him, and vows to find the men responsible.

For a western it’s great. There’s plenty of gun fights and suspense to go around. And there are definitely scenes that allow the supporting cast to shine. Peter Fonda plays Edward Johnson, Brown’s partner, and does a great job with the limited screen time he has. Kathy Baker is great as his wife Laura playing a woman is suddenly dealing her husband’s death, keeping the farm going, and finding out who killed her husband. Tommy Flanagan shines as the hardened Federal Marshal Tom Harrah and a longtime friend of Johnson and Brown, who is still trying to overcome a tragedy from his past. Jim Caviezel and Diego Josef also have great supporting parts that make for very memorable scenes.

This, however, is Pullman’s film. If there ever was role that would should garner him some sort of acclaim from critics and awards voters, this would be it. He transforms into Brown, a sidekick with a who no one sees as someone who is capable of successfully avenging his partner’s death. He’s got a bad limp so he’s not always the smoothest at moving, may be mentally slow, and other peculiarties as well.

He overcomes all of that, with a few missteps along the way, with a determination to get justice for his friend. Even with everyone telling him someone else will take care of it, he’s going to get it done or die trying. Everyone can come along for the ride if they want.

Yes, the story is about revenege. But it’s also about one man with a really big heart. And despite all the obstacles in his way won’t even let the possibility of death get in the way of getting justice for his partner, a man who gave him everything.


Little Pink House
Review by Andy Ellis

Academy Award-nominated actress Catherine Keener (Get Out, 40-Year-Old-Virgin) may find herself in the running again with Little Pink House. Adapted from the book Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage by Jeff Benedict, it’s centered around Susette Kelo (Keener) and the events that led up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Kelo vs. City of New London. The decision allowed the government to bulldoze neighborhood property for the benefit of a multibillion-dollar corporation.

The story consists of many characters, but there are two that stand out the most: Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn who plays Charlotte Wells. She’s hired by the governor of Connecticut to convince the citizens of New London to let the government buy their homes. Tripplehorn delivers a great performance as Wells who is undeterred by any obstacles put in her way, but you still really hope she fails.

Keener, who resembles the real-life Kelo pretty well, delivers a great performance of a woman starting over. She just wants to be able to live in her home, but when Wells and the government try taking that away she’s determined, passionate, and rarely loses her composure.

These two women lead a talented supporting cast including Aaron Douglas, Miranda Frigon, and Callum Keith Rennie. They and many others all contribute special moments to the film.

The fact that this is a true story makes it that much more powerful. It’s a story about defiance, courage, and hope. Despite its outcome, this is a movie that have you cheering from your seat.


Have you seen these films? Well, what did you think?

 

TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,

FRIDAY

Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!

3halfReels


A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.

4Reels


Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.

3Reels

Check out the trailer below:


Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!


Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!