If you want the gravy…

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SICARIO Review – ***½


Take your pick, they’re both good posters. Better than the movie, even.

After impressing me greatly with the haunting Prisoners and the marvelously maddening Enemy, I was eager to see what Denis Villeneuve would do next. Then, this opened at Cannes, to solid but not outstanding reviews, and the trailers failed to truly excite me. So my level of anticipation dropped accordingly. Then subsequent reviews proved more favorable, so much so that it now sits at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes–and I thought Villeneuve might have done it again after all.

I should have trusted my initial reaction. While not a bad film by any means, Sicario lacks a real reason for existing, and fails to say much about cartels or the War on Drugs that hasn’t been said before, nor does it feature such compelling characters or such dazzling craftsmanship as would compensate. It’s well done in most every aspect, but never takes that vital leap into being something special.

(NOTE: I also saw The Martian this weekend, and quite liked it, but I’d like to see it again before writing my review.)

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We all knew this would be a major Oscar contender from the outset. Last year’s winner for Director (and Picture, and Screenplay) teams up with a cinematographer who’s just won back-to-back Oscars, a star who’s widely considered damnably overdue, a co-star who’s very hot at the moment (and has two other major films this year), and a strong up-and-comer (Domhnall Gleeson). They shoot on location in Canada in the dead of winter, and planned to shoot in sequence (apparently, they weren’t able to), and release the film right in the thick of December.

They know what they’re doing.

And, while I really need to see this trailer in a theater to get the maximum effect, I won’t lie; my interest is being maintained. I could see this being overwrought and too self-serious, but I could also see it being surreal and haunting. It’s a little hard to tell just how good a performance DiCaprio is giving, but I doubt he’ll disappoint. Hopefully future trailers will show more of the rest of the cast, but for now we’ve got Lubezki’s incredible cinematography and Iñárritu’s vivid direction to whet our appetites. The mountain of skulls in particular could be one of the year’s defining images.

I’m predicting many nominations, with Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Makeup/Hairstyling, Score, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing being the strongest possibilities.

And here we’ve got the latest from my nemesis…David O. fucking Russell. Read on:

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INTO THE WOODS Review – ***½

The poster puts Streep front and center, but this one's all about the ensemble. (Source)

The poster puts Streep front and center, but this one’s all about the ensemble. (Source)

I confess, my history with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairy-tale musical has been a checkered one. I saw it…oh, probably around 10 years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the first act while being put off by the second act. I saw it again about two years ago, and thought about the same. I understand what the show tries to do with its second act, but I find the message (which is, essentially, “happily ever after isn’t always happy”) a rather obvious one, and that the show communicates it in a rather ham-fisted manner.

So when I sat down in the movie theater on Christmas day (and a packed theater it was, too), I was a little concerned that I would have about the same experience as in the live one. But, while the film is not without flaws of its own, it manages to be thematically far more graceful than the stage show. And if none of the individual performances really stand out, they work extremely well together–there’s a reason it’s won all those ensemble awards. And at film’s end, what did I hear but the sound of applause from my fellow audience members.

That doesn’t happen often–unless you’re Inglourious Basterds.

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EDGE OF TOMORROW Review – ***½

"We've had this conversation before."

“We’ve had this conversation before.”

This isn’t going to be a long review (I know, I’ve said that before), not because this is a bad or unnotable film, but because A. it’s so complex that a detailed synopsis would ruin it and take forever to write and B. it’s exactly what it needs to be–a summer action thriller that takes a gimmick and uses it extremely well. It’s not a game-changing **** masterpiece or anything (on the whole, I prefer Groundhog Day), but going by what it is, it’s just dandy.

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