Tag: josh brolin

Labor Day

Labor Day (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

While looking through the comics section, thirteen-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is approached by a bleeding man and asks for help. The man’s name is Frank (Josh Brolin) and he has escaped from the police while at the hospital due to appendicitis. Adele (Kate Winslet), Henry’s depressed single mother who rarely goes outside except for the monthly visit to the store, does not want to help the stranger, but her son’s safety is at stake. So they take him home. The plan is to have him over only until next morning. But the trains do not run on holiday weekends.

“Labor Day,” based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, is not the subtlest small town drama that focuses on a two-person family in an emotional rut. However, it is spearheaded by rock solid performances by Brolin and Winslet and supported by an equally strong acting by Griffith whose character is required to communicate a balance of sadness and strength to come off as a believable short-term support system of his character’s depressed mother.

Though censured for its melodramatic tone, the criticism should have been more focused on the fugitive written too nice at times. Although there is a level of danger to Frank during the scene in which he is introduced, once he gets to the house, the threatening element about him disappears too quickly—a problem because Adele and, to a degree, Henry are still wary of the man’s intentions. Thus, the character lacks a well-defined arc which renders the flashbacks—glimpses of his younger self (Tom Lipinski) and the circumstances that led to his incarceration—informative but powerless. The most effective dramas are almost always driven by character arcs—this also being a character piece—and so it is somewhat off-putting that the stranger is not given more complexity.

We experience the story unfold through Henry’s perspective. We feel the sweetness and tragedy of his relationship with his mother, fears and anxiety of possibly being separated from her, and the hope of possibly having a much-needed father figure in his life. Though they may come off syrupy at times, I still enjoyed the scenes between the boy and the convict on the run. Though they are strangers, their interactions are rich such as when Henry is being taught how to fix a car and how to throw a baseball. Compare these with scenes between Henry and his biological father (Clark Gregg) and we wonder if Henry being around Frank in the long run would be more beneficial for the boy.

The inevitable attraction between a convict and his hostage may sound tacky but it works here. Winslet does a commendable job communicating so much with only her eyes and how slowly she moves. Her character has so much nervous energy and fragility that just about every action she makes while out in public can be a source of concern. We believe that what we have in front of us is a woman who needs a little bit of fire—for her sake and her young son’s.

At one point in “Labor Day,” based on the screenplay and directed by Jason Reitman, Henry’s biological father tells his son that the reason why he left them is because he just wanted to live a “normal” life. In other words, he could not continue living with a depressed person. I wished the picture had more of that searing honesty. The confession did not have to be kind. It did not have to be right. It just needed to be true. Henry looks at his father and for once there is respect there. It dares the viewer not to be moved.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

The violence in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is so detailed, when a group of people on a pickup truck is shot with a submachine gun, particles of blood can be seen swimming in the dusty air. The camera lingers just enough so the thrill is turned into horror—a trait that separates the picture from standard action-thrillers that attempt to make a statement about the chess game of politics and the clandestine assignments that must be executed in order for the pieces to fall into place. Although not as strong as its predecessor, there is without question that the sequel is worth seeing, particularly by those who have become invested in the complex relationship between CIA agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and black operative Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro).

Particularly strong is the first half as Graver is given the task to start a war between the Mexican drug cartels when the United States government began to suspect that one of them transported Islamic terrorists across the border which resulted in a Texas store bombing. The viewers are asked to follow the plot through winding roads without many expository details regarding how and why certain things must be done. They simply must.

And yet—it is never confusing. There is a breezy flow and rhythm in Taylor Sheridan’s top-notch screenplay that is highly reminiscent of the 2015 predecessor. It makes the point of respecting the audience’s intelligence, attention span, and ability to follow multiple threads that are certain to collide with spectacularly brutal violence.

I enjoyed its restraint when it comes to the score and how it is used. Sometimes a solo cello is enough to underline the gravity of the situation, whether we are about to see an elaborate action sequence or when a man subtly looks at another a certain way. The skeletal but creepy score builds the mood without needing to push the viewer to feel a certain way. It does not need to when the powerful images speak for themselves.

Notice how shots are framed almost in an impersonal way. The aforementioned terrorist attack at a store is an excellent example as the camera remains a couple of feet outside of the building as three bombers enter the place of business, walk toward specific aisles, press the button, and explode. This is a smart direction by Stefano Sollima; he does not feel the need to place us into that store because with all the terrorist attacks in the U.S. today, which includes Americans who decide to pick up a gun and kill innocent people, it is more impactful to observe from the outside in. In a way, scenes such as this place us within those moments when we heard the breaking news or seen the news on television during or after such attacks.

Brolin and Del Toro are as captivating as they were in “Sicario.” Their characters do not say much but their body language say more than enough. There is palpable tension in Graver and Gillick’s fascinating relationship that is deeply rooted in respect, perhaps even admiration. Couple this with the nature of their occupations in which the equation can be changed at a drop of a hat, we wonder if these men would inevitably clash. And if they did, to what degree and would they be able to kill each other when absolutely necessary? Would we have to pick a side?

The film might have finished on a superior note had a minute or two been sliced off at the end. It is bizarre and uncharacteristic to turn our attention suddenly to a character who is far less interesting than Graver and Gillick. Perhaps the intention is to create a bridge between this installment and the next, but the spoon-fed information does not match the beauty of the story’s intrigue and mystery, certainly not its savage tone. It might have been a wiser choice then to end the film on a desert road as a bloody vehicle slows down toward the side of the road and hits a post. It works as a metaphor, too.

Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2 (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is the answer for what happens when a story surrounding a foul-mouthed motormouth superhero is stripped away of its element of surprise. In order to compensate, writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds double down on the exaggeration to the point where it is uncomfortable and off-putting—that it is trying too hard to replicate what worked before. Whether it is in terms of dialogue, action sequences, or level of violence, nearly everything is handled with an exclamation point. Even its supposedly quiet moments, particularly scenes designed to tug at the heartstrings (which, naturally, comes with a wink, an elbow nudge, and a kick to the groin), are handled with a sledgehammer. I grew bored of this one-trick pony.

You know what would have been surprising? A sequel that actually takes its title character a little more seriously, one handled with subtlety, panache, perhaps even a teaspoon of elegance. A “Deadpool” movie that is out of its element. While there is no need to go in the opposite direction, it could have remained loyal the “Deadpool” brand while still providing depth, supplying another reason for us to tune in for the inevitable next installment. Instead, we are given yet another parade of sarcastic remarks that never let up, random film and music references, and would-be dramatic situations clearly designed to shock us. I was not moved by any of it because these are elements that we come to expect. We are fed the baseline, but we deserve more.

It isn’t that the story is without potential. On the contrary, it holds great promise in that Deadpool (Reynolds) must assemble a team of superheroes called the X-Force when it becomes apparent that he being part of the X-Men is not a good fit. (For instance, being a part of that ostentatiously virtuous group means no killing.) The joke is how could someone like Deadpool lead a team when he is nearly incapable of holding a serious thought in his brain for more than five seconds? Clearly, the picture wishes to be a comedy first and an action picture second. Hence, why not play upon this situational humor as we get to know every potential member of the so-called X-Force? I wanted to know what they stand for as a unit, as individual mutants, and as people who just so happen to have amplified abilities.

Instead, for example, Cable (Josh Brolin), a man from the future, is relegated to a tank who will stop at nothing to kill a troubled fourteen-year-old boy (Julian Dennison) who is born with the power to wield fire. For someone who comes equipped with the knowledge of future events, his one-track goal becomes duller by the second. I looked at Brolin’s face and the moments in between made me feel like he is not being challenged. It is not that he looks bored—but it is apparent he can do so much more given a more ambitious and creative material. Further, as a kid who grew up with Marvel characters, it feels somewhat of a betrayal that Cable is not given the complexity necessary so that all viewers, by the end of the film, are convinced that he is in fact an invaluable member of the group.

“Deadpool 2” is directed by David Leitch, but the work might as well have been on autopilot. While the film doesn’t offer an intolerable experience, it doesn’t give us an exciting one either. During its slower moments, my mind went back to its predecessor and appreciated, for instance, how great the villain was. Here, there is a lack of an effective antagonist—one that becomes truly formidable, perhaps even fearsome, over time. I found its laziness not only troublesome but also exceptionally disappointing.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is a disappointing sequel to a visually stunning, funny, thrilling, and engaging picture that is still unique to this day. While it does offer two opposite but interesting performances, the screenplay by Miller fails to offer anything fresh or exciting. He forgot to ask and answer a most basic question: What makes the sequel worth visiting?

Perhaps Miller thought that the visual acrobatics and trickeries would be enough to sustain our attention. While I still enjoyed that the film is presented in beautiful black-and-white, painted with bright primary colors once in a while, there is barely any dimension to any of the characters. And although most of them are supposed to be tough and have a proclivity for bloody violence, it does not mean that there should not be anything else to them. Successful graphic novels that fall under the action genre translated onto screen tend to work well as drama, too. It is because audiences are able to emotionally invest in the characters since the characters are, in a way, a reflection of ourselves—our insecurities, our doubts, we feeling like underdogs at times.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, gifted with hands that are lucky. Every time he puts a dollar into a slot machine, coins come rushing down like waterfall. Card games are a piece of cake for he always gets the best hand. He hopes to snag the attention of the feared Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), still angry about his son’s death. Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny with a calculated cool and we hope for the character to get exactly what he wants. But the story takes place in Sin City, not la-la land.

Eva Green plays Ava, a beautiful, seductive woman who hopes to be set free from her abusive husband. She enlists the help of a photographer named Dwight (Josh Brolin), a former lover who remains to have feelings for her despite her previous act of betrayal. Green is delicious in every scene because she plays her character like a snake eyeing its dinner. Ava is the most unpredictable of the bunch and Green knows it. And so she milks every frame of every scene.

The rest relies on platitudes. The script has a tendency to offer lines such as “Death is like life in Sin City.” Perhaps it is meant to be a serious commentary on the moral decay of the place but it comes across as cornball fluff. And speaking of cornball fluff, Jessica Alba once again rests on her physical beauty and fails to create a convincing character who is angry and full of angst. It is not entirely her fault.

Alba plays a stripper—one that remains fully clothed for the duration of the performance—who wishes to end the life of Roark. But every time she is given the opportunity, she cannot muster her fingers to pull the trigger. I was confused as to why Miller wrote the character to be this way in this film when he knows that Alba is not a performer who has much range. She is good at playing soft, flirtatious, and friendly characters.

What she lacks is a desperation in the eyes to denote her character’s craving to really hurt someone for the sake of payback. The screenplay demands the character to disfigure herself to come across as tough. It does not work because even though her outer appearance has changed, the inside—the absence of inner brutality—remains the same.

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Though commendable that Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s “Hail, Caesar!” is an off-center, satirical comedy about moviemaking, its many pieces never fully come together. It is likely to breed great frustration, especially from laypeople who neither watch very many films nor are interested in how the Hollywood machine functions in the past and present.

It is a piece of work designed for a specific audience: people who work within the film industry, those who are close to it, movie critics, and cinephiles. Although I belong in one of these groups, the film is still not very funny. It is a stretch to call it anything beyond average.

The main strand that is supposed to connect every subplot together is uninteresting and at times downright boring. It involves the head of physical production of Capitol Pictures named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who discovers that the studio’s biggest movie star (George Clooney) has been kidnapped by screenwriters who happen to be communists. Cue subtle laughter here. The ransom is set for $100,000. Cue bigger laughter here. That amount of money, even in the standard of 1950s Hollywood, is inconsequential.

Brolin is convincing as a man who is torn between his current occupation and accepting a generous offer to work for the aerospace industry. One feels the performer’s struggle of trying to make sense of his character despite a script that lacks both comic and dramatic focus. I wanted to know more—and deeply—about this man who is so guilty about his every day existence, he feels the need to go to confession for every little thing. Even the priest tells him that he need not go to confession so often as he does.

On the other hand, Clooney cashes it in by utilizing his go-to aren’t-I-so-charming performance. He creates a caricature and in a movie that is filled to the brim by parody and satire, he not only disappears into the background, he is overwhelmed by them. By the end, I felt I had no understanding of what his character is supposed to be about or who the character is as a celebrity, as an actor in the ‘50s, or as a person who just so happens to be in movies. I was bored by Clooney’s many choices of barely passable mediocrity. He should change it up.

I enjoyed that the environment has a look of artificiality and superficiality to them. Every set that Eddie visits, there is a specific design and feeling. One of the most impressive scenes in terms look and effectiveness of comedy involves renowned director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) shooting a dramatic scene in a posh party but one of the replacement stars, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich—continuing his run as a performer to watch out for), just cannot get the rhythm, emotion, and dialogue of a straight-faced drama. It doesn’t help that his prim-looking co-star—not to mention the extras—is increasingly exasperated but attempting not to show it.

Watching Hobie Doyle, who is great at starring in western films but terrible with everything else, trying to act in a serious drama is like forcing an animal into a dress and expecting it to talk like you and me. It is a scene where if the set pieces and script were not on the same level of detail, it would not have turned out so amusing, so entertaining, or as pointed at its commentary that movies are fantasy, that sometimes we look at the obviously inorganic elements on screen but something inside us automatically processes them as real. This is when this film is at its most powerful—and there isn’t enough of them.

“Hail, Caesar!” provokes dry amusement but its too frivolous of an approach fails to balance all of the elements necessary to make it an entertaining and a compelling work. In the end, it is neither; it is flat, uninspiring, and forgettable. It is a work that is best treated as a footnote in the Coen Brothers’ otherwise colorful and impressive oeuvre.


Sicario (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Only about a half a dozen movies come out a year, oftentimes fewer, that are written and executed with such surgical precision that one cannot help but hold one’s breath out of trepidation that it would somehow trip and lose momentum. Fear not: “Sicario,” written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a treasure that not once loses its shine. It is as clear as summer’s day that it is an all-rounder, one of the best movies of the year.

It tells the story of an idealistic FBI agent named Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who is given the opportunity to join a team, temporarily, where she can make more of an impact in taking down a Mexican drug lord. She volunteers to work for an advisor for the Department of Defense, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), but she quickly realizes that something is amiss—beginning with a top secret trip to Mexico and an illicit course of action where lives are put in danger and taken away. She gives an ultimatum: To be given the truth and some answers or she will walk away.

Blunt fits the role like a glove. She moves so naturally, elegantly and yet there is a brittle toughness to her, as if she has something to prove. This sense of purpose is critical in order to convince us that the FBI agent she plays believes in what she does so wholeheartedly that at times she becomes blind to the complexities of the politics—politics of laws and government agencies, politics of land and borders, politics of ethics and morality.

Also take note of the way Blunt’s eyes always appears to be moving, often in a confused panic, searching for something. When I looked into those eyes, I saw a person who is drowning, struggling to make sense of where she is and what she is doing. In a way, Kate is us, the audience, in that she is new to the chess game of what is really going on out there. The character arc that Kate undergoes is one of the more subtle and wonderfully executed I have had the pleasure to observe and dissect in quite some time.

Like many exemplary suspenseful crime-thrillers, the picture knows the art of holding back on the score. This allows us to focus on the images—beautifully shot particularly feminine portraits in profile and wide shots of men in gear and their silhouettes. We hear barking of a lively dog. The distant chirping of crickets. The roar of jet engines. The whirring blades of a helicopter. The rat-tat-tat of assault rifles. The thud of lifeless bodies hitting the ground.

There are instances when words are not required to communicate a feeling. Sometimes, for instance, a barking of a dog functions as a foreshadowing. We must be alert to these sounds—and what they might signify—in order to experience and appreciate the film fully. Once the score is utilized, however, it creeps in, takes ahold like rheumatic branch and amplifies our concerns and fears.

“Sicario” is the kind of feature film I look for: the story and characters are designed for intelligent audiences; it is teeming with unsaid words and unexpressed emotions and yet we comprehend what the filmmakers are attempting to accomplish; and it holds up a mirror to our current lives thereby showing us what is wrong with it without coming across like a lesson or a lecture. The work demands attention and afterthought.


Everest (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Everest” offers a compelling story based on a real tragedy that occurred on May 1996, but the film is nowhere near the former adjective. Under the direction of Baltasar Kormákur, the work is, for the most part, problematic in terms of its choices. What results is a sort-of disaster film that works somewhat on a thriller level but not at all as a dramatic ensemble.

It suffers from an extended exposition aimed to get the audience to care about the climbers of the summit. Of particular interest are Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the guide with a pregnant wife at home (Keira Knightley), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman who wishes to inspire kids to reach for their wildest dreams, and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a climber who is undergoing a difficulty with his marriage—of which much of the details are vague. The supporting characters are given superficial, two- to three-bullet notes just so we are familiar with them. At the same time, as forty minutes to an hour passes, we sit there wondering when, or if, the material will pick up in pacing and interest.

The dialogue is not particularly well-written or engaging—a shame because these people are supposed to be from different parts of the world. At one point, writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) asks the climbers why they feel the need to climb Mount Everest. We get one good response, but the scene is, for the most part, played as a joke. While it may have happened like so in actuality, it ought to have been treated as a critical scene from a cinematic standpoint. People like myself who believe it is foolish to take on such a dangerous task might genuinely be interested in knowing why. It takes the lazy avenue by sweeping the question under the rug.

The picture is photographed beautifully, particularly the aerial shots. I enjoyed looking at the different types of ice and snow and how they blanket the jagged peaks and slanted terrain. There is a lived-in quality to the various camps, inside and outside of tents, which works because we are convinced that a business is being run and that the people in charge are experienced, professionals. At times it tends to have the look of an outstanding documentary where the filmmakers know that their subject is already fascinating and so the work embraces no pretension.

By the time the final forty minutes roll around, it is too late to save the movie. This is most unfortunate because some of the sequences are quite harrowing and a few of the imageries are horrifying—from the unstoppable, powerful avalanches to the grizzly details of frostbite and gangrene.

Based on the screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, “Everest” commands images that demand to be seen on the big screen, but the manner in which the human drama is drawn, including the final results, has the quality of a direct-to-DVD, C-grade picture. I would rather have seen a documentary of the doomed commercial expedition.