Tag Archives: Benicio Del Toro

Peter Weir’s Fearless

A plane falls out of the sky and crashes in a cornfield. Some of the passengers survive. Others do not. No one involved is ever the same after. Such is the premise of Peter Weir’s Fearless, a complicated, challenging, unconventional and altogether brilliant piece that goes a lot deeper than most Hollywood produced films are allowed to. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, a man who emerges serenely from the wreck having saved multiple lives and undergone a personal change that can’t be made clear in a scene or two, but rather takes the film it’s whole runtime to explore. While the entire plane is in full panic, Max reaches a sort of tranquility in the face of death, and instead of freaking out he very lucidly gets up and joins a young boy who’s alone on the flight and comforts him. When they land and he survives, his relationship to those around him is affected including his wife (Isabella Rossellini), young son, a trauma counsellor (John Turturro hired by the airline) and others. Most fascinating is the time spent with Carla (Rosie Perez) a fellow crash survivor whose newborn baby wasn’t so lucky, leaving her in a pit of grief. They share something together that no one, audience included, can fully understand because they weren’t there. The beauty of it is that Bridges and Perez can’t really know either, but the magic of both their performances is that they make you believe they’re in this extraordinary situation for real. Bridges never plays it with a messianic or mystical aura like some would, he’s always straight up and kindly which works wonders for this character. Perez is a revelation, soulful and heartbroken but never cloying or panhandling for our tears, she earns them fair and square. I’m not one too get too heated about Oscar snubs but it’s a crime she got beat out by Marisa Tomei that year for fluff like My Cousin Vinny. Peter Weir is a thoughtful director whose films are always high concept stories, but are also always character driven to provide that balance. He’s interested not in spectacle or sensationalism here but the difficult questions that others might gloss over or be too afraid to think about. There’s two scenes revolving around the crash, one of the aftermath and an extended one of the incident itself playing out that reach a level that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Not an easy film to classify or describe in a review, but the rare Hollywood picture that tackles concepts well above what we’re used to seeing. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado

I have to be brutally honest about this, but Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado is nowhere close to a worthy sequel, let alone a good film. After mulling it over a bit since I saw it a few weeks ago, it just feels hollow, superficial and weak in all the places the first one was provocative, mythic and haunting. My main gripe is that it has nothing really to say; the first was deep, dark and dense, with a thoughtful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan brought to life by Denis Villeneuve’s concise, nerve wracking direction, it challenged today’s political climate and casted dark shadows on the anthropological coordinates of present day North and Central America. This one feels like a lurid death trap of violence without weight, thin characterization and a weirdly conceived narrative that misses all the beats and ends up nowhere. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin return as antihero assassin Alejandro and cavalier special ops spook Matt, this time trying to start a big ol’ cartel war by kidnapping the daughter (Isabela Moner) of one boss to frame the another, thereby letting the animals wipe each other out and stop the new trend of these cartels smuggling in Muslim terrorists onto American soil so they can blow up innocent families in shopping malls, which we see here in unnecessarily sickening, gratuitous fashion. This is all sanctioned in clandestine by the stony US secretary of defence (Matthew Modine) and overseen by Brolin’s icy handler (Catherine Keener has fun with the dialogue), and naturally it all goes tits up before too long. When Alejandro and the cartel’s kid find themselves on their own following an ambush, there’s an opportunity for developing his character farther and seeing some kind of redemption, which at first seems like it may happen until Sheridan shuts it down hard and veers the story off into some other stuff that drags and just puts Del Toro’s arc in the doldrums. Brolin finally has a crisis of conscience, but it’s too little too late when we get there. Also, the whole terrorist angle just does not work, and feels totally shoehorned in. The first film, although ultimately fictional, felt like it could indeed be playing out for real somewhere out there, everything was drawn from things we’ve known to be authentic. But cartels moving jihadists across the border for attacks on American cities? Come on now, I could practically feel the influence over Sheridan’s shoulder to work that in somehow. I did enjoy the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and score by Hildur Guonodóttir, taking over from the late Johann Johansson, but since she’s worked with him on projects in the past, the feeling in the music remains just as austere and menacing. This is just all over the place though, completely lacking the darkly pristine focus and portentous drive of the first. At the end it feels like a big blast of nothing, and if anything it just made me appreciate the first one more.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic

I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.

-Nate Hill

“I can’t do that.” A review of Sicario: Day of the Soldado – by Josh Hains

In my review for Sicario, I noted that I had some difficulty shaking the movie so to speak, because seeing it in theatres had been such an impactful, resonant experience for me. I ended that review by saying, “It is assuredly an openly nihilistic (in the best way possible), unflinching examination of the thin grey line that separates wolves from sheep, and hunters from the hunted, with one hell of a bloodthirsty, tortured man in Alejandro dragging us blindly into a realm where darkness reaches out to darkness with battered hands and consumes its soul. And ours.”, and I think that ruling also applies to its sequel, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which plays a lot less like your average movie sequel, and much more like the intended standalone spin-off that was being advertised.

A group of suicide bombers walk into a crowded Kansas City grocery store and murder 15 innocent people, including a mother and her young child, during the most disturbing and frightening sequence in either Sicario movie that lets you know immediately, this will be a significantly darker venture than what came before. The American government suspects that Mexican cartels are now illegally transporting Islamic territory across the border (sound like anyone we know?) and in reaction to this suspicion Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) gives CIA operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) carte blanche to combat the increasing threat of these ruthless cartels. So of course Matt calls up his “big dog”, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), to help him wage a war between the major cartels, which includes killing a high level lawyer for one of the cartels, and the kidnapping of Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of one of the cartel kingpins. In time, things go south fast when the President issues an order to the CIA to abandon the mission and erase all proof of American involvement in the false flag operation including Isabela, pushing Alejandro into brutal protector mode having bonded with her, pitting him against Graver and his team.

By now you have likely heard that for some, the absence of Sicario director Denis Villeneuve, the late composer Johann Johannsson, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the Kate Macer character portrayed by Emily Blunt, is deeply felt throughout the entire running time of the movie. While Roger Deakins may not be the name behind the camera, Dariusz Wolksi does a remarkable job emulating the style and palette of Deakins’s work on the first movie, while also projecting a grittier, grimier image that adds to the low-key realism of the film, and the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir does a fine job of emulating Johannsson’s magnificent, dread inducing score of Sicario. Filling in for Villeneuve, Stefano Sollima successfully replicates the same style, atmosphere, and tone of the first movie, in a way that allows us to feel like we are back in that same world, but experiencing it through a different set of eyes.

There is no doubt in my mind that both Kate Macer, and Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya), could have been incorporated into Soldado in a multitude of ways if the script had gone in a partially different direction, much to the appeasement of those who were unable to see past their absence (more specifically, Kate’s absence), citing it as a major downfall of the movie. The question I have for those same naysayers is, how? How do you make her return feel natural and organically constructed, and not forced and unnatural?

Having seen the direction Soldado (which means “soldier” when loosely translated from Spanish) travels in without Kate (and Reggie), there is no denying that Soldado would have been a vastly different movie altogether had the character been brought back. Perhaps in the script for the impending third Sicario movie there is an opportunity to bring her back. Perhaps she experiences a personal loss or attempt on her life by the hands of the cartel, compelling her to become a Sicario like Alejandro. Maybe she joins Matt Graver’s task force because Alejandro was right, and nothing made sense to her American ears, she doubted everything they did, but in the end understood why it happened. Maybe she has no place in that movie either. Who knows? What I do know is, in my eyes her affiliation with Alejandro and Matt came to a close before Sicario ended, just as Alejandro told her the last lines of the movie: “You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.” Sure, I would have enjoyed her presence in this standalone spin-off, I do not doubt that Blunt would have knocked out yet another terrific performance, and Soldado would have been better for it, but I’m perfectly okay without her being there.

I disagree with the notion that the violence of Soldado is in any way, exploitive, or over the top, or unnecessarily ugly, which differing opinions suggesting that the movie only contains this violence because the filmmakers weren’t smart enough to convoy anything else, and not because it needed to be there. Obviously the violence is in service of the plot, and it occurs naturally so. In Sicario, the task force operated within a particular set of rules of engagement, including not firing unless fired upon, which we saw come into effect during the notorious border scene. Here in Soldado, carte blanche allows them to kill freely, so when they swiftly execute a truckload of gang members as efficiently as they did those border crossing cartel members, without having to be fired upon, it inherently creates an ugly aura to the violence, perfectly befitting of the new rule free, carte blanche perspective of this horrific crime infested world established in Sicario.

As one would expect from the next Sicario movie, the performances across the board are once again top notch. While actors like Jeffrey Donovan (reprising his role from the first movie), Matthew Modine, and Catherine Keener add gravitas and depth to their supporting roles with subtle nuances in their physicality, and grounded, authentic delivery of dialogue, it’s the principal trio who will take the most credit for truly knocking it out of the park. Anyone underwhelmed by Isabela Moner in Transformers: The Last Knight (which I haven’t seen, yet) will be pleased as punch to see her impress with a performance that elevates what could have been another in a long line of shallow kidnapping victim performances. Josh Brolin still so effortlessly manages to tow the thin line of playing someone with an intimidating record and a hefty amount of authority, who can be coldly serious, calculated, and unflinchingly, efficiently brutal if need be, while also projecting a relaxed “Chill out bro, let’s go catch some waves,” kind of attitude that allows Matt Graver apt exist within the Sicario world as a multi-dimensional character, and not merely a one-sided archetype.

I hold particular fondness for the way in which Taylor Sheridan writes Alejandro, and the subtle way Del Toro has portrayed him across both films, and has stolen every scene he’s been in. He cuts through any given scene (and both movies in their entirety) like a hot knife through butter, a true scene stealer but in a quiet and controlled manner. One might be inclined to incorrectly categorize the performances as minimalist, with so few lines because he convinced both Villeneuve and Sollima to allow him to remove lines so he may play in silence more often, adding to the allure and mystery of the Sicario while his powerful performance, quite often nothing more than the look in his eyes and/or the expression upon his face, helps us see the living layers within the man. The softness we first saw from him in Sicario, that showed care in how Kate was feeling after the attack on her, comes through all the more in tender scenes between him and Isabela, and during a delightful scene with a deaf man.

Make no mistake, the cold ferocity is still boiling like molten lava within him, it’s just that we are privileged to see more of the man who used to wear that skin long before the land of wolves tuned him into one.

“Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?” : An Interview with Michael Davis by Kent Hill (PART 3)

Shoot 'em Up

I really love this gig. I really do. I’ve had the distinction of being able to converse with many a hero and much admired artist over my time at PTS. There have though, been a few surprises along the way – and this was one of them.

I have long wanted to chat with Michael Davis. Part of it, and I’m sure you’ll agree having seen his films, that here is a man who went from making 100 Women to writing and directing the most-excellent, ballet of bullets that is Shoot ‘em Up. And you just need a few minutes of talking with Michael to understand how this was possible.

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They say Scorsese has a machine-gun-mouth. Well listening to Michael is like standing next to Jesse Ventura firing Ol’ Painless. And – WOW – what a delight, the frenetic and passionate electricity that this man generates in infectious. Michael’s initial overview of the birth of his career is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. From his beginnings as a storyboard artist, to various writing assignments (don’t say Double Dragon out loud), to his eventual directorial debut; it’s a madcap movie marathon coming at you – at high speed!

Our conversation was so enthralling, so engaging, that I would be doing my guest a severe injustice to cut even a moment of it. So I shall be presenting it to you as a trilogy. Each section I promise is as entertaining as the last. So, don’t touch that dial, and prepare yourself to experience the film-making personification of the perfect storm that is . . . Michael Davis . . . . . . PART 3.

FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE :

https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/04/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-2/

https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/03/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-1/

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William Friedkin’s The Hunted

William Friedkin’s The Hunted is the kind of blunt, ruggedly visceral, artery slicing action picture we should be seeing more of in modern times. Where in other films there’s car chases, shootouts and the man to man violence is impossibly elaborate, Friedkin goes primal here, with knife fights that cut to the basics of the human body and its movements, fight scenes that make us wince because we can feel each jab and tear, as the camera dives in close to give us a dose of intimate adrenaline. While the story is simple enough, there’s a haunted complexity to Benicio Del Toro as a highly trained ex marine who has lost his mind. Someone with that skill set is a dangerous person when they go off the rails, and soon this traumatized warrior is hunting people for sport in the Washington rainforest. The only one who can track and possibly stop him is his former Lieutenant and trainer, played with earnest frankness by Tommy Lee Jones. The flashback scenes of Del Toro’s training are very matter of fact, as Jones shows him, without emotion or bias, how to wound or kill another human being in the most efficient way possible. This has made him into a deadly weapon, but they never took his psyche into account, which has run amok. I love action films set in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest region (see Shoot To Kill with Tom Berenger, another great one) where I live, the scenery takes on a lush, mossy personality of it’s own here. The latter half of the film is purely just Jones hunting Del Toro through the Northern wilderness, each using their skills, setting booby traps, reading the terrain until the eventual bloody confrontation. When I say bloody, I mean just that ; Their knife fight is some of the best close quarters action I’ve ever seen, and will have you shielding your major organs as you watch them slice and slash. Friedkin here acts the same way Michael Mann operates with his gunfight sequences: they both understand that less is more with these types of set pieces, to not go overboard and throw all the cards in (John Woo does this, but with grace and style), but to let the action be realistic, impactful in it’s pacing and land with the real threat and consequences of violence instead of screaming overkill. If this film has come out in the 70’s or 80’s like the vibe it exudes, it would have had one of those beautifully hand drawn vintage posters. There should be a criterion edition or some sort of boutique release that revamps the artwork and provides the ultimate DVD package for this film, because it’s one of the finest action movies ever made.

-Nate Hill

“Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?” : An Interview with Michael Davis by Kent Hill (PART 2)

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I really love this gig. I really do. I’ve had the distinction of being able to converse with many a hero and much admired artist over my time at PTS. There have though, been a few surprises along the way – and this was one of them.

I have long wanted to chat with Michael Davis. Part of it, and I’m sure you’ll agree having seen his films, that here is a man who went from making 100 Women to writing and directing the most-excellent, ballet of bullets that is Shoot ‘em Up. And you just need a few minutes of talking with Michael to understand how this was possible.

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They say Scorsese has a machine-gun-mouth. Well listening to Michael is like standing next to Jesse Ventura firing Ol’ Painless. And – WOW – what a delight, the frenetic and passionate electricity that this man generates in infectious. Michael’s initial overview of the birth of his career is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. From his beginnings as a storyboard artist, to various writing assignments (don’t say Double Dragon out loud), to his eventual directorial debut; it’s a madcap movie marathon coming at you – at high speed!

e73501112002d80ee16c6730f1a665b6

Our conversation was so enthralling, so engaging, that I would be doing my guest a severe injustice to cut even a moment of it. So I shall be presenting it to you as a trilogy. Each section I promise is as entertaining as the last. So, don’t touch that dial, and prepare yourself to experience the film-making personification of the perfect storm that is . . . Michael Davis . . . . . . PART 2.

{FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE . . . : https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/03/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-1/}

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