Tag Archives: Matthew Modine

“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.

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Fluke

On paper, or at least on poster, Fluke looks like a benign kid’s flick in the tradition of Beethoven or Babe, as a big fluffy Red Labrador gazes down adorably from the blockbuster shelf. Well, I rented this way back when I must have been like ten, and I can tell you it ain’t no children’s movie. There’s a sadness and deep thoughtfulness to the story that will sail over youngster’s heads, leaving them with just the scenes of talking dogs to keep them occupied. Based on a poignant novel by James Herbert, this is one of the oddest and most depressing family films out there, but it’s also unique and brave enough to go where it does, reaching beyond the sappy to try and become something more complex. Matthew Modine plays a successful businessman who is killed in a foolish car accident one night, leaving behind his wife (Nancy Travis) and son (Max Pomeranc). The film gets spiritual as we seen him reincarnated as that very same mutt from the DVD cover, a curious creature called Fluke. Born into frustrating circumstances, he finds himself pulled into one situation after the other, including bonding with an old woman who passes away, living in a junkyard for some time and making friends with a troupe of homeless urban canines, including tough St. Bernard Rumbo (Samuel L. Jackson), mongrel Sylvester (Ron Perlman) and wiseguy pup Boss (the late Jon Polito). Eventually though, he remembers he was once a man, and sets off to find the family he left behind, feeling alienated in his animal form. It’s a terribly sad film, one that’ll gouge your heart right out, if you can take that sort of thing. It’s also daring and complicated when it wants to be. Fluke feels all the more isolated when he does find his family, as his wife has become close with his old business buddy (Eric Stoltz), and he has nothing but his bark to communicate, a crushing interaction to see. This is one of a kind, and in no way should be in the kid’s section of any video store or iTunes manifest, it’s just too out there and thematically challenging, but that’s in a way where it’s strength as a story lies. Should be viewed as an existential, spiritually inclined drama about what it means to really live, in whatever form you’ve been given, and how someone can ruminate on the choices they’ve made through new eyes.

-Nate Hill

Netflix’s Stranger Things: A Review by Nate Hill 

Netflix’s Stranger Things snuck up and floored me. You’d think that a long form mystery series concocted from the DNA of Amblin/ET/Goonies and retro, gooey Stephen King horror would have made a significant blip on my radar months in advance, but nope. That almost made watching it even more special; this wasnt something I’d spent oodles of time hyping up and thinking about (which often leads to expectations being dashed). It came out of the blue and knocked me sideways six ways to Sunday. I came home one night with the notion to check out the pilot before I went to bed. I fell deeply in love within the first ten minutes, and slashed my curfew to bits as I devoured about half the season in one go, hitting stop only because I would have been depressed to wake up the following morning and have no more to watch. I took the next day off work to finish up the remaining episodes, after which I sat there in a gaping stupor. I’ve since rewatced it all again. Yes, it’s that good. It’s not just the nostalgia bursting at the seams that suckered me in. This is is a show with a meticulous pace where you feel every beat naturally, some of the most fleshed out characters of recent times that you actually really CARE about, and a wondrous story relating to fear of the unknown, the bonds of friendships both new and old, redemption in the face of ages old trauma and grief, a reverence to all things creepy & crawly, an understanding of the importance fear holds in both our entertainment and collective psyches and above all, a sense of adventure. As soon as the retro opening credits flared up, I knew I was in for something special. They’re a flurry of neon letters that assemble in fashion and font achingly similar to King’s books, set to an ominous synth rhapsody that echoes everything from Refn to Sinoia Cave’s Beyond The Black Rainbow. Immediately we are transported to a setting drawn forth from the past and the nightmares of many other artists before it’s time, which is not to say it’s at all derivitive or lazy. That’s the issue with deliberatly nostalgic stuff: it can come across as forced or cheap novelty trying to play to our sentimental sides. This one uses it naturally and never feels like a gimmick for one second. What’s amazing is that despite the fact that nearly every element of story it uses has been done before multiple times throughout the years, it all somehow feels completely new, and never once leans on the crutch of inspiration any harder than it has to, which in this day and age deserves a goddamn medal. The story opens up in small town Hawkins, Indiana, sometime in the mid 80’s. Just outside of town, trouble brews deep within a mysterious CIA sanctioned research laboratory. A dangerous portal is opened, something from another dimension gets out, a girl with telepathic abilities named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) escapes into the town, and young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears without a trace from his home. All this happens in the first half hour, kicking off a well timed wind chime of inciting incidents to get the tale underway. The town is thrown into a panic as Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) frantically searches for him. The forlorn, sad sack police chief Hopper (David Harbour, beyond excellent in so many ways) tries to reign in the growing mania, but the situation only gets worse. Will’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) witnesses another disappearance, and Eleven finds herself hiding out with Will’s endearing gang of buddies (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb Mclaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo), who valiantly launch a quest to ensure his safe return from the netherworld. Meanwhile, the laboratory’s sinister, silver haired head Doctor Brenner (a chilling Matthew Modine) is an amoral prick who will stop at nothing to get Eleven back and continue his godawful experiments. It’s a hell of a lot crammed into eight hours, but not a second is wasted, not a scene or a line of dialogue misplaced. Everything glides smoothly and the whole thing is so joyously watchable that I had trouble even thinking about picking up my phone or reaching for the iPad (I’m easily distracted). There’s teen drama, heartbreaking tragedy, first love, palpable danger without being too gory or messed up, and damn if the Spielberg/King flavour isn’t just delactable. The monster is a gooey, walking Venus fly trap that instills real fear in the opening moments of the pilot. The ideas explored are presented in ways that would make both the X Files and Twilight Zone jealous. My favourite performance has to be Brown as Eleven. Of all the child roles hers is the most difficult to land and she’s a revelation. Seeing the world outside the facility with new eyes, falling for Wolfhard, protecting her newfound friends, it’s all handled impeccably and I think we can expect great things from this young actress. David Harbour has consistently shown versatility in anything he does, and when one looks at his role here contrasted against work in, say, A Walk Among The Tombstones, it’s uncanny. His arc goes from sheepish to badass to tragic and he positively soars. Modine channels the very essence of King style villains, over pronouncing every syllable with poised venom on the tongue and cloaked malice oozing from every pore. Ryder works herself up into a frenzy that any mother must feel in the situation, and it’s just great to see her in a central role in anything these days. The kids provide heart and levity, proving wise beyond their years to the point of Calvin & Hobbes esque insight, yet still maintaining their innocence in the face of peril. Not only does the soundtrack showcase a whole whack of 80’s treasures (that Joy Division tho♡), the score itself by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is a love letter to everything from Tangerine Dream to Cliff Martinez, evoking the setting beautifully and bringing forth atmosphere in scene after scene after scene. Stranger Things lovingly blows a trumpet of times past, wears it’s influences proudly and unobtrusively on its sleeve and brilliantly blazes it’s own trail. There are monsters out there, both human and otherwise. Never give up hope, not matter how bleak the prognosis. There’s still some wonder and unknown to be discovered in this world of ours (and beyond). Redemption is only a few daring acts around the bend. Kindness goes a long way, as does trust. Friends don’t lie. These are but a few things you’ll discover if you give this one a shot, which I hope you will. Bring on Season 2, man.