Tag Archives: Drug Cartel

“SICARIO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Your time has come, hombre.

A bleak, haunting scent looms over the frames of Sicario: like decaying bodies that have laid in a drug dealer’s basement for a few days. It’s permanent and disturbing, and remains with you long after you’ve left the theater. In the opening slide, it is explained to us that Sicario is Spanish for hitman. I don’t know what disturbs me more in the movie: who the Sicario is, or who are the people that he’s hunting.

As the movie begins, we watch as a SWAT team is gearing up to raid a house in Chandler, Arizona. The neighborhood is relatively quiet. It’s serene. Calm. Normal. You would never have expected that the cartel was living in the midst of this slight, unsuspecting town.

FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is one of the members on this team. After breaking into the house and engaging in a brief firefight, Mercer discovers the horrible fate of what the tenants did to a group of people they were holding hostage. As the team investigates the property, they go into the backyard and are killed after a bomb blows up from inside the shed. We don’t know how experienced an officer Mercer is, but after the raid, she’s obviously shaken and disturbed by what she saw. This mission has served as sort of a wake up call for her.

Despite her emotions, her superiors were so impressed by her performance that they recommend her for a special op with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a CIA officer tasked with finding Manuel Diaz (Bernardo P. Saracino), the cartel boss responsible for the drug plant in Arizona. Matt is offering Kate a chance to get back at the man who killed many of her men. Eager for a chance at payback, she accepts the offer.

When the film begins, I thought the movie was aiming to be a pro-imigration film, pausing and drawing out focus on the many darker sides of illegal immigration near the beginning of the film. This was interesting, I thought, because its rare for liberal Hollywood to go against the grain. As the film went on, however, I realized that the movie doesn’t have a stance on illegal immigration. It shows both sides of the issue, and how each side of the system is manipulating the other in this never-ending cycle of deceit and violence.

Meanwhile, innocents are getting dragged into this never-ending conflict like ants to an extermination. In one of the most pivotal scenes of the film, a kid is playing football in Mexico until he, along with his classmates and their parents, hear screams and gunshots a few blocks away from them. It’s something most of us can’t even imagine in rural America. It’s something children face every day in modern Mexico.

This is the greatest strength of the film, in that it functions in realism, not politics. It’s not interested in taking sides on the issue, because how would that lend to the story? What we have here is a morally-charged drama about characters trying to do the right thing in a world where “the right thing” doesn’t exist. Kate believes a line exists to maintain integrity and order. Matt believes a line exists for integrity and order, and can be manipulated to maintain that idea as such.

There’s one character I haven’t mentioned yet, and his name is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). He doesn’t believe a line even exists. Whatever ideas of order and chaos other people have doesn’t matter to him. In his eyes, they’re all one and the same.

Del Toro’s character fascinates me. In many ways, he is the heart of the film. He’s elusive. Mysterious. Unforgiving. Empathetic. Dangerous. He’s helping Matt and Kate, but we sense he’s not here for their end purposes as much as he is for his own. He’s manipulative, yet sympathetic, extending kindness to Kate as if she’s just a little kid suddenly thrown into a grown-up’s world. The third act of the film focuses more on him than it does Kate, and it should. What we’re seeing here is not a progression of character, but a progression of events. The climax itself provides one of the most exciting and unnerving thrills I’ve seen this year: yes, even more so than The Martian and Mad Max. That’s because the stakes are set up masterfully well, and by the end of the film, we understand the characters and the quiet motives that compel them.

This is a nearly perfect film in which all of the elements form together into an excellent scope of filmmaking. The actors are brilliant and could catch your attention just by reading their lines. Director Dennis Villeneuve evokes a sense of hopelessness and desperation from its setting. The cinematography by Roger Deakins captures this aesthetic perfectly and with great focus to detail, while the editor Joe Walker knows how to cut in between angles and shots to help construct coherent ideas in the viewer’s minds. In short, my only complaint is that the film is violent and disturbing. But then again, it’s supposed to be violent and disturbing. What service would that do the viewer if you hid from them the truth?

In one of my favorite scenes from the film, Alejandro tells Kate that there is no book for her to go by anymore. That it’s only a world full of wolves now. I believe him when he says that, and I think Kate ends up believing him as well. The question, then, is this: who are the sheep, and who are the wolves?

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“22 JUMP STREET” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Doing the same thing over again isn’t such a bad thing after all.

22 Jump Street is the exact same film 21 Jump Street was, but with one key difference: it’s self-awareness. While 21 Jump Street was just aimlessly spastic and immature, 22 Jump Street uses that same spasm and immaturity and chooses to make fun of itself for the sake of the audience. 22 Jump Street isn’t laughing with the audience: it’s laughing at the audience laughing at itself, and it is infinitely funnier because of that.

22 Jump Street takes place after Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) tells Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) that they’re about to go undercover at college. After a student died at the hands of a lethal new drug called WyFy, their job once again is to infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier and bring them to justice. Resuming their cover identities as brothers, they slowly try to adapt to college as they continue to search for the supplier who is providing for the whole operation.

“Waitaminute,” you might ask. “Isn’t this what happened in the first movie?” Yes, but like I said, the movie is more aware of itself than by just simply repeating what it did the first time around. This time, Tatum is the guy who is getting accepted and friendly with everyone around campus, while Hill is more or less left to go and sip wine with the art students.

Like I said, the film is on repeat from the plot with the first movie — similar characters, similar jokes, similar order of events. For Pete’s sake, even the run time is the same, with both films clocking in at about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

But like I always say, the repeat isn’t what matters. What matters is how they handle that repeat, whether it genuinely is a funnier, more refreshing take of the original rather than just a rehash. And let me tell you, even though it has Tatum and Hill in it, neither of which I’ve ever found particularly funny, I’ve never laughed harder.

These two guys are hilarious in the movie. Tatum is good as Jenko, a smug older jock who loves to drink beer, play football and show off his physique through physical feats that make me ashamed of my own body. Hill was even better. Whether he was getting into character as a Mexican mobster, trying to impress some girl or desperately trying to figure out how to drive a ferrari, he was clumsy, expressive and hilarious all at once, expertly becoming the likeable underdog needed for a film like this.

Great as Hill and Tatum are though, they are not the highlights of the film. The real stars of this movie are directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, both of whom recently directed The Lego Movie together. Lord and Miller, who also helmed the first film, seem to have a much more fleshed out idea of what they wanted Jump Street to be this time around. The first movie was just a loud, blatant action-comedy, shooting in every which way and direction with no clear aim or focus. Here, the aim couldn’t be more clear. From hearing bits of scathing dialogue — “We’re going to do the same thing all over again” from the captain — to the hilarious end credits spoofing every movie that had laughs and a gun, we can tell their goal with this was to slam the idea of sequels, to make fun of the problems that exist in them, then immerse themselves in that zone of making fun of themselves for the sake of our enjoyment.

I’ve had a complete blast with this movie. In every moment of the film I was either smiling, laughing my head off, or catching my breath, preparing myself for the many laughs to follow. I kept tossing around in my head whether I liked this movie or loved it, whether it was a truly definitive piece of comedy or just something fun to laugh at. I’ve concluded that it is both. 22 Jump Street is a big ball of action-packed comedic fun, a great sequel that has funny jokes, charismatic characters and wonderful self-irreverence. It’s an improvement upon the original in almost every way and will no doubt be a big problem to the studios once they realize they’re going to have to make a second sequel.

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“21 JUMP STREET” Review (✫1/2)

Two 30-year old cops pretending to be in high school.

21 Jump Street is a film that pretends to be a parody on action-comedies and instead collapses under its own pretension. It’s a silly, stupid, obnoxious film, a movie that feels like a kid poking a wet willy into your ear and refusing to stop because you’re laughing inexplicably for some reason. Is it possible to feel this annoyed, or for that matter, this violated? Apparently so. This is a movie that is okay with constant profanity, blatant stereotypes and unfunny penis jokes to the point where it feels like these cops are pretending to be in elementary rather than high school.

As much as they’d like to make you believe, 21 Jump Street is not an expansion of the original television show it was based on. This movie follows an entirely new duo, this one much more clumsier and haphazard than the Johnny Depp-Peter DeLuise relationship in the original show. Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are a dysfunctional pair of police officers that can’t shoot a gun or recite the miranda rights worth a damn. Schmidt plays the fat kid stereotype who can barely do a leg lift in the morning while Jenko is the strong-but-stupid stereotype that looks at answer choices on a test like they’re written in Chinese. Together, this lopsided duo plans to pursue a life of stopping crime as police officers. Little did they know that they’re starting duties included patrolling the town park, honking their horns and yelling at kids to not feed the ducks in the pond. Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Well believe it or not, they mess even that up too. When arresting a gangster for cocaine possession, the gangster is eventually let go because he was not read his miranda rights. The duo is since transferred to this secret operation of undercover police work, located at a nice little chapel addressed at 21 Jump Street.

Sounds like a nice revisitation of the good old days with Johnny Depp, right? No. It isn’t. Whatever you hear about 21 Jump Street please hear this: that this is a complete deviation from the source material, and has been meat-processed through the unfortunate action-comedy formula into another recycled blockbuster.

Oh boy, where do I begin. First of all, let me start by looking at the most important part of the film: it’s leads. Hill and Tatum both served as executive producers for the film while Hill himself holds a story credit to the film. You would expect that, considering both of them have acted in comedies before this, that they would understand that most important element in comedies it the characters. With these two portrayals, they’re okay, but they’re only as good as their stereotypes will let them be. Jonah Hill is sheepish and clumsy while Channing Tatum is moody and stupid, and their characters don’t get much more expressive, or memorable, than that.

Oh no, they don’t go into an inch of smart or sincere territory, and their silly, childish interactions prove it. In one scene, Channing Tatum was whacking and tea-bagging Jonah Hill while he’s on the bed talking to a girl on the phone. In another, they’re fighting in the middle of a stage production while Hill is attached to a harness and Tatum is throwing plastic rocks and trees at him. Watching this duo makes me miss the smartly ironic and genuine chemistry that was shared in between comedic greats such as Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau in Grumpy Old Men, or Steve Martin and John Candy in Plains, Trains and Automobiles. That’s better than the hopelessly slapstick mess we have here, at least.

There is another issue we have at stake here: that this is not an adaptation, doing more disservice to itself by linking it to the source material that it was inspired by in the first place. The original television show was a crime drama about a group of teenagers trying to prove themselves as cops and as heroes. The movie is an action-comedy that deconstructs that idea and makes fun of it before killing it off at the start of the film’s climax, though I won’t say exactly how. All I will say is that fans of the show will be extremely disappointed by this new outing, and even if they won’t be, they’re going to have to let go an important part of the show in order to enjoy this new one.

None of that is really important though. The actors, the faithfulness, nothing. The most important question is this: did it make me laugh?

Kind of. Most of the time my face was as plain as a checker board, erroneously letting the stupidity and immaturity of the film rub off of me as I continued to tolerate its runtime. There were a few fun, clever moments in the film, but seeing them was as rare as Jenko getting a C on his chemistry exam.

I will also admit that I’m not much into raunchy humor, but why would I be? It’s cliche and cheap. It’s plastic, mundane and annoying, butting its head in the way of genuine, clever humor birthed by dialogue and satire, rather than the jumbled action and sex jokes we have to deal with in this movie. Plus, when your best joke involves a police officer shooting off a guy’s penis, and then watching him grab it with his mouth trying to reattach it, I think there’s something seriously wrong with this films humor.

I do predict that this movie will fare well with audiences though. Why? Because this is what people want, that’s why. When I ask for John Hughes, I get Adam Sandler. When I cry for Ridley Scott, I get Paul W.S. Anderson. When I praise Inception, I log onto box office mojo to discover that Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen grossed ten million more than it.

The more I think about this movie, the more frustrated I become. This movie has little to no redeeming factors, the phrase “it was fun” being its only flimsy crutch. There will be no doubt people who will defend it, and these are the people who also enjoy raunchy sex jokes, Channing Tatum’s mug and Jonah Hill’s clumsy failings. When other action comedies exist out there such as Scott Pilgrim and Zombieland, why on earth would I waste my time seeing this? If 21 Jump Street was supposed to assault me as much as it did, I wasn’t read my miranda rights.

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“THE LAST STAND” Review (✫✫)

Stuff blowin’ up real good in Redneck City. 

The Last Stand is an actioneer’s action movie, a film so overstuffed with explosions, gunshots, profanity and testosterone that it might have been more appropriate as a video game rather than a movie. I had a friend of mine describe the movie as being “The guyest guy guy movie you’re ever going to see”. That much is true. Whether its the best one, or even a good one, is up to you.

Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) has been the sheriff of Summertown for many years now after having quit his profession of being a cop in Los Angeles.  Summertown is a quiet place, a small town where crimes range from the Mayor parking his car in a fire lane to deputies firing at slabs of meat during lunch time.  In a small, quiet town such as this, Ray finds little excitement in his day to day routines and he is perfectly fine with that.

But one day, he receives unwelcome news from the FBI: a nation-wide criminal named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escaped from the FBI’s hands and is fast on his way to the Mexican border, where he will be out of the FBI’s reach.  The only thing blocking his path: Summertown, which also sits on the United States border to Mexico.  Owens now has to rise up to the challenge to defend his home.  To defend its citizens.  This is the last stand.

This is Arnold’s first lead role after his 10 year hiatus as California’s governor.  Before that hiatus, Arnold was a standout in a slew of memorable action roles, including (but not limited to) Predator, Total Recall, True Lies, Last Action Hero, and my personal favorite, The Terminator and its sequel.  All of those movies are memorable, exciting, suspenseful, and sport great blockbuster entertainment.

Now look at The Last Stand.  This movie cannot help but look shoddy compared to those titles because of its plot, its only inconsistently funny and exciting, and whats worse, it depends on the forumula of repetitive action.  Wonderful.  We certainly don’t get enough of those, now do we?

Let’s take a deeper look at Arnold real quick.  The man has had a great career.  Before going into office, he was asked to be in these tense, highly riveting action roles, and he was damn good in all of them.  Now, he’s been dilluted to just standing tall and read lines as everyone else turns to him asking what to do when a drug cartel is ready to tear through his town.  Guys, come on.  This is the 42nd governor of California, not Angus MacGyver.

The rest of the characters aren’t really that helpful or compelling.  Zach Gilford portrays Officer Jerry, a guy who wants to see more action than he does but then gets his nose broke by the recoil of a gun.  Luis Guzman plays as a chubby mexican officer, and he’s so stereotypical he might as well have been portrayed by Anthony Anderson.  Rodrigo Santoro and Jaimie Alexander share a forced romantic conflict in the middle of all the bullets and gunfire, and while they’re coincidentally dodging all of the bullets amist their kissing, all I could think to myself was “Hey kids!  Find a shower!”

The worst miscalculation, however, is in the film’s villains: Eduardo Noriega as Gabriel Cortez and Rodrigo Santoro as his goatee, ponytail lackey.   Noriega is worthless as the main villain, and is just stuck to driving a car recklessly for more than two-thirds of the movie until the last 20 minutes where the climax calls for a chase scene.  But even worse is his lackey, who seems completely lacking basic motivation of reasoning behind his actions.

Take a look at the only three things he does in the movie: kill a farmer, build a bridge over to Mexico, and strike a raid across Arnold’s town.  Explain to me A) Why he killed the farmer and clued the detectives into his plan, considering the construction of the bridge was nowhere near the farmland, B) How the bridge to Mexico only took around 24 hours to complete, C) Why waste resources building a bridge when he can just bring in a helicopter for the escape, and D) What is the relevance for attacking the town when it means nothing toward Cortez’s escape?  His actions seem senseless, almost like his decisions are delegated by the script just for the sake of action sequences and explosions.  Why must an action film like this seem so mindless, so pointless in its structure and so artificial in its writing?

The film’s most entertaining character is a man named Lewis Dinkam, portrayed by Jackass star Johnny Knoxville.  Highlight, embolden, and underline Jackass.  This guy is the opitimy of stupid, most of it portrayed humorously so.  This guy is an absolute psycho, shooting off pistols and machine guns named “Betty” and “Nazi Killer” with his pajamas on and tearing off electric polls by climbing them and chainsawing the electric wire.  Is he the smartest character in the bunch?  No, but he is the funniest, although I don’t understand why he’s wearing a woolly hat in the middle of the summer.

Ultimately, I’m at a loss with The Last Stand.  There’s no doubt entertainment value here, but it is severrely misguided, almost like a misfired Colt.  Half of the film is used to just set up its premise with predictable scripting and bad acting, while the other half is used for repetitive and monotonous action, gunshots, and F-bombs.

“But David”, one fellow viewer pointed to me, “That’s entertainment!  People need entertainment because real life sucks!”  This is true that people need entertainment, and The Last Stand will satisfy some viewers.  For others however, they will be left yearning for a better story, more original action, and a more worthwhile experience.  In the meantime, what you see is what you get: if its action you want, boy oh boy, it action what you’re going to get.

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