“Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” Three stars out of five. In theaters.
Taking a movie and making it into its own cinematic universe is a big task, especially when it’s not led by a superhero or dinosaurs. But somehow, audiences are treated to another dose of Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver as they take on Mexican drug cartels again in this sequel to the 2015 acclaimed film “Sicario.”
Graver (Josh Brolin) is in full CIA-mode as the government wants him to stir up trouble between rival cartels to start a war, but figureheads James Riley (Matthew Modine) and Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) don’t want any U.S. fingerprints on the job. Graver enlists Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a hitman who helps the U.S. against his enemies, with a tempting offer – go after the man responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter. This plan includes kidnapping the drug kingpin’s daughter, Isabel (Isabela Moner), in hopes that the cartels will square off. But things go wrong from the government’s point of view, causing a rift between Graver and Alejandro.
“Soldado” digs deeps into the land of no morals. The government and the cartels would rather clean up the messes (read: eliminate everyone) than to deal with the problem. Alejandro and Graver aren’t good guys, either, and it makes it impossible to cheer for anyone. Isabel knows how much power she had being the offspring of a drug lord, and she not ashamed to use it. Also, their choices are questionable, like why would Alejandro, who lost a daughter, be willing to snatch a young girl?
A subplot, much like in “Sicario,” involves Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a Mexican-American teen who is involved in a gang-related immigrant transportation operation. His story intersects Alejandro’s in many spots with devastating results.
Director Stefano Sollima, who was behind the 2014 TV series “Gomorrah,” was a smart choice to lead this round as that setting was full of unlikeables. Taylor Sheridan returns as the screenwriter, but instead of Roger Deakins as cinematographer and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson as composer, Dariusz Wolski and Jóhannsson protege Hildur Guðnadóttir, respectively, fill those roles. However, the overall feeling is that of a mini-series rather that a cinematic sequel. What made “Sicario” so intriguing was Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Kate Bacer. Her small-time FBI agent was walking from a small jurisdiction into a massive world of immorality and choice. With “Soldado” it goes from a big, wide-ranging operation to a specific case. The first 20 minutes are useless, but if you miss one line said during that time, you won’t know how useless. Worse, Blunt is not in this one, but there’s no place for her kind in this one.
Del Toro and Brolin make the best out of what they’re given. Brolin chews up the scene, even eating during many of his on-screen minutes. With “Soldado” being mostly Alejandro’s story, Del Toro has much to work with, and he does this in a quiet, calculated manner that is unusual for a leading man. Keener and Modine have small roles, but Keener has the best lines. Moner shows some range as the kidnapping victim, but Sheridan continues to write poor roles for women (with Bacer being the one exception), so her character is not as exposed as one would expect.
The closing minutes, despite being divisive, set up what may be the final part of the series. Let’s hope that Blunt returns to give her story, and this universe, some closure.
“The Incredibles 2,” four-and-a-half stars. In theaters.
I hold a very unpopular movie opinion: I did not like “The Incredibles.” I hated the way the movie made the 1950s seem like a utopian time for all Americans and Violet’s “authentic self” was a girl who wears pink and is a cheerleader. I liked Goth Violet, the insecure superhero. I didn’t like the plot, the villain Syndrome and the score. Waiting 14 years for the sequel was not a long wait for me.
And I’m glad that director Brad Bird has given us something worth waiting for.
The Incredibles and other superheroes are banned from using their superpowers as the damage they cause and lack of getting the villain are more visible than their heroics. Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), Dash (voiced by Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile) are force into hiding until Elastigirl is offered a job from Devtech sibling team Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Kenner). Elastigirl takes the spotlight, going after electronic hypnotist Screenslayer (voiced by Bill Wise) and hopping back on her motorcycle. Mr. Incredible is in charge of the family, living in a high-tech home and taking care of the kids.
This sequel is more in line with the changing 1950s, where more women were becoming breadwinners and feminism was growing. There are more women in charge, with Elastigirl becoming a role model to all superheroes instead of Mr. Incredible, Evelyn leading Devtech’s technology side and the Ambassador (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), who can determine if superheroes can emerge from the underground, being female. Mr. Incredible takes on the stay-at-home parent role, worrying that he’s not the best example for his kids while not in his more familiar role.
The production values are amazing, with the Incredibles’ new mid-century home striking enough to make any architectural fan drool. The music, composed by Pixar regular Michael Giacchino, is top notch, although at times it’s a bit over the top in some places. Edna Mode (voiced by Bird) returns briefly, and Frozone (voice by Samuel L. Jackson) provides backup when needed.
Jack-Jack is the biggest scene-stealer. The little boy is gaining his powers at random and bonding with his dad. This helps with keeping the light-hearted side of the film where there is a bit more darkness in this one. Violet is balancing being an adolescent with her superhero duties, bouncing between Preppy Violet and Goth Violet. Unfortunately, Dash doesn’t get as much growth as the others, but that’s OK. It’s really Elastigirl’s vehicle, the friendships she gains while on the job, and the leader she becomes. It’s also all about family as the Incredibles now get used to working together and realizing their powers. Families can relate to this, kids will find a new favorite, and lifelong fans will be happy with the final product after waiting a generation for the next chapter.
“Ocean’s 8,” two stars. In theaters.
The idea of an all-female version of the “Ocean” series has been intriguing, particularly when the crew is led by Oscar winners Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. But when the idea is not executed fully, what’s the point of making a groundbreaking movie for the summer?
Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean. Debbie has spent five years in prison plotting her next big scheme and her partner-in-crime Lou (Blanchett) is somewhat ready to help her out when she learns that it’s to hit the Met Ball and steal a priceless diamond necklace.
The two enlist a motley bunch of specialists: troubled fashion designer Rose Weil (Helen Bonham Carter), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), jewelry expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom/stolen goods specialist Tammy (Sarah Paulson) and their mark, actress Daphne Kluger (Hathaway). The crew encounters the usual problems that planning a heist would have, and things shake up when Ocean makes an ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), whose snitching led to her imprisonment, an additional target.
Unfortunately, with so much product placement and Gary Ross’ choppy directing, “Ocean’s 8” is not as fun or iconoclastic as it should be. The women don’t have much personality, expect for Rose. Then again, Bonham Carter probably was playing this role in her sleep. Blanchett is enjoying herself and has good chemistry with Bullock, but their characters and their bond should have been explored more. Props go to casting Awkwafina, a Queens, New York, native who adds charm to every scene she is in. It’s rare for a New York-set film to feature Asian-American actors, despite the high percentage of Asians living in the five boroughs, especially in Queens.
But if you are a fashion junkie, there are a lot of fabulous outfits, cameos and inside jokes. The best joke features Kluger and a rival actress Penelope Stern (Dakota Fanning) fighting over a designer and ad campaign. It’s still a plot point to have a brand name on the screen.
“Ocean’s 8” is a pedestrian effort full of shiny stars and gimmicks. The best heist is the money the crew steals from moviegoers.