“Sicario” takes us to the bleak Arizona desert where the cartels continue to win the never-ending drug wars. As the story begins we meet Emily Blunt, a take no prisoners FBI agent on a raid that ends with shock and disaster. From this opening scene we get a sense that things can blow up in Blunt’s face at any time. Assigned to a mysterious group, she begins working with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro who give her little or no information about their mission. “Sicario” unfolds as a mystery seen through the eyes of the relative innocent Blunt, who almost pays for her innocence with her life. I got a knot in my stomach early on. That knot stayed for the entire film. I can’t call this fun to watch but it certainly engages — in fact “Sicario” grabs you and never lets go. Note the R rating which is for violence, as in one of the most violent movies of the season. Does it deliver what it promises? Drug wars with no holds barred. Is it entertaining? Gripping. Is it worth the price of admission? A heart pounding thriller that’s sometimes hard to watch.
Perky Anne Hathaway learns a thing or two from retiree Robert De Niro in “The Intern.” She’s a busy, married, wealthy, super successful start-up business owner. He’s a widower, retired and bored. Anne’s company advertises for senior citizen interns. She and Robert meet cute, and off we go. De Niro, it turns out, knows a thing or two about life. He passes these lessons on to Hathaway almost as if he’s come along as her fairy godfather. The workplace scenes are busy and energetic and Hathaway still has the star power to make us care about her character. It’s a little harder to accept De Niro playing it so square and solid. We’re never quite sure where “The Intern” is taking us and the ending adds to that uncertainty, not that that’s a bad thing –it’s just a thing about this story. I suspect audiences will enjoy “The Intern” especially older viewers. I found it pleasant and sweet but sometimes a little too sweet. Does it deliver what it promises? Old guy helps young business woman. Is it entertaining? Very easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Quite pleasant.
Johnny Depp gets his mojo back in “Black Mass.” As Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger he throws off the cartoon performances of the past few years and taps the essence of a truly evil guy. The true story comes courtesy the book about the gangster and his relationship with the FBI. Agent John Connolly grew up with Bulger and his brother and hoped to use his relationship to further his career. Connolly protected Bulger as an informant, even as Bulger engineered crimes and committed multiple murders. As Connolly Joel Edgerton holds his own—no small achievement. Depp produces two spine tingling scenes. In one he questions an agent about a recipe described as a “family secret.” When the agent gives it up too easily Depp turns from playful to menacing in a split second. He tops that paying a call on Connolly’s wife (Julianne Nicholson) in a scene so chilling it could earn Depp an award nomination. “Black Mass” begins with the line “I am not a rat.” The line recalls for me Jimmy Cagney’s “You rat. You dirty rat.” “Black Mass” joins the list of crime epics from Cagney’s “White Heat” to Martin Scorsese”s “Goodfellas.” Does it deliver what it promises? Crime thriller. Is it entertaining? Johnny Depp back on his game. Is it worth the price of admission? At last! A grown up movie.
Alison Brie made an impression as Pete Campbell’s wife Trudy on AMC’s “Mad Men.” She went on to develop her comic talent on NBC’s “Community.” I think she has talent but I’m not sure “Sleeping With Other People” makes the best use of it. Brie plays a woman with commitment issues. When a romance gets serious she sleeps with someone else. Her problems begin in college when dorm counselor Adam Scott strings her along. Throwing a fit outside his room, Brie gets comfort from Jason Sudeikis and the couple of wind up the night losing their virginity to each other. Twelve years later they meet again at a sex addiction meeting. Vowing to remain friends and avoid sex they share their problems over the course of the next hour and a half. You can guess the rest. Anyone who loved “When harry met Sally” will watch this with a mix of boredom and disappointment. One particular plot development pairs Sudeikis with executive Amanda Peet, a divorced mother with a young son. Peet’s character is smart and attractive. Sudeikis’ relationship with her son warms your heart. They’re so good together that ultimate conclusion left me disappointed. Natasha Lyonne adds spice in a cameo and Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage work in a lot of laughs as married friends. Adam Scott makes a proper villain, as he continues to use Brie as an adult. Does it deliver what it promises? Romantic Comedy sometimes lacking in both. Is it entertaining? A weak copy of “When Harry Met Sally.” Is it worth the price of admission? Only in a pinch.
The end of summer hasn’t brought much worth seeing — so I’m looking forward to:
- Black Mass — Johnny Depp as Boston gangster “Whitey” Bulger — Do I smell another “Goodfellas”? (Opens 9/21/15)
- Sicario—Emily Blunt as a kick ass FBI drug agent taking on a cartel that could be part of a great conspiracy. (Opens 9/21/15 same weekend as “Black Mass”)
- Truth—Robert Redford plays Dan Rather brought down by his investigative piece on candidate George W. Bush (10/16)
- Steve Jobs—Aaron Sorkin writes the script — Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Has he made our world better or worse? (10/09)
- Secret in Their Eyes—Julia Roberts thriller — pulled back 13 years later to investigate the rape and murder of her teen age daughter. with Chiwetel Ejiofor (11/20)
Washington DC Documentarian Aviva Kempner specializes in usual and stirring stories of Jewish life. Her new film “Rosenwald” tells the story of Julius Rosenwald whose sharp investing skills made him CEO and a major owner of Sears & Roebuck — the Amazon.com of the early 20th Century. Having amassed a fortune he turned his attention to the plight of Blacks in America in the 1900’s. He began by funding YMCA facilities for Blacks, then moved into the role of education benefactor. Rosenwald gave the seed money for a series of “Rosenwald” schools throughout the south. The schools often provided the only chance for many Southern blacks to get an education. A later fund providing Rosenwald grants to artists showcases a “who’s who” of Black culture in the 1930’s and 40’s. Sometimes Kempner fills her frame with old film clips which I found distracting. Her early sections tracing Rosenwald’s roots get a little confusing. The overall story of a white American Jew helping a generation denied opportunity filled me with hope. “Rosenwald” includes a clip of Julius commenting on the lack of connection between a man’s fortune and his brainpower. “Most people are of the opinion that because a man has made a fortune, his opinions on any subject are valuable. Don’t be fooled…there is ample proof to the contrary.” That’s a message for our time. Does it deliver what it promises? Great interesting story. Is it entertaining? Zips right along. Is it worth the price of admission? Well worth seeing.
Patricia Clarkson suffers a bad divorce and moves forward with the help of driving lessons in “Learning to Drive.” Ben Kingsley plays a Sikh Indian-American cab driver/driving teacher. The strength of “Learning to Drive” comes from the combination of Clarkson and Kingsley–two stellar actors. It’s no surprise that student and teacher from different worlds learn from each other. Kingsley has an intriguing subplot: an arranged marriage. “Learning to Drive” gets far too cute and effete for its own good. Does it deliver what it promises? Art house comedy/drama. Is it entertaining? Great acting in a thin story Is it worth the price of admission? Not especially compelling.
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: (Opened July 31st) Yeah I’m sick of Tom Cruise but the stunts and energy and plain old joy of this adventure made for great old school fun.
- Mr. Holmes (Opened July 17th) Ian McKellon plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man battling memory loss. Young Milo Parker helps him solve his final case. A great tale for a rainy afternoon.
- Inside/Out (opened June 19th) Pixar hits the sweet spot in this story of a young girl told through her emotions: Joy/Sadness/Fear/Disgust and Anger. What’s better than Louis Black as the voice of anger?
- Love and Mercy (opened June 5th) The genius of Brian Wilson explained in a role split between Paul Dano and John Cusack.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (opened June 12th) Indies don’t get much better than this coming of age comedy about cancer and filmmaking.
Screwball comedy lives and breathes thanks to actress Greta Gerwig who turns her new movie “Mistress America” into head spinning fun. Gerwig plays a woman nearing thirty trying to find her way in the world while befriending a young college freshman who might become her step sister. Lola Kirke looks wide-eyed as she observes Greta’s antic life, starting with a night on the town and building to a day in the country and a visit to a rich former boyfriend and his wife. The now married guy still pines for Gerwig but his wife qualifies as a former friend turned nemesis. Greta and her entourage arrives to hit the poor guy up for money to open a restaurant. Lola takes a few cues from her step sister to be and drags along her ex boyfriend and his current girlfriend, the better to increase the chances to bicker. You’ll need a clear head to follow the dialog which bounces around like a pro volleyball match. Count me among Greta Gerwig’s many fans. She lights up the screen. Does it deliver what it promises? Gen X comedy. Is it entertaining? Screwball comedy. Is it worth the price of admission? Worth it for the laughs.
British actress Bel Powley who plays the teen daughter of 1970’s San Francisco single swinger Kristen Wiig. Powley loses her virginity to Wiig’s boyfriend Alexander Skarsgard, putting new tension in the usual love triangle. Powley in real life is in her twenties but captures the conflicting emotions of a teen. The great cast keeps this compelling. Kristen Wiig continues her string of unusual intelligent work. Moments in “Dairy” will shock, sadden, uplift and delight. This one puts a new spin on the usual “coming of age” tale. Does it deliver what it promises? A one of the kind experience. Is it entertaining? Compelling. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s most powerful small films.