Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)
‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Inherent Vice’

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix sleuth confusedly in 'Inherent Vice' (Warner Bros.)
Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix sleuth confusedly in ‘Inherent Vice’ (Warner Bros.)

inherentvice-coverWhen Thomas Pynchon published Inherent Vice in 2009, it became very clear that the revered author of Gravity’s Rainbow was still interested in his basics (baffling plots, conspiratorial confusion) but was now also cool with knocking out an honest-to-God fun read. Paul Thomas Anderson’s resume of overbusy, overcrowded Southern California anthology meta-fictions (Magnolia, in particular) would seem to make him the perfect man to bring this book to the screen.

Inherent Vice is opening this week in limited release and likely to wide befuddlement; it’ll go wider around the nation in January. My review is at Film Racket:

“Thinking comes later,” mumbles Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start of Paul Thomas Anderson’s foggy, funny film of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelia-noir Inherent Vice, only he never quite gets around to it. A lot of things get in his way, you see, from the moment that his ex-old lady Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, an angelic , transfixing moonbeam of a smile but with not much to do here) lays on him a whole rap about needing help with her new old man. In the grand tradition of beautiful women whose true motives are submerged beneath shimmering layers of twinkle, Shasta’s initial request is more complicated and dangerous than it initially seems, particularly after she goes missing. Doc’s journey starts off being about making sure that Shasta (clearly the love of his life, though neither of them may know or want to know it) is okay, it turns into a quasi-historical tour of a Southern California counterculture circa 1970 on the verge of imploding under the weight of its own bafflement and paranoia…

Here’s the (fantastic) trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Gangster Squad’

Gangster-Squad-poster-wallpaper

The new year’s slate of movies is starting off with a bang…actually lots of bangs. The star-packed Gangster Squad (Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, and so on) was originally a fall 2012 release before getting bumped to mid-January. Its high-wattage cast and liberal gunplay would probably make sure that it would do decent business no matter what time of year it came roaring onto screens:

An internal Los Angeles Police Department report once counted the number of gangland killings in the city between 1900 and 1951: They came up with 57. Roughly that many people are rubbed out in less than two hours during Ruben Fleischer’s showboating, bullet-pocked, fist-to-the-face period gangster film. Former homicide detective Will Beall’s lunkish screenplay for Gangster Squad is nominally based on Paul Lieberman’s Los Angeles Times articles about the LAPD unit that spent the late-1940s and ’50s targeting East Coast mobsters with strictly off-the-books tactics. Taking them up to Mulholland Drive and putting a gun to their ear was a standard stratagem. But the film that Zombieland director Fleischer brings to the screen is more interested in gaping flesh wounds: This gangster squad puts bullets in nearly everything that moves…

Gangster Squad opens wide on Friday.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can watch the trailer here: