Tag Archives: Josh Brolin

Drugs ‘R’ Us

Tense, thought-provoking ‘Sicario’ is gripping, gut-punch thriller



Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin & Benicio Del Toro

Directed by Denis Villeneuve


A gauzy curtain wafts in the breeze early in Sicario, a gripping, gut-punch thriller about America’s “war on drugs” along our southern border.

The swath of fabric is a membrane-thin divider, its shape is constantly shifting, offering little protection from what’s on the other side, and you can’t really see clearly through it—great metaphors for everything that happens in French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s visceral, thought-provoking saga about an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who joins a task force to track down a brutal Mexican drug lord.

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro are members of a covert task force tracking a brutal Mexican drug czar in ‘Sicario.’

After informing us in the opening that its title is a Mexican word for “hit man,” taken from a term for zealots in ancient Jerusalem who hunted and killed Romans that invaded their homeland, Sicario starts with a bang—literally. An armored vehicle explodes through a brick wall, and things don’t soften up for the next two hours.

After Blunt’s agent Macer leads a raid on a suburban home just outside of Phoenix that turns out to be a house of horrors connected to a Mexican drug kingpin, she’s all aboard to help a governmental black-ops cowboy (Josh Brolin) and his even shadier partner, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), shut him down.

There’s more to the mission than that, as Macer—and we—find out. Like Blunt’s assignment, and the war on drugs itself, nothing in Sicario moves in a clean, straight line, nothing is really as it appears to be, and no one can really be trusted—or can they?

Director Villeneuve likes working taut, tough and raw; his previous films include the brutal revenge thriller Prisoners (2013), with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the Oscar-nominated mystery drama Incendies (2010). Here he steers his outstanding cast through a murky maze of escalating tension, ratcheting suspense and ghastly acts of violence. Quickly, Macer’s moral compass starts to spin out of control; she can’t sort good guys from bad, tell right from wrong, or even keep track of which side of which line she’s on.

Benecio Del Toro

Blunt is phenomenal, charging through the movie as the audience surrogate, making us feel every nuance of Macer’s journey from determination to disillusion. In a performance that seethes with mystery and menace, Del Toro speaks volumes with simmering silences—and can inflict pain with only his finger. As the gum-smacking, flip-flop-wearing special operative, Brolin may not always play by the rules, but he sure knows how to “stir the pot that causes criminals to react.”

Sicario has an all-star team behind the scenes, too. Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins gives everything his meticulous master’s touch, and a haunting soundtrack by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson pumps, prods and pushes the drama along like a throbbing electronic heartbeat. In a movie where almost everything stands out, several scenes stand out more, including a freeway traffic jam that erupts in a lethal shootout, and a gripping “night-vision” blackout raid on a desolate desert tunnel used by the cartel. It’s terrific, first-class filmmaking.

How far is too far to go to fight a war that may never be won? Sicario doesn’t have an easy answer, but it sure makes you think hard about the question.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , ,

Ups & Downs

A herd of actors recreates epic ’90s mountaineering disaster



Starring Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley & Robin Wright

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur



Why climb the world’s highest mountain?

“Because it’s there!” shout members of a group about to head to the top of Mt. Everest in this adventure-drama based on a true story from 1996.

It’s there, all right—all 29,000-and-then-some feet of it, rising into the sky like a giant prehistoric sentinel of rock, ice and snow on the border of China and Nepal. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s film begins with expedition leader Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), his team and his clients converging at the base of the Himalayas to prepare for their trek to the summit.

“It’s not called the death zone for noting,” Hall, a veteran New Zealand mountaineer, warns his climbers-to-be, citing the perils they will face—jet stream winds, altitude sickness, sub-freezing temps, oxygen deprivation, snowstorms, avalanches, icefalls.


Jake Gyllenhaal

By the mid-1990s, the commercialization of Mt. Everest had created some major traffic jams on the slopes. As guides such as Hall returned season after season to lead paying customers toward the heavens, thousands were trekking where, just decades before, only a relative few had ever dared.

But the monumental mountain remained a far cry from an amusement park. You could still die up there.


Josh Brolin

A monstrous storm moves in, trapping the climbers. Who’ll survive, and who won’t? It becomes an epic drama of humans facing ancient, immutable forces of nature. Sometimes it looks spectacular, but too often the emotions of Everest feel forced and hokey, and much of the time there’s just too much going on, and too many people jostling around.

For an adventure movie, it doesn’t have near enough action, and when things do get going, the scenes of peril and danger don’t have the breathtaking, gut-wrenching wallop you’d expect from a movie about people pitting themselves against the highest peak on the planet, at inhospitable altitudes where airplanes fly, helicopters falter, eyeballs can explode and bodies fall into places where they’ll never be recovered.


Robin Wright

Everest is a modern throwback to classic disaster movies of the 1970s, when a gaggle of actors would be plunked into collapsing cities, raging infernos, sinking ships or doomed airplanes. Here the populous cast includes Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael (House of Cards) Kelly, Jason Hawkes, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Elizabeth (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) Debicki and others, all in roles based on real people, headed up, staying below or waiting anxiously on the other side of the world when things take a turn from bad to worse.

But there’s one star in Everest that tops them all, and that’s Mt. Everest itself. Even though some of the scenes were filmed elsewhere, you’d never know it, and the world’s most iconic peak still has the power to awe, inspire and draw people to risk, and sometimes lose, their lives.

Why would anyone want to do it? And why bother trying to explain, anyway? In any discussion, as one character puts it, “the last word always belongs to the mountain.” In Everest, and the tragically true tale behind it, indeed it does.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

‘Vice’ is Nice

’70s counterculture detective yarn is one heck of a trip, man


Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon & Katherine Waterston

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson


A swirling, swingin’ sleuthing tale set at the dawn of the ‘70s on the seedy coastal side of Los Angeles, Inherent Vice stars Joaquin Phoenix as a keep-on-truckin’ private investigator coasting on a cloud of dope smoke, Josh Brolin as a hippie-hating L.A.P.D. detective who likes licking on chocolate-covered bananas, and a cavalcade of other characters who pop in and out to move the story along.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark-comedy adaptation of author Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 crime-noir/counterculture novel is a thing of cinematic achievement, fitting in comfortably with his other critically lauded films, There Will Be Blood, The Master and Boogie Nights. And it’s also one heck of a trip, man.

Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, who’s hired by a damsel in distress, his ex-lover Shasta Fey Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, actor Sam’s daughter), to investigate the disappearance of her new boyfriend, a wealthy real-estate tycoon, possibly arranged by his wife. But when Shasta Fey also goes missing, Doc realizes that he’s dealing with a love triangle that’s become an even bigger, much more unwieldy geometric tangle.


Owen Wilson

How much bigger, and how complex? Well, there are Nazis, black power groups, a mysterious offshore schooner, a cabal of heroin-smuggling dentists, a surf-saxophone legend (Owen Wilson) who’s faked his own death, Eric Roberts in a looney bin, Reese Witherspoon as a federal district attorney who likes an occasional walk on the wild side, and a massage-parlor hoochie-coochie mama whispering a cryptic warning: “Beware the Golden Fang.”

As Doc tries to sort out who’s who and what’s what, things keep getting weirder and wilder. The characters’ names give you some idea of the story’s stoned-out La-La-Land twists and turns: Michael W. Wolfmann, Sauncho Smilax, Coy Harlingen, Rudy Blatnoyd, Puck Beaverton.

Brolin, with a perpetual scowl and a serious crew cut, nearly steals the show as Lt. Det. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, who also moonlights as an actor (watch for him late in the movie cropping up in a “doctored” episode of Adam-12). Phoenix sports a set of mutton-chop sideburns that look like they’re about to invade his mouth at any moment. Funnyman Martin Short gets only 10 minutes onscreen as a lecherous dentist, but he makes the most of every second. Witherspoon and Phoenix have one entire conversation against the backdrop of a country song, Jack Scott’s “Burning Bridges,” which seems to be a nod to not only their relationship in the movie, but also their previous co-starring roles as John and June Carter Cash in Walk The Line (2005).


Reese Witherspoon & Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix worked with Anderson previously, in The Master, and the two have another fine synergy here. As Doc stumbles, unwashed and unkempt, through the case, he’s also stumbling through the end of an era, the come-together, flower-power ‘60s, and into another, the uncertain, unhinged ‘70s. Doc knows the times, they are a-changin’—and that wistful, wayward, weed-saturated vibe seeps into everything about Inherent Vice.

The story takes its title, we learn, from a maritime term about a piece of cargo’s hidden defect, something that makes it an unacceptable risk to insure. People—and places, relationships, even moments in time—can be defective, too, can spoil and go bad, as Doc knows all too well. But the defective, “damaged goods” Inherent Vice parades on screen only adds to the fractured fun of its hippy-dippy, time-tripping yarn.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

One Hot Holiday

Winslet, Brolin steam up more than the kitchen in ‘Labor Day’

Labor Day

Labor Day

Blu-ray $39.99 / DVD $29.99 (Paramount Home Media)

Based on a best-selling romance novel by Joyce Maynard, this dreamy drama stars Kate Winslet as a neglected single mom whose life intersects with a mysterious, troubled stranger (Josh Brolin) over one steamy weekend noted in the title—and things get heated in more ways than one. (Just wait for the peach pie-making scene.) Director/writer Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) also works in a subplot about teenagers fumbling with bubbling hormones, for younger viewers. Extras include a making-of documentary, deleted scenes and commentary.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , ,

Oh My, That Pie


Star power can’t keep food-centric romantic drama out of the goop

Labor Day

Starring Josh Brolin & Kate Winslet

Directed by Jason Reitman

PG-13, 111 min.

An escaped murderer from the state prison shanghais a single mother and her 13-year-old son, forcing them to drive him to their New England home. Then he ties the mom to a chair…

At this point, you might be thinking of several places a chilling scenario like this could lead. But only in the overheated, food-fantasy romance-drama that is Labor Day would hunky con-on-the-lam Frank (Josh Brolin) begin spoon-feeding lovelorn, rope-restrained divorcee Adele (Kate Winslet) a hot meal of his homemade chili, then proceed to fill the big, empty hole in her heart.

LABOR DAYBased on a 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is set over the steamy three-day 1987 weekend of its title, as Frank then bonds with Adele and her son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), and they become a “family” despite their unusual, unorthodox and stressful situation. It is hard to have a relaxing barbecue, tune up the station wagon in the driveway or play a game of backyard baseball, after all, with a nosy neighbor (J.K. Simmons) dropping by to remind you of the dangerous felon on the loose, or the local cop (James Van Der Beek from TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”) tacking up “Wanted” posters and constantly patrolling past your house in his cruiser.

If you don’t already know by the time things get to the “pie scene,” those three squishy minutes alone will likely decide just how much of this hook, line and sinker hooey you’re willing to swallow. As Frank tutors Adele and Henry in making a peach confection (“A little bit of tapioca,” he purrs, guiding Adele’s shaking hands to sprinkle the seasoning “like salt over an icy road…”), it’ll either strike you as one of the most beautiful, erotic things you’ve ever seen, or a ridiculous, hoot-worthy spoof the two stars could be doing on an episode of Saturday Night Live.


And the movie totally overcooks its symbolism that homemade food means real love, stability and family bonding, while restaurant meals and fast-food milkshakes represent shallow men who leave good women, families split apart by divorce and parents who don’t know how to communicate with their kids.

Director Jason Reitman has made some fine movies, including Juno, Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking, with some real satirical bite and teeth. But this film doesn’t have any bite, or teeth, because it’s mostly goop. Brolin and Winslet, fine actors both, do their best, but they’re fighting an undertow in a sea of cheese, and the movie fails to fan their coals of passion into anything resembling a flame. Young Griffith gets his own subplot as Henry navigates the emotional minefield of teenage hormones.

(If you’re reading the opening credits—and listening closely to the narration—it won’t be much of a surprise to find out the identity of the Recognizable Actor who pops in to play grown-up Henry at the end of the movie.)

“I came to save you,” Frank tells Adele. Well, you might save me another slice of that peach pie, or a bowl of that chili, or one of those breakfast scones, but nothing else on the menu of this preposterous holiday roma-drama is worth reheating.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , ,