Super Troopers 2

super_troopers_two_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the 2001 cult comedy classic Super Troopers featuring the Broken Lizard comedic group, Super Troopers 2 is a ridiculously silly comedy that, like the original, is full of vulgar and very juvenile humor that tries to be nothing more than a more traditional slapstick comedy. The movie follows a group of former Vermont State Troopers who were fired after the shenanigans of the first film and are looking for a way to get back into law enforcement. The main characters are made up of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe: Jay Chandrasekhar playing Senior Trooper Arcot “Thorny” Ramathorn, Paul Soter playing Trooper Jeff Foster, Steve Lemme playing Trooper MacIntyre “Mac” Womack, Erik Stolhanske playing Trooper Robert “Rabbit” Roto, and Kevin Heffernan playing Trooper Rodney “Rod” Farva. The rather ludicrous plot involves the group of highly incompetent troopers led by Captain John O’Hagen, played by Golden Globe-nominated British actor Brian Cox, being recruited to help set up a new highway patrol station outside a small Canadian town transitioning into joining the United States after a border dispute between the two nations. They must take control from a group of three extremely stereotyped Canadian Mounties, including one played by Will Sasso of MADtv fame, who become engaged in prank war with the obnoxious American troopers. Many of the practical jokes that the characters play on one another are sometimes hilarious and almost always rely on gross-out and lowbrow humor that could be upsetting to some viewers. Over time, the ribald story becomes increasingly absurd with the appearance of the slick French-Canadian mayor Guy Le Franc, played by Rob Lowe, and a criminal organization smuggling drugs and a female version of Viagra outlawed in the United States. All of the Canadian characters are over-the-top composites of a stereotypical French-Canadian, complete with the different pronunciation of the word sorry and the notion that all Canadians are nice in addition to poking fun of the fact that some of them speak French and love hockey. Overall, I found it to be a mind-numbing comedy that furthers the stupidity of the original Super Troopers, which will definitely appease fans, that has its moments of uproarious hilarity fueled by some rather immature material.

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You Were Never Really Here

Directed by critically acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay who is best known for 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here is a very dark and sometimes disturbing film remarkable for its gritty atmosphere and superbly dedicated performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It follows the violent exploits of hired gun Joe, played by Golden Globe winner Phoenix in one of his best performances, as he takes on one of his toughest jobs rescuing girls from the criminal underworld. A powerful New York State Senator enlists Joe through the middleman McCleary, played by John Doman, to rescue his young daughter Nina, played by terrific newcomer Ekaterina Samsonov, from an underage sex ring in New York City. Effectively portraying Joe’s descent into madness, a majority of the movie shows Joe walking through the rough streets of New York City beset by intense hallucinations and traumatic flashbacks the result of his serious PTSD. The uncomfortable moments of insanity are heightened through the random use of jarring imagery and discordant music and sound effects. Surprisingly, it is a slow burn story that focuses on Joe struggling with his mental issues while investigating the whereabouts of the girl, only interrupted by scenes of extreme and sometimes graphic violence. Joe is a truly complicated figure who dispassionately kills people in brutal fashion primarily using a hammer; however, his actions are somewhat justified because the people that he is viciously attacking are truly repugnant bad guys trafficking young girls. Over the course of the plot, things go horribly awry as he stumbles into a vast conspiracy involving the Governor and corrupt police officers who murder those closest to him. Overall, I found it to be an unpleasant yet mesmerizing cinematic experience notable for the realistic performance from Joaquin Phoenix and the uniquely brilliant filmmaking style of Lynne Ramsay; as fair warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Red Sparrow

red_sparrow_xlgDirected by Francis Lawrence who is best known for several of The Hunger Games films starring Jennifer Lawrence, Red Sparrow is a highly eroticized spy thriller aiming to become a prestige espionage film like 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and whose greatest asset is the acting performance from Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence stars as a Russian ballerina named Dominika Egorova who suffers a career-ending injury and enlists, at the urging of her powerful uncle Ivan, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, as a Russian operative known as a red sparrow in order to support her sick mother. After her recruitment, the film uses a training montage to depict the brutal tactics, including using one’s sexuality to obtain valuable information from targets, she learns at a secret training facility run by the stone-faced character played by Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling. Eventually, Dominika is sent to Budapest to uncover the identity of a Russian double agent working for the CIA and also to get close to the CIA agent Nate Nash, played by Joel Edgerton. Things begin to get complicated after she begins an intimate relationship with Nate and discovers that there may be other double agents at work for both the Russians and Americans. Overall, I found it to be a somewhat entertaining and stylized film, but it, unfortunately, fell short of my high expectations for a well-crafted intelligent espionage thriller suited for such a talented cast.

Murder on the Orient Express

Directed by Kenneth Branagh who is best known for his work in Shakespeare plays and film adaptations, Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish adaptation of the classic 1934 Agatha Christie novel of the same name and later adapted into a critically acclaimed movie in 1974. It feels very much like a modern update to the murder mystery genre and is jam-packed with an all-star cast, but the film largely does not live up to its predecessor and the novel itself. The always terrific Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh stars as Hercule Poirot, a brilliant and eccentric Belgian detective who is a recurring character in Christie’s books. While on a break between cases in the winter of 1934 in Istanbul, he is recruited to investigate a case in the UK and is offered a ticket on the world-famous luxury train the Orient Express headed to Calais, France in order to quickly reach his destination. He, along with thirteen strangers, mostly keep to themselves on an uneventful first leg of the journey. The first few scenes on the train introduce the audience to the passengers ranging from a governess, a professor, a duchess, a secretary to a mobster and are played by such famous faces as Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., and Derek Jacobi. Things rapidly become chaotic after the Orient Express is stranded after an avalanche and a body is discovered in one of the cabins. Detective Hercule Poirot is then enlisted to help solve the murder before the train reaches its next destination. With unique cinematography, including overhead shots and long panning shots, and sumptuous detailing of the original Orient Express and 1930s costumes and decor, the meticulous detective interrogates all the passengers and tries to piece together the evidence to discover the culprit. The best part of the movie is Branagh’s portrayal of the charismatic and mysterious Poirot and the fascinating ways he is able to solve the murder mystery, all the while interacting with a terrific ensemble cast. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable and beautifully shot movie that does not reach perfection as a result of its bloated cast, sometimes too slow pacing, and attempt to revitalize an already beloved classic murder mystery novel and film. 

Suburbicon

Directed by George Clooney, Suburbicon is a strange movie mixing satire, murder mystery, and racial social commentary that ultimately fails its great potential with such a stellar cast of actors and famous writers and director. Going into the movie, I was fully prepared for a zany and eccentric experience since it is partly written by Joel and Ethan Coen, both highly-skilled writers and filmmakers known for oddball humor and satire. The movie starts like a stereotypical vintage infomercial for a bizarrely exaggerated picturesque and quiet suburban community with a 1950s-sounding narrator and imagery associated with that era. I was almost immediately reminded of the 1998 movie Pleasantville, which effectively captured the 1950s and was mostly shot in black-and-white. We first meet the protagonist Gardner Lodge, played by Matt Damon, who appears to be a gentle and normal middle class suburban father and husband in the relatively new predominantly white town of Suburbicon. Coinciding with the first African-American family moving into the community, much to the consternation of the white neighbors, Gardner, his wife Rose, played by Julianne Moore, their young son Nicky, and Rose’s twin sister Margaret, also played by Julianne Moore, are robbed by two mysterious strangers. Rose who is bound to a wheelchair after a recent car accident is subsequently killed during the robbery. Gardner, in a peculiar calm fashion, tries to return to a life of normalcy and asks Margaret to stay and help with raising Nicky. Reinforcing that not all is well in the seemingly perfect Suburbicon, the residents’ hatred and problems arise as their discomfort with the black family becomes a race riot. With such chaos surrounding them, suspicions about the robbery and Rose’s death are raised by the police and the life insurance company Gardner is trying to collect from his wife’s death. To make matters worse, a slick insurance agent named Bud Cooper, played by Oscar Isaac, arrives at the Lodge residence aggressively investigating the life insurance claim and if the death of Rose was orchestrated to defraud the insurance company for money. Chaos rapidly engulfs this supposedly idyllic town where everybody gets along, and the increasingly violent acts expose the hypocrisy and true nature of the residents, especially Gardner and Margaret. Unexpectedly, the movie becomes predominately a murder mystery almost immediately after the satirical opening act and does not have as much dark comedy as the promotional material would have you believe. Overall, I thought that the film tries too hard to blend several genres together to provide biting social commentary, and, unfortunately, fails to capitalize on the terrific talent involved and thereby becomes a wholly different movie than expected. 

Blade Runner 2049

Directed by Denis Villeneuve who is best known for the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 is an extraordinary film that lives up to its predecessor, the science fiction cult classic Blade Runner released in 1982 and based on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel. Heavily influenced by the first movie’s director Ridley Scott who is one of the producers of the sequel, the film remarkably recreates the dystopian hallmarks of the original with beautiful cinematography of a bleak yet futuristic world of monolithic skyscrapers illuminated by extravagant neon signage rising above a rain-soaked suffering population. The story takes place thirty years after the first Blade Runner and follows an officer with the LAPD officer named K, played by Ryan Gosling, who is sent on a secret mission by his boss Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright, to discover the truth behind the discovery of a mysterious skeleton. K is what is known as a blade runner whose job it is is to hunt down and destroy renegade replicants, human-like robots originally created by the now defunct Tyrell Corporation featured in the original. Officer K is a replicant himself but of a more advanced and better controlled version built by the all-powerful Wallace Corporation led by the vicious Niander Wallace, played by the especially creepy Jared Leto. The Wallace Corporation is intrigued by the LAPD’s investigation because it may lead to a key development in their replicant program. Throughout the slow burn and sometimes complex esoteric scenes, K questions his own existence and whether he is in fact a human and not a replicant with implanted memories. The very nature of what it means to be human is the core of the film’s deep dive into the philosophical exploration of humanity and artificial intelligence. Eventually, Gosling’s character comes to a greater understanding of who he is after encountering Rick Deckard, the main character from the original played by a particularly gruff Harrison Ford. Deckard is a replicant who has been on the run over the past thirty years and had a romantic relationship with another replicant named Rachael who may have had a very unique capability desired by Wallace. Overall, although the heavy dose of sci-fi and philosophical elements may not appeal to all viewers, the movie is without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece as a result of being a visual marvel presenting a stylized dystopia complete with a very futuristic-sounding soundtrack emphasizing the dark and moody themes. If you are a fan of the original Blade Runner or any other sci-fi flick, you will not be disappointed by this long-awaited sequel. 

Wind River

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who wrote 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, Wind River is a gritty and riveting crime mystery thriller with terrific acting performances and excellent cinematography capturing the dark nature of the story. Set in remote Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation, the film follows U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner, as he investigates a possible homicide after discovering the frozen body of a 18-year-old Native American girl miles away from civilization. He is forced to team up with the novice FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, who is brought in to see whether it was a murder and help the Wind River Reservation Tribal Police investigate. Based out of Las Vegas, she is woefully unprepared for the frigid weather and must rely on Lambert for his animal tracking skills to literally follow the trail of the mysterious crime. Shot in such a desolate and unforgiving location in which exposure to the elements can result in death within minutes brilliantly underscores the unsolved brutal death of a young woman among the largely overlooked and oppressed Native American population suffering from severe poverty and substance abuse. Throughout the film, there are moments of intense standoffs and violence at unexpected times and places that help to create a gripping thriller in which audiences are desperate for answers. Overall, I found it to be one of the best movies of the year, and the brilliant script and acting fashions not just a truly great crime thriller but a stark exploration of the plight of many Native Americans, especially the disproportionately large number of missing girls cases that are never solved in the community.