Josh Brolin


It’s been a relatively lackluster year at the movies, so when I started to hear buzz about Sicario, I figured it might be a sleeper. The trailer promised a taut political action drama featuring an accomplished cast, including Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (Inherent Vice), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice). The film focuses on the US government’s efforts to thwart the Mexican drug cartels and their encroachment across the border. The opening sequence is a heart-stopping raid that results in tragic casualties for the FBI, and the Bureau is left reeling.

Blunt stars as Federal Agent Kate Macer, tough but rather naïve in her approach to neutralizing the cartel. She has bought into a self-righteous way of doing things, earnest but green. After she and partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya, Kick Ass 2) narrowly survive the aforementioned raid, she’s offered an opportunity to join a task force comprised of various intelligence agencies, military personnel and assorted covert types. Heading the task force is Matt Graver (Brolin), a CIA analyst liaising between the Agency and the Bureau. Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro) is attached to Graver, who introduces him to Kate as a DoD consultant. She’s immediately suspicious of him, and neither man provides much clarity about just what his function is on the team.

The task force must travel to Juarez, Mexico to extricate a witness, all the while flying under the cartel’s radar. Corpses line the streets of Juarez, swaying to and fro as a reminder of what happens if you dare cross them. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) held me at rapt attention, as the film was peppered with one jaw-clenching scene after another. Graver and Alejandro are at the forefront of every operation, mysteriously speaking in hushed tones while furthering Macer’s suspicions. Sicario is Spanish for hitman, and from the film’s outset it was clear that Alejandro is a questionable character with shaky allegiances. Macer and her partner are in over their heads, as everyone else seems to be privy to a secret that they know nothing about. The film follows Macer as she pieces together Alejandro’s identity and her questions her own principles.

Sicario is one of the better films of 2015. Usually movies like this have a lull at the midway point, after becoming mired in plot minutiae. However, I was genuinely enthralled throughout. The pacing was superb, and while director Denis Villeneuve hasn’t surpassed the suspense of Prisoners, he has crafted a very good film. Benecio Del Toro was quietly menacing, conveying a great deal while saying very little. Blunt continues to impress me with the emotional quality she brings to her performances, as well as the impressive physicality and bravado characterized by roles like this as well as in other films like Edge of Tomorrow. This is definitely one to check out. Grade: A

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

As I type this review, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is limping towards a sixth place showing at the box office. However, if you glance at, you’ll find that it has a respectable average user rating of 7.2. Count me among the IMDb tribe, as I found the movie to be just as visually stunning as its unique predecessor. Director Robert Rodriguez (Machete Kills) and Troublemaker Studios reunite the likes of Mickey Rourke (The Courier) and Rosario Dawson (The Captive), while adding newcomers Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire) and Josh Brolin (Oldboy) to another hard-boiled tale from the back alleys of Basin City.

The movie opens against the familiar black & white backdrop we experienced in part 1. Recall that Bruce Willis’ character tangled with Senator Roark and his demented pedophile son, and that he ended up killing the younger Roark. In the sequel, Roark Sr. remains a corrupt senator, just as vicious as before. He crosses paths with a young gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon), and when the cocky upstart bests him in a game of poker, Roark erupts in violence. This is just a small slice of life in Sin City, and it prepares the viewer for what’s to come.

Familiar characters Marv (Rourke) and Nancy (Jessica Alba, Little Fockers) collide at the hole-in-the-wall bar where Nancy performs nightly on stage. It’s the perfect seedy setting for the cast of characters in this dark underworld. We’re introduced to Dwight (Brolin), a private eye with a tortured past – just like nearly every other man in Sin City. Dwight is beguiled by ex-lover Ava Lorde (Green), a “dame to kill for.” His resolve crumbles, despite feeble attempts to resist her advances. The female characters in Sin City reminded me of a line from The Godfather: they’re more dangerous than shotguns.

As the tale unfolds, the characters have distinct yet overlapping storylines. The atmospheric tone and the cinematography were amazing. Cigarette smoke wafted through the air and lingered like smog, while splashes of color punctuated the otherwise monochromatic landscape. I saw the movie in 3D, and for once it was used effectively, as Frank Miller’s graphic novel sprang to life. I loved the gravelly narration, as both Dwight and Marv brought us into their world. Some viewers may not like the stereotypical portrayals of men as burly brutes or women as vampy but vulnerable vixens, but what other inhabitants would you expect in a place called Sin City?

If you enjoyed the first Sin City, you will probably think this one is even better; I did. The movie was a visual feast, if nothing else – and I found it supremely entertaining. My sole criticism is that each vignette ended in somewhat silly fashion, as the characters met their respective fates. This movie isn’t for everyone, but I sure enjoyed it. I normally give letter grades, but it’s more accurate if I just say this was 8/10 for me.

Men in Black III

Will Smith (Seven Pounds) is a proven commodity, his movies having grossed over 5 billion dollars worldwide.  Marketing one of his movies during a post-Avengers lull shouldn’t be difficult, and since Hollywood is fond of beating dead horses, it was only logical that Columbia Pictures decided to make the Men In Black franchise a trilogy.  I’ll admit that I imagined Men In Black III to be a blatant money grab, but despite my reservations, it managed to add a new dimension to the series and was arguably the best installment yet.

Smith returns as Agent J, brash covert government agent and understudy to Tommy Lee Jones’ (Captain America: The First Avenger) Agent K.  Agent J is still a cocky loudmouth, but now he has the experience to back it up.  Agent K was his mentor and although J complained about him, none of his subsequent partners measured up to the grisly vet after his brief retirement.  Only a unique individual would find comfort in the anonymity of the Men In Black, a secret police force charged with protecting Earth from alien life forms.  In addition to policing aliens, the MIBs are an immigration and safety agency, helping the aliens co-exist with humanity, unbeknownst to the masses.

The Agency is really tested when an infamous alien criminal named Boris the Animal escapes from the lunar prison he’s inhabited for the past 40 years.  He’s hell-bent on punishing the man who put him there, none other than Agent K, who apprehended Boris back in 1969 at Cape Canaveral.  Boris’ arm was shot off in the process, and he’d love nothing more than to go back in time and wipe out Agent K before he maims him.  However, if Agent K’s life is cut short in 1969, he will not go on to create the Arcnet, a global defense system that includes a force field that shields the planet from alien invaders.  This is important because if Boris is allowed to alter history, his alien race of Boglodite brethren will not be rendered extinct and will ultimately invade and destroy the Earth.  Needless to say, it is critical that Boris be stopped.  Agent J travels back in time to 1969 to save K’s life, thereby saving humanity.  He tries to stay as far away as possible from K, focusing instead on Boris.  Eventually J and K’s paths cross, and J tries to convince a 29-year-old K to help him nab Boris, declining to mention that K’s own life is in danger.  J has a small window in which to operate, and Boris seems to be one step ahead of him.  There are infinite permutations of destiny that can fatefully occur, and the odds are against J.

In the first two Men in Black movies, Tommy Lee Jones had top billing over Will Smith.  This time it is Smith who clearly deserves top billing, whether because his career has blossomed tremendously since the last sequel or because Jones isn’t featured much in this third installment.  Instead, it is Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) who steals the show as the younger Agent K.  His southern deadpan is spot-on, and he sounds and looks just like Agent K, albeit a much younger and more handsome version.  Smith was fine in his role, but I don’t think much was required of him.  I actually thought his first few lines fell flat in their delivery.  Eventually he found his groove and was his usual charismatic self, but I remained more impressed with Josh Brolin.

I was skeptical about this movie, but it didn’t feel like a total re-tread, and the special effects advanced the storyline nicely.  The depiction of a 1960’s Manhattan was interesting, though not entirely original.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld presented a straightforward plot, but managed to have some fun with the time period, and of course – the aliens.  One of the funnier scenes involved Agent J at a party at Andy Warhol’s “factory,”  where it is revealed that Warhol is an alien.  Given his talent and eccentricity, this real-life addition to the plot was clever.  The Men In Black have always been a seemingly futuristic organization, and it was interesting to see that anachronistic concept play out in the past of 1969.  With enough cool tricks to please young and old viewers alike, Men In Black III made for a pretty good day at the movies.

Grade: B+

This article first appeared at and was reprinted with permission.