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Benicio Del Toro (#110 of 10)

Exclusive: How Sicario: Day of the Soldado Continues the Story of Sicario

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Exclusive: How Sicario: Day of the Soldado Continues the Story of Sicario

Columbia Pictures

Exclusive: How Sicario: Day of the Soldado Continues the Story of Sicario

Continuing the bullet-riddled adventures of lawyer turned mercenary Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) and Department of Justice consultant Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a lugubrious procedural about employees on both sides of the law whose allegiances to their employers have submerged them in a state of psychological blankness, their ethics or ideals displaced by the directive of accomplishing their missions by whatever means necessary. The structure of the film, directed by Stefano Sollima and written by Taylor Sheridan, is in lockstep with characters who find themselves shuffled from one locale to another, the protocol of their jobs interrupted and contradicted by the whims of their superiors.

Cannes Film Festival 2015 Sicario and Youth

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Cannes Film Festival 2015: Sicario and Youth

Lionsgate

Cannes Film Festival 2015: Sicario and Youth

Watching Emily Blunt’s kidnapping specialist Kate Macer be talked into volunteering to assist on some patently shady cross-border operation near the start of Sicario, I was oddly reminded of a similar scene at the start of Aliens, where despite losing her entire crew in the previous installment, floating in space for 57 years, and having her daughter die in the meantime, Ellen Ripley needs only around two minutes of convincing to return to the fray. Macer doesn’t have the best of opening scenes either, which involves her discovering a whole army of corpses hidden in a suburban Arizona home by a drug baron, before a booby trap goes off, injuring her and maiming one of her team. Yet Macer is as ready as her kick-ass antecedent to throw caution and plausibility to the wind, happily donning the mantel of audience surrogate and taking unlikely decision after unlikely decision so we can be led ever further into the supposed intricacies of America’s war on drugs. Unfortunately, director Denis Villeneuve is incapable of putting together the same sort of thrillingly never-ending action sequences as James Cameron, marooning Sicario in the dubious borderland between serious analysis and dumb pleasure.

Poster Lab: Seven Psychopaths

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Poster Lab: <em>Seven Psychopaths</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Seven Psychopaths</em>

No, it’s not just you—the poster for Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths looks awfully familiar, despite the blinding neon green it uses to lasso your attention. Not long ago, you saw a markedly similar lineup of badass characters, glaring out at you from the one-sheet for Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Like that memorable image, which put Brad Pitt front and center in a stylish hat, the new ad features one guy in the contrasting gleam of a leather jacket, and another in a heavy coat that highlights his exasperated, straight-man’s shrugged shoulders. But it’s more than just single file and fashion that unites these two posters. Seven Psychopaths follows Snatch’s lead so fully that it even opts to spike its plot—and, subsequently, advertising—with a little dog too. Instead of Pitt’s leashed, squeak-toy-swallowing pooch, there’s a wee, fluffy Shih Tzu, whose ironic cuteness speaks to McDonagh’s light-black tone, and who reportedly serves as the movie’s MacGuffin. However fun it may be to eye up a row of attractive rogues, it’s a tad disheartening that this Irish maestro’s latest had to plainly mirror a cult British production, as if there’s only one way to sell Euro crime comedies.

Poster Lab: Savages

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Poster Lab: Savages
Poster Lab: Savages

It’s probably not a good sign that the poster for Oliver Stone’s Savages makes a perfect column subject for Easter Sunday. By most evidence, this isn’t a movie that wants to be associated with jelly beans and Marshmallow Peeps; however, the egg-dye color palette of one-sheet number one would beg to differ. Cut this image along the lines that divvy it into seven slices, and you’ve got instant sleeves for the hard-boiled beauties you dunked in vinegar last night. This isn’t the first time a poster for an Oliver Stone film used vibrant hues to herald something largely dark (the ads for The Doors and Natural Born Killers went that route at one stage or another), but it is the first time the poster seems wildly out of step with what it’s selling. Yes, Blake Lively’s hippie-ish character, O, is prone to snorting coke, but that’s not exactly the sort of candy this glossy collage appears to promise.

Based on Don Winslow’s lauded 2010 novel of the same name, Savages is a crime-filled, drug-loaded drama unfolding across sun-soaked California and Mexico. Its cast? A bevy of ’90s megastars who dabbled on the pulpy fringes (John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro), and a smattering of camera-ready, pore-free, in-demand hotties (Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Emile Hirsch). On second thought, perhaps that color scheme isn’t so off the mark after all.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: The Death of Pinochet and Che, a New Man

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Death of Pinochet</em> and <em>Che, a New Man</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Death of Pinochet</em> and <em>Che, a New Man</em>

Like many countries, Chile has transitioned from dictatorship to democracy within the past 30 years, and as is often the case during transitional periods, not all of the population has supported the move. Although a 1988 referendum emphatically voted Augusto Pinochet out of office, he remained a nostalgic symbol for many until his death in 2006. Current Chilean President Sebastián Piñera voted against Pinochet in 1988, but publicly protested his arrest in London a decade later, saying that no one should be able to judge Chile’s former leader except Chileans themselves.

And the Chilean film The Death of Pinochet passes judgment. It’s an explicitly post-dictatorship film. This becomes clear in one of its first shots, a perfectly composed profile of a woman’s face inside a ring of varicolored flowers. Our eyes move from pink, to red, to white, to green, to purple, before shifting to the center and to her thin smile. It’s mid-December, 2006. Her world is so bright because the General has died.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Changeling, Delta, The Headless Woman, & Che

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>Delta</em>, <em>The Headless Woman</em>, & <em>Che</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>Delta</em>, <em>The Headless Woman</em>, & <em>Che</em>

Changeling (Clint Eastwood). Few things over the past week have been more baffling to me than when the solid but deeply flawed Changeling began racking up the most positive reviews of the fest. I’m not sure whether it’s the international press’ tendency to praise Eastwood for anything he does, or whether I was simply too exhausted to recognize that it is, in fact, a near-masterpiece, but there has yet to be another film on which my opinion and the reviews have differed so strongly.

In the first line of his Variety review, Todd McCarthy favorably compares the film to the overwrought Mystic River, which might, despite my inability to see what the hell thematic similarities the films have, help to explain my reservations. Because despite his typically graceful and lovely directorial hand, Eastwood seems, with Changeling, to have embraced his melodramatic side whole-heartedly. Some of the film is beautiful and moving. The rest tends toward the unbelievable and shrill.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

What a long, strange week it’s been. My first visit to the Cannes Film Festival was one of the greatest experiences of my life, but also one of the most surreal. For those who haven’t experienced it, it’s almost impossible to explain the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion that comes from rushing from theater to theater, from movie to movie; from attempting to engage fully with each film you see while running on four hours of sleep and at most two meals a day. The emotional extremes are tiring. You can go from the red carpet, certain in your belief that your life will never get any better, to furious three hours later because the panini stand put mustard on your sandwich when you specifically asked them not to. Any little thing can send you spiraling from joy to despair and back again. Such is the nature of Cannes; even when you hate it, you fucking love it.

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Actor

This is the only one of the four acting categories that seems to have a lot of play left to work with, only it’s not because there is a massive pool of can’t-miss candidates to choose from but, rather, because almost none of them seem to have what it takes to lock down a position. The two major exceptions are Daniel Day-Lewis for swallowing almost every last critics’ award in sight whole (when he took nearly as much time waking up in the film’s epilogue as it took 2001: A Space Odyssey’s apes to discover the monolith, we knew he had this award pretty well sewn up), and George Clooney for turning in a by-the-numbers example of a glamour-puss reining it in by interpreting his character as having perpetual acid reflux. In fact, had he just taken his strategy to its logical ends and ripped as much ass on the screen as did his co-star Tom Wilkinson, he might have actually stood a chance at giving Day-Lewis’s beyond-flatulent performance a run for the trophy. As it stands, he’s one of those archetypal sure-thing nominees that no one, but no one, expects to actually win. As for the rest of the category, none of the other contenders have more credits than debits going into this. Johnny Depp would be a stronger possibility if the SAG had demonstrated any affection at all for Sweeney Todd, or if anyone could make a convincing argument that his whispery singing voice shouldn’t have been dubbed. Emile Hirsch carries an overlong DV epic on his cute little shoulders; as Michael Musto wrote, he’s this year’s Ryan Gosling, but for the fact that Gosling is still inexplicably in the mix this year (which makes it the first time a movie about a sex doll has figured into the Oscar race since, well, Little Miss Sunshine last year). For Academy members who prefer their male kink of a more mature vintage, Viggo Mortensen’s inked and in-the-raw sauna showdown certainly counts as one of the bravest performances of the year. He may just get the nomination that Cronenberg lamentably couldn’t quite manage for Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, or Jeremy Irons. We’re going with those three—Depp, Hirsch, Mortensen—but we can’t say they have much leverage on James McAvoy (too pretty, but if that prissy little bitch over in the best supporting actress category can survive the Atonement meltdown, maybe he can too), Frank Langella (his bathtub nude scene doesn’t quite match Mortensen’s, pound for pound), or Denzel Washington (two movies totaling about a half a performance). Such is the state of this category that I wouldn’t have ruled out the two stars of the surprise #1 hit The Bucket List had the movie been released a few weeks earlier.

5 for the Day: Johnny Depp

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5 for the Day: Johnny Depp
5 for the Day: Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp, whose staggeringly rich performance as John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester animates the current release The Libertine, finally became bankable with Pirates of the Caribbean after years of teetering on the edge of superstardom. But he’s been so good (and so much fun) for so long that the distinction seems a mere formality, a sop to an industry that has always conflated popularity with talent.

Looking back over his career in the wake of The Libertine I realized a few things about Depp. First, he’s rarely just okay; more often he’s either inspired or annoyingly mannered, with no in-between. This seems a temperamental inclination. Depp strikes me as the sort of actor who always swings for the fences, even when a bunt would suffice. Second, since escaping the shackles of his old Fox TV show 21 Jump Street, Depp has usually appeared in movies that were worth having an opinion on even when they fizzled or stank. (I find the The Ninth Gate almost unwatchable. Ditto Chocolat, Blow, Nick of Time, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and the overrated What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which is torn between being sublime and utterly conventional, with Depp’s performance falling in the second camp.)

Third, as I wrote in my New York Press review of The Libertine, “Every American leading man with a smidgeon of intellectual pretension would love to be compared to Marlon Brando. But only Johnny Depp really earns the comparison…Brando caught characters in the act of becoming, and fixed the moment in a look or a gesture. He turned psychology into poetry. And no matter how high his star had risen or how low it had sunk, he always seemed as if he were having fun (even if you weren’t). By treating every performance as an experiment while still conveying a sense of fun, Brando grasped multiple meanings in the line, ’The play’s the thing.’ Depp shares all these qualities, along with Brando’s glimmers of cynicism and cruelty and hints of decadent boredom. Despite Depp’s pay increase after Pirates, he still seems an outlaw in the Brando sense—an actor who consistently pushes against audience expectations and who treats each part as a puzzle, a game and a chance to see what he can get away with.”

Here, in order, are my five favorite Depp performances.