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Nov 18, 2018







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 Uncle Drew (PG-13)

A group of senior citizens with a legacy of excelling at street basketball get another shot at the court in Uncle Drew, a funny and gentle comedy that would be perfect as half of a double feature with Tag.
Recently, on Previously.tv’s podcast Extra Hot Great, guest Josh Gondelman discussed how he’s come to prefer comedies (and TV shows in general) with a certain amount of gentleness at their center. I agree, not just in TV but in movies as well. Tag for example was enjoyable not because it was so explosively hilarious but because it was just so carefree. If I ever watch the recent Overboard remake again it will be because it is also more silly than sharp. It’s not that I don’t like smart and dark (I loved Tully, which was both) but if a movie isn’t going to be expert in how it uses grimmer subjects or meaner humor, I think I’d prefer something less skilled but sillier. And, if the way some of this summer’s movies are pitched is any indication, I may not be alone.
Basketball coach Dax (Lil Rel Howery) is banking on rising superstar Casper (Aaron Gordon) to lead his team, the Harlem Money, to victory (and a $100,000 prize) at the upcoming street basketball tournament. But longtime rival coach Mookie (Nick Kroll) lures Casper and the rest of the team — and Dax’s girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish) — away and Dax finds himself with nothing more than an empty team roster, a box full of uniforms and a trash bag containing his personal effects after Jess kicks him out of her apartment. 
Desperate to find replacement players, Dax visits basketball courts throughout the city. At one, he sees a white-haired old man heckling a group of young players, eventually challenging one of them to some one-on-one. As he gains the upper hand, Dax realizes that the older man is Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), a living legend of street basketball who faded from the public eye decades earlier. Dax needs somebody, anybody, to play for him, and Uncle Drew fits the definition of “anybody” so Dax asks him. Uncle Drew agrees but only if he can bring along his equally aged former teammates: Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller), Boots (Nate Robinson) and Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), a particularly good buddy whom he hasn’t spoken to in years due to a falling out. Also along for the ride is Boots’ granddaughter, Maya (Erica Ash), on whom Dax shyly crushes, and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie), Preacher’s wife, who is adamantly opposed to his playing (and if you Google Lisa Leslie or even, like non-sports-follower me, had a vague sense of who she is, you can probably guess how that side plot turns out).
Also, you don’t entirely have to know who everybody is to spot the difference between the character ages and the actor ages. Gray wigs and age makeup abound but, to this movie’s credit, it doesn’t get in the way. I can see the prosthetic wrinkles and I can ignore them. And, of course, without it, you couldn’t get the scenes of the “elders” dominating their younger opponents. 
Similarly, I can see some of the seams in this movie, see some of its solid-B, maybe even B+, but not A, elements but this doesn’t get in the way of my generally enjoying it. Even the constant product placement basically works — the movie plays Mookie’s shout out to Aleve exactly right. (The movie, as I learned from Wikipedia, is basically an adaptation of a series of Pepsi commercials starring Irving which I either don’t remember or never saw; now, having seen some of them, I think they are also quite charming.) The movie is stocked with people you just want to root for and spend time with, particularly Howery and Irving, who really is an actor playing a role, not just a basketball player killing time between scenes on the court. Kroll and Haddish are the perfect kind of villains for this sort of movie — it’s a very low-grade kind of villainy that is also fun to be around in exactly the doses presented here.
Back to my fantasy Tag/Uncle Drew double feature, this movie has more stakes, slightly more emotional heft and more heart but is just as low-effort enjoyable, maybe even a little more so as it had, to my memory, the edge on the laugh-out-loud jokes. B
Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity, according to the MPAA. Directed by Charles Stone III with a screenplay by Jay Longino, Uncle Drew is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed by Summit Entertainment. 




Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

07/05/18



Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro grimace through Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a bleak sequel to the 2015 movie about the drug war. 
CIA or something agent Matt Graver (Brolin) is in hot pursuit of the terrorist organization connected to an attack at a Kansas supermarket. When he finds some evidence suggesting that Mexican drug cartels might have something to do with getting terrorists across the border, he is given license by U.S. government higher-ups (including people played by Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine) to foment disruption in the current cartel power balance. He brings on Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) to help him start a cartel war, a plan that includes kidnapping 16-year-old Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a cartel leader. 
Perhaps because this is kind of a stupid plan to begin with, the scheme hits some hiccups and soon Matt and Alejandro are each put in a position where they must decide whether they will follow orders or go with what their conflicted-gray-hat-anti-hero gut tells them is right.
Emily Blunt was fantastic in the first Sicario. She played a law enforcement agent who got a close-up look at the brutality of the drug business and the rule-breaking of those combatting it and she found herself fighting against both sides. Her struggle and her character were the meaty center of that movie and helped to ground it in someone and something real. 
Emily Blunt is not in this movie.
Day of the Soldado lets all the peripheral stuff of the first movie rush in and run amok: Del Toro as the shady guy whose ultimate goal is vengeance; Brolin as the even shadier guy whose ultimate goal is half-hearted U.S. government fiddling. And, like so many pieces of entertainment that seem to have a non-fatal but chronic case of peak-TV disease, the movie feels grim for the sake of grimness, a grimness that has no payoff and doesn’t help explain or examine anything. We don’t “learn” anything — not that I actually expect the movie to be educational but it doesn’t put me somewhere new. The characters are not compelling and the plot feels kind of lazy. And maybe the U.S. government’s plot — the in-movie plan to create a drug war because somehow this helps the war on terror or maybe we’re using the war on terror to fight drugs, I forget which thing is using which — is supposed to seem half-hearted but if that’s the message, that the U.S. is fighting both drug and terror wars ineffectively and without considering the blowback (and I’m not even sure that is the message), even that point isn’t interestingly made. 
Brolin is fine, Del Toro is a little better than fine. But two performances do not a movie make, at least, these two not-quite-lead performances do not this movie make.
Sometimes, when you’ve made, like, pizza at home, you’ll have a lot of leftover bread dough. You’ll feel the urge not to waste this dough, especially if you had to go to the trouble of letting it rise (or, to drop the metaphor for a second, the trouble of getting Brolin between superhero movies). You’ll try to make all kinds of crazy things with the dough bits — garlic knots, cheese buns, savory cinnamon roll-like things with leftover pesto and salami. Some of these things might work out and some will just be interesting leftover bits crammed together but still half-baked in the center. Sometimes if you don’t have enough pepperoni or Emily Blunt for another pizza/movie about moral struggle, maybe the best idea is just to let those leftover bits go. C+ 
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language, according to the MPAA. Directed by Stefano Sollima with a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, Sicario: Day of the Soldado is two hours and 8 minutes long and distributed by Columbia Pictures.





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