Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hell or High Water - Review

Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan who pinned screenplays to “Sicario” and the former long running FX series “The Sons of Anarchy”, their new collaborative effort brings us the film “Hell or High Water” which was initially titled “Comancheria”. That name refers to the commonly used expression to describe the dry arid region of West Texas near New Mexico. Historically that area was largely occupied by the Comanche tribe before the 1860s. Now set in modern day this is where the film’s story begins.

Plot: Brothers “Toby” (Chris Pine from Star Trek) and “Tanner” (Ben Foster from 3:10 to Yuma, Alpha Dog and Phone Booth) are close knit, but like all families they are not without their problems in life. Toby is a divorced father who's trying to make a better life for his sons. His brother Tanner is an ex-convict with a bit of a temper and a loose aggressive trigger finger. But even with their occasional displays of sibling rivalry and verbal put downs there is no doubt they love each other and would do anything for one another to keep the family ranch before the bank takes it. They conclude that the only way to prevent their lost is to carefully plan a series of heists against the very bank chain that's about to foreclose on their family ranch.

Standing in their way is a Texas Ranger named Marcus (Jeff Bridges) a gruff, grizzly and gravelly talking man who’s voice alone suggest…………  “Seen that, heard that, done that”. But Ranger Marcus is on the retirement clock, so before these robberies occurred he had hoped he would be on a relative smooth transition to hanging up his badge soon. But as the siblings plot their next robbery, this crafty old lawman gets re-energize by their case and is now not so ready to ride off into the sunset.

Review: Words and expressions like authentic, smart, old fashion, genuine, enormous, in the moment and out right thrilling are the initial thoughts that come to my mind. And while you may have seen several bank robbing movies before, this feels different. Mostly as a result of the writing and the acting which together makes all of these characters feel grounded and realistic in their camaraderie. And whether it is between the two brothers or their pursuers in Ranger Marcus and his partner (half Mexican – half Comanche) Ranger Alberto Parker, the words they direct to one another feel like soft poetry to the movie’s plot. Dialogue that is skillfully put to paper that captures both the real cadence and colloquial conversational rhythms of a western region without being a western tale. Instead “HoHW” is a humanistic tale where the two principle brothers are indeed doing bad things, they are not bad men. They may be wrong for breaking the law, their intentions are not evil. They may be actually criminals of the first order, they are not morally defective or without a conscious.

“HoHW” execution is just terrific from beginning to end. There are moments of real tension and anxiety as well as biting zinging humor with an appropriate amount of current social commentary.  And if that wasn’t enough virtually every visual scene on the screen is breathtaking and gorgeous to look at, along with every conversational exchange memorable to listen to.

Overall this Southwest story is fresh, griping, exciting, tender and honest, as well as at times filled with genuine dramatic action and anger for the entire 1:40 minutes running time. In addition, “HoHW” delivers stellar performances all round including Chris Pine (his best work) and Jeff Bridges as the sarcastic political incorrect Texas Ranger; Oscar nominations could come both their ways. But I do hope the Academy remembers Ben Foster’s performance as the older brother. His work here as “Tanner” was simple scary good as well as “scary and good”.

I swear I wish Hollywood would make more films like this. Films that are able to take us on a thrilling ride through the grandeur of a land that seems wide, spacious and empty; seemingly almost devoid of human activity or life. But just as I found with “HoHW” upon closer examination for the few people who do actually reside in the nooks and crannies of life’s spacious places they too can have as much emotional intimacy and human appeal as any other earthly location.

No spoilers here, just in the first minute - the very first 60 seconds I knew this film would be great. You see the brothers driving up in a Blue Pontiac to rob a bank. On the street they are coming down is a bank and on the other side is a church with three black crucifixes on the wall. The church wall is in plain view even while they are in the bank. My guess, an opening moral metaphor to the film’s overall story, which is no matter how well intentioned the two brothers motives may be, they chose the side of the street that leads to temptation, which in the end haven’t we all in some way or another struggled with that same moral   dilemma at some point in our own lives?

This is the best film I have seen thus far for 2016. Make a point to see it, not through Redbox or through Netflix, but in the theater. Do what you can to get there, come “Hell or High Water” see it, you’ll be glad you did.

4 Stars

Friday, August 12, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins - Review

Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant are cast in the true story of a very nice, lovely and wealthy woman who was a committed benefactor to the arts and who also equally loved to perform (act). But her larger dream was to one day to be able to sing alone on the big stage, the only problem is she happens to be a very bad singer and doesn’t know it. Still undeterred she hopes to fulfill her enduring lifelong dream of singing at the biggest performance stage of them all; at Carnegie Hall. This is the story of “Florence Foster Jenkins”.

The film itself, "FFJ" takes place around the 1940’s during the backdrop of World War 2 in New York City. It has an enchanting, very funny (appropriately so) and tender quality to its execution about this unique couple’s loving relationship even though at times the relationship operated under an unusual umbrella of secrets and sad personal history.

Overall “FFJ” has an authentic “old” movie feel about it with its carefully crafted rich and subtle details from the customs and wardrobes and musical selections to the overall set design. But while the film may have had a dated quality about it to the visual eye, there is an homage to the importance of social etiquette through the exalting prism of personal virtues that matter then and even today; graciousness, gentleness, dignity, encouragement, respect and sincerity.

Once again, Meryl Streep is absolutely prenominal as Florence as it will probably land her a record 20th Oscar nomination, which is staggering in itself. But perhaps even more surprising is that her co-star in the film, Huge Grant has never even been nominated once. Well, in my opinion he absolutely deserves a Best Supporting Actor Nomination here as the genuinely devoted husband, muse, confidant and best friend to the Mrs. Foster. Hugh Grant was just splendid from the film’s beginning to the emotional and moving finale. He holds his own with Meryl in every frame and much, much more.

‘FFJ” is such a sweet little film to enjoy. I was enthrallingly captivated - enthrallingly charmed.

3 -3/4 Stars

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad - Review

Suicide Squad

Principally starring Will Smith as “Deadshot”, Jared Leto as “The Joker” and, Margot Robbie as “Dr. Harleen F. Quinzel aka Harley Quinn”, the highly, highly  anticipated “Suicide Squad” opened this weekend under the unfortunate weight of reviews that were, shall I say not very flattering. Well, I for one was really hoping for a good imaginative piece of new entertainment here, so I chose to buck my pretty reliable “Rotten Tomato opinion score and be the sacrificial lamb to assess this film for myself.   

As you all probably know the plot revolves around an urgent and desperate need by the federal government to assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains. Led by a U.S. federal intelligence officer named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and group leader Captain Rick Flagg, together they convened this incarcerated criminal group of disparate, despicable individuals with absolutely nothing to lose. They would be provided with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal with the goal of sending this “odd squad” off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity with the small chance of them of surviving.

REVIEW: The “RT” score of 26 is a tad low in my opinion as I was never really bored. It’s problem is simply with the Director who I think could not squeeze in that many characters into a 2 hour – 10 minute time frame and give them all some degree of plot relevance. So he (Director David Ayer) gave them something to do and say that was forgettable. Analogy speaking, it would be like me stopping to check air pressure on one obvious low tire and then subsequently stop and checking all four tires every five miles for pressure just because you want the other 3 tires to get some attention. The result is a chaotic hodge-podge of action scenes that really never take you anywhere of importance and dialogue of supporting cast who have absolutely no real importance to the overall film, the overall moment or the overall plot itself…………..Suicide Squad is burdened by being a squad.

WHAT THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE was have the story evolve around Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto characters and then I believe you would have had a more interesting and thrilling effort.

Smith and Robbie had natural chemistry together and Leto was a good enough Joker (Heath Ledger Joker is still the best ever). Smith in particular had some smart, funny and interesting scenes – he was very engaging and seemed real. The result was his acting created the much depth and humanity to this film that was severely lacking throughout. Smith was especially effective when he and Robbie’s character were engaged in funny sarcastic banter aka “Harley Quin” and vice versa to his “Deadshot”. NOTE TO FUTURE CONSIDERATION, Smith’s “Deadshot” has enough depth where a real movie could actually revolve solely around him.

Overall “SS” is forgettable. Mostly because it’s just visually messy from the weight of way too many fire fights, too many moving parts and too many humans and “things” that don’t add up to much – just too many supporting “SS” characters you end up caring less about. Structurally SS feels terribly bloated by a screenplay that awkwardly transitions into frantic kinetic action sequences as a substitute for real emotional substance.

If there is a sequel I would offer to the producers the following suggestion. First there is a lot of promise in this odd ball group of miscreants working meaningfully well together but I suggest they just pair it down to 3 bat “sh%t crazy” personalities as they purse a good cause. And secondly get a better Director and screen writer who won’t treat the promise of a good idea as “business as usual - throw up against the wall - see if something sticks” format.

“Suicide Squad”, there are some hints of a better movie here but you have to be smarter next time not to overloaded it for it to ultimately materialized. Sometimes less is more.

2 – 1/2 Stars