Tag Archives: Ben Foster

Hell or High Water – Review

30 Aug

One of my favorite movies of 2015 was a film called Sicario. It took an interesting look at the moral ambiguities that are a part of controlling the actions of the Mexican cartels on the American side of the border. It was a perfectly paced and beautifully shot film. As excellent as director Denis Villeneuve did on that film, the writer was the star of the show, and that writer was Taylor Sheridan, an actor who decided to try his hand at screenwriting. It payed off wonderfully, and now we have his sophomore effort titled Hell or High Water. I’ve seen a lot of really good movies this year, but none of them have reached the heights in terms of film making and storytelling that is seen in Hell or High Water. As of right now, I have to say that this may be one of, if not the best movie of the year.

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Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are two brothers who are desperate to stop their family farm from being foreclosed. Their last resort is to begin a chain of bank robberies to raise money to pay off the loan that was unfairly designated by the banks. Of course, this is a very illegal solution, and therefore catches the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a tough as nails officer who wants one last successful case before he packs everything in and retires. What Hamilton doesn’t understand about these two brothers is just how desperate they are to save the one thing their family has to care for and make money with. This begins a chase through many different towns to find justice, but the question remains if the brothers are the ones to suffer the long arm of the law.

This film is directed by a guy named David Mackenzie, and I have to admit that I’ve never seen another one of his movies so I have no basis to really judge him or the rest of his work. I will say, if it’s anything like Hell or High Water, I’d love to check it out. This is a beautiful looking film, and it’s clear that Mackenzie went in with a very clear vision of how this movie should look. From the very first scene I was hooked by the expressive camera movement and the way it helped tell the story. Credit also has to be given to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens for the work he did with Mackenzie to make this film look so beautiful. There are scenes on southern highways with fields that are on fire or being completely destroyed in the search of oil, and with Mackenzie’s and Nuttgens’ talents it is made to look like a portrait of a dystopian America. Add Nick Cave’s and Warren Ellis’ creeping score to all this and you’ve got yourself something really special.

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One of the first things that intrigued me about this movie was the cast. It’s hard to choose just one protagonist, but the one that really sticks out as the main character is Toby, played by Chris Pine. I really only know Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek movies, so I didn’t have too high expectations for him. That being said I was surprised by his performance and confidence in his character. It’s a more subtle performance than everyone else’s, but it’s just what the movie and the character needed to really work. I have a firm belief that Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today. Every movie I’ve seen him in, even if I didn’t like the movie, I could never say anything bad about Foster. He brings his A-game once again in Hell or High Water, and it didn’t take long for him to become my favorite character in the movie. Finally, Jeff Bridges brings a lot of depth to the character of Marcus Hamilton. He’s a confident but melancholy character who hides behind insults and racism when that confidence falters. All of these character complexities and idiosyncrasies are brought out by the fine actors, but if it wasn’t for the writer, this movie wouldn’t be what it is.

That’s what brings us to the real star of the show, and that person is Taylor Sheridan. Like I said before, I loved his screenplay for Sicario and Hell or High Water is a perfect way to follow up the success of his first film. On the surface, this film works as a great neo-western filled with excellent characters and a screenplay that is paced very well. It’s not so slow that it gets boring but it’s not so fast that you don’t have any time to think. There’s so much more going on beneath the surface than a tale of bank robberies in small Texas towns. Like SicarioHell or High Water uses this story as a cautionary tale about racism, poverty, corrupt banks, big business, and even more abstract ideas like self worth and family. There’s so much to be discussed after seeing this movie that it would be impossible just to talk about the story and not about the different themes and motifs that shine throughout the film. I can’t wait to see more from Sheridan.

I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and at first I thought The Jungle Book was going to stay in the number one spot for my favorite movie of 2016. Now we have a new champion. Hell or High Water is without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen all year so far. The characters are rich, the actors are completely in touch with their roles, the film is just beautiful to look at, and Sheridan’s screenplay is going to have to be a contender for Best Screenplay come Oscar season. This is a movie about an era, a place, and people desperate to survive. If you only see one movie this year, make it Hell or High Water.

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Contraband – Review

14 Feb

In 2008, an Icelandic film was released titled Reykjavik-Rotterdam and it became something of an international hit in some circles. It was one of the most expensive Icelandic films when it was made and received plenty of awards in its home country. As America likes to do with foreign hits, we made a version of our own in 2012 and called it Contraband. What made this remake unique was that it was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original 2008 film. While this is an interesting directing choice and the cast has a couple of my favorite actors, the end result is nothing too memorable at all, or at least memorable for the wrong reasons.

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Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was one of the most brilliant smugglers to ever work in the business, but has long since left his life of crime to settle down with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two kids. While Farrady is content with living a quiet life, her brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is not, and soon gets mixed up with a dangerous criminal named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Briggs is after Andy for $700,000 after he screwed up a job, and is even going so far as to threaten Chris and the rest of his family. This forces Chris to go back to his old ways for one last job to pay back Briggs. With a little help from his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Farraday heads to Panama to bring back $10 million in fake bills, but what Farraday fails to realize is that there is a higher power than Briggs pulling the strings.

So the first thing I have to say about this movie is that it isn’t very original, and that’s ok. I didn’t really go into Contraband expecting it to break new ground or anything. All I wanted was to be entertained for a couple of hours. That being said, this is a pretty entertaining movie with a great deal of suspense and some cool action sequences. But honestly, it isn’t really enough to keep it all afloat. One of my more minor complaints is part of the cast. Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster completely own their roles and reminded me why they are two of my favorite actors. Unfortunately, Wahlberg doesn’t really have much of a personality and all and delivers a lot of his lines with the same awkward enthusiasm that he did in The Happening. As for the rest of the cast like Kate Beckinsale, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, and even J.K. Simmons, well, they just didn’t really have too much to do.

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I’m not sure if the intended goal of Contraband was for it to be an action movie or a heist movie, because it sort of does both, but not entirely too well. There’s not enough action for this to be called an action movie and there isn’t enough planning or fake outs for this to be a heist movie. Instead it’s this weird mash up of cliches from both genres. There’s one real all out action scene and it hardly even fits into the movie. In fact, the whole middle part where Farraday gets mixed up with some random Panamanian gangster really didn’t need to be in the movie at all, which brings me to my main beef with this mess of a movie.

This movie goes all sorts of places that it has no business going to. For a while the plot goes on pretty normally, and I was into it, but then it redefined the term “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” There are far too many plot twists and contrivances that get in the way of a narrative that had all the opportunity in the world to go smoothly and painlessly for close to two hours. Instead I ended up watching a movie that is packed to the brim with stupid twists all for the sake of shocking the audience, instead of being put in to try and tell a good story. The major twist was pretty cool, but all of the other minor ones just frustrated me and made the movie feel completely broken into pieces.

Contraband tries really hard to be a highly intelligent, complex heist thriller that turns out to be nothing more than convoluted and overdone. The only real redeeming qualities this movie has are the performances given by Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster. They can really do a lot with shoddy material. Contraband is an unoriginal mess that isn’t really an awful movie, but it’s hardly one I can recommend to anybody.

Rampart – Review

17 Dec

Throughout my movie watching career, there have been collaborations between certain actors and film makers that work so well it should be illegal. For the sake of this review, the collaboration is between writer/director Oren Moverman and his go to actor Woody Harrelson. In 2010, Harrelson was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Moverman’s heart wrenching drama, The Messenger. The two were then reunited 2012, along with co-writer James Ellroy (best known for L.A. Confidential), with Rampart. The performances and overall story in this film are really something to behold, but the overcrowding of subplots and an over the top artsy fartsy style almost ruined the movie for me.

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The year is 1999 and Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a police officer in the Rampart Division of the LAPD. Unfortunately for the people of Los Angeles, Brown is a racist, homophobic, and generally intolerant bigot who will resort to violence whenever he wants to to get the information he wants. After he is caught almost beating a suspect to death on tape, Officer Dave Brown’s life soon starts spiraling out of control. His ex-wives who are also sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) want nothing more to do with him while Assistant District Attorney Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) starts pushing him towards an early retirement. As if that wasn’t enough, Brown becomes embroiled in an affair with an attorney working against him named Linda (Robin Wright) but also gets into more trouble after getting bad advice from his mentor, Hartshorn (Ned Beatty), which ends in a brutal murder.

I think the main reason to see Rampart is to see all of the amazing talent at work. Harrelson gives what may be the best performance of the year. It probably even beats his work on True Detective, especially since there is so much more corruption and hostility flowing through his character’s veins. A lot of the other actors I feel get under utilized though. For example, Steve Buscemi is only in one scene and I wanted to see him a lot more. Ice Cube also only shows up towards the end even though his character had a lot of great potential. After Harrelson, I think the next performance you really have to pay attention to is Ben Foster’s. Foster is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and his small role in Rampart and his leading role in The Messenger proves he’s capable of a lot more than he is given.

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James Ellroy is a master at writing in the crime genre. He has written plenty of murder mysteries and dramas while also penning screenplays and having involvement in documentaries. That being said, both Ellroy and Moverman went a little overboard in Rampart. The story of a corrupt cop finally facing his demons and getting what he has coming to him is great, and they show his breakdown wonderfully. The problem is that there is way too much crammed into this movie. It’s like they tried to take everything from a long novel and stuff it into a movie that’s less than two hours. Characters are underused, plot lines are unresolved, and some of the development feels either forced or nonexistent. Luckily, the crux of the story is there and really good. This is more of a character study of Dave Brown and Ellroy and Moverman hit the nail on the head when it came to that area of the screenplay.

Another major complain that I have with Rampart is that Moverman and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski went a little overboard with the art design. There’s a motif throughout the film that Dave Brown slowly begins disappearing. The start of the movie has him at the forefront of the action going on onscreen and while the movie goes on, he becomes framed behind objects and obscured. That’s an example of great artistic design. On the flip side, there’s a scene where the camera keeps cutting and spinning during a meeting and it’s not only unnecessary, but looks stupid. I get what they were trying to do, but it just didn’t work and only succeeded at annoying me. If Moverman and Bukowsky just toned it down a little bit, the film would have been all the better for it.

I almost loved Rampart and at the same time I almost hated it. I really don’t know how else to explain how I feel about this movie. On one hand it tells a really complex story about a man who refuses to change who he is and has to suffer for it, and on the other hand it’s an overstuffed movie that seemed to be going nowhere at parts. I feel equal on these two sentiments, so Rampart really just left me baffled. I wanna say give it a watch, but I can’t see anyone really coming out of it without a lot of questions that need answering.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – Review

14 Sep

There are times when I’m really excited about seeing a movie only to finally watch it and realize it’s garbage. Fortunately, there are also times where movies are better than I expected them to be, no matter how excited I am. Ever since watching the trailer for David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, I was set and ready to watch it. Of course, it takes me forever to finally getting around to watching a movie, but I have gotten to it at last. I was really worried that this movie was going to let me down, but luckily it’s a refreshingly gorgeous looking movie with an interesting take on the Bonnie and Clyde type of story.

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Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) are two young lovers who make their living as thieves. When one particular robbery turns violent, and Officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) is shot by Ruth, Bob puts an end to the shootout and gives himself up, saying he was the one who shot the officer. He does this so Ruth can stay free and give birth to their baby girl, Sylvie (Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith). Years later and as promised through letters to Ruth, Bob escapes from prison and begins making his way back to his family with hopes that they can run away together and start their lives over. What Bob doesn’t realize, however, is that that way of life has become distant from Ruth, who is now dedicated to raising Sylvie. When Bob does finally return to town, he brings with him his dangerous past and a lot of dangerous people.

Like I said before, I was really worried that I was going to hate this movie because I’ve been so excited and set on watching it for a really long time. I do that to myself a lot, but this one met the high bar that I set for it. It’s not only a movie about crime, but also about love, maturing, and finding what is truly important in your life. The film also succeeds at feeling like a sort of western movie, the main characters being thieves on the run. David Lowery also seems to have a keen sense on how to use subtlety and metaphors to make his story even stronger. For example, Casey Afflecks character can be seen as a metaphor for Ruth’s past, a past that’s trying to make its way back into her life, even though she knows it’s time to look forward.

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Watching and listening to this movie is an experience all its own, even if you take out the story. Bradford Young, the cinematographer, is known for using mostly just available light to light a scene, which is not an easy thing to do. There are parts in this movie when Bob and Ruth are walking through fields with the sun shining right into the lens. This lighting makes these scenes feel unearthly, like something you’d fine on the heavenly plane. The music also adds a lot to the movie and follows the same form of subtlety that I mentioned earlier. It’s quiet and atmospheric but still has a Western vibe when the scene is appropriate.

Probably the main draw I had to this movie at first was the cast. As far as actors go, Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster all stand out as outstanding performers. Casey Affleck actually gave one of my favorite performances as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford. He proves himself more than capable once again in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and that goes the same for Mara and Foster. Rooney Mara nails the role of playing someone at a difficult transitioning point in her life, and you can’t help but sympathize with Foster’s character for trying to be a good person in world that’s easily corruptible.

I can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints didn’t disappoint me. It’s a modern retelling of a classic story that blends genres together that often times couldn’t seem farther apart. Everything from the beautiful cinematography, the ambient score, and excellent performances by the entire cast makes this movie not only an emotional ride, but one hell of an entertaining film. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves.

 

The Messenger – Review

18 May

As war and turmoil rages on in the Middle East, smaller and more personal battles continue on the home front as families are torn apart by the worst news possible. Hearing that a loved one has died one the battlefield is terribly difficult to hear, and this drama is wonderfully captured in The Messenger, with a few dramatic curve balls thrown in.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is a war hero who has been assigned with a job that he is not particularly happy about. Along with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), he is given the task to notify families about their loved ones who have been killed in action. One particular widow (Samantha Morton) draws Montgomery close into her personal life, and he finds himself slowly falling for her, which is strictly against protocol.

This summary doesn’t really do this film justice, since its more of a character study than a traditional story driven narrative. At the end of The Messenger, nothing much has really changed. The war still goes on and people are still dying, but the characters in the film have progressed even if it is only slightly. That’s what is the true strength of the movie. The audience is meant to care more about the characters than what the story is. If one was to focus just on the story, the film would probably feel pretty hollow and boring, which it is not.

The screenplay for The Messenger is really marvelous with true to life dialogue that is never melodramatic and was nominated for an Academy Award for best Original Screenplay. There are a few lines that seem out of place like calling kids “green with envy” or some forced “good bye(s).” Other than that every line is appropriate. There is even a really good monologue said by Ben Foster towards the end of the movie that never sounds forced. The handheld camera work is also subtly fantastic at giving the film a more realistic feel. One shot in particular is eight minutes long and full of dramatic and emotional change.

Seeing Ben Foster in a role where he doesn’t have to shoot or hit anyone was a nice change. It’s been established with movies like 3:10 to Yuma and The Mechanic that he can play a tough talking badass just fine, but now it is known that he is perfectly capable of playing a deep character who makes a great change throughout a movie. Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton are also above average which also earned Harrelson an Academy Award nomination.

The Messenger came out the same year as The Hurt Locker, which is also about the tragedies surrounding the war in Iraq. Although the same themes are explored, they are done so in polar opposite ways. Deciding which film is more effective would be a very difficult task. Both do a great job, but I felt more impacted by the dialogue in The Messenger than the often flashy and violent material in The Hurt Locker, but this could just be because The Messenger is fresh in my mind.

This was a quietly intense and emotional film that strikes many different cords. I’d like to see The Messenger defined as a classic in a number of years because of its presentation. I really enjoyed this movie a lot, and would recommend it to anyone.

The Mechanic – Review

2 May

Just to be clear, this is the review of the 2011 remake of The Mechanic and not of the 1972 original version. This film appears to have everything that would appeal to an action movie fan, like myself. There was lots of action, great explosions, loud gunplay, and Jason Statham kicking ass for an hour and a half. That definitely sounds like a movie I’d want to watch, and sadly I don’t think I ever need to see it again.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is what you call a Mechanic. He is tasked with assignments to assassinate various individuals, but make it appear like an accident, a message, or as if someone else is to blame. When Bishop gets a contract to assassinate his mentor and friend, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), he is hesitant but still carries out the mission as normal. Complications arise when McKenna’s dead beat son, Steve (Ben Foster), approaches Bishop to begin his training to become a Mechanic, Arthur is put in the position to take him under his wing and get revenge on the man who ordered the hit on Harry, Dean (Tom Goldwyn).

The disappointing thing is, this movie started out really cool. The introduction really set the stage for what the feel and pace of this film was going to be like. It was quick, loud, and exciting, so naturally I was ready for more and couldn’t wait for what other great action set pieces were ahead of me and how the story would play out.

The Mechanic had absolutely no idea what kind of movie it wanted to be or what storyline it wanted to follow. It was like the film makers had a set plot which can be visually seen as a road. As long as they stayed on this road, they would have a plot that was appropriate for the movie. All they had to do was follow it. But they soon went off a very shady exit and started an uphill climb that was taking them in the wrong direction, but at this point they totally forgot about the road they were on. When they reached the top of the hill they finally remembered that they were riding on a totally different road and had to drive really fast back to the original road to get to their destination. I guess that’s kind of how the movie felt.

I was really enjoying the original story involving the conspiracy around McKenna’s death, and the addition of Steve was great, but the movie just strayed way too far. Ben Foster and Jason Statham played their characters very well, but everything else was so cliché and generic, it was almost pathetic. There is a scene where McKenna is telling Arthur how much of a “damned disappointment” Steve is. I’ve heard this speech so many times in so many different ways, but this is the blandest and most unoriginal. Dead is also a generic, boring villain who doesn’t really do anything at all. The villain is one of the best parts of an action movie, so if they area boring, then it’s a big detraction. Another thing I’m sick of is digital blood effects. They don’t look good! STOP USING THEM!

This movie certainly isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. The action sequences towards the end were just what I was looking for in the rest of the film. The rest were pretty forgettable. Ultimately, that’s what The Mechanic is: forgettable. Look at The Transporter series, The Expendables, or Chaos. Statham obviously has talent for action films, and the director, Simon West, did Con Air, which is one of my favorite action films. With all of these credentials, this was a really disappointing movie.

There have been films that have succeeded in cramming in a lot of plot twists, points, and characters. One Jason Statham film that does this is Killer Elite. There is a massive web of different characters and situations that make the movie pretty confusing at times, but the impressive and memorable action, the three dimensional characters, and internal struggle along with the external makes this film highly enjoyable. The Mechanic has a bland story and generic characters, which makes it hard to really enjoy the film.

I’d say that if you’re a fan of Jason Statham and you really want to watch this, go ahead, but it really isn’t what you’re expecting. This movie has a lot of potential with both the plot and the emotions, but it goes the absolute wrong way and becomes really boring. This is a a black spot on the career of Statham and something I’m probably not going to watch again.