Movie Review: “Hell or High Water”

Starring
Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon, Kevin Rankin
Director
David Mackenzie

“Hell or High Water” is one magnificently self-aware film. There is a strong Coen brothers vibe to both the plot and the dialogue (if “Blood Simple” and “Fargo” were forced to mate, the offspring would turn out a lot like this), which is why the casting of Jeff Bridges is a stroke of genius. As a Coen veteran, he understands the material, and is able to not just humanize a character that would be monstrous in the hands of a lesser actor – he’s able to make the character charming and likable.

In the bleak, seemingly waterless landscape of west Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) begin the day by robbing two small banks of all of their chump change. The Howards are in danger of losing their farm to the very bank that they’re robbing; the plan is to pay off their debt with the bank’s own money and put the land in a trust to benefit Toby’s children. Due to the amount of money being stolen, the FBI isn’t interested in investigating the case, but Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) has a week until he retires, so he drags his reluctant partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) along for one last rodeo.

There aren’t a lot of moving parts here, and that is a good thing. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) keeps his characters focused on their respective prizes, with no unnecessary side plots about poor people foolishly spending their newfound riches, a common trap to these types of stories. The most pleasant surprise is how funny the movie is, and not solely of the pitch-black variety. There are some gut-busting moments here. The waitresses, in particular, bring the funny in spades.

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Movie Review: “Sausage Party”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, David Krumholtz, Nick Kroll
Director
Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon

“Sausage Party” easily could’ve been a one-joke affair, but directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s R-rated animated film isn’t just 90 minutes of food products saying and doing dirty things – although a lot of its running time is dedicated to exactly that, in a good way. What makes “Sausage Party” more than a comedy about foul-mouthed food, though, is the questions it poses about our relationship with religion, and the filmmakers milk the funny concept (no pun intended) for all it’s worth.

The movie imagines a world where the food products and other items in your local grocery store are alive, and they’re all more than ready to leave their home with a god/human in order to enter the Great Beyond. Frank (Seth Rogen), in particular, can’t wait to be chosen so he can get inside a curvy bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). But when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), who was initially purchased and then returned to the store, loses it and tells all of the food that nothing but death is waiting for them outside, he causes an accident that separates Frank and Brenda from their fellow sausages and buns. The food has been comfortable with their beliefs for so long, however, that they refuse to believe Honey Mustard – except for Frank, who goes on a journey through the grocery store to prove that their gods are angry, vengeful, and above all else, really hungry.

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Movie Review: “Pete’s Dragon”

Starring
Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, Robert Redford
Director
David Lowery

Like many studios these days, Disney has been reaching back into its archives to find movies that it can update for modern audiences, and though “Pete’s Dragon” is a film that didn’t really need to be remade, it’s one that most people can agree has plenty of room for improvement. The original 1977 musical was okay for its time, but it could hardly be described as a classic. Perhaps even stranger than the decision to remake it, however, is the involvement of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery, who’s not exactly the first person you’d think of to helm a family-friendly movie about a CG dragon. While Lowery’s soulful, more character-driven adaptation is a refreshing change of pace from the typical summer film, it never really goes anywhere.

After surviving a car crash that kills both of his parents (a classic Disney move), orphaned boy Pete wanders into the nearby woods where he’s almost devoured by a pack of wolves before being rescued by a large, green furry dragon that he names Elliot. Six years later, the now-feral Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his magical guardian Elliot are enjoying a quiet, isolated life together in the forest when a logging company encroaches on their land and Pete accidentally reveals himself. Brought back to town by kindhearted forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), Pete learns what it means to be part of a family when he’s welcomed into Grace’s home with her fiancé Jack (Wes Bentley) and his young daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). Meanwhile, Elliot believes that Pete is in danger and sets out to rescue him, but after Jack’s opportunistic brother Gavin (Karl Urban) encounters the dragon and plans to capture it for personal gain, Pete must assume the role of protector for once in order to save his friend.

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Movie Review: “Suicide Squad”

Starring
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Director
David Ayer

With the exception of “Star Wars: Rogue One,” David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” has been my most anticipated movie of 2016 since the first footage was released at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Though there was certainly reason to be concerned following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and rumors of production troubles, the consistently excellent trailers – which promised a fun, irreverent comic book film in the same vein as “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” – helped quell those fears. Unfortunately, you can’t judge a movie based solely on its trailer, and that could not be any truer as far as “Suicide Squad” is concerned. Although it’s not as problematic as Zack Snyder’s superhero face-off, it’s just as disappointing, if only because it had the potential to be better.

Following the death of Superman, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has created a contingency plan to deal with future metahuman threats in his absence: a covert team comprised of the world’s most dangerous criminals to carry out black ops missions for the government in exchange for reduced prison sentences. Led by no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and implanted with explosive devices in their necks to keep them in line, the codenamed Task Force X – which includes sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Australian jewel thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and reptilian-skinned cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – is sent to rescue a high-value target who’s stranded in Midway City after it’s turned into a warzone by a powerful witch called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Throwing a wrench in Waller’s plans is the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker (Jared Leto), who sets out to save his beloved Harley amid the ensuing chaos.

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Movie Review: “Jason Bourne”

Starring
Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Bill Camp
Director
Paul Greengrass

There are film franchises where each installment comes with a checklist of the beats the film will hit. A chase, a shot, a musical cue, a line of dialogue, a plot device, those sorts of things. “Jason Bourne” takes that idea to an absurd level. This is a film where the audience isn’t just reminded that they’re watching a Bourne film (though they are, constantly); at times, they’re watching a featurette on the making of a Bourne film. Several scenes are staged in such a manner that they look like test runs of the final shot, rather than the final shot. The plot is rather threadbare for a series that prides itself on convoluted story lines, but the most damning thing about “Jason Bourne” is what a bloodless, cold viewing experience it is. From start to finish, I was not emotionally invested in a single thing that took place. In fact, I couldn’t wait for it to be over – definitely a first for a Bourne film.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is living off the grid, making money in underground fighting. He receives a visit from former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who tells Jason that she has hacked the CIA database and has uncovered information on Treadstone, the now-defunct program of which he was a part, as well as their latest program, which involves surveillance. The database hack draws the attention of Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a talented and ambitious coder who works for CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Dewey enlists an assassin, known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), to find and kill Bourne. As Lee listens to Dewey talk about Bourne, she starts to question Dewey’s motives and volunteers to run point on Bourne’s capture (or death) in order to discover if there is more to the story.

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