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: “Star Trek Beyond”

Starring
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim
Director
Justin Lin

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams helped to successfully relaunch the “Star Trek” franchise, and his reboot remains an immensely entertaining adventure movie. Although its sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is not without its moments, it’s a disappointing follow-up that’s held back by some unfortunate twists and a misjudged villain. The film hardly slowed down this now 50-year-old franchise, however, which returns to the big screen with “Star Trek Beyond.” The Justin Lin-directed sequel quickly gets the crew back on track by delivering a very entertaining and often kind-hearted summer movie.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is tired of his five-year mission to seek out new life and explore new worlds. While on a diplomatic assignment with fellow crew members Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Kirk presents an alien species with a peace offering from the Federation. The gift is part of a deadly ancient weapon called the Abronath, but he has no clue what it is or what it’s capable of. Krall (Idris Elba), on the other hand, knows exactly what it can do. The face-changing villain is against everything the Federation stands for, so he dupes the Enterprise crew into going on a “rescue mission” to a distant planet, where he attacks them, leaving the crew completely torn apart. Even though they’re outnumbered and outmatched, Kirk and the gang are not alone in their fight against Krall, joining forces with an alien warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, who turns out to be a great addition to the series) to stop him from unleashing the Abronath.

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Movie Review: “The Finest Hours”

Starring
Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger
Director
Craig Gillespie

It’s easy to see why studios are drawn to stories like the one behind “The Finest Hours,” where four Cape Cod Coast Guardsmen braved impossible weather to rescue the 33 men trapped on a severed oil tanker. By all rights, every one of them should have died a cold, miserable death that night in early 1952, but they didn’t, and it is still considered one of the greatest rescues in Coast Guard history, which is why someone thought, “We should make a film about this.” That in itself is not a bad idea. The bad idea is when the film they make about this incredible story looks like every other film ever made about a similar story. This is a pity; the water sequences are breathtaking, but it’s hard to get emotionally invested in any of the characters, not for a lack of effort on Casey Affleck’s part.

Coast Guard Boatswain Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is about to meet, for the first time, the girl he has spent the last four weeks talking on the phone. He’s nervous about how she’ll feel about him, even though a) she’s taken his calls for four weeks, and b) he looks like Chris Pine. The girl, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), likes him just fine, and a few months later, unsung feminist pioneer Miriam asks Bernie if he’ll marry her. Almost immediately after he says yes (in the most awkward, bumbling manner possible), Miriam gets a taste of life as the wife of a Guardsman.

A nasty Nor’easter splits two oil tankers in half off the Massachusetts coast. Bernie, who works in nearby Chatham Station on Cape Cod, is instructed to look for the SS Pendleton, even though there has been no contact from the Pendleton, the Chatham office only has an educated guess where the Pendleton is due to a malfunctioning radar, and there’s a good chance that Bernie’s crew will get stranded on a sand bar before reaching the deep blue sea. The de facto captain of the Pendleton is Ray Sybert (Affleck), an unpopular engine room lifer who knows the ship better than anyone on board, and must convince the crew that he can lead them, or at least keep them alive the longest.

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Movie Review: “Z for Zachariah”

Starring
Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Director
Craig Zobel

Director Craig Zobel’s last feature film, 2012’s “Compliance,” was more than a little divisive. Nobody dismissed the quality of the filmmaking or the convincing performances, but the focus was on the story itself, which left audiences asking, “Why would someone do this?” But that was the point. What pushes people to make questionable decisions, ones that they didn’t think they were capable of making? Zobel’s newest movie, “Z for Zachariah,” poses a similar question, amongst many others in this deceptively simple post-apocalyptic tale.

The film is set in a near-future dystopia where most of humanity is gone. One of the survivors, Ann (Margot Robbie), lives on her father’s farm, managing to get by. She lives a fairly simple, lonely life, but that all changes when she meets Dr. John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Though the man of science’s views clash with her religious beliefs, they soon develop a deep bond – one that’s interrupted by the arrival of another survivor named Caleb (Chris Pine). As they spend time together, Ann becomes torn between the two men, but this story is about much more than a love triangle.

As a love triangle, though, it’s quite challenging and brutal. There’s a scene where Dr. Loomis catches Caleb and Ann in a small moment of intimacy, and the way Ejiofor silently reacts in this scene is painful to watch. “Z for Zachariah” is a film that often plays its cards close to its chest. The biblical subtext is clear – Caleb is the snake that enters the Garden of Eden and temps Ann to sin – but it never calls too much attention to itself. A conversation about science vs. religion is secondary to the lead characters’ struggles.

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Movie Review: “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Starring
Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Costner
Director
Kenneth Branagh

Chris Pine is both James T. Kirk and Jack Ryan. Has anyone ever anchored two franchises that big at the same time? That’s like being both James Bond and Luke Skywalker, and is it wrong to suspect that Paramount, which owns both the “Star Trek” and Jack Ryan franchises, might make him the next Indiana Jones? They have to know that Indy heir apparent Shia LaBeouf is box office poison at the moment, not to mention “retired.” We’d speculate about Pine becoming the new Ethan Hunt, but Tom Cruise would have him killed well before that ever happened.

All kidding aside, Pine is a good choice for Ryan. He’s handsome but not too handsome – which is helpful when you’re CIA and need to blend in – and he is believable as an action hero, an element which is ramped up considerably in the reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” This is without question the most action-packed Jack Ryan movie to date. It’s a bit formulaic, but that seems acceptable if it means that the end result is less dull than “Patriot Games.” From this vantage point, that’s a win.

Inspired by the terrorist attack on 9/11, a young John Ryan (Pine) enlists in the Marines to serve his country. Two years later, on an assignment in Afghanistan, Jack’s helicopter is attacked, and during his lengthy recovery, he attracts the attention of Navy Commander William Harper (Kevin Costner), also a CIA operative. Jack is brought in to the group as an analyst, putting his skills to work on Wall Street. Fast forward 10 years, where Jack works for a large firm and discovers that his employer has lost access to billions of dollars in accounts that are owned by a large Russian client. Jack gets approval to travel to Moscow and audit the now-missing accounts. Jack suspects something isn’t right, and his suspicion is confirmed from the moment he arrives, and an attempt is made on his life. Run, Marine, run!

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