Mini-Reviews: Ben-Hur, War Dogs, Hell or High Water, & Sully

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the second edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Hell or High Water

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham

Synopsis: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

 

Hell or High Water may start off as a typical bank robbers vs. the law film, but underneath all that is much more. Brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard start a string of bank robbers that are actually to save their mother’s ranch in the desolated West Texas for a bigger reason we don’t find out until the final act. On their trail is a on the verge of retiring Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). As the Rangers get closer, the risk for Toby and Tanner gets bigger and it leads to an explosive finale.

The film is written by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, which you can immediately tell once the film gets going. The themes of the film are nicely layered and scattered throughout, which may seem off or forced to many, but once you look at film as a whole, you’ll appreciate the nuances.

However, it’s the cast that really makes this film fantastic. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are reliable as ever with Bridges seemingly enjoying his more livelier role to date, while Ben Foster once again showing he’s a force that shouldn’t be forgotten.

All in all, Hell or High Water is a fantastic film with a great cast and story. The film is slow ride, but so worth it for the final outcomes that fits in today’s world.

Hell or High Water

4.5 out of 5

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War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic

Cast: Miler Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak and Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

 

Todd Phillips has come a long way from The Hangover. War Dogs is a much more mature film for him that tackles a huge subject of the second Iraq War, but doesn’t do so in a way that says “war is bad,” but takes a conversational, or to some the real reason, “war is an economy.” The film even stars with a voiceover by Teller’s David Packouz telling us how much it costs to gear and arm every soldier in our military.

The film follows David, an unhappy massage therapist working in Miami in 2005, who reunites with his old junior high best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Unlike David, Efraim is living a rather successful life as an arms dealer who picks up government contracts. Efraim needing help, and David with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (de Armas), the two decided to grow their own business and take on government contracts. However, their partnership and friendship are tested as the money gets bigger.

I will say the film was better than I thought it would be, and it helped that Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were on their A-game. Hill almost steals the film with his sleazy performance as Efraim. While Brady Cooper pops in and out through the film after being introduced around the middle of the film. Although the film doesn’t really bring too much new to the table, you can pretty much tell how this film will turn out by the end. It’s not a bad thing – considering it’s based on a true story – and while the chemistry between Teller and Hill seems spot-on, the movie does go into a lull after a while.

All in all, War Dogs is much more of a drama than comedy, but the film has plenty of laughs to balance out the seriousness and crazy reality of the film.

War Dogs

3.5 out of 5

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Ben-Hur

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: John Ridley & Keith R. Clarke

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Ayelet Zurer, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

 

I have no connection the old Ben-Hur films or novel since I never saw them or read it. I do know the cultural and film significance the film the property has had, so I was always going to go off what this new iteration bought to the table. I wasn’t really looking forward to the film too much since the trailers weren’t that great, but I gave it a shot and you know what? It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Ben-Hur follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a prince in Jerusalem, who lives his family including his adopted brother Messala (Kebbell) who knows his place amongst the family is at the very bottom. To find his own place in the world, Messala leaves and joins the Roman army, and after years have passed returns home as a successful soldier. Messala goes to Judah and pleads with him to name anyone that would think about attacking Pontius Pilate (Asbaek) when he passes through Jerusalem. Judah, not wanting to get dragged into anything, tells him he thinks Pilate will be safe. Of course, something happens and Messala seeing no other choice and viewing this as a betray sends Judah to be a slave.

However, when Judah’s ship does down, Judah finds land and is employed by a wealthy African named Ilderim (Freeman) to help him and become his chariot rider for a big race coming soon. Of course, the chariot race will have Messala in it. Along the whole way, Judah has small run ins with Jesus (Santoro).

One of the good things the film does is make the relationship between Judah and Massala a big part before we mostly follow Judah for the rest of the film. We see the love they have for each other, but you can see Messala is conflicted with his position in the family, and knows Judah will always first in the family’s eyes. It also helps that Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell have descent chemistry together, and Kebbell has enough acting chops to not make Messala a villain, but enough to make us not root for him in some way.

The rest of the cast does okay with what they given. Freeman doesn’t show up until the final third of the film, and does his typical reliable Freeman performance. Nazanin Boniadi plays Esther, Judah’s wife who tries to play Judah’s moral compass, and Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus is nicely scattered through the film.

The film does bring up some political issues into the film, and thankfully aren’t shoehorned in. However, when Judah gets free from the ship, that message is gone and focuses on Judah’s journey of revenge, and from there the performances do take a bit of a dip, but thankfully come back near the end of the film.

All in all, Ben-Hur isn’t that bad of the film. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure most people will say it’s not like the other iterations, but something tells me that’s okay for this one. Also, the much advertised chariot race was a descent enough action set-piece.

Ben-Hur

3 out of 5

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Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

 

I barely remember the actual event of “The Miracle on the Hudson” on the news, but I never actually knew, many most of us too, what happened afterwards. So who better to tell that story on screen than Clint Eastwood and everyone’s favorite actor Tom Hanks. Hanks is, of course, not untested playing real people as he already did it in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. But there is something a little different about playing the man that saved 155 people in a forced water landing.

Sully follows ‘Sully’ (Hanks) as he deals with the aftermath of landing on the Hudson River. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles have to deal with an investigation by the FAA and the insurance company. Despite Sully pulling off the impossible and viewed as a hero by many, he’s viewed as reckless to the investigators for putting everyone and the plane in danger since the simulations all show he could have made it back to the airport or make it to another one.

For what it’s worth, Sully is a very engaging film that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The plane sequence is tense to watch, and will probably make you a little afraid of flying now, and it’s interesting to see it play out in multiple ways. We see the sequence in two different ways that are completely different, but they are a thrill to watch in their own ways. I will say the film does lack a certain something that keeps the film from being a more powerful film, not saying the film isn’t powerful, but for me there was something missing.

Of course, the main draw here is Tom Hanks. Hanks is – once again – reliable in every way possible and carries the film on his shoulders. I wouldn’t say it’s his best performance, but you believe him as this conflicted man that probably risked the lives on everyone onboard. Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles is pretty good here too and might be a performance some will forget. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the lead investigator in the case against Sully. O’Malley is a surprise choice for the role, considering he’s known mostly for his comedic performance, but has put on some dramatic roles as of late and nails the performance here. Laura Linney feels almost wasted here as Sully’s wife Lorraine, as her whole performance is talking on the phone to Sully, but does have one moment near the end of the film that makes it work.

All in all, Sully isn’t that bad of a film. It’s not Eastwood’s or Hanks’ best film, but it’s not their worst.  The film is engaging and tense throughout to keep you invested more than you think, and it shines a light on a hero. The CGI plane moments do take you out of the film a bit, but Eastwood hasn’t really worked with too much CGI before, so we can probably let it pass.

Sully

3.5 out of 5

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‘The LEGO Movie’ Review

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Dir: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

Cast (voice): Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Liam Nesson, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This is a spoiler free review, as always.  Sorry for the lack of reviews lately. I live in Chicago and if you’ve been watching the news, we (like many other people as well) have been hit with a ton of snow.  But I’m back!*

 

On paper, the movie sounds a little crazy. I think just about everybody was saying “what the hell are they going to do with a Lego movie?” and I’ll admit I was one of those people.  However, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) have blended together a unique blend of wit, humor, and heart.  And like most kid films, The Lego Movie is really about what it means to be a child but also a person in general (too cheesy?).

The movie follows Emmet (Pratt) who is the most ordinary “person” in his city of Bricksburg.  He follows the instructions for everything, loves the most popular stuff – that includes a lame TV show – and the infectiously catchy pop song “Everything Is Awesome.”  However, when he stumbles into a pit at his construction job, he unintentionally finds the “Piece of Resistance” that is part of a prophecy set by the “Master Builder” Vitruvius (Freeman) to defeat the evil Lord Business or President Business (Ferrell).  When the rebels discover Emmet’s just an ordinary person and not the “Special One” they must work together with his help.

Emmet is joined on his journey mostly by Wildstyle (Banks) who is also a Master Builder. Think of them like Neo in The Matrix that can see things around them and build anything.  Banks does pretty well as the kick ass heroine that does everything she can to protect Emmet and herself.  Freeman is pretty cool as the hippy-like wizard Vitruvius that ranges from wise to comic relief.  Will Ferrel’s Lord Business is maniacal but has depth to stop him from becoming a cliché villain. But it’s really Chris Pratt who steals the show as the endearing and sometimes dopey (in a good way) Emmet.

However the other familiar faces, drawing on some of LEGO’s strongest licenses, such as Batman and Superman for example pop up. But it’s testament to the film’s integrity that such well-known characters never really become the focus of the film.  Batman, even with substantial screen time and a strong supporting role, doesn’t steal the movie.  They even make Batman into a bit of a dick and relish poking fun at Green Lantern, who’s so desperate to make friends with the cool heroes.  But others are entirely original creations like Metal Beard – a gigantic mech topped off with the head of a pirate.

The use of LEGO also gives the film a style of its own and gives the action a distinctive look.  Set pieces often involve characters frantically building new vehicles or special items to help them escape.  It’s exciting to watch these items appear rapidly before your eyes, and they really give the film some great kinetic sequences.  Elsewhere, the solidity of LEGO adds a unique look to environments, especially elements like smoke and water.  Hell, seeing the Council of Master Builders is awesome to see. We see about every famous LEGO you can imagine ranging from; Shakespeare, Ninja Turtles, Ninjas, and Abraham Lincoln. It makes total sense because that’s the kind of freedom and creativity the movie is ultimately encouraging

However, for a movie that is promoted as a comedy, the movie has an unsuspected but welcomed emotional kick to its final act.  Dare I say the best moments of the movie are toward the end.  It’s in these final moments that The LEGO Movie becomes a little bit special

All in all, The LEGO Movie has it all; humor, action, emotion and even some twists that make it just more than a LEGO movie. I completely was blown away by a movie I wasn’t original excited for.  Everything about this movie was truly awesome.

 

The Lego Movie

5 out of 5

‘Now You See Me’ Review

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Dir: Louis Leterrier (Transporter 1 & 2, Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine

Synopsis: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money

 

*Review Note: As always this is a non-spoiler review*

 

The movie opens with “The closer you look, the less you’ll see” whether that’s true or not is of course left to the viewer.

Calling themselves “The Four Horsemen,” street magicians J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Jack Wilder (Franco), mentalist Merritt (Harrelson), and escape artist Henley (Fisher) are bought together by a mystery person. A year later they are now a hugely successful Vegas magic act that begins to pull off daring and seemingly unbelievable heists much to the delight of audiences. However that doesn’t bode well with FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and an Interpol agent (Laurent) assign to the case after they steal from a bank in Paris.

Along the way we meet a tycoon played by Michael Caine in a very small role and a former magician-turned-mythbuster (Freeman) who the FBI may or may not be able to trust. And despite all the marketing focusing on the Four Horsemen, this is really Rhodes’ story. He’s the one who is chasing them down and with the help of Laurent’s Alma Dray and Freeman’s Thaddeus Bradley he finds out what’s going on.

Ruffalo, as always, is great as his frustrated, non-believer, and hard driven agent that wants to take the Horsemen down for their crimes. Laurent’s Interpol agent is more open minded then Rhodes and tries to convince him into thinking it’s possible that the magic is real. The movie does slow down a bit when it’s just the two of them together at times but never really hurts the movie.

As for the rest of the cast, Eisenberg and Harrelson get the most screen time of the Horsemen. Franco and Fisher have their moments but they fall through the cracks as the movie progresses. Which is kind of a shame since their characters in other cases are underwritten. They all play their characters with a bit arrogance which you can’t blame them but it does make it them a little harder to like in some cases.

Now You See Me does have some fun with some “common” magic tricks but some of the magic does have some help with CGI, which has upset some people but since the movie is about a wider objective hopefully people can look past it. Even the revels for the tricks are really cool to see, although some are more hit and miss.

All in all, Now You See Me is a fun and at times funny movie that delivers some clever moments and keep viewers entertained and thinking about the big reveal.

Now You See Me

4 out of 5

‘Olympus Has Fallen’ Review

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Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune and Radha Mitchell

Synopsis: Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers

 

One of the two White House invasion movies has been released and this one feels like a 90’s movie…in the good way.

 

Gerard Butler stars as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, a tough but reliable agent who serves on the personal protection detail of President Ben Asher (Eckhart). He’s not just the President’s bodyguard, but also a close friend to both him and his young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). But after a tragedy during the line of duty, Banning finds himself transferred to Treasury (the Secret Service’s other duty being counterfeiting investigations). Banning gets a chance to redeem himself when a surprise attack on the White House cripples the U.S. government and leads to the capture of President Asher and his key staff during the visit by the Prime Minster of South Korea.

Yes, the villains in the movie are North Koreans out to destroy the U.S. government and the American way of life (insert your rant here trolls). The primary villain however is Kang (Yune) who is more cunning and intelligent than over the top, although it kind of feels like it at times.

The actually take over the White House is really brutal as Kang’s forces take out the White House security and even civilians during the process before managing to kidnap Asher and his staff within their own secure bunker. During all the craziness Banning makes his way through the city and into the White House but not before taking out some baddies along the way. After the take over, Banning becomes the only contact to the outside world and remaining government figure like Secret Service director Jacobs (Bassett), General Clegg (Robert Forster) and Speaker of the House (now acting President) Trumbell (Freeman).

Once inside, Banning becomes a one man wrecking crew and kills pretty much all of Kang’s men he comes across in some pretty cool fashion. While inside he pulls off a side mission and then does the hero thing by going and trying to save the President.

The cast here does a solid job with the roles there given. Eckhart does well in his President role, Melissa Leo plays the Defense Secretary who fights back when she’s tested. Bassett’s Jacobs character has her moment to shine when she’s defending Banning trust and Freeman plays Trumbell the way you would think when someone is thrown into high power.

However, this is Butler’s movie and he kicks returns to the old 300 days of kicking some serious ass.  His Banning is stoic, but not wooden which some action hero roles sometimes fall under, tough but warm hearted to Asher’s son Connor, and humorous without coming off as trying to hard. Being nitpicky, he tries to keep his Scottish accent from slipping but sometimes you can see him twisting his mouth in order to do that, again that’s being nitpicky

The action in the movie is fun, enjoyable, and brutal (in the good action movie way) to watch. Besides the take over, Butler’s Banning likes to kill some of the bad guys a certain way that some of you may like. Like I said at the beginning it does have a 90’s action feel to it but enough that it hurts the movie.

What does hurt the movie is some of the CGI. It feels a bit clucky at times and other times a bit on the cheesy side. The movie also goes through some tonal changes a bit but action movie nowadays tend to do that.

All in all, Olympus Has Fallen is being labeled the “Die Hard in the White House” movie and at times it is. Butler proves that he can come back to the action genre where he belongs and the action in the movie is badass enough that you can forgive some the tonal changes and clucky CGI.

Olympus Has Fallen

4 out of 5