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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September Movie Releases

Hello everybody!

Another month has gone by and we’re on to another packed month full of great films. September seems like it’s going to be great by the end of the month. In with a few surprises. Let’s take a look at what’s coming out this month.

 

2nd

Limited Release: Yoga Hosers

Kevin Smith directs – and also stars – this odd comedy horror fantasy film that follows two teenage yoga enthusiasts, one played by his own daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp, who team up with a legendary man-hunter to battle with an ancient evil presence that threatens their major party plans. The film has already opened on the film festival circuit to let’s call it a mixed reaction. The film also stars Johnny Depp, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Haley Joel Osment, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Adam Brody, Jason Mewes, and Natasha Lyonne

 

The Light Between Oceans (Walt Disney Motion Pictures/Dreamworks SKG/Touchstone Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/Reliance Entertainment/Participant Media)

A lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Alicia Vikander) living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat. They start to raise it as their own until a woman (Rachel Weisz) comes around claiming she’s lost her baby. With a cast like this, and what sounds like a compelling story, I can’t imagine this film being bad at all.

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Morgan (Thriller – 20th Century Fox/Scott Free Productions)

Directed by Luke Scott – the son of director Ridley Scott – a corporate risk-management consultant (Kate Mara) has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) life that was made in a laboratory environment. This film came out of nowhere for me, but the film looks pretty damn good. The teaser trailer that came out automatically hooked me and with a great cast, this jumped to my anticipated films of the year. The film also stars Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Body Holbrook, Sam Spruell, Jonathan Aris, Rose Leslie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Giamatti.

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9th

The Wild Life (Lionsgate/StudioCanal/nWave Pictures/uFilm)

An outgoing parrot named Tuesday, who dreams of seeing the outside world, and his friends enjoy their time on their exotic island until a violent storm brings Robinson Crusoe. Seeing him as a way off, they try to help get off, but not without trouble. The film is originally a French animated film that is being dubbed in English. Personally, the film doesn’t look very appealing to me.

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When the Bough Breaks (Drama – Sony Pictures/Screen Gems/Unique Features)

A surrogate mom for a couple becomes dangerously obsessed with the soon-to-be father. Regina Hall, Theo Rossi, Morris Chestnut, and Glenn Morshower star. The film isn’t really targeted toward me, but the film doesn’t look that great to me honest.

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The Disappointments Room (Drama Thriller – Relativity Media/Demarest Films/Media Talent Group)

Written by Wentworth Miller and directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), the film follows a mother (Kate Beckinsale) and her young son (Lucas Till) release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home. This film has sat on the shelves for a while, and will finally come out. It does look creepy, but the film will have to do some heavy marketing to get on people’s radar since it just moved to this date right before the beginning of the month. The Disappointments Room also stars Michaela Conlin, Michael Landes, Duncan Joiner and Gerald McRaney.

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Sully (Biography Drama – Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Malpaso Productions/Flashlight Films)

The film tells the true story of American pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who heroically landed an aircraft full of passengers on the Hudson River. But the story is much more than just him landing the plan. Sully look pretty impressive after that trailer, especially the plan going into the river. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks as Sully himself and Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot. The film also stars Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Sam Huntington, and Holt McCallany.

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16th

Limited Release: The Good Neighbor

A pair of high school kids try to trick a neighbor into thinking a house is haunted, but their intended victim turns out to be far more dangerous than they imagined. The film stars James Cann, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist, Laura Innes, Edwin Hodge, Anne Dudek, Bailey Nobel, Lili Reinhart, and Mindy Sterling.

 

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise (Pure Flix Entertainment/Grace Hill Media/MediaWeaver Entertainment/Cantinas Entertainment)

The film is a documentary following the Australia-based worship band Hillsong. The film will follow their humble beginning and rise to an international church.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby (Romantic Comedy – Universal Pictures/Working Title Films)

The adventures continue for British publishing executive Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) as she enters her 40s, and yeah, she has a baby. Colin Firth returns as Mark Darcy and Sally Philips returns as Shazza, and the film will also stars Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, and Patrick Dempsey. I don’t know if anyone was screaming for another Bridget Jones movie, but here it is.

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Snowden (Biography Drama Thriller – Open Road Films/Onda Entertainment/KrautPack Entertainment/Sacha Inc.)

Directed by Oliver Stone, Snowden is about the former CIA employee Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who leaked thousands of classified documents. The trailer makes it seem like the film will focus on Snowden before he leaked everything a bit, and then jump to what maybe happens after. The film has a very talented cast, and was supposed to be released late last year before it was pushed back to this year. Snowden also stars Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson and Melissa Leo.

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Blair Witch (Horror – Lionsgate)

You want to talk about films that came out of nowhere, Blair Witch is the definition of that. Originally called The Woods, it was recently revealed that the film was really a sequel, yes a sequel, to the Blair Witch films. Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) the film follows Blane, as he takes a group of friends into the woods, after he discovers a video of what could be his missing sister. The problem they find is that they have gone into the same woods that belong to the legendary Blair Witch. I always already looking forward to The Woods because of Wingard, but now that it is a Blair Witch film, my excitement went down just a little, but it’s still Wingard so I’m going to watch this.

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23rd

Limited Release: Queen of Katwe

Based on the book by Tim Crothers, a young girl from Uganda trains to become a world chess champion. I’ve only seen the trailer once, but I felt like I’ve already seen the film. Nonetheless, it looks like an impressive story and the film will find the right people. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and introduces Madina Nalwanga playing the main character.

 

Limited Release: Beauty and the Beast

Directed by visionary filmmaker Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Silent Hill), the film is, well, Beauty and the Beast in French. The film looks great and has two great leads in Lea Seydoux as Belle and Vincent Cassel as the Beast/Prince. Of course, people are looking forward to the Disney live-action version next year, but this could hold you over.

 

Limited Release: The Dressmaker 

Based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, a glamorous woman named Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet), returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong. The film also stars Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis and Hugh Weaving.

 

Storks (Animation – Warner Bros. Animation)

Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby. Voice cast includes Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo and Kelsey Grammer. It seems like 2016 is the year of talking animals and Storks will continue the fashion.

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The Magnificent Seven (Western – Sony Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/MGM)

Based on the classic Western that was really a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows seven gun men in the west come together to help a village against a gang coming through. The film already carries some heavy hitters in director Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, Haley Bennett, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, and Ethan Hawke. This looks pretty great to be honest. Even with the cast, I was a little hesitant, but the trailers have completely won me over.

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30th

Limited Release: American Honey (Drama Comedy)

A teenage girl (Sasha Lane) with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits. The film won some awards in the film festivals it played in, and has gotten some pretty high praise. The film also stars Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough.

 

Masterminds (Action Comedy – Relativity Media/Michaels-Goldwyn)

A night guard (Zach Galifianakis) at an armored car company in the Southern U.S organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history, problem is others on his trail, and they want the money too. The film doesn’t really look too bad – and I’m not the biggest Galifianakis fan – and again like Before I Wake trailers were put out before Relativity Media pull every movie they had off the release schedule because they filed for bankruptcy. Masterminds also stars Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Jon Daly, and Ken Marino.

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Deepwater Horizon (Action Drama – Lionsgate/Participant Media/Di Bonaventura Pictures)

Directed by Peter Berg, Deepwater Horizon is based on the true story of the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. History. I’m sure this might still be a touchy subject with some, and people will probably say why the trailer calls the people onboard “heroes,” since they “caused it” or at least a part of it. But Deepwater Horizon still looks pretty descent. The film has a great cast of Mark Wahlberg, Dylan O’Brien, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, J.D. Evermore, and John Malkovich.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Fantasy Adventure – 20th Century Fox/Tim Burton Productions/Chernin Entertainment/St. Petersberg Clearwater Film Commission)

Based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, the film follows Jacob (Asa Butterfield) who follows clues that take him to a mysterious land, where he discovers the ruins of Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores the building, he discovers that its former occupants were far more than peculiar; they possessed incredible powers. And they may still be alive. I haven’t read the book, but honestly, I’m not the biggest Tim Burton fan anymore. However, this looks pretty good. The cast also includes Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Samuel L. Jackson, Allison Janney, Ella Purnell, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, Terence Stamp and Judi Dench.

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So, what are you looking forward to?