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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August Movie Releases

Can you believe it’s already August? Seriously, where has the all the time gone, geez. Anyway, August is filled some films that could have tremendous potential. It’s also the last month of the Summer Movie Season, also known to some as studios’ “dump month,” although this year it could be very different.

Would also like to say I’m sorry for not posting this earlier. Slipped past me.

 

5th

Nine Lives (Comedy – EuropaCorp USA/Fundamental Films)

A stuffy businessman (Kevin Spacey) finds himself trapped inside the body of his family’s cat to learn what he’s been missing. The film also stars Jennifer Garner, Cheryl Hines, Talitha Bateman, Teddy Sears, Robbie Amell, and Christopher Walken. The film really isn’t targeted toward me, and overall it doesn’t look that funny to me either.

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Suicide Squad (Action – Warner Bros./DC Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Dune Entertainment)

David Ayer brings one of the most ambitious comic book adaptations to life with Suicide Squad. The film follows a group of imprisoned supervillains hired by a secret government agency named A.R.G.U.S, lead by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), to do a dangerous mission to get their freedom. This one is definitely a make-it-or-break-it film and while many people are excited for the film – I can see why – I wasn’t sold on it for a while, but the film has won me over, at least for the time being.  Suicide Squad stars Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Jared Leto (The Joker), Cara Delevingne (Enchantress), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg), Jay Hernandez (El Diablo), Karen Fukuhara (Katana), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), Adam Beach (Slipknot), Common (Tattooed Man), Jim Parrack (Jonny Frost), Scott Eastwood, Ike Barinholtz, David Harbour, and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

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12th

Limited Release: Hell or High Water (Crime Drama)

A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s farm in West Texas. The film stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Katy Mixon, Melanie Papalia, and Kevin Ranklin.

 

Limited Release: Edge of Winter (Drama Thriller)

When two brothers are stranded by a brutal winter storm with an unpredictable father they barely know, the boys begin to suspect their supposed protector may be their biggest threat. The film stars Tom Holland, Joel Kinnaman, Shiloh Fernandez, Rachelle Lefevre, and Rossif Sutherland.

 

Florence Foster Jenkins (Biography Dramedy – Paramount Pictures/BBC Films/Pathe/Qwerty Films)

The story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice. The movie kind of came out of nowhere for me, and others probably too, but it’s got Streep in it so the film already has a built-in audience. The film also stars Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson and John Kavanagh.

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Sausage Party (Animation – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Annapurna Pictures/Point Grey Pictures)

The film follows a sausage (Seth Rogen) – yes, a sausage – and his quest to discover the truth about his existence, and discovers what really happens when food goes home with humans. The film is written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, and that should give you a good indication on what to anticipate. The voice cast includes Salma Hayek, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Edward Norton, Bill Hader, David Krumholtz, Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride.

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Pete’s Dragon (Family Fantasy Adventure – Walt Disney Productions)

Based on the original film, Pete’s Dragon follows the adventures of Pete (Oakes Fegley), an orphan boy who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, who happens to be a dragon. The film looks pretty good to be honest, and the team involved really leaves me hopeful. Pete’s Dragon also stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley, Oona Laurence, Craig Hall, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Robert Redford.

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19th

Kubo and the Two Strings (Animation – Laika Entertainment/Focus Features)

Travis Knight, the lead animator for films like ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls finally directs a film with Kubo and the Two Strings that follows Kubo, who lives quiet normal life in a small shoreside village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior. The animation looks pretty interesting and the voice cast is really up there with Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and George Takei. Laika has been hit-or-miss for me, but Kubo and the Two Strings looks like a hit to me.

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War Dogs (Comedy Drama – Warner Bros./The Mark Gordon Company/Green Hat Films)

Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover movies),War Dogs, tells a true story of two young men, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan. I wasn’t convinced about the film before I saw the trailers, and the film looks decently funny. The film also stars Ana de Armas, Shaun Toub, and Bradley Cooper.

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Ben-Hur (Historical Epic Adventure Drama – Paramount Pictures/MGM/Sean Daniel Company)

A remake of the classic film, Ben-Hur, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, follows a falsely accused nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend, Messala (Toby Kebbell) who betrayed him. I actually haven’t seen the original, so I don’t know what to base it on too much. However, the film itself looks just okay. Ben-Hur also stars Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Haluk Bilginer, Marwan Kenzari, Pilou Asbeek, Alessandro Giuggiolo, Rodrigo Santoro and Morgan Freeman.

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26th

Limited Release: Southside with You (Biography Romance Drama)

The film that tells the story of future President of the United States, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers), and the date in the summer of 1989 with his future wife and First Lady Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter).

 

Limited Release: Blood Father (Action Thriller)

An ex-con (Mel Gibson) reunites with his estranged wayward 16-year old daughter (Erin Moriarty) to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her. Basically, this is Mel Gibson’s Taken, and it looks okay based on the trailer. The film also stars William H. Macy, Elisabeth Rohm, Diego Luna, Thomas Mann, Raoul Trujillo and Michael Parks.

 

Limited Release: The Hollars (Comedy Drama)

Directed by John Krasinski – and he also stars – a man returns to his small hometown after learning that his mother has fallen ill and is about to undergo surgery. The film has an A-list cast of Anna Kendrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day, Randall Park, Josh Groban, Mary Kay Place, Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale.

 

Mechanic: Resurrection (Action Thriller – Summit Entertainment/Millennium Films)

A surprising sequel to the 2011 films that sees Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) who thought he had put his murderous past behind him when an old foe kidnaps the love of his life. Now he’s forced to travel the globe to complete three impossible assassinations, and make them look like accidents, which is what he does best. I didn’t mind the first movie, but I’m kind of surprised that they are going to make a sequel, but I’m more surprised with the cast that they got with Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, Sam Hazeldine, and Michelle Yeoh.

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Hands of Stone (Biography Drama – The Weinstein Company/Fuego Fims/Epicetral Studios)

Follows the legendary boxer Roberto Duran, played by Edgar Ramirez,  and his equally legendary trainer Ray Arcel, played by Robert De Niro, change each other’s lives. I’ve been strangely looking forward to this for a while now, and I hope it turns out great. Of course it helps that the film has a great cast in John Turturro, Ana de Armas, Ellen Barkin, Reg E. Cathey, Usher Raymond, Oscar Jaenada, and Ruben Blades

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Don’t Breathe (Thriller – Sony Pictures/TriStar Pictures/Ghost House Pictures/Good Universe)

A group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. However, they soon find out they were very wrong. The film is directed by Fede Alvarez, who directed the Evil Dead remake, which I really liked – and he’s reuniting with Jane Levy – so I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table. Early reviews have been almost nothing but positive, and trailer shows why. Don’t Breathe also stars Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, and Stephen Lang also star.

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So, what are you looking forward to?