THANKSGIVING TURKEY AWARDS 2018

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Turkey

It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S, that holiday where people kick back and relax, reflect on what they’re thankful for, and eat lots of food, especially turkey.

With that in mind, here are some Thanksgiving Turkey Movie Awards for 2018.  Of course, the year is not over, and so these lists are not final. There’s still room for more turkeys, so to speak.

Okay, let’s get right to it!

Here are my 2018 TURKEY AWARDS:

WORST MOVIE

(And again, this list is not final. There are still five weeks left before we close out 2018.)

Right now, my least favorite film of 2018 would be PEPPERMINT, a dreadful action film starring Jennifer Garner, followed closely by THE NUN, a flat-out awful horror movie, and THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS, a very unfunny comedy that wasted a cool concept. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a raunchy R-rated Muppet comedy? But they blew it.

 

WORST ACTING PERFORMANCE

This is difficult because acting is not something that is lacking in today’s movies. Actors today perform at a level that I think generally speaking is much higher than actors in the past.  They convey emotions that come off as authentic more often than actors from  yesteryear. While there have been great actors in every generation, I think in terms of numbers, more actors today deliver performances that are spot on than ever before.

So, how to choose a poor performance when there really isn’t any? I’m going to cheat a bit. I’m going to go with the three main “actors” in Clint Eastwood’s THE 15:17 TO PARIS, and this is cheating because these three guys aren’t actors. Eastwood chose to cast the three real life men who thwarted a terrorist attack on a Paris train to play themselves in his retelling of this heroic tale. Decades from now, Eastwood’s decision may be deemed as genius, but right now, that’s not the case for the simple reason that those young men aren’t actors and as such were out-of-place in a movie, even playing themselves. As a result, their scenes were incredibly boring and lifeless.

 

WORST SCREENPLAY

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS – This screenplay by Todd Berger couldn’t be less funny if it tried. They should have hired Fozzy Bear. Waka! Waka!

the happytime murders poster

There’s not much that’s happy in THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

 

WORST DIRECTOR

Brian Henson, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS. Henson has made real Muppet movies.  He should have known better and pulled off a far more successful movie. He dropped the ball with this one.

 

WORST HORROR MOVIE

THE NUN. Nun of this movie is worth your time.

 

WORST SEQUEL

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, followed by OCEAN’S 8, JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM, THE EQUALIZER 2, and MAMA MIA: HERE WE GO AGAIN! Not a good year for sequels. Then again, when is it ever a good year for sequels?

 

WORST SUPERHERO MOVIE

DEADPOOL 2 – now this is not really a bad movie. It’s simply the superhero film I liked the least in 2018.

So far.

 

And now for the THANKSGIVING AWARDS portion of the column. Movies I’m thankful for this year:

 

MARVEL

Three of the best films of the year so far have been Marvel Superhero movies: BLACK PANTHER, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Yup, it’s been a marvelous year for superheroes!

 

DOCUMENTARIES

With WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? the documentary on the life of Mister Rogers leading the pack, 2018 has been a stellar year for documentaries.

 

MOVIES ABOUT WOMEN

It’s been a great year so far for movies starring women, written and directed by women, and that are telling stories about women.  Some of these movies include BOOK CLUB, EIGHTH GRADE, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, ANNIHILATION, and LEAVE NO TRACE.

bookclub1

BOOK CLUB (2018) is one of my favorite movies of the year so far, thanks largely to its female cast which includes Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen.

 

BEST HORROR MOVIE

A QUIET PLACE – smart horror at its best, even if its ending isn’t nearly as intelligent as the rest of the movie. The horror genre is alive and well.

 

BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE

BLACK PANTHER – this Marvel superhero movie transcends the genre and is so good it has no business being a superhero film. Marvel continues its run of incredibly entertaining movies.

black-panther-poster

 

CLASSIC ACTORS

Veteran movie actors have graced the screen throughout 2018, including Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Andy Garcia, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Bruce Dern, Robert Redford, Jodie Foster, Ben Kingsley, Jamie Lee Curtis, Meryl Streep, and Cher.

 

BEST MOVIE

Sorry, but you’ll just have to wait until the end of the year for this revelation.

 

So, these are just a few of the movies I’m thankful for this year, along with some cinematic turkeys.

Thanks for reading, and wishing you a happy holiday season!

Gobble! Gobble!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) -Subtle, Honest Look at Living With PTSD.

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Leave No Trace

Critics are loving LEAVE NO TRACE (2018). The film is being called the best reviewed movie of the summer.

Allow me to bring the film back to earth a bit.

Now, while I enjoyed LEAVE NO TRACE, I didn’t love it, mostly because its slow-paced story lacked the necessary intensity to keep me riveted throughout. That being said, LEAVE NO TRACE is still a good movie.

LEAVE NO TRACE tells the story of a father Will (Ben Foster) and his thirteen year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) who live in the woods in Oregon, and they live there because they choose to. They are happy there, and as the film opens, we observe them in their routine, enjoying a simple life in nature, albeit working hard to keep their shelter water-proof, collect rain water for drinking, and cover their tracks so they are not discovered.

The other reason they live in the woods is Will suffers from PTSD, a result from his time serving in the military. He simply has a hard time being around people and feels better living in the woods.

When a jogger sees Tom in the woods, the Park Rangers and the police are called in, and they arrest Will and also bring Tom into custody. Once social services determines that there’s nothing strange going on and that Tom is not in danger, they release them, but tell them they can no longer live where they were because those woods are part of a National Forest, owned by the government, and the law states that people can’t live on land owned by someone else.

A man Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober) having seen their story in the news, offers to set up Will and Tom with a modest home in return for Will’s help on his tree farm. What follows is the story of how Will and Tom try to adjust to a new life in a home not of their choosing and of their ongoing journey to find their place in the world as Will realizes he cannot function in society like other people.

LEAVE NO TRACE takes a sharp look at what constitutes a home and questions why it is that people simply can’t live where they want to, even if it’s in the woods. The film opens with such a deliberate pace showing Will and Tom’s peaceful existence, it easily makes the case that this lifestyle shouldn’t be disturbed. But it is, as there are laws to follow in society, and as a result Will and Tom are evicted from their “home.”

While I enjoyed the deliberate pace early on, the problem is as the film moves along, the pace never changes. We follow Will and Tom from one living experience to another, and the intensity pretty much stays the same. Low key. Very low-key.

The other story, and frankly the one that drives the movie along, is the relationship between Will and Tom. They love each other very much. This is established early on and the bond they share remains strong throughout. However, whereas Will understands he can’t live with other people, Tom begins to realize through their ongoing experiences that she can. Not only that, but she begins to enjoy being around other people, leading up to the point where she’s not sure she wants to continue following her father any more.

Writer/director Debra Granik has made a thought-provoking and visually pleasing movie that takes its time telling its story of two people, a father and a daughter, trying to live on their own terms, even while the daughter begins to learn that her interests are changing from that of her father’s. And the shots of the Oregon woods are peaceful and soothing. Five minutes in, and I was ready to pitch a tent, and I’m not an outdoors person.

Another problem I had with LEAVE NO TRACE is that while I appreciated its story, it didn’t resonate with me emotionally as much as I expected it to.  The film is low-key, and that pretty much sums up how it played on my emotions. There really aren’t any powerful scenes that pack a punch, no gut wrenching decisions or plights.  Just calm measured migration.

The best part of LEAVE NO TRACE and the main reason to see this one are the performances by the two leads, Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie.

I’ve been a fan of Foster’s for a while ever since I first saw him in 3:10 TO YUMA (2007). He’s been impressive in nearly every film I’ve seen him in, usually playing some pretty intense characters, in films like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), THE MECHANIC (2011), and HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) to name just a few.

Foster sheds some of that intensity here in LEAVE NO TRACE, and like the rest of the film, his performance is a bit more subtle than we’re used to seeing, but it’s no less effective. We never learn what exactly happened to Will, but Foster’s performance makes it clear that at some point in his life he suffered from a trauma that he has yet to recover from.

As much as I enjoy Foster, the performance of the movie belongs to Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Will’s daughter Tom. While her performance is subtle as well— don’t expect screaming, angry teenage angst— she creates such a sincere, watchable character in Tom that in spite of the film’s slow pace, I never grew tired of watching her.

She has a way of speaking that captures Tom’s innocence and loyalty to her dad, yet remains perfectly natural as she begins to realize that unlike her dad she needs other people in her life. I wouldn’t be surprised if come Oscar time McKenzie gets a shout out. She’s very good.

The other thing I liked about this story was the positive way it depicted ordinary citizens, a welcomed sight in this day and age. Everyone who Will and Tom meet treats them with respect and dignity. I kept expecting someone to try to take advantage of them, but they don’t.  And this might be the most powerful part of the entire movie, the way these every day folks treat Will and his daughter. They all seem to recognize that Will suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and treat him accordingly.

Director Debra Granik and fellow screenwriter Anne Rosellini should be commended for taking this route in their screenplay, which was based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, and for creating characters who function as a strong support network for the two strangers in their lives. It reaffirms some faith in humanity.

But in terms of emotion in LEAVE NO TRACE, there’s simply not a lot of it. While I was intellectually intrigued about Will and Tom’s plight, I was never emotionally invested in their journey. I wanted to know what was going to happen to them, to be sure, but most of the time, what was happening to them was so low-key it barely registered on the intensity meter.

LEAVE NO TRACE is a subtle look into the lives of two people, a father and a daughter, who enjoyed living off the grid until they were told they had to move. It then follows them on their journey from one living situation to another, telling the story of how their relationship changes.

It’s also a quiet look into the life of a person with PTSD, and of a teenage girl living with a person with PTSD, as well as an honest inquiry into just what it is that makes something a home.

Thought-provoking to be sure, but as intense as quietly collecting rain water for a cool morning drink in the forest.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riveting Western HOSTILES (2017) Earns Its Title

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Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale share the danger in HOSTILES (2017).

HOSTILES (2017), the new western adventure by writer/director Scott Cooper, is anchored by a solid performance by Christian Bale as a hardened cavalry officer ordered to escort an aged and ill Cheyenne chief on a dangerous trek from New Mexico to Montana, a chief who was once responsible for the deaths of many of the officer’s men.

HOSTILES opens with a brutal attack on a family by a group of Comanches that leaves a father and three children dead.  The mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) manages to escape but not before seeing  her entire family, including her infant, slain.  The action switches to Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) receiving orders that he must provide safe passage for an ailing Cheyenne chief, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to his home land in Montana.  Blocker wants no part of this mission because he knows firsthand the merciless carnage which Chief Yellow Hawk once caused, but as his superior officer Colonel Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang) reminds him, Blocker is no saint himself.

A career soldier and months away from retirement and a pension, Blocker reluctantly agrees to follow his orders.  Soon after Blocker, his men, and Chief Yellow Hawk embark on their journey, they come across and rescue Rosalie Quaid but realize the deadly Comanches are still on the prowl, putting everyone, including Chief Yellow Hawk and his family, in danger.  And the murderous Comanches are only one of the threats which Captain Blocker and his party must face on their increasingly treacherous trek to Montana, all of which provide for a very dark and thrilling western adventure.

If you like westerns, you definitely want to see HOSTILES.  Writer/director Scott Cooper, whose previous films include BLACK MASS (2015) and OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), the latter also starring Christian Bale and one of my favorite movies that year, has made a tense, compelling drama that hooks you from the get-go with its savage opening scene and then pretty much never lets go. Sure, not everything works— Blocker’s story arc is a bit too neat and tidy at times— but enough of it does to make this movie a must-see trip to the theater.

Christian Bale is rock solid as Captain Blocker, a weathered military officer who has seen his share of deplorable acts of horror and has committed them as well, which he justifies because it’s his job to kill.  Bale brings the necessary intensity to the role, as well as the scars and pains which are apparent in his eyes throughout.  It’s a very satisfying performance, and I enjoyed Bale more here than in the previous two films I saw him in, THE BIG SHORT (2015) and AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013).

Bale is phenomenal, and he’s not alone.  HOSTILES boast a very strong cast.  Rosamund Pike is nearly as good as Bale here as the bereaved yet strong spirited Rosalie Quaid.  She is every bit as locked into her performance as Bale, and the two share an uneasy chemistry, brought together by tragedies in their past and their present.

Veteran actor Wes Studi, who I most remember for his powerful performance as Magua in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) is sufficiently noble as Chief Yellow Hawk.  Jesse Plemons, who seems to be showing up everywhere these days and who stood out as Todd in the final season of BREAKING BAD (2012-2013), plays Lt. Rudy Kidder, a soldier on Blocker’s team with a solid resume but little experience in the field. And we just saw Plemons in THE POST (2017).

Rory Cochrane delivers a strong performance as well as Sgt. Thomas Metz, Blocker’s longtime military buddy and right hand man.  Stephen Lang, most recently seen as the blind man in the thriller DON’T BREATHE (2016) has a small role as Col. Abraham Biggs, the man who gives Blocker his controversial orders.  And Bill Camp, who also had a memorable small role in MOLLY’S GAME (2017) as a doomed poker player, is memorable once again in another small bit, this time as an annoying newspaper reporter.

Timothee Chalamet has a brief role as a young private.  Chalamet was impressive as one of Lady Bird’s boyfriends in LADY BIRD (2017), and he’s also receiving praise for his role in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017).

Fans of THE WALKING DEAD will be happy to see Scott Wilson ride in as an angry land owner.  Wilson played Hershel on THE WALKING DEAD for a few seasons.  Of course, Wilson is known for much more than THE WALKING DEAD, as his career goes all the way back to IN COLD BLOOD (1967).

And Ben Foster even shows up as a military prisoner on death row who claims he’s no more dangerous than Blocker and that he’s seen Blocker do far worse things than he ever did. Foster is fine here, but he’s played this type of role before.  A lot.

Foster and Bale previously starred together in another western, 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), another hard-hitting action tale where Bale played the hero and Foster a loose cannon bad guy.

Scott Cooper’s screenplay, based on an unpublished manuscript by Donald E. Stewart, is a good one.  It tells a riveting story that held my interest throughout and it features characters even those in minor roles who are fleshed out adequately.

And Cooper is just as successful behind the camera.  The picturesque shots of New Mexico and Montana are reminiscent of the great western vistas captured by legendary directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks.  The action scenes are intense and suspenseful and provide some edge of your seat moments.

The first half of the movie admittedly plays better than the second half, when Blocker and company are dealing with the Comanches.  What follows, while interesting, never captures the same intensity as these early scenes, although the ending is powerfully tragic.

And the very ending, the final shot of the film, is as cinematic as they come, and could easily be destined as one of those closing shots that people long remember.

I loved HOSTILES.  It easily hearkens back to the classic westerns of yesteryear, films like STAGECOACH (1939), THE SEARCHERS (1956),  and Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (1992). Yet it also possesses a dark edge that makes it every bit as gripping as a contemporary thriller.

You’ll easily understand why this one is called HOSTILES, an understanding that won’t stop you from enjoying this extremely satisfying film.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Movies of 2016

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La La Land (2016)Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016

 

Here’s a look at my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2016.  Of course, while I do see a lot of movies— 58 this year, and that’s just theatrical releases—  I’m not able to see every movie that comes out, and so this list is limited to only those movies I have seen.

We’ll start with #10 and count down to #1:

 

10. THE INFILTRATOR

infiltrator-poster

Excellent performance by Bryan Cranston powers this crime drama which tells the true story of how U. S. Customs Official Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover to take down a  Columbian drug lord.

 

9. THE JUNGLE BOOK

Loved this remake of Disney’s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), and I’m a huge fan of that original 1967 animated classic.  Special effects here were amazing, and I really liked how director Jon Favreau made this family friendly film a serious hard-hitting adventure.

 

8. DEADPOOL

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The role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  Sure, this vulgar, violent tale isn’t for everybody, but the humor is spot-on.  My second favorite superhero movie of the year. Best part is it is so unlike other traditional superhero movies.

 

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016.  Plays much more like THE AVENGERS 2.5, rhis exciting tale pits Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and the rift between these two friends comes off as real and believable, something that the similarly themed BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed miserably at.  The scenes with newcomer Tom Holland as Spider-Man are off-the-charts good.

 

6. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

edge_of_seventeen

Hilarious comedy-drama starring Hailee Steinfeld as a seventeen year-old dealing with life as a teenager.  Things get complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.  Topnotch script and direction by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

 

Now we get down to my picks for the Top 5 movies of 2016:

5. HANDS OF STONE

hands-of-stone

Critics panned this movie, but I absolutely loved this boxing pic about boxing champ Roberto Durant.  Edgar Ramirez  gives a spirited performance as Roberto Durant, and he’s supported by a fine cast which includes Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, and Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.  Excellent movie, much better than critics gave it credit for, although admittedly I am a sucker for boxing movies.

 

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER

hell-or-high-water-poster

Easily could be my pick for the best movie of the year, this impeccably made crime drama follows a Texas crime spree by two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) with an old Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail.  Features fantastic peformances by the three leads.  Jeff Bridges is amazing as always, and the same can be said of Ben Foster, and it’s also fun to see Chris Pine get to do a whole lot more than when he plays Captain Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK movies.  Riveting direction by David Mackenzie, and a phenomenal thought-provoking script by one of my favorite screen writers working today, Taylor Sheridan.

 

3. SULLY

Easily the most efficient film of the year, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks, and directed by Clint Eastwood, clocks in at a brisk 96 minutes, and not a minute is wasted.  It tells the emotionally riveting true tale of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” and his decision to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.  It’s an amazing story because all the passengers on the plane survived, and the film makes things even more compelling as it follows the subsequent investigation by officials who questioned Sully’s decision to land in the water in the first place.  SULLY features another remarkable performance by Tom Hanks, and yet another superb directorial effort by Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood is 86 years old, and yet SULLY plays with as much energy, oomph, and emotion as if directed by someone half that age.  I left the theater incredibly impressed.

 

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

manchester-by-the-sea-poster

This film could also have been my number one pick of the year.  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a finely acted drama, led by two powerhouse performances by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, about a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation as he finds himself having to care fo for his deceased brother’s sixteen year-old son.  His life in a shambles due to an earlier traumatic event, Lee knows he’s not the man for the job, but since there is no on else, he pushes himself to live up to his brother’s wishes and care for his nephew. Atmospheric direction by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, with a script that is as honest and believable as they come.

And now, for my pick for the Number 1 movie of 2016:

 

 

  1. LA LA LAND

la_la_land_poster

My pick for the Best Movie of 2016 also happened to be the last movie I saw in 2016, LA LA LAND.  What a fabulous way to end the calendar year!  LA LA LAND is an absolutely wonderful movie.

I  loved the energy writer/director Damien Chazelle brings to this one.  The opening dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway dazzles, and the film never looks back.  Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career to date, imbuing her struggling actress character Mia with so much raw emotion and quirky pizzazz she’s one of the liveliest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long while. Ryan Gosling is just as good as jazz musician Sebastian in this uplifting almost magical musical which follows Mia and Sebastian through a romance in which they help each other achieve their artistic dreams before reality ultimately sets in, forcing them to make decisions which affect their future.  A remarkable movie and genuine crowd pleaser.

Hands down, LA LA LAND is the Best Movie I saw in 2016.

Okay, that about wraps things up for today.  Thanks for joining me in 2016, and here’s to another fine year of movies in 2017!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) – Superior Movie Might Be Year’s Best

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hell-or-high-water poster

Taylor Sheridan is quickly becoming one of my favorite screenwriters working today.

He wrote SICARIO (2015), which was my favorite movie of the year last year.  And now he’s followed that sensational film up with another, HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016).  Sheridan is also an accomplished actor.  Among his acting credits, he played Deputy Chief Hale during the first couple of seasons of SONS OF ANARCHY.

HELL OR HIGH WATER tells two separate stories which run parallel to each other until they converge during the film’s conclusion.

Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) are on a bank robbing spree in Texas.  No, this isn’t the Old West, but present day where the economy is so bad that the locals are actually happy these guys are robbing banks, since the banks are the ones which are robbing the people of their livelihood.

Meanwhile, Texas Marshall Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is days away from retirement. He catches wind of the robberies, and while his Native American partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) thinks Hamilton is only interested because he wants to go out with a bang, to find one last case to work on to delay his retirement, the truth is, Hamilton is intrigued because he sniffs out a plan that is a step above the crimes he usually comes in contact with.  There’s something more going on here than just a string of small time robberies.

And that’s because while big brother Tanner is an ex-con and a hothead, the bank robbing scheme is not his idea.  It’s his younger brother Toby’s, and it involves paying off the reverse mortgage on his recently deceased mother’s property, property the bank is only too happy to confiscate.  It also involves being able to leave his two sons something, something that he never had.

As Toby says at one point in the movie, poverty is like an inherited disease.  You’re born into it.  Your parents are born into it, they pass it on to you, and you in turn pass it on to your children.  Tanner says that’s not going to happen to his kids.

So, as Toby and Tanner continue their meticulous spree, stealing only small amounts of money to keep off the fed’s radar, Hamilton continues his pursuit, trusting his gut that he’s got these guys figured out, and that he knows where they will strike next.  It’s a perfect set-up to a suspenseful and fully satisfying conclusion.

There are so many good things about HELL OR HIGH WATER.

The best part, to be sure, is the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.  It covers a lot of ground and contains many poignant moments.  The theme is clear:  the American dream is dying, and the culprit is big money and the banks who control it.

Hamilton’s partner Alberto says it point blank, telling Hamilton that 150 years ago the land was stolen from his people by Hamilton’s people, and now it’s being stolen again, but this time the victims are Hamilton’s people, and the thieves are the banks.

There are many other fine moments as well.  When Hamilton requests the $200 tip Toby left a diner waitress because it’s evidence, the waitress refuses to give it to him, scolding him, saying that he’ll need a warrant to take away the money from her, money that she needs to pay her mortgage to keep a roof over her daughter’s head.

Earlier in that same diner, Toby wonders why his brother doesn’t seem to think they’ll get away with it, to which Tanner answers that he’s never known anyone to get away with anything, a hint that the crazy ex-con isn’t above some planning of his own.

Another time, Toby takes his estranged teen son aside and tells him how much he cares for him, and that he doesn’t want him and his brother to turn out like Toby and Tanner.  He then offers his son a beer, to which the teen replies, “You say you don’t want me to be like you, and then you offer me a beer.  Which one is it?”

The screenplay is deep and resonates on all levels.

The performances are all first rate.

Chris Pine is excellent here as Toby, and it’s fun to see him deliver a much more nuanced and satisfying performance than his Captain Kirk portrayals in the current STAR TREK reboots.  It gives Pine a chance to show he’s more than just a handsome face.

I always like Ben Foster. He has wowed me in a bunch of movies, none more than his powerful performance in 3:10 TO YUMA (2007).  He’s terrific again here as the hothead brother Tanner.  It’s the type of role Foster can play in his sleep, yet I never get tired of watching him.  It’s funny because the Jason Statham actioner sequel MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION (2016) also opened this weekend, and Foster co-starred with Statham in the first film THE MECHANIC (2011).  He was one of the best parts of that first movie, and Statham sure could have used Foster’s presence in the sequel, which was pretty dreadful.

Hell-or-High-Water-Movie

Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Pine in  HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016).

Even better than Pine and Foster, is Jeff Bridges as Marshall Marcus Hamilton.  As played by Bridges, Hamilton is old, slow, and days from retiring, but he hasn’t lost a step.  Bridges makes what could have been an annoying old fart, a man who is constantly making ethnically charged jokes at his partner’s expense, into a compelling, believable, and likeable  character.  It’s fun to watch Bridges, because as he’s gotten older, his performances have gotten better.  He’s always been good, but these days, as he’s in his 60s, he’s really good.

Director David Mackenzie also does a fine job at the helm.  He captures the feel of economically strained Texas.  On more than one occasion, folks say they’re glad these guys are robbing the banks, which they see as the real villains in their lives.  He also captures life in Texas.  Several times during their robberies, Toby and Tanner encounter men with guns who are quick to shoot at them.  One point, a large group of these men jump into their pick-up trucks, form a “posse,” and head off in hot pursuit of the bank robbers.  Who said this isn’t the Old West?

Another time, Marcus and Alberto come across some cowhands who are driving pathetic looking cattle away from a large brush fire.  One cowhand remarks, “It’s the 21st century and I’m doing this!  I can’t believe this is what I have to offer my kids!”

In a way, what this movie captures best is the feeling that here in the 21st century we have taken a step backwards.  The mantra that life is better for the next generation doesn’t seem to exist anymore.  And the villains, the reason that life isn’t better than it was, is big money and big banks.

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a superior movie.  It’s that rare film where everything works.

As such, it just might be the best movie of the year.

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YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE MECHANIC (2011) Decent Jason Statham Movie

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The Mechanic posterBlu-Ray Review:  THE MECHANIC (2011)

By

Michael Arruda

Okay, I admit, I’ve become a fan of Jason Statham, and so it’s possible I may like his movies more than the average moviegoer.  I like Statham because he’s a convincing tough guy hero, and I believe it when he wipes out more than one bad guy at the same time.

That being said, THE MECHANIC (2011), a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name, is just OK.  While it certainly showcases Statham’s talents, at the end of the day, it’s nothing special.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.  I did.

In this new version of THE MECHANIC, which I missed when it opened in theaters and only recently caught up with on Blu-Ray, Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a hit man, or “mechanic” who works for a secret organization that employs him and others like him to kill people.  When the organization orders Bishop to kill his mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), Bishop seeks a meeting with his boss Dean (Tony Goldwyn) to verify this information. Dean explains to Bishop that Harry had betrayed the organization and was responsible for the death of several of their agents.  As a result, he’s become a liability and needs to be eliminated.

Ever the professional, Bishop carries out his mission and kills his friend Harry.  Afterwards, Bishop reaches out to Harry’s estranged son Steve (Ben Foster), who at first wants nothing from his deceased dad’s friend, but later changes his mind and expresses an interest in doing what Bishop does.  Steve wants Bishop to teach him the business, but Bishop tells him no.

But then for some reason— guilt, perhaps? — Bishop changes his mind and takes Ben under his wing and trains him in the fine art of being an assassin.  As the two men work together, they both make realizations.  Bishop discovers information that contradicts Dean’s story that Harry was a traitor, while Steve discovers the truth about who murdered his father, setting up an ending that sadly is all too predictable.

I enjoyed both Jason Statham and Ben Foster in this movie. Statham does what he does best, which is act tough and kill people without batting an eye, and looking believable every second he does it.  While some may complain that Statham keeps playing the same guy in his movies, I like his persona and have no problem with it.  It’s what countless action stars have done before him, from John Wayne to Sylvester Stallone.

But as good as Statham is, it’s Ben Foster who delivers the best performance in the movie.  As Steve McKenna, he’s not just some young kid emotionally distraught over the murder of his dad.  He’s a hothead, a psycho in the making, and the more interesting thing here is these traits don’t get in the way of his being an efficient assassin.  They make him better.

And this brings me to one of the things I didn’t like about THE MECHANIC.  I didn’t quite buy the relationship between Statham’s Arthur Bishop and Foster’s Steve McKenna.  Bishop is supposed to be mentoring this guy, and sure, he does teach him the tools of the trade, helping him to become a professional hit man, but because Foster’s performance is so riveting, I just didn’t buy into Steve as a guy who needed that much mentoring.  He seems pretty confident and deadly on his own without any help from Bishop.

To me, Foster should have been on equal footing with Statham throughout this movie, and the two should have been adversaries.  I would have preferred a story pitting these two guys against each other.

THE MECHANIC is the beneficiary of two fine performances by Jason Statham and Ben Foster.  I like Foster a lot, and this is yet another in a growing line of his notable movie performances, which include 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), and PANDORUM (2009).

In his brief screen time, Donald Sutherland adds some seniority to the film, and his Harry McKenna is an interesting character, one I wish had been in the movie more.

On the other hand, Tony Goldwyn as Dean makes for a rather flat villain.  He gets to say a few threatening lines here and there, but he doesn’t really get to do a whole lot.  As a result, THE MECHANIC really lacks a main villain.  Goldwyn was more effective as the dad in the remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009).

THE MECHANIC was directed by Simon West, who also directed THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012), a film I enjoyed much more than THE MECHANIC.

Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino wrote the screenplay.  Wenk also wrote THE EXPENDABLES 2, while Carlino wrote the original THE MECHANIC with Charles Bronson.

The story here is pretty standard.  From the get-go, you know that young Steve is going to discover that Bishop murdered his father, and you know that he’s going to be none too happy about it.  It’s not too difficult to figure out where the story is headed, and so there’s not much suspense involved here.  And I must say that the payoff at the end is nothing to write home about.

However, one part of the story I liked is the way Statham’s Bishop goes about killing his targets. He studies the various ways people die naturally, and so many of his hits are made to look like a natural death, to avoid any suspicion.  Bishop is a very shrewd assassin and is quite the interesting character.

There are a couple of cool scenes in the movie, like when Steve takes down his target, shunning Bishop’s expert advice, yet getting the job done anyway.  The brutal fight between Steve and the much larger man he’s been contracted to kill is one of the highlights of the movie.  But there simply aren’t enough scenes like this in the film.

Yet, I liked THE MECHANIC, for the simple reason that I enjoyed watching both Jason Statham and Ben Foster.   Sometimes, excellent performances in an average move are enough to save it.  Such is the case with THE MECHANIC.

For Statham fans, this just might be enough.

—END—