Hell Or High Water – Finally a movie for adults

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This has been a long summer of disappointing super hero movies and so on.  Finally, in August, we get a movie for adults.  A nearly perfect movie, in fact.  Hell or High Water has a 98 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and near universal acclaim from the top critics.  And with good reason.  From the very first moments, you’re sucked right in.

Chris Pine (Toby) and Ben Foster (Tanner) are brothers.  They rob a small bank in a beaten down little Texas town in the morning right as the bank is being opened.  But strangely, they only want the loose money in the drawer, and have no interest in bundled money or opening the main safe.

The brothers drive back to a farm and bury the car in a pit dug by a backhoe.  While the robbery seems amateurish, this is obviously carefully planned.  And they hit more small bank branches.  Tanner (Foster) is the more impulsive brother and we learn that he’s recently come out of prison.  Their mother has died, leaving the land to the two brothers.

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Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger about to retire.  His deputy is Alberto (Gil Birmingham), half Comanche and half of Mexican heritage.  Jeff Bridges was brilliant in this.  He’s old and crotchety, not looking forward to retirement at all.  The robbers aren’t stealing enough money to interest the FBI, but Marcus is intrigued with the puzzle of the multiple robberies, and takes his deputy on the road to track them down.

Bridges as Marcus constantly teases and torments his deputy Alberto as they’re driving and as they stay overnight in motels.  He reminded me so much of my elderly uncles from Oklahoma and Missouri.  Not malicious, but decidedly not politically correct, and not realizing when the racist “jokes” can really hurt deeply.  This is Alberto’s boss, and his long time friend, but Marcus can be a bit much to take at times.

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Ben Foster as Tanner is the wild card.  He makes some impulsive decisions that escalate matters considerably.  Chris Pine was so fantastic in this.  His pretty boy looks led to roles like Princess Diaries 2 and Prince Charming himself in Into The Woods (he was so good in that!).  But I think, at heart, like Brad Pitt, he really wants the character roles.

I won’t spoiler any more of the plan, but Chris Pine is playing a divorced father of two sons.  Bridges as the Texas Ranger figures the robberies are to get enough money for a particular goal.  He just can’t figure out for what.  There’s a fantastic scene where Pine and Bridges go head to head towards the end.

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Can’t recommend this film highly enough.  It’s a caper movie crossed with a Western.  Bridges, Foster and Pine at the top of their acting games.  I hope Jeff Bridges gets a supporting Oscar nomination for this one.  He’s that great.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Chris Pine also had a really interesting part in the post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah with Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  It was at Sundance last year, and it’s worth a watch. It’s included with Amazon Prime Video currently.

 

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Jason Bourne – an enjoyable timepass

 

bourne-new-promoI’m a huge Matt Damon fan.  Have been since Good Will Hunting.  I’ve seen all the Bourne films, and Jason Bourne is a decent sequel.  I even have a family connection to Jason Bourne — the character is supposed to have been born in Nixa, Missouri which is my dad’s hometown.

Matt Damon wouldn’t return to the franchise unless director Paul Greengrass also returned.  It’s just fun to see their partnership again.  The first film was so groundbreaking with the shaky handheld camera visceral action scenes.

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Evidently Jason Bourne has been earning a living doing illegal boxing matches.  No complaints here for the excuse for a shirtless scene.

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Julia Stiles is back, separated from the CIA and hacking into their files to help Bourne.  I appreciated that they introduced us to a new female cyber CIA expert played by Oscar winner Alica Virkander.  Virkander had an amazing 2015 with Ex Machina, which I loved, and The Danish Girl.  She should have won the Oscar for Ex Machina, but I’m just glad she won, becaue she’s fantastic.  So, happy for her that she gets to do a fun action movie, too.  Plus, she’s taking over as the next Lara Croft in 2018.

Bourne has two main enemies in the film, Tommy Lee Jones (he’s so craggy looking!) as the head of the CIA and the always great Vincent Cassel as the assassin out to get him.

There’s just not that much there to the plot.  Bourne is trying to find just a bit more about his past, and the CIA is convinced he’s out to get them.  The interesting little twist to the movie that updates it from the book is that there’s a tech company, a stand-in for Google or Facebook and Riz Ahmed plays the head of the company, secretly in cahoots with the CIA.  There’s discussion of Snowden, and privacy rights online.

The only quibble I have with Greengrass’s direction of the film is the constant shaky motion of the camera.  I love it in the action scenes.  It makes me feel like I’m right there feeling the impact.  But in some quieter scenes when Damon is looking at a computer or what have you, I want the camera to not be shaking around.  (Yes, I’m old.  Get off my lawn.)

It’s an enjoyable timepass of a movie, but my sons had zero interest in seeing it.  I have the nostalgia of the other movies, but they don’t.   It’s not a movie you have to run to catch in theaters.  Worth catching on cable or renting.

Three and a half stars out of five

Melissa McCarthy is a Comedy Goddess, and Spy is a laugh riot

When Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy team up, comedy magic happens.  Bridesmaids was comedy gold.  And they’ve even brought back Rose Byrne as Melissa’s foil in Spy, as Rahna Boyanov.

The fun begins with the opening credits which spoof every James Bond film, both in look and in the music.  Melissa plays Susan Cooper, who works in the CIA basement as the the voice in the ear of super spy Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law.  The film works so well, because it has great action scenes spiked with incredibly funny laughs.  So, Susan is the ultimate Miss MoneyPenny, in love with her Bradley Fine, of course, working as his analyst as well as picking up his dry cleaning.  She hears him get shot by Rahna who gloats over killing Fine.

Rahna also boasts that she knows all the identities of the top CIA spies, so Alison Janney, the CIA director takes up Susan Cooper’s offer to go track Rahna down.  And this meeting is our introduction to Jason Statham as a hilarious parody of every action hero he’s ever played.  “I’ve swallowed enough microchips to shit a computer!”  He can’t believe that Alison Janney is sending Susan into the field and not him.

I loved, loved, loved Susan’s relationship with her best friend at work, the hilarious British actress Miranda Hart.

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Really, that was one of the key strengths of this movie.  All the relationships between the women.  Once Susan goes undercover, in one embarrassing cat lady type get up after another, she worms her way into Rahna’s company by claiming to be a bodyguard Rahna’s father hired.  And then Susan and Rahna trade insults at each other for the rest of the movie, but in a very affectionate joking way.  It was wonderful.  (Rahna’s hair is so big it’s almost a credited cast member by itself.)

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Of course Jason Statham doesn’t trust Susan to be competent, and follows her, but this again is another brilliant move by writer/directer Paul Feig.  Susan is extremely competent.  The male spies, one by one, screw up, and she saves the day at every turn.  There’s a big twist towards the end that I won’t spoiler.  It’s just a wonderful blend of great action with even better comedy.  All the actors involved looked like they had just a blast making this movie.  Highly recommend.  Four out of five stars.

Mark Harris Must Read Vulture article on the disrespect for Melissa McCarthy

This article in Vulture by Mark Harris on the persistent disrespect for Melissa McCarthy is a must read:

No other woman or man unaided by a franchise in the last five years has emerged from nowhere to become such a completely dependable movie star, appearing in one successful film after another and regularly creating product that turns a profit, while maintaining a successful foothold in TV as well.
So why are so many people eager to suggest it’s all a mirage?

 

Critics can like or dislike these movies and her work in them, but to survey them in toto and perceive uniformity feels like a willful refusal to see her at all, an insistence that the difference between her various performances matters less than the sameness of her strange determination to continue to be Melissa McCarthy while starring in movies. Is it because she looks so different than other movie stars that some people have convinced themselves she’s always the same?