Tag Archives: Ben Foster

Hell or High Water (2016)

Even months before I even knew what it was about or who was in it, I had heard about some movie called Hell or High Water. I don’t think it even got a cinematic release where I’m based, but the praise was fairly universal.

And so, just a few days before it was named one of the 9 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars later this month, I finally got to watch it — and I absolutely concur: Hell or High Water a brilliant film, completely different to what I expected but an authentic, immersive experience fueled by high-octane performances, tense action and a surprising amount of depth and insight into today’s America.

I went into the film knowing virtually nothing about it except that it’s regarded as a “modern western”. Set in West Texas, the film tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who turn to robbing banks. Jeff Bridges plays a Texas Ranger hot on their heels as he tries to piece together their patterns and the reasons behind their intense crime spree.

Hell or High Water is directed by David McKenzie (Young Adam, Perfect Sense) and written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), and if you’ve seen any of their past films you’ll be able to get a decent sense of the tone and pacing. Granted, westerns are not my favourite genre, and the rhythm of the film is more contemplative than frenetic, with long segments of pure dialogue.

However, there is just something magnetic about how the film has been executed. The cinematography is stunning and the depiction of the desolate landscapes and foreclosing ranches is sobering. The troubled characters come across as genuine and the sharp dialogue they get to spew out is some of the best of the year — insightful, humorous and cutting. Actually, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Hell or High Water probably explains Donald Trump’s election victory better than any other fictional film released in 2016.

The performances are wonderful. Chris Pine isn’t known for his acting, though his turn as the more level-headed of the two brothers is perhaps the best performance of his career to date. Jeff Bridges has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, though for me, the guy most deserving of recognition is Ben Foster (either as Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor), who plays the crazy, unpredictable brother. His presence is so intense and managed to keep me at the edge of my seat because he’s just so unpredictable.

Hell or High Water is also a film that shows you don’t need a huge budget or special effects to crank out spectacular action sequences filled with tension and impact. Despite a budget of just US$12 million, McKenzie makes the most of the landscape and creative ideas to infuse the action scenes with gripping thrills. Some moments actually reminded me of the action in the final season of Breaking Bad. It’s that good.

Some viewers might find the pace a little on the slow slide, though my only complaint is that there’s too much mumbling in the dialogue. I thought it was just be Jeff Bridges because we’ve heard it before, but both Pine and Foster do their fair share of it too. Apart from that, Hell or High Water is a sublime cinematic experience that ticks all the right boxes — an intriguing plot, well-rounded characters, great dialogue, compelling action and thought-provoking drama. Definitely check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Warcraft (2016)

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I must admit, Warcraft was my least anticipated major blockbuster of 2016, with the possible exception of Suicide Squad (I’ll watch that too, but expectations cannot be lower). Having never played the popular video game on which the film is based, or with any intention of ever doing so, it seemed somewhat destined to be yet another disappointing video game adaptation, following in the footsteps of the likes of Doom, Street Fighter, and Prince of Persia.

Having said that, director Duncan Jones is quite a visionary filmmaker, and many were apparently quite optimistic that Warcraft would buck the trend. However, the trailers did not instill much confidence in me — giant, muscular creatures in large-scale battle scenes with humans and magicians, and loads and loads of CGI-heavy special affects. It was pretty much just Hollywood telling the same old story.

It was with such a mindset that I went to see Warcraft, and I have to say that I came out of it very pleasantly surprised. There are plenty of flaws with it, some impossible to overcome given the circumstances, but on the whole it was about as much as I could have expected from a fantasy film of this nature.

I don’t want to get into the plot because it’s not really that important in the scheme of things, but I guess it should come as no surprise that there are humans, orcs, elves, dwarves and so forth -– but mainly humans and orcs –- who all all live in a magical realm with mythical creatures, magic powers, evil warlocks, master wizards and apprentice mages. It’s about fighting for your people and your tribe, honour and loyalty, family and friends and all that shit. It’s more less your typical RPG game.

Now, if you can get past the first stage, which is to take this kind of video-gamey premise seriously, then the rest of the film has a decent chance. Mind you, this does not have the gritty realism of something like say Game of Thrones — this is legitimate high fantasy, where you can actually see the light shooting out of magicians hands and souls being literally sucked out of bodies. 

When you take into account just what a difficult task this was for director Duncan Jones to get right, you start to appreciate the great job he did with this movie. While the storyline is indeed cliched, the storytelling is, for the most part, well done. Instead of making the orcs just brainless monsters hell bent on killing humans for no reason, Jones makes proper characters with proper character development. It’s not quite a two-sides-to-the-story kind of scenario, where the humans characters and orc characters are genuinely on an equal footing (hint: the humans still get more love), it’s at least good to see them apply a less conventional approach.

The cast is also really solid. On the human size, you’ve got Aussie Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper and Ben Foster, while on the orc side there’s Toby Kebbel (he will always be Koba to me) and Daniel Wu (I was shocked when I discovered he’s in it), and in between there’s Paula Patton, looking a little on the green side. None of these names are A-listers, but they’re all quality performers who bring gravitas to their respective roles. 

As for the action, it’s of course predominantly CGI, and to be honest it’s really nothing we haven’t seen before in terms of scale, creativity or choreography. What it does do well is the depiction of magic, which is rarely done well on film, and building up some character relationships so that we will care about the outcome of the battles and duels.

So absolutely, Jones should be commended for doing everything he could to make Warcraft the “great” film he tried to make. If you manage to immerse yourself in the story (like my wife, who said she really enjoyed it), you’ll likely think the film is a success. For me, on the other hand, there were elements I liked and places where I thought the film did a great job with, but I couldn’t get into the story or care for the characters as much as like I hoped I would. It really comes down to it being virtually impossible to introduce a whole new realm with all these different races and conflicts, not to mention focusing on both sides of the war, in a movie barely over 2 hours long. If this were a TV series where you have 10 hours to play with, then maybe you could achieve all these things. But given the time constraints and the need to devote a good chunk of that time to battle scenes, you’re going to have scenes and dialogue of obvious and annoying exposition cramming. 

Could they have reduced the number of characters and shifted the balance from CGI battles to more character and relationship development? Of course they could have. But as a one-shot opportunity to make a successful blockbuster for which sequels are no certainty, it would have been too risky an approach for any studio to take. It’s easy for critics to dismiss the cliched aspects of the movie, but sometimes commercial realities dictate these things.

The same goes for the CGI, which was limited by the technology and budget. As a result, it was a little patchy — photorealistic at times and like an Xbox cutscene at others. Perhaps part of it is also the way the orcs have been designed — they just don’t look like creatures I could genuinely believe, a feeling that is heightened whenever I see Paula Patton’s half-orc, half-human character, who looks basically like a human in green paint with two little tusks coming out the bottom of her mouth. It’s ridiculous.

Despite all these flaws, I still appreciate and admire the film Warcraft had set out to be. It’s not quite the “great” film Jones had dreamed of or the saviour of all video-game adaptation movies (that baton has now been passed on to Assbender in Assassin’s Creed), but as a high fantasy film with all the hard-to-swallow things that come with it, Warcraft is not bad at all. If you see it with an open mind, you might agree too.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Lone Survivor (2013)

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Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, about how a team of Navy SEALS tasked to capture a Taliban leader end up fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. I was curious about the film because it features a very stellar cast headed by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film, along with Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, John Carter), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Ben Foster and Eric Bana. On the other hand, it’s directed by Peter Berg, who has had a very mixed record with previous efforts such as The Kingdom, Hancock and Battleship.

War movies based on true stories are always at risk of becoming glamorized or glorified into recruitment propaganda films, like 2012’s Act of Valor, which was a noble effort and solid from an action perspective but too Team America for my liking. Lone Survivor is better than that, though I still had a lot of problems with it.

For starters, the title of the film is incredibly stupid. I know it’s based on the nonfictionbook of the same name, but couldn’t they have come up with something that’s a bit less of a spoiler? Behind Enemy Lines is already taken, but how about something as simple as Operation Red Wings? Even worse than knowing that only one of the four SEALS survive is that you find out which of the four survives in the film’s very first scene (no prizes for guessing who it is). What it means is that you end up watching the movie expecting three of the SEALS to die, and waiting for the surviving SEAL to be rescued, and that really saps a lot of the excitement and suspense out it.

The first half an hour or so of the film sets the stage by introducing us to the SEALS, showing us how heroic and badass they are by always pushing themselves to the limit without fear. It’s supposed to be building the characters so we get to care about them when they are in mortal danger, but instead those scenes feels more like hastily constructed fillers to pad the screen time to two hours. And consequently, apart from Marky Mark, we don’t really know much about the personalities of any of the other characters apart from a bit of perfunctory and cliched fluff (such as emails and calls home, the photos on the walls, etc).

The action sequences which take up the majority of the film are, I admit, very well executed and for the most part come across as authentic and realistic. The four SEALS take on a lot of heavy fire from Taliban soldiers in difficult terrain, and show just how incredibly skilled, tough, courageous and durable they are. The bone crunching sound effects really add to the visceral thrills and tension, though some of the scenes feel a little over the top, and after a while they start to get repetitive. There’s only so many times I want to see people jump from cliffs and roll down hills while smashing into a lot of things. If I want to see that I’ll just watch this scene from Hot Rod.

By the end of the film, however, the realisation of what the SEALS just went through began to dawn on me, and the final scenes ended up being surprisingly emotional. I don’t want to give away probably the only thing the film’s title hasn’t given away already, so I’ll just leave it there.

My conclusion? Great cast and a few effective and exciting action sequences, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression. Better than Act of Valor, but Zero Dark Thirty this is not.

3.25 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part I

I’ve been watching too many movies lately and I don’t have the time or energy to review them one by one…and hence, here is my ‘End of Year DVD Blitz’…Part I!

Do you remember when Jonah Hex seemed like a promising film?

Jonah Hex (2010)

 

I remember when I first saw the trailer for this comic adaptation starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and John Malkovich and thought it was going to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year.  And I waited and waited for its release until the entire film vanished in a puff of smoke and never made it Australian cinemas.  Somehow, Jonah Hex, a film that cost $47 million and featured three big stars, went straight to DVD.

After watching this fantasy western, I can see why.  Jonah Hex, the titular character, is a scarred hero who is after revenge and killing bad guys.  Megan Fox plays herself as a crackwhore.  Even John Malkovich couldn’t save this mess of a film, which was all over the place, confusing and unengaging.  There were some visually impressive elements, a few good ideas and several valiant attempts at action sequences, but on the whole Jonah Hex was an uneven failure, which is a shame considering how much promise it appeared to have.

2 stars out of 5

Lots of great posters for Pandorum, but this is my favourite

Pandorum (2009)

Here’s an underrated sci-fi horror that few may have heard of, but it’s a good one for hardcore fans.

Not an entirely original premise — Earth is running out of natural resources and send a colony of humans to the only Earth-like planet they’ve found in the galaxy.  But as usual, something goes wrong, and when Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid wake up from their hypersleep (or whatever it is), the ship has become a dangerous survival ground.

Pandorum works well as a dark, atmospheric and thrilling sci-fi action horror.  It’s entertaining, frightening and sickening, and it’s made stylishly, with good performances (including from German babe Antje Traue and MMA star Cung Le) and special effects all round.

Some might find it derivative or a bit ‘out there’ for them, but for me, it’s exactly the type of film that I can really get into and enjoy.

4 stars out of 5

The Japanese poster for this movie made it look fairly good

Tekken (2010)

The first ever game I got on my PS2 back in the day was Tekken.  I never thought it was a great game, but I was still intrigued when I heard that Americans had decided to make a film about it.  Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat — I don’t know what possessed me to watch this one, but I guess I deserved what I got in the end.

Tekken was horrible horrible.  Horrible.  It stars a British, half-Asian martial arts guy by the name of John Foo, who decides to enter  the ‘Iron Fist’ (in Japanese that’s ‘Tekken’) tournament for revenge.  His mother is one of the ladies from The Joy Luck Club (Tamlyn Tomita) and his love interest is the lovely Kelly Overton (mostly from TV), also a contestant in the tournament.  And one of the bros from Bros (Luke Goss) is his ‘sponsor’.

There was basically no plot, just a bunch of okay-choreographed fights and guys and girls looking pretty.  The script, seriously, was like a ninth grade school project.  The acting was awful, but I blame a lot of that on the dialogue.  Except for John Foo.  In a world where everyone spoke in American accents, including his mother, this guy couldn’t even make an effort to disguise his distinctive British bite.

No wonder Katsuhiro Harada, director of the video game series, tweeted that he thought the film was a piece of crap.

1 star out of 5

 

You're the loser

The Losers (2010)

Another comic book adaptation, one that didn’t look particularly interesting to me.  However, The Losers is fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than popcorn entertainment.  I read that the film drew comparisons to The A-Team, but I actually thought this was better.

Yes, it’s silly, over the top, and the characters take themselves way too seriously, but the action is good and the laughs are decent — plus there is one saving grace, which I will get to shortly.  The Losers stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana (Avatar) and Chris Evans (Push), and the absolute standout — Jason Patric, who is simply hilarious as the villain.  I haven’t seen Patric in such terrific form since that sauna scene from Your Friends and Neighbors, which I have taken the liberty of posting below.

The Losers is a slightly above average comic book action movie, but including the extra half-star just for Jason Patric, I’m gonna give it 3.5 stars out of 5

There’s going to be at least two more instalments in this DVD Blitz.  At least.  Stay tuned.  Anyway, here is Jason Patric from Your Friends and Neighbors.