Hell Or High Water
Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity and brief sexuality
Wily Texas Ranger Tracks Sibling Bank Robbers In Captivating Cat-And-Mouse Crime Thriller
Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are siblings but about as different as night and day. The former is impulsive, reckless and sociopathic, a combination which helps explain why he’s spent a long stretch in prison for a violent crime. By comparison, his younger brother is a relatively stable, sensitive and chivalrous soul.
While Tanner was behind bars, divorced Toby has divided his time between raising his two sons (John Paul Howard and Christopher W. Garcia) and caring for his terminally ill mother. So, it’s no surprise that upon his mom’s recent demise, she cut that ne’er-do-well black sheep of the family out of her will entirely, leaving her sizable estate to her only honorable offspring.
Unfortunately, a shady loan officer (Richard Christie) had duped her into taking a reverse mortgage on her cattle ranch for a pittance. Consequently, a predatory lending institution is holding a lien on land which Toby has just learned is sitting atop a fortune in untapped oil reserves. But unless the note is paid off by Friday, Texas Midlands bank will follow through on its threat to foreclose, “Come Hell or High Water.”
Toby wants to save the property and sign it over to his boys. Trouble is, he can’t raise the cash. The dilemma has him considering breaking the law for the first time in his life.
Enlisting the assistance of his just-paroled brother, he hatches a plan to rob Texas Midlands branches until they’ve raised the amount needed to retire the debt. The two proceed to embark on a spree aimed solely at the avaricious institution that had taken advantage of their very vulnerable mom.
However, the heists soon come to the attention of the Texas Rangers, and the case is assigned to Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) a wily old veteran weeks away from retirement. It’s not long before he and his half-breed Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham) are on the pair’s trail.
Thus unfolds Hell Or High Water, a captivating, cat-and-mouse crime thriller directed by Brit David Mackenzie (Starred Up). Between Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) engaging, character-driven script and a plethora of powerful performances by Jeff Bridges and company, this bona fide sleeper would be generating tons of Oscar buzz if it hadn’t been released in the dog days of August.
A neo-noir masterpiece not to be missed!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Faithful Remake Of Oscar-Winning Classic Revisits Biblical Themes And Breakneck Chariot Race
It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history. But that’s just what we have in Ben-Hur, a fairly-faithful version of the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston.
The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ, a novel published in 1880 which quickly surpassed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best-selling American novel of all time. The book’s author was Lew Wallace, a Civil War General who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh.
His inspirational tale of redemption’s success was credited to the fact that its timely themes of family, freedom and patriotism helped unify a citizenry torn asunder by years of war and then Reconstruction. Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners, because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners, encouraging resolution via reconciliation rather than revenge.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), this incarnation of Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character, although the supposed star is easily overshadowed by the film’s narrator, Morgan Freeman, who enjoys a very expanded role as Ilderiim, a wealthy Nubian sheik.
The story is set in Jerusalem in the time of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). As the film unfolds, we find Prince Judah Ben-Hur living in the lap of luxury with his mother (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia) and adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), an orphan taken in as a child by the altruistic noble clan. Judah also has a love interest, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), though her lowly slave status makes their marriage unlikely.
The plot thickens when the fully-grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly fingers the Ben-Hur family for an act of treason perpetrated by Gestas (Moises Arias), one of the thieves crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus. Next thing you know, the family is separated and sold into slavery, and Judah ends up in chains, rowing in the galley of a warship.
Eventually, he gains his freedom, and starts searching for Esther, his sister and mom. Along the way, he finds religion and is afforded an opportunity to even the score with Massala in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. In this regard, he’s lucky to have wily old Ilderim in his corner, the best darn horse whisperer/charioteer trainer this side of the Tiber.
Distracting CGI mob scenes and heavy-handed sermonizing aside, Ben-Hur 2016 is nevertheless a very entertaining variation on the original that’s well-worth the investment.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 124 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening August 19, 2016
Collide (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality and drug use) Action thriller about a couple of American tourists (Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones) backpacking across Europe who end up on the run from drug smugglers in Germany. With Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley and Nadia Hilker.
Kubo And The Two Strings (PG for action, mature themes, scary images and peril) Animated fantasy, set in ancient Japan, about a young boy (Art Parkinson) who must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his fallen samurai father to defeat an inadvertently-revived, evil spirit with a vengeful agenda. Voice cast includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and George Takei.
War Dogs (R for drug use, sexual references and pervasive profanity) Fact-based tale about a couple of young businessmen (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who get more than they bargained for after landing a $300 million contract to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan. With Ana de Armas, Barry Livingston and Bradley Cooper.
Billionaire Ransom (Unrated) Survival saga set on a remote island where a boot camp for spoiled-rotten rich kids is taken hostage by a gang of kidnappers. With Jeremy Sumpter, Phoebe Tonkin, Sebastian Koch and Ashley Walters.
Imperium (R for pervasive profanity) Crime thriller about an idealistic FBI agent (Daniel Radcliffe) who goes undercover to infiltrate a radical, white supremacist group. Cast includes Toni Collette, Tracy Letts and Sam Trammell.
Kampai: For The Love Of Sake (Unrated) Foodie documentary exploring the critical contribution of rice wine to Japanese cuisine. With commentary by sake experts John Gauntner, Philip Harper and Kosuke Kuji. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)
Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World (PG-13 for mature themes and brief profanity) Cyber documentary examining the impact of the internet on humanity. Featuring commentary by Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Kevin Mitnick and Lucianne Walkowicz.
Making A Killing: Guns, Greed And The NRA (Unrated) Constitutional law documentary asserting that the National Rifle Association lobbies to prevent the passage of sensible gun legislation more for the sake of profit than to protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Mia Madre (R for profanity) Bittersweet dramedy, set in Rome, revolving around a film director’s (Margherita Buy) attempt to care for her terminally-ill mother (Giulia Lazzarini) while shooting a movie with a disappointing leading man (John Turturro). With writer/director Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini and Stefano Abbati. (In English, Italian and French with subtitles)
Morris From America (R for sexuality, brief nudity, teen drug use and partying, and pervasive profanity) Markees Christmas plays the title character in this coming-of-age comedy about a 13-year-old, African-American’s adjustment to life in Germany after his father (Craig Robinson) takes a job in Heidelberg as a pro soccer coach. With Carla Juri, Lina Keller and Jakub Gierszal. (In English and German with subtitles)
The People Vs. Fritz Bauer (R for sexuality) Historical drama, set in 1957, revolving around the German Attorney General (Burghart Klauszner) who brought Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (Michael Schenk) to justice. With Rudiger Klink, Andrej Kamnsky and Jorg Schuttauf. (In English, German, Yiddish and Spanish with subtitles)
Spaceman (R for drug use and pervasive profanity) Josh Duhamel handles the title role in this biopic chronicling the life after baseball of eccentric Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee. Cast includes Ernie Hudson, W. Earl Brown and Sterling K. Brown.
A Tale Of Love And Darkness (PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing, violent images) Natalie Portman wrote, directed and stars in this adaptation of Amos Oz’s (Amir Tessler) memoir about growing up Jewish in Jerusalem prior to Israeli statehood. With Shira Haas, Ohad Knoller and Makram Khoury). (In Hebrew with subtitles)