Hell or High Water (2016)
After the election of President Trump, this film seems to touch on very real and poignant issues. Now, I have never been in Texas or in the Midwest, but director David Mackenzie paints a very depressing picture of a destitute countryside, and I am ready to believe that things are really like this. A place where you either get rich through oil, or you just shrink and wrinkle away in poverty. Native Americans have a symbolic role in this movie, as the “ordinary” Americans turn into another lost people.
Hell or High Water is about two brothers who resort to robbing banks to pay back their debts to the banks. All Tanner (Chris Pine) wants, is to give his kids a future. He enlists his crazy brother Toby’s help (Ben Foster) and is chased by sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges). A small story that deals with big themes. All the actors here are great; especially Ben Foster who is great in everything. Chris Pine plays a moody, dust-covered man who doesn’t enjoy what he needs to do, but Foster plays an unpredictable maniac. And still, the brotherly bond between them can be felt.
You could see this movie as a story in the vein of No Country for Old Men (2008), except that it is less innovative in its storytelling and less cryptic in its meaning. Nonetheless, it is a lean, well-directed film. Highly recommended for a tense action thriller and for some touching thematic material. Among the best films of the year.
War Dogs (2016)
War Dogs feels like an imitation of The Wolf of Wall Street. Why? Because it is about money, and crazy schemes, and cheating the system, and feeling high on success, and having crazy adventures. And it has Jonah Hill. Hill again really excels, as he did in The Wolf of Wall Street, but the character he plays is vastly different. This Jonah Hill is an irresponsible, antisocial jackass. He doesn’t seem that way at first. He just looks a bit intense, but there is something off about him. And as the story progresses it becomes clear that he is not to be trusted.
Miles Teller is fine, but his story is hard to believe. He is a deadbeat, but has the best and most amazing girlfriend in the world (Ana de Armas) who sticks with him through all his lying. The film loses some realism here. It is also filmed for dummies. We are frequently told by Teller in a voiceover what we are supposed to think and feel. During some scenes, you hear Teller’s voice telling us: “I couldn’t believe that we were actually doing this.”
In short, the film tries so hard to be edgy and cool that it comes off as try-hard. Still, it is great rollercoaster ride. Very entertaining and colorful, and Jonah Hill steals the show. The supporting cast is excellent as well, with a memorable side role for Bradley Cooper.
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
As far as Disney Classics go, Pete’s Dragon is relatively obscure. You can see this in the way this live-action film was marketed, released quickly, almost flopped financially and is already disappearing from memory while the world now eagerly waits for Beauty and the Beast. If a dragon roars in the woods but there is no one to hear it, does it really exist?
I’ve never seen such a dramatic story told in such a happy, jovial way. A kid loses his parents who die horribly in a car crash, leaving the kid alone in the forest. Then he finds a hidden monster and spends his days surviving with the creature as a lost child in the woods. But in the movie, all is laughter and upbeat fiddle music. The dragon is friendly because it is clumsy and has soft green fur. In fact, it is impossible not to make a comparison with the luck-dragon from The Neverending Story.
I don’t know. There is exactly zero dramatic tension in the film. It’s persistently gentle. Every opportunity for actual storytelling is undermined by something, be it a saccharine guitar song or a cutesy moment. It looked beautiful but there was no content to the film. Blow against the screen and the film would blow away. It was very typical and predictable in how the characters kept going on about “going on an adventure” and “believing in invisible things” and “Home where you belong”. I found no magic here, but uninspired dialogue and writers using a story template.