Tag Archives: Ben Foster

Hell or High Water

“God I love West Texas.”

If I said to you that I’d just seen an awesome cowboy movie filled with bad guys you love, good guys you kind of hope aren’t successful in their pursuits, gunfights, bank robberies and beautiful scenic shots across the rolling hills of Texas, you’d think I was describing an old Eastwood or Wayne movie wouldn’t you?

But friends, I’m not. I’m talking about modern crime drama Hell or High Water, the latest film from Starred Up director David MacKenzie and Sicario (and large amount of Sons of Anarchy) writer Taylor Sheridan.

Not long after the death of their mother, broke divorcee Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) hatch a desperate plan to rob a string of banks to make enough money to save the ranch they are about to lose to said banks. Hoping to launder their proceeds through local casinos, pay off their debts and vanish off into the sunset, the brothers plan finds itself in serious danger of falling apart when Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) gets handed their case.

Desperate for some action before he retires, the grizzled Ranger and his partner Alberto Parker (native American-for-hire Gil Birmingham) trek across the state to chase the would-be cowboys. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues that will test the resolve of both the lawmen and the brothers.

No fannying about here today guys. No messing around with my words. Hell of High Water is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. I can honestly say I’ve not seen a crime drama as thoughtfully put together as this film since Michael Mann remade his own film into the epic Heat way back in 1995.

Now obviously that’s a big statement to make with no explanation, to compare this film to one of the most beloved crime dramas ever made, so allow me just a few lines won’t you? While it doesn’t have the star power – not quite – or the run time (clocking in at more than an hour less than the LA crime saga) Hell or High Water does have a pedigree behind the camera that could easily rival that of the 1995 thriller. Perfectly written and amazingly slow burning, this modern cowboy film balances itself brilliantly between time spent with our outlaw anti-heroes and our long-in-the-tooth cop. It implores the audience to ponder who we’d really like to see come out victorious come the credits, forcing us to truly wonder if there could ever be a winner here at all.

Continuing my comparison though, our leads bring career performances worthy of award recognition (OK, maybe not Oscars, although I’d love that. But maybe an MTV award or something). I don’t think I’ve ever praised a Chris Pine performance before, but here we get to see him do something completely different – and man is he great. His terrifically understated performance as the smarter of the brothers, trying to keep out of prison and rescue his family from a mountain of debt caused by the banks they are robbing, is mesmerising. More like this please, Mr Pine.

Similarly, Ben Foster’s ex-con is the brawn of the pair. The hot-headed bank robber keeps them on the edge of getting caught the entire time and while he thinks he’s doing the best for his brother, he just can’t see how dangerous his moves are. A brilliant performance from a man not entirely new to the Western genre. With the excellent Jeff Bridges wrapping up this trio of great performances, the Hollywood veteran brings a little bit of that lifelong experience to his role and gives a memorable performance as the old ranger, desperate for one last reason to unholster his pistol.

Which brings me to my final point really. Hell or High Water is a western, plain and simple. I know that the utterance of that word conjures up images of grizzled old men rustling cows, riding horses into town draped in long beaten up trench coats for a bit of a shoot out. But this film is proof, if you needed it, that the genre has evolved to something wholly modern. The times may have changed, but the story is without a doubt the same. Men struggling to make ends meet when their only viable skill isn’t in great demand anymore and turning to the outlaw life to keep food on the table. Lawmen chasing these men to hell and back to bring them to justice, hoping they see another day in this most dangerous of professions. All the tropes of the Western are here; and all brought up to date with modern ideologies.

The director makes no bones about sharing his thoughts on the state of the country. His issues with the dying industries of the Texas countryside or the second amendment are all out there and plain to see. But while his politics are brazen, it doesn’t detract from the film for one second.

Backing all this up with some splendid cinematography that captures the country and the mood perfectly, and a soundtrack that mixes a few old country songs with some dirty southern rock, this film really is the whole package.

Hell or High Water is, simply put, the purest Western movie I’ve seen in more than a decade and one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen in even longer. Tense, exhilarating and a real joy to watch; I fully expect this on a few top 10 lists at the end of the year.

Advertisements

Warcraft: The Beginning

warcraft

“A new warrior for the horde.”

May 2006, nerds across the world jizz in their pants as they hear that Blizzard have finally decided to sell the rights to undoubtedly their most profitable product, Warcraft.

Years and years of development hell and being on the brink of cancellation has haunted film and game fans to the point we’d all given up on ever seeing it hit the light of day.

Then, in 2013, cult director Duncan Jones (the man behind Moon and Source Code) announced he’d be taking on directorial duties and even I got a little bit excited for the seemingly imminent release of the fan favourite adaptation.

May 2016, I’m finally sitting in one of the UK’s earliest general release shows for the third video game adaptation is half as many months with those same fans, wearing the same spunk encrusted pants from ten years ago, having barely mustered up the will to turn their computers off and the energy to leave the house. I’m sat with these sad fools, hoping that the film I’m about to watch isn’t a massive bag of wank.

Disclaimer: I am a former Warcraft player. I gave up right around the point that Blizzard stopped supporting Warcraft III and instead focussed on their subscription based RPG. So while I may have once had some knowledge of the lore of this series, I have gone in as a film-fan – and not a fan of the series.

With their world dying and their race on the brink of extinction, the fearsome Orcs utilise the powerful magic of their sorcerer leader, Gul’dan, to open a portal to another world. Powered by dark magic that needs life to fuel it, the portal can only be opened long enough to allow the Orc’s best warriors through to the peaceful land of Azeroth. There, they will build a settlement and create another portal to bring the rest of their race through. As the Orc army start to cut a path through the lands they’ve invaded and collect prisoners to power their new portal, word gets to the leaders of Azeroth of the invasion.

With news of the invasion comes panic. As the rulers and commanders of the land mobilise against this unknown enemy, King Wrynn (along with his friend and advisor Lothar) plan to tackle the Orcs head on and try to purge them from their world before too much damage can be done.

Plans go sideways on both sides of the battle and as the plans of all parties are revealed, both the humans and Orc clan chief Durotan – along with a few of his smarter clansmen – realise that the best (and indeed only) way that this war ends well for anyone is to work together to try and find a solution to their troubles.

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin….

Warcraft isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be going in. That’s not to say it’s good; it’s pretty crap. But it has a few almost redeeming features that almost make it worth going to see. But unfortunately the bad points certainly heavily outweigh the good.

The film seems completely unfocused in its attempts to tell a story. The problem with having more than half a dozen “main” characters, all with their own story to tell and fighting for screen time means that no one really gets to have a decent crack at making me care about them. There’s no time to get invested in anyone’s predicament and no time to get to know anyone before your smash-cut to the next guy that wants to try for your attention.

And when you’ve got such a rich lore and such a well put together world as your source material, to not give it a chance to be on the big screen for us all to see is a real shame. Warcraft spends far too many of its opening minutes flicking between a whole butt-load of different locations, seemingly just to give the filmmakers an excuse to flash a bunch of in-game place names to prove that the guys making the film know what they’re talking about. “Please guys. Believe us. We have read a Warcraft wiki and the back of the game box. We can prove it.”

Almost as much of a travesty is just how much talent is wasted by this film. I’ve been a fan of Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel for a long time; but as Lothar he just seems like a cheap version of the Ragnar character that I love so much. And even when the big, significant character arc pieces happen, I simply don’t care because I haven’t been given the appropriate amount of time with characters to care. The same can be said for Dominic Cooper’s King, a man that somehow looks like a teenager dressing up like a Shadow of Mordor character for Comic-Con and has about the same amount of range.

Yes, I’m bringing up Lord of the Rings. Tell me this wasn’t greenlit after LOTR was a success, I dare you.

With Toby Kebbell unrecognisable on voice duty for Durotan; Ben Foster as super-duper human wizard/guardian Medivh; and Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu bringing up the rear as barely recognisable, wasted voice casting, Warcraft has a shit load to answer for.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, some of it is rather good. Front and centre of this piece is of course the CGI and how it’s used. Durotan and his Orcs look absolutely amazing, the attention to detail in the character design is flawless and everyone looks like an individual. Closely tied to that are the couple of immense battle scenes that look superb. Filmed from an awesome angle that makes it look like any of the massive in-game battles players could have seen in the decades of playing Warcraft and taking control of game after game after game.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s like that bit in the Doom movie where the camera went first-person. But not utter shit.

Finally, and I am very aware that I’m harping on about the CGI, but it’s definitely worth talking about, is the couple of one-on-one fights in the film. Whether Orc vs. Orc, or Orc vs. Human, the fighting looks great. I won’t go far as to say that you forget that you’re looking at a computer generated monster, but it certainly looks good enough to immerse you in the moment, and that’s all that really matters.

Duncan Jones shows some real flashes of genius with Warcraft: The Beginning. But sadly it’s just not enough to quite break the curse of bad game-to-film adaptations. I’m very aware that this is likely to be one of those “for the fans” kind of films, and considering the veritable smorgasbord of complete fuckwits in the screening with me last night, I’m glad I’m not one of those fans – seriously.

I would love to review the collection of wet, lumpy farts I was sharing the screening with. I could get an essay out of tearing them apart! But when your film costs this much, you need to put more effort into not alienating general filmgoers and not just delivering fan service to those hordes of people that refuse to leave their damn computer desks.

Like I said before, Warcraft isn’t as bad as it could have been. Some poor character choices, worse story-telling decisions, and the part where it blatantly tees up a sequel (with an opening shot it refused to revisit and an ending that isn’t anything close to an ending) left me with a shitty taste in my mouth.

And the worst of this film’s crimes? Crimes against the film and against its legacy?

You want to guess?

It tries so hard not to be Lord of the Rings that it completely forgot to be Warcraft.