Another of the films that was up for Best Picture this year, Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who set out to rob some banks, but are being tracked by soon to be retired Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges. Tanner (Foster) is a career criminal, and recently released from prison. Toby (Pine) is the “good” brother but he teams up with Tanner to rob a series of banks to pay off the various liens against their family farm, monies owed to the very same bank chain they are robbing. On the side of the law is Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) a cranky, old Texas Ranger who delights in the chase almost as much as he does insulting his half-Comanche, half-Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) with as many racial stereotypes and slurs as he can think of. Despite this, Hamilton is a good cop and good at his job, soon he and Alberto are on the trail of a pair of mysterious bank robbers. The bank robbing brothers are also good at their job, laundering their money in a casino across state lines but each robbery gets more and more dangerous as the take, the stakes and the violence all increase.
This was a very good heist movie (which I always enjoy) and it had a good dramatic core story. Hell or High Water was very well acted, and Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His character was humourous, intelligent, and a great foil to the violent, and erratic Tanner. Toby was also a great character, and also a clever opposite to his brother. Though their reasons are leaning towards noble, the brothers’ methods certainly are not, but it does make the whole film a little grey, at times I didn’t really know who to root for. At times I wanted the brothers to get caught (they were the “bad guys” after all) and at others I really wanted to see them get away with their scheme, and beat the bank. The film did a really good job showing the poverty and the emptiness in those small Texas towns, which also kind of helped feed the conflicted feelings I had towards the robbers and the banks.
Full of action, full of drama, brimming with interesting characters, dark humour, and an engaging purpose behind the plot. I really had a good time with this film!
Bottom Line: Remember how I questioned how Michelle Williams could be nominated for Best Supporting Actress with minimal screen time? Jeff Bridges’ nomination made perfect sense to me, because he was in roughly half the film.
Before the summer blockbusters came out, I compiled a list of the ones I wanted to see, that list has now evolved from a “to see” list to a “missed it” list, but now I’m crossing off number two, with the J.J. Abrams Star Trek sequel Into Darkness. It was enjoyable enough but difficult to review without spoilers, so be warned, I’ll try to be careful, but there are a few things I need to talk about.
First, there thankfully seemed to be less lens flare than the first one. Second, there is something about these Abrams’ Star Trek films that just doesn’t seem Star Trek to me. Not all the time, but sometimes things slip in, and I just have to sigh a little bit. There doesn’t seem to be the big message of exploration, discovery, acceptance and social and moral responsibilities that the Roddenberry Trek had. They are there, but just not addressed enough to make it Star Trek enough to me…I know that some fans will grow up only knowing these newer Star Trek movies, just like there are children who will grow up thinking Jar Jar is representative of Star Wars.
I was talking to a co-worker tonight about Into Darkness, and learned that he hadn’t seen Wrath of Khan. I don’t think you can appreciate either of these new Trek films without having seen TWOK, since both borrow so much from it. Remember the Kobayashi Maru test in the last one? Where do you think it came from? TWOK. The Into Darkness villain? Khan, and the worst kept secret of the summer. I do like what Abrams and company tried to do by keeping the villain’s identity a secret but in this day of blogs, Twitter, the IMDb and the antiquated print media known as magazines, this secret was spilled long ago. It’s also spelled out in the first line on the back of the DVD box so I guess Paramount gave up on maintaining the suspense too. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) was revealed to be playing Khan Noonien Singh, the villain from the classic series episode Space Seed and of course Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, played both times by the legendary Ricardo Montalban. I’ll give Abrams and his crew some more credit: they do seem to do their homework, as parts of both the TOS episode and the film were adapted for Into Darkness.
This will be the spoiler paragraph, so skip this if you don’t want to know details, or HIGHLIGHT to read what’s blanked out. Okay, I liked how things were reversed yet still mirrored TWOK, even the way the lines were swapped about worked for me. This time Kirk is trapped in the radiation flooded compartment, not Spock. This time Kirk “dies” but the resolution to that was so blatantly obvious. They almost spelled it out half an hour earlier in big neon letters! “Look what I discovered this will do to this dead tribble Jim!” Though the way they went about it didn’t make much sense to me…. HIGHLIGHT TO SEE: They need Khan’s blood to resurrect Kirk, fine. I’ll even accept they need him alive for the blood to work for some reason…but how about those 72 other genetic super beings frozen in the cryotubes, couldn’t they just use some of their blood? They’re frozen so you don’t really need to chase them down…. …
My biggest complaints about the new Star Treks are that they don’t really seem to use the “trinity” that existed in the original Star Trek properly. There was very little Kirk-Spock-McCoy, which made up the core of The Original Series; Spock being the mind, McCoy the heart and Kirk the balance. Now, Kirk is not yet a balancing factor and McCoy has been replaced by Uhura, which I suppose is a big step up from answering the phone on TOS, but for an old fan like me, it’s just not the same…. I’m still a little unclear why Spock needs a love interest, but as she has this role, Uhura does fit nicely as the new “heart” of the franchise. I would have liked to have seen more of Karl Urban, seeing his McCoy truly acting as the heart would have been very satisfying. After his excellent performance in Dredd 3D I wanted to see more of his acting range. They seem to have made Scotty a bit too much of a comic relief character, perhaps because they Simon Pegg. I suppose if you’ve got a fairly well known comic actor, you might as well use him for the comedic parts, but they can’t forget Scotty’s “genius” just for the sake of humour. I suppose these changes also come from having a primary crew of seven (or eight) characters and casting “name” actors for each. You have to make sure that every actor gets their screen time, but too many cooks spoil the broth. I’ve got to say that I have really enjoyed all the casting decisions for the rebooted Treks, and hope that if they continue, Alice Eve returns as Dr. Carol Marcus. After each scene, I wanted to see more of both the character and the actress.
My bottom line on Star Trek: Into Darkness is that it was fun, the action was good, but the sci-fi or Star Trek elements were a little down played for my liking. I would have to say this was a must see for Star Trek fans, though maybe not Star Trek enough for die hard purists. If you’re a newer fan, you definitely need to watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, though I’m not sure if you would benefit more by seeing it before or after Into Darkness. I know that after watching it I wanted to pop TWOK in right away but think I’ll save that for the weekend, and watch it with my kids, who have never seen it, but did see Into Darkness before I did.