Tagged Ben Foster

HELL OR HIGH WATER: Desperation and Death in the Dirty South

Hell or High Water. 2016. Directed by David Mackenzie. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Dale Dickey, William Sterchi, Gil Birmingham, Buck Taylor, Kristin Berg, & Katy Mixon.
Film 44/OddLot Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Western

★★★★★
posterDisclaimer: This review may contain several spoilers concerning the film’s finale.

The prospect of David Mackenzie (director of the phenomenal jail film Starred Up) and Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale on Sons of Anarchy and screenwriter of Sicario) making a film together is enough to get me on board. They’re each talented. After both the aforementioned movies it’s not hard to get excited – Starred Up is one of my favourite prison stories out there and Mackenzie’s directing helped the actors shine; Sicario comes at you like a shot in the night, written with depth by Sheridan.
Post-2000, the Western has seen a comeback. Not that every really went anywhere, but it’s definitely not as popular as it was in the 1950s and 60s when cinema saw everything from High Noon to Shane to The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy.
But over the past 15 years or so we’ve seen films like The Proposition, The Three Burials of Melquiades EstradaNo Country for Old Men, the excellent Elmore Leonard television adaptation, FX’s Justified. Most recently there was Bone Tomahawk, and you can’t forget Tarantino and his Western-styled Django Unchained, as well as The Hateful Eight.
Much as I love all these more contemporary Westerns, and as much as I consider a couple of them genuine masterpieces, none of them capture the modern spirit while paying homage to the classic Western feel, characters, and plots. Perhaps it’s the past couple years especially, one thing’s for sure – Hell or High Water epitomises the economic struggle of people clinging to old ways of life in a world moving further into modernity every minute, for better or worse.
pic1Throughout the film there’s a pervasive sense of desperation. The seriousness yet amateurish execution of the brothers and their robbery(/robberies) is quickly made evident. Both Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are complicit in their crimes, although the former is crazier, a little less predictable. Toby wants to secure a future for his boys. Tanner’s already been to prison, he has nothing left to lose and only money to gain. So the desperation is different between the brothers.
Another part of the story involves how, in some places like little rural towns, not-so-subtle racism is rampant. There are a bunch of perfect instances of this at various points. “Theyre not even Mexicans,” an old man says as one bank is robbed by the Howards. When ole Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges at possibly his greatest; that’s saying something) questions people on the robbery he leads with they must’ve been “Mexican, black” and later Hamilton even says to his own partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) that he knows “how you injuns like the bottle.” Hamilton represents that weird dichotomous supposed Southern gentleman who’s borderline to full-on racist at any given moment, yet a guy who’ll stand with a slight bow for a lady. There’s a lot of good writing from Sheridan, who seems intent on showing Texas in all its glory, whether that’s good or bad depends on the moment. But it’s warts and all, which makes everything feel right in place.
pic2On a technical level, Hell or High Water is beyond fantastic. The cinematography helps show a small town in an economic slump, its slightly desolate sense of atmosphere, from which the desperate characters reach out to us begging for understanding. The look of the film is simultaneously gorgeous and full of grit, a perfect combination somewhere in the middle of the two. Then there’s the score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who coincidentally did the score for another masterpiece Western (The Proposition). Their sound is perfect for the tone of the film and lifts many a scene, lending gravitas to even the tiniest of moments.
Again, I have to praise Sheridan. He writes the action well, opting not to go for all guns and chaos and instead focusing most on the characters to give us the impact necessary. Moreover, the dialogue’s the fresh kind. Not afraid to feel informal, personal, as well as the fact it’s funny at times and also deadly serious where necessary. Above all else, the Howards feel like actual brothers, Hamilton is a true old school Southern man. There’s a spectacular true to life concealed carry gunfight in one of the banks, followed by other Texans with guns waiting outside; sort of perfect, on the nose representation of how an actual robbery in the South could go down. Just all around awesome stuff continuing the screenwriting roll Sheridan is on as of late.
Tanner: “Only assholes drink Mr. Pep
Toby: “Drink up
On display in the screenplay is that dying Southern ideology of pretending racism is all in good fun, jokes and stuff, when really the laughs are only a cover for the true prejudice hiding underneath. This is clear through the tenuous partner-to-partner relationship between Marcus and Alberto, which flares up now and then getting fairly serious from time to time. Further than that, it’s tragically funny and at once awful that the cops blame blacks and Mexicans for so much crime when it’s actually two dirty white boys running around committing crimes. Classism is also there, as the two dirty white boys, like so many immigrants, are only trying to keep themselves from being fucked over ultimately by the banks and bullshit bureaucratic policy that affects the most vulnerable. In the end, it’s the elusive American Dream that’s always knocking at the door, increasing the desperation of cops and criminals alike.
pic3This is a downright incredible Western, such a great contemporary take on the genre. Hell or High Water seems standard until the tail end when the brothers’ plight opens up story wise, revealing a few things that make the film’s final ten minutes one mighty treat to chew on: “Im the man who killed your brother,” as if ripped from an old Gary Cooper flick or something with John Wayne.
All three of the leads – Bridges, Foster, Pine – are impossibly perfect in their respective roles. Bridges, whose characters feel more good ole boy than Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men and thrice as grizzled, gives one of the best performances of his career. He shines as a man who’s well cemented in leading roles yet also has the makings of an impeccable character actor. The little things about Marcus Hamilton make him enjoyable, even as you hate him.
A 5-star bit of cinema, one of the best contemporary Westerns out there; if not the best in the past couple decades. I can’t for more directorial efforts from Mackenzie, proving himself double after this and Starred Up. And if Taylor Sheridan keeps producing the work he’s been pumping out in the last couple years, he’s bound to give us lots more to enjoy.

30 Days of Night: Scary Vampires, Flawed Script

30 Days of Night. 2007. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Stuart Beattie/Brian Nelson/Steve Niles; based on the comic by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith.
Starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett, Megan Franich, Joel Tobeck, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Nathaniel Lees, and Peter Feeney. Columbia Pictures.
Rated 18A. 113 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
30-days-of-night-theatrical-posterTo start, while I don’t like that director David Slade did one of those junk Twilight movies, I’m a big fan of his work on Hard Candy, the episode “Open House” in the 4th season of Breaking Bad, and most of all I love his directorial efforts in the 5 episodes of Hannibal he directed (“Mizumono”, “Ko No Mono”, “Savoureux“, “Potage“, & “Apéritif“); he’s also produced nearly 30 episodes of the show, as well. One of the reasons I think he actually ended up involved with Hannibal might be due to his work here in 30 Days of Night because of the level of blood and how it looks, the visuals. I don’t think this is a spectacular movie, though, one of the things I do enjoy most about it is the overall aesthetic – from the atmosphere and tone to the actual look of the blood and the effects.
I have mixed feelings about 30 Days of Night. On one hand, I think there’s some decent acting along with incredible visuals and plenty of good ole blood and gore. But on the other, I do feel as if the script is pretty flawed in a few places where it ought to be much stronger.

Right off the bat, even though the tone of the movie is awesome and that aspect often takes time to build, I feel as if 30 Days of Night is a tad too long. I mean, I’m a person who loves both atmosphere and character development in horror. Really helps a movie sort of grab hold and not let go if you can fall into it those ways. Yet there’s a point where things go on too long. I think there could’ve been 15-20 minutes cut from and it wouldn’t have damaged the film, but that’s only my opinion; I’m not a director, I’m not a screenwriter. I just think that, while the concept of this movie is awesome, it isn’t particularly tough to grasp. There’s no need for this pushing two hours. And I get it – 30 days – but that’s the funny thing, even in that amount of time I still felt like those 30 days had passed quickly, so I find it all very strange.
CTF - 30 Days of Night - PairThat being said, I do really love the story. Funny enough, the comic series started as a film pitch. Ended up as a comic then began a movie; weird how the system works, as soon as it’s viewed as a commodity in the comic world THEN the execs want to use it because it has a base already. Sad, funny, weird.
Unfortunately, I have a few problems. Right off the bat, Barrow can be flown to almost every day of the year – like anywhere else conditions can vary, but it’s not inaccessible and especially not for 30 days at a time. Then, it’s as if Barrow is completely lit up one day then the next day there is complete darkness, stretching on for a month. Totally unrealistic. It’s a slight process until the darkness has sort of spread over the entire town. But, y’know, I guess if we’re talking vampires there’s a slight suspension of disbelief going on in the first place. Still it’s hard to get past blatant and upfront errors like that when the whole plot pretty much hinges on some of these facts. While it originates from the comic, it might’ve been better had the adapted screenplay tried to fix some of these mistakes. I don’t know how that whole adaptation process works, so I’ve no clue how much liberty the screenwriter would’ve had in terms of crafting a slightly fresh story. Either way, I don’t like how parts of the story’s logic works against the film, I don’t care if it went that way in the comic series or not. They would’ve been better off coming up with a fictional Alaskan town instead of using Barrow and so obviously distorting factual stuff.
30-days-of-nightThere are pieces of the film I do truly enjoy.
Love the music. Of course, it turns out Brian Reitzell – another Hannibal alumni – is the composer. Great score, honestly. Lots of strings and some brass, interesting percussion for which he seems to have a fondness.
As I mentioned earlier, I think part of why David Slade ended up on Hannibal himself as both director and producer is because of how he works visually. For all the crappy storytelling and logic in 30 Days of Night, Slade injects a ton of brutal and beautiful imagery. One of my favourite shots – and everyone’s I’m sure of it – is the aerial view as the vampires first really take hold of Barrow; it’s this amazing shot sort of floating above, all the creatures feeding, blood spurted everywhere in the snow. All that white against red, the music, everyone screaming and the vampires making hideous noises. The movie is overall nothing special to me, but I have to say that this particular shot is one of the best shots in a horror movie over the last decade. Too bad the entirety of the film couldn’t hold up to the aesthetic Slade tried to give it. Unfortunately for him, the story’s just not there.
arvin-30-days-of-night-32231674-3000-2000Big thing I did enjoy are the vampires themselves. It’s strange how Slade went from vampires like this to those of the Twilight persuasion; a conversation for another time. Here, though, the vamps are how they ought to be: cruel, Other-ish, savage. I thought the way the production of the film came up with a language for the vampires was interesting because it worked, as well as the fact it sounded pretty damn eerie to hear them communicating. Very mysterious and cool. I liked this aspect of the movie a lot. Naturally, a vampire movie’s main aspect needs to be the vampires – regardless of anything else, the plot, the subplots, the story, it’s all secondary to the vampires. Honestly, if you don’t have good vampires it won’t work no matter how fresh a story ends up.
At the same time, no matter how god damn scary your vampires are, no amount of savagery from them can save the lack of proper story and logic which is so evident in 30 Days of Night.
30-daysI don’t care how visually incredible I find this film, I can’t in all good conscience give this movie more than 3 out of 5 stars. To be honest, I want to give it 2.5 instead but I won’t simply because I think there’s a great all around look and feel to 30 Days of Night. There is a good story in there, however, I just cannot bring myself to get past glaring errors. Straight away, the whole inclusion of Barrow is a terrible decision; from the comic to the film, bad idea. Extreme weather would keep flights out maybe a day, possibly two, but there’s no way in hell Barrow would find itself cut off for longer than that. Certainly not for 30 days. Anybody with Google can figure out – from proper sources – all the information they need about Barrow, or any other god damn place on the map for that matter.
Okay, you know what? This gets 2.5 out of 5 stars. There’s too much bullshit nonsense happening for me to ignore and while I love the vampires, plus all the bloody, gory intensity which comes along with them, I can’t ignore enough for that to make this worth it.
30-Days-of-Night-horror-movies-8549739-2048-115730 Days of Night is good enough for the vampires. Come and see them, enjoy their bloodletting. Don’t come and expect to get a story and plot that’s ultimately going to make you think something fresh and innovative happened here. While the idea is great, using Barrow to accomplish it, trying to root this in reality, fails because REALITY WILL NOT LET IT WORK. There was a time I didn’t think too much about the logistics of this movie, I turned my brain off I suppose. I let the movie whisk me away with its aesthetically pleasing blood on snowy landscapes and the dripping gory faces of its vampires.
Now, I see you for what you are, 30 Days of Night: a farce and a letdown. You’re no better a movie than half of the crap getting churned out. This movie works for me only in the way any other mindless, nonsensical movie does, like that type of action or comedy or whatever you don’t need a brain for – switch off, tune out, enjoy. Took me a while to figure this out. If you want David Slade’s best work, go watch some Hannibal, or the excellent Hard Candy.