Mired in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, two Texan brothers begin robbing banks in an amateurish fashion. They are soon pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers—a grizzled one nearing retirement, and a Native -American/Mexican one. Everyone does what he’s gotta’ do while empathizing with their counterparts and hating the bankers getting fatter from ordinary people’s misery. The background is littered with abandoned stores and houses, graffiti-slashed moans of despair, and an underlying sense of inevitable grief. The acting, in Hell Or Highwater especially by Chris Pine as a bank robber and Jeff Bridges as a lawman, is astoundingly mournful.
Meryl Streep, Cillian Murphy, Philip Roth, Keegan-Michael Key and a Disney Dragon are all good choices
Once again competing movies are made on the same subject. This time, it’s the unlikely tale of a 1940‘s era woman of wealth who turns her dream of singing opera in Carnegie Hall into reality—despite the fact she is completely tone-deaf. Last year’s French film, Marguerite, presented the story as a farce which focused on how money could create celebrity. In Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep wins us over by placing a slightly askew wig on her head, wearing padding to look plump and singing annoyingly off-key in front of various groups. This includes the notorious 1944 Carnegie Hall operatic solo where Cole Porter, Lily Pons and her husband Andre Kostelantez, soldiers and sailors on shore leave (accompanied by their girlfriends-for -the-night), and tipsy revelers who come to be amused made up the audience. Steep manages to walk that fine line of laughing at the joke while making us believe she believes in Florence’s “God-given talent.”
The idea of releasing villains from prison to utilize their talents to aid the government is hardly new, and the concept of sending seven desperados to save innocents has inspired Kurasawa and Sturges and scores of other imitators. Don’t be fooled by the humorous previews, Suicide Squad is an uber violent collection of suicidal nihilists who ISIS would recruit in an instant. Aimed directly at the wallets of 13-year-old boys, the filmmakers chicken-out regarding the best character onscreen. Margot Robbie plays the pig-tailed psychotic, Harley Quinn with elan, but director David Ayer keeps relegating her part to serving as eye-candy for the adolescents in the audience.
With all the Bourne wannabe movies this summer, it’s nice to have Matt Damon and Paul Greenglass making the real thing again. Cyber terrorism is the driving force behind Jason Bourne’s latest return, and with scenes featuring Silicon Valley tech stars, arguments over privacy vs security, a Las Vegas electronics convention and even a truck mowing down innocent passersby on the sidewalks, the film is almost prescient. Our plucky, seemingly indestructible hero takes everything in stride and despite all the assault and battery he dishes out, he somehow makes us feel safer.
Star Trek Beyond is directed by the man who made Fast and Furious must-see fan-fare, with lots of humor and a story that would have worked in Gene Roddenbury’s original TV shows. This lizard-guy attacks the USS Enterprise to reacquire the so-called “death machine” and leaves the away team stranded on a uninhabited planet with a landscape similar to Mono Lake. There’s a domed city straight out of Logan’s Run (if created by M.C. Escher), a motorcycle race between Kirks from different timelines that’s reminiscent of the race in the Tron reboot, and, with a nod to 2016 sensibilities, a brief interlude where Sulu and his husband bond with their adopted girl. Despite the one-liners and visual jokes, the film is a somber reminder that well-loved actors Leonard Nimoy (who appears briefly as Spock) and Anton Yelchin (who plays Chekov) have recently passed away. 3 pieces of entertaining in a retro sort of way toast
Those who enter the hallowed movie theater should Ignore all the mean-spirited, online commentaries and revel in the “Sisterhood is Powerful” vibes of the four funny and very talented women (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones,and Kate McKinnon), who don the fabled Ghostbusters jump suits, acquire a well-used hearse for transportation and do battle with copious amounts of slimy ectoplasm. Since the rent on the original firehouse has shot through the roof. the quartet moves into an empty upstairs office in NYC’s Chinatown. Each of the new Ghostbusters has a specific set of skills and include: a physics professor; her long-time pal; a mad-scientist inventor; and a subway worker. There’s cameos from the original film’s surviving stars, familiar music themes, an overabundance of CGI effects and to complete the gender-shift, some hunky office eye-candy in the form of Chris Hemsworth.
The people who continue to bring us The Minions (in a short cartoon before the feature), continue with The Secret Life of Pets, a dog’s tale (or tail?) where a Jack Russell Terrier rules his NYC apartment building. The position of “top dog” is up for grabs when a fluff-covered mutt appears. The rivalry eventually leads them to dog-walking at cross purposes, capture by animal control, and a stint among the “flushed pets” abandoned by their owners. Similarities with Disney’s Lady and the Tramp will only occur to those old enough to fondly recall the Siamese cat duet, dog pound quartet and a romantic meal of spaghetti and meatballs. No Peggy Lee songs in this one, but Alexander Desplat’s jazz music brightens an animated film perfect for pet owners of all ages
Roald Dahl’s classic tale of the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) is given a Spielbergian treatment of low key wonderment and whimsy. The sections in the fabled land of giants (where the BFG is the runt of the litter) are the most magical, while the last third (set in a “real world” featuring Buckingham Palace), depends more on the humor derived from the giant trying to blend in with humans. In our household, this book was traded back and forth among fourth and fifth graders because of the BFG’s magical whiz-pops (aka farts). Fans should be pleased that the passed gas is green-tinged in the film.
I can just imagine the pitch session: “Bikini-girl battles sharks.” And that pretty much sums Shallows up except for the fact that the girl is a med school dropout who can fashion things out of a wetsuit and jewelry that would make MacGyver envious. Since she’s a blond, she has to be pretty dense at times (for example, surfing without a buddy, and swimming towards a bloody whale carcass when sharks are after you). But even a blonde human is smarter than a shark—right?
Pixar’s astoundingly touching and beautiful animated film Finding Nemo is a tough act to follow, and Finding Dory is just a bit to derivative to be as fresh and exciting. Dory (Ellen Degeneres) the blue tang with short-term memory loss problems was inspired in the first film, but the “What was I doing?” bits grow tiresome when the entire movie is built on that schtick. Which isn’t to say the movie isn’t fun—it just depends too much on the “lets do it again” concept. Once again, an adorable little fish heads on a quest across thousands of miles of ocean to track down parents. There are plenty of side-trips plenty of unusual sea creatures to interact with in funny ways and unsubtle sequences comparing and contrasting what it’s like to “be free and potentially somebody’s next dinner,” to “being safe and protected and taken care of (in a dentist’s office fish tank or multi-habitat sea-quarium). With all the new faces, it’s easy to find a character you love. I pick Hank the grouchy octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neil) as my favorite. What’s your choice?