Leave No Trace

July 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dale Dickey
Directed by: Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”)
Written by: Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) and Anne Rosellini (“Winter’s Bone”)

There’s something very intriguing about watching an individual taking on Mother Nature with little at their disposal. That’s probably why the Discovery Channel’s critically acclaimed reality series “Naked and Afraid” is currently in its ninth season.

In cinematic form, these stories work best when there is an intimate narrative attached to those characters hoping to survive a situation they either have no control over (Tom Hanks in Castaway) or one they have undertaken on their own (Reese Witherspoon in “Wild;” Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”) to test themselves.

The latter is the case for military veteran and single father Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in the compelling drama “Leave No Trace.” Living off the grid in a nature preserve outside Portland, Oregon, Will and Tom have mastered their solitary lifestyle — sleeping in tents, foraging for food and occasionally traveling into town to buy groceries with the money Will makes by selling his unused prescription drugs to other drifters.

Not only is the father-daughter duo able to live off the earth, they also live with the mindfulness that, if not careful, someone could accidentally discover them living in the wilderness. To avoid this, they run through escape drills just in case a park ranger or random hiker gets too close to their basecamp. Their attempt to hide from the outside world ends, however, when a jogger inadvertently spots Tom and reports it. This leads to the involvement of state officials who, at first, separate Will and Tom so they can get answers about their living arrangements, but later help them find sufficient housing and adapt to a regular life.

Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Debra Granik, who formally introduced audiences to actress Jennifer Lawrence in the deeply moving 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” the thought-provoking and emotionally complex film is adapted from author Peter Rock’s 2009 novel “My Abandonment.” With top-tier performances by Foster and newcomer McKenzie, Granik has captured an authentic dynamic between two characters who find themselves at an impasse with one another.

“We didn’t need to be rescued,” was the most instinctive thing Tom could have said when she and her father were discovered in the woods. But it’s amazing to watch her come into her own, experience life in a completely different way and realize that she, at least, did need to be saved.

Inferno

October 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Angels & Demons,” “The Da Vinci Code”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Angels & Demons,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdon of the Crystal Skull”)

Call me a philistine if you will, but I, like a lot of people in the mid-2000s, enjoyed the novels of Dan Brown. With titles like “Digital Fortress” and “Deception Point,” it should be abundantly clear what you’re putting your hands on: mindless distraction during your lunch hour that, maybe, you can talk about with someone else once you’ve finished. To further illustrate my point, I’ve also read a vast majority of James Patterson’s nursery rhyme-themed novels featuring Alex Cross for reasons I don’t fully understand, beside the fact that I’d been doing so for the better part of two decades. The works of either author are far from being considered high art—and their film adaptations aren’t really any better.

Which brings us to “Inferno,” the third movie in the series that includes “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” from director Ron Howard (based on the fourth book—sorry, “The Lost Symbol”) featuring Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, a somewhat milquetoast professor who is a world-renowned expert in solving intricate puzzles based on or embedded in Renaissance works of art. This time out, Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy, having apparently suffered a gunshot wound and retrograde amnesia. This is all according to his young doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) who actually recognized Langdon from a lecture she attended when she was nine years old. The two must make a hasty escape, though, when moments after Langdon awakes, an Italian police officer comes in shooting. Langdon and Sienna retreat to her apartment, where Langdon discovers some gizmo in his jacket that projects an altered image of Dante’s 7 layers of hell, peppered with clues by bizarre billionaire Betrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), hinting at the end of the world. You see, Zobrist has created a supervirus that will wipe out half of humanity in a matter of days so as to save the earth from overpopulation, and it’s up to a 60-year-old professor and his young English doctor sidekick to stop Zobrist—once they shake the jack-booted thugs the World Health Organization (!!!) sends gunning for them, that is.

While bereft of fun and weighing heavy with a sense of “let’s just get through this” obligation, “Inferno” falls squarely into the same category as “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” before it: inoffensive and forgettable. Howard and Hanks, who I’ve never thought was right for the role, must be making a mint off of all of this, and they both seem like super nice guys, so what’s the problem, right? Plus, Irrfan Khan seems to be having a good time (and if the script had any eyes on a continuing the series, would have been less beholden to his character’s inconsequential fate in the book) and seeing Felicity Jones is a good reminder of how excited you’ll be to see “Rogue One” in a couple of months. Just pretend the movie is like one of the many museums the characters visit: you’ll buy the ticket and hope the experience goes by as quickly as possible, and maybe you’ll share a small conversation about it with someone at work on Monday. It really is the best case scenario.

Hell or High Water

August 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster
Directed by: David Mackenzie (“Starred Up”)
Written by: Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”)

With the ever-increasing demand for complex narratives, there is something to be said for a film that expertly tells a basic story. It may be ground that has been treaded many times before, but very few things are better than simplistic storytelling with well written dialogue and pitch perfect performances. In “Hell or High Water,” director David Mackenzie takes a rudimentary bank robbing plotline and elevates it to truly special heights.

In order to save their family farm, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on a series of increasingly dangerous bank robberies to get the money. The investigation to find their next location is led by veteran Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) who uses every sense of knowhow and the input of his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) to take down these amateur, and quickly-turning-professional criminals.

Every performance in “Hell or High Water” is exceptional, led by the always underrated Foster and Pine. Pine in particular is great at playing a level of reluctance bouncing off the loose cannon nature of his brother. It’s also a really great platform for Bridges, who in recent years seems to be playing the same marble-mouthed character over and over. As a grizzled veteran, the act really works in this film, and is made even better by the ball busting, buddy-cop relationship with Birmingham.

Story-wise, the plot for “Hell or High Water” truly can be summed up in a quick few sentences. It is, at times, almost too basic. There is still, however, something really intriguing about the desperation breeds necessity elements as well as the complexities family relationships can cause. It’s a story about brothers who don’t want to let anyone down, but it’s also about figuring out what to do when your back is against the wall.

It’s no surprise that “Hell or High Water” is well-crafted, given the pedigree of director Mackenzie, whose most recent film “Starred Up” was one of the hidden gems of 2013. It’s too funny to be a pure drama and too Western to be a straight up heist movie. Whatever you want to call it, one thing is for sure: it’s one of the best films of 2016 thus far.

Warcraft

June 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster
Directed by: Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code”)
Written by: Duncan Jones (debut) and Charles Leavitt (“Seventh Son”)

First things first: I’ve never walked out of a movie, regardless of how awful it is. I try to remain professional, evaluating each and every painful film from start to finish. 2015 tested my patience with garbage like “Blackhat,” “Jupiter Ascending,” “Entourage,” and “Seventh Son,” but 2016 had been relatively free of patience-testing movies. Then a giant lump of orc shit named “Warcraft” digitally unspooled before me in IMAX 3D and, for nearly every second of its two-hour runtime, I wanted to jump into a magic portal of my own – anything to get me the hell out of the theater.

Based on a video games series that debuted in 1994, “Warcraft” tells the story of the kingdom of Azeroth, under siege from an army of orcs led by the evil/magic/green-skinned Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). The mission of the orcs is to jump through a magical portal Gul’dan creates to grab enough humans to power the creation of an even bigger portal that will allow the entire orc army to travel through, enslaving the world. Certain orcs (some without green skin), though, namely mild-mannered Dotan (Toby Kebbell) and half-human Garona (poor, poor Paula Patton), remain skeptical of Gul’dan’s plan and his use of some deadly magic bullshit called The Fel. Defending humanity against the orcs is King Llane (Dominic Cooper), his most trusted warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and magical guardian Medivh (Ben Foster). When Garona is captured during a raid, she earns the uneasy trust of the humans and proposes a cooperation with the non-green-skinned orcs to defeat Gul’dan.

Incomprehensible and interminable, “Warcraft” takes a video game with a paper-thin premise and attempts to craft a low-rent “Lord of the Rings” adventure out of a handful of generic realms, corrupt dark magic, and free iPhone game-level CGI creatures. While a movie filled with motion-captured performances like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” have astounding visual effects that make you believe those goddamn turtles are real, “Warcraft” is full of shitty beasts that look instead like they belong on your nephew’s iPad screen, pausing every few seconds to swing a giant battle hammer and then ask for his mother’s credit card information – all while blatantly setting up the next adventure to come!

The real tragedy here is that director Duncan Jones, son of the late David Bowie and director of the fabulous low-key sci-fi film “Moon,” finds himself and his characters buried beneath layer upon Adobe After Effects layer of indifferent special effects and plot lines cribbed much better fantasy epics, perhaps driving a battle axe into the skull of his one-mighty potential as a science fiction filmmaker adults could love.

Rampart

April 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster
Directed by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and James Ellroy (“Street Kings”)

As Helen (Brie Larson) unleashes a litany of loathsome characteristics about her father Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), it’s clear that her opinion is something that has been building up for a while. She tells him he’s a racist, a bigot, a sexist, a womanizer, a chauvinist, a misanthrope and homophobic. Brown’s reaction? A smirk, and a simple reply of, “How long did it take you to rehearse that?” Incredibly enough, all of those descriptors are accurate, as Harrelson handily takes on a challenging role in “Rampart,” an intense character study of a corrupt LAPD cop.

In the wake of the Rampart Scandal of police corruption in the LAPD seen in the late 90’s, “Rampart” follows veteran Officer Dave Brown through a series of scandals and destructive family issues. After an excessive beating of a man who crashes into his car is caught on tape, the corrupt cop finds himself the subject of an investigation. As things continue to get worse for hi, his already strained relationship with his family becomes worse and the future of his career comes into question as he refuses to tone down his violent and questionable policing methods.

Very early on in the film, it becomes clear that “Rampart” was intended to serve as a showcase for Harrelson’s acting, and he certainly delivers. It is a dynamic and committed performance that Harrelson attacks from the get-go by displaying violent tendencies and spewing racial slurs without thinking twice. Even further, Harrelson looks the part as he nails the cop demeanor perfectly and his emaciated facial features (Harrelson lost 30 pounds for the role) give the impression of a hardened and weathered officer. Harrelson is also able to show a wide emotional range in this film, especially as he becomes more tortured as the film progresses. While the rest of the supporting cast is filled with strong veteran actors, they merely float in and out of Harrelson’s world. The best of the supporting performances come from Robin Wright who plays love interest and attorney Linda Fentress and the previously mentioned Larson who plays his rebellious daughter.

Following up his critically acclaimed debut film, 2009’s “The Messenger,” director Oren Moverman returns with a series of perplexing decisions at the helm of “Rampart.” From beginning to end, there are a lot of technical aspects of the film that make it seem choppy and haphazardly put together. Many scenes end abruptly, cutting off randomly at unnatural stopping points in conversations. One scene in particular makes use of a slow, panoramic, and patchily pieced together series of shots of multiple people having a conversation that comes off far more distracting than stylish.

While the film is a very fascinating character study of a morally skewed cop, screenwriters Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy (“LA Confidential”) tend to neglect the narrative angle of the screenplay. The events of the scandal that Brown finds himself embroiled in and his interactions with underdeveloped supporting characters often seem inconsequential and dull. As things escalate and spiral out of control for Officer Brown, it is the strength of Harrelson’s performance and not an investment in where the story is going that keeps “Rampart” engaging.

Contraband

January 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur (“Inhale”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (debut)

Ah, January – a month known to most critics as a dumping ground for heaps of cinematic trash. After spending the months of November and December pouring money, marketing, and efforts into their Oscar hopefuls, movie studios often reserve January for films they have less confidence in. Even still, occasionally January has had some bright spots, such as “Youth in Revolt” and “Cloverfield” in previous years. In “Contraband,” Mark Wahlberg follows his critically acclaimed film “The Fighter” with a by-the-numbers heist film that struggles to separate itself from other films of the genre.

After leaving the smuggling business to start a family, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) must get back into the life of crime when his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) angers Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) by screwing up a drug deal. Farraday leaves his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and kids in the hands of his best friend and right hand man Sebastian (Ben Foster) as he goes to Panama to bring back millions in counterfeit money. However, when the deal goes wrong, Farraday must think outside the box to keep his family safe.

If you’ve seen any movie that Wahlberg has ever done, you’ll know what to expect out of him. While their performances aren’t necessarily bad, both Ribisi and J.K. Simmons both sport almost cartoony accents and voices, with Simmons in particular channeling his inner Foghorn Leghorn. Ribisi has the more successful character of the two, being legitimately strange and unsettling at times, but is too often over the top. Foster continues his run as one of the most frustrating actors in Hollywood. He is immensely talented, versatile, and underrated as shown by his performances in “3:10 To Yuma” and “The Messenger,” but yet continues to make choices to be in second-rate films such as last year’s “The Mechanic,” among others. The one thing that can be said about Foster is that he is always good in his role, no matter what the movie may be. “Contraband” is no exception.

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur’s direction, at times, shows a strong flair for action sequences, but it is also very inconsistent. Specifically, Kormakur makes use of handheld camera shots only in certain scenes of the movie, seemingly when wanting to pump up the dramatic effect. Unfortunately, not only is this distracting technique used in random times throughout the film, it is done with all the dexterity of someone who is trying to figure out how to use the zoom on their new video camera.

Perhaps the greatest downfall of “Contraband” is its predictability. It follows the typical “deal-gone-wrong” blueprint, contains easy to figure out plot twists, and forgoes every opportunity to do something different and unique. Still, it would be hard to argue that “Contraband” isn’t entertaining at times. There are decent shootouts and suspenseful scenes and Wahlberg carries a lot of charisma. There are also some good supporting performances to help it along. However, one could only wish they deviated a little from the norm.

The Mechanic

January 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Directed by: Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”) and Lewis John Carlino (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”)

There are some big gun barrels to fill if you’re remaking a 40-year-old movie that originally starred Charles Bronson. Things get a bit easier, however, if your name happens to be Jason Statham.

Coming into his own as a viable B-movie action star over the last few years, Statham takes the lead in a new version of “The Mechanic,” a high-energy popcorn flick that feels like it was pulled straight out of the 70s and given a swift kick to the head.

Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man who begins to train his mentor’s son Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) in the art of assassination after Steve’s father (Donald Sutherland) is caught up in a game of politics within the shadow organization.

“What I do requires a certain mindset,” Arthur tells Steve as the veteran killer teaches the rookie the most effective ways to end someone’s life. While Steve absorbs everything Arthur shows him, he doesn’t always like to take the clean and simple approach to the job.

The different methods in the way Arthur and Steve work make for an extraordinary relationship. Foster, one of the most exciting young actors currently making his rounds through Hollywood, matches up well with Statham’s fever pitch delivery. While both characters are brimming with brutality, it’s Foster’s that is written with more depth and style. You usually know what you’re getting with Statham and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Directed by Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls,” “Con Air”), “The Mechanic” is an unrelenting upgrade with a solid dose ultra violence, sex, and sense of humor. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the action sequences come with a combination of intensity and logic rare to find in movies with high body counts.

The Messenger

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton
Directed by: Oren Moverman (debut)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“I’m Not There”) and Alessandro Camon (“The Bandit K.”)

While films about the war in Iraq or issues associated with these events have not done well at the box office over the last few years (see “Lions for Lambs,” “The Lucky Ones,” “The Kingdom,” “In the Valley of Elah”), there are still many compelling stories that need to be heard.

Like the intense film “The Hurt Locker” from earlier this year, which follows the stressful experiences of an Army bomb squad, the intimate drama “The Messenger” is another of those rare narratives that will not be featured on the evening news anytime soon. Instead of taking audiences to the frontlines like in “The Hurt Locker,” “The Messenger” focuses on the painstaking mission of the soldiers who must notify the families when a loved one dies in combat.

In “The Messenger,” Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma”) plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, a soldier three months away from completing his military service when he is assigned to join Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) on his Casualty Notification team and deliver the worse possible news anyone could imagine getting.

As Tony teaches Will the ropes in his new position (some rules include never making physical contact with family members, only notifying the next of kin, and avoiding phrases like “passed away”), Will is overwhelmed by the responsibility he has undertaken and the lives he is changing with the few professionally-reported but often aloof words he has memorized from the Army’s authorized script.

It’s not a stretch for Will to operate this way since he is mostly introverted himself (his only relationship is with a childhood friend who is now engaged). But after going on a notification mission, he begins to open up to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), a widow he recently informed of her husband’s death. Despite strict orders from Tony not to get involved in her life, Will can’t help but to feel a connection with her established only through tragic circumstances.

While Morton and Harrelson are top-notch with their performances, it the less-seasoned Foster who is unforgettable in the first lead role of his career. The powerful scenes director/co-writer Oren Moverman (“I’m Not There”) has crafted along with writing partner Alessandro Camon (“The Bandit K.”) always keep Foster’s Will on the brink of an emotional breakdown. It’s fascinating to watch Will fight through the grief and heart-wrenching moments of his job and form the close bond with both Olivia and Tony while they, too, serach for a way to confront with their own agony.

“The Messenger” isn’t just another story about Iraq. It literally brings the harsh realities of war to your front door. It’s up to audiences to take that step and invite the message in. While it may be difficult to witness, it really is a film every American should see.