Hell or High Water (2016)

With the bank due to foreclose on the loan on the family ranch, Texan brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) take to robbing banks – all branches of the one trying to swindle them out of their inheritance, by their reckoning. Come hell or high water, they must get the money to the bank before the foreclosure date. But with a soon-to-retire Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) sticking doggedly to their heels, can the brothers succeed?

Put like that, Hell or High Water sounds like a typical heist-chase movie – it’s not. Instead, it’s something quite a bit darker, full of pathos, and with layers of motivation giving it a great deal more meat, if a little bit less ‘fun’. Don’t go in thinking this is going to be escapism! The desperation, the unhappiness, the grinding down of the everyman – these are themes that aren’t meant for giggles.

That said, there’s a lot of moments of ordinary, every day humour on show, too. There’s something quite real about this story’s telling – and that can feel a little odd in a cinema setting, more familiar to hyper-real blockbusters.

HoHW is a quiet affair, really. It did feel a little slow at times, the plot just a little – not exactly predictable, but not surprising – and the performances can rely perhaps a little too much (Mr Pine) on sultry looks and long silences. But overall it’s very well made, and a lovely change of pace from the kind of movies that usually have car chases and guns in them. I could see this movie just slipping under the radar for most, but I’m glad I saw it.

Released: 9th September 2016
Viewed: 23rd September 2016
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Criminal (2016)

When CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in action, his employers gamble with an experimental medical procedure to recover his memories. Transferred into the head of sociopathic prisoner, Jericho (Kevin Costner), can the memories be recovered in time to complete Pope’s mission – stopping an anarchist from bringing down the world’s governments?

Criminal was a decent idea handed to a great cast, but sadly drowned in a poor script. The action is high (as are the violence and gore – I winced more than a few times!) and I was quite impressed with several of the performances. Costner’s character changes and develops a great deal over the film, and while I’m not a big fan, he handles it all very well. Reynolds may never be allowed to play so small a role again, after the success of Deadpool, but his presence adds a nice counterweight to what could have been mistakenly given to a lesser-known face.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast have been given rather shaky roles. Jordi Molla is a truly one dimensional baddie, which is just no good up against the increasingly morally unbalanced Jericho. Worse, Gary Oldman’s CIA chief does nothing bar shout and make horrendously poor decisions. Unfortunately, the plot hinges on the outcomes of those awful decisions and it becomes more than a little distracting. One ounce of common sense from the character, rather than irrational violence, and the story would have fallen apart. Argh!

Overall, then, this is gory popcorn fare – or should be, if we were only allowed to switch our brains off. Alas, the dreadful ‘science’ and unlikely character decisions stretch credulity wafer thin, which is a shame given some of the strong performances.

Released: 15th April 2016
Viewed: 22nd April 2016
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15 with a lot of gore, violence, and swearing

My rating: 5/10

Triple 9 (2016)

Every now and then I get to attend a ‘secret screening’ – an advanced screening of a movie where we don’t know what it is until the BFFC rating screen appears. Speculation is rife ahead of this, and while I think Triple 9 is a decent movie, that kind of build up just killed the whole thing for me – thankfully it wasn’t The Witcher (or Grimsby) but half the audience reacted with, “What?”

What indeed. 999 is the UK emergency (ie 911) number, but in the States it’s the code for ‘officer down’, and also – apparently – drop everything and come running, all ye fellow cops. Cos that ain’t ever going to be a bad idea, right?

The problem I had with this movie was the pace. It is s-l-o-w, and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. Building tension, okay, alright, but… sheesh. So we have some criminals, and some dirty cops, and some other bloke(s), and then there’s the Russian mob (wait, what?) and some weird family stuff, and… yeah o_O

The tension ratchets up as the movie goes along, but the title if nothing else really signposts where we’re heading. And while the amazing cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck (really turning into his big bro!), Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet (oy, that hair!!), and really just every character a big name – all do very very well, overall I just wasn’t, well, thrilled.

And thus we have a weekend of a pretty bad movie that entertained me, and a pretty decent movie that didn’t quite. Go figure.

Released: 19th February 2016
Viewed: 6th February 2016 (advanced screening)
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10 – probably deserves the 7, but it was a little slow

Sicario (2015)

Sicario, we are told, means hitman. And like the best of assassins, this movie is ruthless and relentless, never quite showing its hand until the last moments.

When an attempted hostage rescue goes hideously wrong, idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is offered the chance to join a cross-agency team aiming to hit the drugs trade a little closer to home. The viewer then follows Kate’s perspective as she’s thrust into the action without a clue to what’s actually going on – the only certainty being that the further it goes, the more doubts she has.

I found it interesting that Kate is both the newcomer to a well-bonded team, and the only woman. Was this to make her even more of an outsider? I did find her naivety a little ‘meh’ at one point: threatening dangerous people isn’t a clever way to ensure you walk away from a situation – but no spoilers! Perhaps the character needs to be a little too ‘clean’ like that, to highlight the reality being thrust in our faces from the rest of the characters and plot.

A word, too, about the cinematography: it is gorgeous, throwing scenes of glorious landscape as almost abstract beauty at us in stark contrast to the ugliness of the theme and people.

Although the pace is unhurried, this was gripping cinema. I’m slightly surprised that there’s a sequel mooted, but only because this says what it needs to already.

Released: 8th October 2015
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15 (although as ever, I’m surprised that ratings are so low these days – bloody and violent, surely this would have been an 18 not so long ago? I’m clearly getting old!)

My rating: 8/10

Finders Keepers – Stephen King

“Wake up, genius.”

I read and reviewed the first book of the Bill Hodges trilogy recently, finding it readable but not spectacular. I’ve ended up giving the new, middle book – Finders Keepers – the same rating, but in truth I liked it more.

Two things improved the read for me: the first is that the storyline is slightly less predictable – do I mean predictable? Hmm. Less pedestrian, then. The second is that the subject matter is one I could really get behind: a hidden trove of writing, new books in a beloved series, previously unpublished. It’s enough to set the keen bibliophile to drooling – and in a few cases, enough to drive them to a little more ­extreme behaviour…!

Flitting between two timelines (1978 and 2010-2014), the first half of the book covers the discovery of and subsequent misadventures with this Amazing Book by two very different characters, and yet each sharing the obsession with the new work.I did enjoy the way the entwining plots were handled, but while one of the characters is nicely rounded out as human, the other is a rather one dimensional nutcase – increasingly so as the book goes on.

Interestingly, the returning characters don’t appear until the second part of the book – and that’s great. It means that you can get immersed in the new story and new characters, rather than making the emphasis on the returning cast. Indeed, I’d suggest that they get a slightly short shrift if you haven’t read the first book to fully understand where Bill, Holly, and Jerome are coming from.

Another mild disappointment is the reference back to Mr Mercedes – the book, and the character. Towards the end, it seems like Mr King couldn’t resist throwing in a spooky, supernatural element after all. I presume that’s going to be the plot of the third in the trilogy, and I can’t say I’m now super-keen to read it.

Overall: you should probably read Mr Mercedes first, as there’s a lot of background. If you don’t mind enjoy that, then this is a slightly better story, still easily digested, if nothing ‘wow’ (in my humble opinion!). It may, however, leave you wanting to read the (fictional) book described in this book!

…every plot stood on an idea.

Hardback: 370 pages
First published: 2015
Read from 1st-2nd August 2015

My rating: 6/10 – still not jumping up and down about it, but it was an engrossing enough storyline that, yes, I did devour it in 2 days!