August Finally Delivers Great Movies This Weekend
What the hell happened to August? The two best films of the youngish year both hit Columbus screens this week – during the the time generally considered the cinematic wasteland. It’s as if the movie gods are apologizing for the weak summer with a glorious stop-action fable and a masterful modern Western set at a moseying West Texas pace. Plus, twenty-something gun runners and – just in time for the Ironman to hit Delaware – the Strand will screen the sports film Tri.
Hell or High Water
Two brothers in West Texas go on a bank robbing spree. Marshalls with cowboy hats pursue. It’s a familiar idea, certainly, and Hell or High Water uses that familiarity to its advantage. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) embraces the considerable talent at his disposal to create a lyrical goodbye to a long gone, romantic notion of manhood.
Two pairs of men participate in this moseying road chase. Brothers Toby and Tanner – Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively – are as seemingly different as the officers trying to find them. Those Texas Marshalls, played with the ease that comes from uncommon talent, are Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham).
Tyler Sheridan more than impressed with his screenwriting debut, last year’s blistering Sicario. Among other gifts, the writer remembers that every character is a character and his script offers something of merit to every body on the screen – a gift this cast does not disregard.
Even with the film’s unhurried narrative, not a moment of screen time is wasted. You see it in the investment in minor characters and in the utter, desolate gorgeousness of Giles Nuttgen’s photography. Every image Mackenzie shares adds to the air of melancholy and inevitability as our heroes, if that’s what you’d call any of these guys, fight the painful, oppressive, emasculating tide of change.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Describing the story of Kubo and the Two Strings feels deeply wrong for a film that takes great pains to remind us of the raw power of storytelling—that our lives come and go, and all we can hold onto is the story of ourselves.
First-time director Travis Knight makes an impressive debut after years of animation experience. Knight, also the president and CEO of Laika Studios, has given his group another modern stop-motion classic. Laika has never been a studio to tread lightly around adult themes in their animated films—but while Coraline and ParaNorman aren’t short on death, Kubo cuts to the emotional core with a story so saturated with loss that it becomes its own texture, something as visceral as the sumptuously animated hair or backgrounds.
Kubo follows the typical hero’s journey: suffer adversity, embark on a quest, encounter friends and foes, suffer more adversity, conquer evil. (None of this should come as a spoiler for the adults watching who have seen or read… well, pretty much any story before.)
But beneath the surface, Kubo and the Two Strings quietly but persistently makes us confront what it means to be alive, and just how tenuous the bonds we share are with the ones we love in this world. And the script deftly handles this emotional gut punch without getting sentimental.
War Dogs starts with a guy in the trunk of a car and works backward, ending two hours later over the sound of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” Though both devices are tactical errors, what’s between them is a fairly effective take on true, undeniably American events.
David Packouz (Miles Teller) was a struggling twenty-something massage therapist in Miami when he re-connected with childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Together, they grew Diveroli’s modest gun selling business into a $300 million contract with the Pentagon to arm our allies in Afghanistan.
Director/co-writer Todd Phillips, expanding a resume built on comedies such as The Hangover trilogy and Old School, brings a suitable zest to the insanity of this guns-to-riches tale, but falters when the time comes to move beyond his filmmaking comfort zone.
With The Big Short just last year, Adam McKay brought comedic sensibilities to the complexities behind financial corruption, dissecting a scandal with humor, insight, and most importantly, a constant undercurrent of outrage that War Dogs is missing.
Phillips does serve up some hearty laughs and effective set pieces while telling this incredible tale, but too much of the journey feels like a testosterone-fueled romp that’s more about respect for the boys’ brazen ambition than the sad truths it revealed. It’s not that Phillips doesn’t want to dig deeper, he’s just not sure how to do it on his own terms.
Also opening in Columbus this weekend:
- BEN-HUR (PG-13)
- MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (PG)
- IMPERIUM (R)
- TRI (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf and Matt Weiner.
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