Hell or High Water (2016) starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster & Jeff Bridges

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) drink beer on their ranch.

This is (most likely) the “dark horse” in the Best Picture category in the Oscars, BUT if you like fine films, you need to check it out! I heard great reviews of it on 2 different podcasts, BUT finally saw it tonight (thanks to Redbox). This film takes you on a journey (not TOO long or short); it has interesting characters (including the bit players); and Jeff Bridges is in it (so what’s NOT to like!?) 

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Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner.

Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Bridges- one of my faves) is 3 weeks from retirement when he gets VERY interested in a curious case. Two men have been robbing branches of a particular West Texas bank for moderate sums of cash. These men are our main protagonists- brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) Howard. Tanner is a loud-mouthed ex-con ONLY out of jail for a year; he enjoys robbing banks.  Tobey is more quiet, and his reluctant partner. Though they are VERY different men, they love and protect each other. 

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Tobey Howard (Chris Pine) has his eyes on the future.

This is labeled as a crime drama and a Western, BUT I feel it defies genre conventions. There is much humor, thanks in part to Bridges and his Native American/Mexican partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). There is easy chemistry between Foster (a bundle of energy and volatility) and Pine (somber, scraggly haired, and unglamorous). I NEVER saw what the fuss was about Pine until this film! The music and cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens, who has worked w/ BOTH Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair- two of my fave directors) are VERY well-done; too bad I didn’t see it earlier on the big screen.

 

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Dangal (2016) starring Aamir Khan

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

Indian superstar Aamir Khan is known as a perfectionist, even when it comes to posters.  When I lived in NYC, I used to regularly attend monthly meetings of SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Creative Collective); though I wasn’t an artist (like most of the women), I wanted to meet interesting desis.  One night, we had a presentation by the young lady who’d worked as the main graphic artist on Lagaan (before moving to the U.S.)  She was working late in her Mumbai studio, when Aamir Khan called her up re: a small change to one of the poster designs.  Wow, talk about attention to detail!

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Young Mahavir (Aamir Khan) gets ready for a wrestling match.

This film will definitely hold the viewers’ attention, even more so than Lagaan, thanks in part to its exciting/tense action sequences.  But this isn’t a historical epic, it’s a (real-life) family story, which MAY be even more compelling to some of you who regularly read this blog.  I didn’t know anything about the story before going to see it last week, aside from the fact that Aamir had gained and lost a LOT of weight for his role.  I later learned that three out of the four (VERY natural) young actresses in the film hadn’t acted before!  I esp. liked the chemistry between the two girls who played the sisters as pre-teens, as well as the charm of their older teen boy cousin. 

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Life is sink or swim- a lesson that Mahavir wants his daughters to learn.

Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a former national wrestling champion, wins medals and respect in the ’80s.  Unfortunately, he never gets the opportunity to prove himself on the world stage; there is NOT enough money/resources dedicated to his sport.  He loves wresting, so he spends time training other men in the mud pits of his village.  After a time, Mahavir settles into married life (w/ his wife Daya, played by Shakshi Tanwar) and a desk job in his home region of Hariyana.  He has high hopes for a son, whom he plans to teach to be an even better wrestler than himself, and win gold for India. 

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Young Geeta is cheered by surprised locals after winning matches.

His wife gives birth to four daughters though the years.  Mahavir’s family and his small community is disappointed, thinking that the dream for wrestling glory is dead.  But after his two eldest girls, Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnager), beat up two local boys who insulted them, Mahavir is spurred into action.  His daughters will become wrestlers under his coaching!  Gold is still gold, Mahavir is bold enough to think, and who’s to say that a girl can’t win one!?  Watch the trailer below.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS. 

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Hardened Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and newbie Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)

We know there are a set of Star Wars superfans who simply CANNOT take criticism of their beloved franchise.  However, I’m NOT one of those viewers!  This prequel has a female lead in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as we saw in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Jones does the best she can w/ the material given.  There is a LOT of racial diversity among Jones’ male co-starts.  However, this film sorely lacks character development!  Sorry, BUT it’s rather tough to care about characters if we don’t get to know their much re: personalities, motivations, histories, etc. 

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The Death Star was built by a team of engineers headed by Galen Erso (Jyn’s father)

I wanted to see a BIT more of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his wife; we don’t how/why they got on the wrong track of working for The Empire.  Also, why does Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) have such a big chip on this shoulder?  I wanted to know a LOT more re: his past, aside from the (obvious) fact that he’s been fighting for a long time.  It was cool to see Luna after MANY years!  He still has that youthful face and slim body.  There is a new droid working w/ Andor, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who provides some snarky humor.        

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Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed)- the pilot who defects from The Empire

Social media (as well as a FEW people I personally know) were esp. excited to see Riz Ahmed, a British-Pakistani/Muslim actor on the big screen.  Sure, he’s part of the rag-tag Rebel band, BUT doesn’t get to do much!  Donnie Yen’s character (the blind/deeply spiritual warrior) was  more effective, thanks in part to his badass martial arts skills.  Guess we STILL have to wait for a desi brother to get a (bigger) break…

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Orson Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn) oversaw the building of The Death Star

The new baddie, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), is pretty interesting; I think it’s b/c the Aussie actor takes relish in being a villain (check him out on Season 1 of the Netflix drama Bloodline).  I esp. liked the scene where he got called to meet w/ Darth Vader, then got (painfully) put in his place.

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Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) meets with Krennic

I was impressed by the scenery, action sequences, and the “bringing back to life” of several actors from George Lucas’ original Star Wars films (thanks to technology).  Speaking of the original films… This film’s last scene (featuring the young Princess Leia) has taken on a special/poignant significance following the sudden death of actress Carrie Fisher.