Tag: ben foster

Here


Here (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Will (Ben Foster) works as cartographer in Armenia and there he meets Gadarine (Lubna Azabal) when she kindly helps him order an omelette. Her plan is to stay in her brother’s apartment but there is tension between them because she’s been away for so long. It is hinted that she is not the best in maintaining contact. So, she decides to come along with Will as he surveys the country. It is a mutualistic relationship: he gives her a free ride and she translates for him. Soon, they acknowledge their feelings for one another.

“Here,” written by Braden King and Dani Valent, suffers from elementary filmmaking. In its attempt to come across deep and contemplative, it is generous in utilizing seemingly interminable tracking shots of grass, trees, and mountains. But these images do not generate insight or thought. Instead, they come across static and desperate to impress. However, when it does focus on the story of the man and woman who happen to cross paths in their journey, it is romantic at times without sentimentality.

There is a lack of flow between scenes especially during the first and last fifteen minutes. As sort of mini-intermissions, we are hammered over the head with old film footages of the land and buildings. Sometimes there is a solemn narration (voiced by Peter Coyote) which leaves a poetic dirge in our taste buds. These tools do not fit the picture. They could have been taken out completely and it would have improved the material.

It does not spend enough time with Garadine’s parents (Yuri Kostanyan, Sophik Sarkisyan). One of Garadine’s traits is leaving without saying goodbye, being away for extended periods of time and, according to what is implied, not being very good at keeping in touch. There is a scene that takes place in the parents’ home that gives us a taste of the sadness and frustration of the family, emotions that are too often swept under the rug.

The father thinks that her daughter can be so much more than a photographer. He thinks taking pictures is not really an honorable job, not one that can make a difference in Armenia, not like her brother, Krikor (Narek Nersisyan), the solider. On the other hand, the mother misses Garadine so much that when her daughter comes for a quick visit, she cherishes their time and considers it to be a dream. I wanted to know more about her family. We could have known more about Garadine through them.

Foster and Nazarian’s chemistry is understated and enjoyable. They have a way of not saying much with their mouths but saying a lot with their eyes. And so when the film arrives to scenes involving seduction, what their characters share is believable. What we have here is a mature look at two people slowly feeling each other emotionally and physically. It understands the difference between sensuality and sexuality.

Although “Here,” Directed by Braden King, is not egregious, there is not enough great material to warrant a recommendation. It moves very slowly, which will challenge anyone’s patience, it uses art-house insularity to appear more clever than it is, which I found to be laughable and pretentious, and there is a deadness in a few scenes shared between the leads due to the writing. There is a difference among comfortable silence, awkward silence, and pointless silence. Comfortable is liberating, awkward can be amusing, and pointlessness wastes valuable time.

The Finest Hours


The Finest Hours (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Craig Gillespie’s “The Finest Hours” depicts an exciting, suspenseful, and seemingly impossible rescue mission that is based on actual events that took place in 1952. It works because it is interested in specific details of the jobs at hand—both from the U.S. Coast Guard perspective and the men stuck on a sinking ship during a terrible storm.

The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson ensures that we understand the tasks at hand. Notice that when something needs to be explained because many of the viewers are likely to be unfamiliar when it comes to the particulars of rescue efforts and keeping an oil tanker afloat, vivid dialogue is employed coupled with a relatively calm background. It takes its time so that we are able to construct images in our heads.

Our expectations are slowly developed—and either upended when things go horribly awry or a sigh of relief fills the air when something goes right eventually. There is an efficient balancing act between action-thriller sequences, particularly of a small motor lifeboat led by a crewman named Bernard “Bernie” Webber (Chris Pine) that must make it past a barrier of enormous waves, and its dramatic core. We are reminded constantly that the characters on screen are real humans who are flawed, fragile, and determined.

I also appreciated the details of how the environment takes its toll on its subjects. For instance, inside of the oil tanker that had been split in two, we notice the increasing level of fatigue of and amongst men from having to work for many hours straight not only in order to keep the ship afloat but also to steer it in the right direction and be on the lookout for rescue. Their energy is inversely related to the rate of the ocean water swallowing them whole.

Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the SS Pendleton’s engineer whose first task is to convince about half of the crew that taking the lifeboats as a means of survival is a bad idea. There is a growing but subtle weariness to his performance that I found compelling. We understand that he does not see himself as a leader but one who is forced to lead nonetheless because the others do not know as much as he knows. He has doubts in himself and it does not help that a few others have doubts about him, too.

“The Finest Hours” is likely to be criticized for embracing a more traditional approach of showing a rescue mission. While the picture is not adventurous in terms of form or structure, it is nonetheless comparable to those considered to be superior films within the sub-genre because it is constantly grounded in reality, it presents many specific details of what a certain occupation entails, and there is increasing level of anticipation throughout. It is not simply about getting from Point A to Point B. It is concerned with the process.

Hell or High Water


Hell or High Water (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Hell or High Water,” written by Taylor Sheridan, offers a plot involving two brothers who decide to rob banks in rural areas of Texas but it should not be mistaken for a standard action picture that has nothing on its mind other than a final battle between men of crime and men of law. Credit to the writer for creating a thoughtful and intelligent story about men driven by a purpose and in their journey finding themselves fueled by desperation.

The story’s template is all too familiar and so we believe we know exactly where it is heading. But most refreshing about the film is its ability to surprise consistently, whether it be in terms of plot direction, the beautiful interior details of its characters, or the symbolisms between the land and the men living in it. And although the picture consistently moves forward with a sense of purpose, notice it is willing to slow down at times so we can pay attention a little closer to the plain faces of men and women in these small towns. Here is a picture about poverty in forgotten places of America, where the poor remain poor for generations and the banks keep their eyes on the profit at the cost of human dignity.

The performances are precise and worth looking into. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play the brothers, Tanner and Toby, respectively, with such electrifying intensity that scenes where they remain quiet usually command a high level of tension. Quite opposite in temperament and personality, we cannot help but wonder which is the more dangerous: Tanner the more dominant and explosive of the duo or Toby the more intelligent and patient of the pair. Early on we realize how and why the brothers’ partnership works—and, equally important, why it is a formidable force, a fascinating challenge, for a nearly retired Texas ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).

Bridges brings his expected strong presence—a trait that many viewers take for granted. Bridges has numerous amusing lines, especially when interacting with his American-Indian partner (Gil Birmingham), but also appreciate instances when he doesn’t say a word and his eyes communicate paragraphs in just a few seconds. Bridges is such an experienced performer that he is able to communicate something entirely different by simply changing the way his character breathes or gives out a look a few degrees to the left. Right from the very first scene where we meet his character, we know that the ranger is highly intelligent, curious, and one who has captured a lot of criminals in his time. This makes him either a wonderful protagonist or antagonist—depending on which party the viewer ends up rooting for.

Aside from eye-catching shots of the land and the horizon, here is another beautiful detail the film offers: there is no standard hero or villain despite an ordinary plot involving cops and robbers. Since the material takes on enough detours in order to get us to understand what makes its characters tick, either way we become convinced soon enough that the material, directed by David Mackenzie, will offer no expected dramatic ending. There is only life and the continuation of that life with positive or negative consequences based on what had transpired.

Lone Survivor


Lone Survivor (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

A four-man reconnaissance team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster) is assigned capture and kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader known to have murdered U.S. Marines. Though the four manage to reach an area in the mountains where they are able to track the person of interest, they learn that comms are down and are eventually discovered by goat herders—an old man, a teenager, and a little boy. The group is divided when it comes to what to do with them, but Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Kitsch) decides to let them go as he and his brothers in action race to the peak of the mountain to establish communication and request rescue.

Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is a success in that it highlights rather than glorifies what soldiers do by showing the ugly, the messy, and the painful. In this case, first impression proves misleading. I found the expository scenes to be too shiny and beautiful with typical exchanges of tough males bonding and men racing to the finish line as the sun rises. It all feels too much like a commercial or a recruitment video and I was expecting the worst. But once it reaches somewhere near the twenty-minute mark, it gets the tone just right. Finally, it is on the right track with what it wants to show.

The picture is at its peak during the action sequences. When it is silent in the woods and the crosshairs of a weapon search for a kill shot, sans distracting score meant to amplify already tense moments, it is most magnetic because only one of two things can happen: the shot is either going to hit the target or it is going to miss. Either way, his friends are going to know that their enemy is near so that bullet better make contact because it would mean one less person shooting back. Odds do not look good when it comes to four against twenty or more—even if the former are highly trained.

The environment is alive. Yes, the Taliban is the enemy but so are sharp rocks, great heights, and slippery gravel. In one of the most harrowing sequences, Murphy and his men decide to jump off a cliff. It is impressive because the terrifying sounds are able to match the intense images. Bodies rolling down a slope as limbs and faces hit tree trunks, branches, smaller boulders, and their own weapons invoke horror—not horror in terms but fear but horror in terms of shock. To escape from their enemies, these men are willing to jump off a cliff without even thinking twice about it. Because so many hazards are on the way, they could have died even before hitting the bottom.

The title reveals the inevitable and so each of the three deaths must count. And they do. Despite the screenplay not offering much in terms of subtle characterization, the men that will fall are easy to distinguish physically and in general personality. Since Murphy is the leader, I expected him to get most of the attention. On the contrary, his men—Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Foster), arguably, get a bit more opportunities to shine. That is a small but nice surprise.

“Lone Survivor” does not set a standard by any means but it is engaging, entertaining, and sad once one is reminded that it is based on a true story. Though liberties are likely to have been taken in order to dramatize certain accounts, I could not help but think of real sacrifices that real soldiers make out there.

Kill Your Darlings


Kill Your Darlings (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), future pioneer for what is now known as the Beat Generation, gets an acceptance letter from Columbia University and is ecstatic because it means he is one step closer toward becoming a writer. But actually being on campus and attending classes, he quickly discovers he doesn’t quite belong. This changes when he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a writer who engages and challenges Allen, commanding such a live wire and charismatic personality that sometimes the two end up being in trouble with the authorities. Meanwhile, a man named David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), Lucien’s older male lover, becomes increasingly jealous.

“Kill Your Darlings” is not a straightforward picture. At times it works because we get the impression that we are simply dropping into a specific period of time where future literary icons converge. And yet at times the approach is ineffective because certain subplots that deserve to be explored in order to truly highlight trends and themes are pushed to the side. Despite its limitations, the film demands a recommendation for its good performances.

The relationship between Ginsberg and Carr lies in the center and so Radcliffe and DeHaan must take control of every scene when it is only the two of them interacting. The actors do so beautifully, consistently letting go of what is safe or predictable. Since they often make fresh choices on how to express specific emotions, a level of danger and mystique inspires us to keep watching and ask questions in terms of where the friendship is heading—a romantic route, one that is solely platonic, or something more destructive. Sometimes it appears to be embody all three and that is exciting.

I enjoyed it on another level because I had a chance to measure who is the better actor. In a lot of movies, I can watch a scene and about ten seconds in, I can point at the person who is delivering stronger work. Here, it is a bit of a challenge. I had the pleasure to observe and really think about why the actor decided to choose a certain avenue over another. Sometimes it is about a partnership, too. One might think Radcliffe is the stronger performer and another might say DeHaan is the standout. But one thing is certain: Radcliffe and DeHaan not only have natural chemistry together but they continually work on it.

The best scenes involve Ginsberg and Carr knowing exactly what the other is trying to say without being direct about what they really want or feel. In my eyes, Radcliffe is a level above DeHaan in terms of performance because I felt he is less self-conscious or more relaxed in terms of line delivery, where to put his body, when to turn on the intensity in the eyes, when to remain still—and how to remain still—in order to hold a shot. Clearly, he knows exactly what he is doing. Prior to this picture, I was already convinced Radcliffe is a good actor. But I must say that his work here made me look forward to how else he can improve over the rest of his career.

Subplots that fail to reach completion include: Ginsberg’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) being hospitalized and how that has changed or impacted Ginsberg’s experiences in Columbia as well as its role in Ginsberg’s evolution as a writer; a lack of a solid background about Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster)—I was not convinced that someone who had not heard of their names would have any idea why they were important or how good of a writer they were; and a dearth of elementary information with respect to the relationship between Carr and Kammerer. The third is most problematic because the final third of the film attempts to deal with complexity and yet there are no tracks available for us to follow.

Due to its lack of depth, there are sections in “Kill Your Darlings,” written by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas, directed by the latter, where discerning viewers are bound to think that it might have been a better movie if it had been three hours long. In a way, it is most fortunate because the casting directors chose smart in selecting its lead actors.

The Mechanic


The Mechanic (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) was a hitman but a well-connected one. He was a part of an international company with clients willing to pay millions to further their goals. Arthur was considered valuable because his adherence to his rules made him an efficient machine. But his next job proved to be more challenging: he was to assassinate his mentor (Donald Sutherland) who happened to be bound on a wheelchair. Although reluctant, he eventually went through with it because he believed that another contract killer couldn’t do a better job. Less pain was a big favor in their profession. Guilt-ridden, he decided to train his mentor’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), to become a hit-man even though the deceased mentor and Steve shared no meaningful relationship. Dean (Tony Goldwyn), the man in charge of Arthur, was displeased with the idea because Steve was everything Arthur was not. He felt like he always had something to prove, his work was messy, and he was a loose cannon. Directed by Simon West, “The Mechanic” was a rush of adrenaline. Only an hour and thirty minutes, each scene was a build-up to a cathartic action sequence, but there was something sorely lacking in order for it to become more than an empty-calorie action movie. It needed an ounce of character development in order to make the characters less cartoonish and more sympathetic. We knew nothing about Arthur except for three things: he relied on his rules for survival, he cherished being by himself, and the only woman he seemed to have interest in, physically, was a hooker. His body needed her and when he was done, he would leave the money on the counter. Maybe he was attracted in the fact that she, too, was a professional–that it was all about the service and the money. If the film had provided more information about our protagonist, I would have been more convinced of his guilt for killing a person he considered to be his only friend. However, the action scenes were strong enough to keep the movie afloat. I thought it was interesting that Arthur was the kind of assassin who chose not to rely on bullets to kill. He used science, like inducing a heart attack or an “accidental” overdose, to disguise a murder. Furthermore, there was an understated comedy in some of the kills due to irony. For instance, a man who claimed to have a direct connection with a higher power turned out to be a drug addict. The only thing that actually possessed his body was unhealthy doses of ketamine. He liked to listen to holy sermons while feeding his demon. “The Mechanic” was enjoyable on the surface but it would have been more involving if the material had allowed Arthur to do something else once in a while other than simply polishing his gun, if you will, until the next job.

X-Men: The Last Stand


X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

The government had found a drug that could suppress the mutant gene which recently became available to the public. Magneto (Ian McKellen), more than ever, was desperate to eliminate humans due to their intolerance against Mutants. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came back from the dead but, Phoenix, her other fiery and unpredictable personality had almost completely taken over. It seemed like not even Professor X (Patrick Stewart) could control her. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, “X-Men: The Last Stand” felt like it settled with one concept and allowed the action scenes to take control of the material. As it went on, I wondered when it was going to offer us something fresh. The idea of finding a cure to a mutation could have gone in a million interesting directions, but the script didn’t break away from the topic of humans versus mutants. Humans were bad, mutants were good–except for the ones who chose to team up with Magneto. We just knew they were bad because they wore leather jackets, had tattoos, and rode motorcycles. There was a painful lack of depth. The introduction of Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a key figure in the United States public relations, could have been a chance for the material to acknowledge that not everyone in the government wanted to “cure” Mutants. There was irony in the way he looked versus the manner in which he carried himself. He looked like an animal but he was professional, smart, and very likable. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t do more with the character was beyond me. Did we really need more sloppily put together action sequences? The tension between Mutants and humans became increasingly complicated because the root of the problem wasn’t black and white. Further, the characters weren’t utilized in an interesting way. For example, it seemed like Rogue (Anna Paquin) only wanted to be cured because she wished to be able to touch Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), her boyfriend, without a glove. She became very jealous when she saw Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby get close physically. The complexity between Rogue and Iceman’s relationship was suddenly thrown out the window for the sake of typical teen drama. Rogue looked selfish. She didn’t even get to help in the final battle. The writers needed to sort out her priorities. As for Angel (Ben Foster), he wasn’t given much except to look pretty while flying around the city. I wanted to know how he felt with the fact that his father didn’t accept him for who he was to the point where he felt the need to cut off his wings when he was a child. If Angel’s scenes were completely removed from the film, the final product would have been the same. That subplot’s lack of connection to the main storyline reflected the picture’s main weakness. Directed by Brett Ratner, “X-Men: The Last Stand” did exactly the opposite of what made its predecessors very entertaining. The material having imagination didn’t necessarily mean expensive-looking special and visual effects. It meant bringing out the magic from within the characters and reminding us why we loved them even though they were genetically dissimilar from us.