2018 Summer Movie Review: Leave No Trace


A father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) try to find their way home in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. (Source: The Atlantic)

Remember a quirky little movie from 2016 called Captain Fantastic? It starred Viggo Mortensen as a father of six. They have been living in the forests with their vintage bus for who knows how long. Once the mother dies, they step into a scary place known as the “real world.” Earning its cult status since it premiered at Sundance, Mortensen saves that uneven movie from being a total disaster.

Eight years later, Leave No Trace marks the return for writer/director Debra Granik after 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which introduced Jennifer Lawrence into stardom. It might have a similar concept to Captain Fantastic (considering they are both set in Pacific Northwest), but this is a much superior film.

Based on Peter Rock’s novel, My Abandonment, Will (Ben Foster) is an Army veteran suffering from PTSD, who lives with his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, in her first major role) deep in Forest Park, just outside Portland, Oregon. There is always something to do; they gather kindling to make campfire, read books, play board games, and cook food. They keep tarps overhead and sleep in sleeping bags to keep warm. The only time they go into town is when Will sells his prescription drugs to earn money for groceries and propane.

One day, Tom spots a jogger. Soon enough, the authorities separate them for questioning. Tom is placed in a detention center for young girls. Will struggles to answer true/false questions on the computer. Together, they struggle coming terms with a new environment.

Who knows why Granik waited so long to release another movie. But–she picked the perfect time to release this movie. Along with co-writer Anne Rosellini, she never shies away from her love of rural America (Winter’s Bone was set in the Missouri Ozarks) and nature. Kudos to Michael McDonough’s cinematography, the vibrant greens of the forest invite the audience to a different world that Will and Tom live in. There are no villains in the story at all. The authorities and Social Services treat the two with respect. Eventually, they help them relocate to place they might call home.

From 3:10 to Yuma to Hell or High Water, Foster has never been better as the demanding father learning her daughter the ways of survival. He must learn how to live with a roof over their heads. While he prefers to head back to the forest, Tom, on the other hands, resists living in this new environment. Unlike most kids her age, she never relies on a cell phone to communicate. She walks to a farmhouse nearby where she meets a boy who participates in 4-H meetings. She makes prized possessions such as a seahorse pendant necklace and miniature toy horses. McKenzie’s performance is truly one-of-a-kind, and one to look out for in the future.

With its PG-rating, Leave No Trace is a mature story about father and daughter living in a society unlike their own, which will more likely appeal to teens and adults. It’s subtle. It’s powerful. It’s intense. It’s devastating. It’s one of the year’s best films!


Movie Review: Inferno


Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) go through the corridors in Ron Howard’s Inferno (Source: IMDb)

Dan Brown is never shy of facing controversy. Not only has his fourth book—The Da Vinci Code—been criticized for its portrayal of Christianity, but also he has been accused of plagiarism by Lewis Perdue. As a result, the 2006 film adaptation got banned in several countries including Egypt and India. The sequel, Angels and Demons, is no different.

I always love a good mystery. That’s what I got in both of these movies. Director Ron Howard has directed two of the most ambitious movies of his entire career. Inferno, the latest Dan Brown adventure, is certainly no exception.

Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back. This time, he wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with amnesia. He keeps seeing visions of hell, and later teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). They learn about billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), his lecture on Earth’s overpopulation, and how his virus—based on Dante’s Inferno—will serve as his resolution. They begin to race against time through Europe to end the catastrophe while a security company—led by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi)—is after them.

Sadly, Inferno is the weakest of Robert Langdon adventures, but it’s nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. It has several bumps in the road. While Hans Zimmer’s score keeps the suspense going, it does lack the powerful choir from the previous two films. It had a rough start with the choppy editing. Once the mystery comes into play, I became invested in what is going on. It’s hard to deny Tom Hanks’ presence as Langdon; he plays out as if he knows his studies. Like his performance in Sully, he’s the smartest man in the room.

Filmed on location in Florence, Venice and Istanbul, there are times in which Inferno feels like a travelogue than an actual film. Its love of history connecting with the mystery fascinates me. There is something in David Koepp’s screenplay that rubs me the wrong way (spoiling it would be truly unnecessary). Thanks to Ron Howard’s direction and the camerawork by Salvatore Totino, Inferno still has the thrills, twists and turns that made the two predecessors so enjoyable.


2016 Summer Movie Review: Hell or High Water


Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) try to save their family’s ranch in Hell or High Water (Source: IMDb)

2016 has provided some of the most original films in recent memory. For Hell or High Water, it has the plot devices of a traditional Western. Two outlaws wreak havoc in town. They do everything they can to get away with it. Someone is out after them. This time, it’s set in modern times. Instead of riding on horses, the outlaws drive in cars and trucks. Instead of the good-ol’ saloon, they eat at restaurants and cafes. Along with Eye in the Sky and last week’s Don’t Breathe, I have never seen movie this thrilling all year. But, this is something quite special.

In West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who wants to do anything to be around his sons. The ranch operated by his family is being foreclosed by the Texas Midlands Bank. He calls upon his older ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to plan a series of heists in order to save their ranch. Meanwhile, the county sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement. As the brothers plan their final robbery, he and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are out to put an end to it.

David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens make every scene look like a painting. The robberies offer enough tension as if the audience feels like they are part of the robbery. In their first movie since The Finest Hours (one of Disney’s biggest box-office flops), Foster and Pine have never been better. The irony in Hell or High Water is the villains are the banks rather than the criminals. Toby is focused, while Tanner is a giant hothead. Together, they are trying everything to exceed their limits in saving the ranch. Even though this will be the last time they might see each other during this economic crisis.

The characters know how to get around every situation. As suspenseful as the movie is, the movie has a razor sharp wit, thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario. In one scene, Hamilton likes to make jokes about Alberto’s Indian heritage. One day, they decide to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. “What don’t you want?” the waitress asks. These two are confused. She tells a story about a customer wanted trout instead of T-bone steak and baked potatoes.

Hell or High Water defines the summer. Let the Oscar buzz commence!