Hell or High Water
I picked up Hell or High Water because I had a free Redbox rental and I’m a big fan of Ben Foster, and man am I glad that I did. I didn’t see that many new movies this year outside of the tent pole releases like Civil War, Fantastic Beasts, and Suicide Squad (yuck), but I can say with confidence that Hell or High Water is one of the best movies I saw in 2016. The acting, writing, cinematography, and score all build towards something that transcends the expected.
Going in, I thought it was going to be a fairly run of the mill heist movie with a modern western feel, and honestly, some of that does hold true. It takes place in rural Texas and centers around two brothers that set out to rob some local banks. Their backstory is a little more complicated, and the storytelling is subtle enough to not feel like an exposition dump. Ben Foster plays the older brother, a former military ex-con that takes the lead in the planning. Chris Pine is the younger brother, a recently divorced father who’s trying to build up the cash to rescue their recently deceased mother’s farm. An oil deposit was discovered underneath the farm, and they need to pay off their debt to the bank before it seizes the land and then gets rich off of the oil. Having the robbers be the protagonists isn’t exactly a fresh take, but it’s still interesting.
Jeff Bridges plays the state ranger tasked with taking the two robbers down, and thankfully, he isn’t just painted as the bad guy, despite the fact that the audience wants to see the brothers succeed. He’s a complicated character, and despite him being a bit racist towards his native american partner, he seems like a good cop. In the third act, things go awry for the brothers, as they often do in movies, and shit definitely hits the fan. The ending was partially what I expected, but was open-ended enough to leave me wondering how things were really going to play out. What surprised me most about Hell or High Water was that it kind of flew under the radar, and I think that’s a shame. For what it’s worth, the movie is sporting a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty damn impressive. You should check this one out.
Narcos: Season Two
I’m kind of at a loss concerning what to say about Narcos season two. If you read my review of the first season, you’ll know that I really enjoyed it, and that holds true into the second season. Saying it’s “more of the same” sounds like a slight, but it isn’t meant that way. Season two is a direct continuation of the story from season one, and that’s a good thing. Escobar is still on the run and being chased by several different governmental entities, both from Columbia and the United States. The story is still primarily told through Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy, a DEA agent. It’s anecdotal, but I felt like Escobar was on screen even less than he was in season one. His character slowly devolves over time, and it’s amazing to watch. It seems like this season covered a longer period of time than the first, but I can’t be sure of that.
Regardless, season two does offer up a resolution to the Escobar story, and it felt right for the show. It wasn’t anti-climactic, per se, but it definitely didn’t go down with the craziness you might expect. And not only was that fitting because it’s what really happened, but almost everything on this show is unexpected, so why shouldn’t the ending follow that trend? There will be at least a season three, and the writers did a decent job of setting up what this world might look like post-Escobar. It makes sense why they called the show “Narcos” and not just “Escobar.” I’m curious to see where it goes, and how many of our main characters will stick around.
Fallout 4: Nuka World
I was a much bigger fan of Fallout 4 than most, having given it my Game of the Year award for 2015. If you didn’t particularly enjoy the game, there definitely isn’t anything in Nuka World to change your mind. That said, if you liked Fallout 4 and are looking for more, Nuka World is a great add-on. I was surprised with just how big the additional play space was. For clarity’s sake, I haven’t yet played Far Harbor so I can’t speak to the comparative quality, but taken on its own, I think Nuka World is fantastic. It doesn’t quite rank in the upper echelon of Bethesda DLC, but that’s a pretty damn high bar anyway.
The basic set up is that your character discovers a raider outpost at the run-down theme park, Nuka World. Through several different events, you become the leader of this raider gang, which is actually made up of three different raider groups. It’s your job to keep them together, and to systematically take over the different areas of the park. Setting the DLC in a theme park was a great way to not only play with the inherent humor of it being a kid’s park in the post-apocalypse, but also to theme different zones based on amusement park tropes, like a western themed area and another that’s effectively a zoo.
As far as new stuff goes, there are plenty of new weapons to find, NPCs to interact with, and enemies to fight. You actually aren’t fighting that many raiders, but more on that later. Most of the enemies are variations on existing types, like deathclaws that are part alligator, or brand new monsters like giant crickets that are super fast. I found a lot of the new enemy types to be very challenging, even at a high level. There are secrets to find, as there always are, like a few new sets of power armor and some hidden collectibles leading to awesome loot. To be honest, though, I was a little disappointed in the number of secret areas to find. It’s totally possible that I just didn’t find some stuff, but the two biggest standouts for me were the guided haunted house and a little side mission where you get to interact with some NPCs clearly inspired by Scientologists.
The biggest criticism I can lodge against Nuka World is partly due to the concept. The character I created in Fallout 4 was a good guy. He helped the Minutemen, and even though he ended up siding with the Brotherhood of Steel, he only did so to bring down the Institute and because he thought that was the best way to ensure peace in the commonwealth. He did really feel bad about destroying the Railroad. Anyway, in this DLC, he’s forced to take over this raider group, and in order to see all of the content, he really has to become a raider. After you “beat” the DLC, you’re tasked with slowly taking over the commonwealth, settlement by settlement. I obviously could have skipped that stuff, but then I’d be missing content, and I didn’t want to do that. I just wish there was a better way to play everything that was available without destroying some of the “role-playing” aspects that I had built up in my hundred hours of playtime to that point.
Into the Inferno
After seeing Grizzly Man, I was definitely ready to sit down for another Werner Herzog documentary. This one had less of a narrative feel because it wasn’t following the life of one man, but it was certainly just as interesting. As the title suggests, Into the Inferno focuses on one of the lesser understood phenomena of our world, the volcano. There have been many scientists throughout the years that have studied volcanoes, but the fact that they can’t actually get into active ones has always held them back. It’s the same reason that we as human beings may never understand everything that happens at the bottom of the ocean.
I’ve always been fascinated and terrified by volcanoes. I mean, they’re literally molten rock and metal from the earth’s core shooting out onto the surface. There’s something biblical to them, this unknowable force and power behind the mechanics of what make them erupt. But true to Herzog’s nature as a filmmaker, the volcanoes themselves take a bit of a backseat to the personalities of the people who study them, and the effects that they’ve had on the world. There are even several scenes taking place in North Korea, a country that almost never allows cameras or outsiders into their home. Not to be cheesy, but that was sort of an inferno of its own. Ugh, I hate myself for writing that, but it’s true.
Werner Herzog retains his title as one of the best documentarians ever with Into the Inferno. It’s a fascinating look at volcanoes, the people who study them, and the cultures that have been affected by them throughout the ages. I can’t wait to see what he decides to study next.