Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Hell or High Water

“Kubo and the Two Strings” and “War Dogs” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

“Don’t mess with Texas.”

It’s a slogan most of us have heard at one point or another. For “Hell or High Water,” it’s more than a slogan, it’s a theme.

Take bank robbing brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively). They’re from Texas, so they have to know better. But after their family ranch is put into danger through the unscrupulous dealings of the Texas Midland Bank, payback—in the literal and figurative sense of the word—clouds their better judgment. Toby, the younger and more level-headed one, convinces his older and more reckless ex-con brother that to pay back the money they owe to the bank, they should rob local Texas Midland branches throughout the state. Provided that they don’t get caught or killed, they will pay the bank back with its own money. It’s also Toby’s idea to bury the get away cars so they’re never found. Nice touch.

Robbing banks in Texas is a unique proposition, since so many of the regular, ordinary citizens are armed. Concealed carry is a way of life down in Texas. Law, order, and justice are also points of pride for the Texans. As the Howard brothers eventually find out, not only will the armed citizenry in Texas shoot back if you point a gun in their direction, they will also give chase when you flee. These people don’t mess around.

Even the waitresses in Texas are no-nonsense sassy, and Texas Rangers are not immune. Take Jenny Ann (Katy Mixon), a waitress at a small town diner. She takes a shine to Toby, as they say, and he leaves her a very large tip. Later on as part of an investigation, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) wants to seize the money so that he can try to trace the bills to a robbery. She is none too happy to do so and lets him know this in no uncertain terms.

Then there’s the T-bone steak restaurant. The waitress has been there for forty-four years and is as feisty and jaded as they come. Hamilton and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) order the steaks because they know they’ll get what for if they try to order something else—like the a-hole from New York in 1987 who tried to order some trout. She writes down that they want two T-bone steaks, medium rare. When Parker begins to gurgle a correction on how he wants his steak cooked, “That weren’t no question” comes the sharp reply.

That’s where “Hell or High Water” truly separates itself as an absolute standout of a movie—in the flavor of the Texas culture that’s on display. Mind you, even without it, this would still be an excellent movie. The four main characters get equal story time and all are well-rounded. The motivations of the Howard brothers to rob banks, as well as the strategy of the Rangers to catch them, is well thought out and makes perfect sense.

Great characters occupying a well-told story is already cause for celebration since it’s such a rarity. Add to it the sense of time and place that Texas provides, and it takes the movie to a whole other level. It’s more than just the folks too--the Texas landscape seen in the many exterior shots is a constant reminder that this story doesn’t take place anywhere else. Nor could it. Buy it on Amazon: Hell Or High Water [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD].

Also New This Week

Kubo and the Two Strings

In the world of spit and polish, high gloss CGI animation from the likes of Pixar, Fox, and Dreamworks, who all basically operate in the same realm, it’s nice to have a refreshing stylistic change of pace. One of the studios who can bring this about is Laika, whose recent efforts include “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.” This time they truly outdid themselves with “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which is like a beautiful Japanese painting come to life.

The story is a standard fare hero’s journey adventure quest. A young boy named Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson) is forced to venture out into the wilderness after his village is destroyed by evil Sisters (voice of Rooney Mara). His quest is to find the three pieces of armor of the legendary samurai Hanzo. Once he has the pieces—a sword, a helmet, and body armor—he can take on the villainous Moon King (voice of Ralph Fiennes) and save humanity from a dark fate. Joining him in his quest are his companions/protectors Monkey (voice of Charlize Theron) and Beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey).

As these movies tend to go, there is bickering amongst members of the hero’s party, particularly between Monkey and Beetle, but when it comes time to fight they have each other’s back. The attainment of each piece of the armor comes with grave dangers, and the movie episodically plots out how Kubo and his friends overcome the dangers to achieve their goals.

While the basic premise may be tried and true, the aesthetic beauty of “Kubo and the Two Strings” is anything but that. This is one of those awe-inspring and breathtaking movies that can be watched with the sound off. The visuals do a great job at telling the story, and they look magnificent. Anyone who has an eye for beautiful art—or is just plain tired of the usual CGI fare and needs a change of pace—would be very wise to give “Kubo” your undivided attention. Rent it.

War Dogs

One of the things that makes the United States of America such a great country is that it’s the land of opportunity. A man who makes $75 a pop giving massages to rich men in gated communities in Miami could one day find himself with a $300 million Defense Department contract to supply weapons and ammunition for the War on Terror.

That’s the story of David Packouz (Miles Teller) and his best friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) in “War Dogs,” a breezy yet harrowing look at the darker side of arms procurement for the U.S. military. Director Todd Phillips, whose credits include “Old School” and “The Hangover,” finds a good balance between light/funny and dramatic/serious.

The movie is based on Packouz’s memoir, and to his—and the movie’s—credit, he knows the part he played in how things went wrong. The government usually gets blamed for everything, and it would have been easy for Packouz to point the finger at how unfair the system is as an excuse for why he did what he did. But Packouz doesn’t do that. He even owns up to how bad it was to lie to his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) as often as he did. Packouz takes it on the chin and spreads it to Diveroli, who is the real mastermind behind the whole operation.

“War Dogs” is an entertaining and exciting movie. It’s also a very strong cautionary tale to not let greed get in the way of doing the right thing. Seizing an opportunity is about more than just improving yourself. It’s also about making things better for everyone. Packouz starts the movie as a selfish man who thinks only about the former. This movie is his journey into thinking about the latter. Rent it.

The Mechanic: Resurrection

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) thought his past as a hitman for hire was over. Turns out it’s not. After his newly acquired girlfriend Gina (Jessica Alba) gets kidnapped by shady industrialist Crain (Sam Hazeldine), Bishop is forced to assassinate three targets. In keeping with “Mechanic” tradition, he needs to make them all look like accidents.

“The Mechanic: Resurrection” ups the ante from the first installment, 2011’s “The Mechanic,” which itself was a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name. This iteration has a bit of “Mission: Impossible” in it, as the scenarios that are presented to Bishop are seemingly impossible to do and he must use his wit and ingenuity to overcome any problems and get the job done.

That’s part of the fun of “The Mechanic: Resurrection.” I enjoyed seeing what obstacles Bishop faced and how he would overcome them. As usual, I enjoy seeing Statham act cool and tough, even if the movie is so-so. And in spite of the presence of Statham and the intriguing way he carries out his assassinations, this movie is so-so. The action is trite and repetitive and doesn’t utilize Statham’s athleticism nearly as much as it should. The Alba-Statham romance is adequately presented, but the connection between the two is very superficial. It’s a hook on which to hang Bishop’s motivation to carry out the assassinations, nothing more. Even the parts I did enjoy are not enough to recommend this movie on the whole. Fans of Statham, as well as moviegoers at large, deserve more from our ultra-cool, gruff-talking, high-kicking, hard-punching hero. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Yoga Hosers,” Kevin Smith movie targeted for teenage girls, which is about as good as that sounds; “Hands of Stone,” biopic about boxer Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramírez) and his trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro); “I.T.” with Pierce Brosnan as a man whose family is under cyber attack after he has a failing out with an adviser; and “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud,” because yeah, the 1984 cult classic about murderous deformed vagrants living in the sewers in New York City definitely needed a sequel.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts