Two films worth a late-summer look

Two films worth a late-summer look

Fans of “Sons of Anarchy” will remember Deputy Chief David Hale, played by Texas actor Taylor Sheridan. Since the poor law man was killed off in season 3, Sheridan has concentrated his efforts on writing. First “Sicario,” the drug cartel thriller, which wowed critics earlier this year, and now this, which had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year and came away with rave reviews.

Sheridan, who makes a brief cameo in this movie as a cattle herder, leaves the direction to David McKenzie, and their collaboration proves a good match in this modern-day western that references its roots throughout.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster co-star as brothers who, at first, appear to be on a random bank-robbing spree through the sparsely populated small town of West Texas. A few scenes later, after they have caught the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), it is revealed that the two are really trying to earn enough money to pay off their dead mother’s reverse mortgage and back taxes that the bank unscrupulously handled so they can keep the family farm. In fact, it’s that the same chain of banks they are robbing from town to town.

To break the chain of poverty their family has suffered for generations, the two hatch the plan to rob only cash drawers for small bills and just for the amount they need to satisfy the debt. Toby (Pine) may be down on his luck, but he’s no robber or killer. Tanner (Foster) is just a year out of a long jail stint for armed robbery, so this is a lark for him.

With the Texas Rangers on their trail, they crisscross the desolate, parched plains and back roads until the inevitable eventually catches up to them, building to a final act that doesn’t disappoint. Sheridan’s dialog has unexpected depth, and the analogies he draws from the lost Indian tribes that once roamed those same plains and the same extinction of the small Texas town and its people is not lost in the story. (Playing in Houston theaters.)

‘Hell or High Water’

Starring: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges

Directed by: David McKenzie

Rated: R

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One of history’s odder footnotes is Florence Foster Jenkins. In fact, I have to thank our local public radio station, 91.3 KVLU, for that is where I first heard the high pitched caterwauling that is her operatic voice. It’s the classic story of the emperor with no clothes as Jenkins, an heiress who loved music, financed her own ersatz vocal career, aided and abetted by her common law husband, St. Claire Bayfield, and piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon. Director Stephen Frears goes for the same mild comedy he achieved with “The King’s Speech,” with a touch of poignancy that by the film’s end will touch your heart. Meryl Streep does lighter than usual work here as Jenkins, with Hugh Grant playing Bayfield with proper British stuffiness.

But the scene stealer is “The Big Bang Theory’s” Simon Helberg as McMoon, the wide-eyed, soft spoken pianist who is, at first, is gleefully horrified at Jenkins’ attempts to carry operatic notes, but comes to be one of her true admirers.

The story is faithful to Jenkins’ story, including her infamous concert at Carnegie Hall in October 1944 that was savaged by music critics who prior to that had been barred from the private salon concerts staged just for her friends. The harsh reality may have led to the heart attack she suffered only days later.

Only Streep could do Jenkins justice without dipping into parody, and it’s not just McMoon who becomes a true fan. I’m betting you will too.

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

Starring: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Rated: PG

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