“Dolly Deadly” : Oh, Man, That Is F***ed Up

Trash Film Guru


Regular readers of the blathering assemblages of non-sequiturs and stream-of-consciousness semi-tirades that I have the gall to call “reviews” already know that the distant margins is where I often find the most interesting stuff, and they don’t come much more marginal or distant than 2016’s Dolly Deadly, a brutally surreal and intentionally ugly $10,000 production lensed in the depressing backwater of Chester, California by director Heidi Moore. Simply put, if you’re looking for a flick that makes you feel like an irredeemably sick fuck for even knowing of its existence, never mind actually watching it, then you could do a lot worse than this blood-soaked serving of deeply troubled and troubling psychological unease. I know I certainly felt like I could use a good, cold shower after catching it on Amazon Prime (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD, from what I understand) the other day — but how…

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“Asylum : The Lost Footage” Is And Isn’t Exactly What You Think It Is

Trash Film Guru


I’ll say one thing — and I should emphasize that it’s one thing — for Geraldo Rivera : his sensationalistic expose of the crisis conditions in many American mental institutions that led to mass closings of said facilities in the late ’70s and early ’80s has ensured that enterprising no-budget indie directors have a veritable shit-ton of freely-available,purportedly “haunted” filming locations at their disposal. Case in point : the shuttered Central State Hospital in scenic Indianapolis, Indiana that serves as “ground zero” for the “action” (a term I use ridiculously loosely) in Dan T. Hall’s 2013 “homemade horror” effort Asylum : The Lost Footage.


The title of this flick alone gives away exactly what it’s about, but just in case you still have questions, never fear : the poster gives a full (albeit questionably-worded) accounting of the proceedings, so I don’t even need to repeat ’em here. We’re on…

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Music Video of the Day: Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf (1979, dir. Arnold Levine)

The following quotes are from the book, I Want My MTV:

“For Bat Out of Hell [in 1977], I talked the label into giving me $30,000 to shoot three live performance clips, and I got them played as trailers before midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That is still the number one selling album in the history of Holland, and I never played there. It’s all because of the “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” video.” –Meat Loaf

“MTV was never very kind to me. They never played any of my videos.” –Meat Loaf

I love to speculate as to the reason why. It certainly doesn’t seem to have stopped him from trying. I can find many music videos that he made during the 80s. It’s telling though, that despite being such a well-known artist, most of the videos aren’t in mvdbase or IMVDb. That includes Dead Ringer for Love that had Cher in it.

What else is telling is that no matter what video it is, or no matter how much it tries to look like a modern music video, they are just the Bat Out Of Hell videos with some window-dressing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not MTV. I’m sure Meat Loaf being overweight didn’t help either. Also, as great as the songs are, it’s not really rock as much as it is rock-tinged opera music, or put more simply, rock opera. If MTV had trouble selling Def Leppard to the point that their videos looked like Duran Duran ones, then imagine trying to sell Meat Loaf. It all adds up to an artist that was kind of destined to fall through the cracks.

A good way to see the difference between Meat Loaf music not making it to MTV, and Meat Loaf music making it to MTV, is to compare his videos to Bonnie Tyler music videos. Her songs were also from Jim Steinman in one form or another. They are operatic as well. You can really hear that on Holding Out For A Hero and Faster Than The Speed Of Night. However, Tyler is pretty, she’s a woman, she’s thin, she can sing, and most importantly, her videos were an event. Even more than thirty years later, you can say her name and the video for Total Eclipse Of The Heart comes to people’s minds. There is symbolism, storylines, an overall vision across several of her best videos, and they are memorable, which makes them re-watchable.

You see a Meat Loaf music video, you like the song, and buy the album. The cycle ends there. That kind of cuts MTV out of the picture when you don’t want to come back to them to see the video. During the time a Meat Loaf video would play, they could be airing Breaking The Law by Judas Priest, Poison Arrow by ABC, and Rio by Duran Duran that all stand separate from the song and bring back viewers. You have to remember that several people who were at the genesis of MTV were from The Movie Channel where it was their job to optimize programming based on demographic research. They needed money and had limited airtime.

Today we live in a world where the record companies can dump everything on YouTube. Who cares if it only brings in a few thousand views? Every single video can be watched concurrently by as many people as there are in the world, and you don’t have to worry about it after that except for licensing deals that you would have to handle anyways. I can’t imagine it costs much to put up either. They also have the benefit of people filling in the gaps by putting the videos up themselves that they can then claim advertising rights on. MTV didn’t have these luxuries.

Of course while this might have been the case for Meat Loaf during the 80s, the 90s were a different story when they and VH1 must have realized that he now fit their more original programming model since he was also an actor on top of being a famous musician. I remember him hosting a game show for VH1. There was also that biopic in 2000 called Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back.

Sing us out of 2016, Meat Loaf!

Film Review: Finding Dory (dir by Andrew Stanton)


Finding Dory, the latest film from Pixar, tells the story of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang (for our readers in Vermont, that’s a fish) who suffers from short-term memory loss.  You may remember her from Pixar’s previous movie about fish, Finding Nemo.  In that movie, she helped a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (voiced, in Finding Dory, by Hayden Rolence).  In the sequel, it’s Marlin and Nemo who are now helping Dory to find her parents.

Dory has spent years searching for her parents.  Of course, it would be easier if she didn’t suffer from short-term memory loss.  It seems that every time she sets out to track her parents down, she ends up getting distracted and forgets what she was doing.  However, while helping to teach a class about migration, Dory has a sudden flashback to her parents (voiced, quite charmingly, by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  She sets out once again, determined to find her parents.  This time, Marlin and Nemo are accompanying her.  As Dory continually frets, she’s can’t do it alone because she can’t remember directions.

Though her memories are fuzzy and her flighty nature leads to some conflict with Marlin (who is just as cautious and overprotective of Nemo as he was in the first film), Dory eventually finds her way to where her parents were last seen.  And, in doing so, Dory discovers that she and her parents originally lived at a water park, the California Marine Life Institute.

(One of my favorite parts of the film is that apparently, Sigourney Weaver recorded several greetings and other messages that are played continuously over the Institute’s PA system.  “Hello, I’m Sigourney Weaver and welcome to the Marine Life Institute.”  Dory becomes convinced that Sigourney Weaver is some sort of God-like being who is leaving personal messages for her.  At one point, Dory exclaims, “A friend of mine, her name’s Sigourney, once told me that all it takes is three simple steps: rescue, rehabilitation, and um… one other thing?”)

Since this is a Pixar movie, Dory meets the usual collection of oddball and outcast sealife at the Institute, all of whom help her out while overcoming their own insecurities, providing properly snarky commentary, and hopefully bringing a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded of viewers.  Finding Dory is full of familiar voices, everyone from Idris Elba to Bill Hader to Kate McKinnon.  But, for me, the most memorable of all the voices (with the exception of Ellen DeGeneres herself) was Ed O’Neill’s.  O’Neill brought Hank, the bitter but ultimately good-hearted seven-legged octopus, to poignant life.  I imagine that, should there be another sequel, it will be called Finding Hank.

Finding Dory continues the annual tradition of Pixar films making me cry.  Finding Dory is an incredibly sweet and truly heartfelt movie but, at the same time, it’s also an extremely witty comedy.  This is one of those Pixar films where the joy comes not only from looking at the amazing animation but also from listening to truly clever dialogue being delivered by some of the best voice actors around.  DeGeneres does such a great job bringing Dory to life that, as the movie ended, my first instinct was to run out and buy a regal blue tang of my very own.  But then I read an article on Wikipedia, which explained why I shouldn’t do that.

(Basically, blue tangs may look cute but they have big, scary spikes that can cut up your hand.  As well, they don’t do well in captivity.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Dory of your very own, you might be better off just rewatching this movie…)

It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you cry.  Finding Dory is another great film from Pixar.

Music Video of the Day: Butterfly by Mariah Carey (1997, dir. Mariah Carey & Daniel Pearl)

I made a mistake yesterday when I spotlighted Fantasy by Mariah Carey. I only relied on mvdbase for directing credits, so I thought this music video was solely directed and shot by Daniel Pearl. It turns out, she co-directed it with him. He still shot it, but they made the video together. You can still see the strong influence that a talent of Pearl’s caliber had on the music video. It also makes it more interesting to talk about since this video does share aspects with Fantasy, that was directed only by Carey, and those elements are used correctly this time.


The video starts us outside the house as we rise up from behind a birdbath. You’re immediately greeted with white columns that are like prison bars. It is raining. That means that inside of the two seconds that the initial shot lasts, we get a hint that there was once something here that is now empty, the house is like a prison, and the rain sets the sad tone the video begins on.


The next shot we see a man walking past what could be flowers lying on the ground.


That shot is followed by a clear shot into the rain-filled birdbath with the faceless man way in the background, and out of focus, climbing the stairs onto the porch of the house. That confirms to the audience that the birdbath is now only filled with rain that acts as a stand-in for tears while also telling us that the video is now moving from the emptiness of the outside to the interior of this prison. Him being out of focus also highlights his faded existence in Carey’s life.


The rain is then shown washing off the mud his footprint left on the stair. Tears may be sad, but that shot tells us that we are supposed to see them as a cleansing force rather than something that is going to drive Carey deeper into herself. It is also another sign that he is being washed out of her life as he is in the present.


Then we begin our trip into the house through the Baby Doll inspired hole-in-the-wall. You can just barely see the man’s finger in the lower lefthand-corner as the camera moves forward to show us Carey on a bed with a rocking horse behind it. Then, in a split-second, we see Carey get a small smile on her face. That is followed by a shot of her legs that, along with everything else about the shot, indicates to us that she is an attractive person that is cooped up in this house in bed like she is a baby in the safety of her crib. Then the lyrics kick in, we start to get to know her, and begin her journey.


The next shot is of Carey in a barn with a baby horse. You can also see a shadow that moves across the entrance and quickly disappears. We’ve gone from his feet to a quick shot of his hands to a shadow. The horse has gone from something wooden in a room that obviously means something to him since he is making one last visit to it, but that we and Carey are already moving past it. These parts are memories that she is thinking of as she lies half-asleep in bed.


We get a few more shots into the house through the hole, and our last shot of the guy as he pulls away. Awake and still in the bed, she visualizes the horse in the barn again and it running around a small patch of grass surrounded by a wooden fence. She sees the outside via a window that we can see has had been wiped away at to make it possible to see through it–probably on numerous occasions. It cuts between these window shots and her getting progressively up from lying in the bed before she finally rises to move onto the next stage of her recovery.


Now we see her on the stairs. But we see her from behind the bars of the stairs.


We also see the chandelier that is beautiful, but abandoned, as shown by the cobwebs on it. It’s another sign that there was something here once and that this house has now become a prison that needs to be escaped from no matter how gorgeous it once was. This is done at the same time as we see the golden-light shining in from outside representing hope, and indicating to the audience that the video will now move Carey to the next stage of her recovery, which she does as she runs down the stairs outside.


As she does it, we can see that there is not only the peeling on the wall that we could see before, but also another hole in a wall.


We next see Carey outside straddling a tree branch like she would if she were riding a horse. The tree is an intermediary step. It reminds her of both riding the horse and stability–since the tree won’t move.


We can also see the wind blowing in her hair that is in contrast to her hair being stationary inside the house. We also get conflicting images of the horse still in the little gated area and running wild with other horses. It is also no longer raining outside, but can see tears on Carey’s face. She’s beginning to let go.


We now see Carey holding onto the trunk of the tree. She is no longer in its embrace. She is standing on her own two feet, but leaning against it for comfort because she hasn’t completely let go yet. It cuts back a few times to her in the tree before she runs away from it.


Next, we see Carey finally taking the horse out from the first gate that kept it in a very small area.


That is followed by the horse jumping the barb-wire fence. While the horse makes it over the fence, it still catches its legs on it.


Carey then runs up and grabs the fence herself, wounding her hand. It cuts back to her in the tree at first, then follows that with her knocking down the fence. Her and the horse are escaping free, yet wounded. This nicely ties the horse and Carey together. Both were trapped, and in releasing one, the other also gained their freedom. The cut tells us that while necessary, it isn’t painless, no matter how strong she has become at this point.


We now see her ride the horse for the first time in the video.


We see her feed it, and have some last moments with the horse before the camera pans up to show that she is alone again like she was at the start.


The difference is she is outside in the sun, hopeful, ready to start again, and free of the memories of the relationship that were comforting and confining.


The whole time, these images and transitions correspond with the music and lyrics. In particular, she keeps talking about what she is letting go returning to her if they were meant to be together. We see that it doesn’t. I like how you can read this apparent contradiction in different ways.

There are a couple of other things to notice while you watch the music video. There are several indicators of the passage of time. One of my favorite ones is the way the wood that makes up the wood fence changes. Sometimes it looks new.


Other times it appears to be rotting with vines growing on it.


The other thing I like is that it is usually not a single horse running free. You can read that several ways too.


In Fantasy, the rollercoaster elements are isolated and don’t appear throughout the video. It’s a memorable visual, but that’s it. It is also gone at about a minute-and-forty seconds out of the approximately four-minute runtime. The Butterfly equivalent to the rollercoaster is the horse. The difference is that the horse, and what it represents, is interwoven throughout the video from it being a rocking horse behind the bed to running wild beyond both of the fences–wooden and barbed-wire. Yes, the two songs are quite different in their subject matter, but it could have served the same purpose. It kicks off the song, but doesn’t bookend the video even though it should since it can stand in for a ride through the “fantasy” as well as the song itself.

The other thing that is used better is blur. It is distracting in Fantasy, feels like someone trying out a new feature they discovered on their camera, and almost gives you the impression that Carey wanted to blur out everyone else to place the sole focus on her. Here, you only really notice it when someone tells you to look for it. Otherwise, just like the progression of the horse, it feels seamless.



Film Review: American Honey (dir by Andrea Arnold)


You would probably be justified in thinking that there’s no way that a great film could be made about those weirdos who occasionally show up at your front door and pressure you to buy a dozen magazine subscriptions (the better to help them win a trip to Europe or go to drug rehab or get a college education) but Andrea Arnold has managed to do just that with American Honey.

American Honey features several scenes of the film’s characters swarming through neighborhoods, knocking on doors and launching into their sales pitch.  We see how the group’s top salesman, Jake (Shia LaBeouf, for once playing a role that makes perfect use of his “permanently full of shit” image), changes his approach from house to house and we listen as he explains his selling technique.  When the smarmy but charming Jake knocks on a door and then starts to flirt with the teenage girl who answers, I immediately started to have flashbacks to when I was going to college and, every summer, the magazine people would descend on Denton, looking for gullible students.  I once opened the door of my apartment and got trapped into a long conversation with a cute but annoyingly hyper guy who ended every sentence by holding up his hand and going, “High five!”  He very well could have been Jake.

We also watch as Krystal (Riley Keough), the group’s somewhat frightening manager, gives everyone their assignments and constantly pressures her crew to bring in as much money as possible.  Though the film never quite becomes an expose, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the whole door-to-door magazine subscription industry is essentially an unregulated scam that largely survives by exploiting people who don’t have anywhere else to go.  As Krystal puts it, if someone can’t make their sales, that person can easily just be left on the side of the road.

That said, American Honey isn’t really about selling magazines.  What is it about?  It’s about many things.  It’s a road movie, one that lasts nearly three hours and which features a narrative that at times seems to meander almost aimlessly.  (Of course, that randomness is deceptive.  Andrea Arnold knows exactly what she’s doing.)  It’s a tour of what has been termed flyover county, with the crew invading neighborhoods both wealthy and poor.  (When they arrive in a poor South Dakota town, Krystal announces, “I got a lot of relatives here!”)  It’s a celebration of youth and impulsiveness because, even though the magazine crew is being exploited, they’re also having a really good time.  Most of the members of the crew were played by nonactors and they bring a rough authenticity to their roles.  They may be outcasts but, if just for a little while, they’ve formed their own family.  (Albeit a family that lives in vans, cheap motels, and occasionally a deserted farmouse…)

Ultimately, the film is coming-of-age story.  When we first meet Star (Sasha Lane), she’s 18 and she’s living in Oklahoma.  Star was born in Texas and her meth-addict mother died when she was young.  Now that she’s in Oklahoma, she’s working as some sort of live-in nanny, taking care of two children while their mother dances at a redneck bar and their father continually gropes her.  When she sees Jake and the magazine crew dancing in a supermarket (and getting thrown out by security), she’s immediately drawn to them.  When Jake offers her a position with the crew, it’s a chance to both escape and to belong.  Krystal asks if Star is 18.  Star says that she is.  Krystal asks if anyone is going to miss Star after she leaves.  Star says no one will.

And soon, Star is in the back of a van, being driven across the country.  Krystal doesn’t like or trust her.  Jake may or may not be using her.  But, for the first time, Star has a family.  For the first time, she belongs.

And, she soon finds herself discovering and seeing things that she would never have had a chance to see otherwise.  One morning, she sits out on a hill and watches as an equally curious bear approaches her.  When she and Jake attempt to sell in a rich neighborhood, she watches with barely disguised jealousy as a spoiled teenager celebrates her birthday.  In one of the film’s best scenes, she ends up attending an impromptu barbecue with three cowboys and we find ourselves, much like her, trying to figure out just how much she can trust these seemingly friendly men.  In one of film’s saddest scenes, she stops at a house and discovers three neglected children and a junkie mother.  And, in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, an oil rig worker says he doesn’t want any magazines but he’ll pay her $1,000 for a hand job.

Through it all, we watch as Star approaches each new situation with equal doses of fear and hope, confidence and doubt.  And like her, we find ourselves wondering how far she should go and who she should trust.  Sasha Lane is in every scene of the film and gives an amazingly good performance, one that is all the more remarkable for the fact that this was her first movie.  Much like Katie Jarvis in Arnold’s Fish Tank, Sasha Lane was discovered by the director.  (Jarvis was famously discovered after yelling at her boyfriend on a train platform.  Lane was discovered under somewhat less contentious circumstances, while sunbathing on the beach.)   Sasha Lane gives a brave and unflinchingly honest performance.  At times, I found myself cringing because I could totally understand what Star was feeling and what she was going through.  (Though I never ended up selling magazines, I went through my lost phase.)  There was not a single false note to be found in Lane’s performance.

Special mention should also be made of Riley Keough’s work as the manipulative Krystal.  Keough alternates between being harsh and being strangely likable with such skill that it’s impossible not to share both Star’s fear and her occasional admiration of her.

Ultimately, though, this is Andrea Arnold’s film.  The British director approaches the so-called heartland of America with an outsider’s view and she captures some of the most unexpected and strikingly beautiful images of 2016.  American Honey is a powerful, demanding, and occasionally enigmatic movie, one that feels almost like the type of film that Terrence Malick would make if Malick could curb his tendency to descend into self-parody.  American Honey is one of the best of the year.

2016 IN MEMORIAM (S through Z)

cracked rear viewer

This is the final entry in our tribute to those artists, entertainers, and pop culture figures who passed away in 2016. Let’s all hope the 2017 list is much, much shorter.

Veteran CBS News journalist Morley Safer (“60 Minutes”)

Actress Theresa Saldana (“Raging Bull”, “The Commish”)

DC comic book letterist Gaspar Saladino


Actor Joe Santos (“The Rockford Files”)


Prolific character actor William Schallert


Horror star Angus Scrimm (the “Phantasm” series)

Comedian/actor Garry Shandling

Grand Ole Opry star Jean Shepherd

Actress Madeleine Sherwood (“The Flying Nun”)


Actor/singer/conductor Frank Sinatra Jr.

MMA fighter Kimbo Slice

Actor James Stacy (“Lancer”)

Singer Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”)

Music & film producer Robert Stigwood

ruthGolden Age actress Ruth Terry

Actor/host Alan Thicke (“Growing Pains”, “Thicke of the Night”)

Television producer/executive Grant Tinker

Futurist writer Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)


Mexican actress Lupita Tovar (1931’s Spanish language “Dracula”)

jtChild actor Jerry Tucker of Our Gang

vanitySinger/actress Vanity


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Film Review: Hell or High Water (dir by David Mackenzie)

The Texas-set film Hell or High Water features four excellent lead performances.  There’s Chris Pine and Ben Foster, playing brothers and robbing banks.  And then there’s Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, as the two Texas Rangers who are attempting to hunt the brothers down.

But for me, my favorite character was the waitress who, during the latter half of the film, serves lunch to the two Texas Rangers.  When Bridges asks her how she’s doing, she replies, “Hot and not in the good way.”  When the two Rangers start to order their food, she stops them and tells them that everyone who comes in the diner orders the same thing except for one “asshole from New York” who tried to order a trout.  “We ain’t got no goddamn trout!”  It’s a short scene but it’s one of my favorites because, if you’ve ever spent any time in West Texas, you know that this scene is probably the most realistic in the entire film.

My second favorite character was a banker teller played by the great Dale Dickey.  When the Rangers ask her if the men who robbed her bank were black, she replies, “Their skin or their souls?”  You just have to hear the way that she delivers it.  In theory, that should be an awkward line but Dale Dickey makes it sound totally natural.

In fact, everything about Hell or High Water seems totally natural.  For a film about bank robbers, it’s actually a deceptively low-key film, one that is as memorable for its quiet moments as its shoot outs.  When the violence does come, it’s all the more jarring because the movie has spent so much time focusing on the tranquil stillness of the West Texas landscape.

(That said, I should point out that the film was actually shot in New Mexico.  But, quite frankly, New Mexico is pretty much just West Texas with more Democrats.)

Hell or High Water is a film that’s all about the little details.  The film opens with a bank robbery and, as the camera gracefully circles the bank, we catch a glimpse of graffiti announcing that the artist did 4 tours in Iraq and that “bailouts (are) for banks, not for me.”  At its heart, Hell or High Water is about the many people who have been left out of this so-called “economic recovery,” in which we’re all supposed to have such faith despite having seen little evidence of its existence.  While the rich get richer, the struggle of the people in Hell or High Water is ignored by everyone but them. And so, the people do what they can to survive.  For some, that means robbing banks.  For others — like a wonderfully snarky group of witnesses in a diner — that means refusing to admit that they saw anything happen.  If you want to see a realistic portrait of economic uncertainty and populist revoltuon, don’t waste your time with the cutesy bullshit and bourgeois Marxism of The Big Short.  Watch Hell or High Water.

Of course, not everyone is willing to turn a blind eye to the bank robbing brothers.  Hell or High Water is not just about economic anxiety.  It’s also about the unique struggle of being a bank robber in a part of the country where literally everyone has a gun.  (During one robbery, Pine asks an old customer if he has a gun on him.  “Damn right I got a gun on me!” the old man snaps back.)  As opposed to so many other films, Hell or High Water gets West Texas right.

(It’s probably not a coincidence that we’re told the brothers robbed a bank in Archer City, the home of legendary Texas writer, Larry McMurtry.)

As for the film’s cast, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster get the two “showiest” roles.  Jeff Bridges plays a Texas Ranger who is only a few days away from retirement and who enjoys needling his partner.  (One of the main delights of the film is the comedic interaction between Bridges and Gil Birmingham.)  Ben Foster is the more reckless of the two brothers, an ex-con who declares that everyone is his enemy but, at the same time, shows himself to be willing to do anything to protect his brother.  Both Bridges and Foster give excellent performances and Foster, in particular, reminds us that he’s one of the most exciting actors working today.

And yet, for me, the true anchor of the film is Chris Pine.  Chris Pine, of course, is best known for starring in the last three Star Trek films.  And while he was always an adequate lead in those films and he gave a wonderfully self-aware performance in Into The Woods, none of his past films prepared me for just how good a job he does in Hell or High Water.  Pine gives a quiet and rather subtle performance and, when we first see him, we automatically assume that he’s been dragged into the criminal life by his more flamboyant brother.  But as the film progresses, we start to realize that there’s more to both the character and to Chris Pine as an actor.  By the end of the film, we’re forced to reconsider everything that we previously assumed about everyone.

Speaking of end of the film — let’s just say that Hell or High Water has one of the best final scenes of 2016.  Like the film itself, it’s deceptively low-key but it leaves you reeling.

It took me a while to see Hell or High Water but I’m glad I did.  Come Hell or high water, you should see it too.