Tag Archives: movies

Logan Lucky: Movie Review

Logan Lucky is a welcomed return to form from eclectic filmmaker Steven Soderbergh who practically mastered the heist genre with the Ocean’s Trilogy Out of Sight, and The Limey just to name a few. Fresh off his ten-minute retirement and back with a confident vim, Soderbergh’s latest entry is a charming and breezy southern fried caper flick about two red-state brothers who plan to rip off one of the biggest raceways in Trump country.

Like a Country Song: The film follows Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, in top form), a West Virginia country boy who unfairly lost his construction job due to a football injury that left him with a limp. When times are tough, Jimmy finds solace in a John Denver song and like the best country songs, it’s easy to take lyrics at face value but underneath, there’s a pain there that’s only longing for the simplest comforts in life; something that we all can relate to regardless of class or status. Jimmy is the living epitome of every country song you know: lost a job, lost his wife, and about to lose his daughter. Jimmy’s ex-wife (Katie Holmes) has custody of their pageant-chasing little girl and plans to move out of state with her new husband (David Denman). He spends most nights at the roadside dive where his war vet younger brother Clyde (played with sheer delight by Adam Driver) bartends. Clyde lost his lower left arm in battle and constantly reminds his brother that maybe their lot in life isn’t going to amount to much more than what they’ve got now. Reluctant to accept that, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway just across state line in North Carolina. Soderbergh spends a lot of time with these characters, fleshing out their objectives which help shed any stereotypes we might have of them. They just want their lives to be a bit better than what it is now.

A Well-Oiled Machine: No heist film is complete without the obligatory notion of “Putting a Team Together” and Logan Lucky revels in all the genre trappings like a giddy redneck at a monster truck rally. The Logan brothers count on their hairdress/speed demon sister Mellie (Riley Keough) who knows a thing or two about American made muscle cars and for professional help, they recruit explosive expert Joe Bang (a wonderfully over-the-top Daniel Craig) who delivers what his name suggests. They just have to break him out of jail first, of course, and call on Bang’s own brothers to help them and round out the team. Soderbergh masterfully weaves us in and out of the plot like a pro, pacing the film skillfully, revealing clues and details when he feels he should and even manages to give us strikingly poignant moments amidst the mayhem and trickery. Yet he’s also keenly aware that heist films have the pleasure of living in the gray area where reality and fantasy collide, and with all the joys Logan Lucky throws at us, it can often sacrifice tone and believability for the sake of genre convention (something Soderbergh confidently toys with in all his heist films). But that’s a minor quibble. There’s a lot of great stuff to take in. Tatum, Driver and the cast are at their A game. He gets a juicy, wide-eyed performance out of Craig, complete with a joyful twang. With some rather clever roles for Hilary Swank, Seth McFarlane, Dwight Yoakum and Sebastian Stan, a clever screenplay from the mysterious new screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, and vivid camerawork from Soderbergh himself (as his DP pseudonym Peter Andrews), the whole thing is just too much fun that complaining about minor plotholes and misstep just seem petty.

They’re Callin’ it Ocean’s 7-Eleven: Well into the film, a TV news reporter interviews an eyewitness and, in true Soderbergh self-referential fashion, she literally calls the events as that. It gets a knowing laugh because there’s a familiarity to Logan Lucky’s pacing and confidence that feels like Danny Ocean and his suave set of cronies. Instead of Armani suits and the Bellagio, we get Dungarees and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The joy of heist films is the very procedural nature of it all; the specificity and the planning. It’s how you go about it that makes it fun and with Logan Lucky, the twists and turns within the confines of the genre are delicious and genuinely funny. You’re in for quite a fun ride.

Logan Lucky is a solid addition to the heist genre due to the deft and proficient directing of Steven Soderbergh who knows this genre better than any of his contemporaries. Despite a few weak plot details, there’s a boldness to the film that’s unabashedly off-the-wall yet amazingly full of heart. Lots of filmmakers make heist films, but only Soderbergh makes them this sublime.

**** 1/2 Stars

Advertisements

Five Underrated Movies of 2016

For all the attention Moonlight, La La Land and Manchester By the Sea are getting as the year’s best films, there’s a ton more cinematic gems in 2016 that are simply overlooked and aren’t getting the love that I believe they deserve. I’m focusing on five narrative features that not only are overlooked but are award-worthy and deserve attention, thus considering them the Most Underrated Films of 2016. Like any year-end list my choices are all up for contention. There’s American Honey, The Handmaiden, High Rise, Swiss Army Man, Green Room, Neon Demon, Little Men, Other People, Midnight Special and a whole slew of others. Deadpool did get Golden Globes love so I’ll let that one slide.

These five films could rival some of the current nominees in various categories, from their solid screenplays to the amazing performances in each film. Yet, they’ve received no love this award season when I feel they should have.

5. Hello, My Name is Doris (Roadside Attractions)

blog_underrated2016_005.jpg

Anchored by a nuanced, layered performance from Sally Field as a lonely office worker who develops a deep infatuation for a younger co-worker (Max Greenfield), this sweet little film could have been a bigger hit if it was released in the early 2000’s when these kinds of films were making heavier plays during awards season. I’ve seen it four times and loved it more per viewing. It’s hilarious, touching, and achingly bittersweet. Sally Field should have at least gotten a nomination for her mesmerizing performance.

4. Sing Street (Weinstein Company)

blog_underrated2016_004.jpg

The recent entry in John Carney’s unofficial music trifecta trilogy (Once and Begin Again as the first two) is set in 1980’s Ireland about a rag-tag group of teenage schoolboys forming a rock band. What I love about Carney’s musical films is he captures the process of music-making so accurately on film, and Sing Street is his most personal. With an irresistible soundtrack and a fresh, talented cast this film needed more love. Instead, it got lost in the mix with an untimely summer release. Thank God Netflix picked it up. Any of the original songs should have been nominated especially the Hall & Oates inspired uptempo tuner “Drive It Like You Stole It” which was robbed of an Original Song Oscar nomination this year.

3. Hologram For a King (Lionsgate)

blog_underrated2016_003.jpg

This choice will anger a few but after seeing the film last summer it surprisingly left a lasting impression all year. It can be frustrating to enjoy a film about, well, frustration and when the premise is basically Waiting For Godot in Saudi Arabia, it can test the patience of even the keenest of moviegoers. Once you peel the veneers though there’s much to explore; from perceptions of culture to discovering love when one is out of their element, both physically and figuratively. The film is framed by a solid performance from the ever dependable Tom Hanks playing a tech salesman who’s been asked to pitch a business proposal to an elusive king. One of the film’s many gifts is the scene-stealing performance of Alexander Black as Yousef, an American educated Saudi cab driver who proves he can hold his own against Hanks. From its stark cinematography to its subtle commentary on international relations, this is a film that I urge people to (re)consider.

2. The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.)

blog_underrated2016_002.jpg

I grew up on a steady diet of Shane Black films (Lethal Weapon, anyone?) and for a majority of last summer, I couldn’t stop raving about this film. A studio picture that’s original(!), kooky, off-the-wall and oozing with just the right amount of sleaze, violence and genuine slapstick. The pitch-perfect chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe harkens back to those great buddy comedies of yesteryear, a genre Shane Black perfected in the 80’s. Not to mentioned the perfectly curated disco soundtrack, the colorful, unforgettable cast of characters, the spot-on production and costume designs and a byzantine L.A. noir potboiler of a screenplay that’s paced beautifully and seamlessly. This is how good studio pictures used to be and The Nice Guys could have easily been a hit back in the 80’s or 90’s. In my opinion, this is the kind of film studios should be making more of again.

1. A Monster Calls (Focus Features)

blog_underrated2016_001.jpg

This dark, gorgeous and enchanting children’s story about loss and grief is my pick for the most underrated movie of 2016 because it actually had an award campaign going for it. What happened? There’s way too many goodies in this movie that deserve some kind of nod. Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel to the screen, proves he understands the cinematic form. But the true highlight here is the heartbreaking performance of newcomer Lewis MacDougall who wins you from the get-go with his charm and vulnerability. I found his performance far more effective and stronger than Lucas Hedges in Manchester By the Sea. On the surface, the film can easily be mistaken as heavy visual effects fodder for kids but that would be unfair. The VFX is stunning, sure, yet it’s the overall visual cohesiveness at play that’s far more impressive, directed with such assurance by J.A. Bayona (the helmer of the next Jurassic Park installment). Also, MacDougall is surrounded by captivating performances from his adult castmates; Liam Neeson voicing the monster, Felicity Jones as his ailing mother, Sigourney Weaver as his strict grandmother and Toby Kebbell as his estranged father. This is beautiful, unforgettable and heart-wrenching cinema that can be enjoyed by the whole family. That’s rare and A Monster Calls is definitely a film that hopefully grows the following it so deserves.