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Logan Lucky

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Adam Driver, Brian Gleeson, Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, David Denman, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank, Jack Quaid, Katherine Waterston, Katie Holmes, Macon Blair, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan,Seth MacFarlane

Released: August 25th, 2017

There are a lot of little things that make Logan Lucky as charming as it is. There is the effortless style of it. The breezy way in which director Steven Soderbergh (welcome back, sir) movies from one scene to the next despite the film involving a rather complicated script via new talent and/or what is a pseudonym for Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner or Soderbergh himself in Rebecca Blunt. There is also the ensemble cast of recognizable faces and charismatic personalities that make each and every one of the many plights that each and every one of these characters encounter that much more amusing. And then, and then there is the simple and just subtle enough techniques that deal in the filmmaking side of things that Soderbergh utilizes to make this feel simultaneously as raw as some of the emotional wounds these characters are dealing with while being as authentic as the general air of authenticity that surrounds each of these people. Whether it be in the shooting style that includes these movements or tracks that don’t feel overly polished, but are seemingly intentional or the way in which Soderbergh, who serves not only as the director (and possible writer), but the cinematographer and editor here as well, cuts his scenes together to emphasize certain jokes or moments-it all feels rather perfectly imperfect. Bring all of these elements together and what we have is essentially a southern fried heist film from the guy who made all three of the kinetic and flashing Ocean’s movies. It has been a decade since Ocean’s Thirteen and it’s not difficult to see why this genre is as attractive as it is as it offers the always appreciated underdog story, allows for moments of real tension and adventure, while presenting a canvas on which one can paint as many interesting and quirky characters as they like. The characters are the real draw of Logan Lucky as one can certainly layer in meaning that concerns the heartland of the American dream and how now, in our present state, that American dream in its purest sense can only be achieved by those who sell out or inherit their daddy’s booming business as opposed to those who are willing to chase dreams and work hard, but Soderbergh’s film never feels like an attempt to capture something bigger than that of the lark it actually is. It is largely about these people we don’t see in big Hollywood productions often enough and upending the assumptions typically associated with them. There is meaning to be drawn if you so desire, but there is also room to just have a lot of fun-which Logan Lucky is. I guess the fact one could seemingly do both only makes the movie more impressive than it already is.

We begin by meeting Jimmy Logan who is a good ole boy from West Virginia that likes John Denver and fixes his trucks and teaches his daughter a thing or two about doing so in the process. Jimmy has been down on his luck ever since he blew out his knee playing high school football when it seemed he was destined for the pros. Jimmy works on a construction site down at the Charlotte motor speedway fixing pipes that have burst beneath the track. That is, before he is let-go for not disclosing that aforementioned bum knee on his initial paperwork that the insurance company has now deemed a liability. To make matters worse he is then informed by his ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), that she and her new husband Moody (David Denman) and their twin boys along with her and Jimmy’s daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), will be moving across state lines to North Carolina no doubt making it more difficult on Jimmy to ensure the limited number of days he already has with Sadie actually happen. Having had it up to here with everything the world is throwing at him Jimmy heads to the local bar where his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), works. Clyde is an Iraq war veteran who lost his arm, I mean hand, in combat and now comes across as something of a gimmick as the “one-armed bartender”. It is on this fateful night that a big-wig NASCAR sponsor (Seth MacFarlane) walks into the bar and ends up in a confrontation with Jimmy and his brother that allows for an idea to spark inside what we perceive to be Jimmy’s dimly lit brain. Having seen the underground workings of the speedway and how they move the money Jimmy is keen on staging a robbery; one that could do more than settle his debts, but give him peace of mind-which is all he really wants anyway. To do this, Jimmy and Clyde first recruit explosive device expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who is presently incarcerated, but which Jimmy and Clyde have a plan for as well. Once Joe agrees to the scheme things are set in motion with Joe pulling in his two younger brothers, Fish Bang (an unrecognizable Jack Quaid) and Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson), to help out with supplies and transportation as well as Jimmy and Clyde bringing on sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to cover any gaps and provide some necessary motivation. There seemingly couldn’t be anything more southern about a heist targeting a NASCAR race, but it is in each of these players that we find something a little more Southern than even the premise of this film. It is in these characters that we find the sweet spot of the movie and what it brings to the conversation outside of being just a solid heist film, but a film that is fun not for what it’s about, but because of what the characters bring to their amusing set of circumstances.

Cauliflower has high nutritional value and is widely known as one of the healthiest plants on the planet. In Logan Lucky, cauliflower is used as a code word of sorts signaling to Clyde that Jimmy is onto something and desires his involvement. Whether the use of this word is intentional so as to allude to the film itself being more than meets the eye-your guess is as good as mine. One could say cauliflower may look simple enough or be perceived as little more than a knock-off broccoli or cabbage, though it is actually a diverse vegetable in that it can be consumed raw, cooked, or pickled-just the same as Logan Lucky can be taken as a comedy, an ensemble actioner, or a dissection of this Americana state of mind in that the setting, people, and situations give off certain perceptions or ideas of what life is expected to be like when such factors are involved, but like cauliflower, each can be more nutritional than one might initially give them credit for. Of course, Soderbergh or Tatum could have simply thought cauliflower was the right amount of random to throw in at the time and thus it was just that-a random moment of improv that adds to the arbitrary vibes this entire environment gives off, but again-your guess is as good as mine. Either way, in this North Carolina/West Virginia setting there is a sense of upholding this old idea that everything and everyone moves slower in the South. By adapting this kind of preconception and implementing it into the pacing of the film while juxtaposing it with the biggest sport of the region-which just happens to be all about speed-Soderbergh broadly paints a theme of expectations versus reality and then drills in on this in a more granular fashion as the movie goes on. We see Tatum’s Jimmy and we feel as if we know the guy. He’s a high school star who burned out before he knew he was on fire. We see Driver’s Clyde who has provided this great service to our country and is now relegated to serving the people of his country in a different way-one where they can get belligerent, but where Clyde no longer has the right to do what his training would likely inspire him to do. These are people who are easy to make fun of, to look down upon, and would seemingly be an easy target for easy comedy, but Soderbergh (who is from Atlanta, Georgia) is never condescending when it comes to his portrayal of Jimmy or Clyde and as he and his movie continue to drill down into the finer details of who exactly these characters are and the potential they hold we see that, just like that American dream, all is not as it once appeared. Logan Lucky perfectly encapsulates this idea of the underdog by turning those who have already been labeled as hopeless or wastes of time into characters with real credibility. Writing stories-good, significant, entertaining stories-for and about those who have already been written off.

And while Logan Lucky may largely be considered a comedy caper of sorts it is the fact it gives such characters credence that make it stand apart. Better for the soul, if you will. Still, this is first and foremost a farce and what makes the majority of Logan Lucky so much fun are these characters and the performances everyone brings to the table. This review has gone on without even mentioning the fact Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank, and Sebastian Stan each get a few moments of their own amongst everything else that is going on in in the film. Though, it is within Stan’s role that there is some explaining left to do as I can’t figure out if what was omitted concerning his character is meant to be assumed or if there simply isn’t anything more than what the movie tells us. The same could be said for Swank who enters the picture so late in the game yet is given what would seemingly be the critical role if there were to ever be a sequel to a movie like this. There is almost no way to clearly decipher what Soderbergh’s true intent might have been despite the fact he gives us one of those scheme walk-through’s in the same fashion he did in his Ocean’s movies that goes through and explains how all the intricate pieces of our protagonist’s puzzle of a plan fit together. It is in these untied plot strands that Logan Lucky doesn’t come to feel as satisfying as it might otherwise have despite the fact it means to be a little more substantive than it would have anyone know. There are satisfactory conclusions given for each of the parties involved in the heist and the film does well to respond to what might have been lingering questions from audience members around certain aspects of the heist, but there could have certainly been a little more clarification concerning a third act twist as well as a little tightening of the film in general in its last twenty minutes as the denouement goes on about five scenes too long with the high of the heist having long since worn off. For the majority of the running time though, Logan Lucky is a blast and it’s clear the people on screen are having fun as well. The characters never laugh at what we, as an audience find humorous, because this is who they are and they are dead serious in their endeavors. The way in which both Tatum and Driver deliver their rather simple dialogue-in this slow, deadpan, but direct fashion-is almost always hilarious no matter what words are coming out of their mouths. It is Craig and Keough who steal the show though, with Craig reveling in the fact he gets to play a character that is such a polar opposite from that of his most popular alter ego while Keough only continues to impress after two very different, but equally layered performances in American Honey and It Comes at NightLogan Lucky is one of those movies that one could re-visit time and time again because it is enjoyable to simply be in the company of these characters and no matter if that’s all the viewer takes away from the experience or if they do indeed find something deeper to latch onto the fact of the matter is Logan Lucky is a good time regardless of if you want to turn your brain off or use it.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

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Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

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A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

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There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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