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 Night. Logan 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.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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