Bro-Reviews: Logan Lucky

Ocean’s 7-Eleven.

The heist genre can be quite tricky to pull off now these days. While most moviegoers themselves fantasize of stealing a large sum of cash in the hopes of a rags-to-riches storybook ending, audiences have seen this story played out dozens upon dozens of times. The only director who seemed to get it right two out of the three times he directed such a film was Steven Soderbergh, who announced his retirement three years ago much to the dismay of film buffs around the globe. However, Soderbergh has ended his retirement and returned to the all-too-familiar heist film genre with his latest project, Logan Lucky.

Logan Lucky centers on Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a would be NFL quarterback had he not blown out his knee at LSU, thus continuing a family curse that also extends to his his one-handed Iraq veteran brother, Clyde Logan (Adam Driver). After Jimmy is fired from his construction job, he and Clyde devise an elaborate plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the help of their sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) and incarcerated explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig).

Logan Lucky rests upon the shoulders of its performers, and everyone brings their A-game to the picture. Channing Tatum continues to prove why he is one of the most  sought after A-listers in Hollywood today, bringing to life a smarter-than-you-think character who is doing this just to remain closer to his daughter. Adam Driver also gives a great performance as the down and out younger brother, and it’s roles such as these that allow Driver to expertly portray his awkwardness to make his character seem ever-so appealing. The rest of the ensemble also performs well in the film, particularly Katie Holmes, whose portrayal of Jimmy’s ex-wife makes you wish you had the gumption to pick-up a Southern belle like her. Hilary Swank also makes a welcome return to the mainstream in the third act of the film as a hard-nosed FBI investigator, and it’s great to see a talent like her back where she belongs.

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However, it’s Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang who steals the show. Craig has of course always had the reputation of a suave actor due to his excellent turn as James Bond, but he immerses himself so much into his red-neck character you understand why Steven Soderbergh chooses to bill him as “and introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang”. It’s as if he has actually discovered a new bona fide character actor out there, and there’s no doubt Craig should be up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar come next March. Soderbergh also returns with his slick and stylish direction that brings life to the heist. Soderbergh is also able to get the most out his performers, continuing his winning streak of being able to work with and properly direct actors, something that seems to come at a premium these days with most directors.

What helps Logan Lucky rise above its otherwise generic plot is the setting and its willingness to dive into it. These are poor, simple folk we’re following in the film, and there’s something refreshing about having poorer people in the South be the heroes we root for instead of the pretty and attractive people we see in most other heist films. The film’s Southern charm made the characters rather charming and likeable, particularly when you realize that although these characters aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, they are in fact smarter than you think and are counting on you buying into that stereotype so that they can set out what they want to accomplish. Logan Lucky is the anti- Ocean’s 11. It’s not glitzy and glamorous, it’s grimy and rednecky. As one of the extras in the film says, it’s Ocean’s 7-Eleven.

If there’s anything to gripe about regarding the film, it’s that its not as hilarious as it’s been marketed. The marketing campaign would have you believe it’s an all-out hillbilly robbery romp, but it’s more a heist film with quirky characters and a surprisingly good amount of heart. One of the performers that tries to play it up for laughs is Seth McFarlane, who never quite jells in his NASCAR sponsor role to be memorable and or effective in the film.

Overall, Logan Lucky is one of those rare late-summer releases that’s actually a good movie. It’s the kind of film Burt Reynolds would have excelled in and made a boat-load of money back in the 1960s and 1970s. With exceptional performances, great direction, and willingness to get down and dirty, Logan Lucky marks a welcome return for legendary director Steven Soderbergh and is more than worth one last trip to the theater before Labor Day.

Rating: 3/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Logan Lucky stars Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth McFarlane, Katherine Waterson, Dwight Yoakam, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, and Hilary Swank. It is in theaters Friday, August 18th.

Bro-Reviews: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

When Deadpool met Nick Fury.

It’s typically around the month of August we see the summer movie season slow down considerably. Although recent years have seen the release of blockbuster films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, August is the month many studios reserve for dumping films they have no confidence in in the hopes that audiences will go see them out of pure boredom. Many of these films are mindless, over-the-top action films catered to action junkies, and Summit Entertainment is hoping the presence of Mr. Deadpool Ryan Reynolds and Nick Fury Samuel L. Jackson will propel those junkies to go see the latest R-rated action buddy-comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Ryan Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a former special protection agent who laments on his career whilst still protecting lesser clientele after a job that went sideways. When an Interpol transport mission is intercepted by the enemy, Interpol agent and Michael’s ex-flame Amelia (Élodie Yung) calls upon him for help transporting a witness to the trial of a power-hungry Eastern European dictator, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). That witness happens to be Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a hitman and Michael’s rival. Despite their hatred for one another, the two must band together to make it to the International Court of Justice in England in time to put Dukhovich in jail once and for all.

Before going any further, one must note the first trailer for this film was cut expertly, with Samuel L. Jackson cursing up a storm, loads of explosions, and the late Whitney Houston belting out her famous rendition of “I will always love you.” It was marketed as an anti-The Bodyguard, the 1992 smash hit starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. The trailer made me very excited to see the movie, but unfortunately, the trailer is better than the actual feature length film.

While Jackson and Reynolds do have chemistry, the two aren’t straining to portray characters, they’re playing themselves. Reynolds is in peak snarky but capable form, and continues to showcase he can rise above otherwise pedestrian material. Samuel L. Jackson is in peak “Samuel L. Jackson” form, yelling four letter swear words every other line of dialogue and clearly having a blast doing so. The two are well matched together, but the surrounding material just isn’t there for them to gain any momentum and carry the film by themselves.

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Salma Hayek, save for the typical cleavage shots, one butt-kicking action sequence, and one joke with another prisoner, is utterly wasted in the film. Her scenes consist of her swearing, swearing in Spanish, and exploitative cleavage shots. That’s it. Gary Oldman is sleepwalking through the film as the villain, and it’s time to hold him accountable for giving terrible performances in films such as this, The Unborn, Paranoia, and Red Riding Hood. There’s no doubt Oldman is a talented actor and can give a great performance when he feels like it, but he far too often chooses to take “for the money” roles such as this and goes through the motions.

The film also has jarring tonal shifts within the first 30 minutes or so. Scenes of Oldman’s Dukhovich slaughtering innocent people are meant to make us fear him, but then the film cuts to Reynolds and Jackson quipping one-liners in an attempt to make the audience laugh-off the otherwise horrendous events we’ve just witnessed. The film is also far too long at 118 minutes, as a tighter, quicker film could’ve improved it tremendously. It doesn’t help the film is also riddled with cheap-looking special effects and actors from other late-summer action films such as Sam Hazeldine (Riah Crane AKA the bad guy in Mechanic: Resurrection) to remind you you’re watching a late summer action film, and not a quality one.

Although the special effects are quite cheap-looking, the action sequences are brutal and do deliver. Director Patrick Hughes has shown he’s capable of staging action scenes very well in the underappreciated Expendables 3, and his direction of the action in the film livens it up. One must particularly note the final car chase, which displays Hughes’ talent for filming thrilling action. It’s these scenes that ultimately made me forgive the film for it’s otherwise cheap feel save for the leads they were able to sign onto the film.

Ultimately, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a disposable, substandard, harmless late summer action film that has the saving grace of two well matched leads and enough adrenaline pumping action. However, one cannot help but notice the film surrounding the two leads and action sequences isn’t up to par with them, ultimately leaving viewers an expandable and forgettable action buddy-comedy film.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Élodie Yung, Salma Hayek, Richard E. Grant, Sam Hazeldine, Kirsty Mitchell, and Joaquim de Almeida. It is in theaters Friday, August 18th.

 

 

Bro-Reviews: The Dark Tower

One (frustrating) step away from an epic.

Let’s face it folks, making a movie is never easy. Adapting legendary literature beloved by many people into a film is near impossible. This has never stopped Hollywood before, as “unfilmable” classics such as World War Z, Watchmen, Cloud Atlas, and Atlas Shrugged have all been adapted into feature length films, yielding mixed results at best. One of these classic works of literature that has also been label “unadaptable” is The Dark Tower by legendary author Stephen King. With an expansive universe that has been built for many years through numerous books, The Dark Tower could never get out of production hell, recycling through directors such as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard. Years later, however, The Dark Tower has finally arrived in theaters, hoping to break the “unadaptable”/”unfilmable” curse.

The Dark Tower sees 11-year-old child Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) experiencing nightmares of a parallel universe called “The Mid-World”. Convinced his dreams are true, Jake sets off for an adventure to explore this universe, which he eventually discovers and befriends Roland (Idris Elba), a Gunslinger sworn to protect the Mid-World. Roland is on a quest to find the Dark Tower, the nexus point between time and space, in hopes to save all existence from extermination. However, Walter o’Dim/ The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is hot on the unlikely duo’s trail, and the two’s mission appears to be near impossible to complete.

Throughout the development of the Dark Tower, rumors circulated the film was too big for director Nikolaj Arcel to grasp, with initial test screenings panning the film for being too convoluted and lacking in special effects. This of course led to re-shoots and studio interference to try to make the film more accessible to mainstream audiences in the hopes of making a bankable summer blockbuster. As I stated earlier, The Dark Tower has always had the reputation of being near impossible to adapt to the big screen, and that’s the case for many of Stephen King’s works. The Dark Tower was more than likely never going to be the epic hardcore fans had hoped for, but as it stands, there’s evidence The Dark Tower was closer to being an epic than one might have originally thought.

Idris Elba continues his ascension to the top of the A-List with his turn as Roland. Elba is undeniably cool as the legendary gunslinger, and he projects his sense of frustration and seemingly aimless wandering due to the damage Walter o’Dim/ the Man in Black has done to the Mid-World and all of the other gunslingers. The Dark Tower serves as further proof the Elba is an actor to be reckoned with. Matthew McConaughey is delightfully creepy and suave as Walter o’Dim/ The Man in Black, and appears to be having a blast in the role. He’s also able to convey a sense of dread and impending doom every time he appears on screen, once again adding another tremendous performance in McConaughey’s “McConaissance” that has been going strong since 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Although there are moments of bad child acting, Tom Taylor is an appealing enough actor as Jake Chambers to display his wonder when first encountering the Mid-World and eagerness to help Roland, as he and Elba as make for a nice duo.

Matthew McConaughey;Idris Elba

Of course, one would be remiss if they did not mention whether or not the Mid-World is realized in any fashion. There’s definitely enough imagery within the film that makes King’s parallel universe come to life, which is impressive considering the film’s muted $60 million budget. Scenes in which children are being strapped to machines and using their “shine” in an attempt to bring down the tower are frightening and original, giving the film a much needed chilly atmosphere. This atmosphere is also bolstered with the barren wasteland of the Mid-World, an abandoned theme park, a village safe haven, and secret Mid-World societies in the heart of New York City Roland and Jake come across during the film’s 95 minute run time.While the special effects are nothing to marvel at, they’re good enough to be passable in a film that clearly had budget restrictions.

However, therein lies one of the issues preventing The Dark Tower from rising above an otherwise conventional fantasy film. Although I’ve said it before, it needs to be said again; The Dark Tower was never going to have a seamless transition to the silver screen. King has written 8 books in the series, and never truly concluded his epic saga. With that in mind, it’s very disappointing the film was restricted to a lower budget and not allowed to be the $100 million summer blockbuster it could have been in order to have the Mid-World and all of its intricacies come to life. Action scenes involving the creatures of the Mid-World are so dark you can’t really follow what’s occurring on screen, somewhat muting the film’s otherwise stylish and pulpy action sequences. It would have been even more terrifying to see all of the monsters and creatures Roland gives exposition about when explaining how the tower guards the universe from such monsters and then see him do battle with them. The film also feels hacked to the bone at 95 minutes, and one cannot help but feel the studio interference in the film in order to make the film more appealing to a wide audience. At 95 minutes, the film could’ve used an extra half hour of set-up, exposition, and action to make The Dark Tower be the epic film it should have been.

Also plaguing the film are the 20 minutes or so we see Jake in the real world/ keystone earth. Much of the dialogue during this time is laughably bad, and it does not help that the young actors in these scenes clearly needed another take or more acting lessons in order for them to not come across as actors but as actual children living in New York City. On top of that, the ending of the film clearly has a rushed, “we ran out of money” vibe, leaving one with somewhat of a sour taste in their mouth as they exit the theater.

By no means is The Dark Tower a great movie, but it’s not terrible either. Considering most of the other Stephen King films such as Pet Sematary, The Mist, and Dreamcatcher that were all quite bad, The Dark Tower stands as one of the better Stephen King adaptations.  Unfortunately, one cannot but help but feel the studio interference onscreen while watching the film. The result is a near epic film that needed more time and money to have Stephen King’s legendary vision fully realized, rendering it somewhat conventional. Despite the feeling of what could have been, The Dark Tower is bolstered by Elba’s and McConaughey’s performances, has enough imagery, and stylized action to justify a trip to the theater.

Rating: 2.5/4. Pay Matinée Price.

The Dark Tower stars Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kanz, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Dennis Haysbert. It is in theaters Friday, August 4th.