Saturday Streaming: Logan Lucky

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If you are a person who exists, chances are you haven’t seen Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky. I can’t blame you, the marketing really didn’t do the film any favors and I waited until it came out on demand to check it out myself. Having said that, I am happy to report that it is an excellent heist movie that I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’m sacrilegiously unfamiliar with Soderbergh’s filmography but it seems to be that Lucky is as fine an introduction as any. The film is exciting, hilarious and filled with great actors giving great performances.

The Logan family, consisting of Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver) and Mellie (Riley Keough) lives a relatively simple life in West Virginia. After Jimmy is fired from his construction job due to an injury he received in the Iraq war, he decides to shake up his simple life and steal millions from right underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His heist plan involves not only Clyde and Mellie but Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, who seems to be making the most of his opportunity to play anyone other than James Bond) and Bang’s brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid).

The heist itself is tense and involves a lot of clever twists and turns that should keep most audiences guessing and in suspense until it ends. What sets this movie apart is Soderbergh’s expertly established West Virginia setting. These are real characters living in a real place, with many contemporary state issues (as well as bigger issues with the whole country) being present on the sidelines of the film. Our characters are veterans who are completely lacking in opportunities because of their war injuries. Over the course of the film, we see that the water in the town is basically poisoned, the police department is working on a heavily restricted budget and even the flaws in the prison system. All of this is juxtaposed against the target of the heist, NASCAR. NASCAR is the perfect monument to American excess, with overpaid drivers being enabled by the Coca Cola corporation to race around in a circle and draw in spectators who have to pay $10 for a beer. Jimmy’s construction job being to fix sinkholes under the stadium is a perfect metaphor, as we see the foundations of a large part of American culture literally breaking down.

Soderbergh’s team ends up becoming a scrappy, likeable band of contemporary American Robin Hoods who are not only easy to root for but fun to spend time with. Channing Tatum engenders instant sympathy as Jimmy, while Driver gives another gem of a performance as the more deliberate, level headed Clyde. The two have wonderful chemistry but it is Driver in particular who proves that he is an actor we will be talking about for a long time. As previously mentioned, Daniel Craig brings a really unique energy to Joe Bang. It is easy to lean too hard on the weirdness and eccentricities of a character like Bang, who cooks up homemade explosives out of gummy bears. However, Craig knows just when to go big with certain moments, but he also knows which parts to underplay and Bang remains a believable, sympathetic character throughout the film.

I really liked this movie and I honestly thought I wouldn’t. It recently came out on many digital distribution services and, once again, I highly recommend that you check it out. Now, if you need me, I’ll be catching up on Steven Soderbergh movies.

Bright Review: Here’s One For All Of You Suicide Squad Fans Out There

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I would have loved to be in the room when someone at Netflix suggested getting David Ayer, fresh off making Suicide Squad, the worst blockbuster movie of the past decade to make their first big foray into expensive, Hollywood style blockbuster filmmaking. While Bright is not the disastrous non-movie that Squad was, it is very much cut from the same cloth as Ayer’s previous debacle. It is a dreary, unimaginative and bloated movie that could have been good if the filmmakers had bothered to brush up on the basics of storytelling before moving forward with production. The film is set in an alternate history version of LA where orcs, elves and fairies all exist. However, the world of the film is deliberately a straightforward Gritty Cop Dramatm with the only major change being that racial animosity exists between humans and the other fantasy races rather than just between groups of humans. Will Smith plays Daryl Ward, a jaded cop that we are introduced to in a cringe inducing scene that involves him beating up a fairy and quipping “fairy lives don’t matter today”. Joel Edgerton plays Nick Jakoby, Ward’s Orcish partner. When the pair come across Tikka (Lucy Fry), a mysterious girl with a magic wand that everyone in LA is after, they have to put aside their personal differences and help keep the girl and the wand out of the hands of street gangs, corrupt cops and renegade elves.

Smith is fine in the lead role. He reigns in his natural charisma and convincingly sells Ward’s hard edged, cynical personality. However, the real stand out is Joel Edgerton. Edgerton imbues Jakoby with stiff and awkward mannerisms that make him come off like a socially anxious version Drax the Destroyer. Smith and Edgerton have great chemistry and watching them play off each other is a high point of the film’s first act. After the main plot kicks in, the character work that informs the first 30 minutes falls by the wayside, so the characters can do nothing but tell us where they are going, why they are going there and what they are about to do. The exposition is as gratuitous as it is tedious, and you can’t help but wish Ayer had gone less in the direction of Suicide Squad and made a film more in the vein of his solid, low key cop drama End of Watch.

It is a shame that Bright doesn’t go all the way and imagine how human race relations would be affected by a history this different from our own. Do people of colour in the United States still face oppression? If not, shouldn’t the racial makeup of the lower-class neighbourhoods that we see in the film be different? If racism is still present among humans, shouldn’t this be something that the film explores in the relationship between its central characters (strangely, the film could have a white lead and nothing would really change about the character dynamics at all)? These are all questions that I feel like writer Max Landis couldn’t really be bothered to answer, perhaps because he was too busy laughing about how “fairy lives matter” is like “black lives matter”. The big problem with the allegory and the alternate history stuff is that is all superficial. The film simply has nothing interesting to say about race or racism. There are interesting ideas on the table and a better filmmaker might have used this film to examine the contingency and arbitrariness of certain stereotypes and racial association that the viewer may have. Unfortunately, Ayer is not that filmmaker.

Underneath the racial allegory is nothing but an overlong, exposition laden cop drama that is filled with repetitive, boiler plate action scene. It is astounding how boring some of the film’s action scenes are, given the canvas the filmmakers must work with. The film establishes that orcs have super strength early on (we see an orc lifting a car, so his child can get a ball out from under it) but this doesn’t manifest in the action scenes in any interesting way. Instead, we get a lot of standing and shooting at things, with the elves jumping around to make something – anything – pop on screen. The problem is that Ayer doesn’t give his action scenes any kind of internal narrative. The duration of each scene could be halved, and nothing would be lost because the scenes don’t exist for any compelling reason. The action fails on both the level of spectacle and narrative and it feels like you could trim almost 15 minutes out of the movie without losing anything.

There plenty of other mistakes, such as the complete absence of a character for Lucy Fry to play (it’s unbelievable, they don’t bother to build her relationship with the other characters at all but said relationship ends up being the dramatic crux of the film’s second half). Honestly though, I am as bored counting these mistakes as I was watching the movie. In the future, let’s hope that Netflix focuses more on quality and less on proving that they can produce a big studio movie just like everyone else.

 

Saturday Streaming: 7 Sisters

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Tommy Wirkola’s 7 Sisters is a dystopian movie that imagines a near future wherein the government restricts everyone to one child per household due to scarcity of resources. I say that the film imagines this future but that isn’t quite right. It would be more accurate to say that 7 Sisters builds its future out of a prepackaged, baby’s first dystopia kit. If you’ve seen any recent film in this genre, be prepared to find no unique contributions to the way we visualize the near future. Its always raining, the colour pallet is washed out and there are plenty of generic protesters that decorate every street corner. There is one novelty though, which is that Noomi Rapace plays every sibling in a family of septuplets that has to rebel against the evil government when one of the sisters goes missing.

The film sees Rapace playing sisters named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each sister’s name corresponds to the day of the week that they are allowed to go outside. To get around the government’s one child restriction, grandpa Willem Dafoe comes up with the brilliant (re: preposterous) plan of having each sibling pretend to be the same person, Karen Settman. Monday is the only one who goes outside as Karen on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday, etc. One day, Monday does not come home from work and the other sisters have to go deep into a web of government corruption to find out what happened to Monday (incidentally, the film was released under the title What Happened to Monday in the United States).

The appeal in a film like this can often be found in watching an actor cut loose and have fun showing off a little bit. That being said, the worst kind of multi-character performances can collapse into a sort of one person pissing contest, where the actor sees just how much ticks, vocal inflections and extra traits they can give each character. Rapace doesn’t fall into that trap, though she may be trying too hard to avoid it. Most of the sisters read as the slight variations on the same person and (especially at the beginning) it can be hard to get a bead on exactly who everyone is and why the audience should care. Get ready to be asking yourself a lot of questions like “wait, which one was Sunday again?” and “was the blonde one named Saturday?”.

The film shines most during its action sequences, which stay grounded in tactile and believable stunt work. There is one sequence in particular that features almost all of the sisters in a big apartment brawl together and it is a lot of fun. It is just a drag that these sequences are not in service of a compelling story. If the film has anything meaningful to say beyond that manipulative, corrupt governments are bad than it was lost on me after the first viewing.

The problem is that my attention waned throughout the film because the combination of a rushed first act and the effort that was required to figure out who everyone was and what was important about them all made for a turbulent viewing experience that stifled my ability to engage with the narrative. There are some moments in the movie that feel like payoffs, but I was too busy trying to remember which Noomi Rapace said which thing at the beginning of the film to understand the dramatic context of the payoff in question. Maybe that is my failure as a viewer but my instincts tell me that Wirkola was not up to the admittedly daunting visual task of distinguishing seven unique characters, all of whom are played by the same restrained actress, from one another in a clear and concise way.

Bottom line, this might be up your alley if you want to a decent, woman led action movie and aren’t feeling picky. I found some things to enjoy but was ultimately put off by the dull, uninspired dystopia that connected a few admittedly compelling actions scenes.