Review: Logan Lucky


Logan Lucky.

This movie went relatively under the radar this weekend but the pairing of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver was enough to pique my interest, plus the comedic turn by Daniel Craig. This movie is also the first film that is both directed by and distributed by Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11/12/13), so this is launching a new model of directors distributing their own movies but we’ll see if that pans out for him.

The gist.

We meet the two Logan brothers (Tatum and Driver) who are in dire straits and could use some cash. Jimmy (Tatum) has just lost his job excavating and tunneling under a massive NASCAR track. While doing that work, he discovered how they funnel and store all the money made during a race and he plans to steal that money with the help of his brother (Driver). However, they don’t know how to break into the vault so they seek out explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). We also have Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Riley Keough, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, and Hilary Swank, plus tons of other folks.

What works?

This movie has a lot of great elements, including an absolutely bonkers cast. I mean, we have some A-list talent here. Tatum and Driver carry the movie and each deliver great performances, where you’re able to forget that it’s even them. Daniel Craig also has an outrageous role that is showcased in the trailers but they really showed most of his comedic moments, meaning this movie might feel underwhelming to you.

At its core, this isn’t a comedy. It’s a heist movie, just like the Oceans movies that Soderbergh also directed. It’s all about figuring out how to accomplish the heist and then figuring out how to improvise as that plan goes sideways. And like these other heist movies, there are plenty of surprises and twists, though it can feel a bit formulaic by now.

What didn’t work?

Now the Oceans movies were also jam-packed with talent so Soderbergh should be familiar with how to utilize an ensemble cast but it doesn’t quite work here. Most of these celebrities show up for a side arc that is absolutely unnecessary and even detracts from the film. Seth MacFarlane and Sebastian Stan are both racers but serve very little purpose here. Hilary Swank doesn’t even show up in this movie until after you think the movie is about finished (which brings up a bigger issue of how long this movie is).

While some characters here really work, just as the two brothers, others are shoehorned in. Katherine Waterston appears suddenly and disappears just as suddenly. Craig’s comedic turn will be disappointing since all of his funniest moments were featured in the trailer.

The pacing here just doesn’t work. The big heist should be the climax but we get another 30 minutes of closure and “here’s how they did it” moments that take away all punch that the heist sequence had. This movie ends with a whimper rather than a bang.

Overall…

Logan Lucky is fine. Its trailers lead you to believe that it’ll be a nonstop comedy but that’s not really the case at all. It has an A-list cast that is unfortunately underutilized, which detracts from the main story. I’d wait to rent this one, if it looked interesting, as it’s too big of a risk to spend your hard-earned money on in the theaters.

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Review: The Defenders (Season 1)

The Defenders.

Marvel struck gold when they released Daredevil a few years back, managing to finally get a notable entry in television, after the lukewarm reception of Agents of SHIELD. Then followed Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. The great part about this lineup is that everyone seems to have a different favorite. Some people say Jessica Jones is clearly the best, while others live and die by Luke Cage. For me, Daredevil is on top, especially for its villains. So now that the four are coming together, is the result something incredible?

The gist.

We meet up with our four leads following their individual series but some time has passed. Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) has hung up the Daredevil suit in an effort to better help his community as a lawyer. His friend Foggy (Elden Henson) has just gotten Luke Cage (Mike Colter) out of jail, while Murdock’s friend Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) is still reeling from learning his secret identity. Cage reunites with his police friend Misty (Simone Missick) to find out how to help Harlem. Private investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) has stumbled upon something big, which seems to involve the ancient cult the Hand, led by mysterious new villain Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) return to New York, just in time for the Hand to start their plot to destroy the city. Murdock’s former flame Elektra (Elodie Yung) reappears, seemingly under control of the Hand.

There are only eight episodes, clocking in at just under an hour each.

What works?

Seeing these characters come together is hands down the best aspect of this show. Their banter and back and forth is spectacular, especially between Iron Fist, who only talks about prophecies and mystical arts, with the other more grounded heroes like Luke Cage. This is like the first Avengers, where you get to see the characters you love interact and it does not disappoint. Even our supporting characters get time to mingle, including Colleen Wing and Misty Knight, who in the comics form quite a deadly team.

This show also has very little filler, considering it’s only eight episodes (as opposed to the typical thirteen) and all of the characters are important, so we don’t get side stories like Trish Walker trying to learn krav maga or Karen Page learning to become a journalist. It’s all killer, no filler.

Eventually, we get to some awesome fight scenes, though it takes time. Iron Fist performs a little better this outing, where his fights in his solo series were unimpressive. We don’t get anything as memorable in this series as any of Daredevil’s hallway fight scenes but there’s plenty to enjoy, my favorite probably being the end of episode three (which is unfortunate that the fights peaked so early, in my opinion).

Sigourney Weaver is great here, a complicated and nuanced villain. She still doesn’t compare to Wilson Fisk or Kilgrave though, as she eventually shares the stage with the other leaders of the Hand, which are pretty awesome in their own rights. We see some familiar faces but also new ones.

What doesn’t work?

It takes time to build up to this, so the first few episodes are mostly exposition. The best episodes were probably 3-5 for me, with the story getting a little off-track in the final episodes. It’s still a quick binge if you can get through the first few.

The way the series ends is a little unsatisfying, considering the stakes should’ve been relatively high. After watching, I still don’t really know the Hand’s motivations and the final setpiece leaves you with quite a few questions. It also has to put everyone on track for their individual shows again, so it has quite a few endings to get through.

Overall…

The Defenders is great, especially if you just want to see people interact. It’s a short binge that peaks early on, with some great conversations and fight sequences in the middle episodes. Its ending gets a little muddy but not enough to really drag the show down. Definitely worth a watch.

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Review: Big Little Lies (Season 1)

Big Little Lies.

Game of Thrones demanded that I get HBO for a few months so I’ve also been checking out some other HBO shows in the meantime and my fiance started watching Big Little Lies. Up front, I had the impression that it was a corny Desperate Housewives clone but as I dove into it, it became much different.

The gist.

We follow the lives of a handful of women in Monterey, CA. They all have secrets but the story starts mundane, as Jane (Shailene Woodley) moves into town with her son Ziggy. There’s immediately a controversy, as it appears Ziggy may be bullying a young girl, whose mother (Laura Dern) doesn’t take it lightly. We also have Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) who is trying to raise two daughters with her second husband (Adam Scott). Her ex-husband (James Tupper) has re-married as well (Zoe Kravitz). Lastly we have Celeste (Nicole Kidman) who is in a violent and disturbing marriage (with Alexander Skarsgard).

Now here’s the kicker. While the story begins with schoolyard feuds and PTA meetings, it’s immediately apparent that something happens and someone is murdered. So throughout this journey, slowly bits are revealed about the victim and the killer.

What works?

This show’s mystery is extremely compelling, with each episode slowly revealing how everyone in the show might become a killer. No one is beyond scrutiny and everyone has reasons, so you have absolutely no idea how the show will end. They do a perfect job of leading you down false paths and keeping you guessing, I was literally on the edge of my seat in the season’s climax.

Why you care about this, though, is the absolutely incredible cast, with some of the best female talent in the business right now. All of them show a jaw-dropping range, making this story both believable and terrifying. Nicole Kidman probably gets the most to do, emotionally, though Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley have standout moments as well. The caliber of performance here is Oscar-worthy, which is why it’s unsurprising that this show nabbed over 10 Emmy nominations.

The show is also beautifully paced, never a wasted moment. At only seven episodes, it grabs you and doesn’t let go, yet still manages to give you some incredible development for our leads. It’s just the right amount and absolutely satisfying.

In terms of our supporting characters, I want to shout out two of the husbands of the show, notably Alexander Skarsgard who is absolutely terrifying and then a dramatic turn from Adam Scott (who I knew from Parks and Rec and the movie Step Brothers). Everyone from top to bottom is believable here and gives their all.

What doesn’t work?

After all the buildup, the climax of the story didn’t have quite the punch I was expecting. I think a more mainstream story might’ve tried to twist and surprise you, which this doesn’t quite do. Some of you might feel letdown by the ultimate payoff.

Also in its effort to keep you guessing, there are some storylines that really don’t develop, as they’re basically just red herrings.

Overall…

I wrote this off at the beginning but this show’s stellar cast and captivating mystery won me over, resulting in one of my favorite television experiences in recent years. I was literally on the edge of my seat, engaged in a way that very few shows can pull off. If you have HBO and want an absolute rollercoaster, binge Big Little Lies now and you’ll thank me later.

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Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

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The Dark Tower.

Here’s my history with The Dark Tower: I know zero about it, but I decided to pick up the first two novels and I’m almost done with the first. I was thinking, probably naively, that this movie would cover the premise of the first book. In looking into it, this movie actually seems to cover all the books. Kind of. In reading the first book, it’s very apparent that they are totally separate things, as very little of that book appears on the big screen.

Now, I don’t mind if the movie is different… but is the movie good?

The gist.

We meet a young boy in New York named Jake (Tom Taylor) who has dreams and flashes of another world, of a dangerous Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and a gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). It turns out that the Man in Black is seeking to destroy something called the Dark Tower, which seems to protect our entire universe from being invaded by demons. Jake hopes to find Roland and help to defeat the Man in Black.

What works?

Let’s pretend that you know nothing about this book series. Would you enjoy this?

Probably not. Because they’re trying to rush through essentially eight books worth of content (seven plus some sort of prequel that exists), this story rushes through everything. However this movie does one thing right in that it intrigues you. I know there’s a rich mythology and tons of stories taking place in this world and the movie managed to pique my interest. It’s like reading a summary of the book and deciding “Yes, that sounds cool” before diving in. This movie will hint at the big picture and intrigue you enough.

It also looks very cool. The landscapes and architecture of these various worlds are all really interesting. There’s also some cool creature design that will (again) excite you for the bigger picture.

This movie also relies heavily on its leads. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey do the best they can, considering their screen time is limited. Most of this movie is dependent on youngster Tom Taylor. He gives a stellar performance and a surprisingly nuanced one, for someone so young.

dark tower 2

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, this movie is blazing fast. It clocks in at about 90 minutes, which is short. And even shorter considering the amount of story it’s trying to cover. I’m curious why they didn’t make this a truly epic movie at 2.5 hours and fit in some of the personality that makes this franchise unique. Instead, everything is superficial. We get one flashback about Roland’s past as a gunslinger and now are expected to care. We never quite know why the Man in Black is so nefarious. We don’t get to know any of our supporting characters, so very little feels at stake.

There’s one aspect of caring and another aspect of understanding. Not only do I not care about these people, but I also didn’t really understand what was happening. The rules of the universe weren’t explained, the world wasn’t fleshed out, the whole crux of the story doesn’t make sense. This movie will likely be a bit confusing to the unsuspecting viewer (and even more frustrating for fans of the books).

It seems like in an era of sequels, it’d be a no-brainer to stretch this out over eight movies. Why would they cram it all into one? Not sure. There’s talk of a TV series that will somehow follow this or be a prequel to this, but I don’t know if this film’s mediocre response will allow for that now. I’d be happy with a reboot in a television series, starting over and really letting us explore this world that seems incredibly interesting but (in this movie anyways) just beyond our reach.

Matthew McConaughey;Idris Elba

Overall…

This movie won’t really please anyone. Diehard fans will find nothing to love here, as it speeds by all the milestones they were looking forward to. Average moviegoers might be thrown off by the breakneck speed of the movie and be confused by the all things the movie doesn’t tell us. Either way, not great. The movie looks fine, with some cool visuals and tons of presence from both Elba and McConaughey. It’s a teaser, to get you interested in either reading the books or waiting for the inevitable television series.

3

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Review: The Big Sick

The Big Sick.

I was finally able to catch The Big Sick, just as it’s starting to leave theaters after a limited run. But let me tell you this, before we get into it, you need to find the nearest theater playing this and go see it. Don’t wait! By the time you get to the end of this review, it might be gone! GO NOW!

The gist.

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani stars as himself, telling the story of how he met his wife Emily (in the movie played by Zoe Kazan). At the end of the first act, Emily ends up in a hospital, in a medically-induced coma and Kumail has to struggle with his own issues, his restrictive Pakastani family that want him to get an arranged marriage, and convincing Emily’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) that he’s a stand up guy. We also have some fellow comedians in supporting roles, including Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live).

What works?

This movie is a pleasant surprise and one that I wish more people could experience. Since it’s already on its way out of theaters, I’m hoping it gets a strong second wind on streaming services. In terms of genre, it very much fits in the mold of indie rom com, hilariously funny but also real and raw and manages to feel like we’re peeking into the lives of other people. It probably helps that Kumail lived all of this before and that the script is actually co-written by the real Emily Gordon as well.

Let’s start with the comedy. Kumail is an incredible talent, if you haven’t seen his work before. He’s witty and sharp and yet understated enough that sometimes jokes even slip past you. He’s surrounded here by other comedic talent, including Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham (who I’ve been a fan of since he was making YouTube videos in his bedroom). I laughed harder in this movie than I’ve laughed in a long time.

Somehow this balances with a heavy amount of tragedy and heartbreak. You wouldn’t think a comedy would mostly take place in a hospital waiting room, but this one does. I would laugh and then turn to tears in moments, this movie beautifully weaves the two emotions together in a way that doesn’t often work.

I wasn’t expecting this movie to pull at the heartstrings like it did but it manages to do so because it feels real. Life is uncontrollable and awkward and beautiful and this movie captures all that. There are conversations in here that I’ve actually had with people, moments of awkwardness that I’ve experienced. There is love and loss and it all feels authentic.

Part of this success comes from Emily’s parents, played in the movie by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who deliver incredible performances. I could see Romano getting a Best Supporting Actor nod for this role, as he gives a very nuanced performance that is refreshing, from someone I maybe underestimated.

What doesn’t work?

The biggest downside to me was that it does feel fairly predictable, especially considering it’s based on a true story. The plot points are fairly cliche, though it’s the charm and dialogue and the specific moments that feel authentic, so I didn’t mind too much.

Overall…

The Big Sick is great, full of hilarious banter, gutwrenching heartbreak, and charming yet authentic interactions. Everyone across the board delivers outstanding performances in a movie that I’ll likely place in my top 10 of the year. If you can, try to find this movie ASAP, though I’ll remind you all when it arrives inevitably on streaming services soon.

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Review: Atomic Blonde

atomic headeradam review

Atomic Blonde.

This is interesting. Director David Leitch is a former stuntman and an uncredited Director on the film John Wick. I don’t quite know why a director would be uncredited though. Leitch is also directing the upcoming Deadpool 2. Is Atomic Blonde able to capture what made the John Wick films work?

The gist.

It’s near the end of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall still separates the city of Berlin in two. We meet our heroine Lorraine (Charlize Theron) as she’s sent to Berlin to help find and extract a list of undercover agents whose lives will be in jeopardy in the list gets out. She connects with an English operative (James McAvoy) and a French operative (Sofia Boutella) along the way. We also have John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan.

What works?

Like John Wick, this movie has style and the world that we get to visit isn’t made up this time, but rather we’re peeking into history, into an early 1980s Germany. The colors are vibrant, the world is alive. It feels incredibly authentic, though I’ve never been, which is quite a testament.

The music is like a character itself here, constantly in the background. Some of it is highly recognizable, pop tunes of the 1980s. Other songs are German trance and electronic music, some even remixes and covers of other 80s songs, but in German instead. Always though the music is the heartbeat of this film.

atomic 1

The cast is perfectly laid out, including a standout performance from McAvoy, who you’re never quite sure if you can trust or not. Theron is a badass as expected but it’s not surprising following her performance in Mad Max: Fury Road.

You may go to this movie and want some standout fight sequences and it’s really hit or miss (pun intended). The best fight scenes are all in the second half, including a stairwell fight scene that will definitely be a contender for my Best Fight award this year. However the first half is full of too-brief fight scenes and moments we’ve already seen in the trailers.

What doesn’t work?

Like I mentioned, a lot is given away in the trailers, including some of the best stunt and fight work. If you haven’t seen the trailers, I’d recommend not seeing them.

The biggest problem with this movie is the pacing. It’s not structured in a typical three-act structure, as I consider the movie’s climax to be closer to the halfway point of the movie. It’s a tad too long and tons of filler, resulting in a bit of a slow burn. The fights are great, sure, but the journey from fight to fight can be a bit tedious, especially in the first half which is full of tons of exposition. The movie also suffers from Lord of the Rings disease, having eight too many endings, many of which were unnecessary. When the movie finally does end, you’re left with a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.

atomic 2

Overall…

Atomic Blonde is like a rough draft. Plenty of cool moments but no one seemed to tell them that the movie was too long and a bit slow. Plenty could have been trimmed. The world we inhabit here is fascinating and colorful and the music is great, but it just takes too long to get from moment to moment. The movie as a whole feels like it drags, especially when you’re expecting the movie to end and it just keeps going. John Wick was a pleasant surprise but I can’t say the same for Atomic Blonde. Worth seeing? Sure! But it’s not a no-brainer, so take this recommendation lightly.

3

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Review: Dunkirk

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Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan has one of the best track records in Hollywood, considering all the times he’s knocked it out of the park. This movie is less like Inception though and more like a standard World War II flick. For being Nolan’s first true story, does it succeed?

The gist.

It’s the middle of World War II and a group of almost 400,000 men are stuck on a beach, surrounded by the German army. This movie tells the tale of their struggle to survive, in an unconventional timing structure that only Nolan would attempt. On the ground, we cover a week, following soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he tries to find his way onto one of the few boats leaving the island. They’re led by Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh), who tries to think of creative ways to save his soldiers. Our second story is from the sea, as we follow a civilian (Mark Rylance) as he is called upon to take his small vessel to Dunkirk to rescue as many men as he can, though his story only lasts one day. Lastly, we go to the sky, where a pilot (Tom Hardy) tries to save as many men as he can while his gas tank plummets and he risks not making it back. The sky storyline only covers one hour.

The tricky thing, is these stories interweave but they cross over at different times. We may see the pilot cross over into the sea storyline before the pilot’s scenes actually get that far. There are times when characters appear at the same instance in different places because of this time dynamic.

Other standouts include Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Glynn-Carney, amidst others.

dunkirk 1

What works?

Christopher Nolan is very experienced in gigantic cinematic experiences, so it’s no surprise that this movie from start to finish is polished and technically perfect. The shots are wide and open when they need to be, but also claustrophobic when they need to be. The sound design is exceptional, with shots and bombs making you jolt in your seat (though this sometimes makes the dialogue hard to hear).

There are plenty of edge-of-your-seat action moments and this movie is well worth the ticket price to see it on the big screen.

Some standout performers… Mark Rylance is great as always. I can say the same for the newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who plays Tommy (though I don’t think his name is ever said in the movie). There are only a few lines of dialogue for Tommy but his actions speak louder than words as we learn about his character. Some actors flourished in this no-nonsense no-dialogue method, though some could’ve used a few lines, to at least learn their names.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said above, some characters were given zero to say and it made it hard to understand them (or care for them). A lot of characters also look alike, especially in the same uniforms, so you have to pay close attention to which character is which.

My other big problem was the gimmick here of time. Nolan has delivered gimmicks before, most notably Inception and Memento. They change the way you watch the movie but you appreciate them. I don’t know if this gimmick for Dunkirk paid off, I think I would’ve preferred a linear timeline. The movie could’ve relied on its amazing action sequences to keep people engaged, we didn’t need the constant jolt of time. I found myself trying to take mental notes of “When is this?” during the big climax instead of just enjoying it.

I also mentioned above that the sound design was pretty stellar but the mixing was a bit off, at least in my theater. The dialogue is so rare in this movie that I wanted to hear it when people actually spoke. I missed most of the dialogue, including almost everything a masked Tom Hardy said while shooting down other planes. I have a hard enough time understanding Hardy when he’s not wearing a mask.

dunkirk 2

Overall…

Dunkirk is great, especially if you want a visceral and intense look at sheer survival. However it has a few hiccups which hold it back from being a 5 for me. The sound mixing felt off, the characters felt a little one-dimensional, and the gimmick of time felt like exactly that: an unneeded gimmick. Temper your expectations and you might just find that you thoroughly enjoy this one. If you’re interested, make sure to catch it in theaters.

 

4

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