Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Movie Reviews
Movie Reviews

american made American Made (2017) Movie Review

Tom Cruise and Doug Liman reteam for this dark comedy-thriller about pilot Barry Seal, who worked for both the CIA and the Colombian cartel in the 1980s.

A few decades after Top Gun, career history repeats itself for Tom Cruise with his role as an ace flyboy in American Made. This jaunty, timely but somewhat derivative true-crime comedy-thriller casts the star as a fictionalized version of pilot Barry Seal, a real guy who ran drugs, money and guns between Latin America and the U.S. in the 1980s with backing from the CIA.

Director Doug Liman, reteaming with Cruise in the wake of their commercial and critical success Edge of Tomorrow, applies plenty of stylistic top-spin to the bouncy, chatty screenplay by Gary Spinelli (Stash House), compelling Cruise to raise his game and give his amoral deliveryman a sleazier edge than viewers expect from the usually clean-cut icon. That said, this is yet another hyper-competent, boyishly devil-may-care character that offers the actor, famous for his derring-do on set, a chance to do his own stunts and fly a plane; it’s not a role all that far out of the aging megastar’s wheelhouse.

The real Barry Seal’s story is just significant enough to have warranted the de facto market testing of previous docudrama treatment (see Doublecrossed) and a clutch of crime books. And yet what actually happened isn’t so emblazoned on the national consciousness that anyone is likely to nitpick over the details of this depiction, or even know the dark place where the story is ultimately headed. Like Foxcatcher or American Hustle, the core conceit hits that sweet spot for fact-based, journalism-inspired storytelling by being about flamboyant figures who were part of an even bigger, crazier story. (In this case, it’s the Iran-Contra scandal. Arthur L. Liman, the director’s father, was the chief counsel for the Senate investigation in the affair and, per the film’s press notes, questioned Col. Oliver North during the public hearings.)

Kudos are due to Liman and Spinelli (whose future collaborations include upcoming TV series Impulse and sci-fi film Chaos Walking) for honing the script into a reasonably manageable two-hour romp around the Byzantine conspiracy-caper seen through the eyes of Seal. Wisely, they’ve opted not to get too clever with the chronology, and tell the story straight through with only the occasional narrator’s interjection via a videotaped “confession” or home-movie memory from Seal (recorded circa 1985 on a wonderfully ugly VHS rig).

With voiced-over guidance that recalls Ray Liotta’s interjections in GoodFellas, Seal explains how he got into this crazy mess. Back in the ’70s, when you could still smoke in the cockpit and cocktail waitresses would “bang anything in a uniform,” according to a colleague, Seal was a pilot for TWA with a nice little smuggling business on the side, bringing Cuban cigars into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.

It’s this little criminal chink in his armor of toothy all-American geniality that allows CIA operative Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson, deliciously Mephistophelian) to get a hold of Seal and turn him into an asset for the agency. Schafer sets him up with his own sweet twin-propeller plane and a fake business and soon he’s flying down to Panama to exchange cash for intelligence reports from a certain Col. Noriega on a regular basis.

Wryly suggesting that Seal may be an ace pilot but is nowhere near as smart as he thinks he is, it transpires that his activities are hardly much of a secret in Central America and that the quickly growing Medellin Cartel know all about his aerial adventures. Smooth kingpin Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) and his more volatile associate Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) make Seal an offer he can’t refuse: Collect bales of cocaine from them on a regular basis in exchange for $2K for every kilo (gringo Seal has to ask how much a kilo is in imperial measure) he lands on U.S. soil. The haggling centers not on the price but on how much weight Seal’s plane can carry and still clear the teensy runway they’ve provided at their mountainous, tree-lined headquarters in the Colombian highlands.

Soon business is booming, and editor Andrew Mondshein and his associates have their hands full with montage after montage illustrating giddy success, several set to well-chosen late ’70s and early ’80s pop tunes. The soundtrack is a feast of such fare, and even features those bottomless nadirs of taste, the instrumental medleys “A Fifth of Beethoven” and “Hooked on Classics.”

As the ’80s draw near, pant legs narrow, hairstyles get bigger and archive footage of Jimmy Carter bemoaning America’s spiritual crisis gives way to Reagan warning against evil empires. Seal’s fortunes rise and fall and rise again, ascending to their greatest heights when Schafer saves him from arrest by the DEA and then sets him up in a new establishment in the tiny burgh of Mena, Arkansas. Seal’s wife Lucy (Sarah Wright, quite good at the strong-jawed sassy schtick) is not pleased to be transplanting in the middle of the night with two small children and another on the way from Baton Rouge to this podunk town. The drive down the main street reveals store after boarded-up store, the only sign of law enforcement a tatty trailer occupied by Sheriff Downing and his wife/secretary Judy (Jesse Plemons and Lola Kirke, both rather wasted in roles that may have been beefier in an earlier cut). However, the move does come with 2,000 acres of land, an airport and eventually enough unlaundered cash to fill a luggage store’s worth of Samsonite suitcases and duffel bags and 90 lbs. in gold jewelry.

However, Schafer has a master plan in mind, and adds new stopovers onto Seal’s flight plans with deliveries of guns to the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua, whom Reagan is supporting in a guerilla war against the democratically elected Sandanista government. A ragtag army of rogues, the Contras are more interested in taking Seal’s money and aviator glasses than the arms he’s carrying, but that’s the job. Before long, it’s all spiraling out of control.

There’s no denying Liman’s brio as he and his collaborators shuffle the shots and cycle through ever more absurd displays of conspicuous consumption and signifiers of ’80s folly. But as much fun as all this laughing at the past is, it all starts to feel a bit superficial and vaguely monotonous as Seal gets into scrape after scrape but always escapes with a quick line of patter and a smile. As a character, he lacks depth and flavor. We don’t even get to enjoy his sinking to the bottom of the moral pit given that, despite the fact that he’s smuggling product for the biggest drug cartel in the world, he never does anything naughtier than drink some tequila shots and set off the odd firework. You get the feeling that you’re just supposed to love the guy because he’s played by Tom Cruise.

There’s a sense that perhaps Liman and Spinelli had plans to make something that focused more on the politics and back-channel shenanigans of the time, a story that’s yet to be told in mainstream American cinema. Judging by his work on The Bourne Identity and his more personal project Fair Game, a take on the Valerie Plame scandal, Liman has a particular fascination for the mechanics and realpolitik of modern spycraft. But the confines of a feature film just aren’t roomy enough to do the subject justice without regressing into the kind of star vehicle the industry has come to expect.

Production companies: A Universal Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures presentation in association with Imagine Entertainment of a Brian Grazer production in association with Vendian Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures, Hercules Film Fund
Distributor: Universal

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejía, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons, Jayma Mays, Lola Kirke, William Mark McCullough, E. Roger Mitchell, Robert Farrior, Cuyle Carvin
Director: Doug Liman
Screenwriter: Gary Spinelli
Producers: Brian Grazer, Brian Oliver, Doug Davison, Kim Roth, Ray Angelic, Tyler Thompson 
Executive producers: Paris Latsis, Terry Dougas, Brandt Andersen, Eric Greenfeld, Michael Finley, Michael Bassick, Ray Chen   
Director of photography: Cesar Charlone
Production designer: Dan Weil
Costume designer: Jenny Gering
Editors: Andrew Mondshein
Music: Christophe Beck
Music supervisors: Gabe Hilfer, Julianne Jordan
Casting: Mindy Marin

Rated R, 115 minutes

The Monster Project Courtesy of Epic Pictures  A gag TV project leads to actual supernatural encounters in Victor Mathieus found footage fright flick.  A low rent House of Horrors for whatever small contingent of genre fans isnt yet sick to death of found footage thrillers, Victor Mathieus The Monster Project sets YouTubers against boogeymen and wonders who will win. More of a challenge to the eyes and ears than most pics of its ilk, it invests slightly more in its characters than usual, but not enough to make us care if they live or die. Commercial prospects are slim, though some buffs may click in the home entertainment arena.  Having enjoyed some success with goofy YouTube videos in which they dress as monsters and stage mock sightings, buddies Devon and Jamal (Justin Bruening and Jamal Quezaire) believe they can make real money by upping the ante: They set out to interview actual monsters, or at least humans who believe thats what they are, for a vid series. Through Craigslist, that vast resource for victims to be, they set up interviews with a self proclaimed vampire, a woman possessed by a demon and a Native American skinwalker (that is, a werewolf).  Devon risks the ire of his ex girlfriend Murielle (Murielle Zuker) by asking her to direct the show and hiring her current love interest Bryan (Toby Hemingway) as a PA. Why hed offer a PA more than his co creator Jamal is being paid remains unexplained — as does his willingness to hire Bryan despite believing that the young man hasnt given up the drugs he claims to be abstaining from. (This is true, and its the films sole real subplot.)  Tip for crewmembers of low budget horror movies: When your producer tells you to leave your cellphones in the van before entering a scary, boarded up house, ignore him. Maybe his worries about signal interference are well founded, but theyre likely outweighed by your familiarity with the way horror movies work.  The four filmmakers have arranged to speak to their trio of monsters at this big, decrepit house on the night of a lunar eclipse. Mathieu doesnt waste any time before establishing that the interviewees are in fact what they claim to be, and locking the heroes in the house with them. Theres very little mood setting before the monsters turn on the kids, roaring and biting and roaring and chasing and roaring and hiding. The sound design and effects are hard to take here, as is the fact that the film has shifted entirely to green night vision mode. As DP Phillip Sebal mimics the frantic, amateurish camerawork of his multiple POV shooting protagonists, we sometimes cant tell whats going on — and, given the monotony of Mathieus action pacing, we frequently dont care.

Courtesy of Epic Pictures

A gag TV project leads to actual supernatural encounters in Victor Mathieu’s found-footage fright flick.

A low-rent House of Horrors for whatever small contingent of genre fans isn’t yet sick to death of found-footage thrillers, Victor Mathieu’s The Monster Project sets YouTubers against boogeymen and wonders who will win. More of a challenge to the eyes and ears than most pics of its ilk, it invests slightly more in its characters than usual, but not enough to make us care if they live or die. Commercial prospects are slim, though some buffs may click in the home-entertainment arena.

Having enjoyed some success with goofy YouTube videos in which they dress as monsters and stage mock sightings, buddies Devon and Jamal (Justin Bruening and Jamal Quezaire) believe they can make real money by upping the ante: They set out to interview actual monsters, or at least humans who believe that’s what they are, for a vid series. Through Craigslist, that vast resource for victims-to-be, they set up interviews with a self-proclaimed vampire, a woman possessed by a demon and a Native American “skinwalker” (that is, a werewolf).

Devon risks the ire of his ex-girlfriend Murielle (Murielle Zuker) by asking her to direct the show and hiring her current love interest Bryan (Toby Hemingway) as a PA. Why he’d offer a PA more than his co-creator Jamal is being paid remains unexplained — as does his willingness to hire Bryan despite believing that the young man hasn’t given up the drugs he claims to be abstaining from. (This is true, and it’s the film’s sole real subplot.)

Tip for crewmembers of low-budget horror movies: When your producer tells you to leave your cellphones in the van before entering a scary, boarded-up house, ignore him. Maybe his worries about signal interference are well founded, but they’re likely outweighed by your familiarity with the way horror movies work.

The four filmmakers have arranged to speak to their trio of “monsters” at this big, decrepit house on the night of a lunar eclipse. Mathieu doesn’t waste any time before establishing that the interviewees are in fact what they claim to be, and locking the heroes in the house with them. There’s very little mood-setting before the monsters turn on the kids, roaring and biting and roaring and chasing and roaring and hiding. The sound design and effects are hard to take here, as is the fact that the film has shifted entirely to green night-vision mode. As DP Phillip Sebal mimics the frantic, amateurish camerawork of his multiple POV-shooting protagonists, we sometimes can’t tell what’s going on — and, given the monotony of Mathieu’s action pacing, we frequently don’t care.

monster project Courtesy of Epic Pictures  A gag TV project leads to actual supernatural encounters in Victor Mathieus found footage fright flick.  A low rent House of Horrors for whatever small contingent of genre fans isnt yet sick to death of found footage thrillers, Victor Mathieus The Monster Project sets YouTubers against boogeymen and wonders who will win. More of a challenge to the eyes and ears than most pics of its ilk, it invests slightly more in its characters than usual, but not enough to make us care if they live or die. Commercial prospects are slim, though some buffs may click in the home entertainment arena.  Having enjoyed some success with goofy YouTube videos in which they dress as monsters and stage mock sightings, buddies Devon and Jamal (Justin Bruening and Jamal Quezaire) believe they can make real money by upping the ante: They set out to interview actual monsters, or at least humans who believe thats what they are, for a vid series. Through Craigslist, that vast resource for victims to be, they set up interviews with a self proclaimed vampire, a woman possessed by a demon and a Native American skinwalker (that is, a werewolf).  Devon risks the ire of his ex girlfriend Murielle (Murielle Zuker) by asking her to direct the show and hiring her current love interest Bryan (Toby Hemingway) as a PA. Why hed offer a PA more than his co creator Jamal is being paid remains unexplained — as does his willingness to hire Bryan despite believing that the young man hasnt given up the drugs he claims to be abstaining from. (This is true, and its the films sole real subplot.)  Tip for crewmembers of low budget horror movies: When your producer tells you to leave your cellphones in the van before entering a scary, boarded up house, ignore him. Maybe his worries about signal interference are well founded, but theyre likely outweighed by your familiarity with the way horror movies work.  The four filmmakers have arranged to speak to their trio of monsters at this big, decrepit house on the night of a lunar eclipse. Mathieu doesnt waste any time before establishing that the interviewees are in fact what they claim to be, and locking the heroes in the house with them. Theres very little mood setting before the monsters turn on the kids, roaring and biting and roaring and chasing and roaring and hiding. The sound design and effects are hard to take here, as is the fact that the film has shifted entirely to green night vision mode. As DP Phillip Sebal mimics the frantic, amateurish camerawork of his multiple POV shooting protagonists, we sometimes cant tell whats going on — and, given the monotony of Mathieus action pacing, we frequently dont care.

Distributor: Epic Pictures
Cast: Justin Bruening, Toby Hemingway, Murielle Zuker, Jamal Quezaire, Yvonne Zima, Steven Flores, Shiori Ideta, James Storm, Susan Stangi
Director: Victor Mathieu
Screenwriters: Victor Mathieu, Shariya Lynn, Corbin Billings
Producers: Victor Mathieu, Phillip Sebal, Corbin Billings, Mike Burkenbine
Executive producers: Anthony Billings, Jim Beinke, Jonathan Bross, Jon Braver, JS Sebal, Mitchell Kanner, Lauren Doucette, Uri Levanon
Director of photography: Phillip Sebal
Production designer: Bradd Wesley Fillmann
Costume designer: Esther Han
Editor: Phillip Sebal
Composers: Pinar Toprak, Emir Isilay
Casting directors: Lauren Bass, Jordan Bass

98 minutes

Sidemen Sidemen: Long Road to Glory (2017) Movie Review

Courtesy of Jerome Brunet

Scott Rosenbaum’s documentary profiles legendary blues musicians Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Scott Rosenbaum’s documentary profiling three legendary blues musicians arrives too late. The film chronicles the lives and careers of Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who all passed away in 2011. That, as well as the onscreen interviews with deceased musicians such as Gregg Allman and Johnny Winter, lends an undeniable elegiac quality to Sidemen: Long Road to Glory. The film should prove catnip to music lovers, especially blues fans.

None of the three subjects are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but as the film makes abundantly clear, they should be. Sumlin was a pioneering guitarist who provided indelible riffs to the music of Howlin’ Wolf, while Perkins and Smith played piano and drums respectively for Muddy Waters, among many other musicians. All three men’s careers lasted into their eighties and nineties, and while they earned the love and respect of both their peers and the many younger players whom they influenced, they never earned the fame and fortune of the performers for whom they served as sidemen.

“I was getting the scraps, they were getting the money,” complains Perkins in one of the film’s many fascinating interview segments. All three elderly musicians discuss their early years growing up in the Deep South, in some cases on plantations; their moving to Chicago, where they helped revolutionize electric blues; and their relationships with the seminal figures Wolf and Waters.

Numerous contemporary musicians testify to the men’s importance, including Joe Bonamassa, Shemekia Copeland, Warren Haynes, Robby Krieger, Joe Perry, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. All of them point out, to one degree or another, how rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t exist without the blues and without the contributions of Sumlin, Perkins and Smith in particular.

Ironically, it was such British artists as The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton who popularized the music in America. Footage of the former in their early days shows them ripping through their version of Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Little Red Rooster.” In America, passionate blues fans included Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who intended to showcase Waters in the Blues Brothers movie. When Waters fell ill, John Lee Hooker took over; a clip from the film shows him performing his trademark number “Boom Boom” while accompanied by Smith and Perkins.

One of the more amusing anecdotes related concerns the recording of the classic London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, on which the venerable performer was backed up by such then-young British musicians as Clapton, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. To ingratiate themselves with the prickly Wolf, Clapton and the others pretended not to know how to play some of the music, prompting the singer to show them how it should be done.

The film ends on a happy note, showing Perkins and Smith journeying to Los Angeles and winning a Grammy for their 2011 album Joined at the Hip. At age 97, Perkins became the oldest Grammy winner ever, and died only a month later. Within eight months, Smith and Sumlin had also died.

Narrated by comedian Marc Maron, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory earns a place besides such films as 20 Feet From Stardom and Standing in the Shadows of Motown as overdue cinematic tributes to underappreciated musicians.

sidemen long road to glory ver2 Sidemen: Long Road to Glory (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Red Hawk Films, Red Thread Productions
Distributor: Abramorama
Director: Scott D. Rosenbaum
Screenwriters: Jasin Cadic, Scott D. Rosenbaum
Producers: Jasin Cadic, Tony Grazia, Emmett James, Scott D. Rosenbaum, Joseph White
Executive producers: Fabrizio Grossi, Alan Rudolph, Pat Scalabrino
Directors of photography: Robby Baumgartner, Daniel Marracino, Brian McAward, Declan Quinn, Joseph Quirk, Greg Wilson
Editor: Bo Mehrad

78 minutes

attraction 2017 Attraction (2017) Movie ReviewCourtesy of Art Pictures Studio 

An alien spaceship crashlands on Moscow in director Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Russian sci-fi action blockbuster.

Contemporary Moscow becomes a battleground for the survival of the human race in Attraction, a bombastic alien-invasion thriller whose familiar plot is elevated by world-class visual effects. Director Fyodor Bondarchuk is the son of the late Soviet-era Oscar-winning filmmaker Sergei Bondarchuk and a public supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is arguably reflected in this film’s patriotic political subtext, although Bondarchuk insists the message is more universal than local. Prior to this, his most recent project was the 2013 epic Stalingrad, which Russia pitched unsuccessfully to the Academy Awards.

Attraction is already a box-office hit domestically, where it played in 3D Imax format alongside regular 2D. Feeling in places like a mixtape of earlier films including Independence Day, War of the Worlds, District 9 and RoboCop, it offers guilty-pleasure thrills with a light sheen of social comment. As a rare Russian sci-fi blockbuster, it should have readymade audience appeal, though the language barrier could prove a hurdle in English-speaking markets given the limited overlap between subtitle-friendly cineastes and action-thirsty genre fans. Currently touring film festivals in Europe and Asia, Attraction opens in German theaters next week. A U.S. launch has yet to be confirmed.

The opening act is a bravura display of visual pyrotechnics and aerial acrobatics. Russian military chiefs intercept a massive UFO in the thick of a dazzling meteor shower, shooting it down as it appears to menace Moscow. The craft plummets to earth in the Chertanovo residential area south of the city center, smashing through high-rise apartment blocks before flattening an entire neighborhood. This cataclysmic crash and the spaceship design itself, a kind of giant rotating eyeball suspended inside whirling gyroscopic rings, are both superlative examples of high-end VFX work.

After the crash, which leaves dozens dead, Moscow snaps into high military alert. But Colonel Valentin Lebedev (Oleg Menshikov), appointed to lead the army response, urges caution. Resisting hawkish politicians who demand an all-out assault, Lebedev instead makes contact with the aliens, who communicate telepathically from inside biomechanical body armor. He then agrees to seal off the crashed spaceship so the extra-terrestrials can complete their repair plans and leave the planet. But the colonel’s rebellious teenage daughter Yulia (Irina Starshenbaum) and her loose-cannon boyfriend Artyom (Alexander Petrov) have other ideas, sneaking inside the heavily guarded crash zone in search of alien treasure.

Piling absurdity upon absurdity, Attraction shifts gear midway through from action thriller to girl-meets-alien interspecies romance, all spiced with culture-clash comedy and father-daughter friction. It then climaxes with a lurch into violent extremism when angry human mobs rise up against intergalactic immigrants in a running street battle that threatens to obliterate all of Moscow.

Buried in the film’s heavy-handed message about tolerance towards outsiders lurks much proud rhetoric about Russians being a peace-loving people who only ever strike back in self-defense, which should play well with Bondarchuk’s pal Putin, at least. The jerky tone here becomes less like Independence Day and closer to vintage Cold War-era Hollywood propaganda like The Day the Earth Stood Still or This Island Earth, with their latent anxieties about escalating nuclear brinkmanship.

Attraction feels much bigger and slicker than its modest budget, reportedly around $6 million. Its characters may be ciphers, its pacing baggy and its plot derivative, but it is rarely boring. Even if Bondarchuk is a stranger to subtlety, his grasp of action beats and crowd-pleasing genre tropes shine through. Thus he methodically delivers a checklist of fan-boy essentials including a sexy young cast, partial nudity, wild car chases, adrenalized combat scenes and cool alien hardware. As serious sci-fi, Attraction barely leaves the launchpad. But as superior bubblegum spectacle, it easily blasts into orbit.

Attraction Attraction (2017) Movie ReviewProduction companies: Art Pictures Studio, Vodorod 2011
Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Oleg Menshikov, Alexander Petrov, Darya Rudenok, Rinal Mukhametov
Director: Fyodor Bondarchuk
Screenwriters: Andrey Zolotaryov, Oleg Malovichko
Producers: Fyodor Bondarchuk, Dmitriy Rudovskiy, Mikhail Vrubel, Alexander Andryuschenko, Anton Zlatopolsky
Cinematographer: Mikhail Khasaya
Editor: Alexander Andryushchenko
Music: Ivan Burlyaev
Production designer: Zhanna Pakhomova

120 minutes

The Jungle Bunch The Jungle Bunch (2017) Movie ReviewCourtesy of SND

Adapted from the popular kids TV series, this animated feature premiered at the Annecy Film Festival and is receiving a wide summer release in France.

Like its squad of pint-sized, crime-fighting underdogs, The Jungle Bunch (Les As de la Jungle) is, in its own way, a sort of cartoon David taking on the Goliaths of Hollywood animation. Based on the hit French kids series (airing on Sprout in the U.S.), the $8 million feature was made for a fraction of your typical Pixar or DreamWorks production, yet manages to rival the big leagues in terms of PG-rated mayhem.

In terms of originality, though, this second theatrical effort — after the 2011 featurette The Jungle Bunch: The Movie — from creators David Alaux, Jean-Francois Tosti and Eric Tosti feels more derivative than innovative, trafficking in the kind of snark and pop culture references we’ve seen too many times before, while doubling down on the CG violence (albeit of a rather harmless variety — although the film does kick off with one animal dying, Bambi-style, in an arson-induced forest fire.)

Such drawbacks have hardly stopped the 6-and-under set from coming out to catch this Gallic summer release, which has already scored over 350,000 admissions in two weeks. Given the franchise’s status overseas, where it’s present in more than 200 territories, the film should find some play in theaters and lots of love on the small screen.

After an action-packed opening, we meet Maurice (Philippe Bozo), an orphaned little penguin who was raised by the tigress, Natacha (Maik Darah). Even if by nature he’s a bird, Maurice really wants to be a tiger like his mother, covering himself in orange war paint and adopting Natacha’s combat skills — which she honed while heading up a team of vigilante mammals known as “Les Fortiches,” which translates to “The Aces.” (Meanwhile, the film’s French title, which sounds like “The Jungle Asses,” translates to “The Jungle Aces.”)

Once he grows up, Maurice forms his own gang of do-gooders, joining hands with creatures like the silly gorilla Miguel (Pascal Casanova), the Yoda-esque primate Gilbert (Laurent Morteau), the she-bat Batricia (Celine Monsarrat) and a pair of comic relief toads named Al (Emmanuel Curtil) and Bob (Paul Borne). Together they try to stop whatever crime or misdemeanor comes their way, until taking on their greatest nemesis: the arch-evil koala Igor (Richard Darbois), whose sidekick is an enslaved crab and whose weapons of choice are mushrooms that turn into colorful exploding bombs.

It’s all a little zany and overcooked and childish, which is perhaps why the series has been so popular with French tykes and is probably better fitted for 22-minute episodes than feature-length treatment. In the hopes of perhaps luring in older viewers, the filmmakers also decided to toss in a bunch of meta moments, including references to Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, slow-motion fights straight out of Kung Fu Panda and the ironic use of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” during a psych-up scene.

If a lot of that seems highly manufactured, like the film is trying too hard to please, The Jungle Bunch does feature a few cleverly conceived Rube Goldberg contraptions that are used by both the good and bad guys, while the pacing is fast enough to gloss over the movie’s rather limited imagination. And although it’s not exactly on par with the major studios, the animation work is nonetheless impressive ­— most notably in the depictions of all the tropical floral and fauna, as well as other details of the story’s exotic setting. The soundtrack by Olivier Cussac (Cruel) is loud and omnipresent but ultimately gets the job done, just like Maurice and his crew.

jungle bunch The Jungle Bunch (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: TAT Productions, SND-Groupe M6, France 3 Cinema, Master Films
Cast: Philippe Bozo, Pascal Casanova, Laurent Morteau, Richard Darbois, Maik Darah
Director: David Alaux
Screenwriters: David Alaux, Eric Tosti, Jean-Francois Tosti
Producer: Jean-Francois Tosti
Editors: Jean-Christian Tassy, Helene Blanchard
Composer: Olivier Cussac
Animators: Benoit Daffis, Laurent Houis
Storyboards: Nicolas Capelle, Benjamin Lagard, Isabelle Lemaux, Benoit Somville
Animation director: Jean-Christophe Bruneau
Sales: SND Groupe-M6

In French
97 minutes

Overdrive1 Overdrive (2017) Movie ReviewCourtesy of Kinology

Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp play high-stakes car thieves who get mixed up with mobsters in this revved-up heist thriller.

The phenomenal success of the Fast and the Furious series has inevitably spawned a spate of rubber-burning copycats, from the deluxe nerd porn of Edgar Wright’s wildly overpraised Baby Diver to more nakedly obvious cash-ins like this glossy French heist thriller. Parallels with the multibillion-dollar car-chase franchise are more than cosmetic. Overdrive’s American screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas scored their first hit with 2 Fast 2 Furious, while leading man Scott Eastwood had a minor role in the most recent blockbuster installment, The Fate of the Furious

Colombian helmer Antonio Negret is mostly known for his TV work, but producer Pierre Morel is the key name here. A graduate of the Luc Besson school of French-set, English-language action thrillers, Morel directed Liam Neeson in the first Taken movie back in 2008. Currently in U.K. theaters ahead of its French debut later this week, Overdrive is receiving a staggered European and Asian release before its U.S. launch. This kind of rollout is usually reserved for dead-in-the-water duds, but it worked for Taken and may yet help turbocharge the commercial prospects of this formulaic adolescent-male button-pusher, which is witless and brainless but not entirely joyless.

Eastwood and his vapid pretty-boy Brit co-star Freddie Thorp play transatlantic half-brothers who finance their international playboy lifestyle by stealing high-end classic sports cars for shady clients. Their current base of operations is the sun-drenched French port city of Marseille, where they make the grave error of hijacking a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 that has just sold at action for $41 million to a notorious local crime boss, Morier (Simon Abkarian). To avoid lethal punishment, the brothers rashly promise to purloin a priceless 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO from Morier’s even more brutal German rival Klemp (Clemens Schick). With French cops shadowing every move by both the thieves and mobsters, what could possibly go wrong?

Overdrive comes with all the standard features for this kind of cheerfully inane auto-erotic escapade. The twist-heavy plot is totally preposterous and the trite dialogue could have been written by a computer algorithm, but the breakneck car chases are staged with kinetic efficiency, making excellent use of the dramatic gorges and mountain roads north of Marseille. The two stars are blandly attractive eye candy, the villains cartoonish ogres with fortress-like villas and the female leads supermodel-pretty male-fantasy figures with implausibly geeky interests in cars and gadgets. Mechanic Pixie Dream Girls, in short.

That said, Cuban-born Ana de Armas (soon to be seen in Blade Runner 2049) radiates more kick-ass charisma than her thankless sidekick role might suggest. And Eastwood’s increasing resemblance to his superstar father lends a kind of eerie second-hand cool to his sardonic squint and unruffled manner, adding a vague approximation of depth to a resolutely shallow screenplay, just as Clint himself brought a touch of class to his own mid-career Eurotrash vehicles like Kelly’s Heroes or The Eiger Sanction. Fans of vintage Ferraris, Porsches, Bugattis, BMWs and more will also find plenty of buff bodywork to drool over here, since the film’s four-wheeled stars are lit and shot with more devotional attention to detail than even the most demanding Hollywood diva.

Untaxing as drama, thin as entertainment, but modestly enjoyable as a revved-up caper movie, Overdrive is pure escapist fluff with a light French accent. Which still makes it smarter, leaner and cooler than any of the Fast and the Furious films it shamelessly mimics.

overdrive Overdrive (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Kinology, Sentient Pictures
Cast: Scott Eastwood, Freddie Thorp, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss, Clemens Schick, Simon Abkarian
Director: Antonio Negret
Screenwriters: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Producers: Pierre Morel, Gregoire Melin, Christopher Tuffin
Cinematographer: Laurent Bares
Editors: Samuel Danesi, Sophie Fourdrinoy

93 minutes

The Nut Job 2 The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (2017) Movie Review

Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl and Maya Rudolph are joined by Jackie Chan for another chaotic animated romp in the park.

“You mean, there was actually a previous Nut Job?”

In response to the comment that often greets mention of The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, indeed there was one.

An animated adventure featuring a frantic menagerie of urban park dwellers, the feature boasted little that separated it from the anthropomorphic pack save for a scene-stealing Maya Rudolph as an eager-to-please pug and the striking Damon Runyon-inspired, throwback art direction. Released during a decidedly uncrowded January weekend in 2014, the film ended up scurrying off with a surprising $25.7 million domestic opening on the way to a worldwide take of $120.9 million.

Content to recycle everything that worked — and didn’t — the first time around, the new U.S.-Canada-South Korea co-production will likely have a tougher time scraping together much at the box office, targeting a back-to-school demo that has already been assailed by sputtering cars, millions of minions and crass emojis.

Having been living the life of Riley in an abandoned nut shop, Surly, a purple squirrel voiced by Will Arnett, and his four-legged cohorts must form a united front when their beloved Liberty Park is slated to be razed by Oakton’s corrupt Mayor Muldoon (Bobby Moynihan) and turned into an amusement park filled with condemned rides.

Speared on by his nature-loving squirrel pal Andie (Katherine Heigl), Surly finds some unexpected assistance in the form of the mysterious Mr. Feng (Jackie Chan), who has evolved from a common street rodent into a “weapon of mouse destruction.”

While that let’s-band-together-and-save-the-park setup clearly isn’t the freshest acorn on the tree, director and co-writer Cal Brunker (2013’s Escape From Planet Earth) at least manages to keep all the ensuing chaos at a reasonably brisk clip. Drawing similarly energetic performances from his voice cast is another matter — and once again Arnett, Heigl and company simply don’t come off as dimensionally warm and engaging as required.

The lone exception is once again Rudolph, who, as the pop-eyed Precious, handily slobbers on all the scenery, with a Bowery Boys inflection that sounds a bit like she’s channeling Rosie O’Donnell circa A League of Their Own.

This time around she meets her romantic match in the form of Frankie (Bobby Cannavale), a French Bulldog belonging to the mayor’s delinquent daughter, and the two embark on a courtship marked by a squirmingly audacious regurgitation sequence that emerges as the film’s dubious high point.

Too bad the rest of it feels so similarly churned out.

nut job two nutty by nature The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Redrover, ToonBox Entertainment, Gulfstream Pictures, Shanghai Hoongman
Distributor: Open Road Films
Cast: Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Heigl, Jackie Chan, Isabela Moner, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan, Peter Stormare, Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham
Director: Cal Brunker
Screenwriters: Scott Bindley, Cal Brunker, Bob Barlen
Producers: Harry Linden, Jongsoo Kim, Youngki Lee, Li Li Ma, Jonghan Kim, Bob Barlen
Executive producers: Daniel Woo, Mike Karz, William Bindley, Hoejin Ha, Hong Kim, Gui Ping Zhang, Zhao Lan Wu, Hyungkon Kim
Editor: Paul Hunter
Music: Heitor Pereira
Casting director: Linda Lamontagne

Rated PG, 84 minutes

the hitmans bodyguard The Hitmans Bodyguard (2017) Movie Review

Ryan Reynolds tries to convince Samuel L. Jackson he needs protection in Patrick Hughes’ late-summer action-comedy.

Having directed nearly every other male action star (and a slew of top-billed non-stars) in The Expendables 3, Patrick Hughes adds Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson to his stable in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, an action-comedy that takes the Midnight Run template to The Hague. The tweak here, as one will guess from the title, is that this tale’s protector (Reynolds) may be redundant given the lethal skills of the man in his care. That question prompts much bickering in this diverting but hardly thrilling romp, which fails to develop much chemistry between its stars despite their individual charms.

Though likely to perform much better than that 2014 Stallone/Willis/etc./etc. flop, the pic won’t sate those who in Deadpool found Reynolds to be a perfect mixologist of violence and self-aware comedy. Jackson’s admirers may have a better time, if only because it’s one more chance to see him play someone other than Nick Fury.

When we meet Reynolds’ Michael Bryce, he’s on top of the world: head of a personal-protection empire that works like clockwork and is (as we’ll hear ceaselessly) “Triple-A rated.” Then he somehow lets a Japanese arms merchant catch a bullet through the forehead, and things fall apart.

Two years later, Bryce retains his skills but is working for peanuts, wearing a busted watch and shuttling clients around in an economy car that (as we’ll hear ceaselessly) “smells like ass.” But he’s about to get a shot at redemption.

Bryce’s old girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung, Elektra in Marvel’s Daredevil), has learned that a mole in the organization compromises the safety of a prisoner entrusted to her. She needs someone completely out of the loop to take care of Jackson’s Darius Kinkaid — and who’s less in the loop than Bryce, who blames his disgrace on her? After she promises she can get him back in the good graces of high-rolling clients, Bryce agrees to help.

Kinkaid needs protection because, despite being in prison for innumerable counts of murder-for-hire, he’s the star witness in an International Criminal Court case against Belarusian war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), who has an army of goons intent on killing him before he testifies. In a preposterous contrivance, Dukhovich is going to be set free by the ICC if Kinkaid can’t make it from London to court in The Hague by 5 p.m. that afternoon.

From the start, Kinkaid displays an eagerness to leave his custodian behind and kill his would-be assassins by himself. But he’s never looking to actually escape: He’s willing to serve out his life sentence for his own crimes, so long as officials will keep their promise to pardon his also-imprisoned wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) if he cooperates. (In a dopily amusing flashback, we see how force-of-nature Sonia won Darius’ heart in a cantina brawl years ago.)

Though they’re at each other’s throats throughout, the two men obviously need to work together if Kinkaid is to testify and Bryce is to relaunch his bodyguard firm. Tom O’Connor’s screenplay works hard to stretch their feud out to sustain second-act conflict, but its banter is uninspired, hardly distracting us from the cookie-cutter nature of the underlying plot.

Even with the relative novelty of Dutch settings (which allow for a boat-cars-motorcycle chase sequence in Amsterdam), the picture feels far more generic than its A-list cast would suggest. A couple of scenes that ironically employ soft-rock standards suggest that the filmmakers were shooting for a more smart-ass tone, but Atli Örvarsson’s overheated score works strenuously against that effect, as does Hughes’ pedestrian direction. The Hitman’s Bodyguard offers more than enough shoot-’em-up to keep multiplex auds munching their popcorn, but sharper talents behind the camera might have made it considerably more enjoyable.

hitmans bodyguard ver5 The Hitmans Bodyguard (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Millennium Media, Nu Boyana Film Studios, CGF
Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim De Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, Richard E. Grant
Director: Patrick Hughes
Screenwriter: Tom O’Connor
Producers: John Thompson, Matt O’Toole, Les Welson, Mark Gill
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Jason Bloom
Director of photography: Jules O’Loughlin
Production designer: Russell De Rozario
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editor: Jake Roberts
Composer: Atli Örvarsson
Casting directors: Elaine Grainger, Marianne Stanicheva

Rated R, 118 minutes

good time Good Time (2017) Movie Review

In one of the few quiet moments in Good Time, Robert Pattinson’s character, lowlife Connie Nikas, confesses that he believes he spent a previous life as a dog. At that point in the latest urban nightmare from the familial directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie (Heaven Knows What), the audience can’t be sure he’s telling the truth — he’ll say or do anything to survive—but we’ve started to see the canine in him too. Mangy and fiercely loyal to his mentally challenged brother, Nick (Benny Safdie, again), Connie is our guide through the film’s neon-lit New York City hellscape over the course of 24 truly horrendous hours.

With fantasies of a new life in the country, Connie ropes his brother into a poorly planned bank heist. When things inevitably go wrong, it’s Nick who ends up in custody, sending Connie on a desperate odyssey to scrape together the $10,000 he needs to post bail for his brother.

What follows plays out like a drug cocktail of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and a Michael Mann-directed acid trip. As the long bad night barrels forward, Connie bounces between a series of acquaintances (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, a girlfriend to whom he’s promised a beach vacation) and increasingly bleak odds. The wild night eventually turns downright rabid, but ­Pattinson anchors Good Time, completely selling Connie from the moment he bursts into the frame and delivering the best performance of his career. (This coming only a few months after a quiet, assured turn in The Lost City of Z.) His energy here matches the verve of the Safdies’ direction, which propels the story at a breathless sprint and captures an NYC of hospital corridors, White Castle parking lots, and outer-borough high-rises. It’s not the kind of place you want to live. It’s not one you’d even want to visit. But damn if it isn’t a good time.

good time Good Time (2017) Movie ReviewType: Movie; Genre: Drama; Limited Release Date: 08/11/17; Performer: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh; Director: Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie; MPAA: R 

ingrid goes west Ingrid Goes West (2017) Movie Review

Shiny pop satire with a humming undercurrent of existential dread, Ingrid Goes West is a clever, corrosive little trick of a movie, a neon candy heart dipped in asbestos. Aubrey Plaza stars as a woman on the verge of a social-media breakdown; unhinged by real-time images of an acquaintance’s wedding that rudely excludes her, she shows up to the reception in sweatpants and pepper-sprays the bride. After an indeterminate stint in a psychiatric ward, her spirit is revived by a fresh obsession: Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram goddess living the impossibly photogenic California dream of avocado toast, Navajo ponchos, and backyard rosé. Armed with a small inheritance, Ingrid follows her manifest destiny out to Los Angeles, determined to befriend Taylor or bust.

Director Matt Spicer (It’s Not You It’s Me) has a keen sense for the loneliness and inanity of a life lived online; his grasping millennials operate like full-time unpaid performance artists, professing undying love for Norman Mailer books they’ve never read and gushing useless superlatives (there is no good or better, only BEST). The lemur-eyed Plaza vibrates with manic intensity, and Olsen is a brilliantly hollow foil. Though strangely, it’s the men who feel most real: Ingrid’s stoner landlord-cum-boyfriend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Taylor’s shaggy husband (Wyatt Russell), and Billy Magnussen as the ruthless party-boy brother who sees right through his sister’s new BFF. It’s too bad that in the end West doesn’t fully trust its own ugly truths, settling instead for a postscript so glibly, brightly #blessed.

ingrid goes west Ingrid Goes West (2017) Movie ReviewType: Movie; Genre: Drama; Release date: 08/11/17; Performer: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.; Director: Matt Spicer; MPAA: R

detroit ver3 Detroit (2017) Movie Review

Kathryn Bigelow’s latest effort is a docudrama about the 1967 Detroit riots, focusing on a specific incident of police violence against a group of black men at a hotel.

A particularly nasty historical instance of police brutality against African-Americans is wrenched back into the spotlight on its 50th anniversary in Detroit. Shot docudrama style with an emphasis on visceral force above all else, this third collaboration over a nine-year stretch between director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, after The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, emerges, creatively, as the least of the trio; intense and physically powerful in the way it conveys its atrocious events, the film nonetheless remains short on complexity, as if it were enough simply to provoke and outrage the audience. It’s a grim tale with no catharsis. Annapurna Pictures’ first feature film release can’t help but stir plenty of sympathetic attention in the press and among political activists, but audiences keen to put themselves through this wringer will remain somewhat limited.

Like Nate Parker’s now conveniently forgotten The Birth of a Nation last year, the new film is a based-on-real-events drama determined to pummel the viewer with a tough, unvarnished perspective on a violent episode in American racial annals that’s deeply unsettling. Historically, there’s little question that in Detroit the white authorities were the bad guys, so unless the creative artists are inclined to delve beneath this rendering to examine nuances on both sides, it’s uncertain what the film has to offer other than a punch to the gut.

The match that lit the fire on July 23, 1967, was a police raid on a Detroit after-hours bar in a black neighborhood where friends were celebrating the return of two locals from the Vietnam War. Things got out of hand, to the point where a local black assemblyman implored his constituents not to “mess up your own neighborhood.” But looting and destruction increased, more cops were sent in, the National Guard was called upon to protect the police and after three days, Detroit began to be compared to ‘Nam itself.

This is a film that begins darkly and only becomes moreso. Bigelow and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd cover the initially random street violence with jittery, abrupt camera moves, much as a documentary camera operator might nervously re-point and refocus on unpredictable events based on where the action is. Shop windows are broken, stores are looted, and shouts and occasional gunshots of unknown origin fill the very dark nights.

In its depiction of this cauldron of helter-skelter violence lies the implicit and entirely plausible suggestion that the mainly white police in every instance overreacted to what was going on; if the wee-hours revelers had just been left alone on that first night, it’s implied that nothing untoward would likely have resulted. But heavy-handed response seems to have been the force’s modus operandi.

The main personal connection screenwriter Boal provides to all this comes through an enthusiastic young man named Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the smoothly appealing lead singer of a slick all-male group called The Dramatics scheduled to perform right after Martha and the Vandellas at a big downtown theater. When the tumult outside cuts the concert short right before his hoped-for star-making moment, Larry is devastated, and his own disinterest in what’s going down on the streets is clearly provided as a lifeline to viewers unversed in the incident.

So the point is made that if Larry can’t avoid being sucked into Detroit’s tragedy, neither can anyone else. On this third night of rioting, July 25, with the city hot and dangerous, Larry and his reluctant buddy Fred (Jacob Latimore) take refuge at the Algiers Hotel, a seedy place with a pool and rear annex where drugs and hookers are not unwelcome. The only whites around are two teenage girls, Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), who appear to be up for anything and are palling around with a wild guy, Carl (Jason Mitchell), upstairs. Julie and Larry quickly hit it off, Fred is petrified and Carl plays fast and loose with a small toy gun.

Thus begins a long night’s journey into hell. In the film’s arduous, protracted and incendiary second act, the overwhelmingly white police force once again overreacts, raiding the hotel in the belief that there’s a sniper inside and, once committed, cannot back off without exerting maximum force on their multiple suspects. Carl is immediately shot dead, while several others on the premises, including Larry and Fred, are shoved up against a wall and subjected to no end of physical and mental abuse.

The cop in charge, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter, the kid in The Revenant), is a hideous racist and sadist of the worst kind (he’s also a fictional character, presumably, because whomever he’s based on in real life was found innocent in court and can’t be depicted as doing what the character is seen doing onscreen). Beating his terrified captives as they keep denying that anyone shot at the police or knows where the gun is, the baby-faced cretin is somewhat of a caricature — callow, sadistic, meanly manipulative, prideful in his reckless use of power and snickeringly snide in his continual reminders of how he’s the one in charge here and you’re not.

Krauss’ favorite game is to take his “suspects” into an adjoining room, threaten them with a bullet in the head unless they spill, then pull the trigger but deliberately miss, re-enter the hallway and announce that he’s just killed that suspect and the same will happen to the next one if he or she doesn’t talk. This gambit is interrupted by the arrival, at intervals, of the National Guard, the Michigan State Police and a well-meaning security guard, Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), who’s popped up before but is powerless to do anything to restrain the maniacal Krauss.

But when Krauss has another young officer join his nasty game, things go drastically wrong, resulting in more death, a cover-up and outright lies that carry all the way through the subsequent trials at which the policemen were eventually exonerated by all-white juries in courts outside Detroit. And even poor Dismukes, who only wanted to help but was powerless to do so, was investigated for murder in an example of outrageous legal overreach.

It’s impossible to sit through all this and not ponder how things are, or are not, the same a full half-century after the events on display. The highly publicized rash of seemingly unwarranted police shootings of black victims in recent years have led many to insist that things basically haven’t changed; others would point out that major city urban police forces are far more integrated than they used to be and that the kind of brash, overtly racist police behavior on display in Detroit would be an egregious exception rather than the rule these days.

Unfortunately, the film makes no effort to try to understand or present the police as anything other than monolithically heinous; except for Krauss, they’re scarcely more individuated than Darth Vader’s shock troops.

From a strictly stylistic point of view, this third consecutive collaboration between Bigelow and Ackroyd is not on the level of the previous two; the nervous camera coverage of the riots and other action feels a tad overcalculated and lacks evocative composition. Visually, this is possibly the director’s least striking film.

Compensating considerably for these shortcomings are many of the castmembers. Even if the characters are not deeply developed in the writing, the mostly young performers makes strong impressions and seem in the moment at all times. Smith is engaging as the talented young singer whose life course is entirely changed by this one night, and Anthony Mackie, who prominently figured in Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, scores again as a recently returned Army vet.

Boyega, now well known due to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stirs sympathy as a regular guy whose desire to help only lands him in deep trouble, while Mitchell, in his brief appearance, delivers a live-wire unpredictability as the guy who appears to have unwittingly provoked the police into action on the fateful night. By contrast, the white characters essentially are confined to caricatures.

Shot mostly in the Boston area rather than in Detroit, where the crew spent about a week, the film certainly succeeds in providing a visceral, you-are-there feeling of being engulfed by these sorrowful events. But its insights never elevate to present a more exalted or acute perspective on what went down 50 summers ago. What we get instead is a ramped up “j’accuse” that will offer forceful connections with present-day incidents for those keen to find them.

Production companies: Annapurna Pictures, First Light, MGM, Page 1, Harper’s Ferry Productions
Distributor: Annapurna
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Reynor, Ben O’Toole, Nathan Davis Jr., Peyton ‘Alex’ Smith, Malcolm David Kelley, Joseph David Jones, Laz Alonso, Ephraim Sykes, Leon Thomas III, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chris Chalk, Jeremy Strong, Austin Hebert, Miguel Pimentel, Khris Davis
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter: Mark Boal
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Matthew Budman, Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson
Executive producers: Greg Shapiro, Hugo Lindgren
Director of photography: Barry Ackroyd
Production designer: Jeremy Hindle
Costume designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Editor: William Goldenberg
Music: James Newton Howard
Casting: Victoria Thomas

Rated R, 143 minutes

logan lucky ver2 Logan Lucky (2017) Movie Review

Steven Soderbergh’s Southern heist comedy stars Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank.

Logan Lucky is a redneck Ocean’s Eleven. For his first feature film in four years, Steven Soderbergh has snuck back in on a back road with a goofy and steadily amusing tale of born losers in West Virginia who try to hit the jackpot by divesting an auto raceway of a few million bills. This loose and shambling tale with a very attractive cast is highlighted by a wonderfully wacky, show-stealing turn by Daniel Craig as a down-home career criminal.

There is definitely an audience for this likeable but no-big-deal film and probably even two — aficionados of the director and cast, as well as good-time-seeking Middle Americans — so the onus is on the very indie distributors to find it; this would be a great August drive-in picture if many outdoor screens still existed.

Working with a script by first-time writer Rebecca Blunt, Soderbergh has made the sort of breezy, unpretentious, just-for-fun film that scarcely exists anymore, one almost anyone could enjoy. In terms of milieu, it overlaps with the two Magic Mike outings, that being the working-class South (Soderbergh hails from Georgia and Louisiana, it should be remembered), and it gives off the same sort of gently rollicking good-time vibe.

And they all star Channing Tatum, who this time turns up a few steps lower on the socio-economic ladder — and even further down the IQ scale — as Jimmy Logan, a heavy equipment operator who loses his job in the opening scene, has forfeited all custody rights to his daughter with ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and has no prospects when he heads over for a drink at the roadside bar tended by his Iraq War vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who has a prosthetic lower left arm he doesn’t always manage to keep attached; it’s the first casualty of a funny set-to with an obnoxious British race car driver (with the Thomas Pynchon-worthy name of Max Chilblain), played by a virtually unrecognizable, frizzy-haired Seth MacFarlane.

So what do these down-on-their-luck good ol’ boys do to turn things around for the Logan family after several generations’ worth of abject, poverty-ridden, impressively sustained failure? It might just be time to try their luck on the wrong side of the law. Jimmy’s bright idea is to rob the mother lode of NASCAR, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, during the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend. And just how do they intend to pull this off? Well, it so happens that Jimmy worked construction on the infrastructure of said-same race track. Therefore, he says, “I know how they move the money,” which is through an elaborate system of tubes in the bowels of the giant stadium.

While not nearly as well dressed as the Ocean’s gang, an ace team is assembled to pull off the unlikely heist. Given their range of associates, the brothers must start in jail, which is where they track down the one-and-only Joe Bang (Craig), a man known for blowing up bank vaults; no one inquires as to whether or not Bang is his real name. Of more immediate interest, however, is how the once-and-possibly-still-future James Bond has been decked out with short-cut white hair that makes him distinctly resemble Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, so this is the closest the actor will ever get to playing a Bond villain.

The fact that Joe still has five months to go behind bars presents no problem, as he reassures his cohorts that he can break out of prison and then back in again before anyone is the wiser. Making the operation even more of family affair is the sister (Riley Keough) of Jimmy and Clyde (that could have been an alternate title). With this crew running the show, further mishaps inevitably ensue, including one very big one — and at two hours, Soderbergh perhaps does let the whole thing go on a few minutes too long, even if the final twists hit the spot.

Blunt’s script is full of giddy inventions and gives the actors some good stuff to play with, but there is the sense that one more serious pass at it might have made it a bit tighter, more spirited and authentically low-down. A few moments, particularly early on, also betray a whiff of condescension to the characters.

The actors seems to be having a great time, however, and this proves contagious. Craig, Tatum and MacFarlane all find good comic grooves and stay in them. Driver’s reserved sincerity is perhaps intended as an underplayed contrast, but in practice just means that the actor doesn’t come off as winningly as do his co-leads. Hilary Swank pops in late-on as a special agent who tries to get to the bottom of the heist, while Katherine Waterston is wasted in a nothing part.

Still, this is a good-times film that doesn’t put on airs, dress to impress or pretend to be something it isn’t. It just aims to please, and does a pretty good job of it.

Production companies: Trans-Radial Pictures, Free Association
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Hilary Swank, Daniel Craig, Jesse White
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Rebecca Blunt
Producers: Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin
Executive producers: Michael Polaire, Dan Fellman, Zane Stoddard
Director of photography: Peter Andrews
Production designer: Howard Cummings
Costume designer: Ellen Mirojnick
Editor: Mary Ann Bernard
Music: David Holmes
Casting: Carmen Cuba

Rated PG-13, 119 minutes

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