“Logan Lucky” (2017) starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, & Daniel Craig

See how the other half steals. -A tag line for the movie

When Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is fired from his mining job, he convinces his younger sibs- brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter)- to help him rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR event. They will need the help of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig w/ bleached blonde hair), a convicted safe-cracker who’s currently incarcerated. They have to break Joe out, blow the racetrack vault, get away w/ the cash, return Joe to prison, and get Jimmy to his daughter Sadie’s (Farrah Mackenzie) beauty pageant on time. What could go wrong!? Well, there is the Logan family curse… 

Joe: You Logans must be as simple-minded as people say.

Clyde & Jimmy: People say that?

This movie is Tatum’s 4th collab w/ director Steven Soderbergh; they worked on Haywire (2011), Magic Mike (2012), and Side Effects (2013). Keough also appeared on Magic Mike; Soderbergh directed her in S1 of the STARZ TV series The Girlfriend Experience (I saw S1). One interviewee on the news refers to the heist as “Ocean’s Seven-Eleven” re: the Ocean’s film franchise (3 of these movies were directed by Soderbergh). Several NASCAR drivers have cameos, incl. Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip (who I recognized). Moody Chapman (David Denman- a tall/burly character actor) is the 2nd hubby of Bobby Jo (Katie Holmes); he has a V different look from his recent role as Kate Winslet’s ex-hubby on Mare of Eastown (HBO).

Jimmy: We need, like, a computer wiz, like one of them Facebook boys.

Fish: I know everything there is to know about computers, okay?

Jimmy: Do you?

Fish: All the Twitters, I know ’em.

Clyde’s arm was blown off during his deployment in Iraq. Driver was supposed to deploy to Iraq, but he broke his sternum in a biking accident, so was medically discharged from the Marines. I learned that the silver/horseshoe-shaped ring worn by Cyde was the same ring worn by Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in the TV series Justified (2010). Fish Bang (Sam Quaid) is now nearly 30; he’s the son of actors Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. One of my younger friends said to check him out on The Boys (Amazon Prime), esp. IF you enjoy a twist on the superhero/sci-fi genre. Do some of y’all feel old yet!? Domhnall Gleeson says he was jealous of younger bro Brian (who plays Sam Bang) as he got to “hang out” w/ Driver. Domhnall played Gen. Hux in the recent Star Wars sequels w/ Driver. Brian’s face is similar to their father, Brendan, a veteran character actor. Warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam- country singer/actor) provides humor (esp. for the GoT fans). Remember when Yoakam and Sharon Stone were a couple? Hilary Swank has a role here also, BUT she doesn’t come in until later in the movie.

Warden Burns: As warden, I can approve buying a copy of A Dance With Dragons for the prison library to go up on the Game of Thrones shelf. Now, the only problem is that The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring have yet to be published, so those aren’t available. Well, I can’t do anything about what I can’t control.

Driver (super fit w/ his Star Wars body/longish hair) and Tatum (a BIT bigger than usual) have easy chemistry; Clyde often looks at Jimmy before he speaks/makes a decision. Before filming, Driver (whose father’s side comes from Arkansas) said he went to Tatum’s (who grew up in West Virginia) house at 4PM; they hung out until almost 4AM -wow! Like Jimmy, Tatum played football in his youth. In one scene, Clyde (a bartender) makes a martini for Max Chiblain (Seth MacFarlane) using one hand. Like many young actors, Driver worked as a waiter: “I wasn’t a very good waiter. I remember this one fancy restaurant- they pushed me toward the bar.” The Southern accents in the movie sounded (mostly) natural. The serious/relatable themes of economic uncertainty, fairness, family obligations, and patriotism run underneath the story. Several viewers/critics noted that they enjoyed the touching relationship between Jimmy and Sadie; he is trying to be a good dad by being an active participant in her life.

[1] The names and faces associated with this film give the feeling of it being a bigger event that it probably is. I was fortunate to approach it without knowing too much about it, so I took it as I found it. This is for the better because the film is quite a simple affair in what it does.

[2] Tatum is perhaps questionable, but reasonable as the lead, Driver is good, and Craig is likeable as he puts on an American accent and looks like he’s having fun. This caper has some amusing moments, with prison and NASCAR scenes that add to it a little as well, the script is made up of one-liners, and it gets your attention at the right moments, an alright crime comedy. Worth watching!

[3] I was pleasantly surprised that the movie doesn’t dwell on mocking Southern stereotypes, and the NASCAR elements are kept largely in the background. The performances are good, with Tatum and Driver making for believable blank-faced losers who are maybe a bit sharper than they let on. Craig gets the showiest part… […] better than expected, and an enjoyable time for those not expecting too much.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Beguiled” (2017) starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, & Colin Farrell

During the Civil War (1864), the secluded Virginia mansion which serves as Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies is still running. It is occupied by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), a teacher named Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and 5 teenaged students. Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles upon Col. John McBurney, a wounded Union deserter near death. The balance in the school is disrupted after the headmistress decides to take in the soldier (while he heals from his leg injury). It’s not long before they find themselves competing for the man’s attention/favor.

To be surrounded by talented, decent, smart, insightful creative and serious women – I was spoiled by Sofia Coppola who set a particular mood of comfort, ease and trust. It allows you as an actor to play and explore. -Colin Farrell

Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) chose the 1.66 : 1 aspect ratio b/c she wanted to make the film feel claustrophobic. So, this may NOT be the best movie for you if you’re feeling a BIT trapped at home (in quarantine life)! She won the prize of Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival; this marked the first time in 50 years a woman won the award! The estate used in the film as the main location is the Madewood Plantation House near Napoleonville, LA. The same location was also used for portions of Beyoncé’s long-form music video Lemonade (2016). Interior scenes were filmed in the New Orleans home of actress Jennifer Coolidge. The film was shot over 26 days. The cast went through several lessons during filming: sewing, dancing, etiquette, corset training. They also had to cook and eat meals together. A Civil War reenactor demonstrated how to dress wounds. A priest explained prayers from the Book of Matthew. Costume designer Stacey Battat saw Dunst’s character as being romantic; her wardrobe had decorated billowy sleeves, diaphanous skirts, and more jewelry than the others. She gave Kidman’s character a high neckline and a vest to denote authority.

I think she’s unique. It was like watching a virtuoso or an incredible athlete. We’d do a scene, and she’d have five different emotions going on at the same time. -Sofia Coppola re: Nicole Kidman

Coppola stated multiple times that this is not a remake of The Beguiled (1971), but an adaption of the same source novel by Thomas Cullinan. Since the adapted screenplay of the 1971 film (which I haven’t seen yet) is credited in Coppola’s film together w/ the novel, story elements from the earlier screenplay have been used, too. McBurney’s heritage was not changed to suit Farrell’s natural accent; the character is Irish in the book. The character Hallie was cut from the film; she’s a slave and the only person of color in both the novel and the 1971 film. Coppola explained that as slavery was such an important topic, she didn’t want to treat it lightly; she felt she should focus on these women cut off from the world.

McBurney: If you could have anything, what’s your biggest wish? If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?

Edwina: Anything?

McBurney: Yeah. Anything.

Edwina: To be taken far away from here.

[rushes out of the room]

This is a short (a little over 90 mins.) movie that was made for about $10.5M. The languid pace will turn off viewers who want excitement. Several critics/viewers have commented that this is a matter of style (visuals) over substance (characterization, tension, etc.) We know Kidman can handle any role she is given; her first movie was at age 18 (I think). I did see potential in Dunst’s character; she is very lovely (but looking a tad bit heavier in her mid-30s). I’ve learned that she still eats meat and hates extreme exercise. I also liked the ambiguous nature which Farrell portrayed; he is still quite youthful (though he also isn’t very slim here). Fanning (her older sis Dakota is also an actress) looks stunning; she may have a big career in the future. In a bold move, her character sneaks into the soldier’s room and kisses him (while he is asleep)! The acting is very good all-around, but this story just felt under-cooked.

[1] This is a slow-burning movie that picks up steam as it moves along, leading to an extended climax that provides plenty of effective drama. …it does suffer from the style-over-substance syndrome and ultimately feels hollow at times.

[2] Sofia Coppola delivers a quiet, sparse tale of female competitive power. McBurney is no saint either. It’s an empty fleeting world especially with the slaves abandoning the mansion. There is something eerie about this creation. I do want for more tension or more horror like Misery. It’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters. Maybe she should concentrate on Edwina as the only protagonist. This has a nice haunted vibe, but I don’t feel for anybody.

[3] This is Coppola trying on something closer to a piece of Gothic literature… this is her trying to tackle one of the Brontes, only through cinematic grammar. She rarely uses music in the film, certainly not much at all in the first half, and when it comes up it’s eerie and brooding, a low synth that sounds like someone is somewhere about to do something sinister. Or, in this case, giving what may be just desserts for some.

The acting: it’s all wonderful, but Dunst is the one that I hope people remember the most here. Farrell and Kidman are the leads, but she’s the one who has the most inner conflict, the person in this tale who has so much responsibility with these girls while at the same time wanting to choose her own path…

[4] The story is rather slow in pace, but the interaction between the characters are well portrayed. The women’s jealousy and rivalry are palpable, while the soldier’s mind tricks on them are not so nice. The story turns dramatically in the middle, and it become a story of survival. It is worth watching, especially for the cast.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hostiles (2017) starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, & Wes Studi

The quietest moments of his [writer/director Scott Cooper’s] movie are often the best. Wow, Majors, what a find! He had the ability to command the screen w/o showboating. -Grace Randolph (Beyond the Trailer)

It has everything I want in my modern revisionist westerns. It’s slow-paced and quiet, beautifully filmed, uses realistic graphic violence and is extremely sad from the opening scene to the end credits. -Kellen Quigly (YouTube)

This is a movie is about PTSD in the Old West. It’s about the harshness of war. Captain Joe Blocker is introduced as a man who represses any feeling that isn’t hatred, guilt, grief or wrath. War has tortured his soul and landed him in a pit, and for a long time, instead climbing out, he just continued to dig the hole deeper and deeper… -Mark Mirabella (YouTube)

Synopsis: In 1892, after almost 20 yrs of fighting the Cheyenne, Apache, and Comanche natives, US Cavalry Captain, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered by his superior, Col. Biggs (Stephen Lang), to escort an elderly/ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)- the man he MOST despises- and his family from New Mexico to the chief’s ancestral home in Montana (Valley of the Bears). Joseph’s unwelcome assignment is complicated when a grieving widow, Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), joins his band of soldiers and travelers. Then, an aggressive pack of Comanches attack and other dangerous events occur. On a path filled w/ hostiles, can this soldier complete his final duty w/ his life (and mind) intact? 

Director Scott Cooper, who was at the helm of 2009’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaalseems VERY comfortable w/ the Western genre. This film (which I missed seeing in theaters late last Fall) contains MANY beautiful wide shots of landscapes. Cooper’s characters are much more complicated than what you’d find in a typical (think John Ford/John Wayne) Western. Though it’s well-made, it can seem slow and (according to some critics)- a BIT self-indulgent. I feel that about 10-15 mins could’ve been edited out. The themes here are quite dark, so if you’re looking for an escape, this is NOT the film for you! From the first scene of Hostiles, viewers know that things are going to get real. 

The performances of the ensemble of actors is the main reason to see this film, along w/ its dialogue (some of which is quite deep and unexpected). Rosalee, though she suffered so much and is racked w/ grief, still held to her faith in God (as she explains to Blocker in a quietly effective scene). I thought Pike (as usual) did VERY well w/ her role; Rosalee  grew and changed over the month-long journey. Traveling w/ the Indians, she came to see them as real people, NOT merely savages to be feared. I was pleasantly surprised by how well a bearded Rory Cochrane (Blocker’s oldest friend- Master Sgt. Thomas Mertz) portrayed a depressed soldier. He often drinks heavily, suffers from PTSD (as does Blocker), and feels that life is NOT worth living anymore. A grad from West Point, played by up-and-comer Jesse Plemons (Lt. Rudy Kidder), is articulate, capable, BUT maybe too kind-hearted for his own good. There are a few light moments involving Timothee Chalamet (Philippe DeJardin, a French immigrant turned Army private); his role is VERY minor. The standout soldier (and actor) is newcomer Jonathan Majors (Corp. Henry Woodson- a strong/loyal/religious African-American who has served yrs under Blocker). Majors has that X factor; the viewer’s eye is drawn to him even when he’s NOT saying anything. He gets to have one of the best scenes in the 3rd (final) act opposite Bale.

On this journey, we also meet Ben Foster (disgraced soldier/murderer Philip Wills); he and Blocker served together yrs ago. Wills (wearing chains and stripped of his rank) ran away from his post and brutally killed several innocent people. At a small town, Lt. Col. McCowan (Peter Mullan) asks Blocker to escort Wills to a fort for his punishment (hanging), and Blocker quickly agrees. It’s obvious that Blocker feels contempt for Wills, BUT the prisoner is quick to point out that they’re BOTH killers, and the roles could be easily reversed. Foster (a quite gifted actor) should’ve gotten some more to do. There is a volatility and sense of unease which he creates w/ Wills.

The native actors, incl. Canadian Adam Beach (who has appeared on many films/TV shows) and Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World- also co-starring Bale), don’t have a LOT of dialogue, BUT are portrayed in a realistic/sympathetic manner. Studi (who is a film/TV vet) has a kind of solemnity, strength, and can also be vulnerable. He has come a long way from the villainous/warrior Magua viewers loved to hate (The Last of the Mohicans). This tale is (mainly) about the personal journey of one white man- Blocker- who comes to see the natives as fellow humans.

The film rests on Bale’s (always capable) broad shoulders, and he doesn’t disappoint. He even learned some of the Cheyenne language, which he speaks w/Studi (who I wished had been a BIT more developed). MANY of us have watched Bale grow-up onscreen; he has evolved from a slim/fresh-faced/wide-eyed teen to a muscular/middle-aged/powerhouse actor. For his portrayal of Blocker, Bale has tapped into his dark side; there is anger, resentment, hate, worry, and (in time) empathy and kindness on his face. Rosalee (w/ whom he forms a connection) is a catalyst for change in his life, as is the suicide of Mertz. I thought that Blocker’s change of heart was TOO abrupt, BUT this film is worth a watch. 

Spoiler-Free Review: “BlacKkKlansman” (2018)

It’s relevant. It’s not a relic of the past. This is happening today. -Spike Lee re: the racism shown in his latest film

No film has channeled the hateful pulse of our moment… -Variety magazine (@Variety)

I thought it was one of Spike Lee’s most cogent films. I also thought it was the film with the most white gaze ever, and that’s not a complaint. -Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet)

There’s a moment… where Ron Stallworth, the protagonist, says we could never have a President like David Duke. It hits you like a ton of bricks because we now have something even worse: a President who thinks like Duke, only he camouflages it more effectively. -Adam Best (@adamcbest)

I’m a pretty big fan of Spike Lee; he has made some of my favorite (and also arguably, most socially relevant) films of the past three decades. As fans/critics have noted, his films ignore or minimize the “white gaze,” meaning characters behave as themselves, not responding only to “mainstream” American society. Since this is a based-on-real-events movie, his style is more subdued (though there are interesting touches that we’ve come to expect). The music (composed by Terence Blanchard) is very well-suited to the events and tone of the film. It deals w/ quite serious topics, yet has pops of (dark) humor that my audience really enjoyed. 

“We have to support Denzel’s son,” I emailed to my gal pal (a few days before we went to see this movie on opening weekend). John David (who plays Ron Stallworth, the first black policeman in Colorado Springs) speaks and moves like Denzel, yet has the face of  his mother, Pauletta. J.D. (as he is known) is 33 y.o. and a former NFL player who appeared on HBO’s Ballers. There is something fresh, wide-eyed (naive), yet also confident in his performance. He gets some really cool outfits as his “street clothes;” it’s the late ’70s after all. 

Adam Driver (now 35 y.o.) -wow, can I say about this talent!? After this role- I’m becoming a fan! The former Marine gives a very strong, yet subtle performance as Flip (Ron’s more experienced/skeptical undercover partner). In time, Flip comes to terms w/ his identity. I need to watch more of Driver’s indie films on Netflix. No offense to Star Wars fans, BUT franchises don’t give actors much room to stretch.

Topher Grace, who plays a young David Duke, had a tough time getting into the mindset of such a hateful man. The important thing to remember re: Duke is that he sought to change the image of the KKK- make it more mainstream. He was polite, well-spoken, usually wore suits and- eventually- reached a high level of politics. The other members of “The Organization” were a mixed bag, ranging from a low IQ hillbilly to gun nut, and a relaxed/friendly guy (who wants to grow local membership). One man’s wife yearns to play a bigger role to support the cause, so white women aren’t solely victims in this movie.

Corey Hawkins, an up and coming actor from this (DC) area, has a great speech near the start of the film. I’m excited also to see what he does next! Ron’s love interest, President of the Black Student Union at a local university, Patrice (Laura Harrier), also did a fine job. Some critics of Lee have (rightly) commented on his not-so-fully developed women characters in the past. He has addressed the (touchy, yet serious) topic, explaining how having matured (nearly 30 yrs in film-making)  and becoming a husband and father have helped w/ this issue. 

Fans of TV cop dramas will be in for an extra treat. Robert John Burke (Law & Order: SVU) plays the head of the Intelligence Division. Frederick Weller (In Plain Sight) plays a patrolman. Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue) has a brief, yet crucial role; his older brother (John) is a mainstay in many Spike Lee films. There are more surprises in this film- don’t want to give too much away.

Sorry to Bother You (2018) starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, & Danny Glover

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in select theaters).

If you liked Get Out (where Lakeith Stanfield had a small, yet crucial role), then I highly recommend this movie. If you love to laugh (yet don’t want to shut off your brain), check it out. My friend and I got tickets to an early screening w/ Q&A by director Boots Riley and actor Danny Glover (who was a surprise guest; he was in DC for an education conference). As w/ Blindspotting (currently in theaters), Sorry to Bother You was filmed in the quickly gentrifying city of Oakland, CA. While Blindspotting is a realistic slice of life film, Sorry (written/directed by first timer Riley) is a social satire w/ fantasy/sci-fi elements. That’s NOT something you see everyday! 

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is a broke 20-ish man in need of a job to pay rent on his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage-turned-apt he shares w/ long-time girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People), a struggling artist who hold up signs (her day job). After some bluffing, he lands a job at a telemarketing firm where employees get paid on commission. An older co-worker, Langston (veteran actor Danny Glover; he grew up w/ Riley’s father), advises him to “use his white voice” in order to land more sales. Though skeptical, Cash gives it a try- it works! He gets Detroit and his best friend- Sal (Jermaine Fowler)- jobs as telemarketers. Along w/ new friend/co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead), they plan to organize fellow employees, so everyone can get paid a fair wage w/ health benefits. Cash gets promoted to “power caller” (upstairs)- that’s when his problems really begin. 

It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others.

I walked into this movie at an advance screening expecting something unique, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer brilliance of this satirical masterwork. Hilarious from beginning to end while also subversive…

The film brings an interesting and unique take on the world minorities live as they are forced within a socioeconomic ladder. Cassius Green, played by Keith Stanfield, is faced with selling out and abandoning his friends. Through this the audience sees he is drastically changed as his success transforms him to the very thing he resented.

This movie is strange and extremely fast paced. The directing style is unlike any movie I have ever seen, and it moves just fast enough to keep you on your toes while not moving too fast for you to comprehend. There are so many themes within this movie, and all of them are shown within either a comedic context, a darker context, or both. All in all this is a movie about capitalism and how companies are driven to make money rather than care about the well-being of their workers. This is shown through more extreme absurdist examples as the movie goes on… 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews