Lucky Logan


The milieu this film depicts is only known to me through my obsessive childhood viewing of The Dukes of Hazard and Smokey and the Bandit. Just like Bo, Luke and Daisy or the Bandit and Cledus, brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) try to break out of a streak of bad luck by making money on the other side of the law.

There are some bizarre casting choices. The only word that comes to mind is incongruous. Like Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, the genius bomb maker. It’s wonderful to see him act and he does steal this film but at the same time, you are constantly wondering what James Bond is doing locked up in West Virginia jail cell. Not too dissimilar is Hilary Swank’s turn as FBI agent Grayson. It seems to me these actors should be doing some Globe Theatre work on the West End but are forcing out performances here for some reason. Did they lose a bet at director Soderbergh’s weekly poker game? Finally and most glaringly there is Seth MacFarlane, the voice of Stewie on Family Guy. Here he is doing the voice of Stewie as an evil stock car driver with a bad pasted on mustache. I can’t suspend disbelief that long and no one should ask me to.  If you are looking for a comedic bad guy NASCAR driver, it will be a long time before anyone tops Sacha Baron Cohen in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  To paraphrase Lloyd Bentson, “Sir, I’ve seen Talladega Nights and this is no Talladega Nights.”

For all the A list stars in this film, I was not a fan of the cinematography. After the impressive and tightly choreographed camera movements in last years heist favorite Hell or High Water, there is no excuse for shaky, motivated or unmotivated camera moves. And also, natural lighting doesn’t mean you let the characters fall into shadow. It’s not that kind of film. I don’t know the reason but I guess most of the budget was spent on the car racing segment because those scenes look like they are from a totally different film.

Besides all these thorny issues this film can even melt the heart of a hardened Yankee like myself with a sweet rendition of Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver. If this song doesn’t get you, doesn’t pull at your heart strings, you should really have your circuitry checked out, because you are a robot. Even if this moment does come at the expense of Rhianna. What did Rihanna ever do to writer Rebecca Blunt? But I can accept that like Waylon Jennings’ Dukes theme song Good Ol’ Boys, the movie is just trying to have a little fun without meanin’ no harm. So if you can lower the bar and just want to go along for a hi-octane ride you can still enjoy Lucky Logan.

The Big Sick


I went into The Big Sick with higher than usual expectations and it did not disappoint. That is saying something. The film is produced by Amazon Studios. In 2016 we saw another notable Amazon film, Love and Friendship, which was an excellent work from Director Whit Stillman. Each year it will feel less and less odd that online companies are also in the film biz as producers. In this case Amazon was smart enough to team up with Judd Apatow and in turn with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon. Kumail, who is also the star, and Emily are the writers and The Big Sick is based on their life experiences.

I am not exactly sure how The Big Sick got an R rating. D explained to me that F bombs are dropped. Is that all it takes these days? Well, it’s a shame because I think younger folks would get a lot out of watching this movie. It’s not preachy but it is intelligent and gets its points about relationships and culture across in a humorous and meaningful way. On the other hand, kids will stream it on Amazon. So much for the MPAA and its outdated ratings system.

This film reminded me a lot of When Harry Met Sally. There is even a scene at a batting cage. Though it is not the theme, the movie is driven by the question, “When do you know you’re in love?” The twists here involve the cultural roadblocks Kumail faces in pursuing his relationship with Emily, in a strong performance by Zoe Kazan.

Some of the best moments happen when Holly Hunter as Beth and Ray Romano as Terry, Emily’s parents, storm onto the scene.  This is a critical part of the film as one of the main stars is in a coma i.e. the sick part of The Big Sick. At this point the movie really heats up with some high drama at a comedy club involving Hunter and a xenophobic heckler and Romano having an intense heart to heart talk with Kumail on an air mattress. The film never sinks to schmaltz, the actors bring it —  the emotion and intensity — and the writing remains honest and moving.

One cool and interesting thing to me is its long and eclectic soundtrack. Everything from Boz Scaggs to Veilumuth Chitralekha.  And as well as it is doing in the theatre, I think The Big Sick will even have greater success as a streaming title.  I thought The Big Sick was an excellent film that gave new angles to a story that feels familiar.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde tries really hard to tell a story that isn’t there to begin with and the attempt is a strain all around. It’s self-indulgent, it drags, there is needless exposition and even a strange epilogue. However, there are some memorable and cool moments in the film, including an especially jaw dropping/teeth clinching/jaw dropping car chase scene.

And if you think you’d like seeing Charlize Theron beat, kick, punch, stab with a 5 inch stiletto, strangle, psychologically accost and verbally berate dozens of guys, while sprinkling in a lesbian spy love affair, then by all means don’t miss this film.

The art direction was truly impressive with spot on depictions of the Berlin Wall and its blockades and guard towers. Apparently since the last war movie we saw dealing with the GDR, Spielberg’s Tom Hanks vehicle, Bridge of Spies, the sun still refuses to ever shine in communist East Berlin.

Scenes like the one in the nightclub where Theron rendezvous with a sexy French agent, Sofia Boutella, (who was strong in Star Trek and unsteady in The Mummy) are really well done in terms of their mix of realism and fantasy. Great dramatic tension and acting make it easy to suspend disbelief. Here, an adjacent space painted red with light next to a  packed dance floor allows for the privacy of a long conversation about the perils of espionage, some gun play and even foreplay. Why not!

James McAvoy proves once again without a shadow of a doubt that he has impeccable acting range. It’s a pleasure to watch him do his thing. And as a period piece, the soundtrack rocked with some favorite bands and songs of the era. This is one film that, like Baby Driver, will have you rockin’ and head bobbin’ to a killer soundtrack.

So the movie has a lot going for it. The style of a DePalma at the height of his kinetic powers, fantastic actors unleashed, solid art direction, fun music, some kicking royal ass action sequences. Ultimately the wonderful elements don’t add up to an exceptional film but Atomic Blonde does have its moments and there is no doubt Charlize Theron is a bona fide badass.


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The script for Dunkirk must read something like this:

Page 1. The Battle of Dunkirk. / FADE TO BLACK /  The End

There is that much action and that little dialogue. And most of the dialogue is in any case unintelligible due to accent and vernacular. Luckily, the story of Dunkirk is not one of words but deeds.

The Director, Christopher Nolan, has great respect for the power of intersecting story structure. As in Memento, where he tells a story in reverse, Dunkirk follows three unique but intersecting strands. Unlike Moonlight where the three chapters come in chronological order, Dunkirk’s structure follows its own order. The acts, as explained through titles at the start include the sea, whose day long story is the anchor the others jockey towards and past. The story of the beach takes a week to unfold and the story of the air, one hour, or the amount of time that it takes for the gas tank of a Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane to run dry. Dunkirk is revealed in the cross cutting of these stories. As V.I. Pudovkin wrote in his 1930s seminal anthology Film Technique and Film Acting, it is through the control of time and space in editing that filmmaking is elevated into art. And that is true here. I can’t think of a war epic since Battleship Potemkin that has used editing in such a groundbreaking way. And in terms of the cinematography of Hoytema, the achievement is on par with Apocalypse Now and will no doubt be a front runner for the Academy Award next March.

Which brings me to the format of this film, IMAX 70mm. This is over twice the size of a typical 35mm film. In IMAX 70mm, the aspect ratio, or relationship between the vertical and horizontal, creates a large square frame. You may have seen an IMAX movie at a science museum. In the USA, the film is being screened in IMAX 70mm, the way Nolan shot it, in under 100 theaters. The nearest IMAX 70mm screening of Dunkirk to the L & D is at the Minnesota Zoo, four and a half hours away.  Weirdly, Alabama, not exactly known as a film mecca, actually has two theaters showing Dunkirk in IMAX 70mm. Here is a link to all the IMAX 70mm theaters screening Dunkirk: Dunkirk in IMAX 70mm.  The nearest cinema from the L &D screening the 70mm print is outside of Milwaukee in a place called Waukesha, about an hour and forty five minutes away. Here is a link to all the theaters showing the film in 70mm: Dunkirk in 70mm.

So what this means is that I watched Dunkirk in a cropped aspect ratio. The movie itself did not fill up the entire screen, neither sides nor top or bottom. Not knowing anything about the production of Dunkirk going into it, this definitely confused me. Back in the day, this issue would have been corrected by having a curtain come in from the sides and top and bottom to cover the blank parts of the screen. But theaters in the multiplex era are spartan affairs in this regard and the thinking is that ninety-nine percent of the films will have no issues since it is only Tarantino and Nolan who shoot features, like the The Hateful Eight, in 70mm. I found the blank screen distracting and it bugged me. An IMAX film camera goes for a million dollars. The quality of the resolution is off the charts. So it’s kind of a bummer not to be able to see Dunkirk in its full glory in terms of projection quality and aspect ratio.  However, if you are planning on waiting to watch this at home on Blu-ray, don’t bother, you won’t get it. Unless I suppose you are sitting about a foot away from your flat screen.

What to say about the rest of this film. There are flawless effects, brilliant combat scenes including the aerial dogfights, the acting is seamless and engaging. And I think its ultimate victory is something D said, it’s claustrophobic. For an IMAX formatted movie to be at once epic in its scope and claustrophobic in its atmosphere is a testament to the greatness of everyone who worked on this picture and the vision of Christopher Nolan.

War for the Planet of the Apes (L)

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First of all, for the record, I love Woody Harrelson and could watch an entire feature film of him eating a salad. I’m not sure why it would take him an hour and a half to eat a salad but there you go. The movie Woody Salad I’m certain would have more unpredictable twists and turns than War for the Planet of the Apes. Big explosion at the end? Check. Not to pick on it, the last three films we have seen, Baby DriverSpiderman and Wonder Woman also end with big explosions. I think the screenwriters start all the movies with a massive explosion and reverse engineer a script from there.

This particular film could have undergone at least an hour of cutting. It has the scale, the sets, the score of Doctor Zhivago but without the story to prop it up for over 2 hours.

Personally, I did enjoy the film from a purely technical point of view. The apes themselves are a marvel. Not necessarily better than the original apes from Planet of the Apes in 1968, which garnered an honorary Academy Award for make-up artist John Chambers. Back then you could still tell who the actors were. You could see it was Roddy McDowall down there and that made it even better.  These days, it is more of a photorealistic effect, if you will. But it still works for me, it’s just different.

And then of course there is the aforementioned Woody, doing this wacky mix of an evil Michael Stipe meets Apocalypse Brando — and it works. His scenes form the apex of this film for me. If you are into this series, War for the Planet of the Apes is a must see but ultimately for the rest of us, popping in or streaming the original Planet of the Apes with McDowell, Heston and the Statue of Liberty would most likely be a more worthwhile experience.

The Beguiled

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This intense Civil War remake is all about smoke and mirrors. Veils and fog. I thought we were friends. There is a single telling shot of a spider web. And oh what a tangled web we weave. Nicole Kidman as an understated Norma Desmond. Her talent is shocking every time you see her act. And Sofia Coppola, who won Best Director at Cannes for this effort, lives up to the moniker “The Velvet Hammer.”  There is syrup to the photography. At times a heavy, choking vignette suffocates the frame and threatens to swallow the images. But they seem so sweet, what harm could these images possibly do? And with that I’ll leave you to submit to this most intricate and emotionally sophisticated film.

Baby Driver

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If movies with a lot of action and violence are not your thing, steer clear of Baby Driver. If on the other hand you enjoy great car chase scenes and don’t mind some gore, you will groove on this fast paced, musical joy ride. If LALA Land had an edgy side, it would be Baby Driver. Not that anyone breaks out into full on numbers but you feel like it could happen at any moment.  Unlike the recent flop Collide which combined stunt driving with star power, Baby Driver has enough unique elements, characters and situations going for it that it doesn’t feel like another rehash or frankenmovie. It has the action of Hardcore Henry and the romance of Badlands.  The story gives its A list actors room to strut their stuff and flex their performance range. As for the lead, Ansel Elgort, it’s refreshing to see someone not as well known as say Ryan Gosling do his thing. Speaking of which, this is the film that I wish Drive had been.

Baby Driver did not fail to inspire. However, as D noted when we left the screening, the epilogue seemed rushed and crushed. Personally, I didn’t mind the parachute touch down after so many hard emotional hits in the film. Even though Baby Driver recalls a lot of other favorites like Shooter or The Fugitive, it does have its unique musical side and that is appropriate since Paul Simon sings the title song. It was after all Paul Simon who mentioned to Annie in Annie Hall, “You are very musical.” If you can catch Baby Driver it in the theater, you should. The stunts are big but the soundtrack rivals them and you won’t have the same experience listening to these jams unless you have surround sound set up in your home. Baby Driver does not have the advantage of story depth like Pulp Fiction.  But to its credit, it does pull off the trick of taking elements that we have seen many times before and creates something different and entertaining with them. It is a heist film that has a big heart and proudly plays to its own beat.

The Mummy


The ride will be great. Like many times I see the Universal logo spinning into view with the blaring thuds of trumpet sounds, I realize that the chances of this action film being bad are up there. One large piece of…computer generated plastic, wrapped around a hot turd of a story. Sorry but I had to get scatalogical. Frankly, I was disappointed because I was really rooting for Sofia Boutella, who had a fine turn on Star Trek Beyond. But I should know better regarding expectations and movies. Tom Cruise could carry this film. It is Tom Cruise after all. But he doesn’t. D leaned over and said “Wooden” during one of the excruciatingly painful expositional dialogue scenes. And I know he wasn’t referring to the Pyramid of Success. What was even worse were the attempt at shocked or horrified looks from the actors. Honestly, if some demonic mummy comes out of a sarcophagus and starts sucking peoples brains out are you just gonna sit there — or even run? Let’s face it, you are gonna lose bowel control (again with the scatology) and roll up into the most fetal of fetal positions. But let’s say you are not, let’s say you trained on Amazon Warrior Island with Wonder Woman for the past 20 years. Are you really going to get all Kung Fu on a bunch of dead crusaders? Yes, I said crusaders. This film goes everywhere from the Medieval crusades to the Resident Evil video game. It would be forgivable, as the mashup in Wonder Woman is, were it not that the film tries so hard for there to be some type of romantic relationship between Cruise and Jenny, played perfunctorily by Annabelle Wallis. His concern for her defies any possible suspension of disbelief. And how about Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll? Yes that Jekyll. This addition is straight out of left field story-wise. Though Crowe does give an admirable, impassioned performance as the bipolar madman.

The one thing to recommend here are the special effects. They went to town on that. And also the make-up on the mummy, which I felt was strong. Set design also left nothing to be desired. It is a well crafted film. This film also did register on the D “Jumped In My Seat” Richter scale at least once. And there were moments of high suspense where I couldn’t look because I was too freaked out. I’m sure at the Universal theme park, the ride will be great.

Wonder Woman


I’m just going to come out and say it. Wonder Woman is a good movie. Not a great one. We have seen all of this before. Especially the massive ending with the big explosions etc. etc. Regardless, it is enjoyable as hell and it is a movie to root for with its fantastic lead, Gal Gadot and the kick ass Director, Patty Jenkins.

As a great cultural phenomenon it would be easy to join the “Wonder Woman is great!” bandwagon…but no. It’s just too derivative. Not as much as The Mummy, our next review on the L & D, but derivative nonetheless. I will say that like many people I enjoyed the WWI aspect of the film and who wouldn’t love ACT 1, the fun and games growing up on an island of Amazon warriors. Hello! You had me at Ama.

Now of course, you will have some haters. Like the asses that sued the movie theaters for screening the film as Ladies Night for Ladies Only. But you know, those people would never be able to let their hair down and enjoy a Summer blockbuster like this…because they are old guys with no hair.

So I say, if you want to have some fun, munch your popcorn extra loud and revel in Amazonian Badassery, then get strapped into a magic lasso and check out Wonder Woman.

Alien: Covenant


SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS — Now I know a lot of people are super into the Alien series and I have been on the short end of long chronologies about where this movie places and ranks in this franchise. Fine. The thing is if you have never seen an Alien film in your life you will still get a whole lot out of this one. There is even a Franco sighting! And just for the record I have seen the first one and the fourth i.e. Resurrection. Set design is always a big deal in Alien films and Covenant does not fail here with its eerie planet and dingy sets. If you are that type of person, this film could give you nightmares. It will no doubt give you the creeps. And yet there is a certain aesthetic elegance in all the gore. Enough, I’m sure, to make even H.R. Giger grunt his approval.

The deeper philosophical part of Covenant deals with A.I. As in another movie you may have heard of by Director Ridley Scott, namely Blade Runner, we return to the idea that the robot/replicant/humanoid is just as human if not more so than an actual person. Except of course that it is not. Films have been exploring the robot/human idea since at least Lang’s 1927 German Expressionist masterpiece Metropolis. And even the fairly recent Ex Machina deals with these ideas in a profound and artistically inspired way. Alien: Covenant and Scott decide to take a darker path. In an ending —MORE SPOILERS— reminiscent of this years’ sci-fi thriller Life, Scott comes to a fork in the road and goes down the darkest path possible. It all does kind of leave you shaking your head in dismay. On the other hand, if you are a nihilist, it will warm your cold cold heart and make you hug your ferrets. All in all a powerful, well acted, well crafted entry into the Alien universe.