Logan Lucky

LoganLucky

If you could stand a bit of fun escapism right about now, here’s Steven Soderbergh to the rescue!

Logan Lucky is like his films Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen), but different. Danny Ocean’s caper crews were slick and smart. The Logan brothers and their co-conspirators are West Virginia rednecks who do not appear to be all that bright.

The Logans are definitely not lucky. Jimmy (Channing Tatum) suffered a football injury back in the day and his resulting limp gets him fired from a construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (“Liability” issues he’s told.) His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) lost half his left arm in Mideast fighting and tends bar.

Together they devise a scheme to steal a huge amount of money from the NASCAR track during the Memorial Day weekend race.

The caper is crafty, but the characters and cast members who populate those roles are the real charm here. Like Max Chilblain (Sean MacFarlane), a wealthy, obnoxious, egomaniacal NASCAR sponsor. Prison warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam) is the type of administrator who doesn’t like to acknowledge problems. There’s Jimmy’s ex (Katie Holmes) who has remarried rich and shares custody of their daughter. Also in the cast are Hillary Swank, Katherine Waterston and Elvis Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough.

But the big casting story is Daniel Craig with bleached hair as explosives expert Joe Bang. When recruited for the job, he points out to the Logans that he is “in-car-cer-ated.” But the Logans have a workaround for that small problem. The usually taciturn Craig appears to enjoy letting loose in the role.

Logan Lucky is full of fun and funny surprises, which I won’t ruin here. As with his Ocean’s flicks, director Soderbergh keeps the action moving fast which lets certain less plausible plot elements zip quickly by. The end result is a satisfying two-hour break from real life, something many of us are in great need of.

 

 

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The LEGO Batman Movie

In a movie that’s more fun than funny, The LEGO Batman Movie centers around Batman’s (Will Arnett) relationships: With longtime villain The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), with Robin (Michael Cera), with Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and with Albert (Ralph Fiennes).

From all the live action Batman movies, particularly those directed by Christopher Nolan, we know that Batman/Bruce Wayne has an austere personality. Despite his wealth and luxurious surroundings, he is a private individual whose innermost thoughts are known to few.

The LEGO Batman Movie takes viewers inside Wayne Manor for a peek at Batman’s private life which includes an affinity for romcoms—one in particular. You may be interested to learn Batman enjoys eating Lobster Thermidor.

The film also touches on the rivalry between Batman and Superman (Channing Tatum) and a device Superman has that transports evildoers to the “Phantom Zone.”

The LEGO Batman Movie is ever kinetic with an abundance of energy and over-the-top effects including many explosions. As with 2014’s The Lego Movie, the depiction of characters both well known and unknown via Legos is exceedingly clever.

And, as with its predecessor, you don’t have to have spent time playing with Legos to appreciate The LEGO Batman Movie. Although, having watched my two sons and my grandson play with Legos for hours, I have a warm spot in my soul for these wonderful building blocks (and their accessories).

Whereas the earlier film ended with a heartwarming live action father/son interaction, the new release does not contain such warm and fuzzy emotion wrangling. The 2014 film exceeded expectations and delivered surprise after surprise. The LEGO Batman Movie does not outpace expectations but comes close to fulfilling them. As noted at the top, it’s fun if not overwhelmingly funny. (Although the four 12-year-old girls sitting behind me at my screening—and giggling often—might beg to differ.)

The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys is not a direct descendant of the Lethal Weapon movies but it might be a first cousin. And it’s a casual acquaintance of Boogie Nights.

Some of my favorite movies are L.A. detective stories, including a few bad ones. The Nice Guys is a good one. Set in 1977 with a cool 70’s soundtrack, the film features title characters who are not quite as hardened as most other L.A. movie detectives.

Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bumbling, hard-drinking single father. His precocious and cute 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) is the brains of the family (and the better driver).

Jackson Healy (a pudgier-than-usual Russell Crowe) is an enforcer who comes calling to damage Holland but goes on to partner with him as they work to solve a caper.

The film opens with a young boy checking out a babe named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) in a girlie mag when a car slams through his house. He sees the real life version of the foldout babe, tossed from the car and partially unclothed. She dies, setting the plot in motion.

Another babe, Amelia (Margaret Qualley) is trying to escape from a number of people who would silence her quest to end smog in L.A. One of those people is her mother Judith (Kim Basinger), a federal agent supposedly trying to bust the auto industry for violating EPA regs.

(The 62-year-old Basinger won an Oscar for her work with Crowe in another period piece film set in the same town, 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Her latest performance doesn’t make nearly as strong an impression.)

The Nice Guys’ plot is clever but the main reason to see the film is the newly-hatched partnership between Holland and Healy. There’s verbal and physical humor. My favorite bit involves Holland in a bathroom stall trying to manage his newspaper, his gun, his cigarette, the stall’s door and his pants at the same time. It’s a classic piece of business. A couple of the large scale tumbles Holland takes end with lucky landings.

Shane Black wrote and directed The Nice Guys. He wrote the first Lethal Weapon movie and is credited with creating those characters. He also wrote and directed Iron Man 3.

Gosling and Crowe are two of our most charismatic actors. Their onscreen chemistry is not quite a home run, but there’s enough going on here to suggest those two characters might be worth another go-around. It’s not a “must see” movie, but it’s a lot of fun! (With a healthy dose of violence, car crashes, explosions and all that other action film stuff.)

Hot Pursuit

 

Hot Pursuit is a disappointment. It’s not funny. Just minutes into the show, it becomes obvious that the film, which is essentially one extended chase scene, is going nowhere.

Policewoman Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) and drug lord wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) are travel mates in this would-be madcap comedy. Like last year’s Tammy, the set up is okay, the stars are likable, but the movie, ultimately, is a failure.

Cooper is assigned to escort Riva to Dallas where her drug lord husband is set to testify against a former partner. But the pickup is botched when gangs burst in with guns blazing. Cooper and Riva escape and take to the road in a classic Cadillac convertible, the first of several vehicles they’ll use to get to their destination.

Witherspoon, despite being raised in Nashville, speaks with a southern accent that sounds inauthentic. Vergara, brings little beyond her Modern Family TV persona to her role. Neither excels at physical comedy. Hot Pursuit is a mess.

Who gets the blame? Director Anne Fletcher delivered another bad road trip movie The Guilt Trip (with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand) in 2012. The writers David Feeney and John Quaintance are veterans of (mostly failed) TV sitcoms. With the exceptions of comedians Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia in small roles, the supporting cast has no real charm.

Witherspoon and Vergara have producer and executive producer credits, so they are among the culprits.

I’ll concede there are a handful of chuckles, but if you want big laughs you won’t find them here. (Even the outtakes that are shown during closing credits are not funny.) Do not pursue.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ton of fun! It’s action-packed and full of surprises. It moves at a frantic pace and never slows down until its final postscript. Like last year’s Lego Movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a better movie than we usually get in February.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka Galahad is the dapper, well-dressed ops director of the secret spy organization that works out of a men’s clothing store in London. The versatile Firth is, as the British say, “spot on” in this role.

Following the death of a colleague in a 1997 mission, he gives a medallion and contact information to the man’s young son Eggy. Years later, now in his early 20s, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) needs help getting out of a jam and calls Galahad who takes care of the situation. When Kingsman agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is killed in action, Galahad recruits Eggsy to try out for a position. The competition is tough and Eggsy works hard to succeed.

When the film’s villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is introduced, he is apparently a good guy, an environmental warrior. But his method for saving the planet involves eliminating much of the world’s human population. He scores good will by giving the entire world free wi-fi and internet—but there’s an evil motive to his generosity.

Galahad consults with Kingsman chief Arthur (Michael Caine) who suggests Galahad learn more about Valentine. At their first meeting, the dinner scene is a classic. (I’m tempted to share more, but… alas, no spoiler from me.)

K:TSS recalls early James Bond films, but in a more appreciative fashion than the Austin Powers movies did. As Q does in the Bond films, Galahad introduces Eggsy to amazing spy devices. Villain Valentine has an impressive mountaintop lair, complete with an airplane landing strip in a cave. And there’s the promise of a sexual payoff for the story’s hero, a la 007.

Kingsman: The Secret Service contains numerous memorable and bloody fight scenes. They are cartoonish and, in many case, quite funny. Director Matthew Vaughn (who also directed X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass and Stardust) has created a film that looks good and has plenty of clever bits. Like the woman with the lethal Oscar Pistorius prosthetic feet, the exploding opening credits and the high-speed chase scene where the car being chased travels in reverse.

Kingsman: The Secret Service delivers the goods. I like it a lot.

 

 

2 Guns

2 Guns is good, but could’ve been better. It’s an action/comedy. That combination requires a delicate hand to keep both elements in balance. Sadly, as its title suggests, 2 Guns leans more heavily to the action side.

Moviegoers will buy tickets to 2 Guns for its stars, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Their interaction onscreen is fun and highly entertaining, but the film does not have enough of them together.

The hook is that Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) are a DEA agent and a US Navy operative, respectively, but neither knows that the other is working for the government. After an unconsummated drug deal in Mexico and a lucrative bank robbery in Texas, they figure a few things out. But there are big twists and surprises to come.

The story gets complicated, but don’t be too concerned about the plot and things that don’t get explained. All scores get settled in the end.

Bobby and Stig pursue, and are pursued. Main players are drug lord Papi (Edward James Olmos), interested third party Earl (Bill Paxton) and Navy agent Quince (James Marsden). Fellow DEA agent Deb (Paula Patton) is Bobby’s sometime squeeze, but their relationship has had its ups and downs.

2 Guns is directed by Iceland native Baltasar Kormakur, who also directed Wahlberg in last year’s Contraband.

While Wahlberg and Washington don’t have Newman/Redford type chemistry, they are fun to watch together. When two of our most talented and likeable stars are in an action/comedy movie together, they should be in the movie—together. The sum of the parts is greater when Bobby and Stig are in the same frame.

2 Guns is far from a “must-see,” but if you like Washington and Wahlberg, you’ll have fun with this one. Rated R. Violence, language, slight boobage.

The Heat

Congratulations to Melissa McCarthy for making a hilarious movie! Congratulations to Sandra Bullock for giving McCarthy all the room she needs to do her funny business in The Heat.

Bullock follows in the tradition of TV’s Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Andy Griffith, all of who were title stars of their sitcoms, but depended on zany sidemen and women to bring the biggest laughs. Bullock brings her considerable charm and infinite likeability to the screen, but Melissa McCarthy as Boston cop Shannon Mullen is the reason to see The Heat.

McCarthy, whose other lead role this year in Identity Thief led to a healthy gross of $135 million, will sell lots of tickets to The Heat with her raunchy, f-bomb-laced riffs and shameless physical humor.

Melissa McCarthy’s agility for a woman of her size is amazing. And her delivery of scriptwriter Katie Dippold’s lines is natural and organic—I’d guess she was given freedom to ad-lib by director Paul Fieg. He also directed Bridesmaids.

By the way, I was told that Bullock claims there are 196 f-bombs in the film.

Bullock as FBI special agent Ashburn is a smug, tightly-wound type A detail person. McCarthy as Mullen is loose, spontaneous and wild. There’s instant animosity between the two. Both are territorial and neither wants to relinquish control.

Bonding takes a while. They share a mutual dislike for not only drug dealers, but also for a pair of DEA agents. As they learn each other’s personal backstories, there’s a bit of sympathy to be shared.

This action/comedy has some grit: people get tied up, shot, stabbed, etc. There’s a pretty good chase scene. It’s rated R and rightly so.

The opening title sequence has a 70’s graphic look and features the song Fight The Power by the Isley Brothers.

The studio (and, presumably, test audiences) liked this movie so much that its release was pushed back from April to late June—a more lucrative, but also more competitive time of year for film box office success. Also, it’s rumored that a sequel is already in the works.

The Heat will make you laugh. And if laughter is what you want and need, don’t miss it.

 

 

Stand Up Guys

An action comedy with three of our best actors as senior citizen crooks who get together for one last fling—can’t miss, right?

Stand Up Guys is not a total misfire. It has its moments. But it’s not as funny onscreen as it might have been on paper. The movie starts slow and has pacing issues throughout, but it is a suitable amusement.

Al Pacino is a paroled prisoner who, upon his release, is met by his old partner in crime played by Christopher Walken. Another bad guy has ordered Walken to kill Pacino by 10:00 a.m. the next morning or he (Walken) will be killed.

The two old chums go out for drinks, drugs and hookers. When his initial sexual effort fizzles, Pacino gobbles a handful of Viagra (or similar) pills to get the job done. The result is a successful hookup, followed by a visit to the emergency room for treatment of priapism. (Look it up.)

After they bust their old driver (Alan Arkin) out of a care center, they head out for more adventures including a return trip to the brothel and a joyride in a stolen Dodge Challenger (new version). More adventures lead to return visits to Walken’s favorite diner to satisfy Pacino’s ravenous appetite. He never knows when Walken will pull the trigger, but he behaves as if it’s inevitable.

I enjoyed Walken’s low-key performance and Arkin’s energetic performance, but grew weary of Pacino and his character early on. It seems like he’s trying too hard in this role. Julianna Margulies has a small, mostly forgettable, role as Arkin’s daughter.

Stand Up Guys is not a good as it should’ve been. It will not overwhelm you in any way. But if you are a fan of any of the three lead actors, you might actually like it!

Seven Psychopaths

Among a strong cast, Sam Rockwell is a standout in “Seven Psychopaths.” It’s not that the performances from Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell were lacking. They’re all good, but Rockwell’s character has the most to work with.

“Seven Psychopaths” is an ultraviolent comedy. As with “Pulp Fiction” and similar films, the audience goes from repulsion to chuckles (or vice versa) in seconds. Some of its elements are serious. We see innocent people meet violent ends. But soon after, absurd events or remarks bring us right back to the funny.

Farrell plays an alcoholic screenwriter in L.A. who has an idea for a movie called “Seven Psychopaths,” but just can’t get started. Walken and Rockwell are dog kidnappers who then respond to “lost dog” postings to collect rewards. Harrelson is a hood whose Shih Tzu, Bonny, is taken.

Walken and Rockwell provide Farrell with ideas for the movie’s plot—the one he’s writing, that is. Some of the elements discussed for that screenplay do turn up in the movie we’re watching. The trio takes refuge in the desert after Rockwell kills his girlfriend (who is also Woody’s girlfriend). Woody, meanwhile, wants his dog back.

Among the supporting cast is Tom Waits as a psychopath who shares his personal story with Farrell about the killing he’s done. Gabourey “Precious” Sidibe appears briefly as Woody’s careless dog walker.

“Seven Psychopaths” benefits from the strong quartet of leads, each of whom has been in absurd comedies before. Each man has a commanding screen presence and, as a group, they help the movie over a bumpy section or two.

Worth noting are a couple of fantasy sequences (involving a graveyard shootout and a Vietnamese holy man) that add compelling action.

Writer/director Martin MacDonagh (who also wrote and directed “In Bruges” in ’08) has put together an totally entertaining movie. Its violence makes it off-limits for the squeamish, but for the rest of us, it’s fun.

 

 

 

 

Men in Black 3

If you were to be flashed with a neuralizer and made to forget the first two MIB movies, you’d love MIB 3. But compared to the other two, this action comedy lacks just a bit of the magic.

Have we missed you, Will Smith? Yes. After being MIA for over three years, he is back on the big screen, bringing all the charisma that has made him a star. He’s funny and has attitude.

The movie’s plot involves time travel back to 1969 and gives us Josh Brolin as the younger, less jaded, version of Tommy Lee Jones’ character, K. (Did Jones loop some of Brolin’s dialogue? Because the vocal timbre and inflections are dead on.)

The 60’s flashback is fun and, interestingly, addresses racial behaviors that were quite different from those of today. Will Smith’s character J is pulled over by NYC cops who wonder why a black man would be wearing such a nice suit and driving a luxury convertible.

Also, interestingly, MIB 3 reprises the shot in the first MIB that had St. Louis native Bernard Gilkey, then a Met, getting hit in the head with a fly ball. In MIB 3, the shot of an outfielder getting plunked signals the mid-season ’69 Mets ineptitude that somehow transitioned to a World Series title in October.

J and K face off against evil alien Boris the Animal (who always reminds them that his name is now “just Boris”) at Cape Kennedy where Apollo astronauts are about to be launched for the moon. The battle atop the missile support beams is an impressive sequence—within a notch of two of Cruise’s Dubai scenes in MI 4.

As in the two previous MIB’s, the aliens are the result of some clever imaginations, creative costumers and hard-working special effects crews.

Is MIB 3 satisfying? Yes. Will it blow you away? No. Following the first two MIB’s and, especially in the wake of the effects-laden “The Avengers,” MIB 3 may need good WOM to become a major hit. (That’s word of mouth.) The popularity of Will Smith and the two earlier MIB’s will fill theaters this first weekend. Stay tuned to see what happens beyond May.