by Julian Spivey
A lot has been made about how this past weekend was the worst weekend at the box office in nearly two decades. According to boxofficemojo.com, the top 12 movies at the box office this weekend combined to make only $49 million. It’s the worst weekend since late September 2001 when the top 12 films combined to $43.5 million and as you remember nobody wanted to watch movies at that time in America.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” widely panned by critics, finished at the top of the box office heap for the second consecutive week making around $10 million. The highest money-making new film this weekend was the animated “Leap!,” which made around $5 million. Animated family films usually perform well at the box office, but this one had almost no promotion from what I saw.
It’s not too much of a surprise to see a weak performing crop of movies in the last weekend of August, which comes after the big blockbuster summer season and before the award-season really kicks off in late-September/early-October. The box office may even be in for a little more trouble over the Labor Day weekend with nothing really on the horizon. The next sure-fire hit money-wise will be the adaptation of Stephen King’s “It,” which hits theaters on Sept. 8. Horror movies almost always perform well at the box office, whether they are good or not.
Many would blame Hollywood for such a poor weekend at the cinema, but I frankly must ask: what the hell is wrong with moviegoers?
Five of the top 10 films at the box office this weekend are certified as fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning they are generally considered really good films by most film critics. Another one of the movies in the top 10, “Annabelle: Creation,” is also favorably reviewed. Now three of the certified fresh movies (“Dunkirk,” “Girl’s Trip” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) have all been in theaters for more than a month and have likely been seen already by most interested in doing so, but two of these movies are “Logan Lucky,” only in its second week, and “Wind River,” which just went into wide release this weekend.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which has topped the box office two straight weeks, was only liked by 39 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and frankly looks atrocious based on trailers and The Word’s film critic Philip Price didn’t like it at all.
I mostly want to focus on Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” which I absolutely cannot believe wasn’t a box office hit. I must be more out of touch with today’s cinemagoer than I ever thought I was and believe me I knew I was.
I’m not going to review “Logan Lucky,” Philip already gave it a glowing review for this site and 93 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked it, as well. Despite this, the movie has only made $15 million in two weeks and just over $4 million this weekend.
I’m more so going to question why you, the movie going audience of America, didn’t have any interest in seeing it. By the way, 77 percent of those who have seen it have liked it, according to the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here’s the biggest reason I thought America would eat up “Logan Lucky” … it stars Channing Tatum. Everybody seems to love Tatum. The ladies especially seem to love him. Of the 4,682 movie goers who’ve rated “Logan Lucky” on IMDb.com only 570 of them are female, though.
Another reason why I thought “Logan Lucky” would be a hit is it’s supporting cast, which includes the incredibly popular Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. That didn’t seem to matter to most. By the way, Craig is a revelation in this movie as down home explosives expert Joe Bang, completely different from anything we’ve ever seen him do on screen before. If you’re used to Craig as James Bond you’ll believe, like me, he’s worthy of an Oscar-nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this film … well, that’s if you ever get around to watching it.
I know it feels like most American moviegoers don’t seem to care or even know who directs the movies they go to see, but Soderbergh came out of a five-year movie making retirement for this film. His films, like “Magic Mike” and the ‘Ocean’s’ trilogy generally perform well at the box office. He’s also an Academy Award-winning director for 2000’s “Traffic” if you care about such things. That means he’s damn good at what he does.
That brings me to another reason why I’m shocked “Logan Lucky” didn’t perform well at the box office … it’s an action, heist comedy in a similar vein as Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’s’ series. Everybody loves comedies, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a while, and most people love a decent action film.
Some have brought up that the movie didn’t seem to have the biggest promotion, but I saw quite a few trailers and promos for this film on television in the week or two leading up to its premiere. I’m not sure how much that theory holds weight.
What I really loved about “Logan Lucky” may have been the reason why it didn’t do so well at the box office. The movie is in no way political, but it features a cast of white Southerners acting like white Southerners. It’s a movie featuring hard-working, blue collared people trying hard to get by and attempting to pull one over on the rich folk when they feel they have been screwed. The movie could’ve easily degraded these characters, but it never once did. It doesn’t ever treat them like they’re stupid or second-class citizens. That’s incredibly admirable. I think if a lot of people took the chance on this movie they would see this too and agree. But, the fact that it’s about this group of people that are often treated as laughingstocks, unintelligent or just not attractive to mainstream America may have hurt its appeal.
It may just be bad timing in America for a film like “Logan Lucky.”
It may also have just been that it didn’t feature superheroes or really any hope of Tatum stripping his clothes and gyrating his hips.
Either way, these are dumb reasons not to watch a movie.
But, maybe there’s another reason why cinemagoers are ignoring a good movie, made by an award-winning director, featuring a talented and popular cast? If there is you tell me, because I’m frankly confused and obviously perturbed.
by Philip Price
Writer/director Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario,” “Hell or High Water”) likes his symbolism. He both begins and ends his directorial debut, “Wind River,” with a fair amount of it. The opening of his film, which takes place in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation sees a literal wolf circling a herd of sheep. “Wind River” ends with a simple image of two fathers sitting in the background while an empty swing set comes into focus in the foreground, the two empty seats swaying in the light winter wind. How Sheridan's film gets from a rather generic piece of symbolism in the form of a common saying to one that is potentially layered with meaning the viewer can attribute to it due to the journey they've just witnessed is what makes Sheridan's use of this tool so effective. Obviously, Sheridan is a gifted writer who has a knack for building atmosphere and tone and integrating them into the natural environments in which he places his stories, but what had yet to be gleaned was how much of such satisfactory works came from the writer himself and how much was elicited and interpreted from his screenplays via renowned directors like Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie. With “Wind River,” Sheridan lets it be known that he possesses more than capable hands when it comes to bringing his written word to life and, more importantly, conveying the themes and ideas through these visuals that he clearly had an interest in discussing when penning the screenplay. While “Wind River” doesn't necessarily possess a unique structure or revelatory plot-in fact, it's a rather simple murder/mystery movie-what it does possess is an assuredness of how it confidently wants to tell this story and a clear idea of the aspects of this true story that it wants to highlight so as be both affecting and insightful while remaining a familiar conceit. The familiarity of the structure and approach is perfectly balanced by that of the desolate-seeming landscape though, which is only emphasized further by the environment no doubt feeling foreign to any viewer that doesn't reside in Wyoming themselves. It's chilling. There are flat fields that seem to go on forever covered in snow with a dead silence that drenches it all which inadvertently seems to inform the locals of the bleakness of their existence. It is in setting a murder/mystery in this already devastated domain that “Wind River” strikes you; through such symbolism that it compels you.
We begin by encountering Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who makes his humble living as a wildlife officer who hunts predators and keeps the nearby neighborhoods and Indian reservation free of any potential threats. Lambert seemingly leads a quiet life as he is now divorced from an ex-wife that wants to pick a fight anytime they start a conversation. His ex-wife, Wilma (Julia Jones), is Native American and as we come to better understand the present dynamic between the two we also learn she and her ex-husband share a son, Casey (Teo Briones), together. Casey and his father take off and travel onto the titular reservation where Wilma's family lives including her father (Apesanahkwat) where Lambert has come to help kill a mountain lion that has been killing their family's livestock. It's evident that Lambert still has a good relationship with his once father-in-law and has seemingly been accepted into the Native American community of Wyoming as his rapport with reservation police chief, Ben (the always welcome Graham Greene), is also one of minimal communication, but perfect understanding. In Lambert's excursion to track down the mountain lion he ends up stumbling upon the body of a teenage woman who has frozen to death. The woman comes to be identified as Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), an 18-year old daughter of locals Martin (Hell or High Water's Gil Birmingham) and Annie (Althea Sam). Natalie's body is found in such a remote location and with varying degrees of possible causes of death that there is no clear-cut explanation for what happened to cause such circumstances surrounding her death. Considering the death and those questionable circumstances surrounding it the FBI is called in and arrives in the rather unexpected package of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who is a rookie agent currently stationed in Las Vegas who just so happened to be the closest one to the crime scene. Banner is very much in over her head and thus is the reason she extends an invite to Renner's Lambert to assist in the investigation as not only was he the one that discovered the body, but also due to his background with hunting predators and his familiarity with the landscape. What Lambert doesn't initially disclose to Banner though, is the fact Natalie's death conjures up memories of his own daughter's tragic passing.
Within the first five minutes of the beginning of the film we, as audience members, are already becoming ingrained into the lives of these characters as Sheridan has already tossed out a handful of lines of dialogue that make us feel as if we understand the dynamics and the relationships between these people better than any kind of exposition or visual cues might have. Sheridan's dialogue is direct while still coated in sly, insightful truths. They are remarks that could easily be taken any which way depending on the receiver, but most importantly, they send a message of the mentality of the characters we're supposed to be getting to know. Sheridan accomplishes as much in both an intelligent and efficient manner as Lambert arrives to his ex-wife's house late to pick up their son before leaving for the reservation. Lambert defends himself by stating that it was work that held him up to which Wilma questions who the victim of the day was today with Lambert only remarking that it, "looks like it's gonna be me." That is, it and that is all it takes. The entire history of Cory and Wilma's relationship is summarized in this short exchange and Sheridan continues to find ways to phrase exchanges throughout “Wind River” that accomplish these same things; allowing the viewer to feel as if they know this place and these people and have for years and years which in turn helps the audience to comprehend what these characters feel this place has taken from them-what it has taken from Lambert. There is a theme throughout that deals in the setting of “Wind River” informing everything that happens in it down to why the characters feel and act the way they do, but this is kind of a given from the get-go. What makes the environment even more integral to the storytelling is that Sheridan approaches it from this standpoint of these people, these Native Americans, feeling resentment towards the land and all the bad that occurs in their lives due to the fact they've been forced out of any other area and into this desolate environment of snow and silence if they desire to carry on the history of their ancestors and tribe at all. To this effect, it is somewhat strange then that the two leads are still a couple of white people-one being a complete outsider with the other essentially serving as an interpreter, but Renner and Olsen make up for this with a chemistry that rides the line of romantic without ever devolving into the obvious, but instead serving as this channel into what have otherwise might have felt not only like an isolated environment, but a foreign culture.
Moreover, “Wind River” is about the results of these circumstances-the fact no one knows how many Native American women are missing. That it could be an epidemic that is knowingly being ignored. Sheridan himself has said that his latest film, "explores how much and how little has changed since the American West was settled as well as the consequence of that settlement.” The reservations are designated to be these places of near-impossible conditions where it would be strange if the inhabitants didn't come to crisis of conscience where they questioned whether their heritage is worth the unavoidably miserable lives they lead and for what appreciation? The younger the generation the less they seem to value as much as not only does Renner marry into a Native American family, but we come to learn Natalie was in a relationship with a man who is a contract worker hired by a security firm to work on the reservation who is also white (Jon Bernthal in a crucial flashback sequence). Sheridan uses the murder/mystery genre and the inherent action, including several gun fights that are surprisingly violent, to get away with slipping in a consciousness. “Wind River” doesn't meditate or harp on the fact many of these people's issues aren't necessarily self-created, but rather it utilizes a tragic situation and the fact it's not the first of its kind to emphasize a larger point. To this extent, “Wind River” is a success as it leaves one with more than enough to contemplate, but where the film underwhelms is in the experience of being during it. There are moments, to be sure, but not a single one where the weight of what is being seen and what is being told and the difference as well as the correlation between those two things really hits home. Rather, “Wind River” hits peaks and valleys in terms of pacing with a single scene featuring Birmingham capturing almost too achingly the grief a parent must feel at the loss of a child. Having to accept that they themselves nor their lives will ever be the same and the fact there is no way to steer from the pain with Renner and Birmingham performing the interaction with understated sincerity. This is all accompanied by a score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that is genuinely eerie to which Sheridan uses to strong effect in defining the already otherworldly atmosphere. For the most part though, Sheridan keeps his directorial debut moving with consistently engaging revelations at the heart of the mystery and pulse-pounding action scenes that rely on the unpredictability of human nature. Sheridan utilizes a fair amount of handheld camera work to highlight this natural tone, this human quality in this bare landscape that ultimately results in a satisfying thriller, but more significantly-an ode to the processes of pain and re-building in light of it.
by Philip Price
Endearing. Endearing is the word to describe what quality and feeling writer/director Geremy Jasper captures in his feature directorial debut after spending the past seven or so years in the world of narrative shorts and music videos (Selena Gomez and Florence + the Machine among his subjects). Unsurprising then is the fact that Jasper's first feature-length effort, that he's also the sole writer on, deals heavily with the worlds of music, ambition, and the stark difference in those that live to make music and those who make music for a living. This has always been something of a fascinating area for artists to find themselves in-this kind of gorge where either side seems a steep slope that could easily threaten their ultimate goals in one way or another. On the one hand, there's fame and all that comes with it including both the many positives and the mountain of sacrifices while on the other hand it's hard to imagine trying to make a living doing something else while having your true passion be relegated to little more than a hobby. If you've ever chased a dream involving music then “Patti Cake$” is wholly identifiable no matter the genre specialized in, but even if you have not a single, musically-inclined bone in your body the film still stands as a testament to anyone who has ever had odds stacked against them. I won't get too hyperbolic here given that, at the end of the day, this is a movie that does well to accomplish what it sets out to, but never comes across as something truly transcendent in what topics it's touching on or exceptional in how it conveys or delivers those ideas. Patti Cake$ has enough going on in its brain though, and is brought to life through such humbling albeit misguided shells that they do indeed come to be endearing thanks largely in part to the captivating performances from each of the members of this eclectic cast. Through the course of events in which we follow these engaging characters Jasper also begins to explore not only the inner turmoil of the titular Patti (a revelatory Danielle Macdonald), but he also takes on the culture that has bred her, that has groomed her into this personality that, strangely enough, defies the conventions of what a young, poor female would take from societal cues. Jasper addresses this blending of cultures and where the line is drawn or if there is a line at all. “Patti Cake$,” while charmingly performed, is most notable for digging into these ideas of our present, Instagram-obsessed society that is ironically full of people who don't seem to know themselves at all.
Macdonald is Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, who is an overweight bartender at a local place in Jersey called Lou's where the same dozen people hang out every night and where her mother, the equally robust Barb (a poignantly heartbreaking Bridget Everett), sings karaoke every night and drowns away her sorrows in free shots. Patti, who is obviously older than twenty-one but seemingly only by a little still lives at home with her mother who can't seem to keep a steady job and therefore unreliable sources of income and largely seems to still be tethered to her childhood home for the sake of her ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Nana is sick, but still smokes, drinks, and watches daytime TV to pass the no doubt painful experience she is living. Patti keeps getting calls from debt collectors threatening legal action if she or someone doesn't start making payments on Nana's hospital bills. Nana also requires medicine and other kinds of care that require spending a lot of money as clearly Barb doesn't have any insurance and I'm positive Lou isn't offering any benefits for his employees either. Still, Patti never sees Nana as a burden-she is more of a partner in crime who at least shows interest and allows Patti to try out new rhymes on her each time she comes up with one. This leads to Patti's main source of relief which is her music. She may not be able to sing like her mother (who is maybe the biggest burden in Patti's life), but she has a passion for lyrical configurations and, more importantly, a penchant for putting such configurations together in an effective manner. Down at the pharmacy where she fills her Nana's prescriptions she's made friends with Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) who fancies himself a Nate Dogg sort to Patti's Foxy Brown. While Patti has the talent, it is Hareesh who has the ambition and the ideas to that sets the two of them, along with Nana and a local metalhead/objector of all things mainstream (Mamoudou Athie) to join forces and go on this bonkers quest to find glory in the rap game and get out of their downtrodden reality in New Jersey.
Watching “Patti Cake$” the first thing that hits you is the all-encompassing role that music plays in Patti's life. From the moment, she wakes up music is either playing or she's thinking of rhymes by the time she's brushing her teeth. There are a million reasons this young lady shouldn't be able to conjure up the energy she must delve into the psychology her bars dissect, but in dissecting comes understanding and in painting a bigger picture once gets clarity and that is no doubt what this type of self-reflective art does for Patti-it offers clarity in the form of an escape. The moment Patti steps outside for the first time in the film to head to work we're led to believe she's hot-wiring her car, but rather she is simply digging around in that car for a Walkman that is so outdated it's a wonder her current favorite artist has discs that will play on it. Patti pops in the album, put on her headphones, and begins the trek to work-the music elevating her to a place where her life seems more bearable. Jasper conveys this through symbolism typical of offbeat indies where we see Patti begin to float into the sky as if walking on air as she lets the music in her headphones take over her entire being. It isn't until a car horn comes screeching up behind her that she's brought back down to earth and immediately reminded what the whole of society thinks of her. This brings into glimpse the first peculiarity about Patti that we notice; despite Patti being a bigger girl, despite the fact she is white, and despite the fact she is poor Macdonald never conveys a sense of insecurity about who Patti is and who she wants to be. In other words, Patti initially sees no reason as to why the cards would be stacked against her despite what pop culture spews on the cover of magazines and photoshops to unattainable standards. It isn't until she meets a hero who criticizes her of being a "culture vulture" that there is any semblance of self-doubt. It's such a small, but key choice in how Jasper wrote the character and how Macdonald ultimately plays Patti that you almost miss it while watching the film. It is something we simply assume is inherent in the character from the beginning and so we go with it which speaks to mine and our own insecurities with the point being that Patti is true in her intent, honorable even, and above all else genuine in how she utilizes what was born out of black culture. By the end of the film this means everything though, and the tracking of this arc by Jasper and his screenplay along with the bringing of it to tangible life by Macdonald is by far the strongest aspect of this rather ambitious piece.
What's interesting is how Patti's environment both contributes to who she has become while simultaneously fueling her talent. She has this skill for crafting lethal poetry, but the content of that poetry is largely centered around her everyday life. Whether that be a crush she has on the local weed dealer, Danny (McCaul Lombardi), who also happens to be the local celebrity that gets by more on looks and street cred than actual talent, the struggles of her home life with her mother, or simply the struggle of trying to break out of Jersey to the other side of the river; the nurture is what feeds the substance of what she's spitting and what allows Patti to consistently cultivate what seems like the only way to escape the inevitable fact life will cycle through just as her Nana and her mother's lives have before. For Patti, there are seemingly no color lines-Danny is as white as snow, but his rap game has the respect of most of the community-there is just the reality of the situation. And so, when Patti comes face to face with someone who doesn't know the context of her situation or of how much music means to her and has made up the significance of her life she doesn't understand how one could think she was doing little more than ripping off black culture when what she knows is literally all she knows. It's difficult to get into the weeds of examining those who aren't, but are still fascinated with black culture without potentially becoming offensive especially when coming from a movie that was written and directed by a white guy, but the fact of the matter is that there are those who genuinely love hip-hop and the flavors it offers who are not black. It seems Jasper is one of those people as he has said many times that “Patti Cake$” came from little more than his desire to write rap music and thus the reason it has been positioned to come from an even more unlikely source such as Patricia. Jasper seems to want to emphasize the fact that anyone, literally anyone, can love rap or any other genre of music not because they understand or are a part of the culture in which it was born or from which it came, but simply because it makes them feel something when it plays through their speakers. Furthermore, if “Patti Cake$” proves nothing else it's that in this world of fake celebrities and fake news, Patti gets down to the grit of who she really is through her music and is therefore probably too good and too real for whatever criticisms widespread fame would bring.
“Patti Cake$” is a movie that screams at the top of its lungs that if you believe in something that you should believe in yourself enough to never let it go. The movie does that thing where it gives Patti just enough self-doubt at the beginning of the third act that she goes into this funk for a bit before realizing she loves music too much for it to ever not be a part of her life and while maybe necessary this does extend the film in ways that feel overly laborious when up until that point the pacing has been as smooth as the movie's titular character's flow. Still, it isn't the plot (you've seen this before in “8 Mile”) or even the music (it's an acquired taste, but it's mostly fun) that makes the story of Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$ so endearing, but more it is the people that populate her world and come to mean to her what her alcoholic mother and absentee father never were...a support system. A family. At the center of this movie about an aspiring rapper we have a white girl, a middle-eastern guy, an elderly white woman, with the only black dude in the mix AKA the groups only hope of coming off somewhat credible based solely on appearance to the remainder of the black community-being a loner who has run away from home and shacked up in the woods to make experimental metal music. It is these people and the performances of Dhananjay as Hareesh, Moriarty as Nana, and especially Athie as a character who will not be named here so as not to ruin the surprisingly soft touch its reveal brings to the movie, but who comes to mean the most to Patti despite the two of them being the definition of opposites. I mean, they couldn't be more different if they tried and yet, somehow, Macdonald and Athie take Jasper's script and make it work. They form this exemplary instance where everything the film is preaching is illustrated to the point of a perfect understanding and for this, no matter if Patti ever is or not, her movie is a success.
by Philip Price
There are a lot of little things that make “Logan Lucky” as charming as it is. There is the effortless style of it. The breezy way in which director Steven Soderbergh (welcome back, sir) movies from one scene to the next despite the film involving a rather complicated script via new talent and/or what is a pseudonym for Soderbergh's wife Jules Asner or Soderbergh himself in Rebecca Blunt. There is also the ensemble cast of recognizable faces and charismatic personalities that make every one of the many plights that every one of these characters encounter that much more amusing. And then, and then there is the simple and just subtle enough techniques that deal in the filmmaking side of things that Soderbergh utilizes to make this feel simultaneously as raw as some of the emotional wounds these characters are dealing with while being as authentic as the general air of authenticity that surrounds each of these people. Whether it be in the shooting style that includes these movements or tracks that don't feel overly polished, but are seemingly intentional or the way in which Soderbergh, who serves not only as the director (and possible writer), but the cinematographer and editor here as well, cuts his scenes together to emphasize certain jokes or moments-it all feels rather perfectly imperfect. Bring these elements together and what we have is essentially a southern fried heist film from the guy who made all three of the kinetic and flashing ‘Ocean's’ movies. It has been a decade since “Ocean's Thirteen” and it's not difficult to see why this genre is as attractive as it is as it offers the always appreciated underdog story, allows for moments of real tension and adventure, while presenting a canvas on which one can paint as many interesting and quirky characters as they like. The characters are the real draw of “Logan Lucky” as one can certainly layer in meaning that concerns the heartland of the American dream and how now, in our present state, that American dream in its purest sense can only be achieved by those who sell out or inherit their daddy's booming business as opposed to those who are willing to chase dreams and work hard, but Soderbergh's film never feels like an attempt to capture something bigger than that of the lark it is. It is largely about these people we don't see in big Hollywood productions often enough and upending the assumptions typically associated with them. There is meaning to be drawn if you so desire, but there is also room to just have a lot of fun-which “Logan Lucky” is. I guess the fact one could seemingly do both only makes the movie more impressive than it already is.
We begin by meeting Jimmy Logan who is a good ole boy from West Virginia that likes John Denver and fixes his trucks and teaches his daughter a thing or two about doing so in the process. Jimmy has been down on his luck ever since he blew out his knee playing high school football when it seemed he was destined for the pros. Jimmy works on a construction site down at the Charlotte motor speedway fixing pipes that have burst beneath the track. That is, before he is let-go for not disclosing that aforementioned bum knee on his initial paperwork that the insurance company has now deemed a liability. To make matters worse he is then informed by his ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), that she and her new husband Moody (David Denman) and their twin boys along with her and Jimmy's daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), will be moving across state lines to North Carolina no doubt making it more difficult on Jimmy to ensure the limited number of days he already has with Sadie happen. Having had it up to here with everything the world is throwing at him Jimmy heads to the local bar where his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), works. Clyde is an Iraq war veteran who lost his arm, I mean hand, in combat and now comes across as something of a gimmick as the "one-armed bartender". It is on this fateful night that a big-wig NASCAR sponsor (Seth MacFarlane) walks into the bar and ends up in a confrontation with Jimmy and his brother that allows for an idea to spark inside what we perceive to be Jimmy's dimly lit brain. Having seen the underground workings of the speedway and how they move the money Jimmy is keen on staging a robbery; one that could do more than settle his debts, but give him peace of mind-which is all he really wants anyway. To do this, Jimmy and Clyde first recruit explosive device expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who is presently incarcerated, but which Jimmy and Clyde have a plan for as well. Once Joe agrees to the scheme things are set in motion with Joe pulling in his two younger brothers, Fish Bang (an unrecognizable Jack Quaid) and Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson), to help with supplies and transportation as well as Jimmy and Clyde bringing on sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to cover any gaps and provide some necessary motivation. There seemingly couldn't be anything more southern about a heist targeting a NASCAR race, but it is in each of these players that we find something a little more Southern than even the premise of this film. It is in these characters that we find the sweet spot of the movie and what it brings to the conversation outside of being just a solid heist film, but a film that is fun not for what it's about, but because of what the characters bring to their amusing set of circumstances.
Cauliflower has high nutritional value and is widely known as one of the healthiest plants on the planet. In “Logan Lucky,” cauliflower is used as a code word of sorts signaling to Clyde that Jimmy is onto something and desires his involvement. Whether the use of this word is intentional to allude to the film itself being more than meets the eye-your guess is as good as mine. One could say cauliflower may look simple enough or be perceived as little more than a knock-off broccoli or cabbage, though it is actually a diverse vegetable in that it can be consumed raw, cooked, or pickled-just the same as “Logan Lucky” can be taken as a comedy, an ensemble actioner, or a dissection of this Americana state of mind in that the setting, people, and situations give off certain perceptions or ideas of what life is expected to be like when such factors are involved, but like cauliflower, each can be more nutritional than one might initially give them credit for. Of course, Soderbergh or Tatum could have simply thought cauliflower was the right amount of random to throw in at the time and thus it was just that-a random moment of improv that adds to the arbitrary vibes this entire environment gives off, but again-your guess is as good as mine. Either way, in this North Carolina/West Virginia setting there is a sense of upholding this old idea that everything and everyone moves slower in the South. By adapting this kind of preconception and implementing it into the pacing of the film while juxtaposing it with the biggest sport of the region-which just happens to be all about speed-Soderbergh broadly paints a theme of expectations versus reality and then drills in on this in a more granular fashion as the movie goes on. We see Tatum's Jimmy and we feel as if we know the guy. He's a high school star who burned out before he knew he was on fire. We see Driver's Clyde who has provided this great service to our country and is now relegated to serving the people of his country in a different way-one where they can get belligerent, but where Clyde no longer has the right to do what his training would likely inspire him to do. These people are easy to make fun of, to look down upon, and would seemingly be an easy target for easy comedy, but Soderbergh (who is from Atlanta, Georgia) is never condescending when it comes to his portrayal of Jimmy or Clyde and as he and his movie continue to drill down into the finer details of who exactly these characters are and the potential they hold we see that, just like that American dream, all is not as it once appeared. “Logan Lucky” perfectly encapsulates this idea of the underdog by turning those who have already been labeled as hopeless or wastes of time into characters with real credibility. Writing stories-good, significant, entertaining stories-for and about those who have already been written off.
And while “Logan Lucky” may largely be considered a comedy caper of sorts it is the fact it gives such characters credence that make it stand apart. Better for the soul, if you will. Still, this is first and foremost a farce and what makes the majority of “Logan Lucky” so much fun are these characters and the performances everyone brings to the table. This review has gone on without even mentioning the fact Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan each get a few moments of their own amongst everything else that is going on in in the film. Though, it is within Stan's role that there is some explaining left to do as I can't figure out if what was omitted concerning his character is meant to be assumed or if there simply isn't anything more than what the movie tells us. The same could be said for Swank who enters the picture so late in the game yet is given what would seemingly be the critical role if there were to ever be a sequel to a movie like this. There is almost no way to clearly decipher what Soderbergh's true intent might have been despite the fact he gives us one of those scheme walk-through's in the same fashion he did in his Ocean's movies that goes through and explains how all the intricate pieces of our protagonist's puzzle of a plan fit together. It is in these untied plot strands that “Logan Lucky” doesn't come to feel as satisfying as it might otherwise have despite the fact it means to be a little more substantive than it would have anyone know. There are satisfactory conclusions given for each of the parties involved in the heist and the film does well to respond to what might have been lingering questions from audience members around certain aspects of the heist, but there could have certainly been a little more clarification concerning a third act twist as well as a little tightening of the film in general in its last 20 minutes as the denouement goes on about five scenes too long with the high of the heist having long since worn off. For most of the running time though, “Logan Lucky” is a blast and it's clear the people on screen are having fun as well. The characters never laugh at what we, as an audience find humorous, because this is who they are and they are dead serious in their endeavors. The way in which both Tatum and Driver deliver their rather simple dialogue-in this slow, deadpan, but direct fashion-is almost always hilarious no matter what words are coming out of their mouths. It is Craig and Keough who steal the show though, with Craig reveling in the fact he gets to play a character that is such an opposite from that of his most popular alter ego while Keough only continues to impress after two very different, but equally layered performances in “American Honey” and “It Comes at Night.” “Logan Lucky” is one of those movies that one could re-visit time and time again because it is enjoyable to simply be in the company of these characters and no matter if that's all the viewer takes away from the experience or if they do indeed find something deeper to latch onto the fact of the matter is “Logan Lucky” is a good time regardless of if you want to turn your brain off or use it.
by Philip Price
Director Patrick Hughes has three directorial credits to his name; one I've never seen, another the watered down third installment in the ‘Expendables’ franchise, and a third in this late-in-the-summer entry cleverly titled “The Hitman's Bodyguard” that seems intent on capitalizing on the penchant of its two stars for choosing cheap and easy over challenging and risky. Such choices typically provide audiences a few laughs and producers failed financial returns so why Lionsgate thought this might be the exception to the rule is uncertain. Whether it be Ryan Reynolds in disasters like “R.I.P.D.” or the mildly intriguing but woefully undercooked “Self/less” to that of Samuel L. Jackson in any number of the projects he tends to choose in between Tarantino and Marvel flicks the fact of the matter is it seemed obvious what we were getting into from the moment the first trailer for “The Hitman's Bodyguard” was released no matter how much of a surprise it might have felt like it could potentially be. Sure, the premise is cute, but sole screenwriter Tom O'Connor does little to nothing with the main idea and mostly puts the naturally charismatic personas of Jackson and Reynolds into tired buddy cop scenarios that result in a stale story and a bland experience that is neither consistently funny enough for us to excuse its formulaic narrative or dark enough to challenge us in unexpected ways. This brings to light the real issue going on within “The Hitman's Bodyguard” in that it doesn't have a real idea of what it wants to be. Rather, Hughes pulls O'Connor's obviously uneven script in so many different directions that it ultimately fails to succeed in any one of the many genres and/or styles it attempts. I'd like to imagine that Hughes really thought he was pulling off something special and legitimately fun by getting back to the kind of balls to the wall, abundance of blood, unafraid to show death in spades-type action movies that Steven Seagal, Nicolas Cage, or even Harrison Ford might have made twenty some odd years ago, but while Hughes shows us these tendencies time and time again they are either executed so poorly they render themselves empty or they don't lean far enough into any one genre so as to play to the strengths of the tropes of that genre-remaining somewhere in the middle of all these things it wants to be without actually being any of those things. Honestly, it will be a wonder if the film leaves any impression on viewers other than how its use of soundtrack rivals that of last year's summer movie season closer, “Suicide Squad.” That's the only thing I'm still laughing about; its blatant disregard for how such tools are supposed to be utilized which, coincidentally, effectively summarizes the root cause of everything that goes wrong in this movie.
The film begins by informing us Reynolds' Michael Bryce, a AAA rated executive protection agent, is very good at his job until he's not. An opening montage treats us to Bryce saying farewell to an Asian arms dealer-believing he has successfully completed his job-only to see that status come crumbling down in the blink of an eye. Cut to two years later and Bryce is serving as protection for coked out attorneys who have him driving around in cars that smell like ass and blaming his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), for his steep decline in credibility as he believes it was her who gave out the information it was he who was protecting the highly sought after Asian arms dealer. While Bryce is drowning himself in his tears of misery (and probably warm apple juice as well) Amelia is out kicking butt and taking names or, in other words, doing what she can to climb the ladder at Interpol the only way she knows how which, one would think would seemingly be through hard work, determination, and all that jazz. Amelia is getting the opportunity of a lifetime where she might display her aptitude for such work when Interpol director Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida) places her in charge of transporting Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a well-known hitman whose reputation precedes him, from his holding cell to a court hearing where he is set to testify against an evil Eastern European dictator named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid has agreed to testify against Dukhovich only on the terms that his wrongfully accused wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek), will be set free to which Foucher and his Interpol superior, Renata Casoria (Tine Joustra), agree to. As these things go though, Amelia's caravan is hijacked by a gaggle of assassins that seemingly only know where Kincaid is due to an inside man on the Interpol side of things. Narrowly escaping the ambush Amelia and Kincaid flee to a safe house where, due to the fact her agency has been infiltrated, Amelia swallows her pride and contacts an outsider in the form of ex-boyfriend Bryce in hopes that he might agree to finish escorting Kincaid from the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. Bryce agrees on the condition Amelia restore his triple A rating and thus we're off where laughs and action should ensue. If you know the drill you can probably guess how this thing plays out.
There is something the movie tries to get at concerning how we see ourselves as the hero or as the villain as both Reynolds and Jackson's characters see themselves equally sharing the hero spotlight, but who view each other as an archetypal antagonist to their honorable intentions. In this effort, neither of the marquee stars do anything that make their efforts shine above the other-in fact, Reynolds and Jackson are very much on the same wavelength about what type of movie they are in and how they are cultivating the obvious arc their two characters will follow, but Jackson gets more of the genuine laughs whereas Reynolds is asked to play Bryce as this uptight, by the book-type of bodyguard that is essentially a control freak. In playing up this angle of Bryce's personality Reynolds is then kind of forced into this persona that isn't inherently funny or sarcastic which is where the actor's strengths lie (and this is the kind of movie that should play to everyone's strengths), but more Reynolds is supposed to be the guy who does funny things on accident or is funny because the audience is laughing at his ridiculous tendencies and not because the character himself is a funny guy. This relegates Reynolds to something of an awkward balance for most of the film while Jackson can play the free-wheeling, dirty-mouthed, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants renegade anyone purchasing a ticket to this movie expects him to be. Jackson, being the kind of indestructible smartass as well as the more senior member of the duo, has the upper hand in the relationship and thus lands more of the laughs due to little more than him finding a handful of different ways to emphasize the words we've all come to love to hear the man say. Jackson also gets some solid scenes with Hayek who plays somewhat against type in the film as Kincaid's equally potty-mouthed wife who is sitting in prison with a poor excuse of a cellmate that she tortures despite the fact we're to believe she is innocent of whatever crimes she has been charged with. And while it is fun to see both Hayek and Jackson let themselves go it is a pity Reynolds wasn't given better material to work with based on the traits imposed on him. Also, criminally wasted here is Oldman who, as the true villain of the piece, is barely utilized and asked to do little more than put on a fake Russian accent and be as ruthless as one can imagine for a few scenes so that we have a third act conflict our two leads can agree needs to be finished in the same fashion. If you've seen a movie, any movie really, in the last few decades or so you'll know where “The Hitman's Bodyguard” is headed, but this is mildly disappointing due only to the fact it seems O'Connor began with the intent of using a tried and true template to say something interesting about perspective and how a hero to some might not be a hero to all, but rather than thinking too hard about how to explore those more complex ideas in an action flick he decided to instead take the easy way out and adhere to what has come before.
“The Hitman's Bodyguard” could be equated to semi-flavorful junk food that revels in its abundance of f-bombs and bloody, bloody violence. The movie also looks terrible as most of it seems to have been shot on a green screen where the lighting is blown out in hopes of hiding any discretions between the actors and the background. This is not without exception as there are two bonkers action scenes near the end of the film including a boat chase and a single shot hand-to-hand combat scene that would have worked to the films advantage were it to explore those previously mentioned themes, but again-the movie takes the easy way out. Of course, it's not totally the easy way because, as stated, the movie tries to have it both ways-dare I even say three ways, but it doesn't exceed in any facet. The movie wants to be this ballistic action film while on the other hand it has ties to being a dark comedy and while it certainly goes to some dark places it is never funny enough to make us feel comfortable to laugh at the situations it presents. Also, it's just not that funny. There are a few inspired moments courtesy of the chemistry between Reynolds and Jackson but mostly this is an excuse for Lionsgate to show off how many music rights they can put it in one film and how they can make all that money back plus some with a generic actioner in the middle of August that stars Deadpool. “The Hitman's Bodyguard” is one of those movies where you're happy people were paid and got jobs on a film of such scale, but at the same time wish the studio might have spent the money on something a little more worthwhile; a little more substantial or at the very least a little more entertaining. Add to the dark comedy/bloody action thriller aspects the fact the film tries to also throw in a little genuine heart, but instead of offering a way in which this weird hybrid might work this too only plays as false as we are never genuinely made to care about any of these characters. The worst part of trying to cram so much into a rather flat presentation is that it feels like it overstays its welcome. There is literally no need for the movie to feature the final action sequence it does because all it does is undo the momentum the previously, well-executed action scene provided. Hughes can't seem but to take advantage of his top notch cast and egregious green screen for a few more minutes though, as he allows Jackson to toss out a few more expletives as well as deal a death wish that I still can't tell whether it was meant to be as intentionally cheesy-looking as it did or not. It's evident from about the time Jackson shows up that this is not going to be a quality cinematic experience, but rather one that we'll soon forget if not because there aren't glimpses of the movie trying to do something with its fun premise, but because it is largely executed so poorly.
by Philip Price
It's not what “A Ghost Story” is saying, but how it says it. Like chimes gently rustling in the wind or chills slowly creeping up your arms “A Ghost Story” somehow manages to give a sense of being so distant you're not one hundred percent sure what is causing the noise or the feeling, but at the same time it feels so deeply personal and so intimately cutting that deep down in your soul you know what it is. You know it's the wind, but you imagine something more ethereal. You know it's the melody of the song you're listening to, but you imagine it's because the singer is speaking directly to you; into your ear. It's difficult to describe past these dumbfounded attempts at articulating something meaningful just how much “A Ghost Story” hits you-that is, if it hits you. While it's difficult to describe all the emotions and thoughts this latest film from David Lowery (“Ain't Them Bodies Saints”) left me with I realize it will be just as difficult for some people to understand what the movie is, what it's trying to do, or what the big deal is at all. And in many regards, this is understandable. This is a very quiet film-a film where people don't communicate and we, the audience, must discern what is happening and what is being felt from that non-verbal communication. We must allow Lowery and his 4:3 aspect ratio images to wash over us in a way that requires a fair amount of patience. If patient, the film seemingly speaks to you. If not, there is no need to waste your time on it. For me though, “A Ghost Story” worked in stages in that at first, I was curious; never knowing where the story might lead or what might happen to the characters we see come in and out of the picture. Then, once the structure began to take shape, it became about the ideas-the themes of subjective spirituality, the concept of time and how it's the one thing we can't get more of no matter how rich we are, or the pain of dealing with loss and death and the inevitable nothingness everyone's future is likely to be, but that we hope and pray it's not. It's bleak. It's very bleak and it's very sad in how it captures small truths about life and the relationships we form while we're here. It's a film I find difficult to comprehend fully and thus is likely the reason it continues to resonate with me even days after seeing it and having watched several other films since. I keep returning to images, to sounds, and to the thoughts it instigated in my brain. It's a movie not for everyone, but if you find it's for you it's something special.
Lowery’s film opens with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s short story A Haunted House that, very much like Lowery’s film itself, is both easy and difficult to summarize. While one could simply describe “A Ghost Story” as that of the story of Casey Affleck’s unnamed character passing away during a relationship and his search in the after-life to come to some comprehension of the meaning of his previous existence it could also easily be described as so much more than that. Yes, we see Affleck and Rooney Mara co-exist as a couple for a short time before Affleck’s unexpected death and there are implications of arguments and issues, but nothing major that might set them on different paths the way his death so abruptly does. And while the scenes in which Lowery depicts the grief of Mara’s character and the achingly sad ways in which she copes (or doesn’t) it is when she ultimately goes against what Affleck’s character wished for them after his death that the movie does something even more interesting and frankly unexpected. While films certainly shouldn’t be judged or held against any personal expectation it is almost always a strange sensation when a film goes against such expectations in a way that improves upon those initial presumptions held by the viewer. This is what “A Ghost Story” so expertly does once it completes the arc one expects the entire movie to encapsulate based on the marketing. Time is very clearly a big theme here in that time is our most valued possession on this earth and that despite trying to find things to fill it, loves to make it more meaningful, and art to try and understand it-this concept of time, this structured thing that was never meant to be understood remains elusive. It comes to present this cyclical idea of time through its structure with only a single, heavy-handed scene on dialogue to reinforce such ideas, but beyond this preachy point it seems most audience members, if on board with the movie by that point anyway, will have caught what Lowery is laying down and are already willing to go along with his approach. Lowery’s script comforts us with the idea there might be finite points when trying to comprehend or organize the universe and how it deals in dispersing this heavy yet intangible presence, but what that screenplay does most effectively with time is give the audience a fair amount of it in between certain actions being taken that allow us to contemplate and consider what the film is saying as well as to fill in the gaps with our own personal experiences which, by default, makes the film feel that much more personal. And it’s not that “A Ghost Story” is completely meditative as there are things happening and we remain intrigued and invested because there truly is no telling where Lowery’s narrative could potentially go because it could seemingly go anywhere.
What is most endearing about “A Ghost Story” though is clear from very early on as the writer/director introduces us to this setting, this place that, coincidentally, almost feels trapped in time while Daniel Hart’s haunting score plays like a theme to a much bigger, more cataclysmic film-the juxtaposition of the serene images and large ideas being implemented early. In one of the first scenes of the film we see Mara’s character pulling a piece of furniture to the end of the driveway so that they might get rid of it; to notify a passer-by they are more than welcome to it if so desired. It is everything about this single shot be it the house itself, the flat and scruffy yard, down to the small detail most likely won’t take note of in that Mara’s character hasn’t fully put her shoes on, but rather has slipped her feet as much into them as she could while walking out the front door that grabs you. Granted, this comes with the caveat of wanting to be taken by the film as there is a need to look willingly for things all might not see to make a piece of “A Ghost Story” your own. There is an authenticity to everything this picture is painting, especially if you’re familiar with such terrain and the habits formed out of it. This continues as we’re welcomed inside the house and into the relationship of Affleck and Mara’s characters as he will drift in and out of conversations as if to suggest he isn’t as focused on their relationship as he maybe should be or she will give side glances where it never reveals what she’s looking at or allows her to speak so as to explain what she’s thinking, but instead the film lets us soak in these moments and decide for ourselves what might be going on internally-little truths that might bring our focus and thoughts around to moments in our own lives akin to such scenarios or circumstances. This speaks to the biggest thread that runs throughout the film as we see Mara’s character repainting the house she and Affleck shared before moving out and in before painting over a crack in the molding of a doorway she takes a small piece of paper, writes something on it, and places inside the wall of the house. It becomes the ghost at the center of this story’s objective to retrieve this note and yet it is left up to the viewer to decipher the real meaning. There is a similar moment where, soon after Affleck’s character dies that Mara’s character returns to the home they shared together and does something as small as throw a few pieces of mail away, but in doing so notices something in the trash. What she sees could be any number of things that remind her of this man who has suddenly left her life when not a week ago he made up so much of it. It could be nothing more than what it is likely the last thing he ever threw away, but the point is we get to decide how emotionally wrecked her character is by what she sees and this option is very much what the film gives the viewer as well. You can choose to be wrecked by it or not-it depends on how much meaning you attach to certain things and I, personally, attached much meaning to these proceedings.
While these ideas and themes become the nutrition of what might at first seem to be a somewhat scant meal what is almost more impressive is how Lowery is able to use the limited range of tools at his disposal to convey such atmosphere and a dream-like quality to his movie; creating an aura that allows the film to speak a language all its own. Of course, most noticeable is the framing of the film and how Lowery utilizes this now uncommon aspect ratio to make it feel as if, at least on the big screen (and I’m happy I saw this on the big screen), we’re peaking in on this couple-watching something we’re not really supposed to see. That’s the level of personal we feel we attain with this couple and later the spirit of one half of this couple. I’ve heard others say this choice of aspect ratio makes it feel as if we’re watching old home movies, but the perception is the same- “A Ghost Story” feels like portions of someone's life that were filmed, but maybe never meant to be viewed or cut together in the way a traditional feature is. It's a movie that isn’t constructed with typical story beats in mind either, but rather a way of materializing scenes and theories that explain what we all tend to "sense". In having to illustrate such elusive and sometimes hard to explain emotions Lowery takes advantage of Hart's aforementioned score in one of the handful of ways the director allows himself to play into the tropes of a genre horror film as, initially, the score will take you off guard and leave you confused and wondering if something isn't wrong with the audio in the theater only to crescendo at this moment of pure confusion for what we'll call the protagonist despite him being anything but your conventional hero. This is to say that Lowery uses several elements to not only make the experience more enthralling, but to further emphasize the emotions that are being felt on screen. Beyond this, there are of course a few qualms with the picture that keep me from scoring the film 10s across the board, but these largely should do with some silly moments that took me out of the experience rather than providing the temporary respite or slight comic relief they are likely intended to be. There are a few sequences that feature ghost subtitles that are just a little too goofily disruptive for what the rest of the movie is trying to accomplish while the scene featuring a prognosticator spewing a monologue set to the sounds of a dollar tree pop song gave the sense Lowery wasn't completely sure his audience would catch his drift. Trust me, Lowery-we did. I didn't need ghost convos or speculative explanations to make me feel better about the deeply sad ideas your movie explores. Strangely enough, I was comforted by the conclusions you seemed to draw in the meditative parts of your film that, while heartbreaking in many ways, gave me the chills...but, you know, the good kind.
by Philip Price
If you thought the sound design in “Dunkirk” was crazy effective wait until you get a load of Kathryn Bigelow's “Detroit.” That isn't to say one is more effective than the other, but both utilize their environments and the sounds that resonate most within those environments to help push the visceral experience of both films to the next level. A level that indeed truly transcends the space and time of where one might be viewing the film and places you among the riots of the summer of 1967 where fear, uncertainty, and chaos ran rampant. I open with such a statement not to emphasize the technical aspects over everything else in a film as important and timely as “Detroit” to draw attention away from the tough and difficult subject matter at hand, but more to begin a dialogue about why the movie itself becomes equally effective and affecting. It is through this portal of sound, of genuine gunshot smatterings that ring out at any given point in the movie and make you feel not only as if you’re in the room with these characters, but are then also inherently placed in the headspace of someone such as Larry Reed (portrayed by newcomer Algee Smith), a singer and aspiring musician who just so happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is interesting, seeing how writer Mark Boal’s (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) screenplay brings several strands of characters, historical situations, and themes together into a single, encapsulating experience, but while we don’t meet Larry Reed until just prior to the events that the film dedicates its biggest chunk of time to it is his arc that we become most enamored with in many ways due largely to the fact he faces a wider variety of obstacles in terms of difficult choices as well as attempting to comprehend a life that seemingly has everything he ever hoped for stripped away in the matter of a handful of hours. That also said, “Detroit” is not about a single character, but more it is about how far away we still are from things being easy even if it would seem we’ve overcome so much in the fifty years since these infamous riots. As a piece of entertainment, Bigelow’s film isn’t something to be recommended for the experience which it entails, but rather because it is a heavy experience that needs to be known about and acknowledged. “Detroit” is about acknowledgment and about asking not why this happened in the past-we know why it happened-but rather if we’re doing today what we need to be doing to prevent as much from happening again. “Detroit” is a reminder we’re not doing as well as we should be in case you couldn’t tell already.
Beginning on Sunday, July 23, 1967 Bigelow and Boal first demonstrate the event that tipped the black community of Detroit from that of being non-violent to that of fully endorsing the violence that was boiling beneath them when police raided a night club that was operating without a liquor license. This was a common practice currently; making it difficult for black business owners to attain such licenses so raids such as this one could be more frequent and the film implies this is something of a common occurrence-that there is reason as much became the tipping point. It was on this night that several African Americans were taken into custody and civil unrest became the response to constantly being picked on. There had naturally been years of activism prior to the riots in 1967 as this was the decade of the civil rights movement and while Bigelow and Boal's film doesn't touch on as much in specifics the film’s opening exposition is emblazoned upon the images akin to the works of great 20th century artist Jacob Lawrence. This portrayal, in many ways, brings the audience up to date on where the civil rights movement was in the summer of 1967 and how, at least in Detroit, there was no more room for patience-the opening grenade of a scene displaying not the seeds of an uprising, but the sprouting of as much. The time had come. There had been enough. This was the breaking point. In what would go on for five days 43 people would die, 1,189 would be injured, and 7,231 would be arrested. With “Detroit” though, Bigelow and Boal focus on a single event in order to paint the most vivid picture of evil and pure vitriol one could likely paint as they document the rampant racism on display in certain parts of the Detroit police force and other authoritative units at this point in history-the point of it all being to show how quickly a single person's life can change, how much their existence can be altered, and how no other human being should have the right to have this type of power or authority over another's future. Introducing a plethora of characters from that of different backgrounds and circumstances we get to know Smith's Larry and his younger counterpart Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), the two young white girls they attempt to court once arriving at the Algiers, Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever), the girls' good friend Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell) and some of his posse that includes Aubrey Pollard (Nathan Davis Jr.), as well as a retired vet known as Greene (Anthony Mackie). It is when Detroit police, state police, and the National Guard descend upon the Algiers that things take a turn for the even worse-the likes of city officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O'Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor) essentially torturing these victims for the sake of their own amusement with only a thinly veiled justification holding their interrogation together.
The thing with Bigelow's film is that once it begins, it doesn't stop. It is relentless in its abrasiveness, but rightfully so. Only giving respite from the horrors we see unfold and the tension we hold in our kneecaps for a clear majority of the experience when the film enters its third act and becomes something of a courtroom drama to provide a kind of contextualization to the events that have preceded it. The standoff in the Algiers is the centerpiece of the film though, and the tension it holds for as long as it holds it is unreal. Bigelow is unflinching in her depiction of the violence that occurs between the three police officers the story homes in on, but this is all in service of an idea that Boal seems to be chasing and attempting to materialize from the moment Smith's Larry Reed is introduced as a somewhat cocky, but undeniably passionate performer whose only dream is to be able to get on stage and showcase his groups talent in front of Motown producers. This dream is thwarted when the audience is asked to disperse due to the rioting outside making its way to the front steps of the theater. As a quarter of the group The Dramatics, Larry as well as Fred become separated from the rest of their group and decide to flee to the Algiers until the fighting blows over. It is in this centerpiece of the movie where Larry and Fred become the central focus of a corrupt police investigation that Larry and the others alongside him have their humanity stripped away in a fashion where none of them will ever be the same, but kind of most notably that Larry will never again be that eager young man who only wants to be on stage to fulfill his own ambitions no matter the cost. This incident in which we see Poulter's despicable Krauss physically and mentally torture and exhaust Larry, Fred, Julie, Karen, Carl, Aubrey, and Greene among others is made to repulse; it is made to paint a picture of the power trip entitled protectors can take on and instead become the predators of those who should be relying on them for the exact opposite. Bigelow's camera never stopping long enough to give a sense of calm, but more the arrogance of the officers so unbelievable and the submission of the victims so infuriating you want to explode sitting in your comfy theater chair-the visceral quality the movie expels making it feel like anything but. As “Detroit” explodes with conflict, tension, and anger in every scene, the pulse of the film beating as consistently and as rhythmically as James Newton Howard's score we are unflinchingly wrapped up in the harrowing events that are taking place in front of us. What makes “Detroit” so special is that this is not only a film about police brutality or about depicting violence against black men for the sake of exploitation or a blunt reminder of why movies like this are necessary if not enjoyable, but “Detroit” is also a film that very skillfully layers in the unseen and unmentioned complexities of each of the characters involved-every scenario bringing a new coat to the table and introducing other perspectives we might not have previously considered. In this regard, “Detroit” is a masterwork in conveying genuine emotion and evaluations of our existence through the visual medium, but as a statement on where we've been, where we are, and where we're going it feels like a piece that should be as awe-inspiring for its technical approach as it is the emotions it invokes.
In deciding what and who to focus on Bigelow and Boal paint as broad a picture being as precise as they can and this works in their favor when the objective is seemingly to evoke an emotional response from those viewing the film. That the film does evoke a response at all be it one of sadness, anger, or disappointment says much for the construction of the two and half hour epic and the techniques utilized to bring such disturbing events and individual moments to the screen, but the effectiveness of the final product no doubt owes just as much to the performances and the actors fulfilling these undoubtedly difficult tasks as it does the methods in which they are captured. To summarize, “Detroit” is something of a perfect storm of craft and method. Smith stealing the show as his character of Larry Reed comes to take on the most stunning arc in terms of revelatory moments in the wake of his experiences. In both Boal’s decision to show the energy of the young man Larry was prior to the events at the Algiers, to showing his temperament and actions during, and then of course to the devastating repercussions that experience leave on the life he never planned on having, but ended up living because of that single, fateful night both the screenwriter and Smith deliver a portrait of how these larger, societal events came down to affecting a single soul while simultaneously including those necessary bigger picture elements. Poulter, who most will recognize for his comedic turn in We’re the Millers, pulls off a terrifying and genuinely demented performance as he taps into a frame of mind that seems to truly believe that the actions he is taking are for the betterment of the black community-that this riot is the result of the police not doing their jobs as well as they should have. It’s as if Poulter’s Krauss believes there are good, wholesome, well-intentioned black people out there, but that none of them live in Detroit for as soon as he sees a looter he is running after them not hesitating to shoot them in the back. The worst type of villains is those who believe their actions are justifiable and Krauss, who sways the overly impressionable Demens and impresses Flynn enough to embrace his own racist tendencies, believes whole-heartily that what he is doing will for one reason or another benefit the city and protect the people who deserve to be protected. This, of course, is from the perspective of a guy who makes negative assumptions about every single black person he comes in contact with, even that of Dismukes (John Boyega), a security officer that stumbles upon the scene at the Algiers and is put in the unfortunate situation of having to try and bring a balance to the situation and the measures Krauss is taking to try and elicit a confession out of those he has in custody.
Krauss was no doubt a man born into a line of thought that was literally black and white and that perception has failed to adapt despite times changing and his mind supposedly evolving. Boal attempts to give even Krauss, the undeniable antagonist of the piece, added layers of context to possibly understand him better, but this still leads back to the fact he is, by all accounts, a racist who is ignorant for being just that. As for Boyega’s Dismukes this is a man who we see caught in the crossfire and while the marketing might have played up Boyega’s involvement he is largely a supporting player whose role is utilized to comment on the unnecessary line black people in positions of authority had to walk during that time. That said, Dismukes is based on a real person and the events chronicled in the film are seemingly true to life in that there is of course little justice to be had from a system that is largely flawed, but has become too big to turn back on now. If there was any thought by remorseful white people in the audience, such as myself, that there might be some redemption in the idea cops like Krauss were more an exception than the rule the third act of the film is here to clarify that no, the problem was and still is much bigger than a few bad apples. Change is always inevitable it’s just a question of how and when the film reminds us in its opening scroll and while “Detroit” may not be as tightly scripted as Boal’s previous effort or as insightful as the writer and director’s Best Picture-winner this is a film more searing and arguably more devastating than either “Zero Dark Thirty” or “The Hurt Locker” as in those films there was at least understandable cause for the violence and anger. In “Detroit” we see people allowing and inflicting harm on those doing no harm and it’s difficult to comprehend that we live in a world where what this could happen never mind the fact it’s still happening today.
by Philip Price
It seems like there have been rumblings of a Dark Tower adaptation for as long as my memory will allow me to recall, but never did it seem as if a feature film version of the material would make its way to the big screen. Well, here we are, the summer movie season of 2017 winding down and the feature film version of what is said to be Stephen King's magnum opus of sorts, his most expansive series to date which now consists of eight novels, 4,250 pages, and introduces concepts and characters from King's many other works that come into play as the series progresses has arrived. The first volume in the The Dark Tower series, subtitled The Gunslinger, was published in 1982 and comprised itself of five short stories that had been published between 1978 and 1981 to which those stories have now been condensed down into a 95-minute, PG-13 would-be blockbuster that never takes off in the way it would seem it was always destined to. Rather, director Nikolaj Arcel's tight, but exposition-heavy film suggests there is much mythology left to be explored, but for one reason or another it was decided the Cliff Notes version was the best way to go out of the gate to no doubt make the movie on the cheap and hopefully as accessible for the uninitiated as it would be pleasing to the fans who've been waiting on it for twenty-five years. Sure, the film makes sense in the way that point A leads to point B which inevitably leads to a CGI heavy point C, but never do we feel compelled by anything that's going on, invested in any of the characters taking part, nor-as one of those uninitiated members in the audience-do we care to see the series continue which one might think would have been the key to Sony finally ponying up and making a ‘Dark Tower’ movie in a current world of shared cinematic universes. Truthfully though, it kind of fails to emphasize this factor at all. In many ways, one wants to commend the studio for telling a more contained story rather than baiting viewers with tease after tease so that they must come back for a sequel to see what they really wanted to see the first time around, but at the same time fans also want to see what they imagined while reading the source material come to life in a good movie and whether “The Dark Tower” is that is what's up for debate. “The Dark Tower” is not necessarily a bad movie, but it's not very good either. It's very much a middle of the road affair; not bad enough to hate, but not good enough to remember. Let's put it this way: the best thing you can say about “The Dark Tower” is that it's competent and the worst thing you can say is that it's uninspired.
The premise is interesting enough despite the movie itself feeling rather generic. We are introduced to the kid, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who is and always will be the smartest person in the room and just so happens to be having these vivid dreams of a man dressed in all black (Matthew McConaughey) who is parading around a futuristic dystopia collecting kids to try and use their minds to make the titular tower fall (that's some of that mythology we're told about up front, but is never elaborated on). This tower exists at the center of what is referred to as "mid-world" and apparently holds the universe together restricting whatever monsters and evil is outside the universe from coming into any of these existing worlds Also in Jake's dreams is a man dressed in a trench coat who carries a revolver and is able, for one reason or another (we don't know, we're never told), to resist the "magics" of the Man in Black. This man who we come to know as Roland (Idris Elba) was once a part of what seems to have been an elite and esteemed group of gunslingers that protected these many worlds from evils such as McConaughey's gleefully cheesy Man in Black. The crux of this whole deal though (or at least the first half hour) is the fact Jake believes these dreams to be real while his terrible mom, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), and the even worse step-father she chose for her son in Lon (Nicholas Pauling) after his firefighter father Elmer (Karl Thaning) died in action think Jake is crazy. Laurie and Lon (these names! Elmer!) are sending Jake to a psychiatrist (José Zúñiga) who naturally believes these dreams and the distress they cause to stem from the loss of his father, but Jake knows he's not crazy and is intent on finding out what these dreams mean and where they might lead him. After locating a hidden portal in Brooklyn (it would have been really cool if they'd set this movie in 1977 New York) Jake travels to mid-world where he meets Roland, gets a ton of that aforementioned exposition dumped on him because the movie hardly has time to show us anything, as well as of course beginning to pull back the layers of who Roland is, where he came from (there's a quick sequence featuring Dennis Haysbert as his father), and then eventually onto how Roland's going to help Jake track down the Man in Black and stop him from destroying the tower and subsequently, our world.
In hindsight it seems apparent that if Sony really wanted “The Dark Tower” universe to work they would have poured in enough money to adapt four or five of the books into a trilogy or so of films that were all filmed simultaneously a la “The Lord of the Rings.” In fact, had Sony treated “The Dark Tower” property the same way New Line, WingNut, and The Saul Zaentz Company had treated J.R.R. Tolkien's holy grail of high fantasy adventures we might be looking at an entirely different situation. This goes as far as not pitching the film as a summer blockbuster, but a holiday event as well as hiring a director with more vision who might have brought something unique to what is undoubtedly a unique world as one can see the deep and fascinating aspects peering around the corners of what Arcel presents as a rather flat and monotone world. There are of course scenes here and there that look more visually impressive than others-the scenes during the day where Roland and Jake travel through mid-world come to mind-but other portions of the film look insanely cheap in their attempt to feel bigger than this film's budget would clearly allow for. This is getting away from the point though, with the point being that neither Arcel nor the writers for hire Sony assigned to this project have singular enough minds or strong enough intuition to guide a series such as “The Dark Tower” to what it could so clearly become. Granted, I haven't read the books so this assessment is based on what I've read about the books and what those who have read the books have told me. More, it is how those who have read the books have communicated how they felt about them meaning there is a consistent theme of passion and adoration for this world and these characters that the movie lacks completely. And the more one thinks about this the more the root of the issues seem to come from the screenplay which was written by a quartet of writers led by Akiva Goldsman (a frequent Ron Howard collaborator) and favors dialogue that does little more than explain the functions of the plot rather than cultivate actual human relationships we can believe in. Now, I know the job of a critic is not to critique a film based on what we hoped it to be versus what it turned out to be, but that's the thing with “The Dark Tower” - I had no hopes for what it might or might not be nor did I even really know what the story concerned outside of what the trailers told me. There was little to no expectation walking in and while, again, I didn't walk away thinking it was an unsalvageable dumpster fire I was more disappointed that what is so clearly present in the material if you read between the lines wasn't-and likely won't, at least any time soon-be given the chance to breathe and be fully realized.
All of this taken into consideration, “The Dark Tower” is a movie that probably wouldn't be too disappointing if one were to walk in off the hot and/or muggy summer streets into the cool, air-conditioned theater on a discount matinee day were they little more was required than a beginning, middle, and end with a few facts and details sprinkled in while condensing a plot down as tightly as it possibly could be to tell only what is necessary in a brisk hour and a half. While there is something to be said for brevity there is also something to be said for appropriateness and the type of compact, adhering to fantasy tropes for the sake of safety rather than exploration storytelling that “The Dark Tower” operates on just isn't a suitable set of circumstances for such economical movie-making. Like I said though, this isn't all bad and when the movie finally gets to its third act where Roland joins Jake in New York City there is a spike in the fun element as Elba does well to transition his up until that point stoic gunslinger into a still serious, but comical subject of a few fish out of water jokes. While this type of situational humor isn't fresh-hell, even the situation itself is something we've seen countless times before-these laughs are still worth noting because it's the first time the film garners any kind of reaction whatsoever. On top of this, as Jake and Roland's adventures in New York continue they come across a devastating revelation that is almost tangible in its brutality and again-makes you feel something as it evokes something akin to an emotional response. It's too bad these moments are too few and far between though for one can see the camaraderie between Elba and Taylor is one that could easily evolve into a more endearing partnership we might be willing to invest in while McConaughey is having a ball being the baddie. Is he a little over the top? Sure, but so is the score from Junkie XL. Is he in line with what most of readers imagined this demonic sorcerer to be? I have no idea, but I'm guessing probably not. Still, it's evident the charismatic actor is pouring a fair amount of grease into his performance and you can see it leaking out of his pores. It's sustainable fun-especially at only ninety minutes. Ultimately, “The Dark Tower” functions to serve its purpose just well enough. It's an average movie that very obviously comes from far more interesting material than was given credit for. Zipping through such dense mythology just hoping the audience understands what is going on rather than worrying about if it is immersing that audience in this new world “The Dark Tower,” while competent, ends up feeling like a rushed hatchet job from a studio that wanted to deliver something simple and straightforward rather than the layered and complex adaptation that King's novels seem to no doubt deserve.