“Logan Lucky”

After a four-year absence from filmmaking, I’m happy to see the versatile Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, and the Ocean’s trilogy) return with Logan Lucky. It’s nice to see a lighthearted comedy after two months of dark, violent films.

Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Clyde (Adam Driver), and Mellie Logan (Riley Keough) are a trio of bumbling siblings who believe they’re cursed. Jimmy comes up with a plan to reverse their curse – rob Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. With the help of incarcerated thief Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), they put their plan in motion.

There’s a line in Logan Lucky’s second act that describes the heist as “Ocean’s 7-11.” This sums up the film in a nutshell. Soderbergh crisply shoots, edits, and directs Logan Lucky, successfully making us root for a group of ne’er-do-wells.

The Logans aren’t the brightest bulbs, but they have good intentions with the heist (mostly family-related). Jimmy keeps a check list on his fridge reminding him important rules for the job, which adds charm and even comes into play during the heist’s surprise conclusion. Tatum, Driver, and Keough all have great chemistry as the Logan siblings, playing their characters with charisma and heart.

Daniel Craig deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination as Joe Bang. He’s cool, enigmatic, and insane in this role, often showing some comedic talents. Bang’s the biggest schemer behind the heist and often provides some hilarious and shocking moments.

It’s suspected that Soderbergh wrote the script for Logan Lucky considering no records or interviews can be found with credited writer, Rebecca Blunt. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case since Soderbergh is an auteur who craves full creative control. And I say give Soderbergh the full creative control since Logan Lucky is a fun, harmless time at the movies.

Grade: A

Top 5 Best Stephen King Adaptations

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Hello! So, in between The Dark Tower and IT, I thought I would share my top 5 best and worst Stephen King adaptations. The Best got the popular vote leading into The Dark Tower, so here we go!

5) Misery (1990) – Kathy Bates’s terrifying performance is enough to watch this disturbing psychological horror flick. Misery is the tale of a fangirl who takes her obsession with an author one step too far.

4) The Dead Zone (1983) – Want to watch a thriller that’s politically relevant? Look up David Cronenberg’s classic supernatural thriller The Dead Zone. It tells the tale of a psychic teacher (a restrained Christopher Walken) who realizes that the popular presidential candidate (a terrifying Martin Sheen) tends to start WWIII.

3) The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is far different from the novel and that makes it a special gem. Kubrick’s adaptation is superior to King’s work, thanks to haunting imagery and an amazing performance from Jack Nicholson.

2) The Mist (2007) – Which was better? Stephen King’s horror novella with an ambiguous ending, or Frank Darabont’s no-holds-barred adaptation that polarized audiences? I’m going with the adaptation! The Mist is an unsettling film about good versus evil and features the most twisted ending of any horror film.

1) Stand By Me (1986) – I didn’t pick a horror film or The Shawshank Redemption, so sue me! Rob Reiner directed a funny, sad, and nostalgic film about growing up. I watched Stand By Me several times growing up and was touched every time.

That’s it for my top 5 best Stephen King adaptations! What are yours? And stay tuned for reviews of The Dark Tower, IT, and my top 5 worst list coming between this weekend and early September.

“A Ghost Story”

I was relieved when I realized ten minutes into David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” that it wasn’t a remake or ripoff of the Patrick Swayze classic “Ghost.” Wait. I knew that.

I’ll keep the plot synopsis short and sweet; the film is about a ghost that spends eternity observing various residents living in one house. It commits various horror movie tropes like open doors, knock over books, and tamper with lights. But why is it behaving this way? What is the ghost’s purpose?

“A Ghost Story” is an unforgettable cinematic experience. Lowery writes, directs, and produces the film with an extraordinary vision. He explores themes such as life, death, time, love, and attachment with great depth. His narrative and aesthetic choices make him an auteur to watch out for.

The ghost is a person wearing a bed sheet. This is an odd choice that risks being silly, but the eyeholes on the sheet make it expressive. Through its eyes, I can tell the ghost was sad, angry, and curious throughout its journey. The film is also shot on a small ratio of 1:33:1; Lowery confirmed he did this to make the viewer trapped in time. This results in some visceral and hunting moments.

Lowery also takes advantage of the small frame and long takes to draw out specific moments, both heartwarming and tragic. In one standout scene, we’re forced to watch a grieving M (Rooney Mara) stress eat an entire pie in a 5-minute unbroken shot until he vomits. This is one of many moments that is an emotional roller coaster as I felt curious, sad, and then finally nauseous.

The best part of “A Ghost Story” is it debunks the haunted house mythology. Lowery addresses that just because a spirit wreaks havoc in a house, it’s not trying to possess or terrorize a family. It can be angry, confused, and human. I can’t recommend “A Ghost Story” enough.

Grade: A+

“Atomic Blonde”

If any movie hasn’t already claimed action sequence of the year, I think David Leitch’s (“John Wick,” the upcoming “Deadpool” sequel) spy thriller “Atomic Blonde” will. A six-minute-long shot featuring a barbaric fist fight, shootout, and car chase has to be worthy, right?

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is called to Berlin to obtain a mysterious list. Like most spy movies, this list contains information on undercover agents. She has a buddy cop dynamic with a debauched rock star-like operative, David Percival (James McAvoy) and the two race against time to find the list.

“Atomic Blonde” excels in genre splicing. It has the wide frames, slow pace, and convoluted narrative you’d find in a spy thriller, as well as the neon visuals, brutal violence, and cynical anti-hero found in Neo-Noir. Leitch is somewhat unrestrained in his direction, but “Atomic Blonde” is a blast regardless.

The neon visuals suit the film well due to its setting. “Atomic Blonde” takes place near the end of the Cold War during the collapse of the Berlin Wall, so there’s a strong 80’s aesthetic. Each song is used appropriately (New Order’s “Blue Monday” and George Michael’s “Father Figure”) and we get a brief history lesson on East Berlin. We don’t often see Berlin Wall-related movies, so it’s a refreshing change of setting.

Theron and McAvoy  both deliver fun-yet-committed performances. Between Theron’s stuntwork, dialect, English accent, and expressive moments of silence, she’s the perfect action heroine. Between McAvoy’s charisma, line delivery, and sense of humor, he steals nearly every scene from Theron.

I mentioned “Atomic Blonde” is convoluted and I’m not kidding. By the end, my friend and I were both struggling to figure out the twist ending. Does a spy movie with a cliched list plot need to be this difficult? As I’ve said in past reviews, a confusing ending is enough to warrant a sequel. “Atomic Blonde” is based on a comic book, so it’s bound to happen.

Grade: B

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

I’m pretty sure after watching Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” that Dane DeHaan is the 2010’s Keanu Reeves. But no one can replace Keanu Reeves!

Set in the distant future, the International Space Station has evolved into an extraordinary intergalactic city called Alpha. It’s home to millions of species and called the city of a thousand planets. When secret agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) are called to Alpha, they uncover a secret that puts Alpha and a mysterious species in grave danger.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the closest we’ll get to a “Fifth Element” sequel since both are quirky sci-fi adventures. Besson is once again kinetic, imaginative, and ambitious; unfortunately, “Thousand Planets” is more on par with the Wachowskis’ 2015 failure, “Jupiter Ascending.”

For a film about space-and-time-traveling agents that encounter various alien species and criminals, Besson’s content focusing on Valerian and Laureline’s awkward romance. It’s not cute, charming, or funny; it’s plain irritating. We spend more time watching Valerian propose to Laureline than we do learning about their agency or their characters.

DeHaan and Delevinge are both miscast in their respective roles. DeHaan spends the movie practicing his best Keanu Reeves impression while Delevinge delivers every line with little-to-no enthusiasm. Their chemistry is nonexistent. Furthermore, the movie is based on a comic called “Valerian and Laureline.” Why is it Laureline is hardly involved in the action and is constantly a damsel-in-distress?

Besson has some innovative sequences, including one that blends “TRON”-style visuals into a 1st-person POV shootout. “Valerian” is a dumb practice of style-over-substance with meta references to Besson’s previous films (keep your ear open for a “Taken” reference). I admire Besson’s ambition, but he should focus on storytelling that isn’t overstuffed with sexism and exposition.

Grade: D+

“Dunkirk”

I’m in the minority with my reaction to Christopher Nolan’s ambitious WWII film, “Dunkirk.” I find myself asking constantly, “Is it Nolan’s masterpiece?”

“Dunkirk” takes place over a week-long period and focuses on the evacuation of the titular beach. In one segment, we have infantry soldiers stranded on the beach (Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles). On the sea, we have a noble civilian sailor Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) leading his son and another boy to rescue soldiers. Finally, from the air, we have an Allied pilot Ferrier (Tom Hardy) attempting to take out Nazi bombers while low on fuel.

Nolan’s no stranger to ambition and is highly ambitious in “Dunkirk.” With a Pg-13-rated, 106-minute-long war film that contains no gore and little dialogue, “Dunkirk” is mildly admirable. However, Nolan’s direction leads the film to some rather underwhelming moments.

The strongest segment of “Dunkirk” is Mr. Dawson’s story. Rylance delivers a terrific performance as a headstrong sailor that isn’t afraid of battle. He wants to save as many soldiers possible since men his age are starting war. Cillian Murphy is also great in this segment as an unnamed soldier who shows signs of PTSD. This sequence hauntingly demonstrates the psychological horrors and nobility in war.

The land sequences with Whitehead and Styles’s characters feature some stunning imagery and harrowing sequences. In one sequence where they nearly drown on a sinking ship, I white-knuckled the arm rests of my chair. The two characters find themselves in several brutal scenarios and have to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, I got bored after a while due to lack of character development. Neither character has any background or arc, so it’s hard to remain invested.

Finally, the air sequences were some of the most amazing air sequences put on film. Nolan uses actual planes instead of CG and each aerial shot is mesmerizing. This segment’s narrative is repetitive since Hardy spends most of it silently noting his fuel capacity. He also spends most of his time behind a mask. Why is he always playing masked characters?

I can see “Dunkirk” being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director among other Oscars. It’s an Oscar-bait movie and I know critics will endorse “Dunkirk” for the awards. I get it, but unlike the critics, I don’t consider “Dunkirk” to be Nolan’s masterpiece.

Grade: B

“Wish Upon”

I’m excited writing this review! Why? Because “Wish Upon” might be the best bad movie since “The Room.”

Clare (Joey King) is an unpopular high school girl with a dumpster-diving father (Ryan Phillippe) and two quirky friends June and Meredith (Shannon Purser and Sydney Park). When Clare inherits a mysterious Ancient Chinese wish box, she wishes for popularity, money, a new boyfriend, and her enemy to rot. The wishes come true, but why hasn’t Clare connected the deaths of her dog and family members to these granted wishes?

HUGE SPOILER ALERT!!!

“Wish Upon” is marketed as a serious horror movie, but there isn’t a single scary or tense moment. It’s unintentionally funny, stupid, and appears unfinished. There are blurry aerial shots misplaced throughout the movie, a random exposition scene featuring Jerry O’Connell, and obvious plot holes that left me asking myself, “Was this the final cut?”

The plot holes are persistent throughout. If Clare can’t simply open the box without making a wish, then how is one of her friends able to open it later to translate the message? When Clare wishes to be popular, why are her only two friends not affected by this wish?

We also have some of the most spoiled and insane teenagers in film history. It’s not offensive, but hilarious because there’s no way a kid would snap a photo of their friend’s rotting face and post it on Instagram. There’s no way that kids would constantly take advantage of a friend’s newfound wealth and get away with it. This is a sequence that acts as part Instagram porn, part MTV reality show as we watch friends buy overly priced purses and snap photos of their cupcakes.

After five selfish wishes and seeing the consequences, Clare still thinks it’s a good idea to keep the box and make more wishes. She still thinks her dad being less of an embarrassment is worth the loss of her aunt and love interest’s cousin. I found myself wondering what Clare’s SAT score was.

There’s also a subplot where Clare’s boyfriend becomes a psycho stalker thanks to a backfired wish. It’s meant to be disturbing, but is hilarious thanks to cheesy lines like, “You’re so beautiful when you’re asleep.” This subplot lasts for three minutes and isn’t mentioned again for the rest of the movie.

I couldn’t get over how amazingly bad “Wish Upon” is. Yes, I hated it, but I’m still obligated to buy it for my occasional bad horror movie nights.

Grade: F