“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+

“War for the Planet of the Apes”

It’s time the Academy takes motion-capture work seriously because Andy Serkis is incredible in “War for the Planet of the Apes.” His performance throughout the three recent “Apes” films is an expressive and dynamic piece of work.

Two years after Caesar (Serkis) defeated Koba (Toby Kebbel) and prepared for war against humans, Caesar’s battling The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a genocidal military leader hellbent on exterminating apes. Their recent battle results in significant losses for Caesar, leading him on a quest for vengeance. However, his loyal followers Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary) grow concerned as Caesar grows increasingly merciless.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is an epic, brutal, and amazing installment of the franchise. Between the Vietnam War-inspired opening battle, Western-style cinematography, and some thought-provoking moments about evolution and devolution, this is a rare brainy blockbuster.

If you haven’t seen “Rise” or “Dawn,” you should definitely watch those before “War.” This is a trilogy that follows the evolution of a complex protagonist. Caesar has come a long way from a naive being that can only communicate in sign language. He can now communicate in full sentences and is aware of the world’s harsh realities. The humans on the other hand, are another story.

The Colonel is a mad leader that we’ve seen before in film and in history. Think a mixture of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”) and Hitler. Harrelson’s performance is insane-yet-restrained, which is enough to overcome the character’s cliches. The final showdown between he and Caesar is an unconventional one that suits both characters.

The underrated Steve Zahn also has a great supporting performance as Bad Ape, a cowardly ape drifter who aids Caesar. He adds much-needed humor to the film without imposing on its dark tone. The film occasionally focuses on Bad Ape being an unlikely hero and Maurice fathering a young mute orphan, which add heart to the film.

As much as I loved “War,” I was disappointed in its black-and-white approach on good and evil. In “Dawn,” we had good apes and humans, and bad apes and humans. This made “Dawn” morally complex since all characters were relatable. “War” goes back to the “Rise” roots with its good apes and bad humans mentality, which made the characters’ arcs simple.

Director Matt Reeves proved himself to be a visionary filmmaker with “Dawn” and “War,” showing he can make a spectacle with brains. Let’s see how he does with his Batman movies.

Grade: A-

“It Comes at Night”

The apocalyptic horror genre is one of my favorites because it raises moral questions about survival. How far will you go to survive? Can you trust anyone? Can you live with killing someone? “It Comes at Night” asks these questions and the answer from watching this is no. “It Comes at Night” is the most haunting film I’ve seen this year.

An unknown plague has wiped out most of civilization. A family of three lives in a secluded mansion in the woods and consists of father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They offer shelter to a mysterious man named Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Kim (Riley Keough) after a brief violent confrontation.

Rules are established, but the two most important ones are don’t go out at night and leave the red door locked at all times. Will someone break the rules? Can Paul trust Will? Why does Travis wonder the house at night?

“It Comes at Night” is an unconventional apocalyptic horror film. Yes, there are gas masks, a nasty human virus, and barbaric standoffs. But there isn’t a known source of the virus, zombies, or a soldier with a false promise. That’s where writer/director Trey Edward Shults excels is his focus on the characters and minimal setting.

The characters stay within the home or its grounds. When they’re together, they have brief conversations and little is known about them, leaving the viewer to analyze them. The ruthless Paul is a former history teacher, so he was likely civilized prior to the virus. Will had various odd jobs before the outbreak and relocated several times during, so he struggles to protect his family.

“It Comes at Night” is told primarily through Travis’s point of view. He witnesses Paul’s survival instincts and realizes he may have to take drastic measures to survive. He has a series of nightmares that risk being cliched, but are ultimately used to reflect Travis’s emotions or foreshadow what’s to come. They’re refreshingly chilling sequences.

“It Comes at Night” will likely polarize audiences since some viewers will love its artistic take on horror while others will compare it unfavorably to “The Walking Dead.” I personally am on board and can’t stop thinking about this masterful study of human nature.

Grade: A