If you can swim through the tsunami of profanities you will enjoy The Hitman’s Bodyguard – a loose remake of the1988 DeNiro vehicle Midnight Run.
LONG TAKE: Rex Reed of the New York Film Critics’ Circle hated Logan Lucky and had some very unkind words to say about it. Toe fungus was one phrase he applied, which only goes to prove Logan Lucky WORKS. Nothing against Rex Reed but it’s just that he fell for it. Surprising too as Reed was born in Texas and got his journalism degree from the same LSU that Soderburgh attended. Apparently while Soderburgh embraces his roots, Reed fails to appreciate them. Logan Lucky demonstrates the perils of underestimating someone and – going out on a limb here – might just be an autobiographical parable for Soderburgh’s professional life. For a full explanation you will have to read below in the BIG SPOILERS section.
I can’t find another example of a director who made a feature film spoof of one of his own movies. There have been a lot of spoofs – Airplane, Hot Shots, Scary Movie, Naked Gun, and pretty much anything Mel Brooks wrote. But Logan Lucky may be unique.
+ Logan Lucky is basically Beverly Hillbillies meets Ocean’s Eleven. Even the names have the same ambient rhythm to them. Ocean’s Eleven sounds backwards, as though it should be Eleven Oceans, until you realize the intent is to describe the Eleven person team of a man whose last name is Ocean. Logan Lucky is the same way, with the adjective in the back, but without any explanation, except that it is a homage to its predecessor. To be sure we get the connection, Soderburgh has a newscaster comment on the crime: “People are calling it [the heist] Ocean’s Seven-Eleven”.
Truth be told the Clampett family in the Beverly Hillbillies were often underestimated too. Uncle Jedd had a lot of home spun wisdom which often benefitted the swells in their neighborhood. And the example the Clampetts set of morality, self sufficiency, kindness and generosity was mostly unappreciated but was the backbone of why this show, for all its goofiness, was so popular. They may have been hicks but they had more sense and were happier than all of their neighbors put together.
At first I was not sure if I should be offended by the bald faced home spun backwoods characters Soderburgh conjures. But as time goes on you realize he has a lot more respect for West Virginaians than it might appear. It’s almost as if he is saying it isn’t just the college educated affluent upper class snobs who can plan and execute a clever heist. All it takes is a motive, some common sense and a flair for planning. Let’s put aside for the moment the moral question of our protagonists stealing millions. There is, you’ll find without giving too much away, an aim of poetic justice, hinted at briefly when recruiting two of the most unlikely techs you’ll ever meet, which tit for tat ending pays off at the end.
I, personally, approached the movie with great trepidation due to the casting choice of Daniel “James Bond” Craig as a red neck bank robber explosives expert. But, shockingly, my concerns were unfounded as I quickly forgot Craig’s character was anyone other than a tatooed, cocky good ol’ boy with a brilliant knack for getting his job done, and far more self-discipline than you’d give him credit. Again someone we, the audience, immediately underestimates on first sight.
BIG SPOILERS FOR BOTH LOGAN LUCKY AND OCEAN’S ELEVEN
As unlikely as it may seem I believe Logan Lucky is an autobiographic parable of Soderburgh’s professional life.
The movie starts with Jimmy (Tatum Channing) a hard working schmo amiably divorced and devoted father who runs a bulldozer in an underground construction site beneath the NASCAR race track. The opening scene neatly, with simple dialogue, proves Jimmy is intelligent and capable, a good dad and loves his home state as he chats with his little girl while fixing a car. It is obvious this is a familiar scene as she casually hands him the specific tools he needs like a well trained nurse to a surgeon. They talk about his favorite song – John Denver’s “Take me Home Country Roads”. He does a good job at work but because of a bad knee and the fear of future liability the insurance executives for the construction company insist he be let go.
Soderburgh is a Southern boy – born in Atlanta and grew up in Baton Rouge, LA – his stint in Hollywood as an editor was short lived and it wasn’t until his indie films started making money that the industry powers started paying attention. But after a while Soderburgh again left, citing lack of creative and financial control. In short, Soderburgh, much like our protagonist was misjudged, underappreciated, disrespected, underestimated and dismissed.
Jimmy acquires two of his team members under the pretext that he is planning this heist on moral grounds. Jimmy is lying, but much like Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven, Jimmy has an ulterior motive he is unwilling to share with them which, in his mind, truly is a just goal. In Ocean’s Eleven Danny’s true end game is getting Tess back by proving to her that her boyfriend, Terry Benedict, doesn’t really love her. In Logan Lucky Jimmy just wants the money he is owed from the work he would have done had the insurance company not unjustly ordered him fired. In both cases there is an ulterior motive known only to the leader.
In the case of Soderburgh’s life he has reconstructed the anchor in his Ocean’s franchise into what at first glance appears to be a parody which makes fun of both Ocean’s Eleven and Southern “hicks” but in fact does neither. As the movie progresses we come to understand that the people who are labeled as dumb and appear slow have a real genius to their methods. The apparently inane “robbery to-do list” Jimmy makes in planning his heist which includes: “s*** happens, don’t get greedy, walk away,” all come to necessary fruition. The pretty female of the bunch and Jimmy's sister, Mellie, (Kelley Keoughh) is a hairdresser but knows everything about cars and has the skills of a class A transporter. Joe Bang (Craig) (a – what else – demolition expert) appears to have the IQ of someone who has fallen on their head one too many times. But he explains how bleach and gummy bears with heat will produce the explosion they need, using an improvised chalkboard on which he draws balanced chemical equations.
The characters read like a Cohen Brothers movie. For example Clyde Logan (Adam "Kylo Ren" Driver), Jimmy’s Iraq veteran brother, is called one armed by an obnoxious patron at the bar in which he tends. In response Clyde proceeds to describe with specificity that he is one handed and partially forearmed in a dry deadpan – just before Jimmy beats the tar out of the offending customer. When Clyde sees his brother’s “robbery to-do list” he points out that he is not a criminal but that since Jimmy cooked his bacon almost burnt just the way he likes it AND it is obvious by the list that his brother is trying to exercise a certain amount of organizational skills, he will hear him out. This is pure Cohen, director brothers who also create characters often far deeper than they initially seem.
Like Ocean’s Eleven it appears as though the money has been destroyed or lost but when reviewed later from an alternate POV we find out what ACTUALLY happened. (Clyde: Are we going to trust our lives to them? Jimmy: We only tell them what they need to know.)
And finally the only ones to get hurt are those who are the “real” bad guys. In the case of Ocean’s it is Benedict, the casino owner. In Logan Lucky it is the insurance company. We find out that Jimmy returned “all” the money stolen in a truck deliberately abandoned by him. However, due to the high volume of the concession income during the race and some subterfuge on Jimmy’s part, there was an accounting opportunity for the race track owners to get a substantial amount of “lost” money from —- the insurance company. Unbeknowst to the rest of the team Jimmy squirreled a separate pile away to be hidden until the FBI agents, who he knew would inevitably be all over this case, gave up on them as suspects. What his other, less trusted teammates didn't know wouldn't hurt any of them. As he explained to Clyde he knew they were all free when the FBI no longer paid for his phone which they were tapping. And it was only after he knew they were in the clear that he distributed the shares of the hidden funds. Ultimately the one who was robbed was the insurance company who stole Jimmy’s job in the first place, starting the chain of events for this movie. And everyone who aids Jimmy in his quest gets a piece of the loot – whether they knew they were helping or no.
A TRUE Robin Hood story – not stealing from the rich to give to the poor but RETURNING money stolen from the poor by the original thief.
In the end the Southern hicks who everyone wrote off use their “ability” to be underestimated like a super power – flying so low under the radar that no one can believe they did it. And the losers are those who tried to exploit them. Soderburgh finds his last laugh in the popularity of his movies despite the lack of support from the Hollywood crowd. Like Jimmy, he is a Southern boy who plucks the prizes from the reach of the establishment swells whose view is obscured by the very nose down which they look.
Almost as if Rex Reed wanted to hand me proof that he didn’t “get” the movie because he has BECOME one of the Hollywood establishment, Reed specifically points out that he didn’t think the title Logan Lucky made sense. He never saw the deliberate grammatical connection (what looks like an adjective coming after a noun) or the literary syntax rhythm to the title of its predecessor. It’s a joke Mr. Reed doesn’t get because he has boxed himself up inside the institutional Hollywood structure.
If you like Soderburgh you’ll like this movie. If you liked Ocean’s Eleven you’ll like this movie.
But Logan Lucky is pretty good all by itself.
Have you ever seen the movie Rashomon? It is the story of a rape or seduction, murder or honorable duel, depending on from whom you hear the story. The film is told from four different points of view: a deceased Samurai – via a medium, his wife, the bandit who either seduced or raped her, and a woodcutter who viewed the entire event from afar but has no vested interest in any of the other three parties.
Detroit could have been told in this fashion. By director Katherine Bigelow’s own end credits admission there is no conclusive evidence indicating what really happened at the Algiers Hotel the night 3 men were found dead after police stormed the hotel in search of a sniper. She could have chosen a Rashomon approach. Instead she chose to film yet another hit piece against men whose job it is to risk their lives in protection of others, including hers.
In The Hurt Locker she filmed a movie whose plot relied on so many inaccuracies of military procedure, assignments and combat protocol as to be deemed openly disrespectful by military representatives.
In Detroit Bigelow proceeds from a similar unfortunate approach. Choosing a documentary style of film making that implies confidence of accuracy where there is none is deceptive and disgraceful. In addition, Ms Bigelow falls back on vulgar and ugly stereotypes of black men who spend their time drinking and whoring during a riot playing out only blocks away, who are dumb enough to shoot a starter pistol at National Guardsmen, and are overall sniveling and cowardly. And all the authority figures, from city and state police to military, regardless of race, are either borderline psychotic sadists or collaborators to abuses.
Bigelow signals contempt of her subject matter, the people involved and her audience by beginning the movie literally with a poorly drawn cartoon history of the socio-political and historic events which led up to the Detroit riots of 1967 as though she did not believe the movie goers would understand a more sophisticated approach. Names were changed, alleged actions by different people were attributed to a single person, and events were fabricated. When things are "fabricated" in something presented to us as a documentary, there is a word for that. LIE. Ms. Bigelow LIED to put forth an agenda which can do nothing other than promote racial tensions. To me THAT is bigotry. And not a half-century old bigotry but bigotry TODAY against people of both races.
And her take on the events are full of ludicrous plotholes. One telling example: Her contention in the film is that someone shot a starter pistol out of the Algiers Hotel at Guardsmen in the middle of the night at the height of the tensions during the riot. Logic dictates that either someone shot a starter pistol, in an act of criminal stupidity, out of the Algiers Hotel window or there was a sniper at the hotel. If, in fact, it was only a foolish stunt with a blank shooting pistol, why, when lined up against a wall by police and military, did the hotel partiers not say this when asked where the weapon "of any kind" was? The man, according to Ms. Bigelow, who shot a harmless starter pistol, was lying dead on the floor in the next room having charged the incoming officers (another unbelievable move by a character in the story) so there was zero point in not telling the interrogating police this. It stretches credibility beyond breaking that no one would have told the officers, espcially after a prolonged series of interrogations, but would instead subject themselves to beatings and torture. This point alone, upon which the rest of the entire movie depends, puts all of Bigelow’s conjectures into serious doubt.
The rest of the movie continues with assumption on assumptions that can not be verified but which are put forth as Gospel truths.
Tellingly, the first one-half hour or so of the movie, which portrays events which are well documented – how the riots began, who were involved, the premature termination of a singing contest – was fairly even handedly presented. But this is only a set up to create the illusion of credibility for the rest of the story where there is none. When she places her characters in an unverifiable situation her biases become conspicuous.
Further, her creation of this questionable narrative based on a 50 year old event comes on the heels of current events where police have been targets for assassination in REAL life.
Every daughter, some day, has to face the fact that her father – her hero, her protector, her guide through life, her knight in shining armor, her story teller and provider – is human. The Glass Castle is an incredibly beautiful parable of a child’s arc from hero worship through reality check to genuine appreciation of the good man and father he has been their whole life. Jeanette Walls lived this parable – albeit an extreme version – and tells about it in her autobiographical novel turned film.
Her father, Rex Walls is very intelligent, fiercely loyal and protective, devoted husband and father. Doting, creative, skilled, anxious to spend and share every moment of his life with his children. Unfortunately he is also an irresponsible alcoholic whose drinking loses him job after job, forcing his family to live a nomadic life in a series of decreasingly appropriate homes. Rex is a class tragic hero – a noble man with one serious flaw which brings down himself and everyone around him. His wife has either personality or mental issues as she blithely spends all her free time and attention painting while her children go without food for days. The four children, as a result, essentially raise each other.
The movie is seen through the eyes of the second oldest daughter, Jeannette. When we first meet her, she is a successful and wealthy journalist who finds that circumstances, and her parents decision to follow her to New York, forces reminiscences of her childhood and teenaged years to the surface. Her and her siblings’ life experiences growing up ranged from magical to tragical as Rex spun yarns of plans we know he will never fulfill but which his children believe in wholeheartedly — for a while. The tragedy emerges with the slow realization by Jeannette, his favorite child, that Rex lives his entire life as a could’ve-been. The title Glass Castle comes from the enduring myth Rex creates of building a home made of glass through which they can always see the outdoors and, most importantly, the stars at night. He talks of and draws working blueprints on and off for decades but never actually completes any significant steps towards accomplishing this goal. Sadly, Rex was gifted, trained, creative and intelligent enough to probably really build it had he been able to stop drinking. But, despite one several month period of abstinence, drinks himself towards death – the death of himself as well as his dreams.
The Glass Castle has brilliant visual as well as interpersonal metaphors. For example, the site of their planned "castle" home is, piece by piece, eventually neglected, forgotten and finally made into the family garbage dump. The image of a glass castle itself is a brilliant analogy for the preposterousness of Rex’ lifetime plans, the transparency with which Jeanette bares her honest and self aware soul and family warts and all to her audience, the concept – unspoken – of the emperor’s new clothes which are nothing more than fabrications made of spun words which a trusted child will eventually expose, and finally the fantastic dream which Rex had for his children of a magical childhood which he would never provide.
Harrelson is positively amazing in this role which could have gone wrong so many ways: too much and he would have been a jester to be ridiculed. Too little and he would have just been pathetic and contemptuous. But Harrelson at once conjures a character who is adorable, somewhat frightening, occasionally cruel, the ideal father, and a parental nightmare – all together and sometimes all in the same moment. Harrelson’s performance would have deserved an Oscar – if the Oscars were the legitimate award they once were and not the politically correct token they have become.
Brie Larson does a heartbreaking job of portraying the grown Jeanette Walls – forced to put up emotional walls (Jeanette’s last name a GIFT of verbal analogy with which she was born) and Naomi Watts is solid as the selfish self-indulgent facilitator mother who has mental and emotional issues of her own.
But serious kudos also belong to Ella Anderson who plays the young Jeanette who travels from adoring believer in all of Rex’ plans and the last to lose faith in him to the disillusioned angry young woman who unites her siblings in a contract to escape from the deteriorating reality of their parents’ lives. While there’s nothing more zealous than a convert, as MY father used to say, there’s nothing more vengeful than a betrayed devotee. And the young Ella lays the groundwork for the character of Jeannette with which Brie Larson follows through and the baton passing from Ella to Brie is a masterful and convincing accomplishment.
But for all of the depressing moments in this sometimes difficult to watch film, there is an underlying foundation of optimism and a deep abiding love between Jeanette and Rex which can not help but break through like sunlight dappling through fall colored leaves. Rex’ betrayals of her trust is the source of Jeannette’s biggest disappointments but his unconditional uncompromising love and belief in her is the wellspring of her strength. Go see The Glass Castle – a tragic love story between a father and daughter ………….. then go hug your Dad.
Popular wisdom says that origin books are almost always better than the movies based on them. While often true the reverse is more prevalent than you might think. Take Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. The movie, based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, did not wander far from the source material. Though since Dahl wrote both the book and the first draft of the screenplay that is not surprising. But the movie had an added fillip which, to me, was the most memorable moment in the story. Charlie had snuck a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink and Wonka tells Charlie because of that he won’t get any reward. But it’s a test. Despite Wonka’s cruel and angry behavior to him Charlie gives Wonka back the gobstopper souvenir instead of selling it to Wonka’s competitor. Wonka says: "So shines a good deed in a weary world," then tells Charlie he is to inherit the entire factory. It’s a beautiful moment masterfully played out between Wilder and Ostrum. But it wasn’t in the book. To me it was the crown jewel of the adventure.
Mary Poppins was a series of adventures with the title character coming and going into and out of the Banks' children's lives, as the winds changed: trips around the world, tea parties on the ceiling, learning to cook when the Banks’ cook goes on leave, the birth of other children in the Banks' household, etc – some knit into the movie, most not. But no where does it have the central theme of rescuing not the children, but ultimately the Banks’ children’s father, despite the fact, according to the movie Saving Mr. Banks, this was the intent of her stories. Apparently she was just too coy with the theme. The movie, however, makes this beautiful theme crystal clear. The hair on the back of your neck will stand up and the hardest will get teary watching a defeated Mr. Banks, knowing he is about to be fired, believing he has failed his children, stand, in the dark at the bottom of the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral where the children had wanted to buy feed for the birds. As the instrumental version of Feed the Birds swells in the background and you know there is a change of wind coming for HIM, you know you are experiencing one of the great moments of cinema. This was not nor could have been adequately portrayed in the book.
Gone With the Wind, while a classic book did not capture the imagination the way the movie did with its sweeping panoramas of Tara in her glory and stricken Confederate soldiers at the railroad station or the burning of Atlanta all against Max Steiner’s magnificent soundtrack and the incendiary chemistry between Leigh and Gable as Scarlett and Rhett played out in Technicolor.
On the other hand, there are movies like the Harry Potter series, which are based on a sequence of books so packed with rich magical ideas and creativity that even in 8 movies the filmmakers could only make a Reader’s Digest version. Short shrift was given to some characters like Nearly Headless Nick and some were left out altogether like Peeves; and some brilliant parts of the books were sadly absent from the films: Harry dressing down Lupin for virtually abandoning his wife and child; the previously misjudged Fleur Delacour declaring her continued devotion to the now scarred Bill Weasley saying "I am beautiful enough for the both of us." It was obvious the movies were a labor of love but just couldn’t do the books justice.
Then there’s Dark Tower. *weary sigh* I once was a fan of Stephen King. That was before he went on a diatribe against the pro-life movement, but that’s a story for another blog. During the height of my King fan-reading I tried to slog through the series of Dark Tower books AS they were coming out. I couldn’t get past the third of what would eventually be eight. It was an incomprehensible mess. It seemed as though King would wake up every morning and before his first cup of coffee spill, without filter, whatever thoughts came to him. Then the next day he would do the same thing, making weak efforts to tie what he’d written the previous day into the current days "work". There were lobster monsters and vampires, slow mutants and doomed theme parks, fatal rides on mining cars and homages to his other books. And in the book ROLAND, THE GUNSLINGER THOUGHTLESSLY MURDERS JAKE just to be able to continue his quest towards this Dark Man who, as time goes on, seems to not be quite as bad as the the Gunslinger himself. Then at the end of the 8th book (I read the Wikipedia synopsis recently as I didn’t want to wade through the rest of the books) King pretty much gives a middle finger to his audience, leaving the Gunslinger to start his quest all over again with no real resolution. The series reads like a challenge to see just how devoted his fans really are – like an insecure child constantly misbehaving just to be forgiven, demanding his parents prove they love him.
That’s not to say King hasn’t written anything good since then. Green Mile was a beautifully written modern parable and I’d be hard pressed to say which I liked better – book or movie. They were both well done, the former by King the latter by Frank Darabont.
The FOUR screenwriters (Akiva "A Beautiful Mind and I,Robot" Goldsman, Jeff "Fringe" Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel) who were tasked with writing the screenplay from King’s Dark Tower series must have taken a look at the books, thought – "Well, Dark Tower is a King product so we have to do SOMETHING with this because we sure can’t film THIS mess," and actually managed to create a decent narrative script.
So they took the general idea of the Dark Tower quest, the 3 main characters – Roland, Jake and Walter the Dark Man, SOME of the weirdness (animal mutants wearing people faces) and created a STORY. Fatherless Jake and his widowed then remarried mother live in a New York beset with signs of coming cataclysm – earthquakes and eerie storms. His visions of the gunslinger’s Wasteland – a world which has "moved on" – and his violent outbursts drive his desperate mother to seek help from psychiatrists who ultimately schedule him for a stay at a retreat for troubled youths. When Jake realizes the social workers who have come to take him are mutants from the Wasteland of his visions he escapes through a portal in an abandoned house possessed by a demon sent by the Dark Man….and THIS is the version of the story that makes SENSE!
The Dark Man, Walter, is played like a sinister Vegas magician by Matthew "Interstellar" McConaughey. Not his fault – just the way it’s written. McConaughey does his best to tread that fine line between over the top scene chewing bad guy and seductive Hannibal Lector-like serial killer. The result is serviceable but nothing to write home about.
The script doesn’t hang together. If the Dark Tower is the force for good, why is it DARK? The thing looks pretty darned creepy as portrayed – not some bastion of good and cohesive force. Traditionally, especially in a mythos-like fable of good and evil something this DARK would represent evil. And why is something DARK under attack from the DARK Man? The name similarities are either a product of a direct intentional relationship or sloppy writing. If the former there is a glaring inconsistency. As this is a completely invented universe we have no context for making a distinction and are given no explanation. Where did the mutants come from and why does the Dark Man make them wear masks? Why do the "mutants" look like large versions of Ratty from Wind in the Willows? How did the Wasteland come to "move on" and where did that expression come from? Not to be pedantic or facitious but where did it move to? Just an odd phrase for something falling apart. How does the Gunslinger have the power to resist the Dark Man’s magic and if the Dark man has the power to put people under his control just by waving at them why does he play with Roland like a sated cat with a mouse instead of just sending people by the thousands to overwhelm him?
Not that this movie is bad. It is CERTAINLY MUCH better than the books. OK that is because it is completely different from the books. Frankly – aside from the superficial skeleton – it has NOTHING in common with the books. It’s just that it could have been so much more. The writers were so burdened with trying to glue a coherent story from King’s mismash soup of blatherings from the book that they missed several opportunities to make a really great movie. The story felt as though they became so exhausted with stitching an entire suit out of the random pieces they were given that they forgot to sew up the holes created by the mismatching parts.
The only jewel in this story is Idris Elba. He can sell ANYthing. And he makes the Gunslinger a compelling believable character. He’s what Shane would have been in Lord of the Rings – valiant, determined, stalwart and brave in the face of evil. NOT the kind to murder young boys out of convenience as King's character in the books does. Elba’s fighting scenes are worth the price of admission.
I realized when looking for interesting pictures to feature in the blog, about all there WAS were pictures of Idris Elba's Roland shooting – and even then you can't get the grace and class with which he performs these balletic moves. Creative and exciting, the style with which he just loads his gun is fun to watch. However and unfortunately, you get a pretty generous preview of all the good stuff in the trailers. That’s not to say you should not go see it, but don’t be disappointed when you find the movie’s best features are just longer versions of what you’ve already seen.