Logan Lucky

Year: 2017
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes

Written by Corey Hughes

From time to time directors need to take a break, and I get it. Filmmaking must be an exhausting and difficult process. Even the great Stanley Kubrick took a well-deserved 12-year break between ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999). So when Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh announced his ‘retirement’ from directing, it came as a surprise to see him back just four years later from his last feature.

He left on a high note with the critically acclaimed biopic ‘Behind The Candelabra’ being a film that defied expectations and met some sturdy opposition from audiences across the globe, due to its somewhat ‘controversial’ subject matter.

But an eagerly anticipated return to our screens means a return to a genre that is close to Soderbergh’s heart: the heist movie. The heist movie for Soderbergh is what I imagine the Sci-fi genre is for Spielberg.  Whilst both directors have ventured into unfamiliar territory, they both have their best films (arguably) in these particular genres. Although Soderbergh has made other interesting films (look no further than ‘Traffic’ and ‘Magic Mike’) it’s the ‘Ocean’ trilogy that puts his name on the movie-map.

His return to the heist genre has brought us ‘Logan Lucky’. The movie begins in West Virginia, where Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is fixing a car with the adorable assistance of his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, write it down). After being laid-off from his job due to being a liability to the company, Jimmy encourages his younger brother Clyde (Adam Driver) to assist him in his criminal adventure.

The seemingly simple-minded Logan brothers are both disabled, Jimmy having trouble with his knee and Clyde being an amputee (“it’s like the two of you add up to one whole person”), but the limit of such similarities end with Tatum and Driver’s contrasting performances. Whilst Tatum’s character is often cheerful and light-hearted in his approach to the unfortunate circumstances he finds himself in, Driver’s Clyde is much more solemn and serious. Put them both together, and Soderbergh has managed to bring forth a pair of interesting and empathetic characters.

Cauliflower. To you and me, an awful tasting vegetable. To the Logan brothers, a code word that acts as a trigger to a life of crime. Jimmy’s utterance of the word to the unfavourable ears of his younger brother means that they must work together to pull off a complex robbery that will be later known as the ‘Hillbilly Heist’ during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. But they can’t do it alone…

In comes Joe Bang and his two highly uneducated and unsophisticated (but utterly hilarious) hillbilly brothers. Joe Bang is a fitting name for Daniel Craig’s character, a name that emphasises his expertise in the explosive-making business. Craig’s unrecognisable performance couldn’t be further away from the debonair persona that he has become known for, playing James Bond over recent years; expect no sexy British ambience or sophisticated suave here!

As the opening scene reaches your eyes there’s an undeniable neo-Western vibe to Soderbergh’s return, from the Creedance Clearwater Revival soundtrack to the ‘tang’ of the West Virginian accent, there’s something truly appealing about modernising the somewhat out-dated Western genre. When it’s done right, it feels nostalgic and has a sense of resonation that can be enjoyed.

That’s not to say that the modern aspects of the film aren’t to be enjoyed, either. Most of the humour throughout the film, written by mysterious first-timer Rebecca Blunt (perhaps one of Soderbergh’s many pseudonyms?), is both fresh and effective. There are some truly hilarious moments, particularly the shots being fired at George R.R. Martin for his rather slow writing style. They’ve got a point, George…

Where ‘Logan Lucky’ really shines, is through Soderbergh’s trademarking caper-movie style. The heist plan montage explained methodically via non-diegetic narration, or even the final revelation explaining how the heist really panned out, is smartly executed; yet I do still have issues with the final third of the movie.

The main reason Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’ trilogy succeeded, for me, was because it was exhilarating; it had an edge of excitement to the way in which the action unraveled on screen. Whilst those films had people on the edge of their seats, ‘Logan Lucky’ will have you firmly laid back against the backrest. This time round, Soderbergh guides you along an A-Z heist with no bumps in the road, nothing that feels detrimental to the gang’s success. Was this a perfectly planned crime, or perhaps a victim of plot convenience?

Find out for yourselves. Of all the films to be enjoyed this month, Logan Lucky is up there with them. It’s definitely worth your hard earned cash.

Corey’s rating: 7.5 out of 10
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Detroit

Year: 2017
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, Hannah Murray

Written by Fiona Underhill

On paper, this film has many elements that appeal to me; a female director, set in 1960s America, a true story set during the Civil Rights era and actors (particularly two British stars) who I like. I also visited the city of Detroit in January of this year and when I first heard of this film a few months ago, I thought it could be among the best of the year. Unfortunately, I was left frustrated and disappointed by this film. 

The film begins by showing the unrest and rioting in the city of Detroit in 1967. We focus in on several characters; Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore), members of a band trying to make it big in Motown, Dismukes (John Boyega) is a factory worker and security guard, juggling several jobs while trying to keep his head down and stay out of the trouble bubbling up around him and white police officers Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor – following his breakout roles in ‘Sing Street’ and ‘Free Fire’). While trying to make it home after an aborted gig, Larry and Fred take refuge at the Algiers Hotel and there they meet two white girls; Julie (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever). The rioting has reached the stage where there is a curfew and there is a heavy military presence on the streets. It is in this highly-charged environment that some young black men, horsing around, decide to fire a toy gun out of one of the hotel windows. This, of course, gives the police an excuse to invade the hotel, round up everyone there and start interrogating them, using methods of torture.

The true story behind this film is fascinating, particularly in the context of black American history and the current reality of black people experiencing police brutality, with the white cops getting off scott-free. However, director Kathryn Bigelow somehow manages to make the story feel long and boring. It is definitely pacing and editing that are the biggest flaws here. It feels like it takes a long time for the film to get to the events at the Algiers, then the main event (which is an extended sequence of brutal torture and murder) feels like it goes on forever, THEN, by far the worst section takes place AFTER this – when the narrative structure just seems to go haywire. The whole film felt like it was at least twice as long as it actually was and this is a disservice to the real people involved.

It’s a shame because the acting is mostly fantastic. I have watched Will Poulter’s career closely since he was in one of my favourite films, ‘Son of Rambow’. He plays an evil character extremely well here. Bizarrely, one of the biggest stars, Anthony Mackie (currently playing Falcon in the MCU) has a relatively small role; as a Vietnam veteran who happens to be the one caught in the same room as the two white girls – making him one of the main targets for the police. However, his character is not given any backstory before we get to the Algiers, so he feels like a tacked-on side character. I feel for Boyega, who seems to have had several misfires since showing such potential in ‘Attack the Block’, then exploding as an international star in ‘The Force Awakens’. His characters in both ‘The Circle’ and now this have NOT served him well. Dismukes should be the most fascinating character here, he enters the scene at the hotel ostensibly on the cop’s side. However, he makes some questionable and unbelievable choices and the way his character is handled after the night in the hotel is confusing and muddled. John Krasinski (again, a pretty big star) enters the film right at the end, as a lawyer hired by the police union to defend the racist cops. Smith and Latimore are great finds as probably the ‘central’ characters – they are the ones we follow most closely across the three acts of the narrative. If this film falls down, it is not the actors’ fault.

There are some unbelievable moments in this film that you cannot help but wonder if they would have been handled differently by a black writer or director. The racist cops are almost handled as ‘a few bad apples’, as opposed to being a product of institutional racism. I cannot go into details because of spoilers, but after the events at the hotel, some of the cops (especially at a high level) are portrayed as sympathetic to the black victims and appalled at the actions of the three police officers at the centre of the action. This just does not ring true to me. It is disappointing that a film that was highly anticipated by me and many others, mainly because of the director, has fallen short at telling would could have been a vital and relevant story to today’s America. A missed opportunity.

 Fiona’s rating: 6 out of 10

Annabelle: Creation

 

Year: 2017
Director: David F. Sandberg

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman

Written by Jo Craig 

It’s Saturday night at the movies, and screen thirteen (coincidence?) is packed and buzzing for the late showing of ‘Annabelle: Creation’, the latest addition to the expanding ‘Conjuring’ franchise. ‘Lights Out’ skipper David F. Sandberg keeps to his niche alongside modern horror alum James Wan in the producers’ chair, telling the origin story of the supernatural’s favourite toy.

With the announcement of ‘The Crooked Man’ and ‘The Nun’, extensions from Wan’s paranormal coupling circulating around the true accounts of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s metaphysical investigations, ‘Creation’ has been considered the catalyst in establishing ‘The Conjuring’ universe, thrilling horror fans with their own terrifying rendition of the MCU. With the gears starting to turn, New Line Cinema had a lot riding on ‘Creation’ to possess the box office and prove that their plan to create their own universe would be a success. Thankfully, they might have just done that.

Annabelle: Creation’ puts our setting in 1958, introducing Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) as a doll maker who welcomes a group of six orphans and their carer, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), into his home while caring for his estranged wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), affected by the death of their daughter twelve years ago. Two of the youngest orphans, best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (lulu Wilson), are quick to start exploring their new home, discovering a mysterious doll that unlocks secrets within the Mullins family that have malevolent repercussions.

Aficionados of the horror genre will notice the same formula being used throughout the storyline, but with credible differences. What gives ‘Creation’ merit is its attention to detail in establishing a rational origin story (for the most part) for the titular doll and its capability to startle viewers without too many of the cheap scare tactics; there is certainly credence in Sandberg and Wan for achieving this. We also have the usual suspects of a location set in isolation and aptly timed music crescendo’s, but the films ability to effectively animate an inanimate object without bringing Chucky to mind, keeps each frightening occurrence believable by deterring showing everything and relying on the audiences imagination to fill in the imagery.

Miranda Otto’s Esther was well cast and added a freshness to familiar grounds. It was just a pity that throughout the film her character received little screen time. However, Anthony LaPaglia’s Samuel could have been written with more vigour, freeing his character from the morose and monotone demeanour. Sister Charlotte merged well with the content and supplied a key scene giving a tip of the hat to ‘The Nun’ spin-off, while polio-stricken Janice flourished as protagonist. The remaining orphans could only be described as scene-fillers and time-wasters, sequences which could have involved more of Esther and Janice had the story been tweaked slightly. 

Opinions on ‘Annabelle: Creation’ have certainly divided audiences, with Camp A saying “Shit”, Camp B saying “Pretty good”, and the fleeting Camp C going as far as saying it’s better than both ‘Conjuring’ films. While I lie in Camp B, ‘Creation’ does have one major flaw. ‘The Conjuring’ 1 & 2 both work exceedingly well because of the gradual building of unease, the supply of characters we can invest in, and one powerhouse third act. While ‘Creation’ grinds tension and boasts authentic personalities, the third act falls flat and fails to deliver the desperation for survival. We’re expecting to see all hell break loose but too busy following all the characters that are experiencing separate torment, resulting in no sense of unity, the denouement being spread too thinly and an anti-climactic conclusion. That being said, ‘Creation’ certainly explores the realms of possibilities surrounding the enticement of sinister entities and meddling with the unknown, concluding in full circle to 2013’s ‘Annabelle’, but gratefully ten successful exorcisms away from John R. Leonetti’s flop.

DoP, Maxime Alexandre, harnessed the necessary ambiance to keep things creepy and retained a rustic colour tone for the duration to match the fifty’s era and the aged craftsmanship of Annabelle. Momentum carried ‘Creation’ fluidly for the most part, however, with a near first gear tempo in the third act and a buoyant script from ‘Annabelle’ and future ‘The Nun’ writer, Gary Dauberman, Sandberg’s weaknesses started to show. James Wan works intriguing energy and pace into his films that Sandberg couldn’t quite sustain.

Scoring a 68% on the Rotten Tomatometer and a 78% from audience scores, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ has become a dark horse of horror raking in just over £35 million at the box office over opening weekend, and becoming quite the comedy icon; numerous times the laughter from screen thirteen was both unexpected and distracting. Aside from the jittery mob and their squeals of “Jesus fucking Christ”, we have a solid fourth instalment to add to our ratified ghostly cosmos. We now turn our crucifixes to ‘The Conjuring 3’ and ‘The Crooked Man’ both of which have been announced, following ‘The Nun’ already in post-production.

While it’s possible that Chucky has now been replaced as horror’s favourite marionette, at least his killing sprees didn’t hide the final thrills until after the credits rolled; an MCU trait that seems to be contagious. Stay to the bitter end guys.

Jo’s rating: 6 out of 10             

 

Atomic Blonde

Year: 2017
Director: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones

Written by Abbie Eales

Former stuntman David Leitch’s first solo directorial outing is somewhat of a mixed bag. Set in November 1989, the just-at-the-end-of-the-cold-war spy thriller takes place against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin wall.

The opening scene sees  a mustachioed man being chased through Berlin’s snowy graffiti-festooned backstreets (complete with posters of smiley faces and CND symbols) to a soundtrack of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ – “IT’S 1989!” in case you missed the opening credits. Eventually we see him being run over twice and then shot, in a less than glamourous KGB hit. So the tone is set for ‘Atomic Blonde’. Or at least for part of the film, because tonally, it’s all over the shop.

Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent, who is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of assets, uncover a double agent and perhaps bring some justice for the murder of our mustachioed man, her former lover. So far, so John Le Carre. Aiding Broughton on her mission is David Percival (the ever charismatic James McAvoy on best ‘Filth’ form), who may or may not be the double agent, but he definitely has ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli on his book shelf, *wink to camera*.

What follows for the next hundred minutes is largely nonsense. Some very stylish nonsense, then some confusing nonsense, with a few moments of goddamn brilliance just to confuse matters.

The first half hour is largely a neon-lit music video, with lingering shots of Theron letting smoke spill from her perfect pout, while the plot is occasionally alluded to in heavy-handed globs of dialogue, all the while glorious ‘80’s music plays on a constant “Jeez, wasn’t ‘89 a vintage year for music?” loop. It looks beautiful, sounds beautiful and being a shallow short of person, I would probably have enjoyed it if it continued in the same vein.

However the narrative meanders about for so long while Theron smokes in various Berlin bars and restaurants, that you forget why she’s out there. We start to wonder where has McAvoy gone? Who is this French woman? Who is Satchel? Do we even care anymore? ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ questions don’t arise as a result of a clever plot however, but just sheer confusion.

Thankfully the latter half of the film sees a SUPERB fight scene, all filmed in one take, which shows off not only Theron’s action chops, but also David Leich’s potential as a director. The music stops, the neon is nowhere to be seen and things get brutal, bloody and far more interesting than the previous 60+ minutes. THAT’S the film I really would have wanted to see. Dispense with the smoke-ringed glamour and get Theron really kicking ass.

Theron is magnetic as Broughton, (although Lorraine is not a super sexy spy name, let’s face it), all effortless physicality and sideways glances. Her wardrobe throughout made me want to burn all my clothes on my return home, as she is stylish as hell and I am fully subscribed to the ‘Atomic Blonde’ autumn/winter collection. However, she is also pretty one dimensional. A 40+ year old woman playing a kickass, bisexual, cold war era spy should be exciting and lead to a different feel to the spy genre, but somehow that is all fairly cosmetic. We never really engage with Broughton as a character, she is all veneer and could just as well be Jason Bourne in Louboutins.

While ‘Atomic Blonde’ is a confused affair, there are enough visual thrills to make up for the uneven plot, with some terrific performances managing to raise it to the status of entertaining diversion rather than all out car-wreck.

Abbie’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

The Emoji Movie

Year: 2017
Director: Tony Leondis
Starring: T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart

Written by Sarah Buddery

Resisting the temptation to write this review entirely in emojis because firstly, I’m not an idiot, and secondly, that is probably exactly what the makers of this film would want if their aggressive (and entirely terrible) marketing strategy was anything to go by!

Emojis are everywhere, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have as yet to take the plunge and get a smartphone, then you have probably seen, used, or are at least aware of, Emojis. They can be used as a fun way to express ourselves, they can be hilariously and unintentionally used in un-PG ways (looking at you eggplant!), but the question is: do they make a good subject for an entire feature length movie?

The answer is a huge resounding no, with a healthy dose of angry and facepalm emojis thrown in for good measure. This film is not just terrible, it is absolutely toxic. A disgusting waste of celluloid and a genuine travesty to think that time, effort, and money were spent on creating this absolute stinking turd of a film. It somehow manages to be simultaneously infantile and mind-numbingly stupid (genuinely, my eyes hurt I rolled them so much), yet also absolutely impenetrable; the endless talk of clouds and code was enough to fry my brain and I would consider myself to be very internet savvy!

There is no point trying to pick apart the plot of this film because it not only doesn’t exist, but it is so horrifically empty that there really isn’t anything to unpack here. It is hard to imagine who this film is for, and really the only people who can benefit from this film are the brands that have so brazenly allowed their products to feature. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is a shameless, disgusting example of commercialism, endlessly vomiting its vapid, empty, obnoxious product placement in your face. The “Just Dance” sequence is so obviously trying to sell the app to you that there might as well be a suit-wearing executive pointing a gun at your head as you key in the digits of your credit card to part with your hard-earned cash, and possibly your soul, laughing maniacally as you tap rhythmically on your phone screen forevermore.

Not only does it beat you over the head with its product placement and cringeworthy name-dropping of everything that happens to be popular right now, but it also brainlessly attempts to hammer home some kind of message. The result is a confusing mess, flitting between “just blend in and do your job” to “be yourself, be free” at such a pace you’ll feel as if you have whiplash. It is bad enough that it slaps you with all the quasi-morality, but when it is also littered with “text speak” and spoken hashtags, it becomes even more of an abomination. If you heard an incredibly loud groan followed by the sound of a palm making contact with a face, that was me when an animated talking hand, voiced by James Corden, said “hashtag blessed”.

Speaking of which, James Corden manages to be even more annoying in animated form than he is in real life, and the high-five character is easily one of the most annoying film characters ever. The voice cast deserve better than a film like this, and it is truly amazing that any of them willingly signed up to do this. Patrick Stewart, you deserve so much more than to be a talking poop.

This film made me sigh, mutter expletives, and roll my eyes approximately every 10 seconds, and by the time the twitter logo swooped in to rescue two characters from “the cloud”, I’d lost my filter and was audibly throwing out expletives.

In case it wasn’t obvious, this film is terrible. Too terrible to ever circle back to being good, and not even so bad that is is funny. The whole film feels like a joke, but it is a joke which is never funny. It is an insult to call this a film, it isn’t a film, it is a disease. With a plot thinner than a wet paper bag, one-liners which never even take off let alone land, and an endless barrage of brands and products, this film is the lowest common denominator. The entire concept of this film hinges on the fact that sending the “wrong” emoji is the worst thing that could ever happen, and quite frankly the people who believe that, deserve a film as terrible as this one.

Even the fact this film is mercifully short (86 minutes) is not a saving grace; honestly I’d have rather shit in my hands and clapped than watched this monstrosity.

Sarah’s rating: 0 out of 10  

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Year: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, it’s difficult to know where to start with this one. I am a fan of the director – I loved ‘Leon’ and ‘The Fifth Element’ and I have managed to avoid his more poorly received offerings (I’m looking at you, ‘Lucy’). I haven’t read the comics that this film is based on, although they certainly sound intriguing. As for the actors involved – well I’ve only seen Cara Delevingne in a small part in Anna Karenina before this, so wasn’t really sure what to expect. I would be interested to see her play a British character in a role, as I don’t think she has yet (in any of her high-profile work). As for Dane DeHaan, well there will be more on him later. 

So I think I can sum ‘Valerian’ up by saying; The Visuals = Good Bonkers, The Plot = Bad Bonkers. Believe me, it’s all bonkers. The visuals and effects in this film are insanely rich, detailed and sumptuous – it is an absolute feast for the eyes. It is easy to see where the enormous budget was splurged in this film, but unfortunately, I don’t think there is a hope of it making much of a profit. I could make some comparisons between ‘Valerian’ and the Star Wars prequels, but having rewatched ‘The Phantom Menace’ recently (don’t ask me why), it is clear to see that CGI has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last 15 years or so. 

I don’t really know where to begin with the plot to this film. There is an alien world which relies on pearls to be reproduced by feeding one to an aardvark-like creature, who then ‘poops’ out hundreds more – yes, really. Their planet is destroyed and a small group of the aliens manage to make it to ‘The City of a Thousand Planets’ – an enormous expanding space station, in which nearly all known species of the universe are represented. They need to find the one surviving pearl-pooping creature to be able to establish a new world for their people. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work for the government of the human population, as special operatives and they become embroiled in the plot to protect this unique alien creature and return it to the ‘right’ hands. 

Unfortunately, the dialogue in this film leaves much to be desired. The opening sequence features a fairly excruciating scene in which Valerian and Laureline TELL the audience everything they might need to know about their characters through clunky exposition. However, I can see why – if we didn’t have the characters telling us that Dane DeHaan is a ‘ladykiller’, it may be be difficult to work this out for ourselves. Dane DeHaan appears in two films this year, in which he is the romantic lead – to Cara Delevingne (the supermodel) and to Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander (in ‘Tulip Fever’ – out later this year). And I’m sorry, I just ain’t buying it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him in ‘Chronicle’. But I do  wonder who has decided he has big-budget, mainstream leading man status. 

Back to the positives – how this film looks. As well as the CGI, the costumes are also incredible. There is an awesome sequence featuring Rihanna as a nightclub entertainer, who can change her appearance at will. Surprisingly, Ethan Hawke features – in a flamboyant performance – as the nightclub owner. Luckily, this part comes in the second half, when things are starting to flag in this overlong film. As well as Delevingne, there is more British acting talent involved – Clive Owen as the Commander and Sam Spruell as the General of the military outfit Valerian and Laureline work for. I do feel slightly sorry for middle-aged men with British teeth getting close-ups in super high definition these days. I couldn’t take my eyes off a blackhead on Owen’s top lip during his scenes, which may say something about how the mind wanders during films which are at least 30 minutes too long. 

Well – ‘Valerian’ is probably going to be looked back on as a giant turkey, which isn’t entirely fair. Of course, it is garishly multi-coloured bobbins on an insanely huge scale. It is, mostly, entertaining and the visual feast is almost worth your time and money. I just wish a more charming leading man (it isn’t often you’re praying for an Efron) could have been found to helm the madness and to give you someone to root for. However, if you’re looking for a 3D spectacular – this is it. Just a shame that it came out on the same weekend as ‘Dunkirk’, a visual feast of a very different type, but still something that has harmed ‘Valerian’, I think. I hope this doesn’t end up being some sort of death-knell for Luc Besson’s career, but at the same time wonder how on earth he managed to raise such a big budget for this level of craziness. Perhaps he should go back to something on the scale of ‘Leon’ next time. THAT I would like to see.

Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10