Logan Lucky

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 5:31 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language and some crude comments
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, prison riot, illness, explosions
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2017
Copyright Bleeker Street 2017

Steven Soderbergh, gifted us with the delectable champagne cocktail “Oceans 11,” a sophisticated improvement over the Rat Pack heist film set in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. His new film, “Logan Lucky” is “Oceans 7-11,” a hillbilly heist, a redneck robbery.

The setting is Appalachia.  Instead of a Las Vegas casino, the target is a NASCAR race track in Charlotte, North Carolina.  But once again there is an all-star cast, a wickedly clever plot, wonderfully engaging characters, and delicious humor, with one “Game of Thrones” joke that is by itself worth the price of admission.  The credits cheekily inform us that “Nobody was robbed during the making of this movie. Except you.”  Even more cheekily, the credited screenwriter does not seem to exist.  But that is all part of the fun.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, a good-hearted man from West Virginia who is down on his luck. His ex-wife (Katie Holmes) has remarried a wealthy car dealer and they are planning to move to Virginia, taking his daughter with them.  He has just lost his construction job, not because of his performance, but because his old leg injury is considered a liability risk.  His bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a veteran who lost his hand to an IED, insists that the Logans are all just cursed with bad luck. Their sister Melly (Riley Keough), a hairdresser, is more optimistic — also very smart about cars and a few other things, too.

Jimmy needs to make some changes in his life.  So he makes a list of everything he needs to do to rob the racetrack.  It begins: “1. Decide to rob a bank. 2. Have a plan. 3. Have a backup plan. 4. Establish clear communications. 5. Choose your partners carefully.”

As in any great heist film, Jimmy then assembles his team, though perhaps “carefully” is not the way to describe what happens.  Foremost is explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, with a bleached blonde crewcut, an impeccable Southern accent, and a ton of attitude).   Unfortunately, as he informs them, he is “IN. CAR. CER. ATED.”  But Jimmy has a plan.  Joe agrees but insists that they include his two dimwit brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid).

Also as in all great heist films, even the best-laid plans have to go wrong, so there are many unexpected developments along the way.  The fun of these films is the problem-solving before the big day, with careful planning, and then the problem solving on the big day as, well, take a look at Logan’s item #3, and another reminder later on that things will go wrong. The movie has fun with the characters, but not at their expense, at least not at the expense of the heroes/anti-heroes. It doesn’t treat them like hicks or rubes.

Keough is a standout and Craig is a complete hoot. There are small gems of performances along the way, including Dwight Yoakam as a prison warden and Katherine Waterston as a health care provider. We’re as much in the dark as the FBI investigators (led by Hillary Swank), and right up until the last minute we are not sure of exactly what happened.  But the answer is a total delight, as is the cast, all having way too much fun.

Parents should know that the film includes strong and crude language for a PG-13, tense family confrontations, some disturbing images, an amputated limb, references to war casualties, fights, and peril (mostly comic).

Family discussion: What was the most important item on Jimmy’s list?  What did he forget?

If you like this, try: “Welcome to Collinwood,” “Out of Sight,” and “Oceans 11″

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Constant, intense, and graphic violence, guns, explosions, crashes, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 15, 2015
Copyright Village Roadshow  Pictures 2015
Copyright Village Roadshow Pictures 2015

Mad Max (Tom Hardy, taking over from Mel Gibson) stamps on a two-headed lizard and then chews its head off. And that’s just in the first minute. That master of apocalyptic junkyard anarchy, George Miller, is back, bigger, wilder, madder than ever with this fourth of the Mad Max movies, all set in a post-apocalyptic desert dystopia of deprivation, chaos, rust, and brutality. In this world, all anyone has ever known is loss and despair. There is no hope, no thought of any possible way to learn or create. At one point, a character points to something completely unfamiliar to him, calling it “that thing.” It is a tree.

The first three films were about the fight for gasoline to fuel the vehicles pieced together from the wreckage. This one is about another, even more precious fluid: water. Other precious fluids come into the story as well, including blood and breast milk.

A brutal dictatorship has taken over, controlling access to all of that. All are the preserve of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, with the right crazy eyes for the role), who lives literally above everyone else in a place known as The Citadel, maintaining control with his army of War Boys, all with shaved heads and powder-white skin and all convinced that their destiny is to die for Immortan Joe and be transported to paradise in Valhalla. Immortan Joe also maintains a harem of impossibly long-legged, lovely young woman. His chief lieutenant is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fearless woman with a mechanical arm, so much the central focus of the film that it should have been named for her. When Furiosa escapes with Immortan Joe’s women, including his pregnant “queen,” Joe and his peers come after them, in a convoy of tricked-up vehicles, all made to destroy. Everything is in shades of burnt-out umber except for the bright red suit of a guy shredding an electric guitar to keep everyone angry.

One of the War Boys is Nuz (Nicholas Hoult), who has brought along his “blood bag.” That would be Max, who was captured by Immortan Joe’s troops and kept alive only to serve as a blood donor. Nuz did not want to be left behind but had not yet finished getting his transfusion. So Max is manacled and attached to the front of Nuz’s car. Max ends up with Furiosa and the young women, who are seeing the “green place” where Furiosa was born.

Miller is a master of cinema, and his staging and cinematography on the action scenes are shot through with throbbing, raging, adrenalin that contrasts with the stoicism of Max and Furiosa. Miller has said that the Edge camera car is the most exciting technological innovation in his career. It allowed him (he operated it himself) to put the camera in the middle of the action. He does not like to use CGI, preferring “practical” (real) effects, and the grittiness is so palpable we feel we are inhaling dust.

Hardy is excellent, though, as with Bain, his face is masked for much of the film. Theron is more incendiary than the film’s mountainous fireballs, creating a character with a rich, complicated history in the way she fights, in the determined set of her brows, in the way she looks at the helpless young women, thinking about where she has been and what she has seen. The action makes our hearts beat harder, but Miller’s ability to create characters that transcend the crashes and explosions and themes that resonate all too sharply with contemporary conflicts, are what can make them beat more fiercely.

Parents should know that this film has non-stop apocalyptic action, peril, and violence with many characters injured and killed and several graphic and disturbing images, as well as some strong language, some nudity, and references to domestic abuse.

Family discussion: Why won’t Max tell Furiosa his name? Why did society become so savage? Why was one community different?

If you like this, try: the first three “Mad Max” movies and Welcome to Wherever You Are, A Documentary Celebrating the MAD MAX Mythology

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