Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ocean's Seven-Eleven

Logan Lucky (2017) is Steven Soderbergh's answer to his own Ocean movies. It's a heist movie, but instead of a casino, they are pushing over a NASCAR race. Also, they are hicks. Also, it doesn't really hang together.

Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a good man from West Virginia who loses his job driving excavating equipment. His brother is Adam Driver, a bartender who lost his arm in the war, who believes that the Logan's are all cursed. Tatum has a plan to rob the cash from a NASCAR race using the tunnels that he has been digging at work. But first, they'll need to get safecracker Daniel Craig out of prison to help.

Now, your reaction to this movie is going to hinge on how you react to Craig's attempt at a West Virginia accent. It isn't so much that it's bad - sometimes it sounds all right. But it wanders all over the place, to the point where it makes it his own thing. It's just his character - a crazy hard-ass cracker who has to watch his sodium intake.

Meanwhile, Driver is a moody conspiracy nut from a mumble-core indie and Tatum is just a solid, stand-up man of the soil, who loves his preteen beauty pageant obsessed daughter, and wants to do right by his ex-wife (Katie Holms), even though she's now married to a rich (?) used car salesman.

There's a lot going on in this movie, some of it meaningless, some of it paying off. For instance, the Logan's have a sister (Riley Keough) who drives really fast. No real pay off. The gang runs afoul an obnoxious NASCAR driver (Seth McFarlane with a British accent), and there are some funny scenes, but nothing that affects the plot. In fact, NASCAR is barely in the movie, except for a few montages. But the beauty pageant, where Tatum's daughter brings down the house with her rendition of "West Virginia", acts as an alibi. It totally fools goofy FBI agents Hilary Swank and Macon Blair (who show up at the end, as if from another movie).

Still, I have to say I enjoyed this movie greatly. It was funny, it moved right along, and it had a great soundtrack. It reminded me of Baby Driver that way, although it wasn't quite cut to the beat. Also, it was mountain music, not rock, funk, and soul. (Also, did I forget to blog Baby Driver?)

So, if you like goofy heist films, and don't care if there's a steady tone, or point, or accents, this might be for you.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Postman

Jour De Fete (1949) is what Jacques Tati was doing before M. Hulot. His character here is the postman of a small French village - the same village getting ready for their festival. He doesn't wear Hulot's raincoat and pipe. He has a Snub Pollard moustache instead. Also, he lacks Hulot's bemused bon ami - here he is self-important and grumpy. But this is still a Jacques Tati movie.

The "plot" is ostensibly that Tati, as the postman, sees a movie about the speed and efficiency of American mail delivery, and is inspired - even though he delivers on a rickety old bicycle. But this doesn't start until well after the midpoint of the movie. The story winds its way around the village, taking its own sweet time, like the postman. He has a tendency to stop and get involved with everything, like the erection of a flagpole in the town square. He also tends to leave these projects in ruins. The folks in town think he's a bit of a nut, and bait him, or maybe that's just their way. They play the old shoe-polish-on-the-binocular-black-eye trick on him (and let him wear the black eye for two days). They get him drunk when he should be delivering mail. And they show him the movie that sets off the last half.

But this is all conveyed with typical Tatian reserve. Some jokes are just observations - successive travelers along a road batting at the air hints at a bee or mosquito - then the postman rides by and crashes trying to swat it. Not a big gag, but sweet.

But I do miss the positivity of M. Hulot. While JdF has the same understated humor of his other movies, it is a bit grumpier, like the postman.

In conclusion, a good companion to The Young Girls of Rochefort?

Served Hot

You Got Served (2004) may be the first of the type of urban dance movies we've been watching. It might also be the most random. Great dancing though.

Omarion Grandberry and Marques Houston are in one of the best street dance teams around. They compete at warehouse dance-offs MCed by Steve Harvey. They make a little money, but always need more - they are saving for a recording studio, for some reason (I don't think either makes music). They get challenged (served) by a crew lead by some lame rich white kids, with $5,000 on the line. But they rich crew got one of their dancers to defect, and now they know all of their moves, so they lose more money than they can afford.

To make it up, they do some drug courier work. Meanwhile, Omarion is falling for Houston's cute sister, Jennifer Freeman. During one of their secret dates, she turns his cellphone off, so he doesn't get the message that they need to make a delivery. Houston goes it alone and gets beaten and robbed. Now he needs a lot more money - but it also breaks up the crew, because Grandberry and Houston are on the outs.

When one of the kids who liked to tag along gets killed in a drive-by (like they always do), the gang gets back together for the Big Bounce dance-off, with a big cash prize and a chance to dance in a Li'l Kim video.

Most of the plotty stuff is either silly, cliche, or inconsequential (like the defector - we never find out what happens to him). The drama of the story never seems to get mirrored on the dance floor. I actually thought they might be using different actors in the dances and the rest, but no, these are some of the finest b-boy and b-girl dancers around. The dances are very hot, with a lot of aggression and flair. But I don't feel like they really link up with the drama off the floor, except for who is winning or losing.

I may be getting close to my limit on these movies, unless someone steps up and makes one that really stands out.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

If You Want to Ride

Ride the Pink Horse (1947) is an oddball desert noir that I've been wanting to watch for a long time. It turned out to be better, and possibly wackier, than I had hoped.

It was directed by and stars Robert Montgomery, who pulls up in a Southwestern desert town called San Pablo, but is clearly Santa Fe. In fact, he asks directions to La Fonda, and one of the native girls, Wanda Hendrix takes him there.

Short digression - My father had a matchbook from La Fonda. We've stayed there. We've drunk in their lobby and bought Zuni fetishes in their Indian Shop. We could tell this was filmed on location - I don't know why they didn't just call it Santa Fe.

Robert Montgomery is looking for local big shot Fred Clark (tall, bald guy with a mustache - you'll recognize him). But first he has to get through Clark's glamorous society girlfriend Andrea King and sly, mousy FBI man Art Smith, who thinks Montgomery might have some dirt on Clark.

But Montgomery has allies: mainly one Thomas Gomez, who operates the carousel in the plaza. After they get drunk together, Gomez lets him sleep in the little box by the carousel, where no one would think to look. Also, little Wanda Hendrix who has been following him around awestruck, like he's the most beautiful gringo she has ever seen. She's just a little Indian girl who's never been to the big city, and he even bought her a ride on the carousel (the pink horse, which explains the title). She doesn't look much like an Indian (maybe I could believe Mexican), but she is radiantly beautiful. She later married Audie Murphy, which didn't work out so well.

Montgomery is a little different in this one - he isn't suave, he's rough and coarse, with a whiny Brooklyn accent. He is an Army veteran, definitely enlisted. Of course, he treats Hendrix like dirt. He's pretty racist - he doesn't even call her Pocahontas, he calls her Sitting Bull.

As a directory, Montgomery has an offbeat style. This isn't as wild as Lady in the Lake (shot from the stars POV, so you only see him in the mirror), but it has it's moments. At one point, our hero is beaten into amnesia, and you see him repeat the steps he took at the start of the movie. It's a nicely surreal touch. There's another scene where the bad guys are threatening Gomez while he's operating the carousel, while the kids on the ride watch, terrified.

But my favorite part is all the Santa Fe locations. If you've ever been, check this out.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Call Me Herman

If your like us, sometimes you just want a rollicking sea tale, a story of tall ships and strong men. So we watched In the Heart of the Sea (2015). Somehow, this movie, directed by Ron Howard, escaped our notice completely when it came out, but as soon as we saw it in a preview, we had to see it.

It starts with Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing Owen Chase (Brendan Gleeson), the last survivor of the whaler Essex. The man is traumatized, and refuses to talk, but finally breaks down. As a young man (Chris Hemsworth), he was a top harpooner, expecting to be given his own ship for the next voyage. Instead, he is made Mate under Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker). Chase is brash and self-made, Pollard is inexperienced but well-connected. They clash right off.

They aren't taking any whales in the Atlantic, so they head for the Pacific, where they find a large pod, including a whale of a size they haven't seen before. They try to harpoon him, but he staves the ship in and sinks it. Not the whaling boats, but the Essex itself.

So they are left adrift, tiny whaling boats in the great Pacific Ocean. And worse, it looks like the whale is following them.

As you probably figured out, this is the real-life story that in real life inspired Moby-Dick. It's a great yarn, even if only as historically faithful as you might expect. Hemsworth is heroic, although his American accent is a little slippery - hey, I don't know how we were supposed talk back then. Tom Holland has a nice role as cabin boy, who everyone is trying to protect.

But the best parts are the ships and the sea, and the grueling time at sea. The actors were put on starvation rations to give them the look, and it worked.

So if you like a good old fashioned yarn, like, say, Master and Commander, this might be for you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dick Movie

The conventional wisdom on Dick Tracy (1990) has always been that it was a grotesque misfire. Then I started reading and hearing that it was a cult classic, well worth a watch. So, we cued it up.

It stars Warren Beatty, which makes sense because, like Dick, he's kind of a stiff. At least, that's what I think - I haven't seen a lot of his movies. I think of him as the handsome kid in Dobie Gillis. He lives in a brightly colored, artificial world. His best girl is Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), who wishes he'd settle down and marry her. After a date at a diner, they pick up a little brat called "The Kid", who Tracy keeps leaving with people.

This kid had previously been a witness to a major hit, when Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino!?!) starts to consolidate his control over the gangs. In the funnies, Tracy's villains usually have some distinctive deformity, and these crooks follow that tradition. There is a lot of facial appliances going on. Pacino has huge hands and face, and gets off lightly.

He has a girlfriend, a chantoozy named Breathless Malone, played by one Madonna. She has a couple of numbers in the film, and you know? She's great. I'm not a big fan of her own music, but she has a great Roaring 20's look and sound when she wants too. The songs are mostly Stephen Sondheim, also not one of my favorites, but here, it works. Of course, she's after Tracy - is it heartbreak for Tess Trueheart?

In the end, my opinion of this is mixed. Yes, it is colorful, atmospheric, and very true to the comic. It is visually striking. The cast is amazing - Dustin Hoffman, in a small but choice role as Mumbles, unrecognizable under the makeup. Then there's Pacino, who gets several unhinged monologues. And Madonna is pretty great too.

But it is also pretty shaggy, with a plot that's all over the place. The makeup effects are so extreme that some of the characters look more like papier mache puppet heads than people. And Beatty, who directed as well as starred, is the blank void at the center. There isn't a lot you can do with a pure straight-shooter like Tracy.

In conclusion, see it because it's weird and silly. If it turns out that you enjoy it unironically, it's a win.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Running with Blades

The word on the street is that Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is even better than the original. For certain values of "better", we agree.

It starts with a blade runner visiting a greenhouse out in the sticks to retire a replicant, big hulking Dave Bautista. This blade runner (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, too - the new, compliant kind. Buatista makes fun of him, mentioning a mysterious "miracle". After he has put Bautista down, Gosling looks around and finds a dead tree with a single flower in front of it. Later, he comes back to discover a buried body beneath the tree, a woman who died in childbirth. Further investigation shows that the woman is a replicant.

Now, our villain is Jared Leto, the head of an evil corporation that took over the assets of Tyrell Corp. Leto is very interested in creating a self-reproducing replicant - the old way is too slow to populate the "offworld colonies" with slaves. Leto lives in a concrete castle with a replicant enforcer named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) and likes to birth replicants and kill them as soon as they wake up, just for kicks. So, a bad guy.

Gosling also has an artificial companion, a hologram played by Ana de Armas. She is the perfect woman, but tied to the home projection system until he got her a portable unit. It's an interesting sidetrack - a replicant with a hologram girlfriend - but doesn't really go anyplace.

In searching for this replicant-born-of-a-replicant, Gosling starts to learn about himself, about early memories, which he knows are implanted. Unless he is the born replicant: a trip to the memory artist Carla Juri doesn't clear this up. A visit to Gaff (Edward James Olmos) in the old folks home doesn't either.

Finally, we meet up with Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been hiding out since the end of the last movie. This reminded me a lot of the discovery of Jeff Bridges hiding out in Tron: Legacy. He's pining after Sean Young, in this movie as CGI only.

Although the look of the film is very "Blade Runner turned up to 11", it is also a very different look: This future isn't rainy and crowded, it's dry and barren - has population crashed in the ~30 years since the first movie? Or does our director just have his attention on the quieter parts? Or is he just trying to save on extras?

The music, by Hans Zimmer. is also a more intense version of the original Vangelis. It seems that director Denis Villenueuve (Arrival) was going to use his usual composer, Johann Johannson, but Zimmer got the retro synth feel just right.

So, gorgeous, thoughtful, maybe even deep, with all the feelings (and numbenings) turned up to 11. A worthy sequel.