Tag Archives: fun

Logan Lucky – Review

17 Sep

Steven Soderbergh has always been something of an inspiration to me. He helped start the indie craze of the 1990s with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, has made some excellent mainstream films like Ocean’s 11, dabbled in the world of surrealism with Schizopolis, and also was the creative force behind one of the most chilling television shows in recent years, The Knick. He’s a film maker that can pretty much tackle anything, even though I’ll be the first to admit he doesn’t have a spotless filmography. After taking time away from the big screen following 2013’s Side Effects, I was excited to see him return with another heist movie, this one being Logan Lucky. This has been a movie I’ve been anticipating for awhile, but I never really got my hopes up for it. After seeing it, I can say that while it’s far from Soderbergh’s best, it’s still a damn fun movie.

Sometimes it seems that certain people have all the luck, and they could really share some if they wanted to. That’s a description that is far from fitting for the Logan family. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) had a promising football career, but an accident killed that dream and left him with a limp. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) had his fair share of luck after his time in Iraq left him with a prosthetic arm. Still, the two seem to be surviving just fine, that is until Jimmy is fired from his construction job and begins scrambling to find a way to provide for his daughter, who he still keeps in close contact with after his divorce. This prompts Jimmy to dig deep into his plans and reveal a scheme to rob the funds from the Coca-Cola 600 race, and the only time to do it is on Memorial Day, one of the biggest races of the year. In order to do this, the brothers enlist the help of local ne’er do well, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who they have to sneak out of jail with just enough time to pull off the heist. With the old Logan bad luck facing them down, the team have to use every ounce of ingenuity to get through this unscathed.

Right off the bat, the best thing about Logan Lucky is its characters. Jimmy and Clyde are such a believable pair of brothers, and part of the reason they work so well is the chemistry and dynamic between Tatum and Driver. Channing Tatum works great as a leading man in this movie, and it’s really cool to see a down to earth, blue collar guy leading a major heist. There’s such a difference between Jimmy Logan and Danny Ocean, but both characters work great. Driver is one of my favorite elements of this movie, and every line he delivers was spot on and hilarious. Daniel Craig also goes against the mold here as the gung ho Joe Bang, and his brothers played by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid match his level of slightly unhinged mania. It’s a motley crew of people that make such a fun ensemble cast. I also have to give a lot of credit Farrah Mackenzie, who plays Jimmy’s daughter. She is awesome in this movie and performs way better than your average child actor. I see a bright future there.

While I do really like the blue collar element of this movie, I couldn’t help but thinking this movie was lacking in what I will call the “AHA department.” This is where you watch a heist movie and you think you’re seeing everything, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. That’s a staple of modern heist movies, and it almost feels like you’re witnessing a magic trick. There’s a feeble attempt at this in Logan Lucky, but for the most part what you see is what you get. There’s nothing terribly complicated or interesting about the heist, and that’s something of a disappointment. There’s also a lot of suspension of disbelief that has to happen for this to seem credible. For some people, it’s more than can be tolerated. If someone said they had a hard time buying everything they saw in this movie, I wouldn’t argue. Even I did at times. What saved the movie for me was the level of chemistry between the characters and the depth that they each individually had. You want all of them to succeed in their own ways, and because the character are so likable, it’s possible to look past some of the glaring storytelling flaws.

What Logan Lucky did have plenty of that surprised me is humor. I knew going in that this was going to be a light hearted and fun film, but there are moments that are just downright hilarious. Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are very funny, but the real comedic stars of this one are Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson. They are just so over the top and relishing the characters they are playing. They had potential to be really annoying, but they were just the right amount of goofy. There’s also a near unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane in here as well, and his scenes were some of the highlights of the entire movie. The writing may be lacking in terms of cleverness in the heist, but it more than makes up for it with the genuine laughs it provided.

Logan Lucky isn’t Soderbergh’s best film and it isn’t the grandest return he could’ve made to the silver screen, but I will say it’s clearly a project he wanted to do. This movie has a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a slew of great characters all bouncing off of one another. This is pure, lighthearted film making that offers up plenty of feel good energy. The actual heist could have been more creative and the third act feels a little rushed, but this was still a fun film. I doubt it’s going to make anyone’s list of best films of the year, but it’s one that may be worth checking out.

Final Grade: B

The LEGO Batman Movie – Review

22 Feb

Back when The LEGO Movie was released in 2014, I expected it to be one of the worst movies to hit theaters in a long time. I really thought I was about to sit through an advertisement for LEGOs that lasted over an hour and a half. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The LEGO Movie was one of the funniest movies I saw in a long time, and repeat viewings only seem to make it funnier. I will say I also had some hesitation about The LEGO Batman Movie. I thought maybe this was just going to be a watered down version of the first film, which is not something I wanted to see. I’m happy to report that The LEGO Batman Movie is another frenetic and brutally hilarious trip into this world made of LEGO bricks, even though it doesn’t quite match the energy of the first film.

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Gotham City has a lot of problems, but none of them are a match for the awesomeness of the self proclaimed best superhero ever, Batman (Will Arnett). After stopping the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) yet again, he is taken aback when the Joker says he values the ongoing hateful relationship that the two share, but Batman quickly shoots down that thought which leads the Joker to plot his greatest attack on Gotham to date. Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has been announced as the new police commissioner who vows to unify the police force and make it so that Gotham doesn’t need to just rely on Batman for protection. This comes much to the chagrin of Batman, who knows the Joker is up to something devious. With his new protégé, Dick Grayson, aka Robin (Michael Cera), Batman is forced to come to the realization that he is going to need all the help he can get when the Joker unleashes an absurd amount of villains on Gotham from the mysterious Phantom Zone.

The biggest thing I have to say about The LEGO Batman Movie, which is what I said about The LEGO Movie, is that I love its relentless style of humor. When a movie has so much humor and jokes jam packed into it that I have to watch it more than once is something I consider to be a strong positive. The days since I’ve seen The LEGO Batman Movie, I still find myself laughing because I’ll remember a scene or a line that didn’t stick with me right away, but came back to me nonetheless. This movie isn’t quite as hilarious as the first film in this new franchise, but it still made me laugh harder and more often than any other movie I’ve seen recently. It’s a pretty common misconception that just because something is animated and rated PG that it is something made solely for kids. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s worth noting that there’s plenty of jokes and references in this movie that are made just for all the adults in the audience.

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Beneath all the humor and over the top energy that makes this movie so great, there’s a lot of really good messages that can be thought about after the movie’s over. Again, these are messages that both kids and adults can understand and this film never panders to any specific demographic. There’s themes of friendship, family, and a very important one about self worth and knowing when to ask for help. It’s something a viewer of any age can really understand and support. Speaking of what’s hiding behind the barrage of humor, there’s an outrageous amount of Easter eggs, self referential jabs, and pop culture references. There’s enough to make your head spin, and and pop culture freak, comic book nerd, or cinephile will have a blast picking everything out.

Much like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie has a very cool style and is animated very well. Things still look as if they could be done through stop motion using LEGO bricks, but it’s really just a very well done piece of computer animation. There were actually a few scenes in this where I was downright shocked by just how good looking it was. There’s one quick scene of a villain walking along the top of a plane in the beginning of the movie that got me hooked on the visuals, but the action sequences are what really sold this movie to me in terms of its animation.

Simply put, The LEGO Batman Movie is another relentlessly hilarious movie that gives me more hope for the LEGO movies to come. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first film, but it’s a leg above a lot of the other comedies I’ve seen of recent. The jokes are non stop, the references and jabs at itself and other franchises is a lot of fun, and there’s even some good messages to take away from it all. The LEGO Batman Movie is a film that can lift anyone’s spirits and provide some much needed laughs.

Final Grade: A-

Unleashed – Review

16 Jun

I’ve talked about Luc Besson quite a bit in these reviews, and that’s because he’s a powerhouse when it comes to the action genre. Not only can he direct a great action film, but he has written some modern action classics. People may have seen more of his movies than they even thought. Today, I’m going to be looking at the 2005 film, Unleashed, which was written by Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier, who is known for his work on The Transporter (also written by Besson) and more recently on the Now You See Me films. Unleashed marks a high point in Jet Li’s career as well as this is widely regarded as his best English language film. Could it be possible that it actually is? Well I say it just might be.

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Deep in the pits of the underground crime world of the United Kingdom, there lies a small cage in a warehouse that is inhabited by Danny (Jet Li), who as a young boy witnessed his mother being murdered only to be picked up and “raised” by a small time gangster named Bart (Bob Hoskins). Throughout his life, Danny is trained to be a human attack dog, implementing brutal martial arts to beat on whoever Bart commands. After an attack on Bart’s life, Danny escapes and finds his way to Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano player, and his musician step daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). The trio soon becomes a close knit family, with Danny learning more and more how to be a part of society, but Bart is still alive and well and wants his attack dog back. This forces Danny to stand up for both himself and his new family and rid himself from Bart and his goons once and for all.

First and foremost, this is an action film, and a very good one at that. Jet Li is known for his highly choreographed, flawless martial art performances, which makes Unleashed stand out. The whole point of Danny’s character is that he’s raised as some street fighting attack dog, which means that he fights like some sort of rabid animal. This makes for some vicious action sequences that made me cringe more than a few times thanks to some nasty sound effects. People don’t just get hit, they get completely obliterated in a barrage of fists that would make even the most skilled of fighters think about what they are doing with their lives. A lot of this has to do with the incredible fight choreography by Yuen Wo Ping, who worked as choreographer on The Matrix and Kill Bill.

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So while Unleashed exceeds expectations in terms of its action, there’s also a lot of heart. After a gleefully violent first act, there’s a break of about 25 minutes to a half hour where the action completely comes to a stop. Normally, I’d say that this would be where you can go get a snack because it completely disrupts the pacing. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t disrupt anything. In fact it adds a hefty layer of character and succeeds in turning otherwise throw away characters into people that you absolutely need to see win over the bad guys. Anything else would be completely unacceptable since you grow to love these characters so much. I wasn’t expecting this from this film, but it sure was a pleasant surprise.

It’s also worthwhile to talk about the performances in Unleashed, because like everything else, they offer a lot more than you might expect. First of all, Jet Li completely goes in a different direction with his performances of Danny. Unlike his normal heroic performances, Li plays an incredibly damaged individual who has a lot to learn about himself and life, and he plays it very convincingly. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are good as the people who welcome Danny into their lives, but the real performance powerhouse is brought forth by Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was a fantastic actor, and I never really hear his name come up in relation to this movie. He seems to be having the time of his life playing the villainous Bart, who is one of the easiest villains to hate that I’ve seen in a while. He absolutely knocks it out of the park in this movie.

Unleashed is an action movie that stands above the average films in this genre. It has bone crunching action, but it also has a lot of heart and some excellent performances for some really great characters. When a movie like this really makes you care about the people and what may happen to them, you know you’ve found your way to something special. Isn’t that what movies are all about? Losing yourself in a story with great characters and real emotion. It also helps the Jet Li kicks major ass. This is one hell of a good movie.

Judge Dredd (1995) & Dredd (2012) – Review

1 May

With a summer full of comic book movies, I’m gonna be writing plenty of reviews of our favorite masked heroes. Let’s look at a more out of the way comic series for just a bit, though. In 1977, the British comic book 2000 AD was first published, which provided readers with new stories every week. The most famous recurring character of this series is none other than Judge Dredd himself. Like many comic book characters, movies were eventually made. In 1995 there was Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, and in 2012 there was Dredd starring Karl Urban. To compare the two, let me just say think Batman and Robin compared to The Dark Knight.

Let’s look at the 1995 version first. Or maybe let’s just try and forget?

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By the latter part of the 21st century, the Earth has been turned into a desert wasteland. Whoever is left alive are forced to reside in giant Mega-Cities where crime runs rampant, as opposed to the alternative, which is getting torn apart in the areas outside the walls. In these cities, the law is upheld by “judges” who act as judge, jury, and executioner. The most feared of these judges is Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), who is recognized for outstanding service and a brutal, no nonsense attitude. When one of his biggest criticizers is murdered, Dredd is framed and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name and restore justice to the corrupted Mega-City One.

Now, I’m all about silly movies especially when the likes of Sylvester Stallone are involved, but holy hell… What is this? After researching, I’ve found that he production of this movie was nightmarish since director Danny Cannon and his screenwriters had a huge disagreement with Stallone over what this movie was supposed to be. Was it a serious action/sci fi or was it an action/comedy? Stallone preferred the latter which made for some serious rewrites. The outcome is bizarre. The film has a great look to it and the special effects are all really good, but everything else is pretty awful. Rob Schneider’s comedic relief is anything but funny and the plot is so confusing and muddled that I didn’t really care what happened in the end.

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The best way I can sum up Judge Dredd is by saying I was baffled. How could a movie based off such a cool, rough character be this silly? Did they really think the jokes were that funny? Did they know that the plot made barely any sense? I honestly don’t now. The movie starts off cool enough, but once the real story kicked in, I found myself losing interest fast. Stallone looks ridiculous in the he’s always standing ramrod straight and Rob Schneider was just plain awful. I could really only enjoy Armand Assante’s performance as the villainous Rico. He was way over the top and loving it. This film is hated by fans of the comic series, and honestly, even though I haven’t read any of the stories, can see why.

But all was not lost. In 2012, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland teamed up to hopefully bring some redemption to the character. The result was Dredd.

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A new plague has struck Mega-City One, and it is the newest, most popular designer drug called Slo-Mo. It’s main draw is that upon inhaling, the brain is tricked into perceiving the world around it as moving at 1% its normal speed. Enter Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his new trainee, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who although she performed poorly at the academy may have special uses with her power. The two arrive at Peach Trees, a 200 story slum, to investigate a triple homicide. What the judges don’t know is that they are working against drug kingpin Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey) best interests in the production of Slo-Mo. To counteract her situation, Ma-Ma has the entire complex locked down and orders all of the criminals inside to hunt down and kill the judges. What follows is a two man war to the top of the complex to find and judge Ma-Ma, but also just to make it out of there alive.

I said earlier that these two movies can be compared like Batman and Robin to The Dark Knight. While Dredd certainly isn’t as incredible as The Dark Knight, the comparison can still be seen. This is a much darker take on the lore created in the comic books and it succeeds so much more. Karl Urban surprisingly plays a much better, real, and strangely likable Dredd, but that’s just the beginning. Instead of trying to complicate things unnecessarily, Alex Garland kept the story simple and straightforward, resulting in a movie that felt like I was watching a live action graphic novel of the story. Another contributing factor to this is the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, who has done work on Slumdog Millionaire28 Days Later, and Antichrist to name a few.

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Dredd is simply a much better movie than the 1995 original. It’s stylistically beautiful, is loaded with nearly non-stop action, and has a sense of humor that is appropriate to the content. I also can’t help but mention that it reminded me of The Raid more than once, but that’s great considering The Raid is one of the best action films of the decade. While this doesn’t reach the heights of comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it’s still a damn entertaining movie and one that I would love to see again and again.

So there you have it. If you haven’t seen these films already, I highly recommend skipping over Judge Dredd and moving right on to Dredd. He may not be the most well known comic book character, Judge Dredd has lasted over 35 years and counting, so much respect should definitely be given.

The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

Drive Angry – Review

21 May

Guns, sex, explosions, violence, gore, and loads of dirty language. Sounds like your typical 1970s grind house flick to me. But here we are in the second decade of the new millennium, but Drive Angry certainly is grind house. No one wanted to see this in the theaters with me, so I had to wait until now to see it, and to be honest, I was not at all disappointed.

Milton (Nicolas Cage) is angry. Milton is dead. Milton has also escaped from hell and is looking for blood, and lots of it. With the help of  Piper (Amber Heard), and out of work and angry waitress, they must track down and kill Jonah King (Billy Burke), and insane cult leader who killed Milton’s daughter and kidnapped his infant grand daughter to use as a human sacrifice. While all of this is happening, Satan’s right hand man, The Accountant (William Fichtner), is hot on Milton’s trail with a mission to bring him back to hell.

Does the plot of this sound absolutely ridiculous? Well it is, and so is the movie. From the opening scene, Drive Angry is a non stop roller coaster that makes you feel like your riding the bullet that is shot out of hell’s most sacred weapon, the Godkiller. I’m sure that some of the people reading this review will think I’m full of shit, but I really did enjoy this movie. It has a perfect blend of grind house style action and comedy.

Drive Angry is certainly not a showcase of acting talent. Nicolas Cage is ok, but can cross the line and deliver some really cheesy dialogue that wasn’t natural in the least. Amber Heard looks nice and does a pretty good job. Billy Burke brings a lot of character to Jonah King and would have been the best character in the movie, if not for William Fichtner. Fichter’s Accountant is hysterical, menacing, and hands down my favorite character of the movie. Every time he came on screen, I knew I was in for a treat.

The story was full of imagination that I really appreciate. While this may not be the most original movie in the world, it definitely has more creative talent than a lot of Hollywood films being cranked out solely for money. That was part of the joy of watching Drive Angry. I felt like the film makers were in control and were doing whatever they had to do to make the movie exactly what they wanted it to be. It’s refreshing to see something that was made out of creativity and love of the genre, rather than a stereotypical action flick that follows a certain set of guidelines.

It’s important to be in the right mind set before watching this film. This isn’t a big budget Transformers – like blockbuster. The special effects aren’t always great, but they joy comes from the absurdity of the action. There are so many times when I was laughing at what I was seeing or shaking my head in pure disbelief. Being too critical of this movie would be missing the point. This isn’t so much a movie to dissect, than to just turn your brain off and have fun for 2 hours.

I understand that a lot of people are going to pick Drive Angry apart. I’m content with saying it’s one hell of a fun ride. It’s not the most intense or ridiculous over-the-top action film I’ve ever seen, but it is a really good time. If you want to watch a movie with interesting character development that explores deep themes, then watch something else. If you want to have fun with a movie that knows it’s crazy and doesn’t care, than Drive Angry should definitely be an option.