Tag Archives: steven soderbergh

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

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The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

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The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

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The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

sex, lies, and videotape – Review

8 May

I love going back to the beginning of acclaimed film makers’ careers and seeing what they were capable of before making it big. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Robert Rodriguez had El Mariachi, and Richard Linklater had Slacker. All are impressive starts. Let’s go back even earlier than these movies to a director’s debut that surprised everyone, and he just so happens to be one of my favorite film makers. This is Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape. Not only did it take major awards at the Cannes Film Festival, but also helped jump start the independent film movement of the 1990s.

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Ann’s (Andie MacDowell) marriage is in trouble, and she can’t seem to figure out why. In her mind, she just no longer has any interest in sex. In reality, her husband John (Peter Gallagher) is having an affair with Ann’s sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). This deceit continues regularly until John’s old college friend, Graham (James Spader), arrives in town with hopes of finding a new apartment. Graham has a secret of his own, a fetish that rips into the lives of everyone involved and changes the way they look at each other and their relationships.

Now, this movie has really left me thinking. On the surface it works really well as a dark sex comedy/drama, but it possesses something much more psychological. The characters in this movie are all twisted beyond repair, and it’s only appropriate that the first scene of the movie takes place in a therapist’s office. Trying to unravel the characters is no easy task and the past few days since I’ve watched it, I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it. It’s obvious that sex is the main drive for everyone in the movie, but what their true intentions and motivations are are sometimes a little bit foggy. The sex seems to control their entire lives, but what are they really trying to hide or escape from?Sex-Lies-and-Videotape-1989

 

The writing in this movie is also something to really be appreciated and looked at differently than you would a more normal kind of movie. The way the characters speak to each other is far from how people actually interact in everyday life. Deep personal secrets are brought to light way earlier than they should and the graphic nature of the dialogue compared with how long some of the characters have known each other makes it almost a surreal experience listening to them talk. It also makes you wonder what Soderbergh was trying to do by not beating around the bush at all, which is a way more common thing to do in movies. This deconstruction of sexual dialogue is sure to make puritans cringe, but is certainly something to be appreciated.

It also isn’t very rare for a debut film to have acting in it that is less than superb, but that isn’t the case in sex, lies, and videotape. James Spader won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his subtle portrayal of Graham, who is arguably the most normal person in this movie. Peter Gallagher and Laura San Giacomo are both fine, but Andie MacDowell is the real powerhouse next to Spader. Soderbergh was originally very hesitant in casting her, but it appears he made the right choice. Her nervous energy is comparable to James Stewart in Rear Window.

Thinking back on sex, lies and videotape, I can sort of describe it as what would happen if Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen collaborated to make a movie together. It has the neurotic energy of Woody Allen, the mystery of Hitchcock, and the combined dialogue of both. Steven Soderbergh may have, at the time, unknowingly created one of the more important movies of the last 30 years, since the aftermath resulted in Miramax being the forerunner of bringing independent movies to the main stream. It’s a superbly written and acted movie that has certainly made its mark in film history.

The Jacket – Review

4 Apr

There are times when I put on a movie that I know nothing about, and I end up being blown away and wonder to myself why I haven’t watched or known about these movie before. Then there are times where I put on a movie of which I have no knowledge of and wonder why I even bothered watching it in the first place. I can’t say I really shouldn’t have bothered watching The Jacket, but I can’t say that it meets these two feelings halfway. This a movie that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, but actually leans to the side of generic ludicrous.

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After receiving a head wound in the Gulf War, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) returns to America with severe amnesia. As luck would have it, Jack is inadvertently involved in the murder of a police officer and is sentenced to a mental institution after he can’t remember what happened or the level of his involvement. While at the institute, Jack becomes part of a sadistic psychological treatment created by Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson). The treatment has Jack getting put in a straightjacket, strapped to a table, injected with experimental drugs, and being locked in a morgue locker. While inside, he begins hallucinating and even travels 15 years into the future where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), who he met when she was young. During his trips through time, Jack learns that he will die in 4 days, which leads Jack and Jackie investigating the hospital and the legality of the treatment.

If you take a look at the poster that I put up here you’ll see that one of the taglines is “If you liked Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, and 12 Monkeys than you’ll love this film.” OK, lets think about this. I’ve never seen Vanilla Sky, but if you want to compare it to the two other films mentioned, you’ll see some major differences. Donnie Darko and 12 Monkeys are both really intelligent, mind bending science fiction films that really demand the viewer to watch them at least twice. The Jacket really thinks it’s smart, but it turns out to be really convoluted and more so just rehashes the style and certain ideas that were already used in these movies That’s what’s really unfortunate. There is so much room to play around with the plot of this movie, but it turns out to be completely misused.

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This film is the perfect example of a movie that fails almost solely because of the writing. Massy Tadjedin wrote a screenplay that is full of ideas that almost seem to be thrown away for drama that I really don’t care about because I don’t buy how the relationships of the characters form. At the risk of revealing a spoiler, for some reason that is completely beyond me, a romantic relationship forms literally out of nowhere between Jack and Jackie. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. If there doesn’t need to be romance in a movie, don’t put romance in the movie! The relationship between Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh or Adrian Brody and Daniel Craig are much more interesting, but are practically thrown away.

I can’t fault the direction of John Maybury, any of the acting, nor the cinematography of Peter Deming. All of these people were on point with their jobs. The seedy, dirty look of the mental institution is awesome and Maybury gets good performances out of all of his actors, especially Brody, Leigh, and Craig. But let’s go back to the story. Because there isn’t enough focus on the mystery of the time traveling and treatment, nor the aftermath for Dr. Becker, I really can’t connect to the story. I just really can’t deal with the screenplay that Tadjedin has written. It’s really sloppy and I can’t believe George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh put their name on this as producers.

The Jacket is so disappointing because almost everything was in place for this to be a cool psychological science fiction thriller movie. Unfortunately, the screenplay is just so convoluted and often times generic that it all just turned into a bore. There was no attention payed to mystery or to leaving real hard questions for the viewers to answer. All we have is a weak ending that seems like it really wants to spark some debate. Ultimately, the ending and the entire movie is a lot less intelligent and original than it thinks it is.

Schizopolis – Review

3 Mar

Well… This was probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. When I think of Steven Soderbergh, I think of a very talented and versatile director that seems to have the ability to take on any genre, from the complicated comedy of Ocean’s 11, to the intense drama/thriller films of Side Effects and Traffic. But then there’s Schizopolis, a twisted experiment in surrealist comedy that reminds me of something David Lynch would make it he had a much lighter sense of humor. Steven Soderbergh making something like this, though, I never would have expected.

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Fletcher Munson (Steven Soderbergh) is an office employee for the company run by T. Azimuth Schwitters (Mike Malone), the inspirational founder behind a new self help/religion, Eventualism. Fletcher and his wife (Betsy Brantley) have a relationship that can only be described as nonexistent, speaking only in the underlining context of how they really feel. When Munson gets even more distant when he has to write a speech for Schwitters, his wife decides to take her love elsewhere to Munson’s doppelganger, the timid dentist Dr. Korchek (also Steven Soderbergh). Meanwhile, the swinging exterminator, Elmo Oxygen (David Jensen), who spends most of his time bedding the housewives of the houses he sprays is somehow fitting into all of this.

There’s not much I can really say about Schizopolis. It’s something that I never expected out of Steven Soderbergh, but it’s something I would have liked to see more of. It’s non-linear plot line is only the first of the strange things about this movie. There are events of the past that are making their way into the future, nonsensical babbling, and two people who are one and the same without offering any explanation. At the beginning of the movie, a character of Soderbergh announces that if there’s anything that we don’t understand about the movie, it’s our fault and not theirs.

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This is a really funny movie, and a lot of that goes to Steven Soderbergh’s acting. This is the only movie he’s ever acted in, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him in something else. Of course, that probably won’t be happening after he pretty much gave up on movies after the way Hollywood treated his work. This movie feels like something very personal that he wanted to make, and the only reason it ever got made was because he wanted to do it. As silly as it is, Schizopolis does have cool things of communication and lack there of, and of the true work involved just to get through everyday life.

Schizopolis is a movie that makes sense while not making sense at the same time. There are things that are never explained, and then some things that are sort of explained. We aren’t meant to always understand, but to just go along for the ride and you might learn something along the way. Steven Soderbergh has crafter a hilarious experimental comedy that reminded me of Inland Empire if it was even remotely funny. If you love strange movies and don’t mind things that exist just to exist, check out Schizopolis wherever you can find it.

Haywire – Review

23 Aug

There’s a lot of things about Haywire that made me really excited. For one thing, Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite directors and seeing him tackle an espionage action/thriller film would be awesome. Secondly, the cast looked out of this world awesome, with the lead  character being an MMA fighter. And finally, I heard nothing but great things about the action sequences. I felt concerned right before the film started that I would be disappointed with it, and disappointment with this movie would be a big letdown.

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Mallory (Gina Carano) is the top employee of a company, led by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), which gets hired out by different corporations to get certain jobs done. This time, the contractor is American government official Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and his Spanish contact, Rodrigo (Antonio Bandaras).  The mission goes well but she is soon betrayed by another agent, Paul (Michael Fassbender), which starts her on a mission of vengeance that will rope in her father (Bill Paxton) and a close employee (Channing Tatum).

It’s difficult to summarize this movie because there are so many twists and turns packed into a 90 minute movie. What I gave is pretty skeletal, but I certainly don’t want to ruin the movie, especially one that is as entertaining as this! Steven Soderbergh does it again, and this time he takes the spy genre and throws his own unique vision over it all. The only thing that really wears the film down is its plot. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it seemed to just take a back seat to everything else. It’s a simple story with a lot of complex twists and characters. In that sense it became more about the action and the characters more than the story, which is fine, but it’s sort of weird for this genre of film.

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This cast is way too big to ignore. Gina Carano, who is known for being an MMA fighter, does fine but can come off as a little flat sometimes. More on her later though. Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Antonio Bandaras are adequately sleazy and easy to distrust right off the bat. I really liked Michael Douglas’ performance as the government official who is working for himself, pretty much. I still don’t know what he’s all about and Douglas played it perfectly. Bill Paxton was fine, nothing too special, but fine nonetheless. Now we come to Channing Tatum. Ok, I see why people don’t like him, but I stand by a statement I previously made in another review. If you put him with the right director and/or give him the right role, he acts very well. This is one of those times, and Soderbergh also seems to agree, casting him in Magic Mike and Side Effects as well.

Now this is the part I really want to talk about. The action sequences. You know how cool the fight sequences are in The Bourne Identity and its sequels? Well, picture those scenes, with a camera that is far from the action, and completely still. Those are the fight scenes in Haywire. This is where Carano shines the most. Using her skills as an MMA fighter, the interesting camera placement by Soderbergh, and the lack of any music, these fight scenes are really something to behold. You can see every punch, kick, or defensive maneuver that a character does, and the sounds of grunts, hits, and broken bones only help to immerse you in what is happening.

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Haywire is definitely a great way to spend 90 minutes of your time. With Soderbergh’s attention to style, the action sequences, and the all star cast, Haywire is a surprisingly memorable movie. There are plenty of ways to mess up an espionage film, but this one borrows from the ’60s and reinvents itself into something new. I recommend Haywire to everyone. It’s awesome.

The Qatsi Trilogy – Review

5 May

Ok, this is gonna be a weird group of movies to review. The Qatsi Trilogy are not your everyday documentary films that show life with either a voice of God narration or interviews throughout. Godfrey Reggio, the director of all three films, simply documents and puts the beautiful images that he captures to the music of master composer, Philip Glass. Without a single word of dialogue, these three films will make you think about the world and your existence like you may have never thought of it before, and will definitely open your eyes to different aspects and places while completely changing your view on the familiar.

Let’s start in 1983 with the first film of the trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi.

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Koyaanisqatsi translates to “life out of balance.”  What this film shows first is beautiful and monolithic images of nature. The transition is quick as these stone monoliths start being destroyed with the culprit being mankind, and the reason being so that we can construct our own manmade structures. Life of humanity is shown in fast motion photography with symbolism and allegories that can be seen in the editing and the photography itself. Finally, the film ends with a warning against our obsession and reliance on technology that won’t soon be forgotten.

This is one of, if not the most, beautiful and hypnotic films that I have ever seen. The fast motion photography is the most obvious way of showing the speed at which our lives move. We are a civilization that almost seems to never sleep or even slow down. In one particular scene in a train station, we almost seem like insects moving around our mound of dirt. Another scene shows highways with red lights flying through them, which reminded me almost of blood cells traveling through veins and arteries with the city being the hear that keeps it all moving. Images like this really stick out and make the viewer think about what they are seeing, and that’s what makes Koyaanisqatsi so excellent.

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I feel like this is more than a film, it’s a cinematic experience that will leave your brain in constant thought and bewilderment. You’ll ponder your existence and the effect that your existence has on the world around you. You may even be torn on the true meaning of the movie, whether it’s a good or bad one. That’s part of the brilliance of this movie, the ambiguity mixed with the power of the visuals and fantastic music. This is definitely one to check out and be amazed.

In 1988 the sequel was released, Powaqqatsi.

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As the poster shows, Powaqqatsi translates to “life in transformation.” This film is about life in multiple third world and developing countries, and how they are growing and constantly evolving. There is also a theme that can be noticed about the west’s cultures effects on these more eastern civilizations. The film starts out slowly with tribal rituals, and small villages in their own everyday lives. A train is a transition to urban development which is quicker than what was shown before, but still nowhere near as fast as the photography in Koyaanisqatsi.

The reason why it is so slow is to show the contrast of more modernized society. The lives these individuals live seem to be more focused and, in our view, slowed down. The photography is still beautiful and the music by Philip Glass is still great. This is definitely not as great a movie as its predecessor, however. Nowhere near. I understand the need for the slow motion, but it didn’t keep me too interested for the entire run of the movie. It also seemed very haphazardly edited. Koyaanisqatsi almost had a narrative that was hidden in the fluidity of the movie. Powaqqatsi seemed more like a film that was thrown together. It made it much less interesting than it could have been.

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Powaqqatsi was still an engaging and beautiful movie with powerful music to match. It still makes you think about your life, but this time with the knowledge of how other people live. It’s jarring and strangely inspirational. The only thing that could have improved this movie is better pacing, a shorter run time, and a more strategically constructed narrative. This isn’t a necessary film to watch, but I can understand why it was made.

Finally, in 2002, Godfrey Reggio released the final film of his trilogy: Naqoyqatsi.

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Naqoyqatsi translates to “life as war.” This is the black sheep out of the three films with a lot of its footage coming from archival videos and television. The themes that are tackled range from the follies and plasticity of celebrity life to the tragic apex of technology and life: war. Phillip Glass’ music still plays a big part in this film, but the footage itself is much more digitized with a lot of special effects to really stress the notion of technology.

I’m really torn over this one. Part of me wants to like this one more than Powaqqatsi, but the other part of me tells me that  that’s impossible. It certainly kept my attention more and the themes constructed more of a narrative, but the work that went into both of its predecessors completely seems to outdo the work put into this film. The effects were really cool, but soon got to be a bit overdone to the point that it was distracting. Glass’ music is also completely unmemorable. I can hum some parts from the other two films, but can’t seem to remember any of the music from this one.

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My main problems with Naqoyqatsi are that it seems overblown with cool effects and it is altogether just not as powerful. It certainly doesn’t match the beauty of Koyaanisqatsi and PowaqqatsiIt still does have a powerful message that can be connected to the messages of Koyaanisqatsi, so in that way, it’s a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, but is the weakest in my opinion.

The Qatsi Trilogy is an incredible cinematic experience that is very difficult to explain, and is something that really must be seen. While I do have some gripes with the second and third entries, they still provide a powerful trip into different parts of the world and different parts of our minds. They are a perfect combination of music and images and experimental and documentary. I can’t recommend these movies to everyone, because it’s certainly not going to appeal to a national audience. For the people who find themselves interested in these ideas, check them out if you haven’t already.