STEVEN SODERBERGH’S LOGAN LUCKY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Steven Soderbergh is back to directing feature films with the recently released southern-fried heist-comedy Logan Lucky. This is an enjoyable late-summer offering with a busy plot, featuring one narrative strand that could’ve been jettisoned with no overall harm being done to the movie. I’m surprised that this little pisser of a film wasn’t a tad tighter from a construction stand-point, because there’s a certain point where you feel the movie is going to satisfactorily end, and it doesn’t, and I’m not sure what purpose the final scene is trying to establish, other than a thoroughly needless sequel? But regardless of these minor quibbles, I laughed a lot and hearty with the red-neck humor and there’s some very witty dialogue in Rebecca Blunt’s debut screenplay (whether or not Blunt actually exists is something that Soderbergh the clown can only answer…), and as usual, Soderbergh’s frequent aesthetic collaborators, director of photography Peter Andrews and editor Mary Ann Bernard, did very strong work with some great individual shots and some super-sharp cuts respectively. After directing every single episode of the totally dynamic but way-too-short-lived Starz series The Knick (one of my favorite TV shows ever), I can’t wait to see what else Soderbergh has up his cinematic sleeve; I really hope he doesn’t pull a phony-retirement again.

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The starry cast is a roll-call of big-time talent just cutting loose and having a blast with the wink-wink material, with Daniel Craig running away with the movie at all times, while Channing Tatum and Adam Driver both anchor the piece with laid-back charm and many moments that tickle the funny bone. The jaunty, jazzy and playful score by David Holmes is a constant pleasure, adding lots of background flavor to the entire piece, to say nothing of the jamming classic rock selections that litter the soundtrack. However, an intervention must be staged on behalf of Katherine Waterston; her short hair-cut, also recently seen in the woeful Alien: Covenant (even more egregious there) has GOT TO GO, as it’s not very flattering. Look out for child-actress and total scene-stealer Farrah Mackenzie who nails her role as a Little Miss beauty pageant contestant (“Nobody likes a fat girl”); this entire portion really solidifies the emotional relevance of the story. Katie Holmes and Riley Keough look trashy-hot in their bit parts, and even if the film feels decidedly minor in the grand scheme of Soderbergh’s brilliant career, it’s still a joy to have a low-tech movie that’s this much FUN getting a theatrical release, even if ticket-buyers shrugged their shoulders and turned a blind-eye to it on opening weekend. Their loss, and that’s a shame, because this one enjoys pleasing itself and the audience in equal measure.

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NICK’S NOTES: JAMES CAMERON’S THE ABYSS

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James Cameron’s epic sci-fi film The Abyss is absolutely incredible, a film that has gained in reputation over the years, and one that I really wish I could see on the big-screen some day. The recent news that Cameron is finally begining to prep this film (not to mention True Lies…) for Blu-ray makes me very excited. Ed Harris is absolutely riveting as a deep sea diver who encounters an alien species at the bottom of the ocean, while Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn were all fantastic in super-intense supporting roles. The underwater photography is breathtaking, the overall cinematography package by veteran lenser (and sometimes director) Mikael Salomon is positively stunning on every single aesthetic level, and Alan Silvestri’s exciting and emotional musical score ratchets up the drama and tension and suspense in every afforded moment.

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A fleet of dynamic film editors including Conrad Buff, Howard E. Smith, and Joel Goodman (with no doubt an army of assistants) all collaborated with sterling results; this film is so slick and beautifully cut that it’s pure joy to watch it with the sound turned off. The entire production is beyond fascinating to read about; check out the IMDB and Wikipedia for some truly insightful stuff. The Abyss, arriving in theaters in 1989, was definitely made on the cutting-edge (as all Cameron productions are), but couldn’t rely on extensive CGI which was still in its infancy in terms of the dominating type of special effect. SO MUCH of this film was done practically, with massive sets and real stunt-people and just absurd production values all over the place. And yet, somehow, it only reportedly cost $50 million to produce. Mind-boggling. I also think the Special Edition/Director’s Cut is better than the theatrical version.

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ROGER SPOTTISWOODE’S THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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***ALERT – THE PURSUIT OF DB COOPER AIRING IN HIGH-DEFINITION ON EPIX MOVIE CHANNEL!!!***

While I was scrolling through the various movie channels and setting my weekly recordings, I noticed that on Tuesday at 3am this week, the EPIX HD movie channel is airing the long-lost cult item The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. Being a child of the 1980’s, there are more than a few under the radar gems that always made me smile or that kept me entertained for one reason or another. Based on the novel Free Fall by J.D. Reed, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper was one of those titles that I found myself watching on cable (or was it HBO?) repeatedly, never truly understanding it, but enjoying it nonetheless.

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I did purchase a Region B DVD of the film (no American disc release has ever occurred, to my knowledge), but was disappointed that the photography had been cropped from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1. The transfer also looked to have been processed in bowls of urine, with the image looking overly yellow in numerous spots. Which is a damn shame because Harry Stradling’s cinematography, in general, is consistently eye-catching, and the film itself is a raucous and totally crazy little adventure that took a real man and real situation and turned the entire thing into the equivalent of story you’d tell or hear at a campfire, or an urban legend that takes on a mind of its own. It’s the truest idea of what a “cult movie” is, or should be, and the behind the scenes rigmarole that accompanied the production is fascinating in its own right. Kino-Lorber or Shout! needs to grab this one and finally release it on Blu-ray; it’s just waiting for the boutique label treatment.

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The film has somewhat recently been added as a rental option on Amazon and YouTube.Released in 1981, the narrative centers on wild-man aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper (Treat Williams in a unique role), who made off with $200,000 in 1971 after leaping from the back of a plane over the Pacific Northwest. The script imagines what it would have been like for Cooper to hide out and attempt to evade capture by law enforcement. Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s incident packed screenplay fictionalized most of what happened during Cooper’s escape (because who really knows?), and there’s a certain zippiness to the plotting which keeps a bouncy tone and pace; Fiskin’s other scripting credits include the brilliant and undervalued Cutter’s Way, Tony Scott’s pulpy thriller Revenge, and the gritty Amazon crime series Bosch.

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John Frankenheimer was The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper’s original director, and would later denounce the entire production. He was replaced by TV journeyman Buzz Kulik just before shooting began. Then, after the movie was well into production, Kulik was fired, and replaced by final collaborator Roger Spottiswoode, who would be the only director to receive an onscreen credit. The film has an interesting, sort of ramshackle visual aesthetic, heightened by a jaunty, honky-tonk-ish score by James Horner. The performances by Robert Duvall (as an insurance investigator) and Williams anchor the film with a level of class and conviction, Kathryn Harrold was a total knock-out, and while the overall lightheartedness of the entire endeavor is apparent from frame one, the various action scenes are briskly shot, cut, and executed, especially the opening sequence complete with a real sky-dive done before the era of CGI laziness kicked in.

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I Am Home: Twenty years of ‘Event Horizon’

Twenty years ago this week, audiences were scared out of their wits with Paul Anderson’s sci fi-horror-fetish film, Event Horizon.  Plagued by production problems and studio interference, Anderson’s film ended up as maimed as most of the victims in the film (if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know if I blame you, but I would ask what you’re doing this reading this . . . . WATCH IT!)

I’ll be doing a more formal review in the coming weeks, but I wanted to get a marker out there . . . a warning if you will.

Fine.  If you won’t take my word for it . . .

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“Vacate… 

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… I want off this ship.”

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“You can’t.  She won’t let you.”

 

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‘Dave Made a Maze’ Is Zany Fun

I was fortunate to grow up with films like The Never Ending Story, Labyrinth, Gremlins, and Explorers.  To me, these zany films allowed me to explore my own dreams, to follow my passions, and to realize that the world is a much bigger, but not as scary a place as I thought it was.  These days, films are less focused on dreams and more on conquering our fears.

Yet, every once in a while, a film comes along that dares to explore the things that defined my childhood film experiences; a film that is so zany, so unbelievable that it just has to be seen with your own eyes.

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Here enters writer-director Bill Watterson’s debut feature, Dave Made a Maze, a film that made the festival circuit earlier this year and has entertained, delighted and surprised so many festival goers, and is now in a limited theatrical release.

Dave (Nick Thune), a struggling artist seeks to create something significant. Dave lives with his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) in a small one-bedroom apartment.  His problem is that he never finishes anything that he starts and he decides one day to build a cardboard fort, becoming trapped in the self-evolving maze leaving Annie and their friends to effect a rescue.

Developed on a micro-budget, Watterson made something really special out of literally nothing more than a few sheets of cardboard and some tape.  The acting is really what carries the film and sells the premise.  Thune is brilliant as the misanthropic Dave.  Kumbhani was absolutely hilarious as the deadpan Annie.  She is Dave’s rock and yet, is tired of his lack of follow-through.  As his rock though, she understands the importance of what Dave started and why he needs to complete his quest.

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The heart in Watterson and co-writer Steven Sears’s script comes from the supporting cast.  The cynical Gordon (Adam Busch) is more talk and less about action (no wonder why he’s a perfect best friend for Dave), Greg (Timothy Nordwind) and Brynn (Stephanie Allynne) want to be able to brag about this experience, and documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak), along with his two-man film crew, are determined to make the whole experience more frightening than it actually is.

The motley rescue crew ignores Dave’s warnings and what follows is a hilarious reality check in a cardboard world where they need to find an exit strategy, quickly.

The amount of detail that went into creating the visual look of the film is staggering and it shows in both the cardboard creations and the practical special effects.  This film is very much a throwback to ‘80s PG – rated movies with tongue-in-cheek references to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The references are where this film’s imagination shines.  Sure, there are unexplained inconsistencies in the story.  So long as imagination and dreams flow, life’s inconsistencies are bound to show up some times.

Now playing in theaters, sit back, relax and take it all in.  Life will never be the same after you’ve seen Dave Made a Maze.

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

Twin Peaks: The Return of Phillip Jeffries

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Join Tim, Mya, and Frank as they discuss the latest episode of TWIN PEAKS, WE ARE LIKE THE DREAMER and the return of David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries! For everything Twin Peaks, please visit Mya’s website here.

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We like to podcast them softly, from a distance.

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