After a sort of slow opening act, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky becomes a sweet, funny, raucous, touching and unexpected film, the most enjoyable thing he’s made after a series of dead serious dramas. Kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the Monster Truck crowd, this is popcorn fare with brains, but it’s not afraid to get loopy and mess around in the sandbox either in terms of comedy and characterization, especially that of Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang, the world’s most aloof safecracker. Joe’s help is needed when brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan take it upon themselves to stage a heist during NASCAR mania when times of financial woe befall them. Jimmy is laid back and affable, Clyde is old school idiosyncratic to the point of hysterics and their dynamic is something hilarious. Throw in Joe with a Bang and the thing takes off, once the gears of the plot start grinding, mind you. Like I said, the opening dilly dallys a tad. Despite being a screwball comedy of sorts, this never goes too far off the rails into, say, Cannonball Run territory and never feels *too* light or inconsequential. Soderbergh is an alchemist in complete control of every element and this thing unfolds deliberately, intricately and always playfully. Surrounding them is a delightfully eclectic supporting cast including Seth McFarlane, Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterson, Macon Blair, Sebastian Stan and Dwight Yoakam as a breezy Prison Warden. The heist is a blast, full of screw ups, diversions and delirious suspense as these ill prepared, lovably hapless goofs try to do right by their families and each other. Craig must be broken out of jail where he’s “in-car-cer-ated” for the duration of the job and then stealthily returned once the mission is accomplished, and Jimmy has to be done with it all in time for a beauty pageant that his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, wonderful) is appearing in. It’s fairly random but it just somehow works, from left field character choices to specifically nutty set pieces to third act twists that come out of nowhere. Just when you think you can relax, a federal agent (Hilary Swank in full shark mode) shows up to stir the pot again. The film ends on a narrative cliffhanger and with perhaps one of the best and most enticing zoom-out shots I’ve ever seen that had me both wishing for a sequel and wanting the magic to remain bottled just there at that perfect penultimate moment. Great film.
It’s easy to see why audiences are having sort of an icy reaction to Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, an oblique, austere Alaska set thriller with esoteric undertones. On a platform as diverse yet decidedly commercial as Netflix, it will take some time for the riskier, more artistic and less accessible projects to gain traction, and for the casual viewers to warm up to varied aesthetics that they often lazily dismiss in a lump sum as ‘weird.’ They’ll come around. For us who are tuned in, however, we can appreciate that these risks are being taken and that money is being spent on challenging, anti Hollywood stuff. Although not as tightly wound or succinct as Saulnier’s first two efforts (Blue Ruin and Green Room), Hold The Dark is definitely my favourite as I have an affinity for snowy settings and dark, ambiguous mysteries. Jeffrey Wright is great here as as an outdoorsman and wolf expert hired by the mother (Riley Keogh) of a child supposedly snatched by wolves to find the beasts and kill them. I won’t say much more except that things are so far from what they seem at first that you’ll truly have no inkling of where the plot is going to take you next, which is a sign of great, inspired scriptwriting. There’s an eerie edge to the whole thing, but the film’s secrets aren’t divulged willingly or at all half the time. Alexander Skarsgard is implosive and lupine himself as the boy’s haunted father, on his own freaky quest for a goal shrouded in enigma like fog swells throughout the Alaskan mountains, actually Alberta here. James Badge Dale is great as the intense local sheriff, Julian Black Antelope is a standout talent as a shady local villager involved in the central mystery, and the cast includes fine work from Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Jonathan Whitesell and Tantoo Cardinal. Playing around with genre and tone, Saulnier and cinematographer Magnus Nordendorf Jønck deserve huge props for staging a fucking volcanic firefight scene that has to be up there with the best shootout scenes of all time, it goes on for something like ten minutes, more bullets are fired than in a Rambo movie and there’s some gnarly violence. There are some spooky, intangible ideas at play here and almost none of it is made obvious.. it may leave some in WTF mode, but clearly a stylistic language is being spoken here, with some deep, disturbing things to say about nature, humanity and the dark symbiosis held over them, particularly in lonely, desolate places such as this. This won’t be everyone’s thing, but it’s stayed with me all day since I saw it last night, I’m on board with it.
Spare. Menacing. Near constant tension. Vice-grip direction. Air-tight plotting that MAKES SENSE when you stop to think about the fine details. Graphically violent yet never exploitive. Virtually faultless. Blue Ruin was writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s big coming out as a top-notch genre-buster, and I absolutely can’t wait to see Green Room, which has been kicking ass at the various festivals of late. Reminiscent of the Coen brothers with its dark thrills an…d exacting formal precision, this is a true screw-turning thriller that takes no prisoners. It’s like no revenge movie I’ve ever seen, and I admired how Saulnier used the blackest of comedy to somewhat lighten the heavy, nihilistic load of neo-noir mayhem. Macon Blair’s uncommonly focused, award-worthy, multi-layered lead performance is one for the ages and totally mesmerizing to behold – I don’t care how stiff the competition was, this guy was ROBBED of an Oscar nomination. I don’t want to spoil the plot to Blue Ruin, but I’ll allow that it’s a “man on a mission” narrative that gets turned upside down due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, each escalating in violence, and culminating in an extra fierce finale. This is a dangerous, all-consuming work, strangely beautiful, and horrifyingly bloody. I loved all 90, ultra-precise moments, and along with Ben Wheatley, Saulnier is one of the most exciting new voices on the hardcore indie scene.