Logan Lucky

So Steven Soderbergh has returned from his self imposed retirement to add another heist film to his resume. Having already directed the three “Ocean’s” film, why he felt compelled to make another in this genre is not really clear, but we can be thankful that he made that choice, “Logan Lucky” is a cleverly structured film with a lot of humor but it is indeed a straight heist movie and not a parody. It is loaded with surprise complication, twists in the plot and enough offbeat characters for two other movies as well.

Channing Tatum and Adam driver are brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan. They are a couple of sad sacks that have a reputation in their family for failure. Jimmy was on his way to the NFL when he blew out his knee and Clyde lost a hand in Iraq serving his country. They have some small time juvenile crime behind them, but when Jimmy unjustly gets fired from his job, he begins planning a robbery. Heist films usually develop in one of two ways, either we see all the planning and then watch the execution (usually go wrong) or we get a minimal amount of information on the plan and we see it play out in front of us, (usually with lots of surprises). This film falls into the later category. Most of what we see of Jimmy’s plan is a list of stupid things not to do during the crime. Everything else is fresh to the audience.

Because the brothers are forced to use some help that is not exactly hitting on all cylinders,  you might get the idea that they are not to bright and this is going to go in the direction of a Cohen Brothers movie, where we follow the idiots trying to make their plan work. While there is humor and some of it is based on a shortage of IQ, the main thrust of the movie is about how well planned the robbery actually is. Of course there are detours and complications, but those are the things that add to the value and entertainment of the film.

Daniel Craig steals most of the scenes he appears in. His bleached hair and motley collection of tattoos place him in a stereotype of hillbilly criminals, but it turns out he understands chemistry pretty well. One of the big laughs in the film comes when he basically conducts a lecture on explosives in the middle of the heist. If you like prison break films, this movie has a plot line that includes some clever misdirection and it gives Dwight Yoakam a chance to shine as an officious Prison warden. There are a half dozen other characters that probably deserve to be mentioned, including the cute as a button Farrah MacKenzie who plays Jimmy’s daughter Sadie. Riley Keogh is the bother’s little sister and she plays a pretty big role in the heist as well.

We are getting to the end of summer and that usually means that the films coming out are just trying to make some bucks off of the lack of competition. “Logan Lucky” does not have anything to apologize for, it is well put together and entertaining. You will care about the characters and you hope it all goes well, but what fun would there be if everything goes off like clockwork?

The Rocketeer

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Review By Richard Kirkham

  [ This essay was originally Published on the deleted site “Fogs Movie Reviews” in the Fall of 2013]

The+RocketeerHollywood in the Golden Age, Nazi Commandos, Gangsters, Young Love, Air Speed Races, Howard Hughes, is there anything that is not found in this Walt Disney Picture from more than twenty years ago? I can’t think of anything they could have added to make this movie better. The story is a clever adventure which mixes real world events with science fiction elements and puts it in the backdrop of one of the most romantic times and places in film history. “The Rocketeer” was a modest success and not a break out hit that would justify a sequel. The movie harkens back to the serial adventures of the 1940s but is based on a racy 1982 graphic novel/comic, which has enjoyed greater literary success than it’s cinematic cousin. There are some obvious changes made in adapting this to the big screen. The biggest change was altering the character of Jenny Blake. Instead of the somewhat seedy “party girl/stripper” she is in the comic, she becomes a more wholesome ingenue. She is an innocent young actress, trying to break into the movies by playing in the crowd scenes in the movies being manufactured at the Hollywood Dream Factories of the Golden Age.

air racesRace PlaneJenny’s boyfriend is Cliff Secord, a barnstorming pilot trying to get his new plane ready for the national air races. Southern California was in a growth spurt when it comes to aviation. By 1939 more than half the planes in the country were made in the state. Aviation was a glamorous venture, which made heroes of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has an extensive collection of the “buzz bomb” type planes used by the racers of the time. This was the golden age of aviation and it crosses paths in our story with the golden age of Hollywood. Cliff and his mechanic mentor Peevy discover a rocket pack, hidden in their old bi-plane by gangsters trying to escape from the FBI. The crooks substitute an old vacuum cleaner for the rocket and when their car explodes, destroying Cliff’s racing plane, the feds believe the rocket was destroyed as well. So Cliff and Peevy look to the Rocket as a way of making back some money to restore their dreams of racing in the Nationals. It turns out that the gangsters are seeking the rocket pack for a Hollywood star. In 1980, celebrity biographer Charles Higham published a book that claimed that Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling star of “the Adventures of Robin Hood” was a Nazi spy. The book was widely criticized by scholars and reviewers for the slipshod reasoning that Higham used to reach his conclusions. In fact, Flynn’s family sued, but since Flynn had died in 1959, the courts tossed the case on the legal premise that the dead can’t be libeled. Flash forward ten years and the slander is now being used in a slightly disguised manner. The film Jenny is working on stars Neville Sinclair, a character clearly based on Errol Flynn. The confluence of events and setting creates a truly entertaining story, that anyone who loves movies should appreciate.

RestaurantShapedLikeBulldogThe look of the film is outstanding. The airfield out in the valley is stocked with old bi-wings and hopped up racing planes. The wooden bleachers used at the airshow and the hanger where many early events take place give a genuine feel for the aviation industry of the period. Not too far from the airfield is a diner that caters to the pilots and mechanics. It is modeled after a real food joint here in Los Angeles at the time. The interior is a lot more spacious than the exterior would allow, so a little movie magic has to be forgiven. One of the nice touches in the set is the wall near the telephone where at one point the bad guys discover the phone number for Jenny, the girl they are at that point trying to track down. rocketeer2

south seas capture There are dozens of little touches like this that make the film feel incredibly authentic. In the Hollywood sequences, there is a large set for “The South Seas Club”, an upscale nightclub and restaurant, run by Eddie Valentine, the mobster being employed by Sinclair to obtain the rocket. The Front of the club is clearly on a backlot street but the interior looks luxurious and ethereal. The big band singer makes her appearance rising out of a giant clam shell. The tables, booths and dance floors remind us of a hundred art deco sets from 1930s era films. Only here the lighting is colored in dramatic flourishes of green and blue. When Neville leaves Jenny at their table to go and speak to Eddie in his office, you can see a mermaid swimming in a large fish tank behind him. As Cliff sneaks into the club, he hides in the laundry room, labeled with a nice deco font on the sign. Everywhere, there is attention to the kinds of details that might be ignored in a lesser production.

Howard Hughes and the FBI ultimately track down Cliff, and reveal to him the importance of the rocket pack. There is a brilliant one minute propaganda piece done in simple animation that conveys the breadth of the danger that “The Rocketeer” must prevent.

Suddenly, the story takes on broader implications and you can see why Cliff has to try to save Jenny, because otherwise she could be sacrificed in the interests of a bigger world. The Hughes scenes are some of the best in the film because they feature the actor Terry O’Quinn who has been making everything he appears in better for the last thirty three years. The famous “Spruce Goose” plane that had been part of a wartime project mired in controversy, makes an advance appearance here in model form. There is a fun little escape bit that features the plane and O’Quinn has a line that foretells some of the later controversy. Since I have mentioned one of the supporting players, it would be a little unfair to ignore the other actors that help bring this piece of romantic pulp to life. Alan Arkin was playing old way back in 1991, his character Peevy is the wizened mentor to our hero. His line delivery and general demeanor are solid as always but he adds a twinkle in the eye whenever the aviation mechanics get discussed, making his character a lot more interesting than he would otherwise have been. John Polito, a ubiquitous presence on TV and in movies plays Bigelow, the smarmy manager of the airfield and show that Cliff moonlights for. The sight gag concerning his character’s resolution is funny but a bit disturbing. An actor I have always appreciated, despite the fact that he never had a role that allowed him to be front and center is Ed Lauter. He plays FBI agent Fitch with a sneer that he could trademark. When the tommy guns come out on a couple of occasions, you can see the glee in his eye as the tough guy gets to do what he does best.

rocketeer4The three leads of the picture are cast perfectly. The luminous Jennifer Connelly is Jenny Blake, and she sparkles as the damsel in distress. She is a love interest that would clearly make both men stop and take notice. Her character is also a lot more engaged in the plot than simply being the object of rescue. She links the characters together and her soft line delivery keeps the character from becoming shrill like others in similar roles have become. The scenes where she engages in a uncertain seduction sequence with Neville Sinclar after being drugged by him are incredibly sexy without being vulgar. The switch in character might be off putting to fans of the comics, but it made the love angle much more effective in the movie. While we might have enjoyed seeing her as a Bettie Page stand in, her character is more interesting with the change and it helps broaden the appeal of the movie. Billy Campbell was a stalwart hero type, with an eager manner and a handsome face. He brought a certain naivete to the part of Cliff Secord. The pilot is so caught up in the aviation issues that he doesn’t always see how important his girl is to him. When he sees the propaganda film, it is like he awakens from a being a frivolous adventurer to becoming a hero. He had of course done heroic things earlier in the movie, but usually without much thought. His decision to escape the FBI and go after the Nazi spy ring himself is based in part on Jenny but also on the seriousness of the threat. When he evaded the gangsters at the South Seas Club, it is almost comic..

the-rocketeer hero When he escapes the clutches of the Nazi’s, he grabs a gun, something he had not done before. The shot of him on top of the Griffith Observatory, with the flag waving behind him as he launched toward the airship, is the moment he is branded “HEROIC”.

The final piece of the puzzle is the great Timothy Dalton. Denied an opportunity to continue as James Bond, this was his next major project and it is a solid indicator of the quality actor that the Bond franchise lost. Dalton plays Sinclair as hero, villain, clown and threat. He is oily smoothness when he tries to seduce Jenny in an attempt to locate the rocket. He plays the “star” on the movie set, both as a real actor and as a Prima donna. When he banters with Paul Sorvino playing gangster Eddie Valentine, you can detect the disdain this big movie star, secret agent feels for having to consort with hoods. When he responds to Jenny’s accusation near the end of the film that “everything about you is a lie”, you can hear the ego come out in his retort “It wasn’t lies Jenny, it was acting.”Neville Sinclair

“The Rocketeer” is rousing piece of nostalgia. It combines Hollywood and aviation at the height of their romantic periods and presents us with a credible love story to boot. The mixture of real characters with fictional representations of real characters and finally fictional characters, works to build a fun and exciting adventure story. Even if you can’t get behind the story however, there is amazing production design that will evoke the era in a thousand ways. The director Joe Johnson revisits this territory in the recent Marvel Super Hero flick, Captain America: The First Avenger. Johnson has the right touch for this time period. The nightclub sequences and the stunt show all reflect careful planning. Just as an illustration of the love Johnson seems to have for the period, listen to the big band singer. She performs for a longer period than needed to set the tone and her arrival is special despite the fact that she is merely scenery. Listen to the James Horner score and see how it is used to set the tone so frequently. The dialogue is filled with 30’s slang and aviation jargon and the gangsters look like the crooks in the movies, even if real crooks don’t look like that. This is a great family film and I can’t imagine that anyone out there with kids over the age of eight, wouldn’t be thrilled to share this inventive big screen adventure with them. Don’t be surprised if they start running around with pots on their heads instead of cape. This movie can inspire that kind of childhood imagination.

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Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Wind River

There are dozens of crime thrillers that reach the marketplace every year. Most of them are forgettable, sometimes there is a prestigious director or novel behind the film, but it takes something unique to pull me into a theater to see those films. The small ones usually slip by and that is sometimes unfortunate because there might be something worthy in them that I just don’t know about. I still need to catch up with “Sicario” from two years ago, a film that was written by the writer/director of this movie. I did see “Hell or High Water” the most recent of Taylor Sheridan’s screenplays to get made intro a film. It was my favorite film of last year, a position it took over the more I watched it. That film is the first reason I drove the 35 miles down to Hollywood to see “Wind River”.
Mosaic Electronic Poster at the Hollywood Arclight.

Mosaic Electronic Poster at the Hollywood Arclight

A second reason I was intrigued by the film is that it is set in a location that I have visited frequently over the last few years. Lander, Wyoming is a small town in the middle of the state, it is surrounded by the Wind River Indian Reservation. While I have been to the two tribal casinos in the area, I have no first hand experience with life on a reservation, and the problems that the native American populations have to face. One of my friends who lives in Lander does know something of this because the school program she is a director for has numerous children from the reservations attending. They often come from homes where there are drug problems. My contact is superficial but I do know the terrain a bit, and even though my visits have all been in comfortable weather, I can see how the desolate areas can be foreboding in the chill of a snowstorm or long winter. I have often said to my friends when we visit, that their home in in the middle of nowhere, and you’d have to drive two hours to find a location that you can see somewhere from.

With that background, let’s talk about the story briefly and consider some of the themes that it presents. A young woman is running a best she can through the night, in the cold of Wyoming near the end of Winter. Her body is discovered by a Department of Fish and Wildlife hunter, who works eliminating predators which threaten the agricultural industry from the area. Jeremy Renner is a face people know, he is an accomplished actor and has some star power that he brings to the film. It may be that because he has been in the “Avengers” films, people forget what a fine actor he really is. He was solid in last year’s “Arrival”, but Amy Adams was the star of that film. In this movie he is extraordinary playing a man who is fairly ordinary, except for the job he does so well. The part also starts us at one of the points this film is making. It is hard to get some things done when you have multiple governmental agencies involved and the jurisdictional questions sometimes seem to outnumber the real problems that people face. The County Law Enforcement Agency is limited because the woman who died was found on the Indian territory. This makes it a Tribal Police matter, but there are Federal Crimes that might be involved as well and those help bring in FBI Agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen is also a veteran of the MCU, and she is relatively young which cuts two ways. Her youth suggests limited experience, a complaint about the Federal help the Tribal police get. Her young age also strains credulity somewhat, since it seems she might not come across as the kind of person to be a special agent in charge. If I have a criticism of the film, it is the way in which her character has been written. She is out of her depth and makes significant mistakes, which basically repeat twice in the course of the investigation. It is also her attitude about the circumstances that provides heart to the story. She reacts to events they way many of us outsiders might; with confusion, pity and a sense of frustration.

The procedural elements of the story are not complex and the effort to track down the perpetrators does benefit from Renner’s character’s expertise at tracking in the desolate countryside. The mismatched and slightly awkward partnership is found in a thousand of these crime based films. This however is not really a “buddy cop” movie. The point of the story concerns the lack of control that any of the characters face in an official capacity contrasted to the degree of control they have in their professional expertise. Jane banner is limited by Federal guidelines, Graham Green who plays the Tribal Police Chief is constrained by the jurisdiction of the Reservation, even the medical examiner is limited in how a death report can be summarized. The environment has clearly created the situation where a death such as the victim faced, might not ever get an answer. The frigid open spaces and narrow bureaucratic red tape ultimately is going to be conquered by Renner, the one person who is not a law enforcement agent. Cory Lambert, Renner’s character, does have his own motivations for helping out, and those parts of his back story are a couple of the spots where his acting skills get a chance to shine.

If you want tension and action, let me tell you there are two excellent sequences that have plenty of the violence and brutality that you seek. There is also a scene that explains what happened which is cleverly inserted as a non-sequential insert at just the right spot, be forewarned though, it is unpleasant to witness. Olsen’s character may have some flaws as written, but the emotions she reflects are just right. Her ability to empathize with the victims and her recognition that sometimes she is culturally in over her head, are both believable because of her performance. Two Native American actors that have become very familiar over the years also bring some heart and reality to the film. Graham Greene has played police officers before, but his Tribal Officer in this film is low key and world weary, but still has a sense of duty and humor. Gil Birmingham, who starred with Greene in some of the “Twilight” movies plays the distraught father of the woman who died. His role is not as significant as his co-starring turn in “Hell or High Water”, but he has some very solid moments that also tell us about the frustrations of the culture these characters inhabit.

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The other star of the film is the great outdoors. The spectacular vistas are wonderful to see but we also know how deadly the places can be. There is loneliness everywhere and the ennui that surrounds the inhabitants of the sparsely populated areas here can be overwhelming. Town is one thing, but most of these people are not in a town, they are trapped in spaces that are too small for the vastness of the wilderness around them. Whether this conditions drive you to violence, drug addiction or hopelessness, there is a very clear double edged sword that the environment presents. This film is getting a fairly small release, but if word of mouth is good, it is likely to be expanded and maybe the film will get an opportunity to grow. I hope you make an effort to see this picture and that you encourage others to do so as well. This is the sort of film making which needs a little TLC.

The 1987 Draft Slate

The Lambcast Draft of 1987 is underway and you may have already voted for the fine slate of films I managed to nab during the podcast. If you were uncertain in any way as to the quality of my selections, I thought I’d provide a brief rundown and justification for each of the five films. You can then go the The Lamb and vote your conscience. The video above will also give you a 42 second justification for my choices.

Robocop

In truth this needs no justification, everyone knows how amazing this Paul Verhofen film is. It is simultaneously  an action film, science fiction story and political satire. There are moments of extreme violence and there are sections where you may find yourself laughing at things you would never have imagined being funny. The special effects are a combination of stop motion, make-up and animation that are solid for 1987 and were not improved on by the remake a couple of years ago. The film is held together by two outstanding performances. Peter Weller is Alex Murphy, the police officer who becomes Robocop. His story line is surprisingly poignant and it is accomplished while wearing a heavy costume and uncomfortable make-up. Kurtwood Smith is the over the top villain of the piece, Clarence Boddicker, a drug dealing murderous thug with a flare for self importance that we wait a long time to see taken down.  Other performers are great as well, and I recently attended a Tribute Screening in honor of Miguel Ferrer who has a key role in the film.

The Untouchables

For a ten to fifteen year stretch,  Brian DePalma was my favorite director. His films were hypnotic to watch but they often dealt with psych sexual concepts that kept them from being mainstream hits. The Untouchables  broke that barrier for him with a straight forward gangster story that had a group of law enforcement officers as the heroes rather than a Cuban gangster (i.e. Scarface). The good guys were played by newly anointed star of the moment Kevin Costner, longtime character actor Charles Martin Smith, newcomer Andy Garcia and the winner of this years best supporting actor award, Sean Connery. The part of Al Capone was originally going to be played by Bob Hoskins, but when Robert DeNiro became available, Hoskins was paid off and another bigger than life star was added to the film. Hard as it is to believe, DeNiro was upstaged as the bad guy by the skeletal Billy Drago, who is memorably escorted to the car by Elliot Ness. The facts may not have been straight but the story was pretty terrific with several amazing set pieces that stand up to scrutiny today.

The Living Daylights

While my competitors on the podcast seem to mock my choice of a Timothy Dalton Bond film, all the real 007 fans out there know that Dalton was the real deal. He did not get much of a shot at playing the world’s greatest gentleman spy. This was his first shot and the film was never tailored to his strengths. You can detect a little of the flavor left over from the Moore era Bonds, but the story did make the circumstances more real. Dalton looked the literary part more than any other  cinema persona, even the true Bond Connery. This entry in the franchise features an excellent fight sequence and Bond is not even in it. The double crosses in this movie are more believable than those in a dozen other spy films, and the stunts continued to be the high spot in the 007 outings of the 1980s. Two years ago, as we were anticipating the most recent Bond picture, I did a series on my 007 favorite things about each film, “The Living Daylights” entry is here for your perusal. This was also the final Bond film for the long tenured composer John Barry.

The Hidden

This may be an obscure one for some of you. It was a low budget action film with stars who were not big names but were reasonably well known. The concept is the thing that sells this movie. In reality it is a science fiction chase film. Aliens have arrived on Earth, one is chasing the other. Now before you start having visions of Dolph Lungren in your head, the Aliens can take over a human body and use it to move around. The evil alien does this several times in the film, killing a series of otherwise law abiding people but turning their remains into blood-thirsty killers and thieves. There are some nice practical effects that show the parasite moving from one body to another. The L.A. Cop and the FBI Agent who are trying to track the perpetrator down are played by Michael Nouri from “Flashdance” and future otherworldly FBI Agent Kyle MacLachlan. This film features Agent Cooper before Twin Peaks, and we get an explanation as to why he is so odd. It is full of chases set in the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s. By the way, all the construction you see on the streets then, is still going on. There is one scene set outside a strip club that is located next to Miceli”s Restaurant in Hollywood. It is across from a newsstand that I frequented before the internet, it is long gone now. The parking lot where the alien screws a guy to death is still there however, and the car they occupy is in a spot that I still park in when I go to the Egyptian Theater. This is 96 minutes of shooting, car chases, improbable plot developments and well known character actors getting a chance to strut a little bit. This film has the most bang for your buck in 1987.

Ishtar

Most people who ridicule this movie have not seen it. “Ishtar” was an attempt to recreate the film style of the Hope/Crosby “Road” pictures of the forties. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty are cast against type, with Beatty as the flummoxed, tongue tied romantic and Hoffman as a self assured ladies man. Neither of the characters has it right but the two stars do all they can to sell it. Jack Weston is a New York talent agent who manages to get them a booking, and he is tired from the first to the last of his scenes. It is however Charles Grodin who steals the picture as a CIA man, trying to use the two musicians in a plot to control the government of a non-existent Middle Eastern Country.   The two lead encounter spies, terrorists, a mysterious woman and a blind camel. Writer/Director Elaine May had her directing career stymied by the results of this film, but she continued to be an important comedy presence of the big screen and is responsible for some great film scripts in the 90s. Legendary songwriter Paul Williams worked out a number of “bad” songs for the duo to performs, most of which have just a couple of lines used. However, if you can appreciate the theme “Dangerous Business” you will know what kinds of laughs we missed when the planned album of Rogers and Clarke was cancelled.

I own this two poster set, it is a great image that highlights a funny part of the movie.

I know it is a bit of a risk, but if any of you watches “Ishtar” as a result of my choosing it for the draft, even if I don’t win, I will feel some vindication.

1987 Movie Draft: Lambcast

This is the one you have all been waiting for, the 1987 Movie Draft on the Lambcast Podcast.

Four other Lambs and I compete to create the best slate of five movies from 1987. The show is a blast, as there is trash talk, reminiscences and general enthusiasm for this 30 year old time frame. You can listen to the show on the link below but more importantly, you can vote for a slate of films on the second link below that. Of course as a follower/reader of my site, I expect you to support my team. The only caveat is that I did include an outlier choice in “Ishtar”. Next week I will put up a mini-review page with comments for each of my selections. If you need to wait for that before you vote, I understand. Those of you who trust and love me however, should go vote now. My films are highlighted in the picture above. You cant go wrong with Robocop, Sean Connery and James Bond. “The Hidden” is a not so widely seen Science Fiction/Action film featuring Kyle MacLachlan. “Ishtar” is popularly thought of as a bomb, but it contains a lot of big laughs and an amusing attitude throughout.

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https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8523741?autoplay=false

Voting can be done here:

LAMBCAST #385 1987 DRAFT: It’s time for another year draft! To celebrated Jay’s upcoming 30th birthday we’re taking the opportunity to look at films from his birth year, 1987! Jay competed against Dylan, T…

http://www.largeassmovieblogs.com/2017/08/lambcast-385-1987-draft.html

Lambcast Acting School 101: Sean Connery

MovieRob, the host of Acting School 101 on the Lambcast, invited me to join him for a discussion of the films of Sean Connery. Anyone who has been here before certainly knows that I think Connery IS James Bond so I was thrilled to participate. We countdown our own top five performances by Mr. Connery and have a good time talking about toupees and other acting tools.

Sean Connery Podcast

https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8521675?autoplay=false

In preparation for the podcast, I went through my laserdisc collection and put up a wall of Connery features. Four of my five picks can be found here. Try to guess what they are before you listen to the podcast. Have fun everyone.