The Lost City

This one should be short and sweet, it is a popcorn picture that for the most part succeeds and It’s not trying to do anything too innovative. This is a combination Romantic Comedy/Adventure film, and if you hear the title of “Romancing the Stone” in more than one review of the film, there is a reason why, the premise is exactly the same. A romance writer gets caught up in a real life adventure and finds the man of her novels in the real world. The pitch for this movie would be word for word the same as the 1984 film.

Instead of Kathleen Turner we get Sandra Bullock, who may be just a little too long in the tooth for this kind of film, but she gets a pass because she is talented, funny, and has a long history of Rom Coms behind her. Channing Tatum is turning into a great utility player who can be both a romantic lead and a comic foil, and he is both in this movie. If you watch the trailer, you might for a moment believe Brad Pitt is the hero of the film. Pitt is great, don’t get me wrong, he steals a scene with just his voice while doing his trademark munching,  but he is in the film very briefly. 

The big surprise is that Daniel Radcliffe, is a great villain and he has a wicked sense of comic timing in some key scenes. That’s right, Harry Potter is the Voldemort of this story, if Voldemort was a victim of sibling rivalry and had a sense of humor. Even the moments where he plays it straight are pretty effective so good on him. I don’t know why Da’Vine Joy Randolph is new to me, when I looked at her IMDB page, she worked in like eight TV series in the last couple of years, anyway she was very amusing as Bullock’s agent, who takes a serious responsibility for her client. 

A lot of the best bits of humor are spoiled by the trailer but there are a few additional moments that you can still be surprised by. One of the things that surprised me were the clever lines that came every few minutes, directed at our culture of Instagram addicted, barely literate, and now aging millennials. You may find yourself the target a a few barbs here and there. Speaking of sibling rivalry, the movie was co-directed and co written by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee, who look to be in charge of the Masters of the Universe movie that has been promised for the last couple of years. If you are looking forward to that film, you should probably check this one out to get a sense of how these two visualize a story and try to bring humor to it. 

Except for one brief bloody moment, the film is mostly cartoon violence and you can feel pretty safe taking your teens and your Mom to see it. Just be sure you get the refillable bucket of popcorn, because this will keep you munching throughout and enjoying a couple of hours of empty calories for your eyes as well as your stomach. 

Dog

Channing Tatum has become a reliable presence in films and with this release he takes another step in his ascent to an essential Hollywood Player, he co-directs the film with his frequent producing partner Reid Carolin. Together they have crafted an affecting story of two wounded warriors who find a way to help each other through the battlefield scars that are holding them in misery. This is a military story with a dog, and that was enough to get me into the theater, but what can Tatum manage to do to make me happy that I showed up?

If you have visited this site before, tou may see that I have a fondness for films featuring dogs.  This however is a bit different because the dog that is featured is not a lovable mutt or a friendly golden retriever, Lulu is a Belgian Malinois, trained as a military dog working with Army Rangers in middle eastern conflicts. The dog has been wounded ant traumatized, most recently by the death of her handler. She is on edge and dangerous, and sensitive to a variety of triggers. Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, a fellow platoon member of the deceased, who is himself trying to return to service after head trauma suffered in war has put him on disability leave. Lulu is an animal, so doesn’t bother trying to hide her PTSD, but Briggs is all kinds of a mess and in denial that any real problem exists.

So this is a road picture, with the dog and soldier driving along the West coast to arrive at the funeral for their comrade in arms, and ultimately, Lulu will be assessed and likely put down because of the condition she is in. So it is no surprise that the film is really about how these two damaged creatures begin a healing process that is needed but was not being actively sought. The incidents along the road demonstrate that both of these warriors have skills that remain functional, but that they are also ill equipped to deal with their troubles on their own. Two sequences, one on a pot farm in Oregon and another in a hotel in San Francisco, give us some drama and a little humor. Each character dances around the other, setting off problems and adventures but ultimately bringing them closer to healing. 

Three different dogs are credited for the Lulu performance, and they do a good job showing her fierce personality, but also giving us glimpses of the companion and partner that she must have been to the deceased soldier. Between destructive moments, and fearful incidents, Lulu also shows us an animal who is well trained, capable of friendliness if approached correctly and even providing some lovable glances, in spite of her teeth being bared. Tatum is a natural as a soldier without portfolio, who is struggling with his place in the world. He exudes confidence but secretly is in turmoil and incapable of getting past some traumas. He is great with the comedic bits in the film, but he carries the drama also. 

At just over a hundred minutes, the film is paced well and it doesn’t linger over the story it is telling. The screenplay, by Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, who has been a crew member on some of the films Tatum and Carolin made together, does a good job of showing rather than telling us the story of these two soldiers. Maybe the best example of this are two nearly wordless sequences when Briggs tries to connect with family. We get the dog’s point of view, instead of a dialogue filled confrontation, and it helps keep the story focused on Briggs and Lulu. This film has been a success and that gives me hope because if a mid-level drama like this can pull in an audience, there may be hope for other films that are not Comic Book Spectacles. 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Upfront I want anyone reading this to know that I am a big fan of “Kingsman:The Secret Service“. I am a sucker for British Spies and that maniacal dip into comic laced espionage was one of my favorite films of 2015. The cast was great and the over the top violence made the film feel very cartoonish in a good way. As a consequence, “The Golden Circle” enters this year’s movie experiences as one of my most anticipated films. I looked forward to further adventures and there was a promise of a returned Colin Firth, which made me want to know how they were going to pull that off. The advance information also tipped us to the fact that we would connect with the American counterpart of the private intelligence agency, so this stoked my interest even more. The director, Matthew Vaughn, has made several films that I really enjoy, including my favorite film of 2010, so I had great confidence in his ability to pull this movie together. Such confidence has been rewarded my friends. “The Golden Circle” is what you hope it will be for the most part.

One of the things that I find attractive about the series is that it is not afraid to be a little politically incorrect. James Bond might be a sexist pig, but his attitude is always tempered by a PG-13 rating. Kingsman goes all out in using sexual exploitation for humorous purposes and that might make the series unappetizing to film goes who want their movies to be socially just. In “The Secret Service” there is a punchline based on a promise of a forbidden sex act. It’s just the thing a 12 year old mentality would laugh at and the film is upfront about that. That joke was one of the widely criticized moments of the first film. Writer/Director Vaughn has taken that joke and turned it into a plot point for this film. I really appreciated that the Princess Tilde returns to this franchise in a greatly expanded role and with a lot more dignity. That however allows the original tasteless joke to be a background to two sexually inappropriate moments of humor in this film, one of them involving Elton John. The other moment will be the focus of criticism by haters for this film. It involves a GPS device and the mucus membrane, and it certainly is a sequence that will make delicate sensibilities squirm. That plot point aside, most of the rest of the film is standard comic violence with over the top moments of gruesomeness.

There is a second aspect of this film that I really appreciate as well. The plots of both of these movies turn trendy social issues on their heads and use them as the motivation for the villain’s plot. Global Warming was the theme of the first film, Drug Legalization is the driving force for this movie. The aptly named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, is motivated to make her product socially acceptable through the use of international hostage taking. It is a creative plan that to a large degree mimics the plot of the first film but still manages to allow some twists in the story. There is a great shot against the U.N. that puts the U.S. President in the story. Unlike the feckless Obama impersonator in the first film, this character gets lines and is played by a recognizable actor, Bruce Greenwood. His approach to the plot is as deranged as Poppy’s so the two intelligence agencies here are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The only thing missing from this is a satisfying comeuppance for the players, in the manner of the delightful head exploding climax of the first film.

 

Restoring Harry Hart to the storyline of the Kingsman is tricky. Being shot in the face is a pretty definitive exit for a character. I appreciated that the solution here was not a quick fix and it ends up being a secondary plotline in the story. There is a pivotal point with a dog and that also insures additional pleasure for most viewers.  Colin Firth adds so much class to the project and in future episodes (should they be made) his character will lend gravitas to the proceedings. We do lose a couple of characters that really could have made future stories great as well, but in the long run the films have to circle around Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Firth’s Harry Hart.

The Statesmen organization has several good characters to add to the film. Jeff Bridges is a welcome addition to any film and Halle Berry is a fun match for the American version of Mark Strong’s character of Merlin. At the moment, these are background players, the really active American counterparts are played by Pedro Pascal and Channing Tatum. The major drawback that I have with the film is the under utilization of Tatum’s character “Tequila”.  After a solid introduction, he is sidelined for the remainder of the picture. Pascal’s “Whiskey” has to carry the American load and does so effectively for most of the picture. There are some twists that feel a bit forced but they do make for a rousing conclusion to the movie.

While there is nothing as excessive as the church scene from the first film here, there are some great action scenes that use the mix of slow motion and accelerated filming that the church sequence used. This style appears to be Vaughn’s signature touch and although it might be a bit cliched if over used, I thought it was reasonably judicious here. A cab chase at the start of the film and the final attack on the secret lair both take advantage of that style and it works well in those scenes. Much of the rest of the film is presented more traditionally, including initiation rituals for the bad guys and Elton John’s scenes. Oh yeah, did I mention that Elton is in the movie? He is pretty funny sending himself up in feathered costumes and parodying his own drug troubles. Julianne Moore gets to abuse him a little but he verbally gives it right back in great comic form.

This movie can’t quite reach the satisfaction level of the original, few sequels manage to do so. “The Golden Circle” however does entertain and it meets our need to have the action a little bit bigger and the comedy a little bit broader. It is jammed with characters that complicate the story but also provide a lot of jokes. They have managed to bring back a character from the dead in a credible way for an improbable, over the top, spy adventure. I don’t know that it will win over many converts. If you disliked the first film you will certainly not care for this movie. If however, you are like me and took fiendish pleasure in the undermining of political correctness and the shear joy of silly violence just for the comedic effect, than the Kingsman Golden Circle is tailored perfectly for you.

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?

Hail, Ceasar!

I like Coen Brothers movies as much as the next person. I do think they have a sense of humor that fits their film making skills well, when there is a coherent plot driven story that has a solid end point in mind. When they have stretched out into comedy, they are a little more hit and miss. “Raising Arizona” and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” are examples of their success with straight comedy, solid home runs. “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “The Lady Killers” are illustrations of a swing and a miss. Sticking with the baseball metaphor, “Hail, Caesar!” is a foul tip. It makes contact but never reaches the field of play enough to create any sense of it being an essential film.

The story, as it is, mostly follows the travails of Eddie Mannix, the “Head of Physical Production”, whatever that means , at Capital Pictures. This is the same real life character played by Bob Hoskins in “Hollywoodland” a decade ago. Instead a a sober and somewhat ominous figure as he was presented in that film, here as played by Josh Brolin, he is a guilt ridden workaholic who has doubts about the value of his job but does it extremely well. Although there are comic aspects to what goes on, Brolin never plays him as a fool, and it is the circus around him that provides most of the laughs. As straight man to a variety of insane people, Brolin still manages to be occasionally funny while remaining a realistic character. The same cannot be said for most of the other featured players.

Scarlett Johansson is barely in the film, and her character has almost no personality except for boredom. George Cloony seems to be reprising his role as a dimwit with delusions of deep thought like his character from “O’Brother”. His very last scene he actually does what a movie star should do, but the purpose is to subvert the moment for a laugh. Ralph Fiennes has one solid scene and then another where he is mostly background. Tilda Swinton is playing dual characters, who are basically the same person anyway, and the part requires no real talent except being bitchy and tall. Francis McDormand and Jonah Hill each have one scene, and neither of them is connected to the main story [Main story being a euphemism for “plot point used to sell the movie”] . This film is all over the place, it leaves the biggest stars struggling to find something to do and it never develops any sense of urgency.

It’s 1951, and the studio system can see the future, and so can a group of communist writers. Those forces clash against a background of studio intrigue, none of which seems to be particularly connected to anything else going on in the film. The location however does give us an opportunity to see some fun parodies of film making from the era. Alden Ehrenreich should be the breakout star of the movie. He plays a Singing cowboy star who is cast in a sophisticated drama and becomes incidentally tied up with the kidnapping plot highlighted in the trailer. He is quite good playing a guy out of his depths in some circumstances but at the top of the heap in others. Had his story been the centerpiece of the film, I think the movie would have held together a lot better. The other high point of the film is Channing Tatum, lampooning the star system with a turn as a movie hoofer with a secret. The dance number he stars in is the best moment in the movie, it is well staged, funny as heck and should get a laugh from all those who see homoeroticism in every 50s film.

I’m glad that artists as successful as the Cohen Brothers are, can take chances and work in different film genres and experiment. I just wish that this film had been more successful. There are several great scenes and good laughs, but it barely resembles a film and it is clearly full of indulgences that feel like someone is taking advantage of their position. I would never tell people to stay away, but unless you are a completest, you will be perfectly fine waiting for their next attempt. No one wants to be disappointed with a movie they chose to see and I think most people will find this film to be just that.