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I stumbled on this Saturday, and it took some time to figure out what I’d gotten myself into.  Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a relic from the civil rights era, still fighting the good legal fight with his more prestigious mentor in a musty LA office.  While the mentor is the dazzle, Israel is the quirky brain.  But soon, like Bumpy in American Gangster, the mentor dies, and Israel is set adrift.  The firm is closed and now, Israel has to fend for himself, eventually taking a job with a criminal defense mill helmed by a slick former student of the mentor (Colin Farrell) whose firm has gone all corporate and Johnnie Cochran.  Will Roman kowtow to “the man” and play the game or will his deep conviction to the plight of the downtrodden and forgotten snap him back from the pit of doom?

That’s essentially the story, and it is told in a clunky and plodding manner.  Writer-director Dan Gilroy tries to give it some zest, but the only vigor comes from the fact that Israel is clearly on the spectrum (this must be a thing now; even Ben Affleck has donned the autism robes).  This allows Washington to mug and riff, which he did well enough to earn a Best Actor nod, but his work is in the service of an at-best pedestrian and at-worst mind-numbingly boring tale.  Gilroy’s last effort – Nightcrawler – was a sharp, edgy commentary on tabloid culture.  It’s a shame he followed it up with this schmaltzy morality tale.

 

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Logan Lucky [DVD] [2017]Steven Soderbergh is a more-than competent director with some solid films (Contagion, Traffic, King of the Hill, two of the three Oceans movies), some overpraised ones (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Erin Brockovich), a few minor masterpieces (The Limey, Out of Sight)  and some super duds (The UnderneathSolaris, The InformantThe Good German).  A few years back, he announced his retirement, leaving as his last directorial effort the minor, pedestrian Behind the Candelabra, the definitive Liberace movie literally no one was waiting for.  Soderbergh had concluded, “I just don’t think movies matter as much any more, culturally”, and it showed.

I presume Soderbergh recognized that he didn’t want to go out on a pop fly, and that his exit was a little whiny (“The worst development in film-making – particularly in the last five years – is how badly directors are treated” he huffed), so he’s gotten back into the game, directing a few TV series, and, returning to the big screen with Logan Lucky.

Unfortunately, if there was ever a movie that didn’t matter, culturally or otherwise, Logan Lucky is it, a limp re-make of Soderbergh’s Oceans flicks, sans the charm of Clooney, Pitt and gang. It also lacks the fun plotting of the casino heists and the Vegas glitz.  Instead, we get Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig playing at Boss Hog accents; a big score (at the Charlotte Speedway) that is plodding and lazy; and dull West Virginia and Charlotte standing in for the Bellagio fountains.

Instantly forgettable and in at least one way (using Seth McFarlane as a Brit with a worse accent than Don Cheadle in the Oceans movies) unforgivable.

 

 

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Joe Wright’s (Atonement) film is repetitive, didactic, simplistic, and eventually, in one of the most cringe-inducing scenes you’ll ever see, when Winston Churchill finds himself on the Underground getting his back stiffened by “the people”, patently ridiculous.  The only thing missing on that subway car is Tiny Tim exclaiming “God Bless Us, everyone” and thereby spurring Churchill to reject appeasement and declare that England would “never surrender.”

It is also unnecessarily arty (a bombing scene is a particular sin, evoking Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, a film you really don’t want to ape in any manner) and annoyingly expositive – we learn about Churchill’s background via random members of the House of Commons speaking to each other as if they – or we – are dunces (“and his father died of syphillis!”  Harumph!)

Churchill was a lion,  But he was also a snake.  Now, one could argue that his lies were of necessity.  But here, they are simply ignored or recast as tactical blunders.  Don’t lie to the people, King George VI counsels.  Be straightforward, and they shall corner you in a subway car and show their true mettle.

And, apparently, it was Churchill and Churchill alone who deduced that you could send civilian boats to pick up stranded men at Dunkirk.  He is the oracle.  Everyone else on his war council is a dimwit, a ninny or a quitter.

Ostensibly, the real reason to see this movie is Gary Oldman‘s performance, and it is not bad. But it is not great. Oldman gets the fussiness, the hidden mirth, and the anger, but his stabs at insecurity come off as petulance, and on balance, the performance feels more like a mimicry.  In fact, recently, John Lithgow (The Crown) turned in much more nuanced and effective turn as Churchill.  Indeed, the best performance in this film does not belong to Oldman, but to Ben Mendelsohn as King George, who is subtly moved.

Watch The Crown.  Hell, watch King Ralph.

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Much like all of the rest of the DC/Marvel dreck, although this one is plagued by an even higher degree of contempt for the audience. The script is lazy and moronic. The look is cheap (Gal Godot reminded me of Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans). The slo-mo seems positively retro. The soundtrack is oppressive and unyielding.  The villain is obvious.  The homily (“only love can truly save the world”) overly earnest even for this kind of popcorn flick.  The Battle Royale finale a snore.

This is a movie you can’t even really fold laundry to.  Though Godot ain’t hard on the eyes and she and Captain Kirk have a few cute moments together, she’s at heart a dolt, wide eyed and stupid or, when she kind of gets it, petulant and stupid.

And the proof is in the historical pudding. After World War I ends, which coincides with the end of the film, she makes it her mission in voiceover to spread peace in our time.  We all know how that turned out.

As a director, Mel Gibson has visual chops, but that’s about the whole of it.  Accordingly, unless someone writes him something of value, it can be a long slog.  Hacksaw Ridge, which recounts the incredible story of WWII conscientious objector medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) as he staves off court-martial and saves75 lives on a hellish plateau in Okinawa, is that slog.

First, to the history.  After Hidden Figures and Sully, I smelled a rat, and sure enough, most of the particulars of those stories – which could have and should have stood on their own – were b.s.  After Hacksaw, I was sure I’d hit the trifecta.  I was wrong.  Doss’s story is basically retold straight.  The problem is that his story is so incredible, Gibson should have said, “You know, let’s leave this part out, or people are going to start rolling their eyes.”  For me, the part when Dawes has a grenade thrown at him, and he wheels around and gives it a back-kick reminiscent of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill or top form Pele’ – that was the moment.  But hell if Doss didn’t do just that.  From History v. Hollywood:

On the night of May 21, 1945, just a half mile past the escarpment on Okinawa, Desmond’s unit inadvertently walked into a company of Japanese soldiers. The unit engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy and Desmond scrambled to treat the wounded. “They begin to throw these hand grenades,” recalled Desmond. “I saw it comin’. There was three other men in the hole with me. They were on the lower side, but I was on the other side lookin’ when they threw the thing. I knew there was no way I could get at it. So I just quickly took my left foot and threw it back to where I thought the grenade might be, and throw my head and helmet to the ground. And not more than half a second later, I felt like I was sailin’ through the air. I was seein’ stars I wasn’t supposed to be seein’, and I knew my legs and body were blown up.” The blast left 17 pieces of shrapnel embedded in Desmond’s body, mostly in his legs. The Conscientious Objector Documentary

 Now, to the film.  I don’t know what to say about the non-combat portion, where we see Desmond as a boy and later in basic training.  As dewy-eyed hokum goes, this is buffed to almost the point of art form.  Garfield is so damned earnest in his role he threatens veering into Gomer Pyle and even Forrest Gump territory, but to his credit, his ardor actually works.  He inhabits the role fully and effectively communicates the viewpoint of a simple, decent and brave man.  Unfortunately, those around him are so melodramatic or stock, it is hard not to stifle a laugh.  His sweetheart (Theresa Palmer) is the vintage beauty in the gleaming white nurse outfit, the sun streaming through her lovely hair.  His mother and father (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths – Mel takes care of his Aussie own) are damn near operatic.  And my God, his introduction to his unit threatens to break into song, as every stereotype steps up to say “Hey, I’m the Italian/Hollywood/Tough/Nice/Shy/Hick guy” and “Howya doin’, goodtomeetcha’, heytheresport, getalookatdosegams, fuggedaboudit”

“WE ARE THE BOYS OF CAMP JACKSON . . .

OFF TO FIGHT THE JAPS!

CAN’T WAIT TO SEE SOME ACTION

IN TOJO’S ASS WE’LL PUT SOME CAPS.

WE ARE THE BOYS OF CAMP JACKSON . . . . .”

After this incredibly uncomfortable segue, the scenes of Doss’s trial by fire to get him to quit and his convictions being challenged during basic training are perfunctory.  One gets the sense Gibson wants to get to the battlefield.  Understandably so. Mel does maelstrom and carnage better than most, and the battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge are fluid, inspired and riveting.

But that ain’t nearly enough.

I looked at the IMDB description for this film, and nearly did a spit-take when I saw it categorized under “Comedy.”  A woman estranged from her family for years, clearly mentally disturbed and also a recovering substance abuser, arrives at her sister’s massive Thanksgiving get-together in Texas, where we get to watch every holler and stomp destabilize her like a gut punch, as she repeatedly retreats to the bathroom or patio to pop pills, smoke and/or eventually, booze.

Hilarious!

What follows is an intense exploration of the sufferings of a sick mind as it shimmies and shatters and the shards go flying into the innocent bystanders.  Krisha Fairchild is riveting as the poor wretch, but I’m simply too old for this kind of film.  One reviewer noted: “The story will eventually draw the viewer outside Krisha’s perspective, but the beauty of the film is that its compassion deepens along with its very real sense of horror — compassion not just for Krisha but for those who still love her or have given up on trying.”

Not so.  I don’t care about her and i don’t want to care about her.  She’s a narcissistic cancer and it’s neither fun nor interesting to watch the world try to pull her from a dizzying descent down the crapper.

Winner of the South by Southwest Film Festival Grand Jury Award and Audience Award, available on Amazon Prime, and as entertaining as orange juice on a canker sore.