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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.




I was underwhelmed by Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, mainly because of its dreary look and my own intellectual limitations.  Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is visually dazzling with a plot that is intricate but not byzantine.  Ryan Gosling is a Blade Runner (i.e., a hunter of older model replicants – think Westworld – who have a tendency to go haywire).  Unlike Harrison Ford in the original film, Gosling is unequivocally a replicant himself, but in the process of putting down a replicant fugitive, he becomes ensnared in a larger, metaphysical mystery that melds corporate malfeasance, potential civil war, and Genesis.  It could have been ridiculously heavy, but Gosling manages a wry yet naïve countenance and the bloviations of the corporate would-be god (Jared Leto) are both few and leavened by Gosling’s running battle with a particularly fierce replicant (Sylvia Hoeks).

The film’s look is stunning and the real star is Gosling’s navigation of the eye-popping world around him.  Other than Robin Wright being horribly miscast as Gosling’s supervisor (her insistence on being ballsy is over the top, and her Sam Spade delivery is clunky) and the picture running a little long, this was well worth the time.

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A beautiful picture, depicting the lassitude and lethality of post World War II Mississippi as two families, one white and one black, are challenged and near-consumed by the stifling climate and punishing soil, as well as the psychological toll of war and the rotting cancer of racism.  It is rightly nominated for Best Cinematography and Adapted Screenplay, and Mary J. Blige stands-in as supporting actress nominee for any number of deserving performances (especially Rob Morgan as a stoic, beleaguered tenant farmer).  There is a stretch where the budding friendship of haunted war vets Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell skirts cliche’, but other than that, the film is rich with authenticity and heart.   It is currently available to stream on Netflix.


During WWII, the Germans occupying Denmark laid 2.2 million mines on its coast in anticipation of an Allied invasion. The Danes employed their former occupiers to clean up those mines, the subject matter of this harrowing and haunting film. We follow a group of very young, very scared German soldiers who are given mine-clearing training and then a quadrant containing 45,000 mines. If they clear them at a certain rate, they will be allowed to go home in three months.

The process is nerve wracking. Mind you, these boys have instruction and some support, unlike the Iranian children during the Iran-Iraq war who were simply sent into the mine fields to clear by suicide in some glorious sacrifice. But the toll, both physical and psychological, is brutal, especially when inflicted on ones so young. They are homesick, hungry (their care was not paramount) and under the leadership of an embittered Danish sergeant who is fighting his own demons but is also humanized by their plight.

This is a beautiful picture, enhanced by touching, sensitive performances. There is talk every year of creating an Oscar for an ensemble, and this cast would be a deserving nominee. The film, however, is not for the faint of heart.



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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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Alistair Sim is by far and away the best Ebenezer Scrooge.  He is hardened and fierce yet he carries a barely perceptible regret and tenderness that makes his eventual transformation more of a de-icing than a bullet-dodged.  His exhilaration and mirth upon redemption are infectious, his realization he can play some awesome practical jokes on the likes of his housekeeper and clerk is hilarious, and his heartfelt apologies are actually very moving.  This is my favorite of the film adaptations.  DVR at once.


Almost everything wrong with modern cinema is exhibited in the first five minutes of this 2016 loose remake. The bad guy (Peter Sarsgaard) arrives like Lex Luthor to plague a town, the surrounding land of which he needs to rape, er, mine.  He tortures a child, burns a church, shoots an unarmed man in front of his wife, and then, one of his men throws an axe into the back of a fleeing woman churchgoer.  That’s what the filmmakers believe is necessary for you to give a shit.

It ain’t nearly enough.

It’s an execrable film.  The score is excessive and deafening. The western garb is better suited to a Manhattan runway. The heroes escape no demons, and no one ever misses a shot.  Everyone is twirling a gun or a knife or a mustache. Marvel movies have more depth and gravitas. Video games carry greater danger.

The film is plotted by a moron. In a seminal scene, Chris Pratt (aka, Billy Rocks, I shit you not) takes all of the money from a poker table, yet within 15 minutes, he miraculously does not have the five dollars to buy back his own horse. Thus, he is enticed by Denzel Washington to save the town!  He really needs that horse.

Speaking of Pratt, he is fundamentally, constitutionally unserious and insubstantial. He’s perfect for light, wiseacre comedy. He can’t do much else and when he tries the hard stare, Lord, is it painful.

Five more dummies sign up for the suicide mission because, well, just because. I suppose some inducement comes in the form of a frontier gal whose husband was shot in front of her. It is her pitiful story that serves to secure Washington‘s agreement to save the town. Thankfully, she shows cleavage throughout, even though she tells Washington, “I am just a simple farm woman.“


Come on.

After Washington and Pratt, we get syrupy Southerner Ethan Hawke (swear to God, his name is Goodnight Robicheaux, and he had “23 confirmed kills at Antietam” – ha ha ha ha ha), Vincent D’Onofrio (he comes off like Steinbeck’s Lenny had he become a bounty hunter), the inevitable Indian (Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest, who is mystical, perfectly painted and manicured, and accompanied by his own tom-tom score), and two other total nobodies, all of whom join up for similarly unexplained reasons. The third thing Washington says to Red Harvest is, “we go to fight wicked men.  Probably we all die.“ The Indian wordlessly and naturally joins up.  Again, Washington did bring the gal with the ample bosom to this recruitment meeting. It is all I can figure.

Wait. First, Red Harvest (which upon reflection sounds like a maize-based cereal rather than a fearsome warrior) cuts the heart out of a deer and makes Washington eat it. Then he joins up.  And later, kills a bad guy Indian, to whom he says, “You’re a disgrace.”  That’s the Indian way.

Of course, we learn in the end that Washington has a personal score to settle.  Because Sarsgaard had men rape and murder his homesteader mother and sisters.  Which makes the recruitment effort by the buxom farm woman superfluous, as Washington should have been spending his every waking moment hunting Sarsgaard.  Or, Washington is just kind of a flighty pussy.

The re-creation of the famous James Coburn knife scene is nothing less than an abortion, but thankfully, it is the only thing the filmmakers try and lift from the original, and accordingly, the only thing defensible about this movie.