Much Fun to be Had in Theaters This Weekend
A rush of indie flicks offset the August slump this weekend. Cardboard mazes, warped TV nostalgia and Oceans Seven-Eleven are the fun bits. An early Oscar hopeful – less fun. But however you land, August weekends are rarely this strong in theaters, so take advantage.
Logan Lucky is essentially director Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 with hillbillies, which had to intrigue Soderbergh when he first read the script from Rebecca Blunt. If that is her real name.
No, seriously, Blunt is rumored to be a pseudonym for the actual writer, who should just ‘fess up and take credit for this hoot of a heist homage.
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets laid off from his job fixing sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, so he puts together a 10-point plan for his next career move. Two of those points are labeled “shit happens.”
Jimmy, his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), will bust redneck robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail to help them rob the speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, and then have Joe back in the slam before anyone is the wiser.
Soderbergh structures everything to parallel his Ocean‘s films so closely that when he finally addresses that elephant outright, the only surprise is how often the rubes draw a better hand than the Vegas pretty boys.
Assembled precisely as a letter-perfect grift, Logan Lucky has smarts, charm and some downright weirdness. It’s a late August blast with more than enough fun to beat our summertime blues.
Who remembers Safe House, the passable 2012 action flick that sees Ryan Reynolds in over his head trying to keep an international assassin, played by Denzel Washington, safe?
Well, lobotomize Safe House, swap in Samuel L. Jackson for Denzel Washington, trade grit for humor and you have the mid-August version of an action comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
Glib meets badass — no, not a lot of acting muscles are being overworked in this one.
Writing muscles either, for that matter. The film coasts on mostly ludicrous but sometimes fun set pieces energized by the silly sniping happening as the Jackson/Reynolds bromance blossoms.
Director Patrick Hughes (Expendables 3 – did we know there were 3?) relies heavily on his cast and their individual brands. It’s like shorthand. No reason for character development, which is a good thing because scribe Tom O’Connor isn’t strong.
Hughes has trouble balancing the action, humor and unexpected romance. But, hey, do you like Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson? Because the two of them play the two of them in a disposable action comedy coming out this weekend.
In many beautiful and horrific ways, the scripts of Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) felt like a reemergence of Cormac McCarthy.
With his latest, Wind River, Sheridan takes the helm, borrowing inspiration from both directors who helped his previous scripts shine.
Another tale of violence, bureaucratic vagaries and the vanishing of American heritage, Wind River certainly feels like a Taylor Sheridan film.
Performances are wonderful. Jeremy Renner’s stoic cowboy unveils genuine tenderness, Gil Birmingham’s brief screen time is a blistering blessing of tumultuous emotion, and Elizabeth Olsen breathes life into a surprisingly one-note role.
Sheridan doesn’t have quite the touch of Sicario’s Denis Villeneuve or High Water’s David Mackenzie, and without it, his material feels a touch too preachy, a whisper too self-righteous, and most troublingly, too white.
Though Renner brings his grieving hunter to the screen with an aching, restrained performance, it’s hard to understand why the character needed to be white. That piece of casting gives the film a “white savior” tenor that only exacerbates that nagging feeling of misplaced self-righteousness.
Wind River is a fine, if flawed, police procedural. Unfortunately, that makes it a bit of a disappointment coming from Sheridan.
SNL vet Kyle Mooney is James, a 20-something man living in a secluded compound in the Utah desert with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams). Except they’re not his parents.
From the time James was a small boy, they’ve been his captors, and he’s been the sole audience for all the strange episodes of Brigsby Bear.
When he’s reunited with his real parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins), James’s acclimation is hampered by a persistent obsession with Brigsby, the only TV show he has ever known.
It’s a setup that could easily have gone off the rails with the goofiness of a throwaway sketch, but director Dave McCary’s feature debut gradually wins you over with its abundance of warm sincerity. James is certainly a curiosity, but the film never wields him as a vehicle for cheap manipulation.
Mooney, who also co-wrote the script, delivers a surprisingly touching performance, and he makes James’s world a tender, inviting place that erases any urges for pity with an uncompromising sense of wonder.
Sure, there’s ridiculousness to be found in Brigsby Bear, but there’s way too much heart to call it “guilty.”
Just call it a pleasure.
Dave Made a Maze
Maybe you’re not up for 80 minutes of existential dread, of traversing the subconscious of a stunted artist – a man who cannot complete a project because you don’t have to fail if you never finish anything.
But do you feel like wandering through a cardboard maze? Because, dude, it is so cool in here!
Dave Made a Maze takes its millennial angst seriously enough to construct a remarkably thorough metaphor through the creation of this remarkable cardboard labyrinth.
While his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) is out of town, frustrated artist Dave (Nick Thune) builds the world’s most elaborate and amazing labyrinth inside cardboard boxes taking up the bulk of his apartment. To Annie’s dismay, he won’t – or can’t – come out once she arrives home.
As Annie and Dave’s friends attempt a rescue, a charming, nerdy horror comedy of sorts emerges as a mash note to self-loathing and the creative process.
The cardboard world of Dave’s subconscious is endlessly fascinating, adorably dangerous and fun. Existential dread has never been so charming.
Also opening in Columbus:
False Confessions (NR)
The Ghoul (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.