Logan Lucky

For F*** Magazine

LOGAN LUCKY 

Director : Steven Soderbergh
Cast : Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, David Denman, Sebastian Stan, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Farrah Mackenzie, Hilary Swank
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 7 September 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

         Despite announcing his retirement after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair and off to the races with this caper comedy. The Logan family hasn’t had the best of luck: Jimmy Logan (Tatum) has just been fired, and his brother Clyde (Driver) lost his left arm while on military duty in Iraq. Jimmy loves his young daughter Sadie (Mackenzie), but Jimmy’s ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Holmes) plans on moving away with her wealthy new husband Moody (Denman), making it harder for Jimmy to see Sadie. While working his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmy hatches a plan: rob the vault containing money from the concession stands during the Coca Cola 600 race, one of the largest annual Nascar events. To pull off the heist, the Logan siblings tap on the skills of demolition expert Joe Bang (Craig) – but they’ll need to break him out of prison first. With limited resources and simple ingenuity, the crew must overcome a host of obstacles to make off with the money.

Logan Lucky has been referred to as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven”, which is a fairly accurate description. There isn’t a hint of glitz or glamour to be found, and the protagonists are blue collar guys from the South who love John Denver. While the expected stereotypes are trucked out and some fun is had at the expense of the characters and their cultural backgrounds, they’re imbued with humanity and are, for the most part, well-rounded creations. Screenwriter Rebecca Blunt crafts a script that’s not only funny, but is also admirably elaborate when it comes to the mechanics of the heist. There are so many moving parts, and it’s easy to be fooled by the laid-back vibe of the film because there’s a precision to the many hoops our heroes must jump through to pull off the heist.

Part of what makes Logan Lucky feel fresh is its status as a ‘big small’ movie. Soderbergh deliberately circumvented the studio system, formed his own distribution company named ‘Fingerprint Releasing’ and teamed with distributor Bleecker Street, making this technically an indie film. There are big-name stars in the cast, and Soderbergh himself is a well-known director, but like its protagonists, there is a scrappy underdog feel to Logan Lucky. Soderbergh has personally devised a marketing strategy that goes against conventional wisdom, targeting the film’s advertising instead of unleashing the expensive publicity blitz most studio films get. While ostensibly born out of Soderbergh’s disillusionment with the big Hollywood machine, there’s nary a hint of bitterness in Logan Lucky, which is exuberant even as it touches on the very real struggles of America’s working class.

This is Tatum’s fourth collaboration with Soderbergh, after Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects. The Jimmy Logan character taps into all of Tatum’s strengths as a performer, and the ‘lunkhead with a heart of gold’ archetype falls right within his skill set. While Tatum has showed off his comedic chops in other films, he’s largely restrained, and there are even moments when his performance is genuinely moving.

Driver plays well off Tatum, bringing a quiet earnestness to the role of Clyde. Keough is well on her way to A-list leading lady status, playing the plucky Mellie with entertaining confidence. The scenes in which Mellie bonds with her niece Sadie, styling Sadie’s hair before a beauty pageant, are quite sweet. Child beauty pageants aren’t depicted in the film as being exploitative the way they often are in real life, with Sadie taking great pride in her performance. Sadie’s talent showcase is the film’s most unabashedly sentimental scene, and thanks to child actress Farrah Mackenzie, it works.

Craig performs a heist of his own, single-handedly stealing the movie. This is a piece of stunt-casting that pays dividends: sporting a bleached blonde buzz cut, tattoos and affecting a southern accent, this is Craig like we haven’t quite seen him before. As with any good heist crew, there must be eccentric characters, with Joe Bang being the most eccentric of the bunch. Tatum, Driver and Craig develop an unlikely and amusing triple act, the result being silly while not so over-the-top as to lose audiences. Hearing Craig say lines like “I’m about to get nekkid” in a ridiculous drawl is the height of entertainment.

Not all of it works: as is often the case with ensemble comedies, there are a few too many characters and subplots at work. Seth MacFarlane’s turn as egotistical moustachioed Nascar driver Max Chilblain doesn’t land as naturally as the other performances, calling too much attention to itself and feeling awkward and forced in the process. Sebastian Stan, playing Dayton White, a driver on Chilblain’s team, gets very little screen time. So too does Katherine Waterston, who pops up for only a couple of scenes. Hilary Swank appears late in the movie as an FBI agent investigating the heist, and like MacFarlane, she goes a little too broad, registering as off-key.

Funny, packed with quirky down-home charm and containing an impressively-engineered central heist, Logan Lucky is bona fide sleeper hit material, and is enough to make one hope Soderbergh keeps making movies for a while longer yet.

Summary: If you’re looking for a quality comedy somewhere in-between obscure indie and full-on Hollywood blockbuster, you’re in luck: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Redneck Ocean’s Eleven’ is a hoot.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Sing

For F*** Magazine

SING 

Director : Garth Jennings
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG

sing-posterIllumination Entertainment aims to unite all creatures great and small through the power of song in this animated musical comedy. Buster Moon (McConaughey) the koala is running out of options. After a string of flops, the showbiz entrepreneur’s theatre will soon be foreclosed upon. Moon and his business partner Eddie (Reilly) the sheep mount a singing competition to save the theatre. The contestants include harried housewife Rosita (Witherspoon) the pig, the flamboyant pig Gunter (Kroll) who is paired with Rosita, an arrogant jazz crooning mouse named Mike (MacFarlane), punk-rocker porcupine Ash (Johansson), stage fright-afflicted elephant Meena (Kelly), and Johnny (Egerton), a mountain gorilla who goes against the wishes of his criminal father Marcus (Serafinowicz) by pursuing his passion for singing. As Moon seeks the financial assistance of wealthy diva Nana Noodleman (Saunders), Eddie’s grandmother, this motley crew of animal performers must sing to save the theatre.

sing-group-shot

“Hey, let’s put on a show!” is a stock trope as old as Hollywood itself. To save an orphanage/theatre/hospital/school from being demolished, an unlikely group must draw on their talents and mount a fund-raising production. Babes in Arms, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, codified this formula. Sing adds funny anthropomorphic animals and top 40 hits to the mix, but the results feel rote. Illumination Entertainment is quickly gaining on the big boys like Pixar and Dreamworks, what with the Minions taking over the world and all. Sing is the studio’s second film this year, following The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is probably Illumination’s most Dreamworks-like film yet, with its celebrity voice cast and surfeit of pop tracks. For a studio trying to set itself apart from the competition, perhaps that’s not the wisest move.

Sing suffers immensely for being released in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia. The design of Zootopia was thoroughly thought through, and each frame was bursting with clever, amusing details to notice. In Sing, anthropomorphic animals are plonked into a non-descript coastal city. While some might appreciate an animated film that isn’t hyperkinetic, Sing lacks dynamism and forward momentum. There’s a nicely staged set piece in the middle and the film’s climax is enjoyable, but Sing lacks the energetic visuals and propulsive pacing of Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets. For a film with lots of dancing in it, it feels oddly static in parts.

sing-buster-moon-and-miss-crawley

As a tribute to old-fashioned movie musicals, Sing seems half-hearted at best, and the selection of songs isn’t especially inspired. There are shades of A Chorus Line and The Producers, but there’s no thematic cohesion to the musical numbers, and Sing often feels like an animated variety show with a bit of plot tacked on. If you roll your eyes whenever a cheery pop ditty shows up in a Dreamworks movie, prepare to cringe through a good amount of Sing. This reviewer did appreciate that Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure makes an appearance, when it seems more likely that the filmmakers would’ve gone with the Under Pressure rip-off Ice Ice Baby.

To accommodate the large cast of characters, most of the arcs are simplistic. McConaughey delivers an amiable, earnest performance, but seems miscast. There’s the dissonance of a Texan drawl coming out of a koala’s mouth – perhaps Hugh Jackman would’ve been a better fit, especially since Jackman has more of a slick, old-school showman vibe than McConaughey does. It might be difficult for kids to care about a character who can’t pay the electric bill to keep his theatre operational – there’s a difference between mature themes and adult worries.

sing-gunter-and-rosita

Rosita is the overtaxed stay-at-home mom who struggles to care for her 25 children and jumps at the chance to break out of her routine and embrace her inner diva. It’s a predictable arc and Witherspoon’s performance isn’t distinctive. MacFarlane’s character is smug and self-important, with a penchant for big band jazz – we can’t argue with that casting. Johansson’s Ash is spurned by her boyfriend and is out to prove that she can make it as a solo act – shooting quills into the audience while rocking out is pretty punk. Director Jennings’ cameo as Miss Crawley, a senile green iguana with a glass eye who works as Moon’s assistant, might not be a patch on Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles but it has its moments.

sing-ash

The big revelation here is Taron Egerton of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, who shows off some impressive pipes. We’ve often seen the archetype of a kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, much to the chagrin of his parents – Johnny the Gorilla is not unlike Lenny from A Shark’s Tale, who wanted out of the mob headed by his father. The Cockney street tough accent sounds right coming out of a gorilla.

sing-johnny

If you were moved by Tori Kelly’s rendition of Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment at this year’s Emmys, you’ll get to hear her sing it again here – never mind that the song is overused. Since Kelly is the one professional singer in the principal cast, it’s a shame that Meena sings as little as she does. Jennifer Hudson, as the younger version of Nana Noodleman, gets to open the film with a soaring rendition of Golden Slumbers, and then is absent from the rest of the film.

Sing isn’t just clichéd, it’s a gathering of lots of clichés in one place. If singing and dancing cartoon animals are all you’re looking for, then Sing has you covered – but then again, the history of animation is filled with singing and dancing animals. Sing has several entertaining sequences and a talented voice cast, but is too generic for its own good.

Summary: You know how this song goes: Sing’s “let’s put on a show plot” doesn’t offer any surprises, and will inevitably be compared to stronger animated films from this year.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

A Million Ways to Die in the West

For F*** Magazine

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

Director : Seth MacFarlane
Cast : Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson
Genre : Comedy, Western
Opens : 12 June 2014
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Sexual References) / 116 mins
Directed by, starring and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, here’s the film that details why life in the American frontier was hard, no matter what your station. MacFarlane plays Albert, an unassuming sheep farmer in the town of Old Stump, Arizona whose girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) leaves him for Foy (Harris), a dashing, arrogant moustache tonic salesman. Anna (Theron), the wife of notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson), arrives in Old Stump, hoping to lie low while her husband continues tearing up the region. She befriends and soon falls in love with Albert, the sheep farmer unaware that his new paramour is in fact married to the most dangerous man in the land.
            The marketing for this film includes an online flash game that is a funny, entertaining spoof of the classic educational video game The Oregon Trail. Alas, nothing in the film itself quite matches the creativity of that tie-in. A fair number of the jokes in A Million Ways to Die in the West land, but the film is overly reliant on lowbrow bodily-function gags and “shocking”, cartoony violence. The movie’s biggest laughs are provided by the surprise celebrity cameos and a joke involving an offensively-themed shooting gallery gets a satisfying payoff during the end credits. However, one of the best of these was completely spoiled in a TV spot, making this yet another example of a comedy where the laughs are run into the ground by the trailers.


            The film hinges on its main character, Albert the sheep-farmer, being likeable enough that audiences will want to root for him to survive all those million possible methods of death. Seth MacFarlane is not likeable. This is not a controversial statement. A Million Ways to Die in the West would have benefitted from a different lead actor but this being the vanity project it is, that was unlikely to happen. With Ted, he was able to hide behind a computer-generated stuffed toy but here, his shortcomings as a leading man are all too apparent. One adjective often used to describe the Family Guy creator is “smug”. “Smug” is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from “hapless, sweet, unassuming and well-meaning”.


            MacFarlane has surrounded himself with an excellent supporting cast, but because he is positioned as the film’s focal point, their presence seems merely perfunctory. Charlize Theron makes for a fun, watchable Annie Oakley-type but as her on-screen husband, Liam Neeson gets the short shrift. While he has slightly more screen time than in Battleship, one can’t help but feel sorry for the actor who has redefined the term “badass” when he’s forced to bare, well, ass. Family Guy fans will be tickled by the casting, since one cutaway gag featured Liam Neeson struggling with his accent in a cowboy film (he retains his Northern Irish brogue here). Neil Patrick Harris relishes the chance to gnaw at the scenery and he certainly rocks that well-coiffed handlebar moustache, in addition to dancing to the Stephen Foster folk ditty “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache”. Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman are amusing as Albert’s best friend Edward and Edward’s prostitute girlfriend Ruth respectively, if you don’t mind hearing Sarah Silverman graphically describe sex acts.


            A comedic Western in this day and age is a fairly ambitious prospect and something of a gear change from Ted, but MacFarlane fails to mine the opportunities presented by the premise, this outing proving yet again to be too self-indulgent. At 116 minutes long, this does meander and there’s the threat of tumbleweeds, but it would be too harsh to say A Million Ways to Die in the West is completely laugh-free. Co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, who also worked on Ted and Family Guy with MacFarlane, retain a somewhat mean-spirited sense of humour (the poster has a cactus resembling a hand flipping the viewer off) but once in a while do offer inspired gags. Just not quite often enough.
Summary: Doesn’t quite set our saddles ablaze.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong