Steven Soderbergh is quite possibly the smartest person in the film industry. Ever since Sex, Lies, and Videotape blew up the Sundance Film Festival 28 years ago, the director has been undermining and indulging and exploring the multiplex with rigorous, original, high-quality adult cinema (while still maintaining that charmingly juvenile radical streak). Though his last theatrical release may have technically been half a decade ago with the shoddy 70s imitation game of Magic Mike, his true previous work of cinema, The Knick, was a masterpiece of shapeshifting, body horror, materialism, medical historiography, and cultural anthropology. Logan Lucky, in contrast, is a much simpler, streamlined, a heist film that dances with the goofy dissonance of white America. That it’s still quite good is as much a relief as it is more or less the status quo now. Each new Soderbergh offers an updated annexation of capitalism and American art, and if Logan Lucky isn’t his most incisive, it’s certainly one of the more fun.
Logan Lucky still tends towards some of that 70s cinema aping, with its egregiously heated color palate and altruistic masculinity, and the goof on morality in crime rings trite and dull. But mostly, the film is just a total joy. These people, sandwiched on the border between West Virginia (whose governor recently flopped back over to the Republican party) and North Carolina (which is, as last year’s Little Sister proved, our nation’s most politically weird state). The film is structured so tightly, but Soderbergh’s shots breathe, each environment given proper weight and spatial awareness.
Logan Lucky is a film so pristinely assembled, finely tuned to the way of America, rich and satisfying and so warmly funny. The film skips and glides, so naturally, towards its conclusion without the fatalism of overwriting. Logan lucky carries the inimitable, unassuming aura of a Soderbergh production from the very first frame. The intelligence carries through every moment. Every gesture is inspired, so fully-developed and in-line. Much could be said on the peculiar disheartening transition from maverick experimental filmmaker to populist workman, but there’s a gentle air here that dissuades the audience from any cynical reading. Soderbergh’s talent lies in bringing that inventive energy to even the simplest of scenarios.
Channing Tatum holds the film aloft so instrumentally and with grace and technical maturity, expanding the common gauge for someone already established as one of the great actors of his generations (that’s common consensus, right?). Adam Driver is a miracle worker of underperforming. His deadpan buffoonery, love for his brother, obsession with a family curse, all of it is neither deadened nor overzealous; It is odd and human and real. Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang looks tired. This is a compliment. His zany energy in the marketing for the film threatened overperforming. Thankfully, Joe Bang is an odd duck, contemplative, amusingly neurotic bottle rocket. It’s not just that Daniel Craig is smiling onscreen for the first time in a decade; it’s the first time in ages his disaffection felt so welcome. Minor players like the magnificent Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, Sebastian Stan, and, hell, even Seth MacFarlane, are all so wonderfully employed throughout.
The last fifteen minutes are so inexplicably perfect. The screenplay (allegedly and hilariously ghostwritten by Julie Asner under the pseudonym Rebecca Blunt), moves beyond the heist, beyond even an Ocean’s Eleven style epilogue con, to a communion of progress under capitalism. Though the film plays bipartisan as hell, Soderbergh captures the raucous ennui of the middle-class white south. It luxuriates in the ease and wit of the heist but refuses to give into the lens of a class based conflict. This is a film that gives voice to those who feel underrepresented without disavowing their privilege. It’s frustrating to see a film so nearly approach such vital satire, especially considering the ripe contemporary setting, but that cognisance allows its humanism to flower even further; the goodness of these people is real, if not that of the world they inhabit.
It’s hard to overpraise the film, though it is small and minor. Soderbergh is a great director with a startlingly short supply of truly great films. Rather, he prefers to produce weird, wonderfully personal works of exploration, refinement, indulgence, and moderation. He explores the American working class with humanism that it’s easy to forget that at the core of all his work, he’s pretty much just fucking around. Like Jack London, the movie is as damning of the limits of poverty and Americana as it is infatuated with the charms that restrict the nation. If the film falls short of greatness, (a fact of which I am still unsure), it is due only to its lightness, its ability to spring effortlessly from moment to moment, prioritized to the point where scenes occasionally lose density, sliding through plot or wicked gaffs. Regardless, such is a small price to pay for such a wonderful movie. Logan Lucky is a damn magical object, pure, and endlessly pleasurable.
‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’ review: A wholly ridiculous, totally enjoyable sequel led by Lily James
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a wholly ridiculous movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s the kind of movie that feels and sounds like a summer vacation should: Fizzy, lively, low-stakes and soundtracked by ABBA.
This is a world where things generally just work out, where folks are kind and willing to help, where everyone has perfect beach hair, where characters just (asterisk)know(asterisk) they’re pregnant after one bout of morning sickness, and where old flings and family members are not only welcome to suddenly sail back into lives they’ve abandoned but greeted with joy and a song. Who’s got time for bitterness and jealousy in these Greek isles?
The dialogue may be ridiculous, the plot may be questionable, and the musical numbers may be staged and stitched together like a manic fever dream (including a uniquely crazy rendition of “Waterloo” with Lily James and Hugh Skinner prancing around a French restaurant). But “Mamma Mia 2″ wears its happy heart so earnestly on its fringed suede sleeve that it almost doesn’t matter. Like an all-inclusive resort, it might be a little cheesy and there is surely some cooler and more authentic option out there with less green screen and more character development, but easy can be its own kind of fun.
And this all-inclusive resort has Cher. And Andy Garcia. And Colin Firth playing Leonardo DiCaprio to Stellan Skarsgard’s Kate Winslet at the bow of a boat packed to the gills with a mass of people singing “Dancing Queen.” And minimal singing from Pierce Brosnan. And a final show-stopper that’s so fun, you might be disappointed there isn’t an encore.
But the real reason this bonkers movie works so well is the incandescent Lily James. She plays a younger Donna (who 40 years later is played by Meryl Streep), during a very eventful summer in 1979 where she both finds her calling and meets (and sleeps with) the three men who all could very possibly be the father of her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). It should be said that two of the three suitors are uncomfortably overeager to get Donna into bed as soon as they meet her.
The flashback portions are told in tandem with what’s happening in the present day, where Sophie is preparing for the grand opening of the hotel Donna. Seyfried is good, if underserved, and her story picks up considerably when Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) arrive, but it’s the ’79 portion that you want to keep going back to (at least until Cher shows up for the last 10 minutes).
James, who is always strong no matter how big her role (from “Cinderella” to “The Darkest Hour”), gets a real star turn here. She also has a sweetly appealing voice that’s (thankfully) more 90s Disney than modern folk singer. And with some more talented singers in her male counterparts, young Bill (Josh Dylan), Harry (Hugh Skinner) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine), you find yourself actually looking forward to their songs instead of bracing for them. Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies also shine as young Tanya and Rosie, although I would like a word with whoever decided that they would have the exact same haircuts 40 years earlier.
English screenwriter and director Ol Parker took over directorial duties and slowed the pace considerably from Phyllida Lloyd’s impossibly energetic “Mamma Mia!” where there was rarely a scene where someone was running, skipping or bounding with joy. In “Here We Go Again,” which almost sounds like a threat, or at least bemused resignation, there is actually downtime and breathing room, which can drag at times. This is a movie that very much requires you to be in the “right mood.”
And perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole sequined bell-bottomed experience is you might even find yourself getting a little emotional. But not too much, this is vacation after all.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for some suggestive material.” Running time: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
‘Skyscraper’ review: Dwayne Johnson towers over action tropes in his latest summer blockbuster
I like to imagine what King Kong, as a popcorn-chomping moviegoer, might make of “Skyscraper,” the latest summer actioner starring Dwayne Johnson. Would he, watching a goliath ascend the exterior of a high-rise with helicopters and klieg lights swirling, woundedly mumble, “Hey, that’s my gig.”
But in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s thriller, there is Johnson steadily — and without too much trouble, really — swinging up a 100-story-high crane to then leap across a mammoth chasm and land in an open window on the burning 220-story tower where his wife and twin kids are trapped.
It goes without saying that if you’re the sort to scoff at a tale’s implausibility, “Skyscraper” may not be the movie you’re looking for. Experts in fields including physics, thermodynamics and screenwriting should proceed cautiously. But then again, few go to a movie starring the Rock and a tall building (they do have great chemistry) for sensible and realistic rescue methods. They go for the dumb fun, the crazy stunts and, above all, the Kong-sized appeal of Johnson, the towering movie star whose on-screen powers easily exceed those of any other action star today, superhero or not.
The Hong Kong-set “Skyscraper” is a kind of West-meets-East “Die Hard,” but without the gritty flair of John McTiernan’s film, nor anything like the villainous heights of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Johnson’s protagonist, too, is a polished family man, the inverse of Bruce Willis’ unshaven divorcee.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former military man who, after a haunting hostage encounter, has become a security systems consultant. “I put my sword down,” says Sawyer, who has a prosthetic leg from the incident — a welcome touch in a movie world where disabilities are seldom represented.
Along with his former combat surgeon wife (the nice-to-see-again Neve Campbell, whose part exceeds the stereotypical spouse role) and their two kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell), Sawyer is in Hong Kong to ready the security for “The Pearl,” a state-of-the-art skyscraper promoted as three times the size of the Empire State Building. With a swirling turbine midway up and a tennis ball-like sphere at the top, it looks a little like a giant World Cup trophy.
The building is the pride of billionaire developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who has filled it with extravagant attractions, like a kind of digital hall-of-mirrors that will inevitably serve as the setting for a “Lady From Shanghai”-like shootout. He presides over it from the penthouse, more than 100 floors above anyone else in the unfinished high rise.
The Singaporean star Han is one of the many Asian actors who populate the film, clearly fashioned to appeal as much to Chinese filmgoers as American ones, though their roles are largely peripheral.
Sawyer’s family is installed on floor 96, a precarious spot when, just below them, a band of terrorists led by Kores Botha (a ho-hum Roland Moller) sets a floor on fire, blazing a crimson line across the night skyline. (“Skyscraper” is lensed by Robert Elswit and it regularly looks better than you’d expect it to.)
Their aim, like countless bandits before them, is to smoke out Zhao. It’s an overly elaborate plan considering they mostly desire the flash drive Zhao carries with him. But what bloodthirsty international mercenary isn’t a big fan of “The Towering Inferno”?
That the timing felt right to Thurber and Johnson (who previously teamed for “Central Intelligence”) for a film about a skyscraper under terrorist assault is itself noteworthy. Such a movie would have been unthinkable in the years after Sept. 11, and for some, still is. But this year, for whatever reason, seems to close a chapter in the post-9/11 disaster movie. In April, “Rampage” (also with Johnson) didn’t hesitate to topple urban towers in clouds of dust.
“Skyscraper” doesn’t have any such thoughts — or, really, any thoughts, period — in mind. It’s counting on your amnesia to the past, on screen and off, and it will readily supply you with two hours of mindless escape. It does the job better than most, thanks largely to its hulking hero. When Johnson makes his crane leap — the movie’s much-promoted central set piece — throngs surrounding the building ooh and aah. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the Rock.
“Skyscraper,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language.” Running time: 102 minutes. Two and half stars out of four.
Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ review: Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly deliver small-scale heroic fun
After the release of Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, it became clear that fans needed a nice breath of fresh air after that horrid ending. Luckily, Lang and the gang are here to provide just that. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a light, yet exciting Marvel film that solidifies these titular characters as some of the most enjoyable in the MCU. While it may not necessarily be groundbreaking, this film is a much-needed escape from the dark future of our favorite heroes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War (but before the events of Infinity War) where we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) placed under house arrest for his international crimes in Germany. Estranged from Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Scott and his former associates’ paths meet up once again in order to reveal some secrets from their pasts. Meanwhile, a new threat known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) appears to threaten the heroes while they are on the run from the FBI.
The most exciting part of this film is the addition of the new characters and how their stories work together for the overall plot. Hope finally takes up the mantle of the Wasp and the arc with her father made for an interesting dynamic. While they are attempting to locate the whereabouts of Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), they are forced to reunite with Scott to accomplish that goal. This all happens while the three are on the run from many different characters. The FBI, a vengeful gang leader named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and Ghost along with her mentor Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) are all trying to get their hands on Pym’s technology and will stop at nothing until they do so. These storylines are blended very well together and kept the audience engaged all the way through.
Rudd and Lilly, like the first installment, have the best performances of the whole cast. Rudd maintains Lang’s sarcastic and fun-loving personality while showing that he is truly the best dad of the MCU. His daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) provides his motivation throughout the film, as he is once again attempting to prove that he can be a great father regardless of his past. Lilly was fantastic in her fiercely determined role as Hope, and it is refreshing to see the strong chemistry shared between her and Rudd. Thankfully, this film did not dwell on or force any kind of romance until it was well-deserved.
The antagonists in this film, however, were very underwhelming and unfortunately forgettable. Even though Goggins’ character worked well within the context of what was happening to Hope and Hank, he could have easily been cut from the story. John-Kamen’s Ghost was also not as developed as she could have been. Her tragic backstory led to generic motivations as she tried to retrieve the technology to fix her deteriorating condition. This made for a very weak villain, but she did serve her basic purpose.
Humor is one of the strongest elements in this film, and it is written very well. It is not over-the-top, but it fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) are honestly comparable to the Three Amigos and this trio brings some of the best laughs.
On the technical front, the effects and the choreography truly stood out. Visual effects supervisor Stephanie Ceretti, SFX supervisor Dan Sudick, and their respective teams helped make this film absolutely gorgeous. In particular, every shot inside of the quantum realm was stunning to see and made the microscopic world seem enormous in comparison. George Cottle, the stunt coordinator, made the action sequences captivating, especially those with the Wasp. Her scenes were pure exhilaration and provided agile, action-packed entertainment.
While Ant-Man and the Wasp is quite dismissible in terms of world-building, it is as delightful as the first installment, if not more, and is one of the strongest summer blockbusters of the year. And of course—like every other Marvel film—don’t forget to stick around until after the credits.