Logan Lucky

Release: Friday, August 18, 2017

→Theater

Written by: Rebecca Blunt

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Logan Lucky represents the first film from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh in four years, since he left audiences divided with a convoluted pharma-thriller whose lingering side effects included, but were not limited to, headaches, confusion and pangs of disappointment. As if trying to course correct, he returns to more familiar territory with an Ocean’s Eleven set in the deep south, where instead of casinos we’re heisting our way out from literally underneath a NASCAR race track.

This may not be a story about Bonnie and Clyde but it is a story about Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). Even with their collective experience these feel like notable roles for actors constantly searching for ways to reinvent themselves. (We’ve seen Tatum do good-ole-boy before, but Kylo Ren with a southern drawl takes some getting used to.) The Logan brothers aren’t wealthy in material possessions and they’ve suffered their share of personal setbacks. Some even say they’re cursed, what with Jimmy’s dreams of playing pro football crushed by a leg injury and his younger brother losing an arm in Iraq.

Yet by the time we’re catching up with them, they seem well-adjusted. Jimmy works a construction job and greatly looks forward to spending time with his precocious daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) who is preparing for an upcoming beauty pageant. Clyde holds down the local bar at night where he’s mostly bored but occasionally gets to impress the odd out-of-towner — in this case a pretentious British douchebag effortlessly played by Seth Macfarlane — with his bartending “skills.” Tatum and Driver are clearly in no way related but their characters are undeniably cut from the same tattered cloth. They’re kindhearted, simple people who generally don’t go looking for trouble.

That is until the day Jimmy loses even this unsure footing, when he gets fired from his job working on the Charlotte Motor Speedway because of a “preexisting physical condition” that finally gets discovered. Later he is informed by ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) that it’s going to be more difficult to see Sadie as they’re moving across state lines thanks to her new hubby (David Denman) landing a cushier job.

Pushed to the brink, Jimmy hatches a scheme with the hope of restoring some of his dignity. Money may not buy you happiness but can it at least buy you that? He intends to find out by Robin Hood-ing his way in and out of his old construction site, in the process siphoning off a few dollar bills from the elaborate network of pipes that shuttle money between the site’s vendors and the vault. He’ll be taking from the public and giving back to the very private sector. But he won’t be able to do it alone, so he enlists the one-armed Clyde and their renegade sister Mellie (Riley Keough) as sidekicks.

The framework is familiar and the action routine, certainly by Soderbergh’s own standards, but it’s with whom the director has surrounded himself that really makes the difference. With supporting parts also going to the likes of Hilary Swank and Macon Blair as detectives on the trail, Sebastian Stan as a NASCAR driver representing the aforementioned British bag-with-which-one-douches, and Katherine Waterston as a potential love interest, Logan Lucky boasts one of his most impressive casts to date. Six real stock car drivers appear in cameos — the recently retired Jeff Gordon most recognizable among them. But he’s not as funny as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards who play state troopers of all things.

That’s not even mentioning the film’s crowning jewel.

In order to physically access the money, the brothers will require the services of a safecracker who goes by the name of Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Seeing as though Bang’s behind bars, that part is going to be a little tricky. Luckily Soderbergh can make even the most contrived development enjoyable, here inserting country music icon Dwight Yoakam as a feckless prison warden to facilitate a critical plot point. The singer/songwriter/actor is clearly relishing the role he plays in this farce, but it’s 007 himself that really digs in. Ditching the Omega and the Armani suit for striped pajamas and bleached hair, his presence alone is worth the price of admission. It’s the kind of role that tells me that James Bond may well need Craig more than Craig needs James Bond.

The characters define Logan Lucky, perhaps in a way that no other cast Soderbergh has been gifted has before. His early-2000s adaptations of the Rat Pack classic weren’t exactly high concept, but by comparison Danny Ocean made you really work for your entertainment. This is a familiar heist thriller executed with a level of enthusiasm that’s just as familiar, but unfortunately an adherence to a certain formula leads Logan Lucky into a snag not even the well-prepared Jimmy could anticipate and/or avoid. A subplot at the end needlessly rehashes details of the heist as the detectives attempt to identity the culprits — a sloppy construction that causes an unwanted momentum shift and a pair of talented actors to come across rather amateurish.

In fairness, the Tatum-Driver-Craig combo is one tough act to follow. They’re the gift that keeps on giving, keeping this rural farce on the wrong side of the law but just the right side of ridiculous.

Recommendation: With colorful and unforgettable characters, the lackadaisical plotting of Logan Lucky is more easily forgiven. Even as the buzz wears off significantly towards the end, this is one of the more purely enjoyable flicks of the late season — a cold and refreshing <insert the name of an American pilsner here> on a hot race day. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Did you just suck off his arm?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

JCR Factor #7

Welcome back around to a new edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. If you’re looking for more just like this, be sure to visit the Features menu up top and check out sub-menu, John C. Reilly!

I’ve found another Adam McKay piece to tide you over until I can actually get my hands on another of his more dramatic performances. While I do think Reilly functions very well under McKay’s brand of comedy, the whole point of this feature is to prove the actor’s range across a variety of genres. I once more feel like I’m coming up short on that, but alas here we are. Even still, this may not be much of a surprise, but his Cal Naughton Jr. is a pretty fun one to talk about. Here we go!

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John C. Reilly as Cal Naughton Jr. in Adam McKay’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: Who is Cal Naughton Jr, you ask? You mean, aside from being the perennial push-over, the yin to NASCAR legend Ricky Bobby’s yang? Cal’s a thoughtful, caring man, a fierce competitor and loyal shake-and-baker. You see, behind every great racer there stands the second-greatest racer, and Cal has, over many years of having to voluntarily lose to Ricky in fear of destroying their friendship, become comfortable with his lot in life. Yet, despite his fear for crossing Ricky Bobby during a race, there lies dormant within him a desire to be more than a step stool to his race partner. When Ricky goes down in an unfortunate fire-related accident, the moment comes for Naughton to step up and prove to himself more than anyone else what he’s really made of.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: its competitive comedic edge. This film largely works due to the chemistry between Reilly and Ferrell, relying on a kind of competition off the race track wherein the actors try to out-ridiculous one another. It’s pretty obvious why these two want to keep making movies together.

That’s what he said: “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo tee shirt because it says, like, ‘I want to be formal, but I’m here to party too.'”

Best shake and bake moment: “Hey, I just wanna say to all you other drivers out there, if you smell a delicious, crispy smell after the race, it’s not your tailpipe. It’s a little bit of . . . shake . . . and then bake!”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

 

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Photo credits: Google images 

TBT: Talladega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

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For installment numero trés in our ‘Movies that Really Move’ segment on TBT, let’s switch up the genres and go to comedy, having spent some time with some solid entries into drama last week with Speed, and the week before with Days of ThunderThis movie speaks for itself and needs very little introduction, but I will say this: today’s entry is probably my second or third favorite Will Ferrell film. Although he doesn’t do anything substantially different from his other goofy roles, what he chooses as his subject matter here is perfect. Making light of the NASCAR circuit is always a good time. (Leave it to Ferrell to find nothing at all sacred, I know.) Even still, I thought this to be a relatively intelligent film compared to some other ridiculous full-length-feature SNL skits that he’s put out for public consumption. It’s by no means an award-contender, but hey, if you ain’t first, you can be second, third; hell. . . .you can even be fifth, right? 

Today’s food for thought: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

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Release: August 4, 2006

[DVD]

DF-15134 Ð Will Ferrell stars in Columbia PicturesÕ comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover S.M.P.S.P. Copyright: (c) 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH One LLC. All rights reserved.

The above photo shows a visibly distressed Ricky Bobby, as he attempts to free himself of the medical limitations placed upon him and his job as a top NASCAR racer, after a scuffle in a bar resulted in him getting his arm broken. (This was upon his request, mind you.) He attempts to cut through the cast to prove he’s ready, both physically and mentally, to take on the challenge posed by the presence of a new driver on the track — a Formula One driver who has just made the transition to the sport of left-turns.

Ricky could have surrendered to this new threat peaceably and told the guy what he wanted to hear in that bar that fateful night (something about crêpes), but no; his ego was simply too huge, and instead he gets his arm broken over a pool table. This moment is one of a select few that epitomizes the selfishness of Ferrell’s rowdy southern driver personality.

Ricky Bobby is the best there is, and he knows it. A considerable portion of the first half of the film shows him touting the fact he’s untouchable. Bobby, along with long-time race partner and Wonderbread teammate Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly), have it made in NASCAR. An unstoppable duo of talented racers, Ricky is that guy whose dad never allowed him to accept anything less than the No. 1 position. It is from his father (Gary Cole) he’s had this impression that in life “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” and hence, his seemingly perfect track record. As his partner, Cal sits by and quietly accepts taking second place to Ricky’s fame and fortunes, never wanting to cause disruption in the relationship.

It is when this newcomer, Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), puts his foot to the pedal that a rift begins to slowly form in Ricky and Cal’s friendship; a clash of the egos that escalates once Ricky gets involved in a bad crash during a race and loses his confidence. (One of my favorite moments is his psychotic breakdown in which he yells out for help from Tom Cruise — now, I’m wondering, is that a shout-out to Days of Thunder or just a random, funny throw-away line?) Ricky soon discovers his name is slowly being forgotten now that his teammate has suddenly got a chance at the limelight. Aaaaaaand cue the unsportsmanlike conduct.

Talladega Nights comfortably leans on the same Adam McKay-Will Ferrell formula that has propelled both careers since their days on Anchorman (McKay’s debut film, and arguably one of Ferrell’s most successful full-length feature adaptations of his SNL slapstick to date). However, Talladega Nights proves that the formula is working reasonably well. In order to enjoy said films or if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re going to enjoy a particular Ferrell film, the process is really quite simple.

Plug in the ridiculous cast of characters; a plot that first shows the lead roles to be some sort of supremely confident, talented individual, but as time goes on their unwillingness to change or adapt to new situations proves problematic; then sit back and watch as Ferrell’s character (and any other central character close to him) tries to figure out how to best adapt, while getting the girl at the same time. Time and again, these have all proven to be the nuts and bolts of the McKay-Ferrell comedy vehicle. Nothing out of the ordinary with Talladega Nights in this regard.

However, being bolstered by memorable supporting performances from an always-hilarious Gary Cole as Ricky’s awful father, and similarly the zany mother-figure in Jane Lynch’s Lucy Bobby, Talladega Nights is stronger competition than one might expect, especially given how ruthlessly self-centered Ricky Bobby first appears. The fierce spirit of competition readily invites Ferrell’s sense of humor, as well, and this helps fuel the film’s staying power just a tad.

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3-0Recommendation: For Ferrell fans, it’s a must. Though this film is more or less relegated to the crowd-pleasing versions of his shtick, there are many good laughs here and there and its all in the name of good, simple fun. And it’s probably the second most-quoted film of his, behind Anchorman, of course.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dogomovies.com; http://www.imdb.com; http://www.quotesgram.com 

TBT: Days of Thunder (1990)

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Welcome to September’s edition of TBT! Though I wasn’t wild about trying to theme out this particular thread over the course of even something as short as a month, seeing as though I have a slight issue with consistency and all. . .I feel there’s a very good reason to try it out for this month. Given that on September 27, the latest Ron Howard picture, Rush,  is set to drop, I figured this would be a good time to take a look at some badass car movies. Initially I was going to try to restrict the theme simply to racing movies, but since yours truly has pretty limited racing film experience, I broadened the theme to include any really cool movie involving high speed cars, car chases, and yes, race sequences. Whether the film is character-driven as it dives into famous racer profiles (as Rush will here in a couple of weeks; and boy, do I hope this film proves to be the bounce-back Howard needs after his latest outing, The Dilemma. . . ) or whether the film just happens to show some ludicrous albeit highly entertaining car stunts throughout, this is the month to get your adrenaline fix as we throw it back to some older films involving automobiles. Enjoy! 

Today’s food for thought: Days of Thunder

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Release: June 27, 1990

[DVD]

A very young, moody Tom Cruise dons the racing gloves and other appropriately goofy garb required of NASCAR drivers as he steps into the role of Cole Trickle, an extremely talented but emotionally unstable young driver who finds himself putting his foot back on the gas pedal following some events that likely could have sidelined him in the NASCAR world for the rest of his career. Fortunately, this is a movie and so his character will end up getting his perhaps all-too-easily-earned shot at redemption at some point or another.

Being the first of a series of three back-to-back films to star Nicole Kidman alongside Tom Cruise (the other two being Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut), Days of Thunder is a riveting action film which may not exactly be the most accurate portrayal of life in the NASCAR circuit but what it may lack in certain factual consistency it makes up for with its passionate storytelling and energetic, high-intensity race scenes.

There’s something about Days of Thunder and the way the late Tony Scott managed to capture the rambunctious, unpredictable and often grimy, filthy nature of the culture surrounding stock car racing. It is not tonally the most consistent film ever created, nor is it always as compelling as it ought to be, however there’s enough of a tinge of sentimentality in the capturing of sunset on race day, a nostalgic youth in the performances delivered by Cruise, Kidman and the intimidating veteran racer Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) that elevates the overall production.

Returning to this film is always a treat, given the solid cast and moments of terror and fear experienced on the track at high speeds. Indeed, one may not remember all that much from this film other than a couple of significant developments in the final race scene, Tom Cruise’s smile and Nicole Kidman’s accent when she gets mad (“Get out of the cahhh, Cole!”), but the few images and memories that one manages to keep from that first viewing are likely to be fond.

Cole Trickle (a character based on real-life NASCAR driver Tim Richmond, who died much too young at the age of 34 after he contracted AIDS) is an extremely gifted open-wheel driver who gets picked up by dealership tycoon Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, playing a fictionalized version of Rick Hendrick). Daland also convinces a retired car builder and former crew chief, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to come out of hiding and get things rolling for the newbie. Things, of course, do not go soundly at first as Cole is not used to both the size of the cars and the speed of the tracks he’s on, not to mention he’s frequently finding himself a target of intimidation by one Rowdy Burns. After multiple failed races that typically resulted in blown engines, it becomes clear to Harry that he needs to really get to specifics with Cole as the kid is not at all familiar even with some terminology used at the track and in the pit. Needless to say, Cole undergoes rigorous training and soon emerges as a very dangerous racer indeed. His first victory over Rowdy ignited a fierce rivalry, and ultimately foreshadows a tragedy looming in the near future. This is where the film turns to something a bit more compelling.

Cole Trickle (a character based on real-life NASCAR driver Tim Richmond, who died much too young at the age of 34 after he contracted AIDS) is an extremely gifted open-wheel driver who gets picked up by dealership tycoon Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, playing a fictionalized version of Rick Hendrick). Daland also convinces a retired car builder and former crew chief, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to come out of hiding and get things rolling for the newbie. Things, of course, do not go soundly at first as Cole is not used to both the size of the cars and the speed of the tracks he’s on, not to mention he’s frequently finding himself a target of intimidation by one Rowdy Burns. After multiple failed races that typically resulted in blown engines, it becomes clear to Harry that he needs to really get to specifics with Cole as the kid is not at all familiar even with some terminology used at the track and in the pit. Needless to say, Cole undergoes rigorous training and soon emerges as a very dangerous racer indeed. His first victory over Rowdy ignited a fierce rivalry, and ultimately foreshadows a tragedy looming in the near future. This is where the film turns to something a bit more compelling.

During the Firecracker 400 race in Daytona, a massive wreck occurs and sweeps up both Rowdy and Cole who both sustain injuries — though Cole comes out with far less serious ones. Rowdy’s future all of a sudden is in jeopardy (at least in terms of performing on the track) since the attending doctor (cue the red-headed Australian actress) says he is suffering severe head trauma. While both racers have to take some time off, some interesting developments occur both on and off the track. Cole starts seeing this brilliant doctor for more than just the routine check-up, and soon their relationship blossoms. Meanwhile, another racer is brought onto the team to fill in for the still-recuperating Cole, a smug, arrogant driver named Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes) who’s only goal is to make everyone forget about Cole Trickle.

His confidence shaken, Cole finds himself struggling to make sense out of his own life and in particular, his career choice since all he wants to do is get back into his car and win. . . win big. But with the added perspective of his newfound romantic interest, perhaps there’s more to life than driving around in circles all day hoping to not get into another life-threatening wreck (you have to remember, this film was set/made during a time when safety protocol wasn’t quite up to the standards set today). To make matters worse, Cole finds himself fired from the team by Daland, after he and Russ get into an altercation following an illegal move made by Russ in pit lane. It would seem Cole is out of the scene and out of a job. Cue your typical ‘hero-seeks-consolation-from-jaded-mentor’ scene.

Cole seeks out Harry, who, after being humiliated at the race track in the wake of the fight, has isolated himself once again to his secluded farmhouse and is not exactly pleased to see Cole trying to make a return to racing — much less, ask for him to be involved. Of course, Harry caves — but will the team be the same ever again?

There are moments throughout the film that may induce some yawns, but in general the atmosphere created by Scott’s decidedly Southern film is thoroughly enjoyable and provides yet another different role for Tom Cruise — the man who seemingly has now seen and done it all. Duvall is reliably heartwarming as Cole’s mentor, friend and coworker, and perhaps this movie might not have been so inspiring had it lacked presence from a man of his stature. Kidman is, well. . . I don’t really like Kidman at all and continually find her annoying and repelling. Here, she’s more neutral even though at times her reasons to protect Cole and certainly her emotional flare-ups are questionably fleeting and unconvincing. She was brought in more for a foil for our protagonist to have second-thoughts about himself, more so than the romantic interest. It’s quite easy to see through her character. However, she’s the weakest link and the rest of the cast turn in solid work.

I touched on it at the beginning of the previous paragraph, but the fact that this is an atmospheric film needs to be emphasized more. As is true for many sporting events, going to races has the added bonus of one feeling like they’re contributing to some larger idea; the closer you get to sit to the track, the more you feel a part of the race, a part of the culture. The more you feel involved in a general sense. In that way, this film is quite impressive in detailing both spectacle and circumstance surrounding any given race (a few of the highlights include the Darlington “Lady in Black” Raceway and the Daytona 500). These aspects are what make it a truly enjoyable watch, a staple of the ’90s. In fact, I’d venture to argue that most of the enjoyment resides in these aspects, and not simply in the fact that the feature boasts one of America’s most popular big-screen performers. We’ll keep that between us, though, because I’m not sure how Tom Cruise’s ego would take that news. . .

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3-5Recommendation: This likely isn’t THE definitive racing movie, but it likely could be (for now) the definitive race movie based around NASCAR events. Its hardly a true story, though elements from real-life events were loosely referenced throughout. Any fan of the sport of racing in general should have passed the checkered flag by now but if you’re circling the last lap in getting around to this film, don’t worry about your position in this race. What matters is whether or not you cross the finish line at all. Days of Thunder is well worth the effort and time required to seek it out.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 107 mins.

Where were you when this film came out? 

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Photo credits: http://www.idolosol.com; http://www.motorsportsretro.com