CineScene

Two ‘Mainly Above Average’ Films and the Summer 2017 Movie Compendium

By BILL GEIGER | Sep 06, 2017

I sincerely hope whoever had last week for vacation liked shopping or playing miniature golf. With dangerous surf conditions closing many of the beaches for much of the week, our dear merchants probably got the best news they could, as more folks visited their stores or ate their food. And that’s as it should be.

Unfortunately, LBI no longer has a movie theater of its own (a glaring omission), but the mainland theaters might have reaped some benefit as well. Too bad there weren’t that many good films for everyone to go see with their beach time taken away. We’ll talk about two of the better ones directly, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and “Logan Lucky.” Those two were mainly above average, and “Logan Lucky” might have even hit the trifecta of being funny, compelling and having a really good story. More in just a bit.

Last Saturday had some rain in a few parts, the remnants of Harvey, as it turned out, and though that rain was an inconvenience, we can certainly understand the feelings of those folks dealing with the flooding in Texas. The looks on their faces said it all. Like our experiences with Sandy, it will take those folks several years to process it all, if they are ever able to.

Unfortunately, storms like Sandy and Harvey are becoming the new norm as our climate changes. And there’s nothing we can do about it, save for lessening our carbon footprint. See “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” for ways to do that.

This being our last CineScene column for the summer, we usually take part of our discussion and debate the relative merits of the summer cinema of 2017. We will do that as we conclude our column. First we have the aforementioned movies on which to render judgement, and I’m going to give a little plug to two other films I screened this summer but did not get to include in the general critique in each column.

The first film we’ll discuss is “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a vehicle for Samuel L. Jackson to drop the F-bomb several hundred times, so this is not a film for the kiddies. His voice in many places is several hundred decibels higher than that of costar Ryan Reynolds, but that doesn’t mean Reynolds fails to hold up his end of the film. No, they complement each other very well.

The plot is fairly simple. The brutal president of Belarus, on trial at the International Court of Justice at The Hague for murdering civilians, has had no strong evidence presented against him; thus he cannot be convicted. It seems that President Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), despite the testimony of those whose family members he has murdered, will go free if they cannot find a witness with stronger testimony.

Enter Jackson’s character, Darius Kincaid. A contract killer, Kincaid had done some work for Dukhovich, and as such can testify against him. Interpol, the international police agency tasked to protect Kincaid, has a mole among its force leaking info to Dukhovich and his goons, so the task of protecting Kincaid needs an outsider, one not in the loop of Interpol communications.

Enter the hitman’s bodyguard. That would be security specialist Michael Bryce (Reynolds), a CIA trained agent turned bodyguard who lost an important client to a bullet a few years before the Kincaid job, and thus has corresponding doubts about his abilities and an insecure reputation.

Bryce has a former girlfriend in Interpol, and she brings him into the job of guarding Kincaid, who turns out to be an old acquaintance/nemesis. So we have a buddy comedy/action thriller in the guise of a road movie, as Bryce must navigate Kincaid through the small towns of Europe from Manchester, England, to the Netherlands. Along the way they have to avoid or generate a fusillade of bullets, overcome some obvious differences, and bond just enough to get their job done.

Jackson is his usual bombastic self, and I was looking for, and found, several times when Jackson could have stopped what he was doing and have a “What’s in your wallet?” moment. His character’s genesis is not too far removed from his rendition of Jules in “Pulp Fiction,” minus that goofy hairdo. The F-bombs were plentiful there, too, and have become a virtual calling card for Jackson. To be sure, he knows how to use them.

The film is worth the price but does have some moments that strain reality; however, they’ll be overlooked as the film lurches toward its conclusion. Oh, and it has a few brief moments with Salma Hayek, who plays Sonia, Darius’ wife, in prison but promised release if Darius will cooperate with Interpol. Sonia knows her way around the F-bomb as well, and her cameos feature multiple use of that device.

The music is pretty good, too, with the title soundtrack, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” sung by Jackson himself. There’s the Lionel Richie song “Hello,” and the great one-hit wonder “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest that concludes the film. According to Variety, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” has been the top Hollywood moneymaker for three weeks in a row, and even though the Labor Day weekend take was the lowest in 12 years, the Jackson/Reynolds film dominated the box office.

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A smaller but slightly better film is “Logan Lucky,” Steven Soderbergh’s hillbilly “Ocean’s Eleven.” Soderbergh kept the creative control close to the vest when he made this film, and the total control he had showed in the final product. Not only did he have a good story, written by one Rebecca Blunt, who it is rumored is a pseudonym for someone else, but he had an excellent cast to work with, including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Dwight Yoakam, Daniel Craig and Hillary Swank.

It would not surprise me if Blunt were Soderbergh himself, since he likes to keep the whole production grounded in that particular universe he has created for it. And he has created an amazing one populated by the Logan clan, one that has suffered many calamities, according to Clyde Logan (Driver), who lost his hand and lower forearm serving several tours in the military in Iraq.

Clyde keeps the “curse” of the Logans foremost in his mind, and he reminds everyone who will listen that the jinx has kept the family’s fortunes down throughout the years. He repeats the litany of bad stuff to his brother Jimmy (Tatum), who was let go from his construction job at the Charlotte Motor Speedway because he failed to mention his bad knee, suffered during his stellar high-school football career, when he was hired. Now jobless, he decides to rob the speedway of all the money it will bring in during a race.

To this end, he enlists his hard-driving sister Mellie (Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter), his dour brother Clyde, and the explosive expert Joe Bang (Craig, in a performance that is a revelation, voices an exaggerated West Virginia twang), who brings his two brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson) along for the ride. The only problem is Joe Bang is in prison, and needs to be broken out. The plot for that is too elaborate to discuss here, but it is highly comical.

Jimmy and his ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes), share custody of their daughter, Sadie (Farrah McKenzie), and Bobbie Jo’s new husband, Moody Chapman (David Denman), wants to move the family to Lynchburg, Va., which would make it more difficult for Jimmy to visit Sadie, being further away. Jimmy doesn’t like it, but decides to go through with the robbery and concocts a rambling plan to steal that money with everyone all in.

After they steal the money, get away and begin to resume their lives, Jimmy feels bad and decides to return the money to the speedway. Everybody he worked with is totally surprised. But the story is not yet over, as you will see if you watch the film. And do see it. Tatum is always good, although he doesn’t dance in this one. Craig and his two “brothers” are hilarious, and Keough raises the bar with her performance.

“Logan Lucky” is surely worth the money, if only to witness the way everyone intones the West Virginia accent. The best are Fish and Sam Bang, Joe’s brothers. Joe does a pretty good job, too. Soderbergh (or Rebecca Blunt) constructs the story in a way that precludes any doubts of verisimilitude. The story rocks. Tatum, Driver and Craig rock. It all rocks, and deserves your attention.

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Two “indie” films I didn’t get a chance to include in any longer reviews this summer were very good and deserve at least an addition to a Netflix queue. “Megan Leavey” is the story of a girl who had no path in life, no place to call home, no direction, when on a whim she decided to join the Marines after watching two Marines in their dress uniforms walk into a strip-mall recruiting office. While there she noticed the K-9 bomb sniffing units and the work the soldier-handlers were doing with the dogs, and thought that might be what she would like to do.

She enters the unit, has to adhere to some rigorous rules, and becomes one of the bomb-sniffing dogs’ handlers – not any dog, but one of the particularly aggressive dogs, named Rex. Megan and Rex embark on a tour of Iraq, where they work over 100 missions until a roadside bomb is detonated, injuring Megan and Rex. “Megan Leavey” tells how a dog can change the life of a human, and shows how strong these bonds can be.

If you’re a dog person, see it and be clear on how important dogs are to the lives of plain folks like us. If you’re not a dog person, see it and become one. It’s a really fine film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and starring Kate Mara as Megan; Ramon Rodriguez as Matt, her love interest; an unrecognizable Bradley Whitford as her father, Bob; Edie Falco as her mother, Jackie; and Will Patton as Joe, her stepfather. It’s clear through the film that Megan has no feelings for Jackie and Joe, who do their best to piss her off most of the film.

Only her father, Bob, has some good things to say to her. What she needs is Rex to fulfill her, and he is still on active duty when Megan musters out. So the second half of “Megan Leavey” shows the battle Megan fights to get Rex when he retires. Sometimes it’s amazing what a person can do when she gets some direction in her life.

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“The Hero” is the name of both the Sam Elliott/ Laura Prepon film and the film-within-the-film that has made Sam’s character, Lee Hayden, a paradigm of Western filmmaking. In short, it’s the film that everyone remembers him for, and he’s been living off that reputation for most of the last 20 or 30 years. Because of Lee’s distinctive, gravelly drawl, he’s been getting some voice work, but the acting well has pretty much dried up for him.

That and an unfortunately bad medical diagnosis drive Lee to start pondering his life and his choices, particularly those involving his ex-wife, Valarie (real wife Katherine Ross), and their daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). The relationship with Lucy troubles Lee very much; all this agitation in his life leads him to self-medicate with some good weed, provided by his local supplier, Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

During one of his visits with Jeremy, testing out some high-grade product, he meets Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon), who seems intrigued that this old guy would find her attractive, and they decide to date. Lee is an old guy, and Laura is young enough to be his daughter, but they manage to hit it off, and that takes Lee’s mind off the bad things that have been happening to him.

One of the good things (besides Charlotte) that has happened recently is that he’s been given a Lifetime Achievement Award by a Western Film Lovers group. His acceptance of it, and Charlotte’s posting it on social media all point to a resurgence of his career, all while it might be cut short by that troubling diagnosis.

“The Hero” is a film of getting it right, of doing the voice-overs just so, of putting your life in order, of making amends with your family. Director Brett Haley has done the nearly impossible: He has created a film about a 70-plus-year-old actor and the demons he has to confront in his life, and he has succeeded in making this film work. “The Hero” might not be a great film, but it’s a very good one, and as such it is worth the cost and has all the realism you need.

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And now for the summer film compendium. As is usual, I saw a lot of films, but it seems my compatriots did not; the box office for the summer of 2017 was decidedly down from past summers. It couldn’t have been the weather, or the political climate, or the social climate. It might have been from the artistic climate, the idea that perhaps the summer’s films did not appeal to a large audience. Most of the films are aimed at the age of an adolescent male. Some are not, of course, but imagine a film like “The Transformers,” and you’ll have the target audience.

I have a feeling the movie consumers’ viewing habits have changed. Perhaps the easy accessibility of shows that can be streamed is attracting viewers away from the big screen. There is no more “down time” in the summer. New shows seem to run 24/7 throughout the year, and that will draw away viewers.

Movie prices are high, especially for 3D and IMAX films. That and the streaming might be drawing folks away from the theaters. But for those interested, we had minions, pirates, more cars, and those of the transformer kind. We had a new mummy, a new Spider-Man, more apes, and the Aliens were back.

We had an adaptation from a graphic novel, a beguiled group of Southern belles, King Arthur again, and Wonder Woman. We had a Stephen King adaptation, a galaxy’s guardians, and a popular television show remade. Were they any good? Were they worth seeing?

I have to say I was more excited at the beginning of the summer, writing this column and looking at what might come, than I was at the end, writing this retrospect and looking back on what I did see. I set the bar pretty low, and viewed things in the light of what was merely entertaining. Of course there were some that exceeded all my low expectations, like “Baywatch,” “The Beguiled,” “King Arthur,” “The Mummy,” “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

I liked “Wonder Woman” a lot, and found Gal Gadot particularly charming. I thought the aforementioned “Megan Leavey” and “The Hero” were both very good. “Logan Lucky” was very good. “Atomic Blonde” was a worthy summer flick, as was “War for the Planet of the Apes.” I thought “The Big Sick” very good.

My favorite film of the summer was “Dunkirk.” Now I think I know why. Recently I’ve been watching a lot of the coverage of the flooding in Texas, and what I remember most, as I said at the beginning of this column, is the look on the faces of the flood victims. The face is a powerful canvas, and those who face the loss of everything they had showed that on their faces. Christopher Nolan was able to capture some of those same looks on the actors preparing for yet another air attack by the German Luftwaffe on the beach at Dunkirk. Actors Kenneth Brannagh and Mark Rylance capture that look well. It’s unforgettable, as was Nolan’s film. Best of the summer, hands down.

On the other side are just a handful of films that I thought were truly awful. “Snatched,” with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, doesn’t deserve to be watched, ever. I’ve never said this about a film, but I thought “Snatched” was stupid. Hawn should have known better. I thought “Transformers: The Last Knight” was typical tripe of this sort, as were “The House,” with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, “Rough Night” with Scarlett Johansson, and “Valerian, and the City of 1000 Planets.” Too many planets. Valerian could have done with about 995 planets.

I do have a few regrets, those films I wish I had seen, but for one reason or another did not. I wish I had seen “Girls’ Trip” instead of “Rough Night.” It would have been funnier and just about all around better. I wish I had seen “Wind River,” written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote last summer’s best film, “Hell or High Water.”

I wish I had seen Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” about the 1967 riots there, and I wish I had seen “Beatriz at Dinner,” with Salma Hayek as a domestic invited to dinner with a bunch of high-end types. I did not see “The Dark Tower,” the film based on a Stephen King story, but there are no regrets there, as friends have given it a thumbs down. I may see it on DVD when it comes out in that medium.

There it is, the 2017 compendium. “It,” the Stephen King film that gives clowns a bad name, is being remade and looks really good in the previews. There are a whole host of films coming out in the fall, including the sequel to “Blade Runner,” one of my all-time favorite films. This one is called “Blade Runner 2049” and stars Ryan Gosling and, yes, Harrison Ford. Cool.

So that’s it for another summer season. It has been my pleasure to share some thoughts movie-wise with you, and I hope I did not offend too many of you. Have a good off-season, enjoy the peace and quiet, and keep a good thought. I hope to converse about the 2018 movie season with you. Let’s try to keep it real.

 

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