Saturday, December 09, 2017

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is the movie for which Steven Soderbergh ended his retirement? 

OK, I admit there are some really cool things -- some things I really liked -- about this flick.

The complicated heist movie -- and isn't that something Soderbergh does best? -- takes place mostly in Boone County, WV and in Charlotte, NC. I know those areas well, and it was fun seeing the culture of those regions portrayed on the screen.

Adam Driver's accent and affect is pure Appalachian. He's channeling scores of people I've known, lived with, and loved during my lifetime in West Virginia. Farrah Mackenzie, who plays Sadie Logan, steals the show and will melt your heart. If you don't get misty-eyed during her emotional scene near the movie's end, you should turn in your hillbilly membership card.

But, there are real issues with Logan Lucky that are difficult to ignore. First, like many heist films, the flick is complicated. Soderbergh tries to tidy up some of those complications at the very end, but some unanswered questions remain after the credits. 

Second, some of the logistics are screwy. Characters travel back and forth from Boone County to Charlotte, NC so often and so quickly that viewers might believe the two regions are in close proximity.

They aren't.

Madison, the county seat of Boone, is more than 275 miles from Charlotte, and it takes more than 5 hours to travel between the locations by car. And Madison to Lynchburg, VA -- where the young daughter of main character Jimmy Logan is moving with his ex-wife, who says the move is OK because "you'll still get your days," of visitation -- is nearly 250 miles driving distance. You just can't make those trips as easily as they appear in the movie.

It almost seems the screenwriter is unfamiliar with the region in which WV is located, and presumes the location to be more Virginia than West Virginia. 

Which brings me to the most interesting part of Logan Lucky: first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt. Although listed as being "from Logan, WV, but now living in New York," no one can verify that Blunt is a real person. Instead, the smart money says Blunt is the pseudonym used by Soderbergh' s wife, Jules Asner

That theory makes a lot of sense.

What else but a first time writing effort by one's wife would make a retired film director and producer come out of retirement to produce and direct a hillbilly heist flick starring Channing Tatum?



Monday, November 27, 2017

Punisher (Netflix Series)

Marvel's Punisher is -- at least according to my memory -- the comic industry's first anti-hero. Frank Castle's appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man (sometime in 1974) set the stage for later characters like Deadpool, and for titles like Suicide Squad.

(Hell, I doubt Batman's fan base could have accepted a violent, gun-teasing Dark Knight without Punisher setting that tone.)

The Netflix series is an extension of Punisher's origin story from Daredevils second season. The audience watches Castle struggle with the moral dilemma of what he knows he is, and what he knows he must do to carry out his view of justice. We see his struggle with relationships, and manipulate them in order to achieve his mission.


Finally, we see him embrace his (even) darker side in order to deliver a truck load of karma to someone who deserved it.

It was a beautiful thing to watch.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Justice League

I'm considered somewhat of an outcast among my herd of nerds, geeks, and comic book snobs. And that's for two very simple reasons:

1. I dig old-school, team-based, super-hero comics; and,
2. I prefer DC over Marvel, Image, and other publishing companies.

It's true.

Several of my comic-book-readin' friends scratch their heads after learning I prefer JLA or Teen Titans stories over The Wicked + the Devine, or that a stack of regular old Justice Society of America comics helps me pass a day of bad weather better than the best issues of The Avengers.

When I first started reading comics in the 1970s, DC was the company to read for great stories and well written dialogue; Marvel was the place for really cool visual story telling. (There were notable exceptions, such as Spider-Man, and I read and enjoyed those titles too. But those were exceptions.)

It was in a DC comic that I could find philosophical debate over ethics and morals, and friends arguing over the subtle points of a mission. It was in titles like The Justice League where I could watch a group of diverse people consider a problem from all angles, then reach consensus and act together to solve that problem.


My favorite comic book stories weren't those with dozens of panels showing Superman punching through walls.


My favorite comics were the ones where team members sat around their meeting table in debate, arguing through what they should do.



It's for that reason I enjoyed Justice League (2017). The flick has mixed reviews, and I agree with some of the scuttlebutt and poor reviews I've read on the 'net. I'm no fanboy; I have my own issues with the film. I absolutely hate the way The Flash is portrayed as an insecure kid, and I'm not wild about how producers focused in on Peter David's 1990s Aquaman when developing the character. It gives Arthur Curry some sass and stature, for sure, but this is not the traditional Aquaman most readers know.

But there is much about Justice League that is right. Ben Affleck is better as The Batman this round than he was in Dawn of Justice, and I think that's because he spent more time out of the batsuit as Bruce Wayne. Watching Bruce track down and convince the other heroes to join this new league was the highlight of the flick for me, as was the team's debate over the ethics of whether or not they should play gods with someone else's life or death.

(That's a purposely vague reference for those couple of people who don't yet know the plot of this story.)

DC movies are still a step-and-a-half behind Marvel in story-telling, effects, and structure. Marvel flicks are lighter and sell more popcorn. But Justice League is a step in the right direction, I think. And, hopefully, ten years from now the movie will be considered a turning point for when the studio started getting it right.







Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Ghost Story


My maternal grandfather -- "Papaw," we called him -- died just before my 24th birthday. I grew up living beside him, so he helped raise me.

We were very close.

Papaw had a quirky sense of humor, and anxious mannerism I notice in my adult self.  He was a bit of a rebel; the sort of guy who bent the rules just up to the point of breaking them and, then, just a little more if he could.

He was the guy who would come back from the afterlife, if coming back from an afterlife was possible.


That he was that-sorta-guy haunted me for months after his death. Although I doubted an afterlife existed, I wasn't certain at that time in my life and couldn't discount it. That he was a rules-bender gave my grandmother hope. Anytime I visited her after his death, the conversation always drifted to:

Mamaw: "I'd give anything for Junior to walk into this room right now and say hello."

Me: "Yeah, but then he'd be a ghost."

Mamaw: "That doesn't matter. When you love someone as much as I love him, that doesn't matter."

Me: "Listen, I loved the man. But I ain't excited to see him as a ghost. That would freak me out! I'd scream, and run outta this house. Nope, no ghost-Papaw for me, thanks."

She'd get really quiet, and then just smile. As if I didn't understand.

Because -- as I realize more than a quarter-century later -- I didn't.

I thought about those exchanges while watching A Ghost Story. Written and directed by David Lowery, this Casey Affleck flick takes its time exploring the emotions of love and grief, and the power of personal connection. Lowery's story suggests love and grief are so powerful that they can allow us to bend the rules.

Even the rules that govern death and the afterlife.

A Ghost Story is a supernatural drama that isn't scary, and it's not an action movie -- in fact, one of the most powerful scenes in the film simply shows a woman sitting on the kitchen floor eating pie. But it's a movie that will move you in the end, if you have the patience to watch.



Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fantastic Four



The latest incarnation isn't perfect -- hell, Ant-Man was better, after all -- but it sure isn't the flop being described by critics.

It's a solid origin story, even if this origin is different than the comic book story first told half a century ago.

Fantastic Four gives us solid character backstory, slightly better than average special effects, and a powerful villain to overcome. It fails  to provide in-depth character development, forces team chemistry, and cheats the audience out of the comic-book style action it came to see.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Daredevil (Netflix Series)

I had a consistent comic book reading routine each summer during the late 70s.

First, I'd roll the titles up into a tight tube, then stick them into the back right pocket of my Lee jeans. After making sure my parents were in another part of the house, I'd scurry up the short ladder that led to the unfinished attic of our house. Two small pieces of plywood were up there, along with a  small lamp and a pillow. I'd lie flat on my stomach, look carefully over each comic cover, and determine in which order each would be read.

I saved what I suspected was the best story for last.

Able to leap tall buildings? Superman titles were always my first read. I liked the character, but his god-like powers made it impossible for me to relate.

The Fastest Man Alive? Loved the art, but Flash stories were formulaic and predictable. His comic was second.

The Dark Knight? Hadn't been created yet. There was still debate about whether Bruce Wayne was "Batman," or "The Batman," and many of us were questioning why the yellow bat-sign on his chest didn't serve as a better bullseye for criminals with guns. His title was third.

The Man Without Fear? Daredevil was read last.

"Daredevil" writers told gritty stories that felt as if they could happen in real life. Organized crime, prostitutes, underdog lawyers and journalists trying to carry out social justice. I savored the stories and waited impatiently for the next issue to hit the newsstand.

I felt the same way binge watching the new Netflix series that opened April 10, 2015. It is, in my opinion, the best comic book adaption to hit a small screen.

I don't want Season 1 to end.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Foxcatcher

During high school in the early 1980s, that dark period in human history just prior to the modern Information Age, we kids spent a lot of time sitting around and talking.

Seriously, Millennials. It's true.

My friend Jamie and I dated sisters. We spent a lot of time together at their house and pretended to talk to each other, even though our true motivations were focused elsewhere.  Our conversations were superficial, themed mostly on sports and girls. Jamie was a high school wrestler. I wasn't.

We had little in common other than really liking sisters.

Most days, during lulls in our conversation, Jamie would say: "Let me put you in a banana split." I'd refuse the offer, for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is because the amateur wrestling move known as the "banana split" looks like this:


Despite my "no, thanks," Jamie would laugh, jump on top of me, and contort my body into shapes not intended by intelligent design. After only a few seconds I'd tap out. Jamie and his girlfriend would laugh, and I'd pretend not to me embarrassed.

Wrestlers don't seem to mind physical intimacy. Many, I think, seek it out.

Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller, is really a movie about physical intimacy. Wrestlers in the movie compete with a physical intimacy that's comparable to ballroom dance -- early scenes of the Schultz brothers practicing basic moves on each other demonstrate the grace and elegance of highly trained athletes. John du Pont (the role that will transform Steve Carell's career) longs for physical intimacy with his mother and the wrestlers he recruits, but doesn't understand how to achieve either. And it was an act of physical intimacy -- the moment when du Pont slapped the face of wrestler Mark Schultz -- that dramatically and forever altered the lives of all three main characters.

I enjoyed Foxcatcher for the brilliant acting of the main cast. The tragic real-life story, however, made me feel so uncomfortable and ill-at-ease I wanted to tap out.

Again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Oscars: 2015 Predictions

2014 was a stellar year for cinema. There was artistry (Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel), thrilling action (American Sniper), and emotion (Selma, The Theory of Everything).  Movie fare was so good, in fact, it inspired The Film Geek to talk about flicks again on his blog.

A blog in 2015? You mean, it's possible to comment on topics with more than 140 letter characters?

The 87th Academy Awards will be held tonight, and I'll be watching. Hell, we'll all be watching, because it was that good of a year in film. Here are Predictions From The Film Geek:

Best Picture:  Boyhood. The phenomenal success of the movie makes me wanna predict American Sniper as the winner in this category. But I'm going with Boyhood. Richard Linklater's film is an historical achievement: a compelling story told with beautiful simplicity.

Best Director:  Richard Linklater. For Boyhood, Linklater was forced to direct actors during various times of their lives, a task more complicated that it might sound.  During the 12-years of filming, each actor underwent physical, emotional, and psychological changes --Ellar Coletrain at six years of age needs  different direction than Ellar Coletrain at eighteen. These changes undoubtedly required direction to be constantly re-invented.

Best Male Actor: Eddie Redmayne. Bradley Cooper shocked me with his uncanny performance in American Sniper. He could play spoiler in this category. But Redmayne's performance in The Theory of Everything was spirited, subtle, and complex. That's the exact formula for an Academy Award win.

Best Female Actor: Julianne Moore. I haven't yet seen Still Alice, but I would never bet against Moore any time she's on the list. She is a force.

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Edward Norton. Norton's work was the best part of Birdman, in my opinion. At least it was the only part of the film I enjoyed.

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette. She's head and shoulders above everyone else listed in this category.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Theory Of Everything

I don't recall when I first became aware of Dr. Stephen Hawking. Maybe it was in the late 1980s, when he first published A Brief History of Time. It was likely a bit later, however, as I tend to discover grand works of science and art later than most.

I'm too busy reading comic books, you know.

It feels as though Hawking has always been around. Always been a part of the popular culture. Always been a part of my life. But aside from knowing he's brilliant, that he lives with ALS, and that he digs black holes, I've known little about the man.

Until now.

The Theory Of Everything, directed by James Marsh and starring Eddie Redmayne, gives some insight into the brilliant mind of Hawking. The beauty of the flick, however, is that it allows the audience an intimate look into Hawking's resilient soul.  Sure, we know the dude is smart; what we didn't know was how he defied odds with dignity and grace, and that he lived his life with a hopeful determination.

Redmayne is brilliant in the lead role. He gives a blue-collar feel to Hawking as an intellectual youth, and an obvious humanity to the older Hawking as his body becomes fixed and rigid, and as he re-learns to communicate.

I predict an Oscar for Redmayne. His is the performance of a lifetime.