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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 18, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 33
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Soderbergh's Logan Lucky a directorial return worth celebrating
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LOGAN LUCKY
Now playing


With his ex-wife Bobby Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes) on the verge of moving out of West Virginia with their daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), unemployed coal miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) hatches a crazy plan to rob North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway during a NASCAR race. Having worked at the speedway repairing sinkholes, he's lucked into a little bit of knowledge that should help facilitate a successful heist right out from underneath the facility's nose without anyone even knowing it is happening. Roping his Iraq War vet bartending brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and his down to earth hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) in on his plan, Jimmy sets out to do the impossible, knowing success will mean everything to his family, a family that's had more than their fair share of bad breaks over the years.

About four years ago director Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from making theatrical motion pictures, turning his attention instead to working on projects for HBO and Cinemax. But along came rookie screenwriter Rebecca Blunt and her script for Logan Lucky, a mangy little comedic heist thriller that took the elegance of the filmmaker's hit Ocean's Eleven remake, gave it a down home backwoods West Virginia sensibility and threw all the technical precision and high-gloss glitz right out the window. What went from a simple request on her part for Soderbergh to give her some pointers on whom to approach in Hollywood about the project quickly transformed into the Traffic Oscar-winner coming out of retirement to helm it himself. He was energized by her scenario so much he wanted to personally see it happen, and somewhat on the sly he ended up assembling an all-star cast and utilized a revolutionary self-financing model to make the film a reality.

Thank goodness for that. Not only is Blunt's script fresh, funny, emotional, exciting and fascinatingly nuanced, Soderbergh is also at the absolute height of his directorial powers as well. While there is a giddy simplicity to the structure of the narrative, the filmmaker gives it a refreshingly idiosyncratic spin reminiscent of some of his other crazily beguiling genre riffs like Magic Mike, Side Effects, Haywire, The Limey and Out of Sight. There is a looseness that allows for even the crazier ideas to feel lived-in and authentic, and as such the characters Blunt has so carefully constructed overflow with just that much more life and vitality. Logan Lucky is as giant an August surprise as anything I ever could have hoped for, the delight I felt watching it only exceeded by the knowledge audiences were going to get to experience all this jovial throwback ebullience for themselves starting this weekend.

For all the obvious similarities to Ocean's Eleven and its two hit sequels, this picture actually has more in common with old school comedy-thrillers about impossible robberies like 1969's version of The Italian Job with Michael Caine or 1971's The Anderson Tapes with Sean Connery than it does anything else. It also owes quite a bit to the cockeyed worldview of Joel and Ethan Coen, a part of me wanting to rush home to watch Raising Arizona as soon as I got out of the theatre. There's a roughneck, shaggy-eared insanity to what Jimmy Logan has planned that's intoxicating, Soderbergh and Blunt going from there to making sure they populate his story with richly crafted characters a viewer is instantaneously drawn to. Yet, it's also precisely orchestrated down to the smallest detail, every piece fitting into the next with a level of virtuosity that's sublime.

On the casting front, there's not a wrong move anywhere to be found. Tatum fills the part of the world-weary elder Logan nicely, his regrets from dreams turned into sour nightmares fueling an inner fire to do something extraordinary, all having a haunting urgency that's strikingly effective. Driver is equally wonderful, scenes where he subtly laments for an arm left somewhere in the deserts of Iraq having a haunting eloquence that bursts through the comedy with shocking intimacy. Keough is a ton of fun, as is newcomer Mackenzie as a beauty pageant-loving little girl who knows far more is going on with her father than he is remotely going to admit to her. There's also some marvelously brief work from the likes of Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, Dwight Yoakam, Sebastian Stan and Jon Eyez in a variety of supporting roles that are all key to the film's success, each of them making the most of their screen time no matter how brief it might turn out to be.

But the ace in the hole is Daniel Craig. The current James Bond portrays West Virginia inmate Joe Bang, a bank robber currently quietly serving the last six months of his prison sentence but who also just so happens to be key in ensuring Jimmy Logan's heist is a successful one. The ins and outs of his character are worth discovering without any additional explanation, the part he plays in all of this and how Jimmy and Clyde utilize him exuberantly divine. Craig's performance, however, is a jolt of electricity the likes of which had me boisterously spellbound, and much like how Kevin Kline ripped apart A Fish Called Wanda away from the likes of John Cleese, Jaime Lee Curtis and Michael Palin back in 1988, that's exactly what the actor does here as well. Even though he's only in it for maybe a third of the actual running time, imagining this picture without him proves to be impossible, his toothy gummy bear grin worth the price of admission all by itself.

It should be noted that there is an actual debate as to whether or not Rebecca Blunt is a real person or if she is a shrewdly constructed pseudonym for another writer or even Soderbergh himself. While I wouldn't put it past the filmmaker to put one over on all of us like this, I also have no reason to assume the production notes or quotes from any of the actors who worked on the film are part of the plan to playfully deceive viewers like this in some strange marketing strategy I honestly can't make heads or tails of. Be all of that as it may, the only thing that matters is that Logan Lucky is sensational, the fact it stole my heart away with seemingly so little effort whatsoever the greatest heist of them all.


Unnerving Annabelle a creepily satisfying prequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ANNABELLE: CREATION
Now playing


A dozen years after the tragic death of their daughter, doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his reclusive, bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto) make the decision to offer up their large country home to a small group of orphans and the woman charged with looking after them, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Amongst their group are best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), the latter stricken with polio at a young age and, although recovering nicely, she still hasn't regained full use of one of her legs.

Strange things begin to happen inside the house. Janice is seemingly beckoned by a mysterious force to venture inside the one place in the house they are all forbidden to enter, Samuel and Esther's deceased daughter's old bedroom. Going inside, she discovers a secret door leading to a small closet covered in pages pulled from the Bible, a lone doll sitting in the corner staring out into the distance as if it is watching everything that is happening, making insidious plans only it knows about. Soon bizarre, ominous events are taking place inside the house, the battle for the souls of all those living within seemingly about to take place.

Much like last year's Ouija: Origin of Evil, a prequel that proved to be a monumentally massive improvement over its anemic low budget horror predecessor Ouija, Annabelle: Creation somehow, some way bucks the odds and proves to be a superior motion picture to its woeful 2014 precursor Annabelle, itself a spin-off prequel to James Wan's 2013 sensation The Conjuring. Incoming director David F. Sandberg, who did a solid job expanding his own short film Lights Out into an entertaining feature-length chiller last summer, proves he's worth keeping an eye on, his confidently controlled orchestration of this film's thrills and chills simply wonderful.

It helps that the two main youngsters at the heart of things, Bateman and Wilson, the latter of whom also appearing in Ouija: Origin of Evil, are sensational, the two youngsters delivering chillingly complex performances that allows the blossoming terror to take root with surprising wickedness. They are the reason this story ends up working nearly as well as it does, the lengths they go to to battle for one another's survival having an authentic richness that was continually compelling. These two appear to be massively talented, showing an ability to convey a variety of emotions with ease, making it easy to get excited to discover what both of them might be capable of in the future if they choose to continue their respective acting careers.

Unlike Annabelle, which grew increasingly silly and frankly stupid as it went along, building to a climactic sequence of events that were downright obnoxious, this prequel is much more of a lithe, delicate and intimately disquieting thing. While still following a familiar template and rarely going anyplace too surprising, returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman (Within) still does a nice job maintaining a consistent rhythm as far as the mechanics of this particular story is concerned. More importantly, he doesn't offer up any pointless twists that undermine anything that has already transpired, and even when things threaten to get too chaotic as events catapult towards conclusion, unlike the previous film events here still remain character-driven all the way through to the end.

But it is Sandberg who impresses the most. His handling of the material is first-rate, the filmmaker's ability to allow tension to build at a steadily uncomforting rate just plain marvelous. Much like Lights Out, he's a fan of long, unrelentingly focused takes, ones where the camera gradually hones in on certain facets of the frame until what is being analyzed creepily appears almost out of the ether. While he does offer up a handful of jump scares, they are almost all organic to the material and connected to each character's respective journey, giving them more power to affect the audience on a deeply personal level because of this. Sandberg and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (Maniac, The Hills Have Eyes) present a series of unnerving visual images that both startle and amaze, their mastery of the spaces production designer Jennifer Spence (The Bye Bye Man) has crafted for them never in doubt.

I'm not sure how I feel about this idea to create an entire cinematic universe out of the monsters, demons and ghosts introduced in both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, Sandberg's film forced to work a little overtime in order to drop in hints for upcoming spin-offs featuring ghoulish creatures first seen in those two hit horror films. They're not necessary, these little asides adding little to the story that is being presented, only taking attention away from Linda and Janice and sending it places, even if only for a second or two, it doesn't need to wander to. Additionally, for as strong as the overall film might be, it's not altogether shocking where everything ends up, the overall predictability level as far as the bigger picture is concerned reasonably high.

Yet Annabelle: Creation works. The performances are universally solid, and in the case of Bateman and Wilson so terrific they're both worthy of individual praise. It also shows additional promise as far as things pertain to Sandberg, and based on both Lights Out and now this I find it difficult not to assume bigger and better things are in store for the director relatively soon. Best of all, thanks to a wildly inspired final scene it even makes me reconsider my dislike of the first Annabelle, the crafty way in which the filmmakers attach the two films together inspired. While that reassessment is unlikely, that I'm even considering it should speak volumes as far as just how good this wily little prequel proves to be, and if this The Conjuring universe really is going to happen, as long as more entries turn out like this then I'm onboard to discover what sort of scares might be on tap next.


Slight Bodyguard a forgettable showcase for Jackson and Reynolds
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD
Now playing


After her transportation of hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) to the International Criminal Court at the Hague is blown to pieces thanks to someone revealing her route to a well-armed team of mercenaries, Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) learns the hard way she can't trust anyone in law enforcement. With few viable options, she contacts former boyfriend Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) to lend her some assistance. He's a professional bodyguard whom she had a falling out with two years prior after one of his high-profile gigs went tragically wrong and he blamed her for its failure. But be that as it may, and as down on his luck as Bryce might appear, Roussel knows there's actually no one better than her ex to do this job, and if anyone is going to transport Kincaid to the Hague alive and in one piece, it's going to be him.

Obviously Kincaid and Bryce know one another, and to say they're not exactly on friendly terms would be an additional understatement. They will bicker. They will banter. They will argue over who is better at their respective jobs while debating the morality of what it is each of them does for a living. Through it all they will bond, learn things about themselves they didn't know and make sure they reach the Hague in order for Kincaid to testify against disgraced former Belarusian dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). It's Midnight Run meets 48hrs. meets 16 Blocks meets 3:10 to Yuma, all of it with a foul-mouthed, bullet-riddled swagger that feels a lot like a second tier B-movie Dimension Films would have sent straight to VHS back in the early 1990s.

That's director Patrick Hughes' (The Expendables 3) The Hitman's Bodyguard in a nutshell, a movie with the thinnest of concepts that's propelled forward entirely thanks to the energetic and engaged personalities of the two above-the-title actors at the center of all the mayhem. One gets the feeling screenwriter Tom O'Connor (Fire with Fire) had loftier intentions, his scenario going out of its way to hint at a larger world where protection professionals and hired killers vie to outdo one another all while international enforcement agencies like Interpol and the like do what they can to monitor their actions, stepping in to administer justice only when they have to. But none of that really comes through in any concrete way, almost as if the powers that be had stripped anything close to complexity or ballsy go-for-broke thriller aesthetics out of this piece in order to play things predominately for laughs.

To that end, all involved can thank their lucky stars Jackson and Reynolds are up to the challenge. While neither is doing anything that far removed from their typical shtick, the two not exactly required to dig deep in order to access emotional regions aching to be explored, their mutual chemistry is apparent right from the start. Also, for as convoluted as O'Connor's script might appear to be, it also feels as if Jackson and Reynolds are making up the majority of what it is they are doing and saying as they go along. It's a freewheeling little adventure that's so loose and limber there's no actual weight to anything that happens, and at almost two hours in length the fact it ends up being as breezily easy to watch as it is ends up being is an impressive achievement in and of itself.

But a full-blown movie this isn't. It's a crassly violent comic book, an insane bit of violence and bloodshed overflowing in crude one-liners, car chases, explosions and random jolts of gunfire. But as far as a structured story with three-dimensional characters are concerned? There's sadly not a lot to grab hold to. It's so easy to figure out who the mole is inside Interpol that Hughes just stops trying to make it a mystery after about 20 minutes, while the goons working for Dukhovich are pretty much video game baddies who pop up firing machine guns and exist solely to get killed in a variety of whacky ways by Kincaid and Bryce.

You look at the films this one so clearly wants to emulate, motion pictures like the aforementioned Midnight Run, and as thinly plotted as many of these pieces of pulp entertainment might have been, they were still grounded in realistic characters who had complex lives that felt distinctive and authentic. That isn't the case here. When a game Salma Hayek shows up for a handful of random scenes, she's doing so to have a bit of fun while also picking up a relatively easy paycheck. When someone like Joaquim de Almeida makes an appearance as an Interpol bigwig, it's not exactly shocking the part he's about to play in the proceedings. Oldman struts around delivering a variation on his Air Force One performance but in a way that's hardly as menacing as his baddie was in that Harrison Ford box office smash, making Dukhovich a facile, stereotypically banal villain hardly worth caring about.

Even so, Hughes stages a couple of nice action sequences, especially one motorcycle-car-boat chase that's fairly spectacular. There's also some great fight scenes, and while they don't rise to the same level as the ones in recent efforts like The Raid, John Wick or Atomic Blonde, it's readily apparent the director has cribbed a little from what burgeoning genre maestros like Gareth Huw Evans, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are offering up for an audience's consumption. I was also tickled in regards to how one signature set piece began by taking place almost entirely in the background, Reynolds's tired, upset and moderately annoyed character contemplating whether or not to get involved in the pandemonium while sipping vodka at an outdoor café.

I just wish The Hitman's Bodyguard cared to make more of itself than it actually does. As easy to watch as it might be, as good as Jackson and Reynolds are together, this minor little action riff is shockingly easy to forget, practically nothing of any substance sticking with me all that long after I left the theatre. What could have been an interesting foray into a new world of killers, bodyguards and international enforcement agents instead proves to be a mindless piece of fluff and not much else, and for a story about lethal marksmen who never miss their shot this film ends up being well wide of that target the majority of the time.


Emotionally muted Glass Castle a transparently maudlin misfire
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GLASS CASTLE
Now playing


Based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls, reuniting writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton with his Short Term 12 star Brie Larson, there's no question whatsoever that The Glass House should be a heck of a lot better than it is. Flipping back and forth through time as Walls (Larson), a popular New York gossip columnist working in a posh Manhattan office circa 1989, ruminates about her and her family's nomadic life thanks to the wandering needs of her gypsy-like father Rex (Woody Harrelson), the movie is a shaggy-eared melodrama that never earns the emotional connection with the audience it so clearly is aiming for. As strong as the cast might be, as wonderful as many individual moments are, the story itself never connects, the whole thing keeping me frustratingly at arm's length for the majority of its lackadaisically paced 127 minutes.

Afraid to break the news about her recent engagement to investment banker David (Max Greenfield) to her free-spirited parents Rex and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), currently squatting in a vacant and dilapidated building in Brooklyn, columnist Jeannette Walls gets advice from her two sisters Lori (Sarah Snook) and Maureen (Brigette Lundy-Paine) as well as brother Brian (Josh Caras) as to the best way to let them know what is going on. In the process, she reminisces as to what it was like growing up, the family constantly on the road avoiding debt collectors as they made their way across America looking for someplace to lay down roots. Ultimately, and much to Rex's consternation, they end up in his former West Virginia hometown. As their father's alcohol abuse and depression transforms him into a shell of his once energetically adventurous self, a 10-year-old Jeannette (Ella Anderson) comes to the realization that the only way either she or her siblings are going to escape a similar fate is if they all decide together to do whatever it takes to make something of themselves on their own without any assistance from their rudderless parents.

I don't have a problem with the film's structure, Cretton and his co-writer Andrew Lanham (The Shack) honestly keeping the flashbacks relatively linear in their presentation, drifting back to them in more or less sequence as Jeannette puts the pieces of her past back together as she decides what she wants to be doing in the here and now. It's their ragged presentation that gets on my nerves. Some of these scenes, especially early ones with the protagonist at an even younger age (beautifully portrayed by Chandler Head), are just divine, Harrelson doing some of his best work walking a fine line between inspiration and madness that's sublime. But others, especially after Rex fully allows himself to become an alcoholic bully devoid of imagination and sensitivity, they ring infuriatingly hollow, a banal pall descending upon the narrative that sadly refuses to dissipate until much too late to matter.

Cretton, who showed such marvelous restraint with his handling of Short Term 12, seems uncertain the best way to handle the material. He slathers composer Chandler Head's (Grandma) nice, if overly obvious, score over scenes that might have been more effectively presented without any embellishments, choking the emotional life out of the movie in the process. There's little room for the characters to breathe, their collective journeys never evolving in ways that feel authentic or genuine. Jeannette's transitions happen because the story requires them to, not because they feel organic to her own personal story, diluting the inherent power of her resilient perseverance to achieve by a substantial margin.

Which is a true shame, because, at least according to Walls's best-selling memoir, a Hollywood embellishment here and there aside, pretty much all of what's depicted in this motion picture really happened. What she and her siblings overcame truly is extraordinary. More than that, the level of love and understanding they still share for their parents, the way they are all able to weigh and measure Rex and Rose Mary's various faults and virtues extraordinary. There is a selfless determination at the heart of Walls' tale that cannot help but resonate with just about anyone who hears it, and as such it deserves a much better telling than the one that is represented here.

There are plenty of wonderful moments sprinkled throughout, and the movie does rebound slightly right at the end with a scene between Brie and Harrelson that ripped my heart into two and did so in a way that didn't feel forced or false. The child actors are also wonderful across the board, while an early sequence inside a hospital room after one of the kids suffers an unimaginable accident straddles the line between suffering and jubilation rather nicely.

But the movie itself is frequently tiresome, moving around in such turgid circles of despair and ennui, caring about any of Jeannette's or her siblings' collective achievements isn't just difficult, it's pretty much impossible. The Glass Castle feels in many ways like it wants to be this year's Captain Fantastic, that it strives to show how the insane and the practical can walk hand-in-hand with far more comfortable ease than can be easily explained. Yet Cretton can't balance the extremes, can't differentiate between the various emotional nuances in a manner that's truly satisfying. This adaptation just doesn't work, making it one of 2017's most massively disappointing misfires and a cinematic failure I'm going to be having a great deal of trouble getting over.




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Village Theatre's Festival of New Musicals:

Two writers go through musical-writing development at the festival

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After 40 years together, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are among rock's very best and still going strong
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FREE MOVIE SHOWING OF 'CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG' AT THE PERFORMING ARTS & EVENT CENTER OF FEDERAL WAY THE DAY FOLLOWING OFFICIAL RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY
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Concerts for Refugees will feature Dave Matthews and Patty Griffin at the Moore Theatre/Shania Twain to open 2018 tour at Tacoma Dome
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Soderbergh's Logan Lucky a directorial return worth celebrating
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Unnerving Annabelle a creepily satisfying prequel
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Slight Bodyguard a forgettable showcase for Jackson and Reynolds
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Emotionally muted Glass Castle a transparently maudlin misfire
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