Category Archives: Film and Television

First Impressions of Wind River

I recently watched Wind River (2017), writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s latest offering. Sheridan is known for writing Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015) and acting in a number of TV dramas. Wind River takes place in Wyoming and has a very Western feel. Despite stunning cinematography, its pacing is extremely slow and it struggles with a meaningful plot. Brooding, monotone delivery is mistaken for depth. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • What is the purpose of this movie? It’s a lackluster story wrapped in a vague statement about how the FBI doesn’t track the number of missing American Indian women on reservations. Except the girl in the movie wasn’t really missing, she was just dead.
  • I thought the idea of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent tracking a human predator was pretty cool and interesting. The film sets up this conflict in the beginning but then it ultimately goes nowhere.
  • I also liked the “fish out of water” stuff with the FBI agent interacting with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar environment, but aside from a few quick introductory scenes this also goes nowhere.
  • Wind River is labeled a “murder mystery thriller film,” but isn’t either of those things. There’s no mystery because a flashback explains exactly what happened halfway through and the authorities never actually solve the crime or bring anyone to justice. It’s not a thriller because there’s no sense of suspense or urgency. Unlike a typical crime thriller, there’s no sense that one crime must be solved to prevent another from occurring.
  • There seems to be a trend in movies in which picturesque locations or beautiful cinematography attempt to mask lack of substance.
  • I did appreciate the characters’ authenticity. The American Indians were actually played by actors and actresses of that ethnicity (mostly). The settings were gritty and realistic, although one mobile home seemed to have an unrealistically cavernous interior.
  • Why did security guards at a remote oil drilling site have tactical weapons and ballistic vests? Did they expect a hostile takeover?

Wind River isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not that great. It struggles to find its footing and then delivers a “surprise” ending that falls flat. In the end, nothing changes except the number of headstones at the local cemetery. The film had a larger message about survival and resiliency in the face of hardship, but it wasn’t enough to keep me interested.

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Why is Logan Lucky better than Rough Night?

I’ve been thinking about two movies I watched this year, Logan Lucky and Rough Night. Both can be considered black comedies about people getting away with crimes. In Logan Lucky, two sets of siblings rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. In Rough Night, a group of friends snort a bunch of cocaine and accidentally murder a male stripper in Miami. In my review, I ripped Rough Night for being morally bankrupt, but didn’t feel the same way about Logan Lucky. Why?

In a typical crime drama or thriller involving the protagonist engaging in criminal activity, there’s always a consequence for the crime. Either the character loses the money, a partner or friend gets hurt or killed, he or she ends up in jail, or some other misfortune befalls them. This is not only because stories are expected to impart lessons, but also because the film makers either don’t want to promote or glamorize criminal activity or don’t want to be seen as doing so.

Imagine a movie where the protagonists commit a crime or series of crimes and get away with it (ala Natural Born Killers (1994) or Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – Neither movie is a comedy but both had comedic moments). Now imagine a movie where the protagonists not only get away with committing a crime but profit from it as well… and imagine we’re asked to laugh at that situation.

In Ocean’s Eleven, we root for the thieves because casino owner Terry Benedict is a huge asshole and besides, it turned out Danny Ocean was more interested in winning back his ex wife than stealing the money. He even ends up back in prison. Even though technically the “bad guys” win, we perceive them as good guys because they are reuniting true love and punishing a faceless, evil casino without anyone getting hurt.

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Logan Lucky: A Trailer Park Ocean’s Eleven

Logan Lucky is a black comedy heist film written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), and Erin Brockovich (2000) fame. “Rebecca Blunt” is an unknown British screenwriter, which has led some to speculate the name is a pseudonym. Whatever the case, it’s a fun movie with the same fast-paced and clever film making as the Ocean’s series.

When Jimmy Logan’s (Channing Tatum) ex-wife, Bobbie Jo Chapman (Katie Holmes), plans to take their daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), from West Virginia to North Carolina with her new husband, Moody Chapman (David Denman), two Appalachian families rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600 to pay for a lawyer to contest the move. The threat of the “Logan family curse” hangs ominously over the operation.

Jimmy is aided by his one-handed brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), and Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and his brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). Together, this crew of eccentric misfits pulls off the heist and each lives happily ever after, or so it seems. In the final scene, we see a FBI agent played by Hilary Swank carefully watching them under cover.

The song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, a nostalgic tribute to West Virginia, frames the movie. As it opens, we see Jimmy Logan and his daughter fixing a truck while listening to the song. Near the end, Sadie gives an unpracticed but heartfelt rendition of the song during the talent portion of a beauty contest, winning over the audience and judges.

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First Impressions of Logan Lucky

Released on Friday, Logan Lucky is a black comedy heist film written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh of Oceans Eleven (2001), Traffic (2000), and Erin Brockovich (2000) fame. It seems odd that such an accomplished director and producer would take on a project by a completely unknown screenwriter, which has led some to speculate “Rebecca Blunt” is a pseudonym. Whatever the case, it’s a fun movie with the same kind of fast-paced and clever film making as the Oceans series. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

  • It was fun, entertaining, and clever, just like Oceans Eleven. Unlike Oceans Eleven, however, I never found myself rooting for the main character, Jimmy Logan (played by Channing Tatum). He’s more of a sad, tragic figure whose circumstances aren’t really changed by the heist.
  • Logan Lucky plays on Southern stereotypes but not in a condescending or demeaning way. Somehow the characters come across as charming and much smarter than they first appear.
  • The premise is so weird I was surprised to learn The Coca-Cola 600 is a real race, actually sponsored by Monster Energy (in the film it’s a fictional energy drink company, whose obnoxious British owner, Max Chilblain, is played by Seth MacFarlane). I’m not a NASCAR fan and didn’t even know the Charlotte Motor Speedway was a real place.
  • With such an ensemble cast, it was difficult to follow all the characters’ motivations. In Oceans Eleven it was easy because they were all thieves and their motivation was obvious, to get rich and pull off the most daring heist in history–to do something no criminal has ever done before. In Logan Lucky, Jimmy Logan’s motivation is explained, but most of his accomplices are just average people who are trying to put past transgressions behind them. His sister, Mellie (played by Riley Keough) seems to be just going along with the scheme for no reason at all. No one even really tries to talk him out of it.
  • Some of the scenes involving Max Chilblain and his driver, including a long introduction by FOX sports broadcasters, seemed out of place and probably should have been cut. The scene with the FOX sports broadcasters was especially painful to watch.
  • I’m glad it didn’t turn out like Masterminds (2016), which was another comedy-heist film but was so bad I almost walked out of the theater.

Overall I’d say it was worth the ticket price and would probably be fun to see at a drive-in. Look for a more thorough review on Monday!

 

Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror

A group of orphans and a nun battle a demonic force personified by a creepy-looking doll in this latest installment of the The Conjuring UniverseAnnabelle: Creation is a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014), a fictional account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battle with an allegedly possessed Raggedy Ann doll. This film departs entirely from reality, imagining an origin story for the doll. Both critics and audiences seem to enjoy it. Overall, it had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well.

Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. Both Dauberman and Sandberg are relatively new to their craft. Dauberman is known for previously writing Annabelle (2014) and the low-budget Swamp Devil (2008), and Sandberg has directed several short films and Lights Out (2016).

The filmmakers’ inexperience is probably why this movie doesn’t take any risks. It is a strictly paint-by-numbers modern American horror film. It is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes. Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.

Also, someone should tell the filmmakers that Catholic nuns can’t hear sacramental confessions. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop can hear confessions and absolve sins.

Though Annabelle: Creation adds nothing new to the genre, its popularity shows this is what horror audiences want to see. It opened at the top of the box office, pulling in approximately $35 million its opening weekend. Anecdotal evidence also attest to the film’s popularity. The theater was packed when I went to see it, in stark contrast to Detroit (a far superior movie).

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First Impressions of Annabelle: Creation

I watched Annabelle: Creation this weekend, a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014). It’s the first horror movie I’ve seen since last year, and I read several reviews praising it for improving on the original. Honestly, I never saw the original and I’m not a fan of the “The Conjuring Universe” (although I did enjoy The Conjuring). Overall, Annabelle: Creation had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well. Here are some of my first impressions:

  • Annabelle: Creation only warrants an ‘R’ rating for a handful of gory scenes that could have easily been toned down to make it PG-13. In other words, if your movie is going to be rated R, make it rated R. This prequel-sequel relies primarily on thrills; it isn’t gratuitously violent, has no nudity, and there isn’t even any swearing in it.
  • The movie is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes.
  • Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.
  • Religious imagery, prayers, and exorcism/binding only seems to work when it’s convenient for the plot.
  • Lulu Wilson, who plays a courageous girl named Linda, was also in Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), which just happened to be the last horror movie I saw in theaters. She’s a talented young actress who I hope eventually breaks out of the horror genre.
  • The film reminded me of the most terrifying episode of a children’s show I’ve ever seen: an episode of Webster called “Moving On,” which aired just after Halloween in 1984. Webster explores an old Victorian house with a room that’s always locked. Inside, there’s a life-sized doll sitting in a rocking chair. It scared the shit out of me as a kid.
  • Did Annabelle need so many characters? At least two of six orphans are kinda just “there” and don’t contribute anything to the plot.
  • I did appreciate the inclusion at the end of a Raggedy Ann doll that looked like the real Annabell doll, as opposed to the sinister, wooden prop used for most of the movie.

Look for a full review coming soon!