The Logans (Tater Channing, Riley Keough and one-armed Adam Driver) would like to rob the Motor Speedway, so they break heistmaster Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of prison. Joe brings along his dimwit brothers (Brendan Gleeson’s son and Dennis Quaid’s son) and they get to work, avoiding Tater’s nemesis, the loudmouth sponsor of an energy-drink racing team (Seth MacFarlane?).

It’s been a month and I forgot to take notes, so I’ll make this quick. There’s light fun in watching the plan come together, then a bunch of additional fun afterwards when the plan seems to have failed, the FBI investigation by Hilary Swank and Macon Blair has come up empty, and they unveil the plan-behind-the-plan, enriching the locals who helped them along the way. Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking was fully satisfying (I couldn’t wait, so have also started watching The Knick). Writer Rebecca Blunt is the subject of some controversy. Mostly it made me wanna watch the Oceans trilogy again, but there are some suspicious user reviews of the blu-ray multi-pack on amazon.

I didn’t enjoy Heaven Knows What, but this Safdie follow-up is splashed across the covers of all three film magazines I subscribe to, so I went out all by myself (does nobody else in this town read the magazines?) to sit too close to the screen and watch a movie where everything is shot too close-up. Felt like maybe a bad idea, and I’m not always a fan of electro music scores, and I was already aware of certain accusations against the movie, but against all odds, it’s… extremely good. The nervous energy from the close camerawork and pulsing electro plus all the lurid colors and frantic performances add up to a… not a good time exactly, but a hell of a ride.

The only time the title is spoken in the movie is by Nick’s psychiatrist. The doctor is a white-haired nemesis to Connie, conspiring to restrict his brother’s freedom, appearing early in the movie’s trailer as Connie talks about “the program [Nick] is forced to attend and how he shouldn’t be there.” We see Nick going to prison in the trailer, getting beaten as his brother races against time to rescue him, then as images of violence flicker across the screen faster and faster the psychiatrist reappears: “This place where we are now can be a lot of fun if you let it. You’re gonna have a good time,” then the title sears across the screen. It feels like this wicked psychiatrist is taking advantage of helpless Nick, the title a bitterly ironic reference to the bad time Nick is gonna have in his evil institution. In the movie itself, it took me a couple scenes to shake this idea, since the psychiatrist seems harmless and Nick is the one getting his brother into trouble then trying to get him back out, in a rapidly escalating series of near-successes. Connie is (argh) a con-man, an expert manipulator, and we follow him as our would-be protagonist, the movie barely giving us time to contemplate the havoc he’s leaving behind him, until the deep-breath relief of the ending. In fact, the title is supposed to be a reference to getting reduced prison sentence for good behavior (Connie and Nick are both fresh out of prison) and the end of the film shows the psychiatrist actually helping Nick after his villain brother is sent away.

The first thing we see after Connie “rescues” his brother from the institute is a bank robbery, wearing dark-skin masks and getting hilariously foiled by a dye pack. In the ensuing chase, Nick smashes through a window and gets busted, and Connie fails to bail him out with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cancelled credit card. Connie then breaks the wrong guy out of the hospital – a plot twist I saw coming but dismissed as too ludicrous-obvious – then teams up with him (Ray: Buddy Duress, Holmes’s buddy in Heaven Knows What) to make quick cash for bail money. Ray was busted at an amusement park, and stashed a sprite bottle full of pure liquid LSD and possibly some money, so they trick underage Crystal into giving them a ride there, fuck with the security guard, and everyone gets arrested except Connie and Ray, who escape with the LSD-soda to the guard’s apartment, where Ray calls his dealer and finally things go wrong.

J. Safdie on the controvery:

I don’t think Connie is a racist. I think that he just knows how society functions. He knows that society is racist.

Brian Tallerico:

Connie makes choices instantly, and one gets the impression that it’s an instinctual ability that has helped him at times but will only prove his downfall on this particular night … Pattinson perfectly conveys the nervous energy of being essentially hunted by your own bad decisions without ever feeling like he’s chewing scenery.

Nuclear war was in the air this month, so I double-featured two hour-long films.


Atomic (2015, Mark Cousins)

A bunch of period footage cut with no sense of rhythm… not sure what this adds to the conversation. It’s not fair that Cousins gets to use and manipulate the music of Mogwai, instead of vice versa. It’s diverting, at least.


The Bomb (2016, Kevin Ford & Smriti Keshari)

Started out so promising… scientific documents expertly composited over footage that was mostly unique from the other movie. Then it devolves into mumford-scored bomb montages with a long segment from that old standby Duck & Cover, ending up on the surface of the sun, just like the other movie. If we could’ve taken the first half of this movie and scored it with Mogwai, then we’d really have something.

Time and history and fiction intermesh in a greenscreen theater. Don Celso aka Rhododendron is introduced in old age, then he meets Long John Silver in flashback, immediately putting us in classic Ruiz territory.

Somehow, Ruiz’s actors don’t seem as convincing on video. Also, I don’t have a damned clue what’s going on half the time, and a couple weeks afterwards I’ve forgotten everything previously understood. The Boris Nelepo article in Cinema Scope (“the meta-Ruizian film, it unlocks the secret recesses and false compartments of his entire oeuvre”) will have to be revisited before I watch it the next time.

Young Celso hangs out with his buddy, stalks his math teacher to try getting a grade changed. The movie is full of word games and notes on translation, and I don’t have complete faith in my subtitles (they translated the title “la noche de enfrente” as “into the coming night”). In the semi-present, Rolo comes to a boarding house to kill Don Celso, makes out with his own aunt first. And then…

Shot in the Jauja ratio (square with rounded corners). Strange movie – I didn’t know where it was going, thought the much-discussed pie scene was fine, followed along through some wtf moments, and finally felt deeply moved at the end. The second great ghost film of 2017. Theme of writing down secrets and slipping them into rocks and walls, similar to the Wong Kar-Wai whispers. Writer/director Lowery has a bad mustache, makes lyrical indie dramas in between Disney live-action cartoons.

Rooney and Casey are married, argue sometimes, make love sometimes, then he dies in a car accident just outside the house and appears as a classic ghost (white sheet with eyeholes). Time moves fast – months pass while he makes a single round of the house. He terrorizes some new residents, observes a house party with a nihilist Will Oldham, and witnesses the demolition of the house and construction of a massive office building. Suddenly time resets and we’re in American settler times, then back to the house, where the strange new-house noises heard by Rooney and Casey appear to be the Casey ghost, making one wonder whether the ghost is even Casey after all. No need to write down what happens in the final minute, because I’ll never forget it.

A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).

The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.

But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.

Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.

Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.

After watching Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, I thought I’d make my own Fury Road reunion and watch Tom Hardy in Dunkirk. Of course I would’ve loved to see it in 70mm and/or imax, but an all-day road trip was out of the question. Alamo preshow was all Nolan stuff, video essays on commonalities in his previous films and interview segments mixed with 1940’s newsreels and trailers.

Three stories happening on three intersecting timelines – it’s a very simple war story with a complicated structure… if you missed the opening title cards, you could miss the structural games altogether.

In the three segments: (1) Kenneth Branagh commands a horde of soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk, (2) Tom Hardy is a fighter pilot tailing enemy planes, and (3) a civilian boat comes to help the trapped soldiers and picks up shellshocked, panicky Cillian Murphy along the way. The ground and air segments are mostly notable for action, leaving the sea segment to carry the emotional aspect – Mark Rylance as the civilian captain, Tom Glynn-Carney his son, and Barry Keoghan the local boy who meets an unfortunate demise. Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, the lead grunt in the ground segment, is considered the film’s lead, but didn’t make as much of an impact as the sea fellows to me – maybe next time. Also: the line of helmets on the beach a nice Prestige callback.

What verve, what style! Super-paranoid triple-agent action spy thriller starring all the best people, every scene awesome. Sure, a couple of dialogue clunkers and an overall feeling that, despite the constant life-or-death struggle, nothing really consequential is happening, but this movie is good, and I watched it at a good theater, sitting right up close.

Huge centerpiece showing in a single take how Charlize got beat to hell protecting Eddie Marsan. Poor Marsan – when you see him in a movie you just know things won’t turn out alright for him. John Goodman is CIA, Toby Jones is MI6, so who really was James McAvoy? Not a double agent, just a spy who got caught up in his own power? As Charlize runs into a movie theater playing Tarkovsky’s Stalker to hide from assassins, I lost track of the double-dealings and reveled in the self-conscious coolness.

The director is the Wachowskis’ stunt coordinator and did second-unit stuff on Jurassic World and the Ninja Turtles movies. It’s not the most promising looking resume, but damn. More evidence to check out John Wick, which Leitch codirected.

As many pop songs as Baby Driver, but used for different purposes, slinky mood music to fit the visual tone. The songs are vintage but their performances might not be – that wasn’t Ministry playing Stigmata, and some sounded like updated remixes.

Good things: Holly Hunter, the backstage insult-humor camaraderie of the comedians.

Bad things: Mac laptops don’t make the startup sound when you’re simply waking them from sleep/screensaver mode. The sound guy on this film must be a Windows loyalist.

Watched at the Grand, which lost some business over their bad picture, broken air conditioner, condescending staff, sound bleed, slow lines and stupid lobby signage – next weekend I went to the Alamo.