Logan Lucky (2017)

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We’ve been taking a bit of a break here at FilmPravda. Both Ed and I (the two writers for our lucky two reader) have still been keeping up with films, but the holiday season has been pushing us hard and as a result we’ve been laying low. Films still keep coming out, and people still keep talking about them, so we haven’t been too stressed. But we both love films, and talking about them too, and we’re gonna keep sending anyone who’s listening low-key reflections and essays on cinema when we get the time.

Now let’s get onto this heist film.


It’s ironic for me that I’ve never seen any of Soderbergh’s heist films, considering I love heist films. It’s a genre for me that is a comfort food, a genre which I continually return to. Maybe it is the elaborate construction of these films, complex and spiralling obstacle courses of maneuvers and complications in a physical world of security systems, police authorities, and often strong crashing egos as the stakes get higher and higher. And yet no matter how complicated or looping the journey gets, heist films continually wind back to finding out whether the heist was worth it in the end.  Heist films are puzzles which, when finished, you stand back and understand how every piece came to be placed in its position. They spiral upwards, arc during the execution of the heist, and then spiral downwards in a dizzying array of set-ups and consequences.

But as spectacular as any heist may or may not be, it is usually its participants who really make or break what you see. And in Logan Lucky (2017, Dir. Steven Soderbergh), we see a cast of characters so firmly rooted in America’s soil and earth, that it would be hard not to be entertained by them. Loose exaggerations and caricatures of West Virginian folk, their presences overwhelm and ground anybody watching into the world of blue-collar work, interstate road knowledge, and backwoods country dialogue. Logan Lucky is carried by a deft and swift script, written by Rebecca Blunt (whoever she may be) who transports scenes and characters along with fantastic ease, while simultaneously exposing a deep-rooted cultural identity. This is a fancy way of saying it feels real, or at lease explaining how it does that.

The other incredibly elegant thing about Logan Lucky, the thing which really excited me after finishing it, is the fact that the heist was enough. Heist films often fall into the trap that things only really get interesting when things go wrong, and when the authorities begin to get close and neutralise the criminals. While Logan Lucky dips into the well trodden ground, with a late-game cameo ride from Hillary Swank as a FBI agent, it never quite becomes the usual game of cat and mouse. The sheer volume of complexity of pulling off the heist is enough, and that really makes the film stand strong and tall over some of its peers. The event of the film is enough to entertain, it’s ebbs and flows along the way becoming moments of sheer joy, confusion, tension. An extreme moment involving a bomb fired out of a pneumatic tube practically caused all the breath in my body to vanish, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

I know I could probably be more elegant in discussing the film, but I’m not sure if that’s the right tone for it. The film itself is very cool, and cool doesn’t mesh well with ponderous and serious reflection. The film has some ironic musings concerning the excessiveness of American culture, but that’s it. Heist films usually leave very little room for anything beyond its own concerns, and any serious or even deep subtext is nearly always to do with the characters, not the world. And while Logan Lucky is not a character study, what impresses me is how each and every performance is at exactly the right level needed for the film. The actors are experienced, confident and really really magnetic. The actors are exaggerating for the style of the film, but in a world where everyone is exaggerated they all match incredibly well.

If I had to put one thing else on the line, it’s the fact that I respect its lack of connectedness. The film world reflects the real life isolation from the 21st century tech web that many people might find themselves in, and assume everyone else lives in. Logan Lucky somehow manages to take place now, while conveniently managing to displace all of the distractions we have now. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is without a phone, his anti-tech misgivings helping his heist go smoother. The wi-fi is disabled through a humourous sequence. Every real-life obstacle we might imagine now, is negotiated, overcome, improvised over. The script takes the real world around it, and plants a heist directly in it, not in some magical land where wi-fi or cell-phones don’t exist suddenly. It’s an insane commitment to the logistics of the heist, where every element is thought-out and at least believable, even if not true.

Maybe that’s what heist films are really about; logistics. Maybe the obsessive ordering, elaborate and evolving navigation of elements, and race between doors opening in front of you and closing behind you, is just a complex game of logistics. Maybe that’s what really appeals to me. But even if that is true, the commitment in Logan Lucky in every area, while remaining light and breezy and fast, is a fascinating blend of elements to be involved in. It is not a film which will make you radically re-evaluate cinema, but it is a masterclass in sheer execution, an elaborate spiralling dance of sheer character action and events. It is a folk tale of the 21st century, and its final move is reminding you that the best thieves are those who make it look like they never stole anything.

I’d be very happy to let films steal my time, if they were as exciting as Logan Lucky.

-Alex

-P.S FilmPravda posts will be erratic, but they will continue throughout the year. If you liked this, it means the world if you’d share it around or like or comment. Let us know if it resonates with you!

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Logan Lucky (2017)

Magic in the Air: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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“For all the fantastic beasts disrupting the city, the most dangerous one exists within. ‘A beast that has been created in ways which feel sadly familiar’.” – David Yates (Director) in Inside the Magic: The Making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Christmas brings a sense of magic with it, so it is only appropriate that a film primarily concerned with magic would be released at this time. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is directed by David Yates, known for his work on the Harry Potter film series and The Legend of Tarzan (2016) and written and produced by J.K Rowling, who wrote the original book of this film, and the original Harry Potter books. If anyone could have thought of a more appropriate pair to helm this film, I’d be surprised.

The film mostly orbits around one Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne),  a magical beast enthusiast and magizoologist (their term, not mine) who comes to New York in the 1920s, a time rife with inner magical conflicts of dangerous wizards and pseudo-racial conflict between non-magics and magics.In the mix then are thrown Tina (played by one of my favourites, Katherine Waterston), a low-level admin person in the American Ministry of Magic, MACUSA, her sister who can read minds called Queenie (Alison Sudol),  a “No-Maj” (short for no-magic) who wants to open a bakery called Jacob (Dan Fogler), and they race across the city recovering many escaped “Fantastic Beasts” and much more, meanwhile machinations inside the MACUSA from Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a higher up and a bunch of odd cult members who seem to invoke the Salem witch hunts but also the KKK, headed by the adoptive mother, Mary-Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and the kids, Credence (Ezra Miller) and Modesty (Faith-Wood Blaregrove). Also Jon Voight is in it in a political side plot which is just there.

If that was slightly complex and difficult to wrap your head around, then you experienced some of the similar plot induced disorientation I found watching this. The film whips up a series of spinning plates, and it took me a hell of a lot of concentration to keep up with it, mainly due to its penchant for introducing brand new magic elements almost every five minutes, new beasts or potions or elements, honestly it was a dizzying array of fireworks at points which flew by so fast that key elements were completely forgotten by the time of their eventual use and reveal. The world building to this planned five film franchise was obviously key here, and it’s almost overwhelming amount of information certainly stretched me, so I’m not sure whether my brain is just getting rusty or whether the kid’s watching it are all completely confused. Perhaps both.

The film largely manages to pull off the plate spinning act due to its charm. A lot of children’s films now seem more geared towards a teenage market, and for all the obsession over superheroes, the general lack of magic surrounding these impossible superhumans has never been more apparent when held up against this film. The film certainly gets a lot of mileage out of the beautifully rendered magical beasts, but credit goes to the cast as well who manage to become inhabitants in the world, all with varying degrees of success. The core squad of Newt and co. really complement each other and the world around them, whereas Colin Farrell comes out of this more than a little clunky.  It really does exhibit that same spirit which managed to capture the entire globe in the Harry Potter series, which definitely surprised me.

However the film also becomes tonally wild during various points, themes of child abuse and segregation and environmentalism just all emerge and then retreat very quickly, only enhancing the already burgeoning disorientation. It’s not necessarily a giant failing, but the focus on world building forces the direction of the film to jump erratically around, from different themes and tones to such an extent that to this point I still can’t really tell you what the film is about. It’s just a chocolate box, filled to the brim with different treats and different choices, but without presenting anything particularly coherent. It’s texture is so rich and dense, but there are times where its hard to see what’s really important and what’s just set dressing. And the more complex ethical issues certainly become a little more morally confusing (wiping the memories of hundreds of thousands of people as a great thing which doesn’t get questioned at all doesn’t exactly sit well) as the film progresses. Just a kid’s film they will cry, but kids think about things, and kids become adults who think about things. Do we need to look any further than this?

 

I can’t really give it a hard time for simply having too much going on though, especially when it exhibits a Guillermo Del-Toro level of attention to detail in every aspect of its mise-en-scene. The costumes are extravagant and expertly designed, the sets ooze with atmosphere and an incredibly stylised art deco aesthetic that places it in the realm of the magical, because its far too gorgeous to be the real New York of the 1920s, but nevertheless it becomes a gorgeous visual feast.And its core lays a lot of heart and a clear driving psychological core. Nothing is vague or misunderstood, there’s just so much packed in that it’s difficult to take in one viewing.

Honestly I just have a lot of respect for it, even though it creaks and falls apart in places. They really brought the world to life, and its a great ride, a real creation of magic.It’s just brimming with life, with the power of cinema, strong performances in non-cliched and human characters, gorgeous scenery and a strong emotionally rooted story. It won’t ever put time into the pantheon of CINEMA, but I definitely got wrapped up in the magic in a way only cinema can pull off.

It aspires to a hell of a lot, and while it may not hit every part it wants to, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still be amongst the stars.

-Alex

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Magic in the Air: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them