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August 20, 2017

LUCKY LOGAN

Logan-lucky-posterAside from one very cheesy subplot misstep involving a little girl (Farrah Mackenzie) singing “Country Roads,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Lucky Logan” is a rollicking heist movie with an appropriately greasy sense of slick humor. An ensemble piece in the vein of Soderbergh’s “Oceans” franchise, “Lucky Logan” pinballs between a litany of goofball characters with bell-rings and comic zaps.

Most enjoyable is Daniel Craig’s comic turn as Joe Bang, an incarcerated bomb specialist of the Appalachian persuasion. Craig’s sense of comic timing is every bit as sharp as his snappy determination in his typecast role as James Bond. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing Craig chew on a West Virginia accent like a stiff piece of jerky.

First-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt balances comic set pieces with no-nonsense action sequences as Channing Tatum’s blue-collar construction worker Jimmy Logan concocts a plan to rip off the freshly minted Charlotte Motor Speedway during a big race day. Jimmy is especially motivated due to his recent termination from helping build the raceway. The ever-versatile Adam Driver plays Jimmy’s bad-luck-plagued Iraq war vet brother Clyde whose fortunes are poised for a 180-degree turn.   

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As with any good heist movie, the joy is in the planning for the theft and the stuff that goes wrong during its execution. The movie wisely plays its narrative poker hand so that its closing reveal comes as a welcome surprise, albeit with a lurking plot element points to a sequel. Movie audiences could certainly do a hell of a lot worse than for Soderbergh’s Logan to get lucky twice, or more. This could be where Steven Soderbergh trades in one heist franchise for another. If so, sign me up for Luckier Logan now.   

Lucky Logan

Rated PG-13. 119 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

July 26, 2017

BITCH SLAP

Colesmithey.comWhile I enjoyed the overall tone of the movie, and especially the super committed performances of its talented three female stars (Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, and America Olivo), "Bitch Slap" is a mess. Rick Jacobson ("Ash vs Evil Dead" series) is a very skilled director, and his ability to rev up action sequences — ostensibly on a B-movie budget — is impressive, but his screenwriting skills leave much to be desired. Jacobson steals liberally from Quentin Tarantino for this over-the-top sexploitation romp but isn't much for creating a story that sticks. Punchy dialogue only goes so far in masking plot holes a plenty, but there is some snazzy dialogue to be had.

"I'm gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you're just this side of salvage. Then I'm gonna ram-ride girly's show tits asunder before I plow both of you bitches under!"

Ah, what poetry.

Jacobson's time flipping device of constantly showing what happened six months ago, or two weeks ago, or 10 hours ago, wears out its welcome quick.

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For all of its potentially 3D-appropriate use of flying objects and big boobies, "Bitch Slap" doesn't hold a candle to Russ Meyer's truly transgressive "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" — an obvious inspiration for this gutty little action film.

"Bitch Slap" is nonetheless ideally suited for a 3D treatment that would make it even more of a guilty pleasure. If you compare "Faster, Pussycat!" to "Bitch Slap" I think you'll find that Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams create a lot more sexy heat and psycho bitch drama in Russ Meyer's classic sexploitation flick. That said, this movie lays down plenty of the heavy-handed bitch slaps that the title promises.

Rated R. 109 mins. (C+) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

July 16, 2017

THE LITTLE HOURS

Colesmithey.comIf you’re the kind of person who likes to nap through summer movies in the air conditioned comfort of your neighborhood cinema then “The Little Hours” presents an ideal opportunity for a 90 minute nap. As comically flat as a glass top table, writer/director Jeff Baena’s would-be comic take on Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” is nothing but a snooze from start to finish.

This filmmaker wouldn’t know slapstick from satire. Baena sets a mordant tempo for inert comic set pieces that never come together to form a coherent storyline. Talk about someone in need of binging on Mel Brooks and Sacha Baron Cohen movies for a year or two, Jeff Baena requires some serious immersion in humor because he hasn’t got a single funny bone in his body. There isn't an inch of comic depth to be found. Even scenes that have obvious opportunities for layers of comic suspense and multiple pay-offs get a one-note treatment. It's as if there wasn't a director on the set.

The narrative setup of a bunch of horny bitchy nuns living in a medieval convent might sound like great comic fodder but you come away from “The Little Hours” scratching your head as to why anyone in their right mind thinks Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, or Kate Micucci has any gift for making people laugh.

Of course, if Baena had really wanted to liven up the humor factor of this snooze-fest he could have picked up the phone and called, wait for it, yes, the one and only Amy Sedaris. I can never understand why Amy Sedaris isn't in every comedy made since 1990. Sedaris is the funny sauce to any filmic Hamburger Helper. But I digress. Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris! I feel better now. 

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Dave Franco fares little better as Masseto, a servant whose cuckolding services send him on the run and into the clutches of a nunnery where he must pretend to be deaf and dumb if he is to survive dominatrix-inclined nuns such as Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Fernanda is into verbal humiliation, knife play, and witch rituals involving male sacrifice. Plaza's twisted character comes across as too sincerely mean to laugh at. Too bad Fernanda forgot to wear a strap-on under her habit; that could have been funny.

This R-rated lame duck doesn’t begin to go far enough in its ostensible bawdiness. For that divine pleasure you’ll have to revisit Pier Paolo Pasolini’s far superior 1971 adaptation (properly entitled “The Decameron”). Talk about bringing "Kool-Aid" to the grown-ups party; there isn't even one comic gross-out bit in the whole movie. Remember "There's Something About Mary"? Now, there was one guffaw-inducing comedy.

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I chuckled once during “The Little Hours” in a cinema occupied by one other person. If only I could have let myself fall asleep like I wanted to.

Rated R. 90 mins. (D-) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

SWEPT AWAY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Colesmithey.comLina Wertmüller’s inspired social satire is wrapped up in political titles, however false, that people identify with or use to paint others with as friend or foe. Italian dogma of communist, fascist, and capitalist ideologies figure prominently into the upper and lower class characters that Wertmüller presents with a take-no-prisoners sense of irreverence and sexual frankness.

Four upper class couples are out for a day’s adventure on a yacht served by a macho crew whose pique of discontent about their disrespectful overlords comes through Giancarlo Giannini’s hangdog deck hand Gennarino Carunchio. Gennarino is equal parts caricature and flesh. Giancarlo Giannini’s virtuosic performance borders on farce without ever crossing the line into exaggerated pantomime. It’s no wonder that Wertmüller relied on the gifted actor as a muse for other films such as “Seven Beauties” and “Love & Anarchy.”

Mariangela Melato’s rich snot Raffaella cares too much about the environment to be the capitalist devil that Gennarino pins her as. Still, she wears her entitlement on her sleeve. Mariangela slings insults and complaints at the boat crew she considers less than human. When the pasta isn’t cooked al dente she throws a fit befitting a three-year-old with a toothache. Sweaty t-shirts are also a bone of contention for Mariangela whose piercing green eyes closely resemble those of her sworn rival Gennarino.

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Tensions between Raffaella and Gennarino reach a primal equanimity after the two become stranded on a remote island where Gennarino proves his ability to provide food and shelter. Wertmüller’s satire pitches and peaks in Gennarino’s demanding process of taming Raffaella into his love slave. The roles of master and slave get reversed. Wertmüller’s forceful transfer of power between man and woman is as truthful and cunning as anything in the films of Catherine Breillat or Luis Buñuel. The scene where Raffaella demurely requests anal penetration is especially hilarious. Gennarino’s purposefully proletariat response speaks volumes.  

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“Swept Away” is as relevant today as it was when it was made. The power that lovers wield is as psychologically transient as any political ideology of the day, and just as predictable. It could well be the ultimate date movie for the intellectually and sensuously adventurous.  

Rated R. 114 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

July 14, 2017

ENDLESS POETRY

ENDLESS POETRYThe second installment in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s promised five picture cycle of filmic memoirs harmonizes with the theatrically heightened tone and style of “The Dance of Reality” (2013). This succession of films marks Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after a 23 year hiatus after his 1990 film “The Rainbow Thief,” a film he disowned due to conflicts with the film's British producers. 

“Endless Poetry” continues the narrative line of “The Dance of Reality.” A pubescent Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) is growing up with his parents in Santiago, Chile. While the mother Sara (Pamela Flores) operatically sings all her lines, Alejandro’s brutish father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky) accuses his poetry-obsessed son of being gay when he discovers him reading aloud from Federico García Lorca’s poem “For the Love of Green.” You'd be hard pressed to find a more lovely poem. The die is cast that Alejandro must escape the clutches of his parents if he is to follow his dream of becoming a poet.

The casting seamlessly shifts to a twenty-something Alejandro (played by Jodorowsky’s younger son Adan) fearlessly taking a running start at his chosen profession of words by following his red-wigged muse Stella Diaz (also played by Pamela Flores in dual roles). Stella insists on holding Alejandro’s crotch whenever they go out in public, but not allowing “penetrative sex” because she is awaiting an unknown mystic to descend from a mountain to part with her dubious virginity. Rejection and suffering are to be celebrated.

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The episodic narrative tears a page from John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” when Alejandro and his latest poet friend go on an adventure walking across town in a straight line that takes them through people’s homes. The effect is an operatic trail of personal growth informed by visits from Jodorowsky himself where he advises his younger incarnations about the big picture of life. “I’ve sold my devil to the soul.”

"Life does not have meaning, you have to live it!”

Such is the pragmatic nature of Jodorowsky's nurturing, if poetically expressed, ideologies. Pedantic perhaps, but filled with undeniable passion. 

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Alejandro Jodorowsky is the most euphoric filmmaker of our time. His transgressive artistic sensibilities form a focal point of pure artistic intentionality that the viewer can either accept or reject, embrace or shed. Either decision will lead the viewer to a personal place of artistically directed balance. You don’t get that from watching the latest “Spider-Man” movie.

Not Rated. 128 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

July 06, 2017

THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN'S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY — NYFF 54

The B-SideDocumentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris has crafted his sweetest film to date. Morris’s filmic love letter to his longtime friend, photographer Elsa Dorfman, is a deceptively straight-forward telling of Dorfman's progress as a portrait photographer in the early ‘80s. Dorfman’s chosen photographic format, a Polaroid Land 20x24 camera provides a topical conversation piece for the documentary to contextualize a social landscape that includes Beat poets, musicians, and families who sat before Elsa Dorfman in her Cambridge, Massachusetts studio. Poloroid's eventual collapse plays heavily into the narrative. 

Elsa’s [oversized] photos give the film its “B-Side” title; she always took two shots for her clients to choose from. Naturally, many of the rejected images are better than the chosen versions. Part character study and part social expose, “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” examines the artistic process of a woman whose divinely quirky personality informs her formerly overlooked career. Elsa Dorfman may never have received the accolades she deserved from the art world, but Errol Morris’s delightful documentary does her, and her lush photographs of icons such as Jonathan Richman, Alan Ginsberg, and Jorge Luis Borges, justice.

The-B-Side

Rated R. 78 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

July 04, 2017

BABY DRIVER

Baby-driverEdgar Wright made his name co-writing and directing crowd-pleasing parody films with Simon Pegg — think “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz.” Wright goes it alone for his latest super action spree. The effect isn’t as much quirky fun as, say, “The World’s End” (Wright’s last collaboration with Pegg), but “Baby Driver” does possess the contained zippy tone of the [many] carefully curated three-minute pop songs that Wright uses to energize his car chase crime thriller with a poppy romantic underbelly.

“Baby Driver” runs on a jukebox of cool music that runs the gambit from Jonathan Richman (“Egyptian Reggae”) and The Damned (“Neat Neat Neat”) to R&B shag tunes from the likes of  The Commodores (“Easy”) and Barry White (“Never, Never Gone Give Ya Up”). The soundtrack may be better than the movie. Sure, there are some exciting chase sequences, but even those get old.

The film’s pacing goes slack during a few too many heist planning meetings, led by Kevin Spacey’s criminal kingpin Doc. Still, newcomer Ansel Elgort smears on enough stoic charisma as the film’s title [getaway driver] character to mask at least some of the film’s unsightly nuts and bolts.

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Wright seems to be taking notes from Quentin Tarantino for his use of pop music to provide an aural bed of energy for the story to glide on. The problem is that Edgar Wright isn’t anywhere near as gifted as Tarantino when it comes to crafting plot and dialogue. Here is a fluffy little crime thriller where gunshots keep time with the music. Film editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss needed to take a few more passes before setting this thing free on an unsuspecting public whose patience will be tested by this film’s end. There’s a reason all those “three-minute” pop songs are so good; they seldom go over three minutes.  

Rated R. 113 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)


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