A Fine Find, or, Logan Lucky

loganlucky

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

When I was, I don’t know, eight, I was flipping though channels in a hotel room and found myself watching the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. It didn’t have sharks or dinosaurs in it, but neither did anything else on television, so I watched Cocktail. And it was fine. I didn’t leave Logan Lucky, director Steven Soderbergh’s return from retirement, with any particularly harsh words in mind, but I left it feeling like I did watching Cocktail, adequately entertained despite a lack of sharks or dinosaurs.

Logan Lucky is held back from greatness by a nebulous sense of self. Following NASCAR heist perpetrated by the unlucky Logan siblings , Logan Lucky is essentially Ocean’s Eleven imposed onto a facsimile of Appalachia. Imposed is a key word here, as the twisting, turning caper narrative often feels like it imposes on the best interest of the film, which itself feels like a strange imposition onto the culture it is either trying to pander or condescend to.

I walked into Logan Lucky with Stanley Kubrick’s horse track heist flick The Killing on my mind, but Logan Lucky lacks the elegance of that 85-minute classic. For all the discipline Soderbergh displays in refraining from unnecessary directorial flourishes, the script, written by suspected-pseudonym Rebecca Blunt time and time again indulges vestigial narrative threads that feel like they’re there because conventions dictate they be. The film regularly wanders off the path of what could be a concise, engaging heist, so much so that the entirety of the final act feels like it is standing on ceremony.

But even if the film were trimmed down and streamlined, what really holds Logan Lucky back is its perplexing attitude towards the subsection of America it portrays. The film’s depiction of rural America feels like The Big Bang Theory’s depiction of nerds. The Logans and their lot are the unappreciated backbone of the American workforce when the story needs your sympathy and they’re backward goofballs when it needs your laughter. As fantastic as the likes of Daniel Craig and Adam Driver are in the film, the cast of characters in Logan Lucky never feel as though they were written with a sense of authenticity in mind. Winter’s Bone this is not.

There’s never a feeling of spite or disdain on the part of the film for its subjects, but one gets the impression that Logan Lucky is more concerned with it’s expression of genre tropes than it’s depiction of the culture it imposes those tropes upon.

Despite all that, Logan Lucky is a fun, entertaining movie, but it’s perhaps one that is best discovered in a hotel room flipping by TNT on a rainy Saturday, or while Netflix and chilling or whatever you hooligans are calling it these days.

Transcendence, or, Magic Mike XXL

During my first year of college I would stumble out of bed every morning and immediately slump down in from of my computer to watch the trailer for the Liam Neeson classic, Taken. Neeson’s now instantly-recognizable phone call with his daughter’s kidnapper was my morning cup of coffee. It got me so excited that going back to sleep seemed impossible. By the time the breathy human trafficker hung up on the other end of the phone I was pumped up, wide awake and ready for the day ahead.

Taken didn’t get an Academy Award nominations and it’s never going to be part of the Criterion Collection, but that phone call is a moment of transcendent filmmaking. It’s the kind of moment that transfixes an audience and captures our attention so completely that we can completely lose sight of the fact that all we’re really doing is sitting down and staring in a dark room full of strangers.

There are no words for what is about to transpire here...

There are no words for what is about to transpire here…

Magic Mike XXL is one such moment after another. At times the magic (not an on-the-nose pun so much as a factually accurate account of the film) of it all was so over-the-top that I completely lost sight of the fact that I maybe one of three men in an absolutely packed movie theater with women standing and screaming and applauding and wooing and nullifying the air conditioning with their sheer body heat.

The sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s Tatum opus, XXL thrusts the male gyration up a notch, then down a notch, then up a notch, then down a notch, then… this time putting the titular Mike and his pack of male strippers on a road trip with a pinch of “one last job” stakes for good measure.

Like Taken, Magic Mike XXL is never going to associate with Oscar or Criterion. It’s not gut-wrenching or intellectually stimulating and quite frankly every now and then I was a little bored, but when it’s at the height of its powers Magic Mike XXL is an undeniable triumph, an exciting, hilarious, exhilarating movie that is entertaining to the core.

Magic Mike XXL is without a doubt one of the greatest movie-going experiences I have ever had. That being said, if you go see it and the theater isn’t full of middle-aged women, buy another ticket and try again. It’ll be worth it.

Also, there’s no dongs.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Remembered, or, The Pony Tricks Bump: A Myth?

Two of the top five most popular posts on this website revolve around the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. The most popular post on this website today, January 7, 2015, is a discussion of Pain and Gain that was part of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. My decision to see every theatrical film Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson released in 2013 is paying dividends to this very minute for he and I both – lest we forget the coveted “Pony Tricks Bump” the Rock received in 2013, being named the highest grossing entertainer of 2013 by Forbes doubtlessly in no small part due to my examinations of his work.

I think we can all agree the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative was a rousing success.

But what of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

What of it?

Unforgettable.

Unforgettable.

Where the 2013D“TR”JI was a mutually beneficial partnership between Dwayne Johnson and myself in which he became entertainer of the year and I learned several valuable life lessons from Fast and Furious 6, the 2014CTI has proven to be anything but, as not only have the lessons I learned from Tatum’s films this year fallen woefully short of life-affirming, Channing himself didn’t even crack the list of Forbes Top 10 Entertainers of the Year.

That being said, the Pony Tricks Bump still tentatively takes credit for his being cast as Gambit.

I went to the theater four times this year for the 2014CTI and I learned four very different, pretty lackluster lessons.

The LEGO Movie, in which Tatum made a brief appearance as Superman, taught me to keep my cynicism alive in the face of the first largely entertaining feature-length commercial I’d ever seen. Sure, sure, a fine lesson for a four-year-old girl, but I’m a twenty-something-year-old man. I don’t exactly need a refresher on cynicism.

Luckily, 22 Jump Street, which wound up being one of my favorite movies of the year, was there to pick up the slack. Sort of. 22 Jump Street is a masterclass in understanding that repetition, when blended with self-awareness, can be a beautiful thing. There’s no harm in doing something twice when it worked the first time, so long as you remain aware of the pitfalls of returning to the same well over and over again.

A great lesson.

And a total lie. As evidenced by the maligned sequel to the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

My good friend Channing.

My good friend Channing.

From there it was all downhill. The Book of Life taught me to never, ever, ever have kids lest I be dragged into films like The Book of Life every weekend for ten years. And Foxcatcher revealed new depths to my twenty-something pretension.

What of the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative?

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative was a disaster. Tatum was charming and fantastic in all of his roles this year, but somewhere between “Channing” and “Tatum” a certain “The Rock” was missing from my 2014.

2015 Initiative TBD I guess.

P.S. I love you, Channing.

Foxcatcher Problems, or, The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Complete

This is my third attempt to discuss Foxcatcher, the recent true crime film that also happens to be my final stop on the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. My feelings on Foxcatcher are conflicted enough so as to make it nearly impossible for me to convey them without falling into a rambling pit. But hey, third time’s the charm, yeah?

foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It recounts the events leading up to a murder. The film is well written, the cinematography is gripping and the performances, particularly those by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, are engaging. Foxcatcher is by no means a bad movie. I’m just not sure I understand why it’s a movie.

In my mind there’s something of an unspoken understanding between an audience and a filmmaker when it comes to films “based on a true story,” particularly when that true story is tragic in nature. The understanding being that the filmmaker is given permission to utilize or exploit (depending on just how cynical we want to get) a real life tragedy in order to put forward for consideration some potential truth. 12 Years a Slave used the story of Solomon Northrup’s enslavement to highlight a sickness in American history that is more and more often overlooked or downplayed. Captain Phillips used the hostage situation on the Maersk Alabama to highlight a glaring juxtaposition between the might and affluence of the Western World and the sheer desperation of the Third World. The recently released Imitation Game uses the life of Alan Turing to recount the life of Alan Turing, a scientist whose achievements and prosecution are both perhaps not as well-known as they should be.

With these examples in mind I again posit that I’m not sure I understand why the tragedy at the murder of Foxcatcher has been adapted into a film.

I’ve come up with a few answers on my own but they all feel like I’m reaching, assigning a reason for a works existence after it already exists, rather than discovering the reason why the work was brought into existence in the first place. Perhaps Foxcatcher is meant to highlight the disparity between rich and poor and how easily we overlook the former using the latter as playthings. Maybe it’s something of a cautionary tale regarding undiagnosed mental illness. One of the parties involved has stated that the story highlights the lengths to which American Olympians had to go to match the training regiments of Olympians in other countries. But the film doesn’t seem to lean in to any of those thesis statements.

As near as I can figure the events depicted in Foxcatcher were adapted to film because someone thought it’d make a good movie. And they’re not wrong. If I didn’t know Foxcatcher was based on a true story I’d more than likely be singing an entirely different tune. But Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It’s based on a murder. And while I’m not saying it specifically sets out to exploit a murder for entertainment or ruling out the distinct possibility that I’m just being difficult and don’t get it, I ultimately found the film conflicted and problematic at best.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 48, or, Looking Like a Young Tough

Well, I went to go see Book of Life, so I hope you’re ready for an earful. On the bright side, I correctly identified this episode’s number while recording, so that’s something.

This week: Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers + X-Men: Axis, Multiversity, Superman, The Walking Dead

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative Returns, or, Book of Life: The Case for a Screener

In 2013 Forbes Magazine declared Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the year’s highest grossing actor. Coincidentally, 2013 was also the year of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. Did my coverage of every theatrical release starring The Rock here on Pony Tricks result in something of a Pony Tricks Bump for Mr. Johnson? Who can say?

Me. I can say.

Yes.

So as 2014 crept up infighting broke out amongst the Hollywood Illuminati, all of whom sought the aforementioned Pony Tricks Bump. And from on high I bestowed it unto one Channing Tatum.

Out of the goodness of my heart I declared the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. And what have I gotten out of it?

Well I got to sit through Tatum’s latest, The Book of Life. Which is not a sequel to Tree of Life.

Sorry gang, you won't be seeing Tatum's butt in this one.

Sorry gang, you won’t be seeing Tatum’s butt in this one.

I’m a little late on this one, Book of Life has been out for two weekends now, but you have to understand – I really, really didn’t want to see Book of Life at all, and now that I have I still don’t.

I’ve seen three movies as a part of the 2014CTI and two of them have been animated and PG. It’s been rough.

To fulfill my obligation to this year’s Pony Tricks Initiative I had to go to a weekday morning showing of a children’s movie by myself, a lone, grown-ass man in a hoodie. Always a welcomed sight in a theater full of young children. Luckily for me there was no one in the showing I went to except an old lady.

Add to that sketchy experience the barrage a mind-numbing trailers for other kid-friendly movies I had to sit through and you’ve got some pretty successful birth control. Lord knows I don’t want to sit through any such nonsense ever again, let alone get dragged into it with any regularity.

Also the guy at the concession stand took forever to figure out how to fulfill my order of one cup of black coffee.

This is the thanks I get for the Pony Tricks Bump?

Come on Channing! At least send me a GD screener.

Go on now, GIT!

Go on now, GIT!

Book of Life, the actual movie rather than the suspect, interactive film-going experience, is steeped in Mexican culture, which is the only thing lending any sort of character to an otherwise by the numbers children’s movie. It tells the story of three childhood friends, two guys and a girl, sans pizza place, whose inevitable love triangle becomes the focus of a wager between two gods. One of the boys (Tatum) grows up to become a decorated soldier in peak physical condition, the other a humble, reluctant bullfighter who dreams of perusing his musical dreams.

Do I need to tell you anything else or have you figured out the entire story beat for beat yet? Cause you should have.

Book of Life shines brightest when it pretends to be progressive. Maria, the boys’ trophy made flesh, claims she is her own person and that she belongs to no one. We learn she studied fencing and kung fu. She turns down the advances of both of her suitors. Initially. She proves herself a formidable leader. And then we hit the third act and Maria is reduced to a damsel in distress left to fall in love with whichever suitor rescues her best.

Those fencing skills? That Kung fu? More a recurring joke than a particular set of skills, as Zoe Saldana’s voice talents are essentially wasted on a plot device masquerading as a character. The message here feels like something along the lines of “it’s okay to be a strong, independent woman as a parlor trick at dinner parties, as long as you revert to helpless swooning when it counts.”

What stuck with me the most about Book of Life was the discussion I had with myself afterwards as I silently tried to figure out exactly how I’d clarify the hackneyed character tropes to my theoretical future daughter, who needs to know that her future isn’t tied to a meager, predetermined list of men from which she must choose and who needn’t be a perpetual damsel in distress waiting for a hero to whom she’ll be indebted to love.

Basically, my kids are going to love going to the movies with me as much as I’ll love going with them. Hopefully they’ll emancipate themselves young.

The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative wraps next month with Foxcatcher, a grownup movie for grownups. And seriously Channing, I think I’ve earned a screener.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 47, or, Channing! Oh Channing!

Do you remember the Pony Tricks’ 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative? Because I sure wish I didn’t. Join me as I lament my lot in life and complain about having to eventually see the new movie Book of Life or risk blogging shame. I think I might talk about some comics too.

This week: Avengers + X-Men: Axis, Batman and Robin, Daredevil, Death of Wolverine, Justice League, Ms. Marvel