WIND RIVER (Movie Review)

WindRiver
*** out of ****
Rated R
(for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and strong language)
Released:  August 18, 2017
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Julia Jones, Gil Birmingham, Kelsey Asbille, Jon Bernthal

As a screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan tells crime stories that are set in ethnic and lower-class spheres, each with a deep thematic resonance. Sicario explored the drug trade on both sides of the border, and Hell or High Water tracked an East Texas crime spree concocted by the kinds of forgotten white males that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders spoke to, brothers who were victims of a rigged system run by financial elites.

Both films raised issues relevant and topical yet also taken for granted, especially the people in them. That contradictory dynamic is never more true than in Sheridan’s directorial debut, Wind River. It’s another crime thriller, and this time the marginalized subculture is life on an American Indian reservation.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a white man who, due to his marriage with a Native American (that has since failed), has become part of the life and community of a Wyoming reservation. He’s a gun-for-hire marksman, a legal poacher of wildlife predators that endanger local livestock.

It’s the dead of winter with a serious snowstorm looming. On one of his hunts, Cory comes across the body of a dead young Native woman out in the woods, frozen and bloodied, about five miles from the closest residence.

An FBI agent is sent in, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a young newbie from Vegas and a Floridian by birth, a.k.a. someone ill-equipped for this environment or what she’ll find there. As the local sheriff puts it, she’s emblematic of how federal entities view Native American territories: as afterthoughts.

Banner is more confident in her abilities than she probably should be, perhaps as much out of necessity as anything, but she’s also keen enough to quickly realize that she needs Lambert’s expertise, both as a hunter/tracker as well as someone who understands the area’s politics and cultural nuances.

Lambert is still haunted by a personal loss of his own, one that led to his divorce, which makes the whole situation more complicated and personal.

If there’s a noticeable difference in how effective Wind River is compared to Sheridan’s two recent and rightly praised films, it’s in the first act’s initial setup. It’s well-scripted in how it establishes the characters, culture, and crime, but it lacks the tension that directors Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) and David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) were able to generate right out of the gate.

Sheridan plots things deftly, from narrative to relationships to the authenticity of the world we’re in, but it’s mostly expositional. An underlying, portentous sense of dread would’ve made Wind River more instantly compelling.

But what initially feels undercooked becomes explosive in the payoff.

As clues start to emerge and the investigation kicks into high gear, Sheridan more than makes up for whatever the first stretch lacked. In fact, the opening slow-burn belies just how intense things eventually become.

Sheridan displays taut filmmaking skills along with a confidence in crafting tone. Events turn volatile, then much darker, and ultimately more sinister than we possibly could’ve imagined. When the mystery is finally pulled away, the reality exposed is a rather brutal one (and brutally depicted; this is not for the squeamish).

True to Sheridan’s previous movies, the riveting genre elements do not subjugate or cheapen the issues that Sheridan has raised about our nation’s dismissive relegation of Native American society – especially the women in them.

Sheridan uses genre to magnify these issues, these tragedies, these injustices, and he never comes close to crossing that fine line of exploitation that has compromised similar thrillers.

On the contrary, Sheridan is able to make Wind River an unnerving, sobering parable about the rape of an entire people, one that’s not politically reductive. It indicts through grief, not a soapbox, the systematic suppression of a shared national humanity.

Poignant Roadtrip Of Laughs & Grief in Richard Linkater’s LAST FLAG FLYING Trailer (VIDEO)

Richard Linklater is a slice-of-life filmmaker, each movie an intimate American story. His Oscar-nominated Boyhood may have been his most ambitious effort (though some would argue his Before Trilogy is even more so), yet even his broad comedies all have a sincere, reflective, even gentle subtext. Linklater’s latest is Last Flag Flying. Although he broaches new territory here (veterans, and war), this ensemble road trip looks to come from a very personal place, expressed through humor and humanity. It’s about three aging vets (Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, and Laurence Fishburne) who reunite after one of their sons has died while serving in Iraq. It will obviously touch on the existential despair that many feel about our post-9/11 military efforts, but this looks to be less of a soapbox and more of a human journey, which is exactly what a Linklater film always is. Co-starring Cicely Tyson and J. Quinton Johnson (of Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!), and based on the novel by co-screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan,  Last Flag Flying premieres in late September at the New York Film Festival, then opens in theaters on November 3, 2017.

BBC Unveils “100 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” List

woodyline

The BBC is starting to make this an annual event.

Exactly one year ago, the UK’s flagship media network announced their list of “The 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century” (so far). Now they’ve followed that up by unveiling their choices for “The 100 Greatest Comedies of All Time“.

The decision to go for Comedy was made by BBC Culture after they saw how few films from the genre actually landed on their 21st Century list.

This year, they asked 253 film critics (118 women and 135 men) from 52 countries across six continents to compile their own personal Top 10 Lists for the best comedies of all time.

Averaging those choices out, the BBC ended up with its Top 100.

Interesting stats:

  • The most represented directors are:
    • Rob Reiner – 4 films
    • Charlie Chaplin – 4 films (none in Top 10)
    • Ernst Lubitsch – 4 films (none in Top 10)
    • Woody Allen – 3 films
    • Jacques Tati – 3 films
    • David Zucker – 3 films
    • Buster Keaton – 3 films
    • Howard Hawks – 3 films (highest at #14)
    • Preston Sturges – 3 films (highest at #19)
    • Mel Brooks – 3 films (highest at #20)
    • John Landis – 3 films (highest at #47)
  • Only 1 woman made the list: Amy Heckerling, for 1995’s Clueless (#34)
  • 26 directors accounted for 64 films. Or, roughly, for 2/3 of the list. That’s domination by a small, elite group.
  • The actors who appear most:
    • Bill Murray – 6 times
    • Cary Grant – 5 times
    • Charlie Chaplin, Christopher Guest – 4 times

So here they are, in ascending order, The 100 Greatest Comedies of All Time:

100. (tie) The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982)
100. The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
99. The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979)
98. The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009)
97. The Music Box (James Parrott, 1932)
96. Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)
95. Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984)
94. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
93. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999)
92. The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
91. What’s Up, Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)
90. A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
89. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966)
88. Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001)
87. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)
86. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)
85. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
84. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest, 1996)
83. Safety Last! (Fred C Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1923)
82. Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1984)
81. There’s Something About Mary (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 1998)
80. Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
79. The Dinner Game (Francis Veber, 1998)
78. The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987)
77. Divorce Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961)
76. Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)
75. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942)
74. Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)
73. The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, 1963)
72. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (David Zucker, 1988)
71. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
70. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)
69. Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975)
68. Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939)
67. Sons of the Desert (William A Seiter, 1933)
66. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
65. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
64. Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008)
63. Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944)
62. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014)
61. Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
60. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
59. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
58. Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)
57. Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004)
56. Broadcast News (James L Brooks, 1987)
55. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, 2000)
54. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)
53. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)
52. My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936)
51. Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925)
50. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)
49. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
48. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
47. Animal House (John Landis, 1978)
46. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
45. Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958)
44. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)
43. M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970)
42. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
41. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, 2006)
40. The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967)
39. A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood and Edmund Goulding, 1935)
38. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
37. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
36. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese, 1988)
35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
34. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
33. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay, 2004)
32. Raising Arizona (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1987)
31. Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)
30. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953)
29. When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989)
28. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
27. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
26. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)
25. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
24. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
23. The Party (Blake Edwards, 1968)
22. Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
21. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
20. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)
19. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
18. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
17. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
16. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1975)
14. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
13. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
12. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
11. The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998)
10. The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 1926)
9. This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
8. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
7. Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980)
6. Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

For more interesting info about this list, check out these links:

STAGE TO SCREEN: 5 Great Adaptations

stagetoscreen

Converting plays to the screen is a tradition as old as the movies.

Here are four lesser-known adaptations worth seeking out, plus a landmark fifth that still sets the standard for what a stage-to-screen adaptation should be, all in my featured article from the 2017 “Fall Performing Arts Issue” of The Tulsa Voice.

Click here to read Stage To Screen: Five Great Adaptations.

Idyllic Midwest Gets Bloody In Latest Clooney/ Damon / Coens SUBURBICON Trailer

The white picket fence of the 1950s gets some blood on it, as does Matt Damon’s white pressed dress shirt, in the latest trailer for Suburbicon, the dark comedy crime thriller from director George Clooney and co-writers Joel & Ethan Coen.

It’s clear that Clooney, who remains strictly behind the camera for this effort, favors the Coens’ quirky classicism much more than the sleek contemporary palette of his other favorite collaborator, Steven Soderbergh.

Co-starring Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac, Suburbicon debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival this September before opening wide on October 27, 2017.

SUBURBICON_OneSheet

LOGAN LUCKY (Movie Review)

loganlucky
**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for language and some crude comments)
Released:  August 18, 2017
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Hilary Swank, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Farrah Mackenzie

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-rayDVD, and 4K. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

Critics are gushing like fanboys over Logan Lucky, the return of director Steven Soderbergh to the big screen following a self-imposed retirement that lasted all but four years (in which he produced an entire TV series, The Knick).

I embrace the comeback, too, one that seemed inevitable, but it’s harder for me to give a pass for the loose, at times lazy movie that marks it. One wonders, had this been Soderbergh’s last film before retiring instead of his first one after it, if the consensus reception would’ve been “yeah, it kinda seems like he’s ready to”.

Simply put, Logan Lucky is the kind of movie that Soderbergh can make in his sleep, and it often feels like that’s exactly what he’s done.

Truth be told, Logan Lucky exists for an endgame beyond itself. Soderbergh is back because he’s devised a way to make movies outside of the studio system on a mid-range budget, the kind that studios have all but abandoned, too small and marginal for Hollywood but also too big for indie investors to wholly finance. (You can read more about it here on Salon.)

The endeavor could be game-changing. The movie, not so much.

A white trash Ocean’s Eleven, this hillbilly heist is well-worn territory for Soderbergh, one where you can still see some of his strengths. The most obvious is the intricate construction of the heist itself, an underground robbery of the Charlotte Motor Speedway on its busiest day of the year. It’s a marvelously conceived concoction that, once set in motion, almost makes up for the dirge it takes to get there. (Almost.) It boasts clever turns with unexpected altruism.

The unfortunate surprises are new weaknesses. When Soderbergh goes commercial, his capers are taut machines. It’s his experimental efforts that breathe more, sometimes cryptically, but always with intent. Here, however, the reins are slack. Logan Lucky is a two-hour movie that has no business being longer than 90 minutes.

Amiable to a fault, the first hour is often lethargic, establishing characters that aren’t really interesting or unique, belaboring setups beyond necessity, and rolling out rural tropes right down to kindergarten beauty pageants, all played with caricatured performances that lay the Appalachia on too thick to ever become endearing.

The southern fried shtick of the all-star cast is forced, with up-and-coming Riley Keough (granddaughter of Elvis Presley) being about the only one who feels authentically connected to this world. Channing Tatum does, too (and should, given his poor youth in the South), but the conventional script doesn’t do him any favors (dialogue especially).

Everyone else feels like a fish out of water, not least of which is Soderbergh himself. Broad and simplistic, Logan Lucky plays like an outsider’s hunch of what NASCAR Nation is like.

There’s affection for these people, not condescension, and even some genuine humanity, but it’s never actually convincing. Soderbergh stumbles in a niche subculture more suited for the Coen Brothers, unable to modulate performances or his straightforward tone in a way that reveals layers beneath the surface quirk.

Soderbergh’s heart doesn’t seem to be in the filmmaking either. The saturated, at times moody color palette is definitely his, but it’s shot more workmanlike, lacking visual inspiration, and edited the same way.

Logan Lucky, then, isn’t a passion project that compelled Soderbergh back to the movies; it’s an easy endeavor, squarely in the filmmaker’s wheelhouse, that plays strictly for commercial appeal. Aiming for box office isn’t selling out but, in this case, it’s the safest means to an end for a start-up venture. The cast isn’t so much acting for Soderbergh as doing him a big favor.

The meta-con here is that Logan Lucky is a film that exists to prop up a new business model. As a moviegoer, you’d prefer that it’d work the other way around.