“You Logans must be as simple-minded as people say.”
In this blue collar heist movie, Steven Soderbergh transfers the template of his Ocean’s trilogy from the glitz of Vegas to the Deep South in his return to feature filmmaking following a four-year hiatus after Side Effects. The Logan siblings are hoping to break their family’s “curse” of bad luck with a big score at a NASCAR track, cajoled by the newly unemployed Jimmy who is worried about losing his daughter. Rounding out the central pack is Daniel Craig, wielding a far less ostentatious southern accent than in Knives Out, as the explosives expert they need break out of jail. It is all colourfully ludicrous and the tone is more comedic than thriller. Vitally, the Southern setting is not a punchline in itself — there is plenty of ineptitude at play, but only specific side characters are portrayed as simple and we are generally laughing at the absurdity rather than the individuals. Their bumbling often undercuts Logan Lucky’s tension although it also leaves greater uncertainty as to the eventual outcome. With Soderbergh again handling directing, cinematography and editing, the visual storytelling is both familiar and effective, and the two hours fly at a rapid pace as soon as the plan starts to take shape. However, following a late twist, it is really the closing fifteen minutes that makes Logan Lucky stand out as a crime movie with a heart.
“Here at Capitol Pictures, as you know, an army of technicians, actors, and top notch artistic people are working hard to bring to the screen the story of the Christ. It’s a swell story.”
Even when the humour is broad, the sensibilities of Coen brothers movies tend to appeal to a niche audience. Hail, Caesar! is predominantly an excuse for the brothers to use 1950s Hollywood as a playground, producing their own homages to the era’s musicals, Westerns and epics, evoking humour less through parody than authenticity. With their frequent cinematographer Roger Deakins, creating Hail, Caesar! must have been a rewarding exploration of bygone filmmaking technique, and the film is most enjoyable when viewed as a series of loosely connected vignettes, like Channing Tatum tap dancing through a Gene Kelly number or George Clooney channeling Charlton Heston. There is little weight to the story woven through them, as studio head Eddie Mannix fixes problems that vary from the realistic (an studio star pregnant out of wedlock) to the absurd (an actor kidnapped by Communist writers), all while deciding whether he even wants to stay in the industry. Hail, Caesar! may not be particularly memorable but for those with at least a passing familiarity with 1950s cinema, there is much to appreciate, particularly if you also enjoy the Coens’ verbose and offbeat humour and their stellar ensemble casts they attract.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a “save the world” situation here.”
A bloated sequel that tries to recapture its anarchic satire of the Bond franchise’s excesses with muted success and decidedly less charisma from its leads, I actually enjoyed this far more than I feared from its critical reception. Arguably the story’s chief sin is swiftly to sideline its female cast, leaving once again a field of exclusively male agents. It makes the film’s direct references to equality and loyalty feel somewhat crass. Seeing the British Kingsmen working alongside their US counterparts, The Statesmen, is perhaps tailored to me (pun intended) but the creative design throughout both the Statesman HQ and the villain’s lair is wonderful. Whilst nothing matches the first film’s church brawl, there is still substantial creativity to the action set pieces.