Valerian, Brigsby Bear, Logan Lucky
I frequent the new Alamo Draft House Theatre in western Omaha, had it not been erected a year ago, in all of it's glory I would probably attend the movies a lot less. This is a real shame considering the impressive crop of films that have been released this summer. Despite the negative void of public conversation and appreciation that continues to expand in American pop culture, I've managed to drag many of my friends (Taylor Cambridge, Andy Donaldson, Josh Cochran) to a film or two and had a wonderful post viewing discussion.
I've really had a wonderful summer moviegoing experience despite the dearth of public interest and have managed to also to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Spiderman: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk (at Star Cinema, in our very own IMAX, where blockbusters should be seen), Alien: Covenant, Baby Driver, A Ghost Story (at the equally wonderful Film Streams venue), It Comes at Night, as well as retrospective showing's of Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and Predator at the Drafthouse. All in all, it's been a great summer and I enjoyed every one of these movies on their own terms. However, having failed to keep pace with the rapid world of internet blogging it seems that my more nuanced thoughts on all of these films will never been put to keyboard and all three of you who find yourselves reading this will have to be contempt with a recap of the last three films I've seen before the Fall season picks up with Kingsman: The Golden Circle (maybe my most anticipated film of the year).
Without further ado-
Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets- This film would have been considerably better had it stuck to the implications of it's own title. Presumably this fantastic "city of a thousand planets" plays a central role in the narrative of the story. Perhaps it will become a character in it's own right similar to the dystopian Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or the comic book art of Moebius which inspired Besson's previous effort The Fifth Element. While I can report that the conception of this inspired city (and a wildly creative and well executed montage chronicling it's inception) is a real show stopper. We are introduced to a massive city of 22 million aliens, robots and humanoids floating in the vacuum of space, a beautiful amalgam of production design and an exciting mesh of computer effects and cinematography. Unfortunately the films hackneyed anti-colonialist plot figures little into the city itself and could have been set anywhere. The city becomes just a pretty backdrop and an excuse for Besson to treat this film like a greatest hits album of the comic book, a revolving door location conducive to set pieces. I was getting Hobbit vibes in certain sequences. However, I'll happily report that the issue of romantic chemistry between the two leads, an apparent sticking point for the internet hoards and bait clickers who yell into the wildness about such things wasn't an issue for me. Perhaps I have a tin ear for sincere romantic dialogue and Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones is a high watermark for me in the romance depart but I actually found the two leads to be rather endearing. They certainly looked good. Visually they are interesting people, worked well within the film and I probably would have cast them as well despite protestations from people with the beating hearts of spectators rather than mechanically minded futurists like Besson.
Brigsby Bear- The premise for Brigsby Bear sounds considerably less creative if you've seen the first season of The Unstoppable Kimmy Schmidt. However, the presence of a creepily charismatic bear helps to set this story apart as well as the unique screen presence and voice work of an actor like Mark Hamil. Despite that pained expression that conveyed the wisdom and pain of the ages that he deilvered in the closing moments of The Force Awakens I don't think he's ever been a particularly good actor, but I was jazzed to see him here. I can't figure out if he really is just a shot of weirdness into a film that teeters on the edge of off-putting and endearing or if I'm happy that after 40 years the man who played Luke Skywalker is finally beefing up his IMDB page. Apparently this film is the brainchild of some new SNL cast members, after reading James A.Miller's "Live From New York" I can appreciate just how difficult it can be to squeeze in the production of a film on one's summer break from SNL. This is a film that isn't incredibly funny and therefore cannot be recommended as such but it offers up a very compelling vision of the neurosis and preoccupation of filmmakers and is probably the best film since J.J. Abrahm's Super 8 to illustrate the communal and coming of age experience that making a home movie provides. This sort of 80's cheap chic is in vogue now but works well here. I'd highly recommend Brigsby bear. Come for the quirky fish out of water plot ("...Brigsby tape?") and stay for the scenes with genuine heart.
Logan Lucky- I've watched interviews with Steven Soderbergh, I've listened to his commentary tracks and he doesn't seem to be the most gregarious guy. If you were to have dinner with him I'd imagine that there would be a flurry of mixed signals due to awkwardness or the sort of innate aloofness that is apparent in his demeanor but that also functions to add to his mystic as a auteur. That being said, how is it that the man is able to reliably crank out these crowd pleasing, light on their feet, free wheeling films? Logan Lucky is a relaxing afternoon movie, its not really in a hurry, it loves its characters and its environment. In fact, it loves it's character so much that many of them seem to have no real place within the narrative and are rather just extraneous bursts of flair a la Coen Bros. The heist in Logan Lucky is exciting and fun but most of all, the movie (written by Soderbergh) doesn't treat its lead character (a pair of lovable southern brothers played believably and genuinely by Chasing Tatum & Adam Driver) like Rubes or contemptible blue collar hicks whose stupidity and hubris is the draw (like Bay's Pain & Gain). I enjoyed my time in North Carolina with the people of Logan Lucky. It's great to have you back Mr. Soderbergh. I'll be sure to watch The Knick as soon as I can...