Out on Friday August 25
Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement for a heist caper. Kathryn Bigelow's incendiary recreation of the 1967 Detroit race riots. An encore outing for Makoto Shinkai’s anime sensation.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Logan Lucky, American Made, Detroit, Your Name, Bushwick, Hotel Salvation, Rough Night, and Mimosas.
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When Steven Soderbergh ‘retired’ from cinema in 2013, he attributed his frustration with filmmaking in part to “the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen”. Directors were mistreated, he lamented, by financiers who thought they knew best.
Lured back to film by a precision script from Rebecca Blunt, Soderbergh has excised his kitchen of intrusive ass-gas. Pitched at the mid-budget level he loves and Hollywood often neglects, Logan Lucky is prime Soderbergh: a sure-handed and warmly comic heist caper, it arrives packing layers of heart, smarts and surprises under a well-appointed hood.
The backdrop is the NASCAR world, but Soderbergh’s confidence shows more in his steady pacing and rootsy Americana setting than any top-gear gloss. Forget ’s glitzy hustle; forget a certain vehicular franchise, too, which Blunt’s script drops “Furious Fast” puns about.
We’re in West Virginia, where toilet-seat-tossing is a feature at county fairs, and where Channing Tatum’s Jimmy Logan is found working on his wheels as he extols the virtues of a country tune to his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie). “I like the song because of the song,” he explains. “I guess I also like it because of the story behind it.”
Likewise, just as his balanced crowd-pleasing instincts with social insight, Soderbergh takes pleasure in fuelling surface mechanics with stories that resonate. When Jimmy is fired from work because of his limp, the scene reflects an uncaring America.
By contrast, Tatum’s unforced charm and Soderbergh’s patient portrait endear this loving lummox of a father to us, even if he isn’t the brightest bulb, or the most punctual dad. A faded quarterback, Jimmy resembles a Springsteen song given serio-comic life: he’s one of America’s forgotten, who cooks up a scheme to score some loot because he wants to do right by his daughter and ex-wife Bobbie (Katie Holmes).
The family ties are strengthened by Jimmy’s brother Clyde (Adam Driver), who shakes up a mean cocktail at a low-lit bar on the edge of town despite having lost an arm in telling circumstances. Aided by the pitch-perfect restraint of Driver’s affectionately blank performance, the chemistry between the siblings is attractive, even if they might be too dim to realise their heist plan is bonkers.
The brothers’ plot to steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway sure is elaborate: simply put, the race will distract security while an underground tube system is used to spirit the cash away. But it also offers a neat mirror for Soderbergh’s pitch. He makes slick surface work of team-gathering generics, while the Coen-esque characters and slanted dialogue furnish underlying riches.
Foremost among the rogues’ gallery is “in-car-cer-at-ed” explosives man Joe Bang, whose cartoon-ish name comes with a persona to match, thanks to the redneck relish (and prison onesie) of Daniel Craig’s gamely Bond-blitzing delivery. Aiding him in tech know-how are Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam Bang (Brian Gleeson), dolts whose concerns about the job’s “morality” showcase the comic delights of Blunt’s script. (If it’s good chat you’re after, stay sharp for a deliciously quotable Game of Thrones exchange, too.)
By comparison, the women aren’t as developed as you would like, coming from the director of and . But Riley Keough plays it cool as Mellie Logan, and Katherine Waterston deploys a fine line in scalding looks as a nurse. Holmes, meanwhile, unveils unexpected yet welcome sharp edges as a mother more tightly wound than her strappy shoes.
Propelled by crate-digging Belfast DJ/composer David Holmes’ funky score, the plot is equally tightly wound. Though Soderbergh and his backwoods crims act goofy, both harbour discreet skills. Between an outrageously convoluted prison bust, some nail-varnished cockroaches, and the zip of a bag, the fine points of the heist are marshalled with sly degrees of cheek and panache, tooled to disarm our suspicions. Even if the details don’t hold up, we’re having too much fun watching Team Logan navigate various unexpected variables to mind.
Hilary Swank’s cameo as a tenacious cop threatens to steer events into darker waters, but this isn’t that kind of film. In Soderbergh’s self-aware hands, it’s a character-centric, director-driven, genre-savvy invitation to take pleasure in a job well orchestrated, right up to a judicious closing shot that leaves you wanting to linger awhile with its motley crew. Since few filmmakers are making films like it today, let’s hope Soderbergh lingers in cinema, too. No tooting in his kitchen, please.
THE VERDICT: One more job… Soderbergh executes his cine-comeback with élan, aided by winning A-team work from Tatum, Driver and Craig.
Director: Steven Soderbergh; Starring: Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Narration over freezeframes. Ironic news footage. Dress-up-box wigs and outfits. Yep, you know what to expect from based-on-a-true-story caper American Made. From the genre’s preferred stylistic tics to the American Dream-turned-nightmare arc, we’re in familiar territory. It’s a relief then, that Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman tell Barry Seal’s story with such energy and panache. And what an unbelievable story it is. The kind you’d dismiss as too far-fetched if it didn’t come with that ‘based on true events’ tag. Cruise might be back in the aviator shades and soaring at breakneck speeds, but this ain’t no Top Gun 2.
Seal is a plum role for Cruise, fully utilising his charismatic grin but also reasserting his character-actor chops after a string of big-budget outings predominantly playing spins on his action-man persona. When we first meet Seal in the late ’70s, he’s a commercial airline pilot, earning a few extra bucks on the side by smuggling Cuban cigars. His illegal activities attract the attention of CIA bod Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who enlists Seal and his flying skills to take covert photos of South American insurgents.
The missions are a success, but Seal’s looking for more cash, so naturally pounces on the lucrative drug-running opportunity presented by the fledgling Medellín Cartel. He soon becomes an international contraband-smuggling brand unto himself, with a fleet of planes in his own hangar, CIA-sponsored insurgents training on his land, and more banknotes than he can hide in his sizeable family home.
While there’s much pleasure to be had in Cruise’s swaggering charm in the early scenes, it’s a performance of more than just bluster. He nails Seal’s nervy, out-of-his-depth unease, while maintaining a wide-eyed likeability that keeps you rooting for him (and just about believing that his lenient wife would put up with his antics).
It also feels like the first time in ages that Cruise has had the chance to be properly funny; the sight of him dusted head-to-toe in cocaine, pedalling furiously on a child’s pushbike, is not easily forgotten. Whether he’s bluffing his way through cartel meetings, making a dicey take-off that sees him barrelling through treetops, or documenting his story in video messages when things start to go sour, he holds almost every frame of the film.
Fittingly for such a dizzying tale, Liman keeps things moving at a clip. Any part of the story that can be told as a montage, is. Seal and his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), produce a child in a matter of a few quick cuts, and the increasing age of their kids is one way in which you can keep a handle on the timeline (the glaring title cards indicating the date and the location being another, more obvious way).
It’s as if Liman only slows down for the funniest/scariest/most jaw-dropping anecdotes. It means that the supporting cast get limited scenes to make an impact, but some do make the most of their modest screen time. Gleeson is reliably great value as the sinister but charming CIA suit who shows up and disappears like a ghost, and Wright makes an impression in what’s frequently a thankless role in this sort of film.
Liman previously directed Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, one of the latter’s most enjoyable non-Mission films in recent years. Where that hi-sci-fi-concept saw Cruise trapped in a live, die, repeat spin-cycle, the trajectory of American Made is altogether more linear, but just as inescapable.
As soon as Caleb Landry Jones shows up, exuding a reptilian sleaziness as Seal’s brother-in-law, Bubba, you can chart the course we’re heading on. Predictable as it might be, Liman still ratchets up considerable tension, as Seal’s relationships with the CIA, DEA and cartel are strained to breaking point. Despite the global reach of the operation, it all begins to feel mightily claustrophobic.
Seal’s wild shenanigans are given an additional frisson of danger by Cruise’s commitment to the flying scenes, including one particularly nerve-jangling cargo-drop technique that the actor did for real while his plane was on autopilot. Those moments pin you to the very edge of your seat, with Liman’s dog-eared style making for a film that still manages to feel somewhat unpredictable, even within a very familiar template. Yes, it might be the kind of story that you’ve seen a million times before, but there’s enough pace and invention to make it worth another go.
THE VERDICT: Cruise is on top form in a based-on-fact thriller that overcomes its familiar trappings with audacious details and flat-out pacing.
Director: Doug Liman; Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Opening with an incendiary recreation of the Detroit race riots that took place in July 1967, this third collaboration between screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, after The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, ensures viewers are lacerated by every shattered window, burnt by every Molotov cocktail. By day three of the eruption, swathes of the city have been closed off by the Detroit PD, the Michigan State Police and the National Guard – tanks rumble, artillery booms, black smoke clogs the sky – and hair-trigger cop Krauss (Will Poulter) has killed an African-American by shooting him in the back.
But that’s just the backdrop. Events then zoom in on the Algiers Motel, where Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), lead vocalist and manager of fledgling soul group the Dramatics, hole up to escape the inferno. Partying with a couple of white girls in from Ohio (Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever), they are descended upon by Krauss and his cop buddies (Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor) after a prank involving a starter pistol has the authorities radioing about a sniper. What follows is a protractedly brutal re-enactment of the infamous ‘Algiers Motel Incident’, as the aforementioned parties, along with long-term resident Robert Greene (Antony Mackie), a Vietnam vet, are savagely interrogated.
This is Bigelow and Boal again exploring the powder-keg psychology of men in uniform, while the former’s fascination with codes of machismo can be tracked all the way back to her early genre movies Blue Steel, Near Dark and Point Break. Here, however, shit gets all too real, with the ugliness of institutionalised racism – and the terror and violence it incites – lighting a flash-fire under Barry Ackroyd’s spasming camera: abrupt images jostle for air, with their colour, density and focus swimming in and out as if the movie itself is fighting for consciousness.
The performances, naturalistic and naturally dialled up, are strong, with Mackie and Smith branding their agony deep into viewers’ brains, and Poulter tapping into a bigotry so systemic as to make Krauss believe he is acting appropriately. But it is John Boyega’s frozen features and screaming eyes that dominate the screen – playing local security guard Melvin Dismukes, he demonstrates composure, amiability and intelligent authority in early scenes, only to contract into clenched silence as he finds himself looking powerlessly on at the Algiers Motel. Paralysed by fear, does his inability to intervene make him a co-conspirator, or is submission the only feasible response?
It should be said (and it is, in the text that closes out the film) that a certain degree of artistic licence has been exercised in re-staging these terrible events that act as microcosm for not just Detroit but America, though Boal pored over court testimonies and interviewed survivors in a quest for verisimilitude. What is not up for debate is the integrity of Detroit’s intentions, or its relevance in the Black Lives Matter era. It is not just the docudrama style that lends the action immediacy; it is the sad fact that the repugnant events could be torn from today’s headlines.
Detroit is a harrowing, heart-breaking watch, and though it is not without moments of tenderness and healing, it is at pains to avoid the patronising life-lessons and all-too-easy journey into light that culminates the majority of Hollywood social-conscience pictures. Hope is hard-earned, and any grace attained comes at a tremendous cost.
THE VERDICT: Dunkirk has a rival in the intensity stakes. Expect Bigelow’s deep-cutting drama to be part of the conversation come awards season.
Director: Kathryn Bigelow; Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Will Poulter; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
A big-screen encore – including IMAX – for last year’s anime sensation, which to date has banked more than $350m globally. A time-travelling, body-swapping, gender-twisting, disaster-based teen romance, it resembles little else around.
From time loops to tumbling comets, there’s a lot to take onboard, but director Makoto Shinkai knows how to keep viewers rapt and emotions engaged.
Director: Makoto Shinkai; Starring: Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Ryô Narita; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Dave Bautista’s street-level action flick is galaxies away from Marvel gloss, but the Guardians scene-stealer lends physicality to this gutsy, Carpenter-esque B-movie.
Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott follow Bautista’s ex-military type and Brittany Snow’s everywoman as Brooklyn is invaded, with crafty editing giving the impression of breathlessly long takes. Low-budget but effective.
Directors: Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott; Starring: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow, Christian Navarro; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Shubhashish Bhutiani’s gentle Indi(e)an comedy about a deathbed pilgrimage to the Ganges is well worth checking into. At 77, Daya (Lalit Behl) senses his time is up and drags uptight son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) to wait at a commune for the nearly departed.
Their wry, odd-couple chemistry is comfortingly familiar, but kept fresh by an insouciant realism that deftly avoids exotic cliché.
Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani; Starring: Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Bridesmaids-lite, this comedy about a raucous hen do that goes awry with the killing of a male stripper is a mixed bag. Scarlett Johansson shows her comedic chops as the bride-to-be, while Jillian Bell and Kate McKinnon amp up the gross-out quota.
Demi Moore cameos as a swinger, but the farcical third act, wrapped up too neatly by director Lucia Aniello, softens the blows. More edges needed.
Director: Lucia Aniello; Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017
Two chancers tackle Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in this fable of a sheikh’s dying wish. Director Oliver Laxe shoots their marathon of a million steps with rigour, reflecting weariness not indulgence.
The landscapes are beautiful yet forbidding, with an earthy realism to Mauro Herce’s photography. An intriguing tale of faith under pressure emerges, but it’s too slow and simple to truly convince.
Director: Oliver Laxe; Starring: Ahmed Hammoud, Shakib Ben Omar, Said Aagli; Theatrical release: August 25, 2017