Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is a 2017 American heist comedy film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by an unknown screenwriter named Rebecca Blunt. The film features an ensemble cast consisting of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston and Sebastian Stan.

Logan Lucky follows the three Logan siblings in Charlotte, North Carolina: Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie. The Logans are known for having a history of bad luck; Jimmy was an all-star high school football player who was prevented from going to the NFL because of an injury and Clyde lost his hand in the Iraq War. After being laid off from his construction job, Jimmy concocts a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Steven Soderbergh got his start creating indie films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, but the acclaimed filmmaker is best known for directing The Ocean’s Trilogy from 2001 to 2007. Soderbergh, with a long and successful career, went on a much publicized hiatus from feature filmmaking in 2013 following the acclaimed Behind The Candelabra, saying that obstacles and studio meddling make it difficult for filmmakers to stay true to their artistic vision.

It is fitting, then, that Soderbergh’s return to the scene would be an independently produced, distributed, directed, and possibly written (many have posited that Rebecca Blunt is a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself) film that can be aptly described as “Redneck Ocean’s Eleven.”

Logan Lucky is a triumphant comeback for a talented director. With a style and sense of humor very similar to its spiritual predecessor, this hilarious film also benefits from wonderful performances from all involved, specifically Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. It is remarkable to see that the Englishman known almost exclusively for playing the classy superspy can also effectively portray a redneck white trash explosives expert with the same ease. All the cast does an excellent job, but these two, I feel, are the standouts.

It goes without saying that the writing of this film is very much on point. Logan Lucky was described while doing my research as “2017’s Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” I can tell you right now this a very accurate descriptor and a factor that works to it’s advantage. It also features exceptional cinematography from Peter Andrews and suitable music by composer David Holmes.

Logan Lucky is a smartly-written, well-performed, exceptionally-shot, hilarious callback to a talented director’s magnum opus with a unique twist that humanizes and empathizes with redneck culture rather than making fun of them. It is certainly worth a watch… or a few.

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Following

Following is a 1998 British neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan in his directorial debut. The film stars Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, and John Nolan, Christopher’s uncle. Following tells the story of a struggling, unemployed, and unnamed (like all of the characters in this film) writer who takes to following strangers around the streets of London. This strange new hobby draws him into the city’s criminal underworld after he takes his odd, yet ultimately innocuous hobby too far.

Being Nolan’s directorial debut and being straight out of film school, Following was shot on an official budget of $0.00. The most expensive part of filming was the actual 16mm film stock, which Nolan paid for with his own salary. The film was intended to be as inexpensive as possible to produce. In order to economize the expensive film stock, scenes were painstakingly rehearsed ahead of time in order to get a perfect scene in as few takes as possible. The cast and crew, if you can call them that, all worked full-time during the week, limiting film production to Saturdays. Fifteen minutes of footage every Saturday was shot over the course of four or five months. The decision to shoot the film in black and white came from the fact that Nolan did not have access to lighting equipment, forcing him to only use natural, real-world lighting. Even on a no-budget shoot, Nolan described the production as “extreme.”

Following is a very impressive film. Often, low-budget productions are just plain bad, but this film is proof that you don’t need money to make a movie, though I will admit a budget of some level will usually help a lot. Low-budget films are often bad because the filmmakers try to be flashy and reach for levels way outside their budget. Christopher Nolan, even as a young man fresh out of film school, is smart enough not to do that. Following is extremely barebones, and it is, in fact a better film because of it. The core elements of a good noir film are there and, due to the fact nobody had the time nor the money to focus on anything else, those core elements are perfectly constructed and brilliantly executed. There’s nothing extraneous here, only the stuff that needs to be in the film is in the film. Following, from a plot perspective, is very tight and focused, an aspect of filmmaking I think Nolan, admittedly still one of my favorite directors, has forgotten in his more recent work.

Following is also surprisingly very well-acted. The cast, made up entirely of unknowns, even 19 years later, is very talented. The unnamed main character comes off as an everyman, even with his odd, some might even say creepy, pastime. He seems like a slightly odd but relatable guy. Cobb (which Nolan reused as the surname for the main character in 2010’s Inception) is as charming and witty as he is scummy.

Following uses a non-linear narrative to keep things interesting, something that has become a staple in Nolan’s films. The dialogue, like the overarching plot itself, is sharp, witty, focused, and on-point.

Following is not the greatest neo-noir film ever, not is it Nolan’s best work. It is, however, an interesting early work of one of today’s most well-known filmmakers, and is a great showcase of his talents as a director. Clocking in at only an hour and ten minutes, Following is a scrappy, smart, and interesting noir film and the testament of what a filmmaker can do given will, determination, ingenuity, and intelligence.

Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises is a 2007 British-Canadian-American crime thriller film written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and directed by David Cronenberg. The film stars Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, and Armin-Mueller-Stahl. This film marks the second time Cronenberg and Mortensen have collaborated following 2005’s excellent A History of Violence. Eastern Promises follows Anna, a nurse and midwife of Russian-British heritage living with her mother and uncle in London. Anna delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian girl, who dies in childbirth. Anna finds the diary of the young woman in her personal effects, and learns that she was tricked and forced into prostitution by the Russian Mafia. Anna also finds a card for a restaurant owned by Semyon, an old Russian mobster. Anna sets out to discover the identity of the baby’s father, in order to find the child a home. She is drawn into a vast conspiracy involving Seymon’s unstable son, Kirill, and the mysterious driver Nikolai, soon realizing she may be in way over her head.

Eastern Promises is a rather bold film that chooses to explore rather dark themes that not a lot of films do. For some reason, filmmakers are fine exploring the world of drugs and murder, but I have not seen a lot of films explore the crime of sex trafficking; it is a rather uncomfortable subject nobody likes to discuss, especially in the realm of fiction. I understand why, as I personally find it to be one of the most heinous and disgusting crimes ever to exist. Nobody likes to think about it, which is why it takes guts to put it front and center in a crime thriller ostensibly meant to entertain. The effect that sex trafficking has on the many people involved is front and center here, and Knight’s script sugarcoats nothing. I applaud Steven Knight for bringing this up; even though it is, on the surface, a mere work of fiction, it should get the audience thinking, or make them aware of, the horrific crime occurring worldwide today right under our very noses.

Like any good crime film, Eastern Promises focuses as much on the criminals as it does on the ordinary people. The inner workings and mentality of the Russian Mafia, specifically the idea of vory v zakone is discussed in-depth in this film. Through some excellent writing, mobsters Kirill and Nikolai are as empathetic characters as Anna. You know what they want, you feel for the both of them. Kirill wants respect from his brutal and sadistic father, and wants to bring his (much more capable and competent) friend Nikolai along for the ride. Kirill is a raging dick, but watch him suffer torrents of abuse by his ungrateful father, and you begin to understand him. Empathy for the villains is what turns a good movie into a great movie, and Eastern Promises is, in my opinion, a pretty great movie.

Director David Cronenberg is famous for the brilliant body horror films Scanners, The Dead Zone, and The Fly. With both A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, it may seem as though Cronenberg has gone completely out of his comfort zone. However, make no mistake; Eastern Promises may lack monsters or exploding heads, but this film is unflinching and brutal in its depiction of violence and murder, and although never what I personally would describe as “horrific,” Cronenberg is easily able to succeed in making the viewer feel uncomfortable, using techniques he no doubt picked up in his career as an auter of horror.

Cronenberg also avoided using guns in the movie at all, opting instead for knives. Cronenberg has stated that this was for the purposes of realism, as knives would be easier to conceal, but considering the somewhat exaggerated effects of these knives when they are used in the film, I would say Cronenberg’s horror traits were simply showing again, not that it is at all a bad thing.

The brilliance of Eastern Promises also owes itself to top-notch acting by almost everyone involved, especially Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen, who shows off supreme talent and acting ability here. The underrated Danish-American actor will, it seems, be forever known by the masses for his role as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and not for other roles like this one. The character of Nikolai is the most interesting and mysterious character of this film, and that lends just as much to Mortensen’s flawless acting as it does to the great script.

Eastern Promises is a great film filled with violence, intrigue, and empathy that has the guts to explore something that occurs in the world that many people fear to acknowledge. With word on the street being a sequel will begin production soon, I would advise picking up this movie ASAP if you are interested. To conclude, with the help of a brilliant and accomplished director, a brilliant writer, and extremely talented actors, Eastern Promises is an impactful, entertaining, and thought-provoking crime film that I enjoyed, and I think a lot of my readers will, too.