Soderbergh heads south for latest caper in ‘Logan Lucky’

Director Steven Soderbergh’s remake “Ocean’s Eleven” in 2001 was a lively crime caper with a stellar cast led by George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. After two sequels, Soderbergh took a break from such epics, and even “retired” after directing “Behind the Candelabra” in 2013.

Well, his idleness did not last long, as here he is, back with another elaborate detailing of a clever heist, this time with a Southern flavor in “Logan Lucky.” In fact, Soderbergh raised money on his own to finance “Logan Lucky” so he would not have to deal with studios, and gathered a cast willing to work for a scale against with-profit considerations.

The director was working with a script credited to Rebecca Blunt, an unknown writer of whom the name apparently is a pseudonym, believed to be residing in the United Kingdom. Well, whatever, the screenplay is masterful and whoever Rebecca Blunt is, this writer captured the nuances of Southern culture and put together a clever heist in the process.

Channing Tatum, who worked with Soderbergh in “Magic Mike,” is the central character in “Logan Lucky,” playing Jimmy Logan, a West Virginia coal miner. Jimmy, along with his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) believe they  are cursed. Jimmy was a promising football star until he blew out his knee. Clyde, a bartender at a place called Duck Tape, lost his left hand while serving a tour in Iraq — the kicker being that the explosion that cost him his hand took place while en route to the airbase to fly home.

The next hit on the Logan men is that Jimmy is let go from his job because his bad knee is seen as a pre-existing condition and a potential liability in the mines. Oh, and by the way, Jimmy is divorced and his wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) is remarried and has full custody of their daughter, Sadie (a remarkable Farrah Mackenzie).

The Logans’ sister Mellie (Riley Keough) does not share her brothers’ belief they are cursed and seems to do quite well for herself as a hairdresser who provides the proper substitute mother duties whenever Sadie is visiting her father.

Before losing his job, Jimmy’s company was working on fixing some sinkholes under the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a main venue for NASCAR. While laboring underground, Jimmy saw the system used by the track’s extensive concessions operations to dispatch cash to the facility’s vault.

This prompts Jimmy to come up with a plan to tap into that money-moving system and make a big score.

Clyde is at first reluctant to join in but eventually comes aboard. Mellie also is willing.

They need help, however, and know a safe-cracker/explosives expert. Trouble is, the guy — appropriately named Joe Bang — is in prison. But the Logan brothers believe they have a way to spring him temporarily from the pen, do the job and get him back in prison before anyone notices he is missing.

The casting of Joe Bang was an interesting twist. He is played by Daniel Craig. Yep, James Bond himself. But sporting a burr haircut (his hair is so blonde as to seem gray — and decorated with tattoos, Craig’s Joe Bang (you just HAVE to say his full name every time you mention it) is a masterful performance — you almost forget Craig is British.

Joe Bang insists that they enlist the services of his two brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), the latter who is supposedly a computer wiz although he would look seriously out of place in any high-tech facility.

With Mellie serving as a driver, this unlikely group of thieves is set.

Much like his “Oceans” movies, Soderbergh shows all the moves made in pulling off this heist, even the setbacks, then revisits key moments via flashbacks to show how the twists in the plan came to be.

Once the robbery is complete, Jimmy fakes out some of the team, a necessary move to make sure the heat, in the form of Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank), does not unravel the intricate theft.

“Logan Lucky” is a clever movie with a lot of heart. Tatum and Mackenzie share a lot of chemistry as Jimmy and daughter Sadie. An opening scene in which Sadie assists her father as he repairs a vehicle sets the tone.

Katherine Waterston has a few standout minutes as Sylvia Harrison, a doctor who has a small clinic on wheels and was a high school classmate of Jimmy’s. Their encounter has Jimmy mulling the possibilities of romance.

There are touches of humor throughout and the performances are all spot on. Tatum and Driver do not remotely resemble each other but their interaction has the viewer believe they are brothers, two guys who grew up together and know each other well.

Craig is a gem as Joe Bang, serving up some of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie, while Keough adds some depth as the sister who may look like she just stepped out of a “Dukes of Hazzard” episode but has a pretty stable grip on life.

“Logan Lucky” is from top to bottom a fun movie, one that can be enjoyed again and again. One of those movies that when you see it a second or third time you may catch something you didn’t see during the first viewing.

Guilty pleasure time

Speaking of movies with a Southern setting, Netflix is offering a little movie that sat on the shelf for a few years but really is a buried treasure. My friend and colleague Michelle Mills referred this movie to me. It is titled “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.”

Yes, it is a horror movie and has its moments of gore. But it parodies all those teens-in-the-wilderness slasher movies as well as giving nods to “Deliverance.”

Co-written with Morgan Jurgenson and directed by Eli Craig, “Tucker and Dale” centers around two hillbilly buddies who could easily be Southern outback versions of Laurel and Hardy. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) could be the Oliver Hardy character, pretty much the one in charge of this duo but a person who clearly is a screw-up himself. He is not rotund like Hardy but he is quick to try and blame his buddy for their predicaments even if those charges are not merited.

Meanwhile, Dale (Tyler Labine) is the Stan Laurel character, a sweet guy basically but hindered by insecurity and self-esteem problems. While he absorbs a lot of criticism from Tucker he also gets a lot of support from his friend, who deep down sees Dale as a man very capable to living a fulfilling life if only he could gain confidence.

Tucker and Dale have purchased a “summer home” in the woods that is the epitome of a fixer-upper. You just know the minute they step into this dilapidated structure they will be in over their heads.

Meanwhile, a van full of teenagers arrives and these young people are planning on camping nearby. The leader of this group is Chad (Jess Moss), one of those creepy guys who takes delight in telling his fellow campers a chilling story of a mass murder years earlier of young people who came to this camping spot.

Tucker and Dale take a break from their renovating to go fishing and encounter one of the girls in the group, Alison (Katrina Bowden), who panics when she sees them and nearly drowns. The good old boys rescue her and take her to their pathetic cabin so she can recover. Naturally, the other teens, with Chad leading the charge, assume that Tucker and Dale are the stereotypical crazed backwoods psychos who kidnapped Alison and may do God knows what to her, and everything they do from then on is seen as crazed and murderous.

Some hilariously gruesome mishaps occur, and people with a sick sense of humor, like me, can find this thoroughly and gut-bustingly funny.

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is yet another small film that deserves more attention than it initially received. Of course, being of the horror/comedy genre, it will not be pleasant for those who find wood-chipper scenes unsettling.





The prequel “Annabelle: Creation” upstages original story of evil doll

In 2016, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” caused a bit of a stir because it was a much better movie than the original “Ouija.” History has repeated itself, with “Annabelle: Creation” being a much scarier and complete film than “Annabelle.”

The original “Annabelle” may have been victimized by high expectations, as it was an offshoot of the successful “Conjuring” series, and a story of an evil doll to boot. Although it was a decent movie, most horror aficionados shrugged it off.

Well, boys and girls, “Annabelle: Creation” is fused with much more creepy energy.

And interestingly, Lulu Wilson, who played the key role of the possessed little girl in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” is also in “Annabelle: Creation.”

As the title implies, “Creation” goes back to the beginning, when, in the 1940s, doll-maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) finishes the first of what he plans on being a limited (100 made) edition of a doll that eventually becomes Annabelle. Samuel, his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and daughter Bee (Samara Lee) live happily in a remote house.

But then a tragic accident costs the life of little Bee.

Twelve years later, the Mullins offer their home as a residence for six young girls after the orphanage where they were living is shuttered. Over the years, the Mullins home has become aged and creaky, the perfect environment for scary things to happen.

By now Samuel is stoic and a bit creepy himself, seemingly just a shell of the man he used to be. Meanwhile, Esther is confined to a bed in a room off-limits to the girls.

The six girls, accompanied by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) settle in, with the two older teens, Carol (Grace Fulton) and Nancy (Phillippa Coulthard) and two pre-teen tag-alongs, Kate (Tayler Buck) and Tierney (Lou Lou Safran) hanging out together. Meanwhile, Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Tablitha Bateman) are sort of outcast and thus bond together, hoping that if they ever are adopted they will be so together and can continue to live as if sisters. Janice cannot keep up with the others anyway because polio has rendered her left leg useless.

Nevertheless it is Janice, mostly confined indoors, who senses something ominous is connected to the house, and despite a decree from Samuel to stay out of the locked room that had been Bee’s bedroom, finds her way into that forbidden space. Inside there is a terrific dollhouse but also a closet that naturally draws Janice’s curiosity. She finds a key and opens it, and well, you can guess what she finds in there.

Gary Dauberman, who wrote the original “Annabelle” screenplay, is back with this script, and has more to work with in providing the story of what happened that led to a seemingly innocent and harmless doll becoming a conduit to something so evil.

The director, David F. Sandberg, was responsible for both the “Lights Out” short film and feature-length version of that horror story, and again proves adept at turning the supposedly secure environment of a home into a battle ground between mortals and a formidable entity that can be devastating.

Unlike her role as the possessed Doris Zander in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” Wilson is not the target of the soul-invading spirit. Instead she is the one who realizes something awful is happening to her friend Janice and naturally her warnings are waved off until all hell breaks loose.

So, “Annabelle” focuses primarily on Janice and Linda, and the two young actresses are remarkable — Janice a heart-tuggingly sweet girl bravely dealing with a handicap that she suspects will prevent her from  finding a forever home.

Wilson, meanwhile, continues to shine, this time as a child tugged by the desire to be part of the group of girls but is steadfastly loyal to Janice. Fans of horror my recall Wilson’s memorable scene in “Ouija” in which she offers to her sister’s boyfriend the brief dissertation of “what it feels like to be strangled to death.” Mike Flanagan, director of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” made an appearance at Monsterpalooza earlier this year in Burbank, and during the Q&A segment of his panel I asked him about that scene, and he said Wilson nailed the scene in one take.

“Annabelle: Creation” presents a good half-hour of relentless jump-scares in the fast-moving climax that are not the fake-scare cheap shots a lot of horror films use. Then, Dauberman’s scripts nicely ties it in to subsequent events of “Annabelle.”

“Annabelle” Creation” is a nice recovery from the original, and with a $30 million opening weekend at the box office, it may well inspire more stories about this never-blinking doll whose smile induces chills.