Tag Archives: heist thrillers

Logan Lucky

Jay-Z announced his retirement from the rap game in 2003 with his Black Album. He was back three years later. Barbara Streisand retired from public performance in 2000 but has since toured the world not once but twice. Clint Eastwood declared his intention to retire from acting after 2008’s Gran Torino “You always want to quit while you are ahead” — then appeared in the forgettable 2012 movie Trouble With the Curve. Alec Baldwin wrote “Goodbye, public life” in New York Magazine but made three movies the following year. Shia LaBeouf infamous marked his 2014 retirement with his “I’m not famous anymore” campaign, then signed up for a movie role 3 weeks later. Cher embarked on a 3-year farewell tour, then signed up for Las Vegas residency as soon as it ended. Michael Jordan retired from basketball, played a little baseball, then went back to basketball. Point being: fools keep retiring, then unretiring. Director Steven Soderbergh belongs on the list, after telling everyone in 2013 that he’d lost his passion for film making, and that was it for him. Logan Lucky is the movie that brought him out of “retirement” – was it worth it?

loganluckybros.0Having directed Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve AND Thirteen (and producing the upcoming Eight), Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies, but considers this one to be their “anti-glam” cousin. Logan Lucky’s characters are gritty, the setting low-rent, the heist a lot less slick – but not uninteresting.

The Logan family consists of brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), and little sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They’re known locally for the Logan family curse; Clyde believes the bad luck sets in just as things start to pick up for them. He recently lost an arm just as his deployment was ending in Iraq. Jimmy, meanwhile, has just lost his job at the mines where he uncovered a bunch of tubes that blast cash money from a NASCAR speedway to an underground bank vault. You can practically see the light bulb go BING! above his head. Soon he’s plotting an elaborate sting that will reverse the family’s fortunes. The one little hitch in is plan is that the heist requires the expertise of Joe Bang, bomb maker (Daniel Craig). And it just so happens that Joe Bang’s in prison. Which means to pull of the heist, they first have to break Joe out of (and then back into) prison.

The caper’s afoot! Logan Lucky has a fun ensemble cast that keep things spicy. The film works because Soderbergh reaches for his familiar bag of tricks: a zippy pace, an almost zany plot. These characters are perhaps not the cleverest, they’re reaching above their pay grade. Half the fun is watching things go wonky. Instead of plot twists, Logan Lucky is peppered with…shall we call them mishaps? Small calamities that keep you groaning, and guessing. It’s almost farcical, and to that end, it’s well-cast. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Daniel Craig is its shining, absurd beacon, stealing all the scenes he’s in and making you anticipate his next one when we’re following someone else.

Unfortunately, the movie really loses steam during its last act. Introducing Hilary Swank as the detective pursuing the case feels both rushed and drawn-out at the same time, somehow. Plus she’s kind of awful. But you know what? The film’s final 10 seconds save the whole damn thing, the cinematic equivalent of a smirk and a wink, and I fell for it.

Welcome back, Mr. Soderbergh.

 

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The Town

Ben Affleck branded Charlestown the “bank robbery capital” of America in his movie about the neighbourhood, The Town. Neither cops nor statistics actually bears that statement out, but he certainly painted a picture of a rough neighbourhood where its inhabitants (“townies”) scowl at outsiders and steal everything that’s not nailed down. Sean and I have been to Boston a few times so I can’t quite recall which time we ventured out to “the town” for some dinner but I do recall deliberating whether we should. Sure the internet was calling this Moroccan restaurant one of Boston’s best, but did we feel safe?

hero_EB20100915REVIEWS100919991ARClearly things have changed since Ben Affleck last spent the night in Charlestown. When we visited, it was gentrified as hell, Beamers parked up and down the street. It’s also been a while since we last watched the film, so without the benefit of bellydancers or couscous, we gave it a re-watch.

Ben Affleck came on board as director only after someone else bowed out. His original cut of the movie was 4 hours long, and if you’re interested, it’s available to watch on the Blu-Ray. The studio convinced him to cut it down to 2 hours, 8 minutes for our sake, still a lengthy movie, but one that just flies by. Affleck’s character assembles a team of ruffians who brazenly rob banks and armoured trucks. He’s wanting to get out of this life, but neither his friends nor his enemies are willing to let him go. So that’s a complication. Another little wrinkle: the woman he’s currently in a relationship with is a former hostage of his, only she doesn’t know it. So that’s awkward.

You can tell Affleck is an actor-director; the action scenes are electric but the editing slows way down during character-driven scenes. He lingers over them. And he knows a great performance when he sees one. In The Town, the scene stealer was Jeremy Renner, who Casey Affleck recommended when Ben couldn’t get Mark Walhberg. Affleck has since said that Renner’s performance was so strong that he could literally save a scene by cutting to Renner looking down at a napkin.

Anyway, whether or not The Town is an accurate portrayal of the people and criminals who live there, it’s an excellent film, slick and well-paced, and it definitely benefits from great on-location shooting. The Boston on screen no longer exists, if it ever did, but it’s a great cinematic accomplishment for a hometown boy.

The Love Punch

When Richard’s company gets bought out by a bigger company, he and his colleagues see their retirement fund disappear overnight. With the prospect of not being able to support his daughter just off to college, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and his ex-wife, Kate (Emma Thompson) appeal to the young new director who – surprise! – doesn’t give a shit. So they hatch a little plan to steal their money back in the form of the very large diamond lately dangling from his fiancee’s neck.

the_love_punchRichard and Kate, who haven’t spoken much in years, now find themselves travelling to France together to the perfect cover to their crime: the high-society wedding between the director and his blushing bride. Kate gets relegated to some hen party high-jinks while Richard naps, but her intel is good: a foursome from Texas, business partners the director has not yet met in person, are expected to attend. All they need are two more accomplices. So they call up their good suburban neighbours Pen (Celia Imrie) and Jerry (Timothy Spall) who are for some reason pretty game to join in this merry heist.

Then follow the obligatory jokes about retirement-aged folks planning the perfect crime: weak bladders, low endurance, the need for naps, har har har. If you’ve always wanted to see Emma Thompson in Dallas-era hair and a twangy accent, this is your chance. A couple of James Bond references make the movie a little cheeky and the talent between the four leads means an awful lot of charisma. Emma Thompson shines in everything. But this material is beneath her, beneath them all and they can’t save a clunky, predictable scrip that is frankly a little insulting to anyone over the age of 60. And that’s too bad because I really enjoyed director Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, also starring Thompson and Dustin Hoffman who enjoy a late-in-life romance. Watch that one instead.

Shimmer Lake

Shimmer Lake is a murder mystery told backwards. The story reverses day by day through a week as a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist gone wrong and the three local criminals he suspects. Innovative? Sure, maybe a little. Confusing? Maybe a lot. It’s just a lot of story to keep track of.  And often the first time we meet a new character, he or she is a dead body. Ten or fifteen minutes later for us is usually a day earlier for them, so the corpse reanimates and is suddenly a major player.

Now, telling the story backwards is a gimmick, and one that in my opinion, doesn’t really MV5BZGQ0OWFhNTgtYTJiOS00MDU1LTg2MTgtZTU5NzQ4Yjg0YzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_pay off. I suppose the story was too generic to get greenlit when played forward, but for future purposes, I’d appreciate it if Netflix could release movies in their natural order, and I’ll use my rewind button if I feel a particular need to bedevil my brains. Without proper introductions, I couldn’t even keep the character names straight. One of the film’s running jokes has its punchline right at the beginning but then we have to watch it get set up one morning at a time. It’s the kind of movie that might require some note-taking but it’s not good enough for me to be motivated to go rummage around in the drunk drawer for a pen.

With credits like Rainn Wilson Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins, I expected them to put the comedy into black comedy. They don’t. Shimmer Lake seems to have some over-the-top elements but it never really embraces them. The script is safe and scrubbed of laughs. Oren Uziel, one of 5 writers credited for 22 Jump Street, writes and directs this one all by his lonesome. And while I appreciate that Netflix is trying to take some risks, this one doesn’t pay off. Or, it does, but only in the last seconds, which means you’ll spend the vast majority of this film not enjoying it very much at all. The ends do not justify the means.

 

The Art of the Steal

Crunch and Nicky Calhoun are conman brothers, part of a merry little gang who steals art. Crunch (Kurt Russell) gets double-crossed by his own brother (Matt Dillon) when a heist goes wrong and winds up spending 7 years in a Romanian prison where he learns that trust, not cash, is the ultimate currency. When he gets out, he lives a semi-legit life with a new wife, a new sidekick (Jay Baruchel), and a second-rate motorcycle-daredevil career.

hero_artofthesteal-2014-1But then Nicky comes calling. One last heist, he says (is there really such a thing?). And since Crunch is so low on funds, they assemble the old gang and pursue a tricky art swap, even with Interpol (Terence Stamp) breathing down their necks.

I found this movie recently added to Netflix, but not very generously reviewed. I gave it a chance because: Kurt Russell. He’s kind of a badass. And Jay Baruchel, who I have enormous love for. And you know what? It’s not a bad movie. It’s not overly great either, it’s just an easy-watch heist movie that borrows a little to heavily from better movies. But the cast is extremely watchable, and the writing’s not bad, it’s just formulaic. So if you have no time to waste, skip it. But if you like the genre, I think you’ll get along just fine with the film.

Bonus for Canadians: much of the film is not just filmed in Canada but takes place ADMITTEDLY in Canada, and stars a whole bunch of Canadians, aside from Baruchel, including Katheryn Winnick, Niagara Falls, Kenneth Walsh, Chris Diamantopoulous, Quebec City, Jason Jones, Devon Bostick, Tim Hortons, and piles of fluffy home-grown snow.

Hell or High Water

This movie is more high-noon western than high-octane thriller, but there is indeed a heist at its heart.

Two brothers, Toby, tall and handsome (Chris Pine), and Tanner, short and surly (Ben hell-or-high-water-chris-pine-ben-fosterFoster), have little in common except for the rough past they come from, which they are both desperate to escape. Toby has spent the last few years caring for their mother while the family ranch slips away. Tanner has spent the past year since he’s been released from jail tempting the fates to put him back. Now they’re working together to save the family ranch from default – and will do so by robbing a bunch of Texas Midland bank branches, and paying the bank back with its own stolen money.

The only catch: sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is close to retirement but not keen to go, and this one last case is not going to be the blemish on his career. He chases the brothers all over Texas until he pinpoints the next branch they’re about to hit, and lies in wait.

Hell Or High Water is superbly acted. You can’t even say with certainty which of the three leads steals the film, but they’re all making the right choices, the quiet choices that make for the most interesting of character studies. That said, the secondary characters – and hell, even the one-liners – are all praise-worthy here. And I am obliged, once again, to worship at the altar of Jeff Bridges, chronically underrated but truly one of the wonders of the world.

The pace helps set this movie apart. It’s not fast or furious: it blows by at about the speed of a tumbleweed in a gentle breeze, which means you have time to get to know everyone, 97178_044and in getting to know them, maybe you actually care. There is a certain sympathy accrued for both the cops and the robbers. It’s the kind of movie that made the car ride home extra engaging, as we figured where they all stood on the Bad Guy Scale. Toby, for example, is robbing the bank that robbed him. He’s doing it to give his kids a future. But he’s using a gun, which means people could get hurt. So is he good, bad, or somewhere in between? 49% good? 51% good? 75% relatable? 100% justified?

One thing’s for sure: the blackest hat of all is reserved for the banks. The Big Short was last year’s testament to the American Dream’s foreclosure, and although my hat’s off to Adam McKay for making a narrative film out of a nonfiction book (and I don’t mean a biography – this baby was characterless, plotless, and read more like a textbook, by which I mean full of facts and figures, but not remotely dry or boring), it never really resonated with me. Hell or High Water puts a name and a face to poverty, and calls it a disease. An epidemic, even. Director David Mackenzie has accomplished something significant here, dragging the good old Western into the 21st century, a time of economic anxiety, where the little towns look even more derelict and neglected than they did in the wild, wild west. There’s an ache to this film cultivated by fantastic dialogue and scenic shots, handily catapulting itself into my top 5 of 2016.

The Las Vegas Chronicles: Ocean’s 11

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) puts together his 11-man team of thieves to pull the ultimate heist, he’s got some iconic Las Vegas locations in mind: the Bellagio, The MGM Grand, and The Mirage.

The main action takes place at the swankiest of the hotels, the Bellagio, home of those famous fountains. The Bellagio gave the crew unprecedented access, and even closed down their valet parking during filming, forcing even the high rollers to use underground parking (egads!). When Julia Roberts makes her entrance, it’s  down the beautiful staircase in the Bellagio Conservatory but no, you can’t recreate that scene, because the stairs were soon torn down to make room for a spa wing. The biggest stars all stayed at the Bellagio too, and gambled during their down time. George Clooney says Matt Damon won the most money, while Damon insists it was Brad Pitt. The only thing the whole cast agrees on is that it was George who lost the most: he managed to lose an astonishing 25 hands of blackjack in a row.

We’re writing about movies set in Las Vegas this week because that happens to be where we’re hiding out. It’s often called sin city, and I can only assume that sin is gluttony. Las Vegas is home to some of the most fabulous eateries in the entire world. You could easily find a different 12-course, $1200 meal every night of the week, or, alternatively, you could do all-you-can-eat shellfish for $12.99. Brad Pitt’s character is always taking advantage of Las Vegas’s fine foods – in one scene where he’s spying on Julia Roberts, his character is eating shrimp cocktail, and filming went on long enough that Pitt ended up eating 40 shrimps, which is maybe not all you can eat, but definitely more than you should.

In the movie, the script called for the blowing up of hotel New York, New York. However, in the wake of 9\11, it was thought that this image would be too disturbing, and a fake hotel, the Xanadu, stood in. The Xanadu never exited but it was planned to be Vegas’s first mega-resort in the 1970s. Disputes over sewage disrupted plans and it was never built.

And how can we talking about Vegas without talking about Elvis – or talk about this movie without mentioning the song that was remixed and used so successfully? Producers wanted to stay away from the obviousness of “Viva Las Vegas” so they used Presley’s A Little Less Conversation instead, giving it a modern mix. It soon found traction on the radio and became a hit, decades after it was originally recorded. The King is alive and well.

Ocean’s 11 closes with that shot in front of the fountain. The characters saunter away a little mournfully, one by one – a shot that had to be orchestrated for the movie and wouldn’t be possible in real life. They had to drain one of the fountains so the guys had somewhere to go. In the original Ocean’s 11, the men walked away from the Sands casino, which is where many members of the rat pack were performing at the time (in fact, most of the movie had to be filmed in the mornings since the guys sleep in the afternoon, perform at night, get hair and makeup done in the wee hours, and show up to set as the sun rose). Sammy Davis Jr. was not allowed to stay on the strip with his cast-mates and had to be shuttled to a “colored” hotel, and this man was a bona fide player and Vegas mainstay. Sinatra had to appeal to the casino owners for special dispensation to break the colour barrier. How’s that for some warm and fuzzy Vegas nostalgia?

 

We’re traipsing around Vegas this week, so be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter (@assholemovies) – shenanigans guaranteed.

 

The Forger

The Forger

For those who like a little Kids with Cancer with their heist movies, John Travolta’s latest may be for you.

Travolta plays Raymond Cutter, a skilled art forger who, upon learning that his teenage son is terminally ill, begs his old crime boss to pull some strings to get him released from prison with only months left to go on his sentence. Of course, nothing’s free in these kinds of movies and his boos wants something in return: forge me a Monet and steal me the real one. Not an easy task under the best of times but even harder when you’re trying to bond with your estranged sick son and your estranged Dad at the same time.

I had a short conversation with Khalid from The Blazing Reel last week about Travolta’s many questionable choices but I was amazed when watching The Forger how bad things really have gotten for him. I’m amazed that this wasn’t a straight-to DVD release. As I implied in my opening paragraph, the pairing of the sick kid family drama and caper picture feels awkward and a little crass. Travolta, as well as Christopher Plummer and Tye Sheridan (who play Travolta’s father and son), really seem to be trying but the family drama really doesn’t give them much to work with. Cutter spends most of his bonding time with his son by taking him to see a prostitute and teaching him to forge paintings. The father-son story takes up so much of the film’s running time that little time is left over for the planning and execution of the heist itself, which is pretty much rushed through at the end.

Still, I can’t claim indifference. I found myself wanting things to work out for these three characters. Knowing that Travolta himself has lost a son made it impossible for me to write off the story as completely trite. Unfortunately, there’s just not a single new twist or idea to be found in this movie that tries to be two movies without delivering on either one.

Focus

After being one of the world’s most reliable hit makers and bankable movie stars, Will Smith focusmovietook a hiatus from making good movies. He felt he’d contributed his share of watchable movies to the world and it was time to make some crap ones for a change. He’s excelled at the crapfest for a while now, but I guess his paycheques must have started to reflect the loss of box office, so Focus is meant to be his comeback.

But is it?

Only three of us saw Selma together, and only two made it out to Birdman, but somehow all imagesfour of us, every last Asshole, made time in his or her busy schedule to take in Will Smith’s latest. Our low expectations turned out to be a gift for the film, which very slightly exceeded them.  It wasn’t a bad movie, per se, and the trouble at any rate wasn’t attributable to the Fresh Prince.

Matt was wary of the movie before it even started. Focus is a heist movie and Smith plays a con man. And savvy little movie goers that we are, we know that the con man isn’t just trying to con the bad guy, he’s also trying to con the audience. So you have to be on guard. Sean felt that because he couldn’t trust anything, he never felt invested in the characters, and just couldn’t enjoy it that much. The formula is tired. The first time a movie like this tricks you, it’s great. But when they all line up to trick you, it’s just annoying. You don’t buy the tricks anymore, but you don’t buy into anything else, either. When M. Night Shyamalan brought us The Sixth Sense, we were dazzled, but by the time The Happening Lady in the Water The Village rolled around, we were over it. We’re over it!

margotrobbieBut do you know what we’re not over? Margot Robbie! In fact, most of us agreed that we’d like to be under her. She’s a delight and a half and I can’t wait to stare to her lips watch her in whatever else she’s working on – a Tarzan movie with Alexander Skarsgård (she plays Jane, of course), and Suicide Squad where she’ll reteam with Smith (he plays Deadshot) as Harley Quinn, supervillain and girlfriend ofmargot-robbie The Joker (Jared Leto). After stealing scenes from Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and charming the pants off us (and the watches off most of her costars) in Focus, it’s fair to say that whether this movie flops or not, Margot Robbie is a rising star.

Focus

As much as I always enjoy the chance to see a SilverCity pre-screening, it’s hard for me to get enthusiastic about a movie about a couple of grifters. Especially the master and apprentice kind, where a seemingly hopeless but but enthusiastic novice tells a seasoned veteran “Show me how to do what you do”. I couldn’t help entering the theater thinking that I had already seen every possible twist, every possible combination of who’s playing who and who’s been in on it the focus 1whole time. Having been tricked before, I vowed to go in with my eyes open.

Focus didn’t throw anything at us that I haven’t already seen. I can’t say I was able to predict every single twist. I couldn’t possibly. The movie shifted gears so many times that I couldn’t always tell which trick was coming next but, once it came, it was usually familiar.

Which isn’t to say that there’s nothing to like. Focus is more than a heist film, it’s a comeback film for Will Smith after a nearly two-year absence after 2013’s unsuccessful After Earth. His career has had more surprises and twists than Focus does and I’ve enjoyed watching him continue to improve as an actor ever since his sitcom days. Now well into his forties, he plays Nicky as confident instead of coky, with none of that goofy hamminess he brought to most of focus 2his earlier movies. His banter with up and coming co-star Margot Robbie is much more fun to watch than the execution of the scams are, which are rarely clever and often just plain sillly.

Smith and Robbie look great and so does the movie. Directors Glenn Ficcara and John Requa find the coolest bars and know how to shoot them and, just like in their last movie Crazy Stupid Love, the bar seduction scenes are the best in the movie. The clothes, the lighting, the slick editing, and confidence of the two leads can make the dialogue sound smarter than it really is.