Tag Archives: Hilary Swank

Hard Luck Woman

The Hunt

by Hope Madden

About a year ago, Universal Studios pulled the release of The Hunt because of the amount of gun violence. Commendable.

Later that year, other studios released Ready or Not—critical darling, but didn’t do great box office. Then Knives Out, which was both a critical darling and box office giant. And, of course, Parasite would go on to win all the Oscars. Even documentary short.

While The Hunt does contain a goodly amount of violence—guns, knives, hand grenades, pens, stilettos, kitchen appliances—it also boasts the one thing that appears to be the universal key to entertainment. It hates rich people.

Who doesn’t?!

Director Craig Zobel (Compliance), along with writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (both of TV’s Watchmen and The Leftovers), takes no prisoners as characters take a bunch of prisoners, drop them in a field somewhere and, you know, hunt them down for sport. The film gleefully skewers both the left and the right, often in ways you wouldn’t expect but should.

This is a meticulously structured horror film, the tidy beats allowing the writers to insert surprises that play on your preconceived notions in clever ways. Like Jordan Peele, Zobel proves a nimble manipulator of both horror tropes and social commentary.

And casting.

I have to think Betty Gilpin was the most disappointed when this film was shelved last year because it is her break out. No more support work as the hot mean chick, Gilpin’s Crystal is the wrong badass to underestimate. The performance is never showy but quirky and genuine, which goes a long way toward increasing believability.

Zobel populates the herd with familiar faces (Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan), mainly for sleight of hand. Though most get little screen time, and each is handed a fairly one-dimensional character, both the writing and the performances mine that gimmick for a lot.

Positioned to infuriate everyone in one scene or another, the film is brash and bracingly level headed. It’s violent AF, no doubt, but what it reflects back at us is far smarter than what you  might expect. The Hunt is a darkly comedic, socially savvy, equal opportunity skewering and it is a blast.

Hillbilly Heist

Logan Lucky

by George Wolf

You’re not long into director Steven Soderbergh’s latest before you expect to see Brad Pitt standing around eating something.

Why?

Because Logan Lucky is essentially Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 with hillbillies, which had to intrigue Soderbergh when he first read the script from Rebecca Blunt. If that is her real name.

No, seriously, Blunt is rumored to be a pseudonym for the actual writer, who should just ‘fess up and take credit for this hoot of a heist homage.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets laid off from his job fixing sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, so he puts together a 10-point plan for his next career move. Two of those points are labeled “shit happens.”

The rest is simple.

Jimmy, his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), will bust redneck robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail to help them rob the speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, and then have Joe back in the slam before anyone is the wiser.

Soderbergh structures everything to parallel his Ocean‘s films so closely that when he finally addresses that elephant outright, the only surprise is how often the rubes draw a better hand than the Vegas pretty boys.

Logan serves up indelible characters, fun suspense, finely tuned plotting and solid humor, including a hilarious bit with a prison warden (Dwight Yoakam) explaining to some rioting inmates why the next Games of Thrones novel isn’t available yet.

As Bang, Craig is a flat out riot, doing fine justice to the best character name since Chest Rockwell, and standing out in an ensemble (also including Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan) that shines from top to toe.

Assembled as precisely as a letter-perfect grift, Logan Lucky has smarts, charm and some downright weirdness. It’s a late August blast with more than enough fun to beat our summertime blues.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Not So Happy Trails

The Homesman

by Hope Madden

In front of the camera, Tommy Lee Jones is a world-wearied, direct and laconic actor, but there’s a cowboy poetry about him. He’s no different behind the camera, as his second feature proves. The Homesman brims with the lonesome, brutal beauty of the frontier, but thanks to Jones’s capable storytelling, it offers more than that.

Jones plays George Briggs – if that is the real name of the claim jumping low life who finds himself at the end of a rope and the mercy of the upright Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). A prosperous but “uncommonly single” lady on the frontier, Ms. Cuddy has volunteered her services for a particular journey and will oblige Mr. Briggs to accompany her or remain in his predicament.

What unfolds is a wagon wheel Western of sorts, replete with stunning images of the prairie, beautifully framed by the director. Swank – who can be counted upon to create a vivid if one-dimensional character – can’t help but bring to mind the Mattie Ross role from True Grit. It appears Jones (and Swank) are intentional with this, as Hailee Steinfeld (of the Coen remake) has a late supporting role.

It suggests that Jones is retelling our sentimental Western favorites with a lonelier, harsher but hauntingly beautiful tone.

The journey meets expectations and then subverts them, filling the screen with surprises – some fun, some bitter, all a bit melancholy. And yet there’s a black but entertaining humor in many scenes. The swings in tone, on the whole, are capably handled by a director who mined somewhat similar styles in his underseen 2005 first feature as director, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Peppered with fascinating if jarringly brief cameos, Jones’s film keeps your attention as it journeys slowly East, making a statement about the hard realities of frontier life as well as the more universal ache to be loved.

The territories of the American West have filled our imaginations for more than two hundred years and it can be tough to find a new approach. Jones succeeds in using that same dusty path across the frontier we find so familiar, and even populating the trip with characters we almost remember, yet somehow he tells a truly new and memorable tale.

Verdict-4-0-Stars