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Mon04062020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Netflix’s The Laundromat, from normally reliable director Steven Soderbergh, is a mess of a movie despite being filled with Oscar-caliber talent—because it lacks a focused purpose.

The film deals with a real scandal that included insurance fraud in the aftermath of a terrible boating accident in Lake George, N.Y. A cast including Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas is squandered as the movie goes through one discordant tonal shift after another.

Soderbergh starts off well—the boating accident is chillingly filmed—but then he makes some odd choices, including Oldman and Banderas playing a couple of lawyers who break the fourth wall and narrate the film. The movie strives to be clever, but ultimately lacks a focus on its subject matter. The result is confusing rather than compelling.

Props to Streep, who is excellent as a passenger on the ill-fated boat trying to receive insurance compensation. Streep has more than one surprise up her sleeve here.

Ever since Adam McKay made The Big Short a few years ago, films have been trying to capture a darkly comic, real-life vibe like that Oscar-winning film did. They’ve been failing—and The Laundromat fails badly.

The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack during one of its busiest weekends—and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense in Logan Lucky.

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, and then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack. His plan involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and using secret allies within the establishment.

Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and the first one included a reasonably fun and inventive heist. Well, this is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks—but it’s hard to believe this group would have the ability to pull off the heist.

The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard-boiled eggs, and Adam Driver as Jimmy’s one-armed brother. But for every character who is a plus, there’s a lame one, like Seth MacFarlane’s heavily accented millionaire who is not as funny as he thinks he is. Hilary Swank shows up in the final act in a role that feels tacked on.

The movie doesn’t come together in the end, and its robbery scheme is too cute to be realistic. The big reveals feel like a cheat rather than a unique twist.

It’s good to have Soderbergh back in action, but this is just a rehash of something he’s done before—with the addition of a Southern accent. It’s much ado about nothing. There are a few laughs here, but not enough to justify seeing Logan Lucky in theaters.

Logan Lucky is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The first half of Side Effects, director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song, is excellent. Unfortunately, the second half is merely passable.

Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug—with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk its running time.

Then, it suddenly becomes mediocre, as the mysteries start getting solved.

Good things happen before it unravels, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot with Zeta-Jones that stops the movie in its tracks whenever it’s playing out.

Soderbergh says this is it for him and feature films. (His excellent made-for-TV Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is currently running on HBO, and he’s calling that his last film of any kind, period.) Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera someday. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.

Special Features: You only get some fake commercials and a very short look behind-the-scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Steven Soderbergh has said Behind the Candelabra, based on the memoirs of Liberace’s former lover Scott Thorson, would be his last film. If so, he’s going out on a great note. (I find it hard to believe that Soderbergh will never direct again but, hey, you never know.)

Michael Douglas plays the legendary pianist and will certainly be in contention for an Emmy after this, one of his best performances. He captures that funny, overly happy, flamboyant personality that many of us who lived through the 1970s remember so well. He gives one of show business’ greatest caricatures a soul.

As Thorson, one of Liberace’s last boyfriends, Matt Damon is as good, if not better, than Douglas. The two—with Soderbergh’s help, of course—make Liberace and Thorson one of the more compelling screen couples this year.

I was surprised at how funny the film is. Rob Lowe is terrific as Dr. Jack Startz, the facial architect who masterminded Liberace and Thorson’s plastic surgeries. One of the film’s more nightmarish elements is how freaky Liberace, Startz and Thorson look after these procedures. Thorson, who was a very young man when he began his relationship with Liberace, got many unnecessary surgeries, allegedly to achieve a look Liberace found most attractive. For example, he got a dimple put in his chin for the hell of it.

Soderbergh wanted this to be a theatrical release, but has publicly stated that the major studios turned down the film because it’s “too gay.” What a shame. It contains some work that would’ve qualified for Oscar contention. Not only are the performances stellar; the costumes are worthy of accolades as well. Those fur coats and capes are to die for.

Kudos to HBO for backing the project when others wouldn’t. This is a great story for cinema, and it’s good that it found a venue. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

While watching this, I got to thinking that male strippers have done so much better at the movies than female strippers. Men get this almost-cerebral treatment when they take their clothes off; they also get cleverly funny stuff like The Full Monty.

Women get Striptease and Showgirls.

Channing Tatum, who is having a terrific year, stars in this stripper tale, based a bit on his own story before he became a big-actor type. It’s funny and even a little dark, thanks to the work of one Steven Soderbergh, a director who rarely has a misstep. Matthew McConaughey is also on hand as the mentor to the strippers, and, I must say, he’s the best-looking dude in this movie with his shirt off. Sorry, Channing … Matthew is in killer-diller shape!

It’s a fun watch, but don’t rent this one thinking it’s proper for a bachelorette party. It’s an actual movie with drama and lines and stuff. If you are looking for straight-up dancing naked male dudes, you might have to opt for calling up the real thing.

This is a good vehicle for Tatum, who gets to show off his comedic, dramatic and dancing chops—as well as his butt.

SPECIAL FEATURES: All you get is a featurette of the dance sequences, some extended dance sequences and a quick behind-the-scenes look. Virtually nothing went into this.

 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing