Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Logan Lucky
★★★★ M

From the opening scene in which young Sadie Logan (Farrah Mackenzie) helps her daddy, Jimmy (Channing Tatum), repair the engine of his old pick-up truck, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky exudes an engaging warmth. The Logan siblings may consider themselves unlucky but the bonds between them are priceless. We are on their side from go to whoa.

Jimmy’s gammy leg has cruelled his career as a professional footballer, contributed to his divorce from Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and now his dismissal from his job on the mining crew charged with repairing the sink holes under the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Brother Clyde (Adam Driver) is an Iraq War veteran with a prosthetic hand. He works at the Duck Tape Bar. Sister Mellie (Riley Keough) is a hairdresser with a passion for cars.

When Jimmy comes up with an ingenious plan to “divert” some cash from the pneumatic tubes beneath the Speedway, the Logans team up with explosives expert Joe Bang (a very blonde Daniel Craig) and his somewhat less-gifted brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). Joe’s current incarceration in the local Munro correctional facility poses only a minor challenge, despite Warden Burns’ (Dwight Yoakam) dogged assertion that nothing ever goes awry at Munro. Having to carry out the heist during the Coca Cola 600 race allows the inclusion of a sub-plot about the race itself, involving breath-taking racing scenes and a particularly amusing scene involving sports commentators.

Hilary Swank’s late arrival in the film adds yet another twist to this gloriously convoluted caper.

The characters, the plot, the various sub-plots, the astute one-liners delivered poker-faced in broad regional accents, all combine to make this fast-paced film enthralling and frankly hilarious. It is on a par with the best of the Coen brothers’ films. Absolutely a must see!

Final Portrait
★★★★ M

Demonstrating conclusively that his talent does not reside solely in front of the camera, Stanley Tucci has adapted James Lord’s memoir A Giacometti Portrait into an enthralling picture of the artist and his entourage. He elicits an Oscar-worthy performance from Geoffrey Rush in the challenging central role of Alberto Giacometti, while Tony Shalhoub’s subtle portrayal of the artist’s placid younger brother, Diego, is equally impressive.

It is Paris, 1964. American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) agrees to have his portrait painted by his friend Alberto Giacometti, before his imminent return to New York. Assuring his friend that the sitting will take just one afternoon, Giacometti begins to paint what will turn out to be the final portrait of his career. However, one sitting day turns into 18 and Lord has to postpone his return flight four times.

Frustrating though the process becomes for the artist and his subject, at the same time it affords a fascinating insight into not only Giacometti’s creative process but also his personal relationships. While the grumpy, chain-smoking artist and his long-suffering wife Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud) live in draughty, dilapidated quarters off his studio, he openly showers affection and money on his young mistress Caroline (Clemence Poesy), a local prostitute. He has bundles of cash hidden throughout the studio, but money means as little to Giacometti as his own appearance, clad as he is in the same dishevelled clothes day in, day out. Although driven to create, the volatile eccentric is never satisfied with his work, hence his constant revision of the portrait of Lord.

Watching over the ongoing chaos with bemused affection, Diego quietly advises the increasingly stressed Lord how to deal with his brother’s erratic behaviour and how to bring the episode to an amicable end.

Final Portrait looks amazing. The authenticity of the set dressing in production designer James Merifield’s faithful recreation of Giacometti’s Paris studio was overseen by the Giacometti Foundation. This attention to detail is echoed in Liza Bracey’s costumes. Danny Cohen’s exquisite cinematography makes every frame a piece of art in itself.

A masterly piece of film making.

The King’s Choice
★★★★ M

The King's Choice

In 1905, after the dissolution of the union with Sweden, Prince Carl of Denmark became King Haaken VII of Norway. This was only after a referendum had been held, at his insistence, to confirm that this was the wish of the people.

Thirty-five years later, in the early hours of 9 April 1940, Norway is invaded by German forces. However, the Oscarsborg Fortress offered unexpectedly vigorous defence, inflicting heavy losses on the German navy. The King’s Choice tells the story of the next three crucial days, during which the Germans endeavour to intimidate the Norwegian king and his parliament into accepting German “protection”.

Because the sinking of their warship delays the German occupation of Oslo, the royal family and the parliament are able to flee by train. Unlike the military, the German envoy Curt Brauer (Karl Markovics) seeks to pursue a diplomatic resolution. He is ordered directly by Hitler to secure a face-to-face meeting with King Haaken to offer German protection under a puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling and his fascist Nasjonal Samling party, to which King Haaken replies, “I am an elected king. People are heard and their voice is respected.” He insists that, as elected representatives of the people, the members of parliament must decide.

While the dramatic events of this brief period are enthralling, it is director Erik Poppe’s close focus on the human context that is truly fascinating. Like the relationship between the king and the various members of parliament, his family relationships are convincingly drawn, especially the pivotal relationship between him and his son, Crown Prince Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen). Envoy Brauer’s desperate attempts to avoid further bloodshed create conflict not only between himself and the military, but between himself and his wife. John Christian Rosenlund’s camera captures every nuanced emotion.

Powerful performances and impeccable production values earned The King’s Choice its 2017 Academy Award nomination.

Brigsby Bear
★★★ M

For the first 20-odd minutes, Brigsby Bear seems like a home movie version of The Truman Show. James (Kyle Mooney) is a young man, apparently living in a state of arrested development. With his parents, he lives in a sealed bunker in the Utah desert believing that the air outside is toxic. He is fixated on a TV show starring Brigsby, a bear with magic powers and seemingly infinite wisdom. Then, suddenly, this creaky post-apocalyptic film turns into a story about James’ abrupt return to the real world, a world from which he had been removed 25 years previously.

Helping James adjust to life in the 21st century are his sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) and her friend Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg). However, when psychologist Emily (Claire Danes) decrees that James must forget all about Brigsby Bear, drama ensues. Luckily for James, his family and friends, including Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), disagree with Emily. By helping James make the definitive Brigsby Bear film, they help him bring closure to his past and transition to the present, demonstrating what the film makers describe as “the redemptive power of creativity”.

In the course of making his film, James discovers Google. His naïve online queries such as “How do I make good explosives? Thank you” bring some unexpected results.

It’s no great wonder that this whimsical story, co-written by Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney and directed by Dave McCary, attracted such experienced actors as Danes, Kinnear and Mark Hamill. I would not be at all surprised if Brigsby Bear develops a cult following.

Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby Girls High School.