Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Ingrid Goes West

                             “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me”
                                                               Pete Townsend, from Tommy (1969)

                                                      Review by Ken Burke
               
                                           Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer)
                     
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Ingrid, obsessed with her presence (or lack thereof) on social media becomes celebrity-infatuated with the latest Web sensation, Taylor, a woman seemingly like herself (Because they’re both young? Attractive? Stupid?). Funded by a small inheritance from her mother, she foolishly zips off to LA in hopes of entering this "star"’s inner circle, which she does by dubious means.  Once they’ve seemingly become actual friends—not just cyberlinked “friends”—Ingrid feels her life now has meaning until Taylor starts sharing her attentions with yet-another Internet personality as well as her obnoxious brother, initiating a series of crises for Ingrid that continue to compound.  This is a witty satire of social media addicts, laced with some serious implications about what it takes to become famous in such an oddly-demanding-environment; it’s not yet playing in too many theaters but seems to be expanding so I recommend it for either seeking out now if you can or later in some video incarnation (but not on your cell phone).

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐  OK, continue on if you like.

What Happens: Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is such an unaccomplished, occupationally-neutral (even mentally-ill) young woman that her entire identity is wrapped up in somehow being an Internet sensation, so much so than when acquaintance Charlotte (Meredith Hagner)—not even an actual friend, just someone who once commented on an Ingrid post, then became cyber-stalked by her—doesn’t invite Ingrid to her lavish wedding the lonely, selfish, offended-Instagramer shows up anyway to ruin the occasion by spraying the bride with Mace.  This leads to a stay in a mental hospital for Ingrid, during which time her only real friend, her mother, dies, leaving her directionless-daughter about $60,000 which Ingrid, instead of investing it somehow in a reasonable future plan (we never sense she has any marketable skills that could likely lead to a stable career), uses to move cross-country to Venice, CA (a famous LA beach town) where she hopes to somehow connect with rising Internet sensation Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), whom she’s read about in a pop-culture-magazine as a trendy-attraction (whose “fame” is largely based on hawking supplied products in Instagram posts, so she becomes well-known only as a photogenic, congenial person who attracts a lot of followers, including Ingrid; the structure of any of these Web sites allows messages and responses which Ingrid assumes are much more personal than Taylor ever intended so she’d determined to somehow connect up with Taylor, to share in that cyber-celebrity-status).

 With her ready cash Ingrid’s able to easily rent an apartment (managed by Dan Pinto [O’Shea Jackson Jr.], aspiring scriptwriter/obsessed Batman enthusiast), frequent Taylor’s favorite eateries, mimic (“tailor”?) her "media crush"’s hairstyle/clothing in anticipation of somehow meeting this rising star which does happen when they encounter each other in a shop only Ingrid doesn’t know how to advance the opportunity so she merely (secretly) follows Taylor home to see where she lives, later breaks in to steal her dog, Rothko, then returns the pet supposedly in response to the “lost dog” fliers posted around the neighborhood.  Refusing any reward, Ingrid ingratiates herself with Taylor and husband Ezra O’Keefe (Wyatt Russell)—an artist, of sorts, whose style is to silkscreen words onto other people’s paintings or photos (“found art,” he says of those backgrounds)—leading to Ingrid fast becoming their friend.  Next, she borrows Dan’s pickup truck to help transport Taylor to her Joshua Tree home in the desert with a promise to have it back by the same night because he’s having an important script reading.  Instead, Ingrid and Taylor find cocaine in his glove compartment, party into the wee hours at a local bar bonding over various superficialities, then Ingrid causes some stupid, notable damage to the truck on the drive back, telling Dan the next morning she’ll pay for the damage.  That leads to a date where Dan tells her he’s an orphan who’s attracted to the Batman story of Bruce Wayne, another orphan who became a superhero through inner toughness and determination rather than extraordinary human abilities; this all leads to sex, followed by their genuine mutual attraction which continues throughout this increasingly-crazy-plot.

 ⇒Ingrid’s most vital attraction’s still toward Taylor, though, which becomes strained when drug-addict-brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up to live with her and Ezra for awhile, followed by the further distraction of Taylor getting close with fashion-blogger Harley Chung (Pom Klementieff).  Soon, Ingrid’s distraught rather than merely distracted when Nicky (who keeps calling her “Olga”) finds her misplaced cell phone, revealing all sorts of evidence of Ingrid’s obsession with Taylor (including photos of her bathroom belongings from the first night Ingrid came to the house) which he threatens to reveal to his sympathetic sister unless Ingrid starts paying him $5,000 a month (he seems to have no marketable skills either, except looking like he should be on some beefcake calendar).  In an attempt to scare him off, Ingrid pays a guy $200 to hit her, tells Dan it was Nicky, enlists his help in kidnapping Nicky to make intimidating threats, but Nicky fights back more than expected, Dan's injured, Ingrid beans Nicky with a crowbar, then whisks Dan off to a hospital.  By the time Ingrid sees Taylor and Ezra again Nicky’s told them everything so Ingrid’s bluntly shut out of their lives; however, not to be denied her desired media status, Ingrid spends her last $50,000 to buy the Joshua Tree house next to Taylor’s, keeps leaving unanswered messages (Ezra finally growls a verbal “cease and desist” demand), then slips into the couple’s Halloween party (partly sneaking a charge for her "sacred" phone as her electricity’s cut off for non-payment of her bill).⇐  

 ⇒She’s thrown out again (with Taylor upset over Ingrid’s stalking, ignoring her own shallowness as Ingrid was more of a convenient acquisition for her [especially in buying an Ezra painting, the only one he’d ever sold] than a true friend), so Ingrid goes home, uses her recharged phone to post a video of herself admitting to the “Instafans” she’s acquired through her shared photos with Taylor that she’s just a lying, lonely failure about to kill herself with a pill overdose.  Dan sees her video, calls 911 to get her to a hospital to save her life (but even when she comes to, the first thing she says is “Where’s my phone?”), then finally brings her joy by showing how her posted suicide “note” went viral so she’s now got thousands of followers of her own, all sympathetic to her situation, as we end with her smiling face in the recovery room as #iamingrid is now the toast of Instagram.⇐

So What? In my previous posting (August 23, 2017) I wondered if my personal satisfaction with the humorous depiction of blatant Southern stereotypes (although the West Virginia locale also borders on the Midwest) would play as successfully with the rural folks being depicted in the hilarious heist movie, Logan Lucky (Steven Soderberg).  This week I have to wonder the same thing about Millennial viewers of Ingrid Goes West, whether they’ll see find the primary female characters’ investment in Internet fame to be funny or take offense at how Taylor becomes a budding celebrity simply by constantly being seen on smartphone screens while Ingrid’s clearly a pathetic person with no grander ambition than to “lead” an enormous number of obsessed-cyber-followers.  As an older guy (pushing 70, NOT the new upper-limit of “middle-aged” unless medical science can somehow successfully extend me past 100 along with political/environmental science somehow successfully changing the horrid direction our planet’s currently headed in, a fundamental need if there’s even to be a inhabitable planet for any of us as the next decades advance), I found plenty of humor in the plot lines of Ingrid … (as well as pity for this poor woman whose entire existence seems tied to being in Taylor’s inner circle) with its snarky jabs at the all-encompassing-fascinations with social media currently turning industrial cultures into an endless avalanche of self-promotion and opinion-sharing. (Which I admit I’m also a part of, in that without Web sites to allow such existences as Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark [#BestreviewsEVER—no, not a real thing!] to emerge—and attract interest from 40,000+ readers in recent weeks [not this one, though; see the very end of this posting]—my clusters of idiosyncratic comments would never find a home in traditional journalistic structures; I also got a laugh out of Ezra’s supposed-technophobia because he uses only a simple flip-phone, as I do, leaving the intricacies of those smartphones to my more inquisitive wife, Nina.) However, whether a wide audience of 20-to-30-somethings will choose to laugh this much at themselves remains to be seen as this film’s now expanding to a much greater number of theaters.

 ⇒It’s also not clear how much we should be laughing about the cyber-sensation Ingrid becomes when she attempts suicide; sure, this a satirical take on how possessed so very many of us become with the attention paid to us (or not) on sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and God knows what else (that I pay no attention to/am oblivious about, despite millions of users constantly checking to see who’s responded to their latest postings about their opinions on this and that or where they’re currently eating avocado toast), but when we’re already living in a culture where cyber-bullying leads real people—usually those ostracized by their self-important-peers—to commit suicide it’s sad her attempt at death is what will finally bring some sense of accomplishment to rudderless Ingrid.  Even worse, will all of these open-hearted-followers continue to support her massive emotional needs when she’s back to more mundane activities or will she have to continue to live on the edge of mental despair to keep these “customers” satisfied?⇐  Yes, I know this is just a film, intended to call attention to the extremes that over-reliance on social media have caused in our increasingly-connected-yet-actually-isolated world (an ironic twist on Canadian English literature professor/social theorist Marshall McLuhan's 1960’s prediction of a shift from top-down-dominated-print-based-cultures to an electronic form of a "global village"), but satire has a serious underbelly that mere parody does not, in this case the concept that a life may only have meaning when it ceases to exist, that it may take something that drastic for anyone involved in such a situation—including Ingrid—to even realize what’s missing in a world where everything that matters is found only in strings of photos and endless short verbalizations flowing along on our tiny screens.

Bottom Line Final Comments: I continue to find myself not very fascinated with many of the current cinema choices in my area (or don’t want to travel too far in hopes something might be as interesting as it sounds) so I was almost ready to go with The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Patrick Hughes), despite its low critical response (Rotten Tomatoes 39% positive reviews, a surprisingly-higher 47% average from the Metacritic snobs) because it’s playing locally and I’d think something useful could come from the combination of Ryan Reynolds (I even liked Green Lantern [Martin Campbell, 2011]), Samuel Jackson, Selma Hayek, and the great Gary Oldman, but then my always-alert-wife heard local San Francisco radio talk-show-host Ronn Owens (on KGO-AM, 10am-noon PDT M-F if you want to sample him [scroll to the bottom of their page for the On Air button]) praising Ingrid ... so our usual Friday viewing troupe agreed to return to the fabulous Grand Lake Theatre, an Oakland show palace since the early glory days of Hollywood (1926) that none of us had been to in awhile (although when driving to our frequent-locations in Berkeley we pass the large marquee where tenant Allen Michaan's [Renaissance Rialto, Inc.] leftist political messages add controversial flavor to the film titles) to see what this social-media-farce was all about (with additional encouragement from RT’s 88% positive reviews, MC’s expected-lower-score of 71%).  

 I commend Michaan for taking a chance with Ingrid …, although if the weekend evening shows (pre-screening accompaniment with Mighty Wurlitzer organ recitals) don’t draw in more than those who attended our viewing (about 25 patrons in the main auditorium, a space probably with 700 seats) I doubt the rental fees will even match the popcorn sales—we bought some, just to help out.  Ingrid … didn’t do much better on the other domestic (U.S.-Canada) screens last weekend either, making only about $783,000 in 647 venues (for a roughly $1.3 million take over 3 weeks in release), compared to The Hitman’s … $10.3 million in 3,377 theaters (a $39.8 million gross after 2 weeks), but overall it was a down weekend for movie attendance, reported as the worst in the last 16 years.

 As always with Two Guys, there’s no payola for promoting the Grand Lake Theatre—or anything else mentioned—just the satisfaction of encouraging moviegoers to attend this cinematic palace.

 If you follow my lead in setting out to see Ingrid Goes West I encourage you to arrive early enough to settle in by feature-start-time so you can enjoy the addition of a strange, simple, short animation from Neon (the distributor) about an ambiguous nude figure whose ultimate message is simply, “I love you.”  Then, after submerging yourself in this filmic study of social-media-addiction and its destructive psychological impacts you might want to enhance your thoughts about Ingrid, Taylor, and their constructed worlds with some indulgence in my Musical Metaphors for this funny-yet-disturbing-narrative.  You might know by now how I end my reviews with the use of somehow-related-songs in order to provide one last avenue of commentary via lyrics and instrumentation, allowing some meditation on what’s occurred in the cinematic material under analysis from the juxtaposition of appropriate tunes (at least to me, although I admit some of my choices are far-fetched), which in this case will lead us a bit into meta-Metaphorical-land because—with only the 1 review this week I’m trying to be generous where I can—the songs I’ve chosen to speak to a cynical presentation about the ubiquitous web of social media that envelops us are cynical statements about the popular music business itself, so it’s a case of using commentaries to make commentary.

 I’ll start with John Sebastian’s “Nashville Cats” (on the 1966 album Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulVQsQBenvs* which pokes subtle fun at the abundance of industry-protected-session-musicians in the C&W capital of Nashville, TN: “Nashville cats, been playin’ since they’s babies Nashville cats, get work before they’re two […] Well, there’s sixteen thousand eight hundred ‘n’ twenty-one Mothers from Nashville All their friends play music, and they ain’t uptight If one of the kids will Because it’s custom made for any mother’s son To be a guitar picker in Nashville And I sure am glad I got a chance to say a word about The music and the mothers from Nashville.”  Sebastian gets in a clever allusion to “motherf***er” at the end here, seemingly showing a snide attitude toward this abundance of homegrown, insular guitarists without having to use an utterance which George Carlin would later make famous in his monologue about the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" (or radio)** on his 1972 Class Clown album.

*A poor-quality-video from a live 1966 performance enhanced with the sounds of the record’s well-recorded-audio; this link also has lots of info about this Sebastian-led-band if you’re interested.

**You might also like a later live skit which you can hear (and watch) here with Carlin commenting on the original “Seven Words” routine (adding a few new extras but still ending on a pun about “prick”), although be warned that all these "dirty" words still carry an impact to easily-offended-ears despite now being easily found in many aspects of both our daily speech and our popular culture.

 Next, I’ll turn to The Byrds with their swipe at the pop music industry, “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (from their 1967 Younger Than Yesterday album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMaJWESoZlk (a 1967 live performance with an era-appropriate-dose of psychedelic imagery mixed in) containing the sarcastic advice to “Just get an electric guitar Then take some time [but not much] And learn how to play And with your hair swung right, And your pants too tight It’s gonna be all right […] Sell your soul to the company Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware And in a week or two If you make the charts The girls’ll tear you apart.”  But, if you’d prefer to be more musically-generic about how social adulation is heaped upon those who rise—or scheme—their way into attenuated-public-consciousness as a commentary on the caustic messages of Ingrid Goes West, then I’ll return us to my post-opening-quote from The Who’s “See, Feel Me” (originally on their 1969 rock opera album, Tommy, although there’s not a separate listening but instead you’d find it to be part of the finale song [on disc 2, track 6], “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7AHblQ3_oM (a live performance from the famous 1969 Woodstock Festival as presented in the Woodstock documentary [Michael Wadleigh, 1970; review in our October 22, 2015 posting] in its original multi-image format [although the visuals are a bit dark so I’d recommend watching it in full-screen YouTube mode—but if you’d prefer a bit brighter video option, although re-edited into a standard single-image format—you can go here; you might prefer this one in YouTube full-screen also]) where the social adulation gets raised to religious heights: “Listening to you, I get the music Gazing at you, I get the heat Following you, I climb the mountain I get excitement at your feet Right behind you, I see the millions On you, I see the glory From you, I get opinions From you, I get the story.”  Ingrid debased herself by allowing this kind of blind devotion toward Taylor's persona with Spicer warning us not to do the same in our own lives.

 In parting, I offer my condolences (and contributions to various relief agencies) to all of those in my former home state of Texas who’ve faced the recent invasion of Hurricane Harvey, bringing a full spectrum of inconvenience to displacement to destruction to death across a large swath of the Lone Star state.  Although I moved away from there in 1984 I still have friends and former classmates in the Dallas, Austin, and Houston-Galveston areas who’ve been directly impacted by these massive winds, rains, and flood waters—although I’m not (yet) aware of anyone I personally know facing direct physical or economic harm—so I’ll just pass on my sincere hopes for the deluge to end, the new inland lakes to recede, the cleanup and reconstruction to move forward even as full recovery’s now being predicted to range from months to years.  For those fortunate enough to ride out the storms, with rebuilding their ongoing project, you have my admiration and support because I lived through several hurricanes that battered Galveston from the late 1950s to the mid-‘60s so I do have some idea of what you’re enduring now, although nothing in terms of flooding has ever been this bad in the full history of the U.S. (Yet, the unnamed 1900 hurricane, also a Category 4 storm, that devastated my old home town of Galveston [before the 10-mile-long, 17-foot-high seawall was built] remains the deadliest natural disaster, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people.)
              
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Here’s more information about Ingrid Goes West:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEwRC5tzjNE (31:12 interview with writer-director Matt Spicer and actors Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen)



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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wind River and Short Takes on Logan Lucky

  Criminal Acts: One Cluster Quite Bitter, The Other Much Sweeter

                                                          Reviews by Ken Burke
            
                                                      Wind River (Taylor Sheridan)
                
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): When a teenager’s body is found in the vast snowy emptiness of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation a novice FBI agent joins forces with a local tracker to attempt to find the reason why this girl would run barefoot through such a killing climate; along the way we find out the tracker’s got a personal investment in this case, one that resulted in divorce a few years earlier.  This is a brutal story from the screenwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water, once again about some of the worst aspects of human nature highlighted by desolate geographical settings, told in a forceful manner that comes across as well worth watching despite its brief depictions of horrid crimes; it should be reasonably available in many areas as it’s expanding its coverage while enjoying a healthy critical response (although a few aren't convinced).

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐  OK, continue on if you like.

What Happens: Trauma begins immediately with widescreen shots of a young woman, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille Chow), running aimlessly—barefoot, not at all properly dressed for such cold!—across a snow-covered-field until she collapses, dead (we also hear a female voiceover of downbeat poetry).  Next, we watch U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) protect a herd of goats from some wolves by killing one with a sniper rifle, causing the others to scatter.  While local ranchers in Lander, WY and nearby (ruggedly-remote) Wind River Indian Reservation appreciate his services, ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones) just adds further chill to the already-freezing-winter-environment especially when he comes to pick up their son, Casey (Teo Briones), for visits (she also informs him of her job interview in Jackson Hole, about 160 miles away, which will further strain his family ties).  Ex-father-in-law Dan Crowheart (Apesanahkwat), is more amenable but his wife, Alice (Tantoo Cardinal), like Wilma, is snippy based on what we find out later: ⇒Her granddaughter/Corey’s daughter, Emily, died in a similarly-mysterious brutal manner 3 years ago (the crime still unsolved), made worse when we later learn Emily was Natalie’s close friend.⇐ 

 One reason Dan’s in better interaction with Cory is he needs this expert tracker/sharpshooter to kill a mountain lion who’s making meals of his livestock, but as Cory’s on the trail of the big cat (and her 2 cubs) he comes across Natalie’s frozen body which leads to involvement by the local Tribal Police Chief, Ben [I can’t find any listing of his last name] (Graham Greene), along with rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), literally out of her element having come to this wilderness from her original home, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, by way of her current posting at the Las Vegas field office.  Alice begrudgingly loans her some weather-resistant-clothing of Emily‘s, demanding it be returned (again, her demeanor’s more understandable as later plot events are slowly revealed to us).

 Jane recruits Cory to work with her on this case (which she insists to the local coroner must be called a murder [he objects because he can’t verify such, despite Natalie having been assaulted and raped multiple times but the actual cause of death was pulmonary hemorrhage as sub-zero-air froze in her lungs, then ruptured] otherwise she’ll have no jurisdiction, leaving it all to Ben who’s got only 6 officers to patrol an area the size of Rhode Island) as she knows nothing about this territory.  Even with Cory’s help she doesn’t learn much from Natalie’s father, Martin (Gil Birmingham)⇒nor from her mother, who’s in such grief she’s slashing her arms⇐—except his daughter didn’t live at home, recently had a new boyfriend, maybe Natalie’s drug-addict-brother, Chip (Martin Sensmeier), knows more.  Our detectives locate Chip living with the rez’s dealers (poverty and drugs are a clear backdrop to the action here), the Littlefeather brothers, 1 of whom, Sam (Gerald Tokala Clifford) dies in a confrontation with Jane, Cory, and Ben; from there Cory and Jane follow a snowmobile trail into the woods where they find a naked male body, actively mangled by scavengers.  Chip divulges Natalie’s boyfriend was Matt (Jon Bernthal), a security guard for a nearby oil rig so Jane, Ben, along with a few Tribal Police and local deputies go to the site the next day, only to be told Matt’s been missing awhile ⇒(we later surmise he's the body in the woods), but when they go to question his roommate, Pete Mickens (James Jordan), we flip into a flashback of Natalie coming to visit Matt one night, making love with him, then Pete and 4 other drunken guards return to the trailer, leading to harassment from the drunks, Matt knocked out by them, Natalie being raped then escaping into the night (to her inevitable death) as Matt revives for more combat (fatal) with his "good buddies."⇐

 Back in the present, a sudden tense standoff cropped up (before the long flashback) between the law agents and the security guards.  Jane suddenly becomes authoritative, calms everyone down, but when she knocks on the trailer door she’s met with a gunshot blast (just like when Sam Littlefeather sprayed bear repellant into her eyes in that earlier confrontation) from behind the door, resulting in a bleeding neck injury.  Suddenly everybody’s shooting at everyone else, with all of the lawkeepers except Jane dead, only a few of the guards left, but as they prepare to finish her off they’re killed from a distance by Cory (who’d been tracking the lions that morning, but when he found them in a little cave not far from the oil compound he let them live, then watched—in his camouflage white suit—what was happening down at the trailers).  Only Jane and Pete survived this mini-massacre, with Pete captured by Cory as he tried to escape.  When Pete revives (after absorbing a rifle butt), he admits the rape of Natalie, death of Matt, but instead of Cory taking him into custody he offers Pete the opportunity to run away (barefoot) from the snow-covered-mountain where Cory hauled him so he does, soon dying the same internal-lung-death that claimed Natalie.  Afterward, we get a brief scene of closure with Cory visiting Jane in the hospital (there’s a clear connection, praise from him for her strength [not luck], but it’s doubtful either will relocate), then a longer one where Cory visits Martin who’s in mourning with his painted death face (although he admits he’s lost contact with the meaning of that tradition), had his first phone conversation with Chip after a year of estrangement, shares the deep loss of their daughters.⇐  Pre-credits-graphics tell us American Indian women’s disappearances are the least-reported, least-resolved probable-criminal situations in the U.S. (assault and rape are likely factors into this grotesque pattern as well).

So What? (Warning, faithful readers! Ridiculously-long-digression just ahead!) Sheridan’s work's been on my eagerly-anticipated-list since I saw what he was able to accomplish with forceful, well-understood-in-motivation-and-structure screenplays for Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015; review in our October 15, 2015 posting) and Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016; review in our August 26, 2016 posting—one of my longest explorations yet, but still a fact-filled, interesting read [even if I do say so myself], not bad in layout either, a claim I wish I could make for postings prior to 2016 but most of those earlier ones are amass [or, honestly, just a mess] with too many words, not enough spacing from photos or other paragraph breaks)—the latter film I saw again just a few days before Wind River, still a masterpiece, one I probably should have elevated to the hallowed-realm of 4½ stars last year.  I considered revising the rating, but if I do that for any entry in my long lists of 4-, 3½-, or 3-star-choices (the lower ones don’t need rethinking any more than the very-upper-ones do) the only fair thing would be to re-watch all of them for possible reconsideration which isn’t going to happen so I’ll just live with my earlier decision (which is still a vote of strong support for Hell or High Water as it’s #3 on my 2016 Top 10 list, behind my extremely-rare-choices of 5 stars for Fences [Denzel Washington; reviews in our January 4, January 12, 2017 postings], 4½ stars for Nocturnal Animals [Tom Ford; review in our December 8, 2016 posting, another analysis I’m quite proud of]—I’ve also just had a cable-TV reunion with this latter film, still stunning in its own form of icy-cruelty), a choice not made lightly as I usually have a few days after a screening to mull over what rating to give to these filmic expressions so I think I’d likely stand pat with most of my initial choices anyway.

 Back to the matter at hand, while Wind River’s not quite as effective for me as Hell … ⇒(for one thing, there’s too much of a connection made toward the end between Natalie and Emily—we learn the poem we heard while watching Natalie’s frantic run through the snow was written by Emily—to find out nothing further about how and why Emily died much like her friend), it’s still marvelous as a drama, effective in calling attention to the unreported-plight of many Native American women (“Inspired by Actual Events,” the opening graphics tell us), a further testimony to the cinematic mastery we can hope to see more of from Taylor Sheridan.  One other aspect of it that’s a bit distracting, though, is how quiet moments of dialogue come across (at least to my almost-70-year-old-ears) as mumbles so that some intimate exchanges between Jane and Cory (but not overtly romantic, more empathetic as she learns about Emily’s death) fall into the well of ambiguity, even as the overall tone of the scene remains clear (I had this same observation/complaint about another excellent recent film, Columbus [Kogonada; review in our August 16, 2017 posting]) so I guess either directors/sound-mixers are getting less concerned about scene-to-scene aural balance (also characterized by increasing tendencies to boost overall volume of music when it takes precedence in a scene, even if it’s literally a background song intended to be heard only by the audience, so that I find myself taking a bit longer to re-adjust to quieter overall levels of dialogue when they return to prominence) or this has become part of a new aesthetic that I’m just not fully accustomed to as yet.

 One indication of that possible new aesthetic reality is Sheridan’s use at times of softly-spoken-words in the soundtrack’s background that give a bit more sense of menace to the scene without needing to be specifically followed (more like how Gus van Sant used the same tactic with a barely-audible-mix of unnerving-ambiance in his remake of Psycho [1998; original by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960] as opposed to how Robert Altman often used rich mixes of foreground-background-voices, forcing the viewer [listener] to concentrate on what needed to be followed for important plot purposes, just like we must do in noisy environments where what’s intended to be heard isn’t always the predominant sound that we take in).  Unlike these occasional soundtrack variances in Wind River, though, the cinematography of these winter landscapes is consistently striking ⇒(although there are scenes using unmotivated, distracting shaky camera shots—yet at other times this tactic works well as when we see Pete’s point of view as he’s painfully crawling through the snow prior to stumbling over to his death),⇐ just as it’s pleasing to revisit familiar Native faces I haven’t seen in awhile, both having made solid impacts in earlier films, Greene as Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990), Cardinal as Arlene Joseph in Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, 1998).  While I don’t know about everyone else in the supporting cast I have been able to verify that Birmingham, Jones, Chow, Sensmeier, and Apesanahkwat are all of various Native heritages, so I commend Sheridan’s team for authenticity in their casting, long a sore point in Hollywood’s history.

Bottom Line Final Comments: In some earlier review (I've noted this before but I honestly still have no idea which one), I made the point you can tell when a film’s had a difficult time getting into existence when you find it’s the result of a half-dozen production companies because obviously financing wasn’t forthcoming from the more-high-roller-sources.  Well, in this case, Wind River’s come to our screens by way of a 13-group-collaboration (plus The Weinstein Company for distribution), including the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana (willing, I guess, to help get the story told of some of their Native brothers and sisters, even from far across the continent); such financing difficulties are not necessarily indicative of questionable-quality, though, just hedging on the part of those looking for bigger profits who rather go for higher returns by investing in something like The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Patrick Hughes) or Annabelle: Creation (David F. Sandberg), which are each now playing in well over 3,000 theaters, grossing about $21.6 and $64 million respectively after their mere 1 and 2 weeks in domestic (U.S.-Canada) distribution (plus another $98.7 million in overseas receipts for Annabelle …), easily addressing their $29 and $15 million budgets (respectively using only 2 and 3 production companies as well) while … River’s been out for 3 weeks but is playing in only 694 theaters so far with income of about $4 million, struggling to return its $11 million budget.

 You’d think with 4 Oscars nominations for … High Water (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor [Jeff Bridges], Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing)—along with 97% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, an 88% score at Metacritic—and 3 Oscar noms for Sicario (Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing)—along with 94% positive at RT, an 82% score at MC—(and only 4 production companies involved for the former, a mere 2 for the latter) Wind River wouldn’t need such an extensive outreach to secure its financing, but given how slowly it’s had to build its presence, even at a time in the distribution cycle when there’s not much else for serious competition, plus the reality Hell … took in only about $37.9 million worldwide (against a $12 million budget) after 14 weeks in release (August-November, 2016) while Sicario made $84.9 million worldwide (against a $30 million budget)—profit percentages in the low 30s for each—you might be better able to understand why something of such a heritage and approach as Wind River has to struggle for attention even with solid critical support (RT's 87% positive reviews, MC's 73% score).

 Moving on to my standard use of a Musical Metaphor (a last look at the film under review but from an aural perspective) for Wind River I’ll offer you Muddy Waters’ “Cold Weather Blues” (from the 1964 Folk Singer album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJxWSSGzifs as its lyrics speak well to this story with “You know the little girl fail to come […] Hot spring water […] wouldn’t help her none,” referencing the deaths of both Natalie and Emily, just as I can hear Jane looking out over those deadly frozen fields saying “Well, you know I’m going back down south People, where the weather suits my clothes” because even Cody and Martin would have to admit it’s “So cold up north that the birds can’t hardly fly” (I don’t recall seeing any winging above throughout this film), with all of these characters—well, the ones still alive at the end—just desperately hoping they can “Let this winter pass on by, yeah.” (But if Waters’ lyrics are passing you by, given a blues-man’s tendency to either mumble or shout his words you want to consult this site for a clearer account of what he’s saying, just as I want to be clear this song choice comes courtesy of my insightful wife, Nina Kindblad, who, when I told her I’d been trying for 4 days to come up with an appropriate song for Wind River simply took out her iPhone, Googled “winter tragedy songs,” giving me several possibilities of which Muddy’s tune seems to be just right, although Joni Mitchell’s "Urge for Going" [written in the mid-1960s, not available on her albums until the 1996 Hits compilation] not a bad choice either, with lines about “the sun turns traitor cold […] I get the urge for going But I never seem to go […] And all that stays is dying […] When the meadow grass is turning brown And summertime is falling down,” but Muddy’s grittier take better syncs to Wind River’s situation than Joni’s contemplative tone, more appropriate for after the massacre) so I thank Nina for being a marvelous movie companion, a faithful reader (and editor) of this blog, as well as the light of my life for the last 30 years, a blessing that the characters in our next movie could have used a lot more of.
                
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
              
                  Logan Lucky (Steven Soderberg)
           
In this silly comedy (with hints of serious undertone) a West Virginia construction worker’s laid off for reasons he finds unacceptable so he plans an elaborate heist to recoup a fortune from his former employer, with the help of his sister, his 1-armed brother, a safecracker now serving time, the convict’s 2 goofy brothers, and loads of tight precision timing.

Here's the trailer:


  Before reading any further, I'll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 Logan Lucky (an unappealing title if ever there was one) has about 3 times the narrative complexity of Wind River, but I've chosen to deal with it under my Short Takes structure (with an ironclad-determination to be concise with those lengthy plot details) because it’s basically a 2-hour-dose of diversionary-silliness that can be appreciated for its quick pace, intricate robbery scheme (some of which I still don’t understand), and effectively-hilarious-comic-acting (although I’m not sure if the folks in Appalachia will like it as much as I did, along with most other critics as well—93% positive RT reviews, 78% average score at normally lower-leaning MC—but it’s a good thing I didn’t pay that much attention to the decisions of San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle [“We might as well be watching gears turn in a machine.  The experience is trance-inducing.”] or the New York Observer’s Rex Reed [“Logan Lucky is as charming and welcome as toenail fungus”at least he gives me a reference I can relate to; I’ve been trying to rid some of my toes of that muck for years], both of whom are well off the mark this time in my opinion), but isn’t something you should mourn if you miss it (and a lot of people already have, given that it opened on just over 3,000 domestic screens but pulled in only about $7.6 million, considered a notable underperformance by current standards).

 There’s also the consideration of the untimely (fortunate?) coincidence of this movie's release within temporal proximity of the events in a nearby-part of the South (the Charlottesville, VA violence, with its further-national-fabric-tearing due to mixed-message-comments from our self-congratulatory Divider-in-Chief, heaping concocted praise upon himself at an Arizona campaign rally this week), allowing humor to be found in the lives of fictionalized Southern folks, depending on how those depicted choose to take it; for me, it’s hilarious but Southerners are notorious for ridiculing each other so with my Texas heritage I may be laughing at lifestyles the further-East folks* wouldn’t find so funny (just like my parents, when they were still living near Abilene in west TX didn’t understand what transplanted-Californian-me found so hilarious about TV’s King of the Hill satire).

*One of my aunts (the most liberal of my relatives) always insisted Texas wasn’t part of the South but rather the Southwest; I guess she was right if you accept Ft. Worth as “Where the West Begins” with hundreds of miles to go from there toward the Pacific Ocean before you finally get to El Paso.

 As for that plot, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a once-promising-high-school-footballer whose career was cut short by a knee injury, loses his construction job fixing sink holes at the Charlotte Motor Speedway (actually in the nearby city of Concord, NC) because that undisclosed bum knee is considered an insurance liability by his employer (you’d know replacement work’s going to be difficult to come by if you look at a map to see how far he’s already commuting from his rural home in Boone County, WV, one of the serious undercurrents in this otherwise surface-silly-movie).  Further complications arise when his snotty ex-wife Bobbi Jo (Katie Holmes)—now remarried to preening car dealer Moody Chapman (David Denman)—is planning to move to Lynchburg, VA (better sales opportunities than their current location)—making it much harder for Jimmy to visit their  precious little daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).  For unemployment-revenge (and financial desperation), Jimmy concocts a complex plot to rip off the Speedway with the help of 1-armed-younger-brother Clyde Logan (Adam Driver)—who lost his left hand, lower part of that arm during a tour in Iraq but works as a bartender, making an excellent martini with just his right arm (leaving his left prosthesis on the counter) yet laments the seeming bad-luck-curse of his family—sister Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), plus master safecracker (but currently incarcerated) Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who insists his 2 brothers, Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) must also be part of the deal.

 Although I could explain how a birthday cake, roaches, Sadie’s talent show (for which Jimmy spray paints a tan onto her body), Moody’s hot-rod-Mustang, accelerated-work-schedules at the Speedway, a bomb built on chemical reactions between Gummy Bears and bleach (I think), a concocted riot at Joe’s prison with demands for Game of Thrones books in the bargain, along with various other aspects of this complicated story lead to the bank robbery, all you really need to know is money’s sent through pneumatic tubes from the Speedway concession stands straight to a local bank vault so our rag-tag-crooks siphon off that cash flow during the hugely-attended Coca-Cola 600 race (a real event, longest on the NASCAR circuit), hauling away a fortune inside trash bags.⇐

 ⇒I can also assure you that despite apparent glitches (all of which are part of Jimmy’s master plan), including bags of cash left in a truck at a gas station with Jimmy calling the cops for it to be retrieved, all ends well for the thieves because Jimmy, Clyde, and Mellie got other bags of cash out via a dumpster, trash truck, and burial so when retrieved later there’s plenty for all who helped even in a minor way for this complex plot to go off so perfectly (Sadie winning her contest to boot), allowing Jimmy to move to Lynchburg to stay close to his daughter (as Bobbi Jo's mysteriously now nicer to him) although he travels back to WV to be with his new love, county doctor Sylvia Harrison (Katherine Waterston), while Mellie’s taken up with Joe, even as determined FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) flirts with Clyde trying to understand what happened for the “Hee Haw Heroes,” just as the end credits roll.  I know nothing about chemical reactions (although Joe explains it to Jimmy and Clyde with conveniently-handy-chalk on a concrete wall) to know why his bag exploded nor why that somehow allowed our crooks to break into the cash flow to siphon it all off for themselves,⇐ but clarity of details isn’t the most critical aspect of enjoying the complexity and split-second-timing needed to make this a fun-but-forgettable-afternoon-matinee-experience.

 You’re welcome to join in the critics’ debate (insignificant as it may be) as to whether this return to moviemaking by Soderbergh after announcing his retirement 4 years ago is a welcome action or not (I also retired 4 years ago but I haven’t got any Hollywood heavyweights lining up to do business with me ... yet).  Certainly he’s been down this road before with his even-more-intricate-robberies in much classier surroundings in the Las Vegas or European heists in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), … Twelve (2004), … Thirteen (2007), so Logan Lucky may feel a bit like a retread, but even so it’s marvelously-well-constructed, has lots of quick comic elements (Clyde works at the Duck Tape saloon, Chilbrain’s company is the Love Handle Corp.), even managing to maintain its pace into ending scenes ⇒involving the FBI inability to crack this case (maybe they needed Jane Banner’s help—other interesting overlaps between these entirely different cinematic experiences include the male protagonists’ strained relationships with an ex-spouse over a shared child and the inclusion of a pair of dim-witted-brothers, although Sam Bang does manage to display his claimed cyber-skills by throwing the Speedway’s computer system out of operation, forcing more cash to flow through those pneumatic tubes—but he does it by simply tossing a small explosive into an electrical sub-station) along with some final come-uppance to rich-jerk/race-car-owner Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane) when his disgruntled driver Dayton White (Sebastian Stan) refuses to corroborate his story of seeing the Logan brothers at the Speedway when both had alibis to be somewhere else during the complex-operation, after the whole thing seemed to take a surprise turn toward an assumed end with Jimmy allowing retrieval of what we’re led to believe is all of the stolen cash.⇐

 As for a Musical Metaphor to finish up a somewhat-appropriately-named Short Takes presentation (I’ve done much longer ones, as you might know) what other choice do I have than Sadie’s contest-winning, crowd-sing-a-long, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” sung by John Denver (written by him, Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert [as recounted by Jimmy to Sadie]; on the 1971 album Poems, Prayers & Promises) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tk4F-sDqF2Q, a live performance (place and time [1995?] unknown to me, lyrics added if you’d like to join Sadie’s crowd by contributing karaoke); however, if you’d like to see a performance by the original writers, even though the video’s not so great but the audio’s fine, here it is (undernourished imagery and all). Logan Lucky’s more about the “stranger to blue water” aspects of the song than it is to the “Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River” aspects, but It’s a catchy tune, so you might want to keep repeating it until we next meet to share a cold beer (You’re bringing the Lone Star, right?) on the front porch of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark.  (Oh wait, sorry; I was thinking about frequent scenes in Hell or High Water again.)

 Or, if you’d like something else to do besides singing along with John Denver (which I actually did sometime back in 1971 or ’72 when he came to Austin, TX for a concert—he’d quickly made a lot of fans who knew his music back then, so joining in was an easy task; that concert was also a great memory because his opening act was Steve Martin back in his hippie-hair, banjo-playing, fake-arrow-through-the-head days), I’ll offer one last musical interlude, "Brain Damage" flowing into "Eclipse"by Pink Floyd (from their exquisite 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon album) to note again the kind of leadership being offered from the Trump administration these days (even without Steve Bannon within the inner circle) if you accept “the lunatic […] on the grass [… and] in the hall” to be referring to locations at the White House, a constantly-confused-place where “the band you’re in starts playing different tunes,” along with the much more positive celebration this week of the grand-political-distraction-event offered by the total solar eclipse, which in its mysterious majesty reminded us, as the song says, when “everything under the sun is [finally] in tune [we might find chaos—whether good or bad, that's yet to be determined—can still reign when] the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”  So, sleep well, faithful readers, before bombs start flying to and from North Korea and/or Afghanistan; if it should come to pass we may all yet meet on “the dark side of the moon.”

*This video also has lyrics in case you’re solidly into that sing-a-long-mode, but if you’d like to see Pink Floyd performing these songs I can accommodate you in a slightly disjointed manner: this video features original members (well, after they got famous at least) David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright (the latter now dead, unfortunately) in a 1994 concert at Earl’s Court, London, while this one features the other founding member of the group, Roger Waters, from his current Us + Them tour, this show done about 3 months ago in Louisville, KY (I’m extremely glad to have seen Waters twice, last fall at the Indio, CA Desert Trip festival and in Oakland, CA in June of this year).
                   
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
              
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Wind River:

https://www.facebook.com/WindRiverMov/ (oddly enough, even IMDb lists this as the official site, but more details you can also consult IMDb at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5362988/combined

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNcH6zUn72A (37:47 interview with writer-director Taylor Sheridan)



Here’s more information about Logan Lucky:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aXGQ5bRruw (2:20 silly video—in keeping with the tone of the movieof actual race car drivers talking about their very minor roles in Logan Lucky)



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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