This Is a Movie Review: ‘Tragedy Girls’ is Pleasantly Gory But Hampered by a Muddled Social Message

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CREDIT: Gunpowder & Sky

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Quaid, Kevin Durand, Nicky Whelan, Craig Robinson

Director: Tyler MacIntyre

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Sanguine Hacking and Squirting

Release Date: October 20, 2017 (Limited)

Is it possible to be so addicted to social media status that it drives you to serial killing? Tragedy Girls sure seems to think so. But the way it presents this scenario is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation. When we meet high school besties McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand), they are already both rising Instagram stars AND in the midst of a killing spree. Their attention for fame does not fuel their bloodlust so much as the former provides a channel to express the latter. Any satirical point about how social media obsessions can be deadly is blunted by how much their murderousness is just a part of their nature.

But maybe Tragedy Girls isn’t really meant to be a takedown of what the kids are up to these days. Maybe it is more just the latest profile of banal evil that lurks in supposedly picture-perfect suburbia. Shipp and Hildebrand are certainly committed enough to pull that off, their delightedly and delightfully psychotic performances the highlight of the film. They seem to be operating in a bit of a Zodiac vibe, where part of the thrill is acting as amateur journalists of their own spree.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t much matter when everything else around them is a bit too scattershot. Famous faces like Josh Hutcherson and Craig Robinson pop up, only to be quickly dispatched. In the case of the latter, his presence makes sense, since he is also a producer. But Hutch is clearly there as a favor to someone so that there is a big name to be splashy with promotional materials, but in the actual product, he is a distraction from what could have been an unassuming, low-budget charmer.

Tragedy Girls is worth recommending somewhat for the fun of its murderous set pieces. The gore is smeared with squishy goodness and fully imbued with glee. McKayla and Sadie are practically magical in how clean and precise their slicing and dicing (and cleanup!) skills are. It’s enough to remind us the joy of feeding our taste for violence on screen and the safety of eschewing it in real life.

Tragedy Girls is Recommended If You Like: Final Destination at its most cartoonish, the Child’s Play series, Jennifer’s Body

Grade: 2 out of 5 Haters Ruining Prom

This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh and the ‘Logan Lucky’ Crew Pull Off a Heist at the Biggest Race of the Year

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Credit: Claudette Barius / Fingerprint Releasing | Bleecker Street

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Improvised Explosives and Slapstick Violence, Often Involving a Prosthetic

Release Date: August 18, 2017

If you follow the sports world, you will have noticed lately the several examples of the wonders that taking significant time off does towards extending a career. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, perhaps the two greatest tennis players of all time, have taken months-long breaks and at ages 36 and 35, respectively (ancient by athletic standards), they are still somehow in the primes of their careers. The physicality of sports and filmmaking are not exactly the same, but both can be similarly taxing. So while it is right to question the accuracy of Steven Soderbergh’s claim that he was retiring from directing, it is not right to question the wisdom of what he was actually doing, i.e., taking a nice, long, relaxing break, as Logan Lucky is the type of film that you make only when you are bursting with energy.

Logan is Soderbergh’s first directorial effort since 2013’s Side Effects and the HBO film Behind the Candelabra, but in premise, it most obviously brings to mind his Ocean’s trilogy. Recently unemployed West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) recruits his one-armed Iraq War vet bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), along with incarcerated bleached-blonde demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and Joe’s supposed computer expert brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), to rob the cash deposits at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the longest annual race on the NASCAR calendar. So it is basically a hillbilly Ocean’s 11 (Logan’s 6, if you will), and that connection is referenced head-on with a sneakily well-timed joke. Now, don’t let that description fool you into thinking that this film looks down on the people that populate it. Its particular strength is how thoroughly and empathetically each character is rendered, despite their colorful personalities offering an easy temptation for stereotypes.

Accordingly, every actor is given plenty of opportunities to stretch, with Soderbergh guiding them along to their best instincts. Keough shines in her accounting of the West Virginia highway system, Driver is wholly convincing with his unassuming one-armed bartending prowess, Seth MacFarlane is Snidely Whiplash-levels ridiculous as a luxuriously coiffed, arrogant driver, Farrah Mackenzie (as Jimmy’s young daughter Sadie) charms enough to somehow make pageant culture a little less nauseating than usual, and when Special Agent Hilary Swank shows up, she makes an all-business demeanor just as much fun as criminality. But the biggest praise is rightfully reserved for Craig, who is delightfully unhinged in the friendliest way possible, as well as Dwight Yoakam, as a warden whose loss of control of his prison amazingly involves the most hilarious taking to task of George R.R. Martin I have ever witnessed.

The conflict of heist movies is such that their cool vibes always goad you into rooting for the criminals. While these robbers typically are not violent, and often target the most powerful and greediest, they are in fact still criminals. The fact that these are just movies should be enough to remove any feelings of moral crisis. But in case you want more than that, there is a Robin Hood-style resolution. Your mileage may vary on what that means in terms of ethical implications, but there is no doubt that it contributes to the good vibes.

Logan Lucky is Recommended If You Like: Heist Films, Southern-Fried Flavor, Feeling Pumped When You Walk Out of the Theater

Grade: 4 out of 5 Painted Cockroaches