REVIEW: Logan

18 02 2017

Does “Logan” feel as good as it does because of its own merits – or because the superhero genre is just that bad these days? I’m tempted to argue for the latter if for no other reason than to cover my own ass. Skeptical reviews tend to hold up better than overzealous ones. (See my 2011 review of “I Am Number Four” for an example.)

Director James Mangold as well as co-writers Michael Green and Scott Frank succeed by avoiding so much of what makes comic book adaptations – including the “X-Men” series – flop. The film boasts a remarkably self-contained story free from a glut of new characters or excessive action sequences. Remarkably little happens over the course of “Logan,” even to the point where the opening sequences of Wolverine’s pensive limousine driving recalls the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercials.

This ability to ruminate on character and dwell in the submerged pain of the moment no doubt stems from the circumstances surrounding the film. Hugh Jackman has given a remarkable 17 years to playing Logan, a role that launched him into stardom – but also a character that helped stabilize the franchise throughout its different incarnations. Supposedly “Logan” marks Jackman’s last time sporting the claws, and such finality likely gave Fox and Marvel the confidence to begrudgingly let him go out on his own terms. Those terms include invoking the spirit of the old Western genre, specifically the archetype of the aging and world-weary gunslinger.

Heavy-handed “Shane” allusions aside, “Logan” earns the right to make these comparisons simply through Jackman’s decades-long commitment to the character. At least for now, it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the superhero arena with enough cultural cachet to earn this resolution. Jackman’s haggard expressions and general exasperation more than once gave me flashbacks to his gaunt appearance at the beginning of “Les Misérables.” He appears tired and weary – and as the character, not the actor! (An important distinction to make for many franchise headliners.) Logan has a clear antagonist in the corporation Transigen, although he’s mostly grappling with his own legacy and history.

Yet without eight serviceable “X-Men” films prior, the narrative stakes of “Logan” might not have felt as weighty. As the hero attempts to outrun, but ultimately acquiesces to, the definitive final battle, there’s simply no other way to convey the battle wounds of the past than to have watched them accumulate over time. But even so, Mangold still makes a convincing argument that the superhero genre need not only resemble the western in cultural functionality. It can also take on their form, tone and content for satisfying, incisive cinema. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Green Room

18 01 2016

This review originally appeared on Movie Mezzanine, for whom I covered Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX.

Jeremy Saulnier’s breakout film Blue Ruin depicted violence as an elemental force; a practically innate disposition of the human condition. In that spin on a classic revenge tale, Saulnier metes out precious little information on the characters hell-bent on destruction to highlight how shockingly natural these primal acts are.

His follow-up, Green Room, also takes violence as one of its major subjects – but here, the filmmaker shifts gears, depicting the savagery of human conflict as something aberrant to our very nature. As a punk rock band, barred off in a green room, wars against the group of neo-Nazis that hosted their show, acts of brutality take on an almost cartoonish tenor. For instance, someone’s mangled arm looks like a candy cane of flesh and blood, a sight Saulnier milks for all it’s worth to the tune of disgusted groans.

Green Room

This unnatural, unsettling violence provides heightened stakes for what otherwise might play like a simple hodgepodge of tropes from final girl” captivity or siege-style thrillers. Throwing in a group of white supremacists helps to add weight (especially when these groups are currently coming out of the woodwork to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential run). But while their violence may be exaggerated, Saulnier never strips them – or their trained attack dogs – of basic dignity. He even includes a sequence, beautifully shot by director of photography Sean Porter, which manages to find a bit of impressionistic poetry in the writhing bodies of their mosh pit.

To be clear, Green Room never condones the group’s ideology. The skinheads are still clearly the villains, but Saulnier’s choice to withhold immediate and unflinching condemnation allows some insight into what holds the group together. Their leader, Patrick Stewart’s Darcy, hardly matches the model of the charismatic authority figure. Instead, along with his tactical right hand man Gabe (Blue Ruin star Macon Blair), he evinces a magnetism of the calm and collected variety.

Green Room 2

That disposition stands in stark contrast to the manic array of rockers that constitute “The Ain’t Rights,” led by Anton Yelchin’s Pat and Alia Shawkat’s Sam. Even though their music pushes them to the fringes of performance venues, the group still lacks common sense and self-defense mechanisms. Still, Saulnier clearly feels a good deal of kinship with the punks and gives them dynamic personalities that prove oddly compelling. These vibrant characters ensure more colors are at play than just the red that dominates Green RoomB2halfstars





REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

12 06 2014

Thanks to the patience and planning of Marvel that culminated in “The Avengers,” now every franchise is rushing to super-size their output by converging as many properties into one film as humanly possible.  Among these stuffed tentpoles, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is probably about as clever as we can expect them to get.  Bryan Singer’s latest entry in the franchise plays to its greatest strength, the strong ensemble cast, to help power what is otherwise a fairly average film.

In 2011, the series essentially rebooted with a cast of rising stars that included James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult as younger versions of the characters.  Not that the original cast was lacking in talent with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.

Since their timeline never really ended (not that this stops the studios nowadays), what better way to bridge old and new than with a little bit of time travel?  And who better to be the intermediary than Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character popular enough to inspire spin-offs?  It all makes perfect sense.

“Days of Future Past” also manages to incorporate Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique into the proceedings quite a bit more.  That, of course, couldn’t possibly be because she’s the most loved actress in America at the moment.  It just so happens that she’s the key to preventing annihilation of mutants in the bleak future inhabited by the older versions of the characters.  Wolverine must travel back to the ’70s to prevent her from assassinating defense contractor Raymond Trask (Miles Finch himself, Peter Dinklage) and enabling the creation of the mutant-massacring Sentinels.

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Random Factoid #320

13 06 2010

Yesterday, I finally got to see a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for many, many years.  13, to be exact.

Ever since I was five years old, I have wanted to see the movie “Masterminds.”  I remember watching the trailer and wanting to be old enough to watch the movie.  The story involves a kid rebel (Vincent Kartheiser) sticking it to oppressive authority (Patrick Stewart).  The preview showed him kicking butt, and they didn’t have many youngsters doing that back in the day (being the year 1997).  It appealed to my wilder side, and ever since, it’s been buried on my “to see” list.

Turns out I saw the movie 3 years ago when it was called “Die Hard.”  Disappointingly, “Masterminds” turned out to be just a junior version of the 1988 Bruce Willis classic.  But now I can say that I saw it, and my inner five-year-old is smiling.

Plus all that ’90s nostalgia was AWESOME.