LOGAN (2017) – Fitting Final Chapter for Wolverine

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logan-poster

You can’t run away from your past, especially if you’re a killer with a heart.

That’s the theme which runs through LOGAN (2017), the latest Marvel superhero movie about everyone’s favorite X-Men, the Wolverine, and it’s a theme that’s backed up by frequent references to the classic western SHANE (1953) starring Alan Ladd as a former gunslinger also haunted by his past.

And in the case of LOGAN, it’s more than just a figurative canker, as in this movie Logan’s murderous past is literally poisoning him from within.

When LOGAN opens, a gang of thugs pick the wrong limo to car jack, because resting inside the vehicle is Logan (Hugh Jackman) and he doesn’t take too kindly to people messing with his property.  But we quickly see that this is an older and weaker Logan, and where in the past his alter ego Wolverine would have made quick work of these thugs, now it’s a much more difficult job.  Wolverine takes care of these baddies, but it’s more of a struggle than we are used to seeing.

That’s because the story takes place in the near future, in 2029, a time when all the mutants are now a thing of the past, and Logan is trying his best to live out his life under the radar.  He’s living in Mexico, in very poor conditions, and with the help of fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) he’s caring for a very fragile and elderly Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).   This is no easy task, since Professor X is prone to seizures, and when he has them, his extraordinarily powerful mind becomes a dangerous weapon and disrupts the world around him.  So, Logan has to keep the professor constantly medicated to prevent him from having seizures, and a lot of the money Logan earns running his limousine service goes towards purchasing these meds.

One day, Logan is approached by a woman Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who begs for Logan’s help.  She wants him to protect a young girl  Laura (Dafne Keen) who she says dangerous people are after.  Logan isn’t interested in helping and tells her to go away, but later he is approached by a man named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) sporting a powerful mechanical hand who questions Logan about this woman, claiming he needs to find her because she stole something from him.  And when Professor X tells Logan about a young girl who is a mutant, Logan ignores him as well, telling the professor there simply aren’t any mutants being born anymore.

But Logan is wrong, and when Pierce and his men locate Gabriela, Laura escapes in the back of Logan’s car, and suddenly it’s up to Logan and the ailing Professor X to protect her.  And while Logan initially is not interested, Professor X  tells him just who she is and who her father is, and that point, for Logan, there’s no going back.

I really enjoyed LOGAN, so much so that’s easily my favorite of the Wolverine movies.

The first thing that stands out about LOGAN is that it is Rated R.  As such, there is a lot of language and bloody violence throughout, things not typically found in a superhero movie.  I’m sure this movie was able to be made as an R rated vehicle because of the extraordinary success at the box office of DEADPOOL (2016) which was also rated R.  And while the language in LOGAN is nowhere near as raunchy as the language in DEADPOOL, the film certainly earns its R rating.

The violence and the language both work here because they are integral to the story.  It’s the way Logan talks, and anything less wouldn’t have seemed as realistic.  Likewise, the violence reflects the ugliness which Logan is trying to forget.  LOGAN is an adult tale, and as such, is completely at home with its R rating.

At one point in the movie Professor X and Laura are watching SHANE (See my review at this site)  on TV, and the professor tells her that they are watching a very famous movie. More than that, SHANE with its story of Alan Ladd’s gunslinger Shane trying to forget his past serves as a backdrop to the main theme of this movie.  Logan wants out, but he finds he cannot turn his back on the people who need him.  In an interview, writer/director James Mangold cited SHANE and Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (1992) as inspirations behind LOGAN.

I enjoyed the way Mangold directed this movie.  The action scenes work, and the pacing is good, until the end, when things definitely slow down.  The most exciting sequence in the film is probably when Logan, Professor X, and Laura befriend a farming family— another SHANE reference— and later that night they are attacked by Pierce and his men and their new “secret weapon.”  It’s the most intense sequence of the movie.

The violence is effective and fits in with the story being told here. It also looks a bit more real here than in other R-rated action movies. Often an R rating means nothing more than the ability to show blood, and in this day and age, the blood is CGI -created and very fake looking. The violence in LOGAN looks real.

There’s also a seriousness to the movie that set it apart from a lot of the other Marvel superhero flicks.

Mangold also directed the previous film in the Wolverine series, THE WOLVERINE (2013). LOGAN is a much better movie than THE WOLVERINE and plays more like another Mangold movie that I really liked, the western remake 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

The screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green is also very good, which comes as no surprise since all three of these guys have extensive impressive writing credits. In addition to the theme of trying to forget one’s past, the story also deals with getting old.  Both Logan, and to a greater degree, Professor X, are nearing the end of their lives, and to watch them at this stage of their life journeys is interesting.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve always enjoyed Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and while he can play the character in his sleep by now, his performance here in LOGAN is a step above his usual work because of the added element of the age factor.  In the very first sequence of the movie we are introduced to an aged Wolverine. In previous movies, Wolverine would have made short work of the men attacking him, but here, it’s a major struggle for him. It’s a cool scene, a neat way to open the film, and it sets the stage for Jackman’s superior performance.

And not only is Logan dealing with the normal aging process, but he’s sick.  The years of having metal inside his body have been slowly poisoning him to death.

Equally as good as Jackman is Patrick Stewart as Professor X.  In fact, probably my favorite part of LOGAN is the chemistry between Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Their banter is a highlight of the film.  They are both terrific actors, and they really work well together.

It was a lot of fun to see Patrick Stewart playing Professor X again. He’s been sharing duties with James McAvoy, who plays the character in the rebooted series featuring younger X-Men.  As such, the character of Professor X has struck gold in these movies, as he is portrayed by two top-notch actors, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. You can’t go wrong with either portrayal.

While I liked Dafne Keen as Laura,  she didn’t blow me away. Part of it is the writing of the character. She doesn’t say a whole lot, and a bulk of her scenes are strictly action scenes where she’s helped out by some CGI effects.  As such, she is less effective than she might have been.  Laura reminded me a little bit of the character Eleven played by Millie Bobby Brown in the TV show STRANGER THINGS, but ultimately was not as interesting.

The supporting cast was okay.  I found Stephen Merchant rather blah as Caliban.  I liked Boyd Holbrook as Pierce, but ultimately, he just becomes a glorified henchman. As the movie goes on, there’s less and less for him to do.

Like other Marvel movies, LOGAN struggles with its villain.  As much as I enjoy the Marvel movies, you can pretty much bank on it that the villain in the film is going to be sub-par, which I find really puzzling. You’d think more effort would go into creating memorable villains in these movies.

The main villain here, the man Pierce works for, is Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and he’s as dull as they come.  He pretty much put me to sleep.

And as good as LOGAN is, it doesn’t sustain its excellence all the way to the end. It starts off great, and up to that farmhouse scene, about two-thirds of the way in, it’s firing on all cylinders, but then it just fizzles out.

The final act is a letdown, and nowhere near as compelling as first two-thirds of the movie. And this is where not having a formidable villain really hurts, because you don’t have that to fall back on. If you have a memorable villain, then you are locked in until the end because you are waiting for that final confrontation. Without the villain, you’re not really waiting for anything, other than for the movie to be over.

LOGAN runs for two hours and seventeen minutes,and it could have easily been about 20 minutes shorter.

And while the final act is much less interesting than what came before it, the ending of the movie, the final frame, is a good one.  So, you have an excellent superhero movie that runs a bit too long and forgets itself for its final 30 minutes or so before ending with an exclamation point.

All in all, LOGAN is a fine entry in the Marvel superhero universe, a more adult tale than usual, and a fitting final chapter to the Wolverine story.

—END—.

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – A Hit But No Home Run

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X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-2014Movie Review: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
By
Michael Arruda

I really enjoyed X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), the film that chronicled the early relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), the two characters who would become Professor Xavier and Magneto in the X-MEN universe. In fact, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is one of my favorite superhero movies.

So, it goes without saying, I was excited and eager to see X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the latest in the Marvel X-MEN series, a film which through the magic of time travel would unite characters from FIRST CLASS with the characters from the previous X-Men films, an anchoring both time periods would be the most iconic of the film X-Men, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

How could such a perfect premise go wrong? How indeed!

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST opens in the near future when the Sentinels, an army of robots, are at war with both the mutants and the humans, and it’s a war that the Sentinels are winning. It is learned that the Sentinels are unstoppable because back in 1973, their creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) obtained the DNA of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and used it on his robots, giving them the ability to replicate and take on the form of their opponents, in effect using the mutants’ own powers against them.

Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to convince their younger selves to put aside their differences and stop Mystique from falling into Trask’s hands, all in an effort to save the future. They are able to do this through a new special ability possessed by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), and it is Pride who transports Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 where it enters his body there so that he can find both the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

So Wolverine returns to 1973 and the time travel game is afoot.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say up front that I was disappointed with X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. I expected this one to be a home run, a classic, the best of the series, but it’s not. Is it a bad movie? No. It’s just a mediocre one.

First and foremost, its time travel adventure isn’t really all that exciting. It gets stuck on its one central plot point and never seems to move beyond it. The mission is clear: Wolverine and friends must stop Dr. Trask from getting Mystique’s DNA. This simple plot point needed something else, some complications to take the story to the next level. It fails to do this.

Magneto, for example, being Magneto, has an agenda of his own, and I was eager to see where this sinister side would take the story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take the story very far, as his agenda isn’t all that ambitious and sadly doesn’t amount to much.

For a time travel story, it’s nowhere near as playful or as creative as it needs to be. While there are a few moments here and there— such as when Wolverine pokes fun at Beast’s comment that they have “three main TV channels plus PBS”— there are not enough of them.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are two dynamic actors who dominated X-MEN FIRST CLASS and drove that movie along. They’re very good here once again, but in a larger cast, they have less to do and simply don’t have as prominent a role in the proceedings as they did in the earlier movie.

Hugh Jackman, who in the past has nailed the role of Wolverine and made it his own, is somewhat more down to earth here and doesn’t seem to possess the same energy or spark he has demonstrated in earlier portrayals.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the most talented actresses working today, is completely wasted here as Mystique. She really doesn’t get to do anything which allows her to show off her acting talents.

While I was happy to see Patrick Stewart back as Professor Xavier, and Ian McKellen as Magneto, neither one is in this movie all that much, and both seem old and tired. The majority of the original X-Men cast are featured in nothing more than glorified cameos.

I did enjoy Nicholas Hoult as Beast, reprising the role from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and he fares better in these movies than he did in WARM BODIES (2013) and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).

Stealing the movie however is Evan Peters as Quicksilver, the mutant who possesses incredible speed. The scene where Quicksilver helps Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast break Magneto out of his prison cell deep beneath the Pentagon is by far the best scene in the movie. It’s really too bad that Quicksilver was featured in this movie so briefly.

Director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies, does an okay job here. The film looks fine, but other than the aforementioned Quicksilver scene, there really aren’t any other memorable scenes in this movie, action or otherwise.

Probably the weakest link of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the screenplay by Simon Kinberg. Oddly, Kinberg wrote the screenplay for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), largely considered to be the worst in the series. Why he would be asked to pen this latest film is beyond me. I didn’t really enjoy the story to this one, as it never moved beyond its central plot point about Mystique’s DNA, and it never offered creative diversions and pathways which could have lifted its story to higher levels. It also didn’t really take advantage of its time travel storyline. In terms of creativity, it’s all pretty standard.

The buzz is out there: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is one of the best superhero movies ever made, a topnotch summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it this way.

Rather, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an okay superhero movie that features a very talented cast working beneath their potential for the simple reason that the material they’re working with, the story, isn’t up to snuff.

The scenes in the future are stagnant. The scenes in the past are ordinary. And the two never really meet to any degree of satisfaction.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST may be a hit at the box office, but it’s not the home run it should have been.

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SECOND LOOK: LES MISERABLES (2012)

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les-mis-posterSECOND LOOK:  LES MISERABLES (2012)

By Michael Arruda

 

 

I was pretty tough on LES MISERABLES (2013) when I reviewed it last year for this blog.  I think my title was, LES MISFIRE?

 

To be fair, I didn’t dislike LES MISERABLES when I saw it in the theater.  I simply was disappointed it wasn’t better, and I think it came across in my review that I wasn’t all that crazy about it. 

 

Anyway, I saw it again recently on DVD, and I have to say, I did enjoy it better the second time around.

 

While my biggest criticisms remain the same- that the film seemed to lack a soul, that it came off as completely gloomy and dark with the theme of redemption noticeably absent, and that the pacing seemed off, in that things moved too quickly without natural breaks in between scenes and songs, I did appreciate more about the film the second time around.  I even found Russell Crowe’s singing somewhat more tolerable.

 

I love the stage musical LES MISERABLES, and I suppose any film version wouldn’t be able to match the spectacle of how it plays on the stage.  This film version by director Tom Hooper didn’t even seem to try.  It dove right into a brutal realism that somehow didn’t work as well as it should have.  I mean, both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway looked phenomenal in their misery, but this gritty heavy realism came off as too dark for the bulk of the movie and detracted from the musical numbers.  It’s a case where Jean Valjean and Fantine looked so beaten and emaciated that it was difficult at times to suspend disbelief and accept them breaking into song.  The realism also made for some harsh musical numbers. 

 

I still thoroughly enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine.  Both their acting performances and singing voices were amazing.  Russell Crowe, on the other hand, was a different story.  I found his voice grating when I saw the movie the first time.  I found it slightly less harsh this time around.  I also enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Javert better the second time around and found him to be a much more dominant character than when I saw it the first time. 

 

I still was not wowed by Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, which still surprises me, since usually I enjoy her a lot.  And although his singing voice was among the best in the movie, Eddie Redmayne didn’t blow me out of the water as Marius either.

 

And the pacing of the film definitely slows down during the third act.

 

Yet, the film looked just as amazing on DVD as it did on the big screen.  Not much was lost in terms of picture quality.

 

Parts of the story also worked better for me the second time.  The blockade sequence near the end I thought fell flat on the big screen.  I found it more compelling this time around.  I remember growing restless in the theater at this point in the movie, and this wasn’t a problem in the comfort of my living room.  The chase storyline between Jean Valjean and Javert also played better at home, perhaps because of the intimacy of the smaller screen.

 

So, is LES MISERABLES worth your time on DVD? 

 

Well, it certainly provides grand entertainment, and it does a pretty nice job bringing the musical to life.  It remains to be seen whether or not making it darker, grittier, and more depressing than the stage musical was a good idea.  I wasn’t nuts about this interpretation, mostly because the sense of hope found throughout the musical seems to be lost here.  But this wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me.

 

And with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway leading the way, and Russell Crowe doing the same, especially when he’s not singing, the cast also excels. While I do have a problem with the dark take this movie has on the story, I have to admit that I appreciated its dramatic elements better the second time around.

 

LES MISERABLES, the 2012 movie version, in spite of its flaws, is still an engaging musical and certainly worth a look.

 

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