Movie Review: Logan (Spoiler Free)

Now that I’m home from the movie, I’m reading the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rates it as a 93% and I’d say that is appropriate. It’s not just a great superhero movie, it is a great movie with amazing acting. This was the reason I was so excited to see it in the first place. Hugh Jackman, since he says this will be his last, will be hard to replace as Wolverine. Hugh is Wolverine and this was by far his best rendition.

Whether on stage or on the bridge of the Enterprise, I have always loved to see Patrick Stewart perform and I must admit that I saw more Patrick in the “performance” than I did Charles. Regardless, it was the highlight for me in many ways and provided some occasional much-needed humor in the otherwise weighty plot. Bravo, Sir!

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Dafne Keen stole the show – impressive given her costars!

Surprisingly though, Dafne Keen stole the show. In the beginning, she doesn’t do much more than grunt (and kick a lot of ass), but by the end she is showing some amazing emotion for such a young actress. The character and writing was spectacular, sure, but the actress did an amazing job of bringing her to life.

 

This is the Wolverine I have been waiting for since Hugh put the spandex on 17 years ago. The action is intense and bloody, but for me the violence took a backseat to the story. It isn’t a “family story,” but it is a story about family. James Mangold did a great job writing, directing, and producing this film and I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the dialogue, lore, and nuances I may have missed!

Should you see it? Absolutely! I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Should you bring your kids? If you’re ok with pervasive F-bombs, decapitations, impalements, a lot of violence against children, and limbs flying everywhere… Yeah, probably not, my daughter is going to wait – a long while.

I checked and there is not a mid or end-credit scene; honestly, the ending is perfect (especially the final ~5 seconds) and anything additional would do the movie a disservice.

Movie Review: Split

Once upon a time, there was a director I really liked named M. Night Shyamalan.  He made a movie called ‘The Sixth Sense’ and it was a hit.  It had atmosphere, suspense, and a cool twist.  The movie was very popular and the country was divided into people who were surprised by the twist and those who lied about seeing it coming.  His next film, ‘Unbreakable’, was one of my favorite superhero movies of all time precisely because no one knew it was a superhero film until the very end.  And then he made ‘Signs’ featuring a mopey Mel Gibson and had the result of making me afraid of corn fields at night.  M. Night Shyamalan became a director, much like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, whose films I marked on my calendar as must watches.

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And then it all came apart.  ‘The Village’ wasn’t so much bad as it was underwhelming but everything afterwards was increasingly awful.  What happened?  I honestly couldn’t tell you.  Perhaps it was the stories became increasingly pretentious.  The actor choices became erratic.  The cinematography remained great and the usage of sound and camera angles, a Shyamalan hallmark, were impeccable but his movies became soulless and rote.  With the release of ‘After Earth’, it became official – M. Night Shyamalan was a hack.

Then a curious thing happened.  He made a good movie.  ‘The Visit’ wasn’t high cinema and had its flaws but for the first time in a decade, Shyamalan made something that was interesting and worth watching.  Once again, what happened?  I tend to believe Shyamalan had gotten lazy.  The studios let him make a movie but they took away his budget and gave him young unknown actors who were hungry.  They told him to shut up and work and I think it made all the difference in the world.

So where does that leave Shyamalan’s new movie, ‘Split’?  Is this low-budget movie the hungry Shyamalan or is it the lazy indulgent Shyamalan?

I’m happy to say it is a lot of old Shyamalan with just a hint of indulgence.  ‘Split’ tells the story of a guy with dissociative identity disorder whose mental illness results in twenty-three different personalities.  He kidnaps three teenage girls for a very specific reason and the movie is about how they must joust with the various personalities to survive.  There is a side story of the guy’s interaction with his therapist, a story which gives several clues as to where the movie is ultimately going.

Tonally, the movie shares a lot of similarities with last year’s excellent, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’.  It is mostly claustrophobic but the setting matters less than the interplay of the various characters.  It is really James McAvoy’s movie and it he tears into his role with relish.  Why wouldn’t he?  He gets to play two dozen different characters and it is quite clear he is having a good time and I really enjoyed watching him chew the scenery.  I wasn’t as impressed with the performance of the chief protagonist, one of the teenage girls with a bit of past in her past.  I initially thought her performance wasn’t energetic enough but in further reflection, her performance was subtle and restrained as befitting a character with her background.

Is M. Night Shyamalan back?  Can he sustain this second wind?  I think time will tell but I think studios have cracked the code.  Give him a smallish budget and force him to improvise and innovate – his technical expertise is as good as it has ever been and it appears he is back in the business of building chemistry with his actors again.  This is a movie worth seeing.

Oh by the way, there is a Shyamalan twist to this movie.  The only thing I will say is that he better be serious or I will kill him slowly.

Best of 2016: Movies

Just like it was a sparse year for books, it was also a sparse year for movies.  I felt it was a much better year for TV science-fiction and fantasy.  Still, there was some good SFF movies to be had if you ignored a bunch of middle of the road superhero films.  Here are my four favorite SFF movies for the year:

Rogue One:  The most recent movie on the list and an amazing addition to the Star Wars catalogue of films.  It wasn’t perfect – it was unevenly paced in its first half and the leads, while competent, were a step down from last year’s now iconic Daisey Ridley and John Boyega.  But Disney set out to do something different with its now forty-year old franchise and it succeeded.  I just re-watched Star Wars:  A New Hope and found Rogue One changed the whole tone of the film for me – I enjoyed the heroics but now realized there was a great human cost behind the eventual Rebel victory.  It makes for a more complete experience.

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10 Cloverfield Lane:  I enjoyed Cloverfield – I thought it effective and certainly thought better of it than the dismal Godzilla remake a few years back.  I never realized it needed a sequel but it got one anyways and I’m glad.  This movie works because it doesn’t try to one-up or heck, even try to reference the first film.  Instead, it is a claustrophobic study of personalities inside a fallout shelter.  Putting aside my love of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman steals the show as a dangerous and erratic man-child in charge of the bunker.  I forget how good of an actor he can be and here he reminds us.  I’ll be happy to revisit this universe if we can get good high quality film like this one.

The Witch:  I love horror movies but I’m often disappointed.  Modern horror seems to be either about jump-scares or torture porn and frankly I’m bored with both.  Real horror is about the blurry shape in the woods, the things unseen, and the dread of impending unstoppable doom.  The best horror movies are bleak and quiet.  The Witch is about a family of Puritans expelled from their 17th century colony and living in the rural woods of New England apart from everyone.  It is about religious fanatics living a hard scrabble near starvation existence and may be under threat from Satan himself.  I’m not easily frightened but this movie terrified me – the family goat, Black Phillip, is a more frightening creature than anything seen this year.

The Arrival:  This one is a polarizing addition to the list.  I adored it but so many of my friends were turned off by its slow pacing.  Movies like this just don’t get made anymore.  I felt it comparable to 2001, a slow-paced movie about how science works in a high-pressure situation, a film filled with majesty and not afraid to linger.   There were moments which I could have did without in this film – the conflict in the final third felt a bit contrived and tacked on to me, but the ten-minute sequence where the linguist first meets the aliens was far more cinematically interesting than the entirety of Independence Day Two.

Other ‘Best of…’ articles:

Books:  Best Books of 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One

 

Rogue One opened last night and I’m happy to say that Rogue One delivered forty-five minutes of the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back.  Please note the distinction because the movie took about forty-five minutes before I really got interested in it.

The story takes place immediately before Star Wars:  A New Hope and serves as the prequel you never knew you wanted.  The setup is interesting and for a moment, it grabbed me – the time-period of Imperial consolidation before the Rebellion is fertile for interesting stories.  Who accepted their place in the new order?  Who sought to break away and why?  The movie starts with those questions and made me think about what it may have been like in 1936-38 Germany.  One character when asked later if they were fine with Imperial flags flying overhead replied, ‘It isn’t a problem if you don’t look up’.  I would have watched an entire movie dealing with that proposition.

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But then Rogue One kind of lost focus as it jumped around frantically trying to set the pieces on the board.  There were so many interesting things to see – the Rebel Bunker on Yavin-4 and talk of Rebel discord, black dealings in alley ways, and a firefight in the dusty streets of a desert city which played like a Star Wars version of 2005-06 Baghdad.     There were fascinating sequences which we should have spent more time but just as you started digging into it, the frame shifted to something else.  I remember getting kind of irritated for a few moments.

Once the movie settled down and started delivering, it got way better.  The mission to get the Death Star plans was handled amazingly well and this was where the espionage war story really came into play.  It was an extended firefight which contained acts of heroism, sacrifice, tears, and a space battle which rivaled the big one in Return of the Jedi.  The hand-off between this film and A New Hope was so perfect that I have the first film playing on the TV now.

The actors in the film were good.  Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were good in their roles but not iconic – frankly, I think Daisey Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac left a more lasting impression as characters in The Force Awakens.  But they didn’t need to be iconic, they needed to be competent and I thought they were.  On the hand, K-2SO – the repurposed Imperial security droid – was clearly the best new character in a long time.  His sarcasm caused me to laugh aloud several times (“I will stand with you.  Captain Andor said I had to”).  I never again want to see C-3PO or R2-D2, K-2SO is now the gold standard for Star Wars droids. Also, anytime you get to see Darth Vader off the leash is quality time well spent.

There is a friend of mine who took issue with the movie – said it didn’t feel like a Star Wars film.  There is probably some truth there given the first forty-five minutes.  But as I sit here writing this review, it occurs to me that Star Wars as a franchise is almost forty years old.  If I had a complaint with The Force Awakens is that it didn’t really feel different enough.  I know that Disney had to bridge the gap and given it was good, I gave it a pass.  Rogue One is Disney’s first attempt to try something new with their franchise and this attempt succeeded in my book.  Rogue One caught my imagination and my money and it will capture yours as well.