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‘Logan’ review: Hugh Jackman goes out on top in final turn as Wolverine
The world finally has an R-rated version of Wolverine that does everything right.
If you love Wolverine, then you should run out to see Hugh Jackman’s final turn with the character in Logan. It’s a smart film that doesn’t skimp on action, it’s filled with heart, and the performances by Mr. Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Professor X are top notch.
There is much to say about this movie, but instead of doing up two different reviews I think I’ll just share a portion of what I wrote for Conservative Book Club and then ask you to kindly check them out for the full version.
I wrote shortly after the film’s release:
The world has seen Hugh Jackman play the Marvel superhero Wolverine for 17 years, but it appears as though the actor saved his best performance for last. Director James Mangold’s R-rated Logan hauled in $247.3 globally its opening weekend, and for good reason — it’s a superhero movie that transcends the genre.
What is perhaps the most fascinating about Logan is that while it is chalk full violent deaths, underneath the blood and gore is a film that promotes selfless sacrifice, unconditional love, loyalty, family, and the possibility of redemption for all men — no matter how fallible they may be. Bad characters die, but the film’s message on many levels can be considered “pro-life.” Good samaritans risk everything for children who are treated as expendable tools, while the life an elderly and infirm man is fiercely protected by the protagonist.
Logan (story by Mangold, screenplay by Scott Frank) takes place in a future where all of the X-Men in the 20th Century Fox franchise are dead — wiped out in large part due to the decaying mind of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Wolverine and an ally named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) have been driven underground along the U.S. border with Mexico, although the hero is able make enough cash to get Charles seizure medication by working nights as a limo driver.
Everything changes for the trio when a nurse smuggles a genetically engineered child known as X-23 (Dafne Keen) out of captivity before she can be killed by the villain Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Her goal is to transport the girl a rally point in North Dakota where children with similar capabilities will attempt to cross the border into Canada. Logan, with his failing immune system and broken body, is coerced into the quest by Charles and the surviving shards of virtue buried deep within his own adamantium bones.
“You know, Logan, this is what life looks like: a home, people who love each other, a safe place. You should take a moment and feel it,” Xavier says when they are eventually given food and shelter by a family of farmers.
“Yeah, it’s great,” the reluctant hero sarcastically replies.
“Logan! You still have time,” Xavier implores.
Check out the rest over at CBC.
‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ offers more cool cars, gun-fu and Keanu
It was three years ago that I saw an ad for a Keanu Reeves movie called John Wick pop up on my Spotify account. It had been awhile since I had seen something of his that I liked (i.e., 2005’s Constantine), but I said to myself, “This looks cool. I’m there opening weekend.”
Fast-forward t0 2017. We now have John Wick 2, thanks to good word-of-mouth that made the original hit. The first film pulled in $89 million globally on a $20 million budget, and John Wick: Chapter 2 has already amassed $90 million in two weeks. That’s because Reeves, director Chad Stahelski, and writer Derek Kolstad have offered fans a little bit more of everything the liked the first time around — cool cars, cool guns, and cool fights — while still managing to expand the universe in fun ways.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so all I will say is that this film mainly serves as a bridge to what I’m assuming will be a finale of epic proportions. The last film sent a message that we cannot escape the repercussions of our past sins while JW: Chapter 2 emphasizes that attempting to solve violence through violence usually exacerbates the problem. The main character desperately wants to leave the lifestyle of evil behind, but that is next to impossible since he spent years building up a reputation as “Death’s emissary.”
Long story short, if you enjoyed the first movie then you probably should do yourself a favor and check out this one. Laurence Fishburne reunites with Reeves in grand fashion, Common does an excellent job as “Cassian,” and the ending has a well-done homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon.
If you’re an action-movie fan who still needs more convincing, then head on over to Conservative Book Club for a more extensive review that I wrote up last week.
‘John Wick’: Keanu Reeves delivers solid action, shows us that the price of sin is pain and death
Suicide Squad: David Ayer’s film a labor of love — but still a mess
There are two things to know before walking into the theater to see David Ayer’s Suicide Squad:
- The movie has more love and care put into its first 30 minutes than Ghostbusters had in its entirety, yet critics rewarded Paul Feig with 73 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 27 percent for Ayer.
- Suicide Squad is a frustrating mess — particularly its last 30 minutes.
For those who have been living under a rock for the past year, the story goes as follows:
- Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is tasked by the U.S. government to put together a team of really nasty people — some who are “meta-humans” — who are willing to confront comparably twisted threats.
- Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Jai Courtney (Boomerang), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) are “recruited” (i.e., captured) for the job. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) take part in their big mission to keep them honest.
- Waller’s key asset, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), goes off the reservation, and before long a Ghostbusters-esque scene clears out an entire city.
- The Joker (Jared Leto) is on a mission to rescue Quinn from Waller’s clutches.
This sounds like a solid movie, right? It is — at times — and the soundtrack is amazing. The problem for Suicide Squad, however, is that at some point it becomes obvious that the train is going to derail.
Perhaps the best example of how much Suicide Squad unravels over two hours comes with the supposed death of a key character. This person, for all intents and purposes, is seen during the climatic battle in very, very, very bad shape. After the crew saves the world, however, this person magically appears without a scratch — not one hair out of place — while wearing a spotless set of clothes.
“How are you not dead?” Deadshot asks.
The audience receives no answer.
Note to David Ayer: Just because you acknowledge a giant plot hole, it doesn’t make the hole go away.
Oddly enough, the one thing that probably could have made Suicide Squad a better movie would have been to leave the Joker out of it and save him for a showdown with Ben Affleck’s Batman. Jared Leto did not have the screen time needed to shine and his mission to save Harley had no impact on the plot.
Mr. Ayer should have used the Joker’s creative real estate to tighten up his script because the finished product is another mixed bag for Warner Bros. at a time when it needs an undeniable classic.
I suggest seeing Suicide Squad, but you do not want to pay full price. If you see it on an early Saturday or Sunday morning, then you won’t feel as though you wasted money.
Editor’s Note: No one working for Warner Bros. should be yelling “F**k Marvel,” and they really shouldn’t be copping an attitude until their superhero track record improves. It becomes difficult to show any sympathy for Mr. Ayer when this is the way he behaves on the big stage.
‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Michael Fassbender saves mutants from mediocrity
X-Men: Apocalypse was finally released in U.S. theaters for Memorial Day weekend after having premiered in places like the United Kingdom on May 9. The wait, overall, is worth it, but that is in large part due to Michael Fassbender’s performance as Magneto. The movie drags a bit at 144 minutes, but luckily Charles Xavier’s mutants are saved by the emotional weight Fassbender brings to the character Erik Lehnsherr.
Bryan Singer’s latest installment in the X-Men franchise (a tough act to follow after X-Men: Days of Future Past) breaks down as follows:
- En Sabah Nur (played by Oscar Isaac) is allegedly the first mutant. Although he has god-like powers, a series of events leaves him in a state of suspended animation in a buried Egyptian temple.
- En Sabah Nur is revived in the 1980s and becomes the “Apocalypse” X-Men fans are all familiar with. He begins his quest to gather “Four Horsemen,” wipe the earth clean, and begin anew with himself at the center of the universe.
- Professor-X (played by James McAvoy) is captured by Apocalypse and his crew. The young X-Men must now save him — and the world.
X-Men: Apocalypse, in many ways like its predecessor, explores the idea of painful pasts and whether or not individuals choose to be defined by those experiences or rise above them. Mr. Singer wants everyone to know that they have greatness within them — a commendable message — but the script does not allow the supporting cast to truly shine.
Evan Peters as Quicksilver should probably be the linchpin of the next X-Men movie (i.e., it’s time for him to confront his father), and Sophie Turner shows real promise as Jean Grey, but the movie lacked a spark from the one person it was heavily invested in: Jennifer Lawrence.
Ms. Lawrence’s role as Mystique felt flat for three reasons:
- She simply looked bored. Her performance screamed, “at least I’m getting a paycheck.”
- The script shoved a slew of Katniss Everdeen-like platitudes into her mouth while shorting her on scenes that would have formed an instant connection with the audience. (Note: All husbands/fathers can related to Magneto after what happens to him in Poland.)
- Can it be any more obvious that Ms. Lawrence didn’t want to sit in a makeup chair unless absolutely necessary, and that she was given her way because her name is Jennifer Lawrence? Anyone who plays Mystique should be blue for more than 5 percent of their screen time.
All things considered, however, X-Men: Apocalypse is still worth seeing for anyone enjoys the superhero genre. It is not as strong as X-Men: First Class or X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it is still does its job when all is said and done.
Finally, make sure to stay through the ending credits for a clue to the next film’s villain.
‘Captain America: Civil War’: Russo brothers deliver mic-drop worthy Marvel movie
Captain America: Civil War is downright amazing. It’s scary-good. It’s so good that it makes one wonder if Joe and Anthony Russo cut some sort of weird deal with Mephisto to make it happen. The script is so tight and the direction is so proficient that employers should ask questions about it during job interviews — any candidate who says Civil War is a rotten film should be told to have a nice day and shown the door due to their unfortunate lack of good judgment (I’m kidding … sort of).
For those who have been living in an underground bunker for the last year, Civil War involves the disintegration of the Avengers when the international community demands regulations governing the actions of super-humans. The United Nations has had enough with civilian casualties and diplomatic headaches linked to free-wheeling superheroes, and Tony Stark agrees. Steve Rogers decides the world is safest if he and his allies are only beholden to their own consciouses, and the disagreement puts everyone on a collision course.
Since this is a spoiler-free review, I will concentrate on what the Russo brothers professionally accomplished and only talk in broad brushstrokes about the of the film.
Imagine you’re the Russo brothers.
Now imagine Kevin Feige gives you $250 million and tells you to find a way to utilize Captain America, Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Ant Man, Spider-Man, Crossbones, and Zemo. You need to make sure the script is tight, juggle all the weirdness that actors bring with them to the set, navigate countless professional mine fields, and then somehow deliver a product that can impress a fanbase that has been spoiled with excellence since 2008’s Iron Man.
The verdict is in: Captain America: Winter Soldier was not a fluke. These guys not only met expectations given an almost impossible task — they exceeded expectations. Civil War is a modern superhero classic and should be used as the gold standard by which future installments are judged. One almost feels bad for the pressure their own greatness has created as production on Avengers: Infinity War – Parts I and II begins.
Regular readers of this blog know I am a stickler for superhero stories that work on multiple levels. If some child (or an adult) just wants to see Spider-Man swing across the screen and come to blows with other superheroes, then he or she will exit the theater with a smile. If intellectually curious individuals want their superhero flicks to be much more than “popcorn fare,” they too will be happy after the end credits roll.
Civil War has gravity, but it also has lighthearted humor. There is plenty of action, but the blows actually mean something because the script took the time to adequately address every character’s motivations. As an added bonus, the world will now get to see cinematic killjoys attempt to nitpick the film into oblivion (e.g., Well, the score wasn’t all that great and it was a bit too long.)
“Compromise where you can, but where you can’t — don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No. You move,'” S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carton (Emily VanCamp) says at one point of advice her aunt once gave her.
After watching Civil War, it is obvious that the Russo brothers had a vision and refused to compromise on all the issues that mattered.
If you are a fan of superhero movies, then you owe it to the creative team that put Civil War together to see it before it leaves theaters. When you are old and grey you will watch it again and say, “Those were the good old days.”
‘Captain America: Civil War’ trailer: Spidey, and more proof Russo bros. on point
The second trailer for Captain America: Civil War was released Thursday, and it is good. Correction: It is excellent. It looks as if directors Joe and Anthony Russuo, along with writers Christopher Markus Stephen McFeely, will handle “Civil War” like is should have been years ago in the comics. Who is right? Who is wrong? The comic books — predictably — went with stupid political potshots instead of exploring complex issues in ways everyone could enjoy.
How do political leaders maximize security and individual liberty when man is fallible and capable of horrendous deeds? It’s a good question. Markus and McFeely appear to understand that’s it’s not as simplistic as “Conservatives, bad! Liberals, good!” as the writers in Marvel’s comics division would have you believe.
The exchange between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in the trailer portends good things to come on May 6:
Tony Stark: That’s why I’m here. We need to be put in check. Whatever form that takes, I’m game.
Stever Rogers: I’m sorry, Tony. If I see a situation pointed south, I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could.
Tony Stark: Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth.
Steve Rogers: I know we’re not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.
It is telling that Captain America’s rebuttal to Tony’s call for a “check” on people with superpowers is to acknowledge that he has no self-control.
Steve Rogers is obviously a good man, but a.) Not all men are good, and b.) The individual with an all-consuming desire to right wrongs in a fallen world is, in fact, dangerous.
Captain America: Winter Soldier showed that there are legitimate reasons to fear and distrust the federal government, but Rogers appears to have decided that because man-made institutions are subject to the shortcomings of men, then he should be given a license to act outside the rule of law. When Stark talks about punching Rogers in his “perfect teeth” it resonates with viewers because Captain America smugly but unwittingly stands upon a moral pedestal.
How strange is it that Tony Stark understands The Federalist Papers better than Captain America?
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” — Federalist 51, James Madison.
These are the questions the Russo brothers seem ready to explore with maturity and professionalism, and for that fans should be grateful. Sadly, the comic book writers tend to dish out partisan slop and then feign indignation when they’re taken to task.
Finally, it is good to know that Spider-Man will make an appearance in a great movie for the first time in years. While it is frustrating that Marvel Studios was not able to wrestle full control of the character from Sony Pictures, at least fans know there will be a “check” on Sony’s habitual stupidity.
Check back in at this blog opening weekend for a full review of Captain America: Civil War. I’m looking forward to your feedback.
Deadpool: Reynolds scores big, ‘Zamboni’ death scene a classic
It took roughly a decade for pinheads at Fox to give Deadpool the green light, and now Ryan Reynolds and Co. can officially have the last laugh. The “Merc with the mouth” crushed records over Valentine’s Day weekend for an R-rated movie: $135 million in North America and $125 million overseas.
The plot of Deadpool is fairly straightforward: Wade Wilson loves a girl. Wade Wilson gets terminal cancer. Wade Wilson opts into an experiment he thinks will save his life and inadvertently gets duped by some nasty characters. Then, it’s time for revenge. Along the way he is aided by Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Colossus (Stefan Kapicic).
In short, director Tim Miller makes sure that fans of Wade Wilson get everything they wanted from such a movie and more for 108 minutes. It’s witty, it’s raunchy, and it’s got plenty of action and even heart. There is also a death-by-Zamboni scene that is an instant classic.
Perhaps most surprisingly was the extended screen time for Colossus. I feared he would be in the movie for about one minute due to budget constraints, but that was not the case. He even was crowned the film’s moral compass.
At one point in the film he says to Deadpool:
“Four or five moments. Four or five moments — that’s all it takes to be a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend — spare an enemy. In these moments everything else falls away.“
What happens after this speech completely sums up who Wade Wilson is and why it would be best if he never joined the X-Men.
With that said, it must be stated that Deadpool is not for everyone and it is certainly not a movie for kids. More socially conservative viewers will certainly be disappointed with Stan Lee’s cameo (I laughed, but thought he probably should have passed on the offer for that specific scene), and anyone who is offended by sexual jokes or nudity should save their money.
There is no doubt that a sequel for Deadpool is already in the works — and this time Fox will put it on the fast track. The creative team that takes on the project would do themselves many favors by keeping a character like Colossus, an angel over Wilson’s shoulder, nearby. If they put the same amount of love and effort into the follow-up, then the sky is the limit for the Deadpool franchise.
‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’: Tom Cruise and friends continue churning out cool spy flicks
Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation not only is a genuinely fun summer spy movie, but it now serves as the cinematic antacid for anyone who made the mistake of seeing Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four. The 5th installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise has everything fans expect from it — great acting, twists and turns, exotic locations, humor, amazing stunts, etc. — and there isn’t one of those levels on which it disappoints.
This time around, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF buddies are tracking the “anti-IMF” known as The Syndicate. There is only one problem: CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) saw to it that the U.S. government officially shut down IMF. If Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) help Ethan in his quest to bring to the “Rogue Nation,” then they will be committing an act of treason.
One aspect of Rogue Nation that helped guarantee its success was the ability of Rebecca Ferguson to nail the role of Ilsa Faust. She’s convincingly tough as nails, alluring, smart, cunning and athletic. She isn’t just a pretty woman in a fancy dress — she’s a take-no-prisoners, highly-trained intelligence agent (who may or may not have gone rogue).
Rogue Nation’s villain, played Sean Harris, is also impressive. Solomon Lane is convincingly one step ahead of Ethan Hunt throughout the movie, and in general the only thing to really gripe about is his brief time wearing a black turtleneck. No matter how evil a character is, it’s always slightly harder to take him seriously if he looks like the old Mike Meyers Saturday Night Live skit “Sprockets”… Regardless, it says something about a movie when the worst a critic can do is to complain about clothes the villain wore for less than five minutes of screen time.
If you like Tom Cruise movies, then see Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. If you don’t like Tom Cruise and have just made up your mind that anything starring him is just “bad,” then take a moment to realize that your lack of objectivity is preventing you from seeing a really fun espionage flick.
In short, this movie reviewer hopes that Tom Cruise has a least another two or three Mission: Impossible movies up his sleeve, because Rogue Nation was one of his best efforts yet.
‘American Sniper’: Clint Eastwood does Chris Kyle’s memory proud
“American Sniper” Director Clint Eastwood was given a difficult task: he had to somehow squeeze Chris Kyle’s incredible life story into 132 minutes. What could have turned into an incredibly bloated mess had he tried to do too much was successfully streamlined in a way that stayed true to the autobiography while also teasing out the most important themes. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller both give strong performances, and audiences across the U.S. have rewarded them for all the hard work: “American Sniper” made $105 million in its first four days of wide-release.
Clint Eastwood seemed to have two goals with “American Sniper”:
- Show the audience what makes guys like Chris Kyle tick.
- Demonstrate the destructive power of combat on the war fighter’s psyche, as well as the family unit.
A glimpse of what Mr. Eastwood was able to transfer from the page to the screen comes towards the end of Chris Kyle’s autobiography, where he writes:
“My regrets are about the people I couldn’t save — Marines, soldiers, my buddies. I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them.
I’m not naive and I’m beyond romanticizing war and what I had to do there. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. Losing my buddies. Having a kid die on me.
I’m sure some of the things I went through pale in comparison to what some of the guys went through in World War II and other conflicts. On top of all the shit they went through in Vietnam, they had to come home to a country that spat on them.
When people ask me how the war changed me, I tell them that the biggest thing has to do with my perspective.
You know all those everyday things that stress you here? I don’t give a shit about them. There are bigger and worse things that could happen than to have this timely little problem wreck your life, or even your day. I’ve seen them. More: I’ve lived them,” (Chris Kyle, American Sniper. Harper Collins, 2012. Page 379.)
As I mentioned in my review of the book when it came out in 2012, Chris Kyle said that a guardian angel must have been looking over him on the battlefield on multiple occasions, yet he never really stopped to dwell on just how much of a guardian angel he was to his brothers-in-arms. The pressure he put upon himself to save everyone under his watch — an impossible task —would break any man. Yes, even Navy SEALs have a breaking point.
Families have breaking points, too. Again, Eastwood brings it home in a scene that takes place just before Chris Kyle’s fourth tour in Iraq:
Taya: Do you want to die? Is that what it is?
Taya: Then just tell me. Tell me why you do it. I want to understand.
Chris: Baby, I do it for you. You know that I do it to protect you.
Taya: No you don’t.
Chris: Yes, I do.
Taya: I’m here. Your family is here. Your children have no father. […] You don’t know when to quit. You did your part. You sacrificed enough. You let somebody else go!
Chris: Let somebody else go?
Chris: Well, I couldn’t live with myself.
Taya: Well, you find a way. You have to. Okay? I need you — to be human again. I need you here. I need … you here. If you leave again, I don’t think we’ll be here when you get back.
Even to those who are closest to these very special men, it often seems like they have a death wish. But that is not the case. Even those who are supposed to understand what motivates a war fighter, can not. The question becomes: How do you dedicate your life to a man who has dedicated his own to ideas that are bigger than all of us?
At one point during “American Sniper,” Chris laments how obsessed civilians are with their cell phones, trips to the mall, and a variety of other seemingly-trivial things when he should be “over there.” But that’s the conundrum: Just as the principles a SEAL is willing to fight and die for make life worth living, it is also those little moments — a conversation on a lazy Sunday afternoon with your wife, or a quiet night alone with that very same woman — that make it special.
“American Sniper” is about one man’s attempt to successfully balance the desire to selflessly serve one’s country while also living up to the commitment to love and cherish his spouse with all his might.
Clint Eastwood may be an old man, but his latest movie shows that he can still direct better than most people who are half his age. If you get a chance, then you should check out “American Sniper” while it’s in theaters. It is one of the rare war movies within the past decade that is actually worth the price of admission.
Related: ‘American Sniper’ success prompts Michael Moore to take pot shots at deceased hero Chris Kyle