Logan – A Review

The X-Men movie franchise has been something of a roller coaster ride. When the original X-Men movie came out in 2000, it helped kickstart what eventually would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe domination. I didn’t know very much about the X-Men; up until that point my familiarity with superheroes was limited to the major players: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. X-Men was the first movie that introduced me to the wide and diverse world of superheroes and I was instantly fascinated. It helped that X-Men was a decent movie; sadly, as the franchise continued, its track record got a little shakier. Perhaps my wonder at this new world simply wore off, but the rest of the X-Men related movies were something of a mixed bag. I think I was disappointed in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand and I certainly thought that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not good. When the franchise rebooted itself with X-Men: First Class, I thought that they may have righted the ship, but X-Men: Apocalypse proved that they were still plenty capable of terrible franchise installments even with the new cast.

Through it all, one constant of the greater X-men universe has been Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Even when the movie he appeared in was crappy – including his first solo outing – Jackman was always a solid guardian for the character. While most of the main X-men were portrayed by different actors during the long run of the franchise, no one else has donned the claws other than Jackman, which has led to some much needed reliability in a series of movies that has jumped around in time. But 17 years is a long time to play a character, so I wasn’t totally surprised when word came down that Logan would likely be Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine. All good things must come to an end eventually. I would have gone to see Logan simply to see Jackman’s sideburns one last time regardless, but when the news came down that Logan would not only be based on the popular comic book story Old Man Logan, but that it would also be rated R, my interest was definitely piqued. Though I haven’t read Old Man Logan, I’ve been anecdotally hearing about this story for years and how it is really dark and gritty it is – and y’all know that I love dark and gritty. Deadpool’s runaway success last year made studios a little more comfortable with the idea of an R-rated superhero movie and while a lot of the R-Rating in Deadpool goes to raunchy and delightful jokes, the idea of a superhero movie will real violence and real consequences only served to potentially heighten the stakes of Logan and increase the world wariness of Wolverine. Despite the bad aftertaste that X-Men: Apocalypse left in my mouth, I was willing to let my expectation for Logan rise ever so slightly. I was cautiously optimistic, but still prepared for Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine be a letdown.

Thankfully, Logan was really great and took full advantage of its rating to make a definitively adult superhero movie. It isn’t just a lot more violent (though it definitely is), but it is able to explore a lot of ideas and topics that don’t really fit into a PG-13 movie: carrying the burden of killing a lot of people, loss of family, and questioning your purpose. There aren’t a lot of quips in Logan and there aren’t man attempts to make this a lighter movie. Logan is also freed from the burden of setting up the next X-Men or Marvel movie and it takes full advantage of that luxury by focusing on telling this one particular story without having to remind us how it fits in the larger MCU. No characters are forcefully shoehorned in and references are made to actions that have happened off-screen prior to the film that Logan doesn’t feel that it has to explain or fully explore. It trusts that a grown-up audience can make inferences and doesn’t need everything spelled out for them. For me, it was a refreshing change of pace.

Logan takes place in 2029 and Wolverine/Logan is one of the last surviving mutants. No new mutants have been born in last 25 years and Wolverine’s best days are behind him – he is visibly older and he no longer heals like he used to. He’s earning money as a chauffeur while he and mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) secretly harbor and care for Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who suffers from senility and an inability to control his telepathic abilities (which isn’t good for anybody). Logan is approached by a Gabriela Lopez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to transport a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen). She and Laura are running from Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (Ricard E. Grant), who have a keen interest in Laura. This assignment pulls Logan out of retirement and puts him on a collision course with not only some “bad hombres” but with his own destiny and legacy.

As usual, Hugh Jackman is solid as Wolverine and finally has a movie around him that allows him to play a much more nuanced version of the character. Jackman is definitely going out on a high note, as Logan is easily one of my favorite installments in the X-Men franchise. I’m always going to like the old weary version of a character to the young version, so Logan is right up my alley.  It’s not a perfect film – these movies have always struggled with creating well-rounded female characters – but the singularity of its focus and its relatively small cast allows the film the space to breathe and tell a well-crafted story with a focus on the people as well as the action sequences, which benefit greatly from minimal use of CGI. The fight scenes feel realer and fresher because the viewer is closer to the action and now that people actually die (sometimes gruesomely) on screen, there is a real urgency to every time that Logan unsheathes his claws. The viewer is also very aware of the toll that each battle takes out of Logan; with the specter of invincibility removed, there is more investment in the outcome. It all felt realer and rawer; there is an urgency to the film as it feels like most of the characters are on borrowed time – and they know it.

In between all the mayhem, there are also some quieter moments that permit the film to explore the emotional connection between the characters. Patrick Stewart is always great, but as deteriorating and feeble Professor X he has found a new note to his character that allows him to flex different acting muscles. He and Wolverine have always had a special relationship and Logan allows that bond to be examined. As potentially the last of their kind, that bond is only intensified and both actors have some very powerful scenes together. Adding Laura to the mix creates a family dynamic that is fun to watch.

Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how Logan was going to end, it was still an enjoyable ride to be on. By keeping it simple and with the freedom afforded by a R-rating, I think that Logan is not only a great superhero movie, but a great movie full stop.  Personally I’d like to see superhero movies continue to follow this pattern, though that is unlikely given the larger picture of Marvel movies and the box office receipts that rely on the younger set being able to see these films in the theater. But even if it is unrealistic for all superhero movies to fit the mold of Logan, I hope it’s a direction that they don’t abandon. With the right actors, story, and the shackles of servicing a multiverse removed, superhero films can certainly elevate their game and explore some more interesting terrain. If Hugh Jackman does indeed ride off into the sunset, never to play Wolverine again, he picked a stellar jumping off point. He’s done that character right for 17years and finally the character has done Jackman right as well.

Logan is currently in wide release.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – A Review

SA_X-Men_Days-of-Future-Past_Sickest-Addictions_Sick-Addicts_2013

“Let’s do the time warp again”

It seems like a required rule that at some point in a long running franchise or series there will be some mucking around in the space/time continuum. It may be something as simple as a flashback scene that helps to flesh out a story, fill in some missing information or help to round out a character that doesn’t have any lasting impact on the larger story arc. These momentary peeks into the past or future do not ultimately alter the timeline of the story. The more adventurous forays into time travel are more complicated, but they also have longer lasting consequences. While Friends flashing back to the high school prom served only as a reminder of how long Ross has love Rachel, films like Back to the Future and Looper illustrate the butterfly effect of moving through time – change anything while in the past and there is a ripple effect that can greatly impact the present.

I was excited for X-Men: Days of Future Past, since I greatly enjoy this franchise, but I was also a little wary. I don’t have the best track record with movies that involve time travel and there is always the very real possibility that moving through the past is just a gimmick to basically reboot the franchise. Characters can be brought back to life and existing characters may be altered. I don’t have a problem with that per se, except when it is done in a lazy manner, which I was not particularly concerned about for this film since the plot is loosely borrowed from a very popular storyline in the comic books. Execution in and of itself wasn’t as worrisome as the inherent complication that comes with these sorts of narratives – the rules and regulation for time travel and its impacts vary from movie to movie (and occasionally within a movie), often resulting in a confusing mess that is difficult to keep track of. So I went into Days of Future Past anxious to see the X-men again, but skeptical that I was going to be able to keep track of everything that was going on. Add in a very large cast of characters to draw from and the fact that I was going to a late screening when my mind was tired and this was a legitimate concern. I just didn’t want to be confused.

I am very happy to report that it wasn’t an issue; there may be some moments in the story that stretch credibility and logic, but for the most part Days of Future Past is such a fun and entertaining ride that it doesn’t much matter. The time travel aspect is fairly easy to follow and allows the filmmakers to figure out how to bridge the original X-Men trilogywith X-Men: First Class. It also permits them to cherry pick the biggest stars from both periods of the franchise – I call this the Jennifer Lawrence effect – and the audience gets to have its cake and eat it too, with two versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. It’s obviously very early, but I have to say that X-Men: Days of Future Past is the early frontrunner for my favorite movie of the summer. I just had a really good time.

When we first meet up with the X-men in the film, the future is looking pretty bleak. Mutants and the humans that support them are being exterminated by Sentinels, giant robots that are able to morph and adapt to various mutant powers. A small band of X-men have been able to elude capture by using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to send people’s consciousness back into their younger selves to warn them of imminent attack. Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professer Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hatch a plan to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to stop the Sentinels from being created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and prevent this dystopian future from happening. He’ll need to recruit the younger versions of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Xavier (James McAvoy) to help him, a difficult prospect as the two were not exactly pals back in 1973. However, he’ll need them both to reach Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), who is the key to everything. This all may sound a little confusing, but I assure that it is easy to follow on the big screen.

What I liked in particular about X-Men: Days of Future Past is that it does a really nice job of balancing both action and story. There are some fun and engaging fight scenes in the film, as to be expected from a summer comic book movie and the effects are top notch. It’s a thrilling ride and well-executed. But none of the explosions and battles would mean much if there wasn’t something behind it – that’s something that a lot of summer blockbusters still haven’t figured out. This is not a problem in Days of Future Past because the characters are so well defined and there is still room for additional character growth and real emotion. These mutants might be able to control people’s minds or instantly heal themselves, but they are also going through some stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that Days of Future Past has a pretty stellar cast, boasting multiple Oscar winners and other excellent thespians. When you have that kind of bench to draw from, you can go deeper with your characters and trust that your actors will be able to deliver – which they uniformly do. Many of these actors have also played these characters in multiple films – I think this is Jackman’s seventh time out as Wolverine – so they understand who these characters are and their motivations. That added dimension helps invest you in all the action sequences, because you actually have some investment in what happens to these mutants. The visual imagery never outweighs the story.

I also appreciated the more pared down focus of this film – there are a lot of X-men and it is easy to get bogged down with so many characters to juggle. Days of Future Past is smart about it; while many members of the X-Men universe turn up throughout the film, a lot of them are simple role players. It’s a nice way to have the best of both worlds – we get to see some old friends, but the film doesn’t worry about giving everyone a story line or a moment to shine. All the characters are there to support the greater good, which is a tight and fun action movie. The obvious candidates take center stage, but other characters get some smaller individual moments. This paring down is essential – failure to do so would result in a sprawling story that in attempting to service everyone wouldn’t do right by anyone.

This leaner and meaner X-men story means that there is room to introduce some new characters. While the character of Trask isn’t particularly well defined, Peter Dinklage is such a freaking force of nature that it really doesn’t matter that he is just “evil scientist guy.” He lights up the screen in every scene that he is in and has such charisma that he makes way more of Trask than was probably on the page. That man is a national treasure. Evan Peters, best known for American Horror Story, also steals most scenes that he is in and provides some fantastic comic relief. I don’t believe they ever call his character by his mutant name, but fans of the comics (or people who read the Internet like I do) will know who he is. A great addition to the cast.

Some other thoughts:

  • Hugh Jackman gets naked in this one for no real reason, but it was much appreciated.
  • I do have one bone to pick with Marvel – Evan Peters character is ALSO played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the upcoming Avengers movie. That is way too confusing; I have enough to keep track of without two different actors playing the same guy in movies that are released pretty close to one another. Stop hurting my head, Marvel!
  • I enjoy The Pete Holmes Show sketches where he fires the X-Men. The latest is Magneto:

 

The bonus of having a large junk of the film set in the 70s? We already know from American Hustle that J-Law looks great in the clothes!

article-2565402-1BB9103400000578-858_634x462

All in all, X-Men: Days of Future Past was a very enjoyable cinematic experience. The return of director Bryan Singer brought a steadying hand to a franchise that was starting to wobble and the end result is an entertaining and action packed film that breathes some fresh life into the series. The cast, writers and director have figured out how to balance the humanity of these characters with their inhuman abilities and create a well-rounded film. There are some moments that slightly defy logic, but you are having so much fun that you don’t even care that everything might not hold water under closer examination. Definitely one of the better X-men entries in the film canon; not only did I like Days of Future Past, but I am more excited for X-Men: Apocalypse. Go see this film, bub.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Christmas Eve Edition

Tis the season of giving and I could think of nothing better to give my dear readers than an extra jam packed stocking of pop culture links. There is a lot in here, which will hopefully keep you entertained as the blog takes a mini-holiday hiatus for a couple of days. If all goes according to plan, I should be back Friday with a Wolf of Wall Street review.

And now, my gift to you: more pop culture knowledge than you can shake a stick at:

  • You can now watch Metallica’s entire concert in Antarctica:

 

  • Lifetime has also announced dates for their Flowers in the Attic and Lizzie Borden movies.
  • Kate Winslet has picked a name for her newborn son and yes, it’s unusual (though kudos for NOT giving the kid his father’s last name of Rocknroll).
  • STOP THE PRESSES – a Tom Hiddleston/Benedict Cumberbatch dance-off:

I think the Internet just exploded.

  • I do love me some touchdown celebrations, so I appreciate the Wall Street Journal analyzing all 1,150 in the 2013 season:

They also created this fancy chart.

  • Watch Ron Burgundy perform “Ride Like the Wind” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

 

  • Paul Rudd told Letterman about the time he tried to break up a drag queen fight while in his Anchorman 2 costume:

THAT should have been added to the movie!

  • Put Conan, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart together and watch the magic happen:

 

  • Conan also visited The American Doll store.

I think Conan has just earned his way to a season pass on my DVR. He’s killing it lately.

  • Watch a Jeopardy! contestant do his best Bane impression:

 

  • I enjoyed this Cougar Town ad created from thousands of corks. The Cul-de-sac crew loves its vino!

tumblr_my0ufjcb7u1qzdv20o1_500

  • Cracker Barrel pulled, then restocked, their Duck Dynasty merchandise after Phil Robertson’s controversial GQ interview.
  • Justin Timberlake photobombed some people at his concert:

5Z9CyPM

  • Ha! Watch Michael K. Williams (OMAR!) promote the Chalky White line of children’s books:

 

  • I’ll be on the market for a new car within a year; perhaps I should look into this LEGO car.

For your holiday perusal – a tone of trailers:

  • A new teaser for Community (January 2! Can’t wait!)

 

  • A teaser trailer for the new season of Orphan Black:

 

  • Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx in Rio 2:

 

  • A promo for Patton Oswalt’s new standup special:

 

  • A longer look at HBO’s Looking:

 

  • An animated trailer for Community:

 

  • Did the Oscars always have trailers?

 

  • Ha! Netflix did a trailer for their streaming Yule Log:

 

  • A trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel:

 

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:

 

 

  • A red band trailer for 22 Jump Street:

 

  • The Other Woman starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton:

 

  • The Expendables 3 teaser trailer:

 

  • Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore team up for what I’m already predicting will be one of the worst movies of 2014:

 

  • Jon Hamm + Baseball = Heather’s wheelhouse. I will see Million Dollar Arm 100 times.

 

  • A third season trailer for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:

 

  • I have never seen Kanye as happy as he is in this photo, eating ice cream:

o-KANYE-570

 

There has been a sudden proliferation of oral histories;

A few quick Mashups and Supercuts

  • Check out this illustrated mashup of memorable pop culture events in 2013:

 

 

  • I try to keep you guys up to date, but if you want a real crash course, here’s a three minute video on 2013 pop culture:

 

  • Watch Jeff Winger and Dean Pelton’s relationship on Community reimagined as a psychological thriller:

 

And finally, we end with a bunch of holiday stuff:

  • A holiday themed Billy on the Street featuring Amy Poehler:

 

  • For those of you who feel a little grinchy, an “I hate Christmas” supercut:

 

  • This never gets old – the Happy Endings Hip Hop Santa dance-off:

 

  • A Peanuts flashmob? Outstanding!

 

  • Watch Elf re-enacted with pugs:

 

  •  Whoa – check out this gingerbread Optimus Prime:

gammasquadgingerbreakoptimus2

  • A song made only from Christmas tree ornaments:

 

  • Some guy named Paul inserted himself into Home Alone:

 

  • In honor of Festivus, a supercut of Seinfeld characters airing their grievances:

I’ve got a lot of problems with you people.

  • “Defying Gravity” as sung by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer:

 

  • And finally…..Conan reveals a terrifying twist for Elf on the Shelf:

 

Wishing you all a very happy holidays – however you choose to celebrate, I hope you are smiling.