Logan (2017) – Movie Review

logan

“Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.” Logan (Hugh Jackman)

God is allowing us to enjoy the last in the X-Men /Wolverine cycle with Hugh Jackman having endured 17 years of pumping up to give adolescent males a reason to get up for the demands of an unforgiving world. However, this film, Logan, is not all blood and guts—it presents an aging hero coming to terms with the natural degeneration of his greatness and his legacy.

It’s really all about how these mutants, who clearly represent the fringes of society with odd residents marginalized by the homogeneity of the world. Inevitability hangs over this substantial hero saga, especially an iteration that suggests what even super heroes long for— immortality through lineage or enduring philosophy.

As the founder of the mutant school, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), tells it to Wolverine: “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment . . . .” The film is suffused with a sense of the importance of family, not just Logan and his daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), but also the new generation of mutants who must band together to survive.

The heroism turns on love rather than technology. The love is familial, in this case Logan discovering his daughter then sacrificing his safety to escort her to Eden, a place with other child mutants, who must hide from the dark forces bent on using them as soldiers. Although such bonding is the stuff of cliché, this film makes the growing love and sacrifice believable.

In the end, the search has been to discover what it’s like to live and love normally. Albeit briefly. Amidst the sturm and drang of violent, bloody super hero films, and this one has as much violence as any other, the discovery of homely love is the greatest adventure of all.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Movie Review

wolverine origins

The problem with making a film about the origin of the mutant super-hero Wolverine is that he was never meant to have an origin. He was created as a throwaway character for an issue of The Incredible Hulk, then got picked up as a supporting character for the revamping of the X-Men. No one really thought he was important enough to have his own origin, but he became one of the most popular comic book characters of the last 30 years. That led to a series of attempts to graft a powerful and moving beginning onto a character that was only intended to be a badass with a cool gimmick. But instead of a simple but profound start like “Strange visitor from another planet” or “With great power comes great responsibility”, Wolverine got an origin that became increasingly convoluted and overwrought as more and more was added to it over time. That’s reflected in this movie, which actually crams at least three distinct origin tales into 107 minutes. Throw in the traditional “summer movie” boatload of explosions, gunfire and combat and there’s not much room left for a good story.

I mean, you know that scene where someone kneels over the body of a dead loved one and screams “Nooooooooo!” to the heavens? This movie has two scenes like that. It has a shot of Wolverine walking into the camera as a huge explosion goes off behind him. There’s a character who is clearly established as being a mass murderer, but then the film suddenly decides that being a mass murderer isn’t that big a deal. Not to mention that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a movie that literally stops to explain its own ending 15 minutes before it actually happens.

All that said, this isn’t a bad film. The action sequences are all pretty good, the acting is better than you usually get for this sort of thing and while the story is kind of a mess, it makes enough sense that you’re not left sitting in the theater thinking that every character in the movie is an idiot.

In fact, this is the rare action movie where the acting is probably the best thing about it. Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Durand are legitimately funny as mutants Deadpool and The Blob. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as usual. Danny Huston as William Stryker and Liev Schreiber and Sabretooth give probably the best performances of the film. It’s not always easy to play a younger version of a character already portrayed by a fine actor, but Huston makes Stryker just similar enough to the man from X-Men 2 and is able to give him a little more depth. Schreiber brings real emotion and a sense of legitimacy his furry mutant. His Sabretooth isn’t just a prop for Wolverine’s story, but a living, breathing character in his own right.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells a story that was never meant to be told. It doesn’t do it very well, but that it can do it at all without being a total disaster is something of an achievement. This movie doesn’t have a personal element that ever rises above the cliché and it has none of the broader moral or societal points that were found in the X-trilogy itself. This is just a big, dumb, fun “summer movie” and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

6 out of 10 stars

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FanExpo Toronto 2018 – Creator Spotlight on John Byrne

 

FAN EXPO Canada is the largest Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada and the 3rd largest Pop Culture event in North America.

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

Everything you wanted to know about comic-book icon John Byrne… as long as you’re not afraid to ask! John rarely does conventions so we’ll make sure everyone who has a question or comment for him has plenty of time to be heard. No question is out of bounds (but if it is, you can expect John to tell you so!)

FanExpo: https://www.fanexpocanada.com/en/about-us/about-us.html

 

Follow Me:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/A_G_Ferguson

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andrew_g_ferguson/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/franklag19101967

 

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X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006) – Movie Review

x-men the last stand

A departed fanboy director. A widely reported rush production. And Brett Ratner as replacement director. Things weren’t looking good for the third installment of our X-Heroes. Cynics crossed their arms in haughty resignation, while comic geeks vented their outrage in a fittingly Phoenix-inspired display. And yet despite the odds here it is, tipped as the last stand, and the fears of those expecting the worst were perhaps unjustified.

Promising more emotional grounding in his instalment, director Ratner managed to pacify the blood-braying fanboys (and girls) still reeling from the sudden departure of fan favourite Singer. A snazzy trailer helped, showcasing some saliva-inducing imagery, and confirming that Ratner was faithfully sticking to Singer’s staunch visual style. The question remained, however; could he follow through and create an X adventure worthy of its highly acclaimed predecessors? The surprising answer is yes. And no. Well, sort of. X-Men: The Last Stand is a leaner, more streamlined entry excelling in slick sets, breathtaking action, and top-notch special effects. This is a summer blockbuster to the core, and damn proud of it.

Ratner’s presence behind the camera is unmistakable, and it is undeniably his crowd-pleasing instincts that steer X3 through the pitfalls of studio money-spinning agendas that surrounded the production. Unleashed on his audience is an infectious enthusiasm for visual spectacle that generates satisfyingly outrageous cinematic results. Not only are we are afforded a spectacular face-off at the Grey residence, but also the stunning sight of the Golden Gate Bridge being magnificently relocated, and a striking finale in which the world is literally turned upside down in an emotional confrontation.

This, however, is a film creaking with franchise baggage. The events of not one, but two previous X films bear down on Ratner’s film like the fists of Colossus, giving it a somewhat schizophrenic ambiance. The thrill-seeking director clearly struggles to compose X3 as both a sequel and a stand-alone adventure. As a consequence, few actors are given much to work with save the key players, who do what they can with a script that appears in a bit of a hurry. Famke Janssen stands heads above the rest: nothing short of brilliant as the returned Jean Grey (or Dark Phoenix), she portrays just the right amount of inner turmoil, vulnerability and downright creepy-ness to really hit the right notes. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are again the glue that holds everything together, both skilfully communicating the subtle nuances of their characters’ complex relationship. Others, like Kelsey Grammar’s Beast, and even James Marsden’s Cyclops come across as something of an after thought. There’s simply too much cast spread much too thinly.

The sacrifices extend throughout the rest of the film, too. Those little moments that imbued the other X films with heart and gravity are glaringly absent here; characters rush through expositional speeches, barely pausing for breath before the next explosive encounter. So while the pow-pow-pow approach ensures X3 a vigorous pace that effectively gathers momentum, its resultant whirlwind can tend to sweep over the rest of the film to its own detriment.

And when the final credits roll, just how has Ratner done with his last minute leap into the world of X? It’s difficult to judge how much tighter his X3 could have been if more time and creative control had been offered to him. The studio leash tightens noticeably as the running time accumulates: the three plot lines each struggle for exposure but none reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion. In the end, Ratner must be commended for crafting a film in a decidedly dubious climate, a film that is not only watchable, but entertaining too. X3 has its shortcomings, but there’s more than enough bang for your buck. And of course things are nicely left open for another installment. Now, where to find a fanboy director to fill those Singer-sized shoes?

 

7 out of 10 stars

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X2: X-Men United (2003) – Movie Review

x2

With nine films thus far and at least two more on the horizon, all released over a near-twenty year window, 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” film franchise is something of a wonder in today’s world of near- constant reboots and remakes. While it has by no means been a smooth ride, the fact remains that the long-running series has been a widely beloved and infinitely important one, especially when placed into historical perspective. Director Bryan Singer’s original entry was one of the first major comic-to-film adaptations that convinced studios and audiences alike that comic-book movies could not only be mature and enthralling, but could be certified hits once again after the genre seemed to die-out in the 90’s. And thus, a franchise was born and has stuck around ever since, through thick and thin.

It’s almost a surprise, however, that one of the best entries in the entire saga came so early- 2003’s follow-up “X2.” With Singer once again at the helm, the film is in every conceivable way an improvement over his excellent first film- it’s more thoughtful, more daring, more exciting… I think one could even reasonably say that not only is it arguably the greatest film in the franchise- it just might be one of the best comic-to-film adaptations of all time. Yes, it’s that good.

Some time after the original film, a brainwashed mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) is sent on a mission to try and assassinate the President of the United States under the guise of being a martyr for Mutant Freedom. Despite the mutant being stopped, the troubling event gives Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) the political edge and backing needed to get approval for an “investigation” on Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters- but his investigation is actually an invasion, as he storms the school, taking many students hostage and forcing the remaining X-Men to flee. At the same time, Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) are sent on a mission to collect Nightcrawler and learn his motivation for the attack, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are captured by Stryker’s mysterious bodyguard (Kelly Hu) and the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) helps her former leader Magneto (Ian McKellan) escape from his high-tech prison. Soon, the remaining mutants (including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Anna Paquin as Rogue and Shawn Ashmore as Iceman) are forced to team up with their former adversary to try and stop Stryker’s scheme to use Charles and his powers to wipe out all of the mutants on Earth.

Given the film’s nature as an ensemble piece, it’s near-impossible to discuss the performances of each actor individually. But to keep it brief, everyone returning from the original is great in their respective roles. Special commendation goes to Hugh Jackman and his continued excellence in the role that helped to define him as a superstar and to Famke Jannsen, who gets a lot more attention this time around. They are by far the stand-outs of the returning cast. I also highly enjoyed Stewart and McKellen, who bring a sense of class and elegance to their roles and are incredible as always. The newest additions are also outstanding. Brian Cox is one of the greatest actors of our time, and his turn as Stryker is quite remarkable. He gives the character both an easily- “despiseable” sense of threat and dread, yet also a nice and subtle sense of pain and pathos. He’s a cruel man, yet he has a past that might explain why he is the way he is. Alan Cumming is just magical as the frightened yet also amusing Nightcrawler, and there’s a lot of great moments in his performance. And Kelly Hu makes for a fun and furious adversary as Styker’s second-in-command “Lady Deathstrike.”

Singer returns to direct from a script by “X-Men” scribe David Hayter and the writing duo of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Singer got his start with hard-hitting thrillers like “The Usual Suspects” and “Apt Pupil”, and I think that’s part of what gives him an edge with the storytelling. He plays the stories straight and gives them a sense of real and honest threat, while also maintaining an emotional core that feels realistic despite the outlandish nature of the story and heavy Science-Fiction leanings of the material. He’s also a very gifted visual artist with a slick and savage sense of composition and flow that lends itself well to the needs of high- concept action. His work on the series has always been nothing less than stunning. The script is very tightly written and juggles the plethora of characters well- everyone has their moment to shine, every major player has a clearly defined role and arc and the pacing is superb. Some wonderful work is done with the writing, and it’s an honest shame that neither Hayter nor the writing partners of Dougherty and Harris were involved in the third entry.

The rest of the production is just marvelous. (Pardon the bad joke) Composer/co-editor John Ottman shapes some wonderful and memorable musical themes that compliment the tone and style perfectly, and he weaves together shots and sequences with a masterful touch. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s visual palette is cool and visually arresting, and his work is just stunningly gorgeous. Some wonderful visual flair is given thanks to his talent. And production and costume design courtesy Guy Hendrix Dyas and Louise Mingenbach respectively is just fantastic. The film is made with nothing but top-notch work from top-notch artists.

As it stands, “X2” is easily one of the best if not the single best entry in the long-running series. Its phenomenal direction, sharp and thoughtful writing, beautiful production and outstanding cast weave an enthralling and thrilling cinematic experience that still stands tall well over a decade later. It’s up there with the best of the best in terms of comic-book movies.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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X-Men (2000) – Movie Review

x-men

“X-Men” is a rare treat– a blockbuster that lives up to its hype and a comic book adaptation that hits the mark.

Along with Tim Burton’s “Batman”, this stands head and shoulders above all other superhero movies. It’s a genre that’s usually synonymous with silly, campy, cartoonish crap, but Bryan Singer delivers a long-awaited exception to the rule. “X-Men” is smart, stylish, and very cool… one of the better sci fi/fantasy films of the last decade.

Of course, it helps to have good source material.

The X-Men comics, which originated in the 1960s, are more politically progressive and morally complex than older superhero stories such as “Superman” where the heroes are always right, and truth, justice, and the American Way always prevail. The series is a well-crafted parable about individuality and discrimination. The characters are mutants–struggling to find a place in a society that rejects them. Its primary villain, Magneto, isn’t an evil lunatic– he’s a sympathetic character, a misguided revolutionary playing Huey Newton to Professor Xavier’s Martin Luther King. The iconic character, Wolverine, is a beer-swilling anti-hero who cares little for ideals and fights only to protect himself and his loved ones. The female characters are as powerful and important as the men, rather than being mere love interests.

Rather than making just another flashy explosion-per-minute-special-effects-extravaganza, Singer practices the lost arts of character and plot development. As a result, the movie has a far greater depth than the average big budget summer flick. The acting is also quite good on the whole. Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine, is fantastic–a bona fide Clint Eastwood caliber badass. Some of the dialogue is fairly cheesy, but in the hands of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart it sounds quite convincing. (Stewart has made a career out of making lame dialogue sound cool.)

Hard-core fans of the comics have complained about the omission of several popular X-Men. This is silly. A movie that gave the background on every character in the comic books would be 6 hours long. There will be plenty of time to develop new characters in the forthcoming sequels. Fans have also complained about the casting of Anna Paquin as Rogue. I disagree. Rogue is unable to touch another human being without harming them–she would not realistically act like a confident, sassy warrior. Paquin did a tremendous job of conveying the fear and isolation that such a young woman would feel. She will undoubtedly grow into the part in future movies.

In the end, “X-Men” is a comic book movie. Superpowers are explained with silly pseudoscientific babble, the plot revolves around a fairly ridiculous take-over-the-world scheme, and names like “Magneto” are spoken with a straight face. Don’t read all the glowing reviews and expect Citizen Kane. But don’t underestimate “X-Men” either. It is an intelligent movie that people will enjoy whether or not they are familiar with the comic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Wolverine (2013) – Movie Review

the wolverine

The Wolverine ranks among the better X-Men movies – along with Bryan Singer’s first two installments and Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class.

The Wolverine picks up with the semi-immortal mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman) looking particularly disheveled, after having spent an unspecified amount of time in self-imposed exile in the Canadian wilderness (following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand). Logan, who is tormented by the survivor’s guilt he’s accumulated over the centuries – having outlived every person he’s cared for – and haunted by recurring visions of his deceased love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), has abandoned his Wolverine (re: superhero) alter-ego for an isolated existence.

Everything changes when Logan is approached by a mysterious pink-haired woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She informs Wolvie that her employer Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) – the extremely wealthy founder of a powerful Japanese technology corporation – is on his deathbed and wishes to thank Logan, who saved his life way back in WWII. Logan is hesitant, but  soon agrees to accompany Yukio back to Tokyo, in order to to bid farewell to his old acquaintance – unaware that he’s taken the first step on a treacherous journey that will take him into the sordid underbelly of Japanese society, and leave him permanently altered in a mental, spiritual and physical sense.

The Wolverine is (mostly) a thematically-rich X-Men story that was realized under the direction of James Mangold, a filmmaker who has spent his career bouncing around from genre to genre (see: Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 to Yuma, Knight and Day, etc.). Mangold commits to exploring the depths of Logan’s emotional baggage while he and his collaborators infuse the proceedings with a strong appreciation for – and understanding of – cinema history and tradition. The final result: The Wolverine feels refreshingly different than just about every other superhero movie produced to date… for the first 3/4ths of its running time, anyway.

Many people who were eager to see a unique superhero/comic book adaptation felt their hopes shatter after the original version of The Wolverine – planned by director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) – collapsed in pre-production. There are times (read: the third act) when The Wolverine suffers from muddled storytelling and uninspired spectacle – the same problems that are present throughout the infamous prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, the majority of Mangold’s film ended up being (surprisingly) close to what McQuarrie had in mind: a thoughtful character study of the eponymous Adamantium-claw wielding mutant, with the occasional action sequence included here and there (for good measure).

Jackman, as Logan, appears to be in the best physical condition of his career here; furthermore, this film offers the most captivating portrayal of the character put on the big screen yet (how true he is to the X-Men comic books’ depiction – that’s open for debate). Under Mangold’s watch, Jackman successfully makes Wolverine feel like the superhero equivalent of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name (from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns): a “ronin” or samurai who is without a purpose, as one of the characters observes early on. There are parts of the score composed by Marco Beltrami (3:10 to Yuma, The Hurt Locker) that recall Ennio Morricone’s music for Leone films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which helps to hammer that idea home and strengthen the film’s East-meets-West subtext in the process.

Above all else, though, The Wolverine is informed by Noir traditions, beginning with the opening flashback to WWII (i.e. the event credited for inspiring the American Noir movement). Mangold and the film’s cinematographer, Ross Emery (a second-unit director of photography on Dark City and The Matrix trilogy) do a solid job of making Japan feel like the setting for an old-school detective story: shadowy and menacing at night, deceivingly harmless by day. Similarly, Logan is a proper choice for the Noir archetype of an investigating protagonist: he’s emotionally-fragile and vulnerable one moment, and in the next he throws a bad man out a window without even blinking an eye.

Action scenes in The Wolverine are relatively few and far between – which is good, because they have a tendency to be the film’s weakest moments. A major theme in the film is the brutal nature of death and violence, but that only comes across in the movie’s best – and bloodiest – fight sequence. The other combat-heavy beats are too choppy in their structure, save for the much-advertised fight atop a bullet train (which is entertaining, but kind of extraneous to the plot). Likewise, a healthy chunk of the final half-hour (including the climax) includes some hollow CGI-heavy fisticuffs and a ninja battle that is cut-short. The Wolverine feels likes an R-Rated movie edited down to PG-13, and that compromise undercuts some of its successes.

There are many supporting characters in The Wolverine, but a handful of them are either half-baked or unnecessary additions to the plot. Yukio, for example, is the interesting and well-rounded “sidekick” for Wolvie, while Mariko (Tao Okamoto) – Yashida’s grand-daughter – is in part a damsel-in-distress, but her own personal conflict and capabilities help to elevate the character above that basic archetype. Brian Tee, Hiroyuki Sanada and Will Yun Lee all play morally-questionable or corrupt individuals, who populate the neo-Noir setting. None of their characters are all that memorable, but each one serves a purpose in advancing the story.

Too bad the same cannot be said for the mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), a femme fatale whose role in the plot needed a rewrite – since her presence raises more questions than it answers (especially when you examine the film’s plot mechanics more closely). One look at the individual resume for each of the film’s credited writers – Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard, Total Recall (2012)) and Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report) – and you start to suspect that maybe one of them was more responsible than the other – as far as inserting empty action scenes and too many characters into the narrative is concerned.

Fortunately, Mangold keeps things running smoothly – until the last half-hour – and, in the end, accomplishes what he wanted: to do right by the great Wolverine comic book mini-series written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller. As such, The Wolverine ranks among the better X-Men movies – along with Bryan Singer’s first two installments and Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class – even though its artistic compromises prevent it from reaching greatness.

 

7 out of 10