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Sat02292020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

And now for something completely different …

Hugh Jackman (allegedly) is saying goodbye to Wolverine with Logan, a total shocker of a superhero movie that lays waste to the X-Men and stand-alone Wolverine movies that came before it. Director James Mangold, who piloted the decent The Wolverine, revamps the character’s mythos, and pulls in Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) for the gritty, bloody, nasty, awesome ride.

It’s the future, and the X-Men are gone. A mutant hasn’t been born in a quarter-century, and Logan isn’t looking too hot. He’s driving a limo to make ends meet, coughing up blood and not aging well.

However, he’s doing a lot better than Xavier (the mutant formally known as Professor X), who is prone to seizures and suffering from some sort of degenerative brain disease. Logan has to keep him in a big, empty tank to shield the world from his spells, which can cause major physical distress to those in the vicinity, including Logan. He gets help in caring for Xavier from Caliban (comedian Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant with mind powers.

Just when it seems as if Logan and Xavier will waste away in their miserable existence, along comes Laura (a dynamite Dafne Keen). She’s a genetically engineered mutant equipped with the same retractable claws and viciously bad temper as Logan. When her life becomes endangered, Logan throws her and Xavier in the back of his vehicle, and they depart on one wild, dark road trip.

To say this movie is violent would be an understatement. On the heels of Deadpool and its R-rated success, Mangold and company let the flesh and profanity rip with this one. Mangold brings some of his Western chops (he directed 3:10 to Yuma) to the proceedings, even making direct references to Shane. The liberties he’s been allowed to take with an otherwise family-friendly franchise are remarkable: People die hard in this one, and nobody is sporting fancy uniforms.

The action scenes are flawless, marvels of special effects and awards-worthy editing. There is a scene involving Xavier having an especially bad seizure that is one of the best I have ever seen in an action film. You’ll know it when you see it.

Jackman has always been a terrific Wolverine. He has a firm seat in the Superhero Performance Hall of Fame with the likes of Reeve, Keaton, Bale and Downey. He’s all-in for this picture, and he’s finally allowed to take Logan, aka Wolverine, to his most violent, sadistic extremes. There’s no holding back with his work here; it’s a fitting conclusion to his run with the character.

There’s a long way to go in this film year, but Stewart should already be getting some Oscar buzz for his turn in this movie. While Jackman takes Wolverine to an extreme some of us geeks might expect, Stewart is allowed to explore the sad, broken side of Xavier, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. He has some of the greater moments of his career in this film.

All elements of this movie are grade-A spectacular: Logan is one of the very best comic-book films ever made. If you were to call it the best ever, you wouldn’t be met with much opposition. It’s an example of a great idea delivered with stupendous results.

The last two weeks have given us Get Out and Logan. The movie year is off to one of its best starts in many years. As for the X-Men franchise, it’s doubtful the accomplishments of Logan will ever be topped … but it will be interesting to see somebody try.

Logan is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There are some good ideas at play in Chappie, the latest from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. Problem is, many of those ideas are unabashedly lifted from other movies. There’s nothing seriously original in this strange and goofy story of a sentient robot that loves his drug-dealer “parents.”

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, possibly the most overrated film of the new century) is sick of his cubicle job; he works for a company creating police robots in Australia. He wants to take things to the next level and create the world’s first “human” robot—a robot with a consciousness. So we get a bunch of sequences with him vigorously typing (aided by prominently placed Red Bull), only to be left with the monitor saying “UNSUCCESSFUL.”

Eventually, the screen says “SUCCESSFUL,” and the program to make an emotional robot has become reality. Against the wishes of his superior (Sigourney Weaver), Deon steals a damaged police robot with the intent of loading his program into the sucker.

However, some drug-dealers kidnap Deon and discover his plans. They force him to upload the program into the damaged robot, and insist that he leave the robot with them to help with a big heist. So while Deon is off doing whatever, Chappie the robot learns the ways of the street and starts speaking slang.

Chappie is voiced by Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley, who also provides a decent motion-capture performance. Because Chappie is portrayed as a baby robot learning rapidly, Copley has to go with a very childlike performance. It’s endearing at times, but this is nothing he’d want on his résumé reel.

Chappie’s drug-dealer parents are Yolandi and Ninja, played by Yo-Landi Visser and … some guy named Ninja. They teach Chappie the ways of swearing and shooting things, and even get him to steal cars. The screenplay, by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, tries to give these characters redemptive qualities toward the film’s end, but fails. They are scumbag drug dealers, after all.

If this all sounds stupid, that’s because it mostly is—which is shocking, considering it’s from the mind of the usually reliable Blomkamp. His Elysium, starring a bald Matt Damon, was a step down from the very good District 9, but it still had its merits. Chappie, on the other hand, is misguided flop from the start.

A year after the RoboCop remake, we get a film in which police robots have similar voices and basically say the same things as Peter Weller’s original half-man, half-robot. There’s even a big robot called “The Moose” that is much like the ED-209 championed by Ronny Cox’s bad guy in the original. This time out, the villain is Hugh Jackman, playing Deon’s mullet-wearing co-worker who wants The Moose to go into mass production. It’s the same damn plot! Somebody’s ass should get sued. And what were they thinking when they gave Jackman that haircut?

While the movie is largely ripped off from RoboCop, there are also traces of I, Robot, as well as Run Lola Run, Wall-E, Terminator, District 9, Elysium, E.T. and others. It feels like a hodgepodge of every robot movie ever made.

I’m concerned, because Blomkamp just got the green light from Fox to make Alien 5, possibly with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn. Now that Chappie is dead on arrival, could the Alien project be in jeopardy? If so, everybody needs to run out and see this piece of shit so we can get our Alien movie. As film geeks, we must make sacrifices sometimes.

Chappie is playing at theaters across the valley.

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The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

For a good part of its running time, Prisoners seems as if it could be one of 2013’s best pictures. It has a good premise and a shocking middle.

Alas, the film falls apart a bit at the end, with a finale as stupid as the rest of the film is gripping.

Hugh Jackman delivers a fierce performance as Keller Dover, a survivalist who goes into vigilante mode after his daughter and her friend are kidnapped. When a semi-irritable detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) apprehends a mentally challenged suspect (Paul Dano), Dover and the detective go head-to-head on how to deal with him. When the suspect is set free, Dover captures and tortures him.

These parts of the film are solid, showing the lengths a parent could go to in order to find a missing child. As for the film’s mystery element: That’s where things fall apart. It strains so hard to be clever that it becomes ridiculous by the time credits roll.

Gyllenhaal is quite good here, even when the screenplay lets him down. The same goes for Jackman and his justifiably maniacal turn. He’s a sharp actor, and he makes the goofy ending watchable. Supporting performances from Maria Bello and Terrence Howard are decent.

The movie was shot by cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins, so it looks good. Prisoners is worth seeing for the most part, but it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Special Features: You only get a couple of short behind-the-scenes features.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I’m not a hater of X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I thought it was stupid fun. I am in the minority, though, so along came The Wolverine, a new attempt to take Hugh Jackman’s Logan into a freestanding franchise.

Directed by James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma), The Wolverine goes in a darker, more-serious direction, although the film still includes some fine action scenes. (The opening scene in Nagasaki and a fight above a bullet train are both incredible.) Jackman, who has a lot more veins popping than he did last time, again has a blast in the title role.

The plot involves an old friend of Logan looking for the key to eternal life—a key which Wolverine actually has, making him a mutant of extra purpose and value. Most of the action takes place in Japan, and Wolverine loses his powers for a stretch, so we get the odd sight of him bleeding and getting lethargic.

Mangold and his crew deserve credit for filming two of the world’s most beautiful women: Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima. The also-remarkable-looking Famke Janssen makes some dream appearances as Jean Grey—and stay through the credits to get what some might consider to be the film’s best scene.

While I didn’t hate X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I acknowledge this effort is a better movie. Next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past looks like the stuff of a comic-book-lover’s wet dream, and is sure to give Mr. Jackman another wondrous showcase for those sideburns.

Special Features: The extended edition comes on its own disc and features about 12 more minutes, as well as a commentary by Mangold. You also get the theatrical version, with a nearly one-hour documentary on the film’s making, and an alternate ending. There’s also a short preview for X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Prisoners, the new kidnapping thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, is one of those movies that is impressive while being watched—but it loses some of its power upon reflection.

By the time I got to my car after the screening, my head started going “Wait a minute … that part didn’t make much sense, now did it?”

I enjoyed the film on many levels. It’s 2 1/2 hours long, and the time went by fairly quickly. The two leads are at the top of their games, and you just can’t go wrong with the visuals when Roger Deakins is working the camera.

But somewhere around the third act, the kidnapping-mystery element starts going a little haywire. Director Denis Villeneuve and his writer, Aaron Guzikowski, are so determined to trip viewers up that the movie traipses over to the ridiculous side. This doesn’t derail the film, but it downgrades it a bit.

Keller Dover (Jackman) and his wife Grace, (Maria Bello), are having a Thanksgiving get-together with friends Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) when both of the couples’ daughters go missing. Keller’s son Ralph (Dylan Minnette) saw a messed-up looking RV near the house earlier in the day, and he reports it.

Det. Loki (Gyllenhaal) is called away from his Thanksgiving dinner at a greasy spoon when the RV is spotted. They arrest Alex Jones (a freaky Paul Dano), a man with an IQ of a 10-year-old, on suspicion of kidnapping.

Loki does his best to get info out of Alex, to no avail. The suspect is released due to a lack of evidence—and Keller goes ballistic. He takes matters into his own hands, resulting in Keller kidnapping Alex—and leading to some rather harsh torture scenes. Dano spends much of the film under heavy gore makeup.

Up until this point, Prisoners is a movie that focuses on the dilemma of what lengths a parent would go to in order to find a child. Keller brings Franklin to the torture chamber, and the two put Alex through hell. The victim keeps dropping possible hints, with no real solid info—so the torture amplifies. It’s brutal, and credit goes to all three actors for convincingly conveying the humiliation, fear, regret and sadism that must go with such a situation.

Det. Loki is in what sometimes feels like another movie; he’s trying to solve the kidnapping while stumbling upon other crimes along the way. Around the time he was uncovering bloody storage bins full of snakes, the movie started losing a bit of its cohesiveness. Still, Gyllenhaal is rock-solid as Loki, a quiet man laced with a bad temper that gets him and others into trouble.

The film is set in an often gloomy, gray, rainy Pennsylvania where everything looks plain and safe—but dark things are happening in those old houses. Villeneuve and Deakins use this setting to maximum effect, and the film is always interesting visually. (Film geeks know that Deakins is the go-to cinematographer for the Coen brothers.)

The film successfully keeps viewers guessing as to the identity of the kidnapper/kidnappers until late in the film. Everybody in the cast behaves suspiciously enough at one point or another, meaning almost nobody can be dismissed as a possibility.

This ambiguity hurts the film in many ways, as the film strays from a core moral message and becomes a preposterous whodunit. The eventual revelation struck me as a letdown—perhaps even a copout.

Stretches of this film will draw comparisons to the 1988 Dutch classic The Vanishing (Spoorloos). Unfortunately, stretches can also be compared to the crappy 1993 American remake of The Vanishing in which Jeff Bridges took a shovel to the mouth. At least Prisoners has a great final moment, so it ends on a good note.

The film contains some of the year’s best acting and best visuals, and it maintains a fierce intensity for much of its running time. That said, I can’t deny its flaws. With a slight rewrite and tighter editing, this could’ve been one of the year’s best pictures. 

Prisoners is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I’m not a hater of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine; it was fun, albeit stupid fun. Still, many despised it, and this is a new attempt to create a film franchise around Hugh Jackman’s Logan.

Director James Mangold takes this film in a darker, more-serious direction, but he proves quite adept at creating an action scene. (The opening scene in Nagasaki, and a fight above a bullet train, are both incredible.)

Jackman, who has a lot more veins popping than he did the last time we saw him, again has a blast in the title role. The plot involves an old friend of Wolverine looking for the key to eternal life, which Wolverine actually has—so this makes him a mutant with extra purpose. Most of the action takes place in Japan; Wolverine loses his powers for a stretch, so we get the odd sight of him bleeding and getting lethargic.

Mangold and his crew also get credit for bringing to film two of the year’s most beautiful women: Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima. Good lord, these two are remarkable-looking.

Famke Janssen makes some dream appearances as Jean Grey—and be sure to stay through the credits to see what some might consider the film’s best scene.

The Wolverine is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Time will tell us that Les Misérables—being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, Friday, March 22—was a far more deserving movie than Argo for Best Picture. As far as movie musicals go, I can’t think of one that has ever amazed me more—and I’m a big movie-musical fan. I rank this one alongside My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Grease as one of cinema’s all-time-best musicals. I personally put it at No. 1, even with Russell Crowe’s painful singing.

Director Tom Hooper, criminally snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination, had his stars sing live on set. They wore earpieces and microphones, which were later removed in post-production, with a music track playing along as they sang their hearts out.

The results are absolutely amazing. Anne Hathaway got her much-deserved Oscar after doing “I Dreamed a Dream” in a long, uninterrupted take. Whenever I watch her doing this, my eyes open so wide that I have no forehead left.

Hugh Jackman, you should have an Oscar on your mantle. Daniel Day-Lewis did a nice job as Lincoln, but Jackman did something nobody has really done before. As for Crowe, I’m sort of OK with how bad he sounds. It makes his nasty character, the determined lawman Javert, more pathetic and isolated.

Watching this movie is goose-bump city. It will always stand as one of cinema history’s greatest movie-making achievements.

Special Features: Hooper provides a commentary, and you get some behind-the-scenes docs, including a great one about how they recorded the live music. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This review comes to you from a man who loves a good musical—and is a diehard fan of Les Misérables. Haters of movie musicals everywhere, I beseech you: Give this one a chance! Lovers of this musical ... unite! The movie is a blast!

Les Misérables, based on the Victor Hugo novel set in 19th-century France, has always been the epitome of a big musical done right. When I saw it on Broadway, I remember thinking something along the lines of, "There's no way in hell anybody could ever put this on the big screen in a respectable fashion." To mount a worthy production, one would need a big budget, and one would need big stars with box-office allure who can sing like no other. I'm happy to report that director Tom Hooper didn't just find stars who can sing; those stars make you freaking cry when they are singing. They are that good.

Hooper (The King's Speech) gathered his glorious cast, and then he went and made things even more complicated: The actors and actresses in this muscular musical sing live on set. There are no comfy sound booths with fancy mineral water. What you see and hear in this movie is the product of live takes.

It's absolutely remarkable. The performance by Hugh Jackman, in the central role of notorious bread-stealer Jean Valjean, is more than Oscar-worthy; his work here requires an Oscar. His physical presence is appropriately commanding, and his voice is miraculous. This is a role that could turn to schmaltz in the wrong hands, but rest assured that what you're seeing is one of musical cinema history's greatest, most-uncompromising performances.

Shockingly, his is not the best performance in the movie. That honor goes to Anne Hathaway as Fantine, the betrayed factory worker turned prostitute who's desperately trying to care for daughter Cosette (played by the sweetly voiced Isabelle Allen as a child). Hathaway delivers "I Dreamed a Dream" in one devastatingly beautiful take that will drop many a jaw into many a lap.

Some will point to Russell Crowe's Javert as the film's weak link, and in some ways, it is. Crowe's voice doesn't compare to the likes of Jackman and Hathaway, but his diminished vocals help make his Javert more pathetic.

Javert, the dogged lawman who destroys his life by unrelentingly pursuing the fugitive Valjean, has long been a literary loser, and Crowe brings a marked sadness to him. The fact that his voice isn't so grand just makes his Javert lonelier and bleaker. I was expecting something more booming, but this interpretation is growing on me.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are appropriately disgusting as innkeepers Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Amanda Seyfried, after the failure of Mamma Mia!, gets to put her capable voice to a better test as the grown Cosette, while Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) gives a breakthrough performance as her suitor, Marius.

The coveted role of Éponine (for which Taylor Swift was once rumored) has gone to Samantha Barks, who was featured in the acclaimed Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary. Hooper made the right choice; her rendition of "A Little Fall of Rain" qualifies as the best I've heard.

Hooper does more than put a bunch of great actors and voices in play. His staging of the musical is superbly accomplished. When Daniel Huttlestone emerges from a huge elephant statue and delivers "Paris/Look Down" from the back of a moving horse carriage, it's pure movie magic. The costuming, art direction and sets are all impeccable.

Those familiar with the show know that a good chunk of it takes place on a pile of furniture. Hooper does great things with the infamous last stand in the street.

By the time Cosette and Valjean have their last meeting, you have seen so many moments of grandeur that it's hard to keep track. The decision to have the actors sing live was a risky one, but it pays off in a big way.

Am I fawning? You bet I am. It's such a wonderful thing to see something that delivers more than what you were expecting. Nothing hurts a film critic more than a long-awaited movie that falls short. (I'm looking at you, Hobbit!) If either Hathaway or Jackman go home Oscar-less, that would be a shame.

Les Misérables is so much more than a worthy adaptation of a long cherished musical. It's a masterful game-changer when it comes to movie musicals. I could go on and on about how great it is, but words of praise can't possibly do it justice. See it.

Les Misérables is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews