Logan Review

The X-Men film franchise is one of the most lopsided film series out there.  The first two films helped to define modern superhero cinema.  Origins was mediocre at best, terrible at worst.  First Class helped to restore my faith in the franchise, while Apocalypse was a massive letdown.  I’ve come to learn that it may be best to go into an X-Men film with no expectations to help lessen any potential disappointment.  I forewent that that rule with Logan.  I’ve been 100% hype for that film since the very moment rumors of an Old Man Logan film started making their way to the internet.  I was not disappointed.

The timeline in the X-Men films is so convoluted and filled with inconsistencies that it almost doesn’t matter when or how this film takes place.  It’s 2029, mutants are a thing of the past, Logan is a bitter old man and a heavy drinker, and Charles is kept locked up in a collapsed water tower.  It’s a tragically bleak setting with a compelling backstory that doesn’t get fleshed out in heavy-handed dialogue.  Instead, audiences are left to connect the dots as characters engage in conversations that have a real-world, organic feel.  There are no moments where the film breaks character to tell you something.  Every bit of dialogue that is spoken is said to someone who has lived in this world – someone who is familiar with what has happened over the last decade.  Viewers are visitors in this world, and it’s a harsh world that won’t welcome in anyone with open arms.  But those who take the time to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and its history will be well rewarded.

It’s been 17 years since the X-Men film franchise debuted and, since the initial film, each movie has been a (mostly) family-friendly PG-13 (Deadpool excepted).  With Logan, fans are treated with the brutally hard-R rated film they’ve been waiting for.  Seventeen years is appropriate timing for an R-rated goodbye to the two best roles in the franchise, even if it is hard to say “goodbye.”  Logan takes full advantage of its elevated rating, featuring some of the most graphic scenes in a comic book film not based on the works of Frank Miller.  But the brutality, the graphic violence, the language – none of it ever feels forced.  As organic as the dialogue is in the film, the violence on display feels equally appropriate.

As rewarding as it is to see The Wolverine in his full glory ripping through body parts with his adamantium claws, there’s a contrasting balance as the weight of his exploits weighs heavily on him.  He has long ago reached a point where this violence is something so ingrained in him that there’s nothing but a buried conscience and aching bones keeping the claws in.  The graphic action sequences and the aftermath that follows is a poetically beautiful visual of this ongoing, internal struggle that just happens to be fun to watch.

There’s a beauty in the subtler aspects of the film.  When it’s not gracing you with sharp dialogue and viscerally brutal fight scenes, Logan navigates deftly through the film’s narrative by omitting direct exposition.  The film tells you more by saying less.  Important plot points and backstories are often not told directly to the audience – they’re hinted at with offhand remarks or background noise that feels natural.  It never dumbs things down to let you know what happened, it expects you to embrace this world enough to just know.

While several of the previous X-Men films have been enjoyable in their own right, it’s sad see that the franchise waited until the two greatest players said their goodbyes to offer a truly great film.  It is a well-crafted experience that will challenge the idea of what makes a comic movie great – taking viewers on a journey through their emotional range before leaving them seated in silence as the cinema fades to black.  There may never be an X-Men movie that achieves the same level of greatness as Logan.  And that’s okay.

Good – 3 / 3

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Podcast 5 – June 22 2016

Darth Vader confirmed for Rogue One

The latest cover story of Entertainment Weekly confirms that Darth Vader will make an appearance in the upcoming film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  The latest edition of EW promises more information including a “run-down of the Sith lord’s first day on set, and what his return means for the larger Star Wars storytelling universe.”

Bryan Cranston joins Power Rangers cast

Emmy Award winning actor Bryan Cranston has announced on Twitter that he will be playing Zordon in the Power Rangers film reboot.  Cranston, who is now perhaps best known for his role as Walter White in Breaking Bad, has a history with the Power Rangers franchise, having provided voices to various monsters throughout the series’ run before moving on to some of his bigger roles.  Cranston adds some strong starring power to the cast of the film which, aside from Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, is composed of relatively unknown actors.  Power Rangers is currently scheduled for a March 24, 2017 release.

Warcraft is the highest grossing videogame movie of all time

Despite a steep decline in domestic revenue over the last week, Warcraft has become the highest grossing film adaptation of a videogame of all time – even adjusting for inflation.  Warcraft suffered a 73% drop in ticket sales from its opening weekend to last weekend, when it was up against the dominating force of Pixar’s Finding Dory.  The majority of the film’s ticket sales have come from overseas, with over $200 million of the film’s $377 earnings coming from China alone.  The film had a budget of $160 million and, despite some harsh reviews from critics, has been a success with fans.  Our own review gave the film a 3 / 3 (for a “Good” rank).  Despite the promising numbers, the film is expected to need to hit a $450 million gross to break even when considering the marketing budget, distribution costs, and a smaller cut from overseas markets.

The previous record holder, Prince of Persia, had a total gross of $335 million when its theatrical run finished.

Finding Dory Review

Pixar has, for years, defined quality family entertainment.  Their art direction has been emulated in several other films, and there’s a natural maturity to the films that is relatable to the countless adults in attendance.  The films are “safe” for children, even if the source material therein isn’t exactly targeted at them, though the marketing is.  Pixar is capable of creating worlds that are enticing for everyone with a beating heart and a sense of joy, with rarely a misstep between releases.  It’s no surprise, then, that Finding Dory is absolutely fantastic.

When the film was first announced, I was apprehensive.  Pixar’s last sequel, Cars 2, was one of those rare missteps.  It was a film that existed solely to sell merchandise and offered very little substance beyond that.  Not that Pixar is incapable of crafting worthy sequels, as the Toy Story franchise has proven, but the story of Finding Nemo felt complete.  I wasn’t begging for a sequel; I took the journey and was satisfied with the conclusion.  I was afraid that a sequel would be an unnecessary rehash and a cash grab.  How wrong I was.

Finding Dory opens, like every Pixar movie, with an animated short.  This one, titled Piper, tells the story of a little bird that needs to get its first meal on its own.  It’s a simple premise that is artfully crafted into one of the most charming shorts I’ve ever seen.  The animation is downright beautiful with a beach that feels real enough to walk on.  From the frothy waves lapping up on shore to the individual grains of sand that stick believably to the feathers of little Piper, the world feels so incredibly real and believable that Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this bird’s journey to independence wouldn’t feel out of place.  It’s a charming short that tells viewers, without speaking a single word, “You can do great things.”  The cynicism that’s blossomed within me over the years got some much needed weeding from the pure joy I felt during Piper’s short runtime.  Its theme is one that fits well with the film that follows.  It’s such a beautifully charming short capable of making even the hardest of hearts laugh, if only for a moment.

Piper was such a strong opening, I had high expectations from that point forward.  Finding Dory is more as much a prequel as it is a sequel.  The story opening with a very young Dory and her patient parents as they work with her and her memory issues.  See, Dory has problems with short-term memory loss and is easily distracted.  As a result, her parents have to use shells and rhymes to embed important things into her memory, with varying results.

Throughout the film, we’re taken back to these moments as Dory encounters something that triggers her memory.  It creates a non-linear narrative that encompasses the story that was told in Finding Nemo without relying too heavily on its predecessor.  Sure, there are various callbacks to Finding Nemo, and being familiar with the characters might help the world to feel a little more familiar, but there’s absolutely nothing in Finding Dory that would alienate new viewers.  It’s a film that stands on its own, despite living in an existing universe.  There’s only a handful of characters from the first film that make an appearance, and even less that are actually featured as main characters.

The majority of the film – aside from focusing on Dory, Marlin, and Nemo – is composed of a variety of new characters.  Joining the cast of characters is Kaitlyn Olson as a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale suffering from issues with echolocation after a recent concussion, and Ed O’Neill as an ornery “septopus” who is looking for a ticket to a Cleveland aquarium where he’ll be able to live a secluded life in a box free from getting touched.

Hank is easily my new favorite character to make its way into an animated movie.  He plays the unlikely hero as he agrees to help Dory only in exchange for her tag – a ticket to Cleveland.  As he spends more time with Dory, he slowly begins to sympathize with the character, and even care about her.  It’s a fluid evolution as Hank never transitions from being a self-serving anti-social jerk to a compassionate hero.  Hank, by the film’s end, is the same as he was, at his core, when he first met Dory.  We’re shown right off the bat that he isn’t entirely heartless – in fact, he has three.  He also has a set of principles:  a deal is a deal and I’ll make sure I hold up my end of said deal.  If that deal sees him taking some unexpected detours, he’ll take them.

It’s not just his personality, though, that makes Hank stand out.  That helps, for sure, but the creative animation transforms him from being just an abrasive cynic to a truly memorable and even iconic animated character.  Hank is a ruby octopus – well, he’s missing a tentacle, so Dory refers to him as a septopus.  In addition to using his array of tentacles to walk, crawl, and sling his way around, Hank also has the ability to perfectly mimicking his surroundings with his camouflage.  This sets up some brilliant visual gags and makes the character that much more endearing.

All of the new characters, though, add something special to the mix.  From the territorial sea lions to Bailey and his use of the world’s most powerful glasses, each inhabitant of this wonderfully zany universe is memorable in his or her own right.  The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the talented cast breathes life into the characters with heart and impeccable timing.

Finding Dory is, in some regards, a similar movie to its predecessor.  You have a fish embarking on a journey to find a family that was lost.  At its core, however, it’s a much smaller, more personal tale that trades the ocean-spanning adventure of the first film for a more focused character piece.  The majority of the film takes place in a single location with only one brief scene spent getting there.  It’s less a journey of finding someone else, and more of a journey of self-discovery.  Not only for Dory, but for the characters around her.  The film poses the question of “who is Dory?”  By the time the film concludes, she’ll feel as much a part of your family as she is a part of the family she’s looking for.

While I felt that Finding Dory took a full act of its own before it really found its groove (possibly because of the impossibly high expectations I had following Piper), the story, characters, and everything in between was a joy to watch.  Finding Dory is another standout Pixar film with tons of heart.  For each moment you laugh, there will be another, perfectly fitting moment of heartfelt sincerity that yanks at your emotions.  It’s hard to find a film that’s contains such a perfect blend of contrasting emotional themes, but it’s handled with such grace that viewers will be finding Dory, her cohorts, and the heartwarming journey they take entertaining for years to come.

 

Good – 3 / 3

Podcast 4 – June 15 2016

Warcraft movie review

Videogame films have a long history of being among some of the worst films ever made.  Not from a lack of solid source material, but the execution has always proved lacking.  Early reviews of this summer’s Warcraft movie seemed to indicate that would be the case, yet again, with the first live action adaptation of one of the biggest franchises in the realm of PC gaming.  Early box office numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

The film thrusts viewers into the dying world of Draenor – the Orc homeworld.  We don’t know why it’s dying, but things are grim for this tribal race of warriors.  Hope for the Orcs lies beyond a portal into a new world.  To open and sustain this portal, the Orcish shaman Gul’dan harnesses the power of a mysterious magic known as “the fel.”  It’s a dark magic fueled by death, and a major driving force in the film’s plot.  The amount of energy required to open this portal is immense as Gul’dan harvests the life force of thousands of captives to lead an invading force into this new world, Azeroth.

As a relative newcomer to the lore of Warcraft, having only played one of the original games and less than 20 hours of World of Warcraft, I expected to be lost going into this film.  From the early reviews, it seemed like this was going to be a tale that would only make sense for viewers with a background in the established mythos of Warcraft.  However, I found this assumption to be hugely inaccurate.  While there were moments early in the narrative that felt confusing, the exposition, both from character dialogue and situational context, helped to weave those threads into a coherent plot that was genuinely enjoyable.

The basic premise of the film is rather simple:  a warrior race is moving to a new home, but the natives there don’t take too kindly to that invasion – especially since those invaders are working hard to kill everything in their path.  The way it progresses and the subtle intricacies peppered in the story’s intertwining subplots elevate the basic foundation of the plot and creates an entire world rich with fantasy lore and memorable characters.  It’s not as straightforward as a brutish horde encroaching on a civilized world.  There’s internal conflict from within the tribe as some Orcs begin to question if what Gul’dan is doing is right for the Orcs, or if he’s leading them down a destructive path that blasphemes their heritage and traditions.  The trailers for the film hint at unlikely alliances being formed as a result of these internal conflicts, but when these events take place in the film, the payoff is grand.  It not only sets up one of the best action scenes in the movie, but also unveils new mysteries that send viewers off to fantastic new locations as the players in the Alliance try to stop the rest of the devastating Horde from breaking through from Draenor and destroying the world of Azeroth.

While I can’t say that there’s anything particularly outstanding about the plot – nothing life-changing or deeply impactful – the story manages to be entertaining for the film’s 2-hour runtime.  The fantasy lore is deep and intriguing.  It doesn’t ease viewers in, necessarily, but it does a great job during the 120 minutes you’re in Azeroth to get you caught up.  It doesn’t go out of its way to remind viewers with callbacks or reiterating plot points; instead, exposition in this world feels natural with characters expecting their associates to remember a previous plot point without having to repeat it.  Some viewers may suffer during a first viewing, but the end result feels more organic than hearing a rehash of dialogues and ideas.

The world of Azeroth is a fantastical one filled with numerous fantasy races, powerful mages, devastating warriors, and fearsome Orcs.  The characters in the world are natural in this fantasy realm.  The dialogue is a blend of pseudo old timey expressions melded with contemporary English to give each line a fantasy feel without alienating audiences by being hard to follow.  The only confusion really comes with trying to keep track of characters and locales by name.  As strong as the cast of characters is, the otherworldly nomenclatures are definitely not easy to remember.

Being a fantasy action epic, there’s plenty of fantasy action to be had in Warcraft.  The world is inhabited by formidable warriors and powerful mages.  The Orcs that invade Azeroth are these gigantic, brutish beasts that wield proportionally large weapons.  These massive foes dwarf the humans of the alliance and their prowess of using pure force is downright terrifying when you see them in action.  The combat scenes are as intense as they are entertaining.  Unlike other fantasy films where the heroes are just slightly outmatched in strength by their foes, the Orcs in Warcraft are towering mounds of muscle that can toss a horse without breaking a sweat.  These aren’t end bosses in dungeons, these are the grunts in this army – each one just as powerful as the next.  It’s a genuine blast seeing just how devastating they can be in combat.

It’s not just the war hammers and battle axes that have this devastating impact.  Sorcery is also hugely important in the world of Warcraft.  The previously mentioned “fel” is a terrifying dark magic that feeds on life energy and can be used to bestow or, more appropriately, infect others with this power.  There are a number of spells that make an appearance in the film with each having this startlingly forceful power.  Even a teleport spell feels impressive when the bass reverberates throughout the cinema.

Warcraft is a huge IP.  Millions of gamers are still logging countless hours in World of Warcraft.  The franchise is no stranger to other mediums, and film feels like the next logical step for the brand.  And it’s one that makes sense.  The universe is huge, and the action lends itself well to a summer blockbuster.  Thankfully, the lore is interesting enough to keep the plot moving forward when characters aren’t engaging in combat.  It’s a loud, fun, summer flick that has plenty of depth to keep viewers invested.  While it may not win any awards, it’s certainly entertaining and absolutely worth a watch.

 

Good – 3 / 3

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

The very idea of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a silly one.  Initially a parody of other popular comics in the 80s, TMNT would explode in its own popularity spanning a series of television shows, live-action and animated movies, and arcade and console games.  While it’s certainly not as popular nowadays as it was in its heyday, the fact that the four turtles are still recognizable to children over thirty years later is a testament to the brand’s appeal.  The Turtles are back in cinemas this summer in Out of the Shadows, the sequel to the 2014 reboot of the film franchise.  Is it worth a watch?

The film begins with an animated stunt sequence and a short break at a basketball game before diving into a little plot.  It’s fun enough, but serves little purpose other than a silly gag featuring the anthropomorphic turtles’ dish of choice:  pizza.  From there, audiences are “treated” to a gratuitous amount of Megan Fox doing that thing she does in movies.  The dialogue exchange between Fox’s April O’Neil and Tyler Perry’s Dr. Baxter Stockman is hammy and dumb, but it feels consistent with the overall tone of the film.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the sequence that follows as April sheds her outer layer for a quick costume change to make sure the film gets in its requisite sex appeal.

The story is set one year after the last film.  Shredder has been defeated and is in prison.  Will Arnett’s Vern Fenwick is, according to an agreement made with the Turtles, regarded as the hero who brought down The Shredder.  And, thanks to this agreement, the Turtles are able to remain in the shadows protecting New York.

After our detour at the basketball game, we learn that The Shredder is being transported and there’s a plan to break him out.  This sets up a solid highway chase sequence with as many laughs and explosions as there are groans.  Some of the dialogue is just plain stupid but, most times, it works favorably for the film.  The actors know they’re in a silly movie and they appear to be having fun with that, chewing through some painful writing with a mouthful of cheese and a toothy grin.

The plot opens up after the highway scene with what could have been something awesome: Krang and Dimension X.  Unfortunately, exposition is not one of this movie’s strong points.  I’d like to say it’s formulaic in its plot progression, but that would be giving the film far too much credit.  It tries to be – it pretty rapidly moves from point to point to point, but each point is a misstep on a scenic route for about two thirds of the movie.  After it finally takes us somewhere we want to be, the film forgets the fact that an important item has gone missing so it can rehash some group conflict that was already covered in the first movie.  While the Turtles are caught up in their moody discourse and shunning of each other, the bad guys get to move forward with their evil plot.  It’s all good, though, because we need that to happen for that final boss fight – which is, sadly, less spectacular than it should be given everything that’s involved.

Out of the Shadows does a solid job keeping the Turtles true to their roots while keeping them updated enough so they don’t feel like they’re trapped in the 90s.  Contrasting this, you have Bebop and Rocksteady.  The character designs are perfect, even if the execution is a little off.  Despite how good the CG renders of the Turtles are, Bebop and Rocksteady never really look believable in this world.  Still, it is fun seeing them on the big screen – even if there are some missteps with how the characters are handled.  As if to make sure the film wouldn’t get a PG rating, the two need to check their nether regions to see how everything was changed after their mutation.  It’s a small thing, but something that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the film, regardless how messy it is.

The problem with the film isn’t the campy dialogue and one-liners – while some lines definitely don’t work and the script is quite a mess, the Turtles’ banter and Mikey’s quips are, more often than not, enjoyable.  The problem is the film’s nonsensical plot and incoherent editing.  I’m not expecting Shakespearean level art here, but staying focused on a single idea instead of pointless tangents would make the film a little more watchable (I can’t call them subplots, because these detours don’t have any plot).  Its few shining moments are far outweighed by the wasted potential, misguided writing, and shoehorned sexuality.  This could have easily been a great summer film anyone could enjoy.  Unfortunately, the end result is something that can be entertaining in short bursts, but offers little enjoyment as a whole.

 

Bad – 1 / 3