Logan (*****): Take a moment. Feel it.

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Logan – 2017

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Doris Morgado, David Kallaway, Han Soto, Jayson Genao and Krzysztof Soszynski

After grinding down so much earth into dust, they finally found a single diamond. Logan is the Wolverine our hearts always thought was there, even if we wasted many years wading through several mediocre movies to get to it. The X-Men universe was brought to a silly dead end last summer with Apocalypse. It was truly a movie that exemplified all that has been wrong with the film version of the hero troupe.

What should have been a crescendo of a decent second trilogy turned into another version of the Last Stand. Filled with colorful weirdos showing powers for no particular reason, we see parts of the planet destroyed and quickly repaired. No consequence and zero impression left.

To say that this movie was intended to counter that film would be cutting it short. Jackman has his own trilogy in the midst of the X-Men films, and in his own series, each film was better than the previous entry. It’s a sad truth, though, that many will find the entire series disposable prior to this opus.

The film starts in 2029 near El Paso, Texas. Logan is living on the wrong side of the border, mainly because he wants to stay hidden. He’s taking care of an aging and ever more erratic Charles Xavier (Stewart). Why? That’s for you to discover.

Adamantium is taking a toll on Logan’s healing powers. To the point that he carries around a bullet made of the stuff to just end it all sooner than later. He can’t end it though. One reason is Charles, who insists he’s been talking to a mutant. This is important because mutants are almost all completely wiped out.

The mutant he is talking to comes into their lives, even though the erstwhile Wolverine would prefer to just take his old friend and go out to sea. That ain’t gonna happen because X-23, or Laura (Keen), as she’s called, comes with some baggage.

Mangold and Jackman score quite a few home runs in this movie that pretends to be playing station to station. Stewart is a Godsend, as he makes even the silliest dialogue seem at once literate and heartfelt. This is nothing compared to what happens when Stewart is given some truly eloquent and memorable words to express.

As antagonist, Boyd Holbrook is an above average placeholder. There is nothing special about him, and this is a wise choice. They have other things to do in this film than to pretend that the bad guy in the ad has a chance.

I won’t say much about the other antagonists in the film, other than to say that the writers hate expositional explanations as much as old man Logan does. This is comes to a welcome relief.

Keen has an excellent, ravaging energy. She is berserk when she needs to be and definitely doesn’t waste words or screen time. Many in the theater really enjoyed her performance, laughing much and snickering as she attacked with ferocity any who crossed her. I found the performance impactful and there definitely were a few funny moments.

The key to Keen’s performance, though, is seeing how she, Stewart and Jackman play off of one another. There is little joy in Logan. For our older heroes, the entire exercise is a drawn out torture that is exacerbated when they see how easily she is drawn into conflict.

When lucid, Xavier believes she is a light in the world, capable of improving on what mutant kind was before now. Logan refuses to invest too much emotion in the little girl who so desperately needs to cling to something solid. Life is hell for her now, he knows. Why should he pretend it ever won’t be?

Clint Eastwood made a remarkable 2nd career out of playing the guy hobbled by age, injury and heartache. Hugh Jackman has always channeled a bit of Eastwood in his portrayals of Logan. This film is different. Jackman owns this version of The Wolverine and he treats it with the utmost care. His emotional range is beyond anything even Eastwood has done. One has no choice but to feel every blow Logan receives in this film. Neither his flesh nor his spirit is willing this time around. When he fights, he fights scared. But not scared stupid.

Jackman has never been better. Stewart has rarely reached this level. Keen is remarkable for such a relatively inexperienced actress. Any or all of the three deserve nominations for their performances here. I won’t hold my breath, though. If they didn’t reward Stallone for his portrayal of Rocky, the Academy will likely assume the Oscars are too good for this astounding film.

The carnage is breathtaking in Logan. There is much mutilation and severed limbs and heads. As bad as it is, it is matched unnecessarily with an over reliance on profanity. Yes, I know that is the image of The Wolverine comics, but moderation might have made a more distinct impression. I will say it does work in relation to Charles. Something must be wrong if that refined and dignified person is throwing curses like punches.

If you’ve skipped all of the X Men films after the 2nd, this might be a good place to pick up again. Heck if you skipped all of the films, but want to see an incredibly well played drama, partake in this feature. Much care went into this film, and it feels like everything is balanced on the edge of a knife. And then the knife slips and goes right through.

It’s worth all of the pain, just to know how Logan feels in the moment.

(***** out of *****)

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Cool Papa E Reviews Marvel’s The X-Men / Wolverine Movies

Many are hailing this coming week’s X-Men: First Class as the best Marvel movie ever.  Everything I have seen so far looks fantastic.  Now is as good a time as any to check what we’ve seen so far from the X-Men Series of films.  This list will be comprehensive within the next couple of weeks, but for now, we will just cover the ones that have been released and are available on Blue Ray and DVD.

X-Men – 2000

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Halle Berry

Screenplay by David Hayter based on a story by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review Solid basis as the foundation for the series.  The strengths of this film lay in the casting of McKellen and Stewart as kings on the chessboard of a game of mutants.  They take their time introducing new characters, and they can afford to do this with the introduction of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  His delivery is straight Clint Eastwood, but it is the best stroke of casting luck this film could’ve had.  After Dougray Scott, the original choice, chose to go be the bad guy in the unremarkable Mission: Impossible II, the director Bryan Singer settled on Jackman.  The rest is cinematic history.  Janssen is excellent as the tortured Jane Grey, even if James Mardsen seems a little too young to be her husband.  Or maybe just too short.  The brilliance of the movie, however, is that they are able to use McKellen and Stewart so effectively.  The only stretch in casting is Halle Berry as Storm.  The weak actress lacks any sort of presence at all as the supposedly powerful Storm.  It would have been nice to see a real actress, like, Angela Bassett, wreak havoc with the character.  Apparently she refused the role.

Best Sequence – Magneto (McKellen) exhibits how far he is willing to go beyond Professor X (Stewart) to get what he wants at the train station.  All of those humans with their guns.  Nice to see Wolverine so helpless.

Worst Sequence – Pretty much all of Halle Berry’s scenes with that wig make one feel like they are watching a B-Grade film.

Rating – ****

X2: X-Men United – 2003

Director Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Michael Reid-McKay

Screenplay by David Hayter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris based on a story by Bryan Singer, David Hayter, Zak Penn and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – A more comprehensive film that takes advantage of the strengths of the first picture and adds glimpses of other characters, while expounding on the others enough to make them well-rounded.  Jackman grows exponentially in a role that, while not as entirely a leader, a damn good captain.  McKellen and Stewart again are solid, if less of a focus as before.  Cox provides the perfect bad guy, using hypocritical methods to get what he wants, all while providing enough of a sly grin to let you know he really enjoys it.  Speaking of enjoying it, Romijn expands her performance to match Mystique’s cult figure status.  Alan Cumming, as Nightcrawler, plays the most normal creature of his career.  Seeing him as religious is ironic.  Halle’s wig is better…slightly.  The acting isn’t any better.  Good script, tight direction, well-paced.  This is the jewel in the crown of the X-Men universe thus far.

Best Sequence – Wolverine absolutely kicking ass unrepentantly as the men of Stryker (Cox) attack Xavier’s School.  This is Wolverine as all X-Men fans dreamed of seeing him.

Worst Sequence – Adamantium boiling for 15 years is kind of a stretch, but the fire guy is mostly annoying…mostly.

Rating – (****1/2)

X-Men: The Last Stand – 2006

Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry. Kelsey Grammer, Michael Murphy, Vinnie Jones, Bill Duke,  Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Ken Leung, Aaron Stanford, Eric Dane

Written by Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn based on characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – After an organic pairing of the first and second films, this one feels overwhelmed by new characters and too many factions.  The disappearance of Cyclops feels like someone who was called off set to another movie.  From there, the handling of Phoenix / Jane Grey is a mess.  It was powerful enough to have been a multi-movie arc, but instead just jumps around here and there, dotting the storyline like a ghost.  The “death” of several of the characters feel like cheats, especially when you see mutants (like Toad) who died in the first film appear in the third.  That said, Berry is better than she was in either of the first two films, but that does not say much.  Storm and Wolverine are showcased probably too much, due mainly to the economy of characters.  I am not sure how the brotherhood ended up in a tent city out in the woods.  The end is a hodgepodge of one note power shows.  It’s hard to fault Director Ratner too much for any of the issues, as he was thrown into the mix late in the game.  It’s really not a bad movie, but it certainly is not a very good one.

Best Sequence – Hard to say.  So much seemed over the top, nothing was really that entertaining.  It would be a tie, I guess, with Wolverine versus the man with regenerating arms (“Grow a new pair of those.”) and Kitty Pryde versus the Juggernaut.

Worst Sequence – The Golden Gate Bridge?  Really?  Really dumb.  To top it off, they give McKellen’s Magneto the dumbest line of all time:  “Charles always wanted to build bridges.”  He must have absolutely cringed.

Rating – (***)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – 2009

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch

Written by David Benioff, Skip Woods

Review – The fact that this is just another ensemble of mutants teaming together and falling apart does not detract from the good performances.   I thought it was nuts to have Sabretooth back, but hiring Schreiber in any capacity was a masterstroke.  Overall, the story is passable, but having Huston, Schreiber and especially Reynolds along helps to push the material up a notch.  Jackman shows a great early version of the role that made him a star.  His multi-layered performance shows how lucky they were that he landed on the producer’s doorsteps for the first movie.

Best Sequence – Seeing the early version of Deadpool (Reynolds) in top form, massacring a room full of gun-firing Nigerians with only two swords.  It beats anything else by a long shot.

Worst Sequence – Not sure which is worse, killing Grandma with a shot to the head, or the ensuing motorcycle chase which leads to the incredibly ridiculous stunt with the helicopter.

Rating – (***1/2)

X-Men: First Class – 2011

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stenz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Review – here

Best Sequence – Magneto finally moves the coin…much to Sebastian Shaw’s dismay.

Worst Sequence – The Beast outfit almost outdoes Hoult’s performance, and who can forgive the fact that they did not kill off Michael Ironside.

Rating – (****1/2)