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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X-Men: Days of Future Passed / The Rogue Cut: We can go anywhere from here

XMENDOFP

X-Men: Days of Future Passed – 2014

Director Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Screenplay Simon Kinberg based on Days of Future Passed by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Theatrical Version:

The X-Men movie series has infuriated those who love the comics as  well as many who love the movies series itself. For those who love the comics its been an endless – some say haphazard – onslaught of characters ripped out of their own stories and thrown into the backdrop of “What’s Wolverine doing now?” episodes. These critics also insist that the key interplay between Magneto and Xavier has been downplayed, outside of X-Men: First Class. This ignores certain truths about Marvel itself, that has never had problems reinventing characters in multiple story lines – different universes even – whenever the creative impulse hits.

As for the movies, the biggest problem until now is how each of the visions and various stories intersect, diverge or are in some cases, prematurely ended. X-Men: The Last Stand and the first of the Wolverine movies are the biggest violators of the implied agreement between story-teller and audience. Each film has taken liberties, though, to be sure.

In the same way as Star Trek‘s reboot in 2009, the beauty of X-Men: Days of Future Passed gives everyone what they were looking for, and more.  We get:

  • Xavier and Magneto contemplating the weight of their friendship in the midst of crisis
  • A bone throw for Kitty Pride (who was the hero of the comic series) as the portal for time travel
  • Halle Berry’s continuous mis-fire as Storm is kept in her place
  • Jennifer Lawrence gets to kick ass in blue, if not much else.
  • Dinklage  delivering to us his version of Bolivar Trask with minimal screen time, which is certainly more advanced than the Bill Duke version we see in The Last Stand.
  • Nicholas Hoult and Kelsey Grammer as Beast.  Hoult’s performance always begs for more screen time, while Grammer seems the perfect result for Beast.
  • Evan Peters in a remarkably sly turn as Quicksilver, perhaps the best segment of the film.
  • And what would X-Men film be without Wolverine getting 2/3 of the screen time?

The conceit to time travel movies is, really, they can go back to any time to get it right. If they go back real close to the event, well you know it’s because they have to ratchet up the tension. Everyone knows that Bolivar Trask could be eliminated at birth, but that would make it a bit cruel. Singer’s skill is making all of this flow as if it were in real-time. His story lines gather and then diverge effortlessly. There is not an ounce of clunk to the early 70’s scenes, even if the “present time” seems as forced as it did in the comic. We all know there has to be a deadline. This time, plenty of people get dead on the way to that point. Some even pull it off twice.

The acting is good throughout, with special mention to Hoult, Fassbender and McAvoy. Hoult’s Beast is a character that begs for its own story line. It would be great to see how we get from his uneasy early years to his confident older ones.

Fassbender’s character has the clearest delineation to McKellen’s performance.  Both are very driven and quite consistent with their rationale.

As his counter, McAvoy is all over the place.  It was a brave place to take the character, but he does a great job showing us what was on his troubled mind and not just saying it.

It’s easy to take Jackman for granted, since he’s been in every one of these films. The miracle is that he has evolved from Eastwood with a growl to a multi-dimensional bad ass. This time is a clear extension of everything he’s gathered from The Wolverine.

The best part about the movie is the epilogue. Seeing the result of the work is heartening because we get to see mistakes corrected without worrying about the consequences.This result will no doubt not give everyone a good feeling. Some might even feel like it’s pulling the rug out. It’s alright for this reviewer. Like merry go rounds, the ride is fun, even if it just goes in a circle.

(****1/2 out of *****)

The Rogue Cut

It is easy to understand why people become leery of the X-Men enterprise, especially when it comes to their home video releases. I bought 1.5 and wondered why the heck I did, and I followed through with purchases for every subsequent film, even following them to Blu-Ray. It is perhaps because I never read the comic and rarely followed any of the animated scenes that my patience has not frayed, even when the talk of Days of Future Past included news of a thread of scenes that would involve Rogue that were eventually excised from the theatrical cut. Most assumed that these few scenes would appear on the video release. By the time that arrived, the sequence had turned into a whole new cut of the film to be released at a future date.

If one decides that this is the place to draw the line…think again.

The Rogue Cut is like the bloom of a rose the day after you thought it had reached maturity. Instead of beginning to wilt, it flows even more thoroughly from its core, giving the bloom a depth and resonance it never had previously. The interesting thing about it though, is that it’s not only or even primarily because of the sequence of Anna Paquin scenes that this version of X-Men succeeds.

The best thing for viewers of the film is a fleshed out perspective of several characters, including Magneto, Mystique and Beast. The arc between past and present has more resonance and clearer connections. The weakest part of the film was that it never felt like it mattered what was happening in the present because even if it is riddled with challenges, the characters were able to continue manipulating time. This is changed for the better. Midway through the last act, they have a mission that takes them away from the stronghold. Accomplishing that mission is not without its cost. The consequence actually leads to a logical reason for a final battle, instead of just having the bad guys show up, because, well, it’s the last act.

The extra 17 minutes don’t feel extra at all. They are fully integrated within the story. Even when it changes the story slightly, this feels like the definitive version. There are some flashback scenes that go through every previous film, making their telling still relevant even if we know they will be ultimately stricken from the official record. It feels like this is the only way the story could have ever ended up. This is the new canon.

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

Prisoners (****) exceeds the grasp of its flaws

Prisoners

Prisoners – 2013

Director Denis Villeneuve
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Dylan Minnette
Screenplay Aaron Guzikowski

One could say that I am not a fan of Paul Dano or Melissa Leo.  They often play detestable creatures; almost always intentionally.  Many of the best parts of their films involve them losing or being hurt in some way.  When Dano starts getting beat up early and often in Prisoners, I am in hog heaven.  Like Jackman’s Keller Dover, I believe that Dano’s Alex Jones is the most vile type of person, wholly capable of the crime for which he’s been accused.  The crime is the abduction of Dover’s daughter Anna, and Joy Birch, the daughter of Franklin and Nancy (Howard and Davis).  He’s been caught in the vehicle that spotted in the area that they were last seen, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that hits the right eyes and ears at the right moments.

Soon enough, Jones is released and soon after he is kidnapped by Dover, who begins to torture the strangely mute adult child.  After Keller shows Franklin what he’s done, he coerces his complicity.  Soon after, the torture begins.  The feeling is sadly, angrily delicious.  Sure, the children’s whereabouts are not revealed, but it is quite obvious to anyone that he knows something of where they are.

Along this time, we meet Jones’ Aunt Holly.  She seems like any aunt of an idiot adult child.  She puts up with his eccentricities and explains what he’s like to live with to Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal).  Loki has a flawless record recovering children, which is a strange thing when you consider the odds.  His pursuit is hindered by his idiot boss Captain O’Malley (Duvall), but he manages to comb pretty thoroughly through some other cases along the way, gleaning seemingly inconsequential information.

About this time another suspect (Dastmalcian) comes to the fore.  Where this leads will be left for the viewer.

The performances of leads Jackman and Gyllenhaal are tense and finely conceived.  Gyllenhaal has the same type of freshness and desperate vibe shown in Fincher’s classic Zodiac. Jackman’s flawed honorable intent pieces together nicely with the moral of the story.  We feel his pain acutely, especially with his wife (Bello) moving right into a bedridden panic mode.  As a father, it is easy to identify with how his need to be a protector would transfer into malevolence after the chance for that has passed.

Davis and Howard are given the unique chance to show a different side of the victimized / victimizer angle.  Their reactions to finding out what Dover is doing is what many of us would do.

This is Jackman and Gyllenhaal’s movie, though, and they attack every minute of screen time they have as if there are really two little girls on the line.  The performances push the story through some gaps in reasoning and common sense.  It isn’t until the end that the lack of logic finally eats through an otherwise talented script.  While not having seen any of Villenueve’s directorial work before, this sharp and almost clinical effort ensures that I will, starting with Enemy.  If the work does not work in the most sensible manner, it does have grist as a thrilling morality tale.

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

The Wolverine: Characters will survive…

The-Wolverine poster

The Wolverine – 2013

Director James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee
Screenplay Christopher McQuarrie (uncredited), Mark Bomback, Scott Frank

James Mangold’s take on The Wolverine is an example of how good any film can be if one focuses on the importance of building a good story around a great character.  That character, as portrayed by Hugh Jackman, has survived 6 films and continues to grow, even if the plots for his films have not always succeeded in creating other worthwhile characters.

This story starts with Logan as a prisoner in Japan just before the end of fighting in The Pacific theater.  He saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida from certain death and that soldier is eternally grateful.  Forward to present day, Logan is living a true nomadic existence in the Yukon.  His will is broken and he promised the ghost of Jean Grey that he will never use his prodigious powers again.  Of course this promise lasts only as long as one wants the crowd who paid for the movie to wait for theatrics.  In this case the beautiful Yukio (Fukushima), the adopted granddaughter of that soldier finds him just before he takes apart some unscrupulous hunters (like is there any kind in movies).  Before one can say “I wonder if he will go to Japan?” Logan is in the air with Yukio and, just as quickly, back on the ground in The Land of the Rising Son.

Once there, he is introduced to the Yashida, now an old man (Yamanouchi) near death.  Yashida gives Wolverine an offer, trading his immortality to the old man, so he can fade peacefully into old age and someday join Jean Grey.  Logan refuses, and, after he saves Yashida’s other equally beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) from a certain death, he has an extremely odd dream.  This dream is followed by a discovery that Yashida has been pronounced dead.  Yukio tells Logan she did not foresee this death, which is counter to her mutant ability.

The Women in the Wolverine
The Women in The Wolverine

From here, we move to the funeral, an attempted kidnapping of Mariko and to the development of multiple plots.  All the while, we see Logan’s mind and heart open up like we’ve never experienced in the earlier films.  This is genuine development of character, spurred on by the accompaniment of genuine characters (Yukio and Mariko) who have personalities, motivations and true character.  They are possibly the two most completely drawn peripheral characters in the entire X-Men Series.  Their characters help push Jackman’s performance further than ever before.

The story for The Wolverine is thorough.  It’s better than anything else the series has seen.  There are threads that run through simultaneously and independent of one another.  They still create a flow that feels organic.

Yukio - a beautifully dangerous bodyguard
Yukio – a beautifully dangerous bodyguard

Fukushima and Okamoto are fantastic.  They have a presence that does not need them to fill the screen with words.  The economy of dialogue allows for what they do say to have more weight.  This weight is something that Jackman handles with aplomb.

If there is a weakness in the film, it’s with the male characters outside of Logan.  Just about every one of them is either spineless, foolish or has whimsical motives subject to change for little to no reason.  Yashida’s Dr. Green, the intentionally mysterious until they clobber you over the head about how mysterious she is.  Viper (her mutant name), could be better.  Her character is as goofy as she is dangerous.  We even get 3 obligatory scenes where she explains who she is and what drives her.

There are several high points to the action in The Wolverine.  The flight from the Yakuza through the streets with the bow and arrow sniper and then on the train, back at the Yashida compound and then the final showdown all work within the story, and not seeming to be some sort of tacked on scene.  It’s a solid film, not just a solid X-Men film.

The-Wolverine(****1/2 out of *****)

Movie 43: Do you like this collection of skits?

movie-43-poster

Movie 43 – 2013

Directors Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk
Starring Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Adam Cagely, Common, Kieran Culkin, Josh Duhamel, Devin Eash, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, John Hodgman, Terence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Aasif Mandvi, Jack McBrayer, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Julianne Moore, Chloë Grace Moretz, Chris Pratt, Dennis Quaid, Liev Schrieber, Sean William Scott, Tony Shaloub, Fisher Stephens, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Jeremy Allen White, Kate Winslet, Anton Yelchin, Mark Young, Seth McFarlane, JB Smoove, Will Sasso, Bobby Canavale, Patrick Warburton
Written by Rocky Russo, Jeremy Sosenko, Ricky Blitt, Bill O’Malley, Will Graham, Jack Kukoda, Matthew Alec Portenoy, Claes Kjellstrom, Jonas Wittenmark, Tobias Carlson, Will Carlough, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Wright Shapiro, Patrik Forsberg, Olle Sarri, Jacob Fleisher, Greg Pritikin, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk

I wasn’t a fan of the Kentucky Fried Movie.  This movie is not as good as that one.  I liked the one about the basketball team and the one about the blind date.  The Superhero Speed Dating had its moments, as did Truth or Dare.  That’s about it.  Don’t watch if you are easily offended.  Or if you are offended that attempts to offend you are not funny or effectively offensive.

I would write more, but I just got through writing all the credits and now I am tired.

So very tired.

(*1/2 out of *****)

Les Miserables thoughts of a not so miserable viewer

les miserables movie poster

Les Miserables – 2012

Director Tom Hooper
Starring Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen, Daniel Hufflestone, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Screenplay by William Nicholson, Alan Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer based on the play by Boublil and Schönberg

Random thoughts about a musical:

  • Anytime I am discussing this with people who call it “Les Miz,” there is a good chance I am in the wrong crowd.
  • The boat they are pulling at the beginning…is it real?  That I have to ask means it’s not.
  • I am not a fan of musicals…even less a fan of France.
  • How does one begin a life of honesty on false pretenses?
  • One can be pretty confident that even after the unfortunate circumstances that brought someone the caliber of Anne Hathaway to misery, she would have been plucked out of obscurity by some dude with money, if not someone who needed an opera singer.
  • Russell Crowe sounds like every man who never took a singing lesson.
  • Hugh Jackman sings like he lives…very well.
  • For the number of ironies and unfortunate coincidences, this script feels like it was written by Thomas Hardy and James Fenimore Cooper.
  • What they do to Hathaway’s teeth is worse than killing her off…and I am not talking about pulling them out.
  • Does anyone really need to see Helena Bonham Carter dressed like a Tim Burton character in a movie that Burton didn’t direct?  Fight Club was the first, and should have been the last.
  • The song at the in, and those performing it, seem right out of The Muppets, if The Muppets were from hell.
  • In fact, I think I am done with Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen.  They can take a 20 year break from acting and I would not miss them one bit.
  • A lot of these songs seem less like tunes than singing out words of the plot.
  • I think I prefer the daughter of the scumbag Muppet innkeepers over the daughter from Mamma Mia.
  • That statue of the elephant is pretty cool.  I can’t help but think that my not knowing what it is invalidates me writing something about the French Revolution depicted in this story.
  • Where is the song about crying in Argentina?  Maybe in the director’s cut?
  • It’s too bad that Samantha Banks had to die so early.  I can’t wait to see her in everything she does the rest of her life.
  • I appreciate the conflict between Jackman’s Valjean and Crowe’s Javert, almost as much as do I appreciate the pure heart and plight of Banks’ Éponine.
  • I don’t care so much for the student revolutionaries…it feels like filler, even if it is the backdrop to the story.
  • I do appreciate Eddie Redmayne, however, as his face appears lived in.
  • Not sure I care to understand how the hell Hugh Jackman can sing while Eddie Redmayne sleeps without waking him up.  It just seems so annoyingly impossible.
  • The kid wandering around revealing the true identity of everyone seems a little like the feral kid from the Mad Max movies.  The feral kid is a bit more wiley though.
  • Nothing like a nice shot of the sewer to let one completely understand how the black plague lasted so long.
  • As for Javert, why can’t he go without looking so hard into the horse’s mouth that he exits out his behind?  Only in musicals.
  • I always wondered who cleaned up the blood in the streets after a battle, war or failed revolution…
  • How could France move from a place with such high ideals to one so far from reality?  Oh, wait, colleges…
  • Wolverine looks really old towards the end of this, but then, all of those French Revolutions are enough to age anyone.
  • Amazing that one can go from revolutionary to a grand wedding in one scene.
  • I wish the punch could have hit both Innkeepers.
  • Very touching ending, even if I never quite get the feeling that Valjean and his “daughter” got to know one another well enough for me to believe he never knew love until he knew her.
  • My wife says “It is a story of belief…it’s sad but…,” she is right.
  • My wife likes musicals, mind you.  And other than this and very few others, I do not.
  • Thinking back on this film, I still smell urine when I think of Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter.  But then, that goes with every movie they are in.

(***1/2 out of *****)

CPE and Em: Real Steel is Rocky Sock ‘Em Robots

Real Steel – 2011

Directed by Shawn Levy
Starring
 Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lily, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Olga Fonda, Karl Yune
Written by
John Gatins

There is such a disconcerting premise to the core of Real Steel, it almost completely eradicates what is right about it.  As Charlie Kenton, Jackman is not a full man.  A supposed former boxer, he is now scrounging for parts to make robots to fight robots, bulls, etc.  In the year 2020, robots have taken the place of men in the gladiator arena.  There is no real effort put out by Kenton to understand how to use these robots, so, of course it’s always back to the scrap heap after each fight.  How this becomes popular, I have no idea.  The robots seem to be an extension of whomever is operating them and there seems to be no real set of rules as to what the machines can be made of, or do in the ring.  Suffice to say, in a world that produced NASCAR, I just can’t see it.

So, in the mix of this story where robots fight robots, we get a father / son story.  This could have been a strength, especially with the acting of Goyo as Max Kenton.  Goyo looks a bit like Anakin Skywalker from The Phantom Menace, but those similarities end as soon as the kid starts reading his lines.  Whereas little Jake Lloyd seemed like he was trying to remember what to say to a blue screen, Dakota Goyo actually interacts with his on-screen components in an organic way.  Sad thing is, this part of the story line is so convoluted premise-wise, there is little chance to feel good about what the film wants you to see as success.

Somehow, Charlie is called upon by the courts to decide upon the fate of his son, who he supposedly signed away rights to when the kid was born 11 years earlier.  Now, with the mother dead, and her sister (Davis) married to a man of means (Rebhorn) and she wants to raise the kid.  Problem solved, right?  Sadly, no.  In a situation that could only arise from a bad movie script, somehow Charlie ends up not only re-selling the rights away to his sister-in-law’s wife, but he STILL has to watch him for the summer, while the rich people go on a trip to Europe.  Or something like that.

Thrown in the mix at this point is Evangeline Lily, who as Bailey Tallet, is the daughter of Charlie’s former manager.  She works on the robots, mainly by reading the instructions while Charlie panics at being unable to understand why it doesn’t work.  After blowing half of the money that he got for the kid, he and Max are in another scrap heap, when they find Atom, a “Gen-2” that is small and can take a ton of hits.  Sound familiar?

The rest of the film is a rise to the top, with a few hits in the groin thrown in for good measure.  The last 30 minutes are almost entirely lifted right out of Rocky.   It is enough to entertain kids who liked the movie Iron Giant, even if it fails to achieve half of the status of that classic.

Jackman, unfortunately, has rarely been so ineffective.  More of a caricature than a person, his actions seem driven not at all by logic.  Lily is there mainly to look worried and then grin when things are going well.  Davis and Rebhorn seem a little over qualified for their roles, when all they do is supply money, love and applause.  At least they weren’t made into faux bad guys.  There is no sense of amazement to the proceedings for anyone other than the kid, to be sure.  I suppose the machines had fought for enough years in 2020 to warrant this, but if I had a robot that was fighting a bull, I would not be distracted by a tart in the 4th row.

The special effects are good in the relative low-key approach of Levy.  There are a minimum of wacky hi-jinx outside of Jackman’s performance.  The machines are not made to seem too cute or too menacing.  There is a lot to work with here, if you just tweak the script towards common sense and tell Jackman to tone it down a notch or four.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Em’s review:

I don’t like the way the kid talked to his dad.  He sort of did it like sassy.  At the beginning, he threatened to drop his Dad’s keys in the sewer.  That was rude.

Don’t you think his kid might have been mad because his dad sold him?

It’s pretty sad.  He was trying to do what was best for his kid.  He knew he wasn’t taking care of his kid right.  So he went to his girlfriend’s (Bailey) who told him how he should do right by the boy.

What did you think of the robots?

My favorite, I would say is Atom.  His name is Atom.  A-T-O-M.  It should be pronounced Ah Tom, but they pronounced it At Tom.

What did you not like?

I didn’t like when the Asian guy hit the glass with his fist.  I thought he would start to bleed so I was scared so I did not like that part.

What would you rate Real Steel out of *****?

If we were rating Up or Toy Story 3, I would give it ***** stars out of  *****.

This one I would give *** stars or **.

Wouldn’t that be **1/2? 

How many stars did you give it?

**1/2.

That’s what I gave it.

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)