Wednesday, May 31, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - LOGAN

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

It isn’t often said that a trilogy in Hollywood ever ends on a high note.  For decades, the formula was “great first film, okay second, what the hell did they do with the last one?!?”.

Even the original STAR WARS trilogy ended on a questionable note (see: EWOKS).  By the time we got to THE MATRIX: REVOLUTION, the characters were growing tiresome, and the narrative seemed overwritten and bloated.  The original X-MEN films held true to that great/okay/WTF formula.

Then there is Wolverine—also known as LOGAN.  Hugh Jackman has played the character in seven previous films, and he saved his best performance for last.  In ORIGINS, the widely panned first stand-alone Wolverine film, the character was young, fresh, and surrounded by way too much CGI and comic book lore.  And, the movie wasn’t all that great.  The director’s cut of the second installment, THE WOLVERINE, kicked the first film’s butt.  Solidly.

Keeping with the same writers and director for LOGAN was absolutely the smartest move the studio made.  Despite the decades that have transpired timeline wise, James Mangold has created an end to a trilogy which transcends the previous incarnations.  By rushing gleefully forward with an R-rating, it also cements LOGAN as one of the grittiest, most effective superhero films of the last several years. 

Taking place in 2029, mutant-kind is nearly wiped out.  The infamous Wolverine is an alcoholic limousine driver, saving his money for a boat that he can live on well away from land and pesky humans.  His homestead is a dilapidated smelting plant in Mexico, where buddy Caliban (the effective and honestly funny Stephen Merchant) takes care of a mentally unstable Charles Xavier, who is kept in a fallen water tower.  Yes, our heroes have fallen on desperate, hard times.  Enter young mutant “Laura”, played with amazingly graceful ferocity and innocence by newcomer Dafne Keen, who has the same abilities as Logan—with a few shifted blades.  She is being hunted down by the bad guys that grew her, and needs adult bodyguards to escort her to a safe mutant zone in Canada.  Enter our retired heroes, who are stuck with the job of protecting her.

All this may lead you to believe this is just another X-MEN movie, but it really isn’t even a superhero film.  It is a western, it is a buddy film, it’s a road trip from hell.  It is a “father” connecting with a “daughter”, it is travelling with a crazy, old man (Sir Patrick Stewart does things with his portrayal of Professor Charles Xavier that you have never seen before, and it seriously kicks ass), it is horrific and beautiful and darkly funny.  There is also very little CGI, making every bit of the violent story that much more believable.

And you absolutely must watch the “noir” version of this film.  Bleeding all color from the movie, the black and white treatment—included with the theatrical release on Blu-ray—lends a haunting feel to the proceedings which will linger long after the film is over.  Watching the regular release, with the excessive gore (excessive for a “superhero flick”), is an entirely different experience.  The noir version gives you stark contrasts between the light and the dark, and the shadows from which the characters act is even more dramatic and effective.

The special features are more than you would expect (and all in color…)—not only do the actors speak well of each other—they always do, but it is easier to believe with this cast—but you also get a peek behind the story, screen tests, and how the film relates to the comics the story borrows from.  We also get an unnecessary explanation as to why this film had to be released with an R-rating.  Honestly, this was long overdue—the character of Wolverine was always the most violent of the X-Men.  He has blades that slide out of his hands, for crying out loud—how did it take the studio that long to realize there had to be buckets of blood involved?

Jackman has indicated that this will be his last portrayal of the iconic character (unless there is a possibility of a crossover with Ryan Reynolds’ DEADPOOL).  If it is, it is a hell of a way to end a seventeen-year portrayal.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most definitely

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"SKumm's Thoughts" - ALIEN: COVENANT

"SKumm's Thoughts"


Ridley Scott, for all intents and purposes, is one of the most iconic directors of my time.  My two favorite films of anything ever committed to celluloid are ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER.

For some reason, Sir Ridley decided that enough was enough; five years after the crap that was ALIEN VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM was released, he rebooted his legacy with PROMETHEUS, a largely misunderstood film which was actually a thought-provoking journey into the Alien lore.  Many fans rejected the film—mostly due to misconceptions and a desperate desire to see the original xenomorph they were all familiar with.

In COVENANT, Sir Ridley tries to provide the fans with what they wanted initially—and that is where the true horror begins.  In a story rife with predictability and more silly decisions by its characters, this entry seems more of a road bump than the prior film ever was.  I understand and see where he is going with this storyline; by “predictability” I am in no way expecting surprises which would distract from the ultimate endpoint (ALIEN), yet I am expecting a story in which I cannot foresee the outcome or how we get there.  In that way, I was disappointed.  Especially with the end of the film.  No spoilers here, kids—hopefully you have already seen it before reading this review, and have your own viewing experience to correlate (total MUTHER reference there) with my typically inane writing.

But as a diehard fan of the original, and a staunch supporter of what Mr. Scott did with PROMETHEUS, I cannot help but wonder at the fate of the rest of the series.  I appreciate him as a storyteller and filmmaker, but this one…

Yes, there are more interesting creature designs, and a heckuva lot more gore than its predecessor.  In some ways, Sir Ridley and Co. deliver more than satisfactory on many different levels.  And Lord knows I love me some Michael Fassbender!  Holy facehugger, does my Number One Go-to-Gay-Guy get some well-deserved screen time.  His portrayal of both Michael and Walter is even better than his straight-up Michael in PROMETHEUS, and for that one I thought he should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award.

Quick synopsis of the film for those that haven’t seen it yet: a crew transporting frozen colonists to a habitable planet are awoken early from hypersleep (sound familiar...?), and investigate a seemingly pristine planet which is much closer than their idyllic new home.  Turns out, the place is inhabited by xenomorphs of a much earlier design (slight spoiler) than what we end up with in ALIEN.  There are several plot points I have issues with (including the incubation period—really, the victims now have the response time of the zombies from 28 DAYS LATER?!?) but will not get into here.  Again, I try not to spoil anything in my reviews.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, but not nearly as much as PROMETHEUS.  Sir Ridley does not entirely dismiss what he was setting up with the first film, and does progress the story to a point which makes this necessary viewing if you are to continue on with the saga.

But for the man that invented science fiction horror, I would have hoped for something a little more…well, MORE.  I just hope I haven’t already figured out the next sequel…
Grade: B-

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

on KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017, 126 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
Sitting down to watch this film was not a struggle.  I had high hopes but knew going in that there was a potential letdown coming…  Director Guy Ritchie’s style can be a hit-or-miss… and what was pointed out to me, this is a large-scale film, not his normal comfort zone.  And, we are retelling a ‘legend’ that has seen its fair share on the large and small screen.

And, it proved quickly that there may be some issues.  The lights go down and in the darkness, a stone tower fades into vision.  The scene is dark… ‘bleak’ a better descriptor.  At its top, an explosion… and we return to darkness.  And, there we sat… for… too… long.  I looked around, seeing if anyone was getting up to let the theatre peeps know something went wrong.

Then, finally… a faint, gray cloud of smoke starts to fill the center of the screen.  Wait…?  What…?  That was intended?  Then, a sprint of early storytelling was in full stride.  In full Guy Ritchie fashion, I think he outdid himself.  Just like Mr. Michael Bay has lately ‘out-Bayed’ himself.  The whole first 20 minutes or so would not let up.  It was like the film editor, who shall remain nameless, put the project in a wood chipper. 

That was my major hang-up with the film.  I love Guy Ritchie and respect his style.  Though, this one went a bit too far.  Outside that, the story was unique, which was needed in these days of remakes.  The dialogue was respectable, with the cast pulling their weight in a heavy-fantasy setting.  The costume design may have been a little too stylish for the lead characters but I still give it a pass.  What I did appreciate was the attention to druidic lore.  The critters were a great addition to the story. Another misstep was the use of CGI as the driving force for most of the action.  Again, too much Ritchie. 

One last gripe that has to be addressed, *** spoiler-ish below ***

Jude Law played Vortigern, Arthur’s uncle and powerful mage.  The core conflict was to stop Vortigern from building his tower, making him as strong as the previous powerhouse that threatened the land, Mordred.  But, every time Vortigern needed help, instead of using any great powers that was claimed, he would ‘enlist’ the help of three syrens. 

Despite this harsh article, I still believe this was still worth the watch.  It’s always good to see Ritchie at the helm, and Charlie Hunnam get work.  And Tom Wu… Hundred Eyes!!!

Grade: C