A Logan Review – Old Man Stabby

Logan, 2017, Hugh Jackman, posterTITLE: Logan
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genere, Hutch Parker Entertainment, The Donners’ Company
RATING: R
RUN-TIME: 137 min
RELEASED: 
March 3, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a fan of the X-Men film series, Logan is in many ways a frustrating film. It’s very much the expressionistic, character-driven piece it sets out to be. But the Wolverine character is heavily defined by the world he’s in. A world filled with prejudice toward super-powered mutants. In Logan, that world has been heavily altered. While we all love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, what this movie really could have used was a little more world-building.

In the year 2029, mutantkind has been nearly eradicated. Logan, the man formerly known as Wolverine, is one of the last ones alive. In his care is a frail Charles Xavier, suffering from dementia and seizures. Logan isn’t exactly in great health himself. But danger once again finds our clawed hero, this time in the form of a young girl named Laura. Like Logan, she has adamantium claws, healing powers, and a deadly temper. She is hunted by Transigen, the group responsible for wiping out mutantkind. And if they have their way, Logan, Charles, and this mysterious girl are next.

Comic book fans know Logan is somewhat based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan book. That story features a gray-haired Logan in a world conquered by supervillains. The first lines in the very first panel are: “No one knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since.”

logan-image-1-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenThere’s very little information like this in Logan. Information that helps us define the different world we see these familiar characters in. I’m not of the belief that absolutely everything needs to be spelled out for the audience. But the memory of the X-Men team is very much a part of this movie. It even implies that a new generation will pick up where Logan and the others left off. So wouldn’t it be helpful to tell us what happened to the X-Men? Were they all hunted down and killed by Transigen? Was there a big battle, like in Old Man Logan? We don’t have to comb through the roster one by one. But for instance, Logan loved Jean Grey. That could have been used to prompt a line or two about how she and some of the others died.

Instead, the film is chipped away at by these questions about how the established characters got to where they are, and who some of these new characters are. We do get allusions to a tragic event involving the widespread telepathic side-effects of one of Xavier’s seizes in Westchester, New York. To the uninitiated, Westchester was the home of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and home base to the X-Men. So it’s reasonable to assume that’s where many of them died. But casual moviegoers won’t know that. Hell, I’m fairly versed in X-Men lore and it took me awhile to put it together.

logan-image-2-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenHalf the potential of a story like this lies in exploring the dystopian future, and how we got there. Logan doesn’t do much of that, and the movie suffers for it.

Still, Logan is indeed the R-rated Wolverine flick many have waited for. The movie takes full advantage of its expanded parameters. We see severed limbs aplenty, gallons of spilled blood, claw shots through the face, and plenty of F-bombs. If this really is Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as Wolverine, he goes out in a blaze of bloody and cathartic glory.

Jackman’s claim that this is the last time he’ll pop the claws is a downer for sure. In 17 years, he’s played the character seven times. Nine if you count his brief uncredited appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s left an indelible mark on the character and the X-Men franchise as a whole, bringing tremendous depth and likability in addition to the berserker rage that fans love. What’s more, I’m not ready to fully rule Jackman out of another appearance in the role. He’s publicly flirted with coming back for certain scenarios, and it’s not like he’s been typecast. He was Jean Valjean, for crying out loud. More importantly, he’s a proven and highly lucrative commodity in that role. It’s show business, folks. Anything is possible.

logan-hugh-jackman-patrick-stewartPerhaps less publicized is that Logan is perhaps Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Charles Xavier. Something else this movie has going for it is the novelty of ol’ Captain Picard dropping a few F-bombs. Why the hell not?

Dafne Keen makes her film debut here as Laura, a.k.a. X-23. Not a bad way to make your entrance, with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at your side. She’s quite the find. Keen doesn’t speak for most of the movie, and has to convey a quiet rage beyond her years. She becomes the perfect mini-Wolverine.

There’s been a good amount of talk about Logan defying the genre of superhero movies. While I maintain this genre is more versatile than people give it credit for, Logan feels unlike most, if not any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. At one point, Xavier and Laura are watching Shane. That’s extremely fitting, given the movie’s clear influence on Logan. Mangold has also talked about The Cowboys starring John Wayne, and The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood. Oddly enough, he’s also mentioned Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler.

logan-image-3-hugh-jackmanLogan is hardly the most satisfying installment in the X-Men franchise. But it’s absolutely the most unique. There’s an undeniable thrill and catharsis to seeing Jackman rage out as Wolverine, potentially for the last time. From a performance standpoint, he absolutely sticks the landing here. Though that should come as surprise to absolutely no one.

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A Suicide Squad In-Depth Review – Will Smith is in This Movie?

Suicide Squad, 2016 film posterTITLE: Suicide Squad
STARRING: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
DIRECTOR: David Ayer
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 123 min
RELEASED: August 5, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not often you go to a movie and forget Will Smith is in it. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and is the focal point of the marketing for whatever film he’s in. But not Suicide Squad. From a publicity standpoint, this has been all Joker/Harley Quinn, and for good reason.

Based on the comic book series of the same title, Suicide Squad sees government official Amanda Waller assemble a task force of killers and criminals to send on covert missions. They serve as both agents and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their bodies. Under the command of Colonel Rick Flag, “Task Force X” consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo, and a metahuman called the Enchantress. But when the Enchantress loses control of her dual “witch” personality, Waller is forced to call in her team of villains.

So you’re Warner Bros., and you’re trying to match the success Marvel has had at the movies with their shared cinematic universe. You put out a Superman movie, then a Superman/Batman movie. Now third in line is…Suicide Squad? Not Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Justice League. But Suicide Squad? In terms of DC Comics, it’s always been a second-string book at best. So why make it part of the foundation of your cinematic universe? Marvel certainly didn’t do anything like that…

Suicide Squad, 2016, team shotThat last point is one of the keys to the vast amount of interest in Suicide Squad. There’s never been a big budget movie quite like this. It’s all about supervillains doing what they do. Who doesn’t love a good villain?

And there’s no better villain in all of pop culture than the Joker. Both superhero buffs and casual moviegoers are fascinated by him. More importantly, from a business perspective the Harlequin of Hate means big box office bucks. When Jack Nicholson played the character in Batman, the movie broke records and pulled in over $411 million. Heath Ledger won an Oscar when he played the part in The Dark Knight, which again broke records with over $1 billion. Even this year’s limited release of the animated version of The Killing Joke made over $3 million.

So in that sense, one can understand why Warner Bros. would want the Joker in Suicide Squad, a film about supervillains the general public has never heard of. What better way to compensate than with the one villain everyone knows?

Sadly, audiences expecting something akin to The Dark Knight will be disappointed. The Joker gets considerably less screen time than the other characters, as the movie isn’t really about him. He’s a supporting character, a role that would undoubtedly infuriate the Clown Prince himself.

Joker, Jared LetoJared Leto’s Joker is interesting to watch, and leaves you wanting more. But his performance lacks the complexity and depth of Ledger’s, or the sheer fun of Nicholson’s. He’s a tattooed Scarface in clown makeup. But it may be unfair to even compare Leto to his predecessors, as he doesn’t get the chance to dominate the film the way they did. But Leto has the chance to evolve his Joker over multiple films. He’s had the less screen time than Nicholson and Ledger. But that’s likely going to change.

Fans of Harley Quinn (and there are many) can rest easy. Margot Robbie performs the character very well. Though let’s be honest: She’s highly sexualized. I’ve never been a fan of sexy Harley Quinn, especially when she’s with the Joker. Her love for him isn’t prominently sexual. For her own twisted reasons, she’s entirely bought in. That’s what gives her the tragic element present in so many Batman villains. Harley is in an abusive relationship. Either she doesn’t realize it or she keeps returning to it, depending on where you are in her story. I’m not sure if she’s, as one reviewer put it, “damaged dolly jerk-off material.” But it unflatteringly simplifies her.

Then again, it looks like damaged dollies make box office bucks too.

Deadshot, Suicide Squad, Will SmithDid we mention Will Smith is in this movie? And it’s better for him being there. Floyd Lawton/Deadshot acts as the film’s moral and emotional compass. Smith is more than qualified to play that role, with his trademark charm to boot. He’s almost the Han Solo of this movie, bringing a much-needed down to Earth perspective and character-driven levity to the proceedings. Without him, the movie would have been as needlessly grim as Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad has the unenviable task of introducing us to an entire team of supervillains, filling in their backstories, and making us care about them while still keeping its plot going. It accomplishes some of this by formally introducing its main protagonists from the get-go, framed by a dinner scene with Waller. Deadshot and Harley get the most emphasis, obviously. From there, we see flashback scenes as the movie progresses. This strategy is fine, but it negatively impacts part of the movie’s climax.

Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez, isn’t a main character. He’s a fire-starter with a conscience, and makes a big sacrifice during the final battle. But we don’t learn about Diablo’s past until the second half of the film. We’re invested in him, but not nearly as much as we’d have been if we’d gotten this information sooner. Whether this is the case or not, it feels like Diablo’s backstory was shoved in to make the climax more impactful.

El Diablo, Suicide Squad movie, 2016Also, Slipknot (the supervillain, not the band) is shoehorned into this thing for 10 minutes so he can get blown up by one of Waller’s nanite bombs. This was obviously done to establish she wasn’t bluffing. But Slipknot’s purpose in the story is immediately apparent, to the point where his death is almost an eye-roller.

Suicide Squad was clearly influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, which also got us acquainted with a team of heroes and their world. Guardians used music from the ’60s and ’70s to make its main character quickly recognizable, likable, and familiar. Suicide Squad tries the same trick with music from Credence Clearwater Revival, Eminem, and other artists that go a long way in engaging the audience. After awhile, you can plainly see what they’re doing. But there’s something to be said for keeping things fun, and letting the audience rock out to music they know and love.

Critics haven’t been kind to Suicide Squad, and that’s very much justified. The movie gradually starts to come apart in the third act, before quickly snapping back together at the end. But the movie does deliver something that was sorely lacking from its predecessors, and that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in spades: Fun. Suicide Squad is a flawed piece of work, and is guilty of objectifying its female lead. But it’s a fun summer popcorn flick that furthers the story of the DC Extended Universe. By and large, it delivers more than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. That should serve as a lesson to Warner Bros. going forward.

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A Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review – Why So Serious?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeTITLE: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 151 min
RELEASED: March 25, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This movie had a lot of mud thrown its way before even one shot was in the can. Some of that was fair. Much of it wasn’t. Man of Steel wasn’t as well received as many would have liked. Then people jumped on the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. There was also a lot of skepticism about the inclusion of all the Justice League characters, not to mention Doomsday. And that’s just some of it. So after all that, what’s the bottom line on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Is this movie as bad as so many critics say it is? No. Is it a deeply flawed movie? Yes.

After the destruction left in the wake of Superman’s battle with Zod, the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) unknowingly has an enemy in Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (Ben Affleck). Then, 18 months later Superman causes an international incident when he swoops in to save Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a terrorist group. While his intentions are good, Superman’s actions have sparked a mass debate about if and how he should be monitored and regulated. Meanwhile, young business tycoon and hereditary CEO of Lexcorp Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has plans of his own regarding the Man of Steel…

Batman v Superman, image 1

Audiences hoping for something in the vein of a Marvel movie likely got a rude awakening from Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder’s superhero films, going as far back as Watchmen, are very serious, and at times very grim. This is a stark contrast to what we get from Marvel Studios, and also Fox’s X-Men movies. Those various superhero franchises (Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America, etc.) have all found their own balance between action blockbuster and comedy. That comedy is more important than a lot of people think. While I’ve always maintained superhero stories can be more than simple escapist tales about people punching each other, people should also be able to have fun when they see these movies. And that fun pays dividends. For proof, look no further than Deadpool, a movie made for $58 million that went on to make $745 million worldwide.

Fun doesn’t mean belittling the story or universe, either. There’s a moment in Batman v Superman when Batman saves Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and tells her “I’m a friend of your son.” She replies with a simple: “I figured. The cape…” There are precious few moments like this in the movie. But humor and levity are such valuable storytelling tools, particularly in terms of endearing the characters to us. And they’ve largely been cast aside in Batman v Superman. The notion that levity somehow takes away from a movie’s epic factor, or even it’s “dark tone,” is simply a fallacy. Cast in point: Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Those films weren’t funny, per se. But they had little moments of levity that made the dark and chaotic stuff that much more impactful. By comparison, this movie feels like darkness on top of darkness.

Batman v. Superman, image 2The movie also has slow build-up to the confrontation between the two titular characters. This results in the first half of the proceedings being flat-out boring at times. We get a lot of good information regarding the characters and their world. But between the bleak and dreary look these movies have been given, and the lack of levity or fun, I can see many a casual moviegoer falling asleep here. Batman v Superman tries to slap a band-aid on this problem with some nightmare sequences in which Batman fights against a tyrannical Superman. While they do have a certain appeal, they contribute little to the actual story, and end up being more frustrating than anything else.

But let’s not pile on, here. The movie isn’t devoid of positives by any means. Batman fans jumped all over the casting of Ben Affleck like a pack of rabid dogs, and perhaps justifiably so. But as a lifelong Batman buff, I say Affleck gets a passing grade as The Dark Knight. I maintain Affleck wasn’t a bad choice for Daredevil either. Both Daredevil and Batman v Superman had problems. In the case of Daredevil, Affleck took the heat for those flaws because he was the face of the film. Hopefully, history won’t point the finger at him again.

Batman v Superman, image 3, Jesse EisenbergJesse Eisenberg is partially channelling Heath Ledger’s Joker in his portrayal of Lex Luthor. That’s fine, I suppose. Once he gets into full blown supervillain mode, he’s very good. To those of us who saw him in The Social Network, that should be no surprise. Heck, the Lex Luthor we see here isn’t unlike Mark Zuckerberg, really.

Perhaps the single best aspect of Batman v Superman is that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gets put over like a million bucks. In my theater, when she finally showed up in costume, the audience cheered. That’s a hell of a sign. I’d never seen Gal Gadot before, but she carries herself well in the role. This obviously bodes well for a Wonder Woman movie.

As one might have guessed with the presence of Doomsday, this movie goes the Death of Superman route. On paper it sounds risky. But it works on the screen, particularly in setting up a Justice League movie. Superman’s death can galvanize the other heroes into working together for the greater good. What’s more, the fight with Doomsday is amazing. It’s almost as if they met their entire action quota with that one fight. They also seemingly learned their lesson from Man of Steel, and didn’t destroy an entire city this time.

Batman v Superman, image 4There will be lessons to learn from Batman v Superman as well. The biggest one being not taking things so damn seriously. Not every superhero movie needs to conform to the Marvel formula. But it would be silly not to learn from the success of something that spawned an entire cinematic universe. Batman v Superman should have been a fanboy classic for the ages. While it’s not quite as bad as it’s been made out to be, what we got was definitely not that. Frankly, that’s a crime. All the tools were there, but they couldn’t get the job done. As a long time DC Comics fan, that’s an awful miscarriage of justice.

Maybe that should have been the title.

Images courtesy of rottentomatoes.com. 

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A Review of The Lorax – Slaughtering Seuss

The Lorax, posterTITLE: The Lorax
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White
DIRECTORS: Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda
STUDIO: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
RATED: PG
RUN TIME: 94 min
RELEASED:
March 2, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Lora Van Marel
Staff Writer, One-Woman Show

Every so often, a film comes along that is of such quality, such poise, such graceful execution, that it becomes woven into the very fabric of popular culture. Such a film never truly ages, as its nearly universal appeal transforms it into an instant classic that, like fine wine, gets better with age.

Then you have a film like The Lorax, which hits so many of the wrong notes it actually gets crappier with age. Considering how crappy it is now, that’s a scary thought.

Loosely based on the classic children’s book by Dr. Seuss, the movie is centered around Ted, a boy hoping to impress his neighbor Audrey by finding her a truffula tree. Such trees, and trees in general, are non-existent in the hyper-industrialized town of Thneedville, where the mayor, Mr. O’Hare,  has made a fortune on bottled air, and light-up electric trees are all the rage. Searching for a real tree, Ted seeks out the Once-ler, who famously destroyed the forest of truffula trees outside Thneedville. Remorsefully, The Once-ler tells Ted his story, and about the only creature who warned him of the error of his ways, the guardian of the forest, The Lorax.

86949_oriWhen you make a big budget movie based on a kids book, you often need to take a few creative liberties simply for the sake of stretching the story out. I get that, and I fully expected it. I’m certainly not one of those viewers who pans everything in a movie that isn’t a move-for-move duplication of the book. But when you do a movie like this, you need to make sure you: 1. Make the story a logical extension of the content that’s already there. 2. Stay true to the characters, especially if your movie is based on a classic. 3. Do it well. The Lorax does none of these, opting instead to try and make the story into a clowny musical with comedy akin to Illumination Entertainment’s last big animated hit, Despicable Me (the minions from that movie appear in the company’s video signature, a minion makes a quick cameo in the film, and Chris Renaud also co-directed that film). Most of the songs fall flat, especially the Once-ler’s downright painful number “How Bad Can I Be?”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a clowny musical for kids, and I liked Despicable Me. But that format doesn’t work for The Lorax, because while it’s filled with imagery from the joyously fun and wondrously individual mind of Dr. Seuss, the story really isn’t a funny one. In its own way it’s a tragedy. This beautiful, enchanting forest is destroyed by the greedy Once-ler, leaving only a bleak, barren, smog-filled wasteland. The Once-ler’s greed and selfishness destroy everything he’s built, until all he has left is his own loneliness. That’s pretty heavy stuff when you consider The Lorax is a kids book. But it works because there’s a certain blatant honesty about it. Dr. Seuss dressed the message up with his unique style, but he didn’t shamelessly pander to kids, or try to fit the story into a certain mold. This movie does both, and as such The Lorax loses a piece of it’s soul.

The Once-ler, The Lorax movieWay to go, movie. You sucked the soul out of a Dr. Seuss story. Shang Tsung would be proud.

The Lorax, and especially the Once-ler, are also reduced to shells of their literary counterparts. In the book, the Once-ler is a faceless, heartless bad guy who doesn’t care that he’s destroying the homes of these cuddly little creatures. In the movie, he’s a swell ol’ guy who promises the Lorax he’ll only cut down one truffula tree. But then his rotten relatives convince him to do it, though he’s still not quite sure about it. Kind of went the other way on that one, didn’t you movie? Oh, and this just in: the Joker only steals because his aunt goaded him into it. She needed the money to treat her scoliosis. When you meet him, he’s actually a cool dude. The true villain in this film, Mr. O’Hare, is an irritating amalgamation of Lord Farquaad from Shrek and Vector from Despicable Me. His time on screen basically consists of short jokes and over-the-top cartoon bad guy mugging.

As for the Lorax himself, he’s gone from being a wise, somewhat curmudgeonly cautioneer, to being…well, Danny DeVito. I understand why DeVito was cast. If he grows a mustache, he essentially IS the Lorax. And his portrayal does lend itself to an animated kids movie. But the Lorax didn’t necessarily need to be a clowny character. I might have made him into a fairly serious character and let the animals in the forest handle a lot of the comedy. Let the Lorax be the loving, almost fatherly creature that he is, instead of just an orange guy from New Jersey.

The Lorax movie, image 3Still, DeVito, Ed Helms and Betty White sound like they’re having fun. Zac Efron and Taylor Swift seem to be just reading their lines, especially during their first few scenes. The Mr. O’Hare character would have been irritating either way, so I can’t necessarily blame Rob Riggle for his vocal performance.

Little kids would likely enjoy The Lorax. The animal characters, specifically the barbaloot bears, are pretty cute and provide a lot of that minion-like comedy seen in Despicable Me. There’ a lot of goofy cartoon humor that they’ll like. As for everybody else, I suspect The Lorax film would be an improved experience if you don’t know any better, i.e. you haven’t read the book, or even seen the Lorax TV special from 1972. If you discount the fact that it’s based on a Dr. Seuss book, there’s really not much that sets it apart from the average CGI cartoon movies out these days, and that’s really a shame. If filmmakers wanted to make a Lorax movie, they should have made something more faithful to the story, as opposed to using it as an excuse to make another Despicable Me with some trees.

The most disappointing thing of all? It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday this weekend. Needless to say, he deserves better.

RATING: 3/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com. 

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