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Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Strangers (**1/2)


Liv Tyler's Afraid of Something

Beautifully shot but pointless. Liv Tyler is lovingly photographed and the cinematography is excellent: all moody blacks and warm browns. A young couple is attacked in their country home by masked psychos. The first act is remarkably good with solid performances by Tyler and Scott Speedman trying to sort through a dramatic crossroads in their relationship. Then there's a pounding at the door and the B-movie horror schlock kicks it, though gradually and with an effective bit of dread at first. There's a novel moment involving who Speedman shoots with his shotgun that's really the only interesting part of the horror story. Ultimately, The Strangers reveals itself as maddeningly grim and nihilistic.

The Limits of Control (***)


A baffling but fascinating cypher of a film from Jim Jarmusch. One way to describe The Limits of Control might be the Strangest James Bond Movie Ever, but that doesn't quite cut it. A hard-faced hitman who hardly says anything is sent on a mission that requires him to travel to different cities in Spain and encounter a slew of oddball characters who speak to him in a bizarre code and trade matchboxes with him. The contents of the matchbox are understood by him alone but ultimately lead him to his target. The oddballs are played by famed character actors like Tilda Swinton and John Hurt, while Paz De La Huerta spends the entire movie in her birthday suit. Bill Murray pops up as well. Some compelling imagery and the characters' weirdly curious behavior force the viewer to draw their own conclusions. I can't honestly say I understood what I saw or what The Limits of Control was all about, but I still rather enjoyed it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me to Hell (***)

A pleasant surprise. Sam Raimi enthusiastically returns to schlock-horror with an entertaining, gross-out romp involving a pretty bank loan officer being menaced by a goat devil conjured by an angry gypsy crone. A fetching Alison Lohman is totally game for her haunting, supported ably by Justin Long as her understanding boyfriend and Dileep Rao as her spiritual guru. Not just a very entertaining good time, Drag Me to Hell also shows us exactly why Borat is right to hate gypsies. There are so many good reasons, not the least of which is gypsies always put it in the mouth.

Up (****)

Pixar does it again! What a fantastic movie Up is. A brilliant adventure yarn, buddy comedy, and one of the most touching love stories I've seen in years, told in an unexpectedly powerful first act montage. The crazy cartoon adventures old man Carl Fredricksen and friends survive in the South American jungle totally one-up (pun intended) the crazy cartoon adventures in the South American jungle old man Harrison Ford, old man John Hurt and friends survived in last year's Indiana Jones. A flying house held aloft by a thousand balloons in an aerial dogfight with talking dogs pilotiing byplanes while another pack of talking dogs have a literal dogfight inside a giant dirigible is one of the greatest crazy ideas in cinema history.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rachel Getting Married (**1/2)


Rachel Getting Married achieves the verisimilitude of being an uninvited guest who doesn't know anyone at a wedding. What's more, attending an entire weekend of wedding festivities, including the bitter family squabbles and reveals of long-nursed grudges and traumas. The bizarre but absorbing multicultural rehearsal dinner and wedding sequences go on and on. And on. Strong performances from the cast lead by Anne Hathaway in her Oscar-nominated role as a deeply troubled recovering drug addict. The only other certified movie star in the picture was Debra Winger as Hathaway's mother. There's a startling argument between them where they both haul off on each other. Hathaway suffers a split lip. Winger is perfectly fine. So, unlike her mother, Hathaway can't take a punch.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator Salvation (*)

Terminator And I Are Done, Professionally.

Terminator Salvation was one of the most unpleasant movie experiences I've ever had. Noise. Noise, noise, and more noise. It's all machines and explosions, which was of course expected, but it's all so much sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. Then there was Christian Bale as John Connor, SCREAMING to be heard above the din. Bale has virtually nothing to play as a character but he plays it with one note: eyes bulging, gravel-voiced, strident bellowing. Even in his quiet moments, getting marching orders from the old cassette tapes his mother Sarah Connor recorded for him back in 1984 or having underwritten tete-a-tetes with his wife Kate Brewster (a pregnant, saucer-eyed Bryce Dallas Howard, having virtually nothing to do until the end), Bale seems like he's just counting the minutes before he gets to bark at someone for some reason. All that noise and Bale's screaming gave me a splitting headache. After this movie ended, I was forced to find salvation in some aspirin.

We see little of what supposedly makes John Connor the great leader of men outside of his fireside CB radio chats. Suddenly there's a "prophecy" that Connor is the leader of the Resistance, but he isn't even really. Connor and the Resistance answer to a bunch of high-ranking clowns in a submarine, one of whom is played by sci-fi B movie veteran Michael Ironside. Ironside even "relieves" John Connor of his command, as if that means anything. What, are they gonna court marshal Connor if he doesn't comply? The structure of the Resistance is so ill-defined and illogical, it's a wonder Skynet has any trouble whatsoever taking out these raggedy yahoos. After all, Skynet's 50 foot tall giant robots, which are transported by enormous flying Hunter-Killer airships, can somehow just sneak up on people. Just don't play any early 90's alterna-rock or the machines will be right at your shanty's doorstop.

The great disappointing bait-and-switch of Terminator Salvation is that John Connor is not the star of the movie. Connor is not the main character. That honor goes to Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright, a death row inmate in 2003 who, in 2018, is not only surprised to be alive but has a big secret that the audience already knows because of the trailer but Marcus himself is unaware of until halfway through the movie: He's a Terminator!

Marcus Wright is a monosyllabic brute with the dubious distinction of being the first primary Terminator character introduced in the Terminator franchise that I cared absolutely nothing about. Marcus' story has all the trappings of a machine who wants to be human without anything that makes that classic sci-fi dilemma interesting. Yet it is Marcus, not Connor, who has the main character arc, who grows and evolves during the movie, who makes the noble sacrifice at the end. Marcus also encounters young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin - I wished he said "wictor, wictor" like he did on Star Trek), destined to be John Connor's father because he falls in love with a ratty Polaroid of Linda Hamilton. By introducing a teenage Kyle Reese, Terminator Salvation dives headlong into George Lucas prequel territory: Hey, remember that bad ass human warrior in the very first Terminator movie? Here, you get to see him as a snot-nosed teenager who has never heard an Alice in Chains song.

Marcus saves Moon Bloodgood, a hot Resistance pilot, from a gang of human would-be rapists. This is a moment that, due to Salvation's crippling PG-13 rating, might as well have been preceded by a "SCENE MISSING" title card. (There was a topless shower scene that was removed to spare the vulnerable eyes of the teenage boys in the audience. They came to enjoy mindless death and explosions - they mustn't see boobs! Think of the children!) After learning Marcus is a Terminator, Bloodgood undergoes metal fever and helps him escape Connor HQ. Her brilliant planning gets them about twenty feet to a jeep for cover before she's plum out of ideas. Marcus bails and she gets recaptured, only to get a slap on the wrist from Connor. And then, she's gone. Though as far as unwelcome presences in the movie go, Bloodgood is outmatched by Common as Connor's right hand man, a grunt so cool he wears sunglasses at night. Obviously, his future's so bright, he's gotta wear shades.

As ever, Skynet's master plan makes no sense. Marcus is created by Skynet to infiltrate Connor's camp, gain his trust, capture him, and bring him to Skynet, presumably to be executed. Why does Marcus not know what he is? And why coerce Connor into coming to Skynet HQ? Why not just Terminate him? Meanwhile, the top Resistance brass in the submarine inform Connor that Skynet has a list of primary enemies. Connor is number two on the list, his teenage pops Kyle Reese is number one. How would Skynet know about Kyle Reese at all? The only way it could know who and what Reese is/will be is if Skynet watched the previous three Terminator movies. Halfway through the movie, Skynet's giant robot captures Reese. Skynet then had Reese imprisoned. Why do that? Why not just Terminate him? There, problem solved.

Later, Marcus marches right into Skynet HQ, is ID'd as a Terminator despite other Terminators not recognizing him and trying to terminate him for most of the movie. Marcus is promptly repaired in Skynet's Apple Store-looking main hub. Marcus then confronts his creator, Helena Bonham-Carter, the virtual face of Skynet. She tells him what he was created to do. He decides to heroically rebel and tears some sort of control device from the back of his head. Why did he even bother ripping that device off? He was already uncontrollable by Skynet.

The ending is a cheat. We see Connor fulfill his lifelong dream of destroying Skynet's mainframe, only to have him deliver a closing voice over that they destroyed Skynet, but not really. There's more Skynet to fight. But... but we saw you blow it up! No? There's more? Well, good luck with that, JC.

The only part I sort of enjoyed was the big fight at the finale. John Connor, having penetrated deep into Skynet, encounters the familiar face of Arnold Schwarzenegger, looking convincingly like the original Terminator Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese battled in 1984. The T-800 model of the Terminator had steadily been upstaged by shapeshifting, more "advanced" models like the T-1000 and TX. In depicting a long, brutal battle with the old school T-800 endoskeleton, Terminator Salvation went a long way to restoring the luster of the original and best Terminator. And yet, the T-800 was ultimately beaten not by John Connor, the human, but by Marcus Wright, the more advanced model of Terminator, so the point of the great leader of the humans being able to defeat a copy of his childhood robot surrogate dad was lost.

The story of the future war against the machines was best left fought in the audience's imaginations. To see the future war depicted ultimately highlights the preposterous central conceit of the Terminator story: that a grown man showed his younger father-to-be a Polariod of his dead mother, the father-to-be falls in love with that photo, and later is sent back in time to father that man. In the meantime, killer robots attack and murder as many dirty, desperate human soldiers as possible, to an uncertain end. Because every time a human or a Terminator time travels to the past, they end up merely postponing an apocalyptic future that will have to happen anyway for any robots or humans to travel back in time in the first place.

There was nothing in Terminator Salvation to care about. No coherent story, and no characters to latch onto. I don't care anymore. I don't care about John Connor. I sure don't care about Marcus Wright. I don't care about the future war. I don't care about Terminators. The point of cinematically depicting the future war against Skynet is ostensibly to show audiences how John Connor became the salvation of mankind, but the movie doesn't believe in him. Salvation fails to show us the John Connor we've been told for three movies and a TV series that he's supposed to be. Bale's Connor is presented as the son Linda Hamilton and Michael Beihn's Kyle Reese but he lacks the humanity and passion of his parents. Or even the devil-may-care spark of himself when he was the boy played by Edward Furlong. Bale's John Connor is an angry, uninteresting creature. As an action movie, Terminator Salvation is no fun; a heavy metal bludgeon to the senses. Unlike Marcus Wright, Terminator Salvation has no heart.

The bottom line is, for me, personally, Terminator is over. It was really over when T2 ended back in 1991. Whether it's a short-lived apocryphal television series or theatrical sequel after sequel threatening to be cranked out, it is all just fan fiction designed first and foremost to parasite off the Terminator name. At this point the Terminator franchise exists only to justify more reasons to show robots blowing stuff up; as an excuse to squeeze more money from people's wallets. The war between man and machines will never truly end as long as they can make a buck from it. The only sane solution to this madness is to throw up your hands and walk away from this money-grubbing franchise. That salvation from Terminator is free.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience (**1/2)


Steven Soderbergh's ode to the professional escort, circa October 2008. The Girlfriend Experience stars Sasha Grey as Chelsea, a New York City working girl for higher class clientele, most of whom spend their time with her complaining about the economy and dreading Obama beating McCain in the election. Shot in warm and cool natural light, Soderbergh employs a frustratingly fragmented narrative to show glimpses into the tight-lipped Chelsea's professional life and heavily armored personal life. The result is a cold, ultimately uninvolving experience. Ten minutes of one of Sasha Grey's hundreds of other films is much, much more bang for the buck.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Angels and Demons (*1/2)


A droopy-eyed Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon to pull more pseudo-historical nuggets out of his ass while racing around Rome to stop the Illuminati from murdering four priests and detonating antimatter to destroy Rome. I'd heard going in that Angels and Demons was better than The Da Vinci Code. It isn't. Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code are lurid trash, but at least Da Vinci was somewhat entertaining lurid trash, thanks to Sir Ian McKellan chewing the scenery and Audrey Tautou generating some empathy and chemistry with Hanks. Angels and Demons has none of that; just a bunch of priests endlessly pontificating over who should be the next Pope while Langdon and everyone else drone on and on about Religion vs. Science. All of the action revolves around Langdon and the audience trying to unravel a Sinister Plot That Makes No Sense. The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons also share the patented Dan Brown swerve as to the identity of the real villain that's so shocking it's completely retarded. Without the shocking. Director Ron Howard must have been too busy cashing his fat paycheck to pay much heed to Brown's numbingly-inane plot and dead-on-arrival characters. Angels and Demons is an unholy piece of garbage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tyson (***1/2)


Went into Tyson expecting the wall-to-wall hilariously absurd boasts of his later years when he fought Evander Holyfield. Instead found a tired, deeply reflective former heavyweight champion dealing with a lifetime of regret peppered only with fleeting, empty memories of his past greatness. In his own words, Mike Tyson narrates his entire life, describing his angry childhood of being bullied on the streets of Brooklyn, to his meteoric rise as Heavyweight Champion of the World, to his rape conviction (which he still pleads innocent to), prison time served, and his misadventures leading to his retirement from boxing. A lifetime of fighting, abuse, sex, wealth, and (he feels) misunderstanding. All of this is accompanied by bountiful footage of his fighting career and life out of the ring. Tyson remains wistful of his failed marriage to Robin Givens. He saves his harshest words for Desiree Washington, the woman who accused him of rape ("that wretched swine"), and Don King ("that reptilian motherfucker"). Throughout, Mike Tyson is surprisingly eloquent, clear-eyed, and gentle. Can't help but feel bad that the former Baddest Man on the Planet may just be the saddest man on the planet. But DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince were wrong: I don't think we can beat Mike Tyson.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek: The IMAX Experience (****)

"I like this ship! It's exciting!"

In all the years I've been following the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and the greater universe it explores, Star Trek is the most unnerving Star Trek experience I've ever had. Unnerving in the most surprising, wonderful way. Star Trek acknowledges its roots, its history, its beloved, sacred canon, and then throws the entire rulebook out the window and starts anew. We meet Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and Scotty all over again. They're familiar, but different. It's them, all right, but not really. They're something else, something old but new. Director JJ Abrams and his team don't re-imagine Star Trek - they reset it. Star Trek is a whole new, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants joyride aboard the Starship Enterprise. From here on in, anything goes.

I loved the new origin of Jim Kirk. With the sacrifice of his father aboard the USS Kelvin, Kirk was literally born into life among the stars, his destiny set as the Captain of the Enterprise. It's mythic. I lost count of how many guys beat Kirk up in this movie, but it happened as often as Kirk found himself hanging from a precipice by his fingertips. Chris Pine's Kirk isn't a mirror image of William Shatner's Kirk; Pine is much more flawed and rough-hewn. But still heroic, still every bit the man Jim Kirk is supposed to be... or will yet be. In time. When a defeated Nero rebuffed Kirk's offer of aid at the end, preferring a horrible death, Kirk's reply, "You got it!", made me want to stand up and cheer. I also liked how Kirk kept finding ways to sit on the captain's chair until it was finally his. Getting to see Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru test was a nice treat for Wrath of Khan lovers like me. 

Zachary Quinto as Spock was a bit of a harder sell. Spock is a difficult role to get right. Not quite helping Quinto's cause was the wizened presence of the beloved Leonard Nimoy, also playing Spock from the 24th century, representing the Star Trek continuity as we used to know it. The key was to not compare what Quinto was doing to Nimoy - easier said than done - and embrace Quinto's textured, almost volcanic take on the Spock character. This is, after all, not the fully-formed, mature Spock who died to save his friends, was resurrected, and learned that "logic is the beginning of wisdom... not the end." By the end, I bought into Quinto as Spock, believed his burgeoning camraderie with Kirk. And if the characters themselves didn't, there was Nimoy nudging them both along towards each other: "Guys, trust me, you're gonna love each other. It's a bromance written in the stars."

If there's an MVP for me, it's Karl Urban as Leonard "Bones" McCoy, complete with the cantankerous attitude and disarming country charm that DeForest Kelley originated in the role. Urban was note-perfect as McCoy; by far the closest in tone and spirit to the original character. Urban's McCoy put me at ease right away. His friendship with Kirk, enabling him to be in the position to embrace his destiny, and his first-ever arguing and name-calling of Spock were exactly what they needed to be. I also loved his penchant for chasing Kirk around the Enterprise and injecting meds into his neck.

For the rest of the cast, the most radical revamp was for Zoe Saldana's Uhura, sexier and more brilliant than her predecessor Nichelle Nichols. The movie's biggest eyebrow-raiser is her romance with Spock, much to Kirk's chagrin. Never saw that coming. They sucked face so much, Spock's pointed ears were in danger of drooping. John Cho captured the offbeat kookiness of George Takei's original Sulu while Simon Pegg as Scotty showed up late but worked extra hard to squeeze as much comic relief as he could power from the Enterprise's engines. The most awkward of the main Enterprise crewmembers was Anton Yelchin as Chekov, but who knew Chekov was a 17 year old boy genius and not just the guy with the funny Russian accent? Bruce Greenwood as Captain Christopher Pike was fine casting. Though it seems now that Pike will never go to Talos IV, he still ended up in a wheelchair. Although it seems the wheelchairs with the light that blinks once for yes and twice for no haven't been invented yet. 

Eric Bana as the villain Nero was the weak link. Nero was less a diabolical villain than a plot device. His motivations for destroying the Federation in the past were explained adequately, but we didn't feel his villainy, his desperation, his madness. Bana snarled sufficiently, but the character just didn't seem there on the page. Nero was a bit of a missed opportunity to create a memorable new Star Trek villain. Ricardo Montalban's Khan remains the unchallenged greatest heavy in Star Trek movie history. (Speaking of Khan, elder Spock should probably have warned young Kirk and Spock that if they ever run across the SS Botany Bay floating in space, don't ask questions, don't look, just fire photon torpedoes at it. Seriously, you'll be doing yourselves a favor.) 

Star Trek boldly changed the rules and the game. Vulcan was destroyed, as was Romulus in the 24th century, though it still exists in the 23rd. The destruction of Vulcan was a real shocker. It's gone for good. As for the history of the future, it seems everything prior to the USS Kelvin incident happened. Star Trek: Enterprise remains canon, and there's even an amusing shout out to Scott Bakula's Admiral Archer and his beagle Porthos. Everything after Nero destroyed the USS Kelvin is up in the air. An alternate history has been created and that is the history of the new Star Trek. Kirk is not the man he was before because Shatner's Kirk grew up with a father, enlisted in Starfleet properly, and had all his adventures before dying in Star Trek Generations. Chris Pine's Kirk has a clean slate to write his own destiny. Khan is still out there, V'Ger and the Probe will still arrive decades from now, there are still the Klingons to meet, and what the 24th century will look like is anyone's guess.

It was total chaos on board the spanking new Starship Enterprise. Within the space of time between traveling from the doomed Vulcan to Earth, the Enterprise had a musical captain's chair with no less than three captains taking command. The only adult, Captain Pike, left the ship and the kids were left with the keys to the car. How absurd yet fitting that under these conditions, James T. Kirk was able to finally lead the Enterprise into defeating Nero and saving the Earth. After a Starfleet Academy career where he cheated on the Kobayashi Maru (no commendation for original thinking this time), stowed away on board the Enterprise twice, and brawled with the acting captain on the bridge to trick him into surrendering command of the ship, Kirk is rewarded for managing to save Earth by being granted command of the flagship of the Federation. But why quibble, why fight the illogic? Commanding a starship is Kirk's first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material.

It's a bizarre choice to have the elder Spock remain in the 23rd century, but what can you do with Spock? Killing him again on screen would be out of the question - there is no way to top his death in Wrath of Khan. Instead Nimoy's Spock is set loose in a time he lived through once before, but is very different from what he remembers. He's not above meddling with the new timeline, be it outright telling Spock and Kirk what they're destined to do, or giving Scotty the codes for transwarp teleportation that Scotty hasn't invented yet (and now will never need to invent because it was already handed to him). The temptation to use Nimoy in the sequels will be great, but it would be a mistake to rely on Nimoy as resident Vulcan-ex-machina. Though at the very least, Nimoy's Spock should probably look into finding a couple of humpback whales somewhere in the galaxy before that Probe shows up and the new kids will have to go back to 1986 San Francisco all over again.

One of the best things about Star Trek is how it wholeheartedly embraces the retro look and feel of the classic series. The starship, hair, and costume designs, right down to mini-skirts worn by female starship officers, are just as they were in the 1960s, but updated to look sleeker and cooler. This is the swinging 60's vision of the future lovingly brought up to speed for the 21st century. Even the classic theme song from the Star Trek television series by Alexander Courage triumphantly returns over the closing credits. As does the famous introduction: "Space, the final frontier..." If I have a quibble with that, it's with the choice to have Leonard Nimoy recite the lines as he did at the end of Wrath of Khan. By the end of Star Trek, the new crew of the Enterprise has established themselves as worthy successors to the originals. I think Pine's Kirk should have taken ownership of the mission statement as he has the Enterprise. I hope he recites the famous lines in the sequels.

When it's all said and done, the good news is Star Trek is back. The 24th century is yesterday's Enterprise. The characters we know and loved are alive and well in the 23rd century; their intelligence, wit, and charm intact, but bursting with the vitality of youth. The new frontier of Star Trek isn't so much unexplored regions of space as the potential for adrenaline-fueled adventure limited only by the filmmakers' imaginations. In a novel, necessary way, Star Trek has been unshackled from its continuity and set free again to explore strange new worlds. They can boldly go anywhere now, do anything. Five card stud, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit. Sign me up for a five sequel mission.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (*1/2)

Snickety Snikt!

“Mr. Stryker, this is turning into a disaster!”

You don't say, General Whatever-Your-Name-Is? Excuse the general, he's a little late to the party. He joined X-Men Origins: Wolverine when everyone's favorite muttonchop-sporting mutant had already submitted to having his bones (and bone claws) laced with indestructible adamantium. Just getting Wolverine, the man they call Logan but called “Jimmy” by his brother Victor, not yet known as Sabretooth – now I'm getting distracted; try again – just getting Wolverine into the infamous Alkali Lake laboratory seen in the first two X-Men movies, where he is turned into “Weapon X” (“X. Roman numeral for ten,” Stryker helpfully explains. Although what a coincidence the ex-Weapon X later joins the X-Men. I'm getting distracted again…) required plot and logical gymnastics that would shatter Mr. Spock's Vulcan brain (sorry, getting ahead of next week's review.)

Okay, start from the beginning. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, based initially and then diverting wildly from the Marvel Comics graphic novel “Origin”, explains that Wolverine was born as a boy named Jimmy (James Howlett in comic book canon; never said in the film) in the Northwest Territories of Canada. In 1845, in the first of many confusing, poorly defined plot points, his father is killed by a man who turned out to be his real father, whom young Jimmy then murders when he sprouts his mutant power of bone claws. 

Young Jimmy, cared for by the similarly-powered young Victor, flee their Canadian home and spend the opening credits fighting together in the following wars: The American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Viet Nam. Somehow, these two Canadian farm boys with overgrown facial hair and the nasty habit of slashing people with nails and claws couldn't stop themselves from enlisting and fighting on the American side of every major conflict of the 20th century. (Which side the Canadian brothers fought for in the Civil War is never explained. Nor is how the US government somehow missed the fact that these two guys have been re-enlisting while remaining the same age for over a century.)

Eventually, Jimmy tires of this life of fightin' and killin', and of the name Jimmy because somewhere along the way he adopted the name “Logan”. Logan walks away from his outfit – a cabal of superpowered mercenary cut-throats run by Col. William Stryker. “Six years later” (from what year? We're 130+ years from where the movie started), Logan has settled into a quiet life back in Canada with a new girlfriend, whom he's surprised to learn has some unexplained powers of mental persuasion. She seems cool with the claws and that he's been alive for 150 years. 

But the life of the noble lumberjack is not to be for Logan. His brother Victor has been running around killing their old squad-mates, and then pays the girlfriend a fatal visit. Logan is driven by berserker rage to find and extract revenge on Victor. How fortunate that Stryker reappears with his crazy plan of grafting alien metal onto his bones and claws, turning Logan into Wolverine, the ultimate, unstoppable weapon. X.

Oh man, all that typing and that just barely describes the first act of one of the sloppiest superhero movies to stain movie screens in quite some time. X-Men Origins: Wolverine throws as much Marvel mutant X-crement as it can onto the screen, trying to see what will stick. We're talking Blob, Wraith, Deadpool, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Gambit, Toad, and a ghastly cameo by a famous (alive, because this a prequel) professor whose last name starts with X. Does all of that sound awesome to you, true believer? It isn't, because it's all done in the stupidest, most meaningless manner possible. Aspects of Wolverine's comic book persona are awkwardly worked in; one character even calls Logan “shorty”. Never mind that Hugh Jackman is about 6'4”, a foot taller than his pencil and ink counterpart in the yellow and blue spandex.

After escaping Alkalai Lake, a naked Wolverine (gotta bring the ladies into the theaters) co-ops Superman's origin and is found by Ma and Pa Kent. This elderly do-gooder couple blah and blah about their absent son (no, not Clark), and give Logan his trademark leather jacket and his first motorcycle before being hilariously – sorry, I mean tragically – disposed of. From there, Wolverine goes on a road trip across America. He drops by Las Vegas, has a comedy boxing match with the Blob, then heads down to New Orleans for a card game with Gambit, who takes him to Three Mile Island, where Stryker has holed up creating his newest ultimate weapon, the amalgam mutant, which he hopes will kill his other ultimate weapon who's coming to kill him. Got all that? 

Wolverine looks and plays like a TV movie. Pivotal events are so badly conceived, staged, and directed, it's laughable. For instance, after chasing Stryker across the country and finally confronting him to X-tract his revenge, a big switcheroo reveal occurs that reverses the pivotal moment of the first act. Wolverine is so stunned by this nonsensical plot twist, he forgets about his revenge entirely and just walks out of the building. Stryker then goes right back to work on his mutant killer – until another switcheroo with another character occurs. Only after hearing a woman scream does Wolverine suddenly decide to get his revenge after all. He springs into action after shedding his cumbersome leather jacket and outer shirt to free up his ripped guns with the three machetes attached to each hand. 

Prior to this Wolverine and Gambit can't decide whether they're allies or not. In typical Marvel Comics fashion, they fight first before deciding to team up, whereupon Gambit conveniently produces a seaplane to fly Wolverine to Stryker's hideout. At which point Gambit then conveniently disappears until he's needed to do something, then he disappears again, then shows back up, then leaves. He's done. Call him when there's a Gambit movie, chere. (Please, don't.)

The shambles of a screenplay sabotages every chance for Jackman and his fellow cast members, including Liev Shreiber and Danny Huston, to be anything resembling actual characters. Logan and Victor's entire relationship consists of them snarling at each other, then requiring running starts so they can charge at each other to tussle inconclusively (because neither man can die or even be harmed thanks to their mutant healing factors.) In one shouting match, Victor demands the same adamantium Logan received. Stryker says no, he won't survive it. How does he know that? How does anyone know Wolverine's healing factor is more potent than Victor's? Important conversations between the characters are reduced to sound bytes so that everyone is left as one-dimensional straw men driven by whatever fleeting motivation the plot requires them to have at that moment. 

By the third act, half the characters randomly betray each other while the story contorts to laboriously place each key surviving character where they need to be when the first X-Men movie begins. Another character dies in definitive fashion, except no, he's inexplicably not dead. (Because there could be a spinoff, man.) Also, Wolverine has to lose his memory by the end because he was an amnesiac when we met him in the first X-Men movie, so that has to be explained. Explanation: adamantium bullets. Bang, you dead? Nope. Bang, you amnesiac.

Through it all, Jackman flexes, poses, leaps, growls, snarls, smirks, gets naked, and even cries a little, to no avail. Poor Hugh Jackman heroically uses up every ounce of his macho Aussie charisma (for the fellas) and sex appeal (for the ladies) to try to make us care about Wolverine. If we do care at all about Wolverine, it's because of the goodwill Jackman built up through the first two X-Men movies. Since then, that goodwill has been squandered by two sequels that have been X-cruciating to sit through. X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have been like two sets of adamantium claws gutting the quality of the X-Men movie franchise. If Stryker has any of those adamantium bullets left, I'd gladly take two in my skull so I can forget the last two X-Men movies ever happened.