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Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Mummy

THE MUMMY

** SPOILERS **

There's a lot going on in director Alex Kurtzman's reboot of The Mummy, but also not a lot going on. It's weird. Here we have a movie hoping to launch an entire shared universe that tries to be so many things and falls short of everything it could be. Sofia Boutella, the scene stealer from Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond, is the new Mummy, an ancient Egyptian princess named Ahmanet. She was supposed to be Queen of Egypt, until her father the Pharaoh went and had a first-born son, putting the kibosh on her ascension. Ahmanet's response was to make a deal with Set, the Egyptian God of Death. Set turned her into a mummy a demon who murdered the Pharaoh and the rest of her family, but she was caught and mummified alive. That's how a princess who became a demon became The Mummy. 

Ahmanet was imprisoned far from Egypt, in a tomb deep beneath modern day Iraq. There she's inadvertently found by Tom Cruise, who plays a soldier of fortune named Nick Morton. However, this isn't the usual invincible Tom Cruise we normally see in Mission: Impossible films; this is more like the Tom Cruise from Edge of Tomorrow - an amoral jerk who gets his ass kicked a lot. I mean, a lot. Tom gets his ass handed to him by the Mummy and all her undead underlings throughout the movie. Cruise and a fetching archaeologist played by Annabelle Wallis survive a plane crash when they try to transport Ahmanet's unearthed sarcophagus, unwittingly unleashing the Mummy upon jolly old England. There's also the matter of the Mummy fixating on Cruise; she decided he's her chosen one whose mortal form will be inhabited by Set - all she needs is a dagger with a special ruby buried with a 12th century Crusader knight found in the bowels of London.

Doing his damnedest to make sense of all of this is Russell Crowe, who breathlessly narrates most of the movie's plot points and backstory. Crowe is the Head Explainer of a shadowy organization called Prodigium, which is headquartered beneath the British Museum of Natural History and tasks itself with "recognizing, examining, containing and destroying evil." Specifically evil in the form of gods and monsters, the more ancient the worse better. Crowe himself is one of those very monsters, as he portrays Dr. Henry Jekyll and his sadistic and cockney alter ego Mr. Edward Hyde. As the leader of Prodigium, Crowe's other duty is to set up the future of what's now branded as Dark Universe - Universal Pictures' shared universe of movie monsters. Prodigium's trophies include easter eggs of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a vampire skull, and probably the Invisible Man (we don't see him in Prodigium, but isn't that the point?).

The Mummy is pure B-movie schlock. Like a real mummy, it's missing some blood and guts, and at 107 minutes, it zips along like it's got somewhere else to be. Ahmanet, emaciated after 5,000 years of mummification, spends much of the movie trying to get her hotness back (#MAHA - Make Ahmanet Hot Again) and become the queen she was supposed to be (#MAGA - Make Ahmanet Great Again.) Despite this, and a couple of perfunctory but neat looking moments like unleashing a patented Mummy sandstorm with a Mummy face right in the heart of London, Boutella's talents are oddly underutilized as The Mummy. Cruise and Wallis have some fun on the run throughout the movie, and Cruise amusingly gets tossed around by Ahmanet in every fight, until he decides to give in to his destiny and become a monster to save Wallis' life. Thus, Tom Cruise becomes not just a monster but, by virtue of becoming the host of Set, Tom Cruise becomes a god. One cool thing about being The Mummy and Set is that when their evil magic kicks in, Cruise and Boutella each have four eyeballs. Makes rolling their eyes at the silliness of The Mummy doubly effective.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

WONDER WOMAN

** SPOILERS **

In Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins places a perfect human being right in the middle of the starkest of horrors humanity is capable of and asks us to consider her, as she in turn considers us. Not that Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) is a human being. She is an Amazon, one of an ancient race of female warriors created by Zeus himself to defend humanity. The daughter of Zeus and of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana is much more than a mere Amazon. Goddess is a more apt description, and not just to be complimentary. With her bulletproof gauntlets, glowing golden Lasso of Truth, and her unshakable belief in herself and in the best of humanity, Wonder Woman is who all the world has been waiting for. As Hippolyta says, the world doesn't deserve her. To which, Diana learns, sometimes it isn't about what you deserve. Thank gods.

It's 1918, the First World War - the War to End All Wars - has raged for almost a half decade, and the war comes right to the shores of the Amazons' Paradise Island. When an American pilot spying for the British named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near the magically camouflaged island of Themyscira, with German boats in hot pursuit, the Amazons face the male half of the human race for the first time in millennia. Man now has more deadly weapons: guns, bombs, and for the first time, mustard gas, which doesn't discriminate who it gruesomely murders. Faced with this reality, Diana, trained from youth to be the greatest of the Amazon warriors, decides she must go and fight to save the world. Diana and Trevor escape the island, and the roles are reversed: Diana is now delightfully a fish out of water in a world she hardly understands. The deeply ingrained patriarchy of Georgian society certainly doesn't understand this beautiful, headstrong, sword wielding woman who can't possibly be Steve Trevor's 'secretary.'

As confused and occasionally repulsed as Diana is by the world she finds beyond her island paradise, she believes mankind is simply being coerced by Ares, the Greek god of war, who is the last survivor of the Greek pantheon after murdering all of his siblings, including Zeus. Diana believes wholeheartedly that she must simply kill Ares and it will end not just this war, but all wars, forever. As cultured and learned as Diana is in many other respects, her naivete in this matter is downright charming. Who Ares is and where he's hiding is a mystery, though all signs point to General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), the German leader who wants nothing to do with signing an armistice that signals Germany's surrender, preferring to gas everyone he can thanks to his pet chemist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Finding out that human beings aren't completely under the thrall of an evil god - that people, including Steve Trevor - are messy, complicated, and prone to having all kinds of petty failings, is a crisis of conscience for Diana. In the end, what makes Diana a superhero - what makes her Wonder Woman - isn't her incredible power or prowess in battle, it's her ability to find empathy for people, even those who don't deserve it.

"I wish we had more time," Steve says to Diana, and we agree. At times, Wonder Woman feels a bit slight with its superhero origin story meshed with a gruesome war movie - though there are lots of familiar odes to Justice League director Zack Snyder's 300 as well as echoes of Wolfgang Petersen's Troy and Captain America: The First Avenger - right down to a blond soldier named Steve concluding the movie by hopping in an airplane and flying off to his doom. (Not to mention Wonder Woman's spiritual predecessor, Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie.) This is a film that could actually have been even longer, with more connective tissue to add more robustness, especially to the villains and all the characters who aren't Diana and Steve. Yet there are moments in Wonder Woman that truly sparkle, like Diana and Trevor's conversation and first night "sleeping together" on a boat, Diana's interactions with Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) in London, and a magical night in a tiny town in Belgium after Wonder Woman spectacularly liberated it from the German army. Even more moments like these would have been wonderful.

What makes Wonder Woman work - and why it rises high above its brethren in this current era of DC Comics superhero movies - is Patty Jenkins, who completely understands the power, grace, majesty, and boundless capacity for empathy that makes Wonder Woman special, and Gal Gadot, a magnetic, endearing screen presence who ranks with Christopher Reeve's Superman and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Iron Man as a most perfectly cast actor to play her chosen superhero icon. Jenkins proves time and again, both in quieter character moments between Diana and Trevor and in a handful of truly awesome action set pieces - the No Man's Land centerpiece battle is one of the all-time greatest superhero movie action sequences - that she knows exactly who Wonder Woman is and what we want to see her do. In Gadot, she has the greatest partner, a superstar born for this role you can't take your eyes off of, who delivers above and beyond, and makes you believe in Wonder Woman. Most importantly - because gods know we need it - Wonder Woman believes in love, and in us.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Baywatch

BAYWATCH

** SPOILERS **

Baywatch is like a fish pulled out of the water, flapping around hopelessly on a boat deck. Even the visuals miss the boat: If one thinks hard of the "classic" TV series and can see past the image of the buxom lifeguards in their high-cut red swimsuits, one recalls the bright blue skies and sun-kissed California beaches the show was set in. The Seth Gordon-directed feature film, set in "Emerald Bay," substitutes South Beach and Savannah, Georgia for Malibu, and the dreariness speaks for itself. Only a small percentage of the movie takes place in South Beach, or on the beach in general, and somehow they forgot to shoot scenes when the sun is out. Most of Baywatch takes place in Savannah and comes off more like the ill-fated spinoff Baywatch Nights, with the lifeguards performing a lot of nocturnal undercover detective work in a nonsensical plot the movie takes great pains to try to explain - as if anyone in the audience cares for even an instant.

In spite of its enduring 1990's camp value, the Baywatch television series was never technically a comedy. So I suppose it's fitting that Baywatch the movie isn't either, though it would be surprised to learn such. In Baywatch, Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchanan, the hero of the beach. Johnson is in full-on Samoan Thor alpha male mode, which rankles new recruit Zac Efron, who plays former two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming Matt Brody. There are fleeting jokes surrounding Efron not being very bright but overall the main joke driven into the sand is Efron being utterly baffled that Johnson and his Baywatch brigade think being lifeguards requires them to perform routine crime-fighting duties best left to the police. If they'd kept the action confined to the sandy shores, Baywatch might have tread water safely. Instead, the plot plunges headlong into an endless and immensely boring investigation of Priyanka Chopra's nefarious activities. She's running some sort of drug smuggling deal concurrent with some kind of real estate swindle. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't matter, but it's the most important thing to the Baywatch lifeguards to stop and it eats up most of the movie's 2 hour run time. (That's two episodes of the old TV show, of which most people could only endure watching a few minutes at a time. Guess which scenes. Meanwhile, Baywatch the movie is at pains to provide any of those scenes.)

As Johnson and Efron take turns dominating the screen, languishing off to the side being utterly under-utilized are the three female Baywatch babes: Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker, Alexandra Daddario as Summer Quinn, and Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden. Combined, they have virtually nothing to do except stand around and give reaction shots as Johnson and Efron muscle each other across center stage. Daddario fares the best of the three, in that Gordon's camera realizes her expressive blue eyes give off the best reaction shots. Meanwhile, the comic relief Jon Bass heroically provides struggles mightily to register in a film that has zero understanding of comedic timing, how to stage suspenseful action sequences, or even competent editing. Dutiful walk-on cameos are provided to Baywatch's two greatest icons, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, and even these make zero sense as The Hoff and Pam are also playing Mitch Buchanan and CJ Parker. Not that it matters to Baywatch, which manages to be both desperately unfunny and bewilderingly unsexy; an R rated slog that is under the mistaken impression anyone at all turned up to see Zac Efron diddling a bare penis in a morgue. Baywatch ends up being an utter waste of a valuable beach day

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant

ALIEN: COVENANT

** SPOILERS **

38 years ago, (not yet Sir) Ridley Scott directed Alien. Since 2012, he's been on some sort of mission to put together a cover band and recreate the old hit. His first cover band, Prometheus, couldn't get the number quite right. This new band, Alien: Covenant, gets a lot closer. That Alien: Covenant takes the title of Best Alien Movie Since Aliens is faint praise, but Covenant clears that low bar set by every attempt to make an Alien movie after James Cameron's space marines v Xenomorphs sequel. No one ever tried to remake Cameron's masterpiece; everyone else who made an Alien film riffed on Ridley Scott, including Sir Ridley Scott (twice).  

Alien: Covenant plays the old notes with ready familiarity. A rough and tumble space crew employed by Weyland-Yutani, the corporation with the worst business model of the future - send humans into space to die in droves - is en route to a new colony with 2000 cryo-sleeping souls on board. A distress beacon coaxes them to land on an Earth-like planet surrounded by ion superstorms. The crew, led by Billy Crudup and Katherine Waterston (who looks like she's perpetually about to burst into tears at any moment), of course discover Aliens, which attack with merciless abandon and slaughter their panicked, hysterically outmatched crew. But also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the android from Prometheus, and boy, is he a piece of work. 

Also on board the starship Covenant is Walter (also Michael Fassbender) an identical but newer model android. The two Michael Fassbenders on screen provide Covenant's most interesting moments, as they recite Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" to each other, fight each other, and gradually reveal what David is really doing on this planet: This is the homeworld of the Engineers, the pale, bald, giant space gods which created the Xenomorphs and probably humanity as well. David and Noomi Rapace, the survivors of Prometheus, arrived on this world on board the Engineers' ship, whereupon David unleashed the Xenomorph virus on the Engineers and slaughtered them, turning the Engineer City into a "dire necropolis." Then he killed Rapace and used her as one of his incubators for his genetic experiments to breed the perfect Alien, i.e. one that looks like the original version designed by H.R. Giger in the 1979 film.

One can almost imagine Sir Ridley Scott rolling his eyes in boredom recreating the same old scenes of facehugging, chestbursting, and of humans running from Aliens hunting them in dark, blood-splattered space ship hallways. Sir Ridley seems far more engaged whenever Michael Fassbender is talking to himself on screen. Fassbender delightfully alternates between Walter's labored American workaday accent and David's high-falootin' British foppishness. Sir Ridley also seems to think audiences really give a rat's ass where the Xenomorphs come from and how - they're the creations of David, who hates humanity, especially the one particular human who created him, played by Guy Pearce

Otherwise, Alien: Covenant is Alien Redux: the same old scares shined up like new, with a couple of nods to Alien movies past (which happen in this universe's future), like using an industrial crane claw to trap an Alien; an ode to Sigourney Weaver using a loading bay exosuit to fight the Alien Queen in Aliens. Sir Ridley Scott reportedly intends to make two more Alien sequels leading to the events of the 1979 film. Two more fucking Alien sequels! Two more of the same fucking thing before we get to Sigourney Weaver, the first fucking thing. These Alien movies are a Xenomorph eating its own tail.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

** SPOILERS **

Behold Your Born King!

When musing about King Arthur, what comes to mind? What do you expect to see in a King Arthur movie? Never mind any of that, director Guy Ritchie and Charlie Hunnam will answer for you with the thing you didn't know you wanted from King Arthur: swagger. In King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword - the first of a planned six film (!) Arthurian cycle - Ritchie and Hunnam, as the Born King, give us an Arthur unlike any before: bristling with the maximum swagger of a Men's Health cover boy and the best dressed man in Camelot. Almost nothing in Legend of the Sword is business as usual King Arthur. The Holy Grail? What's that? Sir Lancelot? Who's he? A love triangle with Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot? No one's got time for that, mate. 

Your Classical Literature Professor will be utterly baffled by Ritchie's reinvention of the mythology of Camelot, but that's all part of the bloody fun of this ribald adaptation of King Arthur.  Legend of the Sword is Camelot by way of a Guy Ritchie heist film, where a motley gang of back alley scalawags plot a revolution to snatch the throne of England from the usurper King Vortigern (Jude Law) lock, stock and smoking barrel. But first, some backstory, and quite a lot of it. Legend of the Sword is King Arthur Begins, a three hour movie delivered in two hours by way of hitting the fast forward button. Ritchie rockets past tons of exposition in montages of breakneck speed. Keep up now: 

When Arthur was just a young lad, Camelot already existed. In an unspecified era of England, the country is at war. Men, led by King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), who wields the magical sword Excalibur given to him by Merlin, battle an army of Mages, led by Mordred (who is not Arthur's son as is tradition). Uther wins the war but is immediately betrayed by his brother Prince Vortigern, who succeeds in his coup. Uther and his wife Queen Elsa (no, not that Queen Elsa) are killed, but young Arthur escapes by boat. The boy floats down river to the city of Londinium, already a multinational city. Arthur, who has repressed memories of his royal lineage, grows up in a brothel and ends up running it as a grown man with his randy mates. He also learns how to fight in a dojo from a Chinese martial arts master named George.

Meanwhile, circumstances place Arthur back in Camelot, where the Sword in the Stone awaits. Of course, Arthur draws the sword. Then he faints, besieged by visions. Soon he is about to be executed, for England cannot have two kings and Vortigern rather likes ruling the kingdom too much. This has to be the first and only King Arthur movie where Arthur's head is placed on a chopping block. Arthur escapes with the help of his mates and a Mage sent by Merlin (Astrid Berg├Ęs-Frisbey). The Mage has the most frustrating job in the movie, trying to get Arthur to accept Excalibur and his destiny to rule as the Born King. Arthur is stubborn. He has no desire to be King. He even throws Excalibur into a lake, where the Lady of the Lake catches it and then literally forces the sword back into Arthur's hand. When Arthur finally accepts Excalibur, he becomes a fighting machine worthy of being one of the Avengers. Excalibur grants him superpowers; he can fight with astonishing speed, cutting down a horde of Vortigern's soldiers with ease. This merely adds to Arthur's swagger.

The Legend of the Sword offers unexpected surprises around every corner of Londinium and beyond. Giant magical monsters, like war elephants the size of mountains? Check. A secret magical island called the Dark Lands where even more giant animals dwell? Check. The ghastly Syrens, comprised of three women with octopus bodies who transform Vortigern into a giant skull-faced demon covered in fire? Check. Arthur's mates, including his father's former lieutenant Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a criminal archer named Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen) turn out to be the Knights of the Round Table as Arthur raises them up to knighthood when he claims the throne. Gillen's participation is extra fun for Game of Thrones fans; as the guy who plays Littlefinger, it must inspire him to see a brothel owner become King. Even if Littlefinger ever won the Iron Throne of Westeros, he could never carry himself with the swagger of Arthur, dragging Excalibur behind him as he strides into the fight of his life against his evil uncle. When King Arthur confronts a gaggle of Vikings at the end of the movie, his swagger is at maximum levels. "You are addressing England," he decrees to the Vikings before they bend the knee to him. Bloody hell, what's next? God save England, God save us, and God save our weird new King.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Screen Rant One Million

SCREEN RANT ONE MILLION

A little under five months ago, I began my venture as a Feature Writer for Screen Rant. In my head, I had a number I wanted to hit: 1 million page clicks. An arbitrary number, but 1 million was a big round number where I felt if I could hit it, I would feel like I'd 'made it.' I figured it would take the entire calendar year to hit that number (100K page clicks a month even sounded like a goal too lofty to be realistic), but my plan was to write like hell, be productive, do hopefully good, entertaining work, and see what happened.

This is what happened: 1.01 million clicks in just under 5 months with 59 published Features. Un-fucking-believable. THANK YOU to everyone who has clicked on my work, read my work, incessantly shared my work and even filling their own FB timelines with links to my stuff, and everyone who has offered support or encouragement or even complained about some dumb thing I wrote about Arrow or some shit. Special thanks to Iron Fist for being the single biggest Feature I've written so far (149K clicks), and thanks to your friends and mine, the Guardians of the Galaxy, who pushed me over the top. Achievement unlocked, and yes, I do feel like I've 'made it.' I'm a million clickionaire now and I couldn't have done it without you! 

Next stop: 2 million. Here we go.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

** SPOILERS **

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an incandescent starburst of coloful joy candy, the gooey center of which is the heartwarming theme of family. Director James Gunn's deeply personal and idiosyncratic follow up to his 2014 smash that truly made the Marvel movies a cinematic universe, Vol. 2 brings big laughs, all the feels, and doubles down hard on everyone and everything audiences loved from the original film. Yet Vol. 2, packed to the gills with jokes, songs, heart, and good times, ends up with too much of those things while not enough of important other things. 

As we careen across the Marvel multiverse with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), we visit some far-flung and truly odd-ball places as the Guardians work out their various family issues. First and foremost is the issue of who is Peter Quill's father? A flashback to Missouri in 1980 reveals it to be Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient and powerful Celestial. Ego is a god (small G) on a mission: to seed the inhabited worlds of the universe with himself. He hopes to spawn an offspring capable of wielding his Celestial powers while his seedlings grow to allow Ego to absorb all those planets into himself. In Star-Lord, who previously held an Infinity Stone in his hand without dying, Ego has found a son worthy of following in daddy's footsteps. Peter and Gamora, who's committed to not dealing with the unspoken sexual tension between them, don't trust Ego, but follow him anyway back to his planet - which is also Ego. Originally a giant brain floating in space, Ego became a planet, and then became a man, taking the form of Kurt Russell and later David Hasselhoff while still being a planet. It's weird. 

Meanwhile, the Guardians are being hunted by the Sovereign, a golden race of perfect beings, whom Rocket promptly stole from after taking a job from them to fight a giant space monster. The Sovereign's high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) soon turns to the Guardians' old nemesis the Ravagers, lead by Yondu (Michael Rooker) to kill the Guardians for her. Yondu has other ideas, and as long-held secrets as to why Yondu, who was hired to abduct Peter Quill as a boy, never delivered Peter to his father Ego are revealed, Rocket begins to commiserate with the tortured soul Yondu really is. More family issues: Nebula (Karen Gillan) is back, looking to murder her sister Gamora for a lifetime of abuse inflicted on her by their adoptive father, the Mad Titan Thanos. All of these belabored family dynamics come to a head in a series of heartfelt conflagrations where the characters gradually make peace with their long-held resentments and come to understandings with themselves and each other.

Vol. 2 is overflowing with 1980's TV and movie references and major laugh out loud moments where Gunn trades wholesale on the warmth and love audiences feel for the Guardians. It's also crammed with more of Gunn's favorite hits from the 1970's and 1980's; the previous Guardians soundtrack was so commercially successful (its style of blasting hits since shamelessly copied by other superhero movies like Suicide Squad) that Vol. 2 rocks out even longer and harder. What Vol. 2 is missing, however, is a powerful through line for its story. Much of Vol. 2 sees the various Guardians separated from each other and waiting around while information is gradually revealed to them before they come together for the slam-bang big fight finale in, on, and all around Ego the planet. 

The biggest victim of this malaise is Drax, who literally has nothing to do for the entire movie except sit around, point, and laugh at his fellow Guardians while being brutally and hilariously honest and forthright with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego's antennaed, empathic servant. It's a testament to Dave Bautista's charisma that he repeatedly gleans the biggest laughs in the movie. A detractor might say the real Ego of this movie is James Gunn, who operates without limits and pushes Vol. 2 as far into excess and absurdity as it can go, but Gunn routinely pushes all the right buttons for sweetness and feels, even when a world literally ends around the Guardians. In the end, the Guardians of the Galaxy are more than an island of misfit toys jaunting through outer space; they're the family we wish he had when we have no one else. We are Groot and we love them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Lost City of Z

THE LOST CITY OF Z

** SPOILERS **

In The Lost City of Z, Charlie Hunnam, a British Major strangely undecorated despite achieving that rank, is summoned to the Racist Royal Geographical Society by Emperor Palpatine himself (Ian McDiarmid). It is 1906, Europe is on the brink of the First World War, but Palpatine has a strange offer for Hunnam: go to the jungles of Amazonia between Bolivia and Brazil and survey the border between the two countries to prevent a war between them. Palpatine doesn't sugarcoat this sweetheart deal: "There will be terrible sickness, murderous savages, and you'll be gone for years." If he succeeds and, you know, lives, Hunnam gets a medal. Naturally, Hunnam jumps at the opportunity. He leaves behind his pregnant wife Sienna Miller, his young son, and heads to the jungle.

Dressed like Brian Fellows from Saturday Night Live and with an unrecognizable Rob Pattinson along for the journey, Hunnam's adventures in Amazonia involve floating on a rickety wooden raft, getting shot at by spears and arrows by "the Indians" who are all terrible shots, and finding pieces of pottery in the jungle. That last part is most significant; Hunnam realizes the tales of Conquistadors past who wrote about a fabled "lost city of gold" must be true. Hunnam doesn't stick around the jungle to keep looking for the city, though. He goes back to England to a hero's welcome and, in the movie's best scene, Hunnam stands in front of the assembled talking heads of the Racist Royal Geographical Society and argues that they must find the "Lost City of Zed" (they pronounce Z 'Zed' because British). Hunnam gets his expedition funded and back to Amazonia he goes, where he does not find the Lost City of Z and returns to England empty handed, just in time to be sent to World War I and nearly die after being gassed in the Battle of Somme.

Hunnan actually ventures into the jungle three times in Lost City of Z. Three times! Does he find the Lost City of Z? No, he does not. The movie takes place between 1906 and the 1920s, and by the third expedition, Hunnam brings along his grown son, Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Despite all of these walkabouts in Amazonia where the real Charlie Hunnam Leftenant Colonel Percy Fawcett spent years and years in the jungle searching for the Lost City, the movie itself doesn't even spend an hour of screen time in the jungle. Indiana Jones spent more screen time in the jungle in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This true story tragically ends with Hunnam and son lost in Amazonia; they are never heard from again and the movie never shows us the Lost City. This is a gigantic ripoff. You know what? It doesn't matter what actually happened. This is a movie and there are rules to movies. By the third fucking time Hunnam goes into the fucking jungle, the audience deserved to see the fucking Lost City of Z. Even the stupid flying saucer Indiana Jones saw is better than no payoff at all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Batman is Dumb

BATMAN IS DUMB
 









Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell Sample Scene


** SPOILERS **

My rewrite of the key opening scene of Ghost in the Shell.

INT. TOKYO HIGH RISE - JAPANESE RESTAURANT - NIGHT

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Thanks for coming to this business dinner, Africans. We want to sell you robots. Hanka has had great success putting Japanese Ghosts in Caucasian Shells.

AFRICAN BUSINESS MAN
What do you mean 'great success'? We looked at your books. In 99 tries, you only made 1 that worked.

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Yes, but she's hot. She's about to burst in here and save your lives.

AFRICAN BUSINESS MAN
No, she won't. She'll be too late diving off the roof. We'll already be dead when she gets here.

MICHAEL WINCOTT
Yes. Well. We'd better make that deal now, then. Would you be interested in deep-diving a geisha?

  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ghost in the Shell

GHOST IN THE SHELL

** SPOILERS **

The following review is written from the perspective of someone who has never seen the Ghost in the Shell anime, and never will.

For me, personally, watching Ghost in the Shell was akin to the experience of visiting an art museum. There's lots of cool stuff to look at, and sure, I dig what I'm seeing, but I was still kinda bored. In Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson is the Major; her human brain was implanted into a robotic Shell to make her the perfect super soldier. We witness her creation, which is similar to how the Hosts are 3D printed on Westworld, by the Hanka Corporation - a vast and powerful conglomerate super duper into human-looking robots. The money men and science-y types in the Hanka Corporation must have watched Robocop for decades, decided they wanted their own, but technology has evolved so no more clunky tin can cops. It's the high-tech, day-glo, holographic Tokyo of the future! Their robots need to be sleek and hot.

Scarlett is the first successful cyborg prototype after 98 previous attempts crashed and burned. And boy, Hanka did a good job with Scarlett. She has an awesome cloaking ability, she can leap off tall buildings without fear or dying, and she can kill with efficiency. In the Terminator movies, dogs always bark at the Terminators because they can sense they're artificial. Dogs love Scarlett in Ghost in the Shell, though, and dogs always know who and what's good. Scarlett's not flawless, though. Her human mind and her soul, which is called her Ghost in this movie, seems to be glitching. She randomly remembers people and things that are overriding what turns out to be memory implants Hanka placed in her to keep her from asking too many questions. Other than that, Scarlett is a model soldier. Hanka loans her out to Section 9, a black ops strike force, and for one year, Scarlett exhibits an exemplary record of successful kills. Johansson, the actress, does cool things as a cyborg; she stomps around instead of walking normally and stands with a weird gait, as if she can't figure out how to be properly idle in her Shell. Plus, she's really beautiful. Don't take my word or your own eyes for it; every character in the movie makes sure to tell Scarlett how beautiful she is.

One of the characters who tells Scarlett how beautiful she is happens to be Michael Pitt, a fellow cyborg who mounts cyber attacks against the Hanka Corporation. What he's after isn't hard to suss out even though the movie wants us to think it's a big mystery: Pitt is obviously a previous model of Hanka cyborg whose Ghost rejected his Shell. Pitt is kind of interesting in that he has a deformed cyborg body and he speaks with the voice of a Japanese man speaking English through Stephen Hawking's vocal simulator. But that's as far as Pitt being interesting goes; once he gives up the goose about who and what he is, he's out of ideas. He is literally just relying on Scarlett, armed with the information he delivers on who and what she is, to go on the offensive and bring down Hanka for both of them. Pitt tries to lend a hand, but he turns out to be pretty ineffective in battle with a huge Hanka Spider Tank. Pitt's really good at whispering sweet nothings in Scarlett's ear, though. "No matter what, I'll be with you in your Ghost," he romantically coos at her. A real Romeo, this Pitt is.

Of course, the real bad guy in Ghost in the Shell isn't Pitt. No surprise, the Big Bad is the evil Hanka Corporation itself, personified by its CEO Peter Ferdinando. Once he loses control of Scarlett, he decides to scrap her and start over, completely forgetting they had 98 failed prior attempts before succeeding with Scarlett and they don't have a viable back up Ghost to put in a new Shell. But never mind, Ferdinando is all about the bottom line: murder. He kills the kindly technician who built Scarlett's Shell, Juliette Binoche, and he declares war on Scarlett and Section 9. Luckily, Section 9 is commanded by "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, a crusty old chief who likes to communicate telepathically and is no pushover with his .44 Magnum. The war between Hanka and Scarlett is exceptionally brief, and guess who comes out on top.

"Say something nice," Scarlett says in the movie. Okay, here goes: I kinda dug Ghost in the Shell. Except for The Thing I Didn't Dig So Much. There's a Big Twist in Ghost in the Shell, and here it is: Hanka Corporation has a real case of white envy and white privilege. Ferdinando is a white guy in Japan who prefers Caucasian cyborgs. The Ghosts provided for all the failed Shells - and the one successful one, Scarlett - came from kidnapped Japanese people. Scarlett herself was actually a Japanese runaway who was dragged out of her hovel and had her brain removed from her real body and placed into the Scarlett Johansson Shell. Pitt was her Japanese boyfriend and had his brain removed and placed the Michael Pitt Shell. This is pretty wack. One way to possibly deflect this unsavory creative decision: the Spider Tank they fight should have been able to talk and could have said, "What are you two complaining about? I was a white guy they turned into a Spider Tank!" Then it'd be all about perspective for Ghosts in the Shells.



Monday, March 27, 2017

T2 Trainspotting

T2 TRAINSPOTTING

** SPOILERS **

The first image we see in T2 Trainspotting is of a treadmill, and right away, director Danny Boyle slyly and deftly addresses our worst fear: a retread. Moments later, the treadmill's occupant, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has a heart attack and is launched from the treadmill, collapsing in a heap on the floor. We're jolted, we're alarmed, we're uncomfortable, we laugh. This is Trainspotting. We're back, indeed.

20 years later, T2 Trainspotting reunites the original crew of Edinburgh drug-addicted hooligans. Improbably, they're all still alive: Renton, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Sick Boy and Spud go by their Christian names now, Simon and Murphy. They're both still addicts; Simon's drug of choice is cocaine, while poor Murphy has never been able to shake heroin, which renders him unemployable and cost him a happy life with his wife and young son. They're both still hustlers, stalking the darker alleys of their yesteryear in this grander, cleaner, gentrified Edinburgh. As for that fearsome sociopath Begbie, he finally escapes prison after 20 years, little knowing the reason he went to prison in the first place has returned to Scotland. The joy of McGregor, Miller, Bremner, and Carlyle being reunited with Boyle behind the camera is palpable and electric.

Renton unceremoniously returns to the city he fled in 1996 after stealing 16,000 pounds from his mates. Spud, at least, is happy to see him, though this is after his initial bitterness at Renton for foiling his puke-filled suicide attempt. Sick Boy is less pleased to see Renton, but after coming to blows and declaring his intention to ruin Renton's life to his Bulgarian somewhat-girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova - a fantastic addition as the only woman in this movie), even she can see he's secretly over the moon Renton is back. "You two are clearly in love with each other," she tells them in Bulgarian. "It's uncomfortable for me to be in your presence." Of course, all they do is reminisce about old times and old football matches, and soon they're up to a scam: stealing and blackmailing to finance Sick Boy's dream of turning a dilapidated old pub into a bordello, pardon me, sauna. Meanwhile, Begbie has resumed his life of violent petty crime, until he learns Renton is in town in a callback to the Worst Toilet in Scotland in the original Trainspotting.

T2 Trainspotting is the rare sequel that walks in the same path as the original but not only moves the story forward, it recreates much of the same exhilaration while illuminating and enhancing the original film. As they look back on the friends and family they lost, the trouble they caused, the needles they shared, the scams they pulled, the music they heard, and the near misses of what might have been (Kelly MacDonald, now a successful barrister, is a welcome face to see again, for Renton and us), T2 Trainspotting makes us all complicit. In Sick Boy's words, we join Renton and we all become "tourists in our own youth." Through Renton and the boys falling into old patterns and getting into new trouble with the old gang, we remember that we were with them every step of the way, and we missed them as much as they missed each other.

Renton launches into a fantastic new version of his "Choose Life" monologue, not only telling us where it came from ("Choose Life" was an anti-drug epithet in the 1980s) but updating it in an inflammatory derision of Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and our morally empty social media-obsessed culture. And we realize that Renton did choose life, but he, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie have been terrible at life, and always have been. They're right back where they were, older, sadder, maybe wiser, but at least without heroin. The bright spot, fittingly, comes from Spud. "First, there's opportunity, then a betrayal..." writes Spud, after Veronika encourages him to put pen to paper and tell the stories of himself, Renton, Sick Boy, and Begbie. Sick Boy wonders who would want to read these stories, but we know better. "I've thought of a title," Spud's wife says, and we smile, knowingly. With style, wit, joy, and utter confidence, T2 Trainspotting takes us back and pulls us forward, kicking and screaming, until we feel the same rush as young Renton running from the police down the streets of Edinburgh and the same release the now-46 year old Renton feels, dancing alone in his childhood bedroom to Iggy Pop.

Life

LIFE

** SPOILERS **

Remember how good you felt when you watched Gravity? Sandra Bullock was stuck in outer space orbit, the International Space Station got smashed up by meteors, George Clooney was there too for some reason, and Bullock had to figure out a way to get back to Earth. And then she did, and it was awesome, and we felt great for her and for us. That's not Life.

In Life, the International Space Station is crewed by six movie movie star astronauts. Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool, who brings soil samples straight from Mars on board to study. They discover a single celled organism that quickly - and I mean quickly - grows and involves into a tentacled starfish the size of a large pizza box in a matter of weeks. The Martian is kind of like Starro the Conquerer from DC Comics, so we'll just call it Starro from here on out. At first benign when it's just a miraculous little microscopic dot confined to a quarantined lab, Starro suddenly becomes incredibly violent and starts murdering the astronauts, crawling inside them as if all evil starfish on Mars have seen the Alien movies. Reynolds locks himself in the lab with Starro and tries to roast it with a blowtorch, but Starro takes out Deadpool and does him in from the inside out.

The rest of the astronauts, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, scramble to figure out how to lock Starro out of the ISS. But that insidious Martian starfish outsmarts their best science-y efforts at every turn and starts picking off the crew in grotesque ways. Then, and here's when Life really jumped the shark, Starro grows an evil alien face so it can have eye-to-eye staredowns with the humans. It soon becomes clear, especially when Earth receives the ISS's distress beacon and Starro massacres the crew of the rescue ship that docks with the station, that there's no way to beat Starro. The only thing that matters now is to keep it from reaching Earth. 

Gyllenhaal comes up with a plan to use the last two Lifeboats to trick Starro; he'll pilot one into deep space with Starro on board and sacrifice his life to save Earth while Ferguson takes the second Lifeboat and tells the world what happened. This is when Life really screws us, manipulatively fooling the audience into thinking the plan is working when the exact opposite happened: Ferguson's Lifeboat got hit with debris and careened into deep space while Starro tentacle-to-arm wrestled Gyllenhaal for control of his Lifeboat and sent them both to Earth. The well-meaning fisherman in Thailand who sailed to meet the Lifeboat that landed in their waters never knew what hit them. But we know. It was Life that fucked them, and us, over.

Life was going pretty well in the beginning, seeming like a derivative, but well-shot and decently interesting science fiction story in the serious and thoughtful vein of Arrival. When Starro instantly grows into an unstoppable CGI movie monster impervious to fire or the vacuum of space while managing to outwit six super duper brainy movie star scientists at every turn, Life goes right down the shitter. All I know is Life sucks, and everyone who sees it deserves a better Life.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Power Rangers

POWER RANGERS

** SPOILERS **

"Different colors. Different kids. Different colored kids!" remarks the trusty little robot Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) when he meets the five teenagers who are destined to become the Power Rangers. He's a little disappointed. After all, Alpha-5 waited 65,000 years for these kids to come along, claim the colorful Power Coins, and become the new team of heroic warriors destined to protect the universe. They don't seem to be up for the challenge, and they're not. How the five teenagers get there and earn the right to be called Power Rangers is at the root of why Power Rangers, the big budget feature film reboot of the long-running television series directed by Dean Israelite, works. 

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) has the entire town of Angel Grove in his hands. The star high school quarterback, he's a natural leader and a good friend, but he has an absurdly self-destructive streak - the kind that has him running from two police chases in the first 20 minutes of the movie. Jason is kinda like Jim Kirk from JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and the references to other movies don't stop there: Fitted with an ankle bracelet and forced to attend detention every Saturday if he wishes to graduate, Jason meets - a la The Breakfast Club - Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), a brilliant autistic kid, and Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), the hottest and most troubled girl in school. Through wild coincidence (or contrivance, take your pick), the three find themselves at the local quarry and run into two more delinquents: Zack (Ludi Lin), a braggadocio who secretly tends to his poor old sick mother at home, and Trini (Becky G.), the new kid in school who's been there a year but no one ever remembers her. The five discover glowing colored coins and the next day - a la Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man - they all wake up transformed: they're super strong, tough as nails, and can leap over Springfield Gorge in a single bound in a way Homer Simpson could only dream of.

What does this all mean? The answer, of course, (like it did for Henry Cavill's Man of Steel) lies in a space ship buried deep in the quarry, which has been there since the Cretaceous Period. A war fought in the stars came to pre-historic Earth, where Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Red Ranger of the Power Rangers, buried the precious Neo Crystal - capable of creating and destroying life - deep in the Earth to keep it from his adversary, the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, having a ball even though in most of her scenes, she's all by her lonesome). Reawakened as a face in the wall of his space ship, a frustrated Zordon finds the five human teenagers who inherited his Power Coins wanting. He'd like his body back, please. But the only way is if these five screw ups can learn to work together, trust one another, and become a team - become the Power Rangers. Time's running out because Rita Repulsa has reawakened (found by a fishing boat a la The Perfect Storm), and she plans to create a giant golden monster called Goldar to dig up the Neo Crystal. It's buried underneath the local Krispy Kreme.

All of that sounds utterly ridiculous, or makes perfect sense if you grew up watching any or all of the 23 seasons of Power Rangers on TV. That show, adapted from the long-running Japanese Super Sentai series, was aimed squarely at very young children. This Power Rangers movie, however, skews a bit older. Power Rangers is steeped in the growing pains and struggles of Millennial teens and has bold ideas and ambitions: they're actually trying to be a good movie. One with something to say. Power Rangers comes with a timely and even poignant message of inclusiveness, of five teens of different colors (and sexual orientation - Trini is the first Power Ranger to be LGBTQ) who are strangers coming together to find commonality. Trust and acceptance, of each other and of themselves, is the beating heart of Power Rangers. To become the Power Rangers, the five need to Morph into their armor, and for a long time, Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack, and Trini can't find it in themselves to become, respectively, the Red, Pink, Blue, Black, and Yellow Rangers. And yet, for all of its goofiness, Power Rangers wears its colors with pride, and the five Rangers are far more interesting and even endearing without their armor. 

To the movie's credit, when they finally don their color-coded gear, each looking like a Crayola box Iron Man, and pilot their robot dinosaur vehicles called Zords, Power Rangers wisely removes their masks so we can see the actors' faces. Their expressive faces tell the whole story; the fear, the panic at the mortal peril they face, and the exhilaration they feel, especially when they finally learn how to combine their Zords into the gigantic Megazord, and work together to defeat Rita and Goldar. It's big, fun robot-slamming action like Pacific Rim gave us a few years ago and the Transformers franchise (a yellow Dodge Charger is destroyed with a shout out to Bumblebee) won't stop giving us. If there isn't quite enough of the giant robot-on-giant monster action, that's in a way a compliment. Power Rangers actually leaves us wanting more. For about ten minutes in the third act, when the Rangers are in full costume, the movie morphs into the old TV show complete with the original "Go Go" theme song, tons of chop-socky karate fighting with hordes of Puddy monsters, and even welcome cameos from Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson, the original Green and Pink Ranger. But then Power Rangers morphs right back to being the surprisingly pretty good movie it was all along.

Power Rangers clears a very low bar as the Best Power Rangers Movie Ever, but it does so by leaps and bounds. Clunky and uneven in spots, Power Rangers is good fun overall. There's a pleasing sincerity throughout and the five Rangers win the day in more ways than one. Even without the colorful armor and giant robot dinosaurs, we find we are on the Rangers' side: Zack playing chess with his ailing mother. Kimberly learning to live with betraying her former friends and questioning what kind of person she is. Trini struggling to be understood by her family, and finding the camaraderie she has always longed for among her new friends. Jason standing up for Billy against the school bully, and Billy gaining the backbone to stand up for himself. And Jason bringing his team together to earn Zordon's respect as a leader. Five different kids, of different colors, joining as one, stronger together. That's worth more than all the gold in Goldar and all the Power Coins in existence.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Marvel's Iron Fist

MARVEL'S IRON FIST
http://screenrant.com/iron-fist-worst-defender/

If you'd like to click on the photo of the glowing Iron Fist above, it'll take you to my Screen Rant Feature entitled Is Iron First Really The Worst Marvel-Netflix Show? There's a simple one word answer, but the couple of thousand words elaborates in greater detail. Iron Fist faces my kung fu finisher: The Clacking of the Furious Keyboard.

Here are some tweets with some extra musing on Iron Fist














Friday, March 10, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

** SPOILERS **

Kong: Skull Island will make you love the smell of giant gorillas in the morning. A rollicking King Kong meets Apocalypse Now mashup, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island throws out the hoary old rulebook about how to do a King Kong movie. No, Kong is not ape-napped and brought back to New York City to go on a rampage. Seeing that monkey fall off the Empire State Building is like watching Bruce Wayne's parents get shot in that alley or Uncle Ben get murdered. Kong: Skull Island has other, much better ideas, and by the time the dust settles, the horrific other monsters on the Island are dead, and Kong beats his chest in triumph, we realize with delight that the planned MonsterVerse is just getting started. 

Set in 1973 at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, John Goodman, representing a shadowy organization called Monarch (they're like S.H.I.E.L.D. except they're all about giant monsters), bamboozles the US Military to back his expedition to the mysterious Skull Island - the only unexplored region on the map which is surrounded by perpetual storm clouds. Goodman has a motley crew with him: a platoon of soldiers led by Samuel L. Jackson, Monarch scientists Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian (from The Great Wall), photographer Brie Larson, and a former British SAS officer who's a expert in tracking through jungle terrain, Tom Hiddleston. They storm the island in a fleet of thirteen attack helicopters, dropping seismic bombs throughout the jungle, and they immediately raise the ire of Kong - the island's 104 foot tall gorilla protector. Kong is god around here, and the soldiers didn't know what hit them (trees thrown like javelins, Kong's big hands swatting the whirly birds down like flies) until most of them were already exploded.

Jackson - who says "Hold onto your butts!" for the first time since 1993; the mark of monster movie quality - immediately undergoes a psychotic form of jungle fever and declares war on Kong. Hiddleston, Larson, and some of the other survivors, separated from Jackson and his men, realize something even worse is happening on this crazy island. They meet John C. Reilly, a slightly loopy American World War II vet who crashed on Skull Island and survived for 28 years. Through Reilly, we get the wild info dump about Skull Island: it's a gateway for what's known as the "Hollow Earth" theory, that giant monsters lived on this planet long before Man and still reside in massive caverns underneath the surface. Through Skull Island, some can escape. Kong exists to fight them and kill them if they do. Skull Island is in fact crawling with all kinds of murderous beasts - giant spiders, flocks of killer birds, trees that are really enormous wooden insects - and not so dangerous, like gigantic water buffaloes. The worst are the Skull Crawlers, giant two armed lizards that killed Kong's family, leaving their skeletons in a massive Boneyard on the island. Kong is the last of his kind; if Kong goes, the whole island falls to the monsters.

Kong: Skull Island pushes all the right nerd buttons, especially for Marvel nerds. Through its sly casting, basically Loki, Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell), and Corpsman Dey from the Nova Corps all landed on the Savage Land. It's a pleasing multi-national cast where everyone is completely game; the characters are smart and make reasonable choices when faced with surviving an unbelievably dangerous environment. Jackson becomes deliciously unhinged, staring down the enormous Kong with rage in his eyes. Hiddleston is a solid and heroic center of gravity. Maybe the biggest bad ass of all the humans is Larson; while everyone else faces the giant monsters armed with guns, grenades and samurai swords, Larson only has a camera. She's the blonde woman in the group but she's no damsel in distress. Larson bravely risks her neck out there just the same. When Larson and Hiddleston meet Kong, it's happily a more Spielbergian Jurassic Park than screaming Fay Wray moment. As for Kong, we see loads of him in broad daylight, and he's magnificent. Kong's final battle with the Skull Crawler is appropriately awesome, with Kong using a ship's propeller and a chain as a weapon, overcoming the Skull Crawler with a little help from his new human friends. All of this is set to a blazing soundtrack of some of the finest 1970's rock.

In every measurable way, Kong: Skull Island is superior to every other King Kong movie since the 1933 original classic, and it's worlds better than the 2014 Godzilla. Setting Skull Island in the 1970's was a savvy move; we've seen Godzilla tear apart our modern day cities and fight our modern day military. The retro-feel of more "innocent" Vietnam-era grunts facing giant monsters delivers a lot more analog fun. By the time the end credits finish rolling, Hiddleston and Larson are recruited not exactly kicking and screaming into Monarch - a nod to Nick Fury informing Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative at the end of the first Iron Man. Hiddleston and Larson are shown cave drawings of some other familiar monster sights to Japanese kaiju nerds: Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah, and Mothra. "Kong may be King, but there are other kings," Skull Island announces - a promise that Kong's monkey troubles are just beginning.



Saturday, March 4, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

** SPOILERS **

BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
Good dog.
BLAM!
BLAM!
KABLAMMO!

These are the main takeaways from the stylishly redundant John Wick: Chapter 2. Picking up more or less where the original John Wick left off, Keanu Reeves returns as the title character - the world's most dangerous and unkillable assassin/dog lover. Whereas before, John Wick goes on a murderous rampage against the Russian mafia for killing his beautiful, beloved, sweet little beagle, in Chapter 2, it's the Italians who are making life miserable for John Wick. At least they have the good sense to leave John Wick's new dog alone. The Italians aren't about to make the same mistake the Russians did; they'll make all their own mistakes.

Chapter 2 deepens the mythology of the various assassins in the John Wick universe. Basically, there are two types of people in this universe: there are assassins, which comprise roughly 50% of the population of New York and Rome, and there are the regular people who aren't assassins and are somehow completely oblivious to everyone around them who is an assassin, even when these assassins are shooting at each other in full view in shopping malls, subway platforms, and on trains. John Wick limps around New York and Rome covered in blood for the entire movie and no one bats an eye. No one except for the assassins out to kill him and collect the $7-million bounty the slimy head of the Italian Mafia, Riccardo Scamarcio, placed on John Wick's head. John Wick owes Scamarcio a debt when he got out of the assassin's life; now that he's back, Scamarcio comes to collect, blowing up John Wick's house to get him to assassinate his own sister in Rome. Of course, when John Wick succeeds, Scamarcio puts a hit out on John Wick because "what kind of a man would [I] be if he didn't try to avenge [my] sister?" Gotta admire that logic.

We learn more about the network of support given to this wide-ranging community of assassins. Ian McShane returns as the proprietor of the Continental, an exclusive luxury hotel catering to assassins with strict rules about no violence on the premises. McShane's Continental has a Roman counterpart, with all the finest high end perks, like the best tailor for bespoke bulletproof suits, and Peter Serafinowicz as an extremely cultured arms dealer. Hunting John Wick for the Italians are Common, a fellow assassin who's very professional, and Ruby Rose, a sign language-speaking letdown. Rose spends the whole movie pouting and letting John Wick slip through her fingers. When she finally gets to fight John Wick, she barely lasts a minute against him. More fun is a walk on by Laurence Fishburne, who reminds John Wick in a very-meta way that they "met many years ago." Fishburne is in charge of all the homeless people in New York City, who are all, you guessed it, assassins. 

John Wick: Chapter 2 is too much of a good thing, or rather, too much of the same thing. Same difference. Like playing a video game on the Easy setting where your character can't die, John Wick's exciting gunplay and ability to survive numerous point blank gunshots while executing every assassin in his way with deadly precision becomes less exciting the more we see it happen over and over again. By the ten millionth time John Wick gets shot, shrugs it off, and kills an assassin who can't do the same, we've long since gotten the idea that John Wick is un-killable. This, of course, doesn't mean every assassin in the universe won't try when John Wick is excommunicated and becomes the target of a $14-million global bounty, setting up John Wick: Chapter 3. When John Wick snarls, "I'll kill them all!" we don't doubt it, and it'll probably a lot more of what we've seen in these last two movies. 

More alarming is the realization that John Wick's dog may also be a target of this global bounty hunt on John Wick. For while he admirably loves dogs, John Wick is a terrible dog owner. Not only does he make his loyal friend walk alongside him all the way from New Jersey to Manhattan and back (by way of the Brooklyn Bridge; all of the geography in John Wick: Chapter 2 is totally out of whack), he leaves his dog with the Continental's helpful concierge Lance Reddick. John Wick never even gives his dog a name, maybe so he doesn't get too attached? Someone needs to call the ASPCA and get that dog away from John Wick.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Logan

LOGAN

** SPOILERS **

"Goddamn, Wolverine, it breaks my heart to see you like this!" one of the bad guys tells the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and we nod, sadly, in agreement. The tides of time and the perils of a life lived violently have not been kind to old man Logan. Not that the Wolverine has ever had it easy, but his present - our future - is bleak. In director James Mangold's gloriously savage Logan, the year is 2029 and mutant kind has been all but eradicated. We recall that Logan was instrumental in saving the future from becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland of mutants and humans hunted by robot Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past. In Logan, a different type of apocalypse (not this guy) occurred, decimating the mutants down to a scant, desperate handful. The X-Men are dead, perished in an "incident in Westchester" (New York, where the Xavier School of Gifted Youngsters was located). The Wolverine survived, as he does, and he spends his days wishing he hadn't.

Logan is a crumbling wreck. His vaunted mutant healing factor has been failing him for years; the result of the adamantium that coats his skeleton poisoning him from within. His claws don't always pop out properly, the scars of a million bullet holes and stabbings riddle his ripped, grizzled physique, and Logan lumbers around with a permanent limp. Eking out a living as a chauffeur (Logan is quite an advertisement for the 2024 Chrysler limousine - that thing can take a beating!) in a Texas border town, Logan, using his birth name James Howlett, drives rich assholes and drunken party girls around by night. By day, Old Man Logan medicates on alcohol and prescription pills, while also taking care of an even older man, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles, now in his 90's, is an even more crumbling wreck - the world's most powerful and dangerous mutant psychic mind dying from degenerative brain disease. Logan is aided by a long-suffering mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), but neither seem grateful for the other's company. 

When a desperate Mexican nurse and a silent little girl come begging to Logan, offering him $50,000 to drive them to North Dakota, Logan's dreary existence is upended. The nurse and the girl are being chased by heavily armed shock troops all equipped with cybernetic limbs. When the nurse is murdered, Logan and Charles - two dusty old bags of mutant bones - take the girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), on the lam. It's a road trip that has fatal consequences for just about everyone they encounter. Of course, Laura is a mutant, one of a crop grown in an illegal Mexican lab from the captured DNA of mutants past. And of course, Laura was grown from Logan's DNA. "She's your daughter, Logan," Xavier helpfully spells out. Designated X-23, Laura is also a Wolverine, with two claws in her hands and a claw in each foot. She's a feral, acrobatic, insanely dangerous killer. Just as when we first met Logan he found himself taking care of a young girl, Rogue (Anna Paquin), in the first X-Men movie so many moons ago, Logan brings us full circle. Once more, Logan has a young girl in his care, a reluctant father figure as she puts her tiny, claw-popping hand in his. And, because Logan is basically a disaster, Laura - full of surprises - ends up taking care of him.

For fans of the X-Men movies, Logan paints a depressing future for the mutants. Nothing works out for them, no matter how hard they tried, and it turns out Richard E. Grant of all people is the architect of the end (and the new, terrible beginning) of mutantkind. Logan has a little wink wink fun with the existence of X-Men comics; the "real life" world-saving superhero adventures of Professor X's students have been turned into four color entertainment for children. The greatest tragedy of all is poor Charles Xavier, suffering from a mutant Alzheimer's, lucid only when heavily medicated. His most impressive power in the original X-Men trilogy - how he could freeze time and everyone he wishes in their tracks - is now a terrible psychic attack to anyone in his vicinity when he has a seizure. And when lucid, Charles remembers what happened in Westchester, and why his X-Men are dead. It's also sad and unfortunate that no one in charge of the X-Men franchise will ever plot a noble demise for Charles Xavier. In Logan, the man who once dreamed of and taught his students to fight for mutant coexistence with humanity dies on the flatbed of a pickup after being stabbed through the heart by the third Wolverine in this story, X-24, a fully grown, mindless killer clone of the Wolverine. No eternal flame on Xavier's monument this time; the world's most powerful mutant mind is buried in an unmarked grave off the interstate somewhere in Oklahoma. Is this a better end for Professor X than how he was splattered into Xavier bits and pieces all over crazy Jean Grey's bedroom wall in X-Men: The Last Stand? Your mileage may vary.

In this promised one last ride, Jackman gives his most riveting performance as Logan. Jackman lays it all out there, a weary survivor eternally suffering, always in pain, loathe to give in to his better nature but he will anyway. The R-rating for Logan finally unleashes the primal, bloodthirsty Wolverine a ruthless killer whose primary weapons are six machete blades in his hands ought to be. (Stewart also indulges that R rating, unleashing an eyebrow-raising stream of F bombs we didn't know Professor X had in him.) Director Mangold goes for the jugular over and over, delivering a sprawling, satisfying, emotionally wrenching road trip headlong into doom that only occasionally stabs against the limits of creativity you can have with three Wolverines who growl, leap at, and horribly skewer and dismember people. Blatantly evoking classic Westerns like Shane, Mangold makes sure to strip Logan down to his trademark white tank top and jeans as he fights X-24, clad in a black tank top and jeans - an amusingly nice touch. As Laura, Dafne Keen is a tiny wunderkind. Bursting with magnetic charisma while saying nary a word, Keen's performance brings to mind Natalie Portman 20+ years ago in Leon: The Professional. Keen makes you believe there could be a future for an All-New Wolverine. Logan closes the book on Hugh Jackman's incarnation of the Wolverine in grand style. As a tribute to the enduring awesomeness of the Wolverine and of Hugh Jackman's 17 years and 9 films portraying the most popular mutant of all, Logan delivers a satisfyingly resonant end, and fittingly seals it with an X.


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