Review of “Logan”

The X-Men movie franchise is one of the longest running and consistent superhero movie franchises. While there have been large gaps of time between films, they are all connected within the same universe. Batman and Superman have been rebooted several times with different actors and with each reboot, a new reality for the characters is created. X-Men have kept all their films within the same continuity even with the soft reboot “X-Men: Days of Future Past” that blew up the timeline. Now with “Logan,” the X-Men opens a doorway into the next generation of mutants and gives us an appealing new claw-wielding anger machine while giving Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart a loving and tender send off as both actors are adamant that this is their final appearance in the series.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is trying to live a quiet life as a limo driver under an assumed name. His healing factor is fading, he’s in constant pain and he’s looking old. Logan is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is suffering from dementia and is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government after an incident that occurred in the past. Logan gives Xavier medicines to keep his condition manageable. Helping Logan is the mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Times have changed and there hasn’t been a mutant born in 25 years. Most of the other X-Men are dead but Logan is approached by a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) with a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) she says is a mutant and on the run from the company Transigen that created her. Logan has already run into a member of their security team, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who is looking for Gabriella and Laura. Despite his illness, Xavier has known another mutant was out in the world and urges Logan to help. Fighting it all the way, Logan still feels compelled to help Laura and try to get her, Xavier, Caliban and himself to safety. Gabriella tells Logan they are on their way to a set of coordinates on a map she refers to as Eden. Logan and Xavier embark on a cross-country trek, trying to stay one step ahead of Pierce, keep Xavier’s condition under control and get Laura to safety. But sinister forces are lurking and every step of the way is filled with danger and an unstoppable killing machine.

After playing Wolverine in nine of the X-Men films over 17 years, Hugh Jackman has said unequivocally this is his last appearance as the character. No matter how much Ryan Reynolds begs or offers him sexual favors for a Deadpool/Wolverine team-up, “Logan” is the last time we’ll see Jackman sprout the claws…unless Fox allows Marvel Studios to use the character in a crossover with the Avengers. Since that will never happen, despite it guaranteeing a billion dollar-plus box office return, “Logan” is Jackman’s swan song as the mutant from Canada with an adamantium-enhanced skeleton and claws. Knowing that, I believe director and co-writer James Mangold took extra care and crafted a finale story that tries to touch all the bases with fans of the character and the entire X-Men universe and he largely succeeds.

Jackman inhabits the well-worn and heavily scarred skin of Logan like no one else possibly could. Logan is tired and so is Jackman. In his late 40’s, it can’t be easy for Jackman to get into the kind of shape playing Wolverine requires. That weariness is a tool Jackman uses to round out and ground the character. Crankier than ever and tired of fighting, Logan just wants to be left alone. What he really wants is to be allowed to die. He even carries around an adamantium bullet he one day plans on using to kill himself. Events in the story intervene and force him to keep on fighting, but this time he has something to fight for that may be bigger than any other battle: Laura.

Dafne Keen is a scene stealer. Laura, also referred to as X-23 in her medical file, is a child that doesn’t know what family or compassion is until she is shown it as the trio travels along their path. The three misfits form an uneasy alliance with Xavier being the kindly grandpa and Logan the grumpy dad. Keen, who is largely without dialog for the majority of the film, is able to emote in a way that leaves no doubt what she is feeling. This is especially true when she becomes enraged and her own claws come out. While I’m sure most of the stunt work was done by either small women or is CGI enhanced, Keen must have done some of it herself. Her performance is as fearless as Laura’s fighting. With the early success of the film, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Keen in the role.

Patrick Stewart has always been a favorite actor of mine. From his performance in “Dune” to his time on the bridge of the Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Stewart has delivered some great performances in genre films and TV. While most of his work in the X-Men franchise has been a bit on the reserved side, his last go round as Charles Xavier frees him with a performance that could garner him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. From frenzied mental confusion to warm and comforting compassion, Stewart gives one hell of a performance. His work here is stellar and, if he’s true to his word about this being the last time, he sends the character out on a masterful note.

Much has been made of the violence and language that has given “Logan” an R rating. The violence is bloody and brutal and the language is coarse. Some might argue films about superheroes should mostly be family friendly. Most of the time I agree; however, this film and this character deserve a chance to be grown up and be a film for grown-ups. In the comic books the violence is frozen in primary colors and we can’t really get a sense of the brutality being inflicted. With “Logan,” there is no doubt just how much pain injuries like this would cause and that many characters, without a doubt, die on screen. Wolverine was always known for her berserker rage and how deadly he was with his claws. “Logan” is true to the character in all his graphic glory.

The middle of the film may run a bit too long. We spend a great deal of time on the road getting to the explosive conclusion and at least one of the stops along the way could have been cut. Still, the film rarely makes that mistake or any other as we travel across a slightly different future America with our unusual and dysfunctional family.

“Logan” is rated R for language throughout, brief nudity and strong brutal violence. There are bloody shootings, stabbings, limb amputations and decapitations. We also see a mutant that is allergic to sunlight tortured by being exposed to daylight. The brief nudity is a girl showing Logan her breasts as he is driving her and friends to a party. Foul language is common throughout the film.

There is so much I would love to tell you about “Logan” but I don’t want to spoil the surprises scattered through the film. “Logan” not only delivers a strong story about characters we’ve loved for nearly two decades, but also provides fan service for those that are deep into the comic book X-Men lore. It is probably the most well-rounded and grown up comic book movie in film history. It is also a fitting send off for two actors that have devoted a big part of their careers to Wolverine and Charles Xavier. While the Fox Studios X-Men films have been hit-or-miss over their lifetime, “Logan” is undeniably a hit.

“Logan” gets all five stars and more.

The king of all movie monsters (in some people’s opinion) returns with what looks like a summer-worthy blockbuster. Next week, I’ll see “Kong: Skull Island.”

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Eddie the Eagle”

Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) had dreamed his whole life of going to the Olympics. Weak knees meant Eddie had to wear leg braces until he was 15. Once they were taken off, Eddie began training. While not the strongest, fastest and most graceful, Eddie never gave up on his dream of one day going to the Olympics despite the vocal doubts of his father Terry (Keith Allen). His doting and supportive mother Janette (Jo Hartley) always backed her son no matter how improbable his dreams appeared. Downhill skiing seemed like his sport and he did pretty well on the junior circuit; but he was denied even an attempt to try out for the Olympic team by the head of the British Olympic committee Dustin Target (Tim McInnerny). Eddie believed it was because he was from a lower-class working family and didn’t have the right pedigree. Eddie is about to give up on his dream when he sees a corner of a poster hanging on his wall that had been covered by other pictures. It showed ski jump hills. Britain had not had a ski jump team since 1929 and had no plans to send a team to the Calgary Canada Olympics of 1988. Eddie thought there would be no competition to get on the team so he decided to run off to Germany and practice at a training center there. After several crashes, Eddie is approached by Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who oversees maintenance and grounds keeping of the ski center. Peary tells Eddie to give up as he expects him to break his neck. Eddie finds out Peary used to be an elite ski jumper for the United States but had a falling out with his coach Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken) and gave up the sport for booze. Eddie badgers Peary into coaching him so he can compete in the Olympics. When Eddie lands a qualifying jump in a competition he believes he’s on his way to Calgary; however, Mr. Target and the British Olympic committee change the rules to keep Eddie out as he’s seen as an embarrassment. Eddie and Peary then begin traveling around Europe, competing in every competition in an effort to meet the new requirements. Peary still believes Eddie is out of his mind but admires his dedication.

“Eddie the Eagle” is based on the true story of a guy who wears incredibly thick glasses and has a chin that appears to stick out a foot further than it should. He is an unlikely hero for a movie much less a worldwide phenomenon in a time before the internet. He is about the only thing I remember from the 1988 Olympics or, aside from the Miracle on Ice from 1980 and the massacre in Munich in 1972, any Olympics. It is a story of how the journey is more important than the destination and how trying is more important than winning. It turns Eddie into a lovably myopic zealot for his sport that must fight for the opportunity to compete simply because he doesn’t have the right look or upbringing in the eyes of the powers that be. While the facts of the real Eddie the Eagle aren’t quite as uplifting as are told in the movie, taking some cinematic license with events and characters makes the film quite an enjoyable and heartening time.

Taron Egerton looks quite different than the last time I saw him on screen in “Kingmen: The Secret Service.” With Eddie’s trademark coke-bottle-bottom glasses and jutting out his chin, Egerton at times looks mentally challenged. His mouth occasionally has a tick and when he gives a “thumbs up” it always looks stiff and awkward. Egerton gives a charming performance as the title character. It never feels like he’s trying to manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for Eddie. All the while we support what Eddie’s trying to do as he is making the effort for what appear to be the right reasons. Egerton does nothing flashy in the role and the performance is enhanced by how simple it is.

Hugh Jackman is, well, Hugh Jackman. His character, created from whole cloth, appears designed to be as opposite to Eddie as possible. Jackman’s Peary smokes and drinks and takes life very casually. Eddie does none of that. Dramatically it is a device as old as time but these two actors make it work. Jackman is such an easy and smooth presence on screen it should be against the law. He manages to make what should be an unlikable character into a kind of anti-hero. Despite all Peary says to Eddie to dissuade him from jumping he never comes off as mean or negative. While his decision to help Eddie feels a bit too easy and convenient, Peary as Eddie’s coach takes on a fatherly air, providing the kind of emotional support Eddie’s real father didn’t. Jackman slips into the role like it’s a comfortable old sweater and his performance is just as warm.

The story of “Eddie the Eagle” isn’t complicated and is told about as cleanly and efficiently as one could imagine. The film doesn’t waste any time in setting up the characters and situation. There are a few scenes that have an odd tone, such as when Eddie is found sleeping in a storage room by the female owner of the bar next to the German training facility and she attempts to seduce him. Also, the scenes where the British Olympic official attempts to keep Eddie from competing and Eddie has a prank played on him by another member of the British team feels a little heavy handed. The movie beats the class difference between Eddie and those that try to keep him off the team like a drum. It briefly takes the film down a darker path but fortunately these scenes don’t last very long. Fortunately director Dexter Fletcher gets the film back on its lighter track quickly after these brief reminders of who the world is always trying to beat Eddie down.

“Eddie the Eagle” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking. The aforementioned attempt at seduction is somewhat suggestive. Eddie walks into a sauna and is confronted with the Norwegian men’s ski team nude. No full frontal or backsides are shown. There is one act of violence as a character gets punched in the face. There are also several ski jumping crashes shown. There is no foul language.

“Eddie the Eagle” is clearly a fantasy about a real person. Many facts were changed and people invented to tell a story that could have its emotion and inspiration amplified to the point where it’s nearly deafening. That said, the filmmakers have created a movie that will not offend anyone and many will find it makes them feel good as they walk out of the theatre. Its sweetness may be a bit overdone; but considering the climate of the world many will find it a refreshing change of pace.

“Eddie the Eagle” gets five stars.

This week, an action sequel goes across the pond, a journalist shows us the lighter side of war and animals are people too. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

London Has Fallen—

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot—

Zootopia—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Pan”

Left on the doorstep of an orphanage not long after his birth, Peter (Levi Miller) is raised under the harsh care of nuns. Peter and his buddy Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) noticed some of their fellow orphans have disappeared recently. The nuns tell them the other boys have been adopted but Peter and Nibs don’t believe it. They hide one night after everyone has gone to bed to see what’s going on but don’t notice anything and decide to go to bed. Just after they lay down, men on ropes drop through the ceiling grab boys and pull them through the roof. Peter and Nibs are also grabbed by the men who are pirates in a flying ship. Nibs is able to escape but Peter is afraid of heights and won’t jump off the ship onto the roof. The ship has to evade British fighter planes as World War II is going on and eventually ends up in what looks like a giant hole in the ground. Peter learns he is in a place called Neverland and is a prisoner of a pirate named Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The hole is a mine where thousands of boys and men are digging for fairy dust, also called pixum. Peter talks with another miner named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) about what’s going on; but Hook doesn’t want to be anyone’s friend. Peter finds a piece of pixum that is immediately stolen by an adult. When a mine manager intervenes, Peter is accused of making a false accusation about the adult and is scheduled to be judged and punished. Blackbeard lets the crowd decide and they choose for Peter to die. Blackbeard pushes Peter off a plank and he falls hundreds of feet but stops just before hitting the ground and floats for a few seconds before landing. Blackbeard tells Peter about a Neverland legend of a boy that can fly and will lead a rebellion against him. Landing in prison, Peter is soon joined by Hook in the next cell. Hook has snuck in a blasting cap and breaks them both out of prison. Getting help from another mine manager named Sam Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar), the three commandeer a ship and fly into the forest where they are found by the natives lead by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Learning that Peter is possibly the fulfillment of the prophecy, Tiger Lily’s people agree to help Peter if he can prove he can fly in the next three days.

“Pan” is obviously the first film of a franchise. The story arc seems to be establishing the friendship between Peter and Hook in the first film that is strained in the second film and is completely shattered in the third when Hook loses his hand to the crocodile and blames Peter for it. It seems like an attempt to wring more money from a story that has been told in various ways since the debut of the J.M. Berrie play in 1904. Unless foreign markets fall in love with the movie the other two films won’t be made as “Pan” is tanking at the box office. Perhaps if they had made a better movie Warner Brothers wouldn’t be looking at taking a huge loss and there would be a couple more fantasy films on the horizon.

The creators of “Pan” make some odd choices in building the world of Neverland. First, while Hugh Jackman is working hard through lots of makeup and flowery dialog, he spends a great deal of time on screen accomplishing nothing. In his early appearances, Blackbeard is leading a giant singalong of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which is certainly weird enough considering the film is set in the early 1940’s, and giving a pep talk that is almost immediately contradicted by his actions, yet he seems to have the undying approval and support of everyone in the mine. Nothing in the early parts of the film set in Neverland makes a great deal of sense and it doesn’t get much better as the film goes along.

While the movie is visually stunning (even in the 2D version I saw) “Pan” stumbles anytime any character speaks. Garrett Hedlund’s James Hook sounds and looks much more like a cowboy than a future pirate. Rooney Mara was apparently told to play Tiger Lily as bland and vacant as possible. During her fighting scenes Mara appears to be on autopilot. Even young Levi Miller, who gives a perfectly fine performance, is hamstrung at times with odd emotional responses and a lack of clear direction of his character’s evolution.

“Pan” should have some big emotional moments as the core of the story is about an abandoned little boy searching a strange land for his long-missing mother. Instead of heart and feeling, “Pan” is stuffed full of special effects and big action set pieces designed to keep our attention away from the story’s shortcomings and attempt to dazzle the audience into forgiving all the scripts faults. It doesn’t work. There are at least two moments when I should have shed some tears for this poor little boy. Instead, I got flying pirate ships, bouncing warriors, bony birds, huge crocodiles and massive crystal caves. All of these visual treats are appreciated but they should have been surrounded by a story that made me feel something…anything. Instead, all I felt when the credits started rolling was relief.

“Pan” is rated PG for language, fantasy action violence and some thematic material. There are numerous battle sequences and fights. Some characters are shown being shot and bursting in a cloud of brightly colored powder. The idea of parental abandonment and child abduction might trouble younger viewers. There is also a death that is handled in a fantasy setting that could be troubling as well. Language is very mild.

It could have kicked off a very lucrative film series; but “Pan” will likely go down as a giant money pit. If the studio had taken as much care with the script as they did with the visual effects, they might have succeeded in creating a film both beautiful to look at and meaningful to watch. As it is, they got it about half right. The script is such a mess it even contradicts itself involving a major portion of the plot. It boggles my mind that so many people can work so hard on a movie, all with the intension of creating something good, yet manage to screw it up so royally. While not a catastrophe on the scale of Fox Studio’s “Fantastic Four,” “Pan” is certainly an opportunity missed by a wide margin.

“Pan” gets three stars, solely for the visuals, out of five.

It’s a big week with four new releases. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Bridge of Spies—

Crimson Peak—

Goosebumps—

Woodlawn—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.