“The Wolverine” Deconstructed

The Wolverine came in on my Summer’s Most Anticipated list at #14. For some reason I wasn’t putting too much stock in the first sequel to the original X-Men trilogy. Or because X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn’t as mind-blowing as X2 or X-Men: First Class. Regardless, with this so-so summer of movies, I think my anticipation grew for this look at a character Hugh Jackman has portrayed four and a half times. movies_the-wolverine-poster

The premise is set up without much wait. We are taken back to the time of WWII in Nagasaki Japan where Logan is a prisoner of war. Heroically, he saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi, Ken Yamamura) from the devastating nuclear bomb, shielding his body with his own. It was quite ballsy to show such a horrific scene, but it was needed to set the stage for these two characters. Logan then wakes up from this vision to Jean Grey who he killed in The Last Stand. These two sequences which somewhat hinge on the viewer seeing previous movies hold a lot of weight to the central character’s conflict. We are to understand that Logan is a war torn soldier with a heavy past of loved ones lost and eternity weighing on his soul.

When he is called into Japan to say goodbye to the soldier he saved, Yashida offers to end his eternity to save his own life. Logan refuses and Yashida dies. At his funeral something happens to Logan to weaken his abilities to repair himself, making him vulnerable and weak. I bring this point up to show that like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, to really know who a character really is, you have to strip him/her of what makes him/her to get to the core. And by doing this it creates the possibility that the hero may die. If there are no stakes, we have no reason to care.

From here, the plot really got muddy. Politics, business and love interest get in the way of  the mission of breaking down Logan to how his past effects him. We are never really sure who is who, who’s allegiances lie with whom, and why we should care. I never understood why Wolverine was so invested with these people he just met. The stars didn’t align with the plot.

Jackman’s Wolverine will always be infectious and charismatic. He understands who he is playing and he sells it with every line and like Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, there can be no replacement for his character. His “bodyguard” Yukio was amazing in her action and her actions; she was fun to watch even though her line delivery was mumbled more than articulated. The rest of the cast didn’t have any other stand-outs, but did I really go for them or the title’s namesake?

The action was fast, tight and never really overused. There was movement toward a goal in most of the fight sequences to let us care what the outcome would be. I think the cosmetics were the best part of the movie, the setting of Tokyo was amazing, the action was a blast and the acting was exceptional. But the most important element which is the script needed more work to fully drive home the Wolverine’s struggles with his past and what he wanted to do with his future.

Verdict: just wait… Either for Redbox or when the theaters clear. It runs in the middle of the pack of action-adventure.

And by the way, if you talk during any movie in the theater, you should be ashamed of yourself.

 

Summer’s Best of List (So far)

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3) Iron Man 3

4) Man of Steel

5) Monsters University

6) The Wolverine

7) Now You See Me

8) After Earth

9) This Is The End

10) Only God Forgives

11) The Great Gatsby

12) World War Z

13) The Lone Ranger

Batman/Superman Mashup Spitball

Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, Warner Brothers/DC dropped a huge bombshell that made a semi-strong splash made by none other than infamous action director, Zack Snyder. There will be a Superman/Batman movie. The assembly hall and the webverse erupted with cheers and jeers.

Now, I’m not a comic book intellect like many of you, but I do know what I want to see and I am familiar with ways that could have hooked other people. Many other fan-made predictions are being made for the upcoming movie that just gets our imagination running with the possibilities. I don’t want to get too deep in that though.

superman vs. batmanMy thoughts on the DC vs. Marvel “rivalry” are a bit more passive than other fans’. I think DC already lost, but they won huge by changing the way we look at comic book movies for the next few decades with the game-changing The Dark Knight. Nolan brought realism, theme and intrigue to the once glossy world of superhero flicks. Marvel has their own branding with a glossy look (at least in its first stage, it looks like they’re moving into darker themes with the next Captain America and Thor). I think it’s silly of DC to compete with the Marvel formula because it probably won’t work. I truly don’t see how Wonder Woman or Aquaman will work on screen without giving it the Nolan realistic twist. Audiences have become smarter. Main point: DC needs to get their stuff together. 

A huge staple in the Marvel cinematic universe is teasing the next movie with an after credits sequence. Taking a page out of their playbook after Man of Steel wouldn’t have been be such a bad idea and I think they missed a huge opportunity to get the gossip running early and faster.

What they should have done (which would have caused a bigger splash than the Comic Con reveal) is to copy Marvel in such a way to provoke excitement in the fan-base. It would have escalated the movie to another level and pave the way for a DC expandable universe.

Specifically, this is what they should have done… according to me.

Man of Steel‘s major critique is the amount of unapologetic damage done by the hero. He made no effort to move it elsewhere to save the citizens of Metropolis. This irritated me too and I’m surprised the film makers didn’t do anything to address it.

Also, what angered a lot of audience members is when Superman snapped Zod’s neck when he threatened to kill a family. This didn’t bother me so much as the purists, but I still see their concern.

One after credits shot would have (maybe) dissipated the critiques. A small 15 second shot of the back of  Bruce Wayne watching a news report of the destruction of Metropolis. This would be the promise of consequence.

What made The Avengers so great is that it put the heroes at odds with each other. They rubbed each other the wrong way which made each question their role in this universe. Bruce Wayne has always been a non-killer, at least by his own hands. He believes in justice, but not at his own hand. Superman should believes these ideals as well, but makes the excuse that since he has the power he should be able to carry it out. He can make himself a judge, jury and executioner because he may be entitled to it. This isn’t giving Superman a huge ego, it’s just that he knows his place in the world.

Although it’s rumored that Nolan’s trilogy doesn’t exist with this new one, we can speculate that the new mashup happens after Batman fixes Gotham. With Batman’s origins out of the way, we can focus on him trying to save Metropolis before it becomes like Gotham, a city of ruin and crime.

Again, this is me just spitballing not having all the details ironed out, it’s just what I would have liked and like to see.

“Only God Forgives,” Except for Ryan Gosling

Only God Forgives came in on my Most Anticipated List at number 3 at the beginning of the summer. Since then much has happened around this film including several boos at Canne’s Film Festival and a 33% critic approval rating at RottenTomatoes. I was hotly anticipating it because of its eerie and intriguing trailer, its star and director. The trailer promised a stylized look at the underground crime scene of Bangkok with shots of high minded violence from its acclaimed mastermind Nicolas Winding Refn with his Drive star, Ryan Gosling. Like all deceitful trailers, it didn’t hit those marks that I wished it would have. only-god-forgives-poster

The premise is almost simple, but soon unravels all over the place with confusing characters crowding the screen. The emotionless Julian (Ryan Gosling) owns and operates a kick-boxing club while pushing drugs to pay the bills. His brother Billy (Tom Burke
) is justly killed by the father of the daughter who he rapes and kills. When it’s time for Julian to kill the man who killed Billy, he lets him go. This is the inciting event that brings his drug queen mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) for her vengeance. While this is all happening, the un-uniformed chief of police, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) carries out his form of justice in execution and violence.

The film felt very slow for one reason: it was slow. Everyone moved in this weird half-paced blocking that distracted. Although the cinematography was very beautiful, it seemed to be beautiful for beauty’s sake. If you have seen an eastern foreign movie recently, you could tell that the pacing and style were quite similar to one from that corner of the world. Off-putting as it may be, it was a flair that western audiences aren’t used to and some I’d like to see more perfected.

It was a poetic exercise that didn’t have any substance to it. And if it truly had any substance, it was like a root of a dead tree buried somewhere in the dense earth. What I got out of the meaning (which is an honest stab, I don’t think Refn was trying to convey this) was that since “Only God Forgives,” we shouldn’t, otherwise bleep will hit the fan. It’s not our job to forgive, let justice be justice even if we have to carry it out ourselves.

Although it worked in Drive, Ryan Gosling can’t just put on a stoic face and call it acting. Not for every picture he’s in. To be fair, if there is one actor who can do it convincingly, it is Gosling. The other acting was as good as it could be for the writing they were given which seemed minimal.

Verdict: It was quite a letdown. I can’t recommend this to the average movie goer, but if you’re a cinephile, see it only at your convenience to form your own opinion.

Summer’s Best of List (So far)

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3) Iron Man 3

4) Man of Steel

5) Monsters University

6) Now You See Me

7) After Earth

8) This Is The End

9) Only God Forgives

10) The Great Gatsby

11) World War Z

12) The Lone Ranger

“Pacific Rim” dripped of cool

Pacific RimI must admit, I had my reservations for this movie and I’m not talking about my reservations for my front row center seats at the theater. The kaiju film is an Asian lost art that us Western audiences only imitate with lousy efforts of Godzilla remake, Cloverfield and Super 8. A giant monster attack movie is cheesy just in it’s premise alone. Also, the premature word of mouth talk got on my nerves at the get-go. Guillermo del Toro has his fanbase swarming all around it. Look, I respect him as an auteur from what I’ve seen. His creature effects are astounding in Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy but he doesn’t have a long track record to demands his name come before the title like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained or Christopher Nolan’s new project Interstellar. Once he has a solid history we can start doing that. Luckily, I believe Pacific Rim will be a film in his arsenal that we can begin to give him this treatment. 

Pacific Rim is set in a near-future with technology far beyond our reach. Enormous monsters have come from the depths of the ocean through a portal between dimensions to reek havoc on Earth. The human’s response after the traditional efforts of militaristic fighting has turned us to build comparable sized robots to combat this threat. Through neural linking, two pilots have to pilot one of these mega machines. That’s about all you need to know to enjoy this flick. And all this is told in a very original beginning sequence that immediately got you interested and pumped about what you’re about to watch.

The characters that inhabit this world are easily likable and entertaining even though some of the performances border on cheese and campy. But the script lended to the characters being center of the story, not just the monsters and robots. Each of the central characters had backstories that made them relatable and real to the audiences and gave meaning to their actions. There were no huge names in the cast except for probably Ron Perlman. I wish every big movie would take this page out of this book by casting relatively unknowns.

It isn’t a movie chalk full of meaning and self-reflection nor does it aim to be like that, which is fine. As long as we can understand the motivations behind these characters and sympathize with them in some kind of way it has done its job. We root for them and mourn with them at the right times. It’s a fairly simple three act structure that doesn’t detract from what it is conveying.

I knew del Toro’s work has been visual; which I’m sure he can accredit to his art directors and cinematographers. But this stood out in every way. Every frame, color, design was intentional and outstanding. All the sets and action sequences were amazing to watch and wonder at. A director’s job is to tell his vision to the proper people. You can tell that del Toro’s vision was executed in the best way throughout every shot.

I also had my doubts that the action scenes would be too slow that they would lean to the side of boring. How wrong I have been. The action was quite speedy and shot well enough that it wasn’t a cluster of unintelligible fighting. None of the wrestling robot and monster fights ever got boring or old even though there were only 3 major fights in it’s 2 hour 12 minute run time. It didn’t need any more or less.

Although it wasn’t wholly original (huge monster movies have been done before), this was an original idea and it should renew faith that Hollywood isn’t a sequel and adaptation factory.

Verdict: It’s rip-roaring action fun dripping of cool. See it as soon as you can at any theater price!

What did you think of this year’s most original popcorn muncher?

Summer’s Best of List (So far)

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3) Iron Man 3

4) Man of Steel

5) Monsters University

6) Now You See Me

7) After Earth

8) This Is The End

9) The Great Gatsby

10) World War Z

11) The Lone Ranger

After Earth Review

So much bad mojo has been surrounding Will Smith’s next starring film helmed by the once prodigy film maker M. Night Shyamalan. With a star like Smith and his somewhat rising star son Jaden, it could be looking as a self-fulfilling prophecy for the newfound duo. Unfortunately for both of the Hollywood names, who are known for different reasons, it didn’t pan out as well as they planned. after-earth-movie-poster

As stated before, I have been a Shyamalan apologist for a longtime, but I can’t help admitting that he has gone off the rails in quality ever since Lady in the Water. The Happening was nothing but a dumb political statement while The Last Airbender was a great middle finger to the source material. Although he’s known for his twist-endings, the real Shyamalan staple is his drawn out pacing. In that sense his fingerprints are all over After Earth. 

The movie begins with a needless but interesting way; a couple of jump cuts from the inciting incident that makes the prestigious militant Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and son Kitai (Jaden Smith) crash land on a ransacked version of Earth which is covered in a natural state of forests and flesh-eating animals. With Cypher being incapacitated with two broken legs, Kitai must travel over mountainlands to reach the tail of their ship to retrieve a beacon in order to be saved. The threat of the evolutionized predators and one alien creature that can literally smell the fear of his victims.

Cypher is able to see and direct his son through this forested arena which makes for an interesting dynamic between father and son. But it also causes some frustration on the part of the audience. If you were responsible for the lives of yourself and your strong-willed and knowledgeable father wouldn’t you listen to and do everything that he instructed you to do? Kitai is annoyingly defiant at every direction. Cypher is a stoic and fearless father who holds his son’s mission together through his stupid actions. Little character development happened and when it kind of did, it was like an on-off switch at the very end. Even though the movie focused on the son Kitai, it could have and should have been about Cypher’s fear of losing his son. Missed opportunities all around.

In production value, it was pretty impressive. The creature effects were believable as was the man-made spacecraft and architecture. Jaden Smith is good on showing emotions but his line delivery is stiff and awkward. Also, Will Smith has always been a flexible actor (Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend, Men In Black) so it’s no surprise that he is on top of his game conveying a specific character. If this following in your father’s footsteps is the message of this movie, Jaden has a long way to go.

Overall… I didn’t hate it.  I think it was  a well thought-out idea carried through in a fairly competent way. The M Night stamp is clearly visible with the sluggish pacing and weird shots that it is easy to say that in the hands of another director it would have been a better and tighter movie.

Verdict: It’s not a rush out to see but if you want to see a simple and digestable movie, Redbox it for a night or two.

Thanks for reading! Please share and comment if you agree or disagree with my take.

Summer’s Best of List (So far)

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Iron Man 3

3) Man of Steel

4) Monsters University

5) Now You See Me

6) After Earth

7) This Is The End

8) The Great Gatsby

9) World War Z

10) The Lone Ranger