Mortality, a strong theme in ‘Logan’

Rating 4/5

I suppose it’s true what they say. All good things must come to an end. For nearly 20 years Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart have been portraying Logan (aka Wolverine) and Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) respectively. This is supposedly the final time we see these two actors in these roles.

It would appear that on the surface, Logan is a superhero movie. However, the film is a bit more than that. It is not the usual fanfare spectacle commonly seen Marvel superhero flicks (although this isn’t a full Marvel film since Fox still owns the rights to these characters). Logan is about mortality. We all grow old. This question is posed in Logan. What happens to superheroes when they get old?

Scott Frank and Michael Green co-wrote the script with James Mangold, who also directed. They have adapted this character, adding depth, heart, and a little humor. They have also added some profanity to these characters, which adds to the humor, and brings them down to a more human level, and it also justifies the ‘R’ rating the film received. And it was a little surprising, yet somewhat satisfying, to hear the profanity coming from the Professor’s mouth. It was still surprising with Logan, but a little more believable.

They have set the film in the not too distant future where all mutants have been eliminated and an aging Professor X, in his nineties, is afflicted with some habilitating brain disease, which has significantly reduced his powers, and causes violent psychic seizures. Additionally, Logan’s strength is deteriorating and his healing powers are slowing. He is shown with graying hair and a hard, grizzled, scarred body.

In his twilight, Logan has taken to care for the ailing Professor and drives a limo for cash. They share an abandoned factory with Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant tracker. Their lives are simple. Survive. That is their life until a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), enters the picture. Her backstory is explained later, but they (and the audience) soon discover the girl has Logan’s powers – right down to the metal claws. I won’t give away too much more here as the rest pretty much follows most action films. Bad guys come. They fight. They chase. They fight. They chase. New bad guys are introduced. They fight, etc., etc. Richard E. Grant and Boyd Holbrook play the antagonists as the “mad-scientist” and evil henchman. But the true villain in the story is mortality (or time) itself. That’s what our heroes seem to be battling throughout the film. That “invisible killer” that no one can escape as it steals our strength and human capacity.

Jackman has given a performance here that was fun and exciting to watch. He played it fervor and a veracity that showed layers to the character not necessarily seen in his other portrayals of the character. Stewart displays the same level of humanity and layered character as Jackman did to his Logan. With time and age diminishing Charles’ power, Stewart does remarkably well to bring that struggle to the screen. Keen displays the power and energy Jackman brought to the character seventeen years ago. There was truth and honesty in her performance that could possibly develop into a spin-off series with the character if that is a direction worth pursuing by the filmmakers.

As mentioned, Logan is unlike your typical fanfare blockbuster superhero movie. It has some heart and adds some humanity to it. For these elements to truly work, the film is set in a darker tone than the other X-Men films (or Marvel films for that matter). This is something that DC, and Zack Snyder, has truly grasped in their recent film escapades. And that’s not entirely good.



More than heroics prevail in ‘Seven Samurai’

Rating 4/5

There has been much said about this film. Many consider it a great film. Obviously, it was great enough to spawn a remake, several war stories, and the idea of the group protagonists assembled together on a single mission. It can be said it has even introduced the spaghetti western. Moreover, this film, and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, even gave inspiration to a young George Lucas to create his Star Wars saga. In that regard, it is most certainly a great film.

This film was released in 1954 and it might have been considered a great film – even a masterpiece – at the time, and I enjoyed the film for those reasons. The elements such as cinematography, sound, and music were great attributes and added to the film’s story and tone. However, the length of the film, at nearly three and a half hours (with an actual intermission), just appeared a little lengthy. It was a little tricky to navigate the long running time. During my first viewing, I had to stop about a quarter way through because of a reluctant interruption and it took a little wile to get back to continue the film. I was able to view a little more before I was interrupted again. Finally, I was able to sit down and view it in its entirety. I believe I was able to appreciate it more in that last viewing. Seven Samurai is more than a classic story of heroism and the underdog being triumphant over the forces of evil, it is a story of rich Japanese culture and tradition within the 1600’s, for which this film is set. The length here is the same reason why I thought The Magnificent Seven seemed a bit lengthy and “drag” in some places because some of those sequences of character and story development didn’t work quite as well for me in the Western remake.

The plot centers around a small farming village that is terrorized by bandits who take most of the food they have, barely leaving enough for the villagers to survive. The fearful villagers convene and there is some disagreement as to what the best course of action is. One thing is for sure that they are fed up with the way things are. It is later agreed that they hire samurai to help them fight the bandits. A small group of villagers go on a quest to find the samurai and ultimately hire seven. Of course the farmers have little to offer in the way of funds, so they repay the samurai by giving them rice and shelter until the village is free from the tyranny of the bandits. And during this time, it is not appropriate for farmers to be mixing with samurai (or vice versa). This is where social conventions come in play. This also leads to a subplot of the film where one of the local female villagers falls in love with one of the seven samurai. Eventually discovered, there is discussion about the situation and a common ground is met to appease the modern audience.

Questions arise during this heroic, social commentary. Why do the samurai take the job in the first place? What propels them to put their lives up for these farmers? The samurai are bound by honor and so to keep with societal obligations, they help stand with the farmers to fend off the bandits. The samurai begin training and preparing the locals to fight. The samurai lay out a strategic plan to battle these ruthless bandits and it is clearly seen the samurai and bandits persevere through each of the battles. However, the bandits soon realize the village is being well defended but continue their assault until the climactic showdown.

The film was beautifully crafted and has all of the elements to make a great film. The story and characters were there and it skillfully showed the life of the samurai and villagers and their place in the social caste system of the 17th Century. For some films, lengthy run times can be detrimental. But if masterfully done, it can add so much to a film as it did with Seven Samurai.


Revenge and action ensue in ‘John Wick’

Rating 4/5

 There are things that can be said about action films – or really with any film for that matter – When they are executed well, it can make for an entertaining film. Director Chad Stahelski has created a surprisingly engaging film. Derek Kolstad’s script blends story and action seamlessly so the viewer is drawn into the immersive world that is created for these characters to exist. And that world is the world of hit men. I suppose this would be similar to the world in which the mafia existed in the early part of the twentieth century.

The story follows a former hit man, John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, who attempts to recover from the loss of his wife. After a brief encounter with some bad men, they return to his home, steal his car and kill his dog (a final gift from his deceased wife). Unbeknown to the attackers, they are dealing with a highly trained, determined individual (because as one character puts it, “He is the man you send to kill the boogieman”). Wick then goes on a manhunt to track them down and kill them because the dog represented the last bit of humanity and healing John had from his late wife. It was a symbol that he could move on, and when they killed the dog, they stole that from him.

The film also stars Michael Nyqvist and Alfie Allen as the antagonists who give John impossible opposition, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Adrianne Palicki, and Bridget Moynahan. Every performance captures the individuality of each character and adds so much to the dark world the story is set. And before going further, I feel Reeves’ performance as John Wick is one of his best. It seemed like he had a string of films where he appeared to play the same character, as he did not vary his physicality or have much change in his vocal inflection. He carried that some through this performance, but it fit this role well.

I liked the setting and tone of the film and the fight scenes, both gun and the hand-to-hand fighting, were very well choreographed and executed. The well-placed action scenes with some humor thrown in made for an enjoyable film. It was one of Reeves’ best and very commendable for first time director Stahelski. It flowed along at a decent pace and at 101 minutes was just enough for the story to develop without being slowed down or seem rushed. I can’t imagine a longer run time for the fear that it would begin to be convoluted with unnecessary sequences and any shorter, the story would not have developed as smoothly as it did. Something I enjoy in film is the use of time. Here, the film begins towards the end and then goes back a little and traces the events in which led up to that moment, then the action of the story moves forward.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and was thoroughly entertained the whole way through. Reeves has done very well with his performance in this film as the title character. The action scenes are excellent; and the sound editing and mixing are great and fit like a glove with the tone of the film.