Friday, May 1, 2009
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Directed by Gavin Hood
Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods
Released by 20th Century Fox
The Summer-Blockbuster season is here. In many ways, it's like Christmas morning--excitedly running downstairs to rip open the plethora of gifts hiding under the tree, unsure of what you'll find. Some gifts are more than you could hope for and others aren't quite what you expected, but they're cool anyway . Then there's the ones that you have to fake a smile and say you love, but secretly you know that you probably won't be spending too much time with.
Along the same lines, every May we head to the cinema to finally see the films we've been aching to see for months (sometimes years), teased by all manner of trailers and TV spots. We buy our tickets, get the popcorn, fight the lines, and take our seats, hoping that the next two hours will meet the expectations we've built up over the preceding months.
Well, first up this Christmas--sorry, I mean summer movie season--is X-Men Origins: Wolverine and I really wish it weren't the first movie this season. This isn't the big start I'd hoped for. Far from it.
I should mention I went into Wolverine predisposed to not like it. As far as I'm concerned, everything we needed to know about Logan's origins was summed up in the flashbacks in X2. Prequels, by their nature, remove most of the dramatic weight from the story. We already know which characters survive and where they end up. OK, fine, so maybe the filmmakers have something interesting they want to say about the character. Something that will shed new light on Logan's surly disposition when Rogue meets him in the bar in X-Men...
Turns out they don't. In fact, they don't really have much to say at all, really. There are so many glossed over ideas/concepts in this movie that by the end I found myself wondering, "Just what the hell is this movie about?" Wolverine opens in Canada in 1845 where we find a young "Jimmy" Logan sick in bed as an older boy, Victor watches over him. Things happen (devoid of any tension or emotion) and we quickly learn that Jimmy and Victor are brothers. "We have to stick together," Victor says, "and stop anyone who gets in our way." Even at eleven, Victor seems to want to hurt people. I wonder, though, who he expects will try and stop them? What drives him? What are his goals? Well, we quickly find out. Sort of.
The opening credits play over a montage of the brothers fighting in the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. It's a cool sequence, but doesn't really do anything for the story except get us from 1845 to the late 1970s. Oh, and Victor (Liev Schreiber) seems to get increasing more violent as time goes on. Why do they fight in these wars? Why did they pick the sides they did? Do they care about the politics? What do they do between the wars? Does it bother them that humanity continues to find ways to slaughter huge numbers of the populace? It's all wasted material. Logan never seems to fully embrace killing people, he's just there to help keep his brother alive... except, oh wait, they can't die.
In X2, Stryker tells Logan that he was an animal. Well, not in Wolverine. He's the one guy who has a conscience the whole movie. It would have been more interesting to see him start out a psycho killer and maybe give him, you know, an arc. Make him grow as a character. Instead, he's pretty much fully formed by the time the "story" takes off. "I know what you are!" Stryker screams at Logan. Really? Because he never does anything to show he might really be the animal everyone says he is. Maybe, for once, they really do have the wrong guy.
I'll just gloss over the rest of the plot, because, frankly, it's pretty dumb. Logan and Victor join a secret ops team where they meet William Stryker (Danny Huston), but Logan eventually leaves because he doesn't believe in what they're doing... He didn't have a problem fighting in 2 World Wars, however... Anyway, leaving turns out to be a big mistake, as Logan's peaceful existence is destroyed six years later by the men he left behind (never seen that before). In order to exact his revenge, Logan goes through the process of having his skeleton laced with an adamantium (a nearly-indestructible metal). Some more stuff happens and by the end of the film, something happens to Logan that begs the question, "well, what the hell was the point of everything I just watched?" This key event is handled so poorly, there's no emotional weight to the scene at all, no sense of tragedy. The rest of the movie didn't build to this moment and it falls flat. Are we meant to feel bad for Logan? It's hard when you have memories of past films where the character and story were much more compelling.
So, again, I come back to the fact that the movie doesn't know what it's about. It should be the relationship between Victor and Logan, but it's not. Then there's the romantic relationship between Logan and Kyla (Lynn Collins) which serves as a major linchpin in the plot. But, yet again, you never really feel anything for them, because you know things can't end up well. By the end of the film, I was really only left with one question: "why?" Nothing new was said and what was said was pretty lackluster and muddled.
If you're a big X-Men or Wolverine fan, maybe there's something for you here, but I rather think the previous X-Men films (maybe even X3) have much more to offer.
**1/2 stars (out of 5)
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
This film started out strong, but ultimately fell short of what it could have been. In trying to keep the layers of the novel, the complicated structure distracts and detracts from the characters. As such, it’s hard to really invest in them. This ultimately causes the ending to lack the emotional resonance it's meant to have. Aside from an absolutely masterful steadi-cam shot during the Dunkirk sequence, I wouldn't recommend it.
2 ½ stars out of 5
There Will Be Blood
Awesome performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano make this a dark and stirring drama about the greed and power two men display over oil and money and the utter loathing they have for one another. Paul Thomas Anderson lets you decide how to judge what you see, and there are nuisances in these performances that beg for repeated viewing before making that decision.
4 stars out of 5
If you liked Little Miss Sunshine then you’ll probably like Juno. Great performances abound in this film, especially that of Ellen Page. My only issue with the movie is that it almost tries too hard to be a cool indie movie. Almost all the characters are quirky and somewhat weird, which makes them funny—and the movie more entertaining—but it seems less like a commentary on real life and more like the film knows it's “this year’s hit indie film.” Regardless, the movie had me by the end and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen lately.
4 stars out of 5
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Not having read the graphic novel, my only expectations going in to this were trailers and several postings on the Internet claiming that this is "the best vampire movie in a decade." Based on that statement and the fact that the concept seemed really cool, I was looking forward to this a fair amount. As a lead into what follows, I'll say that I both enjoyed the movie and was somewhat disappointed. Lost? I'll explain.
For those of you who may not know, 30 Days of Night takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northern most town in the U.S. It's separated from the nearest town by several hundred miles of desolate frozen landscape. Every year, owing to the town's Arctic latitude, the town experiences 30 days without sunlight. This year, however, the town gets some nasty visitors in the form of a band of hungry vampires. Now the survivors have to hid and wait until the month of darkness ends.
You'll notice I didn't say thirsty vampires. I said hungry and I meant it. If there's one thing to say about these vampires it's that they're not your grandma's vampires. The vamps in any Ann Rice novel, Blade, or even Count Dracula himself would probably be offended by the level of carnage these guys are intent on bringing down on the poor citizens of Barrow. They're not concerned with merely sucking their victim's blood. They'll rip your fucking head off to get the job done. Oh, and they're fast. There's no elegance here. No seduction or sophistication with these guys. Once you see one (if you even do see them coming) you have moments to live. It's refreshing (if you consider this level of gore refreshing) to see movie monsters become more animal and less human. It amps up the tension because you know that the characters have zero chance of survival if they're caught.
OK so this sounds like a pretty fun flick, right? Who doesn't like a little monster flick and some guts and gore, especially in October? This movie certainly delivers on that, but there's problem here. You see, 30 Days of Night isn't content to just be a monster movie and this is where the major problems of the movie come from. To start with, everything happens much to quickly. Within fifteen minutes, the shit hits the fan. Hardly anytime is spent on introducing the characters in the story.
Take Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) for instance. He's the sheriff and she has something to do with the fire marshall. The only other thing we learn about them is that they were involved somehow at some point in the past. We never learn how serious it was or why it ended. This subplot never amounts to anything and makes one wonder why they weren't together to begin with. The movie would have ended exactly the same way. The other characters are even less developed, many of them only existing to get killed off.
The other major problem is that proper time isn't taken to properly introduce the town. Much of the film deals with the characters moving from place to place as they attempt to get away from the vamps. The problem is that we have no clear idea of the town's geography. How far apart are the landmarks they describe? How are they related to one another geographically? We have no idea and so much of the character's worries about how far a distance they have to travel to get to safety fails to create any drama.
Now that I think about it, there's almost no explanation as to why in the hell people are living there in the first place. Oh, at the very end of the film we learn there's a pipeline running by the town. So there's a pipeline now? Where did that come from? Is this how they make a living? Or are they just messed up and thrive on extreme temperatures and months of darkness?
One last problem of note is the passage of time. This is supposed to happen over the course of an entire month, but it feels like a matter or hours. Only Eben grows any facial hair and the pitiful amount he grows even still calls into question how much time has actually gone by. There just isn't any feeling that these people have been hiding in attics and basements for 4 weeks.
Despite these problems, however, I did still enjoy the film and I recommend that fans of vampire movies and horror in general take the time to see this on the big screen. It's beautifully shot, with several shots throughout the film paying homage to the graphic novel. It's a good film, it just tried to be more than that and didn't quite make it.
3 stars (out of 5)