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Logan
Logan (2017)
4 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If there was a standard in films it's the unwritten rule (that was dropped in last years X-Men: Apocalypse) that the third film of a franchise is always the worst. No franchise has ever been able to break away from this tradition. I never thought I would see anything like that and that's why I'm a little bit shell shocked right now at how great a film Logan happens to be. This film is a revelation, an oasis in a desert of the tried and true comic book movie formula. Like last years Deadpool, Logan breaks the conventions and succeeds at several levels.


The year is 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a chauffeur, saving up his dollars to buy a boat and live out his days on the high seas. Mutants are all but extinct with Logan having a safe house across the border in Mexico with a senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and albino tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant) caring for the professor while Logan is away driving prom dates and bachelorettes around in the wee hours of the morning. When a woman mysteriously tracks Logan down and asks for help in taking a young girl named Laura (Dafnee Keen) to "Eden", a sanctuary for mutants that gets them into Canada and safety. They need Logan's help because they are being pursued by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and the corporation that has managed young Laura since her birth.


Director James Mangold almost had it with The Wolverine, but that film derailed in its last 20 minutes. With Logan he makes it to the finish line with a film that isn't all about explosions and flashy costumes. The film takes a swipe at the comics that furnished the characters and how ridiculous the stories contained within them. Logan is a character piece expanding between generations and the passing of the torch that occurs in our lives. Both Logan and Xavier are old and beginning to feel the pains associated with aging, like we all do. Jackman is Wolverine and always will be, but he goes beyond the typical Bub and one liners by bringing a raw emotion to the tole that hasn't been there before. The breakdown of everything he once had has worn him down along with time. The rest of the cast holds up to the subject matter that is well written and doesn't play the audience like idiots. As a story the film does take pieces from the graphic novel Old Man Logan, but has managed to break it down into something else, partly out of storytelling (where it succeeds) and partly out of not having access to all of the pertinent characters.


This is the movie Marvel wishes it could be. This is the movie DC once was (The Dark Knight). A gritty and realistic take on super heroes without the other worldly components. Logan is a film that borrows more from the western genre than the comic books where the characters were born. Shane is referenced heavily in this film as a man resists going back to what he once was only to be pulled back to it like the tides. Nature will always push you there. Logan and Shane are men cut from the same cloth. Add in the feel of The Searchers and you get a film that feels epic without blowing up a city. You just blow up someones life. If only other comic book films could be more like Logan and less like disaster porn. Where Stephen Spielberg compared comic book films to the westerns of old, Logan has embraced that identity fully. Films like this will keep the genre alive.


My son turned 16 a few months back. Thinking back tonight I realized that in all the franchises out there Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is the only consistent throughout his life. The actor and the character have become synonymous with each other and the idea that the next time you see that character on screen played by someone else is a heartbreaking proposition. I can only compare it to Christopher Reeve as Superman for me (By the time I was 20 we had had 3 Batmen) and the attempts to recast that role in the years since have always led me to the finally verdict that "they were OK, but they aren't close to Reeve's Superman". Call it nostalgia or whatever, but that's what we have to face now. Hugh Jackman has (supposedly) stepped down from a wonderful run, though it had some low spots, he played the role with a relish rarely seen in today's franchised film world. Logan is a wonderful (possible) swan song for the man that has given us the original anti-hero in comic book cinema. We will all miss his take on the character and the permanent mark he has made on super hero films. This generation of the genre ultimately started with him and Logan manages to be the best super hero film I've seen in close to a decade.

John Wick: Chapter 2
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

John Wick: Chapter 2 does something that you usually don't see in sequels: it ties up loose ends from its predecessor. It's cool to see it, but is it really necessary? Nope. Not at all. I've never been more torn with an opening scene in retrospect. It's a great idea, but it adds to the bloat that this film already has.


Essentially that's what John Wick 2 represents . It's a film that continues the reluctant assassin story from the first film, but lumbers around much more than the sleek original film. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just completed his out of retirement rampage and plans to withdraw back into the normal life he had created for himself. He barely gets a nights sleep when Santino (Ricardo Scamarcia) knocks on John's door demanding him to honor the marker he had used to get out of the business in the first place. Santino proves to be persuasive by blowing up John's home (the dog survives), forcing him to uphold his code and perform one final job.


John Wick is filled with action. Tons of it. Cargo ships loaded to capacity of it. What I'm saying is that 1. there's too much and 2. it gets repetitive. There are more double taps in this film than in most films from the last 20 years combined. The disposable henchmen tend to have hipster beards and man buns, making easily excusable fodder for Mr. Wick. The film continuously bombards you with these high octane action sequences to the point that they get kind of ridiculous. It makes the film dull and that is not what you want in an action film.


The only time the film finds itself is when the characters interact with more than fists and bullets. Ian McShane returns with another good performance, though some of his lines are drivel and you can almost see it on his face. Cassian, played by Common, was a great addition to the film. I was disappointed that he didn't have ,ore to do in this film. An underutilized asset. Of course there has been a ton of discussion about Laurence Fishburn and Reeves having a Matrix reunion of sorts. Hype it up to push the film it seems because the Fishburn role is quite disposable and bogs the last act of the film.Remove this and the opening sequence I discussed earlier and you go from a bloated 122 minutes to a tight and lean 105. Overboard isn't a good thing.


You can say that John Wick Chapter 2 is a disappointment and truthfully it really is. The performances are strong and carry the picture, but it's an overblown rehash of the first film. There's nothing new here; a shame after the first film was such a breathe of fresh air. There is a soft set up for a third film, which will probably show up in a few years, but how many more man bun double taps can an audience take?

Cannonball Run II
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Cannonball Run II is the sequel to the 1981 coast to coast race film from Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. Did you see that one? Then you've seen this one. It's a cartoonish romp with a collection of Las Vegas royalty and country stars. Yes, this is another on of those Burt Reynolds good ole' boy comedies.


Way over the top, Cannonball Run II is almost fun to watch. Almost. It's poorly written and the performances are strictly phoned in. Did Shirley Maclaine really follow up Terms of Endearment with this? Ugh. And Frank Sinatra's cameo? It's legendary in that the Chairman wasn't even there with the cast, yet appears in the blooper reel. Really? We can easily tell with the poor editing that they were not together. A poorly matched mess.


Far removed from Crosby and Hope, it's a road picture injected with steroids and over used '80's cliches. You can watch it, but the camp is turned up to eleven and all you get is a need to go on a real road trip. There isn't much left to say about it. It's just a bad movie.

Escape From Alcatraz
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Representing the culmination of a decade long collaboration between director Don Seigel and perpetual 1970's Clint Eastwood Escape from Alcatraz is a very loose account fo the 1962 escape from the legendary prison located in San Francisco Bay.


The film opens with Frank Morris (Eastwood) being delivered to his new island home. He meets the hard ass warden (Patrick McGoohan) and delivers the speech to Morris about no one ever escaping Alcatraz and no one ever will. The film then follows Morris and his compatriots (Jack Thibeau, Fred Ward, and Larry Hankin) use their wits and the materials they have on hand to make their daring escape.


Shot on the actual island, the film has a washed out and bleak look that obviously mimics its location in the foggy and cold bay area. The order in these broken down buildings shows how the island has rotted away with time, but the cogs of justice have continued to turn no matter what happens. Clint Eastwood's performance is one of his best, on par with Josey Wales or Unforgiven. You are not watching Dirty Harry in this film as Eastwood leaves that persona before the opening credits roll. The performances throughout the film are filled with hopelessness and even characters not involved in the escape seem to perk up when it's even hinted at. It's like sun light breaking through the clouds for one solitary moment.


As a whole, the theme of the film is hope. All of the convicts are hopeless until Frank shows up and starts filling their minds with the possibility, the hope, of escape. Could there be a way out of Alcatraz that doesn't end in death? This is another '70's film that flipped the good guys and the bad guys. Once again, after Vietnam and Watergate, the nation lost confidence in its authority figures. In Escape from Alcatraz you are rooting for the cons to overcome the authority that keeps pressing its thumb down on them from the opening moments. It is a great film that is really an underrated masterpiece of the 1970's.

Re-Animator
Re-Animator (1985)
5 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Throughout the history of film one of the characters that continues to pop up is the mad scientist attempting to push his studies to the point of lunacy. This is a person who has become so obsessed with their primary objective that they throw any sense of moral code or obligation right out the window. The first and most famous example is Dr. Frankenstein in the numerous incarnations that have been brought to life over the decades, be it Colin Clive or Peter Cushing. Science is the only thing of importance to these men. With Re-Animator we get another take on the Frankenstein mentality, though it is more tongue in cheek and finds some humor in the situation.


Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, the film opens with what will be our resident mad scientist Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) encountering the possible consequences of his experiments when his mentor dies at the European school he is attending. Having "learned all he can" there he arrives at an American university and rooms with golden boy med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Dan is the typical over zealous student that's dating the dean's daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton) and being a general BMOC (big man on campus). Herbert uses the relationship between Dan and Megan as leverage in getting Dan to assist him in his experiments. His goal: to bring people back from brain death. Eventually the pair are discredited by the administration and they are forced to go about their work in secret. Of course these plans go awry as issues spring up with how Herbert's "agent" works.


Director Stuart Gordon delivers a film that, even though it could have dated itself, manages to break that 1980's mold and become something more than a late night cable TV film lost to obscurity. He manages to walk the thin line between a horror film and a comedy, balancing the two and delivering a film that is stronger for it. It is a gorefest, but there is enough humor to take the edge off, but it doesn't end up a parody of itself. For being a lower budget film the performances are well done with the stand outs being Combs and David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill, an under handed professor that becomes a failed experiment with consequences.


The film is visually striking with its effects and even though the budget was low, still managed to push the envelope and deliver something new. Gordon shoots the film not with the effects as star, but as a valued character actor. There are scenes that remain legendary in Re-Animator even if they are old school camera trickery.


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Re-Animator is the Frankenstein of the 1980's. The film is built as a loving parody of the Mary Shelly classic. It comes from an era where films are perpetually stuck because of their reliance on cliches of the era, but Re-Animator stands out and survives beyond those neon bounds. It captures you with a well worn idea that is garnished with more modern sensibilities. It's horror that gives you a break instead of slamming you in the head with murder-death-kill every ten minutes just for the sake of it. Re-Animator is a great overlapping genre piece that has the ability to be enjoyed more than once. The film never gets old and always delivers a great experience for the audience.