Review: Logan

Note: I’m changing the way I write movie reviews. Longtime readers have probably noticed that I haven’t written nearly as much here on the site as I used to. There are a host of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that my wife and I are expecting a baby later this month. I’d like to get back to writing more often, and one of the ways I want to do that is to be a little less structured in what I write. I’ve always felt a need to adhere to a certain formula with my movie reviews, but I’ve realized that I’ve grown a bit weary of the routine. I always have many thoughts about movies I see, but I’m more likely to share those thoughts if I allow myself to be freer. So in my reviews from now on I’m not going to feel the need to talk about aspects of the film that don’t interest me. I’m not going to go out of my way to recap the plot, point out all of the major cast members, or comment on aspects of the production that didn’t provoke a reaction. Also, since I’m a lot slower to write reviews than I used to be, I’m not going to shy away from some minor spoilers. Anything major I want to talk about will still go below a spoiler warning, but I’m going to assume that major spoilerphobes will have seen the film by the time I get around to writing about it. I may also post reviews in a wider variety of lengths, letting myself ramble on when I have more to say but not forcing myself to write more than I want. Hopefully this will all allow for more frequent updates and a more pleasant and interesting reading experience. As always, thanks for reading!

There’s no logical reason for Logan to be as good as it is. Wolverine’s two previous solo outings have varied from mediocre and disappointing to flat-out horrible, and the most recent X-Men movies haven’t been substantially better. It’s been 14 years since the last movie in this disjointed series which I wholeheartedly loved, X2, which still stands as one of my favorite superhero films. Honestly at this point I would be more than happy to see the series die, to give these characters a much needed rest. Logan marks the 9th film in the X-Franchise (not counting Deadpool), and at this point there should be very little left to say about these characters. I know that Hollywood is a business, and FOX will continue exploiting this familiar territory for the brand recognition alone, but they’ve retread the same ground over and over again with nothing new to contribute so often that I’ve grown weary of the entire endeavor. I didn’t even really want to see Logan, I was wary of being burned again after The Wolverine started with such promise and ended up so disappointing. So when I say that Logan is a genuinely good film, and it even has moments of greatness, understand that while this is coming from a place of low expectations I’m not judging merely judging this on a curve. Logan is a fitting companion to the original X-Men films, good enough to almost make it worth slogging through some of the more recent movies in order to reach this point, and far better than it has any right to be.

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Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

In my youth I read every Star Wars novel I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with the Expanded Universe and the opportunity it represented to give me more of my beloved trilogy of films, at least until such time as George Lucas saw fit to give us those long-promised extra episodes. I loved reading about the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, R2, 3PO, and the rest, their children, and the extended Skywalker family’s attempts to bring peace to that galaxy far, far away. But my favorite books often didn’t involve the saga’s familiar bands of heroes and villains at all, instead focusing on a minor character from the films or telling the story of a previously unexplored event or location in the world of the movies. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars, they sadly but wisely did away with the Expanded Universe, relegating it to the Star Wars Legends label and removing it from the official canon in order to clear the way for The Force Awakens. It made lots of sense, as it would have been impossible to work the new films around the intricate and even sometimes contradictory narrative that had been created by the countless books, but it was hard to see these stories that I’d (mostly) loved stripped of their official status and turned into a tantalizing “what if” outlining an alternate take on the Star Wars mythology. Despite the Star Wars universe losing a good deal of depth and color without the EU, Disney now finds itself with new avenues of storytelling open to it, and the opportunity to flesh out the saga in a more cohesive way. It’s already started this process with a new series of books that weave in and out of the films and TV series that make up the new official Star Wars canon, but their newest and biggest push to once again plumb those unexplored depths has arrived in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a bold move, giving audiences a big screen event film with Star Wars in the title, yet featuring almost none of the saga’s main characters, placing it alongside the series’ other 7 live-action films as an equal, yet not advancing the main story of the Skywalker family, requiring a little work and understanding from viewers as to how it relates to its cinematic brethren, all while hoping to launch a new method of Star Wars storytelling as well as a new way to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars. In the end, Rogue One is a success, telling an exciting and compelling story that enriches the universe without distracting from the ongoing main saga, and I can’t help but feel like it’s the cinematic equivalent of those novels I loved as a kid, which explored moments, issues, and characters that would never be worthy of inclusion alongside the Skywalkers, but which nevertheless contributed to those iconic stories by bringing the surrounding world to life. Continue reading

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Harry Potter is back in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! No, wait, this isn’t The Cursed Child, though it is filled all of your favorite Harry Potter characters! Ok, maybe not, but you might recognize a few names here or there. But it is set in the beloved world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series! Well alright, it’s actually set in the 1920s in New York, filled with unfamiliar magical slang and completely foreign to both our protagonist and to viewers. Still, this is the Harry Potter spinoff that everyone has yearned for since the series concluded! No, it’s not? So why should anyone care about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, when it seemingly lacks everything that audiences grew to love about the Harry Potter saga? For starters, it’s an exciting, dark, fun, funny, emotional, and immensely creative film set in a rich and fascinating world that is strong enough to stand on its own. It deepens and broadens the Harry Potter universe, showing us previously unexplored aspects, locations, and eras of the wizarding world providing new insights and a greater context for the events that shaped the life of the Boy Who Lived. And it kicks off a five film series in a way that’s far more topical, political, relevant, and just more interesting than any of the Harry Potter films that came before (matching the tone of the later books much more closely than the movies). And most importantly to me at least, this is the story that J.K. Rowling wanted to tell, that she thought would be the most compelling way to expand and explore the universe she created. As far as I’m concerned she was right, and I can’t wait to see more.

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Review: Doctor Strange

The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps expanding, seemingly showing no signs of stopping. Each new film brings us new heroes to fight new villains, new locations or planets filled with people to save, and new clashes and conflicts to bring characters together or drive them apart. But while Doctor Strange certainly continues the trend, it broadens the universe in entirely new ways, pushing not only the boundaries of superhero storytelling but of visual craftsmanship. It’s a mind-bending head trip of a film, which attempts to introduce a spiritual aspect to an otherwise science fiction series, all while serving up some of the most creative and exhilarating action sequences in recent memory. Doctor Strange may stick to the tried and true Marvel origin story formula, but it’s a fun ride anchored by a strong cast and impressive effects, and it offers an intriguing glimpse into the potential future of this ever-expanding Universe.

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Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

The 1960 classic, The Magnificent Seven, has never been a film inconsideration for the title of “Greatest Western of All Time”. It isn’t as iconic and influential as Shane nor as intense or symbolic as High Noon. It lacks the epic expansiveness of The Searchers as well as the gritty, violent realism of The Wild Bunch. It failed to reinvent the genre or subvert expectations like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Unforgiven. Yet in spite of all that, I’ve long counted The Magnificent Seven among my favorite Western films, possibly my very favorite movie genre. The remake of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai combined a talented cast, solid direction from John Sturges, and one of the most memorable film scores of all time to create a fun, exciting adventure with a surprising amount of depth. The new remake of the 1960 remake, therefore, has a lot to live up to, and when it adheres to its predecessor’s formula it largely succeeds, even in spite of a few missteps along the way.

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Review: Pete’s Dragon

I’ve been a hardcore Disney fan for a long time, but that doesn’t mean I automatically love everything the Mouse has produced. Specifically, I’ve never been a fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, the 1977 live-action/animation hybrid. While I appreciated the design and animation of Elliott, the film’s titular dragon, I found the whole affair too silly for my tastes topped off with forgettable songs. So of Disney’s recent spate of modern, live-action remakes (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book so far, with Beauty and the Beast due next year), I was by far most enthusiastic about Pete’s Dragon, which I felt was most in need of an update. I’ve generally enjoyed all of the films in Disney’s latest trend so I’ve come to have high expectations, and Pete’s Dragon didn’t disappoint. But what I wasn’t prepared for was its beautiful simplicity, the stillness and subtlety with which it tells its story, or just what a breath of fresh air it is.

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Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

I never lived in a world without Ghostbusters. The original film was #1 at the box office the day I was born (although my parents decided to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that day), and it and its sequel have been movie viewing constants all my life. I yearned for a sequel for years and years, only to be disappointed when it finally became clear that that was never going to happen. Instead we were given a remake with an all-female cast, which unfortunately still brings out the worst in a certain segment of the population who can’t stand to see women in positions where they feel only men should reside. The result is both an important milestone for women in cinema, a big-budget, sci-fi, action comedy based on a beloved franchise resting solely on the backs of four talented women, and the internet firestorm that’s come to surround the film shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s nevertheless shattered some glass ceilings. But the question of the film still remains, whether it can both hold up on its own and live up to the legacy that goes along with the name. Could it ever be as funny as the classic from 1984? Well, the answer to the second question is no, it’s frankly not as funny. But better than funny, it gives us deeper characters, more exciting action, and a more interesting world than we’ve ever seen under the Ghostbusters banner. It might not be the non-stop laugh riot we might have hoped, though it is still frequently hilarious, but it just might be a better all-around film.

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Review: Warcraft

Sometimes it can be a lot of fun watching a bad movie. I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching awful movies like Battlefield Earth, Howard the Duck, Plan 9 from Outer Space, or The Room. The best bad movies are often a work of passion by the filmmakers, whose vision may be horribly misguided but who are fully committed to the dumpster fire they’ve created. The result is often unintended hilarity, and even in some cases a sense of admiration for those who dedicated themselves to such a glorious trainwreck. A bad movie can find a life for itself so long as it’s memorable, but what it can’t afford to be is derivative, bland, uninspired, phoned-in, and boring. Warcraft is all of these things, not just awful but utterly forgettable.

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Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day has never made the list of my all-time favorite movies, though perhaps it should have. That list is usually reserved for films that have had a profound impact on me, or which speak to a very specific and often under-served aspect of who I am. I can’t say that Independence Day fits either of those categories but, in addition to being one of the movies I’ve watched the most, I feel a connection to it in other ways. In my mind, it is the pinnacle of a particular style and era of filmmaking, which rose and fell in the 1990s and was epitomized by a sense of fun, visual effects designed to entertain as much as impress, a “go all in” type of commitment to the movie, and a penchant for the film wearing its heart on its sleeve. And while nostalgia certainly plays a role in reflecting on 12-year-old me seeing Independence Day for the first time 20 years ago, the truth is that my appreciation and devotion the film has only grown through the years through constant exposure. I can honestly say that while Independence Day will probably never make my list of all-time favorites, my emotional bond with it is as strong as any other film I might put at the top of any list. But this article isn’t a love song to Independence Day, but rather a review of Independence Day: Resurgence. I just wanted to make sure you know where I’m coming from when I say that while Resurgence may have its moments and it isn’t as bad as I feared it might be, on the whole it’s a disappointing and occasionally infuriating mess.

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Review: Finding Dory

I think Finding Nemo might be the most important film in the history of animation. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best animated film ever or even my favorite, nor does it mean that it did something revolutionary or game-changing when it was released 13 years ago. Instead, its importance stems from how it subtly changed both the type of storytelling in animation and the public perception of the medium. Finding Nemo marked the start of the switch from the view of animation as “kids’ movies” or “cartoons” to a wider and more positive view of the field in general, to the point where animated films are now increasingly the most popular and successful films each year. Before Finding Nemo, most animation was aimed at kids with the hopes that it might entertain adults also, typically through innuendo or adult humor that would go over the heads of younger viewers. Even Pixar’s first outings, as brilliant as they are, followed this trend to a certain extent, breaking technological barriers more than those of storytelling and genre. But Finding Nemo was different. It told a story that never pandered to either kids or adults, but was instead something that could be appreciated by both equally, and it was filled with characters who were relatable no matter your age. It represented a maturity that was entirely new to animation, an understanding that it’s possible to genuinely create a film for everyone without having to make sacrifices to the story, and the emotional depth which can be achieved when the right all of the right ingredients, including plot, character, direction, and most importantly performance, are combined. It kicked off a new era, and it’s no coincidence that three out of the next four Pixar films were The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Wall-E.

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