Friday, February 17, 2017

Movie Review: “Logan”


***** out of 5
135 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity
Twentieth Century Fox

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It’s been a long time coming, but Wolverine fans finally get the film they — and the beloved character — deserve. Logan is perfect. A lot of people hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and for good reason. It was a mess from beginning to end.

Ironically, now we’ve been treated to both an R-rated Deadpool film, and Wolverine, that Marvel fans have been clamoring for. Full of foul language and gory action scenes, it feels jaw-dropping, even if because audiences may have worried they’d never get to see Wolverine in real action. The closest being the Unleashed Extended edition of The Wolverine. James Mangold managed to create a much better director’s cut than even the fun theatrical release — filled with the gore and profanity we yearned for. But it was never shown on the big screen.

Now, Mangold is back, and completely unleashed, and the rest will be history.

Logan (Jackman) is trying to make a living as a driver in 2029 where mutants are nearly extinct. He hides out at an abandoned Mexico facility with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Charles has been suffering from seizures and is growing older by the day, but claims he has been communicating with a young mutant who needs help. Along comes Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), herself being sought after by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), who needs Logan’s help getting Laura/X-23 (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota. Here, a sanctuary called “Eden,” may be her last hope for survival. It sets a road trip in motion after Laura takes out Pierce’s crew, forcing Logan, Charles, and Laura to go on the lam.

The years have been mostly kind to the X-Men franchise. The original film — nearly 17 years old now — paved the way for a new kind of superhero movie. Read: films that worked! There have been at least a few fumbles along the way — X-Men: The Last Stand, Origins and, to a certain extent, even Apocalypse — but when an X-Men movie works, it really works. Logan is without a doubt, the best X-Men film ever. And not just because we finally get all the gore and swears. Here’s a superhero movie filled with way more emotion than you’d ever expect.

Everything comes together spectacularly. Mangold proves he can deliver the character pieces he’s known for, while melding with the comicbook genre. The cast is Grade-A solid. Even Holbrook is a great foil to both Logan and Laura. It’s really hard to keep from venturing into spoiler territory. But let’s just say that audiences are in for some huge surprises, and also some not-so-surprises. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there are a few things that are not hard to realize are coming. The best part is Keen’s X-23 is the biggest little badass we may see on screen all year — at least in theaters. Eleven still rules the small screen. Believe the hype machine, Logan is one of the best comicbook films of all time and will undoubtedly stand as one of 2017’s best films. It’s going to be a long two weeks until I can finally see this one again.

Movie Review: “The Great Wall”

The Great Wall

** out of 5
103 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
Universal Studios

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Back in the early 2000s when wuxia/kung fu films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or anything starring Jackie Chan, were all the rage in the U.S., I became transfixed on the beautiful artistry of Yimou Zhang’s Hero. Full of amazingly choreographed fight scenes and stunning cinematography, I didn’t care if the story didn’t translate well. I saw it four times and you can bet I was back when Zhang’s House of Flying Daggers arrived. Unfortunately, by the time 2006’s Curse of the Golden Flower came around, the genre was repetitive. When I learned Zhang was directing The Great Wall — a creature feature, starring Matt Damon, and set against the backdrop of China’s titular wonder of the world, I perked up. Well, no matter how much money you can throw into a production, plenty can still go awry.

During the Song dynasty, William (Damon) is caught searching for black powder. Along with fellow mercenary Tovar (Pedro Pascal), they are captured after killing some kind of creature. They bring the creature’s hand with them where they are taken prisoner by the Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau). It doesn’t take long before the creatures spring their first attack, leaving William looked at as some kind of savior after killing one of them, and now, a 60-year-old battle has begun, with William and Tovar caught in the middle.

Any creature feature fan expects the film to be fun, no matter how ludicrous the premise. The Great Wall is not fun. I was hoping for unintentionally hilarious, but even Damon’s dopey accent doesn’t work. Zhang at least still knows how to film an action scene, even if some of them patter on way too long. Sadly, the screenplay — credited to Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy — is hindered. It could have been better had the credited story trio (Max Brooks, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz) been allowed to let loose. Not even the shortish 103 minute runtime can save the day. The film feels hours long and you never once care for anyone’s plight. It’s all just a bloated special effects extravaganza. At least the monsters are kind of cool. But even they aren’t worth wasting your time or money. The Great Wall is really just “The Great Yawn.”

Movie Review: “A Cure for Wellness”

A Cure for Wellness

** out of 5
146 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language
Twentieth Century Fox

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Director Gore Verbinski sure can jump from one genre to another. Showing his eye for hilarious visuals and slapstick with Mousehount, he wasn’t heard from again until the Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt black comedy The Mexican. It was an abrupt shift for the director, but what came next was an even bigger shock: The Ring. One-upping Hideo Nakata’s original, The Ring still stands as one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. From there he quickly boarded the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. After jumping ship, he delivered one of his best films after in Rango for Lucasfilm. Cracks began to show in his skills with the gluttony of The Lone Ranger. Now, Verbinski delivers his biggest snoozefest yet with A Cure for Wellness.

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a young executive sent to look for his company’s missing CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), after taking a sabbatical at a “wellness center” retreat in the Swiss Alps. Here, Lockhart discovers that the relaxation may not be as natural as it should. Among the possibly sinister staff are the super-odd father/daughter duo Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and Hannah (Mia Goth). Things go from bad to worse as everyone does whatever they can to keep Lockhart from returning home, and eventually, Lockhart discovers Volmer’s true intent behind his clinic.

I was looking forward to A Cure for Wellness seeing how Verbinski certainly proved he can creep audiences out with the best of them after unleashing The Ring remake. Unfortunately, Verbinski is saddled with Justin Haythe’s overindulgent screenplay. At a bloated 146 minutes, had about a half hour been trimmed, he may have had a modern classic on his hands. It’s too bad the script gets so outright icky in the last 15 minutes, and Verbinski seems to forget his subtle shock tactics when he goes for the jugular.

This is just a boring film. Scenes seem to go on forever while serving absolutely no purpose. DeHaan continues to annoy as a lead and Goth isn’t given as much to do as the virginal Hannah as she should. It is all shot rather spectacularly by Bojan Bazelli, but Verbinski’s plodding pace simply makes A Cure for Wellness only a cure for insomnia.

Movie Review: “Fist Fight”

Fist Fight

* out of five
91 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material
Warner Bros. Pictures

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It’s a shame when a movie really could have come together, only to wind up falling so hard. Fist Fight — which should have been titled Teacher Fight — involves so many normally great comedic actors, it’s surprisingly unbearable from start to finish. Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjiani — all so great in other things, pretty much anything else — are joined by the likes of Ice Cube, Dean Norris, and Christina Hendricks, to deliver one of the year’s worst films so far.

Andy Campbell (Day) is not looking forward to the last day of school. As a teacher surrounded by shenanigans, it doesn’t help that it’s also senior prank day. Already bullied by the students and fellow staffers — including Coach Crawford (Morgan), Holly (Bell), Principal Tyler (Norris), Ms. Monet (Hendricks), and school security Mehar (Nanjiani) — his day goes from bad to worse when he manages to piss off the most ill-tempered teacher in the whole school, Strickland (Ice Cube), and winds up getting him fired after he attacks a student with an axe. Andy is also dealing with his pregnant wife, Maggie (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), and demanding daughter Ally (Alexa Nisenson).

Fist Fight isn’t just a bad comedy, it’s a horrible movie through and through. One could have hoped director Richie Keen had honed in on his experience with Day having directed 11 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser only managed to come up with one good joke. And even that one was probably a Bell ad-lib. Spoiler alert: “Whoever dies first haunts the school!” That’s the funniest thing in the film and you’ll be sorry you wasted your time and money.

Not even at a short 91 minutes can Keen keep the pace, nor bother to build momentum. There’s been plenty of comedies that get better as they chug along to the finale — which at least they deliver on. But who knew we needed a remake of the little seen Three O’Clock High or wanted one. Nothing works here and it makes sense for Warner Bros. to dump it right in the middle of February. At one point, Day is dragged down a flight of stairs by a horse on meth, and that would be better than ever having to sit through Fist Fight ever again.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movie Review: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

John Wick: Chapter 2

***** out of 5
122 minutes
Rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity
Summit Entertainment

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Hollywood makes ultraviolence look ultra-cool. R-rated action movies have always succeeded when it comes to bathing in excess, and right now, there’s honestly no action series cooler than John Wick. I missed the first film when it hit theaters back in 2014, but made sure to snatch up a review copy when it hit Blu-ray. That was a fantastic decision. Full of some of the best choreographed action in years, it was a complete surprise that blew me away. With the announcement of the sequel, I was giddy, yet cautious. We all know how easily sequels can screw up a franchise. It is with great honor to proclaim that John Wick: Chapter 2 does everything a good sequel is supposed to do — and then some.

Chapter 2 picks up with an astounding street chase between hitman Wick (Keanu Reeves) and a motorcycle. Turns out, our cyclist holds a key to gain entrance to kingpen Abram’s (Peter Stormare) — brother of Viggo from the first film — chop shop. Abram has Wick’s beloved Mustang and he wants it back. Wick returns home with his battered ride, when Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) comes calling to collect on a debt. Wick owes him a favor and his peace and retirement are going to have to wait. After refusing, Santino blows up Wick’s house — this time the dog survives — and Wick is left with no choice but to return to his old ways for one last job. Santino wants him to kill his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), which winds up putting an open contract on Wick himself. Now, Wick must battle his way through anyone and everyone to take down Santino and save himself in the process.

The Raid 2 is the only sequel that comes close to a comparison of John Wick: Chapter 2. That film also took a simply structured first film and blows it up in the second.

The underground society Wick belongs to is made astonishingly real, with threats looming literally at every corner. Some awesome adversaries abound in the likes of Ruby Rose and Common, in particular, and we get an extended cameo by the original Django himself, Franco Nero! The violence is still every bit as choreographed — while over-the-top — as the first time, but there very well could be twice as many kills. The cast are all having a ball, especially Reeves who clearly relishes having a chance to shine again. The years have been hit-and-miss for him since The Matrix, but this is way more fun than even that first film. Speaking of The Matrix, it’s pure joy to see Reeves opposite Laurence Fishburne having a conversation on a rooftop. Chills!

John Wick: Chapter 2 is the wham bam thank you ma’am action film we’ve been waiting for. Fans of the first film will leave elated and begging for more. Especially with the film ending — mild spoiler alert — on a cliffhanger. Returning director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad are having the time of their lives with these films and I can only imagine where they’ll take it from here. If they manage to one-up themselves yet again, the sky’s the limit and action fans will have a new classic trilogy — if they stop at three, which feels natural at this point. But if they keep making them like this, they can keep making them as long as they want. John Wick: Chapter 2 is the first great action film of the year, and I’m not mincing words when I say it’s going to take a lot to beat this one.

Movie Review: “The LEGO Batman Movie”

The LEGO Batman Movie

***** out of 5
104 minutes
Rated PG for rude humor and some action 
Warner Bros. Pictures

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As reliable as family entertainment has become over the years, The Lego Movie blew everyone away. It was mind boggling to think that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — the team behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the Jump Street films — were able to take such a mundane property and show moviegoers the true master builders. When The LEGO Batman Movie was announced — under the new direction of Robot Chicken’s Chris McKay — it’s safe to say that possibly only Warner Bros. were sure this would work. Well, low and behold, here we are with a second LEGO film and it’s even better!

With Gotham City sitting in the lap of luxury knowing Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) will save the day, Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) wants to make Batman realize that they need each other. Unfortunately for Joker, Batman doesn’t think he needs anyone — even with Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) sitting at home keeping Wayne Manor and the Batcave neat and tidy. After escaping Batman’s heroic clutches, Joker decides to unleash a coup de grĂ¢ce just as Jim Gordon (voiced by Hector Elizondo) hands over the reigns to his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson).

Turns out, Gotham City is built upon a bunch of flimsy plates and Joker wants to send Gotham into the abyss. But not before Joker winds up turning himself in and is sent to Arkham Asylum, which could be exactly what he wanted. Meanwhile, Batman is trying to juggle being the superhero, and taking care of newly adopted Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera).

For an animated film, The LEGO Batman Movie is filled with jokes. And the best part is that every single one works. And thankfully, so does the movie. The best part, is that McKay — along with his five credited writers: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington — keeps the shenanigans under control and it winds up functioning as not just one of the best animated films in years, but as one of the best Batman films ever. There is no hope for anyone who walks out of The LEGO Batman Movie unhappy. Plain and simple. It turns everything you know about Batman, DC Comics, and super villains, on its ear.

Last year, Deadpool ushered in a new kind of superhero movie that audiences and critics instantly fell in love with and The LEGO Batman Movie is poised to do the same. This is a whole new breed of comicbook movie and demands to be seen multiple times. It wasn’t screened for press in 3D, but I can only imagine it looks breathtaking considering how good The Lego Movie looked three years ago. The rest of 2017’s animated features are going to be hardpressed to beat The LEGO Batman Movie. And the same could be said for most of the live action films as well. This is superb entertainment from start to finish and will go down as one of the year’s best films.

Movie Review: “Paterson”


**** out of5
118 minutes
Rated R for some language
Amazon Studios

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On paper, most Jim Jarmusch films don’t sound like much. But very few directors are able to create such entertaining pieces of work out of so little. Paterson is no exception. While Jarmusch may be far from a household name, he has an outstanding following who enjoy his films for exactly what they are. And the best part is that they never try to be more than that. What you see is what you get, and with Paterson, he plops Adam Driver front and center, reminding us how much we adore watching him onscreen. Even more so than when he’s playing the daddy-issue-plagued Kylo Ren.

The plot of Paterson is razor thin. Paterson (Driver) lives a quiet life as a bus driver who gets everything he needs from his diary filled with poems and coming home every night to his eccentric girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Laura may come with a pesky dog in tow — Marvin (played by Nellie) — but he never lets it get in his way. He also makes sure he never gets in Laura’s way either. Her dreams seem to change at the drop of a hat and if he weren’t along for the ride, she’d leave him in the dust.

If there’s one thing Paterson seems to be about most, it’s patience. Patience with everything from your own possibly droll existence, to those who surround you. In this day and age, that message rings true more than ever. You never know what kind of news you’re apt to wake up to. Jarmusch sets up scenarios where Paterson could easily get set off — the biggest involving his diary and Marvin — but even this is shrugged off. While you can see that Paterson is completely flustered with the situation, he knows overreacting is not going to fix anything. Driver commands the film with Farahani providing an excellent ying to his yang. Paterson is a calming film, and that could be reason enough for its own existence. It may have been snubbed at the Oscars, but it’s absolutely worth seeking out and makes for a great watch. Even for those who aren’t Jarmusch fans.