Monthly Archives: March 2017

“Blazing Saddles” Movie Review

In continuing my crusade of critiquing Westerns, I decided to see one that is much funnier than anything else I’ll talk about in this genre. This satirical Western comedy from legendary laughing man Mel Brooks premiered on February 6th, 1974, earning back over 50 times its small budget of $2.6 million. Co-written by Brooks and controversial comedian Richard Pryor, the story is a parody of any classic Western you can think of. Literally opening the film with the sound of a cracking whip, Cleavon Little stars as Bart, the newly appointed black sheriff in an all-white town. As part of a scheme to take over the surrounding land, a Governor and business mogul plot to use Bart as a means to pave the path. Here is a film that came at the tail-end of not one, but two pivotal periods of American history. In this case, it would be the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and the dominant era of Westerns before they faded away. It parodies the ideologies and concepts behind both of them, which, in a way, shows many similarities between the two periods. Cleavon Little is an excellent choice for the role of Bart. Charismatic and witty to a fault, he’s also apparently the smartest man in the town. The day he arrives, after a long silence from a stunned crowd, he holds his own gun to his head and pretends to take himself hostage. By his side, Gene Wilder plays the drunken, washed up gunslinger the Waco Kid. Despite keeping his dignity in check and providing memorable bits of dialogue, he doesn’t feel right in a supporting role. His immense energy and near-unpredictability gives the idea that he’s more fit for the role of a protagonist, a role which he later received yet again with Mel Brooks in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. The rest of the cast includes regular collaborators like Harvey Korman, Dom DeLuise, and Madeline Kahn, along with comedic/Western legends like Slim Pickens, John Hillerman, and even Brooks himself in a dual role as a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief and a dim-witted governor. Everyone turns in performances of exaggerated or goofy caricatures commonly seen in the genre. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the film is that it is simply too silly in most parts. It completely deconstructs the blatant racism of the time period, something that Hollywood has often obscured in its accounts of the mythic Old West. In fact, the N-word is said aloud so many times by so many characters, that Mel Brooks has publicly expressed doubt that the film could ever get remade in the modern era. I actually met someone who couldn’t finish Blazing Saddles because they said it was the most racist movie he’d ever seen. Not just that, the film also incorporates nearly a dozen or so deliberate anachronisms into a story that is supposed to be set almost 200 years ago. In one particular scene, when the bad guys are getting ready to enact their final move, they’re holding an open call for different types of evil doers from history. Biker gangs, Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Confederate soldiers, you name it. And near the end, as the climax comes to a head, the cast of the movie literally breaks the fourth wall before crashing onto a separate housing on the Warner Bros. studio lot before finishing at the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Joseph Biroc’s camera work also deserves some commentary. Mimicking the works of iconic Westerns, there are numerous wide anamorphic shots of the landscape that paint a vast and beautiful picture of the desert- at least the illusion of a desert. John Morris’ musical score is a nice, rousing bit of music that keeps the viewer in the mood. But it isn’t very memorable beyond the moment of viewing. Accompanying it are a series of original songs, most of which were penned by Mel Brooks himself. And thankfully, they are much more memorable than the score, and even scored one this film’s 3 Oscar nominations. Speaking of songs, another anachronism worth noting is earlier on when jazz icon Count Basie is playing a cover of the song, “April in Paris.” It should be noted that there not many action scenes present here. But for the few that are, they are enticing and fun. Rather, the focus of Blazing Saddles– and for that matter, the comedic content -is set on the character interactions and dialogue. So many comedies attempt to have their jokes rely on toilets and sexual activity, but Mel Brooks knows better. Granted, it does have a lowbrow joke now and again, and was actually the first comedy to be submitted to the American Film Institute for a fart joke. Go figure. It’s a miracle this film actually saw the light of day given the production problems. Casting almost went to Richard Pryor for the roll of Bart, and the filmmakers faced numerous complaints from white audiences for the racism parodied. In fact, studio executives almost decided to cancel its theatrical release entirely. But Brooks, with the help of Wilder and Little, managed to make the movie he wanted. Regarded as the grandfather of the modern-day comedy, Blazing Saddles is a highly influential and enjoyable Western for older audiences. It may be too silly and audacious for some of the more reserved audiences, but it keeps me coming back to watch and quote it.

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“The Belko Experiment” Movie Review

For those of you who were upset about my being forgiving toward Kong: Skull Island and wanted me to really shred a movie apart, don’t fret. I just saw The Belko Experiment. This gory slasher horror-thriller was independently produced for a budget of $5 million, and will no doubt earn it all back in a matter of no time following its wide release on March 17th, 2017. Directed by Greg McLean from a script by James Gunn, of Super and Guardians of the Galaxy fame, the project was reportedly written way back in 2010, getting green-lit twice before officially entering production in late 2015. Set in the dump of nowhere near Bogota, Colombia, the narrative follows a group of white collar office workers at a small company called Belko Industries. One day, all of the doors and windows are suddenly shut off by blast doors, when a voice comes over the intercom and announces the start of a new “experiment.” If at least 30 people are not dead within the next several hours, then twice that amount will be killed. To be honest, that premise is actually quite fascinating. Essentially Battle Royale meets Office Space, there’s plenty of potential for a social study at human nature. Not to mention that, in recent years, low-budget horror films have been enjoying a sort of renaissance with their high concept stories and profitable box office receipts. Sadly, The Belko Experiment is not one of those pictures. To start off, the movie is unsure of itself in the tone. The least that a movie in this genre can do is to stay aware of what it is and focus on that aspect entirely. But The  Belko Experiment is never quite confident in what exactly it wants to be. On the one hand, the story could make for an interesting social commentary on how far human beings will go in a game of survival. But it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be that, so then it could possibly be a dark comedy or satire. But the movie is not funny enough to be classified as such, so then all that’s left for it is a shameless gore fest. And if that’s what it actually wanted to go for, then The Belko Experiment pulled it off with flying colors because, oh my God. There is not a chance that anything released this year from this moment onwards will be more violent than this. Even James Mangold’s Logan seemed tame compared to this film. I would dare called it “Saw without the traps,” but to say that it’s THAT violent and disturbing would be a bit of an overstatement. Despite that, there are actually moments of fun. As soon as the experiment started everything got more suspenseful and you felt that anyone could be a killer. When it comes to the cast, there’s only so much that can be expected from a film like this. Mostly comprised of lesser-known actors, a handful of them actually do a respectable job given the material. John Gallagher Jr. is perfect material for our Everyman protagonist that wants out of this situation. His talkative demeanor makes him more relatable and makes you want to root for him. On the opposite end of that spectrum is Scrubs star, John C. McGinley, who is just so creepy to watch, it’s a bit uncomfortable. He clearly is having the most fun out of anyone with his role, especially when hay hits the fan and goes on a killing spree. Everyone else, though, is either phoning it in or trying way too hard. Michael Rooker and Tony Goldwyn, arguably the biggest names in the movie, seem particularly stiff and wanting of more to say and do. Also, I don’t understand why some cast members think they have to act cartoony. One character reaches an emotional breaking point and starts to cry. But his cry was so fake and unbelievable. I don’t quite know if it was the actor’s fault, but it definitely took me out of the movie for that moment in time. Oh yeah, and there’s one character arc that goes absolutely nowhere. There could be an argument that it was a trick into letting the audience know that no one in this building was safe and that anyone could die. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was built up to a point where you really care for them, and then suddenly they get killed out of the blue. It was at this point in the 88-minute running time that I figured a good ending could redeem the movie as a whole. But the truth is I HATED the ending for The Belko Experiment. This has got to be one of the most on-the-nose setups for a potential sequel I’ve seen in recent cinema. For a while, I was wondering how it was going to end, and then this is what we get? It’s borderline insulting. In all honesty, it’s possible to see this as the start of a new franchise in the same vein as The Purge. Though the first movie doesn’t achieve its full potential, the sequel(s) can capture what a lot of movie fans like myself were expecting on the first go-around. For right now, though, The Belko Experiment is an empty, shameless gore fest confused in tone and direction, but with some fun parts sprinkled in here and there.

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“Metropolis” Movie Review

The mediator between the movie and the audience must be the reviewer. This silent epic science-fiction drama from Fritz Lang- based on the novel by his wife Thea von Harbou -was released worldwide on January 10th, 1927. Despite its universal acclaim in the modern era, contemporary critics dismissed it and only barely made back 1% percent of its budget of 5 million Reichsmarks.But today, it is frequently listed among the best and most influential pictures in cinematic history, and for good reason. Set in the (not so) distant future of 2026, the gigantic titular city is inhabited by an array of wealthy, pretentious industrialists who revel high skyscrapers. Underneath it all, workers break their backs to ensure that the city keeps running and that the big machines are in mint condition. The whole city is run by the master and mogul, Joh Fredersen, who really wants nothing more than to keep his high societal status. His son,  Freder, a humble man, realizes how corrupt this system is, and sets out with a young and beautiful woman named Maria to fix what has been wrought. Does that sound like a familiar premise? Absolutely, because Metropolis was the original dystopian story, film or literature. In fact, it was also the first feature-length movie of the science-fiction genre, clocking in at about 2 hours and 33 minutes. Well, at least that’s how long it was at its initial premiere before getting severely chopped down by the studio for commercial reasons until much of the film was restored in 2010 at 2 hours and 28 minutes, which is the version I watched. Though some of the footage is still lost and replaced with modern texts, the restored footage is stylistically different with a dirty film grain and smaller frame. But it still adds to the experience. I promise you this: If there is a franchise in the genres of sci-fi or dystopia that you hold near and dear to your heart, Metropolis paved the way for it. In his breakthrough role, Gustav Fröhlich is excellently convincing as the young Freder. Often frightened by his new surroundings, he has little to no experience in the lifestyle he tries to enter. In an age where heroes are seemingly able to adapt to completely alien situations at a moment’s notice, it’s nice to see a protagonist who has little clue as to what he’s doing. Right by his side is Alfred Abel as the conniving Joh Fredersen, Rudolf Klein-Rogge as a Frankensteinesque madman bent on a powerful creation, Heinrich George as the pragmatic foreman of the machines underneath the big city, and Brigitte Helm as the pseudo-goddess of the working class. Helm is particularly memorable as Maria, showing a great capability of compassion even in her most fearful state. She also shares a dual role with the Maschinemensch, a man-like robot who is used to carry out the wealthy’s agenda. This android is undoubtedly the most iconic aspect of the film and is recognizable to any film buff, regardless if they’ve seen the movie or not. Released during the Weimar Period in Germany, the G-rated film was one of the last in the mostly forgotten movement of Germanic Expressionism. For the unfamiliar, this was a movement of many different arts, including painting, dance, architecture, and cinema. Very few words are needed to describe what is happening onscreen and is all part of the creator’s stylistic logic. Everything that you see in the background is just as important and as interesting as what’s happening in the foreground. Speaking of background, the Art Deco and the production design are simply stunning, even by today’s standards. Everything, from the paintings of distant skyscrapers to the intricate machines of the underworld, took nothing but time and heart- for days on end, perhaps. Although the accompanying soundtrack has likely changed many times over, the score for the 2010 restoration is breathtaking. Recorded by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, it mostly comprises large bombastic tracks with huge horns and percussion during some of the more exciting scenes, while switching to high strings and piano for emotional character moments. Metropolis is not just entertaining black-and-white eye candy, though. Its story delivers important themes such as the gap between social classes, mass production, the dangers of industrialization, and American modernity. The lattermost category is reflective of the Roaring ’20s, or the “Jazz Age,” which was occurring at the exact time of the film’s release. Like many socialites of that era, many of the wealthy people would rather drown in excess and meaningless parties than pay attention to the world around them. Even in the climax, when everything is coming to a head, they still don’t care. In fact, this was arguably the first movie in the so-called “social science-fiction” subgenre, which used futuristic settings to explore themes and concepts regarding human nature. At a time when all anyone wanted to see was the next movie featuring Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp, this is especially brave. It may be over 90 years old and have some minor middle-act pacing issues, but Metropolis is still a relevant cautionary tale about what would happen if class warfare was allowed to flourish. Easily the most influential science-fiction film ever produced, it also stands as proof that not a single line of dialogue has to be spoken in order for a movie to still be engaging, grippingly powerful, and moving. And- dare, I say –Metropolis is the single most impressive and ambitious silent film ever created.

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“Mass Effect 3” Game Review

And now, we come to the end of the trilogy. The third installment in Bioware’s epic science-fiction action-RPG franchise launched on March 6th, 2012, selling over 3.5 million copies in the first quarter of its release. Unlike the two previous games, this one was released on all major systems at launch, even getting a Wii-U port which- I’ll tell you right now -is grossly inferior in controls and visuals to its counterparts. Set a mere 6 months after Mass Effect 2, Commander Shepard has been grounded on Earth for his/her involvement with Cerberus. Right when his trial begins, the Reapers- ancient hyper-advanced machines floating in the dark space -begin their cyclical purge of the Milky Way Galaxy’s organic life, starting with Earth. Barely escaping by the skin of his/her teeth, Shepard and the crew Normandy make a mad dash across the galaxy to rally as many allies as possible, while Admiral Anderson holds down the fort with the human resistance. So this game is a mixed bag if ever there was one. Let me be clear: Mass Effect 3 is a great game and deserves to be played, but some of the controversies it caused are earned. Let’s start with the gameplay because it is perhaps the best in the series. Expanding on the cover-based combat from the second game, you’re given more ways to approach a gunfight than before. And that’s partially thanks to the improvements made to the guns, as well as the addition of new ones. Rather than overheating, it does rely on ammo. Word of advice: the 2 guns you want to use the most are the shotgun and the sniper rifle, simply because they’re the most powerful against enemies. Much of the action is shown from an over-the-shoulder perspective, so when you jump over cover or run across the room, the camera is shaking. This made the experience feel more cinematic, really placing you in the middle of an intense war zone with almost no way out. Mass Effect 3 does get rid of the loyalty missions for your teammates, but this is supplemented with various side-quests and activities. This feeds into the feature of War Assets. The more you complete, the higher your reputation will climb and the more aliens commit to your cause. A good chunk of time is also spent onboard the Citadel, where millions of refugees are housed in the docking bays and politicians can’t figure out what to do. Considering the events unfolding in Syria and the controversial executive order signed as a response, the game couldn’t be more timely in its themes of unity and prejudice. The soundtrack, composed by Clint Mansell and a handful of others, is beautiful and unforgettable. The score utilizes a simple piano melody established at the very beginning, when Shepard is forced off Earth as the Reapers slaughter much of innocent human life, as the backbone for many of the tracks. By far, it’s one of the most memorable emotional suites I’ve ever heard in a video game. And yes, Mass Effect 3 is a super turbulent ride of dichotomous emotions; hope to despair, joy to sadness, optimism to desperation, but all human. This is a war, and it isn’t pretty to be a part of. Especially considering the fact that the game really makes the player feel as if the entire fate of the Milky Way Galaxy rests on your own shoulders. So the choices you make on each mission, main or otherwise, has a relatively big impact on the finale. Also, it’s highly recommended that you play the first two Mass Effect games before starting this one. To be clear, it is possible to jump into this installment fresh, but you won’t have the necessary attachment to the characters. Because some of the things that happen to them in the story are just so tragic, it’s almost hard to watch. Props have to be given to the writers for allowing gamers to feel that kind of emotion. Then, there’s the end. This is the subject of controversy, a lot of fan division, and is polarizing to the point that it makes the series finale of Lost look like it was universally praised. Okay, that’s pushing it, but you get the idea. Basically, at the very pinnacle of the epic climax, you’re given a choice of 3 different endings, each one essentially distinguished by a certain color. I will not fret from saying that I hated the ending of Mass Effect 3, and was one of many people who demanded something different. While Bioware refused to change it outright, they did throw us a bone with a rewritten Extended Cut. It added much more resolution to the conflict and its aftermath and added an additional 4th ending, that was a far more pessimistic outlook of everything the series has led up to. And honestly, this Extended Cut gave me everything I wanted the first time, and I’m interested to see how Andromeda uses the different outcomes in the story. Despite that somewhat anticlimactic ending, Mass Effect 3 is an overall fitting conclusion to one of the best science-fiction epics you’ll find in any media out there. Also worth noting, get the “From Ashes” DLC with it, as it adds new missions and one of the most fascinating crew members in the series. One of the most emotional and unforgettable trilogies in the history of video games, you’d be a fool to miss out on it.

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“Kong: Skull Island” Movie Review

Real Talk: How can one critic blame a monster movie for being completely shameless in genre and execution? It’s as if I’m expected to take every movie I review seriously. Well today, I feel in a rather forgiving mood. This monster action film from indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts released worldwide on March 10th, 2017, earning back $151 million against its $185 million budget, and will no doubt double that in the coming weeks. Rather than a straight-forward retelling of the classic King Kong from 1933, this one is more of a revision told for a different generation. The 2nd film in Warner Bros.’s newly proposed MonsterVerse, which kicked off with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in 2014, this soft reboot also serves as a lead-in to an eventual crossover between the two. Set in the remote Pacific in 1973, the breezy 118 minute-long narrative follows a group of American soldiers, a war photographer, a washed up British SAS, and government agents on an expedition into an uncharted piece of land known as Skull Island. Once they start dropping bombs on the surface, the “King” of the island, a 100-foot tall bipedal ape named Kong, crashes them in retaliation, leading to a deadly game of survival. One of my favorite aspects of these new monster movies is that I walk into the movie theater knowing almost nothing about the plot. This has been going on since Matt Reeves’ found-footage thriller Cloverfield from 2008 and has arguably been perfected since then. I love going into a film shrouded in secrecy, and this film achieved that before anything else. Now, how is the movie as a whole? First and foremost, a moviegoer has to have a certain list of expectations to set and manage when viewing a film like this. Me personally, I wanted it to accomplish at least one purpose: To capture what monster movies used to be like back in the day, as well as capturing the era in which it is set. And for the most part, Kong: Skull Island fulfilled what it set out to do, and a few other things along the way. On the human scale of it all, the movie has a rather large ensemble cast. Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbel, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Jing Tian, and Shea Whigham all make up the cast, but not all of them are given enough backstory or screen-time to get an emotional attachment to. As with the problem with moist ensemble films, the majority of characters don’t really elevate themselves above the expected layers and cliches. The standout players are Jackson, who delivers one of his most committed and enjoyable roles in recent memory, Larson as a strong woman who tries to resist action female character cliches, Hiddleston as a broken alcoholic who suddenly finds a reason to live again, and Reilly whose sense of humor was appreciated despite his character’s rather tragic history. If for nothing else, this isn’t going to get any nominations come next January, but they were all fine and somewhat memorable. But let’s get right into it because he’s the reason why we all bought a ticket to see the movie. Kong. Or King Kong, rather. How is he? While he may not be in the film for many scenes, he kicks complete ass and is really the character with the most layers and substance. Despite his intimidating size and presence, he evokes the behavior of a 14-year-old stuck in an adult-oriented life. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be a King, but has to be for the sake of other lesser beings on Skull Island. His design, along with the rest of the creatures and visual effects by Legendary Pictures, is quite impressive to behold. While on the subject, the fight sequences involving Kong are truly exciting fare. Larry Fong’s sharp camera work is impressive, especially considering the absurdity and longevity of some of the fights. What the MonsterVerse has achieved better than anything else is showing the scale of the humans compared to the monsters very well. I’m telling you, this lonely ape is absolutely ENORMOUS. It has become a commonality for filmmakers to use helicopters as a scientific measuring tool for their creations, and this PG-13 movie is no exception. Very early on, he’s bashing away at military helicopters like they’re nothing. At the same time, Kong: Skull Island attempts to use its story as a parallel to the Vietnam War, which had ended just before the events of the plot. These are veteran soldiers going into an unpredictable island, where all manner of beasts await them. And they don’t really go to war, so much as get chopped up and eaten by a variety of creatures. And while that aspect of the story can seem a bit pretentious, it does serve as a nice foil to an otherwise formulaic monster movie. While Kong: Skull Island is far from perfect, it still does a great job at doing an iconic character justice in the modern era. It hits all the right notes required for action monster cinema and hits a few more targets it didn’t need to- with decidedly positive results. This is certainly a fun, rewatchable film for all fans, as long as you know to kick your feet back and have a good time. Now, bring on Godzilla Vs. Kong as soon as possible, guys.

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“Blue Ruin” Movie Review

So there are a few people in my horrendous life that I’ve held a grudge with, but I’ve never gone to lengths of bloody revenge. And now, after watching Blue Ruin, I’m glad I never followed through on that. This R-rated independent revenge thriller reportedly cost about $420,000 to produce, most of which was accumulated from a successful Kickstarter campaign. After its nationwide release on April 25th, 2014, it doubled that.This the film that put writer-director Jeremy Saulnier on the map as a brand new filmmaker to rely on. Set in rural Virginia, the plot follows Macon Blair as Dwight Evans, a beach vagrant who lives out of his car. One day, he finds out that the man who killed his parents and partially ruined his life has been released from prison on a plea bargain. Now he goes out to get some vigilante justice on this person and their equally selfish family. Now as some of you may remember, Jeremy Saulnier later brought us the horror film Green Room in 2016, a movie which I really enjoyed. But of course, like that brutal gore-fest, some of the characters in Blue Ruin, especially the protagonist, make some incredibly stupid decisions. Part of the time, I was rolling my eyes at the choices he made, whether he was somewhere he shouldn’t be or a plan he hadn’t thoroughly examined before acting on it. Granted, his character is supposed to be an idiot of sorts, so there’s that excuse. Despite that blemish in the script, this is still a methodical and believable movie based on the age-old concept of revenge. The cast is mostly comprised of unknown actors and actresses, with its lead star by far being the biggest name. Macon Blair is perfect in the lead role as Dwight. Despite his violent disposition, one can’t help but root for him in his struggles. Near the climax, when confronted by his adversaries, he calmly grimaces, “I’ve been thinking all day for a reason not to do this.” Everyone else in the supporting cast did a great job, though I’m not quite sure if they could use this gem to blossom into a full-blown career. Surprisingly, this has to be one of the quieter films I’ve seen in recent memory. While yes, there are some shootouts and standoffs sprinkled in now and again and the characters do get furiously emotional, it’s all presented in a rather restrained manner. In fact, there are huge swaths of the film that progress without a single word of dialogue said aloud. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. I would argue that this strategy allows the audience to pay more attention and be engaged, in a similar fashion to the Coen Brothers’ 2007 neo-Western, No Country for Old Men. It also allows Jeremy Saulnier to keep a steady focus on the characters and their story arcs. Not just a screenwriter and director, Saulnier also puts his hands to work on the cinematography. The eye-level shots of characters elevate the tension while establishing that no one is the stronger. These are interspersed with shots of the gorgeous nature of backwoods Virginia as well as low-angle interior footage of various locations, such as a roadside bar or a house in the suburbs. As for the soundtrack, nothing is particularly memorable, save for a few retro tracks by classic artists like NinaSimone. But for what score that is there, Macon Blair’s relatives, Will and Brooke, do a solid job at establishing the mood with ambiance and minimal instruments. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. Because this is the same creative talent behind 2016’s Green Room then it’s bound to be just as horrifically gory and brutal. I’ll stop right now to put that thought to rest because this film is not really that violent- or even very exciting. In reality, Blue Ruin is a slower, more patient examination of vengeance. When people start trying to kill each other, it is quite shocking and blood spills everywhere on the floor and the walls. But I would argue that the film acts as a commentary on the nature of violence- both for the genre itself and for human nature as a whole. When Dwight finally gets to see his plan go through, he doesn’t seem particularly happy to carry it out. In fact, he appears rather disgusted by it, despite how he keeps telling his friends that it’s what has to be done. Were I to place myself into his shoes, it’s hard to think that I would kill the people who wronged me with a smile on my face, completely bereft of sickness inside. And so I suppose, that could be a reason why some of his choices made were questionable. Overall, Blue Ruin is a masterful and memorable thriller that delivers a character-driven story while keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. This has to be one of the best, most original revenge movies ever crafted, sitting up in the annals with The Count of Monte Cristo and Oldboy. Proof that one doesn’t need dazzling effects and a budget worth the GPA of a third-world country to make a solid 90-minute thrill ride.

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“Logan” Movie Review

Franchisees should end more often these days. This comic book superhero drama was released on March 3rd, 2017, following its critically successful debut at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in late February. It has since grossed over $250 million worldwide against its $97 million budget, becoming the 2nd biggest opening for an R-rated film screened in IMAX theaters. And I’ll touch on that in a second, but let’s get to the plot. Set in the dystopian-like future 2029, most of the mutants, including the X-Men have been wiped out for some amount of time. The superhero the Wolverine, who now goes by Logan, (or James Howlett, as he tells several humans) is living in a desperate state of old age and financial strain. His quiet life is interrupted when a little girl named Laura comes knocking at his door, begging for protection from a group of shadowy corporate lackeys wanting her for medical experiments. I want to make this clear from the get-go: Logan is not just a superhero movie. This is the fist film of the genre I’ve seen in many years that actually compares with The Dark Knight. With that one, it was a fantastic epic crime saga and psychological dissection of intriguing characters that just happened to have comic book names in it. It’s almost the same case with Logan. This one feels more like an old Western tale, specifically that of George Stevens’ 1953 Technicolor classic, Shane. In fact, director James Mangold borrows some of the same aspects of that film- a gruff cowboy trying to hang up his guns who keeps getting pursued by trouble -in this movie’s narrative to great effect. In the title role, Hugh Jackman is absolutely stunning as Logan/Wolverine. His “I’m-no-hero” demeanor is perfect for the bleak and desolate environment of this future setting he’s in. Laying beside him in his electric wheelchair is Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, who is nothing short of marvelous here. Allow me to put some minds at ease: for those of you who saw him drop the F-bomb in the red band trailer, it’s okay. It totally works for the context of everything in the story’s progression. Meanwhile, Boyd Holbrook, star of the acclaimed Netflix drama Narcos, is convincing as the main villain Donald Pierce. A cyborg security director, he sets himself apart from other supervillains due to his refusal to become over-the-top evil and wry sense of humor. He’s a mutant-hating mercenary, for sure, but he just has a fun personality that makes you both like him and long for Logan to murder him when the opportunity presents itself. Other supporting players include Eriq La Salle and Elise Neal are nurturing parents on a farm, Elizabeth Rodriguez as a fearful surrogate mother and medical doctor, Richard E. Grant was methodical and calculating as the head of a shadowy corporation, and Stephen Merchant as the senile yet endearing albino Caliban. They’re all given enough to say and do to add something different to the film as a whole. But in terms of scene-stealing talent, newcomer Dafne Keen is positively brilliant as Laura. Even though she’s barely a teenager, she proves that she can hold her own against older acting veterans. This is especially impressive considering her character has very few lines of spoken dialogue; most of her screentime is spent scowling at either the enemies or her mutant guardians. Technically speaking, it’s very impressive. The sound design is well mixed in every scene, even during the quieter moments. From the crunching of bones to the gushing of blood to the sound of nature, the audience can hear damn near everything that happens. Meanwhile, the camera work from John Mathieson is equally visceral. The contrast in colors like red and green feels like a perfect opponent to the grim reality of the world built within. And while yes, it does move into the cliches of comic book film with shaky movements and quick action cuts, these moments are thankfully sparse throughout the 137 minute-long runtime. Marco Beltrami, who previously collaborated with Mangold on 3:10 to Yuma and The Wolverine, composes the film’s score. It foregoes the bombastic, orchestral battle tracks of previous films, and instead uses influences of horror and Western movies. Various motifs and minimalist instruments are used throughout and fit perfectly for the tone and story. And now we get to the much-hyped  R-rating. Dear God, isn’t it completely warranted and justified? It had been apparently clear from minute-2 alone that this was going to be a very different kind of superhero movie. One that is brimming with chopped limbs, excessive swearing, gushing blood, and disturbing skin/body damage. I urge you not to take your little kids or your grandparents to see Logan, as they will probably walk out when it all goes down. Even without all that, the story is still very dark, grim, mature, and not very uplifting. Just look at Jackman and Stewart for further proof. You’d think after playing these roles for 17 years, they’d be exactly what you expected them to be. But they are old, weathered down, exhausted, and rather pessimistic on life. Even Wolverine is like a 60-year-old man, because of something I have to tell you. It’s a very minor spoiler and isn’t THE THING in the movie. With his constant drinking, his adamantium bone structure is deteriorating, poisoning his healing factor. That really makes the audience think, “Dude… give it up man. It’s okay.” But that just demands further praise for Jackman’s acting, which many speculate could earn him nominations in the coming award season. Logan is not only, the best Xmen movie to date, but it’s also one of the best superhero films ever made. This is the most perfect, poignant, and beautiful sendoff Hugh Jackman could have possibly gotten. It sounds like I’m being a fanboy, but the fact remains- I kid not -Logan almost made me cry.

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