Logan (2017)

17 years after he first snikted onto the screen, Hugh Jackman is hanging up the mutton chops in the final chapter of the complicated life of James Howlett aka The Wolverine aka Logan.

Directed by The Wolverine’s James Mangold, we’re a stone’s throw away into the future and mutants are all but wiped out. The once disgruntled anti-hero, Wolverine, is now the embittered, alcoholic limo driver Logan (Hugh Jackman). He spends his nights driving and his days taking care of fellow X-man, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles, suffering from a form of dementia, is prone to seizures disable him and those within the vicinity. It’s never fully explained how bad these seizures can get – Mangold chooses to keep these details close to his chest – but Logan keeps the former professor in a fallen water tower for the protection of himself and others. Logan’s only other friend is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino superhero whose mutants appears are tracking other mutants and grumbling it would seem.

Into their lap falls Laura (Dafne Keen), a 12 mutant on the run from evil surgeon Zander Rice (Richard E Grant) and his Head of Security, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Laura is a pint sized enigma who, we learn early on, has similar mutant powers wrapped up in a hell of a lot rage. When Laura’s carer is found dead, Logan, with encouragement from Xavier, reluctantly agrees to take the young mutant across the border to safety whilst pursed Rice. In other X-Men movies this would be a cinch, but, in the same way Chuck’s mind is failing him, Logan’s regenerative powers are diminishing; it even hurts him to unleash the claws that made him The Wolverine.

This the archetypal superhero movie stripped of the bombastic nature of its predecessors. The citizens of New York can rest easy knowing that Logan won’t be pushing over buildings to fend off Rice’s cronies. If Logan would have his way, he’d keep his head down for as long as it takes him to raise enough money to take him and Chuck away from it all. But, now there’s Laura. The fire that reignites perhaps not the hero in Logan but, at least, the humanity in him.

It’s the kind of introspection cried out for in the genre. When its fans demand for grown up material, this is presumably where their fingers point. Characters before explosions. Dialogue before showboating. Sadly, for me, although it shoots for a lean and mean plot devoid of the dressings of ‘lesser’ superhero movies, Logan feels like a flabby feral scream into the superhero abyss. Its own self-importance sadly detracts from makes it work; What makes it stands out is also what sinks it.

It is so remarkably po-faced that its constant misery can sometimes feel like a parody. This is particularly clear when it tries to have its cake and eat it with a third act that dispenses with the subtlety and descends into Jackman growling – metaphorically and literally – in a showdown which clangs around noisily until someone says stop.

There is nothing wrong with a comic book movie for adults that wish to shake off the shackles of a family friendly certification. The recent Deadpool manages get the balance just right – anal jokes aside – for example. However, it feels at times that Logan is simply a PG-13 movie template with added swearing, CGI blood and – sigh – even a gratuitous boob shot. Yes, Deadpool has the same issues, but it was an R-rated comic fitting snugly into an adult film. Logan is a flipping square peg trying to squeeze into an f***ing round hole. It’s first series Torchwood.

And it is a shame because Logan does have some strong points. A Logan who refuses to run into battle is a great concept, which had previously been tackled in Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan (which would sadly lay the ground work for the nauseating Wanted comic book series). Let’s be honest, Jackman will always be Wolverine. Even when the character is rebooted 10 years from now, we’ll all shake our heads and agree that no one could replace the bloke from New South Wales. He can play this character in his sleep (Hi Wolverine: Origins) and It’d be petulant of me to say that he doesn’t get to play around with it a bit more here. Logan is a stark contrast to the cage fighter we saw back in 2000; He’s broken, he’s disenfranchised and maybe secretly he really does want something or someone to save him.

And whilst Xavier’s traumatic seizures are admittedly nothing more than Hollywood Alzheimer’s – in that it’s largely forgotten about till it services the plot – watching a great and good man reduced to a faded shadow of himself is heart-breaking. It reminds one of Ian McKellan in Mr Holmes, which saw the aged sleuth having to scribble the names of those he should know on his cuffs. Stewart brings his usual gravitas to a role that could have descended into parody years ago.

Deene as Laura is a staggering force of nature to watch, managing to stalk the screen whilst maintaining a semblance of childlike innocence. And some scenes she shares with Jackman show a spark of humour that managed not to be smothered by Logan’s furrowed brow. Equally, Merchant gives a surprisingly straight(ish) performance to Caliban before, unfortunately, being relegated to position of convenient plot device.

Yes, wade through the nonsense and there is some good to be found. Ultimately though, this just doesn’t feel like a fitting end to a much loved character. Yes, it’s a brave ending but it didn’t eke out as much emotion from me as it probably wants. I do hope that Logan is the final chapter. Not because I’m feeling vindictive but because to follow on from this feels like it will cheapen what Jackman and director have presented. Just because Logan isn’t for me doesn’t mean I want it diluted for others.

In a world where the MCU is becoming less and less brave in their creative decisions, here’s hoping they’ll take a page from this and Try something new in their delivery. But please, stay away from the supposed ‘adult’ tone.

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T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Let’s be upfront about this. T2 Trainspotting was never going to be better than its twenty year old predecessor. It would be impossible to think that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge could recapture the magic of 1996. It could never emulate the soundtrack, the t-shirts, the parodies, the ‘Choose Life’ posters… It was a moment never to be replicated.

But there was an opportunity.

When we first meet Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he’s no longer the human drinking straw he once was. Long after stealing £16,000, he’s returning to Edinburgh after hiding away in Amsterdam. His youthful bravado has been replaced by a fragility brought on by a recent heart attack. He’s home and he wants to make amends. This, of course, means having to face up to his friends for his past crimes. Friends who aren’t doing so well since his little misdemeanour. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has broken out of prison after 20 years inside. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) runs a failing pub, whilst blackmailing businessmen with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud (Ewen Bremner) is depressed, separated from his family and very much still on the drugs. Any happy endings you may have imagined for them two decades are go are like tears in the rain, to paraphrase a certain android.

Seeing the four lads on screen is special. There’s an elation that was never captured in Irvine Welsh’s literary sequels (on which this one is loosely based). They may all be a bit creakier and softer than they use to be, but It feels like they’ve never been away. Perhaps the film’s biggest strength in this regard is Bremner as the put upon Spud. From beginning to end, he is without doubt the heart of the film and, in a parallel universe somewhere, he would be the lead of T2 and not Renton.

However, as hinted at earlier, that feeling doesn’t last for long. The literal heroin chic of Trainspotting has dissipated, making way for the bloated spread of middle age. Whereas the original had a rawness to it that shook you by the throat, T2 feels very much like an exercise in style over substance. Honestly, there are only so many Dutch angles a film needs to have. That’s not to say Boyle’s flourishes should be ditched, they just distract from what we’re here to see. This is story about the past, about misgivings, about regrets and its best moments are the simplest.

Renton, in his childhood bedroom, wants to play a record but can’t allow himself that pleasure, taking the needle off just as Lust for Life kicks in. At an 80s themed nightclub in town, Renton and Sick Boy – dressed as they were twenty years ago – try to recapture their youth amongst people trying to emulate a youth that wasn’t theirs. In a sense, the past Renton and Sick Boy want is not what they had. Begbie, impotent and unimportant, relives the times he was feared through Spud who has taken to writing down his junkie history. This is when T2 feels most honest about what it’s trying to say: we refuse to look forward by trapping ourselves in the past.

Like its characters, T2 also appears to be reminiscing a little too much. There was always going to be nods to the first film; The first trailer practically screamed at us to remember when wearing sunglasses with yellow lenses was the height of fashion to someone somewhere. However, it feels like there’s a lack of confidence in how long T2 can stand on its own two legs without the support of the first film. So, we’re constantly reminded of THAT run down the street, THAT Underworld song, and even THAT toilet. It feels unnecessary, which is odd given that, to be fair, as Sick Boy points out: ‘Nostalgia is what you’re here for.’ And yet, was anyone asking for an origin story to Renton’s iconic ‘Choose Life’ speech? No, me neither.

Other issues come in the form of Veronika. In the original book T2 was based on, Porno, Veronika was originally Nikki, a uni student and part time escort. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with Nedyalkova’s performance, I just struggle to understand why the proactive Nikki was replaced with the passive Veronkia who serves no real purpose for a large part of T2’s running time aside from being an object to be lusted after by Renton and Sick Boy. Not even a third act revelation extends her character much beyond sex object. It just tops off what has been, sadly, a rather mediocre event.

Stylish to a fault, but with a strong cast and killer soundtrack, T2 is sadly not the follow up hoped for. Perhaps it can be too late to go back.

Recovery (2016)

We’ve all become quite dependent on smartphones, haven’t we? Look at the anger recoverythe public is willing to hurl at Apple after their recent decision to go cold turkey with headphone jacks; there’s probably still someone crying about it now. Smartphones are our gatekeepers to our social lives. If they don’t work then how are we supposed to get on Facebook and twitter, let alone make a simple phonecall to tell people we’re alive! The aforementioned life drainers play an uncredited part in Recovery, a new horror film by Darrall Wheat (Slumber).

On the eve before her high school graduation, Jessie (Kirby Bliss Blanton) discovers through Facebook that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Looking to get over him, she plans a night on the town with smooth dude Logan (Samuel Larsen), irritant little brother Miles (Alex Shaffer) and brand new friend Kim (Rachel DiPillo). When Kim goes missing with Jessie’s phone, the use of a ‘find my phone’ app helps the remaining friends track her down. Unfortunately, it also puts them in the crosshairs of a murderous family intent on doing incredibly nasty things to each of them.

Recovery has that 90s teen sheen to it that will appeal to fans of the Scream franchise. Whilst the plot is pretty straight forward – hunt, find kill, repeat – it still manages to tear you rug from under you. Perhaps it’s because we think we’re all so knowing when it comes to slashers, when one tries a something a little old school we don’t end up seeing the wood for the trees. We expect there to be a grandiose revelation where the killer’s motives are exposed for all to see! Either way, this critic didn’t see the twist until the last second.

And yes, whilst it certainly might not be the most revolutionary film in the horror genre, there’s enough here to guarantee that  is liable to be a staple of midnight screenings at sleepovers. After all, what’s a little screaming amongst friends?

Keanu (2016)

When photographer Rell (Jordan Peele) is dumped by his girlfriend, his self-pity party is immediately cancelled when a stray kitten turns up at his door. Taking it and calling it Keanu, Rell finds a new lease of life in his furry companion. However, returning from home after a night at the pictures with his friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), Rell finds his house ransacked and, more importantly, Keanu missing. And so begins the two friends’ journey into the darker side of town to get the little kitty back which sees them cross paths with murderers, gangbangers and Anna Faris.

Directed by Peter Atencio, who headed up all the episodes of the sketch show Key and Peele, Keanu follows a similar path to films such as Pineapple Express and Hot Fuzz, where every day folk get caught up life-threatening situations. Cue lots of screaming, shouting and wondering how to use handguns.

What makes this film stand out from its peers is how dark the film goes so quickly. Starting off with a bloody shootout in an abandoned church, Keanu contains a surprising amount of violence. Take the scene where, after being mistaken for a couple of assassins, Rell and Clarence find themselves caught up in a drug deal that quickly turns into a bloodbath. The scene would be truly shocking if it wasn’t balanced out by Clarence teaching a bunch of gang members about the virtues of George Michael’s Faith.

It’s this dichotomy that works so well in Keanu’s favour; the absurdity of these two middle class men completely out of their comfort zone. Typical of the humour found in their sketch show, Key and Peele deftly switch between jokes about racial politics and the absurdity of action movie tropes. The jokes might not always stick, but there’s always the promise of another one just around the corner.

If you’re a fan of their show or just having a good time in general, then Keanu is certainly one to check out. A laugh out loud comedy, it’s a shame that, at the time of writing this, Keanu didn’t receive a better release in Australia before been shoved straight onto DVD and digital download.

Good Vibrations (2014)

Terri Hooley made a name for himself during the 70s and 80s in Belfast. Whilst Northern Ireland was being splintered by sectarian violence, aka The Troubles, Hooley had become the Godfahter of Punk. And it all started with a desire to make Belfast a little more like Jamaica. As Hooley reasons, they’ve both got their problems, but at least Jamaica has reggae. He is a man unwilling to let life get him down. He boils down the Troubles as simply one day having lots of friends from different walks of life and then suddenly having lots of friends who were either Catholic or Protestant. His stubbornness not to get pick a side or to flee Belfast like others, made him a target for violence.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburm (Cherrybomb), Good Vibrations follows Hooley, played by Richard Dormer, as he sets up his shop, Good Vibrations, and finds himself nurturing the underground punk scene, turning his business into record label of sorts.  Dormer plays Hooley with unbridled optimism. During his first experience of punk music, the camera allows us to linger on his cheer, laugh and boot stomp. This is a man falling in love with music all over again.

Whilst the film is all heart, it doesn’t hide away from the horrific violence on the streets. A rather potent scene sees Hooly and his bands experiencing a crash form euphoria as they return to Belfast after a weekend gigging. It’s sad, sobering and a reminder of what was happening at the time.

In terms of structure, Good Vibrations is your standard biopic. We witness him falling in love, struggling to make ends meet, having the disastrous first gig, discovering the Undertones and so on, but it never feels trite. Instead you become swept up it in all, relishing every moment of being in the company of Hooley and his gang of well meaning ne’er do wells.

Big Bad Wolves (2014)

Israeli Writing/Directing team, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, have provided in this, their second feature, a lavish buffet of dark treats that punctures the concept of machismo and questions whether the punishment can ever suitably fit the crime.

On a bright day in Israel, a Religious Education teacher is kidnapped by two men: one is the father of a recently murdered child and the other a dirty cop looking to solve a spate of similar atrocities. Hidden in the basement of a country cottage and believing themselves to have their man, they devise ways to torture a confession out of their hostage.

The subject matter is bleak, but Big Bad Wolves also manages to be perversely funny. Our torturers take time out from breaking fingers, so one can take a call from their abrasive and interfering mother. This constant switch and bait of the genre could easily derail everything. However, in the hands of Keshales and Paushado, it’s an act of plate spinning that really pays off. The film’s humour sharpens the nastiness before and after rather than providing a welcome reprieve.

Tight scripting, solid performances and a killer ending add up to a film that proves genre filmmaking isn’t limited to the US and Australia.

Stop Worrying,Your Childhood is Fine!

This memorial day weekend, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was compelled to defend himself after receiving several abusive messages on his Facebook page – ranging from being called a Nazi to threats to his cat. What were the reasons for this outpouring of anger?

In the cold embrace of the night, had Mr Gunn entered everybody’s home to leave something unsanitary in front of their fireplaces like a perverted Santa?

Perhaps the outpouring of such vitriol was decided as the best course of action because James Gunn, the director of Super, was in actuality a war criminal who slept upon the corpses of his enemies and used child slave labour.

Perhaps, on a lesser level, upon being asked for the time, Mr Gunn instinctively gave the wrong time ensuring hundreds, if not thousands of people were late for meetings, parties or trysts.

No, it was none these options. What happened, dear reader, was James Gunn had something to say about this whole Captain America business, wherein Marvel recently announced the 75-year-old superhero had been working for the bad guys all along.

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There are numerous opinion pieces out there about this, you don’t need me to hold your hand to find them. A lot of people are angry. That’s fine. Everyone is allowed to be angry about something. I myself feel the whole thing is a bit of a cheap gimmick. However, Gunn was suggesting that perhaps the histrionics were unnecessary.

‘If you’re a forty-year-old dude claiming a comics company ruined your childhood because of a plot twist,’ the director wrote. ‘You might consider that your childhood really wasn’t that great to begin with.’

And lo his call was heard across the globe and people decided they weren’t happy about being told to calm down. They cried, they hollered, they threatened to chop up his cat.

Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy commented that those people who feel the new Ghostbusters was ruining their childhood were blowing things out of proportion. She was immediately put in her place by people one can only assume were keeping one eye on their GB Blu-ray lest it should burst into flames.

These are not isolated incidents and if you’re feeling brave enough, you could Google the response belched out into the world when Michael Bay announced the first Transformers film. The cries of ‘Michael Bay Raped My Childhood’ were both alarming and odious.

Now, let’s get some perspective here. Imagine the internet as a large lake. The fan vitriol regarding any franchise is the equivalent of a fish’s fart bubbling to the surface when stacked up against truly important matters. But for those people who dare to suggest that it’s anything other than that are being met with the intensity usually reserved for countries that commit genocide. Hell, people will use Change.org to create petitions to twist their childhood passion into something they alone want. See the one created earlier this year to get George Lucas back in the director’s chair because apparently the critically acclaimed Force Awakenswasn’t that good. Yeah, Force Awakens needs George ‘Revenge of the Sith’ Lucas to bring back some glory.

In 2013, The Guardian published an article, Rise of the New Geeks, that highlighted how things like comic books, superheroes and fantasy were now mainstream. Film companies were now interested in getting ‘geeks’ on their side as it meant more bums on seats. Shops from both ends of the financial spectrum offer goods emblazoned with Batman, Gandalf and Spider-man. Three years later and it’s hard to not think that ‘geeks’ rule the roost.

I remember the days before all that happened. When I was in high school, Doctor Who was still on permanent hiatus, I was laughed at for enjoyingThe Goon Show and the pinnacle of being cool was wearing Naf Naf jackets and watching Byker Grove. I love the fact that some of my favourite things are popular in the mainstream now, but the level of entitlement that has come with it is bordering on sickening.

Full disclosure, I hated the idea of Batman Vs Superman and the Evil Dead remake. However, I at least went out of my way to see both films and although I’ve changed my mind about one, I still think the other is a terrible idea. However, whilst I’m prone to a drunken argument with increasingly disinterested friends about the lack of virtues in that film, I would never dream of sending death threats to those who made it, or worst still those who loved it. The film didn’t work for me, but good on you for liking it.

However, a number of those who did like a certain film about an angry mummy’s boy fighting another mummy’s boy who could fly felt that they were entitled to lynch those who hated it. Namely: the critics. In what could only have a been a monumental act mental gymnastics, some felt that the film’s lukewarm reception was down to Disney paying for good reviews. Once that seed was planted, it spread across the internet and right now, you can go on social media and find numerous unsubstantiated ‘facts’ that Disney is bribing people to not like a film. Because, sure, that’s how big business works. My review ofBatman Vs Superman can be found here. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you pictures of my house in Malibu bought with my ill-gotten gains.

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And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the reviews for the new Ghostbusters toys on Amazon. One man is deliberately buying them so that he can give them one star reviews and cement his legacy as an utter self-opinionated idiot. When a nine-year-old child’s review for Age of Ultron ended up online, grown men tore him down, saying the film wasn’t made for him. That’s right, a film about adults in spandex punching robots wasn’t made with children in mind.

We have become so obsessed with our own childhoods, we are denying the right for anyone else to have their own unless it aligns with our expectations. Maybe in a sense, people are afraid of growing up, so cling desperately to their youthful obsessions because the world is a big and scary place. And in a way, that’s fine. I write as a 35-year-old man wearing Captain America pyjama pants. However, what I see happening time and time again, is this idea that childhood things should grow up with us. When the Doctor Whoepisode Let’s Kill Hitler was announced many moons ago, I stumbled across numerous requests from fans saying that Doctor Who was too childish and what was needed was an episode where The Doctor visits a concentration camp. Just let that settle in. How adult. How grown up. How paradoxically childish.

Our childhood is gone; it’s never coming back.It’s something we have to deal with. However, the spoilt entitlement we had as children appears to still be the main driving force behind the thinking of others. So what if Ghostbusters turns out to be a dud? So what if there’s four women in the lead? You know the worst thing that’s going to happen? A little girl is going to want to see a film that has characters she can relate to. They may even come out of the film that ‘ruined your childhood’ and want a proton pack, or – whisper it – may even want to watch YOUR Ghostbusters. Imagine that!

Your childhood isn’t being ruined. You’re doing fine. You will get through this. Now, get out of the  playhouse and let the other kids have a turn.

This articel was previously published on noonanjohnc.com.