Drama

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.

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.

Emperor (2013)

Based on a true story, General MacArthur – a wonderfully grisly and crinkled Tommy Lee Jones – is debating whether to charge Emperor Hirothio as a war criminal due to Pearl Harbour.  He puts Brigadier General Bonner Fellers – a tired and greying Matthew Fox – in charge of establishing his involvement.

There’s a complicated backstory to Hirothio’s reign during the Second World War, with historians still debating today as to how guilty he really was. So it’s a shame that Director Peter Webber (Girl with the Pearl Earring) packs such a weighty and true story into a lean 98 minutes and spends half that running time having Fellers reminiscing about a former Japanese lover. The film’s flashbacks bring nothing, except a reinforcement of Fellers’ niceness and detract from what should be the meat of the story.

It could be argued that the Emperor is merely an omnipotent spectre in a script where Feller is the sole focus, but Fox is so utterly un-engaging that it just seems a waste. This is particularly annoying as Jones is so good. When the gnarled MacArthur finally meets with the recently humbled Hirothio, you want to soak up the clash of cultures. However we’re given very little time to do so before we’re brushed outside with Feller. Emperor is a potentially engaging historical drama transformed into a Titanic-lite tale of love and loss.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Superman is not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

Mr Holmes (2015)

The Second World War has recently ended and in a remote Sussex cottage lives a crotchety old man, who wants nothing in life than to live out his final years tending to his bees. His name is Sherlock Holmes.

There are numerous pastiches of Sherlock Holmes to be found in literature and film: There’s the steampunk revisionist adventures of Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law; The bawdy slapstick of Without A Clue saw Michael Caine pretending to the super sleuth; Young Sherlock Holmes stretched the patience of the heartiest champion of Doyle’s canon. In fact only this year, William Gillete’s 1916 feature Sherlock Holmes was rediscovered and given a home release. Yes, there are many portraits. Most of them sharing a common theme of Holmes in his prime. Which is what makes Mr Holmes immediately stand out from its forbearers.

Played by Ian McKellan, we see the once great detective now out to pasture. His once coveted memory failing, he takes to writing names of those people he forgets on his shirt cuffs. He hides himself away from the gawping eyes of those who recognize him from the stories by his late friend, Dr John Watson. As a tonic to the numerous fabrications he found in Watson’s work, Holmes has taken to writing up a case he feels was particularly egregious with the facts.

McKellan is simply exquisite as the sleuth. No longer going up against Moriarty, his greatest enemy is the onset of dementia and a feeling of guilt for a case long forgotten. Through the use of flashbacks, McKellan also gets to play Holmes in a manner we may be more accustomed to. Aging but still pompous, this ‘younger’ Holmes is in his element as he cracks the case of a missing wife. The conclusion of which now escapes him in his winter years.

It would be amiss to overlook the virtues of McKellen’s co-stars, Laura Linney and Milo Parker, who play Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Munro and her son, Roger respectively. Their scenes together are beautifully written and acted as the mother tries to remind her son of a deceased father he’s too young to remember.

Like the book it was based on – A Slight Trick of the Mind – the second set of flashbacks that see Holmes travel to Japan after the Hiroshima bombing feel superfluous. Whilst Holmes’ interactions with Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) eventually tie into the film’s themes of forgiveness and loss, it feels like it overeggs the pudding.

However, we shouldn’t let trivial matters get in the way of the facts. Mr Holmes is a wonderful, emotional portrait of a character that will be dear to many people. The delicate touch of the screenplay and the strength of the performances on display are a testament not only to an iconic literary character but to the human spirit.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Bonds salesman by day/writer by night, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves to the village of West Egg in Long Island to take a big bite out of the Big Apple, and potentially realise his dreams. Only ever drunk twice, Carraway is a wide-eyed innocent in a manner usually reserved for puppies in windows.

His second cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay in East Egg and it’s there that he joins her for polite meals and woolly conversations. Daisy is married to Thomas Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a broad stroke of old money and compacted arrogance who is also rogering the wife of a poor mechanic. Whilst Tom’s infidelities are well known by Daisy, she fails to react. Instead choosing to hide behind the carefree visage of a flapper.

Everything in Caraway’s life, however, is peachy, if a little dry and uninspiring. Soon, Carraway quickly becomes enamoured with the idea of his Nuevo riche neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonard DiCaprio). An enigma to seemingly all, Carraway watches the glow of Gatsby’s all night parties from his porch until one day he is finally invited to attend one. In doing so, Carraway becomes embroiled in events that will pierce right to centre of his own life, as well as Daisy’s.

And that’s the best place to leave it for fear of ruining some of the joy of discovery.

The Great Gatsby, as a novel, is synonymous with being a slight but powerfully poetic tale that nearly no one can find fault with. So it’s understandable that some balked at the idea of Luhrmann touching it. This is the man who, in previous movies, placed a gun in Romeo’s hand and conducted a gang of elderly horny men to sing a chorus of Smells like to Teen Spirit. He likes to experiment to the potential detriment of the original text.

For those looking for a restrained interpretation of the American Dream dissected should seek solace elsewhere. The Great Gatsby is as vibrant and colossal as one of the titular rich boy’s parties. Filmed in 3D, Gatsby doesn’t just reach out to the symbolic green light, he reaches out to us; All very showy and almost shallow. Almost being the operative word here, for Luhrmann has hung his narration on the device that Carraway is recalling the story 15 years later from the safety of a doctor’s office, where he is being treated for depression. Whilst this does cause problems for the flow of the film by sporadically slowing it down – ‘You must write this down’ the doctor cries in one of the film’s acts of onanism – it serves as a gateway to Carraway recalling the events of yesteryear. This puts the film in a constant state of heightened reality. The raucous parties, the vilification of Gatsby’s obsessive character… It’s all there, but maybe Carraway just isn’t that reliable a narrator. Even if the details have eroded away, the emotions have stayed.

And focussing all our attention on the big party pieces that Lurhmann gives us, negates the moments of intimacy the film provides. ‘I like big parties. They’re so intimate’ says Daisy’s golf pro friend Jordan ‘At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’ And Luhrmann proves this later on in a cramped sweltering hotel room, where our protagonists have holed themselves in a vain attempt to escape the summer. As the afternoon wears on, Tom and Gatsby politely go toe to toe, with Tom getting the upper hand through a verbal death of a thousand cuts. Joel Edgerton is wonderful as he stalks the scenes, taking pot shots whenever he can at Gatsby – The man from oxford in the pink suit.

And what of Gatsby himself? Like the film, we’ve waited a while to reveal him. DiCaprio, despite some hesitance on our part, is completely believable as the lovelorn and mysterious Gatsby. He owns every scene he’s in, willing to show Gatsby as vulnerable when needed.  It’s a shame then that Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire fail to sparkle. It’s not that they can’t act, it’s just they seem to solely be there to react to things. In the instance of Carraway this can be justified, but for Daisy who plays a large part in Gatsby’s life, it’s a bit of problem. At times, we’re never truly convinced that she warrants so much attention from Gatsby.

There are many angles with which to take Gatsby and whilst Luhrmann’s does not contain the florid nature of Fitzgerald’s verse, the book will still be there for those who need it. Luhrmann has made a bold movie that does something the serious analysis and coveting of the text will not achieve, it opens it up to the wider public. Like Gatsby himself, The Great Gatsby has got to be like this. It’s got keep moving on. And if it makes someone pick up a copy on their way back from the cinema what harm has it really done?

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

Last year, the BBC graced upon us the opportunity to see Doctor Who on the big screen in lieu of a full length feature ever appearing. Last time it was all chins, old faces and Zygons for the show’s 50th anniversary and then last year, it was regenerations, steampunk and dinosaurs in the series 8 opening, Deep Breath.

Bursting onto our screens literally like a belch from a T-Rex, Deep Breath hit the ground running acting as a reboot, relaunch and continuation all in one feature length portion. The Doctor may look older, but the show appeared to have undergone a bit of a renaissance.

After the baddy stuffed, exposition overload that had been the previous Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffatt wiped the table clean of all his timey wimey, Silence Will FALL, ‘I can’t go back for Amy. No, really I can’t. I’m not listening, lalalala’ bag of tricks, to focus on a lean plot that managed to sow the seeds for future plot lines in a manner reminiscent of the Davies era.

Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) took over directing duties, which certainly gave the whole thing a bit of oomph; a meaningless word and one which doesn’t do his work justice, but it’s done now. There were some glorious set pieces, from a T-Rex on fire, Peter Capaldi riding a horse through London in his jim-jams and, let us not forget, the spine-tingling and tense scene of Clara holding her breath. It doesn’t sound much on paper, but revisiting the scene still gives chills.

Having been painted into a corner (in the nicest possible way) last season, Jenna Coleman had her role beefed up. Not that the Impossible Girl wasn’t beefy last year. She was just more beef flavoured. Oxo cubes; the role was the equivalent Oxo cubes. Yes, let’s stick with that.

This time around, relating it back to the Davies era, here was a companion ready to think on her feet and fend for herself. Admittedly, the opportunity arose because she was left with her backside in the breeze by a still-percolating Doctor. ‘We can’t risk both getting caught.’ The Doctor said, skirting ever so close to his time during The Twin Dilemma. Of course, as the series progressed, there would be further examples of her being left out to dry, but Clara managed to scrabble back her dignity and eventually became The Doctor. If only for a short time.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi has certainly become one of the more iconic interpretations. He’s rude, impertinent, insulting, confused, loving, unable to do hugs and prone to throwing people onto church steeples. In short: brilliant. If his previous incarnation could be seen as a midlife crisis wrapped in a new face and tweed, then here was a teenager in middle age clothing. Sensing that an old Doctor might put off the kids – sorry folks, we need to remember, this show is always about the kids first and foremost – time was taken to ease the nippers into this new fierce face. All of which was topped off by a cameo by Matt Smith lovingly telling Clara (i.e. us) that he is he, and he is he and we are altogether.

Let’s not forget the return of the Paternoster Gang, clockwork baddies and new potential baddy, Missy played by the always brilliant Michelle Gomez. Of course, we all know what happened to her. Or do we? Deep Breath was bursting with fun and was the perfect jumping on point for those who still hadn’t dabbled in Nu-Who over the last ten years.

Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that the momentum can be kept up as the ninth season approaches.

Here’s hoping.

Deep breath everyone.