Tag Archives: Hugh Jackman

Logan (2017)

I literally just got back from watching the highly anticipated Logan, supposedly the last time we will ever see Hugh Jackman as the clawed superhero that first made him famous 17 years ago. And in all honesty, I am still stunned by just how good it is. After the maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the better-but-not-good-enough The Wolverine, we finally have a Wolverine standalone film that does the iconic character justice.

As the title of the film suggests, Logan is a deeply personal story about an aging, struggling Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) whose powers are fading. The only thing keeping him going is his sense of obligation to Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose failing mental faculties make him an extremely dangerous mutant. As the trailers and posters foreshadow, a young girl named Laura is thrust into his life, turning all his plans upside down and setting the wheels of the narrative in motion.

The X-Men films have never really cared about continuity, and it would be wise to not get caught up in all the nitty gritty of past entries in the franchise. In fact, you don’t need to have watched a single X-Men film to get this movie or really enjoy it. It actually works perfectly as a standalone. All you really need is to know that it’s set in the not-too-distant future and have a general idea of who the characters are and what mutant powers they possess, because director and co-writer James Mangold does a fabulous job of immersing audiences in the world of the story without an excessive amount of exposition. But of course, if you’ve followed Jackman’s version of the character for 17 years, the bittersweet nostalgia gets pretty heavy too.

What drew me so much to Logan in the first place was the first trailer, which felt eerily similar in story and tone to The Last of Us (in my view the best video game of all time), which is about a disillusioned, bearded, middle-aged man and a young girl trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. I’m glad to say that Logan isn’t that similar to The Last of Us in premise, but it does have shades of what made the video game so engrossing — the characters, the character development, the relationships, and the world building. And that’s what really makes Logan a success — you feel for the characters and you feel their hopes and their pain. In many ways, it’s a film that transcends the superhero genre. It is indeed a superhero movie and an action flick, but it’s also a road movie, a hard-hitting drama, a western, and a movie about cross-generational relationships. I was really surprised by how much I was moved by it.

Logan is also the first R-rated Wolverine film, and it certainly does not waste that classification. From the very first scene and line of dialogue, the film lets you know that it doesn’t intend on holding back, delivering f-bombs and copious amounts of brutal violence, blood and gore. Those used to the more tame X-Men films might find it jarring at first, but let’s face it — what do you expect when someone waves those sharp metal claws around like that? Personally, I didn’t find the violence gratuitous — it only added to the realism and the raw emotion of the film. Besides, it’s not just the violence either, as the story itself is really dark and tackles some very depressing issues. A PG-13 version of this movie just would not have worked.

Both Jackman and Stewart deliver what are easily their best performances in the X-Men franchise to date. Admittedly, part of it is because of the story and the added screen time their characters have been given, but they really do make the most of it. This felt like the kind of Wolverine movie Jackman had wanted to make back in 2009 and again in 2013, one where it’s really about who the character is as a person rather than his claws.

As good as they both are, newcomer Dafne Keen absolutely steals the show as the mysterious young girl named Laura. She is just unbelievably badass in this movie and I would love to see her (or at least her character) featured in future X-Men films.

The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic as well. It took me a while before I recognised him, but towering comedian Stephen Merchant is great as albino mutant Caliban, while Boyd Holbrook (Run All Night, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Morgan) surprised me with how good he is as Donald Pierce, the leader of a security squad working for a scientist played by British film veteran Richard E Grant. Special props too to the actor who plays the main supervillain of the film, who shall remain unnamed.

No movie is perfect, though the only main complaint I have regarding Logan — apart from a couple of minor logistic quibbles — is the 137-minute length, which could have had a few minutes here and there trimmed (120-125 minutes would have been perfect). That said, I never found the film slow, even during its more contemplative moments, and I wouldn’t mind seeing an extended cut that’s even longer.

There are going to be a lot of blockbusters coming out in the next few weeks (Kong: Skull IslandBeauty and the Beast, Life), but I would be very, very surprised if any of them even come close to the awesomeness that is Logan. What a way to send off Hugh Jackman’s version of the character. Logan is the best Wolverine movie ever, the best X-Men movie ever, and one of the best superhero movie of all time. It’s that good.

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Chappie (2015)

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My experiences with South African director Neill Blomkamp have been quite different to most others. I thought his much-lauded debut smash, District 9, was good but a little overrated, while I thought his widely-panned sophomore effort, Elysium, was flawed but still pretty damn entertaining.

Blomkamp’s third film, Chappie, is also quite flawed and inconsistent, but it’s also very bold, clever, funny and exciting. When it’s all said and done, Chappie could very well be my favourite of the lot.

The film is an unspecified time in South Africa, where a tech arms company has begun supplying the police force with droids. Think Robocop, basically, except they are pure machines with no human controls or elements. The brainchild behind the revolution, British engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), is not satisfied with just AI droids and continues to work on a side project that purports to create consciousness. I’ll skip the details from here, but suffice it to say that the titular Chappie (voice and performance capture from long-time collaborator Sharlto Copley) ends up being the droid that brings this project to fruition, and naturally things go pear shaped when the droid ends up in the hands of criminals played by the duo from real-life rap-rave group Die Antwoord — Yolandi Visser and Ninja — who use the same names in the film.

It’s a high concept film with a lot of interesting ideas. First of all, from the moment of his “awakening”, Chappie is essentially a baby who cannot speak and is seeing the world for the very first time. His development, therefore, is completely dependent on what humans teach him, and the message at the heart of the film is about how we influence and shape our children into who they become. The way Blomkamp brings out this message is not exactly subtle, but it’s fascinating to watch as it unfolds and I was surprised that it had such an emotional impact on me.

I also liked how Chappie, the droid, is the central protagonist, rather than his creator or his “parents”. Copley is very good in convincing us that he is both a machine and a naive, impressionable child, and it’s also helped by the typically impressive photo-realistic special effects from Blomkamp in making Chappie look and feel as real as can be.

It’s also fun to see Hugh Jackman, the human everyone loves, play a baddie. Not just any baddie, but a jealous, conniving, douchey Australian baddie with a superb mullet. Sure, his character is completely one-dimensional, but it’s Hugh Jackman!

The ending of the film will polarise a lot of viewers as it takes the AI vs consciousness debate to the next level, but while I don’t exactly like where it headed I liked that Blomkamp was willing to take risks and take the film in a direction I doubt many people would have foreseen. It asks big questions without answering them compellingly, but at least it asks.

To be fair though, Chappie does have its fair share of problems. Whenever you talk about AI and super-intelligent robots you run into problems with logic and common sense. If Chappie is so clever then why would this happen? Why would he make these mistakes? And if he not as clever as we thought then why would he be able to do such intelligent things? My issues with problematic motivations extend beyond the robot to the human characters too. Sometimes what they do don’t make all that much sense, and it can be perplexing if you think about their thought processes too much.

Also, the film’s tone and pacing is a little all over the place. At times its dead serious, while other times its comical and even farcical, and sometimes the quick turns get confusing. The action comes and goes and can get super violent out of nowhere, and on top of that, Ninja and Yolandi are not the best actors in the world. They look their parts, but their characters feel more like caricatures than real people.

Having said all that, I still liked Chappie a lot. Notwithstanding all the rough edges, the film is always interesting, entertaining and unpredictable, and I think its heart is in the right place. And I haven’t even mentioned how hilarious it at times, even though the timing isn’t always impeccable. It’s not perfect by any means, and from certain angles — coherence, depth, visuals, etc — you might even say it’s Blomkamp’s weakest film, but there’s just something about this strange mix of AI: Artificial Intelligence, I Robot, Robocop and Short Circuit that struck a chord with me.

3.75 stars out of 5

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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X-Men: Days of Future Past, my second-most anticipated film of 2014, has done the impossible by living up to the loftiest of expectations.

I was sceptical at first when I heard that they were making this film, an ambitious attempt to combine the old X-Men franchise (X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand) with the new, younger reboot of X-Men: First Class, while also not forgetting about the two spin-off Wolverine films. It was potentially more difficult than The Avengers, as it not only features characters across different sub-franchises but also adds the wrinkle of time travel to the mix.

But I had forgotten one thing about this seventh X-Men film: Bryan Singer, the director of the original X-Men and X2, was back at the helm, and anyone who could managed to handle multi-layered complexity of The Usual Suspects should not be underestimated. And sure enough, Singer delivers, giving us arguably the best one yet.

What makes Days of Future Past so fantastic is what made it seem appealing on paper — bringing together all our favourite characters, past and present. There’s the old and young Professor X (Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy), the old and young Magneto (Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), a young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and a young Beast (Nicholas Hoult), together with the familiar faces of Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore). The only guy who didn’t have to worry about all the ageing was of course the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who once again takes centre stage as the face of the franchise.

The genius of the film is making all of these bits and pieces fit together, given it is virtually impossible to give everyone sufficient screen time and worthy stuff to do. The solution turned out to be quite simple, with the story writers (Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with Kinberg penning the screenplay) going for what made the most sense. That is, tailor the story to focus on a handful of the franchise’s most popular characters and Hollywood’s hottest actors of the moment, and allow them to drive the time travel narrative. At the same time, the lesser characters are not forgotten either, though they are limited to key supporting roles and timely cameos. A bit of fresh blood is also injected with the introduction of a few new characters, most notably Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing as portal opening mutant Blink, to liven things up and appeal to the international market.

The result is a fairly straightforward and surprisingly unconvoluted storyline about a dystopian future ruled by unstoppable mutant-killing robots called Sentinels, who have just about wiped out all of humanity. To save the world, Professor X and Magneto come together in China and get Kitty Pryde to use her powers to send the consciousness of Wolverine — the only one whose body and mind can withstand the rigours of distant time travel — back into the body of his younger self to change the course of history. This task involves convincing mortal enemies, the young Professor X — who has become a shell of his former self and is being looked after by a young Beast — and the young Magneto — who is in a high security cell after assassinating a historical figure — to work together and stop the young shapeshifter Mystique from killing Boliva Trask (Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones), and thereby setting off the Sentinel program.

So in one fell swoop the plot manages to combine the thespians playing the old and young Professor X and Magneto (Stewart, McAvoy, McKellen and Fassbender); make Wolverine (Jackman), the face of the X-Men and its most beloved mutant, the film’s central character; substantially elevate the status and screen time of Hollywood’s “it” girl, Lawrence, as well her rising star beau in real life, Hoult; and introduce a new human character in the shape of the award-winning and super-duper awesome Dinklage. Instead of overwhelming audiences by splitting time and subplots between a whole bunch of characters, the story is driven by these eight brilliant core actors (and six characters) — and it’s all by design.

One supporting character who nearly stole the show for me was Quicksilver (Evan Peters, seen recently in American Horror Story), the lightning speed teenage mutant whom the X-Men seek to help them bust Magneto out of prison. He’s a fabulous character, both in terms of his abilities and his demeanour, and owns the most impressive set-piece sequence in the entire film when we see what the world feels like for him when he moves at top speed. It’s great to know he’ll be back in the 2016 sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse (and make sure you stay for the post-credits scene right at the end for a sneak preview!).

So Days of Future Past is a lot of fun, even though it appears to take itself quite seriously (albeit with the occasional joke or one-liner). It’s a really clever film, not just for the way it brings the characters together through the time travel concept, but also in the way it redefines history through mutant interference, from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the JFK assassination to the Vietnam War. The action sequences and are also executed well, allowing each of the mutants to show off their powers in eye-popping fashion, but without feeling we’re just watching a bunch of special effects. It’s amazing what good actors and adept choreography can do.

The final product is an intelligent, satisfying, well-acted and thoroughly entertaining X-Men flick that is epic in scope but stays under control by limiting the focus to the franchise’s most marketable stars and characters. There are plenty of nods and winks to the earlier entries in the series and the cameos will make loyal fans very happy, but even if you are a first-timer to the franchise the plot is unconfusing enough to be easily followed. The 132-minute running time is only a tad long, and there are perhaps one or two brief lulls along the way, but on the whole there isn’t much to complain about Days of Future Past. 

4.25 stars out of 5!

PS: Interestingly, the character of Quicksilver (a different version of him) will also appear in the next Avengers movie, but he will be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass and Godzilla fame.

Movie Review: Prisoners (2013)

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I really wanted to watch this one and I’m glad I got the chance because it’s very very good. It’s the type of film that could have been a B-movie but ended up being a punch-in-the-gut type thriller because of the confident direction of Denis Villeneuve, the terrific ensemble cast and powerful performances by the two leads, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The story starts off simple: Jackman and his wife Maria Bello take their daughter to the home of their friends played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, who have a daughter of their own. The two girls go missing, and Jackman, who is a bit of a hotheaded psycho, decides to take matters into his own hands even though the case is being handled by a very capable detective played by Gyllenhaal. That’s a nice little premise summary that doesn’t give too much away, and the only thing I will add is that the film’s title is an apt one.

Prisoners is a dark, disturbing and emotional roller coaster ride that will have you questioning right and wrong and the lengths you would go to if your own child was taken and you feel like the police aren’t doing their job properly. It’s brutally violent but not in a gratuitous way because the psychological impact wouldn’t have been the same without it. There aren’t a lot, but there a few solid twists and turns which I much prefer to a lot of cheap ones, and it keeps up the tension as the characters become more desperate with the clock running out.

A big part of the reason why the film is so compelling is the performances of Jackman and Gyllenhall. These are complex characters with demons lurking behind them in the shadows, without these two Oscar-nominated actors in the roles I’m not sure all the layers could have been brought out as well as they were.

Also fantastic is Paul Dano, who I have always been a big fan of, as a mentally challenged suspect. Melissa Leo is again a chameleon in yet another unrecognisable role, while Terrence Howard, Viola Davis and Mario Bello round out the superb ensemble cast by making the most of their more limited screen time.

While there is nothing jaw-dropping or groundbreaking about the plot and the final revelations don’t quite live up to the rest of the film, Prisoners is still one of the best suspense thrillers of the year, an unsettling, creepy climb into darkness thanks to effective execution and great performances from the all-star cast.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013) (2D)

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Oh cinema, how I have missed thou!

Feels good to be back at the movies after a lengthy hiatus of three weeks. For my triumphant return, I chose The Wolverine, the highly anticipated “sequel” to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine but chronologically speaking it’s the film that comes immediately after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film in the original trilogy).

The Wolverine received a lot of hype in Australia because a significant portion of the film was shot there, including at Sydney Olympic Park, Darling Harbour, Parramatta and Cockle Bay. And of course, Hugh Jackman had hyped it up more by admitting disappointment with X-Men Origins: Wolverine but boasting that The Wolverine had gotten it right as the type of Wolverine film he had wanted to make all along.

To be honest, I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was not as bad as it was made out to be — flawed but perfectly adequate. On the other hand, while The Wolverine is definitely a better film, I’m not sure it quite succeeded in living up to Jackman’s promise. It’s a more personal Wolverine film with more pain, emotions and depth, and the action is more varied and exciting — but at the same time it didn’t captivate me like the best X-Men films (such as 2011’s X-Men: First Class — review here) and was dragged down by a sluggish middle act.

The story for this film was apparently provided by one of the most popular arcs from the Wolverine comics. Our hero is battling demons from his relationship with his one true love, Jean Grey (a role reprised by Famke Janssen), and is living a meaningless existence until he runs into Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a mysterious Japanese sword-wielder who is on a mission to bring him to Japan to meet a dying man from his past. The dying dude happens to be a head of one of the largest companies in the world, and the Wolverine becomes caught up in the complex Japanese world of family politics, ninjas and yakuza henchmen (naturally, there are some obvious Japanese cliches littered throughout the film, but I don’t think any of them come across as culturally offensive). Oh, and of course a few mutants here and there.

There are some spectacular action sequences in this film thanks to the unique Japanese setting. One of my favourites takes place on a speeding Shinkansen (bullet train), and another involves the Wolverine taking on a whole clan of ninja assassins. There are a couple of others I can’t mention because of spoilers.

The film is driven by the performance of Hugh Jackman, who proves for the sixth time that he was born for the role. It’s not just the muscular, veiny appearance — you can actually sense the passion he has poured into the character in every movement on the screen. In the realm of movie superheroes, Jackman will rank right up there with Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr as actors who fit their “costumes” better than anyone else.

The supporting cast is also surprisingly good. Apart from the aforementioned Rila Fukushima, there is newcomer Tao Okamoto (a svelte Japanese model), The Last Samurai actor Hiroyuki Sanada, Will Yun Lee (yeah Sleeping Dogs!) and Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova. None are exactly household names but there are no weak links as all hold their own in key roles.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Wolverine but was a little disappointed it wasn’t the superhero masterpiece I had hoped for. It’s a film I think hardcore Wolverine and comic fans will love for the attention to detail and truthfulness to the source material, but casual fans might struggle to remember or understand the convoluted backstory and appreciate the ties to rest of the X-Men universe.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: Remember to stick around for a mid-credits scene that gives us a sneak peek into the next instalment of the X-Men franchise, next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is already shaping up to be one of the most epic superhero movies ever by combining all prequels and sequels and everything in between from the X-Men universe.

PPS: The film was directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma). He does a decent job, but I wonder how the film might have turned out had it not been turned down by Guillermo del Toro and Darren Aronofsky.

Movie Review: Les Misérables (2012)

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I’m sorry, but Les Misérables is overrated. Or perhaps more accurately, it just wasn’t for me.

Director Tom Hooper, coming off his 2011 Oscars triumph with The King’s Speech, appeared to have a winner on his hands. One of the most beloved musicals of all-time. The likable singing and dancing Hugh Jackman as the protagonist Jean Valjean. Probably the hottest actress on the planet right now, Anne Hathaway, to play poor Fantine and sing the classic “I Dreamed a Dream.” Amanda Seyfried. Russell Crowe. Even Helena Bonham Carter and Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen). It was a sure hit and an Oscar certainty.

But Les Misérables ended up getting mixed reviews from critics, and I find myself siding with those who didn’t fall for its charm. Those who love the musical will love this film no matter what, but I  personally found it to be an exhausting and often dull experience that I couldn’t really get into until it was almost over. Technically, the film is supposedly quite a remarkable achievement, with spectacular sets, strong performances and a lot of long single takes and live singing (rather than recorded in post-production like most other musicals). But really, who cares about all of that if the film isn’t any good in the end?

I had never seen a stage production of the musical so I’ll assume there are others who aren’t familiar with the plot. The story is set in 1815 and Jackman’s Valjean is a thief who is paroled by Crowe’s ruthless prison guard Javert after years of imprisonment. Basically, Valjean decides to turn his life around and be a good guy and Javert can’t seem to let go of the past. It’s a miserable time to be alive (hence the title) and the remainder of the film focuses on the struggles of the masses, Jackman trying to be good, and Crowe not letting him. It goes on for years and years.

The biggest problem with Les Misérables is that 99.9% of all vocal interactions between characters is sung. There is essentially no dialogue except a stray word here or there. As a result, we get a lot of long singing monologues where we have to listen really carefully to the lyrics (which is not always clear) just to figure out what the heck is going on.

That can get annoying and takes time to get used to, but fine, it’s a musical, so I get that. What bothered me more was that most of this talk-singing was awful to listen to. Not that the actors’ voices were bad — it’s just that there’s no real tune or melody. It just sounds like a bunch of people playing a lame game where they have to sing everything and are making up the tune as they go along. It’s really monotonous and challenges the audience not to tune out, so to speak, after a little while.

Yes, there is a handful of REAL musical numbers that are pretty good, with Hathaway’s much-lauded “I Dreamed a Dream” number being the highlight, as well as Carter and Borat’s “Master of the House” (which I was familiar with through that Seinfeld episode with Elaine’s dad and Jerry’s inside-out coat), but these are few and far in between. The vast majority of the film was dominated by this crappy talk-singing or sing-talking and I just could not stand it.

The performances were good, I’ll admit that, but was Hathaway’s performance really that good? Oscar-favourite good? I personally think it’s a little overrated, especially considering (spoiler alert!)  she only has a few minutes of screen time. Then again, Judi Dench won for something like 9 minutes of acting in Shakespeare in Love, so why the heck not?

I do, on the other hand, have to defend Russell Crowe a little bit here. Crowe has been panned for his singing, but I thought he was perfectly adequate. A little wooden, perhaps, but he’s freaking Pavarotti compared to Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia.

Anyway, Les Misérables turned out to be a huge disappointment. It probably would have been great as a stage show, and Hooper has basically shot an extravagant stage show on film, but that’s why we have different media formats. I finally got into the story and the characters towards the latter part of the film’s third act, but by then it was too little too late.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Dang, the trailer made the film look so awesome. If only it really was.

Movie Review: Real Steel (2011)

I reckon if I saw Real Steel when I was seven years old I’d think it’s the best movie of all time.  Seriously.  A kid protagonist, Wolverine as his dad, Evangeline Lilly as the girl and boxing robots.  Boxing robots!  What more could a kid ask for?

As an adult, I still thought Real Steel was pretty decent; better than expected.  It’s essentially a father/child relationship/redemption movie with a Rocky slant featuring giant robots that beat the crap out of each other.  Set in the not too distant future, human boxing has been abandoned (after the recent Mayweather vs Ortiz and Hopkins vs Dawson debacles, who could blame them?) in favour of giant boxing robots controlled by humans (either by remote control or voice).

Hugh Jackman (or as I like to call him, Jack Human) is a former journeyman boxer turned robot owner who for certain reasons has to look after his long abandoned son, Max (Dakota Goyo).  The duo, along with the daughter of Jackman’s former trainer (Lilly), start ‘training’ an old bot that has no business being in the ring with other newer bigger bots, but as you guessed, they start kicking butt.

Real Steel is a feel-good true underdog story and a tale of redemption that appeals the way the original Rocky did 35 years ago, and the performances of the leads, especially that Goyo kid, are excellent.  Is it just me or are all child actors named Dakota acting prodigies?

Surprisingly, the film’s strength lies in the drama and the relationship between father and son.  I wouldn’t have expected it but director Shawn Levy (Date Night) managed to make me care about the characters and understand their motivations.

The robot action, to be honest, was a little underwhelming in my opinion.  It’s just two robots punching the crap out of each other like…robots.  There’s no way humans would have given up real boxing for that boring mechanical stuff.

Young boys and boys young at heart will have a ball with this one.  As for everyone else, if you can stomach all the obvious emotional manipulation and get into the spirit of the overcoming-the- odds, albeit somewhat predictable story, then Real Steel can be a real enjoyable ride.

3.5 stars out of 5!

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out

I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

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