Review: The Wolverine

This isn’t a review of the Blu-ray as I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but it’s recent release reminded me that I never reviewed the film, I really wanted to praise the film, but I had some minor issues with it that would seemingly negate my overall satisfaction, so at the time, I left it alone.  Here are my lasting impressions:

The Wolverine is the best Wolverine film so far. While that doesn’t say a whole lot, I think this time around actually delivers the best Wolverine centered film the proprietors of the X Men franchise are capable of offering. I would even call it their best X Men effort of all. James Mangold, director of Knight and Day, leads the action terrifically, almost from start to finish and Mark Bomback and cowriter Scott Frank’s (Minority Report) screenplay based on the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller series is very strong.

Beginning during US atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Logan saves a man’s life and many years later is summoned back to Japan to meet the old man before he dies.  He is offered a chance to become mortal, but sinister schemes are at work, putting the weakened Wolverine to the test as he protects a young woman from a deadly band of Ninjas lead by the Silver Samurai.

Like the first Wolverine film, we get to see a lot of cool things, but the dexterity with which this installment is handled is enviable.  It’s far from the perfect thrills of the very best Marvel films to date, but it is highly enjoyable and basically a really good movie.  Hugh Jackman continues to be the ultimate portrayal of Logan and gives considerable range to the character.  The very comics like appearance of Viper was a deviation from the look and feel of other movies which take steps toward a more believable film world, and ultimately that sense of being true to the source material is both The Wolverine’s greatest attribute and it’s greatest failure.

As the film progresses, it feels a little bit like a series divided between battles, which I thought was kind of a cool touch.  The story had me engaged all the way until the final act, which was the least climactic of all of the action sequences despite the high stakes, because you already expect Wolverine to win and it wasn’t staged particularly well.  I enjoyed the Avengers like tie in at the end that teases X Men: Days of Future Past.  I have a love/hate relationship with this franchise, but The Wolverine is a solid “like.”

Advertisements

Influential Directors: Kevin Smith

I'd see movies, comedies, and I loved 'Animal House', I loved all the John Hughes stuff, but I never saw me and my friends totally represented.

I’d see movies, comedies, and I loved ‘Animal House’, I loved all the John Hughes stuff, but I never saw me and my friends totally represented.

Of all the directors past and present it’s difficult to come up with one more influential than the guy who motivated me to pull out my credit card and buy merchandise from his website, so intensely enamored was I with the world he had created: the world which spanned from Red Bank New Jersey, to sunny LA and nearly reached the red sun of Krypton.  True, as a director he didn’t stand out a whole lot in the beginning; but what really made his work sing was the poetry he put on the page.  His scripts were so eloquent and unorthodox that half his cast usually didn’t know how to deliver the lines.  The rest honed in on the nerve of the somewhat unnatural dialogue and were able to unlock performances that others would only hope to imitate in the years to come.

An instant fan after watching Clerks I not only began snatching up videos and theater tickets for Kevin Smith films, I went after soundtracks, scripts, t-shirts, action figures, even a lunch box.  There was something accessible about Kevin, particularly in the early years, that I just felt like, “Yeah, this guy gets it.”  In a way, I think of him as a modern day Shakespeare.  The intelligence of his scripts may be called into question due to subject matter, but the targeted range of his audience is possibly wider yet more precise than any other auteur.

I was exposed to Kevin Smith a little late.  I believe Chasing Amy had hit theaters by the time I caught Clerks on VHS at my BFFs house.  I was disappointed at first that it was in black and white.  When I saw the View Askew production logo, it made me feel like I was having a secret sleepover at Neverland Ranch.  Before long though I realized that I was watching something special and it allowed me to dream about making a low-budget picture of my own one day and becoming a massive success.  Clerks and the Kevin Smith movies that followed resonated so well with me and came along at such a point in my development as a writer, that he had a lot of impact on my own style of writing as I tried to figure out what that was and how to do it.  To this day, two of my favorite stories that I have developed over the years can’t escape their Clerks and Dogma Roots.

There is also something admirable about the way Smith throws himself into the stories he writes.  The way Holden in Chasing Amy parallels Smith at the time.  Enthusiastic fans that love Bluntman and Chronic (Jay and Silent Bob), Equate them to Bill and Ted, or Cheech and Chong rather than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or Vladimir and Estragon and all Holden wants is to put something personal out there like he did with his first success.  The primary differeces being that Bluntman and Cronic was a commercial success, suppressing Holden’s artistic side, while Mallrats ironically became a commercial Flop in its theatrical run, sending Smith in search of what made him stand out with his creation Clerks.  Next, he tackled his own ideas about religion and sought to arrive at a philosophy that was honest and true.  In spite of that deeper side, he never hid from the possibility of commercial success and was able to tell substantial stories just as easily as he could walk away when there was a disagreement.  An indie filmmaker who can walk both sides of the fence is pretty rare, indeed.

Though he never quite garnered the acclaim that Tarantino has and his career has taken an entirely different path, he still stands out as one of the greatest yet easily overlooked filmmakers of our time.  For starters, He has “The Jersey Trilogy.” Which is more of a trilogy than some things now that are considered such.  I love how original Smith is, while paying homage to his favorite movies.  Mallrats, like Temple of Doom, is the most disliked yet also my favorite of the three.  Also like Temple of Doom, it takes place prior to its predecessor, chronologically speaking.  Mallrats also alludes to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as does the later Clerks 2.  The first, with the boys trying to outrun La Fours, and the latter with a go cart montage.  Randal Graves also quotes Sundance in Clerks, responding to Dante’s whines with “Bitch bitch bitch.”  More than mere pop culture references, which I believe were widely popularized in the nineties by Kevin Smith.  These homages show us a kid at play riffing on the films that inspired him and keeping them relevant and timeless while creating something new to inspire others.  One of my favorite movies is Jaws, and the way that the scar comparing scene between Quint and Hooper is duplicated in Chasing Amy is truly something to geek out over.  Hooper X of course is also a character in Chasing Amy and the leads in Mallrats are Brody and T.S. Quint.

After the Jersey Trilogy, Smith went on to make three more films featuring the Jay and Silent Bob characters, plaid by him and Jason Mewes, including Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2, every one of them interconnected in the View Askewniverse as highlighted in the multitude of appearances in JASBSB.  Dogma was huge for me because it took on the topic of religion with an open, honest and artistically free approach, that allowed for a fully fictionalized depiction of Biblical characters and ideas, a sharp satirical look at the church, and a hopeful look at faith and the nature of God.  Of course you can’t do something like that without upsetting all kinds of people,, but he did it anyway, which is pretty cool.

Clerks has always been a big chunk of the parts that make the sum of Kevin Smith.  In between Clerks and Clerks 2 was Clerks the Animated Series.  I can’t confirm it, but I suspect the title is a play on Batman the Animated Series.  Though short lived it was a great attempt with beautiful art designs and a few really strong episodes.  My favorite of which intertwined the premise of The Last Starfighter with plots from The Bad News Bears and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Smith’s new AMC series Comic Book Men inserts some Clerks and Mallrats flare into a Pawn Stars type show set in his comics store Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank New Jersey.

After what was essentially six Jay and Silent Bob movies, rather than go back and re-master them all with CGI or get right to work on an episode VII, Smith made a second foray into unfamiliar territory.  The first had been Jersey Girl, which I enjoyed, the next, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, introduced Kevin to Seth Rogen. Prior to the encounter, Smith reportedly didn’t really smoke weed.  In fact, so little was his interest in bud during production that it aroused concern from Rogen.  That story along with many others such as the Superman debacle with Jon Peters and the highs and lows of directing Bruce Willis is another reason I am such a fan of Smith’s.  Whether it’s a movie, a Smodcast, or a Q and A, he is one of the best storytellers ever.  Get the man talking about an experience out of his life and he will we’ve you an epic tale of fantasy and delights.  He’s taken on Hollywood for better or worse and along with the experience and the retelling of those experiences it seemed as though Smith had burned out on film just as he reached his pinnacle with the newly debuted Red State.  His first horror film, Red State, really showed how much he had grown as a director, but also has him at the top of his game as a writer.  Though unexpected in the wake of an entire career of comedy, Smith’s storytelling prowess in his latest movie is a triumph and yet he vowed to retire.

Fortunately, a Smodcast about a fake classified ad (a man seeking a tenant who would dress up like a walrus in lieu of rent) led to a “what if” scenario that captured Smith’s imagination and lead him on a journey to write, finance and shoot a feature horror script in a matter of months.  The script has Justin Long and Michael Parks attached and has created a lot of buzz.  More importantly, however, it seems to have rekindled the passion of one of my favorite, most influential filmmakers.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

gi poster iron man 3May third is finally here and that means Iron Man 3 is finally out.  The timely third installment about a terrorist regime bombing various locations across America and waging war against Tony Stark does not feel like an Iron Man movie.  It’s dramatic and dark with a surprising amount of death and violence that clearly eschews a pre-teen demographic, while on the other hand incorporating light comedic moments often with a young boy who helps Tony out of a few scrapes.  The film overall is fairly balanced though it loses me a bit at the climax and while it differs substantially from Jon Favreau’s hits, Shane Black has clearly taken ownership of the franchise and made it his own in an admirable way.

This is a straight action flick with Tony doing a lot of the heavy lifting after his suit breaks down leaving him stranded in Tennessee.  There is plenty of comic book material to drool over, but it only serves as a framework to support this gritty action drama that Tony surprisingly finds himself involved in, rather than a more likely Wolverine.  In fact, many moments on-screen, particularly between him and the kid, reminded me of Hugh Jackman and made me wonder if the makers of Iron Man 3 unwittingly made a better Wolverine movie than the soon to be released sequel to the X Men spin-off.

There are many things to love about Iron Man 3.  For starters, every one of the actors takes it so seriously.  It’s not pandering, and they have worked hard to get to the emotional core of everything, so that when the play it it’s wholly believable.  It goes a long way toward suspending disbelief when fantastic elements, such as remote controlled automated Iron Man suits, or unstable,  combustible, bioengineered A.I.M. operatives would otherwise threaten to undermine the credibility of the film.

Another thing I love is the individuality of it.  I like how it doesn’t try to fit the mold of the other two and instead, puts Tony way out-of-place, just to see what he does there.  It’s really cool to see how he responds to the need for Iron Man, without being able to get into the suit.  I think that was the most intriguing Idea at the beginning stages of planning the film, and it holds really strong and makes it a really unique story for the genre.

There’s plenty of danger, plenty of humor and plenty of opportunities for Tony to rely on ordinary people to help him through his Search for the infamous Mandarin.  From set up almost all the way through the film it is riveting, flawless, exciting, and fun.  For as much thought that I know went into the staging of the film however.  I do wish a couple of scenes had been cut from the final piece.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who’s not yet seen it.  But there is one moment near the end that I know everybody thought would be really cool and reinforce Tony’s anxiety and doubt beneath his cocksure approach to being a hero.  They probably played this moment in their minds and considered it one of the more definitive scenes in the film and cutting it out would be unthinkable.  While it is a surprising turn of events, I found it to weigh down the rest of the climax and it sort of pulled me out of the fantasy when no one on-screen, Tony in particular, seemed to really react.  From there, the resolution didn’t really work for me and it somewhat deflated my elation from seeing such a uniquely daring interpretation of Iron Man on-screen.  Luckily, the scene at the end of the credits put a big smile back on my face, and I there is much more of the film that I admired than otherwise.

I do have some burning questions, ranging from why the President doesn’t even look like Obama, to how the Iron Man suit runs without the arc reactor in Tony’s chest.  There is very little by way of explanation for any of the technology, which I like.  On the other hand It felt this time around the suspension of disbelief was taken for granted and stretched a bit beyond its limits without any proper support.  The pains originally taken to reinforce the character’s believability are gone, which is slightly alienating when that credibility that inspires belief is one of the things that made the franchise so appealing and such a tremendous success.

The innovative approach to making the film more of a pure action genre and somewhat skirting the science fiction/fantasy elements of the comics resulted in a breathtaking adventure that puts Tony Stark in the type of position more fitting for Ethan Hunt or James Bond.  It’s fun to see the result and it’s even greater to realize that there is room in the films of the Marvel universe for great stories to be told through different lenses.  I appreciated the tonality of Iron Man 3 over that of The Avengers.  Once again the envelope has been pushed and even though Iron Man 2 remains my favorite I happily accept this new installment as a win for team Marvel.

Review: The Amazing Spiderman

Fantastic?  Incredible?  I’d say that The Amazing Spiderman truly lives up to its name.  Besides earning points for best Stan Lee cameo ever, The Amazing Spiderman takes the cake as best Marvel based film of the year, beating the thoroughly enjoyable MIB 3 and the mildly disappointing Marvel’s The Avengers.

It turns out Marc Webb wasn’t just chosen for his name.  His sensibility brought Spidey to life in the best vision ever shown, live action or animated.  Borrowing heavily from Chris Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight while retaining Sam Raimi’s horror and comedic influence,  Webb created a world for spiderman that is genuine and exciting.  Andrew Garfield matches him bringing everything to the table to creat the perfect Spiderman.  Add to him, the gifted cast including Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary and inspired staging and visual effects and you’ve got more than a blockbuster.  It’s a true classic.

In this take, which retells Spiderman’s origin, Peter Parker wants to know why his father, a secretive scientist mysteriously disappeared.  In the process of investigating the matter, he comes in contact with some of his father’s life’s work, a radioactive spider.  gene splicing is researched in the lab to find a way to use the advantages of certain animals to heal humans.  Dr. Conner, a former colleague of Peters Dad hopes to use reptile DNA to regenerate his lost forearm… but something goes terribly wrong.  Peter’s character is much more complex and satisfying this time around, making both good and bad choices, while remaining true to his perspective as a teen with a lot of questions.

James Horner sets the mood beautifully throughout the film with his masterful score and Alvin Sargent returns as co-screenwriter to Basic, The Losers and soon to be Robocop scribe James Vanderbilt.  The film was wonderfully paced and well-balanced thanks to the remarkable work they did pre and post production to build and enhance the character of this fine story. A+