Movie review: “Logan”

When I was about nineteen, I saw X2 at midnight with a crowd of rapturous fans in varying degrees of costume, from “Marvel t-shirt” to “blue body paint”. The better costumes got nods and chuckles as we shuffled into the theater, but the only attendee to get a real rouse was the guy, otherwise unremarkably dressed, who’d styled his hair like Wolverine. He got a full round of applause.

That’s Hugh Jackman’s doing. No other actor in the “X-Man” franchise is so identified with their character—Patrick Stewart, while he makes a tremendous Xavier, will always be Jean-Luc Picard to the majority of the planet, and Ian McKellen, Gandalf. But Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. He’s been doing it longer than about 25% of the world’s population has been alive[1], and he looks it—now sinewy and greying at the temples, he’s more weathered limestone than carved marble. Which makes playing an immortal character difficult; hence, “Logan”. In Jackman’s final curtain call as the character, we meet a Wolverine whom time has finally chased down. Weathered and exhausted, he’s driving an El Paso limousine and commuting nightly across the border to an unspeakably depressing hideout, population four: himself, the dying professor Charles Xavier, the albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and their shared misery. Caliban tends to Xavier and doles out a grating ration of criticism; Xavier has nightmarish seizures that send his psychic power washing through others like radiation; Logan is stuck between a Prof and a nursemaid. No help is coming over the horizon, either. As the mutants slowly die off, private companies hunt the last stragglers for biological experimentation. And one of those stragglers needs help—a young girl, mute and furious, is rescued from a lab and thrown into Logan’s care like a stray kitten. His resistance to her need is the hard emotional kernel around which the plot is wound. If you’re picking up whiffs of Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross, that’s not coincidental. “Logan” is a Western, from the unforgiving light to the barren landscape to the increasingly Eastwoodian set of Hugh Jackman’s squint, but most especially in its harrowing formula: put a group of characters in a vise and squeeze. It wouldn’t be sporting to reveal who survives the squashing, but I will say that fewer will escape than you’d like—the movie’s pitch-perfect dialogue pulls you in like real family squabbling, with all the attendant intimacy and frustration. Dafne Keen (as the young Laura) especially holds up her corner of the tent, which, given that she is twelve and playing against 166 combined years in Stewart, Jackman, and Merchant, goes well beyond impressive and into the realm of suspiciously supernatural. Someone should get that kid tested for the mutant gene.

[1] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.TO.ZS

Movie review: “The Magnificent Seven”

Why? Why did we need this? Did anyone ask for this? Did anyone really want this? Who ordered this, and can we possibly return it to the kitchen? I would gladly trade back the two hours and thirteen minutes of my life which I spent watching this movie in favor of something more productive—say, a good scrub of my kitchen floor, or some light gum maintenance. But my dismay at having lost enough time to descale every kettle I own really can’t compare with the distress which countless caterers, riggers, setbuilders, and gaffers must be feeling at the loss of weeks of labor to “The Magnificant Seven”, a retread as uninspired as it is interminable. By casting Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Haley Bennett, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Ethan Hawke, the filmmakers have managed to bury just enough corn nuggets in the turd that, from a distance, it might resemble a Payday bar. Don’t be fooled. This movie’s a turd, a flat, insipid, formulaic slog through territory so well-trod it’s paved. Nothing exists to surprise or delight you here; for over two hours, only the weariest Western clichés are presented in mechanical, plodding order, from the arrival of the imposing out-of-towner (through swinging doors, the tavern’s piano clinking to a halt), to the final, climactic gunfight (the shot villains clutching at their bellies and falling in a variety of melodramatic poses). I’ve seen cuckoo clocks with more narrative suspense. And the presence of multiple fine actors doesn’t relieve the boredom—instead, it brings the dullness into even more agonizing relief, as we all contemplate the good times we’ve had with Washington, Pratt, D’Onofrio, and Hawke, in better movies than this. The movie further hamstrings itself by casting Peter Sarsgaard, the “Free” square on the Bingo card of cinematic mediocrity, as the villainous robber baron opposing Denzel Washington’s hired gunslinger—Washington brings his usual gravitas to the role, but without a comparable weight on the other end of the dramatic seesaw, he’s stuck trying to lift the narrative all by himself. Similarly, Chris Pratt tries his best to bring humor and fun into the building, only to be foiled at every turn by the lumbering script and ponderous score, and finally [spoiler alert] by a death scene so ludicrously prolonged it earned groans in the theater. Not content with the resolution of the conflict, the movie tacks on almost ten minutes of self-congratulatory epigraph, as townspeople stream back into their reclaimed village, hearty backpats and thanks are exchanged by all, and Haley Bennett solemnly intones a voiceover summarizing the movie’s message, ending with the straight-faced statement that “It was…. magnificent.”

No it wasn’t.