Movie Review (LOGAN)

The dystopian movie LOGAN (2017), starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, dramatically encapsulates a lot about the dark times we find ourselves in, particularly during the recent Trump administration. Drawing inspiration in part from the Western film genre, especially the touching 1953 classic SHANE (starring Alan Ladd), X-Men superhero Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan (born James Howlett), finds himself reluctantly defending the underdog everywhere he goes. Facing droves of heavily-armed government agents and a posse of hired thugs from an agribusiness corporation, a sick and aging Logan fights his way from the Texas-Mexico border to North Dakota. Traveling in tow are Charles Xavier, dementia-suffering nanogenarian and former leader of the X-Men, and Laura, a mysterious eleven-year-old girl with powers akin to Logan’s.

Logan has grown ill with heavy metal toxicity caused by the “adamantium” artificially sealed over his bones via a torturous procedure that occurred during an earlier film in the X-MEN series. This experience was akin to a shamanic rite of passage in which a painful, life-changing event to one’s mind and/or body results in a person being permanently changed for the better, usually in a psychological way (e.g., one becomes somehow wiser), but it can also be physical. Logan enjoys enhanced muscular strength and healing capacity from the adamantium, but at a high cost that manifests in this final installment.  There is a moral implication here:  We often pay for being stronger than others, particularly if we use our strength violently.  Live by the sword, die by the sword.  And Logan has lived by his sword (retractable claws and his whole body really)– largely thrust upon him to use– and is now dying by it, from within.

It is the near future and the X-Men are largely gone, the cause of their demise eventually revealed in the screenplay, but viewers must listen carefully.  Hiding out for the past several years in some run-down buildings by the Texas border, the Wolverine and his two compatriots just get by.  Caliban is the 3rd and only other remaining X-Man, though he soon goes behind the scenes for much of the film.  This leaves Wolverine alone to care for his old benefactor and father figure Xavier.

Laura, a savage, tomboy newcomer, escapes from a strange lab over the Mexican border and finds her way to Logan.  In the lab, children were genetically experimented on to create biological (mutant-based) weapons for sale to the U.S. military.  Logan finds himself roped into helping this girl reunite with the rest of the escaped mutant children who have taken refuge up in North Dakota, not far from the Canadian border. Canada has promised them safe haven from being hunted down by U.S. government special agents.  Wolverine becomes their escort and protector, but not before a lot of fights and property damage happen a long the way, the latter largely caused by Xavier’s dementia-induced seizures which bring on sonic earthquakes around him.

To keep the world safe from actual destruction, Wolverine makes sure Xavier stays sufficiently medicated via pills and injections he has purchased through clandestine methods, all to evade the authorities who have been after him, Xavier, and Caliban for years.  Like a grown son attending to an elderly, sick parent, Logan looks after the aged professor.  We the audience get to witness their tender exchanges, made more poignant by resentment-laden verbal repartee juxtaposed with frequent physical closeness from the care Logan provides and shows Xavier, historically the conscience of the X-Men yet now the most dangerous.  The two are remnants of a bygone era and only have each other, except for Laura and the rest of the new crop of mutants, though they are genetically engineered and designed to kill all the remaining natural mutants.  They are the future, or so Xavier hopes and Wolverine grudgingly, skeptically struggles to accept.  Additionally, an interesting twist involving both Laura and Logan arises.

For those of you who have followed the X-MEN movie franchise, this is one of the best in the series, if not numero uno, albeit by far the most graphically violent.  I usually avoid movies with such carnage.  However, the skillful acting, compelling main characters, and clever interweaving of multi-media (namely comic book and television imagery) into the narrative lend a dynamism to this modern tragedy and help contextualize the gruesome moments.  Logan muddles through a raw world of blind greed, fear, and authoritarian power run amok, and wants no part of any of it.  Surviving heaps of personal losses, the rough-hewn Wolverine pushes onward out of a stubborn moral need to keep a few others safe and alive, because, whether he likes it or not, he loves them.

The frequent references to “news” and clues arising from the comics about the X-Men is both a funny and clever story device.  Logan’s criticizing the accuracy of this particular media source is a timely attack on “fake news” and offers some witty comic relief in such a tension-filled narrative.

Like Shane in the late 19th century American frontier, Logan is a rugged individual who finds himself on the good side of justice for the bullied.  The references between these two movie heroes from different eras become a bit too direct/repetitive in a few places for my taste.  However, this is a minor flaw that didn’t mar the overall excellence of this powerful, poignant screenplay.  LOGAN is a superb finale and fitting tribute for Hugh Jackman and his compelling portrayal of the psychologically haunted and tortured (i.e., traumatized) Wolverine (my and many people’s favorite X-Man) in several movies over a seventeen year period.

Mini Movie Review (EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE)

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is brilliantly done. It’s fun, poignant, riveting, hilarious, exciting, thought-provoking, and often frenetic but tolerably so. What a cleverly written, beautifully filmed hybrid of Chinese-style martial arts, sci-fi action adventure, and comedy genres all rolled into one. The way the screenplay runs wild with the premise of multiple universes for each existing person (though namely Michelle Yeoh’s character, the heroine) to draw experience and consciousness from and navigate through had me both amused and feeling glued to my seat. My curiosity remained engaged throughout. I haven’t seen a recent movie with so much originality as this one contains in a very long time.

The whole cast is terrific but Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu, playing mother and daughter, respectively, take the cake. There is no white, hyper masculine leading man to save the day, which is different and refreshing.

I highly recommend this thrilling cinematic spectacle.

Movie Review (JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION)

I finally watched JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION, including the additional fourteen minutes within the extended edition. What a fun romp of a dinosaur bonanza! Giant reptiles have been loosed upon the world and are wreaking havoc here and there. The biotech company Biosyn Genetics has secured legal rights to capture, breed, and study them for posterity, or so we think. Additionally, a massive black market thrives around the illicit sale of dinosaurs, including for pets and to fight other dinosaurs in betting arenas. A number of people are charged in their various roles with setting things right, particularly after a certain cloned child (Isabella Sermon) is kidnapped and huge foot long locusts are suddenly eating up grain crops, except for Biosyn’s genetically modified ones.

I enjoyed many deep belly laughs, especially during a long chase scene where fast dinos pursue the main hero (Chris Pratt) and heroine (Bryce Dallas Howard) as they each speed through narrow, old streets of Malta, he on a motorcycle and she in the back of a truck driven by the kick-ass other heroine (DeWanda Wise). Endearing Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm effectively delivers one liners like he did back in 1993’s JURASSIC PARK. He also gets a moment of glory against a particularly big, carnivorous ‘saur.

This movie is filled with wonderful CGI of prehistoric reptiles and over-sized locusts, pokes fun at apocalyptic-minded people and, yet, also cautions about mass genetic modification of grain and insects. I imagine director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow and the other writer Emily Carmichael drew inspiration from stop motion B movie classics such as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. Only, now, with such advanced technology, the creatures seem so life-like in their look and movements. Dinosaurs running across plains with elephants and horses or swimming in the sea with whales appears both natural and wondrous. The various, earth-tone hues of these ancient beings are beautiful, their skins canvases painted by Mother Nature. (Of course, who knows if the colors are accurate to the actual animals that once walked the land over sixty five million years ago? “Blue,” the genetic hybrid velociraptor is most likely not factually correct in color or behavior.) At times, I wanted to reach out and touch the less deadly ones. As a youth, I hoped and sensed that, someday, big, scary creatures, such as dinosaurs, would appear real up on screen. Well, that day has arrived and it’s…thrilling.

The fairly ethnically diverse ensemble cast of men, women, and a young teenaged girl is refreshing. Three main stars (Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum) from the first JURASSIC PARK movie return and join forces with the stars of the recent JURASSIC WORLD trilogy, of which DOMINION is the conclusion. Everyone gets to shine and be “all in this together.”

Campbell Scott is amusing as the calculating, overly-controlled, high tech villain, Lewis Dodgson, who heads Biosyn. I enjoyed disliking him. He had me thinking of Steve Jobs, who his character is probably modeled from– plus possibly also somewhat from Jeff Bezos for good measure.

This is a visual feast and solid thriller in the old sense. Much of the dialogue ranges from so-so to lame, except for Goldblum’s witty and silly lines delivered with tongue-in-cheek dryness and perfect timing. The creators of this cinematic extravaganza knew exactly what they were going for: adrenaline rushes, visual wonderment, and laughs. Laura Dern’s character sums up how I felt about watching JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION when she exclaims after a particularly arduous action scene: “Damn, that felt good!” Yes, it sure did!

Movie Review (CLOSET MONSTER)

The movie CLOSET MONSTER (2015) is fairly good. Often, the narrative is overly direct with symbolism and outer projection of the protagonist’s state of mind. But, gorgeous, fresh-faced Connor Jessup as eighteen year-old Oscar Madly manages to carry the show with his terrific acting. I admittedly identified quite a bit with the emotionally sensitive lead. Like me, his parents divorced after much contentiousness, resulting in him (and me) developing abandonment and trust issues.

Having Isabella Rossellini do the “voice” of Buffy, his pet hamster(s), both amused and annoyed me. This is just one of those aforementioned inner onto outer “projection” techniques (or whatever one more versed than I in filmmaking lingo would call it) that is overused here, verging on ridiculous. Perhaps that is intentional, to evoke a sense of the absurd that often arises in life. I don’t know, but, juxtaposed with other, darker imagery and music, the movie comes across as uneven in places, indecisive– like the mind of a teenager, I suppose. In addition to Mr. Jessup’s acting, some consistently good elements are the interesting, dynamic soundtrack and Oscar’s artwork, including the assorted costume makeup he has his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) wear in some scenes.

I appreciated the dark, interior look and tone to this queer teenage angst film, which centers around a lonely boy whose sexuality gets bound up in the witnessing of a very traumatic event when he’s about nine years old. Some people lack patience for these introspective visual projects. I continue to usually enjoy them, if they’re not overly long, which this one isn’t (with a run time of almost exactly ninety minutes).

Only by the end would I say that the movie began to finally feel satisfying. But, I think the screenplay is not meant to evoke a sense of satisfaction, given the subject matter being child and teenage neglect, isolation, and growing up gay in a hetero-dominated world. Dear Oscar wants and deserves far better than the life he’s presented with and must work extra hard to improve upon. Like him in CLOSET MONSTER, there are so many of us young and formerly young queer folk whose experiences need to be written and filmed about for others to better know and understand. And, so, I’m glad this film was made, even with its limitations/warts and all.

Mini Movie Review (DRAMARAMA)

DRAMARAMA (2021) is about a group of friends who met through their high school drama club. It’s the summer of 1994 in Escondido, Southern California. Having just graduated, they get together one last time before going their separate ways in the world. The primary point of view is told through Gene (Nick Pugliese), a somewhat geeky, closeted gay boy (as he’s not quite eighteen).

I found this movie fun and touching in places but also irritating at times. The intentional over-acting got tiresome, perhaps because I grew up around so much ebb and flow of emotional drama. That said, I do think the nearly constant histrionics, though sometimes humorous as intended, diluted the more intimate and sincere moments. I did find the leading character Gene to be the most relatable and developed among the ensemble.

DRAMARAMA is uneven, its finer moments evoking for me a sense of endearment for the cast. This is often a cute little screenplay, albeit far more stilted and strained than the more emotionally effective 1985 classic THE BREAKFAST CLUB, which it has been compared to. If you choose to watch this, your mileage may vary.

Movie Review (LUZ)

LUZ (2020) seemingly starts out as a men’s prison movie but naturally evolves into a heart-felt romance between two Latinx men. The story opens with Ruben (the dreamy-eyed, high-cheek-boned Ernesto Reyes) beginning a three year prison sentence for causing a car accident while drunk. This resulted in the death of his passenger, the main “girl” (a very attractive male-to-female trans person) of his ruthless and dangerous Mafiosa cousin Julio (Rega Lupo). Ruben is clearly repentant for his crime, praying frequently in prison. He and his assigned cellmate Carlos (Jesse Tayeh) start off on rough footing but soon develop a friendship.

Filmed in Oregon, with a pleasant soundtrack added in, LUZ was written and directed by Jon Garcia. He clearly wanted to create something that challenges and transcends the cultural constrictions of traditional Latinx machismo and its subsequent homophobia. The character of Carlos’ mother, Benilda (Alma Gloria Garcia, who actually is the mother of Jesse Tayeh), masterfully portrays the female half of the movie’s moral center. Ruben is the male half of this center. Her brief historical explanation about the origins of “machismo” arising from the interfacing of the Spanish conquistadores and “the natives” (of what is now Mexico, most likely) is informative and moving. Her level-headed, caring presence supports and validates the growing love between her son and Ruben. I found myself wondering if Ms. Garcia was even acting or simply being herself on screen. She comes across as so genuine.

The acting in the movie ranged from competent to excellent, and felt in places like people were simply being themselves. In addition to the wonderful Alma Gloria Garcia, Ernesto Reyes as the extremely handsome and compellingly sensitive Ruben also stands out for me. His radiant screen presence melted my heart. I hope his acting career takes off if it hasn’t already done so.

The narrative remains cohesive while managing to go in exploratory, introspective directions. A psychedelic mushroom trip in the woods for the two leading men and a supporting character further deepens us viewers’ sense of Ruben’s textured emotional life. It also offers a bit of much-needed lightness, including pleasant pondering of nature, in the screenplay’s otherwise serious tone throughout.

I was moved to tears a handful of times while watching this refreshingly tender film about love between two physically strong, courageous men who embark on a journey of intimacy and creating a blended, chosen family. I came away from watching LUZ feeling reminded and affirmed that, if we truly allow it to, love conquers so much, perhaps even all.

Movie Review (SEVEN LUCKY GODS)

Jamil Dehlavi’s SEVEN LUCKY GODS (2013) is anything but feel good. Rather, it is a slice of life film about survival, loneliness, lack of justice in the world, and other themes I imagine viewers will glean for themselves.

Filled with rage and anguish over his war-torn childhood and desolate adolescence in Kosovo, Mehmet (Nik Xhelilaj) has come illegally to London, England to survive and seek revenge. The Albanian Muslim uses his dark good looks, sexual allure, and calculated charm to obtain money, food, and shelter from others. He eases (more like worms) his way into the lives of three particular individuals. Two of these characters I found to be truly sympathetic, a physician named Marilyn (Kate Maravan) and one of her long-term patients, Meg (Alison Peebles), a lonely elderly woman with MS. Everyone else, specifically three other supporting characters along with Mehmet, are largely motivated in life by more selfish interests.

In fairness to Mehmet, as the screenplay unfolds, we the audience eventually find out about his horrific past and see him as more than just a grifter with sociopathic tendencies. He is a product of post-colonial oppression and cultural upheaval after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in his case persecution for being Muslim. It is no wonder he seeks retribution. There are many raging men like Mehmet in the world and this profile of an anti-hero of sorts helps to bring such suffering, harsh individuals more into public consciousness. Like it or not, this movie needed to be made.

The acting is excellent by everyone. Christopher Villiers believably plays Adrian, a stuffy English bureaucrat with personal secrets to keep from the public. Some interactions between he and Mehmet had me cringing inside. I felt a mix of sympathy and disgust for both of them. This did not make for easy watching, but was psychologically intriguing.

I was particularly moved and impressed by a reaction shot of Kate Maravan’s face in one scene. It is rare that I ever see cameras linger for a while on someone’s visage while he/she/they slowly express deep emotion. This lack of such a technique is particularly the case in mainstream American films, which so often rely on action scenes, colorful or high tech. settings, and special effects more than on intimate character development and interactions to move the story along. Non-U.S.-based filmmakers seem better at emphasizing the latter two elements, such as this well-made British production is.

SEVEN LUCKY GODS is brutal in places, at times downright cynical more than I personally am, but thought-provoking. Hence, this movie is a worthwhile watch for when you are in the right headspace to handle some realistic emotional abrasiveness. Good self care after seeing this will be important, including hugging a loved one.

Mini Movie Review (JUNGLE CRUISE)

JUNGLE CRUISE (2021), a silly Disney movie based on one of its amusement park rides, is often barely watchable. The three central characters are fun, however. Lovely and talented Emily Blunt pulls off being the story’s moral center (for what that’s worth, but somebody usually needs to fill that role) and, frequently, the leader. Jack Whitehead, who is new to me, is amusing and endearing as he evolves from hothouse flower, gay British dandy to someone with more grit and fortitude by the end. And Dwayne Johnson is simply a hunk of guilty pleasure for me. He’s the predictable testosterone for the show but kept in his place by the other two, particularly Ms. Blunt’s character. He and Emily have a playful chemistry throughout. Blunt and Whitehead especially demonstrate good comic timing and reactions.

I can’t remember the names of any of the dramatis personae, because the superficialness of them all renders such details irrelevant, forgettable. And I could have cared less about the cliché plot (an expedition into the jungle for some ancient, magical panacea), slapstick style action sequences, and ridiculous CGI. These special effects often felt like attempts to resurrect scenes from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies. Nothing is original here. But, the enjoyable dynamics of the core triad and the occasional screen frame of actual, unadulterated (by CGI) lush vegetation redeem this absurdly high budget trashy movie into being periodically watchable. And I did like seeing Dwayne Johnson dressed in a fuchsia-magenta suit and hat at the very end. Cute, like many other moments in the movie, cute.

Movie Review (SUMMER OF 85)

SUMMER OF 85 (2020) is a poignant, often joyful French coming of age, gay summer romance film. French filmmakers seem to especially know how to make good movies about teenage love and angst. This one is set in Normandy in 1985, over most of the summer.

The pretty and talented Felix Lefebvre plays Alexis/Alex, a sixteen-year-old fascinated with death. (Such fascination is a recurring theme, I’ve observed, in a good share of French and other European movies.) While capsized in a small sailing boat during a thunderstorm, he is rescued by eighteen-year-old David (Benjamin Voisin). The older boy eventually seduces the younger, who falls passionately in love with David. The narrative weaves between flashbacks and less than two months later, with darling Alex proceeding to write about his intense time with the more wild, free-wheeling David. Both of the young men are sexy and adorable, with Alex being especially adorable of the two. He comes across as vibrantly youthful yet also a thoughtful old soul, making him unique, interesting, and compelling.

I cried in a few places and laughed in others, feeling satisfied and complete with the movie’s resolution. I would rate it as a distant second in quality to the far more panoramically filmed and sensual, but similarly themed gay summer romance CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017), which also takes place in the 1980s.

The soundtrack was delightful, with The Cure’s classic, plaintive song “In Between Days” particularly standing out for me.

I was just under one year older than David’s character when this little screen gem takes place. This lent an extra layer of sentimentality for me while watching SUMMER OF 85. Other gay, early Gen X‘ers will also particularly enjoy this sweet and thoughtful film, though I think the piece manages to be relevant for today and a wider audience.

This is a crisply done, emotionally moving, engrossing movie about love in its different forms— romantic, familial, friendship, and love of life.

Movie Review (DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS)

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is a fun romp. The concept of multiple parallel universes isn’t new. But, I’m enjoying how it’s being creatively played with more in movies and TV shows, including in this recent Marvel Cinematic Universe installment. Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange and Elizabeth Olsen as an anguished, out of control Wanda the Scarlet Witch effectively carry this often goofy thrill ride of a show as they travel and battle their way through universes.

The over-the-top storyline and imagery had me laughing at times, though not in a disdainful way. For example, Dr. Strange magically astral travels, or whatever it is, into a decaying dead version of himself from another parallel universe (one of an infinite number of such universes). Inhabiting and reanimating this corpse, he “dream walks” into a universe holding the mysterious mountain location where the grand finale will happen. Along the way, he harnesses several screeching damned souls to assist him. Mr. Cumberbatch skillfully balances a tongue in cheek tone with sincerity throughout this CGI cinema circus. I wondered how often he burst out laughing while delivering his lines.

As a great counterbalance to Dr. Strange, Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch conveys pathos and anger beautifully. One cannot help but feel for her as she goes about wreaking havoc in an effort to unite with the two children of one of her counterpart selves from another ‘verse. Such high stakes drama to become all powerful simply to secure close connection with a few others and stave off grief and loneliness. And this all fueled from Wanda having to kill her true love in order to save the world (in 2019’s AVENGERS: ENDGAME). I think I’d be out of my right/wise mind too. Very tragic. I was glad to see Elizabeth Olsen finally have a chance to show her acting chops in this movie series.

The ensemble cast bears a brief mention here. I was moved to see the return of assorted characters from other MCU storylines, such as Patrick Stewart reprising his role of Dr. Xavier of the X-Men and Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter transformed here into the shield wielding superheroine Captain Carter. With the wonders and flexibility of parallel universes, even deceased people can show up still alive somewhere and appease us fans who’ve been missing seeing certain folks up on screen.

I’m well aware that comic book superhero movies aren’t for everyone, but for those of us who enjoy them, this production is surprisingly good. The story is easy to follow, full of colorful, fantastical beings, settings, and action sequences, and good old-fashioned thrilling with its imaginative mix of humor and excitement.