Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009): I remember walking out of the last X-Men film (X-Men: The Last Stand) feeling incredibly disappointed. How could director Brett Ratner take what Bryan Singer had done and flush it down the toilet, killing off favorite characters like they were nothing and bringing in hordes of new mutants without any character development? Then I head that a new X-Men film was coming out. It was all about Wolverine's backstory, plus it had my favorite mutant hero, Gambit! Surely director Gavin Hood would learn from Ratner's mistakes and all would be made right within the world of mutant superheroes! Surely the X-Men film legacy could be redeemed!

Nope. Not happening this time.

From the very beginning, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (an awkward title, that one) is a combination of over-the-top action mixed with an attempt at singular character development. Born in 19th century Canada, Logan (Hugh Jackman) and his half-brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) already have unexplained mutant powers that allow them to heal rapidly, grow bone claws, and never die. They choose to use these powers in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam (without explanation) before being introduced to Col. William Stryker. Stryker is assembling a unique team with special powers who end up in Africa to steal a special metallic meteorite. Logan appears uninterested by the team as soon as he joins, while Victor (inexplicably) enjoys all the killing. After parting ways, Logan ends up as a lumberjack in Canada romancing Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) and living the simple life. When Victor reappears as a threat, Logan has to take action and seek revenge.

For an origins story, there is little in explanation or empathy for Logan's situation or the characters around him. Why fight in all the wars? Why does Victor take such pleasure in violence? How did Logan and Kayla meet? Where does the antagonism between Victor and Logan come from? We're never quite sure. The plot moves on with quick glimpses of other mutants and their powers before they're quickly dispatched by some foe. Perhaps the screenwriter got tired of them. Every mutant has their fifteen seconds of screen time, but clearly the film is not about them. We're supposed to have sympathy for Logan's situation, but one can take the howl-into-the-air-while-the-camera-zooms-out only so much. 

And why have explanations or character development when you can have action sequences filled with explosions, snarls, and plenty of aerobatic feats? Victor and Logan have at least three claws-out duels. They're entertaining, yes, but there's never any resolve. We already know that both characters will survive to be in the first X-Men film, so any suspense is lost. Some fight scenes feel forced, like Logan's boxing match with Blob and his brief alley fight with Gambit. They're flashy and fun, but don't move the plot along nor seem necessary.

The action is entertaining and Hugh Jackman does his very best at pulling life out of the mediocre script. But there was so much missed potential here. Wolverine is reduced to a cliche action hero (and my favorite, Gambit, is no more than an extended cameo!). From a creative-redemptive framework, the film is filled with unoriginal cliches and has almost no discernible theme or message (unless "mutants with claws are cool" is a redemptive theme). 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is much like the explosions it employs to keep the audience's attention: flashy and entertaining for a moment, but mostly forgettable. Save this for a rental.

Frost/Nixon (2008): A taut script and impressive performances puts this theater-adaptation head and shoulders above ordinary political thrillers. Based on the real-life interviews between talk-show host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon, this Best Picture nominee tells its story much like a finely tuned documentary, including interviews with key characters to keep the audience always in the loop.

Frost (Michael Sheen) is a performer and a playboy. He wears Italian shoes, smiles a lot, enjoys having parties and signing autographs. The thing is, not very many people take him seriously. He's not an investigative journalist. He has a fairly mediocre history when it comes to television. Yet all of this makes him the perfect opponent in this duel of the minds between himself and the ex-president. Nixon (Frank Langella) is fierce, smart, articulate, and competitive. His imposing frame and piercing eyes make Frost seem rather small--even cute--in comparison. They verbally spar for four sessions about a variety of issues, all leading up to an emotionally-charged climax that had me leaning forward in my seat.

Langella is thrilling as Nixon. It sounds cliche to call it a tour de force, but that's the only phrase I can think of to describe the performance. Every other actor does a great job, especially Sheen as Frost, but all lie in Langella's shadow. Nixon is portrayed as both a monster and a broken man, a leader who abused his power yet lives with deep regret lining his face. Peter Morgan's screenplay has fantastic dialogue throughout the interviews, creating a remarkable tension that kept me engaged. Throughout the conversation, we begin to understand that the truth always comes out, that everyone is ultimately held accountable for their actions, and that even the most corrupt of politicians has a heart buried somewhere deep inside.

(Side note: Frost/Nixon is rated R for "some language," which means there are three f-words in the film. It's an example of the breakdown of the rating system. How this film is less appropriate for people under the age of 17 as opposed to nearly anything Will Ferrell has done during the past 5 years is beyond me. Vulgar humor, sexual situations, drug use, and even brief nudity are allowed in some PG-13 films. MPAA ratings can't be our only tool for discernment. We have to evaluate film content on a deeper level.)

1 comment:

  1. ok so joel, i thought you of all people would love this moive, when I went and saw it I thought for sure you would like it, we will have to talk about it more when I see you next ;)

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