Logan (2017): A Dystopic Western Masterpiece That Explores the Depths of Pain

    “Logan” is the greatest X-Men Films and one of my all time favorite films. This is a film that doesn’t hold back in any way and is powerful because of it. To give my non-spoiler thoughts…it is well worth your time. It is beautifully crafted, has a powerful emotional core that drives it and has a point in some of the overarching themes on both the personal and larger societal level (a theme of X-Men films I’ve always appreciated). I’ll get into the details of all these things later into the review.

     The film was directed by James Mangold who wrote the screenplay along with Scott Frank and Michael Green while being produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner.

    The story takes place in 2029 and all the X-Men are gone except for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is taking care of a dying Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is losing control of his powers and is only able to keep them in check with medication. Wolverine has become a drunk as well and it takes a mutant child called X-23 (Dafne Keen) coming into their lives as she escapes from the Transigen Corporation who created her and other children who she is trying to find to escape to safety in Canada.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one where there are no more X-Men and we never get a full explanation (a virus is what is implied but never fully explained). Transigen has cyborg mercs who are hunting down mutants and the world is desolate with extreme poverty and wealth. The world is a reflection of ours, as the good X-Men films tend to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the pain and isolation of our characters…from the stark contrasts of light and dark…and splotches of blood or shadow. This is a world that reflects our broken characters.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much western in theme, which is what I consider the film to be, more so than an X-Men film as the characters didn’t have to be the people they were for the story to work. This story stands strong on it’s own and the soundtrack reflects that. Marco Beltrami made a fantastic soundtrack.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest part of the film as it is their wrestling with their pain and choices they make from it that define them and the film.

Donald Pierce – Pierce is head of the Reavers and is a charming, brutal character. I wish he’d been the big bad as the Mad Scientist was pretty lame. Pierce just loved the joy of the hunt and being in control and respected power. This made him interesting and it takes a lot to take him down.

The Family – There is an African-American family that takes them in that the Reavers with the Wolverine clone destroy. It is the first bit of compassion our characters experience and it all ends with the father holding a gun at Wolverine even after Wolverine saves him from his clone…it is such a tragic course of events that leads to both the death of Professor X and Logan and Laura back on the road.

Caliban – Is an albino mutant who can track mutants and is taking care of Xavier. He is a kind and desperate mutant who ends up being used by the Reavers again (he was used by the corporation in the past) but sacrifices himself so that Logan and Laura can escape. I really liked his character. He is fearful and it is contrasted with Xavier’s sorrow and Logan’s rage.

Laura / X-23 – Dafne Keen is a great actress. She gives an intensity to her character where it is believable that she was created and experimented on in a lab. You can understand her rage and her killing Reavers and becoming a family with Professor X and Logan is beautiful…as is her losses she goes through. She is one of the clear leader among the New Mutants that Transigen created.

Charles Xavier / Professor X – Charles is going crazy and is suffering from brain degeneration that he has to take pills for, in order to control his powers. He is the external conscience for Logan though as he is the one who helps Laura find them and is the one always pushing Logan to help her. He is full of regrets for those he hurt when he lost control of his powers and his manipulative past…In the end he confesses all of this but no one hears as he is killed. It is tragic and fits the lonely, regret and despair that pervades and follows our heroes. Patrick Stewart once again is acting gold.

Logan / Wolverine – Hugh Jackman gives one of his best performances ever in this role. We get to see him drunk and desperate, sorrowful and in despair, rageful and moments of joy and empathy. He truly owns this character and I’m grateful he got this beautiful sendoff as his character has redemption and becomes an X-Men again.

The Ending – The ending is so sad. The New Mutants escape to Canada but Logan dies, killed by his clone as he finds his core as an X-Men again but at the expense of his life…Though he dies happy as he protects the girl who became family to him and was his daughter, and not just because she was made with his DNA. The scene is powerful and there aren’t many words at his funeral but it captures that even in desperation people can find the will to move forward.

Regret and Pain – Regret and pain are major themes of the film as both Logan and Xavier live with regrets of all those they hurt, killed or destroyed as this is a core motivation for what drives them to protect others, specifically Laura. They are broken from their mistakes and are surrounded by a world that reflects them.

Persecution of Immigrants and Refugees – From Transigen hunting the New Mutants across borders and trying to stop them from escaping to safety in Canada (the current refugees and immigrants doing the same with Trumps immoral new policies), this is a major theme of the story and is one that has always existed in X-Men as persecution and acceptance and compassion for the other is one of the greatest themes of the X-Men.

Pain, Healing and Getting Outside the Self – Healing and looking outside of the self is a major theme of Logan’s character and this film is him finding it again, even after all he has lost and all the pain he’s gone through. This arc ends with his powerful sacrifice for other New Mutants, as Logan once more becomes an X-Men (reflected in the cross at his grave being turned into an X by Laura).

The Cons: Zander Rice – This guy is Mad Scientist ^TM  and anyone could have played him. I wish the Reavers had been the main threat or a scientist who better reflected the world. This world felt like Mad Max and needed a Mad Max type villain. Someone to be Professor X or Logan’s foil. All this guy wanted was power and to create and control mutants and we never see him do anything outside of the lab and hunting our heroes. A better villain like Bane, Joker or Immorten Joe would have made this film perfect.

   This was a film that achieved everything it set out to do, with the only con I could really find being how forgettable the main villain was. Everyone else served a purpose that drove the story in narrative in a rewarding way and had payoff at the end. This is a film that reminds us how important it is to look outside of ourselves, no matter what the cost is and that the actions we do matter and can make a difference even in the worst of world circumstances. This film will probably make my Top 5 Films of 2017 as it is one of the best super hero and comic book films I have ever watched and is a beautiful, tragic film with an unforgettable story. What a sendoff for Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

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Chaos on the Bridge (2014): A Documentary Exploring the Conflict Behind Starting “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

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    I’m not the biggest fan of William Shatner. The stories of how he treated the cast, and his pet project film of “The Final Frontier” was just awful as it was all about Kirk and he even had the crew of the “Enterprise” turn against him just so he could be the center of attention…so yeah, I’m not the biggest fan. This is a decent documentary though and I really liked seeing him explore other egos and the mess that was the first 2 season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

      Shatner directed the film and it aired on HBO.

      The story involves the drama behind the creation of and initial failure of “Star Trek: The Next Generations” through interviews to give the different sides of the story in the conflicts that took place on getting the new “Star Trek” off the ground.

The Pros: Roddenberry’s Story – Roddenberry’s story is sad as you have a man who lost his art since it was owned by Paramount and the studio didn’t give him anything until the films. This lead to him being very selfish both during “The Original Series” and his attempt to micromanage “The Next Generation,” which made the early stories suck as he could change his mind at any point and had surrounded himself with “yes” men. It wasn’t until he left that the show was really able to find it’s footing, though he gave us some great ideas like the Holodeck and of course “Star Trek” which made “The Next Generation” and my favorite of the Treks, “Deep Space Nine” possible.

Interviews with the Actors – The interviews with the actors and team are a lot of fun as you get an idea of how the personalities clashed and it gives a taste of how close so many of them were. Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) and Jonathan Frakes (Will Riker) were great examples of this, as was Denise Crosby who sadly got shafted (like McFadden did by Hurley).

Patrick Stewart – Patrick Stewart being cast as the Captain is a really cool story as he was wearing a wig at first but was accepted by Rodenberry after he took it off and he convinced everyone that in the future hair doesn’t matter. It was a cool moment! Later Stewart got in a fight when he thought what he was doing was being mocked but was able to resolve it with one of the Producers.

The Turn Around – After Maurice Hurley leaves and Roddenberry leaves the show gets back on task. Hurley gave us the Borg, which was a great idea but he held to closely to Roddenberry’s vision of human perfection so there was no character conflict….this was a big reason the first 2 season sucked. Our characters were just bland and didn’t have characterization.

William Shatner – Shatner showed class in this. He was sad at not being asked to be involved with starting “The Next Generation” but he moved on and he clearly had a lot of respect for the people he was interviewing. It truly felt that he did this project out of a genuine care for Trek and curiosity of what came after him.

The Cons: The Animation – The animation looks like a comic book and clashes with drama that unfolded. Which is a shame since the animation isn’t bad, it just tonally felt very jarring.

The Soundtrack – It is very jokey and clashed with the Rodenberry story and a new creation finding it’s footing.

This was a good short documentary that I’d recommend. Shatner’s ego doesn’t really come out and he comes off as genuine and sincere throughout the entire project, so he’s clearly grown at least somewhat from the past. The animation and soundtrack detract from it but learning about the drama and the interviews really carry it and made it an enjoyable watch.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation Pilot – Encounter at Farpoint Part 1 and 2 – Show Don’t Tell

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Today continues the second week of the Star Trek Pilot Series. This week we turn to “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and the return of Trek to television after 17 years since cancellation. Suffice to say it is a very mixed return in this episode “Encounter at Farpoint,” a two part episode that shows some of the best and worst of Gene Roddenberry at the head of his creation. This again would be for better and for worse…much of what was wrong about the “Original Series” carried over into early “Next Generation,” until it was able to find it’s own voice. To get into more of what I mean.

The premise of “Encounter at Farpoint” is it is the first time The Next Generation Crew is put into action and they are challenged by Q to prove they have evolved and are worthy of being out to investigate the stars and are not the bad they were in the past by solving the mystery of Farpoint Station. Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The crew – The crew is interesting and they are given things to do throughout the episode. Everyone has a role even if the actors don’t pull off that role well. We have Picard as the voice for humanity against Q and the one who reasons through situations, Riker as the investigator, Yar as the voice of the past (grew up on a post apocalyptic type planet), Worf as the alien perspective, Data as the critique of humanity and Crusher and Troi as the empaths (the healers of mind and body) to keep the crew functioning. The show starts out with a great dynamic, that they tell us about but don’t always show us…

Q: The introduction of Q in the guise of the judge is fantastic. Some of his other stuff is less subtle but John de Lancie does a good job elevating the terrible script to at least be an intriguing antagonist. He is what makes the plot interesting since the story around Farpoint is pretty weak.

Dr. McCoy guest appearance: DeForest Kelley makes a great guest appearance speaking about the love of a crew for it’s ship which also added more to it.

Okay: The actors – They just started and are a mixed bag. Frakes does alright as Riker and McFadden does alright as Dr. Crusher. Sirtas as Troi and Wheaton are just bad. Stewart is good as the Captain and Delancie is good as Q…there are no great performances though. The episode isn’t elevated by the actors the way “The Man Trap” was.

The Special effects – The Special Effects are alright, they aren’t as good as they would be later, but they are much better than the original series. It at least gives us some interesting things to look at when the script drags, which happens often.

The Ending – It isn’t amazing, but it isn’t terrible like some of the episodes in Trek, it just feels empty considering that this was the chance for the crew to shine but we don’t get to see it really. Nothing of consequence really happens that wouldn’t happen anyway (the Space Jellyfish meeting, the introduction of Q), in that way I would say the ending of “The Man Trap” and even “The Cage” are superior. They have more awareness of themselves and the actions that occurred in the episode.

The Cons: The script – The script is bad. It made me miss the writing in the original series. It tells us rather than shows us evolved humanity most of the time which makes the crew come off as no better than Q…which wasn’t the writers’ intent I’m guessing. It is far to busy preaching (especially in regards to the aliens that inhabit Farpoint) rather than presenting a dilemma.

The tone: It never felt like the crew was ever in danger because the script presents Q as such a huge joke. He never feels dangerous, though he does look cool in his Inquistion robes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he comes off as a clown not otherwordly threat because of the episode unable to fully realize what tone it wants to take. It wants to be the “Original Series,” (Otherwordly mysteries with a something discovered about how humanity has grown) but also be “The Next Generation,” (new crew, new time, new place).

The Romance: The romance between Riker and Troi feels tacked on in this episode. I had a hard time they’d loved each other being this was the first time we as the viewers see them meet. It is believable in later episodes, but not the first one.

The “Original Series” also suffered from a few bad scripts and being too preachy at times (showing not telling), one thing the pilots do well though is show us the message rather than tell us. They present us with the danger of travel and the possibility for wonder. Here the message is preached to us by Picard with a badly written foil through Q and the sense of wonder falls flat since the aliens are just concepts. The aliens in “The Man Trap” and the “Cage” were more than just ideas…they were living creatures and had complexity, the Space Jellyfish have no complexity at all, they just wanted to mate…and we have no idea how many of them there are or what they do in the larger scheme of the galaxy. It is for this reason I have to rate this episode as less than the other pilots.

I would rate this episode as 6 / 10. It had a lot of potential (both with the conflict among the crew) and outside threats (Q and Farpoint) that were never fully realized.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Day of (Much Needed) Retcon

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is an amazing and much needed retcon of the embarrassing X-Men films that missed the point of X-Men (“X3:The Last Stand” and “Origins: Wolverine”). There was so much I enjoyed about this film, largely the character relationships and how they go about bringing about the retcon with one of the most fascinating stories from the X-Men mythos. It is better than X2 in some ways but worse in others but overall is comparable to it in relation to both the good and the bad.

The basic premise is Wolverine is sent back in time by Kitty Pride to change the future since the future is overrun by the Sentinels (think the Borg from “Star Trek” but robots or the Cybermen from “Doctor Who” except larger and specifically aimed at killing Mutants and all those who harbor or could make mutants). The drama unfolds as Wolverine shines a light on the flaws of Magneto and Professor X (as on the other side Mystique is doing as the primary antagonist besides Trask and his Sentinels). Mystique is the one who drives the drama since her act is what brings about the Sentinel controlled future. The story deals with this and the power of choice in how we choose to treat those who are different.

Now for the assessment:

The Pros – The Characters – X-Men is one of the most character driven franchises that marvel has. They do a good job at exploring motivations and the flaws of the characters. You think Professor X is perfect? Than you aren’t paying attention. You think Magneto and Mystique are simply evil? Look at what drives them and the real trials they’ve faced. “Days of Future Past” expands on this more than any X-Men movie prior and answers the questions we were left with after “First Class” in regards to what happens to the characters and the inner conflict that drives them.

The Message – X-Men has always had a great message. It is the message that all are worthy of equality no matter how different they are, it also explains why people may lash out. If a group is oppressed how do you expect the group to act? It is when people are supported and loved that they are healthy. We see that with Xavier repressing his power through drugs, through Trask and his Putin’s Russia or Religiously Tyrannical approach that seeks to annihilate all members who are gay, queer, transgender or otherwise…who in this case are represented by the X-Men. We see Wolverine, someone who has found peace in himself in coming out and how Xavier helped him get there, he helps Xavier in turn when Xavier is in the metaphorical closet. The message is one thing this movie gets right. That an eye for an eye just makes things worse and that the worth, rights and dignity of all people must be recognized if we are to have peace in our time.

The special Effects – There are some great cinematic moments. Not as good as “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which in my opinion is the best Marvel movie so far. But it was good, though there was a con related to some of the filming I’ll bring up later.

The Retcon – “X3: The Last Stand” and “X:Men Origins: Wolverine” were some of the worst superhero movies that have been made. A contradictory message sent in both, horrible action and not much pacing to speak of…and of course killing off some of the characters that make X-Men, X-Men for no point but cheap thrills. This retcon was needed…if not Disney Marvel Studios should really get the rights back. If a company can’t treat their stories with respect, they don’t deserve their stories.

The Aftercredits scene: So much potential…it is great to see that the studio is getting back to the comic books stories in X-Men that made it so interesting. Here is holding out for “House of M” at some point!

The Actors – I want to see more movies in the “First Class” Universe. Young Magneto (Fassbender), Mystique (Lawrence), Professor X (McAvoy) and Beast are handled so well by the actors that I would love to see more of them. Even the minor actors who make appearances as Toad and others do a great job. Stewart and McKellan and Page are great in the future scenes too and of course Jackman is still the go to Wolverine for a reason.

Okay – The music. It wasn’t anything special and was like everything we’ve heard before from an X-Men movie. Again, didn’t touch “Winter Soldier” here, or even “The Amazing Spiderman 2” soundtrackwise.

The cons – Nostalgia – There was the way some scenes from filmed, as well as the leather fetish that showed that Bryan Singer hasn’t grown much as someone who can film a scene. It was better than the first X-Men movie that way, but even X2 had some better filming than this one at certain points. It wasn’t consistent but that nostalgia in costumes and filming detracted from the fact that this is a new film. Sadly it looks like he hasn’t grown to the level of the Disney Marvel Studies in relationship to their world (“Iron Man 3”, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Thor: The Dark World” are all growth from the movies that came before in a MAJOR WAY). There was growth in “Days of Future Past” too, it was just small…how the next movie is handled will see if that growth fully happened or if we’ve just been retconned back to Square 1 where X-Men 1 and 2 are.

X-Men is one of my favorite comic books and comic universes besides Spider-Man and Batman in regards to the large franchises (for smaller I ones I love more there are “Hellblazer” and “Sandman” and would recommend both series). This movie is worth seeing since it treats the subject matter (message and story) with respect. I would definitely recommend this movie.

My rating for it is 9 / 10.