Hugh Jackman

Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The strangest thing about Logan, at least in terms of the plotting, is how director Mangold is desperate to reference a film classic–one with a plot perfectly suited to what he’s purportedly trying to do with Logan–and he doesn’t follow it through. In any of the neat ways he could. Instead, he goes for obvious and superficial.

Mangold is not Logan’s worst enemy, however. He certainly doesn’t help matters, but the script–which he did cowrite–is the big problem. It’s entirely wrapped up in itself; Logan has a long list of contrivances (mostly with the ground situation but also with plot developments and revelations) and, for whatever reason, the script wants to get into all of them. And all the explanations are lame.

Even still, the film would be able to survive if it weren’t for a nightmare third act when the film tries to get away without a protagonist for a while. It’s called Logan, of course, so one would think it’d always be about Hugh Jackman’s aged mutant killing machine who just wants to chill out and live in hiding. He’s got a big secret to keep–one of the ground situation contrivances the film cops out on dealing with entirely–not just from the audience, but from his sidekicks too. See, in retirement from mutant killing machining, Jackman has become a limo driver. He works long hours and then goes home to Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant. Stewart’s sick and Merchant’s the live-in nurse and maid, basically. There’s more to it, but not enough. Because there’s never enough in Logan. Everything is supposed to be implied.

Jackman suffers the worst for all those implications. Mangold’s constantly letting other people take the scene in Logan, whether it’s Stewart (who doesn’t exactly steal the show, but only because the script fails him miserably too) or tough guy villain Boyd Holbrook or even pointless cameoing Eriq La Salle. The script demotes Jackman, Mangold does too.

Logan wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a family bonding movie–not a family movie about bonding, but a movie about family bonding–it wants to be future commentary (Mangold’s weakly executed future setting is another of Logan’s many painfully obvious problems), it wants to be a tough action movie, it wants to be deep. It really, really, really, really wants to be deep. Mangold loves the symbolism here; sadly he can’t decide on how he wants to convey it, so it’s another thing Logan could’ve done and doesn’t.

Even so, Jackman and Stewart are showing up to do the work. They’re trying to deliver that really, really, really, really deep movie. Dafne Keen–as the young mutant Jackman and Stewart are protecting–is pretty good for most of the movie. When she runs into problems, it’s because the script veers into its crappiest.

It’s a lazy script. It’s a weak and lazy script; Mangold doesn’t have the chops to make it work. He’s never distracted, he’s never interested, he’s always detached, always professional. Logan completely lacks personality. The fight scenes are lame, especially when they should be great. Mangold’s got no rhythm to them. John Mathieson’s capably bland photography doesn’t help, neither does the editing–Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt are capably bland. Marco Beltrami’s score is one of his best and it too… bland. François Audouy’s production design–his vision of this mutant-free 2029–isn’t capably bland. It’s just weak.

Jackman’s got enough of a presence to get the film to the finish line. Unfortunately, there’s no one waiting there to finish the movie for him. And Stewart’s fun. Shame the script wasn’t there. Shame Mangold couldn’t bring it together. Logan wants to be anything but mediocre and it ends up being nothing but.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Scott Frank, Mangold, and Michael Green, based on a story by Mangold; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, François Audouy; produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan), Patrick Stewart (Charles), Dafne Keen (Laura), Boyd Holbrook (Pierce), Stephen Merchant (Caliban), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gabriela), and Richard E. Grant (Dr. Rice).


Eddie the Eagle (2016, Dexter Fletcher)

Eddie the Eagle is charming. It’s assured–great script from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton–and a wonderful sense of time and place (eighties UK and Europe, then Canada) from director Fletcher. Fletcher’s got some problems I’ll get to in a bit but Eddie’s got a phenomenal feel. It’s a deft homage to eighties popular filmmaking, with an ecstatic synthesizer-ish score from Matthew Margeson. It’s also extremely self-aware of how films have changed since then. Fletcher’s use of sports montage and one-liners–he’s a competent director, but he has a hard time with the first act.

Eddie’s an inspiring, true story movie. It’s about this British guy (Eddie) who, while not an athlete, ended up in the Olympics. I’d never heard of it because… you know, sports. Taron Egerton is the lead, Hugh Jackman is his trainer. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen are his parents. All of them give great performances. Jackman’s giving a really strong movie star performance. Hartley and Allen have to be comic relief but also entirely human and relatable. Egerton’s performance is thoughtful and deliberate. He’s playing a colorful (in reality) person and he gets past the color.

In some ways, Eddie makes fun of its own Britishness to get by. It’s well-produced Britishness, but there’s a wink about it all. It’s oddly appropriate, as the action moves to Germany, because it orients the audience quite comfortably. We’re in the British perspective, we’re looking in on the European, just like Egerton would be if the character had time to do anything but ski jump.

The ski jumping is where Fletcher gets into his most trouble. He’s better directing the actors than he is shooting scenes of the actors, but that problem is far less significant. Eddie is about the sport of ski jumping; it seems like it should be an important thing to show. Fletcher botches most of it. He and cinematographer George Richmond love the scale of the film–the mountains, the mountain ski villages, the ski jumps–and they convey it well. There’s just nothing in the filmmaking when it comes to the jumps. They get better, but they get better because they’re less ambitious (mostly just close-ups on Egerton) and the audience is identifying with Egerton more and more throughout the runtime.

Fletcher, Macaulay, Kelton, Egerton, Jackman, everyone–Margeson, he needs another call out–they do strong work. Fletcher’s inability as an “action” director aside, he is the one who makes the film so frequently rewarding. Eddie the Eagle’s really good.

And awesome cameos from Jim Broadbent and Christopher Walken.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dexter Fletcher; screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, based on a story by Kelton; director of photography, George Richmond; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Matthew Margeson; production designer, Mike Gunn; produced by Adam Bohling, Rupert Maconick, David Reid, Valerie Van Galder and Matthew Vaughn; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taron Egerton (Eddie Edwards), Hugh Jackman (Bronson Peary), Jo Hartley (Janette), Keith Allen (Terry), Iris Berben (Petra), Rune Temte (Bjørn), Tim McInnerny (Dustin Target), Jim Broadbent (BBC Commentator) and Christopher Walken (Warren Sharp).


Chappie (2015, Neill Blomkamp)

South Africa produces the most macadamia nuts in the world, as well as the most electricity. However, according to Chappie, those achievements come with quite a cost. Every single native white South African–again, according to Chappie, is an amoral, dimwitted thug. The only people in the country doing good are foreigners, like Dev Patel, who creates robots for the Johannesburg police department in the film.

He works for a weapons manufacturer, run by very American Sigourney Weaver, and has interoffice squabbles with Hugh Jackman. Jackman, sporting a mullet, lots of religion and a military background, is one of the film’s bad guys. At least he doesn’t have subtitles for when he speaks English, like Brandon Auret; that device is one of director Blomkamp’s annoying eccentricities. As opposed to his incompetent ones, which are legion.

The near future Johannesburg, with its Robocop-quote spouting robot cops, runs on command line Linux and flip phones. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, it doesn’t matter that Weaver’s company has achieved the extraordinary in robots, even before Patel gives one sentience.

With that sentience comes the titular Chappie’s new family–criminals Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. Ninja and Visser, in real life, are rock stars (performing as Die Antwoord). They have interesting videos. Blomkamp turns Chappie into a bad commercial for them; relying on Ninja for acting is a big mistake. Visser is a little better, but not much.

Chappie’s an atrocious two hours. Blomkamp’s filmmaking masterfully combines dumb ideas, incompetent execution and bad directing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Neill Blomkamp; written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jules Cook; produced by Simon Kinberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Ninja (Ninja), Yo-Landi Visser (Yolandi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Yankie), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley), Brandon Auret (Hippo) and Sharlto Copley (Chappie).


X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, Bryan Singer)

There's a fair amount of mess in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s often good mess. It’s also intentional mess because it’s a time travel picture. If you remember any of the previous X-Men movies, lots doesn't make any sense. But it also doesn't matter–director Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg rely heavily on a viewer's shaky memory of the franchise.

Future has a good pace and some good sequences. Not a lot of them, unfortunately; the big finale is a disappointment, for example, with Singer trying to emphasize a personal story there. Only that personal story hasn't really been important to the rest of the movie because it's all been about the end of the world.

All of the stuff in the apocalyptic future is goofy. There's a lot of murky CG and unmemorable supporting cast in busy fight scenes. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart look somewhat lost in the confusion.

The acting quality varies. Hugh Jackman has fun, before the script demotes him. James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult are both good. Evan Peters gets the best sequence, Michael Fassbender gets the worst. Fassbender gets the shortchanged throughout the picture. While he’s really underused, he does get a couple excellent scenes. Big villain Peter Dinklage is awesome. Jennifer Lawrence is mediocre. Everyone in the future except Ellen Page is bad. Like I said, it's just too goofy.

Good photography from Newton Thomas Sigel, bad music from John Ottman.

Though any ambition beyond franchise revitalization is disingenuous, the film definitely entertains. Sometimes distinctively.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Singer; screenplay by Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Jane Goldman, Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by John Ottman; music by Ottman; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Singer, Kinberg and Hutch Parker; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan / Wolverine), James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven / Mystique), Halle Berry (Storm), Nicholas Hoult (Hank / Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Peter Dinklage (Dr. Bolivar Trask), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby / Iceman), Omar Sy (Bishop), Evan Peters (Peter / Quicksilver), Josh Helman (Maj. Bill Stryker), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Fan Bingbing (Blink), Adan Canto (Sunspot), Booboo Stewart (Warpath) with Ian McKellen (Magneto) and Patrick Stewart (Professor X).


The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold), the extended edition

The extended version of The Wolverine adds some twelve minutes to the theatrical version. I can’t quite remember the differences, but mostly it just makes the film seem longer. Mangold hasn’t got a good pace for it; the fault for that problem, however, lies with the screenwriters.

The film opens with a flashback, moves on to establishing what Hugh Jackman’s been up to since his last outing, then gets him over to Japan with sidekick Rila Fukushima. And then The Wolverine introduces enough suspicious people in five minutes Raymond Chandler would be shaking his head.

But Wolverine isn’t noir (though there are some reasonable Big Sleep comparisons–or should be) and it’s not exactly superhero action either. Mangold and screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank want to make the film about Jackman rediscovering his will to live. Except he kind of does it in the first sequence after the flashback. There are a whole lot of contrivances–not just in the plot itself, but in the backstory–to get Wolverine to the finish. Way too many.

Mangold just can’t direct the action. The extended cut, which does feature some more action, still doesn’t have the right action. It’s supposed to be a samurai movie, right? Then Jackman should be kicking ass in lengthy, visually dynamic fight sequences. Not surprisingly as Mangold’s direction for the film is mind-numbingly bland.

It’s long, it’s boring, it could be worse. But the studio clearly didn’t cut any good stuff from the theatrical release.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; director of photography, Ross Emery; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, François Audouy; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan), Rila Fukushima (Yukio), Tao Okamoto (Mariko), Sanada Hiroyuki (Shingen), Will Yun Lee (Harada), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Viper), Hal Yamanouchi (Yashida) and Famke Janssen (Jean Grey).


Prisoners (2013, Denis Villeneuve)

Director Villeneuve takes a very interesting approach to how a thriller works with Prisoners. He ignores it. During the first act, there are quite a few flirtations with thriller standards. But the film almost always immediately dismisses them–like Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski are holding up a standard, tossing it away. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music helps them through these quick examinations, as does Roger Deakins’s photography. Villeneuve gets some truly astounding shots with Deakins. Many are so good one wonders how Villeneuve resisted showing off. He never does.

That restraint carries over to the performances as well. Prisoners is constantly difficult. In theory, the four primary actors should be Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis and Terrence Howard. They play two couples who have had their daughters abducted, they should be the leads. Well, them and Jake Gyllenhaal as the primary detective.

But no. And there’s another break–Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a partner. When’s the last time a movie cop didn’t have a partner. But Jackman takes matters into his own hands and the film juxtapositions his pursuit against Gyllenhaal’s. They aren’t alter egos; Guzikowski wouldn’t never be so simplistic. The script’s phenomenal.

Both Jackman and Gyllenhaal are amazing. Gyllenhaal wins out. He has a more complicated role and more screen time.

Great supporting work from Davis and Wayne Duvall. Bello and Howard have the least to do in the film, another of Villeneuve and Guzikowski’s plays on expectations. They’re both good. There’s no weak performances.

Prisoners is truly exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; written by Aaron Guzikowski; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Joel Cox and Gary Roach; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Kira Davis, Broderick Johnson, Adam Kolbrenner and Andrew A. Kosove; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover), Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki), Viola Davis (Nancy Birch), Maria Bello (Grace Dover), Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch), Melissa Leo (Holly Jones), Paul Dano (Alex Jones), Dylan Minnette (Ralph Dover), Zoe Borde (Eliza Birch), Erin Gerasimovich (Anna Dover), Kyla Drew Simmons (Joy Birch), Wayne Duvall (Captain Richard O’Malley), David Dastmalchian (Bob Taylor) and Len Cariou (Father Patrick Dunn).


The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold)

The Wolverine suffers from too many pots on the stove, a director in Mangold who can’t manage said pots and some really, really silly things. Like giant monsters silly.

The film’s at its best during a long chase sequence–both in terms of run time and story time–when Hugh Jackman is protecting Tao Okamoto throughout Japan. There’s a bullet train sequence, a lot of other running around stuff. It works. Sadly, it comes towards the beginning of the second act and there’s never anything quite as good later on. Maybe if Mangold could actually direct fight scenes the later stuff would have worked better, but he can’t.

Until the third act, the movie plays reasonably well. Mangold’s just mediocre, never bad. The worst things for most of Wolverine are Svetlana Khodchenkova’s ludicrously weak performance as one of the villains and Marco Beltrami’s atrocious, generic score. Maybe if Mangold had found one or two things to build around–like the score–the film would have worked better.

Instead, it flounders.

Jackman does well in the lead, but the script doesn’t ask him for much. Even though he’s got three character development arcs, none of them require any heavy lifting. Mark Bomback and Scott Frank’s script is stunningly lazy.

Okamoto is okay, nothing more, as the love interest. She’s too slight opposite Jackman. Rila Fukushima is a lot better as Jackman’s erstwhile sidekick.

Will Yun Lee is harmlessly lame.

The Wolverine’s full of potential with absolutely no payoff.

It’s Mangold’s fault.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank; director of photography, Ross Emery; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, François Audouy; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan), Rila Fukushima (Yukio), Tao Okamoto (Mariko), Sanada Hiroyuki (Shingen), Will Yun Lee (Harada), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Viper), Hal Yamanouchi (Yashida) and Famke Janssen (Jean Grey).


Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper)

Thank goodness for Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen… otherwise, someone might confuse Russell Crowe’s performance as the most inept in Les Misérables. Actually, Crowe’s quite a bit better than Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried too. Redmayne just can’t sing–neither can Crowe, but it doesn’t impair his acting too much–and Seyfried’s just misused. Director Hooper–possibly sticking to the original stage production–never bothers to establish her relationship with adoptive father Hugh Jackman. As a result, Seyfried never resonates.

As for Jackman, he’s good but the film takes place around him. It works when it’s Anne Hathaway, who’s absolutely amazing in the film and just one of her songs is worth sitting through the entire boring picture, but flops when it’s Redmayne. Samantha Barks is part of a love triangle with Redmayne and Seyfried and she’s not bad. She can’t carry the second half of the film though.

What’s so inexplicable about Les Misérables is the bad casting. Why anyone put Redmayne in it opposite someone who can obviously sing and act–Aaron Tveit–and then give Redmayne the bigger role is (artistically speaking) beyond me. Hooper mollycoddles about half the cast, which doesn’t do the film any favors.

Of course, Hooper doesn’t do it many favors himself. He can’t direct actors (child actor Daniel Huttlestone is atrocious) and he can’t direct the CG sequences either. The film looks absurdly silly at times, especially with Danny Cohen’s truly incompetent photography.

Hathaway and Jackman deserve a better production.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Hooper; screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on the musical by Boublil and Schönberg and the novel by Victor Hugo; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Chris Dickens and Melanie Oliver; music by Schönberg, lyrics by Kretzmer; production designer, Eve Stewart; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Éponine), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier), Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette).


Butter (2011, Jim Field Smith)

Jennifer Garner plays a Sarah Palin-type evil Republican woman in Butter. There’s her character. She does a Sarah Palin in Iowa impression; nothing else. It’s easily the most useless performance in the film, but the film’s otherwise filled with good, rounded performances so it’s even more glaring.

And Garner produced the film too so she really just didn’t get it. It’s not all her fault, of course. Director Field Smith and writer Jason A. Micallef maybe should’ve understood you don’t make a wholly unlikable villain a main character, especially not such a real one. It’s not even possible to be sympathetic to Garner’s husband (an underused Ty Burrell) tomcatting around on her. Because his hooker of choice (Olivia Wilde) is human and not an evil monster.

On the flip side, Butter is also the story of a ten year-old black girl (Yara Shahidi) working her way through the all white foster care system in the state. She ends up with some well-meaning liberals (played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) and they have all these profound, wonderful moments.

Shahidi’s half of Butter is amazing. Silverstone doesn’t have enough screen time, but Corddry does and he’s great in the muted comic role.

Wilde and Burrell are both good. Ashley Greene’s good as Garner’s stepdaughter. Hugh Jackman’s hilarious in an extended cameo….

But Butter can’t have it both ways. It should be a great film about race and family and belonging; Garner’s political spoof ruins it.

It’s a shame.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Field Smith; written by Jason A. Micallef; director of photography, Jim Denault; edited by Matt Garner and Dan Schalk; music by Mateo Messina; production designer, Tony Fanning; produced by Michael De Luca, Jennifer Garner, Juliana Janes and Alissa Phillips; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Yara Shahidi (Destiny), Jennifer Garner (Laura Pickler), Ty Burrell (Bob Pickler), Rob Corddry (Ethan Emmet), Olivia Wilde (Brooke Swinkowski), Alicia Silverstone (Julie Emmet), Ashley Greene (Kaitlen Pickler), Kristen Schaal (Carol-Ann Stevenson), Hugh Jackman (Boyd Bolton) and Phyllis Smith (Nancy).


Van Helsing (2004, Stephen Sommers)

I knew Van Helsing was going to be pretty bad… but nothing could prepare me for it.

It’s not even bad in an interesting way. Its components are, simply put, terrible. Richard Roxborough’s performance as Dracula is possibly the worst essaying of the character… ever. The special effects are awful–the CG monster at the beginning is laughable. Sommers tries to play it a little like a James Bond movie, but a bad one.

Hugh Jackman–as the main character–is somehow not in it enough to make an impression. The story’s very busy, which means Jackman doesn’t actually have much to do.

Kate Beckinsale has an accent and she’s dressed a little like a pirate. Her character doesn’t make much sense, but she and Jackman’s presence in the film doesn’t make much sense either.

Sommers’s target audience is five year-olds (the dim ones) who get references to the old Universal monster movies and Vampire Hunter D, which Sommers plagiarized in regards to Jackman’s costuming.

There’s nothing even remotely good about it. Alan Silvestri’s score is terrible. Maybe David Wenham is funny as the sidekick (he’s playing Q to Jackman, only as a monk).

Besides the generally awful special effects, even the composite shots are bad. They’re so bad it’s incredible they were done for a film released in 2004.

The scariest thing about Van Helsing is someone out there likes it and thinks it’s good.

Easily one of the worst things I’ve ever partially seen.

Sommers redefines dumb.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Stephen Sommers; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto and Jim May; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Sommers and Ducsay; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Gabriel Van Helsing), Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious), Richard Roxburgh (Count Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein’s monster), Elena Anaya (Aleera), Will Kemp (Velkan Valerious), Kevin J. O’Connor (Igor), Alun Armstrong (Cardinal Jinette), Silvia Colloca (Verona), Josie Maran (Marishka), Tom Fisher (Top Hat), Samuel West (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Stephen Fisher (Dr. Jekyll) and Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde).


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