The Wolverine Delivers Summer Movie Fun!

TheWolverinePoster.jpg

The Wolverine is not a perfect film.  Yet, as a showcase for everyone’s favorite mutant, it delivers a solid narrative–a fantastic, new setting–some creative actions sequences–memorable sidekicks and baddies–and mostly, a perfect performance by Hugh Jackman.  He is Wolverine.  Period.  And if you like this character, at all, you will enjoy this outing–considerably better than the last time around, that is for sure.

The success of this character (& the film) lands squarely on Mr. Jackman’s broad, muscular shoulders and he bears it with grace and attitude.  Hard to believe it was 13 years ago that we were first introduced to his iconic turn as Wolverine.  Despite whatever may be going on around him (especially with the sad misstep that was Origins: Wolverine)–Jackman never fails to entertain and delight us with his flawless portrayal.   This time around we get Logan at a crossroads in his existence and again, Jackman draws us in and keeps us invested.   I also loved that he was extra grumpy and irritable, which lead to some genuinely funny moments.

Yes.  This film falls into the same trap as most summer films do, especially Comic Book movies–which is it’s basically the hero’s journey and there are only so many times you can see the structure and not predict the beats and themes that run throughout.  So, it is the execution that distinguishes it and James Mangold does an excellent job keeping our interest here.  Instead of going “big”, Mangold chooses to take the intimate approach. This is a quieter, more contemplative story that focuses on Logan’s inner struggle with his “gifts” and immortality and I loved it.   Trust me, there is plenty of “big” action–but, it is not overwhelming or underwhelming–it is just the right amount.

The script by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank does suffer a little from clichés, plot holes and has some “groaners” sprinkled around yet, I appreciated the arch and journey that Logan takes on this time.   And the setting in Japan is brilliant.  The theme of honor works well and the connection to Wolverine being a solider (Ronin) lost without purpose leads to great inner conflict and revelations.  Japan is a character in this story–from the tragedy of atomic fallout to the technology that runs the city–the setting plays a role in different forms that challenge our hero.

I have to notice that this time around there was a distinct female presence.  From sidekick–lovers and villain–we are surrounded by strong, powerful women.   I like it.  😀   The badass sidekick is beautifully played by newcomer Rila Fukushima.  Her Yukio is layered and complex and a great foil for Logan.   In the lovers domain they are both old and new.  Famke Janssen returns as Jean Grey and is as lovely as ever (although I was never a fan of their romance because she belonged to Cyclops! ;))  and the gorgeous Tao Okamoto is the new love interest Mariko, who awakens feelings long since believed dead for our Wolverine.

In the villain department, Svetlana Khodchenkova kills it as Viper.  I loved the character design and her ice-cold delivery was dead on.  It was also cool to see Will Yun Lee as Harada, the ninja.  Been a fan of his for a while and he does a fine job here.  Add badass Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen and Hal Yamanouchi as Yashida and you have an awesome supporting cast.

The action is fun and well choreographed.  I am a sucker for sword play and there are some cool sequences.   At times the hand-held jarring effect was a bit much–but unfortunately that is a common trait today.  I truly enjoyed the mixture of old and new–from ninjas to high-speed bullet trains–there were a lot of clever approaches.   Well done.

Bottom line?  I can not say The Wolverine is a perfect film–but, I can say it is a fun and enjoyable summer movie that delivers on its promise–more so than other films this year.   If you love Logan as a character and appreciate Hugh Jackman’s incarnation of Wolverine,  I believe you will have a good time.  Jackman has playing Wolverine down to a science and it’s an awesome thing to behold.

Snikt! Snikt! Slash!!

Pssst!  Stay for a bit during the credits–the teaser is AWESOME!!  So exciting!

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Hooper’s Les Miserables left me underwhelmed. Shame.

The poster shows a young girl in the background of a dark night. Text above reveals the cast listing and text below reveals the film's title.

So sad.  How could this go wrong?  I was giddy with excitement, especially after the lovely trailer.  The seminal musical Les Miserables, finally being made into a film by a good director with a stellar cast.  C’mon…that’s an easy formula for success–right?  Well, for most people it has worked (and I am in the minority here)–but, for me it failed to capture the magic and beauty of the music–and of  even the narrative, for that matter.

Okay, let me state that I love this musical!  Actually, it is in truth, an English language opera.  There are no spoken words and I have only seen it performed by opera-level singers.  Although, I have yet to see it on stage live, I have watched a recording of a stage performance and enjoyed both the 10th and 25th Anniversary concerts (PBS rocks!).   That history could be why I had issues with Tom Hooper‘s interpretation.

Let’s begin with the voices–because, honestly, this should be all about the voices.  There are three stand-outs,  Anne Hathaway (who gives a heart-breaking rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream“, but it was still more “acted” than sang), Eddie Redmayne, who has a strong presence and voice, and Samantha Barks, who actually performed on stage as Eponine–so it is no big surprise that she delivered (to me) the best performance of , what happens to be my favorite song,  “On My Own”.

Now, I love Hugh Jackman and respect that he is a song and dance man–he won a Tony for goodness sake!  But, Mr. Jackman does NOT have the chops or range to pull off Jean Valjean‘s  resounding tenor.  Unfortunately, his acting performance (which is wonderful) does not match his singing voice.  Most of the time, it sounded shrill and like, well…he was stretching his vocal chords.  And then of course, there is Russell Crowe.  Oh, Russell Crowe.  He CAN NOT sing.  Nope.  It was painful.  Especially, when Inspector Javert is supposed to have an intimidating, strong baritone or bass-baritone.  His power and presence is diminished when Crowe’s tiny voice is barely able to do what is expected from the songs.  I was looking forward to “The Confrontation” scene and was left deflated.  What a let down.

If you are interested in why I have problems–check out these videos with the differences.

Les Miserables 10th Anniversary (HD) – The Confrontation (11/41) – YouTube

Les Misérables – 25th Anniversary – “the confrontation” – YouTube

The Confrontation – Russell Crowe & Hugh Jackman – YouTube

This leads to my other issue–Hooper’s direction.  Due to a plethora of close up images and shaky cam action, you lose the grand scope of the period.  This is France!  This is the Revolution! I got none of that.  It looked like a sound stage.  I never once felt like I was in France.  Oh, well.  And yes, it is awesome that he recorded the songs live on set–but, next time he should pick better suited singers–wait, actually…let’s not have a next time, Mr. Hooper.  Thanks.

Finally, I felt the 2.5 hour run time.  It was over-long and had lost much of its impact by the end.  I was just happy to be out and thankful for being able to listen to the original cast recording in my car!  Whew!

Rise of the Guardians is a beautiful family film–perfect for the Holidays!

Rise of the Guardians is cool, family fun!  ROTG is not as good as a film as some of its counterparts (this year it would be Wreck-It Ralph) but it is a satisfying, enjoyable holiday tale.  It is not too kiddie for adults and yet, not too adult for kiddos.

The most impressive aspect of ROTG is the incredible character design and beautiful cinematography.  Each legend is uniquely created–there was a Santa concept I’ve never seen before and works great (love the tats!)–an Easter Bunny so badass I couldn’t help but want one :D–a gorgeous Tooth Fairy that had hummingbird feathers–a Sandman that was brilliantly made entirely of sand–a Boogie Man that was all smoke and shadow (so cool!)–and then there was Jack Frost, who although just a young man had some pretty awesome frost powers.  It earns high scores for creativity and originality.

The voice cast is wonderful.  Alec Baldwin is unrecognizable as Santa (North)–Chris Pine suits Jack Frost perfectly–Isla Fisher captures the Tooth Fairy’s sweetness–Sandman does not have a voice, but is awesome–Jude Law‘s Pitch Black (aka Bogey Man) is menacing and a highlight of the film and my favorite is Hugh Jackman‘s Bunnymund, who is like no Easter Bunny you’ve ever seen or heard!

It may be a bit scary for younger kids, but for 8 and up–it is solid fun.  I loved how it just made me feel good.  I laughed a lot (the elves and yetis are golden)  and even got choked up a bit.  You will emerge with the Holiday spirit amped-up and ready to spread good will and cheer to all!  Not too shabby for a kids movie, especially one that helps you remember the wonder, hope and fun each season can offer and how important it is to cherish those memories.

Rise of the Guardians Trailer

 

Real Steel is–surprisingly–well crafted and super fun!!

Hugh Jackman in character in a boxing pose in front of a large boxing robot in a similar pose.

Okay, I wanted to see Real Steel from the get-go and I will admit that it was 100% because of Hugh Jackman (He had me at Wolverine!).  But I was not expecting much, to be honest.  I would’ve been happy with 2 hours of watching Mr. Jackman. (I know…very  artistic of me.)  How awesome is it that I ended getting way more than I expected.  A well crafted, perfectly paced, strongly acted, fun family movie–with fantastic robot action and well…Hugh Jackman.  🙂

It has many familiar themes.  The father/son issues.  The guy with potential who loses it all.  The supportive friend that happens to be a girl and in love with the loser dude.  The underdog wanting to triumph arch.  The use of robots to show violent carnage.   Yup, all pretty standard.  But, as I’ve said before, what matters most is the execution of the themes and how fresh it feels and Real Steel feels fresh and original.

I had a blast watching this movie.  Hugh Jackman is wonderful, as usual–he was made to play this part–.  And new rising star mention has to got to Dakota Goyo as Jackman’s son Max.  The kid is a natural and will should have a promising career. 

Yet, the real big stars here are the robots–especially ATOM!  They’re awesome and beautifully rendered.  The look completely real because they are!  Legacy Studios actually built real robots for the film.  And the boxing matches are motion captured and look super cool!

Check out this blurb from WiKi –it makes me giddy–I’m such a geek:

Jason Matthews of Legacy Effects, successor to Stan Winston Studios, was hired to turn production designer Tom Meyer’s robot designs into practical animatronic props, saying, “We have 26-and-a-half total live-action robots that were made for this film. They all have hydraulic neck controls. Atom has RC [radio-controlled] hands as well.”[15] Star Jackman said executive producer Spielberg “actually said to Shawn, ‘You should really have real elements where you can.’ … Basically if they’re not walking or fighting, that’s a real robot.”[16] For scenes when computer-generated robots brawl, “simulcam” motion capture technology, developed for the film Avatar, was used. As Levy described the process, “[Y]ou’re not only capturing the fighting of live human fighters, but you’re able to take that and see it converted to [CGI] robots on a screen instantaneously. Simulcam puts the robots in the ring in real time, so you are operating your shots to the fight, whereas even three, four years ago, you used to operate to empty frames, just guessing at what stuff was going to look like.”[17] Boxing hall-of-famer Sugar Ray Leonard was an adviser for these scenes.[10]

Now I hear they’re thinking of making a sequel–sweet!!  Something else to look forward to–and 2 more hours with Mr. Jackman! 🙂