X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

X-Men Origins WolverineReleased: May 1, 2009. Directed by: Gavin Hood. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston. Runtime: 107 min.

While a seasoned fan of the X-Men franchise will surely be disappointed by this film, I’m think a casual fan could be entertained. This is a popcorn flick more concerned with just giving its audience a mildly entertaining 107 minutes. Obviously, this is a prequel that follows the origins story of Wolverine, and while future Wolverine won’t know the answers to his past, at least we as audience members get answers. That’s one of the reasons that this film is partly a delight. Though, his transformation scene to be inserted with an adamantium exoskeleton feels nowhere near as raw as it did previewed in X2

By the way, Logan had a much less cool set of bone claws before he got his awesome ones. I’m not being picky because if I had a set of any sort-of claws, I’d be pleased. There’s a cool scene where we learn why Wolverine is called that. His relationship with Kayla Silverfox (portrayed by a great newcomer Lynn Collins) is nice, as they share a great chemistry. We learn that Wolverine was born roughly around 1838 in the Northwest Territories of Canada. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? We also see him go through a bunch of wars in a decently directed sequence by Gavin Hood. 

Logan’s brother is a guy named Victor Creed (played leeringly by Liev Schreiber), who’s Sabretooth. He has the fingernails of a bag lady. But, since Creed is obviously Sabretooth, it really doesn’t explain why he didn’t recognize Wolverine in the original X-Men. Hey, what can I say, I’m a fan of logic. Victor obviously has rage issues and is trigger happy, and is uninspiredly cruel. It gets explained later in the film, but his rampage of violence against his old team is just a bit strange at first to base a story around. Victor’s readiness for violence makes this feel all a little clichéd. 

The timeline of the film isn’t that enjoyable because you can never really tell where it’s set without doing research, since Logan doesn’t age. I assume the film is set in the late 1970s or early 1980s because I learn that the last war in the montage was the Vietnam war. But does that really make sense when Stryker looks like 25 in another movie in the franchise? My point: The film is awful at establishing a strong time period. 

I like the mutants that are on the team that Logan was on. One cool one is Bradley (Dominic Monaghan), who is a telekinetic. He has a really cool scene at a carnival. Will.i.am is also good as a teleporter. Stryker gets a cool characterization, and we can see that he’s always been a dick. Though, Cox is an infinitely better Stryker than Danny Huston. There are some awesome action sequences (notably Logan fighting a helicopter), but there are also a lot of silly comedic attempts, and just silly occurrences in general. Take for instance: An idiotic fight that’s started by a trucker who wouldn’t get off the road to let Logan pass. Logan confronts him about it, and in a very short dialogue exchange, the guy takes a swing at him even though Logan asks nicely. It’s ridiculous. There are some strong attempts at comedy, though, which hit. This is only sporadic. 

The characters are boring. Especially Victor, who’s just a boring psychopath. You have to question why he uninspiredly hates his brother so much, just for walking out on the mercenary group. When Logan and him meet again, they fight – and you know it’s a brawl in Canada when there are a whole bunch of logs nearby. Logan has an idiotic tension with Agent Zero, shown when Zero shoots Logan’s cigar in a hideous and artificial visual. I learn that there was an early copy of the film leaked online, and I’m almost convinced I watched that copy – because the visuals are absolutely hideous at times. They look partly unfinished and unconvincing. Since I am not sure if I watched the good visuals of the film, I won’t take marks off for that. Well, as many marks. Because, crap, the film looks so ugly at times. The poor visuals make this look like a crappy video game. The lackluster storytelling doesn’t help, either. Nor does the god-awful editing, the quick edits just suck. At times, this isn’t fun to watch because of it. Kevin Durand’s character is hideous when he’s a CGI-assisted fatty.

It’s not that great when Agent Zero’s powers are never explained, because he just seems like an assassin who’s good with a gun and has impossibly cool acrobatic ability. I mean, how could one gain so much momentum to do a twenty foot backflip just catching guns? The film’s worst misfortune is featuring Gambit, an awesome mutant who deserves so much better than this. What’s unrealistic in the direction is how many times people are stabbed, and how there’s hardly any blood throughout. The occasional poignant occurrence rings true, but they’re just that – occasional. This is popcorn-munching, illogical fun. Take it or leave it, really. The finale is a bit fun, but if characterization is your favourite part about the franchise, you won’t get any of it this time around.

Score: 55/100

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone SurvivorReleased: January 10, 2014. Directed by: Peter Berg. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster. Runtime: 121 min.

“Lone Survivor” is a war film that truly expresses how far one will go to survive in a life-threatening situation. It’s like that example commonly used where if a parent sees their child in danger, their protective instincts are going to take over, and if the act requires extraordinary strength, they’ll probably get the necessary adrenaline rush to do so. Sometimes the adrenaline rush doesn’t always help, but it helps give people hope for that situation. This film depicts the courage and survival instincts of the men of Operation Red Wing, a US Marines operation to capture and kill a notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, who had killed twenty U.S. marines weeks prior. The operation takes place in June 2005 in Afghanistan.

The group of marines who take part in the operation are Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) who go at it alone in stage one in the operation, to recon the area where Shahd is suspected of staying. Their knowledge is that the village has a small group of ten men, but what is really in the Taliban village is a small army. That isn’t the only thing to go wrong on the mission primarily, their position is surrendered when a group of goat herders stumble upon them. The moral dilemma of whether or not to kill them (two are kids) puts them a situation that will put all of their lives at stake.

It’s curious that it’s such a moral dilemma for them, whether or not to kill the two kids and old man who stumble upon them. The Marines didn’t want to commit a war crime, but it sparks a heated debate within the four men about what they should do about the situation. But they are Taliban, and the younger men are trained soldiers practically. One of them is a kid, but one seriously hard-looking one looks about 21 years old, no younger than one Petty officer on the operation. Anyway, at least these soldiers do have morals. I guess they wouldn’t clear their military psychology test if they were unstable in that way.

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They do have to do what’s right for their country, and patriotism is a main theme of the film. It’s a rousing film about men fighting for their country, and that’s why I like war films; and the action make them pretty great, too, of course. It’s cool when they have attempts at humour, as well. This film has a few of them, notably during a scene where it shows how Petty officers gains respect from their higher authorities in the Marine corps. There’s a speech that is given by Alexander Ludwig (portraying Shane Patton, he’s a bit better than he was in “The Hunger Games”) where he tells them why he’s going to be a good Navy SEAL diver. Some of it’s good, some of it’s odd. I like the performances by the main four soldiers on this mission.

They’re all talented actors, really. Kitsch’s character is a big shot because he is a lietuenant; he’s good in my book because he likes “Anchorman”, too. Hirsch is particularly good in one scene, and generally good. I really like Ben Foster as an actor, and he might have one of the best lines in the film as far as I’m concerned. Mark Wahlberg just keeps getting better and better, too; I don’t mean to bore you readers with somewhat generic comments on main performances, but I like to give credit where it’s due. The courage these men they are portraying is so admirable, because they just keep fighting. I’m sure that’s why these talented actors were attracted to the roles.

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That’s probably why so many were attracted to see the film. There’s a lot to like about it, but there’s also some stuff wrong with it. I’d have appreciated a different title so it would allow more suspense to take place. It’s still an effective and emotionally impactful film, regardless. It could have been called “Military Communication Devices Suck,” because they couldn’t call in their position to the base half the time, or even “Operation Red Wing” could have been an effective title.

Anyway, Peter Berg directs the film well, but I don’t like some of his creative choices. He uses slow motion way too much for my liking. He’s unrelenting with it, really. Some scenes are improved with it, for example when the soldiers fall down hills, he uses slo-mo at the beginning of it so it’s an interesting shot. Its effectiveness is hit and miss. There’s an archive footage sequence during the opening credits depicting cadets training to be a marine; it’s cool, but it’s not clear if it’s footage of the soldiers participating in the operation depicted of the film. There’s also a funny thing about this film; some films might start with a scene taken from the middle, but this one starts with a scene taken from part of the end! It’s a silly decision because this surrenders some suspense from the film, as well, but the third act is still stellar.

One more creative decision I wasn’t fond of: During a scene shared between Luttrell (Wahlberg) and Axelson (Foster), Axelson is asking Luttrell for a favour that is quite touching and one of my favourite parts of the film, and just before I can decide “Hey, is this worth a tear?” Berg interrupts it with a loud explosion! Come on, man! For action fans they might appreciate that the drama gets cut short, but it’s so sloppy to me because it was a great scene. It does depict the harsh reality of war and the suddenness of such violence, and how quickly these soldiers have to react to enemy fire. It’s realistic, but sloppy.

There are some surprises with the film, especially how gritty it is. The blood and battle wounds that cover these soldiers is really just heartbreaking. Even though this film is flawed, I think it deserves a re-watch for the great action sequences. One more thing: The sound effects of this war film are truly spectacular, there are explosions and gunfire going off every which way – and it feels like you’re really in the film with the soldiers.

Score75/100

Savages (2012)

SavagesSavages

Release Date: July 6, 2012

Director: Oliver Stone

Stars: Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively

Runtime: 131 min

Oliver Stone is a rather masterful filmmaker, bringing us greats like Platoon, Natural Born Killers and writing the screenplay for the apparently incredible Scarface. With Savages, Stone returns to violent form, but he could have added some stellar storytelling to the style and look of the feature.

Entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) a peaceful and charitable marijuana producer, and friend Jon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL, run a lucrative, home grown industry – raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with Ophelia (Blake Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town… until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro) underestimate the unbreakable bond of the three friends, Ben and Jon – with the reluctant assistance of a dirty DEA agent (John Travolta) – wage a war against the cartel. And so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and manoeuvres in a high stakes, savage battle of wills.

The writers are able to throw a fresh spin at the kidnap rescue mission genre. This is the first time, at least that comes to mind, where a girl gets kidnapped and she is a shared girl friend. Sure, the traditional search-and-rescue mission is when an individual would ask for help; while they do need assistance from buddies, they are certainly the primary rescuers, with Jon being the violent one. A few more original spins include: 1) the analysis of greed and; 2) a test of a certain characters’ behaviour.

I don’t recall greed being explored thoroughly during the feature, but it comes to mind looking back. I mean, one has to be so greedy that they’d kidnap someone and try to tap into your drug sales. That’s just ruthless and rather inconsiderate. Ha-ha, listen to me, like they’d care that they’re being inconsiderate…

Throughout the feature, Ben’s peaceful mindset is put the test. I won’t say what actually happens, but he definitely has to things he wouldn’t want to do to save his girl.

That’s really all that’s fresh about the feature. This is really a film that is all style, and not a lot of substance (excluding the drugs). There’s black and white scenes, cool clothes, and beautiful Californian scenery. It really is too bad that there’s not an engaging story to complement the beauty of the film.

On more than one occasion, I felt my attention wandering and my head bobbing. I had to try hard to keep focused. Also, in one scene, I literally had to slap myself to stay awake. This was mostly during the dialogue exchanges, but when there are action scenes, they’re immensely violent and usually exciting. This is also quite the sexy crime thriller. Blake Lively is great, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is great, Benicio Del Toro is pretty fantastic when one can understand him, Taylor Kitsch is just okay, and Salma Hayek has never been so ruthless, but she has also never been so annoying. The real good thing about this is Oliver Stone returning to violent features.

In a nutshell: Oliver Stone directs extremely well, but Savages is all style, and doesn’t focus enough on substance or solid storytelling. For me, this is one of the most disappointing films of 2012.

50/100