28 March 2017

2017 Final Four! We're Still Doing This!

It just never stops, huh?

You, the people, voted and here we go:

Sam Jackson or Peter Venkman?

Rey or Jet Li?

These are some wild match-ups - who will earn the right to move on to the 2017 March Badassness Championships?! Get yer votes in herrrr!!

26 March 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight, Bastion of Feminism

We need to discuss some trailers again. Normally we'd wait until the actual release date of these films to rip apart their cultural standing, and I've never been one to really care about hype or news, but there seems to be a weird gap here we need to discuss. While most of the Internet points their eyes towards Justice League (2017), which I could give or take (although this is clearly the Year of Jason Mamoa), there is another prominent trailer out there that is mystifying to me. That of course is Transformers: The Last Knight (2017):

This blog's history with Michael Bay's Transformers franchise is long and storied. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) was the first film ever reviewed here, which is all kinds of insane. Needless to say, there is a strong love-hate relationship there. Each of these films are unambiguously awful, but Bay really does bad cinema better than any other terrible director out there. I'd watch Bay over Emmerich, Cohen, McG, Ratner, or even a Burton at this point. There's something about his complete lack of shame, confidence in his own terrible work, and of course, an uncanny eye for rhythm and momentum that makes his horrible pieces of art stand out slightly over his contemporaries.

For some reason, Transformers has taken up the greater part of the last ten years of Michael Bay's life. It's perhaps an indication of the atrocious quality of his films that he's actually cranked out seven films in the past ten years, five of which are Transformers, the others being Pain & Gain (2013) and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016). Despite these "small" films, he's more preoccupied with the $200 million+ budgeted tentpoles, which have by now gotten comfortable with crossing the billion dollar mark worldwide, even if Age of Extinction (2014) had a relatively colder reception stateside.

It would seem then, that the momentum of this franchise has been depleted. Have crowds finally gotten over this mindless clanging of guns and metal? While it had a slew of ridiculous problems, Age of Extinction did finally introduce Galvatron and Dinobots, which are huge items to check off in Transformers lore. In fact, I still think that the general evil copying plot informed Logan (2017) a great deal. Chew on that.

I have always appreciated this franchise's ability to create each of its entries individually, without much continuity in between. Every film is a stand-alone story, which would seem to fly in the face of modern blockbuster theory, which places greater emphasis on inter-connectivity and shared universes. Well, ultimately people don't actually care about that - they care about being entertained at the cinema. These movies have largely been pretty damn entertaining. Each one introduces a new thing, and that's been cool. We really need some Unicron, which is the last big absence, but maybe that's what Transformers 6 (2018) and Transformers 7 (2019) are for. Oh who knows.

But let's get into this trailer, because that's what you're all here for. What the hell is this shit. This is like half-trailer / half-inspirational Nike commercial. The underlying message is a positive, if not cliched feminist mantra and it's pretty cool. This is from the franchise that gave us this shot, right? The one that has only hot chicks, especially the three women in Age of Extinction (Mark Wahlberg's hot daughter, the hot scientist who has no purpose, and the hot Chinese actress meant to increase Chinese ticket sales). Maybe Transformers will turn itself around and become this great girl power franchise. That's awesome. But I'm pretty suspicious. Again, Bay is terrible. He's the best at being terrible, but still terrible, especially when exploring male gaze on film.

And what is this talking to the camera thing? It's kind of novel, but just feels misplaced. I don't know what's going on this movie. A bunch of kids up to no good while palling around with Mark Wahlberg? Maybe that will be awesome, actually. For now I'm mystified. We don't have any great piece of lore to be pumped up seeing on screen. We do have Optimus Prime going rogue, though, which will follow in Dom Toretto's upcoming evil footsteps in The Fate of the Furious (2017). I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Why isn't anyone else talking about this? Is it just that I'm such a devotee to these awful franchises that I'm the only one who puts a critical lens to this insanity? Likely so.

Anyway, I'm cheering for The Last Knight. Hopefully it'll turn out cool. I think the soft reboot is genius in that it gets away from the continuity requirements in modern blockbusters and just kind of makes its own movie. And Hot Rod! We get Hot Rod, I guess. And Megatron is back, even if pure Galvatron is one of the greatest 80s cartoon villains ever, both in Transformers: The Movie (1986) and how progressively more insane he became on the television show.

There's a lot of other notable trailers out there, both that we've seen and that we're lacking. Do you kind of feel like Disney just decided they can probably save a few million dollars in marketing by just relying on their own supreme word of mouth at this point? We haven't seen dickhole from Thor: Ragnarok (2017) or Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017). How will The Last Knight do against The Last Jedi? See, Transformers is everything.

Keep it real and fight like a girl. Buy Nike.

24 March 2017

Power Rangers, Life, and CHiPs Add Up for A Terrible, Terrible Weekend

Amazingly, we're keeping this weekly column rolling. March 2017 has been a pretty decent cinematic experience. We've gotten three pretty stellar films, the last of which has really lit up the Box Office, the former two have done okay. Still, all three major releases have had a lot of word of mouth, a lot of positive buzz, and a lot of fun to roll into the spritely summer season.

That all comes crashing to a halt this week with an onslaught of garbage that will burn like an endless tire fire on the face of society. So that's probably hyperbole, and on paper you can trace where these films came from to a T, and that's in part why they won't succeed. Studios don't seem to understand that audiences respond more to innovation than to copies of innovation, and yet that's been de rigueur for the entire history of cinema. Let's start with the first, biggest name out there: Power Rangers (2017).
Also starring Bryan Cranston!

I watched an extreme amount of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers in the 90s - the cheap Japanese import that slapped American faces on a Saved by the Bell setting, then cut into pre-existing stock footage of robots fighting monsters. It was all exhilarating. Goldar. Rita Repulsa. Lord Zedd. Billy the nerd. It's all there. Bulk and Skull? These were timeless characters. Since those early days there has been so many different iterations of Power Rangers. What is that, about 24 different permutations in the past twenty four years? I have long since not kept up with its insanity. I made it through the Ninjazords, which is apparently only Season 3, and maybe a bit of Power Rangers Turbo, but that was too much. I was probably 11 or 12 when it became too much of a burden.

And that's just it - Power Rangers really is explicitly a little kid's show, which yeah, is kind of weird considering it's all about ninja and robot fighting, but it gets a little extreme even for pre-teens to get into. That being said, it's been around for little kids for like twenty years, which means it ought to have built up a huge base of nostalgia for multiple generations of bastards every few years. At the same time, though, I have no real fond memories of the show nor any desire to see it back up on the big screen.

This isn't the first time that the world at large has attempted a redux of Power Rangers. Adi Shankar had a notable entry, as forced as it was. See, while that gritty application works in a universe like Judge Dredd, it becomes an exercise in shock value crashing into playful nostalgia for Power Rangers, which is really weird. Even Tommy, the best one, thinks so. The current Power Rangers seems to update itself to current teen drama (fitting, if MMPR was a kung fu adaptation of Saved by the Bell, that Power Rangers is a kung fu adaptation of a CW teen drama), which is what I've been saying for weeks now. It's another major reason why I don't really care about seeing it.

That's a problem. Who does this film want to appeal to? I am the exact prime audience - the original MMPR crowd who should want to go back and see these idiots on the big screen again. And yet I super don't care. In the realms of Pop Culture power I think studios may be overestimating Power Rangers' cache, yet the decades of successful toys and television may say otherwise. Then again, current kids watching the shows probably aren't interested in this. I have no idea who this is for.

As for the people involved, I'm glad we finally got a non-black guy playing the Black Ranger. He's the Blue Ranger, Billy, who is also apparently austistic. Some part of me always knew it. And instead of an Asian playing the Yellow Ranger we have Becky G playing an Asian Character. Or maybe she's not Asian necessarily. Trini Kwan. Probably hispanic. She's apparently gay, though, which is sweet. And we get a bonus Asian playing the Black Ranger. Or maybe he's the only Asian. At any rate, there is plenty of diversity to circle around the straight white dude playing their leader. I'm not actually one to really complain about this stuff all the time, but between this and the barest possible but heavily over-hyped Beauty and the Beast (2017) homo scenes it's really just more lip service without any actual change.

All in all, critical, commercial, and cultural potential is grim for this. It could make a few bucks as people realize that they saw the better version of Beauty and the Beast in 1991, but I think that will keep rolling for a while. Power Rangers would likely have to clear about $80 or $90 million to hit #1 this weekend, which just doesn't feel like will happen. Let's move on.
General movie title principle: Shouldn't take me
multiple Google image search attempts

Next up we have LIFE (2017), which is a terribly vague one-word title that doesn't distinguish it from shit. It's actually the eighth movie named "Life" which is pretty dumb. You could have called it Attack of the Space Goo! (2017) and I'm sure no one would be upset. That's a great title. The best Life is definitely the 1999 Eddie Murphy / Martin Short vehicle. I wouldn't mind just watching that again.

Anyway, Life 2017 is about Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynold discovering some space goo and then it attacking everyone. That's about as far as I can figure it. Props to original sci-fi, of course, and after I just railed on Power Rangers for being a misguided nostalgic exercise in bringing back a too-recent property that nobody wants, it's kind of nice to see what Life has in store. Of course, the film looks like a pretty dumb version of Alien (1979), Sunshine (2007), and Gravity (2013) all mixed together in a briny mess. People need to stop going into space. Space sucks. Trump USA!!

In all actuality, there is a bit of intrigue here. Marketing material hasn't shown much of the alien goo monster, which could be a good or bad thing. There's perhaps a bit more behind the curtain than we think. I can sense a bit of late acceptance of this film, after some people actually have to see it and be interested in it and spread the word that the marketing can'd deliver. It just looks like there's something else there. Or maybe there's not. You don't know. Apparently it actually sucks even more than I think it might.

More importantly, I kinda doubt you even knew that Life was coming out this weekend. Do you care? Is it important to your...life? No. Nobody cares. There's no reason to see this movie. It's the complete definition of white noise that's dropped because other space crap like Gravity and Interstellar (2014) and Passengers (2016) has done well lately. All of those films had some kind of pedigree, though. This is like Mission to Mars (2000), or something, although even that had that sweet Tim Robbins face freeze scene. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal will get his face froze. Clearly I'm just not into this.

I am curious, though, about post-Deadpool (2016) Ryan Reynolds. Or should I say in-between Deadpools Ryan Reynolds? Can he act? I still think he did a great job in Adventureland (2009) for playing an exact Ryan Reynolds time, but framed by another's point of view to expose how much of a dick he is. And there's uh...damn Ryan Reynolds has been in a lot of terrible movies. Why do we love him so much? Just Friends (2005)? There are other notables in the cast, the biggest rising name is probably Rebecca Ferguson, who despite the Internet's eternal claims otherwise, I never thought was that great.
Again, Google.

Then we have CHiPs (2017). This is so obviously an attempt to latch on to the fun revamping goodwill of 21 Jump Street (2012) that it blows my mind. This is amazing an all-out effort by Dax Shepard, who writes, directs, and stars. I'm weirdly a Dax Shepard fan of the one-two punch of Brothers Justice (2010) and Hit and Run (2012), which is the first time that sentence has ever been written on the Internet. He also wrote, directed, and starred in those, which means that CHiPs might be good for me personally. Still, I get that he's kind of a jag, even if casting himself and the eternally underrated Michael Peña is pretty inspired. The difference of course, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller tend to wring a lot of greatness out of terrible properties, and the Tatum / Hill chemistry turned out to be unpredictably incredible. CHiPs still has to prove all that.

And since we had one bout of "no one cares about Power Rangers" and one bout of "this is original but sucks" we should add that definitely no one cares about CHiPs" but then again, no one cared about 21 Jump Street, either. The proof of its success there is how good it was and how much it didn't care about its source material other than its premise. I mean, they killed Johnny Depp for fuck's sake. I suppose that's just it - nostaglic, gritty, fluffy, franchise revival, nothing really matters if the movie is actually good, so is the infuriating capitalization of CHiPs any good?

The first trailer was not. It seemed filled with the kinds of sophomoric jokes that were cool in the 90s but not so much now. Lots of homophobia and marginalized women. Not great, although we haven't seen nearly any articles written in outrage online. Truly no one cares about CHiPs or thinks anyone will go watch it. It's apparently not a danger to society at all. Or maybe it's actually all good. I can't tell anymore.

I also can't tell whether or not Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have a good marriage or not. I don't understand this furniture fight. I kind of don't care at all. As long as she's crushing Frozen (2013) residuals I don't think they should separate, though. Frozen money is a bit more than Let's Go to Prison (2006) money.

What's most amazing about this whole thing is that it took five years for studios to crank out their old show revivals. Now, we've had movies based on old TV shows since forever. A Very Brady Sequel (1996) remains one of my favourite films of all time, and that is no joke at all. However, it seems as if the TV show films of 2017 are getting that 21 Jump Street treatment of becoming explicit action comedies with big stars and big tentpole promotion. The other major drop of course being Baywatch (2017), which looks even more Jump Street-esque than CHiPs, along with the benefit of starring the world's most likable current action star. What's to become with all these old shows being brought back to the big screen? Well, as long as Life sucks, we're just inches away from a Big Bad Beetleborgs movie. We can dream.

What are you watching this weekend?

22 March 2017

March Badassness 2017: ELITE EIGHT is here!

Every week we get closer to naming a Champion in the 2017 March to Badassness!! After a heated round of 64 of the toughest, bruising-est fighters we've ever seen in this tournament, we're down to the Top Eight. These match-ups are tough:

(1) Samuel L. Jackson, #1 Movie Star of All Time vs. (3) Frank "The Punisher" Castle for rights over the Sherwood Division

(8) Dr. Peter Venkman, Columbia University vs (6) Bartholomew M. Quint of the Orca battling in the LV-426 Division

(9) Rey vs. (3) General George Smith Patton, Jr, Commander of the United States Third Army to be crowned Champion of the Z-City Division. Yeah, Rey is just Rey. Which is pretty badass in its own right.

(1) Jet Li vs. (2) Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, King of Gondor for the title of the Green Place Division.

Vote your ass off until March 29th!

17 March 2017

Beauty and Hank McCoy

As we approached today I got the feeling more and more that Beauty and the Beast (2017) was going to be a way bigger deal than I cared about. Now, as a Die Hard-loving heterosexual young dude I never gave less than a shit about Beauty and the Beast (1991). This is of course not to deny its outright popularity and enduring love from huge swaths of people. It gained much notoriety from its memorable score, songs, and Best Picture nomination, and I'll admit that when I last saw it, sometime in 2012 or 2013 I was struck by how ground-breaking it actually is. So, let's talk about that a bit as well as preview the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of the newest installment in Disney's money-making machine.
She also still looks like she's 12.

The studio is certainly going for a repeat of its great streak in Live-Action adaptations stretch back to Alice in Wonderland (2010), that most notably peaked with the surprise stellar performance of The Jungle Book (2016) last year. It's an interesting proposition that trades mostly on nostalgic regurgitation rather than innovation, but as long as it's a right to print money, that paradigm isn't leaving us anytime soon. It was only a matter of time before Disney decided to re-invent its more recent 90s library, that's potent in the cultural memory of every millennial out there.

It's a formula that's dangerous in the sense that it creates an allowable mediocrity. It's the same Disney/Marvel movie formula - create the same but good product over and over until the public stops demanding it. Somewhat unbelievably, we aren't nearly close to giving up on this business model, yet. So let's talk about B and the B:

First, we need to get out of the way how fucked up this story is at its core. This has been demonstrated pretty well just about everywhere, The hypocrisy is rampant in this being a classic Disney's children's tale that features a giant monster trapping a French chick in his tower until she kinda wants to fuck it. At the same time, it spins everything on its head and demonstrably shows a different side of the classic man vs. monster tale where the beast is misunderstood and the handsome dude is a huge dick. Also it is really shitty how all the servants are also cursed. What did they do? Just because this Buffalo Man can't get laid they have to be a candle that somehow never melts all the way down and pots and cupboards and shit? It's such a mess. Best Picture nom, tho.

Despite all this sheer insanity, the movie is beloved. When the trailer for the new one dropped it was quickly the most viewed in YouTube history. As more and more came out it became very apparent that this would be a shot for shot remake of the 1991 animated classic. To me, this makes its potential fantastically less interesting, although that doesn't seem to deter anyone else. Anticipation is pretty high. I continually feel like an awful person, since my main thought is that Emma Watson is simply not busty enough - Belle was ridiculous even for Disney Standards. They should have gotten Lisa Ann or Ava Devine - you know, someone with real beauty. That's the bro-iest thing I've ever said in the history of this blog and sublimely awful considering how good of an actor Watson is, but I already don't care about this movie beyond a really really busty live action Belle. Heterosexual. Die Hard.

Culturally, just like any of these repetitious Disney flicks we might get some contentious waves. The Jungle Book lasted for a while and there are fond memories a year later, but that jump from 1967 animation to brilliantly rendered digital critters was a huge leap forward, not to mention that the plot actually barely resembled the campy original. If Beauty and the Beast (2017) doesn't stand out, I imagine it will be well-liked but fade in our memory unless something really ridiculous happens. Maybe it'll be notable for Disney's first gay character, but that's also embarrassingly too late to be really worth celebrating. Also, Disney clearly has hundreds of years of closeted gay characters under its belt. Now, if it was actually just Dude and the Beast, then we'd be getting somewhere.
There's no way LeFou is the only gay character in this movie.

On the critical note, this is probably going to be just fine, but not great. Same as culturally. That's really thing with the contemporary non-Logan (2017) landscape. Shooting for the middle is just fine, and I'm sure this will be a well-constructed, well-reasoned film that doesn't rise to meet any lofty critical expectation. Mediocrity incarnate. Its predecessor was the first animated Best Picture nominee, but there's virtually no way this live action installment cracks the Top 10.

Finally, this is almost assuredly going to make a buttfuck of money. Neither Logan nor Kong: Skull Island (2017) has blown up as much as they really could have, and even if they did, they're not really competing for this audience, anyway. That tween crowd has been starved for a long time for something that's actually quality, and even though this is pandering at its finest, it'll be different enough from Divergent and the Maze Runner and all that YA crap to gain some attention. It'll bump into Power Rangers (2017), which does seem to lean towards the same 90s nostaglic demographic along with a teen lean, but the action ought to contrast with the romance to build some different audiences. Also I don't think anyone actually cares about Power Rangers. Beyond that, it's clear sailing for a while and this ought to dominate.

In other news, The Belko Experiment (2017) also drops this weekend, which I am super-into. Battle Royale (2000) in an office with John C. McGinley is all you had to tell me. This thing may get a cult following but will almost assuredly make no money. That's fine. Hopefully it's super violent and awesome and could actually be good counter-programming to Beauty and the B.

What do you think about this weekend's slate? Or will you just watch porn, instead?

16 March 2017


Inconceivably, we're already at the Sweet 16 portion of this unending tournament. As you get your NCAA brackets in today, also vote for this crap! Three-quarters of the eligible badasses have been kicked out in shame and disgrace by you, the people (I can't believe you would do that to poor BraveStarr), and we have just eight match-ups of the cream of the crop here, now!

These include such delectable fights as:

Punisher vs. Prince
Quint vs. Snake Eyes
Patton vs. Shaq

and the best, underdog Cinderella of the year - McBain vs. Aragorn! What the hell

These are loafers.
You got a week. Get some votes in.

Sherwood Division - taking place in Sherwood Forest, England.
LV-426 Division - live from the failed mining colony!
Z-City Division - straight out of the city of monsters!
Green Place Division - battling it out in the fake desert oasis!

10 March 2017

March Badassness 2017: ROUND OF 32!

It's been an amazing first round, but we're on to Round 2, folks!

Vote for your favourite bastions of pop culture in such enticing match-ups as:

Robin Hood vs. Prince
Quint vs. Ditka
The Rock vs. The Mountain
Simba vs. General Patton
Ronda Rousey vs. Furiosa!

It's a wild time! Get votes in as much as you can from now until St. Patrick's Day!

Sherwood Division - taking place in Sherwood Forest, England.
LV-426 Division - live from the failed mining colony!
Z-City Division - straight out of the city of monsters!
Green Place Division - battling it out in the fake desert oasis!

Kong is King: Apes and Other Jungle Shenanigans

There aren't a lot of cinematic icons bigger than King Kong, and today marks the eighth time the big lug, the Grape Ape come to life if you will, hits the big screen. Now, I'm sure you think that's like five times too many, but I jest you not. We talk a lot about pop culture sustainability here at Norwegian Morning Wood, and there's not much of a better case than Kong.

Don't talk back.
The first film, dropping in 1933 was just so huge. It was spectacle before spectacle was a thing. The effects were masterful at the time, and the adventure crossed pulp roots with big screen engrossment. Soon Son of Kong (1933) followed, and by soon I meant nine months later. I mostly know that exists due to a Futurama joke. Then nothing happened for a while. For some reason Toho in Japan wanted in on the action for their third Godzilla movie, even though the role of Godzilla antagonist was clearly meant for Frankenstein, which makes far less sense. King Kong shouldn't have electricity powers you say, well, why the hell should Frankenstein for that matter?!

We got King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967) - where the ape fights the impeccable Mechani-Kong. I remember being really excited to finally watch King Kong vs. Godzilla as a kid, because obviously, watching these two titans of cinema go at must be awesome, right? It's a crossover movie fifty years before crossover movies were de rigueur in Hollywood! And forty years before Freddy vs. Jason (2003). But that movie blew chunks hard, even for a poorly dubbed Blockbuster video Godzilla film. It had the monsters but lacked the mash.

Next in the 70s we got the first redux of the classic Blonde meets Ape story, King Kong (1976). This installment is strangely forgotten today, although it was pretty popular at the time. I wonder if that has anything to do with the ape climbing the Twin Towers rather than the Empire State Building. It even won the Academy Award for best visual effects, along with nominations in cinematography and sound. It is most notable today for starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges. Its sequel, that came out ten years later, King Kong Lives (1986) was basically universally hated and dismissed, despite starring Linda Hamilton fresh off The Terminator (1984).

Finally, our last outing with the ape has been Pete Jackson's King Kong (2005), which is a film that, despite its faults, I'm a big fan of. There is a tremendous amount of melodrama, hundreds of minutes of superfluous scenes, and the non-Naomi Watts casting really misses the mark. Still, it's chock full of iconic scenes that are all given proper weight and awe, along with competent action cinematography, a distinctive take on the Ape (really making him an Ape), and who can forget Bruce Baxter using a comb as a moustache or swinging on vines shooting bugs. I can't. I can't. I still hate the idiotic Jamie Bell side plot that goes no where and is horribly distracting. There's some rough edges for sure, but what are you to expect with the truest "Kong really wants to fuck this blonde chick" version of this story that we're going to get? The natives are pretty bad in this one, too. As part of that pair with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) setting the standard in the mid-2000s. You know, back when people were just savages.

At any rate, here we are at Legendary's completely not-forced at all second installment in their Shared Giant Monsters Universe, KONG: Skull Island (2017). This is promising in that it doesn't seem to resemble an 84-year old story regurgitated for the fourth time, but rather a different take - different people surveying the island, different time period (ironically or not echoing the King Kong '76 era), and what looks like some drastically different characters, goals, motivations, and monsters. It's rad, yo!

So what is our critical, commercial, and cultural potential? Well, critically the film does not appear to be doing well. Consensus is that it's pretty awful, although fully into itself being an expensive giant monster B-movie, which isn't really a bad thing at all. Also apparently John C. Reilly is a dream. Of course he is. It doesn't seem like this film was out to win any favors from critics, but as long as it's fine with that and sets out to do what it is meant to do, which is feature a bunch of wacky giant shit crash into and eat each other, than it'll be just fine.

Commercially the way is paved better than it would seem. Logan (2017) did well, but not astoundingly so, and I am not feeling great about Power Rangers (2017). KONG is what a March Halfbuster is meant to be - cheap schlocky primer fun for the Summer Season. I think its ad campaign has also been spectacular, even if its latest trailer seems like a cheap way to imitate Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Suicide Squad (2016). To be fair, not even Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) could escape from the trailer shadow of its predecessor. Still, little of this matters since the trailer is fun, violent, and adventuresome. That's all you need, baby. Word of mouth and buzz is pretty high - after the road to bummerville with Logan this is a good jolt in a 2017 that hasn't had many yet.

And finally, we get back to where we started: How will this land culturally? King Kong '05 has lasted in the public consciousness for a while, although that might be more in my mind than the populace at large. '76 has largely vanished, so we're really just left with the incredibly long shadow from '33. That's the toughest thing to get over, and diversifying what Skull Island is the way to do it. Debuting away from the crowd can help, too, along with just being a fun, action filled adventure with great, memorable characters. Actually, that's how all movies can have cultural impact. I have no idea how the Legendary Mega Monster Universe will fare, but maybe in ten years we'll think of this as Legendary's Iron Man (2008, tho to be more precise it would be their Incredible Hulk [2008]). That's not great.

I don't totally care about Beauty and the Beast (2017) dropping next weekend, clearly, but I might preview it. What are you going to see this March?

09 March 2017

First Impressions: Logan

To all the world, the Internet is abuzz with the buzz about Logan (2017), and I think a lot of that is justified based on where we are in cultural history. We've had an onslaught of superhero films ranging from completely misguided and idiotic smash-ups (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [2016]), competent same-ness (Doctor Strange [2016]), and the campy bloated arrogance (X-Men: Apocalypse [2016]), and that was just 2016. That last one is notable, even if it feels like Deadpool (2016) was our last X-outing, Apocalypse was really the last time we saw a lot of these characters, and Logan has been so warmly received in many ways because it's so contrary to that film, along with the dozens of other sub-par city-destroying, beam-of-light shooting, mindless fan-yanking crap that's been pushed down our throats for the past ten years.

But it's not really a great movie. It's a very good movie. But not great.
Road trip!

Let me back up a bit, because there are parts that work really well, and even as I sit here after digesting the flick for the past few days and collect my thoughts I wander between its good and poor qualities. As we go through this you'll find that most of its horrible qualities involve some heavy SPOILERS while most of its spectacular qualities are things we've seen, heard, and been amped about. Those all ring pretty true, and the film delivers in many satisfying ways, although my biggest gripe is how it falls apart thematically and surprisingly, its lack of nerdiness. I am literally too nerdy for my own good, which has hampered my enjoyment of this thing. It's awful. So let's start with some background and go from there:

Did we really need a ninth Wolverine film? Somehow yes, since 1/4 of the main X-men films is unforgivingly bad and his solo outings are about 1/2, and that's being generous to the overrated The Wolverine (2013). For Logan the Hugh Jackman / James Mangold team decided to strip away all the clutter of every big superhero movie and focus on a small story with some great, genuine action, and an extremely hard-R rating. All of that works, don't get me wrong. There is a fine story in here, but it's muddled. Not in an X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) sort of crapshoot muddled, but just barely misses the mark. Let's concentrate on what worked for a second:

It was amazingly shocking and refreshing to see the Hard-R violence and swearing at work. I suppose we have Deadpool to thank for showing that it's viable on screen, but the tone here is drastically different than Ryan Reynolds' opus. Here it's all desperation and exhaustion, a beaten hero at the end of his rope, muttering "ughh...fuck" as the opening line of the film as if he has no desire to do this shit again. It's fantastic to finally see what a man with knives coming out of his knuckles can do and see that it's really violent to cut up people and live a life of constant fighting. Hearing Professor X drop f-bomb after f-bomb is also amazing, fitting in with the theme that everything that was once great about this universe is kaput.

This character work is really what sells the movie, and that's stellar because we've spent an awful long time with these characters. Somehow Logan finds something new in these people. Wolverine is battered and broken, snarly still but not quite the animal he was. I think Jackman has often played Wolverine too erudite rather than on the brink of insanity, and that's why when the doppelganger comes along it's a little miffed, but more on that later. Pat Stewart is freer and looser than ever before jumping into Professor X, but there's still the kind teacher inside, which he maintains through the hell they're put through. Finally, newcomer Dafne Keen balances the third leg of the triangle as the fiesty Laura Kinney aka X-23, the liddle widdle clone of Wolverine who is also the most badass character maybe in X-history. Once the film devolves to just the two of them you get this feeling that this is really how Wolverine would raise his kids - him yelling "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" and her punching him in the face. Christmas memories.

That surrogate family dynamic is what makes Logan work, particularly as they get a glimpse of what non-superhero life could be like. It's a luxury that isn't really afforded to heroes, which is an interesting and under-seen ramification. We had Hawkeye's secret family in Age of Ultron (2015), but that's probably it for a stable, domestic homelife. There's this feeling that the lives of the X-men are on the edge of society, more than ever before, not only in literal terms, but now to the point where they can't even conceive of sitting down to a nice family meal together. Professor X in his naive wisdom is insistent in slowing down and enjoying the experience, although the irony is that of course, this leads to their deaths.

So, we might as well talk about what I hated most in this movie, which is the evil Wolverine clone. Listen, I really was just immediately reminded of Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) with Galvatron and the rest of the evil KSI soul-less Transformers. There's literally the same line said by Richard E. Grant's Zander Price "A weapon with no soul!" What the fuck is this shit. I just get annoyed when villains are the exact same as the hero, in this case, very literally so. The Iron Man films are particularly plagued by this, as are most of the Marvel films. Hero/Villain dynamics work so much better when they're in inverse - whether it be ideologically like Batman/Joker or in ability like Thor/Loki. Those are who are truly memorable.

This line of thinking is also flawed, though, because there's so much symbolism at work here. Evil Wolverine (or Wolverevil, or Evilrine) is a slice of Logan's psyche. He's the pure animal, unfeeling, killing monster. As I've said, though, we didn't really get a full glimpse of this enough to have it hit home as much as it could have been. There is this outer conflict of Logan battling Evilrine that should reflect his conflict with his inner self, and to some extent that's true, if only in the sense that he's a loner asshole. It's fitting that he's defeated and succumbs to the animal only to be saved by Laura - that is, the family he never had. It makes for a fitting and moving final death scene where he finally gets the briefest of moments to enjoy the life he could have had. To be fair, this seems to stick sort of with previous continuity, although the X-Franchise has always played fast and loose with itself. In the cinematic universe, Wolverine was born in 1845 Canada and has been fighting ever since, and that's a tough life to end in the year 2029 with about 35 seconds of comforting happiness to cap it off.

It may be a subtle, unrelated nod, but I was impressed that Evilrine resembled Sabretooth, at least in the X-Men Origins mold, which I actually always thought was well-done. I would have liked to have seen Liev Schreiber return as his ultimate enemy, because I think he was a great Victor Creed, but I can see for obvious reasons why they wanted to stay away from Origins. On the rest of the cast / villains they actually did use, Boyd Holbrook is amazing as Donald Pierce, fierce, ruthless, and a cunning adversary more in that opposite vein. I would have liked to see him get a more satisfying death and the Reavers to more closely resemble their comic origins (no, not tank bodies), but composed of a bunch of dudes who had lost limbs to Wolverine in the past. That would have just pushed that adversary narrative a bit further.
Following the great lineage of the Winter Soldier, Furiosa,
Darth Vader, and  Inspector Kemp.

Finally, let's talk the aforementioned Richard E. Grant as Zander Price. Yes, no one knows who that is. No body cares. He's Mr. Sinister in all but name and pasty white skin, and I'm still irritated that Mangold went the "realistic and grounded" route instead of the nutty route. You could just call him Nate Essex and be done with it. It's such a blueballing to eagerly await one of the greatest heretofore unseen X-Men villains and for it to turn out to just be like, fucking Alkali Lake again. I'm so sick of the humans vs. mutants narrative, although in this case the destruction of mutants seemed more an accidental by-product. There is a bit in there about ingesting chemicals that fuck with our bodies in corn syrup and stuff, which is a lot more important to the plot than it's actually treated in the film, but I'll give the bad dude props for doing what Stryker or Trask could never do (even if the latter was actually successful, he didn't count on Kitty Pryde's time travel powers. What a fool.), and to be way more cunning and evil about it. So no Sinister. No Omega Red. No Cyber. But we did get a quick look at Sauron! I cheered. See, I can't just sit down and watch this, my decades of nerdy comic knowledge has doomed me forever.

And it's not like they should force every single character in that they can. This is exactly what X-Men Origins did. I naturally do just want to see some additional characters on the big screen that can fit roles that the filmmakers either made up or gave to lesser characters. It's not like that really detracts from the movie experience, but it detracts from my own personal nerd experience. What is our Easter Egg here? Rictor? Finally, fucking Rictor on the big screen. That's great.

We do get Caliban, but wasn't Caliban already in Apocalypse? That's not like, an old do-over like they did with Emma Frost in First Class (2011), that movie came out last year in the same new timeline. Maybe it wasn't notable enough. I honestly didn't even remember him in that film. He doesn't do too much here. Also I mostly remember Caliban for being a huge monster badass. Stephen Merchant does a fine job here, though.

Now, a big to do was made about this being more a Western film than a Superhero film and a lot of that is true. There is even a scene where they all cozy up in a hotel room and watch Shane (1953). The intertextuality is a bit on the nose, but valid. There's also quite a few similarities to the one last ride of the hero a la Unforgiven (1992), although I don't think Logan says anything as coherent about age and violence as either of these films. I mean, sure it is violent, and the aging of our heroes is a critical moment, but thematically there isn't a lot to say beyond that.

There are some great bits about how the aging of superheros is terrible. Logan has trouble extending his claws and has to literally pull them out with his other hand. Prof X's time freeze powers have gone haywire and he's a danger to everyone around him. Wolverine's Adamantium is actually beginning to poison him and kill him by preoccupying his healing factor. This has been present for a long time in the comics, but to see the real effects of the strain these powers have had over a lifetime is awe-inducing.

By the way, we ought to mention Old Man Logan, where this film ostensibly draws inspiration. There's no real thematic alignment, but plenty of inspiration. The roadtrip setting, the post-apocalyptic feeling (it's not really post-apocalyptic, but actually is for Mutants), and most importantly, the death of the X-Men by one of their own are all apparent. Of course, in the film it's Professor X, not Wolverine, which makes things somehow a bit worse and painful for everyone involved.

I do love the commentary they had on the X-Men through the introduction of the fact that in this world, comic books actually exist featuring real-life characters like Wolverine and Kitty Pryde and Sauron. Sauron is real, right? It's cool to reflect on X-history and the many zany battles they went through. There's actually quite a few references to X-Men (2000), which is cool and often forgotten in the pantheon of superhero films. It also came out an astounding seventeen years ago.

So some last bits here - towards the end there's this kind of weird moment where old ass Wolverine essentially pops some mutant power steroids, which begs the question, are steroids...good? There's no critical evaluation or dramatic tension when he injects himself. It's like a Popeye moment, except instead of spinach (I suppose the Wolverine equivalent would be a cigar and a beer) it's a hypodermic needle full of NyQuil. There needs to be something more said there.

And finally, finally, the reason why we all came here: Eriq La Salle! I actually did not know he was in this movie until his name came on screen during the opening credits. LET YOUR SSOOOOUUL GLOW! I really wanted one fist pump. Just one. His family dying sucked.

But, exactly - don't we need some more Logan guilt over that? Over everything? There's a great bit later on where he ruminates that everyone close to him dies, and Laura goes "Well, I guess I'll be okay, then!" but to really cement all the Shane themes they were going for, this film needed another level, another temptation, some huge regrettable act, something that is EXACTLY what Old Man Logan gave us. I suppose introducing Mysterio would have been over the top, right?

The big question now, then is what's next? We have Deadpool 2 (2018), which we got to see a nice tease for, still promising Nate Summers without any sort of casting announcement so far. It would be nice to see Hugh and Ryan share a screen together, but that's apparently in the dirt. To be fair, we did actually get them both in X-Men Origins, which we seem to forget, mostly because of how forgettable that was. There's not a ton of room forward with Logan, unless we're going to get the Kid Adventures of the New X-Men! (2019), but it's set so far in the future that there is plenty of room to add more to the timeline, especially with the franchise's pension for making more films set in the past rather than present day. And when they catch up to 2029, who cares anyway, this series has never bothered with strict continuity of any kind.

So there is a lot of good stuff here and a lot of stuff that could probably have been better. My final judgment is that it's a pretty fine film but maybe not that Comic Book gold standard we all wanted it to be. What did you think?

03 March 2017

2017 March Badassness is Upon Us!

Well folks, it's time once again to have a big stupid tournament to decide who the most badass character in pop culture is. Now, since this is the third year in a row of doing this, we're obviously scraping the barrel here. We've burned through the first 128 obvious choices and are therefore left with mostly pulp heroes and pro wrestlers. IRREGARDLESS - vote as much as you can over the next week to see who moves on to the Round of 32!

Sherwood Division - taking place in Sherwood Forest, England.
LV-426 Division - live from the failed mining colony!
Z-City Division - straight out of the city of monsters!
Green Place Division - battling it out in the fake desert oasis!

Vote all month long!

2015 Winner: Han Solo
2016 Winner: Buffy Summers

Logan, Logan, Logan, Keep Dem Wagons Logan!

Good Evening folks, and welcome to our sometimes weekly round-up of all the new great films coming to your local cinema! This week there's a whole lot of crappy shit that no one will see like Before I Fall (2017) and some kind of Sam Worthington weather cabin movie, but the only real one worth discussing is of course, Logan (2017). So, let's look at the cultural history of this guy as well as its commercial, critical, and cultural prospects.
Get off my lawn.

This marks supposedly Hugh Jackman's final outing as the mutant Wolverine from the X-Man comic books, which is the most dad sentence I've ever written. Over the past seventeen years he has played this character more than any one else has ever played a comic book character, which is kind of insane considering how this singing and dancing 6'2" Australian was supposed to play the gruff and hard-drinking 5'3" Canadian loner. It worked out, though. Over the course of three X-Men films, all of which primarily centered around Wolverine, the powers that be found it necessary to give him his own spin-off film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), which is possibly one of the worst superhero films of all time. Not to be outdone, the character returned in The Wolverine (2013), which took the character to Japan, was slightly better, but still pretty dumb. Between cameos in the second X-Men trilogy, First Class (2011), and Apocalypse (2016), the character also found his way to be the main starring dude in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In fact, the only X-Men film he has not found himself in is Deadpool, but he still had sort of a cameo.

This brings us to Logan, which looks to be radically different than anything else in the current superhero landscape. It looks, you know, good. Hopes are pretty high for this one. It surely will disappoint. The Wolverine started off as a refreshing introspective look at a hero who didn't want to be one anymore and ended with him fighting a giant Japanese version of Jeff Bridges' Iron Monger. There is not in reality a lot of hope that this will actually meet the hype of its phenomenal trailer, but there's a bit to be excited about:

Any comic fan can discern some of the elements here. The obvious riff is the Old Man Logan one-shot that has turned into a semi-regular recurring character in the current Marvel Universe. The work by Mark Miller and Steve McNiven features a storyline set fifty years in the future where the villains have won, killed all the heroes, and taken over America. They had some help when Mysterio tricked Wolverine into killing the entire X-Men squad. The core of the comic, though, trades on the age-old feud between Wolverine and Hulk, culminating in the Hulk killing Wolvie's family and Logan getting fairly pissed. There's likely a bit of this in Logan. Obviously he won't be fighting Red Skull, but this seems like a largely non-mutant / non-hero society, even leaning towards apocalyptic.

The other major element seems to be the presence of a young girl who is clearly X-23, a gnarly clone of Wolverine from the comic books. Who knows if she's a clone, daughter, or just a random other girl with claws and...uh...ferocity as her mutant powers. Throw in Professor X in what seems to be a more special bond forged during Days of Future Past (particularly the ending), and that's a cool squad to roam around the country fighting Reavers, who are cyborg assholes who have never really been a huge X-villain, but should serve as an interesting parallel, especially if it gives Wolvie an intelligent prick leading a troop of ne'er-do-wells to battle.

Speaking of which, there have been some heavy hints at another big bad who has been conspicuously absent from the X-Men cinematic universe: Nate Essex himself, Mr. Sinister. Richard E. Grant's casting seems to give that up, since he'd be a perfect fucking fit, but that's speculative for now. Sinister has a long history with the Summers family, but since no one cares about a Cyclops movie (Indeed, Scott wouldn't be a great movie title), this is what we get. As far as Wolverine-specific villains go, Omega Red and Cyber are the only real glaring omissions from the X-cinematic universe so far, and with this purportedly being Hughey's final outing as the character (thanks to Jerry Seinfeld), we might never see these spectacular B-listers on the big screen. That's probably okay. Still, a Ryan Reynolds Deadpool 2 (2018) team-up has got to be awfully tempting.

X-Men's faults have always been its excess of mutants, which is true for both the cinematic and comic versions (hence, "M-Day"), and the stripped down feel of Logan is also oddly refreshing. It promises to be pretty damn gritty and violent as well, which is also a plus when we look to a world where nine movies with a guy with knives for hands and constant fighting has never really gotten that gruesome. What's better is that this feels the same way Deadpool did in that it strikes against the grain of every contemporary superhero flick. It's the very reason why Apocalypse failed (at least commercially - it's really just fine of a film, even if it's the weakest of the First Class trilogy, but its advertising did nothing to distinguish it from all the other crap out there). Logan visibly and purportedly borrows from Unforgiven (1992), which also suits Hugh Jackman's advancing age. It's not like he's ancient or anything, but 48 years old is probably a bit much to be kicking ass at the rate of a 30-something, while looking visibly older in every prequel movie out there.

So, culturally Logan is in a really good spot and ought to stay there. Positive anticipation is high and as long as it delivers, it'll be just fine. Critically it's gotten some decent reviews with the special notation that it's not just "good for a superhero movie" but "good for a movie." We haven't truly gotten too many of the latter. All of the Nolan Batman films are suitable as are Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), but something always feels held back. Can Logan be the one to break the mold? I don't really think so, but as long as this doesn't get a "sucks" from critics, it'll be in good shape.
Nothing to lose your head about! Oh ho ho

That leaves the most important aspect - the money. That's what we're all in this for, after all. Lots and lots of money. This doesn't feel like it'll be the kind of huge huge blockbuster that we've seen in the past - and X-Men films have a notable ceiling. Obviously the goal here is Deadpool money, but I don't think it fits the kind of demand, anticipation, zeitgeist, or cross appeal that film did. Plus it's got Kong: Skull Island (2017) bumping up against it next week. I don't think it's actually in competition for much else in this crowded March - Beauty and the Beast (2017) is for, I dunno, girls or something, CHiPs (2017) is for bros, and Power Rangers (2017) has really been screaming tween at me lately. If I look to myself, I'm pretty pumped for Logan and completely ambivalent over the rest of this shit. As long as adult action demand wasn't satisfied by John Wick: Chapter Two (2017) - and I'd give that a hard "kind of" - this ought to do well, but I'd be surprised if it goes lights out. After all, it's still pretty specific, and The Wolverine is actually the lowest grossing X-Men movie of all time.

Obviously I'm pretty high on this one. I think it'll be a great experience at the theater and one that I'm looking forward to sharing with my closest family. It looks new, fun (yes, despite the melancholy Johnny Cash, commercials have shown plenty of lightness in the Wolverine / X-23 dynamic), and a lot that just feels right. It's clear that for some reason, Jackman has an extreme fondness for this character and wants to send him off right. James Mangold, who also directed The Wolverine, has oscillated wildly between great films (Walk the Line [2005]) to terrible (Knight & Day [2010], to the impeccably okay (3:10 to Yuma [2007], Identity [2003]). Who knows. You can probably guess that it'll be somewhere in that Wolverine-level of quality, which isn't perhaps a great sign, but we can all hope for the best.

It might also be a fine moment, then, to talk about the future, here. Where can the Wolverine character go after he's "retired" by Jackman? Will another actor pick up the mantle? The whole X-franchise is kind of in limbo right now, and likely a system-wide reboot is in order pretty soon. The series is going nigh on twenty years now, and that's probably fair for everyone. For some reason they've also attempted to have a continuity across far more films, timelines, and characters than any other superhero franchise out there. That's why it's the big original. Would a full reboot be in order or just a continuation using the same characters? I've never thought that we have to necessarily keep telling a linear storyline. Comics don't really care about that. In fact, to enjoy Old Man Logan you might need some knowledge of iconography to understand the full weight of the proceedings, but it certainly doesn't jump off of any particular story. There's no reason why comic book movies can't operate the same way. They ought to trade on the by-now well-established shared nerd knowledge and just throw characters into whatever adventures they feel like. Movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't fail because of lack of background. It failed because it sucked. Good movies don't need lengthy character introductions and backstory - just good everything else.

I still vote for the 80s X-Men movie that would have starred Bob Hoskins as Wolverine and Angela Basset as Storm. Still the most perfect casting ever. Who could take on Hugh's mantle? Who is the 2020s version of Bob Hoskins? Jonah Hill? Alright, Logan better be damned good.
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