Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

It’s been a long time since I read the modern classic comic story, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and being rather young when I did, I don’t remember a hell of a lot, so it was nice going into Warner Bros. latest animated movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract fairly fresh without the need or ability to really compare it to its source material.

Based on the classic comic story by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez Teen Titans: The Judas Contract brings together a rather interesting Teen Titans team consisting of Nightwing, Starfire, Damian Wayne aka Robin, Blue Beetle, Beast Boy, Raven, and Terra.

Led by Starfire, the Teen Titans – Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle, Robin and the just-returned Nightwing – have built a cohesive team in their never-ending battle against evil; but their newest teammate, the mysterious and powerful Terra, may be altering that dynamic. Meanwhile, an ancient evil, Brother Blood, has awakened, and familiar foe Deathstroke is lurking in the shadows – both waiting to pounce. Ultimately, the Teen Titans will need to battle their enemies and their own doubts to unite and overcome the malicious forces around them in this twisting tale of intrigue, adventure and deception.

The story really relies on two things, the twist of the story and the Teen Titans dynamic. The dynamic for the team is fantastic. Even within, there’s a lot going on and it feels like the early years for this team. Nightwing and Starfire are well into their relationship, but it’s clear the Blue Beetle is still struggling with his powers, Terra is having issues fitting in, and Robin, well it’s Damian Wayne, so he’s an ass as expected. This is a team that’s struggling and since no one is perfect, it all feels easy to relate to.

But, the story is really all about Terra and it’s hard to review the movie truly without spoiling things. Without doing so, my biggest issue with the film is a scene with Terra where she tries to seduce someone and it’s a bit creepy, since she’s supposed to be a teen. Garth is clearly a teen and trying to date her, so for her to try to throw herself at an adult and the adult to reciprocate in a way is really disturbing.

The bad guys of Deathstroke and Brother Blood are decent. Deathstroke stands out for sure and the action scenes involving him are fantastic, especially fights with Nightwing and Damian. Brother Blood on the other hand… it all feels like a plot we’ve seen so many times before, stealing heroes powers, and then there’s his taking of everyone’s, including Blue Beetle, which seems like an odd thing to take since how his powers work.

The animation as always is top notch with great action and character designs. There’s a style that’s worked across every movie so far, and done so in a way that it all feels like a cohesive universe. The voice acting too is always great. The actors match their characters well, and while none of it really stands out, it’s entertaining.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is a fantastic movie that feels like it does a good job of translating the classic comic story for this DC Animated Universe and does so in a way that it all flows well and feels like a natural evolution of the characters. Judging by the end, there’s a lot more coming, and I can’t wait.

Overall Rating: 8.15

Warner Bros. provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell is Visually Entertaining with a Lot to Say in a Thin Script

To really discuss Ghost in the Shell, at least the way I’m going to, I’m going to have to spoil things, so WARNING SPOILERS.

In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

Based on the classic manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell isn’t anything new today. Its plot has be retread a million times at this point, Robocop being a prime example. At its core the story is about a corporation wanting to create a more perfect weapon, a soldier that has the thought process of a human but the physical abilities of a robot. “Ghost” in this case is a fancy word for soul with the shell being the robotic exterior, the futuristic cyberpunk story can easily be interpreted as a story about what it means to be human and the intrusion of technology into that. At what point with cyber enhancements do we become something else? Is it the “soul” or “ghost” that really matters. But, this live action version feels like it’s something more, “white imperialistic corporations.” The film has a glitzy surface and a shallow story that we’ve seen before, but its themes are very interesting and in some ways feel revolutionary.

Created by the Hanaka corporation Major (played by Scarlett Johansson) is part of a government task force, a very diverse task force it should be pointed out, but is still being watched/managed by Hanaka. Major is seeing glitches. She’s been told that she died in a boating incident and that her brain was transferred into this robotic body. But, is this the truth?

It’s pretty clear on that this cover story is completely made up and the real story is more insidious. Major isn’t the first attempt at this and Hanaka has failed numerous times. Major also didn’t die in an accident, she was a runaway abducted by Hanaka for their experiment. And Major is really Motoko Kusanagi a Japanese girl whose mind is moved to the body of a white woman. Cringe worthy for sure, but this whitewashing feels as if that’s part of the story. The evil terrorist, Kruze, that Major and her team are trying to track down too was a Japanese man transferred into the body of a white man. Those making that decision? All white. Dr. Ouelet (played by Juliette Binoche), Cutter (played by Peter Ferdinando), and Dr. Dahlin (played by Anamaria Marinca), are portrayed by white actors. So, for the third act of the film it’s a diverse group of soldiers (one white woman [Johansson], one white man [Pilou Asbaek], one black man [Tawanda Manyimo], two Japanese men [Takeshi Kitano and Yutaka Izumihara], one from Singapore [Chin Han] one Kurdish/Polish/English woman [Danusia Samal], and one Australian Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander/Pacific Islander [Lasarus Ratuere]) up against the evil corporation that has abused Japan for resources, kidnapping its citizens to whitewash them. The whitwashing feels like it’s part of the point of it all.

The optics are interesting and this theme fascinating and when it’s hinted at the two Japanese team members don’t have enhancements, there’s even more to think about the concept of Hanaka and it’s consuming of Japan. And in the end, the evil white corporate head is executed for crimes against the Japanese state (crimes against humanity/kidnapping would have been good too). In the end it’s not Major who brings justice, it’s her Japanese boss who executes Cutter. The same Japanese boss who only speaks Japanese throughout the film. The symbolism of the Japanese leader executing the white corporate imperialist for crimes against his nation is not lost.

Consent too is brought up over and over which itself deserves an exploration in what it means for what Hanaka has done but also the exploitation they represent. Every time Major has some diagnosis done or gets plugged in she must give consent. It’s interesting that “consent” is used as opposed to “permission.” And at the film’s core is that she didn’t give her consent when she was put into the body of Major. Again, by the all white corporate folks. Read into that as you want.

But, that rather interesting theme is visual. It’s never discussed, but as a whole the film relies on its aesthetics more than anything else. Visually the film is amazing with a look and style that feels like a futuristic but in doing so plays off of a lot of stereotypical Japanese iconography. Robots are designed to look like geisha, holographic koi fish fly around, it’s visuals we’ve seen, but the way they’re presented in their neo-glow is stunning and in 3D even more rich and entertaining. That includes the cyberpunk aesthetic with body parts replaced, people plugged in, much of it visually there and never explained. The action sequences too are like a ballet dance of destruction showing that Marvel would be fools to not speed up a Johansson led Black Widow film.

But lets get to the story. The themes are deep and while there is a diverse cast many have little screen time. If there’s two dozen lines between the majority of them I’d be surprised. There’s not much dialogue as a whole and as I said, the story is one that’s been repeated over and over. The film does little new in this department and it’s beyond predictable which is fine in that I was sucked in staring at the screen trying to catch everything visually. There’s plot points or scenes that aren’t explained or feel pointless. When it comes to the story itself, the movie is a bit of a mess especially in the latter half which feels like action sequences were shoved into a police procedural. Director Rupert Sanders delivers a visual treat from a thin script.

Johansson is interesting as well in how she portrays the character. The life we’ve seen from her has been sucked out in a way where she feels hollow. And that feels like it’s on purpose. The movie is her struggling with her status and numerous times she states she can’t feel anything. That is manifested in how she delivers her lines and interacts. It’s stiff, lifeless, and mechanical, like her character.

The film does have its problems. I get the reaction to Johansson whitewashing, but beyond that a scene involving a prostitute is cringe worthy. There’s also no explanation of this version of Tokyo, we’re just thrust into the world.

I walked out of Ghost in the Shell wanting to see it again and doing so in 3D (again). The film is entertaining and whether done on purpose or not, there’s a lot to discuss on its themes and conflict. Is it a great film? Absolutely not. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. It’s also absolutely a move that needs to be seen in 3D on the big screen, it’s visual richness will be lost any other way.

Overall Rating: 7.15

Movie Review: Wilson

A lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged man reunites with his estranged wife and meets his teenage daughter for the first time.

Based on the celebrated graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, Wilson stars Woody Harrelson in the title role and the end result is a bit mixed in quality. The first thing to understand about Wilson the character is that he’s generally unlikeable. He’s a middle age man that in many aspects is anachronistic and through every situation, he wanders into it’s clear he wonders what his legacy in the world is.

To understand the movie, you need to really understand the graphic novel it’s based off of. Wilson isn’t as much a narrative story as it is a series of short situations that have more in common with newspaper strips than a graphic story. There’s a big picture theme through it all and some work together to form a story, but this isn’t your traditional story. With those short strips (usually a page) the art style too changes mixing up the visuals as a caustic and grumpy tone remains constant.

So Harrelson in the title role has it tough. Even in the comic Wilson doesn’t have much of a personality beyond “dick.” He’s grumpy and gruff and seems to lack a filter saying what he’s thinking as if he’s just given up on societal niceties. So Harrelson is walking into a role where the character is unlikeable and he pulls that off. This is Wilson the comic character brought to life and doing anything beyond “straight guy” honest delivery of the material would betray the character. Adding a sparkle, a smile, a wink, diminishes the character who is none of those things.

Joining Harrelson is primarily Laura Dern as his ex-wife Pippi who’s recovered from what is told to us was a hellish period of her life with stories that aren’t recounted so much as hinted at by things like tattoos. That allows us the viewer to imagine the situations, which honestly is probably funnier than anything Clowes could come up with. Dern does exhausted and weary well and you can see her evolve in her demeanor and appearance as she grows up compared to Wilson’s devolution.

Also joining them is Isabella Amara who plays Claire, the daughter neither know who is the impetus by which the main story gets going. She’s pretty solid but is primarily the audience to Pippi and Wilson’s crazy. She’s not much more than a prop at times for Wilson’s mania or to act as a stand-in for the audience.

Cheryl Hines, Judy Greer, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Brett Gelman, all stand out during their scenes delivering entertaining performances and controlling the tone or setting it in some ways. Which is impressive since Harrelson is such a presence (for good and bad) in the film.

Directed by Craig Johnson with a screenplay by Clowes, Wilson is interesting in that it attempts to create a narrative but it comes off as a series of vignettes. That really stands out to me as the graphic novel was a series of vignettes. They attempted to create a story out of something that really wasn’t. Some of the funniest moments from the graphic novel is included by what Johnson misses is that interesting visual from the comics. Each story has a different visual and we saw in the comic adaptation American Splendor what and how mixing visuals can work. The film visually would have been stronger if it took some inspiration from that film mixing in different styles including animation with the live action.

The film itself isn’t bad in any way, but it also falls short from what I had hoped (expectations probably didn’t help). The movie feels like a mid-life crisis High Fidelity. Instead of figuring out the direction of one’s life, it’s more focused on what one’s legacy will be. The laughs are there but with such a dark tone it’s an uncomfortable one and with an audience, you could feel that exude from them. Calling this a “dark comedy” is an understatement.

There’s some narrative choices when it comes to the story, especially at the end. Some time frames shift and I left wondering why. If there’s a difference to it all and if so, what it was. Clowes feels like he’s saying something a little different with those choices, but I’m not sure if it’s meant to be different. Some of the message and themes shift a little due to this change.

There’s also issues with the women generally portrayed as all negative, but by the end it’s clear that Wilson corrupts everything he touches and the negativity is a natural and justified reaction.

Wilson is one of the most under the radar comic adaptations of 2017 and it’ll be one that should be debated as to the end result and if it’s better or worse than the original graphic novel. Like American Splendor, Wilson shows not all “comic movies” involve spandex, and some of the most thought-provoking don’t involve them at all.

Overall Rating: 7.65

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Happy belated International Women’s Day everyone!, I was very happy to spend the afternoon with my mom, and watch such an inspiring story of determination, unity and human progress.  I must admit that between X-Men: First Class, Dreamgirls, and Hidden Figures the 60s are quickly becoming a favorite go-to era of mine where cinema is concerned. With respect to segregation, the red scare, and the approach to seeming difference in general, this era serves as an interesting mirror in terms of what lessons we have learned, and perhaps what lessons we have not.

Overall Hidden Figures is a story about determination in the face of prejudice and fostering the ties that bind. Through a retelling the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson we are introduced to a lesser known trial of how these pioneers persisted and made a difference despite the obstacles of segregation. It’s a real heartfelt story about the sacrifice that trailblazers make and what the legacy of being “first” provides. Hidden Figures offers also an intersectional perspective on minority relations and hardship. Beneath the story of NASA in the context of 1960s segregation, there are clear parallels to our current debate on bathroom access for transgender individuals and our current dilemma with the rise in Islamophobia.

At the heart of Hidden Figures is a film and story about the true and total cost of prejudice. The silliness of propping up such traditions of segregation is really anchored in the film when you see the talent that the separation has potentially squandered away. In light of the themes of Hidden Figures and the mission to space that it overlooks, I was reminded of an article titled “Earthrise – a Mythic Image of Our Time.” When John Glenn gets to space, and we see the globe in its entirety, you can’t help but be reminded of humankind’s unitary fate.

There is also an interesting sub-theme of our symbiosis with technology and by extension “the other/unknown.” We see Dorothy Vaughn’s exploration into the Fortran language and the emergence of one the first IBM computers. A subtle yet poignant parallel is drawn between both minority and machine being a threat to job security. Most of this is in fact the driving force between the prejudice seen in the film as job scarcity, perceived talent, and “seniority” appear to be at odds with inclusiveness and exploration. In the end the impulse and benefit of “working with” wins out over “working against” and it really is the most timely and beautiful message to have.

Overall Hidden Figures felt like a spiritual prequel to film Apollo 13, just far less boring and with a strong message. Although it was not without its slow parts, the film is an enjoyable family friendly conveyance of a story that is relevant and timely given what we face in our current political environment. I left the theater feeling driven by my own personal hardships, and a bit proud and hopeful for humanity. This is something I think is sorely needed at this time, if you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, I strongly suggest you do. I am sure you’ll walk out feeling the same way.

Overall Rating 9.5

A Short, Spoiler Free Logan Review

loganIt should be no surprise to you by this point that I’m a huge Wolverine fan, so when I realized I could watch the movie on my birthday I jumped at the chance to get to go see it.

But before I say anything else, if you want an in-depth critical review with no real plot spoilers then you can read Brett’s review over here, because that’s not what this is going to be. This is going to be some quick impressions from a twenty-five-year fan of Wolverine who has been desperate for a half way decent movie starring the clawed Canadian. I went into the movie with the critic part of my brain turned off (somehow), so this is being written from a fan’s perspective before anything else.

On the quality: After sitting through the film on opening night, it’s safe to say that I was not disappointed, and I have every intention to see this movie again very soon. Logan earns the R rating several times over, and as fun as it is to see the movie do that, that’s not why I loved the film. Or at least not the whole reason.

On the action: This is the Wolverine movie fans have been waiting seventeen years for. Remember the scene in X2 when Wolverine defends the X-Mansion? It’s like that, but R-rated, and with much better choreography.

On the acting: While I doubt there’ll be any Oscar talk around this movie, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fantastic. As is Dafne Keen who is able to hold her own when sharing the screen with the two veterans as they deliver their best performances as these characters to date.

Overall: I saw somewhere that somebody had compared this to the Dark Knight of the X-Men movies, and I don’t disagree with them. After a single viewing, this is easily the best movie in the franchise right now – whether that’ll change once I’ve rewatched it… I doubt it, but you never know. The performances of the three leads was phenomenal, the story everything I hoped it’d be. I can’t wait to watch this again – and I will. Very soon.

And no, if you’re wondering, there’s no post-credits scene.

Logan is the Rare Superhero Film that Deals with Finality

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*Warning: This article contains full spoilers for the film Logan*

There is a famous line in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen that could be used to describe the world of superhero comics as well as the Disney golden goose/juggernaut that is “Nothing ever ends.” As long as the books are selling, the TV shows are getting decent ratings, and the movies make back their budgets, there will always be stories about Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, whatever mediocre white male Marvel Studios decides to make a movie about, and yes, the X-Men. But whether it’s due to Hugh Jackman or Patrick Stewart’s contracts, a burst of creativity on the part of writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and co-writer/director James MangoldLogan decides to end the character of Wolverine on its own terms with no reboot or recasting in sight.

In its plot, influences, and setting, Logan is a departure from X-Men and superhero films. The story follows Logan, who reluctantly agrees to drive Charles Xavier and a new mutant Laura aka X-23 (Dafne Keen) to Eden, a place in North Dakota where the last mutants are supposedly hiding out. Logan is skeptical about this land’s existence. In a bit of a family twist, it’s revealed that Laura was created from Logan’s DNA and has his claws, healing factor, and rage. Logan is a dystopian western/road trip movie as Logan a beautiful combination of Cormac McCarthy’s novels The Road and No Country for Old Men if Sheriff Bell (Played by Tommy Lee Jones in the Coen Bros film adaptation.) was the one taking the road trip with a child that he had a strained relationship with. And the Reavers definitely fall into the Anton Chigurh school of villainy driven on by relentless evil and a desire to hinder Logan at every turn even when he’s just minding his own business and being a chauffeur.

From its tense cold open where Logan fights some Latino men on the Texas/Mexico border, Mangold, Jackman, and cinematographer John Mathieson give us a front seat to his mortality. There are the hacks and slashes that are his signature, but it comes after he gets his ass kicked a few times and takes some wounds to his chest. Logan is still a skilled fighter, but you can see him wince in pain as he takes shotgun shells to the chest, and throughout the film, it’s obvious that he’s trying to avoid getting shot using throws and holds instead of just charging at his foes berserker style. (Although, Logan does give into his animal nature several times in the film, especially when fighting his conscience-less clone X-24.)

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Unlike The Wolverine where Logan losing his healing factor was a plot device to be reset at the end so he could go on more adventures with the X-Men, it’s a terminal condition as the adamantium on his bones is beginning to poison him. Jackman’s body is a canvas of pain and suffering, and there are many shots of him turning to whiskey, pills, and later a kind of superhuman steroids to get his deteriorating body to function. He, Charles Xavier, and Caliban (Stephen Merchant) are living in the physical equivalent of death’s door in an old smelting plant in Mexico where Logan works as basically Uber driver and hauls around hard partying, jingoistic young people to have enough money to get pills to suppress Xavier’s telepathy. As it’s revealed later in the film,  the former Professor X has a degenerative brain disorder that leads to seizures and can kill both humans and mutants. Logan doesn’t want him to hurt anyone else so he has him in isolation, and a very honest Xavier remarks that he’s just waiting for him to die. The dream is dead, there are no X-Men or superheroes, and he and Logan are just trying to save enough of money so they can float away on a boat and be free. They are the living dead and only spoken of in hushed tones like urban myths, or in the colorful, nostalgic pages of in-universe X-Men comics.

Yes, Logan is the cinematic equivalent of staring into the abyss for two and a half hours as Mangold comes to terms with the lives that Logan has taken and mirrors his violence and savagery in the young girl Laura. Laura’s big introduction is when she takes out a group of Reavers, who have attacked Logan and Xavier’s compound. Most of the action takes place off camera and is signified by her walking out carrying a man’s head before a whip quick pan shows her launching an attack on the remaining Reavers. Unlike Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, this and countless other instances of violence involving Laura aren’t played for dark humor, but for tragedy.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about Logan compared to a lot of superhero films was that it gave its characters a chance to breathe, emote, and interact instead of rushing through the equivalent of trailers for other films or using big gestures like kisses or near death experiences to “develop” characters. So, its best sequence isn’t an epic desert/barb wire fence car chase that is even cooler than the one in Batman Begins, but Xavier, Laura, and Logan sharing a family meal with the Munsons, a family that they helped out on their way to Eden. Xavier confesses to X-24 (Who he thinks is Logan) that this is the best night he’s had in a while and a vision of what a normal family life is like before he is brutally gutted by a man, who he thought was his friend. There have been scenes where Xavier is trying to acclimate Laura to because this is an incredibly depressing film.

Instead of bringing back Sabretooth, William Stryker, or another villain from the Wolverine comics, Mangold has Logan fight himself (Or technically his soulless clone) in the film. Evil clones are kind of a gimmick, but through the sheer brutality of the combat and Jackman’s unhinged performance as X-24, their fights come across as a world-weary man trying to exorcise demons, murder the savage part of himself, and find some peace before he dies. Logan truly goes through some Passion of the Christ worthy physical torment, and Mangold and the visual effects don’t hold back from showing his gaping wounds as he struggles to drive the last few miles to Eden, and medical experts say he’s dying. To draw a connection to the Hebrew Bible, Logan, like Moses, could see the Promised Land, but he can’t live in it.

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Other than the incredibly sad funeral sequence where one of the kids holds a Wolverine action figure and Laura turns the wooden cross on his grave sideways to make an “X”, the scene where Laura pushes a semi-comatose Logan to the side and drives both of them to Eden is real moment where Logan comes to terms with its finality. It parallels a scene early in X-Men where Logan is the one driving a young mutant named Rogue to safety except now the young mutant, Laura, has his life in her hands. It’s a really passing of the baton moment, and Laura even becomes the badass loner with the dark past of the group of new mutants brooding off to the side while her new friends eat by the camp fire. This is very much like Wolverine’s role in the first X-Men movie.

Logan is dead, and the Wolverine with him as he passes the torch of hope and heroism despite great odds and a messed up past to Laura and the young mutants of Eden. And along the way James Mangold redeems the adamantium bullet that made everyone snicker in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Early, in the film, it’s the symbol of Logan’s suicidal ideation when Laura finds out that he carries it an and a single shot revolver to kill himself when the time comes. However, Laura ends up using the bullet to kill X-24 defeating the murderous animal inside Wolverine and only leaving the noble, flawed man Logan to die a mortal death from his wounds. Mangold, Jackman, and Keen create something beautiful from the carcass of a terrible film and let Logan find a small measure of redemption before he passes away.

And this is why Logan is such a fantastic film. It has real life and death stakes and not in the Iron Man passes out for five seconds after going into space before being okay way. James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green aren’t afraid to grapple with the pain of taking a life and the bitter tang of morality, and it does it all in the thrilling, poetic skin of a Western cyborg film. It’s the sad, savage, and soulful superhero film that I’ve been waiting for.

Movie Review: Logan is a Brutal and Emotional Send Off

logan-posterLogan is everything fans of the popular X-Man have been waiting for in an unflinching, brutally violent, send off that’s easily the best Wolverine film and one of the best in the “X” franchise. Taking place in the year 2029, the layered, and at times meta, film features a riff on the “Old Man Logan” comic character made popular by writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven and currently starring in numerous comic series from Marvel.

Set in the near future, the film presents a hero no longer wanting that role, instead, he’s trying to retire and run away while not fully coming to grips with his past and deeds. The opening of the film lays out everything you need to know about this Wolverine, played for a possible final time by Hugh Jackman. He has a slight limp, he’s covered in scars, he’s drinking, he just wants to make enough money to run away with his “family,” and he’s going by the name James Howlett. This is a not quite dystopian world where the X-Men are no more and an event has decimated the mutant population.

Directed by James Mangold with a screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, this is the western that The Wolverine thought it was, a genre that fits this lone character like a spandex costume. It’s clear Mangold and the team were going for exactly that with numerous references to Shane the classic novel turned Oscar-winning film then tv series.

Like the weary gunfighter Shane, Howlett wants to settle down, caring for an ailing Professor X (played brilliantly by Patrick Stewart) with the help of fellow mutant Caliban (played by Stephen Merchant). All three have sins in their past and the film is an exploration of that. There’s a focus on character and accepting, or at least coping, with those sins while trying to forge an unknown future. And just like in that classic western, these warriors are forced to act and get involved in a conflict after a mysterious girl Laura (played by newcomer Dafne Keen) comes into their lives. From there the film becomes part road trip, part western, part horror, but what it’s not is a superhero film.

logan-posterFrom the first moments of the film it’s clear that this isn’t your typical X-Men or Wolverine film with swear words thrown around, limbs flying (at times literally), and blood splattering. The bodies, and body parts, pile up in a finale that doesn’t hold back and is let loose with an “R” rating.

It’s a departure from what we’ve previously seen and that departure becomes meta at times where the film debates X-Men comics, their fantasy aspects, their disconnect from the reality of violence, but also recognizing the comics represent hope to many of those who read them. As seen in trailers and ads, X-Men comics are brandished around becoming a discussion within the larger film. Logan having “lived it” sees them as fantasy that glosses over the real violence and death that happened, while some (in this case Laura) latch on to them representing freedom from oppression. That debate rages in the real world today. Some embrace the comic series’ “political” core that’s been present since the characters debuted in 1963 and its not so veiled parallels to the Civil Rights to today’s allegories on LGBTQ+ rights. Others want an escapist fantasy without the message and even others who celebrate the violence. It’s a debate that plays out within the film by its lead characters. That debate is about as “X-Men” as the film gets though there’s plenty of winks and nods for longtime fans. There are numerous references to previous films and comics.

At its core, the movie is a Western, where our hero takes a stand against the evil corporation looking to roll over the average person. This is manifested in a few instances such as a defense of a family farm (with no more mutants, the X-Man takes a stand for an average human family) from corporate farming (with some commentary about corn syrup) to the main plot concerning Laura.

The film is a chase/road trip as Logan attempts to get Laura to safety as she’s pursued by a government-backed genetics corporation called Transigen who is attempting to make Mutants of their own and wield them as weapons. Laura, who comic fans will know as X-23, is one of those experiments broken free with a goal of escaping to freedom. That aspect of the film is interesting in itself as the chase takes place from Mexico to Canada, a cross-country trip that you can’t help but think of today’s debates on immigration and border security (and also something about Wolverine heading back to Canada, the land where he was birthed for what is Jackman’s final film as the character). Other real world issues are touched upon such as copyright and intellectual property over genetics, a topic that ties into corporate farming as well. This helps flesh out the film to be more than fantastical characters.

loganWhile the story has action and flash in the various action sequences, mostly involving Transigen’s bounty hunters the Reavers (classic X-villains and includes Pierce, Bone Breaker, Pretty Boy, and more), there’s so much to it under the surface and the film challenges viewers to piece some of it together. We learn what’s wrong with Professor X over time and his sins, in particular the “Westchester Incident.” But, even that isn’t fully laid out leaving the imaginations of the audience to fill in the gaps and by doing so creating horrors that the director and writers couldn’t begin to come up with.

Even with that layered meta and meaning some things are a bit looser. Transigen’s motivations evolve from capturing Laura to capturing Professor X and/or Wolverine giving viewers a bad guy with loose goals. This could be explained by the overreaching evil corporation who wants nothing but profit and how to obtain that changes over time. But, this isn’t as clear cut as bad guys we’ve seen in the past. And it’s not as black and white either when it comes to good and evil. No Mutants have been born for 25 years at this point and Professor X ailing has been labeled a weapon of mass destruction by the United States government and is a wanted man. Even in Transigen’s evil, there’s still some good intentions masked by their clearly evil goals.

As a chapter ends a new one begins with the introduction of Laura/X-23 played by Dafne Keen a newcomer whose only other work was The Refugees. Her introduction is a punch in the gut and gives viewers no doubt about the character. Mostly mute for the film much of her acting is through body language and grunts. And that’s not easy to do. Due to that Keen is a bit mixed in her role. At times she’s excellent and other moments just so-so. That’s also due to who she’s acting against.

professorxPatrick Stewart delivers a performance we have not seen in an X film. As an ailing Professor X his mind is failing him and through the power of make-up he’s aged to a level I haven’t seen. You believe this is a man seeing his last few years with his mind wandering and not working as it once was. Having witnessed people in this condition first hand, the performance is damn near perfect and full of emotion not just for him, but the audience too. The simplest needs such as his needing help to use a restroom are noted and beautifully shot for the audience to absorb. This is also no longer the loving teacher, but age has given him an edge that comes out over the years. Take note, this is supporting actor level territory.

Hugh Jackman gives us a Wolverine we haven’t seen and his aging is more than some gray hair and scars. A limp, some drinking, squinting, Jackman’s performance is grizzled, worn, and weary. It’s been 17 years since he stepped into the role and this is easily his best performance. He’s able to let loose emotionally and physically. Through his interactions with Laura, even just simple looks, Jackman makes us believe this is a man who is struggling with the concept of family no matter how strange this one is. It’s a trope we’ve seen before in many films, but this is the first time we’ve seen it on the screen for Wolverine to this extent and in a way that makes it believable.

Logan is a finale to Jackman’s take on the character that has spanned 17 years, 9 films, and two video games. To the last moments of the film, this is a movie that reflects on the character’s actions, history, violence, and what that all means. But, the film itself is a departure from the preceding films, until those final moments where we’re reminded of it all. I went into the film with some expectations as to what to what I’d be watching, but from the beginning moments, those expectations were shattered. Logan defies it all and delivered a layered modern western that’s a worthy finale.

Overall Rating: 9.15

Graphic Policy was provided a FREE screening

Movie Review: Saving Banksy

savingbanksyposterfnlSaving Banksy is the true story of one misguided art collectors attempts to save a painting by the world’s most infamous Street Artist from destruction and the auction block. A rare look inside the secretive world of Graffiti and Street Art. Saving Banksy asks the question, “What would you do if you were offered a small fortune for a painting the artist didn’t want sold?”

Directed by Colin Day, Saving Banksy focuses on the true story of one misguided art collectors attempt to save Banksy’s famous “Haight Street Rat” from destruction and the auction block. His efforts to save the Rat are met with threats from city officials, snubs from museums and a flurry of six-figure offers from art dealers who cannot wait to get their hands on the painting. Having seen a couple of documentaries about the mysterious artist Banksy, I wondered what new this documentary would reveal and say. And, coming out the other end, it’s not only a fresh look at the art world, but also feels like a fresh take on the discussion about street art.

Saving Banksy isn’t really about Banksy the artist. The film focuses on his time in San Francisco and the impact of his art on the area, but also about street art as a whole. Interesting topics like causing fines for building owners over graffiti and how the art can “raise the value” of a building are discussed, but the bigger discussion is street art as a whole and it’s fragility and finality.

“This will look nice when it’s framed.” Courtesy of Candy Factory Films and Parade Deck Films

“This will look nice when it’s framed.” Courtesy of Candy Factory Films and Parade Deck Films

Featuring interviews with numerous artists like Ben Eine, Risk, Revok, Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman, Blek Le Rat, Anthony Lister, Doze Green, Hera and Glen E Friedman the concept of street art is discussed. The ideas that it’s supposed to be enjoyed by the masses, in the open, and that it’ll be destroyed down the road either through further graffiti or time. But, what if it can be saved? Should it be saved? That’s part of the conflict at the heart of the film.

One individual undertakes the task of saving one of Banksy’s work with hopes of donating it to a museum where it can be forever enjoyed by the masses. But, art leads to money which leads to greed. What happens when that individual is offered large sums of money for the piece he saved? Enter the vultures of the art world who say they have Banksy’s best interests in mind, but as shown, dollars are what’s on their mind. Greed rears it’s ugly head and the love of art versus art collecting and profit versus the public good becomes a theme of the film.

Fully restored rat on display in San Francisco. Courtesy of Candy Factory Films and Parade Deck Films

Fully restored rat on display in San Francisco. Courtesy of Candy Factory Films and Parade Deck Films

That core theme was something I was very interested in and how it applies to the comic industry. Disposable entertainment, there’s debates within the comic community in how to “save” its history. Collectors (like myself) not only build large collections of floppy monthly comics, but some (like myself) also collect original art. Does my personal collection deprive others of viewing the original work? Am I saving it for future generations? Am I just doing it for profit? For anyone who enjoys are or collects, these are questions that apply to our community as much as the art collectors presented in this documentary.

The film also explores the idea of Banksy. This are works of art meant to be enjoyed by the public and to make one think. By removing them from their initial location you can destroy the meaning of the picture. By assigning value and selling them you absolutely destroy Banksy’s original vision and intention… or do you?

Through interviews and the documentary’s storytelling all of this is discussed and debated in a movie that’s engrossing and entertaining to watch. From the framing, the music, the flow of the narrative, Saving Banksy is an excellent discussion about street art and the value of art as a whole.

A documentary that makes you think Saving Banksy challenges you to think about art, museums, and collecting. By showing off differing viewpoints it doesn’t provide answers, only questions and opinions, letting the viewers make up of their own opinion.

Overall Rating: 9.35

Graphic Policy was provided a FREE screener for review

Movie Review: Logan is a Brutal and Emotional Send Off

logan-posterLogan is everything fans of the popular X-Man have been waiting for in an unflinching, brutally violent, send off that’s easily the best Wolverine film and one of the best in the “X” franchise. Taking place in the year 2029, the layered, and at times meta, film features a riff on the “Old Man Logan” comic character made popular by writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven and currently starring in numerous comic series from Marvel.

Set in the near future, the film presents a hero no longer wanting that role, instead, he’s trying to retire and run away while not fully coming to grips with his past and deeds. The opening of the film lays out everything you need to know about this Wolverine, played for a possible final time by Hugh Jackman. He has a slight limp, he’s covered in scars, he’s drinking, he just wants to make enough money to run away with his “family,” and he’s going by the name James Howlett. This is a not quite dystopian world where the X-Men are no more and an event has decimated the mutant population.

Directed by James Mangold with a screenplay by Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green, this is the western that The Wolverine thought it was, a genre that fits this lone character like a spandex costume. It’s clear Mangold and the team were going for exactly that with numerous references to Shane the classic novel turned Oscar-winning film then tv series.

Like the weary gunfighter Shane, Howlett wants to settle down, caring for an ailing Professor X (played brilliantly by Patrick Stewart) with the help of fellow mutant Caliban (played by Stephen Merchant). All three have sins in their past and the film is an exploration of that. There’s a focus on character and accepting, or at least coping, with those sins while trying to forge an unknown future. And just like in that classic western, these warriors are forced to act and get involved in a conflict after a mysterious girl Laura (played by newcomer Dafne Keen) comes into their lives. From there the film becomes part road trip, part western, part horror, but what it’s not is a superhero film.

logan-posterFrom the first moments of the film it’s clear that this isn’t your typical X-Men or Wolverine film with swear words thrown around, limbs flying (at times literally), and blood splattering. The bodies, and body parts, pile up in a finale that doesn’t hold back and is let loose with an “R” rating.

It’s a departure from what we’ve previously seen and that departure becomes meta at times where the film debates X-Men comics, their fantasy aspects, their disconnect from the reality of violence, but also recognizing the comics represent hope to many of those who read them. As seen in trailers and ads, X-Men comics are brandished around becoming a discussion within the larger film. Logan having “lived it” sees them as fantasy that glosses over the real violence and death that happened, while some (in this case Laura) latch on to them representing freedom from oppression. That debate rages in the real world today. Some embrace the comic series’ “political” core that’s been present since the characters debuted in 1963 and its not so veiled parallels to the Civil Rights to today’s allegories on LGBTQ+ rights. Others want an escapist fantasy without the message and even others who celebrate the violence. It’s a debate that plays out within the film by its lead characters. That debate is about as “X-Men” as the film gets though there’s plenty of winks and nods for longtime fans. There are numerous references to previous films and comics.

At its core, the movie is a Western, where our hero takes a stand against the evil corporation looking to roll over the average person. This is manifested in a few instances such as a defense of a family farm (with no more mutants, the X-Man takes a stand for an average human family) from corporate farming (with some commentary about corn syrup) to the main plot concerning Laura.

The film is a chase/road trip as Logan attempts to get Laura to safety as she’s pursued by a government-backed genetics corporation called Transigen who is attempting to make Mutants of their own and wield them as weapons. Laura, who comic fans will know as X-23, is one of those experiments broken free with a goal of escaping to freedom. That aspect of the film is interesting in itself as the chase takes place from Mexico to Canada, a cross-country trip that you can’t help but think of today’s debates on immigration and border security (and also something about Wolverine heading back to Canada, the land where he was birthed for what is Jackman’s final film as the character). Other real world issues are touched upon such as copyright and intellectual property over genetics, a topic that ties into corporate farming as well. This helps flesh out the film to be more than fantastical characters.

loganWhile the story has action and flash in the various action sequences, mostly involving Transigen’s bounty hunters the Reavers (classic X-villains and includes Pierce, Bone Breaker, Pretty Boy, and more), there’s so much to it under the surface and the film challenges viewers to piece some of it together. We learn what’s wrong with Professor X over time and his sins, in particular the “Westchester Incident.” But, even that isn’t fully laid out leaving the imaginations of the audience to fill in the gaps and by doing so creating horrors that the director and writers couldn’t begin to come up with.

Even with that layered meta and meaning some things are a bit looser. Transigen’s motivations evolve from capturing Laura to capturing Professor X and/or Wolverine giving viewers a bad guy with loose goals. This could be explained by the overreaching evil corporation who wants nothing but profit and how to obtain that changes over time. But, this isn’t as clear cut as bad guys we’ve seen in the past. And it’s not as black and white either when it comes to good and evil. No Mutants have been born for 25 years at this point and Professor X ailing has been labeled a weapon of mass destruction by the United States government and is a wanted man. Even in Transigen’s evil, there’s still some good intentions masked by their clearly evil goals.

As a chapter ends a new one begins with the introduction of Laura/X-23 played by Dafne Keen a newcomer whose only other work was The Refugees. Her introduction is a punch in the gut and gives viewers no doubt about the character. Mostly mute for the film much of her acting is through body language and grunts. And that’s not easy to do. Due to that Keen is a bit mixed in her role. At times she’s excellent and other moments just so-so. That’s also due to who she’s acting against.

professorxPatrick Stewart delivers a performance we have not seen in an X film. As an ailing Professor X his mind is failing him and through the power of make-up he’s aged to a level I haven’t seen. You believe this is a man seeing his last few years with his mind wandering and not working as it once was. Having witnessed people in this condition first hand, the performance is damn near perfect and full of emotion not just for him, but the audience too. The simplest needs such as his needing help to use a restroom are noted and beautifully shot for the audience to absorb. This is also no longer the loving teacher, but age has given him an edge that comes out over the years. Take note, this is supporting actor level territory.

Hugh Jackman gives us a Wolverine we haven’t seen and his aging is more than some gray hair and scars. A limp, some drinking, squinting, Jackman’s performance is grizzled, worn, and weary. It’s been 17 years since he stepped into the role and this is easily his best performance. He’s able to let loose emotionally and physically. Through his interactions with Laura, even just simple looks, Jackman makes us believe this is a man who is struggling with the concept of family no matter how strange this one is. It’s a trope we’ve seen before in many films, but this is the first time we’ve seen it on the screen for Wolverine to this extent and in a way that makes it believable.

Logan is a finale to Jackman’s take on the character that has spanned 17 years, 9 films, and two video games. To the last moments of the film, this is a movie that reflects on the character’s actions, history, violence, and what that all means. But, the film itself is a departure from the preceding films, until those final moments where we’re reminded of it all. I went into the film with some expectations as to what to what I’d be watching, but from the beginning moments, those expectations were shattered. Logan defies it all and delivered a layered modern western that’s a worthy finale.

Overall Rating: 9.15

Graphic Policy was provided a FREE screening

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

the-lego-batman-movieSpinning out of The LEGO Movie is The LEGO Batman Movie putting the full focus on the Brick Crusader in his quest to keep Gotham safe. In The LEGO Batman Movie, Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted. Directed by Chris McKay, the film is a visual assault filling the screen with hyperkinetic scenes that challenge you to not be overwhelmed by the sheer craziness on the screen. There’s a lot to take in and you won’t catch it all inviting fans to enjoy multiple viewings to catch every joke.

And there’s a lot of them.

With The LEGO Batman Movie, nothing is sacred in the history of Batman and everything is on the table to mock going back to his debut in 1939 in Detective Comics. And that’s the big thing about the film, if you’re a Batman fan, you’ll love it as it’s an homage and spoof of everything that has come before. If you have enough knowledge about Batman’s history and previous experiences on the big and small screen, the movie lands with a barrage of jokes that keep on coming. If you don’t appreciate a “Kapow” your enjoyment may vary.

The film itself is interesting in that it throws it in your face, Batman is really a dick, at least this version is voiced by Will Arnett. A disconnected self-centered manchild who’s all work, Batman/Bruce is focused on making Gotham free from all crime and everything else comes second. Batman is the center of the joke, the film spends an ample amount of time making fun of him and the “character” be exagerating the staples we’ve seen in so many itterations of the 75+ years since his creation. But, it’s not just Batman that’s mocked, there’s ongoing jokes involing Bane and his voice from The Dark Knight Rises, D-list villains, Michael Jackson, and the very concept of it all. I found myself laughing more during the film’s 1 hour and 44 minutes than I have in many comedies and where I wasn’t laughing, I had a smile on my face.

The lessons you’d expect in a film aimed at kids are all there, learning to work as a team, not being mean, trusting others, believing in one’s self, it’s pretty much the same basic formula as The LEGO Movie and that’s not a bad thing. It generally works being there for the kids while the adults can focus on nostalgia.

Where that underlying theme of the film fails is the pacing. As I said, the film can only be described as kinetic and a visual assault at times (not negative things) which makes the quieter moments drag on a bit too much. When the film attempts to “get serious” it drags and that adds up to a movie that’s about 20 minutes too long (the kids were getting a little restless by the end in my screening). The end solution presented to save the day is a bit cheesy as well, as if the writers weren’t sure what to do to resolve the problem.

The thing I love about the film is clearly the injokes about Batman and his history, but there’s so many more nods and winks throughout the movie, it was hard to keep track of everything. Ferris Air, Lex Corp, the background is as packed with jokes and nods to comics fans as what’s right in front of you. At times it’s hard to know where exactly I should be paying attention and focusing, there’s so much thrown out there at once. And it’s that willing to have fun and throw things in that really makes the film work. While it has “Batman” in the title, everything Warner Bros. is on the table, and the less said the better about that. The twist leading to the final showdown is part of the fun so avoid spoilers!

The voice work is pretty solid with a who’s who of talent including Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri, Zach Galifanakis, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam Devine, Hector Elizonda, Maruah Carey, Ralp Garman, Chris Hardwick, and so many more. The film is packed with talent and you don’t even realize it until the credits role at the end. The voices don’t stand out in a negative way, they all blend and work for their characters seemlesly.

The LEGO Batman Movie had a high hurdle to get over after the success of The LEGO Movie and the film clearly knows this. It doesn’t attempt to recreate the magic of that first film instead focusing on its own thing and formula. And with that, The LEGO Batman Movie beats its greatest villain, high expectations. I saw it once already and can’t wait to go again to see what I missed and laugh all over again.

Overall Rating: 8.65

Warner Bros. provided Graphic Policy with a FREE screening of the film

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