Tag: hugh jackman

The Greatest Showman


The Greatest Showman (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Viewers expecting a thorough and accurate presentation of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) personal life and business career are certain to be dissatisfied by “The Greatest Showman,” based on the screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, since it is more concerned about delivering showstopping musical numbers than old-fashioned storytelling. Here is a film for fans of modern musicals: it makes the audience feel good, it moves quickly, and it has just enough willingness to move the audience toward a more emotional territory without necessarily enveloping them in subtlety and nuance. It is a project to be enjoyed on the spot, not to be thought about or pined over afterwards. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

And so the picture must be evaluated through the scope of a modern musical. It surprised me because it has more than three good songs. Better yet: these songs do not always come from the same character singing about the same subject but only using different words. Standouts include “A Million Dreams,” “The Other Side,” “Never Enough,” “This is Me,” and “Rewrite the Stars”—already composing half of the soundtrack. Better still—each song is supported by elegant visuals, whether it be sheets being blown by the wind toward a certain direction which matches that of how a woman’s dress falls just so or how a singer’s body keeps still but her graceful limbs deliver a spectrum of emotions. The film offers no shortage of musical and visual styles.

Had the filmmakers been more brazen with the kind of work they wish to deliver, it would have been wiser to drop the typical trappings involving the subject’s home life as his career soars, for example. On this level, it offers no originality. I quite disliked how Charity, Barnum’s wife, is written because there is barely any dimension to her identity and personality. Michelle Williams portrays the highly supportive spouse and she does what she can with the role. But one looks at her face and immediately recognizes she is not being challenged. Here is a performer who can deliver any emotion, oftentimes several emotions at once, across any genre… but the character is written without any fire or excitement.

The plot involves the showman hiring people who happen to have physical oddities. The theme is supposed to be a celebration of differences, specifically those living along the fringes of society, either living an invisible lifestyle or visibly shamed for being born a certain way. I found it curious then that halfway through, the so-called freaks are nearly forgotten. Certainly they appear during shows and at times we see them backstage saying a line or two, but we rarely get a sense of who they really are outside of their eccentricities.

For instance, Lettie, the Bearded Lady, played by Keala Settle, commands such an intriguing (and amusing) presence but the screenplay fails to delve into some of her past. What makes her interesting as a person other than her facial hair? What makes her such a jovial person despite her struggles? Instead, we are provided a more accessible subject: a romance between Phillip (Zac Efron) and Anne (Zendaya), how interracial relationships are shamed in the past. But one gets the impression that the various social disapprovals Anne and Phillip endure do not hold a candle against the level of hated and violence that interracial couples during that era had undergone.

It goes to show that smart execution and great energy can propel otherwise relatively average premises into solid crowdpleasers. “The Greatest Showman,” directed by Michael Gracey, belongs in this category and pulling off such a feat, despite the handful of aforementioned elements working against it, should be worn as a badge of honor.

Eddie the Eagle


Eddie the Eagle (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Dexter Fletcher’s “Eddie the Eagle,” about the first British ski-jumper who represented Great Britain during the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a feel-good biopic, certainly able to offer more than a handful enjoyable moments due to its enthusiastic lead performance, but one that is ultimately forgettable. The screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton fails to explore deeply enough into the mind and heart of the highly determined twenty-two-year-old Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) and so his failures and victories oftentimes come across superficial.

Perhaps the approach of not digging too deeply is a conscious choice. Maybe the goal is to tell Edwards’ story without the typical razzle-dazzle of ace biopics but tell it as simply and directly as possible. But an argument can be made that exactly because the story is not about winning medals but about a person who has always dreamed of becoming an Olympian, the filmmakers should have strived to make their work stand out.

Eddie is a highly relatable character because all his life just about everyone he knew at one point tried to convince him, explicitly and implicitly, to settle for a life that is ordinary. A potentially interesting character is Terry (Keith Allen), Eddie’s father, who tells his son that he should drop his dreams, learn to be practical, train to become a plasterer. We wonder why this is Terry’s attitude toward his only son but the material never answers our questions. As a result, during Terry’s change of heart at the latter end of the picture, the evolution comes across as forced and artificial. The sentimentality is cringe-worthy.

Even the story of Eddie’s coach, former ski-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), is undercooked and formulaic. The fallout between Bronson and his former coach, played by Christopher Walken, is quite uninteresting and whenever it becomes the focal point of the picture for a time, the momentum is slowed almost to a halt. Too many gaps of information are not filled in and we never quite see their entire story come together. Instead, Bronson is seen drinking a lot of alcohol to show he has become a failure. This is formulaic. There is no refreshing angle in terms of how Bronson’s past connects to his current coaching duty.

Always a joy to watch, however, is Egerton who fills the screen with overwhelming gusto. I wished he had reeled in a bit more when it comes to delivering exaggerated facial expressions—to his credit, the Olympian he is portraying does have such ticks—because there are instances when real emotions are overshadowed by such a depiction. Still, Egerton proves one scene after another that he knows how to perform and keep his character fresh even though the screenplay struggles at times to come up with novel elements to keep us thoroughly engaged.

“Eddie the Eagle” is worth seeing at least once for Egerton’s performance and the source material’s uplifting message, hence the marginal recommendation, even though there is nothing particularly memorable about the work. At one point in the film, there is a discussion about being willing to go all the way, to take necessary risks to attain a goal. Otherwise, why even bother trying. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken a bit of that advice in order to have made a stronger picture that undeniably makes its own mark.

Logan


Logan (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

An argument can be made that “Logan,” directed by James Mangold, is not just for fans of the previous “X-Men” and “Wolverine” movies. The plot does not revolve around attempting to save the planet from destruction in the hands of Mutants or non-Mutants nor does it center upon fighting for the future of those with special abilities. It is not about finding one’s identity outside of one’s Mutant abilities either. Instead, the picture is about aging and mortality. Thus, its target audience skews toward a later age group, which makes sense because viewers who are likely to find meaning and establish an emotional bond with the film are those who have grown older alongside the aforementioned series, especially fans of Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine. If this project is truly Jackman’s final turn as Logan, it is a strong exit because it stands out from the movies that came before.

There is an enveloping late ‘70s minimalist vibe to the project, fascinating because the story takes place in 2029. There is a whole lot of yellow dirt, western films playing on television, focus on unpolished areas of towns. But upon closer inspection, futuristic elements can be found in the background. Ostentatious special and visual effects are kept at a bare minimum which creates a gritty and natural feel. It is essentially a raw chase picture where Logan, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and a mysterious girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) make a handful of stops along the way, but the journey serving as a giant metaphor toward our impermanence. There just so happens to be action sequences placed in between.

The decision to amplify and show the violence straight-on is a fresh take on the genre. Although Tim Miller’s “Deadpool” employs violence as a source of humor from time to time, this work utilizes violence to underline the idea of maiming and killing others, whether it the hands of a Mutant or non-Mutant, being a brutal thing. Eventually, around the halfway point, I caught myself not wanting to see any more metal claws being shoved through someone’s skull or a person’s throat being slashed clean. This artistic decision provides more gravity to an already layered and textured material.

Perhaps least intriguing is its portrayal of villains. Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his leading errand boy Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) do not get enough scenes, or richly-written scenes, to show their motivations. We learn only how monstrous they are through a video flashback. Outside of this recorded video, when the antagonists come face-to-face with Wolverine, there is a noticeable lack of intrigue. I wanted to have a chance measure Dr. Rice’s cunningness and intelligence and to determine Pierce’s personal motivation. Even the company they work for remains a mystery.

“Logan,” based on the screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, serves both as strong entertainment and as an insightful exploration of how it might be like to notice one’s physical and mental deterioration. During the final third of the picture, well before the expected final battle, I felt as though the story of the remaining X-men was complete. Here is a movie that underscores a distinction between closure and an ending.

X-Men: Days of Future Past


X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Since the development of the Sentinel program, spearheaded by Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), humans with special powers, collectively known as Mutants, have been hunted and eradicated. But the Sentinels, non-metallic machines that can quickly adapt to their environment, have gone haywire throughout the years: Instead of killing only Mutants, they somehow gained the ability to detect non-Mutant humans who are capable of having children with special mutations on the X chromosome.

This had lead to the planet being reduced to an apocalyptic wasteland and it is up to Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s and convince former partners, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to team up and prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Dr. Trask—the very action that pushed the Sentinel program to pass.

Despite the first “X-Men” live-action film having been released almost fifteen years ago, it really is quite a feat that its sequels and spin-offs, which peaked in quality during “X2,” both, including this installment, having been directed by Bryan Singer, remain relatively fresh even though the franchise is not the most consistent. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is, in a handful of ways, a return to form—it offers solid action entertainment, jokes and references to previous installments that are actually funny but not distracting, and, by the end, it hints at the raw potential of future sequels. The final scene rewards those who have seen the entire series. I will say only this: I enjoyed how it plays with time travel and acknowledging the gigantic, if not maddening, miscalculations of previous entries. Yes, I am referring to you, “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Not allowing every Mutant to become the center of attention is a smart move. We get only a glimpse or a few seconds with once familiar faces like Rogue (Anna Paquin), Havok (Lucas Till), and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and they are not given a lot to do. Instead, the writer, Simon Kinberg, makes the right decision by focusing on Wolverine, the eyes in which we see the story through, and the challenges of getting the young Professor Xavier and Magneto to come to terms with each other and their own personal demons. These are men with a lot of anger, a lot of conviction, a lot of power—watching McAvoy and Fassbender navigate their characters through an archipelago of emotions is like watching a good old-fashioned drama. Take away their superpowers and they remain interesting.

Less effective are scenes with Mystique. Although Lawrence is more than capable of delivering the requisite emotions to play a conflicted character, the speeches between Professor X and Mystique—as well as Magneto and Mystique to an extent—as to why killing Dr. Trask will not solve anything become a bore eventually. Instead of being moved by the push and pull of Mystique’s morality, I found the whole charade somewhat disingenuous. Instead of being invested in the conflict, I noticed the syrupy attributes of the lines. Clearly, the writer is very smart and creative when it comes to how action sequences and overarching plots are going to play out. However, getting to the core of the emotions and allowing us to care in a deep way is an Achilles’ heel.

A character that does not get enough screen time is a teenager named Peter (Evan Peters), later known as Quicksilver, a Mutant with very special talents—so special that Professor X, Wolverine, and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) ask for his help to break into the Pentagon. The sheer brilliance of the scene at the Pentagon must be seen to be believed. I had not experienced so much excitement and glee since Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike’s duel in “X2.” To me, it is the essence of what makes “X-Men” so great: Its content need not be “dark” to be considered great—it just needs to be smart and cheeky.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” provides what one expects of a superhero film: astonishing special and visual effects, eye-opening action sequences, as well as characters worth getting to know and rooting for. However, it fails to surpass my expectations because it does not get the build-up of emotions—which lead to key realizations—exactly right. Alas, perhaps less discerning viewers will be more forgiving for this.

Prisoners


Prisoners (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

The Dovers and the Birchs hold a little get-together over Thanksgiving, but what should have been a peaceful and enjoyable holiday turns into a nightmare when the two young girls from each family go missing. The prime suspect is a teenager named Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who is later discovered to have an IQ of a ten-year-old, because the girls are seen climbing on his RV a few hours prior to their disappearance. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) interviews the suspect but since no viable information can be extracted out of him, he is released after two days. This does not sit well with Keller (Hugh Jackman). He is convinced that Alex is involved somehow and if the police are unable to do their job, he is more than happy to take action.

“Prisoners,” written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve, has the right texture and atmosphere to tell a grim dramatic thriller, but it is bogged down by an overlong running time—clocking in at around two hours and thirty minutes—and it has very few reasons to do so. Instead of being a lean and mean piece of work, we are made to sit through repetitive scenes involving torture. As a result, the middle part is sags and drags. It might have been more effective if there was an extended torture scene that took place in one room and allowed us to absorb the horror of watching someone get beaten until he was black and blue, broken bones and all—at once.

Some might argue that one hundred and fifty minutes is justified to tell the story because it allows us to feel the exhaustion and frustration of the characters. I am not convinced. If this were a more efficient picture with smarts and gusto, it would have found alternative avenues to communicate the psychological breakdown of its main players sans jumping back and forth to Keller forcing Alex to give up information that he may or may not have.

For example, I would not have minded if the material if had spent more time exploring the other parents’ states of mind. The matriarchs (Viola Davis, Maria Bello) are underused. Davis is given more to do by allowing Nancy to react to certain discoveries, but Bello’s character, Grace, does nothing but cry. Franklin (Terrence Howard), Nancy’s husband, would have been a great supporting foil for Keller but his role is greatly diminished about halfway through. I felt the screenplay struggling to juggle its characters—all deserving of complexity and attention given its fascinating subject matter.

Although Jackman has the more ostentatious role as an increasingly angry father (and he is very good at it), it is Gyllenhaal that shines in my eyes. I enjoyed watching the little ticks the actor has chosen to incorporate to his performance. Detective Loki looks very tired, almost unhappy, but I believed it when he is said to have solved every case he has ever been assigned. The man may take a while to connect the dots but he is very determined and willing to look into all logical possibilities of the case. Because Keller and Loki have opposite temperaments, their consistent clashing is interesting and I wondered to what degree their relationship will change over the course of the film.

We get many remakes of foreign films these days—a significant percentage of them not very impressive. However, I am most interested to see how this story can be interpreted by a French, German, Iranian, or Japanese cast and director. I want to see an interpretation that is less in-your-face and more contemplative. Here, the majority of the emotions are handled with an exclamation point. Subtlety is not the picture’s strength despite a memorable final shot.

Movie 43


Movie 43 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

When word spreads like wildfire that a movie is terrible, sometimes it is a challenge to keep an open mind and evaluate it as is–without taking word-of-mouth into consideration. This is why “Movie 43,” composed of shorts by various writers and directors, is somewhat of a surprise. I came in expecting I would hate it, but it turns out to be just another mediocre effort. While that is not a ringing endorsement, I enjoyed four–maybe five–out of about thirteen scenarios on screen, from Naomi Watts kissing her on-screen son on the lips to an animated gay cat who is caught by Elizabeth Banks masturbating to Josh Duhamel’s shirtless pictures.

The best segment is “Victory’s Glory,” written by Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko, which focuses on group of black high school basketball players in the late ’50s who are worried about facing white players on the court. Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) gives them a pep talk, assuring them that they will win simply because they are black. His argument relies on African-American stereotypes: tall, long-limbed, athletic. The comedy works because it goes all the way in poking fun of the racism that, for better or worse, has defined America as a nation. Propelled by Rusty Cundieff’s energetic direction and Howard’s performance, the penultimate short clip is a blast.

Another section that is worth watching is called “Beezel,” written and directed by James Gunn, named after an animated cat owned by Anson (Duhamel), a man who plans to begin a new chapter with his girlfriend (Banks). I enjoyed its creative leap of using an animated cat and not a trained animal who does tricks for the camera. By doing so, the feline–in under five minutes–is given color, personality, and clear motivation. Like “Victory’s Glory,” it starts with what should be a one-note joke but upends expectations by willing to experiment without veering completely off-course.

Many of the others do not fare as well. “The Catch,” directed by Peter Farrelly, does exactly the opposite. The joke involves a woman (Kate Winslet) going on a blind date with a handsome man (Hugh Jackman) who happens to have a set of testicles hanging off his neck. It should be funny. After all, many of us are so used to watching Winslet in serious roles. When she does comedy, it is difficult to read her and I like that she always has a level of danger in her eyes. However, the writers end up relying on one joke–everybody, except for Winslet’s character, failing to notice the man’s deformity–and hoping that the scrotum is disgusting enough to hide the sheer laziness of the material.

Most repulsive, boring, and pointless is director James Duffy’s “Super Hero Speed Dating.” A suggestion for the writer: if you’re going to put Batman (Jason Sudeikis), Robin (Justin Long), Superman (Bobby Cannavale), Wonder Woman (Leslie Bibb) in the same clip, make sure the script is written smart and worthy of the pop culture icons you are undertaking. Otherwise, like this segment, it ends up being like a cheaply produced dress up with no script, no effort, and no laughter. It is easily the most disposable of the bunch.

Lastly, “Movie 43” is not helped by the sequence of its segments. While the overarching storyline involving a screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) and a movie executive (Greg Kinnear) is as lifeless as a rock, the middle portion is almost unbearable, for the most part a landfill of uninspired ideas that will not pass as remotely funny even in an alternate universe, still there are a few standouts that do work.

The Wolverine


The Wolverine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

At this point you might be thinking, “Oh, great. Another ‘Wolverine’ movie.” But retract those adamantium claws. “The Wolverine,” directed by James Mangold, is an installment worth seeing because it strives to show us something new: a Wolverine that, for the majority of the picture, is not indestructible. This haunted mutant gets exactly what he has been yearning for: a chance to become human again–and all the fragility that comes with it.

Logan (Hugh Jackman), living in isolation on the snowy mountains of Canada, gets a visit from a Japanese red-haired woman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who says that she has been given the task to find and take him to a man he saved in World War II, Yashida, formerly a soldier and now the leader of a tech giant in Tokyo (Ken Yamamura and Hal Yamanouchi, respectively). Yashida is dying and this might be Logan’s final opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend. During their meeting, the old man claims that he has a gift that is equal to the life Logan had given him so many years ago: mortality.

For once, I cared about Wolverine as he is shown running toward a fray. While many of his enemies know how to defend themselves with martial arts and various weapons, the battlefield is even in that, like the men he faces, Wolverine is capable of sustaining wounds for a long period of time. He bleeds. He stumbles. He slows down because of severe pain. At one point, we see him get stitches because bullets remain inside his body and gashes cease to close on their own.

The picture makes use of its Japanese setting. I enjoyed watching our protagonist and Mariko (Tao Okamoto), Yashida’s beloved granddaughter and Logan’s potential romantic interest, running all over the streets and inside establishments of Tokyo in an attempt to escape from the vicious Yakuza. This extended chase sequence culminates atop a bullet train where the most dangerous enemy is not a man wielding a weapon but sturdy objects that just happen to be in the way. I believe the best action scenes are the ones that demand so much attention that I end up not knowing what I would do if I were put in the same situation.

Urban areas tend to be places of physical confrontation while rural places is in accordance with contemplation. There are a number of conversations that touch upon topics like bravery, honor, and sacrifice–staples of the Japanese culture. This is where the pacing begins to feel a little slow, but they are necessary for us to understand why it is so important for Logan to consider himself as human again, not just in the way he feels inside but also in what can hurt him physically. He wants the entire package. I did, however, have a hard time buying completely in Okamoto and Jackman’s chemistry. Their characters’ friendship is enough to carry the picture and anything more feels forced.

For a while, it is difficult to pinpoint the main villain because several characters are thrown at us right when Logan arrives in Japan’s capital. However, the screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank gives each character enough time to capture our interest even though they are not necessarily multi-dimensional. I must say, however, that the one actor with whom I cannot help but look at even if she is simply standing on one side of the frame is Svetlana Khodchenkova, playing a biochemist in charge of Yashida’s cancer treatments. I wished the scientist had been given more depth and screen time.

Jackman is in the middle of this sci-fi action-adventure and he, as usual, holds his own. The sheer physicality required to play a convincing Wolverine is not easy achieve. And without the ability modulate hard and soft facial expressions while maintaining that there is constantly something going in the character’s head is equally challenging–if not more. Jackman does it exceedingly well and I hope he will choose to play Wolverine for years to come.