Logan

To say that the Logan/Wolverine and Professor X characters have been as important a part of my comic book superhero upbringing as Christopher Reeve’s Superman is an understatement.  The beauty of the ‘X-Men’ film franchise is that their stories have been nuanced in such a way that meanings are hidden within meanings, a strong suit of Bryan Singer. James Mangold takes it to the next level in “Logan”.

Set in the near-future, an aging Logan is scraping an existence, staying off the radar.  With his wit and intellect, he is as razor sharp as ever: in the opening scene, his futuristic looking Chrysler 300C limo is being jacked by a street gang when he warns them to stop, with violent consequences.  One doesn’t mind the violence, as it seems natural for the character.  It is not over the top.  Reminiscent of Martin Riggs, it was obvious that Hugh Jackman relished in his final opportunity to play the role; a gruff, aged version of the character.

A now-senile Charles Xavier, played with stunning brilliance by Patrick Stewart, is tended to by Caliban, one of the last mutants.  Stephen Merchant plays Caliban with a twinkle in the eye, giving a sense of humility, grounding both Logan and Xavier.

The screenplay by Scott Frank (“The Wolverine”), Mangold, based on his screen story and Michael Green  (“Green Lantern”) is well-paced, stopping for a breath every once in a while.  The introduction of Elizabeth Rodriguez as Gabriela is a welcomed bit of mystery as she tries to get Logan to help her with her daughter, Laura, offering to pay him to take her to safety. Although there is a sense of urgency in her actions, Gabriela’s motivations are not immediately raised, increasing the tension.  When an encounter with Gabriela goes wrong, Logan is forced to take Laura in and back to the compound, drawing the attention of Boyd Holbrook’s tatted-up Pierce.  Reminiscent of Robert Patrick’s T-1000, Pierce is a simple character:  relentless.  Here there is more emotion in his interaction with all of our heroes.  Yet, like Logan, Pierce is a pawn in a game.

Making her feature film debut, Dafne Keen is a more than capable actress, conveying a sense of emotion through her eye movements.  Her interactions with Pierce’s goons at the compound are fluid and deadly.  Mangold captures the essence of a child-adult relationship between Logan, who isn’t fully grown up and Laura, who has had to grow up much sooner than most realize.  Throughout all of this, Xavier is still a key figure trying to make sense of his decaying world, a triumph for Stewart

All throughout the film, references are made to classic westerns, including Mangold’s own “3:10 to Yuma” remake from a few years back.  Each of the characters is a desperado in their own way.  And, much like Cameron’s “T:2,” “Logan” is equally as violent.  A key to the references is in John Mathieson’s stunning cinematography.  A glowing example of this is the shelter we find Xavier living in.  Round, metallic and rusting, Mathieson is able to capture glimpses of dusty light from the rusted-out holes, while still maintaining the depth of the rotund ceiling.  His nighttime work is equally as impressive.  Aided by the rapid fire editing team of Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt, an ambush on a farm home and the ensuing chase through a corn field are all deftly handled, loganimaxposternever muddling the characters or the action.  McCusker and Westervelt make mince-meat out of the 137-minute running time, giving us time to catch up with the characters, but never losing sight of each of their importance.

“Logan” is every bit as operatic as last year’s “Deadpool”.  There are some minor quibbles, not enough to dissuade or detract from the narrative.

James Mangold’s “Logan” is stunning in its violence and breathtaking in its depth; it
holds no punches.  Yet, it remains introspective and retrospective and is as well-nuanced as the likes of Singer’s narratives from 17-years ago.  If this is Jackman’s last turn as the character, he is going out on a very high note.

See this Highly Recommended on as big a screen with the loudest audio you possibly can.  You won’t regret it.

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SAM PECKINPAH’S BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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This is a tough, unrelentingly nasty film – no wimps allowed. From many accounts that I’ve read, Sam Peckinpah was battling alcohol addiction during production of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, so as a result, the rough and boozy quality that the film possesses feels all the more authentic and bracing. Warren Oats delivered a staggering performance of ugliness, instability, and wasted melancholy. As usual for Sam the Man, gritty violence is in abundance, with his fascination for rape and sexual violence still very much intact and on sad, brutal display. He was a complicated man who made troubling films, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is easily his bleakest, most nihilistic effort, even more so than Straw Dogs, chiefly because there’s ZERO chance for reflection by the time Alfredo Garcia’s narrative has come to a close. I’m a Student of Sam, and having seen nearly all of his films, I can easily state that this one is likely my favorite. I’m not sure what that might say about me, but there’s something so unique about Alfredo Garcia which allows it to stand out from the pack.

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And given that Peckinpah’s filmography is peppered with underrated gems and seminal classics, it can be a daunting task to try and single out one as your “favorite.” There’s a tragic sense of desperation that hangs all over this sadistic film, with Oates conveying an inherent disheveled sloppiness that worked in perfect tandem with the raggedy, exploitation-y filmmaking that still reached the typically operatic heights of Peckinpah’s ultra-violent, revisionist Westerns and thrillers. Oates is playing such an un-remorseful character that it becomes easy to notice the seething rage that accompanies much of the narrative, from the open contempt for women, to the shockingly direct use of violent force that everyone seems capable of delivering throughout the course of this sordid story. And when coupled with an ending that is beyond any sense of hope and which plunges straight into a hellish abyss of death, Alfredo Garcia will likely feel too morally, ethically, and spiritually repugnant for many viewers. The action centers on a crime boss who tortures his pregnant teenage daughter in an effort to find out who has knocked her up. Once the boss, known simply as El Jefe, determines that it was his underling and possible successor who has impregnated his daughter, El Jefe offers a $1 million bounty to whoever can “bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia.”

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Oates plays a habitually cocked and extra-skeevy piano player and broken-down bar manager in Mexico City named Bennie, and after hearing about the potential reward, he goes looking for Alfredo Garcia. Upon learning that Alfredo has died in a car accident a few weeks prior, he sets off to find the body and remove the head so that he can get paid. Along the way there are double crosses, multiple murders, and all sorts of depraved acts of psychological violence, all carried out with a matter of fact bluntness that really pushes this movie into a very different category. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia feels like the sort of film that could never get remade, even in the independent landscape (despite repeated attempts), because it feels so singular and so much a product of inner artistic turmoil that came from a clearly personal place. As you might expect, at the time of its release, the film was a critical and commercial failure, but over the years, it has gained a rightful cult reputation as a movie that pushes buttons to the extreme.

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The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts

2017.  Directed by Colm McCarthy.

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Zombies movies have been slowly losing their luster in recent years.  Production studios and publishing houses have squeezed every drop of heart’s blood out of the shambling hordes to deliver a handful of stone cold classics and a gangrenous mob of mundane horror offerings.  Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts thankfully belongs to the minority.  Featuring a stellar central performance, poetic cinematography, and a haunting story about the definition of humanity, this is a remarkable effort in the genre.

Despite the outstanding technical attributes, the entire film hinges on newcomer Sennia Nanua’s chilling lead performance as Melanie.  Seesawing between polite, inquisitive child and inhuman killer fluidly throughout the film’s duration showcases her uncanny physicality and wonderfully subdued demeanor that combine in truly unsettling ways as the narrative expands.  M.R. Carey’s script, based on his novel, is a breath of fresh air.  The viewer is dropped into the center of a world already lost.  There are rules to these frightening creatures, the soldiers trying to destroy them, and the hybrid children caught in the middle, but the viewer is not spoon fed the information. Instead it is seeded within the nuanced screenplay and carefully parceled out as the action progresses, leading to some stomach churning revelations.

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This is the best part about The Girl With All the Gifts.  Things begin en media res, with Melanie being held captive in a military research center.  She has the love of her teacher, played by  Gemma Arterton, in a maternal turn, and she has the ire of the center’s unscrupulous lead scientist, a gleefully campy Glenn Close.  The premise is then methodically built around a bizarre classroom, toying with the viewer’s sensibilities before pulling the curtain only halfway off.  It is at the end of the first act when Simon Dennis’s sublime cinematography truly begins to shine, starting with a calm tracking shot through a storm of undead combat and then sustaining throughout with longing, blood drenched close ups of Melenie and restrained wide shots of the environs.  There’s an aerial shot of a sleeping city that not only accentuates Dennis’s visuals but blissfully realizes  McCarthy’s directorial vision.

Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s score blends ominous child like voices with distorted notes to create a nightmare lullaby.  The grim ambiance is enhanced by Liza Bracey’s world weary costume design and Monica McDonald’s fungal makeup effects that present the zombies as torpid predators, laying in wait for the scent of human flesh.  Each element is aligned to present an atypical apocalypse with an elegant purpose.  The Girl With All the Gifts keeps the focus on the child at its center, exploring the innocent and often terrifying ramifications of the abuse that the young endure at the hands of their ill advised caretakers, stripping away the usual conflicts of a survival film to expose the dark naivety at the center of a heart born in world long gone.

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Available now for digital rental, The Girl With All the Gifts is an excellent horror film.  Filled with gratuitous head shot blood splatter, bickering survivors who consistently dance around the evils they must do, and the usual trappings of a flesh eating “And Then There Were None”, it will not disappoint genre lovers.  However, underneath these cliches lies an engrossing story about the price of sacrificing our young for the greater good that resonates all the way until the film’s disturbing, but absolutely satisfying conclusion.

Highly Recommend.

-Kyle Jonathan

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OLIVIER ASSAYAS’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Currently streaming on Netflix and available on disc via The Criterion Collection, Clouds of Sils Maria is a finely layered and always interesting film about the nature of duality and repressed feelings, a piece of work that has come into full view after more than one screening. Shot on location all over Europe at a variety of obscenely photogenic locations by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux on 35mm film(!), Olivier Assayas’ dreamy film, which he wrote and directed, stars the always alluring Juliette Binoche as a famous actress struggling with an offer to take on a role in a revival of the play that made her famous when she was a rising starlet. Only this time, she’s wanted for the “older woman” role, which is causing her much mental grief. She was the young vixen the first time around, and she can’t imagine herself as the “old one,” or rather, doesn’t want to imagine herself in that way. Her assistant is played by Kristen Stewart, excellent yet again in another artsy effort, and the relationship that Binoche has with her is deeply complicated, so much so that when something mysterious happens to Stewart’s character, the audience is left to think a bit about what they’ve been watching.

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This is a flat-lined narrative movie, very talky and purposefully slow moving, with lots of shots of the mountains and cloud formations, with Assayas placing a strong emphasis on nature and its intrinsic bond between a person’s healthy mental thought process. Binoche is anguished and stressed, constantly flip-flopping between her reactions and decisions, and the film takes an interesting swing into tabloid celebrity culture when it’s revealed that the IT girl of the moment (Chloe Grace Moretz, perfectly cast and clearly having fun vamping it up) is going to be playing the role that made Binoche famous. The lines between reality and art begin to blur, and Binoche essentially descends into an existential crisis over what she should be doing with her life. Unique and thought provoking, certainly pretentious but never obnoxious about it, and filled with ideas about the way that people respond to the smallest of moments, Clouds of Sils Maria is yet another accomplished piece of work from Assayas, who has quietly become one of the most eclectic and exciting filmmakers working today, with a body of work including Irma Vep, Summer Hours, Carlos, Boarding Gate, and Demonlover.

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The Little Engine that would [win]

“Tonight is proof that art has no boundaries, no single language and does not belong to a single faith.  The power of art is that it transcends all these things.” – President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

Did you hear about the one time Jimmy Kimmel hosted the Oscars?oscars-jimmy-kimmel-to-host-2017-academy-awards_jw6a

By now, everyone has.  As a matter of fact, it would not surprise me if Sunday night’s gaffe wasn’t louder than the “shot heard round the world” where social media amplifies every sound bite known to man.

But, that’s not why I’m writing this; there is plenty to celebrate.

No, the celebration does not start with the fact that the Academy redeemed itself from the #OscarSoWhite debacle of the past two years.  April Reign has even said as much in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “My main takeaway was that when quality films are made that reflect the diversity of experiences in this country, people will go to see them.”

She’s right.  The Academy has absolutely no control over the slate of films that are released in a given year; they can only nominate and vote on what’s presented to them.  Of course, that’s of little consolation when 60% of the movie going public could not name a single Best Picture nominated film.  It also doesn’t help that the share of viewers has continued to drop year after year.  And, this celebration has been no exception.

la-la-land“La La Land” was expected to sweep all 14 of its nominations.  That was mathematically impossible with its two Best Original Song nominations.  History was made though:  Damien Chazelle finally broke the record for the youngest-ever Best Director winner, which was held for 85 years by Norman Taurog, director of the 1931 film “Skippy,” who was 32 years, 260 days old when he won.  In more modern times, Sam Mendes won for “American Beauty” at the age of 34.  Parents:  start them young!

Beside the mathematical impossibilities, a micro-budget independent film stood in its way.

Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” was the “little engine that could” as it trucked along the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the Spirit Awards, of which I was happy to have been a voter of and finally, its seven nominations a tribute to the exceptional production values in place given its $1.5 million budget.  A24 must be, literally, over the moon.

None of this takes away from any of the other seven nominees.  I was fortunate to have seen all nine films; some before they received a general release, some because my local theater chain is exceptional at getting these films as early on as the studios will allow.  This is also the first year where I was able to see all but one of the Best Foreign Language films; I had a soft spot for “A Man Called Ove” and “Toni Erdmann”.  However, “The Salesman,” despite the obvious global-political stance its win represented, was one of the more richly layered films I saw last year.  Finally, this was also the first year that I was able to see all but one of Best Animated films.  I had a soft spot for “Kubo and the Two Strings”.  The winner, “Zootopia” was a compelling look at social messages married with solid animation.

While the ongoing feud between Mr. Kimmel and Matt Damon played out, another duel manchesterbythesea_trailermeandered on. Amazon Studios’ “Manchester by the Sea,” of which producer Mr. Damon was a Best Picture nominee was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor.  It won Screenplay and Best Actor.  Meanwhile, Netflix was nominated and won in the Best Live Action Short category for “The White Helmets”.  George Clooney is working on a feature-length film based on this award-winning work.   Although significant, Amazon’s win should be a signal to Netflix that their strategy may need to be broadened.  While I anticipate that Netflix won’t budge and Amazon will continue to pick up the bigger accolades, the feud between Messrs. Kimmel and Damon also remains unresolved.

Back to the ceremony, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented the Best Picture award.  It was clear that Beatty was confused when reading the card on the inside of the envelope and tried to get assistance, but could not.  Dunaway called out “La La Land”.  With the entire cast and crew gathered on the stage, the producers started their acceptance speeches.  In the middle of one of the acceptance speeches, one of the telecasts’ producers came up on stage and corrected the record.

“La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz would utter one of the better quotes of the night to address the situation:  “’Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.  This is not a joke, come up here.  ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture.”

Jimmy Kimmel, Warren BeattyThe damage was done and the cast and crew of “Moonlight” came up on stage.  Despite the embarrassment for the Academy, for the recipients, for the presenters and for Mr.
Kimmel, everyone reacted with grace and elegance.

The Academy and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating the votes and holding the winning envelopes securely have both issued statements citing the fact that the wrong envelope was handed out to Mr. Beatty and that protocol for correcting the oversight was not followed.  They have both publicly apologized.

I can’t help but think that the two best production units shared the stage last night.

Make no mistake:  “Moonlight’s” win is important.  Not for political reasons; because it demonstrated exactly what “La La Land” set out to do:  follow your dreams and your passions, stick with it and anything can and will happen.best-director-2017-oscars-732x380

Mr. Chazelle, the cast and the crew should be exceptionally proud too.  He has an amazing career ahead of him, as does Mr. Jenkins, for amongst a “City of Stars,” the “Moonlight” shone.  I really hope Mr. Kimmel will host another ceremony.

Cliché as that last line sounds, M. Night Shaymalan has not vetted or ghost written a word of this editorial.

Indie Gems: Traveller


Films about con men can go a lot of ways. They can be intelligent with a worthwhile and earned payoff (2004’s Criminal), they can be hollow, nonsensical, all flourish and no gravity (2003’s Confidence) or deviate any which way from these examples. Traveller takes the quaint indie route, meaning I’m probably the sole person on the planet who has even heard of it, despite Marky Mark Whalberg appearing on one of the starring roles. It’s a shame because this is a bona fide gem, a low key little charmer with a roguish lead performance from Bill Paxton, a plot that gets cleverer the more you ruminate on it afterwards, and an easygoing style to it. Marky Mark plays Pat, a young man descended from Irish ‘travellers’, who are essentially gypsy hustlers and live as such in a sleepy North Carolina community. Pat wants to reconnect with his roots, but his kinfolk are a tribal bunch who don’t really fancy outsiders, however distantly related they may be. Cousin Bokky (Paxton) is the only one to take him under his wing, showing the ropes of a very specific, time honoured idiosyncratic lifestyle. Pat is young, cocky and sticks out like a sore thumb in Bokky’s world, who himself is weathered and moves about with ease and experience, slowed down by the dynamic which his young prodigy presents, and also looking for a way out of this life, and even romance with gorgeous Julianna Margulies. As light as these proceedings are, the film doesn’t fail to show the give dangers that being a con man puts them face to face with. It’s all fun and games until… well until it isn’t, and we get to see some of that ugliness rear it’s head, for without it there would be no stakes. Joining them is grizzled and now deceased character actor James Gammon, playing a salty veteran grifter who crosses their paths more than a few times, causing as much trouble in the process. I’ve not a clue how close to real life fact and tradition this film gets, but I imagine fairly on the nose, as it just has that notion that it knows what it’s doing, it’s researched, capable, and does it all with ease and enjoyment. 
-Nate Hill

A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

Though it’s been a decade and a half since he remade the quintessential J-horror gem “Ringu”, Gore Verbinski has never strayed too far from the path of hallucinatory dread throughout the duration of his subsequent career, whether he’s entertaining the misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow or those of a computer-generated chameleon by the name of Rango.

Yet, for all the macabre flourishes those films do indeed possess, one might have desired a return to darker waters for the director; the sort which seem at first to be uncharted and positively delectable. The answer to this is, alas, “A Cure for Wellness”, which is the sort of film that seems to wear its exquisitely dressed grime as if it were a badge of honor.

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Following the sudden death of a colleague, we are thrust headfirst into the life and times of Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious young executive for one of New York City’s most successful financial firms who is given the task of retrieving the company’s CEO from a mysterious wellness center located somewhere in the Swiss Alps where the treatment provided to its many patients (most of whom are the elderly) simply seems too good to be true. Shortly after arriving, he’s ready to get out of there, but a fatal car crash on the way back down the mountain adds a couple days, months, maybe even years to Lockhart’s stay.

Verbinski is no stranger to spectacle, in fact he revels in it, but the prospect of a major Hollywood player such as himself honing his craft for something more appropriately brooding and artful is an enticing one. Bojan Bazelli’s crisp yet sleazy cinematography speaks for itself, delivering the kind of transgressive art-horror aesthetic that is so sorely lacking in mainstream cinema today, and truth be told he conjures more than a few genuinely horrifying images.

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However, it’s Verbinski’s indulgences which also prove to be his greatest downfall. In this case, it’s containing his mystery, keeping it as tight as possible. Lockhart is hardly the most immediately sympathetic fellow, which is quite alright, but we’re meant to see the events through not only his subdued vision but occasionally that of a younger patient (Mia Goth) whose own problems are more deep-seeded than the film cares to acknowledge. This is a film that is more interested in the thrill of the kill than it is in more profound emotional engagement, but in the absence of the latter it can feel detrimentally one-note.

Most disappointing of all is that Verbinski and company had the chance, and the resources, to make something more genuinely audacious than this, and seem to be constantly touting that they have. It’s yet another film that feels so very into the notion of allowing differences to define who we are rather than give into certain accepted (but no less toxic) social constructs, and yet at nearly two and a half hours and what with all the ham-fisted exposition and lazy gaps in logic, it’s no more distinctive than the average, overblown multi-million dollar affair; a nasty, decidedly cynical fashion statement masquerading as high-brow psychological horror that could have surely benefitted from a little more humanism to counter its contempt. As much as the desire is there to see more transgressive subject matter explored on a generous budget, this tedium simply isn’t the antidote to that particular drought.

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