Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Logan (and a little bit more about Moonlight)

                       “Do not go gentle into that good night”
                                                                   Dylan Thomas, from the poem of the same name, 1947

                                                        Review by Ken Burke
                                   Logan (James Mangold)
In 2029 most of the mutants known from previous X-Men movies are gone, with the notable exception of aging Wolverine and Caliban trying to protect dementia-burdened Professor X in a Mexican hideout although a small army’s ruthlessly after them; in the process of escape, Logan finds he’s the “father” of a clone-girl who carries his powers but she also is hunted.
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): By 2029, when our story takes place, most of the mutants we’ve met in previous X-Men movies are dead or missing with no reports of new ones being born for the last 25 years.  Logan (Hugh Jackman)—the Wolverine—is still around, though, yet aged (now having let his beard grow to more resemble actor/director Mel Gibson than the face we’ve come to know through his previous X-Men appearances), making money serving as a limousine driver for various clients along the U.S.-Mexico border (with a focus on El Paso) which allows him to buy illicit drugs needed to calm the horrific seizures of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart)—Professor X—hidden away in a desolate spot in Mexico, also looked after by albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  The seizures have the effect of paralyzing everyone in Xavier’s vicinity so Logan’s simply trying to amass enough cash to buy a boat that will allow him to get offshore with Charles where both of them can finally die peacefully (Logan’s not his former self either because the super-strong-adamantium long ago attached to his skeleton—as well as providing his retractable clawsis now slowly killing him so his reflexes aren’t what they used to be nor is his mystical healing power so quick to repair physical attacks on his body).  A chance for a big payday comes up when he meets a woman who’s offering many thousands of dollars to transport a young girl to North Dakota, for reasons he doesn’t know nor really care too much about.  But, just as he’s ready to make the cross-country-journey a gang of thugs show up searching for the girl, forcing these 2 to flee along with Xavier even as mutant-tracker-Caliban's captured, forced to help find the escapees.

 Logan soon learns Laura's been bred in a laboratory from his DNA, then implanted with the same adamantium, so she’s a junior version of him—just as deadly but with quicker reflexes and self-healing—the result of a secret project responsible for killing his friends while creating a new line of mutants intended as superior soldiers; however, these kids turned against their creators, some of them escaping with the goal of also reaching “Eden” in North Dakota.  This sets us up for numerous hand-to-hand-battles (gory ones, as this movie truly earns its R-rating), fierce challenges to Logan’s existence (along with Xavier and Laura), leading to this superhero story's quite-unexpected-ending.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.

What Happens: Before Logan even gets started we begin with a short promo, No Good Deed, for the upcoming Deadpool sequel (David Leitch, scheduled for 2018 release) that’s essentially a parody where our clumsy hero sees a man being robbed at gunpoint, goes into a corner phone booth—which he later comments on the odd existence of—accompanied by the theme music from Superman (Richard Donner, 1978), takes far too long to change into his costume, finds the victim dead with his bag of groceries spread out through the alleyway, so he eats the guy’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.  After that, we move properly into the much-more-serious Logan where we find ourselves in 2029, long after the events of what we might have witnessed in previous X-Men movies (including the time-space-continuum-alteration that occurs in X-Men: Days of Future Past [Bryan Singer, 2014; review in our  June 6, 2014 posting]), where now most of the mutants we’ve known from these older stories are either dead or missing, no new mutants have been reported born for the last 25 years, and Logan—the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)—has started to show the effects of his many years (born in 1832), as he’s not as quickly-agile in movement as before, his regenerative-healing-ability is taking longer to become effective, and, essentially, he’s dying from internal poisoning caused by the adamantium that was long-ago fused to his skeleton.  

 When we first see Logan he’s sleeping in the back of a limousine (we later find out he’s the driver for various fares that allow him to make some needed cash) in the process of having its hubcaps stolen by a small gang of thugs somewhere in the desert border between the U.S. and Mexico.  As he awakens to stop the would-be-thieves (in a manner more effective than building a multi-billion-dollar-wall but considerably less-humane) he scares them off (after killing a few) with a combination of his resilience to point-blank-gunshots and use of vicious metal claws, but we can tell it’s far more difficult for him to battle a group of opponents than we’d expect from the deadly Wolverine (a guy who’s now frequently staving off his raw physical and emotional pain with deep slugs of whiskey).

 Back in El Paso Logan gets some illicit drugs before driving his limo into Mexico; there we find that what he bought is a medicine for seizure-preventation needed by his old (literally, as the man's now in his 90s) mentor, Charles Xavier—also known to us as  Professor X (Patrick Stewart)—stuck at a miserable, abandoned site in the desert, watched after by Logan and albino-mutant-Caliban (Stephen Merchant), where they're hiding from the forces who’ve killed the other mutants plus trying to protect innocent bystanders from Charles’ uncontrollable neurological attacks which “freeze” everything around him into a state of injury-producing-paralysis.  Before returning to the hideaway, though, Logan was given an offer by Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) to take her, along with young girl Laura (Dafne Keen), to a secret Eden in North Dakota; Logan’s not much into the trip but accepts because she’s willing to pay several thousand dollars, cash he needs to buy a boat so these 3 remaining mutants can live offshore away from their enemies (Caliban’s not excited about that, as he’d have to stay below deck during the day to shield himself from his quick pain brought on by the sun).  But when Logan goes to the El Paso motel to get his passengers he finds Gabriela dead, Laura missing.  Upon return to the Mexican desert, he’s accosted by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook)—security chief for bioengineering-corporation Transigen—and his mini-army who outnumber Logan, set about to kill Charles, but desperately want to find Laura.  Their wish is granted as she mysteriously appears (seems to have stowed away in Logan’s limo trunk) but quickly displays ferocious killer skills using Logan-like-retractable-metal claws.  After a lot of brutal death meted out by Logan and Laura, they escape in the limo with Charles, but Caliban (with tracking abilities for mutants) is captured by the remaining thugs; Laura offers no explanations for any of this chaos (actually, she doesn’t talk at all).

 Logan uses Gabriela’s phone to see a video she shot of how Laura and other children were bred in a Transigen lab from mutant DNA (Laura came from Logan, then had the adamantium added later) in a secret effort to create a squad of fierce soldiers with a deadly collection of warfare abilities (this corp. also provided the elimination of the other mutants Logan knew), an effort abandoned when the super-children proved uncooperative, then were scheduled for termination until Gabriela and others smuggled some of them out, with the goal of transporting them to the mysterious North Dakota Eden.  But, during a brief Oklahoma City stopover by the fugitives, Logan finds an old X-Men comic book in Laura’s backpack (he’s disgusted by the fictionalization, including the blue and yellow uniform he’s shown in), upset that this “Eden” seems to be only a fantasy storyline; then Pierce and his remaining troops almost catch up with our protagonists until Charles has another seizure, but at least it freezes the killers allowing Logan to painstakingly pull himself into Charles’ room to eliminate the would-be-assassins, administer the needed medication, then hit the road again.  Along the way, the Munson family driving a horse trailer has a mishap, with the horses running loose until they’re coaxed back by Xavier’s psychic powers so our runaways spend the night with the Munsons until Pierce’s team (aided by tortured Caliban) appear again, killing Kathryn Munson (Elise Neal) and her teenage son, while a fierce adult clone of Logan, X-24 (also played by Jackman, looking like his younger-self), kills Charles even as Caliban uses grenades to eliminate himself and most of Pierce’s forces.  Logan tries to fight X-24 but is ultimately no match until Will Munson (Eriq La Salle), before dying from the attack, manages to ram the savage mutant onto a combine harvester, which incapacitates him as Logan and Laura escape; Pierce later helps restore X-24 with a serum designed to revive these new hyper-humans.

 Logan’s badly injured, though, so Laura finally starts talking to him—first just in Spanish, then in English—then lets him fall unconscious while she willingly takes over the driving, all the way to “Eden,” which it turns out does exist (the other created-mutant-kids have also found their way there) but is just a remote wilderness location of value because it's close to the Canadian border.  After a cutesy-scene where the kids trim his beard to look more like the movie Wolverine we know (although not like the comic book character they’d more likely be familiar with, the one wearing a mask) Logan revives to watch the kids hike off on their final journey to a place of further protection, then sees Pierce coming up behind them with considerably larger gang of troops (he’s as persistent as those trackers in a couple of 1969 classic films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [George Roy Hill] and The Wild Bunch [Sam Peckinpah]) so he gulps down a small bottle of the serum (the kids had it to occasionally heal their wounds), goes into action as his old vicious self working with Laura to decimate most of Pierce’s platoon, including the head of this awful mutant-killing/mutant-creation project, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant).  As the kids begin to focus their various powers they kill off the remaining troops, along with Pierce, leaving Logan to battle one last time with the brutal X-24.  He fights valiantly (although the serum’s effects have quickly worn off) but finally is impaled on a fallen tree, with Laura able to shoot X-24 dead with an adamantium bullet Logan carried for a possible suicide.

 In his weakened condition Logan can’t recover, so he dies and is buried; just before the kids leave for the border, Laura turns the cross on his grave to an x.  In retrospect you can better realize how this is mostly just one long series of battles on the run (not unlike the recurring aspects of Mad Max: Fury Road [George Miller, 2015; review in our May 20, 2015 posting]), with the intrapersonal-probes (especially the “father-daughter” relationship, difficult as it is at times for both of them) a welcome addition to this superhero tale but almost buried in the constant interpersonal-violence throughout.

So What? As you all probably already know, there have been many other explorations written about this movie, focused on 2 main topics: (1) This is the last Wolverine outing for Hugh Jackman (so if the character is to continue in future X-Men stories the man who'll play him has to take over the role from a guy seen by vast audiences as an absolutely-irreplaceable-actor), (2) This is a rare R-rated entry in the X-Men catalogue (and the only other one I can recall in any superhero franchise except for what we see in the irreverent Deadpool [Tim Miller, 2016; review in our February 23, 2016 posting], about a "hero" [of sorts] who’s also included in the X-Men timeline) so the language here is more profane, the dispatching of the villains more graphic—with brutal on-screen-deaths—than we’ve come to expect from either the comic books that inspire these movies or the movies themselves, usually in the PG range.  Both of these factors contribute to the impact of what’s presented in Logan because even if we get more X-Men movies set anywhere from the mid-20th-century to our present day the Wolverine character looks the same (his quick-recuperative-powers drastically slowed his aging process) so Jackman was always Wolverine, unlike other mutants who needed to be shown with different actors as younger or older versions of themselves (especially James McAvoy or Stewart as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender or Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto) so putting someone else than Jackman in won’t be nearly as easy as replacing James Bond every few years.  Further, while this new expressive-freedom granted by the R may excite those who prefer their fantasy mayhem to be more orally-and-visually-adult it’s not likely the various franchises that Fox, Sony, and Disney are reaping huge benefits from in their partnerships with Marvel (or Warners with DC for that matter) would abandon their massive younger audiences just because an occasional change-of-pace such as Deadpool or Logan manages to score some huge pile of occasional cash.  

 If anything, now that such tentpole-actor-presences as Jackman, Stewart, and Jennifer Lawrence are likely done with the X-Men series it seems obvious that future filmmakers connected to these movies will need to find additional ways of maintaining those younger viewers or will wither in contests with ongoing competition from the combined or singular stories in Avengers and Justice League tales.  Maybe this latest generation of mutants introduced here will eventually become the focus in order to get past the absence of such established stars from these preceding 10 offerings.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: 
As I’ve noted in previous reviews of X-Men-based-movies, this huge group of spectacular-mutants is not really a collection of superheroes I have much familiarity with prior to their filmic-incarnations so I don’t pretend to carry backstory knowledge into what I see on screen (I’m better with Superman, Batman, and other DC stalwarts, even though I’m nowhere near up to speed on how things have transformed in the relatively-recent-reboot of that other comics-fueled-universe); still, I can offerin the 3rd entry about this movie in the Related Links section belowa summary of James “Logan” Howlett’s exploits in the previous X-Men and Wolverine movies if that helps any of the rest of you get more contextually-comfortable in understanding the impact of this character being laid to rest when his life was failing anyway—I don’t anticipate any resurrections (unlike the return from the “dead” that'll surely occur in Justice League [Zack Snyder, scheduled for November 17, 2017] when Superman must come back out of the coffin from that scene that concluded Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [Snyder, 2016; review in our April 1, 2016 posting]) but instead, if the actors who’ve been portraying the various X-Men (and women) in previous stories of mutants mostly at war with each other get too pricey to maintain (main case in point, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique but McAvoy and Fassbender aren’t salary-slashers either) in our present or their mid-20th-century-origin-stories, then the focus might shift to Laura and her “siblings” as they grow into a new generation of heroes.  If that becomes the main franchise’s future (not dealing with various proposed or in-progress-spinoffs where this massive-character-cluster's concerned), then Logan will certainly be a significant closure, at least for the one character among all of them who’s rated a few stand-alone-episodes.

 I still don’t think we’re at the level of superhero-narrative-mastery that’s found in The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), but Logan’s able to probe into the psyches of extended-capacity-humans dealing with the infirmaries of aging all of us must eventually confront, showing how difficult it is to maintain the iron will to fight injustice when your body and/or mind is deserting you.  Logan’s still able to give a fierce battle, even when greatly outnumbered, but his reactions have slowed, his healing’s taking much longer to finish, he’s truly dying from within with no medical-science-savior to offer an antidote to the adamantium that would have killed him even if X-24 didn’t (setting up a chilling future for Laura, especially because this skeletal-enhancement was put into her at a much younger age).  Similarly, Professor X, had he not been mortally-wounded by X-24, would also likely have died anyway, from the neurological seizures overpowering him and anyone in his vicinity because his body couldn’t have sustained such stress too often nor could he have gotten the necessary meds to calm himself once Logan wasn’t around to assist him, given the anti-mutant-attitudes of this future setting.  Still, both of these weakened guys do what they can for Laura (ultimately, the other mutant-children as well), making their way to honorable deaths.  Appropriately, I’ll just re-use the movie’s end-credits-song, Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around” (from the 2001 American IV: The Man Comes Around album), at for my Musical Metaphor to finish off this review (from a different, aural perspective) as this serious song, with its Biblical references drawn largely from the Book of Revelations about the end of days when “Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come,” encourages us to “Listen to the words long written down” to avoid the terrible judgment of “Death And Hell followed with him,” just
as that small army of Transigen warriors are put down in violent fashion by battlefield exploits, mainly from Logan and Laura.  Nevertheless, the latest Superman films are consistently-criticized for being too grim, while this one-on-one-gore-fest of desperate protagonists dispatching hordes of opponents is praised to the hilt (Rotten Tomatoes, 93% positive reviews, Metacritic 77% average score)!  Consequently, if you’re now conditioned by the past few decades of big superhero stories where the forces of evil are vanquished but the camera rarely focuses on any corpses as a result (instead, just a lot of urban destruction), then the straightforward shots of Logan’s claws piercing an opponent’s chest to bring about instant, bloody death or the sight of a chopped-off-head rolling on the ground like a soccer ball (even if that may have been the ancient inspiration for such sports) may be a bit too graphic (just as the R-rated language is simultaneously an initial shock in this comic-book-context but easily believable as battered-heroes attempt to ward off the miseries of having already lived too long as well as facing onslaughts by gangs of vicious killers), so consider carefully what you’re getting into before buying a ticket for this latest look at the travails of these extraordinary mutants (not that such concern’s been a restrictive factor; in just 1 week of release Logan’s already hauled in about $247.5 million in worldwide grosses [$88.4 million of it from the domestic {U.S.-Canada} market], in what could only be called a stupendous debut).
SHORT TAKES (sometimes spoilers appear here also but not so much this time)
 At the request of my wonderful wife, Nina Kindblad, we again went to see Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) after it was officially declared as Oscar’s most recent Best Picture (bringing my prediction percentage down a couple of notches from the level it was at when La La Land was thought to be the winner for about 2 minutes until the mistaken announcement was corrected) so for once I could watch a film without having to take notes, although I did jot down some brief reminders on what aspects of each of Moonlight’s 3 chapters about protagonist Chiron‘s (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes across the character’s increasing ages) life stuck with me immediately so I could refer back to my original review to note parallels or maybe differences.  I’m pleased to say that what was most noticeable upon 2nd viewing was all covered in that earlier posting, but I can now see how the themes of isolation, betrayal, and reconciliation are the solid-tri-part-structure that this film’s built on.  I also have to say that while I’m quite pleased Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (as Juan, the local dealer who takes an interest in Chiron’s well-being yet is shamed as the guy selling drugs to his strung-out-mother, Paula [Naomie Harris]), but can easily see how each of the Chiron actors could have been contenders for this prize, along with the adult version of close-friend Kevin (André Holland) who’s especially impactful in his few scenes that help close out our narrative, with all these actors giving master classes in how to contribute significantly to a film even if you’re on-screen for a limited time.

 Such considerations of what makes a superior acting performance in a supporting role also brings attention again to how actors are promoted as Leading or Supporting performers regarding awards races, given that Harris has a powerful presence in each of the chapters (the only performer we see in all 3) yet was up for Supporting Actress, probably because it was assumed she’d have a better chance there than against the likely Best Actress contenders—although no one really had a chance against Oscar-winner Viola Davis for Fences in the Supporting category.  Moonlight still comes out as #5 on my 2016 Top 10 list, but it’s well worth your time to see if you haven’t done so already, a worthy winner of Oscar’s top prize even though I’d have made other choices among the nominees.

 And, speaking of Nina—as I often do—I’ll finish off this week’s posting with a mini-tribute to her based on recent positive but, unfortunately, also not-so-great developments in her life and health.  Sadly, she's been regularly struggling with a wicked, seemingly-undiagnosable (except for a bout of salmonella she picked up when we went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago)  case of gnarly intestinal problems for quite some time now, which have finally been traced to curable, nutritional causes so she’s already on the mend, will likely be much better in the near future; however, the downside is that during this recovery period her diet must eliminate a lot of things that she likes: all sweets, cow dairy, chicken eggs, and gluten, leaving her eating an abundance of bacon, goat’s milk, duck eggs, and rice/corn products—as well as vodka (if it’s not made from wheat, as is her former-stirred-not-staken-martini-favorite, Grey Goose) instead of beer (gluten-free-brews aren’t an easy find in local bars we’ve come to realize).  So, in her honor—and inspired by its use in a recent episode of HBO’s marvelous miniseries Big Little Lies (with a fabulous ensemble cast, featuring film stars Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, among others)—I wanted to bring one more Musical Metaphor into our ramblings this week (even though I’d already done so in October 2016 when Nina and I returned from the marvelous Desert Trip weekend of concerts) because it’s a song she and I love so much, paralleling the reality we love each other so much (even when it’s difficult to share a hot dog and a beer together), so I’m just going to insert Neil Young and his bandmates (Promise of the Real, fronted by Willie Nelson’s sons) singing "Harvest Moon" (on the 1992 album of the same name) to tide my sweetheart over until she can fully “dance again” with all internal-systems stabilized.  Hopefully, this life-affirming, stress-reducing song will also offer some peace to all of the rest of you until your next dose of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2016 films.

Here’s more information about Logan: (15:52 summary of all of the Wolverine appearances prior to Logan)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 2/16/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 26,343; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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