LESSON #1: ARGUE WITH A LEG TO STAND ON— Call it an occupational hazard built by years of fandom, research, and practice, but I tell myself everyday (maybe not to a Stuart Smalley level, but close) that I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders and a better-than-decent eye for the good, bad, great, and ugly when it comes to just about anything movie-related. That passion gets me in plenty of debates online and across social media on any range of topics (masterpieces vs. classics, best vs. favorite, etc). Wearing the critic badge on top of that knowledge, I get labeled arrogant and full of hubris. To me, it’s not hubris when the stances are educated and supported with substance. I’ve done my homework and I’ve come prepared or I wouldn’t be debating in the first place. I can’t say the same thing for many other people on the other side of debates. The language of this lesson is a plea that if you’re going to present an argument or stance, be able to back it up. The substance of your stance has to be stronger than wimpy likes and dislikes. The trolls and whiners I meet don’t have that integrity. For example, see an actor or director’s filmography before making any declarations for or against them in any point of comparison. Even more egregious, see the actual film you’re debating and labeling before laying judgment. Bring more to the table than thin personal preferences and clickbait hearsay. Bring a little more objectivity beyond the surface-level subjectivity.
LESSON #2: MAKE CHARACTERIZATIONS THAT FIT STORYLINES— As if irascible and irrational Star Wars fans had to find more things to hate, pockets of new semi-protests started up this week before the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story when Lando Calrissian actor Donald Glover and screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan declared the character to be pansexual. There are many angles to consider here from this left-field turn. Increased LGBTQ+ representation is always a welcome thing in these modern and more progressive times and, secondly, writers/actors are allowed their interpretation of characters they play. However, reflect on making such a label or change purposeful and not a measure of tokenism. Consider the fit and don’t shoehorn in LGBTQ+ characters for the sake of doing so without actually having the story to do so. This one feels like tokenism and a hollow attempt at praise. That said, this, whether for or against, is not a reason to protest a film or abandon a beloved character.
LESSON #3: KNOWN FATES TAKE AWAY FROM THE SUSPENSE— I have to reprint this irrefutable dilemma from my Solo: A Star Wars Story review from Every Movie Has a Lesson. This goes for every prequel in existence. Because the audience knows certain characters have documented futures, there is a perceptible, if not even enormous, storytelling loss in the peril department. The edge of one’s seat becomes a little more relaxed and more than a bit farther away. In Solo, no matter what happens to Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the Millennium Falcon, they’re going to be fine. In equal measure, since a large majority of the side characters present in Solo are never mentioned in the films later down the timeline, you might as well put a red shirt of Star Trek doom on each of them. Foregone conclusions like that are not spoiler alerts. Those are plain facts. Ignoring this conundrum is pure gullibility. The common rewind counterargument is “well, it’s about the journey… blah, blah, blah.” Sure, but then the impact of said journey better be damn important or move us to pieces. As hellaciously fun as it is at times, Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing a certain level of that compelling juice.
LESSON #4: JAMES MANGOLD AND BOUNTY HUNTERS ARE A GOOD POTENTIAL FIT— In surprise news on the night of Solo‘s debut, another anthology/prequel backstory was announced by the Mouse House. Logan, Cop Land, and Walk the Line director James Mangold has been tapped to helm a Boba Fett origin film. While that film will have the same predicament as Lesson #3, Boba Fett is at least a character with more intriguing mystery and depth to solve than Han Solo, arguably the most iconic character of the whole franchise. That’s exactly the kind of cult status character that deserves these kinds of standalone film attempts, and, gosh, what a hire. Just imagine a talent like Mangold crafting a grizzled, borderline space western of a relentless pursuer stalking his prey and taking down all comers who cross his path. Grow that legend! Along the same lines, my fingers are crossed that Donald Glover, who steals every scene he’s in from Solo, gets his own film after the inevitable box office success.
LESSON #5: PRE-SCREENINGS CAN DO THEIR JOB IN CATCHING QUESTIONABLE CONTENT BEFORE IT PLAYS TO ALL AUDIENCES— Kudos to the parents who made a stink about some questionable scenes in the upcoming family-marketed film Show Dogs. You can read the details here here about some testicular inspection scenes (which true to real dog shows or not) that hit a little too close to predatory sexual grooming allusions if the roles were people instead of dogs voiced by people. The studio is doing the right thing and editing out the poor choices before the theatrical release. This goes to show that some studios have the wherewithal to seek the right approvals before releasing something willy-nilly. Sure, scenes like those shouldn’t have made it past the script editor, but it counts as better late than never to not just make the changes, but listen to the paying customers in the first place.
LESSON #6: SOME PULLED PLUGS ARE WHOLLY DESERVED— Speaking of paying attention and judging the landscape, Paramount Pictures dropped the seventh Transformers film from its release schedule. The off-shoot Bumblebee film is still coming this December, but maybe this long road of Michael Bay trash is finally done. You can only beat dead horses so long. Can Disney borrow the same logic soon with Pirates of the Caribbean. Just as the cited article suggests, this joy might be short-lived (but it is joy nonetheless). The word “reboot” is being thrown around because once any studio makes several billion dollars, they’re going to want to try and make it happen again. There are always more horses to flog on the big studio lots.
LESSON #7: THE MIGHTY FALL THE HARDEST— Lastly, I was as shocked as the next person by the CNN report of extensive and multiple inappropriate harassment allegations against Oscar-winning A-lister and overall beloved figure Morgan Freeman. He is easily the biggest name to be burned since Kevin Spacey. As with each of these stories that have come to light over the course of the last year (and often stated in this column), no matter who it is, my first reactions are patience and sadness long before anger and judgment. First and foremost, I, for one, refuse to label a man guilty or otherwise on rumors alone until accusations are proven or disproven. I choose to wait. Each person deserves their chance to defend themselves, seek the proper contrition, or both. Until then, disappointment fills me more than anger. I respect the works of these people too much to ever “ban” or “boycott” their careers and erase them from the proverbial record books. I just don’t think that’s right. They existed, their work remains, and it mattered. It may lose some level of respect considering the circumstances, but it’s never reduced to zero for me. My policy has always been to separate the person and the performance. I still watch Kevin Spacey movies and I will still watch Morgan Freeman ones too, only now the impact is softened to a degree.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium.
2017 was a great year for me as far as movies go. I was able to see more new movies than ever before, and thanks to Aaron and Patrick, I was also given the opportunity to write about them from time to time. I’m not a critic. I’m never going to talk about how the director’s use of color helped to invoke a sense of whimsy or anything like that, because I don’t know what that even means. I’m glad there are people out there who do know, because I like to listen to them talk about movies and hopefully get a little smarter while doing so. But I’m just a guy who likes movies and watches way too many of them. All in all, I was able to watch 107 movies that had release dates in the United States in 2017. The following are my ten favorite, not necessarily the ones that I thought were the best films. Enjoy!
This is the first of two films on this list that were released last winter but managed to hang out in my top ten all year. I’ve long been a fan of Hugh Jackman and his portrayal of Wolverine in the X-Men films, but like many others, I had hated the individual Wolverine films up until Logan. So my expectations for this film were quite low. I was completely blown away when James Mangold managed to create the perfect send-off for not one, but two characters in the X-Men universe, all the while making an emotionally satisfying film about legacy and family.
9- The Greatest Showman
If you would’ve told me 10 years ago that I’d be getting super into musicals in my late 30’s, I never would have believed you. But here we are. I really like this movie, but I completely LOVE the soundtrack. I recently got a Google Home Mini for Christmas and thus far it’s basically been a Greatest Showman soundtrack playing machine. I could be nitpicky and talk about its faults, but I kind of just want to dance in my living room to This Is Me instead.
I’m a pretty big Christopher Nolan fan (it’s one of the requirements to be a Feelin’ Film contributor) so I was pretty excited to see this one from the moment I heard about it. Its tension really puts you in the headspace of its characters and while some saw the timing differences in the three different story threads distracting, I thought it was brilliant and served to heighten the imminent danger in the film. It’s not my favorite Nolan, but it’s still really good.
7- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This one hit me in all of the right places. I thought the story and dialogue were both funny and heartbreaking with excellent performances by the all-star cast, with Sam Rockwell standing out. This film is a lot darker than what I am usually into. but I really enjoyed the realistic way in which it portrayed positive change in its characters, even characters as unlikable as the ones that McDonough gives us.
6- Wonder Woman
I don’t have a whole bunch of words to say about Wonder Woman, I just really loved this movie. The scene where Diana emerges from the trench at No Man’s Land is one of my two or three favorite scenes of the year. Gal Godot perfectly brings the Amazon goddess to the screen, giving her a perfect amount of naivety, beauty and compassion without sacrificing her fierceness as a warrior. It immediately became my favorite entry into the DCEU even though I’m a guy who really likes all of the films in that universe (besides Suicide Squad, but that goes without saying).
5- The Big Sick
I went to see this one afternoon this summer after hearing Feelin’ Film contributor Don Shanahan gush about it for a few days. He wasn’t using hyperbole. I loved this film. It’s funny and sweet and heartbreaking and thought-provoking, often achieving all of those things in the same moment. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano give my two favorite supporting performances of the year in this stand-out film.
4- Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
So my wife went and had a baby on the day I was to go to the 10:00 opening night show of SW, meaning we’d still be in the hospital when the second showing I had tickets to came around. The timing of the birth of my son (whom I love and with whom I hold no grudges about the time and date of his arrival) meant that I wouldn’t be able to see the film until almost a full week after its release. But I really think that this ended up being a good thing. I was somewhat careful to avoid spoilers, but I saw enough to know that the critics were loving it but that a lot of the fans were pretty upset. I think this helped my mindset going in as I started to expect the unexpected. Because of that, I came out of the theater completely in love. I think the story went places where it needed to go to move the universe beyond the family tree of the Skywalkers while also adding a satisfying chapter to Luke’s legend. The new characters continue to impress and the old ones have absolutely brought their A game to the new trilogy as well. This movie has already moved to number three in my Star Wars rankings and by this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at the top. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in store for his new SW trilogy.
3- Lady Bird
Lady Bird is another movie that I wouldn’t have seen (at this point, anyway) if it weren’t for the relationships I’ve been able to build at Feelin’ Film. After spending a couple of hours chatting with Aaron and Patrick about Edge of Seventeen (episode 86 of the podcast), Aaron suggested to me that I’d like Lady Bird. He wasn’t wrong. Beautifully acted and casted and directed and performed, Lady Bird is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen on screen. What’s the opposite of a back-handed compliment? Like when you’re playfully bashing on something that you actually love? Is there a word? If there isn’t we need to invent one to accurately capture Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s funny and heartfelt love letter to her home.
2- Get Out
This movie was the number one film on my list for more time than any other movie this year. I saw it because I’m a fan of Jordan Peele from Key and Peele and I thought that if he wrote a film, it would probably be pretty fun. As an experience, it was one of the most enjoyable times I had at the theater all year. As a film, I found its themes to be something that has challenged my thinking even more on repeat viewings. It’s one hell of a directorial debut and I’m looking forward to what he’s got up his sleeve next.
1- Brigsby Bear
Sometimes a movie comes along that just hits you in the right place at the right time. Brigsby Bear did that for me. It’s a quirky comedy (described by Filmspotting’s Adam Kempenaar as Be Kind, Rewind meets Room) that can be enjoyed on its surface, but that also has a lot to say about friendship, family, moving on from tragedy, the joy of creating art and what makes us love the things we love if you want to engage with it on a deeper level. I’ve seen it three times now and each time something new stands out for me to think on for a while. Kyle Mooney is perfect as our main character man-child James and Mark Hamill gives my favorite performance of his in 2017 in a supporting role. This will be a movie that I watch often and might just end up being one of my favorites of all-time.
The films that almost made this list but just didn’t quite make the cut are:
War for the Planet of the Apes
And if you want to see my ranking of all 107 movies that I’ve seen that were released this year, check out my Letterboxd list. Notable movies I haven’t had a chance to catch up with yet are Darkest Hour, I, Tonya, The Disaster Artist, Phantom Thread, and The Post. I look forward to many more movie conversations here in the new year. I appreciate you reading and hope that 2018 holds great things in store for you and yours.
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.
The end of the year brings grading and reflection points for both the school teacher in me and the film critic. Looking at the online Trapper Keeper portfolio called Every Movie has a Lesson, I published 126 full film reviews in 2017, topping last year’s 114 and setting a new high mark. When I did my website’s first “10 Best” year-end list in 2011, that number was 53. Humming along with press credentials, festival access, and being part of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle as a recognized awards-voting body, I can’t even remember what 53 feels like.
Even at 126, I feel like I left plenty of opportunities on the table living in a big market with a great reach of films. For the purposes of a proper “10 Best” list, short of not making it to The Disaster Artist, Mudbound, and Molly’s Game quite yet, I feel sound about 2017 and have no problem calling it a fair to middling year. By this teacher’s math and reflection, 2017 < 2016 < 2015. Give me the likes of Sicario, Creed, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Room, La La Land, Jackie, Moonlight, A Monster Calls, and more compared to most of the 20 films listed below.
Focusing back to now, only three of my “so far” picks from this past June made the final ten this year. Here’s my definitive list. True to my website’s specialty, each film will be paired with its best life lesson. Enjoy!
THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2017 AND THEIR LESSONS
1. LADY BIRD
This was like watching a no-doubt home run off the bat of a muscle-bound slugger fly over the stands and out of the park. Like that home run crack, Lady Bird’s effect was unmistakable. I knew it as soon as film made contact. From that opening car ride argument between surefire future Oscar nominees (if not eventual winners) Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird was going for something reinvigorated conventions and oxymoronic cadences with the coming-of-age film framework. (full review)
BEST LESSON: PUNCHY WHIMSY— All of Lady Bird’s conflicts and clashes build to swelling peaks of emotion and legitimate feels. Gerwig’s film is one heck of a debut and shows that a good cry and awkward laughs do go together when assembled with truth and care. When it hits, my goodness, it hits. When it charms, by golly, it charms. Few films this year can tout such towering achievements of writing and performance to create such a genuinely satisfying experience.
2. I, TONYA
In a fierce performance, Margot Robbie proves without a shadow of a doubt that she is a talented actress beyond her bombshell looks. From the director of Lars and the Real Girl and the writer of Stepmom (I know right?), the dark comedy, pushed often by Allison Janney’s Oscar-worthy rants, fuels an unconventional sports film and true story American dream saga with kinetic sizzle. It’s the wildest and brashest film I saw this year. (full review)
BEST LESSON: EVERYONE MIGHT BE TELLING THEIR TRUTH, BUT NO ONE IS TELLING THE REAL TRUTH–The true merriment of I, Tonya is the trying to sniff out the bullsh-it. Many of us remember witnessing the tabloid history unfold on television before our very shocked and captivated eyes in a era before the 24-hour news cycle. Even know the fate of the characters, this film’s spin of such events will glue you to the screen preparing for the suspense of possibly observing a few chapters of “what really happened.” Who’s right and who is full of it?
From what I can tell viewing the year-end lists of fellow critics, this one is going to be a unconventional choice and I don’t care. I see a great deal of perfection in the whimsy and introspection of Wonderstruck. Artful to no end, I cannot help but compliment the care and consideration given to the Brain Selznick source material from a skilled filmmaker like Todd Haynes stepping into PG material in a manner as impressive as Scorsese doing Hugo. In a landscape where people are craving rich and compelling films for family audiences instead of mindless animated entertainment, I adored what this film accomplished. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE MAJESTY OF MUSEUMS— Both in the novel and in film form, Wonderstruck is a love letter to museums, their history, and their continuing presence as authentic experiences. It starts with one person gathering a collection of interest, a “cabinet of wonder” if you will be that in a single room or an expansive complex, and deciding to share it with a larger audience. In the present-day of Google, Wikipedia, content apps, and innumerable virtual experiences, there should always be a place for the tangible and real wonders right before our eyes in museums. Calling them magical is not enough and calling them antiquated should be a compliment and not a slight.
4. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
The closing chapter of what has quietly become one of the best film trilogies of all-time (it’s that good as a sum total) elevated the impressive soaring themes, blockbuster action, and the performance-capture brilliance of Andy Serkis that have enraptured myself and many others. Serkis, present and emoting in every scene behind the finished special effects, deserves the Oscar for Best Actor even if he doesn’t stand a chance against the stigmas towards the technology. No film this year hit me the full roller coaster of feels like this one, from heart-stopping thrills to blubbering tears. (full review)
BEST LESSON: APES AND HUMANS HAVE MORE SIMILARITIES THAN WE ALL REALIZE— Due to the increases in peril and consequences, this is a repeated lesson from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that is cemented even further in this third film. Both primate species love their families, cling to their homes, and possess tangible feelings and emotions that drive their actions and personalities. “Humanity” doesn’t have exclusivity to those behaviors in this fictional world anymore.
5. THE BIG SICK
The Big Sick, written and inspired by the real-life duo of Emily V. Gordon and leading man Kumail Nanjiani, offers wide hopes that smart romantic comedies are still possible since their 1990s hey-day and that they don’t require man-child actors and full-on toilet humor. When people have asked me this past year for a no-doubt winning movie suggestion or hidden gem to entertain them for any occasion, The Big Sick has been my top recommendation for its maturity and humor while still carrying the right heft of drama to keep it honest. In my eyes, this was the best screenplay of the year and I hope the Oscars notice. (full review)
BEST LESSON: FIND SOMEONE YOU CAN BE OVERWHELMED BY— This lesson is going to sound like one of those “find someone who looks at you the way so-and-so looks at such-and-such” memes, but captivating ga-ga devotion is a real draw. The film uses the word “overwhelm” when it talks about measuring such love and it couldn’t be more spot-on advice. Love has its own rules and it’s just as hard to keep as it is to earn.
The directorial debut of character actor John Carroll Lynch stands on this list as the “Little Engine That Could.” Far from a blockbuster and puffed with zero muscles for Oscar bait on the 90-year-old frame of its star Harry Dean Stanton, Lucky is a straight-shooter of writing and performance brilliance to make cantankerous endearing. In different hands, this would be a Coen brothers quirk-fest or a Grumpy Old Men farce. Instead, Lucky plainly might have the most heart of any film on this list, and that’s saying something. (full review)
BEST LESSON: ACCEPTING MORTALITY— Nothing is permanent and the biggest truth to be told is the finality of the human condition. No matter the level of your faith or depth of character, misgivings about your own ephemerality are inevitable feelings we all share. We would all be so “lucky” to reach our nineties to have that revelation.
Sharply shrinking the comic book genre’s towering current scale down to the marrow inside of its bones, James Mangold’s Logan nails the western motifs to make one of the best comic book films of all-time. For me, this movie is like what young songstress Ella Mae Brown did to slow down with Bonnie Tyler’s 80s classic “Holding Out for a Hero” a few years ago. This is energy boiled down to bold substance, making something rightly stoic as the conclusion for Hugh Jackman’s lovable anti-hero. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE POWERFUL NEED FOR FATHER FIGURES— Loganopenly creates a parallel with 1953’s seminal western classic Shane and it is an ideal thematic pairing. Alan Ladd’s reluctant gunfighter and Jackman’s Wolverine embody the fight for the defenseless as well as the influential father figure role of this lesson. Laura is another Little Joe and but one more person Logan leaves a positive mark on in his world. Tales may be written on the actions of heroes, but the personal connections they build and leave behind are where the real legend lies.
8. THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Sean Baker’s sprightly dose of youthful fantasy mixing with socioeconomic reality was one of the few times I’ve ever gone back to a review and changed my rating after some thoughtful reflection. This film went from a four-star film to a five-star one on the strength of the impact of that aforementioned storytelling and emotional mix. The level of empathy stoked by this film’s fire is off the charts and I cannot help but respect that. (full review)
BEST LESSON: THE CAPACITY TO FEEL EMPATHY— The crucial emotional response The Florida Project demands of its viewers is empathy. If you can’t find that, if you turn your nose, close your eyes, and refuse to accept that this kind of American lifestyle exists, you are missing the hard truths, the teachable moments, and the larger points being presented. Become compassionate enough to remove the negative prefixes from Mother Teresa’s quote of “unwanted, unloved and uncared for” when it comes to addressing poverty. Take her advice and start in your own home and community.
9. PHANTOM THREAD
Five years ago, after beating my head senseless over the pretentiousness of The Master, if you would have told me I would have a Paul Thomas Anderson film in my “10 Best,” I would have said you were nuts and wondered how the sequel to Boogie Nights could have been achieved. Yet, here we are and Phantom Thread is the real deal. Exquisitely crafted and intensely nuanced, I was impressed like I’ve rarely been. If this the last ride of Daniel Day-Lewis, he leaves us with a gem. (full review)
BEST LESSON: “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT CAREFULLY”— This quote from Lewis’s Reynolds, the peak of the film’s trailer, sent in the direction of his new muse could be echoed in dozens of aspects of one’s life. Mundane activities could become effective and even artful with an extra level of paid care and consideration. At the same time, there is an unsettling level to that rigidity. Often there is a missing flexibility to perfectionist who cannot get over themselves or adjust their idiosyncrasies.
10. LOVING VINCENT
In terms of sheer creation of a finished piece, Loving Vincent might be the most miraculous film of the year and greatest technical achievement as the first entire oil-painted feature-length animated film. 125 painters combined their efforts on over 65,000 canvases shot on film to create this incredible achievement. Beyond the art, the enriching whodunit drama of investigating the final days of Vincent Van Gogh backed by Clint Mansell’s rich musical score create storytelling worthy of all the work. (full review)
BEST LESSON: INTERPRETING AN ARTIST— Subjected to ridicule and criticism from a young age to his last, Van Gogh’s talent and purpose were always questioned before the established reverence that followed his death. Another Van Gogh quote in the film reads “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” Sometimes artists are not peaceful souls. The few people that did realize his greatness in the moment were not enough to save his.
When I can, I dip my toe into the world of short films and I’m beginning to love the art form and the efficiency of its skill. Merely scratching the surface of this form of film medium, among the handful I saw and reviewed this year, Not Yet was a five-star gem. Picture one of those expressive and imaginary Pixar shorts that open their films and apply live-action human emotion to it That will give you a taste of Not Yet. My full review has a link to the short for you to see for yourself. I promise nothing but smiles.
BEST LESSON: THE IMMENSE CHALLENGES OF CHEERING SOMEONE UP— Some folks are tough nuts to crack in the cheer department. Add the physical drain and toll of illness into that equation of happiness and the challenge is even greater. Self-deprecating humor in this situation often works in spades, but there’s one action that’s even better: Love. In Not Yet, you have a man that unabashedly loves his wife with every ounce of willingness and companionship. Love always wins the best cheers.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.
In this special SPOILER FREE “minisode,” we wrap up the year by discussing some of our favorite things about 2017. Instead of just a top ten list of favorite films, we talk about the moments and performances that really resonated with us personally. This is a super-sized bonus episode with a ton of content and we really hope you enjoy.
About ten minutes before my screening of Logan, 20th Century Fox’s latest venture into the X-Verse, a family of four wandered in, popcorn and sodas in hand. Mom, Dad, two kids. Two very young kids. Like, ten-ish at best. I don’t judge. How you parent your kids is on you. Maybe these people did the requisite homework on Logan. Maybe they didn’t. I’m leaning toward they didn’t. They never left, so here’s to them for sticking it out. But if the countless F-bombs and butt shot from the Deadpool 2 teaser ahead of the feature didn’t waver them, I’m thinking the 137 minutes of Logan led to a few awkward family moments. When they got home, those parents might have had some ‘splainin’ to do.
Logan earns its “R” rating, and then some. Filmgoers amped up for a paint by number, CGI, save the universe extravaganza should be warned that disappointment lurks. Logan is an intimate character portrait unlike anything we’ve seen in the guise of a superhero movie to date; Nolan’s Batman trilogy included. And we are so better off for it.
It’s the year 2029. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is old. The indestructible mutant is worn out; limping, broken physically and mentally. We find him living out his existence driving a limousine, under the guise of his given name, James Howlett. He tolerates obnoxious, frat boy businessmen and bachelorette parties between alcoholic benders intended to help mask the pain he endures from the adamantium that has finally turned his body against him. It is a shock to see the once unbreakable X-Man in such disrepair.
In a way that isn’t fully explained in the film, the mutant population is nearly extinct. No new mutants have been born in years, and little hint to what happened is given other than a brief mention of ‘that thing that happened at Westchester.” It can be presumed that the aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), suffering from dementia and seizures, probably had something to do with it. Now over ninety years old, Professor X lives contained within an abandoned metal silo south of the border, hidden from the government that has deemed him the most powerful weapon of mass destruction in the world. He is cared for by the Albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Logan. The dynamic between Logan and Xavier is one of reluctant bedfellows. His respect and admiration for Xavier is ever present, but he assists in Xavier’s care more as a sense of duty than a preference. Xavier, in his moments of clarity, just wants to be able to pee in peace.
The story begins to take off when a frantic woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), begs Logan to take her and an eleven year old mutant girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to North Dakota, where a mutant haven called Eden supposedly awaits. They are being chased by cybernetically enhanced soldiers called reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), belonging to the Transigen corporation, where Gabriela once worked as a nurse and cared for children who were being bred and raised as mutant soldiers. Laura, we learn, was bred using Logan’s DNA, and she shares her powers in the same capacity as her “father.” The apple does not fall far from the tree. Laura is as feral and ruthless as Logan, and we haven’t seen a tandem dish out this level of bloody mayhem since Hit Girl and Big Daddy patrolled the streets of New York. If you found the violence in Kick-Ass not to your liking, buyer beware.
When Logan, Xavier, and Laura are forced to the road in an old pick-up truck to flee the reavers, the film borrows elements from Mad Max: Fury Road,Midnight Special, and most notably the 1953 western, Shane. Logan becomes a classic chase movie, where the good guys do their best to stay a step ahead, even though we know confrontation is inevitable.
This is a film to be commended for foregoing conventional blockbuster enhancements. Director James Mangold chooses to linger instead on intimate character dynamics which are some of the best moments on screen. This feels like a true life expose on familial relationships. Of fathers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Of friends who have been through everything together and somehow lived long enough to ruminate together about all of it. Jackman and Stewart are the doing their best work with these characters. No other X-Men film comes close. And Dafne Keen is a revelation; equal parts unsettling in her ferociousness and admirable in her confidence on screen with these franchise heavyweights. But even as the film slows down in spots to wallow in intimate moments with its characters, have no fear, there is plenty of snicktedy snickt action to enjoy in all of its limb flying, bloody goodness.
Logan is an emotional ride, and there will be moments, especially at the end, that will resonate long after the credits have rolled. This isn’t going to be for everyone. Mystique isn’t going to pop in to save the day. Logan is the closest thing to a “real” movie the superhero genre has even gotten. There are no capes. No apocalypse. No eating of Shawarma. Just a broken old man and one final mission.
STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade. His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo. Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow. He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams. He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.
In this episode we discuss Logan, what could be the final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s incredible run as Marvel comic superhero Wolverine. This latest installment is R-rated and offers us the gritty, ultra-violent picture of Wolverine that many know from comics but have never seen portrayed on screen. It was quite the ride and so we’ve called in some back-up from Francisco and Paul of the Retro Rewind Podcast to help us break it down. Enjoy this super podcast team-up!