The Wolverine

Why are these Wolverine movies unsatisfying? Have they not gotten to his heart yet?

I don’t know.

Happily, The Wolverine is better than the first flick about this most interesting of Marvel comic book heroes. It delves into a lot of the old comic book story bits, particularly relating to Wolverine’s experiences in Japan and with Japanese culture and people. This is nice.

You will probably enjoy The Wolverine if you liked:
Any X-Men movie
Iron Man 3
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Dark Knight
2 Guns

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 26, 2013

Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Hal Yamanouchi, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Will Yun Lee, and Hiroyuki Sanada

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Logan (Jackman) has removed himself from society, sick of being the mostly human killing machine who is also immortal and clearly broken from having to kill Jean Grey in a previous battle. He’s in a remote, northern, chilly wilderness, going into town only for supplies and booze.

Of course he gets in a fight. And of course a mysterious person shows up. Her name is Yukio (Fukushima) and she is an unusal-looking and strangely prescient Japanese woman. She also knows how to use a katana pretty well.

Yukio tells Logan that someone from his past would like to see him. We start finding out through flashbacks that Logan was a POW in Hiroshima on the day the A-bomb was dropped. We also learn that he saved a Japanese man’s life. That man is Yashida (Yamanouchi).

Yashida is now very old and he tells Logan that he can give Logan what he wants– mortality. But of course, Yashida has other plans too. Other people have plans as well, including Yashida’s doctor (Khodchenkova) and some other shady folks, one of whom uses a bow very well and who has a history with Yashida’s daughter, Mariko (Okamoto).

Suddenly, Logan is embroiled in a plot of power-plays, ninja, Yakuza, and forlorn-looking women. There’s lots of Japanese without subtitles (fun for those of us who speak Japanese) and really cool cultural stuff. There are also some nifty set-pieces which use Japanese architecture and transportation to great effect.

All leads to a showdown that most people will probably see coming. The old guy is not what he seems and Logan has got to rely on others for help.

Critique

We still don’t know why Logan hates immortality, invulnerability, and his ability to grow adamantium claws. Because we still don’t know this, the emotional impact and satisfaction level of the film is diminished.

That said, the plot is surprisingly rich and textured, with real characters populating the scenes. The acting is very nice, although Khodchenkova needs a few different snarls. The fights are good and utilized Wolverine’s abilities well. Interestingly, the writers pulled a kryptonite/Superman on this film, which hopefully does not become an overused trope in these flicks.

You’ll enjoy this movie. Hugh Jackman is convincing again and he lends a lot of depth to a character that really does need more depth– and far more clarity.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence, some of it a little bloody. Some salty language.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is somewhat gorily fun, but lacks consistency and punch. Which is more or less fine; it’s not supposed to have emotional punch. It seems like it’s mostly there to give audience members a suitably fun ride and launch a franchise.

Probably a trilogy.

Here’s a trailer. (You have to wait until nearly the end of the film to see some of the cooler stuff):

The deets:

Released January 25, 2013

Written by Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Starring Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Jeremy Renner, Peter Stormaire, and Thomas Mann

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Hansel and Gretel, are woken as young children and left in the forest for unknown reasons by their father, after he was told by their mother to take the children away. This is a mystery regarding their origin. (Hooray for guns on mantles.)

They are terrified and find their way to a candy house, whose owner is an angry, human-eating witch. The brother and sister get the better of the witch and thus begins the legend of these two– who it turns out are just what an inexplicably witch-infested area of the world was waiting for.

Their fame having broadened significantly, grown-up Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) do a brisk business finding and slaying witches for money. They make an appearance after being hired by a town to find the witch that has stolen nearly a dozen of their children. In the process of tracking down the witch, Muriel (Janssen), they join forces with a young man named Ben (Mann) and a lovely woman named Mina (Viitala).

Secrets of their past are revealed, along with some fairly convenient plot points. Through it all, Hansel and Gretel have to rely on each other to find a way to stop Muriel’s horrible plot.

Critique

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a clever idea that could have been a lot better executed. Instead of being clever and snappy, like the idea really ought to lend itself to being, it’s pretty formulaic and semi-lacking in interesting dialogue. Think about it: instead of just cooking a witch that wants them for dinner, these two grow up to be seriously tough warriors against evil. That’s a fun idea! But there’s not a lot of pure fun in this movie. In the place of fun, you have some uninspired acting on everyone’s part except for Arterton, and you also have an overall predictable plot that doesn’t make much effort to develop interesting characters. Sadly, this movie does have an interesting mythos for the witches, but doesn’t seem to know what kind of world these people inhabit.

Particularly disappointing is the minimal-effort acting on most of the actors’ parts. Famke Janssen could have elevated the role of Muriel to something far more interesting and less bland. Arterton did a fair job, adding intelligence, toughness, and sensitivity to an otherwise predictable role. Renner has a few moments, but the role doesn’t require much of him.

Mann as Ben is suitably creepy in a charming way, but it’s just not enough to carry the movie.

Peter Stormaire’s sheriff character could have been done by any human being.

So a poorly-thought out plot that didn’t spend enough time developing characters is the base of this movie. Add to that a large amount of unexpectedly unpleasant and useless gore, and the movie could have been completely lame.

Instead, because of some energetic pacing and some interesting set-pieces, the movie isn’t a total wash. The witches are cleverly developed as something beyond human as well, and that’s a nice touch.

If you like relatively pointless, not entirely harmless, gory action, this is your film. For most others, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is rather too gratuitous and rather not thought-through enough to make it worth it.

Content warnings: Lots of splattery gore, a scene of female nudity, some sensuality, some salty language.

Writing: 1.5          Acting: 2          Overall: 1.5

Which movie review should you share? This one, or I’ll hunt you down and Gretel you! (I have no idea what I mean by that. But let your imagination be your guide.)

 

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Taken 2

The first Taken film was a spectacular example of an underrated film winning audiences with intensity, fine acting, solid production values, a startling look at a nasty underbelly of eastern Europe, and an altogether relentless plot.

The second Taken film, to be successful, needed all of these plus a few twists in order to pull of the same success and following. Taken 2 fails because it forgets to have a relentless plot, instead doing some strange geographic acrobatics to confuse the viewer.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released October 5, 2012

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Starring Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Liam Neeson, Rade Serbedzija, D.B. Sweeney, Leland Orser, and Jon Gries

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Brian Mills (Neeson) and his daughter Kim (Grace) seem to have recovered from the events of Taken, which happened an indeterminate time previous to this film. Kim doesn’t have her license yet, which begs the question about how old Maggie Grace is trying to be here.

Age questions aside, Brian’s ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) and her second hubby are in splitsville and Brian has learned from his previous mistakes that he needs to be sensitive and solicitous. Also, he obviously still loves Lenore. Following an opening sequence of fairly regular family life and Brian being an overbearing but good dad, Brian invites his wife and daughter to meet him in Prague after he finishes his next job.

The family is reunited in Prague and good times are had, while Brian and Lenore realize that Kim is trying to get them back together.

Meanwhile, all of those eastern European human traffickers that Brian killed in the first movie apparently had fathers and brothers and sons. We see a funeral led by Murad (Serbedzija), at the end of which, Murad extends a call to arms and vows revenge upon the man that killed these deplorable human beings that worked in the human sex slave trade.

Yeah, not a lot of sympathy for these villains either.

So all of this leads to an abduction of both Lenore AND Brian, wherein Brian is just barely able to warn Kim of the attack so that she evades the bad guys. Luckily, Brian is really good at what he does and he has a tiny phone hidden on his person so that he can start gathering help, but in the meantime, Kim convinces Brian to let her help him. He leads her through the steps of tracking down where he and Lenore are being held.

Kim does a very fine job and finds them. What she doesn’t know and Brian does know is that Lenore is slowly bleeding out from being stuck in the neck. Clock’s ticking.

Brian is able to get free and he and Kim have to chase the bad guys down before Lenore’s life ebbs completely away, setting up a pretty great, if somewhat illogical, extended chase which culminates in some gunfire, some shaky-cam hand-to-hand, and a pretty good, if rather easy and premature, final showdown scene.

Critique

The reason Taken 2 doesn’t deliver anywhere near as effective an adrenaline-rush is that the filmmakers didn’t take time to figure out a few twists that made things even harder for Brian and Kim. In not throwing more at these two, the movie is robbed of authenticity, tension, and entertainment value.

When the movie is wrapping up, you’ll be sitting there thinking, “Wait. Already? Seriously? That’s it?”

Because the writing of the story just isn’t taken far enough, the perfectly good actors’ very solid performances aren’t allowed to have the emotional impact that they might otherwise have had. Maggie Grace turns in a particularly good performance, stepping up and helping with the initial rescue quite convincingly.

So Taken 2 just isn’t as intense, just not the thrill-ride, as we wanted. It’s still enjoyable, though abbreviated. The filming is standard, but enhanced by the setting in Prague. The pace is on target, but gypped. It starts very well, setting up some very nice character arcs and motivations and tension.

Then it stops. It’s worth seeing, but not at full price and not with many expectations.

Content warnings: some semi-harsh language, plenty of non-bloody violence.

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 3.5

You have a very specific set of skills that you must now put to use by sharing this review on your social networks. Do it now or bad men from an unspecified eastern European nation will come and get you.

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