In all its messy, bloody, thrilling glory

Dafne Keen and Hugh Jackman in LoganI received my first issue of The Uncanny X-Men in my Christmas stocking in 1985. I was 10, and it was the comic that all of my friends were reading. These boys were fixated on Wolverine, the cigar-chomping killing machine with unbreakable bones and long metal claws. He seemed to be half wild animal, half Charles Bronson in Death Wish.

A deeply sensitive and conflict adverse proto-gay, I was unnerved by Wolverine’s violence and unpredictable rage, and I was much more enamored by weather witch Storm and teen genius Kitty Pryde; their stories moved me when Wolverine’s scared me.

But Wolverine was and is the most popular of the X-Men. This isn’t just because the teenage boys who are the majority of comics’ readers love hyper-masculine violence. As the years went by, the writers and artists of the various X-Men titles turned Wolverine into an emotionally complicated, psychologically tortured, and reluctant hero who works in the grayest areas of the moral universe.

I read through many of these stories as a less fearful adult, and it’s this complexity that has made me love the character so much. But when he finally ended up on the big screen in 1999, with Hugh Jackman perfectly cast, the pressures of family-friendly film franchising sanded down Wolverine’s roughest of edges. Or, the edges were there and the films’ mundanity covered them with a polyurethane sheen.

Then comes Logan, the third Wolverine film, ninth appearance of the character on the big screen, and Hugh Jackman’s last time playing the role. Logan is not only one of the best X-Men films – if not the best – but it’s also the best representation of the Wolverine character in all its messy, bloody, thrilling glory.

The new film was inspired by the now classic graphic novel Old Man Logan, but departs from that text in many ways, which will disappoint that title’s ardent fans. It is several decades in the future, mutants have mysteriously stopped being born, and Logan, whose nom de guerre is Wolverine, is grayer, limping and coughing, his mutant healing ability clearly no longer adequate. He is working as a limo driver, trying to save money to buy a boat where he can take a decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), also known as Professor X, as he dies of something like a cross between Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

Patrick Stewart in Logan

The most powerful telepath alive, Charles’ seizures are like psychic bombs, so Logan and the albino mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant) keep him drugged and hidden away across the border in the Mexican desert, away from innocent bystanders.
One day, a Mexican nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) finds Logan and tries to hire him to take her and a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a haven for mutants in North Dakota. Logan is resistant, even though Charles is insistent that they help. When a pack of vicious mercenaries called the Reavers show up and Laura slaughters more than a few with very Wolverine-like abilities, Logan reluctantly agrees.

The basic plot is very “Just one last job!” but director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line) and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green use that structure to investigate Logan as a character without much cliché; through crackling dialogue and one exhilarating set-piece after another, we watch Logan wrestle with mortality, guilt, filial piety and his own instinctive brutality. His interactions with the mostly mute Laura are funny, gruff and moving, giving filmgoers the first glimpse of a side of Wolverine so important in the comics and absent from the films: his counter-intuitive mentoring of teenage girls like Kitty Pryde and Jubilee.

The film also showcases extreme, sometimes jaw-dropping violence, earning the film its R-rating by a mile and then some. It makes Deadpool seems like a Tom & Jerry cartoon. But this violence, which is perpetrated not only by Wolverine but also by a pre-teen girl, is what makes Logan’s physical and psychological pain so believable. It is also what makes his redemption so powerful. For the first time in 30 years, an X-Men story earned my tears.

Directed by James Mangold
Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen
Rated R

Originally published in LGBT Weekly

Pulped Prisoners

maxresdefaultAbout half way through Denis Villeneuve’s haunting, absorbing, and morally problematic Prisoners, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) are screaming at each other. Keller is insisting that he knows that Alex Jones (Paul Dano) is the man who has kidnapped and hidden his and Franklin’s young daughters; Franklin, in tears, keeps saying, “You don’t know!” He’s in tears because Keller has kidnapped Alex and is torturing him, and Franklin has reluctantly helped. (This isn’t much of a spoiler because the previews for the film tell you all of this, more or less.) This scene is intense and loud and both Howard and Jackman are convincingly falling apart, but I couldn’t help but agree with Fanklin. Keller is wrong; his obsession with Alex is based on an impotent rage and only a shred of evidence that Alex, who has an intellectual abilities of a 10-year-old, took his daughter. As Keller becomes more violent and more sure of himself, I found him less and less sympathetic and more and more hopeful that Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) would catch Keller before he finds Keller and Franklin’s daughters. It’s a strange, if fascinating experience to cheer against the film’s hero. Continue…


Hugh-Jackman-Body-WolverineWhen I was reading comics as a teen-ager, I was one of the few readers who did not claim that Wolverine was his favorite member of the X-Men. I found him a somewhat shallow construction, gruff and violent, with a mostly golden heart. The adamantium-clawed, cigar-chomping Canadian seemed obvious to me, the kind of character that a marketing expert would devise for teen-aged boys. However, as he became more popular, Marvel Comics’ writers gave his back story much more depth, he was made much conflicted and complicated. And then Hugh Jackman was cast to play him in the first X-Men movie. Jackman, a terrific actor, turned Wolverine into an emotionally vulnerable, fiercely charismatic action hero.

Unfortunately, his first spin-off movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, to say the least, underwhelming. Despite Jackman’s charm and allure, the movie was bombastic, silly, and artless. When Marvel announced that Darren Aronofsky, who gave us the avant garde classics Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, would direct the sequel, I was thrilled. Then Aronofsky was replaced by James Mangold, and while he’s good – he directed Walk the Line and 3:10 To Yuma, which are both excellent – he is not a visual visionary like Aronofsky. Still, Mangold’s film, The Wolverine, is a great leap forward for the franchise, which has yet to reach its potential. Continue…

Real Steel. Really? REALLY?

Yeah, so I reviewed Real Steel, which was pretty dumb. Here’s the link, and here’s a paragraph:

But I cannot fathom how Hugh Jackman chooses his film roles; why someone as versatile, talented and box-office powerful would choose to follow the first two X-Men movies with the wretched vampires-and-monsters action dud Van Helsing; to go from the under-watched but excellent Christopher Nolan magician movie The Prestige to the pretentiously silly thriller Deception, or bother with Real Steel, his latest. Does he have a terrible agent? Or does he have terrible taste? What is he trying to prove? [The rest is here.]

The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Film

Update appended.

And the winners are…!

Most Excellent “I’m SO CrAzY!” Acting.

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Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” There is truly awful “I’m SO CrAzY!” acting, such as Brad Pitt in “12 Monkeys” or Robin Williams in “The Fisher King” showing off a bunch of mannered ticks, and then there is truly great “I’m SO CrAzY!” acting. Not since Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” has someone done sociopathic so well — so creepy, so deep, so funny, and so captivating.

Most Excellent “I’m so sad and depressed…” Acting.


Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married.” This movie bugged hard. It was preposterously plotted and every single character was awful, with the exception of Mather Zickel’s Kieran, Hathaway’s underwritten love interest. I wanted the movie to end about 45 minutes earlier than it did; it was annoying and boring. I guess Hathaway’s performance shows a great deal of versatility. She laughs, she cries, she pouts, she gets into a fist fight. But she’s ACTING. I wanted to slap her.

Most Excellent When Shirtless.

Hugh Jackman in “Australia.” Just watch this clip; you’ll get what I’m saying.

Most Excellent First Half of a Movie.


“Wall-E.” The first 45 minutes is more or less a silent film; it’s genius — moving, beautiful, hilarious. The moment the robot ends up on the intergalactic Ark, the movie becomes obvious political commentary about Saving the Environment. And that part is kind of annoying.
Most Excellent Rewrite of Source Material to Fit Our Current War.


“Iron Man.” In the original comic book, Tony Stark is kidnapped by the Vietcong and forced to make a weapon. In this movie, it’s some sort of a Al-Qaeda wannabe group. The best part is that Stark is given an Middle Eastern buddy / assistant / doctor that diffuses the otherwise problematic racist overtones. No such Vietnamese sidekick existed back in the 1960s version. Yay for progress.

Most Excellent “You’re doing WHAT?!” Acting. Tie!


Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder.” His three scenes are shocking, not just because it’s Cruise but because his character is so shocking. Usually when Cruise pulls a WTF?! moment, it seems to me as if he’s just a sight-gag. This was more. Though, yeah, he is kind of sight-gag. And oddly hot.


Robert Downey, Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.” Just plain genius. I don’t know how they pulled off his make-up, but Downey pulled off the character by being a brilliant actor. I mean, really. He’s that good. He should win an Oscar.

Most Excellent Reason to Blacklist a Casting Director.


Pierce Brosnan in “Mama Mia!” What were they thinking? The last 15 seconds of this clip … they’re just painful. Oh, my ears.

Most Excellent Gimmick-less Acting.


Sean Penn in “Milk.” He certainly looks a lot like Harvey Milk, but not that much. And he certainly sounds a lot like Milk, but not that much. This is a not a simple imitation, like Jamie Foxx in “Ray” (as good as that was). Penn creates a character who is more than Milk; he is a gay Everyman, a Norma Rae for the Gays. He’s also funny, sexy, and flawed. Obviously, Penn’s Milk wouldn’t exist without Dustin Lance Black’s amazing script, which is based on mostly new research.

Most Excellent Gimmick-less Film.

“Milk.” It’s the gay “Gandhi,” except it’s not too long and not boring. And unlike it’s documentary predecessor, it leave you uplifted, not completely depressed. The movie is nearly perfect.

Most Excellent Gimmicky Film


I feared that “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” would be “Forrest Gump” with a darker palette and prettier people, but it was instead a deeply felt, deeply affecting meditation on death, aging, and fate. Like all David Fincher films, every shot was stunningly gorgeous. But it seems that Fincher has allowed his visual and technical virtuosity to serve the story, not his ego (unlike, I feel, he did in “Fight Club”). In his blankness and naivete, Brad Pitt was perfect. As Variety wrote, “Benjamin is a reactor, not a perpetrator, and Pitt inhabits the role genially, gently and sympathetically.” Cate Blanchett, playing a much more complex character, actually goes through more emotional transformations than Pitt does physical. As always, she’s amazing, and I don’t think she’s ever been better.

Most Excellent Trailer for a Movie That Doesn’t Exist and Probably Won’t.


“Thundercats,” starring Brad Pitt, Vin Diesel, and Hugh Jackman. I mean, really. This is was obviously created by a future Oscar for Best Editing.

Most Excellent Movies That I Didn’t See Either Because I Couldn’t Be Bothered Or Because I Live in San Diego Where the Movies Will Never Open or Will Open Next Year.

Tie! Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Frozen River, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Quantum of Solace, Waltz with Bashir, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, Changeling, and Gran Torino. Yeah. So in other words, I based 2008’s Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Film on, like, 10 movies. Ha. Suckerz.

Tomorrow: The 2008 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Books!