Friday, March 10, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Beneath the Stains of Time

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Entertainment takes Cody on an adventure through space and time.

LOGAN (2017)

X-Men member Wolverine has always been one of my favorite comic book characters. Part of my appreciation for the character is probably goes hand-in-hand with my love for slasher movies; Wolverine has adamantium-coated claws that spring from his hands so he can slash up his adversaries. He's like a heroic Jason Voorhees (or Freddy Krueger, who gets mentioned in Logan). There's also his gruff personality, and the fact that he has a whole lot of rage simmering just under the surface, ready to come bursting out. For some reason, I gravitated toward characters with anger issues when I was kid - Wolverine is my favorite of the X-Men, Raphael is my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, etc. And then there's the fact that he has what I consider to be the most desirable mutant super power of all: an incredibly quick healing factor, with which he can recover from any sort of wound, and which keeps him free of any disease. He may not be immortal, but his healing factor has greatly extended his life and slowed the aging process. That's the mutation I want for sure.

Director James Mangold seems to really like taking Wolverine's healing ability away. In 2013's The Wolverine, Mangold had a villain implant a device in his body that suppressed his ability, he healed more slowly and injuries hurt him more. In the newly released Logan, which Mangold directed from a screenplay he wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green, he has again greatly reduced the character's healing ability, and this time around it seems that Wolverine's wounds heal much more slowly - and his body retains scars - simply because time is catching up with him. And with his healing slowed down, he is now being slowly poisoned by the adamantium that laces his bones. The year is 2029 and it doesn't look like Wolverine... or Logan, as we'll call him, since the movie takes it title from his formal name... is going to be around much longer.

Also ailing is the great telepath Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is now ninety years old and losing control of his mental powers. With the help of a fellow mutant called Caliban (Stephen Merchant as a character who was played by Tómas Lemarquis in X-Men: Apocalypse), Logan has been keeping Xavier hidden and sedated in Mexico ever since his powers caused a disaster in Westchester, New York sometime earlier.

Logan now works as a limo driver in El Paso, Texas, saving money so he can buy a boat and head out onto the ocean with Xavier, getting him far away from other people to prevent another disaster from happening. And someday while he's out at sea, Logan might just commit suicide with the adamantium bullet he keeps in his pocket.

Logan's terribly depressing "last days" existence is disrupted by a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who wants his help getting a seemingly mute young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to safety in North Dakota. Although no new mutants have been born in the last twenty-five years, it will turn out that a new generation of mutants have been bred in a Mexico City lab by the unscrupulous, murderous scientist Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), who used DNA samples from various mutants to create his own mutants that he hoped to turn into soldiers. As these new mutants make through childhood, it has become clear that they're not going to serve their intended purpose, so Rice has been working on a new experiment and has ordered that all of the children be euthanised. Some of them have escaped and will be gathering in a safe haven called Eden.

Laura, code named X-23, is one of Rice's mutant creations, and she was made with Logan's DNA. She has rage like him, she has claws like him, she can heal like him.

There is a team of mercenaries called Reavers who are tracking the children down for Rice, and there was one particular Reaver I was interested in watching perform: the group's leader Donald Pierce, as played by Boyd Holbrook. Although I had previously seen Holbrook in A Walk Among the Tombstones, he hadn't really stuck in my memory, and I needed to see this guy in action now that he is set to star in The Predator, Shane Black's upcoming sequel to Predator. I was glad to see that Holbrook does have a good screen presence, and although he's not a name actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Danny Glover, he should be able to carry The Predator quite well.

Most, if not all, of the Reavers are cybernetically enhanced. Pierce himself has a prosthetic right hand, and he is far from the only one whose enhancement was on the right arm. So many of the Reavers have metal right hands / arms that it crossed my mind that losing your right arm might be the cost of getting into the group.

The Reavers soon find the place Logan has set up for Xavier. Xavier's hiding spot blown, Logan reluctantly agrees to help Laura and the three mutants hit the road, the Reavers following them every step of the way.

When I was reading about Logan in the build-up to its release, the villains seemed quite underwhelming to me. A scientist and some mercenaries. Sure, a large group of mercenaries fit the bill of being cannon fodder perfectly, we can get a thrill out of watching Logan slice these guys up (and since the movie is rated R, we get to see Logan perform bloodier slicings than we've ever seen in another X-Men or Wolverine film), but we know he can take these guys down. What's the threat? Well, it turns out that there was a very well kept secret that has started to leak out since the movie reached theatres, but I'll keep the secret here. Suffice to say, Logan does go up against a very threatening adversary in the film.

As pretty much everybody probably knows, Logan was designed to be Hugh Jackman's last outing as the character. It's sad to see him hanging up the claws, but I have to commend his dedication to the role. This is the ninth time Jackman has played Logan / Wolverine over the course of seventeen years. That's more times and over a longer period than anyone who has ever played James Bond, and the Bonds didn't have to keep themselves in the shape Jackman has had to be in for Logan. I'd be glad to see him play the character nine more times, but I totally respect his decision to move on.

Logan is very clearly a swan song, and it's a heavily emotional one. Things do start off dour and depressing, with Logan and Xavier as broken men who are just waiting for their rapidly approaching deaths, but as the story goes on it gains more and more heart. This is largely thanks to the presence of Laura, who starts off as sort of a creepy little killing machine but is gradually revealed to be a head-strong, hurt little kid. Keen does a fantastic job in the role and the character gives Logan and Xavier new purpose in life. Something to live for, and something to die for.

This is a hard-edged film, but it's also surprisingly touching. As it neared its conclusion, there was a lot of sniffles going on in the audience I was part of. And yeah, I got a tear in my eye myself. It's the perfect send-off for Jackman and for Stewart, who decided at the premiere that he is retiring from playing Xavier. I knew going in that this would be the last time I'd be seeing them play these roles, but I certainly didn't expect to be brought to tears over it.

Well done, everybody. Thank you, Hugh Jackman, for perfectly bringing one of my favorite characters to life for seventeen years. I had no idea who Jackman was when he was first cast in X-Men, and now I find it hard to imagine anyone else trying to play Wolverine.

The Dark Vault of Public Domain - THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978)

Horror host shows are fueled by the legion of films that have fallen into the public domain, as this show acknowledges right in its title and with an opening narration: "Do not adjust your television. For the next two hours, you will experience a world of twisted and absurd audio/visual oddities orphaned by a lapse in copyright. Forgotten creations ripped from the darkest depths of the cinema graveyard where they lie. Abandoned, ignored, and discarded. Until now. Time has come for the forgotten children of the silver screen to rise up and command your attention."

Broadcast from the bleakest basement in Broome County, The Dark Vault of Public Domain was created in 2007 and is hosted by the fez-wearing Uncle Pete and his masked wrestler sidekick El Vato. Apparently Uncle Pete is a bit of a mad scientist, since he has clones for servants, and in this episode's host segments he takes his clones out to some night golfing in the middle of winter. This turns out to be a not-great idea, since Uncle Pete gets lost in the dark night and it's so cold out that his golf balls turn blue.

Directed by Alfonso Brescia under the name Al Bradly and starring Antonio Sabato, The War of the Robots is an Italian sci-fi film that aims high and comes up short. As Uncle Pete says, its 99 cent production value can't live up to Star Trek or Star Wars. Brescia was clearly proud of his special effects, though. His space ships might not look as good as those in Star Wars, but that didn't stop him from trying to shoot them like they were equals, and he may not have been Stanley Kubrick, but he still went for some low-rent 2001 moments.

The story is about a scientist who is trying to "create life", whether it's grow a forest in a desert or making an immortal man. When the scientist is kidnapped by a space aliens wearing blonde wigs and silver outfits, a rescue team is sent after him - and there's a ticking clock element here, because the scientist's lab is run by an atomic reactor that will enter critical phase and destroy the city in a matter of days if he's not there to maintain it.

The War of the Robots is rather terrible, but it has a charm - there is fun in its bad dialogue and atrocious dubbing, its ridiculous looking aliens, the fact that it has shootouts that basically amount to people just pointing flashlights at each other. The ends of the guns light up, but nothing comes out of them. This movie even has lightsabers in it. They're not Star Wars issue lightsabers, but they're lightsabers nonetheless. If you're a fan of the higher quality movies it's trying to emulate, The War of the Robots can be entertaining.

Uncle Pete's hosting segments are amusing, and the Dark Vault presentation is made all the more enjoyable to watch by the inclusion of vintage theatre and drive-in messages to the audience, as well as old trailers. The trailers in this episode include The Clones, Galaxina, and Battle Beyond the Stars.


I try to be open to movies of all genres, eras, and countries of origin, but there are some that just don't work very well for me, and one type of film I have trouble getting into is the silent film. There are some exceptions that I enjoy, like Nosferatu from 1922, but in general I have trouble sitting through movies where I have to watch the actors perform their lines and then wait until the text screen comes up to know what they were saying. If the lines showed up as subtitles while their mouths are moving it would be easier for me to take, but as they were made I feel like silent films take twice as much time as they should to get the information across. So I usually end up watching them in fast forward, which isn't exactly the best way to take in a movie.

The 1923 Universal release The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the most popular silent films ever made, and the most successful one that Universal ever put out. Based on the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo and directed by Wallace Worsley, the film is set in 1482 Paris and tells the story of a severely disfigured man who rings the bells at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Named Quasimodo, this man is shunned by society and in return hates the people of Paris, mocking them from a vantage point high up on the cathedral and doing acrobatic tricks on the side of the building.

Quasimodo was played by Lon Chaney, who had been wanting to play the character for years. Chaney was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" for his ability to alter his appearance with his own makeup tricks, and when given the chance to finally bring Quasimodo to life he came up with one of his most famous and disturbing character looks. It's quite impressive while also being tough to watch, and Chaney's appearance and performance are why this version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is still referenced almost a hundred years later.

This film is often referred to as a horror movie, but it's really a historical drama that just happens to have a deformed character at its center. At the behest of his evil "master", the brother of the archdeacon, Quasimodo takes part in an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap a beautiful young woman named Esmeralda. Quasimodo takes the entire blame for the crime, and when he's punished with a public lashing Esmeralda takes pity on him, bringing him water.

The attempted kidnapping, and the romance the results between Esmeralda and the man who rescued her, stirs up a lot of trouble in Paris, and Quasimodo ends up becoming Esmeralda's protector against those who seek to do her harm.

This is not a story that would typically appeal to me no matter how it was delivered, and the silent film method of delivery doesn't draw me in any further. I can respect this movie, but I never become involved with what's happening on the screen - except when Chaney is on the screen. His Quasimodo is fascinating. I can take or leave any other element, but Hunchback is worth watching to see him.

TIMECOP (1994)

Sam Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert must have had a good time working with Jean-Claude Van Damme on Hard Target, because the trio went from that movie straight into working together again on the sci-fi action film Timecop.

Timecop started off as a three part story crafted by writer Mark Verheiden and Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson in the pages of the anthology comic series named after the company, featured in issues that also contained stories inspired by Predator and RoboCop. Verheiden and Richardson also wrote the screenplay for the film, which at one time was futuristic but is now a look into an alternate past.

As you might assume from the title, Timecop is set in a world where time travel is possible, this scientific breakthrough having been made in 1994. You can't go into the future, since it doesn't exist yet, but you can go into the past. Sometimes this technology is used for nefarious purposes, as we see right in the first scene when a man with futuristic weapons steals a shipment of Confederate gold in the middle of the American Civil War, 1863. That gold turns up at an arms deal in 1994. If someone goes back in time and changes things it could be cause ripples through time that would have a disastrous effect on our present, so the U.S. government forms the Time Enforcement Commission, overseen by Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver). TEC monitors the timeline and if they see any suspicious activity they send Time Enforcement officers to deal with it.

One of those officers is Van Damme's character Max Walker, who suffered personal tragedy right after he was hired to TEC - his pregnant wife Melissa (Mia Sara) was killed in an explosive home invasion. And by explosive I mean that the house blew up.

The story moves ahead to 2004, when home appliances are voice activated and cars are mobile computers that look hideous and drive themselves. A ten year veteran of TEC, Walker begins to realize that McComb is using the officers and the access to time travel technology to make himself rich and fund his shaky presidential campaign. McComb's vision is to become so rich by the time he's president that he won't have to listen to anybody, then he'll help the top 10% richer and the rest of the population can immigrate somewhere else to find a better life.

Not sure who he can trust, Walker bounces back and forth between '94 and '04 (with a quick stop in 1929) while trying to figure out how to bring McComb down and fighting his way through the senator's legion of lackeys.

All of this time traveling is done in a method that I have never really understood. People are sent into the past in a rocket-launched pod that speeds along a track toward a wall like a vehicle carrying crash test dummies. Before it reaches the wall, the pod disappears into a portal that opens in the past... but the pod doesn't make the trip, only its occupants, who come strolling out of the portal, sometimes in very inconvenient locations. When they want to get back to the present, they press some buttons on a little device, walk through a portal, and in the present the pod reappears, coasting to a stop with the traveler inside. That's over my head.

I've never read the original Dark Horse Comics Timecop story, but the internet tells me it was about Walker thwarting a diamond theft in 1930s South Africa and then battling the criminal's robot. Turning the film adaptation into a political thriller was a wise move, and Silver oozes smarm as the villainous senator. And since stopping McComb involves going to the same year his wife was killed, the film also gets an emotional boost from Walker's endeavor to save Melissa along the way.

Van Damme makes Max Walker a cool hero worth rooting for, and he handles the drama while kicking ass hard enough to make it shatter. Literally in one case. Well, actually it's the guy's arm and right side that shatters, not his ass, because he was frozen. Director Peter Hyams set out to make this the best Van Damme movie ever made, and while I have a greater attachment to some of Van Damme's earlier films than I do to this one, this is a very good entry in his filmography.

No comments:

Post a Comment