Friday, August 2, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Blood On Their Blades

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.

Cody ducks claws, swords, and hatchets.


During the casting process of the first X-Men film, a fortuitous turn of events (that is, a change in the filming schedule of Mission: Impossible II) allowed a little known actor named Hugh Jackman to replace the previously cast Dougray Scott as the character of Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine.

Wolverine being a very popular character on the Marvel Comics roster, there were high hopes and great expectations among fans waiting to see how he'd be brought to the screen. When X-Men hit theatres in the summer of 2000, there was a clear consensus: this 6'2" Australian actor who most had never heard of before had excellently pulled off playing everyone's favorite 5'3" Canadian mutant badass. Jackman was the perfect Wolverine.

Jackman's star expanded exponentially after that, but luckily he has stuck with his career-defining role over the last thirteen years and is now close to matching and perhaps exceeding the number of franchise entries done by even the most prolific of James Bond performers with his appearances as Wolverine in various X-series films.

Counting his quick but showstopping cameo in X-Men: First Class, this summer's The Wolverine marks Jackman's sixth film as the character.

While Wolverine's previous solo (yet still packed with mutants) outing, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, had been a bit of a debacle, fans were given some hope early on in the development when it was revealed that the second Wolverine film would be an adaptation of a famous four issue miniseries done by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller in 1982 which told a dangerous love story set in Japan. The fact that the project was set to re-team Jackman with his The Fountain director Darren Aronofsky brought even more interest in it.

Aronofsky was attached to The Wolverine for a while and saw it through a good deal of development, but eventually dropped out and moved on to his dream project, a large scale adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah. He was soon replaced by James Mangold, a director who Jackman had also worked with before on 2001's Kate & Leopold. Mangold may not seem to have a unique vision and style along the lines of an Aronofsky, but he has a good pedigree of his own, having also directed Cop Land, Identity, Walk the Line, and Knight and Day, among other things. While the idea of Aronofsky bringing said vision to a superhero movie, especially one starring Wolverine, was enticing, having read bits and pieces here and there of what his version of the film would've been like, I am actually glad that we ended up with Mangold's take on it instead. Aronofsky was taking it too far into out-there, adult, Black Swan territory, when this still needed to aim for being a mainstream crowdpleaser that children will be checking out.

Earlier drafts of the script were set in the '80s and had no references to any other movies in the X-Men franchise, but the final result that is The Wolverine is set firmly after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Although seven years have passed since the release of that film, during which two prequels (the aforementioned Origins and First Class) were released, this movie deals directly with the emotional aftermath of the final scenes of The Last Stand.

The climactic battle ended with Wolverine forced to perform a mercy killing on the woman he loved, the extremely powerful telepath Jean Grey. To save humanity and Jean herself from her corrupting, out of control powers, Wolvie had to sink his adamantium-laced claws into her torso... It was an act that absolutely devastated him. He lost sight of any reason to keep on living in that moment, but given that his mutant healing factor makes suicide seemingly impossible, he's basically the next closest thing to immortal, he instead removed himself from society. Vowing that he would never hurt anyone again, he retreated to a hermitic existence in the Canadian wilderness. But he's still haunted by Jean in his dreams.

Wolverine's self-imposed exile is brought to an end by two events: first, the bad death of a bear he shares the forest with at the hands of an unscrupulous hunter pisses him off, then a sword-wielding Japanese girl named Yukio (who has the mutant psychic ability to get a glimpse of a very specific moment in a person's future - their death) reveals that she has tracked Wolverine down at the request of someone who wants her to take him back to Japan with her.

The person who sent Yukio is a man from Wolverine's past, Yashida, who was a young soldier serving in the Japanese army during World War II when Wolvie saved his life by protecting him from an atomic bomb blast. Yashida went on to become a very successful and wealthy business man, but while Wolverine hasn't changed much since they last saw each other, Yashida has aged into an old man and is now terminally ill. Yashida makes Wolvie an offer, a trade - through a procedure that can be performed by Yashida's private caregiver, a mutant we'll come to know is called Viper because of her venomous touch, Wolverine's healing ability can be transferred over to Yashida. Yashida will be completely cured and his youth will be restored, while Wolverine will have been made mortal.

Despite his personal issues, this is a deal that Wolverine turns down. Yashida dies that night... and at his funeral, Wolvie finds that he is going to have to violently deal with some dangerous problems during his stay in Japan.

Gun-wielding Yakuza assassins attack at the service and Wolverine springs into action, taking it upon himself to protect Yashida's granddaughter Mariko. He takes her off to hide in a more peaceful location, and during their time together they begin to fall in love. Meanwhile, there are some strange dealings going on that involve Viper, Mariko's father Shingen, her ninja ex Harada, and the minister of justice her father had arranged for her to be married to.

With some help from Yukio, Wolverine faces Yakuza gunmen, ninjas, and samurais as he works to get to the bottom of what's going on and make sure that Mariko will be safe.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was going to be a much more serious and down-to-earth movie before it was moved from a winter release and made a summer tentpole, at which point the studio panicked and tried to rework it into a flashy mutantfest in the middle of the writers strike. Obviously that didn't turn out very well. Thankfully, Fox has apparently been emboldened by the recent successes of other superhero and action movies which focused more on character and story than slam-bang spectacle. With The Wolverine, the story is taken seriously, dramatic scenes are allowed to play out, and the character of Wolverine is the focus. The film isn't only about his abilities and how much ass he can kick, it explores who he is.

The standard approach to these sorts of movies these days is to make the heroes more relatable to the audience by showing that, no matter how capable they appear to be, they still have their vulnerabilities as well. Examples of this include everything from the Daniel Craig James Bond films to even Superman in the recent Man of Steel. The Wolverine follows suit. Not only does Wolverine have to overcome the grief he feels over the death of Jean Grey, not only does he have to find a purpose in his life again, not only does he find new people to care about... he's also made weak. He doesn't take the deal to transfer his healing factor to Yashida, but something is still done to him that greatly suppresses his ability to heal throughout the film. When he gets injured, particularly when he gets shot, it hurts him, makes him disoriented. It takes a long time to heal. He needs medical attention. Physical activities tire him out. There is a possibility that Wolverine could die in this movie. That angle builds up to my favorite scene, set in Yashida's home hospital room, which I don't want to spoil. I will say that this film is not afraid to cause damage to Wolverine, and that allows for some shocking moments.

Hugh Jackman has said that making The Wolverine was the most fun he's had playing Wolverine so far, which doesn't just give hope that he's going to continue sticking with the character for quite a while to come, but also makes sense because this film makes the best use of the character since 2003's X2, putting him front and center in a really good movie that is worthy of him.

Jackman and Wolverine are already confirmed to be returning in next summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past, set up in The Wolverine with a mid-credits scene that's reminiscent of something that would be in an Avengers movie. I'm already excitedly looking forward to it. The X franchise has had its ups and downs, but First Class and The Wolverine have been a great upswing recovery from its nadir, and Days of Future Past sounds very promising.


Writer/director Adam Green's 2006 breakout slasher Hatchet ended very abruptly, cutting off right in the midst of a life-or-death struggle between Kane Hodder as the monstrous killer Victor Crowley and Tamara Feldman as the film's final girl, Marybeth Dunston. The sequel begins at the exact same moment its predecessor ended, but Marybeth looks slightly different, and not just because four years had passed between filming. The role was recast. I'm not sure why negotiations with Tamara Feldman fell apart, she had bonded with Hodder during the filming of Hatchet and over the years between movies it always seemed a sure thing that she'd be back as Marybeth. The only explanation I've seen given by Green is that "she's not making good decisions". But if you have to recast your heroine, you can't do much better than slotting Danielle Harris (of The Last Boy Scout and best known for her turns in four Halloween entries) into the role, with the bonus that she does bear a passing resemblance to Feldman.

Harris's Marybeth gets out of the predicament Feldman was left in, and is saved from the cursed Honey Island Swamp by John Carl Beuchler, who didn't head the special effects crew on this one like he did the first movie but still shows up to reprise his cameo role of urine-drinking oddball Jack Cracker long enough to send Marybeth on her way, perv out, then get taken out of the film by Crowley and gore effects by Robert Pendergraft.

Back in New Orleans, Marybeth goes not to the police but to Tony Todd as voodoo shop owner Reverend Zombie, who reiterates the Crowley backstory with the added twist that Victor's deformities and the pain and death around him is rooted on a curse put on him in utero because he was conceived out of an adulterous relationship between Thomas Crowley and his terminally ill wife's private nurse.

Marybeth is gunning for revenge and wants to retrieve the corpses of her father and brother, whose murders kicked off this saga, from Honey Island Swamp, and Zombie thinks he knows how to lift this Crowley curse once and for all, so together they head into Crowley's territory, backed up by a group of armed hunters and fishermen who know their way around the swamp. Zombie puts a bounty on Crowley's head: $5000 to anyone who can kill the undead slasher.

Though most of them don't end up going on this hunting trip, a lot of faces and names familiar to the horror community show up in the film when Zombie is assembling his posse - Fright Night/Child's Play director Tom Holland, Texas Chainsaw Massacre III Leatherface R.A. Mihailoff, AJ Bowen from The House of the Devil and A Horrible Way to Die, Troma head Lloyd Kaufman, Saw sequel/Piranha 3DD co-writer Marcus Dunstan, Abominable director Ryan Schifrin, Nick Principe of Laid to Rest, The Dead Hate the Living/The Hills Run Red's Dave Parker, Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton from, Real Killers/The Convent/The Gravedancers/Big Ass Spider director Mike Mendez. Cast members from Adam Green's movie Frozen cameo, as does his pal Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2). One character namedrops Jason Voorhees and mentions that he grew up in the town of Glen Echo, a reference to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Hatchet II follows the same formula as part 1; pre-title murder, the bulk of the running time involves getting the characters together and sending them into the swamp, then the group gets massacred over the course of the last 30 minutes. I like the tone of this one better, it still has comedy but it's not as continuously goofy as the first movie. Better yet, the characters don't end up all running from Crowley as a solid block, they split up in the swamp so Crowley can knock most of them off in unaware pairs.

This film features one of my favorite kills, in the Hatchet saga for sure and perhaps one of my favorite kills in slasherdom. One guy pairs up with a female hunter played by the beautiful Alexis Peters, the two of them end up having sex, and while they're going at it doggystyle Crowley appears behind the man and decapitates him. Rather than just falling over, the man's body continues going through the motions, its thrusts speeding up for a couple seconds before stopping. It's when the thrusting stops that the woman realizes something has gone wrong.

It also features one of the most ridiculous kills in history, when Crowley manages to pull a man out of his own skin.

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