ReelReviews #107: It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

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MARCH 15, 2017 SCREENING: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987)

The good news: Unlike many other “third movies” in a trilogy, this movie isn’t a complete joke that ruins everything you liked about the first two movies. The bad news? It’s still a disappointment compared to the first two. It’s watchable, yes, but unsatisfying.

Ironically, the third film provided a great setup for building on the universe from the first two movies and giving the audience something much bigger and bolder. The most obvious question from the first two films is what would the killer mutant babies actually be like IF they grew up? Additionally, there is the question of how the evil mutant babies would interact with their own kind, what they would do if left their own devices, and there was very little in the way of actually SEEING the babies in full detail from the first films because of the makeup limitations of those movies. It’s Alive III addresses all those points – and in many cases, it provides a perfectly valid answer to those questions. But alas, something is still missing.

Compared to Basket Case 3 (which shifted the tone so much from the first movie, it was like they were intentionally trying to make a bad joke), Island of the Alive sticks to the style of the first two movies very well. The film opens in a courtroom where they argue over the fate of one of the mutant babies (finally seen in full detail thanks to stop-motion animation). Without going into too much detail, the killer mutant babies are eventually quarantined on an island that is restricted to the public, hence the title. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a plot if they just stayed there forever and no one ever saw them again, so a few years later, they decide to send an expedition out to track down if the killer mutant babies are still alive on the island.
None of this (aside from perhaps the tense courtroom scene where the father has to “touch” the baby in the cage to “prove” it’s safe) plays out as horrifically and dark as it could from the way it sounds on paper. I think part of the problem is that that Island of the Alive was made a decade after the first two movies, and the late 80s setting simply gives the movie a different feel than its mid-1970s counterparts. (I have no idea why there was such a large gap in time between the filming of the second and third movies). Strangely, 70s cult horror star Karen Black shows up in this one as a disgruntled girlfriend of one of the characters, and I found her role unintentionally funny. Even Rob Zombie couldn’t seem to use Karen Black in a serious role. It’s Alive III just seems to lack the same quiet, creepy, dark vibe of the original movie, despite having the same writer/director.

The film does deserve kudos for an interesting script that eventually reveals that the mutant babies mature at age four and are able to reproduce, and communicate with each other through some type of sign language and/or telepathy. This results in some type of “Captain Phillips” type scenario where one of the characters is held hostage on a boat commanded by the mutant babies. The scene itself, however, was neither funny & campy nor terrifying and creepy, it was just sort of there, and make me shrug, “eh?”

The film provides a satisfying conclusion to its own events, but as part of a trilogy, it’s the weakest of the trio. Whether it’s worth watching is really up to you.

** out of ****

ReelReviews #106: It Lives Again (1978)

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MARCH 14, 2017 SCREENING: IT LIVES AGAIN (1978)

The film poster summarizes this entire two hour movie very easily: The killer mutant baby from “Its Alive” is back: only this time there are three of them.

Following the rule of sequels, the second film in the trilogy gives the audience what was best about the first movie, but ups the ante and delivers more action, thrills, and violence than its predecessor. In many cases, this type of lazy filmmaking (“give ‘em what they got before, multiplied 3X!) results in an inferior follow-up movie. Here, it actually works…although the film is still a step down from its immediate predecessor. Part of the reason “It Lives Again” works so well is that filmmaker Larry Cohen wisely got John P. Ryan back to reprise his role from the first film, but gave him something entirely different to do in the sequel. In “It Lives Again”, he’s there to warn the parents of other mutant babies what they are encountering in their life, and he’s changed course 180 degrees from the film movie, since now he is trying to PROTECT the mutant babies rather than destroy them.

The entire “hook” of the sequel having THREE killer mutant babies instead of just one little nasty monster is actually the most disappointing aspect of the film. This concept could have made for some very interesting scenarios, but it is not merely as fun as its sounds. For starters, evil mutant baby killer #1 and #2 get killed off about halfway through the movie, so the climax ends with a race-against-the-clock to stop just one killer baby, just like the first film. Secondly, the three evil mutant babies don’t even interact with each other or appear on screen in the same scenes, so what was the point of including them in the first place?

Aside from John P. Ryan (who – SPOILER ALERT—gets killed off in this movie, disappointing me since he was the best thing about the first two films) the only other character to return from the first film is the local police inspector, who looks strangely like a 1970s version of 1980s Donald Trump in both movies. The film eventually runs low on steam, but it has a solid “several months later” ending where the poor father in this film assumes John P. Ryan’s role from the start of the movie of visiting future parents pregnant with evil mutant babies, thus hinting that the cycle will continue…endlessly.

Overall, I liked the movie, but it falls slightly short of the first film. Still, given the fact that it’s a sequel to the type of movie that mainstream audiences and critics would immediately turn their noses up at, It Lives Again has something going for it. It’s worth checking out, especially if you liked the first one.

** 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)

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MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #101: Oscar Party! (The French Connection, It Happened One Night, Slumdog Millionaire, On The Waterfront)

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FEB  25, 2017 SCREENING: ‘BEST PICTURE’ OSCAR WINNERS

 

The last of my multiple-movies-in-one reviews (at least for a while) makes sense this time:  a day before the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, my friends and I had an “Oscar Party” at my home where we screened “Best Picture” winners from past years. I narrowed the list down to one film from each decade, and we made it thru four films that night:  The French Connection (1971 Best Picture winner), It Happened One Night (1934 Best Picture winner), Slumdog Millionaire (2008 Best Picture winner) and On The Waterfront (1954 Best Picture winner).

Were those films truly the “ Best Picture” made that year, or were they even good movies? In four capsule reviews, I give my two cents on these movies.

 

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

This was a decent film, but one thing my friends and I noticed right away was that the sound mixing on this film was terrible! There was little excuse for this, since we were watching a pristine restoration of the film on Blu-Ray, on a big television, in my basement. The sound should have an immersive experience. Instead, much of the dialogue was difficult to make out over the music score, and the film constantly alternated between being WAY TOO LOUD and way too quiet.  To our shock, this film was actually nominated for “Best” Sound Mixing (which it thankfully DID NOT win that year!) when it actually deserved a Worst Sound Mixing award.  Aside from this huge glaring flaw that the made the movie difficult to watch, the rest of the film was pretty good. It took me a while to get into the story, but Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (a classic Gene Hackman role) is a compelling character and the eeeeeeeeeeeevil French drug smugglers in this movie are a worthy adversary.  The French Connection was also the first R rated movie to win Best Picture (little noticed at the time since the even more taboo X rating had resulted in a Best Picture win two years earlier for Midnight Cowboy) and The French Connection lives up to its R rating: it’s definitely aimed at adults, and one the opening scenes of a man graphically being shot point blank in the face gives you an idea what you’re in for. The film had a number of scenes that are likely considered “classic” now, like the Subway chase scene, and a scene near the end where they strip a car apart piece by piece trying to find where drugs are hidden inside it. The conclusion of the film was a bit blunt and shocking but very unexpected and gutsy, living up to the film’s promise that it was “Based on a True Story”.  One problem that no fault of the film itself is that it came out the same year as Dirty Harry.  The French Connection may be the Oscar winner of 1971, but it simply cannot compete with Dirty Harry in terms of social impact and popular appeal with audiences. On the flip side, the G-rated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was another such iconic film released the same year, so there was no shortage of solid films in 1971.  The French Connection is definitely worth watching (and it grew on me as the film continued), but was it truly the “Best Picture” of 1971? That’s debatable.

*** out of ****

 

 

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

Ah, the comedy film, it don’t get no respect from the Academy Awards. Only about a dozen purely “comedic” movies have won Best Picture, and this is a rare example of one. In this case, it’s a romantic comedy/road trip movie.  Given the age of this film, we pretty much selected it because it was the only “comedy” option available in my pile of Blu-Ray movies, and we were worried the film’s humor would be very dated or corny and that the quality of the film would probably be muddy and difficult to watch. Boy, we were wrong.  It Happened One Night had all of us in stitches from start to finish, and holds up incredibly well for a film that is over 80 years old.  While Clark Gable and  Paulette Goddard definitely look the part of 1930s movie stars with the hairstyle and clothing, the witty rapport they have with each other holds up beautifully and the ensemble cast in this movie was great as well. More than any other Best Picture winner (especially when this film is unfairly compared to more recent winners),  It Happened One Night was certainly deserving of the honor of sweeping the Oscars in 1934, and making the history books as the first film to win all five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay), a feat that only two films have accomplished since then.  Other aspects of the film, like cinematography, art direction, and music, were also top notch and looked beautiful given the age of the film. When an all male audience is entertained from start to finish by a cheesy “romantic comedy”, you know you’ve struck gold. I highly recommend this film to anyone.

**** out of ****

 

 

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008)

Well, here’s one that got a mixed response: in a small crowd of three, two of us had a hard time trying to connect with this film, and the third person through it was really clever and engaging.  Unfortunately, I was not the third person who liked it. I can appreciate Slumdog Millionaire for numerous positive things it had: a creative format, a unique premise, a great music score, and a compelling story.  Sadly, I couldn’t appreciate it for anything else. The film seemingly give us a series of random disjointed scenes for much of the movie, until about an hour into the movie when we realized that all the flashbacks were relevant to whatever question the character was facing at the time.  Slumdog Millionaire, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding a few years before it, benefited from good word of mouth and being the “feel good movie of the year”. As for me, I found the overall film was waaaaaaaay too ugly, bleak, and depressing to be the “feel good movie of the year”, even though it had an “overcoming incredible odds” premise of a poor uneducated man from the slums of India winning everything on Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, and a “happy” ending.  Compared to the previous film, it also seems to have aged incredibly poorly for a “recent” movie, given that its less than a decade old but its hip and trendy game show that the movie is centered around is no longer in the public spotlight.  Slumdog Millionaire gets a good review from me because I truly appreciate all the work that went into it and what they were trying to do, but I can safely say I did not enjoy it and it is unlikely I will watch it again.  I do not believe it deserved “Best Picture” of 2008, but I’m at a loss to say what movie “should have” won the year, especially since the other four films nominated in 2008 were also seemingly undeserving of the top prize (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was my personal favorite from the “Best Picture” nominees that year, but I doubt it warranted a “Best Picture” Oscar). Slumdog Millionaire showed the slums, but it didn’t strike any gold for me.

** ½  out of ****

 

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)

Meh. I was really looking forward to this movie, having never seen one of Marlon Brando’s “early” roles when he was a young Hollywood heartthrob in the 50s.  I really wanted to like it. I couldn’t.  As the film continued on longer and longer, I just found myself looking at my watch waiting for it to end.  It has some good moments and a lot of landmark stuff to see, like Eve Marie Saint’s debut acting role opposite Marlon Brando (she’s cute in this movie and they have some chemistry, but you can tell it’s her first film).  Instead of focusing on the story, I found much of the time I was distracted by Marlon Brando’s eyes.  (He appears to have part of an eyebrow missing, and looks like he’s wearing mascara or eyeliner and appears strangely like a modern female drag queen “pretending” to be a macho male figure)  One character, a Catholic priest that is supposed to be the voice of “moral clarity” in the film, just conveniently pops up whenever he is needed to move the story along, and I thought he actor was miscast and not convincing as a Catholic priest. The very dark and serious story of a dock worker covering up for his boss’s ties to the mafia was problematic for me because the cold blooded mafia figures are given hammy 50s dialogue and sanitized to meet 1950s guidelines. This story would have more impact if someone like Martin Scorsese or Brian DePalma had made it in the late 70s or early 80s. About the darkest it gets is a scene where Brando bluntly tells another character “Go to hell!”and when he is brutally beaten towards the end of the film (the shot of him lying in a ditch seems to imply he’s dead, but he survived, and I thought that lessened the impact) It may have the iconic line of Brando saying he “coulda been a contender”, but this film is not an Oscar contender to me.

** out of ****

 

 

As for the “Best Picture” winners from other decades? I managed to screen all of those as well, just on different nights, so each will get its  own review. Stay tuned!

ReelReviews #100: Roots (2016 remake) The Complete Miniseries

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FEB  2017 SCREENING: ROOTS (2016 REMAKE)

 

For my final installment of the legendary Roots miniseries, I take a look at the brand spankin’ new remake, which aired last year on the History Channel. Alex Haley died in 1992, so this Haley-less remake was an attempt by modern television to “update” the historical saga for 21st century audiences. Did they succeed? Let’s take a look.

 

NIGHT 1

Unlike the original miniseries spanning 6-8 episodes (maybe even 9, depending on how you look at it), its 2016 counterpart tries to tell the same story in four roughly 95 minute episodes. Essentially, like this review, this means they tried to cover the same material in half the time. Did it work? Yes and no.  Night 1 basically combined Episode 1 and 2 of the original Roots, along with some Christmas themed ideas from Roots: The Gift thrown in for good measure.  The remake DOES seem far more historically accurate at first: unlike the 1977 miniseries, the African tribes have had trade deals with whites many times in the past and are very familiar with the slave trade, and profit from it.  The subplot from the original miniseries about the Christian man becoming captain of a slave ship and being emotionally conflicted is gone, but it’s not necessary here since the story is almost entirely from the Africans point of view this time, and Kunta Kinte barely sees white people for most of the episode and they come across as some strange alien presence. The (fictional) slave revolt was also done much better this time around. One of the biggest changes of the entire remake is that Forrest Whittaker is Fiddler instead of Lou Gossett Jr., and he portrays him as a very different character. A lot of character development in the original is lost here, and I didn’t care for Fiddler being killed off by evil slave owners rather than dying of old age like the original miniseries, as it seemed like a forced attempt to add more drama so Kunta would have a reason to escape. Not as compelling as the riveting “must see” cliffhangers of the original miniseries, but still, it was very well done and added enough new stuff to make it fresh.

*** out of ****

 

NIGHT 2

Thankfully, middle aged Kunta Kinte isn’t played by an actor who looks nothing at all like the previous one.  This miniseries actually does the opposite and does very little aging makeup, so it’s not convincing that the 20-something actor from the first episode is supposed to be middle aged in this one. Like the previous episode, this one essentially combines episode 3 and 4 of the original miniseries.  (For some bizarre reason, a subplot about a black character reaching the end of his rope and holding himself hostage in a barn with a gun was originally used in Roots: The Next Generation, but ends up recycled in this episode that takes place over a century earlier) Kizzy’s white friend from the original miniseries was more ditzy and fun to watch the first time around, but the remake gives us some additional background about their friendship as children, so seeing them as BFF’s as adults works better in this version.  Due to the brisk pace, however, the subplot about Kizzy visiting her parents plantation years later to find out her father is dead was omitted from this one, and that subtraction cut out some emotional gravitas the original miniseries had.  Kizzy being introduced to her new master and being raped and impregnated by the white slave owner is done much more brutally here (though the character was much more of a obnoxious sleazy drunk in 1977. Here, he’s just an arrogant power-hungry jerk), and it ends with her being forced to give birth to his baby. Roots the remake is even more violent and bleak than its predecessor, but accomplishes much of the same goals.

*** out of ****

 

 

NIGHT 3

Combining Chicken George’s entire chicken fighting saga into a single episode worked the best of the remake episodes, and it was far more awkward the first time around when it was spliced into different episodes in order to end on a cliffhanger. As with episode 2, we also get some background material on Chicken George as a child – something the original miniseries lacked.  Likewise, the casting is better here too – the adult Chicken George looks a bit like Trevor Noah, and seeing how Trevor Noah is half white, this casting was believable as a mixed race character in the way the original miniseries lacked. Still, for all the stuff this episode has going for it, it seems to lack a lot of the fun and compelling nature of the original miniseries, and goes through much of the same material without putting a new spin on it like the first two episodes accomplished.  I actually “felt” for the slave master’s desperation more at the end of this episode when he loses everything he owns and is forced to give George to British slave-owners to pay back his debt, even though Master Tom Lea is a thoroughly reprehensible person and the audience should be delighted to see this evil bastard financially ruined.  Like episode 2, George’s anguish at being taken away is much more intense than the original miniseries. Still, it never quite worked for me.

** ½  out of ****

 

NIGHT 4

Unlike the original miniseries, the remake promised to show what happened to George during his 20 years in England, and I found it to be somewhat anti-climatic. I also realized a plot hole that escaped me the first time around: if this story is historically accurate, and in real life England abolished slavery in the 1830s, how the heck is George a slave in England until the 1850s?  Like the original miniseries, he does eventually buy his own freedom and come back to the United States just in time for the civil war.  This episode two really good things going for it: the civil war battle scenes are much more realistic and epic in scope than the original, and it adds a very compelling and heartbreaking subplot a about a white abolitionist (played by Anna Paquin) who goes undercover as a southerner to leak information, and is discovered and hung.  Thankfully, it also lacks the abrupt “trick everyone in town to think we’re still working on the plantation and then triumphantly get away and live happily ever after” storybook ending of the original miniseries. Here, the abolition of slavery is handled much more down to earth, and it wraps up nicely with a conclusion about what happened to Alex Haley’s family until his birth in 1921. Still, I felt a remake of Roots: The Next Generation was in order. Most remakes incorporate material from the sequels to the original story in order to provide a deeper understanding of the original story. Here, we get a lot extra material that wasn’t in the original story, but additional details from the entire original saga are lost and their absence often simplifies the story too much.

** ½  out of ****

 

Overall, both the original 1977 series and its 2016 remake are worth checking out, and both have different strengths and weaknesses.  In many ways, the remake is superior. Still, the original had a dramatic effect on television history that is remake simply can’t come close to, and most importantly, the original Roots and its sequel series feel complete and mammoth in scope. The remake does not.

 

ReelReviews #99: Roots: The Next Generations (1978), Episodes 4-7

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FEB. 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS: TNG (1978)  Parts 4-7

 

Gosh, what happened to my episode by episode blogs on the Roots miniseries?

 

Unfortunately, this was a February project, and seeing as we’re now into March 2077, I feel behind on my blogging. I still want to continue to provide an overview on the series, so all the remaining episodes of Roots: The Next Generation will get a capsule review here, as will be the case for all the episodes of the 2016 remake of Roots. So without further ado, here is my take on the remainder of Roots:

 

PART 4  (1932-1934)

The fourth episode of the miniseries takes place during the Great Depression and finally introduces us to the author of the story: Alex Haley, who is about 10 years old during the events of this episode.  Episode 4 was much ado about nothing:  there’s very little plot in this installment, but it’s still a compelling story because it shows how the Haley family survived during the worst time of economic plight in America. One particularly good part was Simon Haley’s experiences with a black farmer who is quite willing to discuss farming techniques with him – except when the white owner of the farmer is around. The episode also contained a heartbreaking shock for me when Alex Haley’s mother Bertha reveals that she’s been having internal bleeding and ends up dying a rare illness when Alex is still a young boy. Perhaps more than anything else in the entire Roots saga, this tragic event is lifted directly from real life rather than Alex Haley’s attempts to reconstruct the past from folklore, and the sudden passing of his mother does help explain Haley’s interest in trying to preserve his family’s past history before it is lost in the mist of time.  A quiet episode, but a solid one.

** ½  out of ****

 

PART 5  (1939-1945)

Part 5 was one of my favorite portions of the entire miniseries, as it revolves around Alex Haley as a 17 year old trying to find his way in the world and blaze a path different than his father. Simon Haley has high expectations of him and hopes he will become president of a “negro university” one day, while Alex discovers he would rather be a writer. Much of this coming of age story is set during World War II, where Alex ends up enlisting in the Navy (again, different from his father, who was an army vet during World War I) and puts his writing talent to good use when an older officer sees the love letters he’s written back home and is willing to pay him to write romantic letters for him. This soon become a job for him as all the men aboard the ship learn about it and want similar “services” from  Alex. A lot of events happen over the course this of this episode, which is both a fun and necessary part of the saga.

***  out of ****

 

PART 6 (1946-1950)

Part 6 is the closest The Next Generation comes to a “delete scene” type of episode that is reminiscent of the superfluous Roots: The Gift in the original miniseries. This episode deals with Alex’s struggle to become a professional writer during peacetime, and it also shows how he encounters racism first hand for the first time in his life when every hotel in a white town has “no vacancies” for the night even though there are plenty of rooms and he is dressed in his full dress naval uniform. In the end, Alex finds his way to prevail as a professional writer after years of struggle, but at the expense of his marriage. Roots: TNG did deal with this character weakness of Alex Haley in an honest manner, seeing as the real Alex Haley went through three failed marriages and all the episodes of the miniseries depict him as too focused on his work to see that his home life was falling apart. A good episode, but an unnecessary one.

** ½  out of ****

 

 

PART 7 (1960-1967)

At last, after 7 episodes of the original Roots and 7 episodes of The Next Generation, this 200 year journey through Alex Haley’s family history draws to a close. The final episode is a solid one. Unlike some of the earlier casting, the three actors who portrayed Haley (ending with James Earl Jones as a middle aged Haley in this one) were believable as the same character, and this episode essentially does a biopic of the Alex Haley the audience knows, showing his writing career interviewing controversial figures like Malcolm X and George Lincoln Rockwell (Haley’s wife notes in the episode that they are “two sides of the same coin – both preach racial hatred and separatism, and Haley agrees to a point but says Malcolm X’s anger has a reason behind it.  The episode also has a frank depiction of Simon Haley being uncomfortable with his son ghostwriting Malcolm X’s autobiography, since Simon is a devout Christian and Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam preaches an anti-Christian message, but eventually Simon reads the book for himself to see the talent of his son’s words.  The conclusion of the episode where Alex Haley “discovers” his ancestor Kunta Kinte by traveling to Africa was very convincing aside from the fact that today’s public is aware that Haley never met an African “griot” that had the tribal history of the Kinte family. In any case, it serves the plot device well, and the final moments of the episode showing flashbacks of both the original miniseries and next generation miniseries characters tied everything together nicely. It ended abruptly, but had reached the point it needed to.

***   out of ****

 

ReelReviews #98: Logan (2017)

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MARCH 3, 2017 SCREENING: LOGAN (2017)

 

In one word: Wow.

 

Logan, the latest (and supposedly “final”) film to star Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, was a fantastic experience to watch. To avoid the problem of being blinded by the euphoria of just seeing the film, I made to sure to blog my experiences two days after sitting down to watch it at the theater.  Also, to avoid over hyping the movie and making it out to be some kind of flawless masterpiece, I’d like to start off my review by listing some of the things I didn’t like about the movie:

 

It’s no spoiler to say this film shows us a very bleak and pessimistic future that seems to outright ignore (or at best) cancel out the “happy” ending of one of the best films in series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Buying the world of Logan was a stretch, especially since it apparently takes place a mere six years after Logan “fixed” the future in DOFP and the story ended with all the X-Men reunited and back working at Xavier’s school.  Logan is a “dark and gritty” R rated experience, and the script pretty much is written to pretty much drive home that point by showing extreme violence and having Professor X swear up a sh!tstorm, rather than end up being R rated because of the organic nature of the story resulted in more adult content. Indeed, Professor X himself seemed out of character for much of the movie, and that’s even after taking into account that the character is supposed to be ill and senile for much of the film and the fact that we learned he went through an ugly time in the 70s during DOFP. Here, some of Xavier’s conversations made him seem more like a crude, obnoxious whiny drunk that Wolverine picked up off the street, rather than a distinguished, extremely intelligent, retired professor. Last but not least, for a final film, there was a strange lack of surprise appearances of characters from previous film, including the hoped for reunion between Wolverine and Sabertooth (I hope that doesn’t spoil things for two much). Such an inclusion would have taken things full circle and been great closure for the fans. Alas, it didn’t happen and it was a disappointment.

 

So aside from my laundry list of complaints listed above, what did Logan do RIGHT? To be honest, pretty much everything else. Logan combines a compelling story, emotional weight, action-adventure, drastic stakes, black humor, and family bonding almost effortlessly. It’s a superhero movie, a road trip movie, a twisted coming-of-age story, and a heart-wrenching yet creepy sci-fi cover story all wrapped into one.  The critically panned X-Men: Apocalypse (which I liked and defended, and still think it was decent) suffered from one major flaw in my opinion: It played it too safe and gave us a “typical” X-Men movie with nothing new or interesting aside from  Apocalypse itself.  In many ways, Logan is its spiritual opposite: It gives us familiar characters and back story we’ve known for decades, but gives a totally new spin and direction to them. Although Logan is technically a “spinoff” of the mainstream X-Men universe, it has far more gravitas than many of the “major” X-Men movies and will stay with you long after you’ve seen the movie.

 

One the coolest new elements to this film is newcomer child actress Dafne Keen, playing Wolverine’s “daughter” Laura. The character has the same brutal powers (including metal claws) and uncontrollable animalistic nature as Wolverine, and Keen does an amazing performance to convey that both in her physical action scenes as well as her character moments. The actress is only 11 and had to do much of the film with no dialogue (since her character in the film doesn’t speak English) and she is able to convey a ton through just expressions and body language. The first action sequence with Keen was also a standout moment that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet.

 

Aside from Keen, the rest of the supporting cast was very intriguing as well, both in the way the script wrote the roles and what the actors brought to those parts. Since I am not familiar with the comic book back-story of any of the new characters in this movie, it added an additional layer for me in a way that X-Men storylines like the Dark Phoenix saga and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn’t’ when they were translated to the big screen. I’m now very curious to read some of the source material used to write the plot and characters of this film.

 

If this does turn out to be Jackman’s final appearance as Wolverine, we can at least say he went out with a bang rather than a whimper.  I will not made grandiose claims that Logan is the greatest superhero film of all time or even that it is the greatest X-Men film of all time, but I will say it is BY FAR the best of the three Wolverine solo movies, and that’s coming from someone who liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine and thinks the film got too much hate. The previous two Wolverine solo movies can’t hold a candle to this one, which is a definitive moment in Hugh Jackman’s character. Although this film was clearly intended to be his “last” appearance as the character and there’s nothing in the movie to “hint” otherwise (and I actually think the filmmakers sincerely intended this film to be his swan song) I have a feeling he’ll be back someday, in one way or another.  Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is just too iconic to let go.

 

 

*** ½  out of ****