Monday, March 6, 2017
As I've stated before, I am a sucker for a good time travel story. There is just something about the idea of time travel, as well as the narrative possibilities of it that appeals to me. One of my favorites of the genre was Nicholas Meyer's inventive Time After Time, which has recently been remade as a T.V series (one of six series this year focusing on time travel!). I'm struggling to see how the film with such a self contained storyline can be stretched to a television series. So, before giving the series a try, I decided to take a look back at the film that inspired it.
In 1893 London, Jack the Ripper has made a sudden return to the scene, offing another prostitute in a dark alley. Not too far away, H.G Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) is hosting a dinner party for some friends and is awaiting the arrival one last guest, physician John Stevenson (played by David Warner) before making an exciting announcement. Once he does, H.G reveals that he has invented a time machine that he proceeds to show his astonished and disbelieving friends, including a unique failsafe key that if the machine is operated without it, the machine will automatically return to it's place of origin. After the presentation, there is a knock at the door with the police searching for Stevenson, who they have identified as Jack the Ripper. The police quickly search the house, but find no trace of Stevenson and leave, believing he has escaped. Soon, H.G makes the horrifying discovery that Stevenson did indeed escape...in Wells' Time Machine. Since it was operated without the key, the machine soon returns to H.G's laboratory. Gathering up all the valuables he can find in the house, he follows Stevenson in time, forward to 1979. Much to his surprise, he lands not in London but in San Francisco. Furthermore, he is shocked at how the future has turned out, seeing it less of the utopia he imagined and more of a chaotic world of automobiles, crime, violence and world war. Reasoning that Stevenson would need to change his British money to American currency, Wells begins visiting area banks to ask about Stevenson, hoping to find a clue to finding him. He finds a lead from bank employee Amy Robbins (played by Mary Steenburgen), who in the process becomes an ally in Wells' pursuit of a deadly killer unleashed on San Francisco.
Nicholas Meyer wrote the film based on a story by Karl Alexander as well as directed the film. The central concept of the film is actually quite clever. Usually, time travel stories start in the present and then have the traveler going to either the future or the past, but here instead finds a unique perspective of having someone from the past traveling to our present. This allows Meyers to give a unique ability to examine how our culture has grown and changed over the past 86 years. It also allows for some unique character moments, such as H.G's disappointment that the future is not the utopia he envisioned but rather a world more suited to the violent Stevenson (Stevenson admits as much, saying that in 1893 he was a freak, in 1979 he's an ameteur, after seeing the worldwide destruction various wars have caused). And yet, for a film focusing on the pursuit of Jack the Ripper, there is a certain light hearted sense of humor to the film as H.G contends with the baffling new world he has landed in. There is also a sweetness to the burgeoning romance between H.G and Amy as well that helps offset the more suspenseful parts of the film as well.
The performances from the three main actors are quite good as well. I really enjoy Malcolm McDowell in this film. He got typecast playing villains after A Clockwork Orange and it's so refreshing to see him playing a good guy, in particular a good guy who is non-violent and does the best he can to avoid violence at all costs over the majority of the film. The film also gives McDowell a nice arc to work with as throughout the film he refuses to resort to violence to capture Stevenson. Amy even asks him point blank if they should get a gun and he refuses. But as the film goes on and the circumstances escalate it becomes clear to H.G that the only way to stop Stevenson and protect Amy is to kill him. David Warner makes for an effective villain as well and is more than just a mindless slasher. He genuinely believes that he belongs in the future, that it is his time. At the same time, he still views H.G as a friend and doesn't want to hurt him if he doesn't have to. Still, he does give in to his compulsion to kill others, which he does throughout the film (although for a movie with Jack the Ripper in it, it is not particularly violent). And then there was Mary Steenburgen. She does well in the film as H.G's love interest and partner in his pursuit of Stevenson. She fills the role with a certain spunky charm, along with some decent chemistry with Malcolm McDowell. I also have to mention that this film has an interesting parallel with the Back to the Future trilogy, especially Part III, which Steenburgen also starred in and in that one plays the opposite of her character in this. In this one, she's a 20th Century woman falling for a 19th Century time traveler and in the other film she's a 19th Century woman falling for a 20th Century time traveler. It makes a fun little connection between the films (also, this film shares a connection with the original Back to the Future. In both films, the date they travel to is November 5th, although the years are different, obviously).
Time After Time remains a fun little sci-fi adventure film. Sure, the special effects may be a bit dated today, but I don't feel they detract from the film very much. The central story remains as exciting and charming as ever. I do find it curious that they chose to adapt it into a T.V series now some 28 years after it first came out. I struggle to see how they can create a compelling and long running series from a film with such a satisfying and self contained storyline. Regardless, the movie is well worth checking out.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
Ever since the first X-Men movie hit theatres in the summer of 2000, I have been a fan of Wolverine as well as Hugh Jackman himself. Over the course of the next seventeen years, I followed his cinematic exploits from both the good (X2, Days of Future Past, The Wolverine, that awesome cameo in First Class) to the less than great (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Now, it comes time to bid farewell as Hugh Jackman gives the beloved Wolverine, his real name is Logan, one last ride and this one's a doozy.
Set many years in the not so distant future, Logan (played by Hugh Jackman) is living a quiet life making ends meet driving a limo and living in a secluded area close to the Mexico border. He's grown older and his regenerative abilities are starting to fade. He needs eyeglasses to read and is starting to slow down. Living with him is a now 90 year old Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart), who has become prone to seizures that are not only a threat to him but, thanks to his incredible mental powers, a threat to those in the immediate vicinity and as a result is kept heavily medicated. Helping him take care of Charles is another mutant named Caliban (played by Stephen Merchant), who has the ability to sense and track other mutants. One day, Logan is approached a woman named Gabriela (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez), who asks Logan to take her and the young girl she is with, Laura (played by Dafne Keen) to North Dakota, where she says there is a refuge for Mutants called Eden. He initially refuses, but once he discovers that Charles has been communicating with Laura, as well as witnesses Laura's abilities that are shockingly similar to his own, he agrees to take them, along with Charles. Hot on their trail are Donald Pierce (played by Boyd Holbrook) and Zander Rice (played by Richard E. Grant), who experiment on and clone children based on Mutant genes, which is where Laura came from. It's going to take everything Logan has left to try and keep Laura out of their clutches.
Taking inspiration from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's seminal series of comics "Old Man Logan", director James Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green mange to create a fitting final chapter in the X-Men series for two of the most popular characters, Wolverine and Charles Xavier. There is a nice sense of things coming full circle for the two characters that made me really glad I re-watched all the previous X-Men films prior to this one (Yes, even X-Men Origins). In the original film, Charles begins to help an amnesiac Logan try to recover his lost memories and in this film things have come full circle with Logan looking after Charles and trying to help him the best he can. The film is a dark and gritty film that most certainly earns it's R rating (and is also most assuredly not for kids). We also get to see perhaps the truest berserk attack from Wolverine, something we've seen in the series before, notably in both X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse, but now without the burden of PG-13, they are able to show it in all it's gruesome intensity. The film also ups the stakes considerably as Logan has grown weaker over the years and become considerably more mortal, making the threat that Donald and Zander (along with all their goons) pose all the more foreboding. Yet, at the same time James Mangold gives the film room to breathe and let the smaller, more character driven moments really develop which in turn strengthens the film.
For his final outing in the role (and he has sworn up and down this is his last time playing Logan), Hugh Jackman gives the role his all. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor guy, seeing him as a broken down man hiding from society. It really is a touching performance from Jackman as he gives the Wolverine one last heroic outing doing whatever it takes to get this one girl, and later the kids like her (in a section of the film that reminded me more than a little of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) to safety. Likewise, Patrick Stewart gave a great turn as an older, stubborn Charles Xavier who has to convince Logan that they still have it in them to help one more mutant child, to one more time find some purpose in their lives. It's an equally touching performance and yet hard to see Charles in such a state, a great mind that is also betraying him. It's not hard to see how both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have stated they are retiring from their roles. Might as well stop while you're on top. I also have to mention Stephen Merchant as Caliban as the role is a pretty significant departure for the actor, mainly known for his comedic roles (and I will probably always remember him best as Ricky Gervais' clueless agent on Extras). It's a wonderful and sympathetic performance.
Overall, Logan is without question the best of the standalone Wolverine films and easily one of the best X-Men movies period. It also shows that there is a place for thoughtful and well-made comic book films made for an adult audience. It's dark, gritty and intense but also explores deeper into it's central character than before with a sense of maturity and honesty that hasn't been seen in this genre before. It's a refreshing change of pace and will be curious to see what, if any, future films follow this one's lead. As a send off for the Wolverine, it's pretty much perfect for me.
When I first heard that Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, was writing and directing a horror movie I was immediately intrigued. Comedy and Horror have an interesting symbiosis. After a jump scare in a horror movie, the audience will usually laugh. Then there are comedic actors and directors who have crossed over into horror with interesting and frequently disturbing results, whether it's Robin Williams' frightening turns in Insomnia and One Hour Photo or Kevin Smith writing and directing the horror films Red State and Tusk, it may not always be completely successful, but it sure is interesting.
Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) is traveling with his girlfriend Rose (played by Allison Williams) to visit her folks at their house in upstate New York. Chris is concerned about the trip because Rose never told her parents, Dean (played by Bradley Whitford and Missy (played by Catherine Keener) Chris was Black, but she isn't worried as her parents are very open minded ("My dad would've voted for Obama for a third term," she says as an example.) and she doesn't think he should worry. Upon arrival at their picturesque and secluded home, it certainly seems nice, but something is a bit off at the same time. They have two staff members helping around the house, cook Georgina (played by Betty Gabriel) and gardner Walter (played by Marcus Henderson), both of whom are not only Black but there also seems to be something a bit off about them. It's revealed that Missy is a therapist specializing in hypnotism and offers to help Chris with his smoking habit, which he is trying to quit. He politely declines, but that is just another red flag for Chris as he tries to figure out exactly what is going on, with some help via phone to his friend Rod (played by LilRel Howrey).
To say more about the plot of Get Out would risk spoiling things and that would be a shame. Part of the fun of the film is the plot unfolding as Chris unravels the sinister secrets of his girlfriend's parents and their friends. While the film is at times very funny, Jordan Peele has crafted a genuinely scary movie as well (forever more someone stirring a cup of tea will be incredibly unnerving). Balancing humor and scares can be a tricky act, but yet Peele manages to pull it off nicely. While also being a legitimate scary movie, he also tackles the issues surrounding race between Blacks and Whites, specifically the liberal upper class whites he referred to as the "West Wing liberals," which is funny because Bradley Whitford starred in both. He shows, through the extremes of a horror film, that the East Coast liberal elites that although they mean well, their ignorance and hubris can make things just as hard and awkward for the Black Community. It's a clever stroke to craft his villains by swinging the pendulum far away from the typical neo-nazi, racist "Alt-Right" folks and instead focus on those that love black culture and the celebrities that they feel represent it all the while not really associating with any actual Black people or any real interaction with the community they admire. He faces these themes head on and bring them to the forefront leading up to a climax that may rankle and bother some viewers but that Peele and his cast manage to pull off wonderfully.
The cast also turns in some great performances. Daniel Kaluuya was great in the lead role as Chris, turning in a great everyman performance as someone very clearly out of their element already discovering something sinister is going on. I also really liked Allison Williams as Rose. I can't really elaborate but there is a moment late in the movie that had me busting out laughing. You'll know it when you see it. But she also tackles the loving girlfriend trying to calm her boyfriend's nerves while also trying to help. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are great as the parents. Whitford does a great balancing act as portraying someone who is warm and welcoming but yet as the film goes on seems more and more sinister. It's also great to see Catherine Keener in a film again, doing a great turn as Missy, who like Whitford is great at being warm and concerned and then turning around and being incredibly creepy. The film's MVP though is LilRel Howrey as Chris's friend Rod, who works as a TSA agent and clearly takes his job way more seriously that just about any TSA agent I have encountered yet. As the film's main comic relief, he is a hoot as he tries desperately to get help for Chris.
Get Out functions both as a satisfying horror thriller and also as a deeper examination of race relations in the country within the confines of genre film. It's a bold film filled with both genuine scares and some genuine laughs making for a great mix that helps the heavier themes of the film work more smoothly. I genuinely look forward to seeing what Jordan Peele makes next.