Logan (2017): His Time Has Come

Posted: March 7, 2017 in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Years after the near extinction of mutant kind, Logan has gone into seclusion except for a part-time job driving a limo service. He is approached by a woman but continually tries to avoid her. Eventually, she corners him and offers to pay him the money he has been searching for to take her and a young girl to Canada. While taking time to think about it, he returns to the woman to find that the motel room has been raided and the girl is nowhere to be found. Though he believes that he has dodged the job, he is followed back to his hideout and trouble join him.

The Beginning of the End: The story in this X-Men film took a dark turn from the start. With most of the mutants gone, it initially appeared that only Logan and Xavier remained. Both men were in dire straits and extremely poor condition. While Xavier seemed to be struggling with a combination of mental illness and his psychic abilities, Logan’s healing factor had significantly slowed and his motivation to live had all but died. The chaos that erupted from meeting Gabriela and Laura interrupted his self-destruction, but it also set him on a dangerous path against odds that no longer fell in his favor.

Loss of Innocence: This film was the first time that Marvel/Fox ventured into the rated-R realm with a well-established character. Deadpool started at rated-R and was billed to be a very different sort of superhero film. Wolverine, on the other hand,  has had some mixed adventures, including some bad one-liners and rocky storylines. This venture felt more like DC’s decision to go dark with the Dark Knight trilogy after having a very different experience compared with the 90s films. The combination of language, violence, gore, and heavy, emotional themes has helped Marvel turn a corner into an area not explored until now.

Days of Future Past: While this may have been the final film for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the the success may also pull both actors back into the fold for future stories. Now that we have seen the end of the X-Men, there exists plenty of story to fill in the gaps of how the mutants disappeared and what events led to the deterioration of Professor X. If the story were to push toward the future, there is opportunity to build off the ending from Logan.

Final Verdict: While Wolverine has had multiple outings with different storylines, this was the best film in the series. The characters had depth. Dafne Keen was a complicated and compelling young actress. Hugh Jackman gave the best start to finish performance of his career and introduced a whole new version of superhero films.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5


Chris and Rose are a young couple heading to the countryside to spend a weekend with Rose’s parents. Along the way, their car is struck by a deer and creating an awkward encounter with the local police. After getting to the house, Rose’s father appears open and a little too comfortable with Chris’s race. Rose’s family clearly lives a life of leisure, but it strikes him that the groundskeeper and the housekeeper are both black. He also gets surprised by the planned garden party the day after their arrival and starts to notice something significantly wrong with his situation.

Definitely Not Post-Racial: Starting in the first scene at the apartment, there was a sense that the mixed race relationship was going to be a theme of the film. Though it was a brief setup, the scene with the officer dove just a bit deeper into the conversation. While Chris chose to not pick a fight and just follow orders, Rose took it upon herself to push the officer near a breaking point. They both got to walk away with a warning about fixing the headlight, but the result could have been different if he had spoken up. This theme continued when they got to the house with the appropriation of black culture and questioning of Chris’s natural qualities.

More of a Thriller than a Horror Film: While this can easily be classified as a horror movie, there was more mystery and suspense rather than gore and jump scares. The care staff had creepy elements to them and there were a few moments with strategic sound effects or eerie music, but I spent more time trying to figure out what the twist about the Armitage family actually was and why the flash from a camera would cause a person to break like Andrew King.

Surprising Acting and Storytelling: While there is a tendency for horror films to be either one-dimensional or focused specifically on the twist, this one dabbled in discussions of race and privilege while blending those themes into the more classic horror/thriller elements. The lighting kept things dark and ominous at times, but Chris broke most horror tropes reserved for black characters and found a way to see through the smoke and mirrors and fight back at the right moments.

Final Verdict: Get Out is one of the best horror films in years. It has a small bit of the comedy from other films like The Cabin in the Woods with some much more depth and intensity than the rest of the crowd. Plus, Rod the TSA stole every scene he was in.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Rouge One (2016): A Star Wars Story

Posted: February 27, 2017 in Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

With the Empire in development of a great weapon, a band of rebels wondered if there was a chance of survival against the increasing impossible threat. When the Rebel Alliance discovered Jyn Erso in captivity, they get her released in an effort to see if they could uncover the secrets of the weapon partially created by her father. She reluctantly agreed to help the Rebellion, if only to get her freedom and get away from the conflict. As they continued to pursue the Death Star plans, Jyn’s desire to see the mission through and avenge her father drove her to lead a group into the fray.

The Start of a New Hope: While this may have been a story to provide context for the start of A New Hope, it stood on its own as part of the struggle against the Empire and in the battle of the light and dark sides. Jyn Erso did not choose to be part of the Rebellion, but she served as the catalyst for how the Rebels found their opportunity to battle back the darkness that was spreading throughout the galaxy. If the films had been produced in the order of the actual story, it would have fit directly into the storyline.

The Increasing Strength of Heroines: While it has been an increasing trend in films over the past decade, sci-fi has taken a lead in creating roles for women to serve in position of strength and complexity. For Felicity Jones, her performance was one of great leadership and power. It reminded me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, as a woman seeking a sense of purpose and empowering those around her to act for the greater good.

Knowing but Still Surprising: While the end result of the film was already known, the story was still full of surprises and excitement. Most of the characters were new to those who have only seen the films and the locations were as imaginative and expansive as the main trilogies. Considering that A New Hope gave away the fact that the mission was both a success and a tragedy for the lost lives, the action on Scarif remained a gripping moment in the epic struggle.

Final Verdict: This standalone feature may be part of the epic Star Wars story but also an achievement in branching out. The magic of Star Wars is something everyone can appreciate and the Rebels came out fighting.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

As a young child, Kubo was under the protection of his mother from evil spirits. She gave her life to save him and he was left to fend for himself. He ran for his life but found himself stranded in a frozen tundra. Meeting up with a monkey and a beetle warrior, he began his search for ancient relics. While searching for the relics, they were attacked by enormous creatures and magical beasts. The magical relics make up an armor, which serves as the only protection against the havoc created by the evil gods.

Epic Love: While Kubo proved to be a great hero himself, it was the love and support of his parents that supported his ability to do so. As a young child, his parents guarded him against the evil gods, with his father giving his life while his mother was left drained of her strength. Kubo’s ability to support his mother in the cave helped him build the strength to go on the great journey. Monkey and Beetle had a deep connection with Kubo, which supported his ability to press on and challenge the gods.

Dealing with Loss: Not since Disney’s Up has an animated film tackled loss the way this one did. Rather than a couple going through life together but parting before reaching the end, a young boy has to grow up in a world where he loses both parents at a young age. His father fell out of the picture before they even got to truly know each other, while his mother struggled to protect her son from evil. While they seemingly left him too early, their spirits lived on and supported his rise as a hero.

Amazing Animation: While digital technology certainly helped to fill in the environments, animatronics and stop-motion animation brought the story to life. It takes dedication to create a film with stop-motion in an age where computer technology can animate at a quicker speed. It gave the film a grittiness that exemplified the raw emotion of its characters and the imagination of the production team.

Final Verdict: Kubo and the Two Strings was an animated feature that was missed by a number of movie-goers even though it was fantastic. The creative and imaginative story was different than most and deserves another look if you missed it the first time around.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Troy Maxson was a sanitation worker who was seeking opportunity to move up in the world. While living a simple life, he had a specific vision for his relationship with his wife, Rose, and his son, Cory. He had dreamed bigger, but was kept down due to the slow progress of desegregation in professional athletics. His love for Rose was something that sustained him, but he struggled with alcoholism and desiring for something a little more. His wandering eye left him stranded with an affair that threatened to tear apart his family.

Conflict of Interest: Troy’s character was a complicated one. While he had once dreamed of being a ballplayer, he was held back because of his age. Though his son had natural abilities and had a recruiter interested in pursuing his potential, Troy felt a loss of control and wanted nothing to do with his son getting his hopes dashed. He felt like keeping his son within his purview while he pressed on to get a promotion within his career.

Rough Around the Edges: Troy’s personality was not an easy one to fully accept. He was at constant odds with his son, preventing him from seeking his dream of playing professional ball. He took forever to complete the fence in the backyard because he could barely tear himself away from chatting up his best friend or going out for a drink. He even had the devotion of his wife in the face of infidelity and a child not her own. She accepted his flaws and tried to help their son understand them.

Intensity as Art: If anything, the takeaway from this film could simply be that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are phenomenal actors. Viola mixes a sense of love, devotion, strength, and compassion. When Troy pushes Rose to the limit, Viola’s presence helped to encapsulate the enduring power of women. For Denzel, he was able to be a compelling villain to his son and completely human in error.

Final Verdict: This play-on-screen was deeply moving and authentically human. The acting was astonishing and the simple story was actually anything but. It may be a bit dry for some, but there was complexity in the challenges of family dynamics.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

NASA was in a race with the Soviets to put a man in space, and three black women, known as human computers, are tapped to help push the space program forward. Getting called to determine the mathematics of launch and landing, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were just three of the women involved in the efforts. Not only did they contribute to the development of the math and technology, but they also helped push the boundaries of how NASA approached diversity of identity and diversity of thought.

Looking Beyond Color: One of the significant challenges represented in this film was the way colleagues at NASA were blinded by the physical differences regardless of the intelligence being presented to them. Katherine was called upon to serve in a mathematics role, but had to compete with the bigoted nature of her colleagues and the restrictive policies that undermined her ability to be recognized for her work. Dorothy Vaughan felt held back by the potential of technology taking away her job, but she adapted and forced others to recognize her value.

Persistence: One of the most entertaining moments in the film was one with the most levity while also holding real significance. Katherine struggled with the fact that her building lacked a colored bathroom, forcing her to run across the campus in order to relieve herself. Between the music and visual, it was lighthearted and funny, but it also represented a lack of respect for employees working toward the same goals. Eventually, Al Harrison broke down that barrier when he realized that it was preventing Katherine from being able to keep up with her colleagues, even though she was pushing herself harder than the rest.

Real-Life Heroes: One of the best elements of the film was actually as the credits began. With many true stories, the narratives of the represented heroes were described for the viewers. The women continued their careers beyond this film and were even awarded commendations for their efforts. Specifically, President Obama recognized Katherine in 2015 and the research center where she worked was retitled with her name.

Final Verdict: While stories of adversity are typically much more dramatic and heavy, Hidden Figures shows its emotion while also engaging in a bit of levity. The actress trio were fantastic and helped to bring life to some previous unknown heroes.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Lion (2016): A Life Lost and Found

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Drama

Saroo was a child who was brave and had the heart of a hero. Living in a small village India, he wanted nothing more than to stay with his brother and support his family. Going off to work in the fields, he got separated and ended up lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles away. An orphanage picked him up and sent him to a family in Australia for adoption. While he grew up and had opportunities unheard of for people from his village, his success was only paralleled by the growing anxiety over a family left behind. He came to desire seeking out his mother and the brother he believed was still searching for him.

The Lost Child: Saroo’s strength was what helped him survive in the streets of Calcutta, but it had to be a truly scary experience to be thousands of miles away but have no sense of where he was. The resilience and survival skills of the young boy were truly exhilarating. He had to determine who he could trust and with whom he needed to be guarded. While taken in by the orphanage, his adoption could have potentially saved his life and given him a chance to build a future.

Living Far from Home: Being adopted by the Australian couple was something truly beneficial for building a future. He grew up with resources and opportunities that would not have been available had he remained in Calcutta. While he made it to being an adult before the curiosity truly hit him, he was struck by feeling like his past was missing and eating away inside of him. The exhaustive search had him feel separated from his adoptive family and from his girlfriend. Finally finding home through Google Earth, he had a chance to reconnect with his lost family.

Defining Family: While his birth family would always be his true, original family, his Australian parents became his second family. They loved him from the day they met him and treated him like their own natural son. Even when he got the chance to reconnect with his birth mother, he felt compelled to have both mothers meet. He also struggled with his desire to reconnect with his brother but felt a sense of care for his adoptive brother, even with his emotional challenges.

Final Verdict: While the storytelling was a bit imbalanced at times, Dev Patel’s performance was strong and the story was deeply moving. The surprise at the end with Saroo’s name adds to the joy experienced in the fateful reunion.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5