Review: Logan (cinema)

 

This one’s a little spoilery, so heads-up if you’ve not seen Logan yet.

This review probably needs prefacing with a description of my experience of the X Men franchise so far. First confession: I’ve not read a single X Men comic. The constant retconning and rewriting and rebooting of superhero comics sounds exhausting to me. So, for the movies, it’s easiest to say that the ones I’ve not seen are: X3, The Wolverine and X Men Apocalypse. I’ll probably get around to watching the last two eventually, but I like to think that even in the movie canon, X3 only exists in Wolverine’s imagination (when Xavier reads his memories in X Men Back and Forth(1) Days of Future Past, and is pitying of his experiences, I like to think that he’s pitying the fact that Logan once watched X3, not that anything in X3 existed in canon). So yeah, I’ve seen Hugh Jackman’s Wolvie at his best (it’s hard to beat the nostalgia of the first movie) and at his worst (noooooooooooooooooooo.gif), and I loved the conceit of Logan: what happens when superheroes get old? What happens to the tightly leashed powers they wield when their bodies and minds age too much to control them?

With the above in mind, it’s probably not surprising that what I enjoyed most about Logan was probably the least connected to the characters’ comic origins, and what I liked least about the movie was more directly linked to comic lore (from what I gather, at least). Overall, the balance happily favoured the former.

Let’s get the small gripes out of the way. First: everywhere Logan goes, every person he meets, every non-mutant, most mutants themselves, just, you know, anyone who tries to form a connection with him, will get killed horribly. It always happens. And when it always happens, it’s hard to make it interesting. Very obvious emotions are called on, saintly helpers are set up only to be martyred to Logan’s man pain as the story demands. And I was in denial that it was happening in Logan for some time, but fear not, it happened in the end. And in a manner that left me particularly cold. Because the cloned super-soldier plotline is not one I care about. It’s just personal taste, probably. One part is that the super-soldier has no personality; it’s just a vehicle for action scenes to happen. I can see in the abstract how it’s useful in a Wolverine story: he’s forced to confront something that is the pure, ‘animal’ form of him and his powers, plus it actually gives him a run for his money in the fight scenes, and it gives the kind of fan who’s only there for the stabby-stabby claw action something to cheer about. In Logan, given his age and weakened state, the second one of those things seems a bit like overkill, though. The character inevitably gets associated with the kind of torture porn storyline like the one where Hulk literally rips him in two, and between the damage sustained by Logan, and that sustained by the super-soldier version, there’s plenty of that going on in Logan.

But Logan confronts the consequences to a greater extent, because in this story, his rapid healing powers have slowed, and the adamantium his skeleton has been coated with is slowly poisoning him. Revelling in the violent damage sustained by Logan’s body is a hard ask in this world, where his injuries heal slowly: he grimaces and strains over a sink in order to force bullets from his body; his reactions slow, right down to the speed with which he can extend his claws; and the consequences of fighting another clawed mutant linger for days.

Even the character’s dangerous effect on those around him is, I’ll grant, treated with more nuance by Logan. The family that take him, Professor X and Laura in (in thanks for rescuing their horses) are beautiful, kind, the little guys standing up to big farming conglomerates; in short, the Munsons are pretty damned perfect, and Xavier doesn’t hesitate to rub this is when he talks to Logan. Professor X frets and clucks and cajoles Logan like a mother hen, and for me, one of the stand-out moments of characterisation in the movie is where Xavier’s wishful thinking is quietly proved wrong. He talks of what an utterly perfectpeaceful night they’ve had at the farm, but Logan has just returned from the pump with their host, Will, where as usual, he finds himself in the role of The Muscle, confronted with violence and forced to respond in kind, even within the sanctuary that Xavier thinks they’ve found. Another nice touch was the last shot that Will Munson attempted to take; it confirms what Logan has always thought about himself, coming just moments after he desperately tried to let Xavier know that that wasn’t him.

Naturally, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman are excellent. They bicker and bounce off each other with convincing intimacy; Stewart’s vulnerability, combined with the furious frustration of someone who has lost yet more of their independence, and who is losing their grasp on a mind that was once so formidable, makes for a powerful performance. And Hugh Jackman’s gruff resignation caps off his excellent run as Wolverine, in which he kept fans of all stripes happy, managing to be a convincing outsider whilst maintaining the sense of longing for stability that underlies so many of Wolverine’s storylines.

Laura, played by Dafne Keen, does rather steal the show, however. Like Logan, she’s apparently aloof, tough and in control, but underneath she longs for belonging, normalcy and affection. In Logan, the former aspects arise from his bitter experiences, but in Laura they’re something that the villains tried to instill in her from birth. Logan‘s point that this was doomed to failure is a subtle vein of hope in its bleak plot, and it gave a little more impact and meaning to the death of poor Gabriela. Just as we aren’t allowed to fall back on the easy assumptions that Logan’s healing powers mean that fights don’t have consequences for him, so with Laura we are never allowed to forget that she is a child, despite her strength and the violence that she’s trained in. Her silence, contrasted with her animal shrieks, and later her rapid Spanish and faltering English, reveal a vast undercurrent of confused emotions, making Laura indisputably the movie’s vital, beating heart.

Logan gains redemption as reluctantly as he participates in all other elements of the movie’s plot. He’s a surly, heel-dragging presence, and he doesn’t really change during the movie; his layers are simply peeled back further and further with each blow and each loss. What makes the difference here is the sheer bloody-mindedness of his counterpart; Laura hasn’t given up on everything yet, and even as Logan tries to teach her the tough lessons he’s learnt, Laura presses on, unfazed by the bleak vision of her future that Logan’s failing body presents.

Also, the action scenes are pretty amazing.

(1) Blackadder reference.

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Review: Get Out (cinema)

This can’t really be a long review: all the good things have already been said about Jordan Peele’s debut movie Get Out, and I agree with them. As I watched, I sank further and further in my seat, driven behind the collar of my jumper by the cringeworthy, racist response of Rose’s family and friends to her boyfriend, Chris, and then furthermore by the film’s descent into pure horror.

It’s a gorgeous movie: everything about it is beautifully framed and lit and soundtracked. Every detail is there for a reason, from the recurring image of the hunted deer (overrunning the place!) to the replica medieval helmet in the car of a violent young white man. The appropriation of medieval stories, and the misrepresentation of medieval cultures and values by white supremacists is an old tale, and one that medievalists are still learning to push back against, so it was with a particular shudder that I noted the helmet in that car.

The film is precise in all its execution: you won’t forget a single line it wants to you remember (“he almost got over it”), and I’m convinced that re-watching will only add to the experience. On a first viewing it holds its cards tight to its chest, forcing you to pay attention to these details; the mundane is made strange, and microaggressions visibly add up, but it’s hard to be certain where precisely the narrative is leading you. My working guess as I watched proved to be inaccurate: the story is stranger and more sinister than I first assumed, and even as it drew to its final scene, a happy ending remained uncertain. (1 – spoilers)

As Chris, Daniel Kaluuya is as impressive as I’ve come to expect. He quietly stole the show in Sicario, and his performance in ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ (S1 E2 of Black Mirror) has haunted me since I saw it. (2)  No matter what the setting is, Kaluuya will drag you in and make you see it from his perspective, bringing humanity to awful situations along with a sharp, incisive awareness. The audience views Get Out through Chris’s eyes, and it’s unceasingly powerful, viciously conscious of this fact right down to his fight to escape the horror he’s been subjected to. I’ve been meaning to read Carol Clover‘s work on the trope of the ‘final girl’ for some time; now, I wonder how Chris’ survival will compare with her findings.

Apparently Jordan Peele is planning more movies in this vein. I can’t wait.


(1) SPOILERS I really had to rationalise why it would be okay, even with Rod turning up. Would it really be fine, would Chris be believed? Yes, I had to believe there would be DNA evidence in Walter’s body and in Georgina’s, that the forensics at the house would still reveal enough about the Armitage’s appalling practices. It was all okay for Chris in the end, wasn’t it? Please?

(2) I did watch S1 E3, but don’t remember much of it. ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ is still the most effective horror story I’ve ever seen, and I don’t need to see another episode of Black Mirror because that one was disturbing enough for a lifetime’s worth of fretting about the State of Things.

Review: Narvik (New Diorama Theatre, London)

The first review on this blog might not be all that representative. I don’t go to the theatre that often; this was my second trip since ooh, probably 2009? But having read an interview with the playwright, Lizzie Nunnery, there was too much about Narvik to resist.

Narvik tells the story of one man’s experience of the Arctic Convoys in WWII. The narrative emerges through a series of memories, told for the most part in chronological order, whilst the protagonist, now an old man, lies trapped on his floor after a fall. I was drawn to go and see it because my grandfather was a supply officer in Murmansk and Archangel during the war (though he didn’t talk about it much); because of my own interest in Norwegian history; and because of Nunnery’s distinctive way of writing folk song and music into her plays.

The stage design and the use of said music were two of the most instantly impressive things about Narvik. I’m still humming the haunting theme (see the video above): scene changes, slipping between memory and the present and back again, and then sometimes deeper into childhood memories, were smoothed through music. Three backing actors sprinkled just enough keyboard, mandolin and percussion behind the stark vocals to fill out the space, making the small theatre feel as expansive as the view from a Norwegian fjord. The scaffold that they circled around and over functioned as a ship’s bunks, communications array and deck, as well as a backstage of sorts. The action fitted the compact space beautifully, and never felt limited by the setting.

Narvik is only about 90 minutes long, and it’s an intense experience, carried by the three main actors. Joe Shipman, playing the protagonist, Jim, has to maintain a particularly gruelling level of emotional tension throughout, but his powerful Liverpudlian accent buffets you securely through the waves of Nunnery’s poetic script. Lucas Smith is equally effective in the two roles of Jim’s father and his closest comrade, bringing something for the psychoanalysts as Jim struggles with the anger he feels towards his absent parent. The third member of the main cast, Nina Yndis, makes a flighty, feisty Else: a young teacher in pre-war Oslo, and when the story wraps back around to post-war Oslo, Yndis sells the changes her character has had to endure particularly effectively — and at a point when it is most difficult to sympathise with the protagonist, Jim.

It was a far more personal play than I anticipated: Jim is lovingly rooted in Nunnery’s own Liverpool, and he’s an angry, lonely guy, whose anger and loneliness is magnified by the war. His affair with Else highlights the cruel after-effects of Nazi occupation and reminds us that it wasn’t only the men in the armed forces who suffered from their wartime experiences. It’s a lot to absorb in 90 minutes, and I can’t quite shake the feeling that it might have been a more effective story if it had been trying to do less. But the cast sells it with such conviction, and the atmosphere overtakes you so effectively, that this is something of a minor complaint.

An introduction (of sorts).

Well, here I am.

Why am I here?

Isn’t the internet a cesspit full of abuse and cyclical arguments, devoid of nuance and empathy?

I kind of suspect it is. I’m somehow even more socially awkward on the internet than I am in real life. But the compulsion to return and scream a little more into the void remains. I just hope I can scream a little happier over here in this part of the internet.

This post is to give you an introduction to the kind of interests this blog will feature.

Chronology

I’m a medievalist by training, so if a few vikings creep in here and there don’t be surprised. Expect popular culture from the last 1000 years or so. Release dates don’t faze me much.

Medium

I reckon it’ll be mainly about film, at least to begin with. But they didn’t have cinemas in the old days, so there will be exceptions. Like galleries, plays, music, the great outdoors.

Genre

Again, you’ll notice this one tending to a broad base. My natural habitat is sci-fi/action/things where people have swords, but sometimes research forces me into other territory. Musically it’ll be easier to pin down: folk, indie and singer-songwriters.

Really, I should have started this blog about three months ago, so I could update in real time as I went to Caravaggio at the National Gallery, and then the Australian Impressionists there. And Paul Nash at the Tate. And the Moomins at the Southbank Centre. And Jim Moray playing his new album on tour. And when I went to see Hidden Figures. And when I actually first sat down and finished reading a Star Wars Expanded Universe book for the first time in over a decade.

But I dithered, and now there’s a bit of a backlog; I’ll try to jot down impressions of these things in between current enthusiasms.

What stopped the dithering was a combination of things. Two of the most significant factors were as follows:

  1. Looking up lyrics to The Diaz Brothers by The Mountain Goats on songmeanings.com
  2. A return to bad habits; my friend asking me to make a list

John Darnielle, when describing the inspiration for The Diaz Brothers, a wildly catchy track on the 2012 album Transcendental Youth, said some pretty cool stuff to Rolling Stone:

Clocking in at under three minutes, it’s a pounding piano number with an undeniable chorus – “Mercy for the Diaz brothers!” – and is based on the drug-dealing siblings referenced briefly in the movie Scarface. “Frank tells Tony he has to respect the Diaz brothers, and Tony tells him to eff the Diaz Brothers, and by the time we do see them, they’re dead,” said Darnielle. “I’m obsessed with people we never got to know but who we know about, because you have a sense of who they were and what became of them since they died, but they’re essentially blocking characters in this story we all know. And we’re all basically blocking characters in life, when you think about it.” 

[source.]

I haven’t seen Scarface. Neither the song nor the interview make me any more interested in seeing it that I was any way (which is not much). But ‘blocking characters’ have been a huge part of my research interests for longer than I’d care to admit.(1) And I love the song. Darnielle makes me curious about these unfortunate brothers, he makes me want mercy for them, although you know from the out that it’s not going to come. ‘Forbidden rosary prayers all night’ makes me think more of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory than drug-running gangsters, and the setting, the sense of place evoked through sparse lyrics, is so vivid.

This is simply good storytelling. And a traditional, deeply-ingrained stubbornness drives me to pursue minor characters and supporting characters in a lot of the stories I consume.

It’s also behind the fact I’ve seen some truly awful movies.

An old friend is currently watching Rome. She’s sending me updates on Marc Anthony’s eyeliner and nudity. She’s catching up on an obsession I’ve nurtured on and off since I first saw A Knight’s Tale: obsession, thy name is (periodically) James Purefoy. But to begin with, it was Keanu Reeves. For a brief time it was Barry Pepper. Most recently it’s been Diego Luna.

I’m not proud of having watched an awful lot of movies simply because of a fixation on one cast member — some were terrible, some genuinely good, some I’d intended to watch anyway, but hadn’t until I’d realised [insert name here] was in it. The Matrix began it all; teenage hormones and a lot of spare time to browse the local library’s VHS shelf over school summer holidays led to the, er, delights of Johnny MnemonicThe Watcher and repeated viewings of Point Break. Tragically, even from within a committed relationship, I found myself doing it again after seeing Chris Evans as Captain America, Matthew Macfadyen in Ripper Street and after delightedly falling back down the Star Wars rabbit hole in pursuit of Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso and Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor in Rogue One. (2)

Often, in delving into actors’ back catalogues, I’ve found myself watching someone I first encountered as a minor character playing a major role in something not very good, or watching someone I encountered as a main character cutting their teeth on minor and supporting roles. Hence this is another another aspect of my long-running love of those ‘blocking characters’ again.

So, the friend who’s watching Rome has been suffering through my updates on Diego Luna’s back catalogue. She asked me what the worst thing I’d watched just for an actor was, and this got me thinking about just how many films I’ve watched because of this stupid habit. And I thought maybe it would be fun to try and remember some of the experiences associated with each actor and the movies I watched.

And there you have it: the starting points for this blog. I have to go out and enjoy the gorgeous sunshine now, but I will return to begin enthusing in earnest soon.


(1) Reviewer #2: ‘I read the text your article is about at least twice, and I don’t remember these characters! This article is far too niche for publication’. IT’S MEDIEVAL LITERATURE. IT’S ALREADY NICHE. ALSO RE-READ THE %*&$”ING TEXT IF YOU DON’T REMEMBER THEM.

(2) That movie had the right ending. The perfect ending. I know. I do, I realise that it’s a better movie for this ending, that it makes more sense in the wider universe with this ending. But that’s not going to stop me from reading every single fic tagged ‘AU – Everyone lives/nobody dies’ on ao3.