Logan (A-). Yes, this is an awfully high grade to give a rated-R comic-book movie with all sorts of severed heads and spurting arteries and such. But what can I say? I thought this movie was excellent. Hugh Jackman (Scoop) returns for his millionth turn as Wolverine, the irascible, indestructible mutant with the retractable claws. Only now he’s not feeling so indestructible. The year is 2029, and he is old and sick and not regenerating like he used to. He’s lying low somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Excalibur), who is not only old and sick but also having seizures that cause all sorts of mayhem for everyone around him because of his uncontrolled psychic powers. All the other mutants we’ve come to know and love in the other X-Men movies are apparently dead, and no new mutants have been born in many years. Wolverine is just trying to scrape together enough money in his job as a limo driver so he can buy a boat and sail out to sea with Professor Xavier (thereby saving mankind from the effects of Xavier’s seizures, I think). Then everything goes sideways when a desperate woman finds Wolverine and begs him to transport a young girl to Canada—a girl with mutantly powers awfully reminiscent of Wolverine’s. Of course, there are bad guys hot on her trail, and the movie quickly turns into a quasi-remake of Children of Men (which is not a bad movie to borrow from, if you’re going to borrow). Despite all the crazy, bloody fight scenes, the movie really worked for me as a meditation on mortality and the meaning of family. And newcomer Dafne Keen does a nice job as the mysterious little girl with anger-management issues.
The Movie Snob checks in with a new review of an old movie.
Gaslight (B+). This 1942 classic stars the beauteous Ingrid Bergman (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as Paula Alquist. In the opening scene, we see a very young Paula being escorted away from the London townhome where she has just discovered the body of her murdered aunt (her guardian since birth). Flash forward a few years, and Paula is living in Italy. She has followed in her aunt’s footsteps by studying music and singing, but we learn she has just been swept off her feet by a debonair foreigner named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer, Fanny). Anton is strangely eager to move to London, and into the townhouse Paula inherited from her aunt. And once they are ensconced there, Paula seems to start to lose her grip on her sanity, and Gregory becomes ever more controlling. What is happening? Straight-arrow Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) senses something is amiss, but can he figure it out in time to help Paula? I quite enjoyed this classic old noir. Watch for a young Angela Lansbury (TV’s Murder, She Wrote) as a saucy housemaid.
Their Finest (B+). It doesn’t have the grabbiest title, but this picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) is my favorite of the year so far. The year is 1940, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) has moved from Wales to London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But his dour art isn’t selling, so Catrin gets a job as a screenwriter on a propaganda film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. She clashes with the obnoxious head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), learns to massage the bruised ego of past-his-prime movie star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, I Capture the Castle), and generally gets a crash course in the trials and tribulations of moviemaking. Jeremy Irons (Appaloosa) pops up unexpectedly as a pompous war minister. The sexism of the era is conveyed effectively without being overdone. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (D). The first Guardians movie was a surprisingly fun, comic space opera. The second, unfortunately, is neither fun nor funny. The relentless special effects and earsplitting soundtrack add up to, as another critic put it, a “visual and aural assault”—and one that lasts over two hours, for good measure. There’s a lot going on here, but the main plot involves the encounter between affable space scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, The Five-Year Engagement) and his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China). It’s always great to see Russell doing his amiable big-lug routine, but even he can’t save this bloated trainwreck. Almost lost in the clutter are nice supporting performances by Michael Rooker (Tombstone) as the blue outlaw who raised Peter and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) as a beautiful gold alien whose genetically perfect species is remarkably inept at tracking down and blowing up the Guardians. Skip it.
The Movie Snob is having a little trouble getting out to the cinema lately, so here’s another book review to tide you over:
The Humans, by Matt Haig (2013). I enjoyed this little science-fiction novel that tackles some big eternal themes. An extraterrestrial being from an unfathomably advanced race is sent to Earth in human form. He has a specific and rather grim mission, but he is immediately side-tracked by his horror and disgust at the ugliness of human beings—and by his unfamiliarity with the importance of wearing clothing. And then he’s baffled by the wife and son of the human whose identity he has assumed. But mainly the story is in service of the alien’s (and Haig’s?) awe at humanity’s optimism (or self-delusion?) in the face of mortality and at people’s capacity for love and kindness despite all the horror and violence in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a movie out of this book someday.
Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (originally published 1927). I had never read any of Willa Cather’s work before, but I found this novel very moving and very beautiful. In the mid-1800s, the United States is consolidating its control over the area that would eventually become the State of New Mexico. The Catholic Church responds to these developments by sending a new missionary bishop to take charge of the area—a Frenchman named Jean Marie Latour. His life-long friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, accompanies him, and together the two clerics (who had previously been toiling in the mission fields of Ohio) experience the beauty and the mystery of the southwestern desert and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants. Michael Dirda sums it up well: “The most serenely beautiful of [Cather’s] books, it seems scarcely a novel at all, more a kind of New World pastoral, evoking the beauty of the desert Southwest, lamenting the passing of traditional Native culture, and glorifying the lives of two saintly Catholic missionaries as they spread their faith in a harsh land.” (Classics for Pleasure 255.) For my part, I add this book to Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as my favorite “Catholic” novels.
Born in China (B-). I don’t think I have seen one of these “Disneynature” Earth Day releases in a while. This one focuses on several species indigenous to China. Cranes and a certain kind of antelope get brief coverage, but the movie focuses on the giant panda, the snow leopard, and some kind of snub-nosed monkey I had never heard of before. The photography is exceptionally good, as you would expect, but the narration (provided by John Krasinski, Leatherheads) is way too sentimentalized and occasionally downright goofy. There’s very little gore, but there is still a death that might trouble the little ones and the exceptionally tenderhearted. Personally, based on the previews, I’m hoping for more from Disneynature’s 2018 release Dolphins.