Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wolverine (2013)

To preface this discussion, I do consider myself a fan of X-Men.  I've never been a comic book reader, but I've seen all of the movies, followed a few of the different TV incarnations since the early '90s, and played through some of the video games (particularly X-Men Legends and its sequel).  That being said, although I don't qualify as what some would consider a true fan or hardcore fan due to my lack of exposure to the original source material, I feel that I have a fair grasp of the X-Men universe and a decent knowledge of its characters.  And also for the record, I enjoyed the first five films and even thought the first three held up pretty well when I rewatched them in the days leading up to seeing The Wolverine.

All I knew about The Wolverine in advance was that it focused on Logan and that it took place after X-Men: The Last Stand.  I didn't see a single trailer beforehand, and I had no idea which actors to expect other than Hugh Jackman.  I went into the theater without expectations of any kind and yet I was disappointed, mainly because of what I didn't see in this latest franchise installment.

The title's lack of the franchise name "X-Men" is appropriate because with the exception of a few dreams/flashbacks/telekinetic instances with Jean Grey, there aren't any mutants other than Wolverine you've seen in the previous films and most likely none that you've even heard of.  Instead there's a story set in Japan with a Samurai or Yakuza family obsessed with Wolverine's powers and a villain that's general to the Marvel universe and possibly more tied in with Captain America and The Avengers than the X-Men.  After a bit of research, I discovered that The Wolverine is based on the similarly titled Wolverine comic series which began in the early '80s.  In following this particular storyline, the film probably does a great job (and I think the current consensus among hardcore fans is that it does), but for the more casual X-Men fan like myself this movie was hard to enjoy because the characters were unfamiliar and frankly boring in comparison to the 30+ mutants I already know and love.  It's not a bad movie by any means; it's just incredibly far removed from what most people know of the X-Men universe.  The character development seen in Logan is solid yet marginal considering the emphasis the first four films already put on him, but Hugh Jackman delivers perfectly as always.

If you like X-Men (particularly Jackman's Wolverine) or simply action movies in Japanese settings, I recommend seeing The Wolverine eventually even if that means waiting for a rental.  If neither of the above applies to you, this one is a very skippable movie, and for the record I wouldn't recommend this as a first exposure to X-Men (instead try X-Men [2000] or X-Men: First Class [2011]).  Whenever you watch this movie though, be sure to wait for the short teaser scene after the end of the credits.  This scene alone elicited more excitement from the theater than the entirety of the actual film on the ticket stub, indicative of the fact that there's a world full of casual comic fans who don't actually read the comics and that we are beyond stoked to see X-Men: Days of Future Past next year!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Don't be put off by the actor combination of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman; Eyes Wide Shut is not the typical Hollywood power couple box office exploitation.  Having seen their previous tandem film, Far And Away (1992), I wouldn't have been remotely interested in seeing this film had I not known it was directed, written, and produced by Stanley Kubrick.  Having recently seen his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, my third Kubrick film following A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey (books I've all read and enjoyed), I've recognized the fact that this man was incredible at interpreting stories worth reading and turning them into movies worth watching.  Based on the 1926 novella "Dream Story" by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut further enhanced this newly found understanding of why the name Stanley Kubrick speaks for itself.

The last film before Kubrick's death in 1999, Eyes Wide Shut is a mesmerizing suspense/drama about uncivilized human sexuality in modern society and its effect on the civilized union we know as marriage.  The film serves as a warning to both those in monogamous relationships as well as those merely wary of the need to conduct proper social behavior while handling the chemical sexual urges that make us human; the wet dreams we have with eyes wide shut are not without meaning.

Cruise and Kidman play a wealthy married couple who live with their one child in New York City.  At a dinner party the couple is separated and hit on by strangers, both entertaining what they believe to be harmless flirting.  After an argument about their prior behavior ensues the next night, Cruise realizes for the first time that his unwavering assurance of mutual fidelity may be naive.  Feeling inconsolable primal male jealousy (unsuppressed for perhaps the first time in their marriage), he uses a coincidental opportunity to stay out and roam the streets and clubs of NYC to his full advantage, finding sex offered in the strangest of places and temptation more alluring than ever before.

One thing some viewers may want to know in advance about this movie is that there is a fair amount of nudity in the R-rated version and, to my understanding, much more in the unrated version which is apparently a better representation of Kubrick's unedited intention of the film.  I don't think that it's nudity for the sake of nudity, however, because despite this sometimes controversial feature I didn't find the movie to be particularly erotic, most likely because I was conscious of the illogical decisions the characters were making because of their innate sexuality.  This dual focus is what made Eyes Wide Shut such an interesting watch and why I recommend it to fans of Kubrick, Cruise, Kidman, or just good movies in general.