Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher


Logan Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

One of our major gripes about movie critics is that they grade superhero movies and franchise films on a softer curve than complex, serious original films.  This is the subject of an upcoming essay I am researching, but the point today is that very few films of these types truly warrant the lofty ratings they receive.  Off the top of our head, only X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mad Max: Fury Road, Wonder Woman, and the subject of today, Logan, rate consideration as serious drama.  With the Oscars bearing down on us, FilmZ and I finally caught up with Logan On Demand.  In it, we found a film whose metaphor--fighting institutionalized racism, nefarious government eugenics experiments--is thrilling and tragic.  A warning, its "R"-rating for violence is well-earned.

It is 2029, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is making ends meet as a chauffer, trying to lay low.  Ah the best-laid plans of Wolverines and men ...  Sleeping one off in his car, drunk and sick--poisoned by adamantium, the very substance that has made him invulnerable--Logan is awakened by the racket of an armed gang stripping his car.  He takes issue, leaving a path of Wolverine carnage in his wake, thus blowing his cover.  Days later, after a funeral, a woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), calls out his name and Logan flees, and soon after that a man named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) jumps in the back seat of his limo and genially pries Logan for information about the woman who is looking for him.  His antisocial nature aside, Logan really doesn't like this guy.  Good intuition, for Boyd is the strong-arm aide to Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant), a Nazi-like scientist running genetic experiments on Mexican children.  And Gabriela had been trying deliver a seemingly feral Laura (Dafne Keen) to Logan for protection.  Why?  Logan doesn't care.  He prefers his desert hideout where he cares for the aging and ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his mutant caretaker, the albino mind-tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant).  Just as Caliban can't stand direct sunlight, Professor X, whose mind is starting to falter, needs meds to calm his seizures--to put it mildly, as befitting the most powerful mutant mind in the world, his fits can be cataclysmic.

That's the setup.  Obviously, Logan meets up with Laura; obviously, Logan, being Logan, doesn't want to take responsibility for the 11-year old; obviously, he grudgingly does so because the men who want her are so evil that there is no other option; obviously, bad guy chicanery and mutant badassery ensue.  After all, he's the Wolverine and this is an X-Men film.  But a lot is not so obvious.  While Professor X remains the patriarch of the mutants, the one they could always count on to work things out, dreadful things have happened to the X-Men, not the least of which is that the Professor and Logan, the once-great standard-bearers of the mutant population, have declined in power and will.  Proud warriors, whose bodies and minds are faltering at a time when they are most needed, if for nothing more, than for a last stand, their Alamo. And then there is Laura, a little girl with a big secret.  Who would guess that she would be the one to revitalize the X-Men, stir them to resolve, bind them as a family, and bring hope against hopeless odds?  

Director James Mangold, working on his own story, with screenwriting help from Scott Frank and Michael Green, knows his subject, for sure--Logan has earned an Academy Award nomination for Adapted Screenplay.  Has a superhero movie ever been nominated in a screenplay category?  Seriously, I'm asking.  That alone shows that Logan is more than stunts and super action; it has heart and humanity, and while it helps to have a background in X-Men lore, with just a little tweaking, this film would have worked well as, say, an original Western.  As to the cast, the acting bona fides of Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman go unquestioned.  Stephen Merchant as a melancholy outcast and Richard E. Grant as a latter-day Josef Mengele bring depth and texture to their roles.  But the discovery here is Dafne Keen.  She is a brewing storm on the horizon who bursts forth with such force and fury that we can only hope to see more of her in future X-Men tales.
8.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread review by FilmZ

Paul Thomas Anderson's genre of preference is drama but drama with a twist, usually in the personalities of his main characters.  Self-aware or not, they are square pegs in a round world, a world they try to bend to their desires.  These attempts come with mixed results, and therein lies the drama, or the comedy if one takes a bit of a cockeyed look at it.  As I took in Phantom Thread, I often found myself bursting into laughter, only to receive NHL-worthy body checks from the Czarina and Guy S. Malone, Researcher.  Was I the only one who saw the black comic elements, skewering 1950s London haute couture?  Yes, it had all of the trappings of a high-end drama, especially Jonny Greenwood's lushly romantic score, period-accurate costumes and sets, and as a central focus the relationship between the artistic genius and his muse.  But that relationship--yoi!

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is dressmaker to the highest levels of society and royalty.  He is a perfectionist, obsessed with his work, fastidious in manner and mode, and inpatient with the imperfection of others.  We first see him at breakfast, sketching a dress.  Seated with him are his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) and a young paramour whose every word and movement clearly irk the designer.  We see immediately that Cyril is not only the manager of the House of Woodcock, she is its protector--as the Czarina put it, "She's like Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca".  After breakfast, Cyril asks Reynolds if he would prefer that she tells the young woman to move out, and her brother says that would be best.  Cyril follows up with a suggestion that becomes most fateful for the ensuing two hours of the film: She thinks Reynolds could use a nice, relaxing stay in the country.

Cut to an upscale rural inn, where Reynolds is about to order breakfast when he spots klutzy server Alma (Vicky Krieps).  He is smitten, or as smitten as Reynolds gets because he makes it clear that he can never commit to marriage: "Marriage would make me deceitful, and I don't ever want that."  Perhaps his unresolved issues with his dead mother, his fussy perfectionism, or his egocentric worldview--all marked traits---get in the way.  But he has never met anyone like Alma; her soft voice and Mona Lisa smile conceal resources the likes of which Reynolds never had to contend.  The fussy man soon finds that even watching her eat toast repulses him, but she defends the House of Woodcock with assured fury.  She even wins over the icy Cyril.  Their relationship becomes an exercise in approach-avoidance, ever escalating, culminating in an unexpected (bizarre?) set of events.

A significant portion of the cinephile population places Paul Thomas Anderson at the top of the auteur list in Hollywood, and while we respect his oeuvre (The Master, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) we really like his films rather than adore them.  His vision and his eye, though, are most impressive, and they usually place his movies in awards contention.  We already mentioned the score, but the production design and costumes immerse us in 1950s London.  Then there is his story and the cast that delivers it: PTA's screenplay is, at times, inspired, at time, not, but actors Vicky Krieps, Leslie Manville, and Daniel Day-Lewis elevate even the mundane moments.  It won't be for everyone, but Anderson is true to himself, and that's enough.
8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale


Mudbound review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Last year at Sundance, Netflix scored a coup when the network bought the rights to Mudbound.  The critically acclaimed film recently scored four Oscar nominations--all particularly of note to women and African Americans--and set some records in the process: Adapted Screenplay for Dee Rees (the first time ever a Black woman has been nominated in this category), Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige (the first time an actor has been nominated for a performance in a film directed by a Black woman), Original Song--"Mighty River"--by Blige (the first person ever nominated for performance and for an original song), and Cinematography for Rachel Morrison (the first woman to receive a nomination for her work in this category).  Do you need more reasons to see it?  All right: Mudbound is a moving, exceptional adaptation of Hillary Jordan's (another woman) best-seller.

Depression-era Tennessee: Laura (Carey Mulligan), an educated woman on the cusp of spinsterhood, meets Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and marries him after a whirlwind courtship.  They have two daughters in rapid succession, and just as quickly, Laura begins to question her haste when Henry surprises her with his lifelong dream: to buy a farm in Mississippi and, worse, to invite his racist "Pappy" (Jonathan Banks) to move in with them.  When Henry's brother, the charismatic Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), comes on the scene, we quickly see the chemistry between him and Laura, a magnetism not lost on Henry.  But the tenuous relationship between the brothers and the simmering animosity between Jamie and his "Pappy" (Jonathan Banks) drive Jamie away and into the WWII Army Air Corps.

In a concurrent storyline, we have the Jacksons--Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige)--a Black family that for years has farmed on a parcel of the land Henry recently bought.  Hap is also a local preacher, while Florence is the stoic matriarch of their large, close-knit family.  They had been saving to buy their land before the McAllans arrived, but now that dream has died and their oldest son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), also heads off to fight in Europe.

As the war rages, the lives of the two families intersect, placing in stark relief the interdependence necessary to scratch an existence out of that harsh land alongside the racist culture that prevents them from being true neighbors on any personal level.  When the war ends, Jamie and Ronsel return home, and the relationship that develops out of their common experience challenges the deep-seated animosities of Jim Crow America. But in the greater picture, Florence and Laura are the heart of the story; we see it through their eyes, we hear it from their lips, we feel it with their hearts.

After discussing the Academy Award nominations Mudbound has gleaned, and our rapturous review thus far, it must seem as though we hold it in even higher esteem than does AMPAS.  Well, yes and no.  At times the film devolves into melodrama; the racists in the film, though not an exaggeration, frequently become stereotypes; and it is certainly a tragic story.  Even given all of that, Mudbound is one of the best films of 2017.  As the weeks wind down to the 2018 Oscars, and cinephiles are rushing out to catch the bigger name films, we encourage readers to find a Netflix subscription, if only temporarily, and see this film because it is history-making.
8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 out of 10 on an Artistic and Awards Scale


Hostiles review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The film opens with the D.H. Lawrence quote: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer."  It's fair warning for what is about to unfold.  It is also important to caution that Hostiles is not an action film; it is a grim, immersive dramatic musing about man's prejudice and inhumanity to man, a contemplative film punctuated by moments of violent terror.  Scott Cooper wrote (based on a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart) and directed Hostiles, his second collaboration with Christian Bale--the other was 2013's Out of the Furnace, another grim, immersive, and sometimes violent drama.

It is 1892, the end of Indian resistance in the West.  As the film opens, a Comanche raiding party attacks a homestead, burning it to the ground and killing the entire family, except the mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike).  Cut to a fort in New Mexico, where we meet Capt. Joe Blocker, (Bale) a fearsome veteran of brutal wars against the Indians who is months away from discharge.  He is ordered by the base commander (Stephen Lang) to escort longtime prisoner, Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk (Wes Studi), to his Montana home to die.  Blocker refuses.  His hatred of Yellowhawk runs deep, and it is clear that both soldier and Cheyenne have lost friends by the hand of the other, but the story has become a political cause celebre, reaching the President, and given the choice of compliance or court-martial, Blocker agrees to one last assignment. 

Blocker and his CO assemble a small troop, including a West Point lieutenant (Jesse Plemons), a Black corporal (Jonathan Majors), a raw French recruit (Timothee Chalamet), his best friend Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) who has seen too many battles, Yellowhawk, and the Chief's family.    The party heads out across the sunbaked desert, traveling north.  Moving into the high forests, they come across the smoldering Quaid homestead where they discover the nearly insane Rosalie.  With no choice but to take her with them, they continue on with the intention of leaving her off at Fort Collins, where she can gain safe transit back East.  Heading through Comanche country means danger every step of the way.  Even their arrival at Fort Collins gives the party no respite as they learn that the stage no longer passes through, so Rosalie asks to stay with Blocker.  Further, the base commander asks Blocker to escort a wily and dangerous condemned man named Wills (Ben Foster), to prison.  Together, the party continues north.

To go into further detail would reveal too much.  Suffice to say that the group will face further dilemmas, both mortal and moral, on a journey that tests body and soul.  Thrust together, they learn about each other, but the greatest questions are directed within.  As always, Christian Bale mines depths that take his character to another level.  His gravelly voice and hardbitten exterior belie a man of depth and sensitivity who reads Julius Caesar in Latin, speaks Native American tongues, and tears up over another's loss.  He is the central character around whom the story revolves, and we see his empathy toward Rosalie, his heartbreak as he watches his friend Metz unravel, but most telling is his evolving relationship with fellow warrior Yellowhawk.

Hostiles won't win many awards, and it doesn't provide rousing, adrenaline pumping action of, say, Tombstone.  It is moody and melancholic, reminiscent of Paul Newman's Hombre.  And like that classic film, it brings together excellent characters at the top of their game.  Rosamund Pike is called upon to run the emotional gamut from catatonic fear to rage, and she does it convincingly.  Jesse Plemons continues to develop his repertoire as an actor of many faces.  No one does unhinged like Ben Foster (though, as we mentioned in our review to Hell or High Water, he risks becoming typecast).  Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Bill Camp (as a smarmy photographer), and Stephen Lang continue to enrich every film by their presence.  Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography isn't showy, but it places the characters in a convincing late 19th-century time and place in the New Mexico and Colorado landscape.  We recommend Hostiles for fans of Westerns, Christian Bale, morally complex dramas, or any combination of these.

8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment/Art Scale
Not an Awards player

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