LOGAN (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time:  2 hours 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence and Language throughout, and for brief Nudity

Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green

(based on the WOLVERINE comic books by Ray Thomas, Len Wein & John Romita Sr.)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant & Dafne Keene

Out of the 21st century superhero cinema boom, the X-MEN films are among my favorites. Besides having a vast catalog of colorful heroes and complex antagonists, these movies utilize smart social commentary through mutants and paranoia. I don’t think that anybody could argue against the series’ biggest highlight being Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. This character is a fan favorite for plenty of reasons. He’s brash, straddles the line between hero and antihero, and has a strong moral compass (even if he won’t admit to it). LOGAN marks the tenth X-MEN film and the final time that Jackman will portray Wolverine. This is a dark, mature, excellent closing chapter to the saga and a fitting final film for Jackman’s character.

The year is 2029. Almost all of the X-Men are dead and mutants have pretty much gone extinct. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is past his prime and succumbing to old age. He works as a limo driver and takes care of an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in an abandoned factory off the Mexico border. Logan just wishes to live out his final years with the Xavier on the ocean, away from people. However, his plans change when he meets 11-year-old Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mutant (very much like Logan) and some very bad people are hunting her. In an effort to save a life and do some good, Logan makes a dangerous cross-country journey to get Laura to a safe haven…but the healing-impaired Wolverine may be in over his head.

In the course of seventeen years, Hugh Jackman has given us an iconic big-screen superhero. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine someone else playing Wolverine. I mean, just try to think of someone else in the role. Try it right now. You can’t do it, can you? Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine provides an intensely dramatic and emotional side to the character that was seen in previous films, but never to this extent. Wolverine’s smart-ass sense of humor and animal-like nature is still in play, but he becomes an all-out tragic hero in this film.

On the supporting side of things, Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Professor X and gives us a grim look into what happens when a deteriorating disease attacks the world’s most powerful brain. Stewart’s latest outing as the wheelchair-bound psychic is easily one of his best stints as the character, while also serving as X’s saddest story ever. Stephen Merchant stars as an albino mutant, whose power is tracking other mutants. Though he mainly seems to be a means to an end, Merchant’s Caliban is a colorful addition to the X-MEN cinematic cannon. Newcomer Dafne Keene is a stand-out as preteen mutant Laura and delivers one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen (right up there with Jacob Tremblay in ROOM).

As far as the villains go, Richard E. Grant has a small, but powerful role to play. I won’t go into specific details for fear of spoilers, but he’s memorable for most of his screen time. The bigger antagonist is Boyd Holbrook as the psychotic leader of a mutant-hunting team. Holbrook sports a country bumpkin accent alongside charisma that quickly becomes a downright despicable attitude. I was rooting for Holbrook to die a horrible death. That’s how good he was in this role as a robotic-armed baddie.

Besides stellar performances, LOGAN’s screenplay smartly sets up a near-future that doesn’t seem too futuristic. Instead, this is a grim look at the fate of mutants and nicely sets up potential for some interesting future installments (assuming the studio is smart enough to greenlight more dark, mature mutant stories). LOGAN’s R-rated approach is refreshingly grown-up. The film feels like an adult superhero story that was made for adults. We get Wolverine cursing (much like he does in the comics), mature themes being tackled (age, life, purpose) and lots of graphic violence.

Further encapsulating on the film’s R rating, Wolverine and Laura rip through armed thugs like paper and it’s so cool to watch. Limbs and blood cover nearly every action scene, making for some of the best serious R-rated action since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. This is Wolverine doing what he does in the comics…and now we get to see it in all of its gory glory on the big screen. The plot’s darker tone almost seems like a violent Western that happens to star Wolverine and is set in the near-future. While DEADPOOL‘s cheeky over-the-top violence was fun and entertaining, LOGAN’s approach is darker, bleaker, and played with a straight face. Every kill has weight behind it and a few deaths left me shocked.

I still can’t decide if LOGAN is my favorite movie in the X-MEN series (it’s definitely in my top three), but this was the perfect way to end the original saga. This isn’t a happy, fun superhero movie, but rather a depressing and emotional final chapter in a long-standing film legacy. Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine to me and this was a fitting film for him to end on. LOGAN is fantastic and stands out as one of the best superhero films that I’ve ever seen! If you’re a fan of X-MEN at all, then you owe it to yourself to see this film!

Grade: A+

COP LAND (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Strong Language and brief Nudity

CopLand poster

Directed by: James Mangold

Written by: James Mangold

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick & Michael Rapaport

COP LAND is a film that I discovered by accident. I was surfing the web through various movie pages and stumbled across this forgotten crime-drama. Seeing this stars the likes of Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, you might initially guess that this movie would be filled to the brim with gunfights, car chases and explosions. You would actually be very wrong, because this tense little film takes it’s time with a thriller approach to what easily could have turned into a bombastic over-the-top B-flick. COP LAND is one of the better surprises that I’ve had in quite some time.

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The time is the late 80’s and the place is New Jersey. Freddy Hefflin is a wannabe cop who’s been regulated to the position of small town Sheriff due to him being deaf in one ear. Freddy really doesn’t have much to do seeing as most of the residents of his small town are NYPD cops who he idolizes day in and day out. When a mishap on a highway lands one of these officers in hot water, Freddy is enlisted by an Internal Affairs investigator to dig deeper into the façade of “Cop Land” that is actually hiding a whole lot more than one small cover-up. Freddy finds himself pitted against the very heroes that he idolized as he realizes just how deep police corruption cuts through his own territory.

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COP TOWN moves at a slow, deliberate pace in order to build up its characters. I cared about every single one of these people in one way or another. The heroes are complicated and the villains are fleshed out into the two-faced criminals that they really are. I really can’t throw enough praise at just how good this whole screenplay is. There are plot twists throughout that did surprise me and the movie never once treats its audience like idiots. A natural progression of good vs. evil fuels the story in a way that feels entirely fresh. It’s all fantastically entertaining and intense. Some of the plot points do seem a tad rushed, but that’s not exactly a huge complaint seeing how well the rest of the story plays out around it (including a phenomenal final act that felt like an old-school Western was taking place on the streets of New Jersey).

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I don’t think it’s overhyping this film to say that Sylvester Stallone easily gives his best performance as Freddy. When most people think of Stallone, they immediately picture Rocky or Rambo. Though he’s carved out a place in the cinematic world for his rough and tough action heroes, the role of Freddy is far from any of those characters. This is a shy, soft-spoken guy who feels like he’s constantly in the presence of Gods when he’s among his NYPD residents. Stallone is fantastic in the part and plays every emotion in a very subtle fashion. I’d be remiss not to mention just how fantastically the corrupt cops are portrayed by the likes of Harvey Keitel, Robert Patrick and Arthur Nascarella. Ray Liotta shines as Freddy’s best friend who may or may not also have a dog in the corruption race around town. Though Robert De Niro is underutilized as the Internal Affairs investigator, he makes the most of what little screen time he’s given (about a total of four scenes).

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COP LAND uses gritty atmosphere and a dark tone to its advantage. The small town setting really lends to the suspense of this film. It feels like the fictional Garrison, New Jersey might as well be in the middle of nowhere, even though New York City is one bridge away. The finale is absolutely perfect and satisfying beyond words. Some have criticized the film for taking an easy way out. I disagree as the entire story feels like a long suspenseful fuse that’s intensely burning towards a giant powder keg. The final 20 minutes of this story are the explosive results of that keg going off.

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COP LAND is an underrated crime-drama that really sees Stallone take on a role unlike any other in his career. What’s even more impressive is the unlikely production of this film altogether. It was made on a small budget and all of the actors worked for scale. It’s clear that they read the script and knew there was a good story to be told here. Though there are a couple of slight flaws (a few rushed plot points and Robert De Niro being wasted in a very small role), COP LAND is well worth recommending. Check this one out!

Grade: B+

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