Monday, August 5, 2013

Weekend Movie Round-Up: Fruitvale Station and The Wolverine

As you know, I go see a lot of movies. I've only met a handful of people that like movies even a teensy bit as much as me. I saw some movies this weekend. I will now talk about them. This is:


Whenever you hear that someone is doing a biopic, it's almost always some huge story spanning decades that touches on the various events in the life of some famous person.  Lincoln, 42, and the forthcoming Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom are just a few recent examples.

Fruitvale Station is not that.

In 2009, Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back while being held, face-down on the ground, by police.  His death sparked a massive controversy and tons of protests in the Oakland area.  There isn't a lot of shaky ground on the events, either, because the shooting was captured on lots of cellphones.

This movie is an intimate look at the last day in the life of Oscar Grant--the good and the bad.  It is a beautiful, moving, sweet film builds towards one of the ugliest, and meanest endings I've seen.

By the way, none of this is spoilers.  Not only is this film based on a true story--so you should already know--but the film begins with actual cellphone footage of Oscar Grant being shot.

It is a fucked up and incredibly effective way to begin the film.

The film is super short--just under 90 minutes--but it will stay with you for days afterward, man.  I'm still thinking about it.  As the events build, you feel this sick feeling in your gut start to grow.  You know what's coming, and you know it's going to be horrible.

And the whole time, Michael B. Jordan is putting his all into this performance.  He's an amazing actor, and if this film doesn't get him the push he needs to be cast as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie, I'm going to call all kinds of bullshit.

There was one other person in the theater when my wife and I saw it.  Go see it.  Go.  Please.  But be prepared to cry.

The other movie that the wife and I saw this weekend was The Wolverine.

I love Hugh Jackman as an actor.  I've always enjoyed him in whatever I'm watching, and everything I've seen seems to confirm him as one of the nicest people in showbiz.

Hugh Jackman is pretty much iconic as comic book character Wolverine at this point.  Jackman is pretty much the only person I can think of that can do the job.  He is great.

I also love the X-Men movies--except The Last Stand.  I'm even somewhat of a X-Men Origins: Wolverine apologist.

That's why it pains me to say that The Wolverine is a bit of a dud.  I enjoyed it.  It was a fun movie.  It didn't necessarily suck as much as it was just incredibly forgettable.  Which is sad.  Hugh Jackman was fantastic--as always.  He's said that he loves playing the character, and in all honesty, I love to watch him.  But there was a something hugely lacking in this film.

Don't get me wrong.  It's waaay better than Origins.  But it still felt lacking.

Interestingly enough, the film takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand, making this the first film to further that plotline in 7 years.  At the end of that film *SPOILERS*, Wolverine was forced to kill Jean Grey, who had been completely taken over by The Phoenix.  This film begins an undetermined amount of years later, with Wolverine having shunned all of humanity, living in the mountains, trying to deal with the emotional impact of having killed the second person he loved.

This should have made for a fantastic movie.  However, the film tries to do too much and too little at the same time.  One of the recurring themes in this movie is how Wolverine's long life means that everyone that means anything to him will die eventually--and as a particularly poignant combination, both people that he has grown to love have been killed because of his particularly dangerous lifestyle.

When Wolverine meets a young, beautiful woman and finds himself unexpectedly attracted to her, it should have been an interesting movie as he tried to deal with having feelings for someone in spite of his fears that they will be taken away from him.  However, that isn't the case, because this is a comic book movie, that means we have to constantly have explosions and chase scenes and action sequences.

Jackman has a few moments of pure, unadulterated awesome--beating up an animal abuser, beating the shit out of a bad guy to get information that culminates in one of the most WOLVERINE moments I've ever seen on the screen--but most of the action sequences feel kind of pointless.

I left to go refill my popcorn and drink and use the bathroom.  I was gone probably five minutes.  I came back, the action sequence was still going, and I hadn't missed anything.  My wife said:  "They got on a train."  That's it.  Action sequences need more than that.  It's why the light saber fights in the original Star Wars movies are so good.  They have emotional depth to them.  There's more than just two guys bashing swords.

This should have been way more awesome than it turned out being.

This movie also suffers from fetishizing the Asian culture.  I don't know anything about Japanse culture, really.  I've gleaned a tiny sliver from having watched some anime and read a bit of manga in college, but I wouldn't even begin to claim that I know anything, really.  So the fact that this movie is set in Japan bothers me for two reasons:

1) With the exception of having some set pieces, being set in Japan does nothing for the film.  I mean, sure, Wolverine having saved someone from the Nagasaki bombing is the catalyst of the film, but tweak that to him saving someone from a bombing in England during the blitzkrieg and you've got essentially the same idea.  Nothing about Japan is particularly necessary to the plot, and no themes that seem relevant to the Japanese culture that might have benefited by the setting are explored.  So, it's mostly just: look, exotic, eh?

2)  The Japanese culture that is shown in the film is incredibly cliched, stereotypical Japanese culture.  It's almost like the producers sat around and said, "What's Japanese? it.  Let's do this!"

JAPAN!!!  GET IT??!!

I'm not kidding.  They constantly reference "honor" throughout the movie, but not in a way that hinges on the plot or could really drive the plot in anyway.  But it comes across as if that's all Japanese people care about.

Also, the excuse for everything having a sort of feudal Japan feel to it is because Master McGuffin that calls Wolverine in is a "traditionalist."  They don't explore what that means.  We see several times when they're out wandering the streets that Japan looks pretty much like every other capitalist place, except for some weird hotels.  But it's never remarked upon.  It's just, "this guy likes it traditional" so that we can have a whole bunch of Japanese stereotypes shoved into our faces.

And don't get me started on Wolverine's love interest.  She is so incredibly bland.  She speaks in the same, soft, monotone throughout the movie, and does basically nothing.  The girl with the red hair in the film, Yukio, is way more awesome, but she gets side-lined so we can make room for the incredibly forced romance between The Wolverine and Mariko.

Would've preferred more of these two, less of the boring love interest.

All that said, you know what was nice?  To see so many PoC actors getting work.  I mean, it's sad that it has to be in a movie that relies on cultural stereotypes so much it might as well be a Japanese Medieval Times restaurant, but, hey, at least it's better than The Lone Ranger.

But, if you take out all of my complaining about the representation of Japanese culture, which I freely admit I'm not an expert on, the movie still isn't great.  The plot is nonsensical.  That in itself is not a crime: so were The Avengers and The Dark Knight's.  But those had nonsensical plots driven by nuanced interesting characters.  Even if, when the pieces were all put together it was convoluted and silly, you didn't care, because the people were so interesting.

In this one, while it starts with promise, after Yukio gets sidelined, the movie has a tendency to annoy and bore.  As I said, Jackman's good, but the romance is so incredibly forced I was afraid my eyes would roll so hard they'd pop out of my head.

I mean, I still say go see it, but don't really expect a whole lot.  It's fun, it's enjoyable, but it won't blow the doors of the genre.  It definitely wasn't as good as First Class.  Just enjoy what little screen time Yukio gets, Hugh Jackman being badass, and Hugh Jackman's incredibly-muscled-shirtless-most-of-the-time physique.

Daaaaaaaamn, Hugh!

And stay through the credits for a scene that sets up for X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Which is shaping up to be incredible.