Friday, 26 July 2013

The Wolverine - Watcher of Man

People keep saying that Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, but no actor is a character like Hugh Jackman absolutely is James Howlett.

Hugh Jackman has portrayed the Wolverine in six films (seven as of next year's release of Days of Future Past) since the year 2000. I read somewhere that that's a record for a superhero character, but even if it isn't that's a pretty decent run. The original X-Men film was what got me into live-action superhero films to begin with so long ago, and the Wolverine has followed me ever since. It's funny, because I can't say that the Wolverine has been one of my favourite superheroes for that long. In the beginning he was more like a watcher, he was always there, always watching over man and the films. I knew of him, but he never really stood out. I can't pinpoint a moment where that changed, but somewhere over the last thirteen years it did, and the Wolverine began to be one of my highlights in superhero films.

Many people despised X-Men Origins: The Wolverine, the film that was set to launch an entire new series of X-Men films for Fox. So much they despised it, that four years later no other film in the series has dared emerged, and instead a new series was started to wash away the foul taste that was Origins. I, on the other hand, never had much trouble with the film. I thought it was good fun, and I kept waiting for other films to follow. Back in late 2009 or 2010 I heard about an entirely new film, simply called The Wolverine. Its title alone suggested that it wanted to erase the previous Wolverine centric film, which most referred to as just The Wolverine. I was wary at first, in the early days it sounded like they wanted to reboot the character to an extent. Erasing past events and putting in new as they saw fit, and the wariness never completely faded.

I was never really looking forward to The Wolverine as I've been with many other superhero films, it was more of a piece of knowledge in the back of my head that knew it was coming and that I wanted to see it when the time was here. Then all of a sudden I received an e-mail from my local cinema that tickets now were available for purchase. I was quick to jump online and reserve my seat, quicker than I had thought I would be. Finally there was but only a week till I could watch the film. The knowledge in the back of my head spurt forward and my eagerness grew each day. It was like all the desire to watch it came out at once, it had hidden for so many years but could not wait a second longer. And it was a week of torture as I waited for the screening.

Today finally came, and little over four hours ago I got in my car and headed for the cinema. On my way I kept going over all of the X-Men films in my head. Both the ones I had loved, and the ones... I had loved less. I couldn't make up my mind of what exactly I thought this film would be, or even what I wanted it to be, I just wanted to see it for myself. And I have to say, whatever my expectations were, they were not disappointed.

I left the cinema with a feeling of relief. They had managed to make a really good Wolverine centric film, sure Origins was fun, but this was a genuinely good film. I'm sure there are people out there right now screaming at me, saying that it wasn't good, but I don't care. In my eyes this was good.

Almost every film featuring the Wolverine to this point has been centred around his origins, figuring out where he came from and why he is like he is. And that's why this film is so refreshing, it's about Logan as he is now. It's his present and he's trying to figure out what he wants to be, not what he used to be. Before you shout your eyes out, yes, there were flashbacks, and Logan did reminisce over old times. But it wasn't the same as before. It used to be that the whole idea of Logan was his past, he's old, he's lived through a lot of things, and he remembered little of it. But now he knows who he was, he doesn't care about the past, it's the future that worries him now.

The film has everything you'd want and expect from a Wolverine film. We have Logan running around being badass, kicking people's asses using both his claws and wits. We have the occasional burst of anger, revealing the real beast that is beneath him everyday. And we have the ongoing signs of compassion and love, showing that even though he is more animal than most, he still loves and cares for others. There is one point in the film that shows this that I particularly liked, it's not really a spoiler, so you should be fine. We have Logan out on a balcony, and a vision of Jean appears. Logan has just been running from the yakuza, saving a woman who's being chased. Jean says: "I thought you were done being a hero." Logan simply replies with: "She was in trouble."
That one line is probably my favourite line out of all of the X-Men films, the very sentiment that lays beneath it. Even though he didn't want any part of heroics, he saw someone in trouble and didn't think other thoughts than to help them.

I think The Wolverine is the best superhero film of the year so far, and in my opinion one of the better ones ever made, period. But don't let my words and thoughts mean everything to you, just go out and watch it. You might hate it, you might love it. All I know, is that I loved it.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Back-up: White Pig - Mmmm, Bacon

I've gotten more and more into Kickstarter and Indiegogo lately, probably mostly thanks to Iron Sky and its crowdfunding endeavors. There's something about seeing projects you like and give them your personal green light, and I know I'm far from the only one. Veronica Mars's campaign for a film tore Kickstarter's roof off, and Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here did tremendously well right after. It seems that right now we are at a state where everyone knows about crowdfunding, and a lot of us are actively contributing.

Right now projects for films are basically just pre-sales for DVDs and posters, you put in X amount of money and receive items that will later sell at X-1 amount of money. At the campaign they have to up the price, because the DVDs and posters are just perk. You're supposed to pay for the film to be made at all, and that's where the main problem lays. The project runners have to really think through their campaigns or everything can be ruined, it's more or less a full-time job just making sure the campaign runs smoothly and everyone gets what they need. The smaller guys who are doing it all on their own can end up burnt out before even starting to produce what the campaign promised. Even the bigger guys run into this, just look at the recent Double Fine Kickstarter, they got two and a half million dollars more than what they asked for, and they just didn't know what to do with the money. Now they're having to release half the game, sell that to the general public and use the profits off of that to deliver on the promises they made to their backers. It's no easy task.

This will be a new irregular series of blog posts to give you a break from my film reactions, where I show you various film projects in need of funding that to me look interesting and worthy of you contribution. I will put a disclaimer here right away, I may not personally back all of these projects financially (I'd end up broke quicker than the Flash can run to Sweden) but they will be projects that I do believe should be made. The first film on my list is a Danish project on Indiegogo called White Pig.

White Pig is coming from director David Noel Bourke who's previously directed No Right Turn which got critical acclaim both in its homeland Denmark and internationally. With White Pig he wants to tell the story of a racist murderer and the police woman who is trying to track him down. On the surface it seems like a really standard story, one that we've seen many times before, and that was my initial thought as well. But upon further inspection it seems like he's trying to do something different with this.

I've always believed that every story has been told, it's up to storytellers to tell them more interestingly and in a different way, and that really seems to be the case here. It seems like they are really trying to convey what racism really is. What it means and how it feels. It's not the generic "racism is bad, m'kay", they're taking a real racist, putting him through trials and want us to understand him. Remember now, understand and agree are two completely different things, I do not believe they're trying to promote racism as a good thing. They're trying to make us think about it again. I feel that in many places, at least here in Scandinavia, racism isn't much of a discussion topic anymore. Even though it happens all the time. Everyone wants to believe that everything is fine and that if you do not poke at your scab nothing bad will happen. Unlike a scab, however, racism isn't a thing that's just going to fall off when it's good and ready. We have to actively poke it, stir it and think about it. Action is a result of thinking, we cannot do anything about anything before we think about it.

The reason this film is on Indiegogo and didn't just go through "the normal channels" is more or less the reason everyone else is doing it, they want more creative control. They have already gone to studios with the films, and there has been interest, it's just that they want to cut out a lot of violence and language that will hurt the message it's trying to tell, it'd probably just end up like any other cop-murderer-chase film.

White Pig Movie MOOD TEASER from david noel bourke on Vimeo
Even in the mood teaser seen above they start throwing around offensive words, words that I myself am uncomfortable saying, and really violent imagery. It just reinforces my thoughts that they're wanting to share what goes through such an extreme racist's mind.

Now here comes the part that's really great, and something I've seen rarely mentioned even in the aftermaths of big-time campaigns, White Pig has gotten an international distributor ready to sign on. Angel Scandinavia has agreed to distribute the film on what seems to be just one condition (at least what's made public) and that is that the Indiegogo campaign gets 60 backers. They are currently at 47 so that's just 13 more and there is a guaranteed international distribution. There will also be a local cinema release which's extent I'm uncertain of, probably contained to some cinemas in Copenhagen, Denmark. With this information the project managers are promising to complete the film no matter what, even if they do not hit their funding goal (on Indiegogo you don't have to hit the goal to receive funds).

So come one, come all, for just ten euros (roughly thirteen US dollars) you can get your own digital download of the film estimated to be distributed by April of 2014. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go throw some money at my screen and see what happens.

Indiegogo page
Facebook page
Director's twitter

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Lone Ranger - An Epic Tale of Lawyers and Rail Road Owners

I've never been a big fan of western films, the very idea of it just never appealed to me. I think the only western film I ever liked was Wild Wild West (shut up, baby, I know it) and that's mostly just because I was a massive Will Smith fan when I was younger. Because of this I never really looked into anything about The Lone Ranger, I had vague knowledge of it being an old serial originally, and that Johnny Depp was in it. That was it. I never had any real plans to go watch it, but my dad is a big western fan having grown up in the genre's golden age so it was a fun father-son trip to the cinema. And I have to say, I was surprised.

The film starts off a bit weirdly in that we are in San Francisco in 1933, aka not the wild west in either time or place, and we're following a kid who I've seen enough posters to understand is supposed to be dressed up as the Lone Ranger. He's at a carnival and enters an exhibit about the old west. It's perhaps the most interesting exhibit I've ever seen in my life. Featuring stuffed buffalo, stuffed bears and a "noble savage in its natural habitat" (aka Indian, aka Native American, aka human who lived in America before Europeans). The kid is really impressed, and then the stuffed man starts to move and talk. No one else notices it, so either the kid is crazy, or talking exhibits was all the rage back in Frisco' '33. The man quickly turns out to be Tonto, the sidekick of the Lone Ranger and he starts telling this poor kid all about his life with kemosabe.

I really don't see the point of starting the story like this, having Tonto retell it (especially seeing how there are several scenes where Tonto isn't even present, he clearly isn't the main character). It could serve as a way of mystifying the audience on whether this is a true fictional event, or if he just made it all up and is coo-coo for kemosabe. It has more negative sides than positive ones: For starter it means that Tonto isn't going to die, it sort of cheapens the intense moments when you know that his life isn't at stake. Most of the time stuff like that doesn't bother me, but I can definitely see why others would be bothered, and it's a problem they didn't even have to have. They could've just told the story as it happens, the flashback really isn't necessary.
I'd say it's so that Johnny Depp is guaranteed to live on and not die, and hence be part of future money-making endeavors, but he's one of the few main cast members who hasn't already signed a multi-picture contract, so he can't be that interested in it.

Pfew, wow, that was a lot more ranting than I thought I had in me on the matter. Onward towards the actual story.

There is a lot of very stereotypical western things going on in the beginning, we have a bank robbery, a train chase, a prisoner on a train on his way to be hung, and a lot of men and women in either very fancy garments or pathetically filthy cloth. The beginning really is rather slow and down right boring at times, you know what is going to happen, and even I who've seen very few western start to pick up on tropes I've experienced through parodies and spoofs. I want to believe it is because the film itself actually is a parody or spoof and when I'm looking back at it it feels that way, but when I was in the theatre watching it I just couldn't enjoy it on that level. It didn't go far enough to become a real spoof, if it had just pushed its limits a bit further it would've been much more enjoyable at first viewing.
It builds up tension a bit here and there, but then it suddenly drops, I can't get a real grip on the dramaturgy, and while I was sitting there I wondered why it lasted over two and a half hours. They could've easily shed close to an hour off and still have a film, but maybe that is just because films these days -at least blockbusters- are expected to be two and a half hours and not the one and a half as I grew up accustomed to.

I never felt really concerned about either John Reid (the Lone Ranger) or Tonto, the only real emotional connection I had to them was linked more to the actors they were portrayed by. I think both Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp are excellent actors and this film would've been completely different without them. In fact, most of the characters seem more like shadows, they are there to serve a purpose and can't really act on their own. One of the antagonists is at first "portrayed" as a protagonist, but you just know that he's actually an antagonist. You've seen enough films to at a glance recognise every character's trope, and it leaves you never surprised at anything. Nothing is ever truly out of character. Now, don't get me started on the female characters, they are either scared and fragile and just need a man's love or they are hookers.There's no real middle ground. Yes, the hookers, at least the main one, is a strong character who fights for herself and doesn't need a man in her life. But did they really have to be hookers? I know there were a big demand back then, and it's accurate, but you could've made the non-hooker females a bit more deep and self-supportive.

This film's genre is supposed to be western comedy, but they only really got the western part right. I mean, there are moments you know are supposed to be funny, and I did hear people in the theatre laughing, but most of time it was just silence and muffled giggles. When and if I laughed I laughed more because others laughed, because I "had" to laugh, than because it was actually amusing. Yes, there are some lines and events that are genuinely funny, but I don't think any film in this day and age doesn't have those. Perhaps some of those super artsy school films, I don't know, I'm still catching up on those.

The worst part of the film, however, is just how amazing the last twenty-thirty minutes are. The ending to this film is phenomenal, and I won't go too much into detail -I want you to watch it on your own- but this is where the film really shows what it could've been. Almost everything I've complained about above is magically fixed. It's funny, it's exciting, I care for the characters! I don't know how it happened it just did.
This final sequence is enough for me to want a sequel, if they can make a sequel that is like that, it will be great. I could tell the audience with me was much more into that part as well, lots of gasps and laughs.

It's funny, no matter how many bad things I can think of regarding this film it still stands out as a positive film experience in my head. Looking back at it all as more of a parody than the serious film it sometimes tried too hard to be really improves it. It's just too bad that you actually have to watch it once and think about it to really appreciate it. But hey! Maybe I'm just really stupid and you see it as a parody right away, if you do, let me know what you think. Because I think it would be really good.