You Learn From Your Brothers (Last Flag Flying review)

I think you can learn a lot about an institution from how it’s offspring take off into the world and live their adult lives. This week’s movie review addresses that idea with warmth, drama and humour.

And just like real life, is simultaneously messed and unresolved.

 

Last Flag Flying (2017)

Cast: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Richard Linklater
released on blu-ray January 30, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: ***/*****

Richard Stuart Linklater is my all-time favourite director. And he’s been my favourite ever since I first watched Waking Life back in 2003 (even though the movie released in 2001). I was barely an adult then, so you might have to cut me some slack on the the time it took me to discover him. Point of fact, Chris and I will be sharing a Cross Talk in coming weeks about our favourite directors, so rather then dig into why I think he’s so amazing as I normally preface these posts, I’ll just share a couple of quick anecdotes now. I’ve reviewed two of Richard Linklater’s films before – Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some. And I recorded that upcoming Cross Talk episode before I watched this movie.

I’ve included the distributors synopsis below and modified it slightly to provide some context…

Thirty years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) reunite for a different type of mission: to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in Iraq. Forgoing burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Doc and his old buddies take the casket on a bittersweet trip up the coast to New Hampshire. Along the way, the three men find themselves reminiscing and coming to terms with the shared memories of a war that continues to shape their lives.

Naturalism is one of the major tools in Linklaters belt. He always manages to bring out the best and brightest of mundane aspects of life. Probably my favourite scene from the whole movie is the experience Carell’s character Doc has upon seeing his dead son when he demands that the military personal open the casket up for him. The camera pans out perfectly and we experience the secondhand emotion a third party would have normally by watching the very real and vulnerable grief someone extremely close to the recently deceased emote. I also enjoyed the interactions between Bryan Cranston’s Sal and the Colonel, that desire to challenge authority is common in many of Linklater’s characters.

And finally, the character of Doc appears very grounded in reality, though we never see him fully open up about his feelings, it is obvious how much he struggles with this unexpected turn of events.

Where the movie becomes a problem for me is in the interactions between the three main characters. They have spent a lot of time apart, and by circumstance are suddenly thrown back into each others lives, but it’s difficult to see why they ever got along or supported each other in the first place. This might be a failing on my part in not fully absorbing the awkward tension these men generate attempting to relate to each other after so much time apart. But I hope with subsequent viewings I can get to the bottom of the tone being explored here.

Pros: Linklater always manages to tell a real story, and stir up a ton of emotions running the gamet of the topic at hand. Never fully committing to one viewpoint or arc, he leaves the viewer with the choice to take something from the film or leave it. It’s difficult to swallow during a film about politics, death, and war.

ConsThat said, It does feel kind of superficial at times, and you don’t really believe the relationships these guys had could endure enough to take the road trip. Yes, they are professional actors, and they are all talented enough to sell their individual roles, but somehow it just doesn’t work thematically at all times.

Linklater has proven he can make any kind of movie, but all the elements of the film manage to conflict in such a negative way, it’s tough to accept this as film with his typical calibre of intent. It never feels especially revelatory, only sad and shallow.

And to sound even more contradictory, while I actually think the themes of patriotism, military service, and political ideologies are dealt with in a mature way, I wish at least one of the protagonists had chosen a side and let the film respond to it.

Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes

Points of Interest: The film is supposed to be a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail. Laurence Fishburne was Richard Linklater’s only choice for the character of Mueller. Principal photography took only 32 days to complete.

The concept is strong, and I can see what Linklater would have been drawn to it in the first place, but in the end it’s not strong enough in each of it’s parts to overcome the challenges presented and commit to a real anti-war message, instead choosing comedy and drama outbursts to convey the consequences.

theories Summarized

Taken together, each of the three protagonists add their own layer to this film about enduring after war-times. Brotherhood is strong, and I am reminded of the film The Deer Hunter, if only because the challenges of psychology, disruption, and resolution echo throughout both films consistently. Showcasing how two or three men raised in the same household (so to speak) could take different paths. It’s a profound statement to make, and as I mentioned earlier, a lesser director would have definitely missed all of the subtleties and disparate viewpoints within the issue. But ultimately, Last Flag Flying falls short for me, and is only a good film, not a great one. And that’s my theory.

That said, I have a really solid Watch Culture video that directly addresses the effects of war on the soul, and it serves as an excellent metaphor for impotence and decay. Surprise, surprise, a comic book movie was able to get an R rating and tell an engaging story. Can’t you tell how excited Mike and Chris are to discuss Logan? I can!

Logan will likely make you cry, but in a good way. And better still, it resolves so many threads of The Wolverine, while paying tribute to Hugh Jackman’s tenure. Check it out! And remember… Like! Comment! Subscribe!

Tim!

Why The 1970s Are Inspiring Films Today (Cross Talk Ep. 30)

There are definite echoes and recurrences of the 1970s cropping up in film.

It was a time of very serious filmmaking, when grit and resourcefulness were championed, emotions were raw and characters had very simple motivations. You killed my partner? I’m coming after you. We can’t make our marriage work? Let’s get divorced. Our crew needs to get home from the edge of the universe? There’s time to investigate an alien spacecraft.

Tensions were high, politics was laden with so many revolutions – sexuality, gender equality, television, nationalism, race relations. But at the core of it all were stories about characters, and the depth of field pushed backdrops to the edge of our attention.

For the sake of argument, I’m just going to quickly list off a bunch of famous films from that timeframe to demonstrate my point. Ready? Here we go. Star Wars, Jaws, The Exorcist, Alien, The French Connection, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, MASH, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, Rocky, A Clockwork Orange, Halloween, The Deer Hunter, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Carrie, Serpico, Chinatown, the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Sure I didn’t select comedies like The Muppet Movie and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but even those movies featured Nazis and a frog legs merchant. And were weird as shit. I’ll let you figure out which villain was for which film. Yes, there were complex films like Airport, but on that note, disaster films, exploitation and “B movies” were prominent in a decade of civil unrest. Any of this sounding familiar yet?

As we start to look back on the 2010s, I can see that there is a definite correlation in critical filmmaking and so we have some spiritual successors to 1970s classics. Movies like A Ghost Story mimic the epistemological 2001: A Space Odyssey, while Logan channels Badlands, The Man with No Name trilogy and so many other flicks like Five Easy Pieces. But maybe Baby Driver was more your speed, creative cuties? What about The Driver, The Italian Job (technically the 1960s, but just barely), and Smokey and the Bandit?

You know what, just watch the latest episode and decide for yourself if we are entering into a second renaissance of 1970s minimalism in film. AKA the return of the 1970s.

Cool right? Yeah, its a great idea to explore how themes repeat themselves over time, and yes there still plenty of examples of films inspired by the 1980s, but I have to wonder if anybody else is noticing this connection?

I hope you enjoyed watching this episode as much as Chris and I enjoyed recording it. But you know what we love more? Comments! Shares! And new subscribers! Check back in a day for an album review and a theory on why metal music gets better as you age.

Tim!

I’m Not Crying, It’s Just Been Raining On My Face (Logan review)

And if I am crying, it’s not because of you
It’s because I’m thinking about a friend of mine
You don’t know who is dying, that’s right, dying
These aren’t tears of sadness because you’re leaving me
I’ve just been cutting onions, I’m making a lasagna for one
Oh, I’m not crying, no

That’s all I could think of before I watched this movie for the second time. The first time being in theatres, and the second at home. And I cried both times.

Like a well adjusted man in touch with his emotions, and okay with them.

Logan (2017)

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
Director: James Mangold
re-released on blu-ray May 23, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 91%
The Guardian: ****/*****

James Mangold is an American director, screenwriter and producer. He’s been responsible for some great films like Heavy, Copland, Walk the Line, the 3:10 to Yuma remake, and The Wolverine. He’s also directed Girl, Interrupted, Kate & Leopold, Identity, and Knight & Day. Which means that over the course of a 30+ year career, he has refined his ability to craft gritty, masculine films about relationships, loss, and character development. I’m glad to share that I’ve been there with him in good films and bad, and when the times are good with Mangold, the times are really quite good.

After the somewhat moderate success of The Wolverine, I was excited to learn that when Mangold was signed on to do Logan, he went to the fanbase to get insights on how to develop the story. Much like Hugh Jackman has done throughout his tenure as James Howlett, Mangold really took stock of the material and worked it over with proper attention.

Taking elements from the Old Man Logan run and The Death of Wolverine run (spoiler alert), this film gives Jackman room to breathe, much like Tim Miller did with Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool, he focused on the nuances of him.

In the year 2029, mutants are almost extinct. An aging and limited Logan (Hugh Jackman) lives with mutant tracker Caliban (Stephan Merchant) and cares for nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has Alzheimer’s disease, which is effecting his telepathic abilities.

When a lady asks Logan to escort her and eleven-year-old girl Laura (Dafne Keen) to a place in North Dakota called “Eden”, he dismisses her at first. He then reluctantly accepts when money is offered, money that would get him and Charles onto open water away from people. But the Transigen corporation is looking for Laura, and they murder the lady, with Laura hiding in Logan’s vehicle.

Cyborg Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) heads up a team of Reavers to find Laura, but not before Logan and Charles learn that Transigen was breeding mutant children under project X-23, and when they moved onto project X-24, the children were to be euthanized. Laura is a clone of Wolverine, AKA Logan. Caliban is captured, but the other three escape.

On the way to North Dakota, Charles experiences another seizure, but it happens when the Reavers have closed in, allowing Laura and Logan to dispatch them. At one point on the journey the X-family stay with a farmer and his family after helping to wrangle their horses away from a busy highway. During the evenings events Logan helps the father fix the water pipes, and deal with the encroaching corporate farmers and their goons. While Logan is away Charles remembers another seizure he had as Westchester, one which claimed the lives of many of the X-men and several civilians. But he doesn’t reveal this to Logan, it is X-24 a feral clone of Logan with limited healing factor.

X-24 murders Charles and the farmers family, and abducts Laura for the Reavers and the man behind it all, Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant)

Caliban sacrifices himself by setting off grenades, but fails to kill Rice and Pierce. Logan barely stops X-24, but the farmer is injured and blames Logan for his families deaths, succumbing to his wounds.

The pair bury Xavier and find their way to Eden, where the remaining children have all escaped. But the Reavers have caught up to them once again. This time Logan uses a Transigen serum to temporarily restore his healing factor, and he takes out many of the men. Laura and other children get away, but Logan is stopped by Pierce and Rice. We learn that Logan killed Rice’s father while escaping from the Weapon X program, and that the destruction of mutantkind was designed by adding a genetic dampener to the water and laced into the food supply. Without no hesitation Logan shoots Rice dead, but Pierce releases a renewed X-24, who impales Logan on a tree. The children wipe out Pierce with their powers and Laura shoots X-24 with an adamantium bullet before it can finish Logan off.

Before dying, Logan calls Laura his daughter, compels her to not be a weapon like him, and accepts the feeling of death. Laura and the other children bury him and head towards Canada, but Laura repositions the cross in the shape of an X before walking away.

A fitting send off for the man who would be Wolverine. Logan doesn’t necessarily fit into the Fox X-verse proper, but it doesn’t earn him his movie death, and it puts some great rose-coloured glasses over the seven films he starred in (nine if you include cameos).

Also what a great way to send off Patrick Stewart as well. The legacy left by these two characters/actors will likely be analyzed by movie geeks in the decades to come.

Pros: This movie takes what is now a common genre in filmmaking, the superhero, strips it off it’s special effects and adrenaline soaked pacing, and allows a real story to happen over its run time. The R-rating was almost necessary to allow Mangold the space to do Wolverine Justice. Jackman, Stewart, and newcomer Keen are all enthralling to watch.

Cons: That we had to experience nine films and a great darkness over the Fox X-verse before we could get to excellent depictions of two X-men characters. Three if you count Deadpool. And man is it dark. Where will Laura go from here?

Runtime: 2 hours 17 minutes

Points of Interest: James Mangold set the film in 2029 to give it distance from the rest of the film continuity and create a separate film with almost no requirements or expectations to carry into more sequels. The film relies very little on CGI and green screens. Also the debut film role of Dafne Keen.

Logan definitely earns its R-rating, and while there has been much speculation over whether Deadpool forced that direction, I’m glad for it either way. It pulls some influences from comic books like Old Man Logan and The Death of Wolverine without emulating the self-referential stuff too much. Heck at once point Logan even chides Laura by saying “…we’ve got ourselves an X-Men fan… Maybe a quarter of it happened — but not like this. In the real world people die! And no self-promoting asshole in a fucking leotard can stop it!”

This movie deserves to at the top of the comic book movie heap, it does all the kinds of things that The Dark Knight did, but it has infinitely more heart.

theories Summarized

What else can I tell you about this movie? You should expect a longer more thoughtful take on the Wolverine, with character development being central to the plot. I think it deserves to win movie awards, and it’s a contender with Get Out for my favourite movie of 2017. Seriously that good. A fitting end for a guy who is the best at what he does. Only what he does isn’t very nice.

And that’s not a theory either, it’s well documented.

Tim!