Directed By: Greg McLean
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz
Imagine going to work one day only to find yourself trapped inside with all your fellow coworkers, with no way out and a seemingly-omniscient voice speaking to you all on the intercom with a simple mandate: Two of you must be killed or others will die. For the 80 multinational employees working at the Colombian branch of Belko Industries, this is exactly their day, and what initially seems like little more than an elaborate prank ultimately reveals itself to be something far more sinister, as the mysterious voice's increasingly twisted requirements and machinations breed paranoia that sends many spiraling into madness with the sole desire to survive no matter the cost.
This is the basis for The Belko Experiment, which has been delivered to the world by director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) from a script by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither, Super). Were you to take elements of films like Saw, The Mist, and Battle Royale, with a little dash of Cabin in the Woods thrown in for good measure, and mix it all in one big cinematic blender, the result would be The Belko Experiment, a film that definitely lives up to its premise while simultaneously stumbling to bring that little extra something to the table that could've made it truly satisfying.
The film is populated by a game cast that includes John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, familiar Gunn veterans like his brother, Sean, and Michael Rooker, and many more, but the focus is spread so thin across all of them that there really is no chance for deep characterization. Gallagher's Mike is the decent guy trying to find a way to do the right thing. Arjona's Leandra is his girlfriend. Goldwyn's Barry, everyone's boss, views all of them as expendable when they don't suit his needs anymore. McGinley's Wendell is the office creep. And so on. Of course, some actors shine brighter than others - McGinley, for instance, does play a good creep - but ultimately everyone is left to fend for themselves with what little they've been given, much like the actual characters they're playing, the end result being that when bodies start dropping, it's hard to really care about the fate of most of the group.
Even further, the paper thin characterization actually only goes to hammer home a sense of predictability about the entire affair. It doesn't take long before you can start figuring out who's going to make it to the final act or not based on how much screentime they're getting, and save a decent twist on a standard horror trope involving a character who spends much of the film in hiding, there's nothing about the story that really plays out in an unexpected way, which is pretty disappointing, especially when Gunn has more than proven he can subvert certain genre expectations in the past with his stories.
Directed By: James Mangold
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
I'm going to keep this short and sweet - or as short as possible, at least - and get right down to it: Logan is the movie that fans of the X-Men series and the character of Wolverine have been waiting for. Since Hugh Jackman first stepped into the shoes of everyone's favorite adamantium-clawed mutant back in Bryan Singer's original X-Men film in 2000, he's turned up in every single X-Men movie since in big parts and cameos, with two of those films - 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013's The Wolverine - being entirely his to own. For 17 years now, Jackman has lived and breathed this character, shining bright even during the franchise's lowest points, and it's a testament to just how beloved his performance has become for so many people that even brief appearances, like in last year's X-Men: Apocalypse, can elicit a visceral reaction of excitement from audiences nearly two decades on.
From the very beginning, Logan was constructed as Jackman's last outing as the character, and expectations have always been high that it could overcome the previous Wolverine movies - The Wolverine was good, but Origins was a disaster - and stand up alongside the franchise's best entries, like 2003's X2 and 2014's Days of Future Past, to give both character and actor the sendoff they deserved. And with the success of Deadpool last year proving that there's a market for solid R-rated comic book movies, Logan was given the chance to follow suit, allowing for Jackman, director James Mangold, his fellow writers, Scott Frank and Michael Green, and everyone involved to let loose and unleash the Wolverine in a way the franchise has only scratched the surface of over the years.
As any fan of the X-Men franchise can attest, continuity isn't the series' strong suit. After the conclusion of the original trilogy back in 2006 with X-Men: The Last Stand, the films that followed have never been able to maintain any sense of true cohesion, making it a nightmare for perfectionists who like every little detail to click into place while giving the franchise a bit of freedom to change things it deems fit - no matter how contradictory they are with past events - in the pursuit of making each new film the best it can be. Whether it's worked is something that can only be discussed on a film by film basis, but Logan on its own is no exception to this unspoken rule, cherry-picking elements from its predecessors to tell the story it wants to tell, all to successful effect.
Aside from Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, no other familiar faces from the franchise turn up here. This is Wolverine's ride, not theirs, which is fitting for a character who has long been defined by his agelessness and resulting loneliness. At the outset of Logan, Logan himself is working a thankless job on the U.S./Mexico border as a limo driver to scrape up money to buy a boat so that he and Xavier - whose senility has long since made him unbalanced, prone to seizures that can, and have, hurt anybody unlucky enough to be around when he has one - can live out their days on the ocean, away from society. With mutantkind having nearly been eradicated, with no mutant births occurring in a long time, and all his friends gone, Logan is simply counting down the clock, his own body beginning to fail him, too, his age finally catching up, his claws popping out slower than they used to, and his wounds taking longer and longer to heal.
And then, one day, his past catches up to him, and he finds himself unwillingly tasked with protecting a young mutant girl named Laura - who bears more than a few striking similarities to him - from a shady company seeking to reclaim her as their property. Along with Charles, the two set out on a roadtrip to deliver her to a safe haven known as Eden, pursued by their enemies and haunted by the ghosts of their past.
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