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March 8th, 2017

LOGAN (2017) ****

Logan is a somber movie to begin with, but it’s made all the more poignant because it’s an opportunity to say goodbye to a friend. Yes, after seventeen years and nine X-Men films, Hugh Jackman has retired from the role that made him an international superstar. Of course, I'll believe it when I see it. Superheroes are killed off and brought back all the time, so we’ll see just how long his retirement lasts.

If this is truly Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, it's a fitting send-off as Logan is easily the best of the three standalone Wolverine movies. While I can’t say it’s the best X-Men film, it certainly has more heart than any of them. That alone is something to treasure.

In the near future, mutants have almost nearly been eradicated. Logan keeps Professor X (Patrick Stewart) hidden away from the world while he moonlights as a limo driver to get enough cash to buy a yacht so he can retire and spend the rest of his days at sea. When he finds a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) with powers remarkably similar to his, he becomes her protector and eventually learns to care about humanity again.

The quiet moments are the best ones. This is more of a character study about a character with superpowers than a superhero movie. Logan is older. Beaten down. He doesn't heal as fast as he once did and his claws don't come out like they used to. He’s done with seeing the people he cares about dying around him. Because of that, he isolates himself from the world, more to save himself the pain of losing someone close to him than anything.

Of course, when he meets the little girl, all of that changes. Slowly though. Logan is a reluctant hero after all, and it takes him a while to fully embrace his role as a father figure. The scenes of Logan, the Professor, and Laura together almost feel like a road movie. Despite their makeshift family unit and an occasional moment of familial respite, we have a feeling that it’s all going to end in bloodshed.

My initial reaction to the film was that it lacked a strong central villain. Boyd Holbrook is good as the henchman, but the big bad is Richard E. Grant (acting understated for a change), who’s just a guy in lab coat. The big face-off comes between Logan and a younger, faster, meaner clone of himself. I guess it makes sense. If anyone can challenge Logan, it’s The Wolverine.

After sleeping on it, I realized that the real villain here is time. Time has taken his friends. Time has made him old. Time has weakened him. Time has made him calloused. Time has made him leery of making personal connections for fear of losing them.

The R rating is a bit gratuitous at times as the film descends into needless overkill and unnecessary F-Bombs. However, you needed the R rating in order to show the psychological effects of violence on a child. Laura kills several dozen henchmen in self-defense and it’s up to Logan to teach her how to live with it. The thing is; he has no easy answers for her. (When she tells Logan all the men she killed were bad, he replies, “It’s all the same.”) That’s some pretty heady stuff for a comic book movie.

James (The Wolverine) Mangold films the action in a solid manner. He takes advantage of the R rating as lots of limbs and heads are lopped off. Logan also uses his claws to skewer people in a variety of ways that were only hinted at in his previous PG-13 adventures. The film is at its best though the further away it gets from the usual superhero clichés. Heck, the scene of the Professor and Laura in a hotel room watching Shane on TV is one of the best moments in any of the films in the series.

The script still feels like it has one foot stuck in the old superhero realm. Some of the dramatic beats feel a bit rushed too. That’s okay though because Jackman and Stewart bring so much of their past history to these scenes that they work on sheer goodwill and familiarity alone.

Logan is a bleak movie, but it’s not a complete downer. There are plenty of little character moments here that are just note-perfect. Like when Logan finally breaks down and buys a pair of glasses he doesn't bother to take the price tag off. Or when someone tries to shoot his limo and he uses his body as a shield to save his livelihood.

I’ll admit, I did have a lump in my throat at the end. The last shot of the film ends things on a perfect note. The reason is simple: This is the rare comic book movie that is more focused on ending a chapter instead of setting up a new one.

I can see why Jackman would want to walk away on that note. If this is indeed his last one, I wish him well on his future endeavors. Thank you, sir. You are a true class act and your films were thoroughly enjoyed.

X-MEN MOVIE SCORECARD:

X-Men: Apocalypse: ****
Deadpool: ****
X-Men: Days of Future Past: ****
X-Men 2: X-Men United: ****
X-Men: ****
X-Men 3: The Last Stand: ****
Logan: ****
X-Men: First Class: *** ½
X-Men: Origins: Wolverine: *** ½
The Wolverine: ***

CAT IN THE CAGE (1978) ** ½

World class sex symbols Sybil Danning and Colleen Camp star in this nutty mix of noir and slasher movie. Sybil marries an old guy (Frank DeKova) for his money and has her lover, the chauffeur (Mel Novak) bump him off. Her stepson (Bruce Vaughn) just got out of the nuthouse, so there's some tension there, mostly because she hates his cat. When the chauffeur winds up murdered, the increasingly hysterical Sybil fears she'll be next.

Cat in the Cage came out a few years before neo-noir thrillers like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Body Heat were becoming popular. The sex scenes are probably the main selling point too. They are tastefully done by director Tony (Werewolf) Zarindast and aren’t at all exploitative. Camp and Danning’s bodies aren’t the main focus of these scenes, but rather how their character interacts with their partner. Of course, if Zarindast sleazed things up a bit more, it might’ve made for a better movie, but every now and then you’ve got to appreciate a classy approach to one of these thrillers.

The problem is that the narrative is just too disjointed. The addition of a masked killer perks things up just when you think the film has run out of gas. It’s just a shame that the prolonged shootout finale goes on for far too long. The unsatisfying twist ending also takes a lot of wind out of the movie’s sails and it goes on about twenty minutes longer than necessary.

The funniest part of the film is the cat attacks. It looks like someone dangled string just off camera to make it bare its claws, and then they added high-pitches screeching cat sound effects in post. Unfortunately Zarindast ditches the crazy cat subplot about halfway through. It would’ve been a lot more fun if the cat was bumping people off instead of the crazy twin brother.

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FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974) *** ½

Freebie and the Bean is a messy, wild, freewheeling, sloppy, uneven, thrilling, ramshackle, and just plain fun prototypical buddy cop movie. James Caan and Alan Arkin star as bickering partners who play jokes on each other and make fun of each other’s ethnicities. They work together surprisingly well considering that they can barely tolerate each other.

Along the way they get into some amazing car chases, pile-ups, and car crashes. The scene where their car goes flying off the freeway and into the third story of apartment building is as good as anything in a Smokey and the Bandit movie. If that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.

I guess that’s to be expected since it was directed by Richard Rush, who also did the cult classic, The Stunt Man. There is some crazy stuff in this movie. There’s a car crash scene that probably inspired John Landis to make The Blues Brothers. We also get a scene that can only be described as a fist fight, but with a car and a van. Speaking of which, Rush also goes all-in on the fight scenes. I mean why stage a fight in a kitchen unless you’re going to destroy EVERYTHING in the kitchen.

It’s not always successful, but the spirit of unbridled anarchy that runs throughout the film is truly inspired. Another cool thing is that the plot unfolds mostly out of dialogue and the characters’ interactions instead of rote plot points and genre convention. It also helps that the two leads have a lot of chemistry together. It’s easy to forget how funny Caan can be when given comedic roles. It’s a shame he and Arkiin didn’t make an entire franchise out of this.

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