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Wolverine, Table 19 & Lego Batman—Get Out!

March 5, 2017

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Now that the 2017 Oscars are finally over (they are over, right?), it’s time to turn the spotlight—wait, that was last year’s winner… it’s time to turn the moonlight on 2017’s new releases. I’ll spare you a longer review of Fifty Shades Darker since it’s exactly what you’d expect: unintentionally funny and entirely unsexy. But I will share thoughts on six films, three of which transcend their genre, and the other three, not so much.

Let’s start with America’s No. 1 film: Logan. I’d all but sworn off superhero movies a few Iron Men ago, because I’d felt like I’d seen it all before. I did see Deadpool and found it moderately amusing (and only tolerable because Ryan Reynolds’ intolerably smug face is hidden by a mask for much of the movie). Like Deadpool, Logan is an R-rated Marvel movie, but this one’s actually mature as opposed to just “adult.”

Perhaps to set the tone, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine says the f-word about six times in the movie’s first five minutes, but the script (cowritten by Scott Frank, the gifted adapter of Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight and Get Shorty) grows considerably more elegant than that. Wolvie’s on the run with an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart, stellar as always) and a seemingly mute mutant girl (Dafne Keen, a remarkable rookie) from evil scientists led by the magnetic Richard E. Grant and Boyd Holbrook.

Okay, it doesn’t sound like much of a story, but cowriter-director James Mangold is a genuinely versatile filmmaker in the mode of George Stevens, whose Western Shane is quoted both visually and verbally in Logan. Mangold has made everything from crime dramas like Cop Land to musical biopics like Walk the Line, and he uses Johnny Cash’s music over the closing credits, as well as in the trailer above, to great effect. The movie attains real emotional heft, giving the occasional bursts of Walking Dead-style gore more impact than mere shock value. Jackman’s dramatically muscular performance makes it even sadder that after Logan, he’ll be an ex-X-Man.

One of the standouts in Logan‘s supporting cast, Stephen Merchant (as an albino mutant-sniffer!), fares less well in another of this weekend’s new releases, Table 19. This movie seems to have greater ambitions than to just be yet another wedding-themed rom-com, but it ends up being just that. Perhaps the original script, by mumblecore auteurs Jay and Mark Duplass, wasn’t so formulaic, but as rewritten and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, it’s even less interesting than its “Breakfast Club for adults” elevator pitch: a gang of outcasts at the worst table at a wedding band together and learn valuable lessons about life.

Anna Kendrick, whose questionable taste in roles after her throwaway part in John Krasinski’s The Hollars seems even shakier now, has what it takes to play a charming romantic lead, but she’s mismatched with Wyatt Russell as her ex-boyfriend and the wedding’s best man. The rest of the ensemble—Merchant, The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori, Nebraska‘s June Squibb, and the formidable comic duo of Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow—do what they can with their one-dimensional characters. But it’s all so depressingly predictable, you’ll wish these actors had divorced themselves from Table 19.

Back on the plus side, two films that deliver more than might’ve been expected continue to hold up well at the box office: Jordan Peele’s horror comedy Get Out and The Batman Lego Movie. I’m generally not a fan of shockers or cartoons, but the intelligence behind these flicks elevates them above the pack. Get Out manages to be a razor-sharp satire of racist “liberals” with its inspired mashup of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives. And Lego Batman captures the witty spirit of the ’60s TV series while vocally reuniting Arrested Development relatives Will Arnett and Michael Cera as the Caped Crusader and his trusty sidekick Robin. Holy Bluth!

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On the other hand, a pair of promising-on-paper movies that quietly made their debuts on VOD this weekend demonstrate the limitations of their creators’ imaginations. I was really hoping The Assignment would mark a return to form for Walter Hill, maker of such action classics as The Warriors and 48 Hrs. But its lurid premise—a diabolical surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) performs gender-reassignment surgery on a hood without his consent—is undercut by a ludicrous performance from Michelle Rodriguez, who’s neither convincing as a hit man nor as a hit woman.

Last and possibly least, even the feral Michael Shannon can’t redeem Wolves (not to be confused with Wolverine) from its pedestrian script by director Bart Freundlich (who’s still better known as Julianne Moore’s real-life husband than for any of his underwhelming films). Shannon plays a compulsive gambler whose debts threaten the future of his high-school basketball star son (American Crime‘s solid Taylor John Smith). Every time Wolves verges on becoming intriguing, like when the underused Carla Gugino seems attracted to her strapping son, it reverts to cliches straight out of better movies like The Gambler (the James Caan original, not the Mark Wahlberg abomination) and Hoosiers.

To put it in gambling terms, Logan, Get Out and The Lego Batman Movie are sure winners, each set to surpass $100 million in the U.S. alone, but Table 19, The Assignment and Wolves are losing bets. I’m speaking creatively, but that applies to the box office as well. Maybe the American moviegoing public is developing good taste? Then again, Fifty Shades Darker has grossed $110 million domestically. I guess there are still some gluttons for cinematic punishment.

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