A very short review of the Season 7 premiere of “American Horror Story” (2017)

I finally got around to watching my first episode of “American Horror Story” last night; I started with this season’s critically praised premiere.  (People have been enthusiastically recommending this show to me for years, and “Game of Thrones” taught me that the bandwagon isn’t always a bad thing.)

I can’t say that I was overly impressed.  Season 7’s opening episode, entitled “Election Night,” consists mostly of heavy-handed political commentary with caricaturized portrayals of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters.  Nearly none of the characters are likable; not even the one played by the terrific Evan Peters.  (Yes, comics fans, that’s none other than Quicksilver from the latest “X-Men” movies.)

There is a lot of “scary clown” horror here, as anyone who’s seen any marketing for the show at all should know.  Between that and the political elements, I suspect I am not the right audience for this show.  I simply find clowns obnoxious instead of scary, and political commentary in horror usually falls flat with me.  (I’m the rare horror fan who loves George A. Romero’s work only because it’s scary, without caring much about the social statements he’s supposedly making.)

With all of that said, there actually were a couple of creepy moments late in the game.  And there was one (as of yet, minor) character that I liked — the child of the liberal couple who were so devastated by the election results.  He’s cute, and any kid who hides parentally forbidden horror comics under his pillow is one of my tribe.

I’d somewhat grudgingly rate this a 5 out of 10.

Anyway … scary clowns are ubiquitous now, and we already have the zombie shows we need.  I propose that we bring back … body snatchers.  Those can be terrifying in the hands of a talented writer, and they require no special effects.  Or, what about vampires?  Now that “The Strain” has concluded, how about a well written television excursion into Steve Niles’ “30 Days of Night” universe?  Or maybe a “Stakeland” TV show?  Looking at you, AMC.

 

 

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Variant cover to “X-Men” #1, Jim Lee, 1991

I previously identified the variant covers for Jim Lee’s first issue as a single four-section fold-out.  That was a mistake.  These were four variant covers for Issue #1 that comprised a larger picture when you placed them side-by-side.

In 1991, this racked up $7 million in revenue from preorder alone, and was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling comic book of all time.

 

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A review of “Logan” (2017)

I’m not sure I agree with quite all of the accolades that “Logan” (2017) has been receiving.  (It’s being compared with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” for example, as well as Frank Miller’s medium-altering 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”)  It’s still a damn good movie, though, and easily among the best of Fox’s “X-Men” series.  I’d give it a 9 out of 10, and I’d firmly recommend it.

This absolutely doesn’t feel like a “comic book movie.”  It feels more like a brutally violent, sometimes introspective, road-trip drama — though all of the comic book elements are still there.  I’d caution comic book fans that “Logan” was actually much darker than I expected — and, no, it wasn’t just because of the visceral violence that could only be afforded by this movie’s unusual “R” rating.  There was a lot more that went on here that got under my skin … I just can’t say more for fear of spoilers.

There is one thing I can tell you — there is none of the escapism of past “X-Men” films.  (C’mon, for being about a supposedly oppressed group, those movies always made being a mutant look fun as hell, and even glamorous.)  This film follows an aging, ailing Wolverine, and an even worsely afflicted Professor X — subsisting in secret in the Mexico desert.  What’s more, they and their aging friend, Caliban, appear to be among the last of their kind, thanks to an unexplained, decades-long absence of new mutant births.  And what little exposition is given about the other X-Men suggests that they are dead.  If you’ve been a fan of these iconic characters for a long time, then seeing Wolverine and Professor X being so painfully not larger than life is jarring, and even sad.  No matter what is the outcome of its story, this movie’s plot setup alone can make an “X-Men” fan a little despondent.

The action is damned good.  The movie surprised me by how smart it was, too.  Its examination of violence and its consequences is unflinching.  Also, we’ve been instructed through so many “X-Men” movies that humans should not seek to contain the mutants out of fear … yet “Logan” adroitly and subtly questions such one-sided moralizing.  The acting, across the board, is extremely good — predictably from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and surprisingly from 11-year-old Dafne Keen.  She’s perfect as the young, imperiled, yet ferocious Laura.

My complaints with “Logan” were minor.  One thing that irked me was my own confusion about whether it was “canon.”  Are we to assume that this takes place in the “X-Men” movies’ “main continuity?”  Or is this a parallel universe or a different timeline?  The feel of this film is so radically different that I found it difficult to imagine it following the previous films (although the post-credits sequence in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” seems to set up “Logan.”)  I thought that this was based on Marvel Comics’ “Old Man Logan” storyline … wasn’t that an alternate universe story?

Maybe adding more to my confusion, “X-Men” comic books actually exist in the universe of this film.  Laura carries a bunch of them, and they are a minor plot point.  Does this mean that the humans in this universe have finally accepted mutants, enough to create comic books about them being heroes?  How did that come about?

My second criticism of “Logan” is that the character of Laura is thinly rendered.  Saving her is the plot device for the entire film, and Keen is absolutely talented.  Shouldn’t we know more about her, and about her relationship with Logan and Charles?

All in all, this was a superb film, though — with an unexpected tone and a surprisingly sober, risk-taking approach to Jackman’s avowed last appearance as Wolverine.  If you like the “X-Men” movies at all, then you should definitely see it.

 

 

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A review of “Deadpool” (2016)

I’ve never read a single “Deadpool” comic book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.  It’s  a fun, creative and …  unconventional entry into the “X-Men” film  franchise that actually made me laugh out loud a few times.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

It isn’t high art.  It’s got a thin story based on a rickety plot device, nearly no exposition, and it includes some cartoonish action that I thought was just too over the top, even by comic book movie standards.  (Our hero dodges bullets and survives a stab to the brain.)

It helps to bear in mind this movie’s real purpose — fan service for the infamous niche character’s evident legions of followers.  “Deadpool” isn’t meant to be densely plotted, like “X2: X-Men United” (2003), or genuinely cinematic, like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films.  It’s a long awaited, R-rated feature film to please loyal fans of this profane, adult-oriented antihero, who would be out of place and necessarily bowlderized in a mainstream superhero-teamup flick. (And I kinda get that — I loved the “Wolverine” comics when I was a kid, and, trust me, his film incarnation is tame compared to its source material.)

“Deadpool” is damn funny.  The movie succeeds by making us laugh.  And combining a raunchy comedy with an “X-Men” film gives it a weird, cool, subversive vibe.  It makes you wonder if Stan Lee would approve of this sort of thing … until you see Lee himself in a cameo at the story’s strip bar.  It’s fun to know that dirty jokes indeed do exist within the “X-Men” movie universe.

The lowbrow jokes made me cringe one or twice (“baby hand.”)  But you’ve got to give the movie credit for delivering its bathroom-wall humor if that’s what the original character is about.  (Are the comics like this?)  Ryan Reynolds is genuinely funny, and his deadpan delivery is perfect.  The film might not have even worked at all with out him.

By the way, this movie actually reminded me a hell of a lot of a long-ago flick that I absolutely loved, but which I’m guessing is largely forgotten — Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (1990).  That movie also had a foulmouthed, lone, maverick antihero who often broke the fourth wall, and that also made me laugh like hell.  I know it sounds like a strange comparison, but they’re very similar films.

Finally, I’d like to think that the Wade Wilson we see here actually IS a version of the Wade Wilson that we first met in the widely lamented “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).  (And how can he not be, if that movie is canon?)  If “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) rebooted the timeline, then the Deadpool we’re rooting for here was never recruited, corrupted and experimented upon by William Stryker.  So you can have your cake and eat it, too.

 

 

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