After X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a bit of a mess, I was equal parts skeptical and hopeful about The Wolverine. I was skeptical for obvious reasons. But I was hopeful because this seemed like a completely different movie that was actually going to tell Wolverine's story without the distractions of mutants flying everywhere and shooting lasers out of their eyes. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed.
The Wolverine is the movie I (and many fans) wanted Origins to be. It takes place some time after X-Men: The Last Stand, when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) had to kill his love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Doing so made him question his whole identity, and that internal struggle is the driving force behind this film.
The movie opens with Wolverine saving a young Japanese soldier, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), from the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki. We then flash to the present day, where a full-bearded Logan is living in a cave and is friends with a bear (sort of). After killing Jean, he is afraid of what he's capable of, and he would rather live away from people than risk hurting anyone again. It is only when Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a fiery warrior with equally fiery red hair, finds Logan and tells him that Yashida is dying and wishes to say goodbye that Logan returns to society and heads to Japan. But Yashida actually wants to offer Logan the chance to become mortal again, which only makes it harder for him to acknowledge his true nature.
Once in Japan, Yashida dies and Logan ends up protecting his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza gang and from her father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada). There’s sword fighting, knife throwing, and some ninjas with bows and arrows. In the middle of it all, of course, the claws come out. The action is what the audience loves to see, and it doesn't let us down. And when Logan isn't sticking his claws through some bad guy, he's dreaming about Jean. There's a nice balance between the two that reminds us that, even though Logan has healing powers and an adamantium skeleton, he's also a man who has seen and done many things and is struggling with who he is and who he wants to be.
It’s been 13 years since Jackman first played Wolverine, and he knows this character inside and out. That comfort level is what makes it so easy for the audience to connect with Logan and his struggle. His brooding, scowling performance brings Wolverine down to a more human level and shows that you can still have an existential crisis even when you’ve been around for hundreds of years.
There is, however, the matter of the Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who takes Logan's healing powers at the beginning of the film. The Wolverine is possibly the most relatable of the X-Men movies, but the Viper brings a heavily melodramatic element to the film. Her costumes are so outlandish as to be laughable, and her main motive seems to be villainy for villainy's sake. She's almost too embedded in the comic book reality for a movie that focuses less on mutants with powers and more on the internal difficulties Logan is facing.
While the first two thirds of the movie deal with human emotions and identity crises, the film does get a bit overzealous in its final act. Wolverine fights the Silver Samurai, a giant made of adamantium, while Viper continues with the melodrama. But all in all, director James Mangold managed to make an entertaining film that gives us more of an insight to Wolverine than we've ever had before. It's a standalone Wolverine film that is actually about Wolverine.
And, true to Marvel fashion, there's an excellent post-credits scene.
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The magical R-rating is both a gift and a curse to Adam Sandler's signature brand of lowbrow humor. In That's My Boy the comedian returns to the dim-witted roots that made him a star in early outings like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore (complete with high-pitched mushmouth accent) but with a ramped up "ew" factor. Unrestrained Sandler piles on as many expletives and gross-out scenarios as a two-hour movie can hold — and it works out quite well. With costar Samberg nailing the disgusted straight man role Sandler's penchant for acting like a fool is enhanced by the sick stylings of director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and only occasionally teetering into truly offensive territory. Laughs aren't guaranteed but the movie provokes (which is a big step up from Jack and Jill).
Back in the '80s Donny had a secret relationship with his teacher Ms. McGarricle that resulted in a son Han Solo (he's a middle schooler what do you expect?). The torrid affair put McGarricle in jail Donny into celebrity tabloid spotlight and Han Solo in the hands of a tween father. Thirty years later everyone's screwed up: Donny (Adam Sandler) is a drunk on the brink of jail time for tax evasion McGarricle's still in jail and Han Solo (Andy Samberg) now "Todd " is a successful number-cruncher with severe social issues. On the weekend of Todd's wedding Donny reenters his life hoping to bring revive their relationship and reunite him with his mother — that is on camera so Donny can make $50 000 from a gossip TV show and stay out of the slammer. Posing as Todd's long-lost best friend Donny stirs up trouble becoming buddies with Todd's friends and family and acting like a imbecile.
The wedding setup is overdone but always prime for comedy: plenty for a numbskull to screw up logical progression (there's a wedding at the end!) and a bachelor party scene to squeeze in the most disgusting bits and have them make sense. That's My Boy makes the most of its conventions — including what we all know and expect from a Sandler comedy — by continually one-upping itself. After a night of heavy drinking at the local strip club/omelette bar that results in do-it-yourself ear piercing and robbing a convenience store with Vanilla Ice Todd returns home to expel the night's worth of drinking all over his fiancee's wedding dress. Then he makes love to the dress. Then his fiancee (Leighton Meester) wakes up to find the dress. Then it goes even further than one would care to imagine. Grossed out yet? Amazingly lower-than-low brow material is handled with clever timing and great delivery. It's just that the foundation is bodily fluids.
That's My Boy falters when it throws in gags that serve zero purpose to the story. Strange racist humor a mentally retarded bar patron played by Nick Swardson (a Sandler mainstay) random allusions to Todd Bridges' drug habits — barrel-scraping one-offs that have nothing to do with the movie. At two hours the movie needs slimming and the fat is apparent. Thankfully the main ensemble goes to great lengths to make the hard R comedy click with Sandler and Samberg playing well off each other (although Samberg doesn't have the making of a leading man after this movie) and SNL alums like Will Forte Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer driving by to bring the funny. Even Vanilla Ice's extended cameo fits the anything-goes tone playing a version of himself that befriended Donny in his celebrity days. Now he works at an ice skating rink.
After a few lame ducks That's My Boy is a return to form for Sandler. It wavers in quality but it has energy and color. A cash-in this is not and for any Sandler fan with a stomach for hardcore bathroom humor it's a must-see.
Gee that long-haired multi-jointed dead Asian woman with a rather significant chip on her shoulder and her freaky white-faced meowing son sure do get around. Although hapless American student Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tried to burn down the house to stop the ghost lady’s uncontrollable rage in the first Grudge it has apparently only gotten stronger in the second. Now just by mere association one can pick up the two very uninvited guests. Karen’s sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) for example comes to Tokyo to see why her sis is in the hospital--only to see Karen fall from the roof in one big splat—and immediately gets caught up in the whole deal. Then there are some mean prep-school girls who take another girl to the house to play a prank and then they all get cursed. But one girl brings the curse back with her to the U.S. where it then infiltrates an entire apartment building. I mean for all I know I could be cursed for just watching this nonsense. Wait what’s that under my desk? No one really gets a chance to do much in Grudge 2. In fact the auditions probably went something like this: “Can you look wide-eyed haggard scared out of your mind with possibly a few tears streaming down? Perfect!” Gellar’s time is short onscreen leaving most of the heavy lifting to Tamblyn (TV’s Joan of Arcadia) who handles it as best she can. The actress isn’t a stranger to Japanese horror remakes either: If you remember she was the first victim to meet Samara the well girl in The Ring. Then there’s the crop of young stars in Grudge 2 including Arielle Kebbel (John Tucker Must Die) as the poor American teenager who inadvertently brings evil mom and son back with her to the U.S. Even Jennifer Beals (Showtime's The L Word) makes an appearance as one of the people living in the building affected by the curse. But she walks around looking like she has no idea why she made this movie. To be fair Grudge 2 isn’t a complete waste of time. Helmed once again by director Takashi Shimizu and based on the popular Japanese Ju-On series Grudge 2 does have plenty of creepy moments. Let’s just say you might think twice about looking in a closet drinking milk from the container or picking hair out of the drain. Yuck. But Grudge 2 unfortunately suffers the same fate as The Ring Two: The element of surprise is gone and the filmmakers haven’t invented anything more compelling to replace it. What’s left then is just the curse itself--and all the guttural sounds black-rimmed eyes and popping up out of nowhere gets old pretty darn quick especially when there is hardly anyone left to root for. Still it looks like they might be setting up for a Grudge 3--that is if the box office numbers hold this time around.