Tag Archives: Hugh Jackman

Bad Education (2019, Cory Finley)

Bad Education is the story of a junior in high school (Geraldine Viswanathan) uncovering the biggest school embezzlement case in United States history, something like $12 million dollars. Only it’s not Viswanathan’s movie. It’s Hugh Jackman’s movie, which makes sense because Hugh Jackman’s great in it. Not transcendent, but he’s really good. He can’t be transcendent because Finley’s direction and particularly Mike Makowsky’s script… it doesn’t let him be. Jackman’s got to be the star but can’t be the protagonist, can’t even be the main character, even though—in its final stumble—the film tries hard to force it for the postscript.

It’s disappointing, but the whole third act’s disappointing so, while maybe a surprise, not an unpredictable one.

Also a bigger star in the movie than Viswanathan is Allison Janney. She plays school district superintendent Jackman’s assistant superintendent. The one who handles all the money. Janney and Jackman are excellent together so it’s really too bad when they don’t get to have any more scenes together. Unlike everyone else Jackman plays off—school board president Ray Romano, accountant Jeremy Shamos, boyfriend (and former student, but we’ll get to this one in a bit) Rafael Casal, and then partner of thirty-three years Stephen Spinella, Jackman doesn’t bullshit Janney, so you get some insight into the character in their interactions. Because the rest of the time you’re just watching to see if Jackman’s going to turn out to be the sociopath he seems destined to turn out to be.

Plus… they make Janney sympathetic. She’s got genuine nice guy husband Ray Abruzzo looking out for her and if he loves her, she can’t be all bad. Right? Meanwhile, the film introduces Jackman being gay after him hooking up with former student Casal (who he coincidentally meets while at a conference). It makes Jackman look like a creepy closeted teacher—even giving him an apparently fake dead wife—when, in actuality, the Casal romance seems the most honest look we’re getting at Jackman. It’s humanizing, even as the movie presents manipulatively.

Compounding it being problematic is apparently it’s all fictitious; yes, the real guy was gay, yes, he had a long-term relationship, but he never hooked up with a student or faked having a dead wife. So… odd choice, bad choice, especially since when it doesn’t pan out at all it leaves Jackman’s only character development subplot unresolved.

Ditto some of the stuff about Jackman as educator, which might be hard to play—as it involves Viswanathan (Jackman’s encouragement is what gives her the self-confidence to dig as a school paper reporter)–and there’s a scene where Jackman kind of threatens Viswanathan and Finley doesn’t direct it well. Finley’s constantly showcasing Jackman when the attention should be somewhere else. It’s disappointing. Especially after it seems like Finley’s seemingly gotten past some of the problems and adjusted the narrative distance, only for him to fall back into the same techniques.

Good supporting performances from Shamos and Romano. Janney’s great. Not much of a part but she’s great. Hari Dhillon’s occasionally in it as Viswanathan’s dad. He’s good.

It’s simultaneously not creative enough and too creative while doing the docudrama thing. Finley gets good and better performances from the cast and his composition’s… fine, but his direction holds back the character development. And the script’s already got problems with it. Someone needs to be invested in the characters, not unfolding the story. Someone besides the actors.

Bad Education’s pretty good considering it’s all over the place.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Cory Finley; screenplay by Mike Makowsky, based on an article by Robert Kolker; director of photography, Lyle Vincent; edited by Louise Ford; music by Michael Abels; production designer, Meredith Lippincott; costume designer, Alex Bovaird; produced by Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Julia Lebedev, Makowsky, Oren Moverman, and Eddie Vaisman; aired by Home Box Office.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Frank Tassone), Allison Janney (Pam Gluckin), Ray Romano (Big Bob Spicer), Geraldine Viswanathan (Rachel Bhargava), Alex Wolff (Nick Fleischman), Rafael Casal (Kyle Contreras), Annaleigh Ashford (Jenny Aquila), Hari Dhillon (David Bhargava), Ray Abruzzo (Howard Gluckin), Stephen Spinella (Tom Tuggiero), Jeremy Shamos (Phil Metzger), and Welker White (Mary Ann).


Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The strangest thing about Logan, at least in terms of the plotting, is how director Mangold is desperate to reference a film classic–one with a plot perfectly suited to what he’s purportedly trying to do with Logan–and he doesn’t follow it through. In any of the neat ways he could. Instead, he goes for obvious and superficial.

Mangold is not Logan’s worst enemy, however. He certainly doesn’t help matters, but the script–which he did cowrite–is the big problem. It’s entirely wrapped up in itself; Logan has a long list of contrivances (mostly with the ground situation but also with plot developments and revelations) and, for whatever reason, the script wants to get into all of them. And all the explanations are lame.

Even still, the film would be able to survive if it weren’t for a nightmare third act when the film tries to get away without a protagonist for a while. It’s called Logan, of course, so one would think it’d always be about Hugh Jackman’s aged mutant killing machine who just wants to chill out and live in hiding. He’s got a big secret to keep–one of the ground situation contrivances the film cops out on dealing with entirely–not just from the audience, but from his sidekicks too. See, in retirement from mutant killing machining, Jackman has become a limo driver. He works long hours and then goes home to Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant. Stewart’s sick and Merchant’s the live-in nurse and maid, basically. There’s more to it, but not enough. Because there’s never enough in Logan. Everything is supposed to be implied.

Jackman suffers the worst for all those implications. Mangold’s constantly letting other people take the scene in Logan, whether it’s Stewart (who doesn’t exactly steal the show, but only because the script fails him miserably too) or tough guy villain Boyd Holbrook or even pointless cameoing Eriq La Salle. The script demotes Jackman, Mangold does too.

Logan wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a family bonding movie–not a family movie about bonding, but a movie about family bonding–it wants to be future commentary (Mangold’s weakly executed future setting is another of Logan’s many painfully obvious problems), it wants to be a tough action movie, it wants to be deep. It really, really, really, really wants to be deep. Mangold loves the symbolism here; sadly he can’t decide on how he wants to convey it, so it’s another thing Logan could’ve done and doesn’t.

Even so, Jackman and Stewart are showing up to do the work. They’re trying to deliver that really, really, really, really deep movie. Dafne Keen–as the young mutant Jackman and Stewart are protecting–is pretty good for most of the movie. When she runs into problems, it’s because the script veers into its crappiest.

It’s a lazy script. It’s a weak and lazy script; Mangold doesn’t have the chops to make it work. He’s never distracted, he’s never interested, he’s always detached, always professional. Logan completely lacks personality. The fight scenes are lame, especially when they should be great. Mangold’s got no rhythm to them. John Mathieson’s capably bland photography doesn’t help, neither does the editing–Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt are capably bland. Marco Beltrami’s score is one of his best and it too… bland. François Audouy’s production design–his vision of this mutant-free 2029–isn’t capably bland. It’s just weak.

Jackman’s got enough of a presence to get the film to the finish line. Unfortunately, there’s no one waiting there to finish the movie for him. And Stewart’s fun. Shame the script wasn’t there. Shame Mangold couldn’t bring it together. Logan wants to be anything but mediocre and it ends up being nothing but.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Scott Frank, Mangold, and Michael Green, based on a story by Mangold; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, François Audouy; produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan), Patrick Stewart (Charles), Dafne Keen (Laura), Boyd Holbrook (Pierce), Stephen Merchant (Caliban), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gabriela), and Richard E. Grant (Dr. Rice).


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Eddie the Eagle (2016, Dexter Fletcher)

Eddie the Eagle is charming. It’s assured–great script from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton–and a wonderful sense of time and place (eighties UK and Europe, then Canada) from director Fletcher. Fletcher’s got some problems I’ll get to in a bit but Eddie’s got a phenomenal feel. It’s a deft homage to eighties popular filmmaking, with an ecstatic synthesizer-ish score from Matthew Margeson. It’s also extremely self-aware of how films have changed since then. Fletcher’s use of sports montage and one-liners–he’s a competent director, but he has a hard time with the first act.

Eddie’s an inspiring, true story movie. It’s about this British guy (Eddie) who, while not an athlete, ended up in the Olympics. I’d never heard of it because… you know, sports. Taron Egerton is the lead, Hugh Jackman is his trainer. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen are his parents. All of them give great performances. Jackman’s giving a really strong movie star performance. Hartley and Allen have to be comic relief but also entirely human and relatable. Egerton’s performance is thoughtful and deliberate. He’s playing a colorful (in reality) person and he gets past the color.

In some ways, Eddie makes fun of its own Britishness to get by. It’s well-produced Britishness, but there’s a wink about it all. It’s oddly appropriate, as the action moves to Germany, because it orients the audience quite comfortably. We’re in the British perspective, we’re looking in on the European, just like Egerton would be if the character had time to do anything but ski jump.

The ski jumping is where Fletcher gets into his most trouble. He’s better directing the actors than he is shooting scenes of the actors, but that problem is far less significant. Eddie is about the sport of ski jumping; it seems like it should be an important thing to show. Fletcher botches most of it. He and cinematographer George Richmond love the scale of the film–the mountains, the mountain ski villages, the ski jumps–and they convey it well. There’s just nothing in the filmmaking when it comes to the jumps. They get better, but they get better because they’re less ambitious (mostly just close-ups on Egerton) and the audience is identifying with Egerton more and more throughout the runtime.

Fletcher, Macaulay, Kelton, Egerton, Jackman, everyone–Margeson, he needs another call out–they do strong work. Fletcher’s inability as an “action” director aside, he is the one who makes the film so frequently rewarding. Eddie the Eagle’s really good.

And awesome cameos from Jim Broadbent and Christopher Walken.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dexter Fletcher; screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, based on a story by Kelton; director of photography, George Richmond; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Matthew Margeson; production designer, Mike Gunn; produced by Adam Bohling, Rupert Maconick, David Reid, Valerie Van Galder and Matthew Vaughn; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taron Egerton (Eddie Edwards), Hugh Jackman (Bronson Peary), Jo Hartley (Janette), Keith Allen (Terry), Iris Berben (Petra), Rune Temte (Bjørn), Tim McInnerny (Dustin Target), Jim Broadbent (BBC Commentator) and Christopher Walken (Warren Sharp).


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Chappie (2015, Neill Blomkamp)

South Africa produces the most macadamia nuts in the world, as well as the most electricity. However, according to Chappie, those achievements come with quite a cost. Every single native white South African–again, according to Chappie, is an amoral, dimwitted thug. The only people in the country doing good are foreigners, like Dev Patel, who creates robots for the Johannesburg police department in the film.

He works for a weapons manufacturer, run by very American Sigourney Weaver, and has interoffice squabbles with Hugh Jackman. Jackman, sporting a mullet, lots of religion and a military background, is one of the film’s bad guys. At least he doesn’t have subtitles for when he speaks English, like Brandon Auret; that device is one of director Blomkamp’s annoying eccentricities. As opposed to his incompetent ones, which are legion.

The near future Johannesburg, with its Robocop-quote spouting robot cops, runs on command line Linux and flip phones. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, it doesn’t matter that Weaver’s company has achieved the extraordinary in robots, even before Patel gives one sentience.

With that sentience comes the titular Chappie’s new family–criminals Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. Ninja and Visser, in real life, are rock stars (performing as Die Antwoord). They have interesting videos. Blomkamp turns Chappie into a bad commercial for them; relying on Ninja for acting is a big mistake. Visser is a little better, but not much.

Chappie’s an atrocious two hours. Blomkamp’s filmmaking masterfully combines dumb ideas, incompetent execution and bad directing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Neill Blomkamp; written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Jules Cook; produced by Simon Kinberg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Ninja (Ninja), Yo-Landi Visser (Yolandi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Yankie), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley), Brandon Auret (Hippo) and Sharlto Copley (Chappie).


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