The Greatest Showman

February 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

If you were looking to learn more on the life of P.T. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman” is probably not your best resource. If you were looking for a bombastic, CGI-infused and light hearted carnival, the film will not disappoint. The question is, which did you want to see? For me personally, the former would have been preferable to the latter. While there are some strong moments in the just-shy-of-two-hours film, “The Greatest Showman” lacks depth, character development, and even passion.

The first two discrepancies can somewhat be simply explained away: this is a musical. Musicals aren’t meant to have really either of those things; for the most part, a musical’s main purpose is to string along a plot just thick enough to get you to the next number. But the third is the film’s fault. Nothing seems to leap off the screen; the whole movie seems to be one long music video, fueled by Disney-pop style pop antics. Very few songs are memorable, and the dance numbers are crowded by digital effects. The film’s main protagonist (that could have easily also been the antagonist), P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), should be a major fixture in the story. Instead, he truly is just a ringmaster in a really loud, over-the-top parade of studio mixed songs.

The film begins with possibly the best number, “The Greatest Show”, which presents the circus in all its glory. Then, it fades to a lonesome, somber Barnum, who reflects on his life. We’re then taken back to his childhood, where he’s a very poor son of a tailor. One of his father’s clients has a young daughter, Charity, who later becomes Barnum’s romantic interest. Her father disapproves, but it doesn’t matter. Barnum works his way through meager means to whisk Charity away and make a life with her. After some run-ins with…curiosities…he gets an idea. He decides to put on a show featuring people who are basically sideshow attractions. He invents the freak show, but puts it on as a larger than life stage performance. As the show grows, he gets trapeze artists and other acts…and somehow, elephants.

At first, the show is a huge dud. New York’s finest critic (played by Paul Sparks), who founds the New York Herald, denounces the show and actually calls it a “circus”. Barnum takes the criticism and turns it on its head, reveling in the bad press, because as we all know–any press is good press. The show begins attracting more of an audience, and becomes huge. While starting his show up, he entices a high society patron named Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who becomes a partner. The two run the show until Barnum meets a famous opera singer named Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems to want to begin a romance with him when they take her on the road, giving more credibility to Barnum’s brand. There are some times when he abandons his show, and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams, in adulthood), and his children. There’s a subplot of a budding relationship between Carlyle and one of the trapeze artists, Anne (Zendaya), and we of course learn a bit of background on General Tom Thumb, his first attraction (played by Sam Humphrey).

Most of this story would be well suited for a nice, long biopic. Jackman is a talented singer and performer, but he’s also a very good actor. It would have been a stronger film had it taken the subject a little deeper. It didn’t have to be a serious expose of the Barnum product; he was a bit of a phony, a great salesman, and a huckster. But, deep down, I think it’s safe to say that Barnum really believed in it. And he did give his talent a big stage…or a tent. The film itself, though, seems to fall under the weight of its treacle presentation. It has glitz and glamour, and all the styles of flashy filmmaking. Director Michael Gracey tries to put on a show, but it just didn’t carry me. A live production of this would be far more entertaining. You could forgive the thinness of the plot and the careless way the film provides lip service to Barnum’s life and achievements. But here, on a screen, we are detached.

It could have been a great spectacle, but instead…it’s just a show.

My rating: :(

The Wolverine

August 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Wolverine is one of my favorite super heroes. With “X-Men”, Wolverine was always the most intriguing character because he was so conflicted. On one hand, he has a good heart. But he’s also very angry and violent, and he hates authority. It makes sense that eventually Wolverine would get his own film series, because he’s such a three dimensional character. And he’s so well played by Hugh Jackman that it’s always appealing to know there’s a film coming out with Wolverine in it. In “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, he just wasn’t given a very good story. In “The Wolverine”, however, things are a little different.

First of all, I liked that this storyline took from the “Wolverine” series that Frank Miller worked on in the 80’s in which Logan is in Japan. I always liked those comics, and I liked that Wolverine was the feature star of a comic book series because he certainly could carry one. We’re introduced to Wolverine at first during the Nagasaki bombings. He saves the life of a Japanese soldier who grows old and lives a full life thanks to Wolverine saving him. The old man named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is a successful business guru who is on his death bed and asks to see Wolverine one last time. Wolverine, meanwhile, is grieving the loss of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) whom he had to kill in “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Her ghost haunts his dreams and he can’t get over losing her, especially since he had to take her life. But he accepts the offer from the old man, whose invitation is delivered by a precocious girl with some nifty ninja moves named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who can see into the future. He is taken to Japan where he meets Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) whom Yashida is afraid for because he feels like if he dies, she will not be protected. So he reveals to Wolverine that he wants to take the thing that makes Wolverine “immortal”, and have it for himself since he believes Wolverine doesn’t want to live forever, anyway.

Wolverine doesn’t take the offer, though, and the old man dies. This leaves Mariko vulnerable to the Yakuza who are after Yashida’s business. Her own fiance is behind this so he can gain control of the company which has been left to her. So Wolverine steps in to help her, and gets caught in the middle. He also has suspicions of an assistant of Yashida, a bombshell named Dr. Green (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who does something to Wolverine that takes away his powers for a while and it’s revealed she’s after the same thing Yashida was.

All of this is pretty entertaining fodder for an effective, efficient super hero action film that delivers what “Origins” didn’t, and that’s a compelling story. Predictable? Absolutely. But the performances by Fukushima,†Okamoto and Jackman are strong enough that the lacking creative qualities are compensated. Jackman’s performance is absolutely perfect. He has really owned this role of Wolverine and it’s actually a shame he will never be considered for an Academy Award because this is a comic book character and not a period piece. He absolutely commands the screen when he’s on, and practically carries the movie on his back. I almost think he shouldn’t be put in another “X-Men” movie because it might undermine the rest of the characters. He’s just that good.

Some of the action sequences are breathtaking, too. There’s a sequence on top of a super fast train that, while mostly CG, is pretty enthralling. The climactic battle with a giant Robosamurai is a pretty good one, too. When you put it all together, it’s a fun movie. It’s nothing great, but it’s a good entry into the “Wolverine” series. I hope it can continue this way, too, because Jackman is a real treat to see playing this role.

My rating: :-)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The Super Hero Train continues its wrath into our summer movie cineplexes, and this time–we revisit the X-Men. But not all of them. No, apparently the franchise made enough money to justify reinventing the series focusing on certain individuals of the clan, and why not kick it off with its most interesting and conflicted? Wolverine, or Logan (or James, as you will know him), is once again at the heart and center of epic battles and getting himself into all kinds of trouble with the government. But this time, he’s a bit naive to it all. He even falls in love.

Hugh Jackman brings a little more punch and anger to his character in this film, and in some scenes, just a look at the pain in his eyes tells you enough that Jackman can handle it. His portrayal of Wolverine in this film is his finest of the series, and while it won’t get him an Oscar nod (or even an invite to host again), he does make up for a somewhat sloppy narrative, a clunky first act, and an extremely predictable overall film. Like Will Smith did for the simplistic “I Am Legend”, Jackman is a large reason why this film works at all.

But it isn’t all about him. Some of the battle scenes, especially the climactic one with Weapon XI (also known as Deadpool–also known as something that’s crawled into my nightmares before), are breathtaking, and while the character relations between Wolverine and his brother Victor (played by Liev Schrieber who seems to enjoy playing an animal) and Wolverine and his love interest (that pays off after a forced beginning) are strenuously contrived–they don’t ruin the film completely.

This film is passable, and sometimes it is actually kind of fun. But of all the super hero movies we’re being inundated with, it would not surprise me if this one happens to fall between the cracks and disappears into oblivion until it becomes a cult classic twenty years from now. There’s nothing too spectacular–and even the great battle at the end steals a bit from various movies. I nearly suspected CGI prints were stolen from “The Phantom Menace” at times. I’d recommend seeing “Star Trek” over this–but if you’re in need of a Wolverine jones (which is a clinical condition, I’ve read), then this movie won’t disappoint. For die hard fans of the series and the character, you will be disappointed.

My rating: :|