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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

A superficial but watchable comic book action film, X-Men Origins Wolverine, a summer of 2009 blockbuster hopeful that came up a hair or two short because of that superficiality, has been released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Since such films go down easier on home video, it probably won’t seem so bad and it really isn’t, it’s just that there isn’t that much too it. Hugh Jackman reprises his role from the other X-Men movies as the titular hero, who is unkillable and can extend very sharp blades from the spaces between his knuckles. The film starts off auspiciously with the title card, “Canada, Northwest Territories, 1845,” since, as any Canadian school child can quickly tell you, the Northwest Territories were not created until 1870 and doubtfully did not have such a nice house sitting in the middle of the woods until much later than that. In any case, although the character is immortal, he apparently had a childhood before growing into an adult and then conveniently stopped growing when he got to Jackman’s age and figure. He has a brother, played by Liev Schreiber, who sports a less compelled conscience and has similar, but not exactly the same, powers. A government agency, or one particularly obsessed military man, wants to catch Jackman’s character to take his ‘DNA’ or whatever in order to build better soldiers. This set of circumstances leads to plenty of energetic action scenes, and a couple of decent plot twists, and at least some token emotional interactions among the characters. There is no compelling metaphorical representation of adolescent alienation as there was in the first couple of films, but that idea had pretty much run its course anyway. There is nothing new to what Jackman is doing, either. He was more interesting, in fact, in the earlier movies, where his character is more burnt out and angst-ridden, and seeing how he got that way just isn’t as sexy. But the filmmakers did spend lots and lots of money on the special effects, and the story is not so flawed that you can’t roll with it in order to appreciate and even enjoy their efforts.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer looks fine, with bright, sharp hues. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has a few scattered separation effects and a reasonable amount of power, but no real showy moments. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and a 12-minute promotional featurette.

Fox has also issued a 2-Disc Special Edition, with a second platter that contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices. In addition to the featurette on the first platter, there is a good 16-minute conversation between comic book creator Stan Lee and one of the comic book writers who inherited the character, Len Wein; and 10 minutes of deleted scenes that enhance the viewer’s understanding of the characters (and also include a future X-Men character seen as a child). Director Gavin Hood supplies one commentary track, and producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Ralph Winter. Hood also speaks over the deleted scenes. The two talks complement one another quite well. It is Donner and Winter who go into the details of the day-to-day shoot. While Hood does describe what went into some of the bigger production sequences, he spends a lot of time talking about the characters and the story.

The Blu-ray also comes with a second platter containing a digital copy of the film. The improvements in the BD’s picture don’t contribute much to the entertainment except during some of the outdoor vistas when Jackman’s character is hiding from the world and working as a lumberjack. The sub-woofer has an added boost on the DTS audio track, and other sounds are crisper, but it is the movie’s sound mix itself that is blandly designed, and the BD really can’t fix that. The French track is also upgraded to DTS and there is a Portuguese track in 5.1 Dolby, with additional Portuguese, Mandarin and Cantonese subtitles.

In addition to the special features from the DVD, there are 54 minutes of featurettes about every significant character (and a few insignificant ones) in the film, a 6-minute segment on a major stunt and effect sequence, and a cute 6-minute segment on the film’s premiere, with girls squealing left and right when Jackman shows up. There are also four new options that playback as the movie unfolds. One is just a trivia track, but it is quite good, relying heavily on the comic book histories of the characters to explain various details. Another contains clips from other featurettes and from behind-the-scenes footage that match up to what is happening on the screen, and another inserts storyboards and more elaborately animated ‘pre-visualization’ sequences in tandem with the finished segments as they show up. Finally, Hood sits in the corner of the screen for another commentary, intercut with more behind-the-scenes shots of him at work.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at www.DVDLaser.com

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin