Tag Archives: Hugh Jackman

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘The Greatest Showman’ Offers Spectacle, but Little Truth

Things get problematic in this musical celebration of PT Barnum’s life

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The Greatest Showman tells the story of PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman), reframing it as a triumphant movie musical. It goes back to his humble beginnings as a tailor’s son. He falls in love with Charity (Michelle Williams), who comes from a rich family. The two are married and live somewhat happily within their meager means. But Barnum has much bigger dreams, and he risks everything on putting together a museum of oddities that eventually becomes the prototype for his famous circus. But even as Barnum achieves success beyond his wildest dreams, he struggles with a yearning to be accepted by the upper classes.

It might be worth mentioning to start with that the movie isn’t at all an accurate retelling of the Barnum story. This is practically a given in most big films about real people these days, but the extent to which this particular movie bends reality in order to make the story fit within its themes is pretty remarkable. And the changes it imposes only result in making everything less interesting than real life. To its credit, the film does generally adhere to the principles of its inspiration, crafting somewhat compelling spectacle, even if it’s all empty.

PT Barnum isn’t the most intuitive choice for an uplifting, inspirational movie musical. He was by all accounts a very complex man prone to exploiting people as he chased profit above all else. The film reframes his use of ‘freaks’ in his shows as an act of empathy, borne as much out of his recognition of these people’s inherent value as human beings as much as his instinct for business. This case would be more convincing if the movie was actually more interested in parsing that idea, in studying the strange gray area in which Barnum operated. But it instead pushes the conflict aside, using the empty uplift of the music to provide resolution where the writing and the directing can not.

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It would also be more convincing if the film was more interested in building rounded characters. Like Barnum himself, the film seems content with taking advantage of the unusual nature of its subjects, basically using them to add an element of strangeness and inherent tragedy to sequences, even as the film trumpets the supposed dignity that these characters have. The film isn’t really able to form a coherent conflict throughout its fairly lengthy runtime, the narrative feeling unsure as it chases the empty uplift of its music.

But if one can ignore the problematic narrative, the movie does offer up some interesting visuals. The music sounds a little too designed to be radio friendly, but that’s not really a weakness. Performances are the biggest asset the movie has. Hugh Jackman is just the kind of actor that leaves everything in front of the camera, and the joy that he’s clearly getting from playing this role comes through. The film squanders Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson, though, the movie unable to give them any meaty material. Zac Efron and Zendaya light up the screen for a little bit through sheer performance, but their little arc feels tacked on to the movie.

The Greatest Showman might be best enjoyed out of context, perhaps as just a series of videos on YouTube. As a larger piece of work, one might have to contend with the listless, historically inaccurate narrative that manages to feel trite to exploitative while braying for inclusiveness. Taken as just a series of disconnected musical performances, the individual scenes are a little easier to swallow, the spectacle and the performances offering up the clear merit of the production, even if the music isn’t to one’s taste. Unfortunately, within the walls of the cinema, one doesn’t have the option to just fast forward to the songs.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Logan’ is a Thrilling Departure from Typical Superhero Fare

Director James Mangold delivers a stealth remake of Shane with the Wolverine at its Center.

NBHD movie 4 ticketsLogan paints a pretty bleak future for the X-Men cinematic universe. It opens with the titular character (Hugh Jackman, reportedly for the last time) working as a limo driver in El Paso. He is older, and it seems like his powers aren’t working as well as they used to. There aren’t very many mutants left in the world anymore. Logan is keeping Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) hidden somewhere in Mexico, supplying his former mentor with medicine to control debilitating seizures that have turned his gift into a danger for everyone around him. And then, Logan encounters a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen), who is running away from powerful forces, and ends up forcing Logan to become something he hasn’t been for a long time.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.12.38 PMDon’t waste any time trying to figure out how to make this film fit within the twisty timeline of this particular franchise. While there are references that connect this installment to a larger past, the movie is taking advantage of the flexibility of the series’ timeline to tell a one-shot story. And free from the context of a larger superhero universe, the film is free to depart from its form. This is a superhero film that does not feel at all like a superhero film. It is a violent, post-apocalyptic western that just happens to have one of the most recognizable superheroes as its focus. And while it runs a bit long and struggles to hold together in the end, the film as a whole is a pretty welcome departure from the rest of superhero cinema.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.13.22 PMThe film’s clearest inspiration is George Stevens’ 1953 western Shane. Not only do the characters literally watch the film at one point, there’s a middle section that pretty much recreates the main plot of the 1953 film. But more importantly, Logan adopts the earlier movie’s understanding of a life of violence, applying the same metatextual lessons to this story of a world of mutants. And it takes on the form as well, eschewing the bombast of superhero set pieces in favor of sharp, brutal encounters that linger on the ugly consequences of the kind of violence this character gets into. This film wants the audience to feel the pain of a severed limb, its action scenes markedly more visceral.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.16.55 PMFans looking for more typical superhero fare will likely be disappointed. This film operates on a much more personal level, the main struggle taking place inside the main character. The villains in this film are a vague presence at best. They’re always a step behind, and their arrival hardly ever feels truly dangerous. The movie instead builds a sense of dread from a general depiction of a world that’s gone wrong. What’s telling is that the film’s world isn’t actually very different from the real world. The story operates on the fear of the growing lack of empathy, of a world that’s seemingly head to a point where the people with power and resources care less and less about the people that they trod upon.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.15.29 PMIt’s strangely ambitious stuff, and though the film doesn’t always reach the heights it aspires for, the attempt is always appreciated. The film struggles a bit when it tries to explain things, making it feel a little longer than it ought to be. There are bits of illogic here and there, especially with what the villains are trying to do. But all in all, this feels like a fully realized vision. James Mangold set out to make a singular superhero narrative, and he largely succeeds. For his last turn as the superhero, Hugh Jackman turns up the vulnerability. He is still tough and grizzled, but Jackman plays up the hauntedness to a remarkable degree. Patrick Stewart plays Professor X as a broken man, his kindness now tinged with desperation, and it is genuinely moving at points. Newcomer Dafne Keen is excellent as Laura, the young actress delivering on everything that her character represents.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.16.03 PMLogan might not be what you’re expecting. Certainly, nobody was expecting a stealth remake of Shane with the Wolverine taking the place of the mysterious cowboy. It is bleaker, slower, more violent, and ultimately more contemplative than most of blockbuster superhero cinema. And while some of its elements don’t really work, and some of its attempts at gravity feel unearned, as a whole the film is really fascinating. The filmmakers really dig into the thematic underpinnings of the character, and create a film that builds not just on a history of the property, but on the history of cinema.

LOGAN OPENS TODAY, MARCH 01, 2017 NATIONWIDE. YOU CAN ALSO CATCH THE MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS IN SELECTED CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.