This weekend features two new films that share an unlikely connection, in the form of two performances by English character actor Stephen Merchant. Both are good performances in neat films, and each film is surprisingly broader in its appeal than first impressions might suggest.
Directed by James Mangold
You’ll likely see/hear many people saying that “Logan” is unlike other comicbook movies – and it does feel and look different. It’s like a comicbook film made to accommodate people who like their books without pictures. It’s also dark, but not in an “emo-Batman” kind of way, it’s more of a dystopian and hopeless future, a mutant version of “Children of Men.”
In his last outing as Logan/Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is reminiscent of not just that Clive Owen role but also Owen’s turn as a damaged but functioning alcoholic in “Words and Picture.” While Patrick Stewart plays nonagenarian Charles/Professor X much like his good friend Ian McKellen played Sherlock Holmes in “Mr Holmes,” teetering along the narrow boundary between earlier abilities and dementia.
The story centers around the discovery of a mysterious lab program and combines hints of “Léon: The Professional” with more substantial echoes of “Stranger Things.” And while “Logan” does tend to feel derivative of so many other projects, and is primarily a fairly simple chase film, the movies and shows that it brings to mind are a positive collection.
As such, it doesn’t just bring closure to one era of X-Men lore but it does so in a manner that’s likely to appeal to more than just the earlier audiences. There’s enough continuity for existing fans to appreciate where it’s all coming from but not so much that a new viewer would have trouble tracking the characters or need a spreadsheet of timelines and events. For an umpteenth sequel, it’s remarkably accessible and contained.
“Logan” is good fun but not “good, clean fun,” carrying an R rating for harsher violence and language than its predecessors.
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
I was less surprised by how much I enjoyed “Logan” than by how much I enjoyed “Table 19.” Although I’m even more surprised at the tepid reviews it seems to be getting, especially after watching it with an advance audience who laughed heartily throughout.
Anna Kendrick plays the former Maid of Honor at the wedding of her oldest friend but, for reasons best explained by the film, is seated at the least desirable table in the room – the table that exists only to accommodate the guests that might be even more out of place elsewhere. Naturally, however, her tablemates are unaware of this and are not at all happy at the revelation. Those seated with her are played by the aforementioned Stephen Merchant, Lisa Kudrow, June Squib, Craig Robinson, and Tony Revolori (the lobby boy from “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and it’s a winning combination of talent.
“Table 19” is like a love letter to awkwardness in social situations, and to the horrors and surprises that can accompany being situated next to complete strangers, not just at weddings but on airplanes, at office parties, and other assorted gatherings. It’s like a comedy for extroverts blended with a horror film for introverts. It’s also a film that combines obvious elements of a romantic comedy with a tone that feels moodier and more offbeat than that characterization might suggest. It ends a little awkwardly, but I still had a good time getting there.