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There's more to latest 'X-Men' installment than claws

Given the complicated history of the "X-Men" franchise, "The Wolverine" best can be described as a standalone spinoff. Set after the events of "X-Men: The Last Stand," the story follows Logan/Wolverine's adventures set primarily in Japan.

The filmmakers did a fair job of making "The Wolverine" accessible to movie-goers who have seen some combination of the previous five "X-Men" movies and, to a slightly lesser degree, those who have seen none of them.

I was pleasantly surprised to find some intellectual substance mixed in with the standard hack-and-slash of an action movie. However, that's like saying I was pleasantly surprised to find cheese on the hamburger I ordered. The overall meal is still a hamburger, it just has some additional flavoring.

The plot has all of the tropes of a comic-book film, but given "The Wolverine's" pedigree, they are expected and tolerable. The film lands best when pursuing concepts of immortality -- why it's such a common dream, what it would actually do to someone's mind, and what would happen if you had it and lost it.

Conversely, there's just fun to be had watching Wolverine fight his way through groups of ninjas.

Hugh Jackman returns to play the titular character of Wolverine. Appropriately, Jackman is the only actor to have starred in all of the released, and forthcoming, "X-Men" movies. Playing a character that doesn't age during a release span of 13 years is no small task. Jackman continues to look the part and makes good use of the solo screen time to add some deeper layers to an already complex character.

Ultimately, "The Wolverine" provides some summer fun, and for me at least, falls directly in the middle of my list of favorite "X-Men" movies.

4 of 6 stars

* * *

'Drinking Buddies' offers a great, and unique, experience

I watched another film this weekend that I wanted to shed some light on.

"Drinking Buddies" is an independent film that premiered at the South by Southwest music, film and technology festival in March. It is not showing at Mall 8 Cinema in Hays, because it hasn't been released in theaters yet.

Furthermore, being an independent film, it is likely Hays movie-goers would need to drive to Wichita or Kansas City to be able to partake once the film opens in theaters Aug. 23.

"Drinking Buddies" is available on video-on-demand services such as iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. For the price of $9.99, I was able to rent this movie and watch it on my computer. I am glad I did.

Starring Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick, "Drinking Buddies" follows two couples and explores the romantic, personal and professional relationships that weave them together.

For a dialogue-heavy movie such as this one, it is absolutely incredible that every scene was improvised. A script was developed, but the director only gave a two-page summary to the cast.

The result is a very real, very human look at what it means to have a connection with someone. Where is the line that divides a co-worker from a friend, or a friend from a lover?

I can say honestly this is one of my favorite film experiences in a long time. In part, because I was able to enjoy it in my apartment with the windows open enjoying the much-needed rain during the weekend. Moreover, films like "Drinking Buddies" are incontrovertible proof that not every film needs a giant plot reversal, nor does every question need an answer.

5 of 6 stars

James Gerstner works at the Fort Hays State University Foundation. Contact him at james.gerstner@gmail.com or @jamesgerstner on Twitter.