Sunday, May 20, 2018

Deadpool 2


The Merc with a Mouth is back and better than ever. Who says sequels aren't a good idea? While the first one felt like a dirty, joyless slog, this one finds its feet and a healthy relationship with the comics to produce a blast of a romp of a joyride that is what I've always hoped and envisioned a Deadpool movie could be.

Suddenly I'm not so tired of superhero movies anymore!

This time there's actually a plot, as Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) sets out to protect a troubled young mutant Russell, aka Firefist (Julian Dennison) from Cable (Josh Brolin) a time-traveler from the future looking to kill the kid. It's The Terminator, it's Back to the Future, it's X-Men: Days of Future Past -- only it goes about it such a confident and straight-forward way, that though you may call it cliched, in my eyes it became a main reason the film worked so well.

As an action-comedy, plot originality and complexity shouldn't be all that high on the priority list. This plot serves the movies genre. Action; comedy. The time-travel element particularly lends itself to some exceptional hilarity, and the solid action beats it calls for are fundamental and easy to follow. On that level its basic, straightforward entertainment. But then, it builds on that, with character arcs, complete with depth, emotion, empathy, morals and themes; all woven together seamlessly, complementing and working with the plot. This isn't a character piece, but they are far from neglected.

Directed by David Leitch, who didn't direct the first one, and that makes a lot of sense.

I knew avocado-faced Wade had it in him to be an empathetic character, and I knew Reynolds could play drama and not have it come out dumb and cheesy, and I'm so glad they didn't spend the whole film relentlessly cracking jokes. The ebb and flow between humor and drama here is nearly indistinguishable, and at times played simultaneously, neither interfering, but actually enhancing each other. It is a comedy, so laugh-out-loud punch lines are as common as the CGI, but the movie doesn't force loud humor into where it doesn't belong, and strangely for R-rated fare, there's plenty of soft, warm-hearted and subtle humor too.

The humor is often not appropriate, but it is used appropriately. Ironically, the ruder the jokes got, the more likely to be forced they seemed to be. Like the priority of jokes tended more toward being "R" than fitting the moment, and sometimes they just weren't funny but were used because of how "R" they were. That seemed to happen with the F-words too. Jokes can be funny with, and even enhanced by foul language, but adding random words to an awkwardly-delivered F-bomb doesn't automatically make it hilarious.

That's just f---tastically stupid.

The dirty rudeness was the low point for me, but at the same time, they delivered so much humor that did hit, with such joy and aplomb, that I felt it would've been extremely ungrateful of me to not grant them a little room for potty-mouth fans. Forgiving their indulgence was, I found, super easy. Even as one particular joke dragged on for minutes that I wasn't finding all that funny, I couldn't help but smile, because it was clear that those involved were having a blast with it, and the good-humored fun was contagious even when the jokes didn't land.

I'm trying my hardest not to directly compare this film with Infinity War, but I'm pausing now to say that though the plot was basic, and humor was the main goal, Deadpool still involved me more, made it easy to care, and I wish Disney/Marvel could get back to being this gleefully entertaining. Also, there was one death scene that was miles better than anything Infinity War failed to contrive. And that leads me to Josh Brolin, because he was in both these movies -- as a villain -- who's meant to be sympathetic.

What a legend.

An absolute legend.

I don't suppose it was his fault that Cable beats Thanos with a stick. A ripped, scarred old man with a Winter Solider arm is automatically better than a grape with a chin, but even with half the time devoted, Cable practically bursts with nuance and gritty sympathy. And he's just cool. There's no other way to describe it. Then Wade is all goof and charm, and the mixture is a goldmine of epic fan moments. The banter; the chemistry; the fights. It's enough to make you giddy as the entertainment level leaps off the chart.

Julian Dennison as Russell was a great addition, proving it wasn't at all a fluke how funny and dramatic he could be in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa, and was lovely and charming, and the romance in this movie was so much better than it had any right to be. I'd try to tell Deadpool that he can't possibly do everything well and should pick a genre, but clearly, I would be the wrong party in that argument. I was sad to see so little of Bill Skarsgård, but hey, it was Bill Skarsgård. And Zazie Beetz as Domino. Such a cinematic superpower, my goodness. And her cheerfully sassy personality fit right in.

Hardcore, awesome, super lucky -- what's not to be cheerful about?

It was nice that references were topical -- mentions of debated issues such as cultural appropriation -- but remained apolitical about it all. Never setting out to take sides or genuinely insult, but to poke fun at modern culture in general. This movie is all-inclusive. Deadpool even insists that it's a family film, and it is about family, in a genuine and heartfelt way. Though if he wanted kids to see it, he should've rethought all those expletives and that all-out gory violence.

And thank your lucky stars (or maybe Domino?) for those fourth-wall breaks. From "Look guys, I'm breaking the fourth wall! Aren't I funny?" in the last movie, to actually, really breaking the fourth wall, and in clever and nuanced ways. It's so casual and underplayed it never jolts you out of the movie experience, but instead it's like the real-world is drawn into the film. And the film is funnier and more wide-open for it.

Obviously this movie knows how to have fun.

If anything holds Deadpool back, it's its R-rating. An R-rating is natural, but there's a sense of strict obligation here that could be done without. It did away with the superhero obligation that Disney/Marvel has created; each new superhero flick needing to build on top of the last one for bigger, better, fresher; more, more, more! It's gotten so bad that now, this normal superhero flick, that doesn't feel like it's holding back when it never destroys an entire city, is the one that's breaking the mold.

Even with its irreverence, and its carefree attitude, this film focuses small and intimate, letting us get to know and care for its characters. It delivers clear-cut battles with brutal glee, wildly entertaining choreography, and an extra-large side of comic violence. It takes time to set up jokes; it slows down for moments of real drama; and it comes out the other side with a strikingly positive message for a movie about anti-heroes.

It hits you right on the X.

I can only conclude that Deadpool must actually care about being a great, fun, entertaining film. And no matter where or how it might misstep, that is the greatest complement I can give any movie of its kind. It puts in the effort. The maximum effort.

Monday, May 14, 2018

All the Money in the World


This remarkably cold movie tells the true story of the kidnapping of the grandson of the richest man in the world circa 1973. J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is the grandfather who refuses to pay the ransom. The boy's mother Gail (Michelle Williams) spends her time pestering her father-in-law for the cash and working with his personal agent (Mark Wahlberg) who has instructions to find and rescue Paul III (Charlie Plummer) as inexpensively as possible.

Directed by Ridley Scott. And it feels it.

This whole film is a character study in coldness -- using a chilly aloof tone as if it were a medium, such as oils or charcoal. Most obviously, it is tinted literally in cold colors; dark, lifeless pale blues and sickly yellows. This bothered me slightly. When color grading is obvious to me it takes me out of the picture. The beginning was in black and white, and it was the only time the film looks truly beautiful. I wish it had stayed that way, but the otherworldly color grading was intentional, and knowing that helps a little.

Then, famously, Mr. Getty's steely and calculating actions. He claims to love his grandson, yet openly refuses to pay. "I have fourteen grandchildren," he says, "if I start paying ransoms, I'll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren." And there's no denying the logic in his reasoning, no matter how repulsive and frigid it feels. But he seems to use this reasoning as an excuse, pinching pennies in spectacular fashion and hesitantly spending his billions on inanimate pieces of art which he talks to with tenderness unused toward the living.

He is affectionate toward Paul as a kid, which only makes his later carelessness worse.

The monologue in which he explains why he values beautiful things over people was most telling to me. Things don't change; people do. I found his character magnificently fascinating, and Christopher Plummer pulled off the part beautifully, with an underlying softness in his eye that hints at endless complexities within this enigmatic man. He did a similar job with a similar character in Nicholas Nickleby, but that didn't degrade the fascination or entertainment he provided at all. I'm glad he was the last-minute replacement, if only because he didn't require prosthetics, so his performance came through effortlessly, and with intricacy.

He was the one character you expect coldness from. It was unexpected in the character of Gail. It would've been endlessly annoying if she had been panicking throughout the film, but her focused calmness came across at times as just calculating as he father-in-law; intentionally, I'm sure. As the character who drives the story, it's interesting to see her contrasted with Getty as they both work essentially the same way to achieve their goal, only hers is a noble goal. But underneath she still has an anxiousness and desperation that occasionally reveals itself. Even in the end when she and Paul are reunited she still doesn't melt, but instead redirects her strength to support and assure him.

The kind of nice kidnapper was not a real person.

Paul spends the movie growing more and more passive, until you think he's adopted that Getty stony demeanor permanently. When he finally does break down it is the antithesis that concludes the cold pattern and the film. Strangely, the warmest relationship is between Paul and the kidnapper who's assigned to guard him (Romain Duris). From being friendly and trusting, to turning a blind eye when Paul tries to escape, to actively saving his life, he's the film's most personable character. Yet the film is sure to show him receiving and pocketing his cut of the ransom. No one here is cut and dry.

Though Christopher Plummer is the only actor here whose character is capable of reaching shock-and-awe levels, the rest of the cast puts every bit as much work in, and find their moments to impress. Even Mark Wahlberg who I thought for sure would take me out of the movie was natural in the seriousness and disappeared into his role. Williams commands every scene she's in, and Charlie Plummer is one of my new favorite things -- though I still haven't seen Lean on Pete, the movie that informed me of his existence in the first place. He's got talent that stands out, but perhaps more importantly, he has a naturally magnetic screen presence; something you can't learn.

Though sometimes the point seemed on-the-nose, scenes like these had easy depth and rhythm.

Usually I go into movies hoping that I'll be able to empathize with the characters; here, even regarding a kidnapped teen, inducing sympathy into the audience isn't the goal. These characters are made to be real and complex -- sometimes to the point of seemingly contradicting themselves -- and we are not invited to feel for them, but to observe them; as coldly and calculatingly as they observe the world. It's from this perspective that the film finds its significance. Liberties are taken with the truth of the real-life event to make a more cinematic and impactful ending, but understanding the mission of the film, that was a wise choice.

In short, perhaps this isn't best viewed as a true story. As Paul says to us via voice-over, it's like they're from another planet. Perhaps this story is best viewed as a glass exhibit of strange, cold-blooded caricatures; equipped with a moral to help us see that though we may lack all the money in the world, it was they who lacked in the riches this world has to offer.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - May

Wow. It's May already! I got to three movies on my list last month. A Quiet Place was the best of them, an excellent genre film. (Review here!) I watched Marrowbone off Amazon, and it was... complicated. (Review here.) And then of course, there was Avengers: Infinity War. Le sigh. I was painfully accurate in my predictions about this movie in all ways except one (and even that one is potentially arguable). I'm still a Marvel fan which is half of why I still go to these movies, but I feel like they've left me behind. The movies are barely even movies anymore, and not meant for the likes of me. (Review here.)

I also finally saw The Death Cure (Yay!) and it was a little more disappointing than I was hoping (Boo.) but it was still a worthwhile watch. (Review here.) And I hadn't posted my Ready Player One review yet last time, so if you missed that, check it here!

I think permanently missed Thoroughbreds in theaters, but I'm still wondering about Lean on Pete -- did I miss it, or is it never coming to a theater in my area? Whatever, I'll be sure to get both of those asap. I feel like I'm missing all the hidden gems of this year, and that feeling has been amplified by the joyless dominating event that is Infinity War.

This month doesn't actually have much going for it, but here's what we've got!:

The Cleanse
May 4th (limited); R
This one looks so strange. I little cheaply made maybe, but practical effects, so making good use of what they have. It's a horror comedy, and it looks both weirdly terrifying and strangely amusing, so I have to say I'm interested enough to keep an eye on how it does critically.

May 11th (limited); R
They had me at Margo Robbie and Simon Pegg. And then I found out it's got a neon-noir style to it! I can't tell what the plot is from the trailer, but it sure does look good. Looks more than a little inappropriate for me too, but I have an app for that, so we'll see what happens.

The Seagull
May 11th (limited); PG-13
Based on a play I don't think I've ever heard of, but it's by Anton Chekhov, so I'd guess it's good. I like the period and the look, and the cast too, so I'll probably give it a go whenever it's becomes convenient from my living room. Anyone know the story?

Deadpool 2
May 18th; NR
This is an interesting situation. As you may know, I didn't like the first one at all, but I am a fan of the comic Deadpool, so I'm willing to give him as many chances as he wants to take. The first trailer gave me hope it might be an improvement, and the second trailer took all that hope away. Now this final trailer has restored hope again, and I'm not sure what to think. The trailer makes me laugh, and it appears to have a real plot this time. I won't speculate, but I am definitely interested to see and see how it goes. Domino is probably going to be awesome. And I spy with my little eye, someone who's name is Bill Skarsgård! No mpaa rating yet, but that one's not a hard guess. (On that note, language warning for this trailer.)

First Reformed
May 18th (limited); R
One of those trailers that looks all intriguing and artsy with a lot to say, but the only way to find out if you'll like it and what it has to say is to watch it. Ethan Hawke looks good. And Amanda Seyfried is in it, too.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
May 25th; PG-13
You know, I'd be 100% on board for this movie, hyped and actually excited -- if only his name wasn't Han Solo. Of course if he wasn't Han, then Emilia Clark would be the main character (that's the rule) and Donald Glover wouldn't get to be Lando, and then what would the point even be? This was such a bad idea. Poor Alden Ehrenreich. If he's a good Han he'll be underused what with all those supporting characters, and if he's bad -- he's bad. They just need to own it. Be like, "I'm Han Freakin' Solo. Deal with it." and let the haters hate. But the movie seems ashamed of him. Like they know this is a terrible idea. From the concept, to firing the directors, to the cast (except Glover and probably Paul Bettany) to the cliched "we're putting together a team" plot, all reeks of disaster. But visually, it looks great. Coloring, lighting, framing; it looks like it'll be visually pleasant. And as for the rest -- I'm not determined to hate it. I'm mostly just curious to see.