Review of “Deadpool 2”

Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has expanded his hunt for the worst of the worst bad guys worldwide. He takes out sex traffickers and gangsters no matter where they work from. One drug trafficker works in his own hometown and while Deadpool is able to kill many of his henchmen the main bad guy manages to hide in his safe room. Deadpool heads home to see Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) because it’s their anniversary. Vanessa tells him she wants to start a family and they have sex. After, they are chatting when Deadpool senses trouble coming, leading to an event that sends Deadpool on a downward spiral. In a dystopian future, cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) comes home to find his wife and daughter burned alive by a vicious mutant calling himself Firefist. Equipped with a time-travel device, Cable travels back to a time when Firefist is also known as Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and is a troubled teen at a mutant reeducation center run by a sadistic headmaster (Eddie Marsan) that tortures the children in his care. Russell has blown some things up at the school and Deadpool, along with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and others try to rein him in. Deadpool talks to Russell and the boy points out a member of the staff that has abused him. Deadpool then kills the staff member before he is subdued by Colossus. Both Deadpool and Russell are sent to a mutant prison called the Icebox where all prisoners are forced to wear collars that inhibit their mutant abilities. Cable shows up and tries to kill Russell but Deadpool stops him when the collar gets knocked off. With Cable’s technology and cybernetic implants Deadpool knows he needs help protecting Russell from another attack. That’s when he decides to form…The X-Force.

“Deadpool 2” is hardly a surprising take on the superhero movie genre considering it is very much like the original “Deadpool.” Star Ryan Reynolds as the title character is quick with a joke, insult and fourth-wall-breaking comment that skewers the idea of sequels and team-up films in a movie filled with second and third-string characters that could never topline a movie of their own. It could be looked at as derivative and a mere copy of its earlier self. The fact that “Deadpool 2” is subversive in its own way by being a story about family, loss, grief, mercy, self-awareness and forgiveness is how this sequel sets itself apart from the original.

Without spoiling too much Deadpool goes on a literal self-destructive journey as the film starts: He blows himself to bits in an effort to commit suicide. The shock of this is somewhat softened by the decapitated head of our hero explaining there’s more to the story that we learn in the flashback. Deadpool is dealing with a loss so profound he can only end the pain with his demise. Having the mutant power of healing makes that a tad difficult. The story sends him on other journeys of self-pity, family building and forgiveness. Most other superhero films don’t put their main character through such an arduous emotional journey as we get in “Deadpool 2.”

The film doesn’t seem that deep but if you give it a bit of thought you discover many of the same themes as in your highbrow, Oscar-bait dramas. Granted these themes are handled with broad humor, bloody violence and sexual suggestions that would make a sailor blush but it is still noteworthy.

“Deadpool 2” doesn’t work at all without the pitch perfect and enthusiastic performance of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who was a driving force along with the original director Tim Miller in getting the first film made, is also a producer and credited writer on the sequel. His energy and charisma as a character that could easily be very annoying and unsympathetic makes Wade Wilson one of the most enjoyable members of Marvel Comics moviedom.

The direct opposite of Deadpool in tone and style is Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin has the aged and weathered face of experience that is perfect for the role of the cybernetic soldier from the future. He is able to maintain that serious and world-weary look throughout the film and gives the Merc with the Mouth someone to play off of and with. Brolin has spoken highly of Reynolds in publicity interviews about “Deadpool 2” as you would expect; but in an interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, which was about far more than just promoting the film, Brolin seems to express a genuine affection and appreciation for Reynolds that’s more than just interview fluff. Brolin provides a level of gravitas to the film that it needs to counterbalance Reynolds manic humor.

Zazie Beetz is also a nice addition to the cast as the super lucky Domino. Her calm feminine energy is a nice respite from the hyper-masculine Deadpool. Beetz also delivers a fine performance as a hero that is constantly under estimated since she lacks a flashy ability. Being supernaturally lucky may not have the same cache as invulnerability or flight but as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good and Domino is always lucky.

“Deadpool 2” is rated R for language throughout, brief drug material, sexual references and strong violence. The drug material is when Deadpool retrieves a packet of cocaine from a hiding place in Blind Al’s apartment and sticks it under his mask, appearing to consume it all at one time. Sexual references are usually brief and consist of physically impossible acts suggested by or to Deadpool. Violence is frequently bloody and often involves heads being removed or crushed, bodies being ripped in half, limbs being amputated by swords and heads being impaled by various instruments and shot at close range by guns. Foul language is common throughout the film.

If you tire of laughing at the jokes or cringing at the violent ways various people die you can entertain yourself by looking for the hidden celebrity cameos throughout the film. The list of people includes several cast members from “X-Men: First Class,” Alan Tudyk, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and a ceramic Stan Lee. Don’t worry if you don’t see them all as some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him quick while others are buried under makeup, wigs and beards. This is a small part of why “Deadpool 2” is so much fun. It is not only an action-packed and exciting superhero story but it also is something of a scavenger hunt which is on top of the story about family. It is the One a Day multivitamin of movies and it is well worth your time and money. Also, don’t miss the mid-credits scene. It is split into two sections so don’t leave until you see the second half.

“Deadpool 2” gets five stars out of five.

This week the only new film in wide release is “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Reviews of “Hail, Caesar!” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Hail, Caesar!

Movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a group of Communist script writers who feel they are undercompensated for their work. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works for the studio as a “fixer” who tries to keep movie production running smoothly by taking care of any problems for the actors and directors. Mannix gets a ransom note asking for $100,000 for the return of Whitlock. Whitlock is the star of a big-budget Roman Empire film called “Hail, Caesar: The Story of the Christ” and is needed back on set as quickly as possible. He also wants to keep Whitlock’s disappearance out of the two gossip columns written by feuding twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton). Mannix is also dealing with the pregnancy of unwed starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and monosyllabic cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being shoehorned into an upscale costume drama much to the chagrin of director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). As if this wasn’t enough, Mannix is also considering a lucrative job offer from aircraft manufacturer Lockheed and is also trying to quit smoking.

Joel and Ethan Coen are the talented writers, directors, editors and producers behind some of the best movies in history (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “The Big Lebowski,” “True Grit” to name a few). They have also given us some interesting films with unique characters and a skewed view of the world. These films aren’t quite great but are certainly worth a look. Where “Hail, Caesar” falls on the list from worst to first will probably require some time to decide and may depend on your mood when you see it but, for me, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of their best efforts.

Right off the bat, you know you’re watching a Coen Brothers movie. The look of the sets, the way the characters are filmed and the often amped up energy between the actors are all signatures of a Coen Brothers joint, especially one of their lighter films. Adding to the mood is the utter self-absorption of some of the movie’s characters. They cannot see past their own wants, needs and desires to consider all the trouble they are causing. They need someone like Mannix to take care of the problems they are ill equipped to handle or blindly stumble upon. The film, set in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, gives the audience a peek behind scrubbed clean facades and into the dirty lives of Hollywood stars from the era. Reading a little of Hollywood history shows there were plenty of pregnancies, closeted gays and lesbians, and substance abuse to cover up keeping the real versions of Eddie Mannix busy. Watching the small emergencies and major catastrophes Mannix deals with fill his day made me wonder if what he does only enables the actors and directors bad decision making. Of course, the answer is “yes” since he was hired by the studio to keep the actors and directors working, on schedule and within budget.

Watching Mannix work is probably the most interesting thing about “Hail, Caesar!” making the subplot about the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock almost an afterthought. Sadly, that part of the story is written that way as well. There is a great deal of Communist ideology spewed by the group of writers holed up at a beachside bungalow. Granted, it’s all done in a friendly fashion, leading to a case of Stockholm syndrome for Whitlock. Nothing about this group is terribly interesting aside from the petty sniping between members. I suppose I expected a more aggressive gang hoping to convert Whitlock as a vocal and public advocate for their cause. Instead, Whitlock doesn’t really get it and is treated like the slow cousin at the family reunion with everyone just nodding and smiling as he tries to play along. Pretty much everything at the beach house feels like filler and tends to bring the movie to a bit of a narrative stop.

Far more entertaining are the films within the film being filmed. A water ballet featuring Johansson’s pregnant DeeAnna Moran in a mermaid costume and a big dance number with Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney leading a group of sailors tap dancing on tables at a bar the night before they ship out contain dazzling visuals, impressive choreography and catchy tunes. I almost wish they had just made a movie that stitched these scenes together with a Hollywood backlot story about Eddie Mannix and left the Communist kidnapping plot out. Even watching Clooney chew the scenery in the sword and sandals epic his character is filming beats anything that happens after his kidnapping. It’s the dichotomy between what Hollywood is trying to sell us and what this movie is trying to show us about the real world that drags the film down a peg or two. It’s far from awful but I could have used a bit more screwball action and a lot less Communist manifesto.

“Hail, Caesar!” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking. The suggestive content is very mild and hardly noticeable. Smoking is common throughout the film.

One of my favorite Coen Brothers movies is “Raising Arizona.” It is goofy and sweet and features some very memorable characters. From time to time, for no reason, my wife will just suddenly announce, “Short of Edwina. Turn to the right!” which is a line Holly Hunter’s character says on her first meeting with Nic Cage. “Raising Arizona” has more memorable lines. Perhaps that’s what “Hail, Caesar!” lacks…scenes and dialog that burrow into your brain and pop up for no particular reason in conversation. While that isn’t a requirement for a great movie, it does help.

“Hail, Caesar!” gets four guitars.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Bennet family lives on a nice estate in the English countryside. The five Bennet daughters have all been schooled in Chinese martial arts as all good young women should be in a land plagued by a zombie scourge. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) meets and takes an instant dislike to Col. Darcy (Sam Riley), a well-known zombie killer, at a reception at the home of Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Mr. Bingley sees Elizabeth’s sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) and is instantly smitten, making Jane’s mother, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips), quite happy as she hopes to marry her daughters off to wealthy families as her own is not as financially secure as she would like. The zombie plague is beginning to overrun most of London’s defenses and Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) is brought in to improve them. Darcy and Wickham have a strained history going back several years that Wickham blames on Darcy. This drives a further wedge between Darcy and Elizabeth.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” henceforth to be referred to as “PPZ,” is a brilliant idea on paper. The juxtaposition between the mannered and stuffy British upper class and the mindless hunger of zombies should have been a no brainer (pardon the expression). Sadly, this theatrical representation of a genre mashup is about as dry and dull as a British costume drama without the ravenous undead.

“PPZ” isn’t funny, isn’t scary and isn’t otherwise much of anything. It seems to have taken more of the tone of the original Jane Austen work and left any of the excitement of Seth Grahame-Smith’s modification on the page. While there are moments when Austen’s words are said during a fight scene between two characters and that does provide some visual humor it doesn’t translate into actual laughs. Perhaps Grahame-Smith’s book wasn’t intended to be funny; however, if you want a film like this to appeal to a broad audience, it needs some laughs that aren’t the polite chuckles this film only occasionally provides.

The movie isn’t scary in the least. These zombies still possess some of their former intelligence and can maintain their composure at least until they consume human brains. After they get their first taste of grey matter, they become ravenous and aggressive. The world of 19th Century England dealing with zombies is somewhat interesting and the modified history, construction of a massive wall and deep moat to block zombie progress, is a nice touch of background; but it doesn’t do much to carry the story past the opening credits.

I suppose the filmmakers were hoping to attract fans of Austen’s work AND people that enjoy “The Walking Dead.” The Venn diagram of those two audiences doesn’t have a great deal of overlap and you need an audience big enough to justify making the sequel suggested in the film’s closing image. Considering the anemic opening weekend box office, a second film seems unlikely.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material. We see a few zombie heads explode when they are shot. An arm is severed and zombies often appear to have severe injuries to their faces. We also see some corpses with large holes in the tops of their heads and their brains removed. Suggestive material is limited to the occasional sight of the tops of a heaving bosom.

When I heard “PPZ” was being made I was actually a little excited to see it. I believed it might be possible to turn a one-note premise into an entertaining movie. Sadly, I was wrong. With such a serious tone and ignoring its humorous potential, “PPZ” is largely a lifeless mess.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” gets two stars out of five.

This week, comic book fans get what could be a cinematic Valentine’s card from a much anticipated character. There is also a comedy about dating and a revisit from Blue Steel! I’ll see and review at least one of these films.

Deadpool—

How to be Single—

Zoolander 2—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “Inherent Vice” and “American Sniper”

Two very different movies about two very different subjects left me with two very different opinions. Let’s start with a film based on a Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Inherent Vice.”

Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is not your usual private detective. His office is located in a walk-in medical clinic and Doc spends more time stoned than working on any case. Arriving at his home unannounced is his former live-in girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). She is concerned her boyfriend, millionaire real estate developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) is the target of a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to put the businessman in a mental institution and take all his money. Doc tells Shasta he will look into it and she leaves. At the office the next day, a former prison inmate Tariq Kahlil (Michael K. Williams) hires Doc to find a former cellmate named Glen Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson) that owes him some money. Kahlil tells Doc Charlock works as a bodyguard for Micky Wolfmann. Doc heads out to a new residential development being built by Wolfmann called Channel View Estates where he finds nothing but desert and the beginnings of a strip mall containing only one business: A massage parlor that is actually a brothel. Doc asks Jade (Hong Chau), the receptionist, if she knows Charlock and she says yes, that he comes around with the rest of his Aryan Brotherhood biker gang when they are protecting Wolfmann. Doc looks around the business briefly but is knock unconscious. He wakes up lying next to the dead body of Glen Charlock in front of the strip mall and is surrounded by police. Doc is taken downtown to talk with Lt. Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a no-nonsense, beat-the-truth-out-of-you cop who also aspires to be an actor. Bigfoot tells Doc he is his prime suspect in the murder of Charlock and the recent disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann but the interview ends when Sauncho Smilax, Esq. (Benicio Del Toro), Doc’s attorney, arrives and stops the interrogation. Bigfoot doesn’t have enough to charge Doc so he lets him go. Soon after, Shasta also goes missing putting Doc into a panic as he hasn’t fully gotten over his feelings for her. During his investigation, Doc encounters drug smuggling dentists, back-from-the-dead musicians, political shenanigans and memories of Shasta, all of which make his job that much harder.

Based on Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, “Inherent Vice” is another of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s microscopic looks at a tiny segment of American culture and how greed, lust and power tend to be corrupting aspects in the lives of his characters. Anderson has done similar examinations in his films “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.” While those films had fascinating characters and riveting stories, “Inherent Vice” is stuffed with dozens of often bizarre characters and a story that is so dense and complicated I had a hard time keeping up with who was who and how they were connected. Despite there being a resolution that directly or indirectly ties all the characters together, it is a thoroughly unentertaining two hours plus to arrive at the finish line.

The best part of “Inherent Vice” is Joaquin Phoenix. His performance is that of a man on the edge of mental and physical collapse, living on pizza, beer, cigarettes and weed. He approaches his work as a PI as nonchalantly as you and I toss away a used paper towel. Doc always has a cover story ready as he talks to people on the down low during his investigations. He will put on his one good suit and top it off with an obviously phony toupee should the need arise. Still, he is never so on the job that he would turn down a drink, or a joint, or a roll in the hay should it be offered. Doc is of such loose moral character he seems like the last person who would be hired to investigate…anything. Phoenix is so loosey goosey in his performance he makes it impossible not to watch him.

Sadly, Phoenix was the only thing I found enjoyable in the film as it moves at a rather leaden pace and so many conversations are hushed and whispered it makes hearing all dialog nearly impossible. Not that it would matter if you clearly heard every word as the story is so complicated as to require the audience to keep notes just to maintain some degree of order. I don’t mind a film that challenges the audience to pay attention but “Inherent Vice” acts like it gets bonus pay for every audience member that leaves confused. The movie isn’t really about what the audience is led to believe in the opening minutes. Exactly what it’s about is still something of a mystery to me.

“Inherent Vice” is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence. Numerous drugs are shown being smoked, snorted and shot up. There is one sex scene that is far from sexy. One woman is seen fully nude. There is another scene where two women are suggested to be having sex. There are also numerous depictions of nude women in art, advertising and neckties. There is some scattered violence including one man beating another man with the lid from a toilet tank. There’s also a shooting. Foul language is common.

I guess “Inherent Vice” is beyond me and I’m not smart enough to get it. Whatever the reason, I didn’t like the movie other than Joaquin Phoenix performance. It’s like swimming in wet concrete: If you work really, really hard, you’ll get somewhere with it but it isn’t worth the effort.

“Inherent Vice” gets one star out of five.

American Sniper

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy in Texas when he sees news coverage of the US Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Kyle joins the Navy and enters the SEAL program, enduring rigorous and brutal physical and mental training. One night at a bar after training, Kyle meets Taya (Sienna Miller) and the pair begins a relationship that leads to marriage. At their reception, Kyle gets word he and his unit will be shipping out to Iraq where he will provide security for Marine patrols by being a sniper. Kyle is very good at his work and over the course of four tours of Iraq tallies 160 verified kills and possibly another hundred more. Also during his tours, his reputation led to a bounty being put on his head by the insurgents. An Olympic gold medal winning sharpshooter who is called Mustafa takes on the challenge and nearly succeeds. Mustafa is also responsible for the deaths of many US soldiers and he becomes as big a target for Kyle as Kyle is for Mustafa. The violence and stress causes Kyle to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he becomes distant from Taya and his two kids and unable to relax and settle back into a normal life.

“American Sniper,” based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle, has been adapted by director Clint Eastwood into a thrilling, tense and painful movie to watch. The battle sequences are very tense and often caused my chest to tighten with anxiety and my hands to grasp the armrests until my knuckles were sore. Even when Kyle and another soldier are sitting on a roof overlooking a patrol with nothing happening, the atmosphere is rich with dread and possible disaster. Eastwood is also able to show Kyle in his home with his wife and their painfully domestic life in such a way that it becomes more understandable why some soldiers have such a difficult time transitioning back to normal civilian life. The film shows us how Kyle slowly sinks into depression when he’s home and how he comes to life again when he goes on another tour. It seems counterintuitive but the movie explains Kyle had a deep feeling of responsibility to his fellow soldiers. Kyle is asked by a VA doctor if he felt guilt for anything he did and Kyle replies he only feels guilt for those soldiers he couldn’t save with his talents. That may make Kyle sound like some kind of saint but he is portrayed throughout the film like just a normal man who had an extraordinary gift when it came to shooting a rifle.

What makes “American Sniper” painful is knowing how the story ends. Kyle was shot to death at a gun range by another soldier who was suffering from PTSD. Kyle had received help from the VA in getting back to himself and volunteered to help other soldiers by getting them out of the hospital or their homes and taking them out to shoot target practice. In the film, Kyle is shown as both a patient teacher and a loving father. It’s this seemingly decent man who we know will die at the hands of a fellow soldier that causes pain despite his successes on the battlefield.

Bradley Cooper, who has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, portrays Kyle as rarely getting very demonstrative for any reason. He is shown as the emotional rock of his family and of his fellow soldiers. Cooper is fantastic in the role and deserves the nomination. His Texas drawl and laid back manner exudes an air of confidence and security. Cooper as Kyle is the kind of man with whom other men want to hang around and knock back a few beers, go hunting and fishing and watch the game on Sunday. He is the quintessential Texan about whom we have all heard but weren’t sure still existed. Cooper’s performance looks effortless and he appears to occupy the skin of Kyle with ease. A couple of reviews ago I said Benedict Cumberbatch was my favorite for the Best Actor Oscar. Now I’m not as sure.

“American Sniper” is rated R for some sexual references, language throughout and strong disturbing war violence. The sexual references are scattered. The violence is consistent with many bloody head and chest shots shown. There is a scene where Kyle is watching video that shows a soldier shot in the lower leg and then the chest. That may be the most graphic of the shootings. Foul language is common.

The book “American Sniper” is based on has been the subject of a fair bit of controversy involving some of Kyle’s stories of what happened both in Iraq and here in the US. One of those stories is the subject of an on-going lawsuit involving former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura who was himself a SEAL specializing in underwater demolition. There are other stories that have drawn some scrutiny for either their accuracy or their veracity. It appears Chris Kyle liked to stretch the truth from time to time; however, what can’t be questioned is his dedication to his mission of protecting his fellow soldiers during his four tours in Iraq. “American Sniper” is both a thrilling and heartbreaking look at a warrior who had his human weaknesses just like the rest of us and should be remembered as a hero.

“American Sniper” gets five stars.

This week, three new movies with decidedly lighter subject matter hope you decide to drop some coin at the box office (and concession stand). I’ll see and review at least one of them.

The Boy Next Door—

Mordecai—

Strange Magic—

Send email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net and follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.