At The Movies: Deadpool 2

After the epically intense and grim “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s time for something a little less dramatic, a little more humorous and a lot more raunchy.

Welcome back, Wade Wilson.

Ryan Reynolds returns as the fast-talking, foul-mouthed, indestructible, unbeatable, meta-joking Deadpool.  “Deadpool 2” delivers the laughs, the violence, the emotion, and the insanity you’ve come to expect from the character — in so many inappropriate ways.

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The sequel begins with Wilson, aka Deadpool, feeling suicidal. Which is a problem, given he’s very hard to kill. Eventually his old pal Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) shows up and tries to break him out of his funk by getting him to join the X-Men. Of course, in Deadpool’s corner of the X-Universe, the only X-Men around are the metal man and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They are joined by NTA’s girlfriend, the always cheery Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna).

The team goes to investigate a boarding school that is under assault by one of its students — a flame-powered mutant calling himself Firefist (Julian Dennison). Deadpool sees good in the boy and wants to help him out.

Elsewhen, a time-traveling soldier called Cable (James Brolin) returns home to find his family barbecued by the future adult Firefist. Cable decides to go back in time and kill his family’s killer before he can grow up and cause trouble.

Sorry if that last paragraph was confusing. Time travel is like that.

This, of course, sets Deadpool and Cable on a collision course. On the outs with the X-Men, Wade decides to form his own team — an X-Force to be reckoned with.

If you’re one of the many sick, twisted individuals who loved “Deadpool,” you will probably love “Deadpool 2.” It’s sharp, it’s clever, it’s so crude. But you already know to expect that.

Most of the original cast are back and in fine form. They share the spotlight with newbies Brolin (in his second impressive Marvel appearance this movie season) and Zazie Beets as the luck-powered Domino.

But the real star remains Reynolds, who seems to put so much joy into his performance. It’s an achievement the way he and director David Leitch manage to combine so much violence, raunch and humor with the right amount of heart and wit.

Public Service Announcement: You must stick around for the post-credits scene. Not only is it hilarious it’s actually important to the story. The good news is you don’t have to sit through the rolling credits that follow unless you want to hear a goofy song at the very end.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the Vanisher.

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On Stage: The Phantom Of The Opera

So how do you follow up the phenomenal success of the phenomenon that was “Hamilton?”

Why, you bring in one of the classics, of course.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” has returned to the Fox stage for a 12-day run. This latest production boasts new scenic design, choreography and staging. I couldn’t tell much difference from the last time it was in town aside from some of the set designs. This version did feature more pyrotechnics than I recall and probably the tallest Phantom I’ve ever seen on stage.

 

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“The Phantom of the Opera” runs through May 20 at the Fox Theatre.

The story, based on a novel by Gaston Leruox and transformed into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, remains the same. A mysterious, disfigured man calling himself “The Phantom” (Quentin Oliver Lee) torments the owners and players of the Paris Opera House in the late 19th century. He’s particularly keen on a young singer named Christine (Eva Tavares). While she appreciates the vocal lessons, she’s more interested in her old friend Raoul (Jordan Craig).

This latest production delivers all the flash, color, elaborate costuming and set design, and audacious singing that you’d expect from “Phantom.” The show has the same drawbacks it has always had — I still can’t understand people when they’re all singing different things at the same time. But I’ve seen the show enough now that I’ve learned to accept it.

The costumes, sets and music are all first-rate. The actors, dancers and musicians deliver strong performances — Lee is one of the best phantoms I’ve seen. Put it all together and it’s easy to see why “The Phantom of the Opera” is considered one of the best musicals out there.

“The Phantom of the Opera” runs through May 20 at the Fox Theatre. www.fabulousfox.com

 

At The Movies: Avengers: Infinity War

I’m told if I spoil anything in this review that the wrath of Disney/Marvel will be upon me. And since that’s far more terrifying than the wrath of Thanos, I will do my best.

You’ve waited 10 years and sat through 18 films to get here — the culmination of all things Marvel Studios set in motion with the release of “Iron Man” in 2008. Does it live up to the hype? Only you can be the judge of that. I will say that it is an epic film: epic in scope, epic in dramatic heft, epic in cast and special effects — it’s a big deal.

Thanos (James Brolin) has been tormenting our heroes in behind-the-scenes fashion since the end credits of the first Avengers movie back in 2012. Now he’s taken center stage, gathering up the six all-powerful Infinity Stones so that he can bring balance to the universe by killing off half of the population.

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As villain motivations go, it seems a bit dodgy. I prefer the comic book version, but I guess someone thought Madman who has an issue with overpopulation was a better sell. Brolin delivers a strong presence to the character and gives him the weight he needs to carry the film.

When the film opens he’s three stones short of a gauntlet, so to complete the set he and his stooges are going to have to go through the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, the Black Panther and Spider-Man. It may not be as hard as it sounds.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo took on the unenviable task of bringing together 19 superheroes, various supporting cast, 1 big bad and his crew, and pulling together a coherent, compelling story. Obviously not everyone gets equal time and the usual suspects get the lion’s share, but the Russos still manage to capture the voice and unique characteristics of each player. I’d list them all but you know who they are and I’d get carpal tunnel syndrome if I had to type every name.

All your trademark Marvel tics are here. Although the humor is downplayed for the most part there is still plenty of comic moments. Of course it all comes to a climax in an overblown orgy of fighting and special effects. Like always.

But the characters remain the centerpiece of these films and there are plenty of hefty emotional beats that get hit. “Infinity War” is a 2-and-a-half-hour roller-coaster ride with few moments to stop and catch your breath.

So strap in. You’ve waited a long time for this.

 

Gone: Bob Dorough

Forty days and forty nights,
Didn’t it rain, children.
Not a speck of land in sight,
Didn’t it, didn’t it rain.
But Noah built the ark so tight
They sailed on, children.
And when at last the waters receded
And the dove brought back the olive tree leaf,
He landed that ship near Mount Ararat
And Noah’s children grabbed his robe and said,
“Hey Dad, how many animals on this old ark anyway, huh?”

Elementary, my dear, two time two is four.
Elementary, my dear, two time three is six.
Elementary, my dear, two time four is eight.
Elementary, my dear, two time five is ten.

Two times one is two, of course.
And it must occur to you,
You get an even number
Every time you multiply by two.

Conjunction Junction, whats your function?

And the shot heard ’round the world
Was the start of the Revolution.
The Minute Men were ready, on the move.
Take your powder, and take your gun.
Report to General Washington.
Hurry men, there’s not an hour to lose!

Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad astra, forever and ever,
With zero, my hero, how wonderful you are.

schoolhouse-rock-live-at-arkansas-arts-center-childrens-theatre-800

Oh, we were suffering until suffrage,
Not a woman here could vote, no matter what age,
Then the 19th Amendment struck down that restrictive rule. (Oh yeah!)

You see a pronoun was made to take the place of a noun,
‘Cause saying all those nouns over and over
Can really wear you down.

Verb! That’s What’s Happening!

Mother Necessity
With her good intentions,
Where would this country be
Without her inventions?

When you’re in the dark and you want to see,
You need uh… Electricity, Electricity
Flip that switch and what do you get?
You get uh… Electricity, Electricity
Every room can now be lit
With just uh… Electricity, Electricity

Three is a magic number.
Yes it is, it’s a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number.
The past and the present and the future,
Faith and hope and charity,
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three.
That’s a magic number.

It takes three legs to make a tripod or to make a table stand.
It takes three wheels to make a vehicle called a tricycle.
Every triangle has three corners,
Every triangle has three sides,
No more, no less.
You don’t have to guess.
When it’s three you can see it’s a magic number.

A man and a woman had a little baby.
Yes, they did.
They had three in the family.
That’s a magic number.

Figure eight as double four,
Figure four as half of eight.
If you skate, you would be great,
If you could make a figure eight.
That’s a circle that turns ’round upon itself.

Place it on its side and it’s a symbol meaning
Infinity…

Remember Lucky Seven Samson, that’s my natural born name.
If you should ask me again, I’d have to tell you the same.
You’ll wake up tomorrow, you’ll be glad that I came
‘Cause you’ll be singin’ one of the songs that I sang.
So keep a happy outlook and be good to your friend,
And maybe I’ll pass this way again.
Maybe!

Bye.

Marvel Studios, Hawkeye, And The Infinite Shaft

As the self-proclaimed No. 1 fan of Clint Barton, you are probably wondering why I have yet to weigh in on the biggest controversy currently consuming pop culture: The disappearance of Hawkeye from the huge marketing push to promote “Avengers: Infinity War.”

To be honest, I’ve just been too consumed with anger, outrage, confusion and jealousy to properly sit down and compose my thoughts on the matter. But the movie opens next week, so I might as well say something.

And There Came A Day 

2d9942ba8a561ba4a47029303d040e3e--clint-barton-hawkeyeIt’s never been easy being a Hawkeye fan. He’s never going to steal the spotlight away from the big stars — Spider-Man, HULK, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America… but we don’t love Clint because he’s a big gun. We love Hawkeye because he can stand toe-to-toe with the big guns and doesn’t take any shit off any of them.

Now, ignorant nerds (and Lord knows there are plenty of them) love to go on about how lame Hawkeye is because “he fights crime with a bow and arrow! How stupid is that? You can’t fight killer robots with a bow and arrow!”

If that is your opinion, you are an idiot. And in the words of Bob Dylan, it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe. This is comic book reality. People fight crime with archaic weapons all the time. You know what Batman uses to fight crime? Bat-shaped boomerangs — and no one makes fun of Batman. Captain America fights crime with an oversized Frisbee. Daredevil is blind and fights crime with a billy club.  Wolverine fights crime with knives coming out of his hands. I could go on and on.

Putting aside the number of popular characters in popular culture who use the bow and arrow (Robin Hood, Legolas, Katniss Everdeen, Rambo, Lara Croft, to name a few) —  consider this: How much more courageous is it to fight killer robots when you don’t have a suit of armor or incredible gamma-ray-fueled strength and durability? Hawkeye will take on any evil despite being grossly overpowered and still beat them. And that’s why he’s awesome.

It Was 10 Years Ago Today

I was pleasantly surprised when word came down that Hawkeye would be part of the first phase of the new Marvel Studios movie initiative. Even more surprised when it was revealed that he would be one of the original Avengers.  After all, he wasn’t a founder in the comics. But Ant-Man and the Wasp were tied up in another movie deal, so Clint and Natasha took their places. It was in clear defiance of canon, but I didn’t have a problem with it.

U3uWkHOtVMHpmQuk3Fg5I9WCW-EhXOjmIkqa8IjWM_0I was even more pleasantly surprised when word came down that 2-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner would be playing the role. Renner has been my favorite actor since his breakout role in “The Hurt Locker” and having my favorite actor playing my favorite superhero was just too good to be true. Great things were coming for Clint Barton, I’m telling you.

And then “The Avengers” happened.

Now, “The Avengers” is a great movie. It’s one of my all-time favorites. I’ll watch it every time I come across it on TNT. But as everyone knows, Joss Whedon really dropped the ball on introducing Hawkeye to the massive movie audience. And since his introduction in “Thor” was little more than a cameo (unlike every other Avenger), this was not a good thing.

And while Natasha (who also didn’t get a solo movie) continued to have significant roles elsewhere, Clint stayed out of the picture until “Age of Ultron.” This was his best showing to date but he’s still sharing the spotlight with 8 other superheroes, plus Ultron and Nick Fury.

Meanwhile, more and more new characters keep entering the MCU, pushing Clint further and further in the background.

Where’s Hawkeye?

Which brings us to “Avengers: Infinity War,” the 18th (19th if you count “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) film in the Marvel Studios’ catalogue and the culmination of a storyline that’s been building up for 10 years. This is the big one. All the heroes coming together to save the universe from Thanos and those pesky Infinity Stones that have been popping up everywhere.

And at first, everything was normal. Renner reported for duty, there were tweets and set photos and quotes for everyone involved. The first “Infinity War” poster shows up at a comic convention with Hawkeye in the back. Vanity Fair does a cover story on Marvel Studios and Renner is there along with everyone else — and a really odd haircut. Speculation based on unauthorized set photos leads to talk that Clint may adopt a new identity (he does that from time to time).

And then…nothing.

The first trailer comes out — no Hawkeye. OK, maybe just an oversight. Poster comes out — no Hawkeye. Another trailer — still no Hawkeye. More posters, multiple press cover stories, press junkets — Hawkeye/Renner has disappeared from the face of the earth, or at least the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

No, I was not happy. Yes, I was mightily pissed. And confused. And sad. It’s been a rough couple of years, frankly, and every time I walked to the edge of the cliff, Paul would pull me back with “you can’t die until Infinity War!” And he was right. I’d invested this much in the MCU, I couldn’t clock out so close to the finale.

Now it’s all been ruined. My enthusiasm for this film, and Marvel Studios in general, has diminished dramatically.

But then something miraculous happened. Something that restored my dwindling faith in humanity. And my faith in humanity has taken a lot of hits lately.

U1N31jjK_SbuCt10ZFgH0tBUcqx0sXw3CM4pkdYC1KEPeople noticed. People besides me cared. And the people responded.

When Marvel posted a movie poster without Hawkeye, someone made a poster that was all Hawkeye. When Marvel made individual character posters and left out Hawkeye, someone made one for Hawkeye. When Entertainment Weekly failed to put out a Hawkeye cover, someone made one. Someone started an online petition to get Hawkeye reinstated in the marketing (I didn’t sign it, as I think online petitions are a waste of time, but it’s nice that someone put forth the effort). One fan even got a Hawkeye tattoo to show his solidarity — proving that I may not be the biggest Hawkeye fan after all, ’cause I’m not going that far.

And while most people involved in the project have remained silent on the subject, the film’s directors have come out to say that, calm down, Hawkeye’s in the movie. Which makes his absence from all promotion all the more perplexing.

Conspiracy Theories R Us

So what does it all mean? Why include Hawkeye in the initial slate of films if they weren’t going to properly use him? And why hire an actor of the caliber of Jeremy Renner if you’re not going to properly use him?

Did Renner kick Kevin Fegie’s dog? Did he accidentally shoot him in the ass with an arrow while on set? The grudge theory doesn’t make sense. Marvel Studios has no qualms with replacing actors they have a problem with — just ask Ed Norton or Terrence Howard.

So if there’s no problem with Renner, why has he all but disappeared? Maybe this is just a brilliant marketing scheme. If Hawkeye had just been another of the 20+ characters inhabiting “Infinity War,” he probably would’ve been lost in the publicity shuffle. No one was paying attention to Hawkeye before, but they are now. Maybe this was all a shrewdly calculated attempt to get people to care about the character.

But I doubt it.

See, it’s not just “Infinity War” promotion where Hawkeye’s been given the shaft.

Consider the Marvel Studios intro. In the beginning it was just random comic art images. A few years ago it changed to where they started showing movie character images. If you can spot Hawkeye, you have pretty damn good vision. In the first version he’s briefly shown falling from a roof in the letter M — you don’t see his face, just his body. In the most recent versions they cut the image even shorter to make room for Gamora.

This is not a mistake or an oversight. This is intentional.

A few weeks ago I was in Toys R Us and they had a large display of Marvel merchandise. Above it was a huge poster featuring animated versions of all the MCU characters — all but one. Can you guess who? There were individual portraits of the characters as well. All but one.

A few weeks later Toys R Us went out of business. I like to think that’s not a coincidence.

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on far past the point where most people are still reading.

Who knows, maybe this will be a Luke Skywalker thing where Clint shows up in the final frame as set-up for a bigger role in “Avengers 4.”

Or maybe they’re going to do a Warriors Three on him.

I guess we’ll find out next week.

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On Stage: A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Growing up I didn’t listen to much Patsy Cline. My parents were more into Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. So I spent a lot of time listening to Johnny Cash and Roger Miller.

My father-in-law spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins. Which meant my wife spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.

So Laurie was much more excited about going to see “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” than I was, but I was familiar enough with her music to assume that it would probably be a good show.

Sometimes assumptions are correct.

 

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Julie Johnson as Patsy Cline in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline,” now playing at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo courtesy of Mark Bell Presents

Julie Johnson gives a stellar performance as the country music legend. Backed by a solid four-piece band (Jerry Matheny on electric guitar, Rocky Gribble on acoustic guitar and banjo, John Kerry Huckaba on bass and bass guitar, and D Garrett Roper on drums), Johnson sings and yodels her way through many of Cline’s big hits.

Steve Barcus ties the narrative together as a radio disc jockey hosting a musical tribute to Cline. Barcus plays seven other roles in the course of the show and also serves as the band’s pianist.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Patsy Cline began her musical career as a teenager, first singing on a local radio show and then in bars and talent shows. She had her first hit with “Walking After Midnight” in 1957 and went on to find success on both the country and pop charts. She died in a plane crash at age 30.

“A Closer Walk” covers all the high points of Cline’s musical career — from radio to nightclubs to the Grand Ole Opry to Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. It deals with her personal struggles as well. All while performing songs that have become pop music standards — like “I Fall To Pieces,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy.”

But this isn’t strictly a concert show. Barcus and the band keep things lively with olde tyme comedy bits and classic commercial jingles.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is a terrific show. The music is great, the musicians are great, the leads are great and the comedy’s a bit corny — but that’s keeping in the spirit of the times. The Playhouse is also a fine venue for such a program — small and intimate.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” runs through May 6 at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. www.playhouseatwestport.com/

 

 

At The Movies: Rampage

I’ve seen a lot of stupid movies in my day, and while “Rampage” may not be the stupidest, it is certainly a contender for that crown.

Of course, being a stupid movie isn’t necessarily bad. This is, after all, a movie based on a video game starring Dwayne Johnson and a trio of giant, mutated animals. If you came into this expecting “Citizen Kane” you were bound to be disappointed. “Rampage” pretty much delivers exactly what it promises in the trailers: big, over-the-top monster madness.

But boy, it sure is stupid.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primate expert who works with gorillas at a California zoo. His best friend is an albino gorilla named George (Jason Liles). Davis isn’t much of a people person.

He’s also former Special Forces, because most good primatologists are. His time in the military will serve him well if he ever has to fly a helicopter, fire heavy artillery, survive a fiery plane crash, and kick ass while nursing a bullet wound to the gut.

All things primatologists deal with on a regular basis.rampage-thumb-430xauto-70737

Meanwhile high above us, an evil corporation is conducting biological experiments in a space station. One of the test subjects escapes and tears havoc through the station, causing it to explode. Everything burns up on reentry except three canisters containing some weird mutagenic gas. One canister lands in the Everglades, where it infects a crocodile; one lands in Wyoming and mutates a wolf; while the third winds up in George’s habitat.

George begins to grow at a rapid rate (For some reason, all George does is grow — the other victims turn into monsters that are barely recognizable as a wolf or a crocodile). Naturally the government becomes involved, in the form of special agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell actually turns out to be more of a help than a hindrance — the only unexpected twist in the whole movie.

Now here’s where things get really stupid. Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her idiot brother Brett (Jake Lacy) run the evil corporation that caused all this trouble. Claire wants to recoup some of her investment so she sets off a beacon that will lure the creatures to their corporate office in the heart of Chicago. How she figures that bringing three rampaging monsters into a heavily populated area will get her in good with the authorities is anyone’s guess.

“Rampage” certainly delivers on its title. Once things get rolling it is pretty much nonstop mayhem and destruction with the occasional time out for a humorous moment or a feeble attempt at character development. If you are in the mood to turn off your brain for a couple of hours and watch monsters tear up a city before tearing into each other, then this is the movie for you.