Category Archives: Movies

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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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.

 

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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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.

At The Movies: Ready Player One

I think I’m getting too old for this.

In my youth I probably would have loved “Ready Player One.” All the shiny special effects and pop culture references and over-the-top action sequences…so what if the plot is paper thin and the characters are even less substantial? It’s got the Iron Giant fighting Mechagodzilla!

But I’m old now, getting older every day. And all that shiny special effects is just so much sensory overload and I’m tired of characters I don’t care about and I’ve seen variations of a thousand times going through the motions of a familiar story that has no depth.

Still, seeing a T-Rex and King Kong smashing up racing cars was pretty darn cool.

Still, I wish I’d gone to see “Isle of Dogs” instead.

ready-player-oneDirected by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel by Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” is set in the pretty dystopian world of 2045. To escape the unbearable harshness of reality, people spend most of their time in a virtual world known as the OASIS.

The game was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric sort who, before his death, hid three keys somewhere in the OASIS. Whoever finds these keys will claim ownership of the virtual world and all the treasure that goes with it.

Among those searching for the keys is young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), the central player in our story. Years pass with no success until Wade finally cracks the secret to surviving Round 1 and grabs the first key. He’s joined in his search by new love interest Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and his friends (fully approved by The Diversity Council): Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Dalto (Win Morisaki).

There has to be a villain to the piece, of course, and for this tale it is as Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of Innovative Online Industries. Nolan wants IOI to control the OASIS and has an army of drones and considerable resources at his command.

But since when has a slimy corporate weasel with limitless power been able to stand up to a plucky teenager and his pals?

“Ready Player One” is the latest in the never-ending string of movies that are big on spectacle and light on everything else. It is pretty impressive spectacle at times, and sure it’s fun to see so many icons of pop culture pop up all over the place. But the story is bland and lacking in creativity and the cast is made up of stock characters. And at 2 hours, 20 minutes, it’s about 30 minutes too long.

I suspect you will love this movie more if you are really into videogame culture, but I haven’t owned a gaming system since the Sega Genesis, so I’m clearly out of touch there.

 

 

 

At The Movies: Tomb Raider

Way back in 2001 Angelina Jolie brought video game adventurer Lara Croft to life with the release of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Jolie made two “Tomb Raider” movies before everyone involved lost interest. They were decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure films.

Seventeen years later, Alicia Vikander steps into the role for a fresh start and a new adventure. The latest “Tomb Raider” is a decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure flick.

Lara is the daughter of wealthy Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared some years ago and now Lara must find and rescue him. Wait. Didn’t I review this movie last week?

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Richard went missing while searching for the tomb of Himiko, an ancient queen with strange mystical powers. Richard wanted to find the tomb before the evil Trinity organization does because if it gets to the corpse first they will do something evil with it — because that’s what evil organizations do.

Lara unearths a clue to her father’s whereabouts and, with help from ship captain Lu Rein (Daniel Wu), tracks him down to a deserted island. She and Lu are immediately captured by an expedition party sent by Trinity and led by  Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).

There’s a lot of running and chasing in this movie. It starts off with a bike chase, followed by Lara being chased around by a trio of young punks, then being chased through the jungle by Trinity agents. She spends a lot more time running than tomb raiding, but I guess “Lara Croft: Runner” wouldn’t be quite as big a draw.

I can’t say this new “Tomb Raider” is better or worse than the original. There is some beautiful scenery, your standard traps-in-the-tomb excitement, some decent action — but that was also true of the first one. Vikander is the real draw here as she has great screen presence. But then, so did Jolie.

“Tomb Raider” is a very by-the-numbers adventure movie with a twist at the end that makes no sense to me. It’s clearly set up as the start of a franchise but we’ll see how long “Lara Croft 2.0” will carry on.

At The Movies: A Wrinkle In Time

The new fantasy film “A Wrinkle in Time” is based on a beloved (or so I’m told) book by Madeleine L’Engle. I can only hope the book is much better than the movie, because the movie is a mess.

Oh, it’s very pretty to look at. Kudos to whoever did the special effects, costumes and makeup. But those are the only things this sappy, smarmy film has going for it.

Meet the Murry family: father Alex (Chris Pine), mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), daughter Meg (Storm Reid) and son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) (Why do they call him Charles Wallace, instead of just Charles or Charlie or Wallace? Who knows? This is just the first of many unanswered questions you will encounter).

The Murry family are all geniuses. And they love each other very, very much. I don’t know any family living or fictional that loves each other as much as the Murry family. I almost went out into the lobby for an insulin shot during the first 10 minutes of the movie.

But then one day dad disappears. Four years later dad is still gone and Meg is now a mopey teen who gets picked on by her classmates. Charles Wallace still loves her, and she loves Charles Wallace.

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Charles Wallace has been hanging out with a trio of mysterious women with supernatural powers — Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). Where did he meet them? Who knows? When did he meet them? Who knows? How did he meet them? Who knows? Certainly not his mother and sister. Nor anyone in the audience.

The ladies show up in the backyard one day and inform Meg that their father used his mind to transport himself across the universe and they need to go bring him back. At least I think that’s what happened. Meg, Charles Wallace, and neighbor boy Calvin (Levi Miller) soon find themselves whisked away to a colorful, creative landscape.

Everyone’s enjoying a nice frolic when an ominous black cloud appears in the sky, with inky tendrils spiraling out from it. This, it turns out, is “The Black Thing” — aka IT, aka the Personification of Pure Evil.

Oh Lord, seriously?

Yep. The kids need to rescue dad from the evil cloud, or rather Meg does, because she’s a WARRIOR of some sort and the witches can’t help because, well, plot dynamics.

Somewhere around this time my mind checked out and never really checked back in. There’s a lot of talking, some trippy visuals, some heartwarming lecturing, an unsatisfying battle of good vs. evil, and a family reunited for lots of hugging.

I suppose this movie will appeal to young people, but I can’t imagine why. As I mentioned up top, the visuals are the real –and only — draw. The cast is fine but when the most captivating thing about a film is the women’s lipstick, there’s a problem.