Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Bullet time

I keep saying this, but only because it's true. Superhero movies need to go away now. Like Nickleback in the early noughts, this particular piece of entertainment has been shoved so far down our throats, it's becoming impossible to taste anything else. And the taste was never that delectable to begin with. 
I know Marvel has a multi-year plan for multiple films that will probably all culminate in a Marvel vs. DC showdown throwdown that will be four hours long and include every character who has ever appeared on a comic book page. But you can count me out on that. 
Truth be told, I don't even bother seeing many of these movies anymore. You couldn't drag me to the latest Avengers movie. I liked Black Panther, but probably won't watch it again. And Thor: Ragnarok was fun, but again, I probably won't bother with a double dip. 

So why Deadpool 2 then? Why bother with another Marvel movie, albeit a snarky, swear-y, blood and gore-y one? Because it was playing at 10:30am and I wanted to get out of the house for a couple of hours. 

All this grumbling to say that I come to this movie, and therefore this review, having expected nothing. Because I wasn't a huge fan of the first Deadpool movie, I didn't go in expecting its sequel to be good. And because I didn't hate the first Deadpool movie, I didn't go in expecting its sequel to be bad. I just had a couple hours to burn, that's all. 

If you were a fan of Deadpool 1, and you're wanting more of the same snarky, swear-y, blood and gore-y super antics, then fear not. This movie is nothing if not full of rude humour, offensive language and carnage. 

I don't remember the plot of the first Deadpool, or even how he got his powers of invincibility, but in this film, bad guys kill Deadpool's girlfriend (I'm including this tidbit without a spoiler warning because it happens in the first five minutes and was spoken about in interviews). Deadpool, despondent, pulls himself together, with the help of some X-Men B-characters, and charges headlong into a whirlwind of bloody vengeance and halfway funny one liners. 

Actually, one of the best things about Deadpool 2 is Julian Dennison as the mutant pre-teen Russell. He's the best thing about the movie not only because his character's story arc is the most interesting, but because Dennison, who was amazing in the wonderful film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is so fun to watch and has such natural acting ability. 

If you know comics, the Deadpool ones and certainly the X-Men ones as well, Deadpool 2 will be a feast of 'oh yeah, I remember that guy/girl from this or that issue'. There are some cool characters who don't get much love in the 'proper' X-Men flicks. And there are a bunch of cameo characters that may or may not have origins in the comics themselves, I honestly never really read comics, so if you're asking me, you're asking the wrong guy. But there are some fun cameo drop ins by stars as diverse as Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Terry Crews. 

Deadpool is full of humour. Even in the movie's more serious moments, Ryan Reynolds is cracking some sort of joke. And while this is to be expected, it got to be a little much. The character of Deadpool isn't written a great deal differently than some of Reynold's other comedic roles. In fact, if you were to take Reynold's character from Waiting, slap a Deadpool suit on him and give him superpowers, you'd probably have it pretty close.

One thing people have been pointing out about the comedy which I agree with, is that it is used to mask, by pointing out, the lazy writing. Rather than write a good plot, the filmmakers seem ok with writing a lazy one and having Ryan Reynolds break the fourth wall continually and wink at the audience with some line about that plot point being lazy. 
That would be fine if it happened once or twice, but there are so many silly plot points in Deadpool 2 that it feels like Reynolds is doing it throughout the whole film. 
It's not clever to write a bad plot into a movie, then let the audience know it's a bad plot. It's clever to write a good plot to begin with. Again though, this is a Marvel movie. I wasn't expecting Inception when I bought my ticket. 

And that's also Deadpool 2's greatest asset. It doesn't seem to care that it's not as clever as a Nolan film. It doesn't seem to care that you can tell when the filmmakers are using CGI. And it certainly doesn't care if it pisses you off or offends you in any way. You want protagonists who don't swear? Go see Infinity War again. This is Deadpool fucking 2, bitches. This guy kills the bad guys, bangs the pretty ladies, and looks cool doing it. Oh shit, I just realized something. Deadpool is basically a James Bond movie. If James Bond was a burn victim and said things like shitballs and fucknuggets. Which he definitely should. Someone get Barbara Broccoli on the phone!

Rating: ****

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

Children of the corn

If your movie is almost entirely bereft of dialogue, it better have two things stitched into it pretty tightly: it better be visually entrancing, and it better be narratively sound. 
If an audience in a mostly silent movie, or entirely silent movie, as the case may be, has something beautiful to look at and something enticing to follow, it won't even notice how much dialogue is or isn't there. Look at a movie like Drive (2011) for example. Very little dialogue, no words wasted. But the look of the film pops like neon with jagged edges, and the story is so involving and handily told, you immediately lose yourself in it. 

A Quiet Place starts off that way. It looks great, technically. The film takes place in a post apocalyptic somewhere at some near future point in time, so everything is ugly neglected  grime and twisted rust. But the degradation is beautifully rendered. And the story is immediately involving. In the first scene, a family of five tip toe barefoot through a supermarket collecting food and supplies, careful not to make any noise or disturb anything that might make any noise. At one point one of the children find a small toy plane that lights up and makes siren sounds and is about to set it off, when his father, played by John Krasinski, who also directed the film, yells at him in mouthed words and sign language that that would be too noisy. The whole set piece is pretty well done.
In fact, all of the film's set pieces are pretty well done. And therein lies the problem with A Quiet Place. It's a movie made up of moments, with not enough story to connect them in a cohesive or believable way. 

The movie is an hour and a half long. Normally, that runtime is my sweet spot. Not too short and not too long. And I very rarely complain about a movie being too short. But A Quiet Place felt like it could have used another half an hour of exposition. 
The horror the family faces at the hands of monsters, presumably from another planet, who are blind and hunt by sound, doesn't feel earned. Titles tell us the family has been living their life, avoiding the monsters by not making sounds, for about a year and a half when we join them. Then, in the next 24 hours, it's one big disaster after another. 
The resolution of the film feels rushed and obvious and one of the only scenes of dialogue, which takes place under the sound cover of a rushing waterfall, is filled with hokey and forced dialogue that we find out later is meant to set up an emotionally climactic moment, which makes it even sillier. 

All that being said, when the film is scary, it's scary. When it's tense, it's extremely tense. When it wants to be disturbing or wants to rattle you, it knows how. That's partly thanks to the very committed and believable performances from the small, talented cast. And it's partly thanks to the impressive orchestration from first time feature director Krasinski. And for some people, that's enough. That's what they pay to see in a horror movie. 

Without a doubt, if what you are looking for from this movie is thrills and chills, you will be satisfied with what it has to offer. It is an hour and a half of twisting tension and horror movie jump scares, some of them cliche, some more original than what can be called run of the mill. 
If what you are looking for, however, is a chilling yarn with an involving backstory and a narrative staircase with plot point stairs to climb on your way to the big climax, you'll end up only feeling half full by the time the final credits roll. 

Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)


In the land of the hipster, one man is king. His name is Wes Anderson. In much the same way that Lucas did in the 70's, Spielberg in the 80's and Tarantino in the 90's, Anderson is the cinematic embodiment of the new millennium. His films reflect our obsession with all things vintage. If retro-fitted vogue was a movie genre, it would be filled with the films of Wes Anderson. 
Some people gripe about this. Not me though, I love Wes' films. I love that their humour is dry British cheek, while their calculated frames and meticulous detail reflect America's obsession with itself. I love that the stories he tells are like classic literature with a twist of nihilism masquerading as levity. Like Dickens with a little Bret Easton Ellis, for spice. 

My biggest compliment as far as Isle of Dogs, Anderson's second animated film is concerned, is also my biggest complaint. And that is that it is a Wes Anderson film. Which means solid and dependable, but without surprise. It is quirky, meticulous and self aware. Just like all his other films. I have to admit that while I certainly go to a new Wes Anderson pic to see a Wes Anderson pic, his filmography is in danger of monotony. 

Isle of Dogs is perfect fodder for his stylistic sensibilities though and I really can't think of this movie in anyone else's hands. 

The story goes that in a small city in a certain Prefecture of Japan, a dog flu breaks out, infecting the dogs and transferred to their masters and the rest of the city's population. 
The city's cat loving, dog hating mayor banishes all the dogs to Trash Island, so named for obvious reasons, looking to eradicate the canine population once and for all. 
Then, a boy steals a plane and it crashes on Trash Island. The boy is looking for his dog, Spots, and scours the island with the help of a few furry compatriots, to find him. 

The best thing about this particular adventure is the look of it. This film is so beautifully animated (in stop motion, just like Fantastic Mr. Fox) and so wonderfully detailed, that even if you hate the story, you'll still get your money's worth at the marvel. 
The cast, most of whom are Anderson alum, are also fantastic. Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Francis McDormand. Even Yoko Ono has an interesting, and fittingly weird, cameo. Anderson's films are always perfectly cast, and this one is no exception. 

There are things about this movie that don't work, or are too wink-nod, in regards to its own self awareness, but mostly this is just straight up cinematic comfort food. The characters are fun, the story is cute, the humour can be surprisingly black and the animation and overall design are awe inspiring. It won't win over any Anderson nay sayers, and Anderson doesn't push himself far enough beyond his own boundaries to avoid predictability, but this is still the best movie I've seen in 2018. 

Rating: ****

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ready Player One (2018)

"Please Sign In"

Ready Player One is the ultimate nostalgia trip for 80’s babies, while simultaneously utilizing everything that modern movie making technology has to offer. It is the best special effects we currently have to work with paying homage to pop culture we remember so fondly from our childhood. 
And who better than Steven Spielberg to do so. The man who has been on the forefront of technological advancements in movie making since day one. The man who gave us a mechanical shark we barely saw, but fully believed was there, all the way back in 1975. The man who recreated the holocaust using grainy film stock, black and white and a touch of red, and the landing of American troops on Omaha Beach, with such startling realism, we felt as if we were watching documentary footage, rather than staged drama. The man who used the best technology of the time to make us believe dinosaurs walked the earth, acting in films alongside their human costars. 
In many ways, Spielberg’s entire career has been building towards Ready Player One. He could not have made this movie even two years ago. As with Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, A.I. and Tintin, he had to wait for the technology to catch up to the vision in his head. 
Movie animation is a gamble. You run the risk, particularly when using it alongside live action, of the animation looking dated and silly even a few short years later. Look at Toy Story. Still a perfect film, but the animation, once so new and exciting and different, looks rudimentary and old when comparing it even to the third film in that series. 
Spielberg doesn’t seem to have that problem. He’s such a genius that when he puts animation in his movies, he somehow finds a way to do it so that it never dates. Jurassic Park, Minority Report and A.I. all have effects animation that looks as realistic and brand new today as they did when those movies first came out. 
The effects in Ready Player One are so good, so fun, so advanced, that this movie will look current, possibly for decades. Just like Jurassic Park. 

Ready Player One is about video games. Actually, it’s about the video game. A virtual reality, fully immersive experience called Oasis, in which people are able to escape their lives in a post apocalyptic Columbus, Ohio and become someone else in an entirely new world. That’s the movie’s narrative backbone anyway. As is usually the case with real video games, the visual grandeur and Gen Next pop cultural feast are so great in this movie that the story actually becomes somewhat immaterial to the fun to be had with the rest of the flick. 
The screenplay was written by Zak Penn, who is a vet of relatively run of the mill superhero fare, and Ernest Cline, who wrote the book the movie is based on, but nothing much else. Based on the resumes of these two guys, I didn’t expect a story that was going to take me places I didn’t expect to go, or reveal anything deep or fundamental about the human condition. Penn writes movies where the story serves the spectacle, not the other way around, and Cline seemed more concerned in the novel with paying tribute to 80’s pop culture than anything else. 
Most of the negative reviews I’ve read for this movie focus on the uninspiring story as the sticking point, but it didn’t bother me. The story is basic boy-next-door good guy/maniacal-“let’s take over the world”-bad guy stuff, but it doesn’t detract from the fun of everything going on around it. 

I also loved the casting. Like all of Spielberg’s best movies, the characters in the film are made up of kids acting like adults and adults acting like children. And every single casting choice was the right one. The standout performance again belongs to Mark Rylance, who is quickly becoming the film actor I would rank among the very best in the world. Somehow, with his particular brand of understated acting, and the nuances that allow him to transform himself into any role for any occasion, he is able to embody a character unlike any he has ever performed and become entirely lost in said performance. This guy is the real deal. I will watch him do whatever he does, whenever he does it. I’m glad Spielberg has found a new muse with which to employ. 
Another little piece of perfection is the casting of Simon Pegg. Not so much for his skills. He’s good, but any number of character actors or leading men could have filled his role. His inclusion in the cast is perfect because Pegg is the nerd who made good. The film fan who grew up feasting on Spielberg and dreaming of being in those movies he loved so much. For Pegg to be in a Spielberg movie that is at its core about ordinary joe’s becoming their fantasy is just too perfect. 

Spielberg seems to have two creative itches he likes to scratch more or less simultaneously. There’s the grown up Steven. The father and husband and businessman. The lover of films like All the President’s Men and The Ipcress File. The director of The Post and Bridge of Spies.
And then there’s the young at heart Steven. The kid who refuses to grow up. Who makes films for families and to appease his own inner child, yearning for adventure. The director of The BFG and Ready Player One. 
We sense that one could not exist without the other. That it is the internal warring of the grown up Steven with the Peter Pan Steven that makes his ‘adult’ films so fun and his ‘family’ films so mature. It’s what makes him so good at what he does. And it’s why we go to the movies. To be challenged and entertained in equal measure. And nobody does that better.

Rating: *****

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Silence (2016)

"There is something more important than the judgement of the church"

This is a movie about a lot of things, but at its core it is a movie about faith. Early on it asks the question 'where is God when we suffer?' And it continues asking that question, over and over, until the touching final shot of the film, two hours and forty minutes after the first shot. 

The movie concerns a pair of jesuit priests, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, who travel to Japan in search of a fellow priest, played by Liam Neeson, who went off the radar there some years before. 
The movie takes place in the 1600's, during a time when Christianity was outlawed in Japan and was punishable, for those who refused to renounce their faith, by death. This makes the journey taken by the pair especially perilous and they encounter a great deal of hardship along their quest.

This has been a passion project of Scorsese's for many years and it recalls the director's previous explorations of religious faith (Who's That Knocking At My Door, Mean Streets, The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun). In some ways Silence is a far purer distillation of that exploration, but it tackles the same two or three themes that are present in all of those films. Namely, faith, guilt and repentance. 

Faith: Is it enough to have faith alone? What do we do with our faith, what purpose does it serve if God is silent to our cries? Is the purpose of faith to carry us through God's silence? If we suffer, does God suffer beside us, or is our faith our intended companion amidst murky waters? 

Guilt: Or more specifically, am I worthy? Am I worthy of my faith, am I worthy of my God, of my belief in Him? If I am not worthy, as scripture teaches, then what is the point of my sufferance for God? If there is no point in ever being good enough for God's love, as a result of our inherently sinful nature, why does God bother with us at all? Perhaps He doesn't. Perhaps His silence is proof of abandonment. 

Repentance: I am sorry I was born a sinner. I am sorry for my sins and seek to right myself with Thee. But what is true repentance, if we repent knowing we will sin again? Why repent at all if there is no possibility of perfection? In life, when you do something wrong, you can ask forgiveness, or pay back your debt, vow never to do it again and succeed. You can cheat on your spouse or significant other, for example, and if they accept your apology and forgive you, it is entirely possible to live to your dying day being completely faithful to them. In the church, you can never be free of sin in this life. So why mend a fence that cannot be mended? Like fixing an airplane wing with scotch tape. It's only a matter of time before the tape gives and the wing breaks again.

These three themes and the questions they bring, along with an absence of resolution, are at the heart of Silence. Different people will read this film different ways. For me, it highlights the insanity of organized religion. The men attempting to wipe it out from their country, yes, but also the priests, whose stubborn, prideful faith causes the needless deaths and suffering of so many. Is it so important to stand tall in your beliefs and refuse to renounce your God, even if it means saving the lives of others? Why not just say you renounce your faith, even if you don't mean it? Will God, in His infinite wisdom, not understand? Does He not see the truth of what's in your heart? Can He not differentiate between the heart and the lips? 

And, finally, if religion was a scale, and on one weighing pan was all the good it has caused, and on the other pan was all the bad, in which direction would the beam tilt? And if it does tilt towards the bad, at what point do we admit that it is indeed, as Christopher Hitchens postulated, a poison? 

Tough questions from a tough movie. A movie I will have to return to a couple more times to fully grasp its breadth, both in narrative and scale. And while I did find the movie about thirty minutes too long, there was never a moment I wasn't moved by the quality of its images, by the immense talent of its actors, or by the calibre of its dialogue. 
Make no mistake, this is Scorsese at his most European, his most intentionally indulgent, but this is also Scorsese displaying all that makes him possibly our greatest living director. And his influence can be felt from far and wide. 
The influence of this film can already be seen on me and this intentionally indulgent review, which is probably about three paragraphs too long itself. But I could do worse as a writer than to take a page out of Martin Scorsese's book of the arts. 

Rating: ****

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best Movies of 2016

I'm doing things a little different this year. Normally I give myself the first couple weeks of January to catch up on stuff I missed before I do my best of list, but this year I wanted the list out by year's end. Not only was it a busy year for me, but I was mostly underwhelmed with the movies that were coming out. So I went to the theatre a lot less and as such I wasn't able to catch many of the movies that are topping year end lists around the world, like Moonlight, La La Land and Manchester By the Sea. 

Here are the best movies I saw during the 2016 calendar year. Enjoy!

10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A touching, funny, unorthodox little flick out of New Zealand, which is quickly becoming a hotbed for such films. 

9. The Wailing. A dark, disturbing, gruesome little flick out of Korea, which has always been a hotbed of such films. This was the second most unsettling movie of the year. 

8. Zootopia. This movie came out at just the right time for me. The things it was saying about our society and about the people trying to waylay the progress we've made, disguised as a charismatic Disney outing. Zootopia is a place I wanted to stay in and explore after the movie was over. I'm pulling for a sequel. 

7. The Nice Guys. This one hit all the right notes for me. A hard charging, laugh a minute tribute to 80's buddy cop flicks. Gosling and Crowe are great, the direction is solid and the story is just that right mixture of nonsense and suspense. I'm pulling for a sequel. 

6. Cafe Society. Woody Allen is just too prolific, that's why he's taken for granted. This movie is a fantastic look at old school Hollywood and the egotistical knobs who populated (populate) it. It's as much Woody's tribute to the glitz and glamour, as his show of contempt for it. And of course, it's all wrapped in his particular brand of neurosis and romanticism. I love the Woody Allen universe and I will never take it for granted.

5. The Witch (The Vvitch). Remember how I said The Wailing was the second most unsettling film of the year? Meet Black Philip. This may be the most authentic, succinct, well crafted and believable film of its kind. It's certainly the most effective. If God smiles when another Alex Kendrick or Ray Comfort film gets made, Satan was grinning ear to ear when this puppy dropped. 

4. The Jungle Book. Of all the people who had a shitty 2016, Disney wasn't one of them. The studio rolled out a dozen movies this year that all made a boatload of money and most which were actually quite good. The best of the bunch was The Jungle Book though. Retaining all the charm and excitement of the original animated classic, while adding some unbelievable visual flair and a much needed dose of grit, this was one of the best theatre going experiences I had in 2016. 

3. O.J.: Made In America. Yes, there is some controversy about whether this is actually a movie or a miniseries, but it premiered as a seven hour film and the Academy is considering it for Best Documentary at the Oscars, so as far as I'm concerned, it's a movie. And it's the best documentary of the year. A greek tragedy of such ridiculous proportions, you wouldn't believe it happened at all if you weren't there to witness it yourself. A document of everything that went wrong with the 1990's and truly essential viewing. 

2. Sing Street. The feel good movie of the year is also the musical of the year (I haven't seen La La Land yet), the comedy of the year, the romance of the year and the coming of age story of the year. All of that and it takes place in Dublin. Sing Street, my heart is yours, be gentle. 

1. Arrival. The best movie of 2016. And the best thing about it? There isn't much I can tell you about it, and about what I love about it, without spoiling it for you. I like that. 

And the worst...

Suicide Squad. What an abysmal pile of crap. I liked nothing about this movie. In a year when I was definitely feeling superhero/comic book movie fatigue, this hit at just the wrong moment and scratched an open sore. I am definitely not pulling for a sequel. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arrival (2016)

The story of your life

At one point in Arrival, Amy Adams asks Jeremy Renner, 'if you could see your entire life from beginning to end, would you change anything?' It's a deep question. And the more you think about it, the deeper it gets. If everything you do creates a butterfly effect, not only for you but for the people you interact with, then every good thing is a result of every bad thing. And vice-versa. The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that our inability to see the future is humanity's blessing, not our curse. 

Arrival is about the future, and the past. It's about communication and destruction and fear and uncertainty. It's about UFO's that appear in a dozen spot around the world and the aliens piloting them. But really, what it's really about, is America. Right now. And how important it is that Americans communicate with each other in a non-hostile way, lest they bring about their own nations self destruction. 

At least that's what I got out of it. You may see Arrival and only see the film's surface narrative, which goes as follows: Amy Adams is a communications expert. When twelve alien aircraft suddenly appear in different countries around the globe, the respective governments in these areas recruit their best and their brightest to enter the UFO's and attempt to communicate with the creatures onboard. As is the case in real life, if you get twelve different nations together to try to solve a common problem, they will go about solving it twelve different ways. For three of those nations, that means shoot first, ask questions later. 
For Amy Adams and scientist Jeremy Renner, that means attempting to teach the aliens our language, while attempting to learn theirs. 

That's as much as I can divulge about the plot without spoiling some of the best and smartest aspects of it, which I want you to experience for yourself inside the theatre. 
And I truly hope you do, because make no mistake, Arrival is the smartest, most emotionally affecting, most exciting, suspenseful and touching film of the year. 
Director Denis Villeneuve, fresh off his critical acclaim and Oscar noms for last year's Sicario, handles this sci-fi tale with his typically cold precision. But as clinical as his filmmaking may be at the outset, the deep philosophical ramifications of the plot and what it means to us, the viewer, and what we can learn from it, suck you in and wrap you up in a blanket of suspense and awe, a blanket that gets tighter and tighter the more the film unravels, until, by the end, you don't realize how tightly wrapped you were. 

Everything on display here is an example of top shelf filmmaking, but the true star of the show, other than Villeneuve himself, is writer Eric Heisserer, adapting the tale from the  story by Ted Chiang. Interestingly, Heisserers writing credits before Arrival include a rash of shitty horror remakes. This should see him on to bigger and better things in the future, as I can almost guarantee an Oscar nomination for his work. 

I could go on about this film, but I don't want to. Part of the fun and reward of the experience was not knowing what to expect. So I'll just say this and get out of here: 
Arrival is the best film of 2016. See it.

Rating: *****