Review: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)

Deadpool Poster

 

 

Review: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)

 

Short Review:

Violent, quip-laden superhero film that indulges in self-referential meta-humour as much as it does crude, sexual humour.  Highly entertaining sophomoric juvenilia that revels in its nerd-dom and pokes fun at the very comics-based industry it celebrates and is part of.  Brutal, silly and joyful celebration of superhero geekiness.

 

Longer Review:

Adapting a character like Deadpool to the big screen didn’t go well the first time around in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Gavin Hood, 2006), but this time Ryan Reynolds got to indulge in a fairly accurate portrayal of the infamous ‘Merc with a Mouth’.  Rated 15 in the UK. Deadpool is a gratuitously violent superhero film with a penchant for off-colour sexual humour.   Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a smart-mouthed former Special Forces soldier turned mercenary.  Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, volunteers for an experimental treatment that gives him superpowers, and ends up going on a violent revenge rampage.

Continue reading

Advertisements

My 2015 in Film (part 1)

Cinema Screen

 

 

My 2015 in Film (Part 1)

 

This is a brief rundown of some of the films I watched that were released in 2015 and what I thought of them… and when I say brief, I mean as brief as I can get.

 

Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)

I really liked Ex Machina.  It was a great SF film that posed the question ‘If I were a genius multi-billionaire what sort of sex robots would I build?’  But more importantly it was a film that:
a) Proved the necessity of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics.[1]
b) Neatly illustrated the creepiness of the ‘male gaze’.
c) Was a fascinating look at what AIs mean for concepts of humanity and life.
d) Never enact a plan without thinking through what could possibly go wrong.
e) Engineers and Scientists might be able to make anything, but a Humanities specialist might be able to tell you whether or not it is a good idea.

With such a small cast it was really well done and was both entertaining and thought provoking.  The SFX weren’t flashy but integrated neatly into the frame and thereby added to the story rather than distract from it.

 

Jupiter Ascending (2015, dir. The Wachowskis)

This one got hammered by the critics and general audiences alike.  Personally, I thought it was a great SF version of Cinderella.  OK, so it wasn’t an SF blockbuster action movie as the trailer may have led us to believe, but it was a pretty good adaptation of the fairytale and had Jupiter not needed rescuing quite so much, would have been a strong contender for a decent feminist SF film with mass appeal.  It just felt a little disjointed and pitched awkwardly to different audiences.  Visually, as we have come to expect from the Wachowskis, it was stunning and the alien technology, the ships and all the SFX were first rate.  But I think that in a few years people might re-evaluate it as a fairytale and it will get a lot better traction.

 

Chappie (2015, dir. Neill Blomkamp)

This was a film I was really disappointed in.  I loved District 9, but this one (like Elysium) left me cold.  It felt like a slightly tedious and overly serious remake of Short Circuit (1986, dir. John Badham) without Steve Gutenberg.  The story made almost no sense, the themes were disjointed rather than marrying up into a cohesive whole, and the comic beats fell in all the wrong places for me.  It also seemed to be unable to settle on whether it was a social commentary, an action movie, or a film about AIs.  Even the impressive cast couldn’t save this one for me.

 

Furious 7 (2015, dir. James Wan)

What can I say?  This was just like all the others.  It was a slow Sunday.  There was nothing else on.  If you enjoyed the first raft of these films then you will enjoy this one.  Fast cars, over the top action, scenery chewing acting, and cornball dialogue.  And it has Vin Diesel.  That is the major reason to see it.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, dir. Joss Whedon)

I might actually do a full review of this sometime, but in short form… it was a superhero blockbuster that almost equally divided its time between three things:
1) promoting the next instalments in the franchise;
2) Pure action scenes depicting orgies of narratively irrelevant wanton destruction;
3) Actual story.
It looked pretty though, and I am sucker for Superhero stories.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)

This was one of the highlights of the cinematic year for me.  I am not really a gear head in anyway, and didn’t grow up on the Mad Max films so I was a bit wary going into this one, but I loved it.  Tom Hardy did an amazing job channelling a young Mel Gibson.  Charlize Theron was unsurprisingly brilliant in this.  The story was action packed and had a deep thematic resonance.  The visuals were amazing. Even though it is essentially one long chase, Miller did a fantastic job carving up the scenes to alter the pace and mood along the way.  I just loved this film.  An action movie is fun, interesting, thought provoking, has great acting and characters, stunning visuals and that challenges concepts of patriarchy without being preachy… who’da thunk it.  A really excellent film.

 

Tomorrowland (2015, dir. Brad Bird)

This was another Sunday afternoon that I had little better to do.  It was surprisingly alright.   OK so the villainous Hugh Laurie was ridiculous and nonsensical, but there was some interesting stuff in there about predestination and self-fulfilling prophecies, the misuse of technology versus its potential to save us… and there were some cool visuals and some slapstick comedy.  And its central message of optimism was actually rather endearing and refreshing given the cynicism and world-weariness that seems the prevalent mode at present.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD and re-watching it any-time soon.  But there were worse ways that I could have spent that afternoon.

 

Inside Out (2015, dir. Pete Docter)

It might not have done as well as Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich) but this was a fun family animated film that had some great voice acting and some heart wrenching scenes about growing up.  I may have teared up a little at the fate of the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, and, barbarian that I am, I actually preferred it to Nemo.

 

San Andreas (2015, dir. Brad Peyton)

This has to have been one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I have ever seen.  I spent most of the time watching it struggling not to laugh uproariously at the ridiculous dialogue, the massive plot holes, the complete lack of intelligence and the wonderfully unsubtle characterisations.  This is a great film to watch if you need cheering up.  I really, really enjoyed it… just not in the way I think the director intended.

 

Jurassic World (2015, dir. Colin Trevorrow)

So apparently 2015 was the year of the re-quel.  Part re-make and part sequel, this was pretty much a more sparkly and visually up-to-date re-make of the 1993 original.  So if you liked it, you will probably like this.  The dinosaurs looked cool though.  Yeah.  Not much to say on this apart from it was an updated version of the original.  Huh.

 

Terminator Genisys (2015, dir. Alan Taylor)

Re-quel number 2 of the year for me.  I might be in a minority, but I honestly think that Arnold Schwarzenegger should never be in another Terminator film ever again.  Hey, if we can re-cast Spiderman, Batman, and Superman every couple of years, why the hell can’t we re-cast the Terminator?  It was a fun blockbuster explodey-fest that made little sense and had gaping plot holes that are undoubtedly going to be either poorly explained or made worse by subsequent films in this franchise.   Did anyone else think that both Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke were remarkably well fed looking for people meant to be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of evil killer robots?  It lacked the grim punch of the original, but that was probably because it seemed aimed at a much younger audience.  Well, we shall have to see what the sequels will be like.

 

Ted 2 (2015, dir. Seth MacFarlane)

I need to find better things to do on my Sunday afternoons.  I thought this was terrible.  The crude humour of the first one was occasionally funny, but this time around it just felt stale, flat, fetid, tired, obnoxious and boring.  Ah well.

 

Ant-Man (2015, dir. Peyton Reed)

I love superhero films, and this one could have been great, especially if it had fully embraced its ridiculous premise.  As it is, it has the feeling of a director wanting to do the fun, silly thing and fully commit to the absurdity, and a studio intent on making it a serious action blockbuster.  So, it ended up feeling like an uneven, fairly unoriginal, origin story film.  Plus, it suffered from that same problem of working hard to advertise and set up future films in the franchise instead of focusing on the story it was meant to be telling.  But it had a fight between tiny people on a toy train.  So I don’t regret seeing it.

 

 

[1] A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Spoiler Free Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (dir. JJ Abrams, 2015)

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens

 

Short Version:

A new Star Wars for a new generation.  Plenty here to please old fans and new.  Finally an SF franchise that JJ Abrams’ sensibilities mesh with instead of clash.  No Jar Jar or midi-chlorians.  Better than the prequels.

 

Actual Review:

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens JJ Abrams had a nearly impossible task, he had to please old fans and acquire new ones, pay homage to the old films, undo the errors of the prequels, and yet also create a new Star Wars for the new generation.  The film had to appeal to children and adults alike and therefore had to indulge the older fan’s nostalgia but not let it dominate the storytelling, have enough action and visual effects to entertain today’s jaded youth but refrain from the frenetic screen clutter that plagued the prequels making the actions sequences migraine inducing blurs of sound and light, and, above all else, launch a new mythic storyline.  Given that this was not just a film but also part of a multi-billion dollar media franchise and of one of the most beloved film franchises of the modern age, to say expectations were high is perhaps a bit of an understatement.

So because anticipation was so great, because expectations were so ridiculously high, it should come as little surprise when I say that The Force Awakens is a mixed bag.  It isn’t terrible, and it isn’t amazing.  It had its high points and it had its weak moments.  There were some great lines and some misses.  In Abrams’ defence, no matter what he produced it was not going to be able to please all the fans all the time, so I am actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this.  If we are measuring it solely against the prequels then in this regard Abrams cleared it with a parsec to spare.  Against the original Star Wars: A New Hope… that is a more complex comparison.

Just in case anyone has missed the numerous plot summaries, speculations, in depth interviews, featurettes, spotlight specials and extensive trailers and cast videos, a brief detail-light summary of the set-up is as follows:
There is a new villain, a dark militaristic force in the galaxy the First Order, led by a slimmer and slightly more sartorially elegant Darth Vader wannabe, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

There are two new young heroes, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), who, despite their disparate backgrounds will undoubtedly turn out to be instrumental in saving the galaxy.

There is a new cutesy droid, BB-8, that is attempting to take the place of R2-D2 in our hearts, and comes close to doing so.  Adorkable is the word that springs to mind.

And there are X-wings, Tie Fighters and all the classic elements of Star Wars galore.  So rather than attempting to re-invent the wheel as the prequels did, Abrams went with tried and tested crowd pleasers.

So let’s start by discussing a couple of the really good points without getting into too many specifics as I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone.

The opening wall crawl.  There is something about the logo appearing and the wall crawl against the starry background while John Williams’ overture assaults the brain that will forever be ‘cool’ in my book.  When the music started I couldn’t help it but grin and feel excited.  What was even better was that there was no mention of a trade embargo, sanctions, disrupted negotiations or a diplomatic deadlock in a bureaucratic senate in the scrolling text.  It then pans down in classic fashion to a shot of a giant spaceship.  I hope no one regards that as a spoiler, not least because it is a bland and generic version of the events, but also it is the classic opening and it occurs in the first couple of seconds of screen time.  Not a single, horrendously racist caricature to be seen in the first minute.  So already it is well ahead of The Phantom Menance.

It was also great having new characters to carry on the story.  Star Wars: The Next Generation, if you will.  As much as I loved the story of Luke, Han and Leia… and was less enamoured with the prequels going back in time to set up the story of Luke, Han and Leia, it was genuinely nice to have new characters, about whom I knew next to nothing, who promised to lead the story into new territory.   Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a nice change of pace for the Star Wars cinematic universe in that we finally have a competent, intelligent, talented, and independent female character who is centre screen as a hero and not a spunky support or love interest to the main heroes.  Strongly reminiscent of the young Luke Skywalker (they clearly shop in the same desert paraphernalia shop) it seems that Rey is going to be central to the entire new trilogy.    Rather unkindly my brain automatically labelled her as Discount Keira Knightley and I haven’t been able to shake the comparison.

John Boyega’s Finn is a surprisingly complex character who wants to be a hero, wants to do the right thing, but is plagued by crippling self-doubt and more than a smidgeon of self-loathing.  A curious mix for a hero in training, especially as he veers from the super-competent to the blaringly incompetent in a violent see-saw fashion as the script demands, but it is certainly engaging to watch.  Both Rey and Finn promise to develop even more fully as the series continues, and that is only a good thing as they have an odd dynamic on screen, and it will be nice to see them settle into their roles and see what they can create.

Opposite them is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who, at first glance, appears to be a bargain basement Emo Vader.  Face mask, metallic voice, red light saber, dresses in black, temper tantrums because it is just so emotional, and will force choke you as soon as look at you.  However, he soon becomes a great deal more interesting and, as his backstory and motivations are explored, his character develops a depth and complexity that Vader never quite achieved in the original trilogy.  Admittedly, he is not quite as dominating on screen as Vader, nor does he have the gravitas of James Earl Jones’ voice, but in a number of regards he is a lot more chilling and arresting on screen.   Thankfully, unlike Tom Hardy’s Bane and Christian Bale’s Batman in The Dark Knight Rises you can actually understand what Driver is saying even when his face is obscured, something I was actually concerned about.

There are a couple of other characters, more in supporting roles this time around, that I sincerely hope get more screen time in the next one.  Not least the roguish Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who is the best damned space pilot around (as we are told on numerous occasions… so it must be true), the scenery-chewing, mewling evil General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), arch villain and champion of the galaxy sneering competition 7 years running Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, and the decidedly under-utilised Captain Phasma, Gwendloine Christie’s retro-futuristic chrome trooper.  Despite my desire that they all get more screen time, none of the characters feels entirely superfluous and each adds to the story in significant ways.

In terms of action, Abrams seems to have learned both from the mistakes of the prequels and from his experience on the Star Trek films, and provided something that had satisfying explosions, lots of lasers pew-pewing, and some good light saber action without the need for a warning about photosensitive epilepsy or necessitating chugging Dramamine in large quantities.  Hearing the metallic whine of the distinctive TIE fighter engines with their unmistakable laser blasts, and the roar of the X-Wings’ engines coupled with the more splat-like noise of their weapons was a glee inducing moment for me.  The screen never felt empty during the action, but was never so busy that you couldn’t actually track the action.  It was also thankfully free of omnipresent lens-flares.

As is to be expected of Abrams, there are some beautiful looking cinematic shots, some really vivid tableaux, and he uses many of these to establish the ‘lived-in’ feel of the Star Wars universe.  That distressed look that makes the ships look used rather than fresh off the assembly line, the clothes worn and frayed, the equipment chipped and nicked.  Little details like this throughout the film give a real sense of authenticity and greatly add to the believability and immersiveness of the story.  This becomes all the more necessary when the staggering coincidences start to mount up.  I mean, I am all for a million to one shot working nine times out of ten, but there are some really astronomically improbable coincidences cropping up in this film with frightening regularity.

For fans of the original trilogy, TFA is, at its heart, an attempt to re-make it and update it while pretending to be a new chapter.  And that is perhaps what I found least satisfying about it, there was too much of the old in this.  There were too many similarities to the original trilogy.  There were too many moments that were a mirror or echo of vintage Star Wars.   This is Abrams’ Trek all over again.  Not quite a reboot, and not quite a sequel.  Fan service and in-jokes litter the screen, and in-depth exploration of character and story are sometimes short-changed in order to move onto the next sequence, the next plot point, and the next ‘must-see’ moment.  At times the nostalgia was dripping so heavily I was surprised the camera didn’t suddenly switch to a sepia filter.  There were other moments that only really had impact or meaning if you were already deeply invested in the Star Wars mythos.  But in this I suspect that Abrams’ hands were somewhat tied.  He couldn’t not have those nods to the originals, but for my money, he spent a little too much time genuflecting at the altar of Lucas and not enough time carving his own mythic cathedral.

Related to this problem was the fact that the film felt liked it was rushing from scene to scene to hurry up and get to the good part… only to rush past that to the next good part… and so on and so on.  It was as if Abrams was so excited to be showing the audience all the different ‘cool’ things that he forgot we don’t need to see them all at once, or even at all.  In fact, some of the moments when Abrams pauses to take a breath were scenes that were probably not that necessary.  I have no idea why Hollywood has decided its audiences are so stupid that they need almost every element of backstory of every character belaboured and shoved in their faces.  This is compounded further by the relentless assault of action sequence after action sequence.  Consequently, we are less emotionally involved in many of the conflicts because we still haven’t gotten to know the characters or feel tension as they just seem to ricochet from one meaningless action set piece to the next.  Admittedly, superhero films tend to be a lot worse.

To be any more specific than this would be to dance merrily through spoiler territory, an area that I am already uncomfortably close to, so I will have to forgo discussing the most egregious scenes.  However, all in all it was a good film.  It was an entertaining film.  It sets up the next film to develop the mythos and storylines further.  There are some revelations that make for moments of high drama, as well as some unanswered questions and plot hooks that will have me seeing the next one as soon as it comes out too.  Who am I kidding, I am probably going to see this one again at least another four times before the next is released.