HBO Spotlight: Deadpool

So given my penchant for the comic genre, especially Marvel and the X-Men franchise, it is honestly shocking that I hadn’t seen Deadpool yet. I am so happy that HBO still had this movie up, because it may be one of my favorite Marvel movies to date. I don’t think anything could top Guardians of the Galaxy, but honestly this one was close.

Ryan Reynolds brilliantly redeemed his Green Lantern travesty AND his weird prior Deadpool cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine by offering a pitch-perfect performance that provided plenty of self-deprecating and meta-humor on these past lesser performances. Reynolds’ fast-talking, snarky Wade Wilson allows for a sheer barrage of meta-humor on the X-Men comics, on the film industry, and on Ryan Reynolds as a real person. The amount of “wink-wink” references seem endless but are so funny and well-placed that it never feels like they are pandering to their audiences at all. Deadpool constantly breaks the fourth wall, sometimes breaking the fourth wall while breaking the fourth wall, as he puts it, like breaking sixteen walls. Deadpool is a hilarious commentary on it’s own genre and the other films that comprise Marvel’s other franchises.

Deadpool serves as the perfect anti-hero. His backstory establishes his motivations and explains his attitudes and so his natural character arc feels possible. He is an anti-hero who is literally against the attitudes of superheroes. He isn’t a villain, per say, but a foil to the great chivalry that heroes like Superman and the X-Men eventually came to represent, making him incredibly more human. Ryan Reynolds’ performance allows Wade Wilson to become the crude, sarcastic, rude jerk of a character that we simply can’t help but love.

I never knew how badly I wanted an R-rated comic movie, until I got one and saw how much better it can elevate some storylines. So many fight scenes shy away from gore or graphic violence in the stereotypical PG-13 comic movie and it makes these fights seem less authentic. This movie is incredibly violent, but in the best way. The fight scenes aren’t shaky and don’t rely on quick editing, because it’s rating lets it linger and really play up the gore-factor. It feels more visceral and realistic, and I loved it.

Deadpool wasn’t afraid of testing how far a comic book storyline can be pushed. The story is the perfect combination of silly, gritty, and smart. In a move that in itself went against the normative culture of comic summer blockbusters by slapping an R-rating on it and pushing the boundaries of what a comic book movie can be. This move alone established the counter-normative structure that this movie embraces, constantly poking fun at the similar movies within its genre. It is both a satirical boundary-pushing Marvel movie as well as a genre-establishing film that has the potential to recreate the way we think about films based on popular comic books. With this move, Marvel has the potential to explore some of it’s grittier story lines and after the financial and commercial success of this film, I truly hope they keep exploring.

Amy’s Recommendation: 10/10

Favorite Film Friday: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris follows Gil and his fiancé, Inez, as he tries to write his first novel while also appeasing Inez and her parents. Obsessed with the past, he is transported to 1920s Paris and gallivants with his idols (the Fitzgeralds, Dali, Picasso…) and through his explorations of the past, finds clarity in his present.

Woody Allen is one of my favorite directors, and this was one of the first modern Allen films I watched. At first, seeing Owen Wilson cast in a serious Woody Allen role made me nervous, but he was expertly cast. He brings such an everyday-guy nature to the character that makes him inherently likeable while surrounded with over the top characters like his materialistic wife, her Republican parents, and her pseudo-intellectual friends. He plays the bewildered time travel with a resigned awe that makes him the perfect lens to see these iconic figures through.

The concept alone is a brilliant idea for a film, but it needed an expert director to bring the gravitas and beauty to it, and Allen comes through. Each scene is shot to look like a painting and so the inclusion of famous past artists like Picasso and Dali makes the whole thing feel like a moving art piece. The cast is loaded with A-list talent including Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Tom Hiddleston, and Marion Cotillard. What could have become a simple ensemble comedy weaves each character so perfectly into the narrative that it feels natural.

This film is a beautiful reflection on artistry and creativity as well as the very notion of nostalgia and how relative it is to each generation. Each era longs for the magic of the past, as is the power of hindsight. Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald weren’t classics until they were dead, and so their nostalgia would lie with Shakespeare and Chaucer’s time of great literary works just as Gil idolizes and wishes to return their present and his distant past. It is a brilliant reflection on the important things in life and the importance of making the present the best it can be instead of living in the past.

A reflection on life, time, and love Midnight in Paris provides a film both visually stunning to look at but also one that makes you ready to seize the day and not waste time living a life that doesn’t captivate you. This is one of my favorite films from possibly my favorite director of all time, and Woody Allen does not disappoint bringing his signature witty dialogue, quirky character depictions, and thought-provoking story to another modern classic.

Throwback Thursday: Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles is a hilarious satire on old-school Western classics and asks what would happen if a racist Western town got an African-American sheriff in 1874.

This is one of those ridiculous premises that only Mel Brooks could ever deliver. It has meta-humor that is timelessly hilarious. The moment the Western hooligans go crashing through all the other film sets is insanely funny and just pokes fun at the film industry as a whole. It also plays with the invisibility of non-diegetic sound and even has scenes of characters watching their own movie.

It primarily calls attention to the inherent racism of Western films in the most over the top way. Do some jokes seem a bit too racist and don’t age so well…well yeah some of them, but it was 1974 so we’ll give it a pass. Some jokes really don’t hold up as well as other jokes like I can almost bet none of today’s audiences will understand a Hedy Lamarr or a Douglas Fairbanks joke. And to be honest, I had to Google the second one, so I’m not a totally hypocrite.
Still, it plays up all the Western tropes and completely flips them on their head. Mel Brooks loved to be bold and crazy and like my other favorite Brooks film Young Frankenstein the best jokes carry over the 40 plus years it took for me to watch them. This is another film that makes you really miss the comedic mind that was Gene Wilder, and I’m kind of sad I never knew who Cleavon Little was until this movie because he was also a great talent.

I also liked that this film wasn’t afraid to push envelopes. Weirdly enough this is first time farting was displayed onscreen, which I find hilarious because executives freaked out about that and not all the rampant n-word dropping apparently. Still this movie approaches racism for the ridiculous belief that it is, and by being so excessive with it they should how pointless it really is. At least in my opinion I don’t really see this film as being a racist or homophobic movie because it makes fun of everything and shows you how ridiculous these ideals are. I really like the way Mel Brooks has the ability to take genre tropes and show how silly and clichéd they can become, especially in cookie cutter genres like horror and westerns can often be.

Amy’s Recommendation: 9/10

PS
I still demand how they train horses to just fall over. And I need to know how they got away with black penis jokes in 1974, because that is impressive.

Wildcard Wednesday: In The Loop

In the Loop is a political satire about British and United States government officials squabbling over the potential invasion of the Middle East.

I had only known this movie as the swearing Peter Capadli movie and that was about it, but what I got was so much more. British comedy is a really special kind of comedy and either you love it or you really don’t enjoy it at all. I personally love it, so this film was right up my alley. It’s dry and witty and approaches satire often in a new and interesting way. My best description for this film would be if the British version of The Office met with the American version of The Office but now they work in government instead of a paper company. It’s the same time of film technique and comedy style. It doesn’t hurt that literally Gabe from the American version of The Office is also cast in this film as pretty much the exact same character. With a face like Zach Woods (Gabe) its pretty easy to be type-casted as the awkward weird guy.

After seeing this film, I will always wonder who thought letting Peter Capaldi later be cast in a children’s show (Doctor Who) was a good idea. The amount of insults and swears this guy gets out in an hour and forty-five minutes may be legendary. He made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions, and you just relish when he shows up to steal every scene he’s in.

The film as whole is a hilarious. It is a new approach to satire that I think really paid off. The characters are loveably insane and the clash between British and American politics makes for already funny situations. It does feel like a really long pilot for a TV show, so I Googled it, and turns out it is based on the British TV show The Thick of It and shares some of its characters including Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi’s foul-mouthed Brit which explains why its shot to feel like a TV show. Still I would argue that it is fine as a stand-alone film and the characters feel fresh enough that you don’t feel your missing crucial expository information.

Pretty much, if you ever wondered what would happen if The Office weirdly merged with House of Cards in the best and most British way possible, this is what you get.

Amy’s Recommendation: 9/10

PS:
I’ll save you the Google, the girl who plays Liza, is in fact the little girl from My Girl. That is why she looks so familiar, because she looks exactly the same as when she was 11.

Tearjerker Tuesday: Safe Haven

 

Safe Haven tells the story of Katie who while running from her past falls in love with small-town Alex and his two children. As she tries to start her life over, she must keep her secret while also trying not to hurt the man she fell for.

When you go into a Nicholas Sparks movie you can guarantee a pretty dramatic plotline with some kind of forbidden live involving two outrageously hot (probably white) people. This is no exception. I’m not going to lie, The Notebook is the only Nicholas Sparks book adaptation I have ever liked, but I actually enjoyed this one for the most part. Until the second half where everything pretty much went to shit.

I really don’t think Julianne Hough isn’t a terrible actress (she’s obviously a much better dancer, but still), even if she is so ridiculously good looking that its impossible that she just blended in anywhere. Which might explain why a man falls completely in love with her in like a day and half. He gets over that dead wife thing pretty quick once she goes to the beach with him one time.

The first half of the film isn’t horrible and the first twist is actually a good one I didn’t really see coming. Then we get the train wreck ending that just completely ruins the entire story. I won’t spoil it, but I assure you, it is dumb. It’s mind-numbingly dumb. The only thing stupider than the reveal is Julianne Hough’s character, Katie’s, reaction to the reveal (which for the reaction is just looking around in shock for a while). I honestly would argue that the best part of the film is the town of Southport, North Carolina. Scenically it looks so beautiful and provides some really great shots. And you know it can’t be good if my favorite part of your film is the small town its set in. Still Southport, you are gorgeous, congrats.

Also, this is nitpicking but I could not tell for the life of me if Colbie Smulders (aka Robin from How I Met Your Mother) is doing a southern accent or at least trying some of the time. I truly didn’t know, which makes it a terrible accent. Accents are a huge nitpick with me. Like why none of these people from Boston have even a little bit of a Massachusetts accent and why only one person in all of Southport has a southern accent. No I will not count Colbie’s character because I still don’t know if she had one, I demand answers!

I wanted to like this movie. I generally think Nicholas Spark’s books and films are pretty generic. The Notebook was easily the best, maybe because it was just the first, but ever since that they just go downhill. They just refuse to veer too far from their safe pattern, and it just feels boring now. This one I really thought was going to be a little better than the rest but I was so wrong. It had potential but it’s resolution wasted a potentially decent story.

Amy’s Recommendation: 5/10

Monster Monday: The Midnight Meat Train

Fair warning this film is not for the faint of heart.

That being said, The Midnight Meat Train, is a bad movie…but only because it had a potentially cool premise that it wasted on overly stylized torture porn and a muddled plot.

Not even Bradley Cooper could save this movie, but he is the best part of it. I went into viewing the film hoping that it would be a cult classic, as it got high critic ratings and I remember hearing so many people talking about it when it first came out. Then I watched it, and I was not amused.

The original concept is fantastic. A photographer stumbles on what he thinks is a serial killer while trying to get edgy photos for an art exhibit. This alone could have been a great cat and mouse serial killer thriller, but decided to add in a supernatural factor that just seemed random and tacked on. It went for over the top gross-out visuals, which I always feel is a cheap way to be scary. Nobody likes to see a full minute of teeth and nail extraction and if you do, please do no involve me. It’s all just too much. Then of course there’s the realistic factor of gore. I find realistic gore, which this film does have a little bit of to be far more effective than cheesy fake-looking gore. Do not film a kill through the lens of a decapitated head and then make her blink. Don’t have fake CGI eyeballs fly at me, because I will laugh instead of cringe in fear. Make it real, and I will respect it. Of course within the story, there are a couple twists that are interesting, but it doesn’t make up for its lack of coherent story. Then there is an actual scene in this thing where Bradley Cooper full on Wolverine-leaps onto a moving subway. Which may be the most realistic thing in this movie, and that’s saying something.

I just wish they did more of the voyeuristic following aspect of the story, which I found the most intriguing. I understand that it is based on a Clive Baker short story, and so it could only go so far as an adaptation, but everything about the premise is already creepy without adding the intense torture aspect of the story that makes it seem a lot sillier and unrealistic than it could have been with less campy gore and more realistic scares that cashed in more on the claustrophobic nature of the subway and being trapped underground. I live in New York, and trust me the subway is already scary without adding a serial killer at 14th Street. I never want to be on the train past 12am again, so mission accomplished The Midnight Meat Train.

Amy’s Recommendation: 4/10

Favorite Film Friday: Across the Universe

I was so ecstatic when I saw this film was back on Netflix because Across the Universe is easily one of my favorite films of all time. I am a huge musical fan, and although I do love screen adaptations of my favorite Broadway powerhouses like Rent and Les Miserables, I also love when screenwriters and filmmakers make the bold choice to create their own original material.

For Across the Universe director Julie Taymor took the timeless classics of The Beatles and used them to tell a unique story of counterculture during the Vietnam War as well as the tumultuous romance between a British man (Jim Sturgess) and an American girl (Evan Rachel Wood). This powerful commentary on the 1960s culture of social unrest and opposition of the war is so well done when paired with the sounds that came from that time period, especially The Beatles.

The film does a good job of not relying too heavily on star power to sell a good story. Everyone involved were at the fledging stages of their career, and although Jake Gyllenhaal was considered for the male lead, Jude, they went with the lesser-known and actually British Jim Sturgess. They used talented people like Dana Fuchs and Martin Luther McCoy who were never really famous but could carry the vocal talents needed to play the obvious Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix inspired roles. They sprinkle in some pretty iconic names but they both don’t have nearly as much screen time as the main roles, allowing them to be complementary but not distracting. These names include legends like Bono and Joe Cocker.

It is an artistic and beautiful look at a tumultuous time in American history and doesn’t gloss over the horrors of war, the abuse of LSD on soldiers, the civil rights movements’ early stages, and the hippie counterculture’s abandonment and protest of the Vietnam War. The songs all sound amazing, and are given a breath of fresh air when directly applied to a narrative. These are iconic songs that have lasted the test of time and deserve the attention and stylization this film gives to them. Even weird, but amazingly affective adaptations of the songs come across as intelligent and interesting (like “I Want You” being applied to the drafting process, giving the song a dark edge).

I truly love this movie. If I had to complain about anything it would be that I never really got on board with the Prudence (T.V. Capiro) character’s singing voice. But besides that small complaint, Across the Universe is an amazing, tragic, and beautiful look at an era and the immortal soundtrack that defined it.

Amy’s Recommendation: 10/10

Throwback Thursday: Less Than Zero

When you see the words Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, and Robert Downey Jr. back to back you know you’re in the deep 80s. It was a Ringwald short of being the most 80s movie of all time. Still this is no John Hughes feel good film. It takes a gritty look at drug addiction amongst cocaine-fueled rich kids of California.

This film is an adaption of a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of American Psycho, which explains the dark subject matter. It is gritty and dark, but sometimes the acting borders on silly, mostly by McCarthy and the female lead, Jami Gertz. It depicts the glamorous but overtly dark side of the extremely wealthy teens of California.

It’s a film that looks and sounds amazing, but when you really examine it, it starts to unravel. The soundtrack and cinematography feels so nostalgically 80s, but the story itself seems flawed. The characters are inherently unlikable. The only person you even start to feel badly for is Julian, Robert Downey Jr.’s character. It is also an eerie parallel that Downey Jr. also battled drug and alcohol addiction later in his life, really connecting him to his character. James Spader is also deliciously evil as only James Spader can be. Andrew McCarthy is the worst part of this movie; with his smug smirkiness that makes him just seem like an asshole all the time. And this is coming from a big Andrew McCarthy fan, even if my only reference is Pretty in Pink and Weekend at Bernie’s and he was the worst in those too. He usually rides on his ability to be adorable and a little dorky, but just comes across as such a jerk in this movie and I don’t know why. He’s just not that likeable.

I don’t think it was a bad movie, but the whole time there just seemed something off about it. I think James Spader and Robert Downey Jr. emerged with the best performances and everyone else tried to keep up with them. The ending also feels like a rushed climax that loses emotional effect. The most intense scenes are the withdrawal scenes and then after that it derails pretty quickly. It introduces intense themes and situations but doesn’t go all in with them. I feel like if they just went full throttle into the harder aspects of the situation than it could have potentially been a much more successful and grittier take on the story.

Amy’s Recommendation: 6/10

 

 

Wildcard Wednesday: 5 to 7

5 to 7 tells the story of a struggling New York City writer and a French bureaucrat’s wife who begin a sexual tryst.

This is one of those films that make me miss Anton Yelchin even more than I already do. It is one of the few real grown-up (or at least more grown up than usual) roles that Anton ever really got to act, since he was type casted as a very youthful and younger character. He never got to grow up. After seeing this performance, it makes me deeply sad. He plays a truly heartbreaking and fantastic role in this film.

I honestly love writer characters and I love New York movies, so I think it was near impossible for me not to enjoy this film. I think sometimes it suffers from being too intelligent that it borders on a lack of realism, but in the end it tied everything together so beautifully that you forget the few wonky moments in the middle.

There really are some fantastic quotes riddled throughout the screenplay and it tackles full-on what it’s like to love the impossible and to love the city and how they both are the same. I think Anton Yelchin has a fantastic voice for voiceover narration, and although it is prevalent throughout which some find distracting, I thought was used just enough.

I will say sometimes it does feel like a very intellectual film that knows how smart it is and relishes in it. It a tad elitist in a kind of Woody Allen type of way, but I don’t think it was distracting enough to be detrimental to the entire piece. Anton Yelchin isn’t really a household name, but he really should be and this film I think exemplified the range he could play.

All in all I think 5 to 7 is a modern, well done romantic comedy/drama that presents a doomed relationship, but makes you invest in it even against better judgment. It was smart, charming, sexy, and heart wrenching, and I loved it. It is a little slow, and takes a while to really find its true heart, but when it finds it, it breaks yours.

RIP Anton Yelchin, one of my all time favorite actors since Hearts in Atlantis.

Amy’s Recommendation: 8/10

Tearjerker Tuesday: The Iron Giant

Today I revisited a movie that I remember loving as a kid, and then never rewatching as an adult for some reason. This movie brought back such nostalgia for movie day at school where they would roll in that clunky TV set and we would all lose our minds. It was always The Brave Little Toaster, Schoolhouse Rock, or this gem- The Iron Giant.

The Iron Giant is about a giant robot that descends from space and befriends a nine-year old named Hogarth (yes his name is indeed Hogarth) in 1950s Maine.

I never knew this movie was directed by Brad Bird, who is known mostly for writing Pixar’s The Incredibles, Ratatouille. He also most recently began penning The Incredibles 2,  which I’m sure we all hope he reprises the role of his iconic fashionista Edna Mode. The cast is surprisingly famous for this 1999 classic including Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Vin Diesel, who voiced this lovable giant long before he lent his grunting charm to Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Let’s just be clear, before Wall-E if you told me I could fall in love with a literal robot, I wouldn’t believe you. It is so difficult to create an emotional character out of essentially a giant chunk of metal. Creating a likable character that has limited speech patterns and emotional facial features is so difficult, but this movie nails it. This movie creates such a cute and simple relationship between boy and robot that teaches about the destructive forces of men on a micro and macro level and warns about the dangers of escalating military violence. It even comments on the potential of atomic disaster that constantly loomed over Cold War America. Yeah, I know heavy stuff for a 90s kids flick. Still it handles it so well, and tells an honest story about love, friendship, and sacrifice. Sure it is kind of like animated robot E.T., but it still feels original by playing with time period and new themes.

If I have to be a nit-pick, then the worst part of this movie is the villain. He is just a little too evil. He literally doesn’t care about straight up murdering a child and then blowing up and entire town just to get his point across. He threatens and then chloroforms a nine-year-old boy. Regardless, he symbolizes the trigger-happy military that the world feared most in this Cold War environment, and so I find his over-the-top persona is justified in context.

The Iron Giant is one of those sometimes forgotten canons of early animated non-Disney films, much like I feel Anastasia and Balto were. This film was as staple in my childhood and I am so happy I gave it a re-watch as an adult. I picked up on so much more humor and symbolism that I just didn’t notice as a kid. Sure there are some sillier aspects that I liked a lot more as child, but the heart, the story, and the commentary carry over into my adulthood. This movie is a great watch for kids and parents alike and I never knew how much I missed it.

Amy’s Recommendation: 9.5/10