Archive | May, 2016

Deadpool (2016)

18 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Comic-book movies have come a long way in the past decade, in that they’re taken more seriously and can have a nice balance of action and comedy (meaning they don’t have to take themselves seriously all the time). The heroes are more relatable, the stories are more intense, technology helps the action sequences look better, a good amount of comedy is supplied without getting too distracting, and we find ourselves long past the era in which the concept of a superhero movie was laughed upon. Of course, some of these superhero movies work more than others—for every “Captain America,” there’s a “Green Lantern”; for every “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s a “Fant4stic”; for every “The Dark Knight,” there’s a “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”; and so on. But the point remains—superhero movies in general are getting more respect (and it’s going to take something bigger than “Fant4stic” to kill audiences’ excitement for them). It’s an especially good time for Marvel, with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe delivering such awesome entertainments as “Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” and the “Captain America” movies, among others.

But as fun as they are, I think we can all agree we know what most of them are doing. Many of these movies try so hard to be taken seriously that we can’t help but talk back/make wisecracks to the movies. That’s especially true of origin stories—the stories that show how Super-Somebody became Super-Somebody. They usually involve these tropes we’ve all seen before: the death of a loved one; the villain rising to power not long after the hero gains abilities; loved ones are kidnapped by the villain; the hero learns very quickly; anything is possible as long as there’s some scientific babble to back it up; there’s a big fight between the hero and villain; the hero always survives, no matter what; and of course, the reluctant hero doesn’t want to be a superhero but ends up becoming one anyway. It’s interesting to see where a hero gets his or her start, but these origin stories are mostly predictable.

That’s why when something as flat-out entertaining as “Deadpool” comes around, it’s all the more welcome. Why exactly, you may ask? Because this is a superhero origin-story movie in which all the tropes are present and the story is as standard as can be, and not only does it know it but it revels in knowing it. It has fun with it—the hero is a smarmy jerk who breaks the fourth wall, makes one goofy wisecrack after another, is actually an anti-hero, swears up a storm, and pretty much says and does many things you wouldn’t hear or see in any other superhero film. It’s almost like he’s (gasp!) one of the audience members (except I think he says most things we wouldn’t think to say; he has that much to say)!

“Deadpool” is based on the Marvel comic-book character, although it’s hard to imagine this playing any part in Disney’s MCU (this film is presented by 20th Century Fox; they redeem themselves after the Marvel mess that was “Fant4stic” last summer). But maybe that’s for the best, because “Deadpool” is what it is and its audience is appreciative for it. The film is immature, crude, and in bad taste…and I enjoyed it from start to finish. (What can I say? I need as much a good chance of pace as superhero-movie audiences.)

The hero is a rebel—a simple-minded, angry, wisecracking anti-hero who has one thing on his mind: vengeance. We see his origin story (yes, we get the darned “origin story” here) through flashbacks and see how Deadpool became Deadpool. Before becoming invincible due to mutation and spawning a red spandex outfit and mask to become Deadpool, Wade Wilson (played by Ryan Reynolds) was a mercenary in New York City. He fell in love with an escort, Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), and they were going to be married. But when Wade developed cancer, he didn’t want to put Vanessa through the stress and left her. He sold his body to a shady scientific experiment, run by a British scientist named Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein), or Ajax as he prefers to be called despite Wade always mockingly calling him by his legal name, and his superhuman sidekick Angel Dust (Gina Carano). He realizes too late that he’s not being transformed by these bizarre mutation tests to be a superhero, but a super-powered slave. His cancer is healed, but side effects, in addition to strength and invincibility, include his face and body becoming horribly disfigured. He managed to escape, destroying most of the factory in the process, but sees himself as a freak whom he’s certain Vanessa wouldn’t take back. That brings us to now, where Deadpool is hunting Francis (er, “Ajax”) down to get a cure for his disfigurements (and kill him after he’s cured), mowing down his sidemen one by one. Watching from afar are two X-Men (yes, there are two X-Men in this movie)—Russian metallic giant Colossus (a CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and an attitudinal energy-boosting teenage girl aptly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They try to bring Deadpool to join them, but Deadpool doesn’t care about being a hero and just wants his girl (and his face) back…as well as Francis impaled by a sword or two. And he doesn’t care who he has to kill in order to get his life back to normal.

“Deadpool” is respectful of its source material. Deadpool is known for being very profane and committing graphic acts of violence—a PG-13 rating simply wouldn’t do for a faithful Deadpool movie (something every fanboy made clear when actor Ryan Reynolds pranked them on Twitter, fooling them into thinking it would be PG-13 instead of R). Sorry, parents who have no idea who Deadpool is and just wanted to take their kids to see a superhero movie on Valentine’s Day weekend. “Deadpool” is rated R for good reasons.

The offbeat style of “Deadpool,” which includes pop cultural references, fourth-wall breaking, one-liners, etc., is especially welcome now, because in our day and age, we have seen so many superhero films (and enjoyed so many as well). Reynolds, director Tim Miller (making his feature debut), and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick thrive in self-awareness and have fun with the superhero conventions. While I always have my guard up when it comes to this humor (read my “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” review), it works here. Obviously, there are some jokes that don’t work, which usually happens when there’s one after another; but a great amount of the humor really worked for me, because a lot of it felt fresh and new. I didn’t feel tired of the peculiarity. I enjoyed it throughout.

(Oh, I should also mention the most original use of opening credits I’ve ever seen…but I won’t. See for yourself. The less you know beforehand, the better.)

Speaking of things I usually tend to try and resist, Ryan Reynolds is nothing short of terrific as the title role. While I like Reynolds in more subdued roles, like in “Buried” and “Adventureland,” he usually doesn’t do much for me, especially when he’s trying to be funny—he seems rather bland while desperately trying to make me think he’s funnier than he actually is. I can’t put my finger on it, especially when Reynolds is really trying to be funny here, but somehow he succeeds as Deadpool. Maybe I’m used to his style of acting, maybe he’s heightened up the amount of comic timing in his performance, but I think Reynolds is perfect in this movie. He’s not only able to make us understand what he’s going through but he is also flat-out hilarious throughout. Even despite his unorthodox, homicidal methods, he makes us surprisingly care for Deadpool, making for a very effective anti-hero.

“Deadpool” is a different kind of movie, to say the least. It pays homage to familiar tropes in the superhero-film genre, but it also chews them up, spits them out, and eats them back up again (sorry for the disgusting mental image). Is it closer to satire or parody? That’s a difficult question to answer, but either way, “Deadpool” is a definite comedic treasure for the comic-book audience and one of the best surprises of the year so far.

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Hush (2016)

11 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How do you make the Home-Invasion Thriller feel fresh again? Make the heroine a survivalist who disposes of the invaders left and right (“You’re Next”)? Have it occur on the one night in which all crime is legal (“The Purge”)? Well, either of those could work (…and unfortunately, they didn’t work for me—I didn’t particularly like “You’re Next” or “The Purge,” two more recent home-invasion thrillers), but the point is there needs to be something fresh and new about a very familiar setup. When I heard this detail about “Hush,” director Mike Flanagan’s take on the Home-Invasion Thriller, I immediately wanted to see it—the woman in distress, whose home is being invaded by a psychopath, is deaf and mute.

Comparisons to the 1967 Audrey Hepburn thriller “Wait Until Dark” have been tossed around in reviews. But aside from a vulnerable woman making the most of her handicap in order to fend off people trying to hurt her in her home, there really isn’t much of a comparison. “Hush” and “Wait Until Dark” are two different films with different styles, different material, different situations, and even a different handicap. I think “Wait Until Dark” is the better film of the two, but “Hush” is still a well-done, effective chiller with enough tension and scares to make for a suitably unpleasant viewing when you’re alone at night. (I watched “Hush” alone in my room at night, with the lights off, to see how effective it would be.)

Like I said, the main character, a writer named Maddie (well-played by co-writer Kate Siegel), is both deaf and mute. She lives a quiet life while trying to finish her second novel in a nice, isolated house in the woods. Of course, this is the perfect place for a homicidal maniac to attack at night, and that’s exactly what happens. A masked man (John Gallagher, Jr.) arrives and starts to toy with her psychologically, sending her pictures he took from her phone to the laptop she’s using and severing all connections to potential help. She realizes what’s happening and finds herself in further danger when she discovers the body of a person the masked man has already killed and the masked man reveals his face, just so he can have reason to kill her. From that point on is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the deranged man sneaking around outside the house and the vulnerable Maddie desperately trying to outsmart him. Eventually, she finds the courage to fight back, having accepted her deafness as an advantage to inner strength.

“Hush” is director Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to an underrated supernatural chiller called “Oculus,” and he is a true talent in the horror-film genre. He does a terrific job at making the most out of a familiar premise. He sets up the character and the environment, with some background, in the opening, and then he really kicks things into gear with one eerie, tense scenario after another. While the final half is somewhat standard, Flanagan still remembers it’s important to make his audience wonder how something will happen in the outcome of the climax even when they have a good idea as to what could happen. He handles it all pretty well with a good amount of suspense and enough surprises to keep me engaged. I’m curious to see what he comes up with for his next film.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

4 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Yes, I know I’m late in reviewing this one. But hey, better late than never, right? And I’m actually glad I’m reviewing this movie now that I’ve seen it a third time, because even though I enjoyed the film the first time I saw it, I found myself enjoying it more and more the second and third viewings.

“The Force Awakens,” the seventh episode in the “Star Wars” universe, is a return to greatness in the franchise, nearly 40 years after the release of the original “Star Wars” (now known to us all as “Episode IV: A New Hope”). Since then, there has been an excellent sequel (“The Empire Strikes Back”), a passable conclusion to the trilogy (“Return of the Jedi”), two major disappointments disguised as prequels (“The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones”), one watchable prequel (“Revenge of the Sith”), and an animated TV series (“The Clone Wars”), all with an enormous fan base surrounding it all, making the franchise a monster of fandom, merchandising, all that good stuff. Now comes “The Force Awakens,” a joyous, thrilling, riveting, awesome space-opera thrill-ride that I have no shame in calling my third-favorite “Star Wars” adventure, behind “The Empire Strikes Back” and “A New Hope.”

Actually, considering the downward spiral the franchise has turned into, I think “A New Hope” would have been a more appropriate subtitle for this episode!

“The Force Awakens” could be titled “Star Wars: The Next Generation.” The characters we’re familiar with, such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), are more like supporting players to the new key characters in this new story—Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…well, I won’t give anything about him away here. The new characters include heroes such as a defective, rebelling Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), a young scavenger-turned-heroine named Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a wisecracking Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), as well as new villains, such as the imposing Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his second-in-command General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson).

The story: 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” a new evil galactic military organization known as the First Order is terrorizing the galaxy. Resistance fighter/pilot Poe Dameron and his cute little droid, named BB-8, hold the key to the future of the rebellion: a map to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, who may be the last great hope. BB-8 escapes with the knowledge, but Poe is captured by the First Order. Fortunately, one of the Stormtroopers, Finn, has developed a conscience and decides to escape and help Poe. He ends up on the junkyard wasteland planet of Jakku, where BB-8 also happens to be, and they’re both found by Rey. Being of a new generation, Rey isn’t sure what to believe in and thinks Luke Skywalker and the Force are part of some mythology. But when she learns what knowledge BB-8 contains and that soldiers of the Dark Side will do anything to obtain it, she and Finn find themselves in a crazy adventure to find the Resistance. Along the way, they come across the old, wise Han Solo, the villainous Kylo Ren, and all kinds of strange beings and situations before playing a part in a plan to destroy the First Order’s new concepts for domination.

That’s as best as I can describe it without digging into spoiler territory (even though some of the plot details are practically memes now but I’ll still be nice for those who haven’t seen the film). And yeah, okay, obviously there are questions that can be asked, such as how this First Order came to be. But visually, “The Force Awakens” is so good at telling the story that I let them slide and just see if they might be answered in some way or another in later installments (which there are sure to be).

The new heroes are likable and well-developed (for the most part). Finn, played brilliantly by John Boyega (who I also loved in “Attack the Block”), reacts to many of these crazy “Star Wars”-ish situations the same way I think most people would, and as a result, he has the funniest lines. Rey is a strong, plucky, resourceful heroine. Poe hasn’t had much time to shine yet, but…eh, maybe in Episode VIII. And BB-8 is a cute little toy—er, I mean, droid. The villains are either complex, intimidating, or both. The more you know about Kylo Ren, who sports an attire much like Darth Vader originally did, the less you’re intimidated by him, but fortunately, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s a three-dimensional villain, in ways I won’t give away here, and I’m interested to see where his story goes in later installments. The one who is consistently intimidating throughout the film is General Hux, who reminds me of Adolf Hitler in a sense, particularly when he addresses a crowd. And it’s nice to see the old heroes again. The closest one of the old characters to play a crucial part is Han. It’s good to see Han fly the Millennium Falcon again, interact with Leia and Chewy, and crack some more one-liners, but you can also tell the character has aged mentally as well as physically. In addition to good writing, the subtleties in Ford’s performance make this character more complex than before. And even when his resolution is pretty predictable (which everyone in the audience I saw it with seemed to agree on), it’s still heartbreaking because of who he was, who he is, and who he has become, which is a real hero. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

The director is J.J. Abrams, who I think outdoes himself here, as much as I enjoy “Mission: Impossible III,” “Star Trek,” and “Super 8.” For one thing, there aren’t many noticeable lens flares (rim-shot). For another, the pacing is excellent. For another, the action is very impressive. And he also co-wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan, who originally penned the great “The Empire Strikes Back,” and the best part about the writing is the humor—I’m so relieved that this big, bombastic sci-fi adventure had developed a sense of humor. This is one of those rare instances in which the comic relief serves the story as well as make audiences laugh. I feel like with this film and “The Martian,” we are approaching an era in which filmmakers don’t have to take their epic stories so seriously that they’re not fun.

“The Force Awakens” is the start of a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films (Episode VIII will be directed by Rian Johnston, and Episode IX by “Jurassic World’s” Colin Trevorow). I’m excited to see where the franchise continues to go in this direction. Here’s hoping this is the start of something new and something improved.