Deadpool 2

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: David Leitch

Screenplay: Ryan Reynolds, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, Julian Dennison, Stefan Kapicic, T.J. Miller, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Rob Delaney, Shioli Kutsuna, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Marvel’s motormouth mercenary is back! Bigger, better and occasionally more pantless than ever before. When a super soldier arrives on a murderous mission, Deadpool is forced to think about friendship, family and what it really means to be a hero – all while kicking 50 shades of ass. Because, sometimes, to do the right thing you need to fight dirty.

Review: The biggest difference between the original Deadpool film and Deadpool 2 is that, unshackled from the uncertainty of box office success, Ryan Reynolds and the team around his long-gestating anti-superhero project is able to truly pull out all the stops the second time around, resulting in a film that is bigger than its predecessor in every conceivable way. There’s more gore, more fourth wall-breaking, more action, more gags, more cameos and more heart, but more isn’t necessarily better. While Deadpool 2 remains a generally very entertaining film, it almost wears out its welcome in its final reel (this is however, somewhat mitigated by the film having one of the best end credit codas ever, almost worth the price of admission on its own). Suffice to say that only fans of the first Deadpool need apply, and even then, some viewers may find themselves feeling occasionally underwhelmed by the proceedings.

Deadpool was a complete surprise and a breath of fresh air when it debuted in 2016, but two years down the road, Deadpool 2 has to navigate a rather different set of expectations. Now that his snarky comments and meta awareness is anticipated, how more can things be shaken up for the formula to remain interesting? One of the ways this is addressed in Deadpool 2 is simply with the injection of a much larger roster of characters, and as the trailer has revealed, Deadpool actually gets to put together a rogue crew of superheroes he terms the X-Force.

However, not many of them leave an impression apart from Zazie Beetz’s Domino (who lays claim to the coolest action sequence in the film) and of course Cable, Josh Brolin’s second superhero movie outing in as many months. Brolin has an intensity and presence here that’s befitting of his more serious work, and his Cable would be a character that I hope makes a return in future MCU movies. Ryan Reynolds continues to command the screen with his presence even though he is always in a mask or under a mountain of makeup, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else ever playing the character of Deadpool – Reynolds IS Deadpool through and through, and apart from Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, no one else in both comic cinematic universes come close.

Although the film’s positioning cannot be further from Disney’s Marvel offering just a few weeks back (that’s Avengers: Infinity War for the three of you that were living in a bunker for the last year), it adopts a similar strategy in throwing as much as possible at the audience and hoping at least some of it sticks. This has resulted in a movie that runs two hours long, but the catch here is that the film feels longer than that at times, especially when it revisits gags from the previous film, and would have definitely benefited from a more judicious edit.

Worthy of special mention is Deadpool 2’s soundtrack. Not only are songs used in unexpected ways – an example would be a gory fight sequence accompanied by Dolly Parton’s chirpy “9 to 5” – there’s even a new power ballad by Celine Dion employed in an opening credits sequence that would make James Bond proud. The score is also the first ever to earn a parental advisory warning, something that would make complete sense if you stay through to the very end of the credits.

In press interviews, Reynolds has said that Deadpool 2 is a family movie masquerading as a superhero movie, and in some aspects this is very true. Apart from the comedy and the action, what truly makes the film tick is that the audiences will feel vested in not just Deadpool’s fate, but those around him as well, in particular the young but talented Julian Dennison who plays the conflicted mutant Firefist. While it is hard to see how a third Deadpool movie would fare, Deadpool 2 improves on some aspects of the first film and looks like it would have a good chance to better the records set by Deadpool, even with its imperfections.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

 

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Avengers: Infinity War

Genre: Action

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dave Bautista, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Peter Dinklage, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vin Diesel, Benicio del Toro

Running Length: 149 minutes

Synopsis: An unprecedented cinematic journey ten years in the making and spanning the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War brings to the screen the ultimate, deadliest showdown of all time. The Avengers and their superhero allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Review: It has taken ten years and 18 (!) movies to get to this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and expectations are riding higher than ever on Avengers: Infinity War, especially following what is easily one of the best Marvel movies to date (Black Panther, for anyone who’s living under a rock). For the most part, the film does deliver and is the best Avengers movie so far, but as it’s essentially (and somewhat frustratingly) incomplete, Infinity War fails to deliver the catharsis that many fans must have been looking forward to. While the film will for sure go gangbusters at the box office, Infinity War feels a little perfunctory, too neat and orchestrated for its own good.

A large contributing factor is the film’s rather oddly positioned cliffhanger “finale”, which can come across as a cheat, as though the entire two-plus hour film is merely a very extended trailer of the yet-untitled fourth Avengers movie due in 2019. The film also occasionally creaks under the sheer weight of its immense roster of characters, and it’s clear that despite the deft machinations of scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, they did not manage to make every character’s appearance in the film a meaningful one.

Particularly disappointing is how flat Thanos comes across, despite a rather effective motion capture performance by Josh Brolin (though the character’s design is not helped by an early dig by Chris Pratt’s Starlord in the film, which assuredly is something many audiences will be unable to unsee thereafter, myself included). Thanos exists almost purely as a plot device to move things along, and is really only effective in a single scene that prominently features Zoe Saldana’s Gamora (who gives one of the most memorable performances in the franchise so far). For a villain that has been built up over multiple films in the past years, this is an underwhelming showing.

Despite the flaws inherent in the film, Infinity War manages to check off enough boxes to make it a must-watch for anyone who has even the slightest vested interest in the MCU. There are great action set-pieces (even if some scenes threaten to overwhelm the senses), and despite the darker narrative slant, the Russo brothers still manage to find space for moments of levity. And even for a jaded moviegoer like me, just seeing some of these characters share the screen and interact with each other is still a thrill, harkening back to the earlier days of the Marvel films. It’s an ambitious gambit to throw in everything including the kitchen sink into two movies, but it works, although just barely. It will not be fair to judge Infinity War on its own, and the effectiveness of the movie can only be measured when the second half makes its appearance next year, but suffice to say that despite feeling a little irked, my interest remains piqued.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

P.S. Yes, as tradition requires, you will need to sit through the long end credits crawl to get to a post-credits coda. Just one this time!

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Ready Player One

Genre: Sci-Fi

Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, based on the novel by Ernest Cline

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, McKenne Grace, Letitia Wright

Running Length: 140 minutes

Synopsis: In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone—the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends—called the High Five—are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.

Review: Without a doubt, Ready Player One is a fun time at the movies, especially if you have experienced the 70s or 80s while growing up. It’s amazing how many references have made it into the film – kudos to the team that managed the what must be insane rights negotiations for the hundreds of “cameos” and pop culture references peppering the movie – and it would be impossible to not feel a strong sense for nostalgia for anyone that’s above the age of 30. This film is one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible at least once (IMAX 3D seems to be the only IMAX flavour locally, unfortunately), and should also find a healthy home video audience who will enjoy freeze-framing the film to catch the many small details.

However, Ready Player One is also clearly not going to rank in Spielberg’s best films, even though it is reminiscent of his earlier work (before he became a director of “serious movies”). While there’s really no need to compare and contrast films from Spierlberg’s own canon, there’s a nagging sensation that I had throughout the whole movie that it really could have been something more. Part of this can be attributed to the fact while the segments of the movie taking place in the OASIS virtual world is quite engaging, there’s a fair amount of time spent in the real world, which is honestly a fair bit less interesting. It’s understandably necessary to not turn Ready Player One into a really expensive animated movie, but there are times where the dichotomy hurts the film more than helping it.

The novel that Ready Player One is based on is accurately described as a “nerdgasm” but in all honesty, it simply doesn’t read that well except for a very niche audience (and this is coming from a self-professed geek). It was clear that a lot of work would be needed to transform the novel into something suited for the big screen, and in this aspect the creative decision taken by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (surprisingly, the author of the novel himself) to base the movie on the novel, but not slavishly adapt it, really pays off. There are many changes from the novel, and even the hunt for the three keys (and the easter egg) have been pared down to a much simpler flow of events. Whole sections of the novel have been rejigged, and none more impressively so than a journey by the protagonists into the setting of a very well-known movie in the 80s. To say more would be to spoil an excellent surprise, but suffice to say if every sequence could have been equally well-executed, Ready Player One would have been a four-star movie for sure.

While the narrative for Ready Player One is improved over the novel, it is still a somewhat bumpy ride at times, especially toward the final reels of the film where the plot suddenly moves at a breakneck speed. The visuals, on the other hand, is near-faultless. While the OASIS is all CGI, the world has a heft and the animated characters have a “real-ness”, something that is actually quite rare even in the highly advanced state of CGI these days. The threat of sensory overload is real, however, because of all the details that are stuffed into virtually every frame of the movie and the sheer speed at which scenes move along at times. Lesser directors than Spielberg would surely have found themselves swallowed by the sheer spectacle, but since it’s Spielberg, the film manages to achieve most of what it sets out to do, and with a fair amount of heart to boot.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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A Wrinkle in Time

Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Director: Ava DuVernay

Screenplay: Jennifer Lee, based on the novel by Madeleine L’Engle

Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard

Running Length: 109 minutes

Synopsis: After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg (Storm Reid), her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to space in order to find him.

Review: A Wrinkle in Time is a mixed bag – while it’s a high budget (over US$100 million) remake of the beloved novel and checks off many boxes in the diversity checklist (black female director, racially diverse casting choices), a very unevenly developed storyline, wooden performances and sporadically subpar visual effects detract significantly from the film. It’s undoubtedly still entertaining and should appeal somewhat to the YA and younger demographic, but it’s hard to imagine audiences being enthused enough to recommend this film to friends and family, unlike, for example, Disney’s immensely successful (and still running) Black Panther.

It would always be a challenge to adapt Madeleine L’Engle’s novel for the big screen due to the massive number of ideas and plot threads L’Engle had placed in a relatively short novel, and even with the deep pockets of this film’s production budget, the end result is hit and miss. The Christian subtext has been gutted from the screenplay, and a rather pivotal character (Aunt Beast) has been excised entirely, and even the villain’s appearance and methods have been altered somewhat. What does remain is thus even more confusing, and character motivations come across as being very muddled. While Storm Reid does a decent job as a Meg Murry, the same cannot be said of the remainder of the cast – Deric McCabe in particular is landed with a thankless role of trying to be a precocious child prodigy (but ends up being more Children of the Corn than anything), and the many famous faces that are in the film end up being celebrity cameos that bring nothing to the plate.

Some of the worlds that the ensemble “tesser” to are indeed gorgeous works of art (as are some of the crazy outfits that the Mrs Ws wear), but then there are also sequences where it just feels like the production ran out of budget to complete the CG work, none more egregious than the protracted (and ultimately unnecessary) visit to the Happy Medium (unfortunately played by a rather miscast Zach Galiafianakis), which is so terribly rendered it looked like a stage production more than a location in a film that cost many millions to make.

Most frustratingly, however, is how all the storytelling and world-building ends up for naught. The denouement of A Wrinkle in Time lacks any form of true coherence and concludes the film on a whimper, leaving many questions unanswered and most audiences who haven’t read the novel prior feeling puzzled and underwhelmed. It really is a darn shame, because there are moments where it almost seems like the film is destined for greatness, but it just falls short on so many levels that all it can do is be a somewhat entertaining diversion for a couple of hours.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

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Oscar Predictions 2018

It’s been a very tumultuous year in Hollywood, as the industry was rocked by a seemingly never-ending list of accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power, and many men of power and renown were toppled from their once very secure positions. While this is unlikely to affect the voting process (and hence the results) this year, one wonders if the issue would get much airtime during the ceremony. While The Shape of Water leads the nominations, I am skeptical of its winning chances apart from some of the key categories. Since I am not involved in any Oscar pool or viewing party (the norm these days), I will be abstaining from the documentary and short film categories. Now, on to the predictions:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Should win: The Shape of Water

Prediction: The Shape of Water

The determination of the Best Picture winner is a very elaborate system, and without going into details here, it means that the second and third choices of voters who didn’t go for the popular vote also matter. The Shape of Water is a romantic, beautiful yet political movie, which I feel still stands a better chance because it will still be the top few choices of voters who go for the other potential frontrunners, namely Three Billboards and Get Out.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Should win: Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Prediction: Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour

This one should be pretty locked for Oldman, especially when the alternate votes will be split between Timothee Chalamet’s excellent performance and Daniel Kaluuya’s riveting turn in Get Out.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Should win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This to me is the most locked category of the night. While I personally didn’t really enjoy Three Billboards, the fine acting by the cast is undeniable, especially McDormand (and Rockwell). I also hugely enjoyed Margot Robbie’s performance in I, Tonya, but this award is McDormand’s to lose.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Should win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell has been winning the precursor awards so there’s no reason to think otherwise here, though Willem Dafoe’s career-best performance in The Florida Project could prove to be the dark horse.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Should win: Alison Janney, I, Tonya

Prediction: Alison Janney, I, Tonya

It’s a great list of nominees, all deserving, but Alison Janney really left an indelible impression for her performance in I, Tonya. Laurie Metcalf is almost as key an actress as Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, but my preference here still goes to Janney.

Best Achievement in Directing

Should win: Guillermo del Toro

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

Of the five directors nominated, Jordan Peele may be the dark horse for Get Out, but I believe the nod will still go to del Toro for a more mainstream effort.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Should win: Get Out

Prediction: Get Out

I believe this will be Jordan Peele’s consolation prize for missing out on the big categories, though every nominee here are great efforts, and Three Billboards is a very strong contender particularly.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Should win: Call Me by Your Name

Prediction: Call Me by Your Name

James Ivory’s adaptation is excellent and heartfelt, and then there’s the father’s monologue at the end, which should help gain even more votes.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Prediction: Blade Runner 2049

Please just let Roger Deakins win already.

Best Achievement in Editing

Should Win: Baby Driver

Prediction: Dunkirk

While I personally prefer the editing bravura in Baby Driver, Dunkirk is still the more likely winner in the category.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Prediction: The Shape of Water

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Prediction: Phantom Thread

Although The Shape of Water beat out The Phantom Thread in the Costume Designers Guild Awards, it’s still very hard to see Phantom Thread losing out here.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Prediction: The Darkest Hour

Hard to beat out a Best Picture contender, especially when the makeup and hairstyling is largely centred on the frontrunner for Best Actor.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Prediction: The Shape of Water

The only other potential contender apart from Alexandre Desplat would be Hans Zimmer’s booming score and audio signatures for Dunkirk, but that score seemed to be a bit more divisive.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Prediction: This is Me, The Greatest Showman

I would prefer Coco to win for Remember Me, and it may still clinch the award, but The Greatest Showman is most memorable for its songs and choreography, which may just be enough to push it past Coco.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Prediction: Dunkirk

I would not be unhappy to see Baby Driver win this one, though the war films tend to win by default.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Prediction: Dunkirk

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Prediction: Blade Runner 2049

I don’t know if enough people would care enough about War of the Planet of the Apes to give it their vote here, but Blade Runner 2049 would likely have the better showing.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Prediction: Coco

It’s Pixar and Coco is a great film. Enough said.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Prediction: A Fantastic Woman

Pure guesswork as I have not seen a single one of the five films here, unfortunately.

 

 

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Director: Matt Reeves

Screenplay: Matt Reeves, Mark Bomback, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Amiah Miller, Judy Greer, Max Lloyd-Jones, Devyn Dalton

Running Length:  140 minutes

Synopsis: In War for the Planet of the Apes, the third chapter of the critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise, Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel.  After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.  As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

Review: Who could have anticipated that the best summer blockbuster this year would belong to the simians, rather than the superheroes that have come along thus far? But here we are, three movies deep into the second Planet of the Apes reboot, and it’s easy to give War for the Planet of the Apes the crown because it’s so starkly different from everything that has come before it this year. Trumping even the excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (also directed by Reeves), the only thing working against the movie is its serious tone – not every moviegoer would like to be preached to by Reeves on his soapbox, especially midway through the Summer blockbuster season – but audiences who do make the decision to give War a try would likely find themselves well rewarded.

Ostensibly the last prequel film in this reboot trilogy (though there’s now a fourth movie planned), the events in War would logically lead up to what transpires in the original Planet of the Apes, and there are throwbacks (throwforwards?) to the characters found in the 1968 movie. While there’s no necessity to have seen the original movies, War does presume that the audience is familiar with what has been covered so far in the 2011 and 2014 films – any moviegoer that watches this film “cold” would likely find themselves quite lost indeed, so consider this fair warning.

While the film is not without flaws, War for the Planet of the Apes is quite simply, a very well-made movie. CGI is usually peripheral to the plot of a movie, but in this case, without the bleeding-edge CGI, there very simply would not have been a movie at all. The franchise has progressed to not just rendering one hyper-realistic chimpanzee, to a literal army of various simians. Andy Serkis is at the top of the motion capture acting game, and his performance of Caesar quite simply transcends any description – it’s still shocking to see the depth and nuances of emotion that can flicker across Caesar’s face as a fully rendered character.

War is also a movie that doesn’t shy away from a complex plot, and while it may get a bit preachy at times, kudos must be given to any summer blockbuster that is willing to take the risk of alienating a group of audience members who do not expect to be mentally taxed. That’s not to say War isn’t entertaining – not only is there plenty of well-choreographed, riveting action to be found, there’s even a character that seems to be inserted purely for comic relief purposes.

Matt Reeves has proven his capabilities in the two Apes movies he has directed, and War in particular feels almost like a loving homage to some of the best war movies (think Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape and The Bridge Over River Kwai), except with apes. It’s a beautifully lensed film, though each scene is so meticulously constructed there’s almost an artificiality at times. While it’s a rather heavy-going movie, there’s no denying that each Planet of the Apes movie has managed to outdo its predecessor, and it’s easy to see War for the Planet of the Apes ending up on many Top 10 lists come the end of 2017.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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