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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Ghostbusters

Genre: Comedy

Director: Paul Feig

Screenplay: Paul Feig, Katie Dippold, based on the 1984 film written by Day Aykroyd, Harold Ramis

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Cecily Strong, Matt Walsh, Ed Begley Jr., Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, Day Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver

Running Length: 117 minutes

Synopsis: Thirty years after the original film took the world by storm, Ghostbusters is back and fully rebooted for a new generation.  Director Paul Feig combines all the paranormal fighting elements that made the original franchise so beloved with a cast of new characters, played by the funniest actors working today.

Review: Paul Feig has had a pretty good track record so far of crossing genres with comedy with female-centric films (The Heat, Spy), and while Ghostbusters follows in the same vein, it isn’t quite as successful a venture as his previous outings. The fault doesn’t lie on the female leads however, but to the script trying too hard to reference the original film at every turn. It’s still a relatively entertaining Summer film, but ends up feeling somewhat like a missed opportunity.

While this is a reboot of the 32-year old Ghostbusters, the clear difference is that instead of a team of male comedy actors, Feig has decided to go with a team of female comedy actors. It has created a rather vicious backlash but in my opinion (and this is coming from someone who literally grew up watching Ghostbusters multiple times) it doesn’t hurt the movie at all. McCarthy and Wiig both seem a little muted in their performances here, however, and though their friendship is positioned as being central to the plot, it actually ends up being a non-starter. Leslie Jones is unfortunately playing a rather stereotyped black character, but she does the best she could within the confines of the role. The true gem in the cast, however, is Kate McKinnon, and her portrayal as the eccentric Holtzmann brings some of the best lines and big laughs in the film. The four women also share an affable chumminess onscreen, and in spots where the script starts to sputter, the movie survives purely on the goodwill generated by the quartet’s presence.

One of the biggest challenges that Feig and co-writer Dippold probably dealt with for the remake is the amount of baggage that comes with rebooting a much beloved franchise, and in this aspect they are only moderately successful. There seems to be an over-insistence on making unnecessary references to the original Ghostbusters (including walk-on roles for almost every surviving cast member of the 1984 film), and it really does needlessly encumber the film in many aspects, right down to the soundtrack. Of course, audiences that have not seen the film’s predecessors would probably not have the same response.

Visual effects have of course vastly improved over the past three decades, but Feig seems to have also relied a little too much on CGI, and the finale especially is lost amidst a literal swirling mass of CG imagery, failing to resonate on most levels. It is quite a pity, since what made the original great weren’t the visual effects but the collective comedic strength of a bunch of very talented comedians. While it would have been an extremely tall order to surpass the original, this 2016 iteration of Ghostbusters could certainly have done better than it did. While the relatively entertaining end credits sequence and coda seems to leave the door open for a sequel, one wonders if the film would do well enough to justify one.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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Zoolander 2

Genre: Comedy

Director: Ben Stiller

Screenplay: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, based on the characters created by Drake Sather, Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Milla Jovovich, Christine Taylor, Justin Theroux, Nathan Lee Graham, Cyrus Arnold, Billy Zane, Jon Daly

Running Length:  102 minutes

Synopsis: Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) are lured into modeling again, in Rome, where they find themselves the target of a sinister conspiracy.

Review:  Full disclosure: I am a fan of the original Zoolander, and have watched the 2001 film multiple times outside of the cinema (the first Zoolander has the dubious honour of being banned in Singapore, due to its featuring the “Malaysian Prime Minister”). Over the years, the film had built up quite a cult following, and when Zoolander 2 was announced, I (and many other Zoolander fans) was rather stoked. Unfortunately, the sequel is a half-baked, overstuffed movie that proves pretty joyless to watch, despite the copious number of celebrity cameos and a handful of somewhat funny sequences.

One of the biggest issues of Zoolander 2 is the number of things going on at any one time. Not only does the espionage plot make a somewhat unwelcome return, there’s also the Zoolander father-and-son reunion, and then there’s the unresolved grudge between Derek and Hansel, the return of arch-nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and a whole bunch of other inconsequential plot threads, none of which feel satisfactorily resolved by the end of the movie.

It seems that Ben Stiller and his posse of screenwriters can’t bear to divorce the sequel from the original film, and almost constantly makes references to the 15 year-old movie, which is unnecessary and limits the appeal of the movie even further. Much as Zoolander has a cult following, this unabashed nudging and winking serve nothing more than make the proceedings feel ever more like drudgery, especially after the novelty of seeing these characters back on the big screen fades after the first reel.

It doesn’t help that Zoolander 2 is a little too self-aware for its own good. If everyone is in on the joke – and in this film that’s certainly the case, given the frankly ridiculous number of cameos of both celebrities and fashion industry mavens, even more so than the first film – then the joke ceases to be funny. While it may be a somewhat interesting diversion to spot the cameos (including Benedict Cumberbatch in an appearance that will haunt him for many, many years to come), much of it feels shoehorned into the scattershot scenes, and in the end it just feels like a chain of middling SNL skits stringed into a movie. Zoolander 2 is a sporadically funny film and thus not without merit, but it certainly is questionable if that is sufficient to justify paying the price of entry to watch it on the big screen.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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Deadpool

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: Tim Miller

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni, Jed Rees, Stefan Kapicic, Randal Reeder, Isaac C. Singleton Jr.

Running Length:  107 minutes

Synopsis: Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, Deadpool tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Review:  There’s no denying that the superhero movie genre is now one of the most popular, and in 2016 alone there are a whopping 7 superhero movies being released from both the Marvel and DC camps, with many more planned in the few years ahead. There’s also no denying that everyone is suffering from a little bit of superhero fatigue, which helps explain why Deadpool is such an appealing movie for many cinemagoers. After all, Deadpool is pretty much an anti-superhero, and together with one of the best movie marketing campaigns in recent years, have left many (including myself) anticipating the film with bated breath. Of course, it also helps that the film is being released in February instead of during the summer blockbuster season, with a much sparser release schedule.

Inspired marketing campaign aside, the actual Deadpool movie is indeed quite a refreshing change of pace, even though beneath that irreverent façade lies a pretty standard superhero origins movie. I’ve never witnessed any superhero (or movie, including spoofs) take so many potshots at the superhero movie genre, and in this aspect Deadpool is a tremendous success. Ryan Reynolds is totally in his element as the wisecracking, manic Deadpool, and his comic timing and delivery is close to flawless. Nothing is spared, and everything is fearlessly skewered – Ryan’s own failure in Green Lantern, the X-Men, even 20th Century Fox, and much, much more.

Deadpool also breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, turning to the audience and addressing them directly multiple times, and in one scene, even managing to break the fourth wall a second time while breaking the fourth wall (it truly needs to be seen to be believed). It’s smart to the point of being smart-alecky, and while a lot of it works, there are times where the self-aware, ironic shtick becomes a little tiresome.

The film is also not suited for everyone, as it is far raunchier and violent than usual superhero films, more than deserving of its R (locally, M18) rating.  However, if you have a stomach for the violence and are a fan of off-kilter humour, Deadpool will be a very rewarding cinematic experience that is refreshingly different from any other superhero movie before it.

Rating: *** (out of four stars)

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Love the Coopers

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Jessie Nelson

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

Cast: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Alex Borstein, Jake Lacy, Steve Martin (voice)

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Love the Coopers follows the Cooper clan as four generations of extended family come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration. As the evening unfolds, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.

Review: It seems almost like there is one such movie every year – a family reunion dramedy during the festive season – but Love the Coopers is a wholly unremarkable addition to this sub-genre that works only on the most superficial level. And despite the title of the movie, there is very little reason to love the Coopers (or the movie).

One of the biggest problems with Love the Coopers is that the screenplay simply isn’t up to par. The characters are shallowly fleshed out, and most of them remain two-dimensional despite being played by a group of rather talented actors. Most of them are not given much to do, as there are obviously too many characters with too many plot lines that cannot be satisfactorily resolved in the film’s under-two-hour running time. It doesn’t help that some of these subplots are rather confusing (none more so than the interactions between Arkin’s Bucky and Seyfried’s Ruby, which seemed to suggest one thing but ended up being something else altogether).

There are also problems with the believability of some of the characters themselves – Anthony Mackie’s police officer Williams inexplicably opens up to Marisa Tomei’s Emma in a car ride, but I found myself hard-pressed to believe that a man that is apparently super-repressed would reveal his sexual orientation and troubled childhood to a near-complete stranger. Many of the inter-character conflicts either feel like a non-event or come across as being completely artificial, which further detracts from the cinematic experience.

That the whole film culminates in a hospital scene that shamelessly tries to tug at the heartstrings is perhaps to be expected, but given such a low emotional investment in the characters, the denouement rings as hollow as the rest of the film. Love the Coopers is watchable solely because of the collective charisma of the ensemble cast (even the voice of the family dog, who plays narrator, is voiced by Steve Martin), and even then barely passes muster.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

 

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Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Christopher B. Landon

Screenplay: Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Christopher B. Landon

Cast: Tye Sheridan, David Koechner, Cloris Leachman, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, Patrick Schwarzenegger

Running Length: 93 minutes

Synopsis: Three scouts and lifelong friends join forces with one badass cocktail waitress to become the world’s most unlikely team of heroes. When their peaceful town is ravaged by a zombie invasion, they’ll fight for the badge of a lifetime and put their scouting skills to the test to save mankind from the undead.

Review: It’s exceedingly clear that anyone shelling out money to watch Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse will have known in advance what they are getting themselves into – as long as one has watched any trailer of the film, they would know that this is more Scary Movie than a scary movie, and that age and enjoyment of the movie has an inverse relationship. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is unyieldingly sexist and puerile, proudly wearing its T&A badge on its sleeve, yet it still comes up somewhat short even when viewed forgivingly through the eyes of a teenaged boy who managed to sneak into the M18-rated movie.

The problem is mainly that the film doesn’t go far enough, especially since it is supposed to target a slightly older demographic. Other than a few moments of bawdy humour (yes, the strip club is really called “Lawrence of Alabia”, and you’ll be in for treat if you’ve ever wondered about zombie cunnilingus or zombie penises), there is barely anything else that seems to justify its M18 rating. In fact, Tye Sheridan and gang are such sweet leads that they seem more suited to be in a teen romance flick than a zombie film.

While there are certainly great moments of gore, a small number of laugh-out-loud sequences and an excellent opening sequence, a lot of Scouts Guide is painfully predictable, and the film heads steadily downhill as it progresses. Fortunately, it’s a fast-paced and relatively short film, and the end credits starts to roll just as it begins to get tiresome. And despite its title (and its leads staying in uniform the entire time), the Scouting aspect plays a minimal role, which feels somewhat like a missed opportunity.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

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Pixels

Genre: Comedy

Director: Christopher Columbus

Screenplay: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Sean Bean

Running Length: 105 minutes

Synopsis: As kids in the 1980s, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage) saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they’re going to have to do it for real. In Pixels, when intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults – and now-U.S. President Cooper must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a specialist supplying the arcaders with unique weapons to fight the aliens.

Review: The only reason that Pixels gets a passing grade from me is because of the nostalgia it taps into – after all, the 80s video games that the film so relentlessly references formed part of my childhood. Thus, in spite of the paper-thin, messy plot and the lack of any quality acting, I must admit that there were parts of Pixels that I enjoyed. However, the same probably can’t be said of the majority of the moviegoers that would attempt to watch this film.

The premise that aliens chose to attack Earth because of arcade game footage found in an interstellar time capsule is a thin one, and the seams constantly show in Pixels. Stretching out a two-minute short film (that the story is based on) into an almost two-hour movie is ill-advised in this case, and the absolute paucity of plot means the show wears out its welcome very quickly. There’s absolutely no effort to give any background to the attacking aliens, which makes much of the proceedings rather meaningless, carrying no dramatic weight at all. The aliens may be threatening the total annihilation of Earth, but it never feels like anything is at stake.

While Adam Sandler has honed his portrayal of the sullen man-child to perfection over a good number of films, the rest of the casting leaves much to be desired. Josh Gad is unendingly grating and annoying, while Peter Dinklage doesn’t make much of an impression apart from the weird accent he chose to adopt for his role. Michelle Monaghan is given the totally thankless role of playing Sandler’s love interest, and the absolute lack of chemistry between the duo makes the romantic sequences truly cringe-worthy to sit through.

Fortunately, the visual effects are decent enough, especially during the live-action videogame battles. For viewers that grew up in the 80s, it will be fun to look out for videogame icons like Donkey Kong, Mario, Q*Bert, Frogger, Paperboy and more. However, Wreck-It Ralph has already done a much better job back in 2012 integrating these into a movie, and boasts a far stronger plot, despite being an animated film. There’s really only that much nostalgic good-will that one can tap into, and even for myself I was scraping the bottom of the barrel barely halfway through the movie.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

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