Deadpool (R) ****
Something tells you at the start that this will not be your normal, cookie-cutter superhero movie. The music is gentle and the credits start rolling to tell you that the film is directed by a Stupid Idiot with a Hot Girl and a Hot Lead, produced by Men With No Brains, etc. The lines by everybody are delivered machine-gun style, especially those of lead Ryan Reynolds as Wade/Deadpool.
Wade is a former Special Forces operative who is diagnosed with about five cancers, all in fourth stage. His love of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is threatened, so he takes a Faustian deal with a strange little man who promises him superhero longevity and powers. Wade takes the deal but it has a price: The chemicals for the transformation destroy his flesh. He looks like a serious burn victim, thus the red mask and outfit he uses to fight crime and look for Ajax, the villain who left him in such a condition. So the plot focuses on finding Ajax (Ed Skrein), allegedly the only man who can repair his face.
Lots of violence starts the film and ends it, but it is comic book violence (this is a Marvel film). It is the dialogue that gives this film its “R” rating. Dialogue is the chief virtue of the film: snappy, fast, rough, lots of double entendre and clever. You will not see a superhero movie with dialogue this good for the rest of the year. Baccarin is gorgeous and tender, Gina Carano is awesome physically as Angel Dust (a super-powered villainess), and T.J. Miller is droll as the straight-man Weasel. The action sequences are clever and wonderfully gross, and the final superhero battle and its climax are awe-inspiring.
Not for Grandma or the kids, this film is a surprise and should be a hit with a wide audience. Take your fast ears with you as the pace is extreme. A real romp of a genre movie.
Hail, Caesar! (PG-13) ***
This is supposed to be a send-up of ‘50s Hollywood and much of it is successful, but it is also a surpassingly strange film of disparate elements, including water ballet, westerns, theft and Communism, all in no particular order. George Clooney gets to chew the scenery as Baird Whitlock, Leading Man #1 in his Roman role, while the other stars each have their moments—just not as many as Clooney. Josh Brolin, as head of studio Eddie Mannix, has his moments, but so does Tilda as Thorla and Thessaly Thacker, Hollywood gossip columnists and bitter sisters/rivals. Scarlett Johansson has a funny role as Deanna Moran, the “Esther Williams” of the company. Frances McDormand has a funny physical bit as a film editor. But the film belongs to Brolin and Clooney.
Clooney is kidnapped off the set of “Hail, Caesar!” by guys trying to make $100,000 for the Communists (delivered more or less to an imposing Soviet submarine off the coast of California; the film is set in the early ‘50s). The only guy who can find the star is the naïve and untalented (except for horse riding and twirling a rope) Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). His scenes trying to do a straight scene with Director Laurence Lorentz (Ralph Fiennes) are comic highlights of the film. Did I mention the dance number? Channing Tatum leads a male chorus in “We Ain’t Going to See No Dames,” a naval number that has no place in the movie other than a diversion—and it is diverting to see Tatum tap dancing on a bar table. It is also nice to see Tatum in a perfect role for him: It requires no acting ability at all, a demand he more than fulfills.
This is a film about Hollywood and its legends. Lines like “You have worth if you serve the picture!” and the information that extras who are crucified get an extra $3.40 an hour are priceless. This is the Coen brothers so things can and do get a bit weird, but you’ll find the laughs bubbling out of yourself if you listen carefully. Young kids would not understand a single frame of this movie. Let them stay home.
Zoolander 2 (PG-13) **
There are really only two reasons to see this film: 1) to count the stars in cameo roles and 2) to see the ageless Penelope Cruz. The rest seems like a “good old boys” exercise with Adam Sandler-like cameos all over the place. Ben Stiller (Zoolander) has to take the blame for losing control of his movie (he wrote and directed it) and for putting everybody in the “I can steal this scene” mode. The only cameo that is really funny is that of Kirsten Wiig who is totally unrecognizable.
The film opens with the murder of Justin Bieber. He records the event on Instagram and sends it out with his last gesture. If you think that’s funny, wait until you see Benedict Cumberbatch as a transgender thing from Hell called “All” or Neal deGrasse Tyson as himself along with other “selves” such as Katy Perry, Sting and the Mighty Fashion Trio of Anna Wintour, Alexander Wang and Tommy Hilfiger. Even flash star of yesteryear Susan Boyle has a walk-through, and several TV anchors get their shots as well. But cameos don’t carry a big-budget film. The only thing that could have saved Zoolander from disaster would have been more Penelope Cruz. She is just savagely gorgeous and funny as Valentina, Stiller’s sort of girlfriend.
If you loved the first “Zoolander,” stay away from this one. It’s just too silly and unorganized to be much fun.
How to Be Single (R) **
This starts like an episode of “Sex and the City” but fortunately goes a bit deeper than most of the episodes of the ancient TV show did. It also has a lot more characters, too many perhaps. The leads are Dakota Johnson (Alice) and Rebel Wilson (Robin) as, in Alice’s case, a woman in search of herself. (Heard that line in any movies lately?!) Rebel as a very fat girl with a surprise in the last reel is a foul-mouthed, awkward party girl who keeps forgetting who she has slept with, when and where. The best performance in the film is that of veteran Leslie Mann as a child-intolerant obstetrician who suddenly succumbs to her hormones and decides to have a baby by surrogate insemination.
There are assorted males, of course, and most of them match up with one of the girls because, as we all know, being single is a limited ambition, usually ended by marriage. Robin reminds Alice early on, “You’re single now. You don’t go home,” and, indeed, Alice finds her way through a number of temporary residences with temporary male roommates, always pining for the wrong man (Josh, played woodenly by Nicholas Braun). Johnson is often very effective as a vulnerable, socially inept female, leading to the unmistakable conclusion that her casting in “Fifty Shades of Gray” was a distinct mistake. She’s much more effective in this role and sometimes downright beautiful. For the most part, however, this workbook on singleness is missing a few pages.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PG-13) **
Let’s take all the daughters from “Pride and Prejudice,” focus on Lizzie, of course, and re-do the “Pride” plot. Since so many people have seen at least one of the scores of versions of the story, let’s add something else. OK? What’s that? A plague? Wolves? French guerillas? Americans? What could appeal to American teens who won’t be put off by the main title? Charlie, you’re right! Brilliant! ZOMBIES! I know they don’t make any sense but we can plot around that. Keep the lighting dim, use lots of makeup and lots of low light and close ups to blur the action and let’s drop the necklines about two inches so we have lots of heaving bosoms. Keep at least one line from the original. How about: “Your mother won’t speak to you again if you don’t marry Mr. Collins. I won’t speak to you if you do”? We can kill off Darcy, and we can discuss bringing him back, if you want. Just so we have a lot of Lily James’ cleavage. We make it clear that the daughters are killers: Mr. Bennett says, ‘My daughters have trained to warfare.’ Stick swords and knives all over them, even in their underwear. Have them kill some people. We can make it clear—maybe through Darcy: ‘Her arms are quite muscular but not so much as to be unfeminine’? That sound okay? Which ones turn into zombies? What difference does it make? Zombies are hardly crucial to the plot anyway. Bosoms, that’s the secret, bosoms! Let’s get this baby into production!
The Choice (PG-13) *
This is a Nicholas Sparks movie. That may be enough to warn off the more aware of you, but lest you get confused, it starts at the front of a hospital. Since every Sparks movie (novel) has a hospital and a crash and a boy meeting a girl, breaking up with her and usually confessing it’s his fault, this reassures audience members who are afraid that this Sparks attempt won’t be in any way original. They can sit back and enjoy watching horrible clichés parade across the screen, unimpeded by any artistic sensitivity whatsoever and leavened with the tears that will be demanded by the end, no matter how predictable or badly done.
Travis and Gabby meet as neighbors, serve as a catalyst for happier coupling by others, split up and get back together in time for Gabby to meet a horrible fate in a car crash. (Original for Sparks—NOT.) I will not bore you with the details because those of you who have seen even one Sparks script will know the details before you get your popcorn.