Deadpool 2 (R)
This film, like its predecessor, is total nonsense from start to finish, but it is funny nonsense nevertheless. It cannot be a critic’s favorite because so many of the lines go by so fast that this poor soul could not keep up. The lines were either too fast or too obscure or I was laughing so hard that I missed some of them.
There are references to stars and some appear. Some don’t, such as Brad Pitt. He is referred to, but his character is named “Vanisher” so is never seen! (Matt Damon has an unrecognizable part as Redneck #2.)
And so it goes.
Fred Savage appears as Fred Savage, the subject of Deadpool’s (Ryan Reynolds) story about Deadpool and his friends and enemies that starts the film. Savage also serves as a cinematographic adviser to Deadpool on how to set up plot points and dialogue. This is craziness, and it starts crazy and ends crazy. If you like Deadpool, this is right in your wheelhouse. If not and you know your popular culture, you’ll catch on soon.
Most of the dialogue sounds ad-libbed, even if it’s not, and the references are sometimes ‘way out there.’ Hang in. Some are really obscure: “You smell like Rush Limbaugh’s sofa after Shark Week,” is one that got everybody laughing, while Deadpool’s warning, “Big CGI fight scene coming up,” is funny only after the CGI fight scene starts. The chase and fight scenes are, in the Deadpool tradition, spectacular and funny.
Hardly anybody really dies in the film, though the quantity of mayhem is of high level throughout. Deadpool dies several times, one of those times to reunite him with his dead wife (Morena Baccarin) who awaits in a heavenly waiting room, but don’t count on his staying alive and well too long.
A touching after-credits sequence honors Stan Lee of Marvel, who died partway through the making of the film. This is a romp of a film with ridiculous but cartoonish violence, like the first edition of the franchise. Lots of fun and plenty of quiz material!
The Favourite (R)
Just too elegant to not give top ratings to, no matter how strange the story. This is a film for folks who like their stories complex, beautifully lit and costumed with top-notch performances by skilled actors with a fascinating musical score from many periods. If none of that floats your boat, go on to “Spider-Man.”
The story involves fabled Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), her close servant Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who historically is not necessarily her lover as the film portrays, and Abigail Churchill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin who fell from the upper castes of society into the scullery.
Much of the film concerns Abigail’s rise back to the top to the disadvantage of Sarah. When it is proposed by the evil Harley (Nicholas Hoult) that Abigail become a spy for his side, she replies, “I am a person of honor though my status is not.” Her loyalty remains, for many reasons and not all of them honorable, with Queen Anne.
This is a dramatic comedy, but the laughter is seldom loud as there is always a knife beneath the message. The music is notable. A mixture of 18th and earlier styles, the lack of consistency is part of the charm of the film and, no matter the period, the music is brilliantly performed and recorded.
There is one hysterically funny 18th century dance parody at a party that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Yorgos Lanthimos is the director, and he frequently opts for wide angle lenses in tight spaces to distort the images and keep the viewer off balance while emphasizing the strangeness of the story: a mad queen who keeps 17 rabbits, representing her 17 lost children, a prime minister who has a walking duck named Horatio, couples coupling in halls or corners at random.
This is a struggle for power and access, and we won’t tell you who wins but it’s a wild ride with rabbits thumping all over the scenery and women all ready to take power from a wounded monarch. One other note: The lighting is either candlelight or natural light and the effects are stark and totally effective. Not straight history, but a rollicking tale of nobility gone wrong. Go see it!
The Mule (PG)
As Earl Stone’s wife (Diane Wiest) says to husband Earl (Clint Eastwood): “You are the love of my life and the pain of my life.”
Earl has not been much of a husband or a father to daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood), but he has one last chance to make it up to them: He’s making a ton of money serving as a mule for a Mexican cartel. He buys back the mortgaged house, gets better clothes and a better truck. What he doesn’t see coming is Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), agent for the DEA. They need busts and Earl suddenly finds himself the target. He becomes a target of the Mexican Mob as well because he delays a shipment for a personal reason. This pretty much plays out as expected with Earl making drug runs (curiously incurious about what his cargo is) until luck runs out.
Eastwood and Cooper are adequate in the formulaic parts they have to play, and there are not many surprises along the way. There is better stuff out there this holiday season.
Schindler’s List (2018 re-release) (R)
This is still one of the greatest films of all time. I found it even more enthralling this time around than in 1993. Liam Neeson towers physically above everybody and dominates the film but every cast member and extra seems to have been devoted to producing the very best they could. Ben Kingsley as Schindler’s accountant, Itzhak Stern, wrings every bit of pathos and depth out of his vital character. Ralph Fiennes, as Nazi and seriously disturbed Amon Goeth, is frightening in every scene Even bit players and extras are totally involved in the work.
Schindler in real life was a larger-than-life businessman and showman who fluffed up Nazi egos and gifted them lavishly. He eventually played his social popularity into a cover for employing Jews in his factory in Poland and made it extremely successful by making pots and pans for the military and, eventually, shell casings for various Nazi weapons. The fact that he ordered his engineers to make intentional errors that made the casings faulty was merely a winkable “accident.”
There are so many vital images in the film that I hesitate to name even one, but the haunting image of the girl in the red coat has always stuck with me. She wanders, untouched, through one of the many scenes of transport of the Jews and haunts Schindler who clearly regards her as the only visible symbol he can find that there is still peace and innocence in the world.
The closeups of Goeth as he wages insane war on the Jews are frightening in themselves and scenes of him shooting Jews at random from his balcony while swigging whiskey are chilling, as are the scenes of the Nazis digging up 10,000 Jews killed in the ghettos. The bodies were taken to a large pit where they were burned, a typical foul-up of Hitler’s war machine in which paper and numbers meant more than common sense.
Schindler’s actual list, that he made to formulate a new factory in his home town in Czechoslovakia, emerges late in the war, totally over 1,000 names but all-in-all, he saved 11,000 Jews during the war, almost one by one. This is a film you must see with your kids. It is violent and beyond belief, but it happened and that is why they must see it. It still, for me, is one of the top five best films ever made.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (R)
This is a bit unusual for this space since this film is in theaters but and on Netflix concurrently. The “Ballad” is actually six separate sketches of American life in the West, starting with Buster. It is one of the funniest and, at times, moving films I’ve seen recently. It “stars” few people you will recognize and those that you will don’t necessarily have big parts.
The stories are the focus here, starting with Buster. He enters the film singing a typical Western ballad and strumming his guitar. I won’t tell you about his exit, but it is astoundingly funny in a macabre kind of way. This being a Coen Brothers film, there is much of a macabre nature in all the stories. There are also moments of hilarious fantasy and nonsense (“All Gold Canyon”) plus a deep investigation of the personalities and dreams of a group selected merely by being passengers on a stage coach.
The cast is incredibly large for such a small-seeming project, and the selection of scenery is vivid and rich. This is, in fact, one of the most lavishly produced films of the year and yet it fits onto the small screen as well as the large.
Young children will not understand and will be frightened at the violence that is comic book stuff to most adults. Hopefully, a lot of adults will be insulted by the non-politically correct humor of the enterprise. You will find yourself recalling various scenes and parts of scenes and stifling chuckles, no matter where or who you are. This is really fun, absorbing, crazy stuff from two of the most
creative talents in film.
This is a fascinating portrait of the classes in 1970s Mexico, but it is very slow and often somewhat aimless in pace. The film stars Oscar nominee Yalitzan Aparicio as Cleo, the younger of two cleaning women for Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and her brood of four pre-teen children. The other servant, Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia), has nothing much to do as Cleo does the heavy lifting on the laundry and cooking end as well as most of the parenting while Sofia is off, socializing, and Dad is allegedly in Canada (actually vacationing with a mistress in Mexico).
Alfonso Cuarón, who wrote and directed, has also done such films as the sexually charged “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and his blockbuster hit, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” as well as “Gravity,” which won seven Academy Awards. His style in this lengthy epic involves lots of center-framed still scenes, causing the audience to anticipate things that sometimes happen and sometimes do not. When the action starts, such as the frequent fights between the kids in the family, the camera covers the action, but in the forest fire scene, Cuarón prefers to pull back and let us see the ineffectual bucket brigade that fights it plus the aristocrats standing by, drinking cocktails as the lesser folk throw bits of water at the fire.
These are young actors, so their ineptitude might be given a break. But not when one of them, Aparicio, gets an Oscar nomination for leading actress. She’s just not in the ballpark by a mile. She has an extended labor scene after Fermin (Jose Antonio Guerrero) dumps her unceremoniously at a martial arts workout, but it is just a labor scene. We learn nothing more about Cleo than we knew before. The most
jarring incident in the film is a scene in which Sofia says, “We must stay together as family.” Cleo meanwhile takes the laundry up several flights of stairs while the “family” relaxes in the dining room! If you sense I didn’t climb aboard the Oscar-award bandwagon for this film, you sensed right. This film is subtitled in two languages and filmed in black and white.