Terminator: Dark Fate

Release: Friday, November 1, 2019

👀 On Demand 

Written by: David Goyer; Justin Rhodes; Billy Ray

Directed by: Tim Miller

Starring: Linda Hamilton; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Mackenzie Davis; Natalia Reyes; Gabriel Luna

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

 

 

***/*****

Terminator: Dark Fate is the best installment in the series since Judgment Day and it’s not even close. That said, having never been a die-hard I have gotten along pretty well with most of the sequels, even the mind-bendingly-complex-and-not-in-a-good-way Terminator Genisys, so what do I know?

One thing I know is that this movie was fated to be poorly received. Faith in this once glorious franchise has been steadily eroding ever since we entered the 2000s. In 2019, oh how the mighty have fallen: In America Dark Fate basically flat-lined, barely recouping a quarter of its $185 million budget. Losses for the studios involved topped $130 million. That’s even more damning considering it is directed by the guy who made Deadpool. It seems this female-led retcon of one of the most convoluted storylines in franchise filmmaking history was destined to become the next Terminator film to disappoint. The question was whether it would disappoint in the same way or if it would mix things up by being disappointing in other areas.

Dark Fate, in fact, does neither. Director Tim Miller and his writing team create a solid action movie underpinned by relevant themes and bolstered by the welcomed return of original characters plus a few memorable new ones. James Cameron also resurfaces as producer, ensuring fidelity to not just the general formula that brought tremendous fame to the doorstep of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, but specifically to  style and tonality. Bitter and violent but with a streak of humor persisting through all the hardscrabble survival shit (mostly at the expense of Arnie, but hey it’s welcomed), the story is stripped down and actually coherent. The action is visceral and the acting frequently intense.

Twenty-five years after Sarah Connor thwarted Judgment Day, and the future is repeating itself anyway. The details are almost a matter of semantics; instead of Skynet, there is now Legion. Somewhere along the line, someone screwed up. Artificial intelligence gained the upper hand. The machines have once again sent back in time a representative to crush a human uprising before it can even begin. This upgraded model of terminator called the Rev-9, besides sounding like a new line of Mazda sport car, makes the T-1000 obsolete. He is played coolly (and cold-bloodedly) by Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Ghost Rider Gabriel Luna. His mission is to track down and eliminate the de facto new John Connor — a teenage girl named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) who lives an unassuming life as a factory worker in Mexico City.

This is of course the part where you’re expecting Arnie’s T-800 to drop out of thin air to protect the girl, kick some robot ass and maybe disappear from whence he came (or into a vat of liquid metal). But like with the androids we carry around in our pockets some updates are more significant than others. Arnie is indeed back, not with a vengeance but rather a conscience. Filling in his old shoes is a hybrid of human and terminator not-so-subtly named Grace (Mackenzie Davis). She has also been sent back to convince Dani of her role in the human resistance while also contending with unexpected roadblocks, such as Sarah Connor and her own beliefs in fate.

No, this movie does not throw heavy punches of originality. Signature one-liners, even when delivered by the legendary Linda Hamilton, feel like hand-me-downs rather than organic reactions. It’s not like this latest chapter doesn’t do anything to set itself apart. Dark Fate carries some heavy emotional baggage and the script occasionally hits some poignant notes as its leading trio of women confront loss and grief. That weight is mostly shouldered by the older and wiser Sarah Connor and her complicated relationship with the T-800 but it’s also a pain shared by all involved, whether that’s Dani receiving a brutal crash course in terminator-human relationships or Grace recounting her experiences of surviving the apocalypse through flashback.

Retreading old footsteps does not make a movie bad however. It’s when directors and producers forsake the spirit of the original in an attempt to chart a new course that often leads to trouble. Dark Fate is made with an obvious reverence for Cameron’s seminal sequel. I consider its familiarity a strength. And if indeed it is the last hurrah (and it sure looks that way) I would also consider it an homage to greatness. If given a choice between a safe and familiar package and a narrative so convoluted you don’t even care where or when you are on the timeline, I will always choose the former.

Two headaches for the price of a not-even-wanted one

Moral of the Story: I think the mileage you get out of this one really depends on whether you think the homage is unwarranted or if it is kinda cool. Or, indeed, if you even view it as an homage. Genisys was, by comparison, a regrettable reboot of the series with a young Sarah Connor and it technically introduced the dad-joke-making Terminator, so you can’t go around blaming Dark Fate for that. This movie undoes all of that stuff, all the way back to Rise of the Machines. I think it is a big shame there will be no future installments as I really enjoyed this cast and seeing Hamilton back in action was really satisfying. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “Do you believe in fate, Sarah? Or do you believe we can all change the future every second by every choice that we make? You chose to change the future. You chose to destroy Skynet. You set me free. Now, I’m going to help you protect the girl, because I chose to.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Release: Friday, February 7, 2020

→Theater

Written by: Christina Hodson

Directed by: Cathy Yan

Above all else Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is an expression of personality. It’s loud and ridiculous in almost every way, but it’s also really fun and that’s just enough for me to declare DC is off to a good start in the new decade.

Unlike several entries in DCEU’s troubled past the Harley Quinn standalone movie is an extremely colorful adventure. You might have heard it being described as the female Deadpool, and as far as style points are concerned that’s an accurate comparison (think lots of fourth-wall breaks, tape-rewinds and fruity language). Plot-wise I’d say this bears more resemblance to John Wick: Chapter 3Oddly enough the two movies actually do share stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski in common, who was called upon to punch up Birds of Prey‘s action bits.

A lively animated opening title sequence brings us up to speed on what’s going on in the world of Harley Quinn. When The Joker finally calls it quits on their relationship Harley (a.k.a. Harleen Quinzel, a.a.k.a. Margot Robbie) does what any normal person does and throws a pity party — an epic one. One that involves a radical haircut (sort of), adopting a pet hyena and driving an 18-wheeler into the Acme chemical plant, where she and Joker made their special little pact to be together 4eva. For her this is much-needed closure, until she realizes this has actually opened up new problems. See the thing is, all the years she’s been with Mr. J she’s basically been given carte blanche to do whatever to whomever. Now she’s “updated her status” in a very public way and soon Gotham’s finest scumbags are lining up to give the formerly untouchable Cupid of Crime her comeuppance.

At the top of the list of Harley haters is the obnoxious crime boss Roman Sionis, played by Ewan McGregor in the hammiest performance of his career. It’s pretty OTT but apparently effective because I sure ended up hating this evil carnival barker-looking mofo. And Chris Messina as well, who plays Victor Zsasz, Sionis’ right-hand man and possibly more besides, with a more realistic creepy menace. Sionis (a.k.a. Black Mask) imagines himself the next best thing to the Joker, ruling Gotham’s underworld with an iron fist and the best mercenary pals ill-gotten money can buy. He’s a misogynistic sleaze with whom the Bad Gurl has racked up an impressive list of grievances — including, but not limited to, having the balls to interrupt him one time mid-sentence. More inconveniently, more recently and more relevant to the plot (such that it is), she’s the one who crippled his driver, prompting Sionis to “promote” his nightclub singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) to the position.

As far as that plot is concerned, Sionis/Black Mask is lusting after some precious diamond, inside which lies an encrypted key to the Bertinelli crime family fortune, who we see meet a grisly end in a brief flashback of some importance. The diamond just so happens to have fallen into the hands of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), an orphaned girl and expert pickpocket. In an attempt to literally save face, Harley offers to recover it for Sionis. Knowing how much she likes a good fight the well-connected gangster sends every mutantly muscular mercenary in the metropolis after Cassandra, placing a half-million-dollar bounty on her head (ergo, John Wick 3 but with hair ties).

Though this is clearly the Margot Robbie show, Basco, the young Korean-Filipino actor playing Cassandra, does well to stand out in an ensemble of established talent. Her prickly personality makes for a difficult character to love but crucially her flaws make her human and give her room to grow (whether that’s into Batgirl, we shall see). For now, the way she brings out a softer side in Harley makes her more than a plot device linking the two main arcs. She also fits snugly under the film’s thematic umbrella. While the jaded teen is fighting for her physical freedom, each in this quintet are seeking emancipation of a kind, whether that’s Detective Montoya un-cuffing herself from a sexist work environment, Dinah Lance/Black Canary shaking the shackles of her greasy boss and his goons or Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. Huntress (a disappointingly under-used Mary Elizabeth Winstead) channeling childhood trauma and a lot of anger into a new identity.

Birds of Prey is director Cathy Yan’s second feature film and her first major Hollywood production. She directs from a screenplay provided by Bumblebee scripter Christina Hodson who adapts characters from the comic originally created by Jordan Gorfinkel and Chuck Dixon in 1996. Together Yan and Hodson build a scrappy team-up movie about a collection of seemingly random individuals reluctantly united against a common enemy. Their story more closely resembles an obstacle course that characters must navigate rather than a focused, concept-driven narrative. While we get enough of a feel for the supporting characters to make the thawing of the ice around these relationships rewarding, it’s Robbie’s passionate portrayal that leaves a lasting impression. Her interactions with everyone else is what makes this movie uniquely entertaining. It’s not high art but I had a great time with it nonetheless.

She’s the class cut-up

Recommendation: Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 109 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master. No one gives two bleep-bloopers who we are beyond that.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed  written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb

Month in Review: May ’19

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s that time again! Another month of cinematic magic to look back on, or . . . since it’s early in the year, perhaps lament the lack thereof. From yet more pointless biopics (Tolkien, if you take a look at the numbers, apparently only has $4 million worth of fandom, but that paltry figure surely betrays the popularity of his works and indeed of the man himself, whose fantastical realm created a global fraternity of deeply loyal, line-memorizing fans), to Dennis Quaid looking totally annoying and embarrassingly in need of a paycheck intruding your local cineplexes in this hackneyed home-invasion “thriller”, or even a lack of good animated films (Ugly Dolls — no thanks, no thanks), I’ve felt like Keanu Reeves wandering the arid Sahara in search of answers, or at least decent entertainment this month. (Oh but John Wick 3 delivered. Or, it delivered what we have come to expect from it by now and not a shred of texture beyond that.)

May did hold some intrigue, however, what with the Godzilla sequel (yes, I know you hated the first but I didn’t) and the Elton John biopic (admittedly bordering on gratuitous profiting too) both coming out on the same weekend. There have also been several interesting things popping up on streaming platforms that uh, yeah, I haven’t gotten around to yet — remember when I said I would do a whole month of streaming-based reviews? Thank goodness this is a blog and not an actual job. I’d be fired twice by now for not delivering. Maybe I should fire myself. I suppose it’s not too late to do such a thing (stream an entire month’s worth of movies that is, not fire myself). But I’m not setting any hard deadlines.

Before we dive into it, there’s just one other thing I’d like to mention. Note the new feature on the side, Beer With Me! This is something I’ll be maintaining casually as I stumble upon new beers that I like (and can confidently recommend) and maybe figure out some ways to incorporate my love of IPAs with my love of movies. Like, for example, I might feature a Beer of the Month in these recap posts — something that might actually justify this otherwise middling and superfluous feature I created. Give it a look, feel free to share comments/suggestions about what I should try next in the comments section here or, of course, on any of my posts.

Without any further verbal spewage, here’s what has gone down on the world’s most active movie-related blog in the month of May.


New Posts

Theatrical Releases: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu; John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Other: The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (Redbox)

Alternative Content: 30 for 30: Seau


Bite Sized Reviews

High Flying Bird · February 8, 2019 · Directed by Steven Soderbergh · Calling all NBA fans! This is your movie. His second consecutive “portable” production, once again shot entirely on an iPhone, Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird tells of the creative maneuvers an ambitious, hard-working talent agent (André Holland) seeks to pull off in a bold attempt to put an end to the 2014 work stoppage that prefaced that season. Melvin Gregg plays Holland’s (fictitious) rookie client, Erick Scott, a gifted player both lusting after the glam and the glory of being a pro baller while being scarily unprepared for the realities of being a professional athlete. Deadpool 2‘s very own Zazie Beetz plays a crucial supporting role in both his personal and professional development. The script by Moonlight scribe and accomplished playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney draws undeniable parallels between old-fashioned slavery and NBA ownership (and if that seems sensationalist, consider the awful spectacle that befell the Los Angeles Clippers — incidentally that very same year, when then-owner Donald Sterling was forced to sell the team after audio recordings of him making some odious remarks about his own players were leaked to the public). Brief interviews with current players (Karl Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell and Reggie Jackson) tie seamlessly into the narrative and give perspective on the pressures faced by rookies to perform in the modern game and age of Twitter. So, in case it isn’t obvious, High Flying Bird is a film of specifics — it’s inarguably the Ocean’s 11 director’s most esoteric project yet, with sport and business jargon abounding. High Flying Bird is also a notable step up in terms of picture quality, thanks almost entirely to the gleaming urban setting. Unlike the drab, murky interior shots that dominated (and plagued) his previous effort Unsane, here buckets of sunshine wash over the silver edifice of New York City, adding a sense of style and elegance to a narrative that isn’t afraid of tackling the ugly underbelly of the National Basketball Association. Insightful for fans, likely isolating and boring for everyone else. (4/5)

Venom · October 5, 2018 · Directed by Ruben Fleischer · Oh boy, where do I even start with this. I guess let’s start with I hated it, pretty much beginning to finish. The first standalone, live-action movie focused upon the (only bad) people-eating exploits of the anti-hero Venom, an alien symbiote who inhabits the body of disgraced journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), finding it a match made in alien heaven, is one I only wish I could un-see. The first half of the film obligingly fulfills some human drama quota, trudging through the consequences of Brock’s overreaching during a tense interview with self-anointed global savior Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, victim #1 of some truly terrible dialogue and bland, wanton villainy), his probing questions over what’s really going on behind the scenes at the mysterious Life Foundation causing his fiancee (Michelle Williams) to lose her job there and thus end their relationship, leaving Brock vulnerable to forcible alien penetration. When his superpowered alter-ego begins taking over in earnest, Venom swings like a bipolar teen from dull and no fun to sensationally goofy and downright dumb, the voice of Venom coming across as a misunderstood rascal rather than an extraterrestrial being of dubious morality. The movie hits a low with Williams shoving her tongue down the throat of said alien, the act managing to be both creepy and an utterly unconvincing change of heart in one fell swoop. Hits a high when the end credits roll. Okay, that’s not entirely fair — Tom Hardy at least deserves a nod for being a good sport, though neither he nor the rest of the talented ensemble (including Jenny “Marcel the Shell” Slate as a scientist with a conscience) are enough to elevate this clunker out of the lower echelons of superhero adaptations. (1.5/5)


What’s been your favorite movie this month?

Year in Review: 2018 on Thomas J! (Part 1 of 2)

It has been some time since I went overboard and put together one of these long-winded end-of-year summaries; I think the last time I did anything like this was when I last “hosted” my own little version of the Academy Awards presentation — circa 2016, I think? Long-time readers remember this annual feature as The DigiBread Awards — this was back in the day when the site was Digital Shortbread, a name that I changed in January of 2017, mostly out of a feeling that too many people thought I was trying to start a bakery or confectionery or something.

I would like to take this time to thank my incredible (and patient) readers for staying aboard this choo-choo train, slowly but surely chugging along. This year has been the least active year I have had since beginning the site seven years ago, yet here we are — at the precipice of another. Proud of being able to see things through when the going got tough. And though it saddens me to see so many familiar faces disappearing, that is how life works. There is a thing called change, and while I am not quite ready to move on yet from this, I understand why others have. Blogging is a really time-consuming activity that can easily become a grind.

Now that we have all of the mush out of the way, here is a month-by-month breakdown of what went down on Thomas J in 2018. But so as to not completely overwhelm, I am breaking this . . . break-down into two parts. This post includes reviews posted from January until June. Part 2 will feature reviews done July through December.


January

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Oh yeah, that’s right! I took January off. Writer’s block reared its ugly head early, despite a few pickings that looked quite good (Molly’s Game, the directorial début of the master of walk-and-talk-scenes Aaron Sorkin; the profusely praised Call Me By Your Name expanded wide; also Mom and Dad, a whacko-sounding genre film featuring Nic Cage and Selma Blair as parents who “maniacally turn on their children while in the grip of a mysterious 24-hour frenzy;” and The Insult racked up impressive critical ratings but I never had a chance to seek it out).

February

And now Thomas J shows some signs of life. Two new reviews. A few Oscar predictions. (You can check those out as part of my monthly round-up right here.)

The Commuter: a decent post-Taken Liam Neeson thriller that offered the same kinds of thrills fans have come to expect from the actor-director (Jaume Collett-Serra) tandem, albeit on a more mellow level. You may not get any memorably threatening lines delivered over the phone here, but there is a pretty cool song by Cosima (“Unnamed”) that pops up in a passenger’s headphones/as part of the soundtrack. So that was cool.

 

The Cloverfield Paradox: Man, this thing really wasn’t very good. But you know what? I am just as not-very-good at going back to give things a second chance. I ripped this supposed franchise-expanding chapter a new black hole, but I probably went too hard on it. No, I didn’t? Well that’s good to know. Now I don’t have to go back!

 

March

On the positive side, March was the month that delivered Annihilation*. I was fortunate to catch Alex Garland’s follow-up to his exciting début (the high-concept sci fi trip from 2014, Ex Machina) in theaters. So I thank March for that. Unfortunately, March also saw the passing of iconic physicist Stephen Hawking. I was actually quite saddened by that loss, so I wrote a tribute to him.

Annihilation: from my review — “The best of Annihilation plays upon the deepest recesses of the mind, opening the floodgates for extrapolation and interpretation.” Further, I add (in a typically sensationalist way) that “Annihilation is the reason why I love not only going to the movies, but writing about my experiences with them as well. I felt transformed by this.”

 

 

Unsane: A heady, twisty-turvy psychological thriller that benefits from star Claire Foy’s strong turn. This was my introduction to the British actress, playing a young woman fearing for her safety after her stalker appears to have tracked her down at a mental institution. Given that director Steven Soderbergh decided to shoot the film on an iPhone, I’m sure more people will remember how the film was made rather than what it was about. And while the grainy quality of the picture at times was indeed a distraction, I was pretty impressed with the amount of tension that was wrung out of the narrative.

One and Not Done: With the 2017-’18 college basketball season coming to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about this 30 for 30 film, which explores the career of collegiate basketball coach and gadfly John Calipari. If you consider yourself a college basketball fan, this is mandatory viewing.

 

 

April

April showers bring . . . what’s this? Awesome horror debuts? That’s right, folks. Everyone’s favorite Office drone puts on a brave and bearded face in his very first horror feature. April showers also bring: a bunch of crap. (Rampage; Blumhouse Presents: Truth or Who Cares**; the hilariously poorly titled The Humanity Bureau, etc . . . )

A Quiet Place: narratively taut, effectively tense and occasionally terrifying and featuring an innately likable family doing their best to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by creatures that hunt by sound, A Quiet Place announced John Krasinski as a stud of a first-time horror director. Though I really need to stop using that phraseology. The guy has made movies before, but this one really hit in a big way with critics and audiences alike. Good for him, he deserved it.

 

Isle of Dogs: who can resist a Wes Anderson movie — one rendered in stop-motion and about man’s best friend, no less? I adored Isle of Dogs. It was exactly what I expected — even if there is a bit more of that ” . . .as well as for worse” starting to subtly creep in. Anderson is an incredibly visually inventive storyteller, but comedy-wise he is rather predictable. (I say that now; he could prove me wrong by making something entirely different in his next film. Somehow I doubt it, and I will welcome it all the same. Charming is Wes Anderson’s middle name.)

May

Another mini blogging vacation. This was a planned break. I barely saw any movies this month***, however I did manage to see Tully, a sweet but hardly sentimental drama about a single mom trying to make ends meet. While it featured a great Charlize Theron as Marlo, alongside an equally fascinating Mackenzie Davis as the title character — a night nanny named Tully — the film, written by Diablo Cody, concluded in such a bizarre way that I thought took a lot away from the authenticity that made the rest of the film so engrossing.)

June

Found me playing a little catch-up.

Deadpool 2: did you see Deadpool 1? There you go. (At least I was able to prevent Ryan Reynolds from dominating my review this time.)

 

 

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story: not everyone wanted a Solo spinoff. But we got one, oh boy did we ever get one! Alden Ehrenreich bravely stepped into the cynical shoes of Harrison Ford’s bad-boy space cargo pilot, and while it wasn’t the performance of the decade — I realize no one’s hanging posters of Ehrenreich on their bedroom walls — he surprised me with his confidence. This movie was really a lot of fun and you’re just a party-pooper if you resisted the Force on principle. Come on! Like this thing as much as me!!!!!

Tag: a fairly inconsequential movie but far from a waste of time, this based-on-a-true-story action/comedy finds a group of adult friends wildly devoted to perpetuating their favorite childhood game. From my review — “A bromantic occasion in the vein of The Hangover, yet somehow even less “culturally, aesthetically and/or historically significant,” this is the kind of entertainment that goes down GREAT with buttered popcorn (or even unbuttered . . . if you’re weird).”

Stay tuned for Part 2 . . . 


* correction, March was actually when i published my reaction. The film came out February 23, and given its really limited run in theaters, it is highly unlikely I actually waited until March to see it.
** ACTUALLY TITLED TRUTH OR DARE, BUT SERIOUSLY . . . WHO CARES? 
*** FORGOT ABOUT INFINITY WAR, OF COURSE. 

That Ryan Reynolds Movie Everyone is Talking About


Release: Friday, May 18, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Rhett Reese; Paul Wernick; Ryan Reynolds

Directed by: David Leitch

In Deadpool Deuce, Wade Wilson’s greatest enemy isn’t some psychotic surgeon, a mutant-hating criminal or even those gosh-darn regenerative powers of his, but rather the writers who are trying to keep things interesting. The highly-anticipated sequel takes all the R-rated, fourth-wall-breaking elements that made its predecessor a smash-hit and amplifies them. The formula certainly still works, even if all those steroids still can’t mask a fundamentally weak story. And besides, nothing is quite like a first encounter.

Digging deeper into its X-Men roots, the gleefully profane and gory sequel continues the murderous crime-thwarting exploits of cancer-riddled Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool, as he assembles the X-Force in order to protect an unstable young mutant named Russell Collins, a.k.a. Firefist (Julian Dennison), from the time-traveling cyborg Cable, played by Josh Brolin in his second role as a Marvel villain in as many months. Considerably less devastation follows in his wake this time, though. Meanwhile, a more important subplot finds this reviewer finally reunited with the Maltesers he was looking for — but would they last him the length of the film?*

Spoiler alert: no, no they would not. (In my defense trailers these days are 5 hours long.)

David Leitch, the director of John Wick — less charitably referred to here as the guy who killed John Wick’s dog — takes over the reigns from Tim Miller. Whereas Miller was tasked with giving a fairly obscure Marvel character the right entrance, Leitch’s film aspires to add — dare I even say it? — emotional depth. Both are unenviable positions to be in and ultimately are equally thankless when you consider how their influence pales in comparison to that of their star actor. I mean, it’s undeniable now — Ryan Reynolds is the most influential super-personality since Robert Downey Jr. became Tony Stark. He is this franchise.

On the evening of their anniversary, Wade and his fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) start talking about the possibility of having a little family of Deadpools. But when work follows him home that night with tragic results, it leaves Wade utterly distraught . . . and global audiences watching him attempt to end his life in a rather buzz-killing montage of self-destruction. It’s all for naught, though, since he can’t die and his dear friend Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) comes to pick up the pieces of Humpty Dumpty, taking him back to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters to recuperate and where Colossus hopes to recruit him into the X-Men. The problem is, Deadpool typically operates one way and the X-Men quite another. Add to that the fact that Wade isn’t exactly in a merciful mood at this point in time, and welp. You get the Escape Plan-esque Ice Box scene.

As was made abundantly clear in the first installment, the titular character is a Marvel (anti-)hero forged from immense physical suffering that has rendered him Johnny Knoxville in Bad Grandpa skin. That suffering continues here, except now that the threshold of physical pain has been reached the only thing Wade has left that can be broken is his spirit. To that, Deadpool 2 isn’t a sequel that “goes bigger,” but one that tries to cut deeper. It offers an emotional trial that goes for profound but instead comes across shallow and hard to trust in the face of all that unbridled cynicism. What kind of a father would Wade actually make? Will he ever not be a disappointment to his friend Colossus, who sees more in the mercenary? Does any of this really matter, given what one of the post-credits sequences suggests?

‘Emotional trial’ becomes this catch-all term for what pretty much everyone is going through in this movie. Suffering is true not only of our human-condom-looking hero, but as well the villains and the would-be villains. Firefist, the mutant to which the most significant action accrues, has suffered a terrible childhood at the hands of staff at the Mutant Reeducation Center, a dilapidated facility run by the mutant-hating, Bible-thumping Headmaster Daniel (Eddie Marsan). Marsan is a reliable actor, yet he is only allowed to carve out a very stock villain here, despite his fascinating and brutal backstory of mutant molestation and experimentation and such. Then there is Brolin’s cyborg dude, who has traveled back in time to pull a Minority Report on Firefist, who will in the future perpetrate a terrible act against Cable’s family.

Deadpool 2 fuses these journeys together in a way that, par the genre, defies logic in service of thematic convenience and always finds the most important people in the right location in time for the big showdown — “the big CGI fight,” as it were. The entire film is predictable, and it damn well knows it too — the screenplay even has a part installed where Reynolds points this out to us — but self-deprecation isn’t a great substitute for a truly compelling narrative. At least one with real consequences. This is a second chapter, but the stakes are actually lower than ever now because we have become accustomed to the blasé attitude. The movie may as well open with a title card declaring everything will be okay at the end. It is that shameless — and I love it for that — but holy burned teddy bears is it predictable.

Despite all of that there are some developments that are actually surprising. Like the one stowaway Malteser I found at my crotch when I shifted in my seat for the 80th time late in the film. Surprise candy stashes notwithstanding, new additions like Domino (Zazie Beetz) and Peter (Rob Delaney — famous overnight) help refresh the atmosphere, while stalwart vets like Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) and Dopinder (Karan Soni) enthusiastically await their turn to make another impression. These characters together succeed in forming a spirited, if insane camaraderie. They make a crazy but lovable family, and since a sense of family is usually enough to give emotional depth to a second installment, I can let slide a lot of what this sequel doesn’t do very well, or isn’t interested in doing, and laugh on anyway.

* For anyone out of the loop on this, I refer you back to this monthly round-up post

Recommendation: The Merc with a Mouth returns in fine form, contractually obligated to be even mouthier than he was in the first, delivering rapid-fire insults as casually as he delivers death to those standing in his way. Fans expecting more of the same intensity from Ryan Reynolds as he fends off against new opposition and audience expectation aren’t leaving this one disappointed. Then again, the acting has never been Deadpool’s weakness. He’s got great support from a lively cast but the story could really use some more oomph. 

Rated: the rating that is one tier above PG-13

Running Time: 7,199 secs. 

Quoted: “Dubstep’s for pussies!” 

“You’re so dark. Are you sure you’re not from the DC Universe?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Month in Review: April ’18

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts (who are we kidding — this has become quite repetitive, hasn’t it? Are you even still reading this part?) and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

Let’s see what we have here. Do we have anything? Well, put it this way: out of the month’s highest opening weekend grossers, I saw two (2) of them. I missed a chance to Feel Pretty, blocked myself from seeing Blockers, failed to Rampage, skipped this round of Truth or Dare (I feel like I won on that), and I did NOT see the point in Super Troopers 2. So I passed on that grass too. Meanwhile, I am accumulating a backlog of unfinished reviews so long that it has all gotten to a point where I might need to get paid just to contribute content to my own blog.

And because everything is about Money, I’ll just leave this here. On Tuesday, April 10, my dad and I went into the city to see the British cover band Brit Floyd on their 2018 Eclipse World Tour as they played at the world-famous Radio City Music Hall. Pictures are before the show and during the cover of Money. As impressive as the lead singer (Damian Darlington) was, proving himself an uncanny Roger Waters/David Gilmour imitator, the laser show was truly mind-blowing. At various points in the show, from where we sat I swear you could walk out on those colored beams like it was a solid floor of light.

Meanwhile, here is what has been going on on Thomas J during the month of April.


New Posts

New Releases: A Quiet Place; Isle of Dogs

Movie News  

Well, Deadpool Deuce drops like a dookie in a couple weeks (May 18), but you already knew that. You didn’t need the visual, but I bet you needed the extra reminder to get you that much more pumped up. I can’t wait either.

It is true, the universe is expanding, and rapidly. At least when it comes to all things Star Wars. Han Solo has, for some reason that remains unclear beyond money (what’d I say earlier?), gotten his own solo film, and it drops May 25. And it will be called Solo: A Star Wars Story. No kidding? I have to say, I am struggling to muster the enthusiasm for this one. What about you?

As far as sticking up for the little guys this month I am really hoping the new Ethan Hawke drama/horror First Reformed makes its way to local theaters. It is in limited release beginning May 18, and tells of a middle-aged, solitary pastor (Hawke) who experiences a crisis of faith when he is asked by a pregnant parishioner to counsel her radical environmentalist husband. From writer-director Paul Schrader comes a gripping thriller that is at once personal, political, and planetary.

Blogging News

As the 2018 Hot Docs Film Festival continues, the excellent writers over at Cinema Axis (another gem of a blog that you should explore if this is the first time you’ve heard of it) have been busy keeping us up to speed with what’s been hot this year. Check out their plentiful reviews here (or find them in my blogroll).


“You should have gone for the head.” 😦 

Logan

logan-movie-poster

Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: James Mangold; Scott Frank; Michael Green

Directed by: James Mangold

Logan is a robust superhero film and probably the most violent one we have encountered since Deadpool(Lest we forget that that movie was more than a comedy.) But even in the context of superhero films that have been slapped with the dreaded R-rating, this, The Passion of the Wolverine as it were, doesn’t really feel like a “game-changer.” It just feels like a very angry Marvel spin-off.

Logan is undoubtedly the most masculine movie yet in a universe that’s decidedly male-dominant. The testosterone pumping in its veins is unleashed in lethal doses. Sir Patrick Stewart drops (a surprising number of justified) f-bombs, while Hugh Jackman does his best William Poole impression, butchering his foes with psychotic fervor combined with the anger of ten thousand suns. The film follows a familiar cat-and-mouse blueprint wherein the aging man of adamantium must avoid letting a newly discovered, young mutant fall into the clutches of yet another Very Bad Man, this time, Boyd Holbrook‘s genetically enhanced Donald Pierce.

Fortunately, gore and bloodletting isn’t the only thing the movie excels at. It’s not merely escalating violence that signals the end is nigh. James Mangold successfully elevates the stakes with the way he situates his characters in the narrative. The odious stench of oppression recurs and is reinforced through brilliant location scouting that takes us from one pocket of solitude to another, from the gritty southern US border to the thick pine forest of North Dakota. It’s all the more impressive how real the threat feels given how familiar such tension has become.

Jackman’s ninth and final appearance finds him hobbling and coughing and spluttering around in 2029, a time where mutants are near extinct. A virus produced by the Transigen Corporation, for whom Mr. Pierce works as an enforcer, has played a large part in the crumbling of Logan’s world (and to a less narratively important but arguably just as emotionally significant degree, that of Charles Xavier).

Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a nurse from that very corporation, intercepts Logan in Texas and urges him to get a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen in her first film credit) to safety. The destination is a place called Eden, where supposedly other young victims of Transigen’s terrible experiments are being taken. Logan is loath to cooperate when he discovers that everything he is being told can be found in the X-Men comics. It ought to be noted that in a film so dour, his cynicism is relatively hilarious.

Logan finds a little more levity in the semi-antagonistic relationship that has crusted over between Logan and Charles. Both are now textbook geezers, though Logan is far more gruff and more prone to fits of rage. Charles is suffering from seizures that wreak havoc on those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of his powerful mind. Arguably the biggest (and most welcomed) surprise is that the film manages to still find new depths to explore with these well-established characters. Though the hope and promise that once defined the apprenticeship is long gone, the sense of familial responsibility has never been stronger.

That’s a theme supported by Wolverine’s recognition of a new mutant who seems to be more like him than he would care to acknowledge. Laura, who bears the same aberration in her hands, regards Logan as a father figure of sorts, in part by design and in part due to a natural gravitation towards someone who shares in her own uncontrollable rage. The young actor is memorable in a role that’s all too light on dialogue, a role that requires a diminutive physicality to suggest echoes of a young James Howlett.

Perhaps it is this dynamic that makes Logan “feel different;” we haven’t yet considered the Wolverine as a potential father figure. Between that and the downright shocking violence (particularly the conclusion), something that I’m either not seeing or giving enough credit to has struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. I’m not quite satisfied that Logan‘s superior craftsmanship qualifies as wholesale innovation.

The struggle to stay one step ahead and to avoid becoming exposed (again) is the sum total of what Logan‘s plot has to offer. This is yet another glorified man-hunt. This is Midnight Special more than it is The Dark Knight. But sophisticated writing matters less when the film’s true appeal lies in the emotive, in the opportunity Logan provides both diehards and casual fans alike to say their goodbyes. After all, this is a character Jackman has spent the last 17 years molding into something he can proudly call his own. He will be surely missed. Why does that sound like an epitaph?

hugh-jackman-sir-patrick-stewart-and-dafne-keen-in-logan

3-5Recommendation: It’s a bittersweet send-off for an iconic character, but a game-changer this most definitely ain’t. You’re going to want to call a babysitter for this one. Because another thing Logan ain’t is kid-friendly. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 137 mins.

Quoted: “Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Deadpool

'Deadpool' movie poster

Release: Friday, February 12, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Rhett Reese; Paul Wernick

Directed by: Tim Miller

I hope someone is going to pay for it, because that fourth wall is destroyed. And I know Ryan Reynolds ain’t gonna put up the money, even if he is about to make millions upon millions with this future franchise.

STOP! READERS! HI, HELLO — THIS IS RYAN REYNOLDS AND I AM TAKING OVER THIS BLOG. I REPEAT. DO NOT . . . oh, fuck you caps-lock. Anyway, don’t listen to . . . er, well, I guess read . . . a word this cream-puff so-called ‘critic’ says about the Deadpool movie! He’s going to try to sell us (me) short, go see the movie for yourselves. You have a choice here, people — do not become passive, put in your place! Break out!

Ryan, I never said I was trying to talk them out of seeing the movie. 

SHUT UP TOM!

Alright. Well, what I was going to say. . . 

I SAID SHUSH, YOU MUPPET! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . OK, so what were you trying to say about Deadpool? I’m sorry, this wasn’t . . . you know, like this wasn’t meant to be a hostile takeover, nothing permanent or anything — I just wanted to prove that there was in fact, another domain I could go into and try to be more meta with this movie. FIFTH WALL BROKEN!

See, I’m already confused. Who’s now talking?

You are, Tom. Well, you were in italics before, so . . . I mean, this is me. I’m regular font.

Yeah, you’re right I just forgot to italicize that last line. Well, still. 

You’re welcome! Your blog is yours again. K thanks for the promo and everything! . . . . . . . . (p.s., Julie — call me 😉 )

Oh, really? I can have my blog back now? [Ponders how to translate unenthusiastic sarcasm through typing.]

*

Alas, this is what you pay to see in the much-anticipated and appropriately-rated comic adaptation for the snark-and-sexsass Wade Wilson/Pool of Deadness — the over-the-top meta humor. 21 and 22 Jump Streets have nothing on this. Not even The LEGO Movie got the audience to feel like such an active participant in the events.

Deadpool is so relentlessly self-aware and rather clever it’s easy to forget how generic the story is. When we’re not kebab-ing the bad guys we’re fumbling hopelessly for dramatic realism — I’m not feeling the multiple-organ-cancer as an excuse for him to undergo this radical ‘transformation’ bit — it’s delivered ably enough but there’s very little original about this origins story. However if you’re of the sort who like films with as many ridiculously well-written, well-thought-out-but-even-more-expertly-articulated-and-delivered jokes packed into a single frame as possible, Deadpool is probably going to bring you to your knees.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 2.50.54 AM

Recommendation: Ryan Reynolds cranks up the snark to 15 debuting the red-and-black form-fitting man suit. Its merits far outweigh the weaknesses, of which there are several, and there’s enough commitment from the rest of the cast to ground the film somewhat in its slower moments. I’m also still trying to decide if it definitively benefitting from the R rating makes the content stronger or weaker. How would this have worked if it were packaged as a Marvel-friendly PG-13? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “Crime’s the disease, meet the cure. Okay, not the cure, but more like a topical ointment to reduce the swelling and itch. Hi, Tom!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com