Month: February 2016

DEADPOOL

2016 – A cliche superhero origin story is told via an endless succession of Family Guy cutaway gags.

Quick question: why is Ryan Reynolds famous? I know his name, but why? Is it because he starred in Big Monster on Campus and Van Wilder: Party Liaison? Is it because he was married to Scarlett Johansson and has a baby with Blake Lively? Is it because of his “trademarks,” according to IMDB?

Has appeared in several superhero/comic book adaptations

Often plays likable regular guys

Sarcastic sharp edged wit

Is “has appeared in movies” really a trademark? I know, this is a lot of questions. But one of the purported “jokes” in Deadpool is that the titular hero is a character played by Ryan Reynolds. Personally, I did not find this as shocking or amusing as I think I was supposed to. It wasn’t like when Henry Fonda played the villain in Once Upon A Time In The West. This was just… I don’t know, Ryan Reynolds was in R.I.P.D. What shit WOULDN’T he appear in?

Don’t believe the hype: Deadpool is a shit movie, the latest Z-grade “superhero” that Marvel is shoving down our throats. The protagonist, Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool), makes a living as a “mercenary.” From what we see, being a mercenary involves hanging out at a cool mercenary bar (you know the kind) and threatening a teenage pizza delivery boy because he’s “stalking” a pretty girl at school. After completing this incredible mission, Wilson appears in person to the teenage girl, who presumably hired him herself, to tell her that all is well. This begs a critical question: even in a comic book movie, can I believe that such a scenario could actually happen?

Wilson meets Vanessa (Firefly‘s Morena Baccarin) and they fall in love, but WHAM! He has terminal cancer. The only possible cure is some shady operation run by the obviously evil Ajax (Ed Skrein) that tortures people until they become super-powered mutant slaves. Seriously, that’s the concept. Wilson gains vague invincibility powers, but at the cost of looking more like Michael Chiklis than Ryan Reynolds. The rest of the movie is Wilson seeking revenge on the people who disfigured him. And that’s it.

Since the story has no twists and zero suspense (when your hero cuts his own hand off to escape and re-grows it overnight, what danger is he ever really in?), they resort to the ol’ Tarantino show-scenes-out-of-order act. Even worse, this is still a Marvel movie, so somebody propped up the desiccated corpse of Stan Lee for a cameo. Enough, already. Does he even realize what movies he’s appearing in anymore?

I’ve rarely sat through a film more unfocused and meandering. The “scenes” are more like a collection of five-second clips, interspersed with Deadpool looking at the camera and addressing the audience. Apparently this concept, created specifically for this movie, is known as “breaking the 4th wall.” It’s something that has never, ever been done before in the history of television or film or drama or literature, ever. And boy, does it generate the laughs. You see, this is a superhero movie that makes fun of the conventions of superhero movies! This concept is known as “parody.” You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

Confusingly, while Deadpool seems to be aware of many of the the artificial trappings of his superhero world, he is blind to others. For instance, he’s aware that he’s a bad-ass, “different” kind of superhero, but he’s not aware that the movie features a hilarious timid Indian cab driver character. So fresh and original! There’s also a few things that just don’t make sense, like the scene when Deadpool reveals he discovered Ajax’s real name… despite the fact that he’s been strapped to a hospital gurney by the arms, legs, and neck. How did he do this background check in such a situation?

This is a watch-it-and-forget movie. After seeing it, and forgetting most of it, there is no reason to ever watch Deadpool again. So cut out the middleman and just don’t see it at all.

Oh, and there’s nudity, but no more than your average episode of The Sopranos. I’m guessing this won’t stop hipster parents from taking their young children to see it.

ROBOSHARK

2015 – After it gobbles up a chunk of a UFO that crashed in the ocean, a great white shark transforms into a killing machine bent on destroying Seattle.

Several notes about this Netflix plot summary: 1.) it’s clearly an alien probe, not “a chunk of a UFO”; 2.) it doesn’t crash into the ocean, it intentionally flies into it to look around; and 3.) its motives are too murky to state that it’s “bent on destroying” anything.

Oh, boy. If the shark sub-genre isn’t dead, at the very least its mangled body is only being held together by the wreckage around it. Sort of like Mel Gibson’s wife in Signs. When someone fumbles a concept like “robot alien shark” this badly, maybe it’s time to take a break.

After the aforementioned shark swallows the aforementioned probe and becomes the aforementioned killing machine, it runs into a nuclear submarine. The crew is baffled as Roboshark unleashes its most potent attack: grabbing onto the propellers with its teeth and getting whipped around. “Come on, boys. Check your stats!” the sub commander shouts. Um… is “stats” the right word? Are these guys looking up batting averages and strikeout/walk ratios?

The destruction of the submarine catches the attention of the Navy’s Admiral Black (Nigel Barber – FirequakeSpectre), who is informed that the shark is now headed for Seattle. “Seattle… Starbucks, the Space Needle, hipsters, Microsoft, Nirvana,” the Admiral mutters. He’s a gruff, no-nonsense, arm-the-nukes, acceptable-casualties type, like the FBI guys from Die Hard. Odds are, the Admiral isn’t going to make it to the ending credits.

Meanwhile, weather woman Trish (Alexis Peterman – City Slacker) is griping to her husband Rick (Matt Rippy – Boogeyman 3The Dark Knight) that she has to cover a snow storm (which is constantly referenced but never materializes). Their daughter Melody (Vanessa Grasse – Roboshark) is watching a viral video of the shark attacking an amphibious plane.

ACTING.

ACTING.

“That is everything that’s wrong with the news today, it’s like totally fake and ridiculous.” – Trish

Trish and her Wacky News Crew (they’re like the kooky tornado chasers from Twister) head out to cover the impending snow, but spot two tents and a few military guys on the way and decide that it’s “some serious firepower.” What can they do but investigate?

The full might of the U.S. military/industrial complex.

The full might of the U.S. military/industrial complex.

Sure enough, they see more guys in fatigues carrying unlabeled boxes around and conclude that something big is afoot. Trish’s boss insists they get back to covering the weather, but news crew guy Louie (Isaac Haig – Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas EverLake Placid vs. Anaconda) encourages her to stick it to The Man and cover these probably-mutant-shark-related events instead. Watch out, viewers, it’s the WAAAAACKY NEWS CREW!

What delightful characters! (Kill me)

What delightful characters! (Kill me)

Roboshark starts swimming through the city’s jumbo-sized water system, drawing the ire of Rick and his team at the water… company? Rick is obsessed with calling a vague entity known as “dispatch.” “Dispatch. Dispatch, hello? Come on guys, dispatch!” “Dispatch! Get somebody out to T41.” Two seconds later: “Dispatch. Yeah, it’s Rick here. Get someone over to Junction T41 straightaway.” “Dispatch, talk to me!”

This is one of those movies where things seem to be happening, but they have no real direction. Even the characters aren’t convinced that anything important is transpiring. “This is starting to sound like one of those Syfy movies,” one of the news crew quips. “Mutant shark?” Rick demands. “Wasn’t that on Syfy last week?” Stop! This self-referential humor is killing me!

The shark attacks a Starbucks knockoff called “Coffee Time” and devours an obnoxious bicyclist (take that, bicycle enthusiasts!).

Truly tremendous.

Tremendous. Truly, tremendous.

Then it heads to a sewer treatment plant where it causes “the poop tank” to explode, showering a minor character in feces. HA! Take that, blue-collar workers!

Roboshark poop

Bad news: we’re only halfway through the film. Good news: we’re about to meet the movie’s most delightful character, a glasses-wearing computer magnate named (get ready for it) “Bill GLATES.” HAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAWHAW! I guess Bill Gates is the preferred tech industry target for parody since Steve Jobs is dead. In the plus column, one of Glates’s cadre of assistants is a red-head with a lip ring. I liked her.

Roboshark hot redhead

“Oh my God, It just ate Bill Glates! It just ate Bill Glates!” – Trish

At this point, I was falling asleep in my chair and had to rally to make it through. Basically, our heroes learn to communicate with Roboshark by using emojis, and it isn’t so bad after all. Along the way the movie turns into a hype track for social media. Melody “searches for Tweets about water outages and maps them” to find the shark (because people are always live-Tweeting their water outages). Our heroes upload a shark video and get five MILLION views in about five minutes.

Body being "buffeted by wind," hair untouched.

Body being “buffeted by wind,” hair and clothes untouched.

“Admiral, is that a bomber? You can’t bomb my family!” – Rick

Then again, the obnoxious cyclist gets devoured because he’s more concerned with uploading the footage from his GoPro than avoiding the shark. So maybe this is all some kind of subtle parody about how social media is blinding us to the reality of our situations. Everyone’s staring at their phones instead of fleeing the alien menace right in front of them. It’s a brilliant portrayal of our steady retreat from reality as we immerse ourselves in the ultimate delusion of a virtual world.

Or maybe it’s just dumb.

THE BABADOOK

The Babadook dead

2014 – A single mother believes she is being stalked by “Mr. Babadook,” the sinister character from one of her son’s storybooks.

I’m no stranger to kooky foreign films – I mean, I’ve seen Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. They’re fun! The people may look funny and wear unconventional clothes, but you can usually find a few moments that will keep you grounded (like when the fat guy from Dead Snow says, “I’m going for a shit”).

Unless, of course, you’re watching one of those really foreign foreign films where everyone acts weird and you’re completely baffled by the plot. The Babadook, an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film, falls into that category. I was lost. Perhaps the melding of two such alien cultures was too much for me. For one thing, I could have done with a few subtitles. Half the dialogue consists of a truly disturbing-looking little Australian boy yelling, “Mem! Mem! Is thees theh Bahbahduk? Theh Bahbahduk deed eet, Mem! Mem! Ees eet undah theh beed?”

Australia: much more depressing than you'd assume

Australia: much more depressing than you’d assume

As close as I can figure it, the movie is about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis), who lives in a depressing Tim Burton-type town where all the buildings are old and the people dress in muted grays and blues and have rings under their eyes. Her husband got killed in a car accident (which is no surprise since the cars everyone drives are rattling shit-heaps), so she’s stuck with her truly awful son Sam, pronounced “Sem” or “Syyym” (Noah Wiseman).

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

More terrifying than the actual monster in the movie.

It seems that in the rest of the world, every little boy is required to wear the following uniform: clompy lace-up shoes, knee-high socks, shorts, and any combination of oversize sweater, tie, and blazer. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Sam, however, is the kind of child you’d want to be cruel to. He’s highly annoying, screaming and writhing about and detested by every other child and adult in the movie, including his own mother. He makes dangerous “anti-monster” weapons and brings them to school. Amelia understandably wants to kill him.

There are almost two movies going on here. One movie is about a depressed mom and her mutant boy being picked on by the town’s more attractive, normal populace. The difference between our beleaguered “heroine” and everyone else is so drastic that it verges on parody. When Amelia visits her sister’s house, it’s bright, spotless, and populated by the Hot Bitchy Mom Quintet. Amelia’s house, meanwhile, is a cluttered, shadowy dump.

They'd get it.

They’d get it.

The other movie has a monster in it. Unflinchingly polite (it always knocks before entering) and unhealthily pale, Mister Babadook is the sort of vague, Canadian-ish monster that can be defeated by yelling at it loudly enough. But like a typical Australian, the thing shows up uninvited, loafs around the house, tries to kill the dog, and does unfunny impressions of the dead husband (these are all things I assume most Australians do – I’m basing it on information gleaned from watching Flight of the Conchords).

Babadook monster

I’m gonna get you, eh?

The Babadook arrives after Amelia reads Sam its traumatizing, self-published popup book. I won’t spoil exactly what happens because, let’s face it, I can’t. I have no idea what is going on. Why are there so many coats and hats hanging against the wall to provide false scares? What’s up with the palsied old woman next door? How come the monster seems really flexible and fast sometimes, but other times like empty clothes draped over a wooden frame mounted on a skateboard?

Maybe I’m just not cosmopolitan enough to understand this kind of art-house fare. At least it’s better than Life Is Beautiful.