Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 (2018) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 05/27/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Deadpool 2 is the lesser Deadpool of the Deadpool movies. I’d commented about its predecessor that I didn’t think that the movie was as clever as it thought itself. That’s even more true here in the sequel.

Ryan Reynolds and just about everybody from the first film is back, along with Josh Brolin as Cable, Zazie Beetz as Domino, and surprisingly Julian Dennison (from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Russell/Firefist. Oh yeah, and all those guys in X-Force.

Knowing jokes about lazy writing don’t make lazy writing okay. They pack in the gags, cultural references, and R-rated raunchiness into a story that also tries to have a heart. That having a heart thing is the mushy muddle that undercuts a lot of the film’s potential irreverence making it much more like the things it attempts to lampoon.

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018) movie poster

director Ryan Coogler
viewed: 02/25/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

“A kid from Oakland walking around and believing in fairy tales.” This may describe writer/director Ryan Coogler as a kid, though these are the words he gave N’Jadaka to say about his childhood fantasies of Wakanda. But it also may describe many children to come, having been instilled with a fairy tale to which they can relate, Marvel’s superhero Black Panther.

Black Panther is a superhero movie like no other, none especially of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. As much as Disney and Marvel have allowed directors to add their character and tonality to the movies and franchises that they’ve crafted, Coogler has gone leaps beyond that and has made something not just personal but ideological, creating a world within Marvel’s universe of an idealized, though flawed, politicized metaphor and heroic figures very different from the norm of typical cultural and ethnic diversity of their fleet of characters.

No other Marvel enterprise has striven to be anything more than entertainment. Coogler has given the world something much more rare and still developing in its significance. He has deeply imbued Black Panther with a cultural awareness of not just African-American identity but identity within the whole of the African diaspora. Coogler also offers a healthier image of feminist identity in superhero garb than even one single frame of Wonder Woman.

When the film opened in Coogler’s hometown of Oakland, local reporter and native Bay Area son, Peter Hartlaub, was on scene at the Grand Lake Theater to witness not just the latest blockbuster, but a cultural happening, one that Coogler himself parachuted in for at the last minute, surprising movie-goers.

All this is not  to say that Black Panther is wholly successful even as the genre film it is. Some of the plot elements are stronger while some are more shaky. The same could be said for some of the visual design and digital effects. As interesting a conflict as arises out of  N’Jadaka’s resentment toward T’Challa and Wakanda, I didn’t feel that Michael B. Jordan’s character was as well-developed as he could have been.

But Black Panther is going to be so much more than its shortcomings.

And at the end of the day, I’ll take as much Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Leticia Wright (my favorite of the film), as Coogler will give us.

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

directors  Koreyoshi Akasaka, Akira Mitsuwa
viewed: 12/13/2017

Evil Brain from Outer Space is my type of pop surrealism, like someone slipped some acid in your cheap hot sake.

It’s like an old fashioned serial meets 1950’s Superman TV show, madein Japan, of course, with bananas hackneyed dubbing, writing, and voice acting.

“I was trying to bring the brain here to you , Dr. Sakurai . Because it’s imperative that it be destroyed. To do so won’t be easy. Its indestructible.”

Okay, making fun of the dialog or voiceover is like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, I’m not sure the American soundtrack could be improved upon. It’s pure silly awesome genius.

This film, as it is, is an edited fabrication for American audiences of a couple of Super Giant movies from late 1950’s Japan.  Really, it’s one of a set, including Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space and Invaders from Space, all adapted from the film series featuring Japan’s first cinematic superhero.

The action is almost non-stop and trying to transcribe the plot seems near impossible. It’s best taken as is, a straight-up late-night (or anytime) hallucination of cosmic weirdness and hilarious wonder, and 1950’s parkour, by which I mean lots of jumping and editing for action fights and leaps and flying by the seat of your tights (attached to a visible cable). Also, some really cute kids are in it, though they turn into other cute kids partway through (I think.)

That’s the point: don’t think. Just enjoy.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) movie poster

director  Taika Waititi
viewed: 11/26/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I’m with the consensus on this one. My kids are too.

Thor: Ragnarok is fun, funny entertainment. Total props to Taika Waititi for this one.

I’ve always liked Cate Blanchett, but goth Cate Blanchett! What you do to me!

Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing (1982) movie poster

director Wes Craven
viewed: 11/05/2017

His ass is grass. Or moss. Or slime. Or something. But he’s pretty cool. He’s the Swamp Thing, straight outta 1982 from horror great Wes Craven, no less.

For 1982, Swamp Thing is solid comic book entertainment. Keep in mind, this is before the modern superhero era, even before Swamp Thing got Alan Moore-ed. He always had some legitimate cool from the pencil and ink of legend Bernie Wrightson (RIP).

But it’s also got its limitations, also very 1982 and budget-related. If they could have afforded Rick Baker, they might have gotten a less rubbery-looking Swamp Thing and with a bit more of a budget maybe a little more interesting action throughout.

But it does have Adrienne Barbeau and that final monster showdown with more practical effects and designs that raise it out of the muck and makes for good times.

Would be a good double feature with 1982’s Creepshow.

3 Giant Men (1973)

3 Giant Men (1973) movie poster

director T. Fikret Uçak
viewed: 08/17/2017

This is the movie America needs right now.

Turkish knock-off Spider-Man, Captain America, and Santos.

‘Natch.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) movie poster

director Jon Watts
viewed: 07/16/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids got back from camp for a brief weekend before other summer travels and I posed to them the idea of seeing a movie. Either Spider-Man: Homecoming or War for the Planet of the Apes. Surprisingly, they agreed on Spider-Man (they never agree on anything), and so Spider-Man it was.

I didn’t have high expectations, despite having liked Tom Holland’s brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, was it?

Color me surprised. This is probably the second best Spider-Man movie, next to Spider-Man 2 (2004).

They dialed it back down a lot here, letting Spider-Man fight a more localized villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. He’s scavenging and stealing alien technology from government clean-up sites and selling the weaponry to small-time crooks. More like old-fashioned Spider-Man comics, the story is more concise and less existential in its threats. Peter Parker is believably a teen (though maybe barely) and the cast around him, particularly Jacob Batalon as his chubby, funny pal and Zendaya shows promise as the next film’s “MJ”.

It’s funny throughout. I particularly liked the Captain America PSA’s.

It’s not great film-making, but it’s more fun than it seems, and then you start to realize that the bar isn’t all that high for Spider-Man movies. It still has other issues and short-comings, but we all enjoyed it, and that is not a common enough result of a movie these days.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017) movie poster

director Patty Jenkins
viewed: 06/03/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I’m sorry to say it, but Wonder Woman sucks. It’s a very bad movie. Especially at the beginning and then again at the end. Somewhere around the middle, in part due to Chris Pine who gets to be a little humorous, and in part to the WWI battlefield sequence, it picks up. But in the end, it’s awful.

I went in wanting to like it. I think it’s great that it’s the first female-directed film to earn such big money at the box office. I’m all for more female directors. But more for our Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Ana Lily Amarpour, and Julia Ducournau, women who make great films and should absolutely be seen and lead the way for more.

Wonder Woman is not it. The fact that it’s made bank means that Patty Jenkins will get another shot at it and hopefully will open doors for others. For DC, it’s their first big non-Christopher Nolan hit and will no doubt bolster their franchise leading up to next year’s Justice League.

But it makes no advancement for anything else.

Gal Godot is beautiful but she doesn’t have a lot to do when not pausing in slo-mo to hit a style shot. Diana can read every known ancient language but come to the modern world and she’s a gorgeous fish out of water and naive to boot. Pine merely has the better role and lines and gets to be more charming. Quite a shame and ironic.

And the film’s visual style seems like a brightened up Zack Snyder, who was a producer and contributed to the story as well.

Ah well.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) movie poster

director James Gunn
viewed: 05/06/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

In 2014, James Gunn performed a magic trick, turning an obscure Marvel Comics entity into a major Marvel Studios franchise in Guardians of the Galaxy. Shareholders and fans thrilled.

No longer obscure, but rather hotly anticipated (by my 13 year old daughter among many), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes shooting out of the gate of summer fare 2017. Like any sequel, more is more, when it comes to the stuff that fans loved the first time: comic banter, AM radio tunes, stunning sci-fi visuals, and baby Groot.

But as is also common in sequels, more is not always more.

Guardians 2 is more, 136 minutes more.

The real flaw though is in the script. It’s nowhere as sharp and funny as it should be. And then the whole “daddy” or “family” issues theme. It’s heavy handed. It’s cliché as cliché  can be and super-tiresome. And here it really sucks the life out of the movie.

Favorite elements: David Bautista as Drax gets the best lines and moments, nicely paired with opposing counterpart in Pom Klementieff as Mantis. And most of the visual design and character designs are stunning and super-fun.

Least favorite element: Bradley Cooper’s Rocket.

Coming out of the movie, my son was unsurprisingly unimpressed. My daughter was not nearly as enthusiastic as I would have thought, considering she laughed through much of it.

I don’t know if all of the fans will be happy, but I’m pretty sure the shareholders will be.

Logan (2017)

Logan (2017) movie poster

director James Mangold
viewed: 03/05/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My daughter was very excited to see that Logan was to be released on her 13th birthday. And for her birthday, I took her and a couple of her friends to see Logan. It’s a small sample size, but based on my experience, 13 year old girls LOVE Logan. It even brought tears to their eyes.

Surprisingly violent and successfully gritty, Logan takes the Wolverine character as played by Hugh Jackman into the future, the year 2029, where Logan is ailing from blood poisoning, alcoholism, and the bitter, brutal events that led up to the elimination of all mutants. It’s only him and Caliban (Stephan Merchant) left, caring for the very ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

That is until his clone daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) shows up. She’s like him, with those claws, and when she’s unleashed, she’s a killing machine.

The story then turns to a run for the Canadian border, to some safe haven for Laura and her test tube mutant brethren. There is an amazing poignancy in this, with the current state of affairs and the plight of immigrants in the United States at the moment.

The film has some political commentary, but really it’s a character-driven film, with a lot of brutal dismemberment, slicing and dicing. And for my money, not just the 13 year olds in our party, it works well. Jackman and Stewart and Keen derive their pathos.

It’s a superhero film stripped of costumes and magic, humanized, or at least de-superhero-ized. Easily the best film in the series.