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Pokemon Detective Pikachu

After 17 hours of trailers, the movie started playing. I’d of course forgotten what I was here to see. Ah yes, Detective Whatever. It occurred to me suddenly that it was possible that total ignorance was not the best state in which to be watching this movie. Should I have take some crash course? Too late now. But there’s the naked truth: I don’t know what a Pokemon is or what it does or how it works or if it’s the name of the little guys or just the name of a show. I wasn’t even entirely sure that it was a show. I remembered a very popular app from a few years ago that had otherwise sane grown adults running around cities chasing after imaginary conquests, and that there’d been something back when I was a kid – cards, maybe? A show? Pogs? Definitely something. Which is why this movie is not called Detective Jay or Good Memory Jay or Jay Gives A Shit.

What I’ve surmised is: Pokemon are a kind of cute little…animal? With powers? And Pikachu is a type of Pokemon with a specific set of powers, including a lightning bolt tail. The human component of this movie is a young man called Tim (Justice Smith) who has MV5BMWVkMjIxOWUtYmQzMC00YTRkLWExNDUtNGEzOWY1Mjk0MTczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTgwMDI0MDA@._V1_just learned that his father is dead. His father lived in the big city where he worked as a detective. Tim was raised in a small town, by his grandma. He hadn’t seen his father in years. When he lets himself into his dead dad’s apartment he learns two things: 1. His father was working a very big case when he died – and he possibly died in its pursuit, and 2. His father had a partner, and that partner is not dead as previously believed, but alive, and also happens to be a Pokemon named Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that can be understood by Tim even though this is apparently unheard of. Oh and a third thing: his father never stopped loving him, guys!

But anyways. Pikachu has suffered amnesia and can’t really help solve the case, but he’s game to give it a go from scratch, which for some reason Tim is eager to do even though he’s an insurance adjuster, not a cop. It involves a purple gas that renders normally docile Pokemon into rabid attackers. Don’t ask me to make sense of this. The thing is, if you’re a Pokemon fan, or even just know the slightest thing about them, then this movie likely has more appeal to you than it does to me. But for me, this movie was really a buddy cop movie, just don’t ask me which one is the Ice Cube. But since I don’t know the pre-established rules of this universe, I don’t get the oddball pairing, I don’t get the humour, if in fact there is any. Ryan Reynolds lends quite a bit of charisma through his voice, but for some reason it keeps reminding me of Deadpool, which is probably the exact opposite of what this cute little pika pika persona is supposed to project. Although he is a hard-boiled cop. In a deerstalker cap. I don’t know, man.

But what I do know is this: the kids in the audience didn’t love it. And before the movie, I thought, dear sweet baby cheesus, we’re in for a ride. Because the pre-movie commercials were KILLING IT with this kid-packed audience. Telus had a commercial where a flamingo was dancing to She’s A Maniac, and I don’t think that Jerry Seinfeld in his entire career racked up half as many laughs as that flamingo did in a 30 second spot. There was a trailer for Abominable that was a laugh riot. So was Secret Life of Pets 2. This was a disturbingly easy audience to pander to. Sean missed a lot of this because he was patiently waiting in the drinks line to parch my ruinous thirst, and I felt the need to warn him when he got back of what was to come. But it never did. There must have been some laughs of course, and it’s possible my brain was so overheated trying to to unravel story lines I missed them. But there wasn’t much. It seemed in my screening that the kids were underwhelmed. I can’t say that I was expecting any kind of whelm myself. I’ve been perplexed and unanticipatory since I first saw the trailer. And I guess that’s what the movie delivered: slight confusion and utter forgettableness.

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Paper Man

Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels) is a failed writer, and perhaps just a failure, period. His successful surgeon wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) has rented him a little writerly cottage in Long Island and gifted him a laptop as well as the time and space needed to get to work on his second novel. Despite that sounding like absolute pure heaven to most of us, Richard doesn’t manage a shred of gratitude. Instead he wonders if this is in fact a trial separation in sheep’s clothing.

So I guess that’s why he doesn’t feel particularly guilty when he spends this time not at his desk but getting to know a teenage girl named Abby (Emma Stone). Abby is a lonely, solitary sort of person, despite the fact that she has a devoted friend and a bad boyfriend. She and Richard are practically kindred spirits, which they discover when he repeatedly hires her as a babysitter despite the fact that he has no kids. Yes, it plays as creepy as it sounds. And yet a friendship blooms in this unlikely, inhospitable place.

Despite Richard’s middle age, he is a child. He is petulant. Self-indulgent, he sees only MV5BMTMyNTk2MjcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTMyNzUzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1501,1000_AL_his own need and sorrow. This is further indulged by his imaginary friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds, before he played Deadpool or even Green Lantern), a super hero type in cape and tights who tells him what he wants to hear.

You can imagine what it might be like to be married to a Richard. This is a coming of age tale for a man who is way too old to need one. A late bloomer or just too pathetic for words? Richard straddles that line, uncomfortably. But he’s reaching out, so not all hope is lost. He’s perhaps reaching out to the wrong person, to an inappropriate person. How is this relationship likely to be interpreted – by his wife, or her parents, for example? And yet this is what it is to be human. It’s all about the connection. Richard and Abby can truly be themselves around each other in ways that they haven’t achieved anywhere else.

Jeff Daniels continues to be good in dark roles. Emma Stone is vulnerable and feverish. They’re a couple of wounded characters and they ooze their indie drama. There’s a danger of drowning in all the mutual wallowing. For all its quirk, Paper Man might be lumped into those “man-child-struggling-to-grow-up” films (coming of middle age?), but it is saved by some very compelling performances.

Deadpool 2

deadpool_2_poster.0There are times when it feels like a movie has lost a sense of direction, and is relying on one-liners to fill in the gaps until it finds a way forward. Deadpool 2 never feels that way, mainly because the whole film is a series of one-liners. That is how Deadpool 2 gets Deadpool right.

Deadpool is supposed to be an immortal wisecracking antihero, and that’s exactly what Deadpool 2 delivers. In fact, movie Deadpool may be even more potent than his comic book counterpart, since we have seemingly hundreds of superhero movies to send up and most are easy targets.  Deadpool makes sure not to miss any by taking seemingly hundreds of shots at them. None are spared, with Ryan Reynolds’ past superhero movies (and Reynolds himself) being hit as much as any other (and maybe more). More than anything, that self-effacing attitude is why Deadpool works.

Deadpool 2 is stupid and it knows it.  It will do anything to make you laugh, and it will succeed. But Deadpool 2 doesn’t stop there. As you get into the film’s rhythm, you realize that in between the jokes, there’s a ton of action, a superteam origin story, the onscreen debuts of two classic X-Men characters, significant character development, and best of all, a much-needed mop-up of some major continuity issues. And with an X-Force movie on the way, Deadpool basically has birthed his own cinematic universe (I’m treating it as a separate universe than the X-Men films since aside from Colossus, there are no other A-list X-Men in sight), so for better or worse, Deadpool is sticking around for the long haul.

Overall I think Deadpool’s success is more better than worse (though Jay would surely disagree).  Deadpool 2 is an entertaining movie that can co-exist with movies like Avengers: Infinity War (and Deadpool is probably the superhero best served by being removed from the Marvel Universe, as evidenced by Fox keeping him separate from the X-universe for all intents and purposes).

The comparison between Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War brings up an interesting contrast.  Since I was frustrated with the lazy writing in Infinity War, I should have been equally frustrated with Deadpool for the same reason.  Lazy writing is lazy writing whether or not a superhero breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it, right?  Then why did I give Deadpool a pass when I held lazy writing against Avengers?  The answer, I think, is because Marvel is asking me to take seriously that half of the universe was wiped out with a magic glove, whereas Deadpool is up front about how stupid and meaningless this all is, that everything can and will be undone, and figures out a way to have fun with it.  And that is why for as long as they are making superhero movies, there will be a place for movies like Deadpool 2.

 

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard

The following paragraphs will make you think I haven’t seen The Hitman’s Bodyguard; let me assure you, I have. But I will struggle to summarize its plot. Or even locate the plot from between all the gratuitous explosions. I think it goes like this: Ryan Reynolds was once the caviar of bodyguards, but he let some VIP get shot in the brains, and now he’s been downgraded to the spam of bodyguards, which is really, really embarrassing and he’d do just about anything to be caviar again.

Meanwhile: Samuel L. Jackson is a hitman who is safely in prison. BUT he’d also be an excellent witness in an international court of law against a crazed, genocidal Hitmans-Bodyguard-The-5-NewsBelorussian dictator (Gary Oldman). So he cuts a deal: if they let out his wife (Selma Hayek), he’ll give testimony. The only catch is that every other witness has been systematically murdered. Sam Jackson nearly is as well, but one of Ryan Reynolds’ disgruntled CIA exes calls him in at the last minute to try to get Jackson to the Hague in one piece.

I suspect that this movie is bad because it never slows down long enough for you to ask yourself whether you’re enjoying things. The thing feels like it’s been edited by a two year old high on 5 juice boxes. It relies HEAVILY on the odd couple banter between Ryan and Sam, but if this is a Deadpool wannabe, it should wannabe harder. I feel like I just ran an obstacle course and I’m just so grateful to have crossed the finish line I cannot recall a single event along the way. Bleeding eardrums, I think. Some tulips? A car that smells like ass. The Hitman’s Bodyguard may not be an actual movie but just a compilation video of Reynolds’ and Jackson’s greatest hits. Lots of motherfuckers. Lots of explodey explosions. I refuse to overthink this one.

Life

When I think about space, my limited imagination often goes to the arrogant American astronauts boldly planting a flag on the moon. In fact, there are now 6 American flags on american-flag-moonthe moon, one from each Apollo mission that landed there. Of course, none of these flags would be identifiably American any more, the stars and stripes long since bleached away by radiation from the sun. And none of them ever rippled in the breeze as the famous photo would have you believe (there is no wind on the moon, there is no atmosphere on the moon). It was a ruse devised by NASA and enabled by Neil Armstrong. The flag has a hidden metal rod along the top of the fabric; when Armstrong planted it, he gave the metal bar a push and the flag “waved.” It was a cheat, but after declaring a giant leap on behalf of “mankind”, the Americans wanted a way to tell the world “We got here first.”

Why am I rambling about the flags on the moon? Well, mostly because I don’t think there’s a single inch of film in all of Life where director Daniel Espinosa could plant his flag. It’s a complete retread. And I don’t mean that it’s bad, just that it owes a lot to space movies that have come before it, and it doesn’t have anything original to add to the “trapped in space” trope.

There’s questionable judgment and the flagrant flogging of protocol. There are plot holes to rival black holes. If you think about it at all you’ll be sucked into the vacuum of space where there’s no enjoyment of anything. But there is a way to enjoy this film: lay back and enjoy the ride. Because what Life is is a pretty intense thriller. My anxiety was so high I life3had to look away from the screen and focus on my gold Converse for safety’s sake. It was so tense I had the bones in Sean’s right hand nearly as mangled as a certain someone‘s in the movie.

Basically, six surprisingly attractive astronauts are hanging out in the International Space Station, waiting for a special delivery, some samples from Mars. Their mission is to probe the samples that arrive, and before long they’ve found the first incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars, which is cool for about 10 seconds before it starts trying to eat them. This is of course their own damn fault for pushing the thing out of hibernation in the first place. Note to everyone: curiosity killed the cat. So yeah, this alien thingy becomes very strong and oddly sentient and wildly out of control. The astronauts’ lives are in imminent and immediate danger, which is hard to care about because we hardly know them before the single cell from Mars becomes the monster that threatens humanity. And that’s the other slight problem is that the lives of the astronauts are overshadowed by the greater threat against all of humankind.

Luckily, the acting is pretty good. None of the characters is all that distinguishable but between Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, there’s enough charisma to circle the earth roughly 16 times a day (Zing! that’s an international space station joke, y’all!).

Okay, I’m quitting while I’m ahead. Life: fun but forgettable.

Dick

I wonder why I’m so attracted to satirical political movies lately? I’m in some kind of mood I guess.

Two ditzy, boy-crazy blonde teen girls (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) are on a field trip to the White House in 1972 when they wander away only stumble upon the President himself, Richard Nixon! This film is a parody, a not-true imagining of who and what brought down Nixon with the Watergate scandal. What if Deep Throat is actually two fifteen year old girls?

MSDDICK EC003In light of recent events, I suppose a film like Dick actually harkens back to simpler times, and I don’t just mean a time when Dunst would get top billing over Oscar-nominated  Williams. It was a time when teenaged girls had the luxury of not thinking about the president very much.

With a cast including Harry Shearer, Dave Foley, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, and Bruce McCulloch, it’s a great big serving of farce, an alternate version of history, and maybe one we could live with. I can’t help but wonder how people will rewrite the new administration, and if Trump’s legacy will eclipse Nixon’s as Biggest Joke Ever. The thing is, it seems to take at least a generation before we can find these things funny. At the time, Nixon was the guy swimming in corruption, sending your brother off to die in Vietnam. The reality of Trump as president may be even worse than that. It seems to already be inspiring some extremely  gross acts of hatred.

In order to buy the girls’ silence, Nixon appoints Arlene and Betsey dickpromo02sthe official White House dog walkers. Meanwhile, Trump’s shoe-horning his kids into his cabinet is an even scarier prospect. Since when can a 70 year old man not do business with being able to ask  his kids for advice? I guess that’s what you get for electing a dude with no experience. His kids are probably the least scary amid the many “contestants” he’s considering for staffing the White House.

As Nixon’s “secret youth advisors”, Arlene and Betsey have the president’s ear, and manage to influence a lot of his policies. Which has more positive outcomes for America than, say, Putin’s input will, or the KKK’s. And eventually it’s these sweet, optimistic young women who reveal the truth, which is a stirring reminder that the youth can indeed make a difference (whether or not they accidentally witness majorly classified evidence of wrongdoing).

Actually, I read an article recently that really broke my heart. It was about the fracture between young women and their fathers. The fathers, middle-aged white men, are the demographic who voted Trump in. Their daughters, however, not only abhor him, but will suffer the consequences of his actions for years to come. It feels like a betrayal to learn that their fathers so devalue their worth, their health, their bodies, and their prospects. That the men who raised them can also vote for a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist, a candidate who violates almost every lesson we teach our children from the youngest age. If you want to give it a read, you can find it here. And if you want to give yourself some hope that this too shall pass, watch Dick, a movie that re-writes a painful political past.

 

 

 

 

The Voices

Ryan Reynolds. Ryan Reynolds. Ryan Reynolds.

No, I’m not trying to conjure him. I’m just trying to remind myself why I put myself through this in the first place.

I first watched and liked Reynolds when he was on a TV show called Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place. Yes, it’s a terrible name, and surprisingly, they shortened it a couple of seasons in to just the Two Guys & A Girl (even more surprising that there were a couple of seasons). Horrid as the show was, I’ve liked Reynolds on a scale sloping markedly downward ever since, probably because he’s coasted on being a pretty but empty husk of a the-voicesman. In fact, the more I think about this, the more I realize I didn’t watch this to see if Ryan Reynolds is capable of breaking the mold. I watched it for the talking animals.

The premise: Jerry is just a normal, likable guy who happens to have pets who can talk to him. His cat, Mr. Whiskers, is particularly evil, as I completely expect all cats are, so no one is overly surprised when the cat takes things to a sinister place when an office-crush stands Jerry up for a date. The only thing more satisfying than wet cat food is gruesome serial murder!

The movie is actually kind of interesting in a way – it does a good job of showing us Jerry’s psychosis by giving us contrasting views of what he’s experiencing vs. what everyone else is experiencing. The difference is chilling the first time you notice it, and it’ll haunt you for the rest of the movie.

Jacki Weaver is a stand-out as his court-appointed psychiatrist, which you can 06-voices-review.w750.h560.2ximagine is a doozie of a job. Weaver is always a delight, a god-damned delight, and she’s an excellent stand-in for the audience as Jerry moves from cute to creepy. Is Reynolds any good? It’s clear he’s really into this role, but he kind overdoes the vacant eye thing. Unless those are his real eyes and he’s been wearing convincing puppy dog contacts this whole time! But he’s got a touch of that pre-Deadpool, charming psychopathy that just kind of works.

I’ll make no bones about it: ‘The Voices’ is an odd duck. I’d venture to call this a black comedy, but I’m also wondering what’s blacker than black? Okay, just Googled it, and here’s the scoop: there is in fact a colour blacker than black, and it’s called Vantablack. It absorbs all but 0.035% of light. It’s so black that our puny little brains can’t even understand it, so if you were wearing a Vantablack unitard, your hands and feet would appear to be floating around magically. Which is about right for when your Scottish-accented cat tells you to behead the pretty blonde and stash her in myriad tupperware. You heard it here first, folks, a new genre called the Vantablack comedy, only to be unfurled when the black just doesn’t cover it. It’s the kind of movie you should list on your internet dating profile just to suss out the wackos who respond “Me too!” It’s a great barometer for the people you don’t want to meet in a non-public place, and if you dare to date, then do not stand them up, and if stand them up you must, be sure to call your mother and tell her you love her first.

The Voices isn’t as funny as it thinks it is, and never achieves any true suspense. If you take it at face value you’ll find some cheap voyeuristic thrills, and a good dose of madness (served cold, without the insight sidedish). So yeah. This one’s memorable if you embrace the wacky and don’t mind the macabre.