Wednesday, February 10, 2016


So sweet.
Oh, boy. How do I even begin to describe how much I loved Deadpool?

Perhaps I should start by reminding you how sick I've grown of superhero movies over the past several years, and how—before I saw Deadpool—I would've confidently stated that if I never saw a dude with "special powers" in a colorful skintight outfit again it would be too soon.

But from the first second of this film I was laughing; it was clear Deadpool was going to be different. I won't spoil the excellent opening sequence for you (my far-and-away favorite in recent memory), but I will say that it manages to poke fun at pretty much every superhero-movie convention while also ripping on its lead and his, uh, not-so-successful past in the genre. (But hey, he did get a hot wife out of the whole Green Lantern fiasco, so the joke's on us.) Maybe the power of the title sequence stems from director Tim Miller's experience; this may be his first feature film, but in the past he was responsible for the opening scenes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Thor: Dark World, so strong first impressions are kind of his thing.

At the outset we find our masked antihero Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in the middle of a violent car-chase-turned-car-wreck-turned-shootout, complete with gratuitous slo-mo and a thumpin' soundtrack. What's unexpected (for those unfamiliar with Deadpool's comic-book roots) are all of the wisecracking and fourth-wall-breaking asides in the midst of the chaos, as if Deadpool didn't have a care in the world. But before we can really get our bearings, much less see how all of the mayhem ends, we're taken back in time to learn how Deadpool became Deadpool... and what exactly his deal is.

So, yeah, it's an "origin story" as expected, since this is the first Deadpool spinoff and everyone wants to pretend like the character's scenes in X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn't happen. (There are some hilarious jabs about that whole mess of a movie as well; Deadpool is at its snarky best when it's giving the middle finger to other superhero movies, and specifically the X-Men franchise.)

How ya like me now?
But for every way that the film is unconventional and unique in tone, its plot and story progression are about as generic as you can get. However, since I almost always care most about dialogue, I didn't mind not being exactly surprised by how Deadpool got from Point A to Point B in his life. I was having too much fun... which was still not as much fun as Reynolds was having with the role. He's never stuck out as anything special to me until this film. Now it's obvious why he's been trying to get Deadpool on the big screen for over a decade: he was made for this role. It's one of those characters you just can't imagine anyone else playing, and I can't say that about any other superhero character except for Tony Stark/Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr.

Deadpool's nonstop banter, vulgarity, deprecation and audience-talking could've easily come off as annoying if not executed perfectly, and then the whole film would've been a bust. Instead it's the only superhero movie since the original Iron Man where I walked out of the theater feeling like I just saw something new. I've enjoyed a few other superhero films (all Captain America installments) and tolerated the rest, but for the most part I usually get the sense that I'm just watching the same movie over and over again with a new bad guy in the mix each time.

A rare fully-clothed moment.
With Deadpool, though, the characters and their conversations felt fresh despite the familiar Wolverinesque origin story and the by-the-numbers ending, so I still must give credit to screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (the same writing team behind Zombieland). We learn that "the Merc with a Mouth" (as he's known in the comics) used to be Wade Wilson, a loner smart-ass with a special-ops background and just one loner smart-ass pseudo-friend (Weasel, played by the perfectly cast T.J. Miller of Silicon Valley) until he finds his match in Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), a hooker who can go toe-to-toe with Wade's crudeness and sarcasm. Their "meet-cute" consists of a I'm-more-damanged-than-you faux-pity-party competition, followed closely by a month-by-month sex montage that is, well... perhaps this is the place to point out that you should NOT bring your kids or nephews and nieces to Deadpool unless you want to have some reeeeeaaaaaalllllly uncomfortable conversations on the ride home. This warning also applies to adults who are obscenity-adverse; you are guaranteed to be offended within the first 5 minutes. Unlike other superhero films, this one is rated R, and it's no joke.

So Wade meets Vanessa, they fall in love... and then he finds out he's going to die. Cancer is everywhere in his body. He doesn't want her to see him fade away, so he takes a really shady guy up on an offer to subject himself to torturous treatments that will "force a mutation" and cure his cancer. Yes, that means that Wade/Deadpool might make for X-Men material one day. But not just yet. Not before he can completely and utterly diss the residents of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters several times over. And exact revenge upon the guy who ran the experiments that left him horribly disfigured... with regenerative healing powers.

Will you get all of the jokes if you're unfamiliar with superhero movies? Probably not. But you'll still get the rest, and my bet is that—again, only if you have a high tolerance for extremely naughty stuff—Deadpool will win you over, too. Be sure you stay for the end credits, which any child of the '80s will appreciate. Apparently there is also a second end-credit scene that was not screened for critics, so if you're already hanging out in the theater afterward, you'll be treated to that as well.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I love a clever tagline
"I totally loved PPZ," I texted my friend after I got out of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies screening.

"Are you drunk" was the reply.

I get it. I didn't expect to like this movie, either—much less enjoy it so much that I would recommend others spend their hard-earned money going to see it.

What's more, I can't even say my enthusiasm about this film stems from any sort of Jane Austen fandom. I've read not one of her books, nor have I seen any of the several Pride and Prejudice adaptations. Before you judge me to be some sort of uncultured moron, I'll have you know that I was in AP English throughout high school, but for whatever reason Austen's books were never on the curriculum. Maybe they figured we nerds would seek them out for ourselves? Alas, I did no such thing. I've never been about the whole "women in corsets" era.

Which, again, is why it's so weird that I adored PPZ. Its trailers made it look like it consisted of a bunch of supermodels being all pouty and sexy while hiking up their dresses to reveal whatever weapon they had strapped to their thighs that would be used to dispatch the undead. However, I was already hooked by the time that silliness hit the screen in the actual film. In fact, I was sold in the very first scene, where we see the ever-solemn Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) ferret out a zombie in a room full of stuffy high-society types. Unlike other parts of the film, nothing in this initial scene is meant to be funny, and somehow it works. We learn that 19th century British zombies are not of The Walking Dead variety; they can still act and appear human for quite some time. Which is what makes Darcy's task all the more suspenseful. When he finally zeroes in on the undead guest, he wastes no time in bringing him/her/it to a bloody end ... which we see from the zombie's perspective. That's when I knew director and screenwriter Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) wasn't going to phone this one in, and I allowed myself to think there could be a chance that a film called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might not be embarrassingly awful.

Girl Power!
As you may know, this morbid twist on Austen's classic story was first brought to us in novel form by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It focuses on Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), who's unlike most girls at that time because her goal in life isn't to be married off to the highest bidder. She's got several sisters (the aforementioned supermodels), and their father (Charles Dance, aka Tywin Lannister) is refreshingly progressive in that he, too, thinks his girls should aspire to more than "Mrs." status. And so he has trained them in Chinese combat techniques so that they can survive the cruel zombie wasteland that the English countryside has become.

When Elizabeth's sister Jane (Bella Heathcoate) and the rich Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) fall for each other, Elizabeth often finds herself in the company of Bingley's friend Mr. Darcy, who is giving Grumpy Cat a serious run for his money. Darcy is perpetually somber and frowning and annoyed, and it's clear he's a big ol' snob. Elizabeth's got no patience for that, yet over the course of time she and Darcy at least grow to appreciate each other's zombie-killing skills.

Not a pirate, though that would've been coolDespite the fact that soulless corpses are slowly but surely taking over their country, the characters in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies still fall victim to the worst human emotions: there is too much pride and there is definitely prejudice—and there's also extreme jealousy, paranoia and stubbornness. What I loved is that it was still such a human story in the midst of all of the zombie chaos (which never got very gory, by the way). The cast took their roles seriously and I never felt stupid or sheepish for enjoying the film. It helped that in addition to the leads, the supporting cast was strong as well, with standouts including Matt Smith (yes, the Eleventh Doctor) and Lena Headey (Cersei as
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, fierce zombie assassin = perfection) really getting into their somewhat comedic roles. I also thought that with a film like this, the director would almost be expected to try and get away with it looking kind of cheap and being shot in a straightforward manner, but that was never the case here. Believe it or not there was some really gorgeous cinematography by Remi Adefarasin, including a few memorable pan-outs to aerial views that have stuck with me.

As I was getting ready to publish this review, a friend wrote me to ask if I'd seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet. She had been given advanced passes and confessed that she "kinda loved it." I told her I felt the same. So that makes two of us...

Will the rest of you give it the chance it deserves? Or are you going to be all Mr. Darcy about it and assume it's beneath you? Your loss if you do! I think it makes for a fun movie night. If you end up seeing it, let me know if you agree. And be sure you stay a few minutes after the credits start rolling.