A Filmdog’s Salon

By Nesdon Booth

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Deadpool

Breaking not only box office records, “Deadpool” also breaks new ground in the Marvel universe. Carrying on the comedic spin of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Antman,” “Deadpool” goes all-in with raunch and profanity. Less the scatologically puerile humor suggested by the trailers, and more a sex-positive, snarky irreverence befitting the digital age, characters spit bad words and commit bad behavior with a nearly amoral aplomb. But there is an ethical center, however tinged with righteous vengeance, in which love, oh love, oh careless love, gets a solid nod.

Most notable are two features almost unheard of in the genre, a wild, non-linear narrative structure, that we succeed in following easily via a shattered fourth wall, and a touching and naturalistic love-story subplot, buoyed by a surprisingly powerful on-screen chemistry between Reynolds as Deadpool, and the always-wonderful Baccarin as his paramour, Vanessa. I suspect the love story (which is expressly called out through that porous fourth wall) gets a lot of its juice from the decision to morph the semi-obligatory-lyrical interlude into a bit of porn, a refreshingly realistic take on the falling-in-love montage, most clichéd as the playful game of tag in field of flowers or, when done more carnally: chiaroscuro bodies as abstract landscapes.

The other delight, and one whose ground was so well-plowed by “Antman,” is the self-referential teasing of the Marvel Universe genre itself. We are clued into this orientation in the first moments of the film, (not to mention the phallic placement of the pistol in the poster) with a hilariously satirical opening credit roll, which credits “Asshats” as the producers, and an “Overpaid Tool” as director. Only the writers get a pass as “The Real Heroes.” They follow this thread throughout, even giving Stan Lee his de riguer cameo as a less-than-noble strip-club DJ.

Filled out with big-action violence, (mostly harm-free against indestructible characters) and rife with big laughs and inside jokes, “Deadpool” is a delightful left turn for the genre, a detour that, given its wild financial success, is sure to lead to being badly overdone somewhere down its undoubtedly long and winding road.

Scores: Nez-82, IMDB-85, Metacritic-62

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HOW TO BE SINGLE

Star vehicles for some subset of who’s hot, thrown together in some derivative of what’s hot, are typical of Hollywood trash. “How To Be Single” is just such an exercise. Like “Sex in the City,” from which it was sloppily cloned, the production values are nearly worth the ride, with delicious cinematography and gorgeous production design with the Big Apple playing the faithful sidekick. Also cloned is the gaggle of over-dressed, over-sexed, under-ethical women surrounded and obsessed by a swarm of mostly cardboard males.

Rebel Wilson reliably delivers her typical schtick, and while she can be some fun, she’s playing in a whole different movie than Dakota Johnson, whose supposedly wise epiphany in the end feels hollow for the raunchy path the film took to get her there. Leslie Mann (Mrs. Apatow) has some juice and some chops, but here she chews up the scenery in a subplot that belies the chaotic focus of the film, tending to be wasted as detour even though hers is one of the better-developed storylines. Worse for Alison Brie, cashing in on “Madmen” and “Community,” chews up her own distraction of a subplot, whose only purpose seems to be to allow the film to qualify as an ensemble rom com. Solid journeyman film making, with mostly strong, if over-the-top performances, backed up by an A-Team crew: the typical curse of the Hollywood pot boiler. It may aspire to rise to the level of great ensemble rom coms like “Love Actually,” or “Crazy, Stupid Love,” but can’t even manage the orbit of “He’s Just Not That Into You” with which it shares its author.

Scores: Nez-61, IMDB-63, Metacritic-51

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WHERE TO INVADE NEXT

Michael Moore is a glorious gadfly. He has managed to make amazingly successful documentaries by featuring his sarcastic but playful sense of humor, and letting himself and his schlubbier-than-thou persona stand-in for blue-collar anger. In this, by far his broadest critique of American values yet, he creates a cute conceit in an opening montage wherein the joint chiefs ask him to find a country to invade where they can come away with something other than defeat and humiliation. He proceeds to “invade” country after country, where he examines one of their institutions he believes to be superior to ours. It’s a meet cute, but it quickly becomes trite and finally annoying when he has to march it back out to wrap up each sequence by actually planting a flag.

Overall, he wastes a lot more in the film by only getting reactions to canned talking points rather than staking out some neutral or provocative ground, and letting his subjects make the point rather than just having them nod at his condemnations of his homeland. Certainly he raises some important issues, but he wraps them so neatly in his own polemic ideology that they end up feeling bleached of any nuance, and play mostly as bumper stickers underlined with looks of incredulity at how foolish we Americans are. It becomes a bit tiresome.

He does manage to redeem himself in the last act (doesn’t he always) by allowing the final sequence in Iceland grow into more than pleas to “just jail the mofo’s,” and instead successfully concatenates the impact of the feminine voice in politics with an idea’s potential to transform public sentiment in unexpectedly rapid and profound ways. The high point is when he steps back, and in a series of long, slow takes, allows the solemn faces of several silent Icelandic women to plead for justice with nothing but their eyes. This manages some grace that succeeds in chasing away a bit of the snarky cleverness he has force fed us for the previous 70 minutes.

Scores: Nez-73, IMDB-72, Metacritic-88

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ANOMALISA

Charlie Kaufman is a genius. His scripts for “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” are astonishingly original, even psychedelic puzzles. Following the self-indulgent mess of “Synecdoche, New York,” as is typical of a first time director with too much budget and clout, in this, his second effort helming a film, (interestingly calling cinema “film” is a synecdoche itself) he completely, save for one delightful dream sequence, abandons his typically fantastic deconstructions, and opts instead for a detailed examination of naturalistic minutia.

Kaufman began this project as a staged reading, in which, for largely financial and logistical reasons, he chose to have all of the minor characters voiced by a single male actor-whether by singing a contralto aria or as both sides of a lovers’ spat. When this technique is applied to a film, it can be disorienting, but what at first seems annoying and pretentious, quickly becomes, in many ways, the heart of the structure, and central to the theme of the film.

When animator Duke Johnson suggested Kaufman make the play into an animated feature, the two serendipitously hit upon a beautiful and profound technique. By rendering a long, close observation of mundane behavior (which would have been tedious in a live action film) with meticulously crafted and tortuously detailed stop-motion animation, the film ascends into its own psychedelia in the way the technique forces us to observe so closely, in the minutest detail, these banal moments that are strung together to make our lives. The rustling fabric of the puppets’ clothes and hair, the quivering boundaries of the seams on the face applique’s reveals the tedious creative process, and we are drawn to see these mundane moments with the same precious detail as the animators.

Scores: Nez-94, IMDB: 75, Metacritic: 88

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