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Deadpool 2, Geriatric Love & British Ghosts in Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Deadpool 2, Geriatric Love & British Ghosts in TheatersPhoto via IMDb.
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The Summer of Josh keeps rolling with Josh Brolin’s second blockbuster villain of 2018, alongside the avocado-faced Ryan Reynolds in the snarky-with-a-heart-of-gold sequel, Deadpool 2. But what if you’re not interested in superheroes or comic books or dubstep? If you like spooky anthologies or the degradation of an entire generation of Oscar winners, this weekend has you covered.

Deadpool 2

Machine gun fire gags, self-referential comments, foul language, meta laughs, gore for the sake of comedy and fourth-wall bursting—it appears the sequel to 2016’s surprise blockbuster Deadpool cometh.

Since we left Wade/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the avocado-faced super-anti-hero spends his days dispatching international criminals and his nights snuggling tight with his beloved Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When tragedy strikes, Wade spirals into suicidal depression and finds himself in the titanium arms of X-Man Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), by the side of troubled adolescent mutant Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and then in the path of time-traveling mercenary Cable (Josh Brolin, having a good year).

In the midst of all this, Reynolds never stops cracking wise on every comic book or pop cultural reference that can be squeezed into two hours. Busts of laughter pepper the film’s landscape like mines. It’s fun. Hollow, but fun.

Origin stories are tough, but following a fresh, irreverent surprise of an origin story might be even tougher. Deadpool’s laughs came often at the expense of the gold-hearted, furrow-browed, money-soaked superhero franchises that came before it. Now a cash machine of a franchise itself, riffing on that same bit is a difficult sell. Deadpool 2 has essentially become the butt of that very joke.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick return, sharing the pen with Reynolds this go-round. Atomic Blonde director David Leitch takes the helm, promising the inspired action that made his Charlize Theron spy thriller so very thrilling.

But Leitch’s action feels saddled and uninspired, and Reese and Wernick’s screenplay is basically a reimagining of a truly excellent time-travel flick from a few years back (that will remain nameless to avoid spoilers).

Deadpool 2 is very funny, often quite clever, and sometimes wrong-minded in the best way. An Act 2 parachuting adventure feels magical, and the new blood brings fresh instinct to the mix. Dennison straddles humor and angst amazingly well, and Zazie Beetz brings a fun energy to the film as the heroically lucky Domino.

Brolin, for the second time in a month, commands the screen with a performance that has no right to be as nuanced and effecting as it is.

Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds, but he’s just so good at it.

The film’s cynical, hard-candy shell makes way for a super-gooey inside that Reynolds doesn’t have the capacity to carry off. Worse still, it undermines the biting sensibility that made the first Deadpool such an antidote for the summer blockbuster.

But, I guess that’s what happens when you become the thing you mock.

Grade: B-

Book Club

Book Club offers up a boatload of veteran Oscar winners and nominees, but limps to its final chapter as a ninety minute catch-22. So many roles for senior stars: good! What this movie makes of those roles: not so much.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are Diane, Vivian, Sharon, and Carol, lifelong friends who began a monthly book club back in the 70s with the scandalous Fear of Flying.

With all four friends now comfortable in their golden years, the randy Vivian chooses Fifty Shades of Grey as the group’s next assignment. The girls are a bit hesitant at first but right on cue, Christian and Anna’s naughty romps reignite some fires down below.

Laughing at older people being sexual is beyond lazy, it’s ignorant. Thankfully director/co-writer Bill Holderman, in his debut feature, does seem actually interested in laughing more with his stars than at them.

But too many of those laughs are leftovers from every episode of Three’s Company, when Mr. Roper overhears Jack and Chrissy in the bedroom saying something like “It’s not big enough!” while we know they were just trying to hang a curtain rod the whole time! Ribaldry!

While the ladies juggle possible boyfriends (Richard Dreyfuss, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson) and a disinterested husband (Craig T. Nelson), contrived antics and double entendres go straight to the unfunny bone.

If you were checking off boxes, all the rich, white characters and romantic fantasies would seem like Nancy Meyers material. But Book Club can’t dig any more than surface deep, and even with all this talent, it never shows the confidence in character that elevates Meyers’s best (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give).

And then, a surprisingly subtle metaphor built around the comeback of vinyl albums gives you reason to believe Holderman’s heart is in the right place here, he’s just in over his head.

Grade: C-

Ghost Stories

Billed as a return to the old-school British horror anthology, Ghost Stories takes us through three paranormal cases passed from the chief investigator to a colleague he’s hoping can prove them false.

Ghost Stories is based on a popular stage play written by the film’s own co-writers and co-directors, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Nyman also stars as Professor Goodman, the paranormalist who agrees to look into the trio of cases that muddled his hero and mentor.

The movie invests far more in this set up than expected, developing a fascinating connecting tale rather than a simple framing device that holds together a handful of otherwise disconnected shorts. Instead, we get a deeper story, one that influences and is influenced by the shorts in ways more organic than the run-of-the-mill anthology.

And though the three individual shorts contain nothing extraordinary in the way of scares, each offers a richly developed world full of detail and shadow. Every short has its own personality and style, although they all contain puzzle pieces that provide a coherence to the overall story, little items that range from the peculiar to the outright spooky.

A great deal of the success lies in the wonderfully human portrayal delivered by Nyman, who conveys humility, pomposity, self-righteousness, pity and terror in turns without ever hitting a false note. Other solid performances pepper the film. Martin Freeman is particularly engaging. Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther also bring uniquely high-strung characters to life.

As scares go, the first short packs the biggest wallop. A night guard at a dilapidated old asylum for women sees and hears strange things, leading to horror.

If that sounds like well-worn territory, that’s because it is. In fact, the three short films themselves don’t deliver much in the way of new scares, but that isn’t Nyman and Dyson’s intention. The terror here is far less paranormal than existential, and clever clues combine with crisp writing to create a full picture that’s more satisfying than it should probably be.

Grade: B

Also opening in Columbus:
Disobedience (R)
The Escape (PG-13)
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (PG)
Show Dogs (PG)

Reviews with help from George Wolf.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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