If Hollow Man doesn’t dive anywhere near the implications of its T.S. Eliot–inspired title, settling for the form and function of a summer movie, it nevertheless offers something extra. That extra is the edge provided by director Paul Verhoeven, the perverse Dutch master who brings his cruel, nasty personality to the party. Despite Showgirls, Verhoeven is a distinctive talent—sometimes incoherent, but often bracing.
How deep do the pop culture references go in Deadpool 2? Let’s dive. In an early scene, our sardonic titular superhero (Ryan Reynolds) and his very special lady friend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are chilling after a long day of crimefighting, watching Yentl on TV, like you do. A few minutes later, after a traumatic incident that allegedly shapes Deadpool’s behavior for the rest of the film, we find him dazedly worrying about whether the song “Papa Can You Hear Me” from Yentl is suspiciously similar to a tune from Disney’s Frozen. (Deadpool 2, released by Twentieth Century Fox, is full of jabs at Disney.) This would be an amusing enough throwaway joke, but of course it will resurface at a later point in the movie. And this might be some kind of meta-trolling of this movie’s villain, Josh Brolin, whose real-life stepmother is Barbra Streisand, the star of Yentl. Brolin’s casting is almost certainly an in-joke itself, as he also currently does villain duty in Disney’s much more serious Marvel blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War.
Sicario (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), a violent, chaotic, adrenaline-fueled thriller set in the brutal violence of the drug war on the American border with Mexico, is a film that constantly seems to be spinning out of control. That’s not entirely by design, I fear, but it is purposeful. From the opening scene, where a missing persons rescue operation headed by FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) sends the team into a Mexican drug cartel safehouse, a sinister mausoleum hidden behind the chalkboard the walls, and a booby trap that takes the life of one of her men, we are thrown into a world where the rules no longer apply.
We are suddenly tossed along with Macer, a driven but idealistic veteran of an FBI strike force, into what appears to be a black ops campaign driven by the CIA. She is requested by a cagey company man named Matt (Josh Brolin, who tosses off his evasions with an amiable grin that hides his endgame), ostensibly an “advisor from the DOD,” and like her we are racing to keep up with the events. Borders are crossed (both physical and moral), information is withheld, and she suspects something bigger (and likely illegal) under the official cover of the operation. The American team has apparently chosen to fight the Mexican cartels with their own tactics, acting on information and advice from a former cartel man with a score to settle with the Mexican mob. Benicio Del Toro plays the advisor, Alejandro, holding his cards close to his chest but never lying to Macer.
In the hard-boiled narration describing the gnarly nighttime world of Sin City, people are constantly talking about how rough it is and how lethal the people are. They left out one thing: You could also die of boredom here. Or so it seems in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a sequel to the imaginative 2005 film. With its all-digital black-and-white world and retro-film-noir mood no longer a novelty, the second film comes up short in inspiration and originality.
A batch of characters return from the first installment. One is Marv, the granite-faced strongman who idealizes a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba, also returning). Marv is played by Mickey Rourke, whose appearance has been freakishly altered by make-up and digital sculpting.
It’s the end of summer in New England, and the heat hasn’t broken yet. This might account for the fever-dream mood of Labor Day, a new film with an implausible premise but a passionate commitment to its anxious, sidelined characters.
Adapted by director Jason Reitman from a novel by Joyce Maynard, this story has a hook that sounds like it came from an old film noir. Divorced and depressed Adele (Kate Winslet) is out for a rare shopping trip with her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), who’s about to begin seventh grade. They are accosted by an injured man, Frank (Josh Brolin), who vaguely threatens them if they don’t shelter him until nightfall.
He’s an escaped prisoner. While recovering from an appendectomy, he jumped out of a hospital window and hobbled his way into the path of Adele and Henry. Now he has to heal up, and the single nightfall turns into a few days in a row in Adele’s dowdy house.
It probably won’t surprise you that Frank might fulfill a need in these two lonely people. So instead of trying to surprise you, Labor Day does nicely by creating a sweltering setting for a group of frail people and creating little moments of emotion from the situation.
Joe Doucett walks into an Asian restaurant and gets distracted by a large fish tank full of soon-to-be menu items. He stops and peers at a small octopus clinging to its side, then moves along on his terrible journey. This moment in the Oldboy remake might suggest Joe’s empathy for an imprisoned creature, but really it’s there as an Easter egg for fans of the original 2003 South Korean revenge drama, a movie with one of the all-time show-stopping moments in the cinema history of seafood.
This nod to the first Oldboy recalls what was startling and shocking about Park Chan-wook’s film: It might do anything and go anywhere—nothing was safe.
[Originally published inQueen Anne & Magnolia News, December 22, 2010]
Adaptations are always difficult – for the filmmakers, of course, but also for viewers who know the original and face a challenge in trying to meet the new movie on its own terms. With True Grit, the latest offering from Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, there are not one but two previous versions: Charles Portis’ excellent 1968 novel and the famous 1969 film. I nearly wrote “well-known 1969 film,” but given some of the asinine things written or said about it lately, it’s clear many people do not, in fact, know the film; they just draw on a reservoir of cliché assumptions that pass for received wisdom.
The Coens’ True Grit is an extremely faithful adaptation of Portis’ book but not a remake of the earlier picture. Virtually all the dialogue – glorious, crusty, 19th-century ornate – comes from Portis and can be heard in both movies. Both tell the same story Portis did, with some not-ruinous softening in the 1969 version and none at all in the new one. Certain shot setups in the new picture closely resemble shots Henry Hathaway and his cameraman Lucien Ballard made 41 years ago, but the Coens aren’t imitating or paying homage. It’s simply that there’s only one vantage from which to frame certain moments in the story.