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jadepietro

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362 reviews in total 
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12 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Let's Rumble...and Grumble!, 25 March 2016
7/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: A comic book fantasy that fancies itself a serious contender when it really needs to take itself less seriously.

GRADE: B-

SYNOPSIS: As the world comes undone, two superheroes, with opposing views about saving the world, battle each other.

Finally, the mystery is solved. That bothersome question that perplexed a nation comes to an end. Not since The Riddle of the Sphinx has a hypothetical query bothered so many and answered so few: In the ultimate battle between The Man of Steel and The Caped Crusader, who would rule victorious? In Zack Snyder's comic book blockbuster, both superheroes come to blows and the outcome is up there on the big screen in all of its CGI glory.

In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the stage is set for this heroic showdown, although it takes over half of the film until the deed occurs. Just as our world has lost some of its innocence, so has this modern day retelling. Cynicism and despair seem to not only fester in our superheroes nowadays. It is obviously in our film directors and screenwriters as well. This is a darker vision, but aren't most action blockbusters? Comic book heroes are no longer comic. So follows our films, the essence of pop culture and pessimism with our popcorn.

As its story unfolds, Superman (Henry Cavill) is an unpopular anti-hero. While previously fighting General Zod (Michael Shannon) to save the world, he has also systemically destroyed Metropolis in his battle of good v evil. Much destruction and many lives were mere collateral damage during this war to end all wars. One of these victims viewing the cosmic free-for-all is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who decides to take matters into his own hands. And the battle of egos begins...

On hand are many faces that doted the mythology of both superheroes. On one side are Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Mrs. Kent (Diane Lane), and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), reprising their roles and on the other, loyal servant Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and assorted Bat-gear and nifty gadgetry, all the money can buy. Watching the match-up, with rapt interest are Diana Prince (an underused Gal Gadot) and megalomaniac Lex Luther (an oddly miscast Jesse Eisenberg, substituting triviality instead of menace). Let's rumble! Or, at least, grumble.

With the exception of the aforementioned Mr. Eisenberg, the cast acquits themselves rather nicely, giving their one-dimensional characters some depth. Both Mr. Cavill and Mr. Affleck fill their spandex with the right about of coolness and sex appeal, the former with a broad- shouldered charm and the latter wisely underplays the brooding millionaire playboy.

However, script-wise, the film loses its footing, in the most logical sense. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice mixes political issues like racial profiling (in this case, alien v human), vigilantism, violence, religion, terrorism, and evil capitalism with its populist message. It's heady stuff, even if the screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer cannot bring together its own thought process with the numerous sub-plots that continually arise. The film relies on far too many dream sequences and flashbacks that only increase the film's length and confuse the main plot. Judicious editing would have only helped the film. Again, less is more.

But in the hands of its director, restraint is non-existent. He fills every inch of the screen with crashes, explosions, and in-your-face CGI. Mr. Snyder, not one of my favorite directors, I must add, throws in everything, including a kitchen sink. (It's true!) Still, this may be his finest film to date, He does keep things moving along, although it is hard to tell if the film's many action sequence are well staged on his part, due to the frenzied editing by David Brenner and blurry hand-held camera-work by Larry Fong.

With the film's superfluous multiple endings, justice may finally be served and a new sequel will arriving soon to a movie theater near you. (Many moviegoers in my audience wore Batman or Superman t-shirts and sat transfixed through the showing.) However, for this critic, the verdict for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is simply this: it may not be a misfire, but the evidence remains inconclusive. Call it a mistrial.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

Anomalisa (2015)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Irrational Man, 19 March 2016
7/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: A serious treatise on loneliness that, while making some intriguing insights, does ramble on and on.

GRADE: B-

SYNOPSIS: On a business trip, a lonely man searches for love among the ruins of his ordinary life.

I begin this review with a quote from Immanuel Kant: "Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination". This sums up the film, Anomalisa very succinctly. The film is an imaginative journey into the mind of a sad man who has lost all reason, living in a world where everyone is uniformly the same, in voice and appearance.

Nominated for a 2015 Oscar for Best Animated Film (and finally receiving wider distribution nearly 4 months later), Charlie Kauffman's stop-motion film has an odd yet intoxicating allure. It is a character study of a lonely man content to live within his own illusions, with reality just outside his grasp.

David Thewlis voices the character of Michael Stone, a man unable to connect with others. Michael settles for his cloistered existence. His responsibilities to his family and his job ties him down. He is a successful author and keynote speaker, discussing self-help techniques to the masses without the ability to help himself in his private life. On a business trip, he meets various strangers (all voiced by Tom Noonan). A feeling of hopelessness overpowers him. But it isn't until he finally hears a different voice in the form of Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that he finally awakens to life and all of its wondrous possibilities. He nicknames her Anomalisa (a cross between an anomaly and Lisa herself). Their encounter becomes the crux of the film as MIchael's sanity slowly becomes unhinged, in the most literal sense.

Writer / director Charlie Kauffman creates a dreamlike film that is visually captivating but leaves many questions unanswered. (Sharing directing credit is also Duke Johnson.) With its deep philosophical bent, Mr. Kauffman's screenplay allows for too much intellectualizing and grand- standing of the human condition, interfering with the beauty of his simple tale.

The film is beautifully staged with wonderful detailed sets by the production team of John Joyce and Huy Vu and a haunting score by the reliable Carter Burwell that adds to the melancholia. The film's initial premise is intriguing, like experiencing a profound lecture or reading a compelling essay or poem, yet the level of satisfaction will differ with each viewer. Does one like metaphysical debates about the importance of life, happiness, and the general state of the human condition? Is it time well spent or wasted on thought-provoking meaningless observations? Is the glass half-empty, half-full, or not really there at all? Was I caught in a freshman class of Philosophy 101? (As you might tell, my feelings were decidedly mixed.)

While I enjoyed the film's animation and the atmospheric toll on the characters, this wisp of a plot edged on monotony, even though the film dealt with some provocative concepts. Technically, the stop-motion aspects are quite effective and achieve a graceful elegance. (Midway, the film takes on a more surreal quality which I personally found more compelling before it reverses itself once again.) But the overall script needed more risks into a wider range of bizarre and weird images that are capable within this animated genre. Instead, Kauffman and Co. settle for a tame strangeness as it trips over in its own wordiness and drawn-out ramblings.

No doubt this film is a labor of love and, on that, it should be commended. Anomalisa is the type of film project that one can greatly admire, but love never became part of the equation for this reviewer. Like the character of Michael, I just could not connect emotionally. I remained an avid observer and outsider throughout this movie-going experience, with true happiness just out of my grasp as well.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Gimme Shelter, 13 March 2016
8/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: A sequel that has its own life, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a nifty little thriller.

GRADE: B

SYNOPSIS: Trapped inside a bunker with strangers, an injured woman must decide which is the safer place for her.

JIM'S REVIEW: Less is more, especially when trying to solve a mystery. The fun is in unraveling the clues and following them to their logical conclusion. (It was Colonel Mustard, in the Conservatory, with a Candlestick.) No spoilers here! The less you know about the plot of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the more enjoyment you will have in this classic detective game.

With that in mind, I will only expose the set-up. Three characters are hold up in a bunker with the threat of world annihilation above. But is that really the case? Is the evil within or just out of reach? Which haven is the safer choice?

John Goodman plays Howard, the unhinged (or completely sane) master of the house. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Michelle, his guest (or prisoner). It is essentially a two-character drama as tensions mount between them. John Gallagher, Jr., in a smaller role, plays Emmitt, the third party in this match-up.

Under Dan Trachtenberg's astute direction, all of the actors are solid. Their give-and-take with the characters pays off convincingly. The film mashes up the sci-fi genre with the mystery quite nicely. The damsel-in distress moments build to a frenzied and taut survival lesson, with some unexpected twists and turns along the way. Credit the creative screenplay by a trio of talented writers, Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. Their script wisely stays focused on the personal level between the characters and their apocalyptic dilemmas. The claustrophobic elements are front and center and add to the suspense, as does Stefan Grube's editing. Ramsey Avery's set-piece provides some wonderful insightful touches (and clues) in its home-sweet-home feel.

Like all mystery thrillers, the ending will either satisfy you or not, depending on how much you have personally invested in this charade and the believability in the film's narrative. (I was fine with the ending and found it did fulfill my expectations, with a few questions still unanswered, but then I am a stickler for logical sense in my thrillers.) 10 Cloverfield Lane combines all the attributes we require from psychological thrillers, sci-fi films, and horror stories quite efficiently which makes the film creepy fun.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A Holocaust Film That Deserves To Be Seen, 11 March 2016
8/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: Despite its powerful images, the film's threadbare story feels more of a plot device than it need be.

GRADE: B

SYNOPSIS: A concentration camp prisoner goes on a personal quest to find a rabbi among the other prisoners who can give a dead child a proper Jewish funeral.

JIM'S REVIEW: 2015's Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film winner, Hungary's Son of Saul, finally has its nation-wide theatrical distribution release and arrives to our local cinemas nearly four months after debuting in New York and Los Angeles to meet Academy Award deadlines. (I will be including this film in my 2016 film list.)

Géza Röhrig plays Saul, an Auschwitz survivor and "Sonderkommando'' (bearer of secrets), part of a select crew of prisoners whose daily routine includes cleaning the concentration camp's showers and efficiently disposing of the bodies of Jewish victims.

First-time director László Nemes conveys strong images of the atrocities. He usually shows the violent acts in distant background shots, making these cruel and senseless acts more horrific and focusing on Saul himself and his numbing reaction to the slaughter surrounding him. It is an auspicious debut of a talent to watch.

The film is brutal and most effective in its handling of the daily torture and murder that befell the Auschwitz Jewish population. Its matter-of-fact telling and use of sound design and mixing heightens the tension. There is no music score to manipulate our emotions, creating an all too real experience.

But the film's screenplay, also by its director and Clara Royer, follows a rather thin storyline that, while heart-breaking, fails to make sense. If Saul's sole mission is to give a dead child a proper Jewish funeral, a human and heroic action, his incessant dedication endangers everyone around him, not to mention his ability to illogically travel throughout the camp without notice or objection. This gives our protagonist the appearance of being a foolhardy and dangerous loner, unable to show any degree of emotion or concern about anyone or anything else. This may be the trait the director wants in his character, yet it makes Saul unsympathetic and his motives and actions remain an enigma. Mr. Röhrig is good in his role, although other characters are sketchy and stereotypes of the genre (the angry rebel, the evil Nazi, the brutish bully, etc.), in need of more delineation.

Still, Son of Saul skillfully depicts the Holocaust with disturbing reality and reaches a sad and satisfying conclusion that makes this harrowing journey all the more memorable.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

Zootopia (2016)
6 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A Menagerie of Imaginative Delights, 7 March 2016
9/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: A delightfully zany animated jaunt through the detective genre with our four-legged animal friends.

GRADE: B+

SYNOPSIS: In this world, all animals coexist in perfect harmony and take on stereotypical human traits. This animated buddy cop film introduces an idealistic rookie bunny teaming up with a cynical fox to investigate a series of attacks.

JIM'S REVIEW: The evils of prejudice and the need for diversity are the underlying themes in Disney's Zootopia. We view a pastel-colored utopia sans humans where animals are "10% predator, 90% prey". That is until some violence upsets the natural order of things. Which brings Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) together to solve this whodunit.

The film spoofs film noir, detective stories, The Godfather, Breaking Bad, cop films, and other pop references as the duo go about following leads while not-too-subtly handling the message of tolerance and equality. The puns are plentiful in Jared Bush and Phil Johnson's funny screenplay which contrasts this crazy metropolis with our real world. The script uses animal profiling to the nth degree in a most seductive and insightful way which brings about much of the comedy elements.

A committee of directors are credited with this film (Bryon Howard, Rich Moore, and, once again, Mr. Bush), so their individual contributions are not readily known, but their end result is seamlessly blended to create a wonderful children's film that seems more skewed for the adults in the audience.

The animation is highly detailed and beautifully rendered, creating a satirical universe. The visuals work in unison with a strong narrative, so rare in today's animation which usually panders to sophomoric humor and bad story-telling. Although the filmmakers lay their overly positive message on too thickly and their politics is biased to the obvious liberal left (of which, I firmly concur), this does not interfere with one's full enjoyment of the film's overall wholesomeness and "kumbaya" positive vibe.

Ms. Goodwin and Mr. Bateman bring such joy and credibility to their characters. Providing expert voice-overs as well are Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong (superb as a holistic yak named Yax), Nate Torrance, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Shakira, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, and Raymond S. Persi as Flash, the slowest sloth clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles, whose short (and long) bit is the film's laugh-out-loud highlight.

Zootopia is the type of film whose main purpose to to entertain and amuse. Yet, it doesn't shy away from some serious issues. This animated film is not afraid to talk about the elephant in the room, even when there is an actual pachyderm in close proximity, which makes it all the more charming and memorable family fare.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

Creed (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Knockout (Almost), 28 February 2016
9/10

(Rating: ☆☆☆½ out of 4)

This film is highly recommended.

In brief: A crowd-pleaser that carries its own weight due to some fine acting and direction.

GRADE: B+

Since The Champ appeared in the 1930's, the genre of boxing film has been an on-going cliché of sorts, the downtrodden overcoming the many hardships placed in his way. Always slow- motion shots abound...plus, training montages...the hand-held circular camera-work at ringside...leading up to the final bout! Even reviews of these sporting films become tiresome and unoriginal..."A real knockout!"..."Down for the count!"..."It pulls no punches!"..."Throw in the towel!" ( I will try and spare you these puns, although I cannot promise that I will succeed.)

A select few overcome the familiarities of the genre and achieve greatness like Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby. Some creating memorable moments like The Fighter, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Fat City, and the original Rocky. Others fail miserably like Grudge Match (a Stallone dud) and Against the Ropes, but most follow the winning formula with a high degree of entertainment. Creed is an exception to the rule when rating tales of pugilists. It works very well and avoids most of the clichés (but not all) due to some fine acting and sharp direction, even if the script is featherweight, routine and totally predictable.

Donny Johnson, a.k.a. Adonis Creed, feels the need to follow in his lost father's footsteps, enlisting the help of former champ, Rocky Balboa as his trainer. That's the simple premise of the film in which director / writer Ryan Coogler wisely concentrates on the human drama more than the blood sport, although his fight sequences are quite brutal. His direction is solid, except for a clumsy inspiration uplift scene involving bikers fans and his over-reliance upon the Rocky source, complete with musical cues and nostalgic images. He stages the boxing sequences most effectively and builds a nice chemistry between his actors.

Michael B. Jordan is a revelation in the role as Apollo Creed's illegitimate son. He shows the inner conflict and rage within the man, delivering a powerful performance. Sylvester Stallone redeems himself with a restrained and understated portrayal of his famous screen icon, successfully erasing the memory of his recent film work as an aging action star. Tessa Thompson makes a vivid impression playing Bianca, Adonis' love interest.

All in all, Creed surprisingly packs an emotional wallop (sorry!), thanks to the fancy footwork (oops, once again) of Mr. Coogler and company.

45 Years (2015)
Marriage, British Style, 22 February 2016
6/10

(Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

This film is mildly recommended.

In brief: A film that builds too slowly to a strong and powerful ending, thanks mostly to two consummate performers.

GRADE: B-

Two of England's finest actors, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney, star as a married couple celebrating their many years of fidelity when a wayward letter interrupts their celebration and their lives in Andrew Haigh's drama, 45 Years.

News of a lost love surfaces during the planning of an anniversary party for Kate and Geoff Mercer. Apparently, the body of Geoff's former lover, Katya, who perished during a hiking accident in 1962, is found. This news is a catalyst that has shaken this marriage to its core. The film tellingly shows the subtle changes in both spouses as it takes place over the week since the news was received.

The problem with the film is that it seems like it is filmed in real time, with its all too generous leisurely pacing and takes its time deliberately to build this tension at the cost of some boring scenes. Also, more time is spend on Kate's traumatic reaction than Geoff's which throws off the balance of the film and their relationship. The screenplay, by the director, shifts the focus from Geoff reactions to Kate's emotional vulnerability, so the moviegoer rarely experiences his angst and automatically sides with her.

Haigh provides some nice directorial touches (a sudden turning off a song on the radio named Young Girl, continuous closeups during a slide show that contrast the older Kate and the dead Katya, a climactic dance that distills all of the hurt with a final gesture that resonates). The film succeeds in showing the ravages of age and monotony associated with many long-lasting marriages quite well. However, more judicious editing and additional scenes with Geoff could have helped to define that character more effectively. As it stands, he still remains an enigma whose behavior is never fully explained.

Yet it is wonderful to see Mr. Courtney back on the big screen, even if his part is underwritten. His chemistry with Ms. Rampling is touching and authentic. But it is the actress who brings a fully restrained and introspective performance to this film which allows it to gather momentum to lead to a powerful conclusion.

45 Years is a fine character study that is enhanced by strong realistic performances.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

The Witch (2015)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Witchy Woman, 20 February 2016
6/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: The Crucible meets The Shining meets Rosemary's Baby in Robert Eggers' well- received but wildly overrated debut film.

GRADE: C+

PLOT SUMMARY: Set in the 1600's, faith lends a shaky hand to a devout Christian patriarch and his family as they encounter strange occurrences in a small New England town. Labeled as heretics, the family is shunned by the community and settles near a dark forest with talks of witchcraft and other evil forces lurking about.

JIM'S REVIEW: While the film is called The Witch, it is its subtitle, A New England Folktale, that reveals more about writer / director Robert Eggers' first film. Folktales were originally cautionary tales told to impressionable children to forewarn them of the dangers in the real world. The film uses its time and setting most ingeniously, recalling the religious repression of that period and the mass hysteria associated with sin and witchcraft in a Puritan village. It has also garnered the awe of many impressionable critics as well. While this psychological thriller has some strong and disturbing imagery, it cannot hide the many illogical twists in the plot that are more evident after the film reaches its unsatisfying conclusion.

One is initially captivated by the story, production values, and acting as the film tells its tale of a family surviving on its own after being exiled by the community elders. There are strange satanic goings-on as they settle into the woods (a bad place to be in most fairy tale lore): daily fire and brimstone sermons from an arrogant shiftless father, William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie), a cold and hateful mother who seems more possessed than humanly possible, lustful glances by a confused son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a pre-pubescent unhappy daughter, two creepy twins spouting evil talk, and a baby who goes missing. Nothing goes quite well for these outcasts.

The atmosphere is indeed moody and eerie, although the pacing of the film is in need of some stirring. Eggers is a solid director, and a talent that shows much promise. He creates a wonderful setting with much historical accuracy and his penchant for occasional surreal images with black birds, goats, wild rabbits, and subtle uses of blood to accentuate the perils surrounding the family are haunting and very effectively done.

The acting is uniformly strong. Mr. Ineson, sporting an anachronistic 21st century six-pack physique that could have tempted many a Puritan, handles the speechifying astutely and Ms. Dickie brings a sullen and disagreeable presence to her character, but it is the acting of the two younger members of the clan, namely Mr. Scrimshaw and Ms. Taylor-Joy who deliver the emotional connection needed to care about this stoic family and their creepy dilemmas.

Yet, as the story progresses and more and more supernatural things befall these victims, the leaps of logic become harder to accept. Mr. Eggers' script ultimately lets down the audience. His flair for visuals compensates for a lack of cohesiveness in his screenplay. There is also an over-reliance of heightened sound effects and atonal musical cues that telegraphs something wicked before it comes this way.

Just as folktales are themselves cautionary stories, The Witch may hold one's interest in its storytelling, but this reviewer must caution any moviegoer that this well-crafted tale will leave you more bothered or bewildered than bewitched.

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ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

Deadpool (2016)
7 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Reynolds Wraps It Up Nicely, 15 February 2016
7/10

(RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)

THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: Ryan Reynolds makes us care about this violent superhero and that's the better half of the fun.

GRADE: B-

PLOT SUMMARY: After a scientific experiment renders him disfigured but endowed with superhuman strength and powers, Wade Wilson becomes Deadpool, an anti-hero who wants revenge.

JIM'S REVIEW: The Marvel Superhero Factory unleashes another action figure from its assembly line of comic book personalities, a hip but crazed vigilante who goes by the name Deadpool. Coming from the second tier of players, instead of its popular A-Team of Avengers, this brand of superhero has some interesting traits unlike his predecessors. Besides loving to kick ass and destroy his foes, this character lobs double entendres and curses to anyone in his vicinity, beats everyone to the bloodiest of pulp (hence, the film's adult rating), and breaks down any walls in his way, especially the fourth one with his pithy and snide asides to our movie-going audience.

The plot is a typical revenge / action movie. Wade Wilson (a wonderfully charming Ryan Reynolds, who uses his sex appeal most appealingly) takes the form of our favorite mercenary, Deadpool, ready to do battle with his maker, Francis Freeman a.k.a. Ajax (a menacing Ed Skrein), a sadistic scientist and his lovely Igor named Angel Dust (Gina Carano).

Of course, Deadpool has help from a supporting group of friends that include his girlfriend, Vanessa (a winning Morcena Baccarin), loyal sidekick, Weasel (a wise-cracking T.J. Miller), and some other X-Men crusaders, Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). The action is non-stop and so are the jokes, which land most of the time. Deadpool's foul mouth works overtime to entertain his adult followers between the blood spatter and it all surprisingly works, excluding the over indulgence of too much slow-mo and CGI effects, frenetic editing, and shaky hand-held camera-work.

But the filmmakers never take the character or his plight so seriously as in other films of this ilk and are more obsessed with the dark humor aspects in their story. Credit goes to the screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick with their zingy one-liners and director Tim Miller, who gives the film the needed jolt of energy which allows this hero some distinctive qualities that other superheroes in the Marvel universe lack, primarily a underlying sadness that define the human character inside the superhuman.

But it is Mr. Reynolds who contributes the most to the film's success. The role fits him like a suit. His anti-charm is the real thing and the actor uses his physical presence to the nth degree, frontal nude scene notwithstanding.

Deadpool is far from dead. This avenger has legs (and muscle) with just the right amount of appeal. The movie will make a killing at the box office with a sequel on its way as we speak. So, fans of this comic book genre (and many new devotees) can enjoy the start of a beautiful friendship with a new adult action hero and all of his profanity and insights.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Not Much to Laud, 11 February 2016
6/10

(RATING: ☆☆½ out of 4)

THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

IN BRIEF: The comedy can be found in the Coen Brother's film, but it's sporadic mayhem at best, thanks mostly to a wonderful cast.

GRADE: B-

Journey back to the heyday of the Hollywood film studios and their bevy of stars who lit up the movie screens! The Coen Brothers' latest film, Hail Caesar, still has its stars acting aces, production values that wow, but not much to laud with a tiresome plot that barely comes together.

The film is an homage to the old Hollywood system, but it rarely builds to an absurd laugh-out- loud farce, rather settling on intellectualizing debates about faith and redemption during the Red Scare of the 50's. (However, I did have a non-stop grin on my face throughout the film.) The direction by Ethan and Joel Coen remains solid as they mock and worship these celebrities with their high cheekbones and chiseled physiques, ill-equipped to handle life, let alone fame and fortune. On the studio's roster are such choice characters, both behind and in front of the cameras. At the forefront is Eddie Mannix (a highly effective Josh Brolin) whose 24 / 7 job at Capital Pictures Studio is to put out the many fires ignited by the studios' acting talents (?). His clients include: DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an Esther Williams bombshell who wisecracks and grouses her way through every take, Hobie Doyle (a breakout performance by Alden Ehrenreich, channeling a Sal Mineo vulnerability to perfection) as an empty-headed Western star, Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum, making Gene Kelly proud) playing a song and dance man, and Baird Whitlick (an amusing George Clooney) as a rugged leading man type starring in a ripe religious epic in the style of vintage Ben Hur but without the class.

Adding to Mannix's problematic issues are Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) as a temperamental film director (but then who wouldn't be with this stars), Tilda Swinton as dueling gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, and in an all-too-short scenes, C.C. Calhoun (a funny Frances McDormand) as a frustrated film editor and an unethical agent named Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill). The ensemble is flawless and wondrously dopey, but they are let down by a screenplay that never aligns or engages its characters.

The film succeeds in mixing other genres (film noir, musical comedy, screwball comedy, Biblical spectacle) and this pastiche are the film's highlights. As long as the film remains on the studio stages, the film works. Were Hail Caesar! to focus more on these marvelous parodies, the movie would be a memorable classic bit about Old Hollywood. Instead it veers off course with subplots about Communist writers, a kidnapping plot, and religious affirmation scenes which goes on far too long without much merriment or laughs. The tone becomes stiflingly serious and labored and one wants more time spent on the wacky antics from these Hollywood types lost on the film set.

Still, there are so many standout moments to revel: Tatum's energetic six minute tongue- definitely-in-cheek dance number entitled "No Dames", Johansson's Busby Berkeley synchronized swim spoof, McDormand's all-too-short stint, Ehrenreich's singing cowboy's lack of intellectual sparring with the overtly sophisticated Fiennes, Clooney's exasperated buffoonery, etc. This ensemble creates vivid and interesting characters ready to leap to screwball heights but they are weighed down by a screenplay that misses so many golden opportunities to become a riotous comedy. The parodies are spot-on, the plot is duller than need be.

As previously stated, the film is a well-crafted look at Tinseltown, with kudos to the astute production design by Jess Gonchor, lovely period costumes by Mary Zophres, and Technicolor- inspired camera-work by the prolific Roger Deakins.

If the plot itself tends to meander all over the place and, too often, loses some of its light- weight footing, the small pockets of perfected glee from the Coen's inspired cast of delightful characters make the film a pleasant enough diversion. Here, it's the individual scenes of the film, the movie-within-the movie segments, which more than make up for the many missteps in this disappointing film.

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