Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

Director: David Leitch

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The superhero comedy Deadpool 2 certainly isn’t the easiest movie to write a review for, as it’s so similar to the original. That being said, if it’s more of the same, you can sign me up, as the first Deadpool flick was too good to resist. Here, the adventures of mercenary-turned-superhero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) continue, as he sets out to prevent a young mutant nicknamed Firefist (Julian Dennison) from being killed by time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin).

As I hinted at earlier, Deadpool 2 maintains the crass, fourth-wall-breaking humor of the first one. However, for all the comedy (which almost always successfully hits the mark), this film has some real heart to it that makes it more than just another R-rated snarkfest. The actions of the characters are not simply consequence-free, but the picture still manages to keep a light-hearted tone.

While the action in 2016’s Deadpool was far from bad, its sequel ups the ante. While it’s not top-notch, the combat here is an improvement over the original installment in the franchise. Ryan Reynolds seems to be having plenty of fun throughout the movie, but I feel the need to bring up Josh Brolin’s role as the villain. He mostly plays things straight and serious, but he never falls victim to does-he-even-know-what-kind-of-movie-he’s-in-right-now? syndrome.

A few people have taken issue with the Deadpool features for trying to subvert the superhero subgenre while largely playing by its rules (in terms of storytelling). I don’t have much of a problem with this. I mean, what’s a comic book movie without a big, high-stakes confrontation with the baddies at the end? Overall, I can’t say that I enjoy Deadpool 2 as much as the 2016 original, but it’s still a swell piece of light-weight action-comedy fluff.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Deadpool (2016) Review

Director: Tim Miller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

While not the first superhero movie rated R by the MPAA, Deadpool helped prove that fully R-rated comic book flicks could be box office smashes, with all the requisite violence, sex, and swearing. In this film, terminally-ill mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is tortured into immortality, leaving him gruesomely scarred from head to toe. He then sets out to exterminate the goons who gave him his current looks. It sounds pretty heavy, but this is, in fact, an action-comedy.

Few films smash down the fourth wall quite like Deadpool. It’s a relentlessly irreverent and often satirical take on superhero pictures that takes no prisoners. However, don’t worry about your expectations being subverted too much. As meta as the whole thing is, this feature still manages to invest the audience in its characters and make you care about the outcome of the story.

With a plot often told in a non-linear fashion, there’s no shortage of either laugh-out-loud-funny jokes or bloody action. While the fight scenes get a thumbs-up from me, it’s really the comedy that’s at the heart of Deadpool. It really is an endless series of smart-ass pop culture references. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.

This is sort of a spin-off of the X-Men series, but you should be fine watching this movie even if you know nothing about the rest of the characters in its expanded universe. With action that comes fiery and frequent and gags that land far more often than they fail, Deadpool is a recommended piece of cinema for fans of superhero flicks. Well, I should specify that it’s for superhero aficionados who are old enough to watch R-rated films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

King of the Underworld (1939) Review

Director: Lewis Seiler

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 67 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

King of the Underworld was the first movie where Humphrey Bogart got his name placed over the title in the opening credits. This drama is about how husband-wife doctor duo Niles Nelson (John Eldredge) and Carole Nelson (Kay Francis) and failed writer Bill Stevens (James Stephenson) find themselves ensnared in the world of crime by gangster Joe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart). It’s not remembered among Bogie’s best work, but it’s still a competent, little film.

According to the Trivia section of this picture’s IMDb page, director Lewis Seiler’s heart wasn’t really in this one, which might explain a slightly sloppy moment or two. Still, the results are quite good, with the cinematography occasionally having a shadowy, proto-noirish look. It should also be mentioned that the feature is actually kind of funny at times. It’s a charming flick.

On the action front, there’s not too much to write home about. There are a couple of instances when characters let a Thompson submachine gun rip, but this is far more subdued than, say, Scarface (1932) or ‘G’ Men (1935). An action film, this is not. That being said, the ending puts a pretty interesting and surprisingly satisfying twist on the usual gangland shootout finale trope.

Running a minuscule sixty-seven minutes, King of the Underworld is a film that’s difficult to regret watching. The succinct plot is always in motion and Bogart’s fine performance anchors the finished product. I really enjoy watching retro mobster movies, and this feature will scratch any itch for other aficionados of those types of works.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Grease (1978) Review

Director: Randal Kleiser

Genre(s): Comedy, Musical, Romance

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The 1978 musical Grease is a nostalgic look back on teenage life in the 1950s as seen through the lens of the 1970s. You see, high school cool cat Danny (John Travolta) had a summer fling with an Australian girl, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), and now doesn’t know that they’re attending the same school together. This one follows the standard rom-com formula pretty closely, so no points will be awarded for guessing how it ends.

The biggest draws of this film are its iconic musical numbers. Even people who’ve never seen the movie before can probably hum along with one or two of the songs featured here. My favorite ditty is “Grease,” performed by Frankie Valli, which plays over the animated main title sequence. It’s a disco tune, but doesn’t feel particularly out-of-place in the fifties setting.

The detractors of this picture point out things like that the high schoolers here look like forty-year-olds (perhaps it was all that underage smoking and drinking?). Another common criticism is the flick’s dubious sense of morality, where surrendering to peer pressure, unprotected sex, reckless driving, and chain-smoking are seen are ultimate cools. I can’t subscribe to what Grease says about right and wrong, but, if you’re getting your moral direction from this feature, you have deeper issues.

The film only has just enough conflict in it to sustain itself. Sure, the characters of Danny and Sandy go back and forth with each other, but most of the work is about teens partying, singing, and dancing. The story’s simple, but the lively music, heavy on the rock ‘n’ roll and pop, makes Grease worth watching. Joan Blondell shows up as Vi, a waitress at a diner frequented by the main characters.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

American Hustle (2013) Review

Director: David O. Russell

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 2013 con artist dramedy American Hustle is frequently compared and contrasted with the works of director Martin Scorsese. I mean, the plot does sound like it belongs to a project that he might helm. In the 1970s, conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and conwoman Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are recruited by federal agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help take down some crooked politicians.

The film is equally concerned with its vibrant characters and its tricky plot, making it a well-balanced production. It’s not a riotously funny, laugh-a-second flick, but the humor that is here works better than I expected. The movie doesn’t always have the gravity it needs, although the murderous mob is eventually introduced into the picture to add some weight to the proceedings.

American Hustle tackles the 1970s with relish. The snappy soundtrack is full of recognizable songs from the time period that greatly elevate the feature. Of course, it would be hard to review this movie without mentioning the oft-outrageous hairdos worn by the star-studded cast. They’re just reminders in case anybody missed the memo that this is the seventies.

This isn’t the most substantive film ever made, but it’s quite entertaining once you get into its groove. Despite how loose everything is played, the plot might be a tad too complicated at times. Just a tad. It’s very good and never boring, but, if I had to take my pick from the con artist fiction litter, I think I’d go with the television series Sneaky Pete.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) Review

Director: Sam Liu

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 76 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The animated film Batman: The Killing Joke was the first Batman movie to be released with an R rating in the United States. Based on a popular graphic novel of the same title, the picture follows clown criminal Joker’s (voiced by Mark Hamill) attempts to destroy the Gordon family, with superhero Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) trying to save the day. Thanks to more adult content than your typical superhero flick, this one’s for the grown-ups only.

One of the best aspects of this feature is the voice talent. In some ways, this is a continuation of the revered Batman: The Animated Series, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. The voice-acting is top-notch and, along with the stirring animation, carries the movie. The pacing also garners a thumbs-up from me, with tons of material being crammed into the seventy-six demented minutes of runtime.

Batman: The Killing Joke was met with a lukewarm, at best, reception, partially thanks to the handling of Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong), better known as “Batgirl.” The film doesn’t really know what to do with her and the alarming accusations of sexism might hold water. The Joker-less first act of the motion picture is also only tangentially related to the rest, which is also something that holds the product back from true greatness.

Very dark, macabre, intense, and sinister, The Killing Joke just might have the best depiction of the Joker yet seen on film. Unfortunately, some questionable narrative decisions almost derail this train. It’s an impossible flick to turn away from, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel “right.” The work may have also been better served by a less ambiguous ending, but maybe that’s just me.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Stone Killer (1973) Review

Director: Michael Winner

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The year before Death Wish (1974) was released, that picture’s director (Michael Winner) and star (Charles Bronson) collaborated on another crime flick, this one called The Stone Killer. The plot’s about police detective Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) investigating a series of murders and uncovering a mob-related revenge massacre in the works. Death Wish it ain’t, but it still has its moments.

This street-tough actioner moves along at a solid pace, starting off with a figurative “bang” and rarely letting up, as the bodies start to pile up. The Stone Killer is set in a dirty, unpleasant world that reflects the American anxieties of the 1970s. This means there are a couple of scenes depicting police brutality that probably wouldn’t make it into the film if it was made nowadays.

While this movie isn’t as entertaining as Death Wish, it is noticeably more action-packed than that 1974 crime-drama. The carnage is squib-heavy and exciting, with there being a few shootings, a nice vehicle chase, and a couple of gunfights. Bronson is in full action-hero mode here, managing to fill a respectable number of body bags.

The Stone Killer may not be top-tier Bronson, but there’s enough here to like to make it worth recommending. Yeah, it does sometimes feel like the plot was just constructed so that bloody action set-pieces could hung off of it, but I can’t hold that against the movie too much. This feature also stars Martin Balsam as mafia boss Al Vescari. Balsam would later reunite with Bronson and Winner in the unintentionally hysterical Death Wish 3 (1985). Too bad this film didn’t get a cheesy sequel called The Stoner Killer where Bronson shoots hopped-up dope fiends on the loose.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Breakheart Pass (1975) Review

Director: Tom Gries

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery, Thriller, Western

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

It may just be me, but it doesn’t seem like Hollywood cranks out too many mystery-western movies. If that’s a genre combo that you’ve been looking for a film from, Breakheart Pass is worth looking into. Set, of course, in the Wild West, outlaw Deakin (Charles Bronson) finds himself on a train full of medical supplies headed for a diseased military outpost. To complicate matters, people are constantly disappearing or winding up dead on the locomotive.

Written by Alistair MacLean, who wrote the novels that pictures like The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Where Eagles Dare (1968) were based off of, this flick has a solid mystery at its center that never gets too confusing. It’s not too complicated or convoluted, but it is appropriately satisfying. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Charles Bronson in the middle of a murder mystery on a train in the Old West?

Famous stuntman and action choreographer Yakima Canutt served as the second unit director for the movie, handling the set-pieces (it was the last time he would have such a position on a film). I can’t say that it’s his best work, but there is a mighty fist fight atop a moving train car that’s a bit hair-raising. It appears to be death-defying. Sure, the ending gets a little on the silly side, but Breakheart Pass works just as well on the adventure side as it does on the mystery front.

I think that this movie, while not top-of-the-line, is a success. Train aficionados will probably like it, thanks to most of it being set on a locomotive or the immediate exterior of one. Two of Charles Bronson’s notable co-stars here are his real-life wife Jill Ireland (as Marica) and Ed Lauter (playing Claremont), who Bronson would later team up with in the accidental masterpiece Death Wish 3 (1985).

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Mr. Majestyk (1974) Review

Director: Richard Fleischer

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Mr. Majestyk is the 1974 film where Charles Bronson literally plays a badass melon-farmer. The movie’s straightforward plot concerns Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson), the owner of a watermelon farm who finds himself on the run from the law with vile mob hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) by his side. Yes, people will die, cars will be chased, and watermelons will be shot to shit.

How’s the action? Well, it’s not outstanding, but it’s ably-done. Perhaps the best action set-piece in the entire flick comes in the first act (it’s the one where Charles Bronson and Al Lettieri’s characters are forced to set off together after escaping from the police). It should be noted that there are some stretches with no action that might test the patience of some viewers.

Bronson is clearly the star of the show. As you might expect, he plays yet another one of his classic, silent tough guys here. However, it would be a crime to not at least mention Lettieri’s performance as a hot-headed murderer. The rest of the characters are fine. They’re pretty easy to tell apart from one another, so the filmmakers got that right.

Okay, this one has a kitsch moment or two, but it’s really a thrill to see ol’ Bronson portraying a macho, melon-farming son-of-a-bitch. Fans of the actor will find this an enjoyable ride. The shotgun-blasting Mr. Majestyk was actually released the same year as the more-famous Bronson crime-drama Death Wish (1974), which would prove to be a landmark in the actor’s career.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

48 Hrs. (1982) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1982 action-comedy 48 Hrs. is an excellent example of how the right casting can save a movie. Here, Eddie Murphy is the hero of the production. The story of the picture in question is about a down-on-his-luck San Francisco police officer named Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) who reluctantly teams up with imprisoned con man Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to track down a pair of cop killers. It’s often considered one of the first of the “buddy-cop” subgenre, but, in this case, only one of the two main characters is a lawman.

It’s largely thanks to Eddie Murphy that this gritty crime-thriller keeps afloat. The movie really comes alive when he shows up, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. The plot may be nothing worth writing home about, but when Murphy’s on a roll, he’s on a roll. Be warned, though, that this flick contains quite a bit of racist, sexist, and homophobic language that makes it a little awkward at times.

Director Walter Hill is generally very good at handling action scenes, but I don’t think 48 Hrs. is one of his better outings when judged by carnage alone. The action here feels a little clumsy sometimes. It’s certainly not all bad, but it doesn’t feel up to the Walter Hill par. The sequences of violence, however, do feel appropriately grounded for such a tight, intimate film.

This is an important landmark in the history of buddy-cop movies, and it holds up pretty well today (except for the bigoted remarks, of course). Sure, it would be topped by Lethal Weapon (1987), but it still has a sleazy, dirt-under-the-fingernails charm all to its own. Also, David Patrick Kelly, perhaps better known as “Sully from Commando (1985)” makes an appearance as criminal Luther.

My rating is 7 outta 10.