Tag: ryan reynolds

The Croods


The Croods (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

The Croods is a family of survivors. As a unit, they have managed to avoid getting trampled on, eaten, poisoned, or falling to their deaths. Having an intact family is a great feat considering what had happened to their previous cavemen neighbors.

However, times are changing. Tectonic plates are on the move yet the patriarch, Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), insists that they continue hiding in a cave. After all, staying away from danger has worked in the past. But when Grug’s curious daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who has advance knowledge, like how to make fire, her new friend just might be the key to prevent their extinction.

“The Croods,” directed and based on the screenplay by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, surprised me because although I expected to be entertained, I did not anticipate to be moved. An early scene shows how the family hunts for food through an energetic and beautifully animated chase sequence involving an egg. When such an approach is utilized, something in the back of my brain begins to have a sneaky suspicion that the material starts on a high note because once the dust settles, the screenplay will drag. This is a happy exception.

It has a bona fide sense of humor—appropriate for children, adults, and kid-at-heart. A few of the jokes might sound a bit corny in retrospect but they do not upon delivery. But one of the main reasons why it can be enjoyed on another layer is because we get a sense of what it is like for the Croods to be a family. They do not always get along, especially the father and daughter, because, though some of them may not be aware of it, their life is slowly rotting from the inside out due to a constant fear of getting hurt or something not going exactly as planned.

Grug’s motto is “Never not be afraid.” One of the best scenes involves Grug being put into a situation where he has no choice but to move forward and take a risk. The writer-directors do a good job just showing us an image of his helplessness. There is no need to use words because we see that he is crippled by a fear he—for the most part—has created for himself. With most animated movies, filmmakers tend to think it is necessary to explain the significance of the scene that just came before. I appreciated that this one avoids that cliché.

As previously mentioned, the animation has a pleasing aesthetic. Because it has so much going on at once, it makes the eyes dance. Admittedly, I have a weakness for strange-looking creatures—animated or otherwise. Most of the creatures found here are not based on actual extinct living things but I enjoyed admiring them nonetheless. One cannot help but notice, for example, the texture of a feline’s fur, how a carnivorous flower undulates in a non-threatening manner just before the kill, or the manner by which an animal is at times given human-like emotions or responses through their eyes.

“The Croods” provides an alternative. Instead of being about the importance of friendship or being true to ourselves, it turns its attention on why it is necessary that we take a risk sometimes so that we can get somewhere we want to be—and hopefully one that is worth it. Though it does not delve too deeply within that subject matter, at least it traverses a less traveled avenue.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu


Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Let’s get it out of the way: Even those who know nothing about Pokémon may be able to find some entertainment value out of “Detective Pikachu,” a visually impressive fusion of live-action and computer animation—especially considering the fact that each “pocket monster” is so different from one another, even creatures simply waddling about in the background demand attention. But the problem with the work is straight-forward: the mystery is so elementary, so shallow, so painfully generic, one gets the impression eventually that the screenwriters—Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Rob Letterman (who also directed the picture)—were instructed to keep it light and safe. One marvels at the images on screen and it cannot be denied this particular universe is brimming with potential. However, what get is a crippled piece of work—for the sake of being easily digestible.

Seemingly throwaway moments and shots are creative and amusing. Consider the few seconds on a train as Tim (Justice Smith), our protagonist who investigates the apparent death of his father, wakes up next to a Lickitung. It is not enough that it is pink, quite sizable, and plump, or that it has a long tongue. The details of the tongue—its colors, its texture, the moisture exuding from its pores—are so alive that just looking at the Pokémon is funny in and of itself. What it ends up doing is even funnier.

Another example is a scene involving Mr. Mime. In order to get the next clue that may help to solve the central mystery, Tim and Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) are required to play the Pokémon’s game. Yes, Mr. Mime’s look—particularly its numerous brilliant expressions—demands attention. This time, however, the focus is on the Pokémon’s movement—its agility, precision, how it leans its body weight against thin air. For second we forget we are watching computer animation because the movements are so detailed, they come across as life-like. And then there are those in-between shots when various Pokémon crawl on electric posts as night turns to day. The birds freely soaring across the sky. It underlines a lived-in world.

As I observed images like these, I wished the same level of thought and attention were applied to the screenplay. A potent mystery, one that requires logic, risks, and perhaps even a leap of faith, would have turned the work from a marginally entertaining video game movie into a mystery that just so happens to have Pokémon in it. By castrating the work’s central core—the tug-of-war between mystery and detection—it becomes just another project to be forgotten once the credits roll. I enjoyed, however, that the picture offers a finality within the plot it introduces. Doing so opens up more possibilities for the inevitable sequel. I expect a more daring follow-up.

On a lesser note, some of the performances made me cringe at times. The acting is exaggerated when it is unnecessary. It must be very difficult to have to act next to nothing or something that does not emote. So I refrain from blaming the actors—I recognize that sometimes one must feel the need to be larger-than-life while performing in front of a green screen or a green figure. It is the director’s task, then, to be highly particular when it comes to emotions being conveyed on screen. Hyperbolic expressions and voice acting run rampant here—it is highly problematic that at times I felt like I was watching a movie meant for television. It is the director’s responsibility to demand retakes until every element feels exactly right. The leniency softens the work—a great frustration because the universe introduced is clearly high caliber.

Deadpool 2


Deadpool 2 (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is the answer for what happens when a story surrounding a foul-mouthed motormouth superhero is stripped away of its element of surprise. In order to compensate, writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds double down on the exaggeration to the point where it is uncomfortable and off-putting—that it is trying too hard to replicate what worked before. Whether it is in terms of dialogue, action sequences, or level of violence, nearly everything is handled with an exclamation point. Even its supposedly quiet moments, particularly scenes designed to tug at the heartstrings (which, naturally, comes with a wink, an elbow nudge, and a kick to the groin), are handled with a sledgehammer. I grew bored of this one-trick pony.

You know what would have been surprising? A sequel that actually takes its title character a little more seriously, one handled with subtlety, panache, perhaps even a teaspoon of elegance. A “Deadpool” movie that is out of its element. While there is no need to go in the opposite direction, it could have remained loyal the “Deadpool” brand while still providing depth, supplying another reason for us to tune in for the inevitable next installment. Instead, we are given yet another parade of sarcastic remarks that never let up, random film and music references, and would-be dramatic situations clearly designed to shock us. I was not moved by any of it because these are elements that we come to expect. We are fed the baseline, but we deserve more.

It isn’t that the story is without potential. On the contrary, it holds great promise in that Deadpool (Reynolds) must assemble a team of superheroes called the X-Force when it becomes apparent that he being part of the X-Men is not a good fit. (For instance, being a part of that ostentatiously virtuous group means no killing.) The joke is how could someone like Deadpool lead a team when he is nearly incapable of holding a serious thought in his brain for more than five seconds? Clearly, the picture wishes to be a comedy first and an action picture second. Hence, why not play upon this situational humor as we get to know every potential member of the so-called X-Force? I wanted to know what they stand for as a unit, as individual mutants, and as people who just so happen to have amplified abilities.

Instead, for example, Cable (Josh Brolin), a man from the future, is relegated to a tank who will stop at nothing to kill a troubled fourteen-year-old boy (Julian Dennison) who is born with the power to wield fire. For someone who comes equipped with the knowledge of future events, his one-track goal becomes duller by the second. I looked at Brolin’s face and the moments in between made me feel like he is not being challenged. It is not that he looks bored—but it is apparent he can do so much more given a more ambitious and creative material. Further, as a kid who grew up with Marvel characters, it feels somewhat of a betrayal that Cable is not given the complexity necessary so that all viewers, by the end of the film, are convinced that he is in fact an invaluable member of the group.

“Deadpool 2” is directed by David Leitch, but the work might as well have been on autopilot. While the film doesn’t offer an intolerable experience, it doesn’t give us an exciting one either. During its slower moments, my mind went back to its predecessor and appreciated, for instance, how great the villain was. Here, there is a lack of an effective antagonist—one that becomes truly formidable, perhaps even fearsome, over time. I found its laziness not only troublesome but also exceptionally disappointing.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard


The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Considering the sheer talent and great comic timing of the leads, it is most disheartening that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” written by Tim O’Connor and directed by Patrick Hughes, is not a better movie. Instead of presenting us a breezy, balanced action-comedy, it is a limp death march, nearly absent of any big and lasting laughs, to the finish line—quite literal because the plot involves a bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) escorting an assassin (Samuel L. Jackson) so that the latter can testify against a dictator (Gary Oldman) at the International Criminal Court. Naturally, the dictator’s goons attempt to prevent the bodyguard-hitman duo from reaching their destination.

One gets the impression the script is barebones. Casting a pair of charismatic motormouths as co-leads is a good decision because the two have different approaches to wring laughter out of the audience. But relying on the duo to ad lib in order to plug holes in the script is a critical misstep. Notice that as improvisation unfolds, we begin to lose sight of the characters. This strategy is executed too many times and so during the latter half, it is a challenge to care about the story and whether Bryce and Kincaid would make it to their destination. The picture does not seem to understand how buddy comedies work since it is all behavior, no substance.

Action sequences unfold in beautiful open spaces, particularly one in Amsterdam, but a film can have the most eye-catching shootouts but ultimately amount to nothing if everything else around it is a bore. Such is the case here. It does not help that the villain is stuck in a courthouse and not one of the hired guns is genuinely threatening or memorable. Imagine if there had been two minions who have equally recognizable faces as Reynolds as Jackson. Cast performers who do not typically appear in comedies but turning out to have comedic chops. Now, isn’t that more exciting, more creative, more inspired that what is shown here? It certainly would have surprised the audience.

There are romantic subplots forced into the plot which do not work on any level. Reynolds and Elodie Yung, an Interpol agent who happens to be Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, share desert-dry chemistry. There is not one instance in which the viewers recognize what they see in one another. On the other hand, Jackson and Salma Hayek, playing Kincaid’s wife, do share some chemistry, but the screenplay’s lack of substance reduces the relationship into an unfunny, tired caricature. The picture struggles to get basic emotions and relationships right.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a disastrous action-comedy because it lacks inspiration and imagination. Numerous awful comedies tend to have jokes on paper first and a semblance of story is built around them. Here, however, one gets a sneaky feeling that there is neither jokes nor story in the first place. It goes to show that just because the right actors are booked it may not necessarily translate, especially if there is nothing to support them. It is a waste of precious two hours that feels like four.

Life


Life (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

As someone who works with microorganisms, the sci-fi horror movie “Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa, is an expected but most welcome surprise. Think about it: there is something innately creepy or unsettling about dealing with something alive, potentially harmful, that we cannot see with a naked eye. This picture takes advantage of that concept for as long as it is able. Clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien,” similarly crew members with a sense of humor who share a certain camaraderie being forced to face unimaginable horrors in space following a discovery of alien life, it manages to hit the right notes consistently enough to overcome some of the clichés within the sub-genre, particularly in how just about each astronaut eventually undergoes a most gruesome demise.

Initially, I was unimpressed. For a sci-fi picture set in a space station with an ambition to create as realistic an environment as possible, I found it to be annoyingly loud and ostentatious. Compare this to greats of the genre, especially alongside Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The harder it tries to engage the audience through visuals and sounds, an the air of detachment is all the more amplified. “Odyssey” works because it simply shows what is while this film tries to appeal to what we imagine science fiction should be like rather than a set, settled reality. Further, the former relishes the quiet but the latter is afraid of it at times. As a result, I felt as though I were peering into a snow globe—curious but in the back of my mind a part of me wasn’t entirely convinced.

Equally bothersome during the first quarter is its inappropriate use and number of closeups. When there is a fascinating organism on screen, most of the attention should be on that creature. We already have an idea how everyone in the room must feel like—because we feel those similar emotions, too. There is no need to cut to the performers’ facial expressions every other two seconds (Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya). Doing so takes away some of the excitement and breeds frustration. We want to see what is on that petri dish and learn what it is capable of.

Eventually, however, the film proves capable of first-rate entertainment. The first attack by the extraterrestrial made me question my own safety, despite wearing personal protective equipment, when handling minuscule organisms. I admired how efficiently the camera traps us into an increasingly impossible situation as the biologist (Bakare) handles the life form in a containment cube. The editing commands a certain rhythm to it that makes us want to look away because it is built up in such a way that some thing is about to occur soon… yet we cannot help but stare wide-eyed since we crave to see what happens next. The early deaths are appropriately horrifying and creative. The camera lingers on their lifeless faces.

The look of the alien is inspired. I enjoyed how it reminded me of deep-sea jellyfish. It does not appear particularly solid but has convincing strength when it pounces on its prey. It looks translucent, but it is highly agile and versatile. Credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for putting to life a creature that is intelligent, a real threat to the increasingly desperate characters. And credit goes to the special and visual effects team for creating a convincing monster, not just another uninspired CGI monster-of-the-week with tentacles.

Paper Man


Paper Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Temporarily moving to Montauk was supposed to help Richard (Jeff Daniels), a writer working on his second novel, overcome writer’s block. Instead, he ends up not doing much and is interminably stuck on the first sentence that will shape the rest of his book. His wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), visits on the weekends and when she is away, a high school student named Abby (Emma Stone) comes over to babysit Richard and Claire’s non-existent child.

There is an effective drama about loss and loneliness in “Paper Man,” written and directed by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, but they are buried underneath lame and awkward attempts at humor. Though it wishes to embody a bittersweet comedy-drama about two people with a significant age gap, it fails to reach a balance and a proper rhythm necessary to convince us that whatever is unfolding is consistently genuine.

The comedic elements prevent the picture from reaching great heights. I felt embarrassed for Daniels, a very good actor, because his character is often the joke. He rides a bike that is too small for him. The camera lingers on how he struggles to make the bicycle move. He throws a party for teenagers and decorates the entire place as if he were hosting a child’s birthday celebration. The camera scans the house for flashy ornaments. The screenplay is desperate for a laugh.

One quirk that works is Richard, almost fifty years of age, still having an imaginary friend. Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero, cape and all, and he is there whenever Richard requires a boost of morale. Though Reynolds’ exaggeration tends to hit some bad notes, I was interested in the idea that our protagonist is so lonely and struggles so much with relating to people his age that he is willing to hold onto Captain Excellent even if the latter has hinted that maybe it is time to let go.

The central relationship is between Richard and Abby. Though separated by age and gender, they are alike in many ways. The picture dares to walk the line between a friendship and a sort of romance. For the most part, it is effective: Stone and Daniels have a way of playing upon their charm and using it almost as a defense mechanism when their respective characters are hurt by circumstances. However, I was disappointed that the screenplay takes a predictable avenue in that what Richard and Abby have is discovered by Claire—seeing them in an awkward position, no less.

“Paper Man” has great trouble remaining fresh. Though a person experiencing writer’s block and finding inspiration from a source he least expected is not new, there are moments here that ring true. It just does not seem to be aware of when to let go of a template. I liked the way Abby’s story involving a tragic loss is handled. Before she and the published author met, Abby confided with Christopher (Kieran Culkin) who eventually tells her that she is his life. Though the line may sound silly, just about anyone can tell he means it with every fiber of his being, that maybe she should be Christopher instead of Bryce (Hunter Parrish), the latter having a nasty habit of treating his girlfriend like a plaything.

R.I.P.D.


R.I.P.D. (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a former cop, is dead, finds himself sitting in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Rest in Peace Department stationed just above Boston, and faces a decision: to join the department and hunt Deados, spirits that somehow managed to escape Final Judgment, back on Earth or to embrace the possibility of being sent to hell. Nick chooses the former and he is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an older gentleman who died during the Old West. Though the new duo are off to a rocky start, their bickering is set aside when they discover strange goings-on involving Deados and chunks of gold.

“R.I.P.D.,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, offers nothing but special and visual effects. It lacks the imagination, wit, and comic timing that made the likes of Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” so rousing and entertaining. Thirty minutes in, one realizes that the film is unable to move on from the first act. One waits for something—anything—to happen. It remains stagnant even way past the one hour mark and it turns into a great struggle to sit through.

Part of the problem is Roy and Nick’s partnership. Though the actors perform their parts with appropriate verve, the writers fail to turn the characters into people with substance. There are only two sides to their interactions: they get into shallow disagreements—which is supposed to be funny, maybe in an alternate universe—or they are on the same page, temporarily, while being in the same room as a Deado. Because their relationship is only two-sided, it gets predictable real quick and one gets no enjoyment watching them.

More painful are the scenes in which Roy and Nick are forced to connect with one another, supposedly in a meaningful way. I did not buy it for a second. It is easy to see through the script and the lack of effort put into it. Why bother to insert such a phony scene when it further cheapens an already weak material? Did it not once occur to the filmmakers that it wasn’t working, that it was better off to leave the sentimentality out the door? Maybe they felt the picture needed to hit the ninety-minute mark.

The monsters are not interesting. All of them are made out to be ugly, bad, and they do nothing other than to function to as figures to be shot at. There are a few chase sequences in the streets of Boston and one does not need spectacles to see through the obvious CGI. There is simply too much thrown on screen for us to be able to appreciate any level of artistry put into the work. I looked up the budget of the film and, to my surprise, it is over one hundred million dollars. This is the best they can come up with?

Directed by Robert Schwentke, “R.I.P.D.” is bottom-of-the-barrel fluff. I found no magic, inspiration, or delight out of it. Sci-fi action-fantasies should be more thrilling. In the least, it should feel alive—vibrant—even if the story involves the dead.