We wade our way through a glut of recent releases in this catch-up episode. We’ll give you the skinny on The Danish Girl, Exposed, Joy, Carol, Creed, Concussion, The Big Short, The Good Dinosaur, The Revenant, Zoolander 2, and Deadpool. Phew!
Eddie Redmayne takes the role of Einar Wegener, a 1920’s landscape artist who discovers he’s far more comfortable as woman and after much emotional heartache decides to pursue that, including pioneering gender reassignment surgery, with the resulting fallout on his marriage to Gerda (Alice Vikander), who had become a successful portrait artist in her own right by painting her transgendered husband. With a clutch of great performances, and looking as beautiful as Tom Hooper’s films always do, this ought to be a great film but we find it rather left us cold. It’s coverage of the central relationship is impeccable, but it’s rather less detailed on the troubles caused by being transgendered in a time much less accepting of that than the improved (but hardly ideal) contemporary situation. Solid film, but not amazing.
Keanu Reeves plays cop Galban in this mess of a film, which the studio (allegedly) had re-written from a surrealist exploration of some harsh themes such as violence against women and children, into a police procedural. This has worked roughly as well as you would expect. A ridiculous film, which you would be right to ridicule.
Another David O. Russell joint, with his returning cast of players, Joy sees Jennifer Lawrence take the titular character from struggling single mother supporting a family of varying degrees of deadbeat into a successful business mogul after inventing a better mop and, after some difficulty, selling them on the fledgeling QVC network. While it’s competently produced, acted, and directed, the central story can’t shake its Hallmark movie-esque setup of “one woman’s struggle to…”, and while that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, it doesn’t make it particularly memorable.
Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) decides to fulfil a life-long dream and get into the squared circle, but doesn’t want to rely on the family name to help. However, he’s happy enough to use the connection to Rocky to convince the initially reluctant former champ to train him. Still, word of his heritage leaks, and this soon leads the unfancied rookie to a money-spinning bout against the current disgraced champ looking for one final pay-day to sort out his family before he’s sent to jail. Because apparently firearms offences in Liverpool are so commonplace there’s no need to keep people found guilty of them off the streets immediately or anything. It’s every inch the Rocky movie, and while in many regards it’s borrowing a little too heavily from the first film’s playbook, the chemistry between Stallone and Jordan more than carries it. Sure, it suffers from the same overall flaws as the rest of the franchise, notably it being somewhat cheeseball, but still very enjoyable all the same.
Another awards contender, as Cate Blanchett embarks on a relationship with Rooney Mara against a background of 1950’s societal disapproval that threatens to destroy her relationship with her daughter. While is does an impeccable job of telling that relationship, our real issue with the film is that rather like The Danish Girl, it only lightly examines that there societal disapproval, which to us is the more interesting aspect of the film – a luxury we’re afforded in these hardly perfect, yet rather more tolerant times.
Time for another slice of the worthy but dull awards cake, as Will Smith plays a doctor who uncovers evidence of the long-term damage that the frequent concussions American Football players suffer is doing to their spongy thinkorgan. This soon brings the full force of the NFL’s propaganda machine against in an attempt to discredit him. Solid story with a solid telling, but it’s not a particularly captivating one.
The Good Dinosaur
This PisneyDixar offering comes to us with a tortuous production history, and unfortunately one that rather shows up in the final product. The tale of a young dinosaur who’s not living up to societal norms, as defined by dinosaurs, winds up feeling wholly derivative, without the sparks of joy and life that’s been present in even the least of Pixar’s previous films. Sadly, not any good at all.
The Big Short
While Margin Call proved that great drama can be mined from the characters involved in the financial crash, The Big Short tries to wring comedy out of it as well. It’s somewhat less successful, but not altogether unenjoyable for that. Its attempts at humorously explaining the concepts behind default swaps and sub-prime mortgages are forced, laddish, and roundly out of place, and a good number of the characters seem irrelevant in the grand arc of the story. It might, for example, have been a better idea for excise the lifeless Brad Pitt turn, as mentor to two equally excisable and lifeless young bankers, in favour of the blistering Steve Carrell turn which is easily the films’ strongest suit. For all that, an above average film with more highs than lows. Awards talk for it, however, is out to lunch.
Frontiersman and trapper Lenny De Cap wins a fight with a bear in the wilderness of 1800’s Montana, but takes a mauling for his troubles. When adverse weather causes the group he was leading to abandon him, at the same time killing his son who understandably protests this behaviour, he vows to recover and take vengeance on those responsible. It might be the favourite to sweep the Oscars, but it’s not even our favourite film in the podcast. Not that there’s that much objectively wrong with it, except the length, but the “snowy wilderness” look quickly goes from pretty to pretty monotonous, and for all the nominations all Di Caprio’s doing for much of the film is moan and drag himself along the ground. Well done for bearing the physical discomfort on a troubled, difficult production, but “Arrrgh” isn’t the sort of monologue that typically wins people plaudits. Maybe we’re missing something, but there’s not much of interest in this film for us.
Ben Stiller pulls an Anchorman, returning to this vehicle after a loooong stint in the garage. Now a hermit after the collapse of his school, the death of his wife and the removal into care of his son, Derek Zoolander is shaken out of his funk by Billy Zane in a bid to get back in to the world of modelling and prove he can be a suitable father. Hansel (Owen Wilson) also has troubled, struggling to commit and settle down with the orgy he loves. Answers to both problems appear to be answered by an invitation to model at fashion darling Don Atari (Kyle Mooney)’s latest connection – but it’s a trap! Mugatu’s out for revenge, in a plot too perfunctory to both recapping. While Anchorman 2 has as little reason to exist as this, the crucial difference is that where it was just barely funny enough to be enjoyable, Zoolander 2 just barely isn’t. It’s not a total disaster, and it certainly has its high spots – particularly Mooney’s quickfire, wildly contradictory verbal soup of insults and compliments and Kirsten Wiig’s outrageously tortured accent. Sadly for the leads, their joke’s worn thin despite the obvious effort both are putting forth, but it’s all a bit forced and not quite funny enough. It feels a little like someone reverse engineered what made the original so funny, but couldn’t quite build a new one to the same spec. Adequate, but nothing more.
No less idiotic is Deadpool, a film there’s almost no point in reviewing. If you’ve seen the recent trailers, you’ll have a pretty good idea if you’re going to like it or hate it, as it delivers about 80% or so of what the trailer promises – both negative and positive. Ryan Reynolds takes another stab at the wisecracking, fourth-wall obliterating mercenary after the appearance in Wolverine: Origins that is only acknowledged in order to be mocked and dismissed. This is structured as half flash-backs, half contemporary ass-kicking exhibition, the former covering how the mercenary falls in love, gets terminal cancer, and undergoes a “treatment” involving continuous torture to force a horrible mutation at the hands of Ajax (Ed Skrein), and the latter leveraging said mutation to get revenge and save his girl. The latter is also significantly more fun that the former, with sparkling quips, inventive action and great interplay between Deadpool and stoic, principled Colossus and his young trainee, the bombastically named Negasonic Teenage Warhead. The origins stuff falls foul of the systemic Marvel problem of treating inherently ludicrous characters with a po-faced, flat-footed attempt at gravitas, albeit to a much lesser degree than usual, but it’s outweighed by the amount of fun to be had from the guy once he’s in the red suit. With a breakneak pace and equally brakeneck violence, wall to wall puns and barbs and a self-awareness that avoids (just) smugness, Deadpool is a greatly enjoyable, if far from perfect two hours of fun.
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