Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pop stuff: Deadpool, Hail Caesar!, 11.22.63

What I've been reading, watching, hearing, etc.


Deadpool isn't a film I'd likely ask a friend to go see. I'd be a little embarrassed. And, certainly, from the get-go, I'd know better than to ask my wife. She doesn't even care for normal superhero movies, let alone profane, hyper-violent parodies thereof.

So it's fortunate that I have a teenage son. When he asked if I wanted to go, I didn't say no - but I also didn't have to say it was my idea. Best of all worlds.

I've never read a Deadpool comic, and probably never well. But I was curious to see how Marvel pulled off a raunchy comedy and how it fit in with the rest of their on-screen universe. Not badly, it turns out.

The story of a super-powered sociopath on a revenge kick, "Deadpool" contains numerous jokes and scenes that made me twinge a bit - but I figure that's my deal. I knew what I was getting into. There are also a fair number jokes and scenes that made me laugh despite myself.

It's good to see Marvel taking some of the wind out of its own sails. The opening credits, which spurn star's names for labels such as "CGI superhero," "hot chick" and "gratuitous cameo" were inspired, as were all the fourth wall breaks. In one scene, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool jokes about the mediocre acting abilities of ... Ryan Reynolds.

The film is also able to integrate the X-Men's Colossus (the "CGI superhero" voiced by Stefan Kapičić) into it's insane world while not disturbing the notion that it's the same, serious Colossus from the X-Men movies. A tricky thing to do.

If you're remotely offended by anything - anything at all - stay far away. But if you're not above a brief wallow in vulgar silliness, you may get a kick out of this film. Despite yourself.


Hail Caesar! is a film my wife DID want to go see with me - and it was a lot of fun.

Set during the heyday of studio-system Hollywood, it's the wittily written-and-directed romp you might expect from the Coen Brothers. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, the stoic minder charged with keeping everything on the up and up at the fictional Capitol Pictures. It's not an easy task.

A pair of gossip columnists (twins, played by Tilda Swinton) is on the prowl for a scandalous scoop and one of the studio's biggest starlets, played by Scarlett Johansson, has got herself in the family way - without a family. Eddie also needs to decide whether he wants to take a different, less stressful but less interesting job.

But then Eddie's bad day gets worse. The studio's biggest male star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped off the set right before filming of the final scene of a big budget epic. The longer Baird stays missing, the more it's going to cost.

If you're a lover of the Coens, old movies and Hollywood history, it's a magical, hysterical blend. The film's two big musical numbers, which simultaneously lampoon and pay tribute to the movies of old, are worth the price of admission. But there's plenty more movie for movie lovers to love here, too.


11.22.63 is a J.J. Abrams-produced original mini-series on Hulu based on a Stephen King book about a creative writing teacher (James Franco) who travels back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination.

As you can tell - James Franco as a creative writing teacher! - the whole thing is pretty preposterous. But with storytellers like Abrams and King behind it, I was curious enough to give it a try and am now too curious to give it up.

By entering what my son aptly described as a "time closet" - nothing fancy or trans-dimensional, just a closet - Franco's character, Jake Epping travels back to 1960 where he does his best to blend in while trying to figure out a way to prevent JFK's death.

Every nerd and/or drunken undergraduate has speculated about the ability to prevent JFK's death, or to kill Hitler, and all the potential risks and ramifications involved, so it's fun to see a mind like King's take up the prospect.

There are numerous funny, entertaining and thought-provoking moments in the series, along with some downright perplexing ones, such as Jake's 1960s sidekick, Bill, getting the hots for Oswald's wife, Marina. There's something creepy and weird about fictionalizing an extramarital love interest involving a still-living, real person.

All the period details - the clothes, the cars, the music - are nicely realized. In fact, those details are what I like about so the show most of all. I'm curious to see if Jake is successful in his mission, but mostly I like hanging out in early 1960s America. Sort of makes me wish I had my own time closet.

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