A short review of the Season 2 premiere of “The Exorcist”

I watched the first episode of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” series (2016), and I’m happy to report it was a fun, scary start.  (The season began this past September; its ten-episode arc concluded at the end of the year.)  I’d rate the premiere a 9 out of 10, and I’m on board for another demonic outing.

Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels return as a kind of dynamic duo of protagonist priests — all the more so because they appear to be on the run from a Roman Catholic Church that no longer sanctions their heroics.  (The show is actually well written, and this isn’t as stupid as I just made it sound.)  Herrera and Daniels are both terrific, even if an opening action chase scene reintroducing them here was unintentionally funny.  (They’re absconding by pickup truck with a possessed woman — her gun-toting country family, who is unaware of their intentions, is in pursuit.  I kept thinking this was a like a sequel to 1990’s “Nuns on the Run.”)

Herrera’s character feels a bit more interesting this time out.  Six months on the lam as exorcist-knight-errant has made him grim and unexpectedly arrogant — his darker character is more fun to watch than the slightly cloying, pretty-boy apprentice we sometimes saw in Season 1.

There are more things that make Season 2 seem promising, too.  It looks as though the afflicted woman that we see (nicely played by Zibby Allen) drives only this season’s prologue.  The demon antagonist has its sights set on a foster home staffed by a likable altruistic Dad (John Cho) and his equally likable five charges.  (One of them is Brianna Hildebrand, who comic fans might recognize as Negasonic Teenage Warhead from 2016’s “Deadpool.”  Is she here after being thrown out of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?)

This was fun.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.

 

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A review of “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016)

At the start of “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016) I was worried that I was finally beginning to experience a degree of “viewer fatigue” in connection with the beloved franchise.  This would be the ninth film since the X-Men first hit the big screen in 2000, if you count this year’s “Deadpool,” and its somewhat formulaic setup felt by-the-numbers.  Once again, a diverse, earnest, international group of young people unite under Charles Xavier’s leadership to combat an even greater threat than the one presented by the last film.  (This time it’s “Apocalypse,” a Big Bad with truly godlike powers.)  And they save the day despite their youth, their inexperience, their self-doubt or the suspicions of a prejudiced humanity.)  How exciting can the arrival of Angel (Ben Hardy) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) be if these were already key reveals in past movies?  And … the cameo?

There are script problems.  The whole thing is cluttered with too many major characters.  Many are thinly drawn; a few make inexplicable, major decisions that affect the plot.  Fan favorites like Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) get too little attention to make their ardent fanbases happy, I think.  The villain looks like a middle-aged and particularly grumpy member of Blue Man Group.

And, yet … I still frikkin’ loved this.  I’d grudgingly give it a 9 out of 10, simply because I enjoyed it so much.  It’s the X-Men.  It’s a big-budget, globally staged smackdown with great special effects, and it was obviously made by people who love the source material and tried to stay true to it, despite its inevitably campy nature and its implausibility.  Characters like Havoc (Lucas Till) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) are fun to watch.  (Am I the only one who nostalgically remembers the latter character from the 90’s comic books?)  There is even a really nice stab at self-referential humor poking fun at the earlier films.

This movie had two things going for it that really made me want to see it a second time around.  The first is Quicksilver.  The X-Men movies will probably never equal the skillfully made blockbusters of that other Marvel universe, but I’ll be damned if the franchise doesn’t totally beat them out in rendering this character.  (Yes, this is indeed the same character in the comics who inspired Scarlet Witch’s brother in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015).)  Evan Peters brings great charisma to the role; the special effects connected with his action sequences are beautiful and goddam perfect.  He’s easily cooler and more likable than any other teen superhero I can remember — and that includes Tom Holland’s excellent new Spider-Man.

The second thing that make me want to watch it again is the action sequences.  The finale is damn fun.  I think it must be difficult to write, stage, direct and physically perform a melee among a group of combatants with various superhuman abilities and varying degrees of power.  But the climax here works.  It’s an entertaining battle that feels like it was lifted perfectly from the comics, and it ought to please fans of the genre.

Anyway, I obviously do recommend this.  Check it out.

 

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A review of “Deadpool” (2016)

I’ve never read a single “Deadpool” comic book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.  It’s  a fun, creative and …  unconventional entry into the “X-Men” film  franchise that actually made me laugh out loud a few times.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

It isn’t high art.  It’s got a thin story based on a rickety plot device, nearly no exposition, and it includes some cartoonish action that I thought was just too over the top, even by comic book movie standards.  (Our hero dodges bullets and survives a stab to the brain.)

It helps to bear in mind this movie’s real purpose — fan service for the infamous niche character’s evident legions of followers.  “Deadpool” isn’t meant to be densely plotted, like “X2: X-Men United” (2003), or genuinely cinematic, like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films.  It’s a long awaited, R-rated feature film to please loyal fans of this profane, adult-oriented antihero, who would be out of place and necessarily bowlderized in a mainstream superhero-teamup flick. (And I kinda get that — I loved the “Wolverine” comics when I was a kid, and, trust me, his film incarnation is tame compared to its source material.)

“Deadpool” is damn funny.  The movie succeeds by making us laugh.  And combining a raunchy comedy with an “X-Men” film gives it a weird, cool, subversive vibe.  It makes you wonder if Stan Lee would approve of this sort of thing … until you see Lee himself in a cameo at the story’s strip bar.  It’s fun to know that dirty jokes indeed do exist within the “X-Men” movie universe.

The lowbrow jokes made me cringe one or twice (“baby hand.”)  But you’ve got to give the movie credit for delivering its bathroom-wall humor if that’s what the original character is about.  (Are the comics like this?)  Ryan Reynolds is genuinely funny, and his deadpan delivery is perfect.  The film might not have even worked at all with out him.

By the way, this movie actually reminded me a hell of a lot of a long-ago flick that I absolutely loved, but which I’m guessing is largely forgotten — Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (1990).  That movie also had a foulmouthed, lone, maverick antihero who often broke the fourth wall, and that also made me laugh like hell.  I know it sounds like a strange comparison, but they’re very similar films.

Finally, I’d like to think that the Wade Wilson we see here actually IS a version of the Wade Wilson that we first met in the widely lamented “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).  (And how can he not be, if that movie is canon?)  If “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) rebooted the timeline, then the Deadpool we’re rooting for here was never recruited, corrupted and experimented upon by William Stryker.  So you can have your cake and eat it, too.

 

 

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