23 May 2018

At the Movies

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 23 May 2018

Simon Morris reviews Deadpool 2, and  French films Number One and Mr Stein Goes Online that tackle, respectively, sexism in high places, and old people online-dating.

Deadpool 2

Unlike the other Marvel movies, Deadpool is R-rated and proud of it.   Not just R-rated but a sarcastic swipe at every comic-book movie on the market. 

The common phrase when talking about the two Deadpool movies so far is “breaking the fourth wall” - meaning our hero, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), talks incessantly to the camera throughout.

Not just that, but the whole tenor of the latest Deadpool – simply called Deadpool 2 – is a series of winks at the audience, and an assumption that, while the modern blockbuster audience may not know much about history, geography or literature, they do know an awful lot about comic-books and comic-book movies.

The character of Wade Wilson – rendered indestructible after one of those convenient chemistry-set accidents – has the potential to be terminally irritating.

But he’s also undeniably funny – Reynolds plays him half early Jim Carrey, half modern-day Ryan Gosling with a little twist of his own.

The format is clever too.  While our hero takes the mickey, everyone else has to play it straight – Wade Wilson’s appealing girl-friend Vanessa, his irritated fellow X Men, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead and, carrying the plot this time, Josh Brolin and Julian Dennison.

Wait, what? Isn’t Josh Brolin already on Marvel super-villain duty, playing the gigantic Thanos in the new Avengers blockbuster?   Well yes he is.   And it’s not as if anyone’s hiding this information, least of all Ryan Reynolds.

The other surprise is adorable Kiwi teenager Julian Dennison who plays Firefist, better known in the orphanage where he’s been brought up as “Russell”. 

Dennison, incidentally, makes no attempt to disguise his Kiwi origins, or indeed his essential Ricky Baker-ness in this film. 

So the plot, if anyone asks you, is that Josh Brolin’s character Cable arrives from the future to kill Ricky Baker – I mean Russell – before he one day turns into a fire-fisted killer.   Getting his retaliation in early, you might say.

But Wade Wilson – aka Deadpool – has become family-minded after his anarchic first movie. He wants to save the kid from Thanos, I mean Josh Brolin, I mean Cable.  And so he puts together a team – a sort of rival set of X Men.

By now whatever happens is as unimportant as the actual plot of a Marx Brothers movie.  The script seems to be mostly a commentary on the original story, with as many gags attached to it as Ryan Reynolds can squeeze into the running time.

The good news it is funny - for the first half at any rate - with the audience kept on its toes waiting for the next reference to Marvel Comics, Marvel movies, other movies or Ryan Reynolds’ previous rather patchy career.

Deadpool 2 frankly has all the self-discipline of a late-night talk show – and almost as many unexpected cameos.

Matt Damon turns up, as does Brad Pitt, and most of the current cast of X Men, though you blink and you’ll miss them. 

Ryan Reynolds carries the film of course, but the straighter actors – Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison and Zazie Beetz as the lucky Domino – are the main reason for non comics-obsessives to watch it.

But for popular culture freaks – bored after six viewings of Ready Player One – this is clearly the film for you.

I know this because the four guys behind me kept loudly pointing out what was going on and which movies were being referenced.  With any luck, they’ll be behind you as well when you get to see Deadpool 2.

Number One

French film Number One tackles sexual politics in today’s big business boardrooms. 

The story of Number One – the French title Numéro une stresses the feminine gender – concerns  high-flyer Emmanuelle who’s been head-hunted by a powerful women’s lobby.

Emmanuelle, played by Emmanuelle Devos, is advised that one of the top companies in the country is shortly going to be looking for a new CEO.

She’s urged to apply to become the first female head of such a major company. The competition is fierce – not so much from her rival for the job but his dangerous sponsor, one Jean Beaumel, played by the always powerful Richard Berry.

Number One may open as a simple contest, but soon expands enormously.   There are rivalries, not only within the organisation that Emmanuelle is hoping to lead but within the women’s group sponsoring her.

It soon becomes clear that once you decide to compete, there are no half-measures.   In business and sexual politics, if you’re not prepared to fight dirty, you might as well not fight at all, it seems.

Emmanuelle initially tries to keep her campaign out of the gutter, particularly when she confronts the ruthless Beaumel at one of the many cocktail parties that punctuate the movie.

Beaumel sneers that she’ll need more than just good PR to get the job.  Like ability, wonders Emmanuelle?   And they both laugh.

But where an American or a British film might stress the political over the personal in a film like this, Number One is French.  And in a French film, the boardroom and the bedroom are seldom far apart.

Pressure is brought to bear on Emmanuelle’s family – her Irish husband and ailing father.  And behind the scenes how many of her support team are in bed – figuratively or literally – with Beaumel’s old-school male chauvinists?

The intricacies of the struggle for power are fascinating – not least because the battle to be the first female Number One in a big corporation won’t end with this one result.

Even if she gets the job, Emmanuelle is told, every decision she makes as a CEO will be scrutinised far more than a male would be. 

Who’d want to be the first to put her head so far above the parapet, ask her male friends and family?

It’s hard to argue with that.  But at least Number One attempts to answer the question convincingly, and suggests that the sooner we get past worrying about the gender of the decision-makers and move onto what the decisions are, the better all round.

Mr Stein Goes Online

Mr Stein Goes Online is an Internet twist on the old Cyrano de Bergerac plot, where an unappealing swain employs a good-looking surrogate to stand in for him on a date.

In the very French Mr Stein Goes Online, Alex and Juliette are so broke they’re forced to live with Juliette’s mother. But Mum has a possible job for Alex.

Juliette’s grandfather Pierre (Pierre Richard) has locked himself away ever since his wife died, so Alex is sent round to Pierre’s place to teach old Mr Stein how to use his computer. 

With bad grace, Alex introduces the old man to the Internet – and to dating sites.

Pierre starts making contact with potential dates, and decides he’ll be a better catch if he used young Alex’s photo instead of his own.

He makes a connection with the gorgeous Flora, and seduces her with his French way with words.  

When she agrees on a date with Pierre-as-Alex, Pierre insists the real Alex has to stand in for him. 

You know, like Cyrano de Bergerac.

Alex is bullied into dropping everything to go on the date with Flora, while Pierre pulls the strings from his cellphone.

Before you know it - well, not long before you know it, we all saw it coming – Alex is attracted to Flora, despite nominally still living with Pierre’s granddaughter Juliette.  This leads to a series of merry mixups with a strong French accent.

In other words, underneath the Internet, Tinder dates and cellphones, Mr Stein Goes Online is an old-fashioned French farce.  Alex is forced to juggle his new pretend girlfriend Flora with his real one Juliette, while Grampa stirs things up in the background.

But while the atmosphere remains frothy and Gallic, the slightly queasy undertow of a 75-year-old roué chasing after a 30-something woman doesn’t sit too well in today’s climate.   You think it’s a bit iffy?  MeToo, to coin a phrase.

But that’s the French for you, I suppose, and like most successful French farces, the plot goes like the clockwork they so often resemble.  

One thing leads to another and away from something else, until sooner or later everyone ends up where they should be, and true love – or at least l’amour – conquers all.

Mr Stein goes online may have a few trendy modern attachments, but at its heart it’s as rooted in French tradition as Georges Feydeau, Guy de Maupassant and Cyrano de Bergerac. 

Best taken with champagne, in other words.


Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)