Film Reviews: Bleed For Deadpool, Or A Star Is Priceless

October 1, 2021

[vc_row][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]


Deadpool 2 / Directed by David Leitch / 16DLNPSV

Jackie / Directed by Pablo Larrain / 13V

A Star Is Born / Directed by Bradley Cooper / 16DLS

I, Tonya / Directed by Craig Gillespie / 16DLNPSV

Bleed For This / Directed by Ben Younger / 13VL

Priceless / Directed by Ben Smallbone / 13SV


The problem with gleefully assassinating every expectation in a chosen genre – the superhero movie, in this case – is that maintaining that sort of innovation is almost impossible when sequels are made. Much of what Deadpool has in its favour – both the character and the franchise – is the rough-hewn but irresistible charm of the character as it is written but also of Ryan Reynold’s perfect fit for the role. Deadpool 2 is not as good as the first film because it couldn’t be – definitions were rewritten then, and now they’re better understood and therefore not as shocking. To make up for this relative lack of impact in pure story terms, the sequel, as its age restriction suggests, often adds shock value in other areas – foul language; off-colour humour and so on – making for a less sophisticated offering, if still something that is highly entertaining. The introduction of Josh Brolin as Cable – sort of drier, more sarcastic Winter Soldier offers plenty of opportunity for interest, with Brolin and Reynolds having great chemistry onscreen. There are some strong setpieces (one where Deadpool and a gang of would-be superheroes parachute out of a plane is darkly hilarious) and some effective satire, and overall, this film is a steady enough building block in what is likely to continue growing as a franchise that will remain a challenge for every director tasked with taking it forward.


Jackie divided audiences, and while it’s easy to see a reason for that, it’s not a particularly valid one. It’s likely that viewers will fall into two broad categories – those to whom Jacqueline Kennedy was a celebrity and fashion icon, and those to whom the former US First Lady was an unfortunate casualty of both her husband’s assassination and the milieu in which that horrific event took place. Pablo Larrain’s sombre film focuses on the latter perspective, including the weight of the burden of maintaining the image responsible for the former. What he and Natalie Portman (in the title role) explore is the profound grief Jackie felt and was never really given the opportunity to process in private, and the façade that was the ‘Camelot’ myth, dreamed up by Jackie in an interview as she tried to cope with what she’d lost. Supporting this layered pathos is the beautifully observed detail of the sets and costumes which, along with Portman’s focused and forlorn (the last with reason) performance, give the piece a credible historical texture.


It’s a compelling story – it must be, as this A Star Is Born is the fourth film featuring the same title and basic narrative – and there’s a good argument for Bradley Cooper’s labour of love being the best version of this (ironically) sobering love story. Cooper is director, leading man, producer and the co-writer of the screenplay – and he learned to play guitar and sing at a professional level into the bargain. His devotion to his craft is most obviously evident in his performance as rocker Jackson Maine which, though it garnered a good deal of critical attention, has remained in the shadow of Lady Gaga’s work playing Ally, Maine’s protégé, whose success and fame soon outstrips his own. Cooper’s is a subtler performance, but it is a wholly authentic one. Maine meets all the criteria for the hard-living rock star, but though undoubtedly a glamorous character, his frailties are always close to the surface, something that Cooper never overplays, allowing viewers to understand his character’s flaws alongside his strengths. Lady Gaga, in her first starring role, brings her customary attention to detail and huge talent to this new platform. With her character the ascendant star, Gaga has the easier job of the leads in terms of getting the audience on her side, but the authority with which she does so confirms the validity of all the awards buzz she’s generated. And the music she composed and performs for the piece is sublime, suiting all the scenarios it soundtracks to a tee and, in the case of Shallow, adding an instant standard to the canon. Beautifully made and a vision gorgeously realised (if in a classic Hollywood style), this is a film to keep and watch again.


Ambition makes people do strange and crazy things. Mix in some pride and insecurity and the results can be anything from classroom bullying to Agamemnon getting miffed and taking on Troy. Figure skater Tonya Harding’s quest to be the best exponent of her craft in the world, driven in part by her harsh, overbearing mother and the insecurities gained as part of her unhappy upbringing saw her become peripherally involved in a bungled but violent attack on her direct competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, orchestrated by Harding’s abusive ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. As a news story, the incident was compelling, providing an insight into the powerful drive world-class athletes have to win and how that can have negative outcomes if not properly managed. I, Tonya is as compelling, re-telling the story with a touch of Hollywood gloss but enough loyalty to the original narrative to make viewers understand what a bizarre tale it was, and how disagreeable most of the characters. Margo Robbie is tremendous as Harding, with the actress’ beauty sandblasted by make-up artists to give her the coarseness associated with Harding’s relative lack of glamour – partly down to the limited budget Harding could raise as the child of a single mom and with no major sponsors. Robbie also nails the attitude Harding had as a competitor; a complex mix of knowledge of her world-class talent, insecurity about being able to achieve at her desired level and the brokenness that resulted from abuse at the hands of various partners. Robbie’s Harding is difficult to like, though the script and performance do well to provide context for her hard edges. Allison Janney, as the skater’s mother, has even fewer redeeming features, pitilessly pushing her daughter to achieve, as much for the reflected glory as anything else. And Sebastian Stan as Gillooly completes a mostly awful trio of protagonists who only entertain because they are so thick and unable to function in polite society that their efforts to do so are darkly funny. There are some laughs but little happiness in this story, with extra diversion provided by the skating sequences and the general high level of artistry involved in making the film.


A biopic of a boxer named Vinny Pazienza, Bleed For This has a strong cast, with Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart in central roles. Teller underlines the possibilities of his being a future great with another immersive performance, believable as both a fighter and as the victim of the terrible car accident from which Pazienza had to recover. The film is well made, with good pacing and realistic boxing sequences, and all the performances work well. But the excellence in the construction of the piece doesn’t quite balance out is predictability, with all of the expected clichés from the genre included in the narrative, to the extent that you could, were you so inclined, take small bets with fellow viewers on exactly when the next step in the formula would kick in. Worth watching for the competency displayed in all areas, but not possessed of any fresh perspectives.


The theme around which Priceless is built – human trafficking (and by extension, how pervasive and easy to get caught up in it it is) is a worryingly pertinent topic, and it’s easy to relate to the emotions of protagonist James Stevens (Joel Smallbone) as he is first frightened of discovering a trafficking situation and then convinced of the need for him to get involved. The film’s major issue – though it’s understandable in the context of the serious subject matter – is the often dry earnestness with which the story plays out. That it avoids the high drama of projects with higher budgets and more enthusiastic stunt co-ordinators probably makes it a closer representation of what might take place in such a scenario, but the entertainment value is corresponding lower and, while never boring, the film doesn’t have much punch, either, with only David Koechner giving a performance that approaches memorable. That said, the unsettling plot sticks with you long after the closing credits.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]