Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, First Reformed

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And, it’s time for the summer blockbusters. Do you go to the movies more in the summer? Here are some brief bits for films current theatrical releases.

The theme for these reviews is … not for everyone. While this reviewer may have “loved” something, we are well aware that subject matter, theme, and pace may not be to everyone’s liking.

Ryan Reynolds as the snarky masked man (20th Century Fox)
Ryan Reynolds as the snarky masked man (20th Century Fox)

Deadpool 2: Watch “Deadpool” first before venturing into the theater to see this profane, violent, fourth-wall breaking, campy, insider-y sequel. Ryan Reynolds returns as the eponymous pseudo superhero, disfigured, immortal and irreverent. It’s excessive — and very fun.

(L to r) Joonas Suotamo as Chewie, Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett (Han’s mentor), Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. (Walt Disney Studios)
(L to r) Joonas Suotamo as Chewie, Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett (Han’s mentor), Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. (Walt Disney Studios)

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Ignore the hype regarding box-office issues. Screenwriter (and dialogue expert) Lawrence Kasdan is back for this very fun film, which is a prequel to the “original” “Star Wars” movies, Episodes IV, V and VI. Despite some previous, uneven turns in his career, Alden Ehrenreich shines as the young Han Solo, emphatic, loyal, confident and credible for who Han becomes. And, like all the films preceding this one, the plot is overwrought and inexplicable, but in this iconic franchise, it’s really wholly irrelevant — the acting, the action, the chemistry are absolutely on point, the audience is as engaged as light speed on the Millennium Falcon and “Solo” is the epitome of a summer blockbuster. Look for “Game of Thrones’” Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra Han’s young love turned gangster moll. Donald Glover has Billy Dee Williams’ cadence and delivery down pat and as gambler Lando Calrissian; Glover’s a highlight, as is the development of a backstory for Chewbacca, the Wookiee.

Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried in “First Reformed.” (A24)
Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried in “First Reformed.” (A24)

First Reformed: This Paul Schrader film — overheard described by a fellow filmgoer as “‘Taxi-Driver’ at church” — is most definitely not for everyone. In his latest film, Schrader, who directed (among others) “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and “American Gigolo” presents a film full of epiphanies, for the characters and the audience. Raised in a strict Dutch Calvinist family, Schrader, married to actress Mary Beth Hurt, never saw a movie until he was 17. At the helm of his films: a tortured man trying to live — to use the vernacular of youth — his authentic truth. Schrader’s films are filled with relevant imagery and carefully crafted dialogue.

“First Reformed” sports a languid pace, despite genuine elements of menace and moments of tragic violence. A wan Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a former military chaplain, now haunted pastor of a historic (Underground Railway stop) Dutch Reform church in upstate New York. Toller’s part tour guide, part counselor, part flunky (to Cedric Kyles/Cedric the Entertainer’s boss pastor, of the intentionally ironically named Abundant Life church). Toller leads a quiet, almost silent, minimalist life, emerging only to docent (and cringingly refer visitors to the souvenir shop) or respond to decrees from Abundant Life. When Toller is asked by a young, pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) to speak with her radicalized environmental husband Michael (actor Philip Ettinger delivers an extraordinary, remarkable performance), Toller is thrust into a tragedy that just might result in his own redemption from his dark past. “First Reformed” examines those elements that develop character, personality and morality. It layers reality, revisionism, hope, and despair and is ultimately very watchable and thought-provoking. This is not a movie for an audience who likes a clear and clean narrative arc, but it is one for those who strive to be challenged, who are willing to take the proverbial leap of faith.

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N.F. Mendoza is a Culver City resident, who has worked at the Los Angeles Times (staff writer), People Magazine (staff correspondent) and TV Guide (West Coast News Editor), among other publications. For several years, she was a regular reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter, an entertainment-industry trade publication. She has freelanced for Daily Variety, Readers Digest, USA Today, Emmy Magazine, Animation Magazine, The Seattle Times, Inside Television. Two columns she wrote weekly for the TV Times section of the Los Angeles Times were syndicated nationally. She is the author of four chapters of the book I (Heart) TV by the editors of TV guide. She currently teaches college-level composition and continues to work as a freelance writer and editor.

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