REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp

9 07 2018

There’s been a recent trend in the last five years or so in superhero filmmaking where directors feel the need to say their movie is cut from a different cloth. It’s not only a blockbuster, it’s just dressed up like one. Whether it was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” as a ’70s-style paranoid thriller or (my personal favorite) James Mangold’s “Logan” as “an Ozu film with mutants,” the implication is that being a superhero movie on its face is shameful – or not enough.

This long-winded intro is just a set up to say that Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” finds success by being something besides a Marvel, only that something is a type of film that actually meshes quite well with a super suit. It’s a Paul Rudd movie! The star, who also shares a co-writing credit on the film, infuses his charming, witty energy into all facets of the project. Before the self-aware smugness of “Deadpool” and the commercially-motivated universe building of “The Avengers,” comic book movies could be like this. (You know, eons ago … like 2008 with the first “Iron Man.”)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is wonderfully self-contained, driven less by the need to connect to some grand five-picture arc and more by the immediate concerns of the story. Rudd’s Scott Lang wants to be cleared from his house arrest following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” yet the urgent call of duty with Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp threatens to undo years of his patience in exile. As with many of these films, the real joy is in their group banter – especially whenever Scott lacks the knowledge or information that his counterparts possess.

Reed ditches some of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”-style cheekiness about size and scale that dominated the first “Ant-Man,” which might have been a holdover from Edgar Wright’s involvement with the series. The film compensates for the loss of that humor with more Rudd being Rudd, a welcome thing be it a Marvel movie or a David Wain romp. While it might not be enough to completely overcome a lackluster villain, relatively generic fight scenes, and total underuse of Michelle Pfeiffer, it’s still better than watching Marvel’s carousel of white guys named Chris play tough and moody. B

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REVIEW: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

29 03 2016

I miss Christopher Nolan. Never mind that it has been less than four years since his final Batman film and fewer than 18 months since his most recent directorial effort, “Interstellar.” He understood that the scope of a sprawling comic book movie could be an epic canvas for ambitious thematic and aesthetic content, not just an excuse for bombast and branding.

He has, inexplicably, turned over the keys to the kingdom to Zack Snyder, a director full of sound and fury that signifies nothing. He has an eye and a knack for style, to give him some credit, but Snyder never deploys it in use of a story or an idea. He’s all showmanship for its own sake – surfaces above substance, declaration over development.

As if 2013’s “Man of Steel” was not nauseating enough, he arrives with an “Avengers”-ified sequel in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It’s roughly the cinematic equivalent of Kim Kardashian’s “Break the Internet” magazine cover. Call it “Break the Box Office,” if you will, as it’s already crushing at the box office this year. The film is practically incoherent and only gets more pointless and frustrating with each new turn. With each successive insipid development, the experience is as numbing as it is infuriating.

Snyder is more concerned that we notice the giant CGI pearls snapped at the murder of Bruce Wayne’s mother than providing context or rationale for this universe in which the film takes place. So two superheroes, Batman and Superman, have been living across the water from each other … and that was not worth mentioning in “Man of Steel?” While it’s nice that the film does not waste time rehashing an origin story, clearly Ben Affleck’s Batman is much different than Christian Bale’s. He’s more overtly villainous and cynical – but why?

Perhaps these questions might have been answered in the many scenes left on the cutting room floor. These crucial contextual bits are more important than ever as they could give the franchise a headwind as it launches a bevy of spinoffs and sequels. Marvel movies are bearable because their brain trust actually cares about their characters. They might ultimately succumb to formulaic plots, sure, but they at least understand that audiences want to get attached to these larger-than-life figures. Come and forget the action, stay and remember the characters.

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REVIEW: Man of Steel

20 07 2013

Look, it’s a bird!  No, it’s a plane!  Worse, it’s Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” a bomb of heroic proportions torpedoing its way towards a multiplex near you to steal 2 1/2 hours of your life and $10 of your money.  How this could have been touched by moviemaking Midas himself, Christopher Nolan, truly escapes me.

I personally saw nothing horrendously wrong with Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” though I haven’t seen it since 2006 (a fact that may ultimately speak loudest to its quality).  However, I can point out a number of gaping flaws in “Man of Steel.”  It’s one thing to leave a movie nonplussed but another entirely to be angry.  If you hadn’t already guessed, I was the latter upon leaving this film.

Most issues seemed to spring from the lackluster story.  The film takes on the practically futile task of humanizing Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El, an invincible being.  He’s always had an identification problem because, well, how many of us can relate to someone who is essentially perfect?  (I’ll speak for myself and say that I certainly cannot.)  While the drama of Clark’s grappling with his power is relatively compelling, it’s told only in brief flashbacks.

And these scenes with his adoptive parents, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, really only serve to play into the overarching Messianic allegory of the entire film.  I’m certainly not opposed to such grand implications, but they need to be done well (such as they were in Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables“).  “Man of Steel” feels completely disingenuous, exploiting spirituality for its own gain.  If it were any more obvious about its overloaded metaphor, Henry Cavill’s Superman would be wearing the letter t across his chest.

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REVIEW: Contagion

3 01 2012

While talking to a friend who was on the fence about seeing “Contagion,” I threw out the following selling point without really even thinking: “It’s a Steven Soderbergh movie.”  Then I recoiled for a second and actually thought about what that meant.  Granted, I haven’t seen his watershed indie “Sex, Lies & Videotape,” but when I look back at his filmography, I wouldn’t label many of them directorial triumphs.  “The Informant!” succeeds mostly because of Matt Damon, “Erin Brockovich” is 100% Julia Roberts, and the slickness of the “Ocean’s” series is what made them popular.  “Traffic” is, I suppose, although I don’t think I would recommend that.

So a Soderbergh movie with a cast of eight Oscar nominees (so many that two didn’t even make the poster) had no shot at being a director’s movie … or so I thought.  Surprisingly, this is a movie where Steven Soderbergh is the biggest and most brightly shining of all the stars.  He’s in total control of this vehicle, setting the mood from the first frame and then keeping it an even-keeled movie even when Scott Z. Burns’ script goes a little haywire.

In a time where hyperlink cinema has become a hackneyed plot device, Soderbergh, one of the pioneers of the style with “Traffic,” reminds us why it’s even around in the first place.  These stories can be linked across countries because technology and globalization has made us linked into a common destiny. Yet in the decade since “Traffic,” several events have linked us as well: 9/11 and various disease threats, such as SARS and the swine flu scare.  A thin thread of paranoia connects us all, and Soderbergh gently reveals to us that this link exists in the opening stages of the film.  And then he proceeds to vibrate that thread at pulse-pounding frequencies with his unflinching realism to then make sure we feel that uncomfortable pit in our stomach every single second of the film.

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What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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