ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

July 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. The mystery of why Ant-Man was not involved with the battle for the galaxy in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR has been solved as director Peyton Reed returns to helm the sequel to his 2015 hit ANT-MAN. The reason is very simple: Scott Lang/Ant-Man was under house arrest for his role in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Yep, an ankle monitor sidelined this superhero for the biggest, baddest clash with Thanos. Somehow, this seems fitting for the most “normal” and grounded of all the Marvel characters, as Scott (Paul Rudd) is just a guy trying to overcome his petty thief tendencies while becoming a better father.

The story picks up two years after “Civil War” and Scott has only 3 days of house arrest remaining. An unusual “dream” is the cause of his reluctant reunion with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). A remarkable laboratory (quite the sight-gag), that could also be carry-on luggage, is the source of Hank and Hope’s mission to bring back mother Janet (the original Wasp, Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm.

It’s at this point, if you are a Marvel Universe fan, that you might ask yourself … so the story is about trying to save one person who has been gone for 30 years?  Yes, that’s a bit less pressure than being charged with saving the galaxy, which is common occurrence in other Marvel films. Look, this isn’t rocket science. Umm, well, it’s quantum physics, which is way more complicated … but the point is, Ant-Man is the Marvel fluff piece. Its purpose is to be light-hearted and entertaining, rather than burdensome and ominous.

There may not be an overabundance of depth to the story, but it is overflowing with entertainment value. There are four new writers (along with Mr. Rudd) for this sequel, and they offer up a nice blend of personal redemption, crazy action sequences, and heart-felt emotion. The villains aren’t even all that bad. Walton Goggins (“Justified”) is Sonny, a greedy dude who just wants the other-worldly Pym technology, and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is after that same technology, but only for self-preservation. Her own molecules are separating, causing a fast track to death – despite the help of Hank’s old partner, played by Laurence Fishburne.

The age-reversing effects we saw on Michael Douglas in the first ANT-MAN are also used this time on Mr. Fishburne and Ms. Pfeiffer. It’s quite something to behold. Michael Pena returns as Scott’s motor-mouthed partner, and he displays some pure comic genius in the truth serum scene. Randall Park plays the hapless FBI agent in charge of keeping track of Scott, but it’s Abby Ryder Fortson as Scott’s daughter Cassie who steals every one of her scenes … and possibly sets the stage for the Ant-Man franchise to carry on to the next generation.

Only a certain level of seriousness can be attained for a movie that blasts “The Partridge Family” theme song “Come On, Get Happy”. Or that awards Paul Rudd with a certain trophy designation. Or that has a character scream “You got Pezzed!”. However, a level of respect is earned with some terrific action – giant and tiny – as well as an exceedingly creative chase scene through the streets of San Francisco. There is a post-credit stinger that ties the film into AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. It’s brilliant, but also caused quite the outburst from my fellow viewers. If you enjoy playful and amusing (and you should), then the team of Ant-Man and The Wasp (comedian and straight man/person) will put a smile on your face – just watch out for the seagulls!

watch the trailer:

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AND SO IT GOES (2014)

July 26, 2014

and so it goes Greetings again from the darkness. It’s very painful to witness the aftermath of an artist who has surrendered all creative efforts. Rob Reiner seems to be the director’s version of actor Nicolas Cage … just keep churning out projects that require no effort, yet provide a paycheck. Pride be damned!

This movie is clearly aimed at the over 55 group, and falls into the genre I fondly call “gray cinema”. Although a more fitting description of this movie’s specific genre would be “insipid cinema”. It’s one of those movies that assumes anyone watching it has no interest in thinking, and only goes to the theatre for air conditioning and popcorn.  It’s not condescending, as that would imply it thought itself to be sharper/wittier than the audience.  Instead, it treats the audience as if we have reverted to the level of adolescence for comedy, romance and dialogue.

Michael Douglas stars as Oren Little, a selfish, racist, bitter, lonely Realtor faced with the insurmountable life decision of leaving Connecticut for his lake house in Vermont. The only thing left is selling off his $8 million family house … that is, until his estranged, former drug-addicted son shows up on his way to jail and drops off Oren’s 10 year old granddaughter (Sterling Jerins). Fortunately for the little girl, Oren’s neighbor is the kindly Leah (Diane Keaton) who embraces the girl despite Oren’s aloofness.

Enough about the story … though it is written by Mark Andrus who also wrote the decent As Good As it Gets. If you were to subject yourself to this movie, you would see: Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton alternating between scripted, lifeless flirtations and scripted, lifeless bickering; a pathetic attempt at slapstick by having Oren deliver another neighbor’s baby on his sofa; the running gag of Ms. Keaton’s character breaking into tears while singing during her nightclub act; and a paintball gun used to ward off a dog doing business on the manicured lawn. If you don’t overdose on lameness with those scenes, you should be warned that somehow a little boy’s penis is the subject for multiple one-liners. Somehow this even overrides Oren’s racism for levels of inappropriateness (without the laughs).

Mr. Reiner has directed 3 classic films: This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally. He also has some other entertaining films to his name including A Few Good Men and Misery. All of that just makes his last decade the more disappointing ( a very kind word for it). I will never be convinced that “gray cinema” cannot be entertaining and thought-provoking. Douglas and Keaton shouldn’t have to limit themselves to supporting roles only in order to part of a quality film. However, if this is all they get offered, I recommend working personally with writers to develop projects that don’t embarrass themselves or the audience.

Other than the obvious questions about how this script received the “go-ahead”, two questions have stuck with me since seeing this one:  Why did Frankie Valli appear in this and not Jersey Boys?  Why doesn’t Frances Sternhagen work more?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you clearly understand that there are no refunds for movie ticket purchases

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are not at the age where dog pooping jokes crack you up.

* The trailer is not being posted here just in case it might trick you into going to the movie.  If you still go, I absolve myself of any blame.

 


LAST VEGAS (2013)

November 9, 2013

last vegas1 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve been writing about “Gray Cinema” for the past few years and the understandable desire of Hollywood to capitalize on the aging population. Take that trend and mix it with new-age buddy pictures like The Hangover and Bridesmaids, and you can at least imagine what director Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure movies) and writer Dan Fogelman (the very entertaining Crazy Stupid Love) were attempting to create.

The film’s poster recalls the glory days of the Rat Pack, so taking this foursome of sixty-something year old childhood buddies to Las Vegas presents many possibilities. There is no shortage of enthusiasm from the four leads: Michael Douglas as Billy, the smooth-talking lifelong bachelor who proposed to his thirty-ish girlfriend at a funeral; Morgan Freeman as Archie, suffocating in a cocoon of family over-protection; Robert Deniro as Paddy, the isolated widow wallowing in grief for the past year; and Kevin Kline as Sam, the stir-crazy Florida stereotype bored with 4:00 dinner parties and his marriage.

last vegas2 These top notch actors give it all they have, but there is just no rescuing such fluff and lack of substance. The script is frustrating throughout and just gives no credit to an audience that might appreciate even a gag or story line that wasn’t obvious from the opening credits. Mary Steenburgen‘s character provides a brief respite, but the developments are so absurd that neither her character or the story line can be taken seriously.

Toss in a bar fight, bikini contest, mandatory viagra jokes, a world class Casino penthouse, an inconceivable party that would be shut down by fire code, and a wasted cameo from 50 Cent … and you get a lame, flat, mostly unfunny story that barely skims the surface of an endless stream of possibly interesting topics.  It’s certainly not at the level of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel … or even Space Cowboys.

I’ll end by stating that I am a huge fan of Gray Cinema, but my request is that some effort go into the script and production so that viewers are provided with an entertaining and intelligent and respectful experience. There is no need to dwell on the bits of culture that have passed them by or the physical ailments that plague their activities. Luckily, the stellar cast prevents this one from flopping to the level that the script deserves.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the novelty of a cast of leading men all in their sixties and seventies OR you get a kick out of knowing the punchline of every joke before it actually happens

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect a certain level of “smarts” in movies … even comedies.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMnr-R7BkkU

 


BEHIND THE CANDLEABRA (2013)

June 3, 2013

candelabra1 Greetings again from the darkness. According to director Steven Soderbergh, this is his farewell to film. He is taking his eye and camera and will concentrate on specialty projects … at least until he figures out that movie directors make more money (yes, I’m skeptical). This one has been “in the works” for years and is based on Scott Thorson’s autobiography.

If you don’t recognize the name Scott Thorson, you surely recognize his opponent in his 1982 palimony suit … Liberace. The story recounts how a 17 year old Scott fell under the spell of Mr Showmanship, and didn’t leave until 1982, when he was forced out. To understand what occurred during those years requires an understanding of the times. The gay culture had not worked its way into mainstream America. Despite his over-the-top flamboyance (on and off stage), candelabra2Liberace’s fans refused to believe he was gay … or more accurately, refused to even entertain the idea.  This “secret” was protected by Liberace and his professional camp.

Although their actual ages are way out of whack for the story, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas are both exceptional as Scott and Liberace, respectively. Much of this story focuses on Scott, but Douglas’ performance is what makes this work. He walks the fine line between predator and protector, lover and louse. When he tells a young Scott that he wants to be his “Brother, Father, Lover, Best Friend”, we are nauseated as viewers, while Scott is captivated.

candelabra3 Supporting work comes from Dan Akyroyd as Seymour Heller, Liberace’s fixer and handler; an exceptional Rob Lowe as plastic surgeon Dr. Startz; Scott Bakula as one of Scott’s first and the one who introduces him to LL; Paul Reiser; Nicky Katt; and Debbie Reynolds … yes THAT Debbie Reynolds (Singin’ in the Rain) … who plays Liberace’s controlling and creepy mother.

Scott Thorson is really not a very interesting character, though there is no doubt that he and Liberace were exceptionally close for almost six years. The movies have shown us many “kept” women over the years, so it’s a twist to see a studly young man in the role. The slow spiral into drug addiction and paranoia is not fun to watch, and rather than follow Scott, the movie ends with Liberace’s passing due to complications from AIDS. Since then, Mr. Thorson testified against gangster Eddie Nash in the Wonderland murders, and was placed in the Federal Witness Protection program. Of course, his taste of fame would not allow him liberaceto live a quiet life and he has since been shot and arrested … even giving interviews from the Reno jail just one month before the premiere of this movie.  Only recently was his bail posted by the fine folks at Nevada’s The Moonlite Bunny Ranch. (yes, really)

Definitely worth watching thanks to the Michael Douglas performance, but also as a reminder of just how much innocence society has lost in the last thirty years. Soderbergh says that no studio would distribute the film because it was “too gay”. Maybe we haven’t progressed so much after all. Luckily HBO picked it up, though that prevents Douglas from being an Oscar contender. Brace yourself for the “creep factor”. Liberace (that’s the real one, pictured left) even tried to legally adopt Scott … a move that eclipses the wildness of even his costumes, pianos and cars.

**NOTE: Robin Williams was originally cast as Liberace

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you were a fan of Liberace OR you want to see just how far society has advanced in 30 years

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have no intention of allowing for the possibility that Liberace was in a relationship (other than professional) with Scott Thorson

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp3wAyRf15c


TMI: LIBERACE bio coming soon

March 12, 2013

March 12, 2013

TMI: Today’s Movie Info

 

liberaceDirector Steven Soderbergh is putting the finishing touches on Behind the Candelabra, an HBO film based on the story of Liberace and his partner of 6 years, Scott Thorson.  The film airs May 26 and stars Michael Douglas (yes, that’s him in the Entertainment Weekly cover photo) as the flamboyant performer known for his extravagant costumes.  Matt Damon will play Thorson.  In typical Hollywood fashion, Mr. Douglas is older now than Liberace was when he died in 1987.  Thorson was a teenager when he first met Liberace, and 24 when he filed his 1982 lawsuit.  While Matt Damon is a young looking 42, very few would confuse him for a twenty-something.  Debbie Reynolds, who once appeared on Liberace’s TV show, will play his mother.  No trailer is available yet.


HAYWIRE

January 17, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Caught an early screening of this one and my quick description is that it’s a mash-up of The Bourne Identity, Salt, and the original “Mod Squad” (it has a kind of retro feel). In other words, it’s a fun ride featuring stunning fight scenes filmed with an artistry that only director Steven Soderbergh can achieve.

Newcomer Gina Carano stars as Mallory Kane, an independent contractor … the type who handles dirty work for governments and the powerful people who must keep their hands somewhat clean. She gets double-crossed on a Barcelona job and becomes the target herself while in Dublin. So this lethal weapon goes on a globe-trotting mission of revenge and messes up people and hotel rooms in the process. If you think a woman can’t carry action scenes, then you don’t realize Ms. Carano is an MMA fighter. She is the real deal. Her physical skills are on full display and leave little doubt as to her deadly talent.

 Since this is a Soderbergh film, you know the cast is well-stocked. We get Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor all at their smarmy best. Additionally we see Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton (as Mallory’s father). Trust me when I say not all of these character fare so well in their showdowns with Mallory. Though the script from Lem Dobbs is pretty basic, Soderbergh’s way of telling the story is compelling enough to keep us interested between Carano’s fights.

The color palette alternates between the brown/gold Soderbergh used for Traffic, and the blue/gray from his “Ocean’s” franchise. The jazzy score from David Holmes is a wonderful compliment to the wide variety of scenes and locations, and the tongue-in-cheek humor is expert enough to keep you smiling through the all too serious business chats. A perfect example of the wry humor is that the movie begins and ends with the same one syllable word (begins with an “S”).

Soderbergh is one of the few directors who refuses to get pigeon-holed into making a certain type of movie. Never short on style or visual flair, he touches many genres and here proves he can twist the action-thriller in a new, fun to watch direction. If you kick back and go for the ride, Haywire will show you a great time.

a note of trivia: Gina Carano is the daughter of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Salt and the “Bourne” movies OR you want to see a woman totally capable of kicking ass

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are going to take it too seriously and expect a dose of heavy-handed Soderbergh filmmaking (he seems to actually have fun with this one)

watch the trailer:


WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2010)

September 26, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The much anticipated sequel to the 1987 original has Oliver Stone back in the director’s seat for one of the most iconic characters in movie history, Gordon Gekko.  Michael Douglas is back as GG and the film opens as he is being released from prison … with no one there to pick him up. He is truly on his own.

Skip ahead a few years and we see Shia LeBeouf as Jake, a Wall Street hotshot working for Frank Langella, a Wall Street legend. It is very obvious that this legend, and Jake’s mentor, is in deep trouble and the entire market is pretty wobbly. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s 2008. Ahh yes, the juicy part … Jake is getting engaged to the lovely Winnie (Carey Mulligan) who just happens to be Gordon Gekko’s estranged daughter. Now we’re rolling!

Turns out, the dirty tricks and back room deals didn’t stop while Gekko was incarcerated. Josh Brolin plays a high roller for a thinly disguised firm that most will recognize as Goldman Sachs. Brolin thinks he was wronged a few years back by Langella, and can’t wait to get even when the opportunity presents itself in a meeting with the Treasury Secretary. Sound deliciously nasty? Well not so fast.

The movie steers away from much of the back-stabbing and dirty deal making that was so prevalent in the original. It even avoids much commentary on the scuzzy financial services industry leaders who managed to profit while all of our retirement plans and home values were plummeting. Instead, we get an overabundance of melodramatic, sappy conversation about feelings and family and time. Apparently Gekko found a semblance of a soul while in prison. He’s certainly not perfect, but this is not the wheeler-dealer that was so much fun to hiss in part one.

Oliver Stone tosses in some touches that help: Charlie Sheen reprises his Bud Fox role for a brief encounter with Gekko, there are some terrific shots of NYC and we get Sylvia Miles back as the Realtor – this time helping Jake dump his loft in a soft market. We even get 95 year old Eli Wallach whistling his way through a power role, complete with Jake’s ringer playing the theme song to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. All fun aspects, but they don’t offset the inordinate number of times we must endure people choking up and crying. Had to check the credits to see if Nora Ephron was co-director.

Bottom line, if you enjoyed the original, you probably owe it to yourself to see how Gekko has come full circle. The ride is fine, just not at the same level as we were treated 23 years ago.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the 1987 original OR you have been waiting to see Shia LeBeouf play grown-up

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are seeking tips on stocks or revenge OR your idea of fun is a steady stream of plastic surgery and “money room” jewelry