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Movies – Ant-Man and the Wasp

7 Jul

Marvel’s third and final movie of 2018 (fourth of you count Deadpool, which is part of the Sony/X-Men universe rather than the main Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)), Ant-Man and the Wasp is the follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man, and bridges that character’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War (2016), his non-appearance in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War*, and his confirmed appearance in next year’s Avengers 4 (title still unannounced).

This movie takes place two years after Civil War, and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is nearing the end of a two-year House Arrest agreement he reached after siding with Captain America’s rebels in that movie. All indications are that he’s been behaving himself, spending time with his daughter and starting a business with his burglary crew from the first Ant-Man movie. He’s also fallen out of touch with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly), who aren’t happy that he took the Ant-Man suit to Europe without asking.

Hope and Hank have been busy as well, working on a tunnel device that will allow them to access the Quantum Realm, where Janet Van Dyne (Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, played by Michelle Pfeiffer) disappeared while on a mission as the Wasp years earlier. They’d always assumed that a person who entered the Quantum Realm would be lost forever, but Scott proved in the first film that it was possible to come back, Given this hope, they’ve been working on a way to safely accessing the Quantum Realm.

Scott, Hank, and Hope are pretty quickly reunited, to try to rescue Janet, while simultaneously trying to evade Scott’s FBI monitor Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), a black market arms dealer (Walton Goggins), and a super-powered adversary called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), all of whom have something they want from the trio. They receive varying levels of support from Scott’s buddies (Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian) and Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburn), one of Hank’s old colleagues.

The tone of Ant-Man and the Wasp is similar to the first Ant-Man movie, skewed to the humorous side of the Marvel Universe, but without a lot of the snark that comes through in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It’s a gentler, goofier form of humor which plays to Rudd and Pena’s strengths. Lilly is given a bit more to do here than in the first movie (in which she primarily served as a wet blanket to Rudd’s goofiness), and she’s appealing and has good chemistry with both Rudd and Douglas. Douglas is fine, and Rudd and Pena have fine-tuned their respective personas to a fare-thee-well, so they deliver exactly what’s expected of them.

If there’s one problem with the movie, it’s that of the three main plotlines in the movie, only one seems to have any urgency (the hunt for Janet Van Dyne). The other two (Ghost and the black market guy) simply serve to throw hurdles in the way of the first. Woo’s dogged pursuit to prove that Scott is violating the terms of his house arrest, provide some good comedic situations, and give the only real reason for Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband (Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale, both of whom should have been given bigger roles in the MCCU than these throwaway supporting parts) to appear.

All in all, Ant-Man and the Wasp won’t likely bring any new viewers into the Marvel Universe, and it won’t change the minds of folks who didn’t like the first installment. There are a couple of throwaway lines/concepts involving the Quantum Realm which many observers are thinking will come into play in Avengers 4, and that’s quite possible, given that the first post-credit sequence ties this movie directly in to Infinity Quest.

I give it 6 Cheeseburgers

 

*Many reviews have indicated that this movie explains why Ant-Man doesn’t appear in Infinity War, but there were a couple lines of dialogue in that movie which explained it; when one of the characters is getting Bruce Banner up to speed on where everyone is, they say “Scott is under house arrest” (or something like that). Banner replies “Scott who,” to which he’s told “Ant-Man” and he observes, “So there’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man now?”

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Movies – Blade Runner 2049

8 Oct

Blade Runner 2049 is the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 science fiction classic. The new movie takes place 30 years after the original and stars Ryan Gosling as “K”, a new-model replicant (a.k.a. android) Blade Runner — a police officer tasked with hunting down and “retiring” older model replicants. The movie also features Robin Wright as K’s boss, Jared Leto as industrialist Niander Wallace, Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace’s right-hand woman, Luv, and Ana de Armas as K’s girlfriend. The main cast is rounded out by Dave Bautista as a replicant who puts the main action of the movie in motion, and Edward James Olmos and, of course, Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, returning from the original movie.

I haven’t seen Blade Runner for years, but I remember it as an action sci-fi movie with some “what does it mean to be human” philosophy mixed in. This one…isn’t. It’s a visually beautiful, slow, talky movie with a few action scenes tossed in.

Ryan Gosling is good as a downtrodden cop trying to do his duty while battling his own personal questions. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green almost immediately take away one major (unresolved) subplot of the original movie, Deckard’s “is he human or replicant?” by immediately identifying K as a replicant, but that adds a new level of explicit questioning in terms of K hunting his own. De Armas as Joi, the one bright spot in K’s life, is beautiful and effective, and Wright bookends the summer with another strong woman warrior role (following her turn in Wonder Woman). Harrison Ford is…well, Harrison Ford, and dominates the relatively small portion of the movie he’s in. Jared Leto delivers a strange, Jared Leto-ish performance.

The visuals are stunning, both digital and practical effects. The neon-and-video-lit streets of Los Angeles from the original movie reappear in fleeting glimpses, though the city is mainly glimpsed from on high, from the rain-slicked windscreens of flying cars.

I really want to like this movie based on the visuals and a number of nice touches, including some callbacks to the original, but it feels much more like a Denis Villeneuve movie that shares some DNA with Blade Runner than a straightforward sequel, even though it hits a lot of the plot points you’d look for in a sequel. In the end, I think the movie succeeds in creating a vast visual pallet and a couple of interesting characters, but falls short due to a too-dense plot and muddled motivations.

I give Blade Runner 2049 6 Cheeseburgers.

 

Movies — MOTHER!

17 Sep
I saw Mother! today. It’s not the movie the trailers make it seem like (the second movie this year to be radically different than its trailer, after It Comes At Night), but I’m not sure how it could have been promoted more accurately.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a May-December couple who live in an enormous house in the middle of a clearing in the woods.  He is a poet struggling with writer’s block and she is an artistic type who is absorbed with restoring the house. Their solitude is disrupted one evening when a doctor (Ed Harris) appears at their front door. He is, he claims, a doctor at a nearby hospital, and has been told that their home is a bed-and-breakfast where he might find a room. The situation becomes even stranger the next morning when his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. To say much more would be to give away the twists and turns of the first half of the movie.
It’s an unusual movie, an extended metaphor or allegory. 
 
Lawrence is very good throughout, channeling the viewers utter confusion at everything that happens around her. Bardem, Pfeiffer, and Harris are also good at doing what they’re asked to do.
I think its problem, though, is that it can’t decide which allegory or metaphor it is. There are a bunch of different things thrown in together, and the movie takes an abrupt left turn a little past halfway through. At one part during the extremely chaotic second half, I wondered if it was trying to be a viciously funny satire but wasn’t landing its humor, but it was being played so straight that I don’t think that was it.
I think the problem starts with Darren Aronofsky’s script and ends with his direction. He gets points for going bold in the middle of the movie, going way off the rails in a way that doesn’t make sense given what’s come before it, and doesn’t really follow from anything that has come before it. I don’t doubt that he knew what he was trying to do. But I think he fell short of communicating that to the audience. And when he did, explicitly, at the end of the movie, my reaction was “But that wasn’t one of the multiple metaphors I considered while I was watching the $*(%*%$ thing.”
I’ll give Mother! 6 Cheeseburgers for audacity
5 Cheeseburgers for the first half
and 2CB overall.

Movies – Marcus (formerly Wehrenberg) Theaters Sunday Movie Pass

4 Sep

Marcus Theaters is offering a Sunday Movie Pass: $25 for 5 movies, one per week, any time on Sunday between 9/3 and 11/12. I took a look, and there looks like there’s a new movie that I want to see (or at least that I wouldn’t mind seeing) every week during that span except this weekend. In fact, the only week between 9/8 and the end of the year without something I want to see is 12/1.

I actually got my pass today, and was finally able to see The Big Sick, a wonderful autobiographical sort-of-romcom from comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani. It also includes 20% off on all concessions on Sundays. The pass takes the form of a kind of bulky folded cardboard pamphlet (for lack of a better description), but the savings are quite real.

My want-to-see movies for the rest of the year:

9/8 – IT
9/15 – Mother! / All I See is You
9/22 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle
9/29 – Flatliners / American Made
10/6 – Blade Runner 2049
10/13 – The Foreigner
10/20 – The Snowman
10/27 – Suburbicon
11/3 – Thor: Ragnarok
11/10 – Murder on the Orient Express
11/17 – Justice League
11/22 – Molly’s Game
12/1 – <nothing>
12/8 – The Disaster Artist or The Shape of Water
12/15 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
12/20 – Jumanji
12/22 – Pitch Perfect 3
12/25 – The Greatest Showman

The Jungle Book

15 Apr

the_jungle_book_poster_key_artRudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is back in a live action version directed by Jon Favreau.  I must admit, I was a little apprehensive going in as the animated version is my favorite Disney classic.  Don’t get me wrong, I was looking forward to seeing it but terrified they would botch it.  If you are in the same boat, rest assured, they did a fantastic job!!!

To start with, the film is visually stunning.  The CGI and scenery are top rate.  If you have a chance to see it in IMAX 3D, don’t miss out.  The live action blends very well with CGI animals and environments to draw you in to Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) world.

The story has the basics from the original, Mowgli the man cub is abandoned in the jungle, discovered by Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) and delivered to the wolves to be raised as one of their own by Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong) his overly protective mother wolf.  Of course along comes the evil tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba who does a wonderful job) to  deliver an ultimatum.  Turn over the man cub or face the consequences.  Thus begins the adventure.  It’s decided that in order to save him from the tiger, Bagheera must take Mowgli to the man village where he’ll be safe from Shere Khan.

jungle-book-2016-posters-mowgli-baloo

Along the way they are separated and Mowgli comes in contact with the usual characters, including the python Kaa, seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who hypnotizes him and tries to eat him.  He then meets the rather lazy but spirited bear Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) who helps him to decide that the jungle is WAY more fun than any old man village.  Finally the monkeys come along and kidnap him and carry him off to see their smooth talking King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) who tries to convince Mowgli to teach him the secret of man’s red flower, fire.

jungle-book-airbnb-has-treehouses-at-the-ready

The story has a few wrinkles and twists off of the original but is well told and, as mentioned earlier, visually delightful.  The cast does a fantastic job and will keep you engaged from beginning to end.

I give the film 9 Cheeseburgers

9CB

Why are you still reading?  Go see this movie!!!

By Duane McClinton

Oscar Preview – Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress

28 Feb

A rundown of the distaff nominees. I’ll post some general observations/witticisms tomorrow before the ceremony.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett (Carol)

One of the premier actresses working, this nomination may be one of those “I didn’t see the movie, but Cate Blanchett is always great” nominations that have been discussed recently, in light of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Blanchett is good as the society woman torn between the conventions of propriety and her sexual inclinations, but she’s always so good that this didn’t strike me as anything special. Still, I don’t have a particular problem with the nomination.

Brie Larson (Room)

If Leonardo DiCaprio is this year’s surest bet, Brie Larson is probably a close #2. With a turn-on-a-dime performance as a woman who is well and truly a victim but who is trying to make the best of things for her son, Larson’s performance should elevate her to the first ranks of young actresses.

Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

Same evaluation as Cate Blanchett above, although I have more of a problem with this nomination. I just wasn’t overly impressed by either Joy the movie or Joy the character, as embodied by Jennifer Lawrence. A meh performance in a meh movie.

Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Rampling is a veteran actress giving an understated performance in a little-seen movie. It didn’t do much for me. I would have been happy with Charlize Theron for Mad Max, even though I didn’t care much for the movie.

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

I actually liked Ronan’s performance better than Brie Larson’s. Her Eilis was quieter and less showy than Larson’s Ma, but went through a wider range of emotions. Of course, the flatness was a part of Larson’s character’s circumstance, but I was just drawn more to Eilis. Like Larson, Ronan will be a name we’ll be seeing quite often in nomination lists.

My Pick: Saoirse Ronan (Seer-sha, for those pronouncing at home)

My Prediction: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actress

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH (The Hateful Eight)

IMO, the worst nomination of the 20 actors. Leigh’s Domergue served primarily as the recipient of a whole lot of cartoon violence and a whole lot of misogyny, and I didn’t see the performance particularly rise above it. This nomination should have gone to Tessa Thompson for Creed.

ROONEY MARA (Carol)

Category Fraud, case 1: Carol is a lesbian romance, and Rooney Mara’s Therese is an equal partner to Cate Blanchett’s Carol. But someone figured that nominating both as leads would split votes, so the non-title character is considered supporting. Regardless, Mara does fine work as a 1950s shopgirl exploring a new aspect to her sexuality.

RACHEL MCADAMS (Spotlight)

The temptation is to say that as the only woman in a cast full of guys, McAdams holds her own with the big boys. That sounds sexist, but it’s kind of true. McAdams does just fine here, but honestly, this nomination and Mark Ruffalo’s on the male side seem almost like “Well, if Spotlight is a Best Picture nominee, there have to be some actors nominated”. This could have gone to someone else pretty easily.

ALICIA VIKANDER (The Danish Girl)

Right nomination, wrong movie. Category Fraud, case 2: Vikander was the female lead in The Danish Girl. In fact, technically, she is the Danish Girl. At least, she’s the one being referred to when the phrase is spoken in the film. She should have been nominated for Ex Machina where, again, the role was the female lead, but the case could be made that the two leads were the male characters and she was support. She’s having a really good year (despite The Man from UNCLE tanking), and I think she’ll win.

KATE WINSLET (Steve Jobs)

Another “Actor x is in a movie I haven’t seen, but they’re always good” nomination. Kate Winslet was the best thing about the movie, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

My Pick: Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina

My Prediction: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl

Oscar Preview – Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor

28 Feb

I’m going to run through the actors in slightly less detail than I did the Best Pictures, so I’ll combine the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in one post, and the Best Actress/Supporting Actress in another. In the spirit of #OscarSoWhite, I’m also going to offer a couple of suggestions for worthy alternate nominees who aren’t white guys.

Best Actor

BRYAN CRANSTON (Trumbo)

A good performance by (IMO) one of our greatest actors, but fairly one-note. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of growth or development of the character, a Hollywood writer who was part of the anti-Communist blacklist of the mid-20th Century.

MATT DAMON (The Martian)

Damon’s charm and wit as stranded astronaut Mark Watney carries the film, and in any year that didn’t have him up against Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, he might have a chance of winning. (Note: In my Best Picture writeup for The Martian, I said that Damon was robbed of a nomination. Obviously, his inclusion on this list means that he wasn’t.)

LEONARDO DICAPRIO (The Revenant)

A gutsy performance and a “he’s due” sentiment make DiCaprio the prohibitive favorite in this race. There’s not a lot of character development, and the dialogue is sparse, so this may turn out to be the Best Actor winning performance with the largest amount of grunting and groaning in Oscar history.

MICHAEL FASSBENDER (Steve Jobs)

An interesting actor in a not-so-interesting performance. This slot should have gone to Michael B. Jordan for Creed.

EDDIE REDMAYNE (The Danish Girl)

See above. Interesting actor in an almost caricature  performance. This slot could easily gone to someone like Domnhall Gleason (who had a huge year) for Ex Machina. (Okay, he’s a white guy. But I couldn’t decide which Compton guy was a lead, and wasn’t all that impressed with Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight.)

My Choice: Leo

Prediction: Leo

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Bale’s performance as one part of what was really an ensemble cast did very little for me. The character was quirky, but outside the fake glass eye and the unconventional-for-an-investment-genius wardrobe, there really wasn’t much there. I would have had less trouble with Brad Pitt being nominated for the same movie, as his role was more against type. This spot could have gone to Oscar Isaac for Ex Machina.

Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

A brash and rough-hewn turn, almost the opposite of the laconic Max Rockatansky (who he also played), Hardy’s Fitzgerald provided a worthy adversary for DiCaprio’s nigh-on-indestructable mountain man. My favorite of the nominated performances in this category.

Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

See my evaluation of Christian Bale, above. Ruffalo was part of a really outstanding ensemble, but I didn’t find much to distinguish him from the rest except for volume. This could have gone to someone else, maybe Corey Hawkins for Straight Outta Compton.

Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

As a stoic Soviet spy with a Scottish (or was it Irish) brogue, Rylance brought quiet dignity to a role that could easily have been cartoonish.

Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

The sentimental choice, and probably an Oscar record for an actor being nominated for playing the same character the most years apart. There’s nothing wrong with Stallone’s performance, and this could well be viewed as sort of a “lifetime achievement award” for an actor who, while known primarily as an action star, turned in some really great performances over the course of his career.

My choice: Tom Hardy

My prediction: Sylvester Stallone