Monday, July 20, 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Ant-Man

The latest offering from the MCU (and final release in Marvel Studio’s "Phase 2" schedule) is ‘Ant-Man,’ a comic book superhero who's familiar enough to die-hard Marvel fans but otherwise relatively unknown to the mainstream audience.  Although ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (Extra! Extra! read all about it here: proved that obscure titles can strike box office gold if done well, ‘Ant-Man’ is still a tough sell for Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios.  As a third-tier character, Ant-Man is often overshadowed by the more glamorous and popular Marvel properties like your friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.  Can Disney repeat its unexpected GotG success with ‘Ant-Man’?
Development of the film got off to a rocky start when "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” director and fanboy favourite (he’s British, so suuue me) Edgar Wright left and was replaced by Peyton Reed, who up til now is best known for the Jennifer Aniston-starred romcom ‘The Break-Up’ and the bubbly cheerleading guilty pleasure ‘Bring It On.’  Well, I don’t know how they managed it, but they overcame this "setback" in brilliant fashion.  Wright had a hand in the final script, and Reed’s background in comedy paid off handsomely.  It’s fun (and funny) watching Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man battling Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) on his kid's “Thomas the Engine” railroad track, but in addition to the visual pizzazz ‘Ant-Man’ also boasts great storytelling and solid character development. 
After witnessing the latest orgy of epic carnage and destruction in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ it’s a breath of fresh air to enjoy something smaller and more personal.  Scott Lang (Rudd), Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, looking almost unrecognizable with short hair and even hotter than she did 10 years ago in 'Lost') and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are eminently relatable characters who complemented each other perfectly.  The movie also features some very funny moments, the highlights of which are when Luis (Michael Peña), a friend of Lang's when they were in prison, would go on about how he caught wind of their latest caper like some gossipy school girl who happens to speak ghetto while the various scenes are played out in perfect lip-sync pantomime.  To coin a cliché, 'Ant-Man' proves once again that "good things come in small packages."
Grade: A
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Minions save Queen and Country

Those adorably loony, mischievous and cute little yellow critters finally get to headline their own feature-length movie in ‘Minions,’ a prequel which seeks to address their origin and backstory before their employment by the villain mastermind Gru.  Having enjoyed both ‘Despicable Me’ and its sequel (reviewed here: immensely, following the latest shenanigans of these one- and two-eyed minions in denim suspenders is a no-brainer for me.
Having served countless masters throughout history since the dawn of time including Napoleon Bonaparte, the subservient minions (think of them as a tribe) find themselves masterless and without purpose when they were exiled after helping one to an early demise through their bumbling incompetence.  In a last ditch effort to bring their tribe out of its malaise, three minions (Kevin, Stuart and Bob) embarked upon a perilous trek to find a new master and ended up in… London circa 1968.  What started as a promising new minion-ship under female supervillain “Scarlet Overkill” (voiced by Sandra Bullock) became a God-Save-the-Queen misadventure as Kevin, Stuart and Bob foil Scarlet’s dastardly plan to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a princess by stealing the royal crown worn by the young Queen Elizabeth II (remember, this was back in 1968).
While Minions can be funny in small doses and in film shorts like ‘Minion Madness,’ they struggle to maintain the momentum when asked to carry an entire movie on their tiny shoulders (not surprising, since they don’t have any to speak of).  Nevertheless, ‘Minions’ delivers a fun and enjoyable experience for the young and old, more so if you’re already a fan of the little terrors.  What I didn’t expect was that the movie is also a homage to the Fab Four era and features classic Brit rock from the period.  There’s even a rather obvious reference to the 'Abbey Road' album cover.  It's a shame that a good chunk of the audience won't be able to connect the dots.
Grade: B+
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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Terminator Re-Genisys

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paramount Pictures pushed the "reset" button on the ‘Terminator’ franchise with ‘Terminator Genisys,’ the former governor of California’s first major role in a ‘Terminator’ film since ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ 15 years ago.  T2 was also the last good movie in the venerated sci-fi series, as follow-ups ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ and ‘Terminator: Salvation’ were ripped by critics and aficionados alike despite holding up well at the box office (the ‘final arbiter’ where Hollywood is concerned).
In light of the fact that the first two films are the best ones, perhaps it should come as no surprise that this fifth entry would try to bring back the elements that worked so well in those movies.  TG starts off in the dark future of 2029, when Skynet is reeling from the human resistance and their messianic leader, John Connor.  In a last ditch effort to save itself, it sends a Terminator Model T-800 Endoskeleton back in time to assassinate Connor’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and prevent him from being conceived in the first place.  In response, Connor sends his top lieutenant and right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect his mum.  Holy Déjà vu, Batman!  Fret not, my dear readers, for while the story starts in familiar territory it develops and ends quite differently.
Schwarzenegger is "old but not obsolete" as the fatherly bodyguard of Clarke's teenage Sarah, whose feisty and headstrong manner gives us a glimpse of the older version played by Linda Hamilton.  And while TG appears to fit in the canon of the first two movies, it's also saddled with sterile action scenes, a convoluted alternate timeline plot and gives us the feeling that something is missing despite its trappings.  On top of that, director Alan Taylor’s execution wasn’t nearly as fluid or sure handed as James Cameron’s.  Still, TG represents a marked improvement over the disappointing third and fourth entries, even as it falls short critically and commercially to ensure a sixth installment in the long-running franchise.  I'll be back?  Don't be so sure.
Grade: B
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Monday, July 6, 2015

Bad Ted(dy)

Seth MacFarlane’s bong-smoking, potty-mouthed, misbehaving and politically incorrect (but cuddly) teddy bear is back for a second go round in ‘Ted 2,’ the sequel to the oft hilarious R-rated comedy smash from 2012 reviewed here:  Warning: Seth MacFarlane isn’t for everyone, certainly not for kids.  Fans of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’ need no introduction to MacFarlane’s off-beat, offensive and crude brand of humor, but those with more delicate sensibilities and “refined” tastes might find the idea of sitting through two hours of potty humor and gross-out gags a bit less appealing. 
Teddy bears are “people” too.  T2 (no ‘Judgment Day’ here) sees our beloved stuffed PITA (pain in the ass, that is) married to a hottie with a Boston accent  (Jessica Barth) and trying to have a kid in order to save his disintegrating marriage beset by constant bickering, but because he lacks the requisite uh, appendage, Ted was forced to explore artificial insemination.  While his frequent partner-in-crime and previous owner, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), was willing to make a donation for such a worthy cause, Ted hit another snag when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts saw fit to declare that he is not legally a “person” but rather property. T2, then, is the story of a disenfranchised teddy bear’s fight against discrimination and injustice in the world, with the help of a couple of bong-smoking friends like Wahlberg and Sam L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), as well as a late assist from Morgan Freeman as a prominent civil rights attorney.  Giovanni Ribisi’s Tiffany-loving Donny also returns to exact his revenge on Ted, and like the original the many new and recurring cameos are a veritable “who’s who?” including Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon), Patrick Warburton (The Tick), Michael Dorn (Worf), Dennis Haysbert, Liam Neeson and Tom Brady.  
Okay, so T2 wasn’t quite the equal to its predecessor in the originality and humor departments (nor did it have Norah Jones), but how many sequels could truly claim to hold up to the original?  This follow-up is nonetheless an irreverently humorous romp and a loving tribute to geek culture that speaks to our fanboy (and fangirl) hearts.
Grade: B+
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