6 Reviews To Help Lisa Get Caught Up: Ant-Man, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, The Man From UNCLE, Terminator: Genisys


So, it’s that time of year!  2015 is nearly over and soon, it will be time for me to make out my best-of and worst-of lists.  That means that now is the time that I look over all the films that I have watched up to this point, I realize how many of those films I have yet to review ,and I think, “Oh my God, how did I get this far behind?”

So, here are 6 capsule reviews, designed to help me get caught up!

Marvel's Ant-Man

Ant-Man (dir by Peyton Reed)

Ant-Man has already been reviewed twice on this site, once by Leonard Wilson and once by Ryan The Trashfilm Guru.  Leonard liked it.  Ryan did not.  As for me, my reaction was somewhere in between.  I enjoyed Ant-Man, though not as much as I’ve enjoyed some of the previous Marvel films.  Ant-Man was better than the second Thor film but nowhere close to being as good as Captain America: Winter Soldier.

What I did like about Ant-Man were the performances of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena.  I even enjoyed Michael Douglas’s performance, which is saying something when you consider the fact that, as of late, Michael Douglas has really been making my skin crawl.  I also thought that the film did a good job creating Ant-Man’s microscopic world, even if I’m still not totally sold on the character as a dynamic hero.  I do wish that the film had a stronger villain.  Corey Stoll is such a good actor and capable of doing so much and it was hard not to regret that he was stuck playing such a generic bad guy.

Cinderella (dir by Kenneth Branagh)

Oh, how I loved Cinderella!  The film, a live-action retelling of the Cinderella story, was a gorgeous fairy tale and a wonderful reminder that a film doesn’t have to be dark and depressing to be good.  (In many ways, Cinderella serves as an antidote to not only Into The Woodsbut countless Tim Burton films as well.)  Lily James is beautiful in the title role, Richard Madden is wonderfully charming as the prince, and Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the stepmother and the fairy godmother.

Jurassic World (dir by Colin Trevorrow)

Jurassic World was previously reviewed by Ryan the Trashfilm Guru.  I hate to admit it but I was, initially, one of those people who watched Jurassic World and got annoyed because the film was predictable and the script was a bit clunky.  Traditionally (and, if you doubt me, just read my review of Avatar), it bothers me when a film devotes so much time special effects that it can’t seem to be bothered with character development and clever dialogue.

But then I thought about it somewhat and I thought to myself, you know what?  This movie had Chris Pratt and it had some very convincing dinosaurs!  And, especially when it comes to a summer blockbuster, that is sometimes all you need.

(Why I enjoyed Jurassic World while disliking Avatar largely comes down to the difference between Chris Pratt and Sam Worthington.)

Magic Mike XXL (dir by Gregory Jacobs)

Oddly enough, I had the roughly the same reaction to Magic Mike XXL that I had to Jurassic World.  Yes, there are certain things — mostly concerning the film’s script — about which I could nitpick but what’s truly important is that Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and most of the original cast of Magic Mike is back and they’re stripping again.  Magic Mike XXL is a huge (heh heh) crowd pleaser, a film that delivers exactly what it promises.

Though Steven Soderbergh served as cinematographer for Magic Mike XXL, he did not return to serve as director and perhaps that’s why Magic Mike XXL feels like a far less pretentious film than the first Magic Mike.  Out of the original cast, both Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer both declined to appear in the sequel.  McConaughey is missed, Pettyfer less so.

The Man From UNCLE (dir by Guy Ritchie)

The Man From Uncle is one of the many stylish spy films to be released this year.  Henry Cavill is an American spy, Armie Hammer is a Russian spy, and Hugh Grant is the Englishman who tells them both what to do.  The Man From Uncle was entertaining.  It took place in the 60s, so there was a lot of wonderful retro fashion and the whole movie moved at a nice, breezy pace.  Ultimately — and I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t exactly fair — The Man From UNCLE suffered because it was released in the same year as Kingsman and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  Man From UNCLE was entertaining but rather generic.  At no point did it reach the lunatic high of Kingsman’s Free Bird sequence.

Terminator: Genisys (dir by Alan Taylor)

You can read Ryan’s review of Terminator: Genisys here.  I have to admit that Terminator: Genisys confused the Hell out of me.  Not being a huge fan of the entire Terminator franchise (though, yes, I do know what Skynet is and I have seen the first two films), I do have to admit that I sometimes felt lost while watching Genisys.

But you know what?  If you just sit back and relax and try not to think about the film too much — if you just accept it as an action film and watch for the stunts and the explosions — Terminator: Genisys is not the disaster that many critics made it out to be.  I mean, let’s just be honest here.  Most critics would die before they gave a good review to any film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (Just check out all the negativity that greeted the brilliant zombie film, Maggie.)  After all, Schwarzenegger is an outspoken, confident, cheerfully arrogant Republican and most film critics can only relate to the arrogant part.  (And even then, they don’t ever seem to be very cheerful about it…)  Terminator: Genisys is a well-made and perfectly adequate action film, one that works as long as you don’t spend too much time dwelling on it.  It’s cinematic junk food and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Film Review: Black Mass (dir by Scott Cooper)


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You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you’re happy because you know it’s a good movie but, at the same time, you end up feeling slightly disappointed because, as good as it may be, it never quite becomes the great movie that you were hoping for?

That was kind of my reaction to Black Mass.

Black Mass tells the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger, the gangster who controlled the Boston underworld from the late 70s to the mid-90s.  Bulger was both famous and feared for his ruthless brutality and his willingness to murder just about anyone.  Bulger was also famous for being the brother of Billy Bulger, a powerful Democratic politician.  When it appeared that Whitey was finally on the verge of being indicted, he vanished into thin air and, for 2 decades, remained missing until he was finally captured in Florida.  Whitey Bulger is now serving two life sentences.

Black Mass is a solid gangster film.  We watch as Whitey (Johnny Depp) takes over Boston and essentially murders anyone who gets on his nerves.  Helping Whitey out is a local FBI Agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who grew up in South Boston with the Bulger brothers.  While Connolly originally only appears to be using Whitey as an informant to help take down the Italian mob, it quickly becomes obvious that Connolly envies the power and influence of both Whitey and Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch).  Soon, Connolly has become something of a Bulger groupie and is protecting Whitey from prosecution and even leaking him the names of anyone who attempts to inform on Bulger’s crime.

Indeed, the film’s best scenes are the ones in which it is shown how the FBI’s determination to take down the Mafia allowed the far more violent Bulger to move into their place.  Bulger was a criminal who worked for and was protected by the U.S. government and, as such, his story serves as a metaphor for a lot of what is currently messed up about America.  While I appreciated the time that Black Mass devoted to exploring Whitey’s relationship with the FBI, I do wish it had spent more time exploring his relationship with his brother, Billy.  The film places most of the blame for Whitey’s reign of terror on the FBI but it defies common sense not to assume that Whitey was also protected by his well-connected, politically powerful brother.

Black Mass contains all of the usual gangster film tropes.  There are sudden and violent executions.  There are drug addicted criminals who turn out to be less than trustworthy.  (Poor Peter Sarsgaard.)  There’s the usual talk of honor and respect.  Beefy men with pockmarked faces stand in the shadows and shout random insults at each other until someone finally snaps.  And, of course, we get the countless scenes where Bulger’s demeanor goes from friendly to threatening and we’re left wondering if he’s going to smile or if he’s going to kill someone.  It may all be a little bit familiar but director Scott Cooper handles it all well and keeps things watchable.

In this 122-minute film, there are exactly two scenes in which Whitey is in any way sympathetic.  In one scene, he breaks down after the death of his son and, in the other, he deals with the death of his mother.  These are the only two scenes in which Whitey shows any hint of humanity.  Otherwise, Bulger is presented as being almost pure evil.  He’s no Michael Corleone, trying to go straight and making excuses for the family business.  Nor does he possess the enjoyable flamboyance of Scareface‘s Tony Montana or The Departed‘s Frank Costello.  Instead, he’s a pure sociopath and  the film’s most effective shots are the ones that focus on Whitey’s expressionless gaze.  They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul and one only has to look into Bulger’s to see that they are windows without a view.

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Johnny Depp deserves all the credit in the world for making Whitey into a compelling character.  Wisely, Depp underplays Whitey’s most threatening scenes.  He rarely raises his voice and the only time he loses control of his emotions is when he’s confronted with something — like the death of his son — that even he can’t change.  Otherwise, Depp plays Whitey as always being in control.  (It’s mentioned, at one point, that Whitey was the subject of 50 LSD experiments while serving time in prison and Depp plays Whitey as if he’s always staring at something that nobody else can see.)  It’s his confidence that makes Whitey Bulger an interesting character.  You may not like him but you can’t look away because you know that he’s literally capable of anything.  Ever since the trailer for Black Mass was first released, Depp has been at the center of awards speculation.  Having seen the film, I can say that the Oscar talk is more than deserved.  He’s even better than people like me thought he would be.

Depp is so good that he overshadows the rest of the cast.  There’s a lot of good actors in this film, including Kevin Bacon, James Russo, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, and Rory Cochrane.  But few of them get as much of a chance to make an impression as Johnny Depp.  Much as Whitey dominated Boston, Depp dominates this film.  Joel Edgerton has several great moments as the not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is Connolly but even he is thoroughly overshadowed by Depp’s performance.  (That said, I did appreciate the fact that Edgerton’s too-eager-to-please Connolly came across like he might be a cousin to The Gift‘s Gordo the Weirdo.)

As I said at the beginning of this review, Black Mass is good but it was never quite as great as I was hoping it would be.  There’s a few too many scenes where you get the feeling that Scott Cooper woke up the day of shooting and said, “Let’s Scorsese the shit out of this scene.”  As a result, Black Mass sometimes struggles to escape from the shadow cast by Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, American Gangster, and the countless other mob films that have been released over the past few decades.  Black Mass is well-made and will forever be remembered for Johnny Depp’s amazing lead performance but it never quite reaches the status of a classic.

Finally, on a personal note, I did enjoy the fact that Black Mass dealt with the Irish mob.  I’m a little bit torn in my loyalties because I’m Irish-Italian but, if I ever had to pick a mob to which to serve as a cheerleader, I would go Irish Mafia all the way!

Sláinte!

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Trailer #2: Black Mass


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One of this year’s most-anticipated films (well, at least when it comes to award season) has a new trailer.

Black Mass stars Johnny Depp in the role of the infamous gangster Whitey Bulger who, as the film’s tagline states, became the most notorious gansgter in U.S. history. This is bold claim considering other gangsters in U.S. history such as Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Vito Genovese and Meyer Lansky to name a few.

What makes this film so interesting is the fact that we finally get to see Depp return to acting real, complex characters instead of just acting like a character these past decade. Plus, have you seen this cast supporting Depp: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll and Jesse Plemons just for starters.

Black Mass is set for a September 18, 2015 release date.

Quick Review: Marvel’s Ant-Man (dir. by Peyton Reed)


Marvel's Ant-Man

*** Wait a minute! Before checking this out, be sure to read TrashFilmGuru’s thoughts on Ant-Man and then if you like, double back here. Two opinions are better than one! ***

I walked into Ant Man with a bias.

As a fan of Edgar Wright, his departure on the film due to creative differences left me wondering if it was worth seeing. Mix that with the idea that Marvel diverged from the character’s comic book origins for a better fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it all seemed like a recipe for failure. This was going to be the Cars 2 of the MCU, I was sure of it.

Ant-Man isn’t as large a tale as Captain America: The First Avenger or as star spanning as Guardians of the Galaxy. At times, it feels like it the story would be better suited for an extended Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Crossover or a Netflix one shot instead of a big screen event. It actually reminded me of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in many ways, back when all of this was so small that audiences weren’t searching for tie-ins to next film in the line up or homages to The Story So Far. Ant-Man comes with the MCU connections (and comic book ones too), but if you walk in expecting revelations as big as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film may be a disappointment. It’s just a hero, and idea that even small actions can have big effects. It’s easily the film’s greatest strength, that it’s so personal. The film’s best components are it’s casting (particularly in House of Cards & The Strain’s Corey Stoll and Fury’s Michael Pena), and the effects themselves. It’s a movie that’s well worth the 3D treatment, if you can catch it that way.

Ant-Man focuses on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former thief who is just trying to spend more time with his daughter, or at least be a hero in her eyes. Scott ends up meeting with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) who brings him on board for a job that just happens to cover his particular skill set. The job comes with a special suit that allows Lang to shrink down to about the size of an Ant, while at the same time allowing him to be much stronger. When Pym’s protege and rival Cross (Stoll) discovers another way to possibly make the shrink ability work, it’s up to Lang to try to stop the progress.

The film had 4 writers during it’s creation. It had Edgar Wright, who many moviegoers know from the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Adam McKay worked with Rudd in the past on the Anchorman films, and was responsible for Talladega Nights & Step Brothers. Both McKay and Rudd had a hand in writing Ant-Man. Finally, Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish was on board. The end result of all this is a film with a great deal of comedy influences in it, though not all of them hit the mark. I felt there were at least 2 moments in the film where Rudd’s character had a one liner that just didn’t hit the mark, or elicit a response from the audience. This isn’t a terrible thing, at most it’s just nitpicking. Overall, you could consider Ant-Man a comic caper with superhero moments.

Additionally, the writers had to also figure out how to make the character of Dr. Hank Pym useful in a storyline where one of his biggest arcs in the comics – creating Ultron – was already handled in a previous story. I like to think this was handled pretty well, as comic readers will already recognize Scott Lang as being the 2nd Ant-Man – or least this is what I learned from the Marvel Encyclopedia. They’ve managed to keep familiar storylines in place while still anchoring it to the larger tale at hand.

The performances in Ant-Man are good, though it’s the co-stars that potentially steal the film from the leads. Lang’s heist buddies, played by David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), Cliff “T.I.” Harris (Takers), and Michael Pena (Fury) were indeed funny in this. Pena in particular stood out as someone who gets ahold of information through some pretty wild sources. Michael Douglas was a strange pick for me when I first heard about it, but he’s actually a fantastic fit for the whole story. Evangeline Lilly looked like she had a lot of fun with this, though her character served as a second mentor for Lang. I wanted to see her do a bit more in the film, actually. Bobby Canavale (Chef, Third Watch) and Judy Greer (Jurassic World) both have nice supporting roles in this.

Corey Stoll has played an ass so much on-screen that I’m not entirely sure he isn’t that way off camera. Between Non-Stop, House of Cards, Midnight in Paris and now Ant-Man, he’s plays the kind of characters that were historically set aside for character actors like Jeff Kober or Michael Ironside. Honestly, they couldn’t have made a better choice here. Cross comes off like a variant of Iron Man’s Odebiah Stane, resentful, evil, and maybe a little crazed. Rudd, on the other hand, handles the Hero’s Journey with ease, bringing his own sense of comedy that works almost as well as it did for Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not perfect, but the character’s lighthearted nature is a good contrast from the serious gloom and doom that most of the Avengers are going through these days, and I feel Rudd did well here.

That’s another aspect of Ant-Man that needs to be recognized. The story in this may have a larger impact in things to come, but it felt really compact. Since the focus on the story involves Lang getting back to his daughter and stopping this one small thing, it takes a step back from the escalation we’ve been getting in previous MCU films. To me, since Phase Two started, every film’s been a stepping stone with at least one huge revelation somewhere that shows this is all much bigger than any one hero can take on. Discovery of the Infinity Stones, the big reveal of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the Winter Soldier and the events in Age of Ultron cover a large area. Maybe it’s better to say that they have an impact that’s covers a wide distance. With Ant-Man being the first film of Phase Three, it feels almost as if a step back it taken to something more personal. It’s not bad, but it’s different. It has the potential to leave viewers with a bad taste in their mouths if they were expecting something grand.

The effects in Ant-Man are good, really, really sweet. Quite honestly, it may be one of the first times where I haven’t found myself annoyed by what I call “The Zoic Effect” – that technique used in almost every film these days where you’re watching something and the director decides “Hey, let’s do a maximum level quick zoom on that target right there!”, because there’s a chance the audience might not see the subject. I believe Zoic Studios were the first to do that with Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, though I could be wrong. In Ant-Man, that rapid intense zoom is almost a welcome requirement when watching a little figure run and leap up and over objects. Add a 3D effect to all that, and I found myself enjoying that on the big screen. From a directing standpoint, it’s all very straightforward and you get an idea of the influences from all of the writers involved. Still, Peyton Reed (Down With Love) keeps from the film from straying too far away from it’s intended focus. Additionally, though the help of CGI, Disney/Marvel was able to digitize a younger Michael Douglas, and the look of this was even better than what they accomplished with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.

Overall, Ant-Man is a great addition to the MCU and on it’s own, it’s strong. I suppose Thor will still have to stay as the Cars 2 of that movie library. Note to viewers: If you’re planning to see this, be sure to stay until after the end credits. There’s a mid scene during the credits and one at the very end.

Ant-Man Keeps the Marvel Train Moving Along


Ant-Man

Will Marvel Studios have it’s first misstep when Ant-Man arrives in theaters this July? Or will it surpass many people’s expectations the way Guardians of the Galaxy did when it came out late summer of 2014? These are questions that fans and critics alike have been pondering since the rather underwhelming teaser trailer which was released earlier this year.

Now, with Avengers: Age of Ultron just weeks away from bulldozing over everything in it’s way it looks like Marvel and Disney have turned their attention to getting the Ant-Man hype train up to speed. If any film needs some fueling up it would be this one which has had a more than contentious production. It loses it’s original director in Edgar Wright after he and the heads at Marvel Studios (Kevin Feige) disagreed on how to proceed with the film. The search for a director to replace Wright became a game of which comedic filmmaker would pass on the project next (Peyton Reed finally was the last man standing).

When the teaser finally came out the tone it gave seemed too serious for a film that was being billed as a sort of action-comedy or, at the very least, an action film that included more than the usual comedic beats than past films in the MCU.

Today we see the first official trailer for Ant-Man and gone is the super serious tone of the teaser and in comes a mixture of action and comedy. It’s a trailer that actually gives us an idea of the sort of powers the title character has outside of being just being tiny. Then we get more than just a glimpse of Scott Lang’s main antagonist with Corey Stoll in the role of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket.

Maybe this film will still end up giving Marvel Studio it’s very first black-eye, but this trailer goes a major way in making sure it doesn’t happen.

Ant-Man is set for a July 17, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Ant-Man


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First they said that Guardians of the Galaxy will be the first misstep in the rolling juggernaut train that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How could a film adaptation of a comic book that even hardcore readers barely know ever hit it big with the general public. Yet, it more than shot down detractors and nyasayers to become the biggest hit of 2014 and help usher in a major change in how people will now look at the MCU.

So, Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t the first mistake. Then it has to be 2015’s Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd and a film already known for being the one where Edgar Wright was forced to leave as director. Yes, this will be Marvel Studios first misstep and it will show that Kevin Feige’s producer-driven plan will never trump the creative-driven director tradition.

So, during the season premiere of Agent Carter, we finally have the first official trailer for Ant-Man. Time will tell if this does become Marvel’s first bump in their road to world domination or will it surprise everyone the way Guardians of the Galaxy did this part summer of 2014.

Ant-Man is set for a July 17, 2015 release date.

A Late Film Review: Non-Stop (dir by Jaume Collet-Serra)


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With 2014 rapidly coming to a close, I am currently trying to get caught up on some of the movies that I either missed seeing or did not get a chance to review earlier this year.  After all, in just another month and a half, it’ll be time for me to make out my “Best Of the Year List” and I want to have as many options as possible.

With that in mind, I just finished watching Liam Neeson in Non-Stop, an action-suspense film that came out way back in February.

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks.  It’s interesting to note that Bill Marks has the same initials as Bryan Mills, the very specifically trained CIA agent that Neeson plays in the Taken films.  And really, Bill Marks might as well Bryan Mills because Neeson pretty much gives the exact same performance in Non-Stop that he previously gave in Taken.  That’s not necessarily a criticism.  There’s a reason why Liam keeps getting cast in these type of roles.  He’s good at them.

In fact, I would say that Liam Neeson is one of the few action stars who I can imagine actually killing someone in real life (though only if he had to).  He has a rugged, world-weary cynicism about him.  You look into the eyes of a character played by Liam Neeson and you realize that he’s had to do things that you probably don’t want to know anything about.  At the same time, Neeson also projects a certain old-fashioned decency as well.  He’s the epitome of a decent man forced to use bad methods for the good of us all.

As for Non-Stop, I imagine it was probably pitched as being “Taken on a plane.”  Bill Marks is an air marshal who is on board a non-stop flight from New York to London.  Shortly after the plane takes off, he starts to receive mysterious text messages telling him that, unless he arranges for a 150 million dollar ransom to be paid into a specific bank account, someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes.  While Bill tries to discover who is sending him the text messages and various people on the plane die, the authorities on the ground are convinced that Bill is hijacking the plane.  Why?  Well, mostly because the bank account is in Bill’s name…

That’s right!  Somebody’s trying to frame Bill Marks!  Can Bill — with the help of a passenger played by Julianne Moore — figure out who is trying to frame him and why?  I have to admit that there was a part of me that was hoping that it would turn out that Bill really was the mastermind behind the whole scheme but instead, the movie offers up a solution that is even more ludicrous and illogical.  Naturally, there’s a twist.  The hijacking is not what it originally appears to be.  Perhaps if Non-Stop itself was more fun, the total implausibility of the twist wouldn’t bother me.

Director Juame Collet-Serra (who previously directed Neeson in Unknown) manages a few good action sequence but, ultimately, Non-Stop is really saved only be the presence of Liam Neeson.  Regardless of how implausible or silly the film may get, Neeson always brings a lot of authority to his role.  He’s never more convincing than when he’s walking up and down the aisles, glaring at the passengers and barking out orders.

It’s the type of performance that leaves us assured that the world will be safe as long as Liam Neeson is around to kill people.

Liam Neeson, about to kill someone

Liam Neeson, about to kill someone