Ant Man: Michael Douglas, Marvel and a Captain America Teaser

Yellow Jacket under threat from Thomas the Tank Engine "Ant Man'

Without even going into the Marvel verse too deeply, Ant Man skirts along the edge of all things Avengers without encroaching on Iron Man territory. Michael Douglas enters into the spirit of superheroes with the gravitas of an elder statesman (with a mean temper) and the film ends with a teaser that has a surprise appearance by Captain America.

This production had a troubled start and lost its first helmsman, Edgar Wright, who may have given the world a much different Ant Man, although Paul Rudd manages to employ a lot of humor in the role.  As Scott Lang, a man with a daughter he is desperate to keep in contact with, Rudd brings that special brand of persona that he does so well.

As  an over intelligent cat burglar determined not to go back to prison, Lang still manages to get in trouble because, as Dr. Hank  Pym (Douglas) puts it, when things get tough Scott turns to crime.  The likable ex con is targeted by Pym to be the next Ant Man, much to Hank’s daughter’s chagrin.

Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) may be a chip of the old block of both Dr. Pym and his deceased wife, but she is too precious to the scientist to risk putting in the suit.  Her job is to get close to baddy Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket (played brilliantly by Corey Stoll) and she does this well.

The storyline deals with a strict ex (a tiny cameo by personal favorite Judy Greer) and her new fiancee “a**hat” cop Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) who actually turns out to be less of a hat than Scott reckons.  Rudd’s character goes through an arc, a very impressive one, and steps up to “save the day.” 

Along the way, actor Michael Peña manages to almost steal the film from Douglas, Lily, Rudd and Stoll with his comic portrayal of career criminal Luis.  The actor is aided by some brilliant montage and flashback work where Peña voices all the characters in his expository scenes. 

The combination of his topical language choices and phrasing, along with his voice over matching the expressions of the people he voices in the flashbacks, makes the performer the clear winner in terms of captivating the audience.

Of course the film is not about Luis, so his “take over” is fleeting as Rudd manages to imbue his character with an exponential “nice guy” factor that shines through.  Douglas is a fine mix of curmudgeonly despot and loving father who cannot quite show how he really feels.

While the characters all help to bring the film to life, it is the action sequences, most by necessity CG, that carry the movie forward. Some of the effects are most certainly practical, for example the “exploding from underground” when Lang is freaked out by his initial introduction to the ant world, and are mixed with the computer generated FX brilliantly.

Sidenote: Speaking of CG there is that oddly real, but at the same time creepy, looking scene at the start of the film where Michael Douglas is years younger.  Despite leaps and bounds being made in this field, Douglas still looked…weird and a bit disturbing.

There is a great blend of humor with some of the scenes.  The entire toy train sequence is incredibly funny. Peyton Reed, whether influenced by the multi penned screenplay (with Edgar Wright as main scribe) or not, gives us a Thomas the Tank Engine chase and action scene that is just priceless. 

Seen from both Ant Man and Yellowjacket’s tiny view, the sound is enormous and the train with its speeding cars, looks deadly.  From another perspective Thomas’ danger value diminishes to nothing with comic results.

By the end of the film, it looks like Dyne will be joining Ant Man for a bit of crime fighting, or as an addendum to the Avengers and Dr. Pym survives being almost killed. The original Ant Man will act, presumably, as a continuing mentor to Scott Lang.

Marvel continues to bring more superheroes to the screen; big and small, with some being more oblique than others. Jessica Jones  as a sort of Marvel-Noire offering, along with her paramour Nick Cage has been given a second season on Netflix, for example.

With a lot of territory to cover yet in terms of the Avengers and all the peripheral action that entails; Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, et al, there will be enough material to keep Marvel on both television and movie screens for some time. (Not too mention the Agents of SHIELD and good old Peggy Carter.)

Ant Man is entertaining but not wildly funny, just amusing enough that the casting of Paul Rudd was a masterful move. All the cast do a more than capable job and the storyline is entertaining “Baskin-Robbins” don’t play dude.”

This is a 5 star film version of Marvel’s Ant Man.  While it would have been brilliant to see Wright’s version of this world, Peyton Reed brings an entertaining feature to the masses and it is to his credit that after watching this film, one immediately wants to watch it again.

Final Verdict:

Marvel-ous.

Dark Places: Charlize Theron and Bleak Americana From Gillian Flynn

Charlize Theron as Libby Day

From the pen of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn; Dark Places, starring Charlie Theron,  gives us a slice of Americana that is indeed dark and very bleak. Where the dream has soured and affected all who dared to believe in it. A brother and sister who lived through a horrendous childhood event meet up years later after each have paid a price for their past lies.

It appears that Flynn’s books are made to be adapted for the cinema. The 2014 adaptation of Gone Girl was an award winning film that impressed all who saw it, it also proved that Rosamund Pike is one hell of an actress and that even Ben Affleck can look like a murderer in the right light.

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who also wrote the screenplay, Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, the only other survivor from the 1985 Kansas City massacre of her family (her brother Ben – in prison for the murders for 28 years being the other).  12 year-old Libby climbed out a window on the fateful night of the slaughter and then follows suggestions from the local police that her brother committed the murders.

Years later an emotionally scarred Libby is out of money in a community out of good will. She gets a letter from a true crime club, called “Kill Club,” who want her to appear as a guest at their next convention. She meets entrepreneur and club owner Lyle Wirth. After she arrives, Libby learns that the club’s “solver” group want to prove her brother’s innocence.

This is an actor’s film. From Dan Hewitt Owens as retired cop Robert reading off the details of the crime at the Kill Club to Chloë Grace Moretz as the pregnant devil worshipping rich girl, this movie’s performers deliver, in spades. Nicolas Hoult (who worked on Mad Max: Fury Road with Theron) is perfect as the entrepreneurial laundromat owner who wants to solve a grave miscarriage of justice.

Charlize Theron is beyond brilliant as the moody, aloof and aggressive grown up Libby. Corey Stoll (who plays the lead in FX networks’s The Strain) plays the grown up Ben, the brother charged with and imprisoned for the murders of his mother (Christina Hendricks) and two of his three sisters. Stoll has very little screen-time but manages to say volumes with the small amount of time he is on screen. 

The child actors, Sterling Jerins as 12 year-old Libby and Tye Sheridan as 16 year-old Ben both deliver, as do the other “child” actors. Perhaps the most disturbing performance, and therefore most impressive, comes from Moretz. After her romantic role in If I Stay and her role as the teen prostitute in The Equalizer in 2014, she channels her darker, more adult, side and is suitably creeper and disturbing as Diondra, the rebellious Daddy’s girl.

Dark Places uses well placed flashbacks to bring the viewer ever closer to the real story behind the murders and this works well as both exposition and backstory reveals. As the film moves to its conclusion,  it is learned that past and present are intertwined and a lot more lies were told than either Libby or Ben realized.

Director Paquet-Brenner does a brilliant job with the film and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips) manages the switch between present day and the past brilliantly, the lighting changes between each, and as usual the film looks crisp and clear and spot on for each set piece.

Like Gone Girl, this film is a mystery/thriller.  Both female protagonists, in this film and GG, are flawed, psychologically damaged individuals. Theron’s character provides an intermittent voice over, posed as inner musings, that adds much to the story and, unlike other narrative films, does not intrude but helps to lets the viewer see her thought process.

There should be some serious gongs handed out to the performers come award time. Theron kills it as the flawed and scarred survivor and Moretz plays completely against type as the devil worshipping girlfriend.  This tale of lies, blocked memories and murder shows just how addictive Gillian Flynn’s work is.

Amazingly this feature is rated ‘R,’ apparently for the violence, which is not gory or overplayed at all and the sexual content which is pretty tame. Moretz’ character does have some hurried grapplings with Tye Sheridan’s character but, similar to her love scene in If I Stay , Chloe shows nothing in the way of anatomy. The language is a bit “close to the bone,” at one point Sean Bridgers as Runner Day, Libby’s estranged father calls wife Patty (Hendricks) the “C” word, which may be the main reason for the rating.

Dark Places is a compelling look at family tragedy and how scarred survivors of crime can be.  This is a 5 out of 5 stars film. At 113 minutes, the film moves at a rapid pace. Even with the multiple flashbacks this mystery grabs the viewers attention and holds it in a  vise-like grip right up to the final credits.

The Good Lie: Reese Witherspoon in the Best Feel Good Film of 2014

The Good Lie: Reese Witherspoon in the Best Feel Good Film of 2014

The Good Lie, the title appears to be taken from a scene in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, stars Reese Witherspoon as the biggest name in the film, she actually spend very little time on screen, and this could well be the best “feel good” film of 2014. Taking real life stories of Sudanese children who had to flee their home country as its inspiration the movie follows a small group of boys and one girl from the same village who have to run when the adults are all killed in an attack.

The Strain: Loved Ones (Recap and Review)

The Strain: Loved Ones (Recap and Review)

In The Strain: Loved Ones, Eph is tracking down his estranged wife and Zach helps at the beginning of the episode by hunting for his mother’s iPhone. Despite the WiFi signal being weak and slow, the boy finds out that Kelly Goodweather’s smartphone is moving. Things are strained between Nora and Eph since his proclamation of love for his wife last week when the two of them were caught having sex by Kelly’s best friend.