Marvel’s Ant Man seems to have had the most tumultuous development process of any of the Marvel Studios films so far. Or, at least, its behind-the-scenes dirty laundry has been the most public. Edgar Wright spent years developing the film for Marvel, but then when the project was finally, officially put on Marvel’s Phase Two slate, he walked away from the film. Many wondered if the film was still worth making without Edgar Wright at the helm.
Well, I am pleased to report that director Peyton Reed, working from a screenplay credited to Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish (who were involved with Ant Man’s first iteration) as well as Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (who got involved once Mr. Wright left and Mr. Reed took over), has succeeded in crafting a wonderful addition to the Marvel cinematic universe. It’s a far smaller-scale film than any of the other Phase Two films, but it works. There’s some lovely character work and a nice dollop of humor, some cool concepts and fun visual effects, and a lot of clever nods to the wider Marvel cinematic universe. This is a film that feels very much of a piece with the solo films that kicked off Marvel’s Phase One, films like Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. Just like with those films, I was originally dubious that those very comic-booky characters could succeed as movies, but once again Marvel Studios has proven me wrong.
The greatest strength of the Marvel movies so far, and the secret to their success, has been the films’ impeccable casting, and Ant Man continues that trend. I love the concept that this film features two characters who have been in costume as the hero Ant Man from the comics — Hank Pym and Scott Lang — with the hook here that Hank Pym was Ant Man many years ago, but has long-since retired. Michael Douglas is perfect as the now-elderly Hank Pym, a man far past his physical prime but someone whose mind is still sharp. He brings wonderful gravitas to the character, and to the film as a whole. His sincerity gives the sometimes-wacky shenanigans of the film an important grounding in reality. Mr. Douglas is tasked with carrying a lot of the film’s exposition, but Mr. Douglas makes those verbose speeches sing the way few others could. And he absolutely nails one of the most important scenes in the film, the flashback that he narrates in which he finally reveals the secret of what happened to Janet van Dyne (an important character from the comics who is missing/presumed dead in the film).
Paul Rudd, meanwhile, is also terrific as the new young hero of … [continued]
In my review of Jurassic World, I commented that the problem with all of the disappointing sequels to the great Jurassic Park is that they’ve basically been the exact same movie retold over and over again. The Terminator has also had disappointing sequel after disappointing sequel, but for the exact opposite reason. Both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation, and now Terminator: Genisys have gone in wildly different directions. Each has been a (failed) attempt to kick-start a new trilogy of Terminator films. Rather than being frustrating because these films feel like the same film over and over again, they are frustrating because they are so all-over-the-place, removing any sense of narrative flow or continuity from this series. Neither Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation, nor Terminator: Genisys are absolutely terrible. There are some good ideas and good moments in all three films. But none of them are able to come anywhere close to James Cameron’s amazing original two films.
The best thing I can say about Terminator: Genisys? It’s not as horrible as its title.
Terminator: Genisys actually has a decent idea at its core. The film begins by showing us what we never got to see in James Cameron’s original films: the day John Connor and his resistance defeated Skynet, found the time displacement center, and sent Kyle Reese back in time to save John’s mother Sarah Connor from death at the hands of a Terminator. Kyle is prepared by John to encounter the Sarah who we met in the first film: an innocent waitress with no idea of the danger she’s in or her importance to the future. But when Kyle arrives back in 1984, he discovers that the timeline has been changed and a T-1000 is there waiting for him. Now it’s Kyle who has to be rescued by Sarah — not the damsel in distress he was expecting but a tough warrior-woman (reminiscent of Linda Hamilton’s depiction of the character in T2) – who has been raised since youth by another Terminator to prepare for this day.
While I dislike the idea of erasing the events of the first two films, I can get behind this idea as a way to tell more Terminator stories when things had seemed pretty wrapped up by the end of the second film. (All three subsequent sequels have really had to struggle to continue the story beyond the end of T2, in which Sarah and John destroyed Skynet before it could be born, thus preventing Judgment Day and the destruction of mankind.) Indeed, the most fun to be had in Terminator: Genisys is the way the film, in the first half-hour, recreates so many iconic moments from … [continued]
It’s Comic-Con in San Diego, and so lots of cool stuff has been popping up all over the web lately. Let’s take a look!
I am a little dubious about Batman v Superman, but damn if this lengthy trailer isn’t pretty cool:
I mean, come on, who ever thought we’d actually see a Batman vs. Superman movie?? I love that this trailer showcases the Man of Steel supporting cast — I’m glad they’re being included in this film. And I do love the liberal usage of imagery from Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. I just hope this film tells a good solid story and doesn’t waste too much time building up a future DC film universe to compete with Marvel. (I was surprised they included Wonder Woman in this trailer, and I wonder how large a role she plays in the film.)
I cannot wait for Netflix’s Jessica Jones series!! Love this first look. Glad to see Luke Cage is involved.
I can’t quite believe this is real! Here is (a very shaky recorded version of) the profane, violent Comic-Con trailer for Deadpool! Fox is really releasing this?? Wowsers!
I’m also intrigued by this shaky leaked version of the trailer for DC’s Suicide Squad. This movie is either going to be completely lame or unbelievably awesome. I don’t think there’s much chance of a middle ground… I hope we get an official release of this trailer soon so we can get a better look at all of these characters. UPDATE! Here’s a high-rez version:
A trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse was shown but sadly hasn’t yet found its way on-line. Too bad, the trailer sounds cool. (Though I really feel like Days of Future Past was a wonderful conclusion to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films and I think it’s time to re-set these films and start telling new X-Men stories set in the present day (or, as the first-film was so wonderfully captioned, “in the not-too-distant future”…) And Hugh Jackman, please stop teasing me with the possibility of an Old Man Logan film! ’Cuz that would be AMAZING!!!
In other news…
This is a wonderful first article from Birth.Movie.Death’s Devin Faraci from The Jerusalem Film Festival. He makes a fascinating point about the stories of Jerusalem connecting to the stories told in films. It’s a really thoughtful article. I can’t wait to read more about Devin’s experiences at the festival.
I … [continued]
I just recently watched “The Siege of Lothal,” the one-hour second-season premiere of Star Wars Rebels. It’s a terrific episode, the best Rebels has done so far. The main reason why it’s so good? The welcome return of Darth Vader. And when I say the return of Vader, I mean the evil, unbeatable, kicking-ass-and-taking-names version of Vader from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. This is the top-of-his-game, evil and terrifying Vader we haven’t truly seen since 1980. It’s joyous to behold.
As I have written before, I was dubious about the animated Rebels series when it debuted last year, but the last several episodes of the season were spectacular. The season one finale teased fans by bringing Vader into the story, and the season two premiere wasted no time before making good on that promise. Vader is all over this episode, tasked with hunting down the small band of rebels who have been making trouble for the Empire on the planet Lothal.
Somehow they got James Earl Jones to reprise the voice of Vader, and it is an incredible delight to hear new Vader dialogue spoken by Mr. Jones. Even better, the characterization of Vader is absolutely spot on, a triumphant return of Vader at the height of his villainous powers. This is a Vader who is enormously powerful with his mastery of the Force. When Vader confronts the show’s two Jedi characters, Kanan and his young Padawan Ezra, Vader easily overpowers them, as well he should. The rebels try to stop Vader by blowing up two huge Imperial Walkers and toppling them on top of him. But in one of the show’s best moments, Vader uses the force to lift the wreckage and strides confidently out of the flaming debris, Terminator-style. (Compare that sequence of badass Force mastery with the great effort all the Jedi seemed to need in the Prequels just to lift small objects, all despite our learning from Yoda in Empire that “size matters not.” That really bugged me in the Prequels. It’s great fun here to see Vader as a hugely powerful Force-user.) The show also nails the casual cruelty of classic Vader. In this episode, Vader has an imperial governor killed in front of the characters trying to rescue her, he burns a refugee town to the ground in an effort to flush out the rebels, and when he defeats Kanan and Ezra he uses the force to have Ezra almost decapitate himself with his own lightsaber. (The kid is rescued in the nick of time, but I love that Vader wouldn’t even trouble himself to walk over there and kill Ezra himself.)
But the best Vader sequence comes later, when … [continued]
The mad geniuses at Pixar have outdone themselves once again with their latest film. Inside Out is magical, hugely entertaining and absolutely heartbreaking.
The film gives life to the emotions inside of eleven-year-old Riley. Inside her head we see the manifestations of her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The five emotions “run” Riley from a control room inside her head. For the first eleven years of her life, Joy has been in charge. But when Riley’s family moves suddenly from the Mid-West to San Francisco, her emotions are thrown into upheaval.
Pixar has always been great at world-building in their films, and Inside Out may be the finest example of this yet. Everything about the film, and its exploration of the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, is so clever and well thought-out. It’s obvious just what an incredible amount of time and attention have gone into creating the world of this film. Every detail is so carefully considered, and the film constantly delights as we see its depiction of the different emotions and characteristics (“goof-ball island”) of a child, how memories are created and stored and referenced and eventually lost, and so much more. I am stunned by how clever it all is. This is all a total fantasy and yet, it all works perfectly! Maybe this really IS how the insides of our minds actually work!!
Inside Out also, for me, represents something of an apotheosis in Pixar’s approach of making films that work for kids but are also aimed at adults. Inside Out is absolutely a film for adults, so much so that I’m actually uncertain what kids will make of it. This is not in any way a criticism, in fact, it makes me love Inside Out all the more. This is unapologetically a film aimed at adults, and what a delight it is to see an American animated film (and one released by Disney, no less!) aimed so squarely at adults and not kids! Pixar has danced in these waters before. The opening few minutes of Up (which, like Inside Out, was directed by Pete Docter) are absolutely made for adults and not kids. But then that film did shift into all-ages territory, a step that Inside Out never really makes.
The comparison with the opening minutes of Up is appropriate because, like those scenes, I found much of Inside Out to be absolutely heartbreaking. Maybe I’m at just the right age, as a parent of young girls, to be hit by this film, but man did the second half of this film hit me like a sledgehammer. I cried … [continued]
I was excited when I first heard about Jurassic World. I absolutely adore the first Jurassic Park. I think it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s very best films. (Click here for my thoughts on Jurassic Park’s 3-D re-release, and here for an earlier review when I was re-watching various middle-career Spielberg films.) I love the world of that film so much that every time I re-watch it, it continues to leave me hungry for further exploration of that world. Neither of the two sequels satisfied me (I think The Lost World is one of the worst films Steven Spielberg has ever made, and I like Jurassic Park III a lot but feel it ends much too abruptly — it’s a solid film missing the last twenty minutes). This makes Jurassic Park a franchise I am eager to see additional sequels to, because I want to see another great Jurassic Park movie and I haven’t yet.
When I read that they were returning to this series after more than a decade away, I was excited because I thought for sure that meant they had a new idea for this series, a way to better the two mediocre sequels we’d already gotten.
Unfortunately I was wrong, they had exactly the same idea.
One of the inherent problems with all three Jurassic Park sequels is that they have all, basically, told exactly the same story as the first film. This latest sequel, Jurassic World, is in fact the closest in structure to that first film, in that it’s about a theme park of dinosaurs where the dinosaurs get loose.
But I’ve seen that story already. And each of these re-tellings — including this latest, Jurassic World — just wind up being a pale shadow of that first film.
On a superficial level, there are a lot of things to like about Jurassic World. The film certainly looks great. There are some gorgeous visual effects, and some really wonderful sequences of dinosaur mayhem. I like the idea of the twist on the original film that while that park was still under construction, the park we see in Jurassic World is a fully-operational, top-of-the-line theme park that is open for business. I love the design of the park and its rides and everything we see of John Hammond’s original vision come to life as an actual theme park island. That is all very cool.
But the problem with Jurassic World is that the characters are both incredibly, unbelievably, jaw-droppingly stupid or totally flat and uninteresting, or both. The magic of that first Jurassic Park was its wonderful characters. Within the framework of an exciting adventure story were interesting, fun, complex characters … [continued]
Star Trek Continues is an impressive fan film production, creating full-length episodes that are intended to serve as the never-made fourth season of the original Star Trek. I love these episodes. The talented folks at Star Trek Continues are keeping Star Trek alive!
In “The White Iris,” the fourth episode of Star Trek Continues, Captain Kirk suffers a severe head injury while negotiating with a new planet that is set to join the Federation. Doctor McCoy uses an experimental medicine to heal Kirk’s injuries, but the procedure has an unexpected result: the unravelling of the mind-meld that Spock had used to erase Kirk’s memory of the death of Rayna in “Requiem for Methusaleh.” This in turn brings up Kirk’s repressed grief for the many women he has loved and lost over the years of his career. Overwhelmed by visions of these dead women, Kirk seems unable to stave off the escalating violence between the planet and its aggressive neighbor world.
As always, the production values of Star Trek Continues are incredible. The episode looks and sounds exactly, and I mean exactly, like a real episode of the Original Series. The costumes are perfect, from the Enterprise crew uniforms to the look of the new aliens introduced in this episode. The sets are perfect, from the bridge to sickbay to the transporter room to the Enterprise corridors. There is not an off-note anywhere to be seen. My jaw is on the floor at the way the sets from the Original Series have been so perfectly replicated. I mean, look at the pattern on the red pillows in sickbay! They are perfect!!
There aren’t too many visual effects in this episode, but what effects we see are fantastic. The Big E looks gorgeous, as has been the case in all of these Star Trek Continues episodes. I love seeing the original Enterprise reproduced so gloriously using CGI. The see-through effect on the women in Kirk’s visions is well-realized, simple and effective without becoming silly. I was also particularly impressed by the score in this episode, which wonderfully channels the sound and feel of Classic Trek.
I like the main story of this episode very much. It’s nice to see the show taking a look into the internal emotional life of our hero, Kirk. It’s also fun to see the modern sensibility of continuity brought to an Original Series story. The original Star Trek almost never referred back to a previous episode. But for modern viewers, there are so many Original Trek episodes that feel, today, like they demand follow-up. So it was a great thrill in this episode to see so many important women from Kirk’s like brought back to our attention. … [continued]
Some momentum on two exciting Stephen King fronts! There’s been a little bit of movement on the planned adaptation of The Dark Tower. I’m not holding out too much hope, but I’d love to see it. Meanwhile, looks like another Stephen King adaptation might take the idea that has been floated about The Dark Tower adaptation combining a TV show with a movie and beat it to the starting line: the latest announcement about The Stand is that it will be an eight-episode miniseries for Showtime, followed by a movie. OK, that is an interesting and sort-of bizarre idea. Curious to see where that goes. In less-great Stephen King news, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga has left his planned two-film adaptation of It just weeks before the start of production. That’s a huge disappointment. I was excited to see what Mr. Fukunaga’s distinct voice would do with It. Oh well.
Love this new trailer for Stephen Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Spielberg and Hanks making another film together? I am in!
I am very excited to see Inside Out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not too early to start anticipating Pixar’s NEXT original film!
Oh man, this new trailer for Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard, is amazing!!
Macbeth has always been one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays. I cannot wait to see that.
To my enormous surprise, Marvel Comics’ new Star Wars comic books have all been kind of awesome. (I’ve been particularly interested in their depiction of just how Darth Vader discovered that the rebel who blew up the first Death Star was his son, and of Vader’s reaction to that important piece of information, thus proving that the Emperor lied to him about Padme’s death. That’s a great story and something I’m frankly shocked hasn’t been tackled before now.) Their latest issue of Star Wars had a pretty major twist that is, apparently, now completely part of Star Wars canon. I’ll be interested in seeing where that story goes…!
It is really starting to look like a fifth season of Arrested Development is actually going to happen! Huzzah! Yes, Netflix’s fourth season was a far cry from the greatness of the show’s original three seasons on FOX, but still, further stories of the Bluth family is cause for rejoicing.