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The latest addition to the Marvel universe comes from a comic I didn’t expect them to make into a film with the addition of Ant-Man. I collected this one as a kid too and enjoyed the adventures of Ant-Man and Wasp, so this film was a pleasant surprise when I heard it was being made. The film turned out to be a solid superhero film with some great action, a well written story and tight performances from the cast…
Dr. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man played by Michael Douglas) is retired now and has passed the reigns of his company on to his protege’ who has less-than-honorable motivations for the future. Pym has kept his shrinking technology that gave Ant-Man his power a secret because of what he fears it could unleash in the wrong hands. Darren Cross (portrayed by Corey Stoll from House of Cards) has discovered some of Pym’s notes and has tapped into the technology with the hopes of selling it to the highest bidder, which in this case turns out to be Hydra. So yes, Ant-Man is tying in with the rest of the Marvel universe with references to the Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America along with an appearance from Falcon.
The story is entertaining and well written with one of the writing credits going to Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc.) who was also supposed to originally direct the film as well. Word has it that Wright’s vision didn’t line up with Marvel’s so he decided not to stay on the film which is a shame as his style would’ve really been interesting to see applied to this movie. Peyton Reed directs and does a fine job but doesn’t have the flair that Wright does so Wright stepping down was a bit of a disappointment for me.
The effects and design are great. The miniaturizing scenes are well-crafted and look believable even when Ant-Man is leading a charge of an army of ants during his various assaults. Among the things that make this film entertaining are the battles between Ant-Man and nemesis Yellowjacket (aka Darren Cross) when they’re both shrunk down and interacting with the scene around them. The scenes are full of action but with some comedic moments thrown in that make this movie a lot of fun to watch.
The acting is tight. Paul Rudd is the lead as Scott Lang whose smarmy style of acting fits the film and the character well. Evangeline Lily turns in an intense performance as Pym’s emotionally distant daughter while Stoll does a fine job as the menacing Yellowjacket. It’s good to see Michael Douglas in pretty much anything he does. The talented cast is rounded out by Judy Greer, Michael Pena, Hayley Attwell, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Bobby Cannavale.
If you enjoy superhero films, take a look at Ant-Man.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (based on the book by Lawrence Wright) provides a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of the religion known as Scientology based on the writings and beliefs of sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Interviews are conducted throughout the documentary with people who examined the religion from different angles, as well as Hubbard’s ex-wife and former members of the church itself. The majority of the former members interviewed were long-time members and high officers in the organization including one such member who belonged to the church for over 27 years and reached the highest rank possible within the church’s spiritual chain of command. The origin of the church with Hubbard through the church’s meteoric rise in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s after Hubbard’s passing up to current day are all part of the film’s timeline. Part of what makes this examination of events so compelling is the discussion of the inner workings and policies of the organization and just how manipulative it is.
The discussion of the more famous members is part of the material including some in-depth background information on both Tom Cruise and John Travolta and how they’re involved. It makes you look at them in different lights, especially when you gain an understanding of how unstable and deceptive Hubbard was and how the church has been accused of everything from torture and kidnapping to brain washing and human trafficking. One of the validating themes through which these sentiments are conveyed are the testimonies of the former members themselves. One such member recants a situation when she went to claim her child from what would have been the Scientology version of a daycare program only to find her daughter covered in flies, her eyes pasted shut from an eye infection and wearing diapers that hadn’t been changed in a very long time.
Bottom line – it’s a scary organization which was founded for the purpose of making tax-free money that literally attacks its critics, threatens its members, and gets people to believe stories of aliens creating the human race along with people being infected with evil souls that cause you to do bad things. Oh and to find out that last part about the aliens, they don’t tell you that up front, you only find that out after you’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars and spent years and years studying the beliefs of Hubbard.
Directed by Alex Gibney, this is a super-interesting documentary and a most revealing look at a “religion” that’s spent a lot of time trying to hide its secrets. After seeing this, I understand why they’re so secretive…
The film is on HBO now but is being re-released in theaters and wide soon.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
If you take the film Aliens and mash it up with the concept behind Groundhog Day, you’ll have a good sense of what this film is like. So instead of Bill Murry and Andie MacDowell with Punxsutawney Phil, we have Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt alongside a ton of soldiers and aliens fighting each other. As popcorn sci-fi action movies go, this was entertaining…
An alien force has invaded and taken over most of the planet quickly and easily, knowing everything we’re doing before we do it making it very hard to defend ourselves. The alien force in question turns out to be able to bend time and use it to their advantage when conquering a planet. Through some twists of fate, Cruise’s character comes in contact with one of the aliens during a fight and temporarily inherits the ability to reset time. As implausible as it sounds, the way it’s conveyed works in a sci-fi platform since it is after all, alien DNA that’s allowing these abilities. The story was fun to watch play out, had some lighter moments to break up the pacing and had a happy ending to wrap it up. The ending is one of my few complaints; it was too neat and unrealistically convenient when it could’ve been really interesting and dramatic, they went more pedestrian here (probably a focus group thing).
Visually, the effects are mostly pretty impressive. I say mostly because the aliens at times look very digital. When they’re moving quickly (and they move really quickly which is jarring in a welcome way), the effects are better, when they’re settled or moving slowly they lose the organic sheen that blends them into the film more naturally.
The actors are good. Cruise is convincing in his character who starts off very clumsy (initially he’s a military journalist, not a soldier) and then evolves into a streamlined fighter after he dies a few hundred times. Emily Blunt is a badass and the hero that leads the charge to bring Cruise up to speed as a badass himself. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Jonas Armstrong, Madeleine Mantock and Tony Way.
Yes, there are some serious plot holes here and there but overall it’s worth a viewing if you like sci-fi action flicks.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Centered around a molecule found in nearly every living organism, including humans, called dimethyltryptamine (DMT), this documentary seeks to uncover the many different aspects of the molecule and its effects. Hosted by Joe Rogan (who’s a very vocal advocate), the doc takes a very scientific approach along with pointing out various applications in terms of usage. This list of experts interviewed includes: a mathematician, rabbi, pharmacologist, shaman, psychologist, nurse, behavioral pharmacologist, psychiatrist, ethnobotanist and more.
Studied here in different ranges including government-sanctioned clinical trials to how shaman use it for healing ceremonies in South America, the use of it shown to vary from treating physical ailments and addiction, to more spiritual applications. What this film does so well is turn the aspects of it in many different directions from a variety of expert point of views.
You’ll have to have an interest in the subject and an open mind to appreciate this documentary. It’s very scientific at times as topics are addressed mostly through talking head shots. Joe Rogan is well known as a standup comedian and host of shows like Fear Factor; here, he’s all business even though his segments are a little tongue in cheek. Whenever on screen, Rogan is in black and white and made to look as if he is in some secret government lab like you would see in a movie like Reefer Madness.
If you have a curious mind and are interested in ways to expand it, I would suggest giving this a viewing, it’s on Netflix.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
The Cobbler lands as one Adam Sandler’s more surreal and purposeful films. While having some comedic moments, don’t expect a Sandler comedy in this one. In fact, the film starts off with more of a somber, family tone, has some lighter moments here and there and evolves into something that you may or may not see coming. I have to admit, I saw some things coming but was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of some of the subplots.
The script centers around Max Simkin (Sandler), a simple cobbler following in his absent father’s footsteps running the family business. One day while repairing the shoes of a gangster, Simkin discovers that an old piece of machinery in the basement has the ability to create shoes that allow the wearer to experience life wearing that other person while wearing their shoes. Imagine being able to walk in someone else’s shoes/lives literally and you’ll see where this is going. Yes, the premise sounds a bit out there (and it is) but it’s rolled into the film in a way that is entertaining and intriguing to watch. Bear in mind, you have to just be willing to roll with it, but if you are, it’s an enjoyable ride.
The story evolves in a way that explores some moral landscapes as well as Simkin’s past with his family and a secret legacy. The writing overall is somewhat formulaic but has some refreshing original flairs and plays out in a way that was gratifying. Thomas McCarthy does a fine job directing but doesn’t really put a stamp on it that was unique.
Sandler is his usual self here and Dustin Hoffman is always nice to see in a film. The standout for me was Cliff “Method Man” Smith, he shows some range here and he’s pretty good, I didn’t know he had it in him but you can tell he did his homework studying Sandler’s performance as he had to mimic his behaviors a bit. Steve Buscemi, Ellen Barkin, Dascha Polanco, Miles Harvey and Melonie Diaz are all part of the lineup. Each of the actors I thought put in nice performances. My only criticism regarding the actors is that Diaz’s wardrobe person needed to put her in something that didn’t make her look like she was wearing clothing that fit like a trash bag.
The Cobbler is a decent Sandler film if you’re open to something a little unconventional from him.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Boy, for an unrealistically portrayed inventor that lives on a farm for some reason, Mark Wahlberg’s character sure knows how to fight. He can even beat up specially trained CIA assassins. Yep, it must be another Michael Bay flick. I’ve also noticed that each Transformer film he does, the girls that function as the sex objects keep getting younger. This time he decided to showcase a 17 year old girl’s short shorts from low-behind angles whenever possible instead of the 20 somethings he’s preferred in the past. Sorry, while ridiculously gratuitous as usual, this time he’s venturing into the creepy zone with this girl whose character hasn’t even graduated high school. Shame on you Michael Bay, not cool…
The story this time ‘round is that the Autobots (and all other Transformers) are being hunted by both human and another alien force that’s at work in the background. Optimus Prime and crew have gone into hiding but soon have to emerge to defend themselves from extinction. On the human side of the story, we have the aforementioned inventor who is a shitty dad but of course needs to rise to the situation surrounding him consisting of alien-war, government black ops and a new nemesis that’s a threat to the Transformers (in addition to his daughter’s boyfriend).
The movie is nearly non-stop action (although not nearly as well paced and exciting as the new Mad Max film), in fact, that’s one of the problems… There’s so much going on that it gets a little boring after awhile since the film clocks in close to 3 hours in length (yes, no shit, 2 hours and 45 minutes to be exact). There’s also the issue of being pounded almost constantly with corporate sponsorship. I’m a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, so I get it, but this kind of product placement was often distracting and overly blatant.
The effects and design is mostly pretty awesome although at times the new Transformers incorporated into the film look super-digital, especially when they’re transforming. Prime and his crew still look cool when they’re doing their thing and it was great to see the Dynobots join the fun. A lot of the green screen scenes are easy to spot too, kind of surprising for Bay, his films in the past have looked a bit more organic than this one, especially the third Transformers film. Oh well, maybe he’ll do better with number 5.
The acting is cartoony at times, even Stanley Tucci was a bit over-the-top almost annoyingly so. Wahlberg was ok but didn’t do anything out of his phone-it-in zone. Even his slow-mo fist drop to the ground looked pretty staged. Ugh. It seems like the actors mostly just fall into a plastic mold whenever they do a Transformer film without any major arcs or lines that require more skill beyond just a rudimentary paint-by-the-numbers approach. The lineup includes Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, T.J. Miller and Thomas Lennon.
This latest installment of the Transfomer series of films ranks as one of the worst, although not quite as bad as number 2, but pretty damn close.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Nightcrawler centers around the videographers who get to accident / crime scenes, shoot the scene and then sell the footage to news organizations. Kind of like paparazzi for tragedy. The ultra-creepy Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) decides to get in the game after being rejected for other jobs in his search for work. Bloom finds that he has a skill for the work as he’s willing to cross some morally hazy lines that others aren’t as likely to bypass in order to get more graphic footage than his counterparts. This becomes more evident when, after arriving to an accident scene first, Bloom drags one of the crash victims into a better lit spot so he can get the shot he wants…
The story crafted here is masterfully put together. The dialog created for the Bloom character is especially compelling and well constructed. His demeanor is off-putting: he’s aggressive, direct, and just plain weird. Bloom is not someone you really want to be around or spend time with once you get to know him as he seems ok on the surface but upon further observation, he’s not what he seems initially. The rest of the written characters are your average filler with the spotlight centered on the oddball in the middle of film.
The actors all put in great performances with the standout being Gyllenhaal. His portrayal of the main character is fascinating to watch, he really embodies this guy in a way that makes the hair on your arms stand up while wanting to see what this guy is capable of doing. He tries to be charming but his version of charming seems more like not-so-veiled intimidation. Everything about him seems like there’s something wrong going on behind his eyes somewhere, even when he’s doing simple things like politely asking questions of other characters. Another notable performance comes from Rene Russo who portrays the news director purchasing the morally ambiguous footage, desperate for ratings and to keep her job. She plays the role in a way that shows her character as being strong but as someone who has her own gray areas ethically speaking. Also included in the lineup: Bill Paxton, Michael Papajohn, James Huang, and Leah Fredkin.
Nightcrawler is well directed and stylized. It’s slickly produced and well paced. There are some moments the pacing is slowed so we get to know who’s who and what they’re like but then speeds up again during the scenes when the shooters are arriving to the scenes to capture the drama. Overall, this is a smartly constructed thriller that’s entertaining to watch and worth checking out.
It’s on Netflix!
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Based on the intellectual spy thriller by John le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a story involving espionage, an affair, murder, politics, and betrayal. With that kind of mix you’d think this movie would be a little more exciting but the film is not set up that way. Unfortunately the deliberately slow pacing is what hurts what could’ve been a much more compelling piece. It’s also a bit long at just a little over 2 hours and with the slow points in the film, it makes it feel even longer. There are films that pull off that balance between intellect and action like The Hunt For Red October, unfortunately this film doesn’t hit the same mark…
Set during the Cold War, George Smiley finds himself forced into retirement due to internal politics only to be brought back into the middle of the MI6 when the discovery of a mole raises questions Smiley needs to help find the answers for. Smiley discovers a trail in his investigation that leads him from a rogue agent to the top of the MI6 itself.
As I said, the story sounds interesting which is one of the reasons I finished watching the movie. The way the film is structured it relies a lot on intellectual dialog and a lot of flashbacks to the point where it gets a little tricky to follow at times. The mystery to who the spy is isn’t terribly surprising and there aren’t any moments I felt were really unexpected. So given those intellectual moments and less focus on physical action, this one isn’t for adrenaline junkies.
It was great to watch Gary Oldman in the lead as Smiley, I can watch him in anything he does. He played the role in a very straight-forward way with hints of emotional moments but with a controlled approach. Colin Firth is compelling in his role as fellow MI6 member Bill Haydon, also a master in his craft, his subtle moments come off big but still muted appropriately at the same time. The rest of the impressive lineup includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Kathy Burke, Toby Jones, John Hurt, and Mark Strong. v
If you’re into slow, intellectual pieces without much action, you might want to check this one out.
reviewed by Sean McKnight