Review: Ant-Man

AntMan Ant-Man is the longest gestating Marvel film to date. Initially worked on by director Edgar Wright, even before Robert Downey Jr. put on the now iconic suit, Ant-Man was a little more fleshed out than just a pipe dream. Fast forward past The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron to Marvel’s latest ambitious project. A movie about a lesser known character who shrinks to the size of an ant while fighting crime. The premise is silly, but inject a little Marvel Studios magic and you got yourself another summer hit.

The movie stars Paul Rudd, known comedic actor and all around loveable goofball as Scott Lang. The character differs from the average Marvel superhero because he is not a hero in any way, shape, or form when the film starts. He’s a known thief, who lives by a system of morality, but a thief all the same. When Lang is released from prison he makes a promise to himself, his daughter, and ex-wife that he is done for good in the crime world, of course life has a way of making liars out of the best of us. We are also introduced to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an aging scientist who in the past created a suit and technology that allowed him to shrink to the size of an ant. Pym, has since retired from the scientific world, but keeps his formulas and life’s work very guarded even from his former partner, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Pym has an estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), that works with Cross on his attempt to recreate Pym’s works as he has since taken over the company.

Pym recruits Scott Lang to infiltrate his former company, Pym Technologies, and help to destroy all the work so that Cross cannot sell the technology to military contractors. A simple enough plot to get us moving in the right direction. What takes place next is an Ocean’s Eleven type film. Lang brings in some other thieves to round out his support team on this heist. They proceed to gather materials, and prep for the work at hand.

One thing is clear when watching these Marvel Studios films, they understand to keep the genre alive you have to attack each film with a new and inventive style. While this is an original flick, Ant-Man doesn’t feel like other Marvel films. It is a heist film first with superhero elements. Its incredibly funny, and well paced. The side characters are nearly as important as Rudd, Douglas, Stoll, or Lilly. While they aren’t flushed out nearly as much, they play such an integral part of what goes on you will not forget them. Michael Peña as Luis absolutely steals the show every time he is on screen, that hasn’t happened in a Marvel film ever; its a true collaborative effort. Douglas does a wonderful job as the old codger who is still smart as a whip and tough as nails. The flashbacks and callbacks to his past are important and fascinating to the overall film. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne gives you just enough to be excited to see where they go next with the character. She isn’t a damsel in distress, but rather constantly clamouring to be the lead because frankly she is more qualified. This is a nice push back to the criticism of Marvel’s so called lack of female characters problem. Corey Stoll as the villain Darren Cross was a well placed over the top corporate bad guy. His performance was strong, but like a number of Marvel Studios villains he is more mustache twirling and less developed than he should have been. Last but certainly not least, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang performance is wonderful. He delivers every bit of loveable goofball and guy who can’t get out of his own way. Very similar to how Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film. He strives to be better, often falling short, but keeps getting back up. His comedic timing works well here considering the outlandish subject matter of his “powers.” All and all, Marvel Studios cranked out yet another hit even when they had to make a last second director change from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed. Reed was able to take the bones of the script, rework it quite a bit to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe properly, and make it his own. Any Marvel Studios fan should be pleased with the outcome.

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Review: This is Where I Leave You

thisiswhereileaveyou Not by any means a fantastical story or even a unique one, This is Where I Leave You, works not in spite of those facts but because of them. A film based on the novel of the same name and directed by Shawn Levy (A Night at the Museum movie series) is the right story at the right time. Hitting theaters after the blockbuster summer fest is a well written, smart, funny, and heartwarming story about where lives intersect and what happens when they do. Starring Jason Bateman as Judd Altman, a middle child of four who works as a radio show producer. Due to the death of his father he is forced to go back to his hometown and deal with the fallout. The cast of characters that make up the Altman family is a cornucopia of hilarity, sincerity, and unflinching sadness at times. Hillary (Jane Fonda), the matriarch, welcomes her son back home along with his three siblings Wendy (Tina Fey), Phillip (Adam Driver), and Paul (Corey Stoll). The dysfunctional dynamics between the five characters becomes apparent rather quickly. Hillary is a retired therapist who has used her children as some sort of case study for decades and their emotional distance from her is prominent. All four children and their significant others have some level of distress happening to them. From failing marriages to an inability to conceive children the movie runs the gamut. There is some personal relationship that you can either relate to directly or at a minimum have the ability to empathize. Due to the dying request of their father, the five are forced to partake in the Jewish tradition of “Shiva.” This is a mourning ritual that demands all five family members stay in the house and meet friends and family who stop by to pay their respects to their father. This of course creates immediate conflict between the "hard ass" brother, the “play it safe” brother, the “smart ass” sister, and the perpetual "screw up" youngest son.

What works for This is Where I Leave You most is its ability to switch from the sometime juvenile comedic moments to the gut wrenching dramatic scenes with relative ease. Its never feels awkward but rather familiar. As a viewer you might catch yourself very wrapped up in the intersecting story lines that seem more like normal family gossip than a detached movie scenario. Each of the siblings are flawed and you root for them all at one point or another. Very few things are cut and dry as is par for the course in films like these. I don’t want to give away too much of the story but this is one of the better character driven stories I have seen in a while. Characters have definitive arcs that bring things to a point of conclusion. Its not all happiness and rainbows, but just a level of human understanding and growth. This is Where I Leave You is a personal story. The characters get bumped and bruised and do their fair share of dishing it out. No one is clean and perfect hero, but rather flawed by the lives that they have led.

The performances were individually more than satisfying for this type of story. However, with this being an ensemble cast the considerable heavy lifting happened when the mother and siblings lives intersect. Adam Driver as the perpetual screw up giving at advice to his sister, Tina Fey, is a particularly touching moment. Lines like “...you raised me, you are the voice in my head” allow you to glean the characters' relationships underneath it all. Jason Bateman steers the ship with his everyman ways and spot on comedic timing. He was a pitch perfect casting choice here. Corey Stoll does a wonderful job as the staunch older brother who approves of nothing his siblings are doing. He is riddled with insecurity and guilt about his current life and he shows it in subtle, yet effective, ways. Last but certainly not least, Jane Fonda as the mother and general instigator to all this family drama. Fonda, works because she keeps and emotional distance from her children but in the right moments she is in fact the most vulnerable. A great performance with perfect mix of comedy, culpability, and a dash of mother’s guilt. This is Where I Leave You was a movie that threw a lot of balls into the air but managed to keep track of them all and deliver a great post summer blockbuster experience.

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