Monday, August 17, 2015

The Case for Antics

Another Marvel superhero movie?  Honestly!

We all know how it goes:  connections to the other films in the Marvel/Disney universe will abound; the lead actor will have at least one shirtless scene where he gets to show off his ripped abs; there will be special effects and cheesy jokes galore; and it will be about two hours long.

And Ant Man lives up to all of these Marvel staples.  And it is great.

Paul Rudd is his usual charming self in the lead role of Scott, known to almost no one as Ant Man.  The man known as Ant Man, if he were widely known, is Hank Pym, played by this movie’s “power hitting” older actor who does not need to have a six pack, Michael Douglas.  Female sass is provided by Evangeline Lilly.  And Michael Pena plays the comic relief side kick to Scott, and is so good that he at times runs away with the movie.

But the real star is the special effects.  Not since Land of the Giants and Honey I Shrunk the Kids has there been so much work on scale – though thinking about it I am sure most of the scenes are CGI so its probably not really that impressive.  But what it may lack in “small firsts” the film more than makes up for in humour – the whole fight around the train set, while “spoiled” by the trailers, is still hilarious.

Ant Man is a hero on a smaller scale (as it were).  His heroing is to steal experimental technology that, should it fall into the wrong hands, could bring catastrophe to the planet.  Of course, things go a little wrong (as it were) and there is an amusing but overlong diversion over to Avengers territory on the way to that final showdown. 

So it doesn’t hit all its marks.  Some of the scenes with Scott trying to bond with his family are a little cloying and Scott’s rivalry with his daughter’s step dad who also happens to be a cop assigned to looking into the Ant Man heist… well, that is a little coincidental.  But with Rudd and his effortless charm working well with the severe haircut of Lilly and the cranky superiority of Douglas, the cast hold everything together super well, while the special effects crew keep everything looking absolutely amazing, with zooms in and out at a dizzying but still understandable pace.

Apparently this is one of the poorest opening of the Marvel/Disney films but it doesn’t deserve to be.  It is fun, exciting, entertaining and possibly spawning a sequel.  Though maybe not, as while I am sure we will see Ant Man again, it might be more in the other films in the Marvel/Disney universe than starring in his own small vehicle.

Verdict: Ant Man is a fantastic romp through silliness and the microscopic world.  The cast are all excellent, revelling in the very small scale (pardon the pun) superhero world in which they live, devoid of the earth shattering foes of the other Marvel films.  And that grounds the film and gives it a heart the others struggle with.  8 yellow jackets out of 10.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Case for More MIssions

Hard to believe the Mission Impossible franchise has been going for 20 years.  And now, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the fifth film in the series, is bringing the awesome music and high powered secret spy action back to the big screen.

The music is still awesome; the film itself, a little lesser than its predecessor.

There are still amazing set pieces, incredible action and exotic locations, but the overall heart of the film seemed to be missing.

Its not Simon Pegg’s fault.  As much as his character is the screaming “damsel in distress”, he brings a lot of the humour and “grounding” of the film to a more human level.  Around him, there are government big wigs and super soldiers and lots of incidental individuals, none of whom are particularly three dimensional or seem to be fazed by what is going on about them.

King of the stony faced people is Tom Cruise, back as Ethan Hunt, and as bullet proof and unstoppable as ever.  They are barely pretending these days that Hunt is human, his only physical flaw being a susceptibility to the need to breathe, though even then, he has super powers meaning he can last a lot longer than ordinary men and women.  I think he cracked a smile perhaps once, but for a character who is on the screen most of the movie, I am struggling to recall any real dialogue he shared with any other characters.  

Not that there needs to be much in the way of conversation: Hunt is tracking down the mysterious Rogue Nation of spies, out doing nefarious things around the world, though only Hunt is aware of them and only Hunt can bring them down.  He seems to get a helping hand though in the beautiful form of an agent within the Rogue Nation who seems to be assisting him – but can she really be trusted?

Lots of exotic locales and chases and product placement for Nokia phones and BMWs and watches the characters don’t actually seem to be wearing ensues.  

And its all really entertaining, ably assisted by that fantastic theme music.  There are moments when I was looking at my own time piece, mainly when some of my fellow film goers kept asking silly questions about how Hunt survived his last trick (just run with it!) or took out their cell phones (!) to text someone, but for the most part the excitement and action keep things moving along.  It probably is a bit too long at 2 hours plus, but when things did slow down a little, it was only a few minutes before some insane action set piece came along to liven things up again.

Verdict: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a fairly passable action movie, though to be honest, there is not much in there that raises it above a middling film.  Do I want more?  Sure – as long as that theme song is featured prominently, I will be wishing Jim good luck and disavowing any knowledge of the Impossible Missions Force. 7 missions out of 10.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Case for Insiders

I have to admit that Brave did not interest me that much, and I have never been able to sit the whole way through that particular Pixar film. 

It was therefore a huge relief that Inside Out got the rave reviews that it has, and I was super chuffed when I found myself amused, delighted and emotional throughout the film.  I was even spotted dabbing at the corner of my eye at the more poignant moments, though I was able to resist blubbering for all of the overtly emotional scenes.

At the time, I didn’t really think about the depth of the concepts behind the film, and mainly just concentrated on the main story: the brain of Riley  is filled with emotions, with Joy (voiced by the awesome Amy Poehler) the driving force who keeps on top of the other emotions (Sadness (a wonderful Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Back), and the fantastic Mindy Kaling as Disgust) that develop as Riley matures.  Key memories are saved and treated with the utmost respect and form part of Riley’s core personality, whereas others are put into storage and eventually disappear.  So when Riley moves, Joy does everything she can to keep Riley happy, eventually ending up lost amongst the memories with Sadness, and needing to get back to the central control room where the other emotions have been left in charge.

The funniest bits of the movie are really when we leave Riley’s head and see how these emotions are playing out and acting in the heads of the other characters of the film.  The mother/father reactions are priceless, though I was almost rolling in the aisles when we were treated to a teenage boy’s shell shocked emotional inner turmoil. 

But there are plenty of laughs and tears to be had inside Riley’s mindscape, Amy Poehler’s relentless enthusiasm and energy the driving force behind story’s sense of wonder and (of course) Joy as we are taken through imagination land and memory lane and a whole lot of other mental metaphors made real.  

The layers did not always work for the kids.  In my session, a few children started to move around restlessly and got a little bored during some of the slower, less colourful, or more wacky parts of the journey.  That, plus their parents laughing knowingly as Mum (Diane Lane) and Dad (Kyle MacLachlan) completely failed to communicate despite everything they actually said might not really have kept the younger ones attention.  Still, for big kids like me, the story itself was magical throughout and kept me thoroughly entertained, if at times a little more emotional than I probably would have liked.

Verdict: Inside Out is another instant classic from Pixar, even if the preceding short film was a bit overlong and more of a miss.  Funny, deep, moving, and incredibly performed, it was a great film to see with all ages, though the younger ones might not appreciate it quite as much as the older folk in the audience.  9 happy memories out of 10.