Ant-Man and The Wasp (Full Review)

Welp… someone had to draw the short straw. 2015’s Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, mainly because it relished in being a comedic heist film more than an outright superhero movie. But this time around, Marvel’s shrinking hero has the unenviable task of following up the two highest grossing films in the history of comic book cinema. And while no intelligent person should be going into Ant-Man and The Wasp looking for it to be as thematically profound as Black Pantheror as epic as Infinity War, it is fair to expect a film equally as fun, or exciting, as the first Ant-Man.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAfter aiding Captain America in Civil War, ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. Determined to finish the last days of his two year sentence and spend more time with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has given up the moniker of Ant-Man. But, having escaped the subatomic quantum realm in the first film, Scott is also the key to helping the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), rescue his long lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the same mysterious dimension. With the FBI, a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a villain who can phase through solid matter (Hannah John-Kamen) standing in their way, Scott takes up the mantle again with Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as his partner.

Calling Lilly’s Wasp the “partner” is actually pretty ridiculous. By the first action sequence, it becomes clear that the movie should be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. She is tougher, smarter, and more heroic to the point that it relegates Lang to being, not only more of the sidekick, but inherently mere comic relief and a plot device for her adventure. And that would all be fine if this sequel had the same narrative flow as the previous film. But it never rightfully gives her the tonal forefront.

Miguel Peña, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, and Davis Dastmalchian all return as Lang’s goofy, ex-con coworkers. Laurence Fishburne appears as a former colleague to Dr. Pym. Oh… and Randall Park also plays a bumbling FBI agent. By the end, there are just too many characters and story threads. The over-reliance on quips and gags makes for a ton of disjointed scenes that, like in Thor: Ragnarok, undermine serious stakes. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins and his crew of buffoons seem to be onscreen only to provide henchmen to beat up, which only wastes the potential of John-Kamen’s visually stunning, but underdeveloped villain, ‘Ghost’.

Peyton Reed returns to direct, and he tries mightily to give this film the same tone. But at its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a heist film. With Hope and Dr. Pym’s emotional journey to reunite with their lost matriarch being the main focus, The Wasp should’ve been the main character. Rudd’s Lang is still charming, and his endearing relationship with his daughter was enough of a subplot to bring him along for the ride, but he needed to take more of a backseat. Continuously giving screen time to clownish characters is frequently becoming Marvel’s biggest weakness. And here, it squanders the showcasing of its tremendous female lead. It certainly has some fun moments, but there’s too much going on for Ant-Man and The Wasp not to land near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

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Murder on the Orient Express (Full Review)

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? This genre can be just as suspenseful as any action movie and just as emotional as any drama. And when at their best, murder mysteries can give us some amazing twists and turns. First published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is one of the most iconic in the genre and makes for a compelling film adaptation.

Murder_on_the_Orient_Express_teaser_posterKenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella) directs this film and plays the lead role of Inspector Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective in 1934. After solving a case in Jerusalem, Poirot is invited by his train conductor friend (Tom Bateman) to take a vacation aboard the Orient Express. But his leisurely trip is cut short when a shady businessman (Johnny Depp) is murdered on the train. Among the suspects are the businessman’s secretary (Josh Gad), a rich divorcee (Michelle Pfeiffer), a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), a mysterious governess (Daisy Ridley), a stingy princess (Judi Dench) and her assistant (Olivia Colman), a deeply religious former nanny (Penelope Cruz), a racist German (Willem Dafoe), and a slew of other passengers with dirty secrets.

The film’s murder mystery aspect doesn’t disappoint. The clues are strategically relayed to the audience through the eyes of the wise and charismatic Poirot so that things never drag. Every so often, a new wrinkle is introduced to throw the audience off of the scent so that by the time the truth is revealed it feels genuinely surprising and exciting. Each cast member effectively does their part and their characters are each given enough flaws to make even the most likable a logical suspect.

Things aren’t all perfect. There is a ton of information thrown into the movie that at times make things difficult to follow. It also feels like there are a few too many suspects to keep up with. Some characters are underdeveloped and their arcs are tossed to the wayside making them feel wholly unnecessary except for a scene or two. The film’s narrative attempts to make some moral commentary that feels somewhat preachy by the climax, but overall it shouldn’t distract from a story that delivers on intrigue and suspense.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

Mother! (Full Review)

Have you ever been forced to be around an awkward conversation that has nothing to do with you. Like being on a bus next to a couple and one of them is about to get dumped, you can tell everything is slowly going south but you can’t remove yourself from the area so you just have to sit there and uncomfortably take it all in. If you’ve made it through something like that, then you can make it through Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

Mother!2017Mother! Is a really, really, abstract film. This should come as no surprise coming from the man who also directed Black Swan and The Fountain. Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a writer (Javier Bardem) who is supporting her husband through a stint of writer’s block by helping refurbish his old home. Their tranquil life of solitude is interrupted when the writer allows a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay in their home.

While it markets itself as something eerie and suspenseful, it’s actually more like an art film with dark undertones. The first two thirds play out like a melancholy stage play with the most tense moments coming from the sheer vagueness of the movie’s intensions. In its final act, however, the film undergoes  a complete shift in tone that brings intense clarity.

But when I say ‘intense’ in reference to the movie’s final act, I mean overwhelming more than exciting. After seemingly wandering around without concrete purpose, the conclusion brings its intentions with the subtlety of Donald Trump with a bullhorn. There is a ton of metaphorical meaning to it all with different interpretations, some that could offend, some that could disgust, some that could inspire, and some that could just flat out depress. It’s hard to call Mother! a bad film, as artistically it deserves credit for its cinematography and metaphorical nuance. But it’s equally as difficult to call something so dreary enjoyable.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

The Family… Full Review

The Family

There always seems to be a certain charm about Mob movies. The lingo. The sense of camaraderie. The style. All captivating elements of the genre that have made films like The Godfather and Goodfellas classics. The Family seeks to take these elements and mix them with a dose of comedy.

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The film’s premise is simple enough. Robert De Niro (who plays the mobster role a little too well if you ask me) and his Brooklyn born, Italian family move to Normandy under the witness protection program. There, his family struggles to assimilate to both normal non-mob life as well as with living amongst French culture. Michele Pfeiffer stars as De Niro’s equally temperamental wife. Diana Agron and John D’Leo play their savvy and tough children. Tommy Lee-Jones appears as the FBI agent entrusted with keeping an eye on the family.

As a comedy, the movie somewhat falls flat. There are a few chuckles here and there, but nothing that makes you think twice (Most of it can be found in the trailers). The funniest moment is probably the clever little shout out given to De Niro’s previous mob-film, Goodfellas. Ironically, though, Goodfellas is probably the funnier of the two movies.

Sadly enough, the movie also fails to deliver as a crime film. It’s paced a bit too slow for a film with an ending that is predictably inevitable (I found myself checking my watch several times). And while the cast is likable, each has at least one moment where their character makes a head-scratchigly dumb mistake. Why throw a barbecue and invite the entire town when you’re supposed to be lying low? And shouldn’t you have an alibi before you set up shop in a new town to avoid people asking avoidable questions? Also, at some point, it would’ve been nice to know what De Niro’s Giovanni Maznoni had done to put the family in danger in the first place.

There were so many unanswered questions and yet there were plenty of opportunities to answer them. All of these problems might’ve been forgivable if there were more laughs outside of the first twenty minutes. An ending in which none of the main characters seems to learn any kind of lesson or experience any personal growth doesn’t help either.

FINAL GRADE: C-