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Sun11292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun continuation of what returning director Peyton Reed started with Ant-Man three years ago. I whined a bit about the decent original; I wanted it to be more subversive, knowing that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was originally supposed to direct it.

I’m over it: Reed is kicking some Marvel ass, and his sequel is actually better than the first. After the well-done but gloomy Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp joins the likes of Thor: Ragnarok as a fun, slightly eccentric diversion from the serious Marvel shit. This one, for the most part, just wants to have a good time, and it succeeds.

As the title implies, this is no longer a one-man show for the always-entertaining Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. Evangeline Lilly returns as Hope Van Dyne and gets a bigger part of the limelight as the Wasp, who has decidedly better martial-arts skills than professional burglar Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. The Wasp lets the kicks fly in an early scene with a crooked businessman (Walton Goggins … I love his name), and she owns every moment she has onscreen.

It looks like a kick from The Wasp hurts more than one from Ant-Man. That would make sense; she trained him. Lilly’s Hope was pivotal in the original, but she watched most of the action with her dad, out of harm’s way. This time, Hope proves it would’ve probably been a better strategy to have had her throwing down from the start. She does a lot of the heavy lifting, while Lang sits next to Pym (Michael Douglas) and watches from afar.

The film’s main villain is Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a complicated badass on a mission to steal some of Dr. Hank Pym’s tech in order to cure her condition. That condition involves her molecular instability and the Quantum Realm—which might still contain Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, seen in flashbacks).

While the stakes aren’t quite as high as in other Marvel fare—the entire universe isn’t at risk in this one—Reed and his crew make it more than compelling. They also make it very funny, thanks mostly to Rudd, ninja master of comic timing.

Fortifying the laughter would be Michael Peña returning as the oh-so-happy Luis, who tells yet more amusing stories, one of them under the influence of truth serum. Randall Park shows up as an FBI agent watching over Lang, who is still under house arrest for the events of Captain America: Civil War. His eagerness to learn card tricks is one of the film’s better gags.

The film also qualifies as one of the summer’s better family films. Dr. Pym’s mission to rescue his wife, his relationship with daughter Hope, and Lang’s love for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, capably reprising her role) add heartwarming elements. As for the Ghost, her family issues also play a big part in the plot. Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), Cassie’s stepdad and Lang’s enemy in the first film, returns and is now one of Lang’s best friends. It’s all rather sweet.

But you don’t go to a Marvel movie to have your heart warmed, right? Don’t worry: The action is first-rate, as are the special effects, which often involve car chases with vehicles and buildings constantly shrinking and enlarging. Sight gags involving buildings as roll-away luggage, salt shakers and Pez dispensers also benefit from exemplary visual artistry.

There’s not much that connects this installment in obvious ways to the overall Marvel universe story arc, but you do get the requisite Stan Lee cameo and the obligatory after-credit scenes. The Ant-Man franchise got off to a decent start with the first film. Now, it’s the Ant-Man and the Wasp franchise, and that makes the future for this one even more exciting.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

A beloved novel gets absolutely slaughtered with A Wrinkle in Time, one of 2018’s worst movies—and an embarrassment for the great talents involved.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel was adapted by Disney once before with an also-lousy direct-to-video release back in 2003. The book has been bouncing around Hollywood for decades, with many attempts to bring it to the big screen being aborted. It’s a sad, sad thing that Disney finally took the plunge, dropped a lot of money (more than $100 million)—and came up with this mess.

Compounding the sadness would be that it is directed by Ava DuVernay, who made the excellent Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma. While that film had a cohesive vision, excellent technical credits and powerhouse acting all around, her new film has none of these things. It’s total chaos.

Crackpot dreamy scientist Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) is obsessed with interstellar travel, and believes that wrinkles in time could be used to travel light years through space. It’s never really established what he truly wants to achieve through such travel, but his obsession eventually leads to his disappearance for four years. He’s apparently traveling through the universe with no real way to get home, and no real sense of purpose.

A ragtag group of kids led by Murry’s oldest daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), and precocious adopted son, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), set out on an ill-conceived journey to find their dad, accompanied by Reese Witherspoon as crazy Mrs. Whatsit; Mindy Kaling as eccentric Mrs. Who; and Oprah Winfrey as the ponderous Mrs. Which. Mrs. Whatsit speaks fast; Mrs. Who speaks quirkily; and Mrs. Which talks really slow. That’s this film’s best attempt at humor and distinguishable characters.

The journey leads them through various, horribly designed set pieces and terrible, candy-colored CGI. When movie magic is present, art direction, cinematography and editing combine to transport viewers into new worlds and visions. In Wrinkle, these things combine to look like a bad office costume party, at which somebody spiked the brownies with bad weed.

The film seems poorly planned from its very first scenes, as if the director really had no idea what to film or how to film it. It’s abundantly clear that many of the sequences didn’t get enough coverage shots, so nonsensical editing is constantly occurring over dialogue that doesn’t match the actions. Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler totally blows it in the lighting department, opting for a dull sheen on the movie. The sets and costuming/makeup are laughingly bad, reminiscent of the eyesores that were Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movies.

A prime example of the elements not coming together would be early scenes in which Oprah is supposed to be a giant. DuVernay employs a mixture of forced perspective and green-screen effects that keep Oprah disconnected from her fellow performers. She probably rarely shared a studio with them, and the finished product makes it seem that way. Her character just looks like it’s roaming around in its own realm, even though she’s actually talking to others.

Zach Galifianakis shows up as … well, I’m really not sure what the hell he is supposed to be. I just know he looked and sounded stupid. The same can be said for Michael Peña. Witherspoon at least tries to be fun in her thankless role—although she’s not fun at all. I’m just saying it’s evident she tried to be fun, while Kaling, like Oprah, looks totally lost.

Now that I’ve watched the film, I’m not sure what happened or what was supposed to be happening. Perhaps A Wrinkle in Time is a novel that was, is and always shall be unadaptable. It’s admirable that DuVernay and crew took a stab at such a cherished, complicated work.

Actually, no … forget about that. They should’ve left this material alone, and their finished product is proof it was a project well beyond their capabilities. When they saw the script, they should’ve ran far, far away. I was angry while watching it, and I’m even angrier here while recapping it. Movies this bad should never happen—especially with this level of talent involved.

A Wrinkle in Time is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Last year, Matt Damon’s character in Interstellar got stranded in space and wound up doing some rather rude things to Matthew McConaughey.

This year, Damon’s character in The Martian gets stranded in space, but this time, he refrains from trying to kill Matthew McConaughey (in part because McConaughey isn’t in the movie), opting instead to grow potatoes using his own shit.

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a fun—and funny—movie that’s lighter than much of the director’s often-dark fare. Yes, it’s about some poor sap getting stranded on Mars, but, no, aliens don’t burst out of his belly after breakfast.

Damon spends a lot of time onscreen by himself as Mark Watney, a botanist on a manned mission to Mars who becomes the unfortunate recipient of a satellite dish to the gut during a storm—a violent squall that results in the evacuation of the rest of his crew. After an attempt by his commander (Jessica Chastain, also a veteran of Interstellar) to retrieve him, the crew leaves, thinking Watney has bought the farm. (Yep … that’s a botanist pun I just dropped right there.)

Watney awakens to find himself alone on the red planet—with a piece of metal stuck in his gut. After another Ridley Scott-directed self-surgery scene (reminiscent of that yucky self-surgery scene in Prometheus), Watney starts trying to find a way to survive. He fashions fertilizer out of jettisoned poopy-packs, finds a way to make water—and is soon up to his ears in potatoes.

The Martian has fun with science facts, involving things like the creation of fertilizer, the surprising effectiveness of duct tape and tarps, and attempts to make fire out of mostly fire-retardant materials. Scott and his writers present these overtly nerdy aspects of the movie with great humor and the right amount of intelligence.

Damon’s performance can be compared to the lone-wolf work of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Hanks lost a lot of weight for that role, while Damon settles for an emaciated body double and digital overhauling in The Martian. It’s forgivable; Damon has done all kinds of body antics for prior films (most notably Courage Under Fire, in which he played an ultra-skinny drug addict). Let the special-effects wizards and body doubles handle the weight loss. It’s important to keep one’s heart healthy when in one’s 40s.

Damon has never been funnier before in a role, with his Watney constantly making light of his situation and using a running series of jokes to entertain himself. One of the storytelling gimmicks involves Watney videotaping messages for mission control, and each one of those messages is entertainment unto itself.

The supporting cast is terrific, from an icy Jeff Daniels (who is as cold-hearted and emotionally streamlined as they come—and he damn well oughta be) to Chastain as the mission commander suffering from guilt pangs after leaving a man behind. Michael Peña provides comic relief as a sarcastic crewmember, while Kristen Wiig does the same as a NASA spokesperson.

Scott has been in a bit of a rut lately, although I liked Prometheus despite all the plot holes and inexplicable behaviors. (By the way, Scott recently announced at least two sequels to Prometheus, so get ready for some more Noomi Rapace outer-space shenanigans.) The Martian affords Scott a nice chance to play around in his science-fiction sandbox while telling an optimistic story about humans, rather than one in which they are chased by a creature with acid for blood.

The Martian could be in play for some Oscar honors. It’s an all-around solid movie with a truly winning performance at its core. Yet again, stranding Damon on a planet and watching him squirm reaps big entertainment dividends.

The Martian is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After a shocking directorial exodus and a series of rewrites, Marvel’s Ant-Man has finally made it to the screen—and it’s a reasonably enjoyable piece of summer fare, thanks to the total charmer playing the title character.

Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, the professional, wisecracking thief who’s given a new lease on life when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) shows him the wonders of his incredible shrinking suit.

Rudd was given the job by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), who left Ant-Man as its director after working on the project for years. While Wright still gets an executive producer credit and a writing credit, Peyton Reed (Yes Man), a virtual stranger to big-budget blockbusters, wound up at the helm with a script rewrite from Adam McKay and Rudd himself.

Reed does a good job—but not an outstanding job—in Wright’s place. The movie plays it mighty safe, with an emphasis on family viewing and few of the offbeat touches that are the hallmark of a Wright affair. A wonderful moment involving The Cure is as strange as this movie gets.

After a setup that involves Lang’s release from prison, some business with his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter (Abby Rider Fortson), and a short-lived job at Baskin-Robbins, he winds up in the company of Pym, who is concerned that his technology has fallen into the wrong hands. Pym’s concern is justified, as sinister business partner Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has uncovered Pym’s shrinking technology, and has created his own suit (becoming a character known to comic fans as Yellowjacket) for nefarious purposes.

Lang is handpicked by Pym to break into his own company headquarters and steal the new suit. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily), who wants her own suit, reluctantly trains Lang in the ways of punching, shrinking and conversing with insect friends.

Rudd is so good as Lang that I’m convinced the film would’ve been a dud without his presence. He’s a naturally funny guy who can play schmaltzy drama and make it look cool. The soap-opera stuff with his daughter winds up having a silly edge and actually becomes almost heartwarming.

Michael Peña is consistently hilarious as the perpetually smiling sidekick Luis; in fact, he keeps grinning even when he’s revealing family deaths and marital strife. Peña is often cast in dramatic roles (Fury, End of Watch), but he’s proven in the past that he has major comedic chops, in films like Observe and Report. Douglas brings a nice dose of class and wisdom to the proceedings.

The special effects, mostly CGI, are well-done. The first shrinking sequence, which involves a bathtub and eventual placement on a crowded dance floor, is a true stunner. Lang’s interactions with insects reminded me of another shrinking movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, in which an ant was treated like a pet horse. It’s a little cutesy, and the kids will dig it.

Ant-Man acknowledges the Avengers universe in many ways, including a prominent appearance by Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and John Slattery as Howard Stark. The film, wisely, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach with the Avengers, playing things mostly for laughs. It will be interesting to see how Lang fits into future Marvel movies, like the next Captain America film. As always with Marvel movies, stay through the entire credits, folks.

Ant-Man is fun, if not remarkable, on par with the likes of Iron Man 2 and the first Captain America. It plays it safe; I imagine that’s why Wright left the scene. Knowing his work, I’m thinking he may have been shooting for something that was funny and outrageous—and that just won’t do in the firmly established, tightly knit Marvel world. Still, those who have followed the project from its beginnings will find some relief in the fact that it’s not a tonally messed-up disaster.

Ant-Man is not going to leave you breathless with delight, but for my money, it’s still a better all-around movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Ant-Man is playing in various formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Right in time for Halloween, writer-director David Ayer has come up with a genuine horror show in Fury, his take on a World War II tank crew trying to survive the last days of the war.

This film goes full-bore in showing the horrors of war—in fact, the very first scene depicts a brutal act of violence that proves Ayer is not playing games. His intention is to show the effects of war on a group of men who are clinging to the last threads of sanity after years of claustrophobic, blood-soaked terror inside a tank.

Brad Pitt leads the crew as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a grizzled, scarred individual who behaves questionably as he treks across Nazi Germany. When he’s saddled with a new recruit, Norman (Logan Lerman), his behavior becomes a strange mix of paternal and completely unhinged.

Other members of the crew include Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Ayer may have created each of these characters as odes to the John Wayne war movies of yore. However, that is where the common thread with bravado-filled old-timey war movies ends: There is nothing clichéd or old-timey about the way in which these characters are portrayed.

Much of the film takes place inside the tank, with a few breaks, most notably a scene in which Wardaddy introduces Logan to a nice German girl while he has some eggs. The carnage in the battle scenes is unrelenting. A sequence in which a group of U.S. tanks goes up against one superior German tank is as harrowing as moviemaking gets.

It all builds up to a final sequence during which the tank breaks down, and Wardaddy decides he isn’t going to run away, even though a large group of enemy soldiers is approaching. The crew decides to fight it out alongside their leader. I have to believe that many allied soldiers made similar decisions while taking the Nazis down 70 years ago. Not every battle was planned, and the odds were often stacked against them.

Ayer presents a scenario that’s crazy, yet realistic in many ways. No movie could authentically depict the real-life horrors of World War II; however, Ayer and company go to great lengths to show what happens when a nightmare becomes something hellish.

Pitt is just a few degrees removed from his Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s as if Aldo finished scalping Christoph Waltz, shaved his mustache and joined a tank battalion—at least it is regarding Pitt’s aesthetic and the accent he employs. However, unlike Aldo Raine, Wardaddy is totally lacking in humor. This is a truly powerful characterization from an actor who rarely missteps.

The tabloids had a field day with the weird stuff LaBeouf did while making this movie, including pulling out a tooth (Nicolas Cage-style), refusing to shower and generally acting strange. Well, whatever weirdness he put the cast and crew through resulted in his best screen work to date. As the preacher of the crew, LaBeouf is quite moving as a man who keeps his faith and finds immense joy in reciting scripture. This performance should give him a chance to get his once-promising career back on track.

Peña (who worked with Ayer on End of Watch) is terrific, as usual, as are Lerman and Bernthal. Bernthal, like Pitt, calls upon a past character (the jerk he played on The Walking Dead) for inspiration.

Stay away from Fury if you can’t handle onscreen gore. As I said before, this one is vicious right out of the gate, and it remains vicious through its 134-minute running time.

As action films go, it’s a real winner. As war films go, it’s one to be remembered. As horror films go, I doubt you’ll see anything scarier this month.

Fury is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Dear Mexican: I’m a second-generation Orange County-raised pocho. Both sides of my family have been civil rights activists since the 1940s. My mother’s family took part in the landmark case Mendez et al. vs. Westminster et al. in 1946. My father was a Chicano activist in the 1960s and 1970s. From the time I was a child, I met various figures like Reies López Tijerina, César Chávez, Bert Corona and Emigdio Vasquez. In 1975, my dad took my older brother and me to a demonstration against la migra where we marched to the federal buildings in Santa Ana. As an adult, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, I improved my Spanish with classes, books, magazines, television, films and travel to countries de habla española.

Despite my efforts to acculturate myself in Spanish, I am often met with the macho attitude of wabs and pochos, apparently because I do not dress or act like them. At 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, I’m not being dissed for appearing to be a wimp. I have gone to gabacho businesses where the wab or pocho cashier has provided courteous service to Anglos and Asians with a smile, referring to them as “sir,” and saying, “Thank you.” While being served, I’m treated like a second-class citizen. I have been nearly run off sidewalks by wab pedestrians while walking with my 2-year-old son. A favorite of some wabs is to ask me to speak in English after I have said something in Spanish clearly and grammatically correct. I now live in Los Angeles, where, for some reason, I get much more respect from African Americans than other Latinos.

Is there a seemingly logical reason for this disrespect from wabs and pochos alike?

El Pocho Panzón

Dear Big-Bellied Pocho: Just a quick refresher for people who ain’t from la naranja: A wab is a term specific to Orange County and is what assimilated Mexicans and gabachos call recently arrived Mexicans. (Before other Chicanos dismiss my homeland again as a fountain of anti-Mexican hate: All Chicano communities across los Estados Unidos have their own unique terms, as we discussed in this columna a couple of years back.)

While I understand your pain, you’re going to have to deal with the realidad that Mexicans are always going to hate on other Mexicans for one reason or another. Pochos will hate other pochos for being too successful or not Mexican enough; pochos will hate wabs for not being successful enough or too Mexican; wabs will hate pochos for definitely not being Mexican enough; and wabs will hate wabs for being too successful or not being Mexican enough. Pochos get the brunt of it, because they’re the most gabacho, the one group all Mexicans can agree to hate. But truth is, Mexicans hate Mexicans more than gabachos hate Mexicans, and the sooner we get rid of this pendejada from our psyche, the quicker the full Reconquista will be complete.

WATCH AND READ CÉSAR CHÁVEZ!

Gentle cabrones: Two big projects on César Chávez are out right now, each worthy of your support.

The one that’s getting the big press coverage, César Chávez, is a film starring Michael Peña as the legendary labor leader, and is a good intro into why his life and accomplishments are important for everyone to know about. But the rest of the story is in Miriam Pawel’s extraordinary The Crusades of César Chávez: A Biography, which finds Chávez not as the saint that keepers of his flame want him remembered as, but as an all-too-human man—it’s one of the few thorough biographies to not come off as hagiography.

Thanks to Hollywood and Manhattan for making a film and book about an important American who happened to be a Mexican (in the same year, no less!). Watch and read and debate.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

This riveting cop thriller, released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Tuesday, Jan. 22), features strong work from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Los Angeles cops who get themselves in a lot of trouble with a drug cartel.

End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who is no stranger to cop dramas. He wrote Training Day and directed Street Kings, another film about the LAPD. He also directed Christian Bale—quite well, I might add—in Harsh Times. End of Watch proves to be his greatest achievement to date.

I was a little worried this was going to be a found-footage film (a genre I have come to hate) when Gyllenhaal’s character started filming stuff for a project. A little bit of his footage works its way into the film, but this is mostly a straightforward narrative without that particular gimmick.

The supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick as Janet, Gyllenhaal’s gal pal, while America Ferrera is good as a fellow officer. There’s also Frank Grillo, so good in last year’s The Grey, as another officer.

Universal tried to build some Oscar buzz for Gyllenhaal and Peña, but the effort failed to get them any nominations. The campaign made sense, though, because these guys elevate End of Watch beyond a decent thriller, making it into something quite memorable.

Up next for Ayer? A movie called Ten, another drug-cartel/cop thriller starring some dude named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Looks like Ayer is sticking close to home with his topics in the future.

Special Features: Ayer provides a good commentary. You also get five behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed.

Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess.

Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic.

What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay.

The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to leave his badge at home; gather a squad of badasses; and disrupt Cohen’s operations.

The squad includes soft-voiced Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an officer who plays with his lighter a lot. There’s also the brainiac (Giovanni Ribisi) who will spend much of the movie wearing headphones and tinkering with things.

There’s the knife-wielding officer, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), who will throw a knife at someone’s hand in a crowded nightclub, even though he’s a cop and probably shouldn’t be doing things like that. And, finally, there’s the comic-book hero (Robert Patrick) and his sidekick (Michael Peña), two wisecracks who are great with their guns.

Director Ruben Fleischer is shooting for an authentic late-’40s gangster-film feel, he but achieves something more akin to parody. The film feels like a bunch of usually decent actors are playing dress-up with their toy guns; they all seem lost.

Emma Stone wastes her time as perhaps the film’s most-bizarre character. She is Cohen’s etiquette coach (rather than making her a straight-up hooker), somebody who is sleeping with a monster and then two-timing him with Gosling’s Wooters.

Good luck trying to make that character sympathetic. They dress Stone in heavy makeup and flashy dresses, and feed her terrible dialogue. She’s completely wrong for the role, although I would have a hard time picking somebody right for it.

Penn has chewed scenery before (I Am Sam, Casualties of War). This time out, he doesn’t just chew the scenery; he’s a freaking wood-chipper. I appreciate Penn as an actor, but sometimes—just sometimes—he can be terrible. This is one of those times.

Regrettably, the usually reliable Gosling is just as bad, and perhaps worse. He decides to utilize a voice that makes him sound like a 12 year-old kid doing a lame James Cagney impersonation. It’s bad to the point of distraction, as is his action of constantly flipping his lighter. We get it, Ryan Gosling … you learned how to flip your lighter, ’40s style. Now knock it off.

Gangster Squad lacks originality, a sense of purpose, style, class, Michael Keaton (although it feels like his Johnny Dangerously character could pop out any moment) and a basic overall reason for being. The problem wasn’t the violent movie-theater scene they had to excise. The whole damn thing stinks. 

Gangster Squad is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews