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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

If you love all kinds of movies, and you haven’t yet seen The Room, you really need to change that.

Written, directed by and starring the legendary Tommy Wiseau, it’s possibly the greatest bad movie ever made. It’s so great in its badness, the Rifftrax episode (the movie-bashing bastard stepchild of Mystery Science Theater 3000) with the movie is actually annoying. You just want Mike Nelson and friends to shut up and let you enjoy the pure experience of The Room. No riff is funnier than what is happening in the actual movie.

James Franco pays tribute to Tommy Wiseau with The Disaster Artist in much the same way Tim Burton glorified shlockmeister Ed Wood more than 20 years ago. Franco directs and stars as Tommy, complete with the awesome long vampire black hair and chipmunk cheeks that comprise “the Wiseau.” He also nails the Wiseau mystery accent. (While his IMDb profile says he was born in 1955 and comes from Poland, nobody seems to really know Wiseau’s true background.)

For the first time in a movie, Franco co-stars with brother Dave, who gets one of his best roles yet as the legendarily bad Greg Sestero, friend to Tommy and co-star in The Room. The film starts in San Francisco, with Greg struggling to remember lines for Waiting for Godot in a savagely bad acting class. Strange classmate Tommy lumbers onto the stage and butchers a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire—and a friendship is born. The two agree to work on scenes together, bond in their lousiness and, thanks to Wiseau’s strange apparent wealth, move to Los Angeles to fulfill their dreams to become actors.

After a stretch of unsuccessful auditions, the two decide to make their own movie—and this is where the film really takes off. Fans of The Room will rejoice in hilarious recreations of iconic The Room moments such as, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’ and “Oh, hi Mark!”

The supporting cast includes Franco pal Seth Rogen as cranky script supervisor Sandy; Zac Efron as the actor who portrayed the oddly named Chris-R in The Room; and Ari Graynor as the actress who brought the majestic Lisa, Tommy’s onscreen sweetheart, to life. Josh Hutcherson plays the actor who would be Denny, perhaps the most unintentionally frightening character in Wiseau’s movie. Sharon Stone, Hannibal Buress, Melanie Griffith and Randall Park also appear.

The Disaster Artist is actually based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, co-written by Sestero, and the film is heartwarming for multiple reasons. It’s fun to see a misfit make it, even though it’s in a roundabout sort of way, and it’s fun to see that accomplishment depicted by the Franco brothers. It’s about time these guys did something together. Perhaps it’s the first of many future collaborations.

When Franco’s Wiseau watches the final cut of The Room with a rambunctious crowd that loves/hates his movie, Franco delivers some of the best acting of his career—on multiple levels. On the screen in ‘The Room,’ he’s doing a spot-on impersonation of Wiseau, with an odd accent, bizarre facial expressions and a horrific writhing, naked ass during an exquisitely bad sex scene. In the audience, Wiseau sheds tears as everybody around him mocks his movie. Franco succeeds in making us feel terrible for the guy.

That sadness quickly disappears, replaced by euphoria as the crowd cheers his trash masterpiece—and Wiseau embraces the notoriety. By the time the film wraps, it hits you that Franco has somehow made one of the better “feel good” movies of the year.

Make sure to stay for the credits, where Franco plays his re-creations of scenes from The Room next to Wiseau’s originals. The scenes sync up almost perfectly, and are so good that I often found myself confused regarding which was which. Wiseau himself shows up after the credits for what turns out to be the movie’s best cameo.

The Disaster Artist is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).

Published in Reviews

Some 15 years after her last movie (the terrible The Banger Sisters), Goldie Hawn has been coaxed back onto the big screen, opposite Amy Schumer in Snatched. It’s great to have her back—and it would’ve been super-great had the movie been worth her time.

Hawn and Schumer play Linda and Emily, mother and daughter, in what amounts to a series of decent dirty jokes, dumb dirty jokes and a lot of flat jokes, powered by a plot with no real sense of purpose. Hawn and Schumer work hard to make it all fun, but they are ultimately taken down by the mediocrity of the film around them.

When Emily is dumped by her rocker boyfriend (the always-funny Randall Park), she has no traveling partner for an upcoming, non-refundable trip to Ecuador. In steps Linda, a crazy-cat-lady mom who rarely leaves the house. Just like that, the two wind up sleeping in a king bed in a lavish resort, with Emily constantly taking selfies to impress her Facebook friends; meanwhile, Linda is covered up with scarves by the pool.

After Emily meets a hot British guy (Tom Bateman), she ultimately winds up on a sightseeing trip—with Mom along for the ride. Mom and daughter wind up kidnapped and held for ransom, with nobody but their nerd son/brother (Ike Barinholtz) to save their asses.

Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) isn’t afraid to take things to dark places—Emily’s attempts to free her and mom has a body count—and the film earns its R rating with raunchy humor, Schumer’s specialty. Some of the gags are good, including a bit involving a scorpion, an ill-fated attempt to swing on a vine, and a tongue-less former special ops soldier (Joan Cusack) flipping through the air like Spider-Man.

Hawn and Schumer make a convincing mommy-daughter combo, and Snatched has value for putting the two in a movie together. They rise above the material often enough to make the film somewhat forgivable, especially if you are a fan of both (and, really, why wouldn’t you be?). The problem is that the scenario—two women being kidnapped—is about as unfunny as you can get, and writer Katie Dippold (who co-wrote the awful Ghostbusters reboot) doesn’t come up with a series of events that feels original. As the Ghostbusters movie did, Snatched drops some comedy mega-stars into a played-out plot, and expects the whole thing to stay afloat, given the screen talent employed. Hawn and Schumer wind up sort of neutralizing the movie, making it a little less dark than a straight kidnapping caper. The resulting vibe is one of flatness.

Given the relative failure of this endeavor, I hope Goldie Hawn doesn’t get discouraged by it. Let’s hope this movie is the first of many more for one of the greats. Truth is, she still has it, and she manages to make a lot of potentially stale moments earn at least a chortle. It’s a weird thing to ponder that she’s been away for a decade and a half, because her timing is spot-on.

As for Schumer, she has a way with gross-out humor that allows you to keep rooting for her—no matter how gross she gets. She’s just as funny as Hawn; it was an inspiring idea to put the two together in a movie.

Leaving Snatched, my general feeling was, “Yeah, I just saw that,” and not much else. I’m happy as heck to see Goldie again, and I enjoy Schumer’s shtick to an extent, but Snatched feels more like something for Adam Sandler and his Netflix cronies than a vehicle for Goldie Hawn.

Snatched is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Actor John Krasinski’s second directorial effort is a decent film with a first-rate cast. Krasinski stars in The Hollars as John Hollar, a man working a dead-end job for a publishing company when his girlfriend (the always-great Anna Kendrick) informs him his mom (a terrific Margo Martindale) is sick—and that he needs to fly home to see her.

Once there, John has to deal with his weird brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), the oddball nurse who is also his old girlfriend’s new husband (Charlie Day) and his weepy dad (Richard Jenkins). The script goes through some familiar territory, but the performers put new spins on the situations—especially Martindale, who takes the part and really runs with it.

Krasinski does a good job of handling the script’s many mood swings, and the relationships feel real … that strange kind of real.

The film manages to get laughs, even when the subject matter goes to dark places. It deals with the lousier side of life without getting totally depressing—something that could’ve happened easily. Krasinski makes it all work.

The supporting cast includes Randall Park, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Josh Groban in small but memorable roles. The soundtrack is stellar, featuring Josh Ritter, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Wilco.

The Hollars opens Friday, Sept. 30, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews

The once blacklisted The Interview is now available on YouTube, iTunes and Xbox while also playing in a limited amount of theaters (including a whopping three locally: the Camelot, the UltraStar Mary Pickford and the Cinémas Palme d’Or).

Did you ever really doubt you would get a chance to see it? Commerce always wins!

This film by directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, like Team America: World Police 10 years ago, plays like one of those impossibly strange—and undeniably funny—Warner Bros. propaganda cartoons that were in circulation during World War II. You know, the ones where the likes of Bugs Bunny would square off against Hitler. The major exception would be that these newer satirists say “motherfucker” a lot. 

This is touchy stuff, but Rogen and co-star James Franco are up to the task of pissing all over North Korea, the American media and the CIA. They don’t go after these institutions with contemplative, important, intellectual arguments; they attack with stink-dick and shit jokes.

As one should expect from political satire starring Rogen and Franco, The Interview obsesses over things like whether or not Kim Jong-un actually has a butthole. Mind you, the film does address real-world hot topics like nukes and people starving, but mainly, it is concerned about the whole “Kim Jong-un doesn’t have to pee or poo” thing.

Franco plays Dave Skylark, the flamboyant host of an American tabloid interview show who is notorious for stories such as Eminem admitting he’s gay, and Rob Lowe revealing his baldness. When Skylark discovers Kim Jong-un’s favorite TV shows are The Big Bang Theory and his program, he conspires with his producer (Rogen) to procure an interview with the world leader that will establish their legitimacy as real news guys. Their plans get mildly complicated when the CIA gets wind of the interview and insists upon the two killing the notoriously reclusive basketball fan.

Like this year’s Godzilla, The Interview’s monster doesn’t show up until about an hour into the film. Kim Jong-un, hilariously played by Randall Park, is a bashful Skylark fan who loves Katy Perry and margaritas. In what is surely a riff on the infamous Dennis Rodman-Kim Jong-un bromance, Skylark and Kim take an instant liking to each other. They play basketball, blow up parts of the countryside with tanks, and party all night long.

Of course, Jong-un has that bad side we all know about, so Park’s portrayal goes Jekyll-and-Hyde when the Supreme Leader starts threatening to nuke the world if it doesn’t recognize his superior strength. It’s in these moments that the Park performance becomes a tad more blustery.

Rogen is pretty much his usual self here—in other words, he’s one of filmdom’s most underrated comic actors, with impeccable timing and a steady stream of corrective, snarky retorts. Franco goes all-out childish here, with a high-pitched, appropriately sophomoric performance. His running account of a tiger attack on Rogen’s character is one of the film’s great highlights. Lizzy Caplan offers good supporting work as a CIA director who “honeypots” the two into the assassination scheme.

The final interview between Skylark and Jong-un is a comedic stew of tears, bullets, puppies, finger-biting and sharting. Park offers a Katy Perry-induced nervous breakdown for the ages; he should get some sort of award for Best Slow-Motion Death Scene, because what he does in his final moments is beyond epic.

Does the movie live up to all of the hype? I think so, but I am prone to laughter when it comes to good jokes about buttholes and stink-dicks. The Interview a silly, juvenile movie delivered by some goofy, mischievous guys. It is not some sort of patriotic manifesto intelligently taking a stand against North Korea. For that sort of movie, you must look elsewhere. This film is about the political ramifications of a world leader sharting on live TV. 

Published in Reviews