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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a fighting gay couple forced to take in the Coogan character’s grandson in Ideal Home, a film that’s ultimately enjoyable because Rudd and Coogan take it above its silly sitcom tropes—and provide genuine laughs and real emotion.

Paul (Rudd) and Erasmus (Coogan) work on a cooking show together and live an upscale life. However, the two need to become parents overnight when Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door after his dad gets busted.

There are moments in this movie—registering the kid for school, visiting dad in jail, etc.—that feel like a thousand movies before it, and director Andrew Fleming throws in too many plugs for Taco Bell. These problems aside, Rudd and Coogan had me laughing consistently, and loudly, throughout the movie.

This really is a movie that could’ve been awful, but Rudd and Coogan don’t just salvage it; they actually make it worth recommending. Gore is ho-hum the precocious kid, which slows things down at times, but Jake McDorman is hilarious in his few onscreen moments as the dad. (McDorman and Coogan have a conversation in this movie that stands as one of the summer’s funniest film moments.)

The ever-reliable Rudd excels in almost every moment he’s onscreen—even when the writing isn’t up to snuff. Overall, Ideal Home provides a good pile of chuckles, and sometimes that’s all a comedy really needs to do.

Ideal Home is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Duncan Jones, director of the classic film Moon and the so-good movie Source Code, has continued his slump that started with Warcraft: The Beginning.

Actually, Netflix’s Mute qualifies as a total disaster—a film so bad that Jones might find himself looking for sitcom-TV gigs in the near future.

Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, an Amish bartender in future Germany (you read that right) who lost his ability to speak in a boat-propeller accident as a kid. His girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh) disappears, sending him on a wild search that involves him hitting bad guys with big wooden sticks, like Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall.

In what seems like an entirely different movie, Paul Rudd plays Cactus Bill, a crooked doctor trying to get back to the United States with his daughter. Oh, and Cactus Bill hangs around with a pedophile doctor (Justin Theroux, saddled with a goofy wig). While this indeed feels like another movie, it’s also terrible.

Skarsgard runs around a lot looking all helpless, while the usually ever-reliable Rudd resorts to lots of gum-chewing and a big, meaty mustache with chops to look tough. (God dammit, I hate that!) Theroux relies far too heavily on the word “Babe!” to distinguish his character in what amounts to his worst role to date. It’s not easy to make the likes of Rudd and Theroux look bad—and Jones makes them look awful.

The future setting looks like a cheap Blade Runner knock-off; the dialogue is deplorable; and, to repeat, Rudd and Theroux look terrible. That’s a cinematic crime.

Mute is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Netflix original movies are popping up more and more—some with big stars in them. For example, The Fundamentals of Caring stars Paul Rudd.

It’s not a bad movie at all. It’s actually almost good—but not quite.

Rudd plays Ben, a distraught, grieving novelist mourning the loss of his son and going through a divorce. In order to get himself out of a rut, and perhaps start writing again, he takes a course to become a caregiver. He gets a job caring for Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man suffering from muscular dystrophy who doesn’t have long to live.

Trevor is a bit caustic, and the two men develop a strange sort of antagonistic friendship. They wind up on a road trip during which they pick up Selena Gomez, who curses a lot. Road-trip wackiness ensues.

The Fundamentals of Caring uses all of the familiar road-trip tropes; unfortunately, Gomez takes the movie down a notch. Rudd and Roberts are pretty good together onscreen—almost good enough to make the movie worthwhile. But in the end, The Fundamentals of Caring is an uneven venture—which is surprising, considering Rudd’s involvement.

Published in Reviews

I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that out of anyone’s brain anytime soon.

Captain America: Civil War is very good, though, a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.

Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still having Brooklyn-bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some shady, hard-to-defend acts while brainwashed. Captain America has to make some extremely difficult—and potentially cataclysmic—choices.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons: On top of being boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far-more-exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it), in the midst of a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign. This all works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, during which both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.

The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), as well as new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd).

It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates—successfully and entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long; everybody gets a nice stake in the movie; and the newbies are introduced in satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene, but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him, and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.

The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the Avengers universe, and he brings true gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into the costume most recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey on the acting front—and, if you take a look at his Spider-Man workouts, you’ll see he doesn’t necessarily need a stuntman.

Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get a break here. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.

There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They are great characters, but there are plenty of great characters now existing in the Marvel Comics Universe. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and should make people excited for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I’ll just keep saying it: You must stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two extra scenes to see. Stop leaving before the screen goes dark. It’s driving me crazy!

Captain America: Civil War is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

One of the summer’s best bets isn’t in theaters; it’s on Netflix.

David Wain and Michael Showalter have finally birthed their Wet Hot American Summer prequel as an eight-episode Netflix series. However, I see it more as a four-hour movie feast of dick and fart humor.

The film takes place in the same year (1981) as the film did, but this time, it’s the first day of camp rather than the last day. Everybody has returned, and there has been no effort to make the likes of Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler look any younger. Oddly enough, Paul Rudd, A.D. Miles and Michael Ian Black somehow look younger than they did in the 2001 film.

New additions to the cast include Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Jason Schwartzman, and they make the day at Camp Firewood all the more special. Ken Marino’s character is even more of a virgin than he was in the original (he punches his own cock a lot), and Christopher Meloni’s Gene the Cook is living a lie with a secret identity. We also find out how his can of vegetables attained its voice.

Because this is set in the ’80s, toxic waste, bad gym shorts and “Weird Al” Yankovic all play prominent roles. If you hated the original film, you will hate this, and I feel sorry for you. If you regard the original as one of the funniest movies ever made, as I do, then this stuff is heaven—and we need more.

New songs include the Pat Benatar-like “Heart Attack of Love” and Paul Rudd’s searing rendition of “Champagne Eyes.” Paul Rudd singing is something to be cherished.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

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

David Wain and Michael Showalter, longtime collaborators who are two of the funniest men on the planet, have put together a great goof on romantic comedies with They Came Together, a perfect vehicle for Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.

Wain directs from a script co-written with Showalter, and it turns out to be a nice companion piece to their brilliant summer-camp parody Wet Hot American Summer, one of the 10 funniest movies ever made. Wet Hot also featured Rudd and Poehler, performers who are right at home with the Wain-Showalter brand of bizarre, random rapid-fire humor. The film takes pokes at drippy rom-coms, most notably the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan barfer You’ve Got Mail, while still being a legitimate, authentic romantic comedy.

Wain and Showalter use the age-old framing device of two couples talking and reminiscing about relationships over dinner and wine. Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler) reveal that their meeting was a “corny romantic comedy kind of story,” and indeed, it is.

We then see Joel and Molly as two recently dumped individuals living in Manhattan and toiling away on opposite sides of the candy-trade spectrum. Molly owns a little candy shop called Upper Sweet Side; Joel works for an evil corporate candy company opening across the street. They meet for the first time at a costume party—both dressed as Benjamin Franklin, and both not really interested in meeting anybody. While Joel is a corporate drone, he longs to start a little coffee shop called Cup of Joel. Molly just wants to give all of her candy money away to charity.

Things begin badly for the couple, but start picking up when the two meet at a bookstore and discover they both like fiction books, of all things. They then go through all of the standard new-couple-falling-in-love-against-all-odds scenarios, with Joel being the handsome-but-not-so-much-that-he’s-threatening prototype, and Molly the fussy, clumsy, breakfast-cereal-consuming kind of girl.

The almighty Michael Ian Black (the third member of the legendary Stella troupe, along with Wain and Showalter) scores laughs as Trevor, Joel’s competitive co-worker who is trying to steal both Joel’s promotion and Joel’s girlfriend, a woman Tiffany Amber Thigpen (a Saved By the Bell joke!). We know he’s trying to steal Joel’s girlfriend, because he takes a rubber out of the rubber bowl (yes, a hard-candy dish full of loose rubbers) right after mentioning her.

Christopher Meloni is on board as Joel’s boss; he has a superhero-costume mishap in what becomes one of the year’s funniest movie scenes. Ed Helms plays a well-meaning loser who tries to move in on Molly when she and Joel get into trouble.

The movie goes through many of the rom-com standard moments, including dinner at Molly’s frighteningly odd parents’ house; musical montages during which Molly tries on outfits for Joel (she settles on a suit of armor); and romping in a pile of leaves at the park, with the pile of leaves, of course, containing a surprise they fail to notice. The film hits its comedic apex during a dinner date featuring a waiter with a pole up his ass.

In a perfect world, Wain and Showalter would make a movie like They Came Together every three or four days, but I guess we have to settle for once a decade. Or maybe not—because Wain spoke of a potential Wet Hot American Summer prequel while promoting this film on the talk-show circuit. The project has even been proposed as a mini-series for Netflix.

The film is available for rental via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com, and is also available on demand. Watch it—not only because it will make you laugh a lot, but because its success could mean somebody will bankroll the Wet Hot prequel. I want that Wet Hot prequel!

Published in Reviews

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