Archives for July 2015

Some Thoughts on Ant-Man (2015)

In its second week of release, Ant-Man just did edge out Adam Sandler’s Pixel to obtain the weekend box office crown. Good stuff.

Although I saw it over a week ago, it is only now that I am sharing a few thoughts on the film.

First for the good news:

Overall, I liked the film. For someone whose expectations have constantly been tempered and well documented as it concerns superhero films, Ant-Man brought a level of cinematic satisfaction for me. It is a film that takes the unlikeliest of scenarios (yes, even for a comic book hero) and makes it enjoyable, fun and worthy of a few chuckles. It also benefits immensely from having a central cast who give very solid performances, notably Michael Douglas as the “original” Ant-Man, Hank Pym. And oh yeah – Paul Rudd as ex-con come superhero Scott Lang – is always a pleasure to watch.

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 It’s a matter of scale … Once I found out more about the background of this lesser-known Marvel superhero; one thing I was curious about was how the effects would look on screen. Sure, it is a film with some money behind it (albeit a relatively ‘modest’ budget of $130 million), but as a point of comparison, during moments of the earlier Marvel summer mega-release Age of Ultron, I felt a bit of CGI overload. Not so much here. Maybe because of the scaling down, the film felt like a more immersive experience. Note: I did not see the Ant-Man in 3D, although I can imagine how cool some of the set pieces would look coming right at you!

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As you know, with every point of light, there is a ‘dark’ side; here are a couple of less positive observations I made in the aftermath of viewing Ant-Man:

Diversity at a cost? Sure on the surface, one looks at the players and go, “Wow — what a diverse cast.” But there seems to be a fine line with respect to caricatured stereotypes. Of course, when you have a set of secondary characters (sidekicks of a sort), there runs the risk that they will not be fully drawn out and you are headed down the road to Tropesville. In fact, the argument can be also made that Darren Cross (Yellowjacket) is also a cardboard cutout villain, replete with the trademark bald head. But ultimately I leave that for you, the viewer, to make of it what you will.

The ghosts of creators past. As I watched the film, I am afraid I found myself guilty of recalling thoughts of Ant-Man’s intriguing production history and subsequently playing the game of Who Wrote that Bit?. With a story by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, the screenplay clearly includes some of Wright and Cornish’s dialogue, no doubt with “additional contributions” by Rudd and Adam McKay (probably added once Wright and Cornish left the project; also worth noting Peyton Reed took over directorial responsibilities as a result). For more details on this matter, I refer you to Superhero Movie Talk’s discussion on the topic from April. Needless to say, at times I was taken out of the story as I tried to calibrate all of this in real time.

But in the end, credit where it is due, because in spite of these ‘issues,’ as I previously mentioned, Ant-Man fit the bill for a requisite summer entertainment at the multiplex.556cccf19f438

 

Stills credit: Marvel.com

The Force Will Be With Me …. Always

At this stage, my relationship status with the Star Wars franchise can best be described as ‘mixed.’

There have been bumps in the road, but overall, I have had a lifelong appreciation, some might say obsession, with Star Wars episodes 4-6 especially; so much so that as a youth:

  • I read the novelization of Star Wars an innumerable amount of times (don’t ask me to recall anything); as well taking multiple trips to the library to read articles and companion books about the Star Wars universe. Big deal you might say, but I will admit, even now, to not being the most voracious of readers – so this was in fact quite a feat of accomplishment for me.
  • Founded my own Star Wars fan club at my elementary school – granted there were probably only 5 members, and they were friends who probably just pitied me.
  • I took to playing with my brothers’ action figures and sets, once they aged out of them (don’t think they are aware of that fact — SURPRISE, guys).
  • I remember it like it was yesterday the moment my brothers came in from seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater and regaling us all with a blow by blow detail of what happened. It was so cool.
  • During a few bouts of illness, I passed my days of convalescence away by getting up early in the morning and timing it just so that I could watch every episode of the trilogy in succession before my dad and brothers got home from school. Please note younger readers – I was a youth in the time of the dinosaurs and when you would have one – maybe two televisions in the house and you had to do this interesting thing called SHARING. But I digress.

All of this to say Star Wars was a major part of my life. And in many ways, I can credit these three films being one part of what got me so passionate about movies. In fact, I give them a lot of credit.

Even as I got older and my cinematic tastes broadened and came to include multiple genres, there were still moments of fond recollection as I recalled these films. During my college years, I paid service to this mindset going to the re-release of at least one film (I think it was The Empire Strikes Back). If my roommate is reading this, I hope she will confirm which one(s) me might have seen in Charlottesville.

So, you can imagine my excitement at the very mention of prequels (Episodes 1-3) …

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… but then I got to the end of The Phantom Menace (the only one I went to the theater to see of the set).

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Needless to say, it did feel like a part of my childhood had been decimated by a world-weary, adult-level of cynicism. It followed that seeing these films felt more like an obligation than an event one meets great anticipation. I feared, maybe the magic was gone forever.

Years of dormancy followed, filled with the continued excitement of simply going to the movies, attending film festivals and just the business of getting on with one’s adult life.

So when (again) there was a major Star Wars announcement – that we would be moving forward with the story set in a galaxy far, far, away, I met it with a curious ambivalence.

Details trickled in and I made note of them and then, earlier this year, THIS happened:

Legit tears of I don’t know what – streamed down my face. I could not describe it. I watched that trailer I don’t know how many times, I texted family and friends describing my elation. I endured buffering on my YouTube feed, watching the live Star Wars trailer event, which included the seemingly odd experience of watching people watch the trailer breaking it down and reacting.

Yeah! Something to look forward to!

Fast forward to this past weekend’s events in San Diego (SDCC) – and this happened …

… followed by the pleasure of seeing old and new friends on stage talking about their experience.

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  (L-R) Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac at the Hall H Panel for `Star Wars: The Force Awakens` during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** John Boyega; Daisy Ridley; Oscar Isaac

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 10: (L-R) Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac at the Hall H Panel for `Star Wars: The Force Awakens` during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** John Boyega; Daisy Ridley; Oscar Isaac

 

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  (L-R) Actors Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford at the Hall H Panel for `Star Wars: The Force Awakens` during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Carrie Fisher; Mark Hamill; Harrison Ford

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 10: (L-R) Actors Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford at the Hall H Panel for `Star Wars: The Force Awakens` during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Carrie Fisher; Mark Hamill; Harrison Ford

All to be capped off by a wonderful, surprise celebration for the fans …

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10: Following the `Star Wars` Hall H presentation at Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif., the audience of more than 6000 fans enjoyed a surprise `Star Wars` Fan Concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, featuring the classic `Star Wars` music of composer John Williams, at the Embarcadero Marina Park South on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 10: Following the `Star Wars` Hall H presentation at Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif., the audience of more than 6000 fans enjoyed a surprise `Star Wars` Fan Concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, featuring the classic `Star Wars` music of composer John Williams, at the Embarcadero Marina Park South on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

I don’t think anything more needs to be said about the level of elation I feel.

In the end, all of this was to say the force has indeed been re-awakened in me and I cannot wait until the holiday season to catch Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the big screen.

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10: Following the `Star Wars` Hall H presentation at Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif., the audience of more than 6000 fans enjoyed a surprise `Star Wars` Fan Concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, featuring the classic `Star Wars` music of composer John Williams, at the Embarcadero Marina Park South on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 10: Following the `Star Wars` Hall H presentation at Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif., the audience of more than 6000 fans enjoyed a surprise `Star Wars` Fan Concert performed by the San Diego Symphony, featuring the classic `Star Wars` music of composer John Williams, at the Embarcadero Marina Park South on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

 

P.S. the downloadable app is pretty kick-ass too 🙂

 

Happy 99th Olivia!

Happy July 1st everyone! I decided to carve out a bit of the day today to celebrate Ms. Olivia deHavilland’s 99th birthday. Yeah!

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In doing my little bits of “research,” I surprised myself by discovering that to date, I have never really put together an appreciation post solely dedicated to one of my favorite actresses of the “classic” Hollywood era. Now is great as time as any, right?

In addition to the films I have already covered, which include …

Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) A personal all time fave and essential viewing for those who want to see the legendary deHavilland/Errol Flynn chemistry is all its Technicolor glory.

The Snake Pit (1948) Here, deHavilland delivers one of her most powerful dramatic performances as a young woman battling mental illness.

Raffles (1939) It’s light, it’s oh so British – just a lot of fun and a great diversion.

 

… here are a few more films from her prolific career that I consider personal favorites:

In This Our Life (1942) The follow up to John Huston’s prodigious directorial debut (The Maltese Falcon) this film is a melodrama of the highest order, but top marks for being a rare film for its time in attempting to deal with racial discrimination in a somewhat realistic manner.

To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949) – Both of these films earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. And both are notable for how each character transitions from ingénue to a woman who realizes the bitter truths of this world.

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) – A film from her later period and if I am to be honest, I probably like the whole of the film more than her individual performance in it.

In this Robert Aldrich thriller, she plays Miriam (cousin to the titular Charlotte, played by Bette Davis), a woman whose  character takes a decidedly curious turn by the end of the story. A piece of trivia: de Havilland was a recast; Miriam was initially to be portrayed by Joan Crawford, in a part that would be a reunion for her and Davis, off of the recent success of the earlier Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It was at the suggestion of costar and friend, Bette Davis, that Olivia be considered for the role.

de Havilland in "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" (1964)

de Havilland in “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” (1964)

(And no, before you ask, I did not forget her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind). I’ll leave it at that.

What are some of your favorite deHavilland films? Share, share and share with me below in the Comments section.

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