Posts Tagged ‘corey stoll’

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If you accept the axiom that “super-heroes are our modern mythology,” then allow me to start this review with a little bit of myth-busting. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Myth #1 : I reflexively hate all Marvel movies. This idea has become so entrenched among my friends and readership (such as it is) that I’ve come to accept it myself. But before I sat down to write this thing — well, okay, I was already sitting down, but I hadn’t started writing yet — I looked back over my past reviews of Marvel flicks and discovered something curious, namely : I’ve actually “gone easier” on most of these than even thought.

Thor? I gave that one a pretty decent write-up. Captain America : The First Avenger? I gave that a glowingly positive review. X-Men : First Class and X-Men : Days Of Future Past? Again, wildly enthusiastic notices from yours truly. The Avengers? I wasn’t even all that negative on that one, more just — meh. The Avengers : Age Of Ultron? Again, just sort of tepid, but I actually said it was better than I thought it was going to be. Veering more towards the “positive” again, we have my reviews for The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Really, the only Marvel flicks that I’ve expressed outright disdain towards were Thor : The Dark WorldCaptain America : Winter SoldierIron Man 3 and Guaradians Of The Galaxy. I was admittedly pretty relentless in my condemnation of all of those, but fuck it — I still stand by every word I said and think they’re pieces of celluloid shit with basically no redeeming qualities whatsoever. On the whole, though, I’ve actually written more positive reviews of Marvel movie product than I have negative ones. Go figure.

Myth #2 : Marvel’s latest, Ant-Man, had a “successful” opening weekend. I’m calling pure bullshit on this one, and it’s frankly astonishing to me how few people are willing to state the obvious here — that they’ve got their first flop on their hands since The Incredible Hulk.

Let’s talk about some obvious double-standards here, shall we? When Green Lantern took in $53 million its opening weekend, it was was touted as a “disaster” for Warner Brothers and DC. Likewise for Watchmen’s opening take of $55 million. Superman Returns was immediately written off as a major disappointment when it hauled in $52 million. And how about The Amazing Spider-Man 2? That flick was subject to an almost relentless “netroots” smear campaign co-ordinated by Marvel and aimed at Sony for the express purpose of getting them to throw in the towel on the franchise and “bring it home” to the so-called “House Of Ideas.” It raked in $91 million its opening weekend and was instantly labeled a “failure” thanks to Marvel’s uncanny ability to essentially control the entire fucking internet when it wants to.

All of which brings us back to Ant-Man. It made $58 million this past weekend — barely more than Green LanternWatchmen, and Superman Returns (despite having higher 3-D ticket prices than those three flicks), and far less than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took in — and yet the headline on IMDB this evening reads “Ant-Man Comes Up Giant.” Please.

Reading the full text of this week’s chart analysis on boxoffice.com, the truth becomes more evident : you’ve gotta go down a couple paragraphs, but the ugly reality Dis/Mar can’t ignore is in there : this represents the second-lowest opening weekend for a Marvel movie ever (after The Incredible Hulk), and the lowest, when adjusted for inflation, in terms of actual ticket sales. It’s also highly unlikely that it will have much in terms of “legs” going forward, because it’s got a heck of a lot of competition out there right now. This movie landed with a thud — but it almost seems like people are afraid to say so.

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Normally I’d just chalk that up to Marvel’s overpowering PR machine “spinning” the message as they always do. Or possibly to the fact that Ant-Man has been a troubled production almost from the start — original screenwriter/director Edgar Wright bailed out over “creative differences” in favor of the apparently-more-pliable Peyton Reed and there have been reports of cost over-runs leaking into the entertainment press here and there — and maybe all the negative early scuttlebutt convinced casual or “on the fence” fans to take a pass, but ya know what?  At this point I think there might be something more going on. Have you taken a look at the upcoming release schedules from Dis/Mar and Warner? Both Marvel and DC films are going to be positively ubiquitous for the next 5-6 years, and if the whole super-hero trend is finally starting to run on fumes, Hollywood is in for a very rough half-decade. Nobody’s saying that Ant-Man is flop because Hollywood can’t afford even the idea of a super-hero movie flopping right now. They’ve put all their eggs in one basket, and the frankly monumental degree to which this one “under-performed” right out of the gate has studio execs all over Tinseltown nervous.

And now that we’ve got all that business concluded, let’s talk about the film itself, shall we? I promise to keep it brief.

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Dear God but this sucked, didn’t it? I mean, seriously. And I can say that in complete safety having established my bona fides as “nowhere near the Marvel-basher my reputation would suggest.” This is just a bad movie. Paul Rudd is likable enough in his lead role as ex-con-turned-reluctant-hero Scott Lang, but from there it’s all just downhill. Michael Douglas is an obviously tired and disinterested shell of his former self as “original” Ant-Man Dr. Hank Pym, Evangeline Lilly has all the charisma and charm of a Denny’s omelette as supposed “leading lady” Hope van Dyne, Corey Stoll is particularly uneven and unbelievable as chief baddie Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (although I give the half-dozen-or-so screenwriters credit for admitting, even if by accident, that corporate CEOs and psychopaths are often one and the same), the talents of Martin Donovan are absolutely wasted in a two-bit “supporting villain” role (and speaking of wasted talent, why have Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter in here at all?), the humor is flat, the pacing uneven, the idea that a guy could train to shrink down to sub-atomic size over the course of a weekend without losing his mind is a heck of a stretch even for a Marvel movie, and they give away how the whole thing’s gonna end pretty early on when they explain how Ant-Man’s red and blue discs work ( old-school Doctor Who fans will know what I mean when I call this scene the film’s “Hexachromide moment” ).

If all that weren’t enough, though, there are also Ant-Man‘s hideously offensive racial politics to consider. Sure, Scott’s done time, but he go busted for a Robin Hood-style crime of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Why, he’s even got a Master’s degree in electrical engineering (he tells us so himself). He’s also, ya know, white. His trio of prison buddies, though — well, they’re real criminals. Why, just look at ’em — one’s Latino (played by Michael Pena), one’s black (hip-hop star T.I.), and one’s a dirty Russian immigrant (David Dastmalchian). All three of them are dumber than a box of rocks, too. Good thing they have their educated friend around to keep ’em out of trouble.

The only character in the film who’s anything other than a one-note cipher is a cop named Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), who’s married to Scott’s ex-wife and starts out thinking the worst about our “hero” but ends up coming around. Even his “character arc” is fairly cliched, true, but at least it exists. Everyone else is basically the same from start to finish. And all of this is brought to you via Reed is Marvel’s dull-as-day-old-dogshit “house style” that makes every movie look and feel like a two-hour TV episode with a huge budget.

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There’s a bit of a small-scale tragedy in all this, of course — Ant-Man is definitely an “also-ran” character and the potential was here to do something altogether different than what we’ve come to expect from typical MCU fare. But I think that potential probably headed out the door along with Edgar Wright. “Different” is something Marvel just doesn’t do at this point — but they might want to re-think that stodgy mindset pretty quickly, or the next few years could be long and hard ones indeed. Ant-Man‘s poor showing at the box office certainly isn’t proof positive that a “super-hero implosion” is necessarily upon us just yet, but it’s a strong signal that one could be in the offing, and the more rigidly Dis/Mar adheres to their strict assembly-line formula, the more quickly they’ll usher in the day when people really do just find themselves getting tired of the same old stuff.

It’s never come up before on this blog, but your humble host absolutely loves Woody Allen. I never miss his one of his films and usually try to make it a point to go out and catch them on opening weekend. Sure, it’s been something of a bumpier ride lately, as his international travelogue has been going on for the better part of a decade now and there will probably always be something intrinsically off about a Woody Allen movie that doesn’t take place in New York, but what the hell — his extended sojourn abroad has produced at least one genuine classic in Match Point, and that makes clunkers like Scoop and pointless dead-enders like Vicky Cristina Barcelona worth it to devotees of the maestro and his work. Mostly what we’ve gotten are middling efforts like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra’s Dream (which was nowhere near as bad as everyone says, but does prove that Allen has trouble writing anything other than well-educated, economically-upper-crust characters — still, he gave it a shot), but I’m pleased to say that his latest, Midnight In Paris, is a definite gem — an earnest, if flawed, love letter to a magical place and times gone by that nevertheless keeps its footing in reality, it’s a celebration of both Paris as it was, and of the city, and life in general (warts and all), as it is today.

And in a way, it pains me to say this because I absolutely despise Owen Wilson. I mean, with a passion, His whole shtick is just so fucking tedious in the extreme that the idea of his playing Woody’s latest younger-version-of-himself stand-in grated on my nerves before I even saw the film. Okay, Owen, you’ve got messy hair and a goofy nose. Get the fuck over yourself already.

Still, this is such a charming little flick that even Wilson can’t ruin it. It’s a little bit light on substance, to be sure, and Rachel McAdams’ Inez character is two-dimensional in the extreme, but sometimes you just get taken in by a clever premise and all you can do it sit back and enjoy the ride.

And the premise for Midnight In Paris is, indeed, clever in the extreme. Wilson portrays Hollywood hack screenwriter Gil Pender, who’s understandably dissatisfied with the Tinseltown rat race and has gone to Paris with his fiancee, the aforementioned Inez, and her overbearing wealthy parents. Inez is such a superficial harpy that you honesty wonder what Gil ever saw in the spoiled little bitch in the first place, and her mom and dad are even worse. Their whole life apparently revolves around planning an elaborate wedding and buying a house, but the more he’s sucked into vacuous, empty world of Inez’s pedestrian dreams, the more he finds himself taken with the City of Lights, and who can really blame the guy?

One evening Gil decides to cut things short after dinner with Inez and her friends Carol (Nina Arianda) and Paul (Michael Sheen, turning in a deliciously OTT performance as an overbearing know-it-all,pretentious college professor — nobody writes a more entertaining asshole than Woody Allen, and his last several films have sorely lacked this key ingredient, so it’s nice to see he hasn’t lost his touch), and decides to stroll home alone while they go out dancing. While sitting on some church steps and taking in the night, though, something remarkable happens — an old Peugeot cab emerges from nowhere , its drunken occupants invite Gil inside for a ride, and soon, for reasons never made in the least bit clear and that don’t really matter much anyway,  he’s hob-nobbing with a veritable who’s-who of the literary and artistic world in 1920s Paris. They’re all here, folks — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, you name it.

Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want to come back either, but as the sun rises in the morning Gil finds himself back in the dreary confines of his well-to-do-but-empty existence. The next night, though, the cab is back, and in fact it returns each subsequent evening at the stroke of midnight. Soon Gil is best pals with all the artistic intelligentsia of the time (and it must be said the casting for all these roles is extraordinary, with special mention going to Kathy Bates as Stein, Adrien Brody as Dali and Corey Stall as Hemingway, who tear into their roles with absolute relish to one degree or another), his novel is finally coming together, and he’s falling in love with a young lady named Adriana (given that she’s played by Marion Cotillard can you really blame him?) who’s also being pursued by both Picasso and Hemingway. We get more cameos from the likes of Man Ray, Alice B. Toklas, Josephine Baker, and Djuana Barnes, to name-drop just a few more, and by this point you’re either taken with the movie’s admittedly less-than-subtle spell, or you’re just not human.

Still, this being a Woody Allen film and all, no paradise can last forever, and just as he’s falling for Adriana, the time travel thing kicks into high gear and sends them both back even further, to 1890s Paris and the Belle Epoque, and Adriana must choose between  with her newfound love or remaining in Paris’ most legendary era ever.

And therein lies the rub — Midnight In Paris is cautious about its own romanticism, and Allen admits that his legendary taste for the nostalgic is a dead end in its own right, if a most pleasant and endearing one. The past ain’t worth a fuck if we get lost in it rather than taking whatever lessons it has to offer and applying them to our lives in the present. Will Gil be sucked in completely, or will he do the right thing, painful as it may be, and return home while he still can?

Look, you probably already know the answer to this, but I won’t soil it completely just on principle. Suffice to say that Gil’s decision is one which will surprise no one, and will lead to resolution that wraps up all loose ends a little too quickly and a little tidily, but that rings true despite its flaws. Which is rather reflective of the film itself, it must be said — hardly perfect, maybe a little bit over-indulgent (the cameo by France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni, as a museum tour guide particularly makes no real sense), and all a bit too neat, but enchantingly perfect in its own way nevertheless.

By the time the film ends with Paris in the rain (of course), you’ll have been subjected to every romanticized cliche about the city, both present and past, you could possibly imagine — but rather than feeling pandered or condescended to, you’ll be smiling all the way home.