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Entries in Michael Douglas (3)

Thursday
Jul162015

Ant-Man

Travel back to 2008 with me for a moment. Remember when “Iron Man” was released? Back then, Iron Man wasn’t considered a top tier superhero. Among the non-comic fans, at least, there was Batman, Superman, Spiderman and only a select few others that were well known and highly lauded. But then the Jon Favreau directed action film hit theaters and Iron Man shot from a bottom rung superhero to the top of the Marvel universe, becoming arguably the most recognizable one in their whole canon. This is why I went into “Ant-Man,” a film whose superhero is even more obscure and backed by a supremely silly concept, with cautious optimism. Besides, Marvel has rarely stumbled since they began shaping their cinematic universe, so surely they could make “Ant-Man” enjoyable, right? I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding “yes.” It’s not going to make waves like “Iron Man” did and, frankly, it seems pretty slight compared to Marvel’s best films, but it’s nevertheless a fun, lighthearted superhero romp that is guaranteed to please the Marvel faithful.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently paroled convict. He’s a good man at heart, having done his time for a non-violent crime, but his record makes it hard for him to keep a job. The problem is that he has a young daughter whom he wants to care for, but has no income to do so. To compensate, he reluctantly agrees to take on a job with a ragtag group of guys, led by Luis (Michael Peña), to steal the contents of a safe at Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) house. However, after cracking into it, he finds only a suit, one that can shrink him down to the size of an ant. It turns out Pym has let him break in to test his determination and willpower because he needs his help in stopping his former company from potentially destroying the world.

As you can tell, the story is fairly standard superhero stuff, following the tried-and-true formula of “Hero needs to stop Bad Guy to prevent Evil Plot.” The screenwriters merely pulled a fill-in-the-blank, as they replaced the generic descriptors with a few specifics. It works on a basic level, but perhaps it comes as no surprise that the stakes are never raised particularly high, especially after the previous Marvel movies have done so much. “Ant-Man” is your standard go-through-the-motions superhero film, so it’s a bit difficult to truly care, but it’s elevated by a terrific cast and a few standout moments.

Paul Rudd may not seem like an ideal candidate for a superhero, given his smaller build and comedic history, but he fits the role perfectly. Ant-Man, while certainly a strong hero, depends more on agility and flexibility to get by, as he shrinks and grows at will, bullets whizzing by and missing by centimeters. Rudd, whose smaller build fits appropriately with the film’s literal smaller scale, pulls it off remarkably well, crafting a believable character and downplaying his usual big screen antics. In films like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “I Love You, Man,” he broke character often, laughing during takes that he should have been stone-faced in, but he barely smiles here. Those who feared he may shtick the movie up needn’t worry; he’s all business and a delight to watch.

The film’s biggest stumbles come from an uneven story that never quite finds the correct flow, as it shoehorns in numerous connections to the overall “Avengers” universe. References meant to be humorous feel out of place and one scene midway through is hardly organic to the story, serving more as way to deviate from its story focus with action and dramatically introduce a noticeable character. Similarly, its drama falls flat. While I would hardly consider divulging the fate of the hundreds of ants that accompany Ant-Man on his mission a spoiler, I’ll refrain, but it must be said one particular late moment, seemingly played straight, was far and away the funniest part of the entire movie.

“Ant-Man” both succeeds and fails on those moments too. It’s far too goofy to take its drama seriously, but it’s far too fun to entirely criticize that goofiness. I’m not entirely convinced the character will mix well into the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe when he inevitably starts to crossover into other superhero films, but as a standalone adventure, “Ant-Man” is undeniably entertaining.

Ant-Man receives 3.5/5

Friday
Sep242010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Being a movie critic sometimes means having to go back and watch older films to prepare for new ones. If something is being remade, it’s my duty to watch the original first. The same rule applies to sequels. In some cases, it doesn’t really matter, but in others, it is absolutely crucial to be up to date on the story. Such is the case with Wall Street. Having just watched it only 24 hours before the sequel entitled Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I believe I appreciate it more than I would have had I not. Although outdated, that 1987 drama was solid and entertaining. The modern sequel is pretty much the same.

The movie begins with Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) getting out of jail after serving eight years in a federal prison. He has lost everything: his money, his family and his friends. Flash forward seven years and we meet Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a “Wall Street guy” that is in a relationship with Gekko’s daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), despite her hatred brought on by her father for anything associated with Wall Street. After the death of Jake’s mentor and friend, he meets and begins a casual relationship with Gekko, much to Winnie's disapproval, vowing to take revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin), his hedge fund manager that he suspects led his mentor to suicide.

I’m not a business man and I don’t pretend to be. The workings of Wall Street are confusing to me. When to buy, when to sell, what the repercussions are if you’ve invested stock in a company that goes under; all of that boggles my mind. Throw in equity loans, leverage, bailouts, insider training and a scheme to somehow take a multi-billionaire down by making him more money, and my brain begins to hurt.

Fortunately, this movie, nor its predecessor, is too concerned with all of that. The nature of the movie says those things must exist, but the story and messages are easy to decipher. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is about greed and how it corrupts individuals into partaking in illegal activities, even if that means hurting those close to them. Within the film, that simple, prevalent theme works.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t go further by relating it to our country now. When asked if their company was going under, Jake’s mentor casually says, “Who isn’t?” At one point, the movie mentions how those laid off by a failing company eventually end up with “no income, no job and no assets.” But those are merely passing statements. It never truly makes a point on how jobs and our economy have been affected by, among other things, corruption on Wall Street.

Given Oliver Stone’s political slant, it comes as surprising that those areas weren’t explored to give the movie a bit more intellectualism, but no matter. The actors, specifically Michael Douglas, do a fine job of keeping our attention. As mentioned, watching Wall Street prior to the sequel boosted my enjoyment, and here’s how. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, Gordon Gekko went from being the villain in the original to the hero here. He is shown in a much more sympathetic light and, try as you might, you will come to like and understand the old guy. His life experiences, which include his time in jail, have made him more aware of what really matters in life, telling Jake at one point, “Money is not the prime asset in life. Time is.” He still does some bad things—after all, old habits are hard to break—but he’s a human being this time and, more than anything else in the world, wants to be there for his daughter, though she has rejected him ever since he has been in jail. Walking out of the gates for the first time in eight years, he expects Winnie to be there waiting for him. When she isn’t, sadness sweeps over his face. Watching the evolution of character from one movie to the next was fascinating and Douglas gives a wonderful performance.

Nevertheless, this is still a messy movie. Stone goes overboard with distracting visual excess, including the use of wipes and split screen, and there’s a subplot involving Jake’s mother that fits no logical place in the story and should have been cut. In another 23 years, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may be just as outdated as its predecessor—besides, business changes and Wall Street does along with it—but good drama is good no matter what time period and, despite some shortcomings, this movie works.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps receives 3/5

Friday
Jun112010

Solitary Man

There are few actors as versatile as Michael Douglas. He can be scary, he can be timid and he can even be funny, as evidenced by his excellent turn in the otherwise awful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. He can also be dramatic and deep, however, and his new movie, Solitary Man, shows him at his best. A character study of the highest caliber, this is a movie that deserves to be seen and has proven itself as one of the year’s best.

Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a former captain of the car industry. In his heyday, he was known as the “honest” car dealer and couldn’t keep cars in his lot if he tried. His name was widely known, but now years later, that name is tarnished. People still know it, but they think of it in a more negative manner due to some illegitimate business decisions that threatened him with jail time and stripped him of his money, pride and family. He spends most nights now on the prowl at the local bars looking for younger girls willing to have some fun despite being in a relationship with Jordan, played by Mary-Louise Parker.

After coming down with the flu, Jordan asks Ben to take her daughter Allyson, played by Imogen Poots, to his old alma mater and show her the ropes. He’s just getting back on his feet business-wise and is close to getting the approval to open up a new dealership, but after making a huge mistake on campus, he loses the opportunity and his already decaying world starts to fall apart even faster. His daughter Susan, played by Jenna Fischer, is getting tired of his inconsistent inclusion in her child’s life and his ex-wife, played by Susan Sarandon, is one of his only means of comfort, though she takes potshots at him as well given his destructive tendencies.

I try to keep my plot synopses relatively short in my reviews, but it’s important to know all of this to understand the character and why this movie is as good as it is, though even then you’ll have to see it to fully appreciate his complexities. He’s not a simple character to decipher. The feelings he holds on the inside don’t match the thick skin on the outside. His pain and his fear are hidden underneath his debauchery and nonchalant attitude.

All of this derives from the opening scene where he is told by a doctor that his EKG looks worrisome due to an irregularity with his heart, but instead of finding out the problem, he leaves and never looks back. He’d rather not live with the knowledge of his impending death and won’t accept that he has grown old in a world that seems increasingly younger. As he says, instead of walking in a room and being the center of attention, the only people who notice him now are the old ones. He has a problem with that and to compensate, he parties like he’s in college and acts like a kid, which distances him from his family.

When he goes out with his daughter and grandson, he orders them not to call him “dad” or “granddad” because he wants to carry the illusion of youthfulness. Instead of showing up for his grandson’s birthday party, he spends a night with a woman and sleeps through it. It isn’t until Susan threatens to take away his right to see his grandson that he begins to wise up.

Of course, a myriad of other factors contribute to his enlightenment as well. He has no income and has been kicked out of his home, forcing him to work as a waiter in a small restaurant owned by an old friend he hasn’t seen in 30 years, and after winding up in a hospital from a cracked rib he realizes he can’t cheat death and that his womanizing and partying has only been a temporary solution to his troubles.

This is where the brilliance of the movie lies. You do get the sense that Ben is starting to see things straight, realizing that the rest of his time on Earth is better spent with his family than with random women he picks up at night, but at the same time that habit is hard for him to break. Ending on a note that offers no definitive conclusion, Solitary Man is a fascinating character study in its own right and shows that just because you’re around people, it doesn’t mean you’re not alone.

Solitary Man receives 4.5/5