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Entries in michael pena (2)

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
Nov042011

Tower Heist

Movies are such an inconsistent thing. Some are great, some not so much. Some end up surprising you while the quality of others can be deduced simply by watching trailers. Then there are those that are forgotten as soon as you walk out of the theater. Director Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, is definitely a member of the latter breed. It’s not a particularly bad film, but it’s certainly nothing worthy of praise. It moves, it makes sounds, the credits roll and it’s gone.

The plot follows the employees of a high-rise building, where its tenants expect 24 hour assistance, 7 days a week. There’s Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’s brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a newly bankrupt Wall Street businessman, Enrique (Michael Peña), a new employee whose only previous work experience is at Burger King, and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a cleaning maid. All of them have given their hard earned money to their boss, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), and trusted him to invest it wisely for them. However, they quickly realize they’ve been the victims of a Ponzi scheme and have lost their money, putting them all in dire financial situations. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, they partner with Slide (Eddie Murphy), a man with expertise in thievery, to steal Shaw’s fortune.

In what is essentially Rush Hour meets Ocean’s Eleven, Tower Heist is nothing more than a mild pleasantry, which, in this cinematic day and age, is both above average and not enough. It has a few good jokes and it attempts to tap into the economic woes many Americans are feeling today, though it’s not so much a smart deliberation on the 2008 collapse as it is an economic revenge fantasy, but at least it’s relatable. What this movie does so well is flip the real world on its head and bring to justice those who have gained from the suffering of others. It creates an ugly man, seemingly gentle on the surface, but a monster underneath, and puts him in his place. And it does it all with a smile. It doesn’t make any assessment on the current situation; it only uses it as a tool for over-the-top shenanigans.

And over-the-top does it get. This thing gets so crazy, it could be argued it’s more of an economic revenge fantasy than last week’s similarly themed sci-fi fantasy, In Time. The ending sequence is so ludicrous it’s hard to take seriously, but that’s precisely the point. If In Time dissected the current financial situation with political statements and an allegorical narrative, Tower Heist is pure fluff. It’s for those who aren’t aware of the specifics of how we got to where we are, but know they should be angry at someone. A thinking person’s movie this isn’t, but that’s not to say the silly approach to such a serious issue isn’t welcome all the same.

Despite its intention to be simple fun, the heist depicted in the back half of the film is only moderately interesting. It’s not carried out with precision like in other heist movies, but rather in the way one can only assume the script was written: without a plan and in haste. It’s pulled through, however, thanks to its talented and diversified cast. It’s fun watching Eddie Murphy finally let loose again after hiding behind so many fat suits and subduing himself with wretched family comedies. In this movie, as mediocre as it is, he reminds us why we loved him so much all those years ago. The rest of the cast is good as well, though Ben Stiller’s on-again, off-again New York accent is distracting to the point of amateurism. Why an actor who has been around for so long fell into such an obvious trap is beyond me, but he nevertheless does what he can. The problem is there just isn’t much for him (or anyone else) to do that doesn’t involve outlandish situations and helpful narrative coincidences. Tower Heist is diverting fun while it lasts, but it’s not funny enough, smart enough or exciting enough to be anything more.

Tower Heist receives 3/5