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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


This Is 40

If you ask me, there are two Judd Apatows: the director and the writer. The director is like Kevin Smith, a man who doesn’t really do much behind the camera in regard to cinematic flare, but knows how to pull a great comedic performance from his actors. The writer, however, is more like Woody Allen. His movies, despite their vulgarity, often hit deeper truths that come from a terrifically structured story, but are long winded, to the point where that sound structure starts to sag, usually all the way to their unnecessary and disappointing conclusions. With the sole exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin, whose runtime felt necessary to the story, all of his movies are like this, from Knocked Up to this week’s This Is 40. That meaning is still there, but you’ll have to sit through a lot of nonsense to get to it.

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real life wife) are a married couple who are about to have their 40th birthdays. Naturally, they’re struggling with that realization, especially in the face of their growing troubles. Financially, Pete’s upstart record label, Unfiltered Records, isn’t doing too hot and Debbie’s shop isn’t pulling in enough to keep them afloat. At home, they have their hands full with their two daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), the former of whom has hit that rebellious teenage phase all parents dread. Their sex life is on the decline and neither of them are in particularly good standing with their fathers either. Their seemingly blissful existence is about to be tested.

This Is 40, at its core, isn’t really about age, though one could argue their concerns and stresses stem from it. Rather, the film is about life in general, the type of struggles any family could go through, whether they be in their 40s, 60s or even their 20s. It’s about that inevitable period of time in a marriage when things get so tough that the validity of the marriage comes into question. All couples go through it at some point and the question becomes: do you fight through the rough patches or give in? As a 45 year old man married to a 40 year old woman raising two daughters, the story feels like a personal one from Apatow, like he has lived through much of what happens onscreen, albeit to a more comedic extent. If you haven't lived through it, This Is 40 will remind you of your parents, as many movies about aging couples do. It reminds of their struggle with age and mortality, money and lack thereof, and even how your father would fart and laugh while your mom cringes in disgust.

However, the weak link, the thing tearing those reminders down, is Paul Rudd. Although he has proven to be a solid comedic performer in the past, he has always had one problem: he can’t keep it together. During the funnier parts, like the opening scene where he takes a Viagra and talks about his penis, noticeable cracks in his façade seep through. In a movie like, say, I Love You, Man, where it’s all about laughs and the story means nothing, it’s okay, but in an Apatow film that is trying to reach deeper meaning, where the drama is just as, if not more, important than the comedy, it’s a problem.

Because of this, This Is 40 is the weakest and most tonally inconsistent directorial effort from Apatow yet. But again, there is some truthful resonance here, even if it is hidden in a bloated film that runs well over two hours (someone desperately needed to take the scissors to this thing and cut out 20 minutes, at least). In the end the film is optimistic about love, life and family while still acknowledging how hard they can be. In that sense, it’s realistic, but still finds the time to flourish it up with more than a few laugh-out-loud gut busters. This Is 40 is going to be a tough movie to sell, given that the younger crowd won’t be able to relate and the older crowd may find its more juvenile moments off-putting, but it still works, even if it’s on the basest of levels.

This Is 40 receives 3/5


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

At first glance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is no different than your typical angsty teenager movie. It features a cast of wacky kids who don’t really fit in with any particular clique, but find common ground in their differences—there’s the gay one, the unconventionally pretty one, the stoner, the goth, the shy one and more—but the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill teenager movie. It neither romanticizes nor demonizes the teenage years, but instead looks at them as what they are: a learning experience where children become adults and begin to discover themselves, find happiness and learn what’s truly important in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows what it’s like to be a teenager, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and it handles all of it delicately and deliberately. It’s one of the best of the year.

The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman), a friendless teenage boy who is entering high school for the first time. He’s a bright and loving kid, but has never found anyone outside of his family that is willing to accept him (as he says early on, he’s both happy and sad, wishing only to make a friend). However, he soon meets a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) who, for whatever reason, is stuck taking the freshman shop class. From there, he meets Patrick’s step sister, Sam (Emma Watson), along with a cast of eclectic characters who don’t care who he was or where he’s been. They just know that he’s a nice person and they instantly accept him into their group.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have gone incredibly wrong, but it somehow manages to do nearly everything right. The main character is lonely and friendless, but he’s not pathetic. The characters are archetypal, but they nevertheless feel real. The film is about teenage angst, but it’s never annoying. Instead, it’s a thoughtful study on what it’s like to be a teenager and all but those who coasted through their teenage years without a problem will be able to relate to it. The movie is also prophetic, but it’s never preachy. It expresses the thoughts of a teenager to beautiful effect, shown best in one scene when Charlie asks his English teacher, played wonderfully by Paul Rudd, why some wonderful people date bad people. His response is that we accept the love we think we deserve. Charlie responds, asking how someone could let that person know they deserve better, to which his teacher replies that you can’t really. You can only try. Anyone who has ever watched as their crush dated someone not good enough for them, someone who abused them or took them for granted, will find these scenes incredibly moving.

Here’s a film that knows how hard it can be for some people to make friends and how lucky we are to have them. It stresses their importance, in the way they shape our lives, influence our opinions and make us stronger. For example, Charlie never takes his newfound friends for granted. He understands his good fortune in finally finding them and will do anything to make them happy. His status as an outcast has, in a way, made him a stronger, better person than most will ever be. He never looks at the gay guy and sees him as a lesser person or the goth girl and thinks of her as weird. His timidity has nurtured a kindness in him that allows him to see past such trivial matters and into the real person underneath. He’s a wonderful character, one that is easy to root for, and the actor portraying him puts on a terrific show.

With that said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t perfect. It never really establishes a true place and time—it feels like it takes place in modern day, but the characters listen to records instead of CDs and write on typewriters instead of computers—some of the dialogue is frustratingly hipster, (which is, to be fair, indicative of many indie films) and one plot thread involving Charlie’s sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and her abusive boyfriend is never followed through, but despite its occasional stumble in these relatively minor areas, it succeeds where it needs to. Some of the darker plot turns are difficult to accept not because they’re out of place or unnecessary, but rather because the characters are so likable, you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. The story and characters are relatable too, guaranteeing many of the film’s viewers will know what it’s like to feel the way they do. But the film’s intent isn’t to sadden or bring back memories from your teenage years you wish you could forget. It instead leaves you in a perpetual state of happiness, with a love and appreciation for those who love and appreciate you back, and with hope for every struggling kid who may be going through similar experiences at this very moment. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is for, but not limited to, them and it takes power away from unnecessary high school labels. When viewed from a different perspective, words like “popular” and “wallflower” take on a completely different meaning.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower receives 4.5/5



Wanderlust is a movie I would have loved when I was 13. Its sexuality alone is enough to please any blossoming young teen, but its pervasive language (also of the sexual nature) is icing on the cake. It’s stupid, immature and filled to the brim with innuendo and smut, everything required of a movie for teens with such a narrow minded focus. The teenager inside of me is yelling at me to loosen up, but my brain has evolved past laughing at such childish fodder. The dictionary definition of the word “wanderlust” is “a very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.” After watching Wanderlust, you’ll want to travel as far away from any theater playing it as you possibly can.

The film follows George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), a married couple who are forced to leave New York after George is canned from his job and Linda’s documentary about penguins with testicular cancer (hardy har) is rejected by HBO. At first, they move in with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), but he begins to annoy George and they hop on the road. Eventually, they end up at a bed and breakfast called Elysium, which turns out to be a rural commune whose hippy inhabitants practice “free love” and pacifism. Although hesitant at first, the two decide to give it a shot after a fun night of partying, but the instability of such a life comes at a price and it begins to threaten their marriage.

Wanderlust is about as bad as comedies come and, though early in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it reappear on my “Worst of” list in December. It takes everything that is mindless and moronic about comedies these days and wraps it into one painful experience. This is most exemplified in its lazy writing that relies heavily on exaggerated stereotypes to garner laughs. The hippies in this commune, for instance, are unaware of the “futuristic” world we live intheir knowledge only of past generation hardware like VHS players and cassette tapes a running gagand they sit around delving into all kinds of hallucinogenic drugs, which of course leads to yet another derivative drug trip scene with a character who isn’t used to the effects. The film also throws some nudity into the mix fairly early on. With society’s increasing promiscuity, it should come as no surprise that movies are getting less prude about nudity, but the mere sight of a penis isn’t funny anymore (if it ever was at all). It feels like writers David Wain and Ken Marino, though well into their 40’s, would still be the boys snickering in the back of the classroom during a sexual education class in high school. Convincing evidence like that and the fact that the film follows your typical, predictable movie narrative forces me to believe that creative writing wasn’t their strong suit in school.

If you’re familiar with some of Wain’s past work, however, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. This is the same guy responsible for the atrocious Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, the former of which may very well be one of the most inept comedies I’ve ever sat through. Aside from Role Models (even the worst filmmakers are bound to accidentally make something good), this guy has pumped out some of the worst, most nonsensical pieces of garbage (on the big and small screen) in recent years. His actors always make passionate and dedicated deliveries of their lines, but it means little when the lines they’re reciting have been written by someone who so rarely strings together something funny to say.

The characters in Wanderlust are annoying, both hippy and otherwise, and their journeys are unconvincing. Upon arriving at Elysium, for instance, Linda protests that there aren’t any doors on the house—a small issue in the big scheme of things—but after having just one song sung to her on guitar by a fast fingered hippy, she’s pooping in the yard and participating in topless protests. The worst part of this movie, however, comes from Paul Rudd in a prolonged sequence where he’s staring in the mirror talking himself up, stating what he’s going to do sexually to Eva (Malin Akerman) after getting permission from his wife. It’s not funny the first ten seconds it goes on, much less the five minutes it continues. It’s one of the most degrading and embarrassing things Rudd has ever done and he was in Over Her Dead Body. Wanderlust has a moment or two of brief enjoyment; perhaps a minute or so in total. Its other 96 minutes are unwatchable. You decide whether that’s worth your time.

Wanderlust receives 0.5/5


Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is an infinitely likable guy. Regardless of what one may think of his movies, I find it hard to believe anyone could look at him as anything other than goofy and lovable. But never has he been more lovable than he is in Our Idiot Brother. His character, Ned, is a shining example of how we should all act. He is unselfish, kind, trusting and he loves those around him. It’s these characteristics that apparently make him an idiot, but if he’s an idiot, sign me up.

From the minute the movie begins, Ned’s kindness is established as he gives a free bowl of strawberries to a little girl passing by his fruit stand. It’s his next act of kindness, however, that lands him jail. He gives weed to a uniformed cop who tricks him into trusting him. Some months later, he is released from jail and heads home, but not before saying his goodbyes to the prison guards (with whom he is now on a first name basis). When he returns, he finds his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), shacked up with a man named Billy (T.J. Miller). It’s enough to make any man lose his temper, but Ned is as polite as can be, especially to Billy. He only wants his dog, Willie Nelson.

Now that he’s out of a home, he is forced to move in with his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a journalist looking for her first big story, Liz (Emily Mortimer), a stay at home mom who is married to documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a struggling stand-up comic who is in a lesbian relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones). While none really want him to stay in their homes, they have no choice, so he jumps around at their whim. He lands a job, at Liz’s insistence, working with Dylan on his documentary. He is just happy to be helping and doesn’t think for a minute, despite all the clues, that Dylan may be having an affair with his documentary subject. When he walks in on them naked, he still doesn’t figure it out, buying Dylan’s lie that nudity can sometimes make the interviewee more comfortable.

As is evident, Ned has a naïve view of the world, similar to that of a child. He doesn’t see the infidelity happening in front of his eyes, or the news story in someone’s words, or the humiliation in rejection (after asking someone out and being shot down, he merely smiles and shrugs. “No big deal” he must have been thinking). He always sees the positive side of things and feels bad when he lets someone down. When he turns down a threesome involving another man, he actually apologizes, as if the fact that he is straight is somehow something for which to be sorry. When he counts his money on the subway and hands a wad of cash to the guy next to him to hold, the thought never crosses his mind that that person could rob him. It’s ignorance, sure, but it’s also bliss (as the old saying goes). Some believe that children don’t see evil and are born with an inherent trust in people. If that’s true, then Ned is just a big child.

He’s an intrinsically happy person, which makes a late movie breakdown all the more powerful. At this point in the film, he is being blamed for ruining Liz’s marriage, killing Miranda’s career and destroying Cindy’s love for Natalie. None of those things are his fault, but his sister’s keep telling them they are, which leads him to, for the first and only time, raise his voice. It’s enough to make them feel sorry for what they said and realize how much Ned loves and cares about them; they’ve never seem him act that way and neither have we. So while the resolution feels a bit rushed, it makes sense based on how Ned has acted up to that point.

In a way, Ned is too much of an exaggeration—being blamed simultaneously for such horrific things would break a real family apart—but that’s where his charm lies. He’s willing to forgive and forget, but for him it’s not a choice; he simply doesn’t know any other way. Life is wonderful to him, a belief not expressly stated, but obvious anyway. Why spend it holding grudges? Ned is a clueless individual and at times deserves the idiot moniker, but he loves unconditionally and exudes joy at every possible moment. As it turns out, some idiots can teach you a thing or two.

Our Idiot Brother receives 4/5