REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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Lackluster sequel took five writers…including star Rudd…to write the script and still produces a somewhat disappointing flick. Follow-up finds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest after his stint in Germany with the civil warring Avengers. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who are pissed at him for the blow-back from Germany, sneak him out to help them in an effort to rescue Pym’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. In their way is a quantum phasing villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Pym’s equipment for her own purposes. If that’s not enough, slimy black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) wants Pym’s equipment for HIS own greedy ventures.

Peyton Reed returns to direct and can’t get a whole lot out of this writer heavy, but content weak screenplay. Biggest problem is that aside from Pym’s noble goal of rescuing his long lost wife, one never gets the feeling that there is all that much at stake here. There’s never a sense of urgency to the proceedings and it just seems like a game of who’s got the miniaturized lab as it goes from one set of hands to another. Ghost is a decent villain, but all she wants is to stop phasing in and out of dimensions and so she’s more of a nuisance than an actually threat. When the only other villain is the comical Burch, we have a film without a real menace to liven up the convoluted proceedings. Films like this need a strong villain to click. Sure after the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War we needed something lighter and more fun, but thin and light are two different things and this film simply could have used more weight and been a bit livelier in the fun department. This seems very by-the-numbers and could have gotten a lot more out of the dynamic between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Lilly’s Wasp. The actors work well together, but the material here is weak. On the bright side there are some fun action sequences, like a romp through the streets of San Francisco and Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip Harris) are back to provide laughs as Scott’s former gang turned legit security advisors. This superhero sandwich may be light on meat, but is still edible and at least never boring.

Except for Goggins, Hannah John Kamen, Pfeiffer and Larry Fishburn, as a former friend of Hank Pym, the cast are all returning from the first Ant-Man flick. Rudd is charming and fun as Lang/Ant-Man though we wish he and the other four writers gave him some far more clever punchlines. Evangeline Lilly fairs a bit better showing some real superhero potential as the smart-ass, kick-ass Hope/Wasp. She and Rudd have a nice chemistry, even if they play out the cliché “they broke up between films and now are rediscovering their attraction” scenario. Douglas is a veteran and again is charming as the grumpy Pym. Pfeiffer doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes an impression and is a welcome addition to the gang. Hannah John-Kamen is solid as Ghost and a bit sympathetic, though she isn’t portrayed as a real threat. Fishburn is fine as a former friend and associate of Pym who may…or may not…want to help Hank retrieve Janet. Goggins is OK as the more comical than diabolical Burch. Like his Tomb Raider villain, he could have been more intimidating, but isn’t. As our bumbling trio, Peña, Dastmalchian and Harris are fun, though their presence in this story seems a little forced. Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Abby Ryder Fortson also return as Lang’s “family”. A solid cast, but let down a bit by a sub-par script.

In conclusion, there was a lot of potential here with a good cast, but a weak screenplay keeps this more in the realm of mediocre than Marvel-ous. The story doesn’t present a scenario that evokes urgency or suspense and the one-liners are less imaginative and fun this time. The direction seems by-the-numbers and the creative spark of the first flick isn’t quite there. The actors help elevate this a bit with an energetic and fun Wasp from Evangeline Lilly and some amusing moments from Rudd and his trio of side-kicks. There is more than one villain, though none of them are truly villainous, so, at least there are some fun action/fight scenes to keep us somewhat entertained. Never boring, but never especially exciting either. Stay through the credits for two additional scenes that answer questions as to when this entry takes place in the scheme of Avengers: Infinity War.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 ants.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: LITTLE EVIL (2017)

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LITTLE EVIL (2017)

Little Evil is a Netflix horror/comedy that has likable schlep Gary (Adam Scott) marrying pretty mom Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) and soon suspecting her six year-old son Lucas (Owen Atlas) might be the spawn of Satan…literally. And that’s kinda it.

There is little to recommend about Little Evil as it is a dreadfully unfunny attempt to spoof the bad seed/demon child scenario. Most of the jokes fall flat and the film takes itself a little too seriously anyway, which would be fine if the derivative horror elements worked at all. We’ve seen it all before and that would be fine if the flick was funny enough to laugh at the familiar tropes. It’s not. Scott is once again a dull lead and at least Lilly is perky as the oblivious mom and young Owen Atlas is suitably creepy as devil child Lucas. Other than that, the direction from Eli Craig is as pedestrian as his script is uninspired and both lack the cleverness, style or laughs to make a spoof/homage like this work. A bore from start to it’s cliché finish. Also stars Clancy Brown as a priest.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: ANT-MAN (2015)

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ANT-MAN (2015)

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Not being a fan of the character or being at all familiar with him, I had low expectations for what sounded like a silly superhero movie but, was pleasantly surprised by Ant-Man for a number of reasons, though it’s not perfect.

The story finds thief with a heart of gold, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) getting out of prison only to be convinced to take on another heist when his Baskin Robbins job doesn’t work out. Instead of the assumed money and jewels, he finds a strange suit in the safe he robs. Scott soon discovers two things, one…the suit is capable of shrinking him to an insect level size (while retaining his human strength) and two…the suit belongs to a Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who has set Scott up because, he needs his help. Hank Pym is a former super hero named Ant-Man. He has kept his suit and the formula that works it, secret for decades. His arch rival/former protégée Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to unveiling a suit of his own and he has far less noble plans for it. Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) want Scott to don the Ant-Man suit and use his skills to break into Pym Technologies’ high security research facility to steal Cross’ Yellow Jacket suit and destroy all the research that created it.

As directed by Peyton Reed, from a script by four writers, including former director Edgar Wright, this is a fun movie and also, one with a far smaller scale than the last few Marvel epics. Sure, the fate of the world is still hanging in the balance, to a degree, but, the film concentrates on a more intimate heist scenario and focuses primarily on the preparations for it by it’s three main characters. This gives the film an almost separate feel from the other Marvel universe films, if not for the mentions and cameos by some other characters. It also gives it more time to focus on the main characters more and makes it a bit more accessible to a degree. Rudd makes a surprisingly good, reluctant hero and there is also a lot more humor than the last few flicks and, for the most part, it is not broad or intrusive. There is plenty of action and the film really moves when that action occurs and it is executed with the usual top notch special FX. If anything holds the film back a little is that the different tone takes a bit of getting used to and the film does take a little while to really get going. The pace is a bit more moderate than we are used to in the MCU and even with appearances and mentions, it never truly clicks as one of the Marvel universe movies. Rudd’s Lang doesn’t quite seem like he’d fit in with the rest of the heroes, despite his entertaining tussle with one of the Avengers…but, that might add some needed diversity. The villain is, again, a stereotypical greedy corporate douche and is on par with Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith. He’s serviceable but, never really impresses. Also, Lang’s partners in crime (Michael Peña, Tip Harris, David Dastmalchian) are a source for a lot of the humor in the film and while it works most of the time, sometimes the schtick gets a little much, especially when they get involved in the main story. Finally, while it worked, there is a very cliché sub-plot with down-on-his luck Lang being divorced and not allowed to see his little girl, Cassie (Abby Ryder) and his ex-wife (Judy Greer) now married to a jerk cop (Bobby Cannavale) who has it out for Lang. All the tropes of such a tired sub-plot are played out as expected…though well enough to still be effective.

We do have a good cast here, too. I am a huge fan of Douglas so, it was great to see him onscreen again with an important role and like Robert Redford in Winter Soldier, it adds a little extra dignity to the proceedings. He’s a veteran actor and very good in the part. Rudd gets to do something interesting with his usual smarmy, smart-ass persona and he makes for a different edition to the Marvel universe. He’s more down to earth than most characters and he was charming, fun and even a bit sympathetic as the dad who wants to do right by his little girl. Lilly is sexy and feisty, which seems to be the requirement to be a Marvel female character but, she does it well and there is indication we may see more of her. She and Rudd and Douglas all work very well together, too. As said, Stoll makes an adequate villain and gives it his all, but, he’s just not that impressive. It’s a problem a lot of these Marvel flicks have had, some mediocre villains for our heroes to face. The likable Michael Peña steals a few scenes as Luis but, his schtick does get a bit overplayed, at points, as does Harris and Dastmalchian. Rounding out, Greer is fine as Lang’s ex-wife, Ryder is adorable as his daughter and Cannavale is a stereotypical jerk-at-first, who comes to like Scott once getting to know him…again very cliché.

Overall, I did like Ant-Man and had a good time. It’s not as strong as the best of the Marvel flicks though, far much better than the borderline mess that was Iron Man 3. It’s a smaller scaled and more moderately paced film which works for and against it, but, does have a good cast. Rudd’s Ant-Man is a bit different than his soon-to-be fellow Avengers and that’s a good thing and he made a solid hero. I recommend it for a good time. It’s refreshingly lighter than Age Of Ultron and Winter Soldier and while it has flaws, it’s still engaging and fun. Remember to stay for the whole show, as there is both a mid-credits scene and an end credits scene…that one is especially interesting.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 ants.

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ANT-MAN GETS A FINAL TRAILER!

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While I personally have little interest in this particular upcoming Marvel flick, the comic it’s based on seems to have a loyal fan base and they are highly anticipating it. I will give it a chance when released on 7/17/15 but, for now, the folks at Marvel have given us one last trailer…

-MonsterZero NJ

Sources: Youtube

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REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014)

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THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014)

Anyone who has read my reviews for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug know that while I enjoyed them to a good degree, I definitely had some problems with all the obvious filler added to pad a moderately sized book into 3 lengthy films. Thankfully the third and final installment of this trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary prequel to his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, not only never feels padded but, is a powerful and spectacular conclusion that ranks as one of the best of his Middle Earth films.

The story picks up where the last chapter left off with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) venting his rage on Lake Town, which leads to Thorin (Richard Armitage) reclaiming the Lonely Mountain. But, Thorin has acquired ‘The Dragon Sickness” and is becoming as greedy as it’s previous occupant and turns his back on his allies leaving the Lake Town survivors at his door begging for aid. The elves have come in force to also claim what is their’s and they join forces with Bard (Luke Evans) and his people to form an army to lay siege  to the fortress with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the 12 dwarves inside. And this plays them all right into The Defiler Azog’s (Manu Bennett) hands as the orc has assembled a massive army and now can crush dwarf, elf and human together, all at once. But, sometimes common foes can make allies out of enemies and all may not be lost as Bilbo and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) try to convince the former allies to reunite against the hordes of evil that are knocking at their door.

I loved this movie. After being a little disappointed at how much the first two flicks were padded and drawn-out to create a trilogy out of a single book, this… the shortest of the 3 films at 144 minutes… gets right to it and gives us a conclusion that is as emotionally strong as it is action packed and visually spectacular. The film never drags it’s feet, as the others did in spots, and none of the action scenes feel like they have overstayed their welcome like the second film’s fun but, overlong barrel chase. Jackson returns to the intense emotions of his Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the film has some powerful moments both triumphant and heartbreaking, heralding some of the Rings trilogy’s finest moments. Yes, this entry is that good and makes the weaknesses of the previous films all the more apparent. It’s amazing what 20 less minutes can do to trim the fat while keeping the meat. As with all these films they are technical and artistic marvels of top-of-the-line SPFX and design. This film looks as spectacular as it’s action and we get treated to some new creations not seen in previous films and go deeper into some of the places previously visited. The score by Howard Shore is his best of this trilogy and the cinematography of Andrew Lesnie captures everything not computer generated, splendidly.

One problem I never had with this series is the cast. It is obviously a considerably large and talented cast and Jackson has gotten good work out of all of them. Martin Freeman shines as Bilbo, again, though it almost seemed like Richard Armitage’s Thorin took center stage this time. Armitage skillfully takes his nobel warrior into a state of selfish greed and then reawakens the proud dwarf within when the story calls for it. McKellen is masterful, as always, as Gandalf and Luke Evans is thankfully given lots more to do here and makes far more of an impact with his Bard. Evangeline Lilly once again steals hearts and slays orcs as elven warrior Tauriel and she gets some nice emotionally strong moments and handles them quite well. Orlando Bloom brings back beloved Legolas to action and it was great seeing him in battle once more as it was to see Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and the legendary Christopher Lee one more time in Middle Earth. The rest of the cast all do good work bringing their fantasy characters to life whether under make-up or CGI and it enhances the film even more.

What can I say, I had a great time here! Jackson delivers an epic conclusion that makes up for the indulgent enhancing of a classic tale in the first two parts and delivers spectacle and drama on the level of his LOTR trilogy that seemed to be lacking in the first two chapters of this prequel trilogy… though, The Hobbit is a less intense book to begin with. It’s got massive battles, incredible visuals, stunning special FX and some dramatic intensity to back it up. And if all else had failed… and it sure doesn’t… we get to see Evangeline Lilly’s enchanting elf one last time.

4 Elven hotties.

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REVIEW: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)

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THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)

I’ll start off by saying that J.R.R. Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth are among my favorite books and, understandably, Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy are among my favorite films. That being said, I still feel there is no reason to take a single book and stretch it out into three movies despite how much I love the story and characters. And with THAT being said, there is no reason then for each of those three movies to be almost three hours long. And it is exactly that reason that I feel something’s missing from Jackson’s Hobbit films… or should I say there’s something too much as there is a lot of filler added to turn one book into three movies… and it’s obvious. And this filler, as well as, middle film syndrome is exactly what keeps The Desolation Of Smaug from shining despite some sumptuous production design and some really fun action sequences. There is a lot of filler in this middle installment and sometimes it’s tediously obvious as once it’s over, you realize the story hasn’t really gone very far. The film picks up where the last left off with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the band of Dwarves on their way to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the vile dragon Smaug. They are still being hunted by a band of Orcs and not only clash with them continually but, battle giant spiders and suspicious Elves as well. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) goes off to investigate his fears of a great evil returning… and we know exactly who, since we have already seen The Lord Of The Rings… and even the Dwarf party are split as they near their destination and their showdown with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Can they succeed or shall they fall before the onslaught of the Orcs and the mighty dragon? Even if you haven’t seen The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, this is a middle film in a trilogy so, it’s no spoiler to tell you to expect not only an open ending but, a cliffhanger as well. And it just leaves one a bit unsatisfied. The first Hobbit film at least ended at a satisfying point and while I felt it took way too long to get going (again, a lot of filler) it was really fun and moved very quickly once it did. Smaug feels like a 90 minute film stretched into almost 3 hours as there is just a lot of dialog sequences and scenes that really don’t advance the story… the sequences in Lake-town are especially tedious and accomplish little and even the sequences that do matter, seem drawn out. And the fact that the tone here is a lot more somber, also darkens the proceedings. But, there are some saving graces that elevate the film from being an outright disappointment. There are some really fun action sequences such as the battle against the giant spiders and a thrilling chase involving river barrels and pursuing Orcs and Elves, not to mention the climactic confrontation with Smaug himself. There is the return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and with him a new character who is an invention of Jackson’s named Tauriel who is played with equal parts fire and foxy by the beautiful Evangeline Lilly. Tauriel is one of the film’s real treats and Lilly creates a very endearing and strong character. She caught this fanboy’s attention instantly. I have never seen Lost but, I am impressed now. Sadly, I cannot say the same for Luke Evan’s Bard whose character really doesn’t make an impression and hopefully the talented Evan’s has a bigger impact in the next film as Bard didn’t have much to do here but look dour. The same goes for Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) who’s appearance is barely… or should I say bear-ly… more then a cameo. The SPFX are spectacular as are the visuals, thought the 48 fps can look a bit off at times especially with the barrel chase sequence. Smaug is very impressive and is greatly aided by the vocals of Cumberbatch who also voices The Necromancer. Jackson gets good work from all his cast with Freeman making Bilbo as endearing as Frodo and Sam in the previous trilogy and Mckellan is a delight as always. Richard Armitage is strong and noble as Thorin and the rest of the actors performing the dwarves all do nice work giving their characters personality despite performing as a group with little spotlight on them individually. Bloom is welcome back as Legolas though he is a bit more serious here and, as stated, Lilly gives nice life to a character created solely for the film. The score by Howard Shore obviously evokes his LOTR score but, to be honest, I don’t think it has the same resonance in the Hobbit films as it did there. So, in conclusion, Smaug is plagued not only by the added and unnecessary filler needed to make this one book tale a trilogy but, also suffers from middle trilogy syndrome in that it doesn’t have a satisfying ending and comes across as exactly that, the middle part of a bigger story. But, it’s saving graces are some really fun and exciting action sequences, some stunning visuals and  the continued good work of the cast and director Jackson at making the characters endearing… not to mention a sassy and sexy she-Elf who will be an instant fanboy favorite. I did like it but, didn’t love it as I wanted to.

3 Dwarven axes!

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Evangeline Lilly’s sexy and deadly Turiel.

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