Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Even Without Edgar Wright, "Ant-Man" Turned Out Pretty Good


Ant-Man, along with last year’s wildly successful Guardians of the Galaxy, definitely shows that Marvel is digging deep for new heroes to introduce. Audiences don’t seem to mind the B- and C-listers getting their own films because the movies wisely take a more comedic route. (By the way, I know Ant-Man is not consider

ed a B- or C-lister in the comic book world, but he definitely is in the movie world.) Guardians was easily the goofiest film Marvel has ever made, and Ant-Man often plays more like a comedy than a superhero action film, which is precisely the tone this movie needed to have to succeed.

This film has been a huge question mark for Marvel not only because of the lesser known main character, but also for some behind the scenes trouble. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was well into the process of making this film when he dropped out. He realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the movie he wanted to make because Marvel has such a strict plan for the next few years. So Peyton Reed (Yes Man) was brought in. Nothing against Reed (especially since the movie turned out all right), but it doesn’t instill a lot of confidence to go from the director of Shaun of the Dead to the director of Yes Man. It would definitely be interesting to see what Wright would have ultimately done with the film, but it appears he left his stamp on enough of it so that what we see on the screen is a Wright-like film.

Most likely, the visual style of the film was sacrificed when Wright left (more on that in a bit), but the comedic tone of the film remained. Much like Shaun of the Dead, Ant-Man is about a very unlikely hero in Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a convict who can’t seem to catch a break. Returning to a life of crime leads him to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and the shrinking suit Pym has made. Then more comic book stuff happens, and Scott has to try to save the world, and you’ll probably see him again in other Marvel movies, and you get the idea.

Ant-Man sets itself apart from other Marvel movies by having a stronger emotional core than other comic book films. The emotional theme focuses on parents, specifically fathers, and how complicated it can be to protect their children, or in this case, daughters. Scott’s main goal is to get his life back on track so he can see his daughter, who sees him as a hero already. For Scott, it’s all about living up to an image his daughter has for him. Hank Pym, on the other hand, has kept his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) so far away that she now resents him. Each man needs to prove himself to his daughter to have peace. These subplots were a welcome distraction from the save the world plotline, which is getting a bit tiresome in the Marvel world.

The emotional scenes never get too heavy, though, and the film in general is quite funny. Paul Rudd has a lot to do with that. He’s a natural for the reluctant hero part. But the comedy comes more from the gang of idiots he pals around with. The standout is Michael Peña, whose rambling stories are the comedic highlight of the film. They are also the scenes that felt the most like an Edgar Wright film.

Comedy aside, this is still a Marvel superhero movie, so the action and visuals have a lot to live up to. In this case, the visuals actually lead to comedy at times. When we’re zoomed in on the action, for instance, a child’s trainset turns into a real train bearing down on someone. Pull back and it becomes a pretty goofy sequence. When the action is taken seriously, it’s par for the course for Marvel. There’s nothing that stands out, aside from the goofiness of pulling back during action scenes. Edgar Wright could have possibly created some action scenes that would have stood out from the rest of the Marvel pack, but we’ll never know. The miniature stuff looks great, though. Overall, Ant-Man boasts some great visuals with decent action.

 Ant-Man could have been Marvel’s first big misstep since it started this takeover of Hollywood. But like Guardians, the risk paid off. Sure, the save the world plotline is flat out boring at this point, but that comes with the territory in a comic book movie. Ant-Man simply had to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack with comedy, and it completely succeeded. 

Ant-Man receives a:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

This Is What "Terminator: Genisys" Could've (Should've) Been.

I enjoyed Terminator: Genisys from a fan service standpoint. The return of Arnold and the old storyline was enough to make me happy. But overall, I was disappointed by what might have been. The most infuriating thing is that a better film is buried within Genisys. The core story could remain (they could even go the whole “Stop Judgment Day” route), but the focus would be quite different. Put shortly, I would make the T-800 (Pops in Genisys) the main character that we never leave. I’m not into writing screenplays, so I’ll just present my version of this film in a disjointed summary. So here it is, my plan for Terminator: Reset the Future. (I thought the tagline for Genisys was a much better title.)

The film would begin at the Connors’ cabin at the lake in the 1970s, when Pops arrives. Enough of this starting in the miserable future crap. The opening scene could be a nice, peaceful moment with Sarah and her family, and then the scene she describes in Genisys happens. But we don’t jump to 1984 after that. We stay with Pops and Sarah for at least the next twenty to thirty minutes. I’m not sure the exact scenes that would play out here, but there would definitely be a scene of Pops explaining things to young Sarah. There could be a vignette of moments showing Pops as a surrogate father (tying her shoes, getting her food, tending playground wounds, Sarah making drawings for him, etc.). There could also be some awkward comedy here and there. Can you imagine how Pops would react to and explain Sarah’s first period? Maybe that wouldn’t be that great of a scene, but it’s what I thought of when Sarah revealed that Pops had basically raised her.

The scenes between Sarah and Pops get progressively more militaristic as he teaches her combat skills and prepares her for 1984. Then we get to 1984, not showing Kyle Reese until he arrives in the timeline. Then the film plays out just like in Genisys. This would make some of those scenes a little too expository since the audience knows everything Kyle is told, but that could be fixed by simply showing them begin to talk as the focus goes to Pops working on something.

This is where the film would be drastically different. Instead of following Sarah and Kyle to 2017, the film stays with Pops in 1984. This segment would be at least thirty minutes long (although I think it would make a fairly interesting film on its own). A number of individual scenes track what Pops has been up to during the thirty-year wait. We see him setting up the new bunker, working at Cyberdyne, missing Sarah, listening to her tapes and looking at her drawings. Perhaps some more comedy could be implemented here. Some awkward interactions with co-workers. People picking up on the fact that he never eats or uses the bathroom, etc. This could play as a very somber portion of the film, but I think it would work better with a bit of humor.

Or if you wanted to go full-blown comedy, perhaps Pops could get a job that
that utilizes his natural ability to work well with children.
Pops would also take notice of John Connor’s arrival in 2014 at Cyberdyne and discover that John is now a Terminator. (I know we haven’t seen John yet, but he could easily be introduced as John Connor in front of Pops while he’s working.) Pops continues to spy and bide his time, then he lies in perfect wait for Sarah and Kyle so that they don’t get arrested this time. (I really don’t understand why he wasn’t able to handle this in Genisys. He obviously knew where they would appear, so why couldn’t he just be there in the road waiting? How hard would it be for him to cause a traffic disturbance at the exact location they would show up?)

Pops tells an unbelieving Sarah and Kyle about John, but they are eventually convinced in the same manner as in Genisys. Then the film could play out very much like Genisys, but with Pops showing much more command of the situation as he’s been able to sabotage Cyberdyne over the years through hacking their system and/or hiding weapons and explosives in key locations. I am truly not a big fan of them doing the same thing they did in T2 by destroying all the hardware and whatnot, but if they tweaked it a bit and acknowledged that they need to do more than just blow up a building it might work. Maybe go all Independence Day and have them give the program a virus or something?

Of course, this is a rough outline that needs some work. Issues that jump out at me mainly concern John Connor. How does he still exist? I didn’t think they answered this in a satisfactory matter at all in Genisys, but it’s forgivable since we’re dealing with a series in which a man sends his own father back in time to create himself. The main issue with what I’ve come up with is how does Pops detect John without John also detecting him? But since Pops said he worked at Cyberdyne in Genisys that means they may have crossed paths before and nothing happened, so if it’s an issue in Genisys it can be an issue in my made-up version too.
Another title could be; Terminator: Genisys (Now with Less Jai Courtney!)
So that’s it, my Pops-centric version of the latest Terminator. I just felt that Arnold was the strongest aspect of the film, but the least utilized. Why focus on Jai Courtney? Why introduce Matt Smith just as a connection for a sequel? Just leave how Connor became a Terminator open if you need sequel bait. You already have that with the mystery of who sent Pops back, so just go with it. This film used Arnold less than any other Terminator film (excluding Salvation, of course) and needed him the most. Of course, what’s done is done. Too bad the real world isn’t more like the world of Terminator. That way someone could be sent back to fix this. But then again, we would have to deal with Judgment Day… I think it’s worth it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Magic Mike XXL": The Male Stripper Movie Women Want

Magic Mike XXL

It’s always interesting to watch a film that is not intended for you at all. This has been my experience with Fifty Shades of Grey and the first Magic Mike. Each time, I wasn’t watching the movies so much as I was conducting a social observation: what do women want in their movies? Most people think of romantic movies when they think of movies intended for women, but those movies are really meant for couples to watch. Fifty Shades of Grey and the Magic Mike films are meant mainly for women…and the occasional man (e.g. me) that ends up watching it. Fifty Shades ended up not revealing what women wanted in movies, in my opinion. It was more about giving women a forbidden event movie to watch. The first Magic Mike was closer to what they want, but it was bogged down by a few serious, dramatic plot elements. In other words, women wanted to have a bit more fun with a movie about male strippers. Magic Mike XXL aims to finally be the movie women want.

First off, look at the title. The joke of it alone lets you know that this time around fun is the main goal. Gone are the drug addiction, relationship, and scheming McConaughey subplots. Now, the boys get back together for a road trip to the male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. The stakes of this movie simply concern getting from Florida to Myrtle Beach. If it’s not obvious that there is nothing at stake, a character at the end before the big performance even points out that, “This is not a competition!” Because of this, Magic Mike is the better film, but Magic Mike XXL is the probably the one women would prefer to watch. That’s not to say that women only want movies with no drama; it’s just that male stripper movies are more enjoyable drama-free.

Stripping and having a good time is the plot of the film. Most of it is enjoyable (as with the first movie, I found the stripping scenes funny), though the stripping sequences go on longer than I would like (perhaps they aren’t long enough for other viewers). There is one thing that is undeniable, though: the reaction shots of characters go on too long in non-stripping scenes. During conversations, the camera lingers on people listening to others for just a few seconds too long. It’s a style decision that makes regular scenes awkward. It’s odd when a film’s editing becomes apparent. Perhaps this is due to Steven Soderbergh stepping down as director and Gregory Jacobs (typically an assistant director) stepping in. It doesn’t ruin the movie or anything, but it does make a few moments come across as odd.

Perhaps the long reaction shots are meant to make the audience think about the conversation, as well. This movie isn’t just about pleasing women with stripping. Nearly every scene features a conversation about what women want. So those extended reactions might be there to make the audience reflect more than usual (though I would argue they distract viewers more than focus them). Regardless, this is a film about what women want physically and emotionally. Conversations occur with older women about how they want to feel wanted, listened to, worshipped, etc. (These are probably the moments the few men in the audience are really supposed to pay attention to.)

Of course, it’s easy for dudes like Channing Tatum and Joe Manganiello to provide what women want. But it’s interesting that all these men who have all the answers for women can’t form lasting relationships with them. If they all had relationships there would be inherent drama, though, and Magic Mike XXL does not have time for that.

If you turn off your brain (which I was unable to do, but, once again, this movie wasn’t intended for me), it’s easy to get on board with these guys, and their no-stakes road trip. Tatum is effortlessly charismatic and funny, as is Manganiello. Most of the other guys are just along for the ride, but they make it easy to feel like you’re partying with them.

In the end, that’s what Magic Mike XXL is: a party you get to feel involved in. And that’s probably exactly what some women want in the theater. If men have so many mindless, turn-off-your-brain action movies to enjoy, why can’t women have a similar experience tailored to their interests? Magic Mike XXL is there to fill that void. Oh, and much like the title, pun intended.

Magic Mike XXL receives a:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Arnold Is Back...Sort Of. Schwarzenegger Is Underutilized in the Decent but Disappointing "Terminator: Genisys."

Terminator: Genisys
They definitely relied on this gag too much. This is one of four or five times you see the smile that originated in 1991...

At this point, the Terminator franchise has been rejuvenated more times than Judgment Day has been avoided. The last attempt, Terminator: Salvation, was meant to be the beginning of a new trilogy. It is now regarded a disappointment with the box office and fans alike, so that was scrapped (even though there are people who liked it, like me, and it made $371 million worldwide). Now, with Terminator: Genisys, much like Skynet, they refuse to let the franchise die.

The easy way to describe Genisys is that it’s not as good as the first two, but it’s better than the last two. Simplistic, sure, but it’s accurate, especially since Genisys is a return to the storyline of the original film. Of course, a real assessment is more complicated than that, but to get into it completely, spoilers are involved. So, if you want to watch Genisys completely fresh, stop reading now (although if you’ve seen the previews for this movie, everything mentioned in this review has already been spoiled for you).

Genisys has one of the worst marketing plans for a movie in recent memory. It is revealed, both in previews and articles (like the one I regretfully read in Entertainment Weekly which didn’t even feature a spoiler warning) that John Connor is now a Terminator. Usually when a preview reveals something like that, it means it happens early in the film. But in Genisys, it is a major twist roughly forty-five minutes in. What is truly irritating about the twist being spoiled is that it could have been actually surprising. For some reason, the marketing team thought spoiling a major plot point would drum up more business (it didn’t).

Spoilers aside, Connor as a Terminator is a decent and interesting change to the storyline. Aside from that change, Genisys is much more interested in reminding fans of the past. The main element is the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his career-defining role. His presence, along with a return to the 1984 setting of the original, should be enough to please fans of the series. Some have complained about the movie resorting to fan service elements, but if you’re a fan, what’s the problem? (By the way, I am a fan, and the fan service did its job; overall, I liked the movie.)

That’s Genisys in a nutshell: fan service. People want to see Arnold in awesome action sequences spouting off one-liners (even though it makes no sense for this version of him to know those one-liners, but who cares?). The action of Genisys is fine, though sometimes it feels too fake (the old Arnold vs. young Arnold sequence comes to mind). There are some standout moments, however (the bus sequence is pretty great). Put simply, it’s a serviceable action film, but not genre-redefining like T2.

The main problem with Genisys is that it doesn’t adhere to the original film enough. In the original, the Terminator was as much a character as Kyle Reese or Sarah Connor. Here, he’s subordinate to Kyle and Sarah, which is a mistake. Kyle Reese was not the main character in The Terminator. He was one-third of the focus. Here, he’s the main protagonist with Sarah Connor the close second lead. Arnold is reduced to being their violent robot butler (I know, I know, it’s “cybernetic organism,” not robot, but I prefer “robot”).

Arnold playing third fiddle is annoying for two reasons. First, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in the original) is now played by Jai Courtney, an actor who is mediocre at best, and an unlikable husk at worst. Here, he’s mediocre bordering on likable for a change, but he’s no Michael Biehn, and worse, he’s not playing the character like Beihn at all. Kyle Reese went from an intense, jittery time traveler to a milquetoast everyman who seems pretty calm about traveling to a time that should be unrecognizable to him. So he’s not the best character to be stuck following.

Second, this version of Arnold was sent back in the 1970s to protect Sarah Connor and then be a surrogate father to her. We’re shown a glimpse of this in a flashback, but how much more interesting would it have been if the film started there and followed Arnold and Sarah all the way through? On top of that, there’s a point in the story when Kyle and Sarah must travel from 1984 to 2017, and Arnold can’t go with them. So he has to bide his time for over thirty years. Those thirty years would be an interesting movie on their own, but in Genisys, we don’t see a second of it. At the very least they could have done a montage sequence or something. (Perhaps the progression of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Bruce Willis in Looper could have been mimicked.) It’s just unfortunate that positive elements of the film are overshadowed by what might have been.

The positive elements make Genisys an enjoyable, if disappointing, film. Arnold still inhabits the Terminator effortlessly and makes every scene he’s in better. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) is an interesting choice for Sarah Connor this time around. She’s a good combination of the original, fragile Sarah and ultra-militarized T2 Sarah. And, despite the obvious setups for future movies (it is never revealed who sent Arnold back to the 1970s, for instance), it is interesting to see where the story goes from here.

The best thing the series can do, however, is end for good once this planned trilogy is over (if the trilogy even happens, that is, since this film isn’t exactly tearing up the box office). The most boring aspect of this film is that it’s about stopping Judgment Day again. Hate the last two movies all you want, but at least they were willing to accept that Judgment Day is inevitable. Whatever happens in the future of this increasingly convoluted time-traveling saga, let it at least come to a true, final conclusion. Let’s just hope Arnold is front and center for that conclusion. 

Terminator: Genisys receives a:

Random Thoughts (even more SPOILERS)

Some people have applauded the film for returning to a more light-hearted tone. While this film contains more jokes than the extremely bleak Salvation, I don't think T2 was as goofy as everyone remembers. Sure there was the smile and all the catch phrases, but Genisys crossed the line with the mugshot scene set to the COPS theme music. 

The Arnold vs. Arnold sequence really disappointed me, especially since the young Arnold in Salvation somehow looked better. Granted, young Arnold is cloaked in shadows in Salvation, but at least they were aware of their limitations. A couple of moments during the fight in Genisys it looked like a videogame.

John Connor as a Terminator is interesting because it takes the ending of Salvation and tweaks it a bit. I just wish he was meant to be a bridge between man and machine (like in Salvation when he get a heart transplant from a hybrid Terminator) rather than just a new tool for the machines. Aside from the initial reveal, the characters seem to have no issue with actively trying to kill John Connor, the man the entire series has been about. The twist is really wasted since John simply ends up being the new, "bad" Terminator. It would make more sense for Terminator John to stay in the future and figure out a way to end all of this rather than go back to make sure Skynet happens. They could have sent back any mimicking Terminator to provide the info to get Skynet going. John Connor isn't the only one privy to that info.

Stopping Judgment Day and Skynet is just stupid at this point. And naming it "Genisys" now is just annoying because every time I type it I have to deal with the computer telling me it's spelled incorrectly. Anyway, remember Terminator 3? The whole point of that movie was that Judgment Day was inevitable, and the reason was because everything is connected now. Destroying a hard drive in some office building isn't enough in the internet age. And they figured that out for a 2003 film, when the internet was not nearly as prevalent. Back when phones were still mainly used for communication. You might think that it was more advanced, but the movie actually has the villain log onto the internet through dial-up. I'm serious. This is why it's so stupid that a movie set fourteen years later would revert back to early 90s T2 logic: just smash it all up, and it will be okay. It's just lazy.

Finally, I think people need to reevaluate the last two movies. They get a bad rap, but at least they were willing to do something different with the series. Terminator 3 was meant to put n end to the Judgment Day stuff, and the character of John Connor was very interesting because it evaluated what time travel and prophecy could do to someone. Who is John Connor without the end of the world? And Salvation was a straight up war film that didn't even feature time travel. John Connor was dealt with interestingly here, as well. Some people didn't believe he was all that great, and he's really only a "prophet" because he's been told everything, not because he's some miracle worker. The films have their flaws, don't get me wrong: until the end, Terminator 3 is just about prevent Judgment Day again, and Connor in Salvation is kind of a screaming lunatic. But they dared to take the series in a different direction, which is more than you can say for Genisys.