Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pixels (2015)

Pixels (2015)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Dan Aykroyd

Currently, it feels as if people are programmed to hate any Adam Sandler film released, even without having seen it. They’re prerogative is that Adam Sandler no longer makes “good movies”. Nowadays, you can’t read a review for an Adam Sandler film without it centering around how much Sandler sucks now and how he hasn’t made a good movie in eons and blah, blah, blah. I’m not into hating for hates sake, which is what is apparently happening with Sandler, it’s this hive like mentality of hatred towards Sandler. Where does the hatred stem from? Probably from the string of bad movies he’s been making. The last torturous one I saw was Jack and Jill (2011) and that one turned me off from seeing Sandler movies. How did I end up seeing that one in theaters you might ask? Well, I like to give movies the benefit of the doubt, sometimes I come out a winner and discover a film I would have not seen otherwise, but other times, like with Jack and Jill it’s just like“WHYYYYY?!” The way I see it and in Sandler’s defense I will say that we can’t really blame Sandler for making bland family movies, because that’s who he is, he’s the all encompassing actor who makes films that are supposed to appeal to everyone. He’s movies are made to be consumed in mass quantities and in order to do that, the film has to be a certain way. They can’t be too intense, or bloody, or offensive or violent, they gotta have that ‘feel good, nothing bad is going to happen’ vibe to them. Like, don’t take nothing to seriously, you’re here just to have some fun. Let’s just accept that he’s the guy who makes that type of film, that’s who he’s become. He’s gone the way of Eddie Murphy, but in a successful way? My advice is, if you don’t like the crappy pappy movies that Sandler makes, don’t go and see them! Just wait until he works with a good director, gets critical acclaim again and makes something like Punch Drunk Love (2002), his only truly good film if you ask me.

So just how squeaky clean is Pixels? Well, just by way of an example, in one scene when Sandler sees Pac-Man eat the hand of his creator, and Sandler he says “that was some weird….stuff” instead of “That was some weird…shit!” He even pauses before saying ‘stuff’ as if mentally correcting himself saying “nope, gotta keep it PG-13!” But whatever man, you can say “shit” in a PG-13 movie, it’s just that you’re so self censored that you can’t even bring yourself to say shit. The most basic of cusses. It feels as if Sandler is in a censored state of mind even as he films, in other words, no real space to cut loose and go crazy. Feels like there’s no improv and if you have a good comedian on your film, usually that’s where comedy gold is at, the improv. But no, dialog here is clean as a whistle, god forbid word of mouth spreads and a mother ends up saying something like “my kid is not going to see that nasty Adam Sandler movie, he’s always cussing”. So following Sandler’s squeaky clean movie rules, the film will have kids and families, often times dysfunctional families facing problems and overcoming them (like a divorce for example) and Sandler will be sympathetic and kind to the kid in the movie because that’s the target audience. So this is the kind of movie you can expect my friends. A film following a formula every step of the way. Nothing is to be taken too seriously; you can’t invest yourself emotionally because you know nobody will die. Not in a squeaky clean Adam Sandler family movie like this one, so just sit back and watch the fireworks, which is really the only thing that this movie is good for.

Some folks seem to think that this film was based on an episode of Futurama that has a similar premise, but in reality, this film is based on a French short film that lasts only about 2 ½ minutes, it is also called Pixels (which you can see here) and it sets the ground rules for the look and the mechanics of the’ video games come to life’ part of the film. The short makes no sense or meaning, it just shows us a guy putting an old television in the garbage and suddenly from said television all these old video games emerge. Suddenly Donkey Kong is on top of the Empire State building throwing barrels, Pac Man is eating street cars and Centipedes fly through the skies. In the short, the video game characters destroy the city by turning everything they touch into square little pixels, but that’s about as far as the thing goes. It has no story, no villains, no heroes, just a concept which Chris Columbus and Adam Sandler ran with and stretched into a film. And I say stretched because that’s what they did, the films premise is so simple, the story so non-existent, the characters so one note that they had to stretch things out. Pixels feels  repetitive and one note; we fight one video game, beat it, then fight the next one, and they go on and on like this till the end. There’s nothing unexpected here, this is as formulaic as it gets. Worst part? This is the kind of movie in which the trailer has shown you everything. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know, step by step how this movie is going to go.

What this movie is though is a nostalgia bomb. If you were born in the 80’s and played video games in arcades the way I did, you will feel a shot of nostalgia in your system. I have to admit it was cool seeing a giant Pac-Man eating up taxi cabs and city streets, especially since I’m such a Pac-Man nut! It was awesome seeing a giant King Kong throwing barrels at Adam Sandler, and then there’s this scene where they simply throw as many old video game characters on the screen as they can, so you’ll see Frogger, Q-bert, Paperboy, Centipede, Galaga, Space Invaders…and that’s without counting all the other characters from 80’s pop culture that show up in the film like Max Headroom, Ronald Reagan, Madonna and Hall & Oates. The soundtrack is made up of hits from the 80’s all the way. So in this sense, the movie proves entertaining to an extent, you will be like “Oh there’s Q-Bert!” Still, I think they could have used even more classic video game characters on the film, apparently they could only afford to use a limited amount of characters. Where was the knight from Ghosts and Goblins? Sadly, the novelty of seeing old video game characters on screen is the only thing this film has to offer, the movie itself is just a bunch of empty calories starting by the fact that the villains in this movie are faceless, we never really know who they are because they talk through videogame characters. So suddenly, our favorite old school video games are evil. I mean, I never saw Pac-Man as a bad guy? But there he is eating people up! So yeah, this is yet another film with a weak villain whom we never even get to meet. Pixels is extremely simple and banal that’s all I can say.

Chris Columbus directs this film and it's sad to see him directing such a simplistic film, considering he's actually done decent family films like Home Alone and Home Alone 2, hell this is the guy who wrote Gremlins (1984) and freaking The Goonies (1985)! I would have liked something from Columbus with a little more story put into it, instead the whole film runs on a gag, not really even trying to get us invested. Pixel does have its moments, again, mostly its moments are associated with the appearance of the giant video game characters, but where’s the comedy? It’s not here; Pixels feels like they are not even really trying. I mean, you got all these good actors and comedians in your movie, why not have them throw in some of their own personality, let them improvise, let them put a little of their soul into the proceedings. This is the reason why Ghostbusters (1984) worked so well, it had a lot of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in it, it’s their personalities that bring those characters to life. In contrast, on Pixels Sandler seems to have no personality, he’s got this spaced out, bored look on his face all the time? Like he doesn’t even want to speak? He’s so laid back that he comes of as lifeless. So yeah, I get why people hate on Sandler so much, he’s just not doing anything relevant lately, I hope he gets his mojo back at some point. Still, Pixels isn’t terrible, it’s completely watchable, just not very engaging or hilarious. It’s simply put a very average film. But hey, there’s Frogger jumping and smashing a car into pieces! Cool!

Rating: 2 out of 5 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness: The Fifth Element (1995)

Conceptual Artwork 

Concept Art by Jean Paul Mezieres

Conceptual art by Jean Paul Gautier for Ruby Rod, back when Ruby Rod was going to be played by Prince 

Conceptual Artwork for Mandashowan spaceship by Jean Giraud 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ex-Machina (2015)

Ex-Machina (2015)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno    

Screenwriters are the firsts to bring a film to life, in their minds they see the story unfold in a certain way, down the road of a films production, it's their words and ideas that become the blueprint of a film. Which is why it doesn’t surprise me that some writers feel the urge to sit on the director’s chair and film their story themselves. The problem with this is that sometimes, while a writer might be great at coming up with stories and dialog, they don’t understand the mechanics of properly translating their words into an entertaining and visually interesting film. For example, when David S. Goyer, the screenwriter behind such heavy weight Hollywood blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) decided to sit on the director’s chair, he ended up making horrible stinkers like Blade Trinity (2004) and The Unborn (2009). Another good example would be Frank Miller, a good writer that ended up directing The Spirit (2008), one of the worst comic book films ever made. This is why whenever a writer wants to direct, I go into the film with a little trepidation. In the case of Ex-Machina, we’re talking about Alex Garland, a writer who frequently collaborates with renowned director Danny Boyle. Garland wrote The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007), all directed by Boyle. He recently wrote Dredd (2012), a good Judge Dredd film that needed to be just a little more epic in order to succeed. So in my book Garland has a pretty solid slate as a writer. In Ex-Machina Garland both writes and directs, did he pull off this double punch successfully?

Since this film comes to us from a true blue writer, and a good one, we should expect a film that’s brainier than your usual film. Why? Well, this isn’t Garland writing a film for someone else, this is Garland writing and directing a film that plays with themes that he finds interesting. And they are pretty heavy themes, Ex-Machina as the title suggests, is a very existential film. The title ‘Ex-Machina’ is an allusion to the term ‘Deus Ex-Machina’ a term used in Greek theater for whenever there was a problem too big to be resolved by the protagonists. Whenever this happened, they would lower a god onto the stage through the use of machinery, the god would then proceed to magically solve the problems the main characters were suffering from. The term literally means God is a Machine. The term is used even today in both theater and films to refer to a miracle solution for a any given problem in a story. In Ex-Machina the problem is AVA, the first android to ever be created. AVA has extremely advanced artificial intelligence which allows her to talk and think like a human, she can even make her own choices. AVA’s creator, Nathan, wants to test her in order to evaluate her human capabilities. In order to do this Nathan hand picks one of his own employees, a young computer programmer named Caleb. Will AVA pass Caleb’s evaluation?

This is a simple premise for a film with deep themes. Garland has always explored deep themes in his films, one example would be Sunshine (2007), a science fiction film that manages to turn into an exploration of human behavior, religion and how it can twist the human mind. That movie was basically about science vs. religion. So it didn’t surprise when Ex-Machina suddenly started tackling heady themes.  It starts out right away by giving the role of God to Nathan, AVA’s creator. By all intents and purposes a rightful title because after all, Nathan is the creator of artificial life, the father of a sentient being that is alive and capable of making its own choices. So in many ways, this film is a mirror of us and of whoever made us of God, or our parents, who are the closest thing to god in our lives, they brought us here, they gave us life. Why do some parents aim to over control their offspring even when they’ve reached a point in their lives when they are fully capable of making their own choices in life? Why is society constantly trying to control our lives with restrictions and commandments? So the film very boldly asks the question, do we really have what is commonly referred to in the bible as ‘free will’? Or is every aspect of our lives being regulated, controlled, judged and observed?

But it goes deeper than that. It also explores modern technology and that whole idea that we’re all part of some big scale social experiment involving the government and the media. It addresses the fact that all phones, televisions and computers have computers and microphones that are being used to spy on our lives. That with said technology “they” can scan our faces and hear our private conversations whenever they want to. Ever wonder how facebook tags someone in a picture before you do? Is  technology being used against us to pry on our private lives and somehow judge our behavior? What if our behavior isn’t acceptable to those watching? This is a theme that’s been explored a lot in films lately, the idea that an elite part of society wants to wipe all those deemed inadequate out of existence. Recently this was a plot device used in films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Kingsman:The Secret Service (2015), which by the way also explores the potential evils of cellular phone technology. In Ex-Machina, Nathan is an all seeing all hearing god. He knows when they talk against him, when they are plotting against him, and is always one step ahead of his “subjects”. For how long can he treat AVA and Caleb like rats in a maze before they rebel? And can EVA and Caleb succeed in their search for freedom? That’s what this film is about, our collective search for freedom and happiness; that idea that we all have the right to live the lives that we want to live. That we don’t want to live under the illusion of freedom, what we want is to truly enjoy it, for real. That we need to accept that not everyone is the same as us, and that we shouldn’t try to fit anyone into our personal mold of what a human should be like.

The story that Garland wants to tell here is one that’s big on themes and ideas, but small in scope. The film has three main characters and takes place almost entirely in one location, but the ideas it explores are so big and the story so thought provoking and interesting that I didn’t care, I love movies that dare to ask these types of questions, the kind of themes that not everyone likes to talk about. I certainly felt a strong subversive vibe from this film, it’s a film against the powers that be, the powers that choke and oppress society, sometimes in ways society doesn’t even realize. This is why the film asks the question: “What happens if I don’t pass your test?” What happens when we don’t fit the mold they want us to fit in? Heavy stuff in deed. I did notice some influences here and there, for example many science fiction buffs will immediately catch the similarities with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) because it has that whole concept of an android being angry with its creator because of its possible demise. It has a test to prove if one is a human  or an android, just like the 'Voight Kampf' test in Blade Runner. It also plays with the idea of a human falling in love with an android and wanting to run away together. There’s even doubt if Caleb is an android or not, same thing happens in Blade Runner, we’re never really sure if Deckard is an android or not. So yeah, what Alex Garland did with Ex-Machina was an update on Blade Runner (1982) adding his own themes in for good measure. All in all, a brainy science fiction film that I urge all those who are philosophically inclined to watch.  I’d say that Garland passed my test, he’s directed one of my favorite films of the year on his first try. Can he do it again?

Rating: 5 out of 5 


Friday, July 24, 2015

Book to Film Comparison: The Incal and The Fifth Element

Reading Alejandro Jodorowsky’s legendary graphic novel ‘The Incal’ is no easy task. Here I fancy myself a science fiction super buff with a brain, yet even I found it a challenge to comprehend a lot of the situations and plotlines in the book. This is not to say that it’s completely incomprehensible, what I mean is that this is the kind of book you have to read on various occasions to fully grasp. It’s the kind of graphic novel you should read once, without trying to make sense of it. Hopefully some of its essence should transfer onto your brain on your first read, then when you read it again, keep adding bits of information to what you already know, that’s the best way to go about it. The thing is that The Incal is a barrage of information, an avalanche of science fiction awesomeness. An amalgamation of mystical artifacts, alien races, political intrigue, god like beings and amazing outlandish vistas.One thing is undeniable, this graphic novel, which is really a compilation of comics that were printed separately through a period of seven years (1981-1988), is a juggernaut of a masterpiece, a work of art with a resounding impact on anyone who ventures into its pages. Each page is a gift from the comic book gods known as Moebius and Jodorowsky.

 On the left is Jodorowsky, sandwiched between is a Saudukar Warrior from Jodorowsky's defunct Dune film, to the right, one of the films producers

Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of my favorite persons in the world, not just for his films which I adore, but also because of who he is as a person. When I hear him talk in say, the documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune’s (2014), it’s like I’m listening to a kindred spirit. A true ateur, a realist, a humanist, Jodorowsky has always used his art to comment on humanity, our craziness, our subconscious preoccupations, our collective worries and thoughts. This is why I adore every single one of his films. Yet I had never read any of his comic books, I just had to experience this other area of his art. So I started at the beginning, with The Incal, a graphic novel that is the foundation for ‘The Jodoverse’ a series of comics written by Jodorowsky. Interesting how it was his frustrations with Hollywood that turned Jodorowsky to comics. You see, once upon a time, Jodorowsky attempted with great enthusiasm, to make a major Hollywood science fiction film based on Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was going to be the end all, be all of science fiction films. He had the conceptual art, the actors, the special effects technicians, he just needed the millions. Sadly, Hollywood got cold feet and slammed the door on his face. I’m almost 100% sure Hollywood producers saw him as a quack, a nut job, an unreliable director who was probably going to make a movie that was going to be unmarketable and over budget. But what did they know, right? As Jodorowsky himself always says, all geniuses are a little crazy.

A Young Jodorowsky

The comic book world was a world where Jodorowskys imagination was not limited by budgets or back stabbing producers. Here was a medium in which his imagination could go anywhere it wanted, and boy did he take it places! His writings include: Before The Incal, The Incal, The Final Incal, Metabarons Genesis: Castaka, Megalex and The Technopriests, among many others. The good thing about Jodorowsky’s comic books is that he always partners up with amazing artists, which is what we’re here to talk about today. Jodorowsky partnering up with Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) to produce The Incal, a seminal work in comics, and by seminal I mean you’d better read it at some point in your life, there's still nothing like it out there. It's the story of an anti-hero named John Difool who suddenly comes upon a magical artifact known as The Incal. Once he obtains it everybody in the universe wants it for their own dark purposes. In essence it is a story of ultimate evil vs. ultimate good, about the ambiguity of life and about the unpredictability of life, sometimes you do what you got to do, whether you planned it that way or not.

The story behind The Incal is that Jodorowsky took concepts he had prepared for his adaptation of Dune and jam packed the The Incal with them. I honestly don’t see a lot of Dune in The Incal, save for the fact that the good guys are escaping an evil government and that they have to do something to stop it, I'm thinking he put more of the conceptual stuff he had planned for Dune into The Incal, spaceships, buildings and the such. The real issue here though is how much The Incal has influenced filmmakers and comic book artists from all over the globe. One such filmmaker is Luc Besson, the director behind The Fifth Element (1995). The dirt on The Fifth Element is that Luc Besson ripped off Jodorwsky’s The Incal. I’d say this isn’t entirely true. Sure there’s some similarities, you’re definitely going to see them. But in my opinion, many of these similarities are visual in nature and don’t necessarily subscribe themselves to the plot. An interesting aspect of this whole Incal/Fifth Element issue is that Moebius actually worked as a conceptual artist for Besson on The Fifth Element; so it’s doesn’t really surprise me that Moebius’s style is all over the conceptual part of The Fifth Element. The similarities bothered the folks at Humanoid Press, the company that prints The Incal in Europe, so they sued Luce Besson for supposedly stealing ideas from The Incal for his film. The question is :did Besson deserved to be sued?

Luc Besson directs on the set of The Fifth Element (1995)

Moebius worked as a conceptual artist on some of the best filmmakers. For example, he worked on Willow (1988), Masters of the Universe (1987), Tron (1982), Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland (1989) and The Abyss (1989). He also conceptualized many of the flying cars, buildings and characters seen on The Fifth Element, which is probably why The Incal and The Fifth Element share a few similarities. First time I saw The Fifth Element (1995) in theaters back in 1995 it seemed so new and so fresh to me, I had never seen anything like it before, in fact, I went to see it a record setting five times to the theater! I haven’t done that for a film in a while, my limit nowadays is three times if I really love a movie. It was only years later, after I started reading Moebius’s work that I learned about what an influential artist he was and about how the reason why I loved The Fifth Element so much was because it was partially conceptualized by Moebius.

Here’s a list of the similarities:

The novel starts with John DiFool, the protagonist of the story, being thrown from the balcony of a building. On his way down he has to avoid a zillion flying cars as he makes his way down to the grimiest parts of the city, the lower levels. This happens in The Fifth Element when Leeloo jumps from a building also having to avoid a zillion flying vehicles on her way down to the most uninhabitable parts of the city. The architecture in these scenes is extremely similar to certain images from The Incal. But of course, Moebius was the artist behind both projects; it makes sense that they’d have some similarities from a visual standpoint.

In The Incal, the main character is a man called John DiFool. He’s a private detective, but also your typical loser type, hence the play of words on his name. It sounds like John ‘The Fool’. He doesn’t want to be a hero, in fact, he’s an anti-hero. He saves the day anyway, but he is constantly finding a way to avoid responsibility, he seems to only want to live for fun. John Difool likes smoking, drinking and what he refers to as “homeo-whores”. In The Fifth Element the main character is also a loser type, he lives in a dingy little apartment filled with crap, he looks, un-kept. He doesn’t take shit from anybody, but he also doesn’t give a shit. He’s a taxi driver about to lose his job (and his license) because he has way too many parking tickets, yet ends up being the films hero anyways. Korben ends up making out with a god like being, same as John DiFool in The Incal.

In The Incal there’s this black liquid that’s taking over everything which is referred to as "The Great Darkness". It is turning everybody evil. Our hero John DiFool and his friends must battle it in order to save the universe, they all end up battling it together. In The Fifth Element a black planet keeps approaching the earth and if Korben Dallas doesn’t find The Fifth Element and activate it, the black planet will destroy the earth. Korben and his friends end up helping him uncover the powers of The Fifth Element. Also, same as in The Incal, the black evil takes liquid form. It can be seen two times during the film, dripping from the forehead of the films villains.

One of the chapters in The Incal is actually called ‘The Fifth Essence’, this should be enough for anyone to see the influence.

Above, a scene from The Fifth Element (1995) and below a scene from 'Harry Canyon' one of the stories on Heavy Metal (1981)

At the end of the day, I would say that The Fifth Element borrowed a bit from The Incal, but its different enough that it’s not really a rip off; which is probably why Humanoid Press didn’t win the lawsuit. I mean if Vanilla Ice could get away with ripping off Queen's Under Pressure as blatantly as he did, anybody can rip off anything. But then again, that’s the trick of borrowing ideas, you have to change them just enough to make them your own. In fact, if we get down to it, The Fifth Element feels like a dumb as hell movie when compared to the complexities on The Incal. Speaking of rip offs, I’d say that if The Fifth Element ripped off anything it was actually a segment from Heavy Metal (1981) called ‘Harry Canyon’, which plays out note for note exactly the same as The Fifth Element (1995). If you don’t believe me check out my review for it, in which I detail the similarities between both films, or better yet, check out the segment for yourself. So while The Fifth Element blew my mind the first time I saw it in theaters, it was actually a rehash of previously conceived ideas from various films and comics. I’m still waiting for a brave filmmaker to make a film adaptation of The Incal. The one problem that an adaptation like that will confront is that The Incal is just too freaking weird, jam packed with ideas and craziness all the way through. You hardly get a chance to catch your breath when the next crazy adventure begins. The Incal is an onslaught of craziness, but in a real good way. So whoever decides to tackle The Incal's cinematic adaptation will have one huge challenge ahead of them. I hear that Nicolas Windig Refn the director behind Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013) has talked with Jodorowsky about translating the book into a film, the two have created a kinship, so let's hope this project comes to fruition at some point. Jodorowsky and Moebius never spelled things out for us, when you read The Incal, you are not treated like a fool or an idiot. It is expected that you have a brain on you and that you are fully capable of using it! So use it, and immerse your neurons in this one of a kind comic book experience.    

Make it so captain! Nicolas Windig Refn holding a copy of The Incal

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena

Ant-Man’s a superhero character that has always been underestimated because you know, what’s his power? Getting real small? Wow. People think, what, he talks to ants? That’s his power? Which takes me back to when Garrett Morris (who by the way cameos in this film as a Taxi Driver) played Ant-Man in  the fourth season of Saturday Night Live. In that sketch, a bunch of superheroes are gathered in a party and Flash (played by Dan Aykroyd) and Hulk (played by John Belushi) are giving Ant-Man a rough time, making fun of his super powers. The Hulk looks at Ant-Mans ass and asks “where you got your ants?” and The Flash is like “Hey Hulk, check this guy out, he has human strength!” And that was the 70’s! Today people feel the same, like Ant-Man is not one of the big heroes. Ever since an Ant-Man movie was announced, I myself thought it wouldn’t be a huge hit because when compared to the big superheroes like Thor or Iron Man, well, Ant-Man’s “small potatoes”. And so I kept thinking, this is going to be the first Marvel Studios movie to flop; I know I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. Most film critics and movies buffs thought the same; our collective expectations for an Ant-Man movie were low all around. Plus, Ant-Man isn’t a a new character (he's been around since the 60's) but he's not household name like Spider-man or Superman, this guy is really new to the masses. So it’s to be expected that the level of excitement surrounding the Ant-Man movie was nowhere near as high as other Marvel movies. Hell, I was already branding it a future flop! It goes without saying that Marvel Studios had a huge task in their hands to try and convince us that this movie was just as valid and entertaining as previous Marvel films. So, was it? Is Ant-Man one of the good ones? Is it a worthy addition to the already awesome Marvel Studios cinematic roster?

Movies about miniaturization have been around for quite a while, here’s a couple of them: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Fantastic Voyage (1966),  The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), Innerspace (1987) and Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) all of these deal with people who are shrunk to microscopic size. They all have one thing in common, the effects work involved building props and sets that made humans look small and the creative use of foreground and background imagery; all done to create the illusion of a human that’s microscopic in size. Other films that played with these types of special effects were Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), The Gnome Mobile (1967) and The Borrowers (1997). Ant-Man has the advantage of modern day computer effects which gives the movie an upper hand that previous movies with this theme never had. In other words, the effects work on this movie is top notch and surpasses anything that had ever been done in these types of movies before. Camera angles take us into the smallest places imaginable. Ever been sucked into the inside of a vacuum cleaner? Well, now you’ll know what that feels like. You ever wanted to know what it feels like to be inside of an anthill? Look no further, Ant-Man takes us there! This is something I really enjoyed, the concept that we are seeing things we will probably never get to see. This is the films most innovative angle, its strongest attribute. Ant-Man isn’t about gigantic black holes opening up in the middle of New York City, nope, this one goes the opposite way, to the microverse, the idea of “worlds within worlds”.

Ant-Man takes a cue from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) in the sense that it’s lighthearted, entertaining and fast paced. The dialog is often times funny as are the situations. The addition of Michael Pena to the cast was a good choice, he offers up some of the funniest moments in the movie. Ant-Man also has heart and soul, because it’s all about a dad wanting to prove his worth to his daughter. You see, this is the story of Scott Lang, a burglar who’s just gotten out of prison and now that he is finally out, he wants to do good. He wants to be the good guy for this daughter; he wants to finally take the reins of fatherhood. But it isn’t easy when you’re an ex-con and not even Baskin Robbins will give you a job. So of course, stealing shit is the only option Scott has, or is it? Basically this is a story about Scott Lang’s redemption, which he gets a shot at thanks to Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man who wants to give Scott a second chance at life by passing the Ant-Man torch over to him.  Will he prove to be a worthy successor to the Ant-Man legacy? Will he ever regain his daughters respect?

So it was the idea that this was “just” a movie about a guy who gets really small and controls ants that made me think this movie was going to be so-so, yet what surprised me the most about Ant-Man is how far they took the concept of miniaturization. They really do play a lot with the idea, they even went with the idea of enlarging things which was awesome, and it really presented us with some unexpected concepts. For example, how far can you miniaturize a person? What happens when you reach a sub-atomic level? What happens when you get smaller than an atom and beyond? This took the film into surreal territory, in fact, I felt like I was truly going into the unknown. In some ways it reminded me of movies dealing with Black Holes, where the big mystery is what happens after we actually go into the black hole. Disney’s own The Black Hole (1979) played with traveling into the unknow. In that film, when they go into the black hole the film suddenly turns into a surreal, dreamlike nightmare! Ant-man has moments such as these, in fact, in the theater I was in, somebody said “that’s fucking weeeeiiiirrrd!” during said scenes. I felt pretty much the same way, which was awesome; it’s not every day that a film can actually amaze you with its concepts. So yeah, conceptually speaking, Ant-Man is a winner.

The film has a few surprises up its sleeves so keep your eyes peeled. I like how they introduce us to the idea of Ant-Man becoming one of the Avengers because if we get down to it, Ant-Man was actually in the very first original line up of the avengers, way back in Avengers #1 (1963) so it makes perfect sense that they are so obviously lining the character up for greatness on a future Avengers film. Actually, one of the after credits sequences (of which there are two) connects Ant-Man directly with Captain American: Civil War (2016). I love how they are mixing all these characters and films; it really does feel as if they are part of one cohesive universe. But I see what Disney/Marvel is doing here. They want to make a really kick ass first movie (which in my opinion they’ve pulled off) so you’ll have no problem in accepting Ant-Man as a future member of The Avengers. Paul Rudd did a fantastic job as Ant-Man, he is the perfect fit for the character, he plays the everyman to perfection. Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd have great chemistry together. Kudos to Michael Douglas for finally playing likable characters, for a while, all Douglas ever played was assholes. Here he plays the very likable Dr. Hank Pym. Evangeline Lilly rounds things up rather nicely, I have a feeling we will be seeing a whole lot more of her in future films. I’m looking forward to seeing this new chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe develop further, but for now, don’t underestimate Ant-Man, it’s a kick ass, fun ride every step of the way.

Rating: 5 out of 5 

Dan Aykroyd (left) and Garrett Morris (right) making fun of superheroes on SNL


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