“PUSH” (2009) Review

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“PUSH” (2009) Review

When I first saw the 2009 science-fiction thriller, “PUSH”, I had assumed that it was based upon some novel, comic book series or graphic novel. Several years passed before I discovered that the movie’s plot was actually the brainchild of the screenwriter, David Bourla. 

Directed by Paul McGuigan, the movie is about a group of people with psychic abilities, who band together to stop a government agency from using a dangerous drug to enhance the abilities of others like them. The story began with a boy named Nick Gant and his father Jonah, two “Movers” (or telekinetics), who are on the run from Division, the government agency established in 1945 to hunt down and experiment on psychics. Before one of the Division’s operatives, Agent Henry Carver, can catch up with them, Jonah tells Nick that he had received a vision from a “Watcher” (seer) about a young girl that Nick must help in the future in order to take down Division. Jonah helps his son finally escape as Carver arrives and kills him.

Ten years later, Nick is hiding in Hong Kong, as an expatriate. A young girl named Cassie Holmes arrives at his apartment, claiming to be a Watcher. She needs his help in finding a mysterious case that she believes will bring down the Division and lead to the release of her mother (another and more powerful Watcher) from prison. The case that Cassie seeks contains a power boosting drug developed by the Division. Agent Carver has used this drug on several test subjects who have ended up dead. The only subject to survive the drug is a Pusher (telepathic manipulator) named Kira, who was an old love of Nick’s. Kira manages to steal a sample of the drug and place in a case that she had hidden upon her arrival in Hong Kong. Not only are Cassie and Nick looking for the case, but so are members of the Pop family, who have formed a psychic Triad and of course . . . the Division.

I could go into more detail about the movie’s plot, but right now, that is all I am willing to disclose. Overall, I liked the plot. It struck me as a very interesting twist on the whole topic of those with psychic abilities at war with each other. And the movie even featured a surprising twist in the end. I also enjoyed how the movie handled the visual effects. Mark Meddings did an excellent job in supervising those effects that featured the characters’ abilities. And these visual effects were enhanced by Peter Sova’s colorful cinematography. Sova’s photography also enchanced the movie’s views of Hong Kong and other parts of China.

But there were moments when I found the plot a bit convoluted and confusing, despite Dakota Fanning’s voice over. Judging from what I had revealed in the previous episode, one would find my comment confusing. But honestly, there were moments when it seemed that the movie was so caught up in revealing new characters and new psychic abilities that I almost lost track of the plot. If I must be brutally honest, Paul McGuigan’s uneven direction did not help. I had no problems with McGuigan’s handling of some of the action sequences – especially the prologue sequence featuring Nick and his father, Kira’s escape from two Division agents, and Nick’s encounters with Carver and the latter’s henchman, Victor Budarin. But his non-action sequences – especially in the movie’s second half – tend to drag. Sometimes, the cast manages to rise above his lethargic direction and sometimes, they cannot.

I had no problems with the cast. Chris Evans made a first-rate leading man. He also did a great job in developing his character from the embittered and self-involved young man hiding from authorities, to a more strong-will character willing to toe the line for others. Evans had two leading ladies – Dakota Fanning and Camilla Belle. I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with Belle. Fanning, on the other hand, gave a very spirited and skillful performance as the strong-willed and sardonic Cassie, who seemed more than determined to bring down the Division and help her mother. More importantly, both she and Evans had a very strong screen presence . . . which did not bode well for Belle. There are times when I find myself wondering if Djimon Hounsou is underrated as an actor. His performance as villain, Agent Henry Carver, is one of the best aspects of this movie. Hounsou can do ambiguity like nobody’s business and more importantly, his Carver is not some mustache twirling villain or one-note block of ice. The movie also featured excellent performances from a supporting cast that featured Joel Gretsch, Ming-Na Wen, Nate Mooney, Corey Stoll, Scott Michael Campbell, Maggie Sif, Kwan Fung Chi and Jacky Heung. I have to give special kudos to Cliff Curtis’ charming and colorful portrayal of a former Division agent named Hook Waters and Xiao Lu Li as the sly and malevolent Pop Girl, a Watcher for the Pop Triad.

Overall, I have mixed feelings for “PUSH”. It featured a pretty interesting premise, thanks to David Bourla’s screenplay. The movie also featured some first-class visual effects supervised by Mark Meddings. Unfortunately, Paul McGuigan’s direction struck me as slightly uneven. If it were not for the screenplay, the visual effects and excellent performances from the likes of Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning and Djimon Hounsou; this movie would have sank to the ground . . . at least for me.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

 

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

One of the more popular story lines to emerge from Marvel Comics was the 2006 story called “Civil War” in which many comic book characters from the company’s franchise battled over a new law designed to have superpowered individuals act under Federal regulation. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Films decided to adapt this story line for the final film in their Captain America trilogy.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” features some differences from the Marvel Comics comic series. The latter featured the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force those with superhuman abilities to register with the U.S. government . . . even at the expense of their secret identies. All those with special abilities – via magic, science, extra-terrestrials and even gods – would be forced to register. The 2016 movie featured the Sokovia Accords, a set of internationally ratified legal documents that provide regulation and frame-working for the military/law enforcement deployment of enhanced individuals, particularly the Avengers. To be honest, the difference between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords strikes me as rather minimal.

However, the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” began with a flashback to 1991 when a mysterious assassin intercepts an automobile on an isolated road, carrying a case of super-soldier serum. The plot jumped some twenty-five years later to Lagos, Nigeria; where a team of Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers aka Captain America stop a HYDRA team led by Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. When Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Steve; Wanda Maximoff aka tries to displace the blast into the sky with telekinesis. Unfortunately, the blast destroys a nearby building, killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers. Because of the Lagos incident, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish a U.N. panel to oversee and control the team.

Some members of the Avengers support the Accords and decide to follow Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who continues to feel guilt over his creation of the A.I. Ultron and the latter’s destruction of Sokovia. Others decide to follow Steve, who remains suspicious of the governments’ use of enhanced individuals. But when a bombing disrupts a conference in Vienna where the Accords were to be ratified and kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, security footage indicates that the bomber is James “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, whom T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa aka Black Panther, vows to kill. Steve, who has been searching for Bucky since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., becomes determined to find Bucky first before anyone else can harm him and find out what really happened in Vienna. The search for Bucky manifests into another story line when the latter and Steve begin to suspect that someone from HYDRA might behind

I must admit that when I first learned that the third Captain America movie would be an adaptation of Marvel’s “Civil War”, I was not happy. I felt certain that the movie would be more of an Avengers tale than another Captain America movie that would round off the character’s trilogy. But I had decided to put aside such fears and see the movie. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had a great deal to offer. Exciting action sequences, plenty of travel, drama, thought provoking issues and especially some first-rate acting.

One aspect of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that really caught my attention were the issues presented in this story. And the issues in this story seemed to focus on guilt and responsibilities. This especially seemed to be the case for the Avengers in the wake of what happened in Sokovia and Lagos. Although Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, and especially Wanda feel guilty for what happened in Lagos; they would prefer to deal with the consequences on their own rather than allow the government to take control of their lives as Avengers. Tony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, Vision and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow seemed to feel that the best course to deal with the consequences of the group’s actions is to allow the government to control their actions. What is interesting is that while various governments and especially Thaddeus Ross want the Avengers to pay a high price for what happened in Sokovia and Lagos, Ross refuses to acknowledge guilt or pay the consequences for the battle in Harlem between Bruce Banner aka the Hulk and Emil Blonsky aka Abomination in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Someone had pointed out how friends found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict. I saw this theme played out with Natasha, who found herself opposing Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam and Steve – three men with whom she had formed close friendships. This theme also played out with Wanda’s growing friendship with Vision, when the pair of them took opposing sides on the Accords issue.

The past seemed to weigh heavily in this movie, as well. The ghost of Steve’s past – in the form of one “Bucky” Barnes manifests on the heels of the Vienna bombing. Another ghost from Steve’s past manifested in the form of Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom he had first met in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Both Steve and Sam were surprised to discover that Sharon was the great-niece of his former love, Peggy Carter. One could say the same for Bucky, whose past as the brainwashed Winter Soldier is not only used to frame him for the Vienna bombing, but also manifests in the discovery of Howard and Maria Stark’s fates. And while I found this revelation rather interesting, I did not find it particularly surprising, after the events of “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. In fact, many fans of the franchise did not seem surprised. Tony’s ghosts from the past also formed a cloud above this story. His and Bruce’s creation of Ultron not only led to Sokovia’s destruction, but also to his support of the Sokovia Accords. More importantly, Sokovia’s destruction led a colonel from an elite Sokovian commando unit named Helmut Zemo to seek revenge for the deaths of his family during the battle against Ultron. And the newly ascended King T’Challa struggled to deal with his father’s death, as he sought to kill Bucky for the death of his father King T’Chaka during the Vienna bombing.

But “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” is foremost an action film. And the movie featured some first-rate action sequences. Many film critics and moviegoers have been talking about the battle between the two Avengers factions at a Berlin airport. And yes, I found it impressive . . . somewhat. My favorite moment occurred when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man transformed himself into a giant, taking everyone by surprise. But if I must be honest, the airport sequence is not my favorite action scene in the movie. One of my favorites proved to be the chase sequence in Berlin in which the police, Steve, Sam and T’Challa pursued a fleeing Bucky. Another favorite turned out to be the movie’s first action sequence in which Steve’s Avenger team battled against Rumlow and his HYDRA team in Lagos.

The movie also featured some excellent acting. To be honest, I cannot think of a bad performance in this film. Once again, Chris Evans stepped up to the plate and provided another first-rate performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. For once, his Steve proved to be a more reflective man, who had learned to control his quick temper (until near the end of the film). I can also say the same for Robert Downey Jr., who gave another excellent performance as Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who desperately tried to get Steve and Sam to cooperate with the government and sign the Accords. Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon proved to be a little more emotional and satisfying, as his character openly expressed contempt toward the Sokovia Accords and minor distrust toward Bucky Barnes’ re-appearance in Steve’s life. Sebastian Stan continued his excellent performance as Bucky Barnes, now a desperate man trying to keep both his memories and his life intact. Don Cheadle’s performance throughout most of the movie struck me as solid. But I must admit that he really stepped up his game and gave a very poignant performance in his last scene in which he and Tony discuss the near tragic circumstances of the Berlin airport fight. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany clicked on screen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Wanda becomes aware that Vision has been trying to prevent her from leaving the Avengers’ headquarters.

Chadwick Boseman made a very impressive debut as T’Challa aka Black Panther. Boseman did an excellent job in portraying T’Challa’s barely controlled anger over his father’s death and his obsession in exacting revenge. Eight years after “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, William Hurt repeated his role as Bruce Banner’s main adversary, Thaddeus Ross, who has become the U.S. Secretary of Defense and main supporter of the Sokovia Accords. And he was a lot more subtle and scary in this film than he was in the 2008 movie. Daniel Brühl gave a very subtle, yet intense performance as Helmut Zemo, the former Sokovian commando who wanted revenge against the Avengers for the deaths of his family. Alfre Woodard gave a very sublte, yet emotional performance as a woman who had confronted Tony about the death of her son in Sokovia. The movie also featured some solid performances from Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo.

Despite my admiration for the movie’s cast, the action sequences and some of the issues raised in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I had a major problem with it. In fact, I had several problems with it. First of all, the whole idea behind the Sokovia Accords really made no sense to me. I could say that this whole matter began because several Wakandan civilians were killed, when Steve and Wanda were trying to stop Rumlow from harming others through self-detonation. But it really began with the Chitauri invasion of New York in “THE AVENGERS”. Then came the fallout from the destruction of the HYDRA sponsored helicarriers in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, along with Iron Man and the Hulk’s battle in South Africa and the destruction of Sokovia in “AGE OF ULTRON” and finally, the Lagos incident in this film. For some reason, people like Thaddeus Ross want to solely blame the Avengers for the civilian fallout and not the villains. In the case of the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”, Tony, Bruce and Wanda were to blame. And Wanda . . . was not an Avenger at the time. What I could not understand is that neither Steve, Sam or anyone else who supported them had bothered to point this out. In fact, no one had bothered to point out Ross’ own involvement in the Hulk v. Abomination battle that nearly destroyed Harlem in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. You know . . . like Tony and Natasha?

Even if the Avengers had found themselves under government control, the possibility that innocent civilians might get hurt would always be possible. Not even the Avengers or any other costumed hero/heroine can save everyone. Yet, no bothered to point this out. I also noticed that Thaddeus Ross failed to mention the Hulk v. Abomination battle in Harlem. This is understandable, considering he was partially to blame for what happened. But why did no one pointed this out? And could someone please explain why the Accords were named after the Sokovia incident, instead of the incident in Lagos, which had kick-started the international community’s decision to create them in the first place? Martin Freeman portrayed a character from the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, who helped Ross regulate the Avengers. The problem is that . . . he really did nothing in this movie, except show up and then sneer, first at Bucky and later, at the movie’s villain. Frankly, I found his appearance in this movie a complete waste of time. Speaking of waste . . . Frank Grillo, who had skillfully portrayed Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, reprised his character for this movie. And guess what happened to him? The poor schmuck was bumped off via a suicide bombing some twenty to thirty minutes into the film. Am I to believe that Rumlow, a major character in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, had been reduced to a cameo, a plot device for the Lagos sequence . . . and nothing else? I guess so. In the end, Marvel ended up wasted Grillo’s time, just as they had wasted Thomas Kretschmann’s time in “AGE OF ULTRON”. And what were the German special forces, the GSG 9 doing in Bucharest, Romania? Bucharest was Bucky Barnes’ home at the time. And it was at his apartment where the GSG 9 tried to arrest him. What were they doing in a foreign country, trying to arrest an American citizen for a terrorist attack (the Accords conference) that happened in another foreign country – namely Austria. What on earth was the GSG 9 doing there?

I also had a problem with Tony Stark’s discovery that Bucky Barnes was the HYDRA assassin who had killed his parents. This discovery led Tony to try to kill Bucky, and Steve to come to his best friend’s defense. Two years earlier, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury had released top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet, during the battle at the Triskelion in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Through these files, Helmut Zemo discovered that Bucky was a brainwashed assassin used by HYDRA to kill Howard and Maria Stark back in 1991. If Zemo had been able to gain access to those files, why did Tony or any Stark Enterprises employee failed to do so? Why did he not make any attempt to access the files? A man, whose own father had been one of the co-founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a former enemy of HYDRA’s? Considering Tony’s nature, I find it difficult to believe that he never bothered to make the attempt. I have a deep suspicion that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may have deliberately ignored this issue so they would have an excuse for Tony to suddenly react to Zemo’s revelation. How sloppy . . . and manipulative.

And then there is the problem of Robert Downey Jr. The actor was first cast in “CIVIL WAR” in a supporting role. However, the actor refused to do the movie, unless he was made a co-star. And Marvel gave in to his demands, because they so desperately wanted him in another Marvel film. Why did they allow Downey Jr., who portrayed Iron Man, to become a co-star in a Captain America movie? The name in the movie’s title is Captain America. I do not recall the name of Iron Man being in the title. So, why did Kevin Fiege and Marvel allow Downey Jr. to hijack half of Chris Evans’ third solo film? Especially since Evans was the lead in one of Marvel’s biggest hits – both financially and critically. Why did a Captain America movie end up giving as much attention to Tony’s character arc as it did to Steve’s? Tony’s character arc had more screen time than Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson, who had stronger emotional connections to Steve than Tony. Why did the movie’s screenplay featured a five-to-ten minute scene in which Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker aka Spider-Man for his team and did not bother to show how Steve recruited Clint Barton and Scott Lang? In a Captain America movie?

You know, Marvel could have saved the Civil War story line for an Avengers film and wrapped up Steve’s connection to HYDRA in this film. This movie could have focused upon Steve’s efforts to help Bucky and put HYDRA behind him for good. The movie “ANT-MAN” featured former S.H.I.E.L.D. official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson alive and well at the end, with a sample of Darren Cross’ Yellow Jacket serum in his possession. They could have tied this up with the Winter Soldier program . . . or create another plot featuring HYDRA. The narrative for “CIVIL WAR” could have focused on the Winter Soldier program, allowed Helmut Zemo to remain a HYDRA agent, allowed Steve’s friendships with both Sam and Bucky to become more complex and allowed his relationship with Sharon Carter to develop at a decent pace. Instead, Fiege and Marvel decided to (temporarily?) end the HYDRA story arc with former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson and ATCU director Glenn Talbot blowing up HYDRA bases . . . off screen in an “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode called (3.18) “Singularity”. I found this so unsatisfying. And since Marvel and Fiege decided that this third Captain America movie should be more about the Sokovia Accords, this left Sam and Bucky engaged in a long and rather stupid running joke regarding their mutual competition for Steve’s friendship. The latter’s romance with Sharon proved to be very rushed. And instead of admitting this, some fans are blaming actress Emily VanCamp and the Sharon Carter character, instead of the movie’s screenwriters and producers. They have also began promoting the idea of Steve becoming bisexual and beginning a romance with Bucky (and not Sam, whom I suspect was not white enough for them). And I am not the only one who has noticed that Zemo’s motivation for revenge against the Avengers bore a strong resemblance to the Maximoff twins’ hostility toward Tony Stark in “AGE OF ULTRON”?

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” featured some excellent acting by a cast led by Chris Evans, some interesting issues on whether government intervention is a good thing or not, and some great action sequences, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. But for me, “CIVIL WAR” turned out to be nothing more than an Avengers movie shoved into a Captain America flick. And in the end, I found this rather unsatisfying and schizophrenic.

Favorite Movie Villains of 2015

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The year 2015 was filled with some very memorable screen villains.  I am certain that many have their own opinions of what constituted their favorite villains. Well … I have mine. Below is that list of my favorite movie villains from 2015:



FAVORITE MOVIE VILLAINS OF 2015 

 

 

1. Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) – I have to say it. Samuel Jackson has created some very memorable characters throughout his career – both heroic and villainous. But his portrayal of high tech tycoon, Richmond Valentine, has to be very high on the list. Not only was his goal – to decimate the majority of mankind in order to save the Earth – diabolical, but his lisp and aversion to violence made his character extremely memorable. Extremely.

 

 

2. Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket (“Ant-Man”) – It is a pity that Marvel Studios seemed incapable of maintaining its gallery of villains. One of the best Marvel villains I have come across in quite a while was Corey Stoll’s interpretation of Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, scientist and CEO of Hank Pym’s company. Stoll’s Cross projected daddy issues with a style that rivaled Loki from the THOR movies, thanks to the actor’s performance.

 

 

3. Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) – Elizabeth Debicki gave a deliciously entertaining, yet subtle performance as the cool and cruel Victoria Vinciguerra, the leader of a neo-fascist criminal organization and co-owner of a shipping company, who harbored plans to build a nuclear weapon for her own personal use.

 

 

4. Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II”) – For the fourth time, Donald Sutherland did an excellent in creeping out movie audiences as the cruel and manipulative leader of Panem, as his character resorts to extraordinary methods to put down a rebellion.

 

 

5. Haley Joel Osment as Travis McCerdle (“Entourage: the Movie”) – I never thought in a million years that I would see Haley Joel Osment portray a truly unpleasant character, let alone make this list. But he proved to be the sole gem in an otherwise entertaining, yet mediocre film as the son of a Texas billionaire, who is given authority to oversee his father’s investment in Ari Gold’s film. Osment’s performance struck me as so spot-on that he almost resembled a living embodiment of excrement. He has come a long way.

 

 

6. James Spader as Ultron (“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”) – Another Marvel villain bit the dust this year. But before he (or it) did, audiences were treated to a superb voice performance by actor James Spader as the self-aware artificial intelligence bent upon decimating humanity. Not only was Spader’s performance a joy to hear, he had one of the best lines in the movie.

 

 

7. Jennifer Jason-Leigh as Daisy Domergue (“The Hateful Eight”)– In a movie filled with villains, the most memorable for me turned out to be Daisy Domergue, an outlaw being escorted to her execution by ruthless bounty hunter John Ruth. What made Jason-Leigh’s Daisy so memorable was her penchant for sadistic humor, vengeful nature and more importantly her patience. Despite being smacked around throughout most of the movie, the actress superbly conveyed just how ruthless Miss Domergue could actually be.

 

 

8. Hugh Laurie as David Nix (“Tomorrowland”) – Hugh Laurie gave a subtle, yet sardonic performance as David Nix, the mayor of Tomorrowland, who valued technological achievement over scientific originality. Laurie did an excellent job in conveying the character’s paranoia and willingness to resort extreme methods – including murder – in order to maintain the status quo – something he strongly supported. His rant against humanity is a must-see for any moviegoer.

 

 

9. Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II”) – Julianne Moore gave a very subtle performance as the leader of Panem’s District 13 and the rebellion against the Capitol. At first glance, her efforts to free Panem from President Snow’s rule seemed very genuine. But Moore did an excellent job in occasionally conveying Coin’s manipulative and patient personality, along with a penchant for bloodletting that rivaled Snow’s.

 

 

10. Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavros Blofeld (“SPECTRE”) – Christoph Waltz became the fifth actor to portray British agent James Bond’s biggest nemesis, Ernst Stavros Blofeld, head of criminal/terrorist organization SPECTRE. And he gave a memorable performance, project the character’s ruthlessness, intelligence, sadism and … dare I say it … charm? Waltz’s Blofeld made a very charming sadist, only rivaled by Telly Savalas’ portrayal in the late 1960s.

“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

 

“ANT-MAN” (2015) Review

When Marvel Studios first announced that its new movie about the comic book hero, Ant-Man would be the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) second stage, I found myself scratching my head. Why would a solo effort like “ANT-MAN served as the end of Stage Two? Why not the epic “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, which had been released two-and-a-half weeks earlier?

Needless to say, I had no idea what was going through the mind of MCU show runner, Kevin Fiege. So, I sat back and watched how he and the filmmakers for “ANT-MAN” would handle this. And I must say . . . I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. This surprise, along with the actual movie also taught me another lesson about making assumptions. One day, this lesson will remain with me and I will stop making assumptions for good. Hopefully.

As for “ANT-MAN”, the movie created a small controversy when the Marvel and Disney Studio bosses decided to fire British filmmaker Edgar Wright and replace him with Peyton Reed as director. They also dismissed the screenplay that Wright co-wrote with collaborator Joe Cornish and allowed the film’s star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay to re-write the script. A good number of critics and moviegoers believe this move may have harmed “ANT-MAN”. Others are contemplating on how the movie would have turned out if Wright had remained the film’s director. After seeing “ANT-MAN” and recalling that 2007’s “HOT FUZZ” was the only Wright film I have ever truly liked, I realized in the end that I could not care less about how Wright and Cornish would have done the film. Yes, I enjoyed “ANT-MAN” that much.

The movie begins in 1989 when the recently widowed Dr. Hank Pym resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D., after discovering their attempt to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking technology. Believing the technology is dangerous, Dr. Pym refuses to release the technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else. The story jumps twenty-six years later. Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne, and former protégé, Darren Cross, have forced him out of his own company. Cross is close to perfecting a shrinking suit of his own, the Yellowjacket, which horrifies Pym. Fortunately, Hope realizes the danger that Cross’ new invention poses and decides to help her father destroy it.

At the same time, convicted burglar Scott Lang is finally released from moves in with his old cellmate, Luis and the latter’s two friends – Dave and Kurt. After making a surprise visit to his daughter Cassie’s birthday party, Scott is dismissed by his ex-wife Maggie and her police-detective fiancé, Paxton, for not providing child support. Unable to hold a job because of his criminal record, Scott agrees to a burglary job that Lang agrees to a burglary job that Luis has discovered – one that involves breaking into an expensive Victorian manor. Only the house belongs to Hank Pym and the only thing Scott was able to find inside Dr. Pym’s safe is the Ant-Man suit. Scott tries on the suit and accidentally shrinks himself. Terrified by his experience, he tries to return it to the Pym manor and is arrested by the police. However, Dr. Pym pays the jailed Scott a visit and helps the latter break out of jail, using the suit. Then he recruits Scott to help him and Hope pull a heist on Darren Cross’ new Yellowjacket suit before his former protégé can sell the technology to dangerous people.

Following the over-the-top action fest of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”, “ANT-MAN” proved to be something of a respite for me. Not only did the movie proved to be a respite, but also quite enjoyable. But before I go into why I enjoyed the film, I have to point out its shortcomings. The worst thing I can say about “ANT-MAN” is its pacing. There are a few moments in the film in which director Peyton Reed nearly rushed the film. This was especially apparent in the montages that conveyed Scott Lang’s training as Ant-Man at the hands of Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. And I cannot help but wonder why Hope had snitched on Scott to the police . . . a day after he had broke into Dr. Pym’s home and taken the Ant-Man suit. Unless she was unaware of the actual date that Scott had planned to make the original heist. The movie also suffered from two abrupt endings. One ending featured Luis’ revelation that Sam Wilson aka the Falcon was searching for Scott. The other abrupt ending was scene in the movie’s second post-credit scene in which Sam revealed his discovery of the missing Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier to Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

“ANT-MAN” had its usual set of flaws, but I cannot deny that I found it very entertaining. More importantly, I found it to be one of the more unconventional entries in the MCU. On one level, the movie is an origin tale about the comic book figure, Ant-Man. On another level, the movie began with the Ant-Man character already established. This is due to the fact that the movie’s main character, Scott Lang, is the second person to become Ant Man. The superhero’s first origin happened back in the 1970s or 1980s, when Hank Pym assumed the role and his wife, Janet van Dyne became the Wasp. There has never been a Marvel film before in which a second person assumed the role of a particular superhero or superheroine. If one really looked at the movie from a certain perspective, the role of Ant-Man revolved around three people – Scott Lang, Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. “ANT-MAN” told how Scott became the superhero. In the case of Hank and Hope; the movie told how the “hero” affected the lives of both father and daughter. Hank’s role as Ant-Man had eventually led to the death of Janet van Dyne, which affected their relationship. And Scott becoming the new Ant-Man eventually not only led to their emotional reconciliation, but also helped him reconciled with his ex-wife and her fiancé, which allowed him to spend more time with his daughter. Even the villain, Darren Cross, seemed to have some kind of emotional tie to Hank. The latter had not only considered the former as a protégé, but also a son. Yet, Cross’ growing obsession with the Pym Particle and Hank’s refusal to tell him about it, led to resentment on Cross’ part and coldness on Hank’s. I have never come across a Marvel film with that scenario. Come to think of it, I have never come across a Marvel film in which family ties had such a strong impact . . . with the exception of 2003’s “THE HULK” and 2010’s “IRON MAN 2”.

As I had earlier pointed out, “ANT-MAN” is not the usual “superhero/heroine” origin tale, due to the lead character being the second person to assume the role of Ant-Man. The movie is also unusual, due to the fact that it is basically a heist film. Remember that following the death of his wife back in 1987, Hank had concluded that the Pym Particles, which powered the Ant-Man and Wasp suits, was too dangerous to be used . . . by anyone. This is why he had resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place . . . to ensure that the government agency would not develop something similar. Unfortunately for Hank, Cross finally managed to create his own shrinking technology (called Yellowjacket). And this forced Hank to recruit Scott to become the new Ant-Man and steal Darren’s technology. Scott’s past as a professional thief and Master’s Degree in Engineering proved to be two of the main reasons why Hank recruited him in the first place. One last aspect of “ANT-MAN” that made it so unusual for me was the offbeat humor that surrounded the characters of Scott, Luis, Dave and Kurt; along with the film’s bizarre action sequence in the last twenty minutes.

The technical aspects for “ANT-MAN” seemed pretty solid. But there are two aspects of the film that I found very impressive. One aspect focused on the movie’s visual effects created the team led by Allison Gainza. Not only was I impressed by their work in scenes featuring Scott’s interactions with many insects, but also how they shrink and inflate both the Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket characters at will. This was especially apparent in scenes featuring Scott’s encounter with the Falcon at the Avengers facility and his fight against Cross in the film’s final action sequence. Ironically, the visual effects were enhanced by the editing from Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. that made that fight scene so memorable for me. I had never seen such a bizarre action sequence in a Marvel film, since 2013’s “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”.

When “ANT-MAN” was first in the development stage, the producers had two actors up for the role of Scott Lang aka Ant-Man – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Paul Rudd. However, Gordon-Levitt dismissed the matter as a rumor and Rudd became the frontrunner. To be perfectly honest, I would have been satisfied with either actor in the role. But I have to give kudos to Rudd to making Scott Lang a plausible professional thief, but also providing the film’s emotional backbone. More importantly, Rudd did a superb job of combining both his sardonic style of humor with the emotional desperation that drove his character’s actions. I used to believe that the character of Tauriel from “THE HOBBIT” films was actress Evangeline Lilly’s best role. Then I saw her portrayal of Hope van Dyne and completely changed my mind. She was exceptional as Hank Pym’s embittered daughter, who finds herself willing to work with her father and prevent Darren Cross’ plans to sell the Yellowjacket technology. I had read somewhere that Edgar Wright had plans to make Hope a femme fatale character. And while that may have been interesting, I found this new version of Hope equally interesting. Lilly did an exceptional job of expressing Hope’s resentment and anger toward her father, while keeping her feelings barely under control. Rounding off this trio is Michael Douglas, who was excellent as the very complicated Dr. Hank Pym. What I enjoyed about Douglas’ performance is that not only did he manage to effectively portray the role of mentor, but also revealed certain negative traits in Pym’s personality that made him so difficult for both Hope and Cross to deal with.

What can I say about Michael Peña’s portrayal of Scott’s closest friend, Luis? Some have complained that his character is basically a comic stereotype of the Latino-American male. I would agree . . . superficially. However, between the screenplay and Peña’s energetic performance, Luis turned out to be quite an exceptional character who not seemed to be very verbose; but also a lover of fine wine, abstract art and video games. He also proved to be very proficient with his fists. And thanks to Peña’s performance, he nearly stole the show. Come to think of it, Corey Stoll was equally effective as the film’s main villain, Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket. Of all of the wealthy industrialist/scientists (good or bad) that permeate the Marvel Universe, Cross was one of the most interesting and scariest I have seen. And I have to give kudos to Stoll for making Cross both scary and a bit vulnerable at the same time.

The movie also featured first-rate performances from T.I. “Tip” Harris and David Dastmalchian as Scott and Luis’ fellow crew members, Dave and Kurt, who somehow managed to form quite the little screen team by the end of the film. Their discussion of the 1997 movie, “TITANIC” had me rolling on the floor with laughter. “ANT-MAN also featured fine performances from Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, a very funny Wood Harris, and a very charming Abby Ryder Fortson, who portrayed Scott’s daughter Cassie. Rounding out this cast was Martin Donovan, who portrayed a former S.H.I.E.L.D. top official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson. Although his appearance in the movie was not as long as the others, Donovan did a great job in setting up the malevolent Carson as a future threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By the way, Donovan had worked with Paul Rudd in the 2000 movie, “THE GREAT GATSBY”; and with Michael Douglas in the 2006 political thriller, “THE SENTINEL”. To ensure the movie’s tie-in with the MCU, “ANT-MAN” featured cameos from Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), John Slattery (older Howard Stark) in the prologue; and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes). But for me, the real thrill came in the form of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. His surprise appearance, along with that crazy fight scene between his character and the lead proved to be one of the movie’s highlights for me.

“ANT-MAN” is not the type of Marvel film that would strike anyone as mind blowing or epic. And there are those fans who are still castigating it for not being written and directed by Edgar Wright. I personally do not care. I enjoyed the movie very much. Thanks to Peyton Reed’s direction, a great cast led by Paul Rudd and a very unusual screenplay written by Rudd and Adam McKay that featured a strong, offbeat humor; I enjoyed the movie very much. In fact, I would go far as to say that “ANT-MAN” was one of the most unusual Marvel productions I have seen. Probably the most unusual. And that makes it unique for me.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

Top Five Favorite “HOUSE OF CARDS” Season One (2013) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Netflix’s series, “HOUSE OF CARDS”, a remake of the 1994 BBC miniseries that was based upon Michael Dobbs’ 1989 novel. Produced and developed by Beau Willimon, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. 

 

“TOP FIVE FAVORITE “HOUSE OF CARDS” SEASON ONE (2013) Episodes

Chapter 5

1. “Chapter Five” – Congressman Frank Underwood’s feud against a union over the Education Bill threatens his wife Claire’s charity gala and her own ambitions. And journalist Zoe Barnes mixes work with play.

Chapter 11

2. “Chapter Eleven” – Angry at Frank, Claire reconnects with former flame, photojournalist Adam Galloway. And when junior Congressman Peter Russo wrestles with his personal demons and considers confessing his and Frank’s sins, the latters decides that he has become a liability that needs to be eliminated.

Chapter 2

3. “Chapter Two” – Utilizing Zoe’s help, Frank plants a story that loosely ties Michael Kern, the President’s pick for Secretary of State, to an anti-Israel editorial that appeared in the college newspaper Kern edited.

Chapter 6

4. “Chapter Six” – Frank strikes back at the striking teachers by undermining the credibility of the teachers’ union representative, Martin Spinella. Claire is caught off guard by a deathbed confession from one of Frank’s personal bodyguards.

Chapter 13

5. “Chapter Thirteen” – Frank accepts the recently vacated Vice-President post from the President. Claire learns that she is being sued for wrongful termination by a former employee. And Zoe becomes increasingly aware of Frank’s plots in this season finale.

“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” (2012) Review

Following the success of the 2007 movie, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, Universal Pictures announced its intentions to release a fourth movie featuring the amnesiac CIA assassin, Jason Bourne. However, their plans nearly folded when actor Matt Damon announced that he would not do a fourth movie.

Damon’s announcement failed to put a final kibosh on Universal’s plans. Instead, the studio and writer-director Tony Gilroy went ahead with another movie about the CIA assassination programs in which Jason Bourne had participated. Instead of bringing back director Paul Greengrass, Universal and Gilroy (who had written the first three movies) hired Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner to portray a second CIA assassin – Aaron Cross. With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the results led to the fourth movie called “THE BOURNE LEGACY”.

The movie’s title came from Eric Van Lustbader’s 2004 novel, but its plot is completely different. “THE BOURNE LEGACY” introduced a third black ops program called Operation Outcome. Unlike Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome was specifically created by the U.S. Department of Defense and it enhances the physical and mental abilities of field operatives through pills referred to as “chems”. The movie opens with one of its operatives – Aaron Cross – engaged in a training assignment in Alaska. After Cross traverses rugged terrain to a remote cabin, he meets its operator, an exiled Outcome operative, Number Three.

During Cross’ time in Alaska, the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs are publicly being exposed (during the events of the previous film, “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”), leading the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen, Treadstone clinical researcher Dr. Albert Hirsch and CIA Director Ezra Kramer. Kramer requests help from Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations. Byer, who had originally recruited Cross, discovers potentially damaging video on the Internet in which the lead researchers for Treadstone and Outcome – especially Hirsch – appear at professional functions in public. To prevent the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation from finding and revealing Outcome’s top-secret scientific advances, Byer decides to end Outcome and kill its agents and medical personnel. He sees this sacrifice as acceptable because the government has already separately initiated next-generation “beta programs”.

Byer attempts to kill both Cross and Number Three by sending a drone bomb to destroy the cabin. Number Three is killed and Cross manages to survive, due to being outside when the bomb dropped. Byer makes another attempt to kill Cross with a second drone and unbeknownst to him, ends up killing a wolf pack. Cross learns of a massacre at Outcome’s private research lab, conducted by a chemically brainwashed scientist. The sole survivor is geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing, whom Cross later saves from CIA assassins. He hopes that Dr. Shearing can help him wean or “viral” off the chemicals and at the same time, save both of them from being killed by Byer and the Department of Defense.

When Universal first leaked news of a fourth movie with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, I did not exactly embrace the idea. As far as I was concerned, three was enough. When Damon announced that he would not reprise the Bourne role, I felt a surge of relief. As much as I had enjoyed the third BOURNE movie, I felt it was a bit of a comedown after the first two movies. Then I heard news that Universal and Tony Gilroy was going ahead with a fourth movie . . . without Damon. Again, I dismissed the idea of going to see this new BOURNE movie, until I learned that Jeremy Renner had been cast in the lead. Since I am a fan of Renner’s, I decided to go see this fourth film. However, I did not believe I would enjoy it as much as the first three.

Like the previous three movies, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” is not perfect. One, I never understood the need for Tony Gilroy to create a third black ops program for the franchise. Considering that Treadstone and the current Blackbriar programs were in danger of exposure by the end of “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”, I was surprised that Gilroy did not simply make Cross a Blackbriar operative. In other words, I found the addition of a third black ops program rather irrelevant. Unfortunately, the movie also featured the continuing presence of CIA Director Ezra Kramer. His presence in the third movie struck me as writing blooper on Gilroy’s part. His presence in this fourth movie is a continuation of that blooper. For some reason, Gilroy decided to utilize Paul Greengrass’ shaky cam style of filming . . . much to my annoyance. My biggest problem with “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was the ending. I found it vague, rather sudden and anti-climatic. When the movie ended with Cross and Dr. Shearing somewhere in the South China Seas and Pamela Lundy in trouble with Federal authorities for revealing the details of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, the first words that left my mouth were “Is that it?”. As far as I was concerned, the BOURNE franchise required a fifth movie to tie up the loose plots.

Despite the ending, despite the continuing presence of Ezra Kramer and despite the Greengrass filming and editing style; I enjoyed “THE BOURNE LEGACY” very much. Who am I kidding? I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I would rank it second of the four movies. I feel that Gilroy did a slightly better job of meshing the plot from “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” with this film, than meshing the third film with the second one, “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. A throwaway discussion between Kramer and Noah Vosen regarding Pamela Lundy in the third film finally came to fruition by the end of this movie. The movie also explored – during most of its 135 minutes – Cross’ difficulties in dealing with his dependency upon the “chems”. Like the other three movies in the franchise, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” featured some first-rate action sequences. My favorites include Cross’ use of the wolf pack to distract the second drone bomb from himself, the massacre at the Operation Outcome lab that featured a chilling performance by Željko Ivanek, and the long chase sequence in Manila, the Philippines. But my favorite sequence featured Cross’ rescue of Dr. Shearing from the CIA assassins.

The best thing that Tony Gilroy ever did for this movie was to avoid making Aaron Cross into a Jason Bourne 2.0. He did this by creating Cross as a completely personality – verbose, more extroverted and an acute judge of character. But what really made Cross worked as a character was Jeremy Renner’s performance. Some critic once said that what was the point in watching a BOURNE movie without Matt Damon. Well, the first BOURNE production I ever saw was the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. And he was great. I also enjoyed Damon as Bourne, but . . . honestly? I did not really miss him, due to Renner’s performance.

The movie also benefited from Rachel Weisz’s excellent performance as Operation Outcome medical researcher, Dr. Marta Shearing. Weisz’s Shearing was a quiet, intense personality, whose ordered life was thrown upside down by her brainwashed colleague and later, the CIA. Weisz was exceptional in the scene featuring the CIA assassins’ murder attempt on her. More importantly, the actress and Renner proved to have a superb and somewhat humorous screen chemistry. Another excellent performance came from Edward Norton, who portrayed the ex-Air Force colonel Eric Byer. What I liked about Norton’s performance was that he portrayed Byer without the occasional frantic behavior that marked David Strathairn or Chris Cooper’s performances. Stacy Keach, whom I have not seen in several years, portrayed a high ranking Federal official named Mark Turso. I cannot recall ever seeing him in a villainous role (at least not to my knowledge), but I must admit that I found his performance very impressive. Oscar Isaac, whom I last saw in “W.E.” and “ROBIN HOOD”, gave an effective and subtle performance as the other Outcome agent, Number Three. It was nice to see Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney again. But they were not on the screen long enough for me to judge their performances.

Like I had earlier stated, “THE BOURNE LEGACY” was not perfect. But I did enjoy it very much. And I am happy to announce that Universal has recently decided to green light a fifth film with Jeremy Renner reprising his role as Aaron Cross. His performance, along with Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast, made this movie very enjoyable for me, along with a script that I believe was slightly better than the first and third movies. I only hope that the fifth movie will prove to be just as entertaining.