Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted

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2004

BadAzz MoFo

Written, Directed and Produced by David F. Walker

We live in a time where people are in absolute terror of being labeled or having labels put on anything. Especially creative folk. Ask a writer what she writes and she may very well look at you as if you’re something that dropped from the south end of a northbound horse while replying; “I refuse to put a label on my work.” Ask a musician what type of music he plays and he looks at you like you tried to shank his momma as he answers; “I don’t like to put a label on my work. Labels are limiting.”

Now, you may ask what does that have to do with my reviewing the highly entertaining and informative Blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It was a thought that occurred to me while watching the movie’s various interviews with the icons of Blaxploitation: Ron O’Neal. Jim Brown. The late great Jim Kelly and William Marshall. Gloria Hendry. Fred Williamson. Antonio Fargas. Robert Hooks. Rudy Ray Moore. Glynn Turman. The question is put to each of them what is Blaxploitation and each and every one had a different interpretation of what the Blaxploitation genre meant to them on a personal and professional level. Maybe the problem with labels is not the label itself but that people can never agree on one solid definition of what the label means?

Yeah, my brain ran to thoughts such as that while watching the movie and that’s a good thing because I enjoy watching a movie that makes me think. Especially when it’s about a subject I love such as Blaxploitation. That period of American Cinema isn’t just history for me. It’s very much an alive and vital genre as I vividly recall seeing most Blaxploitation movie double and triple features on Manhattan’s infamous 42end street during the decade Blaxploitation dominated movie theaters. (Roughly 1970 to 1979) And it’s a genre that still has a massive influence on my writing.

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MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED runs only 92 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that relatively short running time. But writer/director David  F. Walker through his interviews manages to give us a fairly comprehensive overview of the psychological, financial and artistic aspects of the genre. And it’s an overview given by the men and women who were actually there and working during that time. And they speak quite frankly and honestly about how it was and what was going on. There are some truly eye-opening moments in those interviews such as when Jim Brown and Fred Williamson break it down financially exactly why Hollywood needs black actors far more than the black actors need Hollywood. Or when Jim Kelly talks about how Hollywood studios gladly sacrifice truckloads of money just as long as they can continue to promote the image of blacks that they want to promote.

I’ll occasionally have discussions with young black fans of films that are very dismissive and even disgusted with Blaxploitation. They see it as not being very far removed from the mammies and coons and minstrels of earlier Hollywood years. This documentary is made for them. It’s impossible to seriously study Blaxploitation and not also study how the genre related to the racial/political climate in America at that time. One is bound up in the other and if you explore one then you begin to understand the other.

And then when you throw in the dynamic that in the late 1960s Hollywood was dying as an industry and Blaxploitation saved it…well, that’s another whole bag of chips we done opened that we got to chew on if we’re gonna talk about the subject honestly. Sure, many of the images in those movies were hideously negative but some were uplifting and positive as well. Blaxploitation was just as much about empowerment and control as it was about making a profit and entertaining working folks on a Friday or Saturday night.

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But I’m not here to make the movie’s case. It does that very well on its own. My only job is to recommend it to you and I do so very highly. MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED can be seen uncut, in its entirety and for free on Vimeo. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation or don’t know a thing about it, either way you’ll enjoy yourself. Peace.

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Mr. Holmes

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2015

AI Film/BBC Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Archer Gray productions/See-Saw Films/Miramax/Roadside Attractions

Directed by Bill Condon

Produced by Anne Carey/Iain Canning/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin

Sherlock Holmes is a character that reminds me of Batman in a lot of ways and not just because they’re both extraordinary detectives. Like Batman, Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and on television in variety of settings and styles. There have been comedy versions of Holmes; my favorite being 1988’s “Without A Clue” in which it’s actually Dr. Watson (played by Ben Kingsley) who is a genius detective and hires a bumbling, alcoholic actor (Michael Caine) to play the role of Sherlock Holmes in public. Contemporary versions set in modern day starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The animated series “Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century” where Holmes is brought back to life via cellular regeneration and resumes his career aided by a robot Dr. Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade of New Scotland Yard. And there’s what I like to call the “Lethal Weapon” version of Sherlock Homes which stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. It’s a version that’s less concerned with straight-up deduction and more with martial arts, gunplay and pyrotechnics.

And that’s only a very few of the many ways Sherlock Holmes has been interpreted in film. But to my knowledge, MR. HOLMES is the only movie which deals with and portrays Holmes as an old man suffering from senility and having a hard time dealing with losing his most precious and valued asset: his intellect.

At the age of 93 in 1947 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has long since retired to Sussex to become a beekeeper. Besides his beloved bees, his only companions are his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Due to his deteriorating health and mental condition Holmes has begrudgingly engaged the woman’s services but she knows that what he actually needs is a full-time nurse and is making arraignments to take a position elsewhere.

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This isn’t welcomed by Roger who takes a liking to the old man. And in return, Holmes, impressed by the young man’s intelligence and curiosity, teaches him how to take care of the bees. Holmes is not taking very well to getting old. He is acutely aware that one thing that has defined him his entire life is going away and he has nothing to replace it with. He cannot even remember exactly why he retired but he does have tantalizing memories of his last case and instinctively feels that he must have done something terribly wrong during that case. Watson did write an account of that case but Holmes was never happy with that version and Holmes himself must take up pen to write the story of his last case and hopefully piece together what actually happened. He’s assisted in this by young Roger who in a way almost becomes a new Watson during this final investigation of Sherlock Holmes.

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We get to see Ian McKellen as the Holmes of that last case in flashbacks and it’s the Holmes we all know and love with a mind that makes a barber’s razor look dull. And maybe it’s just me but he looks and sounds like a dead ringer for the late Sir John Gielgud in some of those flashback scenes. Holmes is retained by a man names Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) who believes that his wife (Hattie Morahan) has become mentally unbalanced after suffering two miscarriages and believes she is communicating with the spirits of her miscarried children. Kelton thinks his wife has fallen under the influence of a fake medium and wants Holmes to confirm his fears.

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We also get a second series of flashbacks to a trip Holmes has just come back from to Japan to meet an admirer of his named Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) who helps Holmes obtain a prickly ash plant that Holmes thinks will help cure his ailing memory. But that isn’t Umezaki’s only reason for wanting to meet Holmes. His father disappeared at around the same time of the Kelmot case and the only clue Umezaki has as to why his father disappeared is a note he wrote to his son placed inside a collected volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and sent to Umezaki when he was a boy.

Is that long ago disappearance of Umezaki connected with the Kelmot case? Why did Dr.Watson hide a perfumed leather woman’s glove inside a secret compartment of his desk? These and other questions are answered but not in the way I expected and it was both surprising and remarkably poignant when the mysteries are at last all solved.

Ian McKellen does a magnificent job as Sherlock Holmes. He’s lost much of his towering arrogance as he is now unsure of his mental state. But he is still recognizably Holmes as in scenes where Roger challenges him to deduce where his mother has been all day and in a tense moment where Holmes has to quickly put together the correct sequence of events of how a terrible accident took place before his beloved bees are destroyed.

Milo Parker holds his own well in his scenes with McKellen and there is something overwhelmingly touching and affectionate as we watch a real and genuine friendship develop between a man at the end of his life and a boy just starting out on his. Laura Linney is the real surprise here as my wife and I didn’t even realize it was her playing Mrs. Munro until we saw her name in the end credits, that’s how well she disappears into her character. The production values, costuming and set designs are rich enough that you’ll swear you’re looking at a Mechant Ivory production, that’s how good they are.

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If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes then my all means, go and see MR. HOLMES. It’s a solidly elegant character study as well as an engaging mystery. And I feel it’s quite fitting that for his final case Sherlock Holmes must investigate and at last solve what has always been a total mystery to him; the nature of his own humanity.

104 Minutes

Rated PG

Fantastic Four

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2015

20th Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment/Constantin Film/Marv Film/TSG Entertainment

Directed by Josh Trank

Produced by Simon Kinberg/Matthew Vaughn/Hutch Parker/Robert Kulzar/Gregory Goodman

Screenplay by Jeremy Slater/Simon Kinberg/Josh Trank

Based on “Fantastic Four” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

At the end of the day I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR, which looks destined to go down in history as the “Heaven’s Gate” of superhero movies. And maybe like “Heaven’s Gate”, twenty years from now future critics and movie lovers will be kinder to this movie than we are now because there is a lot of promise in this movie that sadly was never utilized or developed. And just in case you still can’t get past my first sentence let me repeat so you don’t think I’ve finally overdosed on Benzedrine and caffeine: I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR.

I blame whoever hired him based on Trank’s previous movie; “Chronicle” which received rave reviews from critics and audiences. I myself am not a fan of the movie. It’s one of the darkest, most depressing and downright miserable superhero movies ever made. I’ve seen it exactly twice and have no desire to see it again as it’s simply too mean-spirited for me. It was made by a director who plainly does not believe in heroism or superheroes.  A director who fully embraces the hyper-violent, misogynist, racist and downright cruel world-view of mainstream comic books today and their fans who continually demand that their comics and their heroes be even darker, more destructive, more uncaring and more violent.

So Trank delivered the sort of movie that he only knows how to make. And I think it was way too soon in his career to entrust him with such a property, especially since the concept of The Fantastic Four is the exact opposite of Trank’s “Chronicle”. The Fantastic Four is about a family of scientific adventurers who gain superpowers by accident and decide to use those powers to help mankind and expand the knowledge and boundaries of The Marvel Universe by going on adventures that are…well, Fantastic. Trank needed a few more years to build up the directorial muscles needed to carry a movie like this and he needed a more positive world view which this movie definitely did not have. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way:

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Teenage supergenius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is invited to come study and live in The Baxter Building, a research institute for prodigies. Reed has been working on teleporting living matter ever since he was in grammar school, aided by his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). The institute’s director, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) believes that Reed can help with the institute’s Quantum Gate project and allow them to cross dimensional barriers and explore alternate universes. Reed eagerly accepts and becomes friends with Dr. Storm’s charismatic and brilliant children; Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Dr. Storm reaches out to his estranged protégé, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) who designed the Quantum Gate and persuades him to return to the project.

The team gets the gate to work but is dismayed when the institute’s supervisor/government liaison Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) informs them that the project is now to be turned over to the military. Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to beat them to it and in the movie’s biggest WTF moment, Reed calls up Ben and invites him to come along for the ride as if they’re going to hop in his ’57 Chevy and go on down to Atlantic City for the weekend.

The experiment seems to go well at first as the four materialize on “Planet Zero” and discover it is a world containing some form of living energy. Things quickly go from sugar to shit as Victor falls into a chasm and has to be left behind. Reed, Johnny and Ben barely return safely but the transport machine explodes, irradiating their cells with the Planet Zero energy. Sue gets irradiated also as she was in the control room when they return. The effects of the radiation give them superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Reed’s muscular/skeletal system is now elastic. Sue can become invisible and generate impenetrable force fields of energy. Johnny can transform into fire and fly. Ben is encased in a rocky hide that gives him super-strength and indestructability.

Now, this is the part where the movie is supposed to take off and soar. But it doesn’t. FANTASTIC FOUR actually goes wildly off the rails once our main characters gain their powers. For the first hour of the movie it’s actually a quite watchable, engaging sci-fi character study about a group of gifted people attempting to do something nobody else has done and I strongly get the feeling that this is indeed the movie Josh Trank wanted to make.

But once the superpowers come into play the plot holes appear, so big you could drop a Fantasticar into them. It’s as if Trank suddenly realizes that holy shit, this is a superhero movie so he’s got to have fights and explosions and he’s got to hurry up and provide them because the damn movie is only a 100 minutes long.  Victor Von Doom is brought back to Earth just in time to provide the obligatory menace to Earth and to wrap up the story in a most unsatisfying manner that leaves you sitting there wondering just what the hell happened.

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And what is done to Ben Grimm once he’s transformed into The Thing and is conscripted into government service is utterly and totally reprehensible. Given the tone and atmosphere of the movie, I understand why his character was skewed in that direction but that don’t mean I gotta like it. I do like how it sets up a scene later on in the movie where Reed and Ben have a heart-to-heart about what has happened to Ben. It’s the most emotional scene in the movie for me and perfectly captures the anguish of Ben’s plight and we feel why Ben hates Reed.

I gotta say that in some cases the performances were about what I expected. While I like Kate Mara and appreciate the fact that she’s a competent, professional actress, she never really seems to stretch herself. Can you name a Kate Mara performance that stands out in your memory? She stays on one even note for the entire movie. She picks a lane and stays in it from start to finish.

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But Miles Teller is even more disappointing. He’s more Peter Parker than Reed Richards and nobody is ever gonna call this cat “Mr. Fantastic” and mean it. Michael B. Jordan plays Johnny Storm as a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie who is clearly the only one happy to have superpowers and he manages to infuse the movie with some light moments that provide a laugh or two. Amazingly enough, most of his funnier scenes are with Toby Kebbell, who’s supposed to be the bad guy. We get scenes where Johnny and Victor are kidding and snapping on each other with dialog that should be between Johnny and Ben.

And the last five minutes of the movie…y’know how much I hate using the term ‘rip-off’ but there’s no way around it. It plays as if some Suit at Fox saw the ending of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and hurriedly demanded an ending for FANTASTIC FOUR that plays exactly like it. Because that’s what we get.

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So has everything you’ve heard about FANTASTIC FOUR true? Well, yes and no. Is it a bad movie? Absolutely. But it’s not a worthless one and it was made by and stars people who cared about what they were doing. They just didn’t have any idea of what the material they were working with was about. I felt a sincerity from the movie and I don’t get the sense that Trank, his crew and his actors consciously set out to make a bad movie. But they did make one that has no sense of wonder, no excitement, no heart, very little overall entertainment value and worse of all, no fun. And that’s just as bad.

100 Minutes

PG-13

 

Southpaw

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2015

Escape Artists/Fuqua Films/The Weinstein Company/WanDa Pictures/Riche Productions

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Todd Black/Jason Blumenthal/Steve Tisch/Peter Riche/Alan Riche/Antoine Fuqua/Jerry Ye

Written by Kurt Sutter

Previous to seeing SOUTHPAW for myself I got slightly involved in a Facebook conversation about the movie. A poster said that while he liked the movie he thought it was far too cliché. See, I dunno about that. Presumably one goes to see a boxing movie (or western or science fiction movie) with certain expectations that one is going to see elements unique to that genre. Is it cliché to have horses and six shooters in a western? No. You go see a western and you’re waiting for that stuff. It’s part of the fun of seeing a genre movie. SOUTHPAW is about the rise and fall of a boxer who suffers an emotionally crippling personal loss and it destroys his whole world. He then has to walk the long hard road of redemption to recover what he’s lost

Is this new or daring or innovative? Absolutely not. I bet that you can name at least a dozen boxing movies with that very same plot. Hell, Warner Brothers used to crank ‘em out by the truckload back in the 1930s and 40s. But as so often occurs in movies of this type, it’s the execution we pay attention to and look for. And how well is SOUTHPAW executed?

Pretty damn well, actually. Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, Light Heavyweight Champion of The World. Life is very sweet for Billy. He’s got a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) a brainy daughter (Oona Laurence) and owns a mansion and a yacht. His wife Maureen persuades him to quite while he’s still at the top. She’s worried that Billy’s highly unusual style of boxing is going to brain damage him. And it’s one hell of a style that consists of Billy letting his opponents pound him into hamburger before he decides to uncork and put them out with one punch. And it could just be me (and it usually is) but I got the distinct impression that Billy didn’t have all 52 cards in his deck even before he became a boxer.

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Then comes the devastating personal loss that sends Billy right off the rails. He turns to drink and drugs. He becomes unstable and downright dangerous in the ring. His license is suspended and to pay off debts he is forced to sell everything he owns. His daughter is taken from him and put in the care of Child Protective Services officer Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris).

So there we have the fall. The rise comes in the form of Titus “Tick” Willis (Forest Whitaker) an ex-boxer himself who now runs a gym where he trains disadvantaged ghetto kids in the sweet science. Tick trained the only boxer who ever beat Billy and now Billy wants Tick to train him. And so begins the road to redemption.

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In a way, there’s a certain satisfaction in our knowing how this movie is going to play out. We know we’re going to get emotional scenes between the boxer and the daughter where they have to work through their mutual pain. We know we’re going to get scenes where the grumpy trainer lays down the rules to the boxer. We know we’re going to have the sleazy fight promoter tempting the boxer with one last shot at the title.

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I admire Jake Gyllenhaal a lot as an actor. He doesn’t believe in repeating himself and he’s got one of the most eclectic filmography of any modern day actor. He bulked up impressively for his role as Billy Hope and even though he mumbles most of his lines, I understood why he was doing that and just went with it. His supporting cast isn’t much help except for Forest Whitaker. At least with him, Jake Gyllenhaal has somebody to play with. The roles Rachel McAdams and Naomie Harris are little more than extended cameos. And if the person who insists on keeping on telling Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that he can act is somehow reading this then would you please stop telling him that?

Antoine Fuqua has long been one of my favorite directors and his filmography is just as eclectic as Gyllenhaal’s. And he’s probably the most underrated director working in Hollywood today. He can do major action stuff like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Shooter” gritty urban cop thrillers like “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Training Day” And now with SOUTHPAW he can add both a boxing film and family drama to his resume. How does he direct boxing matches? Well, the fights in SOUTHPAW are pretty much the same you see in most boxing movies from Hollywood. Guys punch each other so hard it sounds like sides of beef being whacked with baseball bats and you figure that their knuckles have to be exploding. If guys in real life boxing matches fought like boxers in the movies, somebody would be dead by the third round. But just go with it because it’s the emotional payoff that counts and SOUTHPAW delivers. It won’t be revered as a classic of the genre in years to come but it’s a well-made film. One full of sincerity and heart. It’s got love, pain, guts and at the end, a man stepping into the ring to prove to himself that he has pride and purpose on this planet and for a boxing movie, that’s just about all you need.

124 Minutes

Rated R

Ant-Man

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2015

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Peyton Reed

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish/Adam McKay/Paul Rudd

Story by Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish

You guys know that I’ve never held myself up to be any kind of expert on film. I’ve never been to film school or taken any formal courses so when I lay out my idea to you on why I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are so successful, it’s just me rattling on. Trust me, I don’t have the formula for how to make a successful motion picture and if I did I would be right now in my Beverly Hills mansion floating in a Tony Montana-sized platinum bathtub filled with champagne.

But here’s what I think. The Marvel movies are so good and so successful because they’re not just superhero movies. The “Iron Man” movies are not just superhero movies but techno-thrillers as well. The first “Captain America” was a war movie as well as a superhero movie while the second doubled as a political thriller. The “Thor” movies successfully blend heroic fantasy with the superheroics while “Guardians of The Galaxy” works as a straight space opera. I think you see where I’m going with this. ANT-MAN isn’t just a superhero movie; it’s also a pretty nifty heist flick. It also gives us a bonus in that it’s the first Marvel movie where we see one superhero pass on his name, powers and legacy to another. I’m a sucker for that kind of ‘passing the torch’ generational thing and it’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of ANT-MAN

Cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison and the first thing he informs his old cellmate/new roommate Luis (Michael Pena) is that he’s going straight. After all, he’s got a degree in electrical engineering so getting a good paying job should be a snap, right? Wrong. And without a job and apartment of his own, Scott’s ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) won’t allow visitation rights so that Scott can spend time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) who worships her father. Maggie’s police detective boyfriend Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) is just itching for the chance to throw Scott back in jail.

And he may get his chance when Scott, disgusted with his failed efforts to hold down a job, agrees to hook up with Luis and his crew (Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian) for what Luis swears is a lucrative burglary that will make them all rich. The burglary is indeed an easy one but all Scott comes away with what he thinks is a funky looking old motorcycle suit.

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014

Intrigued by the circuitry and hi-tech elements of the helmet and suit, Scott tries it on, fools around with the controls and shrinks himself down to size of an insect. Scott is contacted by the owner of the suit, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) the Original Ant-Man who now needs Scott to become the new Ant-Man in order to keep his shrinking technology from being used by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) his former protégé. Cross has taken over Hank’s company and weaponized the Ant-Man technology, creating The Yellowjacket, a military battle suit. With the help of Hank’s daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who is a senior board member of Pym Technologies and trusted by Cross, Hank wants Scott to sabotage The Yellowjacket.

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I won’t keep you in suspense: I loved ANT-MAN. I’ve been a big fan of the character of Dr. Hank Pym ever since I was a kid. You can keep your super-strength and flight and magic spells. If I had my choice of superpowers, size changing is in my top five. It’s a delight to see Hank Pym brought to life by Michael Douglas who anchors this whole thing and give it gravitas. I defy any other actor to deliver a line like “I want you to be the new Ant-Man” the way Douglas does. He’s having fun at the same time he’s being totally serious. It’s a fine line to walk and he does it exquisitely. He has terrific chemistry with Evangeline Lilly and it’s really nice to see the movie’s script gives them time to work through their issues during the mayhem.

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Paul Rudd did a far better job than I thought he was going to do and by the time we get to that to wonderfully badass scene of Ant-Man leading his squadron of flying ants into battle, he had me. Like the other MCU movies, ANT-MAN isn’t afraid to embrace the goofy ridiculousness of the situation and it doesn’t shy away from recognizing how silly the notion is of a guy whose superpower is being able to shrink to insect size and talk to ants. But at the same time, in highly imaginative ways it’s demonstrated how dangerous and powerful such abilities can be.

The only problem I have with ANT-MAN? The plot borrows heavily from the first “Iron Man” movie what with Corey Stoll playing an Obadiah Stane Lite. But Stoll is such a good actor and like everybody else here, he’s obviously having a good time I let it go. Marvel continues its winning streak of superhero movies that are pure undiluted FUN and keeps on giving me what I want: astonishing tales of superheroes who relish being superheroes and get a kick out of having amazing adventures. If you haven’t seen ANT-MAN yet, stop waiting and go.

117 Minutes

PG-13

Self/Less

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2015

Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Produced by Ram Bergman/Peter Schlessel/James D. Stern

Written by David Pastor/Alex Pastor

Generally when I go to the movies I plan it out what I’m going to see the day before. My wife and I usually go on a Tuesday because it’s Bargain Day at our favorite film emporium and we get away with paying $7. We also make a shopping/errand day out of it, treating ourselves to a bit of fun after taking care of business. But this Tuesday we didn’t plan on seeing anything as there was nothing in the theater either of us particularly cared to see (and “Ant-Man” doesn’t come out until Friday, dammit) so we were just going to call it an early day and head on home.

That’s before a series of truly torrential thunderstorms began coming down. We were in Long Island, a good 30 miles or so from our house and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Brooklyn in a thunderstorm so Patricia and I said “what the hell” and elected to kill a couple of hours going to see SELF/LESS. Neither one of us had heard much good about it but we figured; “How bad could it be?”

I shoulda took my chances with the thunderstorm.

Billionaire real estate titan Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is dying from cancer. He leaves behind immense wealth and a broken relationship with his only child, his daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery). As he approaches death the only thing he truly wants is more time to heal the wound between him and Claire. Salvation arrives in the form of the mysterious Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who claims that through a process he calls “shedding” he can place Damien’s consciousness into a young, healthy body that he says he’s grown in his laboratory.

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Damien is skeptical. He didn’t get to be a billionaire by letting people make a fool out of him, after all. But after a trip to Albright’s lab and seeing the multiple bodies he’s grown, “vessels waiting to be filled” as Albright phrases it, he’s ready to sign on the dotted line. And pretty soon he wakes up in a fine, firm new body with a new name: Edward Mark Hale (Ryan Reynolds)

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Damien/Edward moves to New Orleans, makes a new friend, Anton (Derek Luke) and pretty soon he’s playing pickup games of basketball, jet skiing, clubbing, partying like a rock star and banging supermodels. Life is pretty sweet until the visions start. Visions of a wife and child. Of a house and a life that is not his. Could it be that he’s remembering the life of Edward Hale? Damien sets out to find if the visions have any truth behind them and in the process finds out that Professor Albright and his “shedding” process is far more frightening than he was led to believe.

Now, by the time I got to this part of the movie I was 75% convinced that I was watching an uncredited remake of “Seconds” the classic John Frankenheimer directed suspense thriller which stars Rock Hudson in what many (including me) think is the finest dramatic work he’s ever done on film. In “Seconds” a middle-aged business man fed up and unhappy with his life (John Randolph) gets a chance to live a new life in a new body thanks to a mysterious organization run by an equally mysterious Old Man played by Will Geer. Randolph wakes up in Rock Hudson’s body and I will say no more about “Seconds” other than if you have not seen it, then consider it your homework assignment for the weekend to do so.

So the first 20 minutes or so of SELF/LESS point in that direction and actually isn’t bad at all. It’s once Ryan Reynolds takes over that the movie winds down, replacing what started out as a story about dealing with mortality with a By The Numbers action plot. Once Damien starts remembering Hale’s life and gets himself involved with Hale’s wife (Natalie Martinez) and child (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) Albright marks them all for death and they have to take it on the lam.

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Y’know, even if director Tarsem Singh had indulged his extraordinary talent for eye-popping visuals, cinematography and costuming then we would at least have a movie worth looking at. Movies of his such as “The Fall” “The Cell” and “Immortals” are dazzling visual feasts if nothing else. I myself don’t understand the point of hiring a director who is renowned for his visual style and then have him not use that visual style to punch up such a plodding, dull story.

Or maybe Tarsem wanted to show he could direct a B-level actioner like everybody else without falling back on the visuals. Bad choice. I will say that there are a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes and gun battles that he directs with snap, crackle and pop. But then again, there are half a dozen other action directors that could have done those scenes with just as much skill and energy.

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Ryan Reynolds gives it his all here and I appreciate that he does his job to the best of his ability. He’s not phoning in his performance here and while he can’t carry a whole movie on his back, it’s not for lack of trying. Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans or Chris Pratt would have stuck this movie in their back pocket and walked away with it but Ryan ain’t them. But the fault of the movie doesn’t fall on him or any the supporting cast. Tarsem and his writers David and Alex Pastor iceberged this particular Titanic

Bottom line is this: wait for it to show up on Netflix if you’re at all interested in seeing it. An intriguing premise with talented actors and a phenomenal director is completely wasted and thrown away for the sake of a few car crashes, explosions and fights. What a shame.

116 Minutes

Rated PG-13

The Terminator

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1984

Hemdale Pacific Western/Orion Pictures

Directed by James Cameron

Produced by Gale Anne Hurd

Written by James Cameron/Gale Anne Hurd

Y’know how long it’s been since I last saw THE TERMINATOR? Long enough that I completely and totally forgot that Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen are in the movie. And no cameos, either. They both have substantial roles to play in the story. And I say substantial because even though they don’t have a lot of screen time they definitely use whatever time they have well. Thanks to the script and their acting, the characters of Lieutenant Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Sergeant Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) are living people and not just plot devices to move the story along.

So why did I watch THE TERMINATOR again after all this time? Well, I’d seen “Terminator Genisys” and in that movie there are scenes recreated from the original movie. And they do a good job of it, right down to Jai Courtney wearing the same Nike Vandal high-top sneakers with the Velcro ankle straps that Michael Biehn wears. So I got a hankerin’ to watch the original. And thanks to Netflix I did. And ten minutes into the movie I was just as engrossed as I was the first time I saw it way back in ’84 at the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Brooklyn.

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cybernetic assassin. His metal endoskeleton is covered in living, organic tissue so that it can pass for human to get close to its target: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In the future, an AI called Skynet will achieve sentience and declare war on mankind by firing all of America’s nuclear missiles all over the world. The human race is saved by a man named John Connor who leads the resistance to victory. But Skynet sends The Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to John. John Connor uses the same time machine The Terminator used to send his best soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother. Neither The Terminator nor Kyle Reese can return to their future time and will never know how the future turns out. But their final battle in 1984 will decide a war being fought in 2029.

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Watching THE TERMINATOR after such a long time the one thing that struck me and what I really appreciated in the lean, economical storytelling. There’s not a thing in the screenplay that slows up the plot or is in there just to pad out the running time. The last three movies in the “Terminator” suffered from serious bloating of the plot and stopping the story cold to have the characters sit around tell each other stuff they already know.

Don’t get me wrong…I like and appreciate characterization in my movies as much as you. But James Cameron as a script writer and a director understands that in an Action Movie you can reveal characterization through action. Even in scenes where Sarah and Kyle get a few minutes to stop and catch their breath, they’re not just sitting there relating to each other. They’re always doing something that never lets us forget that these are two people on the run. Even the sex scene between Sarah and Kyle isn’t just thrown in there for titillation. It’s important to the plot.

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I honestly don’t think this movie would be as well remembered and as highly regarded as it is (The Library of Congress has deemed THE TERMINATOR to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant) if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t played the role. Do you honestly think we’d still be talking about The Terminator if O.J. Simpson had played it? He was the studio’s choice but Cameron wouldn’t have it.  Arnold had made about a dozen movies before THE TERMINATOR but this role as well as Conan seemed to be tailor made for him. I even think his Austrian accent works very well in this movie as it did in his Conan movies because it sounds strange as if The Terminator is still working out the kinks in how to speak like a human being.

Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are excellent here. Fifteen minutes into the movie and you buy their characters totally. Watching it today I was struck by the energy of their action. Biehn in particular is electric every time he’s on the screen and I couldn’t help but compare his turbo charged performance to Jai Courtney who walks through “Terminator Genisys” as if he’s half asleep.

THE TERMINATOR is one of those movies that I think every director and screenwriter who wants to do an Action Movie should be required to watch. It’s got a full-tilt boogie plot that never seems rushed. The only things in the story/plot is what needs to be there and no more. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron skimps, either. There’s a nice little motif of machines betraying humans dropped here and there. Sarah’s roommate is killed because she’s listening to her Walkman with the sound cranked all the way up and can’t hear her boyfriend getting his ass kicked by The Terminator in the next room. TV’s are constantly giving away information that they shouldn’t. Despite the fact that he had a limited budget, James Cameron made it work for him with imagination, compelling characters and a helluva good story that has mature ideas and themes. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go ahead and revisit it. THE TERMINATOR still holds up very well.

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107 Minutes

Rated R