Tag: paul rudd

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” may be lacking the epic scale that some of the other Marvel movies possess, but what it has to offer is equally invaluable: terrific entertainment without even lifting a finger. And yet—it tries to engage the viewer every step of the way, whether it be in terms of wacky banters, larger-than-life action pieces, or surprisingly emotional turns of the plot which remind us that our protagonists are fighting for something close to home: to rescue a family member (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the so-called Quantum Realm, a universe composed of worlds in a subatomic scale.

Under Reed’s direction, the film moves at a brisk pace with imagination to spare. Notice that although action scenes almost always involve Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) miniaturized lab being stolen, and it can be argued that one or two of them drag during the latter half, a new setting is consistently utilized to show us interesting ways for Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) to exercise their powers. What results are memorable scenes with distinct flavors. Particularly impressive is the car chase that unfolds in the winding and hilly streets San Francisco which leads to our hero increasing his size to dangerous levels in order to chase a tour boat in Fisherman’s Wharf. Although these scenes are busy and exciting, the effervescent humor runs parallel to them.

There is a running joke about magic tricks but the approach likens that of a juggling act. The rescue mission lies in the center but there are also bits such as the house arrest of Scott Lang (Rudd) following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” in which an FBI agent (Randall Park) attempts to keep a close watch, an enigmatic figure called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who is able to walk to through walls but is in constant nearly unbearable pain, and a black market dealer (Walton Goggins) hoping to steal the lab’s technologies and make a healthy profit. It even has time to inject the humor of the X-Con Security crew (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dasmalchian). Somehow these elements work together not only because of the performances but also due to the screenplay being written smartly, always aware not to wear out a subplot’s running gag.

Like numerous Marvel movies, the “Ant-Man” sequel suffers from an antagonist that ought to have been more interesting. While Ghost is provided a rudimentary background, and it is great that she is not intended to function as a typical villain who wish to end the world or make people suffer, she is not intriguing outside of what she can do to prevent Ant-Man and the Wasp from pulling off their central mission. While John-Kamen is fit for the role, I recognized a common ailment that performers rely on when the material does not inject enough substance into its characters: quirky behavior. More interesting, however, is her relationship with a father-like figure. I wished to know more about them and their work together following Ghost’s orphanhood.

Another relationship worth further examination is the titular characters’. Scott and Hope’s more romantic moments are reduced to awkward dialogues (mostly executed and dragged on by Scott without losing a percentage of charm) and googly-eyed exchanges. While the romantic chemistry between Rudd and Lilly is strong, we do not experience genuine growth in their relationship nor do we recognize that, following their struggles in this film, they come to see one another under a new light, that they appreciate one another more. I suppose something has got to give when the action and comedy must be at the forefront. Yet one can argue that we should expect more exactly because the writers and filmmakers are so talented in juggling disparate elements.

Despite its secondary shortcomings, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” offers great fun. It is always visually dazzling whenever the film showcases images from a miniaturized point of view, particularly during the action sequence at a hotel kitchen. Even more daring images are found within the Quantum Realm, the pavonine colors almost overwhelming the senses.

Prince Avalanche

Prince Avalanche (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) must paint traffic lines on a long stretch of highway that was once consumed by wildfire. While the former thinks that the job is an excellent opportunity for him to be one with nature and further get to know himself through solitude, the latter finds himself unable to deal with loneliness. With the weekend coming up, Alvin decides that he is going to stay in the woods while Lance plans to go home, attend a party, find a girl, and have his “little man squeezed.”

“Prince Avalance,” a remake of Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s “Á annan veg,” is consistently beautifully photographed, especially for a comedy about two men who are sort of losers in their own way, but I found the languid tone of the picture to be inert and soporific at times. Just when we are about to slip into a coma, it turns up the soundtrack to jolt us into paying attention until once again our eyelids start to get heavy.

The picture is not without core strengths. The script has such a good ear for dialogue, a three- to five-minute scene that mostly consists of the camera staring at a face inspires us to paint an entire story in our minds. Particularly memorable is the conversation between Alvin and an older woman (Joyce Payne) who is going through the rubble of her former home. I wondered if the performer on screen had experienced losing her house in fire because it does not feel like she is acting at all. Instead, she seems to be sorting through the memories of her former home and then telling us what she is feeling through her body language. Unfortunately, the scene that comes right after, in which Rudd is allowed to act silly with his body language, dilutes the power of what we had just seen.

Furthermore, director David Gordon Green makes good use of wide shots as he is able to show nature in its rawest form, from a group of desolate old trees which reflects the physical isolation of the subjects to animals in search of food or shelter. He appears to have an eye for which behavior is worth putting in the final product and against which complementary color or specific texture. I will be very interested to see the result if Green decided to make a nature documentary.

The humor is, for the most part, quite understated. There are times when Lance and Alvin are unaware they are funny. However, I was unable to buy into the chemistry between the two leads completely. Instead of being convinced that Lance is forced to put some effort into liking Lance because one just so happens to be dating the other’s sister, much of my energy was put into trying to convince myself that I was supposed to be observing characters rather than actors playing their respective parts.

There is a difference between minimalism and plain. To its credit, “Prince Avalanche” dares to walk along that line. It is understandable why a select audience will be drawn to some of the poetry of the material, but it lacks a certain energy that allows it to stand above other comedies that share similar bloodlines.

They Came Together

They Came Together (2014)
★ / ★★★★

A parody of the romantic comedy sub-genre through and through, “They Came Together,” written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, for all its jokes and anti-jokes, should have been sharper and thus ought to have been a better movie. With a talented cast capable of wringing out laughter, genuine and uncomfortable, the final product is desultory and generic—just like bad romantic comedies it wishes to skewer. There is no excuse.

Molly (Amy Poehler) is getting over a break-up and owns a quirky candy shop where all proceeds go to charity. Joel (Paul Rudd) has a girlfriend, but one with whom he suspects is not serious at all about their relationship, and is a development executive at Candy Systems and Research—the very corporation threatening to push Molly out of business. Their “corny romantic comedy sort of story” is told over dinner with friends.

Rudd and Poehler share wonderful chemistry together. Half the time, I was thinking how much I would have enjoyed the picture more if it were played out as a straight-faced comedy with all the holes and clichés of meet-cute romance that is completely detached from reality. The two performers look good together during the build-up of scenes but the punchlines come off trying so hard that when a scene ends, we consistently feel robbed of what should be present underneath the jokes: a real, convincing connection between two people.

Romantic comedies are loved by many because the sub-genre often sells a fantasy: That there is a perfect person out there for every one of us. The screenplay fails to target this idea and so it goes on to create silly digressions such as Aryan families and wanting to get physically intimate with grandmother. While surprising and worthy of a chuckle of two, these contribute nothing to the momentum of the story. Just because a movie is a parody, it is not excused from moving in a forward direction with ease. Less than ninety minutes long, its running time feels closer to two hours.

It has the tendency to spell every joke and running gags—as if we were stupid enough to not recognize situations we have seen a hundred times. While very funny the first two times, the trick gets old real quickly and the habit becomes annoying. Is it too much to ask to have us participate? To me, the approach underlines that the writers do not have enough confidence in the material to allow us to decide what is clever and what is plain dumb. That is likely why they feel the need to hide behind a sort of self-awareness so often. After all, it is more of a challenge to critique a work that appears to recognize is flaws.

I enjoyed the jokes in the background, from pictures hanging on the wall (rather, pictures strung together by a piece of yarn) to the extras acting like they have stumbled upon a set of a movie. When I feel like I am trying to catch up with the jokes instead of an alarm going off every time there is supposed to be something funny that we should catch, there is a moment of engagement between viewer and film. Director David Wain can direct. I just wish he can write with a pen instead of a blowtorch. (Since the latter will destroy paper while the former is likely to preserve it… Do you see how annoying it gets when someone feels the need to explain to you when you are fully capable of making inferences?)

This is 40

This is 40 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Debbie (Leslie Mann) is not happy turning forty. For her, being forty is considered the first step toward a hopeless descent to old age so she decides to tell everybody that she is only thirty-eight. Pete (Paul Rudd), Debbie’s husband, is also turning forty but he is less bothered. He is more worried of—and tries to hide from his wife that—his record label business is not making enough money to support his family of four.

“This is 40,” written and directed by Judd Apatow, casts a wide net in an attempt to capture anything funny or amusing within its vicinity. While it has a few good moments that range from disgusting humor to relatable and honest situations, there is simply too much padding. With a running time of over two hours, I laughed but I did not laugh enough.

When it focuses on the family dynamics among husband, wife, and their two daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), there is a genuine feeling of family among them even if they are frustrated and yelling at each other. A memorable scene involves Debbie informing Pete what is considered good music nowadays. For her, it means something that is fun, danceable, and makes people happy. For him, the lyrics have to be meaningful even if the tune sounds like a dirge. It is comedic because we all know that good music is subjective, but the couple insists that he or she is the “right” one so the actors’ exaggeration functions as the punchline.

The dirty jokes are not held back, but the dialogue that leads up to and follows after them tend to sound like it is taken from a sitcom that is about three seasons in. A handful of the actors, central and supporting, share chemistry but there remains a feeling of an obvious buildup before a gag or witticism. The picture might have been stronger if there had been more variation in the screenplay, as well as direction, in terms of setup, delivery, and aftermath.

I enjoyed that it is willing to go for humor that might be considered offensive. For instance, Debbie confronts her daughter’s classmate (Ryan Lee) who had dared put Sadie on the “Not Hot” list on Facebook. It is so uncomfortable because we know (or should know) that yelling or threatening someone else’s child is inappropriate but it is hilarious because, admit it or not, at some point we all have wanted to talk to a child—especially an annoying one or a full-on brat—like he or she were an adult. Melissa McCarthy has a memorable cameo as the boy’s mother.

The story’s main arc involves money: Pete and his record label, Debbie and her shop missing over ten grand worth of merchandise. While it has its moments, especially with Debbie’s attractive employee (Megan Fox), they are not as interesting as the every day events that Pete and Debbie face as parents. Dealing with pecuniary issues is not specific to becoming a forty-something. In fact, the more the film focuses on their financial problems, the more it comes off as shallow, the characters whiny and their problems trivial, especially when I started thinking about lower-class families who do not even have resources to put food on the table the next day.

“This is 40” goes in one too many directions that it is able to sustain. There is drama involving Pete lending his father (Albert Brooks) money and Debbie’s father (John Lithgow) being absent for the majority of her life, but they feel tacked on. With its story’s scope, it would have been more fitting if the director had been more selective of scenes that work best as a comedy while keeping in mind its thesis instead of putting everything on the plate.


Ant-Man (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Recently released from prison and unable to provide child support for his daughter (Abby Ryder Forston), desperate Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) results to yet another burglary. This time is different, however, because the safe he breaks into does not shelter money or jewels. Instead, inside is a suit that has the ability turn its wearer to the size of an ant.

Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has invented this game-changing technology and he believes that Scott is the best candidate to break into a biotechnology company, locate the Yellowjacket—another suit that allows the wearer to turn minuscule—and destroy its data. The mission is of particular importance because Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the company’s owner and Dr. Pym’s former protégé, hopes to sell this technology which would inevitably be used for warfare.

Although it does not stack up against the best of Marvel’s movies, “Ant-Man,” directed by Peyton Reed, is entertaining, funny, and creative nonetheless. Rudd is a daring casting choice for the superhero but it is a risk that works because the actor possesses a magnetic, effortless light. It is critical that we are drawn to the central character when he is not wearing the incredible suit because one can observe that the screenplay places more emphasis on human drama and relationships than the action—which sets it apart from the other Marvel offerings. Due to this difference, it is another reason why the film, despite its limitations, is worth seeing.

Once the world of the minuscule is introduced, the picture reaches a high level of excitement. We wonder how it is going to surprise us—and it is able to with just about every opportunity where Scott turns into Ant-Man. There is a wonderful sense of detail, from the molds growing in the bathtub to the fibers of a rug. At one point I wondered how it must be like to actually be that small. It is important that the CGI does not get in the way of the experience.

Furthermore, I enjoyed that when the suit worn, it does not always involve fighting an enemy or stealing an item. On the contrary, there are plenty of practice sessions which gives way for happy accidents and big laughs. Because Scott, without or without the suit, is flawed and vulnerable, it makes him more likable and interesting than the likes of other Marvel heroes like the sinewy but rather dull Thor.

We get plenty of opportunities to understand the motivations of the villain. Cross is not a complex character, but Stoll plays him with a cool menace. The performer is able to communicate that his character’s obsession to surpass his former mentor is only a half-step away from madness. This makes him curious but also dangerous. It is more entertaining than watching a villain who is so disconnected from reality from the get-go that he comes off too silly or cartoonish over the story’s arc.

“Ant-Man” functions on a smaller scale, in more ways than one, but the presentation is fresh, the performances are charming and energetic, and the action inspires a child-like sense of wonder, at best shown during a final battle involving a train set. It is a reminder that Marvel movies should not only be action-packed but also fun and escapist.

Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
★★ / ★★★★

It is the last day of Camp Firewood which means that the camp director, Beth (Janeane Garofalo), and her camp counselors must endure one more day of trying to overcome their feelings for one another. Geeky Coop (Michael Showalter) is finally noticed by salacious Katie (Marguerite Moreau). The only problem is she’s still seeing scatter-brained Andy (Paul Rudd), currently eyeing blonde Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) like a hawk.

Meanwhile, Victor (Ken Marino), known as the stallion of the bunch, looks forward to having sex with sexually unrestrained Abby (Marisa Ryan). Incidentally, he is forced by Beth to take some of the kids to go water rafting, which is a couple of hours away from camp. Beth, too, is attracted to someone, an astrophysicist named Henry (David Hyde Pierce) who later volunteers to entertain the “indoor kids” to impress her.

Written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, “Wet Hot American Summer” is riotously funny when the jokes work but extremely frustrating and annoying when they do not. The characters are supposed to be stereotypes of camp counselors in the movies of the ‘80s so the comedy must be judged on how and if they are used wisely in order to pull off a biting satire. Like reaching into a bag marbles, some are shiny and some are quite dull.

Beth is wonderful as a leader who is required to be everywhere at once. Despite her share of awkward quirks, I believed that she is functional enough to successfully manage the place. But the characters who have only sex on the brain are consistently hit-and-miss.

For instance, the dizzying dance between Coop and Katie goes absolutely nowhere. Every time they share the same frame, I wanted to see more of Andy’s amusing negligence whenever he is around other women. One of the more entertaining scenes involves a kid almost drowning in the lake because Andy is too busy shoving his tongue down a girl’s throat. Coop and Katie do have one funny scene, however, which involves trading clothes while sitting in a barn. The cheesiness of the whole thing is supposed to make us groan because movies from the past try to convince us that wearing someone’s piece of clothing is romantic. It is not romantic when the other person has lice or crabs.

I wished that McKinley (Michael Ian Black) and Ben (Bradley Cooper), gay lovers, had more scenes together. I felt like a lot of the jokes that could have stemmed from the homosexual relationship are held back out of political correctness. The picture does not need to be sensitive especially when it is supposed to be a satire. On the contrary, it must be merciless. I had a similar reaction with the way the attraction between the crafts teacher (Molly Shannon) and one of her students (Gideon Jacobs) is handled

To my surprise, the student-teacher attraction ends up being my favorite “relationship” in the film. It is so wrong yet so hilarious. It is both a shame and a missed opportunity that the screenplay chooses to shy away from polemical topics in order to make room for comedy that is easier to digest.

“Wet Hot American Summer,” directed by David Wain, needs to recognize its strengths and play upon them. Extraneous scenes that are downright stupid and unfunny like characters running from one room to another, screaming, and knocking down breakable objects on purpose need to be excised. In scenes like that, what exactly is being satirized—the writers running out of ideas?


Admission (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Portia (Tina Fey) is an admissions officer in Princeton University. After having been invited by a high school teacher, John (Paul Rudd), to stop by and give some information about the university, possibly inspiring those who wish to apply during her talk, she is told by John that he has found her biological son, the child she gave up for adoption when she was an undergraduate in Dartmouth. His name is Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) and he happens to be interested in attending Princeton.

Here is a film that should have been approached with satirical edge. Instead, “Admission,” based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and adopted to the screen by Karen Croner, ends up as a would-be comedy-drama with scenes that move so slowly and almost devoid of humor. Its many subplots are not entertaining. They merely serve as padding for what should have been the focus of the picture: how it is like to be an admission officer in one of the most respected universities in America, an institution that receives over twenty-thousand applications annually and only accepts just about a thousand and two hundred.

Like a high school student that spreads himself too thin, the picture’s strategy involves giving us too many characters at once, introducing them and their problems superficially, and hoping that somehow parading them around will pass as character development. In one scene, Portia is having issues with her mother (Lily Tomlin) not putting in enough effort so they can both have a so-called healthier mother-daughter relationship. The next scene is about something else completely, with Portia competing against her co-worker (Gloria Reuben) for a promotion because the dean of admissions (Wallace Shawn) has announced his retirement. It is like cotton candy: it looks like a lot to bite into on the outside but when you get into it, there is not much there.

The attempt at romantic comedy is lifeless. Sure, Fey and Rudd are charming as usual. The sort-of date between Portia and John has a sweetness to it, but the performers are not given much to work with. Words are uttered but they are inconsequential. The date is tolerable only because of the awkward smiles and the twinkle in the eyes of the actors. At least they are getting paid to endure bad material. What about us?

In addition, the drama is not convincing. Would it have been too much for the writers to treat some of its characters seriously when something real is supposed to be on the line? I am tired of movies that portray intellectuals as emotionally crippled alien beings. Michael Sheen is completely wasted as Mark, Portia’s boyfriend of ten years. We spend one scene in their apartment and we can tell immediately that it is not going to work out. There has to be a reason why they have been together for a decade. It is as if the screenplay does not even bother to construct believable interior lives for its characters.

The best scenes pack wit and excitement but are short-lived. I enjoyed simple moments like Portia reading, in voiceover, college admission essays. It made me feel like it was only yesterday since I wrote one. I knew I was a good writer but I was so nervous; I remember sending my essay and not feeling very confident about it. The words being read are fun to listen to because the essays have character in them. I would have liked to have heard more. In addition, there are a few silly scenes like Portia grabbing someone’s else’s baby in an attempt to “help.” I laughed but there are not enough of them.

A potentially great scene involves the officers and the dean of admission assessing and voting as to which applicants deserve to receive an acceptance letter. However, the screenplay and direction seem timid to allow a scene to run longer than they should. As a result, the picture fails to engage us completely. After presenting numbers like grade point average, SAT scores, and the like, there is not enough silence to let the audience think about whether the applicant should get in based on those only. Instead, it rushes through the numbers, extracurricular activities, and other recognitions. In the end, it is all a jumble.

The problem with “Admission,” directed by Paul Weitz, is it does not care about the process. It has about five to six subplots but it does get into the nitty-gritty of what it is really like to be a woman who hopes to advance her career, a newly single person meeting a potential mate, a daughter who feels rejected by her own mother, and someone who thinks she is ready to be a parent. Since the process and details fall on the wayside, the film ends up being merely a trifle.