Tag Archives: Evangeline Lilly

Movie Review: Ant-Man (2015)

ant man

Paul Rudd gives new meaning to the term “shrinkage.”

All things considered, Ant-Man turned out much better than expected. That said, I’d still preach caution against reading too many overly positive reviews.

That’s what happens with expectations sometimes. People were initially lukewarm on Ant-Man, then they were completely down on it, and now they’re really high on it, perhaps even too high on it. My verdict is that it’s a very solid film, a very funny film, one that might fit uncomfortably in the Marvel cinematic universe but offers a great time as an independent movie experience. Its ambitions are so underwhelming that it’s hard to rank it up there among the other Marvel superhits, though I feel it is strong enough to not drag the franchise down and deserves a place in the hierarchy as one of the more different and refreshing efforts.

One of my favourite actors, Paul Rudd, plays Scott Lang, a Robin Hood-type burglar who is offered an opportunity for redemption by becoming Ant-Man, a superhero capable of shrinking himself down to Honey I Shrunk the Kid proportions and control armies of different breeds of ants. I’ve been a fan of Rudd since Clueless — which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year — and never thought he would manage to survive in Hollywood this long (while Alicia Silverstone basically disappeared into obscurity). But here he is, and he’s excellent as Lang, who makes the most of Rudd’s dry personality as well as his underrated acting chops. The understated Rudd doesn’t dominate the film, and I think that’s a good thing because it plays into the whole apologetic feel of Ant-Man as a superhero.

The plot is fairly standard and revolves around the concept of family, in particular father-and-daughter relationships. In this regard the theme is played out brilliantly by Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, who star as scientist Hank Pym and estranged daughter Hope van Dyne, respectively. I hadn’t seen Douglas on screen for a while and I had forgotten what a brilliant actor and screen presence he is. He’s a major reason why the film is as good as it is.

On the villain side, the ubiquitous Corey Stoll (naturally bald this time) is Darren Cross, a former protege of Pym who is close to perfecting a similar shrinking suit called the Yellowjacket. I love Stoll as much as the next heterosexual man, but his character in this is pretty one-dimensional and not particularly memorable. Can’t blame the man for collecting cheques when they keep flooding in, though.

Providing additional comic relief are Michael Pena, recording artist T.I. and David Dastmalchian. Pena in particular is at his blistering best, and those who enjoy his style of comedy will have a blast as he rolls off his awesome “tip montages”. Rudd, confined to being the “hero”, almost takes a back seat to all these supporting characters, and fortunately they make the most of the opportunities.

The special effects are of course cool and there are some innovative ideas when Lang is shrunken down to insect size. The film is often silly and it knows it, and the concept alone provides many inherent chances for laughter. One of its biggest strengths is that it straddles the line between comedy and farce very well so that it doesn’t cheapen this massive and complex universe Marvel has been building up since 2008 when it released the first Iron Man.

And that’s pretty good when you realise that Ant-Man originally had disaster written all over it. An idea for an adaptation of the Marvel comic arose back in the 1980s, though nothing came out of it. Then in 2003, Edgar Wright, best known for his Three Flavours Cornette trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, became the driving force behind the project, even penning a script and participating in the casting process. But last year, Wright dropped out due to the dreaded “creative differences” excuse and the project brought on a new director, Peyton Reed, best known for Bring It On but had turned in three pretty mediocre efforts since (Down With Love, The Break-Up and Yes Man).

So we’re talking multiple re-writes, different fingers in the pie and a last-minute change of director. The general sentiment was that the film, already facing an uphill battle because of its high concept premise, would be a disastrous mess. It also didn’t help that critics were iffy about Paul Rudd, who has carved out an impressive career as a dry comedic actor but had yet to prove that he could carry a leading superhero role from a juggernaut franchise like Marvel.

Accordingly, almost everyone was pleasantly surprised that Ant-Man defied predictions and turned out to be really good. And it is. I liked it a lot. It was probably exactly what Marvel needed after exhausting everyone with one big blockbuster after another featuring more and more superheros and villains whose powers are growing out of control.

Despite many references to the Marvel universe — such as the Avengers and Age of Ultron, not to mention several notable cameos — Ant-Man works well as a standalone flick that isn’t a spoof but also doesn’t take itself as seriously as the other Marvel entries. It’s more self-contained, more self-aware, smaller and neater, and arguably the funniest Marvel superhero movie to date along with Guardians of the Galaxy.

While there are going to be more superhero films combining all of these various strands in the upcoming “Phase Three” of Marvels cinematic universe, which will begin with Captain America: Civil War next year and end with Avengers: The Infinity Wars Part II and Inhumans in 2019, Ant-Man offers fans a much-needed breather from the familiarities of the Marvel money-making machine. It’s not the type of film that will wow you with mindblowing visuals, creativity or action. What if offers instead is good-natured, light-hearted fun that’s as self-deprecating as its lead star, something many audiences might actually prefer as a change of pace to the excesses of the more “marquee” names. Just keep in mind, however, that it is simply a good film that exceeds low expectations rather than something truly extraordinary that shits all over all its more well-known siblings.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: I fully recommend this video of Paul Rudd from Conan, which includes an “exclusive” clip from the movie.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (2D)

battle of five armies

I more or less knew what to expect when I decided to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies at the cinema over the weekend. Not much plot and loads and loads of battle action. Both predictions turned out to be accurate, though I must admit there was a little bit more plot than I anticipated and, amazingly, probably even more battle action than I was prepared for.

The whole film is essentially a massive, extended climax. At a relatively short 144 minutes, and with much of the running time dedicated to battle, it feels much swifter than An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. As such, it might be better to regard the film as pure popcorn entertainment and fantasy nerd eye candy as opposed to the resounding final piece of the Middle Earth puzzle. As a standalone movie, Five Armies comes across as fairly soulless in comparison to the other entries. But as a 144-minute climax to a 447-minute film — or if you include LOTR, a middle-climax to a 1005-minute film (a couple of hours longer than that if you add director’s cut versions) — it actually kinda makes sense. I suppose it all depends on your perspective.

By now you should be well aware that Five Armies deviates substantially from its source material. Of course it had to, considering there weren’t many pages left in The Hobbit by the time The Desolation of Smaug finished. This might irk Tolkien loyalists, but for me it didn’t matter. It helps that I don’t remember much of the book, which I was never that fond of since I first read it as a pre-teen, and then again at university.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t remember much from the first two films either, because Five Armies is all about the spectacle. Say what you want about the rest of the movie, but there’s no denying that Five Armies is one of the most impressive visual feasts you will ever see. While it is dominated by special effects, I never got the sense that the film was overwhelmed by CGI. The war sequences were also spectacular and rarely felt repetitive, with long group battles involving all types of creatures and lengthy one-on-one duels. That said, the “wow” factor is no longer there. It’s undeniably good, but my mind was not blown like it was when I first watched the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.

The drama offered by the film obviously pales in comparison to the action, but you can still tell that Peter Jackson really tried. The humans (led by Bard the Bowman — Luke Evans) head to the Mountain for refuge after their Laketown village is ravaged by Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), while the dwarves (led by Thorin Oakenshield — Richard Armitage) are holed up in Mountain with their gold, refusing to share. The elves (led by Thranduil — Lee Pace) want their share of the treasure in the Mountain, and the Orcs (CGI) are looking to kill everyone and claim the Mountain for themselves (I think that’s about five armies, no?). Throw in the love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner) for some romance, a bit of comedic relief in the form of a cowardly, greedy politician’s aide (Alfrid — Ryan Gage), old regulars like Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and don’t forget the the stoic protagonist, Biblo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and you can see how there’s more than enough characters and subplots to go around. The emotional resonance may be lacking if you compare it to LOTR, but at least Jackson gave it a shot.

Martin Freeman, whom I will never see in the same light again after watching him in the Fargo TV series, feels more like a supporting character here. He does what he can in his allocated slot of screen time, though I never got the feeling that the story was truly about him. But then again, the hobbits have always felt more like observers of the action than participants. Also, Richard Armitage might be no Viggo Mortensen and Thorin Oakenshield might be no Aragon, but Armitage still makes Thorin an awesome, memorable character who offers something different to what Aragon did for LOTR.

There will be a lot of people who hate this movie, or at least deeply disappointed by it. Lovers of the book might not like the liberties Jackson took with Tolkien’s story, or how he expanded just a few pages of text into a 2.5 hour movie. But if you accept all that and watch the movie for what it set out to be — and that’s an exciting fantasy epic filled with extensive and well-executed battle sequences — then it might turn out to be pretty thrilling.  There’s dragons (well, dragon), elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, goblins, hobbits and giant eagles and bats, and they’re all killing each other. If fantasy adventure is what you want, then what more can you ask for?

I remember a time when each new installment of LOTR felt like Christmas (though that might have been because it was always released at Christmas). Hands down, it would always be my most anticipated movie of the year. With The Hobbit, on the other hand, watching each new entry felt more like an obligation. You’ve seen all of them, so you might as well keep going.

That said, it’s still hard to believe that it’s finally over. After 14 years — nearly half a lifetime for me — JRR Tolkien/Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise has drawn to a close. If you consider the film part as of a six-entry series, then fair enough, it’s probably a disappointment. On the other hand, if you think of LOTR and The Hobbit as two separate trilogies, then you might find it as enjoyable as I did, for Five Armies is clearly the best of the three films (though not on the same level as any of the LOTR flicks). Either way, it’s both sad and a relief to see this magnificent world come to an end. Unlike Star Wars, there’s no more cash to milk from this cow, and that’s a good thing.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (2D)

The-Hobbit-Desolation-Of-Smaug-new-psoter

I was one of a few people who thought the first film in The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, was pretty good. For all the boredom of the first half, the riveting second half was as exciting as the best parts of The Lord of the Rings.

And so it was with slightly heightened expectations that I saw the second instalment, The Desolation of Smaug, which by all accounts is better than the first one. For the most part I agree, though it is still far too long at 161 minutes (8 minutes shorter than Unexpected Journey), rendering the final instalment, There and Back Again (due end of the year) in very real danger of “hobbiting” everyone out.

I mean, as much as I love the world JRR Tolkien created and Peter Jackson interpreted, there has to come a point when it all becomes too much for people – apart from the die hard fanboys – to take. I felt that at times in Desolation of Smaug; there was a feeling that I had seen it all before, and the sense of wonder and magic that made LOTR so remarkable had begun to wane.

Still, there are a lot of things to like about Desolation of Smaug. For starters, no more boring tea parties. The film gets into the action a lot quicker and is better at sustaining it. There are still some slow bits but on the whole the excitement was much better distributed, with a few creative and amusing action sequences that bring freshness to the franchise. Secondly, Martin Freeman seems much more at ease this time as the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. There were at times in Unexpected Journey when he appeared out of place, but this time there were no such concerns. Thirdly, even though he’s not in the books at all, Orlando Bloom returns as everyone’s favourite elf, Legolas, and he actually has a pretty meaty role as well. Joining him is Lost star Evangeline Lilly, who plays a female elf and one of the only women in the whole movie. A lot of Tolkien fans derided the decision to create her character (she’s not in the book), but I think it adds to the film and was the right decision in the end.

And last, but not least, the titular dragon himself, Smaug, voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch, the man with the best voice in Hollywood. I was sceptical at first because I thought a talking dragon with humanistic emotions would come across as silly on screen, but I could not have been more wrong. Smaug, in all his CGI glory, received a lot more screen time than I had expected, and he was not only an awesome sight but also a great character. I saw the film in ordinary 2D but I hear that in IMAX, and especially in 3D and at the 48 frame rate, the visual experience is unbelievable.

As a piece of visually stunning entertainment, Desolation of Smaug definitely delivers, but problems with it as a trilogy film remain. While LOTR was three lengthy films made from three very long books, The Hobbit is three equally lengthy films made from one short book. While Jackson adds a lot of other material from Tolkien’s works into it, the film still feels like it was trying too hard to “build” itself into an alternate LOTR. But The Hobbit and LOTR are so different (the plethora of dwarves, for starters), and should be different when adapted to the screen. This is why I still think The Hobbit would have been much better off had Guillermo del Toro stayed on as director and the series shortened to just one or even two films.

Instead, Peter Jackson, as great as he is, has arguably stretched the material too thin. It’s obvious he loves his work too much to cut it down, and he wants his audience to be as immersed in Middle Earth as he is. The result is that The Hobbit films, at least the first two, come across as director’s cuts of a diluted version of LOTR, which is potentially a dream come true for some but also overkill for others.

So while I will admit I enjoyed Desolation of Smaug more than Unexpected Journey and thought it was an excellent, well-crafted and fun film with shades of the best stuff LOTR had to offer, I will also confess a bit of “hobbit fatigue” creeping in. Yes there was explosive action, incredible visual effects and lovable characters, but all of that was enveloped in an increasingly numbing familiarity that prevented me from feeling the same level of exhilaration and wonder I experienced in LOTR.

All I can say is that I hope it doesn’t affect my experience of the concluding chapter, There and Back Again, in December.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Real Steel (2011)

I reckon if I saw Real Steel when I was seven years old I’d think it’s the best movie of all time.  Seriously.  A kid protagonist, Wolverine as his dad, Evangeline Lilly as the girl and boxing robots.  Boxing robots!  What more could a kid ask for?

As an adult, I still thought Real Steel was pretty decent; better than expected.  It’s essentially a father/child relationship/redemption movie with a Rocky slant featuring giant robots that beat the crap out of each other.  Set in the not too distant future, human boxing has been abandoned (after the recent Mayweather vs Ortiz and Hopkins vs Dawson debacles, who could blame them?) in favour of giant boxing robots controlled by humans (either by remote control or voice).

Hugh Jackman (or as I like to call him, Jack Human) is a former journeyman boxer turned robot owner who for certain reasons has to look after his long abandoned son, Max (Dakota Goyo).  The duo, along with the daughter of Jackman’s former trainer (Lilly), start ‘training’ an old bot that has no business being in the ring with other newer bigger bots, but as you guessed, they start kicking butt.

Real Steel is a feel-good true underdog story and a tale of redemption that appeals the way the original Rocky did 35 years ago, and the performances of the leads, especially that Goyo kid, are excellent.  Is it just me or are all child actors named Dakota acting prodigies?

Surprisingly, the film’s strength lies in the drama and the relationship between father and son.  I wouldn’t have expected it but director Shawn Levy (Date Night) managed to make me care about the characters and understand their motivations.

The robot action, to be honest, was a little underwhelming in my opinion.  It’s just two robots punching the crap out of each other like…robots.  There’s no way humans would have given up real boxing for that boring mechanical stuff.

Young boys and boys young at heart will have a ball with this one.  As for everyone else, if you can stomach all the obvious emotional manipulation and get into the spirit of the overcoming-the- odds, albeit somewhat predictable story, then Real Steel can be a real enjoyable ride.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker (2009)

The Hurt Locker isn’t a film that jumps out at you as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar while you are watching it.  It has the feel of a small-scale film, focused on a specific subject in a specific setting, with largely unknowns in the lead roles.  But don’t let that put you off.  It is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

I would call The Hurt Locker an American war suspense-action-thriller.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker, Point Break – yes, that’s right!  Point Break!), it tells the story of an United States EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team in post US-invaded Iraq.  To many viewers, it will be a world that is as foreign as Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar.

The Hurt Locker a cut above most other post-911 war movies for several reasons.

First of all, it is probably the most suspenseful film in recent memory.  The thrills come in waves, but when it comes, the tension is so unbelievably high that it made me forget how to breathe.  Full credit must go to Bigelow, who combines life-and-death situations with documentary-style shooting to create an atmosphere that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the pressure cooker with the EOD team members.

Second, the script by Mark Boal is outstanding.  Boal is a freelance journalist who actually spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq.  This experience, coupled with his ability to create intriguing, well-developed characters, makes The Hurt Locker the most authentic-feeling Iraq war movie to date.

Third, the acting is first class.  The three main leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) are considered relative no-names in Hollywood, but all deliver performances that bring their respective characters to life.  Renner (28 Weeks Later) is particularly excellent and is well-deserving of his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.  He brings a brooding arrogance and obsessive quality to Sergeant First Class William James that makes the already-tense environment even more explosive.  Renner’s face reminds me of a pudgier Jason Bateman, but his screen presence (according to a friend) is reminiscent of a young Mel Gibson (before he went off the rails, of course).

Lastly, I really enjoyed the subtlety of The Hurt Locker.  It may be an anti-war movie at heart, but it doesn’t ram any political messages down your throat.  There’s no American hero bravado or that ‘Americans are evil’ sentiment.  There’s a telling image here and there, but for the most part, you can simply enjoy the movie for its intense action and ignore the underlying message.

Having raved about the film, it isn’t quite perfect.  At 131 minutes, The Hurt Locker is probably 15-20 minutes too long, and partly because of this, the last third of the film isn’t quite as exhiliarating as the first two-thirds.  However, these are only minor complaints in an otherwise superb film.  The only thing really preventing The Hurt Locker from getting full marks from me is that I simply don’t think it is memorable enough.  It may be one of the best films of the year, but it’s unlikely to be one of those classics people will easily recall years down the track.

4.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I now think The Hurt Locker has a pretty good chance of beating Avatar for Best Picture because of this new preferential voting system.  That said, I’m sticking with my prediction of Avatar for Best Picture.  The one with the bigger chance of an upset could be Bigelow over her ex-husband James Cameron for Best Director.  This is one of those years where voters seem to rally around a cause, and this year the stars may be aligned for the first ever female director to take the prize.]