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james.cheesman
Aug 04, 2018
In Film Reviews
"You put a dime in him, you've got to let the whole song play out." When Arthur C. Clarke wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic I doubt whether atomic scientist finger wizardry from former Cat-Women was exactly what he had in mind, yet that is the barely explained science thing we are asked to buy into during the closing moments of Ant-Man & The Wasp which, not unlike the rest of the movie, leaves a lot to be desired. Finding Evangeline Lilly's bite-sized mother is the name of the game in Peyton Reed's second stab at bringing Ant-Man to the big screen. To achieve this Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) - who is currently serving house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War - must first be abducted, then put in a position where he must choose between the debt he owes the Van Dyne crew (Lilly and Douglas) and his own young daughter, all because he dreamed he was Michelle Pfeiffer once (and really, who among us?). They've got some kind of quantum connection, the Van Dyne's contest, because they've both shrunk to sub-atomic level and they need to get inside his head to find her. It's the kind of ambulatory plot contrivance that super-hero movies are often forgiven for and wouldn't be as much of an issue if it weren't indicative of the kind of laziness on display throughout the rest of this thoroughly uninspiring movie. Chief among it's flaws is the fact that despite ostensibly being something approaching a comedy, Ant-Man & The Wasp manages to be so consistently unfunny. Rudd has his moments and Reed is able to construct one or two decent sight-gags, but the lion's share of the humour is delivered by Michael Pena who - while being fantastic in this movie - isn't in nearly enough of it to keep the script from moments of eye-roll-inducing tedium. Asking Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly to shoulder any kind of comedic burden is like telling a child to disarm a bomb: it's unreasonable of you to ask and will almost certainly end in tragedy. The script here is so lacking in anything resembling actual jokes that it feels almost as if Pena must have ad-libbed his lines, he is that far removed from everyone else in terms of quality. Not pictured: Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth high-fiving as Thor Ragnarok's stock as a comedy retrospectively rises. The absence of good comedic writing would perhaps not be as noticeable if the rest of the movie weren't so lacking in any kind of tonal consistency, or even just a script which didn't feel like it was written with nothing but getting it's characters out of stupid situations in mind. Lang's daughter video-calling her dad while he is being held hostage, with his kidnappers holding the phone up to his face out of frustration, is a relatively funny idea. Attempting to sow dissent between the kidnappers literally seconds later as they argue - very seriously - about whether they should also abduct his daughter is - at best - clumsy and - at worst - wildly misjudged. And this movie is full of these kind of tonal handbrake turns; a moment played off for humour which is also required to move the story forward and carry emotional weight. Neither the writing nor the direction is competent enough to achieve all three of these goals in one scene and so the movie frequently fails at all of them. And the constant sense that events are simply occurring because the plot demands them to compounds this lack of quality. Visually, this is boring. The occasional uses of licensed music are fairly entertaining although this is purely because the song choice is good and it really can't be over-emphasized how funny Michael Pena is here. It's no coincidence that the best sequence of the movie is narrated entirely by him. It's just a shame that this wasn't a film which focused around his character. This is a movie which would have been better as schlock. It tries to give the kind of villains who explain their plans to you a heart instead of having them twirl their mustaches, while the good guys stand around telling bad jokes and staring wistfully at each other with slight smiles while strings play softly behind them without a shred of irony. This is a super-hero movie where no one feels villainous and the heroes - like the film in general - are boring as hell.
Ant-Man & The Wasp: Small Ideas, Big Mistakes content media
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james.cheesman
Mar 16, 2018
In Film Reviews
When a musical about circus performers set in the mid 1800-s opens with a song which sounds like it could be straight off of the 2018 charts, you can be fairly confident that you are in for an experience you will remember, for better or worse. You could probably say the same about a trip to the P.T. Barnum museum funnily enough and – like the museum – this movie features more than enough pizzazz to keep eyes glued to the attractions despite possessing something of a grimy underbelly. The Greatest Showman is director Michael Gracey’s feature film debut but it doesn’t feel much like it. Whether this is because he was wise enough to surround himself with experienced people, or whether It’s because he himself is particularly talented is anyone’s guess. But what is without question is that this movie had direction, the quality of which is obvious from every assured arc and sweep of the camera. Mechanically and stylistically almost everything here is on point. The songs are catchy as all hell, the choreography is always solid; occasionally wonderful, the costume design feels incredibly authentic, the editing shows some real flair for scene and location transitions and there are one or two genuinely stunning shots. The only mark against it here is a few uses of CGI which could charitably be described as ‘a little on the cheap side’. If you want a movie that provides songs which will stick in your head accompanied by all the stimulation that lights, colours and engaging camera work can provide then you will get what you’re after here. However - and it’s a pretty big ‘however’ - movies need to tell a story, and most of the narrative elements here are lacking. Chief among which is the fact that no one in this movie who hasn’t also played Wolverine gets to do very much actual acting. And listen, I like a good sized helping of Hugh Jackman in my movies; who doesn’t? He’s like Hollywood’s cool dad. But there are other characters in this movie and other stories waiting to be told, and for the most part they’re barely explored. Zac Efron (who is actually really good with what he is given) is set up in a potentially interesting love triangle with Zendaya, but her current partner at the start of the film (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is - amazingly - unable to do much character work with the whole one line of dialogue he has. So what you end up with is a Zac Efron / Zendaya love story occasionally interspersed with cutaways of Abdul-Mateen looking unhappy for some reason. Character development, or the lack thereof, is a real issue. There are problematic elements of the story being told that are omitted or changed, presumably to make everything more palatable, although I cannot claim to be an expert on the subject. Barnum was, by all accounts, a bit of an exploitative bastard, so when the film tries to hammer home a poorly-judged message about the value of family and your roots in the final act it comes across as white-washing a fairly questionable character’s actions in service of telling a nice story. And it’s a bit of a shame that in 2018 a movie about weirdos and outsiders didn’t do more to compare the prejudice and judgement these characters faced to the experiences of those deemed 'abnormal' by today's society, especially since it had already bridged that gap with the stylistic choice of using modern music in a period film. However, I don’t want to criticise The Greatest Showman for what it isn’t. What it is, despite a script which keeps the narrative incredibly simple and takes the term ‘character development’ to mean that you’re only supposed to develop literally one character before stopping, is an incredibly fun movie. It doesn’t address the social issues it perhaps should, it doesn’t tell a story of any real substance and it doesn’t give it’s supporting cast enough to do, but when the lights come up and the music starts you might well find yourself forgetting any of that because the presentation is so exceptional. This is a wonderful musical, which fails only in the areas that many other (incredibly popular) musicals also have before it, and viewed as such it has to be considered a success for Gracey and co. Jackman's character at one point states that people come to see his shows for the pleasure of being hoodwinked, and that’s a mentality which would well serve people who view The Greatest Showman. You’re not coming here to see the presentation of an actual mermaid, you just want to be lied to for a bit. Here, it is possible to lose oneself amongst the bright lights and the dazzling musical performances. Escapism of this quality is rare, even if it fails to truly capitalise on it’s potential.
The Greatest Showman (2017) content media
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