Posts Tagged ‘Michael Pena’

Malleable Dimensions

Antman and the Wasp

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Randall Park

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is continually expanding with a sequel to the 2015 film Antman, entitled Antman and the Wasp, reprising the original cast along with some newcomers including Walton Goggins (Tomb raider) as Sonny Burch and Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Liaisons) as Janet van Dyne, long lost wife of Hank Pym played again by veteran Oscar winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street).

Director Peyton Reed returns at the helm with Paul Rudd as Scott Lang aka Antman and Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne aka the Wasp and while most of the nifty action consisting of shrinking or growing strange objects from cars to Hello Kitty dispensers, at times the storyline would seem puerile, it’s nevertheless fun entertainment for the kids.

Antman and the Wasp’s main storyline consists of the three main characters trying to retrieve a portable laboratory so they can blast themselves into some mystifying quantum realm to retrieve the lost Janet played by Pfeiffer, the narrative is punctuated by some funny scenes provided by Michael Pena who purely shines as Antman’s friend Luis in this otherwise malleable superhero drama without many plot twists or a really definable villain.

Of course, clearly aimed at the Marvel fans who have enjoyed the original Antman, Black Panther and The Avengers: Infinity War, Antman and the Wasp is a fun filled comic caper of seismic proportions held together by the witty charm of Paul Rudd as the reluctant supposedly housebound superhero who is desperately trying to be the coolest Dad in San Francisco.

Personally, I would have liked to see more of the hugely talented Michelle Pfeiffer on screen, who appears to be making a major cinematic comeback, but Antman and The Wasp is worth seeing for its radically disproportionate special effects and a particularly clever car chase sequence along the hilly streets of downtown San Francisco. Take the kids, they will love it!

With malleable dimensions, Antman and The Wasp gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed the original film. 

Man from Mars

The Martian

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Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Donald Glover

Oscar winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) takes the lead role in director Ridley Scott’s visually stunning adaptation of the Andy Weir novel, The Martian as he stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut who after a sandstorm on Mars gets stranded on the red planet by his fellow crew members who abandon him unknowingly to head back to earth.

The crew members include Captain Melissa Lewis played by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Beth Johanssen played by Kate Mara, Chris Beck played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Rick Martinez played by Michael Pena (Antman, American Hustle) and Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie (Hercules) as Alex Vogel.

Meanwhile back at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, NASA headquarters, Director Teddy Sanders played by Jeff Daniels channeling his role in Aaron Sorkin’s TV Series, The Newsroom, announces that Watney is dead. Back on Mars, Watney is alive and has to figure out a way to survive on a planet with minimal oxygen and no sustainable ecosystem to grow his own food supply, an obvious metaphor for the dwindling food supply on planet Earth. Watch out for a superb supporting role by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Vincent Kapoor who firmly believes in finding Watney and bring him back to Earth.

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Luckily Watkins is a trained botanist so with ingenuity and a lot of dry humour, he manages to harvest a small crop of potatoes inside the Mars man-made habitat. This is where Damon really inhabits the role of a lone space colonizer, the only man left on Mars who has to survive and adapt to his hostile and surreal environment, ironically while listening to 70’s disco music. Best line in the film is:

“Neil Armstrong, eat your heart out!”

As the team at NASA scramble to figure out a way to rescue Watney after receiving an encrypted message from him letting them know he is still alive, Watney has to use all his own resources to remain resilient until a rescue mission, however precarious is assembled. Whilst the astrophysics of the rescue mission, will go over the head of most viewers, what makes The Martian such an enlightening cinematic experience are the stunning almost ethereal visual effects, held together by an Oscar worthy performance by Matt Damon as he contemplates that he could perish on this desolate and largely uninhabitable planet, if the rescue mission fails.

The rest of the cast are largely viewed in supporting roles, including Chastain as the steely Captain of the Hermes space craft, they support Damon’s character both psychologically, emotionally and spiritually as Watney gradually learns that back on Earth he is becoming a symbol of a lone survivor who if he manages to return home safely will definitely have a legendary tale to tell.

With breathtaking cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and production design by Arthur Max, The Martian is definitely in the same league as Alphonso Cuaron’s 2013 Oscar winner Gravity and humanizes space travel without delving to deeply into the philosophical elements of the infinite universe as done in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or more recently Christopher Nolan’s visually compelling but laden Interstellar which oddly enough also featured Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon.

With a running time of 141 minutes, The Martian is a superbly told adventure story about one man’s fight to survive and his resilient desire to return to Earth, brilliantly acted by Matt Damon and beautifully directed by Oscar nominee Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner, Gladiator).

Highly recommended viewing especially in a cinema. Do not wait for The Martian to come on TV as the visual and sound effects will certainly be lost.

Size Does Matter

Ant-Man

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Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll, Martin Donovan, Bobby Cannavale, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer

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Comedy star Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother, Wanderlust) embraces the role of Ant-Man, the latest superhero to join the Marvel Universe. In this case size does matter and Ant-Man’s unique ability to shrink to the size of an ant and evade capture while destroying intricate servers is something to marvel at.

Director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man is humorous, hilarious and filled with spectacular moments which will find the audience rooting for the diminutive superhero who is desperate to join the Avengers team. Oscar winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street) plays quantum physicist Dr Hank Pym has developed a unique formula which can reduce a man to the size of an ant and cause damage along with his army of assistant ants. For once this is a superhero who is without any angst, but just an average guy who happens to be a convicted felon desperate to see his daughter again.

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Scott Lang, wonderfully played to perfection by Paul Rudd, and for once the casting could not have been better is a down and out cat burglar and at the request of his dumb friends, led by the dim-witted Luis hilariously played by Michael Pena breaks into the San Francisco home of Dr Pym to steal jewels and cash.

Instead, Lang steals an Ant-Man suit and unwittingly shrinks and realizes that this nifty ensemble enables him to escape from most situations, including jail, where he is arrested by his daughter’s stepfather Detective Paxton played by the ubiquitous Bobby Cannavale.

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Soon Lang is rescued by Dr Pym and his gorgeous daughter Hope van Dyne played by Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) who train Lang to be the elusive Ant-Man.

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The evil villain is the megalomaniac scientist Dr Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll who is keen on developing his own shrinking suit and selling the sought after formula to the sinister Hydra which is out to destroy SHIELD, of whom the Avengers are a part of.

The fact that the final battle between Cross and Ant-Man takes place on top of a Thomas the Tank engine toy in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom is emblematic of who the target audience is. Nevertheless Ant-Man is visually spectacular, comical and often hilarious and a much better film than anticipated.

This is a superhero movie which does not take the entire genre too seriously, but has huge ambitions to join The Avengers. Fans should watch out for cameo appearances by Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter.

Ant-Man may not match up to the likes of Captain America or Iron Man but could certainly prove that size does count and in this case being smaller is infinitely better. The 3-D visual effects are amazing and Rudd keeps the entire film light and quirky. Ant-Man is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.

 

The Brutal Education of Norman

FURY

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerma, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Scott Eastwood, Jason Isaacs, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg

End of Watch director David Ayer tackles the war genre in the brutal drama simply entitled Fury assembling a stellar cast of great young actors including Shia LaBeouf last seen in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) and Jon Bernthal and headed by the illustrious Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, Twelve Monkeys, Moneyball, The Counselor).

In a role similar to that played in Inglourious Basterds, Pitt plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a hardened soldier and Nazi killer who is heading up a tank squadron and who has seen his fair share of bloody battles. The tank in question is called Fury and as the Allies advanced into Germany during April 1945, these American tanks were combating the far superior designed German Panzers. As the brutal end of World War Two winds down, Hitler has ordered every last man, woman and child to defend their country against the advancing Allies.

Against this gritty theatre of war, the veteran Collier inherits a young and naive gunner named Norman Ellison superbly played by Logan Lerman who to his dismay went from being a typist in the US Army to manning a machine gun in an armoured tank. Its Collier’s job to toughen Norman up, even forcing him to shoot an unarmed German soldier as he brandishes pictures of his family to the American troops and desperately pleads for his life.

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As the five man team who drive Fury further into the German countryside, the situation gradually deteriorates as they first enter a German town obliterated by shelling casually coming across a suicide party of Nazi officers along with a scattering of scared German villagers and then near a farmhouse in the muddy countryside where they encounter an enemy infantry division marching towards them.

This is grim viewing with lots of bloodshed, superbly choreographed action sequences and unrelenting violence, cinematically brought to life with razor sharp sound effects, giving the viewer the sense of being involved in these gruesome final battles.

As opposed to George Clooney’s Monuments Men, David Ayer’s Fury deglamourizes war to its basic instinctual premise of kill or be killed and with excellent sound editing and effects, the film stands as a perfect counterpoint to The Imitation Game which elegantly showed war as a complex game of ingenuity and skill, clouded with espionage and intrigue.

Fury goes straight to the bloody and dirty heart of war and in its tag line aptly states that no war ends quietly. This is man fighting man with all the brutal savagery one has for each other’s enemies, as the victors march through the lands of the defeated.

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Fury is well acted especially by Logan Lerman (Noah) in one of his more substantial roles and definitely alludes to a talent waiting to be nurtured. The rest of the four man team adds a brave complement to Norman’s emotional and physical journey as a very young soldier who realizes he has to go to any lengths to stay alive. Fury will definitely appeal to war film enthusiasts and those viewers that enjoyed Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor and even the more stylized Quentin Tarantino war film Inglourious Basterds.

American director David Ayer has excelled with Fury which is highly recommended viewing aimed at a mature masculine audience that can appreciate the art of combat and the innate savagery of war itself. Fury is not for the squeamish and certainly not for those expecting a light hearted war romp like The Monuments Men.

 

 

That Seventies Con!

American Hustle

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Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Shea Wingham, Robert de Niro, Alessandro Nivola, Michael Pena

Acclaimed director of Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell delivers another cinematic masterpiece with his latest film American Hustle about a couple of con artists in New York in 1978 during the Disco era. Think fabulous Seventies costumes, broad Jersey accents, big hair, the brilliantly ensemble cast of American Hustle all deliver top notch acting along with some sassy flair and loads of self-deception.

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Oscar Winner Christian Bale (The Fighter) is brilliant as  Irving Rosenfeld a two-bit con artist with a chain of dry cleaning businesses which also double as a front for selling fake art to unsuspecting New Yorkers who teams up with Sidney/Edith a sexy pole dancer turned grifter superbly played by Amy Adams (Doubt, The Fighter) at a Jersey pool party in January!

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Together the ever glamorous Edith sporting a fake British accent and the smooth talking wily potbellied Irving unveil their small scams selling unsuspecting lines of credit to gamblers, pimps and two bit hustlers. However their duplicitous lives are crossed by unstable Richie diMarso energetically played by Bradley Cooper (Place beyond the Pines), complete with a perm and a pent-up attitude who is in fact an FBI agent out to catch bigger fish from corrupt politicians to American mobsters who control the Florida casinos in Florida are looking to reinvigorate Jersey’s den of iniquity Atlantic City with its newly acquired gambling licences.

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The setting is New York, 1978 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when the American public are distrustful of smooth taking politicians and economically hangover from a 1977 oil embargo and a costly Vietnam war. Director Russell captures the ambience of the late 1970’s Americana perfectly heavily influenced by the films of that period including The French Connection, American Gigolo and even the 007 film Live and Let Die. As the narrative unfolds a complication comes in the form of the no-nonsense confident chain smoking wife of Irving, Rosalyn Rosenfeld, a knockout performance by Jennifer Lawrence, last year’s Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook.

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American Hustle follows a cleverly scripted and elaborate plot about these four drifters and cons who not only try to out wit the FBI, the mob and a shady Jersey politician Mayor Carmine Polito a well coiffed Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy) involving shifting money for fronting an imaginary investment into the revitalization of Atlantic City casinos. Oddly enough the con also involves funds from a mysterious Abu Dhabi Sheik, comically downplayed by Michael Pena who is in fact Mexican.

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Amy Adams gives a tour de force performance as Sidney/Edith a vulnerable yet shrewd woman who can smooth talk any man out of his cash which is certainly Oscar worthy along with the rest of the brilliant ensemble cast making up regulars from David O. Russell’s two previous hit films Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter.

Alessandro Nivola (Coco Avant Chanel), Robert de Niro (Casino) and Shea Wingham (Savages, Take Shelter) also make a welcome appearance. Any viewer who experienced or grew up in the sassy disco inspired 1970’s will appreciate every aspect of authenticity of this ambiance infused con drama featuring magnetic performances by the four leads along with a witty, comic and incisive script co written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer.

American Hustle is a sophisticated sexy adult drama dripping with menace and deception, complete with a dynamic plot in the lines of Stephen Frears excellent The Grifters and Sam Mendes American Beauty. It’s the ultimate homage film about that Seventies Con featuring the unrivalled power of intention and people’s limitless capacity for survival, love and betrayal.

Hollywood Hard Hitters

Gangster Squad

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Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Holt McCallany, Michael Pena, Sean Penn, Sullivan Stapleton, Nick Nolte, Mireille Enos, Josh Pence

Based upon the fascinating non-fiction book, Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman, the beautifully yet violent cinematic rendition of the story of how an elite group of LA cops formed a Gangster Squad to tackle the effects of organized crime in post-wars Los Angeles, is thrilling to watch, engrossing and thoroughly entertaining. Featuring an all star cast including Ryan Gosling as Jerry Wooters, Josh Brolin as Jack O’Mara, Emma Stone as Grace Faraday and Sean Penn as the malevolent gangster Mickey Cohen who terrorized the Hollywood Boulevard in the early days of the city of angels growth is both visceral and heartfelt.

Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena also star as electronics expert Conwell Keeler and Officer Navidad Ramirez respectively in this brotherhood tale of elite cops fighting the influences of organized crime in the form of the vicious New York immigrant Mickey Cohen. Whilst Paul Lieberman’s novel goes into a truly in depth analysis of the origins of organized crime in Los Angeles, before and after the 2nd World War especially as California and Nevada become ripe for the East Coast families to increase their criminal activities. In this case Chicago crime emissary Jack Dragnet, played by Jon Polito is soon wiped out by Mickey Cohen who will go to any lengths to become Los Angeles’s crime boss.

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Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad skips over much of the social history in favour of making a sleek, glamorous and violent film about the sharp shooting and mischievous Squad which successfully undermined Mickey Cohen’s grip on the city of Angels in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Not nearly as measured and brilliant as Barry Levinson’s film Bugsy about Bugsy Seigel’s establishment of Las Vegas in the late 40’s, Gangster Squad comes off more as a nostalgic pastiche of all great Gangster films from the same genre most notably The Untouchables, Bugsy and the brilliant L. A. Confidential.

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Gangster Squad features a smooth talking Ryan Gosling in what is really an ensemble piece about a group of men who go to any lengths to undermine the mob king in their town often at their own personal costs. Gosling’s screen time with Emma Stone is fabulous along with some particular brilliant and captivating action sequences, Gangster Squad is held together by a brilliant cast, fabulous sets and a superb retelling of an emerging city out of the clutches of crime and into those of glamour and cinema, which is what Los Angeles is more famous for today.

Recent more grittier films about Los Angeles downtown crime film like End of Watch also starring Michael Pena shot in a Southlands TV series style has not changed the image that LA is still a city plagued by foreign criminal organizations or crazy criminals as immortalized in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and not so much by East Coast immigrants as it was in the first half of the 20th century.

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Paul Lieberman’s book Gangster Squad is a brilliant read as his detailed history of the city of Angels in the mid 20th century is perfectly captured and exceptionally well researched.  The Hollywood film version of Gangster Squad is by all respects a brilliantly recreated 1940’s handsome cinematic experience complete with Slapsy Maxies also starring Nick Nolte as Chief Parker and Anthony Mackie as Officer Coleman Harris and worth watching for the quirky dialogue, well orchestrated action sequences,  and will surely delight those fans who loves similar styled mobster movies!

 

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