Saturday 22 October 2016

Movie reviews: Ant-Man, The Gallows and True Story

ant man
ant man
The Gallows
true story

Ant-Man is big on laughs, The Gallows lacks humour and True Story is stranger than fiction


Action/Sci-Fi. Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Judy Greer, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, TI, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena. Director: Peyton Reed. Cert: 12A

Not for nothing is Marvel known as a figurehead in the action arena, and action fans were foaming at the mouth when it was revealed that British director Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead fame, would helm this particular story. Alas, it was not to be, and Wright departed the project quite publicly.

Though Peyton Reed took over the controls (in his first wallet-busting action outing), Wright's fingerprints are all over the film's script. Ergo, we have a bouncy action blockbuster with a side order of polished British wit. In fact, Ant-Man can sometimes feel more like a comedy with some impressive effects thrown in.

Whoever was responsible, they've made a genuinely likeable character in Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an engineer who has put his scientific know-how to becoming a cat burglar.

Freshly released from the clink after a prolonged stretch, he is determined to go straight, but is lured back into the break-in game by his one-time cellmate, the equally affable Luis (Michael Pena). With no money coming in (he's been sacked from his McJob on account of the criminal record), Scott runs the risk of losing access to his young daughter.

His ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her cop fiancé (Bobby Cannavale) are the roadblocks in this instance, telling him that he can only see his daughter if he gets his life straight. One last heist to score some coffers it is, so.

Alas, they've picked the wrong house: that of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented a size-altering superhero, Ant-Man. Caught red-handed with his hand on Ant-Man's rather fetching suit, Scott gets roped in to a scheme where he has to prevent Pym's former colleague and protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) - who would prefer to use Pym's scientific breakthrough for evil by mass-producing Ant-Man suits for warfare as the Yellowjacket.

Once Scott gets gussied up in the suit, the real fun begins. Turns out that being able to shrink oneself to the size of an ant, while retaining human strength, is a rather handy power to have.

Almost immediately, he shrinks to ant-sized proportions and gets flushed down a sinkhole (a bath has never looked so dangerous, trust me), before having to survive the street, a nightclub and - eeeek! - a hoover. It's a chance for the film to stretch its legs, effects-wise.

After a summer where special effects, explosions and chases have come full-pelt, there's something kind of endearing about Ant-Man's less heady pace. Everything unfolds on a slightly less dizzying scale than in other action films (including the Avengers outing that was released recently). The effects are slick and seamless, but audiences won't feel clobbered over the head with them.

Anyway, Ant-Man/Scott soon finds his feet and starts to preside over a fleet of insect soldiers. Happily, there's also a love interest looming in the background, in the shape of Pym's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope gives Bryce Dallas Howard's character in Jurassic World a run for her money in the starchy, uptight stakes but, as is often the way in these situations, she loosens up eventually.

Similarly, Corey Stoll gives his role everything he's got, without reverting to panto villain. Paul Rudd, meanwhile, is more likeable than any superhero has a right to be; an Everyman in a particularly snazzy power-suit. He's no Iron Man - just a dude who wants to see his kid a bit more. If it means saving humanity in the process… well, so be it.

Comic buffs are likely to have nerdgasms galore with several references to the Avengers/Marvel universe thrown in. But for the rest of us, the mash-up of heist movie, polished comedy and clever sci-fi makes for a refreshing enough change.

Suffice to say that there are enough gags, likeable characters and 'oooh, a giant stiletto' moments to keep us happy enough in our seats.

Rating: ***


The Gallows


Horror. Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shooes, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T Morgan, Theo Burkhardt. Director: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing. Cert: 15A HHHII

If Marvel has made its mark in the superhero arena, the same can be said for Blumhouse and its stranglehold on the horror market.

As the producers of Insidious and Paranormal Activity, they know a thing or two about getting people jumping in their seats.

The Gallows is short on star power, granted, but what it lacks in big names, it easily makes up for in crimson gore. In fact, its modest budget is likely to be The Gallows' biggest strength, creating as it does, a tale short on pizazz, but high on menace.

It's the 20th anniversary of a school play called The Gallows, which went horribly wrong when student Charlie Grimille dies in front of his audience. In the present day, a group of pals headed by jock Reese (Reese Mishler), his pal Ryan (Ryan Shoos) and beauty Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) stumble across a tape made up of shaky, hand-held footage. It immediately calls to mind The Blair Witch Project, and we all know how much that freaked us out.

Still, the school has decided to honour the anniversary with a re-enactment of the original play. It prompts the students to attempt to destroy the set in the dead of night so that the play can't go ahead… and so our band of innocent teenagers troops along, blissfully ignorant, to their doom.

Clocking in at about 80 minutes, The Gallows is compact and zippy, but it's hard to care about Reese and his classmates, and harder still to mind when they get bumped off in the most ludicrous ways you can imagine.

Post Final Destination, it seems to be the way of horror writers/directors to create the most showy, blood-spattered deaths possible, but all too often, things just descend into comedy. Not quite the reaction Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing were hoping for, I expect.

Rating: ***

True Story


Drama/Thriller. Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Maria Dizzia, Ethan Supple, Gretchen Mol, Robert John Burke. Director Rupert Goold. Cert: 15A

They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and this tale of a disgraced New York Times reporter who befriends a murder suspect who has stolen his identity, is based on actual events.

After his moment of career ignominy, Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill) departs to the relative calm of Montana with his girlfriend Jill (Felicity Jones). He takes a call from another reporter, asking for his side of a story in which Chris Longo (James Franco), an otherwise sane, intelligent and normal guy, was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife and three children. Once he gets arrested, he gives cops a different name: Michael Finkel.

Intrigued and a bit alarmed, the real Finkel decides to meet Longo, kick-starting the weirdest bromance you're likely to see all summer. A brilliant premise, certainly… but True Story is a film that needs some meat on its bones.

Franco's performance is an opportunity to flesh out a complex character thoroughly wasted, while Hill doesn't have the clout to give Finkel much interiority, either. Sadly, the end result is a film with an intriguing crime at its heart, but not enough edge or spice to really keep folks interested.

Rating: ***

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