Paul Rudd

Ant-Man (2015)

In a world where we can (probably) download images of what Chris Evans ate for lunch during Captain America: Winter Soldier, it probably comes as no surprise that the pre-production problems of Ant-Man are well known. Kinetic director Edgar Wright (The World’s End) had been working on fleshing out the diminutive superhero since closing up shop on Spaced. Cut to 2011 and it’s announced that Wright will be working with Marvel to get Scott Lang out to the public. And then 2014 rocked by and the much-rumoured ‘creative differences’ between wright and Marvel comes to a head when Wright allegedly walks weeks before shooting, unhappy with certain changes. And just as suddenly, Peyton Reed was locked in to take the helm.

Taking into account the history, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film turned out to be an omni-shambles of design by committee. Instead, Ant-Man manages to do something fresh with what is essentially the tired origin trope. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer and common thief. He roommates with three fellow ex-cons and has restricted access to his daughter. Scott wants to be straight, but is convinced to take one last job. Leading him to be taken under the wing of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who convinces Scott to work for him and steal a top-secret project from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s protégé who is wandering dangerously close to the dark side. To help Scott with his mission, Pym trains him to be Ant-Man; a diminutive superhero with all the force of a bullet.

Ant-Man is not your usual superhero movie, as the above shows. It’s more akin to a heist movie with Pym and Scott working together to develop and hone his skills as Ant-Man. Along the way, Pym struggles in his relationship with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope, infinitely more skilled than Scott, wants to don the Ant-Man suit herself and most of the conflict comes from her trying to understand why her father is so adamant not to allow her. These scenes are surprisingly effective, with the success coming from both actors treating the material truthfully and honestly whilst Rudd bounces around in the background providing the comic relief.

Rumours persist that Wright was unhappy with the rewrite of his and Joe Cornish’s script, wanting to keep his film at arm’s length from the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How much of that is true is unknown. However, there are numerous cameos storylines that carry on from Marvel’s properties, including a cameo from Iron Man 2. Unless you’re an avid Marvel fan, none of these will particularly affect your understanding of the narrative and all will have a good time.

Ant-Man’s real issues come from racial profiling that sees all minorities either wise-crackers or safecrackers. It’s not overly offensive, but it is a little problematic. In addition, Judy Greer is entirely wasted as Scott’s ex-wife. Even when her daughter is in danger during a climatic moment of the film, its both her ex and her new husband that do the protecting. If you’re going to use an actor from Arrested Development and Archer, we want more from her than scolding Scott and being scared.

That aside, with excellent effects, witty wordplay and charismatic screen presence by all those involved, Ant-Man manages to punch above it’s own weight. It’s not quite Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as pedestrian as Thor 2. It’s another win for Marvel.

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

The much anticipated and much hyped sequel to the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) has finally arrived to a fair amount of fanfare, backed by a mass market media campaign that its predecessor could only have dreamed of. There’s been TV spots, cinema advertising, soft drink tie-ins and of course the mobile phone hook-up for Burgundy Wednesday.

And therein lies the issue. This second film feels like a cash in. I know it’s easy to dismiss any sequel as such but this seems to suffer more than most, even more than Die Hard 17: Die Harderererererer. You see, part of the charm of the Anchorman was that it felt, not only quite original, but free and improvised. What I mean by this is that there was no expectation from it, it was basically a group of very talented performers completely uninhibited by time, pressure or script that were allowed to let their comedic juices flow. The result was lightning in a bottle. Even though the original was basically a flop at the cinema it eventually found an audience on DVD and became a monster hit. One of the most quotable films of the last 25 years became the Shawshank of the comedy world.
This does not have that same vibe at all. That’s not to say it isn’t funny, it often is. We chuckled along for most of the film without ever bursting out into full on guffaws. However, the jokes feel forced and a little ruthless. Whereas the first film was heavily improvised here the jokes are too scripted. You can almost see them sat in a room going “wait…..Anchorman fans will love this one, it sounds just like this joke from the 1st film….” Even down to Ron’s expressions of dis-belief. I’m positive that the first time he proclaimed “Sweet Grandma’s spatula” that everyone around him corpsed completely, here we are just given 2 dozen variations on the same style, (although “by the Hymen of Olivia Newton John” was a highlight).

We are enormous fans of the first film and wanted to love this so much but just couldn’t. That’s not to say that is was crushed by the weight of expectation though. We actually approached this with an open mind and heart but we just couldn’t connect with it.

The basic plot outline is that sometime after the events of the original, Ron and his news team have gone their separate ways. He is a success living in New York with his wife Veronica (a woefully underused Christina Applegate) and their boy Walter. He gets fired because, well, he’s useless and ends up at the desk of new 24hr news channel GNN via a Blues Brothers-esque “putting the band back together” sequence.

What follows is a mix of silliness that diehard fans will probably love. For every joke that lands there are 4 that don’t. There are two that really stand out. Firstly they try to recreate the hilarious “sex panther” scene only this time with condoms .It just aint funny. Secondly, a really poorly conceived and judged Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner scene that is just awful and many will just consider to be outright racist. Ron Burgundy speaking jive and calling a seemingly middle-class black family “pipe hittin bitches” just made us cringe.

The fact that this film was agreed, written, directed, edited and released in 11 months really shows. It seems like Adam Mackay (returning director) and Ferrell hit upon satirising CNN and ran with it and didn’t give much thought to anything else. The digs at said news channel are about as subtle as Camp Kinds “Whammy” catch-phrase. Just as it’s becoming too preachy about what is and isn’t proper news they throw in a star-studded re-hash of the first films fight which although totally unoriginal is actually one of the highlights if for nothing else how unbelievably surreal it is.

This review could go on for another 1000 words about how frustrating and infuriating this film actually is but we need to stop now because the more we think about it the worse it gets.

All in all it’s a hugely disappointing re-tread of the vastly superior first film with barely an original thought. There are funny moments but not enough to warrant the ludicrously expensive trip to the local multi-plex. Don’t waste your money watching this, it’s shit.

This Is 40 (2012)

We first met Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) in Judd Apatow’s surprisingly sweet 2007 comedy Knocked Up, wherein the long married couple provided the young and accidentally pregnant Allison and Ben with not just a class in Passive-Aggression 101, but also the perfect reflective surface on which to explore and examine their own relationship. Five years later and we are once again invited to glimpse into a week in the life of Debbie and Pete as they both face the milestone of turning 40. I fear however ‘glimpse’ may be the wrong word for a film that clocks up 133 minutes.

And therein, unfortunately, lies This Is 40’s huge disadvantage. Like so many of Apatow’s recent productions, the film’s bloated running time works against its favour. The problem with this film specifically is that with the thinnest of plots, what should be an enjoyable and insightful reflection on the recognisable stresses of family life becomes a meandering and aimless exercise. Sure, Pete and Debbie have a lot on their plates right now (although not cupcakes – now they’ve hit the big 4-0 high cholesterol foods are out, along with cigarettes). Debbie is curious as to how thousands of dollars has gone missing from the fashion boutique she runs whilst Pete is struggling to maintain the financial balance of his record company, and all the while two are wrestling with warring daughters and their emotional issues toward their own parents.

But all of these factors only start to come into relevance after a 50 minute slow start in which a host of needless cameos from other Apatow credits are trotted out (Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, Jason Segel, Charlene Yi, Annie Mumulo…) to perform the now regulation improv scenes in which one character establishes a subject and another provides a list of responses that blend crudity and pop culture reference. Whereas in previous efforts like The 40 Year Old Virgin and indeed Knocked Up the best lines were cherry picked for the cinematic release and the rest saved for DVD bonus footage, This Is 40 just lets its characters keep going until the entire concept of pacing is lost.

What the film lacks in the comedic side, it more than over-compensates for in the dramatic. Every other scene in This Is 40 is an argument, and whilst some are heartbreakingly raw and nerve-hitting (particularly when Pete and Debbie’s heated discussion as to who of them is Simon and who is Garfunkel escalates into a far deeper examination of their marriage), the majority of them are irksome and annoyingly frequent, which is in no way helped by EVERYBODY SHOUTING ALL THE TIME. In fact, This Is 40 is at its best when it’s at its quietest. A simple shot of the youngest child playing keyboard over the muffled sounds of her parents yelling at each other in the other room, or the simple inquisition as to why nobody is talking at the breakfast table convey so much more with so much less.

In many ways, This Is 40 is a lot like Get Him To The Greek, the sort of sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall wherein Russell Brand’s rock star Aldous Snow was given the upgrade from supporting to lead character. As in that film, This Is 40 often shirks the humourous consistency of its source in favour of lengthy and indulgent character study, and whilst Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd prove more than capable of fully fleshing out their old roles and are given stellar support by Albert Brooks and the ever-reliable John Lithgow as their erstwhile fathers, it’s a shame the script doesn’t perform as brilliantly. The emphasis on the dramatic over the comedic unfortunately make This is 40 a tiring and frequently dull experience.

Flabby, often irritating and only mildly amusing, This Is 40 is a midlife crisis to be wary of.