Friday, July 6, 2018


Check out Phoenix Magazine online for my reviews of The First Purge and the remarkable documentary Three Identical Strangers. Also opening this weekend:

Ant-Man and the Wasp--Conspicuously absent from the cosmic struggles of April's Avengers: Infinity War was Ant-Man. But the Marvel superhero, here teamed with his flying counterpart of the title, is kept very busy indeed in this sequel to his 2015 debut.

Ant-Man's form-fitting suit allows him to instantly resize himself, and other objects, from tiny to giant. His superpowers also include the ability to communicate with and command ants, like Aquaman can with fish, and this proves surprisingly handy at times.

He's had several alter-egos since his debut in 1962 in Marvel's Tales to Astonish, but in the movies he's Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a high-tech burglar given the suit by inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man. Hank's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) takes over the similarly diminutive persona of The Wasp, who also has elegant working wings, from her long-missing mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Scott's been under ankle-bracelet-enforced house arrest in San Francisco since his mischief in 2016's Captain America: Civil Wars. He's days away from completing his sentence when Hank and Hope press him back into service as Ant-Man, on the chance that Janet could be rescued from the subatomic limbo in which she was lost when Hope was a child.

There's also a super villain in the mix, a spectral figure called The Ghost, hidden in what resembles a HAZMAT suit. The Ghost is creepy looking, but for my money doesn't make as much of an impact on the movie as the buffoonish comic villain, a shady tech dealer played by the reliable Walton Goggins. Other vets in the cast, like Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Bobby Cannavale and Judy Greer, contribute solid bits as well, and Randall Park is especially funny as an officious FBI man.

But as with Ant-Man the first, Rudd carries the picture--his combination of craggy looks and brash, boyish, unembarrassed silliness connects immediately with the audience. Lilly's Wasp is chic and likable, but essentially a "straight" foil for Rudd, and while Douglas is allowed to score some points off his younger costar, it's Rudd's reactions to these zingers that really get the laughs.

The director of the first film, Peyton Reed, has wisely been returned to the helm for Ant-Man and the Wasp. Once again Reed uses shifts in perspective to create imaginative, sometimes brilliant parody of grandiose superhero action, and even to generate a casual surrealism, with an office building suddenly the size of a briefcase, or a Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser suddenly the size of a tractor-trailer. He stages a San Fran chase-scene finale reminiscent of, but far crazier than, Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 What's Up, Doc?

There's method to the madness, however. As wild as the slapstick is, Reed's touch is disciplined; he never lets the story get away from him, or the characters go fully farcical. Like its predecessor, like Guardians of the Galaxy and like last year's Thor: RagnarokAnt-Man and the Wasp is yet another Marvel movie played as a full-on comedy. But it isn't a sketch comedy. That makes it, maybe, a little less funny than Thor: Ragnarok, but also a little more substantive.

Opening today at AMC Arizona Center:

Bleeding Steel--Jackie Chan stars as a Hong Kong cop doing battle with genetically-modified super-mercenaries while trying to protect the scientist responsible for them. The plot spans years, takes our hero to Australia, and involves a caped villainess, a Frankenstein-like villain, a stage magician, a mesmerist witch, and a long-lost daughter.

Written and directed by Leo Zhang, this actioner is preposterously convoluted, and the English dubbing has a stilted sound. But on its own conventional terms it's well-executed. It lacks, however, the light-footed drollery of Chan's Hong Kong vehicles from the '90s, and there aren't nearly enough of his magical martial arts set-pieces.

About midpoint, we get a short but fun sequence in which Chan uses the stage magician's props, followed by a good confrontation between Chan and the villainess on the roof of the Sydney Opera House. But, probably because of the star's age, much of his other footage is taken up with standard and rather tedious car chases and shootouts.

Jackie Chan is one of the world's great movie stars, but we don't go to see him for this sort of routine cops-and-robbers stuff. Of course, his appeal doesn't derive only from his astounding physical feats, either. It's also in the comically harried, frantic manner with which he performs them, and that gets more pronounced, and funnier, with age. But Bleeding Steel doesn't exploit this potential enough.

No doubt it's also because of Chan's age that much of this movie's screen time is devoted to a younger costar, a cocky but bumbling fellow (Show Lo) who's trying to help. At one point, a thug actually says to this guy "Who do you think you are, Jackie Chan?"

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