‘The Imitation Game’ Presents Alan Turing to a New Generation

The Imitation Game poster

Movies “based on a true story” keep coming at us like Election Day fliers in the mail, but “The Imitation Game” is one of the few that actually deserves our full attention. It portrays the life and work of Alan Turing, one of Britain’s most extraordinary heroes, whose efforts and accomplishments remained unsung for far too long. At the same time, it is a movie about secrets; how we keep them, the importance of keeping them and of the damage they can do when uncovered by others. What starts off as a typical biopic becomes something much more as we watch how Turing and his crew of code breakers helped bring an end to World War II, and of how his life came to a tragic end through needless and unwarranted intolerance.

When it came to finding the right actor to portray Alan Turing, the filmmakers could not have found one better than Benedict Cumberbatch. While other actors would have made the mistake of portraying Turing as some kind of Dr. House clone, Cumberbatch turns him into a fascinatingly complex human being who is brilliant, socially awkward, and very vulnerable in a time where being vulnerable could be a huge liability.

For those who don’t know, Turing was a brilliant mathematician and cryptanalyst who worked at Bletchley Park, the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School during World War II, where he created a machine which succeeded in breaking Germany’s seemingly unbreakable Enigma machine. Cumberbatch makes it clear just how incredibly smart Turing is during his first meeting with naval commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) as he turns a hopelessly bad job interview into an unforgettable demonstration of his deduction skills.

What I loved about Cumberbatch’s performance is how he makes Turing curt with people in a way which is arrogant but not necessarily mean. It’s no surprise his fellow co-workers have a tough time warming up to him as he is determined to do things his way and has little time for anybody who doesn’t think as fast as he does. But part of the fun is watching Cumberbatch take Turing from being an anti-social human being to one who is genuinely eager to involve the rest of his crew in breaking Enigma.

One of the colleagues who came to be a big help to Turing is Joan Clarke, a Cambridge mathematics graduate played by Keira Knightley. Her entrance in the movie is great as the other men consider her to be in town only to apply for secretarial work, but Knightley makes Clarke into a very confident character who is more than ready to prove her worth in a male dominated environment. She also becomes one of Turing’s best friends through thick and thin as she helps ease him into social gatherings and become one of the guys instead of such an isolated individual. Even as Turing’s life heads down the tubes, Clarke is still there for him as she understands him in a way few others do.

I figured “The Imitation Game” would climax with Turing’s machine breaking Enigma, and the sequence where Turing and the others succeed in doing so is intensely exciting. But in a sense, it marks the beginning of the end for this group as they come to discover how the secrets they have uncovered lead to other secrets being made and kept for the good of the people. There’s even a scene where Turing’s crew discovers when a cargo ship is going to be attacked, and they debate on whether or not they will stop it as doing so risks undoing all the work they have accomplished. I love it when dramatic movies provide characters with such difficult dilemmas to solve, and this film comes with some of the most agonizing.

Again, this is a movie about secrets, and it becomes fascinating to see how the keeping of these secrets comes to deeply affect each character. True identities are revealed and compromised, and while certain secrets are kept in the dark to give England an advantage in the war, others secrets come to destroy those who had the misfortune of living in a time where certain behaviors and orientations were criminalized. Turing is the one who suffers the most as his private life is revealed to the world which forces him to face an utterly cruel and unnecessary punishment.

“The Imitation Game” was directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum whose previous works include “Headhunters,” “Fallen Angels” and “Buddy,” and he also directed “Passengers” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Tyldum has done an excellent job in transporting us back to the days of World War II in a way which feels unique and not overly familiar. His emphasis is on the characters just as it should be, and he succeeds in making this not just another traditional biopic. He pays great respect to Turing throughout as this is a man who made a huge difference not just in World War II but also in the development of future technologies we have become far too dependent on these days.

Cumberbatch has long since proved how great an actor he is with his work on the London Stage and on “Sherlock,” and he was prominently featured in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “Star Trek into Darkness.” In “The Imitation Game,” he takes us on quite the emotional ride as we see him triumph in what he does best and suffer horribly in a time where he doesn’t quite belong. He makes you feel Turing’s pain as it is reduced to a shell of what he once was, and the scene where he is unable to even start a crossword puzzle is devastating to witness.

But Cumberbatch isn’t the whole show here as he is surrounded by a wonderful group of actors who are every bit as good. Keira Knightley does some of her best work yet as Joan Clarke, the woman who comes to understand Turing the best. Matthew Goode, so unnerving a presence in “Stoker,” is the epitome of perfect casting as Hugh Alexander; the chess champion and man about town we would all like to be in our everyday lives. Mark Strong makes Major General Stewart Menzies a deeply enigmatic (no pun intended) character who knows far more than he ever lets on. And then there’s Rory Kinnear who portrays Detective Robert Nock, the man who investigates Turing and becomes very eager to keep his life from being ruined. Kinnear is very strong as he shows us the detective’s inner conflict in convicting a man who is truly responsible for saving many lives.

Turing ended up taking his own life at the young age of 43, and it is only in recent years that he has people have acknowledged the terrible treatment he received. In August 2009, John Graham-Cumming started a petition urging the British Government to apologize for Turing’s prosecution, and then Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged and described Turing’s treatment as “appalling.” A few years later, Turing received a pardon from the Queen under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, but many are still waiting for an apology over the way he was treated chemically. This man was responsible for helping to end the Second World War, and while he was alive he was treated with derision more than respect by many. Thanks to “The Imitation Game,” people will now see the kind of person Turing really was and why he deserves to be seen and celebrated as a hero. Believe it or not, his creation of his machine became the prototype for what we today call computers.

This is a terrific film.

* * * * out of * * * *


‘Inverse’ is an Infinitely Thoughtful and Riveting Sci-Fi Movie

Inverse movie poster

When it comes to mind-bending science fiction movies, I have gotten into the habit of trying to stay ahead of the filmmakers to see if I can guess where the story is heading and how it’s going to end. “The Sixth Sense” among other movies got me good, but now I want to beat directors at their own game. I don’t know, maybe I’m just sick of people playing with my head. But with Matt Duggan’s “Inverse,” it really helps not to second guess the filmmaker or attempt to stay ahead of him. Just when you think you know where this movie is heading, it becomes something else and goes out of its way to defy your expectations. What I thought was going to be something along the lines of “Starman” or maybe even “The Terminator” proved to be quite different, and it was in my best interest to just watch it and take everything in.

“Inverse” opens on a small picturesque house in a suburban neighborhood where we see a naked man (played by Josh Wingate) emerging from a swimming pool with no idea of who he is. Once he steps inside the house, he finds pictures of himself and discovers his name is Max, a man who actually died some time ago. His appearance causes quite a shock for his wife and other relatives who come into contact with him, but he can’t seem to remember who they are. Then Max is met by a man named Batter (Morlan Higgins) who informs him he is actually from a parallel universe and has been travelling back and forth between universes to where his brain has been almost completely fried. As Max begins to realize who he really is, he comes face to face with people who want to learn all they can about the universe he is from, and this ends up putting him in grave danger.

Like I said, “Inverse” is not a movie you want to try to get ahead of. Duggan unveils the different layers of the movie’s story to where it truly helps to pay close attention. It invites repeat viewings so you can get deeper into the story and discover new things. The first time you watch it will give you a visceral feeling as Duggan puts you right into Max’s shoes as he desperately tries to discover why he’s here, and you feel his insatiable need to get to the truth before he reaches an unfortunate end.

The other thing which intrigued me about “Inverse” is it’s not your typical good guy/bad guy story. There are no heroes to be found here as everyone has a price to pay for the actions they end up committing. Not even Max is safe as he comes to discover the damage he has incurred during his various travels, and there is really only one person here who hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet this person still gets harmed inadvertently. I leave it to you, the viewer, to figure out who this character is.

“Inverse” meditates on what it might be like to live in a universe where the level of intelligence is much higher than our own. It would certainly be nice to use more than 20% of our brains, so the appeal of certain characters wanting to discover the secrets of this other universe is very understandable. The movie also shows how the quest for higher intelligence can be an obsessive one, and it gets to where we realize there is only so much we should be allowed to discover as it may lead to our undoing.

The cast is all around excellent, and hopefully we will get to see more from them in the future. Wingate carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders as we stay with him from the first scene to the last. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as he is forced to exhibit a wide range of emotions, and he succeeds in making you feel all of them.

There’s also a great supporting performance from Morlan Higgins as Batter, a character who serves as Max’s conscience throughout the film. We watch as Batter explains to Max how he got to where he is now, and in the process of trying to do the right thing, Batter ends up imprisoning himself into a mental cage which offers no easy escape. Higgins is actually one of the most well-known actors on the Los Angeles theatre scene, and he proves to be the kind who inhabits a character more than he plays one. You never catch him acting, and this is one of the joys of watching his performance here.

In addition, you have strong turns from John Burish as Tommy, Max’s brother, who is put in a difficult situation of putting a close family member in harm’s way in order to get at the truth of what’s going on. There’s also Alanna Priere and Michele Lawrence who play the women in Max’s life who are not all they appear to be. To say more about their characters would be giving too much away, so I’ll leave you to see how they fit into this story.

But the best performance in “Inverse” belongs to Chris Pauley who ends up playing two roles here. The most notable role of the two is Bert, a man who knows who Max really is and where he’s from. Pauley is utterly riveting every moment he appears onscreen as he interrogates Max through various methods, one of which includes him rocking out to some techno music for no easily discernable reason. You never know what Pauley is going to do next, and you can’t take your eyes off him for a single second.

“Inverse” was made on a very low budget, and Duggan makes the most of it. In the end, this is a sci-fi movie which thrives more on ideas than on spectacle. Even if the pace drags a little, Duggan holds your attention throughout as the effects of Max’s actions become all the clearer toward the movie’s conclusion. Credit should also be given to the movie’s producers, Stephanie Bell and Trevor Boelter, for seeing it all the way to its completion. Like a lot of low budget movies, this one had a very long journey to the silver screen, and it proves to be worth the wait.

Rumor has it Duggan wants to make a trilogy of movies starting with “Inverse,” and it would be very interesting to see where Max’s adventures will go from here. This is a movie which is coming way, way, way beneath the radar, and it deserves a big audience. Here’s hoping we eventually see a sequel to it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

“Inverse” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. If you are already a member, you can stream it for free.


‘The Theory of Everything’ Gives Us the Stephen Hawking We Never Got to Know Until Now

The Theory of Everything movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2014. I am posting it here out of respect for Stephen Hawking who just passed away in March 2018 at the age of 76. Once diagnosed with ALS, he was expected to live only a few years more, but he succeeded in living on despite what the disease did to his body, and he lived one hell of a life. RIP Stephen.

It is shocking to see Stephen Hawking, as played by Eddie Redmayne, riding around recklessly on his bicycle at the beginning of “The Theory of Everything.” We have long since gotten used to seeing him in his motorized wheelchair as ALS robbed him years ago of the ability to move around on his own, and we all know the sound of his computerized voice which has provided us with an insight to his brilliant mind and allowed him to provide lyrics to Pink Floyd songs. But this movie reminds us he was not always like this, and that there was someone in particular who saved his life in more ways than one.

“The Theory of Everything” is based on the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” which was written by his first wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, and it focuses on their courtship which took place during their time as students at Cambridge University. Stephen looks like a perfectly dressed nerd who has the appearance of someone destined never to have any luck with women, and yet he still manages to catch the eye of the beautiful Jane (may we all be this lucky). At first it looks like an ill-suited coupling as Stephen is a student of physics while Jane’s main studies are in romantic languages. She believes in God, but Stephen’s love of science appears to imply he does not. We watch as they come to love and understand how the other thinks, and the way it is presented to us is both lovely and very believable.

But of course, we all know what will happen to Stephen eventually, and it is shown here in excruciating detail as he suddenly trips and falls down right on his head (ouch). Upon discovering he has ALS and told he has only a couple of years to live, Stephen finds himself shying away from everyone around him including fellow students, professors and even Jane as he desperately doesn’t want to be a pity case for anyone. But Jane has fallen deeply in love with Stephen, and she is not about to give up on him because there is too much to lose.

It’s hard not to think of movies like “A Beautiful Mind” while watching “The Theory of Everything” as both feature strong female characters determined to save their afflicted husbands from the diseases which appear all but fatal. For a time, it looks like this film will be no different in the way it portrays the strained relationship Stephen and Jane as they sacrifice so much to make things work between them. But as the movie goes on, it defies conventions and shows us a relationship which does suffer, but any impediments thrown into their path do nothing to tear apart the infinite respect they have for one another.

The eyes of the world are on Eddie Redmayne right now who as his performance here is utterly astonishing. I would love to ask about how he went about portraying Stephen’s bodily deterioration because he achieves doing so in a way which feels painfully real, and it’s amazing what he’s able to convey when Stephen is no longer able to communicate vocally (at least, until he gets that computerized voice). We always talk about how certain performances are more about imitation when it comes to playing characters based on real people, but Redmayne inhabits Stephen to such an amazing effect to where I found it impossible to label his performance as being one of mere imitation. Even as ALS continues to ravage his body, Redmayne makes the case for why Stephen remains such a respected individual to this very day as well as one who continues to fight the odds.

And let’s not forget the fantastic performance by Felicity Jones who portrays Jane Hawking as the lovely and strong-willed woman she is. While it may look like she has the easier role to play, Jones has an equally challenging role as she shows the unending struggles and sacrifices Jane went through to keep Stephen alive. It’s painful to watch Jane as she uses an alphabet sign to communicate with Stephen after his tracheotomy, and Jones makes you feel her pain as she wonders if she has suddenly taken too much away from him.

“The Theory of Everything” was directed by James Marsh who previously made “Man on Wire,” the Oscar-winning documentary about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center buildings in New York. Marsh does excellent work in keeping all his actors in check to where they never go for scene-hogging moments of an embarrassingly dramatic nature. Truthfully, it is the ordinary moments of these characters lives which are the most fascinating to watch, and Marsh succeeds in taking us back in time to a most romantic period in these couple’s lives.

The other great thing is how Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who spent ten years trying to get this movie made, refused to let the audience look at Stephen Hawking as if he’s a complete invalid. Despite the damage ALS has done to his body, Stephen still managed to live a full life which has included two wives and three children, and it didn’t stop him from doing his work which eventually led to the publication of his novel “A Brief History of Time.” Heck, he even got to guest star opposite Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” What more could someone ask for?

“The Theory of Everything,” is by no means a movie which falls victim to conventions or clichés. It presents us with a marvelous story about two people who come to love one another for their thoughts and minds, and of how their love helped them through various struggles which would have worn anyone else out in less than a year. It also contains some of the best performances of 2014 from Redmayne and Jones who are as brave as they are daring. Portraying real-life people onscreen is always a challenge, but they both took roles based on very well-known individuals and succeeded in making them their own.

Seriously, “The Theory of Everything” is one of the best movies of 2014 that I have seen and it is deserving of many of the accolades it has received.

* * * * out of * * * *


‘Love, Simon’ Digs Deep Enough Beneath the Surface

Love Simon movie poster

When it comes to teen movies, I live for those which take the adolescence seriously. Those years can be rough and tumble ones, filled of strong emotions which can overwhelm our small little worlds to an unbearable degree, and this is reflected in “The Breakfast Club,” “Pump Up the Volume” and “The Spectacular Now.” However, most teen movies deal with those years in a shallow manner to where they do nothing more than magnify the fears we have, or had, of being seen as unpopular or horribly isolated from our peers. Going into “Love, Simon,” which is based on the book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, I figured it would be one of the shallower motion pictures involving teen life as its poster features the cast in all their clear-skinned glory. Surely some of these stars had to deal with acne, right?

“Love, Simon” ends up falling into the middle space of realistic and shallow teen movies. Some parts of it feel forced to where they belong more in a network sitcom, but others strike at the truth of growing up in a way few other movies have recently. In fact, this may be the first movie in which we eagerly await to see two guys kiss. Many were revolted by such a sight in the past, but these days we accept it because love is far more an attractive thing than hate. Realizing this, it makes me believe we have evolved as a society even more than we already have.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is your average teenager who comes from a good home with loving parents and a sister who looks to become a world class chef in record time. He also has a great group of friends he can confide in any time, and this made me very envious of his life as it didn’t feel like I always had that when I was his age. But Simon does have a big secret, and he doesn’t need to spell it out for us. He is gay and has yet to tell his family and friends, and the only way he can discuss his sexual orientation dilemma is with his email pen pal who is also contemplating how he can come out to his own family and friends.

Right from the start, I realized “Love, Simon” is a groundbreaking movie as the filmmakers were not about to paint the majority of the characters in such broad or obvious strokes. I was constantly reminded of the scene from “Clueless” in which Murray tells Cher that the boy she wants to have sex with is in fact a “disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy.” While homosexuals might, and I strongly stress the word might, have been easier to spot in the past, such stereotypes we are now largely irrelevant as we have no business judging anyone as what we say about others speaks far more about who we are.

“Love, Simon” also takes place in a time where our lives have long since become dominated by social media and cell phones. In the past, we could leave our school lives behind once we went home, but kids today cannot do the same as their friends and enemies continue to exert a strong hold over them via the internet, and nobody these days can live without it let alone a cell phone.

Simon is able to keep his sexual orientation a secret even as he reaches out online to another young man who is considering coming out to his parents. Things, however, become complicated when the annoying class nerd, Martin Addison (Logan Miller), discovers Simon’s secret and threatens to blackmail him unless he can set him up with one of his very pretty friends, Abby (Alexandra Shipp). From there, Simon’s life heads into a spiral of sorts as he is forced to lie to his closest friends and comprise their relationships, all in an effort to keep his secret even more secret than ever before.

One of the key elements of “Love, Simon” is how our main protagonist is always trying to find out the true identity of his email pen-pal, Blue. The filmmakers tantalize us with the possibilities of it being this or that person, Director Greg Berlanti teases us with what could be obvious answers, but he instead invites us to see past what we thought we saw and see the bigger picture we have no business denying ourselves. Movies in the past have played on what we think homosexuals look, how they act and dress like, but this one makes how nothing is ever clear cut as it seems.

The only character who you could say exhibits such stereotypes is Ethan, an out-and-proud teenager played by Clark Moore. Ethan doesn’t try to hide who he really is from anyone, nor should he, but he does have a key scene with Simon where he explains how his coming out was not as easy as it seemed. In retrospect, I wished the filmmakers had dug a little deeper into Ethan’s character, but to their credit, they do give him some of the movie’s best one-liners (the “gangbanged by TJ Maxx” line is classic).

I also really enjoyed the camaraderie Simon has with his best friends played by Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Miles Heizer, and Katherine Langford, whose character fares much better here than the one she played on “13 Reasons Why.” Seeing these friends have a great time with one another reminded me of the friendships I had during my high school years. It’s those friendships who help us get through the worst of times, and being a teenager can really suck more often than not. When Simon’s friendships become threatened, it’s painful to watch because losing a friend can seem so infinitely painful to where the heartache seems impossible to cure.

As for the character of Martin, he reminds of the kind of guy I never wanted to be seen as in high school. You know, the guy completely unaware of how annoying he is to others and who thinks so highly of himself that he cannot see the truth of what’s going on around him. The scene where he professes his affection to Abby at a football game is one of those horrifically cringe-inducing moments we all hope and pray never to get caught in, and Miller sells the moment for all the humiliation it is worth.

Simon’s parents are played wonderfully by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel, and they present the typical loving couple and parents we always hope to see in movies like these. Garner in particular has a wonderful scene with Robinson as she professes how proud she is of him for coming out. Duhamel, however, has a scene with Robinson where he accepts his son for who he is, and it feels like laughable for reasons I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t intend. Still, it’s fun to see Duhamel come to see how the music he loved in the past is no longer cool.

“Love, Simon” also features a pair of sublime supporting performances from Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell, both who look like they are having the time of their lives. Hale plays Mr. Worth, the high school’s vice-principal who tries much too hard to fit in with a youthful demographic who will never see him as cool, especially when he is so busy taking away their cell phones at any given opportunity.

As for Rothwell, she plays Ms. Albright, the school’s drama teacher who is directing a production of the musical “Cabaret.” Her reactions to her students’ talent, or lack thereof, are priceless as she wonders how she went from doing “The Lion King” on Broadway to ending up here. Just watch Rothwell as she reprimands a pair of immature students who make fun of others for being different. The way she handles them could have been cliched, but it leads to one of the biggest laughs “Love, Simon” has in store for its audience.

In some ways I wish “Love, Simon” had dug even deeper into its subject manner. Many scenes ring true in the ways teenager act and live their lives, but it only gives so far beneath the surface of things to where this comes close to seeming like a missed opportunity. All the same, to have a movie like this one which the life of an adolescent seriously is always a wonderful gift, and this one definitely qualifies.

In the past, gay-themed or LGBT movies were treated with latex gloves as studios feared general audiences would not be quick to accept homosexuals in love. But with movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Kids Are All Right,” we were not given gay love stories, but love stories as passionate as any we had ever watched before. The audience I saw “Love, Simon” with cheered loudly at the sight of two boys kissing each other, and I like to think this shows how far we have come in accepting things which never should have been quicker to accept in the past. Besides, we should agree seeing two boys kiss is a far more pleasing sight than seeing teenagers gunned down by a madman with an assault weapon, wouldn’t you say?

* * * out of * * * *


‘Human Zoo’ is a Thrilling Directorial Debut from Rie Rasmussen

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most exhilarating directorial debuts I’ve seen in some time. It’s even more astonishing to learn its director, Rie Rasmussen, also wrote the screenplay, co-produced the movie and stars in it as well. This got me to thinking about what Robin Williams said when he was presenting at the Oscars:

“There’s the writer, producer, director; one of the few people in the world who can blow smoke up their own ass!”

But having worked with Brian De Palma on “Femme Fatale” and Luc Besson on “Angel-A,” Rasmussen has learned from some of the best and shows a confidence few others have exhibited on their first feature. Released in France back in 2009, “Human Zoo” made its American theatrical debut a few years later courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week at New Beverly Cinema.

Rasmussen stars as Adria Shala, a Serbian-Albanian illegal immigrant who, at the movie’s start, is living in Marseille. We soon learn how she is still deeply traumatized by her past, and the story shifts back and forth in time as we see her trying to survive in the war-torn Kosovo. Adria gets captured by soldiers and almost raped when one of them, Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko), saves and takes her with him as he decides to desert the Serbian army. From there, the two of them move to Belgrade where Srdjan becomes a gangster and deals out dozens of weapons to the highest bidder. Adria soon learns the ropes of how he does things and stays with him even as things get increasingly nasty (emphasis on the word nasty). It’s this past which threatens to tear apart her present as she finds a new love while helping a friend of hers obtain the citizenship that will help her find a better life.

“Human Zoo” is at times a shockingly violent movie, but never in a flashy way. The violence is an integral part of the lives of these characters, and it is portrayed in all its foul ugliness. It is never glamorized as Rasmussen is reflecting the real-life tragedy of what happened in Kosovo during the war. There is also a rape scene which is one of the most realistic ever featured in movies as Rasmussen never ever tries to make it look the least bit arousing as other directors might have.

Watching this movie twice in the same week, I was blown away at how many long shots Rasmussen pulled off. We’re in a time where movies seem to be about quick cuts and shaking the camera all over the place more than anything else. But she makes each scene flow naturally even as they seem incredibly complicated to put together. There’s one sex scene which looks astonishingly realistic as it lasts two or three minutes, and it’s this kind of directing that sucks you completely into the story and its characters.

Rasmussen also succeeds in staging a brilliant overhead shot in a gunfight sequence which has her character going down a hall as we see what’s going on in the rooms surrounding it. DePalma, among other movie directors, have pulled off scenes like this many times, but Rasmussen makes it all her own to where it feels very fresh.

“Human Zoo” could have been utterly confusing as it constantly jumps back and forth in time, but Rasmussen manages to separate the timelines to where they are easily identifiable. She uses a cold blue color when presenting the past in the same way Steven Soderbergh used different colors in “Traffic.” The color suits this part of the story as it starts in war torn Kosovo and continues on into a world which looks every bit as cold it seems. Watching Adria’s journey into an abyss where the difference between right and wrong becomes seriously blurred is one we cannot turn away from. Her friendship with Srdjan keeps growing into something else even as he maintains a detached mindset on human nature in general.

Rasmussen also gets away with tackling different issues like immigration, slavery, war, and others, and yet this film never feels overstuffed. They are all issues very important to her, and she gives time to explore them without spelling everything out to the audience.

As an actress, Rasmussen gives a ballsy performance as Adria as she takes her character from a naïve young girl to a very self-sufficient one. It’s a great role for any actress because there are so many levels to play with, and she never misses a beat. In interviews, she has talked about seeing the darker side of life which taught her how to defend herself, and this life experience certainly bleeds through into her portrayal of Adria.

Another terrific performance comes from Nick Corey who plays Adria’s American boyfriend, Shawn Reagan. At first, it looks like Corey will coast on the surfer dude stereotype when Nick bumps into Adria by accident. But Corey imbues Nick with a love for life as we learn how he has traveled from one country to another, and he gets a great scene where he prepares to fight in a bar by stripping off all his clothes. Corey makes the scene believable and funny, and it also helps how Rasmussen said she saw a guy do this in real life.

But the best performance by far in “Human Zoo” comes from Nikola Djuricko who gives us one of cinema’s most enthralling and seductive sociopaths as Srdjan Vasiljevic. We should despise Srdjan for what he does, but Djuricko makes him too entertaining to be around. For the majority of this film, his eyes never tell us if he’s a good or bad guy. In watching the delight he takes in his bad deeds and his bleak perception of humanity in general, Djuricko pulls the audience in with a tight grasp to where we can’t take our eyes off him. It’s a fearless performance as he believably portrays a person with qualities we want to believe are not a part of us, and this actor makes an infinitely appealing character out of a certified monster.

I hope “Human Zoo” eventually finds a wider audience than it has already received. The movie more than succeeds in breaking through all borders in its path, and it deserves to be taken a chance on. We are still stuck in a cycle of endless (not to mention needless) remakes and movies “based on a true story,” but this movie has a life force about it which commands your attention and exhilarates you from start to finish. I can’t say that about many movies which come out these days.

* * * * out of * * * *


‘Salt’ Has Angelina Jolie Doing More Than Tomb Raiding

Salt movie poster

Looking back, the summer 2010 movie season was truly the summer of the preposterous action movie. We got the big screen version of “The A-Team” which had four guys trying to steer a parachuting tank with its turret by firing rounds out of it, then there was Tom Cruise who could do just about anything except take the time to go to the bathroom in “Knight and Day” (Jack Bauer had that problem too), and even the brilliant “Inception” employed a concept which is not at all possible (unless the military is trying to keep it a secret). And then there was “Salt” starring Angelina Jolie which runs very rapidly through a river of plot holes and leaps in logic, and it’s just as much fun as the films I just mentioned. Thanks to director Phillip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger” and “Rabbit Proof Fence”) who keeps things moving at such a fast pace, there’s not much time to sit back and count all the inconsistencies. All we can do is hang on to the edge of our seats and revel in the slam bang action brought to us without an overuse of CGI effects.

Jolie plays CIA agent Evelyn Salt who is just about to head on home to her loving husband Mike (August Diehl) who loves to study spiders when she and her partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) suddenly get the opportunity to interrogate a Russian defector. During this interrogation, the defector reveals that a highly trained Russian agent will assassinate the Russian President when he visits the United States. He the name of this agent is Evelyn Salt, and the chase is on from there. Immediately thrown under a veil of heavy suspicion, Evelyn desperately rushes out of the office to find her husband before he disappears from her life forever. Never mind abiding the law or taking the time to explain herself, she wants her husband now! When a woman gets pissed, it is in your best interest not to argue with her, especially if she is a CIA agent!

Evelyn Salt is a mixture of both Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, and this is especially the case in how she manages to evade capture or break free from highly trained agents and officers on more than one occasion. The movie really plays on Jolie’s strengths throughout, and of the kind of person the media has perceived her to be. I say this because over the years she has been treated like some seriously deranged human being who would have sex with her bother instead of a regular person which she is if anyone actually bothered to notice. Jolie plays on these perceptions throughout “Salt” as we watch her relentlessly pursue those who wish to capture and question her, and also when she changes her appearance to get closer to her objective.

I also liked how by the time she comes to meet the man who will soon become her husband, you can believe she has been fully trained to all she can do. A lot of movies would have you believe these characters were born with these skills and have perfected them since they were toddlers. With Jolie, you never doubt her even as the movie becomes more ridiculous by the minute.

There are so many twists and turns throughout “Salt” to where it shamelessly flaunts its illogic plot developments throughout to where we give up trying to figure it all out. Compared to many of Noyce’s other movies, this is easily the most kinetic action movie he has made to date even when compared to “Dead Calm” which introduced Nicole Kidman to the world. You could complain about how things don’t add up, but Noyce never lets the pace of the movie lag for a second, and we never find the time to sort through the plot and characters while we are watching. For other movies this would be a major hindrance, but for “Salt” it works to its advantage. You’re too thoroughly entertained to even care if this film is messing with our head one time too many.

In addition to the talents of Ms. Jolie, you also have Liev Schreiber as her partner and friend Ted Winter. Many consider Schreiber to be this stone-faced actor who wears the same expression in each and every movie he does, but this is probably because they have never seen him act onstage where he gives one brilliantly inspired performance after another. Schreiber holds his own opposite the formidable Jolie as he desperately works to protect his friend from those who would make her disappear, and you root for him as he gets closer and closer to getting a full idea of who she really is.

You also have Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody, an agent above Winter who pursues Salt relentlessly. He’s the character you want to shake around and slap in the face so he can see how wrong he is about her (or how wrong we think he is). Chiwetel has done great work over the years, most notably in Stephen Frears’ “Dirty Pretty Things,” and he makes Peabody more than your average one-dimensional government official who would foolishly believe a Russian defector over a loyal agent from the CIA.

We also have to give Noyce a lot of credit for not relying on a plethora of CGI effects in “Salt.” When you see Jolie clinging for dear life on her apartment building 12 stories up from the ground, that was really her (get ready for some serious vertigo). It all reminded me of how good “Live Free or Die Hard” was as it tried to make the effects as real as possible as the filmmakers came to realize the typical film going audience would no longer be easily fooled by CGI effects. Sometimes they are not even better than the real thing.

If there is one seriously massive complaint I have against “Salt,” it’s in regards to Andre Braugher’s role as the Secretary of Defense. Those of you who know me are fully aware of what a die-hard fan I am of the NBC cop show from the 1990’s, “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Braugher’s work on the show was beyond brilliant, and not many other actors can manipulate people through such theatrically volcanic explosions of anger. Furthermore, let us not forget his work in movies like “Glory” where he made the first of many memorable impressions. But in “Salt,” he is relegated to a role where he barely has any lines and is given far too little to do. What gives?! You want to cast Braugher in a movie, then you give him a role which is in tune with his well-known talents. Stop giving him roles which could be played by anyone.

Maybe “Salt” is more fun than it deserves credit for. But along with a pulsating music score by James Newton Howard and some tight film editing by John Gilroy and the well-regarded Stuart Baird, the movie gives you a good dose of adrenalin pumping fun which we don’t always get on the silver screen. Nitpick all you want about the events in “Salt,” it’ll still keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

* * * out of * * * *


‘Red Sparrow’ Thrives on the Presence of Jennifer Lawrence

Red Sparrow movie poster

I will be curious to see what audiences will have to say about “Red Sparrow” after seeing it. Those expecting a Jason Bourne-like adventure or something along the lines of “Salt” which starred Angelina Jolie as a sleeper spy may be disappointed as this film feels more like an adaptation of a John Le Carre novel where the lives of spies are not the least bit romanticized. The movie itself is based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews who, like Le Carre, was once a member of an intelligence agency. What results is a motion picture which is not as interested in gunfights or car chases as it is in the mind games spies play with one another as the art of manipulation becomes a far more powerful weapon than a bullet. It also serves as yet another reminder of how Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best things in movies these days as she sucks you right into her gaze and never lets you go.

Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a gifted Russian dancer who suffers a career-ending injury at the movie’s start. With her dancing now a thing of the past, she and her mother find their future looking particularly bleak as the loss of their apartment and medical care become imminent. As a result, she accepts an invitation from her loving but undeniably devious uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), to work for Russian intelligence. But whereas most spy movies see recruits being trained in the ways of martial arts and weaponry, the recruits we see here are instead trained in the ways of manipulation. Or, more specifically, sexual manipulation.

The scenes where we see Dominika and others being trained in the ways of manipulation help make “Red Sparrow” stand out among other spy movies as I can’t remember many which see new recruits being made to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Heck, the only one I can think of like it is “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” and that film came out back in the 1980’s. As the Headmistress of the spy training school, Charlotte Rampling gives us a passive aggressive version of the sadistic drill instructor from “Full Metal Jacket” as she forces her students into situations which will test their mental defenses instead of their physical ones. We never see her raise her voice or yell at her pupils, but this is because Rampling makes it clear why she doesn’t need to do so. You can question her, but she will make you see why you shouldn’t have in the first place.

Once “Red Sparrow” moves from the school and into Dominika’s mission which involves her meeting up with CIA agent Nathaniel “Nate” Nash (Joel Edgerton), the story enters into familiar territory as we watch these two spies from different countries fall for one another in a way which goes against their training. Still, it’s fascinating to watch Lawrence and Edgerton test one another as each try to crack through the mental they have built to protect themselves. It reminded me of when James Bond went head to head with Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale” as each tried to learn more about the other. Both kept their guard up as they wondered who would break first.

Ever since her breakthrough performance in “Winter’s Bone,” Lawrence has proven to be an amazing talent as she brings a natural charisma and a raw energy few others can these days. Her work in “Red Sparrow” is no exception as she kept my eyes glued to the screen from start to finish. Seeing her go from a gifted ballerina to a methodical agent is mesmerizing as Dominika looks to get the upper hand in each situation she gets thrust into, and Lawrence nails each note of her character while maintaining a Russian accent which doesn’t fail her. She is not out to give us another variation on Katniss Everdeen here as the character of Dominika takes this acress down a road she has not traveled down before.

Speaking of Katniss Everdeen, “Red Sparrow” was directed by “The Hunger Games’” Francis Lawrence, and he certainly knows how to get the best out of his leading actress. In addition, he also keeps a solid level of tension flowing throughout. Yes, the movie does run a little too long, and the torture scenes we see pale in comparison to those in spy movies of the past. Heck, a similar torture scene in “Casino Royale” was far more painful to endure, and that 007 adventure was PG-13. Still, Francis gets plenty of mileage out of the mind games each character plays on the other.

It’s impossible not to think about the #MeToo movement while watching “Red Sparrow” as Lawrence is greeted with brutal assaults on her character by men prepared to take what they want without anything resembling remorse. Like Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” her character of Dominika is forced to exist in a male-dominated world which leaves everyone of her gender little in the way of options, something which needs to change now. This makes the character’s revenge all the more fulfilling as she puts those men in their place in sometimes painful ways. Of course, this will most likely make “Red Sparrow” harder to sit through for many audience members.

“Red Sparrow” does have its flaws, and its conclusion is not as fulfilling as I thought it would be, but I find it impossible to deny the compelling effect it had on me overall. And again, Jennifer Lawrence reminds us why she is one of the most enthralling actors working in movies today. She dares you to look into her eyes to see if you could possibly find your way into her soul. Even as the movie goes through the familiar tropes of the spy movie genre, the Oscar winner keeps us watching her every move.

They say the truth shall set you free, but in the world of “Red Sparrow,” the truth is likely to get you killed. Realizing this reminds me of the Depeche Mode song “Should Be Higher” as David Gahan sung about how “lies are more attractive than the truth.” For Dominika and Nate, their lies have to be. Or do they?

* * * out of * * * *


‘Flight’ is Not What I Expected it to Be

Flight movie poster

The advertisements for Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight” are actually quite deceptive. It almost looks to be a mystery movie as we wonder if Denzel Washington’s character of Whip Whitaker was drunk or not when he crash-landed the commercial airplane he was flying. Whip ended up saving a lot of lives, but is the company which owns the airline he flies for trying to make him take the blame so they can reduce their loses? Looking at the commercials and trailers for “Flight,” it looked as if the film was being sold as a relatively easygoing cinematic affair. However, it turns to be something far more complex and ambiguous than what Hollywood is used to putting out.

“Flight” isn’t a mystery in the slightest, but instead a character study about a man who is overwhelmed by his addictions and has yet to be honest not only with others, but most of all with himself. From the start, we can see Captain Whip Whitaker is one messed up dude. Waking up in his hotel room after an evening tryst with stewardess Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), we see him drink some beer, smoke a cigarette, and arguing with his ex-wife over their son’s school tuition while snorting some cocaine. All of this happens before he puts on his uniform and heads over to his plane to get ready for takeoff.

Whip clearly has no business flying an airplane under these conditions, but fly it he does. When a malfunction suddenly forces it into a vertical dive, he manages to roll the plane over to where he’s flying upside down, and he does so just long enough to stabilize the descent and land it in an open field. Next thing Whip knows, he is waking up in a hospital room only to discover the real nightmare for him is about to begin.

It says a lot about the star power of Washington and Zemeckis that they could get a movie like “Flight” made today. Made for only $30 million, far less than what it cost for Zemeckis to make “The Polar Express” or “A Christmas Carol,” this is more of a character driven drama from the 1970’s as it gives us a main character who is not particularly likable, and yet we are compelled to follow him all the way to the movie’s end.

What I loved about the screenplay by John Gatins is how it revels in the ambiguity of its characters and the situations they are stuck in. We know Whip was far from sober when flying the plane, and yet we cannot help but wonder if his heroic act can somehow excuse his personal sins. His lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle, terrific as always), tells him how ten other pilots were placed in flight simulators which recreated the event, and of how they ended up killing everybody on board. But there is one big difference between Whip and all those pilots: they were all sober.

We can always count on Washington to give us some of the best performances in movies today, and his work in “Flight” is unsurprisingly superb. It’s also the riskiest role he has played in a long time as his character is far from likable and apparently determined to drive everyone who tries to reach him away. Heck, Detective Alonzo Harris from “Training Day” almost seems like a nicer person than Whip as Alonzo tried to have his partner killed, but we always find ourselves rooting for Washington no matter which character he plays, and he does an exceedingly brave job in uncovering this character’s wounded humanity for all of us to see.

I do have to say, however, how amazed I am at the enormous amount of alcohol Whip consumes throughout the movie. Any normal person would have likely experienced liver failure long before this story reaches its final act.

Much has been said about how this is Zemeckis’ first live action movie since the year 2000 when he made “Cast Away” and “What Lies Beneath,” but people should really take note of how this is the first R-rated movie he has directed since “Used Cars” and that one came out in 1980. Having made so many films largely geared towards the whole family, it’s tempting to think he was no longer in a position to helm one with such complex characters and issues. But with “Flight,” Zemeckis does some of his most memorable work behind the camera in some time. There are moments where he paints some dramatic strokes broader than they need to be, but he never once shies away from the ambiguous nature and fascinating questions which Gatins’ screenplay elicits. He also does a brilliant job in one crucial scene involving a minibar in a hotel room, and the suspense of it had the audience I saw the movie with absolutely enthralled. And, of course, he stages a very frightening plane crash that tops the one he put together in “Cast Away.” Even from the safety of a movie theater, this sequence is truly harrowing to sit through, and its images hang over the rest of “Flight” like an ominous shadow.

Another superb performance comes from Kelly Reilly who plays Nicole Maggen, a former photographer trying to free herself from the throes of a nasty heroin habit. Reilly may be best remembered for her role in the deeply unsettling horror film “Eden Lake,” and her portrayal here feels very honest in how she presents an addict’s day to day struggle to stay clean.

There’s also a number of other terrific supporting performances to be found here from actors like John Goodman who looks to be channeling Jeff Bridges’ Dude character from “The Big Lebowski” for his role of Harling Mays. Goodman provides the movie with its much-needed scenes of comic support, and he proves to be as entertaining here as he was in “Argo.”

Bruce Greenwood, who increasingly lends the movies he appears in a strong integrity, is also really good as Whip’s longtime friend, Charlie Anderson. Also showing up in a small but pivotal role is the great Melissa Leo whose sweet voice can’t hide her relentless pursuit of the truth as FAA investigator Ellen Block.

I didn’t think I’d see another movie in 2012 other than Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” which offered an equal amount of complex characters in ambiguous situations. As a result, “Flight” turned out to be a big surprise for me as it challenges viewers in ways a strong dramatic film should. It offers us yet another great Denzel Washington performance, and it reminds us of what a terrific director Robert Zemeckis can be regardless of whether or not the characters in his films are computer generated.

* * * ½ out of * * * *


‘Cloverfield’ Lives Up to the Hype


The fact that “Cloverfield” is any good is something of a miracle. This movie was released in January, a month where Hollywood tends to dump all their crappy movies because they have no idea of where else to put them. Plus, this is a movie which could have easily collapsed under the height of anticipation and expectation which preceded it with its brilliant marketing strategy. We all saw the brilliant teaser trailer showing the severed head of the Statue of Liberty being thrown down into the middle of Manhattan. We didn’t see the title for the film until months later, and we couldn’t stop thinking about it. This trailer was analyzed like it was the equivalent of the Zapruder film which captured the Kennedy assassination, but now the movie is finally here and has gotten 2008 off to a strong start.

“Cloverfield” takes place in the city of New York which has seen its fair share of destruction on and off the big screen. It starts off with some color bars on the screen and there is a message stating the footage we are about to see is from the area “formerly known as Central Park.” Those are ominous words indeed, and it leaves us in a state of suspended tension as we already know something very bad is going to happen. We first meet Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) as he is filming the apartment of the woman he just slept with, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman). We see them hanging out in Coney Island throughout, but the movie then jumps ahead to a month or so later when Rob is about to leave New York for a new job in Japan. It turns out Beth and Rob never really hung out with each other again after the great day they had, and the time they had together is always on their minds. But just as they try to sort out their personal issues, the earth shakes beneath them and, of course, all hell breaks loose.

The movie does take its time getting started which is not a bad thing as it takes time to establish the main players and their backgrounds. The script doesn’t flesh them out completely, but they are fleshed out enough to where you do care about them. The big surprise party thrown for Rob is filled with people who look like, at the very least, got a callback for one or more of the shows on the CW network. It would have been nice to see the filmmakers add more ordinary people into this party who did not have the perfect body or such Noxzema clear faces, but anyway.

What makes this monster film particularly effective is how it is told from the ground view. We are there with the people as they experience this disaster firsthand, and the characters are not just simple clichés who look and feel like they belong in a typical watered-down sitcom. This is what drove me nuts about Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla.” Like Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” it is not caught up with the military as they make decisions on how to destroy this enormous beast. It is more concerned with people like you and me and how we might struggle to survive in this situation. The adrenaline keeps running high as Rob and a few others make their way through the decimated city to get to Beth who is trapped in her high-rise apartment.

Another key factor is that “Cloverfield” doesn’t show us the monster right away, and this as a result makes the thought of the monster becomes more terrifying than anything else. We do get to see the monster eventually, but not in its entirety until the latter half. I would love to describe the monster to you, but I’d rather you discover it for yourself as I really don’t want to spoil the surprise. Nothing will compare to the first time you watch this movie.

The movie is also dominated by the shaky cam work which threatens to become an overused method of filmmaking these days. For those of you who have serious motion sickness problems, don’t sit too close to the screen. As for myself, I actually dealt with it just fine. I was starting to think I might have reached my limit with shaky camerawork after watching “The Kingdom,” and it fails in comparison to the brilliant camerawork accomplished in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” But here, it’s fine and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

“Cloverfield” is not exactly brilliant filmmaking, but it does get the job done and with no real music score might I add. We don’t get to hear a score until the end credits where Michael Giaachiano composed a piece of music which serves a tribute of sorts to the monster movies of the past. Credit, however, should go to director Matt Reeves who directs his first movie here since “The Pallbearer” which was made back in 1996. He keeps the action grounded enough to where we have no problem following the characters even if their situation is not entirely probable. Anyway, we go into a movie like this to have a good time, not to think too hard about everything going on.

* * * ½ out of * * * *


‘Ant-Man’ Proves to be More than the Average Origin Movie

Ant Man movie poster

Part of me will always wonder what “Ant-Man” would have looked like had Edgar Wright not left the project. Wright has long since proven to be a wonderful talent behind the camera with “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (my favorite movie of 2010) and “The World’s End,” all of which succeeded in giving audiences an awesomely entertaining time at the movies. He left this film after having been involved with its development for several years as Marvel had different plans for it than he did, and this usually spells trouble for any cinematic endeavor. But we can only wonder so much about what could have been until we realize we will never truly know since Wright’s version was never made. When all is said and done, “Ant-Man” proves to be a very entertaining time at the movies. It is yet another superhero origin story, but one which feels fresh and unlike others that just go through the motions.

We come to meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) just before he leaves prison after serving a sentence for robbery (but not armed robbery). Scott was once married and has a daughter who thinks the world of him, and he is desperate to make an honest living despite his law breaking past. After a job at Baskin Robbins goes bust for him, he is contacted by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant physicist who invites him to take his place as Ant-Man, a superhero who can take on the bad guys no matter how big or small he is.

When it comes to superhero movies, I have long since tired of the origin story as it feels like a setup for a franchise Hollywood studios are infinitely desperate for in this day and age. “Ant-Man,” however felt like a fresh and subversive take on the origin story to where I couldn’t remember the last of its kind I had seen. The only thing it did remind me of was the Monty Python sketch about ants which showed how strong they are when it comes to lifting things far greater than their weight. Watching it also had me excited at the possibilities of what one person could do if they are shrunk down to such a miniscule size, and this is even though we would like certain body parts to be larger than they already are.

Paul Rudd is a perfect choice to play Scott Lang as his effortless charisma makes you believe Scott is an ex-con who is ever so eager to turn his life around for the sake of his daughter. This is a role which could have been played either too seriously or broadly, but Rudd manages to find a balance to where this character is not the usual brooding super hero who has occupied many comic book movies to an annoying abandon.

Of course, every superhero movie needs a strong female character, and we get one here with Hope Van Dyne. The daughter of Hank Pym, she is played by Evangeline Lilly whom we all know from the “Lost” and for playing the elf Tauriel in Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. Lilly’s character has to deal with many conflicting emotions when it comes to her father and Scott, and it’s endlessly fascinating to see how she handles those emotions from start to finish. What could have been an easily disposable role is made all the more unforgettable thanks to Lilly’s committed performance as someone who is still stuck in the past and trying to make a better future for herself and everyone else.

Many of us, including myself, grew up watching Michael Douglas in movies like “Romancing the Stone,” “The War of the Roses” and “Fatal Attraction,” and he has since graduated to playing the role of elder statesman in. His performance as Hank Pym is one of the best I have seen Douglas give in some time as he imbues this character with a lot knowledge and wisdom as well as a lot of heart. Hank is a deeply flawed man who does what he can to protect his family, but he ends up unintentionally wounding those closest to him in the process. Douglas is perfectly cast here as he is great at making us root for someone we almost don’t want to root for, but we end up doing so all the same.

Then there’s Michael Pena who gives a terrific performance in each and every film he is in, and he steals one scene after another as Scott Lang’s best friend, Luis. Pena infuses an infectious energy in his performance which makes you want to be a part of Ant-Man’s plan to get back at the bad guys, and his performance as Luis is another memorable role he can add to his wide variety of roles he has performed to a great extent thus far.

And let’s not forget Corey Stoll who makes for a wonderfully detestable villain as Darren Cross, an ever so bitter student of Hank Pym who looks to go into the Ant-Man business for himself. Stoll has left quite the impression on audiences ever since his role as Ernest (“who wants to fight”) Hemingway in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” It’s nice to see he doesn’t give us the usual one-dimensional bad guy we typically expect in a summer movie, and this makes his character of Darren all the more threatening.

“Ant-Man” was directed by Peyton Reed whose previous credits include “Yes Man,” “The Break-Up” and “Bring it On,” movies I should have seen already, but anyway. Reed does fine work in balancing out the characters here with the terrific special effects on display to where “Ant-Man” never comes across as the usual comic book movie fare. It makes me excited for what will come next.

We can be sure this will not be the last time we will see Ant-Man on the big screen. After all, what’s a Marvel movie without a franchise? You can expect the usual batch of post-credit sequences that will require you to sit through the end credits and appreciate the fact hundreds of people worked hard to make this movie a reality. But for a change, I don’t find myself looking to a Marvel sequel with sarcasm. I look forward to it as a promising continuation of a story which features one of the more unusual Avengers to inhabit this ever-growing cinematic universe.

* * * out of * * * *