By Marc S. Sanders

Peyton Reed not only capitalizes on Edgar Wright’s interpretation of Marvel’s Ant-Man, but also on the first chapter of the MCU, Iron Man. The similarities in the two films are so familiar that Ant-Man seems a little boring and redundant. You’ll turn to your seat mate midway through and say “We’ve seen this.”

Nevertheless, Reed’s film is saved thanks to a likable Paul Rudd, a welcome Michael Douglas and a scene stealing Michael Pena. Evangeline Lilly is here but she’s as useful as Gwenyth Paltrow has been. Corey Stoll is the bald villain, like Jeff Bridges before him, and well… LOOK!!! You just needed to find someone to be the villain; the guy interested in stealing technology to use for making a lot of money and other nefarious purposes. You’ve seen it all before.

Pena is given the best stuff to do as Reed takes advantage of visually recounting a “telephone game” story of what he and then what she said and then what he said after that. Michael Pena is a really funny guy who deserves more work. He’ll likely get a lead in an ABC family sitcom one day called Pena or Michael!, let’s say.

Rudd has fun with the stupidity of his superhero name and abilities. Let’s face it. Controlling the minds of ants is not as flashy as Batman and his gadgets or Spider-Man web slinging through the city. Rudd smirks through all of it. So, I felt okay to smirk as well.

The film suffers from a lot of exposition and a few too many characters. In a flashback 80s scene, Douglas’ character (the original Ant-Man) breaks some SHIELD agent’s nose. What’s so special or offensive about this guy? I don’t know. Also, Bobby Cannavale is a pain in the ass cop for Rudd to deal with, but more or less you’d have the same film if he was excised from the final cut.

Reed saves his movie with a really fun ending consisting of a battle involving shrinking and enlarging and shrinking again aboard a Thomas The Train Engine toy playset. It’s Rudd as Ant-Man vs Stoll as Yellowjacket (very cool looking and not used enough). As well, you can’t help but smile when you see a fifty foot high toy train crash through a house.

This is a scrappy little film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not much seems original, but you got a cast that’s likable and an ending to be entertained by.

Nothing special, but nothing terrible either.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford directed a huge, glossy looking misfire of a political thriller in 2007 with a film called Lions For Lambs, written by Matthew Michael Carnagan.

Preachiness is never fun when it labors on for an hour and a half. I don’t care if it’s Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep or even Robert Redford doing the preaching. If these powerhouse celebrities called me up and asked if they could come to my house for coffee and talk, and when they got there, all they did was spew in circles a political platform of “right and wrong” and “why” and “don’t” and “can’t” and “yes and no,” I’d call the police and have them arrested. Time for you to leave, Meryl! Tom, it’s been real.

In 2007, during the late half of Bush 43’s second term, questions of war with the Middle East was at the forefront during a post 9/11 age. Redford, with Cruise producing, thought it’d be interesting to show three different stories (actually two long winded conversations set around desks, and two stranded soldiers) occurring. A political professor (Redford) tries to open the eyes of a student (Andrew Garfield) with great potential but no drive to make a difference. A Republican Senator (Cruise) sets up his own interview with a liberal leaning reporter (Streep) to boast of a new secret mission he’s championing, and two special forces ops are left stranded (Michael Pena & Derek Luke) in the cold of Iraq, the most interesting of three narratives.

Carnagan’s script goes in circles and it’s likely the politics he questions all lean left. Yet the conversations (Redford & Garfield; Cruise & Streep) become just a lot of back talk. A character makes a point, and the other character makes a counter point. I was hoping for a line like “Meryl, you ignorant slut!” Where are we going with all of this?

The soldiers are the mission planned by the Senator that has now gone awry and follows their outcome as they are left wounded and surrounded by Iraqi forces in the snowy darkness. We learn they were students of the professor who wanted to make a difference by enlisting in the Army. See the connection now; the very thin uninspired connection?

Here’s something for ya. In case, you can’t recognize easily enough, Redford dresses his characters in either shades of Red or Blue. Nice touch with Garfield’s frat boy wearing a RED Hawaiian shirt while Redford has the BLUE denim button down. Cruise gets the shiny RED coffee mug for a prop. Does the film have to be THIS transparent? If so, couldn’t the dialogue have been as well?

Lions For Lambs talks A LOT and tells me nothing. Streep’s reporter is a disappointment. Yet Redford portrays her as noble. She loathes the platform of the Senator she just interviewed and is adamant about not writing the quite revealing story he just laid out for her. How can she be that way? She’s a reporter!!!! Tell the truth. Inform the public, even if it’s not pretty, and yet Redford will have a viewer believe it is righteous of Streep to figuratively break her pencil and unplug her computer while she gripes to her editor in chief. No! This is an absolute betrayal of journalistic integrity. What is Robert Redford, the once producer and star of All The President’s Men, thinking here???

You wanna talk about betrayal? The final moments with Streep really had me puzzled. She takes a thought-provoking cab ride that drives past the Capital, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, and The White House (right, dab, in front of it no less). Reader, I’ve been to Washington DC a number of times as recent as this past summer. Where the hell is this cabbie driving to, and what route was he taking????


By Marc S. Sanders

Oprah Winfrey has a big head.

I don’t mean a big head as in a large ego. I mean Oprah Winfrey has a BIG HEAD. So BIG that I caught every sprinkle of glitter in her eyebrows and lipstick that it looked like it came out of the discount basket at Justice For Girls. Why do I focus on this first and foremost? Well…because that is about where the scope of imagination stops in Ava DuVernay’s direction of A Wrinkle In Time.

Remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz? Remember when Dorothy walks out of her monochromatic home and into the brightly lit Munchkinland? Judy Garland walked cautiously. Spoke carefully (“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”) There was a reaction to all of the grandeur and strangeness. Now, over 82 years later, many fantasies on film refuse to take inspiration from that timeless cinematic moment. A Wrinkle In Time definitely doesn’t.

In Duvaraney’s interpretation, Reese Witherspoon, dressed in a white king size bedsheet with hideously bright orange hair can just appear in the living room of a home and no one has nary a response to the unusual. There is neither panic, nor a “wow,” not an eye bulge, not a large swallow of gulp. Nothing. The protagonist, Meg, and her mother just say who are you (actually I’m not sure they even said that), and Reese puts on her over exaggerated smile and cheerful vocal inflection and speaks in some kind limerick dialogue. She walks out the front door, disappears into the night, and no one says anything; no one ponders anything. There is no imagination in the filmmaking here, nor in the scriptwriting. This is a fantasy, right?

Mindy Kaling is another fantasy character in garish makeup and costume. She quotes expressions from various poets and artists from history. Why? I don’t know. What does she lend to Meg’s mission? Yawn!!!! Nothing.

Zach Galifianakis accepted the role of another weird character that Johnny Depp probably turned down, and would have likely been offered to Robin Williams had he still been alive. Zach has nothing to say either.

Meg has a little brother named Charles Wallace. I know this because the script hammers away this kid’s name over and over again. Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace. CHARLES WALLACE!!!!! Not just Charles. This kid is always addressed as CHARLES WALLACE!!!! There’s a drinking game in the making. Give the movie 15 minutes and I promise you, you will be heavily intoxicated after hearing CHARLES WALLACE again and again and AGAIN!!!!

All of these claims go back to my one main, sole issue with this film. A complete lack of imagination and awareness of its fantasy.

DuVernay films Oprah as a towering 20 foot presence (literally) and fills in every void of space on the screen with her head. “CHARLES WALLACE” is about all Meg says to her little brother; there’s no sibling connection. Lastly, the most glaring error, is there is no reaction to the wonder of this fantasy. Were any of the actors informed there would be more to the green screens they were filming in front of?

So, it’s a nay for me. If you are going to do a fantasy make sure everyone in the production gets the memo please.

Oh yeah, Meg is on a mission to find her missing father in the universe of time or something like that. Yeah. That whole thing never mattered much to me. It didn’t really seem to matter much to Meg either.

CRASH (2004)

By Marc S. Sanders

Paul Haggis’ vignette themed script for Crash should not have won Best Screenplay. The film he directed should not have won Best Picture. Could it be that because this picture is masked as that special movie with that especially poignant message that it got the recognition I don’t think it ever deserved? I can appreciate the attempt at bringing hot button social issues like racism and injustice to light, but it does not need to be as immaturely contrived as this picture.

Crash occurs over two days within the city of modern day Los Angeles. A select group of characters of different social classes and ethnicities are covered, and the film circumvents back and forth among their perspectives. For the most part, all of these people have major social hang-ups with people outside their race. The first example shows us that if a white woman who is simply cold on a winter night hugs her husband tightly for some warmth, apparently a couple of black men will automatically believe this woman is fearful of their approach.

Especially today, I know that prejudice exists, but to this extreme and this contrived…I’m not sure. I guess I’m not sure because I have not experienced it enough to be convinced yet. When I read a friend’s testimony of falling victim to racial prejudice I lean towards believing everything they tell me. I guess it’s this movie, Crash, that left me feeling dubious and maybe that’s because the circumstances seem way too forced.

A racist cop (Matt Dillon) will pull over a well to do Muslim man (Terrence Howard) driving a high priced SUV and perform a sobriety test for no reason. Then the cop will deliberately frisk the man’s wife (Thandie Newton) with digital penetration. The next day, it’ll just happen to be that this woman will have no choice but to be rescued from a burning car by this same racist cop. Now I’m supposed to believe that the racist cop is not so bad, and the woman learns to become more tolerant. Well gee, thank heavens for coincidences!

The Muslim man (a television show director) gets car jacked the following day, and in a tense pull over moment he’s mistaken as the criminal. Fortunately, the partner of the racist cop (Ryan Phillipe) is there to subdue the situation. I’m sorry, but life doesn’t work out to be this tidy. Call me cynical, but more often than not we are not given a second chance at first impressions.

One of the real car jackers (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) gets a moment of clarity and suddenly he’s generously giving out his last forty dollars to a group of Asian people being held in a van for human trafficking. Forgive me. If I want to begin respecting this car jacker who has held multiple people at gun point and even runs over a man, only to toss him out on the drive up to the Emergency Room, I’ll be more apt to do so if the criminal turns himself in.

I dunno. Maybe I’ve got a personal issue with Crash. It could not be more apparently preachy in how it patronizes me to simply understand the seething hate and criminal violations of its characters. I’m supposed to empathize with the racist cop because his ill father can’t get the health care he’s entitled to? I’m supposed to understand the prejudicial anger that the WASP wife (Sandra Bullock) of a District Attorney (Brendan Frasier) expresses because she no longer trusts her dedicated Hispanic housekeeper or the locksmith (Michael Pena) changing the locks on their house following a car jacking?

No. Paul Haggis didn’t earn that response from me in almost all of the short story scenarios his film offers. Maybe it’s because I tend to compartmentalize my episodes. I like to think that I don’t allow one experience with one kind of person cloud my judgement on the next person I encounter. A waiter can totally screw up my order and can even mouth off to me in a heated moment. Yet, I’ll return to the restaurant on another occasion because it’s likely I’ll run into a different waiter.

Haggis depicts people who appear to have a blanket opinion of other people with different backgrounds. These are all extremely prejudiced people with next to no understanding of where each of them stem from. An angry Persian man (Shaun Toub) puts blame on the locksmith after his convenience store is ransacked. The locksmith was only trying to explain that the back door needed to be replaced. The Persian refused to listen because his English is limited. So he just gets angry and curses the locksmith out. Haggis opts to insert a language barrier between the two men to serve up an eventual tense and dramatic moment in a neighborhood driveway with a loaded gun and a little girl. A loaded gun and a little girl! Yup, I think they teach these are the true ingredients for effective drama on the first day of screenwriting class. Again, it all comes about a little too forced.

The conveniences and ironies that bubble up at times are surprising. “Oh that guy is that guy’s brother! I see.” Things like that. However, I don’t think that is necessarily the strength of the picture.

In a film like Magnolia, we are treated to the vignettes of a handful of people too. However, not every single one of those people are sketched by means of their prejudiced natures. They are drawn by a variety of different elements whether it be a traumatic past or an inclination to do good. Then it’s kind of fun to uncover how each player is connected to one another.

In Crash, the players are only connected by the hate they carry within themselves, and Paul Haggis forces a redemption upon most of them with small gestures or a line of dialogue or the purity of a welcome snowfall to close out the film. Sorry, life is lot more messy and complicated than that. I guess I’m saying I may have learned a lot more about human nature from a downpour of frogs than a downpour of snow.


By Marc S. Sanders

Michael Connolly authored a series of best seller legal thrillers featuring his famed character Mickey Haller. His most favored book of that series was adapted into a 2011 film called The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey in the role and directed by Brad Furman. I only wish more of Connolly’s books were adapted thereafter, because this movie is at least as good as the novel.

McConaughey is well cast as Haller, a defense attorney who operates out of his Lincoln Town Car working to get low level criminals off on technicalities or by easy settlements with the prosecution. His clients range from prostitutes accused of possession to notorious motorcycle gang members. When these clients can’t pay, Mickey wisely becomes resourceful with favors they can provide later on. One of his former clients drives the car while Mickey works in the back seat making calls out of his mobile office.

Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has just been arrested for beating up a prostitute at knifepoint. Roulet is a spoiled, preppy thirty something who is protected by the vast wealth of his mother (Frances Fisher) and their successful real estate enterprise. So it’s surprising that Roulet turns to street lawyer Mickey to be his legal counsel. At the same time though, this is a big score in legal fees. So Mickey is enthusiastic to accept the case, and go to trial. Louis doesn’t want it any other way to prove and insist upon his innocence.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal much more about The Lincoln Lawyer because it’s got a lot of welcome surprises and twists along the way. What I can reiterate is how good an actor Matthew McConaughey is as I’ve written before. He just performs with a relaxed and confident swagger about himself. Mickey Haller is written as a smart and very strategic attorney. He knows the ins and outs of the courtrooms. He not only uses his clients for additional help, but he also sidles up to the bailiffs so he gets his clients cut ahead of the line to quickly face a judge. McConaughey is really good at not glamorizing the intelligence of Mickey Haller, but rather the charming personality of the guy. The character doesn’t come off as having all the answers at his fingertips, even though he likely does. It makes the film that much more dynamic to see McConaughey’s personality ahead of a Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason kind of lawyer who might telescope everything five steps ahead of what’s eventually going to happen.

The supporting cast of The Lincoln Lawyer is also magnificent with Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Michael Pena, Trace Adkins, Josh Lucas and William H Macy. These are just great character actors. Everyone serves a purpose, even if it is just for a few moments.

Again, Mickey Haller is a great, modern day crusader. Like other literary characters such as Alex Cross and Jack Ryan, based on this film, I always hoped McConaughey followed up with at least one or two more additional films. I’d sure as hell be there to watch. Heck, the eventual Oscar winner went on to be a spokesman for Lincoln automobiles. So why couldn’t he have continued to carry the torch on the big screen?