Diamonds in the Rough: Ten Movies You Should See Right Now (Part 1)

Ten hidden gems in the vast world of movies that you should see before something tragic happens to you. Hey, I’m just saying.

Read the intro from the TV edition, then come back here. Are you back? Okay, good. This is Part 1 because there’s a lot of text and shoving it all into one post would be excessive. So here’s five movies now. You can have the rest later!

Bronson (2008)

For many people, Nicolas Winding Refn is a pretentious director who tries too hard to make artsy films with “meh” results. One of his most mainstream films, 2011’s Drive, featured one of the best openings and title sequences in recent memory before devolving into a Ryan Gosling/Carey Mulligan music video for College’s “A Real Hero.”

Most of his other films, like Only God Forgives and Valhalla Rising, are beautiful in the most boring and painful ways. Sure, symbolism in art is important, but does it have to be such a grind?

Aside from Drive and his Lincoln commercials with Matthew McConaughey, Bronson is probably his best project (sorry, haven’t seen his Pusher trilogy yet) and if not that, it IS definitely one of the easiest to get through.

With a smashing, growling performance from Tom Hardy that undoubtedly played a role in his casting as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and a wicked soundtrack, this film based on Charles Bronson the prisoner (not the Death Wish actor) is artistic madness and disturbing in all the right ways.

Hustle & Flow (2005)

Someone once said, “Three 6 Mafia won an Oscar before Martin Scorsese” and that quip has become something of a favorite for people who like to look at the Academy Awards with heavy skepticism. Like me.

If you think about it though, it’s kind of a stupid statement because the success of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – a legitimately catchy song – doesn’t correlate at all with the failures of the Academy voters in getting Marty a statue before his consolation prize in 2006 for The Departed.

Still, it’s a funny saying, and I just want people to make sure I personally don’t take anything away from Three 6 Mafia’s great work in Hustle & Flow.

Aside from the soundtrack, the acting of Terrence Howard has to be noted. Although he didn’t win an Oscar for his work, he was nominated, and his initial fears of being typecast in future work were dissolved when he realized the full complexity of his character, DJay.

There have been some quibbles as to whether the movie divulges in too many black stereotypes, and I think all that noise is mostly unfounded. But going further into that would be playing with fire, so for the love of God, watch Hustle & Flow and just appreciate the goddamn chemistry and energy during the makeshift recording sequences – that’s where the magic happens.

It’s one of the best movies to come out of MTV Films, along with classics like Napoleon Dynamite and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

In his prime, Jet Li was probably the most impressive martial artist/actor in a post-Bruce Lee world. And sure, guys like Jackie Chan were certainly no slouches themselves, but if you were looking for someone to inflict the most damage with the least amount of props and very little comedic relief, Jet Li (and you can certainly make a case for Donnie Yen) was the man to see for years and years.

Americans probably recognize Li from Lethal Weapon 4 and Hero, while younger audience members probably associate him with The Expendables franchise, but one of his best Hollywood films came out in 2001 and featured action choreography that was much grittier and more “realistic” than the usual Jet Li film.

It’s the type of movie with fight scenes that were acted out so aggressively, the director had to slow them down so the audience could actually see what was going on. Highlights include a fight against a bunch of jerks in a dojo, some badass twins who almost get the best of Li, and a generally cool European vibe that sets this film apart from the rest of Jet Li’s work.

Really, the only knock against Kiss of the Dragon is that Li basically beats up a bunch of French dudes… not exactly something to brag about. All joking aside, this is a great action film to watch, and I want to emphasize the action part. To be completely honest, this is something you could probably give the YouTube treatment – watch the best parts on YouTube, I mean.

But still, it’s a hidden gem I tell you.

The Thin Red Line (1998)

No list desperately begging people to see specific movies would be complete without a Terrence Malick film. While he’s not anywhere close to being the hipster Nicolas Winding Refn is, it’s undeniable that both express their focused fascination on the big picture in some, um, interesting ways. Take 2011’s The Tree of Life for example, a film so divisive it nearly sparked a world war (just kidding).

I would have put that movie on the list because it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, with exceptional cinematography. It’s also confusing as all hell, which is why The Thin Red Line gets the obligated Malick slot – the movies I pick have to be at least a little watchable, right?

It was released in 1998, the same year as another noteworthy WWII film. While the Tom Hanks vehicle was lauded for its realistic battle scenes and emotional appeal via patriotism, Malick went a different route (literally: the Pacific versus the Atlantic) and, like I said, focused on bigger questions than “What does it look like when a soldier miscalculates a fuse and gets blown to bits?”

The Pacific also provided Malick with a lot of natural, vibrant colors that end up in a gorgeous relationship with the cinematography and production design. Hans Zimmer – in a world before he became a close collaborator with Christopher Nolan – provides distinct music that you’d be wise to experience, especially if you only know Zimmer from his post-2005 work.

Since it’s a Malick film, there are the usual tangents and digressions that can be distracting. The massive ensemble cast is also something that can be a little annoying at times – many big names show up for about two minutes before disappearing forever.

Having said that, the distractions are completely worth it and depending on what you prioritize, an argument could be made that The Thin Red Line is better than Saving Private Ryan. I personally don’t believe it, but you won’t get laughed out of the building if you’re talking to people who are serious about movies.

Under the Skin (2013)

This polarizing film directed by Jonathan Glazer is easily one of the most unsettling things you will see and I’m still not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse that Scarlett Johansson was cast in the leading role of an alien who is under the skin, so to speak, of a female human body.

The alien prowls the gloomy streets of Scotland for men and seduces them back to a decrepit wooden apartment. The apartment holds a black void where the men are enveloped in an amniotic fluid. As they helplessly drift, their internal organs are violently sucked out, leaving just the skin to aimlessly float about.

It’s disturbing, to be sure, but Under the Skin is more than just a superficial horror flick. As the alien continues to masquerade as a human being, it starts to explore what it means to be human. Through its eyes, we observe love and death and even a slice of chocolate cake.

While the film moves slowly, it’s truly the definitive example of cinematic art – the soundtrack (composed by Mica Levi) alone is worth many accolades, especially this track and this one too.

Not-so-quick note: Scarlett Johansson’s role here is more noteworthy than you think and her casting extends beyond just getting a star to help raise funds to actually make the movie happen. You see, 2013 was something of a landmark year for her.

She starred in three different movies that all used her beauty in a different way. In Don Jon, her beauty was used superficially – basically she was playing a New Jersey babe who was so hot, she could rub her ass on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s crotch and make him, um, stain his pants. In Her, director Spike Jonze chose to neglect her physical body completely and have her voice an operating system that verbally bangs Joaquin Phoenix’s character.

Then we have Under the Skin, which asserts Johansson is so freaking beautiful, she really is basically an alien who can pick up any guy she wants under any circumstances, even on a shitty day in Scotland. And they’re all right, to a certain extent.

Of those three films, this is – by far – the most provocative and if you watch it, I think it will be pretty clear why. But again, I have to warn you: this is a slow film with little dialogue.

If you can’t get into it, there’s no shame in that. But if you can, even better!

Screw You, Bill Hader: A Sordid Tale of Zombies, Cheerleaders, and Prolonged Existential Angst

The highly anticipated explanation for why I hate that bastard Bill Hader so much.

There were three things racing through my head while I was dying:

  1. A bullet.
  2. What a way to get the answer to humanity’s ultimate question: what happens after we die?
  3. I was not going to be surviving the zombie apocalypse.

But let’s rewind the tape a little and find out just exactly how I got myself into such a mind-blowing scenario. I remember I was in “a moment” – I don’t remember anything before just being there in the present.

My friend Dylan and I were standing in a narrow beige hallway right next to a massive atrium with beautiful windows perfect for letting natural light stream in. It was the type of place a gathering of students might study in. Peaceful. Calm.

Then I noticed a group of cheerleaders walking towards us.  All sexy, identical, and busty – the greatest clone army in history. Their green cheerleader uniforms hugged their bodies as they slowly approached. And yet… even though they looked relatively harmless, my gut told me they were zombies although none of them exhibited any of the classic symptoms: nobody was shufflin’, mumblin’, or fumblin’.

I knew Dylan and I had to kill these hot zombies and I realized I was holding a baseball bat. We both were. So we reluctantly swung away and I distinctively remember connecting with a zombie cheerleader’s head. It made a wet thwock: a damp and hollow sound like someone aggressively tapping a watermelon with their knuckles.

During that grueling process, I noticed a spindly man out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw it was Bill Hader, inexplicably adorned in a purple bellhop uniform. Before I could react, he chomped down on my hand. Needless to say, I was stunned, shocked, and dare I say… stupefied.

Look at this gabagool, having the time of his life.

Look at this gabagool, having the time of his life.

Before I could blink, I found myself in the middle of the atrium. I was sitting on a luxurious white sofa and Dylan was standing behind me. He had a gun in his hand and I got the impression he was about to Lincoln me, if you know what I’m saying. I wanted to ask why he didn’t use the gun against the zombie cheerleaders, but then I looked down at my hands.

There was no baseball bat this time, but sitting on the sofa cushion was a shiny .357 Magnum. I picked it up; it was heavier than I expected. I was confronted with the reality of the situation: I was bitten. I was going to turn. I was going to die. Now.

Dylan understood without saying a word and he backed away. I raised the gun to my head and, well, pulled the fucking trigger. In that instant, there was a slight feeling of pressure as the bullet eased through my skull and entered my brain. Everything was moving so slowly.

My interpretation of reality was forever changed during that moment – time and space were becoming irrelevant as my death loomed large. I attributed that astonishing change to the fact that the bullet was ripping my brain apart. As the bullet continued its unrelenting progress, the initial realization of death began to overwhelm me.

There was no more speculation. It was reality, happening live right at that very moment. Then, after what seemed like ten minutes, everything faded to black. Only darkness. No sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no nothing.

Nothing but nothing.

I’m not sure how long things stayed like that. But after what felt like a century had passed, I suddenly awoke and found myself standing in a field next to a highway in New Jersey. I was surrounded by many men and women, all with open mouths and wide eyes of terror. I turned, only to see zombies were approaching from every angle.

They weren’t cheerleaders either. These were the type you see on The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later. As they ran towards us, I remember one thought that burst through with astonishing clarity: “Yet another reason New Jersey fucking sucks.”

Then I woke up, sweaty and tense. What a terrible dream. Fuck zombies!

And that Bill Hader guy too. May he fall in a well – a deep and dark well with slimy moss covering the walls so he can’t climb out… although, I do have to admit he was pretty good in Trainwreck and other stuff like The Skeleton Twins.

Kevin and Barrett’s Bogus Journey: Searching for a Young Han Solo

My buddy Kevin –  yes, the one that gets mentioned all the time (and who now has his own blog) – and I had a conversation on potential candidates for a young Han Solo in his standalone film.

BARRETT

So they’re making a standalone Han Solo film, which has naturally got a lot of people wondering just who should play young Han Solo. I’ve heard names ranging from Chris Pratt to even actresses.

I personally think maybe they shouldn’t make that movie at all… but what do I know.

KEVIN

Agreed on the “not making it at all part,” along with any other new Star Wars movies, for that matter. Pratt isn’t a bad idea, but I feel like his Guardians of the Galaxy character was a Han Solo type already, so there might be too much overlap there.

However, if we have to have this movie, it’s worth discussing a couple of possibilities.

BARRETT

Let’s not forget Pratt’s name has also come up for Indiana Jones – and every other male role in the near future. He’s the obvious choice, I would say, so yeah, we should take a look at some other – more intriguing – names. Like Lee Pace.

I know you know who that is, but if you’ve seen him in the first half of the first season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, you’ll know why Pace is such a deceptively great choice. He shows a ton (A TON) of charisma and charm and even swagger, but the depth comes later on, when we see how conflicted and damaged he is on the inside.

I like to think a young Han Solo would obviously be quite charming, but surely there were some unfortunate events that led to where we know he ends up – on account of him being a rogue smuggler – and we all know past tragedies make good origin stories!

KEVIN

Personally I wouldn’t mind if Hollywood took a break from the “tragic backstory” angle for a little while, but I digress. My first choice for Han Solo is kind of a stretch, but I think he’d really kill it. Glenn Howerton – best known as Dennis on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – has shown a real gift for comedy, but I think it would be cool to see him take on a more serious role.

Han’s always been an irreverent character; he’s got no time for all that “Force” mumbo-jumbo, he’s just on the lookout for his next payday. Glenn would probably have to tone down the creepiness, though.

BARRETT

I think he would be a great choice if he gets the perfect director to guide him. He’s really good at being a fucking piece of shit, and Han can be like that sometimes. But I don’t think Han has a H.A.N. system for seducing intergalactic chicks, so Glenn would definitely need to strike a good balance between cocky maverick and a creepy pig.

But he’s definitely shown an ability to be confident – even arrogant, perhaps – and it would be interesting to see if he can take that into the leading role of an iconic part, especially when most of his movie credits are vague supporting roles like in Crank.

KEVIN

And Crank 2. If you haven’t seen those, by the way, watch them right now.

BARRETT

As a side note, I’m wondering how much the new actor has to look like a really young Harrison Ford. Is it okay if we just chuck that aside? Because that would certainly open up more candidates. But this guy has shown he can impersonate people when he needs to, from Edward Snowden to Bruce Willis… I’m talking about my boy Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

KEVIN

I thought the Han Solo role had a height requirement.

BARRETT

I guess that rules me out then. My case for JGL is pretty simple: why the hell not? Case closed. Jury dismissed. Also, he really nailed the cool aspect in Looper.

KEVIN

Can’t argue with that logic. Well, as long as we’re on the subject of batshit crazy ideas that will never happen, another suggestion on my part would be Johnny Knoxville. Yes, The Ringer was a pretty bad movie, but Knoxville was the best part of it. There’s a quality about him that would really fit the character.

He looks like a guy who’s been involved in some sketchy stuff, but who’s ultimately a good person. I think that’s something people have always responded to with Han Solo’s character; he’s a more flawed, more human good guy than his Jedi counterparts.

BARRETT

Some might even say he’s a scoundrel with a heart. I can see something in Knoxville, even though it’s an outlandish idea. I think the problem with Glenn Howerton and Knoxville is that both are so closely associated with one thing – It’s Always Sunny and Jackass, respectively – that it might be hard to break from that image.

Let’s try to be more reasonable – someone studio execs can get behind.

KEVIN

Yeah, because that always ends well.

BARRETT

I’m thinking of someone with serious action experience, who has also shown a sensitive side. He’s saved the world and made us laugh in the process over and over and over and over and over again. He’s a critical and commercial darling who can do no wrong.

Mr. Adam. Sander. And bring Jar Jar back too!

KEVIN

Why not combine these two great ideas?

“This Summer, Adam Sandler is Jar Jar Binks in his very first solo movie! Co-Starring Kevin James as Anakin Skywalker and David Spade as Obi-Wan Kenobi!”

BARRETT

Just shoot me.

Okay then, how about someone like Miles Teller? Gritty, yet sensitive, and he’s got an underrated sense of humor. Sure, he looks nothing like Harrison Ford, but his talent should balance that out.

KEVIN

I’m a big fan of his, and it’s an interesting choice, but I don’t think he can pull off the swagger that’s so integral to Han’s character. I could be wrong, though.

OK, I’ve got one more. This one might be too on-the-nose, but I think Jensen Ackles of Supernatural would do an excellent job. Dean’s already a Han Solo type, albeit one who’s a lot more brooding. But Ackles always brought levity to that show, and I think he’d do the same in the Han Solo movie.

BARRETT

That’s a great choice. I know one of my Iowa buddies would splooge in his pants if he read what you just wrote. So good job, I guess. Since I’m against a solo Han Solo movie, I really don’t care who it ends up being. I still think it would be a great twist if they made Han female.

Who cares about continuity? It’s freaking Star Wars.

KEVIN

I see your point, but if you’re going to take the character in such a radical direction, why not just create a new franchise? I’d love to see a movie starring a character who could be described as a female Han Solo, but wouldn’t actually making her Han Solo just add to the endless list of Star Wars permutations? I’ll take something (relatively) original over that any day.

BARRETT

Maybe. I guess they could just steer away from everybody’s past and make a movie with Solo’s kids or something. Then they could make relatively original content while giving us a little bit of that Han Solo charm and whatnot without having to explicitly use the guy repeatedly.

KEVIN

Not a bad idea. Of course, if it were up to me, they’d stop beating these long-dead sci-fi franchises into the ground and face the challenge of creating something from scratch. But then J.J. Abrams would be out of a job.

BARRETT

Hey there was Cloverfield! I think the question is this: do any of us really care what Han Solo’s origin story is? Because I don’t. I like having his background a mystery – it fits the whole “rogue smuggler” mystique. It’s also why it was so dumb giving us the “pleasure” of watching a young Boba Fett see his dad’s head get chopped off by Mace Windu. Leave the mystery to us! Let US make our own origin stories for some of the characters.

KEVIN

I completely agree. I’m willing to bet that any Han Solo origin story is going to be less satisfying than what my imagination can come up with. Him and Chewy are such a fun duo, and it’s great to think about their adventures before Luke came into the picture. But explicitly putting that stuff on screen, instead of just letting it be implied, is a mistake.

BARRETT

Everything connects together, in the end. While we (you and I) want studios to take more risks and make fresh content, studios are finding all these franchises tend to bring in a whole lot of money, and it almost seems like flops like Terminator: Gabagool are the exception rather than the rule.

Disney knows people will line up to see whatever Star Wars movie they come up with, and I think they’re playing it safe by showing us Han’s earlier days. It’s too bad, because the opportunities are endless, but I think we can all make some generic guesses and nail the movie’s plot way before it comes out.

KEVIN

Smart money’s on Han getting into a fight with (and kicking the asses of) some rowdy alien thugs in some bar within the first ten minutes. And get ready for cheap, blatant pandering when the Millennium Falcon is revealed.

To be completely honest, I’d much rather see a Jar Jar origin story. It would probably (no, definitely) be terrible, but I would admire the studio for at least doing something we weren’t all expecting. Plus, imagine all the crazy hijinks he would get into!

BARRETT

Maybe they could do a Jar Jar death story; you know, what he does after Revenge of the Sith. Then he dies. On screen. Painfully.

KEVIN

I’d be OK with this, but only if the majority of the movie consists of him exploring the afterlife and questioning his place in the universe. Lock for Best Picture, for sure.

BARRETT

Directed by Woody Allen. He can meet a frazzled lost soul (literally) in the afterlife and then they get together and just talk a lot. Because we love hearing Jar Jar Binks talk.

KEVIN

Once again, we’ve come up with an idea that’s far too good to ever get made.

BARRETT

The struggle is real.

Center Stage: Why an All-Time Lakers Team Beats an All-Time Bulls Team

 

Bulls’ strategy: fire away from the perimeter (and give MJ the damn ball). Lakers’ strategy: feed the big men (and sometimes Kobe so he doesn’t cry).

Before we start, let’s establish what Shaq defined as each team’s all-time lineup (click the link for more background information on this interesting thought exercise – and for the hilarious online feud between Shaq and Scottie Pippen):

BULLS

PG Derrick Rose

SG Michael Jordan

SF Scottie Pippen

PF Dennis Rodman

C Horace Grant

LAKERS

PG Magic Johnson

SG Kobe Bryant

SF Elgin Baylor

PF Shaquille O’Neal

C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Great. There are two things I notice right away and both things favor the Lakers at first glance. First, I have no idea how Derrick Rose expects to defend Magic Johnson. While Rose is undoubtedly faster, Magic was the ideal height for a freaking small forward, which means his most important skill – passing the rock with his exceptional court vision – would be largely unimpeded.

Of course, Magic might have the easiest job in the world because he gets to play with both Shaq and Kareem at the same time, which leads me to my second point: how in the world do the Bulls expect to defend those two?

While Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant were certainly no slouches, Shaq and Kareem were two of the most unstoppable forces in the paint. The Bulls would have to really pound Kareem and make him want the ball less, giving Shaq more responsibility… which means the Lakers would then take the power route over the finesse route.

Pick your poison, Bulls.

All in all, the only real “advantage” I see here for the Bulls are MJ and Scottie. I think they would do more than enough to at least slow Kobe and Elgin down – I don’t think Elgin faced anybody like Scottie in his career – and we all know Kobe would probably take a couple of really shitty shots because he feels like he’s got something to prove.

So close. Yet so far.

So close. Yet so far.

In the meantime, you could easily see MJ playing at an unprecedented level, especially if fools say stupid things like, “Oh, MJ and Kobe will cancel each other out.”

The last time someone said that, MJ destroyed Clyde Drexler’s career (pretty literally, too). But we have to remember two things: one, MJ is not God or even lowercase god, like the one your wacky Appalachian uncle believes in. Second, the dirty little secret with MJ’s success lies in the fact that he never really faced a ton of truly quality centers on his road to six NBA championships.

When he did face them, he had a lot of trouble because he never played with any notable centers – they would get manhandled by the likes of, you guessed it, Shaq during his Orlando days. Even here, you could say he faces the same problem. Really, the only way the Lakers would have more of an advantage in that regard is if Shaq or Kareem were replaced by someone like Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan – and that’s debatable.

So even though MJ, Scottie, and Dennis would pound Kobe and Elgin and even Magic, they would have no answer for Shaq and Kareem. Horace Grant would probably end up getting injured or something, poor guy.

Conversely, the Bulls would have to rely on an inordinate amount of perimeter shots. I’m not sure even MJ would be foolish enough to charge into the paint when Shaq and Kareem are waiting… right?

Also, while Rose would definitely get the best of Magic, his fate after getting past that first line of defense would probably be a blocked shot, hasty floater, or a drawn foul. Messy. Magic’s terrible defense was covered up by his excellent frontcourt in the 1980s (just like Tony Parker’s entire career and the exact opposite of Steve Nash’s), so you could expect the same effect here.

Rose also isn’t a very consistent shooter and that was true even during his MVP season. Jordan in his prime actually probably had a less accurate three than later on when his athleticism started to slowly slip (which is why a more in-depth analysis would also ask which year you’re taking each player from). Scottie was also known more for his defense and “jack of all trades” ability than anything he brought offensively.

I don’t know if I trust those three to bang home enough shots, and that’s without factoring what Kobe and Elgin bring defensively. Even though Kobe’s defensive prowess has long been overstated, if we’re conceding everyone is in their prime, then Kobe was definitely a worthy defender. He would give MJ everything he has and you can’t tell me Kobe in his prime facing his biggest adversary wouldn’t bring the same things to the table defensively as guys like Gary Payton and John Starks did when they were tasked with defending Jordan.

As for Elgin, I can’t say I know a lot about him, but I do know he had a reputation for being incredibly strong for his size and being an excellent shooter, rebounder, and passer. If he’s matched up with Scottie, I think he would also do enough to slow Scottie down (because again, it’s not like Scottie was a prolific scorer to begin with).

Of course, the whole argument I’m supporting is that it’s all about the centers, which makes the backcourts almost entirely irrelevant. The Lakers have a clear advantage both offensively and defensively at the frontcourt – hell, I didn’t even talk about how Rodman and Grant (to a lesser extent) would be such a liability on offense – which means the Lakers win in the end.

Having said that, if this is one game – winner takes all the glory – I wouldn’t give up on MJ. He’s not a god, but he’s fucking MJ.

On the other hand, if this is like a series (five games, seven games, whatever), then I think the Lakers win in the end. MJ might steal a couple of games on his own, but Shaq and Kareem would just be too much.

Finally, Shaq said an all-time Lakers team would win by fifty points. We all know that part’s just stupid. Last grievances include his actual definition of each team’s all-time lineups. I initially thought Joakim Noah was designated as Chicago’s center, but apparently Horace Grant has more of Shaq’s attention.

That’s too bad, because I would easily take someone with a higher defensive ceiling in exchange for sacrificing some offense based on the context of the lineups.

As for the Lakers, they have had so many great players play for them, so I suppose it’s understandable why someone like Wilt Chamberlain would be off the lineup. I’m sure he’d come off the bench. Maybe.

When I was talking to my buddy Keyon, he initially thought I was high on crack when I said an all-time Lakers team would win. Then he thought about it for literally half a second then flipped. He brought up Magic’s advantage over Rose then said the dreaded line “MJ and Kobe would cancel each other out.”

I accidentally said Joakim Noah was Chicago’s center and Keyon said something interesting: what if the Bulls had Tyson Chandler instead? Hmm… if we include players who played for the Bulls and the Lakers even when they weren’t in their primes, guys like Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Dwight Howard, and Ben Wallace come into the picture.

It’s an interesting idea, and this is where I leave you to ponder. Also there might be a second part. Maybe.

“Ant-Man” Is the Freshest Marvel Experience Since “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Marvel finishes Phase 2 with a bang.

While Ant-Man might hold the dubious record of owning Marvel’s lowest opening weekend box office numbers since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, I think most people who saw it would be inclined to believe the movie exceeds all expectations and delivers the freshest Marvel experience since Guardians of the Galaxy.

Two of the biggest strengths here are the humor and the beautifully choreographed action sequences. Hindsight is of great benefit to us, but we should have known from the beginning how the casting of Paul Rudd as main character Scott Lang would impact the overall tone of the movie.

He is already the most genuinely likable superhero in both Marvel and DC – a slightly awkward, down-to-earth guy with a keen sense of humor and a cute relationship with his adorable daughter.

Rudd is also credited as one of the screenwriters, and it seems like his presence was one of the reasons why Bobby Cannavale, who portrays Lang’s daughter’s step-dad, said the filming process was like an independent film with room for improvisation.

As for other supporting cast members, Michael Peña provides a large number of laughs as Lang’s former cellmate and a member of his heist team, including two “tip montages” you’ll have to see for yourself for maximum effect. Rapper T.I. gets in on the fun with some good lines as well and it’s his second film appearance to make me chuckle, with the first being his cameo in Entourage.

The most important part about the humor in this movie is that, as far as I can remember, most of the action sequences are very serious until the end when Ant-Man and his adversary fight on a train set – and even then, the humor is limited to “hey look how dramatic the fight looks when we zoom in so it looks like Ant-Man and the bad guy haven’t shrunk, but then look how silly it looks when we zoom out and it’s just two tiny figures duking it out on a toy train set!”

Humor during the most inappropriate moments was an absolute killer in Avengers: Age of Ultron so it was good to see some restraint here; I was worried Marvel was starting to get a little too relaxed when the premise of their movies involves saving the world from heinous villains at the cost of thousands of civilian lives.

In any case, the action was great too and Ant-Man’s ability to shrink and grow at will provided some of the most creative fight scenes not only in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but on a general level. Also, Evangeline Lilly was amazing (she’s my future bae), as was Michael Douglas – it’s pretty incredible to think of Wall Street and Basic Instinct and then see Douglas here. But to be fair, he punches the shit out of two people, so that was fun.

Corey Stoll as the main bad guy was an okay villain – I thought he was a little too hammy, although his costume was pretty dope.

All in all, Ant-Man was surprisingly good and it would be a shame if this is the one Marvel movie you skip. By all means, do what you will, but this might be the last genuinely interesting cog in Marvel’s never-ending machine.

And it might be the last time someone as innocuous as Paul Rudd rises up to the occasion and saves the world.

Also: Evangeline Lilly, if you see this, you are the best.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Zack Snyder and His Deceptively Great Movie Trailers

Fool me once, Zack Snyder…

After the teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out a while back, a lot of people were starting to get really hyped thanks to the trailer’s very effective use of dramatic foreshadowing, slick cinematography, and chilling dialogue courtesy of a heavily armored Batman (that hype has since multiplied with the release of a longer trailer at Comic-Con).

I was feeling hyped too, especially because I’m a little tired of all the Marvel superhero movies. It looked like DC was going to go the dark and gritty route, and that was fine by me just for the sake of variety. Then I remembered something and a part of me died.

Zack Snyder is not someone you would call a great director. It’s a stretch to even say he’s a good director. While other individuals like Wes Anderson and Terrence Malick have honed very unique styles of direction, the difference between those studs and Zack Snyder is that Snyder doesn’t have much else to offer.

His skills are best used for four-minute stretches, like music videos and – oh yeah – trailers. There’s something undeniably hypnotic about the way he utilizes slow motion and his eye and ear for making some superficially deep scenes is unrivaled.

And yet, if you’ve seen any of his movies, from 300 to Man of Steel, what you’ll find is that his movies might be aesthetically pleasing, but they’re little more than summer popcorn flicks. For superhero movies, maybe that’s all we need. But Marvel showed that, despite their now annoyingly formulaic process, it’s possible to make action movies that are not only fun, but legitimately good creations.

Snyder has not shown that ability up to this point, but I think bringing that up is probably going to fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes, I guess). I always enjoy seeing the contrast between CinemaScore ratings and IMDb or Metacritic ratings for movies. Entourage, for example, has an A- CinemaScore rating but pretty much every other metric considers it an awful movie.

Similarly, Snyder’s movies seem to be unappealing to people who take movies a little more seriously than the average moviegoer, whereas the general public seems to find the sensation of being entertained more weighty than whatever other metric of quality used to judge movies with.

As for me, I’ve generally enjoyed Zack Snyder’s projects. I’m a huge sucker for appealing cinematography and visual effects, which is why I’m one of the few people who legitimately enjoys Terrence Malick and Nicolas Winding Refn – creators of generally slow, yet beautiful films.

My criticisms of his movies tend to be superficial, like 300‘s rampant historical inaccuracy (even though it was directly inspired by a graphic novel) and Man of Steel‘s stupid religious symbolism and blatant disregard for collateral damage (even though Superman’s actions undoubtedly saved millions of lives, even with the loss of thousands).

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that people should calm the heck down before Zack Snyder breaks their hearts. While he’s never broken mine, I know he’s never completely had it in the first place.

Nighttime Shenanigans: “The Overnight” and “The Gallows”

Quick reviews for two movies that take place over the course of basically one night.

The Overnight

When I saw two elderly women get up and leave the movie theater before even half the movie was through, I thought they were making a mistake. Sure, we just saw Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman spend a disconcerting amount of time talking about paintings inspired by anuses, but what could possibly go wrong in a movie with a strong cast and a good number of laughs?

Oh wait, exaggerated prosthetic genitalia (don’t worry: the link is a SFW clip from a Conan O’Brien interview) and a plot that goes from genuinely raw to sadly predictable, that’s what.

A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) moves from Seattle to LA and is looking for some new friends; lo and behold, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche). They all have dinner at Kurt’s beautiful home and have a wild time.

You know, alcohol and weed.

But then things start to get out of hand, and Taylor Schilling’s character feels some swinger vibes. Adam Scott is having the time of his life so he initially refutes his wife’s position. Later on, you learn they were both kind of right.

Like I said, the first half is really fun and the offbeat humor works well, especially thank to Schwartzman. While it’s jarring for me to see Adam Scott in anything outside of Parks and Recreation, he nobly carries his role, which becomes all the more obvious in some later scenes involving nudity and a climactic scene that’s supposed to be a twist but ends up being clunky and totally wrong for the moment.

There are some movies you wish were longer; I wish The Overnight ended halfway through. While it certainly attacks issues like male body issues involving penis size and the angst of married couples when they think about whether it’s okay to even fantasize about having sex with other people, there’s just too much shock value here for the sake of shocking you.

Maybe those two old ladies had the right idea – they certainly took in the best parts and left at the best time, it seems.

The Gallows

In 1993 a Nebraska high school puts on a play which ends in a tragic accident when the presumably climactic scene ends with a literal hanging. Twenty years later, the school decides to do the play all over again, which is pretty much the worst idea imaginable.

This is yet another entry in the seemingly endless genre of found footage films and, like the majority of them, relies on a hefty number of jump scares which escalate in intensity over the course of the movie. A bunch of nobodies provide some acceptable acting, while Cassidy Gifford gets the blood pumping within the male demographic (I’m sure it was just a coincidence that she’s a cheerleader who wears a tight tank top and short shorts and ends up glistening with sweat).

If reproducing a play that ended with a death isn’t bad enough, imagine how bad it is to break into school right before opening night to sabotage the play so it can’t be shown.

Chaos ensues, as the four students end up locked in and then the usual found footage bullshit starts to mount up. You know the drill: future victims start going into dark and sketchy places when they should all just stick together and wait until morning, future victims proceed to encounter all sorts of weird noises and hidden rooms with creepy things like a TV that goes from white noise and static to 1993 news footage covering the death, then future victims get picked off one by one.

The Gallows is also riddled with plot holes which I’m too lazy to even go into, as well as a stupid twist at the end that would make even M. Night Shyamalan groan in disappointment.

Then there are the awkward race issues. There isn’t a single black person in the movie. I imagine the entire tone of the film would have been different, no? Especially in this overly political correct era?

But don’t completely wallow in despair, because despite all my insults, The Gallows does have a few shining moments (other than Cassidy Gifford’s bosom which seems to get a lot of screen time – I’ll just attribute that to the “cameraman” being her boyfriend who also just happens to be a football player).

There are a couple of tense scenes that go on for a while where you’re certain something is going to happen, only nothing does. Also, I think the idea in itself was promising since I don’t ever recall any type of horror film with this premise, which is certainly different than the usual haunted mansion or whatever.

Decent premise, lackluster execution. Did I mention Cassidy Gifford looks great?