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Movie Review: ‘Ant-Man’

Paul Rudd probably wouldn’t make a casting agent’s short­list for a Marvel superhero. Even if you view the actor’s charm — worn less like a cape than a shrug — and his apparent agelessness as superpowers, his self-effacing, Everyman nature makes him an eccentric choice for a comic book character.

But then again, Ant-Man is not your typical, larger-than-life part. Possessing the ability to shrink to the size of an ant without altering his normal human strength, Ant-Man, on paper, sounds like a rejected idea from a desperate comic book writers’ brainstorming session. Never mind his ability to exercise telepathic control over actual ants. (Be still my heart.)

In the film “Ant-Man,” Rudd’s version of the obscure Marvel character — a hero first introduced in 1962 — makes for a perversely pleasurable combination of puniness and power. Telling the story of Scott Lang, a man who inherits the mantle of Ant-Man from the costumed crusader’s originator, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the movie deploys its real secret weapon: wit.

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The second half of this nearly two-hour film is a pure delight — fast-paced and funny and filled with special effects and humor as great as any recent Marvel movie, with the possible exception of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” One of the film’s signature bits involves the disconnect between Ant-Man’s tiny heroics — which during the film’s climax take place on a child’s train set — and what those heroics look like to normal sized people. Ant-Man’s mighty struggle to heave a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, for instance, is contrasted with the resulting plasticky clatter as it skitters harmlessly across the floor, making for a sublime sight gag.

Getting to that point, however, requires a little patience. For its first 60 minutes, “Ant-Man” churns out a setup that is as protracted as it is necessary, given the novelty of the character and the audience’s unfamiliarity with his back story.

Lang, a divorced dad, ex-con and recidivist cat burglar, is recruited by Pym, the aging inventor of a shrinking technology and the original Ant-Man, to don Pym’s old suit and go after a rival industrialist (Corey Stoll) who’s trying to sell similar miniaturization hardware to bad guys. Unfortunately, much of this prologue, which also deals with Lang’s bond with his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and his rivalry with his ex-wife’s new boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), creeps along at a snail’s pace. Despite a visually clever sequence when Lang first tries on the ant suit — encountering such dangers as a giant vacuum cleaner and a cataract of water from a bathtub spigot — the first half of the film feels, at times, more like a relationship drama than an action movie.


All that ends when the action kicks in, ’round about the movie’s midway point. Once it does, “Ant-Man” turns into a rousing, “Ocean’s Eleven”-style heist flick crossed with a mini-“Mission: Impossible,” in which Lang and his army of six-legged ninjas attempt to steal the competing shrink-suit, dubbed Yellowjacket. (Fair warning: There are a number of scenes featuring CGI creepy-crawlies. To its credit, the “Ant-Man” supporting cast looks uncomfortably lifelike, presenting what could be a minor problem for the entomophobic moviegoer.)

It’s easy to see the appeal of the Ant-Man character to the film’s co-writer and original director, Edgar Wright, auteur of such quirky send-ups of genre film as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” There’s a perverse magic to a hero whose un-Hulk-like, underdog status — the ability to bulk down, never up — is his strength, not his weakness. Although Wright dropped out of the picture last year after creative differences surfaced with Marvel, his replacement, director Peyton Reed, obviously respects the character’s paradoxical power.

It may take a while for the movie to wind up, but “Ant-Man” punches well above its weight.

★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

PG-13. Contains sci-fi action violence and some rude language. 117 minutes.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

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Publishers Weekly best-sellers for week ending July 12, 2015:


HARDCOVER FICTION

1. “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)

2. “Code of Conduct” by Brad Thor (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)

3. “The English Spy” by Daniel Silva (Harper)

4. “Nemesis” by Catherine Coulter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

5. “Truth or Die” by Patterson/Roughan (Little, Brown)

6. “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King (Scribner)

7. “The Melody Lingers On” by Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster)

8. “Country” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte)

9. “Wicked Charms” by Evanovich/Sutton (Bantam)

10. “Tom Clancy: Under Fire” by Grant Blackwood (Putnam)

11. “Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)

12. “In the Unlikely Event” by Judy Blume (Knopf)

13. “The Rumor” by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown)

14. “The President’s Shadow” by Brad Meltzer (Grand Central Publishing)

15. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s)


HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up” by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed)

2. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster)

3. “A Full Life’ by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster)

4. “Modern Romance’ by Aziz Ansari (Penguin Press)

5. “Down the Rabbit Hole” by Holly Madison (Morrow/Dey Street)

6. “Adios, America” by Ann Coulter (Regenry Publishing)

7. “A Time for Truth” by Ted Cruz (HarperCollins/Broadside)

8. “The Whole 30” by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

9. “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson (Crown Publishing)

10. “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Real West” by O’Reilly/Fisher (Holt)

11. “The Road to Character” by David Brooks (Random House)

12. “The Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck (Simon & Schuster)

13. “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan)

14. “Thug Kitchen” by Thug Kitchen (Rodale)

15. “And the Good News Is…“ by Dana Perino (Twelve)


MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS

1. “Flesh and Blood” by Patricia Cromwell (Morrow)

2. “A Perfect Life” by Danielle Steele (Dell)

3. “A New Hope” by Robyn Carr (Mira)

4. “Earth Bound” by Christine Feehan (Jove)

5. “Power Play” by Catherine Coulter (Jove)

6. “In Plain Sight” by Fern Michaels (Kensington/Zebra)

7. “NYPD Red 2” by Patterson/Karp (Grand Central)

8. “Twenty Wishes” by Debbie Macomber (Mira)

9. “Fast Track” by Julie Garwood (Signet)

10. “Zoo” (TV Tie-in) by Patterson/Ledwidge (Grand Central)

11. “Kiss Me” by Susan Mallery (Harlequin)

12. “Blue Labyrinth” by Preston/Child (Hachette/Vision)

13. “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich (Bantam)

14. “The Silenced” by Heather Graham (Mira)

15. “Used-to-Be Lovers” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin)


TRADE PAPERBACKS

1. “Grey” by E.L. James (Vintage)

2. “The Martian” by Andy Weir (Crown Publishing)

3. “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai (LB/Back Bay)

4. “The Official SAT Study Guide(2016) (College Board)

5. “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine)

6. “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub (Riverhead)

7. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

8. “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (Moody/Northfield)

9. “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin Press)

10. “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (Penguin)

11. “Blue Smoke” by Nora Roberts (Berkley)

12. “Creative Cats Coloring Book” by Marjorie Sarnat (Dover)

13. “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty (Berkley)

14. “Zoo” (TV Tie-in) by Patterson/Ledwidge (Grand Central)

15. “American Sniper” (movie tie-in) by Chris Kyle (William Morrow)

Movie Review: ‘Manglehorn’

Since “Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness” and “The Sitter,” filmmaker David Gordon Green seems to have turned his back on mainstream comedy, cranking out the kind of quirky, indie fare that he made his name with. But his latest film, “Manglehorn,” is no “Joe,” Green’s rave-worthy, underrated vehicle for Nicolas Cage, who delivered the best performance of his career in that 2013 film.

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In “Manglehorn,” a greasy-haired, unshaven Al Pacino plays the title character, a small-town Texas locksmith embittered by a lost love and estranged from his sleazy financier son, Jacob (Chris Messina). Though the character is meant to be somewhat sympathetic — because of his flirtation with a cheery bank teller (Holly Hunter) — Manglehorn comes across as off-puttingly self- absorbed, despite his devotion to a sick pet cat. Sure, there’s an undeniable pleasure from watching Pacino and Hunter work the screen, but the syrupy, symbol-heavy script by first-time feature writer Paul Logan is weighed down further by cliches and false notes.


Only this line, delivered by Manglehorn to Jacob after a failed attempt at reconciliation over lunch, rings true: “If I want to hang around with a jerk, I’ll just go home, stare at the mirror and talk to myself.”

★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

PG-13. Contains some coarse language, a sexual situation and scenes of a bloody car accident and veterinary surgery. 97 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Trainwreck’

Stand-up comedian and Comedy Central phenom Amy Schumer proves her cinematic bona fides in “Trainwreck,” a strikingly assured feature film debut in which she proves herself as authentic an actress as she is deft as a writer. A warm, anarchic romantic comedy about a promiscuous journalist adrift in modern-day New York, “Trainwreck” hews to the now-familiar contours of raunchy, R-rated comedy: It trafficks in the frank dialogue, absurd sexual situations and mortifying visual stunts familiar to viewers who made “Knocked Up,” “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” huge hits. But Schumer — apple-cheeked and blue-eyed, with the mouth of a longshoreman and the countenance of a choir girl — infuses the genre with rare warmth and emotional honesty. Beneath the bravado and how-low-can-I-go posturing beats the fragile heart of a flawed, funny, fascinatingly contradictory woman.

Schumer plays a character named Amy, whom we meet as a 9-year-old girl in the opening scene of “Trainwreck” as her father (Colin Quinn) explains why he’s leaving her mother, comparing marriage to playing with the same boring old doll all your life. “Monogamy isn’t realistic,” he insists. Twenty-three years later, Amy has taken that lesson to heart. Her younger sister (played as an adult by Brie Larson) has gotten married to a good if slightly nerdy guy (Mike Birbiglia), but Amy is creeped out by their domestic bliss. She prefers to drink, get high and cheat on her bodybuilder boyfriend (John Cena) with an ever-changing roster of anonymous one-night stands, whom she routinely dispatches before the sun comes up.

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Amy’s party-hearty lifestyle provides plenty of comic fodder in “Trainwreck.” She compares one date’s physical endowments to the “whole cast of ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” then, after attaining her own sexual satisfaction, promptly falls asleep. But it’s clear that Amy’s commitment-phobia and compulsive ­self-medication are masking more primal wounds, which come to the surface when she meets a sweet sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader) and when her troubled relationship with her father takes an unexpectedly somber turn.

Schumer handles that emotional pivot with exceptional skill and honesty. What makes “Trainwreck” work is that she approaches every beat — funny, serious and in-between — in an open, undefended state. And she’s blessed with the perfect opposite number in Hader, who delivers yet another heartfelt, hugely appealing performance as a decent, if slightly out-of-his-depth, Everyman. His scenes with LeBron James — who, playing himself, delivers lines about topics including “Downton Abbey” and splitting a lunch check with expert, deadpan timing — lope along with companionable, low-key ease. (The film is studded with star-athlete cameos and features one flawlessly constructed A-Rod joke.)

“Trainwreck” is directed by Judd Apatow, whose films have a tendency to sag, bag and bulge at the edges. This film has the same overlong, digressive streak, but it’s in the service of Schumer, whom Apatow naturally follows wherever she goes, even when she winds up in one or two cul-de-sacs. Tilda Swinton is funny as Amy’s brittle British editor, but her scenes have a perfunctory, jaggedly unfinished rhythm. A recurring movie-within-the-movie, starring two recognizable actors, feels like a juicy opportunity missed, and jokes about the racist assumptions Amy has inherited from her father fall thuddingly flat.


Schumer’s “Trainwreck” character has been compared to Apatow’s similarly directionless, infantile male protagonists, but in many ways she resembles his finest artistic creation: the complex, conflicted Lindsay Weir of his television series “Freaks and Geeks.” Amy exudes more sexual confidence but possesses similar self-doubt and what just might be a tentative sense of worth.

“Trainwreck” ends on a triumphant but also ambivalent note, with a gloriously goofy set piece that’s adorable, physically brave and completely disarming. But, its nod to health and newfound maturity notwithstanding, it also feels like a wholesale — and unnecessary — capitulation. There’s no doubt that Amy’s happy ending is earned, and worth cheering. Viewers are left hoping that contentment won’t make her any less amazing.

★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R. Contains sexual content, nudity, obscenity and some drug use. 125 minutes.

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