Monday Morning Critic – Of First Round Picks and Leading Men: Evaluating Paul Rudd as Ant-ManManiac (2013) on DVD

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The biggest news to me this week was the casting of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man for Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man. It’s a decidedly interesting call because Rudd is one of the last guys many people would expect to be in a Marvel comic book film. The casting process had narrowed it down to him and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, apparently, and Rudd won the part.

Good for him, as he’s a terrific talent who deserves a high profile film like this, but it’s interesting that it’s Rudd instead of Simon Pegg. Pegg is a long time contributor with Wright and for some reason I always imagined Henry Pym with Pegg’s smirking shenanigans. It says something that Pegg wouldn’t be the pick but sometimes directors and actors don’t want to work with each other all the time.

Pegg is also the default pick for nearly any Wright project so it’s assumed that Pegg could (or should) have a role in it. I imagine if Robert De Niro was in his prime right now that every project he and Scorsese did would have the same sort of gut reaction.

Pegg and Wright (and Nick Frost, too) will forever be tied together for their comedy trilogy, Spaced, and the handful of projects they’ll do again in the future.

Pegg, Wright and Nick Frost have worked together enough times to know that they can pick and choose their spots. He didn’t pick this spot, obviously, and it just means in the future he’ll be able to do something else with two guys he considers his friends. Sometimes you get synergy on a project … sometimes you don’t.

The interesting thing about Rudd as any comic book hero is that he’s not quite the leading man that’s been picked for every other property in the modern age of Marvel films from Marvel proper. Take a look at the rest of the actors who’ve been cast as leading men over the years. And I’m just using the Marvel Studio years, basically Iron Man forward, as our starting point. Once Marvel started throwing down its own coin for films, and not just licensing everything out, it’s choices became that much more interesting.

Robert Downey Jr. was always a leading man and being cast as Iron Man wasn’t a huge surprise. He had been working his way back into the limelight by being drug free and a model citizen. It was risky from all involved but Downey was like that first round bust quarterback that’s on his 3rd team, looking to be a starter for the final time. He finally paid off and became the starter that everyone imagined he could be.

And since I like the football metaphor I’m going to keep using it.

Knocked Up movie image Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann

Chris Evans would be in the “leading man draft” as a first round pick. He just needed the right vehicle as he has everything you want in a leading man for a big tent pole franchise. He’s good looking, good with a one liner and has that All-American leading man look to him.

Evans would’ve been a bigger star in the studio system based on everything he has. He would’ve been shoved down people’s throats until he was just accepted as a leading man back then.

Chris Hemsworth is another guy that has that first round grade. He was a foreign actor, little known like a smaller college prospect, but he looks like how Thor should look. Kind of like how Joe Flacco went to Delaware but got into the first round because he looked the part. Hemsworth also has that sort of swagger a leading man needs.

You might be able to get him in like the second or third round, because he wasn’t valued highly coming into the draft, but he has the talent to go in the first. Hemsworth is a guy you could justify drafting earlier than expected if you think he’s the man … but you can also pass and take him later if he’s available, too.

Either option is justifiable and in Marvel’s case it’s worked out beautifully.

He’s been one of the strengths of Thor and the sequel so far. Considering Holmsworth has got rave reviews for Rush this year, as well, he’s a guy who’s performing well beyond expectations right now. They’ve got their guy for the part.

Ed Norton was a no brainer for the Hulk reboot. He’s a proven veteran hand, not brilliant but certainly not awful. You can give him a good sized contract while grooming your next franchise QB. He’s also cheap enough to be expendable, as he was replaced with Mark Ruffalo and no beats were skipped in The Avengers. Norton is incredibly talented but in this genre he’s replaceable. He’s there to bide time until you’re ready to move on with your next leading man.

Norton is a character actor masquerading as a leading man and competent in both roles. He can carry a film but he’s not a comic book film hero for the long term. Norton can be in your film and not embarrass himself in a summer blockbuster but he’s more at home in a smaller drama. He’s an actor, not a movie star, but he can acquit himself as one for brief moments.

Everyone who’s been in the lead of a proper Marvel Studios film has had that grade. They’re all guys who are no brainer leading men types. Which is why Ant-Man is such a unique casting. Think about it for a moment. Paul Rudd? Paul Rudd is that crazy first round pick that Al Davis and the Raiders would’ve made when there’s plenty of other talent available. Davis would move up in the draft to pick him when he could’ve got him much later, and for much cheaper.

I love Rudd but let’s be honest. Paul Rudd isn’t what you call a leading man. He’s a guy who’s good at sharing the spotlight with other people and all his best films come when he’s not required to carry the film. Rudd’s skills are always of being part of a duo, or more, rather than being the lead in a film. It’s not like he’s part of a cast in this film; he’s playing the guy on the marquee and as such if he’s a failure the film won’t succeed like it should. It won’t have a $200 million budget but playing a guy who shrinks, or gets larger as well, isn’t exactly going to be cheap either.

It’s why Rudd is an interesting pick. Marvel is starting to get into more safer picks, moving away from high profile directors and getting more genre style directors into the mix. Marvel isn’t panicking but with 2013 being the year where a ton of films bombed and lost a ton of money they aren’t going to be super risky either. Rudd isn’t a risky pick, like casting UFC superstar Chael Sonnen, but he’s not exactly everyone’s first pick for a comic book superhero.

You don’t think of anyone from that Apatow gang as being a Marvel hero, of course, and Rudd being cast as Ant-Man could be interesting for the character and the film. It’ll have to be a bit more comedic, with Rudd’s talents utilizing one liners coming in handy, but that’s necessarily a bad thing. Having an action-comedy in the Marvel Universe shakes things up in some aspects, leading to potentially a West Coast Avengers franchise that could be interesting to watch as well.

While I imagine in no universe it could actually happen, of course, a West Coast Avengers film with the Apatow gang would be very interesting to view. Though I imagine no one will spend $200 million for an R-rated action-comedy, of course, there’s always the hope of Jonah Hill as Wonder-Man to worry comic book dorks en masse for at least six months.

I reserve judgment until the final product comes out, of course, but Paul Rudd as Ant-Man is like drafting a small college prospect in the first round. If it works out you’re a genius and no one will question your judgment for at least a couple years. Kind of like when the 49ers took Jerry Rice and he turned out to be the greatest wideout ever. But if Rudd turns out to be awful he’ll be John Thierry, another small school football player who wound up being awful for any number of reasons for my beloved Bears.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

From elsewhere in the Inside Pulse Network:

I wrote a theatrical review of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. You can read it here but it sucked, hard. That’s the short of it, but the long of it was that it sucked. Read my review to find out why.

We covered Glory 13 on Inside Fights, check out our coverage by clicking here.

I reviewed All is Bright on Blu-Ray and wasn’t impressed.

Tommy Toe Hold reaches out and crushes it. Do him a favor and hit up his website.

And now on MMC … we DANCE!

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This week’s DVD Screener Travis Sent Me – Manaic

Some actors are meant to play serial killers. Elijah Wood is one of them. And he’s suitably creepy in a remake of Maniac, which found its way into limited release. It’s on DVD, of course, so you can find it (though maybe not in a Red Box).I had intended to avoid it, like most horror films, until Travis sent me a screener to check out. He put it in the Up documentary series, of course,

Simple premise: Elijah Wood is a serial killer who likes scalping his victims, who are all young hot women. When he’s done killing them he’s all about putting their scalps on mannequins, which he restores, and has conversations with. When he meets a woman he doesn’t want to murder (Nora Arnezeder) they become friends over art and photography. She thinks he’s just an eccentric mannequin shop owner with profound skills at renovating antique mannequins.

It all winds up getting nasty at the end, of course, as Wood’s instincts for killing women clashes with his friendship for someone who he doesn’t want to murder at one point.

Maniac BD

A Remake of this film, actually

The interesting thing about this film is how they shot. It’s from the perspective of the killer, as we don’t get to see Elijah Wood except in reflections or in the mirror, thus it turns up the creepiness factor. This is a first person look at a serial killer with Wood turning up the creep factor significantly. It’s what makes the film interesting from a story-telling standpoint.

It’s been done before, of course, as I know a handful of films have done it before. It’s an interesting device because it’s Elijah Wood as the lead; he’s suitably creepy for the part and not showing him makes it only creepier when he’s briefly shown. It takes a lot for an actor to be serial killer creepy when he’s not on screen, but the focus of an entire film, and it’s a brilliantly interesting performance from Wood.

He’s so creepy it’s something else, honestly. Wood was a serial killer more famously in Sin City but this explores it in a more realistic manner. He takes that level of creepiness from the Robert Rodriguez film and adds in the human element. Frank is a killer with profound mental problems and it’s an off-putting performance from Wood for all the right reasons. There’s no reason you can like this guy unless you’re profoundly damaged as a human being.

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It makes you think of Frodo in a whole different light for a moment. Like at some point you almost think Frodo wants to see what Samwise’s scalp would look like on a mannequin.

The film itself is solid but not spectacular. Maniac works because of the gimmick of being a first person film, making it more visceral, but the gimmick is there to disguise the lack of depth in the film’s story.

Slightly recommended for the strong of stomach. Film’s kind of gory, yo.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

47 Ronin – Keanu Reeves leads some Ronin to take revenge for their fallen master in their one last act on Earth.

See it – So far it looks like a samurai version of 300. Yeah, I can dig it.

Believe – Another documentary on Justin Bieber. Seriously.

Skip it – Really? The kid’s not old enough to rent a car and yet he’s had two documentaries on his life? I get it, he’s one of the biggest musicians in the world, but what else about his life do we need to know at this point?

Grudge Match – Rocky fights Raging Bull for some reason.

Skip it – So far this has all the feelings of a film people will like because of nostalgia, not because it’s any good. I love De Niro and love Stallone but who’s screaming that we need to see them as washed up, aging boxers coming together for a rubber match as geriatrics?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Ben Stiller gets his Forrest Gump.

Skip it – Ben Stiller is in his “I need to justify my career” phase and wants to get at least try and throw his hat into the ring for some awards love. It explains a lot of his choices besides the usual slapstick comedies. He’s aiming for the Steve Martin route, to have a catalog of comedies that made him his fortune and then a series of serious films to establish his dramatic bona fides and reroute his career as it nears elder statesman as opposed to still being in the young trailblazer mode.

The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese tackles the real life story of the story that inspired Boiler Room.

See it – So far it’s getting fairly solid reviews and there’s a buzz to it. Plus it’s Scorsese, yo, and the man rarely misfires when it comes to his cinematic resume.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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