Becoming the Bad Guy (Falling Down, 1993)

Falling_Down_PosterFalling Down opens with the intensely shot claustrophobic sequence of Michael Douglas stuck in traffic.  Full of uncomfortable close ups and an auditory assault, the opening sequence puts you centrally in the experience of a man we only know by his license plate… D-Fens. Having enough, this man just gets out of his car and walks away.

It is pretty clear he is on the edge, and desires to get to his Ex-Wife’s home to see his daughter on her birthday.  He starts to run into minor irritations, such as feeling like he is being charged too much for soda or a homeless man asking for money a bit too aggressively. But as things escalate, he angers a local gang. He eventually starts building up a collection of weapons as he carves out a path of “righteous indignation” through the city.

While the authorities do not connect the dots, Detective Prendergast starts to see that these apparently random events are tied to the same guy.

Falling Down was controversial upon release, as it does, on the surface, feed the white grievance attitudes that seemed to have driven some of the workplace shootings that occurred at the time before the film was released.  And the ads kind of pushed that narrative.  In his first interaction, D-Fens is racist, but it is that racism that we still hear today. He mistakes the ethnicity of the Korean store owner and then rants about immigrants.  This is over being charged 85 cents for a can of soda.  And when he demands breakfast after the fast food place has stopped serving breakfast, it feels like we are expected to understand his perspective as right.

That said, the film ultimately sides on the belief that D-Fens is, indeed, the villain of the film.  In spite of the muddled middle, it is clear he has been in a dangerous state for some time.  D-Fens asks Prendergast how he became the bad guy.  In a lot of ways, this feels like a stinging indictment of people today.  People who spew hate and support cruel ideas are shocked to find out that people do not see them as reasonable good guys anymore.  They seem desperate as they see themselves losing power…and do not understand how the life that used to be affirmed is no longer the status quo.

Even though there are some moments that seem to skirt to close to the line of validating the character D-Fens, Falling Down is still a compelling character study.  And again, the opening ten or so minutes is cinematic gold.  While Schumacher took a lot of heat, Falling Down is a film that proves he had a unique cinematic eye and deserves to be remembered as a respected director.

Big Little (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018)

Ant_Man_Wasp_PosterWe last saw Ant-Man in prison with the other heroes who sided with Cap in Civil War. People noticed that he was absent from all the Infinity War promotions, and while Infinity War gave a quick explanation of where he and Hawkeye were, Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us the “full story”. With days to go on his house arrest, Scott Lang has been out of contact with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne for months, having parted on less than good terms as he stole the costume for his role in Civil War.

Hank and Hope have renewed hope that Janet Van Dyne (believed lost in the Quantum realm) may be alive.  They are working in secret to locate her. When one of their experiments coincides with a crazy dream of Scotts, the three are brought back together to try and rescue her. But it is not as simple as they hope, as they are in competition with underground arms dealer Sonny Burch and a mysterious villain called Ghost. Ghost is trying to get the Pym lab because she has phasing powers, but cannot control them. Add to this being hunted by the FBI, rescuing Janet may not be as easy as they hoped.

The film is more focused on Hank and Hope, with Scott brought along somewhat unwillingly, but I found this worked okay. The first film had a running joke about how Hope was far more competent a super-hero, but never got to wear the suit. This film gives us a lot of Wasp action, and it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Scott gets some solid action of course as well, and he even gets a few opportunities to really show his cleverness (a FBI breakout sequence calls back to a scene in the first film, but flips the roles).

Rudd is as goofily charming as in the first film…and Michael Peña is hilarious (even though they only give us one of his elaborate stories). The return of Judy Greer and Bobby Cannaval is welcome.  I really like that the relationship between Cannaval’s Paxton and Scott is not some sort of rivalry over their shared family. Instead, Paxton seems to want the best for Scott and genuinely like him.

The film has some genuinely touching moments with Scott and his daughter Cassie. A wise kid who looks up to her dad and wants to be his sidekick.

The story works very organically, the things that bring the first film’s cast together makes sense (Scott, Luis and their team of ex-cons now have a security business to help businesses avoid being hit by folks like…well, themselves).

The first Ant-Man was a surprising film and a welcome relief to the trend of telling bigger and bigger stories in the solo Marvel films. Ant-Man and the Wasp carries the fun over, building on it’s small scale mythology (the post credit scene ties it to Infinity War).  Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty worthy sequel and a lot of fun to watch.

 

It’s the Little Things (Ant-Man, 2015)

ant_man_posterAnt-Man is the 12th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It has been the source of multiple controversies.  It was not always meant to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, instead it was the pet project of Edgar Wright.  With Iron Man, Marvel Studios birthed their cinematic universe, and slowly started to wrangle Ant-Man in.  When Marvel announced actor Paul Rudd, it got a shot in the arm.  Eventually Wright and Marvel hit an impasse.  Wright left the project and people got nervous about Ant-Man.  Although a founding Avenger in the comics, many questioned the point of a character seen as fairly obscure outside of comic circles.  But Marvel was determined to make the film, hiring director Peyton Reed (Down With Love, Bring It On).

The film we have gotten is not necessarily what we would have gotten from Edgar Wright.  But that does not make what we got a bad offering.  The fears that we were getting the first official MCU bomb have not come true.

The film is the story of criminal Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).  He was a skilled burglar who exposed a corporation screwing over it’s customers and is now recently released.  His hopes of being a part of his daughter Cassie’s life are quickly dashed, as his ex-wife (Judy Greer-underused again) set strict rules before he can re-enter Cassie’s life.

ant_man_leapRunning parallel is the story of  Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Pym.  Hank has spent 20 years trying to protect Pym Particles from falling into anyone’s hands and it strained his relationship with his daughter Hope.  Hope felt abandoned at a time when she probably needed Hank the most-the death of his wife and her mother Janet.

The strong points of the film are that it stays mostly in it’s own grounds.  There is an obligatory Avengers crossover, and we know Hank used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.  But it is mostly background.  This is smaller scale, no universe/planet saving.  In fact, it is more of a traditional heist film where they added the element of super-heroics.  The final battle takes place in a little girl’s room.  The only world at stake in that moment is Scott’s.  After so many “bigger” Marvel films, the smallness of the film is pretty refreshing.

The cast is terrific, with Michael Peña‘s Luis being a real highlight.  He is solid and enjoyable comic relief.  It is a nice touch that he is not inept, simply excitable.  I liked Evangeline Lily’s Hope, and even felt Douglas made Hank’s adamant refusal to allow her to don the Ant-Man costume made sense.

The miniature effects look great, and Reed makes the best of the moments.

At the same time, the film seemed to take short cuts.  We never really see when Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross shift from ambitious business man to psycho villain.  It just happens.  While understandable why Hank opposes it, the idea that Hope never dons an outfit as the Wasp in the film?  Disappointing.

ant_man_lillyAnother controversy (which proves true in the final film) was “fridging” the original Wasp*.  We never see much of her, she is hidden behind a mask.  Between this and the lack of Lilly getting to be the Wasp left me wanting a bit more from the film.

The final work is still strong, with likable characters, fun adventure and great humor.

ant_man_yellow*”Fridging” is the term for storytelling where a female character is killed on or off screen for the sole benefit of the lead (usually male) character.

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