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.

 

Feel Something (The Fundamentals of Caring, 2016)

The film opens with the laughter of a child, both endearing and mysterious.  We meet Ben (Paul Rudd) who is going through a rough patch.  What little we know is that his wife wants a divorce and he is now seeking work as a caregiver.  Quiet and seeming lost, he applies to work with Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man with a form of Muscular Dystrophy.  He is caustic with a dark sense of humor.  But he picks Ben to be his caregiver.  Ben and Trevor have an evening where they spar angrily, Ben upset with Trevor’s games.  When he starts to apologize to Trevor’s mother, she reveals that Trevor asked about a road trip with Ben.  At first, Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) is certain her son should not go.  But she relents, and that is when both Ben and Trevor find their lives altered.

This is not an original tale, and there are many a road story following people learning important lessons.  And yet, I found the film worked quite well.  Paul Rudd is charming as always, and Craig Roberts gives a rough edge while still being likable as Trevor.  Selena Gomez’s Dot is a likable (foul mouthed) performance.  The film is the story of wounded people finding they cannot be fixed by each other…but they can forge a path of healing together.  Mainly through passing standing up.

The film manages plenty of humor and is heartfelt.  Rudd’s Ben has been dealing with tremendous heartbreak and his relationships with Trevor, Dot and Peaches (picked up later in their trip, played by Megan Ferguson) are unintentionally redemptive.  I confess, I can be more than a bit of a sap.  That can color a film for me.  I enjoyed the performances and storytelling.  Along with that, the film has an effective alternative folk soundtrack featuring mainly indie artists.

All in all, I found The Fundamentals of Caring to be an emotionally satisfying watch with uplifting performances.

Player vs Player (Captain America: Civil War, 2016)

Marvels_captain_america_civil_war_posterCaptain America: Civil War was a risky gamble.  It has a bloated cast.  I mean, Captain America is joined by practically everyone (Except Thor and the Hulk).  The film was also going to be introducing us to a couple Major Players in Both the Black Panther and Spider-Man.  There was always the possibility that this would be so bogged down, we would have Marvels first failure…the first Marvel film that outright sucked.

And the film should be a huge mess.  We are being introduced to characters left and right.  And as usual, the villain of the film is pretty thin.  And yet, somehow?  The film works.  It stand and manages to remain extremely engaging.  The film is dealing with the fallout of collateral damage we have seen through the previous films.  All that destruction we have seen through the Avengers, Thor, Captain America the winter soldier.  Culminating in an event in this film in which an attempt to save people kills several visiting Wakandans.

The United Nations is determine to intervene.  And Tony Stark, after being confronted by an angry and heartbroken mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died in Ultron’s Sokovia attack, is determine to see it happen.  He, quite understandable, sees a need for Oversight.  And this is what sets off the Conflict within the Avengers.  Steve Rogers is certain that being shackled and having to get permission to fight the bad guys is a bad idea.  We of course, sympathize with Cap, but one of the things the film does very well?  The character motivations.  They make sense.  You understand why they choose the way they do.  And the the fact that certain characters miss the villain’s big plan is quite believable.

The film is action packed, but not at the expense of the overall story.  The characters get meaningful exchanges and yet, the film avoids feeling overly bogged down by a sense of self importance.  The events matter, questions are asked, but without the self aggrandizing approach other Super-hero films had recently.  Not naming names.  The cast does great work with the script they were given.  They bring the characters to life.

And then there is the humor.  This is by no means a light film, but it has very effective humor.  The film is not afraid that if we laugh we might miss “the important and heavy epic story being told”.  These people are friends.  They have history.  They care about each other.  And that is what gives the story it’s real conflict and weight.  But it is also those established relationships that allow the fun.

Of course, the big question was…Spider-Man and the Black Panther-will they work?  It is nice that we do not get an origin story (it should be pretty clear that T’Challa was already the Black Panther, he is not becoming the Black Panther for revenge).  But he does get a nice story arc focusing on the thirst for vengeance, leading him to wisdom in his new role as King.  Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa as young, confident royalty.  And yet, when he suffers lost, he gains a restrained ferocity.

And Tom Holland?  He is Spider-Man.  The portrayal of Spidey in this film was almost instantly lovable.  His rapid fire chatter was dead on.  He looked great in costume and his position of siding with Tony makes complete sense.  I am genuinely excited to see both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s solo films.

James Gunn (Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films) said this was the best Marvel film to date.  And, in the end, if it is not actually the best?  It is pretty darn close.  This is a terrific adventure and worth seeing.

The Night He Came Home (With Reinforcements) Redux (Halloween 6 Curse of Michael Myers: Producer’s Cut,2014)

halloween_6_producer_cut_Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers was terrible.  It was Plodding, confusing and a genuine mess.  I went back and revisited it and even realized I had filled in the blanks.  The cult that oversees Michael is barely seen.  Oh, we meet some of the characters, but it is unclear why or how they know stuff.  Instead, I was filling in my memory with stuff I had heard about the ideas behind the film.

After almost two decades, we have finally gotten a legit copy of the often bootlegged Producer’s Cut.  This is the film the producers wanted to release.  And you know, had the succeeded?  Part 6 might have had a better reputation.

Oh, yeah, there is still creepy stuff like Jamie being impregnated by her uncle Michael Myers.  But other things are more explicit, like the cult that has overseen Michael.  It makes the talk of the voice that called to Michael to kill his family make a bit more sense.  And the ending is far better.

In a lot of ways, this is a very different film.  Far superior to the theatrical release.  Of course, it still falls short of being a great film.  Frankly, I still do not find the “Michael is controlled by a Cult” storyline particularly compelling.  And considering the seventh film ignored this plot point entirely… I am not alone in such a feeling.

But it is a lot of fun seeing the new footage of Donald Pleasence.  The ending was chopped short, with Sam Loomis bidding farewell to Tommy, Kara and her little brother.  We just see Michael’s mask on the floor and a distance scream from Loomis suggesting Michael killed him offscreen.  In the version, Loomis walks back into the hospital they had the showdown with Michael in and sees Michael still standing…joined by Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan)… Sam Loomis is not killed in the producer’s cut…but rather faces a cruel fate worse than death.  It is actually pretty inspired and ties back to the original in a ironic way.  If you have  not seen it and are a fan of the franchise, I recommend this one.  The blu-ray also includes some great featurettes exploring the history of this film.

The Night He Came Home (With Reinforcements) (Halloween 6: the Curse of Michael Myers, 1996)

Halloween-Curse-of-Michael-MyersI think it would have been cooler if it had been Halloween:the Musical!!! Seriously, whose heart would be untouched at the sight of Michael Myers dancing across the stage, knife in hand? But alas, that was not to be. The biggest surprise for me in re-watching number six recently? Paul Rudd. Or as the movie says: Introducing Paul STEPHEN Rudd. But yeah. It’s this Paul Rudd. I’ve been a fan of Rudd’s for years, but I somehow forgot he was in this…uh…poor showing.

He plays a grown up Tommy Doyle (the kid Jamie Lee was babysitting in the original). The sixth film tries to ties all the films together. Except three. So follow along for spoilers.

This movie picks up some vague and indiscriminate time after # 5. Some girl is giving birth, surrounded by a bunch of people in robes. Shortly after she is helped by one of the cult members (you got that the people in robes were a cult-right???) to get away. after her escape with her baby, the woman who helped her escape hears a noise and gets scare. She backs away…right into Michael Myers who kills her.

Yes, Michael is part of a cult in this film. Not really a member, more a product of their evil deeds. In every generation there is one and all that jazz.  And so we discover that the girl who gave birth is Jamie-Michael’s Niece from 4 & 5. She is trying to save her newborn kid from Michael. And for reasons…that make no sense?  Said baby is Michael Myers child.  Yes.  Apparently he impregnated his young niece.  Ew.  The film quickly introduces Rudd as Tommy Doyle (who ends up being a somewhat creepy version of his nice guy persona) and the return of Dr. Sam Loomis (Again played by Donald Pleasence-who passed on shortly after the film finished). Another old character is introduced…that of Dr. Wynn, who was last seen in the first Halloween.

This is how it all gets messy. They are trying to tie up loose plot lines from a series that had been off the market for about six years. And some of these questions they try and answer are intriguing. But back to the plot. Michael succeeds in killing his niece, but only she manages to hide the baby and call a radio show talking about Michael Myers. Thank God Tommy Doyle is obsessive and records the show, because he manages to figure out where the baby is hidden.

In the meantime the audience also meets another young woman with a kid. She is part of the Strode family, which apparently all deal in Real Estate, just like Laurie’s dad in the original. And of course, it’s revealed that they all live in Michael’s old house, because in 20 odd years they could not sell the home.  None of the Strode family is aware of this.  They have no clue they are living in Michael Myer’s childhood home.  A girl springs it on one of the Strode family members…and I have to ask… HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW YOU LIVE IN THE MOST FAMOUS HOUSE IN YOUR TOWN’S ENTIRE HISTORY?!

None of the characters draw you in, so each death lacks fear or suspense. n top of that, the film is rather confusing. The cult’s motives seem foggy and there is some hokey stuff suggesting that Michael was a generational thing passed through the centuries. I don’t know, it was a real mess.

Mind you, the producers seem to agree. Apparently, they had meant for something a little tighter for the continuity of the series. It was going to be revealed that the shadowy guy from # 5 who set Michael free was Dr. Wynn. It was supposed reveal that Dr. Wynn had trained Michael the years he was growing up. Afterall, Wynn is a member of an evil cult that…well, has something to do with Michael Myers.

So, in the sixth movie, they seem to have gone down a path that is unalterable. Unchangeable. Myers is not the boogey man. He’s the servant to a cult. Sounds like they are stuck now….right? Why look…a seventh film came along three years later…surely it addressed these things….right?

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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