Ant-Man and the Wasp is a weird little movie. Well, alright, maybe “little” might be a bit of a too much, but it feels smaller. Not just because Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can shrink down to the size of an ant either. For once the fate of the universe does not hang in the balance and mercy somehow wins the day.
Scott may well be the single greatest father in the comic book universe. I know of no one else who while under house arrest constructs a maze of cardboard boxes, builds giant paper mache ant puppets, and installs a slide on the side of his house, solely to entertain his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). At the very least he deserves to be in the top five.
I never once cared about the Avengers or where Scott was when the last movie went down. Instead, I got a lovely little movie about a nice guy who’s a good Dad, who sometimes makes the wrong choice but then tries to do the right thing in the end. A novel idea for a superhero movie. No mission, no grand scheme, just people being people and the odd occurring quantum tunnel.
Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) are in hiding. They are also not talking to Scott since Scott took off to fight with Captain America and broke international law, lost Hank’s suit, and put Hank and Hope on the FBI’s most wanted. But while Scott is busy trying his best to be a father to Cassie, Hank and Hope have their own problems.
Years ago Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) disappeared into the quantum zone when she shrunk down to the size of a quantum particle. Now he believes he has a way to get her back. Hope is ecstatic to retrieve her long lost Mother. The last thing they need is Scott.
What makes Ant-Man and the Wasp so much fun is the little things. The character that ties this whole rickety thing together is a mid-level fence Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins). A man who knows to seize an opportunity when he sees it. He has the component that Hank needs to finish the quantum tunnel to get Janet back. Scott has a dream about Janet and calls Hope and Hank who bring him along for the rendezvous.
Walton Goggins is a character actor who is rarely used to the best of his abilities. Often found in lazy, shallow fares such as Maze Runner: The Death Cure or Lara Croft. Goggins has the ability, not unlike Eric Estrada, to smile so you see every tooth. A gregarious performer he has a charm and a joyous wild-eyed zeal about him which Reed wisely channels for Sonny.
The deal goes awry and Hope debuts a suit like’s Scott only with wings. But just before Hope can walk away with the vital component, a new player steps into the game. A phantom-like apparition dressed all in white in a mask more at home in Star Wars than a Marvel movie. Ghost, for she seems to disappear and reappear like one, catches Sonny’s eye, and steals the thingamajig vital to running the whirligig.
My friend and co-host Thad, once said that he thought that superhero movies felt as if “..they were trying to come up with a good excuse for why the bad guy had to be killed.” He has a point. For a genre thickly populated with heroes and villains geared towards children and designed to allow for as many recurring characters as you can fit into a contract-the mortality rate of villains in these movies is staggering.
So often the villain’s plan or motivation only vaguely makes sense. More often than not the plan makes sense in that way that comic book motivations make sense, which is to say in of themselves, yes, but once you start applying logic, the plans fall apart. The best villains are the ones that have motivations connected to a reality we recognize. Thanos may be popular, but I’ll take Vulture or Killmonger over that big galoot anytime.
Ghost is in actuality, Ava (Hannah John-Kamen). She is in constant agony. As a child, her father attempted to build a quantum tunnel, and it exploded. She was told to run, but because she didn’t want him to die alone, she ran back to him. Her mother and father died, and she survived, sort of. Due to the explosion, her molecules are constantly being torn apart and put back together again.
A lifetime of never-ending pain has caused her to seek a cure at any cost. Even if that cost is sucking the quantum energy of someone who has been trapped in the quantum zone for decades and possibly killing them. Someone like say, Janet?
Peyton Reed has a lot going on, and to his credit, it never feels as if it’s getting away from him. The script written by five men is oddly coherent and doesn’t feel cobbled together. Five may seem a bit much but look at this way, four more and they have a ball club.
Reed infuses all of this with a sense of fun. He treats the insanity of Hank Pym’s inventions with a straight face. Giant ants, little people, and men growing to the size of the statue of liberty- all of it taken in stride. The comedy comes from the characters.
When Sonny attempts to track down Hank, Hope, Scott, and the Pym’s incredible shrinking lab he goes to Scott’s best friend, roommate, and business partner, Luis (Michael Pena). The two have started a small upstart security business that is on the verge of collapse. Sonny sees an opportunity and marches into their office building with his hired thugs.
What follows is a truly funny tight five minutes, wherein the thugs and Luis co-workers debate the pedantic usage of the word “truth serum,” Luis misunderstanding of the question Sonny has asked him, the realization the business is going under, and the reaction of everybody when Ava shows up.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is just fun. The action with all the Pym like gadgets and the shrinking and enlarging has a playfulness about it. Superhero action scenes usually devolve into two CGI characters punching each other while buildings crumble. Reed makes the action less like a climatic junction of the story and more like he’s a kid playing with his action figure.
All the fun may come at the cost of the drama, but luckily Reed has a cast of professionals. Douglas plays a persnickety know it all grouch without breaking a sweat. Lilly is an action star waiting on a franchise. John-Kamen brings emotional pathos to her tortured Ava. And Pfeifer reminds us that she is a movie star for a reason and that our pop culture is a little poorer for not using her as much as it could.
Pfeiffer and John-Kamen have a small scene together filled with tenderness and mercy. The moment doesn’t land as big of an emotional punch as it should, but that it exists at all is a miracle. The character of Ava, much like Michael Keaton’s Vulture, is refreshing because her motives are taken from real life. The heroes are trying to stop her both to save Janet but also to save Ava.
Reed is not an exceptionally stylistic director. But he and Dante Spinotti, his cameraman, understand how to keep the pace up and while it’s not as emotionally complex or satisfying, it is breezy. Paul Rudd is a likable enough actor, but I don’t normally like him in the starring role. But Reed manages to elevate Rudd to a leading man status. He curbs Rudd’s more comedic sensibilities and grounds it into Scott’s relationship with Cassie.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a masterpiece, and it doesn’t push the genre of superhero movies forward. It doesn’t push it back either. We’ve been slowly conditioned that for a movie to be fun it must be big and dumb.
But that’s not necessarily true. Ant-Man and the Wasp is neither big or dumb, but it is fun and sweet. In its own weird way, it’s the best type of movie a movie like Ant-Man and the Wasp could hope to be. The world is never in danger, heck neither is San Francisco, for that matter. But it has stakes enough for what it wants to do.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios
‘Sorry To Bother You’ Isn’t Sorry At All
Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You is a glorious, imperfect invective sermon of a movie. Filled with fire, passion, and deep, almost possessed, desire to tackle political issues most modern day directors are loathed to touch. The Oakland in Riley’s opus is at once deeply real while at the same time almost a whimsical parallel universe.
So much happens in Sorry To Bother You that telling you the plot seems almost moot. Not because doing so is futile, though it is a knotty and at times wildly convoluted. But because going in ignorant of what you’re about to see is an experience so rare we should cherish the opportunities when we get them.
Riley wrote and directed, not so much a movie, but a mood—an idea. It’s a shaggy dog of a movie that could do with some trimming here and there, but the chances it takes and the things its characters do and say are a breath of cinematic fresh air. Most independent directors eye the studio gigs. Or at the very least wish to exist comfortably alongside or in the shadow of the big-budget blockbusters. Riley could care less and brazenly bites the hand that feeds him.
Sorry To Bother You is a broadside against capitalism, Trumpism, corporatism, and institutionalized racism, all in the guise of an absurd satire which evolves into a tense and evocative science fiction thriller. Riley is angry and he wants you to be as well. Watching Sorry To Bother You, I was struck by how things I’m used to seeing all the time in older movies are now almost extinct.
Things such as when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) approaches Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) about starting a union. If you ever wonder if having giant multi-corporation international studios in charge of producing one of the most powerful and enduring of the mass arts has any effect, look at how little unions are depicted or even discussed. At one point while Cassius and the other telemarketers at his new job RegalView are having a morning huddle of sorts, someone asks a question rarely heard in modern cinema, independent or otherwise, “Does this mean you’ll pay us more?”
Riley’s fury and zeal are infectious and his anger all-encompassing. His eternal flame of rage is only matched by his visual and storytelling inventiveness. After being rejected by the umpteenth customer, Cassius becomes discouraged. The telemarketer in the cubicle next to him, Langston (Danny Glover) advises he use his “white voice.” Cassius asks him to explain. Riley then dubs Steve Buscemi’s voice in for Glover’s.
Cassius laughs and does his own impression. Langston shakes his head. His description of what the “white voice” is and how it is perceived and utilized is one of the plethoras of masterstrokes. It’s not about the sound or even the confidence. It’s about the knowledge that your existence is not threatened and even if you miss the next payment, you’ll be fine. When Cassius does master it, Riley dubs in David Cross’s voice for Stanfield’s.
When Cassius makes a call, his desks drops down into the person’s office or living room. Cassius must immediately ingratiate himself while picking up the things that have fallen off his desk. This effect is done by simply having two big people hold Stanfield up and dropping his desk. A practical effect that gives an almost visceral and palpable illusion of desperation and fear.
Sorry To Bother You is a comedy but not in the way we normally mean it. It’s not a gross-out or slapstick. Its humor comes from how close to the bone Riley allows his script to cut.
When Cassius and Langston share a drink, Cassius asks about the upstairs callers, the “Power Callers.” We are told that they sell something else entirely different. “Oh I get it. It’s like the difference between apples and oranges.” Langston shakes his head. “No. It’s more like apples and the Holocaust.”
The Power Callers work for WorryFree. WorryFree is a revolutionary new way of employment. Housing costs are skyrocketing, health insurance is becoming prohibitively expensive, and commuting is a nightmare. So why not live and eat where you work? To ease your mind, WorryFree offers lifetime contracts.
Clearly a scathing indictment of the much publicized, but not nearly as publicized as they should be, business practices of Amazon. The owner of WorryFree, billionaire Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), seems aghast at the outrage. He is merely providing a service and helping people find work.
Anyone who lives in a metropolis knows the homeless tend to live out of tents. Riley lines his streets with them until you get into the business sector. The streets become clean and the sidewalks clear of debris or skid row. Except as the film goes along and Cassius becomes more and more successful, the tents become more ubiquitous as WorryFree’s size and influence grow. Power Callers, it turns out, sell WorryFree employment to other major businesses.
Why pay employees and provide costly benefit packages to produce a product when you can hire WorryFree and have them make the product at a fraction of the cost? Slavery is and was a very real thing and it’s not a metaphor Riley makes lightly. When Cassius stops by his girlfriend Detroit’s (Tessa Thompson) art show he tells her he can’t stay long, she says, “Oh. Do you have to go to your slave auctioneer’s party?”
I have heard complaints about how Stanfield doesn’t sound like he’s from Oakland and that his delivery is too stilted. I believe this to be by design. If you notice, everyone has an off way of delivering their dialogue. Notice how Stanfield moves and walks and you’ll see a very naturalized and nuanced performance.
Riley is a rapper and Sorry To Bother You is dripping with musicality. The dialogue has a melody which belies an intricate love of words and grammatical couplings. At his interview for RegalView Cassius sits in his chair with an Employee of The Month plaque and a trophy. Both are fake and the hiring manager knows it. “This is telemarketing, son. That trophy tells me everything I need to know about you. You have a sense of ingenuity and that you can read.” Or when his new Team Leader, played by Kate Berlant, introduces herself. “My name is Diana DeBauchery.” She pronounces it “Du-Bu-Cherry.” Almost immediately a fellow co-worker shouts out, “That looks like debauchery.”
Sorry To Bother You is a truly weird movie that is never weird for weird’s sake. The scenes remain unpredictable and the story seemingly untethered not because of any rank amateurishness. They behave and exist the way they do because it’s the only way Riley can conceive of them existing. No other film would have a character like Detroit stand up wearing a bikini made of three gloves, recite a scene from Barry Gordon’s The Last Dragon, and invite the audience to pelt her with old cell phones and balloons filled with lamb’s blood. And then it gets weird.
Tessa Thompson is a modern day Marlene Dietrich. Her presence on the screen so naturally attracts the eyes it borders on dark wizardry. Much like Lana Parilla, Thompson possesses the unique ability to put on whatever bizarre or ludicrous outfit is handed to her and have us believe her character consciously chose that outfit from her closet. Thompson stalks every frame she’s in with a fierce grace even though she is relegated to playing the part of Cassius’ conscience.
Riley grabs you by the lapel and all but drags you along with him. At times it feels as if he personally is sitting next to you shaking you, poking you, anything to get you angry. Because you should be angry. Boots Riley is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore. But unlike the character who utters that infamous line, he’s not a raving lunatic being put on television for the sake of ratings. We elected that guy president.
He is more concerned with galvanizing you. Art and politics are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be. He wants you talking about unions, about how companies dehumanize you and make you feel ashamed for even thinking about asking for a living wage.
Sorry To Bother You is a nightmarish satiric fable that exists in the here and now. It stands as a calling card for a new, innovative, and fearless voice in American Cinema. Riley’s debut is a work of art ripped from the soul and soaked in the filmmaker’s consciousness and beliefs. Steeped in his personality, it stands proud, tall, and impossible to ignore.
Image Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures
With Director Pick, Black Widow Solo Film May Actually Happen
It’s been over eight years since we met Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2. The MCU was still in its infancy. Only Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk had been released, and Avengers was just a twinkle in Joss Whedon’s weird, tiny eye. Since then, it has exploded into the juggernaut we all know and feel bombarded by. We’ve had another Iron Man film, three Thor films, two films featuring a talking raccoon, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a fake looking goatee. But never a Black Widow movie. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
However, after years of badgering, Kevin Feige is finally pulling the trigger on a Black Widow movie. And now, after a search that probably didn’t need to be as intense as it was, The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Black Widow has a director: Australian director Cate Shortland. Shortland joins a film that has been in development for nearly four years.
Long Time Coming
Feige “expressed interest” in making a Black Widow solo film ever since she debuted. For the next years, he would hem, haw, and tease the public that demanded a solo film for a female hero. For a while, Black Widow’s big role in Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier gave Marvel an edge against DC’s testosterone-poisoned films. And the fans were rabid for her to get her own film. But then Wonder Woman came out.
Suddenly, Marvel didn’t have the edge. Soon, Natasha wouldn’t even get to be the first female Marvel hero to get her own film. Captain Marvel is going to beat her to that punch. That, and Scarlett Johansson’s recent…unique choice in roles, klled some of the enthusiasm for the film.
Narrowing Down The (Very Long) Shortlist
The first real signs of life came earlier this year, when TiMER scribe Jac Schaeffer signed on to write the script. Even then, nothing was certain. It took another half a year for them to nail down Shortland. For some reason, it’s really hard to find a female director in Hollwood. While most other MCU films went had a list of three or four possible directors, Black Widow had a list of over 70. Shortland was Johannson’s pick, but Marvel also considered Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom), Maggie Betts (Novitiate), and Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) for the chair. Shortland was Johannson’s pick, however, as the actress was a fan of her WWII drama Lore. Shortland would be another director, like James Gunn and Taika Waititi, to jump from indie film to franchise tent pole.
The new film is still pretty damn up in the air. While we now have a creative team, the script is just a draft. It will be set before Avengers and will probably be an origin story. It’s just a shame that they’re probably going to be a decade too late.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios
‘Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’ Takes an Old Story in a New Direction
It’s not that taking a modern-day trend or social media issue and using it as a way to update a centuries-old French play is unheard of. I’m just not used to seeing one quite as fitting as Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. Edmond Rostand’s 1897 French play Cyrano de Bergerac, while famous, is not nearly as popular or even really adapted that much for the cinema as it’s fame might suggest.
Still, with a script by Lindsey Beer, giving the whole story a unique and much-needed woman’s perspective, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser shows a great deal of promise. Shannon Purser (BARB!) plays the titular Sierra, who is your average teenager. Which is to say she’s a teenager and it sucks. Because it does. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.
Eschewing the incest subplot, Beer has seemingly replaced it with a much more up to date modern replacement, catfishing. From the trailers, it appears the catfishing is accidental. Sierra is randomly texted by a cute guy, Jamey, played by Noah Centineo. It’s not until later that she begins to wonder if he really knows who he’s talking to. When Jamey calls Sierra “Veronica” and shows her a pic of the popular cheerleader, Sierra realizes her suspicions were right.
Beer appears more interested in the relationship between Sierra and the popular cheerleader Veronica played by Kristine Froseth than Sierra and Jamey. Rostand’s story is about men and putting women on a pedestal. Women must learn to love men even though they may have large noses. Appearances don’t matter. Except in high school, they do. What Beer seems to be focusing on though, is not how appearances affect romantic interactions, but how society can use appearances to help women tear down other women.
To use the parlance of our times “patriarchal bullshit.” Beer looks to be subverting the classic trope of romantic misunderstanding less to explore the fragility of the male ego and more to explore the different social hurdles women must maneuver in order to survive high school or even exist on social media.
I could be reading too much into it, it’s a trailer after all. Trailers are designed to sell you the movie studios want you to see. But with Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, I think I see a potentially thoughtful and intriguing story about women relating to other women. Which is nice, well, more than nice. It’s pretty awesome.