Category: Movies

Ant-Man 2 shrinks the MCU’s scale with minor success

Ant-Man 2 shrinks the MCU’s scale with minor success

Ant-Man and the Wasp is, frankly, a mediocre showing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has some brilliant stuff within it, as one might expect from the studio that has revolutionized the idea of a connected universe of films for the last 10 years. However, that brilliant stuff is marred down by a weak plot with awkward pacing and some noticeable problems balancing the movie’s comedy and heart.

Now as usual I’m not planning on putting any spoilers in this mini-review here. Though all things being equal, I would argue there isn’t too much to spoil outside of the end credit stuff that isn’t already shown in trailers and advertisements.

I do wish I could talk about that end credit stuff, because I’m still overjoyed at how my post-Infinity War fan theory was made true in a big, bad way.

But I won’t. Just know that Marvel has no chill right now and I love it.

The first Ant-Man movie was something of a surprise hit for Marvel along the same wavelength as Guardians of the Galaxy. Nobody expected much of anything out of a superhero film with a premise that the hero can shrink down and be really small.

However, by mixing together a lovable main character, some well-done comedy, a few clever visual spectacles and a heist film plot, the movie was a fun little success.

It led to Paul Rudd, the titular Ant-Man, becoming something of a darling in the MCU. He turned into the kind of character whose cameos improved other films like Civil War. As a result, people were a little disappointed when Rudd and Jeremy Renner (the universe’s Hawkeye) did not appear in the crossover blockbuster Infinity War due to a somewhat weak excuse.

That they had “other things going on.”

So Ant-Man and the Wasp, the second MCU film starring Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as our other titular hero, promised to hopefully be the compelling story of just what was so damn important that we couldn’t have shrinking powers assisting in the big fight against Thanos.

What we got was a product that, like I said, was rather mediocre. But not because of its explanations regarding Rudd and Lilly’s absence from Infinity War.

As something of a side-discussion before I jump into where Ant-Man and the Wasp faltered, I want to dive into the reason why I love the opening premise to this film. Even going back to the original advertisements for it, I knew I was looking forward to Ant-Man 2 because it’s a movie that’s predicated on the consequences of other movies.

The aftermath of Civil War, where Rudd is part of the group arrested for siding with Captain America against government restrictions on superheroes, plays heavily into the plot of Ant-Man 2. Much of Rudd’s struggle is having to help his friends while also trying to serve his last three days of house arrest so he can be free to see his daughter more. Meanwhile, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (Lilly) are also on the run from the FBI because their tech was what allowed Rudd to take part in that battle.

I love that Ant-Man is being used as an example of how actions in their universe have consequences going forward, much like Civil War did. Just a little less heavy-handed due to its smaller scale story.

Puns.

As much as I love the way the movie is set-up, the plot it rolls with given that establishment isn’t the most stellar one we’ve seen. The first third of the film is great and the resolution is decent. But the middle of the movie is bland and forgettable, in part because of the way it tries to balance at least six different stories at once.

That’s right, if the back-and-forth of those three or four driving plot points I’ve already laid out aren’t enough, there are also a couple of separate things going on with all the side character. That’s not even mentioning the film’s villain Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen.

She does alright with what she’s working with, but for the most part Ghost feels like a more one-note throwaway character than most of the other Marvel villains we’ve seen lately. Her personal story arc also has a vague conclusion in the film that seems sidelined in place of Rudd going after his happy ending.

They do offer John-Kamen room for possible inclusion in sequels, but not enough was done to encourage me to be excited for her to show up again.

The way Ghost’s inclusion seemed choppy was kind of emblematic of the problems with Ant-Man and the Wasp as a whole. Because so much was being done all over the place with each character, it felt like a lot of the film was left on the cutting room floor. Many of the scenes feel rushed, with quick cuts that seemed more jarring than stylized in the overall package.

Balancing all of those aspects also created tonal issues. There are a lot of attempts to be comedic that fall flat. For every funny bit, like relating Ghost to an old Russian folktale, there are two or three returning bits from the original Ant-Man that seem to be there just to reference the original Ant-Man.

The lackluster comedic bits hurt especially so because they are interjected around emotional moments that work damn well. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a movie about family, and each character struggles with familial issues in some way or another.

Rudd’s character shines far brighter whenever he’s with his daughter than when he’s the ‘dumb, goofy everyman’ archetype stuck in a room trying to pretend he understands what’s happening.

Every moment his daughter, captured expertly by Abby Ryder Fortson, was on-screen made the movie that much better. You can tell she and Rudd had an electric chemistry together that left the whole audience saying ‘aww’ throughout the film.

Lilly’s relations towards her mother, another driving motif in the film, are also quite heartfelt. I actually teared up a little during the film’s cold open, which was surprisingly well done and emotional.

Ant-Man and the Wasp should have spent more time deciding whether it wanted to be a comedic movie or a heartfelt one. Either path likely would have led it to more success, but the balance is skewed badly in its current state.

It did have some decent action scenes to stand on, especially when digging back into the things that made the original so good: Playing with size.

I won’t spoil too many specific bits, but probably the most memorable moments outside of Ant-Man with his daughter were the moments playing with making big things small and vice versa.

Though my personal favorite ones involved a salt shaker and some hot wheels cars.

Like I said at the top, there were some great things throughout Ant-Man and the Wasp that were wonderful. The family moments, some of the comedy and the visuals especially… Plus the spoiler-y stuff I won’t go into.

However, it was so bogged down by much larger problems that the high of the end-credit scenes quickly fade into a lukewarm reception at best.

Oh, there is one more thing I can think to mention. But my friend Lissete put it best, so I’m going to let her handle this:

Yeah… Arguably the most egregious use of product placement I’ve seen in a Marvel movie thus far.

It’s pretty noticeable all over, though I won’t say it ruined or improved the movie for me in any significant way.

If nothing else, I’ll just say it’s worth seeing the movie – either now or later on cable – to understand why I now want Paul Rudd to be both my Dad and Mom.

‘Baby Driver’ will drive its way into your heart

‘Baby Driver’ will drive its way into your heart

So I haven’t really done this sort of thing for a movie that isn’t brand new yet. But a combination of not having too much else of note from the day and thoroughly enjoying this flick has led me to the conclusion that, yeah, I could stand to talk about some more filmography around here.

When Baby Driver first came out, all I heard was praise for it across the board. Yet I was never really interested in seeing the movie just off the trailers alone, so I passed it up.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, it has occurred to me that perhaps that was a mistake.

Despite it being about a year old now I don’t necessarily feel obliged to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. After all I hadn’t seen it until now and feel spoilers may have still… Well, spoiled the experience. So I’ll try to be sparing with my plot details.

That said, for the context you’ll need, Baby Driver is the story of a kid named Baby who got himself into trouble with a crime boss and is forced to serve as the getaway driver for a number of robberies to repay his debt.

Just based on that description alone you must imagine the movie has a cliché premise. To be fair, it kind of does, right down to the way it winds up tackling the ‘innocence to hardened edge’ and ‘love over all else’ story arcs.

But even if the premise was clichéd, that doesn’t take away from how brilliantly it’s presented and handled by Edgar Wright and everyone else involved in the production.

Ansel Elgort, as Baby, makes for a lead that truly pops in every sense of the word.

His interactions with just about every other character in the movie offer him the chance to display a range of emotions. He goes from being a fun-loving, dancing fool with his deaf guardian to a silent, demure and downright prodigal criminal assistant to, as I mentioned before, a hardened badass. Yet, he never loses the good-natured core you see all throughout the movie.

He’s a truly lovable character to root for in spite of the concessions that tend to come alongside a criminal child prodigy story.

Though I would also be lying to say that his prodigal driving, a somewhat clichéd idea on paper if you replace that talent with basically anything else in an action movie setting, isn’t wildly entertaining.

In fact, every action scene in the film is thoroughly engaging. The driving stunts are insanely well choreographed and feel as distinct as the character himself.

Part of this comes from the way music is integrated into the movie. Only my sister knew this coming in, but most of the movie is actually paced alongside the soundtrack. The driving scenes and most of the on-foot action, both actually action-packed and mundane (things like laying out money in stacks), all follow the beat of whatever piece is playing over it.

The effect is well-done when imagining the scale of the job it took to capture scenes with very specific motions and tempos. However, it’s even better when seeing just how well that musical overlay is intertwined with Baby’s character on top of the scene direction.

There are lots of moments where the film makes it obvious that the music playing out is being listened to by Baby in real-time, which ties the character’s thoughts and actions directly into what you can see him doing on-screen.

Perhaps that’s hard to explain through text, but I’ll just say it helps to bolster the already strong engagement I had with the protagonist by seeing the movie around him play beautifully to his character.

The musical overlay representing real-time listening also opens itself up to other neat tricks.

Similar to John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” from earlier this year, the film uses its sound design to represent a main character’s disability in key moments. Baby’s tinnitus, which he tries to hide with the music he so often listens to, becomes the film’s sole soundtrack at a point where he can no longer listen to music.

Frankly it’s a brilliant moment that requires no explanation in the film itself because of how much they develop his character naturally leading up to it. It’s the kind of thing that happens and allows the audience to go ‘oh hey, I see what they did there!’

Sound design is the thing to talk about when talking Baby Driver, in my opinion. The action scenes are also great, but mostly because of how the audio plays into them.

However, there are other great qualities to talk about from the film. The characters are all well-acted, and the ultimate antagonist of the film isn’t quite as predictable as one might expect walking in (which is, thankfully, a nice surprise).

It’s also a very pretty movie, using lots of fancy swipe cuts to transition scenes and similar effects that create a cinematic style that stands out in its own right.

While I could go into more, I feel it would only be right to say that you should go see the movie yourself if you haven’t already. I had not been interested prior, like I said, but all of the wonderful things you’ve probably heard everyone say about Baby Driver is definitely true.

It’s worth a view, or even a few. It feels like the kind of movie that could be watched over-and-over if caught on cable in the middle of the night.

Trust me, for my family that’s probably the highest form of compliment that can be bestowed on a film.

Incredibles 2: It’s incredible, too

Incredibles 2: It’s incredible, too

Forewarning. I do my best not to address anything beyond what can be seen in the trailers for Incredibles 2 in very specific detail in this pseudo-review. But just in case, consider this a spoiler warning, as I may throw some minor details around that I wouldn’t personally consider overtly spoiler-y.

You have been warned.



Full disclosure walking into this one: I absolutely adore the first Incredibles movie. Like I have no qualms admitting that my rose-tinted glasses were on securely when hearing this particular sequel was coming out.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the first movie, but as I found out while discussing things ahead of showtime with my friend Juan, I can still recall most of the film in striking detail.

I also recall a lot of things that happened surrounding the original movie’s release. I took a class field trip when I was in elementary school, where we all got to go to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to see a screening of The Incredibles together. I don’t quite remember why we had that field trip or who I was there with, but I distinctly remember doing it.

There was also a game based on The Incredibles for the Gameboy Advance that I played to death, not even fully aware of the fact that it was my first exposure to the ever-popular side-scrolling, arcade-styled beat-em-up genre.

So yes, I was pretty pre-disposed to enjoy Incredibles 2. It’s a universe I was excited to see on-screen again.

I absolutely loved this movie for what it was: A really fun family-centric movie that knew how to balance comedy, heart, a number of plots and — mostly — keep what I really liked about each character alive.

A lot of that love certainly comes out of the nostalgia factor. Seeing the characters I loved on-screen again was like visiting an old friend, and I was excited to see how their stories continued.

Being 14 years wiser meant I could see past the nostalgia enough to address what I didn’t necessarily like about the film as a film, both in terms of the overall plot and in terms of how the characters were treated. But I still really enjoyed the overall experience.

Where the movie primarily failed for me was in the fact that… Well… It’s a kids film.

Yes that’s an obvious thing to say when we talk about a Disney Pixar flick, but that fact really stood out to me.

It was obvious how I was well above the general demographic for the movie, as Juan and I were literally surrounded by eight-to-10 year-old children.

Pretty close to how old I must have been when the first film came out 14 years ago, to be fair.

But hey, you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy a Pixar film. That’s one of the big draws of them after all. So what exactly hit me about Incredibles 2 specifically?

Well… It’s incredibly, incredibly predictable. Pun somewhat intended.

The second the plot gets into motion, I knew exactly where it was headed in regards to the big bad of the film, and I was (mostly) spot-on. For anyone old enough to have some movie-going experience under their belt it’s telegraphed in an almost annoying manner.

There were a couple of times where I groaned seeing the characters on-screen not realize what was about to happen.

In a sense, that skepticism and older knowledge base somewhat ruined about a third of the movie for me.

That makes for a fairly good segway, actually. When you walk into Incredibles 2, you should expect to see three major divides in the movie.

After a great cold open making good on the cliffhanger ending to the first film, the plot splits in twine. Alternating between Elastigirl, Helen Parr, Mrs. Incredible — whatever you’d prefer to call her — going off to do superhero work while Mr. Incredible has to watch the kids, dealing with insecurity over being upstaged by his wife and dadly duties like math homework and boy drama.

The Elastigirl superhero portion of the film is the weakest part, in my opinion. There’s a lot of cool action scenes, mostly involving the sweet motorcycle she rides that can split in two as a way to use her powers while driving, and has some sweet moments watching her be successful.

However, the obviously telegraphed plot development makes her side of the story drag, as I constantly found myself waiting for the reveal I was expecting to be revealed.

I much preferred the Mr. Incredible side of the story, which was focused on the family’s dynamic. Particularly regarding the youngest Parr, Jack-Jack. While all of the children’s problems weighed heavily on Bob, trying to figure out how to deal with a baby that has every super powers with no control comprised a majority of the run time.

You watch Mr. Incredible descend into madness and it’s pretty funny the whole way through. As are the reactions of side characters like Sam Jackson’s Frozone and Brad Bird’s Edna. Jack-Jack really stole just about every scene he was in.

I had a particular fondness for Violet and Dash from the first movie, but they were somewhat sidelined in the second.

Violet’s portions of the film are excellent representations of the angsty teenager archetype, clichéd but well-done and very funny each time she has (frequent) angry outbursts.

Violet also winds up being the crux of the family’s dynamic and spurs much of the emotional moments for the rest of the characters. The interactions between her and her father are particularly lovely and stand-out. But her scenes are few and far between.

Dash, however, is somehow shafted further. There’s no moment in the second film that embodies the same youthful childlike wonder of Dash discovering the extent of his abilities, like when he runs on water for the first time in the original.

Instead Dash is very one-note: He’s bad at math/generally not responsible and he’s obsessed with cool gadgets.

I also have some gripes with how long Mr. Incredible seems to stick on the ‘jealous of his wife’ train for a lot of the film. It’s somewhat in-character, but there’s so much more he does in the movie that’s compelling that his jealous moments stick out like a sore thumb.

All of that may sound like I didn’t enjoy the film, but frankly it’s probably closer to accumulated nit-picks based on wanting more out of characters I’ve loved for a long time.

Eventually the superhero and family portions of the movie converge, and when they do, Incredibles 2 seriously kicks it up a couple notches.

I could’ve watched an entire movie just seeing more fun superhero family shenanigans.

Beyond the plot, Incredibles 2 is a gorgeous movie. Everything is crisp as hell after 14 years and does justice to the 50’s art deco comic look that I’m sure is partially why everyone remembers the first movie so fondly.

One example early on is a scene where Helen and Bob are sitting in front of a pool, and the animated water effects glowing up against them make for a great visual.

The only scene where the visuals really hurt more than they helped involved a room full of flashing lights where Helen fights the main villain. The lighting effects on the characters look amazing… But unfortunately it’s hard to focus on them with how much the screen flashes.

I’ll definitely recommend that anyone and everyone should go see the film, as even with my gripes against the story and certain characters, it’s an incredibly fun and engaging experience through-and-through.

One that I would say was 100 percent worth the 14 year wait.

I’ll look forward to Incredibles 3 in 2032.

Take your Child to Work Day

Take your Child to Work Day

Okay so it’s not actually Take your Child to Work Day…  As far as I’m aware… But for my dad it was.

Since I’m off on summer break, he decided to take me along to the office today so I could get a change of scenery and tour the office — something that my sister has been able to do, but I haven’t considering I’m off in Fullerton 99 percent of the time right now.

Obviously I can’t bury the lede too deep considering the big reveal is spoiled in the featured image.

If it even is a spoiler? I’ve probably talked about this before.

My dad is a Senior Director at Fandango, the movie ticket and streaming media site owned by NBC Universal. It’s a pretty perfect place for him in the way it blends movie stuff and technology stuff.

But to be fair, it’s also a pretty awesome place in general.

Just in the last week he got moved into a different office, so I got to be an early observer.

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Fun fact, apparently the desks are all mechanized to allow people to adjust them into standing desks if desired. That’s neat, in my opinion.

Not just my dad’s office is cool, though. This place is chock full of movie posters, memorabilia and all sorts of other neat modern spaces.

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The more casual parts of the office extend to the outdoors as well.

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But of course there were other benefits to coming in on a Tuesday than just a nice couple of spaces to work in.

Fandango apparently does catering for its employees a couple days a week, and someone had enough foresight to bring me in on one of them. On the menu was a pretty good Mediterranean spread:

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We had lunch with one of dad’s co-workers from the NBC side, which actually was one of the nice things of coming to work with him. Getting to watch him in his element, talking with friends and colleagues.

Even if I felt like I was kind of just off to the side doing my own thing, possibly even in the way during such exchanges, it was still a good time.

Oh, but let’s not forget. The other cool perks of the job.

We were able to watch The Last Jedi on the big, fancy curved TV that was apparently a Korean prototype left over from the previous inhabitant of the office.

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That was pretty sweet. Especially when some of his co-workers came in and sat around for a while to shoot the shit about movie stuff.

While I make it sounds like the whole day was just fun-and-games, there was plenty of downtime for me where I sat around doing some work as dad went off for meetings. Plus, many of the visitors to his office were there for official work business before getting distracted by fun movie stuff.

So if anyone else from Fandango winds up reading this, don’t take it as me saying my dad just did nothing all day. I assure you that isn’t so.

However, it still was a fun day overall. A full day with my dad, going all the way back to our early morning stop at the voting booth for the California primary election today.

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Gotta do your civic duty, folks. Especially since this midterm for us means a Gubernatorial and Congressional seats race alongside a whole bunch else.

But hey, this isn’t a political post or anything. So I won’t dwell on that for too long.

It all just plays into the overall message, that I went out, had a fun day with my dad and got to see him in his natural element. Plus I got some work done in the process, so I can’t say I have too many complaints.

Deadpool.

Deadpool.

Alright look. I don’t have any sort of deep, philosophical thoughts that are way up my own ass today about human psychology or the value of sentimental material goods. Haven’t exactly done enough today to warrant that kind of thinking.

All I’ve really done was clean the downstairs bathroom and watch Deadpool 2.

As much as I have spent time talking about my cleaning habits in the past, there’s clearly a much more overwhelming force taking up brain space right now that I need to vent.

An X-Force, if you will. Because movie humor.

So I’m going to blather on for a while to debrief after that rollercoaster of a movie. Cool? Cool.

If I get into anything spoiler-y I promise I’ll let you know ahead of time. I’ll also put it under a ‘read more’ line on the blog here just in case. Continue reading “Deadpool.”