Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) gets a lot more right than it does wrong, and in Ant-Man and the Wasp it hits on all cylinders.  The third movie from the studios this year, it is also the most modest.  It isn't the mega-blockbuster that gives us a whole new nation and MCU's first person-of-color lead, nor is it a mega-superhero apocalypse.  But it is the first Marvel Studios movie with a female character in the title--Evangeline Lilly's "Wasp" AKA Hope Van Dyne--and it's arguably the funniest film in the canon, thanks to Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a regular guy and ex-con who is the most ill-suited superhero (thank goodness his "Ant-Man" suit sizes change at the push of a button).  Rudd also wrote the script, along with Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari.  The writers and Director Peyton Reed inject enough heart to keep the story grounded but not so much that it's schmaltzy, and they add just enough humor to enhance the strengths of a gifted array of actors, keeping the exposition and sciency talk light and palatable.

As the movie opens, Scott is still under house arrest for becoming one of "Cap's" outlaw allies in Captain America: Civil War, which also explains why Ant-Man is missing from Avengers: Infinity War.  Those exploits, unfortunately, also put Hope and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) on the run, but they are also on a mission.  Harking back to the first Ant-Man, when Scott entered the Quantum Realm and returned unscathed, father and daughter rekindled hope that Hope's mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) might still be alive after entering that subatomic realm some 20 years earlier.  Using Hank's size-changing technology, they stay on the move with a laboratory that can shrink to suitcase size, complete with travel handle and wheels.  As angry as they are at Scott, they find that they need him in their quest, an adventure Scott doesn't want with only three days remaining on his two-year house arrest.

With that set-up, a mind-boggling array of characters and subplots complicate matters: Scott wants desperately to be the father his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) deserves and to work together with ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a cop, to bring it off.  Speaking of cops, FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) makes a habit of surprise house checks, trying to catch Scott violating his house-arrest.  And, along with his former prison mate, Luis (Michael Pena), Scott is trying to get a security business off the ground with partners Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian).  Meanwhile, Hank and Hope purchase black market quantum technology from Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a profiteer who double-crosses them.  Hank solicits help from Dr. Bill Foster, (Laurence Fishburne), who left Hank's lab years ago under a shadow of suspicion.  And we haven't even gotten to the big villain yet--"Ghost"/Ava Green (Hannah John-Kamen), who wants Hank's Technology for her own ends.

There was a point, about one-third of the way in where we thought, there's too much going on; like a juggler with too many balls in the air.  But by the midway point, the tangents started connecting, and by the last act, everything fit nicely.  This is a credit to both Reed and the writers, who deftly intertwined all of the moving parts.  One of the smartest moves was one of the most original: having Scott and his family, including the man who took his place, be mutually supportive.  This convention-defying plot element gives Scott a stable base amid the chaos that surrounds him.  The writers do a marvelous job of setting Walton Goggins up to play the cheerfully verbose baddie he excels at.  Randall Park is equally effective as Scott's socially and emotionally conflicted watchdog.  It seems odd to mention comic relief in what is essentially already a comedy, but Michael Pena's manic enthusiasm, with T.I. and Dastmajian playing off of him, create a team that rivals the Marx Brothers for zany antics.  On the more serious side of the movie is our "villain": Hannah John-Kamen is electric.  We first saw her playing a terrorist in season 2 of The Tunnel, and she is a force on-screen.  Like Killmonger in Black Panther, Ghost has reasons for what she does, and we can sympathise, to an extent.  But it is Evangeline Lilly as Wasp/Hope, who steals the movie.  She has trained all her life, and when Hank lets her take wing (literally), she does so with passion and gusto.  Rounding out the cast with Douglas, Pfeiffer, and Fishburne, we are hard put to think of a better ensemble in the MCU.  See this one on the big screen for the full visual treat.
9.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale


Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

First, we have to mention the Pixar short, Bao, that preceded Incredibles 2.  It's the story of a Chinese mother coping with becoming an empty nester.  A tearjerker for parents and a giggler for kids; we are convinced it's going to win awards.  Everyone in the theater loved it, except Guy S. Malone, Researcher.  Needless to say, we think GSM,R needs to get out of the dungeon more, or stay in it more, we're not sure which.

The original Incredibles was released in 2004 to critical acclaim, huge box office, and awards recognition--it was nominated for four Oscars and won two, including "Best Animated Feature Film."  In other words, it produced the kind of results that would normally have inspired Hollywood to drop a dozen sequels, prequels, and spinoffs by now.  But here we are, a decade-and-a-half later, finally getting Incredibles 2.  It's a mystery of the faith.  Fortunately for us, the sequel is nearly as good as the first, and though the plot may lack originality, it more than makes up for that in striking at the heart of the zeitgeist.

Fourteen years later, and superheroes are still illegal, but writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) is about to change that, thanks to his imagination, a terrific cast of voice actors, some, erm, incredible, eye-popping animation, and a very cool jazz soundtrack.  He has brought back the Parr family: Bob "Mr. Incredible" (voiced by Craig. T. Nelson), Helen "Elastigirl" (Holly Hunter), and their kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huckleberry Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), and, yes, the Parrs' best friend, Lucius "Frozone" Best (Samuel L. Jackson).  Incredibles favorite Edna Mode (Brad Bird himself) returns, but her part is disappointingly small.

The reason our superheroes are not allowed to use their powers is, a la The Avengers, their crime-busting tends to wreak a lot of collateral damage on the town.  As they eke out a living in a seedy motor court, their ennui is broken when the Deavor siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk), salesman extraordinaire, and Evelyn (Catherine Keener), tech whiz, approach them with a proposition.  Great admirers of the Incredibles, the Deavors want to give them the opportunity to redeem themselves and all superheroes--specifically, they want to give Helen the opportunity.  When Bob protests, Winston points out that Mr. Incredible  is particularly destructive of municipal property; besides, as Evelyn points out: Girl Power.

So it is, Bob is to stay home with a sulking Violet and her boy problems, Dash and the challenges of learning new math ("Who can change math?" Bob grumps), and Jack-Jack, just as he begins to display an array of powers that would be the envy of an entire Avengers team.  The crime-busting is left to Helen, powered by a super motorcycle and a bodycam to record her derring-do.  A new, mysterious supervillain, "Screenslaver" and one or two plot twists challenge even the flexibility of Elastigirl.  Family, friends, foes, and a few new superheroes with impressive (some, hilarious) gifts join in on another riotous adventure, leading to a "Marvel"-ous conclusion.

Incredibles 2 is certain to be one of the enduring hits of the year.  As we expect from Disney, it is family-friendly.  Bird is a gifted storyteller; he realistically portrays family love and devotion, even as they drive each other a little nuts, especially as each deals with the double-edged sword of super powers.  He also supplies ample self-aware humor that will appeal to adults.  The animation is mesmerizing: Helen's first motorcycle chase delivers the exhilaration of a roller coaster, and other scenes bring almost overwhelming kaleidoscopic effects.  As is the case with all Bird films, Incredibles 2 is a treat for senses; perhaps our favorite aspect is returning collaborator Michael Giacchino's score, which both complements and enhances the film.
8.0 out of 10 on both Entertainment and Artistic Scales.

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