Ant-Man and the Wasp – A Movie Review

You may remember that I kind of liked the first Ant-Man.  (Read that review HERE.)  I’m not going to spoil Ant-Man and the Wasp for you, but I’ll say this–I liked it even better than the first one!

Everything the first one did really well got executed even better this time around.  The character dynamics are stronger, the family bonds tighter, the plot is way more interesting, and the conflicts are more complicated.  (Notice I didn’t say logical or even believable,  but hey, you’re watching a sci-fi super hero movie–don’t get persnickety.)

Best of all?  The comedy is faster, looser, and infinitely more genuine.

The heart and soul of this movie is Paul Rudd, to be sure.  He’s got amazing chemistry with everyone, but especially Michael Pena (his business partner), Abby Rider Fortson (his daughter), and Randall Park (his [redacted]).

Don’t get me wrong, he’s so fun to watch with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly as well, but those three mentioned above just jump off the screen when together.

Speaking of Evangeline Lilly, seeing her as the Wasp has been well worth the wait.  While Rudd is the heart and soul of the film, Lilly is the muscle.  She’s got some fantastic action sequences and definitely gets top billing as the “action star” in my book.  I love her and Ant-Man fighting side by side, especially because she is by far the more capable of the two.  I both hope and want to see a lot more of the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Douglas is also far more likable in this sequel.  He’s got a lot of skin in the game this time around.  He’s still cranky as Hank Pym, but the central conflict allows us to connect with him in ways we couldn’t before.  We get to see Pym as an actual father and husband this time around, not just as a grieving shut-in.

I’d also like to mention that I loved the villain–Ghost.  I mostly appreciated that she is her own thing, not just a derivative of Ant-Man.  She’s also got actual motive and, by movie’s end, I dare you not to sympathize with her a little.  This is not a crazed business tycoon or an inter-dimensional despot seeking to take over reality.  This is a real person with a very real problem.

Laurence Fishburne had a far meatier role than I anticipated, and his role actually surprised me.  I ended up really liking his character and would love to see more of him.  I can’t get too much into it for fear of spoiling the plot, but I’m anxious to see how others liked him.  He’s not just a throw-away supporting actor, trust me.

Finally, it is SO great to see Michelle Pfeiffer on the big screen again.  Her charisma just oozes onto the audience.  Again, I won’t reveal too much, but I instantly loved her character and can’t wait to see more of her as well.  I could watch Pfeiffer in every Marvel movie from here on out.

The Ant-Man world is slowly growing (no pun intended), and they are making fantastic choices with the actors they are electing to cast in this franchise.  They are all either very funny, very charismatic, or very likable–in most cases all three!

But again, Paul Rudd is the key to making these movies work.  Has there ever been a more lovable “regular dude?”  His character, Scott Lang, is brave but not too brave.  Smart but not too smart.  Tough, but not too tough.  What he is, though, is a great friend and an even better father.  I won’t lie–there were a few scenes with his daughter that made me tear-up.

These scenes weren’t heart-breakers, though, just the opposite.  The scenes with his daughter were touching, uplifting, and positive.

In fact, I think I like the Ant-Man movies so much because they are light-hearted, action-packed comedies.  I was either laughing or marveling (again, no pun intended) through the entirety of Ant-Man and the Wasp.

There’s much to marvel at, by the way.  The special effects are unreal in this movie.  First of all, they pulled their de-aging trick again, and it’s flawless.  Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne all get the treatment for flashback scenes, and I swear I felt like I’d entered a time machine.  It was astounding.  Rudd and Lilly are shrinking and growing, shrinking and growing nonstop!  Cars, houses, buildings, even PEZ dispensers are shrinking and growing, too!  The Wasp’s aerial combat is mesmerizing, and Ghost’s phasing is phenomenal.  Even the giant ants look perfect.

All in all, Ant-Man and the Wasp is just plain fun, and in an era of very heavy super hero movies, this action-comedy is really a breath of fresh air.  Imagine that?  A fun super hero movie that celebrates the bonds between friends, partners, and family.

There are two post-credits scenes, by the way.  The first one comes pretty quick after the credits start rolling.  It’s fairly important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.  The other one is not important at all, but worth seeing if you don’t have anywhere to be.  You could skip the second one and be fine.

I wholly recommend that you see Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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I Kill Giants – A Movie Review

I had heard really good things about this movie even though I don’t remember it actually making it to any local theaters.  I happened across it when looking for something else at my local library, so I grabbed it, too.

The premise is that Barbara, a middle school student, constantly prepares for battles with giants.  She tests out different baits, she rigs enormous traps, she keeps careful field notes, and, according to her, she kills a giant and saves her town about once a month.

Barbara clearly has issues.  She’s awkward, disheveled, anti-social, and could be too smart for her own good.  For some reason, her older sister is raising Barbara and her older brother, and doing a rather poor job of it.

Before long, Zoe Saldana’s character appears.  She’s a school psychologist and desperately wants to help Barbara, even though Barbara is fairly uncooperative in almost every way imaginable.

The movie is very coy about the giants issues.  It leads you to believe this is all make-believe–that Barbara is clearly disturbed and acting upon an intricate fantasy.  However, it also heavily suggests that everything happening pertaining to the giants is absolutely real–that it’s not in Barbara’s head at all.

The movie moves along pretty slowly, if I’m being honest.  It spends a lot of time walking this line between “is this real or not.”  There were several moments when I almost turned the movie off because it seemed to keep hitting that note without progressing beyond.

However, the last twenty minutes of I Kill Giants definitely made the entire movie worthwhile.  Everything comes full circle, everything is satisfactorily explained, and the film concludes on a far more emotionally potent note than I ever expected.

Do I recommend this movie?  I do, but you definitely have to be in a patient mood to watch it.  It does not shy away from delving into the complexities of adolescent psychology, nor is it in a terrible rush to resolve itself.  Some of the characters are woefully one-dimensional, and very few of them are actually likable.  This willingness to be … abrasive … is part of the movie’s charm, though.

On a final note, when I say the movie satisfactorily explained the issue of the giants, I don’t mean literally.  If you’re looking for a clear, concise, definitive answer on whether or not she is actually killing giants … you probably won’t be happy.  For me, though, the ending tied it all together sensibly enough and with enough heart that I was willing to suspend any logic and rationale and enjoy it as the creators’ probably intended.  Probably.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Annihilation – A Movie Review

I happen to really enjoy Alex Garland’s work, particularly Ex MachinaAnnihilation hit the theaters and disappeared almost immediately, so I didn’t get a chance to see it until last night.

In preparation for the film, back when I thought I’d catch it in the theaters, I read the source material.  (My review for the book can be found HERE.)  This action proved totally unnecessary.  You can watch Annihilation without reading a single page of the book and be just fine.  This is the case for two reasons.  Firstly, Garland stripped the book’s sci-fi elements down to the barest essentials, which made a murky plot in the book very easy to digest on film.  Secondly, Garland radically changed almost every personality aspect of Lena, Natalie Portman’s character.  She is far more balanced, warm, and sociable in the movie than in the book.  Garland also created a mainstream background for Lena compared to what existed in the book.

In fact, Garland altered a great deal of the movie from the book.  The general premise is the same, but the circumstances, environments, and characters are all very different.  This is not a bad thing at all.  Garland delivered a tight, suspenseful movie that kept me guessing throughout.  At times it struck me as almost horror because the scenes were so intense.  But, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie — not by a long shot.  I wouldn’t even call it a science fiction movie, though it exists firmly within that world.  I would rather label this movie as a thrilling character study.

Portman plays a complex person.  Her husband in the film, played by Oscar Isaac, is equally complicated.  And while I found Portman’s supporting characters a little flat, everyone must agree that Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gina Rodriguez gave it their all.  Again, it has much in common with a horror movie in that we get snippets of who these characters are amidst the suspense, but we get to know none of them deeply.

I keep mentioning horror, yet the movie is actually very quiet in many ways, which certainly builds the suspense.  It doesn’t feel obligated to tell you everything going on, though much is revealed by story’s end.  However, stay loose and enjoy the ride.  The movie demands a certain level of interpretation from the viewer.

Finally, the special effects are beautiful.  The premise is that a meteorite hits a remote area in Florida.  It begins to change the life within an ever-expanding zone.  This is a mutation occurring at the cellular level, so the results are pretty astounding.  Garland definitely succeeds at providing lifeforms that are both exotic but also within the realm of reality.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

All in all, I feel that this is a severely underappreciated movie.  It’s strange and demands a certain level of intellectual engagement by the audience, but it’s also well-made, well-acted, thrilling, and unique.  I highly recommend you give it a try.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Solo: A Star Wars Story – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!

This is the Star Wars movie that I didn’t even know I wanted.

Solo: A Star Wars story is an action-packed heist movie that delivers ample nods to the past while absolutely solidifying itself in the present even as it provides electrifying hints of things to come.

I’ll be honest — I didn’t really want or need a Han Solo movie.  You can’t get any better than Harrison Ford, right?  So why even try?

But, oh, man, am I glad they tried.  Make no mistake — Harrison Ford has not been replaced, but Alden Ehrenreich is on his way to being a worthy successor.  Maybe it’s because I have no idea who this actor is, but he looks enough like Harrison Ford that I had no trouble with him in the role, and before too long, he undeniably made it his own.  Yes, he’s got similar cadence and speech patterns to what Ford used, but this is a younger, inexperienced, more optimistic Han, and so Ehrenreich gets to play with that a little.  And because I’ve never seen this actor before, I had no preconceived notions.  As far as I was concerned, I only saw Han Solo up there on the screen.

Though they hit all of the major touchstones you would expect, nothing unfolds quite the way we imagined.  I loved Han’s first time meeting Chewbacca.  I loved Han’s initial encounter with Lando.  I loved Han’s instant connection to the Millennium Falcon.  I loved the infamous Kessel Run.  However, even though you know these things are coming, all of it manages to surprise.

In fact, that’s the most wonderful quality of this movie — the entire thing is a surprise.  It’s thrilling, from start to finish.  They zig when you think they are going to zag, and somehow a character that’s been around for over forty years and recently died on screen still feels fresh and original.  They’ve pulled off the impossible!

The cast is absolutely the reason this movie is so memorizing.  The chemistry between everyone is indisputable.  Alden Ehrenreich’s Han and Donald Glover’s Lando are fantastic together.  (Of course, Glover’s got crazy chemistry with everyone in everything — he’s just got that kind of charisma.)  Han and Chewbacca are a team we immediately root for.  Emilia Clarke and Ehrenreich create real sparks.  Woody Harrelson and Ehrenreich work together very well as a sort of mentor and student, though, to be honest, I only ever see Woody Harrelson when he’s in a movie.  He’s kind of like Tom Cruise in that regard.  Even Lando and his robot partner, L3-37, connect with the audience in an unanticipated, authentic way.

Which brings me to my next point — Solo: A Star Wars Story is frenetic, suspenseful, charming, and funny, but it’s also got a lot of heart.  A lot of heart.  This is the first time I’ve every really cared about Han Solo as a person.  Yes, I worried about his safety in the past, but I never really thought about what made him tick.  In this film, he’s given actual motivation, backstory, and depth.  You get to see him evolve as a character.  You witness events that mold him into the space pirate we meet in A New Hope.  He enjoys a lot of victories in this movie, but he also takes some solid knocks — both physically and emotionally.

But, my gosh, the action!  Remember, Ron Howard has delivered some of our most revered movies that range from flat-out comedies to pure action films.  He’s done poignant moments amidst insane energy before.  This is the man who directed Backdraft, Apollo 13, Far and Away, A Beautiful Mind, and Rush, after all.

In the end, though, my favorite thing about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it’s fun.  It’s really that simple.  This is a fun movie.  Even when things get dire, Han Solo is a fun character.  Chewbacca is a fun character.  Lando is a fun character.  Yes, there are a few heavy moments in this film.  Characters die.  The battles are intense.  But even during all of this, there is always an air of fun.

Furthermore, Ron Howard and the studio seem to understand what made us fall in love with Han Solo to begin with.  This is a youthful Han Solo, to be sure, but this is not a sanitized, clean-cut version of the character.  In fact, there’s a very specific moment near the end of the movie that tells the old guys like me that this is the Han Solo of my youth.  I won’t say any more than that, but if you were around for the originals, you’ll know it when you see it.

On that note, consequently, I would like to say that I took my nine-year-old daughter to see it and she loved it, too.  I think it’s really cool that I got to grow up with Han Solo, and now she will as well.  Harrison Ford will always be my first Han Solo, but for her, he was the old guy in The Force Awakens.  This man, Alden Ehrenreich, will be the Han Solo that she identifies with most, and that’s one-hundred percent okay in my book.  Today’s youth deserves these iconic characters just as much as my generation did.  I’m so glad they found actors who can carry the torches and maybe even outdo their predecessors.

I am all in with Alden Ehrenreich.  I will gladly watch him, Donald Glover, and Emilia Clarke in as many of these movies as they want to make, especially because they lay some groundwork for a story line that I’m DYING to see.  I won’t spoil it for you, but this movie ends on a note that will hook the Star Wars fan hard.

You might think there’s not much Han Solo story left to tell before he meets Ben, Luke, and Leia, but trust me when I say they have set him up magnificently for plenty of more adventure.

I can’t wait.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Ready Player One – A Movie Review

You’ll remember when I heard Steven Spielberg intended to direct this movie, I instantly ran out and read the source material.  You can check out my review of the book HERE.

Let me say this about Spielberg’s film adaptation — I haven’t had a visual feast like Ready Player One since The Matrix.

I loved watching it.

It was just so fun.  If you love pop culture, especially 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.  If you love gaming, this is the movie for you.  if you love seamless special effects, this is the movie for you.  If you love intricate, nuanced plot that is woven so taut that it’s airtight … maybe this isn’t for you.

Remember fun Spielberg movies?  E.T.?  Raiders Of the Lost ArkJurassic Park?  Yeah, he directed those.  What about these little ditties?  PoltergeistBack To the FutureThe GooniesGremlinsThe Money PitMen In Black?  He produced those.  Once upon a time, Spielberg made magical movies that influenced entire generations.  In my opinion, Ready Player One is a return to vintage Spielberg.

Is it a little simpler than the book?  Yeah, it’s fairly easily digestible if not always strictly logical.  But, it’s well-acted by very likable actors and actresses.  Ben Mendelsohn is always a charismatic bad guy who is hard to root against.  Tye Sheridan is so much better than when he played Cyclops in the latest X-Men movie.  I don’t know Olivia Cooke, but she was completely engaging.  TJ Miller is always hilarious.  Simon Pegg is, well, Simon Pegg, so he’s everyone’s favorite (obviously).  Lena Waithe steals every scene she’s in.  And Mark Rylance struck me as a guy who could influence an entire generation of gamers … Sound like someone you know?

But, the real star of this movie are the special effects.  The CGI in Ready Player One somehow managed to look CGI on purpose, but it otherwise looked totally real.  I’m not sure how to articulate this … You know how in some movies the CGI stands out against the rest of the scene?  That doesn’t happen in Ready Player One.  I know what you’re thinking — “Scott, the movie takes place in virtual reality, so … duh!”  I know, you’re right, that makes total sense, except it doesn’t.  When you see the avatars in the Oasis, they look so completely real … as digital avatars.  Just see the movie and let me know what you think, okay?

Let’s be honest — this movie is also a hit because of all the references.  I cannot WAIT to buy this thing on blu-ray so that I can hit pause every ten seconds and gawk at everything.  In the Oasis, you can choose your avatar and base it off of anything you want.  So, there are a ton of visual delights.  Not as many as the book, but still, more than I actually expected.

I have one concern … and only one.  I consider myself a pop culture junkie, and it concerns me that in TV, movies, comic books, even music, we’re getting a lot of referential story lines.  For example, before Ready Player One we saw previews for Overboard and Ocean’s 8 — both of which are remakes or derivative.  Tomb Raider was playing at our theater … you get the idea.  As great as Ready Player One is, it would not exist without riding the glorious nostalgia of the vastly more original works with which it plays.  Ready Player One even copies exact scenes from other movies.  Terminator 2 anyone?  While that’s totally fun, I do have to wonder if we’re producing anything new and original anymore …

Even with that being said, Ready Player One is magnificent.  I had so much fun watching it.  In fact, I can’t wait to go check it out in IMAX.  If you enjoy gaming, vintage Spielberg, or 80s pop culture, this is the movie for you.

 

Ready Player One (2018)

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Black Panther – A Movie Review

This is NOT just another Marvel movie.

Black Panther gamely partakes in the Marvel Universe while largely operating as a standalone action movie striving to deliver a societal message of great relevance.

Let’s start with what I determine to be the most important aspect of Black Panther.  I am a forty-one year old white male.  My whole life, I’ve enjoyed white superheroes depicted in comic books, cartoons, toys, and movies.  Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, Toby Maguire, and Hugh Jackman are but a few.  Let’s not forget to mention the action stars that peppered my youth such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise–the list can go on an on.  It wasn’t until my own daughters were born that I realized women and people of color weren’t given characters who reflected their identity–not in the way that I always enjoyed.

So Black Panther ISN’T just another movie.

For many, Black Panther represents a cultural shift.  It signifies an important moment in our society, a moment that says those who were previously underrepresented will now be given time to shine.  And guess what?  Those who are typically underrepresented on film are letting the world know there exists an audience hungry for more.  It’s no accident that Wonder Woman financially overachieved.  It’s not happenstance that Black Panther DOUBLED the previous Thursday night ticket sales record for February.  The numbers say it all.

I’d like to quickly mention another interesting detail.  My friends and I regularly go to superhero movies on either its Thursday or Friday opening night.  I write this on Saturday morning, February 17th.  We attended the 9:00 p.m. Black Panther show on Friday night, February 16th.  As soon as we entered the theater, it became obvious this superhero movie was different.  There were more African American women, men, and children in the theater than I’ve ever seen before at a premier.  I instantly felt in the minority and a little out of place.  The irony was not lost on me, nor should it be lost on you.

Let’s talk about the actual movie.

First of all, they have created with Black Panther a world unto itself.  Wakanda, the African nation in which Black Panther rules, felt solid, real, and established.  This utopia drew me in completely.  Its glorious technology felt tenable, as did its ancient rituals.  The clothing, the environment, the language, the customs, the unique neighboring tribes–it all struck me as genuine.  The filmmakers successfully created a world that I hope will live on in the Marvel movies for decades to come.

I also loved that they introduced an entirely new technology concept to the Marvel Universe.  Yes, vibranium has been seen in Marvel movies before, but never to this extent.  The full potential of the metal is explored in Black Panther, and I imagine Tony Stark is going to be very jealous.  However, the filmmakers didn’t just use vibrainum as a means to an end.  It wasn’t just the reason they had a Black Panther suit or weaponry or ships.  It also served a cultural purpose to the Wakandan society.  They made it clear that vibranium influences their way of life, and has for generations.  This kind of storytelling and world building is greatly appreciated by those such as me.

The supporting cast in Black Panther also made the film radiant.  His mother, his sister, his general, his friends, his challengers, his mentor–they all had distinct personalities and they all utilized a charisma specific to their character.  No one wasted a moment on screen.

As for the story, I believe Black Panther broke new ground for Marvel movies.  Marvel always does action, humor, and general story pretty well.  They are very good at blending one movie into the next.  No one is denying that.  However, I don’t believe Marvel ever tried to say anything socially relevant … until now.  Black Panther challenges itself not just to deliver an action-packed feast full of visual splendor.  It also tries to say something–something specific not only to people of color, but to all races, all peoples, all creeds, all governments.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s definitely there.  Do they hit you over the head with it a little too blatantly at times?  Sure, but so did The Post, and it’s up for an Oscar.

When I saw the previews, I felt a little apprehensive about Michael B. Jordan’s villain–Killmonger.  I didn’t like that he also wore a Black Panther suit in the previews.  This is a tried and true mistake superhero movies make time and time again.  Hulk fought a version of himself.  Spider-Man has fought a version of himself.  Superman has fought a version of himself.  Iron Man has fought a version of himself.  The Flash regularly fights versions of himself on his TV show.  You get the idea.  I’m glad that they found a sensible reason to have Killmonger in the Black Panther suit that organically served the story well.  When you see the movie, it makes perfect sense.

Killmonger brings me to my only complaint about the film.  It bothered me that the only black American male character in the entire movie was depicted as angry and out for revenge.  I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed as though a subtext existed that black American males cannot save themselves–only outside benefactors such as Wakandans can come rescue them.  We know this is not true, especially in the Marvel Universe.  We’ve seen upright American men of color in the Marvel movie and TV universe before such as Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine.  And I realize that it would have been awkward to sandwich those characters in only to serve as a parallel to Killmonger, but it still bothered me a bit, especially because I’m positive that this is, for many people, their first Marvel movie.  They may not even know about those other African American characters.  In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only other major American male in the movie was Everett K. Ross, a white intelligence officer who helps save the day.  See what I’m saying?  Am I way off on this one?

Speaking of subtext, I loved the fact that Wakanda absolutely relied on its women to thrive.  From the military to the sciences, women were the driving force of order and progress in their society.  Black Panther may have been king, but the women ruled in every other way.

I believe Black Panther succeeded on all levels.  It kept the overarching Marvel story line moving forward while also delivering an epic standalone film that delivered relevant social commentary.  Even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie before, you can go into Black Panther and enjoy it as an entity unto itself.  In fact, I encourage you to do so.  Though plainly obvious by now, I highly recommend Black Panther.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)