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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The Beach by Alex Garland – A Book Review

Yes, it’s true, I’m reviewing a book that’s been on the market for over twenty years.  The truth is, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Garland’s film directing and wanted to check out his written work.

The Beach, which you may remember was a film released back in 2000 which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was based upon the book published just four years prior.

It features Richard, a young man who suffers from a seemingly permanent case of wanderlust.  He is constantly searching for the perfect destination–a place untouched by tourism, commercialism, or average people, really.  While in Bangkok, he happens across a man who gives him a map to just such a place.

The man cannot travel with Richard, and I won’t tell you why, but Richard does manage to befriend a French man and woman–a couple–to join him.  None are sure the map is real, but they chance it anyway.  After a courageous swim through the ocean itself … they find the beach.

The beach seems idyllic in the beginning.  There is a small group of people living in tandem with one another–all vested in the same interests.  Life is very good … until ill-timed tragedies strike.  The group could handle these adversities well, or they could … fall apart.  I’m sure can guess which occurs.

The Beach is a well-written book.  At almost 450 pages, it’s a long read, but it’s also a relatively fast one.  I would not describe it as a page-turner, but Richard’s psyche is particularly interesting and it’s fascinating to witness his development throughout the story.

The tale itself is rather complicated.  On one hand, the beach dwellers are in love with nature, independence, and a simple life.  They are perfectly happy to pull their weight, support one another, and waste the days away in paradise.  On the other hand, a certain selfishness resides in each of them, as does a touch of irresponsibility.  The beach is a total secret, one worth killing for, and everyone there has decided to turn their backs on their previous lives in order to enjoy their Eden.  It takes a bit of a misguided person to go to such an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Garland executes perfect pacing in establishing Richard, logically delivering him to the beach, allowing us to see the beauty of the island, but then also in dissecting each character as catastrophe unfolds.

After all, when you think about it, if each one of these individuals was willing to turn their backs to their own flesh and blood, how much can they really depend upon one another when things go bad?

Some have compared it to Lord Of the Flies as well as Heart Of Darkness, and these are certainly appropriate comparisons.  I personally don’t feel it achieved that level of mastery, but it’s a solid read well worth your time.

As I said, Garland was a very good writer back then and has only gotten better.  His characters in The Beach are interesting from start to finish.  The story itself, while enjoyable, felt awfully derivative of the classics mentioned already.  I have to wonder if I’d feel differently had I read it back in 1996.

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

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!)

Dr. Nekros’ First Review Is In!

Thanks so much to Jen Weaver! She not only wrote a very flattering review regarding Dr. Nekros: Book One, but she also managed to be the first ever to do so!  I am so appreciative that she took the time and effort to say a few words about my book.

If you want to read what she said, click HERE!

DR NEKROS BOOK ONE E EDITION COVER

 

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!)

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

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