Ant Man & The Wasp: A Fun, Family Superhero Movie

Picture source: IGN Entertainment

Ant Man & The Wasp is the latest Marvel superhero movie to be released. A sort of an antihero, Ant Man (Paul Rudd) is full of foibles and weaknesses. His sidekick, the Wasp, definitely has things more together and Wasp’s quest to find her long-lost mother forms the plot of the film. There are several antagonists in Ant Man & The Wasp, none of them outright bad, all-powerful or unbeatable. The main opponent, Ghost, in particular, is motivated by the need to save herself from completely disappearing. Aside from some blasphemy, the film is clean and very well aimed at the middle grade child. It’s funny. The characters are likeable. And it even contains some scientific terms that’ll stretch this age group. For example, Wasp’s father, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), says ‘Forget AI…., the future lies in the Quantum Realm’.

‘The Quantum Realm’ is where the Wasp’s mother has remained trapped for many years. Dr Pym and Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) eventually create a machine that’ll help them reach the Quantum Realm. It’s a huge rocket-type contraption with the ability to travel through time whilst mitigating any concomitant effects. Trouble is, they need Scott Lang/Ant Man’s help because Ant Man’s been to the Quantum Realm before. It’s a problem because Ant Man happens to be under house arrest.

With some clever tricks Ant Man nevertheless joins the quest and the chase begins. Secondary characters, both goodies and baddies, come into play. Several are very funny, as are Ant Man’s suit accidents. Forced to use a faulty old suit Ant Man invariably shrinks and expands to the wrong size, with amusing results.

Ant Man & The Wasp is a fun, family, superhero movie that is currently showing at cinemas in South Africa. Enjoy it while the school holidays are on.

 

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Comic-style Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie and Wes Anderson has a unique style that makes his productions quirky. My best example is The Grand Budapest Hotel (https://wp.me/p4c1s1-5M).

Photo: Press/Fox Searchlight

Wes Anderson tropes in Isle of Dogs are:

  • The creation of a separate world. In this stop-motion animation the world is ‘Trash Island’ off the coast of Japan. It’s a place where all the unwanted stuff goes – trash (obviously) and, in this case, dogs. Also, several of the characters speak Japanese and are not always translated into English. One of these is the cat-loving dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi who banishes dogs to Trash Island in the first place. There is a theatricality about being aware of this separate world and I did feel like I was watching a Japanese comic book production.
  • Children act like adults – in this case 12-year-old Atari who endangers his life in a mission to find his beloved dog Spots. Atari actually flies an aeroplane to the island, crash lands and spends the rest of the time hobbling around with a bad leg and a black eye. Another child on the mainland (an unfortunate choice I felt of an American exchange student Tracy Walker) uncovers the sinister plot behind the whole story and the two children heroically bring about change.
  • Speech patterns – The dogs – although not children – speak in distinctive adult tones and most of the lines are delivered deadpan which definitely adds to the comical nature of the film. It is this trope, mostly, that keeps Isle of Dogs from being a purely children’s animated film.

I enjoyed the ‘comic-book’ feel of the film. But I don’t think it’s a film many will enjoy. The fact that it was released in South Africa through Cinema Nouveau is perhaps an indication that it isn’t aimed at the majority of viewers. Alissa Wilkinson (https://bit.ly/2GkLNYv) felt that the downfall of Isle of Dogs was its lack of an important message. I disagree somewhat. I think the separate island for storing the unwanted is a modern theme that resonates in our global, trash-overflowing society.

Isle of Dogs is currently showing at cinemas in South Africa.

 

Incredibles 2

The Incredibles are back with a new adventure. In this second instalment Mr and Mrs Incredible (Parr) combine family life with disaster

Image supplied by Ster Kinekor

prevention and advocating for the rights of superheroes. This time around it’s Helen Parr (Elastigirl) who brings home the bacon, while hubby, Bob, stays home to look after the kids. The latter is exhausting for Bob as he deals with teenage angst from Violet, homework challenges with Dash, and the emerging superhero talents of baby Jack-Jack. Helen begins work for a superhero advocate but is soon up against a dodgy ‘screenslaver’ who hypnotizes goodies into doing his (or her?) bidding. When both Mr and Mrs Incredible get into an impossible situation it’s up to Violet , Dash and Jack-Jack to set things right.

Themes of women’s rights, stay-at-home dads, children’s contributions in an adult world, and overuse of screen time run throughout this Pixar animated feature which is as much for adults as it is for children. Edna Mode, the inimitable superhero fashion designer, makes another marvellous appearance.

Incredibles 2 opens at cinemas in South Africa today 15 June 2018.

Solo: A Story of Han

I like prequels. I think they’re a creative way of imagining a character’s past, or creating a past for an undeveloped character. Wide Sargasso

Solo: A Star Wars Story (superherohype.com)

Sea, a book by Jean Rhys, might be considered a prequel. In Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys develops a character from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: that of the mad wife. Rhys gives her a past and a personality, a voice, and a reason for why she is cast as the silent, voiceless shut-away in Brontë’s classic.

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, it is Han Solo’s past that is imagined. Viewers are given the reasons for Han’s friendship with Chewbacca, for how Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) acquired his ship, and how his skills at flying and fast problem-solving were developed. We see how he got the surname ‘Solo’ and why he’s a homeless vagabond. Han’s love for girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), is also explored and in fact forms the basis of the plot. What remains undeveloped by the end, though, is Han’s understanding of other people’s motives, including those of Qi’ra. Han remains a fairly naïve, gung-ho youngster, compared to the weary, battered, cynical Han we know from the main Star Wars stories.

Fast action starts from the very first scene and is maintained at a good pace throughout. An exciting scene involving a double-sided high-speed train is pretty exciting. Woody Harrelson as fellow crook, Beckett, and Paul Bettany as main bad guy, Dryden Vos, are good in their roles.

Solo: A Star Wars Story opens at cinemas in South Africa today, 25 May 2018.

Antagonist, Thanos, is the Centre Piece of Avengers: Infinity War

I’m an outsider to the Avengers universe. Where have I been? I don’t know, somewhere else. Superheroes and lots of crashing, bashing and blowing things up in space aren’t really my thing. But there was a big build-up to Avengers: Infinity War so I felt I had to see it.

In this film Thanos, the baddie, is up against pretty much every other character that features. He spends his time going around from planet to planet wiping out populations so as to restore some balance to the overpopulated universe. And to make himself master of it of course. Thanos is not an all-out baddie. He’s complex. Despite his enormous, ugly size, he’s soft-spoken. And his soft-spoken arguments for genocide seem, well, nice: he simply longs for a return to peace and harmony. But sacrificing millions of living beings for that serenity is what sets up the tension with the goodies. Unlike Thanos, the goodies care about individuals. They’re the characters that I think Marvel fans have come to love. So they, and the people they strive to protect, matter. They’re Thor, Dr Strange, Iron Man, Spider Man, Black Panther, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, the lovely Guardians of the Galaxy, and others I couldn’t identify.

But does Thanos really care for no-one? The answer to this question adds to Thanos’s complexity and is the catalyst for a devastating outcome that I’m not allowed to say anything about.

To help him in his quest to be master of the universe, Thanos sets about collecting the six infinity stones. With them ensconced in the special glove he wears on his left hand, Thanos will be unstoppable. (Much like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings would have been had he snatched the ring of power from Frodo Baggins). Seeking out and taking the infinity stones (named time, space, reality, power, mind and soul), through lots of battling, is what comprises the plot of Avengers: Infinity Wars.

I thought the mind-boggling array of important characters would detract from the movie, that they would fight for the limelight and that this would somehow dilute the story. But it doesn’t. Also, the humour in the film is a lovely touch and keeps it from becoming too dark, serious and – well – boring.

To the movies then! Avengers: Infinity War opens at South African cinemas on 27 April 2018 in 2D, 3D and IMAX.

If you need help understanding the lead-up to this latest film, watch this:

Storytelling: Much (and Little) can be made of simple stories

Hampstead is a romance that relies on a lovely setting and well-known actors to make the film attractive. The final credits of the film also reveal that Hampstead is based on the true story of how tramp, Henry (Harry) Hallowes, squatted on a piece of land in the posh area of Hampstead in the UK, and was finally awarded squatters’ rights to his home. The granting of his rights wasn’t easy and his snooty neighbours were certainly not in favour of the ruling.

So, more than a visually appealing setting and good actors (Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson), Hampstead poses the interesting dilemma of homelessness versus property rights, living off the land versus taking from the land, living by the rules versus flouting the rules. It’s a dilemma because on the one hand we admire Hallowes for his simple existence that centuries ago would have been the norm. On the other hand we live in a world where expensive rates and taxes must be paid for high standards of living. So how do we reconcile the two living systems, if at all?

Unfortunately for Hampstead, the setting, acting and story are spoilt by poor scriptwriting and uneven story development, at times going too fast, at others too slow.

A beautiful South African film (which may already be off circuit) is Meerkat Maantuig. Meerkat Maantuig is a children’s story about death, fear, bravery, friendship and love. The setting is lovely, the characters quirky and the fantastical elements such that the exact location and time in history are unidentifiable and immaterial. Unlike Hampstead the storytelling here is deep, and the main character (played by Anchen du Plessis) well-developed. It’s an example of the depth that can be created by a very simple tale.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a small story. It’s about an ageing actress, her VERY young boyfriend, Peter Turner, and Gloria’s final grasp at life before dying of cancer in 1981. Gloria (played by Annette Bening), was a real-life person, well-known as an actress in the 1950s. In the present day 1970s/1980s of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, she visits her old flame Peter (played by Jamie Bell) and ‘plays’ out her last days in Peter’s family home in the UK, before being forced to return to the USA.

I say ‘plays’ because the film feels like a play. It opens with Gloria applying make-up, and refers several times to Tenessee Williams’s plays The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Similar to the feel of Williams’s plays, Gloria’s character is one of dreary self-absorption and histrionics. The viewer is drawn into this slow-moving, depressing atmosphere, and then buoyed up again as it becomes evident that Gloria’s behaviour masks a less selfish agenda. Even the flashbacks are presented theatrically with actors pausing at doorways before whooshing into past memories.

Despite how the film improves towards the end, the empty atmosphere created by Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, together with its colourless setting, make the film drag. Being cut by half-an-hour would have improved what is essentially a small story drawn out over one hour and forty-seven minutes. Both Gloria’s and Peter’s character are sombre ones, with Gloria’s being particularly fragile, and Peter ‘s a little too sweet. The quirkiest character and best performance is carried by Julie Walters who plays Peter’s realistic, kind-hearted mum, Bella Turner.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 23 March 2018.