The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Alternate Title: ... Better than One.
One sentence synopsis: Ant-Man and the Wasp must team up to stop Hank Pym's dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands.
The Verdict: Reviewed ably by Corvidae, the first Ant-Man movie was a solid picture, a movie enlivened by the directorial skill of a man who had previously made nothing good, and two lead actors with wonderful chemistry (even if one of them had terrible hair). I liked Ant-Man, even if it never measured up to the marvels that Marvel has been showering us with before or since. But with Marvel having reached yet another milestone (this was its 20th film in the MCU), I was definitely down to see another rendition of the madcap adventures of Marvel's second-most-popular Insect & Arachnid-themed superhero, and see if things could get better for them.
And they did.
Ant-Man and the Wasp, to my pleasant surprise, is a very solid step up from the original picture, a factor that is due to both a solid return to form from the original cast, and the addition of better ideas this time 'round for the other stuff. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, who previously worked well enough together are both on top of their game this time around, helped by the fact that the movie removes the shackles (and the bob-cut) from Lilly, enabling her to go wild as the Wasp in another insane comic-slapstick adventure alongside Rudd's perennially embattled Everyman. Rudd is charming as always, but Lilly, whom I've never been a big fan of (though she tried her best in the Hobbit movies) really breaks out here, as the film finally gives her the starring role she was gunning for in the last attempt, and proves that more is better in this case. The two have excellent chemistry still, and are supported ably by the likes of Michael Douglas and Michael Pena (the latter of whom gets another hilarious "recap" scene, thank all the gods).
The additional players don't let the side down either. Lawrence Fishburne joins the MCU as one of Hank Pym's many former co-workers. Like all of them, someone who has little good to say about the former Ant-Man, while Michelle Pfeiffer, whom I've never much liked, but still have missed seeing, turns up as his long-estranged (literally) wife Janet, the search for whom consumes much of the movie. The villain of Ant-Man was a weak point, and so this time they've upgraded with British actress Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost, while Walton Goggins, meanwhile, plays an arms dealer, slimy and sleazy in that perfect Gogginsian style. Last time we had a Superhero movie that was also a heist film, but this one is a chase movie, complete with MacGuffins and carloads of bad guys who must be kept from stealing the one thing they are desperate to steal. Along the way there are quips and reveals, sudden betrayals and customary changes of scale, truth serums, interrogations, fights and all other forms of madcap insanity. It's all wonderful to watch, and a major step forward for the Ant-Man series, which was previously one of the lower-tier Marvel offerings, and is no longer.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn't perfect of course. Some of the deranged technobabble we are asked to swallow becomes very hard indeed to choke down, and I have... questions... about how certain characters were able to survive some of the things we are expected to believe that they survived. But for a series that is about fun more than Shakespearian drama or fidelity to physics, the resulting movie is a whole heap of fun. Go see Ant-Man 2 if you haven't yet. It's just great.
Final Score: 7.5/10
Sorry to Bother You
Alternate Title: Mutant Horse Dick
One sentence synopsis: A struggling telemarketer uncovers the secret to success with a slimy call agency.
The Verdict: Trust me, you go see this movie, and that alt-title will become entirely clear.
Sorry to Bother You is, inevitably, a weird movie. It could be nothing else, coming in as the directorial debut of rapper, activist, producer, screenwriter, and sometime communist Boots Riley, a film that is less about the realities of being Black (or anything) in America, but about dialectic and communism in the modern world. It also involves mutants, slavery, and abstract art pieces (one character has her audience pelt her with batteries and balloons full of sheep's blood while she recites communist dialectic). It is one of the stranger things I've seen this year. It is intended to be.
The plot? Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lives with his uncle (Terry Crews) in a future Oakland where people are indentured into lifetime contracts in exchange for food and lodging. Taking a job as a low level telemarketer, he obtains great success by using a "white voice" (David Cross) to mask his origins. As someone who has used a "white voice" for most of my life and has done telemarketing work without great success, I question the notion that this is the magic bullet, but we are plainly dealing in a world of disbelief, so I can stomach as much. Plus this affords Boots the chance to make commentary on the experience of being black in the professional world, and what expectations and manifestations of a racist society are layered upon one there. Not that the movie is entirely that interested in such commentaries (it's a Communist film, and thus not so much a Black film), but it's hard not to read subtext into a scene where the coked-up dudebro executives more or less force their high-performing Black employee to rap for them, then chant excitedly after him when the only thing that the poor employee can think of is to chant "Nigger shit!" over and over again.
Sorry to Bother You is a difficult movie to review, due to the fact that it makes little sense outside the moon-logic of a film like Idiocracy (not one of my favorites). It's a film about fighitng the power, or being the power, or about nothing whatsoever except the artificiality of the society, like the way that the protestor who belts our hero with a soda can during a strike is immediately turned into a Youtube celebrity. It's about trying to live with a version of yourself that you can approve of, versus one that will get you the things you want. It's about being black and having to pretend otherwise, about Silicon Valley culture and bosses who claim to be your friend, when they are not. It's about a lot of strange things, and not all of them come together to make music, but the resulting film is an interesting take on society nowadays, one that I will certainly remember for a while, if only because of the aforementioned Mutant Horse Dick. It's a strange movie, and you will make of it what you will if you go to see it. And that's really all I can say.
Final Score: 6.5/10
Alternate Title: Repping for Oak-Town
One sentence synopsis: A convicted felon struggles to make it through the last few days of his parole while reuniting with old friends and habits.
The Verdict: Blindsiding was a movie I went to see under protest. I don't like films advertised as "the film required to wake up America" or some such pretentious crap. There wasn't much else to see, the reviews were decent, and the filmmakers all local, so I held my nose and decided to take a look.
... and with all that, of course, it's the best film of the year.
No, I'm not joking. Blindsiding is a fantastic movie, one of the finest films about its subject I've ever seen, an incredible feat for a pair of novice screenwriters and an unknown director, the former of whom also star in the film. In some ways, it's a true masterpiece, a film that oozes realness about the reality of Oakland and the Bay Area, of black men in modern society, of friendships that may no longer be profitable, of perceptions that cannot be altered, even by act of will. It is, additionally, a very funny movie. It is almost perfect.
Collin Hodgkins (Hamilton's Daveed Diggs) is trying to put a terrible event behind him, one that landed him in jail as a convicted felon. Now released on probation, with only a few days left before its expiration, he witnesses a black man being shot in the back by a white police officer, and this witnessing follows him throughout the movie in ways that one may not expect, for this is not some simple thriller. His best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal) is a white native Oaklander whose persona is that of Oakland itself, defiant, short tempered, and black. Together, they work at a moving company, watching as the city is invaded by transplants and gentrifiers, commenting on their world as they take stock of their lives knowing everyone and being known by everyone around them.
And... that's it. You see Blindspotting isn't really about a series of events that occurs or does not occur, but about characters, well-drawn characters who exist in their world and interact with one another in ways that are hilarious and heart-stopping all at once. It's a movie that, and this is not easy to do, got me, a White man, to feel the fear that a Black man must know when a police car drives by and then slowly turns around to come back towards him, and then managed to follow that scene up with one that was actually funny. It has everything right, the patois, the local splash, the mixture of resentment and resigned acceptance of new money and blood in the city (a hilarious moment involves someone defiantly claiming that they are not going to leave their house now that the city finally has good food in it). It's a film where everyone is inter-racial in one sense or another, but not all, where prejudice lives in all of us, thanks to a lack of understanding of the lives that we all live. It's an intense film at points, with multiple moments that left me wondering if the filmmakers were going to go where I feared they were going. But each time the filmmakers parried my expectations effortlessly and expertly, running the movie down different sides of life because those were more interesting than the guesswork I had. A film teacher of mine once opined that a good movie answers your questions as they are being asked. If that's so, then a great movie reveals instead that you are asking the wrong questions, even as you ask them.
Blindspotting, like Sorry to Bother You but for wholly different reasons, is a hard movie to review, because the ways in which it is good defy easy description. Let me simply say then that it's the best thing I've seen in 2018 to-date, a tour-de-force that explores subjects very hard to explore in fantastic detail and with killer poise. It has flaws, certainly, a few sequences at the end that push disbelief to difficult levels to sustain. But overall, it is the most complete film, as a film, that 2018 has offered me, and one of the only ones I've run into in this humdrum year that demands to be seen. Go see Blindspotting. You will not regret it.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Alternate Title: Spike Lee Presents: A Spike Lee Film by Spike Lee
One sentence synopsis: The first black police officer in Colorado Springs hatches a plot to infiltrate the KKK by posing as a Klansman.
The Verdict: It's okay.
No, that's really all there is to it. BlacKkKlansman is okay, not bad, not great, just an okay film about a mildly interesting story, told by someone who desperately needs to get some new ideas. And if that sounds like its in contrast to the tens of thousands of rapturous reviews that the internet is covered with, then consider that I saw this film a week after watching Blindspotting, a much superior film, and you'll begin to understand.
Not good enough? Fine. BlacKkKlansman is the story of a real man, Ron Stallworth, who concocted a strange scheme to infiltrate the KKK by posing as a would-be adherent, despite the rather difficult fact that Stallworth was (and is) black. To get around this uncomfortable problem, Stallworth recruits another (white) officer, Flip Zimmerman, a Jew, to pose as him in person to the Klan. Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, whom I have rapidly become a tremendous fan of, is the best thing in the film, in fact too good, sliding into his fake-racism with such aplomb that it becomes hard to imaging him as a cop acting the part, as opposed to an actual Klansman. Perhaps this is all part of Lee's brilliant plan and point-making but I doubt it, as Lee has seldom had more of a direct, and unfiltered authorial hand than in this movie. Often times this is to the movie's credit, as Lee manages the banter between the cops extremely well, and knows how to direct his actors well overall, but sometimes...
Well look, Lee wants you to be outraged by this film. He wants to you be outraged at the existence of the Klan, by the fact that the Klan existed in the 50s and the 70s and moreso by the fact that the Klan exists today. He spends the entire end of the movie wringing his hands over Charlottesville, over the fact that the Klan is still around and that Donald Trump is a racist. None of these things are surprises to me, nor can they possibly be surprises to the intended audience, and to an extent, I simply need more from Lee than relentless outrage about the existence of Charlottesville, the Klan, or Donald Trump. And he has so little else to give, no real comedy to speak of beyond the fact that the Klan are bumbling fools (which is admittedly good for a laugh), no insight as to the real nature of this sort of poisonous ideology, just long speeches about how bad it is that racism exists which grind the movie to a halt whenever they raise their heads. The performances from the various actors are curiously laid back, as though the focus of the director's attention was not on them. The entire film consequently feels like nothing but sketch material for someone's incendiary agitation speech. And Lee, good a filmmaker as he is, is not good enough to make that material compelling, burying his source story behind the lead of his own outrage. And I get it, I do, but... it doesn't make for terribly compelling film.
BlacKkKlansman is not a bad movie, nor a good one, but a movie that exists. Take it for what it is, for I doubt Lee had another film in him, given the times and the subject matter.
Final Score: 5.5/10
Next Time: The Dog Days of Summer are upon us. Let's see what we're in for...