Tag Archives: Judy Greer

Ant-Man

Ant-Man is a heist movie AND a father-daughter relationship movie, so it’s alright in my book.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

ant man 3OK, that’s exaggerating a little, but it gets at the precarious little platform that I am currently stood on.  Unlike most people (that I hang around with), I am still all aboard the Marvel Studios train.  I have liked or loved every film they’ve put out to various degrees, except Iron Man 3 which is just garbage save for The Mandarin twist, and I will continue to like them until they start putting out multiple bad movies in a row.  That said, I am nearing the verge of burnout and plain old cynicism about superhero movies as a whole.  The Marvel movies are formula, I know and understand that, which will one day soon wear out its welcome, whilst everybody else seems to be on a mission to drain every last strain of fun out of the genre with an even stricter adherence to rote formula, deathly seriousness, and blatant franchising during the initial birth stages.

It’s a recent occurrence, but it’s not one that I’m particularly happy with.  Even though I don’t read comic books, I love me some good superhero movies!  But most of them nowadays aren’t good, and the sheer number of them on the horizon is now, for the first time, genuinely daunting to me.  I love this genre, but it needs to try new things or it risks losing me.  Of next year’s load of superhero flicks to come, Deadpool is the one I’m actually looking forward to most because, even though the trailer isn’t particularly funny by most metrics, it looks different instead of more of the same, or needlessly and endlessly miserable.

Which, with that context out of the way, brings us onto Ant-Man, a heist movie wearing the clothes of a superhero movie.  In stark contrast to most every other movie released during Marvel’s Phase Two, and this includes Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a very small-scale film that focuses in on a tight cast of characters, withholds basically all of its action until the last 30 or so minutes, and has stakes that only really affect our immediate cast more than anything else.  In fact, there’s something that rings false whenever anybody tries to insist that the central technology that everyone is fighting over would cause untold chaos if released into the public, like saying so is just a reflex that everyone involved can’t kick.  The truth is that the stakes are small, the pacing is deliberate, and the focus is on the characters more than the plot.

Said plot, and the characters that populate it, follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a recently freed convict who was arrested for robbing from a powerful company and handing out its funds to their employees.  He wants to do right by his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but is drawn back to crime when his attempts at finding a job go as well as you’d expect for an ex-con.  Fortunately, this time he’s being secretly swept into the world of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who is trying to recruit Scott to pull off a daring heist.  Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the head of Pym Technologies and Hank’s ex-protégé, has managed to crack the formula and technology required to shrink human beings down to insect size – the same technology that allowed Pym to become the first Ant-Man back during the Cold War – and Hank is very worried about the effects that selling the tech would cause.  So, rejecting the help of his more-than-capable daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank tasks Scott with using his old Ant-Man suit to break into Pym Technologies and destroy Cross’ research and prototypes, with both Hank and Scott possibly earning their shots at redemption as a result.

So, immediately, Ant-Man is pressing two of my major weakness buttons: heist movies, and films about father-daughter relationships.  The latter ends up being the emotional and thematic backbone of the movie, as Hank and Hope try to reconcile things after a life of Hank not being there for Hope, whilst Scott tries to become “the hero [his daughter] already sees [him] as”.  Hank and Hope’s strand has issues that I’ll come back to shortly, but Scott and Cassie’s relationship works gangbusters primarily because the film doesn’t belabour the point.  Their on-screen interactions are minimal, but they, coupled with the genuine remorse that Scott shows throughout the movie, already clue the viewer into just how much they both mean to each other.  Plus, in a rare turn-up for the books, her new soon-to-be-step-father, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), is not painted as a douchey hateful nuisance we’re supposed to despise.  The film understands that he’s a good guy just trying to do his job and never treats him as some kind of villain to wish death upon, a nice change of pace compared to usual.

Meanwhile, the heist side encompasses all of the traits that you expect from a good heist film: extended training montages, detailed step-by-step plans that are slowly put together (often in montage), the smaller heist to build up to the real heist, the moment where certain failure is just avoided, the moment where everyone has to improvise, the bit where everything goes to hell in a handbasket.  I’m a sucker for heist movies, basically, and the standard heist mechanics get a nice shot in the arm from the fact that we’re watching this take place in a superhero movie, allowing for more inventive ways of executing acts like frying circuitry or making an escape from a hairy situation.  What’s most impressive is the way that the two elements balance so smoothly, although there are times when the superhero part of things takes over, as the addition of the Ant-Man suit and the power to control ants shifts sequences like desperately trying to hide plans or briefing new last-minute team members in slightly different yet distinctive ways.

On the note of “new team members”, Ant-Man spends a lot of its time developing its cast, either through character arcs or just letting them hang out.  I bring this up not to mention that Scott Lang is wonderfully charming, or that I really like Hope despite most everything attached to her character, or that Darren is a surprisingly menacing and sadistic villain who is one of the few genuinely good MCU villains that have come along so far.  No, I bring this up to make reference to Scott’s friends, headed up by his ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Peña).  They are, to be blunt, racial stereotypes whose ethnicities are played up at every opportunity, yet they still feel like three-dimensional characters because their actors (which also include Tip “T.I.” Harris as Dave and David Dastmalchian as Kurt) commit totally to them and the film cares enough for them to give off the impression that they actually do have real lives outside of the times where Luis gets all motor-mouthed or Dave plays up his blackness to try and get out of trouble with the police.  It’s a very fine and tough line to walk, but the film, in my opinion for whatever that’s worth, just manages to pull it off.

Again, that smaller-scale is what helps here.  Characters like Luis would usually be lost in the shuffle in a giant world-ending stakes movie, like most Marvel movies are, but because the film commits to that smaller scale, to building its stakes out of personal legacies and character relationships, it allows for a deeper emotional connection than most typical Marvel films.  Sure, there are multiple characters that just get shunted to the sidelines – which is the kind way of saying that Judy Greer is in this movie and we are all currently part of 2015: The Summer of Completely Wasting Judy Greer – but the central relationships get time to properly develop and blossom.  Plus, the film finds time to invest in some more idiosyncratic relationships: Scott ends up taking a fancy to one particular ant, whom he dubs Anthony, in a way that’s pretty funny but gains genuine resonance because the film is always completely sincere about how much Scott likes it.

It would also be remiss of me to not mention the film’s final third, the point where one would expect the film to expand its scale for those big action setpieces that all superhero movies apparently must close with by law.  Instead, once again, Ant-Man remains committed to keeping those stakes small and personal, with the main conflict coming from Darren’s inferiority complex towards his former mentor, his rapidly deteriorating mental state, and his desire to punish Scott for being everything he wanted Hank to see him as.  That also extends to the final setpiece, one of only three times in which the film really lets loose with the suit, which utilises the size-changing mechanics to allow for a big pyrotechnic battle to take place in a little girl’s bedroom.  It’s a load of fun and more inventive than any other Marvel setpiece I’ve yet seen, where the fusion of the superhero and comedy aspects works to brilliant effect.

As much as I do really like Ant-Man, though – and that’s not even mentioning Peyton Reed’s stylish direction or the across-the-board-excellent performances – it does have several notable flaws.  For one, although this is one of the most stand-alone Marvel movies yet, there are moments where the broader universe intrudes itself on the rest of the film.  Now, I am not opposed to this concept, when pulled off right it can excellently give off the feeling of this universe existing outside of each hero’s individual movies, but it’s very hit-and-miss here.  Scott immediately asking aloud why Hank doesn’t just contact The Avengers is an example of it working, since it’s an acknowledgment that these films don’t exist in a bubble and provides justification as to why they wouldn’t work on this kind of story.  An extended setpiece about midway through the film with a surprise cameo (that I won’t spoil) is one that doesn’t.  Oh, sure, it is pretty fun, but it still feels a little clunky, like it was forced in there either because somebody panicked and feared that holding off on proper action until the last third would bore the audience, or somebody just thought it was a really cool idea and threw it in there regardless of whether it fit the film or not.

More of a problem is Hope van Dyne.  Now, I like Hope – a combination of Evangeline Lily’s winning charm offensive and my natural love for women who can get sh*t done made sure of that – but her existence in this movie is part of a meta-text that I am not really comfortable with Marvel making.  See, Hope is clearly the one best suited to donning the Ant-Man suit and undertaking the heist – she’s tougher than Scott, a fair bit smarter than Scott, more accustomed to the labs and technology – but Hank keeps refusing to let her for personal, ultimately unfair reasons.  It’s played as this meta-commentary on how Marvel seem similarly resistant to making a female superhero movie, instead constantly trading on white guys cos if one fails, in the words of Scott in this very film, “[they’re] expendable”.  It’s a nice acknowledgement of a genuine problem, and builds to a promising payoff, but that doesn’t change the fact that Marvel still aren’t actually doing anything to fix the problem and ultimately just made me even more annoyed that we still won’t get a fix to this problem until November 2018.

(For more on this, keep an eye on the site over the next few days, I have an article about this in the ideas oven as I type these words.)

That said, I do still really like Ant-Man.  For every moment it adheres to the standard Marvel formula, there are many more where it tries something completely different or twists the familiar into something that’s atypical for these kinds of films.  It’s still recognisably a Marvel Movie, but its commitment to keeping things small and personal provides a shot-in-the-arm and a nice change of pace for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s not massively different, so those completely averse to Marvel/superhero movies are unlikely to get much from this one, but it is a positive step in the right direction.  As stated up top, I do still like these kinds of movies, but I need them to be trying something different if I’m going to stay a fan of this stuff.  Ant-Man is a good start.

Callum Petch feels like he’s living at the edge of the world.  Listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio (site link) and follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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Men, Women & Children

People apparently still make films like Men, Women & Children.  This is disconcerting.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

men women & childrenDear Jason Reitman,

Congratulations!  You have just directed and co-written one of the absolute worst and most reprehensible pieces of shit I have bared witness to in all of 2014!  I can imagine that you approached the task of directing and co-writing Men, Women & Children – based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen – with some trepidation.  I mean, after all, how could you possibly bottom out harder than you did when you wrote and directed Labor Daya relentless schmaltzy bucket of unicorn piss where Stockholm Syndrome is supposedly the most romantic thing in the world?  Yet you did not let that high bar hit your determination, and you managed to surpass it in just pure, Stone Age, out-of-touch backwardness with flying colours!  Well done!  Gold star!

I mean, it’s 2014 and you made a film all about how technology is The Devil!  I thought that we had outgrown that kind of shit by 2003!  One of the characters in your film blames 9/11 for the rise of mobile phones and the Internet!  I mean, that takes real conscious effort!  That’s not the kind of sentence one tosses off without thinking about.  That takes real, honest effort; the kind where the person who writes it down sits back and reflects upon it and at no point goes, “No, wait, hang on a minute, that’s f*cking stupid and borderline offensive.”  And for a scene like that to perfectly encapsulate proceedings as a whole requires that kind of real, honest effort to sustain itself through two full hours.  So I applaud your commitment, Mr. Reitman!

I especially admire just how far you push your pretentious “Oh, look at me, I have something to say that nobody has ever thought of or expressed before!” sentiments by framing the film with frequent cutbacks to the NASA space probe Voyager, whilst an absolutely wasted and bored-as-hell Emma Thompson drones on in the background about everything and nothing at once.  Like, the message that we are all tiny insignificant specks fretting over nothing and wasting our lives away with technology instead of putting our minds together and attempting to improve humanity’s future by building technology?  Sheer genius!  I’m also certain that the fact that the rest of the film is so vehemently anti-technology and anti-Internet – because of how it is RUINING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – didn’t pass you by and you, therefore, chose to be so blatantly hypocritical because that’s just how committed you were to making an utterly dreadful piece of crap!

Anyways, sorry, your main message from Men, Women & Children: the Internet and mobile phones and the kids today with their texting and their Instagramming and their vidjagames and their wotsits and howdiddos are ruining everybody’s relationships forever.  Very interesting.  Original, too!  Not ideas-wise, I mean, but in sheer bloody commitment and bald-faced moralising about it all.  I mean, even Transcendence wasn’t this committed to its moralising beliefs, and that was a film that believed that women should stay away from science because their emotions ruin everything!  You, Jason Reitman, could have used this topic for a genuinely balanced and interesting look at how technology has affected our lives and day-to-day relationships.  But, hey, why do that when we can coat proceedings in endless dour humourless “guys, I have just had this huge brainwave” serious tone, strip out any trace of another side to this argument, and just speechify and moralise for two straight hours?

After all, did you hear that people use the Internet and text messaging and the like to bully people and send death threats?  And that there are places and images on the Internet that promote anorexic levels of thinness, which can really hurt a young woman’s self-esteem?  And we can’t forget about those darn videogames that encourage long-form play!  Oh, and how about how the Internet allows teenagers to post revealing pictures of themselves online despite not being of age?  These are all things that happen – they’re not the only things that happen on the Internet, but why let that little fact get in the way of some scaremongering, eh? – and you rightly chose to present them as if you and your co-writer, Secretary’s Erin Cressida Wilson, were the very first people to have ever discovered them and your viewers are Amish farmers frozen in the 1950s who have just been thawed!  Really adds to the stupidly moralistic feel.

Oh, and porn!  Let’s not forget about porn!  Porn warps one’s mind and makes them incapable of experiencing real intimacy because their mind has been irreparably twisted by the uncouth fantasies and desires that porn does to a young man’s mind!  I must also applaud your distributor, Paramount, for choosing to release Men, Women & Children just 4 days after British government passed a number of laws banning certain acts in pornography, by the by.  Truly inspired timing!  I mean, what would have come off as a preachy Puritan parent beforehand now gets to come off as morally righteous propaganda that our idiot politicians would likely applaud and back as proof of their decision!

Besides, as we all know, pornography is The Absolute Devil and the Internet doubles that devilry by making it easier than ever to get a hold of it.  Plus, now there’s no fun in it!  After all, back in your day, Mr. Reitman, finding pornography was a rite of passage!  One passed down from generation to generation as young sons would stumble upon their father’s magazine collection and continue the cycle.  Excellent work putting that sentiment into your script and having an unreally bored Emma Thompson read it with no trace of sarcasm or irony to really seal that Crotchety Old Man stance, by the by.  This whole thread is like you watched Don Jon and set out to make a film that does the exact opposite of that film’s nuanced take on Porn Addiction; I admire that commitment.

Anyways: relationships!  What is up with those, amiright?  Mr. Reitman, I must say that I find your approach to the various aspects of relationships depicted in this film to be wonderfully misguided.  I mean, it takes brass balls to make a two hour feature whose primary message reads “These relationships would be considerably less f*cked if the Internet weren’t around to facilitate these darkest desires!”  After all, Judy Greer’s pushy exploitative stage mom would never have pushed her daughter, Olivia Crocicchia, into being such a selfish shitty human being if the Internet didn’t literally allow her to exploit her daughter, and Olivia wouldn’t have become such a shitty human being if she didn’t measure her life by her follower count – because teenagers had never worried about popularity until these convenient number totals came along!

Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt – married parents who no longer feel any desire for one another – would never have started having affairs on one another if it weren’t for the Internet!  After all, the Internet makes it too darn easy; there are literally websites set up for the sole purpose of meeting people to have affairs with!  And their teenage son would have been such a happy and normal boy if it weren’t for that blasted porn warping his brain.  Elena Kampouris, elsewhere, wouldn’t be having body image issues if that damn Internet wasn’t there pressuring her with constant reinforcement!  And look at what the Internet has done to Jennifer Garner!  It’s made her so paranoid about her daughter that she relentlessly stalks her entire Internet and mobile phone presence because THAT GODDAMN INTERNET RUINING EVERYTHING!

An actually good film would have looked at how the Internet affects such situations whilst still acknowledging that these are things that would happen anyway.  But, Mr. Reitman, you realised that such a road would be dreadfully boring and that increasing bewilderment over the realisation that Men, Women & Children sincerely believes that these would not be problems if it weren’t for THAT MOTHERFRAKKIN’ INTERNET is a much better choice!  I was kinda hoping you’d go the whole hog and claim that Major League Baseball was controlling the world via satellites, but I guess you wanted to reign back and settle on “crazy homeless man with tinfoil hats” as your default setting.  Understandable.

I particularly enjoyed the scene, Mr. Reitman, in which you had Dean Norris discover the Guild Wars that Ansel Elgort is into.  The way that he reacts to a keyboard input equalling a character movement in the game like a caveman does fire or a cat does its shadow?  Would have been utterly inadvertently hysterical if you hadn’t played it – much like you play everything else in this film – with this dreary, humourless tone that accurately reflects the guy at a party who thinks he’s all smart to politics and life and stuff but then he opens his mouth and you realise he’s just a f*cking idiot.  After all, we wouldn’t want this film to risk crossing over into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory, do we?  That would defeat the purpose of this whole entire exercise!

And the cast that you assembled for this thing!  Ansel Elgort – turning in a performance that is less “depressed teen” and more “sleepwalking actor” – Dean Norris – who looks incredibly hopelessly lost with his material – Jennifer Garner – turning in a performance that somehow makes her obnoxiously awful character (who the film ultimately ends up proving right a lot due to pretty much nobody being allowed to end this film happy; nice touch) even more unbearable – the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson – whose every word practically screams “can I take my paycheque now?” – Dennis Haysbert and J. K. Simmons – who both get absolutely nothing to do – the wonderful Judy Greer – committed but saddled with atrocious material – Adam Sandler’s once-every-half-decade dramatic role – wasted by getting nothing to do – and a cameo by Phil LaMarr.  It is like you were going out of your way to waste actors and actresses I like!  Bravo!

You know something, Jason Reitman?  I got you all wrong.  I thought I had pegged you for one of the new great filmmakers.  Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult…  That’s a resume that seemingly indicates a filmmaker of great skill, a storyteller who knows exactly how to pitch each scene without it coming across as either a thuddingly obnoxious morality lecture or having a thoroughly misguided moral compass.  But 2014 has seemingly proven me wrong.  Apparently you just want to make disgustingly reprehensible movies with no self-awareness of how incredibly shitty or out-of-touch the finished products come off as.

Well I salute your vision, Mr. Jason Reitman!  That was a really nice touch, too, pretending to build up an actual career before torching it near-totally in the space of 12 months in order to make me feel betrayed that a director such as yourself would voluntarily flush that talent, spark and drive down the toilet.  You absolutely don’t need to take a few years off, reflect long and hard on your last two films, realise exactly where and why everything went wrong, re-hone your skills and come back revitalised and ready to make great movies again!  I mean, why should you?  Men, Women & Children is your magnum opus: a putrid, regressive, out-of-touch, overly preachy, one-sided, humourless slog of a movie.  The kind that can only come about through sheer determination to make a film that offended and bewildered me as much as is humanly possible.

Keep up the utterly dreadful work, mate!

Yours,

Callum Petch

Callum Petch feels love.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!