Friday, August 3, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Make It Outta Sight

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A Marvelous sequel, a modern Western, and a career on the rise.


Ant-Man was one of the lighter, more comedic entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and making a sequel to a comedy can be very hard - just ask Smokey and the Bandit II or Blues Brothers 2000. Characters tend to be funnier the first time you meet them than when they come back and try to recapture the magic.

Thankfully, returning director Peyton Reed managed to craft a worthy and still highly amusing sequel to Ant-Man with Ant-Man and the Wasp - and this time he got to be involved with the development of the film from the beginning, after stepping in to replace Edgar Wright at the eleventh hour on the first film. Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari (none of whom were credited on the first movie), along with star Paul Rudd, Ant-Man and the Wasp tells a story that's a solid follow-up to elements introduced in its predecessor: namely the fact that Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was the superheroine Wasp, has been trapped in the Quantum Realm for thirty years, believed to be lost forever - until current Ant-Man Scott Lang (Rudd) fell into the Quantum Realm and managed to return from it at the end of Ant-Man.

Now Ant-Man technology creator/Janet's husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and their daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are on a quest to venture into the Quantum Realm themselves and bring Janet back into our world... and they have a lot of trouble trying to pull that off. In the process they have to reconcile with Scott after he made their lives a lot more complicated by participating in the events of Captain America: Civil War.

Although clueless about anything scientific, Scott is beneficial to them because Janet made contact with him in the Quantum Realm and left information in his brain, which he is not consciously aware of. I don't know how much sense that makes, but Janet's influence on Scott does allow for a fun scene reminiscent of classic body swap comedies.

Scott also helps Hope and Hank fend off the villains they encounter, because of course there has to be villains to fend off. Not that Hope seems to need all that much help now that she has become the superheroine Wasp herself, sporting an outfit that not only has shrinking and expanding tech like the Ant-Man suit but also has wings. This is Scott's third film as Ant-Man, but he's still a bumbling fool compared to how capable Hope is as the Wasp. It doesn't help that he's stuck with a malfunctioning suit; it's tough to shrink and grow to the right sizes in this thing. This tech issue played into my favorite comedic sequence in the movie, where Scott runs around in the halls of an elementary school while stuck at the size of a child himself.

One of the villains, one who has a whole lot of henchmen, is unscrupulous businessman Sonny Burch, played by Goggins. Goggins is always great, but Burch isn't really a standout character. More interesting is the character known as Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen. Apparently Ant-Man doesn't have the most exciting rogues gallery in the comics (especially since Ant-Man's #1 enemy Ultron was used in Avengers: Age of Ultron before Ant-Man was even introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), because Ghost is known for being an Iron Man villain in the comics. That doesn't matter much, because this version of Ghost different from any seen on the page. This one is an ailing woman who needs power from the Quantum Realm to cure a condition that appears to make her phase in and out of our reality. It's an intriguing motivation they gave her.

Ghost is somehow connected to a former associate of Hank's, Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), who has had some size-changing experience in his past.

Ant-Man and the Wasp really needs to be commended for how well it uses its returning characters. Scott, Hope, and Hank are a team throughout the film, with Hope and Hank both getting even more to do than they did in the previous movie. Michael Douglas even gets to put on a costume and get in on the shrinking action himself!

This sequel also brings back Scott's reformed criminal associates Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris), who bring the laughs with them. Since Luis turned out to be a fan favorite last time, he was wisely given a fair amount of screen time here.

In the big picture, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a nice comedown from Avengers: Infinity War; a smaller, funny movie to lift our spirits after the epic seriousness of Infinity War. The events of this film take place before Thanos gathered the Infinity Stones - but it catches up to the end of Infinity War by the mid-credits and post-credits scenes.

This movie made for a really fun time in the theatre, and then by the end had me grumbling about "that bastard Thanos" again.


Automaton Transfusion director Steven C. Miller started to make his way out of studio development hell when he took the helm of the Syfy production Scream of the Banshee, and then his career really started to take off when he decided to accept the offer to direct the low budget film Under the Bed. Miller has been working steadily ever since - he hasn't been making studio films with wide theatrical releases, but he's been working.

A lot of people say that Under the Bed, which was written by Eric Stolze, is in the vein of the classics that came from Steven Spielberg's company Amblin, but I really don't see that in it. It takes more than just having a kid in the lead to make something Amblin-esque; this film doesn't have the fun streak that movies like The Goonies, Gremlins, or Arachnophobia had. Instead, it's a dreary slow burn of psychological horror about a young boy (Gattlin Griffith as Paulie) and his teenage brother (Jonny Weston as Neal), both of whom are deeply mentally tormented by the creature living under a bed in their house. A creature that shows them horrific visions and, some time ago, killed their mother. These siblings are hurting, and the situation is made even worse by the fact that their dad (Peter Holden as Terry) gets extremely mad at them whenever they show a hint of fear.

The idea of kids dealing with the classic concept of a monster living under a bed definitely could have been the basis of a fun Amblin movie, but that's not the tone of this one. I don't get much fun out of watching Neal and Terry be miserable for 80 minutes. There are elements in here that are sort of similar to some things that would be seen in Stranger Things years later, but this is much darker than Stranger Things. Even when the kids weapon up to confront the monster, the tone is too intense to sustain a fun feeling for long. This may be the most serious film that will ever be made about the monster under the bed.


Steven C. Miller's The Aggression Scale was completed and released before his film Under the Bed, but he actually got the offer to direct the movie while he was in the midst of Under the Bed's 15 day shooting schedule... and when he got the offer, the start of production was just a few weeks away. As soon as Under the Bed was wrapped, Miller had to head out to the set of The Aggression Scale, which had a 12 day schedule.

Written by Ben Powell, the film finds a group of homicidal criminals played by Return of the Living Dead Part 2's Dana Ashbrook, Friday the 13th 2009's Jason Voorhees Derek Mears, Jacob Reynolds, and Joseph McKelheer raiding the new home of a man who stole $500,000 from their boss, who is played by Ashbrook's Twin Peaks co-star Ray Wise. Within this house they face the challenge of their lives, because one of its inhabitants happens to be a deeply disturbed kid, much like the deeply disturbed kids of Under the Bed. This particular kid is Owen (Ryan Hartwig), and he's the reason why the film is called The Aggression Scale.

As these criminals learn, Owen has a severe mental disorder that causes extremely violent behavior, and for some reason his parents have also thought that books on survival tactics and improvised booby traps were suitable reading material for him. So Owen, who would be in a mental hospital if his father hadn't come across that cash, starts using his natural violent tendencies and the skills he has learned from books to protect himself and his stepsister (Fabianne Therese). Owen is a non-verbal killer, it's like if a young Michael Myers had to deal with a home invasion. Many viewers have pointed out that this movie is basically a deadly variation on Home Alone.

Regardless of the fact that he's killing bad guys, Owen is a disturbing character, and that's something I couldn't get beyond when I first watched The Aggression Scale. I didn't think what this movie was showing me was cool, even though I had seen a lot of people talking about how cool this all was. I was too troubled by the sight of a kid becoming a serial killer to cheer him on. A kid killing people can be fun when a movie presents it in the right way (example: Hit Girl in Kick Ass), but this movie is too dark for it to be fun in this case. Much like Under the Bed was too dark to have the fun of an Amblin production.

Revisiting The Aggression Scale with certain expectations in check, I find that it's not necessarily a bad thing to find Owen to be a chilling character rather than a badass one. The action and thrills are solid even when you have no one to side with other than the stepsister caught in the middle of this madness. And Owen may not be cool in my perspective, but the film's cast is, and Derek Mears does inject some welcome humor during his scenes.


I knew absolutely nothing about Blackway when I started watching it, not even why it was called Blackway. As it turns out, Blackway is the name of a character played by a well known actor I didn't even know was in the movie, and what director Daniel Alfredson (brother of Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson) has delivered here is actually a Western. It just happens to be one set in modern day, in the Pacific Northwest.

Based on a novel by Castle Freeman Jr. and written by Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs, the film begins with a young waitress named Lillia (Julia Stiles) being stalked by a violent creep she caught the attention of while at work. When the stalker kills her cat, she reports the crime to the local sheriff - who turns out to be worthless, too afraid of the criminal to do anything about it. He suggests that Lillian seek the help of a logger who works for a nearby company, maybe he could scare off her stalker.

Well, that particular logger isn't at work when Lillian shows up at the company. Instead, it's a frail old man who volunteers to help her out with her problem, Anthony Hopkins as Lester. Knowing he's not exactly an intimidating figure, Lester brings along his young co-worker Nate (Alexander Ludwig), who's sort of a stammering gentle giant most of the time, but will throw down if the situation calls for it.

Lester, Nate, and Lillian set out to find the stalker, who is a man named Blackway. He's played by Ray Liotta, used to be a police officer, and is now sort of a rural criminal kingpin. The entirety of the movie focuses on the trio's search for Blackway, making their way past people associated with him, building up to a climactic confrontation.

If the characters were on horseback instead of riding around in a pickup truck, this story could easily be set in the 1800s, and that's something I really enjoyed about the film, being a fan of both Westerns and when Western sensibilities are used as the foundation of stories set in different eras or genres. I went into this one clueless and not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised that it was something right up my alley. It's simple, there's not much to it, but I didn't need it to be anything more than it was. 90 minutes of a good, dark time.

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