Ant-Man and the Wasp

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The realization I had at the packed cinema where I watched Ant-Man and the Wasp explains part of the gargantuan success of Marvel properties on the big screen. The audience was evenly divided between kids and not kids; all of us prey to the siren song of the next superhero hit.

What struck out to me was that whenever a joke was cracked, visual or otherwise, both kids and not kids would laugh. Granted, there are some references and throwaway lines that only adults will get, but these were not as successful as the jokes that made the entire audience laugh.

I think that is my problem with movies of this ilk. It’s not that this movie is bad; it’s a highly enjoyable, very amusing adventure. But it’s that the product is so clearly aimed at pleasing the highest number of people possible, that any nuance gets thrown out the window. There is no room for ambiguity, no space for catharsis. Die hard fans can conjure up myriad theories and deep readings into Easter eggs and throwaways, but it does not change the fact that if a 10 year old can understand and laugh at the same thing you, an esteemed adult can, then that entertainment is probably not more than the sum of its parts.

B

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Sorry to Bother You

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It is hard to fault a film for being too ambitious. If directors feel they can pull off biting social commentary, satire, rousing melodrama, or whatever else they believe will elevate their two hour material, then more power to them. Most often than not this approach fails, and one ends up bemoaning the fact that the creators could not take a step back and analyze their own work.

In the case of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You however, it feels as if he knew some of the points he was trying to make in his movie would end up falling short. This is the work of a director who has so much to say and so little time, he might as well just cram it all into a 90 minute picture. If anything this can point to a lack of patience on the part of the director; maybe he can make another movie which focuses entirely on the evils of capitalism and the apathy of society. But maybe he does not think he will get another chance, so he might as well go all out on this one.

B

Hereditary

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Honoring your father and your mother is the first commandment with a promise, reads Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. It has to be, since family can be the most brutal thing that can ever happen to anybody. No dynamic on this earth can better nurture grief, resentment and rage like a family one; tragedy keeps unfolding from one generation to the next, every child inheriting their parents demons.

Hereditary is an uncommonly unsettling picture. It’s monsters are the ones we are familiar with if we’ve been foolish enough to inflict pain on a loved one, or have been on the receiving end. By and large this is a family drama, whose characters carry their resentments on their skin. A broken marriage, a fragile parent-child relationship, an indifferent sibling connection; the film forces the viewer to witness the tragedy of a family in shambles. It is terrifying to behold.

By the time the supernatural elements manifest themselves in full to terrorize the Grahams, one can’t help but wonder if it was always meant to happen. When does a family go wrong? What decisions did the members take at one point that has led everybody down such bleak a path? Or were they condemned from the start, the sins of their forebears too heavy a burden?

When six years ago I made the decision to walk with Christ, one of the realizations I had was that I was becoming my father. I hated the old man, and in my sinful determination to get rid of all the influence he’d had on me, I was turning out to be just like him. I have long since forgiven him, although I continue to struggle with, as this movie would call it, his inheritance. Hereditary made me keenly aware of how grateful I should be that the chains of the past are being broken, and that I will not be suffocated by them.

A

Tag

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Tag proves that Hollywood is not suffering from creative bankruptcy, but from a failure to tell creative stories well. With a premise as ridiculous as this one-adults playing tag for 30 years-, the movie captures the audience’s attention before it’s even begun. So why did it prove so hard for it to keep it?

The issue lies in that Tag is less a movie than it is a series of comedic sketches stretched to the breaking point. It proves hilarious at first, seeing comedy actors chase each other around only to fail in various ways. But then they do it again, and again, the only variant being their whereabouts. Because it seems so self contained, the movie lacks stakes of any kind. It attempts to infuse romance and lived in wisdom, but they seem like afterthoughts, as if halfway through the script the writer realized he was not working for SNL so he should add some depth to his piece.

A particularly egregious example of this occurs near the end of the movie, when a character makes a confession so out of left field in order to tie things up, that it threatens to destroy the credibility of everything that came before it. This level of lazy writing is not worthy of my attention. Fortunately, the cast seems to be having such great a time that they infect us with some of it. Their efforts almost succeed in making the movie do.

C+

The Big Sick

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It’s been a most difficult year, with no signs of abating. Six months into 2018 and the general uneasiness that consumes my bones is as present as ever. I continue to pray, although my conversations with God have turned to full on pleas for deliverance. I am exhausted.

Besides intervention from the divine, the only thing that can lift my spirits is the pictures. But even in this arena it has been a lousy year, the outliers of Phantom Thread and I, Tonya a distant but cherished memory. Enter The Big Sick. As a comedy, it is more gentle laughter than riotous, the oft present vulgarity of American comedies replaced by something tender, more observant.

As a drama it is surprisingly intelligent and insightful, its plot machinations revealing thoughts and behaviors that are keenly human. There is no gross manipulation here, nor tacked on sentimentality. Almost every line delivered carries purpose and weight, as if the writers know that cinema is most effective when the audience is one with the characters. And we can only do that when the world they inhabit operates under the rules of our own, when our regrets and fears mirror theirs, and our loves and aspirations are the ones they share.

As a romance it is infectiously charming, not only for the interaction of its two leads, a superb Kumail Nanjiani and the millennial queen of the rom-com Zoe Kazan, but also by that of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s parents. For an hour and 59 minutes I was immersed in their relationship navigating all the ups, downs, and in betweens that drive the story, any story, of love. I followed Kumail and Emily all the way to that breathtaking, final shot. Dear reader, what a shot it is. I’ve returned to it three times already, and it makes me gasp for air each time.

At this stage in my life the highest praise I can bestow on anything is that it made me absolutely forget about my troubles. As a character says at one point, “I’m just really tired. Do you ever just want to be in a relationship so you can just finally relax?” The Big Sick made my afflictions cease for a while, and my thoughts at peace.

A+

Ingrid Goes West

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With one hand can I count the movies that have made me squirm so uncomfortably in my seat as the cringe inducing Ingrid Goes West. So what made me react so strongly to this movie, which is not particularly memorable besides Aubrey Plaza’s loopy performance?

My theory is that the Instagram Age has turned everybody, regardless of follower count, into an artist. Naturally we strive for success, measured in the ever precious likes and comments. When we fall short we risk losing exposure, the lack of which can prove fatal to our purpose of staying relevant. And once that’s gone, what is left but a seeming announcement to the world that we could not make it, that we are not good looking, popular or funny enough?

Maybe the fact that this made me so uncomfortable is because I too have fallen prey to the allure of the like. Hashtags, witty captions, that perfect angle; I want to appear cool because I don’t feel like I am. I want people to like me because I am lonely. The movie’s resolution does not provide a remedy to the need for validation from strangers, but gives in to it. The protagonist will continue to lead a life dictated by the interest of others; whether that’s a happy ending or not depends on what kind of an Instagram user you are.

B

The Rider

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It is easier for somebody who does not believe in an ever loving God to make sense of the injustices of this world. A believer, on the other hand, must come to reconcile the truth of a benevolent and kind God with the bitter realities of a life marked by pain and disappointment.

How do the children of God carry on in the face of profound sorrows? The Rider, a frequently moving and lyrical picture, posits that the Almighty has crafted each and every creature on this earth for a purpose, so we should pursue it, against all odds.

I look at myself, weary and slowly losing faith of ever achieving my dreams, and wonder. If God made me with a purpose, why aren’t I fulfilling it? Why am I stuck with such a mediocre and unexceptional existence? Prayer is hard to come by now, so preoccupied are my thoughts on what to do next. It was never supposed to be this way.

I had so much hope for the future, so much love and trust in my Savior, so much joy in the today. But more and more that feels like a bygone era, a person who was unaware that this world destroys goodness and God is…where is God?

A-

Avengers: Infinity War

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The universal language of hope is why this flick has broken every box office record in history. As cinema it is not particularly profound, nor does it prove insightful to the follies and manners of humankind. But who really needs our nature to play out on the screen, when most of us go to the theater to escape reality, not dive deeper into it?

Superhero movies are box office behemoths because they portray the world as it should be-sure, there’s extraterrestrial invasions all the time, but there are also men and women of good, men and women who do right for right’s sake, who willingly lay down their lives for strangers, and who will never stop until all darkness has been vanquished.

It is this what we aspire to do, to be able to correct the wicked course of the world. Superhero movies are wildly, maniacally successful because they display our dire need for a savior, and how incredibly cool it looks when we finally let them take the wheel.

B

Ready Player One

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That Steven Spielberg can’t resist inserting gross sentimentality in his pictures is common knowledge. Even The Post, with a subject matter that is very hard to romanticize, ended on a note that was complicit with the audience’s knowledge of events as to make them laugh or wink with recognition.
On the rare instances when the master subdues his desires to move us, to make us cry or laugh, he ends up with some of the finest pictures in any given year (see: Munich, Schindler’s List, Minority Report). And when he doesn’t, well he still is probably one of the greatest living directors, but I am never as invested as he wants me to be.

The story and setting and characters of Ready Player One, with its emphasis on nostalgia and romance, demand an author with Spielberg’s heart and man, does he deliver. I imagine the thrill he must have experienced when working on this project; when he started working in the film industry nothing of what is now on screen was possible. And now he’s crafting planets called Doom, where characters based on everything you can imagine brawl, and he’s recreating the Overlook hotel with a thrilling twist, and he’s being as romantic as ever, and damn it if it does not feel wonderful.

Here is a man that holds so much joy for the experience of life that he’s been sharing it with the rest of the world since the inception of his career. The most romantic of the legendary film directors, Steven Spielberg has infused in Ready Player One his thrill for life, his ever hopeful view for a happier, if not better, existence in a world that is going to hell.

B+

Midnight Sun

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There’s been an unexpected downside to using MoviePass. Where before I watched movies that I had written down in my list, usually via streaming, I now watch movies on the big screen that I have no interest in seeing besides them being free. This had led to a higher intake of crappy movies, like the pointless and juvenile in its view of death as the most virtuous form of romance, Midnight Sun.

C