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Ant-Man, Purge & Other Good Stuff in Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Ant-Man, Purge & Other Good Stuff in TheatersPhoto via IMDb.
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A mid-week holiday followed by a weekend means even more days to sit in the air-conditioned heaven of a CBUS movie theater. Reclining seats! Never-ending beverages! Milk Duds! So, luckily there is some really good stuff to watch. Here’s a quick look:

Ant-Man and The Wasp

by George Wolf

Like the titular heroes who get small to do big things, Ant-Man and the Wasp gets a boost by making its stakes more personal, and its mojo a sweet, witty blast.

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is on the outs with just about everyone since his assist to Captain America (“We call him Cap!”) in Civil War, but he just might be what Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need to rescue their long-lost wife/mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “quantum realm” that’s held her for decades.

Thanks to Rudd’s comedic timing and affable charm, Ant-Man becomes the family-friendly cousin to Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool. Like Reynolds on his DP projects, Rudd again earns a writing credit, filling his character with plenty of snappy dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor that feels like a comfortable extension of Rudd’s own persona.

He’s a natural, but Lilly is the welcome surprise here. The Wasp’s intro in the first film seemed like an awkward distraction, but she earns the equal marquee time with a script that allows Lilly the chance to make the character matter.

Director Peyton Reed is also back from part one, showing a confident grasp on Ant-Man’s role in the Marvel Universe. He keeps the pace quick, the gags (many featuring a scene-stealing Michael Pena) on a PG-13 speed dial, and the effects team busy, showcasing plenty of the amazing scale-altering set pieces that give this franchise its unique calling card.

Yes, it could stand to lose about 15 minutes of excess, but AMATW has an unassuming vibe that is infectious fun, and the perfect palate cleanser before another bite of Thanos.

And don’t leave early, or you’ll miss a mid-credits bonus that might drop some jaws.

Grade: B+

The First Purge

by Hope Madden

Five years ago, writer/director James DeMonaco spun a tale of a government-sanctioned, pseudo-religious night of violence meant to purge us of our evil. The Purge turned out to be a cautionary tale: if we’re not careful, this could happen.

Three films later, allegories are cast aside. From tiki torches to pussy grabbers, this is Trump’s America.

DeMonaco returns to write the latest installment, but for the first time he hands off directing duties. Gerard McMurray makes his feature directing debut with a film that does not mix messages.

The African American director and his primarily African American cast take us inside a film that, if it’s not America today, it’s America of, like, three weeks from now.

DeMonaco didn’t have to work too hard for his script. From robed Klansmen to unrepentant, officially-sanctioned police officers with badges and billy clubs, to doughy white political mouthpieces altering facts to further their agenda, DeMonaco pulls nightmares from reality and pastes them together in a world that’s almost more comforting in that it’s supposed to be fantasy.

McMurray and DeMonaco are not all gloom and doom. Mercifully, they root their story in a realistic optimism that we, the citizens of the United States—potential voters, all—are not as easily manipulated as the powerful may think. We are not sheep. Not one of us is expendable and we outnumber them.

God bless America.

Grade: B+

Whitney

by George Wolf

Behind every famous public image are truths untold.

The persistent force behind the film Whitney is executive producer Nicole David. A longtime talent agent (and, interestingly enough, the original voice of Scooby Doo’s “Velma”), David represented Houston for almost three decades, and was committed to finding someone who would do justice to the Whitney she knew.

David’s sincerity convinced a skeptical Kevin Macdonald, the veteran director with sharp instincts for narrative features (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) and docs (Touching the Void, Marley). He gets beneath this tabloid fodder with necessary determination.

Houston wasn’t a soul-baring songwriter like Amy Winehouse, and her recorded interviews were scarce and seldom revealing. Macdonald digs hard into interviews with family members and inner-circle friends, layering them all with well-placed home movie and archival footage to build a sad and sympathetic timeline.

The cycle of talent/fame/money/drugs may be cliched by now, but Whitney succeeds in making this rise and fall more personal. We see Houston’s two personas: The vulnerable “Nippy” to those close to her, and the confident “Whitney” to an obsessive public.

Near the end, fan-made concert video shows a once powerful voice destroyed by drugs and demons. No laughing matter, Whitney is an emotional ride, a thorough and respectful take on a mysterious, superstar life.

Grade: A-

Damsel

by Hope Madden

A lot of people headed west for a new start. Damsel, the latest quirky comedy from David and Nathan Zellner, doesn’t believe a fresh start is in store for any of us.

“Things are going to be shitty in new and fascinating ways.”

A dandy stranger named Samuel (Robert Pattinson) arrives at your traditional, sorry-ass Western town to find the parson (David Zellner). Soon enough, the two are off, along with the miniature horse Butterscotch, to find and marry Samuel’s beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska).

Into the utterly typical Western architecture ride characters entirely lacking that nobility and destiny of the Hollywood classic. The result is not a spoof — it isn’t wacky in the Mel Brooks fashion. It’s thoughtful and humorous, deliberately gorgeous and just a tad melancholy.

The film turns on a bullet from silly misadventure to something more profound: a glimpse into the historical constant of toxic masculinity. As much as the second half of the film scores points for insight, the humor is more depressing and scenes lack the bright, shiny idiocy of Pattinson’s Samuel.

This is not a dooming flaw. Damsel is a gorgeous film marked with visual absurdity that emphasizes the uniquely bizarre nature of the human being. The film’s deceptively whimsical comedy offers a biting criticism of traditional, romantically-masculine storytelling.

Grade: B+

Also opening in Columbus:
Boundaries (R)
The Desert Bride (NR)
Eating Animals (NR)
Fireworks (PG-13)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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