ANT MAN & THE WASP

Two and a half Star Rating

“It’s all fairly entertaining stuff on a strictly superficial level…” – Wayward Wolf.

 

Apparently Ant-Man and the Wasp follows on from where Captain America: Civil War left off? Well that’s me out of the picture then.

Our hero – or that should probably be one of our heroes – Scott Lang, a.k.a Ant-Man (played here by the eminently likeable Paul Rudd), is under home arrest, ankle-tagged and unable to leave the confines of his San Francisco home. This by all accounts is the result of something that happened in the previous film.?

God knows.

I’m really not the target audience for these comic book capers, as you can probably tell.

Ant-Man and the Wasp comes across as one big flurry of admittedly very impressive special effects, all knitted together by way of a rather far-fetched and convoluted story line. Littered with fight scenes and car chases galore, it’s all delivered with metaphorical tongue planted firmly in cheek. As you’d probably expect.

Michael Douglas portrays Dr. Hank Pym. Evangeline Lilly plays Hope Van Dyne, a.k.a Wasp, whilst Michelle Pfeiffer plays Douglas’s wife and Lilly’s mother, Janet Van Dyne. She seems to have got hopelessly lost in some parallel dimension / quantum thingy whatnot as a result of, once again, something that happened in Captain America: Civil War.

There are minor roles for Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster, Walton Goggins as the dastardly Sonny Burch, and there’s a somewhat irritating turn (though perhaps it’s just me?), from Hannah Dominique E. John-Kamen, in her portrayal of Ava, a.k.a Ghost.

And talking of irritating, Michael Peña runs John-Kamen close in the ‘annoying git’ stakes with his trying-way-too-hard to-be-funny flamboyant portrayal of Luis.

That said, it’s all fairly entertaining stuff on a strictly superficial level, jam-packed with plenty of thrills and spills, and no small amount of humour thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the film’s biggest laugh, however, is reserved for a Stan Lee one-liner during his inevitable five second cameo.

On watching his car shrink to the size of a matchbox right in front of his very eyes whilst attempting to insert the key into the door, he remarks: “I had a great time in the 60’s, but I sure am paying for it now…”

Or words to that effect.

Perhaps you had to be there?

Perhaps you should actually have been there, instead of me, in fact?

It’s perfectly watchable if ultimately very disposable fare, but all a bit wasted on a confirmed Marvel philistine such as myself.

 

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APOSTASY

Three and a half Star Rating

“Played out under a grey Lancashire sky, Apostasy is never less than bleak in its outlook” – Wayward Wolf.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were very much the Scientologists of my childhood, in so much as they came across as both mysterious and a little ominous. From door to door they would traipse with calm but dogged determination, eager to share their literature, and impart their ‘answers’ to a wider audience.
Of course there was no mystery at all, just a devout set of believers with a rigidly defined set of life rules that anyone with a modicum of interest – or more pertinently ‘patience’ – could very easily have discovered more about should they, just for once, have chosen not to slam the door in their faces.
The odd couple of stalwarts outside shopping centres or train stations-aside, they seem to have slipped somewhat from public consciousness these days, displaced by a tidal wave of far more topical unsavoury pressing religious issues of our day, but that’s another story…
Refreshing it is then to be offered a glimpse into the curious world of Jehovah’s Witnesses by way of Daniel Kokotajlo’s excellent but rather austere tale, Apostasy.
Set in Oldham, Greater Manchester, it focuses upon a mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), and her two teenage daughters, Alex (Molly Wright), and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), for whom a zealous belief in the doctrines forms the rigid backbone of their day-to-day existence.
Although Ivanna and Alex are unwavering in their belief (at least outwardly), Luisa has, with age, developed doubts, and on becoming pregnant, her own faith as well as that of her immediate family is to be sorely tested.
But on whom can she rely to guide her on her path into motherhood? And can her predicament ever be endorsed within the strict parameters of her family’s staunch religious beliefs, and indeed those of the religion’s ‘elders’?
Director Kokotajlo was apparently keen that northern English acting talent should be afforded the limelight here, and in Siobhan Finneran, we are treated to a fine portrayal of a mother mentally conflicted between the iron grip of her religious devotion and her natural role as a caring mother. Molly Wright puts in a tender performance of both innocence and vulnerability as youngest daughter, Alex, whilst Sacha Parkinson is cast well as Molly’s wayward sister, Luisa.
Played out under a grey overcast Lancashire sky, Apostasy is never less than bleak in its outlook. Even the film’s fleeting romantic interest seems somewhat tainted given the rather stony ground on which it is being asked to take root and flourish.
Kokotajlo’s film seems as genuinely intrigued as it is disapproving of its subject matter, yet never is it damning or dismissive, instead it walks its viewer methodically through a succession of tough scenes that will doubtless dumbfound and frustrate through their pure indoctrinated illogic.
Blood may indeed be thicker than water, but it seems that it’s no match here for the sheer viscosity of the doctrines of Jehovah, and those who so single-mindedly adhere to them, as ultimately will become patently and tragically clear.

 

THE FIRST PURGE

Half Star Rating

“…being rattled by this film’s relentless and shameless ideological political jackhammer for 98 minutes, is not an experience I would recommend in any sort of a hurry.” – Wayward Wolf.

It goes without saying that we live in divisive times.

I’d wager that there’s a representative portion of society that would almost certainly argue that the idea of a Purge being imposed upon the population at this particular juncture in time might not be so fanciful an idea after all.

We are all tumbling helplessly into a neo-fascist far-right wing superstate after all, didn’t you hear?

Set on Staten Island, New York City, Gerard McMurray’s film tells of the build up to and events of the very first purge, upon whose experimental ‘successes’ all subsequent purges were to be based.

As ever, the whole notion of a human purge is an incredibly intriguing idea upon which to base a motion picture. and this probably explains why I have retained at least a cursory interest in this frequently misfiring franchise.

Sadly, The First Purge is not just a bad film, it’s by far and away the worst film I’ve had the misfortune to witness in quite some time. Its poisonous cocktail of B-Movie sensibilities and enormously contrived narrative, blend like out-of-date soya milk and cold coffee to produce a lumpen misshapen cliche-riddled pile of old bollocks.

To add insult to injury, the whole sorry episode plays out like an ill-informed simplistic brain-washed sixth form school project done on behalf of their class tutor, who just so happens to be a fully paid-up member of the Democratic Party of the United States of America.

Rabid Democratic political bias dominating the narrative of a Hollywood motion picture? Whatever next?!!

Now, whatever your political persuasion may be, being rattled by this film’s relentless and shameless ideological political jackhammer for 98 minutes, is not an experience I would recommend in any sort of a hurry.

To summarise: White men are all evil negro-lynching KKK-hooded Republicans intent upon suppressing ethnic minorities and installing some kind of totalitarian fascist super state upon us all. And everyone else – serial killers and drug-dealing gang bosses included – are simply victims of an unjust society, and just fine.

In these times of such fractious divisions in society, more than ever the arts have a real part to play in providing honesty. How good would it be if mainstream films like this made an effort to heal and encourage constructive dialogue between politically-divided people?

Unfortunately, sensationalist offerings such as The First Purge are evidently completely disinterested in offering any sort of olive branch of reconciliation, and do nothing but titillate and segregate the ‘them and us’ still further.

No matter what positives Gerard McMurray’s agenda-driven nonsense occasionally throws up – and there are admittedly a few ideas and set pieces strewn about the place which stick in the memory – The First Purge, on balance, is nothing more than poorly made propaganda-laced self-congratulatory virtuous twaddle that succeeds only in dragging an already patchy franchise kicking and screaming through the cinematic gutter.

Insulting drivel.

UNDIR TRÉNU : (Under The Tree)

Three and a half Star Rating

“Encroaching Conifers and comical capers-aside, Sigurðsson’s film is in fact something of a weighty affair” – Wayward Wolf.

By his own admission, film-maker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, is drawn towards the mundane.

“Our lives are most of the time made up of the mundane,” he suggests. “This is what we know best and I believe this is one of the elements that connects our human existence, ” he goes on to say.

This is very true of Sigurðsson’s new Icelandic drama/comedy, Undir Trenu; a film which illustrates effectively how a petty squabble has the potential to escalate into something far more sinister altogether, if allowed to.

A beautiful old tree stands tall in Baldvin and Inga’s back garden. With trees being something of a rarity in Iceland, Baldvin is loathe to trim it down in size despite it clearly blocking out the sunlight – an equally rare commodity in this part of the world – from the neighbours’ garden.

These neighbours are understandably aggrieved and have requested umpteen times that something be done about it.

And thus has ensued a sort of tit-for-tat game of exponentially escalating juvenile pranks between these two ‘warring’ households, with each becoming increasingly embroiled in this pointless game of one-up-man-ship, in an attempt to force the others’ hand.

Encroaching Conifers and comical capers aside, Sigurðsson’s film is in fact something of a weighty affair, examining as it does the affects of depression, anxiety, despondency and regret.

Indeed, all is far from well in the lives of the film’s key protagonists.

Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) have a son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), who has, unannounced, come to live with them until such time as his wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), agrees to let him back into their home following her discovery of a sort of historic marital transgression; a situation made doubly awkward given the thorny issue of child custody. 

Inga suffers from depression fuelled by her inability and point-blank refusal to come to terms with the disappearance of her other son, and it has has left her a bitter and deeply unhappy woman. 

In an attempt to cope with all of this, her husband Baldvin frequently seeks sanctuary in the bottom of a bottle.

As for next door, neighbour Konrad, (Þorsteinn Bachmann), has taken up with the much younger (forty-something) Eyborg (Selma Björnsdóttir), with whom he will soon be having a baby. Whilst on the surface everything seems rosy between them, there is a strong suspicion that all such happy family-planning is more down to the last-chance-saloon desperate midlife desire of his lady, and that recent divorcee, Konrad, is in fact something of an unhappy and reluctant passenger on this particular ride, and now paying the price for his rebound fling.

With choice Rachmaninoff, Bach and the haunting mournful strains of an all-male Icelandic choir added to Daníel Bjarnason’s deeply affecting and unnerving synth and sample-heavy score, Undir Trenu is lent a real sense of gravitas, lifting it from the realms of straight forward comedy into something altogether more thoughtful and substantial.

Rich in metaphor and artistically shot, Undir Trenu may not always be entirely convincing on its journey from comic farce to tragedy, but it undoubtedly leaves an indelible imprint on the mind as it gathers pace, beckoning us towards its unexpected and unsettling conclusion.