The ‘Burbs (1989) Written by Dana Olsen Directed by Joe Dante
The quiet cul-de-sac of Mayfield Place has been shaken up by the arrival of the Klopeks, a reclusive family who has allowed their house and property to fall into decay. Their neighbor, Ray Peterson has the week off from work and has decided to peter around the house which allows him to fall under the influence of his friends Art and Rumsfield. They are convinced that the Klopeks are murderers, Satanists, mad scientists, or some combination of these things. Ray is continuously pulled back down to earth by his wife Carol who implies this isn’t the first time her husband has allowed himself to be carried away with wild fantasies like this. She is determined to convince him the Klopeks are perfectly reasonable people. However, then something strange happens: the homeowner at the end of the street, Walter vanishes without a trace, and all signs point to the Klopeks.
Alps (2011) Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
The Alps are a secret society of four weirdos who provide a strange service for people. If someone has lost a loved one a member of the Alps will learn everything they can about the deceased and recreate them for a fee, acting out moments from their life. One member, The Nurse has been spending time playing the role of a lighting shop owner’s wife and has crossed a line of intimacy while still playing her part. At her day job, she meets a young girl who was injured in a car accident. Eventually, the young girl dies and The Nurse volunteers to play her for her parents, while not informing the rest of the Alps of what she is doing. The Nurse becomes absorbed in this life, experiencing a kind of family she did not have and even becoming intimate with the dead girl’s boyfriend.
Modern Romance (1981) Written by Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson Directed by Albert Brooks
Robert has decided it’s time to break things off with Mary. They have just drifted apart so it would be in their best interests to move on. This isn’t the first break up they have experienced, and as the movie unfolds, the audience realizes there will be more break-ups in their future. Robert tries to start a new life, seesawing between unbridled enthusiasm and wallowing in self-pity. He tries to take vitamins and pick up jogging but ultimately goes back to obsessing over Mary. Mary isn’t above it all though and keeps falling back into the same patterns. These two are comfortable in their co-dependent misery.
Another Year (2010) Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
Tom and Gerrie (yes, that is their names) are a couple nearing retirement. He’s a geological engineer, and she’s a counselor, but both of them have a great passion for nature and working in their garden allotment. Over the course of a single year, we follow them as they spend time with friends and family. We’re introduced to Mary, a receptionist at the health center where Gerri works. Mary is divorced, and her last meaningful relationship turned out to be with a married man. Tom’s childhood friend Ken is overweight and eats & drinks non-stop. Ken complains about how he’s being aged out of his position at work and that he hadn’t stopped to realize he was old now. Tom and Gerrie’s son Joe is in his thirties and still single which becomes a point of conversation during many dinners. There’s no mystery or deep conflict here; this is just life played out over another year.
Real Life (1979) Written Albert Brooks, Monica Johnson, and Harry Shearer Directed by Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks is making a movie! Inspired by the success of the PBS docu-series “An American Family,” Brooks wants to helm an epic documentary film that follows the most average American family possible throughout one year of their lives. After a series of convoluted tests, a family is chosen: The Yeagers of Phoenix, Arizona. Brooks constantly tells this nuclear family that he will be a fly on the wall, an invisible scribe of their lives and immediately upends that by employing some of the most intrusive cameras ever imagined. As the family doesn’t deliver the drama, Brooks has expected he begins to interfere and create conflict where there is none. All the while the psychologists assigned to monitor the production are growing upset with how Brooks is possibly harming this family as he seeks to create something that isn’t quite real life.
Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari
Directed by Peyton Reed
Scott Lang has been under house arrest for two years, captured and extradited back to the United States after his role in Captain America’s insurrection. Lang only has a couple days left in his sentence when he is hit with visions of Janet van Dyne, the presumed dead wife of the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. Before he knows it Lang is sneaking out of his home aiding Pym and his daughter Hope. They are trying to keep ahead of the pursuing FBI, a criminal cartel, and the mysterious phasing villain Ghost.
Ant-Man & The Wasp is not a terrible film, it’s a perfectly middle of the road, formulaic forgettable fare. What keeps the movie somewhat engaging is the always charismatic Paul Rudd and the film’s willingness to acknowledge some of the absurd tropes of the superhero genre. These elements were present in the first film but here there are moments where the director allows them to run wild. There are some short improvisational moments involving the trio of fellow ex-cons that work alongside Lang. The humor feels strained to say the least near the end of the picture.
If you step back and look at the picture as a whole, you find there is very little there other than an extremely stretched out plot that amounts to about 90 mins worth of material made to work for over two hours. There’s a car chase that is prolonged by playing with the shrinking and growing powers of our title characters but after a few iterations you sort of get the point and wonder what else there is to offer. I wasn’t an overjoyed fan of Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War however both of those films do a much better job of creating emotional investment in characters because the stakes feel genuinely high. I never once felt that Lang and his cohorts were actually in peril. Maybe this is by design, but after seeing how wide in scope Infinity War reached it causes Ant-Man to feel diminished.
All of this said, Ant-Man highlights one of the problems in the ongoing DC V Marvel film debate. Ant-Man & The Wasp has much more in common with Richard Donner’s classic Superman film than a single picture released by Warner Brothers in the last six years. Donner managed to balance humor and more serious material which is what makes Superman a very charming film. While Peyton Reed doesn’t ascend to those heights he does remember something Mr. Snyder has forgotten: These movies should be fun.
Here are the best shows I watched over the course of 2018.
Detroiters Seasons 1 & 2 (Comedy Central) It’s always my luck to get into a show as soon as the network decides to cancel it. That is also true of the best thing I (re)watched on this list which you’ll see at the end. Detroiters is a show co-created by and starring Sam Richardson (Veep) and Tim Robinson (SNL). The series tells the story of best friends Tim and Sam who are running Tim’s dad’s advertising agency after his father ends up having a nervous breakdown and is committed. So the duo goes about creating advertisements for clients that aren’t something you’d see airing outside a local market. However, the show isn’t even really about the workplace; its strengths are the friendship between its two central characters and the highlighting the city of Detroit. The comedy here is not meant to shock you, but it also isn’t without an edge, it’s a wonderful balance you don’t find too often anymore. You can’t help but genuinely feel good after watching an episode.