Tag Archives: michael douglas

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

A few months ago, I amused myself by “wondering” in print here whether we would be able to get caught up with these movies before the release of Captain Marvel in a few days. This was never really in doubt, but my plan to blog about each of the last several was stymied because I just didn’t have much of anything to say about most of them. The kid has adored all the mayhem, of course, and he’s been rewatching them whenever he has some free time.

Like most seven year-olds, he’s criminally impatient, and by the time we reached the cliffhanger ending to the surprising and silly Ant-Man and the Wasp, he’d had the time of his life – again – and now he’s hopping with a mix of anxiety and frustration that he must wait eight whole weeks to see what will happen to Hank, Janet, and Hope, and whether Scott will be trapped in the Quantum Realm forever. You know, like the rest of us.

I found Avengers: Infinity War horribly unsatisfying the second time around. The bleak climax is no point to end on; the movie is badly, badly lacking a rising, thunderous cliffhanger to lead us into the next adventure. I left the theater last year in a sour mood because of the missed opportunity, and seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp six or seven weeks later lifted my spirit tremendously. It’s a fun and inventive movie, full of surprises. The tone’s just right. It’s lighthearted and takes serious situations seriously, while finding goofy and unexpected ways around the obstacles. And that car chase in San Francisco is a real beauty.

I read that Michael Douglas was advocating for an eighties-set movie starring himself and Michelle Pfeiffer as the original Ant-Man and the Wasp. Marvel’s been understandably cagey about their plans beyond this summer, but as much as I enjoy Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly together, I can totally get behind that. Fingers crossed for 2020!

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Ant-Man (2015)

For anybody following this tag, we didn’t skip a movie. We watched Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier this month, but I’m finding it much, much harder to find anything new to say about the Marvel movies, and that one’s particularly uninspiring. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad film; in fact it’s perfectly entertaining for what it set out to do.

Ant-Man, on the other hand, is a pure pleasure from start to finish. It’s still a pain in the neck coming up with anything new to say about it, so I’ll turn to our favorite seven year-old critic and his own observations.

Naturally, he liked the fights the best, or at least he claims he does. When we were watching the movie, the thing that made him exclaim and start babbling over the dialogue was seeing Michael Peña and “the gang” reenter the story. Luis might be his favorite supporting character from any of these dozen movies. And he loved seeing Evangeline Lilly’s character of Hope Van Dyne train our hero and give him a basement full of bruises.

Of course, since the fights include helicopters, lasers, explosions, and Thomas the Tank Engine, that’s all he wanted to talk about afterward. I liked those as well, but I really liked Lilly’s chemistry with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd, and loved the casual start-of-the-film revelation – with guest cameos by Hayley Atwell and John Slattery – that the original Ant-Man was an active superhero agent for SHIELD in the 1980s. There’s probably a Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline somewhere that I’d enjoy reading. I should probably track that down.

Eight movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Napoleon and Samantha (1972)

This morning, we enjoyed Disney’s 1972 film Napoleon and Samantha, which I’d never seen before. It’s a surprisingly heavy film for something that the company, these days, promotes as a nice, light, and breezy part of their back catalog. It stars Johnny Whitaker, one of the biggest child actors of the day, along with a rising star named Jodie Foster. Wonder what happened to her?

In the movie, Johnny plays Napoleon, a ten year-old kid who lives with his ailing grandpa in a small town. They take ownership of an old lion from a retiring clown (Vito Scotti!), which is a bit contrived, but you have to make allowances to get the plot going. Grandpa dies, and Napoleon asks an unemployed “hippie” named Danny to help bury him on a hill. Danny is played by an amazingly young Michael Douglas. If you thought he looked like a baby in The Streets of San Francisco, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Facing the orphanage, Napoleon and his friend Samantha leash up the old lion and undertake one of those “incredible journeys” that were common in the era, hiking up and down a few mountains looking for Danny’s cabin. They’re naive enough to think they won’t be missed, and that they won’t get into trouble. There’s a tumble off a high mountain peak, a cougar, and a bear to contend with on the way.

About which: I was conflicted about some of the events of the movie, but that wrestling match between the lion and the bear was downright impressive. Would any filmmaker today try anything like that? Even understanding that was a pretty old lion and a big crew of wranglers must have been right behind the camera, wild animals can be really dangerous. Just ask Foster: she was mauled, and permanently scarred across her back, by one of the old lion’s younger stand-ins!

But we were expecting a lighthearted adventure, and while the middle of the movie provides that, the first and last third of the film were each quite heavy. Will Geer’s grandpa character is marked for death right from the beginning, and it’s a huge weight on the tone. Last month, we watched an episode of Isis that dealt with death and I mentioned how, in tune with the times, the explanations were built around a discussion of seasons, calling it “Ecclesiastes by way of the Byrds.” Well, before he goes, Grandpa specifically talks about seasons, and at his small funeral on the hillside, Danny recites Ecclesiastes. It was the seventies, man.

But the climax is what really surprised me. Danny leaves the kids in the care of a friend at his cabin and hikes back to town to explain to everybody where the children are. Samantha’s family housekeeper fingers him as the weird hippie with whom the missing Napoleon had been seen, and he’s arrested by policemen who do not want to listen to him. Awaiting the police chief, Danny spots a wanted flier in the station. His friend is a dangerous criminal on the loose, who’s escaped from a mental institution.

It’s typical in Disney films of the seventies to have a climactic chase, with goofball cops having safe but hilarious accidents. But bizarrely, the director chose to keep Napoleon and Samantha completely offscreen, so Danny’s escape and race back to his cabin, with cops in pursuit, is a chase in the dark, a race against time. And sure, we know perfectly well that in a ’72 Disney film the children will be perfectly safe, but the director elected to ratchet the tension and desperation off the chart, and the wacky motorcycle stunts aren’t funny when the tone is deadly serious.

Our son was a good deal squirmier than usual, in part because he was looking forward to a late morning swim, but I think he felt the weight of this movie. He enjoyed it and thought it was “pretty cool,” and I enjoyed it and was intrigued by the wildly varying tone. It’s an uneven film, but I’m glad we gave it a try.

Some neat casting notes: Whitaker and Foster were reunited the following year in United Artist’s Tom Sawyer. His next film, however, was another one for Disney called Snowball Express, which also featured Mary Wickes, an actress who had a small three-line role here. After Express, Whitaker made a TV movie for Disney called The Mystery in Dracula’s Castle with his friend Scott Kolden. In 1973, Sid and Marty Krofft scooped up Whitaker, Kolden, and Wickes to star as the humans in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. And you just know that they must have wanted Jodie Foster for the recurring part that Pamelyn Ferdin ended up playing!

Aggravatingly, The Mystery in Dracula’s Castle does not appear to have ever been released on home video. There’s another thing I’d like to watch with my son for this blog but can’t.

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