There are two wonderful movies coming to theaters this weekend, one by a huge studio, Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp, and the other by a first time writer/director, being distributed by independent company Annapurna called Sorry To Bother You.  Both will take you to a completely other world, and both are great diversions depending on your mood.  Cinema Siren breaks them all down for you, and tells you what makes them worth your time.

Sorry to Bother You

Sometimes a movie is so original, and so bizarre, it’s hard to imagine how it ever got to screen. The new film Sorry To Bother You, which found distribution with the often fearless Annapurna Pictures, is just that kind of flick.  It seems an equal number of filmgoers are walking out of screenings and calling it one of their favorite movies ever.  Clearly the folks attending and judging the 2018 Sundance Film Festival lean on the positive side, because the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.

This satirical, dystopian fantasy, written and directed by hip-hop collective The Coup’s frontman Boots Riley, isn’t for everyone. It’s a total mind trip, political in the extreme, and often over-the-top.  Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, who lives with his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in his uncle’s garage.  When he gets a position as a telemarketer, he discovers the magical way to success is to activate his ability to use his “white voice” (supplied to David Cross).  His moral compass quickly gets skewed, especially as he rapidly rises in the company ranks as a “power caller”, and becomes the favorite of the company’s coke-snorting CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), and uncovers a plot that involves the company and threatens the future of humanity.

That’s the basic story of the movie, but there’s so much more going on, and about halfway through, it really jumps to a whole new level of surrealistic crazy, pushing on the pedal of the political and socio-economic satire to the metal.  By the end, viewers will either passionately love it or hate it.  There will be on in-between.

Somehow, even as far as the tether to reality is stretched, the story holds together.  The characters are surprisingly well-crafted, given the importance of world-building and plot is in bringing the film cohesion. Stanfield and Thompson were cast before either had risen to Hollywood’s A-list, so kudos to Riley’s brilliant choice in putting them together onscreen.  Their chemistry is a major factor in holding everything together, even when the arc of the story goes to 11 on the wackiness scale.  The two actors also deserve credit for their authentic portrayals, and for getting inside their characters and making them believable, regardless of what’s happening around them.  Riley has mentioned part of the reason for the film’s popularity and critical acclaim is his naivete around what was possible on a project being filmed in under a month.  He found a way to use 61 locations, and had Detroit’s character repeatedly changing not only her costumes, but her personal style. Those choices created a more complex visual palette that added immeasurably to the finished film.

It’s worth noting, that they’ve made a number of items used in the film available for fans to purchase on the official Sorry to Bother You website, including the great designs for Tessa Thompson’s earrings like the ones that say “Murder Murder Murder” on one side, and “Kill Kill Kill” on the other, and the beat-up car featured in the film.

The subversive and sometimes overt messages about the role race plays in money-driven America, and the morality of maintaining individuality and integrity while succeeding in society, are spot-on for where we are in this moment in the United States. Boots Riley had no idea his film was going to land at such a crossroads in American history.  What a treat for audiences who love to see original, fearless filmmaking.  Whether viewers would agree with a review score of an A or an F will be completely dependent on the openness of their minds.

4 out of 5 stars

Read an exclusive Cinema Siren interview with director Boots Riley posted on MPAA’s The Credits here.

Ant-Man and The Wasp

This weekend in the expected blockbuster category, we have one of the lighter of Marvel’s properties, Ant-Man.  For women who are fans of the superhero genre, and there are many, the addition of The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) will be welcome, indeed.  The character of The Wasp was a founding member of the Avengers in the Marvel comics, appearing for the first time in Tales to Astonish #44 in 1963.  Lilly’s The Wasp, who is the superhero alter ego of genius scientist Hope van Dyne, joins Ant-Man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) on an urgent mission, but as with the first Ant-Man, the interactions between the two, and between them and the various other characters, are as entertaining as the action required as part of the MCU movies. So too is seeing The Wasp kicking bad guy butt with more skill and panache than Ant-Man could ever muster, even in his wildest dreams.

Scott Lang has been on house arrest for almost two years, which explains why he wasn’t part of the Avengers: Infinity Wars storyline.  He spends his time finding elaborate entertainments for his 8-year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) on visiting weekends. His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and new hubby Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) are sweetly all support in riding out his time trapped at home. The rest of the time he is practicing drums, and planning a new security company venture with his friend Luis (Michael Pena).

When original Ant-Man and genius of Quantum explorations in teeny-tiny Dr. Hank Pim (Michael Douglas), who is in hiding and working in secret with his daughter Hope, comes to believe his wife, her mother and original Wasp Janet is still alive in the quantum realm, they go about pinpointing her location and getting her back.  From Lang’s former experience in the quantum realm, he is connected to her, so they need his help.  There are bad guys all around who want the technology Pim is developing in the quest to save Janet, and the Ant and Wasp team have to save Janet before it’s all stolen from them. Co-stars Laurence Fishburne, Walter Goggins, and Hanna John-Kamen lend their talents to creating characters that up the stakes, whether through villainy, support, or competition.

The weak link in the film is, as ever, the too-long action sequences and battles. However, by the time story reaches them, the relationships between characters have such a strong foundation, the audience is more than usually invested in a positive outcome.  Humor and the need for risk are balanced well in the body of Rudd’s portrayal of the reluctant hero. His love of daughter Cassie is shown consistently and believably, as is his romantic interest in Hope, both of which explain his actions. Pena’s portrayal of Luis makes him the film’s MVP. I hope his salary reflects what a positive addition he is to any film, especially this one. In a movie full of one-liners, he’s still the funniest, and his every moment onscreen is a delight.

It’s absolutely imperative for those who see the film to stay for the after credits stinger.  It is not only part of the storyline, it’s like the 30 second cliffhanger of all time.

My screening buddy walked into the film with low expectations and little interest.  He walked out loving Ant-Man and The Wasp, and feeling glad he saw it.  What better testimonial can there be for a summer blockbuster?

4 out of 5 stars

Sorry To Bother You TRAILER: