Musts and Misses: What to see (and skip) this week

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Park Ji-Min as Freddie in RETURN TO SEOUL

In the vast expanse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man stands as a diminutive yet endearing figure, offering a refreshing departure from the grandiosity of its superhero counterparts. From its inception in the standalone movie of 2015, Ant-Man’s allure has been rooted in its human-scale narrative, underscored by the effortless charm of Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Scott Lang. Director Peyton Reed’s whimsical approach breathed life into a blithe comedy, where superhero antics played second fiddle to the everyday struggles of its protagonist.

However, the sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” embarked on a grander scale, sacrificing some of the original’s intimacy for a more expansive storyline. As is often the case with sequels, the novelty waned, and the charm dulled slightly amidst the heightened action. Now, with the third installment, “Quantumania,” the franchise takes a bold leap into uncharted territory, embracing a psychedelic journey through the Quantum Realm.

The trailer and subtitle alone hint at the audacious direction the narrative has taken, shedding its modest proportions for a kaleidoscopic blend of Old Hollywood glamour and cosmic extravagance. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, accompanied by his steadfast partner Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and their teenage daughter Cassie (Kathyrn Newton), finds himself thrust into a microverse of chaos when quantum anomalies disrupt their tranquil lives.

Within this microscopic cosmos lies a vibrant tapestry of extraterrestrial wonders, reminiscent of a bustling Star Wars cantina, teeming with diverse species and unexplored realms. Yet, looming over this fantastical landscape is Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, a formidable adversary driven by a tragic yet relentless ambition for supremacy.

Director Peyton Reed deftly navigates the dizzying spectacle, balancing wry humor, exhilarating CGI battles, and poignant moments of introspection. Despite the whirlwind of activity, the film retains a sense of brevity, clocking in at just over 120 minutes—a rarity in the Marvel universe where epics often sprawl far beyond. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” proves to be a delightful romp, cleverly crafted to entertain without overstaying its welcome, ensuring that Ant-Man’s diminutive stature is no impediment to his cosmic adventures.

Emily

Emily Brönte was born into Victorian obscurity, published one mad Gothic masterpiece at 29, and then promptly died, unmarried and by most accounts of her cloistered world, probably unkissed. At least those are the bare facts of her scant biography, though it is not at all the one that writer-director Frances O’Connor conjures in Emily, a fevered reimagining of the woman whose immortal Wuthering Heights was, in this freewheeling portrayal at least, less of a bodice ripper than her own life.

An Emily who takes opium, spontaneously tattoos herself, and gets ravaged by handsome vicars in stone cottages would no doubt give any respectable Brönte scholar the vapors. It helps that O’Connor, herself a former actress (Mansfield ParkA.I.) has cast Emma Mackey, the erstwhile Anglo-French star of Netflix’s Sex Education, in the title role — a vivid screen presence whose fine-boned beauty and fierce intelligence do a lot to sell her unlikely transformation from shy spinster to sex goddess of the moors.

Mackey’s Emily is still in some ways the shy and inward girl of record, but she’s also ferociously stubborn and full of wild imagination — “the strange one” of her two sisters, the equally literary Anne (Amelia Gething) and Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), who would herself famously go on to write Jane Eyre. There’s also a stern widower father (Adrian Dunbar), a tender-hearted wastrel brother (Dunkirk‘s Fionn Whitehead), and the aforementioned hot priest (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who lights a fire in both Emily’s mind and her loins.

Without plunging into full anachronism, the film happily plays both fast and loose with history, its tone frequently wobbling between melodrama, magic realism, and the more traditional structures of classic period drama. (The creative process, too, generally gets short shrift, beyond a few long gazes out a window with a quill pen.) Still, there’s something gently intoxicating about O’Connor’s dreamlike pastoral settings — oh, those wily, windy moors! — and her determination not just to rewrite Emily, but set her free.

Party Down

One of the great workplace sitcoms returns funny enough and peppier than it should be. More than a decade after the season 2 finale, doofus actor-model Kyle (Ryan Hansen) hires his former boss Ron (Ken Marino) to throw a celebration of his new Hollywood success, and invites old coworkers like Henry (Adam Scott), Constance (Jane Lynch), and Lydia (Megan Mullaly). Dour writer Roman (Martin Starr) still works for Ron, and other characters soon make their way back to the catering-catastrophe world.

The pink bowties haven’t changed, but midlife weariness powers this revival. Roman still carries himself like an undiscovered genius, older and grayer. Ron is now a business owner (yay!) who smells like he lives in a van (he does.) “This is not how I envisioned my 40s,” Henry admits, in that deadpan-sweet way Adam Scott way, like he’s walking around with an invisible sitcom audience going awwwwww.

And Constance and Lydia are still kooky and fun, because they are Jane Lynch and Megan Mullally. Wedging everybody in requires narrative gesticulation. There are new characters played by Tyrel Jackson Williams and Zoë Chao; I haven’t even mentioned Jennifer Garner as a movie producer who just sort of keeps on appearing at multiple parties for steadily less logical reasons.

But the episodic structure still sings, with each event becoming a different screwball one-act. James Marsden has a blast as a big-time actor whose surprise birthday goes awry. Nick Offerman confirms himself as a guest-star ninja in a smirky-weirdo role that requires multiple (solid!) Hitler jokes. The new Party Down is a bit too glossy, but it suceeds as a genial get-together for great comedy talents

Return to Seoul

“I could wipe you from my life with a snap of my fingers,” spits Freddie, the Korean-born but French-raised main character of writer-director Davy Chou’s alternately playful and seething drama. Being wiped away is what happened to her as baby when she was put up for adoption, and to say that her unlucky boyfriend bears the brunt of some serious abandonment issues would be an understatement. Freddie, as played with deft, punkish attitude by the delightful find Park Ji-Min, pinballs through the movie, mostly with a sense of recklessness. She jets to Seoul on a whim, throws down soju in a bar like it’s water, hooks up with a random guy (but can’t remember the sex, so they do it again in the morning), and, just as impulsively, connects with the adoption agency that oversaw her extraction from a young couple unready for a family.

Return to Seoul, in its colorful, Godardian way, then becomes a quest movie, but not the one you’re expecting — it’s the opposite of sentimental or overly therapized. Freddie, for her part, doesn’t seem headed for a breakthrough so much as a series of comically awkward exchanges, all of which need to be translated for her because she speaks no Korean (her detachment from the culture is something she wears like a badge). All these years later, her birth father is still wracked with guilt over giving her up; she takes the opportunity to remind him that she’s French and will not be moving “back home” with his new family. Her translator does what she can to smooth out these responses into politeness, but in a revealing moment, calls her a “sad person.”

And still, at least from our perspective looking in, there’s a finely wrought trajectory to Freddie’s life, one that wobbles like a bumblebee but not without an overarching sense of compassion, as director Chou skips years ahead into different haircuts, moods, and career choices (charmingly, Park turns up as an arms dealer and missile salesperson in one, preserving “peace, in theory”). The strength of the movie is its unresolvedness, which will be a test to viewers requiring closure. But Freddie is on her own wavelength — sight-reading, she calls it — and by film’s end, she is still ably pecking her way through Bach on a hotel’s piano, improvising a life robustly lived, and, during the span while we watch it, one of the year’s more refreshing surprises.

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