Skip to main content

They know all about us, from watching this stuff.


Explorers
(1985)

Looking at Explorers in the cold light of nearly 30 years hence, it’s hard to fathom that it was ever seen as a potential hit. This is a movie that deliberately undercuts the unabashed awe at the universal unknowns found in Spielberg’s mass audience-pleasing Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. A young protagonist whose science fiction-fuelled imaginings receive a deflating reality check when he finally encounters alien life; it’s the antithesis of the ‘berg’s life-affirming fantasties.  The aliens are no more than a green-skinned reflection of kids the world over; shallow, pop culture-obsessed and borrowing their father’s car for a joy ride. Paramount no doubt hoped Joe Dante’s irreverent streak, which had translated into box office gold with Gremlins, would attract the same audience. But, further muddling the tonal mix, the director treats his trio of juveniles with complete sincerity.


Paramount gave Joe Dante the chance to do what he wanted with Explorers; Gremlins had just become a huge hit for Warner Bros (his previous film, The Howling, also did decent business), so this Spielberg “protégée” was surely a sure thing? Well, no. As Dante’s career has repeatedly proved, he is just that bit too offbeat for mainstream audiences. Gremlins was that elusive alchemy of his anarchic, live-action cartoon sensibilities and dark, grisly material (much more so in Chris Columbus’ original script). Paramount would have been better to bank on fellow Spielberg endorsee Robert Zemeckis, whose Back to the Future cleaned up the same summer that Explorers floundered.


It seems that Eric Luke’s script had been knocking about Hollywood for a number of years before Dante picked it up. Wolfgang Peterson intended to direct at one point, but his desire to shoot in Germany put the kibosh on that plan (presumably, this explains the name of River Phoenix’s character). Reputedly, Spielberg lifted E.T.’s flying bicycles from Luke’s first draft (so it was reworked to include the junkyard spaceship). Dante commented that it was a solid script until the third act, which fizzled. Once the kids got into space they “go and play baseball and go home”. Given the reaction of audiences (those who bothered to investigate it in the first place) to the pop culture angle the director developed with Luke, maybe the original would have been more palatable. Dante notes that he thought it was funny but the public didn’t. Arguably, there’s an issue here in respect of consistency of tone; perhaps it was foolhardy to embrace a radically different “reveal” of alien contact.


How the whacked-out third act would have fitted with the spiritual themes the director also wished to explore is probably another strike against it. Dante said that, far more prevalent to his original vision, was the idea of the “world mind” (this is tentatively explored in the shared consciousness the dreaming kids and Dick Miller’s remembrances of childhood dreams). Dante wanted something more cerebral, and notes that the last five minutes in particular bear the bruises of an attempt to fix the “message” into something approximating his intentions.


The issues that came with rewriting the script whilst the movie was in production were exacerbated when the studio changed hands. Suddenly the release date was brought forward, with the result that the filming schedule needed to accelerate. Then, at a certain point in the editing, the edict came just to stop and put the thing out. As a result, Dante refers to the picture as a rough cut. At one point he had a three-hour assembly, and he never had the chance to hone it as he would have liked. He refers to the result as a movie he likes but not the movie he wanted to make. The ramshackle fortunes of the production may go some way to explaining the different cuts of the film (the DVD features two deleted scenes that were in the cinema release, and the (lucid) dream ending with Ben finding their spaceship Thunder Road in his classroom was added). Dante has said several times that there is little chance of a preferred cut of the film materialising; the extant footage appears to have been lost.


There’s a definite sense that, when the film is no longer earthbound, Dante embraces something closer to the spirit of Gremlins 2 than the optimistic childhood fantasy of what has gone before. The force that has entered the dreams of Ben (Ethan Hawke) and made his meditations of alien worlds seem like a reality, proves a massive disappointment in the flesh. The film opens with Ben flying over a circuit board landscape. When he sketches it for science geek pal Wolfgang (River Phoenix), the whizz feeds maps it out in his 128k Apple computer. Which then starts programming itself and summoning into existence a small globe (the proportions of which can be altered, such that it becomes the outer shell of their spacecraft in due course).


This kind of vision quest isn’t a million miles from the strange fascinations thrilling Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. Ben has an expectation of wonderment fulfilled. So he cannot disguise his disappointment when a couple of cartoonish aliens are revealed as the culprits behind the psychic/subconscious messages he has received. The aliens are even more exaggerated versions of the comic cliché of the green-skinned monster we see in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (both TV and film versions). But Adams’ work showed its cards as a comedy from the outset. Ben’s disappointment mirrors that of many viewers; Dante goofs off, and the magic ebbs away. It’s what he did with The New Batch, where those expecting the dramatic core of the first movie were left wanting.

It’s a curious experience to be told to be disappointed (effectively, if we are empathising with Ben). Even as Picardo larks about in his alien suit, Ben can express only halfhearted enthusiasm for his antics. So, even if you’re on board with Dante’s gear change, there’s a hesitancy involved in fully embracing it.

One might suggest that the intentional nature of Ben’s disappointment exempts the film from criticisms of failing to engage with the audience. And I can see that argument. But, if you’re watching a murder mystery only to discover that the victim committed suicide two-thirds of the way through, you’re likely to feel a little short-changed. I don’t feel cheated by Explorers, I hasten to add. I think that, if there’s a problem, it’s that Dante hasn’t sufficiently reverse-engineered the structure so that the first two acts are more coherent with the third.


In spite of its allusions to hope and magic at the end, Explorers is basically saying there isn’t much wonder out there. It’s all the same the universe over. Kids are kids, parents are parents and the imagination is just that. Ben’s view of the world is filtered through his love of science fiction, so he expects the aliens to be amazing. In turn, the aliens expect everyone from Earth to be whacky and crazy and to hate aliens because of their diet of film and TV transmissions (including The Day the Earth Stood Still). Thematically, it works, but tonally it is at odds with a child’s expectation of stupefaction and astonishment.

Darren: How’d you get into this stuff?

Notably, it’s the diffident, not wholly engaged Darren (Jason Presson) who becomes the de facto face of how best to integrate these conflicting impulses. Earlier in the film he shows faint boredom with the fancy globe tech but, faced with stand-up comedian aliens, he is entertained. His character is the one with the troubled home life (“Guess he didn’t get that job”, he notes of his father), the street-smart kid who never dreams and who defends his nerdy friends from school bullies (there’s little that’s original in the characterisations, although the performances of the young cast are never less than engaging). He has no desire to spend after school time with Ben until he hears his father arguing at home. His attitude to the alien technology is not unlike Corey Feldman’s waning interest in Gizmo in Gremlins. Even allowing for low boredom thresholds, I’m not completely convinced by their numbness to the fantastic. Darren seems like an ideal role for Feldman (and perhaps Dante wanted him; most likely he was working on The Goonies at the time).


The set up of the film wouldn’t be out of place in a Spielberg movie, which is likely why he was (supposedly) circling it at one point. Nostalgic dreams of childhood (with a token gesture to reality with bullying and troubled domestics) are the director’s bread and butter. And it starts out looking similar to numerous ‘80s kids’ movies; the ensemble brackets it with the likes of The Goonies, Stand By Me and The Lost Boys. The first part of section of the film is amiable but, like the film as a whole, it has no fire in its belly. There is little sense of threat or conflict; even the investigation by pilot Charlie Drake (Dick Miller) is benign. This further testifies as to why the film didn’t catch on. It’s not a thrill ride, it’s a quirky, difficult to categorise adventure fantasy and the failures of those are ten-a-penny. I certainly don’t buy the excuse that opening against Live Aid damaged it; audiences just weren’t interested.

Apparently the first act was originally much expanded. There were more scenes with Ben’s mum (Mary Kay Place, looking like she’s just stepped out of The Big Chill – which, near enough, she had) and scenes with his brother. Judging by the “finished” film, these excisions were wise, as the movie desperately needs any narrative drive it can get. Ben is the central of the trio; you can tell, as he’s given the love interest (Lori, played by Amanda Peterson). Dante delivers a peeping tom scene with none of sleazy undercurrents seen when George McFly spies on Lorraine in Back to the Future. When Ben, ensconced in his bubble, stares at Lori through her bedroom window, it’s supposed to be rather sweet. Neverthless, it’s Wolfgang’s family who are serviced with the most screen time out of the supporting humans (“It’s not his fault, his parents won’t let him change it” notes Ben of his Christian name).


Heinlein: I… want… my… cheese.

The reasons are easy to see. James Cromwell and (a hilarious) Dana Ivey play Wolfgang’s parents, presiding over a household that this isn’t so far from the invention-laded Peltzer home in Gremlins. Dante’s distinctions between the kids are clear; the mundane (Ben), the disturbed (Darren) and the eccentric (Wolfgang). Dante has stuffed the Müllers’ basement with science fiction comics and novels, but the most striking feature is the mouse Heinlein (name after author Robert, no doubt)

Heinlein: Go… to… hell.

Heinlein can speak by placing his feet on the keys of a Casio organ; we hear him requesting food, or uttering oaths, in a voice owing much to the commissioners of the Earth in Douglas Adams’ books. You can see that the director would be quite happy spending hours doodling about in this abode.


Dante is never happier than extolling the weirdness behind the veneer of suburbia; he’s a jovial, Looney Tunes satirist who makes his insight into the flipside of Americana no less distinctive than the more celebrated David Lynch. This domestic milieu is usually a safe one (only The Hole breaks with this); decent but uncomprehending adults who lack the vitality and insight of their offspring. The threats usually come from without. In this case it is limited to classmates, but in other Dante fare we see the atomic bomb (Matinee), subversive gifts (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), all man of creepies and crazies (Eerie, Indiana) and even just dodgy new (foreign) neighbours (The ‘burbs). Where the danger is pre-existing (Darren), Dante does not intrude on it and make us uncomfortable.

The hill above the town gives a bird’s eye view, and it is no less cosy and welcoming from that vantage point. Dante would give his affection for the suburbs full vent in the TV series Eerie, Indiana, but the closest he gets to the spookier side of kid’s fantasies here is the shafts of smoky sunlight gaping through trees as the kid’s take a shortcut home (Dante’s DP, John Hora, first worked with him on The Howling and they regularly collaborated up until Matinee).


Ben: It feels like a dream, doesn’t it? It’s all so perfect.

As mentioned, it’s the utter sincerity with which he depicts kids that distinguishes them from his pictures with adult protagonists. Explorers shares this with Matinee, Small Soldiers and The Hole. Ben is blessed with an unaffected naivety, such that it seems almost cruel when the director pulls the rug from under him.

Ben: If this is all a dream, then what happens when we wake up?
Wolfgang: I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.

The conclusion seems to backtrack on this. With the Thunder Road submerged and the aliens grounded it seems that the adventure is over. Then we see them lucid dreaming again, this time joined by Lori. They are joyous, flying among the clouds. But haven’t they done this before? Isn’t the reality of what happens when they wake up a disappointing encounter with TV-obsessed aliens? The spiritual theme is shown to be empty and the soaring soul is punctured.


Dante didn’t discuss further how he would have liked to express his ideas but, as it stands onscreen, the kids’ enthusiasm for further forays into space seems more like the longing for a junk food fix (hanging out with joy riding teenage aliens) than a prelude to mind expansion. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, or World Mind, which Dante intended to expound, asserts, “no evolutionary future awaits anyone except in association with everyone else”; evolution leads to psychic connection between all humanity, and ascent towards consciousness and God. It’s an attractive theory, but one that is undercut by Dante’s third act choices.

Ben: That was the most important thing that ever happened. Can you feel it? That feeling way inside? What do you think? We should trust the dream, right?

Before we reach space, Dante meanders unhurriedly with his storytelling. The trio investigates the properties of the sphere; first in the basement lab as it shoots holes through Wolfgang’s collection of paperbacks; then, up on the hill, Wolfgang is transported through the air in a larger version; greater still, they finally take flight in their botched together “spacecraft” on a night flight over their town.  


It’s during this sequence that they encounter a helicopter piloted by Miller’s Charlie Drake. Miller’s a likable constant in Dante’s movies, although I feel he may be a little miscast here. He doesn’t fully deliver the pathos of lost dreams that Drake is about (maybe it’s a consequence of the cutting of scenes featuring him; Dante says that much of Miller always ends up excised). Still, when he witnesses the craft set off for space his “Nice going, kid” contains the wistful recognition of what he was never able to experience.


It’s surely Dante’s intention (muffled) to inform us that the kids only make this (evolutionary) leap because they do it as one. Following their test flight, and brush with Drake, Wolfgang and Darren are somewhat disaffected. The quest might end there (as I said, I’m not completely convinced by this; it would be like the kids in Chronicle not bothering to use their special powers any more). It’s only because they too take to the skies in a joint lucid dream that their determination is renewed; the nascent noosphere is expanding among them. Drake was willing to make such a leap, but he was ahead of his time. With no one to take the journey with him, his potential went untapped.


Ben: I’ve waited all my life to say this. We come in peace.

Even before they meet the goofball aliens, the spaceship environment suggests something less than exotic. Darren notes, “It smells in here” (he made the same comment of Wolfgang’s basement). There’s no sense of grandeur (indeed, the swirling dry ice nestling around metallic objects seems like an oblique visual reference to the rather awesome crashed ship in Alien). Ben still hopes against hope, even when confronted by an alien.

Ben: It’s probably not English. It’s probably just an alien language that sounds like English.

Dante regular Robert Picardo, who also plays Starkiller in the earlier Drive-In movie sequence, plays Wak. As with Gizmo and the rabbit in The Twilight Zone movie, Wak, his sister Neek (Leslie Rickert) and their father (Frank Welker, who supplied Dante with Mogwai and Gremlin voices the year before) are cartoons made flesh (or prosthetic). They’re hyper-stylised versions of ‘50s bug-eyed monster, shoved through a Chuck Jones machine.


Wolfgang: They know all about us, from watching this stuff.

As Wolfgang says, they get all their information about the world from TV shows. It’s a cackling riff on the omniscient alien force, wise beyond human potential.

Ben: But this is just the movies. This isn’t the way we really are.

Wak and Neek also think humans hate aliens, on the reasonable evidence of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Indeed, James Cameron would double back and present a very serious-minded (does he have any other mode?) version of Explorers with The Abyss Special Edition. Here, Ed Harris is shown the suffering and devastation inflicted by humanity as the aliens enact a Day-style conflagration of poised tsunamis across the planet.

Ben: Your people have been visiting our planet since ancient times, and now you’re checking up on us. Right?

Every assumption that Ben, and science fiction novels generally, have of aliens is mercilessly poked by Dante. These aliens haven’t even visited Earth because of the germs (a nod to the deus ex machina ending of War of the Worlds, of which Dante shows clips).


Wak: Germs. Germs. They can cause colds, bad breath, diarrhoea.  Germs that flourish in your family bathroom.

Wak’s only interested in showing off to the kids he’s just met, while his sister is predictably obsessed with boys (Wolfgang comments, “She’s incredibly intelligent. Besides, she kind of likes me”). And, before you know it, dad’s arrived to send the kids home (Ben: You stole your dad’s car?). He’s a giant semi-silhouetted figure with hands for ears shouting and raving (Darren: Boy, and I thought my dad was tough),Wolfgang? Wolfgang? Who the hell is Wolfgang?


Wak: We didn’t even get to tell you the secrets of the Universe.

Yes, Dante even rubs it in! As if these unruly youngsters had anything profound to say. This is the kind of post-modern riffing that infuses much of Dante’s work, parody suffused with self-reflexivity. But it’s nothing new to the comedy arena; we see it in everything from the Marx Brothers to Bob Hope. Dante can’t resist; it’s such a rarity in a movie world where, outside of crappy spoofs, verisimilitude is the Holy Grail. All-importantly there’s a presiding intelligence over the way Dante uses it. In the original theatrical cut Wak broke the fourth wall during the credits, noting that audience members were still in the cinema because he could smell the popcorn (see also the film projector “breaking down” in Gremlins 2).

Wak: Listen, I watched four episodes of Lassie before I figure out why the hairy kid never spoke.

The visuals during Waz’s routine are Dante at his delirious best, a fuzzy cascade of static and TV/film footage as Wak mimes and struts. The bombardment of references is too effusive to list, but includes the likes Mr. Ed, Tarzan, Bogart, W.C. Fields and Little Richard.


Dante is at bliss in his own playground when give a chance to vent his encyclopedic film knowledge. His movies are, at very least, always a pleasure for their in-jokes. Ben’s instructions for the alien device parallel Dr. Meacham’s in This Island Earth (Ben has just received a video tape of the film). He compares the alien’s brain booster to a device in Forbidden Planet. One of the kids pretends his torch is a light saber. Arriving on the spaceship we hear “They’re he-re” (Poltergeist).  The kids attend Charles M. Jones High School. The newspaper read by Miller not only references the classic explain-away of UFO sightings (“UFO Scare? Or Just Swamp Gas?”) but Gremlins (“Kingston Falls “Riot” Still Unexplained”).

Intentional or otherwise, imagery also suggests genre movies of the same era. The circuit landscape evokes the recent TRON, the Peter Pan/Superman flying sequences also parallel Gilliam’s fantasy escape in Brazil, and the junk spaceship recalls a much more benevolent version of alien life to The Thing.


But Dante has most fun with his Drive-In movie, Starkiller. The director would scratch his homage itch to even greater delight with MANT! in Matinee, but here he nails the so-bad-it’s-a-scream crappiness of these movies. Anyone familiar with the average reaction to a space opera will appreciate Wolfgang’s uber-geek dismissal (“Explosions in space? It’s impossible”) or the reaction of an audience member to the Thunder Road flying by the screen (“That looks so fake”). Here’s a selection of choice Robert Picardo dialogue:

Starkiller: Bloodshed is my life.
Starkiller: Now is the time for destruction!
Starkiller: May the power be with us, if they attack again. What they will not touch, I will conquer.
Starkiller: Burn in hell, alien maggots. You shall not possess out women, slime-bred vermin!

And:

Starkiller: He was like my father. Do you see what I mean?
Girlfriend: He was my father.

This was a prestigious production, with ILM furnishing the effects. Generally they hold up, with only the occasional flight shot selling the illusion short. The helicopter encounter is particularly impressive. And regular Dante composer Jerry Goldsmith contributes an expectedly good score, traversing wonder and parody depending on the scene.


Both Hawke and Phoenix make their movie debuts. Hawke had never acted before, and wasn’t even auditioning. He brings a nervy innocence that would be seen to more pronounced effect in Dead Poets Society. Phoenix’s geek is atypical casting; Dante has recounted how cool kid River was akin to Clark Kent, slipping out of his natural persona. Presson is also very good, but appears to have given up acting in the late ‘90s. Dante regular Picardo, possibly seen to best effect in the director’s subsequent film Innerspace, improvised many of Wak’s lines.


Dante observed that an episode of Amazing Stories did a similar plot to Explorers in only half an hour. Certainly, when I revisited the movie one of my thoughts was that the twist of the third act is very similar to the sort of thing you’d expect from an anthology series. Stretched to feature length. Yet recognising the failures of Explorers is no impediment to savouring its successes. As ever with Dante, there’s a uniqueness of vision and joie de vivre that are irresistible. It may have been a miserable experience for him making Explorers, and it may be that his big theme goes under-developed, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie willing to take a comparable trajectory. That a major studio picture changes direction and tone so completely is something of a miraculous feat. You’re slightly stunned that he was enabled to do that. It’s both Exporers’ strength and its weakness.



Comments

  1. Excellent article. I have always loved this movie and you explained so much of why it seemed disjointed...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks EdO. It's a shame there's negligible chance of getting a Director's Cut.

      Delete
  2. I continue to love this movie, although the ending begged for a sequel-coming-soon. Of course when a movie gets four daily plays on cable just months after its release, that frequently means it didn't make money.. There would be no sequel. Quite amazing how the uber-innocent Ethan grew into a foxy rugger-type. He's not an actor I search out, yet usually keeps hold of my attention. Reality Bites movie comes quickly to mind.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.