Ant-Man & Wasp & The Gilded Age & more!
Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt
This is a pretty breezy somewhat shallow - or I wouldn't call it a deep dive at any rate - nonfiction science book that looks at, well, the gory details per the title, meaning the gross stuff about the human body or things like eating bugs or the history of necrophilia etc. If you've read Mary Roach, then you're familiar with this sort of book (and if you haven't and you enjoy entertainingly written science-y books, then you will certainly enjoy her). What I'm calling the shallowness stems from the fact that the chapters are short because (I think) the book is essentially an expanded version of the author's prior articles from her blog. However, that doesn't mean they're not researched, just that she hits on a topic, talks about its history and some interviews she did on it plus (usually) her own interactive experience (like eating the bugs mentioned above) then onto the next topic. I liked the book but I also felt to an extent that it was a bit juvenile, not that it was written for kids, but rather the notion of being ooked out by certain topics and ugh, mucus, gross just felt kind of childish to me. Again, this isn't a bad book and it's interesting and informative enough but, I don't know, if you're picking up a book like this you're probably not super squeamish and so tonally I wasn't really into it sometimes, though then again like I mentioned much of this was from her blog which I'm guessing is designed to appeal to a much broader audience. In any event, if you like this sort of stuff, it's a very fast read - the chapters are super short, there are tons of factoids and amusing-enough incidents, and the writing keeps it all moving along. Look to be fair here about personal preference: I like my science books to be deep but not dry - Stephen Pinker's books on evolutionary psychology and language for example hit that bill in that there's a ton of depth but nothing a layperson like moi can't read - so this lighter science writing isn't really my thing. That being said, I still enjoyed it so if it is your thing you should probably add it to your list.
Outer Banks (Season 1):
This show, basically a CW teen drama (though on Netflix) about high-schoolers chasing gold lost in a shipwreck while also dealing with all kinds of financial and relationship issues, is in what I'm formally dubbing the "kinda" category. It's kinda addictive but, because it's often kinda dumb and kinda contrived, it's also kinda annoying with characters who are drawn with a kinda blunt good/evil pen which all adds up to a show where I think I'm kinda gonna watch season 2 though I'm kinda not sure. Look, it's a big teen soap but instead of being set in a school situation like its progenitors (The O.C., Gossip Girl, the atrocious One Tree Hill, Vampire Diaries but without vampires, etc.), it's essentially a bunch of impoverished kids somewhat on their own in an otherwise rich town off the North Carolina coast. The underlying notion of the show - teens hunting for lost treasure while also being teens (romance, backstabbing, etc.) while being thwarted by rich adults after the same treasure - really isn't a bad setup because you can kinda imagine the combo of soap and action that that setup could generate. The problem, and all the kinda-ness, is that the show seems in a huge rush to get the plot to a specific point by the end of the first season (being vague to avoid spoilering) and as a result jams in some ridiculous absurdities that it really just demands you swallow without even being polite enough to say please (by which I mean the hotness level is pretty middling). For example - and this was episode 1 or maybe 2 so I'm not calling it a spoiler - two strangers come to town and more or less immediately begin shooting at and chasing these teens, sometimes on boats, sometimes in a car in the middle of town... and no one (other than chased teens) has any reaction nor does anything happen nor is it really explained why anyone thought the best way for these two particular bad guys to get what they wanted was to become public murderers nor, once you find out what they wanted from the teens, is it really explained why there was such murderous urgency to get the thing the bad guys wanted. So not only are we asked to swallow a world where all that could happen without consequence, but also to accept that it was a lot of sturm und drang for not much, meaning the writers made up fake action/tension for plot points that didn't merit it and added a heaping mountain of unreality for the payoff of, what, feeling like a lot is going on or something? This is really the problem with the whole show. It doesn't want to settle down and, say, do a slow-burn with some of the romantic relationships or have a family situation that gets progressively worse before blowing up, but rather does it all at once, like two people spend a day together and by the end they're b/g-friends and in love. Also, as far as I can tell, everyone's straight and, given that the cast is supposedly all GenZers (though really some of them look late 20s to me), it just seems really out of touch with current cultural reality and a missed opportunity (though perhaps addressed in later seasons who knows) to see how that cultural shift is being played out in places like rich conservative enclaves as opposed to in more urban areas where a lot of other shows play that out. On the one hand, I watched while paying attention; on other, the show kept introducing such plot absurdities over and over and over (think things like: a van being driven onto a runway while a plane is taking off and the plane defying all laws of physics in order brake and stop two feet from the van - see? the writers tried to create tension and drama but at the expense of reality in a way that I found to be jarring like, yeah, I know you needed the lead character to stop the plane, got it and that that character has limited resources but... really, that's your best? (my fear is maybe it really is the writer rooms' best).). BTW if any of this were done with a sense of fun, like the writers knew how OTT it was and were creating something specific, I might have bought into that tone (maybe); but they're trying to pass it off as some kind of reality and it just is such a huge swallow especially when that incident is just of one of, like, ten ridiculous incidents that happen in that episode alone. I don't really understand why the writers are just rushing through all the plot instead of giving relationships time to breathe and plots time to be, you know, plotted so the characters aren't stuck doing things like driving a van onto a runway. There was enough interest that I'll probably watch season 2 at some point in the hopes that the writers watched season 1 and changed things up, though really if it stays this stupid, it'll definitely be downgraded to background noise if not a complete DNF.
ETA: Since writing that review, I tried season 2 and, far from getting better, it got actively worse as in it’s all of the above plus BORING plus to reiterate NOT HOT thus, yeah, DNF’ed. Unless you’re 12 or crave a live action Scooby Doo but with North Carolina teens, you can skip this for sure.
The Gilded Age (Season 1):
This show is Downton Abbey in America and however you felt about that show will be exactly how you feel about this. For me, I loved it and the top-level difference between the two really (other than cosmetic stuff) is whereas Downton was pretty equal upstairs to downstairs I'd say this is more upstairs focused. It's set in late 1800s New York and is primarily about old society (like the Astors) vs new rich upstarts and the younger generation having their own ideas about everything and how dare they! The focus is on one less-wealthy old-guard family (all women) who live across the street from some mega-wealthy newcomers. Everything is all very calm and one of the things I liked most about this show is that, as with Downton, while there are bad people and whatnot, it's overall pretty gentle and, despite the drama and mistakes the characters make, you know it'll all be okay in the end. The show manages to be slow without, to me, ever being boring. I mean the plots aren't exactly thrillers and while they linger from episode to episode, many of them are resolved in the course of an episode and new ones pop up in the next. You're dropping into a somewhat rose-colored world here and I think it's pretty binary whether you'll enjoy being enmeshed in it or find it unbearably dull. Also, as with basically every current show that looks at other eras, it kind of pretends that racism and sexualityism didn't exist or at least our lead characters are fundamentally okay with those differences which I think we all know is totally absurd. One of the lead relationships is a Black/White friendship and I frankly found it to be initially very jarring because the show is set like 20 years after the Civil War and, I don't know, really? And also why/how, as in why/how did the White character become so blase about race unlike everyone else in the country? But in the end it didn't matter (and if you're someone for whom it does matter, you will not like this show) because it was just an entree into another world (non-hipster Brooklyn in this case) and a lens on cultural issues. I haven't discussed the plots at all because, while there are plenty of them, the show is mostly about the pleasure of watching the characters deal with being discombobulated all the while knowing it'll resolve itself soon enough. Really, at the end of the season, I could've happily continued watching another 10, and if you like these sorts of extremely glossy shows which deal with the pleasant quaintness of earlier times with enough modernity to keep you engaged with all the minor dramas, then you will totally enjoy sinking into this one.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Marvel Universe #20) - Well Marvel continues its nonstop promoing that, no matter how much destruction it ends up wreaking on the planet and its inhabitants, White heternormativity is the true superhero, not because it DOES well (as you'll see), but because it MEANS well and that's the important thing no matter how many innocents have to die, right? I note the heteronormativity because I don't think anyone in Marvelworld has ever considered having sex with someone not (a) White, (b) oppositely gendered, (c) encased in metal, and (d) sassy! And if this movie has anything, it's sassy straight White people in metal suits.
Onto the plot. Apparently in the now long-forgotten (by me) previous movie there was some backstory where Michael Douglas' wife sacrificed herself for, I don't know, I'm sure something very important by shrinking herself super super super small and heading to the "quantum realm" which is basically a coral reef put through some kind of colorizing, stretching, and swirling filter aka the absolute laziest VFX seen to date, like it was done on someone's Ipad when they decided it was a nice day out and wanted to work outside then realized the glare blacked out the screen and they thought well fuck it I'm just gonna drag my fingers over this thing at random and make half of it purple later and call it a day. As with most rules in the Marvel Universe, the rules of the quantum realm are deeply unclear, like on the one hand your brain dissolves down there; on the other, not so much! In any event, Paul Rudd is under some kind of completely unenforceable - because he has a friggin' superhero suit - house arrest which I completely didn't understand and added zero to the plot though it did allow for the casting of an Asian person as a buffoon-y FBI (or whatever) agent so there was that. But he is and so there are a series of idiotic scenes in which he slips away to do Ant-Man biz - and by "slips away" I mean (and this was new information) somehow grows to the height of that big Dubai office building and wades into the Hudson River and grabs - literally - a boat but manages to whiz back home in time for his FBI check-in. Additionally, he permanently scars his daughter by using the excuse of being in the tub in order to buy time to run off and do his superhero biz (meaning kill people and destroy property) only she opens the bathroom door only to discover an enormous ant lounging in the tub reading Vanity Fair (I possibly tacked on that last bit) and why he decided to have one of his ant minions lounging in a tub rather than just leaving it empty I have no idea but his did.
In the meantime, someone I've never seen before - which isn't to say they weren't, in fact, in some prior film perhaps even in a leading role - does that thing the dank scraggly-haired lady in The Ring did where she pixelates in and out and walks through things and whatnot and is conveniently either referred to or named Ghost I'm not sure maybe both. I have no idea what she wanted but whatever it was she spent a lot of time getting in the way of what Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd, and the daughter wanted which was in some way to go to the undersea quantum realm and rescue Michelle Pfeiffer aka Michael Douglas' wife. If none of this is sounding like much of a plot, it's because there was no plot - none! In my mind a plot in this sort of movie involves someone wanting something and someone else not wanting that, like "my ponytail and I want to kill all living things and stop time and you don't want me to do that.” This movie, rather, is a series of plot-sidebars, like someone strung together a few hastily-crafted C-plots in the car on the way to a pitch meeting and the execs at Marvel went, "Great shoot that!" before going back to not reading any of the scripts they were financing.
Let's tally the plots up. There's the dumb hiding-from-the-FBI-while-becoming-a-giant-metal-ant-which-I-guess-they'll-never-find-out-about-on-the-nonstop-news-coverage-BECAUSE-THERE’S-A-GIANT-FUCKING-ANT-IN-THE-HUDSON C-plot, which is a plot whose closest sibling is, more or less, Adventures in Babysitting or, if I feel like being stuck in the '80s and am being generous (which is my thing right?) Risky Business or at least the cleanup part at the end before Tom Cruise's parents come home, i.e. lots of antics but get home in time and clean up before the authorities suspect a thing. On thinking of it I'm feeling like calling this a C-plot is once again me going overboard with that generosity; the idiocy of (a) someone who can become quantum mechanics small being under house arrest combined with (b) said person cheerily enacting the charade of said idiocy is, I'm now feeling, a plot that should have resulted in the house arrest of all the writers and executives who allowed it to show up on film along with civil penalties. Sadly the only crime in Hollywood is not making money meaning I'm pretty sure the perps are out there committing a script massacre elsewhere and please stop them.
Let's move on to the C-plot involving some doofus trying to steal Michael Douglas' lab. If there's one area where Marvel should make even a bare modicum of sense but doesn't it's this (and Marvel I understand this logic may totally new for you so you may want to sit down): plain old normal meat-bodied human beings with 2 or 3-piece suits rather than, oh, mega-metal mega-weaponed suits that can, say, shrink one down to the size of a quark or blow one up to the height of the top of a bridge, um - you sitting, Marvel? - aren't actually meaningful threats to superheroes which we know because we've - I’ve - watched 20 some-odd movies with superheroes murdering normal human beings countless times over. So this C-plot, the one where just a normal plain-old but wily car-driving baddie wants to get some shrunken lab from 3 crazy-powered superheroes ISN'T A VIABLE PLOT!
Finally, the the C-plot involving Ghost - who if only she'd been Whoopi Goldberg's ghost from Ghost because at least there would've been entertainment through all the lazy ghosting VFX - and Michelle Pfeiffer also wasn't a plot because in order for it to be a plot you, Marvel writers, would actually need (a) to define Ghost's powers vs suit powers vs quantum mechanics vs OMG I CAN'T KEEP TYPING ABOUT THIS.
Anyway that's the movie. People put on suits, a few other people tangentially step in the path of the suited people, and the end. If anything was shrunken to the quantum realm, it would be logic and even the barest shred of writing effort. But at least everyone of note was a straight White person which I guess counts as a superheroic victory for all those who feel upset at the shift in current power dynamics away from all that which is at this point beginning to feel like an active political statement on Marvel's part (I mean this movie was released 2018 so uh yeah) rather than an oversight. Though then again, given all the plot critique above, maybe oversight isn't so far off the mark.