THE SOUNDBOARD STEREO: Shrinking, Shooters & Shells With Shoes

Poster for Ant Man And The Wasp: Quantumania

Ant Man And The Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Dir. by Peyton Reed

As so much of the criticism of this film has boiled down to, it’s very different from the other two Ant Man entries. What were the lighter, more small-scale branch of the MCU’s ever-sprawling mythos has taken the cues of its siblings in going way bigger, and ultimately more in line with the rest as a whole. That’s not a bad thing though; some of the previous identity may have been sanded down (the bookending segments do land with some tonal whiplash as a result), but it’s as competent a romp as the MCU typically delivers. It’s the cast that continues to stand tall, and besides one or two baffling inclusions—as far as stunt-casting in these goes, Bill Murray for the character he plays is among the most egregious—the core roster in uniformly solid, now with Kathryn Newton bringing similar, seamless energy to her role. But that’s all window-dressing for what, by now, everyone knows as the main event—Jonathan Majors’ Kang The Conqueror, with a scene-stealing gravity that’s absolutely undeniable. As the franchise’s Big Bad for the next few years to come, you couldn’t ask for a better (proper) debut. It does make up for the CGI overload that is the Quantum Realm; it’s largely fine but noticeable, and especially in the case of M.O.D.O.K, tows the line of what they can really get away with. (If anything, leaning into the more grotesque design of the character in the comics would’ve been way better.) They aren’t derailing gripes though, in what’s a more Star Wars-esque inclusion in many ways that does have the same grandeur in spectacle, even if it’s the same comfort-food blockbuster that every one of them is. • LN

Poster for Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (2022)

Dir. by Dean Fleischer Camp

While the field of animation is dominated by some of the biggest corporations in the film industry, it’s a strong contender for the most creative area of filmmaking. Imaginations are free to run boundlessly wild, but it’s always interesting to see otherwordly characters collide with the human world. This is the main plot of Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, the titular Marcel being a one-inch tall shell whose family lived in a house alongside humans completely unaware of their existence, before needing to rely on humans when he’s split up from the majority of his family. The regular beats of such a story, like teaching Marcel and his grandma Connie how technology and human life works, have been played out hundreds of times in hundreds of films before it, but there’s so much individuality and untouchable charm in this that nothing feels overtly tried and tested. What could be a simple, childlike story of a little creature trying to find his family is given so much weight, facing existentialism, the issue of just how fleeting time and relationships in a multitude of different ways. Jenny Slate provides the perfect voice for Marcel, his eloquent, irreverent ramblings channeled through a nasally baby voice that would be completely ridiculous in any other context. This film is a wonderful balance of quirkiness and appealing to the wants and needs of every person watching, and it’s one that only the heartless won’t appreciate. • GJ

Box art for Goldeneye 007

Goldeneye 007

Originally on N64; played on Nintendo Switch

Can you believe it? A game heralded as one of the defining first-person shooters of all time—released 26 years ago now—has aged? For clarity’s sake, the version we played here was the recent port to the Switch, though the point still stands even when using a regular controller, and not the monstrosity the N64 was played with. The controls are the sticking point after all, which feel completely alien compared to the games of its ilk that succeeded it. Yes, that’s complaining about a game that’s undoubtedly been iterated upon in the quarter-century since its release, but it never feels comfortable to both move and aim with the same control stick. You don’t get the sort of accuracy that games like this really need, and while there’s a sense of forgiveness about that in terms of gameplay, it’s still a very odd style that doesn’t play well. Especially on a standard controller setup, you often feel like you’re ambling through maps just trying to get a straight shot, let alone complete any sort of objective. If nothing else, there’s still an appreciation to be had for Goldeneye 007. It was a pretty revolutionary step for console shooters, after all, and as far as movie tie-ins go, there’s at least something to it compared to the shovelware churned out in similar circumstances. It’s just grown in a weird way, not helped by an unoptimised port that magnifies some already present jank even further. It’s got history and stories to tell, but you can’t help but wonder how embellished they are these days. • LN

Logo for The Villain Was Right podcast

The Villain Was Right podcast

There are plenty of films where the villain is generally agreed to be morally in the right by the general public (or at least having some good points to make even if their plan’s execution raises some eyebrows); take environmental warrior Thanos in the Avengers films or the long suffering exes of High Fidelity’s awful Rob. In their podcast The Villain Was Right, comedians Craig Fay and Rebecca Reeds pick apart movies from the so-called evil’s perspective in hilarious fashion, often finding that more often than not, they’re not all bad. There are always laughs to be found in such a format (any time a Disney film is put under the microscope of logic is a guaranteed winner), but some of the more outside the box episodes sit among the highlights. Defending Bruce the shark from Jaws becomes an impassioned defence of all sharkkind from Reeds, Babe the pig is labelled an out-and-out scammer in his quest for sheep herding victory, and Death themselves, swindled by clueless teenagers, is given the benefit of the doubt for their role in the Final Destination franchise. The Villain Was Right is a genius concept that serves to vindicate and convert film fans, and Fay and Reeds (with their respective “spreadsheet and wildcard” roles) serve as the perfect guides to morals in cinema. • GJ

Poster for National Treasure: Edge Of History season 1

National Treasure: Edge Of History (S1) (2022-2023)

Look, for all the dog-piling that went into this show since inception, and somewhat unjustifiably so in its intent—you aren’t getting Nicholas Cage to cameo in a streaming TV series; get over it—it’s hard not to say that some of the skepticism wasn’t right. The National Treasure films aren’t high art but they’re at least fun watches, something that this continuation / spin-off / side-story / vaguely connected thing in the same universe struggles to get pretty routinely. The new cast are generally…fine, and hit the beats that are asked of them well enough. Lisette Olivera’s lead Jess probably fares the best as a precocious wannabe FBI agent, albeit exclusively on the basis that she gets the most screen time. There really isn’t anything else too captivating or magnetic about this crop of leads; hell, in terms of Jake Austin Walker’s Liam, he does tip into anti-charisma far more than he should, especially in his breathy, cloying musical numbers of which he regrettably has multiple. It’s no shock that the most experienced actors end up carrying it; Catherine Zeta Jones has a quiet confidence as the main antagonist that’s pretty good throughout, and despite only really being in the first episode, Harvey Keitel reprising his role from the films makes for a genuinely strong addition. Beyond that though, the story feels like boilerplate beats stitched together in an attempt to make a shifting, far-flung adventure, only to feel exactly as lumpen and lumbering as such as concept sounds on paper. If you want to compare to the concurrently-airing Willow in that regard, you definitely can, but at least that show made a few swings for the fences that left some kind of impression. That’s allegedly getting another season, and good for it; with Edge Of History, it’ll be a miracle if there’s more to come from this. • LN

Artwork for Kelsea Ballerini’s ‘Rolling Up The Welcome Mat’

Kelsea Ballerini

Rolling Up The Welcome Mat

Subject To Change saw Kelsea Ballerini in a state of flux towards the end of 2022, something that owed more to tabloid speculation than the content of the album itself. News of Ballerini’s divorce from fellow country singer Morgan Evans was made public just a month before the record’s release, its lyrics falling on the more optimistic side of the situation and decidedly avoiding the nitty-gritty. It stayed that way until Valentine’s Day, when the singer surprise-dropped EP (and accompanying short film) Rolling Up The Welcome Mat, twenty minutes of pure reflective catharsis. There are glimmers of anger on the EP’s stream-of-consciousness interlude and poppiest cut Blindsided, but for the most part these songs are ballads free of many bells and whistles. Songwriting-wise, this is Ballerini at her strongest too. She doesn’t waste a lyric, sprinkling in small but vivid details (ranging from scenic to direct responses to her ex’s own breakup songs) and smart wordplay (Just Married’s description of newlywedstransitioning to being just marriedthe shining example) to make anyone listening a fly on the wall to her relationship breakdown. Rolling Up The Welcome Mat is (from a superficial perspective) made more interesting by the peripheral celebrity gossip angle, but as its own product, this is an exorcism and reflection desperately needed by Kelsea Ballerini, and absolutely some of her best work to date. • GJ

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

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