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Starts today in the Triangle:

LOVE GILDA (Dir. Lisa Dapolito, 2018)


Former actress Lisa Dapolito’s full length feature debut is a fine primer to the life and career of comedy goddess Gilda Radner (1946-1989), who as we hear the voice of David Letterman say at the outset “was the very first chosen for the cast of Saturday Night Live.” But while it works as an overview for newcomers to Radner, folks who grew up with the woman’s work may find that it glosses over too many details to really be the thorough and essential portrait that she deserves.

Largely narrated by Radner herself via audiotapes she had recorded while writing her 1989 autobiography “It’s Always Something,” and various interviews; LOVE GILDA touchingly also features some of her many modern day disciples such as Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and Melissa McCarthy reading from her diaries.

As images of Radner and her notebook handwriting animatedly fill the screen, we see her go from being a chubby kid living in Detroit that loved to play act (“I’d be glued to the television, and then I’d go act out things like it in the backyard”) to becoming a stage performer in Toronto getting her first major job in a 1972 production of the religious musical “Godspell,” the cast of which included Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Paul Shaffer.

After stints in the Second City improvisational troupe, and the National Lampoon Radio Hour, Radner’s big break was, of course, joining the line-up of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 1975. 


Her popular characters such as Weekend Update commentators, the confused, elderly Emily Litella (Radner: “I was the first one to ever say bitch on television, and the censors let me do it because they said it was a nice, sweet old lady saying it”), and the obnoxious, big-haired Roseanne Roseannadanna, along with Patti Smith-esque punk rocker Candy Slice, and Barbara Walters parody, Baba Wawa, made her famous and won her an Emmy.

Along the way we see that Gilda dated a lot – she once complained that it was hard to watch GHOSTBUSTERS because she had dated each of its three leads – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis. She also had an on again/off again relationship with Martin Short in the pre-SNL days (Paul Shaffer: “They were some form of power couple, but it was comedy power”). Her brief first marriage to rock guitarist G.E. Smith goes by in a blur.

Montages of clips from her SNL appearances, merge with many photos of her from the era set to a bouncy disco beat as this was the glitzy late ‘70s entertainingly enough, but when the film comes to Radner’s one woman Broadway show it doesn’t give enough context. As many SNL folks were involved, the production was seen by many to be a competitive effort towards her fellow cast members Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers project to the point in which Paul Shaffer had to choose sides and lost out being in THE BLUES BROTHERS movie.

But this isn’t discussed in this biodoc, nor is that the resulting record and film, GILDA LIVE, flopped. Except for HANKY PANKY, the comic thriller that she made with later husband Gene Wilder in 1982, her film career isn’t given much space either. But in a 90 minute biodoc that’s understandable as her filmography wasn’t that stellar and ended on a sad note with her second collaboration with Wilder, HAUNTED HONEYMOON being a critically lambasted dud.

The last third of the film, dealing with Radner’s fight with ovarian cancer, is unsuprisingly quite sad. If hearing her on tape begging for her health, and bemoaning the loss of her hair doesn’t get you, the video she had made of one of her chemo sessions in which she is as chipper as she can be surely will. Even in the middle of such severe circumstances, Gilda could still come alive and light up a room on camera.

As it’s filled with so many pretty pictures, loving memories, and funny footage of Radner, there’s a lot to love in LOVE, GILDA even if it doesn’t go as deep as this comedy geek would’ve liked. I don’t know if I was hoping for the intense lengthy examination that Judd Apatow did for Garry Shandling (HBO’S THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING) or what *, but what the woman contributed to pop culture certainly could stand up to that sort of scrutiny.

But the bottom line on this film is that it finds Gilda to be forever adorable, and, despite the tragedy of her death at 42, Dapolito’s biodoc offers ample evidence that she had a blast making people laugh throughout her all too short life.

*Radner’s last major appearance was actually on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1988.

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Opening today at an art house near me:

THE WIFE (Dir. Björn Runge, 2018) 


Oscar speculation is high for Glenn Close in her role here as the wife of a famous writer who has just won the Noble Prize for Literature. Jonathan Pryce portrays her husband, the pretentious Professor Joe Castleman, who jumps up and down with his spouse, Joan, on their bed when he gets the news via a phone call in the middle of the night.

The couple fly to Stockholm for the awards ceremony, and on the flight are approached by a sly Christian Slater as journalist Nathaniel Bone, who is determined to be Joe’s biographer. Annoyed, Joe shoes him away, and even discourages him from talking to their son, David (Max Irons) as he returns to his seat.

Amid the parties and intense adulation for Joe, one can sense that something is off about their relationship – much in the way of Close’s subtle reactions to the attention her husband is receiving. David, an aspiring writer himself, feels like his work is largely dismissed by his father, and shows his discomfort at tagging along with his parents to this event.

Bit by juicy bit, we learn through flashbacks in which we see the young Joan, played by Annie Starke, as a writing student at Smith College. Her professor Joe (Harry Lloyd) recognizes Joan’s talent, and it’s obvious that she’s the one with the gift as he leaves his marriage for her, and she helps him complete his first novel or basically fixes it as she notes that his characters are wooden and his dialogue unconvincing.

Slater’s Nathaniel suspects this, and over drinks with Joan, tests out his theory. We also learn of Joe’s affairs over their 40-year relationship, and how Joan looked the other way.

Close’s performance is stoic yet layered as Joan maneuvers through her husband’s world of critical praise as the Noble ceremonies go on, and her discomfort is palpable when she listens to Joe’s acceptance speech in which he says “Without this woman, I am nothing” and attempts to paint a picture of her as his most valued muse. This disgusts her and she leaves the building with her bemused husband following, hoping to get her to come back.

It’s a “behind every great man, there’s a woman” scenario, but the man here, portrayed by Pryce in one of his finest roles, is far from great. The premise involving the long suffering lady being the real one responsible with the work that has given her lover great acclaim has been explored before in such films as IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, BARTON FINK, and, more recently, BIG EYES, but THE WIFE doesn’t tread over the same ground as it has its own elegant, thoughtful, and at times an acidic approach, one that makes for absorbing emotional drama. 

Based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 book of the same name, Jane Anderson’s sharp screenplay tells a tale of resentment lurking under a highly cultivated facade, and Close plays every note with poise, grace, and an inner, yet detectable, sense of what Joan has gone through in her life, and how she finally needs to confront it.

Close definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar this time; it’s hard to believe she’s been previously nominated six times and has never won (that’s more noms without a win than any other actor). Her performance as Joan Castleman here is so masterful that it’ll be impossible for the Academy to ignore.

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Film Babble Blog by Daniel Cook Johnson - 1M ago
These two vastly different movies open today at multiplexes (and some art houses in PUZZLE’s case) near us all:

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
(Dir. Brian Henson, 2018) 


This movie, directed by a son of Jim Henson no less, about felt getting filthy, is getting savaged by critics but it’s not really that bad. It’s a premise that’s not exactly new – i.e. underneath the warm and fuzzy front is the sleazy, foul mouthed, and raunchy side of show biz * – but it has its moments largely due to its cast made up of Melissa McCarthy, puppeteer Bill Barretta, Joel McCale, Maya Rudolph, and Elizabeth Banks.

The plot revolves around the serial killings of a ‘80s TV show, The Happytime Gang, which Barretta voicing the burnt out private detective Phil Phillips is partnered with McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards to investigate.

Now it’s a pretty standard film noir-ish scenario which isn’t very interesting on its own, but it moves along briskly aided by a bunch of crude sight gags and tossed off one-liners. 

There are good some good ideas batted about such as the bigotry that puppets face from humans but it really doesn’t do much with that, and I wish the material was more inspired than jokes like the “asshole says ‘what?’” running gag that was old when it was used in WAYNE’S WORLD two decades ago, but for a throwaway comedy in these dog days of summer, I’ve seen a lot worse.

* Some folks are crying that this movie is a rip-off of Peter Jasckson’s MEET THE FEEBLES, which incidentally is on YouTube in its entirety right now. You’re welcome.

And now for something completely different:

PUZZLE (Dir. Marc Turtletaub, 2018) 


Kelly Macdonald (TRAINSPOTTING, GOSFORD PARK, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MAN) is superb in this story of a lonely woman finding her niche by putting together jigsaw puzzles with an eccentric Indian inventor (Irrfan Khan *).

Macdonald portrays Agnes, an awkward Connecticut housewife, with two college aged sons (Bubba Weiler and Austin Abrams), and a mechanic husband (David Denham, best known as Roy, Pam’s ex-fiancé on The Office US), who is given a 1000-piece puzzle of a world map for her birthday, and finds that she has a skill for putting it together quickly.

Agnes visits a puzzle shop in New York to buy more puzzles and sees a flier that says “Champion desperately seeking puzzle partner.” She takes home the number in one of the film’s most charming moments she texts “Hi. My name is Agnes. I think I might be good at this. Puzzles I mean.” Her nervousness is priceless here as it’s her first text ever as she was just given an iPhone by her son for her birthday.

Agnes soon meets up with Robert (Khan), who lives in a spacious apartment in the city, and they pull their puzzle-making talents together for a shot in a competition. Agnes keeps that she’s going to work on puzzles with Robert secret from her husband, telling him she’s going to help her Aunt who broke her leg a few times a week. As one might guess, a romance develops between Agnes and Robert, whose poetic philosophy regarding puzzles makes Agnes swoon (hey, it won me over too), but it’s handled with such poignant precision that nothing cringe-worthy happens.

PUZZLE is a quiet, lovely film with a gentle, thoughtful screenplay by Oren Moverman (JESUS’ SON, I’M NOT THERE, LOVE AND MERCY). Macdonald, who should really be a household name, puts is a highly affecting performance in service of an ultimately uplifting story in which all the pieces fit together perfectly (the movie is called PUZZLE so, of course, I’m gonna work in a line like that).

So the bottom line on these two new movies is that unless you’re looking for cheap laughs, skip the filthy puppets and seek out PUZZLE. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

* Khan is also an actor who should be a household name - he's done many films for Bollywood, Britain, and Hollywood including roles in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, LIFE OF PI, and JURASSIC WORLD. A film that I highly recommend of his is THE LUNCHBOX (read my review).

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Film Babble Blog by Daniel Cook Johnson - 1M ago


Last night was my final shift working at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh.

A little back story: I first started working at the Colony Theater, owned by Ambassador Entertainment, in late 2009. I had previously worked at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill throughout most of the 2000’s, but quit when I got married and moved to Raleigh earlier that year.

It must also be noted that the Varsity was closing down then, which I wrote about in this blog post: My Last Night At The Varsity Theater & THE HANGOVER (June 4, 2009).

The Varsity later re-opened later that year which I also blogged about: The Historic Varsity Theater In Chapel Hill NC Is Reopening! (October 26, 2009) and Visiting The New Varsity Theater On The Verge Of Its Reopening (November 23, 2009).

So I began working at the Colony Theater in December, 2009, and worked at their sister theater, the Rialto, shortly after. Sometimes I worked at both theaters on the same day; many Fridays I worked matinees at the Colony, then went to work the evening shift at the Rialto.

Sadly, the Colony closed in late 2015. The empty space and blank marquee still remains to this day in the shopping center it was in to this day.



After that, I continued to work at the Rialto, but am leaving now to pursue other opportunities (more on those in future blog posts). I will miss the Rialto greatly as I’ve worked with great people there, and seen many great movies via their first run roster of indies, foreign films, documentaries, and the revival series Monday at the Movies and Cinema Inc.

This last summer has been a great one for the theater as they’ve shown three superlative docs: RBG (about iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (about iconic children’s TV show host Fred Rogers), THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (read my review here), and Spike Lee’s excellent BLACKKKLANSMAN (read my review here).


BLACKKKLANSMAN is the movie that was playing on my last night at the 76-year old movie palace, so I highly appreciated that my final shift was in service of a great film (my last movie at the Varsity nearly a decade ago – THE HANGOVER – wasn’t so great a film to leave on).

Here’s a pic of the audience waiting to see Lee’s latest on my last night:


I’ll still visit the Rialto and my friends there, and I’ll still post pictures of its great marquee on this blog. It’s such a grand venue; a real historic part of Raleigh that I hope will be around a long time.

In weeks to come, I’ll update you dear readers (I’m betting there’s more than one of you) with my new adventures and continue spreading Film Babble Blog goodness as I’m still going to be involved heavily with the world of movies.

Farewell Rialto! Thanks so much for all the movie memories!
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Opening today at an art house near me:

BLACKKKLANSMAN (Dir. Spike Lee, 2018) 


Believe the hype – Spike Lee’s newest joint is an instant classic and among his best films including DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, 25TH HOUR, and INSIDE MAN.

It’s been quite a while since he’s made a truly relevant movie, but this true story adaptation of former police detective Ron Stallworth’s 2014 book about infiltrating the Klu Klux Klan in the ‘70s may be his most relevant movie ever.

Stallworth, sharply portrayed by John David Washington (son of Denzel), was the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, and we follow his rise in the ranks to the Intelligence Unit. Stallworth’s first assignment is to go undercover to observe the crowd reaction to a speech by ex-Black Panther member Stokely Carmichael, who had just changed his name to Kwame Ture.

At the event Stallworth has a meet cute with student activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), and asks Ture (Corey Hawkins) if he really thinks a race war is coming. “Arm yourself, brother, ‘cause the revolution is comin,’” Ture strongly stresses.

Stallworth comes upon an ad for the KKK in the newspaper, and calls the number on a classic black rotary phone that gets some dramatic close-ups to find himself talking to a recruiter saying that he hates blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Irish, Italians, and Chinese, “but my mouth to God’s ears, I really hate those black rats, and anyone else really that doesn’t have pure white Aryan blood running through their veins.”

This hate speech gets him invited to meet with members of the local charter, but, of course, he can’t go himself so he gets a fellow cop, Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go in his place and use his name (Stallworth used his real name when calling them because he didn’t know at the time that there would be an investigation).

Zimmerman or Stallworth #2 meets with some scary redneck types played by Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, and Jasper Pääkkönen, who suspects that their new recruit might be Jewish, and even tries to get him to take a lie detector test.

There are a number of likewise close scrapes where the detectives’ covers almost get blown including one riveting segment in which Washington’s Stallworth is assigned to be security for KKK Grand Wizard David Duke played with polished smarm by Topher Grace.

While the love interest was fabricated – the character Harrier plays is fictitious – what went down is reportedly accurate in this excellent film that’s part tense thriller, part powerful drama, and part history lesson. Being a Spike Lee Joint it has its fair share of well placed humor, but it’s too serious minded to get very silly.

It’s striking but not surprising that much of the rhetoric used by Duke and the other Klansmen is largely identical to the racist utterings of our current commander-in-chief, and his slogans such as “America first,” and “Make America Great Again.” There’s even a moment where Stallworth is confounded by the idea that someone with this bigoted ideology could someday be elected President.

Lee arranged for this film to be released on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tragic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a counter protester, Heather Heyer, was killed. The movie ends as a tribute to Heyer, and we’re left with the horrifying thought that this shit is still happening with the flames being fanned by the asshole in the highest office in the land.

Lee knows that this story doesn’t need any flashy stylistic touches so he mostly plays it straight via cinematographer Chayse Irvin’s solid camerawork, but he does include some titled angle split screens, and he busts out one of his trademarked moves – the dolly shot - towards the end and it kills. He also employs his trusty longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard to provide the film’s often stirring score.

BLACKKKLANSMAN is a vital, piercing piece of work that is one of the best films of the year so far and will hopefully get some awards season action, especially since Lee really deserves to get something more than that Honorary Oscar he got a few years back. But more importantly this movie deserves big audiences and to be in the national conversation. I know he doesn’t want to call it a comeback, but, dammit, I’m really glad that Lee has returned with the goods.

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Now playing at an art house near me:
 
THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS
(Dir. Tim Wardle, 2018) 


It’s been a great summer for documentaries. On the heels of the excellent Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Fred Rogers docs, comes this terrific tale of triplets that were separated at birth in 1961, had no idea of the others’ existence, and, by chance, found each other when they were 19 in 1980.

It started when Robert Shafran, on his first day at Sullivan County College in upstate New York and was warmly greeted by many fellow students who called him Eddy. Eddy Galland had attended the school the previous year. One of Eddy’s friends, Michael Domnitz, deduced that they were brothers, and they contacted Eddy and arranged a meeting.

The story of the re-united brothers makes national headlines, and a third twin, Queens College student David Gellman, sees their picture in the newspaper and gets in touch with them. The trio become fast friends, they make the talk show rounds (clips of them on Donahue and being interviewed by Tom Brokaw are prominently featured), have a cameo in a Madonna movie (DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN), and even open a New York restaurant named Triplets.

But after the feel good montage of the brothers partying it up in the Big Apple set to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” (of course) fades, things get a bit dark. Turns out that none of the respective adoptive parents knew that their children had siblings, and we learn that the triplets were part of a psychological experiment in which they were filmed, monitored, and documented under the guise of a child development study.

This revelation causes another pair of twins to find one another – two sisters who were both film students when they met among other similarities.

Shafran and Gellman appear in newly filmed interviews conducted by director Wardle alongside family members, friends, and New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, whose research provides insights into the case, despite the study on the brothers having never been published, and the files are sealed until 2066.

It may be a spoiler to tell what happened to the third brother, Galland, even if it’s well reported online, so I’ll just cease my description of the narrative right here in case you want to go in unspoiled.

The endlessly fascinating THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS that takes one on a highly emotional ride. It’s a well constructed work via Michael Harte’s fluid editing, and how its subjects guide the viewer through the testimonials without narration.

Containing more twists and turns than most thrillers, this is a must see documentary that deserves big audiences.

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DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT
(Dir. Gus Van Sant, 2018) 


Once again, Joaquin Phoenix puts in an outstanding performance in a film very few people are likely to see.

This touching, and funny adaptation of the memoir of controversial cartoonist John Callahan is only playing at a handful of theaters in my area (the Triangle in N.C.) so it’ll probably come and go under most moviegoers’ noses and that’s a shame.

Callahan (1951-2010) was a Portland, Oregon-based hippy who became a quadriplegic after a drunken automobile accident in 1972. We learn about his life via an array of different threads including Phoenix’s Callahan as the speaker at a college event, giving a confessional at a AA meeting, and showing his ink-drawn cartoons to a group of kids who come to his aid when he falls out of his wheelchair in the street.

The film flashes back to the 21-year old Callahan’s last day when he could walk before the accident in Los Angeles, in which he parties hard with a mustached, side-burned Jack Black as Dexter, a guy he had just met at a party.

They leave that party to head to what Dexter says is a better party, stopping at a bar along the way to get even more wasted. The drunk duo drive around aimlessly, ride a rollercoaster at an amusement park, puke, and pass out – well, Callahan passes out while Dexter at the wheel of Callahan’s Volkswagen Bug smashes into a light pole at 90 mph.

Callahan comes to and is told by a doctor that he’s possibly paralyzed for life, and he goes through the various stages of his physical recovery in which a blonde, short-haired Rooney Mara with a Swedish accent shows up for some reason – she might be his massage therapist, I dunno - to tell him he’s very good looking.

Then we’ve got a slimmed-down Jonah Hill with long blonde hair who’s great as Callahan’s sponsor, Donnie, who lives in a lavish mansion he inherited where he holds support group meeting. In a few of the movie’s best scenes, Callahan gets to know his fellow recovering alcoholics like Beth Ditto as the outspoken Reba, Mark Webber as the angry Mike, and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon as the acerbic Corky (another indie rock icon, Sleater Kinney and Portandia’s Carrie Brownstein appears as Callahan’s case worker).

But despite Donnie and the group, Callahan still drinks, but around the film’s halfway mark he has an epiphany where he has a vision of his mother (Mireille Enos) that had abandoned him when he was a kid and this inspires him to change his ways.

Callahan starts to scribble crude cartoons with edgy captions, and, as he later tells his audience at the aforementioned speaking engagement, he realized that he “should’ve been a cartoonist, a gag man, all along.” Throughout the narrative, Callahan’s black and white cartoons, one of which the title of the film comes from, get a bit of the animation treatment, but it doesn’t come off as too gimmicky. 


Rooney, now a flight attendant, pops up again for some romance with Phoenix’s Callahan, but the rest of the film mostly concerns his getting recognition for his cartoons when they are published by such notable outlets as the New Yorker, Penthouse, and Playboy, and many newspapers. Some folks don’t take too kindly to the taboo teasing nature of his work, so they are many complaint letters and people telling him off in public but he develops a thick skin and perseveres.

And that’s what this fine film, one of Gus Van Sant’s most personal works, is about – persevering. It could have been a cheesy inspirational biodoc – Robin Williams was originally slated to play Callahan and it could’ve been another PATCH ADAMS - but with Phoenix’s invested performance, its excellent cast, and its sincere, unpretentious approach via Van Sant’s very thoughtful screenplay, DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT is a strong drama dealing with addiction and overcoming disabilities while finding oneself in the process. The laughs that come through Callahan's cartoons are the icing on the cake.

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Opening tonight at a multiplex near us all:
(Dir. Christopher McQuarrie, 2018)


These movies are getting better and better. It’s true, the sixth installment of the 22-year old series based on an over 50-year old TV show is the best one yet.

It starts with a stellar pre-opening credits sequence largely set in Berlin in which Ethan Hunt (a 56-year old Tom Cruise, looking like he’s 40), and his returning IMF (Impossible Missions Force) crew made of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) attempt to retrieve three plutonium cores from a terrorist group called the Apostles (an offshoot of the Syndicate from the previous M:I film, ROGUE NATION).

They fail to get the plutonium, but were able to capture weapons expert Soloman Lane (Sean Harris, reprising his role from RN), and, joined by Henry Cavill as a CIA operative, travel to Paris to again try to capture the plutonium from the Apostles.

Of course, right away, we (or I) suspect Cavill’s character to be John Lark, the leader of the Apostles as his identity is unknown, but he tells CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) that he thinks Hunt has turned and he is Lark. Now, this is quite a leap for us to buy that the protagonist of a six entry series has now become the bad guy, but it’s a plot point that works and leads to something the franchise does best – a satisfying fake-out.

IMF Director Alan Hunley (the also returning from RN) Alec Baldwin, gets out of the office and into the field with the team for the Paris mission which involves Hunt in a killer motorcycle and car chase around the Arc de Triomphe.

The action moves to London where a rooftop foot chase (always got to have one of those), in which Hunt is shown a picture of his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and told that her life is threatened.

Then we move on to Kashmir (globetrotting) where Hunt and his team, along with the also returning Rebecca Ferguson as former MI6 agent Isla Faust, try to de-activate the bombs before they kill billions of people. This involves an incredible helicopter chase in which Hunt fights to get the detonator from the bad guys.

Sure, there are contrivances – the goons always being bad shots in the shoot-outs, and a 15-minute countdown taking a lot longer than 15 minutes among them – but the stakes feel real, and the rush of the spectacle after spectacle is constantly exhilarating.

For sure the best sequel of our current sequel cluttered climate, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT is a cleverly constructed action thriller with a great gritty look, a sharp screenplay, lots of well placed humor, and a bunch of mesmerizing moments that make it more engaging and entertaining than any other action thriller in recent memory. 

Writer/Director McQuarrie, the only director who has made two M:I movies, is getting to be a old hand at making movies with Cruise (he previously directed the actor in JACK REACHER and MI:RN, and wrote the screenplays for VALKRIE, EDGE OF TOMORROW, and THE MUMMY), and this time he really pulls out the stops. 

Cruise, again doing many of his own stunts, once more excels as Hunt, who while mostly confident shows believable fear and worry when in the middle of all the effectively dangerous feeling activity. I’m not sure when he’ll be too old to be doing these movies (he’s almost the age Roger Moore was in his last 007 adventure, A VIEW TO A KILL *), but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be anytime soon.

*Moore was 57, and later said that he was four hundred years too old for the part.

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Now playing at every multiplex from here to the quantum realm:

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP 
(Dir. Payrton, Reed) 


It’s getting harder and harder to write reviews of these Marvel movies. I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over whether I like or dislike whatever newest one.

I note where the newest falls in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), i.e. the subject here, the sequel to 2015’s ANT-MAN here is the 20th film in the franchise, and it comes in the second half of Phase Three of the series.

I run through the cast and premise, i.e. Paul Rudd returns as Scott Land/Ant-Man, but shares equal billing with the also returning Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / Wasp, (who gets to kick a lot of ass), as they try to rescue her mother, Janet van Dyne / the first Wasp (Michele Pfeifer) from being trapped in the quantum realm with the help of a tunnel built by Hope’s father, Hank Pym/the first Ant-Man (Michael Douglas, also back). Lawrence Fishburne, as an old colleague of Pym’s who may not be on the up and up, and Hannah John-Kamen as Ava Starr / Ghost, who can phase through walls ‘n whatnot, round out the busy cast.

I identify the MacGuffin: a laboratory building, encasing a quantum tunnel (Ant-Man: (“Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?) that can be shrunk down to the portable size of a 12-pack box of beer. Hank and Hope want it so they can save Janet; and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a slimy black market dealer wants it because he sees its potential for profit, so it gets thrown around a lot.

I refer to the obligatory tropes: action sequence settings, Stan Lee cameo, tell folks to stay for the end credits stingers, etc.

Sure, many folks will say I’m writing the same review repeatedly because they’re making the same movie repeatedly, but, despite the familiar formulas, I can’t completely agree. This year’s previous Marvel movies, BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR had their inspired, and worthwhile moments, but, yeah, I can concur that there’s a lot of predictable Marvel material here.

I enjoyed quite a bit of ANT-MAN’s second adventure (or third if you count his part in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR). Rudd charms his way through it – a scene where Pfeiffer’s Janet takes over his body and talks through him is cute – and there a lot of laughs along the way, many provided by Michael Peña (also from the first one), who now runs a security service named EX-CON, and the effects are flawless.

There’s a lot of fun in watching Rudd shrink (a bit where he masquerades as a kid at his daughter’s elementary school made me giggle), and get huge in the climatic chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco, but I doubt those parts will really stick in my memory.

So there it is, even with its fair share of laughs and thrills, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is as fun as it is forgettable.

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Opening tonight at a multiplex near everybody:

INCREDIBLES 2 (Dir. Brad Bird, 2018) 


At the screening of this long awaited sequel, there was a mini-featurette before the movie began in which the film’s stars – Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson – stress more than once that while it’s been 14 years since the original, this’ll be well worth the wait. For the most part it is.

Mere months after the events of the first installment, we catch up with the crime-fighting Parr family – Bob/Mr. Incredible (Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowel), Dashiell/”Dash” (Huck Milner), Violet and Jack-Jack Parr (Eli Fucile) – as they are trying to thwart a bank robbery by the returning supervillain, the Underminer (voiced by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger).

This results in a pretty thrilling, funny and gorgeously animated opening sequence involving the Incredibles, with the help of the icy touch of Lucius Best/Frozone (Jackson), pulling together to stop a ginormous drilling machine from reaching its Metro Bank destination, and the follow-up is off to a great start.

Things settle down a bit when the premise is introduced by a couple of new characters, telecommunications CEO Winston Deavor (a slick Bob Odenkirk), and his tech saavy sister, Evelyn (a more energetic than usual Catherine Keener). The Deavors wants to arrange a campaign that will make the use of super powers legal again, and recruit Elastigirl to go off and fight crime in the dangerous city of New Urbrem, while Bob stays home to take care of the kids to his great disappointment.

But while stranded at home, Bob learns that Jack-Jack has an array of super powers (17, he says at one point) including being able to shoot lasers out of his eyes, teleport through walls, turn himself into fire, and change into a scary red monster (sort of a like a fiery Tazmanian Devil) if he’s denied a cookie.

Since Odenkirk’s Winston is such an unabashed fanboy of the Incredibles who knows the words to all of their individual theme songs, he stands out as a candidate for the film’s secret bad guy, but gladly screenwriter Bird knows that would be too obvious.

As for the film’s up front villain, there’s the Screenslaver, dressed in black with big goggles like a cartoon Kylo Renn, who can hypnotize people through their screens. There’s also the thread that the secret baddie (I won’t Spoil their identity) has devised glasses that control the wearer in order to frame them doing acts of evil.

That’s a pretty predictable plotline that’s been done to death, but the action and laughs come so fast and frenetically in the film’s last third, which is set on runaway ship headed to crash into New Urbrem, that it really doesn’t get in the way of the extreme entertainment factor.

Sure, the overall world of the INCREDIBLES doesn’t feel as fresh as it did in 2004 (still looks really cool though), but despite its formulaic flaws, it’s a joy to spend time with these characters again on another fast paced ride. INCREDIBLES 2 is a solid sequel that should please the many big fans of the first one, as it did a casual fan like me. Thanks for the update, Bird, Pixar, and all the great voice talent – see you in another 14 years!

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