Ant Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp

 Peyton Reed (2018)

If it bothered anyone that Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man was not among the 6,000 superhero characters involved in this spring’s Avengers: Infinity War, your concerns should be assuaged if you stay past the credits and watch the tail-end of Marvel’s current release, Ant-Man and the Wasp, wherein a connection is made to that earlier movie. But aside from that brief nod, the current film is so much lighter, more playful, and frankly more enjoyable than that previous over-bloated behemoth of a movie, it’s hard to believe they belong in the same universe. But of course, they do: The Marvel Cinematic Universe, to which all components must pay homage, including this, the 20th movie in this galaxy-encompassing franchise.

Like its predecessor, 2015’s original Ant-Man, this film is less a save-the-world mega-drama as it is a domestic family sit-com that involves, yes, a guy with a special suit that gives him unusual powers, but also involves several father-daughter type relationships that play off one another and that require characters to actually have personalities other than simply engaging in a little verbal sparring between set pieces of CGI action scenes. In this it’s less like the Avengersepics than it is those smaller Deadpoolflicks, only with less snark. Peyton Reed returns to direct this sequel to his first movie, and Paul Rudd (who I like to think of as “cousin Paul”) reprises his role as the diminutive crime-fighter and also contributes to the screenplay, as he did in the original. He cobbled the script together with Chris McKenna an Erik Sommers (who teamed up on Spider-Man: Homecoming), Andrew Barrer (Haunt) and Gabriel Ferrari (who produced Haunt)—it’s a wonder with such a posse that the story holds together at all, but it does, which is something of a miracle considering all of its working parts.

Of course, the film isn’t completely self-contained. It isMarvel after all. The movie opens with Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man), fitted with an ankle-bracelet and in his final days under house arrest, where he has been since the events of Captain America: Civil War, after which he was arrested for taking part in “the Cap’s” rebellion against Iron-Man and government oversight. His plea deal involved his retiring his Ant-Man suit and serving this sentence. At home, he has found innovative ways to amuse his daughter (the refreshingly noncloying Abby Ryder Fortson), which include learning to play the drums and to do magic, all under the scrutiny of his parole officer, Agent Woo (a delightful Randall Park), who’s particularly impressed by those magic tricks. Scott is also involved in developing a security business with his favoriteex-con buddy Luis (a hilarious Michael Pena, returning from the original film), intent on “going straight” after his brush with anti-superhero law.

Part of his plea bargain apparently also forbade any contact with the scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), from whom he originally obtained his fantastic suit and size-shifting superpowers, or with Pym’s daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), with whom he had a bit of a romantic fling in the previous film. But after having a bizarre dream in which he revisited the sub-atomic quantum realm he had explored in the previous movie and, strangely, seemed to channel another person’s thoughts, Scott gives his old partners a call. Turns out they’ve just tried to communicate with Pym’s long-lost wife Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who in her secret role of “the Wasp” had gone sub-atomic herself some thirty years ago and has been trapped in the quantum realm ever since. Apparently Pym and Hope now have a chance to save Janet, and Scott’s dream, and his own experience in that subatomic wasteland, also convince them that he holds the key to finding and rescuing poor stranded Janet. But for some reason not completely clear to me (but perhaps it was to the five writers who came up with it) the rescue has to take place, like, right now. So they’ve got to spring Scott from his house arrest and send him back to quantumville to rescue Mom. We just have to pray that we can get all this done within the next 72 hours, because at that point the very suspicious Agent Woo will be popping back in to take Scott’s ankle bracelet off.

Pym and Hope have everything set up to send Scott to subatomic land in their very scientific lab, which they and shrink down into a briefcase-sized box when they need to go somewhere. They can also shrink their cars down to toy size so they don’t have to worry about parking. But they do need one more technological part for their quantum shrinker, which Hope attempts to purchase from a nefarious dealer in stolen high-tech equipment named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins from DjangoUnchainedand The Hateful Eight). But Burch would rather steal herlab, and we quickly learn that Hope has donned her mom’s former secret identity as The Wasp—and thwarts Burch, at least temporarily. But he and his gang continue to harass our heroes as they battle the clock to send Scott on his mission.

And if that’s not enough, they find they have another rival trying to steal their technology: This one is a creepy hooded figure who keeps blurring in and out of focus and who goes by the nickname “Ghost.” This is Ava (Hanna John-Kamen from Ready Player One), who, because of some technological accident years before for which she blames Pym, has been left with a kind of molecular instability that gives her the ability to phase through matter but will shortly prove fatal. Aided by her own father-figure, an old partner and competitor of Pym’s, Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), Ava wants to get hold of Pym’s technology in the hope it can save her own life. It’s a pathetic story, and Ghost is the most sympathetic villain in all this summer’s myriad of superhero movies. You almost want to say, hell with it, let Janet stay in quantum-land, and save this poor girl. How selfish are you guys?

Well, OK, Ghost does get pretty violent, and just as willing to sacrifice everybody else for her own safety as they are to sacrifice hers, and even Foster says he won’t help her if she doesn’t settle down. But in the midst of what is mainly a fun romp of a film, Ghost proves to be a real downer. It’s almost like she thinks she’s in a different movie from everybody else.

Not that this really seems to be a flaw in the film. It’s more of a serious layer that lies under the summer fun-time vibe of the movie in general. To tell you any more would be to engage in spoilers, and there’s no reason for me to do that here. Let me just say that this is an enjoyable movie: Cousin Paul is incredibly personable and charming, and he is at his best in doing that here. Lilly is more than a match for him as the Wasp, and as the two of them engage in quick and clever chase scenes and battles with the baddies, their ability to shrink and swell in size not only themselves but their cars and office buildings as well, is far more visually entertaining than the usual let’s-knock-every-building-we-see-to-the ground-and-cause-a-billion-dollars-worth-of-damage-just-because-we-can philosophy of the run-of-the-mill superhero movie. Add to that the fact that Pfeifer and Fishburne are just so dang delightful to see, and that Pena is once more a riot in his supporting role, and you’ve got one of the summer’s more entertaining movies. Three Tennysons for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Casablanca

Casablanca

Michael Curtiz (1942)

Ruud Rating

4 Shakespeares

Casablanca today is a sprawling, teeming metropolitan area of some nine million people. While it doesn’t approach the huge megalopolises of Lagos or Cairo, it is still among the largest cities in Africa, a far cry from the quaint old town depicted in the famous film of the same name. That movie was filmed in the back lots of Warner Brothers studios, with no one involved in the production ever setting foot in the actual city. But in a bizarre example of life imitating art, there is, just off the harbor in the modern city, not far from the world-famous Hassan II Mosque with its 600-foot minaret, a little white building with the name “Rick’s Café.”

Your first impression, like mine, is probably that this is some purely kitschy tourist trap for Americans and other film buffs whose only context for the city is the film. I was surprised when, upon visiting the city for the first time this week, our Moroccan friend Amina wanted to go with us to Rick’s Café. Apparently, the place has a reputation for excellent food with an American accent, even among Casablanca’s Moroccan residents. And they will visit the place for a fancy meal out if they are willing to pay American prices.

This is not to say that the restaurant does not attract large numbers of Americans or Europeans wishing for a little bit of connection to the classic film. Pretty much everybody who came in sat briefly at the piano for a Facebook or Instagram shot at Sam’s keyboard. Although Monday was not a night when they had live music, it was still something of a thrill, even if the link with Bergman and Bogie is purely in the imagination. Turns out to be true that everybody comes to Rick’s.

36576949_10156749913439172_5327181068330074112_n

They come because the classic 1942 film is considered by many to be the best American film ever made. On the original AFI list of the 100 greatest American films of the twentieth century, Casablancawas ranked #2, just behind Citizen Kane and just ahead of The Godfather and GoneWith the Wind. But Casablanca is a film that at 75, though it may be getting a little long in the tooth when weighed against current technical aspects of filmmaking, remains timeless as a drama and a romance, and retains unshakably the fervent sentimental attachment of its devotees.

If you are a fan of the movie, you probably know that it was something of a surprise success. Ingrid Bergman was not the first choice to play Ilsa Lund, but got the part only after Hedy Lamarr turned it down—and after she herself was turned down for the lead in For Whom theBellTolls, which promised to be a much bigger movie (eventually, of course, she got that role too, and was nominated for an Oscar for it). Warner Brothers thought of Casablancaas just another movie, one of fifty or so that the studio cranked out in 1942. American playwrights Murray Burnett and Joan Alison had writtenan unproduced play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s in 1940. After Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II in December 1941, the studio bought the rights to Burnett and Alison’s pro-French resistance, anti-Nazi play in order to produce what they thought of as essentially a propaganda flick to help the war effort.

36557914_10156748120484172_9218831934300356608_n

Screenwriters Howard Koch and the twins Julius and Philip Epstein rewrote the screenplay many times as filming progressed, so that none of the actors knew how the film would end—because the writers themselves did not know. Bergman had no idea until the last scene was filmed whether her Ilsa was going to end up with her husband, the Czech resistance leader Viktor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), or her former lover, the cynical American café owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Further, the movie was rushed into production to be released on limited screens on November 26, 1942, to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa, and then had its wide release on January 23, 1943, at the same time that allied leaders, including President Roosevelt, attended a summit meeting in Casablanca itself.

And yet despite all of these apparent barriers, the film came together beautifully: Even with its early release date, it was considered eligible for the Academy Awards for 1943, and was nominated for eight of them, taking home the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz, and Best Screenplay for the one finally forged by Koch and the Epstein brothers, a script that contains more quotable lines than any other in movie history. Bergman’s performance in the end was probably enhanced by the fact that she didn’t know who she would end up with, since it was easy for her to appear undecided and drawn both ways. Surprisingly, she was not nominated for an Oscar—perhaps because she was nominated for For Whom the Bell Tolls, and it wouldn’t do to have her competing against herself. More surprisingly, Claude Rains, who very nearly steals the movie in his role as the unscrupulous, lecherous, and charming Vichy police officer Louis Renault(“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”) did not win the Oscar for his role. The Best Supporting Actor award went to Charles Coburn for the film The More the Merrier—a decision that seems questionable in hindsight. Most shocking of all is Bogart’s loss of the Best Actor Oscar to Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine. What were they thinking, we may ask today. Of all Bogart’s roles, even his Oscar-winning turn in The African Queen, the role of Rick is the one that cemented him as a major star, and showed he could play the romantic lead and not just a gangster or tough private eye. The cynical Rick, whose hard-shell cynicism masks a broken heart and a disappointed idealism, was a hero for the time and, though his conversion may seem sentimental or melodramatic to some film snobs, he still resonates with the majority of audiences today.

What is it that makes Casablancaso beloved? Partly it is the challenge that every major character must confront in the film: Faced with a choice between taking a stand against tyranny and oppression and giving in to it, we see Lazlo’s bold and decisive moves, thrilling at the famous scene where he rouses the entire nightclub to sing the Marseillaise and drown out the German singing of the Nazi interlopers, symbolically carrying on the resistance through music. We see Rick ultimately choosing the noblest course of action—restored to his idealism by his love for Ilsa, he makes the choice to let her go for the good of the cause, and to join the resistance himself. In a theme that goes back as far as the Middle Ages, love ennobles him and awakens him to noble action. “It’s still the same old story,” the haunting words of the song tell us. “A fight for love and glory. A case of do or die.” Even Renault ultimately makes the right choice, a more personal one for him, choosing Rick, whom he likes, over the Nazi Major Strasser, whom he detests, and is off at the end to join the resistance with Rick, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

It’s the characters that we relate to in Casablanca. Even the minor characters, from Peter Lorre as black-market peddler of the “letters of transit,” to Sydney Greenstreet as Rick’s fellow restauranteur and competitor Ferrari, to Dooley Wilson as Rick’s piano playing sidekick Sam in a role that doesn’t make you cringe the way many African American roles do in Hollywood films of the “golden” era. All of the characters are rounded to a remarkable degree. The vast majority of the cast of the film was made up of actors who had left countries that had been taken by the Nazis (Henreid himself was on Hitler’s wanted list). And so they were quite believable as refugees waiting in Casablanca for a chance to flee to sanctuary in a free country.

Thus Casablanca has often been seen as a kind of allegory, in which Rick represents the United States, refusing to take part in the conflict until finally forced to make a decision. In the December 1941 of the film, he throws his lot in with the free French, whom Louis is off to join. He also supports the resistance fighters throughout enslaved Europe, represented by the Czech Lazlo (Czech resistance fighters had assassinated Hitler’s top henchman Reinhard Heydrich on June 4, 1942). Rick, like an America mired in the isolationism preached by Charles Lindbergh and his facist-admiring “America First” movement, ultimately must wake up and get into the struggle to help those refugees. It does sound like the film remains relevant, doesn’t it? It has even been suggested that the city’s name—Casablanca, which means “white house”—is an allusion to that other White House, and the inhabitant of it, who needs to shed isolationism and help refugees fleeing danger or persecution.

If you come to Casablanca, eat at Rick’s. If you watch Casablanca, watch it with modern eyes, which may see something very contemporary. Happy Fourth of July. Here’s looking at you, kid.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

RBG

RBG

Julie Cohen and Betsy West (2018)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

The U.S. Supreme Court is not generally looked upon as a hotbed of human drama, a mine from which the stuff of emotionally riveting films might be extracted. Nevertheless, within the past year two films focusing on important, trailblazing justices have made their way into a popular cinematic scene that is currently defined by superhero movies and CGI special effects. Such films fall into the category of “And now for something completely different…”

The first of these, Reginald Hudin’s Marshall, was a conventional biopic of Thurgood Marshall, first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court. Conceived in the current fashion for such films (the pattern set by Spielberg’s Lincoln), the movie focused on a single incident in Marshall’s career as an attorney for the NAACP: his defense of an African-American chauffeur in Bridgeport, Connecticut, accused of raping a rich white society woman. Starring Chadwick Bozeman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson, that film was admired by critics but barely made back its $12 million budget in theaters. How much less likely to be a popular success is the current film, RBG, a documentary focused on the life and career of 85-year old Supreme Court veteran Ruth Bader Ginsberg?

But then, how likely was Bader Ginsberg to become a social media star, with her face on countless memes and T-shirts, and a book extolling her as Notorious RBG—a name borrowed from the rapper “Notorious BIG,” someone she claims in the film to have a lot in common with: “We both come from Brooklyn.”

In fact, RBGhas grossed about the same amount at the box office as Marshalldid—not bad for a documentary. Turns out Bader Ginsburg’s story is appealing, particularly among women like my wife who wear T-shirts that reads “Only RBG can judge me!” For those unfamiliar with Bader Ginsburg’s story, the film traces her highly successful career as a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. in the 1970s, when she argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of them. All of these cases involved questions of gender equality—a concept that seemed completely foreign to the all-male court of the time. The cases involved equal pay for equal work as well as family benefits for surviving husbands that previously had only been available for wives. Full gender equality is far from having been achieved, but without Bader Ginsberg, the film makes us feel, it would barely be recognized.

Cohen and West show in the film how Bader Ginsberg came to recognize the need for gender discrimination to be recognized in the courts. They take the viewers through a glimpse of her humble childhood in Brooklyn, daughter of a first-generation Jewish family, and her growing up to attend Cornell University, where she met her husband-to-be Marty, who recognized her potential and encouraged her in her pursuit of her law career. Both Ruth and Marty were accepted into Harvard Law School, Ruth one of nine women admitted among a class of several hundred in the late 1950s—and, like the other women, she was interviewed by the dean and pushed to justify her taking a place that should have gone to a man. She was the only woman in her class to make the Law Review, but in her final year she had to transfer to Columbia to take care of Marty, then a tax attorney in New York, who had contracted cancer and had to undergo radiation therapy. Still, she graduated, and despite her sterling record in law school could not land a job with any firm in New York City, none of whom would interview her when they learned she was a woman.

In this way, Bader Ginsberg was all but forced into a career as a professor and an A.C.L.U. lawyer, specializing in cases that involved the kinds of things she had faced in her own career: gender inequality.

The film duly moves through Bader Ginsberg’s appointment as federal judge by President Carter in 1980 and her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Clinton (when Mario Cuomo declined). We are treated to footage of her testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee (where we see familiar faces like Joe Biden, Orin Hatch and Ted Kennedy) before her nearly unanimous approval by the Senate. And we move through her two decades on the court, where in her early years she was a centrist consensus-builder, and in later years, as the court has moved further and further to the right, she has become the chief voice of dissent and in many cases, the conscience of the court.

But I don’t mean to suggest that the movie is a straightforward chronicle of Bader Ginsberg’s life and career. We do get to know her as a flesh-and-blood person as the film progresses, largely due to the access that the filmmakers were allowed to the octogenarian justice as they followed her in 2016 to a number of public appearances in Washington as well as Chicago, and were able to spend some time in a crucial face-to-face interview in 2017. The filmmakers also interview Bader Ginsberg’s children, her granddaughter (who is now herself a graduate of Harvard Law School), and her two oldest friends. Clinton is interviewed briefly, as is longtime conservative Senator Orrin Hatch, and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and others. And Bader Ginsberg’s husband Marty, who died in 2010, is shown in archival interview footage, talking about his wife’s limited cooking skills and describing how he would often have to tell her when it was time to stop working and come home to eat dinner, or when it was time for her to stop working and come to bed at 4 a.m. In many ways the film is their love story. She talks about her friendship with other Justices, in particular Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the court, and how the two of the feminized the judicial robes with white collars, and Antonin Scalia, the conservative justice with whom she seldom agreed on court decisions but who was a very close friend. Nor does the film ignore Bader Ginsberg’s one notable slip from judicial professionalism: her comments during the 2016 election about Donald Trump’s unsuitability to be president—comments for which she was later obliged to apologize. But even these comments reflect her fierce devotion to the social causes to which she had devoted her life.

All describe a woman who was driven from an early age, who has a brilliant legal mind, and who works tirelessly. We see Bader Ginsberg, who has twice survived bouts with cancer, working out vigorously with a trainer and telling her interviewers how determined she is to keep fighting the good fight as long as she is physically and mentally able. One leaves the theater hoping that will be for many years yet. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this fascinating documentary.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

The Incredibles 2

The Incredibles 2

 Brad Bird (2018)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

Has it really been fourteen years since the first Incredibles movie? Maybe it just doesn’t seem that long because Brad Bird’s initial animated foray into the superhero genre was so fresh, so memorable, that it seems like just yesterday that I laughed through it, enjoying the retro-futuristic Pixar animation of a family that reminded me of the Jetsons but with a lot more insight and sophistication. Bird’s second chapter, coming after his admirable work directing Ratatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in between, is no disappointment, picking up pretty much where the first film left off, only with even better-looking animation and a more woke sensibility that, in the fashion of recent films like WonderWoman (and the current Ocean’s Eight), puts a woman, Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), in the role of central hero of the movie. What we get is a film that cares a lot more about its animated characters than any superhero movie of the past six months has cared about its full-bodied ones. As a result The Incredibles 2is the best super-hero movie of the year so far, and could arguably be the all-around best film of the year to this point.

Part of the reason for this is the very relatable family dynamic in the film. I mentioned the Jetsons, but I can’t help thinking of Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver—the family setting has that kind of retro feel. These are superheroes whose private lives are at least as interesting as their professional “hero” lives, and who have everyday concerns that real people can relate to. Nor does this film fall into the trap of “The Stakes Must Be as High as Possible So That We Need Scores of Heroes in the Same Movie or the Entire Universe Will Be Destroyed” which drives the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or, for that matter, the “Everything’s Really Dark In Here” murkiness of the DC psyche.Incredibles 2 has the feel of the original, or of other superhero films of that time, like Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, rather than any kinship with something like the overbloated Avengers: Infinity War. Nor does it spend endless time on mind-numbing CGI-created battle scenes, though it is not without its occasional conflicts, allowing the characters to display their unique abilities. And its $180 million opening weekend suggests that audiences are hungry for this sort of simpler fare.

As this film opens, we are reintroduced to the Parr family, led by Bob, i.e. “Mr. Incredible” (Craig T. Nelson), patriarch of the family who begins the film with all the assumptions that title entails. His wife Helen, a.k.a. “Elastigirl” (Hunter) is his loyal super-teammate, but also mom to their children Violet (Sarah Vowel)—teenage daughter with all appropriate angst in addition to the power to make herself disappear; and preteen Dash (Huck Milner), a ball of impulsive, superfast energy. And then of course there is the baby, Jack-Jack, who begins to manifest superpowers in this film that make babysitting a challenge.

The Parr family, their home having been destroyed in the previous installment, is staying in a run-down motel, keeping a low profile because, of course, super-heroes are illegal in the world of this film. Society believes that superheroes only cause chaos and destruction (not an unreasonable assumption considering the number of buildings and neighborhoods that get destroyed in the computer graphic battles in conventional live-action superhero movies), and therefore laws have been passed to limit action by anyone in the superhero vein. But in steps the super-rich brother and sister team of Winston (Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul) and Evelyn Deavor (brilliantly voiced by Catherine Keener), respectively the CEO and chief research and development officer of a major tech company, who call in Bob, Helen, and their friendly neighbor Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as the Jerry Helper to Mr Incredible’s Rob Petrie), who happens to be the superhero Frozone, for a meeting. The Deavors’ plan is to equip the superheroes with body cameras, so that they can restore their reputations by showing the public what reallyhappens when they take on the bad guys. Of course, to do this they will have to break the law by actually performing superhero feats, so the film does present the audience with the dilemma of whether it is better to obey an unjust law or to break it with the view of changing it—a question much timelier than the filmmakers could have imagined in the years it has taken to bring this movie to the screen.

Winston and Evelyn have decided, though, to ease into their plan, and (to Bob’s chagrin) choose Elastigirl to be the public face of the strategy—she’s more finessed than the men, and the Deavors think a scalpel is going to be worth more than a large sledgehammer for their purposes. So Helen gets to chase after the cutting-edge new villain Screenslaver, who’s out to hypnotically control everyone’s minds through the various screens to which they are addicted.

Meanwhile the large sledgehammer, Mr. Incredible himself, takes over full-time parenting duties. At first it seems we are going to be subjected to that old stereotype of the clueless dad who is hopeless at taking care of the kids and running the house—you know, that scene from the family sit com where Dad puts too much laundry soap in the washing machine and the thing goes ballistic. And it’s a bit disappointing seeing the script take this clichéd turn: Bob botches things with Violet, who is having a personal crisis when the boy she likes has forgotten she even exists because of a government-sanctioned memory cleanse. Nor can Bob help Dash with his homework, because he doesn’t know how to figure things out in the “new math.” Worst of all, he suddenly is faced with dealing with baby Jack-Jack’s uncontrolled and random flashes of bizarre new superpowers. To be fair, nobody would know immediately how to parent that kind of a difficult child. And to be fair, Bob learns a great deal—he’s actually the one truly dynamic character in the film, taking a great leap forward in his parenting skills, as well as in his understanding of math, ultimately realizing that everyday parenting may be as important as superheroing.

Helen meanwhile, in “hero” scenes that parallel Bob’s domestic ones, seems to have a great time chasing down the bad guy, and seems perfectly suited to her new superhero status. Elastigirl proves to be flexible in many ways, and is able to adapt her superpower in ingenious ways to meet the demands of the situation. Perhaps she gets a bit too cocky, as it takes her a lot longer than the audience to figure out the secret behind the archvillain Screenslaver.

The Incredibles 2is fun. It’s good-looking. It’s smart. It raises interesting ideas. It boasts well-voiced and engagingly animated characters who seem more real than most live-action ones these days. It’s hilarious in spots, particularly some of the uncontrolled Jack-Jack moments, which are reminiscent of Bugs Bunny at his best. Kids will love this movie, and as for you grown-ups, go see it even if you don’t have any kids. It’s definitely worth it. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this terrific sequel.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Ocean’s 8

Ocean’s 8

Gary Ross (2018)

You know the formula: suave and confident ex con concocts an elaborate scheme to pull off a hitherto undreamed-of heist where a vast fortune is a stake. The aforementioned con puts together a team of rogues, beginning with an equally suave and confident lieutenant, and filled out by other technical and physical virtuosos. Last minute roadblocks are thrown up which the team finds a way to overcome, often through some secret aspect of the scheme that the audience was never made aware of. It’s a tried-and-true recipe that has worked in films as widely varied as The Sting and the original Mission: Impossible, but of late has been the blueprint for the significant success of the Ocean’s franchise.

Seven Soderbergh’s trilogy of Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13—inspired by the original Rat-Pack vehicle of 1960—were slick, good looking heist films that all were among the top twenty-grossing films of their respective years, though with diminishing returns as the series continued. All boasted ensemble casts of big-name actors including, of course, George Clooney as Danny Ocean, along with Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, et al. (thus emulating the original version’s Frank Sinatra, Dan Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., et al.). In this way, the Ocean’s films employ part of the same strategy as movies like the latest Avengers flick: the greater the number of big names you put in the movie, the better. This approach has two unfortunate results: First, it’s next to impossible to give each of the “name” stars enough screen time to really establish a character or for the screenwriter to give that character any sort of development or arc. Second, this being the case it’s difficult to keep the film from looking like a kind of lark for a bunch of actor buddies to get together and fool around on screen, rather than do any serious acting.

This past week, eleven years after the last Soderbergh-Clooney Ocean’s movie, director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) has resurrected the franchise with a new twist: Gone is the all-male cast of confident con men—this caper is pulled by an all-female squad of scheming swindlers, headed up by the (apparently) late Danny Ocean’s kid sister Debbie (Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock), paroled after serving a five-year sentence for fraud. Debbie immediately tracks down her former partner-in-crime Lou (double Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett), now managing a night club, whom we first see watering down bottles of vodka.

In re-gendering the slick, sophisticated heist movie as female, Ocean’s 8 piggybacks on a number of other recent films that have sought to claim for women a variety of film genres that were previously conceived of as the sole properties of men. Some of these films have been highly successful—none more so than last year’s blockbuster Wonder Woman, which proved a woman (Gal Gadot) could very lucratively carry a major super-hero action movie (even, wonder of wonders, in the DC universe). But prior to that Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) proved a true hero to the critics and the box office in the YA-dystopian genre of Ross’s The Hunger Games, and Bullock’s buddy-cop team-up with Melissa McCarthy in The Heat was a worthy take on the Lethal Weapon genre. In the Science Fiction genre, rebooting Star Wars with a female Jedi (Daisy Ridley) has been fairly successful, though it’s run into some resistance from stalwart fans of the series.

Far less successful, both critically and financially, was the all-woman retread of Ghostbusters starring McCarthy and others. As for the fantasy genre, A Wrinkle in Time really bombed, even though it had a classic text to anchor it: On film at least, Meg Murry proved to be no Frodo Baggins. These films were not unsuccessful because of the women in them. They were just the victims of bad filmmaking. But even the failures are heralds of a new era that Hollywood has entered: one that promises to be far more inclusive of women.

Ocean’s 8 is no Wonder Woman, but it’s no Wrinkle in Time either, and falls perhaps midway between those extremes. The screenplay, written by Ross (who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplays for BigSeabiscuit and Dave) and newcomer Olivia Milch, is not terribly original, though it has a few clever twists. After her release from prison, wearing the formal gown she was arrested in—and after scamming some free cosmetics from Bergdorf-Goodman and a free room at the Plaza Hotel—Debbie tells Lou about the plan she had put together during her five contemplative years behind bars: During the Met Gala party at the Metropolitan Museum, she plans to steal the world-famous necklace called the Toussaint, a necklace sporting six pounds of diamonds and valued at $150 million, currently being held in a foolproof underground vault at Cartier.

Of course, Debbie and Lou will need to put together a crack team for this planned heist, and we see all of their potential teammates in action before they are recruited: Tammy (Golden-Globe winner Sarah Paulson), is Debbie and Lou’s former crony who now fences truckloads of stolen household items from her garage; Amita (Mindy Kaling of TV’s The Office and The Mindy Project) plays a skilled jeweler looking to get out from under her mother’s thumb; “Nine Ball”—who claims her real name is “Eight Ball”—(played by Rihanna, whose real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty), is a genius computer hacker and all-round digital whiz; Constance (rapper Awkwafina—whose real name, as long as we’re going that way, is Nora Lum Ying), is a world-class pickpocket and general master of prestidigitation, whom we first see running a three-card monte scam. But the plot is also going to need the assistance of once-famous but now very five-minutes-ago fashion designer Rose Weil (two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter), who owes Uncle Sam the farm in back taxes and can be convinced to risk prison for a share in the promised loot. They are also going to need the unwitting assistance of a red-carpet celebrity in the form of apparently clueless and self-absorbed actress Daphne Kluger (Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway), who with Rose’s help can be manipulated into wearing the highly-insured and tightly- guarded Toussaint necklace to the Met Gala.

The heist proceeds with the expected infiltration of Met Gala guests and staff by members of Debbie’s crew, and everyone showing her specific skills, however briefly. These are enhanced by extremely high-tech gadgets like reading glasses that transmit visual data to an ultra-sophisticated 3D “printer” that can produce a duplicate of pretty much anything instantaneously. Indeed, so much of what used to be done with human ingenuity has been replaced in this film by technology that it’s a bit annoying. Also annoying is the waste of talent: Blanchett is so underused that at times I forgot she was in the movie. Paulson doesn’t have a whole lot to do, either. Kaling has, basically, one intense scene in which she makes use of her jeweler skills but has no actual lines. There’s also a scene in which Elliott Gould—Reuben from the Soderbergh Ocean’s trilogy—makes a cameo, essentially to tell Debbie she shouldn’t try this kind of heist. The only purpose of this scene seems to be to allow us to make the connection in our minds with the previous films. I suppose Clooney was above such pandering. Anyway, it’s a pointless scene and was just, well, annoying.

In the end, Bullock is okay as the Ocean of the film’s title.  Bonham Carter has a few entertaining moments as the flummoxed dressmaker. Hathaway is most memorable as the self-absorbed starlet hiding a calculating mind. The film is ultimately entertaining if you like the Ocean’s style film—no worse than its predecessors but certainly no better either. I’ll give it three Tennysons, though it could have been better.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Book Club

Book Club

Bill Holderman (2018)

Back in 2011, John Madden gave us The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a brilliant sleeper of a movie that presented aging stars like Maggie Smith and Judy Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkerson in what amounted to a romantic comedy for senior citizens. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson had already paved the way for such a story with Last Chance Harvey in 2008. Post-Marigold, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones tried to spice up a foundering marriage in 2012’s Hope Springs. What I’m trying to imply here is that there is in fact a particular sub-genre of Romantic Comedy that involves senior citizens and that portrays their lives with insight and sensibility. Book Club, helmed by first-time director Bill Holderman, who also wrote the screenplay along with co-producer Erin Simms, aims to be part of that trend. It was Simms’ first screenplay; Holderman had previously written the screenplay for A Walk in the Woods in 2015. That story was based on a Bill Bryson book. The screenplay for Book Club is original, though it seems to have been at least partly inspired by E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, or at least by Holderman and Simms’ waggish prank of sending the James books to their respective mothers for Mothers’ Day, and then imagining what might happen if those women got together to talk about them in a book club.

Let’s step back and analyze this for a minute: the story comes not from anybody’s actual experience but from two people imagining what other people thirty years their seniors might do in their most intimate moments. I’m not saying that somebody at, say, 42 is not capable of imagining what the emotions and reactions of a much older person might be in certain situations—Shakespeare, after all, was that age when he wrote King Lear. Ernest Thompson was only 28 when he wrote On Golden Pond. But those and similar sensitively-written works were clearly the result of careful observation and empathetic consideration of characters of a certain age. Marigold Hotel, by the way, was written by 42-year-old Ol Parker, but adapted from the novel These Foolish Things, written by 56-year old novelist Deborah Moggach. I can’t help but think that Holderman and Simms would have done better if they’d had a similar book to adapt. What we have in Book Clubis essentially that one idea, the kernel of a plot that might be expected in a half-hour TV sit-com (and not a cutting-edge one), expanded into a two-hour film. Only BookClub has one thing that CBS sit-com doesn’t have: a star-studded cast.

Jane Fonda has seven Oscar nominations, and has won two of them, plus an Emmy and seven Golden Globe awards. Candice Bergen has five prime time Emmy awards, two Golden Globes and one Oscar nomination. Diane Keaton has one Oscar win in four nominations, two Golden Globes in nine nominations, and one Emmy nomination. Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen has one Oscar, one Golden Globe (in three nominations), and has been nominated for an Emmy as well. So if my math is correct, these women have four Oscars, twelve Golden Globes, and six Emmys among the four of them. That’s a lot of hardware. And what else do they have in common? They agreed to be in this movie.

That in itself is certainly understandable. Women in Hollywood don’t have a lot of interesting roles to pick from after they are beyond the typical leading lady age. Sure, Meryl Streep has been able to find challenging roles worthy of her talent, and Kathryn Hepburn was able to command such roles before her, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. If Fonda, Bergen, Keaton and Steenburgen want to work, then they are going to take roles in films like this and they’re going to lift such scripts from mediocrity, and provide the fans (who will come to see the movie only because they are in it) with a few memorable moments if at all possible. And that’s what happens here.

The gist of the film’s story is this: four quite different women, each very successful in her own way and all of them pretty well-off financially, have been close friends for 40 years, and meet monthly for a book club, taking turns choosing the title to be read for each meeting. It’s an obvious premise to get them all together for a lot of wine and freewheeling discussion, and that’s where things take off.  As an aside, it’s interesting note that the “40 years ago we were BFF” scenario implies that the four women are about the same age, when in fact there are 16 years difference between the oldest (Fonda) and the youngest (Steenburgen) in this quartet, but that just underscores the fact that in Hollywood, once you are a woman over a certain age, you’re lumped in with everybody else in terms of the kind of role you can play. But I digress.

Sharon (Bergen) is a tough federal judge who seems relatively content with her cat and with her anger and obsession over her ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.), who’s decided to get married again—to a much younger woman—after 18 years of divorce. Diane (Keaton) is a recent widow whose two grown daughters are pressuring her to move out of her big, fancy house and into a basement in one of the daughter’s houses, fearful that she might fall or forget how to drive or some such thing. Carol (Steenburgen) is a very successful chef, who, after 35 years is in a marriage that has lost any spark it may have had for her and her distant, recently-retired husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who gives her earplugs as an anniversary gift. And Vivian (Fonda) is a filthy-rich hotelier who has never been married but has engaged in casual affairs for decades because of a whopping fear of committing to a relationship that might hurt her.

Vivian, as you might expect, is the one who brings Fifty Shades of Greyto the book club, and the novel becomes a catalyst that stirs each of the women to a reawakened sexuality. Sharon joins an online dating club that nets her dates with the charming and likeable George (Richard Dreyfuss) as well as the not-so-much Dr. Derek (Wallace Shawn). Diane serendipitously meets pilot and incredibly wealthy Mitchell (Andy Garcia) and has to try to balance him and her overprotective daughters. Vivian runs into her old college flame from four decades past, Arthur (Don Johnson in a clever bit of casting, since his daughter stars in the Fifty Shades of Grey movies), and has to decide whether to break her own long-standing rule (“I don’t sleep with people I like—I gave that up in the Nineties”). And Carol—well, if her own charms can’t wake her husband up she’ll try dropping a double-dose of Viagra in his beer (not a spoiler—it was in the trailer). Crazy high jinx ensue, most of which you will find pretty predictable.

But there is enough here for each woman to have some kind of character arc, and each of them has her own sort of breakthrough by the end. The men in the story don’t come off as well. Dreyfuss is woefully underused—his appearance is little more than a cameo, which is too bad, because he is the most likeable of them all. Garcia and Johnson do little more than provide a kind of bland Other against whom Fonda and Keaton can define themselves (of course, that’s a role women have played in movies since their inception). Nelson gets the role with the most meat, and one that is ultimately sympathetic, though he does have to endure the obligatory and ultimately demeaning Viagra jokes. Oh, those jokes are pretty funny, I’m sure, to a 35-year-old writer or director, but wait another 35 years and see how funny they are then. I keep thinking of Fonda’s father Henry’s line in On Golden Pond: “You think it’s funny being old? My whole goddam body’s fallin’ apart. Sometimes I can’t even go to the bathroom when I want to.”

Which leads me to a few other things that bothered me about the movie. People between 65 and 80, which is what these women are, are especially concerned with health care and with living on a fixed income—but everybody in this movie has got so much money it doesn’t matter. You’d think regular people might have less ability to relate to the characters in that case, but fortunately the four stars are relatable largely because of our prior familiarity with them. Anyway, it’s a comedy, so let’s transcend the issues of the real world. But secondly, isn’t it a little anachronistic in today’s climate to suggest that these four very successful and mature women really are just not going to be happy unless they have a man?

I’m giving this two Jacqueline Susanns and half a Tennyson, which is a gift, but I have to give it something for putting these four women on the screen together.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ron Howard (2018)

In a lot of minds, the opening weekend of Solo: A Star Wars Story was a box office disaster, netting “only” some $83 million domestically over the three-day Memorial Day weekend (it will be about $101 million after Sunday), and an even more dismal $65 million internationally. The latest entry into the Star Wars cinematic universe was on shaky ground at its very conception: how could anyone take the iconic character that made Harrison Ford into the pop culture juggernaut, who piloted some of the most beloved blockbusters in the history of cinema, and have some young pipsqueak portray him in some trumped up “origin story,” the only purpose of which seemed to be to rake in as much cash as possible? Strike two came with lifelong Star Warsfanaatics’ wildly negative reaction to The Last Jedi, and their howling for the head of Kathleen Kennedy, current Disneyfied president of Lucasfilms, for allegedly turning the Star Wars brand into militant feminist propaganda—while at the same time feminists condemned Kennedy for choosing twelve white male directors to helm the Star Wars projects that have come to fruition or are in development under her leadership. Add to that what was apparently strike three—her “creative differences” with Solo’soriginal directors. Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (who had previously teamed up on 21 Jump Streetand The Lego Movie) that impelled her to replace them midway through shooting with veteran director Ron Howard, who, critics suggested, was more likely to see things her way. Even from the time the very first trailer for the film came out on Super Sunday, the fan base was complaining that, while Donald Glover (from TV’s Atlantaand  Spiderman:Homecoming) seemed to get it right as Lando Calrisian, Alden Ehrenreich (from HailCaesar! and BlueJasmine) was a terrible choice to play Han. And this became a truism among fans before anyone had seen any of the movie beyond a two-minute trailer. A boycott of Solowas organized, and a look at the Rottentomatoes.com page for the film shows only a 60% audience score for the film, with the majority of negative reviews coming from fans who were boycotting the movie.

But to be fair, nobody short of the Second Coming of Christ would have satisfied fans as a replacement to play Han Solo. Lando was another story. Sure, Billy Dee Williams had a certain flair but his secondary role was never the icon that Harrison Ford’s was, so fans have been much more accepting of Glover’s Lando. But Han? Nobody else could be Han. It would be like revisiting Mary Poppinswith somebody other than Julie Andrews…oh, wait, I guess Disney has that in the works, too.

But let’s take a deep breath and approach Soloas if it’s just a movie and Ehrenreich is just an actor who’s not carrying 40 years’ worth of baggage for an overnight trip. Solois an initiation story in the general pattern of the Hero archetype, the mythic background in which George Lucas originally imagined his creation. Like all mythic heroes Han is forced to leave his home after a traumatic event—in his case, he is being pursued, along with his girlfriend Qi’ra (a no-longer-blonde Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones) by the authorities on his mob-dominated home planet of Corellia. He escapes, but has to leave Qi’ra behind, vowing to come back for her.

Along the way, the young hero will often gain the assistance of a wise old man figure, sometimes even a supernatural helper, like Gandalf, or Merlin, or, in the case of Luke Skywalker, Obiwan Kenobe. In Han’s case, the wise old man happens to be a very reluctant mentor in the shape of Tobias Beckett (the always welcome Woody Harrelson), a renegade, thief and smuggler whose chief lesson—and an important one for the naïve young Han—is “never trust anybody.” The hero will also usually pick up a sidekick somewhere, who might be a faithful friend and companion, like Frodo’s Sam; a complement, like Don Quixote’s Sancho; a conscience, like Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket, and so on. Sometimes it’s a helpful anthropomorphic sort of animal figure, like the aforementioned Cricket, or Tarzan’s Cheetah. Han Solo acquires one of the great animal sidekicks of all time in the form of the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role from the original Peter Mayhew in Episode VII).

After Han’s escape from Corellia, he enlists in the Imperial military with aspirations of becoming a pilot and returning to rescue Qi’ra. Three years later, he’s still nothing but a grunt on a chaotic battlefield where he’s expected to blindly follow his commander’s orders—at which, being Han Solo, he’s not very good. He befriends Chewie, then deserts and takes up with Beckett’s team of brigands, which includes Val (Thandie Newton) and a wisecracking alien pilot with a plethora of hands named Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau). The group is engaged in a plot to steal a shipment of coaxium, a valuable hyper-fuel. But that mission, Han’s initiation into his heroic role, goes south.

What every hero narrative needs is a quest. Often, that quest is set for him by a beautiful beloved lady, like Guinevere in tales of Sir Lancelot, or Princess Leia in the original Star Wars. Or, the lady is the object or reward of the quest, as Arwen is for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, or, indeed, Guinevere is in the tales of Sir Lancelot. Han’s quest is set for him by the gangster Dryden Vos (a delightfully evil Paul Bettany of the Avengersmovies), and has to do with finding another supply of the valuable MacGuffin coaxium—a quest in which Han perceives the resurfaced Qi’ra as both the promoter and the prize.

The story, penned by Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan (Lawrence worked on The ForceAwakens) is a perfectly serviceable origin myth, and the archetypal narrative arc should appeal to most viewers. And it looks good, with typical Star Wars special effects alternating with some haunting set designs that conjure up parallels with twentieth-century history—World War I- evoking battlefields and a Middle-Eastern third-world-inspired planet exploited by coaxium fuel interests. Bettany, Harrelson, and Thandy are fun to watch, and Glover stands out so remarkably that a Landomovie is rumored now to be in the works. As for Ehrenreich, he is brash and cocky, if not quite yet as cynical as the Solo we all knew and love, but taken by himself, without the pressure of comparisons, he is a likeable hero. It’s no surprise to learn that the elder Kasdan also wrote the screenplay for Silverado, that delightful tribute to classic Western tropes, as Soloitself does homage to the John Wayne of The Searchersand the Humphrey Bogart of Casablanca.

For me the most memorable character in the film is Lando’s radical robot copilot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). L3 is all about the liberation of robots and freeing them from their second-class status. The Kennedy-bashers have channeled a whole bunch of hate in L3’s direction, holding her up as proof of the producer’s liberal feminist agenda. But the whole thing is presented here as a kind of parody, and anyway, this robot-freeing motif is as old as Isaac Asimov’s I, Robotfrom 1951. A far stranger aspect of L3 is her delusion that Lando is in love with her—a delusion that a number of the film’s critics and viewers have taken seriously, going so far as to label Lando’s orientation as “pansexual.” Seriously? This is comic relief, folks. You’re not intended to take L3 as a reliable narrator.

The one thing that is a little bit annoying about the film is the fact that it seems very consciously to be ticking off a certain list of things that the filmmakers felt obliged to cover in the course of the movie: Han meets Chewie? Check. Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a card game? Check. The Millennium Falcon makes the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs? Check. Come up with a reason for Han to head for Tatooine? Check. It feels not a little bit contrived.

But in the end, Solo: A Star Wars Storyis an enjoyable summer action flick. No, it’s no The EmpireStrikes Back. But believe me, it’s no Phantom Menaceeither, thank heavens—you won’t have Jar Jar Binks to kick around. Don’t listen to the haters. I give this one three Tennysons. Try it, you’ll like it.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2

David Leitch (2018)

The original Deadpool was clever, irreverent, sardonically humorous and self-referential, breaking the fourth wall with impunity and refusing to take itself seriously. As Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds created a persona as memorable as any “serious” superhero without being forced to adopt any romanticized moralism or idealistic claptrap. Big crowds came out this past weekend to see how well that formula worked a second time in this week’s Deadpool 2. David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) was tapped to direct the film, co-written by Reynolds with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers of the original Deadpoolas well as Zombieland, When Deadpool director Tim Miller dropped out after “creative differences” with Reynolds. What we have in Deadpool2, then, is Reynolds’ film—the distilled essence of what his vision for his superhero character is.

You probably do have to recall the gist of the first Deadpoolin order to be up to snuff as this one takes off. In the “origin story,” Wade Wilson, has just found the woman of his dreams in Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, no stranger to superhero narratives, being a TV veteran of both Gothamand The Flash), when he is knocked for a loop as he is diagnosed with stage-four cancer. In desperation he agrees to subject himself to an experimental treatment, which saves his life by giving him superhuman regenerative abilities, but also leaves him disfigured (“he looks like an avocado” says one character in the current film). He wears a mask and takes on the Deadpool persona, railing against pretty much everything in society in as foul-mouthed a manner as possible and hiding himself from Vanessa—until he finds that she still loves him anyway.

Here in move No. 2 in the Deadpool saga, Wade has got Vanesa but he keeps up the Deadpool persona (retaining that foul-mouthed abuse of the status quo—so let me emphasize that this film definitely earns its R rating with dialogue that’s raunchy but, let’s face it, hilarious). We learn that Deadpool has spent the two years since the release of his first movie by acting as a mercenary, knocking off targets all over the world. He makes the mistake of trying to squeeze in an assassination on his anniversary with Vanessa, and when he fails to do so, the target tracks him down to their apartment and in a furious gun battle accidentally shoots Vanessa and kills her. Heartbroken and blaming himself, Wade/Deadpool decides to end it all six weeks later by blowing himself up.

But dang it, it’s really hard to be a successful suicide when your super-power is regeneration, and Wade’s body parts are collected by Colossus (Stefan Kapičić), the metallic X-Man with the Eastern European accent, and he regenerates in the X-Mansion, exchanging snarky barbs with Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand of TV’s The Exorcist)—whose unusually complex super-title is, by the way, never mentioned on screen, as far as I know, and who I guess we’re supposed to recognize from the comics—and pleasantries with Neg’s new mutant girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kusuna) who inexplicitly seems to like Wade and whose relationship with Negasonic in the film, though little more than a cameo, has been lauded as the first LGBTQ relationship in Marvel superhero films. Speaking of cameos, Wade’s sojourn at the X-Mansion is relatively secluded, until his post-modern metafictional rant about how they couldn’t afford to pay any of the better-known X-Men to appear in the film is interrupted when he looks through an open door into another room where he sees Professor X, Cyclops, Storm and Quicksilver appear for a brief moment before Beast slams the door in his face. Oh, and while we’re at it, let me alert you that you should keep your eyes open for Brad Pitt somewhere in the film. But don’t blink.

As Wade recovers at the mansion, and tries to envision a meaningful life without Vanessa, Colossus persuades him to join the X-Men—abandon his mercenary ways and join the forces of Good. He decides to give it a shot, but it’s tough convincing Deadpool that he’s not supposed to kill anybody. He joins Colossus and Negasonic T.W. (who never lets him forget that he isn’t an X-Man, he’s just a “trainee”) as they rush off to intervene in a standoff between police and a 14-year-old mutant named Russell Collins, who, for reasons that become obvious, wants to be called “Firefist” (played by Julian Dennison of Hunt for theWilderpeople). Russell is the inmate of a kind of orphanage—a “Mutant Re-education Center,” where young mutants are detained and taught to despise themselves by a fanatical headmaster Eddie Marsan (who worked with Leitsch on Atomic Blonde). Is it just me, or is this a thinly disguised metaphor for camps involved in “gay conversion” therapy? In any case, Wade, trying to talk the boy down, realizes the kid has been abused by members of the staff and without a pause to think shoots one of the abusers through the head. Needless to say, this does not make Colossus very happy, and both Wade and Russell are taken away to be imprisoned in “The Icebox,” an isolated maximum-security prison for mutants in which they are fitted with collars that negate their mutant powers—in Wade’s case, this means his stage four cancer comes back.

It’s at the Icebox that the plot really kicks in, as a futuristic cyber-soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin, currently also being seen as the super-villain Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, just down the hall in the next auditorium) breaks in and attempts in a subtle, destroy-everything-in-sight manner to find Russell and kill him. Cable, we learn, has come from the future Terminator-like in order to kill Russell before he becomes the mass murderer he is destined to be. Wade, released from his collar in the chaos unleashed by Cable’s attack, attempts to shield Russell, who does elude Cable’s grasp. The rest of the film involves Cable’s pursuit of the Russell and Deadpool’s attempts to save the kid and ensure his future safety.

Along the way Deadpool provides a nonstop commentary that, like the first film, includes meta-comments about the movie itself (“That’s just lazy writing” he’ll step out of the frame to complain), remarks that place this film in the context of others, past and present (he calls Cable “Thanos” at one point, alluding to Brolin’s role in Avengers; at another point he refers to Russell as “John Connor,” alluding to Cable’s Terminator-like quest; at still another he makes fun of Marvel’s chief competitor in the superhero-film genre when he comments to Cable “You’re so dark. Are you sure you aren’t from the DC Universe?”). This constant undercutting of the film’s very text, like other post-modern literary efforts, calls into question the meaning of meaning itself. But there is another level on which Deadpool 2delivers with sincerity some of the same sentimental, idealistic themes that it seems repeatedly to undercut: It really does seem better to reform Russell than to kill him. It really does seem that Wade’s love for Vanessa works to make him a better human being. It really looks as if acceptance of others’ differences is healthier than imposing a bigoted morality on everyone. In the end, one might be forced to see Deadpool’s sardonic humor as a kind of laughing in the dark, a way of shielding the soul from the agony of lost love and the grim reality of death? Or is that just lazy writing?

I think you really ought to see Deadpool 2, especially if you found the original Deadpoolto be interesting. Reynolds and Brolin are highly entertaining, and Zazie Beetz (from TVs Atlanta) as a Deadpoolally named “Domino,” whose superpower is being lucky, is a riot from the moment she appears onscreen. I’m pretty sure she’ll be a regular in all the coming sequels. Three Tennysons for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Life of the Party

Life of the Party

Ben Falcone (2018)

2 JACQUELINE SUSANNS

In 1960, Bing Crosby starred in a Blake Edwards film called High Time, in which Bing plays a widower and self-made fast-food millionaire who at the age of 51 (Bing was 57 at the time so…not toomuch of a stretch) decides that it’s “high time” he pursued his dream of getting a college education, and who enrolls as a freshman in college, living in the dorms with the rest of the 18-year-olds. This idea is denigrated by his haughty grown children, but Bing eventually becomes valedictorian and also ends up romantically involved with the French professor. His classmates include the likes of Fabian and Tuesday Weld. The film was a box office flop at the time, and is little remembered nowadays except for Bing’s introduction of Oscar-nominated song, “The Second Time Around.”

Flash forward 26 years and substitute comedian Rodney Dangerfield for Bing Crosby, and you’ve got a film you are more likely to be familiar with, the Alan Meter-directed comedy Back to School, which uses essentially the same basic plot as High Time, though Dangerfield’s character made his millions in the clothing industry, and his motivation for going “back to school” is to keep his son room dropping out of college. Father and son do some quarreling, but get back together by the end. Sally Kellerman plays the love interest—this time a literature professor. Dangerfield’s classmates include Robert Downey, Jr., and the film boasts an awesome cameo by novelist Kurt Vonnegut. The film is a lot funnier than Crosby’s and probably a little more realistic, if less inspiring.

Flash forward another 32 years and substitute Melissa McCarthy for Dangerfield and you’ve essentially got the premise of McCarthy’s new film, Life of the Party, directed by and cowritten with hubby Ben Falcone. McCarthy plays Deanna, a forty-ish mother who, moments after dropping her daughter off for the senior year at Decatur University, is informed by her husband (Matt Walsh of TV’s Veep) that he wants a divorce, because he is now in love with another woman—his realtor (Julie Bowen from TV’s ModernFamily). The suddenly single Deanna decides that it’s time for a new start, and decides to return to college to complete her degree in archeology, a goal she had abandoned when she married her jerk of a husband 20-some years earlier. Her decision to go “back to school” mortifies her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon from TV’s Animal Planet), especially since Deanna insists on dropping by her daughter’s sorority house bringing mom-treats. Turns out the sorority sisters take to Deanna as a kind of adopted mom, and any friction between Dee and Maddie fizzles pretty quickly.

So what we get in Life of the Partyis sort of the un-Dangerfield version of the parent-going-to-school-with-child theme. Dangerfield (like Crosby) plays a multi-millionaire who uses his riches to get into the university despite his lack of credentials—he just donates a building to the School of Business. Deanna has no money at all, and her attendance at school is funded by money from her ex-husband. Dangerfield and Crosby have romantic relationships with professors, and while Deanna’s archaeology prof (Chris Parnell) turns out to be a former classmate of hers from 20 years earlier, no romance springs up between them. Instead, Deanna has an affair with Jack (Luke Benward), a student less than twice her age who is obsessed with her.

Although this latter liaison serves to set up a surprising twist later on, in itself it doesn’t seem to work. Though it’s certainly possible, it’s an unlikely state of affairs and might have seemed funnier when first conceived than it turns out to be in practice. And that essentially is this movie in a nutshell. While the concept of the film, a divorced middle-aged woman going back to school, is statistically more realistic than a wealthy middle-aged businessman dropping everything to accompany his son to college, what the film portrays is actually not realistic at all. Further, the answer to the “wouldn’t it be funny if…” question that must have come up a hundred times in the writing of the script turns out, most of the time, to be “no, it wouldn’t.”

When Crosby made his movie, the notion of a nontraditional male student coming back to school was pretty unusual. Of course, the G.I. Bill had allowed many World War II veterans to enter college when they returned in the late 1940s, but those 20-somethings for the most part not 50-somethings. By Dangerfield’s film in the mid ’80s, nontraditional students were far more common, though few would have been anything like him. Nowadays, however, nontraditional students, especially women, form a large percentage of university populations, so there’s nothing unusual at all about Deanna coming to school. And nothing unusual about her financial challenges. So any comedy that might have attached to the unusual or unexpected in her situation is just no longer there.

What isunusual is Deanna’s decision to stay in a dorm room on campus. This isn’t particularly realistic given her financial worries, but it does lead to some of the actual humor in the film, which comes in the person of her neurotic roommate Leonor (Heidi Gardner of TV’s SaturdayNightLive), who, true to her straight-outa-Edgar-Allan-Poe moniker, is pure Goth, as well as being an agoraphobe who never leaves the room, even to attend class. What’s also unrealistic but far less funny is the abuse she receives from some of the other younger women on campus. On today’s campuses, when a good quarter of the women you see are going to be nontrads of one kind or another, this is pretty lame, and smacks more of junior high school than college.

There is also a scene in which (spoiler alert, I guess, if that’s possible with this movie, which essentially has a series of vignettes rather than an actual plot per se), having had a few too many drug-laced college party treats, Deanna and her daughter’s sorority sisters pretty much destroy the venue for her ex-husband’s wedding to his realtor fiancée. I had the feeling this was supposed to be a kind of surprising and hilarious scene, given the amount of energy put into it, but for me it seemed to fall completely flat, and bordered on the pathetic rather than the hysterical.

There were a few high points in the film. In addition to Gardner as the freaky roommate, Gillian Jacobs (from TV’s Community) plays one of Maddie and Dee’s sorority sisters, but she too is a bit older than the typical freshman (she’s 30 or so) because she was in a coma for eight years. She seems pretty spaced out most of the time, but is just flaky enough to be amusing and memorable. McCarthy’s Bridesmaidsco-star Maya Rudolph turns up as Deanna’s off-campus best bud, and there are a few scenes in which she gets some funny lines or bits, though they don’t have much to do with the main plot of the film.

McCarthy is a significant comic talent who, having burst on the film scene in the highly successful Bridesmaids, found equally effective roles in The Heatand Spy. It is probably no coincidence that those three films were all directed by Paul Feig, who seems to have a knack for how to use her comic talents. Her non-Feig films—including The Boss, Identity Thiefand Tammy—have been far less successful, and I’m afraid Life of the Partyfalls into the latter category. There is a kind of sweetness to the movie in the depiction of the close mother-daughter relationship (the reason, I suppose, that the film was released on Mothers’ Day weekend), and a message about it being never too late to follow your dreams (not unlike Crosby’s movie) as well as the necessity for female solidarity (not unlike McCarthy’s earlier Bridesmaids), but it doesn’t all come together into a memorable movie. I didn’t find it compelling, so I’m giving it two Jacqueline Susanns. If you are a big McCarthy fan, you might want to go see this film. But most of you are probably planning to go to Deadpool 2this weekend, so this review is probably a moot point anyway. Enjoy!

Tully

Tully

Jason Reitman (2018)

Charlize Theron could have had a comfortable career playing beautiful, graceful, and sexy women. She never would have had to stretch or play anything other than herself and people would have paid her to do it because lots of people would have liked to go see her be beautiful, sexy and graceful. And then she ruined all that, announcing in no uncertain terms by her Academy-Award-wining turn in Monsterthat what she really wanted to do was act. And she subsequently took on more tough roles in North Country(2005), Young Adult (2011),Mad Max:Fury Road(2015), and now Marlo, a mother on the edge of a nervous breakdown, in Jason Reitman’s new film Tully, a role that Theron reportedly put on fifty pounds to play. That’s some hard dedication.

Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have collaborated before, on Juno(2007), for which Cody won the Oscar, and also on Young Adultwith Theron. Juno was a cynically comic look at teenage pregnancy, in which the young mother-to-be decides to have the baby, but struggles with the decision of giving the child up for adoption. In Tully, Reitman and Cody have taken another swing at motherhood, this one even darker and even more unsentimental. Theron’s character Marlo is a mother in her forties, who already has two children and, five years after her last child, finds herself pregnant again with a child who was obviously not planned. Post-partum depression is mild compared to what Marlo experiences.

Marlo’s other two children are a normal if precocious eight-year old daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) and a five-year old son named Noah (Asher Miles Fallica) who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum and who is so disruptive in class—with behavior that his principal calls “quirky” (which, as Marlo says “makes him sound like a ukulele”)—that he is being dismissed from his school to find an education elsewhere. Marlo’s husband, Drew, is played by Ron Livingston, who seems to be just about as excited about his role as husband and father as he was about his job in Office Space. As Marlo describes his evening ritual, Drew“Goes upstairs, puts on a headset, kills zombies, and passes out.” It’s hard to blame Marlo if she is not particularly excited about the birth of her third child.

Marlo does have a brother named Craig (Mark Duplass from Zero Dark Thirtyand TV’s TheLeague), who seems to have more money than he knows what to do with and who is something of a jerk and married to the Perfect Mother (something that’s a lot easier to be with a lot of money) Elyse (Elaine Tan of TV’s Hand of God). Craig does seem to realize what a difficult time Marlo is going to have with another baby, and offers to pay for a Night Nanny to help her out. She initially refuses, not wanting some stranger to come into her house every night, but eventually, after many a sleepless night of baby wrangling (during which Drew plays video games and then sleeps soundly through), Marlo relents and calls in the cavalry. Tully (Mackenzie Davis of The Martianand Blade Runner 2049), a nanny in her early twenties who claims to be “older than I look” arrives, Mary Poppins-like, on Marlo’s doorstep. She is fresh, funny, energetic, and caring—in short everything Marlo needs, and furthermore promises Marlo “I’m here to take care of you.” When Marlo objects that it’s the baby that needs caring for, Tully assures her “Right now, you pretty much arethe baby.”

It doesn’t take long for things to take a sharp turn upward. Not only does Tully take loving care of the new baby, Mia, she even cleans and bakes during the night, and Marlo is soon perked up after nights of glorious rest. Only there are some strange things that begin to surface. Marlo and Tully seem to be getting uncomfortably close. And how does Drew not care enough to even come downstairs to meet the woman who is taking care of his new baby? Turns out things are not as harmonious as they seem, and are building toward a pretty surprising denouement.

Motherhood is something of a sacred cow in the media, a concept so idealized that even to suggest that sometimes the responsibilities can be overwhelming, and that mothers sometimes need relief from their children, is blasphemous to certain segments of society. Those same segments are quick to blame and shame mothers who fail to live up to the perfect ideal. Reitman’s film tries to take a realistic and unsentimental look at the true everyday problems of mothering. And some people may not like it for that reason. But this sort of objection seems unrealistic. Our society glorifies war too, but does that mean the film industry should not make war movies that depict the gruesome realities of the battlefield?

OK, so raising children isn’t a war. Though sometimes it may seem like it. But there are also people on the other side of the spectrum who have criticized the film, even called for a boycott of it, because of its failure to go far enough in clarifying the actual mental difficulties of its main character. Maternal mental health advocates are calling the film irresponsible and misleading, reacting mainly to a surprising twist near the end of the film that I won’t reveal because it’s too much of a spoiler. But according to Diana Spalding, a pediatric nurse and education editor for the online source Motherly,“The reason that people are so excited about ‘Tully’ is because they feel like it is the first time that true motherhood is being portrayed on the big screen — but this is not true motherhood…Motherhood is hard, yes, but it is not this. This is mental illness. Brushing aside her mental illness again refuses to give it the attention it deserves.” The illness depicted is, according to mental health professionals, not common post-partum depression but the rare condition of post-partum psychosis, a disease that can sometimes lead to the death of the child if unidentified.

It does seem misplaced, though, to blame the film for not naming what it presents. We don’t know what will happen to Marlo after the bizarre twist of the end. She is a fictional character, after all, but we can imagine that perhaps after the end of the film she will get the help she needs. But we do not have to worry that women seeing this film will think what ultimately happens to her is normal. They may in fact be curious enough to ask their doctors, or more likely Google, about this condition, and so the film may serve the useful function of raising awareness of the condition. In any case, the film is not an educational movie about post-partum psychosis, it’s a piece of art, and having a final scene in which a doctor explains to Marlo what her condition is and what should be done about it would not exactly be the most aesthetically pleasing way to end the movie.

I have seen a number of online complaints about the movie because it is billed as a comedy, but in fact is not even remotely that. There are a few funny lines (Craig and Elyse’s daughter is in a talent show. “What’s her talent?” Marlo asks. Elyse says “Pilates.”) But there is surely nothing amusing at all about post-partum psychosis. In some ways that makes this film almost more of a horror film than a comedy. It’s extremely well-acted, and Theron and Davis have a remarkable chemistry together, and the hapless Livingston ultimately evokes some sympathy from the audience by the end. But there are a number of things in the film that don’t quite ring true to me. Why would a school toss out a “quirky” child without referring him to another school that may be more equipped to handle an autistic child? Why would that school not diagnose his problem? Why would Marlo not be seeing her own doctor, and why wouldn’t her doctor recognize any danger signals? And really, how could any husband be that checked out from his newborn baby’s life? And why wouldn’t his wife call him on it? Now my own awesome wife says that no, the kid goes to a private school and he own experience working at a private school suggests that they could have done exactly what they did. Nor would Marlo necessarily be connecting with her doctor, especially if she didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. My wife also, less convincingly, argued that a lotof fathers are that checked out. Be that as it may, I’ll leave it to youhow believable you think the ending is. Personally, I found it a difficult stretch.

Still, chiefly on the basis of impressive work by Theron, I’m giving this one three Tennysons. It’s probably worth seeing for most folks.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737