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Jay Ruud’s Movie Reviews

My lovely wife and I go to movies. Lots and lots of movies. And I have opinions about movies. Lots and lots of opinions. Here, I share them with you. Lucky!

crazy-rich-asians

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians

Jon M. Chu (2018)

It’s a phenomenon worth remarking upon, as movie critics nationwide have already done, that Crazy Rich Asians, the box office champion for two straight weeks, is not a blockbuster superhero or action film but is, in fact, the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. This is certainly a remarkable and surprising development, and one that has not been lost on Chinese-Americans, who reportedly see the movie as “empowering,” no less than African Americans saw Black Panther’s Wakanda as the Promised Land. At this point in history it’s a shame to have to say so, but there is no denying that this is a significant step in Hollywood’s social development. Who knew there were talented Asian actors out there somewhere? Who knew you could make a movie about Asians falling in love just like other people?

Okay, so I’m being just a little bit sarcastic, but it’s been within my lifetime that Hollywood decided Yul Brynner should play a Siamese king and Marlon Brando a Japanese houseboy—and that Mickey Rooney should give perhaps the most racist portrayal ever caught on film of an Asian neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But then, admittedly, I am pretty old.

Speaking of Audrey Hepburn reminds me that there is yet another significant aspect to this new box-office champ: It’s the first highly successful Hollywood-produced romantic comedy in ages. Last year’s The Big Sick, a popular and critical success in no small degree, was an independent film (which, coincidentally, also featured Asians in significant comic roles). Where are the When Harry Met Sally’s and the Sleepless in Seattle’s of the 2010’s? Where, for that matter, the It Happened One Night’s and the Bringing Up Baby’s? Romantic comedies, for decades the bread and butter of the American film industry, are few and far between these days. The last really successful Hollywood rom-com that I can recall is 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, which had the detail of the main characters’ bipolar issues to give it a unique twist. Crazy Rich Asians is actually a return to the more traditional rom-com formula—except, I guess, with Asians as the twist.

Just why Hollywood has all but given up on the rom-com genre is a complex question with, I am sure, highly complex answers. But since the bottom line governs all in the industry, it must be surmised that they have not found the genre lucrative. In part this may be because the typical audience for such films, assumed to be adult women, perhaps of middle age, just don’t go to the movies as much as they used to. This explains a film like this year’s Book Club, which featured four quite mature women still interested in a love life. That movie found an audience, but to tell the truth was really not very well written. It’s as if Hollywood can’t remember how to make such films any more, so when they do produce a badly-done rom com and it isn’t successful, they assume it’s the genre’s fault, not the writing or directing or acting. But the success of the remarkably well-written Big Sick proves that thinking wrong. And the surprising success of Crazy Rich Asians should be a good excuse to revitalize what has always been a very viable Hollywood genre.

The plot of the current film, based onKevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel of the same name,follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu of TV’s Fresh Off the Boat) who is a young professor of economics at New York University as she accepts an invitation from her boyfriend (do they still call them that?) to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding back home in Singapore. The boyfriend is Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding), who unbeknownst to Rachel happens to be the son and “crown prince” of the most outrageously wealthy Chinese family in Singapore.

Rachel may not know who Nick is, but others certainly do, and as the couple sit in a New York diner, they are recognized by a pair of Chinese American millennials and before you can blink twice, their picture is all over social media and friends of friends of friends have been contacted all over the globe, and the news even ends up in the feed of Nick’s redoubtable mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh of CrouchingTiger, Hidden Dragon). Mom takes an immediate dim view of this upstart American nobody trying to sink her claws into the family’s golden boy, and is prepared to be as unwelcoming as possible when Rachel arrives.

Rachel gets a hint of her boyfriend’s actual wealth when she gets super-first-class treatment (a private bedroom on an airplane?) on the flight overseas. “Your family is, like, rich?” she asks him at this point. Duh. “We’re…comfortable…” he says ingenuously, which is of course exactly what he would say if he were Bill Gates’ son, or one of the Arkansas Waltons.

Since the warm-hearted Eleanor has told Nick that the house is being redone so there’s no room for Rachel to stay there,Rachel and Nick stay in a hotel. Meanwhile, Rachel reconnects with a college friend of hers who also lives in Singapore. This friend Peik Lin (played with comic abandon by Awkwafina, most recently seen in Ocean’s Eight) and her a nouveau-riche manic family, headed by a most manic Ken Jeong (TheHangover), clue Rachel in on just who it is she is dating—after they’ve picked their jaws up off the floor.

The film is essentially a Cinderella fairy tale story, with Peik Lin acting the part of the fairy godmother, who finds Rachel’s clothes for her to make sure she doesn’t look like a pumpkin when she goes to the ball, or the party at the Young family mansion and museum. And there are certainly wicked stepsisters in the form of Singapore socialites connected to the Young family for whom Nick is the Holy Grail of eligible bachelors, and who make it quite clear that they’d like Rachel gone. Most formidable, though, is Eleanor, who fills the role of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and insists that Rachel is “not enough” for her son.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but you can probably guess how it’s going to turn out. It’s a rom-com, after all. Director Jon M. Chu (mainly known for directing Justin Bieber movies) does raise some interesting social issues, though: Eleanor is not simply a motivelessly wicked stepmother. Her problem with Rachel is that she, as the American-born child of a single mother who had to work hard to achieve the distinction of being the youngest professor at NYU, is more concerned with pursuing her own individual happiness than sacrificing for the sake of the family—the traditional Chinese way. At least that’s what Eleanor says. It often seems as if she is just using that as an excuse for being a snob.

Wu is charming and sympathetic as Rachel. Golding comes off a bit bland as Nick. Eleanor is the deepest and most dynamic character in the film, and Yeoh is memorable in the role Awkwafina is a standout in the “supportive friend” role, as is Nico Santos, who plays Nick’s gay cousin, “the rainbow sheep of the family.” The most sympathetic of all Nick’s family is the glamorous Astrid (Gemma Chan of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), whose story forms a kind of parallel to Nick and Rachel’s since her own marriage to a “commoner” is failing.

One thing that did bother me about the movie was the nearly obscene depiction of conspicuous consumption. I suppose it’s there to show how Rachel might be tempted to go after Nick for his money and give up her own values. But the film does seem to present this wealth and its excesses as something one might consider as a perfectly desirable and legitimate way of life for its own sake, one that Rachel never actually rejects. And that seemed problematic to me.

In the end, Crazy Rich Asians is not It Happened One Night. It’s not When Harry Met Sally either. It isn’t even The Big Sick. But it’s a serviceable and entertaining romantic comedy that at times even makes you think a little. Three Tennysons for this one.

COMING SOON!

Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail, will be available from the publisher on OCTOBER 15. You can preorder your copy direct from the publisher (Encircle Press) at http://encirclepub.com/product/lost-in-the-quagmire/You can also order an electronic version from Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/814922

LostInTheQuagmircover

When Sir Galahad arrives in Camelot to fulfill his destiny, the presence of Lancelot’s illegitimate son disturbs Queen Guinevere. But the young knight’s vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost inspires the entire fellowship of the Round Table to rush off in quest of Christendom’s most holy relic. But as the quest gets under way, Sir Gawain and Sir Ywain are both seriously wounded, and Sir Safer and Sir Ironside are killed by a mysterious White Knight, who claims to impose rules upon the quest. And this is just the beginning. When knight after knight turns up dead or gravely wounded, sometimes at the hands of their fellow knights, Gildas and Merlin begin to suspect some sinister force behind the Grail madness, bent on nothing less than the destruction of Arthur and his table. They begin their own quest: to find the conspirator or conspirators behind the deaths of Arthur’s good knights. Is it the king’s enigmatic sister Morgan la Fay? Could it be Arthur’s own bastard Sir Mordred, hoping to seize the throne for himself? Or is it some darker, older grievance against the king that cries out for vengeance? Before Merlin and Gildas are through, they are destined to lose a number of close comrades, and Gildas finds himself finally forced to prove his worth as a potential knight, facing down an armed and mounted enemy with nothing less than the lives of Merlin and his master Sir Gareth at stake.

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BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee (2018)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

On one level, Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansmanis a buddy-cop movie, in the vein of Tango and Cash or, in its evocation of the world of the ’70s, Freebie and the Bean, although the teaming up of a black and a white officer might call to mind 48 Hours or the immensely popular Lethal Weapon series. Like other films in this genre, the plot forces two people from very different backgrounds to work together to solve a crime or to investigate suspected criminals. The two officers are contrasted often in terms of rookie vs. veteran, by-the-book vs. seat of the pants or wildly unconventional, and/or often come from different ethnic groups. Typically they also learn something from one another and develop some sort of grudging mutual respect in the process. BlacKkKlansman, which features, from TV’s Ballers, John David Washington (son of Denzel. No pressure there) as Ron Stallworth, the rookie cop, and Adam Driver (Silence, StarWars: The Last Jedi) as veteran cop Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, hits every one of these defining points.

But the buddy film plot is only a convenient structure on which Lee hangs a number of other concerns. In the first place, Lee uses the medium of film to explore—and to censure—the role that film and other popular media have played in perpetuating black stereotypes and, to their deeper shame, normalizing racist or white supremacist attitudes by romanticizing them. Lee’s film actually opens with the immensely powerful scene from Gone With the Wind, Hollywood’s biggest ever blockbuster, showing Scarlett O’Hara among thousands of wounded southern soldiers as the camera pans out in a long crane shot to show the entire railway station grounds spread out beneath a tattered Confederate flag still bravely waving in the breeze. Our rebel boys may be losing, but their cause was just! It was about states’ rights, not slavery! Ashley Wilkes would have freed his slaves eventually anyway! The nostalgia for that way of life, now gone with the wind, is merely a dressed-up nostalgia for white supremacy.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the next scene in this prelude that frames the main action of the film is a polemical parody of a ranting white supremacist called by the fictional name of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin) putting together a far less polished propaganda film using black and white news footage from the 1960s (indicating when the film is supposedly being made). Beauregard’s voiceover rants about the evils of integration and miscegenation and the “mongrel nation” the United States is becoming, blaming the miscarriage of justice ushered in by the “Jewish-puppets on the Supreme Court” and their damnable decision in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education. The juxtaposition of these two film clips suggests a clear connection between the romanticizing of these racist ideas in the mainstream media, and the survival of those ideas at their most dangerous in peripheral media like the Beauregard propaganda film, and other more contemporary outlets in newer media.

This critical assessment of the media continues throughout the film, first in another, more serious political speech, this time by Kwame Ture, a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins of Straight Outta Compton), former Black Panther activist who remembers his boyhood obsession with films of Tarzan, king of the jungle, and confesses how he rooted for Tarzan to kill the black Africans that got in his way. Ture further criticizes media-created standards of beauty, which privilege typical white features to the detriment of African-American noses, lips and hair. “Black is beautiful” is Ture’s rival message.

In a somewhat lighter scene, Stallworth and girlfriend Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier of Spiderman:Homecoming), take a nature stroll while they discuss, over the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” current films with black protagonists: Shaft vs. Superfly, Cleopatra Jones vs. Coffy. Patrice’s voluminous Afro seems to channel Tamara Dobson’s Cleopatra, while with his pointy-shirt-collared leisure suits and his own impressive Afro Stallworth looks like he could have stepped straight off the set of Shaft. Stallworth argues that some of these films depict positive images of blacks in law enforcement, but Patrice, who thinks all cops are “pigs,” calls these depictions “blaxploitation fantasy.”

The climax of these Hollywood critiques occurs at a private banquet featuring David Duke—played, in a brilliant piece of casting, by Topher Grace of That Seventies Show, here portraying with chilling aplomb a different kind of ’70s figure. Duke, head of the KKK, is in town to initiate new members, and he presides over a screening of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. The 1915 silent feature was Hollywood’s first huge blockbuster and held all box office records for 24 years—until finally surpassed by Gone With the Wind. Griffith’s film, a technical masterpiece that set the standard for cinematic form for a generation, was a glorification of the most vicious kind of racism that romanticized the Ku Klux Klan and had the result of reinvigorating Klan membership nationwide and, as Lee argues, provoking violence against African Americans as the natural result.

As a framework to all of this, there is of course a plot in this film, based on the real Stallworth’s 2014 book Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime. A number of separate incidents in the book have been put together to make a single narrative for the film, that goes like this: Stallworth applies to become the first black police officer in Colorado Springs. At first, he is stuck in the evidence room, but he longs to work undercover. He gets his chance when the local college’s Black Student Union brings in Ture as a guest speaker, and the local police decide to infiltrate the rally in case Kure incites the crowd. Stallworth wears a wire and is monitored by Zimmerman, who proves to be an unexpected ally when the two of them report to the chief that Kure’s words were “just rhetoric” and not intended to incite the crowd to violence. But at the rally, Stallworth has met Patrice, president of the Black Student organization, and, without telling her he is a police officer, begins a relationship with her.

Back at the station, Stallworth notices an advertisement in the local paper recruiting members for the local branch of the KKK. He calls the number, poses as a white racist, and is invited to come and get acquainted with the group. Since he can hardly go himself, he enlists Zimmerman to pose as “Ron” and infiltrate the group, wearing a wire at all times. While the real Ron communicates by phone with the local leaders and with David Duke himself—asking why his membership card has been delayed—events ensue that put Zimmerman into some difficult situations but that also allow the police to uncover specific acts of planned violence.

More would probably be spoiler territory, but let me just say that the plot itself follows a fairly typical buddy-cop scenario. But in addition to its frank examination (and indictment) of the media and Hollywood in particular, the film has other things to recommend it. Driver, as a secular Jewish cop who has never given much thought to his ethnic heritage, but who is forced to confront it when faced with the vicious antisemitism of his KKK associates, has never been better. A scene in which Harry Belafonte, as the elderly Mr. Turner, describes the brutal murder of a friend in 1916 in scenes intercut with that screening of Birth of a Nation, is a masterpiece of editing. While I thought that the relationship and political differences between Ron and Patrice were underdeveloped and could have been better utilized, the film as a whole was particularly effective. In case we haven’t gotten the message, Lee’s concluding scenes return to a frame of media images, this time contemporary images of the white supremicists’ Charlottesville rally and President Trump’s defense of their actions—an indictment of an American society that, 40 years after the events of this film, has allowed those same racist attitudes to re-emerge more powerful than ever.

This may not be Do the Right Thing or Malcolm X, but it’s probably Lee’s best film since. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare 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.

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Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin

Marc Foster (2018)

2 JACQUELINE SUSANNS

If you go to see Disney’s live-action Christopher Robin, you’ll see some interesting “coming attractions,” one of which is for the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel 55 years in the making, that looks quite promising with the practically perfect Emily Blunt in the lead and Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the juggernaut that is Hamilton, in the equivalent of a Dick Van Dyke type role. The odds are pretty good that that film, like its original, will stress the theme of rejecting the daily grind of striving for more in favor of the childlike appreciation for simple joys, for taking time to smell the flowers and such like. This is also the theme of Christopher Robin, whose title character used to cavort about in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore, but has now grown up and forgotten everything that once made him happy. He’s become a kind of Mr. Banks and, like Banks, needs to reconnect with those things that make life worth living. It’s not a bad theme, I suppose, but you’d probably do better to watch the original Mary Poppins on Netflix or Hulu, or perhaps take your chances on the sequel when it comes out at Christmas. You might be disappointed in the current fare.

Another coming attraction you’ll see at this movie is for Disney’s new live-action Dumbo, the next big reimagining of a favorite animated classic. What with the significant advances in CGI effects, some of those crazy cartoon incidents, like flying elephants, can now be turned into live-action scenes, giving more of a sense of realism to the fantasy of animation. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing, but it seems to have worked pretty well with The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast, however, suffered in the translation, to my way of thinking, losing much of its magic in the conversion to flesh-and-blood Beauty, Beast, and household appliances. How Dumbowill fare remains to be seen, but in the case of Winnie the Pooh, I think it can be said that just because you can turn an animated movie into live action doesn’t mean you always should.

When the animated bear and tiger and donkey turn into actual stuffed animals that get dragged around through the woods and the water and get their paws and feet dipped in sticky honey, it’s really more disturbing than cute, because you’re not really going to have your kid play with a honey-drenched stuffed bear, are you? Really? And there’s no magical phenomenon going on in the Pooh stories that can be better presented through CGI than through animation. It’s just the quiet interactions of a kid and his toys. I have a feeling that if Disney decided to turn Toy Story into a live action feature, it would just be creepy, not enchanting.

Speaking of the quiet interaction of a kid and his toys, I will admit that, in the furor and noise of the summer action blockbuster season, a small, quiet movie that has nothing to do with saving the world from destruction or from evil or from bombs or from intergalactic villains can be a refreshing change of pace, and the quiet humor of the original Winnie the Pooh films can be a kind of haven against the encroaching sound and fury of the rest of the world. I remembered, sitting in the audience of this film, taking my daughter to Disney’s first Winnie the Pooh film forty years ago, the first movie I took her to as a special entertainment while her mother stayed home with her new baby brother. It delighted the 3-year-old’s imagination in a way I don’t think the current live-action film would be able to duplicate. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to reveal that I fell asleep in the film, finding little to delight or excite me in the “real-world” relationships portrayed.

The story of Christopher Robin begins with a prologue in which the young Christopher (a strangely emotionless Orton O’Brien) solemnly has a last adventure with all of his childhood animal friends before he is packed off to a solemn boarding school on his way to a solemn adulthood. As he enters adolescence, his father apparently dies, and eventually he marries Evelyn (Hayley Atwell from The Duchess and Captain America: The First Avenger), the love of his life, and has a daughter with her, Madeline (ultimately played by a charming Bronte Carmichael from Darkest Hour). Christopher fights in the second World War with the rest of Britain, and comes home to Evelyn and Madeline.

That is all exposition and is shown us in quick vignettes before the main action of the film begins. This is set in post-war Britain, and the adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor) is employed in middle management at the Winslow Luggage company in London, which is losing money daily because, what with the shortages in post-war Britain, nobody can afford to take vacations any more. As a result, Christopher is in a constant state of anxiety and works long hours trying to cut costs and increase profits in the business. Of course, he neglects his marriage and his daughter, and when he does pay any attention to Madeline, reading her a bedtime story, he ignores her request for an actual story and reads to her from a school text on Victorian society. No frippery for her!

Even when the family has planned to take a short holiday in the country, Christopher is forced to cancel because his overbearing boss Giles (Mark Gatiss, Mycroft of television’s Sherlock) insists that Christopher work all weekend to decide which twenty employees to let go, or to find an alternative solution to the company’s financial woes. Wife and daughter go off without him, and it is into the midst of this morose state of affairs that Christopher’s old chum Winnie the Pooh drops—awakened from his long hibernation in Christopher’s imagination, apparently, by Madeline’s finding one of his old drawings and asking him about them. Pooh, who has awakened in the Hundred Acre Wood and failed to find any of his old friends there, has come to get Christopher Robin to help him find them (they are, like Pooh, apparently dormant in Christopher’s imagination, and Christopher’s return to the wood is a psychological return. That’s for the adults in the audience. For the kids, it’s just regular magic).

I can’t say any more about the plot, since anything further might be considered a “spoiler,” but the truth is I probably don’t have to, since you can likely see where this is all leading. Believe me, there are no surprises. Unless I slept through them. We might have expected a little less cliché of a script from writers Alex Ross Perry (Nostalgia), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures)—based on a story by Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men) and Greg Brooker (Stuart Little)—but then, this could simply be a case of too many cooks. And the solemn, brooding tone of the film, which seems so inappropriate for a movie probably intended for children like my 3-year old daughter (or maybe her 4-year-old twins), may be the result of Marc Forster’s direction, whose films (Monster’s Ball,Quantum of Solace, World War Z), are not known for their light and airy touch.

Sure, McGregor is fine in his role, and shows a believable arc moving from dull workaholic to delighted friend of talking animals. And Carmichael is quite watchable as the constricted heir of Christopher’s imagination but they don’t really save the film. The voices, particularly of Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, and Brad Garrett as Eeyore, are often quite entertaining as well, and there are even moments of high humor, as when Christopher, in response to Pooh’s explanation of how he got to London, says “That’s a silly explanation,” and Pooh answers, “Why, thank you!”

But in the end, the film does not deliver on its promise. It needs more joy and less funk. It needs less live action and more animation. I’m giving this one two Jacqueline Susanns.

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

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shdm-curtain

The Spy Who Dumped Me

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Susanna Fogel (2018)

Whether it was planned or not, the opening of director Susanna Fogel’s new comedy/spy-thriller The Spy Who Dumped Me just one week following the opening of the latest Mission: Impossible flick seems like a brilliant marketing move. One week you thrill to the nonstop action and kicks of the traditional spy-thriller, and the following week you go to see a parody of the genre that makes you see, and laugh at, the holes that have always existed in the men-only macho club that spy films have always been, dating back to the beginning of the Bond era in 1961. The title’s allusion to the classic 1977 Roger Moore Bond classic The Spy Who Loved Me seems to trumpet the film’s intent, 41 years later, to undercut the patriarchy’s stranglehold on the genre. But Fogel’s script, cowritten with David Iserson (best known as a Saturday Night Live writer), does little to send up the genre itself, pairing Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon as comically amateur secret agents. Mainly it makes them look out of place and overmatched in this mysterious and dangerous world. In this sense Paul Feig’s 2015 Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy did a better job of putting a woman—albeit one who also had a pretty steep learning curve—into the driver’s seat of that Aston Martin DB5.

The hybrid nature of the movie causes some problems, as the two genres don’t always mesh well, as if the film doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. There are times, for instance when the violence becomes intense but still seems as if it’s being played for laughs, as when a cab driver on meth tries to drive the two women away from their deadly pursuers: The ensuing violence was supposed to be funny, as far as I could tell, but it wasn’t, since we had been amused by, and were therefore sympathetic with, the cabbie’s character. On the other hand, why is it simply assumed that any joke about diarrhea must be funny? It’s not.

There is, however, plenty in this movie that is funny. Some of it is pure slapstick, like McKinnon’s forced trapeze act late in the film. Some is sheer absurdity, like the scene in which the fleeing Kunis and McKinnon try to escape their pursuers by confiscating an older couple’s car, which it turns out has a stick shift that neither knows what to do with, and which they end up driving very slowly into a newsstand. And some involves verbal wit and plays on words, a la Groucho Marx, as in the scene in which a slimy and pretentious host who seems to be hitting on McKinnon asks her “Are you a lover of Balzac?” and she answers, “Less and less with every experience.”

The plot begins in a neighborhood bar at a birthday party for Audrey (Kunis), which is being thrown for her by Morgan (McKinnon). Audrey isn’t having a particularly good time because, as you might have guessed, her boyfriend, an NPR podcaster named Drew, has just dumped her—and in a text message no less, adding insult to injury. What a sleaze-ball, right?

We also see Drew (Justin Theroux of Star Wars: The Last Jedi), dashing across an unpleasant- looking neighborhood of Vilnius, Lithuania, dodging bullets and killing anybody who gets in his way. Turns out he’s actually in the CIA. This might explain why he hasn’t been answering her texts.

At her birthday party, though. Morgan has convinced Audrey that she needs to stop brooding over this guy and that they need to burn everything the loser has left back in her apartment—including his second-place fantasy football league trophy. This text message somehow gets Drew’s immediate attention.

Turns out there’s something really important in that trophy, something that many people are ready, willing and eager to kill over. What it is doesn’t really matter—this is a McGuffin in the classic Hitchcockian sense: basically a device that is simply used to trigger the plot and has little or no importance of its own. But Drew returns in order to save his second-place trophy from the bonfire of the vanities (why if he’d left something so important with Audrey would he have broken up with her so cavalierly, you may well ask. But more on that later). Unfortunately, Drew brings a lot of baggage with him in the form of people wanting to kill him. So he’s shot and killed almost immediately after showing back up in Audrey’s place, and with his dying breath he entrusts to her his precious second-place trophy, telling her she needs to bring it to a certain restaurant in Vienna where apparently thousands of innocent lives depend on her being able to deliver it to Drew’s contact, Vern. “Trust no one!” he tells her with his last gasp.

And so Audrey and Morgan are off for Vienna, on the run from a variety of pursuers, including CIA agents Sebastian (Sam Heughan of TV’s Outlander)—who may or may not be Drew’s contact—and his pretentious partner Duffer (Hasan Minhaj of TV’s The Daily Show)—who has a tough time getting through a conversation without mentioning his time at Harvard. More scary is Nadedja (Ukrainian actress Ivanna Sakhno of Pacific Rim: Uprising), a former Olympic gymnast turned fashion model/assassin, who comes after them like some Terminator-style robot of destruction, but one whose monomaniacally lethal quest is nearly derailed by the way Audrey and Morgan reveal one another’s most intimate secrets as only best friends can. Less successful is the inclusion of Gillian Anderson in the cast, promoted from the X-Files to a managerial post in the CIA. She has almost nothing to do other than look bemusedly at McKinnon, which seems a waste of her talents.

As in the typical Bond-Bourne-Ethan Hunt film, the two fledgling spies continue to run, chase, and kill through a plethora of exotic European venues—Berlin, Paris, and in a clever twist, Prague, site of the first Mission: Impossible film, to which it alludes with a noteworthy aerial shot of the Charles Bridge, site of the first major plot twist of that franchise-launching movie. But the film’s greatest weakness is the fact that all these different venues are essentially just backdrops for discrete scenes that play like Saturday Night Live skits intent on maximizing the laughs within the set piece itself, but unconcerned with connecting coherently with the rest of the scenes. And like Saturday Night Live itself, the writers seem to be determined to fill the time slot (in two hours here instead of SNL’s 90 minutes), and so they just keep filling in with more set pieces even when all their best jokes are spent. The film is overlong and the plot is disconnected. As set pieces, the scenes work fine. As a coherent story, the film falls short.

There have been terrific comedies that had incoherent plots. The Marx Brothers come to mind, particularly the classic Duck Soup, which is no more than vaguely-connected set pieces. But of course you were watching the Marx Brothers. McKinnon and Kunis may not be in that category, at least not yet, but their performances, especially the frenetic McKinnon’s, are the strongest part of the movie, and in the end they do manage to prove that women can be just as competent as men in the spy business. Just think what they could have done with a better script. Two Jacqueline Susanns and half a Tennyson 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

tom-cruise-mission-impossible-fallout

Mission: Impossible–Fallout

Mission: Impossible–Fallout

Christopher McQuarrie (2018)

If a two-and-a-half hour roller-coaster ride is your idea of a good time, then you’re going to love this latest installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, pushing his 56-year-old body through reckless motorcycle pursuits through Paris streets, chases on foot through London skyways, and wild helicopter crashes through the skies of Kashmir with stunts that surpass the ones performed by the 34-year-old version of Cruise in the original Mission: Impossible. Did even Harrison Ford do as much in his mid-fifties? Can we expect the same of Wayne Johnson in another ten years? Cruise is nothing short of phenomenal as he powers through most of these stunts himself: the guy is running, leaping, climbing, hanging off helicopters, even breaking his ankle apparently after one stunt. As Ving Rhames says at one point in the film, “same old Ethan.”

Yes, Rhames is back as Luther for his fourth straight MI film, and Simon Pegg returns as his pal Benji for the third time. These two sidekicks go a long way toward creating the camaraderie and the relatively light atmosphere in these conventionally high-tech spy thrillers. Also back is love interest Ilsa Faust (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, recently seen in The Greatest Showman). Faust is a former British agent who wants to go home but whom MI6 will not allow to return to her country unless she completes a secret task for them. But in a surprising return, Ethan’s ex Julia Meade-Hunt, whom he separated from for her own safety in MI3, pops back into his life. Julia is played by Michelle Monaghan (Patriots Day), who looks enough like Fergusson to keep me confused as to who was who for the first part of the movie. I guess Ethan knows what he likes.

Add to these a new mysterious siren/arms dealer known as the White Widow (Emmy-nominated Vanessa Kirby from TV’s The Crown), who is the daughter, McQuarrie reveals (in an offhand remark she makes that 99% of the audience, including myself, would miss but that my awesome wife Stacey Margaret Jones did not), of the arms dealer Max (Vanesa Redgrave) from Brian de Palmas inaugural Mission:Impossible film. Alec Baldwin returns as IMF boss Alan Hunley and Angela Bassett is introduced as CIA director Erica Sloan. Add Sean Harris returning from Rogue Nation as the incredibly creepy anarchist mastermind Solomon Lane, and Fallout boasts a promising cast. But the really inspired casting coup in this film is giving Ethan Superman as his new partner.

Yes, Henry Cavill (The DC universe’s Man of Steel) plays CIA agent August Walker, Sloan’s right-hand man, who tags along on Hunt’s mission and helps to make it not just impossible, but downright difficult.

The plot, should you care to accept it, begins, as usual, with the taped summary of background information made famous by the original Mission: Impossible TV show and maintained in the films as an elegant and efficient way of getting any pesky exposition out of the way: So there are these three plutonium cores that have gone missing, along with a famous Norwegian (?) nuclear scientist named Nils Debruuk (Kistoffer Joner of The Revenant). Debruuk is presumably helping an arms dealer named John Lark and his gang of global baddies, all of whom are apostles of the villain from the last MI film, Solomon Lane (and who call themselves, of course, the Apostles) to build three nuclear devices with the aim of destroying holy sites at Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca in the hope of bringing about some sort of global religious bloodbath.

Ethan, however, mishandles the exchange he and his crew have arranged with the arms dealers, because the villains have captured Luther and are threatening to kill him. Ethan’s choice to save Luther costs him the plutonium, and also costs him the trust of CIA director Sloan, who insists that Walker (who does not share Ethan’s scruples about keeping down the body count) should tag along as her watchdog when Ethan goes after the plutonium again. The other result of the loss of the plutonium is that Ethan, disguised as Lark, must now negotiate with the White Widow in order to recover those bomb cores.

As far as plot goes, that’s about it. Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the previous MI installment and is back as director and writer for this one, is not concerned here with penning a screenplay worthy of an Oscar nomination (as he did with The Usual Suspects). His goal here is to string together one action set piece after another in rapid succession, with just enough dialogue to give the audience a breather in between.

So this really isn’t a movie you want to go to for the intricacies of the plot, though there are one or two surprises (which are telegraphed pretty far ahead of time). It’s not a movie that you go to for its brilliant dialogue and complex character development: people are pretty simply good or bad, and Ethan Hunt is not really a character who has ever been all that relatable. Compared with other similar action-film franchises, you tend to care about James Bond or Jason Bourne as a person, but Ethan is more of a blank slate, a guy who performs remarkable stunts but whose inner life is not all that evident, and is never the focus of the film. And this is not a movie that you go to because of its profound political or social themes: people who want to blow things up are bad, people who want to keep things from blowing up are good—that seems to be the main political message of the film. On a slightly deeper level, Ethan cares about taking as few lives as possible, while others—Sloan and Walker in particular—don’t seem to care how many lives are lost as long as they achieve the objective: “That’s the job,” Sloan says.

What you do want to go to this movie for are the action scenes, which take up most of the film and are knit together by brief bits of dialogue that advance the plot, such as it is. But the action scenes are quite adrenalin inducing: Cruise and Cavill leap from a plane to parachute into Paris (why they have to get there this way is never convincingly established) and into a lightning storm, free-falling some 25,000 feet. Cavill, Cruise, and Liang Yang engage in a memorable three-way hand-to-hand brawl in a huge men’s room that leaves a lot of broken glass, porcelain, and busted dry-wall for the poor custodians to clean up; but the fight is a carefully choreographed dance, a fact that becomes apparent at one point when the rhythm of the punches thrown actually mimics the individual notes of the familiar Mission: Impossible theme song. There’s a motorcycle-car-motorboat chase through Paris and there’s a frenetic footrace through London that involves leaps from windows and between buildings. And there’s a final helicopter chase/battle in which Cruise actually was flying his own copter. This incredibly tense scene is set in Kashmir, but apparently was actually filmed in three different countries, one of which was Norway (does that explain the Norwegian rocket scientist?), and then spliced together into a seamless whole in the editing room. And each of these scenes was filmed the old-fashioned way: in the actual physical world, without a blue-screen background or CGI effects. That is what makes them so impressive, so pristine, so viscerally real. They don’t make movies like this anymore. At least not often.

This movie is not going to change your life, and you’re not going to come away quoting the scintillating dialogue or with a profound new insight into the human condition. But the action scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat for the full 147-minute running time. 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

The-Equalizer-2.3

The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2

Antoine Fuqua (2018)

On a summer weekend dominated not by hugely anticipated blockbusters but rather by a pair of not particularly eagerly-anticipated sequels, Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer 2narrowly beat out Mama Mia 2for box office champion with a fairly anemic (by today’s summer opening weekend standards) $35 million. In the lull between the Incrediblessequel and Mission: Impossible’s opening, this film is an entertaining enough diversion, even though it plays like a bloated television episode of a not-too-imaginative action series—one that would have fit neatly into an hour-long network slot, but that seems to have to stretch its content with long, slow scenes intended to expand it to its 129 minute-length. And trust me, you feel every one of those last 29 minutes.

What makes the film as diverting as it is is, of course, the presence of Denzel Washington. One of the great actors of his generation, the 63-year old Washington agreed, in Equalizer 2, to star in the first sequel of his distinguished career. The chance to work once more with Antoine Fuqua (who directed Washington in his Oscar-winning role in Training Day, as well as in the Magnificent Sevenremake, in addition to the original Equalizer) and screenwriter Richard Wenk (who teamed with Fuqua to write The Magnificent Seven and The Equalizer) no doubt had a bearing on Washington’s decision to do the sequel. Money was surely another factor: The original Equalizermade some $192 million worldwide in 2014, and it’s a good bet the sequel will gross at least that much.

The first film was based on a CBS television series of the same name that ran from 1985 to 1989, starring the British actor Edward Woodward as a retired secret agent trying to live under the radar in New York City, but who ends up using his impressive skills to help innocent people out of dangerous situations. Twenty-five years after the series was defunct, Fuqua resurrected the premise in Boston, with Washington starring as Robert McCall, a former CIA agent working quietly at a Home Mart hardware store. His wife has recently died, and he promised her that he would quit his old life. McCall befriends his co-worker Ralph and helps the young man pass his qualifying exam to become a security guard. He also spends sleepless nights at a diner reading Hemingway, where he befriends a teenaged sex worker named Alina and discusses The Old Man and the Seawith her. Oh, and while performing all these kindnesses, he also manages to save Alina from the Russian Mafia, using those skills he told his dying wife he was giving up.

Audiences liked the premise of that film well enough to encourage this sequel, and in the current film McCall returns to his vigilante ways. He’s still keeping a low profile, trying to live out of the public eye. Now he’s left the hardware store to take a job as a Lyft driver. But he’s still the same guy: He’s moved from Hemingway to Proust in his literary explorations, but he still befriends folks in need whom other people seem to overlook. One of his regular fares is an aged Holocaust survivor played by the delightfully cast Orson Bean, for whom he takes the time to try to help recover a stolen painting from the old man’s youth. In a more developed (and more clichéd) sub-plot, McCall takes under his wing a neighborhood teenager named Miles (Ashton Sanders of Moonlight), who seems at a crossroads between making use of his notable artistic talents and joining a neighborhood gang. In addition to ripping Miles away from his new gang at gunpoint, McCall also hands the kid a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir Between the World and Me.Guns and books will save us, is McCall’s philosophy. 

But the main plot of the film involves McCall’s old CIA chumSusan Plummer (Melissa Leo, returning from the first film), who drops in to his apartment without warning, apparently simply to tell him she’s sorry about his wife dying and to advise him that engaging in random acts of violence to help innocent victims is not going fill the void in his life. And then she’s off to Brussels to investigate the murder of one of her agents and his family. As might be expected, she’s also killed while making the investigation, a crime that spurs McCall into action.

McCall has been assumed dead by everyone he used to know, but to investigate Susan’s murder he takes the chance of revealing himself to his old partner Dave (Pedro Pascal from TV’s Gameof Thrones), who also happened to be with Susan in Brussels. But as he tries to find the perpetrators behind Susan’s death, McCall finds himself the target of a group of international criminals bent on his destruction. At one point he rescues Susan’s husband Brian (a woefully underused Bill Pullman, who also returns from the first film, apparently just to increase the star power for the brief instant he is onscreen): The gang is apparently trying to cut off loose ends.

In the background, throughout the film, are TV and radio weather reports warning of a significant storm moving into the Boston area. It’s no great surprise, then, that the climax of the film involves McCall being pursued through a storm-swept Massachusetts seaside town by a team of four assassins. Although it’s a scene replete with violence of the most gruesome variety, it’s also the most boring scene in the film, stretching on beyond the limits of endurance and of patience for what seems an eternity. This isn’t the only place in the movie where an editor would have come in handy, but it’s certainly the most badly in need of one.

Ultimately the movie is a forgettable diversion for a hot afternoon in July. Denzel is always worth watching, and nobody else in the film has enough of a role to get too excited about, though Leo, Pascal and the young Sanders do the best they can with the little they are given. The subplot with Orson Bean seems totally unrelated to the rest of the film: It is intended, clearly, to show McCall’s good heart and his motivation to help his neighbors, especially those to whom life has dealt a losing hand. But McCall has so little to do with this and it is so underwritten, that when the subplot resurfaces at the end it seems irrelevant. And I’ve already suggested the banality of the melodramatic keep-the-poor-kid-out-of-the-gang subplot. Oh, and did I mention the interminable climactic scene? This film might have been a fairly snappy 90-minute action flick. Instead it drags its feet for 129 minutes.

There does seem to be a moral to this tale of vigilante violence, and it’s a relatively simple one: The villain of the piece justifies his actions by claiming that there are no good people or bad people— just “unfortunates” whose names appear on his list of people who must be killed. This is diametrically opposed to McCall’s take on things, which is essentially that he must protect good people who happen to be “unfortunates” from others who are clearly bad. And that is what makes him a sympathetic hero.

Washington has declared publicly that at one point in his life he was, like the film’s Miles, a young person in danger of taking a wrong turn, but that somebody helped him and kept him from slipping through society’s cracks. This could explain why a star of his magnitude makes a film like this one. So, we get the message, Denzel. Two Jacqueline Susanns for this one, with a half a Tennyson thrown in for Denzel’s esteemed presence.

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

fotonoticia_20180709121719_640

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

Ruud Reviews Movie Rating Scale

4 Shakespeares

This is a great film.
You need to see it, or incur my wrath.

 

Tennysons

This movie is worth seeing.
I’d go if I were you. But then, I go to a lot of movies.

 

2 Jacqueline Susanns

If you like this kind of movie, you’ll probably be entertained by this one.
I wasn’t all that much.

 

1 Robert Southey

Skip it.
This one really isn’t worth your money. If you’re compelled to see it anyway, at least be smart enough to wait until you can see it for less money on Netflix or HBO. If you go see it in the theater, I may never speak to you again.