TAG – GOOFY MOVIE GIVES GOOD ADVICE

SHORT TAKE:

Based loosely on the real life camaraderie amongst 10 friends who have been playing the same game of Tag one month a year for 30 years, the movie Tag focuses on a representative five, plus one wife, a fiancee, and a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who breaks the story to the world.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Young adults and up. The language and topics discussed are often raw and juvenilely crude and graphic. And the stunts these men are shown to pull are dangerous even under the supervision of stunt men, as Jeremy Renner found out. You would not want young impressionable kids trying to imitate them.

LONG TAKE:

"You do not stop playing games because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing games." This rather wise saying by George Bernard Shaw is the avowed, often repeated, theme of the movie Tag.

I have often advised my girls and teased my husband and sons that I do not believe men ever really get beyond the age of 13. Be they the Pope, your husband, your 80 year old grandfather, your investment broker, or your doctor, they hit puberty and that's — that. The only difference amongst them is their ability to hide it. It's one of the things that is most charming about them and used properly is a superpower.

And for anyone who does not believe me, you should see Tag, the movie, based on a real group of ten men, written up in a 2013 Wall Street Journal  article by Russell Adams.. Back row, from left to right: Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Shultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann and Brian Dennehy. Front row, from left to right: Father Sean Raftis, Joey Tambari, Joe Caferro and Rick Bruya. (Courtesy of Father Sean Raftis ) These men, from all walks of life, one a priest, met at a Catholic school and  have been playing the same game of Tag, on and off, for THIRTY years. The Tag Brothers as they call themselves, particpate in this childlike joyous event for one month every year as a way to keep in touch —- literally — with each other. They have played despite and sometimes because of: births, deaths, weddings, illness and distances. They have tagged each other, in real life, by their own admission: in disguise, after flying hundreds of miles, appearing at family events, and even breaking into each others' HOMES! It's a wonder none of them have shot the other yet. One got tagged during his father's funeral – the taggee acknowledging it was a form of comfort and condolence and that his father, a big supporter of their game, would have thought funny. The group collected to support one of them when his wife was undergoing chemo and tagged him there. They have tagged each other when wives were in labor, and even when those children were being conceived!! (I do NOT even want to IMAGINE that one!) It is the way these men have chosen to stay friends.

As funny as this premise is you'd think it would be a one trick pony, perhaps documentary worthy but not enough to carry a movie. But you'd be wrong. The screenwriters, Rob McKittrich and Mark Steilen, have rather cleverly condensed the reality and formed it into an analogy for what keeps people together.

SPOILERS

Obviously an ensemble cast, to introduce them in rough order of appearance: Ed Helms as Hoagie, a successful veterinarian married to Isla Fisher’s extremely competitive Anna. Jon Hamm plays Bob, a wealthy CEO of a drug manufacturing company. Annabelle Willis is Rebecca, the reporter who embeds herself into the group. Jake Johnson is "Chili," the loser friend, stuck in his hippie, weed smoking, teenaged days.  Hannibal Buress is Sable, an air-heady sweet guy who sees life existentially. And then there is Jerry – Jeremy "Hawkeye" and "Bourne" Renner  – waxing and waning with the group as they pursue him during his wedding preparations. He is the main target this year because, in thirty years of playing tag with these same four friends, he has NEVER —- BEEN —– TAGGED, and rumor has it he will retire at the end of the month. And there is almost no lengths to which these men will go – physically, legally or in mental gamesmanship – in order to avoid being the last "it" – or to end the game without Jerry beng tagged at least once.

The personalities in the story are composites. There are no comparable individuals who are directly represented in the movie, but the premise and inspiration which ignited this crazy story did and does continue. The game, as it were, is STILL a foot!

WSJ also published the Tag Agreement drafted and signed as young adults by the Tag Brothers, based upon the rules they followed as children.

I normally consider profanity in movies largely a lack of creativity. But I have to admit on some level it is appropriate in Tag. Once the game is on, the men revert to the crude one-upsman language of adolescent teenagers – comparing and hitting genitalia, awkwardly throwing out "cuss" words, and using profanity as though they are trying to win a secondary competition for the most vulgarity. But this is what little boys do. They play rough and crash headlong in and through windows, businesses, private homes, yards and garbage cans during the chases. So energetic were the scenes as filmed that during one failed stunt involving a stack of chairs Jeremy Renner broke bones in both arms. The rest of the movie was filmed having to CGI around the "green screen" casts he had to wear.

But what was most charming about Tag was the moral to the story. Jerry, the all time champion who had never been tagged, knew everything about his friends. He knew how they thought, acted, what they did for a living, the strengthes and weaknesses of their personalities and could thereby anticipate any schemes to trap him. This, and his almost superhuman running speed, has kept him the reigning champion for 30 years. Ironically, but in hindsight predictably, his friends knew very little about him. They didn't know he was getting married or to whom. They didn't know he had a drinking problem or that he was in AA – until they bribe one of Jerry's own employees to rat out Jerry's location. Jerry may have been the Olympic Tag gold medalist but the cost was not spending any time with his friends during the one month the rest were together scheming to get him. Tag deals with the 30 years resolution to this conundrum.

It is the heart to this goofy movie which helps ratchet up Tag above its threadbare premise.

Another clever and memorable aspect to Tag are the homages to other movie genres. A number of schemes are attempted to tag Jerry. One plays out like a classic monster movie as the group moves through a foggy forest. Another scenario includes Jerry's internal POV as a voice over describing his analysis of their attacks and how he plans to countermand them – much like Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. Other scenes give nods to Renner's stint as the Bourne Legacy character Aaron Cross as he uses everything from tablecloths to donuts and a walker to thwart his friends and leaps chairs, through windows and around staircases with an agility that his own Hawkeye would have admired.

As ridiculous as this movie is, I could not help but smile at the irresistable charm of grown men letting loose in a spirit of genuine fun with their friends. If the quote by Shaw is right, the Tag Brothers will remain eternally young as they keep their bonds of friendship alive. And that is a game worth playing.

BAO – DISTURBING SHORT IN FRONT OF THE INCREDIBLES 2 YOU MAY WANT TO MISS

 

Bao

There is a strange little short at the beginning of The Incredibles 2 called Bao (meat or vegetable filled dumpling) about a dumpling which comes to life for a lonely woman, so is spared from being eaten, until it grows to an age where he wants to leave home and marry, at which point the mom EATS the dumpling! The movie has nothing to do with The Incredibles 2 plot, except perhaps as a counterpoint DYSFUNCTIONAL family dynamic, making the strong family of Incredibles look even better. This is some fairly disturbing imagery, softened very little by the revelation that the "dumpling" is merely a reflection of her real life son, an only child, who left his parents to marry. While there is reconciliation with said son in the end, brought about by his understanding father, and acceptance of the non-Asian wife as she learns dumpling making from her mother-in-law, I could not get the unsettling imagery out of my head of the mother willingly eating her child rather than allow him to mature and leave home. This is a short you may want to either get in late enough to avoid or prepare to discuss with your kids later.

INCREDIBLES 2 – AND NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY

SHORT TAKE:

The second act of a two part story which began as The Incredibles in 2004. No more, no less as delightful, fulfilling, family friendly, exciting and fun as the first half.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Absolutely everyone! ESPECIALLY if you are a fan of the first installment. (Though I can not say the same about the short in the beginning, Bao, which has nothing to do with the main movie and which you might want to give a miss. I explain why in a spoiler-filled overview of Bao at the end of this The Incredibles 2 review.)

LONG TAKE: 

"And now you know the rest of the story."

Paul Harvey was a radio personality who used to tell stories on air about little known facts or anecdotes, leaving some key element out until the end – like one about a war hero who turned out to be Lee Marvin, why the passengers on the Titanic didn't have to die, what really happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – that kind of thing. So as I watched the beginning of The Incredibles 2 pick up IMMEDIATELY as Incredibles (1) had ended, that tag line came to mind.

If you have not seen Incredibles 2 yet please do not read any further. I don't want anything I have to say influence your fresh impression of the movie. It's bad enough trailers give away too much nowadays. I do not want to compound that affront for anyone who has not yet enjoyed the sequel to the original Incredibles. For those of you who HAVE seen I2, READ ON!

SPOILERS – REALLY SERIOUSLY – DON'T READ ANY MORE UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE!!

Okay for those of you who have already seen the movie I have a confession to make. I was just a little bit disappointed, but really it was my own fault. Please do not get me wrong – I LOVED The Incredibles 2. It's a terrific movie. But let me give you some examples – for those of us living in the south do you remember the first time you ever saw snow? The experience of seeing it again can never match up to the anticipation you have built up from your original encounter with the frozen fluffy stuff.

OR – When you're a kid, no matter how amazing Christmas is, there is always a little teensy part of you that is just a little bit disappointed that it's not as amazing as you expected it to be. Build up and eager high hopes can do that to you. FOURTEEN YEARS worth of anticipation cannot help but handicap the real item when it finally comes along. And, yes folks, it has been 14 years since writer/director Brad Bird hatched the first Incredibles and introduced us to the Parr family of superheroes.

All our favorite characters are back!! And despite the time passage, all the voices are the same: Holly Hunter with her growly, lispish, Texas-twanged Helen, Craig T. Nelson, the occasionally bombastic Bob, Samuel L Jackson, the smooth crooning voice of Lucius, Sarah Vowell returns as Violet whose vocal mannerisms echo an individual variation on her mom. Jonathan Banks returns as Rick Dickers, the exhausted, put-upon government agent assigned to help hide the existence and whereabouts of the Supers. And Brad Bird, the director, writer and father figure to the entire Incredibles Universe returns to voice my all time favorite character – Edna Mode, the adorably abrasive, diminutive costume designer to the Supers, whose own super powers are: mega-confidence, an almost mystical calm, extraordinary talent, and a forcefully maternal, protective, preternatural insightfulness into the Supers themselves. She was conceived by Bird as the solution to the eternal question: since when do super powers automatically make you a gifted tailor? Where DO those awesome suits COME from?! AND contrary to popular opinion, according to Bird, himself, he did not create the inimitable "E" from any one or combination of real life designers – at least not consciously. She is simply a mismash of the cultures of Japan and Germany – two, he thought, countries who were very small in relation to their cultural impact – much like Edna herself. Therefore, her house decor is a combo of Japanese and German, as is the clothes she herself wears, her odd accent, and even her personality – swinging wildly from imperturbability to wildly forceful and persuasive as the occasion demands.

Unfortunately, Spencer Fox’ Dash’ boisterous reflection of his Dad’s commanding vocals had to be replaced with the younger Huck Milner, but you will not notice the difference. Fox is the only one to be replaced. According to interviews and articles the decision seems to have been arrived at from a combination of Fox’ puberty, (like in the lyrics of "Puff the Magic Dragon" warns: "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys"),  Fox’ committments with his punk band Charley Bliss, and a certain nostalgic ennui Fox had for the entire project – that it was something great he did in his childhood to which he didn’t really want to revisit.

AND NOW FOR SOME SERIOUS SPOILERS – THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

First off, calling it a sequel really isn’t accurate. Incredibles 2 is actually a continuation of the first movie. Literally. We pick up in the first moment of Incredibles 2 after the last second of The Incredibles (1). The Underminer has arrived and the family Parr (the word "par" meaning average) becomes the family of Incredibles. (Anyone notice the name significance before this? Very clever underscoring by Bird, I thought.) They go into action as a group and avert a massive casualty list of people but rack up a lot of collateral property damage in stopping the mammoth runaway drill.

Once again they are unjustly blamed and sent off in disgrace, reinforcing to the public, through the willing accomplices in the media, why Supers were banned to begin with.

Helen is summoned by a Super-Hero-loving industrial magnate, Winston Deavor, (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor "Evil Endeavor" – geddit? (Catherine Keener) to be the face the Supers need to become accepted again. For any of you who have seen the trailer, the movie plot largely revolves around Bob adjusting to a Mr. Mom status while Helen goes off to be the poster child for Super Heroes. And the fish-out-of-water aspect to the movie is wonderful – fun, touching and eminently relatable to any parent ever. Bob trades fighting collassus killing machines, saving people from building fires, and wrestling with super villains for math homework, meals and a metapowered baby – oh yeah and exhaustion:

It is the genius of Brad Bird that he creates a reflection of a modern family and places it into a Super Hero framework.  The Parrs/Incredibles is a fairly young family – mom, dad, children. The kids cover the spectrum too – early teen, adolescent and infant. One of the things, I believe, which made The Incredibles such a universally loved movie was that people intuited the metaphor. In an interview with Bird prior to the release of the sequel, Bird makes this clear. Bob, the father, is given incredible strength, as a father must have in one way or another: physically, mentally, and morally, to the best of his ability, he must stand strong in the eyes of those he has sworn to protect. Helen, the mom, stretches in impossible ways, much like your average mother who must be psychologist, chauffeur, chef, teacher, and judge, all while carrying a baby on her hip and breast feeding. Dash, the adolescent, has just GOTTA MOVE, so is super fast! Violet suffers the normal angst teens go through – is standoffish and sometimes wants to disappear, so has the powers of invisibility and force fields. Jack Jack is an unknown but delightful baby – which pretty much fits the description of every infant.

Everyone who has ever been in a family, which is, of course, everyone, can relate to one or more of each of these characters. And every family has challenges and threats which come at them, against which they are best advised to confront together. 

In what is really only the first half of a 3 hour movie, in the 2004 installment of The Incredibles, Bob comes to understand he has allowed his desire for the limelight to overpower the real center stage he should be occupying – that of Super Hero in his own home. The kids learn their parents really are the heroes in their lives and step up to the plate to emulate and obey their parents. Together they learn this lesson in spades and the family is triumphant.

The second half of the movie – aka Incredibles 2 – puts this newfound unity, affection and understanding immediately to the test. A familiar tune, as there is not a day goes by that the family in general is not under attack.

It is (if you’ll excuse the pun) INCREDIBLY refreshing to have a movie where the Dad is and wants to be the man of the house, but is still confident enough as the leader to step aside, when that is the right thing to do. That he will do the right and manful thing for his family, EVEN IF, as in this unusual situation, he must temporarily suppress his own natural, and very powerful, normal desires and instincts to protect and provide for his family, to allow someone else to take point. The wife is a considerate partner, without either being submissive or dominating – conferring with her husband on important issues, but being wise enough to leave the final decision up to her husband, knowing and trusting his judgement. The husband is wise enough to put his own needs, wants and desires aside for the good of the Supers in general, sure, but primarily for his own family and his own children. The parents' first thoughts are for their children – even if it means leaving their own comfort zones, or putting aside their own goals and wants.

In other words, the Incredibles  have their priorities straight!! And their nom de plume – Parr, the average – points out that this is and should be the structure of every successful family. That every family should aim for this healthy functional dynamic. And that is a wonderful thing to see.

I do have a few quibbles with the plot. This is not meant to be a negative but a hope that the next movie will be even better. They may be smnall quibbles, but they did have 14 LOOOONG years to think of a script and it seems some of these things could have and should have been worked out:

1. The first one dates back to the first installment – Jack Jack got away from Syndrome because he expressed some heavy duty powers: turned into a monster, caught fire, became metal – but at the end of the first movie no one knows he has powers. And in the beginning of the second movie Bob is shocked that Jack Jack has powers when he starts to display them and Helen later makes it clear she didn’t know either. NONE of them saw any of what Jack Jack did to Syndrome? Granted it was a traumatic moment and they were pretty high up in the sky but the Parr family is used to crises and they have super powers!

2. Their living arrangements. Their house is destroyed by Syndrome’s crashing plane. At the end of the first movie some time seems to have gone by. Violet makes headway with Tony – gets noticeed, he asks her out on a date; Dash has accepted he must restrain his abilities and the family has developed a certain code with him about holding back at events like track meets; there seems to have been some time to adjust, become comfortable with their new found unity and must be living somewhere. But when we see them in the beginning of the second movie they are still living in a second rate government sponsored hotel.

3. The Parrs, at the beginning of Incredibles 2 are broke and unemployed. Bob can’t get a job as a security guard? Bank teller? Dock Worker? Secret service??!! They’ve already run through the insurance money for their house? And don’t tell me Bob wouldn’t have had insurance to cover the unlikely eventuality of a plane falling on his house. He WORKED for an insurance company.

4. The no-show Supers were never addressed. Why did Gazorbeam and Dynaguy not answer the Deavors' phone when they were under attack? Were they already dead at Syndrome's hands? The parent Deavors were elderly and the siblings only barely seem to have had time to adjust to running the company, so maybe a year or two? So the timing would be about right. If so, why did no one explain that to Evelyn? The Supers who did not come to their parents aid were likely DEAD, and ironically, at the hands of Syndrome, someone who, like Evelyn, wanted to de-power the Supers for their own selfish, shortsighted reasons.

5. I find it odd that none of the Super Heroes questioned the motives of yet another mega-rich entity interested in hiring them. Wasn't the last movie about exactly that? Granted it turned out Winston was the real deal, but aside from Lucius assuring them  Winston was on the up and up after a single interview, no doubts are shared or intentions dissected by any of a group who should have been extremely sensitive to this scenario, coming so close on the heels of a very similar one from which they just finished extracting themselves.

More of an observation than a critique, this is also kind of a dark movie – more so than the first. Whether you like it or not, and I did like it, there is an element of reality infused into this "kids’" movie. People do die. Ethical and legal debates are had around the Parr dinner table. And there are complex cultural issues to wrestle with, along with physically fighting bad guys. Much like the Sokovia Accords in The Avengers Universe, the ban on Supers smacks of an unjust legalese stemming from an urge to place blame on the easy marks of Super Heroes instead of the real villains. It is easier to rein in people who willingly abide by and enforce the law than it is the criminals who break them.The issue of breaking a law in civil disobedience and leaving her family to save it, are ironies which are discussed and will be of interest to the adults in the audience, but will go over the heads of most of the youngsters. Bird, himself, said in an interview that he eschews the term "kid" movie but simply makes animated films he would enjoy seeing. His is obviously a winning prescription, but it makes for a movie which might lose the attention of younger viewers in places.

Which talk of Sokovia Accords and the ban of Supers brings me to the REAL villain of the Incredibles. It’s not really Screenslayer or even Evelyn. It’s the media.

In the aftermath of the Underminer escapade, which bridges the two movies, the visual presence of the Parr family as Incredibles in the mountain of rubble is not portrayed as heroes mitigating and managing a catastrophe for minimal damage, but as the cause of the mess. Sadly these, the REAL villains of the story are the same media who defined Mr Incredible in the 2004 movie not as a rescuer but as someone who ruined a disturbed man’s attempted suicide. But these real evildoers are never showcased as such. That might have been an interesting aspect to pursue, especially as it ties in with the bad rap the heroes in The Avengers got in Captain America: Civil War from the misguided and grossly civil rights violating Sokovia Accords. But while we see the "news" people at work, either blankly vapid or ginning up anger towards the Supers (without the excuse of being hypnotised), no serious criticism is ever laid at their feet where that blame belongs.

In an interesting note, the actors who voice the main characters – Holly Hunter, Craig T Nelson, and Samuel L Jackson, are given a small intro at the beginning of the movie, mentioning how grateful they are for the patience of the audience over the past 14 years and how glad they are to be working together again as this family of Supers. Fourteen years is not a small span of time and both Ms. Hunter and Mr. Nelson are not exceptions to reflect this span of a half – generation of years between movies. I only mention this because, strangely, Samuel L. Jackson does not look a DAY older than when he did in the year the first Incredibles came out.  He’s in many super hero universes as well: The Avengers and Agents of Shield as Nick Fury, Mr. Glass in Shymalon's alternate super universe, and here as Frozone, as well as super, almost indestructible characters in movies like The Hitman’s Bodyguard. And the actor, much like most super heroes — never…. seems…..to age. Hmmmm. Is there something you’re not telling us avid super hero fans Mr Jackson? LOL

In conclusion on The Incredibles 2 – I just want to say PLEASE DO NOT WAIT ANOTHER 14 YEARS TO DO A FOLLOW UP FILM!!! We want to know more of — the rest of the story.

Bao

Finally, just as a side note, there is a strange little short at the beginning of The Incredibles 2 called Bao (meat or vegetable filled dumpling) about a dumpling which comes to life for a lonely woman, so is spared from being eaten, until it grows to an age where he wants to leave home and marry, at which point the mom EATS the dumpling! The movie has nothing to do with The Incredibles 2 plot, except perhaps as a counterpoint DYSFUNCTIONAL family dynamic, making the strong family of Incredibles look even better. This is some fairly disturbing imagery, softened very little by the revelation that the "dumpling" is merely a reflection of her real life son, an only child, who left his parents to marry. While there is reconciliation with said son in the end, brought about by his understanding father, and acceptance of the non-Asian wife as she learns dumpling making from her mother-in-law, I could not get the unsettling imagery out of my head of the mother willingly eating her child rather than allow him to mature and leave home. This is a short you may want to either get in late enough to avoid or prepare to discuss with your kids later.

OCEAN’S 8: THE EMPRESSES HAVE NO CLOTHES: DESPITE ALL THE PRAISE, IT IS A BAD MOVIE. HERE’S WHY.

SHORT TAKE:

The Empresses have no clothes. Not literally. But the only reason I can think it is receiving all its applause is because the cast is a bunch of women and it would be "politically incorrect" to do a fair review. Well, the poor male reviewers who are fearful of being labeled sexist may not want to say it, but I will. Ocean's 8 is a bad movie.

WARNING – MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS AND ENDINGS – PICTURES AND DESCRIPTIONS – NOT ONLY OF OCEAN’S 8 BUT OF A NUMBER OF MOVIES OF THIS GENRE

You know, I was all set to like Ocean's 8. Never mind, as a rule, I don’t much care for the gender switching gimmick. I respect most of the work of the main actresses, really like a lot of the supporting cast, and enjoy this kind of complex Mission Impossible-type plot.

In the lead is Sandra Bullock (Debbie): as at home in comedy and drama as action adventure – Blind Side, Miss Congeniality, Speed, Gravity, While You Were Sleeping; even kid movies like Prince of Egypt and Minions.

Cate Blanchett (Lou) whose versatility allowed her to become immersed in the roles of Galadriel from The Lord of the Ring series, the German art curator from Monuments Men, an almost sympathetic stepmother in Branagh's Cinderella, Button's wife in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, appearances in off-oddities like Hot Fuzz and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Kevin Spacey’s insane wife in Shipping News, and Lady Gertrude Chilerton in The Ideal Husband.

Then there’s Helen Bonham Carter (Rose): from Ophelia in Gibson’s Hamlet to Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series to Mrs. Thenardier in the musical Les Mis and the homicidal assistant in Sweeney Todd, a chimp in Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the fairy godmother in the same Branagh Cinderella mentioned above, the gentle Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech and the manic Red Queen in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – her repertorie is breathtaking.

Anne Hathaway (Daphne), another incredibly versatile actress who was also in Les Mis, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, as well as Interstellar, Dark Knight Rises and Princess Diaries.

I’m starting to see a pattern. If I were to scatter the names of the main cast on a table and then draw a line between those who have worked together it would look like a spiderweb.

Then there’s the supporting cast including James Corden (John) (Dr. Who repeat guest appearance and voice of Peter Rabbit) who plays the adorably inquisitive and very smart insurance inspector, and Richard Armitage (Claude) (from Captain America villain to the heroic and noble King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit) who plays Debbie's ex-boyfriend, and cameos from the likes of film veteran Elliott Gould reprising his previous role as Reuben from the male Ocean's versions, as well as Marlo Thomas, Dakota Fanning and Elizaberth Ashley.

I mean – what’s not to like?

Well, unfortunately, a lot.

Ocean's 8 women ………….

are unrelatably immoral, violate the rules of the thief protagonist movie to the detriment of the genre and…… hate men.

The premise is that Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is the sister of Danny Ocean (founding lead of the Ocean's franchise, played by George Clooney who only appears as a photo). She has followed in his footsteps, but five years previously she placed her trust and love with a man, Claude (Richard Armitage) who betrayed and sent her to jail. For the money, the challenge and revenge she sets up a heist of jewels on loan and display at the Met Gala, a real annual $30,000 per ticket event. She plans to steal MILLIONS worth of sparklies from the ample busom of Daphne (Anne Hathaway), which display had been intended to help fund the museum for the year. Amongst the thieves there are no orphanages to fund, no granny operations to pay for, no nuns to receive charity. These con-women want to pay for pointlessly bad movies, start fashion businesses with terrible designs, buy overpriced studio apartments or just speed off into the sunset on their motorcycle presumably to live the rest of their lives carefree. In other words – they will steal from a legitimate charity donated to by generous and well intentioned hard working people in order to engage in a lifetime of exhorbitant self indulgence.

Well, nice for them but what about the museum who will now have to account for the missing jewels in higher insurance premiums or perhaps the inability to get insurance at all? What about the taxpayers who no longer have the access to jewels they have paid to view, or the people whose jobs will likely now be forfeit or who will come under suspicion as a result of the disappearance and dismantling of the priceless historic finery. What's planned for the inevitable sequel? Cut up a Rembrandt into stamps in order to fund their respective future cocaine habits? And we are to applaud and sympathize with them as clever and daring just because they are………… women?????

Except for the ex-boyfriend, Claude, there was no indication that any of the collaterally damaged people deserved what happened or will happen to them in any way. And as Debbie is no better than Claude she has no real grounds to set him up either.

These women take advantage of others' virtues at every opportunity. Debbie manipulates the mercy of the parole board into letting her out even though she has been running cons while in prison. Tammy takes advantage of her poor unseen husband – lying to him and dumping the responsibilities of their home, children and family on to this unseen shlemiel so she can run off at a moment's notice to possibly end up in jail. All of them take advantage of the charity work of the museum, the generosity of the donors, the good will of Cartier, even the courtesy of the security guards assigned to the necklace. In return these people will get betrayal, retribution for their well intentioned mistakes, probably the loss of their careers, certainly the loss of reputation, loss of funds for the museum, the loss of irreplaceable works of art, AND the good will of us, the audience who are supposed to applaud the blatant vices of the characters in Ocean's 8.

In most movies that feature thieves as the protagonists, there are usually one of three outcomes or a combination: they die, they get caught, they are "innocent" because they do it for a believable and good reason/it's a trick and they are not guilty:

WARNING: BEYOND HERE BE MASSIVE ENDING SPOILERS TO CLASSIC MOVIES

CLICK ON ANY OF THE PICTURES TO GO TO AMAZON AND WATCH ANY OF THESE FAR SUPERIOR FILMS INSTEAD OF OCEAN'S 8. NETFLIX WOULD PROBABLY HAVE MOST OF THEM TOO IF YOU HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION BECAUSE MANY ARE OLDER.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – die in a hail of bullets courtesy of the Bolivian military

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – they all get physically pummeled by their own escape attempts, are caught, hospitalized, jailed and presumably will go to prison

Hell and High Water – they rob the banking insitution which robbed their widowed mother to get enough to rescue the family farm AND one of the brothers dies

The Italian Job – they are left, literally, hanging over a precipice with their fates uncertain – to this day, even unknown to the makers of the movie (they were going to make a sequel but it never happened)

  Dillinger – he dies

Bonnie and Clyde – they die

The Sting – they steal from an evil thug who murdered their friend

The original Ocean's movie – they steal from a shady casino owner, so they are taking money from a crook who got his money from idiots who voluntarily handed it over to him

White Heat – Jimmy Cagney's character goes out in a spectacular explosion

Gambit – Michael Caine's character reforms and gives up his ill gotten gain for the love of Shirley MacLaine's honest woman

The Usual Suspects – they all die

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – they trade adventure and romance to already corrupted, venal, wealthy, and indulged women for money and jewels, Jamison will not take money from Christine when he finds out she is not rich, AND they are themselves tricked and humiliated

Godfather trilogy – Michael Corleone survives and is financially successful but lives long enough to see his family destroyed and his daughter murdered

Charade – Cary Grant really isn’t a thief

The Producers – Leo and Max are sent to prison EVEN though the victims are old rich ladies to whom Max gave adventure and even appear in court on his behalf

Psycho – well pretty much everybody in the solar system knows what happened to Janet Leigh's embezzling secretary in the shower

The point is that most movies respect the unspoken but usually acted upon moral code: Criminals who prey on those undeserving of being made impoverished should endure some kind of equivalent punishment.

Oceans 8 flagrantly violates this rule making the "protagonists" unappealing, unrelatable, and repugnant. Ocean's 8 not only allows the thieves to win but get to whisk away with property stolen from a charity – priceless historic jewelry art pieces which they dismantle to sell in pieces – and catastrophically destroy the lives of perfectly innocent men and women merely doing their jobs: museum curators, security guards, tax payers, not to mention the chilling effect such a robbery would have, not only on the attendance of guests for the next fund raiser, but for the participation of sponsors who would not want their items stolen.

These women, in short, do truly evil acts for trivial and completely selfish reasons……………… and we are supposed to root for them???

When the bad guys get "away" with a scheme it is supposed to be because they are stealing from other bad guys – like in Hell and High Water, OR because the marks are willing participants – as in The Producers. But not in Ocean's 8 where they not only steal from a CHARITY event but get away with it AND only to fund personal trite fantasies of their own.  Not even a token amount to a homeless shelter or hospital. Not even a "bone" to the S.P.C.A. (Geddit?..never mind.)

THEN – if this is not bad enough, Sandra Bullock's Debbie's worldview in this movie is very anti-male.

For example, in one scene Lou asks Debbie why she doesn't want to hire any men. Debbie says it's because men are noticed and women are not and for once she wants to be invisible. If this preposterous and thinly veiled misandristic excuse to even be slightly plausible in the real world, then this very movie wouldn't have been made. Women are very noticeable, occasionally for the wrong reasons, but they're certainly not invisible.

In the movie, if this were true, a key plot point would not have been possible. The entire heist heavily depends upon two highly trained very scary security guards being successfully stopped by a blond wigged German-speaking Debbie blocking their entrance to a woman's bathroom. In the real world there would have at least been one security WOMAN! Even without the part of the scheme where they poison Daphne she would have had to go to the bathroom at SOME point, right? I can't believe a capable security firm guarding a $150 million EXTREMELY portable necklace would have not thought of that. That's just stupid. But even assuming that oversight was made, these two men would have picked Debbie/faux German socialite up and shoved her through the door if necessary, and caught Constance in the act of lifting the necklace. After all, as the movie is written, the switch is not made until later and Daphne walks out of the bathroom without it on and the only other person in there had been Constance. It would have been kind of a no-brainer. Frisking Constance would have then been a simple matter for any trainnie cop much less a trained assassin and a member of the Russian security Force. Had the two security guards not – stopped at the behest of Debbie, and honored the sanctity of the women's bathroom, the Ocean's 8 would have been the Ocean's in prison.

On the one hand Debbie claims women are dismissible and in the next moment assumes she will be able to ward off burly and highly motivated security guards with the wave of her hand. Which is it?

Tammy is married in a nice house with two small children. Her husband is never seen but she is observed abandoning her children, literally driving away from her small child who asked if he could go with her. Engaging in fencing stolen goods out of her garage she claims her husband believes her flimsy excuse that she bought all of the items on e-bay. He must be either complicit or dumb as a bag of hammers.

Debbie is betrayed by the man she loved, Claude, so thinks she is justified in p***ing on a lot of people who had nothing to do with her troubles.

Lou is butch and given a vaguely lesbian personality but, ironically, is the ONLY one of the group who tries to include a qualified man in their group. Her advice is dismissed.

NONE of them, other than the abandoning mother Tammy, have a husband or home or children or any other family of note.

The manager of Cartier is easily swayed into making the unbelievably poor judgement call of lending out a necklace worth $150 million dollars to the moving target of Daphne at an event attended by hundreds of people, all because Rose tells him it will be good for Cartier's image among the young. Forget Debbie's crew. This kind of publicity and $150 million as bait would have attracted Alan Rickman's Hans' crew from Die Hard who, with a couple of stun grenades and some hostage taking could have easily taken control.

Every single one of the men in Ocean's 8 are: stupid, disloyal, greedy, easily manipulated, unreliable or – in a turn of breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of the screenwriter – made invisible.

The ONLY capable man in the movie is James Corden's John, an insurance investigator who is on to them immediately. His is the most believable thing in the movie – that a good insurance investigator would have been up their —- assets immediately. Especially since he has a history of catching members of this family. But then he meets with Debbie and agrees to get back ten WHOLE percent of what is left of the necklace in exchange for allowing Debbie to frame Claude, who John knows is innocent (at least of this crime). So the only honorable and decent man in the movie is corrupted.

Is the plot well written? Even for the preposterous Mission Impossible-type scheme that makes up this kind of movie – pretty so-so. There are major plot holes and parts of the plan which depended far too much on luck. There is the warding off the security guys with good looks and an attitude. There is also the point where they "find" the missing necklace in a fountain. This would have been an impossibility to even the casual observer. Daphne did not fall into the fountain or even stop to throw up in it. She raced striaght to the bathroom. The necklace is secured by a magnetic lock which would have had to have failed to come off her neck or it would have had to go over her head and the necklace circumference was far too small for that to be possible. But it is intact when found and security cameras would have shown she was at no time that near the fountain. So how did it get off of Daphne?

Is the acting good – given the talent involved – of course.

Is it a lot of fun to watch – yes, if you don’t think long or hard about it while you're watching.

So is it a good movie: No. Absolutely not.

Ocean's 8 is insulting to men in general, to our intelligence and to any sense of morality.

You'd be FAR better off spending your time pulling out an old classic like Mad Mad Mad Mad World or Charade or any one of the ones I listed above. Click on the pictures to go straight to Amazon to watch one of them instead of the insulting travesty that is Ocean's 8.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: A RIOT, SOME ROBBERS, A SECRET HOSPITAL TO WHICH THEY GO, AND THE NURSE WHO RUNS IT

SHORT TAKE:

Violent but subtly humorous, action filled but occasionally thoughtful, and creative look at a near future ultra secret hotel-hospital for wealthy criminals run by an aging, no-nonsense, rough but surprisingly compassionate and maternal Nurse and her massive orderly, during a perfect storm of chaos.

WHO SHOULD GO:

This is an adult only movie to be sure. Though there is almost no sexuality of any kind, there is a LOT of violence and a large dose of bad language.

LONG TAKE:

There may be no honor among thieves but at the Hotel Artemis there is at least some loyalty. The Hotel Artemis is a 22 year old run-down member-only hospital for criminals. On the 12th floor of a building in the wrong part of Los Angeles, it is exclusive, hidden and generally thought to be a myth. Hotel Artemis is an indie movie, written and directed by Drew Pierce whose credits as writer include Iron Man 3, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and 2020's future new Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes. This is his first outing directing a feature length film.  

Set in the near future of 2028 Los Angeles, Artemis features microwave scalpels, 3D printers which can manufacture new livers, and the highly skilled Nurse, played by Jodie Foster, who is more worn down than the Artemis' elevators. Agoraphobic, alcoholic, pill popping and jaded, Nurse shuffles about the hotel and her charges, administering treatments with a confident medical hand and a tough love bedside manner.  (As an odd piece of trivia it is the second time Foster has played an agoraphobic, the first time as Alexandra Rover, the neurotic writer in the filmed version of the comedy children's story Nim's Island.)

Her only staff – part orderly part bouncer – is Dave Bautista's character, Everest, whose name is a mystery only to people who have never seen a picture of this man mountain. His strong arm but restrained hand is somehow both scary and adorable. Early on, for example, he is jumped from behind by a customer who has been turned away. Shrugging him off as a bear might an overzealous cub he cautions him with the zen calm of an experienced camp counselor not to do it again or he just might have to really [mess] him up. 

Everyone goes by a nickname gleaned from either their job description or the hotel room name and Foster's lead character, The Nurse, is no exception. The movie is about the night of the Nurse's Perfect Storm. A city wide riot, like a slow-moving wildfire, is heading their way at the same time the Artemis' owner and founder, a mob kingpin named The Wolf King/Niagra, in yet another flamboyant bad guy role played by Jeff Goldblum, enters late in the evening for ministrations, accompanied by his overeager to please son, (Star Trek's Zachery Quinto), and his gang of thugs. Caught in the crossfire are a pair of brothers freshly injured from a bank robbery Waikiki and Honolulu, (Sterling Brown and Brian Henry), a munitions dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day)  who came off the worse for wear in an altercation with a mistress, and a mysterious hit woman, Nice, played by Sophia Boutella, whose true allegiances and hidden agenda slowly unfold as the evening wears on. I have not cared much for the one note characters Boutella played in Kingsmen and Atomic Blonde, but her Nice in Hotel Artemis has her growing on me.  The ensuing tornado of violence will expose formerly unknown histories and secrets central to the souls of these eminently interesting characters.

There are many rules for the Hotel Artemis. Among them are: no weapons allowed, no one but members through the gates, do not insult or threaten the staff, and …….. do not kill the other patients. For one reason or another all the rules will be broken this night …. for better or for worse.

The violence is considerable and the language is fairly raw but there is no sexuality. Who has time with the amount of fighting and blood shed that will go on?

Foster is the genuine article. An actor, like Dustin Hoffman, who does not shy away from looking truly ugly. But from Foster's Nurse, underneath her worn exterior, shines a beauty of genuine but rough and no-nonsense affection for her patients. She exercises an unsentimental, tough-love maternal protective fiduciary duty towards them all and it makes her character both endearing and relatable in ways that more glamorous but despicable women in movies like Ocean's 8, can not even begin to evoke. If honesty and genuine concern were coinage she would be the richest woman in this movie about a medical retreat for the super wealthy criminal. I haven't seen this kind of unique perspective on the maternal instinct since Ripley's square off with the mother creature in Aliens.

This is an unusual and creative movie. I believe it has been vastly underrated by the traditional reviewing community, more particularly Rex Reed who labeled it as a shoddy freak show. This is grossly unfair and I suspect he did not understand its themes of filial duty and responsible altruism, which the writer is asserting is a potential which lies at the core of every human soul, even the apparently mosty fallen ones among us. The characters are three dimensional and behave in often unexpected but very credible ways. They are somewhat larger than life (especially Bautista) but there are genuine and unique personalities which come out clearly in small ways and clever dialogue. No exceptions or excuses are made for their criminal behavior but there is a humanity to them which make them very accessible. And, Hallelujah, Hotel Artemis does not always take itself completely seriously. Goldblum's character is aware that he is a very bad guy and likely to come to a very bad end. Baustista's character knows he is massive and almost unstoppable but has a gentle and fiercely protective spot for this tiny fragile elderly and essentially kind maternal Nurse. Right after Waikiki warns an especially obnoxious fellow patient, Acapulco, that Nice could kill him with a coffee cup she immediately demonstrates, then warns Acapulco that it is a good thing the Hotel Artemis has its rules. Nice advises someone on how to die well: "They paid for your death, don't give them your dignity for free." And if you're the kind of movie attendee who likes to stay for the credits, the last line is: "The staff of the Hotel Artemis hopes you enjoyed your stay and that you will come again." One has to smile.

Certainly not a family friendly film, but for those of appropriate age and disposition, Hotel Artemis is more than worth your time.

 

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS – GO SEE THE TALENTED CAST AND EXPERT DIRECTION FROM OUR LOCAL ACTS THEATRE PRODUCTION

 

SHORT TAKE:

Absolutelty fabulous, fun and funny rendition of the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Older teens and up – nothing seen aside from one scantily dressed dance number but Freddy and some of the lyrics are crude and the main characters are essentially highly paid gigolos.

LONG TAKE:

The Odd Couple meets the musical version of The Producers with a touch of The Sting thrown in for good measure and you have Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical showing June 2, 2018 through June 17, 2018 at the Lake Charles ACTS Theatre. (One Reid Street, 433-2287, for tickets click HERE.)

The premise is the same as for the 1988 non-musical movie. Two con men with dipolar opposite styles compete for the same territory, Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.

 

Lawrence Jamison (played in our local production by Louis Barrilleaux) is a posh, refined British swindler of silly women – but truly a con — artist. Hustler he might be, but also a man of elegant taste, an appreciation for the arts and a soft heart for the local charities. His motto is that he only gives the excessively wealthy and bored women what they want – a little excitement, and a bit of flair – and his to offer at a price. His is a con so well established in Beaumont-sur-Mer that a certain ennui has begun to set in and he longs for the early days of challenge.

In happens Freddie (Robert Goodson) a crude, American shyster pick pocket who thinks it an accomplishment to bilk a sympathetic fellow train passenger out of the price of a meal. Hungry for Jamison’s upper class perks, his motto is – I want it all and BIG!

Without giving away too many of the deliciously funny details, the two men become friendly enemies in a bet to win $50,000 out of the newly arrived ingenue Christine (Markie Hebert who also served as producer). The first to accomplish this goal wins the exclusive and permanent run of Beaumont-sur-Mer.

Supporting these loveable flim flammers are Andre Lawrence’s corrupt and accommodating police chief (Zac Hammons), Muriel the heiress tired of wandering world (Aimee Mayeux), and Jolene (Taylor Novak) one of Jamison’s marks who becomes unexpectedly, inconveniently and amusingly possessive. Rounding out the cast is the ensemble of: Heather Foreman, Jace Gibbons, Brahnsen Lopez and Ashley Mayeux who sing and dance through a multiplicity of parts.

Kris Perez Webster does a masterful job at directing this troupe. Just the casting of this play had to be ingeniously thought out as DRS calls for a cast of 30 but they accomplish it with only 9.

Even Markie and Zac, who have major supporting roles, perform double and triple duties where needed.The timing, blocking and personalities were artfully coordinated. The multipurpose stage is cleverly designed to function as everything from an outdoor rendevous to a bedroom with but the wind quick change of props artfully moved by cast and coordinated by Katherine Cole the Stage Manager. Sound and lighting are expertly managed by Markie’s husband Clay Hebert.

The three leads aided by Hammons’ often frustrated and put upon French gendarme have wonderful chemistry and timing, and their singing of even the quick paced and complex lyrics is strong and clear – performing as though they have been together for years, playing off each other with apparent effortlessness and a natural ease that belies the countless hours that went into this smooth and hilarious production. In most musicals, the plot is a thinly veiled excuse for the performance of catchy tunes, weakening the story and leaving the characters a bit vapid. But in this rendition of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the opposite happens. While the first incarnation – A Bedtime Story with Marlon Brando and David Niven was charming and I LOVE the 1988 remake with Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the 2004 musical, written by Jeffrey Lane with music and (occasionally naughty but always character revealing and clever) lyrics by David Yazbek, ENHANCES the characters, fleshing them out and giving them fresh depth, even providing a new subplot for the police chief.

Fourth walls are broken, witty and occasionally bawdy songs are sung with clarity and professionalism, and the cast moves themselves and the props like a winning baseball team, as a single internally familiar mechanism.

While really for the older teens and up because of subject matter and some witty but ribald lyrics and gestures, nothing is seen on stage and there is a certain moral compass which is followed.

So for one of the best productions ACTS Theatre has ever put on, go see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the musical, playing now through June 17, 2018. Take Dad for Father’s Day as laughter, after love, is the best gift you can give.       

ADRIFT – WASTED OPPORTUNITY

SHORT TAKE:

Wooden cookie cutter rendition of the harrowing real life experiences of Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp lost at sea for 41 days after being caught in Hurricane Raymond, missing every opportunity to reveal any eternal truths.

WHO COULD SEE IT:

Any older teen and up who enjoys a disaster/endurance movie. Some language and a non-sexual full nudity female scene.

LONG TAKE:

The famous classic – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – a man marooned on an island – is ultimately about his spiritual conversion from a materialist and slaver, disobedient to both his Earthly father and his Heavenly one, to a devout Christian. His external trials make him suceptible when faced with internal struggles as well, to turn to God and the Bible. Only in his newly redisovered faith does he find the peace and contentment he had sought and becomes a better man as he comes to appreciate God's love and know he is under his Creator's watchful eye even when apparently desolate and alone on an island. The island represents Crusoe's spiritual aloneness and, much like in Groundhog Day, (which comparison would make a great blog for another day), he is not rescued until he learns true altruism and his place in God's plans.  He accepts his massive and repeated tribulations as a reading on the Bible tells us in Hebrews that: "the Lord disciplines the one He loves".

Adrift is an open set up for a re-creation of this scenario. A troubled young woman, who drifted through life long before she was set "adrift" by Hurricane Raymond, has a difficult childhood, irresponsible parents and an anchorless way of life – leaving home at 18 to hop her way via odd jobs to Tahiti. There she meets Richard and the two leave for a "jaunt" to San Diego on a job to transport a friend’s yacht. On the way they encounter a CAT 5 hurricane, which I personally know is terrifying on land. Even seeing the movie, I can not truly imagine the trauma they must have endured on the open ocean. I frankly, having survived Hurricane Rita on land, had trouble watching some of their ordeal in the boat.

The film does a horrifically good job reenacting their desperate struggle to stay alive in the belly of this mountain sized monster with waves moaning and rising above them like the "angry giant" of many prayers entreating God’s protection against these very phenomena. Miraculously the boat survives with Tami still on it. She finds Richard severely injured and seeks to nurse both him and the boat in a 1500 mile trek through the Pacific Ocean.

While I understand this is based on a true story, there was every opportunity for the scriptwriters to use her ordeal and miraculous arrival in Hawaii to tell more than just an action adventure story of survival. A documentary or reality episode or a newspaper clipping could have done that. If we are to endure, with Tami, her terrible struggles, it behooves a good writer to do so with a purpose. Instead we are treated to a fact sheet: She meets Richard – check. They fall in love – check. They go on the boat – check. They endure a Hurricane – check. She manages to acquire enough food and water to survive through luck and ingenuity – check. She gets to Hawaii – check. And……?

After spending 96 minutes with this young woman in a recounting of the most traumatic experience of her life (and more traumatic than I hope most of us ever have to endure) we are left knowing no more about her than we started at the credits. A few odds and ends of trivia about the way she grew up, but no more.

I can not imagine anyone not changed by such a deeply churning experience. Sadly, we do not know, based upon this movie, what those meaningful and core maturations might be.

What we are left with is a two person version of Tom Hanks’ Castaway – which suffered from the same flaw. All "event" with no substance. Much like having spaghetti with no sauce – filling but not satisfying.

As I said, the special effects of the hurricane were very well done – a bit too good frankly. The acting of Shailene Woodley (Divergent series) kind of amounted to a lot of vapid shallow smiles and giggles during the courtship and sunburnt glowering/angry/determined to survive faces during the tribulations part. San Claflin (Hunger Games veteran) wasn’t given a lot to do other than be "in love" or stoically be in pain.

And while I understand this is based on a true story, the portions where the movie shows their meeting and relationship, shown in flashback, are pedantically slow. The audience frequently was reduced to the third wheel watching the slow pace of an actual dinner.

During one such date Richard explains how unpleasant sailing can be – "You’re usually sleep deprived and delusional, wet, hungry or all three." She asks why he sails and, perking up, I expected some important philosophical epiphany which might guide us, like her sextant through the rest of the movie. Instead he sort of mumbles about how infinite the horizon looks. And? I thought. And? But nothing. So his whole raison d'etre, the entire reason he is out there with this young woman, the reason they end up risking their lives in a painfully unrelenting endurance marathon was because —– the ocean is so very pretty.

There is so much more that could have been done with this movie – just with that moment. But they let it flit by like Tami’s early years – objectless and purposeless.

Captain Dan in Forrest Gump (click the picture to watch the clip) gives us more philosophical musings and a better insight into the meaning of life during his one rant to God on board Gump's ship during a hurricane as he screams "Come on! You call this a storm?" than the entire script of Adrift. Bogie and Hepburn simmered with more chemistry in one glance on The African Queen during their struggles as they make it up a river to confront a German gunboat during World War I and a storm, than Claflin and Woodley managed in the entire movie. This is because we were introduced to Captain Dan and Rose and Charlie, respectively, in substantive ways and so we come to care about them. But Tami and Richard, as portrayed in the movie, are two dimensional lovers in a cookie-cutter romance. This is a shame because I'm sure there was more to the real people involved in that.

Aside from – don't cross the ocean in hurricane season – the audience did not learn much, either about the main characters or from their experiences.

I feel badly for the ordeal that Tami and Richard went through but that is not enough to carry a movie. A movie has between 80 and 120 minutes to tell you a story. It behooves the writer to make it worth your while to sit through whatever they are going to tell you. Movies are supposed to be a condensed version of real life and the best of them will make you a better person for having seen it. It is inadequate for a movie to be a moment-by-moment blow-by-blow exposition without direction or purpose.

In short and unfortunately Adrift is most aptly and appropriately named

Mild warnings: There's no reason NOT to see this film if you are an older teen and up. There is a bit of language, no gratuitous sexuality although there is one non-sexual gratuitously naked scene where Woodley bares absolutely all in order to happily writhe about on deck in the fresh water of rain. The hurricane scenes alone are horrifying and way too scary for younger kids, much less are the views of eggregious injuries endured by Richard and exposed to the audience.

SOLO – GAP FILLER AND WELCOME “THROW BACK” TO THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS STYLE OF A NEW HOPE

SHORT TAKE:

FINALLY, a return to the classic style and pacing of the original family friendly clean agenda free (mostly) Star Wars, in the origin story of the one and only Han Solo.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Pretty much anyone. Not as violent as Rogue One and less cleavage than Carrie Fisher's gold metal bikini in Return of the Jedi.

LONG TAKE:

WARNING: CONTAINS A FEW CRUCIAL SPOILERS TO OTHER STAR WARS MOVIES.

When I was a kid I used to do jigsaw puzzles with my Dad. 300 piece, 500. I think the biggest one we ever did together was a 1,500 piece puzzle of the French Quarter at Night. Similar to this one.

No one piece stands out, except as you are fitting it into the bigger picture. Originally made from wood in 1760 and cut into pieces by a jig-saw, most jigsaw puzzles are now made of cardboard, but the fascination remains. Each piece has its own unique "personality" and has only one place where it will go to complete a bigger overall picture. While you are searching for just that right spot, that one piece becomes very important and you know, briefly, every detail of its shape – every tab and blank, edge and curve fitting specifically into one part of the tesselation that is a completed jigsaw puzzle. But then, when you figure out where it goes, its success is defined as how well it blends in with and disappears into the rest of the picture.

Solo reminds me of that – appropriate for such a movie to be named for a single, unpaired, individual – Solo is as unique in shape but as uniform in texture and picture as all the other Star Wars movies, so like a unique puzzle piece stands alone yet fits in beautifully to the overall picture. This is not a bad thing.

The point I’m making is that Solo fills an empty spot in the larger overall painting that is the Star Wars Universe. In the original films, Star Wars – A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi  – there was a LOT of missing back story to Han that worked as a mystery then, but over time became niggling points for which people would enjoy answers. What was this card game from which Solo won the Falcon "fair and square" from Lando? How did Solo and Chewy meet? Where did Han come from? How did he acquire the skills he so effortlessly displayed as a smuggler? There was no mention of a gang or family business. No mentor or sponsor. Were there any women in his life before Leia? Why does Chewy stay with and take orders from this annoying, snarky, only marginally successful representative of a significantly physically weaker race? Were there any defining watershed moments in his past which would help shape this surprisingly complex character, who was part scoundrel with a soft heart and part hero with a large Machiavellian streak? Why are Lando and I the only creatures in the Universe that think Solo’s first name should be pronounced with a short vowel – Han – like hand or fan? And where did he learn to speak —- Wookie? Well – MOST of these questions are artfully answered, at least in part by the new Star Wars installment – Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Personally, I find the timeline for the release of the Star Wars movies very convoluted. We start with Star Wars, originally released as a stand alone movie in 1977 but then renamed Star Wars – A New Hope IV in 1981 when they started making the sequels. The SECOND Star Wars movie made, Empire Strikes Back was numbered V and Return of the Jedi – really the third born, was numbered VI. THEN they made Phantom Menace and the sequels to IT 16 years after the Return of the Jedi but were subsequently numbered I, II and III. THEN THEN Force Awakens and Last Jedi were made in 2015 and 2017 but they REALLY belong after Return of the Jedi which was released in 1983. But THEN THEN THEN Rogue One’s story belongs squeezed between number III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and IV – A New Hope which was released in 1977, which REALLY should force a renumbering AGAIN if it weren’t for the possibility that the Star Wars fans might storm Lucasfilms and…..wait……that changed too. Disney bought them out.

Well.  *sigh*

Where does that leave Solo’s timeline you might ask? Crammed between Revenge of the Sith (III) and Rogue One, leaving LOTS of time BETWEEN the timelines of Solo and Rogue One to fill in more of Han’s life adventures before he basically…catches up to himself.

Alden Ehrenreich (pronounced ALL-DEN ERIN-RIKE – I know I got THAT correct as I listened for it on an interview with the actor!) is wonderful as the young Han Solo. A terrific actor in general he made quite an impression in the Cohen Brothers homage to 1950's movie genres, Hail Caeser, as an endearing, stalwart, naive Audie Murphy-type character. Ehrenreich has JUST the right twinkle in his eye, spring in his steps, mischief in his manner, unrelieved optimism in his own abilities, confidence in his mannerisms and slightly arrogant attitude that make him SO familiar to the Han Solo we grew up with. Yet this Solo is neither an imitation nor a caricature. Ehrenreich makes Solo his own but is so convincing that, like a reigning dowager at a family reunion you would have known who this young man belonged to just by watching him for 30 seconds.

Donald Glover (the scientist who figures out how to get The Martian home) plays a young brash Lando with the expected pinache and verve.

Peter Mayhew – all 7 foot 3 of him – now retired living in Texas, was the original Chewbacca. This mantle, or should I say "walking carpet," is now worn by Joonas Suotomo, a 6 foot 11 Finnish basketball player.

Emilia Clarke (Game of Throne’s Dragon Lady and the newest incarnation of Sarah Conner from the Terminator series installment Genisys) introduces a new ingredient into Solo’s early life – Qi’ra, a fellow street rat from his home world of Corellia.

Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Glass Castle (see my blog) and 2012) brings his own unique but familiar style to the character of ringleader Beckett. Charismatic as always, Harrelson’s Beckett runs a troupe of highly specialized thieves who takes Han on in the middle of a job.

Thandie Newton (2012, Crash, HBO's Westworld series, Mission Impossible II) plays Val, a member of Beckett’s gang. As a side note I thought it was only me who kept confusing her with Star Trek’s new Uhura and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora –

Zoe Saldana. For half the movie I was thinking: WOW Zoe is in EVERYTHING sci fi! I felt stupid when I discovered my mistake in the credits until I found these pictures and anecdotes about how other fellow actors confused them as well.

I mean, to be fair, they could stunt double for each other.

L3-37 – voice by Phoebe Waller-Bridge – is really the only sour note in the production. Intended, I suspect, to be their female version of C3PO, she is such an over-the-top feminist robot that she would have been better suited to an animated Shrek caricature or a replacement for Joan Rivers’ Dot Matrix in a Spaceballs sequel. So grinding was she that whenever she was on screen I couldn’t wait for her to be off. At least she makes Jar Jar Binks seem more appealing.

Finally, Paul Bettany plays Dryden Vos, a guy as bad as his Avenger’s Vision is Thor-hammer good. Bettany is fun to watch as he chews the scenary with calculated menace and the evil abandon required of any good Bond super-villain or Star Wars Hutt-style baddie.

Overall, I really enjoyed Solo. It’s completely family friendly. There is a bit of violence but no more than in the original Star Wars and less "cleavage" than in Fisher’s gold bikini in Return of the Jedi. The plot fills in a lots of gaps – like spackling over the holes in a well worn, well loved bedroom wall … or like one of the missing pieces of a puzzle, making it a very satisfying experience. Unlike the Last Jedi, which kind of trashed the continuity character of Luke, or the lame way they dispatched Han in Force Awakens, this story feels as Star Wars-ian as the original. It’s exciting, has lots of space races, neat aliens, is often funny and is basically a "throw back" in the BEST possible way, to the very first Star Wars – the foundational New Hope, which, personally gives ME hope that the Star Wars franchise might FINALLY be back on the right track..

TERMINAL – BIZARRE FILM NOIR LOOSELY BASED UPON AN ALICE IN WONDERLAND TROPE

SHORT TAKE:

Macabre murder mystery of intrigue and betrayal set in a futuristic 1950's heavily referencing Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

ONLY adults who have a strong stomach and a taste for true film noir

LONG TAKE:

"Terminal" (WITHOUT the article in front of the word, NOT THE Terminal which is a 2004 Tom Hanks dramedy about an immigrant stuck indefinitely in an airport terminal because of political turmoil in his home country) as the title of this 2018 movie, is a play on a number of aspects of the movie. Much of it takes place in and around an airport terminal – the obvious reference. One of the characters can be described adjectively as "terminal". And "terminal" is the final end to which many of the characters seem to be rushing for one reason and another either voluntarily or not.

The premise of the movie, written and directed by Vaughn Stein (who has been crew for such disparate movies as World War Z, the live action Beauty an the Beast and Les Mis) follows the machinations of Annie,  played by Margot Robbie who seems to be making a career of playing crazier and crazier women – Harlequin in Suicide Squad, Tonya Harding in I, TonyaMrs. Milne in Goodbye, Christopher Robin, and now this. Annie is a professional assassin whose bloody and coldblooded antics might have given even Harlequin a frowny pause.

A reference to the classic nihilistic play Waiting for Godot by  Samuel Beckett may seem like a non-sequitur at this point but bear with me. Waiting for Godot is a nihilistic play about two hoboes waiting for a third man who never shows up and in the end they hang themselves because nothing really matters. The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter harkens back to Waiting for Godot. The Dumb Waiter is about two gangsters waiting in a basement for orders on their next job and sinister unspoken messages that come through a pipe from an unseen manipulator. Both of those plays have an absurdist nature to them imparted in the characters willingness to wait in slavish patience for someone or something which may or may not be evilly playing with them.

I mention those plays because there is a certain element in the atmosphere common to them and to Terminal. There is even a prolonged and crucial scene in which two hit men (played by Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons) wait in a room for days for orders on their next kill from a client who no one has ever seen. This is more than a passing reference and feeds in to the physical and mental anarchy that pervades this creepy night-lit underground outing. Speaking of which, night and day light play important features too. Hiding in the dark. Things not what they appear to be but hiding in shadows. Frankly, I think the director missed a beat by not filming it entirely in black and white. But then we couldn't get the stark and almost shockingly red lips which precede Annie's entrance in almost every scene she's in.

This is a rough and thoughtful movie. But, alas, also a bit boring as its pace is too slow. Much like a walk which should have been taken at a jog, Terminal drags on with too many flashbacks and too much lingering on a single image, like viewing a stake out through the eyes of someone distracted by illness or grief. If it sounds like a depressing movie – well, it is. Not that that should dissuade anyone in and of itself. But there should be a purpose to enduring a movie like this. And satisfying a somewhat predictable series of surprise endings just is not enough.

Margot Robbie does her dead level best as a restrained psychopath. Simon Pegg (Shawn of the Dead, the last few Mission Impossibles, and the new Star Trek's new Scotty), performs the most serious role I've ever seen him in, as the terminally ill teacher. And Mike Myers (the voice of Shrek himself), who has not been in a feature length movie since  2009's Inglourious Basterds, is almost unrecognizable as a ubitquitous and mysterious janitor who seems to know way more than he should. (It's been so long snce Mr. Myers appeared in other than a voiced part that someone expressed surprise to me not just that he was in such a dark movie but that he was still ALIVE!)

While definitely not for everyone's taste and MOST definitely NOT for other than the older mature audience this is an intriguing movie which is mesmerizing in the same way that some National Geographic specials featuring insects devouring their kill are hard to watch but hard to look away from. There's a lot of profanity, a number of scenes of a sexual nature and some graphic violence as you might imagine in a movie about hit—people.

There are a number of references both subtle and overt to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, including outright quotes from his book. Thematically there is chaos, bizarreness, unpredictability, people being often both "bigger" and "smaller" than you might have thought they were in the beginning, and even the familiar and most obvious Alice in Wonderland trope of an actual hole in the ground. So I don't think it would be inappropriate, as Alice might have said, for my final words on this film to be …. curiouser and curiouser.

SHOW DOGS – NO CHAMPION OF CHILDREN

SHORT TAKE:

Cute brainless movie about anthropomorphized dogs ruined by a poorly considered scene which, whether intentional or not, lowers a child's guard against unwanted "touching".

WHO SHOULD GO:

Sadly, no one in the target demographic audience of children UNLESS one scene is changed and/or removed along with any references to it.

LONG TAKE:

When the kids were underaged we were incredibly careful, from deciding on where to store the cleaning products to the books they read to the unpopular decision against them going on sleep overs. We never parked them in front of a TV in a store and walked away thinking they would be OK or let them play hide-and-seek in public. We never let them so much as walk down the block without a responsible adult or semi-adult accompaniment. We met the parents supervising parties they were attending and often stayed as chaperones. We knew what music they listened to, who their friends were and what movies they watched. (At least we tried – kids are sneaky creatures.) One of my constant refrains to other parents when explaining why we were so very careful when we were raising our children was: "I've never known anyone to be sorry for being too careful. But I've know a LOT of people who were sorry for not being careful enough." And I've experienced more than one moment where I was grateful for subscribing to this mantra.

I was originally going to do a review of the movie Show Dogs in a positive light – kid movie about dogs, some fart humor, innocent brainless romp. What's not to like? I even gave it a "silly popcorn movie" thumbs up on the radio call I make every week to KBYS.

Then my daughter brought my attention to a blog by a mom who was disturbed by one particular scene in the movie. During the AKC dog shows it is routine for the animal to have his genitals checked to be sure both testicles are descended. It is a requirement for winning and was used as a plot device for this loner canine police dog, Max, (voiced by Ludacris – whose proper name is Christopher Brian Bridges), to demonstrate self-control. At the time I thought it a goofy plot device. But this mom's blog, which expressed some serious concern about this episode encouraging children to succumb to genital touching, got me considering the issue. As anyone who has read any of my blogs will know, I have both a short fuse and a short temper when it comes to protecting children from all manner of inappropriate scenes, themes, behavior, language, sexuality, etc. But even I didn't catch this one.

To be the Devil's Advocate here for just a moment my initial analysis of the concerned mom's legitimate thoughtfulness was that she was overreacting. My reasoning was thus: it is an adult male dog, undergoing an accepted physical exam. This is not an exam made up for the gratuitous sake of a joke (although it is milked for such) but is a real part of AKC review in dog shows, especially ones at this level.

Next, my reasoning said, if there was any subservient/child aspect to this, the handler/human partner, Frank (Will Arnett) had the fiduciary duty over the animal, anthropomorphized or not. The human partner Frank was the responsble party for Max and had to account for Max' behavior when he bit someone, and his whereabouts when he went missing briefly. And Frank was not only there, attending closely during the examination but was watching very very carefully as Frank was afraid Max would bite the judge and blow the contest, their cover and their best opportunity to solve the case. Frank would have seen the slightest inappropriate attention, or abuse on the part of the judicial examiner, who had every right to be doing what he was doing. I thought, at the time, it was much more akin to a parent overseeing the appropriate examination of a child by a doctor.

But then, in a post to the article about this alert mama, someone else mentioned that children would RELATE to and AS this dog. That, as the main character in the movie, this is the one they would most closely associate with and emulate. That's when the scene did indeed raise my red flag. Adult dog or not, children will relate to this talking dog – even though the humans in the movie do not understand the dog barks, we in the audience do. Max is the main character and written to be the critter with whom we most closely empathize, and see as the surrogate and gateway into this movie.

Further, thinking back to my six children's pediatric examinations, I can not recall any time when a routine exam necessitated a palpitation of their private parts.

So, in retrospect, I think the concerned mom is right.

I will give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say I believe it was simply an exercise of poor judgement and not maliciously intended. The rest of the movie was child friendly and without any agenda. It's a mismatched cop buddy movie ala Lethal Weapon with a dog and human as the frenemies who must learn to get along and respect each other. Both dog and human had cute female love interests without sexual reference or insinuation. The act of checking a dog's genitalia fit the plot, was somewhat funny and really is something that occurs in dog shows. On its surface, Max' required restraint during the inspection scene was no worse than a badly timed breaking of wind at a wedding or a bit of crude humor during a toast by an inebriated groomsman. Unfortunately, the potential bad effects of desensitizing children to inappropriate and unwanted touching are far more reaching than a tasteless joke or badly timed flattulence.

If the filmmakers are smart they will refilm this one scene with a more child friendly concept, such as having Max exercise this same self control when having his teeth examined during the course of the contest. (And yes, my children did occasionally try to bite our eternally patient pediatric dentist so this idea is perfectly relevant.) Precedent for going back to reshoot was set with All the Money in the World when all the scenes shot with the now disgraced predator Kevin Spacey as Getty were replaced with the legendary Christopher Plummer taking over the role. And this scene in Show Dogs is only one close up scene which could even be changed with some clever CGI and editing and a few mentions in others parts of the movie that could be easily revised or voiced over.

Meanwhile, I must bow to the wisdom of this attentive blogger mom and agree with her that, as currently shot with this one scene, Show Dogs, sadly, is NOT appropriate for their young child target demographic audience.