ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

 

 

 

 

The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

LITTLE WOMEN – ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN YEARS

SHORT TAKE:

Artfully modernized, faithfully told beautiful adaptation for the contemporary audience of the classic story, Little Women.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone. Anyone. All ages. Please go, bring friends.

LONG TAKE:

We know this story extremely well, inside and out. I’ve read the book. I’ve taught it as part of our curriculum several times over the span of homeschooling six kids.  I have seen a number of filmed versions including the appalling one where Katherine Hepburn was way too old to play Jo and a lovely one with Susan Sarandon as Marme. Our family was IN the danged play at our local community theater 12 years ago. My second oldest daughter played the lead, Jo, and the rest of our family either had parts on stage, behind the scenes or were present for every rehearsal cheering their siblings on. We’ve incorporated lines and expressions like "love lornity" and how French is a "silly slippery language" from the play into our traditional family sayings. Shoot, with four girls of our own, there were times I've felt as though we were LIVING scenes from Little Women…but I had never truly appreciated the story of Little Women until I saw this 2018 modernized film.

Little Women, marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of the source book, has been refurbished to modern day and is arguably one of the best movies I have seen in years. The film makers have adapted this Civil War era story to the 21st century with the same skill as the innovative Cumberbatch-Freeman Sherlock updated the original Conan Doyle invention, or Steve Martin refreshed Cyrano de Bergerac into the whimsical Roxanne – that is to say with both seamless, creative invention and great respectful affection for the source material. It is a testament to the timelessness of the concepts foundational to Louisa May Alcott’s novel that it translates so well, but it is the talent of the gifted screenwriter Kristi Shimek, newbie director Clare Niederpruem and the actors that makes it blossom onto the screen.

For the benefit of anyone suffering the misfortune of not being familiar with the story, the premise of Little Women follows Jo March from childhood to womanhood as she and her sisters grow and mature together in the warm embrace of loving parents and stalwart friends through joys, embarrassments, mistakes, misunderstandings, and the other comedies and tragedies of life.

For those who are blessed with a familiarity of the subject, rest assured the writer and director have a love and respect for the material. The tale has not been changed by the displacement in time, but is transformed into an image more familiar and therefore more accessible to 21st century audiences, without altering a single iota of character development, story arc, or theme. John Bunyan’s famous Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, is as notable here as it was in the original script and novel, forming the underlying themes of passage from human frailty and sin to redemption, suffering the travails of life with forgiveness, courage, and love. Instead of the Civil War, the father is deployed overseas. Instead of letters they have Skype. The charity the original characters perform for a starving mother and children next door is done at a homeless shelter. The children are homeschooled and the social faux pas are appropriately updated to reflect the unwiseness of modern youth. As many lines as can be are pulled directly from the book, but updates, where needed, are appropriately made.

I’ve known Lea Thompson was a fine actress ever since I first saw Back to the Future at the theater in 1985. I was floored to discover, some 20 minutes into the movie when Marty goes back to the past, that the same woman who played a dowdy, overweight, burnt out, disillusioned and embittered alcoholic was NOT in fact 50 years old but a brilliant little 24 year old actress who nailed the tragic first version of Lorraine in the opening scenes of that now famous movie. She hits the bull's eye again in Little Women as Marme, the gentle, warm and archetype maternal figure of the March family.

I was honestly not familiar with any of the other cast members before seeing this Little Women. Most harken from TV shows and B movies, but every one of the performers is not only tremendous in their roles, but fit into and shape their characters so perfectly I will have difficulty ever thinking of these March family members and friends as anyone but them (with the except of our own family members, of course).

Sarah Davenport is perfect as the high strung, impulsive, often unthinking and deeply emotional Jo. Allie Jennings ditto as Jo’s favorite sister and alter ego, the gentle, kind and resolute Beth. Melanie Stone is lovely as Meg, wanting nothing more than to be a wife and mother. Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy playing the younger and older Amy, respectively, do a great job of the self absorbed and easily smitten youngest sister without losing Amy’s vulnerability. Lucas Grabeel steps into the part of Laurie with just the right combination of awkward and delightful as the lonely young man next door anxious to join a family. Ian Bohen as the caring and insightful Professor Freddie Bhaer, Bart Johnson as the warm and loving Papa March, Michael Flynn as Laurie’s kind and thoughtful grandfather Mr. Lawrence, Stuart Edge as Brooke, Barta Heiner as Aunt March and even Goober the cat contribute their support to this brilliant and beautiful film adaptation for the contemporary audience.

The dress and sets are simple and fit the time and place of a family of well cared for and spiritually sound young women. The sweetly fitting soundtrack is decorated with modern day songs which accurately reflect the needs of the film's moods. Most of the action takes place in and around the March and Lawrence homes. The filming style is of flash – backs and forwards – as time moves on and memories are rekindled by events in Jo’s dynamic present. And I really enjoyed the cinematically creative and tasteful way Ms. Niederpruem conveyed the passage of time.

Go see this wonderful version of Little Women. Read the book either before or after…or both…and gain a fresh new appreciation for this enchanting, inspiring and enduring tale of spiritual growth, family strength and the power that love and faith have over the buffets and trials of life. Bring Kleenex.

THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT – INTENSE, BRILLIANT AND LITTLE KNOWN CULT CLASSIC WHICH PAVED THE WAY FOR ATOMIC BLONDE AND BLACK WIDOW

SHORT TAKE:

A rare example of a wildly successful, female-lead, action adventure about MOTHERHOOD — for adults only.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Any adult who enjoys James Bond or one of the reboot Mission Impossibles.

LONG TAKE:

With the quality-questionable Uncle Drew being the most promising of the new movie releases this week, I thought I might do a review of one of my favorite movies you've probably never heard of: The Long Kiss Goodnight.

In 1996, far before Charlize Theron became  Atomic Blonde, and back when Scarlett Johanssen was still a child, starring in low budgets like Manny and Lo, well before she grew up to be Black Widow, a unique cinematic excursion was released called The Long Kiss Goodnight. Geena Davis, from Stuart Little, A League of Their Own, The Fly, and Beetlejuice costarred with the truly ubiquitous and eternally youngSamuel L Jackson (who looks no different now than he did 22 years ago – see my comment about this in my review of The Incredibles 2) in a movie about a woman named Samantha Caine. Samantha washes up, two months pregnant, on the shores of Honesdale, PA, a sleepy New England town, with nothing but clothes on her back she doesn't remember buying, a few fighting scars and complete "focal retrograde amnesia". She remembers nothing about herself: not her identity, where she came from, her age, who the father of her child is, nothing, except her name and even that is a guess.

Honestly, the background pictures during the opening credits reveal WAAAAY more than they should or is necessary. So – if you rent or buy this movie, on first viewing, you should START AT THE THREE MINUTE MARK. You can go back and watch the opening credit images after you have finished the movie.

Eight years later, as the movie begins, Samantha is now a teacher in the local elementary school and a devoted mother to Caitlin. While riding in her adopted home town's Christmas parade, in what seems to be a complete non-sequitor, an inmate in a nearby prison, watching the event on a caged TV, suddenly goes into a fury. About the same time, Mitch, (Samuel L Jackson) the low rent detective Samantha hired then forgot about, unexpectedly comes up with a lead, and Nathan (Brian "Stryker" Cox), an old friend from Samantha's past, sets out to find her.

With the exceptions of Ms. Theron, Ms. Johanssen, and Gal Gadot, I generally find that action adventures featuring women protagonists fall pathetically flat. The Long Kiss Goodnight is the Gold Standard of exceptions and the predecessor to all the blockbusters in which the aforementioned ladies have starred.

Clever, rough, violent, funny, startling and profane, it is one of the most unusual, fascinating and memorable films about motherhood I know. It ranks right up there with Hotel Artemis (click to check out my previous blog) and Aliens. While the language, ironically, has even Mr. Jackson's character, Mitch, complaining, there is no blasphemy, and the sexuality is very low key for this genre. If you want to check the details of profanity and sexuality out for yourself click Screenit, if you are a member, before watching.

GENTLE SPOILERS

Geena Davis' slow transition from the sweet and charming, happily domestic Samantha to the fierce and indomitable Charley is a tour de force. Ms. Davis and Mr. Jackson make superb platonic team mates in the kind of movie relationship usually reserved for bromances. The plot is part James Bond, part North by Northwest, part Mission Impossible, with a little bit of Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde thrown in for good measure.

One of the things I find most commendably endearing and notably rare about this movie in general, and Samantha in particular, is that there is not even a hint she ever considered killing her unborn child, despite the desolateness of her situation as Samantha. Even while Charley, the most unlikely of mother candidates,  lurks in her subconscious, she has and embraces her natural and powerful maternal instincts. And after re-embracing her distinctly ungentle previous life Samantha/Charley remains a profoundly dedicated mother.  The idea that motherhood would trump everything else, even for the fully re-realized Charley, is a truly inspiring thought.

MODERATE SPOILER

To the point about motherhood, one of my favorite all time movie scenes is the way Samantha/Charley protects Caitlin and handles the "One Eyed Jack" when he invades her home. That's a heck of a mom. I can picture Weaver's Ripley giving Samantha a standing "O".

So if you're in the mood for something different than your usual film fare, be sure the kids are in bed and no where near close enough to hear Mr. Jackson as he chides Charley for HER language, and cue up The Long Kiss Goodnight.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM – FLAWED BUT FUN VARIATION ON THE SAME LOVED THEME

SHORT TAKE:

Repeat of all the tropes from previous movies to create what is now a formulaic Jurassic Park movie – BUT I still loved it.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone old enough to see the original Jurassic Park movie. Same scare level, no sex or nudity and very little profanity. These movies are a hoot and this one is just as much fun as the others, though nothing really very new under the sun. Just a variation on the same theme.

LONG TAKE:

I love the Jurassic Park franchise. Even the ugly stepchildren JP Lost World and JP III. I know they are derivative. I agree the first was the best – character driven as opposed to the far more special effects driven sequels. I understand they have become formulaic to the point where you can accurately and safely predict the characters who will and will not survive, and the general outline of the story. But I don’t really care. People who ride roller coasters are pretty familiar with how they work, know what to expect and are not especially surprised by the effects of free falls but they still ride them.

These movies are not Shakespeare, or Chekov, or even Woody Allen. They are "what if" stories about what would happen if you threw people and dinosaurs together. And they are a lot of fun.

Two of my favorite all time cinematic scenes are from the franchise. (click pic) One is the scene where Alan Grant, renowned paleontologist, reacts to his first encounter with a live dinosaur – a brachiosaurus. He is so overwhelmed he turns to Ellie, points and can barely get out the words – "It’s…. it’s a dinosaur," and then has to sit down on the ground. Makes me smile every time.

(click pic) Another of my favorite scenes is seeing Owen racing through the jungle on his motorcycle, hunting alongside raptors. After being oriented to how terrifying these critters are, through all the previous movies, all the way back to the first movie, to see a human as part of their pack gives me goose pimples.

The premise of JP Numero V is that the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar are facing extinction – again – because their island is about to be destroyed by an active volcano. Some think nature should reclaim these anachronistic Frankenstein monsters. Others believe we have a stewardship duty to save them despite the inherent extreme danger of the attempt. Another faction is in play with more mercenary motivations.

The actors re-create the characters we have enjoyed in previous movies.

Jeff Goldblum reprises his wisecracking, snarky and insightful Ian Malcolm, in a small cameo, offering his opinions to a Congressional committee on what should be done now that these creatures are facing an(other) extinction level event on their island. The movie cuts back and forth between his testimony and the adventures with Claire and Owen on Isla Nublar.

Chris Pratt returns as Owen, the dinosaur whisperer who is reluctantly pulled in to the rescue mission in order to help Blue, the raptor he raised.

Bryce Dallas Howard appears again as Claire, former executive assistant to the CEO who owned the destroyed park. She now runs an organization attempting to save the dinosaurs and whose primary job in this movie is to scream, escape from dinosaurs and be rescued by Owen.

The ubiquitous James Cromwell creates the character of Benjamin Lockwood, a heretofore unknown partner of the Jurassic concept’s inventor John Hammond (formerly played by the late Sir Richard Attenborough and appears only as a painting). The backstory is that for a previously undisclosed reason, which will become important to a subplot, they had a falling out.

Geraldine Chaplin – the oldest of eight children who Charlie Chaplin had with his wife Oona – appears in a small part as Lockwood’s trusted housekeeper.

Others fill out smaller bits seemingly just to fluff up the roster: Justice Smith as Franklin, the geeky tech guy who seems to have been hired for having a girlier scream than Howard and vaguely imitates Jake Johnson’s character Lowery from Jurassic World I. Daniella Pineda plays Zia, a tough talking self styled paleo-veterinarian (though she has never actually met a dinosaur up close). Ted Levine is the obligate bad guy, unnecessarily cruel to the dinos and callously dismissive of human life, much like Vincent D’Onfrio’s Hoskins from JW. Rafe Spall plays Eli, Cromwell’s assistant who is reminiscent of the lawyer Gennero (Martin Ferrero) from JP I. There’s the absolutely required kid (Isabella Sermon), of course who is cute then in danger. And so on.

Special mention must be made of BD Wong. He pops up once again as the "evil" scientist Wu, who is the embodiment of everything that alarmed Ian Malcolm when he admonished Hammond in the first JP movie that: (click pic) "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should." It is interesting to note that Wong and Goldblum were the representatives of the dipolar opposite views in the original JP and are the only major recurring members from the original cast. And I give the filmmakers kudos for going out of their way to make this conceptual point obvious by the small but significant presence of these two characters.

The special effects are remarkable, recreating not only multiple dinosaurs but a volcanic eruption, and chases across a variety of terrain from forest to rooftops.

It is a satisfying thrill ride of a movie, make no mistake.

BUT….

SPOILERS FOR JURASSIC FRANCHISE MOVIES, GENERATIONS, SERENITY AND  LAST JEDI

All this being said I still have some issues with the movie.

The de rigeur between-movies "break" in the romantic relationship of the leads is particularly silly. It is literally explained as having occurred because Owen wouldn’t let Ellie drive his van. Huh? In JP III the break up of Alan and Ellie is heartbreaking and gracefully presented. Alan is shown playing with Ellie’s child. You assume it is his until Ellie’s husband shows up. Then you realize not only that they are not a couple any more, but guess at why – that Alan never wanted to settle down and start a family.

Lava is, at one point, everywhere. Claire and Franklin (Justice Smith) would probably have cooked just being that close to it in an enclosed space as they were. Minutes later they are fleeing from a pyroclastic flow which moves at 50 mph and is full of toxic deadly fumes. An old dilapidated gyrosphere wouldn’t have gone that fast and Owen, even running downhill, couldn’t have come close.

In another scene, an experienced hunter, Ken, (Ted Levine) goes into the cage of THE most dangerous dinosaur ever created for a souvenir tooth. It's an insult to JP I's Muldoon who was taken by a pack of raptors while trying to save other people's lives. It was pretty transparent Ken's death in JW: FK was only to set up the escape of the Indoraptor.

 There was really no reason to try to murder Owen or Claire. They were brought along because of their unique insight into the creatures then discarded as soon as one was found. This didn’t make a lot of sense. They try to commit murder of experts who can help them in order to cover up the theft of animals who have been left to die anyway. Huh?

The most galling problem I have is with the demise of one of the creatures. The very first live dinosaur we see EVER in the franchise is an brachiosaurus. Yes, it is pretend and CGI and no dinosaurs were harmed in the making of the movie because all the dinosaurs are actually….extinct! But because of its emotional impact of awed amazement in the iconic moment of the first JP movie when we first saw what a living breathing dinosaur might look like today, there is a vested connection which audiences over 25 years and five movie have earned. But when Owen and Claire are fleeing the erupting island we watch a brachiosaurus – maybe supposed to be the very one we saw in the first movie – die a prolonged agonizing death. There is a drawn out, extremely painful scene where Owen and Claire watch the creature as it moans at the end of the dock, abandoned, without help, is enveloped by the toxic smoke, becomes a silhouette in the light from the lava and is destroyed. Like the death of Captain Kirk in Generations, the disappearance of Luke at the end of The Last Jedi, or Wash’s demise in the movie Serenity, it felt like a deliberate sign off from the parent franchise. Whether it will signal a new successful batch of movies is another question.

As I pointed out, it is really just an audio-visual emotional roller coaster ride so I shouldn’t expect subtlety.

 Overall I enjoyed JW: FK and do hope this is not the last of their progeny. But I also hope care is take in the future with those characters – human and otherwise – of which we have become so fond.

CHRIS PRATT – SPEAKS OUT STRONGLY FOR GOD, PRAYER, GRACE AND THE BLOOD OF JESUS – AT THE MTV AWARD CEREMONY!!!

Chris Pratt – Mr. Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic Park franchise – just blew me away with this excerpt from his MTV Award Ceremony speech. The entire list has humorous parts too and a part is transcribed below (with editorial bolding) but click this video to hear his inspirational message to a demographic who probably does not hear this often if EVER! And who desperately needs it the most!

Be sure your kids watch this GOOD example of a relatable celebrity from children-popular movies, showing his faith in God, grace, and a good sense of humor.

 

Chris Pratt at MTV Award Ceremony

 

Breathe.

You have a soul. Be careful with it.

Don’t be a turd.

When giving a dog medicine, put the medicine in a little piece of hamburger.

It doesn’t matter what it is, earn it.

God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you, believe that. I do.

If you have to poop at a party, pee first and flush quick.

Learn to pray. It’s easy and it’s so good for your soul.

Nobody is perfect. You are imperfect. You always will be. You were made that way. There is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you accept that you will have grace. Grace is a gift. And like the freedom we enjoy in this country that gift was paid for by somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it.

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:

Not for kids. Young adults and up only. 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. UNLESS you want to show them clips and this photo to make the point – DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

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.

For anyone interested in what Domee Shi, the young lady writer-director of Bao has to say about her film, please click : Bao Director Interview.

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.) Incredibles 2 VERY child friendly, (Bao not so much).

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 talking heads, the REAL villains of BOTH movies, 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. This is a typical example of how news bias and "fake news" reports are fashioned – a classic example of what happens in the real world – to give their audience, not news, but their own prejudiced view. 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. While many of these women have, in the past, been in child- and family-friendly movies (Blind Side, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), this is not one of them.

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. NOT for kids.

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.