Cinema Clash podcast: Incredibles 2; Tag; A Kid Like Jake; Hearts Beat Loud; The Misandrists

Review: Shock and Awe

The most shocking thing about Shock and Awe is how shockingly flat it turned out to be, given the star-power behind it as well as the timeliness of its core message about the role of the free press in a democracy. With a cast list that includes Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Tommy Lee Jones and actor/director Rob Reiner, the biggest question you’re left with after the film is the same question raised in the film itself: How the hell did this happen? It should have been so much better – so more people might actually see it.

Review: Blindspotting

Every year, a few of those ‘smaller’ movies come along that you feel compelled to champion, in a concerted effort to make sure they don’t get lost in the barrage of major studio releases. Blindspotting is one of those films. And not just because I got to meet its co-writer/stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal (photos below) and once worked with the film’s editor, Gabe Fleming (on America’s Next Top Model). It’s simply a darned good movie that’s provocative, entertaining and timely.

Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing.

The story may be lame as heck, but who cares? Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again delivers exactly what I expected: a groovy movie musical with a simple plot built around lyrics to ABBA songs — just like the first Mamma Mia! nearly a decade ago. In some ways, the sequel is even better, thanks to the singing, dancing and acting chops of Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as a younger version of free-spirited Donna Sheridan, the role inhabited by Meryl Streep in 2008. Streep is back for the sequel, but only for a brief yet poignant scene in the final minutes of the film (no spoilers). And oh yeah, Cher pops in too – as Donna’s showstopper (and scene-stealer) of a Mom.

Review: Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti

If you are a lover of modern art in the least, you’re most likely familiar with Paul Gauguin’s work, particularly the bold colorful paintings he did while living in French Polynesia. Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti explores his first voyage there during the years from 1891 and 1893. Tired of the Paris scene, and looking to inject something new into his work, Gauguin decided to go half a world away to free his soul to create. And from the paintings I’ve seen in museums around the globe, it worked. French actor Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) plays Gauguin with his usual abandon, disappearing into the role of the driven artist in the exotic world of his dreams. The film won’t give you many insights into his work though. It’s a fictional view of his life with one particular girl/muse. It’s absorbing, but also seriously lacking.

Review: Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade is a different breed of teen dramedy that plays so authentic and real that it could almost pass for a documentary. It’s also authentic and real enough to play like a horror movie for parents of girls between the ages of 13 and 15. Oh, to be 14 again. Not! Adolescence was hard enough with a landline and Instamatic camera. Imagine how tough it can be in this age of smart phones, YouTube, Instagram, emojis and social media mayhem. Eighth Grade takes us there. It follows eighth-grader Kayla (Elsie Fisher) as she struggles through her final week of middle school and prepares for that next big step on the education and socialization ladder – high school.

Quickie (documentary) Reviews: Three Identical Strangers; The King

Three Identical Strangers is a fascinating documentary that runs the gamut from joyous and surreal to shocking and sad. It tells the story of three complete strangers – Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman – who serendipitously discovered, at the age of 19, that they were identical triplets who’d been separated at birth and adopted by three different families in New York. Their story became a tabloid sensation in 1980 as the trio quickly bonded and capitalized on their newfound fame. But that’s just part one of the story. The second part is far more sinister, revealing details of the brothers’ adoption and their families’ unwitting participation in a secret psychological study about human behavior and nature versus nurture. It’s the type of documentary that tells a great story and lends itself to plenty of discussion and debate long after the credits roll.

Review: Dark Money

It’s the documentary of our time. Untraceable money is flooding US political races, from corporations and rich individuals with agendas that run counter to the will of the people. Filmmaker Kimberly Reed went to her home state of Montana see how the 2010 Citizens United ruling changed the political climate and what they did about it. According the filmmaker: “The only way to really understand how the dark money shell game works is to follow the nonprofit corporations over multiple election cycles as they pop up, disintegrate, reconstitute, and wreak havoc once again. It usually takes journalists years to uncover the damage that dark money causes, and by that time it is too late. I played this game of Whack-A-Mole over three election cycles in what became the perfect environment to tell the campaign finance story. Montana was not only the first and hardest hit with dark money but also the state that fought back the hardest with grassroots citizen outrage. Dark Money puts a human face to that fight.” It’s a film that will outrage you no matter your political ideology!

Review: Under the Tree (Undir trénu)

There are actually two storylines running concurrently in this very dark dramedy from Iceland. In one, everyman Atli is caught by his wife watching a sex tape in which she is not a participant, is kicked out of the house, and has to go live with his parents. In the other, Atli’s parents Baldvin and Inga are in an ever escalating fight with their neighbors Konrad and Eybjorg over a tree in the backyard. And while Atli tries to make amends with his wife and get to see his cute little daughter, he’s living with a mother who doesn’t have a firm grasp on reality and a father who is taking his cues from her in the battle over the tree’s future. The theme that runs through both stories is how easily people think the worst and act on their assumptions. And how nothing good ever comes from it.

Review: Whitney

Whitney, the new documentary about Whitney Houston has it all. Star power, incredible performances, heroes and villains, a sexual abuse bombshell, and the self-destruction and ultimate tragic death of its subject. But its greatest flaw is that it feels like her family and inner circle had way too much control over what went into this big documentary. And its most glaring deficiency is that Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s best friend, probable lover, and seemingly the only person who cared about her well-being rather than her success, was not interviewed. Nonetheless, what you’re left with is a documentary that kept reminding me of Amy, the Amy Winehouse documentary, where you know the sad outcome and you really just want to know why someone with so much talent would kill herself.

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

As a sequel to a lightweight Marvel movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp does its job. It’s entertaining and finds a way to work in the necessary connections to the Avengers franchise and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you skipped the first Ant-Man, or expect to see Ant-Man courting a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or couldn’t care less about the Avengers, then move along. This movie isn’t for you. If, however, you enjoyed the first Ant-Man flick, wonder why Ant-Man was a no-show in Infinity War, or simply like Paul Rudd (I mean, really, who doesn’t like Paul Rudd?), then take no shame in embracing the family-friendly buzz around Ant-Man and the Wasp. It is summer, after all.