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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun continuation of what returning director Peyton Reed started with Ant-Man three years ago. I whined a bit about the decent original; I wanted it to be more subversive, knowing that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was originally supposed to direct it.

I’m over it: Reed is kicking some Marvel ass, and his sequel is actually better than the first. After the well-done but gloomy Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp joins the likes of Thor: Ragnarok as a fun, slightly eccentric diversion from the serious Marvel shit. This one, for the most part, just wants to have a good time, and it succeeds.

As the title implies, this is no longer a one-man show for the always-entertaining Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. Evangeline Lilly returns as Hope Van Dyne and gets a bigger part of the limelight as the Wasp, who has decidedly better martial-arts skills than professional burglar Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. The Wasp lets the kicks fly in an early scene with a crooked businessman (Walton Goggins … I love his name), and she owns every moment she has onscreen.

It looks like a kick from The Wasp hurts more than one from Ant-Man. That would make sense; she trained him. Lilly’s Hope was pivotal in the original, but she watched most of the action with her dad, out of harm’s way. This time, Hope proves it would’ve probably been a better strategy to have had her throwing down from the start. She does a lot of the heavy lifting, while Lang sits next to Pym (Michael Douglas) and watches from afar.

The film’s main villain is Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a complicated badass on a mission to steal some of Dr. Hank Pym’s tech in order to cure her condition. That condition involves her molecular instability and the Quantum Realm—which might still contain Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, seen in flashbacks).

While the stakes aren’t quite as high as in other Marvel fare—the entire universe isn’t at risk in this one—Reed and his crew make it more than compelling. They also make it very funny, thanks mostly to Rudd, ninja master of comic timing.

Fortifying the laughter would be Michael Peña returning as the oh-so-happy Luis, who tells yet more amusing stories, one of them under the influence of truth serum. Randall Park shows up as an FBI agent watching over Lang, who is still under house arrest for the events of Captain America: Civil War. His eagerness to learn card tricks is one of the film’s better gags.

The film also qualifies as one of the summer’s better family films. Dr. Pym’s mission to rescue his wife, his relationship with daughter Hope, and Lang’s love for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, capably reprising her role) add heartwarming elements. As for the Ghost, her family issues also play a big part in the plot. Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), Cassie’s stepdad and Lang’s enemy in the first film, returns and is now one of Lang’s best friends. It’s all rather sweet.

But you don’t go to a Marvel movie to have your heart warmed, right? Don’t worry: The action is first-rate, as are the special effects, which often involve car chases with vehicles and buildings constantly shrinking and enlarging. Sight gags involving buildings as roll-away luggage, salt shakers and Pez dispensers also benefit from exemplary visual artistry.

There’s not much that connects this installment in obvious ways to the overall Marvel universe story arc, but you do get the requisite Stan Lee cameo and the obligatory after-credit scenes. The Ant-Man franchise got off to a decent start with the first film. Now, it’s the Ant-Man and the Wasp franchise, and that makes the future for this one even more exciting.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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In Adult Beginners, Jake (Nick Kroll) loses all of his money on a get-rich tech scheme, and winds up moving in with his sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), where he takes a temporary gig as their son’s nanny. The trip home helps straighten out Jake as he gets a deeper appreciation of family—but not before he hits some speed bumps.

This is standard, by-the-numbers stuff made almost tolerable by Kroll, Byrne and Cannavale, who make the most of it. Cannavale is especially good as the happy-go-lucky brother-in-law who doesn’t mind Jake crashing at his place, because he gets somebody with whom to smoke pot. Byrne is funny as the pregnant mom who never gets to go out and has a few issues with her deadbeat brother. Kroll is OK as a guy having a mini-meltdown, although he seems more suited to broader comedy.

Blink, and you’ll miss Joel McHale in a small role as Jake’s coke-snorting buddy, and Bobby Moynihan of Saturday Night Live as a clothing-store clerk. The film is directed by Ross Katz, who captures some good performances with a script that leaves a lot to be desired.

Adult Beginners opens Friday, May 1, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430. It’s also available via on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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It’s been 12 years since the great Al Pacino has been involved in a project worthy of his talents. (His Roy Cohn in 2003’s Angels in America was his last great role.) He’s become a bit of a caricature in the last decade, appearing in some of its worst movies (Ocean’s Thirteen, Gigli, 88 Minutes, Jack and Jill and Righteous Kill to name a few) and hamming it up to the point where he’s nearly unwatchable.

Danny Collins isn’t a return to absolute greatness for Pacino, but it does serve as a relevant and crowd-pleasing vehicle for the former Michael Corleone. Pacino steps up as the title character, a Neil Diamond-like rock singer who has spent the past 40 years touring and performing “the hits.” No longer a productive songwriter, he’s come to rely on the comfort of crowds reacting happily to his most popular hit, “Baby Doll.” He’s also heavy into drugs and alcohol, and is engaged to a girl half his age.

On the eve of his birthday, his manager (a delightfully acerbic Christopher Plummer) gives him a special present: a framed letter to Collins that John Lennon wrote many years ago that was never delivered. Lennon had once read an article about Collins, was moved, and sent correspondence from him and Yoko, with his phone number. He was offering some fatherly advice to the confused young Danny—but a scummy collector got his hands on the letter, and Danny never got it.

The gift throws Danny into a tailspin, as he wonders what life would’ve been like if he could’ve called Lennon and been pals. Trivia note: This element of the story is based on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, who received a similar letter from John Lennon 34 years after it was written, phone number and all.

Danny packs his bag and heads to Jersey, where he takes up residence in a Hilton and commits to finding his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale). He puts a piano in his room and tries to rediscover the artistic hunger that drove him 40 years prior.

Perhaps Pacino saw the “redemptive” angle in the script as a nice parallel to his own career. His last great cinematic venture, besides the HBO effort, was 2002’s Insomnia, which capped a long stretch of good-to-great vehicles for the American icon. Pacino dives into the role of Danny with much aplomb, and employs the sort of nuance that has been missing from his work for too many years. He’s fully engaged in the movie, which helps him to rise above the schmaltz and make it something entertaining, moving and funny. He gets help from a stellar supporting cast, including Cannavale, Plummer, Annette Bening as the hotel manager on whom Danny has a crush, and Jennifer Garner as the daughter-in-law he’s just meeting.

Cannavale deserves special notice. His character is given a disease-of-the-week plotline along with the abandoned-son routine—in other words, enough clichés to torpedo any performer. Somehow, Cannavale turns the whole thing into his best screen work yet. It’s a pleasure to see him exchanging lines with Pacino.

The biggest stretch in this film is buying Pacino as a singer. Pacino is a shitty, shitty singer, and he seems to know it, so the couple of scenes during which he’s onstage are a bit comical. Yet they have a lot of appeal.

Danny Collins might not mark the return of the great Pacino, but it does stand as proof that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. I think he should do a little tour as Danny Collins. It would be fantastically awful to the point of being awesome.

Danny Collins is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

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There was a time when Woody Allen was consistently making the best movies in the business—and Blue Jasmine is that return to form that some of us Allen fans have been waiting for, thanks in large part to a phenomenal central performance by Cate Blanchett.

Blanchett—sure to nab an Oscar nomination here—plays Jasmine, the wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier (Alec Baldwin) who must relocate from New York to San Francisco after she is financially ruined and emotionally destroyed. She gulps martinis, criticizes her helpful sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and, quite frighteningly, is prone to bouts of talking to herself.

Allen finds the dark humor in the story, and employs a supporting cast that includes Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K. and, most astonishingly, Andrew Dice Clay, who, doggone it, delivers one amazing performance as Ginger’s financially destroyed ex-husband, Augie.

Above and beyond the humor, Allen makes his film a parable about how some deeds are irredeemable, and some folks are simply doomed. It’s as bittersweet as any movie you will see this year—or any year, for that matter.

As far as the Allen film canon goes, this is in the Top 5. It’s one of those films where everything comes together perfectly, with Blanchett at its powerful center.

Blue Jasmine is playing at theaters across the valley.

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In Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried does a decent job as the star of the infamous Deep Throat—who had one truly lousy husband in Chuck Traynor (a creepy Peter Sarsgaard).

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a film that feels surprisingly short, especially considering that they show the story from two different angles. The movie builds up to Linda Lovelace’s big porn moment—and then re-covers some of the same ground, this time showing Traynor’s brutality.

Since the film is just 92 minutes, not much ground gets covered.

Still, Epstein and Friedman get good performances out of Seyfried and Sarsgaard, with Sharon Stone doing decent work as Lovelace’s angry mother. The film features James Franco in a cameo as Hugh Hefner, with small parts for Bobby Cannavale, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth and Wes Bentley.

Lovelace opens Friday, Aug. 9, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews