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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After a 14-year hiatus, the Parr family is finally back for more superhero shenanigans in Pixar’s Incredibles 2, a sequel that retains the zippy, funny spirit of the original. It’s not as good as the first, but it is still Pixar’s best “sequel” since Toy Story 3.

The film picks up where the last one left off, with a criminal named Underminer (the voice of the ever-Pixar-present John Ratzenberger) looking to cause some trouble—just as teen Violet Parr (Sarah Vowell) is meeting a boy. Superheroes remain in hiding, but rich tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is looking to change that.

Winston has a plan to get superheroes back in the limelight, and that plan involves Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) fighting crime and gaining publicity on a crazy new motorbike. While she’s out getting her superhero groove on, Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson) must stay at home and take care of the kids, including Violet, Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).

To recap the children’s powers, Violet can go invisible and produce force fields, while Dash is really fast. Jack-Jack, as we found out near the end of the original, has emerging powers himself—and Bob is newly witnessing them all. Jack-Jack can do a lot of things: He can reproduce himself, journey to other dimensions, catch fire and turn himself into a demon baby. The Jack-Jack subplot gets a lot of laughs, most of them out of the baby’s sheer amusement with himself.

Of course, Bob’s superpowers will be needed again, and the whole family will eventually need to save the world from comical baddies. While the film feels a bit repetitive at times, the great voice work by Hunter, Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone keep it consistently entertaining. Bird himself returns as the voice of fashion guru Edna Mode, who becomes Auntie Edna when Jack-Jack and his exhausted dad are in dire need of a baby sitter. Make no mistake: It’s Jack-Jack and his cookie-craving craziness that steal the show this time.

As with the original, it’s the little nuances that make the Incredibles so much fun. I still love how Elastigirl’s mouth curves when she talks—a direct ode to Hunter’s actual face—and Violet’s teen angst continues to be hilarious. The original Incredibles was groundbreaking for its onscreen action, and this one continues in that tradition. There’s also a memorable new villain in Screenslaver, an entity that hypnotizes people into submission via video screens. No doubt: This a nod to and critique of our modern-day attachment to screened devices.

In a nice piece of stunt casting, the character of Rick Dicker, voiced in the original by the late Bud Luckey, has been recast with the voice of Jonathan Banks. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans know Banks as the henchman of Saul—aka Bob Odenkirk—so having both their voices here is neat stuff for geeks.

It may seem a little odd that the sequel-happy Pixar took so long to give the Parr family another chapter—but the reason for the wait falls squarely on writer-director Brad Bird’s shoulders. Bird created the characters, and Pixar gave him autonomy when it came to giving them another chapter. Bird wasn’t in any kind of rush, so we might have to wait another decade plus for another chapter.

That’s OK. While the Incredibles are clearly ripe for many stories, one great chapter (the original) and another very good one (this installment) make for a great franchise already—and a surefire summer good time for everybody in the family.

Incredibles 2 is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Perhaps the most important journalistic battle in American history gets the Spielberg treatment in The Post, featuring a stellar cast that includes Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

The film explores The Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam in 1971, a move that raised the ire of then-President Richard Nixon, and put the careers of people like paper owner Kay Graham (Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) in major jeopardy. Of course, Hanks isn’t the first movie star to play Bradlee: Jason Robards also played him in All the President’s Men, the classic film that covered the Watergate scandal. Bradlee, who died in 2014, was a journalism giant.

The movie starts in the mid-’60s with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a member of the State Department who is a study for then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) in South Vietnam. Embedded with American troops, Ellsberg sees all sorts of atrocities and is a firsthand witness to the growing failure of American participation in the Vietnam War. His forecast about the war’s outcome is bleak, but McNamara and President Johnson (and three presidents before him) share a rosier—and false—version with the American public.

In 1971, with Nixon in the White House, Hanks and Streep get their first scene together: They’re in a restaurant having breakfast, discussing their big controversy of the day—the White House’s meddling with their ability to cover the wedding of Nixon’s daughter. Bradlee refuses to bend to Nixon’s request to restrict a certain reporter, while Graham wonders what the big deal is. This scene is long, dialogue-rich take—and it’s basically a school in great acting.

Things progress from troubles with weddings to the war, with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers by Ellsberg, and The New York Times printing a story about them. This move gets the Times in trouble with the Nixon administration. Bradlee and his team come into contact with Ellsberg and get the opportunity to go through thousands of pages of classified documents. They have two options: Print a deeper story on the classified documents and face potential treason charges; or bury the story to help preserve the paper, which is going through an initial public stock offering and would likely be harmed by any negative controversy.

History has told us what Graham, Bradlee and their team of reporters did—but that doesn’t make The Post any less thrilling. Spielberg not only uses The Post as an opportunity to put great actors in play; he makes The Post a grand testament to the golden age of print journalism.

It’s not just the risk-taking of editors, owners and journalists that makes The Post such an absorbing piece of history. The mechanics of producing a story for the masses in the 1970s were a little complicated by today’s standards: Journalists seeking leads with rotary phones and pay phones, and hard deadlines that had to be hit because it took a lot of time to actually publish a newspaper each day, play a big part in the storytelling. Spielberg relishes the chance to show a story getting rolled up on typed paper, shot through an internal delivery system to an editor, edited by a man with a pencil, and then placed on a costly template for publication. The sight of massive amounts of paper getting printed and then bound to be taken to the streets is one of Spielberg’s most impressive technical filmmaking feats in years.

The supporting cast includes Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, the legendary TV comedians of Mr. Show. It’s a trip to see them onscreen together in a Spielberg production. Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon and Sarah Paulson round out the cast.

The Post is the best Spielberg offering since Munich, bringing to an end one of the weaker stretches in his career that included the lackluster Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and The BFG. It’s an impressively staged account of a pivotal moment in our history—at a time when the freedom of the press is again being actively challenged by a sitting president.

The Post is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The last performance by Robin Williams in a live-action role has him playing a closeted older man dealing with issues in a very somber, slow-paced, mundane way.

The faults of Boulevard lie within the script and the sloppy direction. Williams is decent as Nolan, a bank employee on the verge of a promotion; he’s been married for a long time to Joy (Kathy Baker). One night, when feeling a bit anxious, he goes cruising on the boulevard and picks up Leo (Roberto Aguire), a street hustler. They go to a hotel a couple of times. The first time, they just chat. The second time, they chat while Leo sits on the bed naked. It’s clear Nolan is gay—and doesn’t really know what to do about it.

Nolan gets a little obsessive as he waits for texts and phone calls from Leo—and he puts his career and marriage on the line when he gets directly involved in Leo’s life. His behavior is a little desperate, and things don’t go well for him in the end.

Bob Odenkirk turns in some good work as Winston, Nolan’s friend. Odenkirk (an Emmy nominee for Better Call Saul) continues to show he has fine dramatic chops to go with his comedy cred.

I’m not sure why the film needed the street-hustler angle. It would’ve been good to see Williams in a role that felt a little more realistic. He does solid work here, but the movie itself isn’t up to snuff.

Special Features: There are no special features on the disc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I can’t deny the amazing acting work in this Best Picture nominee from the likes of Bruce Dern (an Oscar nominee), Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb (also an Oscar nominee). These performances are all wonderful.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story that propels that acting. Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine subscription letter saying he’s a winner. So he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks his part out of the park. The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, and Squibb was the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife. (The black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice.)

As for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Payne) and Best Actor nominations … I don’t think so. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. While Dern gave a strong performance, it doesn’t stand up when compared to the work of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street and Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. (They all lost to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club anyway.)

Special Features: There’s just one, a making-of doc, that’s a decent-enough watch.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I can’t deny the wonderful acting work by the likes of Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb in Nebraska; they are all wonderful in this movie.

What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story propelling that acting.

Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine-subscription letter saying he’s a winner. Therefore, he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile.

It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks the part out of the park.

Of the six Oscar nominations this film earned, I would call Squibb the most deserving for her work as Dern’s droll wife; the black-and-white cinematography is also quite nice. As for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actor (Dern) and Best Director (Alexander Payne), I wouldn’t go there. The movie is good in a peculiar way, but far from great. The premise annoyed me a bit the whole time I watched Nebraska.

Nebraska is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430); and the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100).

Published in Reviews

Miles Teller delivers his breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until well-balanced Aimee (Shailene Woodley) comes along.

They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—although sometimes, that can be the best way to start a relationship. Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into something far from your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses.

The film is one of the more unique and intelligent takes on growing up that you are likely to see. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who about a year ago piloted Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, having made two of the best films of the last two years.

Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler as his idiot dad. While he only has a couple of scenes, Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Sutter’s tolerant employer.

A plot synopsis of this film may make it seem ordinary—but it’s spectacular indeed.

Special Features: There are more than 20 minutes of deleted scenes, some of them quite good. One notable one includes Sutter giving a kid a ride home from a quickie mart and revealing some stuff about his alcoholism. You also get some short making-of featurettes and a commentary with the director.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

What a mess.

Casey Wilson (Saturday Night Live) and June Diane Raphael (Burning Love) star in Ass Backwards as two best friends living in New York City. Their lives have hit dead ends, but things brighten up when they get an invitation to compete in a beauty pageant—a beauty pageant they once took part in as kids. So they set out across the country to be in the pageant and show up the now-famous former winner (Alicia Silverstone).

The two main characters are extremely unlikable; much of the blame can go to Wilson and Raphael—because they also wrote the screenplay. They try to wring laughter out of scenarios involving the road trip and the beauty pageant; these scenarios have been done a million times before.

Director Chris Nelson strains to make something of this mess, but he winds up with a poor man’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. It’s all too bad, because I’ve liked this duo in other projects and was expecting so much more.

An impressive supporting cast goes to waste, including Bob Odenkirk (who is funny in his few scenes), Vincent D’Onofrio (also funny) and Jon Cryer (not so funny).

This film is available on demand and online, including via Amazon.com. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Miles Teller delivers a breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until a well-balanced girl, Aimee (Shailene Woodley), comes along.

They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—but sometimes, that’s the best way to start a relationship.

Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into someone who’s much more than your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses.

The film is a unique and intelligent take on growing up. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who piloted last year’s terrific Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, seeing as he’s now made two of the best films of the last two years.

Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler as his idiot dad. While he only has a couple of scenes, Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Sutter’s tolerant employer.

The plot synopsis of this film may make it seem ordinary—yet that’s not the case. It’s spectacular indeed.

The Spectacular Now is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

If you have never watched Breaking Bad, it is time to get cracking. It is unquestionably one of the greatest television shows ever produced, thanks in large part to stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul—and all previous seasons are now available for you to watch before the show’s final eight episodes air later this year.

If you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick rundown: Walter White (Cranston), a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, finds out he is dying of cancer, and he’s concerned about his family’s future. He’s really good with chemistry, and he comes up with a formula for meth that becomes extremely popular on the streets.

What starts as a way to put some money in his bank account before death comes a-knocking turns into a tragic thirst for power. What happens as a result of his choices has provided five seasons of incredible storytelling.

Season 5 picks up after Walter has killed drug lord Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), and Walter’s ego is out of control. This leads to tension with his apprentice (Paul) and wife (Anna Gunn), and far too many close calls with his in-the-dark lawman brother-in-law (Dean Norris).

God bless the folks who hired Bob Odenkirk to play sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. There’s been talk of Saul getting his own show, and I say: Make it happen!

Interesting trivia note: Both John Cusack and Matthew Broderick were offered the role of Walter White, but declined.

The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad begin airing Aug. 11 on AMC. Start cramming if you haven’t watched the show yet. It’s not to be missed.

Special Features: This package is loaded. Audio commentaries that feature Cranston, Paul and series creator Vince Gilligan abound. You get deleted and extended scenes, and a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff. A lot of work went into this one. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing