Like she did in her astounding Winters Bone with Jennifer Lawrence, director Debra Granik has discovered another star, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in her new movie, Leave No Trace. This time, a homeless-by-choice vet with PTSD and his 13-year-old daughter live a peripatetic existence “off the grid” in the deep woods near Portland, Oregon. They forage for food, sleep in cleverly concealed hidey-holes, read, play chess, and practice proactive techniques to avoid critters, park rangers, and the police. As we get to know this pair, we realize that the self-confident girl does the parenting of her shell-shocked father. Like the “back to the woods” dad in Captain Fantastic, the father’s teaching style is dogmatic as he shares his decidedly single-minded, us-vs-them outlook. But when interactions with other human beings increase, like all teens, the girl begins to seriously question many of the “truths” she has been taught.
NOTE: In the interest of saving friendships, physics students should steer clear of Ant-Man and the Wasp. That’s because so many physical “laws” are broken, it will be impossible for these students NOT to share their critical observations about conservation of matter, inertia, equal and opposite reactions, etc., etc. and thereby make their friends unhappy. Picking up where Ant-Man left off, the film opens with Scott (Paul Rudd) under ankle bracelet house-arrest and forbidden to don his size-shifting Ant-Suit. This has the benefit of allowing him to play for hours with his cute little daughter. (You will probably notice the same family-friendly, big-box-office similarity of the superheroes from The Incredibles). Suit-inventor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), uses this downtime to help his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) rescue her mother (Michelle Pfeifer) from the “sub-atomic realm.” To accomplish this, Hank and Hope recruit Ant-Man and bring along their microscopic, Swiss Army Knife of a portable laboratory in a briefcase. Without scrimping on all the cool size-shifting special effects, this new film has a looser style and is dotted with welcome bits of off-the-wall humor. Think of it like the last few days of senior year when everyone (even those physics majors) lets off a little steam. By the way, this one is great with popcorn and a Snickers bar!
If you’ve seen those Pepsi commercials where a 70-something basketball player performs professional moves on the court, you probably know it’s 26-year-old Kyrie Irving under all that silly-putty makeup. Charles Stone III's film, Uncle Drew, stretches those shorts to 103 minutes by providing heavily stereotyped identities for an over-the-hill basketball team: Uncle Drew (Irving), Big Fella (Shaquille O’Neal), Preacher (Chris Webber), Lights (Reggie Miller), and Boots (Nate Robinson). The five players gather together to help an obsessed fan named Dax (Lil Rel Howery), get even with Moochie (Nick Kroll), who stole his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish). The game quickly becomes the McGuffin, as the real fun is gathering the old-fellows to make a team and the unscripted zingers the guys exchange on the court.
In Hearts Beat Loud, the summer before a Brooklyn girl heads off to college in California, she joins a band with her widowed father. They create a song that goes viral online, which complicates the separation process. This familiar (but updated) storyline is made workable by the fine ensemble acting, the sing-along original music, and the honest reality inherent in Brett Haley’s screenplay and direction.
The man who services our water softener admits “I’m not into kid movies...but Incredibles 2 is something else.” He’s spot on. Brad Bird and everyone else involved in this winner from Pixar knows that “It’s the story, stupid,” and they spent years getting it right. Building on the Mr. Mom concept, Elastigirl (aka Helen) takes a new job, so Mr. Incredible (aka Bob) must assume the Super Dad persona and cope with the 24-7 challenges of a teen daughter, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet son, and a multi-talented, fire-flaming, laser-vision, disappearing baby who defies the laws of physics. Be sure to see this intelligent, brilliantly animated, fun for everyone kind of movie about a family a lot like ours (well, maybe not exactly like ours but still instantly identifiable to any parent trying to decipher “New Math” homework with their kids).
One of the fallouts of the “have your DNA decoded” craze is the secrets of your ancestry you may not want to know about, and the family in Hereditary sure has its secrets. Newcomer Ari Aster skillfully parlays the “less is more” trope into a master class in tension-building. Soon after the family matriarch dies, her dollhouse miniature making granddaughter’s off-the-wall behaviors become more and more violent. While her parents (Toni Colette, Gabriel Byrne) search for causes, the audience begins piecing the puzzle together to form an unsettling picture of what is really going on.
For those of us who want to shout at the movie screen to make characters tell each other what’s important, this may be the most distressing film about miscommunication ever made. On Chesil Beach continues to perpetuate the mythology that British people (at least those living back in 1962) may pine for each other, but believe that actually having sex is to be something avoided at all costs. The handsome couple at the center of this beautifully filmed drama are both virgins on their wedding night—and are likely to remain so. Events onscreen unfold like a seminar in sexual dysfunction with premature ejaculation, and disgust of bodily fluids that prompt accusations and recriminations enough for thirty films. Primarily set in the honeymoon suite, flashbacks and flash-forwards set up the “whys” of what happens before and after that fateful night, but doesn’t hide the sadness that underlies the tale.
In an unlikely mix of cultures, a Chinese-born filmmaker, an injured Lakota Sioux bronco rider, a paralyzed bull rider, the horseman’s emotionally supportive sister, and his hard-edged (and hard-drinking) father live their lives in a scripted, but real-life, film starring the real people using stage names. Brady Jandreau is the centerpiece of The Rider. With a life-threatening brain injury, he is warned of possible death if he continues to ride and train the wild horses that are his life. Depressed after his father sells his favorite horse to pay the bills, he begins work at a Wal Mart. But the mystical connection with horses remains his core, and there is one must-see sequence where Brady tames a wild horse. Chloe Zhao instructed cinematographer James Joshua Richards to “let the camera roll.” Edited down to a three-minutes of visual poetry, we watch with amazement as Brady gentles a violent, bucking, and very dangerous wild animal to the point where the now trusting horse lets Brady ride him and dismount smoothly. This astounding movie is a must-see (especially for wanna-be filmmakers).
In Tully, the title character (played by Mackenzie Davis) is the night-time nanny which an overwhelmed post-natal mother of three says she doesn’t want or need (but is nonetheless grateful for a full night’s sleep). Oscar-winning screenwriter (for Juno) Diablo Cody collaborates once again with director Jason Reitman and actor Charlize Theron to create a timely tale of what life is really like for American females as they grow through the different stages of life. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, and the result is an instantly identifiable, and very realistic portrait of the inner and outward challenges inherent in the “Super Mom” mythology.
A decade of Marveldom culminates in he “lets throw everybody together” film, Avengers: Infinity War, where the superheroes “battle for the universe itself.” If you take a moment to ask “didn’t they already do that?” then you spoil the buzz that brings almost everybody else on the surface of the planet to a theater. I’m stoked because my favorites get the best one-liners before things turn deadly serious. Once there, the shocks to our belief systems collide together in spectacular set pieces from which some of good guys don’t seem to survive. But what do we know? The Marvel Universe seems to be endlessly expanding, and marvelous things could happen in the future version already dubbed Part II. NOTE: The credits take over ten minutes before the “top secret reveal” for the next film appears. So unless power/temperature technician Christopher O. Brooks is your brother and you have to stick around to see his name scroll past, you have plenty of time for a much needed trip to the restroom (after all, the movie is almost 2 and 1/2 hours long!)