Take 2

Tamara Dunn is a card-carrying cinephile and the assistant city editor at the Standard-Speaker. Her writings here have earned her a Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association award in 2017. Her favorite films are “Bringing Up Baby” and “Moonlight.”

Rebecca Kivak considers herself a representative of the average filmgoer. She is also a copy editor for The Times-Tribune. Her favorite films are “The Illusionist” and “The Avengers.”

Tamara’s Take: Quick reviews of summer streaming

Tamara’s Take: Quick reviews of summer streaming

It’s summer, and you probably spent half of it in the movie theater. Loved “Avengers: Infinity War”? Thrilled by “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”? Sang along with “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”? Overloaded on buttery popcorn and mega-sized sodas? Maybe or maybe not.

For those who didn’t need digital projection, crowded theaters and the toxic smell of the fattening yellow stuff, home provided just as much entertainment. For less than the price of a movie ticket and a trip to the concession stand, home screens provided new flicks for every movie lover. Load that movie theater popcorn package in the microwave, relax on the coach, and check out reviews of the summer’s streaming offerings from Netflix:

Amanda Seyfried in “Anon.” (Netflix)

“Anon,” streaming on Netflix

In futuristic New York City, Clive Owen has an eye on crime that no longer exist and a name for every face. As Detective Sal Frieland, Owen navigates through a crimeless, cataloged world of neo-noir until he meets a femme fatale known simply as the Girl (Amanda Seyfried). Wherever the Girl travels, people’s identities are wiped clean in Frieland’s view.

This trick becomes upsetting to officials as a serial killer pops up on their radar. The Girl is off the grid, with no digital footprint or identification, and because suspect No. 1. Frieland must find the Girl, stop her undermining plan to corrupt the system and upgrade his life as a lonely, grieving bachelor.

Director Andrew Niccol doesn’t sway much from the neo-noir, sci-fi niche in which he keeps himself with previous movies like “Gattaca” and “In Time.” It almost feels like an “In Time” sequel as Seyfried dons another bad dark wig in a futuristic film. “Anon” is a play off of anonymity — a state in which the new New York robs humans of having and the desire the Girl has for keeping hers. And like the name, Niccol only accomplishes this halfway. The technology behind categorizing every person, memory and action is fascinating, but Niccol and the cast lack the drive to do anything with it. The film’s production design uses shades of black and white to evoke the classic noir style, and in the shots where Niccol shows the the killer’s point of view recalls scenes from Humphrey Bogart’s “Dark Passage” and Robert Montgomery’s “Lady in the Lake.” However, fancy camerawork and tips of the hat can’t make up for this life-draining sinkhole.

Clive Owen in “Anon.” (Netflix)

“Anon” continues film noir’s long history of misogyny where none of the female characters talk to each other and only exist to comply with Frieland’s commands, including the Girl. Privacy is a right being trampled upon, but gender equality is not important. Compare the number of call girls in this picture to the civilians and see what story Niccol is really telling.

Even with a running time of 100 minutes, it feels like a marathon. Is the Girl available to wipe out memories of this movie?

½ star out of five.

From left, Vanessa Bayer, Gillian Jacobs and Phoebe Robinson in “Ibiza.” (Netflix)

“Ibiza,” streaming on Netflix

“I Took a Pill in Ibiza” was a top hit for electronic dance music artist Mike Posner, but as a plot for a summer comedy starring Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer and Phoebe Robinson, it’s a no. Jacobs stars as Harper, a young, uptight New Yorker who is sent to Barcelona to lock a business deal. Her friends, Nikki (Bayer) and Leah (Robinson), see the trip as a chance to get their party on. Once landing in Spain, the trio go to a club, take some Ecstasy and chase any single man in the place while dancing to EDM. For Harper, her sights are set on hot DJ Leo (Richard Madden). Her friends help her track him down to his next gig in Ibiza so that she can “smash that DJ,” but Harper has to make her boss happy and get her work done.

As simplistic as it sounds, the plot is a touch different from your typical female-led comedy. The three friends aren’t fighting over the same guy, the same dress or the same job. In fact they’re building each other up with paradise as their canvas. Movie fans have “Bridesmaids” to thank for that. As Harper is searching for that good-looking DJ, she’s also trying to find herself in this change of scenery. Nikki brings out Harper’s silly side and Leah umphs the sassiness. Both friends have their own adventures and conquests, with the favorite being Nikki’s overnight stunt in a bathtub.

From left, Phoebe Robinson, Gillian Jacobs and Vanessa Bayer in “Ibiza.” (Netflix)

If you’re not a EDM fan or the lifestyle it promotes, be like the late Avicii and have someone to wake you up when it’s all over. If it’s your thing, don’t you worry child like Swedish House Mafia, because “Ibizia” is the movie for you.

Three stars out of five.

Lily James and Michiel Huisman in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” (Netflix)

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” streaming on Netflix

An isolated island in the English Channel is the scene of a World War II mystery and a mini-”Downton Abbey” reunion in the charming yet long-titled “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” A correspondence between pig farmer Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) and noted author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) lead the London writer to Guernsey Island. Juliet is writing a story for the London TImes on reading in the middle of a book tour her publisher Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode) wants her to do, but the lure of the island sends her to meet the book club with the long title. Although the society gives her a warm welcome, when Juliet wants to share their story, they turn cold, especially Amelia Maugery (Penelope Winton), a grieving mother.

“Potato Peel Pie” is as sweet as its title, with great views of the island and 1940s costuming. If you miss “Downton Abbey” and wonder how it would be like if the Crawleys made it through World War II, you will enjoy this movie with James at her enchanting best and Winton in top-notch shape. Jessica Brown Findlay is Elizabeth, a village woman who disappeared during the war but everyone has their own story about her. It should also appeal to literary lovers as well as it is the adaptation of the 2008 historical novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The plays on “Romeo and Juliet” and “Pride and Prejudice” are no accidents.

Glen Powell and Lily James in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” (Kerry Brown/Netflix)

The slightly dueling storylines between Juliet and Elizabeth are fascinating but distracting. Elizabeth’s path, told in flashbacks, goes from A to B to A again to C as Juliet and the villagers figure out what happened to the woman with a rebellious streak. As for Juliet, the writer tries to balance her life as a newly engaged socialite with her desires to stay humble and true to herself.

Lighthearted yet heartbreaking, “Potato Peel Pie” is good film to spend an afternoon with instead of watching 10 seasons of your favorite TV series in one sitting. If you can’t wait for the “Downton” movie to be released, this is a nice substitute.

Four stars out of five.

UPDATE: MoviePass whiplash: Breaking down the subscription service’s changes

UPDATE: MoviePass whiplash: Breaking down the subscription service’s changes

Update (8/11/18): Another day, another change to MoviePass. 

Earlier this week, the movie subscription service backtracked on its plan to increase its monthly fee after customer backlash. Starting Aug. 15, MoviePass will keep its monthly plan at $9.95 a month. But the new plan will allow subscribers to see three movies a month. Previously, the subscription gave members access to one movie a day. Subscribers can receive up to a $5 discount on additional movie tickets. Annual subscribers will not be affected by the new plan until their renewal date.

The new plan will scrap peak pricing, a surcharge on popular showtimes the service added in July. Major new releases will be included under the plan – including “The Meg,” which opened Friday – though showtimes may be limited.

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Increased monthly fee. Blacked-out showings for new movies. Peak pricing.

If you’re a MoviePass customer and your head is spinning from the service’s recent changes, you’re not alone.

The movie subscription service – known as Netflix for movies – set the movie-going world on fire a year ago when it dropped its monthly fee to $9.95 a month, allowing subscribers to see one movie a day.

But MoviePass has had a rough few days. Last week, the service ran out of money and borrowed $5 million to stay afloat. In turn, its subscribers were met with outages and blocked from seeing the weekend’s top new release, “Mission Impossible: Fallout.”

On Tuesday, MoviePass announced that it would implement new changes to keep its service up and running. At Take 2, we take a look at these changes to help you figure out how they could affect you.

Increased monthly fee

MoviePass will increase its monthly fee to $14.95 a month in the next 30 days. This is a 50 percent increase in the cost of the monthly subscription.

Subscribers will still be able to see one movie a day through the plan at participating theaters. But they will be limited in the new releases they can see using the service, based on another change announced Tuesday.

Blacked-out showings

MoviePass is restricting subscribers’ access to blockbusters. The service is banning showings of new movies playing on 1,000 screens for the first two weeks of release.

This means users will have to wait two weeks to use the service to see a major new release like “Christopher Robin,” which opened Aug. 3.

Peak pricing

In early July, the service started “peak pricing,” or adding a surcharge to showings of films where there’s a high demand. Subscribers may pay an additional $2 to $6 a ticket to see a film on top of their monthly subscription price. Annual subscribers are exempt from peak pricing.

Peak pricing is in effect for showtimes where a red bolt is displayed in the MoviePass app.

The extra cost has annoyed many subscribers, who have expressed their displeasure on social media. Some question the fee when the showings they’re paying extra to see haven’t been busy.

Should I keep MoviePass?

The answer depends on your movie viewing habits and your budget. It depends how regularly you see movies and how much you value stability. We’ll look at both sides of that coin.

Now that the service is blocking showings of major new releases for the first two weeks, this means moviegoers will have to wait longer to see blockbusters if they want to use their MoviePass. Some moviegoers are not happy that they are paying more for the service – with more restrictions as to what they can see.

However, the average price of a movie ticket in the U.S. has jumped to $9.38. (When I wrote about movie subscription services in December, the average price was $8.93.) If you see at least two movies a month, then it’s worth it to keep MoviePass for however long it may last. Even with a 50 percent increase, the monthly subscription fee of $14.95 amounts to less than the cost of two movie tickets – $18.76 – saving you $3.81.

Remember that MoviePass does not cover 3-D, XD or IMAX showings. This is important when it comes to new releases, which are often shown in these formats. Subscribers who are planning to catch blockbusters in 3-D, XD or IMAX on opening weekend couldn’t use MoviePass anyway for these showings. What these subscribers could do is pay for the premium screening out of pocket, then use MoviePass to catch the flick a second time when the two weeks are up. Also, some subscribers may be willing to just wait the two weeks to see new releases.

The new change favors independent movies playing on fewer screens. If you’re a fan of smaller films, you won’t have to wait to catch them with MoviePass. Independent films don’t usually play in Northeast Pennsylvania for very long, so this benefits local moviegoers.

The more movies you see, the better off you may be holding onto MoviePass. You can also cancel your monthly subscription at any time.

What are my other options?

You may be a MoviePass subscriber who’s frustrated with the peak pricing, blacked-out movies and outages. You like going to the movies, but you want more stability for your money.

The good news is, you have options, whether you decide to go with a movie theater’s subscription service or one not affiliated with a particular theater.

Cinemark Movie Club: The theater chain’s program costs $8.99 a month. The subscription allows members to see one movie a month, excluding 3-D, XD and IMAX. Unused tickets can roll over. Members can add additional tickets for $8.99 each and save 20 percent on concessions. You can use the program in conjunction with the Cinemark Connections reward program. This subscription program works best for those who don’t see movies frequently but want to save money when they do. Subscribers can bank their tickets for the movies they really want to see.

AMC Stubs A-List: AMC Theatres’ subscription program allows subscribers to see three movies a week – including IMAX and 3-D – for $19.95 a month. That means members can see 12 movies a month, and there’s no restrictions on opening weekends. Considering the average cost of a movie ticket at $9.38, the program is worth is if you see at least two movies a month. It’s a great plan for those who go to the movies often. Unfortunately for NEPA moviegoers, the closest AMC theaters are in Bloomsburg and Allentown.

Sinemia: The subscription service is similar to MoviePass in that it can be used at any participating theater. And right now, Sinemia is offering a summer sale on its plans. Individual plans start at $3.99 a month for one movie and $7.99 a month for two movies, both excluding 3-D and IMAX. The elite plans – two movies for $9.99 a month and three movies for $13.99 a month – include 3-D and IMAX showings. The service also offers family plans starting at $7.99 a month for one movie for two people. Monthly subscribers must pay a $20 initiation fee, but the fee is waived for annual subscribers. There’s no restrictions on opening weekends. Sinemia’s summer discounts are appealing, and the service offers a wide selection of plans to meet different viewing habits. The elite plans sound great for those who want to see blockbusters in the 3-D and IMAX formats.

Here at Take 2, we hope we’ve helped you sort out MoviePass’s changes as well as your movie subscription options. Whatever you decide, we hope you choose what’s best for you and your movie-going habits. See you at the cinema!

Trailer Talk: Comic-Con Edition

Trailer Talk: Comic-Con Edition

Millie Bobbie Brown and Vera Farmiga star in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”

The annual San Diego Comic-Con is the biggest pop culture extravaganza of the year. The four-day convention, which wrapped up Sunday, revealed sneak peeks of several upcoming movies, from comic book films to much-awaited sequels.

Here’s a look at the newest trailers to come out of Comic-Con.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

The trailer for the third film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse of giant monsters looks excellent. After 2014’s “Godzilla” and 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” brings back the atomic-breathing monster in an apocalyptic adventure – and he’ll be fighting some old friends.

The trailer shows the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah, giant moth Mothra and flying pteranodon Rodan, referred to as the Titans. As Godzilla vies against the classic monsters for supremacy, the world’s fate hangs in the balance.

With beautiful blue, orange and red hues, the film looks gorgeous, taking inspiration for its look from the bright color palette of “Kong: Skull Island.” The trailer also promises to show more of Godzilla himself, which the 2014 “Godzilla” needed more of.

The human cast includes a captivating Millie Bobbie Brown (“Stranger Things”), Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Charles Dance and the return of Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins from the 2014 film.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” invades theaters May 31, 2019.

“Shazam!”

With Marvel Studios absent from Comic Con, DC Comics brought the goods to Hall H this year. The Warner Bros./DC Extended Universe unveiled great trailers for the next two comic book movies on its slate, “Shazam!” and Aquaman.”

The fun and kid-friendly “Shazam” brings light to the DC Universe. The story follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a boy who can turn into an adult superhero (a wonderfully goofy Zachary Levi) by saying a magic word.

The movie looks like a superhero version of “Big,” but is there anything wrong with that? Not judging by the humorous trailer. You can’t help but smile watching Levi figuring out his superpowers in what looks like a funny and enjoyable outing.

“Shazam!” blasts into theaters April 5, 2019.

“Aquaman”

My man! After a standout performance in “Justice League,” Jason Momoa returns as the underwater superhero who can talk to the fish (and other sea creatures, as we see in the trailer).

Arthur Curry/Aquaman is called home to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis to challenge the rule of his brother (Patrick Wilson), who seeks a war with the surface world. Under James Wan’s distinctive direction, the film offers beautiful underwater sequences and cool shots, such as people riding sharks.

The first DC film after “Justice League,” “Aquaman” promises goofy fun and a charismatic hero in Momoa. Together, “Aquaman” and “Shazam!” could be what the DCEU needs to turn the ship around after the underperforming “Justice League.”

“Aquaman” swims into theaters Dec. 21.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”

The sequel to 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” moves the magical action to Paris. The new trailer focuses more on young Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and his efforts to find the dangerous dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

As Dumbledore can’t move against Grindelwald himself (for reasons as yet unknown), the professor seeks out former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who returns with some familiar magical creatures and encounters some new ones. Also returning is Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), an Obscurial wizard who was believed to have died in the previous film.

The visuals in the trailer are stunning in what looks to be a darker chapter in the world of Harry Potter.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” casts its spell Nov. 16 in theaters.

“Glass”

M. Night Shyamalan brings together the storylines of his beloved 2000 film “Unbreakable” and last year’s break-out hit “Split” in “Glass,” creating a cinematic universe among his own films.

The trailer for “Glass” unites the three main characters from the two movies in a mental hospital. Security guard-turned-superhero David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and mentor-turned-villain Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) from “Unbreakable” meet Kevin Wendel Crumb (James McAvoy) from “Split,” a man with dozens of multiple personalities who abducted young girls in the previous film.

Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) explains that she is treating the men for a growing disorder where people believe they are superheroes. While David and Kevin seem like natural enemies, Kevin and Glass are poised to team up, with a lot of lives hanging in the balance.

While “Unbreakable” was a superhero origin story before the genre took off, “Glass” comes out amid the wave of comic book flicks. Hopefully it’ll offer more commentary about superhero films in a world dominated by them. I’m excited to see how Willis, McAvoy and Jackson – all of whom have starred in comic book-based franchises (“Red,” “X-Men” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, respectively) – come together and square off.

“Glass” shatters in theaters Jan. 18.

Tamara’s Take: “Sorry to Bother You”

Tamara’s Take: “Sorry to Bother You”

A weird, average guy in a dead-end job. A manic pixie dream girl with multicolored hair and a career as a performance artist. The grip of corporate America. These three things would have you think that “Sorry to Bother You” is the latest release from directors Michael Gondry, Spike Jonze or Cameron Crowe. Instead, it’s from the brilliant mind that created the cleverly titled 2006 song, “BabyLet’sHaveaBabyBeforeBushDoSomethin’Crazy” and 2001 ahead-of-its-time track “5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O.”

In this image released by Annapurna Pictures, Lakeith Stanfield, left, as Cassius Green and Tessa Thompson as Detroit star in “Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” an Annapurna Pictures release. (Annapurna Pictures via AP)

Writer/Director/Composer Boots Riley, part of the legendary West Coast rap collective The Coup, stitches together Oakland, the poor versus the 1 percent, code switching, capitalism, race and love in under two hours. The mind trip on screen stars LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green, an unemployed black man who takes a telemarketing job to pay for his rent and to help his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews) save his house. When Green’s older coworker Langston (Danny Glover) teaches him to find his “white voice” (done by David Cross) to make a sale, Green’s career aspects are skyrocketing and his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), joins him at the company.

That’s when things get super weird yet slightly relatable. As Green moves up into a mysterious upper level for “power callers,” his former peers form a union and stage daily walkouts against the company. Should Green stand with his colleagues or should he be thankful to be in a position that affords him new suits, a better car and upward mobility?

This image released by Annapurna Pictures shows Lakeith Stanfield, left, and Armie Hammer in a scene from the film, “Sorry To Bother You.” (Annapurna Pictures via AP)

“Sorry to Bother You” has the skeleton of a Jonze or Gondry film: a good soundtrack, an otherworldly reality within a contemporary setting and an MPDG. The films’ skewed reflections of romantic comedies and political satire are refreshing as they give audiences a different point of view. Riley steps further into the weirdness, twisting perceptions and movie troupes of how black men and women are portrayed on screen. Green, often calling out such stereotypes throughout the film, isn’t a gangbanger, a drug dealer, an athlete, a sex bomb or a rapper as others who don’t know him perceive him to be. These are brought up by his telemarketing bosses, the elevator that sends Green to the upper level and CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), a guy who thinks that his barbaric actions are for the greater good. Detroit is a political, artistic wild child, and while MPDGs get a bad rap in most movies, it’s so rare that one would be a woman of color that it is like seeing something new.

This image released by Annapurna Pictures shows Jermaine Fowler in a scene from the film, “Sorry To Bother You.” (Annapurna Pictures via AP)

Riley puts his music in pictures with this film. Those who are not familiar with The Coup may think that “Sorry to Bother You” is even stranger than it is, but knowing their tracks is not a prerequisite for watching it. The soundtrack and score provide the right backdrop. The film is rich in symbolism and commentary on pop culture, the economy and race, and you may have to marinate on what you see before giving it a final grade. (This reviewer needed two days to digest what she saw, and she is a former telemarketer.)

This image released by Annapurna Pictures shows Jermaine Fowler, from left, Steven Yuen and Lakeith Stanfield in a scene from the film, “Sorry To Bother You.” (Annapurna Pictures via AP)

The casting is nearly perfect with Stanfield being the unsure worker who wants what is best for himself but stay truthful. Thompson’s acting as Detroit is the right balance of supportive girlfriend, social rebel and amazing creative, and Hammer applies the right amount of sleaze and empty-headedness. Steven Yeun, Omari Hardwick and Jermaine Fowler also are great in supporting roles.

This image released by Annapurna Pictures shows Tessa Thompson, left, and Lakeith Stanfield in a scene from the film, “Sorry To Bother You.” (Annapurna Pictures via AP)

Riley is keeping the cinema weird in an informative way. Let “Sorry to Bother You” encourage more risk-takers behind the camera, in the writing room and in the music studio. This is a trip like no other, but it may not be for everyone.

Four stars out of five. In theaters.

The king of B-movies

The king of B-movies

Not only is Tamara Dunn a cinephile, she is also a big fan of drive-in theaters. 

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Neve Campbell, left, and Dwayne Johnson in a scene from “Skyscraper.” (Kimberley French/Universal Pictures via AP)

Normal movie fan: “I can’t wait to see the latest movie with the Rock.”

Me: “Meh”

Box office numbers: “Dwayne Johnson is the king of the box offices. His movies collect millions.”

Me: “Meh to the 10th power.”

Movie trailer: “Check out the last trailer for this action movie starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”

Me: “No”

There’s nothing wrong with liking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The wrestler-turned-actor is a great entertainer, philanthropist and charmer. But his movies, usually the disaster-heavy, adrenaline-rushing kinds, aren’t the ones I run toward. Having MoviePass hasn’t even tempted me to see anything where he is the principle player.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and George in “Rampage”

For example, take the video game-based flick “Rampage.” Opening on April 15, the man-versus-beast movie grossed nearly $100 million at the domestic box office, according to the website Box Office Mojo. I somewhat tried to see it twice in the theater – at Movies 14 in Wilkes-Barre and at Cinema and Drafthouse in West Hazleton. However, I just didn’t have the drive to sit in the theater and give up two hours.

Enter Garden Drive-In in Hunlock Creek. It was June 8, the opening weekend for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” The sequel to the revamped franchise was what brought me, my yard chair and makeshift blanket to the crowded lot that night. The dinosaur actioner was paired with “Rampage,” giving me the option to watch Johnson at work.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Rampage”

After what I thought was a mediocre follow-up, I stuck around for “Rampage.” The terrificly bad B-movie was a good time with Johnson, Naomie Harris and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The monsters were appealing, particularly Geroge, the albino ape that is whacked with gene editing material from space. There’s also an oversized wolf that has quills and stretchy skin suitable for a flying squirrel. While it didn’t have a name, I called it “Wolfipine.” In fact, I wanted a sequel that starred these two called “George and the Wolfipine.” But Johnson did what is exacted from the Rock: be an unlikely expert in a tiny study/profession and when things go wrong, there he is to save the day. I didn’t expect to like “Rampage” as much as I did, and it is probably the best video-game adaptation I’ve ever seen.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “San Andreas”

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson in a scene from “Skyscraper.” (Universal Pictures via AP)

That moment was when I realized that I had only seen Johnson-starring movies if it was included as the second billing or later at a drive-in. The other movie was 2015’s “San Andreas.” The earthquake-disaster movie is in the Rock category, and I saw that one during the summer movie marathon at Becky’s Drive-In in Walnutport. It was third in the six-movie lineup. Seeing a movie like that was ideal for 1 a.m. after seeing “Inside Out” and “Pitch Perfect 2.” The first one was 2011’s “Fast Five” from “The Fast and the Furious” series, with Johnson in a supporting role as Hobbs. However, I only watched that one because it was in front of “Bridesmaids.”

There are three movies that featured Johnson that I’ve seen in the theaters, but he was in supporting roles: “Fast & Furious 6,” “The Fate of the Furious” and “Moana.” Those titles were more for the assemble and Disney magic then just Johnson’s talent.

Johnson’s latest film, “Skyscraper,” has all the vibes and special effects that make him the king of B-movies. While the area drive-ins don’t have it in their lineup this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets paired up with the upcoming “Mission Impossible: Fallout” or will be included in Becky’s 15th annual “Dusk ‘Til Dawn” marathon during the Labor Day weekend.

Rebecca’s Take: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Rebecca’s Take: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Paul Rudd in a scene from “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” (Disney/Marvel Studios via AP)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp”: In theaters.

After the cultural splendor of “Black Panther” and the epic team-up of “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp” sets itself apart by going small. The sequel to 2015’s underrated “Ant-Man” takes a scaled-down approach to an exciting, clever and funny superhero story with personal stakes. It completes the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s hat trick of excellent films this year.

Taking place before the events of “Infinity War,” the 20th film in the comic book franchise catches up with cat burglar-turned-superhero Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). The Avenger and dutiful dad has been on house arrest – and out of the superhero game – after running off to help government fugitive Captain America in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

Because of his rash actions, Scott is estranged from his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant-Man shrinking suit, and his girlfriend, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank’s daughter. On the run from the feds, the father and daughter have been feverishly working to find Hope’s missing mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeifer), who disappeared 30 years ago in a subatomic dimension known as the Quantum Realm. Hope herself has been training to become a superhero – the Wasp, another shrinking suit formerly worn by her mother enhanced with more abilities than Ant-Man’s.

The three are reunited when Scott has information about Janet’s whereabouts in the Quantum Realm, from where he escaped in the previous movie. Hope and Hank have been developing valuable technology to bring back Janet. But their work is in high demand as a mysterious villain who phases through walls – Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) – wants to steal it, along with opportunistic crime boss Sonny Birch (Walter Goggins). Can the gang rescue Janet in time?

With its dynamic direction and fast pace, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” improves upon its predecessor. While the 2015 film had original director and screenwriter Edgar Wright’s fingerprints on it, returning director Peyton Reed wields a more confident grasp this time around. The first film’s plot was pretty straightforward as a superhero origin story. But the sequel juggles its many plates masterfully, deftly balancing action, comedy and heart-tugging moments.

The action sequences deliver more of the size-altering hi-jinks that made the first film so much fun. There’s shrinking car chases, supersized PEZ dispensers, obedient ants and the return of Ant-Man’s growing ability, Giant-Man, as first seen in “Civil War.” One hilarious sequence in a school highlights Rudd’s flair for physical comedy. The film also brings Douglas and Michael Pena – as scene-stealing ex-con Luis – in on the action.

Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas star in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” (Disney/Marvel Studios via AP)

While the first “Ant-Man” was a heist film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a family film. Instead of saving the world, the heroes are working to save family. Scott, Hope and Hank must repair their pseudo-family if they have any hope of rescuing Janet. While trying to redeem himself in Hope and Hank’s eyes, Scott also seeks to protect his precocious daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), from the dangers that come with being a superhero. Rudd once again shines as Scott, a relatable everyman driven by his love for his daughter.

While the first film established a father-son dynamic between Scott and Hank, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” beautifully explores the mother-daughter relationship between Hope and Janet. Hope follows in her mother’s brave footsteps to try and bring Janet home.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the first MCU movie to feature a female superhero in the title, a momentous occasion for the franchise. And Lilly’s Wasp is worthy of the honor. The first “Ant-Man” established Hope as intelligent, strong and more than capable to take on the Wasp mantle, showing her teaching Scott how to punch. In the sequel, Lilly fulfills her potential, having a blast as a full-fledged superhero. In a dazzling debut amid flying knives and skilled fight moves, her first action sequence as the Wasp comes before Scott even puts on the Ant-Man suit.

The film makes it clear that the Wasp and Ant-Man have an equal partnership, with each taking turns saving the other. Lilly and Rudd make a good romantic and action pair. The two complement each other as Hope’s thoroughness balances Scott’s recklessness.

Most of the villains in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” are not really villains, continuing the MCU’s recent trend of better-developed antagonists. As Ghost, John-Kamen is sympathetic and complex, a victim of circumstances whose special abilities have been exploited. Introduced as a rival to Hank, Laurence Fishburne adds gravitas as Bill Foster, a former colleague who had a falling out with the scientist. But Goggins’ crime boss is strictly a plot devise used to drive the characters from one location to another.

Despite its connections to other films in the MCU, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” largely feels like a standalone adventure, a delightful pick-me-up from the gut-punching ending of “Infinity War.” But be sure to stick around for two end-credits scenes that remind us of what we’re in for when the “Infinity War” follow-up hit theaters less than a year from now.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tamara’s Take: Quick Reviews of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” “The Incredibles 2” and more

Tamara’s Take: Quick Reviews of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” “The Incredibles 2” and more

Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” Three stars out of five. In theaters.

Taking a movie and making it into its own cinematic universe is a big task, especially when it’s not led by a superhero or dinosaurs. But somehow, audiences are treated to another dose of Alejandro Gillick and Matt Graver as they take on Mexican drug cartels again in this sequel to the 2015 acclaimed film “Sicario.”

Graver (Josh Brolin) is in full CIA-mode as the government wants him to stir up trouble between rival cartels to start a war, but figureheads James Riley (Matthew Modine) and Cynthia Foards (Catherine Keener) don’t want any U.S. fingerprints on the job. Graver enlists Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a hitman who helps the U.S. against his enemies, with a tempting offer – go after the man responsible for the deaths of his wife and daughter. This plan includes kidnapping the drug kingpin’s daughter, Isabel (Isabela Moner), in hopes that the cartels will square off. But things go wrong from the government’s point of view, causing a rift between Graver and Alejandro.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Josh Brolin in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” (Richard Foreman, Jr./Sony Pictures via AP)

“Soldado” digs deeps into the land of no morals. The government and the cartels would rather clean up the messes (read: eliminate everyone) than to deal with the problem. Alejandro and Graver aren’t good guys, either, and it makes it impossible to cheer for anyone. Isabel knows how much power she had being the offspring of a drug lord, and she not ashamed to use it. Also, their choices are questionable, like why would Alejandro, who lost a daughter, be willing to snatch a young girl?

A subplot, much like in “Sicario,” involves Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a Mexican-American teen who is involved in a gang-related immigrant transportation operation. His story intersects Alejandro’s in many spots with devastating results.

Director Stefano Sollima, who was behind the 2014 TV series “Gomorrah,” was a smart choice to lead this round as that setting was full of unlikeables. Taylor Sheridan returns as the screenwriter, but instead of Roger Deakins as cinematographer and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson as composer, Dariusz Wolski and Jóhannsson protege Hildur Guðnadóttir, respectively, fill those roles. However, the overall feeling is that of a mini-series rather that a cinematic sequel. What made “Sicario” so intriguing was Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Kate Bacer. Her small-time FBI agent was walking from a small jurisdiction into a massive world of immorality and choice. With “Soldado” it goes from a big, wide-ranging operation to a specific case. The first 20 minutes are useless, but if you miss one line said during that time, you won’t know how useless. Worse, Blunt is not in this one, but there’s no place for her kind in this one.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Benicio Del Toro, right, and Isabela Moner in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” (Richard Foreman, Jr./Sony Pictures via AP)

Del Toro and Brolin make the best out of what they’re given. Brolin chews up the scene, even eating during many of his on-screen minutes. With “Soldado” being mostly Alejandro’s story, Del Toro has much to work with, and he does this in a quiet, calculated manner that is unusual for a leading man. Keener and Modine have small roles, but Keener has the best lines. Moner shows some range as the kidnapping victim, but Sheridan continues to write poor roles for women (with Bacer being the one exception), so her character is not as exposed as one would expect.

The closing minutes, despite being divisive, set up what may be the final part of the series. Let’s hope that Blunt returns to give her story, and this universe, some closure.

This image released by Disney Pixar shows the character Helen/Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter in “Incredibles 2.” (Disney/Pixar via AP)

The Incredibles 2,” four-and-a-half stars. In theaters.

I hold a very unpopular movie opinion: I did not like “The Incredibles.” I hated the way the movie made the 1950s seem like a utopian time for all Americans and Violet’s “authentic self” was a girl who wears pink and is a cheerleader. I liked Goth Violet, the insecure superhero. I didn’t like the plot, the villain Syndrome and the score. Waiting 14 years for the sequel was not a long wait for me.

And I’m glad that director Brad Bird has given us something worth waiting for.

The Incredibles and other superheroes are banned from using their superpowers as the damage they cause and lack of getting the villain are more visible than their heroics. Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), Dash (voiced by Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile) are force into hiding until Elastigirl is offered a job from Devtech sibling team Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Kenner). Elastigirl takes the spotlight, going after electronic hypnotist Screenslayer (voiced by Bill Wise) and hopping back on her motorcycle. Mr. Incredible is in charge of the family, living in a high-tech home and taking care of the kids.

This image released by Disney Pixar shows characters Bob/Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson, right, and Jack Jack in “Incredibles 2.” (Disney/Pixar via AP)

This sequel is more in line with the changing 1950s, where more women were becoming breadwinners and feminism was growing. There are more women in charge, with Elastigirl becoming a role model to all superheroes instead of Mr. Incredible, Evelyn leading Devtech’s technology side and the Ambassador (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), who can determine if superheroes can emerge from the underground, being female. Mr. Incredible takes on the stay-at-home parent role, worrying that he’s not the best example for his kids while not in his more familiar role.

The production values are amazing, with the Incredibles’ new mid-century home striking enough to make any architectural fan drool. The music, composed by Pixar regular Michael Giacchino, is top notch, although at times it’s a bit over the top in some places. Edna Mode (voiced by Bird) returns briefly, and Frozone (voice by Samuel L. Jackson) provides backup when needed.

Jack-Jack is the biggest scene-stealer. The little boy is gaining his powers at random and bonding with his dad. This helps with keeping the light-hearted side of the film where there is a bit more darkness in this one. Violet is balancing being an adolescent with her superhero duties, bouncing between Preppy Violet and Goth Violet. Unfortunately, Dash doesn’t get as much growth as the others, but that’s OK. It’s really Elastigirl’s vehicle, the friendships she gains while on the job, and the leader she becomes. It’s also all about family as the Incredibles now get used to working together and realizing their powers. Families can relate to this, kids will find a new favorite, and lifelong fans will be happy with the final product after waiting a generation for the next chapter.

This image released by Warner Bros. shows Sandra Bullock, left, and Cate Blanchett in a scene from “Ocean’s 8.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. via AP)

Ocean’s 8,” two stars. In theaters.

The idea of an all-female version of the “Ocean” series has been intriguing, particularly when the crew is led by Oscar winners Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway. But when the idea is not executed fully, what’s the point of making a groundbreaking movie for the summer?

Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean. Debbie has spent five years in prison plotting her next big scheme and her partner-in-crime Lou (Blanchett) is somewhat ready to help her out when she learns that it’s to hit the Met Ball and steal a priceless diamond necklace.

The two enlist a motley bunch of specialists: troubled fashion designer Rose Weil (Helen Bonham Carter), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina), jewelry expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), suburban mom/stolen goods specialist Tammy (Sarah Paulson) and their mark, actress Daphne Kluger (Hathaway). The crew encounters the usual problems that planning a heist would have, and things shake up when Ocean makes an ex-boyfriend Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), whose snitching led to her imprisonment, an additional target.

This image released by Warner Bros. shows Anne Hathaway, left, and Helena Bonham Carter in a scene from “Ocean’s 8.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. via AP)

Unfortunately, with so much product placement and Gary Ross’ choppy directing, “Ocean’s 8” is not as fun or iconoclastic as it should be. The women don’t have much personality, expect for Rose. Then again, Bonham Carter probably was playing this role in her sleep. Blanchett is enjoying herself and has good chemistry with Bullock, but their characters and their bond should have been explored more. Props go to casting Awkwafina, a Queens, New York, native who adds charm to every scene she is in. It’s rare for a New York-set film to feature Asian-American actors, despite the high percentage of Asians living in the five boroughs, especially in Queens.

This image released by Warner Bros. shows, from foreground left, Sandra Bullock Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Awkwafina in a scene from “Ocean’s 8.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. via AP)

But if you are a fashion junkie, there are a lot of fabulous outfits, cameos and inside jokes. The best joke features Kluger and a rival actress Penelope Stern (Dakota Fanning) fighting over a designer and ad campaign. It’s still a plot point to have a brand name on the screen.

“Ocean’s 8” is a pedestrian effort full of shiny stars and gimmicks. The best heist is the money the crew steals from moviegoers.

Four reasons why you can’t be a casual movie fan

Four reasons why you can’t be a casual movie fan

This past weekend, Movies 14 in Wilkes-Barre, Regal Hazleton 10 and Cinemark 20 and XD in Moosic had fewer titles for the many screens each theater has. According to its Fandango listings for Saturday, Cinemark was showing 12 titles – five sequels, four originals, a reboot, a prequel, and a continuation (or whatever “Ocean’s 8” calls itself). Movies 14 and Regal Hazleton 10 are no better, with only eight titles to watch and more than half of them being connected to prior releases. Either way, casual movie fans may find it difficult to pick a movie for the night when so many require audiences to digest all aspects of its fandom in order to watch the most recent release. If you find yourself confused or scratching your head while at the cinema, or if you don’t seem to be having as good of a time as some of the film geeks in the audiences, here are four reasons why being a casual fan may not be the right thing to be.

The latest “Conjuring” spin-off “The Nun”

#1. There are no such things as sequels – it’s all about the cinematic universe

Blame Marvel and Disney for this trend when Phase One started in 2008 with “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” With the popularity of the superhero genre, Marvel has churned out 19 titles so far and growing. Is it too late to jump in and start watching now? Yes and no. “Black Panther” is a good standalone entry from this year that has a few connections with previous Marvel titles, but “Avengers: Infinity War” is not a good place to start as just about all the Marvel characters are on screen for about three minutes each. Even horror has jumped on this bandwagon with “The Conjuring” spurning several prequels like “Annabelle” and the upcoming release “The Nun.” Before long, that music box from the first movie will have its own origin story. Later this summer, “Unfriended,” the webcam movie of friends haunted by a dead classmate, is also getting its own universe with “Unfriended: Dark Web.”

Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, Ryan Reynolds and Terry Crews star in “Deadpool 2.”

#2. More movies are revealing too much about other movies

If you saw “Deadpool 2” last month, you most likely prepared yourself by watching “Deadpool.” If that was your only training, then the Ryan Reynolds starrer spoiled just about every movie released between the first and the latest. The worst is “Logan,” starring Deadpool/Reynolds’ object of obsession Hugh Jackman, and there is no way of avoiding it. The spoilers are all over the first five minutes of the comic flick. The same can be said for all the popular culture references and the end credit scenes.

Joonas Suotamo, from left, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in a scene from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” (Lucasfilm via AP)

#3. Movies are not limiting themselves to their cinematic library

“Star Wars” has its hands on all forms of media, from the original trilogy to cartoons and comic books. For the most part, it was safe for casual fans of the Jedi and droids could stick with whatever had been released in the theaters, and megafans were free to go to conventions, watch the cartoons and write fan fiction. That was until George Lucas sold “Star Wars” to Disney for $4 billion. Since the debut of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, a “Star Wars” movie is released every year. It may be a prequel, a standalone prequel, a backstory or another part of the trilogy. However, unlike the Lucas-directed films, some of these new releases include characters and plotlines from other sources. One that would shock many casual fans is a surprising cameo in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and what it may mean for future standalones.

Kelly Marie Tran arrives at the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

#4. Superfandom can be toxic

Saying that you’re a fan of something can sometimes mean that you have to defend your love for it or face superfans. Fanboys and fangirls are on a different level of fandom. They ingest every form of media, can get into huge arguments in online forums and on social media or can really ruin a nice night at the movies with their overzealous antics. However, their “love” for their subject can have consequences beyond their fingertips and collections. Earlier this month, after weeks of harassment and racist taunts, Kelly Marie Tran of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” deleted her Instagram posts. Other co-stars like Daisy Ridley, who left Instagram in 2016, and John Boyega, have also been exposed to this form of toxic behavior. When Zazie Beetz was picked for Domino for “Deadpool 2,” some fans of the comic made offensive comparisons, comments and drawings about her appearance. Being lumped together with the lowest form of fandom is not appealing to the casual fan, but the damage these toxic fans cause robs others of seeing stars beyond the screen. If studios choose to respond to superfans’ demands and not take risks in casting or storytelling, or worse, only appeasing to fanboys and not the all fans, theaters will become as bland as they are this weekend and many more to come.

Tamara’s Take: Reviews of “Hereditary” and “First Reformed”

Tamara’s Take: Reviews of “Hereditary” and “First Reformed”

A24 has only been around since 2012, but in its six short years, the movie studio has delivered an impressive library of releases, including Oscar winners “Moonlight,” “Ex Machina” and “Amy.” The studio introduces small films in the summer to compete against the heavy blockbuster fare that take up 75 percent of the screens. Here are two titles now in theaters.

This image released by A24 shows Milly Shapiro, left, and Toni Collette in a scene from “Hereditary.” (A24 via AP)

“Hereditary,” 4½ stars out of five.
The thing with horror movies is that in a sick, gruesome way, they are a form of escapism. What happens in them can’t possibly happen in real life. The plot, the mayhem and the monsters are scary enough to provoke emotion while still feeling distant from what’s unfolding on the screen. “Hereditary” is not one of those movies; you will need something else to escape from this.
Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro make up the Grahams, a family of four separately grieving the loss of its matriarch. The death is not the worst thing to happen to them, as strange happenings and more tragedies take over their lives. Annie (Collette) feels that her grief is a burden to the rest of the family, especially since it’s her mom who is dead, and her side of the family tree is full of mental instability. Charlie (Shapiro) is artistic but aloof, and Peter (Wolff) just wants to smoke weed, party and sleep. Steve (Byrne) is the rational one of the quartet.

This image released by A24 shows Toni Collette, left, and Ann Dowd in a scene from “Hereditary.” (A24 via AP)

Keeping in mind that “Hereditary” is from the same studio that released “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night,” this film is more about the horrible things families do onto themselves than the bad things they must eliminate. It also unfolds as a slow burn, with shocking moments dashed in and breadcrumbs leading the way from start to finish. No one talks to each other or want to stay in the same room for longer than five minutes. These hostilities are explained, only to create a new mystery at every turn. In the middle of all this is Annie, a diorama/dollhouse artist who illustrates her family secrets and her insecurities through her art. And the art is striking and unnerving, much like the visuals and rituals shown throughout.
What is fascinating about director/writer Ari Aster’s feature debut is that he has taken something that families don’t like to talk about – mental illness – and the dangers of not doing so. Aster creates a powder keg with the Grahams, and Collette is the solid, emotional center of all of it. This film will trick you many times, like having Byrne play against type and pulling a Janet Leigh on the audience. After watching this, see something safe like “Friday the 13th” or “Misery” to clear our your mind.

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried in “First Reformed.” (A24)

“First Reformed,” 4½ stars out of five.
This is a serious film. It’s so serious that Cedric the Entertainer is billed as Cedric Kyles. There is no light in a little white church in New York surrounded by snow. There is hardness where Amanda Seyfried’s smile and optimism can’t exist. There is coldness that turns Ethan Hawke into a melting iceberg. There is silence in a house of worship celebrating 250 years of faith that has lost its congregation years ago. Will God forgive us when there are so many questions without answers or when despair is everywhere?
The Rev. Toller (Hawke) is pastor of First Reformed Church, a quaint church rich in American history but lacking in believers. Having been there for three years, Toller is battling regret that as a military chaplain he encouraged his son to join the ranks only for his offspring to die while serving in Iraq. The church, known jokingly as a souvenir shop, is under the wing of a megachurch, Abundant Life, under the leadership of the Rev. Jeffers (Kyles). A pregnant congregant, Mary (Seyfried), asks Toller to counsel her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger), an environmental activist with extremist views. What unfolds is an eruption that was under the surface but is about to bubble over.

Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed.” (A24)

Shown in a claustrophobic square, writer/director Paul Schrader presents a morality play that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Does preaching to a small crowd make you closer to God? Is your prosperity due to your strength in faith? Obstacles give Toller every excuse to abandon his religion, and in some ways he veers away from his self-imposed path of repentance to a cause that is not his. As the film starts, Toller begins a journal with the purpose of documenting his days for 12 months, not as an outlet to talk with God. But as days pass, it’s the site of precise handwriting and torn pages, much like how the past and future torment him.
“First Reformed” is not preachy nor does it make the viewer question religion or their personal faith level. Instead, it shows that any level – from the devout to the cynic – has its own strengths and flaws. This point is carried almost perfectly by its cast. Hawke is all things here – the hero, the sufferer, the lover and the villain. The audience is taken on a frustrating journey for Toller, and while a lesser actor or one of Schrader’s regulars may have taken the role over the top, Hawke stays with Toller. Kyles tones down his natural charisma and signature comedic chops as the megachurch pastor enough that Jeffers is still a human being and not a caricature. Seyfried reminds the audience that shine still lives on, despite the darkness and heaviness Schrader brings to this upstate New York town.

Rebecca’s Take: “Ocean’s 8,” “Breaking In,” “Revenge”

Rebecca’s Take: “Ocean’s 8,” “Breaking In,” “Revenge”

From left, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Awkwafina in “Ocean’s 8.” (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. via AP)

Recently, I watched a few films within a short span of time that I realized shared a similar theme: women fighting back. Whether it’s planning an elaborate heist, protecting their children or taking revenge on their aggressors, these female-led films feature intelligent and capable women on a mission.

“Ocean’s 8”: 3.5 out of 5 stars. In theaters.

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but stealing them requires an organized group of women with particular skills. The female-fronted heist caper “Ocean’s 8” sparkles, putting a new twist on the “Ocean’s 11” film series. The enjoyable spin-off introduces a resourceful team of strong-willed women while maintaining the spirit and panache of the franchise.

Sandra Bullock calls the shots as Debbie Ocean, the ambitious and determined sister of con artist Danny Ocean (George Clooney in 2001’s “Ocean’s 11” and its two sequels). Released after five years in prison, Debbie seeks out her partner-in-crime, the no-nonsense Lou (Cate Blanchett), to conduct an elaborate heist she has been planning behind bars: stealing jewels from the annual Met Gala in New York.

To carry out the job, the duo put together a crew of eight: washed-up designer Rose (Helena Bonham-Carter), unsatisfied jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), close-to-the-vest hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), sly pit-pocket Constance (Awkwafina), thief-turned-mother Tammy (Sarah Paulson) and unwitting actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).

“Ocean’s 8” is a breezy romp steeped in glamour, from the sparkling diamonds to the couture gowns to celebrity cameos. With unique camera angles and creative scene transitions, director Gary Ross channels the style of Steven Sonderbergh, who helmed the three previous films and returns as producer. The spin-off is better than the convoluted “Ocean’s 12” and just-OK “Ocean’s 13.”

The high-profile Met Gala provides the perfect setting for the caper. The pomp and circumstance distracts from the heist going on under everyone’s noses. The film knows when to kick up the tension as the crew encounters snags in the plan. The clever story stays a step ahead of the audience, with some surprises in store.

Bullock and Blanchett lead a diverse female ensemble brimming with strong performances. The pair have a great chemistry reminiscent of Clooney and Brad Pitt in the first three films. But the two take a backseat during the second act, depriving the audience of seeing more of their camaraderie in action.

The film showcases each woman’s skillset and what they contribute to the team. The vibrant Hathaway shines in a standout role that highlights her penchant for comedy. The awkward yet endearing Bonham-Carter carries some fun scenes. However, with so many characters, there’s not enough character development to go around. Awkwafina and Kaling aren’t given much to do here.

As fabulous as it is fun, “Ocean’s 8” polishes up the “Ocean’s 11” franchise. Here’s hoping we see more heists with Debbie Ocean and her crew.

Gabrielle Union stars in “Breaking In.”

“Breaking In”: 2.5 stars. In theaters.

A memorable performance by Gabrielle Union lifts “Breaking In,” an otherwise standard home invasion thriller that feels more suited for Lifetime than the big screen.

Union plays Shaun, a mother of two (Ajiona Alexus and Seth Carr) who returns to her estranged father’s mansion after his untimely death. Her father, who was involved in criminal activities, fortified the home with an advanced security system. But Shaun is thrown for a loop when four burglars – led by mastermind Billy Burke – break in, separating her from her children.

The actioner delivers solid thrills, stretching the tension as Shaun tries to outwit the criminals, infiltrate the mansion and protect her family. Union is more than up to the challenge in a role that requires a lot of physicality. It’s refreshing to see a character in her position make good decisions.

But for as smart as Shaun is, the burglars are pretty dumb. James McTeigue’s generic direction does little to make the film pop. The story takes place at night, making the outside action hard to distinguish.

“Breaking In” shows Union has the chops to take on the action genre, but the talented actress deserves a better showcase.

Matilda Lutz stars in “Revenge.”

“Revenge”: 4 stars. Streaming on Google Play.

Bloody, brutal and beautiful, “Revenge” knocks down, twists and subverts the revenge genre film. First-time director Coralie Fargeat forges a stylish, ultraviolent thriller with a feminist slant.

The story follows Jen (an outstanding Matilda Lutz), a fun-loving Lolita-type having an affair with married businessman Richard (Kevin Janssen). When Richard takes Jen to his hideaway in the dessert, their rendezvous is interrupted when his two friends (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early for a hunting trip. What starts as a lovers’ getaway devolves into horror as Jen is raped and left for dead. But while the three men try to cover up the crime, Jen turns the tables on her tormenters.

The gorgeously shot “Revenge” follows the drastic transformation of Jen from a pink-wearing socialite to a reborn warrior. Even her hair color changes as Jen must rely on her untapped wiles to survive at all costs. Lutz gives a powerful performance in a highly physical and grueling role. The hunters become the hunted as Jen uses all the tools at her disposal, spilling a lot of blood in the process. Some scenes are not for the squeamish.

The film flips the male gaze genre trope. The camera gives equal time in its lingering glances of men as it does women. The rape itself is carefully filmed in a way that reveals the act’s terror without exploiting it.

“Revenge” can be a bit too on the nose, using blatant imagery of a phoenix to drive home the point of Jen’s rebirth. The film also asks viewers to suspend disbelief in how its characters are able to survive various circumstances.

An intense experience, “Revenge” marks an impressive debut from a daring director.