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: 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.

 

 

 

 

Trailer Talk: “Halloween,” “Lego Movie 2, “Bumblebee,” “A Star is Born” and much more

Trailer Talk: “Halloween,” “Lego Movie 2, “Bumblebee,” “A Star is Born” and much more

“Trailer Talk” rounds up recently released trailers for upcoming and anticipated movies.

This week was an unusually busy one for trailers, from horror reboots and remakes, fun kids’ movies, a new beginning for a toy-centered franchise and a showcase for Lady Gaga. Let’s dig in.

“Halloween”

Forty years after Michael Myers left a trail of bodies in John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 slasher, the maniacal killer returns. And this time, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is ready and waiting for him.

The heavily anticipated reboot is the 11th movie in the “Halloween” franchise. But this installment disregards all the sequels after the original. The new “Halloween,” directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Carpenter, comes from Blumhouse, the production house behind such horror hits as “Get Out” and “Split.”

Nick Castle returns as the evil Michael Myers, with James Jude Courtney also playing the masked maniac. The trailer is enough to send shivers down your spine.

“Halloween” slashes its way into theaters Oct. 19.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web”

The sequel to 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” brings back fierce hacker Lisbeth Salander as a vigilante saving abused women. Claire Foy, who won raves as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown,” takes over the role from Rooney Mara. Foy ditches the crown jewels and prim dresses for Lisbeth’s trademark spiky hair and black leather, transforming herself into an avenging angel.

The crime drama is based on the fourth novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium book series. The trailer’s intense opening scene – where Lisbeth strings up an abusive CEO – will have you on the edge of your seat.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” swings into theaters Oct. 26.

“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part”

Five years ago, the surprisingly clever and endearing “The Lego Movie” charmed kids and adults alike. The followup looks just as funny and delightful as the first film.

The sequel to the 2014 hit drops the Lego characters, including still-optimistic construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) and brave warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), into a “Mad Max: Fury Road” dystopia. When an invader from outer space kidnaps Wyldstyle, Emmet must step up and save her and their friends, including Batman (Will Arnett) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). New voices in the cast include Stephanie Beatriz as villain Sweet Mayhem and Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip”) as Queen Whatevra Wa-Nabi.

“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” puts all the pieces together Feb. 8, 2019.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2”

The sequel to the 2012 hit cartoon may be Disney’s most meta feature yet as the House of Mouse acknowledges its growing empire and reunites all – yes, all! – of its classic Disney princesses.

Big-hearted arcade game villain Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) returns with his best friend, glitch-turned-princess Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). This time, the duo are unleashed in the big, wide expanses of the internet. From Google to Amazon to Oh My Disney, the World Wide Web will never be the same.

The film is getting a lot of buzz for bringing together its fabled princesses. There’s the originals – Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora – and Ariel, Belle, Jasmine and Pocahontas from Disney’s Renaissance period. There’s also newer additions like Tiana and Rapunzel, plus Elsa and Anna from “Frozen.” In an incredible move, many of the actresses from the original films have returned to provide their characters’ voices. The movie boldly takes shots at the fairy tale tropes commonly used in Disney’s cartoons.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” plugs into theaters Nov. 21.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

The third and final film in the wonderful “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise reunites dragon trainer-turned-village chief Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) with his best friend, adorable dragon Toothless.

As Hiccup works to build a utopian hideaway for dragons, Toothless finds a potential new mate, a beautiful and rare White Fury. But a new threat puts the future of the dragons and Hiccup’s dream in danger. Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill and Kit Harington return to the voice cast.

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” tames theaters March 1, 2019.

“Bumblebee”

The lovable and mischievous yellow Autobot from the “Transformers” franchise gets his own film in this prequel. Where the mute Bumblebee was a Camaro in the five previous movies, he returns to his roots as a Volkswagen Beetle here.

Unlike the Michael Bay films, there’s no explosions in the new trailer. But under the reins of director Travis Knight, there is a lot of emotion in what looks like a potential reset for the tiring franchise. After I was greatly let down by “Transformers: The Last Knight,” I’m excited to see what “Bumblebee” holds for the future of the series.

Set in 1987, the adventure stars Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, a 17-year-old motorhead who rescues Bumblebee from a junkyard. The teen and the childlike robot form an immediate bond in an awe-inspiring scene of Bumblebee transforming in front of her. John Cena also stars a member of the classified government agency Sector Seven.

“Bumblebee” takes flight Dec. 21.

“A Star is Born” 

Lady Gaga takes on her first leading film role in “A Star is Born,” the classic story of love and fame. Making his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper also writes, produces and stars in the musical, which is the third remake of the 1937 film.

Cooper plays a country music star who discovers struggling singer Gaga. As her career lifts off, his is winding down. Their relationship suffers as they ride the carousel of fame.

Lady Gaga follows in the footsteps of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, who starred respectively in the 1937, 1954 and 1976 versions. She also helped write several new songs for the film.

“A Star is Born” rises in theaters Oct. 5.

“Suspiria” 

The remake of the influential 1977 horror classic aims to scare a new audience. Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) pays homage to Italian director Dario Argento’s masterpiece in this unsettling trailer.

Dakota Johnson stars as an American ballet dancer who begins attending a prestigious dance academy in Germany. After a series of gruesome murders, she discovers a sinister conspiracy of supernatural activity. The film also stars Tilda Swinton and Chloe Grace Moretz.

“Suspiria” terrorizes theaters Nov. 2.

Review: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Review: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

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

TAMARA’S TAKE

 

Wasn’t there a “Star Wars” movie in December? And another one in 2016? And 2015? That’s probably why with “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels so familiar. Maybe it’s just that we can’t live in a world without galaxies far, far away. Or that Disney can’t let audiences forget that.

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is stuck on a junk planet where he must steal and hustle or be punished. He and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), dream about getting off that planet, learning how to fly and jetting off into a better future. But as they get close to freedom, they’re separated and spend three years trying to get back together. Han becomes Han Solo, a gifted pilot academy drop-out who finds future buddy Chewbecca (Joonas Suotamo) and becomes entangled with smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) while in the Empire’s military.

“Solo” is not a doom-and-gloom flick like the previous two offerings, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and director Ron Howard, who rescued the project after directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller departed, gets to make a large sci-fi movie that doesn’t involve Tom Hanks. This prequel/origin story to the original trilogy is lighter on the emotional toll and heavier on the action, Easter eggs and one-liners. Han and Qi’ra find themselves again, but she’s under the clutches of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). The childhood sweethearts are now teammates on a dangerous mission that calls for help from a guy with a ship – and not just any guy – it’s Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the Millennium Falcon.

For “Star Wars” junkies, “Solo” is another title to check off the list of items to consume. It gets behind what makes Han Solo the space maverick with a heart of gold audiences loved when Harrison Ford played the iconic role. It also looks at the birth of the Rebellion without the presence of the Jedi. The eight episodes and “Rogue One” focused on more organized efforts to defeat the Empire, whereas “Solo” has pockets of rebels on different planets all wanting to get rid of their overlords. No one is in awe of Han yet.

But like all “Star Wars” versions, there’s a great droid character. This time it’s Lando’s right-hand navigating robot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). While L3 is made of various junk parts and is not as outwardly cute as BB-8, she is clearly the best character in this one.

What brings “Solo” down is not the Empire but the lack of gravity in the characters. Seeing Enhrenreich, Clarke and Glover in action is like watching “Bugsy Malone,” the 1976 gangster movie starring Scott Baio and Jodie Foster when they were kids. They look like a high school production of “Star Wars Jr.” and they’re playing a role, not being characters. The only adult among the cast is Bettany, who makes a good villain.

To paraphrase Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker from “The Last Jedi,” maybe it’s time for the movie overload to end. “Solo” doesn’t add more to the canon for casual fans and is not a way to bring in new fans. But it adds riches to Disney.

2.5 stars out of 5

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm via AP)

REBECCA’S TAKE

 

The “Solo” in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t just refer to the popular character in the beloved “Star Wars” franchise. The 10th film in the epic space saga stands alone as a fun adventure that exists outside the sweeping Skywalker-centric episodes.

With a fresh spin on its lead character, the thrilling heist caper captures the feel of “Star Wars” while showing there’s more to the franchise beyond Jedi and Sith lords. The prequel lifts the curtain on the criminal underworld in a galaxy far, far away.

A few years before the galaxy’s most famous smuggler crosses paths with Luke Skywalker in “A New Hope,” a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) steals to survive. Dreaming of a better life, he and his ambitious galpal Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt a daring escape from their grimy home planet. But when the two are separated, Han joins the Imperial Air Force as a pilot.

After the hot-headed recruit gets kicked out, Han and his new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) smell an opportunity with a group of smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who have taken on a perilous job for crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

When the heist – a breath-taking chase on a snow-covered mountainside – goes awry, the group must salvage it by connecting with suave smuggler Lance Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his fast ship, the Millenium Falcon. Making sure the mission goes according to plan is an old friend – Qi’ra, who is now Voss’ right-hand lieutenant. Han’s past collides with his future, putting the optimistic pilot on a course of friendship, love and betrayal that shapes the cynical outlaw he will become.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a pick-me-up after the grim “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first of the anthology films, and the polarizing “The Last Jedi,” which was released just five months ago. The prequel fills in the gaps in Han’s backstory, showing moments that fans of the saga have never seen onscreen. We finally see how Han meets Chewbacca, the first time he pilots the famed Millenium Falcon and the legendary Kessel Run. There are character-driven moments that’ll make you want to cheer, smile and gasp in surprise.

The steady-handed Ron Howard, who stepped in to direct the film after a much-publicized director swap, succeeds in making the film feel like it fits in the “Star Wars” universe. But while “Solo” generates nostalgia, the film doesn’t hit you over the head with fan service. By being an anthology story as opposed to an episode, its straightforward heist plot allows casual fans in, too.

In a bold move, “Solo” recasts one of the most loved characters in movie history – and it works. The excellent Ehrenreich takes over the reins of the galaxy’s coolest space cowboy, definitively played by Harrison Ford in four films. But in “Solo,” the future smuggler-turned-rebellion hero hasn’t perfected his trademark swagger.

Ehrenreich smartly avoids doing a Ford impression, making himself believable as an inexperienced Han. This is the same guy who, when pretending to be a storm trooper in “A New Hope,” clumsily asked over the radio, “How are you?” to the very people he was trying to fool. Ehrenreich taps into that naivete as a self-serving hustler who people aren’t quite sure about yet. He has the qualities of a hero, even if the character doesn’t know it.

In addition to Han, “Solo” respects and develops its characters, a mix of familiar names and new additions. Chewbacca gets a memorable introduction, and his relationship with Han is solid. Glover expertly channels Billy Dee Williams’ portrayal of Lando from “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in an enjoyable performance. As Beckett, Harrelson acts as a mentor to an impressionable Han. Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings smarts and sass as the newest droid, L3-37.

The most intriguing new character is Qi’ra, the latest brunette protagonist in the “Star Wars” films. Looking like she stepped out of a 1940s film noir, the rags-to-riches character walks a moral line, differentiating herself from Leia, Rey and Jyn Erso. Clarke creates an incredibly complex character who I’d like to see more of.

Though “Solo: A Star Wars Story” may not reach the emotional heights of other “Star Wars” films, it’s an exciting joy ride that offers a new take on a fan favorite. Fans looking for a more upbeat story in the “Star Wars” universe should hop on the Millenium Falcon.

4 out of 5 stars

They all want to be music stars, Part 2

They all want to be music stars, Part 2

The summer is known for movie sequels, and Take 2 is not immune to them. So consider this post the flipside of the one published in May when nearly every music video had a Hollywood actor in it. Some actors are not limiting themselves to a video cameo and are instead venturing into the recording studio.

Last week, “Avengers: Infinity War” star Scarlett Johansson released her second recording with indie rocker Pete Yorn titled, “Apart.” The five-track EP comes eight years after their first full-length album, “Break Up.” Their debut came during the wave of “boy musician-girl actor,” twee-sounding duos like Zooey Deschanel M. Ward’s She & Him in the same scope as the White Stripes, the Kills, Sleigh Bells, and Cults. “Break Up” had an upbeat, folky vibe with Johansson’s sultry voice paired with Yorn’s guitar skills and lyrics. In a 2009 interview, Yorn said he reached out to Johansson to make an album in the style of ye-ye masters Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. The songs were exactly like the title, a series of break-up songs suited for swaying along with the low-key drumbeats and chords. The first track, “Relator,” received heavy radio airplay in Europe.

Johansson has also sung on soundtracks for movies in which she was starring, including “The Jungle Book,” “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Sing.” She was the vocalist on the Oscar-nominated song, “Before My Time,” from the documentary “Chasing Ice,” and she released an album of Tom Waits covers, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” in 2008. In 2015, she was a member of a supergroup the Singles featuring Holly Miranda and Haim’s Este Haim and released the song, “Candy.” However, a legal matter over the group’s name stopped it in its tracks.

Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson (Sophie Mueller/Universal Music)

On “Apart,” the sound is more sophisticated, with hard-hitting instruments and pronounced vocals. “Bad Dreams” was picked as a single for the EP, and the overall sound is reminiscent of later 1990s rocks and steps away from the twee vibes. Think if Sheryl Crow and Chris Martin decided to perform together. The art of the break-up is alive and well, but there’s more of a pop flavor to it. The five songs don’t have the same overall mood as “Break Up” had, but the composition suggests a more mature sound. The EP is streaming on Amazon and Spotify.

Paul Bettany, Donald Glover and Alden Ehrenreic, attending the photocall of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” during 71st Cannes International Film Festival on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France. (ddp images/Sipa USA/TNS)

Also living that dual-career life this summer is Donald Glover. Presently in theaters as Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Glover is making bigger waves these days under the moniker of Childish Gambino. In May, following an applauded hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live,” Glover/Gambino released the video to “This is America.” (warning: language) The video takes on mass shootings, police-involved fatalities and portraits of black America over time as Gambino performs shirtless with a group of young people in school uniforms. The lyrics recall how cellphones are tools for fighting injustice, how gun rights are protected with care and how in the middle of chaos and decay, many will dance around what is happening.

Since its May 3 debut, “This is America” has been viewed more than 232 million times on YouTube and was certified platinum last week by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In an interview with i-D, Glover and “Solo” co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge revealed the track was played on the Millenium Falcon during filming and that Chewbacca is a huge fan of the song.

Donald Glover arrives at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, January 28, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, N.Y. (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS)

This is not his only musical accomplishment this year nor does this side of Glover’s talent stop here. In January, Gambino performed for the first time at the Grammys, having five nominations, including record and album of the year for his third album “Awaken, My Love!” He scored a win for traditional R&B performance for “Redbone.” Gambino had two previous nominations in 2015 for best rap performance for “3005” (warning: language) and rap album for “Because the Internet.” Gambino’s debut album, “Camp,” was released in 2011.

The fourth untitled album is said to be Glover’s last as Gambino. There is no release date as of yet, but a North American tour is set to start Sept. 6 outside Atlanta, Georgia. The tour includes a stop in Philadelphia on Sept. 18.

Review: “Deadpool 2”

Review: “Deadpool 2”

Josh Brolin as Cable in “Deadpool 2.” (Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Tamara’s Take

Remember “Gilmore Girls?” Do you recall having to decipher the high-speed banter between Rory and Lorelei as they bounce off pop culture references off each other? At least you didn’t have to have watched or read whatever their references were, but for Wade and his mercenary alter ego Deadpool, not even an “Access Hollywood” correspondent could get all the meta moments in the fun-filled sequel, “Deadpool 2.”

The Merch with the Mouth (Ryan Reynolds) is back, killing bad guys for hire until tragedy hits. Just as Wade/Deadpool has lost all hope, he joins the X-Men with Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) as a trainee sent to disarm a troubled teen mutant Firefist (Julian Dennison) who threatens to engulf Essex Home for Mutant Rehabilitation. Although he really doesn’t care much for the youngster, Deadpool decides to protect Firefist from the home’s sinister methods and from the arrival of Cable (Josh Brolin), a tough time-traveler who wants to kill the kid because of what the teen will do in the future. Deadpool returns to being an outsider that he was.

“Deadpool 2” is not that much different from the first; it’s full of the Red One’s snark and obsession with Hugh Jackson. This round has even more layers of these things than the first, and at times, the actual story line can get lost. If you spend too much time figuring out why Deadpool is wearing a T-shirt of two cats and the meaning behind it (they’re Taylor Swift’s cats), you can forget that there is a mission Deadpool is on to save or protect Firefist. Along for the ride is his newly formed X-Force, with Peter (Rob Delaney), just a regular guy; and four mutants, Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), Bedlam (Terry Crews), Vanisher (just some dude, nobody important), and Domino (Zazie Beetz). Domino stands out as her ability to bend luck in her favor seems like a wimpy superpower to have, but it works out very well for the team.

There is a lot to like about “Deadpool 2,” from the supporting cast to the laughs it has at itself and every comic book movie to have been on the big screen in the last three years. By the way, if you have only seen “Deadpool” and nothing else in the last three years, rev up the Netflix engine and get to know what you have missed. First, it continues what 2018 will be known for – the summer of Brolin. After destroying audiences as Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Brolin doesn’t crack a smile or even enjoys hunting down Firefist as Cable. He plays it more as an antihero than a villain. Like Deadpool not being a clear-cut hero, there’s not real baddie in this movie. Domino is good as the anti-Deadpool, not shooting her mouth off, but letting her luck and fighting style speak for itself. Beetz, who has a short but growing resume, is impressive in this Marvel role. Dennison, best known for his role in the indie film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” gets to relive the personality of an angry teen with a makeshift family.

But the movie belongs to Reynolds. Serving as its star, producer and writer, Reynolds goes for an over-the-top performance that could not be contained in comic panels. This was meant for the big screen. Even those who are not a Reynolds fan will like “Deadpool 2,” especially since he pokes fun of his actual self at the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Zazie Beetz as Domino “Deadpool 2.” (Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

The most meta superhero around, Wade Wilson/Deadpool would be the first to point out that movie sequels go for bigger, faster and bolder. “Deadpool 2” dials up the laughs, action and violence that distinguished the ground-breaking original from other comic book films.

The team behind Marvel’s wise-cracking Merc with a Mouth knows what fans of the R-rated 2016 hit want, with plenty of raunchy humor, cheeky fourth-wall breaking and likable new characters. But bigger doesn’t always mean better. While “Deadpool 2” is funnier and more action-packed than its predecessor, the crowded sequel gets bogged down by a meandering story.

Ryan Reynolds is once again perfectly cast as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, the foul-mouthed anti-hero who is just as sharp wielding one-liners as he is slicing his way through bad guys with his katana blades. But the gleefully violent mercenary also has a soft side as he looks to start a family with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

After tragedy strikes, Deadpool encounters a young mutant, Firefist (Julian Dennison), who is being chased by menacing time-traveling assassin Cable (Josh Brolin). Deadpool finds a new purpose in protecting the boy and puts together a motley crew of mutant-powered humans. Riffing off the X-Men, the X-Force includes strongman Bedlam (Terry Crews), the lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz), acid-vomit spewing Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), mullet-wearing alien Shatterstar (Lewis Tan) and regular guy Peter (Rob Delaney). Can the crew succeed in saving Firefist from Cable’s clutches?

The gut-busting “Deadpool 2” mines jokes from other films in the comic book genre, taking shots at the DC Extended Universe, Marvel Cinematic Universe and even X-Men films made by the same studio, Twentieth Century Fox. Nothing is off-limits for the self-aware superhero – Reynolds even pokes fun at himself. From spouting off vulgar jokes to performing physical comedy, Reynolds is right at home in Deadpool’s red-and-black garb.

“Deadpool 2” ups the ante on its exciting action and ultra-violence. Director David Leitch, who helmed “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde,” brings his kinetic energy and style to the sequel’s memorable set pieces. With a bigger budget, the sequel expands past the freeway repeatedly used in the original. There’s bloody shootouts and brutal showdowns at a funeral, a school and a prison, with a jaw-dropping chase sequence that outdoes all of it. The breathless action keeps the film moving at a break-neck pace.

The sequel introduces new breakout characters and brings back fan favorites. As Cable, Brolin is fantastic as the hardened and relentless assassin, determined to get his target while gradually peeling back the tragic reasons for his mission. Beetz threatens to steal the movie as Domino, the strong, fierce and street-smart superhero whose lucky abilities are certainly cinematic. She confidently holds her own against the outrageous Reynolds.

Making a welcome return from the first film are X-Men characters Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus shares a special connection with Deadpool, hoping to steer the volatile superhero in a more positive direction. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is just as cool as she was in the original, but is sadly underused here. Speaking of familiar faces, keep an eye out for some fun cameos you won’t want to miss.

While “Deadpool 2” does a lot to improve upon the original, the film tries to take on too much and its storytelling suffers for it. With so many plotlines and characters, the sequel often feels all over the place.

Some central story threads aren’t developed enough, while some plot points don’t make sense. The sequel asks you to believe in the bond between Deadpool and Firefist, which the story fails to flesh out. The nature of their relationship often changes at the drop of a dime, which makes their relationship hard to buy, as well as the later actions of various characters.

“Deadpool 2” succeeds in giving fans of the original more of what they liked in the first one. While it doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, it’s a lot of fun and promises to set up more adventures for the Merc with a Mouth and his new friends.

3.5 out of 5 stars

NEPA’s connection to James Wong Howe

NEPA’s connection to James Wong Howe

Famed cinematographer James Wong Howe was celebrated with a Google Doodle on May 25. In tribute to the black-and-white films he lensed, the monochromatic illustration features Howe wearing a suit and tie, sporting a hat and standing in front of a marquee. Google enlisted Howe’s nephew Don Lee for input on the doodle as well as background history to the cinema pioneer. In his 120-film career, Howe also has a connection to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Born in Guangzhou, China, on Aug. 28, 1889, Howe arrived in the United States with his family at age 5 as they settled in Washington. Before arriving in Hollywood, he was a professional boxer as a teenager, according to Google’s accompanying profile. Howe encountered repeated racial discrimination throughout his life, from being denied U.S. citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act until his denial was appealed in 1943, according to Time, to his marriage to poet Sanora Babb in 1937 not being legally recognized until 1957 because of anti-interracial laws.

Howe received 10 Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars for his work in “The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud.” His cinematography work includes two John Garfield movies: “Body and Soul,” a boxing movie in which Howe wore roller skates to film the action, according to Time, and the suspenseful “He Ran All the Way,” a film noir that lends nicely to Howe’s aesthetics for mood lighting and less camera movement to maintain the movie’s tension.

James Wong Howe and Samantha Eggar on the set of “The Molly Maguires.”

Howe’s next-to-last film before he died in 1976 was 1970’s “The Molly Maguires,” a movie that was filmed in Eckley Miners Village and parts of Carbon, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. Starring Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar, the big-budget movie is based on the novel of the same name on Irish miners in Pennsylvania rising against their mine bosses. By the time cinemas were rolling in this region in 1968, cinematography and techniques had changed as Hollywood films ventured into color and epics and shifted away from moody movies. Howe, however, transitioned with the times, finding new ways to create celluloid magic for the big screen. His signature touches, from the dark and claustrophobic settings in the coal mines to the wide-angle view of the Carbon County Courthouse in the courtroom scenes, were still in use. After the film, Howe went into a semi-retirement.

Sean Connery, star of “The Molly Maguires,” is getting to shoot a scene for the film inside the Immaculate Conception Church in Eckley in 1968. Behind the camera to the right is cinematographer James Wong Howe. (Times-Shamrock File)

Howe’s doodle was originally set for Aug. 28. 2017, on what would have been his 118th birthday, but the events of Hurricane Harvey forced the delay. Google released the doodle today to commemorate May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Why Domino in “Deadpool 2” is more than just her superpower

Why Domino in “Deadpool 2” is more than just her superpower

Deadpool 2” is now in theaters, and everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed, “Golden Girls”-loving mercenary is back in the red suit. This time around, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is forming a group of tough mutants to protect a teen boy from the clutches of Cable (Josh Brolin). Joining Deadpool’s X-Force team is Domino (Zazie Beetz), a hired gun  whose superpower is to have good luck in her favor. It might seem like a minor or made-up power to have, but Beetz’s portrayal of the comic book hero means more just having a nice outfit and amazing fighting ability.

Domino in the Marvel comics.

In the comics, Domino is sleek with pale skin, a straight bob for a hairstyle and a blue/black patch over her left eye. Her eyes are two different colors, with the left being white. Her suit is tight fitting, with emphasis on her bustline, and she looks like an extra of a Marilyn Manson video. In late 2016, when word was out that Domino would be a part of “Deadpool 2,” no fewer than 10 actresses were hyped to be in the running, ranging from action stars Ruby Rose and Sofia Boutella to “serious” actresses Sienna Miller and Mackenzie Davis. But in March 2017, Reynolds tweeted that Beetz, who wasn’t on the list, had nabbed the role.

Zazie Beetz is Domino in “Deadpool 2.”

Much has been said among comic book fans about the casting before the film hit theaters, and when the first picture of Beetz, best known for her work as Van on the hit FX series “Atlanta,” some folks were up in arms. They were intimidated by her black skin, her natural blowout hair, and the white patch of vitiligo around her left eye. Her eyes are also different colors, with the left one being brighter than the right. But since Domino’s chalky white skin in the comics is part of her mutation, how could anyone tell what race she was? Rob Liefeld, a comic book writer and Domino’s creator, applauded Beetz’s casting and the first look at her in costume as the lucky mutant.

When I saw the first photo, I had two reasons to celebrate: there was finally a comic book hero who had two things in common with me. Domino and I both have natural curly hair and a patch of vitiligo. Vitiligo is a condition where the skin can become depigmented, or loss its color. It’s a condition that is more pronounced on darker complexions, with light skin patches appearing anywhere. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, about 1 percent of the world’s population is affected by this condition and there is no cure.

The best-known case of vitiligo was Michael Jackson. When interviewed about how his skin color changed over time from a dark brown shade to a pale one, Jackson said that there were blotches all over him and that he used makeup to blend into one color. The kind Jackson described is known as generalized vitiligo, where discolored patches form all over the body.

While Jackson felt the need to camouflage his vitiligo, more are now embracing their patches. “America’s Next Top Model” alum Winnie Harlow is a sought-after model and spokeswoman. She was a fixture on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival this month and walked the runway at its annual amFar gala. Harlow’s generalized vitiligo helps redefine beauty in a positive way, and she speaks up when the media pigeonholes her as a “sufferer.”

In a March Instagram post she share with her 3 million followers, Harlow addressed that label by emphasizing her successes.

@eveningstandardmagazine @evening.standard and all other tabloids, magazines and people who write articles on me PSA: I’m not a “Vitiligo Sufferer”. I’m not a “Vitiligo model”. I am Winnie. I am a model. And i happen to have Vitiligo. Stop putting these titles on me or anyone else. I AM NOT SUFFERING! If anything I’m SUCCEEDING at showing people that their differences don’t make them WHO they are! All our differences are apart of who we are but they don’t define us! I’m sick of every headline ending in “Vitiligo Sufferer” or “Suffers from Vitiligo”. Do you see me suffering? The only thing I’m Suffering from are your headlines and the closed minds of humans who have one beauty standard locked into their minds when there are multiple standards of beauty! The beach was damn fine that day, nothing to suffer about! 🙄👉🏽

A post shared by ♔Winnie Harlow♔ (@winnieharlow) on

In Domino’s case, a white patch is formed over her eye. This form is known as localized, or focal, vitiligo, and it’s limited to one area of the body. An area will lose pigmentation for a brief time, and then it stops. I also have localized vitiligo as I have pea-sized patches behind my ears and a larger patch on my abdomen that is the size and shape of Australia. Growing up, the belly patch was known as my birthmark because it arrived when I was a toddler, but after analyzing its coloring, texture and sharp edges, I figured out it was vitiligo. The ear patches, which look like the Bahamian archipelago, came about in elementary school. The doctors thought that they were a sign of an allergic reaction to hair braiding (what the what?), but again after an analysis, it was determined to be vitiligo.

Vitiligo can also affect the eye, causing iritis, inflammation of the iris. This plays well with Domino’s two different eye colors. In “Deadpool 2,” none of the characters ridicule Domino’s patch or her natural afro, which is a change from what many black women encounter on a daily basis.

During the film’s opening weekend, many fans with vitiligo or know people who have it went onto Twitter to express their support.

 

#MovieTrends

#MovieTrends

Going to the movies, streaming a title on Netflix, and watching a flick on HBO or Showtime just don’t cut it like it used to. You have to be on the wave of trends. It’s not enough to get lost for two hours in the glow of cinematic wonder. You have to find ways to make movies a larger part of your life. At least, that’s what current movie trends would have you think. With social media and movie-devoted websites, each week brings a new trend to follow and to take part in.

The fanmade trailer
There’s an entire community on Reddit devoted to fanmade trailers, some ranging from cleverly recut clips of already released movies and previews to poorly made fan trailers for future films. Most are not done for parody but as a tribute to the actors, franchise or style that are celebrated over a two-minute span. For example, in November 2016, YouTube user beleng movie released the video “Suicide Squad 2 Official Trailer 2019 Fan Made.” Despite featuring obviously lifted clips of Viola Davis from “How to Get Away with Murder,” short clips from the first “Suicide Squad” and poor, lo-fi rendering, the video has racked up more than 5 million views. There are comments from users who are upset about Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) not appearing in the fake trailer, thinking that she has been wiped out of the real sequel. There are several other “trailers,” including one for “Captain Marvel” that doesn’t even claim to be fan made and another for “Avatar 2.”

 

One of the biggest tricksters of all is YouTube user Omer Menashe. In January, Menashe uploaded a high-definition trailer for the 2019 live-action movie “Cruella” with Emma Stone. Only he didn’t mention that it was fake in the title; only if viewers hit the “SHOW MORE” link would they know that the fake trailer is a collection of a blond Stone in older movies and clips from the Glenn Close-starring “101 Dalmatians” with music and dialogue lifted from other films. He even claims that his “ode” is for fair use, so he is not violating copyright laws. With more than 3 million views, Menashe has fooled many with this one. Menashe has also made “unofficial” trailers for “TinkerBell” with Reese Witherspoon and “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” with Elle Fanning.

 

 

There is another category of fanmade trailers in which fans stylize a preview in the way of another. A popular format this year has been a model after “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” YouTube user Irrelevant Person crafted a recut trailer for the James Bond flick “Skyfall” to the tone of the upcoming summer blockbuster, all the way down to the music.

 

 

YouTube user TheMarvelStark does the same to a recut “Captain America: Civil War,” ImagineGraysons to “The Dark Knight” and Multiverse Creations to “Blade Runner 2049.”

 

 

 

 

Working for the weekend

Social media trends are tracked on a 24/7 cycle, but for cinephiles, Fridays and Sundays are our days. Letterboxd, a social network of movie lovers featuring lists, reviews and more, has a weekly feature called LetterBoxd Showdown. Each week, usually Friday morning, the site posts a challenge for its members to come up with a list of movies that go with the week’s theme. From best cinematography to buddy cops to favorite remakes, a mountain of lists is published and updated throughout the days until late Thursday, when the movies appearing on the most number of lists are tallied and placed on a leaderboard. Last month, members were asked to make a top 10 list of movies set in New York City. Letterboxd user Ben Hibburd pays homage to 1970s New York with his top 10 list, kiki_witch explores the city’s female protagonists, and I give a shoutout to my home borough of Queens (you can find me under the username tamaradulva).

This week, the theme is movie musicals in preparation for the “Mamma Mia” sequel.

On Sundays, Bright Wall/Dark Room, an online film magazine, runs a themed hashtag looking for gifs or stills from movies related to a topic. With nearly 11,000 Twitter followers, there is a big range among possible answers, and BWDR retweets its most popular and unique responses. Last week’s topic was #filmstorms, with examples including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Quiet Man” and “Jurassic Park.”

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Other themed hashtags have included #MovieKitchens and #MovieAngels.

Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

From left, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Wong in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.” (Marvel Studios via AP, File)

Tamara’s Take

Way back in 2016, there were only two teams we worried about: Team Iron Man and Team Captain America. A document that basically stripped the Avengers of saving the world or universe as they pleased had torn our heroes apart. “Captain America: Civil War” was also the last serious Marvel movie as most of the solo flicks dove into the comedy realm. “Avengers: Infinity War” returns to its hard-action roots with a well-rounded villain most Marvel fans have been waiting to see again. It has also brought out another team: Team Thanos.

Since “Avengers: Age of Ultron” landed in theaters in 2015, there have been seven character movies released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing new main characters like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and giving the core set of Avengers a time of separation. These actions (read: blockbusters after your money) have all led to Thanos (Josh Brolin) a chance to take what he has sought for so long — infinity stones to complete his shiny, powerful glove. It’s his wrath that forces Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) to try to save the world again as the large Purple One starts stone collecting.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to give 27 (yikes!) characters more than five lines of dialogue and some action in this 2½-hour tentpole, and their names are crammed onto the encompassing movie poster. In a way, Marvel fans are rewarded as they see their favorites altogether on the big screen — unless you are a fan of Ant-Man because his sequel is out in July. But with all this togetherness comes nostalgia, loss, confusion and another wait for the next Avengers sequel. We return to Doctor Strange’s hideout in New York, Black Panther’s Wakanda, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) love nest in Scotland, and the sterile lab of War Machine (Don Cheadle) for a few minutes. Each visit is disrupted by one of Thanos’ minions trying to get an infinity stone. If the good guys overpower them, then Thanos steps in.

Introductions are short, but that’s where the comedy bits fit in, like Peter Parker meeting Doctor Strange, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) getting to know the “Guardians of the Galaxy” crew and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) greeting Capt. And since most of these characters drop into the frame and immediately start battling the baddies, “Infinity War” is not a good place to start watching MCU titles. There are at least 12 other movies you should see before watching this one.

But with all the heroes taking up the canvas, there really is only one character that shines — Thanos. For several Marvel films, Thanos has been stationed in the end credits as a looming force that will bring doom onto the universe or he has been the subject of a sibling rivalry between his daughters Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). There are dazzling but disturbing flashbacks of how Thanos adopted Gamora while destroying her planet when he didn’t have any infinity stones. His mission is to evaporate half the universe, and to do so he must have all the stones. To hear Thanos wax poetically about his diabolic plan is like listening to Karl Marx read his “Communist Manifesto” out loud or Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” It sounds good at points and then you remember that communism — in Marvel’s case, terminating half of the universe so that the other half can survive — is a terrible idea. Thano’s plans mean death and destruction for several planets, multiple populations and a few of our favorite heroes. After investing so much into this cinematic universe, you may feel like you’re losing half of your family at once. And with two movies coming before the fourth Avengers movie set for next year, who knows if all these deaths are real or not.

Yet, as the Russo brothers try to get to the audience’s heartstrings and tear ducts with “Infinity War,” their $400 million budget blockbuster runs slightly off from the direction of the solo acts. The vibe and lightheartedness are in short supply, but Parker’s annoying behavior are on full display. And Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is just as arrogant as ever, and unfortunately he’s stuck on a planet with Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spidey. Yes, there’s one planet big enough to hold their egos.

Also, if you have had the trailers in heavy rotation, like our heroes, about 50 percent makes it onto the screen.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a good attempt to turn Marvel back around to its action roots, and for those who like that direction, that’s cool. But for those who like the funnies, you will feel like you have had your heart ripped out of you at the end. And then those who like bad guys. You will be joining me on Team Thanos where the uniforms are purple and gold and only half of the players get game time.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Josh Brolin as Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

“Avengers: Infinity War” is the culmination of a decade of world-building and character development in what may be Marvel Studios’ best superhero team-up yet. The 19th film in the comic book franchise unites more than two dozen superheroes from all corners of the MCU – and beloved by filmgoers – in an exciting and emotional rollercoaster of an adventure. The superhero epic subverts expectations, delivering a game-changer for the franchise.

Returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War”) achieve a complex balancing act between the original Avengers with more recent additions to the MCU. The flick improves upon previous films while leaving audiences wanting more.

When “Infinity War” begins, Thanos (Josh Brolin), the purple, smiling villain who has lurked behind the shadows of the Avengers’ adventures since 2012’s “Avengers,” is front and center. The methodical Mad Titan has a plan to rid every planet of hunger amid dwindling resources – but it calls for killing half of the universe’s population.

Thanos is on a mission to collect all six of the Infinity Stones – power, space, reality, time, mind and soul. Once he has all six stones on his Infinity Gauntlet, he can decimate half of all life with a simple snap of his fingers – unless the Avengers can stop him. From across the vast reaches of space, Earth’s mightiest heroes join forces to try and prevent the biggest threat they’ve ever encountered from ending life as they know it.

“Infinity War” excels at integrating characters from across the MCU. With a running time of more than two and a half hours, the well-paced story has enough time to breathe. It doesn’t feel rushed or overstuffed like 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It transitions between superheroes and locations more smoothly than 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

From its spectacular visuals to sweeping action, “Infinity War” is a feast for the senses. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen in 3-D. The vivid colors are right out of a comic book as the war against Thanos occurs on different fronts. The film does a great job of showing how each superhero’s individual powers work in conjunction with the others.

The crisp cityscapes of New York – the home of technological genius Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), eager teen Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and powerful sorcerer Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) – give way to the bright spaceships carrying the Guardians of the Galaxy – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Baustista). This is the first time the wildly popular Guardians have interacted with the other Avengers. The lush fields of Wakanda, showcased in this year’s massive hit “Black Panther,” bring T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), his loyal bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) and brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) into the superhero fold.

“Infinity War” features terrific performances from its star cast, most of whom have grown comfortable in their roles for the better part of a decade. The film benefits from 10 years of character growth in a franchise that has sought to explore its super-powered protagonists as people first.

The film continues to explore the father-son dynamic between Iron Man and Spider-Man established in “Captain America: Civil War” and last year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” After debuting in the film that launched the MCU, “Iron Man,” the character of Tony Stark is still evolving as he learns to tackle this new role. Having been in space since “Age of Ultron,” The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) rejoins the group with lots of questions while battling an internal struggle between himself and the big green guy.

On the run since his fight with Iron Man in “Captain America: Civil War,” a grizzled Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is drawn back into the Avengers to help defeat Thanos, along with his dream team from 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”: Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Since Cap has been off the grid since “Civil War,” “Infinity War” should have utilized the First Avenger more.

A lot of the fun of “Infinity War” is watching characters interact with each other for the first time. Iron Man quickly butts heads with the similarly brilliant but arrogant Doctor Strange. Their banter is fun to watch as Stark, the old guard of the Avengers, confronts a new addition in Strange, who got his own movie in 2016. After encountering the Guardians in space, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) strikes up an unlikely friendship with Rocket Raccoon. Hemsworth shines as the God of Thunder continues to find himself after losing his home planet of Asgard and his eye in last year’s “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The parental issues at the heart of the “Guardian of the Galaxy” films progress further in “Infinity War.” The film explores the heart-wrenching relationship between Thanos and his resentful daughter, Gamora. Saldana gives a stirring performance as Gamora challenges her father on his nihilistic ambitions. As Thanos, Brolin plays one of the most well-rounded villains in the MCU to date. From his point of view, Thanos is the hero of the story, while the Avengers are the villains trying to thwart his merciful plan to spare the universe from suffering.

The stakes are high in “Infinity War,” and the film doesn’t pull its punches. “Infinity War” strikes the right balance between Marvel’s trademark humor and serious drama. While “Thor: Ragnarok” undercut some of its dramatic moments with ill-timed jokes, “Infinity War” keeps the light comedy separate from its darkest moments.

Every war has casualties, and those in “Infinity War” are shocking. The film delivers a gut punch that will have fans anxiously awaiting its follow-up a year from now.

“Infinity War” is an epic success for Marvel. It ties together a decade of characters and relationships while making viewers both laugh and cry. Stay tuned for an after-credits scene that will help us get through the long wait for the May 3, 2019, sequel.

5 out of 5 stars