'Incredibles 2' review: Pixar delivers a worthy sequel - Silver Screen Beat
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‘Incredibles 2’ review: Pixar delivers a dazzling sequel worthy of its beloved predecessor

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Incredibles
DISNEY/PIXAR

Fourteen years after the release of the original, everyone’s favorite super family (sorry, X-Men) returns in Incredibles 2, which audiences will undoubtedly enjoy just as much as its predecessor because of the many parts that make the film so…ahem…incredible. It’s a worthy sequel that our current superhero-ridden American film scene so desperately needs.

Incredibles 2 picks up right where Pixar’s beloved 2004 animated classic left off: with a villainous new threat to the city known as The Underminer looking to wreak havoc. The Parrs and other superheroes are still seen as criminals, but when Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is recruited by a pair of philanthropic siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), they believe they will be able to change the public’s perception for good. While Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles to stay out of the spotlight and control the kids, a new threat arises known as Screenslaver, who is determined to put an end to supers once and for all.

Like many others, I was initially upset when I found out that this movie occurred directly after the events of the first, but it thankfully provides a smooth transition into the next part of the Parrs’ story. Even though the two films were released more than a decade apart, it seemed like no time had passed at all in this universe and the movie even contains more relevant social issues while keeping it entertaining for children—the main focus being Elastigirl, who is certainly the shining star of this film.

Hunter brings so much life to this character, as she is able to portray both the nurturing mother side and ass-kicking heroine side excellently. Elastigirl’s arc provides a great, original premise that is still reminiscent of the first movie yet is geared towards a new, more critical generation of moviegoers. This makes for a great dynamic between Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, as the latter is constantly being forced to deal with his own masculinity. Having to take care of the kids while his wife is away saving the city was obviously tough for the macho man, but his development and acceptance throughout the course of this movie was progressively pleasant to watch.

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Another character with interesting development was baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). We were left on a bit of a cliffhanger from the original Incredibles movie that Jack-Jack had an abundance of peculiar powers, and in this film, those powers are explored even more. Along with the monster that he can turn into, shooting lasers from his eyes, and setting himself on fire, seeing Jack-Jack’s naive infancy clash with his crazy abilities made him a hilarious scene-stealer.

The humble daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and the reckless son Dash (Huck Milner) unfortunately have less memorable roles in the film, but it’s worth noting that the re-casting of Dash (he was originally voiced by Spencer Fox) was a smart move, though, as Milner has a much more child-like sense of wonder and confidence in his voice. Other fan-favorite characters making a return in the sequel include Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Brad Bird) and they still live up to their previous, legendary reputations.

For an animated feature, editing is never much of a specialty, but this film shatters that expectation. Some of the most comedic moments in the film were made hilarious due to the Stephen Schaffer’s quick, efficient editing, which helps add to the overall excitement on the film. Brad Bird’s (who also directed the film) script is excellent too, as the twisting reveal of the antagonist was hidden quite well. However, Screenslaver did not get as much physical screen time as the character deserved and, throughout the entirety of the film, the villain had a digitally eerie presence that could have been much more flushed out, but there was still plenty of substance to make the character threatening.

One of the most memorable parts of the first film was its jazzy and high-energy score, which Michael Giacchino once again delivers in this second installment. The best new element of this sequel, though, was its more fluent choreography and action scenes. All of them involved Elastigirl (rightfully so), as her scenes were just pure, exhilarating, fun. As for the animation, it’s just like any other Pixar movie we’ve seen in recent years: gorgeous.

Incredibles 2 succeeds expectations in almost every possible way, as Disney and Pixar once again prove that they can make a better superhero film than, well, many other studios out there from the past ten years. While sequels that come this late are usually hit or miss, this fantastic family film doesn’t just hit, but smashes. Oh, and for all of the ’90s babies out there: get ready for the nostalgia to really kick in the moment the movie starts.

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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ review: Jon M. Chu’s delightful rom-com is a party with a first-rate guest list

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Crazy Rich Asians

As of the moment as an Instagram feed, Crazy Rich Asians revisits Jane Austen’s timeless universal truth about a man in possession of a fortune being in want of a wife. The man in question is Nick Young (Henry Golding), the exquisitely eligible scion of a Singapore real estate family. The scale of his fortune is suggested by the first scene, in which his mother, insulted by the manager of a fancy London hotel, buys it out from under him.

There’s no doubt in Nick’s mind about whom he wants to marry: Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at N.Y.U. originally from Queens. She and Nick, who have been together for a year, are clearly a perfect match. At least in Manhattan. But when they travel back to Singapore for a wedding, Rachel finds herself subjected to the disapproving scrutiny of the older generation and vicious sniping from potential rivals.

Every romantic comedy depends on obstacles to the central couple’s ultimate happiness. “Crazy Rich Asians,” a busy, fizzy movie winnowed from Kevin Kwan’s sprawling, dishy novel, sets up a series of clashes — between tradition and individualism, between the heart’s desire and familial duty, between insane wealth and prudent upward mobility — that are resolved with more laughter than tears. There are squalls of intrigue and a melodramatic cloudburst or two, but nothing that threatens to spoil the festivities.

The venue is fabulous — if there is any part of Singapore that is less than dazzlingly picturesque, we don’t see it here — the music is great, and the food includes homemade dumplings, street-stall delicacies and lavish banquet dishes. But the key to this party is surely the guest list. It has been noted that this is the first Hollywood movie in a long time with a mostly Asian and Asian-American cast, and if anything this observation understates the diversity of the performers onscreen, in terms of both their origins and their pop-cultural affiliations. They include Michelle Yeoh, one of the great international movie stars of the past quarter-century; Ken Jeong, a staple of naughty American comedy for almost as long; and Awkwafina, a hip-hop artist, actress and web celebrity of more recent vintage.

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That’s only a small sampling. Mr. Kwan’s book, a best-seller that has spawned two sequels since it was published in 2013, runs to more than 500 pages and includes footnotes, genealogical charts and a telephone directory’s worth of names. Its digressions and tangents would easily fill up a television season or two, and the movie, directed by Jon M. Chu, can feel a bit rushed and cramped. There’s too much and also not enough.

Still, it’s hard not to have fun, though not always for poor Rachel. After a pleasant excursion with the soon-to-be newlyweds, Nick’s boyhood friend Colin (Chris Pang) and his fiancée, Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno), the family drama and the peripheral silliness kick into high gear. Rachel meets an ex-girlfriend of Nick’s, Amanda (Jing Lusi), who is less of an ally than she seems. More simpatico is Astrid (Gemma Chan), Nick’s ultraglamorous cousin, whose marital troubles provide the most developed secondary plot. Her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), is, like Rachel, an outsider; his insecurity about his wife’s money and status turns their marriage into a potential cautionary tale.

A more serious intimation of trouble arrives every time Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Ms. Yeoh), looks in Rachel’s direction. (His father is away on a business trip.) Her judgment seems severe and unfair, but she also possesses an undeniable grandeur, a seriousness about family, power and her own identity that is noble as well as cruel. While there is never any real doubt that “Crazy Rich Asians” will come down on the side of free choice and true love, it does pay lip service to the gravity and durability of other values.

Mostly, the movie is committed to the value of a good time. It is an unabashed celebration of luxury and money, with hints of class conflict that have more to do with aspiration than envy or anger, set in an Asia miraculously free of history or politics. Comic relief is provided by Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), Rachel’s nutty friend, and her nutty parents (Mr. Jeong and Koh Chieng Mun), whose nouveau riche tackiness stands in contrast to the aristocratic hauteur of the Young family. Not everyone in that clan is as regal as Eleanor or as blandly agreeable as her son. There are a gaggle of funny aunties and a witty gay cousin (Nico Santos), who is no less amusing for being a rather tiresome stereotype.

You could also view that character as a self-conscious throwback — part of the film’s sly and appealing old-fashionedness. Without betraying any overt nostalgia, “Crazy Rich Asians” casts a fond eye backward as well as Eastward, conjuring a world defined by hierarchies and prescribed roles in a way that evokes classic novels and films. Its keenest romantic impulse has less to do with Nick and Rachel’s rather pedestrian love story than with the allure of endless luxury and dynastic authority. Which I guess is pretty modern after all.

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‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ review: Rising star Joe Cole leads this utterly ferocious Thai prison drama

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Joe Cole as Billy Moore in A24's A Prayer Before Dawn

If you wanted to know how it feels to be the only foreign inmate in a Bangkok prison, then A Prayer Before Dawn is about as close as you could get – without walking into a Thai police station with your pockets full of heroin.

As heroin addict and Thai boxer Billy Moore – upon whose memoir this film is based – Brit up-and-comer Joe Cole (‘Peaky Blinders’) is the audience’s suffering avatar. He’s hurled into the heat, the overcrowding, the ever-simmering threat of violence, all represented by real ex-convicts, many of whom are covered from head to toe in fearsome tattoos. Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire has an unblinking documentarian’s eye, presenting extremity without sinking into exploitation. He films in long, painful takes, whether it’s Billy being pummelled in the ring, getting his next hit, or just trying to navigate his way along the serrated edge of Bangkok prison culture – a stranger in the strangest, deadliest of lands, who neither speaks the language or knows the customs.

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It is tough viewing, though not as tough as it must have been for Cole to recreate Billy’s delirious, drug-induced decline and eventual redemption. It is not merely an almost recklessly selfless performance, but also a surprisingly sensitive one, cracking Moore’s carapace to reveal the vulnerability beneath – of a lonely, unloved and desperately weak man whose only lifeline is the sport he loves. Light on dialogue and heavy on expression both physical and emotive, he keeps you watching even if what you’re seeing makes you want to hide your eyes and cower.

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‘BlackKkKlansman’ review: Spike Lee’s timely new film seizes the moment (and the American past)

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BlacKkKlansman
FOCUS FEATURES

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, which arrived in Cannes yesterday to a rapturous reception, is a tonal roller coaster, and therein lies much of its unique power. It’s alternatingly comic, heroic, tragic, horrifying, ridiculous, dead serious, clear-eyed, and confused; it shifts into moments of documentary and even essay film, but it’s also one of Lee’s more entertaining and vibrantly constructed works. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie exploit its tonal mismatches so voraciously and purposefully.

Based on a crazy true story (or, as an opening title puts it, “some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t”), BlacKkKlansman follows the efforts of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American detective in the Colorado Springs police force who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the mid 1970s, passing as white over the phone, with fellow cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) posing as Stallworth’s white avatar at actual Klan meetings. Lee seizes every opportunity in that startling setup to play with the notions of identity and belonging that have always fueled his work.

Before his Klan investigation, Ron’s first assignment is to go undercover at a Stokely Carmichael speech. (“They say he’s a damn good speaker, so we don’t want this Carmichael getting into the minds of the good Negroes of Colorado Springs,” his fellow officers tell him.) There, he meets and falls for local college activist leader Patrice (Laura Harrier), and even as he woos her, he tries and fails to stop her from using the word pig to describe cops. Ron remains loyal to the force, but he’s also moved by Patrice’s passion and righteousness. In some ways, the investigation of the Klan might be Ron’s attempts to reconcile this tension between his dedication to police work and his growing activism.

This awakening awareness of identity goes beyond just Ron: Flip repeatedly gets asked by Klan members if he’s a Jew. He later confides to Ron that, while he is Jewish, he wasn’t raised with any real religion or sense of difference. “I never thought about it before,” he says, but now, thanks to these constant accusations and hatred, “I’m thinking about it all the time.”

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Indeed, identity throughout BlacKkKlansman can be a disorienting, ever-shifting thing — acted upon by one’s allies as well as one’s enemies. The movie embraces this aesthetically as well. Lee adopts contrasting styles for each of the tribes that Ron moves through in the movie — the police, black activists, and the Klan. The Klan are usually shown as a bunch of bozos, a dangerous but also often hilariously incompetent collection of ignorant brutes and slack-jawed yokels. Meanwhile, Patrice and her fellow activists are often presented in essayistic, almost agitprop fashion: During Carmichael’s speech, in which he talks about white standards of beauty and the racially disturbing aspects of Tarzan movies, the edges of the frame go dark and we see his listeners in soft spotlights, highlighting their features; when Patrice and Ron argue over depictions of heroism in blaxploitation movies, the screen fills with movie posters and clips. (Among other things, BlacKkKlansman stands as an urgent essay on cinema’s depictions of blackness and racism over the decades.)

Later, Lee intercuts between a speech by Harry Belafonte about the 1916 lynching in Waco, Texas, of Jesse Washington and one delivered by KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace, giving another of his insincere, aw-shucks nice-guy performances, which in this context is both chilling and surreal). “Give us true white men,” Duke declares, while Belafonte goes through every agonizing detail of the horrors visited upon Washington’s body. It’s a terrifying juxtaposition, and watching it, I got the sense that Lee had laid a kind of brilliant trap for us with his earlier, satirical depiction of the Klan: Laugh all you want, he seems to say; you laughed at Trump, too, and look where that got us.

As you might expect, Trump and our current predicament hang heavily over this film, and the script (credited to Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott, based on Ron Stallworth’s own book) goes out of its way to make the connections. At one point, Duke declares, “It’s time for America to show its…” — briefly struggling to find the right word — “greatness again.” That’s one of the subtler references, and while most movies about the past botch this sort of call-and-response with the present, Lee generally achieves this with panache; he’s rarely self-important about it. He knows he’s making obvious points, and he embraces it with a combination of exuberance and despair.

And within this heavy-handedness can lie a kind of ambiguity. Without giving too much away, I must report that some of the film’s close-to-final scenes have an almost utopian, wish-fulfilment quality to them, with bits that are sure to get roaring audience responses. But Lee then quickly cuts to images of such raw, disturbing power so that any momentary sense of triumph is sure to catch in our throats. BlacKkKlansman resists closure, reconciliation, or catharsis, and Lee has no interest in keeping this thing formally unified. What use is that kind of unity in a society that’s falling apart?

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