Asian Invasion

Constance Wu Headlines All-Asian Cast in Can’t-Miss Summer Rom-Com

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Crazy Rich Asians
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding & Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Jon M. Chu
PG-13

This splendid, wildly sumptuous wedding-themed romantic comedy is, as the saying goes, something old, something new.

It’s as old as a fairy tale and as new as the history it’s making, as the first major Hollywood movie in more than 25 years with an all-Asian cast. And it’s got all the ingredients to be the big date-movie comedy of the summer—waves upon waves of humor and heart, gorgeous characters, a fabulous setting and a story that resonates across time and place.

Director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel centers around Rachel (Constance Wu, fresh off TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), an economics professor at NYU. Her history-teacher boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), wants her to return with him to Singapore to attend the wedding of his best friend.

It’ll be a great way for Rachel to meet his family and see his home turf, Nick says.

Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is practically royalty in Singapore, where they’re a real-estate dynasty that owns much of the island republic. They are insanely wealthy, crazy-rich.

Raised by a single mother, Rachel is stunned to find out that Nick is basically “the Prince William of Asia.” The movie unfolds as she (and the audience) gets to know her Prince Charming’s relatives and friends—and gets her bearings among the ultrarich and famous.

Crazy Rich Asians

Yeoh, Golding & Wu

But she’s not exactly welcomed with open arms. Nick’s mother, Eleanor (the great Michelle Yeoh, best remembered from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and as the “Bond girl” in Tomorrow Never Dies) not only puts the chill on Rachel, she openly disapproves. American-born Rachel is Chinese-American, not fully Chinese—and Eleanor tells her she’ll never be good enough for her son. And Nick’s scheming ex-girlfriends and jealous wannabes all want to send the “commoner” packing.

Do Nick and Rachel stand a chance, with the odds—and the force of his family—stacked against them? Don’t count the commoner out.

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Awkwafina & Wu

Thank goodness Rachel can turn for support to an old college friend, Peik Lin, who’s played with spritely glee by rapper-actress Awkwafina (from Ocean’s 8), who becomes her comedic sidekick, consultant and advisor.

The movie is a swirl of supporting characters, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Gemma Chan (from AMC’s TV series Humans) is Astrid, Nick’s beautiful, big-hearted cousin, whose mega-money can’t cover the cracks in her own crumbling marriage. Ken Jeong (from the Hangover movies and TV’s Dr. Ken) plays Peik Lin’s father, whose family’s “newer” affluence is a crass comedic clash with the older, much more established wealth of Nick’s family. Jimmy O. Yang (from Silicon Valley), plays one of Nick’s old classmates, throwing a randy bachelor party that defines toxic male excess.

But at this core of any Cinderella story is, of course, Cinderella. And Wu is terrific in her first leading movie role, bringing the audience along for every magical moment of feisty Rachel’s emotional journey. She’s now officially a movie star.

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The movie is a sensory feast, a buffet of couture, customs, cuisine and mind-boggling over-the-top opulence. Wanna see a $40 million wedding? Hear a Madonna song sung in Cantonese? Sit in on a dumpling-making session? Go on a wild island shopping spree? It’s like being suddenly transported to the other side of the world in a frothy, fizzy explosion—and exploration—of culture, history and impossibly high-rolling lifestyle. There are themes of family, friendship and tradition woven into a heartwarming love story about belonging, assimilating and accepting.

A celebratory tale of two cultures coming together, it’s a fresh twist on a familiar rom-com format, set in an exotic place that few Americans have ever been, featuring a cast that signals a major milestone for Asians and Asian-Americans—who rarely see themselves depicted on screen in such a positive, diverse, non-stereotypical way.

In the movie, we’re told that Nick’s wedding, whenever it happens, would be the “event of the century.” Crazy Rich Asians is a major movie event of the summer. You’d be crazy to miss it.

In theaters Aug. 15, 2018

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Up From the Depths

Jason Statham wrangles a mega-chunk of summer-movie shark cheese

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The Meg
Starring Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li & Ruby Rose
Directed by John Turteltaub
PG-13

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” said stunned Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) when he got his first glimpse of the shark in Jaws back in 1975.

A much bigger boat, indeed, is what’s needed in The Meg, about a much, much, much bigger shark—a prehistoric behemoth, nearly 100 feet long, that could swallow up the great white from Jaws like a sliver of sushi.

Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction novel about the discovery of a “living fossil” in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, the movie is built around British action star Jason Statham as rugged rescue diver Jonas Taylor, called back into duty when the Megaladon—long believed to be extinct—rises from the depths to terrorize the seas.

Turns out Taylor has met Megaladon before—and it made him vow to never go in the water again…

Director Jon Turteltaub came up through the Disney system, most notably with National Treasure and its sequel, Book of Secrets. He’s got a light, breezy touch—golly-whopping action and effects; easy on the violence; a wholesome sprinkle of romance and flirtation; B-movie quips and banter; and laughs to go along with the gasps. The Meg is nothing that will make anyone’s year-end awards list, but it’s certainly a mega-chunk of summer-movie shark cheese.

In addition to Statham, the movie features a cast of international players from all over the globe. A co-production between American and Chinese companies, it was obviously made with plans to extend its box-office “bite” far beyond the territorial waters of the United States.

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Bingbing Li

Chinese actress Bingbing Li plays an oceanic researcher with a precocious young daughter (the scene-stealing newcomer Shuya Sophia Cai) and a supportive scientist father (Taiwanese actor Winston Chao). Australian Robert Taylor (star of TV’s Longmire) plays a doctor. There are two other Aussies, model-turned-actress Ruby Rose and Jessica McNamee (she was tennis player Margaret Court in the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes), Japan’s Masi Oka (Max on Hawaii Five-0), and New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis (Travis on Fear the Walking Dead). You might recognize Page Kennedy (Gerald from TV’s Rush Hour). Rainn Wilson, best known as Dwight from TV’s The Office, plays an American billionaire who doesn’t want the Meg jeopardizing his research investment.

But the biggest star, so to speak, is the shark. The Meg is a real beast, a computer-generated colossus the size of a battleship, and the movie has some serious fun when it finally goes on the loose. If you think seeing a shark fin in the water is scary, wait until you see one as tall as a house slicing through the chop. If you gasped when the shark in Jaws leapt out of the water, just wait until…well, just wait.

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The legacy of Jaws looms large over any shark flick, and The Meg certainly gives Steven Spielberg’s 1975 opus a big tip of its enormous fin. That’s particularly true for a big—there’s that word again—beach scene, when the Meg cruises China’s Sanya Bay packed with hundreds of frolickers enjoying the surf, sand and sun. Who’ll become chum? The tubby kid with the popsicle? The little dog that fell overboard? The doofus running in the water ball? Those horndog boys wooing the raft of bikini-clad girls?

Oh, the dread! The horror! The shark show!

And what a shark show it is, with high-tech underwater gizmos meeting elemental, old-school vendettas and legends and lore from the bowels of the Earth and, well, practically the beginning of time. When Statham’s character, Jonas—it’s hard to miss how close that name is to Jonah, who, you know, got famously swallowed by a whale—goes mano-a-mano with his nemesis, he’s going full Moby Dick, harpoon and Ahab and all.

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Shuya Sophia Cal and Statham

The plot can barely stay afloat, logic flies all over the place and character development is as shallow as the ocean is deep. And the movie seems kind of stuck in a PG-13 limbo, between what could have been a gutsier, bloodier, gonzo R rating, and a more Disney-fied, hokier, jokier, family-friendly adventure. (There’s even a subtle Finding Nemo reference.) It ends up feeling rather neutered, like something awesome, powerful and truly terrifying has been throttled back, tamped down and packaged as mass entertainment for wide consumption.

Which, of course, is exactly what it is.

“That thing is the devil!” one character says, watching anxiously as the Meg trails his watercraft. Hardly. But The Meg is one hellishly huge fish fix for pop-culture shark fans. TV’s “Shark Week” is over. Summer’s coming to a close. So c’mon in—the water’s not exactly fin-tastic, but it sure does make a massive movie splash.

In theaters Aug. 10, 2018

Black Dynamite

Incendiary history lesson exposes ugly truths about racism in America

BlacKkKlansmanBlacKkKlansman
Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver & Laura Harrier
Directed by Spike Lee
R
In theaters Aug. 10, 2018

That’s not a typo—there’s an extra “k” in there, between “Black” and “Klansman.”

Director Spike Lee’s new movie, his 30th feature film, is the wildly true tale of a black Colorado cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK, in the 1970s.

Lee has never pulled punches with his films, like Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, She’s Gotta Have It, Mo’ Better Blues, School Daze and the Oscar-nominated Do the Right Thing. You never leave one of his movies wondering where he’s coming from, what he means, or what you’re supposed to think.

BlacKkKlansman is a straight-up, fire-breathing story about the long, painful scar of racism in America.

John David Washington (he’s the son of actor Denzel Washington) plays Ron Stallworth, who becomes the first police detective “of color” in Colorado Springs in 1972.

Working his way out of the file room, rookie Stallworth soon lands a much more interesting assignment. Cold-calling a recruitment ad in back of the local newspaper for the Klan, he impersonates a white racist on the phone and sets up a meeting to learn more about how he can join.

Of course, this presents a problem—since Stallworth is black. So the police chief (Robert John Burke, from TV’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) pairs him with another, more seasoned—white—detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), and the two of them become “one.” Flip will be the fake Ron that actually meets the Klan in person; the real Ron will continue to cultivate sources over the phone, take photos and gather intel.

So, if you’re keeping score: Stallworth is black, Zimmerman is Jewish, and they “doubly disguise” themselves to dupe the most dangerously racist organization in America—from the inside.

BlacKkKlansman

John David Washington and Laura Harrier

It sounds crazy and absurd, but it all really happened—as told in Stallworth’s 2014 memoir (Black Klansman) on which the movie is based. Lee sets everything up with juicy, funky, ’70s retro detail, and there are touches of humor and sweetness and light to leaven the toxic bigotry at the dark heart of the story, especially in scenes between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier, who played high-schooler Liz in Spider-Man: Homecoming), the passionate local soul sister and civil rights organizer who has no idea he’s really an undercover cop.

The movie really kicks into gear when Flip meets the Klan—or “The Organization,” as they prefer to call it. Walter (Ryan Eggold, Tom Keen on TV’s The Blacklist) is the local leader, reminding attendees at a weekly meeting that, for the next cross burnings, “the highest hills get the most eyes.” As the sloth-like Ivanhoe, Paul Walter Hauser lets it slip that he actually likes Sammy Davis Jr., because he can dance. Nicholas Turturro plays an explosives expert, brought in covertly for a special occasion. Felix (Finnish actor Jasper Pååkkönen, who plays Hafdan the Black on Vikings) smells a rat—or more specifically, a Jew.

BlacKkKlansman

Topher Grace

There are some tense moments when Felix tries to hook Flip up to a “Jew” detector polygraph, and when Flip and Ron risk exposure by bumbling facts of their fabricated story. Everything builds to an explosive climax, an event with a young Klan Grand Wizard-to-be David Duke (Topher Grace) at which both the real Ron and the fake Ron/Flip are present.

Alec Baldwin opens the film as a racist “intellectual” raging about the “mongrel race” of “black beasts” and “Jewish-controlled puppets” on the Supreme Court. Toward the end of the movie, musical legend Harry Belafonte plays a speaker addressing a rapt civil rights rally crowd, telling the true story of Jesse Washington, a young black man who was horrifically lynched in Texas in 1916 after being accused of raping a white woman.

Corey Hawkins (Eric Carter on TV’s 24: Legacy) galvanizes an audience as black activist Stokely Carmichael, nè Kwame Ture, forcefully reminding them that Uncle Sam wants to send young black men to fight and die in Viet Nam, while cops are shooting them (“in the back!”) in the streets.

The movie is set in the early 1970s, but make no mistake—director Lee draws a scalding, shameful timeline from America’s past to its present. He uses clips from director D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915)—a seminal but controversial and wildly racist film, one that glorified the origin of the Klan and demonized blacks—and Gone With the Wind, which hyper-romanticized the downfall of South and slavery, all to the wistful tune of Dixie.

Lee incorporates footage of the deadly 2017 white nationalists rally in Charlottesburg, Va. (“Jews will not replace us!”), and a clip of modern-day David Duke aligning himself with President Trump, who proclaimed that there were “good people” on both sides of the event.

And when Duke rallies his faithful with the phrase “America first,” it rings as a harrowing reminder of where audiences have heard it most recently elsewhere—used by the current Commander in Chief as his mantra in his inaugural address, and repeated as his diplomatic policy.

One of the movie’s producers is Jordan Peele. You might recall that he was the director of last year’s Get Out, in which a young black man finds himself trapped in a racist nightmare. BlacKkKlansman is about a nightmare of another kind, an ugly national one, in which America has been mired, one way or another, since its beginning.

BlacKkKlansmanIn one scene, Flip and Ron discuss their differences about their assignment. “For you, it’s a crusade—for me, it’s a job,” Flip tells him. Ron counters by pressing Flip about his Jewish background, about why what he’s seeing and hearing, in the actual physical presence of such hateful spew from such noxious characters, doesn’t bug him.

“Why you actin’,” Ron asks him, “like you ain’t got no skin in the game?”

That’s a question Lee’s powerful, potent gut-punch of a movie asks us all, no matter what color our skin might be.

Hot Rock

Dewayne Johnson Rocks Classic Disaster-Flick Mojo

Film Title: Skyscraper

Skyscraper
Starring Dwayne Johnson & Neve Campbell
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
PG-13

 

After leaving the wrestling ring for the silver screen more than a decade ago, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has confronted a battalion of beasties, bad guys and boogiemen on his way to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest, most dependable box-office draws.

In his latest action-thriller, he channels the mojo of classic 1970s and ’80s big-screen disaster-epic, danger dramas, fighting to rescue his wife and kids from inside the world’s tallest hotel that’s been set on fire by terrorists.

In Skyscraper, Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former U.S. Marine and FBI hostage negotiator now working as a security consultant—the movie’s opening sequence shows us the tragedy, 10 years ago, that cost him half of a leg and made him vow to “lay down his sword.” Sawyer has just landed a plum assignment, overseeing all the security and safety systems for the Pearl, a new, high-tech, 240-story Hong Kong skyscraper that’s three times taller than the Empire State Building.

Film Title: Skyscraper

Chin Han

A news reporter breathlessly aligns the Pearl and its billionaire builder, Zhao Long (Chin Han), to humankind’s ancient “quest to reach the sky” and the construction of the biblical Tower of Babel. Hmmm—and that story didn’t turn out so well, did it?

Film Title: Skyscraper

Neve Campbell

Naturally, there’s a villain—a nest of them. Of course: They want something, and they’re willing to kill to get it. Of course: Sawyer’s wife (Neve Campbell, whose role becomes much more than just a spousal second banana) and two young kids are caught in the middle of it all. And, yes: Sawyer’s on the outside of the skyscraper, his family is inside, and everything’s on fire.

And Sawyer’s been framed for starting it!

Then things really get cooking.

“A 6.5-billion-dollar chimney,” proudly proclaims one of the terrorists as he disables the Pearl’s fire-safety systems, allowing the roaring blaze to spread throughout the tower.

All of this is just so much smoke, sizzle and setup, however, for what audiences really came to see: The Rock springing into action, flinging his wall of movie muscle against an obstacle as formidable as the tallest structure on the planet. Just to make things interesting—don’t forget—he’s only got one “good” leg.

And he’s on the wanted list of the entire Chinese police force, especially a couple of top cops (Bryon Mann and Elfina Luk) who are suspicious about why anyone would want to try to break in to a burning building.

Film Title: Skyscraper

But don’t ever bet against the Rock. And don’t overthink things or you’ll get caught up in the impossible physics of how a guy with a prosthetic leg can climb up the outside of a giant construction crane, smash a hole in the hotel—then leap into the air, pulling himself into the building by his fingertips…of one hand!

And I knew duct tape was pretty amazing stuff—but I never knew that, turned inside-out, it could help me cling to the outside of a building. (Not that I’ll be trying it, though!)

Film Title: Skyscraper

Roland Moller

Can Sawyer rescue his family, clear himself, turn the tables on the terrorists, especially their coldly vicious leader (Danish actor Roland M⦰ller, who also played bad-guy roles in The Commuter and Atomic Blonde)—and figure out why everyone is so nuts about a little bitty computer drive?

Neither a sequel nor a superhero saga—two of the most common big-screen options these days—this is the kind of gonzo, go-for-it standalone action movie that Hollywood typically doesn’t make anymore. Decades ago, it might have been a Bruce Willis movie, an Arnold Schwarzenegger romper-stomper or a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick. Skyscraper tips its tall, towering hat to those macho-movie icons of yesteryear, and to classic disaster-danger epics like The Towering Inferno, Die Hard and Cliffhanger.

It’s a sky-high stack of cheese, sure, but it’s pretty good cheese, especially for a lite summer snack. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber—whose resume includes Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We’re The Millers, plus working with Johnson in the comedy Central Intelligence—keeps things moving briskly enough that there’s not really much time to dwell on the preposterous plot and sometimes stilted dialogue that pad the spaces between the Rock doing what everyone really comes to see the Rock do.

“This is stupid,” says Sawyer nervously as he heads out a smashed window of the Pearl, into the night and the wind, thousands of feet above the streets of Hong Kong, on one wild part of his crazy, life-risking mission. What sane person would, under any circumstance, ever do a thing like that? Sawyer knows it’s stupid. We know it’s stupid.

And the Rock knows it’s stupid—and exactly what we want to see, what we came to see, what has made him Hollywood’s $3.3 billion man.

So go on out that window, DJ, leap from that crane, dangle from that ledge with your fingertips—and Rock on!

In theaters July 13, 2018

Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero

Paul Rudd & Evangeline Lilly Couple Up For Big Fun  

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Ant-Man and The Wasp
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Peña
Directed by Peyton Reed
PG-13

It’s easy for a character to get lost in the superhero shuffle, especially one as small as, well, an ant.

It’s hard to compete with the cosmic roar of Thor, the monstrous bulk of the Hulk or the red-white-and-blue rah-rah of Captain America—especially when you’re the size of an insect.

But Ant-Man earned his place in the Marvel movie lineup back in 2015, with a unique, breezy mix of humor and heroics, as we were introduced to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a petty thief mentored by a scientist (Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a former member of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s top-secret espionage agency). Pym developed technology that could shrink things on a molecular level to teeny-tiny, or balloon them to giant size.

He trained Lang to become the new Ant-Man.

Lighter, leaner, more brisk and so much brighter than many of its weighty superhero-blockbuster counterparts, the frisky Ant-Man and the Wasp—as its title suggests—significantly adds a new main character to the mix…sort of. The Wasp is Hank’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, returning from the first film). Lilly, whom you’ll likely remember as the breakout castaway Kate on the TV series Lost, breaks out here as the first female character to ever get her name in the title of a Marvel movie.

nullBut Lilly’s Wasp wasn’t the first Wasp—that would be her mother, we’re reminded, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who shrank down so small, 30 years ago, she was absorbed into the “quantum realm” and could not return. Pym (Michael Douglas, also reprising his role) thinks Janet could still be alive, somewhere in there…out there. The new movie hinges on a plan for Lang, Pym and Van Dyne to engineer a way to retrieve her.

Sounds easy enough—especially for scientists and superheroes, right?

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Walton Goggins

It would be a lot easier if Lang wasn’t confined to his home, under house arrest—wearing an ankle bracelet and serving out his sentence for Ant-Man’s violation of world peace treaties, as depicted in Captain America: Civil War. Things are also complicated by the slick slime ball Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black-market tech trafficker who sees dollar signs in Pym’s gizmos. Hannah John-Kamen (she was Ornela on Game of Thrones) is Ghost, a mysterious “villainess” with fearsome powers to phase-shift matter to pass through solid objects, and her own reasons for desperately needing to know Pym’s secrets of the quantum realm.

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Hannah John-Kamen

Michael Peña returns as Luis, Lang’s former cellmate, now running a struggling security firm and longing for a superhero suit of his own. Laurence Fishburne plays Bill Foster, Pym’s former colleague—and rival. Randall Park is Jimmy Woo, the hapless S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in charge of trying to keep tabs on Lang. Abby Ryder Fortson is adorable, once again, as Lang’s young daughter. Judy Greer play’s his ex-wife, and Bobby Cannavale is her cop fiancé.

Naturally, there’s the obligatory cameo by Stan Lee. And stay for the credits to see how everything ties into the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, particularly how it links to Avengers: Infinity War.

It’s a lot—a lot of characters, a lot of plot, a lot going on. But the chemistry between Lilly and Rudd has real snap, crackle, pop, spark, sizzle and shine; it’s the bright dawn of a new superhero couple. And returning director Peyton Reed keeps the pathway clear for plenty of laughs as the action rips, zips and romps all over San Francisco—and all kinds of things keep shrinking, including automobiles and even an entire office building, which gets carted around like a rolling suitcase. There are some swell running jokes about closeup magic, a World’s Greatest Grandma trophy, undercarriage washes, truth serum and the fabled Slavic witch Baba Yaga.

nullEveryone will be able to relate to Lang’s comedic frustration when his Ant-suit goes on the fritz and he can’t control when it will zap him down to a speck or swell him up to a colossus. There’s a particularly funny scene when he gets shrunk down to kid-size in a school; in another, he’s a towering titan who uses a flatbed truck as a scooter.

Rudd, so adept at playing an everyman, is once again perfect for his part—a normal guy, a good guy who didn’t set out to be a hero, but who can’t imagine not doing the right thing. A guy constantly overwhelmed by all the gee-whiz science that allows him to do so many cool things, big and small—even if he doesn’t understand all the talk about quantum anomalies, quantum phasing, quantum spectrometers and quantum entanglement.

“Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” he asks at one point.

No matter your size or your grasp of science or superheroes, Ant Man and the Wasp is pure quantum fun.

In theaters July 6, 2018

Full Court Press

NBA All Stars Go Old School in Basketball Buddy Comedy

Uncle Drew_group

Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller & Kyrie Irving play former basketball stars who reunite after three decades for a streetball tournament.

Uncle Drew
Starring Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery & Shaquille O’Neal
Directed by Charles Stone III
PG-13

Uncle Drew is a basketball comedy with its roots in television spots for Pepsi Max featuring the NBA’s Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics, disguised as an elderly man who schools younger players—or “youngbloods”—in pickup games.

The film takes that concept and runs with it, expanding the plot, adding a half-court of NBA all-stars and some Hollywood live wires.

After a faux ESPN 30 For 30 documentary intro—in which we learn that Uncle Drew was an NBA legend who mysteriously disappeared from the scene three decades ago, at the height of his fame and glory—we begin to meet the players.

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Lil Rel Howrey, Nick Kroll & Tiffany Haddish

Dax (Lil Rel Howery, from Tag and Get Out) is a hapless Foot Locker employer who loves basketball. But traumatized by a childhood buzzer-beater block on the court, he hasn’t been able to play the game since. So now he manages a team from the sidelines and dreams of winning a big annual streetball tournament—and $100,000—at Rucker Park in Harlem.

His gum-smacking, wisecracking nemesis, Mookie (Nick Kroll), thwarts him at every move, however. At the last minute, Mookie steals Dax’s star player, Casper (Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic), the rest of his team and his gold-digging girlfriend, Jess (Tiffany Haddish).

Dax is understandably crushed, but things begin to start looking up when he finds the fabled Uncle Drew, mopping up with a cocky youngblood on a playground court. Drew (again played by Irving) agrees to play for Dax’s team, under one condition—if he can bring along his old teammates.

So Dax and Drew set out on a road trip in Drew’s orange, shag-carpeted conversion van to collect Preacher (Chris Webber, who retired from the Golden State Warriors in 2008); Lights (Reggie Miller, the three-point maestro whose entire 18-year career was spent with the Indiana Pacers); Boots (Nate Robinson, the NBA’s first three-time slam-dunk champion); Betty Lou (former WNBA Los Angeles Sparks star Lisa Leslie); and Big Fella (the towering, 7’1” Shaquille O’Neal).

Of course, rounding everyone up is not so easy—and the team certainly doesn’t appear as sharp and game-ready as they were 30 years ago. Preacher, now a bona fide man of the cloth, has to sneak away from his church, and his wife, to play ball. Lights is legally blind. Boots is in a wheelchair—and a psychiatric ward.

Shaquille O'Neal as "Big Fella" in UNCLE DREW. Photo by Quantrell Colbert.

Big Fella (O’Neal) is a martial arts instructor in the Zen zone.

And Big Fella is in the Zen zone as a children’s martial arts instructor—with a mountain-sized grudge on his gigantic shoulders. “Without a good defense,” he tells his class of young students, “your offense means nothing.”

Can Dax and Drew get them all back in shape, and on board?

The big appeal is seeing all these big basketball stars in decades-deep disguise as geezers, then finally breaking out their hidden mojo on the court to show younger hotshot players how it’s done, old-school style—like an NBA edition of Undercover Boss. There’s plenty of humor as Dax and the players jib and jab each other, and basketball fans in particular will appreciate the inside jokes and zingers—Shaq and free throws, Webber’s character inquiring about time-outs.

Howery, Kroll and Haddish are all comedy pros, and the needle on the laugh-o-meter jumps whenever they’re on screen. Director Charles Stone III, whose other films include Drumline and the Bernie Mac baseball comedy Mr. 3000, keeps things light, lively and generally predictable while weaving in some sentimental messages about family, forgiveness and what it means to play a “good game.”

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Watch for J.B. Smoove and Mike Epps in small roles, and Erica Ash (who stars as Gwen Sullivan on the BET series In Contempt) as Boots’ granddaughter, Maya, who takes a romantic shine to Dax.

As “non-actors,” the b-ball players roll loose and easy with their parts, especially since they are performing underneath layers of makeup and latex prosthetics, wigs and gobs of glued-on grey facial hair. If there’s ever an award for Best Buns in a Hospital Gown by a Former NBA All Star, well, Shaq’s a shoo-in for a nomination.

Uncle Drkew isn’t a cinematic slam dunk, but it’s a surprisingly solid basketball buddy flick that plays by the rules, shoots for laughs, and scores—especially for sports fans.

In theaters June 29, 2018

Rip Roaring

Dinosaurs Return in Frighteningly Fun ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ 

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard & Rafe Spall
Directed by J.A. Bayona
PG-13

Dinosaurs became extinct some 66 million years ago—just not in Hollywood.

Pop culture’s favorite prehistoric reptiles come rip-roaring back to life once again in this frighteningly fun fifth installment of the Jurassic Park movie series, the dino-mite franchise launched by director Steven Spielberg back in 1993.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Chris Pratt

Director J.A. Bayona reunites costars Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt from Jurassic World (2015) as the genetically engineered dinos on the isolated Pacific island of Isla Nublar face a cataclysmic extinction event. A heaving volcano is about to explode, killing off all the dinosaurs—unless they are somehow rescued.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Bryce Dallas Howard

Which is exactly what the dino park’s former manager, Claire (Howard), and animal behavior expert, Owen (Pratt), are asked to do—by the estate of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the ailing silent partner of John Hammond, who created Jurassic Park.

The plan: Claire and Owen will join an expedition to evacuate the creatures, load them onto a boat and resettle them on a new island haven, where they can roam free, undisturbed by people or volcanoes.

So off they go, and so do we—and that’s just the setup. There’s action, explosions, double crosses, chases, races, dirty tricks, bad guys, a big surprise, and lots and lots of dinos!

Little dinos, big dinos, sad dinos, scary dinos, angry dinos, rampaging dinos, even a crying dino. If you come for the creatures, you’ll definitely leave with a paleo pallet-full.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

And you’ll likely end up rooting for the reptiles—especially Blue, the hyper-intelligent, super-sensitive Velociraptor that Owen raised and trained from infancy in Jurassic World. As in a lot of monster movies, this one creates a huge amount of sympathy for its beleaguered beasties, the Stygimoloch and Triceratops and Pteranodon and Brachiosaurus and even the ferocious T. rex. After all, they never chose their fates—created, mutated and now chained, caged, carted, tased, sedated and shipped off.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomThe movie takes an even darker, more ominous turn once the dino boat hits the mainland, and it becomes clear that human greed can be as much of a threat as hot lava.

When a bad guy gets gobbled, you’ll want to clap or cheer.

There are plenty of candidates you hope might become dinosaur chum. Ted Levine (he plays Thomas Byrne on TV’s The Alienist—but everyone remembers him as serial killer Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs) is a sleazy animal trafficker (boo!). Prolific British actor Toby Jones (Marvel fans will recognize him as Dr. Zola from the Captain America franchise) plays a rogue capitalist who wants to pocket a cool billion or two on black-market dinos (hiss!).

And watch out for Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), Benjamin Lockwood’s slick young associate. He spends a lot of time on hushed phone calls and slinking around in the lab, yelling at paleo-geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong).

Claire and Owen’s dino rescue squad is rounded out by spunky paleo vet Zia (Daniella Pineda, who plays Vanessa on TV’s The Detour, and she was Sophie on The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals); and Franklin (Justice Smith, Ezekiel on TV’s The Get Down), a high-strung computer nerd who provides much of the comic relief.

Jeff Goldblum, who appeared in the original Jurassic Park, briefly reprises his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm, who sagely cautions—again—that man was never meant to monkey with nature.

Film Title: Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomBut much of the plot hinges on young Maisie (Isabella Sermon, making her movie debut),  Sherwood’s granddaughter, who becomes a key and a bridge to the story in more ways than one. Director Bayona loves putting kids in the thick of trouble and trauma, like he did in the horror thriller The Orphanage (2007), the true-story tsunami drama The Impossible (2012) and the nightmarish fairy tale A Monster Calls (2016). As the escalating action moves off dino island to Sherwood’s sprawling Gothic manor, the movie builds to a haunted-house-worthy finale—thunder and lightning and rain and a shadowy bedroom with Maisie cowering underneath her covers, her big bay window open and a huge dinosaur claw slowly, slowly, slowly creeping toward her trembling, terrified face.

“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” Claire asks at one point. For most moviegoers, that’s a hard question to answer. Do we count Barney? Dino from The Flintstones? Godzilla? But one thing’s for sure: We haven’t seen the last. Fallen Kingdom ends with a setup for its sequel, and a coda promising an even wider, wilder Jurassic World out there, waiting—in summer 2021.

Dinosaurs extinct? Don’t be roar-diculous!

In theaters June 22, 2018

You’re It

A Crazy, Preposterously True Tale of Fun & Friendship

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Tag
Starring Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson & Hannibal Buress
Directed by Jeff Tomsic
R
In theaters June 15, 2018

If you sometimes feel like Hollywood just makes the same movie over and over, well, here’s one for you.

Tag is so unusual, so unique, so stupidly crazy, it’s practically a guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like it.

Unless, perhaps, you’re one of the people it’s about—or you remember the newspaper piece, a few years ago, that inspired it.

As wild and nutty and preposterous as it seems, Tag is based on a group of friends from Washington state who bonded over the childhood chase game in the 1980s and kept playing it, three decades after they graduated high school.

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Jon Hamm

The movie takes shape around a business interview by a Wall Street Journal reporter (British actress Annabelle Wallis) of Fortune 500 CEO Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), just before he gets “tagged” by Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy (Ed Helms). The reporter becomes so intrigued, she scraps her original piece and decides to do her story instead on these grown men and their all-consuming obsession with the game, which kicks into “play” every year during the month of May.

(The movie is based on the actual story in the Wall Street Journal, “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It,” by Russell Adams, published in 2013. Stick around for the credits to meet the real people and see just how closely the movie captures their experiences.)

Callahan and Hoagie assemble their fellow players, the doper “Chilli” Cilliano (Jake Johnson, from TV’s New Girl) and laid-back Sable (comedian-actor Hannibal Buress), to go after the elusive Jerry (Jeremy Renner), a master of the game who has never been tagged “it.”

Jerry is getting married, and rumor has it he’s retiring from the game after this “season,” going out in a blaze of glory. His fellow players can’t let that happen—not without tagging him at least once.

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Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, Jon Hamm & Isla Fisher

They have a plan: ambush Jerry at his wedding. But first they have to locate him…

Director Jeff Tomsic, a TV veteran whose resume includes several stand-up comedy specials and episodes of Broad City, Idiotsitter and The Detour, keeps things lively with frisky banter and comedic-action scenes that show the extremes to which the characters go to get the jump on each other—costumes and disguises; breaking and entering; interrupting business sessions, funerals, medical procedures and AA meetings.

One especially funny sequence, with Thomas Middleditch (from TV’s Silicon Valley) as an employee of Jerry’s, reveals a line they won’t cross, however. “We’re not doing that,” says Callahan. “That’s a war crime.”

The group, we learn, even has a customized, handwritten book of rules and bylaws. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the book we see in the movie is the real book from the real-life group.)

A sly bit of meta-casting features the venerable Brian Dennehy, whose resume includes more than 175 roles, including his recent stints on TV’s The Blacklist and in the film The Seagull with Saoirse Ronan. In Tag, he has a brief scene as Chili’s pot-smoking, philosophizing father. It may seem like a lark, a throwaway role—until you realize that the actor shares his name with one of the real characters on which the film is based.

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Rashida Jones

Isla Fisher plays Hoagie’s excitable wife, Anna, itching to get in on the action, but prohibited by the game’s boys-only rule. Rashida Jones is Cheryl Deakins, a childhood crush who reappears as a grownup, wowing Chilli and Callahan—and questioning why in the world they’re still playing a silly game from adolescence.

Jones’ character is eventually charmed by their antics. And you probably will be, too, especially as the movie races to a heartwarming finale, wrapped up in a bigger theme of friendship, comradery and fun without an expiration date. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” says Hoagie. “We grow old because we stop playing.”

It’s a cheery message we all need to hear: Long may we run—and oh, by the way, you’re it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Fam

Everyone’s Favorite Superhero Family Returns, as Incredible as Ever 

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The Incredibles 2
Starring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell & Huck Miner
Directed by Brad Bird
PG

As family reunions go, this one took a while—14 years!

It was worth the wait—and the Incredibles haven’t aged a bit. The superhero family we first met back in 2004, in the original double-Oscar-winning, Disney-Pixar smash, returns for another animated adventure, picking up exactly where they left off.

In the opening sequence, they scramble to deal with threat—a subterranean supervillain called the Underminer—who surfaced at the cliffhanger end of the previous film. It’s a setup that might seem like it could easily have come from any one of dozens of other superhero flicks. But right off the bat, the movie finds its unique, family-centric mojo: You’d never see the Avengers or the Justice League bickering about who’s going to mind the baby while the others sprint into the fray.

RGB(The rodent-like Underminer is voiced by John Ratzenberger, the former TV Cheers star who’s been a character in every movie to come off the Disney-Pixar assembly line, beginning with Toy Story in 1995.)

It’s great to hear the familiar sounds again of Craig T. Nelson (Mr. Incredible, gifted with super strength); Holly Hunter (his wife, the super-stretchy Elastigirl); and Sarah Vowell (teenage daughter Violet, who can project force fields and make herself invisible). Newcomer Huck Miner is the voice of Violet’s younger, rascally brother Dash, who has speed to match his name.

But hang on for baby Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile, also returning from the first film, and the son of Pixar animator Tony Fucile). The family’s little bundle of joy steals the show as his surprise superhero powers come poppin’ out all over.

Samuel L. Jackson returns as Incredibles’ pal Frozone, whose supercool power is zapping things into to ice.

Things really click into gear when the plug gets pulled on the local undercover superhero program, largely due to the high levels of collateral damage whenever the Incredibles swing into action. The public, fed up with buildings getting smashed and bad guys slipping through the cracks, finally make superheroes illegal. The family’s contact, government agent Dicker (Jonathan Banks), wearily informs them it’s time to pack up the spandex.

But a global telecom tycoon and fan, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk of TV’s Better Call Saul) and his inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), offer them a lifeline: They want to use the Incredibles as the cornerstone of an ambitious media campaign to “rebrand” all superheroes and make them superstars again. But Winston only wants Elastigirl, not all the Incredibles.

RGBThat means it’s off to work—on her zippy new Elasticycle—for Mrs. E, while Mr. Incredible heads to the sidelines as a stay-at-home dad.

Returning writer-director Brad Bird (who also voices Edna Mode, the Incredibles’ quirky fashion designer) once again creates a deliciously detailed, multilayered, multitextured, multigenerational tale brimming with espionage satire, cinema savvy and pop-culture wit, while digging into some broader themes that resonate deep, wide and true—family, marriage, gender roles, kids.

But the movie doesn’t shortchange the super-charged, superhero action. (Bird also directed Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the Tom Cruise spy-flick franchise, and his kinetic knack for action shows.) There’s plenty of drive as the plot takes a diabolical turn you might (or might not) see coming, with a motley, colorful host of supporting-cast superheroes (my favorite was Reflux, who belches up fiery streams of yuck) and a devious ploy involving mass-media mass hypnosis.

RGBThere’s a depth, a richness and a pathos to the story and characters that make Incredibles 2 one of the most superior superhero movies of the year, animated or otherwise. It’s that good. The movie’s mod, retro-hipster look—futuristic ’50s settings spiced up and spliced with slick, contemporary gadgetry and gizmos—is enriched by the jazzy, snazzy, cool-cat musical overlays of Michael Giacchino (who also scored the first movie, as well as dozens of other TV shows and films). The whole thing glides, grooves and makes you grin from start to finish.

“I just wanted to be a good dad,” says Mr. Incredible to Violet one night, after a particularly exasperating day—one in which he admits he made a parenting glitch, one that ultimately brings him closer to his daughter. “You’re not good,” she assures him. “You’re super.”

Clever, comedic, all but alive with masterful animation and bursting with brisk, frisky creativity, Incredibles 2 is a rollicking romp that reunites us with our favorite superhero family—and reminds us why they were so super all along.

In theaters June 15, 2018

Jeepers Creepers

Masterfully disturbing horror flick gets under your skin and into your head

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Hereditary
Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabrielle Bryne & Anne Dowd
Directed by Ari Aster
R

Lots of things can get passed on, generation to generation—homesteads, hairlines, heirlooms.

In Hereditary, first-time feature filmmaker Ari Aster makes a stunning big-screen debut with this terrifying tale of a family haunted—possibly—by something awful and unholy wrapped around the roots of a family tree. Maybe It’s something sinister and supernatural that won’t let go, as years go by.

And maybe it’s something else… something scarier still.

The movie begins with an ending—a funeral. The mother of Annie Graham (Toni Collette) has just died, and soon troubling clues begin to pile up, for Annie and for us, that somehow things just aren’t right.

Annie notices strange words scrawled on the walls of her home, and unusual patterns woven into welcome mats. She finds old scrapbooks, about spiritualism and the occult, that belonged to her mother, and cryptic notes. (“Our sacrifice will pale next to the rewards,” reads one of them.) Annie knew her mom—who lived with Annie and her family during her final years—was stubborn, secretive and given to “private rituals.” But this starts to really unnerve her.

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Milly Shapiro

Annie’s withdrawn youngest child, her oddball tomboy daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro, who received a Tony Honor for her role in Matilda the Musical on Broadway), begins acting even stranger. Annie’s husband (Gabrielle Byrne) becomes even more concerned. Teenage slacker son Peter (Alex Wolff), already alarmed by his mom’s bizarre sleepwalking episodes, escapes even further into the smoke and bubbles of his bong.

Anne lies about her whereabouts to sneak off to support-group grief therapy sessions, where she pours out her poisoned feelings about her mother and her family. In her confessions of grief, guilt and a lifetime built on brokenness, it becomes clear that her psychological scars are raw, deep—and possibly dangerous.

Then a horrific incident—an accident?—sends things spinning further out of control, into even darker, more deeply disturbing places.

There’s a lot going on in Hereditary, a lot to absorb and unpack as the movie slowly tightens its screws and masterfully layers on the creepiness. The Grahams are surely super-troubled, headed off the rails and hyper-dysfunctional. But is Annie haunted, cursed or crazy? The film wants to keep us, and her family, off-balance and guessing. Director Aster, who also wrote the screenplay, fills every scene with an atmosphere of almost suffocating dread and creates some truly unsettling sights that get under your skin, into your head and stay there, festering, long after they’ve left the screen.

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Alex Wolff

Charlie decapitates a bird. Prompted by a new friend (Anne Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on the hit Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale), Anne conducts a living-room séance, which goes badly. Peter, seized by a grotesque contortion in class, bashes his head bloody on his desk, to the shock of his classmates and teacher.

Toni Collette, the prolific Australian actress whose resume includes more than 75 roles, is still best known for her movie appearances in the comedy Little Miss Sunshine and the mystery-drama The Sixth Sense. She’s amazing here, going full gonzo as a woman who becomes the vessel of malevolent forces she can’t understand or contain.

RAC_6922.NEFIt’s fitting that her character, Annie, works as a gallery artist creating intricate miniature models of people, rooms and scenes. Her art becomes a direct reflection of her reality, in ominous detail. The tiny, delicate figures of her dioramas—shaped by her tools and hands—come to represent the frail, feeble, vulnerable characters of the film, manipulated, placed and positioned (and sometimes destroyed) by powers beyond their control or comprehension.

Director Aster borrows from other horror movies, but at least he borrows from some of the best, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. And as it barrels into the wild, crazy-train, freak-out finale, Hereditary—with its rotting core of ancestry gone to hell and family dysfunction terribly, horrifically twisted, toxic, wicked, warped and wrong—ultimately finds a horror path all its own.

Can families be haunted? Hereditary suggests they certainly, surely can, in more ways than one—and that evil may be lurking, watching and waiting, in our house, our neighborhood and just beneath the surface of our gene pool.

In theaters June 8, 2018