Thursday, August 2, 2018

Eighth Grade, Mission: Impossible, and Short Takes on Ant-Man and the Wasp, Nostalgia, and Thoroughbreds

                 Cinematic Cafeteria—Take Your Pick

                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke
 So, what was I saying before I so rudely interrupted myself to fly off to New England for a few days to visit my huge cast of East Coast in-laws? Seems it had something to do with not yet seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp, but that was remedied briefly before Nina and I boarded a plane for Boston (then got really bored waiting at the San Francisco airport for 4 hours before takeoff due to storms back there) so I’ve made some comments on it below although it’s now been in release for a month in just about every theater in North America so whatever I’d have to offer has likely passed its expiration date, therefore it’s under the Short Takes heading (which I’ve resolved to truly keep short for a change [?], given how many films I’m trying to pack into this posting).  Although we were glad to see everyone who journeyed to New Hampshire, the primary reason for the trip was for Nina to meet our new grandniece, Nina Gail Dold, named after my marvelous wife (and the cute kid's grandmother).  Beyond that successful introduction we had a marvelous time just mostly doing nothing on several days, trying to have conversations with 17 other people at the shared meals (OK, more like 16 because the baby didn’t talk much, but her 3-year-old-cousin, Leona, more than made up for her), and splitting our attention between watching Boston Red Sox baseball games on TV while keeping up with our surprisingly-successful Oakland Athletics on Nina’s iPhone (sadly, their winning streak ended when we returned so maybe we need to quickly plan another trip somewhere else—or we could just go to our local Coliseum to see them in person, as they’re now back in town also; I’m sure our presence at the games would inspire them to regain their place in the victory column [but even us just watching them on TV seems to have been enough, as they've won 3 more this week]).

 What hasn’t inspired me much upon our return is getting back into the daily sewer-trench-madness of President Trump's (or, as I’ve just read, Spike Lee refuses to call him by his name but prefers to use “Agent Orange” instead) craziness (where all that’s concerned, I just try to stay in the cerebral zone known as "Comfortably Numb" [from Pink Floyd’s 1979 The Wall album; the performance here's from their July, 2005 London Live 8 reunion, the last time the most notable 4 members of this fabulous band worked together on stage]); so, to Mr. Orange I dedicate this photo of a horse relieving himself (on the Agent, I wish) at Sugarbush Farms in Woodstock, VT (home of a wide range of delicious cheeses, maple syrups, and other goodies; just before we left on our trip I found a partially-opened-brick of one of their smoked specialties to still be tasty after being lost toward the back of our refrigerator for the last 6 years, demonstrating how well they package the stuff, so we had to go back for more).  One thing we didn’t do on this trip was see any movies (a nice break, actually) until the return flight (no travel problems, although we had to veer into Canada for awhile to avoid more storms; I wonder if they’ll tack a tariff onto the price of our tickets?) where the options included a couple we’d missed earlier this year, Nostalgia and Thoroughbreds, so I’m adding brief comments about those as well.  For the featured reviews, though, I’ll split my space between a marvelous triumph of independent creativity, Eighth Grade, and a much-more-traditional-summer-blockbuster (but of commendable quality), Mission: Impossible—Fallout, so help yourself to any or all of what’s being offered for your pleasure.
                                Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): 13-year-old Kayla’s about to finish 8th grade but in her real life she doesn’t exhibit the type of confidence she puts into her YouTube advice-for-others-videos because she’s much more shy and overlooked when she’s not starring on her bedroom camera.  From a dramatic standpoint, there’s not much happening in this film (Kayla tries to make friends with the more popular girls but they barely acknowledge her existence, she dreams about a minor-league-bad-boy in her class but he’s not that interested in her [or even interested at all, probably], her single-parent Dad constantly attempts to connect with her but she’s generally more absorbed with her cell phone than with his interests in her life [except when she needs a ride somewhere]), providing little to summarize, spoilers or not.  Yet, there’s so much honesty in the depiction of this awkward phase of most of our lives (unless you were one of the in-crowd everyone else hoped to somehow become initiated into), so much sincerity in the acting from the age-appropriate-cast that it’s easy (beyond any tedious explanation I might attempt) to become totally engrossed with this smartly-written, precisely-acted film.  It’s definitely one of the highlights of 2018 so far, hopefully expanding to a theater somewhere near you as laudatory reviews keep on rolling in.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), 13 and in her final week of 8th-grade-middle-school is a believable contrast in self-perception/actuality.  She posts (daily?) helpful-advice-videos on YouTube (intentionally poorer image quality to contrast with the rest of the film), apparently with little awareness from viewers, but in her daily life she seems to have few friends (except her frequently-ignored-but-long-enduring-father, Mark [Josh Hamilton], doing his best to raise her as a single Dad [not clear what happened to Mom, but based on a late-plot father-daughter heart-to-heart she apparently died either in or shortly after childbirth]), is somewhat cute but clearly has more pimples than anyone else on camera (although they advance and recede as the days go on, as happens in reality [as best I remember these devastating facial “deformities,” even though Kayla makes no mention of them at all, one of the few areas where she truly accepts herself as she is]), so these tangible marks of adolescence give even more credibility to this 15-year-old playing a 13-year-old, and is (embarrassingly) elected by her peers to share the honor of “Most Quiet” within her cohort.  She lusts after Aiden (Luke Prael), who barely knows she exists, although one day when she crawls over to where he's under his desk as they’re going through a “shooter awareness” drill he makes a bit of an overture by saying he broke up with his last girlfriend because she wouldn’t send him naked pictures of herself whereupon Kayla immediately makes up a story about having her own “dirty pictures” she might be willing to share, along with answering “yes” to his question of “Do you give blowjobs?” even though she has to consult the Internet later to even see what this means.  She also finds some sites with tips on how to do it successfully but when she attempts to practice on a banana not only does she not peel it first but also Dad walks in just as she’s in the consideration stage, forcing her to claim she now likes a fruit she previously hated—and still does when she attempts to justify her change of heart by attempting to eat it, then spitting it out before retreating to her ever-present smartphone, leaving him totally perplexed as to what might be going on with her.

 Kayla also attempts to make friends with a snotty girl, Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), but mostly because the mother insists her self-absorbed-daughter invite Kayla to Kennedy’s birthday/pool party, although the true motivation there is Mom trying to get to know Mark better.  At the event, Kennedy barely acknowledges Kayla’s gift of a card game that seems too lame to her in regard to the more upscale presents from her trendy friends, but Kayla does have some limited conversation with Kennedy’s cousin Gabe (Jake Ryan) in the pool, a guy about as nerdy as she is although considerably more vocal in expressing his interests.  However, Kayla’s fortunes pick up a bit as a result of the high-school-shadow-program where the soon-to-be-freshmen are paired up with existing high-schoolers, so the younger ones can get acclimated to this next major step in their lives.  Kayla’s assigned buddy is Olivia (Emily Robinson) who genuinely likes Kayla, even invites her to join in with her friends at the local mall, which almost goes bad for the youngster because after dropping her off Mark sticks around, tries to clandestinely observe what’s happening with his precious daughter even as Olivia and her friends begin to notice this older guy staring at them.  Kayla, quietly mortified, excuses herself, confronts Dad (who leaves, crestfallen), then gets a ride home later that night with Olivia’s friend Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) who tries to play a game of Truth or Dare with Kayla, but when it comes to him asking her to take off her shirt (after he’s done the same) she refuses; he then tries to justify his request as helping her know how to react to boys’ advances.   ⇒At home she finally breaks down, asking for comfort from Dad, then making a final video saying she’s going to stop giving advice about things she really doesn’t know much about.  A final school project is opening and exploring time-capsule-boxes these kids put together at the end of 5th grade, but Kayla just wants to burn hers (she put in a thumb drive asking her future self questions) as she asks Mark if she makes him sad, which just leads him to offer even more unrestrained loving comfort to his emotionally-troubled-daughter.  This all wraps up with 8th-grade-graduation where Kayla finally confronts Kennedy for being such a stuck-up snob, has dinner at Gabe’s home accepting him as someone who’s truly interested in her, followed by making her next time-capsule-box (which she and Dad bury in their back yard) with a video message to her future-high school-self about accepting, then dealing with, difficult times offering the belief they'll eventually get better.⇐

So What? If, by chance, you’ve quickly scrolled down the (atrociously-long) length of this posting, wondering if you should even bother with what all you’re being presented with, I encourage you to just read the rest of this sentence: Although Eighth Grade’s only currently playing in 158 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters, please make an effort to either see it or put it on a when-it-becomes-available-video-queue because it’s clearly one of the best films of the year even though its slim appearance after 3 weeks in release has resulted in only about $2.9 million in box-office-receipts so far.  I can only hope it's remembered when awards-season rolls around in a few months as it’s truly a compelling encounter with the reality of contemporary early-teen-life, although its R rating may well prevent those who can appreciate it most from seeing it when they should (sure, those of us 18 and over—for folks like me, way over—can recall to some degree what it was like to be struggling from childhood into adolescence, but for the millions who are presently living this emotional-roller-coaster, it’s a shame they may not get to see on screen something so honestly reflecting the daily challenges most of them endure).  This film’s visually-bookended with a slow zoom out on Kayla talking on her YouTube channel as the story begins, then ends with a slow zoom in on her self-advice-video intended for her later high-school-self, providing 2 key insights into what Burnham’s exploring: (1) the protagonist’s (and all of her teenage-acquaintances’) obsession with their phones, including still and video selfies defining their lives as media experiences being the most important aspect of their developing existences, (2) the slightly-degraded-image-quality of these video clips, separating them from more-defined-visuals of the actual environments in this film, also indicating the separation between reality and its shallow simulation on all of these tiny screens.

 Kayla may be done with presenting herself on YouTube (at least for now) but she’s likely to continue being just as obsessed with her smartphone as she currently is unless she’s also learning from the constant engrossment with such by Kennedy and her friends how isolating this screen-devotion is as she’s attempting to make brave breaks from the recessive, observational life she’s lived up to this point.  Burnham also makes good use of long scenes with few cuts (Kayla having a phone conversation with Olivia, focused completely on Kayla; Kayla in the backseat with Riley in their shy, clumsy Truth or Dare interchanges), showing in believable fashion the ongoing-difficulties of trying to find your identity at this young age, constantly—hesitantly—making it up as you're going along.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Eighth Grade’s one of those intentionally-slowly-rolled-out-films which has only expanded after 3 weeks in release to a small number of venues as it builds viewer-consciousness so its domestic box-office take at present’s quite small at about $2.9 million, a situation I hope to see dramatically improve if it keeps adding availability options.  It doesn’t need to convince any more critics of its value, though, as it’s already scored a mighty 99% cluster of positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, an extremely-high (for them) 90% average score at Metacritic (more details in the Related Links section of this posting far below), plus in the most recent "A critical consensus" tally its 8.8 (of 10) average tops the list.  It’s easy for me to give it my usual-upper-limit of 4 stars (of 5)—saving the higher numbers for films already established as classics or with the potential for such over time—but it also causes me to contemplate how I (and other critics) assign such numbers to the films we rate, given that this above list also has such intended-pop-audience-pleasers as Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird; review in our June 21, 2018 posting) at 7.8 and Ant-Man and the Wasp (my review below) at 7.1 (both of which I found entertaining enough to give 3½ stars but generally not the sort of thing indicating filmic mastery for the ages [the kind of cinematic success leading to my rarified air of 5 stars]).  After following certain other critics for years, it’s clear to me they normally conflate art, entertainment, and documentary so that if a genre movie (such as Mission: Impossible—Fallout [reviewed below; not yet in the “A critical consensus” list but soon will be]) excels within its limitations they’ll give it their highest honor, even if it pales by comparison in human-experience-significance to films that are as disturbingly-insightful as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017; review in our December 7, 2017 posting) or The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017; review in our January 4, 2018 posting); that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to giving 4 stars to a pure genre film (I’ve done it with both episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man [Marc Webb, 2012, 2014; reviews in our July 12, 2012, May 8, 2014 postings] and would even offer 4½ stars to The Dark Knight [Christopher Nolan, 2008] if I ever reviewed it), I just know for me the triumph has to come in spite of any narrative constraints not because a movie's able to operate well within them, thus there’s nothing else I’m exploring this week that rises to that 4-star-standard as well as Eighth Grade does, a triumph of nuanced melancholy and self-discovery.

 Actually, Eighth Grade could kick off a mini-marathon of school-related-coming-of-age-stories as it transitions us into the upper grades of the educational process where it could be followed by other 4-star-cinematic-successes that get us through (Lady Bird [Greta Gerwig, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting]) and out of high school (American Graffiti [George Lucas, 1973]), then through and out of college (The Graduate [Mike Nichols, 1967—except this exceptional film’s worth a full 5 stars for me]), finally well into graduate school (The Paper Chase [James Bridges, 1973]) for those (like me) who’ve taken such a long academic route prior to diving fully into professional careers (although my ultimate work turned out to be college teaching so I didn’t end up falling too far from the academic tree, but if I want to extend this school-related-binge-watching to reflect my later life at least I don’t have to include a psychotic marriage [Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? {Nichols, 1966}] or the cluster-f**k of writer’s block, out-of-wedlock-pregnancy, and theft [Wonder Boys {Curtis Hanson, 2000}] because none of that ever happened with me, so my ultimate-follow-up from 8th grade might, at best, be a less-dramatized version of Dead Poets Society [Peter Weir, 1989] with me as the unconventional teacher although none of my students ever committed suicide nor was I ever fired for involvement in such, so I really need a more hum-drum-film to complete my biographical package—any suggestions?).  Or, if you want more immediate satisfaction while watching Eighth Grade see if you can find a theater that still has an auditorium with its own balcony (as Nina and I did at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, CA) so you can relive (or invent) some of your own high-school-exploits (as we did for a bit, given no one else chose to climb the stairs to join us).  Adding to such advice, I’ll leave you with my usual review wrap-up of a Musical Metaphor, Sam Cooke’s version of “(What A) Wonderful World”—or just “Wonderful World” so as not to confuse it with the 1967 Louis Armstrong hit—at &frags=pl%2Cwn (from his 1960 The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke album, a song written by Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, revised by Cooke) because Kayla’s certainly more interested in Aiden’s surly attitude than history, biology, science books, or slide rules (doubtful she’s even heard of that one), but, until she begins to mature a bit, she’s mostly focused on the equation of “one and one is two.”
  Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) team (now headed at the governmental level by former-CIA Director Alan Hunley) are back in action in the 6th movie of this high-action, massive-income franchise as 3 stolen plutonium cores need to be recovered before a varying collection of terrorists (not clear to me why they seem to be working alongside rather than directly with each other, at least not until the plot seems to push all the pieces into place toward the end) can detonate them as deadly bombs, causing havoc to the established world order.  Unfortunately, the IMF plan doesn’t go as intended in Berlin so the unholy group known as The Apostles still intends to sell their atrocious cargo to even-more-mysterious terrorist John Lark in Paris so the next attempt at retrieval by Hunt’s team is to capture Lark, make a mask of his face, then send Ethan to make the purchase from a crafty woman known as the White Widow.  The IMFers are compromised, though, when the CIA Director insists her man, August Walker (played by the current Superman, Henry Cavill), joins the team although this provides ongoing clashes with Ethan.  There’s a lot more complexity to this plot, with revealing too much of it jeopardizing the intent of this no-spoilers-account, so let’s just say the Paris plan also doesn’t go as hoped, leading to a lot more action that you can see bits of in the trailer with a wild motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris, a frantic footrace across the rooftops of London, and a helicopter battle that should qualify Cruise to join the stuntperson’s union (if he’s not already in it from previous M:I episodes).  This movie’s being touted as the best of its series (hard to argue, although none of them have even been remotely dull), is easy to find in theaters throughout much of the world, and is a welcome respite from the actual politically-based-intrigue now making daily newscasts seem like spy novels.

Here’s the trailer:

        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

What Happens: Once again the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), headed on the ground by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), backed up by Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), under the U.S. governmental command of Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), is called upon to save the planet from disaster, this time* retrieving 3 stolen plutonium cores before they can be detonated in bombs by a terrorist group (with largely unknown members) called The Apostles (remnants of the former Syndicate, headed by now-captured [by Hunt, of course] Solomon Lane [Sean Harris]; if the details of that bit of info are something you feel you need to know more about, you should consult those sources in the footnote below [with minimal attention to my graphic layout problems in these older Two Guys reviews, please]).  The Apostles intend to sell these highly-explosive-devices (about the size of volleyballs) to an even-more-shadowy-terrorist, John Lark (be patient; his identity comes later), so the IMF team’s mission is to meet with some Apostles in Berlin to buy the plutonium (with bags of government cash) before Lark can make his deal.  The plan goes awry, though, with Luther’s life in danger which Ethan counters by quickly killing most of their antagonists but others get away with the deadly balls (try saying that in a family newspaper review).  To atone for this failure, Ethan’s team captures and tricks anarchist/nuclear-weapons-expert Nils Debrunk (Kristoffer Joner) into thinking the bombs have already gone off in Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca, allowing them to get info on his colleague, Lark, who’s scheduled to meet a weapons broker, the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), in Paris, so the plan is to (somehow, didn’t get that detail) track Lark, overpower him, then have Benji make a Lark mask for Ethan to wear in acquiring the bomb cores.  However, new CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) insists her surly operative, August Walker (Henry Cavill), join the team to insure she ends up with the plutonium.  He and Hunt air drop into Paris, but are hit by lightening going down, Ethan sacrificing his own oxygen tank to revive Walker, with no acknowledgement of thanks from this sturdy-but-snide-dude once they’ve reached ground.

*If you need a quick refresher on the somewhat-connected-plots of the previous 5 Missions here’s a quick (11:01) video summary of what’s occurred, presented by some of the current movie’s cast; you may need to watch this more than once to keep up with all of it as it moves rapidly, plus you can also consult a couple of Two Guys in the Dark reviews regarding the 2 most-recent franchise episodes, which are ... Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird, 2011) and ... Rogue Nation (McQuarrie, 2015).

 Lark (if it's really him) is tracked to a restroom, but in the ensuing brutal struggle with Hunt and Walker he’s killed by the sudden appearance of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson)—again, see that footnote for more info on her backstory—so, sans mask, Hunt meets with the White Widow, claiming to be Lark, makes a deal for the plutonium (after he, Walker, and Faust prevent her from being killed by Apostle assassins [not clear why, although with the speed at which this plot runs it’s useless to try to keep up with all the details]) but the price is now the extraction of Lane from an upcoming police convoy which Hunt’s team accomplishes (after receiving a down payment of one of the plutonium balls, then Hunt being chased by car and motorcycle in a lengthy-yet-spectacular-escape through Paris from cops and Widow thugs, with Ethan not allowing any police to be killed in the process) but in a manner by which they now have Lane rather than handing him directly over to the Widow (although Ilsa’s not part of Hunt’s team because she’s been ordered by her superiors at Britain’s MI6 to kill him in order to restore her own freedom [again, see that background footnote]), even though at some points in this chase (when she almost killed Lane) she could have killed Ethan in order to accomplish her goal but refused to do so.  ⇒In London, with the price now being both Lane and Ilsa (once the Widow learns this assassin needs to be neutralized), more complications arise as Walker tries to convince Hunley that Ethan’s really the mysterious John Lark, taking revenge on a government who’s denied and harassed him so often in previous M:I episodes but Walker (with Sloane in video contact) accidently reveals himself as Lark (having duped all of them as to his true identity), in league with Lane to detonate 2 bombs in Kashmir to contaminate the water supplies of Pakistan, India, and China as part of a deranged plan to bring down the existing world order so ideologues of Lane’s deluded thinking can remake the planet’s societies with their assumed improvements.  Sloane sends in a team to take them all in but Walker’s infiltrated it with Apostles; in the resulting gunfire most of them die (including Hunley, stabbed by Walker), then we get another dramatic chase—on foot this time across many London rooftops—Hunt after Walker.⇐

 ⇒Walker gets away by helicopter, taking Lane with him, to Kashmir where, as an added twist, he’s arranged for Ethan’s medic ex-wife (pushed away by him in order to protect her from his enemies), Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan), and her new husband, Patrick (Wes Bentley)—also a medicto come to this site to die because the bombs can only be stopped, in synchronization, after the countdown begins, along with pulling a fuse from the detonator, a near-impossible (!?) task.  Separately, Luther finds 1 bomb (after they’ve been activated, with only 15 minutes until detonation), analyzes which wires need to be cut, works by remote contact with Benji and Ilsa at the other one (where they’ve recaptured Lane, after fierce hand-to-hand-combat), then they simultaneously cut the wires assuming Ethan’s managed to de-fuse the detonator.  Intercut with the increasingly-tense-scenes of overpowering Lane and preparing to cut the bomb wires are the jaw-dropping images of Walker attempting to escape by chopper, pursued by Ethan who manages to climb up a rope into an accompanying ‘copter, throw out its inhabitants, chase Walker (who’s firing at him with a semi-automatic weapon), cause both helicopters to crash, then fist-fight on top of a high cliff before they both are pulled over the side but hang onto a rope with Walker finally pushed to his death, Ethan barely removing the all-important-fuse with 1 second to go.  In the aftermath, the 2 plutonium cores are recovered, Sloane gives Lane to MI6 (through the White Widow) which liberates Ilsa, Hunt recovers from his extensive injuries (with implications Ilsa’ll be joining his team as well as providing romantic infusion in upcoming sequels), Sloane accepts the need for the IMF which is a reversal of her previous disinterest in their cause after she took over the CIA from Hunley who was put directly in charge of IMF after the events of … Rogue Nation (so now with Julia and Hunley removed from this ongoing storyline there’ll likely be some other directional shifts as the franchise will surely continue unless Cruise breaks more than an ankle during some future stunt).⇐

So What? With the movie’s constant optimistic catch-phrase of “I’ll figure it out” as my inspiration, I’m determined to answer my own vital, burning question about … Fallout:  What caused more trouble for a blockbuster-movie’s production team, Cruise breaking his ankle while jumping between London rooftops which resulted in a 7-week-hiatus in production (along with $80 million to keep the cast and crew on salary to resume shooting whenever possible, given Cruise is in practically every frame of the story—although that cost was covered by insurance so it didn't bloat the budget) or Cavill’s mustache, which he was contractually required to keep throughout … Fallout’s production schedule even though it conflicted with Justice League’s (Zack Snyder, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting) reshoots so that movie’s post-production team had to digitally erase it from all of his Superman shots.  I guess the easiest way to solve my dilemma is to see how all of the pre-release work paid off at the box office, even though … Fallout’s just now making its debut on the big screen.  After 17 weeks in release Justice League tallied $657.9 million worldwide ($229 million of that domestically) while Mission: Impossible—Fallout’s pulled in $162.7 million worldwide in less than a week ($68 million domestically, the best opening weekend of the franchise) so it’s probably well on its way to earning back its $178 million production costs (I don’t have that figure for Justice League, but I’m sure Cavill’s mustache-doctoring wasn’t covered by insurance), now bringing the worldwide total for the IMF adventures to a sum of $2.942 billion and growing* so I guess the Paramount accountants can weather another Cruise accident as long as he keeps it to minor bones.  The reason for all this likely-unnecessary-diversion in the review is the income pace for this franchise, incorporating the high-name-recognition-factors of both the M:I concept and the Tom Cruise “brand” virtually assures … Fallout to be a financial success, so it likely matters little what critics say, although their responses have been astoundingly supportive as well. 

*That number's according to often-cited Box Office Mojo, although another tally pushes it up to about $2.960 billion; that same source notes the entire DC Extended Universe worldwide total—beginning in 2013, not including previous Superman and Batman movies—is at $3.760 billion, accounting for 5 films so far (16 more scheduled, given the many characters available to them), although all this pales compared to the 20 movies now released from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its $17.269 billion global gross, much more to come.  The Star Wars franchise is still the Adjusted for Inflation Domestic Champ, though, with $7.413 billion in receipts (although the MCU, with more upcoming contenders, will likely eventually take that crown unless … Episode IX delivers historic numbers in December 2019 over the Avengers: Infinity War conclusion next May).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Being more specific regarding critical accounting for … Fallout, we find RT's positive reviews at the astounding level of 97% while MC's average score is amazingly-high as well at 86% (one of the best this year for them for films both they and I have reviewed, the only numbers I have for comparison).  At one level it’s nothing more than a successful amusement park ride with a constant flow of thrills you can barely articulate once it’s over, but from another perspective it gives tangibility to how intelligence agencies (along with their field agents, no matter how legal their methods) of many countries—especially the most powerful, technologically-sophisticated ones—are on constant alert regarding dangerous threats to the operations of the few nations counted on to maintain international stability (as opposed to those working to enhance their missile-delivery-systems or their cyberspace-disruption of what’s constantly under scrutiny as actual “free speech” as opposed to social-media-manipulation), constantly monitoring the activities of a wide range of would-be-social-agitators, determined to undermine the delicate balance keeping such a wide range of opposing global ideologies at some level of cooperation, where even the threat of terrorist-implanted “dirty bombs” is the type of reality we bandy about in fictional stories, especially of the international-spy-genre-type, in hopes that somehow the undercover/ underappreciated members of various intelligence communities can prevent the kinds of massive disruptions hinted at in such content as M:I and James Bond movies (the latter with its own healthy $7.078 billion global gross from 26 episodes, ignoring the M:I dilemma of someday losing Cruise whereas Bond's just frequently recast), even as we may barely take note of news stories about thwarted terrorist attacks in various countries, as if fact is simply an outgrowth of fiction.  Mission: Impossible—Fallout makes it all too clear how real these threats are while simultaneously celebrating the unsung counter-terrorists who negate nefarious plots even as the triumphant-action-sequences verify our need for escapist entertainment, reinforcing our communal serenity despite awareness of the true global horrors just waiting to happen if actual interventions don’t take place.

 I’ll wrap this up with 3 last offerings speaking to the complexity and emotional impact of this M:I “mindless action movie”: (1) an anatomy of a scene from screenwriter/director McQuarrie where Cruise and Cavill are jumping from an airplane at 25,000 feet with the unseen cameraman also in free fall capturing in real time the dangerous reality of this life-threating-event; (2) as a relief from such seriousness—just as the movie works in its occasional humorous bits—here’s a short video (5:24) of Brits Cavill and Pegg teaching us some English slang; (3) my suggestion for a Musical Metaphor to match the constant intensity of the action scenes of … Fallout, a reprise of drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) finally overcoming the hostility of conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) in the intense finale of Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014; our review in the October 16, 2014 posting) at (part 1) and https://www. (part 2), with this break in the action of performing “Caravan” indicative of how … Fallout assaults your senses, then backs off for a bit before the next big attack.
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                    Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed)
Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s been under house arrest for the last 2 years but he slips away to help former mentor Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (the Wasp) rescue wife/mother Janet van Dyne from the quantum realm where she’s been trapped for 30 years until complications arise from various thugs and a “ghost” woman, creating dangerous instability for everyone involved.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 As noted in the aforementioned comments about this movie in my last posting I initially didn’t think I’d get to it before the New England trip, but I did (it just sounded too delightful to pass up, which proved to be accurate) so, given its success in 4 weeks of release ($395.7 million in worldwide grosses [$183.5 million of that domestically], played in 4,206 domestic theaters at its height) I’ve decided it deserves a short mention.  (Why, you might ask, doesn’t that apply to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom [J.A. Bayona]—worldwide gross of $1.24 billion [$397.5 million domestic, far surpassing its $170 million budget], in theaters for 6 weeks, widest reach 4,485 domestic venues, or even Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation [Genndy Tartakovsky]—worldwide gross $285 million [$119 million domestic], in 4,267 theaters at its best over the previous 3 weeks?  Simple answer: I have no interest in either of them nor any obligation to review them, although I have watched the original Jurassic Park [Steven Spielberg, 1993] this week on Netflix disc, satisfying any of those sorts of needs quite well.)  Back to the active, amusing Ant-Man and the Wasp where Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s (Paul Rudd) almost done with his house arrest due to events in Captain America: Civil War (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2016; review in our May 13, 2016 posting) when he gets a sort-of-psychic-message from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer)—wife of Lang’s former-mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), mother of daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly)—who’s been trapped in the subatomic quantum realm since 1987, so Scott sneaks out to help bring her back to our level of the universe, although he’s persona non grata with the Pyms because they’re also on the lam from the government, given their connection to Lang.  ⇒Lots of complications arise (of course) including hassles from FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), Lang’s parole office; black market thugs who also want the valuable device needed to re-enter the quantum realm; interference from a ghost-like-woman, Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), destabilized by a quantum experiment that killed her parents (Dad was Hank’s former partner); plus a marvelously-choreographed-chase through the streets of San Francisco (Get the reference?  If not, Google my last phrase.), Scott’s alternate-form-changes from tiny to huge, and Pym’s multi-story-lab-building that can shrink down to the size of a carry-on-suitcase.  After a lot of last-second-rescues Janet’s brought back to our world where her newly-acquired-quantum-powers stabilize Ava as Scott’s now a free man again.⇐

 All the events of this movie likely explain why we didn’t see the otherwise-occupied Ant-Man—or Hope, now operating as his equally-size-adaptable-partner (and newly-emerging-love interest), the Wasp—in conflict with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (Russos; review in our May 3, 2018 posting), but that all catches up with this group in a mid-final credits-scene where Scott’s in a controlled leap into the quantum realm to gather ongoing-healing-energy for Ava, monitored by Hank, Janet, and Hope who all suddenly dissolve as part of Thanos’ universe-altering-plan.  Until all that gets resolved next year, I’ll just say this Ant-Man … has a lot of humor to balance out its frantic-action-scenes, making it a pleasant experience to watch (other critics agree: RT offers 87% positive reviews, MC gives a 70% average score [more details in the Related Links section below]), then leave you with the Musical Metaphor of "White Rabbit" (from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 Surrealistic Pillow album, with this official music video demonstrating the primitive form of such media content back then; if it's just too weird, how about a live performance from the famous 1969 Woodstock festival [lyrics added, 4 x 3 format stretched to widescreen]) given this movie’s similarities to Alice’s size-changes and other-worldly-encounters in her own realm far beyond our normal consciousness.
                                     Nostalgia (Mark Pellington)

Here’s the trailer:

                                  Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 As noted way up above, I completely missed any knowledge of Nostalgia when it was released last February so on the flight back from Boston to SF its brief summary looked somewhat intriguing on the list of available in-flight-options (supported by a well-respected-cast) so to pass some of the 5 hours in the air Nina and I watched it close together (literally; her screen kept freezing [Damn! Where's our airline-systems-repair niece when we need her?] so she leaned over into my seat while we shared earbuds—I noted later they did carry stereo sound so I don’t hold the filmmakers accountable for anything I might have missed on one of the audio channels), found it downbeat but engaging so I was quite surprised when we got home to see the critical consensus had been so overwhelmingly negative (Rotten Tomatoes 35% positive reviews, Metacritic at an-unusually-higher 47% average score).  The premise is essentially a series of short stories where a specific character connects us to the next piece of the narrative: insurance agent Daniel Kalman (John Ortiz) visits elderly, cynical Ronald Ashemore (Bruce Dern) to set up an appraisal of his belongings at the request of his granddaughter, Bethany Ashemore (Amber Tamblyn); Kalman then meets with Helen Greer (Ellen Burstyn) at the site of her fire-destroyed-home* (son Henry [Nick Offerman] wants her to move to a retirement facility, an abhorrent idea to her, so she hopes to sell the one possession she saved, a Ted Williams-autographed-baseball, in order to maintain her independence a bit longer); Helen travels to Las Vegas to meet with sports-memorabilia-broker Will Beam (Jon Hamm), who’s supportive of the ball’s value but before he can properly sell it he needs to return to his hometown to help his sister, Donna (Catherine Keener), clean out the family home because their parents have moved to Florida; the Beam siblings share a lot of memories holding no value for Donna’s daughter Tallie (Annalise Basso) ⇒who suddenly comes to a tragic end in a car crash, leaving Mom hysterical for days until she recovers, Dad Patrick (James LeGros) near-catatonic, uncle Will focused now on the value of life even as the crashed-car’s driver, Kathleen (Mikey Madison) tries to overcome her guilt about surviving.⇐  The negative reviews I’ve seen dismiss Nostalgia as Hallmark-level-treacle, but maybe because I’d just finished spending visiting people I rarely see (relatives and 2 old friends, a few even older than me, confirming the reality of universal demise) I found its sadness to be sincere, quiet meditations on the fragility of life especially when horrid circumstances can’t be reversed, with solid acting all around especially from Hamm and Keener.  (Here’s the official site if you’d like to know more; I’ll also offer you a quiet Musical Metaphor, Simon and Garfunkel's "Old Friends/ Bookends" [from their 1968 Bookends album], wistful tunes well-suited to the themes of this film.)

*I didn’t follow (if there was any indication) where most of these various scenes are supposed to occur, but that fire-ravaged-house became all too familiar to me upon our return to northern CA given all the horrible wildfires now destroying thousands of acres of forest all around the state along with burning down hundreds of buildings while killing some residents of the various areas, even as a few firefighters also have died attempting to keep these fierce, wind-whipped blazes under control.

 In quite-notable-contrast regarding its content and reception, another release from the late winter/early spring 2018  season that also eluded me (although I was aware of it getting positive reviews, but it just never fit into my viewing schedule) is the sordid-but-so-delectable little film, Thoroughbreds, which I watched on my own as Nina was more interested in reading at that point; it was only after I’d finished it—with some concern for detail clarity because the sound wasn’t consistently clear (turned out to be just a weird compatibility issue with only that film because some other sources I surfed around on sounded fine)—I discovered I could have watched Thoroughbreds with closed captions so, via that option and fast-forwarding, I spot-checked some key scenes to clarify exactly what was said, but, again, if I’ve missed something crucial blame me, not the filmmakers. (Another reason, along with the now-long-ago-nature of these films’ earlier release dates—plus their restrained-box-office-performances, where neither of them accomplished much in terms of ticket sales—I’ve confined my comments on them to this posting’s Short Takes, trying to honor my own intentions of this section).

 I’d already anticipated Thoroughbreds being more of a critics’ darling (verified upon my return by finding RT's 86% positive reviews, MC's average score of 75%), an opinion I share after having seen what seems to me to be a delightful merge of Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951), Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981), and Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1989), with its own equally-intriguing-additions.  Set in toney suburban Connecticut (given the upper-class-surroundings I’d say more in the New Haven direction rather than the Mystic/Stonington end of the state, as my friends there are having difficulties selling their B&B because their county is one of the few in the U.S. that never fully recovered from the 2008 Great Recession) we find high school seniors Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) reconnecting, having drifted apart after Lily’s father died years earlier.  Despite Lily’s initially-restrained-personality in contrast to Amanda’s disorder-difficulties leaving her with no emotional responses—just a lot of no-quarter-attitudes—they bond over the idea of killing Lily’s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), whom she detests, but Amanda can’t be implicated because she’s already on watch after killing her injured horse with a knife (didn’t catch why some vet hadn’t done it already, more humanely).  They recruit local scumbag Tim (Anton Yelchin) for the task but he doesn’t come through as intended so Lily decides to do it herself but only after drugging Amanda so she can frame her “friend.”  Sorrowful Lily confesses her plot, yet Amanda downs the spiked drink anyway, prompting Lily to commit her bloody crime (knife again) yet pay no penalty for it as she evolves into being a frigid bitch while Amanda’s sent off to a psychiatric hospital.⇐  There’s no redeeming twist here, just a fascinating case of cold-blooded-Darwinism at work.  If you like, more awaits at the Thoroughbreds official site and in my Musical Metaphor of "Me and My Uncle,"* a song choice that will be self-explanatory once you’ve heard it.

*Written by John Phillips (before he became famous as part of The Mamas and the Papas) but apparently first recorded by Judy Collins, available on her 1964 album, The Judy Collins Concert.

 OK, that’s way more than enough; see you next week with comments on a new Spike Lee Joint and another Oakland-set-film (after Sorry to Bother You [Boots Riley; review in our July 12, 2018 posting]) if all goes well with my viewing plansunless I get swept up in Oakland A/s possible-playoff-fever (yes, there're 2 months to go in the season, but winning's so uplifting [just ask Trump]).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Eighth Grade: (lots of fake yearbook stuff here, well worth exploring) (50:23 interview with writer-director Bo Burnham and actors Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Imani Lewis—although most of the responses come from the first 3 above—[begins with 10:50 min. of silly high school confessions by the hosts along with minor comments from the audience; you could fast forward through this without losing any sleep over it but it is kind of cute in an 8th-grade sort of way]; when we get to the actual interviews it starts with the same trailer cited in the review)

Here’s more information about Mission: ImpossibleFallout: (7:01 recap of how this current M:I movie relates to its predecessors) 

Here’s more information about Ant-Man and the Wasp (11:24 video about Easter Eggs and other Marvel connections in this movie [be aware there’s a short promo for contributing to CARE about 7:00 in])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 4,835—the total's starting to climb up again, so thanks, Russian readers; no, Special Counsel Mueller, I've never had any dealings with Paul Manafort or Vladimir Putin, although I'd be glad to serve as a character-witness for both of them, advocating a long stay in Siberia (as always, we thank all of you worldwide for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers).  Below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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