Four films that don’t really have a lot in common except that they feature women in prominent roles and that I don’t really love or loathe any of them enough to want to write a several-paragraph full review…
The Incredibles 2…Really, truly, completely nowhere near as good as the original. I’ve probably watched the first “Incredibles” ten times–hey, it’s been spread out over several years and it is on TV a lot–and with that film Brad Bird made a masterpiece, no less than an animated “Indiana Jones” or “Goldfinger,” that’s how complete its sense of adventure was. Even better, the first “Incredibles” took the usual framework of a classic adventure film and injected it with subtext, unexpectedly heavy layers, and a mouthful to say about work, family, fame, middle-aged blues, living up to your potential, a culture of mediocrity, work vs. family, recapturing the past, gender roles, and a scalpel-sharp dissection of what superhero culture is doing to us, and the dark underbelly of comic-con/fanboy-obsessiveness. Oh, and it was madly entertaining, featuring expertly choreographed action sequences that were like Buston-Keaton-meets-Batman (Bird took that same ingenuity to the Mission Impossible franchise, directing the 4th installment with that same skillful sense of playfulness).
“Incredibles two” borrows too much from that first film–the main plot and structure is nearly identical–and even if you’re fine essentially just hanging out with the same characters a second time, will you still love this film after you’ve watched it five times with your kids? Probably not, and this is yet one more example of why Pixar has got to stop making so many damn sequels. Grade: B-
Adrift…There’s just something infinitely watchable about a “survival at sea” movie, the underdog genre that’s quietly become one of my favorites. Whether it’s “Life of Pi” or the excellent “All is Lost” (Redford’s solo at sea movie that was my pick for Best Film of 2013), there’s just something hypnotically watchable and cinematic about a person or two up against that infinite, uncaring blue beast. Shailene Woodley digs into new depths here playing someone she clearly identifies with (there may be some overlap between Woodley’s character and her real-life persona) but is put through an excruciating ordeal–caring for her paralyzed boyfriend (injured during the crashing wave that wrecks their boat’s motor, navigation, and communications), being forced to kill fish to survive (she’s a hardcore vegetarian), and trying to treat a near-lethal sunburn. That this is all based on a true story may add an extra-layer to your appreciation for this fine film. Grade: B+
Ocean’s 8…The “Ocean”‘s films were never the most intense heist movies you could watch, but this haphazard, indirect sequel is so passionless and apathetic it makes the Clooney/Pitt trilogy look like “Heat” in comparison. The biggest downgrade from that original trilogy isn’t the actors (the all-female cast is great even with under-developed characters that aren’t given enough to do, especially Cate Blanchett’s awesome Pitt counter-part, who electrifies most scenes with rock-and-roll swagger) but with the director. Gary Ross is just not Steven Soderbergh–who knew how to goose and stage the material so that practically every frame had verve–and can’t quite pull this heist together in a similarly interesting way. You’ll notice an immediate lack of visual inventiveness that makes the movie feel even more lifeless than it already would even if the trailers hadn’t given the majority of it away. Grade: C+
Life of the Party…Would Melissa McCarthy rather be an A-list comedy star or give her husband work? That may soon be the decision before her career since McCarthy (once again) works with real-life husband Ben Falcone here–just as she did with the Falcon-written and directed “Tammy” and “The Boss,” McCarthy’s two biggest flops to date. Well, “Party” is McCarthy’s lowest-grossing sol0-starring film and isn’t much more popular with critics than the dreadful “Tammy” and half-assed “Boss” was, although I personally think it’s a lot better than either of those two films. That’s mostly because the characters are much more likable and this is the first time it feels like they’re at least getting within range of real human beings and their experiences. The sisterhood message actually feels sincere and is touching, while McCarthy is largely working in a totally different tone but still maintains her mastery of physical comedy (like a scene that reveals her character is terrified of public speaking). [In some ways this character is McCarthy’s “The Other Guys,” the Will Ferrell comedy where he dramatically inverted his normal boorish screen characters into a guy that was almost pathologically mild-mannered, and here McCarthy is working in a much more low-key mode.] Grade: B-