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Reviews for June 15th, 2018

Affairs of State

Directed by Eric Bross

      Michael Lawson (David Corenswet) works for Senator John Baines (David James Elliott) as his Presidential campaign aide. He obtained the job by blackmailing Baines' advisor, Rob Reynolds (Adrian Grenier), with a sex tape that he procured with the assistance of his tech-savvy roommate, Callie (Thora Birch), and by sleeping with one of the campaign donors, Mary Maples (Faye Grant). After sleeping with Baines' wife, Judith (Mimi Rogers), while falling for her daughter, Darcy (Grace Victoria Fox), Michael finds himself in a quagmire that puts his own life at risk. The plot's twists and turns won't be spoiled here because the less you know about Affairs of State before watching it, the better.

      Affairs of State is a gripping political thriller that becomes increasingly dark and refreshingly unpredictable. Director Eric Bross and screenwriter Tom Cudworth do a great job of creating a foreboding atmosphere of paranoia throughout the film. Whom, if anyone, can Michael trust? Can Michael himself even be trusted for that matter? He's not an entirely likable protagonist nor is he particularly bright. He has good looks that he uses to get what he wants, but, to be fair, he's in an field of work that enables his behavior along with the toxic relationships that he has with Judith, Darcy, Senator Baines and others. Beyond Michael's physical attractiveness, though, his personality seems rather bland and his character feels the least lived-in. On the other hand, Callie has the most discernible and interesting personality which is especially evident when she quips or uses sarcasm, i.e. when she says to Judith in a sarcastic tone, "Have a blessed day!" Not only is Callie tech-savvy, but also has some knowledge of law as it turns out in one scene. It's a breath of fresh air to see a female character onscreen who's truly bright and not objectified for a change.

      The screenplay by Cudworth weaves a plot that's complex without being complicated, exhausting or convoluted. This isn't a dry, sleep-inducing thriller like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The pace moves along briskly without a dull moment, and there's no excessive exposition or unnecessary subplots to be found. Within the first few minutes, you know precisely what kind of film you're about to watch, and filmmakers manage to effectively hook you into the film right away. Moreover, Affairs of State tackles the topic of political corruption in a way that's provocative and even somewhat timely without being heavy-handed. The same can be said about how it shows the very seductive nature of money and power. If its plot were to incorporate the supernatural somehow, it would've been safe to call it a Shakespearean tale because it has all of the Shakespearean elements except for a supernatural element. To a certain extent, Affairs of State can be seen as a horror film. Its ending is even more scary and shocking than Hereditary's twist ending because it's something that could indeed happen in reality. If you're a fan of the cynical political thrillers from the 1970's, Affairs of State will not leave you disappointed. It would make for a great double feature with In the Loop, a very smart, funny and biting political satire.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

      After using their superpowers to defeat the Underminer, Bob Parr (voice of Craig T. Nelson), his wife, Helen (voice of Holly Hunter), his wife, and three children, Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huckleberry Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) along with their family friend, Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), get into trouble with the government when their battles caused destruction in the city. Superheroes now banned, so they have no choice but to move into a motel and live in poverty. Their luck changes when they meet Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), the CEO of DevTech, and his sister, Evelyn (voice of Catherine Keener), the brains behind DevTech. Winston promises to boost their public image and moves the Parr family into a mansion equipped with lots of modern gidgets and gadgets including an Elasticycle. Helen rides the Elasticycle when she tries to find the whereabouts of a mysterious new villain called Screenslaver.

      Incredibles 2 has quite a number elements that make it a truly great animated film: a suspenseful story, thrilling action scenes, lively characters, plenty of laughs, and a big heart to boot. Writer/director Brad Bird clearly understands that comedy is derived from tragedy because, during the film's first act, the Parr family are on the brink of homelessness. The dynamics within their family changes when Bob stays at home to take care of the kids. By grounding the film in realism with great attention to details, especially when it comes to distinguishing between each of the characters unique personalities, he makes them universal and relatable. Yes, they have superpowers, but they feel more human than characters in some live action films do. Violet behaves exactly like a teenagers would typically behave. The same can be said for Dash, Helen, Bob and even the scene-stealing baby, Jack-Jack, who's in the process of discovering his own superpowers.

      Much like Brad Bird's classic animated films, i.e. The Incredibles and Ratatouille, the witty and clever screenplay doesn't forget to entertain adults and children equally---it never talks down to adults. To be fair, it takes roughly half an hour of exposition, none of which is dull or boring, for the film to reach its full momentum, but the patience that it takes to get to that point is well worth it. After all, without a least a little bit of exposition, audiences would be too confused and the film's comedic and emotional beats wouldn't land as effectively as they do, for the most part, during the second and third acts. Even though some of the action scenes toward the end feel generic without wowing the audience, at least there's always the visually stunning CGI to keep audience's engaged during those scenes. This is the kind of animated film that everyone can enjoy as much as they enjoyed The Incredibles a decade ago. Don't be surprised if Incredibles 2 gets nominated for Best Animated Feature later this year. There's a very charming, wise and heartfelt animated short preceding it called, Bao, directed by Domee Shi, that makes for a very fitting double feature.

center>Number of times I checked my watch: 1

Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

The Year of Spectacular Men

Directed by Lea Thompson

      Izzy (Madelyn Deutch) graduates college, breaks up with her boyfriend, Aaron (Jesse Bradford), and moves from New York to Los Angeles to live with her younger sister, Sabrina (Zoey Deutch), who has serious boyfriend, Sebastian (Avan Jogia), a movie star. She pursues a career in acting and yearns to fall in love, but has yet to find the right guy to sweep her off her feet. Other than Aaron, her potential suitors include Mikey (Zach Roerig), Logan (Brandon T. Jackson), Ross (Cameron Monaghan), and Charlie (Nicholas Braun). Meanwhile, Izzy and Sabrina's widowed mother (Lea Thompson) has found a new lover, Amythyst (Melissa Bolona).

      The wise and tender screenplay by Madelyn Deutch tackles a number of heavy issues with a breezy, light tone as it combines comedy, drama and romance. There's a lot going on beneath its surface. Izzy is at a point in her life when she feels insecure, confused and lost, but she still hangs on to a shred of hope. She has yet to overcome the death of her father and to find her true love. At least she has her loving sister and mother to provide her with much-needed emotional support. As her mother wisely says to her, life's path isn't a straight line; it's a squiggly line. Deutch includes other metaphors throughout the screenplay, i.e, the blossoming buds on a tree which symbolizes Izzy's emotional growth and how she wants to feel alive. That particular metaphor also gives Izzy a good segway to a secret about her father whose death carries a weight on her shoulders.

      The Year of Spectacular Men works best during its serious, dramatic scenes, especially the ones that focus on the compassionate, loving relationship between Izzy and Sabrina. Zoey and Madelyn are both sisters in real life, so that surely helped their on-screen chemistry as sisters. When it tries to generate laughter, it tends to falls flat and feels clunky. Some of the scenes, much like the popcorn that Izzy makes for Aaron at the beginning film, are cheesy, but, fortunately, not nearly as schmaltzy as a Nicholas Sparks film. The ending crams a lot of subplots together in a way that feels a bit rushed and contrived, and Izzy's voice-over narration could have been omitted to leave more room for interpretation, but those flaws don't sink the whole ship, fortunately. The Year of Spectacular Men would make for a great double feature with Funny Ha Ha, a much more organic romantic dramedy sans narration or a musical score, which is also about a confused young woman who's searching for love, purpose and happiness in her life.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Marvista Entertainment.
Opens at Cinema Village.