A new feature: Friday’s weekly roundup! These spoiler-free summations give the reader a glimpse into my week, but also a context for what they might want to try out – or may want to miss. And yes, this week’s roster gave me a bit of whiplash from goofy clown gross-outs, to earnest coming out tales, to a raunchy sex romp! Join me, won’t you? – K.

Avengers Infinity War (2018) - still
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

I managed to avoid all Avengers spoilers for weeks, but soon enough my time came and I had to get into the theater. The 51st Marvel film (including Deadpool 2) to date, but the 19th in the new(ish) Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War is in many ways the most ambitious Marvel project in years. On the other hand, the film has the advantage of being able to get down to business without putting forth origin stories or establishing romances. The cast – including Robert Downey Jr.Chris HemsworthMark RuffaloChris EvansScarlett JohanssonBenedict CumberbatchDon CheadleTom HollandChadwick BosemanPaul BettanyElizabeth OlsenAnthony MackieSebastian StanDanai GuriraLetitia WrightDave BautistaZoe Saldana, and Chris Pratt, put in energetic and competent performances as the beloved heroes (or antiheroes) we’ve come to know. Each character gets enough screentime, favoring Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man as these films are wont to do (for some reason Captain gets short shrift). For our main baddie Josh Brolin steps in as CGI/motion capture megalomaniac Thanos, a jerk with ONE goal: to collect a bunch of little stones and put them in his fancy glove, snap his fingers, and eliminate half the population of the universe – thus preserving galactic resources. (One supposes in a few years he’ll do the same thing again? Or is he going to muster his considerable assets to enact a galactic birth control program?) Anyway, the stones Thanos are after are variously labeled and have different powers and the team of good guys tries to keep Thanos from acquiring them, failing at every turn. In regards to both the infinity stones and the supernatural powers of our characters, performance and ability are quite arbitrary when it comes down to fightin’ time (Iron Man’s suit stretches the suspension of disbelief to systemic failure); despite this, several battles are pretty engaging entertainment. At two hours and forty minutes the film was too damn long, but that’s de rigueur these days with blockbusters I suppose I might as well type, “Get off my lawn!” Even with the lengthy runtime, the movie was charming and fun – a good balance of humor and action – and poises the franchise well for the sequel(s). 4/5

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Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The pick for last Monday’s gathering, Killer Klowns is a heck of a lot less scary than you might think. Helmed by the Chiodos, a three brother production company who specializes in special effects, the theme is a mashup of alien invasion teen B-movies (think: The Blob), a bit of 80s punk aesthetic, and zombie horror. The film is fairly lighthearted with a bit of nasty gore thrown in here or there, and makes cute use of a balloon animal. Not quite gross enough to be offensive (and thankfully bereft of much T&A buffoonery), and not scary enough to be a horror film, it is well-paced and carries better production values than one might expect. While posting about the viewing online last week several friends expressed a long-standing affection for Killer Klowns, proving once again that a little nostalgia goes a long way. 2/5

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Girls Trip

As the name implies, this comedy details a girls’ weekend romp with a rated-R edge, in the vein of recent entries Bridesmaids (2011), Bachelorette (2012), and Rough Night (2017). Childhood friends Ryan, Sasha, Dina, and Lisa (Regina HallQueen LatifahTiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith) wreak havoc on the Essence Music Festival with the twin aims of reconnecting with one another and advancing Ryan’s burgeoning career. Of course, each woman’s secrets and friendship status will be rehashed and there will be a little more to lose than meets the eye; these more serious concerns are masterfully woven amidst sexual exploits, golden showers, and dance-off brawls in seedy clubs. Haddish has been praised for her gaspingly-funny antics and obscene verbal expressions (about 10% of which are family friendly); my personal favorite of the foursome was Pinkett Smith’s shy sweetness and, once unleashed, frank libido. Another long-overdue feature: there is not a white man in sight, and white women are relegated to two small supporting roles. For a great analysis of the film, please read Doreen St. Felix’s piece in The New Yorker. 4/5

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A Quiet Place

We’ve seen the premise of this sci-fi horror before: a pandemic has wiped out nearly all the people on earth, and a family struggles to survive against marauding predators. In A Quiet Place the family, composed of an engineer and doctor couple (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) along with their three young children (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward), has eked out an existence and seeks to fortify their position. The family lives in near-silence, since the handful of creatures stalking them are indestructible and have a highly developed hearing sense (with thankfully no sight nor smell receptors). A tragedy strikes the family and increases tensions between the father and his oldest child; meanwhile, an event looms in the near future that will put the family at risk further still. The film famously employed a young deaf actress and the cast speaks in sign, and the project has generally been regarded as a win for the Deaf community (of course not everyone agrees). I believe this perception of social positivism, as well as Krasinski’s cachet as a likeable American male and his jump to the horror genre, have been primarily responsible for the project’s success. The film is beautifully produced, and as a horror drama it is perfectly serviceable. However, for many of us, it has some ugly underpinnings that leave a bad aftertaste. For ninety one minutes we watch an uptight dad, repeatedly grabbing and shushing his kids, as his family is depicted as shaking in fear, constantly screwing up or in some way needing his rescue and guidance, or not appreciating him enough. In a word: yuck! There are some right wing, pro-life, and pick-me passive aggressive fatherhood messages that were I’m sure unintended but came through nevertheless – as well as yet another horribly-written labor and birth scene. As a friend of mine put it: “creepy to me for all the wrong reasons”. 3/5

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Love, Simon (2018)
Think of an Afterschool Special but imagine if it was good, and relevant to present times. This is Love, Simon, the story of a high school boy navigating social and familial pressures as he comes to terms with his identity. The titular character (Nick Robinson) is a sweet, good looking young man with a lovely family (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, and Talitha Bateman), a funny and kind group of friends (Katherine LangfordAlexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr), and a positive experience of public high school. The problem? He’s gay, and is experiencing increasing pressure to come out to at least his inner circle. On an anonymous confession app another closeted young man from his school makes a post, and the two young men strike up a penpal relationship that begins to develop into something deeper. After a few months Simon’s hand is forced and he makes some choices in self-preservation, while seeking to stay connected to his clandestine relationship with penpal “Blue”. On the surface and if you only happened in on a scene or two, you might think the film was a bit saccharine and simple: teen drama lite. However I think the movie is brilliant at depicting a few very important truths: that one doesn’t need oppressive and obvious homophobic surroundings to feel less-than-safe, that family can be well-intentioned but harmful, and finally: how damned important it is to let people come out if and when they want to, and on their terms. Particularly well-done is Duhamel’s portrayal, a father who loves his son very much but behaves in ways that negatively impact his child. And a third-act speech by Garner reduced me to hot tears. In the hour and fifty minute runtime some plot premises seem a bit forced, but those don’t detract much from the stakes in what is a lovely, personable and often funny film. 4/5