Mike at the Movies

Avengers: Infinity War (PG-13) *****

Just to list the characters in this epic would take all the space for this review. Let us say that the screen is filled with super heroes and one tremendous villain and that the film is critic-proof in its extravagance. The crowd we were with cheered the entrance of every character and laughed uproariously throughout this long exercise in dooming the planet.

The villain is Thanos (Josh Brolin and the computer) while the bus driver is creator Stan Lee, in his usual Marvel films cameo. The laugh lines come fast and furious, particularly between Quill (Chris Pratt) and his mob that includes a raccoon and a tree branch. The cast is huge, led by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. The funniest character in terms of outlandishness is Peter Drinklage as the monumental Eitri.

The special effects are special, indeed, but not unusual in the new world of CGI. The plot is ridiculous as an unassailable monster collects six stones that, together, will allow him to control the universe. The line: “The fate of the universe is at stake!” is used at least twice and perhaps more. After the second hour, things tend to blend together. Take the whole family, hope you can get seats and enjoy LOTS of popcorn!

Tully (R) ****

Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is not Mary Poppins. She may be a “night nanny,” working only at night for tired mom Marlo (Charlize Theron), but she soon bonds with her client and becomes more a sister to her rather than a nanny.

Marlo has two children as the movie begins, Sarah (Lia Frankland) and Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica.) Jonah gives many signs of being on the autism spectrum and is in strife in kindergarten because of resulting behavior problems. Marlo is advised to pay for a private tutor/caretaker, which adds to the stress of having a third child. Marlo, misshapen by her pregnancy and suffering a distracted husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is desperate for help. Her brother suggests a night nanny and Tully is the result.

She is mysterious from the get-go, appearing only at night but working assiduously during the dark, making cupcakes and cleaning everything in the house as well as tending the baby and Marlo. Marlo’s depression is mirrored in her self-image: “I feel like an abandoned trash bag.” Even her daughter notices changes: “Mom! What’s wrong with your body?”

After the birth of her daughter, things get worse and Marlo sinks into what appears to be a mild case of post-partum depression. Tully helps while remaining mysterious. “What do you do during the day?” Marlo asks her. “Try to take over the world!” is the answer.

Slowly their relationship changes and Marlo gets back to more of herself. She sings karaoke with her daughter, and allows Tully to wear a waitress uniform to fill one of Drew’s constant fantasies.

The film moves to its inevitable mystery ending: Is Tully real or is she a fantasy, given life only by Marlo’s desperation? That’s for you and yours to answer.

The film is excellent, Theron is in the magnificent category, and the portrayal of pregnancy and what it does to women is spot on. Not for the kids but very satisfactory for the folks, especially women who will certainly empathize.

The Death of Stalin (R) ****

This is a very strange, yet engaging and often hilarious send-up of bureaucracies, the Soviet style in particular, and of history itself. It roughly concerns events surrounding the death of Josef Stalin in 1953. Various officials try to assume the leadership post with the hapless Georgy Malinkov (Jeffrey Tambor) stumbling into the role, only to be ousted by Nikita Kruschev (Steve Buscemi) and then Leonid Brezhnev (Gerald Lepkowski).

There are many familiar names that pass through as part of the bureaucratic circus that was the Soviet leadership, but the featured clowns in this show include Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) who carries enough medals to fracture several ribs at once and Vasily Stalin (Rupert Friend), the quite mad son of the dictator. Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), who defected to the U.S. in 1967 and died in Wisconsin in 2011, and Molotov (Michael Palin) have featured cameos.

The plot is fairly accurate and totally absurd: Soviet “leaders” argue amongst themselves about who is to take over and why not. At one point Kruschev points out to Beria that Beria is now rewarding and releasing people he formerly accused of being traitors to the State. The particular madness of Soviet-think is represented in a scene in which the cabal around Stalin asks for a doctor. “There are no good doctors left in Moscow,” says one of the sycophants. “Then we’ll have to use a bad one,” says another. “But how will we know the bad ones?” “They will be the only ones left. And if a good doctor turns out to be a bad doctor he will be shot so it’s easy.” Crazy stuff and part of the humor of this bitter satire.

The back and forth between Kruschev and Beria (Simon Russell Beale) is often very funny and always incredibly bitter and hypocritical. Fans of political satire in the Peter Sellers mold will love this film. The music, by Christopher Willis, is outstanding, Soviet-sounding and recorded brilliantly in Willis’ first solo effort as a film composer. All in all, this is a spectacularly funny and insightful independent film.

I Feel Pretty (PG-13) ****

For those who like Amy Schumer’s potty-mouth style, this is apt to be a shocking film since that part of her comedy persona is missing entirely. In its place is a sometimes manic, frequently introspective Schumer in a film that focuses on female empowerment in all the right ways.

As Renee Bennett, Schumer awakes from an exercise bike crash to believe that she is stunningly beautiful. Her friends and new acquaintances don’t know what to make of her since she looks the same but acts with a confidence and panache that she has not had before. Besties Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Phillipps) are the most confused, but new boyfriend Ethan (Rory Scovel) is perhaps mystified even more. He has fallen for the real Renee.

Given her new approach to life, Renee lands a job as the receptionist at the high-class makeup company, Lily LeClair, headed by “Grams,” Lauren Hutton as Lily. Her daughter, wonderfully played by an unrecognizable Michelle Williams (Avery) has her own image problem: a high voice that almost breaks windows. She is also shy and incapable of delivering the company message.

There are very touching moments: Renee tells a top model Emily Ratajkowski: “I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be undeniably pretty.” After she becomes what she thinks is beautiful she advises her friends: “Lead with your hotness. Let them find out you’re boring later.”

Her fantasy reaches a peak when she tells the women of Lily LeClair: “I’m just the beautiful woman hanging this place together.” Clearly, she’s getting out of control. Friends alienated, boyfriend more or less dumped, she heads to Boston with Avery to make a big speech about the new LeClair line for average women. In Boston she falls in the shower, hits her head and loses her self-image. Desperate, she heads back to Bike #34 in the exercise gym but she can’t get the mojo back, of course.

A magnificent speech at the LeClair meeting is inevitable and sensational and the rest of the film contains Renee’s efforts to patch things up with everybody. There may be a bit too much lamenting of appearance for some viewers; the point is made over and over that appearance is not all there is, but the film is funny and touching and Schumer is perfect. A great date movie for the summer.

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