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INCREDIBLES 2

Producer: John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Brad Bird
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Minter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, Bill Wise, John Ratzenberger and Barry Bostwick
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

B-

After moving to live-action fare with some success in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” but then flopping badly with “Tomorrowland,” writer-director Brad Bird has returned to his comfort zone—following the pattern that Alfred Hitchcock called “running for cover” whenever one of his pictures failed with moviegoers—by mounting a long-rumored sequel to his greatest hit, 2004’s “The Incredibles.” Though that movie wasn’t really one of Pixar’s best—it was pretty much a standard-issue superhero spoof, though with splendid visuals—it was a smash, so a return to it must have seemed a Bird sanctuary.

Though separated from its predecessor by nearly a decade-and-a-half, “Incredibles 2” takes up shortly after the original left off, and with one exception the central voice cast remains the same. Once again the animation is spectacular, but on a narrative level the picture treads an all-too-familiar path, not just in its action trajectory but in terms of present-day bromides about girl power and family dynamics.

The clan—Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Watson), his wife Helen, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox)—are supposed, like other superheroes, to refrain from using their powers and lead quiet lives. But when their old nemesis Underminer (John Ratzenberger) reappears, they spring into action. Though they prevent him from robbing a bank, the level of collateral damage brings further governmental restrictions, even compelling the family’s handler Dicker (Jonathan Banks) to close down his limited program entirely.

Fortunately the superhero cause is taken up by wealthy mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who propose that Elastigirl come out of hiding to become the city’s protector. While she’s away, Bob will be a stay-at-home dad. As such he has to contend with Dash’s desire to go super. More importantly, he’s confronted by Violet’s anger over Dicker’s using his amnesia machine on Tony (Michael Bird), the boy she likes, who saw her in super-action but now doesn’t even recall knowing her, and the emergence of unpredictable powers in the Parr infant, Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). The pressure eventually convinces him to leave the baby with Edna Mole (Bird), who quickly rejoices in the opportunity to train him.

Meanwhile Elastigirl is forced to deal with a powerful new villain, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), who uses radio waves to hypnotize and control people through what they watch. Eventually she, Bob and a bevy of other superheroes—including the family’s closest friend Lucius Best, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson)—fall under his spell, and it’s up to the kids to mount a rescue. Can they free their parents from his control and save the world? Let’s just say it seems likely.

The action-adventure portion of “Incredibles 2” is, quite frankly, trite stuff, not unlike the sort of thing you’d find in live-action/CGI examples of the genre. A runaway train sequence, for instance, might put you in mind of the one from “Spider-Man 2,” or even more recent flicks like the last “Maze Runner” movie or even “Solo.” It, along with the other action sequences, are well enough done, but the only thing that distinguishes them is that, being animated, they don’t look phony in quite the same way as the artificially-enhanced ones in the supposedly live-action movies of this type.

Those sequences, moreover, don’t contain much humor, nor does the “who’s the villain?” material afford much surprise; even a child will probably figure out the identity of the ultimate bad-guy before it’s revealed. Most of the fun comes from the domestic part of the script. The “bachelor father” theme might have sitcom roots, but Bird and company manage to use it to some good comedic effect, especially in terms of Jack-Jack’s antics, while the Violet-Tony subplot adds a touch of teen romance, nicely handled. And, of course, everyone is bound to enjoy the reappearance of Edna, the wittiest aspect of the first installment, who certainly makes the most of her relatively brief scenes here.

Among animated superhero spoofs, “The Lego Batman Movie” certainly exhibits greater imagination and pizzazz than either of the “Incredibles” movies. But they have more heart, which probably explains why they are so popular. This sequel can’t match the first, but it’s good enough to make folks forget “Tomorrowland” and give Bird the chance to take a greater risk next time around.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE

Producer: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi and Josh Braun
Director: Kate Novack
Writer: 
Stars: Andre Leon Tally, Anna Wintour, Tamran Hall, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik, Maureen Dowd, Fran Lebowitz, Eboni Marshall Turman and Will.i.am
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

B-

Anyone bedazzled by the world of haute couture will undoubtedly be familiar with André Leon Tally, the larger-than-life fashion tastemaker who’s the subject of Kate Novack’s documentary. But even those who have little interest in the glamorous world in which Tally is a mainstay are likely to find the story of a black man growing up in the segregated society of Durham, North Carolina and making his way in the glitzy New York scene of the 1970s fascinating, especially since Tally talks with gusto about his life, and Novack is successful in capturing unguarded moments when he drops the celebrity mask and lets his emotions show.

Together with editors Andrew Coffman and Thomas Rivera Montes and cinematographer Bryan Sarkinen, Novack has confected a canny collage of found and new footage and interview excerpts that sketches the details of Tally’s life while providing ample evidence of the operatic persona he’s developed and the celebrity he’s become. One might wish that she had prodded him to open up a bit more about his attitude toward the parents who handed him over to the grandmother he reveres to raise, or about the pain he felt when snarky observers called him “Queen Kong” or speculated about his relationship with his patron Diana Vreeland, who hired him at Vogue (where he eventually became editor-at-large). His offhanded remark about not having had a love life cries out for elaboration. And the film would certainly benefit from some trimming of the gushing remarks made about him by colleagues in the fashion world and celebrity admirers like Whoopi Goldberg and Will.i.am.

Removal of some of that tributary material would also provide space for detailed description of Tally’s specific contributions to the fashion sense during the four decades over which he’s been a major figure. We get a great many shots of him coming to designers’ shows or appearing for television interviews in his billowing capes and flamboyant outfits, but his comments on particular dresses or a specific designer’s annual line are surprisingly limited. Which trends did he encourage, and which did he write against? The data the film provides on such matters is surprisingly sparse, and as a result one’s ability to judge the true extent of his influence is limited. One is left with only a generalized sense of his clout, as it were.

But there is compensation in hearing Tally reflect on growing up in Durham—his comments about the central place that the church held in his grandmother’s life, and, more amusingly, about the hats that the women of the congregation wore in a sort of weekly runway of their own, are touching as well as funny, with a comparison to Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” (complete with a film clip) that seems especially apt. The treatment of his rise in the New York celebrity culture of the seventies—complete with footage of Andy Warhol and Studio 54—is also engaging, though the steps by which he ascended to the top ranks of the fashion scene are dealt with in a fairly cursory way.

On the other hand, Novack affords Tally ample opportunity to express himself, not only about his current life—a scene at his White Plains home shows him directing workmen as they cut down a dead tree in his garden, cautioning them not to damage the surrounding shrubbery, and he discourses about the local wildlife (rabbits and deer okay, skunks and raccoons not)—but about current events. The film was shot in 2016 in the run-up to the presidential election, and Tally’s preference for Hillary Clinton, and shocked disappointment when Donald Trump wins, are abundantly clear. Yet he maintains his professional perspective when he watches Trump’s inauguration, and praises the outfit Melania wore, wryly observing that his assessment will probably earn him hate messages on social media. There are few opportunities for disagreement with his many pronouncements—the titular comparison to scripture is apt in that regard—but one does get to hear his views unimpeded.

The film also provides a glimpse into Tally’s struggle with his weight, observing him during a stay at a North Carolina lifestyle center, where he obsesses over the number of calories in a biscuit. The sequence adds another personal dimension to the portrait it paints.

The result is an engaging documentary on a major figure of modern haute couture that covers both the professional and personal aspects of his life reasonably well.