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Review: Clad in leather, 'The Bikeriders' evokes ’60s cool, then watches it fade in the mirror

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Review: Clad in leather, 'The Bikeriders' evokes ’60s cool, then watches it fade in the mirror

In the mid-1960s, photojournalist Danny Lyon embedded himself with the Outlaws Motorcycle Club in the suburbs of Chicago, snapping portraits and candid photographs while interviewing members of the gang. The result was a photo book called “The Bikeriders,” published in 1968, that serves as the inspiration for director Jeff Nichols’ latest film of the same name, a meditation on American motorcycle culture, the birthplace of a certain kind of cool.

Nichols is clearly enchanted by the inimitable style and intoxicating lore that Lyon’s photographs conjure, and he populates his cinematic Chicago-based motorcycle club — rechristened the Vandals — with a coterie of ruggedly handsome stars who can make sideburns and motor oil look good, including Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, Norman Reedus, Beau Knapp, Boyd Holbrook, Emory Cohen and Damon Herriman. There are also some unexpected and welcome casting choices like Karl Glusman and young Australian actor Toby Wallace, who is terrific as a young Vandals wannabe.

As the enigmatic Benny, Butler’s supernova star quality is undeniable, and the film opens with a bourbon and a bang — a shovel to the back of his head during a bar brawl that will haunt the rest of the film. In this bit of bravura filmmaking, Nichols demonstrates a slick style and rhythmic musicality that instantly draws us into this world.

When we next lay eyes on Benny, he’s hulking over a pool table at a bar, his long golden arms and tousled blond coif raked over by the greedy gaze of Kathy (Jodie Comer) who stops in for a drink and leaves with a lifetime lover. Nichols’ camera eats Butler up hungrily, every inch of battered denim and well-worn leather; every soulful pout and blood-spattered grin wordlessly seducing Kathy to the dark side. It’s no wonder Kathy’s boyfriend beats it as soon as Benny turns up on their curb, and it’s no wonder Kathy bends her life around her new brooding boyfriend and his clan of grease-streaked miscreants.

Kathy becomes our narrator, her mile-a-minute Midwestern patter adding a layer of percussion to the rumbling engines and plaintive crooning of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll on the soundtrack. In a rapid-fire Chicago cadence expertly enunciated by Liverpudlian actor and master of accents Comer, Kathy reels off stories about the boys into the microphone of photographer Lyon (Mike Faist). She’s the observant eyewitness and caretaker of their oral history, though the details are potentially lost, muddled or otherwise exaggerated by our storyteller. We see them though her eyes: sexy, dirty, violent and often tragic.

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We also see them through recreations of Lyon’s photographs, which Nichols and longtime cinematographer Adam Stone painstakingly compose and set to motion. In a montage, we see Lyon snapping portraits of characters like Cockroach (Cohen), Wahoo (Knapp) and Corky (Glusman), or capturing candids of the gang from the back of a bike. We see an image of a relaxed Benny riding over a bridge, one hand lazily gesturing behind him. Nichols improves upon Lyon’s shot by having our subject face the camera, rather than looking away.

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler in the movie “The Bikeriders.”

(Kyle Kaplan / Focus Features)

Watching “The Bikeriders” feels like flipping through a photobook filled with arresting compositions and snippets of stories, and there’s a sketchy, snapshot quality to Nichols’ screenplay as well. The film is an evocation of character, place and time, the tempo alternating between moody and lively, like our central odd couple, laconic Benny and chatterbox Kathy.

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Kathy has plenty to say about Benny, though we rarely see his unique qualities in action. He’s somewhat underwritten, and while Butler has the outsize presence to inhabit the iconic image, Kathy takes up all the air in the script. Benny is reduced to a symbol of sorts, a visual emblem of the Vandals’ dangerous glamour. Their mutual attraction is initially palpable, but we don’t see the glue that keeps them together throughout the years of peril and partying. The mysterious Benny has more chemistry with Johnny (Hardy), the Vandals founder and leader, and so too does Kathy.

Hardy is typically fantastic and fantastically weird, and he emerges as the gravitational center, not just of the Vandals, but of the film itself. Johnny leads by his own specific instinctual code based on whim and personal values, which gets harder to enforce as the club grows, with veterans returning from Vietnam seeking camaraderie, and bringing back darker vices.

“The Bikeriders” is a great hang until the party’s over and it’s time to hit the road. Though the dramatic thrust of the narrative never quite coheres, there is plenty of pathos, and the ebb and flow reflects both life itself and the uniquely human nature of the storytelling, as Kathy regales us with tales of these wild ones, who now live with the sound of roaring engines only haunting their memories.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The Bikeriders’

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Rating: R, for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality

Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Playing: In wide release Friday, June 21

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'America's Got Talent' breaks an unlikely underwear world record on final audition night

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'America's Got Talent' breaks an unlikely underwear world record on final audition night

We see London, we see France, we see — the “America’s Got Talent” audience’s underpants?

“AGT” broke a Guinness World Record in the episode that aired Tuesday night: the record for the most people wearing underwear on their heads for at least one minute.

Nicolas “Nick” Manning, a contestant from Australia, came on “AGT” initially intending to break the record for the most pairs of underwear pulled on, one pair at a time, in 30 seconds.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be the best in the world at something,” Manning told the crowd.

The current record is 23 pairs in 30 seconds, which Manning set last July. In his attempt to beat his own record, he planned for the 24th to be a golden pair of undies.

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“So we are going for the gold in the year of the Olympics,” celebrity judge Howie Mandel said.

The crowd cheered him on in his attempt, but Manning ultimately fell short of a new record by two pairs. But he didn’t end the night there; he wanted to attempt to break another world record, one that would include the audience, judges and stage crew.

“There is a record for most people gathered in one place wearing underwear on their heads,” Manning told the crowd. The record was 355 participants.

The underwear had to be donned for a full minute, with a Guinness judge there to supervise. So all at once, the audience and judges, plus host Terry Crews, pulled out white underwear and put it on their heads. Crews even led the crowd in a chant to make judge Simon Cowell put underwear on his head as well. (He reluctantly obliged.)

More than 1,200 people participated. The room erupted in cheers upon hearing the total, but audience members soon had their underpants in a twist over the judges’ reactions to Manning’s audition.

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“I understand that a lot of people are very fascinated about those records. I for some reason, don’t really care about seeing them happen, so I didn’t love it,” judge Sofia Vergara said.

“Well, he failed on the first one, succeeded on the second one,” Cowell said. “But it didn’t feel that it was very difficult to break that record, if I’m being honest.”

So it was a “no” from all four judges, including Heidi Klum, and Manning failed to advance in the competition. But he had great support from the crowd as he exited the stage.

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DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review

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DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE Review
(PaPa, C, B, H, LLL, VVV, SS, N, A, DD, M):

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:

Strong pagan, slightly mixed, irreverent, often lawless worldview, but the movie’s premise has a solid redemptive, moral aspect to it where the main character wants to make a difference, save his friends, be a hero, and defeat two power-mad villains, and sacrifice ultimately solves the movie’s plot problem, and this is overtly referred to in the dialogue, plus the movie takes place in a humanist multiverse, though the movie appears to acknowledge the monotheistic idea that there are ultimate values that transcend the individual multiverses (thus, for example, Deadpool truly does want to be the kind of hero that his girlfriend wants him to be);

Foul Language:

At least 139 obscenities (including many “f” and “s” words), one possible Jesus profanity, seven GD profanities, and 13 light profanities;

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Violence:

Lots of extreme and even bloody and well as strong violence includes Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool two or three times, and they fight and try to kill each other even though the bodies of both men have regenerative power, lots of stabbing from Wolverine’s claws and Deadpool’s swords against each other and against bad guys, Deadpool decimates a bunch of Time Variance Authority soldiers with bones from a skeleton that have been infused with unbreakable adamantine steel, some explosions, a villain is able to infiltrate and control the minds of other people (this is depicted as if one of the villain’s hands is poking through the person’s head – there’s no blood, the action seems to be more metaphorical or taking place on a non-physical plane), explosions, gunfights, people are shot multiple times (for example, both Deadpool and another character shoot Wolverine multiple times in two plot twists), and-to-hand combat, villain with telekinetic powers kills one character by ripping his skin away, and people go flying during the movie’s many fight scenes;

Sex:

No sex scenes but the dialogue has a smattering of crude sex jokes, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself;

Nudity:

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Brief upper male nudity;

Alcohol Use:

Some alcohol use;

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:

No smoking, but an older side character enjoys cocaine, and there are jokes about her cocaine use, though it’s never depicted; and,

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Miscellaneous Immorality:

Deadpool lies to Wolverine about an important matter, but Wolverine eventually forgives him and accepts Deadpool’s perspective on why his lie wasn’t really a lie.

In DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE, Deadpool wants to make a positive difference in the universe to regain the love of Vanessa and teams up with a reluctant Wolverine to stop a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority who’s trying to destroy Deadpool’s universe. DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new depths of degradation, which ultimately overwhelms the movie’s redemptive heroic premise and dilutes the movie’s enjoyment level.

In the story, Wade Wilson aka wants to regain the love of his girlfriend, Vanessa, to become a true hero. However, The Avengers turn him down, so he stops using his Deadpool identity altogether and just enjoys being with his friends, including Vanessa. He still wants to get back with her though, but she nixes the idea.

Two years later or so, a power-mad bureaucrat from the Time Variance Authority (TVA), calling himself Mr. Paradox, picks up Wade. Paradox thinks Wade has matured enough to be a hero. He wants Wade’s help for a special assignment. Wade is gung ho and gets Paradox to build him a new Deadpool suit. However, he rebels against Paradox when he discovers that Paradox is trying to destroy Wade’s universe, including Vanessa and his friends. Apparently, the death of Logan, aka Wolverine of the X-Men, in Wade’s universe has set off a chain of events that will lead to the universe’s destruction sometime in the future anyway. So, Paradox decides why wait for all that pain and misery to develop? Why not just destroy Wade’s universe now?

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A fight occurs Paradox’s offices. Wearing his Deadpool suit, Wade manages to escape in one of the TVA’s multiverse time travel portals. Deadpool travels back to Wolverine’s burial place to revive him. Things don’t go according to plan, and Deadpool finds a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. He eventually figures a way around it, but only to find another obstacle. Wolverine is not interested in stopping Mr. Paradox, and certainly not to work with Deadpool, whom he loathes.

Even when Wolverine finally reluctantly agrees to help, he and Deadpool encounter the biggest obstacle of all, a new, even more powerful villain. This villain wants to destroy the whole multiverse except for one area.

Can Deadpool and Wolverine stop this new villain and Mr. Paradox too? Can Deadpool save his own universe? Will Deadpool stop his incessant talking?

Except for some exposition, the jokes and action in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE don’t stop. The movie also has some surprising, funny cameos. However, the movie takes the crude language and extreme violence in the first two Deadpool movies to new levels, or depths.

For example, Wolverine gets really mad at Deadpool at least twice. They fight and try to kill each other, with Wolverine stabbing Deadpool repeatedly with his claws, and Deadpool stabbing Wolverine repeatedly with his samurai swords. As fans of the two characters know, the bodies of both men have regenerative powers, so these scenes seem to go on forever with no resolution. In another long scene, Deadpool slices and dices multiple TVA policemen. Also, in a third long scene, Deadpool and Wolverine wade through a horde of assailants together. The brutality of the violence is clearly too extreme.

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The number of obscenities in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE has also sunk to new “heights,” going well over 100 to about 140 or more. There’s also some strong lewd dialogue, including a joke about a Boy Scout leader exposing himself. Unlike the first DEADPOOL movie, however, this third movie has no explicit sex scenes or nudity.

Ultimately, the brutality of the violence and the amount of obscene language in DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE dilutes the enjoyment of the story. It also overwhelms the movie’s redemptive ending. Shock for shock’s sake is a flawed concept that ultimately turns off more people than it attracts.

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Activision Blizzard's ‘World of Warcraft’ game developers vote to unionize

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Activision Blizzard's ‘World of Warcraft’ game developers vote to unionize

The more than 500 game developers at Blizzard Entertainment who work on the blockbuster video game “World of Warcraft” have elected to form a union, marking the latest entrant in a wave of unionizing efforts in the video game industry.

Three hundred workers cast votes in favor of joining the Communications Workers of America Local 9510, according to a ballot count conducted Wednesday by a third-party arbitrator, the union said. Eighteen voted “no.” Microsoft-owned Blizzard Entertainment has recognized the union.

Employees are seeking to address issues such as hours, pay, transparency around promotions, remote work and layoff protections, said Eric Lanham, a test analyst who has worked at Blizzard Entertainment for about nine years and is a member of the union’s organizing committee.

“The decision by workers on World of Warcraft to form a union marks a key inflection point in the broader movement for game worker organizing industry-wide,” Tom Smith, CWA’s senior director of organizing, said in a statement. “What seemed impossible six years ago is now a reality.”

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The newly unionized workers on the “World of Warcraft” development team are largely based in Irvine, where Blizzard Entertainment’s campus is located, as well as in Massachusetts. The unit includes designers, engineers, producers, artists, quality assurance testers and other game developers.

Lanham said he and his family have been impacted by his mandatory overtime hours, making it difficult to spend time with his child. As a test analyst, Lanham earns about $55,000 annually, pay that he says is far below that of competitors.

“To live in Irvine costs a significant amount,” he said. “We don’t earn enough.”

Blizzard Entertainment is a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, the largest game company in the Americas.

Activision Blizzard was created in 2008 when Santa Monica-based Activision merged with the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment. Activision Blizzard is known for successful titles such as “Call of Duty,” “Warcraft,” “Overwatch,” “Hearthstone” and “Candy Crush.” It was acquired in 2023 by tech giant Microsoft Corp.

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The video gaming giant had a total employee count of 13,000 as of December 2022, according to its last annual report.

The worker election did not have to go through the typical process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board because Microsoft pledged to take a neutral stance toward workers who sought to form a union.

Microsoft’s pledge, unusual among largely nonunionized tech giants, could pave the way for thousands of additional workers to more easily unionize. Already, more than 1,750 video game workers who work for Microsoft have joined CWA.

“We continue to support our employees’ right to choose how they are represented in the workplace,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. “We will engage in good faith negotiations with the CWA as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement.”

In recent years, video game workers across the industry have increasingly pushed back against their working conditions, including temporary contracts with limited job security and intense pushes to meet game deadlines. The industry has also recently been roiled by layoffs and dissent from workers over the use of artificial intelligence in their work.

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Earlier this year, Microsoft said it would lay off 1,900 employees at Activision Blizzard and Xbox. Wired reported this week that to fill the gap of a reduced workforce, some Activision Blizzard concept artists were forced to use AI to aid in their work producing 2D images.

Paul Cox, a senior quest designer at Blizzard Entertainment who crafts the story that takes place in the narrative behind “World of Warcraft,” said that as industrywide layoffs ramped up, “it started to feel like we were lines on a spreadsheet, where people we can’t see are making decisions for us.”

“We want to make sure our voice has equal standing,” he said.

In May 2022, video game testers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software subsidiary voted to form a union with Communications Workers of America — a first for a U.S.-based game company — after going on strike for weeks.

Wednesday’s announcement by “World of Warcraft” workers also comes on the heels of a successful union vote by artists, engineers, programmers and designers at another Microsoft-owned studio. Last week, some 240 workers at Maryland-based Bethesda Game Studios, the company behind “The Elder Scrolls” and the “Fallout” series, signed union cards or otherwise indicated their support for the union in a tally.

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