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Review: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” strains under plot, finds joy in the past

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Review: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” strains under plot, finds joy in the past

2.5 stars. 2 hours 28 minutes. Rated PG-13

Despite Marvel’s usual bloat and a swirling storm of characters, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” earns its joy and sorrow with thematic substance, the breathless action often contrasted with quiet reflection and grief.

The movie also reinforces star Tom Holland as the ideal Spider-Man, and Colorado-born director Jon Watts as his ideal director. They return from the last two, Holland-starring Spider-Man movies — 2017’s excellent “Homecoming” and 2019’s darker, less-tidy “Far From Home” — with Holland as Queens teenager Peter Parker and his alter-ego superhero.

“No Way Home,” the 27th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, picks up right where “Far From Home” left off, with fallen foe Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) framing Spider-Man for his death via a pre-recorded message and revealing the hidden identity of our web-slinger to the rest of the world.

A quick chase scene, claustrophobic montage and lengthy aftermath shows the toll it takes on Parker and his friends, MJ (Vendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon). They lose out on their first-choice college because of the toxic publicity, while Parker becomes a next-level punching bag for J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), a talk-radio style vlogger/media indictment whose life goal is to take down Spidey.

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Tom Holland, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange in Columbia Pictures’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” (Sony Pictures via AP)

Previews have spoiled most of the first act, but I won’t continue to chip away at the surprises. Still, it’s no spoiler to say Parker’s fury toward himself grows so intense that he seeks out Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a fellow New Yorker and ally in the last two “Avengers” movies. Parker wants Strange to magically make everyone in the world forget he’s Spider-Man. But he has provisos, which interrupt Strange mid-spell and force a brief break in the time-space continuum.

That slim door to alternate realities nonetheless lets in villains who already know that Parker is Spider-Man — thus setting up the coppyright-apalooza from pre-MCU Spider-Man films, three of which starred Toby Maguire (2002-2007) and two with Andrew Garfield (2012-2014). Faces from those movies, some of them digitally de-aged, appear in rapid succession, setting Parker on a path to find them all.

Though they’re supervillains, the script by takes pains to show The Green Goblin and Doc Ock, for example, as people with souls — however troubled. Parker’s Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) tells her nephew not to send them back to their grim fates, but rather to help them. Cue the moral hand-wringing, a trio of massive action setpieces and a roller-coaster tour of Sony’s own Spider-Man properties.

1639742600 268 Review Spider Man No Way Home strains under plot finds joy
This image released by Sony Pictures shows a scene from Columbia Pictures’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” (Sony Pictures via AP)

When an important character leaves this MCU franchise, presumably permanently, it’s not just another sobbing goodbye. And even heavily telegraphed, the cameos are genuinely destabilizing and fun. Amid heady subject matter, Holland and Watts and a newly central Zendaya craft moments of humor and natural chemistry, the propulsive score from Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino slathering the right notes into every last auditory crack.

And there are a lot. This is another long movie — nearly 2 1/2 hours — and at least 45 minutes of it could have been condensed. It certainly feels that long, and by the time it ends audiences will have survived something like the interminable, schmaltzy farewells of “Return of the King.”

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St. Paul woman sentenced to more than 10 years for fatally stabbing boyfriend last year

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Kayla Janea Pope

A St. Paul woman was sentenced Tuesday to more than 10 years in prison for fatally stabbing her boyfriend in the back with a kitchen knife during an argument last year.

Kayla J. Pope (Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Kayla J. Pope, 22, was sentenced in Ramsey County District Court to 128 months after pleading guilty to second-degree unintentional murder in the Sept. 10 slaying of Eric T. Brown, 23, of Minneapolis, on St. Paul’s East Side.

Pope was represented by Katie Allen and Luis Rangel Morals, who are attorneys for Neighborhood Justice Center, a criminal defense nonprofit based in St. Paul. The attorneys argued to Judge P. Paul Yang that Pope should receive no prison time and be put on supervised probation.

Allen and Morals cited prior to sentencing and again Tuesday the documented incidents of alleged physical abuse that Pope faced at the hands of Brown, who was the father of her 2-year-old son.

They also noted how Pope did not have a criminal record previously and how she has undergone therapy and mental health services through Ramsey County Child Protection.

Morals called the stabbing a “freak accident,” noting how the knife wound was less than two centimeters in length.

“Ms. Pope has scars on her body documenting the abuse,” he said.

Brown’s father, Sandy Brown, addressed the judge, saying that he told his son and Pope to “leave each other alone.” Brown “did not deserve to die,” his father said. “I hate that she took my son from me.”

BROWN FOUND WITH STAB WOUND

According to the criminal complaint, St. Paul police were called to the area of East Seventh Street and White Bear Avenue about 9 p.m. on a report of a man being shot during an assault.

When they arrived, they found Brown with a stab wound near his left shoulder. He was unconscious, not breathing and had no pulse, police said. Officers began lifesaving measures on the man. He was transported to Regions Hospital and died a short time later.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that the stab wound to Brown’s back had cut an artery, causing him to bleed to death.

Police interviewed Pope at the scene and later at the police station where she changed her story multiple times, the complaint states.

At first she said Brown was stabbed by a man wearing all black who had met him to sell him marijuana, the complaint said. Video from traffic cameras, combined with an earlier police call to the apartment for a domestic dispute, cast doubt on Pope’s story of a shadowy assailant.

Video showed Brown running from Pope and he appeared to be wounded in the altercation, the complaint states.

Pope later changed her story, saying Brown was abusive and had threatened to take their child and leave. She said she meant to stab his backpack, but that it shifted in the struggle and the knife went into his back instead, the complaint states.

She led police to where she had pushed the steak knife into the ground after fleeing the scene, the complaint said.

ALLEGED PATTERN OF ABUSE

The alleged pattern abuse was central to her attorneys’ argument for probation. They described her as a “battered woman.”

In April 2019, when Pope was 15 months pregnant, Brown punched her in the belly during an argument, according to a criminal complaint charging him with domestic abuse. That same day, after she was released from the hospital, Brown punched her in the chest, pulled her hair and choked her.

Brown was convicted of gross misdemeanor domestic assault for the incident. In July 2019, Judge Yang sentenced Brown to one year in jail, which was stayed, and two years of probation.

The next time Pope reported abuse to police was in January 2021, according to her attorneys. In the five months before the stabbing, she reported five more instances of either abuse or other violent behavior, her attorneys wrote to Judge Yang.

“I cannot help but be appalled at the many times she reached out for help and did not get the help she needed,” Allen told the judge on Tuesday.

Ramsey County prosecutor Cory Tennison acknowledged the past domestic abuse, but added “two wrongs don’t make a right.” He argued for a 150-month prison sentence.

“The criminal justice system did not take a knife and stab this man,” he said. “The defendant did.”

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Dylan Cease and the Chicago White Sox navigate traffic on the basepaths in a 3-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader

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Dylan Cease and the Chicago White Sox navigate traffic on the basepaths in a 3-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader

Dylan Cease had to deal with traffic in every inning of Tuesday’s start against the Kansas City Royals.

The Chicago White Sox right-hander made the big pitches each time.

Cease allowed seven hits and struck out nine in 5⅔ innings, leading the Sox to a 3-0 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium.

“(The Royals) did a really good job of getting on,” Cease said. “There was a lot of traffic today, but fortunately I executed pitches with guys in scoring position pretty well and got some big strikeouts.”

Cease surrendered a season-high six runs in four innings in his last start Thursday against the New York Yankees. He bounced back, combining with four relievers for the shutout.

“He gave us all that he had,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “He got into the sixth with two outs and that’s outstanding.”

Cease faced challenges from the start, as Royals leadoff batter Whit Merrifield doubled in the first. He moved to third with one out, but Cease struck out Salvador Perez and Ryan O’Hearn to end the inning.

The Royals had runners on second and third with one out in the third. Cease again struck out Perez and O’Hearn.

“I have enough experience now to where I know when I’m doing too much and not enough,” Cease said. “It’s just staying the course and trusting it.”

The Royals came up empty again in the fourth when Hunter Dozier was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on a single. The play at the plate wasn’t close.

All three runs came in the fifth. Reese McGuire doubled and scored on AJ Pollock’s sacrifice fly to left. José Abreu made it 3-0 with a two-out, two-run double.

Abreu went 2-for-3 with a walk.

“Looking more like himself, isn’t he?” La Russa said.

Abreu fielded a grounder and beat O’Hearn to first for the third out of the fifth as the Royals stranded two more runners.

Cease exited after striking out MJ Melendez for the second out of the sixth on his 94th pitch.

“He worked hard,” La Russa said. “I didn’t want to push him there in the sixth. He gave us what he had. He worked out of some jams.”

Bennett Sousa struck out pinch hitter Michael A. Taylor with a runner on second to end the sixth.

Joe Kelly allowed a double and two walks to begin the seventh. Kelly bounced back, striking out pinch hitter Carlos Santana (Perez left with a left thumb sprain) and O’Hearn and getting Dozier to pop out to second.

“His command you can tell, he hasn’t been here,” La Russa said of Kelly, who was on the injured list April 4 to May 9 as he recovered from a right biceps nerve injury. “He’s got outstanding stuff. He’s a great competitor. He’s got great guts.

“You see that pitch he made on Santana and O’Hearn. … He’s tough as nails. When he had to, he made pitches. It’s the sign of a champion.”

The Royals went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and struck out 14 times.

“The way that I was taught to look at it is what did they have to hit,” La Russa said. “We pitched Perez (1-for-3 with two strikeouts) like the Hall of Famer he is. There were very few mistakes in RBI situations.”

Before the first game, the Sox selected the contract of pitcher Davis Martin from Triple-A Charlotte, added reliever Kyle Crick from Charlotte as the 27th player for the doubleheader, placed starting pitcher Michael Kopech on the paternity list and transferred reliever Garrett Crochet (season-ending Tommy John surgery) to the 60-day IL.

Martin, 25, made his major-league debut as the Game 2 starter. He is 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA and 41 strikeouts in seven starts between Charlotte and Double-A Birmingham this year.

He allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five starts at Birmingham before being promoted to the Knights on May 5. He is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and eight strikeouts in two outings with Charlotte.

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More free at-home COVID tests are now available as virus cases spike across US

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More free at-home COVID tests are now available as virus cases spike across US

Every household in the country can now order a third round of free at-home COVID tests as the highly transmissible omicron subvariants fuel a spike in virus cases.

The Biden White House has announced that people can get an additional eight free rapid antigen tests — bringing the total number of free tests available to each household since the start of the program to 16 tests.

“Good news, folks: You can order another round of free COVID-19 tests shipped right to your door,” President Biden tweeted on Tuesday.

Virus cases have been quickly rising as the omicron subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 spread across the country.

“As the highly transmissible subvariants of omicron drive a rise in cases in parts of the country, free and accessible tests will help slow the spread of the virus,” the Biden White House said in a statement.

To date, the administration has distributed about 350 million free tests across the country, in U.S. territories and at overseas military bases, with most tests delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. The third round of tests were purchased by the federal government earlier this year with funding from the American Rescue Plan. The ability to send out future rounds of tests hinges on funding that’s not in place yet.

“Due to Congress’s failure to provide additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Administration cannot continue making the types of federal investments needed to sustain domestic testing manufacturing capacity, and this may jeopardize the federal government’s ability to provide free tests moving forward,” the Biden White House said.

“Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to doing everything in our power to ensure the American people have the lifesaving tools they need — so they are prepared for whatever comes,” the administration added. “Congress must step up and act as well.”

Each order now includes eight rapid antigen COVID tests. The order of eight tests will come in two separate packages, each with its own tracking number. Packages will ship for free.

To order a round of tests, visit COVIDTests.gov. People are able to quickly sign up in less than a minute by filling out their name and address.

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