The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 7

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Dazzling. Lesser.

The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength, the mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), who can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), who has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids, dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever-growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the supervillain of the piece, is good, not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings has been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as family commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene-stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movie, The Incredibles 2 is a fantastic superhero film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(599)

Hereditary (2018, Directed by Ari Aster) English 8

Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Surprising. Haunting. Riveting.

Guilt. Resentment. Strife. Cursed bloodlines. A dysfunctional family. Tragedy. Alas, a nightmare. Hereditary takes its time before becoming a horror flick, and until that point, until its diabolical bloom, I was at a loss as to what the film really was and where it was going. Is it a ghost story? A haunted house movie? The only thing I could firmly grasp was the tangible dread the filmmakers and actors build up so well. A feeling that something horrific was coming, and when it does, Hereditary achieves the status of great modern horror film.

If you’re like me, you’ve noticed the overwhelming praise given to the film by critics across Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. If you’re like me, you’ll go into Hereditary skeptical since critics rarely know what they’re talking about when it comes to the Horror genre. The majority of critics don’t like the genre, which is fine, but then what is their review of a horror film worth? To me, this explains why films like The Quiet Place and It Comes at Night do very well critically (fine films but without any actual bite), and legitimately scary genre pieces like Sinister get middling reviews. Thankfully, Hereditary delivers. Not just as a well-made film (a remarkable debut from writer/director Ari Aster), but as a superb, bloodcurdling horror story.

Opening at the funeral of the family matriarch, Ellen, her daughter, Annie Graham (Collette) gives a rather stiff eulogy revealing a strained relationship with her mother, and setting up the rest of the film which, as evidenced by its title, has much to do with family legacy and “visiting the sins of the father on the children,” or, in this case, the sins of the mother. Annie, a successful miniaturist artist has a patient husband, Steve (Byrne) and two children: a distant son, Peter (Wolff) and a daughter, Charlie (Shapiro). After a shocking incident, and I don’t want to say too much since I went in blind and was blown away by this particular scene, the Graham family is forced to live past a tragedy that lays a pall over their lives. Annie reluctantly seeks comfort in group meetings, but quickly gives up on the venture before meeting Joan (Dowd), an older woman grieving over a lost son. Joan turns Annie on to séances, and, naturally, this opens the door for evil and the ensuing horror show. It’s at this stage of the film, actually pretty late in the proceedings, that Hereditary becomes less surprising. The last act is an effective but conventional piece of storytelling. What still separates Hereditary from the rest of its kind, even in the end, is director, Aster’s entirely assured pacing which never settles for cheap scares but takes each moment to its peak horror and then wades on to the next set piece. He gives his actors long takes to work with, and they reward him with likely the best performances of the year. The story belongs to Toni Collette’s Annie, and Collette getting a rare starring role, is outstanding. She’s made a career out of playing mothers across a number of genres, but that hasn’t kept her from proving to be an incredible chameleon-like actor at times. Consider, this is the Australian actress who played the caring, American mother in The Sixth Sense, the kooky British mother in About a Boy, and the frayed matriarch of the hilariously dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine. Consider too, her ultra-creepy performance in the underrated Night Listener starring Robin Williams. I’m simply a fan. Relatively new to me is Alex Wolff who plays the troubled son. I’ve seen him recently in the Jumanji reboot, but nothing to prepare me for the depth he gives to this role. He’s largely the character we’re most often asked to identify with, and it’s through his eyes, we see much of the tragedy and the horror. The ending works for me, but at the same time, is derivative of past classics like Rosemary’s Baby and the recent triumph, The Witch.

Finally, I’m still unsure as to what really went on in this film. I have more questions than answers.  I recognize the themes of persistent discord. Generations of parents and children at odds. I see the toll of tragedy on a family. How much of the blame seems to fall back on the mother? But what’s clearest of all is the talent of the young filmmaker, the impressive cast (I hadn’t mentioned Ann Dowd yet whose sensational in a performance likely inspired by Ruth Gordon in, again, Rosemary’s Baby), and the haunting account of evil that lasts beyond the closing credits.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(598)

Men in Black: International (2019, Directed by F. Gary Gray) English 6

Starring Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson

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(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Fast. Worn.

Rewatching the first Men in Black film, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, I was struck by how odd it is. It is surely one of the weirdest mainstream blockbuster films ever. That’s a great deal of what made it so fresh back in 1998. An inspired, inventive blockbuster movie. There were several back in the 1990s, but they are very nearly extinct now. When’s the last time a fresh blockbuster picture came out? I can’t remember one this decade. The closest I can think of is The Hunger Games, which, though based on a book, at least isn’t a remake or a reboot or an MCU film. In any case, after the success of the first Men in Black, two sequels followed, each further prioritizing CGI and their big budget over story, humor, and unique ideas which are what made the original special. Now comes Men in Black International, a film nobody asked for and is probably going to sink at the box office. The good news is, despite or more likely because of my exceedingly low expectations, I enjoyed this movie. Pleasantly surprised, I found it light, fast-moving, and just intriguing enough to get by. The bad news is I doubt anyone cares. Critics seem to be lashing out from remake fatigue because Men in Black International currently sits at a lowly 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. My movie taste is admittedly questionable but this film at 28% is hyperbole. It has worse reviews at the moment than the incomprehensible Suicide Squad. That’s honestly absurd.

Tessa Thompson plays Molly, first introduced as a young girl having an encounter with an extraterrestrial. Men in Black swoop in to control the situation but miss Molly when they do their memory-erasing of the witnesses. From that day on, Molly is obsessed with aliens and the mysterious Men in Black, hoping one day to join them. Eventually, she hits paydirt but on a probationary basis and MIB leader O (Emma Thompson) assigns her to MIB London where she meets their leader, High T (Neeson), and their top agent, H (Hemsworth), who’s lost his way and at this point is coasting on his past success. Molly, now Agent M, pairs up with H to protect an important alien visitor, Vungus, but when Vungus ends up murdered, M works out that there has to be a mole within MIB. I like the cloak and dagger aspect brought to this new Men in Black. The space oddity coolness is long gone and this franchise will never feel fresh again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. I always enjoy a good espionage thriller and MIB International imagines its fictional agency as being a lot like MI6 (via James Bond, not John Le Carré). The plot, however, like the franchise is well-worn. One of them is a traitor. That’s interesting enough, but the reveal is fairly obvious if you’ve seen enough movies. It also doesn’t help that there are really only two suspects; one highly suspicious and the other very unlikely. Of course, it’s the latter whodunnit.

Visually, I miss the practical effects of the first Men in Black. It forced the filmmakers to be more creative with their alien designs as well. There was CGI in that film, but not nearly as much as this one. Too many aliens here seem out of place, taken from another movie (John Carter, maybe).

Director, F. Gary Gary (Friday, The Italian Job, The Fate of the Furious), is capable of delivering entertaining fare if not always critically acclaimed works. Men in Black International seems destined for critical rebuke and box office embarrassment. Nobody wanted another Men in Black and this remake would have had to be amazing to overcome all the apathy. It’s not amazing, but I do think it’s good and a worthwhile diversion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(597)

Tremors (1990, Directed by Ron Underwood) English 6

Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Victor Wong, Michael Gross, Finn Carter, Reba McEntire, Bobby Jacoby

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Well-paced. Tense.

In the dusty old town of Perfection, Nevada, two handymen, Val (Bacon) and Earl (Ward), vow to move on from the familiar and chase their fortunes elsewhere. Just as they set out to leave, a couple of strange deaths pull them back as they and the rest of the town’s citizens work out the cause: three giant worms with teeth. Unable to escape or call for help, they ‘ll have to fight the monsters themselves or die trying. Tremors is a surprisingly well-written movie with a bevy of strong characters. Bacon and Ward make the lead characters’ camaraderie and chemistry feel natural, and the monsters are still effective almost thirty years after the film’s release. My one problem with Tremors is the setting, which is simply unattractive. It works for the film’s story, but as for the aesthetics, it’s unappealing and grungy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(596)

 

Tin Cup (1996, Directed by Ron Shelton) English 7

Starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin

(7-Very Good Film)

Solid. Entertaining. Knowing.

Kevin Costner reteams with the director of his early career classic, Bull Durham, to once again merge the sports film with the romantic comedy. Costner plays a chronic hot head and underachiever hoping to impress the woman he loves, a therapist played by Rene Russo, by competing in the U.S Open. Tin Cup hits many of the same notes as Bull Durham, and the result is a movie that at times feels familiar or reliant on charm borrowed from another film. However, this golf flick has qualities of its own that make unfavorable comparisons to its predecessor unfair. It’s a really entertaining, solid gold movie with compelling leads.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(595)

The Three Musketeers (2011, Directed by Paul W.S Anderson) English 5

Starring Logan Lerman, Orlando Bloom, Ray Stevenson, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen, Juno Temple, Freddie Fox, Luke Evans, Matthew Macfadyen, James Corden

(5-Okay Film)

Painless. Unimpressive. Witless.

Vapid adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ classic adventure novel about D’Artagnan’s (Lerman) exploits with three rogue members of the King’s musketeers: Athos (MacFadyen), Porthos (Stevenson), and Aramis (Evans). This film focuses on their mission to foil a plot of the ruthless Cardinal Richilieu (Waltz) by returning the Queen’s stolen necklace in time for a royal ball.  Instead of a clever, sneaky job of procuring the necklace-there is some exposition about it being held in England’s most secure palace,which could have been interesting- they pretty much blow the place up and take it. How exciting. Better than the director’s past work on such manure as Mortal Kombat (1995) and Pompeii (2014), but still not good enough to recommend to someone you like. No character development and brainless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(594)

One Man Band (2006, Directed by Mark Andrews, Andrew Jimenez) English 6

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(6-Good Film)

Simple. Effective. Faded.

Two market place street musicians in medieval times compete for the last coin from a young girl. After the two’s escalating performances cause her to drop the coin and lose it, she demonstrates her own musical ability earning her more gold than the two men could ever imagine. Reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon in a way, because of the intense rivalry and one-upsmanship and pettiness of the characters. Shows once again Pixar’s talent at telling an engaging story without dialogue, which they put on full display soon after with Wall-E. Their artwork and Michael Giacchino’s music tell the story, though the visuals are slightly faded with time.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(593)