Aquaman (2018, Directed by James Wan) English 4

Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

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(4-Bad Film)

Colorful. Dumb. Senseless.

“Not Orm. Ocean Master” So says Patrick Wilson’s character, the villain of the piece. The general consensus about Aquaman seems to be that it’s “cheesy fun.” I love cheesy fun movies. Remember I liked Venom. Aquaman is bad. I can’t get over the fact that it’s about grown men riding on dolphins. It’s so dumb. Jason Momoa gets his first solo adventure following the woeful Justice League, as the titular hero, Aquaman. He can dwell on land or in water (not unlike a turtle), and can communicate with sea creatures. In the secret underwater world of Atlantis, his half-brother, the evil Orm, later “Ocean Master” (eye roll) plots an attack on land dwellers. Arthur teams up with Princess Mera to find the trident from Little Mermaid that will prove he’s the rightful king of Atlantis. I became bored of this fairly early on, and never recovered. There are moments of vibrant color (not unlike a child’s artwork), but many more of poor jokes, and pseudo-serious lines of villainy. James Wan has made so many good films before this-The Conjuring, Fast and the Furious 7- Aquaman doesn’t belong with those movies. The opening resembles 1984’s Splash minus Tom Hanks, and who wants that?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(201)

Christmas Challenge Film #10: Arthur Christmas (2011, Directed by Sarah Smith) English 6

Every few years or so, you’ll see something of a high-concept Christmas flick hit theaters. The Santa Claus (1994) is probably the most successful example. They take the conventions or the mythology behind Christmas and attempt to put a new spin on it. Arthur Christmas is such a film. I saw it seven years ago during its original release, in theaters, and rewatched it this week as part of my Christmas film challenge.Image result for arthur christmasArthur Christmas imagines the behind-the-scenes workings of Santa Claus as a family-run, multi-generational operation: Malcolm, the father, Margaret, the mother, Steven the oldest son, and Arthur the second son. There’s also the slightly loopy Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy).  Malcolm (voiced by Jim Broadbent), the current “Santa Claus,” is more of a figurehead than a leader. It’s his oldest son, Steven (voiced by Hugh Laurie), who runs most of the day-to-day operations, oversees the presents, and sets up a bevvy of cutting-edge technology to make Christmas more efficient than ever before. Steven’s ready to take over as Santa Claus. Malcolm has been considering retiring for years now, and the entire family anticipates him turning things over to his oldest son, but Christmas eve comes, and Malcolm announces that he’ll continue on. Steven is irate. Worse still, it seems that some child’s present slipped through the cracks, and wasn’t delivered. The only person who shows much concern is Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), the well-meaning, but often in the way Claus. He sets out to deliver the present with only the help of similarly looked-over elf, Bryony, and Grandsanta, who has ulterior motives.

Arthur Christmas is appealing, clever, and wonderfully animated, as is the case with all of Aardman’s productions. I do think it’s a bit iconoclastic in that Santa looks like an incompetent jerk for most of the movie. I wonder how that plays over with kids. That aside, it’s a good film, and worthy of making its way into your Christmas flick rotation.

(6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(195)

Christmas Challenge Film #9: Elf (2003, Directed by Jon Favreau) English 9

Some films reveal their greatness on impact, others over time. When Elf was released back in 2003, it was a big hit, well-reviewed by critics, and I certainly enjoyed it. I had no idea, however, that I would be watching it every year, for fifteen years straight. Naturally, I included it in my, now, time-crunched quest to watch 25 Christmas movies before the big day. Elf comes in at number 9. Oy vey! I have a long ways to go, and very little time left. I still believe in myself. I can do it.

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Elf was SNL alum, Will Ferrell’s first great star vehicle. He plays Buddy, an orphan human, adopted as a baby and raised by Papa Elf (inspired casting in Bob Newhart), growing up among Santa’s little helpers in the North Pole. As he becomes older, he finds it hard to fit in, and, eventually Papa Elf tells him the truth: he’s a human. His mother is dead, but his father’s alive, and lives in New York. Buddy sets out from the North Pole, and heads to New York to meet his dad, whom he learns made Santa’s naughty list and is working as a children’s book publisher. The film then becomes a holly jolly fish-out-of-water tale. Buddy, with his intense cheer, comes across to New Yorkers, as delusional. The first part of Buddy’s arrival in New York contain the film’s best scenes. Buddy’s able to find his dad (played by James Caan) in his big office, but thrown out almost immediately. Buddy begins a job working in a department store under the purview of the unfortunately named Wanda (played hilariously by Faizon Love). There he meets pretty coworker, Jovie (Deschanel), before he’s ultimately able to reconnect with his father. I especially love this section of Elf.

Elf endures as a classic because it’s funny, and it’s a sincere Christmas movie. The casting is perfect for every role; from Will Ferrell to Peter Dinklage to Faizon Love and Newhart whom I already mentioned. I look forward to watching it again next Christmas.

(9-Great Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(194)

Christmas Challenge Film #8: The Christmas Chronicles (2018, Directed by Clay Kaytis) English 6

Filmmaker Chris Columbus is a slave to sentimentality and not much concerned with the visual aspect of  filmmaking. Despite his limitations, he’s responsible for some fantastic films: Gremlins, Adventures in Babysitting, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland,  Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potters. His newest film, which he produces, is The Christmas Chronicles, written by Matt Lieberman, directed by Clay Kaytis. It’s a solid production, and very likely the best Christmas movie made exclusively for Netflix yet. I’ve worked my way through the streaming service’s catalog of Christmas films, and they are all decent, good-spirited adventures, but the Christmas Chronicles is the only one with any sense of broader appeal. The fun for all ages slogan is mostly true here.

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The Christmas Chronicles begins with memories of the good times the Pierce family have shared during past Christmas seasons. As we catch up to the present, we see that the father, Doug (Oliver Hudson), has died (in the line of duty as a fireman), and the rest of the family is struggling to adjust: the mom, Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley),  works full-time as a nurse, and hardly has time to spend with her kids, 10-year-old daughter, Kate, is constantly getting in fights with her older brother, Teddy, who’s become a delinquent since his father’s death. It’s not an altogether original premise, but still proves effective. When Kate catches Teddy stealing a car with a group of his new criminal friends on camera (she’s an avid filmer), she blackmails him into helping her get an image of Santa Claus on tape, to prove he’s real, as Christmas Eve approaches. They wind up causing Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) a heap of trouble, and to atone, they work to help him get Christmas back on track so that he can deliver each present on time.

The real attraction is the headliner, Kurt Russell, and he makes for a wonderful Santa Claus. He’s boisterous, rowdy, fun, and versatile enough to move between comedy and some of the later dramatic moments with ease. I’d love to see him return to this role for another adventure. The children’s story is standard in many ways, but it’s mostly an excuse to get to the film’s more creative ideas: Kurt Russell’s take on the character and the elves.

Netflix has yet to put out a masterpiece (though I haven’t seen Roma yet), and The Christmas Chronicles isn’t one, but it is an entertaining holiday film for the family. There’s a cameo at the end of the film, that is entirely predictable, but very much welcome.

 (6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(189)

 

Back to the Future (1985, Directed by Robert Zemeckis) English 9

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

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(9-Great Film)

Wacky. Imaginative. Fun.

Life for the McFly family is a disappointment. The only one that seems to still have a chance is Marty (Fox), the youngest son. He gets roped into his genius inventor friend, Doc Brown’s scheme that involves time travel, and ends up stuck in the year 1955; the year his father and mother are supposed to fall in love. However, film time travel rules (written in pop-culture stone with Back to the Future) dictates that if you change one thing in history, you alter the future completely. After Marty interferes with his parents first encounter, he races to get them together, or else he’ll disappear, while searching for  a way to get back to his own time. Complicating matters, his mom has a crush on him. One of the great popcorn flicks, and one of the first films to come to mind when you think of the word fun. Inventive, not only visually (which date, as all special effects do), but in its storytelling as well, which makes it as enjoyable today as ever.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(181)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Directed by George Miller) English 9

Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Hugh Keays-Byrne

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(9-Great Film)

Hyperkinetic. Visionary. Exciting.

Mad Max returns after several decades hiatus, this time with Tom Hardy taking over from a Mel Gibson, who at this point was still very much in the doghouse. Max reluctantly joins Furiosa (Theron), who’s helping a group of women escape their lives as concubines to cult of personality, Immortan Joe. Paced and filmed like a comic book, or perhaps like an old road runner cartoon, Fury Road is a complete original. I love every Mad Max film, even Thunderdome, and this is one of the best. I will always wish that Mel Gibson was in this, but Tom Hardy fills in admirably. Theron and the horde of strong women are the real stars though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(163)

Mortal Engines (2018, Directed by Christian Rivers) English 6

Starring Robert Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

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(6-Good Film)

Uninspired. Entertaining. Solid.

Alas, this is not a live-action remake of Howl’s Moving Castle, but, thankfully, it’s not a complete waste of time as I once feared either. In fact, I was reasonably entertained for most of the film. Mortal Engines, based on a YA science fiction novel, is set in a post-apocalyptic, steam punk world, where cities have been motorized. The two main characters are thrust together once Tom (Sheehan), a bright young historian, living in mechanized London, stops Hester Shaw (a mysterious young girl on a mission of revenge) from assassinating Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving), something of a leader in this new world. The plot is a bit simple and easy to drift off from, but the special effects are solid and the actors are solid. There’s nothing exceptional about the film, but nothing terrible either. I enjoyed it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(153)