Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019, Directed by Rob Letterman) English 6

Starring Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Kathryn Newton, Rita Ora, Omar Chaparro, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Suki Waterhouse

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(6-Good Film)

Engaging. Lively. Loud.

Tim Goodman (Smith) lives a quiet, dull existence as an insurance salesman in a world where millions of Pokémon roam. After the death of his police detective father, Tim travels to Ryme City for some closure, but stumbles into a conspiracy and meets his father’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu (voiced by Reynolds). The two find that they can understand each other, and reluctantly team up to get to the bottom of what happened to Tim’s father. The first thing going for this film, surprisingly the first live-action adaptation of the Pokémon franchise, is the first-rate design of its fantastic creatures. Pikachu is wonderfully brought to life. Consider what we’ve seen of Sonic in his upcoming film, and rejoice at the work of these animators. Ryan Reynolds brings a joke-a-second energy to the role and though only a small percentage of them land in my view, it keeps the proceedings fun. The plot isn’t as grand or deep as the best mystery films, and its solutions are easy and obvious, but I love noir and the premise is good enough and executed well enough to make Detective Pikachu worthy entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(541)

Avengers: End Game (2019, Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo) English 6

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton

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(6-Good Film)

Sprawling. Anticlimactic. Silly.

Some spoilers ahead! I’ve considered several different options of reviewing this juggernaut of a film (what will likely be the biggest movie of a stacked year). I didn’t see any way of completely avoiding spoilers since I am most certainly in the minority with my opinion being that, like all Marvel films before it, Avengers: End Game is a decent, but ultimately disappointing film. In order to defend my position, I’d like to be specific occasionally. The truth is that a great number of people will love End Game. I can already hear the incoming choruses of “Avengers: End Game is the greatest movie of all-time,” made up of guys who think black and white films are boring. I respect the level of skill and talent that goes into a production of this sort while feeling alone in noticing how slick, safe, and unsubstantial all Marvel films are. Is it a bad movie? No. It’s a good movie. In fact, the entire first half of the film is incredible; special. Which is why I was so disappointed by the second half treading unsurprising, familiar turf. The great first half was just a tool to get to a fist fight between Iron Man and Thanos. That’s probably what most people want. I was bored.

End Game begins like a dystopian epic, with a fantastic opening involving Clint Barton/ Hawkeye (Renner) and his family, then moves to Downey Jr. as Tony Stark wandering into space, alone, searching for answers. The other remaining Avengers are all coping in their own way. Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Evans) seems to be the only one that maintains any degree of optimism. Though reeling, they band together to find and take down Thanos, this time aided by the supremely confident Captain Marvel (Larson), but not before they take back the Infinity stones and reverse Thanos’ massacre of 50% of Earth’s population. The Avengers confront Thanos very early in End Game, and, to be honest, at that point, I’m a bit thrown, unsure of what the movie’s up to. That surprise doesn’t compare to what happens when the scene ends, and, for the first time watching a Marvel film, I don’t know where it’s going and I’m excited. Cut to five years later, and I’m thinking this could be Marvel’s first exceptional picture. But…

At some point, Scott Lang (Rudd) shows up and he’s the one with the brilliant idea about time travel? How? He’s a thief. The writers do a decent job of deflecting from this absurdity by giving him some humorous lines and references to Back to the Future and Timecop. In any case, after this point, the film stops surprising. Everything I thought would happen before entering the theater, I was now sure would happen, and later proven correct. The third act, where every Marvel film loses steam, is where Avengers: End Game becomes predictable, loud, and uninteresting. Compare it to the quiet, dramatic, anything-can-happen atmosphere of the first hour or so, and tell me it’s not disappointing.

I give the filmmakers credit for weaving together an intricate plot and a large number of character arcs perfectly. I get it. That’s hard to do. End Game does so tremendously. But at the end of the day, it’s a bunch of people who can’t really die hitting CGI monsters for an extended period of time. The payoff is the least exciting moment in the movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(513)

 

 

Us (2019, Directed by Jordan Peele) English 7

Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Tim Heidecker, Elizabeth Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Evan Alex

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(7-Very Good Film)

Illusive. Adept. Messy.

A group of doppelgangers terrorizes an affluent African-American family. Expecting a horror film that reflected ideas of the duality of man, Us is instead about privilege and classism. There’s the Wilson family-mom (Nyong’o), dad (Duke), daughter (Joseph), son (Alex)-vacationing in beautiful Santa Cruz, the perfect nuclear family, and there’s “the tethered,” doppelgangers dwelling in tunnels below society, voiceless and inconsequential. This is, at least, how I came to understand red-hot filmmaker, Jordan Peele’s, latest, a film abundant in metaphors, foreshadowing, and red herrings. It’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly it all means. Especially with the amount of questions I still have. What’s clear for me is that I will be revisiting this film at some point. Us failed to satisfy me viscerally or cathartically. It becomes obvious all too soon, who would live and who would die, diluting some of the suspense. Us appeals more to the intellect, and as a result, time and repeated viewings will tell how good it actually is.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(457)

Captain Marvel (2019, Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) English 6

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Satisfying. Solid.

We are about a million miles away from what Roger Corman had in mind for his unrealized production of Fantastic Four back in ’94. It’s amazing how far the superhero genre has come in those 25 years. Captain Marvel arrives in theaters with a cast full of A-listers and Oscar nominees, led by star Brie Larson. She plays Vers, an inhabitant of a distant planet called Hala, where the race of Kree lives, at war with the shapeshifting Skrull. Captured by the Skrull and prodded by their leader, Talos (Mendelsohn), Vers has visions or memories of people that she doesn’t recognize. Escaping to Earth, with the Skrulls right behind, she teams up with a younger, visually non-impaired Nick Fury (Jackson) to fight back the enemy invasion and unravel the mystery of who she is really is. Brie Larson is not a naturally charismatic star. That’s okay. A lot of great actors aren’t. They need compelling characters and things to do on screen to be interesting. For that matter, Steve McQueen, a limited actor, is extremely charismatic, without doing very much at all. The point here is that for much of Captain Marvel’s first act, where the storytelling is basically setting up a dynamic second act, Larson is asked to carry the show. For this reason, Captain Marvel is rather dull in the beginning. Eventually, several characters join her in her adventure, and, with help from a minor but welcome twist, Captain Marvel becomes a much more entertaining film as it gets going. Much has been made about a cat named Goose. Much ado about nothing as far as I’m concerned. I am apparently not amused by the same things as everyone else. I was, however, impressed with Mendelsohn, who I believe gives the film its heart, and the friendships Vers acquires on her way to becoming the great and powerful Captain Marvel.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(399)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019, Directed by Robert Rodriguez) English 7

Starring Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earl Haley, Edward Norton

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(7-Very Good Film)

Visually-stunning. Rousing. Unfinished.

Dr. Dyson (Waltz) discovers and salvages an ancient cyborg (Salazar), giving her parts originally intended for his now deceased daughter. Naming her Alita, the two grow close and fight their way through the seedy, futuristic city known as Scrapyard. Alita has a surprising amount of depth to it. No, it’s not significantly thoughtful or thematic, but the characters are well-defined and well-acted and the world is lively and spectacular. In fact, there’s much to marvel at in Robert Rodriguez’s first installment, an adaptation of the manga series Gunnm. I suppose it can’t be helped if the film ends on a cliffhanger, with so much unresolved, setting up its sequel(s). I just can’t fully invest knowing that this could all be ruined by a disastrous sequel. Aside from that, Alita is an excellent manga adaptation that sacrifices some of its uniqueness in the third act but remains an exciting action pic until the end.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(328)

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019, Directed by Joe Cornish) English 6

Starring Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart

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(6-Good Film)

Solid. Exciting. Light-weight.

The Kid Who Would Be King feels old-school. It’s a kid-centric adventure fantasy following a young boy, Alex, who draws the fabled Excalibur from a stone, and discovers that he’s destined to protect modern day England from an evil sorceress, Morgan Le Fay (Ferguson). There are, naturally, a few modern wrinkles to the classic King Arthur story, a few laughs, but mostly, the film plays it pretty straight. The Kid Who Would be King is solid, without being spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(291)

Green Book (2018, Directed by Peter Farrelly) English 7

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, P.J Byrne, Iqbal Theba, Tom Virtue

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(7-Very Good Film)

Likable. Winning. Appealing.

I resist the best I can the sort of made-to-be-inspiring , “based on a true story,” flicks that the Oscars and other award shows love. Everyone once in a while, a film such as Green Book slips past my defenses. It stars Viggo Mortensen as a bit of a meathead bouncer named Tony Lip, a New York Italian, who becomes a bodyguard/ driver for black pianist Don Shirley (Ali), making a tour across America’s deep south. The humor comes fast and frequent. Mortensen, impressive in a rare comedic role, makes Tony Lip, a caricaturesque personality, human and likable, while Ali shows a deep sense of dignity in his portrayal of Don Shirley at all times. The film is a blast because of its leads. You can complain about historical accuracy or contrived Hollywood happy endings, or whatever, but this is a film that you’ll enjoy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(271)