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)

Glass: Modern Myth-making (2019, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 8

Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Spencer Treat Clark

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Subversive. Iconoclastic. Gripping.

      Here is a film that subverts all expectations, and, as a result, the critics have belittled it. It’s difficult to recommend Glass (which I do wholeheartedly), and support my reasons why, while avoiding spoilers.  Someone more adept could possibly, but I’m not even going to try. This review is laden with spoilers.

Glass is the third part in what director, M. Night Shyamalan, has called his Eastrail 177 trilogy, a conclusion to his stellar works: Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016). Unbreakable featured a man, David Dunn (Willis, giving his career best performance), who slowly realizes that he is superhuman. Split, starring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, was like a different side of the same coin. Kevin harbors 23 distinct personalities and has been considered insane his whole life. By the end of Split, Kevin discovered his own power, though it proved more destructive and malevolent than David’s. If you are like me, you’d assume that part three would be the epic showdown between David and Kevin, unbreakable versus defender of the broken, despite the film being called Glass, (a sinister character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the first part of the trilogy). Maybe that’s what critics assumed as well, and then felt disappointed, because Glass is not that film. It’s better. It’s deeper, more thoughtful, more surprising, more interesting. Glass is a film that I can come back to, because it brings up more questions than it answers, the exact opposite of what final chapters typically do, which will frustrate many.

First piece of the puzzle is Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson).  I would argue that she is the actual main character in the film, and, it’s close, but I would guess that she has the most run-time. Just when Glass sets down to deliver what we had hoped for: a collision between two powerful forces, David and Kevin, Shyamalan pulls the rug out. Dr. Ellie Staple, inexplicably sharp and prepared to handle these powerful men, captures them, and the rest of the film takes place in an elaborate asylum. The doctor doesn’t believe in superheroes. She’s a pragmatist, and would have David, Kevin, and Mr. Glass, or Elijah, already captured at the conclusion of Unbreakable, believe that they are simply ordinary men, suffering from delusions of grandeur. It’s almost the reverse of their standalone films where David and Kevin begin to believe that they’re special.

Mr. Glass, silent for a majority of the film, and as sinister as ever, is revealed to be a great force in his own right. In fact, he proves to be the predominate figure over the entire trilogy, and of Kevin and David’s lives. The three characters’ story reminds me of Preacher Harry Powell’s love versus hate dynamic tattooed to his hands in Night of the Hunter, or better yet, yin and yang. Mr. Glass created David and Kevin, and the two are inseparable contradictions. Add to this, the film climaxes on a twist that changes everything. Dr. Ellie Staple reveals herself to be part of an organization of equalizers, men and women who hide and destroy those with super powers. They consider it unhealthy to the balance of the world to have super humans. This makes her, in my mind, bonded with Elijah. Just as there’s a yin and yang dichotomy between David and Kevin, there exists one between her and Elijah as well. She aims to cover up the existence of super humans. Elijah plots to reveal.

Shyamalan’s emphasis on duality continues in the cast of supporting characters who function as sidekicks in some ways. David has his son, Joseph, Kevin has Casey, a teenage girl once a victim of his, who formed a bond of understanding with him in Split, and Elijah has his mother. Aside from Joseph, they don’t resemble typical sidekicks, but they do enable the protagonists in some way or another: understanding for Kevin, encouragement for Elijah, hero-worship for David.

The final act is generally the point in most super hero flicks where I grow bored. Think of Marvel films. The climax is where the wit and banter disappear, the actors fade into the background, and expensive special effects take over. Consider Glass, a film in which the final act is when everything becomes less clear and more puzzling. It’s the point that most critics signal as Glass’ undoing. I think it will be a subject of discussion for years to come.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(307)

 

 

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)

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018, Directed by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston) English 5

Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Jane lynch\

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(5-Okay Film)

Dragging. Flat. Creative.

There are some nice ideas in Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it-Ralph. It explores friendship, insecurity, and visually articulates what it might look like inside the internet in an appealing way. However, for all of its cleverness, there aren’t many laughs to be found, and the story never pulled me in completely at any point. This new Ralph resembles Homer’s Odyssey in structure: kind of wandering, with no apparent villain, and slow to reach its point. I was slightly bored for much of the running time. The plot is rather simple: Vanellope (Silverman) and the gang at Sugar Rush are in danger of becoming homeless as their game is close to being shut down. Their only hope is that the arcade set gets a new wheel to replace the broken one, so the game can go on, and the only way to get a new wheel is for Ralph and Vanellope to enter the internet and find one. There’s not a lack of action. Plenty happens. The animation is vibrant. I just never truly cared.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(251)

Bumblebee (2018, Directed by Travis Knight) English 7

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, John Ortiz Voices of Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Dylan O’Brien

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Fun. Spirited.

I was pleasantly surprised. It’s possible that I’ve never been more surprised to find myself enjoying a movie, as I did with Bumblebee, the newest installment of the Transformers series, a franchise I’d long since stopped caring about. Set in the 1980s, a source of much fun for the film, Charlie Watson (played wonderfully by the engaging Steinfeld) is still grieving the death of her father when young autobot, B-127, enters her life. B-127’s mission is to scout out Earth for the Autobots as they attempt to regroup and fight back against the evil Decepticons. I don’t especially care about the grand plot involving the Transformers. Fortunately, this film plays more like an ’80s monster friendship comedy. Think E.T or Little Monster or even ’90s classic The Iron Giant. Bumblebee belongs in their company. It’s a fantastic flick, directed by Travis Knight, who’d previously worked in animation for Laika studios.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(228)