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)

 

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)

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)

Robin Hood (2018, Directed by Otto Bathurst) English 4

Starring Taran Edgerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Jamie Dornan, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

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(4-Bad Film)

Ill-conceived. Misguided. Drab.

Robin Hood’s back. He wasn’t gone for long. It’s been just 8 years since the last big-budget Robin Hood adventure starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. This reboot stars Taran Edgerton as the famed crusader who steals from the rich and gives to the poor of Nottingham during King John’s reign. Jamie Foxx plays Little John, or actually just John, an anglicized version of his Muslim name; just one of the odd choices the filmmakers made in their storytelling. The sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelsohn) taxes the people beyond their means to fund his plot to take control of the country, and only Robin can stop him. Borrowing heavily from Zorro or the Batman myth, Robin plays up to the Sheriff, pretending to be a snooty aristocrat, while moonlighting as a vigilante. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films also seem to be an inspiration. The bottom line is it’s just not very good. It’s not incompetent, and Mendelsohn is a compelling villain (as he’s shown in countless movies now), but the new Robin Hood simply makes me miss Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. The color, the fun, the romance. All things missing from this outing. The first act largely follows the failed crusades in the middle east, and I’m baffled that the filmmakers thought this would be appealing. Immediately Robin Hood becomes a dull affair. This is Robin Hood, not The Hurt Locker. Fortunately, the second act picks up a little, but not enough to make this a good film. It’s also almost entirely humorless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(107)

Fantastic Beasts:The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, Directed by David Yates) English 6

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Alison Sudol

Image result for the crimes of grindelwald(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Jumbled. Strained.

Your enjoyment of the newest entry in the Harry Potter canon will depend a great deal on your love of the series. I’m a massive fan of Potter, and am willing to watch what feels like the leftover scraps from a great meal. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has very little to do with beasts. Protagonis, Newt Scamander (Redmayne), is being pushed into helping the Ministry of Magic catch fugitive dark wizard, Grindelwald (Depp). Newt prefers to stay out of such affairs. There are so many subplots and call-backs that I couldn’t keep up, and stopped trying at some point. As part 2 of a projected 5 part series, Fantastic Beasts still hasn’t proven to be compelling on its own feet, apart from its source. Author and screenwriter is still throwing monkey wrenches at the old Harry Potter plots to make this new series relevant. Redmayne has not proven to me to be an interesting actor. Scenes between him and Jude Law as Dumbledore accentuated for me how charismatic Jude Law is and how uncharismatic Redmayne is as Scamander. Then there is Depp as Grindelwald. Depp’s casting seemed to cause some doubt among fans. He gives a very good performance, and is one of the film’s highlights. In the end, for all of my negativity towards it, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an entertaining spectacle. It’s just a few rungs down from Harry Potter.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(83)

Venom (2018, Directed by Ruben Fleischer) English 6

Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze

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(6-Good Film)

Campy. Silly. Fun.

Occasionally, not often, I’ll watch a film that makes me question my own cinematic taste. I’ll watch Blade Runner 2049 and be bored to tears, or, on the opposite end of the pole, I’ll thoroughly enjoy a film like Venom. Torched by critics, who, to be fair, only reaffirmed my belief that the Tom Hardy, superhero vehicle would be a massive waste of time, a box-office dud, and an embarrassing cash-grab by Sony, I was surprised five minutes in to find myself intrigued by what was going on, and shocked by the end to find I liked what Sony did with the movie. Does that make it a good film?  I decided to let some time pass. Maybe I was influenced by the natural high I sometimes achieve eating Walgreen’s candy at the movie theater. Best to keep my opinion to myself, I thought. But I couldn’t keep it to myself. I texted a dozen people that Venom was, against all odds, a good film, and now, two days later, I feel confident enough to put it in writing. Venom is a good film.

Eddie Brock leaps from the comic book pages onto the big screen in a solo film that not many people thought would ever happen, and even fewer felt he deserved. Played by Tom Hardy, in a bewildering performance best described as Nicholas Cage-esque (I’m leaning towards that being a compliment), Brock is a hot-headed, investigative reporter who runs afoul of corporate thug, Carlton Drake (Ahmed, an odd but entertaining choice), resulting in him losing his job and his fiancée, Anne (Williams). Drake has some kind of sinister, shady plan afoot involving symbiotes from outer space (more interesting to watch than to explain; the film, to its credit, recognizes this), and Brock ends up merging with one of them. The symbiote, named Venom (I don’t remember why the symbiotes speak English but they do) inhabits Brock and can communicate with him through thoughts. Venom has seemingly unlimited power, though we learn his weakness is fire and high-pitched noise. Brock, as he grows accustomed to the powers, goes after Drake who’s planning to take over the world-typical super villain stuff-and Venom’s motivation for helping him ends up being quite funny rather than perfunctory.

Sony and the filmmakers eschew the problems of most super hero origin stories. Venom is never boring. It’s not dark and brooding, which, I know a lot of people were upset that this isn’t R rated. Maybe a dark and reflective Venom could have worked (it worked so well for Ang Lee’s Hulk), but this Venom is funny (usually intentionally), fast, cheesy, over-the-top, fresh, silly, and fun. At its core, it’s a compelling bromance between Eddie Brock and his symbiote friend, Venom, and it took me by surprise.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-