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-

Eighth Grade (2018, Directed by Bo Burnham) English 7

Starring Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Catherine Oliviere

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In Kayla Day, writer/director, Bo Burnham, has given us a protagonist who is smart, kind, thoughtful, motivated, self-improving, and fun. Where, outside of school, do these traits routinely go completely unnoticed? Unfortunately for Kayla (played wonderfully by Elsie Fisher), that’s exactly where she is. Eighth grade. On the cusp of high school, which is even worse. Since she is shy, often awkward, like anybody at that age with self-awareness, not model thin, and cursed with acne, the rest of her qualities go unappreciated, and she gets described as “the weird girl.” The bright side is, for people like Kayla, life does get better, and most of the events during this time, like the ones shown in this film, really aren’t the end of the world, though it feels like they are in the moment. The greatest accomplishment of Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is making us feel it too. The triumphs, the tragedies of 14 year old girl, Kayla. Yes, we laugh, but we wince too. There were moments that I watched this film through my fingers, like it was a horror flick. It’s a unique film that has you watching through your fingers and smiling at the same time.

As for the plot, I’m not sure Eighth Grade can be said to have one. With the accuracy of a documentary, it follows its subject, taking a fly on the wall approach, on the last days of her junior high life. Kicking off with Kayla’s class being subjected to a sex ed video (one that attempts to better relate to the students by acting “hip”), the proceedings only grow more embarrassing from there. She gets invited to the most popular girl in school’s birthday party; by the girl’s mom, not by the girl herself, who refuses to acknowledge Kayla’s existence. She goes to a pool party where everyone seems perfectly comfortable in their bathing suits except for her. She has a crush on a guy: Aiden. A kid who makes faces and weird noises in class. She hears that he broke up with a girl who wouldn’t give him dirty pictures of herself, so there’s a horrifying episode where Kayla thinks dirty pictures could win her his heart. The film also goes one or two darker places, without ever seeming trumped up or anything else but completely natural. One of the film’s highlights is Kayla’s single father, who obviously embarrasses his teenage daughter, simply by existing and being around. He manages to be utterly oblivious at times to her struggles but is also always there when she needs him.

As for the director, I’ve been aware of Bo Burnham, who’s had an impressive amount of success at such an early age, as a comedian for some years now, without ever enjoying his schtick, but a little research shows that he’s a man of many talents: published poet, stand-up comic, musician, now filmmaker. And Eighth Grade isn’t some minor indie success, suggesting one hit wonder. He is a genuine filmmaker, and Eighth Grade is an excellent film.

-Walter Howard-

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018, Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky) English 5

Voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, David Spade, Kevin James, Mel Brooks, Jim Gaffigan, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Parnell, Fran Dreschner

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(5-Okay Film)

Unambitious. Witless. Technically-impressive.

Count Dracula (Sandler) has everything he could want in his life, only he’s lonely. He’s been a widower for a hundred years now, and has never taken a break from maintaining his hotel. His daughter, Mavis (Gomez), organizes a family vacation mainly to give her dad a break, which soon becomes a family vacation for all the monster families as they take off on a cruise to Atlantis. Count Dracula, determined not to have fun, nevertheless becomes infatuated with the cruise’s captain, Ericka (Hahn), who is secretly a descendant of Van Helsing and despises monsters. It’s a fantastic premise squandered by scatter shot writing. It’s a gag every second which is fine when a solid percentage of the gags land (Anchorman for example). When the gags are merely amusing at best, as they are here, one wishes the filmmakers aspired for more, instead of settling on quick jokes. The animation is breathtaking at times, and deserved a better purpose.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(162)