Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019, Directed by David Leitch) English 6

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Hart, Helen Mirren

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(6-Good Film)

Ridiculous. Over-the-top. Fun.

Remember when the Fast and the Furious franchise was about stealing cars? At some point, the Fast and the Furious adventures merged with James bond-like sci-fi and end-of-the-world scenarios and, in my opinion, they’re all better for it. Hobbs and Shaw is a spinoff of the last Fast and the Furious with superhuman heroes Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) teaming up to save the world despite not liking each other. They’ll have to put aside their antagonism in order to help Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Kirby), herself a British spy, who’s carrying a catastrophic virus that a mysterious agency known as Eteon is after. Idris Elba lends some gravitas to his fairly silly role as Brixton Lore, part-robotic villain and mercenary for Eteon. Hobbs and Shaw is clearly setting up its own franchise and I’m down with that. The leads were the best thing about the last Fast and the Furious film and carry that chemistry into this one. Physics fly out the window pretty fast in this movie (Hobbs somehow lassos a metal chain around a plane in midair) but once you let that go, you can have a pretty good time. The big issue for me is the over-use of CGI as opposed to stunt work which the director, David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) has shown a great talent for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(668)

 

The Unearthly (1957, Directed by Boris Petroff) English 4

Starring John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Tor Johnson, Sally Todd

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(4-Bad Film)

Schlock. Flat. Doltish.

The Unearthly may be the best film featured on the cult t.v series, Mystery Science Theater, but that’s hardly a recommendation. It actually means that, while still not being good, it also lacks the requisite trash value to be so bad it’s good. It’s not entertaining. The premise is promising. A mad scientist played by Carradine tests out his theories on his distressed patients searching for immortality. A fugitive, Mark Houston (Healey), wanders into this house of horrors and unearths its secrets. Wittier dialogue, more colorful characters, and a director with any talent for suspense could make The Unearthly a worthwhile B movie. Instead, it’s ample fodder for the crew on MST3 to lampoon. “My Dinner with Andre had more locations.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(658)

Howard the Duck (1986, Directed by Willard Huyck) English 4

Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, David Paymer, Holly Robinson, Paul Guilfoyle

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(4-Bad Film)

Inane. Unpleasant. Unfunny.

Beverly says it best, “Howard, you really are the worst.” I don’t know a thing about Marvel’s comic book series from which this movie was made, but as voiced by Chip Zien and portrayed in this film, Howard has to be one of the least charming heroes of all-time. Combining not-so-witty duck puns, general hostility, sarcasm, sleaziness, and bad animatronics, Howard’s pulled away from his planet and brought to Earth (Cleveland, to be specific) where he befriends Beverly (Thompson) and gets roped into stopping a violent alien form, the Dark Overlord (Jones), from taking over. This isn’t the worst film ever. It’s not even the worst Marvel adaptation. I’d vote one of the Fantastic Fours for that distinction. But I didn’t like anything about Howard the Duck. I have an affinity for the ’80s, its aesthetic and vibe, there being a number of bad films from that decade that I love, but Howard the Duck is an eyesore and painful to listen to.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(650)

Men in Black: International (2019, Directed by F. Gary Gray) English 6

Starring Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson

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(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Fast. Worn.

Rewatching the first Men in Black film, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, I was struck by how odd it is. It is surely one of the weirdest mainstream blockbuster films ever. That’s a great deal of what made it so fresh back in 1998. An inspired, inventive blockbuster movie. There were several back in the 1990s, but they are very nearly extinct now. When’s the last time a fresh blockbuster picture came out? I can’t remember one this decade. The closest I can think of is The Hunger Games, which, though based on a book, at least isn’t a remake or a reboot or an MCU film. In any case, after the success of the first Men in Black, two sequels followed, each further prioritizing CGI and their big budget over story, humor, and unique ideas which are what made the original special. Now comes Men in Black International, a film nobody asked for and is probably going to sink at the box office. The good news is, despite or more likely because of my exceedingly low expectations, I enjoyed this movie. Pleasantly surprised, I found it light, fast-moving, and just intriguing enough to get by. The bad news is I doubt anyone cares. Critics seem to be lashing out from remake fatigue because Men in Black International currently sits at a lowly 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. My movie taste is admittedly questionable but this film at 28% is hyperbole. It has worse reviews at the moment than the incomprehensible Suicide Squad. That’s honestly absurd.

Tessa Thompson plays Molly, first introduced as a young girl having an encounter with an extraterrestrial. Men in Black swoop in to control the situation but miss Molly when they do their memory-erasing of the witnesses. From that day on, Molly is obsessed with aliens and the mysterious Men in Black, hoping one day to join them. Eventually, she hits paydirt but on a probationary basis and MIB leader O (Emma Thompson) assigns her to MIB London where she meets their leader, High T (Neeson), and their top agent, H (Hemsworth), who’s lost his way and at this point is coasting on his past success. Molly, now Agent M, pairs up with H to protect an important alien visitor, Vungus, but when Vungus ends up murdered, M works out that there has to be a mole within MIB. I like the cloak and dagger aspect brought to this new Men in Black. The space oddity coolness is long gone and this franchise will never feel fresh again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. I always enjoy a good espionage thriller and MIB International imagines its fictional agency as being a lot like MI6 (via James Bond, not John Le Carré). The plot, however, like the franchise is well-worn. One of them is a traitor. That’s interesting enough, but the reveal is fairly obvious if you’ve seen enough movies. It also doesn’t help that there are really only two suspects; one highly suspicious and the other very unlikely. Of course, it’s the latter whodunnit.

Visually, I miss the practical effects of the first Men in Black. It forced the filmmakers to be more creative with their alien designs as well. There was CGI in that film, but not nearly as much as this one. Too many aliens here seem out of place, taken from another movie (John Carter, maybe).

Director, F. Gary Gary (Friday, The Italian Job, The Fate of the Furious), is capable of delivering entertaining fare if not always critically acclaimed works. Men in Black International seems destined for critical rebuke and box office embarrassment. Nobody wanted another Men in Black and this remake would have had to be amazing to overcome all the apathy. It’s not amazing, but I do think it’s good and a worthwhile diversion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(597)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, Directed by Simon Kinberg) English 5

Starring Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters

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(5-Okay Film)

Underwhelming. Uninteresting. Mediocre.

      X-Men is one of Marvel’s best creations. The potential is there for some truly great superhero films, but so far, Logan is the only adaptation that I would call great, with X2, Days of Future Past, and The Wolverine being very good. You can go to a lot of different places with these characters. The comics have done noir, mixed in historical fiction, post-apocalyptic, futuristic tales. There’s a wealth of opportunities. To my disappointment, the newest X-Men is a reboot of the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix storyline previously adapted in the woeful but hilarious X-Men: The Last Stand.  I understand that The Last Stand told Jean Grey’s story poorly, but I still would have preferred an original premise. The worst part, however, is that X-Men: Dark Phoenix isn’t even better than that film. Sure, it’s darker and less silly, but to what purpose? It’s also less entertaining.

This seems like an opportune time to reflect on how much I miss Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Instead of his charismatic Logan,  Dark Phoenix gives us a brooding Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner) as a lead, and it’s just not as much fun. The film opens with a pretty typical at this point origin episode. A grade-school Jean Grey’s telekinesis causes her parents to get in a car accident, killing them and leaving the young girl an orphan. It’s pretty similar to Rogue’s story, isn’t it? Enter Professor Xavier (McAvoy) who takes her to his school and promises to help her, this scene reminding me of Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter. The rest of the film takes place in 1992. Jean’s a young woman now. Scott Summers, or Cyclops (Sheridan), is her boyfriend. Mystique (Lawrence) has returned to the school, and she and the other X-Men work towards Xavier’s goals of peace between mutants and humans. One of the film’s few compelling storylines is the tension between Xavier and his students who feel like he’s become egocentric. Early on, he seems more ruthless than we’ve seen him before; more interested in politics than his students. A near catastrophe leaves Jean vulnerable to traumatic memories and newly awakened powers causing her to hurt others without meaning to. It’s a storyline familiar to anyone who’s seen a classic monster movie (The Wolfman, anybody?). It’s too familiar. Spurring her on towards the side of evil are a group of mysterious aliens led by Vuk (Chastain), a sort of Svengali always whispering monotonously in Jean’s ear. The filmmakers decided to make these villains like Pod people out of a ’50’s B-Movie, except they took all of the mystery and suspense out of it since they’re revealed for what they are right out of the gate. The result is a dull and lifeless villain largely responsible for making X-Men: Dark Phoenix a dull and lifeless movie.

Directing, in his debut, is Simon Kinberg. He’s written several fantastic films including previous, successful X-Men installments. One of the biggest responsibilities of the director is managing the tone of the film, whether it’s switching between tones frequently like a Pedro Almodóvar film or a Tarantino film or it’s attempting to sustain one tone throughout like a great horror movie (The Thing, for example). Kinberg goes for the latter and it strikes me as one of Dark Phoenix’ biggest mistakes. This is not a horror movie and yet it’s humorless and grim from start to finish.

The actors, we know, are good, because we’ve seen them in other things. Some do good work here, mainly McAvoy and Hoult, with the majority given nothing to do but wear a tight outfit. Sophie Turner doesn’t prove that she can carry a film, but (though her English accent slips in once or twice) it’s not because her performance is bad. She plays a misunderstood monster, only instead of wonderfully grotesque features and practical effects like the classic Universal monsters, we just see a young woman throwing a tantrum and then running away like an overemotional teenager.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(584)

The Iron Giant (1999, Directed by Brad Bird) English 6

Voices of Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., John Mahoney, Christopher McDonald, Cloris Leachman, Eli Marienthal

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(6-Good Film)

Nostalgic. Moving. Intelligent.

“You are who you choose to be,” Hogarth tells the iron giant. It’s a strong message and theme of this film as Hogarth (Marienthal), a young adventurous boy, living through the Cold War in 1957 Maine, stumbles upon an otherworldly being made of iron that consumes metal. Oddly enough, the “iron giant” comes in peace, and Hogarth sets about hiding him from the small town’s citizens and the sinister Kent Mansley (McDonald), a government agent sent to investigate some strange happenings. Hogarth gains the help of the town’s scrap metal artist and beatnik Dean (Connick Jr.), but how long can they hide a fifty-foot metal man? The animation, the voice acting, the writing are first-rate, and the central idea that you can rise above your nature, or that you’re defined by what you do and not how you look, are mature and weighty themes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(512)

A Clockwork Orange (1971, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 4

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri, Michael Bates

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(4-Bad Film)

Bleak. Sordid. Hellish.

Adapted from Anthony Burgess’ equally memorable novel, A Clockwork Orange follows Alex (McDowell) and his gang of deviants through a hellacious and random run of violent acts in dystopian England. Justice eventually catches up to Alex, it appears, and he’s hauled off to prison, but he’s later picked for a new “aversion therapy” that leaves him lobotomized essentially, and raises questions of control and freedom of choice. I’ve never thought much of A Clockwork Orange despite its stature, its iconic imagery, or its ability to get underneath my skin. First and foremost, it’s a drag of a two-hour film. The last half is downright tedious in my opinion. Second, its approach to the violent-sexual scenes of the book is to fetishize them. A Clockwork Orange is a squalid film; one of the most overrated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(511)