Treasure Planet (2002, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 7

Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, Jonathan Hyde-Pierce, Martin Short, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurie Metcalf

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(7-Very Good Film)

Engaging. Action-packed. Misfire.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel, Treasure Island, is adapted and animated for the big screen with a unique twist: instead of the 18th century pirate-infested high seas as its setting, Treasure Planet relocates the oft-told story to the wide-open space of some far off galaxy. The move doesn’t really make sense logically (like why would they be flying pirate ships in space?) and Treasure Planet lacks the broad appeal of Disney films like The Lion King or Aladdin, which resulted in it bombing at the box-office and putting 2-D animation on life support. It’s not a bad movie despite this, however. It’s actually a compelling narrative (naturally, given its source) with well-drawn characters, excellent voice acting, stunning visuals, and several exciting sequences. It’s unfairly marginalized and due for reappraising.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(396)

The Skin I Live In (2011, Directed by Pedro Almodovar) Spanish 9

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet,  Roberto Álamo

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Mesmerizing. Potent.

Wow. I was determined to jump ahead of this film’s twists, and yet, I still found myself stunned and elated at its slowly unraveling plot. Beginning with Antonio Banderas as a renegade surgeon reeling from his wife’s death and Elena Anaya as his special patient/prisoner, the film jumps back and forth in time oozing sinister undertones and tossing out red herrings until the big moments that left me floored and unnerved. All the actors are quite good in Almodovar’s slightly campy, melodramatic manner, and the director once again proves to be a master at blending tones and styles.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(389)

Alien: Covenant (2017, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 6

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smoltz

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Interesting. Intriguing.

The Covenant, a ship full of people searching for a new home find themselves on a detour from hell after the captain stops on a mysterious planet. The Covenant’s crew explore, and the film becomes a sci-fi slasher flick thereafter. Horror films and big-budget spectacle don’t have a great track record. The best horror flicks are often inexpensive sleeper films (this year’s Get Out for example). Ridley Scott’s third venture into his Alien franchise is successful enough as an entertainment. The visuals are incredible, the cast with limited depth of character to work with are fine. Michael Fassbender is given the only truly interesting role (double roles actually) in David and Walter, androids of different models. The film is a bit of a mess thematically, but still intriguing with thoughts of creation and power. That aspect of Alien: Covenant might warrant a second viewing down the road. Otherwise, it’s an ambitious slasher film, complete with a ridiculous, gratuitous sex/murder scene that seems straight out of a Jason flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(368)

Happy Death Day 2U (2019, Directed by Christopher Landon) English 6

Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews

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(6-Good Film)

Convoluted. Fun. Free-wheeling.

Early on, there’s a scene where the three returning protagonists-Tree (Rothe), Carter (Broussard), Ryan (Vu)-go to a science lab to search for a demented serial killer. Carter leads the way with a baseball bat. The other two go empty-handed. Looking for a killer is one thing, but going empty-handed is too much. I’m resisting the urge to scream, “Grab a weapon!” at the screen. Then, almost a slasher film miracle. Ryan grabs a mop handle, and I think, “this might be a superior slasher film with characters that make decent decisions.” Sadly, no. Another scene, not long after, Ryan, in the middle of a crowd of people, runs from his masked pursuer to hide in an empty room with no witnesses and no one to help him should the killer find him. Thankfully, Happy Death Day 2U is barely a slasher film. A sequel, this film continues with the time loop conceit (borrowed from Groundhog Day) but takes it to some fun, surprising, adventurous places. Still silly, still tame, and the whodunnit element proves fairly uninteresting, Happy Death Day 2U works more as a young adult adventure flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(361)

Timecop (1994, Directed by Peter Hyams) English 6

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mia Sarah, Bruce McGill, Ron Silver, Gloria Reuben, Scott Bellis

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(6-Good Film)

Solid. Entertaining. Undemanding.

Don’t think too much on this one. All time-travel movies are open to questions of logic. Timecop just flat out doesn’t seem to care. I think that approach is best with an action flick meant to entertain more than provoke. Timecop stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, in his most grounded performance, as a man whose job it is to monitor crimes committed by time travelers. He has his eyes on Senator McComb (Silver), whom he believes is using time travel to steal money for his presidential campaign. He also thinks McComb has something to do with the unsolved murder of his wife a decade earlier. Timecop is a solidly crafted thriller that gives the illusion of being a high-concept film without ever bogging down in any high concepts. It’s an action film with plenty of action and a strong supporting cast led by Ron Silver’s turn as the bad guy. Over-the-top performances from them would have been fatal and the best Timecop could have hoped for would be to have some camp value. As it is, it’s a good movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(344)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Directed by Ron Howard) English 6

Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

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(6-Good Film)

Slight. Engaging. Solid.

Staying true to their word of a new Star Wars movie a year, Disney gives us Solo, an origin story for the iconic character first played by Harrison Ford. He’s played here by Alden Ehrenreich, a good actor, and a fine Han Solo, despite not looking very much like Ford. His story follows his humble beginnings on Orellia, where an orphaned Han and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Clarke) struggle to survive at the mercy of a local crime syndicate. It all seems very Charles Dickens-esque or Dickensian if you will, which could have made an interesting film by itself, however, we light-speed past this part of his life, and pick up years later when through a series of events, Han meets a gallery of thieves and decides to join them, along with his new pal, Chewbacca. The mission details hardly matter (and perhaps that’s the film’s main fault). All that matters is that the stakes are high, it’s going to be extremely difficult, and there will be a ton of action. The film delivers on all of the basics of popular entertainment: action, great special effects, romance, mystery. In the end, though, it feels too much like the B-Side to a great album. I haven’t been overly impressed with the Star Wars spin-offs. You lose the element of surprise since we know where Han is going, but I did find Han and Chewie’s budding friendship worth the watch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(337)

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)