The Matrix Reloaded (2003, Directed by The Wachowskis) English 6

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Randall Duk Kim, Monica Bellucci

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(6-Good Film)

Unfocused. Meandering. Inferior.

The Matrix Reloaded is at the top of any list made about disappointing sequels. Neo returns, now a full-blown super hero, and so does Morpheus, his mentor, and Trinity, the woman he loves. Neo is having visions (or are they just nightmares?) of Trinity dying in the future, while Morpheus and the rest of the resistance argue over how best to fight back against the computers. A sequel to the extraordinary original was a tough prospect. I think so much of The Matrix’s greatness depended on the mystery and not fully understanding everything going on. The Matrix Reloaded widens its story, clarifies a few things, and the film becomes less interesting as a result. The attempt at epicness also hurts it, seeming more pompous and rambling than grand scale. The special effects which were cutting edge and blew everyone away in ’99, are overused here and resemble more an old video game at times than human beings. It’s funny to me, but the first film, released four years earlier and made with less money, looks better than its sequels. The Matrix Reloaded isn’t devoid of all virtues. It holds several intriguing ideas mixed into its long ramblings, the world building, carrying over from the first film, is incredible, and Neo is a hero for the ages.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Watch (2012, Directed by Akiva Schaffer) English 5

Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemary DeWitt, Billy Crudup, Will Forte

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(5-Okay Film)

Inconsistent. Erratic. Funny.

The Watch is too inconsistent in tone to be a good film; too light on laughs. Ben Stiller plays an uptight Costco manager, who starts a neighborhood watch after one of his coworkers is murdered. To his agitation, the only people who sign up for his neighborhood watch are a trio of goofballs and weirdos: loudmouth Bob (Vaughn), maladjusted Franklin (Hill), and geeky Jamarcus (Ayoade). The watch soon find themselves to be in way over their heads when it looks like aliens are involved. This isn’t a horrible movie, and its cast is quite funny at times. I’m just not sure it’s a necessary viewing, and I strongly doubt anyone will choose to watch it twice.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Matrix (1999, Directed by The Wachowskis) English 9

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano, Anthony Ray Parker

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Provocative. Enigmatic.

Thomas Anderson (Reeves) follows a series of puzzling messages that lead him to Morpheus (Fishburne) and the rest of his crew, as they explain the Matrix. This film blew most of us away back in 1999. It blends cutting-edge special effects, a diverse array of philosophies, martial arts, and the cyber punk subgenre into a mainstream action flick. I honestly would have described it as mind-blowing back in the day.  Time and the criminally disappointing sequels may have dimmed its appeal slightly, but not too seriously. It’s still cool as hell, still provocative, still exciting, and I will forever love Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. Hugo Weaving gives an indelible performance as the evil Mr. Smith. It’s a confusing concept this film builds around, but rewarding, at least in this installment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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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-

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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-

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959, Directed by Ed Wood) English 2

Starring Bella Lugosi, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, Tor Johnson

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(2-Atrocious Film)

Incompetent. Silly. Confusing.

A U.F.O, grave robbing aliens that look like humans, and zombies that look like vampires fill the scattered narrative of Ed Wood’s infamous film, but basically it’s about evil invaders from a more advanced planet who want to wipe out humanity. Besides being amateurish and inept in several aspects of filmmaking, Plan 9 is also awfully hard to follow. There’s no discernible character development, introduction, or suspense to speak of, and only towards the end do we get a sense of character motivation. Ed Wood was just as woeful at script writing as he was at directing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(109)

Mac and Me (1988, Directed by Stewart Raffill) English 3

Starring Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Martin West, Danny Cooksey, Jade Calegory, Lauren Stanley

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(2-Atrocious Film)

Third-rate. Shoddy. Laughable.

A young alien, given the nickname Mac (mysterious alien creature), crash lands on Earth, separated from his family. Discovered and befriended by brothers Eric (bound to a wheelchair) and Michael, Mac looks to reconnect with his family. If this premise sounds awfully similar to E.T: Extra-Terrestrial, it’s because Mac and Me is a blatant rip-off of that classic, released just six years prior. Add to that, Mac and Me is a lousy rip-off, devoid of any imagination, and damned by poor design for the central alien figure. There are two especially bad scenes: one where Eric loses control of his wheelchair and falls off the side of the cliff, and another set in McDonalds, where everyone begins a choreographed dance number. The latter is mind-blowingly bad. Baffling, really, and not the only embarrassing moment of product placement. The former is unintentionally hilarious. Surprisingly, the acting is professional, keeping Mac and Me out of the seventh circle of movie hell where The Room and Troll 2 live.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(52)