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-


Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001, Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) English 7

Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Don Novello,  David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Stunning. Anti-climactic.

Milo Thatch (Fox) has always been considered crazy for believing that the lost empire of Atlantis exists. Then one day, he’s asked to meet Preston B. Whitemore, an eccentric millionaire who wants to fund an expedition and wants Milo to lead the way. Set in the 1910s, this is Disney animation’s first sci-fi flick. I think critics focused too hard on the flaws of this film and missed out on some of its greatness. No, it’s not a great film, but it is ambitious, gorgeous, innovative, and entertaining. The voice actors are fantastic. Michael J. Fox is always an engaging protagonist. Its flaw is the lack of character development. It carves out nice characters, but we don’t get enough time to care about them. I actually think it could have been interesting as Disney animation’s first epic, meaning longer than an hour and twenty minutes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Innerspace (1987, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo

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(6-Good Film)

Wacky. Light. Amusing.

A hotshot marine officer, Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) is miniaturized for a government science experiment where he’s to be placed inside the body of a test rabbit, but, due to an attempt from rogue agents looking to steal the work, gets placed  inside the body of a hypochondriac named Jack (Short) instead. Jack and Tuck team up to return the latter to his normal size, as well as keep him out of the hands of mercenaries. Along the way, Jack becomes smitten with Tuck’s girlfriend, a reporter named Lydia (Ryan). Goofy, fast-paced with some excellently performed gags and stunts, Innerspace is more about the individual scenes than the picture itself. Promoted as a “what if” type picture wherein a Dean Martin type gets put inside the body and the head of a Jerry Lewis, they might have done well to push that idea further, but as it stands, Innerspace is a fine adventure.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Thing (1982, Directed by John Carpenter) English 10

Starring Kurt Russell, T.K Carter, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Peter Maloney, David Clennon, A. Wilford Brimley

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Thrilling. Suspenseful. Masterful.

A group of scientists camped out and cut off from civilization in Antarctica discover an alien life form that’s able to multiply, duplicate, and replace human life forms. The men turn on each other as the alien monster picks them off one at a time (just how we horror fans like it). Heavily indebted to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978), and obviously The Thing From Another World (1951), I, nevertheless, believe that John Carpenter’s The Thing surpasses its influences. Pacing, payoff, special effects, atmosphere, are all in exceptional form here. All the lovely little gory details are inspired, and the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone (which somehow was nominated for a Razzie?) is terrifying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-


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-


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-