Captain Marvel (2019, Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) English 6

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Satisfying. Solid.

We are about a million miles away from what Roger Corman had in mind for his unrealized production of Fantastic Four back in ’94. It’s amazing how far the superhero genre has come in those 25 years. Captain Marvel arrives in theaters with a cast full of A-listers and Oscar nominees, led by star Brie Larson. She plays Vers, an inhabitant of a distant planet called Hala, where the race of Kree lives, at war with the shapeshifting Skrull. Captured by the Skrull and prodded by their leader, Talos (Mendelsohn), Vers has visions or memories of people that she doesn’t recognize. Escaping to Earth, with the Skrulls right behind, she teams up with a younger, visually non-impaired Nick Fury (Jackson) to fight back the enemy invasion and unravel the mystery of who she is really is. Brie Larson is not a naturally charismatic star. That’s okay. A lot of great actors aren’t. They need compelling characters and things to do on screen to be interesting. For that matter, Steve McQueen, a limited actor, is extremely charismatic, without doing very much at all. The point here is that for much of Captain Marvel’s first act, where the storytelling is basically setting up a dynamic second act, Larson is asked to carry the show. For this reason, Captain Marvel is rather dull in the beginning. Eventually, several characters join her in her adventure, and, with help from a minor but welcome twist, Captain Marvel becomes a much more entertaining film as it gets going. Much has been made about a cat named Goose. Much ado about nothing as far as I’m concerned. I am apparently not amused by the same things as everyone else. I was, however, impressed with Mendelsohn, who I believe gives the film its heart, and the friendships Vers acquires on her way to becoming the great and powerful Captain Marvel.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(399)

Captain America: Civil War (2016, Directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo) English 6

Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johansson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chadwick Boseman, William Hurt, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Olson

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(6-Good Film)

Tense. Exciting. Consummate.

The Marvel heroes are at war…with each other. I rolled my eyes at the idea, and yet still thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Basically, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have different ideas about the direction of superherodom. They recruit other Marvel heroes/properties to join their side in the argument and they all face off 2/3rds of the way into the movie. There is of course a larger plot lingering that supersedes their battle and brings them back together eventually, but I don’t remember what it was about. I watched this film to see Black Panther and Spider-Man tangle; I can’t remember if this actually happened, but, in any case, it’s a fun movie. A beacon for DC to chase aimlessly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(398)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, Directed by Bryan Singer) English 8

Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Evan Peters

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fresh. Thrilling. Cool.

A fresh spin on the X-Men universe, Days of Future Past imagines an apocalyptic future decimated by machines known as Sentinels. Designed by a Dr. Bolvar Trask (Dinklage) in the early 1970s, the X-Men along with Magneto team up on a plan that could change everything. With Kitty’s new found power, they can send Logan (Jackman), the only mutant capable of surviving the trip, back in time to alter the past and save the future, but he’ll need the help of a young Dr. Xavier (McAvoy), weakened by drugs, and a young Magneto (Fassbender), untrustworthy and incarcerated. After Logan (2017), this is the second best X-Men film and the best one that features all of the characters. It’s a great concept executed sublimely with much humor and suspense. How many superhero films can you say that you didn’t know how it was going to end?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(371)

 

Doctor Strange (2016, Directed by Scott Derrickson) English 5

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tilda Swinton

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(5-Okay Film)

Generic. Unsatisfying. Colorful.

Alright addition to the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who, after a severe and debilitating car crash, seeks answers in the mysterious Kamar-Taj compound hidden in Nepal. After years of training in the mystic arts under the Ancient One, Strange is thrust into a struggle between good and evil fought across multiple dimensions. The film delves into some weighty themes, like the eternal, control, surrendering to something greater, and does a pretty good job of integrating them into its adventure. Tilda Swinton received a fair amount of criticism for playing the Ancient One, a role that was originally an elderly Asian man in the comics. Looking past the problematic white-washing, Swinton is very good in the role. Strange proves an ideal vehicle for Cumberbatch, and I look forward to seeing the character again. However, this film bogs down a bit in parts, and despite excellent special effects, its illusionistic action sequences don’t create the groundbreaking superhero movie I was hoping for. Doctor Strange is simply not enough fun.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(370)

Glass: Modern Myth-making (2019, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 8

Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlayne Woodard, Luke Kirby, Spencer Treat Clark

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Subversive. Iconoclastic. Gripping.

      Here is a film that subverts all expectations, and, as a result, the critics have belittled it. It’s difficult to recommend Glass (which I do wholeheartedly), and support my reasons why, while avoiding spoilers.  Someone more adept could possibly, but I’m not even going to try. This review is laden with spoilers.

Glass is the third part in what director, M. Night Shyamalan, has called his Eastrail 177 trilogy, a conclusion to his stellar works: Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016). Unbreakable featured a man, David Dunn (Willis, giving his career best performance), who slowly realizes that he is superhuman. Split, starring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, was like a different side of the same coin. Kevin harbors 23 distinct personalities and has been considered insane his whole life. By the end of Split, Kevin discovered his own power, though it proved more destructive and malevolent than David’s. If you are like me, you’d assume that part three would be the epic showdown between David and Kevin, unbreakable versus defender of the broken, despite the film being called Glass, (a sinister character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the first part of the trilogy). Maybe that’s what critics assumed as well, and then felt disappointed, because Glass is not that film. It’s better. It’s deeper, more thoughtful, more surprising, more interesting. Glass is a film that I can come back to, because it brings up more questions than it answers, the exact opposite of what final chapters typically do, which will frustrate many.

First piece of the puzzle is Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson).  I would argue that she is the actual main character in the film, and, it’s close, but I would guess that she has the most run-time. Just when Glass sets down to deliver what we had hoped for: a collision between two powerful forces, David and Kevin, Shyamalan pulls the rug out. Dr. Ellie Staple, inexplicably sharp and prepared to handle these powerful men, captures them, and the rest of the film takes place in an elaborate asylum. The doctor doesn’t believe in superheroes. She’s a pragmatist, and would have David, Kevin, and Mr. Glass, or Elijah, already captured at the conclusion of Unbreakable, believe that they are simply ordinary men, suffering from delusions of grandeur. It’s almost the reverse of their standalone films where David and Kevin begin to believe that they’re special.

Mr. Glass, silent for a majority of the film, and as sinister as ever, is revealed to be a great force in his own right. In fact, he proves to be the predominate figure over the entire trilogy, and of Kevin and David’s lives. The three characters’ story reminds me of Preacher Harry Powell’s love versus hate dynamic tattooed to his hands in Night of the Hunter, or better yet, yin and yang. Mr. Glass created David and Kevin, and the two are inseparable contradictions. Add to this, the film climaxes on a twist that changes everything. Dr. Ellie Staple reveals herself to be part of an organization of equalizers, men and women who hide and destroy those with super powers. They consider it unhealthy to the balance of the world to have super humans. This makes her, in my mind, bonded with Elijah. Just as there’s a yin and yang dichotomy between David and Kevin, there exists one between her and Elijah as well. She aims to cover up the existence of super humans. Elijah plots to reveal.

Shyamalan’s emphasis on duality continues in the cast of supporting characters who function as sidekicks in some ways. David has his son, Joseph, Kevin has Casey, a teenage girl once a victim of his, who formed a bond of understanding with him in Split, and Elijah has his mother. Aside from Joseph, they don’t resemble typical sidekicks, but they do enable the protagonists in some way or another: understanding for Kevin, encouragement for Elijah, hero-worship for David.

The final act is generally the point in most super hero flicks where I grow bored. Think of Marvel films. The climax is where the wit and banter disappear, the actors fade into the background, and expensive special effects take over. Consider Glass, a film in which the final act is when everything becomes less clear and more puzzling. It’s the point that most critics signal as Glass’ undoing. I think it will be a subject of discussion for years to come.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(307)

 

 

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)

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-