Deadpool 2 (2018, Directed by David Leitch) English 6

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beets, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews

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(6-Good Film)

Funny. Satisfying. Irreverent.

Being both blessed and cursed, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is back, and so is his zany alter-ego, Deadpool. This time, after a significant tragedy, Wade reevaluates his life and seeks redemption in saving a delinquent mutant kid from a mysterious time traveler, Cable (Brolin). Needing help for his new purpose in life, Wade recruits a group of mutants to be a part of his team, the X-Force (which he acknowledges is pretty derivative). Reynolds is a perfect Deadpool. He carries off the joke a minute, rogue hero with ease, with this outing providing better action sequences and a more engaging plot. That being said, the meta-humor isn’t as fresh as it was first go-around and that’s to be expected, but there’s still enough juice to be consistently funny, clever, and exciting. The non-stop references are a blast as well.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(533)

Logan (2017, Directed by James Mangold) English 9

Starring Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant

(9-Great Film)

Gritty. Emotional. Moving.

Superlative send-off for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (and probably Stewart’s Xavier). Drawing from classic westerns like Shane (1953)-which is featured heavily in the film-and maybe The Wild Bunch(1969)-the idea of an aging killer out for one last ride feels reminiscent of Peckinpah’s finest- Logan sets its protagonist in a dusty post-apocalyptic world (2029) where mutants have been almost completely wiped out and no new mutants have been born for some time. Logan does his best to take care of his one remaining friend, Charles Xavier, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, while also trying to poison himself to death, tired of living and watching everything around him fall apart. So, at the start of this picture, Logan is a true anti-hero, but in comes Laura, a young Mexican girl who harbors all of Logan’s mutant gifts, and Wolverine and Xavier set off on one last mission to get her to safety, as an army chases after her. Moving and brutal (the R rating is earned but not gratuitously), this Wolverine is transcendent. More than just a super-hero movie thanks to an intelligent script, and the performances-of course Jackman, but Keen as the little girl is especially impressive considering that she has to hold her own against such an iconic character.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(517)

Avengers: End Game (2019, Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo) English 6

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton

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(6-Good Film)

Sprawling. Anticlimactic. Silly.

Some spoilers ahead! I’ve considered several different options of reviewing this juggernaut of a film (what will likely be the biggest movie of a stacked year). I didn’t see any way of completely avoiding spoilers since I am most certainly in the minority with my opinion being that, like all Marvel films before it, Avengers: End Game is a decent, but ultimately disappointing film. In order to defend my position, I’d like to be specific occasionally. The truth is that a great number of people will love End Game. I can already hear the incoming choruses of “Avengers: End Game is the greatest movie of all-time,” made up of guys who think black and white films are boring. I respect the level of skill and talent that goes into a production of this sort while feeling alone in noticing how slick, safe, and unsubstantial all Marvel films are. Is it a bad movie? No. It’s a good movie. In fact, the entire first half of the film is incredible; special. Which is why I was so disappointed by the second half treading unsurprising, familiar turf. The great first half was just a tool to get to a fist fight between Iron Man and Thanos. That’s probably what most people want. I was bored.

End Game begins like a dystopian epic, with a fantastic opening involving Clint Barton/ Hawkeye (Renner) and his family, then moves to Downey Jr. as Tony Stark wandering into space, alone, searching for answers. The other remaining Avengers are all coping in their own way. Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Evans) seems to be the only one that maintains any degree of optimism. Though reeling, they band together to find and take down Thanos, this time aided by the supremely confident Captain Marvel (Larson), but not before they take back the Infinity stones and reverse Thanos’ massacre of 50% of Earth’s population. The Avengers confront Thanos very early in End Game, and, to be honest, at that point, I’m a bit thrown, unsure of what the movie’s up to. That surprise doesn’t compare to what happens when the scene ends, and, for the first time watching a Marvel film, I don’t know where it’s going and I’m excited. Cut to five years later, and I’m thinking this could be Marvel’s first exceptional picture. But…

At some point, Scott Lang (Rudd) shows up and he’s the one with the brilliant idea about time travel? How? He’s a thief. The writers do a decent job of deflecting from this absurdity by giving him some humorous lines and references to Back to the Future and Timecop. In any case, after this point, the film stops surprising. Everything I thought would happen before entering the theater, I was now sure would happen, and later proven correct. The third act, where every Marvel film loses steam, is where Avengers: End Game becomes predictable, loud, and uninteresting. Compare it to the quiet, dramatic, anything-can-happen atmosphere of the first hour or so, and tell me it’s not disappointing.

I give the filmmakers credit for weaving together an intricate plot and a large number of character arcs perfectly. I get it. That’s hard to do. End Game does so tremendously. But at the end of the day, it’s a bunch of people who can’t really die hitting CGI monsters for an extended period of time. The payoff is the least exciting moment in the movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(513)

 

 

Unbreakable: Stagnant Superman (2000, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 10

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright, Charlayne Woodard, Eamonn Walker, Spencer Treat Clark

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(10-Masterpiece)

Underappreciated. Thoughtful. Masterly.

A man with no purpose knows only stagnation, and to strive with no purpose is like running in place. Eventually, the heart runs out. It’s even worse if you feel that you have potential. Such a man might get existential. He might begin to distance himself from the life that he’s built and all the choices that he’s made. If he has a family, he might begin to resent each member. It’s a bleak reality for many people in society, but not one that’s often visited in film; certainly not in mainstream Hollywood cinema. But in the year 2000, off the heels of his massive, and to this day, greatest success in The Sixth Sense (1999), M. Night Shyamalan made Unbreakable, a film rooted in middle-aged angst made digestible by its comic book, superhero trappings. A film about David Dunne, a forty-year-old security guard unaware that he’s special- that he’s superhuman-and Elijah Price, a man who finds his purpose in showing David his.

When we first meet David, he’s aboard a train failing painfully to flirt with a pretty passenger in an adjacent seat. We see him remove his wedding ring, and think, this is our protagonist? Next, he’s sitting in a hospital bed talking to a baffled doctor. Shyamalan films this scene with David in the background and a patient in a more critical condition being operated on in the foreground. David is told that he’s been in a train accident, and only two people have survived. One is the patient that we see being worked on (minutes from death) and the other is himself, with no scratches or broken bones. Thus setting in motion his encounters with Elijah, a comic book dealer obsessed with the idea that super-humans are not just in comics, but walk the Earth as he does. Elijah suffers from a disease that makes his bones especially brittle and he believes that there must be people on the opposite end of the spectrum in that they are unbreakable. The film follows David as he moves from no purpose to having a purpose and examines the effect that has on his family-a wife that he can’t talk to anymore (played by a very moving Robin Wright) and a son who hero-worships him beyond what David feels he can deliver.

When you have the kind of success Shyamalan had with The Sixth Sense, you are in a position to do almost whatever you want. Studios want what you have, which could easily be an invitation to up the scale and indulge. Shyamalan, instead, works in the same milieu as his previous film. He takes a B-movie genre in the comic book movie and elevates it to a work of art, first by taking it seriously, and second by grounding it in the themes of disillusionment spoken of earlier. As for the comic book element, he explained his vision for the film as basically revolving around the first act of a superhero’s arc in his story. Every superhero story works in three acts essentially: one) the hero discovers their powers two) the hero uses and develops those powers three) the hero faces off against his nemesis. How can you make a movie about the first, and usually most boring, aspect of a hero’s story work with an audience? Many filmmakers have noted how sequels in hero franchises tend to be better because the origin has already been established and they can approach more interesting territory. Shyamalan does something no other filmmaker has done with an origin story by truly capturing how frightening, mysterious, and life-altering this realization can be. He does so by making it a process rather than an epiphany. David survives a wreck. David sees that he has never been sick. David tests his strength. Etc. David is a complete enigma. To himself and to us. The entire film is David and Elijah attempting to solve this enigma. Why when David wakes up does he feel this inexplicable sadness? Why has he never been sick? How did he walk away from that train crash totally unharmed when no one else even survived?

Bruce Willis, reteaming with Shyamalan after The Sixth Sense, gives his strongest career performance as Dunne. Shyamalan repeatedly frames David Dunne in the background or obscured. This style isn’t seen very often as actors love close-ups. This style adds to the effect that Dunne is a mystery. We cannot read him.  Samuel L. Jackson, with his crazy do, is perfect in creating sympathy for this mostly unrelatable character and delivering some very out-there dialogue. His performance is crucial, because if we don’t believe him, then the film becomes unintentionally funny as we’ve seen in some of Shyamalan’s later works.

Unbreakable is made up of what feels like ten scenes. Ten extended, involving scenes that make the hour and forty-minute runtime fly by. A recent development has come up that makes this great film-my choice for best superhero picture, tied with The Incredibles (2004)-worth revisiting. It wasn’t a runaway hit the way The Sixth Sense was, and it will never achieve mass appeal. Often when people go into a movie with certain expectations, they’ll be disappointed if those expectations aren’t met, affecting their opinion of that film. But sometimes on second viewing, they can realize that what the film reaches for is actually better. I think Unbreakable can be this way for viewers.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(482)

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)