Spiderman: Far From Home (2019, Directed by Jon Watts) English 6

Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J.B Smoove, Martin Starr, Cobie Smoulders, Jacob Batalon

Image result for spider-man: far from home

(6-Good Film)

Likable. Breezy. Modest.

Long gone is the epic, operatic world of Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman. Tom Holland’s Spiderman is breezy, lightweight entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that. Holland is an excellent Peter Parker and Spiderman: Far From Home is enjoyable. This time around, following the events of Avengers: End Game, Peter and the rest of the people who were wiped out by Thanos have returned, calling that five-year absence “the blip.” Slowly returning to normal, Peter, along with his classmates, prepare for a class trip over the summer to Europe, where Peter hopes to unwind and tell M.J (Zendaya) how he feels about her. Once overseas, however, Nick Fury arrives, revealing that the class trip was a ruse to get Peter to Europe to help fight a group of monsters known as Elementals, alongside Mysterio (Gyllenhaal), a hero from a different Earth. Spiderman: Far From Home is entertaining. The change of scenery keeps things fresh. Peter and M.J’s moments are nice. The villain is compelling enough. I’ve never liked the idea of Spiderman being the bottom option for saving the world. The film has to jump through hoops to prove that it has to be Spiderman that saves Europe. Where are the other Avengers? All of them are occupied? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(633)

The Incredibles (2004, Directed by Brad Bird) English 10

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Wallace Shawn, Jason Lee, Brad Bird

(10-Masterpiece)

Clever. Exciting. Funny.

In an alternate reality where superheroes exist but are forced to remain dormant by law, Bob Parr (A.K.A Mr. Incredible), along with his wife and three kids, struggle with obscurity, unfulfilled potential, and the malaise of everyday life. Then comes along a mysterious woman with a cash offer and the promise of excitement. A fantastic take on the superhero genre, blending it in with the problems of a suburban sitcom family, executed splendidly with several priceless moments and an unforgettable scene stealer in Edna Mode (voiced by the director, Brad Bird).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(617)

Batman and Robin: So Terrible, it’s Amazing (1998, Directed by Joel Schumaker) English 3

Starring George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle

Image result for batman and robin

(3-Horrible Film)

Campy. Goofy. Idiotic.

1998’s Batman and Robin is, simply put, a joke. They notoriously gave Bruce Wayne’s suit nipples, they chose for their lead villain, Mr. Freeze, played by a blue painted Arnold Schwarzenegger, spouting one bad ice-related pun after another (“let’s kick some ice”), and made Poison Ivy look like Divine from a John Waters movie (google it). I’d like to catalog for you, the film’s many shortcomings and harebrained moments, though it’s a Herculean task to try and catch all of them, but it’s also important to note and preface this with the truth, which is that I love this film. Definitely falls within the “so bad, it’s good” variety. I think it’s hilarious. I laughed out loud on more occasions during the length of this superhero flick than, let’s say, 95% of the straight-up comedies I’ve seen.

Technically the fourth entry in the pre-Christopher Nolan series of Batman films. It’s amazing how silly all of the Batman movies before Bale and Nolan seem now that I’ve seen their grittier, more realistic take on the material. Batman and Robin stars George Clooney as the billionaire playboy slash caped crusader. It’s incredible, and not enough is said about how Clooney was able to have a career after this film, let alone the Oscar-winning, lifetime achievement award receiving career he has had. Bat nipples should have been career ending. I will say that among the cast, who should all feel embarrassed, Clooney comes off the least foolish. He gives the role some gravitas, granted, masked behind layers of inanity, bad dialogue, and bat nipples (I’m going to keep coming back to bat nipples; they color the entire film). I would even go as far as saying that Clooney could make a great Bruce Wayne in a much better, more competent picture. Now, if you think I’m being over dramatic about bat nipples being potentially career-ending, take a look at the rest of the cast of then-stars. Chris O’Donnell returns as  Batman’s close ally, Robin. O’Donnell, who’d given a very strong performance six years earlier in Scent of a Woman (1992) with Al Pacino, never recovered from this dud. Neither did Alicia Silverstone, at the time of the film’s release, still riding the waves off of her early success in Clueless (1995). Here, she plays Barbara Wilson, grand-niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. She appears to be a nice, wholesome girl, but is later revealed to be a hardcore, action adventure heroine, and dons the ready-made Batgirl suit Alfred leaves her. Together, Batman (having trouble trusting his young sidekicks), Batgirl, and Robin take on Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane (3 on 3) who team up, rather improbably, to take over the world (or at least Gotham) with a telescope Mr. Freeze turned into a freeze gun. The villains are where the film really reveals its suckage. I’m going to address them one by one.

I’ve already referenced Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, and you probably got the point, but not enough can be said about his puns:

Cop #1: Please show some mercy!

Mr. Freeze: Mercy? I’m afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy.

See too, a scene where he sings along to the snow miser song from A Year Without Santa Claus (1974), while his henchman, who dress in fur coats and talk like they’re from the Bronx, provide backing vocals. Where does he get these guys? Honestly? He goes to New York and posts hiring notices? It’s insane. And they help him, why? Then again, Ted Bundy had followers. Perhaps, it’s one of those things that defy explanation. Like when Mr. Freeze zaps Robin with his freeze gun, and Robin’s cemented in a block of ice. The solution: Batman picks Robin up and puts him in hot water, and Robin’s perfectly fine. Science! What’s the point of Mr. Freeze’s gun if it doesn’t even kill anybody? It looks cool on an action figure?

Poison Ivy, as portrayed by Uma Thurman, is, against all odds, even worse. She escaped this travesty thanks to Tarantino casting her in his Kill Bill saga, otherwise, I’m certain this would have been career curtains. Let’s start with her “origin story.” The origin stories in the old Batman movies were the worst/most hilarious parts. She’s working in some kind of lab, minding her own business one minute. She opens a door, and all of a sudden, she’s in some weird underground cult room, complete with evil experiments. That’s it. All she did was open a door. The mad scientist in this new room goes, “how did you get in here? Now, I’ll have to kill you. You know too much.” What do you mean, “how did you get in here?” You didn’t even lock the door. His attempt to kill her somehow imbues her with the power to manipulate plants and toxins, and the sexy ability to kill men with a kiss. Almost lost amid Mr. Freeze’s bad puns are Poison Ivy’s equally lame lines: “They replaced my blood with aloe.” “Animal protectors of the status quo.” Worst of all: “My garden needs tending.” Smh. Uma’s performance is bad too. The dialogue is horrible and does her no favors, but her delivery only compounds the terribleness. She talks like a bad theater actress. And then there’s the striptease she does while wearing a gorilla costume. Has to be seen, to be believed. Yes, someone thought that was a good idea.

Bane, while equaling his compadres in stupidity, has far less screentime, thus leaves far less of an impression. Still, in his rare moments to shine, the filmmakers turn him into a Frankenstein figure; like a campy Frankenstein figure. He starts off as a scrawny child molester or something and is then given serum that makes him jacked. How to defeat him? Robin simply pulls the rather large tube from the back of Bane’s head and he disintegrates. So, so bad.

There isn’t much logic to Batman and Robin. Instead, there are pointless cameos from Elle MacPherson and Coolio. I’m sure the filmmakers were convinced their target audience wouldn’t notice (their target audience being 8 year-olds), and they were right. There was a solid 3 year period when I legitimately thought it was the greatest film ever made. Now, I see clearly. It’s in my exclusive top ten worst movies ever made list. So many poor choices, lapses of logic, head shaking moments, and bat nipples. Never forget bat nipples.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(604)

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 7

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

Image result for the incredibles 2

(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Dazzling. Lesser.

The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength, the mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), who can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), who has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids, dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever-growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the supervillain of the piece, is good, not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings has been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as family commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene-stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movie, The Incredibles 2 is a fantastic superhero film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(599)

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Directed by Zack Snyder) English 5

Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter

(5-Okay Film)

Joyless. Dull. Bloated.

Bitter towards Superman after the events of Man of Steel, Batman decides to take him out. To be fair, I haven’t seen Man of Steel, and so, much of Superman’s narrative felt underwhelming, but I don’t think that installment’s backstory could make up for the second class treatment Clark Kent receives in this film. We all know Batman has been cooler than Superman for a long time now in film, but how was giving Superman an arc that would better serve a monster movie supposed to work. There are some grand moments in the picture. It’s not a complete mess like Suicide Squad, but they didn’t get the characters right. Both heroes just seem like tools, and Eisenberg was not a good choice for a supervillain. He can’t conjure up any real sense of menace, and so he hams it up. Jeremy Irons, though also far afield of your ideal Alfred, is a scene-stealer.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(592)

Batman Begins (2005, Directed by Christopher Nolan) 8

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe

(8-Exceptional Film)

Fresh. Compelling. Masterful.

It’s hard to look back and remember what it was like to be surprised by this film, a comic book film with serious ideas. It kicks off Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that many feel set the bar for superhero films. In Nolan’s world, a brooding Bruce Wayne (Bale) trains as a ninja assassin, then returns to the state of nature that Gotham’s become to clean up the mess. The ensemble performances are uniformly excellent, and Bruce Wayne’s evolution from vigilante to author of justice is compelling, though we know the best is to come later in the series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(588)

 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, Directed by Simon Kinberg) English 5

Starring Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters

Image result for x-men dark phoenix (2019)

(5-Okay Film)

Underwhelming. Uninteresting. Mediocre.

      X-Men is one of Marvel’s best creations. The potential is there for some truly great superhero films, but so far, Logan is the only adaptation that I would call great, with X2, Days of Future Past, and The Wolverine being very good. You can go to a lot of different places with these characters. The comics have done noir, mixed in historical fiction, post-apocalyptic, futuristic tales. There’s a wealth of opportunities. To my disappointment, the newest X-Men is a reboot of the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix storyline previously adapted in the woeful but hilarious X-Men: The Last Stand.  I understand that The Last Stand told Jean Grey’s story poorly, but I still would have preferred an original premise. The worst part, however, is that X-Men: Dark Phoenix isn’t even better than that film. Sure, it’s darker and less silly, but to what purpose? It’s also less entertaining.

This seems like an opportune time to reflect on how much I miss Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Instead of his charismatic Logan,  Dark Phoenix gives us a brooding Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner) as a lead, and it’s just not as much fun. The film opens with a pretty typical at this point origin episode. A grade-school Jean Grey’s telekinesis causes her parents to get in a car accident, killing them and leaving the young girl an orphan. It’s pretty similar to Rogue’s story, isn’t it? Enter Professor Xavier (McAvoy) who takes her to his school and promises to help her, this scene reminding me of Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter. The rest of the film takes place in 1992. Jean’s a young woman now. Scott Summers, or Cyclops (Sheridan), is her boyfriend. Mystique (Lawrence) has returned to the school, and she and the other X-Men work towards Xavier’s goals of peace between mutants and humans. One of the film’s few compelling storylines is the tension between Xavier and his students who feel like he’s become egocentric. Early on, he seems more ruthless than we’ve seen him before; more interested in politics than his students. A near catastrophe leaves Jean vulnerable to traumatic memories and newly awakened powers causing her to hurt others without meaning to. It’s a storyline familiar to anyone who’s seen a classic monster movie (The Wolfman, anybody?). It’s too familiar. Spurring her on towards the side of evil are a group of mysterious aliens led by Vuk (Chastain), a sort of Svengali always whispering monotonously in Jean’s ear. The filmmakers decided to make these villains like Pod people out of a ’50’s B-Movie, except they took all of the mystery and suspense out of it since they’re revealed for what they are right out of the gate. The result is a dull and lifeless villain largely responsible for making X-Men: Dark Phoenix a dull and lifeless movie.

Directing, in his debut, is Simon Kinberg. He’s written several fantastic films including previous, successful X-Men installments. One of the biggest responsibilities of the director is managing the tone of the film, whether it’s switching between tones frequently like a Pedro Almodóvar film or a Tarantino film or it’s attempting to sustain one tone throughout like a great horror movie (The Thing, for example). Kinberg goes for the latter and it strikes me as one of Dark Phoenix’ biggest mistakes. This is not a horror movie and yet it’s humorless and grim from start to finish.

The actors, we know, are good, because we’ve seen them in other things. Some do good work here, mainly McAvoy and Hoult, with the majority given nothing to do but wear a tight outfit. Sophie Turner doesn’t prove that she can carry a film, but (though her English accent slips in once or twice) it’s not because her performance is bad. She plays a misunderstood monster, only instead of wonderfully grotesque features and practical effects like the classic Universal monsters, we just see a young woman throwing a tantrum and then running away like an overemotional teenager.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(584)