Psychokinesis (2018, Directed by Yeon Sang-ho) Korean 5

Starring Ryu Seung-ryo, Jung Yu-mi, Park Jung-min, Shim Eun-kyung

Image result for psychokinesis 2018

A thoroughly average man (Seung-ryo) working as a security guard mysteriously gains telepathic powers just as he’s reunited with the daughter he abandoned years ago. Initially, he uses the powers to make a quick buck as an illusionist, but he soon pushes his ability to the limit once he finds his daughter wrapped up in a serious battle against a corrupt corporation. It’s a unique take on the superhero genre, but ultimately lacks a compelling protagonist to make the action exciting. The average middle aged man hero is a nice idea, but here, he really is too average. He never comes across as a unique personality. There are some memorable moments, and the over-arching villain, or villainess, Director Hong (Yu-mi), steals the show. Unfortunately, she’s not in it more, and gets no significant closure in the story.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo) English 6

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Bradley Cooper, Carrie Coon, Chris Hemsworth, Peter Dinklage

Point of order right off the top: I’m not what you’d call a “Marvel fan.” I’ve seen every film they’ve churned out, generally in theaters, if able, opening weekend even. I enjoy the surrounding excitement when watching these films. During Infinity War, I sat next to a mom and three young boys. Seeing her cover their eyes for half of the movie gave me a heavy sense of nostalgia from when I was a boy watching PG-13 movies in the theater with my mother.  They’re event films, and it’s fun to hear the nerds clap when ————-happens, or $%#@ arrives on the scene, or  ~~~ says something witty (for people serious about avoiding spoilers). In fact, another point of order, I will not be completely able to avoid spoilers in this review. I will not go heavy into detail, but I also cannot complain thoroughly enough without calling out specific incidents from the film. There’s my warning. With both disclaimers out of the way, allow me to unleash, or really, more accurately, temper the avalanche of over-the-top praise Infinity War is receiving, not dissimilar to what surrounded Marvel’s last effort, Black Panther. This is a good film. It held my attention. The acting was solid across the board, but Marvel movies have always lacked in certain areas, and that doesn’t change here. I consider Marvel more of a factory than a film studio.

The film opens strong, with Thanos (Brolin) reveling in the ashes and the corpses of another land that he’s massacred. He is a madman, a zealot who believes his purpose is to reduce the population of every planet by 50%, in order to sustain their people. He was unable to achieve this ideal on his home planet of Titan, and the entire civilization was destroyed, adding fire to his fanaticism. Josh Brolin gives the character a brooding, rigged sensitivity that makes the character more interesting than past “ultra-powerful” villains. That’s one element of the film I really liked. Making Thanos three dimensional goes a long way to making him more daunting.  Thor and Bruce Banner find out first hand the power Thanos possesses, aided by powerful stones known as Infinity Stones. Of the six in creation, Thanos already possesses 2. If he gets to all six, he’s virtually unstoppable, and so the stakes are clear. Thor and Banner split up and attempt to, essentially, sound the alarm, reaching out to all Avengers, because this latest threat is their most severe. That brings in a large array of characters, characters Marvel has done a nice job of setting up throughout the last decade. There are still some black sheep among the cast, however. No one cares about the Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Falcon, or Heimdall. They’ve been undercooked since conception, and can go the way of the Dodo for my money. I, frankly, don’t care about Black Widow either. What are her powers? If the Avengers are bringing in mortals with nice moves, why not recruit Jackie Chan or Donnie Yen? Gina Carano would beat Black Widow. All of these D-list heroes are space eaters, and Infinity War’s first mistake is not having them bite the dust first scene. Their purpose in this film should never have gone beyond dying by Thanos’ hand to show how powerful he is. The rest of the good superheroes split time well enough for the most part. Black Panther is short changed, but everyone else has their moments, and the actors make the most of their screen time. The writing in Infinity War was impressive. Some good lines and well placed comic relief make sure the movie is never a drag, no matter how serious the action gets.

One of my core complaints about the Marvel Universe has always been the lack of consequences that accompany the immense and, at times, overwhelming action. I said of the last Avengers movie, which was poor in my view, that it reminded me of the Shakespeare quote, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Nobody important dies (don’t try to sell me Quicksilver), and it was just a bunch of flashing lights and deathless explosions. Infinity War seemed prime to change all this. Right off the back an important character dies. Later, down goes another. I was hooked into Thanos’ reign of terror, until the film ended on a lame string of fake deaths. Maybe this is premature, it’s hard to fairly evaluate two part films, so I’ll come back, but for now, I’m fairly confident what happens to end this part, will be mitigated in the second part. I hate when any work of fiction brings a character back from the dead. It’s the equivalent to ending on, “It was all a dream.” It undermines everything. Unlike the hardcore Marvel junkies, I’m not even going to waste a minute trying to figure out where the plot goes from here. I was basically tuned in the film’s entire running time, interested in who was going to die. What am I left with? No one knows. It was all a tease. I am anticipating the second one being devastating and strong, and if I’m right, I’ll recant this review, and give it a higher rating, but for now, a solid film/disappointment.

-Walter Howard-

Catwoman (2004, Directed by Pitof) English 3

Starring Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone, Alex Borstein, Frances Conroy, Lambert Wilson

Image result for catwoman 2004

Patience Phillips (Berry) is a meek, overworked, overlooked artist in the fashion world who gets killed after uncovering a conspiracy within her company. She revives mysteriously, and a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde situation develops within her, spawning the alter ego, Catwoman. Soon she falls for a handsome cop (Bratt) who seems to be in every department with the police, as he arrives at every crime scene in the film.  An embarrassment for everyone involved, Catwoman’s plot is pushed forward rapidly through a series of dumb moments. The bad guys talk openly about their plot. Halle Berry has a painfully awkward basketball scene with Bratt (Love and Basketball, this is not). The cheesy puns. The catnip scene. It’s not boring. I’ll grant it that, but it’s just so dumb, much too frequently. It’s all an poorly executed excuse for Halle Berry to wear the costume. No need to watch the movie. Google images should suffice.

Black Panther (2018, Directed by Ryan Coogler) English 7

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke

T’Chaka is dead, T’Challa (Boseman) is now king. As any film, novel, or comic book will tell you, with being king, comes heavy responsibilities, and T’Challa is king of Wakanda, a country in the heart of Africa abundant in resources, surrounded by suffering countries. As he struggles with setting the course Wakanda will take, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Jordan), an outsider, schemes to take over his rule and implement his own violent ideas. With the help of his former flame, Nakia (Nyong’o), his little sister Shuri (Wright), and Okoye, leader of Wakandan special forces (Gurira), T’Challa fights to preserve his people’s way of life, while deciding what to do to help the world around them.

More than just the story it tells on screen, Black Panther is truly an event, and what I can only hope is a turning point movie. You cannot talk about Marvel’s latest without considering how important it is culturally, how unprecedented it is, and how bizarre it is that something like this has never once happened before. A big budget film with a predominantly black cast. The closest equivalent would be Coming to America (1988) made for $39 million about thirty years ago with the biggest star at the time in Eddie Murphy. Not wanting to belittle how big that film was, I do, however feel it necessary to point out the difference between a comedy vehicle for the biggest star in the world and a $200 million epic produced by a studio in Marvel that dominates global box-office and influences youth to a degree I’m not sure could be measured. There was a time-feels like just yesterday- that studio execs didn’t believe black people could sell a movie. Will Smith, I’ve read, talks about execs not wanting him to have a black love interest in Hitch because they didn’t think it’d sell. With Black Panther set to five-peat as box-office champ, and with over a billion dollars earned, I think they know now how absurd their thinking was, because a billion dollars shows that it’s not just black people flocking to see it. A billion dollars means that everyone is going to see it. Preface aside though, my obligation in reviewing it remains to answer the question, is it good? I answer unhesitatingly, yes. Is it as good as its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 4 stars from reliable critic Peter Travers, 88% on Metacritic indicate? Cultural phenomenon aside, watershed moment aside, I say no. Black Panther is a strong film of ambition and intelligence, but isn’t the transcendent superhero flick I’ve been waiting on from Marvel since their reign started with Iron Man (2008). Directed by the young and talented Ryan Coogler (Creed and Fruitvale Station), digs deeper than most superhero fare, but not enough to be great.

What do I mean by transcendent? The superhero subgenre is in my eyes, supremely limited. Low on thoughtfulness, light on romance, often devoid of consequences, and pandering to a set crowd. I don’t consider myself the target audience for any superhero adventure. So I always go to these films hoping that this one would transcend my prejudices and have a strong appeal to me. That happened with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, happened early on with the first two Spider-Man entries, happened with a few of the X-Men films, especially Logan (2017). Hasn’t happened with a Marvel studios film yet. They streamline their films, as if out of a factory at times, but I’ll enthusiastically declare that Black Panther avoids that fate. While not a great film in my book, it is an original, with a terrific cast and an outstanding villain. Chadwick Boseman makes a worthy hero, and he’s supported by women who threaten to steal the show. My problem with Marvel movies in the past has been their one dimensional villains. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is a fully formed character. One who is empathetic even. That the film succeeds in being intelligent and thoughtful is due to its making both the hero and villain into intelligent and thoughtful characters. Their fight is more about ideology than some boring motive like, I don’t know, money. My main indictment of the film revolves around the lack of exciting action sequences. The tribal fighting is a fresh diversion from the usual mind-numbing explosions we’re given, but beyond that, there isn’t any memorable thrills. The ending is anti-climactic and a real let down as protagonist and antagonist go toe-to-toe. The visuals are colorful, at times imaginative, but for the next installment, I’d like to see the Coogler up the ante on his action scenes. So I repeat good movie, like Doctor Strange was a good movie, like Spider-Man: Homecoming was a good movie. You can pretty much count on Marvel’s two other releases this year (Avengers: Infinity War; Ant-man and the Wasp) to be good, but when is one of these films going to be great?

-Walter Howard-

Justice League (2017, Directed by Zach Snyder) English 5

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K Simmons, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons

A DC counterpart to Marvel’s The Avengers, Batman and Wonder Woman construct a team that consists of Victor Stone a.k.a Cyborg, Barry Allen a.k.a Flash, and Arthur Curry a.k.a Aquaman to combat the nearly unstoppable Steppenwolf from destroying Earth with his army of “parademons.” A film that oscillates between good and bad at every turn, I was once again (as has been the case for most superhero fare) bored to death by the plot and its villain. I was, however, mostly happy with the cast (though Miller as Flash was overly silly at times). The members of the Justice League were given distinct personalities, and that in itself makes the proceedings much more enjoyable. Fisher and Momoa especially do a nice job with what, in my opinion, are lame characters. The CGI was weak though, and that’s shocking for, “one of the most expensive films of all-time.” I’m willing to watch more adventures with these characters, but find a filmmaker with some unique ideas.

 

Eight Things I Liked About Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Directed by Taika Waititi) English 7

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor returns for his third solo outing and fifth Marvel film altogether. I could not have cared less. That is, until I saw the trailer, and thought, this looks different. The first Thor movie (2011) was bad. One of my least favorite Marvel films, and Thor himself, was boring. He’s indestructible, devoid of a real personality, and trapped in an unappealing romance with Jane Porter, played by Natalie Portman (I don’t care how attractive the actors are, their relationship was dumb). Then the second film came along, The Dark World (2013), and managed to be even worse. Somehow, fans hung in, and thanks to them, we get this third adventure, directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Unfamiliar with his work before seeing the Thor trailer, I have since seen a number of his comedies, and been impressed. They’re funny, and beyond all of the special effects, CGI, and technical brilliance Thor: Ragnarok boasts, it, too, is very funny. Here are the ten things I liked about Marvel’s latest that make it worth seeing:

  1. Thor: Ragnarok is an oddball comedy-There is a lot going for this picture, which I will proceed to list out, but it all comes back to the director’s comedic sensibility. Every scene features some humorous detail or punchline. From the start, to the end, making this a fun picture.
  2. Death of Stoicism-Stoic heroes can be good when a film warrants being taken seriously, or if you have a solid comic foil. Neither of those reasons pertained to the Thor franchise. This time around, they got it right. Gone is the humorless protagonist from previous movies. Hemsworth has even commented, saying he was, “a bit bored” with his character. He, after being the only source of light in the Ghostbusters reboot, proves once again to have comedic chops, and despite the colorful supporting cast, he owns this movie.
  3. Stakes is High-The plot mainly concerns a long lost sister named Hela (played by Blanchett) who returns to Asgard seeking destruction and revenge. When attempting to stand up to her, Thor is defeated easily and his hammer destroyed. This happens at the film’s outset and allows for actual stakes, as we wonder how Thor will be able to stop her. Thor’s still a god, but not as invulnerable.
  4. Thor and Hulk bromance- Thor gets reunited with his old Avengers teammate on the planet Sakaar where the two are forced to fight it out Gladiator style. This sets the tone for their relationship in this movie, a very antagonistic rivalry. Much humor is derived from their arguments over who is stronger, but Thor knows he needs the Hulk if he’s going to stand a chance at Hela.
  5. Jeff Goldblum- He plays Grandmaster, a hedonistic leader of Sakaar, where most of the film takes place, and he almost steals the show. Goldblum was allowed to ad-lib and his humor fits right in with the director’s. I hope they work together more.
  6. Taking Cues from Guardians of the Galaxy-Guardians of the Galaxy hit big by mixing the superhero genre with comedy, huge amounts of color, and an eclectic soundtrack. Thor does that formula better than either Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Standouts from the soundtrack are, of course, Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin and Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  7. Korg-Voiced and played through Motion Capture by the director, this new character Thor encounters while enslaved as a gladiator is a new favorite. Huge and fearsome looking, his soft-spoken demeanor comes as a wonderful surprise. Marvel even considered some sort of spinoff featuring the character, but have opted for a reappearance in some other Marvel property.
  8. Fresh Love Interest-As mentioned the Jane Porter romance was going nowhere. This entry features a jaded Valkyrie warrior played by Tessa Thompson. More Thor’s equal in fighting, and given a real personality right off the back as she stumbles drunkenly from her ship (she’s the one who captures him, leading to his stint as a gladiator). Interested to see where the Thor-Valkyrie relationship goes.

To wrap it up, Thor was a good deal of fun and a step in the right direction for the franchise. Marvel has given us two strong offerings this year with this and Spiderman: Homecoming which I give the slight edge. My main drawback was the villain, which is a common complaint I feel for the Marvel movies. They do not give as much thought to making their villains compelling as they do everything else. I like that Hela is stronger than Thor as I’ve stated but besides that, she’s not unique. I guess they thought by getting a great actress to play the role, the work was finished. Also, I wish there was more done with the gladiator fighting. I love the idea of fight to the death tournaments (Gladiator, Bloodsport, Enter the Dragon, The Quick and the Dead). It’s a very entertaining premise. All in all, an excellent action-comedy adventure.

-Walter Howard-

Wonder Woman (2017, Directed by Patty Jenkins) English 6

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremnor, Saïd Taghmaoui, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Word on the street was, the new Wonder Woman movie knocks it out of the park. I tempered my expectations. Just as critics have films they’re ready to shred, they also have films that they’re prepared to love. I knew Wonder Woman would benefit from following pure, unfiltered garbage in Suicide Squad. I knew that DC’s string of lousy offerings would lower the bar, so much so that any sense or sign of quality could clear it. Add to that, it’s a female superhero movie. We all know, we’ve heard the rumblings, that here aren’t enough female protagonists in movies. The damsel in distress model still far outweighs the strong battle-ready woman, and people are tired of that. So in comes Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins-her first film since the critically acclaimed Monster (2003). The first superhero movie directed by a woman apparently? Do I have that right? That’s crazy if it’s true, but regardless, the question remains does Wonder Woman hold up as a film? Aside from the social importance of it, aside from the message it offers, aside from gender politics, is it a good movie? I say, yes. Yes, it is.

The film progresses in three distinct acts. Act one is Wonder Woman’s origin story. Born Diane, the offspring of gods, molded by Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen looking remarkably fierce) and given life by Zeus, an absentee father. Raised as a princess by her mother on Themyscira, an island nation inhabited exclusively by tall beautiful women warriors, and trained by her aunt, General Antiope (Wright), from a young age, she quickly becomes Wonder Woman, ready to take on all challengers. From here, Diane is played by Gal Gadot, perfectly suited to the iconic role, and a big reason why this film will likely be a massive hit. Her Diane is strong, beautiful, intelligent, and sweet; and what’s more, she makes it look effortless, which is crucial to making the character someone we can aspire to be rather than feeling too much like a heavy handed social message.

Second act is where the film gains steam. An Air Force intelligence officer, Steve Trevor (Pine), crash lands on Diane and her people’s island, bringing news of cataclysmic war-World War I to be exact. Diane feels it incumbent upon herself to join in, and so she travels to early 20th century London with Trevor, wanting to put an end to the war. The film’s able to pull a good amount of humor from its social inequality agenda. This Diane, a creation of 21st century minds made for a 21st century audience,  has no respect for society’s rules of the day. They hire a ragtag team of scoundrels to help sneak into enemy territory and fight Dr. Poison and General Erich Ludendorff.

Some quibbles. The third act is where the film began to lose me slightly, as the CGI took over from the actors who were thoroughly more interesting. It’s not so much a problem that a big-budget feature like this should be 2 hours and twenty minutes in runtime as it is that it feels 2 hours and 20 minutes long. That’s due to acts 1 and especially 3 over staying their welcome. The fish out of water material with Diane in London, the romance between her and Chris Pine, and the scrappy, underdog crew they employ to help them are what I enjoyed. Also, the film’s best action sequence comes around halfway through with Diane leading the charge out of the trenches of No Man’s Land. I was also disappointed by the villains. There’s extensive build up for one villain in particular, and, outside of the well done mystery element to it, the payoff is a letdown.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and I imagine most people will too; probably even more so than me. It’s not a groundbreaking superhero film the way I believe this year’s Logan was, or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was however many years ago, but it does show that DC hasn’t completely forgotten how to make a movie after all. I look forward to seeing Wonder Woman in later adventures.