Birds of Prey (2019, Directed by Cathy Yan) English 5

Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong

Image result for birds of prey

(5-Okay Film)

Frenetic. Superficial. Unsatisfying.

I like all types of movies but if I had to put my finger on one type that wasn’t my cup of tea, it would be ultra-violent superhero flicks. Naturally then, I didn’t go into Birds of Prey very excited.  The material covered by a lot of DC adaptations but now Birds of Prey strikes me as pretty ridiculous-a woman with a voice that can fight bad guys, a psychiatrist who comes across as a martial arts master despite not having any training. There’s no sense of logic in these characters but Birds of Prey handles that in a more interesting way than its travesty of a predecessor, Suicide Squad. It tells a simple story in a manic, hyper-stylized manner. Harley (Robbie) has been kicked to the curb by the Joker and no longer has any protection from the low-lives she’s hurt in years past. Rosie Perez plays a jaded cop, Renee Montoya. Smollett-Bell plays lounge singer-turned-vigilante, Black Canary, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a mysterious assassin calling herself Huntress. The women eventually team up for separate motivations to protect a young girl, Cassandra, who made the mistake of robbing a local mob boss, Roman Sionis (McGregor). Much of Birds of Prey is underwhelming to me. McGregor’s bad guy is only intimidating with a weapon in his hand. Anybody can be scary with a gun in their hand. Thankfully, the women make more of an impression. It’s their film and they’re suitably convincing. I genuinely felt like an hour and a half flew by which is a positive on the one hand-the film was going for a madcap pace and style and succeeds-but is also the reason the overall experience feels fairly insubstantial.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(867)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Directed by Joss Whedon) English 5

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olson, Paul Bettany, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgård

(5-Okay Film)

Loud. Monotonous. Dumb.

This sequel, once again featuring Marvel’s all-stars, adds new Avengers to the mix, including Quick Silver (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Olson)-Russian Twins who never speak in Russian-as they attempt to thwart Ultron, a god-like being created by Tony Stark to save the world who instead seeks to destroy humans.  Dumb to the point that I often tuned out, this film reminded me of the Shakespearean line, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(819)

Jonah Hex (2010, Directed by Jimmy Hayward) English 3

Starring Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Michael Shannon, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett

(3-Horrible Film)

Unfinished. Incompetent. Lame.

A man, Jonah (Brolin), endowed with supernatural powers seeks revenge against the brutal soldier, Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich), who murdered his wife and son. Based on a DC comic series, with a run time of barely an hour, I’m guessing the studio rushed this project through without a script.  I hope Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender made a lot of money because that is the only way I can make sense of their signing on to this travesty. Mercifully, inexplicably short.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(802)

Joker (2019, Directed by Todd Phillips) English 6

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron, Brett Cullen, Frances Conroy

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(6-Good Film)

Solid. Gripping. Derivative.

The world can seem pretty dark when you’re depressed. No film off the top of my head paints a more vivid picture of this than DC’s newest flick, Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, perhaps a surprising choice after a couple decades worth of comedies (The Hangover trilogy, Old School, Starsky and Hutch), and starring Joaquin Phoenix, following in the footsteps of a couple iconic film Jokers (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) and one lousy one (Jared Leto). This Joker is a film in close-up. Even when the camera pulls back, the focus remains, the cast, the plot, the tone all revolve around its titular “hero,” here named Arthur Fleck. It’s his world. That may seem like an odd thing to say about a character struggling as profoundly as Fleck is over the course of this movie, but we see Gotham as he sees it. He’s an unreliable narrator. The extent of how much of what we’re seeing is influenced by Fleck’s mental state is, I believe, debatable, but, in any case, the Gotham we see is a hellish landscape populated by powerful bullies and hostile bottom-feeders. Fleck just wants to bring laughter into the world.

The movie kicks off: 1981, Gotham City. Living with his mother and struggling through a dead-end job as some sort of clown-for-hire, Fleck kills a group of yuppie jerks on the subway one evening. It’s a downward spiral from there with fate offering one blow after another to make Fleck break down. The list of his life struggles throughout the film would seem over-the-top, maybe melodramatic if the tone wasn’t so consistently grim. He loses his job, has the funding for his medical treatment cut, gets beat up a couple of times, etc. The most interesting part of Joker is its take on Gotham. It’s a city cut-off from the rest of the world. I don’t recall any mention of life beyond its city limits. Where did everyone else go? It’s like the setting of This is the End, where most people have gone off and those left are expected to rot. It’s also a world without superheroes. There’s no Batman, no Superman, nor anyone else from DC’s roster of supers. There don’t seem to be any blue-collar heroes either or average men looking out for their peers. Thomas Wayne, usually portrayed as a champion of lost causes, is played here by Brett Cullen as another big-money politician. Fleck idolizes late-night host Murray Franklin (De Niro) but that plays out in predictable yet satisfying fashion. Ultimately, Fleck’s gradually building Joker persona makes sense (perhaps this is what some object to) and he becomes a wake-up call to a large portion of Gotham’s citizens (reminding me of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore scene in Network).

Films like these, where the protagonist descends into madness are rarely made and difficult to watch. If done right, they can be fascinating but can hardly be considered fun experiences. I would argue that Joker is done right (Phoenix is mesmerizing in the role), though it’s not easy to remember a mainstream movie this polarizing in recent years. Is it irresponsible? Is it validating angry loners? I don’t buy those indictments in general. I don’t believe films are responsible for social ills the way that some do, so I feel no need to defend Joker on that level. It’s a good film, not a great film. It has too many endings for one thing (I prefer a strong abrupt finish to letting a film like this peter out with several long sequences). It’s also too reminiscent of Scorsese’s classics Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy without deriving any value from those influences. Some argue that it’s a breakthrough comic book film. I don’t give it that much credit. Did it change the rules of comic book adaptations or surprise us with the direction it went in? No. Spiderman 2, The Dark Night Trilogy, Unbreakable. Those were the game-changers.  Joker’s simply slightly better than your average.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(755)

Deadpool (2016, Directed by Tim Miller) English 6

Starring Ryan Reynolds, T.J Miller, Ed Skrein,  Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand

(6- Good Film)

Memorable. Funny. Fresh.

A mercenary diagnosed with cancer tries to cheat death by undergoing a sketchy black market operation. The outcome is that he beats cancer, but becomes a hideous mutant in the process. Now he is out for revenge. The bloated pool of superhero pictures is given a much-needed refreshment in the form of the fourth wall breaking, subversive Wade Wilson. Although the overall plot is rather bare, the film makes up for it with a unique structure (nonlinear) and some clever humor. Most importantly, it finds its tone and sticks to it all the way through.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(732)

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

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(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)