Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

2019

Rambo: Last Blood (R)

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Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
September 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth film in the series and is the continuation of the John Rambo saga, which last graced theaters eleven years ago with the generically titled Rambo. From the title, it’s clear that this film is intended to be the final in the franchise. However, as we’ve seen many times before, if a studio is prepared to back a sequel, writers have clever ways of bringing back action heroes. Last Blood cannily plays off the title of the first film, First Blood (1982), and denotes the completion of a cycle.

The movie opens on Rambo’s (Sylvester Stallone) ranch in Arizona, where he trains horses, sharpens weapons, and changes light bulbs in the subterranean tunnels he’s burrowed beneath his property. Though we aren’t really told how they came to know Rambo, college-aged Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) and her grandmother live in the farmhouse. Rambo has become like a father to Gabrielle, who was abandoned when she was young.

The plot finds some traction when one of Gabrielle’s friends locates her long-lost father in Mexico. Unfortunately, the reunion with her father ends on a sour note. To clear her head, Gabrielle accompanies her friend to a nightclub. Soon after, she’s drugged and is taken by a group of sex traffickers. When Gabrielle doesn’t return home the next day, Rambo goes in search of Gabrielle’s abductors. Cue the bloodletting.

As can be gleaned from that nutshell overview, the story, by Stallone and Dan Gordon, is fairly predictable and uncomplicated. The movie is also slowly paced…nothing of import happens during the first half hour. The dialog, by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick, is trite (“Feel my rage, feel my hate!”), but is actually a good fit for the laconic hero.

The direction by Adrian Grunberg is solid during the action scenes, but unimaginative for the bulk of the film. In his defense,
Last Blood looks like a low budget production—the same half dozen sets/locations are repeatedly revisited throughout the movie, i.e. Rambo’s farm/tunnels, the nightclub in Mexico, the stoop of Gabrielle’s father’s house, Gabrielle’s friend’s house, etc.

Last Blood is a bit deceptive with respect to its action: the first half of the movie is pretty low-key, but the second half is an all-out splatter-fest. During the climatic showdown, Rambo sets a series of booby traps around and below his house: mercenaries fall into spike-pits, trigger wall-mines and trip wires that bring down logs with metal spikes in them, etc. The entire tunnel assault plays out like a more lethal, less light-hearted variation on the well-executed standoff in Home Alone.

For a mostly mindless revenge film,
Last Blood has several salient messages (whether intended or not). One of the movie’s ongoing themes deals with the heart. Gabrielle has a hole in her heart from being orphaned. After suffering a loss, Gabrielle’s grandmother says she feels like her heart’s been cut out. The grief in Rambo’s heart drives him to literally rip out his enemy’s heart.

To its credit, the film raises awareness of the horrors of sex trafficking. Young women are shown being beaten, abused and treated like animals. In a scene reminiscent of Bryan Mills’ (Liam Neeson) rescue of his daughter in
Taken (2008), Rambo enters a brothel, frees the other girls and extricates Gabrielle.

Though it has pieces of a relevant story (subplots involving sex trafficking, PTSD and abandonment),
Last Blood never really coalesces into a complete film. The story is also extremely uneven; a slow start gives way to an uber-bloody climax. At just over an hour and a half, Last Blood doesn’t overstay its welcome, so that’s a plus.

Though Stallone is a bit stiff at times, he’s ended the franchise on his own terms and even gets to ride off into the sunset. However, this isn’t the send-off this beloved action hero deserved. Now that we’re done with
Last Blood it’s time for some new blood (which will come next year in a remake with young actor Tiger Shroff).

The best part of the movie is a series of clips from the earlier
Rambo films that play during the end credits.

Rating: 2 out of 4

Overcomer (PG)

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Directed by: Alex Kendrick
Starring: Alex Kendrick
August 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


The Kendrick Brothers (Alex and Stephen) have delivered a string of family-friendly, faith-affirming films over the years, including: Fireproof (2008), Courageous (2011) and War Room (2015). As with many of the Kendrick’s earlier movies, Overcomer uses sports as a vehicle for telling a tale of hope, faith and courage.

As the story opens, successful high school basketball coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) learns that the town’s manufacturing plant has closed its doors. John’s hopes of winning a state championship are dashed when many of his players are forced to move away with their families. Pressed into service as a long-distance running coach, John’s team consists of one runner, Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson). In a cruel twist of fate, Hannah has asthma.

Through pure coincidence (or a Godincidence), John meets Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnett) when visiting someone else at a hospital. After striking up a conversation with the blind, bedridden man, John discovers that Thomas is Hannah’s long-lost father. The family drama heats up when Hannah meets Thomas for the first time and when her guardian grandmother (Denise Armstrong), who has intentionally kept Hannah from learning about her former drug addict father, finds out that Hannah’s been sneaking out to meet with Thomas.

Overcomer sets up in a similar manner to Disney’s McFarland, USA (2015), which chronicles the true story of high school track coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), who relocates to the titular town to become a cross-country coach. In this film, John doesn’t have to move, but the school’s principal (Priscilla Shirer) coaxes him into coaching a sport he knows next to nothing about. In both movies, unlikely athletes make it to the state championship, which results in a highly improbable, yet wholly satisfying story payoff.

Admittedly, the plot is oversimplified and idealistic to the extreme. Though the film has many saccharine moments, and even a few unnecessary scenes (the knee-slapping drama auditions, for instance), it has several salient themes, like: finding redemption, making amends (the movie cleverly avoids sermonizing by resolving the kleptomania subplot with a montage) and learning how to forgive.

Another theme that’s subtly woven into the fabric of the film is the discovery of identity. In a world where identity is confusing, complex and constantly in flux,
Overcomer presents an extremely simple definition of identity that’s as counter-cultural as you’re likely to find. The movie’s core audience will embrace this interpretation of identity, but will it make an impact on the broader populace?

The film contains a number of nitpicks. For instance, in real life, people (especially non-relatives) wouldn’t be allowed to just stroll into a hospital (without visitor’s tags, no less) whenever they feel like it. Also, a cross-country team consists of seven runners, so Hannah wouldn’t be allowed to race by herself. Fortunately, these peccadilloes don’t significantly detract from the movie’s overall message or entertainment value.

In the final analysis,
Overcomer is an inspirational story with heartfelt performances and pulse-pounding race scenes. Are you an Overcomer?

Rating: 3 out of 4

Crawl (R)

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Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario
July 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Fact: basements are very rare in Florida since most of the state is at or below sea level.

But why should facts ruin all the fun that can be had when alligators hunt people in the basement of their Florida home during a hurricane? Even though that scenario may sound completely outlandish, the new creature feature/disaster movie mash-up
Crawl allegedly was inspired by similar happenings during Hurricane Florence in 2018.

The movie opens with Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) competing in a swim meet as storm clouds loom in the distance (in a prescient gag, her team’s mascot is the Gators). Haley becomes concerned when the storm is upgraded to a hurricane and her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), isn’t answering his phone.

Driving into the storm, Haley defies an evacuation order and pushes through the flood waters to her childhood home. Entering the house, Haley calls out for her dad, but all she hears is pounding rain and wind-blown debris crashing into the house. The search for her father eventually leads Haley to the basement, and anyone who’s seen this movie’s trailer, or any other creature thriller, can pretty much guess what happens from there.

Crawl is one of those movies that only works after you’ve suspended your disbelief. Failing to do so will leave you out in the rain (sorry, #HurricaneHumor).

The story by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen starts off on solid ground, but, like the costal Florida location featured in the movie (which was actually filmed in Belgrade, Serbia), quickly bogs down once the rain starts falling and the flood waters start rising. Whether due to the unreality of the situation or the shoddy CGI, the movie loses much of its credibility when the first gator appears. From that point on, the story gets more and more ridiculous—the Rasmussen’s stretch the thin premise for all it’s worth.

Embracing the tropes of scads of horror movies,
Crawl is brimming with inadvisable decisions that place characters in perilous situations…just to create a scare. The movie employs a series of contrivances to move the story along, like: well-placed pipes that protect characters from the gaping jaws of ferocious gators or a gator stepping on and breaking a cell phone before a 9-1-1 call can be placed.

Nitpicks abound in the film as well, like how can someone fire a gun when their arm is being chewed off by an alligator? For that fact, how many times can people be bitten by a gator before they pass out from blood loss and shock (Dave is bitten twice and Haley is bitten three times, yet somehow both are able to keep going)?

There’s a random sequence near the middle of the movie that shifts the focus from Haley and Dave to three foul-mouthed looters, who hoist a convenience store ATM machine into their boat. Though mildly reminiscent of the extreme weather pilfering in
The Hurricane Heist (2018), this scene is really just filler since it doesn’t advance the story in any significant way, aside from showcasing more gratuitous carnage. This is just another indication that, when it comes to plot, the Rasmussen’s script has no teeth.

Director Alaxandre Aja, who’s no stranger to creature flicks (
Piranha 3D), establishes a strong sense of place and creates a foreboding atmosphere throughout the film. There are some gorgeous shots in the movie, like the skin-crawling scene where alligators swim right past our heroes in the muddy water.

Aja’s character scenes are taut and his action sequences are frenetic without being jarring. And, to his credit, Aja only employs a few jump scares, which have become a staple of horror movies. Though most of Aja’s directorial choices are appropriate, the scene where he frames a close-up of an alligator’s eye is needlessly gimmicky.

As can be guessed from its R rating,
Crawl has an excessive amount of swearing, violence and disturbing images. The film features several fierce alligator assaults, most of which result in gory tableaus. Several minutes of the film are dedicated to characters binding up their wounds after these melees, and some of the visuals are downright stomach-turning.

Though the film is dominated by pulse-pounding creature attacks, a few meaningful moments can be detected while sifting through the narrative flotsam. Near the beginning of the movie, Haley is confronted with a moral dilemma: should she leave the area, as ordered by the authorities, or rebel against the evacuation order and attempt to rescue her father? Are there special situations where disobeying an order is permitted, or is that simply “the end justifies the means” mentality? It’s a compelling question that isn’t sufficiently answered by a movie preoccupied with less weighty, more pressing concerns…like survival.

Long before the hurricane arrived, the Keller home was devastated by a different kind of tragedy…divorce. Haley was never close to her dad, and the divorce exacerbated the rift in their relationship. Being trapped in the dank crawlspace forces Haley and Dave to confront their issues and reconcile their differences.

In addition to their physical wounds, the Keller’s are both nursing emotional wounds. In the “memory lane” scene, Dave blames himself for the divorce and says he doesn’t deserve a second chance. Haley has inner conflicts of her own. She’s trying to outrun (or outswim) the expectations her dad has placed on her, as well as those she’s placed on herself.

These few scenes confirm that the movie has more nuance than what’s visible on the surface. You might say its significance creeps up on you.

Though
Crawl aspires to be a top-tier thrill ride, it ends up succumbing to the abject silliness typically found in B movies. Despite its unsavory language and grisly story elements, the film delivers exactly what it promises: a suspenseful action yarn with a few good scares. Also in its favor is that, at an hour and twenty-seven minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Ironically, the film has stumbled into some real-world relevance. At the time of its release, Tropical Storm Barry (which threatens to become a hurricane) is bearing down on Louisiana. Since there’s no way anyone at Paramount could’ve known about Barry when the movie started production, consider its timing an unhappy coincidence.

Rating: 2 out of 4

Spider-Man: Far From Home (PG-13)

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Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland
July 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


If you’ll forgive the pun, there’s a stark tonal shift between Spider-Man: Far From Home and the previous Marvel film, Avengers: Endgame. Endgame was the conclusion of an epic storyline told on a grand scale where the stakes were literally earth-shatteringly high. Here, we have a leisurely-paced, pedestrian story that’s filled with lightweight action scenes—even when characters are placed in harm’s way, the peril just doesn’t seem real. Perhaps the fact that much of the film’s action is illusory adds to its narrative ennui.

The story’s underachievement may be due to the fact that it takes a long time to get going, and that it never goes anywhere when if finally does. Or maybe it’s because Spider-Man doesn’t do anything all that spectacular or amazing in the movie. Or maybe it’s because we really can’t take the film seriously because of its schmaltzy dialog and gooey teen angst. In fact, aside from its postcard-perfect European locations, there’s very little to recommend the film.

Tom Holland may be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man yet, but his gee-whiz shtick is already getting old. And speaking of shtick, Samuel L. Jackson has played Nick Fury for so long now the character has become a caricature. This brand of cartoony acting afflicts the entire cast; including Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan (the relationship between these characters is painfully awkward).

Perhaps the worst acting in the film is Jake Gyllenhaal’s histrionic portrayal of Quentin Beck/Mysterio. Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio has none of the gravitas or menace of Michael Keaton’s Vulture from
Spider-Man: Homecoming. But to be fair, I don’t even think the inestimable Keaton could’ve pulled off such a two-dimensional heavy as globe-domed Mysterio.

One thing the movie gets right is how it shows what life is like after the “blip” that occurred in
Endgame. Though characters seem sad over the loss of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), they’re never given enough time to adequately process that loss since the movie never slows down long enough to deal with any genuine emotions.

In the end,
SM: FFH is a flaccid sequel that suffers from horrendous scripting and surprisingly substandard acting. It’s ironic that a movie so focused on the dangers of illusions should contain so many story elements that are shallow and implausible.

The end credits clips are the best part of the movie, so be sure to stick around to the very end.

Rating: 2 out of 4

Toy Story 4 (G)

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Directed by: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks
June 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Toy Story 4 ends the long string of Disney/Pixar films that have opened with an adorable, often Academy Award-winning, animated short. Unfortunately, this sour note sets the tone even before the movie begins.

From the outset,
TS4 feels like it’s desperately trying to recapture the magic of the earlier films in the series. It spends the first ten minutes recalling a rainy-night misadventure that took place nine years earlier, when Woody (Tom Hanks) was still Andy’s favorite toy. Eventually, the story brings us back to the present, when Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) plays with Jessie (Joan Cusack), but leaves the stalwart sheriff in the closet.

In search of something to move the story along, the writers decide to take us to kindergarten orientation day. The only bright spot in Bonnie’s awkward, disappointing day is during crafts period when she cobbles together bits of trash to create Forky (Tony Hale). Serving as a type of security blanket, Forky becomes the center of Bonnie’s world, much to the dismay of the other toys, particularly increasingly irrelevant Woody.

When the story hits another lull, Bonnie’s family decides to take a road trip—one last hurrah before the school year begins. It isn’t until the family pulls over at a RV park to take a rest that some semblance of a plot finally coalesces. In rapid succession, Woody encounters an old friend and a new nemesis, and we’re off on another wild romp in the wonderful world of toys.

If that synopsis sounds paint-by-numbers, it’s because the movie’s plot is too. Though it’s sad to say, the franchise has finally experienced fatigue with this fourth film.

The story has some salience, though. Aside from showing the difficulties of a child adjusting to school (a major plot point of
Inside Out), the movie has many themes including: you can’t grow by standing still, loyalty can be a crutch, friends sacrifice for each other, trash can have value and nothing is nobler for a toy than being there for a child and belonging to a child.

One element present in every Pixar film is nostalgia. Here, Woody can’t move on with his life because he’s tied to the past…the good ole days in Andy’s room. The antique store is a locus of nostalgia since it’s brimming with novelties and collectibles from bygone eras. Audience members of all ages may also experience nostalgia every time they see a
Toy Story character or movie. In fact, many parents taking their kids to this movie were kids themselves back in 1995, when the first film was released.

Though most of the original characters are sidelined here—surprisingly, even Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)—several new characters add color and humor to the movie, including: Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele), Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Evel Knievel knockoff, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).

In the final analysis,
TS4 is a mild disappointment. Though arguably the nadir of the series, it’s still a charming tale of courage, loyalty and belonging that’s a cut above the typical animated feature. The movie boasts some frenetic and fun-filled action sequences and a handful of magical moments, like the ending scene at the carnival. Be sure to stay through the end credits to see a clever twist on the Pixar intro.

Rating: 3 out of 4

Tolkien (PG-13)

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Directed by: Dome Karukoski
Starring: Nicholas Hoult
May 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Tolkien focuses on the formative years of the eponymous author, who created the races, languages and lands of Middle-earth as featured in, arguably, the finest fantasy books ever written: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The movie begins in the trenches of WWI as Lieutenant J.R.R. Tolkien is searching for his friend while ducking bullets and evading chlorine gas. The narrative crosscuts between these intense action scenes and various points in Tolkien’s past: from when he was a young orphan all the way through to his days at the University of Oxford.

Along the way, Tolkien forms an indelible bond with three other boys (a fellowship that mirrors the four Hobbits in the
LOTR). We’re given glimpses into Tolkien’s inner thoughts; the completely original languages he creates and the dark creatures he draws in notebooks. Of course, we know where Tolkien’s flights of fancy will eventually take him, but it’s an enjoyable journey to see how Tolkien was inspired to write his seminal fantasy saga.

Although the pacing is slow at times and the overall mood is somber, there are a handful of magical scenes in the film. Many of these moments come during the climactic battlefield sequences where we see a dark figure riding a black horse and ethereal wisps of black smoke writhing over the corpse-riddled plain like sinister wraiths.

Nicholas Hoult does a fine job of depicting Tolkien’s real-world challenges and internal struggles. Lily Collins is delightful as Tolkien’s love interest, Edith Bratt; a young woman who somehow manages to ground Tolkien while simultaneously setting his imagination free. The ever dependable Colm Meaney plays Father Francis, Tolkien’s guardian and mentor. The different actors who portray Tolkien’s friends at various ages are solid across the board.

Though it’s a fascinating character study and an effective biopic,
Tolkien isn’t very exciting, which is downright tragic when considering Tolkien’s works. In the end, one wonders why a movie based on the life of this revered fantasy scribe wasn’t more imaginative.

Oh, and since linguistics play such a prominent role in the movie, it’s pronounced “Toll-keen.”

Rating: 3 out of 4

Avengers: Endgame (PG-13)

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Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr.
April 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Even though, in the strictest sense, Avengers: Endgame isn’t a family film, its central theme revolves around family. Like Shrek’s onion (or Donkey’s parfait), there are many layers of family in this film. In fact, from start to finish, Endgame is all about family.

The movie begins with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) having a picnic with his family. The film ends with many families and friends attending a gathering. These individuals make up a large family of characters we’ve come to know and love over the course of the twenty-two Marvel (MCU) movies (which comprise an interconnected family of films).

We watched in utter shock as half of this expansive family of superheroes turned to ash in the previous film,
Avengers: Infinity War (2018). In a very real sense, it feels like we’re losing more family members in Endgame, since this is the final Marvel movie for many of the main actors.

The script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, places added emphasis on relationships by including a number of rich character moments between the superheroes and their families. In addition to Hawkeye’s family, we encounter several generations of Starks. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), becomes a type of surrogate father to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with some of his family and we witness the extreme sibling rivalry between Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) two daughters: Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). These instances, and many others, confirm that the movie’s main priority is family.

In an unforgettable scene, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) chooses family over freedom fighting. It’s a poignant reminder of what matters most in life.

One last aspect of the family metaphor before I completely drive it into the ground; a whole generation of kids (and their families) have grown up watching the Marvel movies. How will these films be viewed by future generations? By focusing on family, the Marvel films, especially this one, will resonate far into the future.

Rating: 3 out of 4

The Best of Enemies (PG-13)

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Directed by: Robin Bissell
Starring: Taraji P. Henson
April 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Remember the Titans (2000) tells the true story of how two high school football teams—one all-white and the other all-black—integrated into one team in Alexandria, Virginia, circa 1971.

Though it doesn’t feature any pom-poms or pigskins,
The Best of Enemies has a similar premise to Titans. Also based on a true account and set in Durham, North Carolina in 1971, Enemies concerns a group of black students who are displaced after their school burns down. A two-week community meeting is held to determine if the black students will be allowed to continue their studies at a white school.

The twist is that the co-chairs chosen to ensure a fair vote are Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), leader of the local Ku Klux Klan. Living up to the movie’s title, the two bicker and scheme, but eventually become lifelong friends.

The downshot here is that the film suffers from slow pacing and is predictable from one set of credits to the other. The upshot is that Rockwell and Henson, along with the rest of the solid supporting cast, maintain audience interest with genuine performances (although Rockwell has become a bit typecast with his recent string of Southern-fried roles).

There isn’t anything revolutionary about the film, but its core theme of racial reconciliation is poignant…and is just as relevant today as it was in 1971. If you can get past the many utterances of the “N” word, you might find
Enemies an enjoyable, even heartwarming, film. At the very least, you’ll learn a new word: charrette.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4

Captain Marvel (PG-13)

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Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson
March 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


It was inevitable that, in order to keep up with competitor DC’s femme freedom fighter Wonder Woman, Marvel would feature a female to headline one of their superhero films. That non-drug heroine is Carol Danvers (not to be confused with Kara Danvers of
Supergirl fame), a.k.a. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). A former Air Force pilot, Danvers is now an intergalactic fugitive who comes to Planet C-53 (some hellhole named Earth) to discover clues about her past. Danvers soon finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls, two warring alien races in search of a blue Rubik’s Cube called a Tesseract. To thwart this cosmic conspiracy, Danvers joins forces with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg).

Marvel isn’t an amazing Marvel movie, but it’s a really good one. The writers spend ample time on character development, which is refreshing for a superhero movie. The plot coheres despite its many time jumps and manages to have a few genuinely surprising twists along the way. Also, the film’s well paced action sequences aren’t overblown like those in many Marvel movies. The way the writers gradually reveal Danvers’ origin story is extremely clever; as the Skrulls (who are somewhat reminiscent of the Goblins from LOTR), scan Danvers’ memories, looking for any hint of the Tesseract, we learn valuable insights into her upbringing and background. We gain firsthand knowledge of the Kree culture from when Danvers lived on their Coruscant-like planet and learned combat skills from expert trainer Yon-Rogg (Jude Law).

Ben Mendelshon, who excels at playing heavies (
Rogue One and Ready Player One) turns in a fairly nuanced performance as a Skrull infiltrator. Kree villain Ronan (Lee Pace), who met his timely demise in the first Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) film, only has a handful of scenes and, sadly, doesn’t significantly factor into the movie’s action.

The CGI on Jackson and Gregg’s regressed visages is quite impressive—it’s amazing how today’s digital artists can remove 20-30 years with the click of a button. Gregg makes the most of his scant scenes as newbie agent Coulson and Jackson effectively provides the bulk of the movie’s comic relief.

There’s also a nostalgia factor here. Typically, time travel movies go “back in time” to the 80s.
Marvel takes us back in the 90s, which, with its boxy cars and Blockbuster Video stores, looks just as old as the 80s at this point…how time flies.

Suffice it to say, there’s a great deal of connective tissue between this film and the Marvel panoply, which is a formula the studio has refined to a science by now. So, will there be a
Captain Marvel 2? If so, it will probably be set in the present (as was revealed during the first end credits clip).

What are the main takeaways of the film? His friends call him Fury. Be double, triple sure you know who your enemies are. And always keep an eye on that darn cat.

Rating: 3 out of 4

Glass (PG-13)

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Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy
January 2019


Warning! This is NOT a movie review. This is a critique of the film. Intended to initiate a dialogue, the following analysis explores various aspects of the film and may contain spoilers. Views are my own and elaborate on comments that were originally tweeted in real time from the back row of a movie theater
@BackRoweReviews. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Glass
cleverly combines characters and events from Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2017) into a modern superhero yarn. M. Night Shyamalan (who writes, directs and makes a brief cameo here) has crafted a dual sequel that focuses on common people who possess superpowers, or at least those who believe they do. That psychosis angle is one of the movie’s more fascinating aspects. Do David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Elijah Price, a.k.a. Mr. Glass, (Samuel L. Jackson) and Kevin/Patricia/Hedwig/The Beast (James McAvoy) actually have superhuman abilities, or is it all in their heads?

Unfortunately, just like Dunn’s aversion to immersion and Mr. Glass’ vulnerability to gravity (and everything else), the film’s Achilles’ heel is sameness. One of the movie’s themes, “the strength in brokenness,” is borrowed wholesale from
Split. That film had a great deal to say about the current state of mental health and its implications on the nature and future of humanity. This film eschews those weighty topics in favor of the passé notion that everyday heroes live among us (shades of The Incredibles, Heroes and every Marvel TV show ever produced).

Another measure of sameness is the acting. McAvoy is just as brilliant here as he was in
Split, but that’s the problem; he’s just playing the same personalities in the same ways. We hang on his every word, anticipating some new quirk or deviation to occur, but there’s nothing different about Kevin’s personality pantheon in this movie. Shyamalan should’ve added a 25th personage to Kevin’s mental stew, someone who could provide a wild card element to the warring factions inside Kevin’s mind. Although it’s nice to see Willis and Jackson again, they’re monstrously underserved in the film.

Slow pacing is another drawback—Mr. Glass doesn’t have any significant scenes until halfway through the movie. Much of the film’s action takes place inside or on the grounds of an asylum, which makes it feel insular…and low budget. The promise of a protracted slugfest atop a newly erected skyscraper is downgraded to a parking lot brawl, which is profoundly disappointing.

Glass has a few minor twists, but doesn’t have that big A-ha! moment we’ve come to expect from a Shyamalan film. Though the movie makes us second guess ourselves for about three and a half seconds, it needed a more complex and convoluted (like Kevin’s mind) plot to set up a compelling and mind-bending climax.

Despite an intriguing concept, fine direction and tremendous performances,
Glass still manages to underwhelm. Sorry to shatter your expectations, but Glass isn’t as sharp as Split.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4