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

2019

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