The Indian and the Cupboard (1995, Directed by Frank Oz) English 5

Starring Hal Scardino, Litefoot, David Keith, Steve Coogan, Richard Jenkins

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A nine year old boy finds the simple looking cupboard he received on his birthday  has the ability to transform any toy into a live person (granted, in miniature form). He uses this power to bring to life Little Bear, once merely a toy Indian. Childhood favorites can be dubious, and so, I started The Indian and the Cupboard anxiously. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not very good. The wonderment I once associated with the titular magical cupboard has gone. Now, I simply watched cautiously waiting for embarrassing racial harmonizing moments. Thankfully, those moments didn’t come, and to the film’s credit, I did like much of what it had to say. It wasn’t overly sanitized. A late scene of Little Bear watching classic westerns and seeing the violence against his people portrayed was a standout. Overall, I wasn’t entertained or intrigued by the premise as I once was, but it’s basically a well made picture with a handful of good thoughts.

In the Good Old Summertime (1949, Directed by Robert Z. Leonard) English 8

Starring Van Johnson, Judy Garland, Buster Keaton, S.Z Sakall, Spring Byington

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Fantastic musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, starring Van Johnson and Judy Garland as the antagonistic though smitten couple. The Shop Around the Corner (which was again remade and given a modern updating in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail) starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as two always-at-war coworkers who are unknowingly each other’s pen pals. Johnson and Garland do a memorable job in these roles. Buster Keaton has a small but wonderful role as a coworker of the lead actors, and one prone to embarrassing bouts of clumsiness. The plush sets and Technicolor make this a truly beautiful film. The Shop Around the Corner remains the best version of this story, but both this film and You’ve Got Mail find their own way and make for great entertainment.

The Skin I Live In (2011, Directed by Pedro Almodovar) Spanish 10

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet,  Roberto Álamo

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Wow. I was determined to jump ahead of this film’s twists, and yet, I still found myself stunned and elated at its slowly unraveling plot. Beginning with Banderas as a renegade surgeon reeling from his wife’s death and Anaya as his special patient/prisoner, the film jumps back and forth in time oozing sinister undertones and red herrings until you’re left floored and unnerved. All the actors are quite good in Almodovar’s slightly campy, melodramatic manner, and the director once again proves to be a master at blending tones and styles.

Lady Bird (2017, Directed by Greta Gerwig) English 8

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges

Coming of age appears to be a never ending well for filmmakers. Scenes of youthful heartbreak, awkward courting, problems with parents, and insecurity running rampant shouldn’t feel as fresh as writer/director Greta Gerwig and her cast make them feel. Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, a.k.a “Lady Bird” (self-ascribed). She’s middle-class at a private catholic school in Sacramento where she seems to be surrounded by the wealthy and the cool. Her father, recently laid off, can’t afford to send her to the fancy schools in New York she desperately wants to attend, and her over-bearing mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) isn’t helping her insecurity. How much of this derives from Gerwig’s own life, I couldn’t say, but one of the film’s best qualities is the authentic progression of the protagonist, the truthful way the little but meaningful events of her life unfold, and the knowing humor that fills the movie. Like the best of memoirs, it alternates between nostalgia and painful moments beautifully, and there should be enough in the film for anyone to relate to.

A Black Cauldron Live Action Remake

Cinderella. Beauty and the Beast. Alice in Wonderland. Maleficent. The Jungle Book. Soon: Aladdin. Dumbo. Mulan. The Lion King. The Little Mermaid. Peter Pan. Live action remakes are Hollywood’s most lucrative trend. Maybe you’d say Marvel superhero movies or Star Wars films, but not if you take into account productions costs. Beauty and the Beast made back 1.2 billion against a budget of $160 million. Rogue One made 1 billion against a budget of $260 million. I’m sure the studio is working on adding Pinocchio, Snow White, and Tarzan to the fold as well, but the live action remake I’d like to see is one for 1985’s The Black Cauldron. It will likely never happen. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re in the majority. The film was made in the dark days of Disney (after Walt Disney himself died and before the company’s resurgence in the ’90s) and earned only half of what it cost to make.

Adapted from a series of children novels by Lloyd Alexander, the film chronicles a young pig-keeper named Taran who must retrieve a pig that was in his care before the evil Horned King gains access to its mystical powers. Along the way, there’s a princess, a bard named Flewddur Fflam with a harp that exposes his lies, a grumbling fairy, and (my favorite) Gurgi, a trickster dog-like creature. There’s a lot in the material that could be developed into a very strong adventure film. The core characters are great. I think the villain could use some tweaking to keep him from being just a big one-dimensional dummy. Apparently, Tim Burton worked on the film while at Disney but was fired because his ideas were a little too out there for the new bosses. One idea of his that I’ve heard was to give the villain sock puppets and have him be somewhat of a schizo. Thta could have been interesting.

With studio execs, off the heels of Game of Thrones massive success, looking all over for a high fantasy with crossover appeal, I think Disney should look into revamping The Black Cauldron and doing it right.

-Walter Howard-


The End of the Film Seasons

Despite the foreboding title, this is to be an optimistic article, my first in a while. It wasn’t very long ago, just a few years honestly, that you could surmise what type of films were in theaters simply by what month it was. For decades, June, July, August was blockbuster season which meant action and special effects. The kids were out of school, and willing to spend whatever money they had to see the latest studio sequel. November, December, January was Oscar season. These months meant thoughtful, well-acted, meaningful films (though, if you know my feelings toward Oscar bait, you’ll know that these months also meant a load of trite processed movies). Anyways, it has become increasingly clear through the years, that the timing of a film’s release (a good film mind) isn’t as significant as it was once thought. Kids will see the latest Marvel release whenever, adults will seek out the fresh new indie charmer with awards buzz, when they’re able. In fact, it seems like studios figured out that by circumventing the old film schedule system, they could avoid competitions for the same audience. An Oscar contender in November goes up against at least three other Oscar contenders, while in July, as this year’s Dunkirk proved, you’re going up against kids films and sequels. There was a large demographic of people waiting for a film made for them.

This year’s been a prototype of how I can only presume and hope that the Hollywood movie schedule will be in the years to come. It’s been an incredible year. Diverse and consistent.

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January-M. Night Shymalan’s Split. February-Get Out, John Wick 2, and Lego Batman. March-Logan, Beauty and the Beast, T2: Trainspotting, and The Boss Baby. April-The Fate of the Furious. May-Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Alien: Covenant, and the latest Pirates movie. June-Wonder Woman, It Comes at Night (with its enormously misleading title), My Cousin Rachel, Cars 3, The Beguiled, Baby Driver, Despicable Me 3, and The Big Sick. July- A Ghost Story, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spiderman: Homecoming (Marvel’s best maybe ever), Atomic Blonde, Girl’s Trip, Dunkirk, and Detroit. August-Wind River, Annabelle: Creation, and Logan Lucky. September- It, mother!, Battle of the Sexes, Kingsmen sequel. October- Blade Runner 2049, The Florida Project, The Foreigner, Happy Death Day, American Made, Novitiate, and Thank You for Your Service. November-Thor, Ladybird, Coco, Three Billboards, Last Flag Standing, Wonder, and Justice League. Next month-Star Wars.

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The main films to note are Dunkirk, a strong Oscar contender released in the middle of Summer, Big Sick, a sleeper hit and hopefully a recipient of some Oscar love coming out in June, It, a horror film and massive blockbuster released in September, and Beauty and the Beast, the year’s highest grosser (at least until Star Wars next month), coming out in March.

Next year, we know Black Panther is released in February, and I’m anticipating that making bank. I believe that we’ll see more and more the spreading out of big movies and earlier appearances from Oscar contenders. Plus, with the growing trend of festival films going directly to streaming services, I’m hoping for a day when I won’t have to wait long gaps before the next great release.

-Walter Howard-

Nine Months (1995, Directed by Chris Columbus) English 5

Starring Hugh Grant, Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Tom Arnold, Joan Cusack, Jeff Goldblum

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Surprise! Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore are going to have a baby. The problem is Grant’s not sure he wants to be a father, or even a husband for that matter. Written and directed by Chris Columbus, who worked a number of times with the great John Hughes, seems to strive for the latter’s ability to take mundane, middle class situations and mine them for comedy. The zaniness, slightly over-the-top acting, annoying side characters, and eventual sentimentality are all hallmarks of Hughes’ work, so the ideas behind this romantic comedy could have worked. They just don’t. The jokes fall largely flat. The performances are overdone even for a comedy, and the annoying side characters are just annoying. Julianne Moore does a lovely job as the stoic center piece, but the film loses believability with its remaining cast, as talented as the actors are, and I would have greatly appreciated more Goldblum.