Corpse Bride (2005, Directed by Tim Burton) English 7

Voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Joanna Lumley, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Albert Finney

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(7-Very Good Film)

Offbeat. Beguiling. Distinctive.

Tim Burton has his own style of film. Ornate visuals, bizarre stories. His Corpse Bride, a lovely Gothic fantasy, follows awkward Victor Van Gort (Depp), unsure about his upcoming arranged marriage to Victoria (Watson), and, through a chance mishap, newly engaged to the corpse of Emily (Bonham Carter), murdered years before. Burton and his team of animators do amazing work from the elegant character design to the dark lighting scheme. It’s a morbidly beautiful film, and a fittingly oddball tale. Emily is a wonderful character. The major drawback is the slight runtime. I would have enjoyed a fuller story, and more time.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Mission Impossible (1996, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 5

Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voigt, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Béart, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Reno, Emilio Estevez

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(5-Neither Good Nor Bad Film)

Fast. Convoluted. Disappointing.

An action film starring Tom Cruise, directed by Brian De Palma, with this supporting cast, should be so much better than it is. Tom Cruise plays IMF agent Ethan Hunt (his signature role at this point) for the first time, setup and framed, after a mission goes awry, and everyone else on his team his assassinated. He teams up with two disavowed agents to find the real traitor and clear his name. It’s such a promising premise that as Mission Impossible unfolds with its non-existent character development and obvious twists, I couldn’t help but be incredibly disappointed. As Tom Cruise’s first big action role, Mission Impossible at least gives us a taste of things to come from the star, and the famous sequence of Cruise dangling on a line as he breaks into CIA headquarters is a sensational one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Shrek (2001, Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson) English 9

Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassell

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(9-Great Film)

Funny. Clever. Unforgettable.

The persecuted Ogre, Shrek (Myers), meets the always-talking Donkey (Murphy), and they set off on an adventure to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona (Diaz) from a tower guarded by a fierce dragon. Their task is to bring her to tyrannical Lord Farquad (Lithgow), so he can marry her, and become a king. In exchange, Shrek will have his land granted back to him. After maybe a few dozen viewings in my life, watching Shrek will never be fresh again. No matter how long I go without seeing it, as soon as it’s on, I will know it line for line. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of when I first saw it in theaters, and was so blown away by how funny it was, but Shrek remains a wonderful movie. So well-written, animated (though somewhat diluted by time), and performed, with iconic voice work from its stars. The best spoofs to me are ones that poke fun at their genre, but also tell a great story within that genre (Scream, The Incredibles, The Princess Bride). That’s definitely the case with Shrek.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

What Have you Done to Solange? (1972, Directed by Massimo Dallamano) English 7

Starring Fabio Testi, Karin Baal, Camille Keaton, Günther Stoll, Cristina Galbó, Claudia Butenuth, Joachim Fuchsberger

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(7- Very Good Film)

Skillful. Sordid. Gaudy.

The Italian giallo films are generally over-the-top, devoid of hard logic, stylish, violent, tawdry, and entertaining as hell. They ushered in the slasher flick, and remain among the best  examples of the subgenre.  What Have You Done to Solange? made in Italy, set in England, with an international cast and poor English dubbing, is such a film; a fantastic slasher-horror-mystery. A philandering professor, Henry (Testi), is out on a boat with one of his young students, Elizabeth, when she glimpses a bizarre and ugly murder. One of her fellow classmates is stabbed, and soon others follow, but she can’t get a clear image of what she’s seen.The murder mystery is hardly surprising, but gradually a revenge element creeps in giving the story some substance, and a truly gruesome undertone. Don’t question the characters’ decision making or why every female character in the film looks like a model and just be impressed by the incredibly deft camera movement and fun directorial flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Directed by Drew Goddard) English 8

Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intricate. Exciting. Engrossing.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” So says technology pioneer Steve Jobs. Every story has been told in one way or another, and every filmmaker borrows from the greats that came before. Bad Times at the El Royale bears many of the trademarks of a Quentin Tarantino film: chapters, nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence. Indeed, in more than just the style, Bad Times at the El Royale is reminiscent of The Hateful Eight. Here, seven strangers with dark secrets meet at a secluded, rundown motel split between California and Nevada. Who they are and their motivations gradually become clear as they spiral towards violent conclusions. All this said, the similarities understood, the important thing is that Bad Times at the El Royale is an excellent film. Best of the year so far. The actors, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo especially, give their characters and this film a pathos sometimes missing in even the best of Tarantino’s work, and the El Royale offers a handful of exceptional, memorable set pieces. Some films focus solely on shock and awe, confusing the audience, or seeming ultra-hip. This film starts with a great story, and then tells it in a way that maximizes the suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018, Directed by Morgan Neville) English 7

Appearances by Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, David Newell, Yo-Yo Ma, Kailyn Davis, Joe Negri, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons

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(7-Very Good Film)

Enlightening. Fascinating. Inspiring.

Fred Rogers reminds me of Longfellow Deeds from Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); meek, quietly charismatic, odd, earnest, and full of conviction. The star and creator of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a children’s program that ran for over thirty years, has become an unofficial sainted figure, and this documentary examining his life and career does an incredible job of honoring him, attempting to understand him, and showing him as a human being with flaws too. Fred Rogers was not  like anybody else, and through a series of interviews with the people who knew him best, Won’t You be My Neighbor reinforces his tremendous legacy. It also showcases his uniqueness as a person. My fear for the film was that it would be a glossed over account of his life. I was curious to see how they would handle sensitive topics like racism and homosexuality, but also how Fred Rogers handled social issues, almost certain that the documentary would avoid such things. It doesn’t. Strong film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Venom (2018, Directed by Ruben Fleischer) English 6

Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze

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(6-Good Film)

Campy. Silly. Fun.

Occasionally, not often, I’ll watch a film that makes me question my own cinematic taste. I’ll watch Blade Runner 2049 and be bored to tears, or, on the opposite end of the pole, I’ll thoroughly enjoy a film like Venom. Torched by critics, who, to be fair, only reaffirmed my belief that the Tom Hardy, superhero vehicle would be a massive waste of time, a box-office dud, and an embarrassing cash-grab by Sony, I was surprised five minutes in to find myself intrigued by what was going on, and shocked by the end to find I liked what Sony did with the movie. Does that make it a good film?  I decided to let some time pass. Maybe I was influenced by the natural high I sometimes achieve eating Walgreen’s candy at the movie theater. Best to keep my opinion to myself, I thought. But I couldn’t keep it to myself. I texted a dozen people that Venom was, against all odds, a good film, and now, two days later, I feel confident enough to put it in writing. Venom is a good film.

Eddie Brock leaps from the comic book pages onto the big screen in a solo film that not many people thought would ever happen, and even fewer felt he deserved. Played by Tom Hardy, in a bewildering performance best described as Nicholas Cage-esque (I’m leaning towards that being a compliment), Brock is a hot-headed, investigative reporter who runs afoul of corporate thug, Carlton Drake (Ahmed, an odd but entertaining choice), resulting in him losing his job and his fiancée, Anne (Williams). Drake has some kind of sinister, shady plan afoot involving symbiotes from outer space (more interesting to watch than to explain; the film, to its credit, recognizes this), and Brock ends up merging with one of them. The symbiote, named Venom (I don’t remember why the symbiotes speak English but they do) inhabits Brock and can communicate with him through thoughts. Venom has seemingly unlimited power, though we learn his weakness is fire and high-pitched noise. Brock, as he grows accustomed to the powers, goes after Drake who’s planning to take over the world-typical super villain stuff-and Venom’s motivation for helping him ends up being quite funny rather than perfunctory.

Sony and the filmmakers eschew the problems of most super hero origin stories. Venom is never boring. It’s not dark and brooding, which, I know a lot of people were upset that this isn’t R rated. Maybe a dark and reflective Venom could have worked (it worked so well for Ang Lee’s Hulk), but this Venom is funny (usually intentionally), fast, cheesy, over-the-top, fresh, silly, and fun. At its core, it’s a compelling bromance between Eddie Brock and his symbiote friend, Venom, and it took me by surprise.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-