Inferno (1980, Directed by Dario Argento) English 6

Starring Irene Miracle, Daria Nicolodi, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi,  Alida Valli

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(6-Good Film)

Striking. Dream-like. Limited.

When Mark Elliot (McCloskey) goes looking for his beloved sister, Rose (Miracle), he finds a centuries-old supernatural mystery involving the Three Mothers (three evil sisters) instead. Director Argento is a master at visual storytelling. So skilled in fact that he’s able to build suspense without any discernible character development. The opening sequence case in point. A woman we don’t yet climbs in and out of the water multiple times and it’s incredibly tense, despite the fact that she means nothing to us at this point and we don’t have any idea what it is we’re supposed to be afraid of. Inferno, however, is not his strongest work. Visually striking, the overall film feels too episodic and lacking in any motivating force. The characters exist simply to die spectacularly and their threat’s not scary enough.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(553)

Copycat (1995, Directed by Jon Amiel) English 6

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, Harry Connick Jr., William McNamara, J.E Freeman, Will Patton

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Effective. Suspenseful. Strong.

After a violent attack by a psychopath, Dr, Helen Hudson (Weaver) is traumatized and rendered agoraphobic, never leaving her state of the art apartment. A year later, a serial killer terrorizing San Francisco makes a point of involving Helen. She notices that the killer is copying a different infamous slaying with each murder, reluctantly teaming up with detectives Monahan (Hunter) and Goetz (Mulroney). The female leads give strong performances and the film’s biggest strength is their fully rounded characters. Apart from that, Copycat is by-the-numbers but well done. It’s an interesting premise that delivers; gripping and suspenseful.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(552)

Sunday in Peking (1956, Directed by Chris Marker) French 5

Narrated by Gilles Queant

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(5-Okay Film)

Simple. Curious. Whimsical.

A cultural snapshot of Peking, now Beijing, in 1956 under Mao Zedong’s rule, though the whimsical tone and especially eloquent narration establish the film as an anthropological study rather than a political one. Many of the shots and images captured by the filmmakers are incredible. Candid shots of children passing, school in session, foggy mist covering the fields. Aided by Eastman color, the film looks stunning at every turn. If you’re interested in foreign cultures and different eras, you’ll find much to enjoy in this piece. Marker makes no statement as far as I can tell. This belongs more to the fly on the wall style of documentary filmmaking, though at times we see the filmmakers converse or engage with the natives on the screen. For those less interested in the subject, such as myself, you’ll find yourself, drifting off.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(551)

April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci) French 6

Voices of J.K Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti

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(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Beautiful. Shallow.

High concept meets alternate history in this animated film about a family of scientists seeking to create an elixir that cures mortality. Standing in their way is the French government who enslave all scientists in order to monopolize their creations. The youngest of the family, April, is left alone after her parents mysteriously disappear, and finds herself in the middle of a nefarious end-of-the-world level plot. The comic strip art style is appealing and the world it creates is enticing, but the film lacks depth in certain aspects (namely character) that keep it from achieving the epic status it strives for. As is, it’s creative and diverting, without being spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(550)

Knocked Up (2007, Directed by Judd Apatow) English 7

Starring Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Harold Ramis, Craig Robinson, Ken Jeong

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(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Appealing. Overlong.

Kind intelligent television journalist, Alison (Heigl), becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with ultra-slacker, Ben (Rogen). Giving him a chance to be a part of the process, she finds that she actually likes him, but he’s too immature to trust. Heigl and Rogen are likable if improbable pair, but the film’s really made by the extensive supporting cast, each with their moments, all the way down to Craig Robinson in a 2-minute scene as a discerning doorman. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd play Alison’s sister and brother-in-law, and Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jonah Hill, and Jay Baruchel play Ben’s hilarious crew of slacker roommates. Despite a heavy dose of crude humor, Knocked Up is ultimately a very sweet film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(549)

Sense and Sensibility (1995, Directed by Ang Lee) English 9

Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Greg Wise, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, Tom Wilkinson, Imogen Stubbs, Imelda Staunton, Gemma Jones

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(9-Great Film)

Warm. Endearing. First-rate.

The death of Henry Dashwood (Wilkinson) and selfishness of his son, John, his heir, leaves his widow and three daughters, prudent Elinor (Thompson), emotional Marianne (Winslet), and the much younger Margaret in dire straits. Fortunately, a cousin, Sir John Middleton takes them in, offering them a cottage, and the two older sisters’ romantic lives play out in that grand Jane Austen style that’s as popular now as it was when the novel was first published over 200 years ago. Emma Thompson wrote this adaptation herself, doing a sterling job all-around. Her Elinor is a worthy and endearing heroine. Winslet’s Marianne is a bit of a brat for much of the film, but the actress fleshes her out so that we recognize it as a symptom of being young and foolish and not an eternal character flaw. Her eventual humbling and subsequent redemption is nearly as satisfying as Elinor’s soulmate finally coming through-at the last minute, of course. Masterfully done by the director, Ang Lee, thought to be an odd choice for the job at the time. Excellent supporting performances. Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs as the meddling, but lovable cousins, Sir John Middleton, and Mrs. Jennings are especially funny.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(548)

If I Were King (1938, Directed by Frank Lloyd) English 8

Starring Ronald Coleman, Basil Rathbone, Frances Dee, Stanley Ridges

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Intelligent. Lavish.

Anybody can relate to being dissatisfied with their country’s leadership. How many people believe, or at least boast that they could do better if given the chance? Not surprisingly, this feeling extends long before present-day issues, and, in a forgotten classic, If I Were King, we glimpse 15th century France, alternating at times between the much-maligned King Louis XI (played by Basil Rathbone) and the rebel rousing, street poet Francois Villon (played by Ronald Coleman). Never mind that the French historical figures are portrayed here by British thespians, and many supporting players are played by Americans. As a typical style in Hollywood films, I quickly looked past this oddity and was gripped by this exciting swashbuckler, and moved by the two leads’ excellent performances.  This is an exceptional film.

The King and his people have been pushed to holing up in Paris, besieged by the formidable Burgundians, and reduced to scraps for food. Well, actually it’s the common people who go hungry, while the King and his court eat rations of the finest food. On the streets, Francois Villon spouts poetry to the pretty girls and leads raids on the King’s supply of food, narrowly escaping capture. Meanwhile, in his castle, the King detects a spy in his midst and sets a trap to catch the rat. This leads him to a dingy tavern in disguise where he hears the popular Villon drunkenly bragging of what he would do if he were king while insulting the current leader. Naturally, King Louis makes plans to punish the man later, but fate intercedes. He discovers the identity of the spy in his quarters, and it turns out to be his Grand Constable, the man in charge of his military. When the Grand Constable attacks Villon upon recognizing him as a wanted thief, Villon kills him and unknowingly does the King a favor. In return, King Louis, more out of jest than true gratitude, names Villon as the new Grand Constable for one week, and so, Villon gets the chance to make good on his boasts, not knowing that the King plans on executing him at the end of the week.

Basil Rathbone, aside from his long string of Sherlock Holmes movies, is best remembered for playing suave villains who ultimately lose to the protagonist in a duel (The Mark of Zorro, The Court Jester, Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood).  He was great in those roles. Here, he plays a dramatically different character in the historical personage of Louis XI. He makes the unpopular figure a complex, anti-hero of sorts. He’s intelligent, back-handed, greedy, surprising, but not cruel. Rathbone is almost unrecognizable in the role.

Ronald Coleman, unfortunately not as big of a star today as some of his peers, was a fantastic actor with some truly great films. While If I Were King may not be on the same lofty level as another of his films, Prisoner of Zenda, it represents another example of his greatness. He, too, could be described as an anti-hero. He’s a thief, a womanizer, a common criminal, but given the chance, he proves himself to be a hero, saving his city and its people.

A key aspect of any great adventure film is a compelling romance, and If I Were King provides in this as well. Villon falls for the lady-in-waiting, Katherine (Dee), letting her think he’s a high born noble. She eventually falls for the courageous and compassionate man he is, and not the strutting nobleman he pretends to be, and we leave the film giddy from a film that delivered in rich character, sweeping adventure and intrigue, and literate, well-developed romance.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(547)