Angel Heart (1987, Directed by Alan Parker) English 8

Starring Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Dark. Evocative. Haunting.

There are two movie formulas that always leave me satisfied. One belongs to the western genre: a town bullied by outlaws finds help from a vigilante outsider. The second is the private eye subgenre: a world-weary gumshoe accepts a seemingly innocuous case that develops into the biggest case of his career. I love mystery and femme fatales and tough-talking men and all that comes with this latter plot. Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, is such a film. Beginning in 1950s New York, Rourke plays Harry Angel, hired by De Niro’s Louis Cyphre to track down a lost jazz singer named Johnny Favorite. His investigation leads him to New Orleans and a cast of characters involved in the dark arts including the beautiful Evangeline Proudfoot (Bonet). As the plot thickens, Angel Heart morphs from a private eye drama to a supernatural thriller, and the ending, absurd and abstract as it is, floored me. Mickey Rourke is a special actor; inherently interesting, exciting, with great emotional range. His revelation scene opposite a terrifically understated De Niro is a tour de force.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(680)

R.I.P.D (2013, Directed by Robert Schwentke) English 4

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Stéphanie Szostak, Mary-Louise Parker, James Hong, Mike O’Malley

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(4-Bad Film)

Shoddy. Unoriginal. Dumb.

Some bad films reveal themselves on reflection. I made it through Tom Cruise’s The Mummy reboot thinking it was okay, and only later did I determine that no, it was not okay. It was quite bad. For me, there are a number of bad films in this category-X-Men: Apocalypse seems to grow worse in my memory with each passing year-but then you have films that are just immediately bad. The first frames scream out, “Get ready. You’re in for a trainwreck.” R.I.P.D is one such film. Actually, the first couple of minutes are so bad that they lowered my expectations to the point that the subsequent 90 minutes or so slightly exceeded them. It’s in these opening minutes that we are introduced (through a pointless framing device) to “deados,” bloated, repulsive monsters conjured up with the worst CGI money can buy ($140 million somehow, if Wikipedia can be believed) and the main antagonists of R.I.P.D. It’s difficult to overcome poor special effects (not to be confused with dated effects), and it would take a far more original premise than R.I.P.D offers to do it.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a hardworking Boston cop, blissfully in love with his wife, Julia (Szostak), but he’s recently stumbled into an easy payday with his partner, Bobby (Bacon). You know, an under-the-table kind of payday-the kind that gets you investigated by internal affairs-in the form of stolen gold. When Nick’s conscience wins out and he vows to return the loot, Bobby kills him, and Nick ends up lending his soul to the Rest in Peace Department for a chance at returning to Earth and wrapping up unfinished business. He’s partnered with a wily veteran from the old west, Roycephus “Roy” Pulsipher (Bridges), as they hunt down the dangerous deados I mentioned earlier.

R.I.P.D reeks of rotten ideas left over from the Men in Black franchise. A clandestine agency charged with saving the world seemingly every other week. Bizarre creatures. Odd couple buddy-action-comedy. It’s derivative. So, too, is the traitorous partner element. It’s all been done before which is no great crime in cinema, but then you add in the bad special effects and lifeless action sequences. The central relationship between Bridges’ ridiculous cowboy and Reynolds’ straight guy works better than expected. Bridges’ over-the-top schtick scores some laughs and the two actors are naturally likable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(679)

A Room With a View (1985, Directed by James Ivory) English 8

Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliot

(8-Exceptional Film)

Lavish. Passionate. Intelligent.

Extremely British affair based on the lauded, classic novel by E.M Forster. Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham Carter) along with her insufferable cousin, Charlotte (Smith), travel to Italy as a part of her upper-class education. Once there, the two meet the Emersons, a father and son, who stand out abominably as high culture square pegs. Eventually, the Emersons rub off on young Lucy, with a half a dozen other characters in the mix adding color. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of his earliest performances in this film, and, as has become standard, he’s brilliant. It’s a beautiful romance-drama.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(678)

The Talk of the Town (1942, Directed by George Stevens) English 7

Starring Ronald Coleman, Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, Edgar Buchanan, Glenda Farrell, Charles Dingle, Rex Ingram

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(7-Very Good Film)

Attractive. Well-acted. Serious.

There are films left on the great Cary Grant’s filmography for me to see, but The Talk of the Town is likely the one and only film that I’ll find myself rooting for someone else to end up with the girl. Grant plays Leopold Dilg, a fugitive wrongly accused of arson and murder, holed up in the home of an old friend, Nora Shelley (Arthur). With the whole town looking for him, things become more difficult still when the austere Professor Lightcap (Coleman) appears early to rent a room in the house. A love triangle develops out of this situation, and though the potential is there for comedy, The Talk of the Town is played mostly straight with its trio of stars giving fantastic performances. Not as emotionally resonant as some of Capra’s similarly dramatic-comedies, this film is mostly a testament to classic Hollywood star power.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(677)

Superbia (2016, Directed by Luca Tóth) Hungarian 4

Described as a short film about, “the native people of the land of Superbia, where men and women form separate societies, face the changes sparked by the first equal couple in their history,” but whatever meaning lays within, lays deep within, buried under grotesque, crude visuals and what I’ll generously call avant-garde storytelling. With no dialogue and no distinct characters, I can only assume that Superbia is meant to be symbolic, but since there’s nothing noticeably interesting about the short. I gave up trying to figure out what it’s symbolic of.

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-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(676)

Ghost (1990, Directed by Jerry Zucker) English 6

Starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn, Whoopi Goldberg, Vincent Schiavelli, Rick Aviles

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(6-Good Film)

Sentimental. Compelling. Memorable.

So many supernatural romances have come and gone. Films as sappy and sentimental as Ghost usually, at best, make sufficient money at the box office before fading off to cable television. Ghost is one of the most unlikely mega-hits that I’m aware of. Starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore as the main couple, Sam and Molly, the two are separated by the apparent mugging-gone-wrong that leads to Sam’s death. Now a ghost, Sam can only communicate to Molly with the help of scam artist, Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg). There’s nothing actually new about this movie. It’s old-school melodrama and romance mixed in with a handful of dated special effects. Why does the film endure? That spark of magic that sometimes strikes where aspects of a film really work happens here. Swayze and Moore are a great onscreen couple. Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown is a fantastic scene-stealer, and who can forget the pottery scene?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(675)

Widows (2018, Directed by Steve McQueen) English 6

Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O’Connor

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(6-Good Film)

Polished. Sprawling. Unsatisfying.

Three women-Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Debicki)-lose their criminal husbands and owe crime boss, Jamal Manning (Henry), a couple million dollars. To pay him, the three devise a heist based on a plan drawn by Veronica’s late husband, Harry Rawlings (Neeson), and add a fourth member, Belle (Erivo), a getaway driver once they get closer to the heist. Anyone who’s seen Widows will know that the film is about so much more than what I just described, but for me, that’s part of the problem.  There’s much too much going on. Politics, social commentary, a scene touching on police shootings, and about 4 or 5 characters too many. Even interesting characters, Belle and Robert Duvall’s Tom Mulligan, weren’t necessary. Widows has many great aspects though. Beautifully filmed and acted, the story, despite being unfocused in my eyes, does draw you in. I do think, however, that here is a rare case where a bastardized version of this plot would have been better. The film is so elegantly shot that the heist needed to be more clever. The film’s final act dedicates maybe 10 minutes to the actual heist and it’s a trainwreck. That would be fine in a grittier crime film, but this one sets up its heist and characters for too long for that haphazard ending to be satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(674)