Frantz (2016, Directed by François Ozon) French/German 7

Starring Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber

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(7-Very Good Film)

Intriguing. Gripping. Appealing.

In the aftermath of World War I, a young German girl, Anna, mourns the loss of her fiancée, Frantz, when, one day, she notices a mysterious Frenchman visiting her beloved’s grave. “Who is he?” Anna wonders, as he begins spending time with her and Frantz’ family, and as she slowly begins to fall for him. At its core, the film is a fairly simple story, but it’s strengthened by themes of forgiveness, xenophobia, truth versus lies, and illicit romance. Plus, Ozon’s direction gives the film the suspense and tension of a classic Hitchcock. Switching between black/white and color, I believe to signify times of mourning versus post-war closure, Frantz is an excellent foreign drama, though I can’t shake my disappointment with the resolution, despite it probably being the right ending for the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Shape of Water (2017, Directed by Guillermo Del Toro) English 7

Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stahlberg

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(7-Very Good Film)

Vivid. Provocative. Bizarre.

Mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Hawkins), works at a top-secret government lab. There, she meets and falls in love with the creature held under lock and key by sadistic Colonel, Richard Strickland (Shannon). What a strange love story? Del Toro pulls it off thanks to outstanding performances from the cast, and his unique and infectious love of all things strange and fantastic. There’s a standout dance/ dream sequence between the creature and Elisa that encapsulates all the film’s uncanny appeal. Shannon is truly terrifying as the psychotic Colonel, and there’s a scene late in the movie where he yanks off his own rotting finger that is unfortunately burned in my mind. This said, The Shape of Water is a superior monster movie, but falls short of being a masterpiece. Pan’s Labyrinth, which transcended its genre, remains Del Toro’s best.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Directed by Steven Spielberg) English 7

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlewait, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff, Arliss Howard

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(7-Very Good Film)

Grim. Exciting. Anticlimactic.

Jurassic Park is a classic and one of the biggest blockbuster movies of all time, directed by the biggest blockbuster director of all time. Naturally, they made a sequel. Naturally, it’s not as good. It’s bigger, louder, dumber. Surprisingly, it’s much better than I remember it being. For every dumb moment, there’s a genuinely thrilling sequence or jump-scare that gets me out of my seat. I’m not sure how many PG-13 films you can say that about. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) returns, promoted to lead protagonist, to Jurassic Park, this time on a different island, in order to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Moore). Many people won’t enjoy The Lost World forgoing the original’s sense of wonder and adventure. This sequel is a horror flick. Lots of expendable characters making poor decisions (a “scientist” rolling out of a cave where he’s safe from the T-Rex because a snake touches him is so unbelievably silly), but the characters are strong enough and the buildup of tension is superb, so much so that I can forgive a weak third act in which the T-Rex ends up in San Diego in clear homage to Godzilla.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Secret Agent (1936, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young, Percy Marmont, Lilli Palmer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Engaging. Fast-paced. Suspenseful.

Alfred Hitchcock did several versions of this story throughout his career. An ordinary man thrust into action and adventure. In Secret Agent, based upon a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, Captain Brodie (a rare early screen appearance from Theater legend Gielgud) returns home from World War 1 to find himself considered dead. A mysterious gentleman known as “R” recruits him for a top secret mission to eliminate a German agent hiding out in Switzerland, with the help of a rogue known as “the Hairless General (Lorre)” and a beautiful blond named Elsa (Carroll) pretending to be his wife. It’s an intriguing setup and offers Hitchcock a number of opportunities for great suspense and misdirection. He executed this story better with the earlier classic The 39 Steps, and later with North by Northwest, but Secret Agent is very good for most of its run time. Its failure is its finish, ending poorly with a rather silly wrap-up that’s neither believable nor exciting. A shame since the build-up to that point is terrific.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Directed by Frank Capra) English 9

Starring Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft

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(9-Great Film)

Charming. Wonderful. Classic.

That Gary Cooper, a million leagues away from actually being an “everyman,” could so effortlessly and movingly play one in this film deserves much applause. He plays Longfellow Deeds, a noble average Joe, who inherits a massive fortune from a distant relative. Jean Arthur, one of my favorite movie stars, plays Babe Bennett, a cynical reporter out to get the big scoop, on Deeds. She, of course, begins to fall for him. Douglas Dumbrille plays John Cedar, a greedy lawyer, posing as Deeds’ financial advisor. A true classic. One of Capra’s greats and he made several.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Highlander (1986, Directed by Russell Mulcahy) English 4

Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart

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(4-Bad Film)

Corny. Gimmicky. Bizarre.

I’m amazed that this film is as favored as it is. Highlander is a poorly executed action flick with a handful of good ideas. Lambert (a Frenchman) plays an immortal Scottish warrior in the 16th century who lives out his eternal life mourning the loss of a loved one and battling his archenemy, The Kurgan. There’s, of course, more to it than that, but I stopped caring. The acting is bad (even Sean Connery is squandered playing an Egyptian in a film about Scots). The camera trickery is cool at times before it becomes ultra-gimmicky.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Void (2016, Directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie) English 5

Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Ellen Wong

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(5-Okay Film)

Intriguing. Let-down. Unsatisfying.

Sporadically effective low-budget horror film following a cop (Poole) and other assorted guests trapped inside a hospital as unexplained forces terrorize them and a mysterious otherworldly cult surrounds them. The effects are impressive, not even condescending to the film’s budget, the effects are scary and thrilling. The emotional build-up with the characters is less compelling, and the wild ending suffers because of it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-