Written on the Wind (1956, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, Robert Stack, Robert Keith

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(6-Good Film)

Lurid. Heavy-Handed. Torrid.

Mitch Wayne (Hudson) is in love with his best friend’s wife,  Lucy (Bacall). His best friend, Kyle Hadley (Stack), heir to a multi-million dollar oil business, believes his wife is in love with Mitch, and spends his time drinking himself to death. His sister, Marylee (Malone) is obsessed with Mitch, has been her whole life, and when she can’t have him, settles for whatever man is nearest to her. It’s a highly explosive melodrama cooked up by master Douglas Sirk, who films in beautiful, striking technicolor, and again uses star Rock Hudson. Written on the Wind, considered by some to be his masterpiece, isn’t as entertaining as its trumped up familial strife sounds. It bogs down at times into unpleasant and sometimes over-acted fluff. Malone gets the juiciest role as the nymphomaniac but sympathetic sister, and won an Oscar for it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Yes Man (2008, Directed by Peyton Reed) English 5

Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp, John Michael Higgins

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(5-Okay Film)

Inconsistent. Broad. Amusing.

Carl Allen (Carrey) is in a deep funk. Ever since his wife left him, he’s given up on all relationships. Surprised by an old colleague (Michael Higgins), Carl, uncharacteristically, accepts an invitation to a motivational seminar, led by guru Terrence Bundley (Stamp), who extols the power of saying yes. Perhaps going too far, Carl begins saying yes to everything, which leads him to meeting the free-spirited Allison (Deschanel). A good vehicle for Carrey with some clever moments, the premise is a bit too obvious, the crisis and immediate resolution too contrived. I enjoyed Yes Man. It has a few good, comedic scenes, appealing leads, but suffers from a couple of unfunny scenes and a basic plot.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



Midnight in Paris (2011, Directed by Woody Allen) English 10

Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Léa Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates

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Intelligent. Wonderful. Humorous.

Pure blessed fantasy from perhaps the screen’s greatest comedy writers, Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s finest. Gil Pender (Wilson) is a would-be novelist turned Hollywood hack vacationing with his self-centered girlfriend, Inez (McAdams), in Paris. Gil, a nostalgia enthusiast, loves Paris and wishes he would have stayed last time he visited, instead of going to Hollywood to write scripts. This time around he wanders into an unexplained time leap that takes him to Paris of the ’20s, where he converses with his heroes Fitzgerald (Hiddleston) and Hemingway (Stoll) among others. He also meets the beautiful mistress of one Pablo Picasso, Adriana (Cotillard), and begins to question what he really wants in life. As someone who looks at the past with rose-colored glasses at times, the film speaks to me, and it’s a source of endless fun to see how many artists and writers you can recognize passing in and out of Gil’s adventure. Lovely to look at, listen to, and imagine, Midnight in Paris is fantastic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Spanglish (2004, Directed by James L. Brooks) English 8

Starring Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, Téa Leoni, Cloris Leachman, Sarah Steele, Aimee Garcia, Thomas Haden Church

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Messy. Stirring. Vivid.

Painfully awkward at times, rapturous at others, Spanglish stars Paz Vega as a single mother, Fleur, who moves to California with her young daughter to find a better life. After years of struggling, she finally ventures outside of California’s tight-knit Mexican community and finds employment with the dysfunctional, wealthy Clasky family led by John (Sandler), a chef, and his neurotic wife, Deborah (Leoni). Evoking Ethan Frome to a degree, the kind but unhappy John and Fleur develop feelings for one another as Deborah pursues her own affair. It’s a messy state of affairs for these characters and the film doesn’t attempt to tidy them up. I think it’s a gift and a curse. On the one hand, Spanglish isn’t completely satisfying, but on the other, it’s a unique, thoughtful, engaging film with characters I care about. Sandler has shown, in this and other films, that he is capable of strong work, and Vega gives a terrific performance in the lead. James L. Brooks is one of the best comedy writers of the past few decades, and though this doesn’t measure up to his best, he’s still great.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Naked (2017, Directed by Michael Tiddes) English 3

Starring Marlon Wayans, Regina Hall, Dennis Haysbert, Eliza Coupe, Minka Kelly, Scott Foley

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(3-Horrible Film)

Inane. Unfunny. Rip-off.

This Netflix original film starring Marlon Wayans is not the most miserable movie experience I’ve ever had. That’s the best thing that can be said for it. Yet another Groundhog Day wannabe clone, Naked puts its star, on the eve of his wedding, through an endless time loop that begins with him waking up naked in an elevator. The premise isn’t very funny and neither is the resulting film. The mystery-someone’s trying to sabotage the wedding-is the most enjoyable part of the film, and yet, it’s as complex as a ziploc bag. There’s nothing in this film to keep us engaged, and the repetition only makes it worse.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Frozen (2013, Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck) English 6

Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Santino Fontana

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(6-Good Film)

Strong. Bright. Satisfying.

Before Tangled was released in 2010, Dinsye bigshot Ed Catmull said it would be the last Disney princess film. Tangled was a huge success, and four years later comes Frozen, with two princesses for the price of one. Anna (Bell) feels shut off from her sister Elsa (Menzel) after the death of their parents. On Elsa’s coronation day, Anna, as well as the rest of the kingdom, learn the secret she was concealing when she turns the land into a frozen tundra and runs away. Anna sets off to find her with the help of her new companions: courageous Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and the loyal snowman Olaf. Frozen was a colossal success, and it’s easy to see why. It has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic. It fails to rank for me with the cream of Disney’s crop, however, falling somewhere in the middle of the studio’s canon. Mainly, I feel there’s a huge gulf between the classic work of Alan Menken with the various brilliant songwriters on old Disney films during the Renaissance, and the soundtrack to Frozen, as popular as it is. There are plenty of catchy tunes, but they’re just not on the level of, say, The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast. The story lacks a strong villain in my eyes, and though the female empowerment elements prove a nice message, films like Mulan and The Princess and the Frog covered similar territory with more compelling endings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-




Christmas Challenge Film #3: Home Alone (1990, Directed by Chris Columbus)

John Hughes was a genius  of comedy writing. I’ll just list his credits: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Mr. Mom (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), Uncle Buck (1989), Christmas Vacation (1989, which I’ll probably watch before this challenge is through), and Maid in Manhattan (2002) among other films. He was amazingly prolific. Look at the years those films released. Deviating from my plan to start my Christmas Challenge with movies I hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t seen in a long time, I watched one of his films I didn’t include in that list: Home Alone. Written and produced by Hughes, Home Alone was the biggest success of his career, and, like all of his work, funny, creative, and emotional; also a tremendously powerful piece of nostalgia for me. It’s probably one of a first handful of movies I’ve seen in my life. A wonderful film, so when I saw it flash across the Netflix popular tag, I realized its been a few years since I last saw it, thus I felt compelled to watch.

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Kevin McCallister (child superstar, Macauley Culkin) is kind of a brat. He’s supposed to be anyways, though I’ve always taken his side in that long introductory scene. He seems fine. It’s his massive family that seem rotten. They’re all gathered together (aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mother, father, bed-wetting cousins), preparing to go off to Paris, France the next morning, where they’ll spend their Christmas. Kevin wishes he had no family, and tells his mother so after fighting with his bullying older brother, Buzz. She sends him to bed in the attic to cool off. The next morning, an electrical outage keeps the alarm clocks from working, and the McCallisters oversleep. In the madhouse scramble to get dressed and get over to the airport in time for the flight, the McCallisters forget about bratty Kevin, asleep in the attic. He wakes up to an empty house and believes that his wish has come true. No family, and a big, beautiful house all to himself for Christmas. It promises to be a barrel laughs until he figures out a couples of robbers, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), plan to steal from every house on the block, including his. Seeing as all the neighbors are out of town, Kevin decides that it’s up to him to protect his house, and booby traps the joint leading to the pretty well-known, spectacular final thirty minutes.

Hughes was big on mixing laughter with tears, and gave all his comedies a sense of pathos that was as memorable as the jokes. In Home Alone, he gives us Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) desperately trying to make it home to her son and a subplot with Kevin’s elderly neighbor who’s been estranged from his son. The laughs, meanwhile, come fast and easy. Kevin is a precocious, remarkably resourceful kid, and it’s fun to see him outsmart the adults, especially Pesci and Stern’s dimwitted but menacing robbers. Pesci is one of those performers who can pretty much make anything he says funny. Maybe it’s his voice. He amuses me.

Macauley Culkin was one of the most famous kid stars of all time. He did other films, but he’ll always be remembered for slapping his hands to his face and screaming in Home Alone; a gift and a curse, I’m sure. He’s really good, a natural, carrying a film and selling the outlandish idea of an 8-year-old being smarter than adults.

Technically speaking, Home Alone’s not much to write about. It’s an inspired idea delivered straight and told plainly, like all of Hughes’ films, even ones like this that he didn’t direct. John Williams’ score mixed with the exciting soundtrack that includes the Drifter’s version of White Christmas is a major component of Home Alone’s success. Some critics harp on the film’s implausibility. Seems like a waste, since the premise is clearly absurd and the film is worth suspending disbelief. It’s fun. I might end up watching it again before Christmas is over.

(8-Exceptional Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-