A Simple Favor (2018, Directed by Paul Feig) English 6

Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend, Andrew Rannells

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(6-Good Movie)

Twisty. Sly. Lurid.

Gone Girl came and shocked a lot of people. Amy Dunne, portrayed by Rosamund Pike, is an unforgettable character. Like every huge Hollywood hit, Gone Girl has a host of imitators. What separates A Simple Favor from the cheap imitations is its playful take on the sensationalized material; director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and writer, Jessica Sharzer pace the twisty plot with the occasional riff that feels like a wink at the camera. They know this is derivative of Gone Girl and its rip-offs, so that A Simple Favor works both as a comedy-a spoof of sorts- and a thriller-the plot is absorbing and surprising. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, the perfect stay-at-home mom who befriends Emily (Lively). They both have grade school age sons, but that’s where the similarities would seem to end, until Emily disappears and it comes out that both women have secrets. Lively plays her role straight and plays it well, creating an enigmatic character that you know is trouble but can’t help but be drawn towards. Anna Kendrick gives the material its gently satirical edge; a fish out of water at first glance, but with the ability to surprise you. Like most of these stylish, over-cooked thrillers, A Simple Favor is incredibly entertaining, well-plotted, and effective, but loses something upon further viewings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

Chairman of the Board (1998, Directed by Alex Zamm) English 2

Starring Carrot Top, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Raquel Welch, Larry Miller, Jack Warden, Estelle Harris

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(2-Atrocious)

Annoying. Infantile. Repellent.

This isn’t fair, or nice, but I hate Carrot Top. Before his demon clown personality even set in, and cast its stench upon this abysmal movie, I hated him. Before he opened his mouth, and said some lame joke involving some lame prop, I knew immediately that I did not want to see him on screen for another second, but I persevered, watching Chairman of the Board, wherein the “comedian” plays Edison, a dreamer, inventor, and surfer. After a chance encounter with a multimillionaire, Armand McMillian (Oscar nominee Jack Warden in the who cares stage of his career), Edison is left with the majority share of a major company, and uses his newfound power to push out his inventions. He also falls in love with his assistant, Natalie (Thorne-Smith). Carrot Top’s performance and personality justify my bigoted feelings about his appearance. This film is garbage besides him, and something less than garbage because of him.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Burn After Reading (2008, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen) English 6

Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, J.K Simmons, Tilda Swinton, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Elizabeth Marvel

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(6-Good Movie)

Ponderous. Interesting. Dry.

The Coen brothers have quite possibly the most eclectic filmography of any film-makers. They’ll give you a genre classic like No Country for Old Men, and then follow it up with this baffling espionage comedy. As far as comedies go, Burn After Reading is dry as hell, and occasionally, memorably violent. Do we like any of these bumbling idiots, as they create a tangled mess over worthless CIA secrets? Does it matter? The plot is thick but inconsequential, the characters are rich but unrelatable, and, in the end, the CIA head summarizes our feelings, when he asks, “what did we learn?” On the one hand, the film is funny, an absurdist comedy wherein the Coen brothers make a movie doing what most script gurus explicitly tell you not to do: push the plot forward with character’s stupidity. On the other hand, for a film to be loved, something has to matter, and a good portion of Burn After Reading’s laughs could be described just as easily as viewed. Plus the supporting cast in this ensemble outshine the headliners. Malkovich is hilarious as the fired CIA agent on a profane rampage to get his stolen memoirs, Richard Jenkins infuses the story with at least some pathos when he’s on screen as the victim of non-requited love, and J.K Simmons, as the aforementioned CIA head, is called on to deliver what I would say is the punchline, with the film being one very long joke. He delivers it admirably.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

L.A Confidential (1997, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 10

Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, James Cromwell

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(10-Masterpiece)

Potent. Dazzling. Masterful.

Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film, based on James Ellroy’s novel, has many elements usually found in a bad adaptation: bastardized plot, watered-down themes (especially the racist qualities of the protagonists), and a cast that veers rather strongly from their original character descriptions , including an Australian and a New Zealander playing American cops in key roles. It’s a credit to the filmmakers, or truly everyone involved- the writers, the cinematographer, the stars, composer Jerry Goldsmith, who did the terrific score-that instead of feeling like a hack adaptation, L.A Confidential feels like a perfect movie; perfectly paced, perfectly performed, and perfectly filmed. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce play three disparate cops, at odds mostly, who all get swept up from different angles into a massive crime plot involving prostitution, police corruption, heroin, and Mickey Cohen. Kim Basinger merges two Hollywood clichés (hooker with the heart of gold with the classic femme fatale) in her role as Lynn Bracken, but makes the part vital, and reminds us why we like the clichés.  The plot, as it is, seems as complex and mystifying as any ever portrayed on screen, and remembering that it’s working with maybe a third of the book begs the question of how I ever seemed to understand the book. In any case, those tough choices, the decision to go for Ellroy’s spirit rather than exact faithfullness, were judicious, and the resulting film is a major triumph.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Cactus Flower (1969, Directed by Gene Saks) English 6

Starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, Goldie Hawn, Rick Lenz, Jack Weston

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Flower power, short, spiraling hairdos, and Quincy Jones’ music fill out the background in this decidedly ’60s romantic comedy. Walter Matthau, with his stooped posture and estimable deadpan, doesn’t have to do much to get laughs, but here, gets a fine role as Dr. Julian Winston, a cad and a half, who tells the women he sleeps with that he’s married to halt any thoughts they might have of long term commitment. His newest conquest, Toni Simmons, played by Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar in this, her debut, turns the tables on him by threatening suicide, forcing his hand since he’s completely hooked on her. He wants to marry her, but she feels that she needs to meet with his soon-to-be ex-wife first. He has two options: come clean and tell the truth, OR! get his loyal, spinsterish dental assistant, Ms. Dickinson (Bergman), to play his wife for a spell. You can guess which option he chooses. Funny premise generates a funny film, though it’s an odd composite of a stars, and indeed, if one thinks too hard on it, they don’t really go together, however, they’re all quite wonderful in their parts separate from each other. Ingrid Bergman’s given the most sympathetic character, and it’s a pleasure to watch her in such a brazen comedy, shedding- but only partially- her saintly image. Written by frequent Billy Wilder collaborator, I.A.L Diamond, and directed by Gene Saks, following his hit, The Odd Couple (1968). Farcical. Wacky. Time Capsule.

Nothing But the Truth (1941, Directed by Elliot Nugent) English 6

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Edward Arnold, Helen Vinson, Willie Best, Leif Erickson

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Steve Bennett (Hope), new to T.R Ralston’s stockbroking company, and Miami, gets caught up in a few schemes all at once: his boss’ niece, Gwen (Goddard), needs to raise $20,000 for a charity before the end of the month, and tricks Steve in to helping; his coworker needs to get out of an affair with a temperamental mistress, and tricks Steve into leering her away; and the head boss, Mr. Ralston himself tricks Steve into accepting a wager, wherein he can’t lie for a whole day with someone always nearby to watch him. Late screwball comedy that highlights Bob Hope’s great ability and Paulette Goddard’s charm. Fast. Odd. Funny.

Charade (1963, Directed by Stanley Donen) English 10

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau

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Two of classic Hollywood’s greatest stars pair, with Audrey Hepburn playing Regina Lampert,  the widow of a man who stole a fortune during the war. Her husband’s old partners in crime come calling, betrayed and left out of their cut, to follow Regina, believing that she knows where the money is hidden. Cary Grant plays the mysterious and charming Peter Joshua. Regina quickly falls in love with the man, but can she trust him? Excellent script, full of snappy lines, and romantic patter. Also an excellent whodunnit, an excellent romantic comedy, and an excellent thriller. Charade works tremendously on all levels. Enchanting. Sparkling. Suave.