Kubo and the Two Strings (2016, Directed by Travis Knight) English Great Film

Voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

(Great Film)

In ancient Japan, with his father dead and his mother sick, young Kubo (Parkinson) is left to fend for himself, relying on his storytelling and musical abilities to fetch a day’s bread. Disregarding his mother’s warning about staying out past dusk, Kubo is soon chased out of his quaint existence by his wrathful, god-like grandfather and aunts. With only a hard-willed snow monkey (Theron) and later a cursed beetle-like warrior (McConaughey) to protect him, Kubo sets out to find his late father’s armor and confront his grandfather. Quibbles about its largely white-washed cast aside, Kubo and the Two Strings is a wonderful film. Its production company, Laika, have made a handful of features, very good films, but to date, this is their most exceptional achievement. A marriage of awesome visuals with a story that’s bold and mysterious. The cherishing of memories and time spent with parents is obviously at the heart of Kubo, but there seems to be a depth beyond that that’s slightly obscure. It gives the film a mystique that I find dazzling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Unbelievable Truth (1989, Directed by Hal Hartley) English 7

Starring Adrienne Shelly, Robert Burke, Christopher Cooke, Julia McNeal, Matt Malloy, Edie Falco, Paul Schultze, Bill Sage

(7-Very Good Film)

Odd. Engaging. Clever.

Josh Hutton: The last time I took a drink, I got into a car crash and I killed a girl.

Josh Hutton (Burke) seems like a kind, quiet soul. When he returns to his hometown after a stint in prison, he’s mistaken by some for a priest, but the majority of the people in town know what he did. He killed his girlfriend and her father. Meanwhile, beautiful Audry (Shelly) prepares for life after high school deciding between colleges and a burgeoning career as a model. To her overbearing parents’ dismay, she’s attracted to Josh. You’d be correct to think this sounds like the stuff of overwrought melodrama, but The Unbelievable Truth is mostly an irreverent comedy with a deadpan manner. Bizarre conversations, recurring gags, call-backs, and an off-kilter tone may take a while to grow used to, but I found the film clever and eventually charming.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 9

Starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthalmess, Sig Ruman, Allyn Joslyn, Noah Beery Jr.

Only Angels Have Wings 1939, directed by Howard Hawks | Film review

(9-Great Film)

Adventurous. Exciting. Polished.

Bonnie Lee: I’m hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me.

When Bonnie Lee (Arthur), American showgirl, stops over in Barranca, a remote airbase in South America, she expected to stay for a night. After meeting and instantly falling for the brusque Geoff Carter (Grant), head-pilot and the base’s leader, Bonnie finds she doesn’t want to leave but can’t bear to watch him put his life in danger night in and night out. He loves her but refuses to stop flying. Only Angels Have Wings is an excellent picture. It’s amazing to me how quickly filmmakers figured out the art of filmmaking and how adeptly they expanded its limits. Howard Hawks was a consummate Hollywood storyteller and he’s working with two of its greatest stars in Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Wonderful, well-drawn characters, romance and action.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Inspector Clouseau (1968, Directed by Bud Yorkin) English 5

Starring Alan Arkin, Frank Finlay, Patrick Cargill, Beryl Reid, Barry Foster, Clive Francis, Susan Engel

film babble blog: Sequels That You Probably Haven't Heard Of: INSPECTOR  CLOUSEAU Starring Alan Arkin

(5-Okay Film)

Nondescript. Misguided. Mediocre.

Inspector Jacques Clouseau: There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.

Inspector Clouseau, as played by Peter Sellers, is an iconic comedic character. Inspector Clouseau, here, played by Alan Arkin, is adrift in obscurity. Following the success of the first two Pink Panther movies, studio execs decides to make a third one without Sellers or its director, Blake Edwards. In this one-off performance, Arkin’s Inspector Clouseau is invited to England by Scotland Yard to solve a string of robberies and, at the same time, weed out a potential mole who may be aiding them from within. A fine premise with potential for an intriguing mystery soon devolves into an episodic venture into uninspired slapstick. The director, or maybe the writers, have no handle on this material and no idea what made Blake Edwards’/Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films work. Alan Arkin is left on an island to make this film funny and to make this film work and that’s unfair to any actor. He ekes out some laughs because he is funny, but the film around him is not interesting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Old (2021, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 6

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Vicky Krieps, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliot, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird

Old' Film Review: M Night Shyamalan's Rug-Pulling Routine Is Getting, Well,  You Know

(6-Good Film)

Bizarre. Silly. Creepy.

Adult Trent: How would you feel if a fifty-year-old man called and said he was your six-year-old nephew?

Ever since reaching impossible heights so early in his career with The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shymalan has not been a favorite of film critics. Despite this, he keeps making movies and they keep making money, so I’d suggest that he’s much better than they’re willing to admit. His newest film, Old, centers around a family on vacation at a luxury resort. The father, Guy (Garcia Bernal), and mother, Prisca (Krieps), are separating, but want to have one more joyful family trip together before they break the news to their children- daughter, Maddox, and son, Trent. Soon enough, they’re whisked away to a private beach recommended by the resort manager where they find, along with a host of characters already there, that time passes infinitely faster here and leaving the beach is damn-near impossible. You can focus on the clunky dialogue if you’d like or you could enjoy the beautiful visuals and interesting ideas M. Night brings to filmmaking. Old is not a great film but it is impressively creepy and jarringly grotesque in a way that keeps you watching.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Small Soldiers (1998, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson, Denis Leary

Voices of Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker, George Kennedy, Harry Shearer

Small Soldiers Soundtrack Music - Complete Song List | Tunefind

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Limited. Retread.

Major Chip Hazard: You’ve got a lot of guts. Let’s see what they look like.

Desperate to impress their boss and keep their jobs after a corporate takeover, two toy designers unwittingly create weaponized toys with artificial intelligence known as the Commando Elite led by Major Chip Hazard (Lee Jones). They also give the same artificial intelligence to a meek set of toys known as the Gorgonites led by Archer (Langella). Unleashed in a small, All-American town, teenager Alan Abernathy (Smith) befriends Archer and gets caught in the middle of the Commando Elite’s relentless pursuit of the Gorgonites. If it all sounds very serious, know that this film is a little strange and difficult to explain, because it’s actually very silly and played almost entirely for laughs despite being somewhat frightening. One critic for Empire Magazine described it as, ”¬†Gremlins¬†with toy soldiers, except not quite as dark or funny,” and I find that to be an apt description. Apparently, director Joe Dante (Gremlins being his most famous film) was held back by the studio from being as dark as he would have liked. The film, as it is, entertains (I particularly liked Chip Hazard’s one-liners) and makes an impression but hardly warrants serious consideration or repeat viewings. Its spoofing of small-town life, military movies, and corporate greed are nice touches though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, Directed by Harold Young) English 7

Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce, Anthony Bushell, Joan Gardner

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Frenzied. Slight.

Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!

Sir Percy Blakeney is an English nobleman during the late 18th century. While England enjoys its time of peace, nearby France is plunged into hell by the Reign of Terror and its new leader, Robespierre’s penchant for the guillotine. Blakeney, in response, becomes “the Scarlet Pimpernel,” masked vigilante determined to rescue condemned aristocrats from France and bring them over to England. He also affects the role of idiotic fop in his own country so that no one would ever suspect him of being the masked hero; including his beautiful wife, Lady Marguerite (Oberon), who’s ashamed of him. This premise has been recycled through the decades and told much better in my opinion through the characters of, first, Zorro and, later, Batman, but I believe it started with The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a well-crafted swashbuckler with a compelling romance between Blakeney and his estranged wife, but I do wish the ending was more exciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Foreign Correspondent (1940, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Edmund Gwenn, Harry Davenport, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley

American Genre Film Archive FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Uneven. Hokey.

Mr. Powers: I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables. I want a reporter! Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an -ism and a kangaroo. A good, honest crime reporter. That’s what the Globe needs. That’s what Europe needs!

Wanting a fresh set of eyes, the New York Morning Globe sends crime reporter, John Jones (McCrea), overseas to Europe, where a second world war is brewing and several diplomats gather to invoke peace. Instead, Van Meer (Basserman), a leading diplomat, is assassinated and Jones gets thrown into a whirlwind conspiracy of spies and foreign plots. He’s determined to break the story and get the girl, Carol Fisher (Day), in the process. If Foreign Correspondent afforded Hitchcock a greater budget than his previous work in his home country of England, it also demanded he appeal more conspicuously than ever before as a sort of war propaganda. Certain touches, monologues seem hokey now, 80 years later; the use of our (America’s) national anthem in its ending credits, for example. Add to this, the opening act far exceeds the following two so that the film begins to feel anticlimactic for the majority of its running time. As soon as Van Meer gets shot in that spectacular sequence with the assassin and the umbrellas, Foreign Correspondent has reached its apex. Despite its deficiencies, it’s a sprawling, exciting film with an incredible opening and a slow but satisfying conclusion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Matrix Resurrections (2021, Directed by Lana Wachowski) English 5

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci

The Matrix Resurrections: Did Neo Choose to Be Plugged Back In? | Den of  Geek

(5-Okay Film)

Inessential. Intriguing. Flat.

Neo: I still know Kung Fu.

The thrill of seeing something new, being challenged with fresh ideas, working my way through a complex but involving plot; the Matrix was a colossal experience. In it, Todd Anderson (Reeves), later Neo, learns that the world around him (known as the matrix) is not real, but something artificial designed by machines to enslave humans and distract them from reality. He meets a band of resistance fighters led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who provokes Neo into opening his eyes, teaches him all the possibilities of the matrix, and professes to him that he is the chosen one, or “the One,” destined to save the human race. Just as importantly, Neo meets Trinity (Anne-Moss), the woman he comes to love and who comes to love him. The original Matrix is a masterpiece in my eyes. Its sequels were a disappointment, to say the least, debased, being a more accurate description. The Wachowskis (writers and directors of the franchise) lost the thread. Now we come to The Matrix Resurrections, a third sequel and possibly a reboot. Nearly twenty years after the last sequel, is the world of The Matrix still worth the trip down the rabbit hole? For the whole of the first half, I was hopeful. It begins again with Todd Anderson, a successful video game designer, whom we come to find invented the events of the first three films in his head for a gaming franchise…or did he? I found this premise to be an interesting one even if it’s not entirely original, but you can likely guess the answer to that question and that’s part of my problem. The Matrix 4 was never going to be as fresh as the original and the franchise hasn’t proven it can deliver without that sense of novelty. Other problems include a dull second half, unappealing visuals (especially during the bullet-time sequences), and a performance by Abdul-Mateen II (taking over from Fishburne) as Morpheus that doesn’t measure up. I’m going to continue pretending that The Matrix has no sequels.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Aliens (1986, Directed by James Cameron) English 9

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein

Retro Review: 'Aliens' (1986) - CROMEYELLOW.COM

(9-Great Film)

Expert. Muscular. Thrilling.

Ripley: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

Good question, Ellen Ripley (we find out her first name in this film). Fifty-seven years after the terrifying events in Alien (1979), Ripley wakes up from stasis to find a new generation of “explorers”/idiots want to return to the scene of the massacre to investigate. Accompanied by marines this time around, you’d think the cast of characters had a better shot at surviving, wouldn’t you? Of course not. Hunted by not one but dozens of ferocious aliens, the humans are once again forced into survival mode, with an even more impressive Ripley saving the day. Thrilling to watch, Aliens is, in my opinion, the greatest example of director, James Cameron’s, craft and skill. It’s beautifully designed and perfectly paced with simple but effective characterizations. At its core, you have an iconic character in Ripley, still grieving the death of her own daughter, leading a young orphan girl to safety.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-