I, the Jury (1953, Directed by Harry Essex) English 5

Starring Biff Elliot, Peggie Castle, Preston Foster, Margaret Sheridan

(5-Okay Film)

Standard. Forgettable. Confusing.

B-Movie all the way, adapting one of Mickey Spillane’s dime store novels into a decent enough but never special noir film. As far as I could tell, the classic protagonist, Mike Hammer (Elliot) wants revenge for the murder of an old friend which takes him through several hard to follow plot points. Like all Hammer stories, it’s impossible to keep up with the mass of characters and their individual motivations. Unlike Kiss Me Deadly (1955), the best Mike Hammer film, here the lack of coherence becomes grating after a while. Elliot does a passable job displaying the violence of Mike Hammer, but can’t capture the intelligence of the character. There are some cool stylistic things that make the movie passable as a means of entertainment, but it shouldn’t be at the top of any lists.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016, Directed by David Yates) English 6

Starring Eddie Redmayne,  Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Jon Voigt, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo

(6-Good Film)

Entertining. Inferior. Uneven.

Prequel of sorts to the Goliath Harry Potter series of books and movies, this new venture from J.K Rowling follows Newt Scamander (Redmayne), a diffident magizooligist tasked with tracking down the magical creatures that have escaped from him in 1920s New York. Several subplots weave through this film, their significance gradually revealed. Along the journey, we meet Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), a non-magical baker, Tina (Waterston), a kind, but currently in disgrace former auror, and her sister, Queenie (Sudol).  It’s all done reasonably well, but lacks a strong villainous presence like we had with Voldemort, and the protagonists took a while to get going. Jacob and Queenie stood out more so than Scamander and Tina. The creatures should take top-billing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace (1997, Directed by Robert L. Levy) English 5

Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Rhona Mitra, Taylor Negron, James Faulkner, Nicholas Irons

Image result for a kid in aladdin's palace

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Juvenile. Fun.

A sequel to the equally silly, meager, and enjoyable A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace suffers mainly from the fact that this was my first time watching it. The former film is bolstered by waves of merry nostalgia from years of watching it on VHS as a child. A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace receives no such sentiment. Despite this, I was still entertained. Calvin Fuller of Reseda (Nicholas) takes that joke to ancient Arabia where he meets a genie, Aladdin, Sheherazade, and Ali Babba and squares off against an evil sultan. The special effects are unsurprisingly horrible and the last act resorts to a couple too many poop jokes but as long as your expectations are reasonable, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace is reasonably enjoyable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Directed by Chad Stahelski) English 8

Starring Keanu Reeves, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Franco Nero, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio

(8-Exceptional Film)

Inspired. Exciting. Awesome.

John Wick (Reeves), legendary assassin, is back to do pretty much what he did the first go-around: kill a lot of people. And, since this is a sequel, the body count is naturally even higher. He’s being attacked by all sides, it seems, in this outing after being coerced into assassinating an Italian crime leader; the man who hired Wick wants him dead to tie up loose ends and the Italian Crime leader’s men want Wick dead to avenge their ward’s death. Strength of plot in an action film is usually how smoothly it can contrive its action sequences. Once John Wick gets going, it becomes one incredible sequence after another. The art direction, set pieces, choreography, stunt work are all first-rate and inspired. Superior to the first film, this is an excellent action picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Black Dahlia (2006, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 4

Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, John Kavanagh, Rose McGowan

Image result for the black dahlia movie

(4-Bad Film)

Miscast. Underwhelming. Confusing.

Can someone please give The Black Dahlia another shot? Reading that David Fincher was initially attached and wanted to turn James Ellroy’s novel into a miniseries has me mourning what could have been. Too much studio interference apparently caused the director to flee the project, and so David Fincher’s Black Dahlia became Brian De Palma’s Black Dahlia and what a bad film. What a bad, gorgeous film. Brian De Palma’s obviously immensely talented but he’s as susceptible to uneven storytelling as any great director ever. Anyways, this film deserved its Oscar nomination for best cinematography and Mia Kirshner deserved the praise she received for playing Elizabeth Short among the dozens of otherwise excoriating reviews. If you don’t know the story, Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old girl from Massachusetts found brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Forty years later, the great Ellroy wrote a fictional, speculative novel about the ensuing investigation. His book is riveting. In this adaptation, detectives Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) join the crusade to catch Short’s killer, both becoming obsessed with the case while dealing with their love for the same woman, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). There are probably other issues but I simply couldn’t get past the cast, primarily the leads. They are bad. They are not Troll 2 level bad, but they are either unconvincing in their roles (Hilary Swank is miscast as a femme fatale despite being a talented actress) or boring in their roles (Josh Hartnett delivers his lines monotonously, especially during the crucial narrations). Plus, I’m not sure the narrative makes sense. I only understood certain aspects by remembering the book.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Young Sherlock Holmes (1985, Directed by Barry Levinson) English 7

Starring Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins, Freddie Jones, Roger Ashton-Griffiths

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(7-Very Good Film)

Vivid. Exciting. Creepy.

What is it about the ’80s aesthetic that I respond to so strongly? Even in minor works or light entertainments such as Young Sherlock Holmes, it keeps me coming back. Nicholas Rowe plays the famed detective in his teenage years with Alan Cox playing Watson. They befriend each other while investigating the mysterious deaths of three men that seem linked to an underground cult with mystical powers. Like most ’80s family films, Young Sherlock Holmes has its creepy moments. Many of them actually. Perhaps it’s the combination of light adventure with dark, surprising horror I find in so many ’80s pictures that I enjoy so much. One could quibble that Young Sherlock Holmes solutions are overly simple (the unknown villain goes by a name that is just his real name spelled backwards), but the film is successful as entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-