April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci) French 6

Voices of J.K Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti

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(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Beautiful. Shallow.

High concept meets alternate history in this animated film about a family of scientists seeking to create an elixir that cures mortality. Standing in their way is the French government who enslave all scientists in order to monopolize their creations. The youngest of the family, April, is left alone after her parents mysteriously disappear, and finds herself in the middle of a nefarious end-of-the-world level plot. The comic strip art style is appealing and the world it creates is enticing, but the film lacks depth in certain aspects (namely character) that keep it from achieving the epic status it strives for. As is, it’s creative and diverting, without being spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(550)

If I Were King (1938, Directed by Frank Lloyd) English 8

Starring Ronald Coleman, Basil Rathbone, Frances Dee, Stanley Ridges

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Intelligent. Lavish.

Anybody can relate to being dissatisfied with their country’s leadership. How many people believe, or at least boast that they could do better if given the chance? Not surprisingly, this feeling extends long before present-day issues, and, in a forgotten classic, If I Were King, we glimpse 15th century France, alternating at times between the much-maligned King Louis XI (played by Basil Rathbone) and the rebel rousing, street poet Francois Villon (played by Ronald Coleman). Never mind that the French historical figures are portrayed here by British thespians, and many supporting players are played by Americans. As a typical style in Hollywood films, I quickly looked past this oddity and was gripped by this exciting swashbuckler, and moved by the two leads’ excellent performances.  This is an exceptional film.

The King and his people have been pushed to holing up in Paris, besieged by the formidable Burgundians, and reduced to scraps for food. Well, actually it’s the common people who go hungry, while the King and his court eat rations of the finest food. On the streets, Francois Villon spouts poetry to the pretty girls and leads raids on the King’s supply of food, narrowly escaping capture. Meanwhile, in his castle, the King detects a spy in his midst and sets a trap to catch the rat. This leads him to a dingy tavern in disguise where he hears the popular Villon drunkenly bragging of what he would do if he were king while insulting the current leader. Naturally, King Louis makes plans to punish the man later, but fate intercedes. He discovers the identity of the spy in his quarters, and it turns out to be his Grand Constable, the man in charge of his military. When the Grand Constable attacks Villon upon recognizing him as a wanted thief, Villon kills him and unknowingly does the King a favor. In return, King Louis, more out of jest than true gratitude, names Villon as the new Grand Constable for one week, and so, Villon gets the chance to make good on his boasts, not knowing that the King plans on executing him at the end of the week.

Basil Rathbone, aside from his long string of Sherlock Holmes movies, is best remembered for playing suave villains who ultimately lose to the protagonist in a duel (The Mark of Zorro, The Court Jester, Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood).  He was great in those roles. Here, he plays a dramatically different character in the historical personage of Louis XI. He makes the unpopular figure a complex, anti-hero of sorts. He’s intelligent, back-handed, greedy, surprising, but not cruel. Rathbone is almost unrecognizable in the role.

Ronald Coleman, unfortunately not as big of a star today as some of his peers, was a fantastic actor with some truly great films. While If I Were King may not be on the same lofty level as another of his films, Prisoner of Zenda, it represents another example of his greatness. He, too, could be described as an anti-hero. He’s a thief, a womanizer, a common criminal, but given the chance, he proves himself to be a hero, saving his city and its people.

A key aspect of any great adventure film is a compelling romance, and If I Were King provides in this as well. Villon falls for the lady-in-waiting, Katherine (Dee), letting her think he’s a high born noble. She eventually falls for the courageous and compassionate man he is, and not the strutting nobleman he pretends to be, and we leave the film giddy from a film that delivered in rich character, sweeping adventure and intrigue, and literate, well-developed romance.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(547)

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019, Directed by Rob Letterman) English 6

Starring Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Kathryn Newton, Rita Ora, Omar Chaparro, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Suki Waterhouse

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(6-Good Film)

Engaging. Lively. Loud.

Tim Goodman (Smith) lives a quiet, dull existence as an insurance salesman in a world where millions of Pokémon roam. After the death of his police detective father, Tim travels to Ryme City for some closure, but stumbles into a conspiracy and meets his father’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu (voiced by Reynolds). The two find that they can understand each other, and reluctantly team up to get to the bottom of what happened to Tim’s father. The first thing going for this film, surprisingly the first live-action adaptation of the Pokémon franchise, is the first-rate design of its fantastic creatures. Pikachu is wonderfully brought to life. Consider what we’ve seen of Sonic in his upcoming film, and rejoice at the work of these animators. Ryan Reynolds brings a joke-a-second energy to the role and though only a small percentage of them land in my view, it keeps the proceedings fun. The plot isn’t as grand or deep as the best mystery films, and its solutions are easy and obvious, but I love noir and the premise is good enough and executed well enough to make Detective Pikachu worthy entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(541)

Deadpool 2 (2018, Directed by David Leitch) English 6

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beets, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews

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(6-Good Film)

Funny. Satisfying. Irreverent.

Being both blessed and cursed, Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is back, and so is his zany alter-ego, Deadpool. This time, after a significant tragedy, Wade reevaluates his life and seeks redemption in saving a delinquent mutant kid from a mysterious time traveler, Cable (Brolin). Needing help for his new purpose in life, Wade recruits a group of mutants to be a part of his team, the X-Force (which he acknowledges is pretty derivative). Reynolds is a perfect Deadpool. He carries off the joke a minute, rogue hero with ease, with this outing providing better action sequences and a more engaging plot. That being said, the meta-humor isn’t as fresh as it was first go-around and that’s to be expected, but there’s still enough juice to be consistently funny, clever, and exciting. The non-stop references are a blast as well.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(533)

San Francisco (1936, Directed by W.S Van Dyke) English 7

Starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracey, Jack Holt

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(7-Very Good Film)

Epic. Impressive. Engaging.

A midwestern girl and pastor’s daughter (MacDonald) moves to the raucous urban sprawl of 1906 San Francisco. There, she falls for the roguish club owner Blackie Norton (Gable) while being pursued by the more reliable and wealthy Jack Burley. Special effects and melodrama. An early example that I believe set the template for later classics such as Titanic. The climactic earthquake sequences are remarkable. While the surrounding drama is at times heavy-handed and somewhat hackneyed (perhaps due to age), Gable gives his strong performance as the selfish man changed by love. Tracy is excellent in essentially a supporting role (although he was nominated for the Oscar in the lead category). MacDonald is lovely as the fish out of water songstress and rising star.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(531)

Game Night (2018, Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein) English 6

Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Jesse Plemons, Kylie Bunbury, Lamorne Morris, Sharon Horgan

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(6-Good Film)

Fast-paced. Funny. Fun.

A married couple, Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams), love to host game nights for their friends-Ryan (Magnussen), Kevin (Morris), and Michelle (Burnbury)-but when Max’s hotshot brother, Brooks (Chandler), comes to town, he hijacks the party. Relocating game night to his mansion, he sets up a more dangerous game involving a kidnapping and detective work, but things become a little more intense than planned, and the rest of the party begin to wonder what’s real and what’s just part of the game. Rapid-fire dialogue and cultural references, a devious, ever-spinning plot, and excellent performances, especially from the very loveable leads Bateman and McAdams, make Game Night a blast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(520)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Directed by Steven Spielberg)English 6

Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent

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(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Intriguing. Inferior.

Twenty years since finding the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones returns in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, older, but otherwise much the same. It’s 1957 and he’s mixed up with Soviet agents, desperately searching for the secrets behind a mummified corpse left after a UFO crash. Indy teams up with a brash young greaser, Mutt (LaBeouf), to save the latter’s mom, Marion Ravenwood (Allen), and track down Professor Harold Oxley (Hurt) who seems to have lost his sanity. Bits and pieces of this film really work, mainly those copy and pasted from the original three’s formula: the score, Indiana Jones, himself. Other elements fall flat. The use of CGI is crudely done and unsatisfying. Overall, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull entertains without dazzling, falling well short of the original films in the series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(518)