Paranorman (2012, Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell) English 7

Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garland

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(7-Very Good Film)

Impressive. Fun. Anticlimactic.

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an odd little boy. He can see and talk with ghosts, and since no one in his small town of Blithe Hollow believes him, Norman is looked at as a bit of a freak. A reckoning from beyond the grave is coming, however, and Norman is the only one with the power to stop it, with some help from his friends. The combination of stop-motion and computer animation is stunning. It’s a beautiful film and there’s a lot of humor and great detail in the animation. The story, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. The finale is a bit of a let down; not delivering on scares or thrills. Paranorman was set up to be something of an homage to the Goonies but eschews adventure about midway through, and instead becomes more about hijinks and physical humor.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Matilda (1996, Directed by Danny DeVito) English 8

Starring Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, Paul Reubens

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Odd. Unique. Wonderful.

Six-year-old Matilda Wormwood (Wilson) is a very special girl.  From birth, she’s demonstrated enormous intelligence, only no one in her family pays her any attention. Things look to get better with her starting kindergarten, but the school she’s going to, Crunchem Hall, is run with an iron fist by the diabolical principle, Ms. Trunchbull (played superbly by Pam Ferris). Her punishment for a kid who ate her cake is memorably cruel and grotesque. The only source of light at the school is Ms. Honey (played with perfect sweetness by Embeth Davidtz), Matilda’s teacher. Matilda soon discovers her telepathic abilities and uses them to pay back all of the adults who’ve mistreated her ( basically her father and Ms. Trunchbull). An entertaining, darkly humorous family film with a tremendous cast led by child actress Mara Wilson and director/star Danny Devito, Matilda is a children’s classic-both book and adaptation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Coming to America (1988, Directed by John Landis) English 9

Starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Louie Anderson, Samuel L. Jackson, Calvin Lockheart

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(9-Great Film)

Classic. Hilarious. Compelling.

An African prince, Akeem (Murphy), feels that he’s missing out on much of life, sitting up high in his royal castle. With his arranged marriage looming, time is not on his side. He convinces his father, the king (Earl Jones), to let him travel to America with his servant and friend Simi (Hall), where he secretly hopes to find a wife. Romantic comedy conventions firmly in place, Murphy and Hall are free to be creative in other aspects of the film. For example, the half dozen hilarious characters each of them play. Director, John Landis, lets both actors go, and it’s the irreverent scenes like the barber shop talks or the quick round of dates at a nightclub that make Coming to America a classic. Eddie Murphy also shows himself to be very charming and charismatic as a romantic lead in this movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Amarcord (1973, Directed by Federico Fellini) Italian 5

Starring Bruno Zanin, Magali Noel, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Maria Antonietta Beluzzi

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(5-Okay Film)

Exuberant. Irreverant. Episodic.

Robust, bawdy Italian epic from one of the medium’s masters, Federico Fellini. Amarcord is praised as one of his most personal, audacious efforts as he pulls together several stories into an unwieldy look at coming of age during fascism. Several memorable characters drift in and out of the picture: the local beauty, the mentally imbalanced uncle, the big-breasted tobacco vendor. Many will enjoy the irreverent tone and incredible technical skill of Fellini, but the latter was all I was interested in.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940, Directed by Alexander Hall) English 6

Starring Loretta Young, Ray Milland, Reginald Gardiner, Edmund Gwenn, Gail Patrick, Frank Sully

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(6-Good Film)

Light. Witty. Solid.

A misunderstanding leads to two strangers, influential writer, June Cameron (Young), and neurosurgeon, Dr. Timothy Sterling (Milland), pretending to be married. They could set the record straight, but both benefit from the misunderstanding and decide to play it out just until they can come up with a plan to end the charade. By the time their opportunity comes, both are hesitant to leave. Typical romantic screwball comedy in many ways, the female protagonist stands out, however, as a fairly progressive, strong, intelligent character. The amount of time spent between the leads isn’t convincing enough for them to fall in love, and neither character is crazy enough (say like Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) to help me suspend disbelief, but The Doctor Takes a Wife is a solid, enjoyable film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Isn’t It Romantic (2019, Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson) English 5

Starring Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Saunders, Betty Gilpin

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(5-Okay Film)

Decent. Conventional. Disappointing.

Natalie (Wilson) has been taught since an early age that Hollywood romance was for model-thin beauties. “Romantic comedies are fairy tales,” says her mother. After a blow to the head, Natalie wakes up in an alternate New York (the New York shown in rom-coms) where everything and everyone is beautiful. Her life’s a romantic comedy!  Despite a clever premise and an unconventional lead, Isn’t It Romantic plays it safe for the most part. It’s likable enough and vibrant and goes down smooth. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny, however, and not very memorable once it’s over.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011, Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) English 6

Voices of Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber, Jean-Claude Van Damme, James Hong

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(6-Good Film)

Retread. Action-packed. Entertaining.

No longer a joke among his peers, Po (Black), the affable panda and kung fu master, enjoys his newly earned reputation as the Dragon Warrior. Troubles brewing once again, however, with the return of Lord Shen (Oldman), an evil peacock responsible for wiping out all of the kingdom’s pandas; all except Po. Kung Fu Panda 2 suffers from inevitable sequel fatigue. It’s not as fresh or exciting as its predecessor. It is, though, beautifully animated and the voice actors once again do stellar work; Gary Oldman, in particular, as Lord Shen.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-