American Hustle (2013, Directed by David O. Russell) English 7

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Jeremey Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K, Jack Huston, Robert De Niro, Elisabeth Röhm

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(7-Very Good Film)

Free-wheeling. Colorful. Charismatic.

“Don’t tell me this movie is about human nature, because it’s not; it’s about acting.” Roger Ebert was talking about the Pope of Greenwhich Village when he said that, which happens to be another film about con artists in ethnic New York. I believe it applies here as well. Christian Bale, once again, sports an exorbitant weight gain, as well as a hilariously atrocious comb-over, while playing Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time con artist who’s forced to go big alongside the feds to escape a prison sentence for his mistress and partner, Sydney (Adams). He’s coerced by a dumb steamroller of an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Cooper), into roping in several key political figures, one of whom Irving befriends, Carmine Polito (Renner). This film is serious fun; the energy, the style, David O. Russell’s ability to capture magic from his performers, the air of improvisation that every scene has (whether it was or not, I don’t know). Typical of his work, American Hustle feels over-the-top- each character and performance is very big- but more than previous films, it bothered me a bit here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



Ocean’s 11 (2001, Directed by Steven Soderbergh) English 8

Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, Elliout Gould

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Cool. Witty. Clever.

A remake that’s better than the original, Ocean’s 11 stars George Clooney as the recently paroled, Danny Ocean. Far from reformed, he plans his biggest heist yet with the help of his partner, Rusty (Pitt), and 9 other specialists to take down a Las Vegas casino, but it’s not just about the money this time. The slick, ruthless owner of the casino, Terry Benedict (Garcia), is dating Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Roberts). The whole film, heist included, works like gangbusters, and all the words that have become hackneyed in describing a crime flick-slick, stylish, etc.-are apt here. The dialogue in particular is excellent; snappy, humorous. The villain, as played by Garcia, is a worthy adversary, something missing from Ocean’s 8, and raises the stakes and the suspense of the operation. In a film like this, there’s not going to be much character development, so heavy star power is needed. Clooney effortlessly pulls off the detached coolness.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Woman in the Window (1944, Directed by Fritz Lang) English 7

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Ryamond Massey, Edmund Breon

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nightmarish.

An ordinary man pushed to the limit. A classic setup for a classic noir. Edward G. Robinson plays Professor Richard Wanley, loving husband and father of two . He, along with his friends, grow infatuated with a portrait hanging in a random store window; a portrait of an unknown, beautiful woman. One day, gazing at the portrait, the professor gets the shock of his life when a woman shows up, Alice Reed (Bennett), apparently the subject of the painting. She invites him to her place, and he sees no harm in going. From that decision on, Wanley’s life spirals out of control leading to murder, blackmail, and lies. Legendary director, Fritz Lang, deals in archetypes: perfect nuclear family man, dangerous femme fatale, slick investigator, slick blackmailer. It’s potent stuff, though almost undone in my eyes by the ending. The three leads are perfect, and true prototypes for their roles.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Directed by Drew Goddard) English 8

Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intricate. Exciting. Engrossing.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” So says technology pioneer Steve Jobs. Every story has been told in one way or another, and every filmmaker borrows from the greats that came before. Bad Times at the El Royale bears many of the trademarks of a Quentin Tarantino film: chapters, nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence. Indeed, in more than just the style, Bad Times at the El Royale is reminiscent of The Hateful Eight. Here, seven strangers with dark secrets meet at a secluded, rundown motel split between California and Nevada. Who they are along with their motivations gradually become clear as they spiral towards violent conclusions. All this said, the similarities understood, the important thing is that Bad Times at the El Royale is an excellent film. Best of the year so far. The actors, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo especially, give their characters and this film a pathos sometimes missing in even the best of Tarantino’s work, and the El Royale offers a handful of exceptional, memorable set pieces. Some films focus solely on shock and awe, confusing the audience, or seeming ultra-hip. This film starts with a great story, and then tells it in a way that maximizes the suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Dead Again (1991, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English 7

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nifty.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are both immediately recognizable as British. I’ve seen them do Shakespeare, E.M Forster, Richard Curtis, and Harry Potter. So watching them play Americans, as they do in Dead Again, can be a bit distracting, but once the film’s elaborate plot builds up and unfolds, and Branagh’s confident direction develops, I soon got over it. Their performances are in fact, very good, and the film’s cast is filled out with Sir Derek Jacobi as a hypnotist, Robin Williams as a crooked psychologist at rock-bottom, Andy Garcia as a snooping reporter, and Wayne Knight as a dependable friend and photographer. Thompson plays a mute amnesiac, Grace, with nightmares of herself being murdered. Branagh plays private detective, Mike Church, hired to help the woman solve who she is, and why she’s having these dreams. They discover the secret may dwell in their past lives, and the film inter-cuts with black and white passages, also starring Branagh and Thompson as newlyweds Margaret and Roman Strauss. A mystery, a romance, Dead Again could easily have become a silly potboiler. Branagh takes the premise seriously, and shows a knack for suspense and style as a director.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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 Film)

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-



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 Film)

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 unrequited 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-