A Monster Calls (2016, Directed by J.A Bayona) English 5

Starring Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougal, Liam Neeson, Geraldine Chaplin

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(5-Okay Film)

Brooding. Unsatisfying. Skilled.

A beleaguered school-age boy (mother suffering from cancer, bully at school, distant father, emotionally cold grandmother) finds his nights being taken up by a storytelling tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). With the help of this unlikely new friend, he learns to deal with the circumstances around him. It’s possible somewhere down the road, I’ll come back to this film and view it differently, but on first viewing I found myself as emotionally distant as the grandmother character seems to be. I enjoyed much of the individual pieces. The monster’s enigmatic stories are told in wonderfully animated sequences. Felicity Jones is suitably moving in her role as the sweet, dying mother. Liam Neeson’s voice as the sage monster is perfect. The young actor in the leading role is excellent. All of these elements work, and yet I felt the material was overly familiar, and the tone stolid where I thought a lighter touch at times could have been more impactful.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Arrival (2016, Directed by Denis Villeneuve) English 5

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

(5-Okay Film)

Slow. Monotonous. Opaque.

How to describe this film’s plot? I suppose it is fitting for a film so concerned with the passing of time to be an unbound, nonlinear work. All I can claim to understand clearly is that Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor asked to assist in communication with a group of aliens that have recently materialized. Critics have praised the confident pacing, but, in my book, that usually means slow and boring. I’ve also realized about myself that I don’t care for friendly aliens when it comes to movies. Give me the childish aliens vs. humans narrative every time over this well-crafted “intelligent” film. A film has to be entertaining before it can be anything else.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Holiday in the Wild (2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash) English 5

Starring Kristen Davis, Rob Lowe, Fezile Mpela, John Owen, Colin Moss, Haley Owen, Faniswa Yisa

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(5-Okay Film)

Lowkey. Pleasant. Mediocre.

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Bedroom Window (1987, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 6

Starring Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern, Isabelle Hupert, Paul Shenar, Brad Greenquist

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(6-Good Film)

Far-fetched. Stylish. Gripping.

      Cops are generally useless in movies like this one. If you have a thriller and the main character isn’t a cop, then most likely the cops are going to be completely unhelpful in the film. They’ll probably accuse the protagonist of something he didn’t do or arrive at the scene too late or get killed by the bad guy despite years of training while the film’s hero (an average male) is able to defeat that same bad guy. The Bedroom Window takes this cliché to an infuriating extent.

Terry Lambert (Guttenberg) leaves an office party early one night to begin an affair with his boss’ wife, Sylvia (Huppert). As their night winds down, Terry steps out of the room for a minute and Sylvia gazes out the window. At that moment, she witnesses the assault and attempted murder of a young woman, Denise (McGovern), by a pale, red-headed figure who then runs off. Not wanting to speak with police and risk having to testify in court where her husband would find out about the affair, Sylvia parts and resolutely decides not to speak of what she witnessed, content enough that the woman she saw was spared. Days later though, another woman is raped and murdered in similar circumstances to the attempt she witnessed. Terry, feeling a sense of civic responsibility, goes to the police and pretends that he witnessed the crime, feeding them information that Sylvia (who agrees with the plan) gives him. Lying to the police is not a great idea, but the way Terry’s life spirals out of control, as a result, is extreme and a little hard to believe. The first problem comes when Terry’s asked to look at a police lineup and pick out the assailant, where he meets Denise. The film, interestingly, loses its way later on, just when it starts to resemble other thrillers we’ve seen before, specifically the classic Hitchcock pictures. Hitchcock loved thrusting ordinary men into extraordinary situations, and the way Terry goes from key witness to lead suspect is very reminiscent of a famous scene in North by Northwest. It’s not that I have an issue with wearing the Hitchcock influence so conspicuously. A number of excellent films have done that: Charade, Blow-Out, Ghost Writer. And Hitchcock, also, wasn’t always interested in perfectly logical plotlines. My problem is that in The Bedroom Window, the rewards don’t always outweigh the frustration caused by maddening character decisions. Doing my best not to spoil anything, there’s one moment where Terry is left holding a freshly stabbed body and flees as the cops approach despite not having any weapon on him. If he had just waited, couldn’t he have just told the police, “how could I have stabbed this person if I don’t have a weapon?” As I said, logic is not paramount.

Aside from the frustration I felt watching the incompetent police in The Bedroom Window, and the silliness of some of its contrivances, the film is a perfectly serviceable thriller. It’s very good at times and its trio of leads (Steve Guttenberg, Isabelle Hupert, Elizabeth McGovern) as odd as it seems on paper, is the one atypical touch of an otherwise familiar thriller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Disaster Artist (2017, Directed by James Franco) English 7

Starring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Allison Brie, Megan Mullally

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(7-Very Good Film)

Straightforward. Funny. Crowd-pleasing.

Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film, The Room, is among the worst movies ever made. As someone who seeks out horrible films routinely, I can affirm that The Room is in a class of its own. What James Franco understands, and it’s the reason his film about the making of that film works so well, is that making a complete disaster is just as special as making a masterpiece. If you and a group of people set out to make a terrible movie, it wouldn’t reach the lows of Wiseau’s film, which he made in earnest. Franco and his cast of friends and stars do loving, admirable work in bringing to life the story behind the cult classic. Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, a handsome, all-American, talentless aspiring actor who meets the much older, mysteriously wealthy, and eastern European Wiseau. The two move to Hollywood, and after a string of frustrations, they decide to make their own film. This material is abundant in comedic potential, and James Franco capitalizes on it. This is a very funny film. More impressively, they capture the frustration, rejection, and broken dreams that go along with acting, or any artistic endeavor. In a performance that deserves the praise and award consideration it garnered, James Franco makes Tommy Wiseau into the American hero he always wanted to be, by making him relatable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Lost Moment (1947, Directed by Martin Gabel) English 6

Starring Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Lorring, John Archer, Eduardo Ciannelli

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(6-Good Film)

Intriguing. Beguiling. Tame.

Ambitious publisher and privileged young man, Lewis Venable (Cummings), sees the opportunity of a lifetime when he hears about a series of love letters written by famed 19th-century poet Jeffrey Ashton. A professional tip (actually something a little shadier) leads him to an old mansion in Venice owned by the still living Juliana Bordereau (Moorehead), now over one-hundred years-old, who was Ashton’s lover during his time and the recipient of his letters. Venable assumes a fake identity in order to swindle Bordereau out of those letters but finds the house a dark place that holds more secrets than just the letters. There’s the beautiful Tina, Bordereau’s cold but alluring niece, for instance. In the vein of many old gothic chillers, The Lost Moment boasts lovely black and white photography to go with its memorable set pieces. Susan Hayward’s Tina is a fantastic and baffling femme fatale and Agnes Moorehead under heavy makeup is convincing as the ancient hag. I was left disappointed, however, in the main character who shifts too quickly from scoundrel to hero. Rather than go for something truly original and outrageous, the film plays it safe and ends on a pleasant note.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Lady Bird (2017, Directed by Greta Gerwig) English 7

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges

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(7-Very Good Film)

Moving. Dramatic. Knowing.

Coming of age appears to be a never ending well for filmmakers. Scenes of youthful heartbreak, awkward courting, problems with parents, and insecurity running rampant shouldn’t feel as fresh as writer/director Greta Gerwig and her cast make them feel. Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, a.k.a “Lady Bird” (self-ascribed). She’s middle-class at a private catholic school in Sacramento where she seems to be surrounded by the wealthy and the cool. Her father, recently laid off, can’t afford to send her to the fancy schools in New York she desperately wants to attend, and her over-bearing mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) isn’t helping her insecurity. How much of this derives from Gerwig’s own life, I couldn’t say, but one of the film’s best qualities is the authentic progression of the protagonist, the truthful way the little but meaningful events of her life unfold, and the knowing humor that fills the movie. Like the best of memoirs, it alternates between nostalgia and painful moments beautifully, and there should be enough in the film for anyone to relate to.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-