Little Women (1994, Directed by Gillian Armstrong) English 10

Starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes, Eric Stoltz, Mary Wickes, Samantha Mathis

Image result for little women 1994

(10-Masterpiece)

Consummate. Wonderful. Moving.

Adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, and probably the best adaptation, though there’s been several. The story of Jo March (Ryder) and her sisters, Meg (Alvarado), Beth (Danes), and Amy (Dunst/Mathis) unfolds; their trials and moments of happiness detailed as the years pass. It’s simply a wonderful movie made from a wonderful book. We come to care for each distinct character, but especially the heroine, Jo. This adaptation boasts lavish visuals and a beautiful score. It also captures the joy and sadness of life’s constant passing as the March family perseveres.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(701)

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-

(699)

Jackie (2016, Directed by Pablo Larrain) English 7

Starring Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carrol Lynch

(7-Very Good Film)

Unique. Elegant. Slight.

Biopics rarely feel as fresh as this film about former First Lady and JFK’s widow Jackie Kennedy, but by concentrating on a seminal period of her life-the days following her husband’s assassination- rather than trying to capture a lifetime in the length of a movie, Jackie works as a unique look at key intimate moments behind the scenes. Things like showering off her husband’s blood, telling her kids that their father won’t be coming home, moving from the white house, etc. Natalie Portman’s performance-her beauty and her interpretation of the First Lady’s manner of speech-illuminate the film. The score, by Mica Levi, is eerie and beautiful. Suggested by the film’s title, Jackie wants you to feel like you knew her on a first-name basis.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(697)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 10

Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

(10-Masterpiece)

Imaginative. Lovely. Wonderful.

Awaiting his inevitable crash and death, an RAF pilot, Peter Carter (Niven), speaks with an American radio operator, June (Hunter), and the two connect. When miraculously Peter survives, he finds  June, and they fall in love. However, his survival was due to a celestial error made by a relatively new angel, and heaven intends to correct it by taking Peter into the afterlife. Thus begins a sort of heavenly courtroom drama in which Peter, with the help of the saintly Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey is wonderful in this role), makes his case to stay on Earth with the woman he loves. The movie alternates between color and black and white, but that’s just one of its numerous creative touches that make it a great film. Each actor is fantastic, down to Raymond Massey in maybe 15 minutes of screen time playing the prosecutor in heaven (a patriot during the American Revolution, he hates the British making him biased towards Peter). Made during Powell and Pressburger’s prime when they were making masterpiece after masterpiece.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(696)

Drumline (2002, Directed by Charles Stone III) English 7

Starring Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, Candace Carey, J. Anthony Brown, Afemo Omilami

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(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Flashy. Modest.

I’ve never given marching band much consideration. Football games are about football. Marching band is background noise, but, similar to what Pitch Perfect did years later for Acapella, Drumline makes marching band look really cool. Drumline follows Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), a hot-head drum recruit to Atlanta A & T’s revered marching band who immediately finds himself at odds with the band director, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), and the percussion leader, Sean (Leonard Roberts). This film is super solid entertainment. You know as soon as the film starts what it’s about and where it’s going but you’re happy with the execution. Supporting players-Jones, Roberts, and J. Anthony Brown as the rival band leader-stand out, while Nick Cannon proves a capable lead despite being cocky and hard to like for a good portion of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(694)

Starter for 10 (2006, Directed by Tom Vaughan) English 7

Starring James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance, Mark Gatiss, Lindsey Duncan

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(7-Very Good Film)

Winning. Likable. Smart.

Coming of age, youthful romance, academic contests, these are a boundless source of storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Starter for 10 stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson, an intelligent but meek freshman student at Bristol University who joins their “University Challenge” team, a trivia competition between schools, popular on television. Brian falls for his worldly teammate, Alice (Alice Eve), and befriends the politically passionate, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), as he navigates his first year away from home. This is a very engaging, well-acted film. My only reservations were that the endearing but awkward Brian makes so many wrong decisions and has so many uncomfortable moments that I struggle to watch the film straight, instead, taking a number of lengthy breaks to get through the narrative.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(691)

Manchester by the Sea (2016, Directed by Kenneth Lonergan) English 7

Starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan

(7-Very Good Film)

Well-acted. Emotional. Strong.

Slice of life drama starring Casey Affleck as a broken man working as a maintenance guy in Boston. His struggles to take care of his newly orphaned nephew and his brother’s burial are intersected by flashbacks revealing just what happened in his life to make him hide himself away. It’s a strong character piece that avoids trumped-up drama and sentimentality in favor of humor and quiet moments. Time will tell, but it reminded me more of the great sixties “kitchen sink” dramas made in the UK (This Sporting Life) than it did of the litter of Oscar-bait movies made for prestige that wash out after a few years. Affleck effortlessly moves between the painful and the humorous moments in the script.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(689)