Django Unchained (2012, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 10

Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Johnson, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

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(10-Masterpiece)

Funny. Violent. Epic.

My second favorite Tarantino flick coming off the heels of Inglourious Basterds, my favorite. Django is a wild picture. A kooky bounty hunter, named King Schultz (Waltz), strikes a deal with the formerly enslaved Django (Foxx) which ultimately leads to a strange friendship between the two and a mission to save the latter’s wife from the insanely evil Candyland plantation. So many flourishes and indulgences, and although not all of them work (Tarantino’s cameo as an Aussie for one), the film as a whole is incredible. Waltz and Foxx make a memorable odd couple, Jackson is diabolical as the loyal slave, Stephen, and the soundtrack, as we’ve come to expect from the director, is surprising and perfect.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(339)

Hostiles (2017, Directed by Scott Cooper) English 8

Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Thoughtful. Expert. Strong.

As tormented as he is revered, Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) begrudgingly accepts his mission to deliver an aging Indian war chief (Studi) and the man’s family to their native home. Along the way, Blocker and his men are confronted with Comanche war groups, past demons, and a grieving widow played by Rosamund Pike. Some may find the film too derivative. The influence of John Ford’s The Searchers goes beyond homage at times. I’ve read others questioning its pace or bemoaning the violent bigotry of Bale’s character. I found it to be an exceptionally made, expertly performed western. Bale, in particular, does a delicate job of not hiding his character’s racism and notorious past, and not overplaying the character’s kinder, more redemptive moments. His deft handling of the material is the key to its success, but director, Scott Cooper, gives all of his actors their moments, and the result is a quiet romantic, intimate, superior western.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(338)

Foreign Intrigue (1956, Directed by Sheldon Reynolds) English 8

Starring Robert Mitchum, Ingrid Thulin, Geneviève Page, Eugene Deckers, Inga Tidblad, Lauritz Falk

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Suspenseful. Fantastic. Surprising.

Foreign Intrigue is a shameless soap opera, only instead of illicit romance, domestic strife, and Jane Wyman, we get espionage, assassins, and Robert Mitchum. The classic Hollywood star, usually of noirs, plays Dave Bishop, a cool customer and right-hand man to a secretive millionaire, Victor Danemore. After his employer dies, Bishop does some digging into Danemore’s past, which leads across the world and into a web of lies involving war-time traitors and Nazis of all things. It comes as no surprise to me to find out that this was originally a television serial. It unloads one moment after another that would make a great commercial break cliffhanger. There is no depth whatsoever in Foreign Intrigue, so it’s a matter of knowing what you’re in for, and seeing if it fits your taste. For me, Foreign Intrigue is a fantastic fantasy; a laconic hero, beautiful women (one dangerous, one true), twists, action.  What else do you need?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(336)

Dangal (2016, Directed by Nitesh Tiwari) Hindi 8

Starring Aamir Khan, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Sakshi Tanwar

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Inspirational. Gripping. Moving.

Feel good story about a disappointed former wrestler, Mahavir Phogat (Khan), who shifts his dreams from winning gold for India to having a son who wins gold. After trying for a son for years, Mahavir and his wife end up with four daughters, and his dreams seem to be over. Years later, with his peers calling him crazy, he instead trains his two oldest daughters in wrestling. It’s a great story told exceptionally well with Aamir Khan going to great lengths and succeeding in making his appearance authentic. Even more difficult is his ability to make this harsh, deeply flawed father sympathetic, and the actresses that play his daughters are excellent as well. The wrestling sequences are exhilarating. Much credit to the filmmakers and performers who made these scenes incredibly realistic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(329)

The Untouchables (1987, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 8

Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Slick. Roaring.

Elliot Ness is the man who took down Al Capone. He’s a legend. Brian De Palma and writer, David Mamet, expand the legend in their ultra-entertaining gangster flick, The Untouchables. Ness (Costner) assembles a ragtag crew of cops-the mentor Malone (Connery), young hotshot Stone (Garcia), and meek accountant Wallace (Martin Smith)-  to go after Capone (De Niro) and his crooked empire. It’s Wallace’s income-tax idea that ultimately gets the job done. The Untouchables takes several liberties with the story, and Connery takes considerable liberty with the Chicago Irishman accent. In fact, The Untouchables features just about every cop and gangster cliché you can think of. I say it works for that reason. It’s a fantastic piece of pop entertainment: thrilling, suspenseful, dramatic. I also see a lesson to be learned in Connery’s performance: making no attempt whatsoever to do a realistic accent is less distracting than doing a bad accent. So if you aren’t going to get the accent right (Keanu Reeves in Dracula), then you might as well not even try. I got over his Scottish accent pretty quickly, and he’s awfully charismatic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(325)

 

The Patriot (2000, Directed by Roland Emmerich) English 6

Starring Mel Gibson, Jason Isaacs, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson, René Auberjonois

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(6-Good Film)

Preposterous. Thrilling. Entertaining.

A reluctant patriot, infamous war hero of the French and Indian campaign, and intimidating father figure, Benjamin Martin (Gibson), now a widower, does all he can to protect his family as the Revolutionary War rages on. After a sadistic Redcoat Colonel, Tavington (Isaacs), murders Benjamin’s second son, the old veteran finds that he can standby no more. There’s such a long and equal list of pros and cons for this film that they should cancel each other out, rendering me neutral on its verdict. However, though the cons may equal the pros in quantity, there’s a significant difference in quality. All this to say, I recognize that The Patriot is a flagrant Hollywood fantasy. I recognize some of the absurdities of the action sequences and their contrived nature (Benjamin and Tavington having a one on one in the midst of a battle for example). I wince at some of the treacly moments, and yet The Patriot is a completely satisfying film. It’s 18th century Die Hard, and I’m fine with that. Mel Gibson goes a long way to making the trumped-up revenge plot believable, giving an excellent performance, and Jason Isaacs makes a character that is over the top evil seem perfectly natural. The visuals and action sequences too, are first-rate.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(323)

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019, Directed by Dan Gilroy) English 8

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Zawe Ashton, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, Tom Sturridge

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Showy. Chaotic. Piercing.

A collage of art world characters interweave, led by Morf (Gyllenhaal), a harsh but influential critic, Rhodora (Russo), a cutthroat art dealer, Josephina (Ashton), an upstart who proves to be a little more ruthless than she appears at first glance, Gretchen (Collette), a vapid, gossipy curator, and Piers (Malkovich), an artist with integrity, but going through something of an existential crisis. These characters are a blast to watch and had Velvet Buzzsaw abandoned plot, and instead focused on observation, it likely would have had broader appeal. Great art isn’t about broad appeal though, and like many famous paintings, Velvet Buzzsaw turns out to be a vibrant, chaotic work. All hell breaks loose around the midpoint, and Velvet Buzzsaw becomes a wildly different film than what I expected. I’ll leave off details. I believe you owe it to yourself to be surprised by its direction. It’s over the top performances mixed with restrained, rather tame instances of horror.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(322)