Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016, Directed by David Yates) English 6

Starring Eddie Redmayne,  Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Jon Voigt, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo

(6-Good Film)

Entertining. Inferior. Uneven.

Prequel of sorts to the Goliath Harry Potter series of books and movies, this new venture from J.K Rowling follows Newt Scamander (Redmayne), a diffident magizooligist tasked with tracking down the magical creatures that have escaped from him in 1920s New York. Several subplots weave through this film, their significance gradually revealed. Along the journey, we meet Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), a non-magical baker, Tina (Waterston), a kind, but currently in disgrace former auror, and her sister, Queenie (Sudol).  It’s all done reasonably well, but lacks a strong villainous presence like we had with Voldemort, and the protagonists took a while to get going. Jacob and Queenie stood out more so than Scamander and Tina. The creatures should take top-billing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(698)

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)

A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace (1997, Directed by Robert L. Levy) English 5

Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Rhona Mitra, Taylor Negron, James Faulkner, Nicholas Irons

Image result for a kid in aladdin's palace

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Juvenile. Fun.

A sequel to the equally silly, meager, and enjoyable A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace suffers mainly from the fact that this was my first time watching it. The former film is bolstered by waves of merry nostalgia from years of watching it on VHS as a child. A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace receives no such sentiment. Despite this, I was still entertained. Calvin Fuller of Reseda (Nicholas) takes that joke to ancient Arabia where he meets a genie, Aladdin, Sheherazade, and Ali Babba and squares off against an evil sultan. The special effects are unsurprisingly horrible and the last act resorts to a couple too many poop jokes but as long as your expectations are reasonable, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace is reasonably enjoyable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(695)

 

Angel Heart (1987, Directed by Alan Parker) English 8

Starring Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Dark. Evocative. Haunting.

There are two movie formulas that always leave me satisfied. One belongs to the western genre: a town bullied by outlaws finds help from a vigilante outsider. The second is the private eye subgenre: a world-weary gumshoe accepts a seemingly innocuous case that develops into the biggest case of his career. I love mystery and femme fatales and tough-talking men and all that comes with this latter plot. Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, is such a film. Beginning in 1950s New York, Rourke plays Harry Angel, hired by De Niro’s Louis Cyphre to track down a lost jazz singer named Johnny Favorite. His investigation leads him to New Orleans and a cast of characters involved in the dark arts including the beautiful Evangeline Proudfoot (Bonet). As the plot thickens, Angel Heart morphs from a private eye drama to a supernatural thriller, and the ending, absurd and abstract as it is, floored me. Mickey Rourke is a special actor; inherently interesting, exciting, with great emotional range. His revelation scene opposite a terrifically understated De Niro is a tour de force.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(680)

R.I.P.D (2013, Directed by Robert Schwentke) English 4

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Stéphanie Szostak, Mary-Louise Parker, James Hong, Mike O’Malley

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(4-Bad Film)

Shoddy. Unoriginal. Dumb.

Some bad films reveal themselves on reflection. I made it through Tom Cruise’s The Mummy reboot thinking it was okay, and only later did I determine that no, it was not okay. It was quite bad. For me, there are a number of bad films in this category-X-Men: Apocalypse seems to grow worse in my memory with each passing year-but then you have films that are just immediately bad. The first frames scream out, “Get ready. You’re in for a trainwreck.” R.I.P.D is one such film. Actually, the first couple of minutes are so bad that they lowered my expectations to the point that the subsequent 90 minutes or so slightly exceeded them. It’s in these opening minutes that we are introduced (through a pointless framing device) to “deados,” bloated, repulsive monsters conjured up with the worst CGI money can buy ($140 million somehow, if Wikipedia can be believed) and the main antagonists of R.I.P.D. It’s difficult to overcome poor special effects (not to be confused with dated effects), and it would take a far more original premise than R.I.P.D offers to do it.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a hardworking Boston cop, blissfully in love with his wife, Julia (Szostak), but he’s recently stumbled into an easy payday with his partner, Bobby (Bacon). You know, an under-the-table kind of payday-the kind that gets you investigated by internal affairs-in the form of stolen gold. When Nick’s conscience wins out and he vows to return the loot, Bobby kills him, and Nick ends up lending his soul to the Rest in Peace Department for a chance at returning to Earth and wrapping up unfinished business. He’s partnered with a wily veteran from the old west, Roycephus “Roy” Pulsipher (Bridges), as they hunt down the dangerous deados I mentioned earlier.

R.I.P.D reeks of rotten ideas left over from the Men in Black franchise. A clandestine agency charged with saving the world seemingly every other week. Bizarre creatures. Odd couple buddy-action-comedy. It’s derivative. So, too, is the traitorous partner element. It’s all been done before which is no great crime in cinema, but then you add in the bad special effects and lifeless action sequences. The central relationship between Bridges’ ridiculous cowboy and Reynolds’ straight guy works better than expected. Bridges’ over-the-top schtick scores some laughs and the two actors are naturally likable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(679)

Superbia (2016, Directed by Luca Tóth) Hungarian 4

Described as a short film about, “the native people of the land of Superbia, where men and women form separate societies, face the changes sparked by the first equal couple in their history,” but whatever meaning lays within, lays deep within, buried under grotesque, crude visuals and what I’ll generously call avant-garde storytelling. With no dialogue and no distinct characters, I can only assume that Superbia is meant to be symbolic, but since there’s nothing noticeably interesting about the short. I gave up trying to figure out what it’s symbolic of.

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-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(676)

Ghost (1990, Directed by Jerry Zucker) English 6

Starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn, Whoopi Goldberg, Vincent Schiavelli, Rick Aviles

Image result for ghost 1990

(6-Good Film)

Sentimental. Compelling. Memorable.

So many supernatural romances have come and gone. Films as sappy and sentimental as Ghost usually, at best, make sufficient money at the box office before fading off to cable television. Ghost is one of the most unlikely mega-hits that I’m aware of. Starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore as the main couple, Sam and Molly, the two are separated by the apparent mugging-gone-wrong that leads to Sam’s death. Now a ghost, Sam can only communicate to Molly with the help of scam artist, Oda Mae Brown (Goldberg). There’s nothing actually new about this movie. It’s old-school melodrama and romance mixed in with a handful of dated special effects. Why does the film endure? That spark of magic that sometimes strikes where aspects of a film really work happens here. Swayze and Moore are a great onscreen couple. Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown is a fantastic scene-stealer, and who can forget the pottery scene?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(675)