Widows (2018, Directed by Steve McQueen) English 6

Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O’Connor

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(6-Good Film)

Polished. Sprawling. Unsatisfying.

Three women-Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Debicki)-lose their criminal husbands and owe crime boss, Jamal Manning (Henry), a couple million dollars. To pay him, the three devise a heist based on a plan drawn by Veronica’s late husband, Harry Rawlings (Neeson), and add a fourth member, Belle (Erivo), a getaway driver once they get closer to the heist. Anyone who’s seen Widows will know that the film is about so much more than what I just described, but for me, that’s part of the problem.  There’s much too much going on. Politics, social commentary, a scene touching on police shootings, and about 4 or 5 characters too many. Even interesting characters, Belle and Robert Duvall’s Tom Mulligan, weren’t necessary. Widows has many great aspects though. Beautifully filmed and acted, the story, despite being unfocused in my eyes, does draw you in. I do think, however, that here is a rare case where a bastardized version of this plot would have been better. The film is so elegantly shot that the heist needed to be more clever. The film’s final act dedicates maybe 10 minutes to the actual heist and it’s a trainwreck. That would be fine in a grittier crime film, but this one sets up its heist and characters for too long for that haphazard ending to be satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Victor/Victoria (1982, Directed by Blake Edwards) English 6

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Silly. Farcical.

Desperate in the extreme to eke out a living in ’30s Paris, two American entertainers (Victoria played by Andrews and Toddy played by Robert Preston) cook up a scheme that can make them rich and famous. Victoria will pretend to be a man who pretends to be a woman on stage. Things grow complicated when an American gangster (Garner) falls for her, and she for him. It’s an elaborate and exuberant farce that features fantastic musical numbers, a torrent of gags, and witty one-liners. Feels old-fashioned and edgy, which is why, even today, the film seems progressive. Rather than being laugh out loud funny, Victor/Victoria has tremendous energy, and even amidst the madcap plot and never-ending misunderstandings, the characters are authentic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Godfather (1972, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) English 10

Starring Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, John Cazale, Richard Conte, Talia Shire

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Iconic. Peerless. Timeless.

A familial epic about the Corleone crime family led by its patriarch Vito (Brando), and his four, very different sons: the volatile Sonny (Caan), adopted son Tom (Duvall), slow Fredo (Cazale), and war hero Michael (Pacino) who stays out of the family business. Their individual lives, and the outsider entanglements that come with a life of crime spark this masterful saga that would continue for another two films. Used by many cinephiles as a model of perfection in filmmaking. Every aspect of it is flawless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Godfather Part II (1974, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) English/Italian 10

Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Robert De Niro, Bruno Kirby, Michael V. Gazzo, Lee Strasburg

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Stunning. Powerful. Epic.

The Corleone saga continues, this time interweaving the rise of young Vito Corleone (immortalized by Marlon Brando in the first part, here portrayed by De Niro) in turn of the century New York with the continued exploits of a, now, powerful and influential Michael Corleone (Pacino). After Michael’s home gets shot up, he makes maneuver after maneuver to ferret out the traitor who set it up. Longer, more intricate, deeper than the first part, part II manages to be even greater than one of the greatest films of all-time in its predecessor. Pacino in his prime was a force of nature, bottled up in the all-too calculating character of Michael, which makes him a threat to implode at any moment. The slow-developing familial betrayals are devastating, and there are at least a dozen unforgettable characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-



The Departed (2006, Directed by Martin Scorsese) English 6

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone

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(6-Good Film)

Flashy. Entertaining. Superficial.

Oscar winning remake of the Chinese Infernal Affairs trilogy, The Departed stars DiCaprio as Billy, a cop gone undercover in local big-shot, mob boss, Frank Costello’s (Nicholson) organization, but Frank has a mole of his own planted in the police department in the form of Colin (Damon). Neither side can seem to get the drop on the other, as a game of cat and mouse begins. Infinitely entertaining premise provides the thrills and suspense, but also an over the top style and hyper-active camera work. Nicholson’s large performance with his profane and crude character is fun to watch, but kept me at a distance in terms of taking the film seriously. I also didn’t like many of the aesthetic choices, including the jarring editing, dutch angles, and screwball delivery. It highlights the film’s lack of depth.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-