Disturbia (2007, Directed by D.J Caruso) English 7

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, David Morse, Carie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo

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(7-Very Good Film)

Suspenseful. Breezy. Familiar.

This film has no deeper qualities beyond its appeal as a suburban thriller. It doesn’t have any large-scale ambitions or notions of being great popular art like its predecessor, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.  That film featured a recently handicapped Stewart, laid up in his urban apartment, forced into the role of peeping Tom, watching his neighbors as he grows to suspect one of them of being a killer. Disturbia, released over fifty years later, updates this premise, making its protagonist, Kale Brecht (LaBeouf), a delinquent youth on house arrest in some Californian suburb. This reworking of the plot proves to be a lot of fun, and the movie even throws in a little teen romance to boot, overcoming its one flaw: the utter uselessness and stupidity of the adults.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


8mm (1999, Directed by Joel Schumaker) English 6

Starring Nicholas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Norman Reedus, Amy Morton, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Myra Carter

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(6-Good Film)

Schlock. Gripping. Sordid.

Not to everyone’s taste is the polite way of saying it, 8mm is, for me, trash entertainment. I have a real fascination with this kind of sordid material. Nicholas Cage plays a private detective, Tom Welles, hired by a wealthy widow to investigate a tape she found in her deceased husband’s safe. The tape appears to be an authentic snuff film, with a teenage girl as the star and victim. The widow wants Welles to investigate if the snuff film is real by finding out what happened to the girl in the video. Welles accepts the case and begins his descent into the world of underground pornography to find the truth. A few years after Seven, 8mm lacks the skill of that classic, but succeeds on the ability of its subject to engross and thrill. Cage, over-the-top at moments, delivers as the film’s wearied protagonist. Phoenix and Morton ground the film, and give it some pathos.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Hangover (2009, Directed by Todd Phillips) English 7

Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Mike Epps

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(7-Very Good Film)

Chracter-driven. Fresh. Inspired.

The Hangover felt like a real original, introducing Bradley Cooper as a star and Galifianakis as a comedic talent. It remains a fast-paced, funny film built around putting three strongly developed characters in a series of bizarre situations. Phil (Cooper), Stu (Helms), and Alan (Galifianakis) are the best friends of Doug Phillips, or in Alan’s case, the soon-to-be brother-in-law, who’s getting married. They go to Vegas for their bachelor party, but things seem to get out of hand, as they wake up the following morning to several surprises, the most important of which being that Doug is missing, and they have no memory of the night. Alan, the oddball, Stu, the overly anxious dentist, and Phil, the always cool leader, are memorable characters, and much fun to watch. Then there’s the host of side characters: Black Doug, Leslie Chow, Mike Tyson (as himself, obviously), Jade, and the police officers. They make The Hangover more than just an interesting premise, and into a modern comedy classic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Sherlock Holmes (2009, Directed by Guy Ritchie) English 6

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Geraldine James, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox

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(7- Very Good Film)

Fun. Fresh. Intriguing.

Solutions are never as fun as the setups in Sherlock Holmes’ stories. Like magic tricks, once explained, the tricks lose most of their interest. That’s the case once again, here, in Guy Ritchie’s take on the Sherlock Holmes series with Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. That being said, this is an excellent Holmes’ adventure and the reveal is about the only disappointment. I had low expectations when this film first came out. A frenetic, action-packed Holmes’ movie sounded hack, but I was proven wrong. It’s a fresh take that does have trumped up action sequences but not at the expense of Sherlock’s deductive skills, witty banter, or the storied bromance between the hero and his best friend, Watson. Downey Jr. and Jude Law are both excellent in their respective roles, and the premise is an intriguing one. A captured cult leader is executed, but appears to have returned from the dead. Very entertaining film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Directed by Guy Ritchie) English 7

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Stylish. Fun.

Robert Downey Jr. returns to his other film franchise along with Jude Law as the famed detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his loyal partner, Dr. Watson, respectively. This time around, it’s 1891, and Sherlock is facing his greatest nemesis, the equally brilliant, villainous, Professor Moriarty (played to sinister perfection by Jared Harris). It’s an impressive accomplishment that for all this film’s action and noise, it does one of the best jobs of any Sherlock film to convincingly portray not just its protagonist but Moriarty as a genius. That’s a credit to both Downey Jr. and Harris. The action sequences are elaborate and bombastic, which I never thought would work with Sherlock Holmes. The first film showed me otherwise, and this sequel’s better.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-




The Invitation (2015, Directed by Karyn Kusama) English 8

Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy CorinealdiLindsay Burdge, Toby Huss, John Carroll Lynch

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Slow-Burn. Gripping. Unhinged.

   Dinner parties can be dreadfully awkward affairs. This film is the dinner party from hell. Will (Marshall-Green) is surprised one day with an invitation from his ex-wife, Eden, played by Tammy Blanchard (they tragically lost a son), and her new husband, David (Huisman). Will arrives, greeted by his old friends, but quickly comes to suspect that something strange is going on. In classic mystery-thriller fashion, no one’s suspicious but him. The hosts, Eden and David, are acting really odd, one friend, Choi, hasn’t shown up even though he said he would, plus, there’s two unexplained strangers as guests, and why did David lock all of the doors? Excellent psychological thriller smartly done. You know that something is going to happen, you’re certain it won’t be any good, but director, Kusama, builds the suspense to a fever pitch, and the resulting climax is well-worth the wait. Plays off of the anxiety of someone who is antisocial having to interact with a large group of people. You could also point out its relationship to Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel wherein a group of people at a dinner party are unable to leave a dining room, and react to the growing madness. Terrific finale, strong acting from a terrifying premise.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Spellbound (1944, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, Michael Chekhov

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(7-Very Good Film)

Hammy. Intriguing. Interesting.

The great Alfred Hitchcock fashions a mystery thriller out of cheesy movie psychology; an excellent one at that. Overwrought to the point that it sometimes resembles a B-movie science fiction film (the type that were popular a decade later), Spellbound stars Ingrid Bergman as a prim psychologist, Dr. Peterson, working at an elite mental hospital. Her male coworkers note that she’s like a robot, the way she works coldly without emotion. One day, the hospital director, Dr. Murchison (Carroll), is asked to step down and retire, making way for a younger outsider, Dr. Edwards (Peck), to replace him. Edwards seems strange on arrival, morel like a patient than a doctor at times, but that doesn’t keep Dr. Peterson from falling in love with him. Soon, the doctors at the hospital find out that the new doctor is not Dr. Edwards at all, and that the real doctor is missing. Peterson is the only one that believes in the imposter’s innocence, perhaps blinded by love, and discovers that he’s suffering from amnesia. The two go on the run, and try to get to the bottom of the fake Doctor Edwards’ psychological problems. Kooky science aside, sentimental romance and all, Spellbound is a thrilling film, with beautiful stars, and a gripping mystery.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-