Seventh Heaven (1937, Directed by Henry King) English 5

Starring James Stewart, Simone Simon, Jean Hersholt, Gale Sondergaard, Gregory Ratoff, Sig Ruman

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(5-Okay Film)

Overdone. Ham-fisted. Dramatic.

I can forgive a level of corn, especially when it comes to classic Hollywood, but Seventh Heaven overdoes it. James Stewart plays Chico, a lowly sewer cleaner in 1914 Paris and self-proclaimed atheist, burdened with an exploited young woman, Diane (Simon), through his own actions and the work of a kindly priest, Father Chevillon (Hersholt). It’s not difficult to see where the story is heading, and part of the fun in getting there is diluted by the soppy monologues and religious theme that seems to me to be built on questionable theology. In any case, the wonderful stars can’t pull the material off, and the result is only for the hard-core fans of weepies.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(87)

The Prince of Egypt (1998, Directed by Brenda Chapman, Simon Well, Steve Hickner) English 8

Voices of Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny Glover, Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Patrick Stewart, Jeff Glodblum

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spectacular. Involving. Admirable.

This film, from the days when Dreamworks Animation was just getting started, unsure of its direction or how to separate itself from Disney, is more ambitious and accomplished than the last dozen or so movies the, now established, studio has made. Prince of Egypt is a not completely faithful, but respectful and commendable adaptation of the story of Moses, opening with a tremendous sequence of animation depicting baby Moses’ journey down the Nile, and ending after the crossing of the Red Sea. The voice cast, specifically Ralph Fiennes and Val Kilmer as Ramesses and Moses, do truly excellent work, and the animation has not dated one bit. The story is condensed, obviously not going for the effect of four hour epic, The Ten Commandments, but instead telling this classic story efficiently and compellingly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(84)

First Reformed (2018, Directed by Paul Schrader) English 8

Starring Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer, Amanda Seyfried, Philip Ettinger, Victoria Hill

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Challenging. Powerful. Thoughtful.

What exactly does God expect from men and women as stewards of the Earth? Reverend Toller (Hawke) asks himself this question after meeting a serious young man and environmentalist, Michael, written off by some as a lunatic. After Michael kills himself, Reverend Toller, in ill health and growing increasingly wary in his faith, picks up the mantle the young man left. Toller also develops feelings for the young man’s widow, Mary (Seyfried), as the 250th anniversary of his church, First Reformed, approaches. Provocative material aside, Toller’s struggles and inner monologues represented by his daily journal entries are compelling and relatable, making his unraveling, or enlightenment, in the end powerful. First Reformed is a painful viewing, so unlike most “faith based” films designed to give a message, wrap up, and leave the audience feeling comfortable. First Reformed, raises difficult questions, makes us uncomfortable, resolves nothing, and leaves us to think. Ethan Hawke is superlative, and his character’s quiet intensity, personal demons, and passion make him a sort of battered, beaten down hero by the end.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(22)

Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Directed by Ingmar Bergman) Swedish 5

Starring Harriet Andersson, Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Lars Passgård

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(5-Okay Film)

Leaden. Dreary. Garrulous.

One long, revealing day on a remote island unfolds for Karin (Andersson), suffering from schizophrenia, her father, David (Björnstrand), sexually frustrated brother, Minus (Passgård), and embattled husband, Martin (Von Sydow). Dense with themes of God’s existence, incest, family turmoil, and mental illness, this chamber play grows bloated with symbolism and opaque dialogue. It’s a style many value, as Bergman is renowned, but I can’t stand it. The acting is strong, the visuals are striking, but I have no heart for Through a Glass Darkly, and it doesn’t appeal to me thematically.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(92)

The Exorcist (1973, Directed by William Friedkin) English 10

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller

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(10-Masterpiece)

Chilling. Horrific. Effective.

A young girl, Regan (Blair), raised by her single actress mother, Chris (Burstyn), plays with a Ouija board. Not long after, Chris sees dramatic, inexplicable, terrifying changes in her once innocent daughter. Exhausting all other resources, Chris eventually turns to Father Damien (Miller), a priest and doctor working through spiritual doubt in his own life. Finding Regan to be possessed, Father Damien and a more experienced priest, Father Merrin (Von Sydow) set about her exorcism. An early standard bearer of the genre, many of its tactics have been borrowed across dozens of horror flicks, but rarely used as effectively as they are here. The Exorcist, aside from being genuinely thrilling and affecting, is an impeccably made film. From pacing to acting to its notorious special effects, the film remains an impressive horror classic. Beyond the evil and the fear of demons, the film is rooted in the horror of watching these terrible things happen to a little girl, and watching a loving mother at a loss to help her daughter.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(118)

Viridiana (1961, Directed by Luis Buñuel) Spanish 8

Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Margarita Lozano, Lola Gaos

Subversive drama about an aspiring nun, Viridiana, on a final familial visit before she takes her vows. A tragedy follows, and Viridiana responds by becoming nearly a saint figure. She takes in a group of vagrants, as her proud and handsome cousin moves in. Subtly transgressive, striking in its imagery (the beautiful Pinal, the repulsive vagrants), provocative, funny, bleak. There’s much left to interpretation, but this was the first Buñuel film that’s iconoclastic imagery mixed with what I found to be a compelling narrative.

Simon of the Desert (1965, Directed by Luis Bunuel) Spanish 5

Starring Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal, Enrique Álvarez Félix

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(5-Okay Film)

Calculated. Abstract. Provocative.

The least inflammatory of Bunuel’s trilogy, Simon of the Desert follows Viridiana (1961) and The Exterminating Angel (1962) in the famed director’s illusory approach to religious themes. In this one, a devout figure named Simon spends his days and nights atop a pillar in the desert besieged by onlookers and frequent visits from Satan, here in the form of an attractive woman. Bunuel, an acclaimed surrealist, uses the premise for a series of unspectacular imagery to my mind. The proceedings, while mercifully short, are too austere and uninspired. There’s no new approach to the material. It mostly symbols we’ve seen before. That is, until the ending, which I won’t ruin, but salvages the film to a degree with its strangeness.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(253)