The Cutting Edge (1992, Directed by Paul Michael Glaser) English 6

Starring D.B Sweeney, Moira Kelly, Roy Dotrice, Terry O’Quinn, Dwier Brown, Michael Hogan

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(6-Good Film)

Conventional. Appealing. Solid.

Doug Dorsey’s (Sweeney) once-promising dreams of being a professional hockey player are dashed after he suffers a hit that damages his vision. Not having much else to do with his life, a strange opportunity comes his way to partner with Kate Mosely (Kelly), a difficult figure-skater looking to compete in the pairs event at the upcoming Olympics. The two clash as naturally as they fall in love. It’s a romantic comedy. You either like them or you don’t. As far as romantic comedies go, The Cutting Edge is a pretty good one. The leads are appealing and their antagonistic dialogue is attractive.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(850)

Little Giants (1994, Directed by Duwayne Dunham) English 5

Starring Rick Moranis, Ed O’Neill, Shawna Waldron, Devon Sawa, Brian Haley, Susanna Thompson

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Amusing. Slight.

The younger, Danny O’Shea (Moranis), has always been in the shadow of his Heisman trophy-winning brother, Kevin (O’Neil). When Kevin starts up a local Peewee football team but cuts Danny’s daughter simply because she’s a girl, Danny decides to start his own team. Since each town can only have one, the two brothers will face off to determine which team stays. I do try not to grade on the curve. At the same time, you can’t watch something like Little Giants with the same criteria used for The Godfather. The fact is Little Giants was made to please children first and foremost and is pretty successful on that front. Beyond that, it’s a fast-paced, goofy, creative effort with a solid premise and a handful of strong characters. Even its sillier moments (the annex of Puerto Rico and numerous gags) are pretty memorable, as are the nicknames “Icebox” and “Spike.” Fun for a kid, reasonably amusing for an adult.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(817)

Varsity Blues (1999, Directed by Brian Robbins) English 5

Starring James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Paul Walker, Ron Lester, Ali Larter, Jon Voigt, Scott Caan

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(5-Okay Film)

Inconsistent. Amusing. Simple.

Varsity Blues had the opportunity to be a memorable black satire on the world of high school football in Texas, a comedic Friday Night Lights, and at first, I thought that was where it was going. The characters, led by Mox (Van der Beek), are interesting. The team plays under the ruthless, imperial Coach Kilmer (Voigt, prone to overacting when given the chance in bad films, here gives a note-perfect performance despite his over-the-top storyline), fighting for his 23rd district championship. Mox, a career backup QB who reads novels while riding the bench, is suddenly thrown into the spotlight once the star and team captain, Lance Harbor (Walker), blows out his knees. High school football is an intense life-altering period for many people. You could approach that seriously, demonstrated later by the movie and T.V Series, Friday Night Lights, or you could attempt to satirize how overly serious high school football can be. The latter approach is what could have made Varsity Blues a classic with the right direction. Dads pathetically arguing over who was better 20 years ago is great stuff. An attractive sex-ed teacher who works part-time as a stripper is not, and in the end Varisty Blues devolves into a basic sports film, i.e, the heroes win and at the last second. Football isn’t exciting cinematically. You need something else to make the action absorbing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(801)

Creed (2015, Directed by Ryan Coogler) English 8

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Wood Harris

(8-Exceptional Film)

Compelling. Gritty. Convincing.

As the film’s protagonist attempts to walk in the shoes of his legendary father, Apollo Creed, so does this boxing picture walk in the gigantic footsteps of the original, Rocky. Starring Michael B. Jordan as the illegitimate son of Carl Weathers’ character from the franchise, this film delivers great drama using sports as a metaphor for life. Sylvester Stallone has played Rocky Balboa now seven times, but he has never been better than he is here. The film’s lone flaw is its villain, Pretty Ricky (Bellew), who’s convincing as a fighter for obvious reasons but isn’t intimidating enough as a film villain.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(762)

Rocky III (1982, Directed by Sylvester Stallone) English 8

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Hulk Hogan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Triumphant. Rousing. Classic.

Rocky III is a smorgasbord of pop culture icons, offering Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Kermit the Frog, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and Apollo Creed to go along with Sylvester Stallone’s defining character. In this, Rocky Balboa’s third outing, he, reigning heavyweight champion of the world, takes on the cocky, fearsome Clubber Lang (played unforgettably by Mr. T). The results may be unsurprising but the craft is in making us care. This is my favorite Rocky movie. He is an indelible character and, when paired with a strong villain, as he is here (each of the first four Rocky’s had proper antagonists), the formula is undefeated. Never mind the lack of subtlety or defensive boxing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(754)

Nacho Libre (2006, Directed by Jared Hess) English 7

Starring Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Héctor Jiménez, Silver King, Carla Jimenez, Richard Montoya, Peter Stormare

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(7-Very Good Film)

Silly. Eccentric. Winning.

How amusing do you find the thought of Jack Black doing a Mexican accent? Or Jack Black playing a luchador? Your enjoyment of Nacho Libre starring Black as Ignacio, a cook at a quiet monastery who dreams of making it big as a wrestler, will likely depend on your answers to those two questions. Nacho Libre is a kind of a one-joke film. It milks all of the humor it can from its premise and does little beyond it. Rather than that being a complaint, I actually consider the film a triumph in style. Director, Jared Hess, who was coming off of Napoleon Dynamite at the time, has a very distinct visual approach and I’m a fan. On top of the idiosyncratic humor, the story ultimately manages to be fairly involving as well.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(729)

 

The Cincinnati Kid (1965, Directed by Norman Jewison) English 8

Starring Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret, Cab Calloway, Rip Torn, Joan Blondell

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fast. Gripping. Cool.

How much time does Steve McQueen shave off a film by making traditional character development unnecessary? Edward G. Robinson, as well? As soon as the two legendary actors walk across the screen, I’m invested. The entire cast is fantastic though (all the way down to Blondell and Cab Calloway in small supporting roles) in this story of a hotshot stud’s poker player, Eric (McQueen), out to prove he’s top dog against Lancey Howard (Robinson), who’s been top dog for decades. That aspect of the film may sound derivative of The Hustler but that’s where the comparison’s end for me. The Hustler is a bleak, powerful character drama. The Cincinnati Kid is star-driven, stylish, grand entertainment. Consider that I know nothing about poker and the film’s climax, an extended game between world-class players, became a foreign-language film to me. How remarkable is it then that this portion of the film was as exciting and tense as any I’ve seen in a long time. Its outcome, both unexpected and welcome.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(648)