Dangal (2016, Directed by Nitesh Tiwari) Hindi 8

Starring Aamir Khan, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Sakshi Tanwar

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Inspirational. Gripping. Moving.

Feel good story about a disappointed former wrestler, Mahavir Phogat (Khan), who shifts his dreams from winning gold for India to having a son who wins gold. After trying for a son for years, Mahavir and his wife end up with four daughters, and his dreams seem to be over. Years later, with his peers calling him crazy, he instead trains his two oldest daughters in wrestling. It’s a great story told exceptionally well with Aamir Khan going to great lengths and succeeding in making his appearance authentic. Even more difficult is his ability to make this harsh, deeply flawed father sympathetic, and the actresses that play his daughters are excellent as well. The wrestling sequences are exhilarating. Much credit to the filmmakers and performers who made these scenes incredibly realistic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Jerry Maguire (1996, Directed by Cameron Crowe) English 7

Starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renée Zellweger, Regina King, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Lipnicki, Jay Mohr

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(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Fresh. Winning.

Hip is something that doesn’t last, and if hip is all a film has going for it, it won’t last either. Jerry Maguire, though I might question its more schmaltzy moments, or its would-be profound scenes (Tom Cruise’s symbolic swimming for example seems rather silly), remains a fantastic romantic comedy with great writing and over the top performances that work. Maguire (Cruise) is a ruthless sports agent who has a change of heart costing him his job. Forced to strike out on his own, plus the help of a loyal assistant, single mother Dorothy (Zellweger), and his one lone client, diva-esque but endearing, Rod Tidwell (Gooding Jr. in an Oscar winning role), a wide-out for the Arizona Cardinals. Crowe’s hyper-kinetic style matches well with his fast-paced, smart, funny script. I don’t even mind some of Jerry Maguire’s cornier scenes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Cool Runnings (1993, Directed by Jon Turteltaub) English 7

Starring Leon, Doug E. Doug, John Candy, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis

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(7-Very Good Film)

Heartfelt. Triumphant.  Funny.

After his chances at running in the Olympics are dashed, Jamaican Derice Bannock (Leon) sees potential in bobsledding as a way to compete at the highest level. He enlists a disgraced former champion (Candy) living on the island to help train him and the Jamaican team. Disney consistently finds gold when they mix the familiar sports genre with colorful cultural settings (Queen of Katwe, McFarland U.S.A, Million Dollar Arm). Well acted, though light.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Early Man (2018, Directed by Nick Park) English 6

Voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Rob Brydon, Miriam Margolyes

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(6-Good Film)

Humorous. Zany. Imaginative.

Set during the Stone Age, a close-knit, primitive tribe are overtaken by a more advanced community of bronze age warriors. Dug, a brave member of the Stone Age tribe, challenges the imperialists to a match of their favorite sport (football or soccer), in a wager to regain the group’s land. Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit and director of Chicken Run, is brilliant in my eyes. However, this film is mostly a series of gags. That’s not entirely a negative as the gags are very good, and, of course, the animation is first rate, but the story isn’t as fully developed as his best work.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


I, Tonya (2017, Directed by Craig Gillespie) English 7

Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Caitlin Carver

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(7- Very Good Film)

Fast. Smart. Funny.

In 1994, Olympic figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked, hit in the right leg by ex-con Shane Stant. It was later determined that Jeff Gillooly, husband of her rival, Tonya Harding, planned the attack and that Harding herself knew at least something about it. It’s not easy to admit, but considering that this act of violence took place in the posh world of women’s figure skating puts a humorous spin on the tragic event. This film understands that and turns the material into a superior tragicomedy.

Employing a unique framing device in which multiple narrators tell their side of the story, often contradicting each other, we start with Tonya as a child, the daughter of a rabbit hunter and a waitress, in Portland, Oregon. She quickly demonstrates a prodigious talent in skating, and, after her father leaves the house, her profane, chain-smoking mother (Janney) constantly pushes her into becoming a champion skater. Later, as a teenager, Tonya (now played by Robbie) is one of the most talented skaters in the country, but can’t get a fair chance with the judges due to her being labeled “white trash.” She meets and falls in love with Jeff Gillooly (Stan), who soon reveals himself to be an abusive boyfriend and then husband. All in all, it’s a tough life for Tonya, and her background goes a long way into making her a sympathetic figure.

The second half of the film, as Robbie admits, breaking the fourth wall, is what we’re all interested in. The “incident.” I, Tonya leaning on its unreliable narrator technique portrays Jeff as simply attempting to send empty death threats to Nancy Kerrigan, as a means of psychological warfare. Here, the film, evoking the spirit of Fargo (or any other great crime-dark comedy you can think of), shows Jeff’s simple plan devolve into his friend’s delusions of grandeur, and get out of hand quickly.

It’s compelling material, and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, Million Dollar Arm) does a nice job with it. I, Tonya is consistently funny, well-acted, and fierce. However, I would argue it misses out on being truly poignant, and the fast-paced comedic tone drowns out much of, if not all, the sadness. Not that there aren’t sad moments, but I just found them overshadowed by the funnier moments.

Margot Robbie gets her first great star vehicle and she’s been reeling in the awards. Her comic timing is excellent, but she’s also able to change tones with the film seamlessly, making Tonya into a well-rounded, fascinating character. Janney steals all of her scenes as the monstrous mother (somehow she still invokes our empathy). I liked I, Tonya, but I didn’t love it.

-Walter Howard-


Queen of Katwe (2016, Directed by Mira Nair) English 7

Starring David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Nalwanga

Continuing Disney’s trend of cultural sports films following McFarland, USA (2015) and Million Dollar Arm (2014), Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, an international chess prodigy raised in Ugandan slums. This is a wonderful movie that benefits from a strong sense of authenticity and effortless performances from everyone.

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, Directed by Richard Linklater) English 8

Starring Blake Jenner, Will Brittain, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin

Billed as a kind of sequel to Linklater’s own Dazed and Confused (1993), this 80s college campus comedy about a freshman’s first weekend at school bonding with his baseball teammates demonstrates that same wistfulness and freedom of spirit. The characters are all people you’d either enjoy hanging with or enjoy laughing at, and the film’s two hour running time breezes by .