Jackie (2016, Directed by Pablo Larrain) English 7

Starring Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carrol Lynch

(7-Very Good Film)

Unique. Elegant. Slight.

Biopics rarely feel as fresh as this film about former First Lady and JFK’s widow Jackie Kennedy, but by concentrating on a seminal period of her life-the days following her husband’s assassination- rather than trying to capture a lifetime in the length of a movie, Jackie works as a unique look at key intimate moments behind the scenes. Things like showering off her husband’s blood, telling her kids that their father won’t be coming home, moving from the white house, etc. Natalie Portman’s performance-her beauty and her interpretation of the First Lady’s manner of speech-illuminate the film. The score, by Mica Levi, is eerie and beautiful. Suggested by the film’s title, Jackie wants you to feel like you knew her on a first-name basis.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(697)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 10

Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

(10-Masterpiece)

Imaginative. Lovely. Wonderful.

Awaiting his inevitable crash and death, an RAF pilot, Peter Carter (Niven), speaks with an American radio operator, June (Hunter), and the two connect. When miraculously Peter survives, he finds  June, and they fall in love. However, his survival was due to a celestial error made by a relatively new angel, and heaven intends to correct it by taking Peter into the afterlife. Thus begins a sort of heavenly courtroom drama in which Peter, with the help of the saintly Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey is wonderful in this role), makes his case to stay on Earth with the woman he loves. The movie alternates between color and black and white, but that’s just one of its numerous creative touches that make it a great film. Each actor is fantastic, down to Raymond Massey in maybe 15 minutes of screen time playing the prosecutor in heaven (a patriot during the American Revolution, he hates the British making him biased towards Peter). Made during Powell and Pressburger’s prime when they were making masterpiece after masterpiece.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(696)

A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace (1997, Directed by Robert L. Levy) English 5

Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Rhona Mitra, Taylor Negron, James Faulkner, Nicholas Irons

Image result for a kid in aladdin's palace

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Juvenile. Fun.

A sequel to the equally silly, meager, and enjoyable A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace suffers mainly from the fact that this was my first time watching it. The former film is bolstered by waves of merry nostalgia from years of watching it on VHS as a child. A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace receives no such sentiment. Despite this, I was still entertained. Calvin Fuller of Reseda (Nicholas) takes that joke to ancient Arabia where he meets a genie, Aladdin, Sheherazade, and Ali Babba and squares off against an evil sultan. The special effects are unsurprisingly horrible and the last act resorts to a couple too many poop jokes but as long as your expectations are reasonable, A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace is reasonably enjoyable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(695)

 

Drumline (2002, Directed by Charles Stone III) English 7

Starring Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, Candace Carey, J. Anthony Brown, Afemo Omilami

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(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Flashy. Modest.

I’ve never given marching band much consideration. Football games are about football. Marching band is background noise, but, similar to what Pitch Perfect did years later for Acapella, Drumline makes marching band look really cool. Drumline follows Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), a hot-head drum recruit to Atlanta A & T’s revered marching band who immediately finds himself at odds with the band director, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), and the percussion leader, Sean (Leonard Roberts). This film is super solid entertainment. You know as soon as the film starts what it’s about and where it’s going but you’re happy with the execution. Supporting players-Jones, Roberts, and J. Anthony Brown as the rival band leader-stand out, while Nick Cannon proves a capable lead despite being cocky and hard to like for a good portion of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(694)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Directed by Chad Stahelski) English 8

Starring Keanu Reeves, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Franco Nero, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio

(8-Exceptional Film)

Inspired. Exciting. Awesome.

John Wick (Reeves), legendary assassin, is back to do pretty much what he did the first go-around: kill a lot of people. And, since this is a sequel, the body count is naturally even higher. He’s being attacked by all sides, it seems, in this outing after being coerced into assassinating an Italian crime leader; the man who hired Wick wants him dead to tie up loose ends and the Italian Crime leader’s men want Wick dead to avenge their ward’s death. Strength of plot in an action film is usually how smoothly it can contrive its action sequences. Once John Wick gets going, it becomes one incredible sequence after another. The art direction, set pieces, choreography, stunt work are all first-rate and inspired. Superior to the first film, this is an excellent action picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(693)

Centennial Summer (1946, Directed by Otto Preminger) English 6

Starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Dorothy Gish, Constance Bennett, Cornel Wilde

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(6-Good Film)

Well-crafted. Attractive. Light.

Set in the summer of 1876 in Philadelphia, the life of the Rogers’ clan is chronicled in this lightweight musical. With a particular focus on sisters, Julia (Jeanne Crain) and Edith (Linda Darnell), who vie for the same man, newcomer Frenchman, Philippe Lascalles (Cornel Wilde), Centennial Summer boasts a terrific cast. Aside from the leads, Walter Brennan, Constance Bennett, and Dorothy Gish star, and the talented Otto Preminger directs. Centennial Summer will suffer comparisons from anyone who’s seen the fantastic Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s a handsome, likable film without being as endearing as Vincente Minnelli’s classic which inspired it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(692)

Starter for 10 (2006, Directed by Tom Vaughan) English 7

Starring James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance, Mark Gatiss, Lindsey Duncan

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(7-Very Good Film)

Winning. Likable. Smart.

Coming of age, youthful romance, academic contests, these are a boundless source of storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Starter for 10 stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson, an intelligent but meek freshman student at Bristol University who joins their “University Challenge” team, a trivia competition between schools, popular on television. Brian falls for his worldly teammate, Alice (Alice Eve), and befriends the politically passionate, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), as he navigates his first year away from home. This is a very engaging, well-acted film. My only reservations were that the endearing but awkward Brian makes so many wrong decisions and has so many uncomfortable moments that I struggle to watch the film straight, instead, taking a number of lengthy breaks to get through the narrative.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(691)