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-



Jumanji (1995, Directed by Joe Johnston) English 7

Starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier, Bebe Neuwirth, Patricia Clarkson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Nostalgic. Intriguing.

Sometimes it’s impossible to separate the actual quality of a film from the nostalgia it produces. Jumanji is a childhood favorite. In 1969, a boy, Alan, and a girl, Sarah, sit down to play a mysterious board game that promises fun and excitement. The game turns out to be all too real, conjuring up a new jungle threat with every role of the dice. An especially unlucky roll lands Alan in isolation, keeping the two from finishing. Nearing thirty years later, two new kids, Judy and Peter, find and join the game. At the time, some critics complained about Jumanji being too scary. Kids like to be scared. Jumanji is the proper amount of scary in controlled doses. Williams makes for a nice hero with what’s actually a somewhat limited amount of screen time. Hunt, too, is engaging as the childhood crush grown up.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018, Directed by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston) English 5

Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Jane lynch\

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(5-Okay Film)

Dragging. Flat. Creative.

There are some nice ideas in Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it-Ralph. It explores friendship, insecurity, and visually articulates what it might look like inside the internet in an appealing way. However, for all of its cleverness, there aren’t many laughs to be found, and the story never pulled me in completely at any point. This new Ralph resembles Homer’s Odyssey in structure: kind of wandering, with no apparent villain, and slow to reach its point. I was slightly bored for much of the running time. The plot is rather simple: Vanellope (Silverman) and the gang at Sugar Rush are in danger of becoming homeless as their game is close to being shut down. Their only hope is that the arcade set gets a new wheel to replace the broken one, so the game can go on, and the only way to get a new wheel is for Ralph and Vanellope to enter the internet and find one. There’s not a lack of action. Plenty happens. The animation is vibrant. I just never truly cared.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, Directed by John Hughes) English 8

Starring Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Ben Stein, Charlie Sheen

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Funny. Memorable. Spirited.

Ferris Bueller is slightly arrogant and spoiled. He complains at one point that he asked his parents for a car, and instead received a computer. If this film was solely about him skipping school, and gallivanting in the great city of Chicago, I’m not sure anybody would care. It might still work as a light comedy, but I doubt it would resonate beyond that, or endure as it has, now 32 years later. Ferris Bueller is about a free spirit helping his friend enjoy life. The free spirit is obviously Ferris, played wonderfully by Broderick, and the uptight, hypochondriac friend, Cameron, is played by Alan Ruck. They, along with Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend, Sloane, have a spectacular day, while the authority figures, led by Principal Rooney (Jones), and forces of banality, led by Ferris’ sister (Grey), attempt to thwart him. So many memorable, funny moments, but the standout is, of course, Ben Stein’s painfully boring lecture. Jeffrey Jones, resembling an old Wile E. Coyote cartoon, with Ferris being the Road Runner, is excellent.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Matrix Reloaded (2003, Directed by The Wachowskis) English 6

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Randall Duk Kim, Monica Bellucci

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(6-Good Film)

Unfocused. Meandering. Inferior.

The Matrix Reloaded is at the top of any list made about disappointing sequels. Neo returns, now a full-blown super hero, and so does Morpheus, his mentor, and Trinity, the woman he loves. Neo is having visions (or are they just nightmares?) of Trinity dying in the future, while Morpheus and the rest of the resistance argue over how best to fight back against the computers. A sequel to the extraordinary original was a tough prospect. I think so much of The Matrix’s greatness depended on the mystery and not fully understanding everything going on. The Matrix Reloaded widens its story, clarifies a few things, and the film becomes less interesting as a result. The attempt at epicness also hurts it, seeming more pompous and rambling than grand scale. The special effects which were cutting edge and blew everyone away in ’99, are overused here and resemble more an old video game at times than human beings. It’s funny to me, but the first film, released four years earlier and made with less money, looks better than its sequels. The Matrix Reloaded isn’t devoid of all virtues. It holds several intriguing ideas mixed into its long ramblings, the world building, carrying over from the first film, is incredible, and Neo is a hero for the ages.

-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-