Cover Girl (1944, Directed by Charles Vidor) English 6

Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers, Otto Kruger, Eve Arden, Lee Bowman, Jess Barker

Image result for cover girl 1944

(6-Good Film)

Grand. Skilled. Lacking.

Chorus girl, Rusty Parker (Hayworth), has a decent job and a boyfriend, Danny McGuire (Kelly), she loves dearly but can’t help but aspire for more. An opportunity to pose for Vanity magazine comes her way and she makes the most of it, but her newfound success puts a strain on her relationship with Danny. Like most if not all of the old, classic Hollywood musicals, this is a well-crafted, staged, and performed picture. The technicolor cinematography is bright and appealing and there are a number of inspired musical numbers. The story, on the other hand, is less inspired. Most romantic musicals are hackneyed to some degree but there’s not enough happening in Cover Girl that’s compelling. Danny and Rusty already love each other at the start of the film so they’re kind of boring as the story moves on.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(781)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016, Directed by Tim Burton) English 6

Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney

(6-Good Film)

Creepy. Colorful. Secondary.

Based on the bestselling young adult series, Tim Burton’s latest film about a boy, Jake Portman (Butterfield), reeling from his Grandfather’s bizarre death, and the secret community of strangely gifted children that he discovers isn’t thrilling enough for mass appeal. However, if you enjoy creepy content aimed at younger audiences, in the vein of ’80s classics like Something Wicked This way Comes (1983), there’s a flock of eyeball-digesting scientists in this film that might appeal to you. Not all that inventive in the wake of Potter-mania and all of its clones, but it is entertaining and just the right amount of scary. Eva Green is particularly good in the title role.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(780)

Arrival (2016, Directed by Denis Villeneuve) English 5

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

(5-Okay Film)

Slow. Monotonous. Opaque.

How to describe this film’s plot? I suppose it is fitting for a film so concerned with the passing of time to be an unbound, nonlinear work. All I can claim to understand clearly is that Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor asked to assist in communication with a group of aliens that have recently materialized. Critics have praised the confident pacing, but, in my book, that usually means slow and boring. I’ve also realized about myself that I don’t care for friendly aliens when it comes to movies. Give me the childish aliens vs. humans narrative every time over this well-crafted “intelligent” film. A film has to be entertaining before it can be anything else.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(779)

Holiday in the Wild (2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash) English 5

Starring Kristen Davis, Rob Lowe, Fezile Mpela, John Owen, Colin Moss, Haley Owen, Faniswa Yisa

Image result for holiday in the wild

(5-Okay Film)

Lowkey. Pleasant. Mediocre.

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(778)

The Bedroom Window (1987, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 6

Starring Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern, Isabelle Hupert, Paul Shenar, Brad Greenquist

Image result for the bedroom window 1987

(6-Good Film)

Far-fetched. Stylish. Gripping.

      Cops are generally useless in movies like this one. If you have a thriller and the main character isn’t a cop, then most likely the cops are going to be completely unhelpful in the film. They’ll probably accuse the protagonist of something he didn’t do or arrive at the scene too late or get killed by the bad guy despite years of training while the film’s hero (an average male) is able to defeat that same bad guy. The Bedroom Window takes this cliché to an infuriating extent.

Terry Lambert (Guttenberg) leaves an office party early one night to begin an affair with his boss’ wife, Sylvia (Huppert). As their night winds down, Terry steps out of the room for a minute and Sylvia gazes out the window. At that moment, she witnesses the assault and attempted murder of a young woman, Denise (McGovern), by a pale, red-headed figure who then runs off. Not wanting to speak with police and risk having to testify in court where her husband would find out about the affair, Sylvia parts and resolutely decides not to speak of what she witnessed, content enough that the woman she saw was spared. Days later though, another woman is raped and murdered in similar circumstances to the attempt she witnessed. Terry, feeling a sense of civic responsibility, goes to the police and pretends that he witnessed the crime, feeding them information that Sylvia (who agrees with the plan) gives him. Lying to the police is not a great idea, but the way Terry’s life spirals out of control, as a result, is extreme and a little hard to believe. The first problem comes when Terry’s asked to look at a police lineup and pick out the assailant, where he meets Denise. The film, interestingly, loses its way later on, just when it starts to resemble other thrillers we’ve seen before, specifically the classic Hitchcock pictures. Hitchcock loved thrusting ordinary men into extraordinary situations, and the way Terry goes from key witness to lead suspect is very reminiscent of a famous scene in North by Northwest. It’s not that I have an issue with wearing the Hitchcock influence so conspicuously. A number of excellent films have done that: Charade, Blow-Out, Ghost Writer. And Hitchcock, also, wasn’t always interested in perfectly logical plotlines. My problem is that in The Bedroom Window, the rewards don’t always outweigh the frustration caused by maddening character decisions. Doing my best not to spoil anything, there’s one moment where Terry is left holding a freshly stabbed body and flees as the cops approach despite not having any weapon on him. If he had just waited, couldn’t he have just told the police, “how could I have stabbed this person if I don’t have a weapon?” As I said, logic is not paramount.

Aside from the frustration I felt watching the incompetent police in The Bedroom Window, and the silliness of some of its contrivances, the film is a perfectly serviceable thriller. It’s very good at times and its trio of leads (Steve Guttenberg, Isabelle Hupert, Elizabeth McGovern) as odd as it seems on paper, is the one atypical touch of an otherwise familiar thriller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(777)

 

The Princess and the Frog (2009, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 8

Voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings, Jennifer Lewis, John Goodman, Michael Leon Wooley, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard

Image result for the princess and the frog

(8-Exceptional Film)

Lovely. Old-fashioned. Underappreciated.

       Traditional animation is a thing of the past for Walt Disney Animation Studios. The lovely, hand-drawn, two-dimensional work that made Disney famous (Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella) has given way to three-dimensional computer animation, first achieved by Pixar (Toy Story), now taken up by just about every American animation studio including Disney itself. Ten years ago, around Christmas, saw the last time Disney released a big-budget 2-D animated flick, The Princess and the Frog, with the more modest release of Winnie the Pooh following 2 years later. Neither film proved a hit financially, though both were critically acclaimed. In the meantime, the computer-animated Disney films Tangled (2010), Wreck-it-Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), etc., each made at least $450 million worldwide, with Frozen going over a billion on its way to becoming the second-highest-grossing animated film of all-time (not adjusted for inflation). Does this demonstrate that people aren’t drawn to 2-D animation anymore? Has 2-D animation become like black-and-white photography? I don’t think so, though it’s hard to prove. I know it’s different cultures and demographics, but anime is more popular than ever. Your Name made over $350 million worldwide just 3 years ago. And I’ve never heard a kid complain about the animation of Snow White or Pinocchio or The Lion King the way most kids will complain if you try to get them to watch black-and-white classics. So traditional animation doesn’t appear to be “antiquated” in the same way as black-and-white filming.  It’s difficult to put my finger on just what did hold The Princess and the Frog back from becoming the global hit most other Disney princess movies are and I suspect the easy answers aren’t any good. For one thing, traditional animation was floundering for years before The Princess and the Frog. Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range had varying levels of success but I think it’s safe to say that each of them was disappointing in some way (either commercially or critically). Maybe it’s a case of guilt by association. The Princess and the Frog looks like those movies. Tangled is a huge success. Let’s stop making movies that look like the former and emulate the latter. Whatever the case, it’s a shame that The Princess and the Frog isn’t more appreciated or even seen, because it’s quite a film. It’s not on the level of Disney’s very best but I’d place it on that very next tier which is still pretty special.

The film begins with a quick glimpse at the modest but happy childhood of heroine, Tatiana (voiced by Rose), and then we flash forward many years to see her as a hard-working adult in 1920’s New Orleans trying to save up enough money to own a restaurant. Tatiana is black, making her the first black Disney princess (the only one to date), so from the very first minute, before we know if the film is any good, we know it’s important, and we hope that it’s good and worthy. I say Tatiana is a good role model for anyone watching. She doesn’t have time for much fun, as she sings in the film’s best song “Almost There,” but she’s not a shrew either. Then there is Prince Naveen (voiced by Campos), a cad, recently cut off from his parent’s money. He arrives in New Orleans with two choices: get a job or marry someone rich. His rogue heart is set on marrying someone rich. It’s noteworthy to me, and it’s one of my few quibbles with the movie, that Naveen is ethnically ambiguous, which is fine, but I really would have preferred a black prince. There’s some good to be found in portraying love between a mixed couple, certainly, but there are so few positive depictions of black males in the media in general that I believe an opportunity was missed. Anyways, Naveen gets mixed up with a local voodoo practitioner named Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David and it’s a great voice as anyone who’s seen Gargoyles will remember) and ends up a frog. If he doesn’t kiss a princess by a specific time, he’ll remain a frog for the rest of his life. Finding Tatiana at a costume party and mistaking her for a princess thanks to her costume, he convinces her to kiss him, but she winds up a frog as well. The two travel across the bayou looking for Madame Odie (voiced by Lewis), who might be there only chance at changing back.

As the first attempt by Disney to feature black characters in the lead, The Princess and the Frog is open to intense scrutiny. Maybe it suffered a bit from that, but most of what I’ve heard in the form of criticism is nonsense. I recall Paul Mooney complaining that Tatiana spends most of the film’s runtime as a frog. I say who cares, though that’s not much of a counter-argument. Also, there were questions about the Disney princess formula running out of steam. Perhaps The Princess and the Frog is too traditional. It’s classic formula through and through: princess, prince, music, villain, colorful side characters, animals. I love the formula and don’t think the formula will ever truly die. Tangled came out a year later and resurrected it while Frozen put to rest the idea of stopping Disney princess films for good. I don’t know why but The Princess and the Frog failed to surprise people and somehow Tangled and Frozen gave the impression of something completely new, despite all following that same formula. I happen to think The Princess and the Frog is better than Frozen while Tangled is the best of the three. The Princess and the Frog is one of the most beautifully animated films Disney’s ever produced. It has a cast full of great characters including a standout villain, great music by Randy Newman, and a fun story to get you from the opening credits to happily-ever-after. I suppose it will just have to settle for being underrated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(776)

Pensées #10: Christmas Challenge (2019)

I love Christmas and I love Christmas movies. Though there are only a handful of Christmas films that I consider great, binge-watching more than my share of Holiday flicks is my favorite way to anticipate December 25th. Last year, I attempted to watch 25 Christmas movies from the beginning of November to Christmas Day, and, despite a late push, I fell short by 4 films, eagerly awaiting this new holiday season in order to try again. Same mission: 55 days to watch 25 Christmas movies. This time, I am confident I will succeed. Like last year, I hope to have a good mix of classics like Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. with a host of new movies that I haven’t seen yet. Films like Holiday Affair, Joyeux Noel, and We’re No Angels are on the top of my yet-to-see list.  Netflix has really found a niche in lightweight holiday entertainment and a fair percentage of the movies I watched for the first time last year were on their streaming service. That will likely be the case this year as well. I got a quick start this year, watching both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Netflix’s latest Holiday in the Wild yesterday. That’s 2 down, 23 to go.

#1: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Image result for the nightmare before christmas1993, Directed by Henry Selick

(9-Great Film)

I opened with this film last year. Availability is partly the reason but it’s also obviously appropriate for both Halloween and Christmas. For people like me who like to start Christmas season entirely too early, the Nightmare Before Christmas is perfect for transitioning. It’s also just a wonderful movie. Technically stunning, if you’ve watched it enough times, you might find it interesting to really absorb the visuals frame by frame to consider what exactly the filmmakers had to do to achieve just that one shot. Then consider the seamless movement of the figures. Then the indelible soundtrack. Finally, the story. Jack Skeleton (voiced by Danny Elfman when singing and Chris Sarandon otherwise) reigns over Halloweentown, suffocated by his peers’ admiration and respect. He’s bored with his position in life. Having something close to a midlife crisis, he discovers a world outside Halloweentown which includes Christmastown, leaving Jack instantly smitten. Jack decides he wants to try his hand at being Santa which results in Christmas turmoil before he realizes to appreciate who he is and to be himself.

#2: Holiday in the Wild

Image result for holiday in the wild

2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash

(5-Okay Film)

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-