Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971, Directed by Dario Argento) English Okay Film

Starring Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Bud Spencer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Oreste Lionello, Aldo Bufi Landi

(Okay Film)

The leader of a Rock and Roll band, Roberto (Brandon), angrily confronts a stalker one night and accidentally kills the man. When a psychotic, masked witness to the scene shows up to torment him, Roberto’s sure he’s been set up but to prove it, he’ll have to discover the identity of his tormentor. Within the broad strokes of this film is some of what would later prove to be greatness in its director, Dario Argento. He’s masterful at using setting and space to set the scene. The way he moves the camera is beautiful. Logic, character motivation, and acting don’t seem to matter to him. Four Flies on Grey Velvet, one of his earlier works, fails to scare up any excitement or intrigue mainly because the lead character is so bland and the two interesting characters, played by Mimsy Farmer and Jean-Pierre Marielle, drift in and out of the picture so indiscriminately. The killer’s mask becomes the star. The final result is a weak picture with some redeeming qualities.

-Walter Tyrone Howard

-15-

Pinky (1949, Directed by Elia Kazan) English Okay Film

Starring Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan, Kenny Washington

(Okay Film)

Born to a poor black family in the deep south, Pinky Johnson (Crain) grows up pale enough to pass for a white woman. She moves to the North, studies, becomes a nurse, and gets engaged to a young doctor. Returning home to visit her grandmother, Dicey (Waters), Pinky’s confronted with all manners of injustice and bigotry. Knowing that she could walk away from it all-return North-at any time proves to be a crisis of identity for Pinky. Dealing with a most serious subject at a time when the majority of people were not ever going to be receptive makes Pinky something of a noble cause. Racism and the idea of “passing” is handled well, but at the center of the film is its biggest problem. Rather than cast Lena Horne or another light-skinned black actress of the time, the studio forced the director, Elia Kazan, to hire a white actress for the role. It undermines the film and blunts much of its sharpness. Crain lacks the righteous anger that the role calls for and instead looks perpetually apathetic. It’s still a compelling drama but not the heavyweight its material had the potential for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-14-

The Ghost Breakers (1940, Directed by George Marshall) English Good Film

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Willie Best, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Tom Dugan, Paul Lukas, Pedro de Cordoba, Noble Johnson

(Good Film)

Capitalizing on the success of their previous horror-comedy collaboration, The Cat and the Canary, one of my favorites, Paulette Godard and Bob Hope team up again in The Ghost Breakers. Goddard plays an heiress warned to stay away from her land in Cuba which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves and voodoo zombies. Hope, in a rare turn as the shining knight, shows up with problems of his own at just the right time to help her get to the bottom of her mysterious inheritance. Equal parts horror and comedy as all great mashups should be, The Ghost Breakers is a blast as all of Bob Hope’s best films are. A little confusing at times with an abundance of misdirection, the plot becomes slightly irrelevant the deeper into the picture we get, but the stars work well together and the set pieces-chiefly the climactic journey through her inherited mansion- are fantastic. Check out the Hollywood zombie circa 1940. Not bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-13-

Crippled Avengers (1978, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin Good Film

Starring Feng Lu, Chen Kuan-tai, Philip Kwok, Lo Mang, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Wang Lung-wei

(Good Film)

Embittered by the slaying of his wife and maiming of his young son, a local leader, Chu Twin, becomes an unjust tyrant even after killing those responsible. Four strangers to the village fall victim to his wrath and are crippled as a result. One is blinded, one loses his legs, another is made deaf, and a fourth is rendered mentally challenged. Under the tutelage of an old master, the four team up and train for their revenge. This story is not as compelling as other films by this incredible team known as the Venom Mob. Their films Five Deadly Venoms, Five Elements Ninjas, and Kid with the Golden Arm are far superior. Crippled Avengers is mostly a showcase for their spectacular athletic ability and acrobatics. As such, it’s entertaining and worthwhile if not essential. The villains aren’t despicable enough and there’s no plot intrigue as in the previously mentioned films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-12-

Death on the Nile (2022, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English Okay Film

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Jennifer Saunders, Emma Mackey

(Okay Film)

Adapted from one of Agatha Christie’s best novels, Death on the Nile is her famed creation, Hercule Poirot’s, finest hour in my estimation. Aboard a river boat along the Nile, the detective (played by Branagh for the second time) is drawn in to a murder plot involving a woman who seems to have everything, Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot), her new husband (Hammer), and his jilted lover (Mackey). Like his previous adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh’s work is flashy, old-fashioned, enjoyable, but crippled by familiarity. I’ve read the novel, I’ve seen the 1978 version, I know whodunit. A great adaptation can overcome this. Branagh’s film doesn’t. Outside of his likable performance as Poirot and the Otterbournes (Wright, Okonedo), the gallery of supporting characters don’t make much of an impression. Neither does the location which was Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express’ greatest strength. I look forward to more outings from Branagh as Poirot but so far, there’s nothing essential about these films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-11-

Turning Red (2022, Directed by Domee Shi) English Okay Film

Voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hye-In Park, James Hong, Wai Ching Ho

(Okay Film)

Meilin Lee is a 13-year-old girl in Toronto (2002) with a lot of personality. This sometimes puts her at odds with her strict mother who, for example, sees Meilin’s favorite boy-band, 4 Town, as “gyrating music.” Going through changes is par for the course with puberty, but Meilin soon discovers the extra burden of transforming into a giant red panda whenever she gets emotional. Turning Red has a lovely, hybrid (maybe a cross between 3-D animation and Japanese hand-drawn) art style and a charming, frenetic energy in its storytelling. The red panda is the obvious draw here and its as cute and cuddly as advertised. The music by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell is catchy and serves its purpose perfectly. What’s missing, whether the cast and crew or angry fans on Twitter want to acknowledge it, is any originality in its themes or depth. This film is apparently almost expressly made by a female creative team and yet they’ve told the exact same story as Brave (2012). A maturing daughter rebels against her domineering mother resulting in the mother transforming into a colossal beast before they both realize how much they love each other and compromise. Turning Red is not unique beyond its style, it’s humorous but never funny, and it’s very obvious in its storytelling. It coasts on its cuteness. Telling a story about a different culture or about women or girls isn’t what makes a movie limiting. Being mediocre makes this movie limiting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-10-

India Sweets and Spices (2021, Directed by Geeta Malik) English Okay Film

Starring Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Rish Shah, Adil Hussain, Anita Kalathara, Deepti Gupta

(Okay Film)

Returning home to her affluent neighborhood and family in New Jersey, UCLA student, Ali Kapur (Ali), meets a handsome, working-class boy, Varun, and finds a host of family secrets among the classist society she grew up in. India Sweets and Spices is not the wise family-drama you might expect from its material. Nor is it really a comedy-of-manners. Honestly, it’s mostly a Lifetime movie, but that isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable, at times, or engaging, at times. The acting is strong and I’m not above shameless melodrama, but I did hope for more. Not a very thoughtful movie, it will likely be best appreciated in terms of its feminist-edge and solid female characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-9-

West Side Story (2021, Directed by Steven Spielberg) English Good Film

Starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana Debose, Mike Faist, David Alvarez, Corey Stoll, Rita Moreno, Brian d’Arcy James

(Good Film)

In 1950s New York, the Sharks and the Jets are constantly at war with each other. Why? Because they look different from one another; the Jets being lower-class whites and the Sharks poor immigrants from Puerto Rico. Tony (Elgort) is the leader of the Jets, or he was once, but after a stint in prison, he’s just trying to keep his head above water. When he meets Maria (Zegler), sister to the leader of the Sharks, they fall in love, and what was petty strife quickly becomes tragic à la Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story is an iconic musical and my first question was why remake a classic. Spielberg proved me wrong on that count. This West Side story might not match the stature of the 1961 film, yet, in many ways, it improves upon it. The Spanish-speaking cast truly make a difference and Spielberg proves a natural in his first attempt at a musical. West Side Story (2021) somehow manages some grit and authenticity to go with the more traditional artificial stylings of classic movie musicals. The dancing is great, the sweeping camera movements, performances, set pieces are all great. All in all, I’d call Spielberg’s West Side Story a rousing success, despite disappointing at the box-office. My issues with this film apply to every version of the hit play and its adaptations. It’s long, it feels long, and not every song is enjoyable. Some songs like “Maria” thrill me and others like “Gee, Officer Krupke” have me checking my watch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-8-

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005, Directed by Rob Marshall) English Good Film

Starring Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe, Kaori Momoi, Mako, Youki Kudoh, Kōji Hashimoto

(Good Film)

At the end of the 1920s, a young Japanese girl, Chiyo, with unique eyes begins working in a geisha house where the work is hard and jealousy abounds. As she grows up and Japan enters into World War, Chiyo (Ziyi) becomes one of the most desired geishas in the area but never gives up her dream of being with a kind older gentleman, the Chairman (Watanabe), she met as a child. Doomed to unfair criticism by casting controversy-the three leads are Chinese-Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful escapist fantasy provided you understand that this is what it’s aiming for. It’s not a gritty, realistic look at the hardships these women faced during that era. It’s a glossy, sumptuous fairy-tale and the director, Rob Marshall, excels. Those looking for weightier themes may want to look elsewhere, but those who can accept beauty as a theme and happiness as an ending will be glad to lose themselves in the world of Chiyo. As for the casting controversy, I believe that it was only an issue because the three Chinese women are so famous, so recognizable that for some, it may be a distraction.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-7-

The Batman (2022, Directed by Matt Reeves) English Good Film

Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Jayme Lawson

(Good Film)

A new decade. A new Batman. Robert Pattinson, picking up the mantle cast aside by Ben Affleck, plays the character with relentless solemnity. Over the years, it seems whenever a new incarnation of the character hits big screens, the focus has been to make it darker each time. That trend continues here. Tracking a masked maniac known as the Riddler (Dano) who’s killing off corrupt officials, Batman teams with Selina Kyle (Kravitz) and James Gordon (Wright) to unravel the plot. Involved somehow are the powerful underworld figures of Carmine Falcone (Turturro) and rising gangster, Oswald Cobblepot (Farrell). The Batman is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. Its atmosphere, visuals, and mood are first-rate and make any problems I have with, what should be, key components of the film (acting, story-telling) seem like mere quibbles. This is a mood piece, a comic strip passed through a grunge factory, a visual tour-de-force and the performances that work for me-the majority of the cast-blend right in with ambience of the film as a whole. I, however, was not impressed with Paul Dano’s ostentatious performance as The Riddler, seeing it as too broad and unsurprising. The Batman loses something because of it. Happily, the rest of the cast fill their roles nicely, and the movie is triumph of visual story-telling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-6-