Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Directed by George Miller) English 9

Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Hugh Keays-Byrne

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(9-Great Film)

Hyperkinetic. Visionary. Exciting.

Mad Max returns after several decades hiatus, this time with Tom Hardy taking over from a Mel Gibson, who at this point was still very much in the doghouse. Max reluctantly joins Furiosa (Theron), who’s helping a group of women escape their lives as concubines to cult of personality, Immortan Joe. Paced and filmed like a comic book, or perhaps like an old road runner cartoon, Fury Road is a complete original. I love every Mad Max film, even Thunderdome, and this is one of the best. I will always wish that Mel Gibson was in this, but Tom Hardy fills in admirably. Theron and the horde of strong women are the real stars though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(163)

Mortal Engines (2018, Directed by Christian Rivers) English 6

Starring Robert Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

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(6-Good Film)

Uninspired. Entertaining. Solid.

Alas, this is not a live-action remake of Howl’s Moving Castle, but, thankfully, it’s not a complete waste of time as I once feared either. In fact, I was reasonably entertained for most of the film. Mortal Engines, based on a YA science fiction novel, is set in a post-apocalyptic, steam punk world, where cities have been motorized. The two main characters are thrust together once Tom (Sheehan), a bright young historian, living in mechanized London, stops Hester Shaw (a mysterious young girl on a mission of revenge) from assassinating Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving), something of a leader in this new world. The plot is a bit simple and easy to drift off from, but the special effects are solid and the actors are solid. There’s nothing exceptional about the film, but nothing terrible either. I enjoyed it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(153)

Ocean’s 11 (2001, Directed by Steven Soderbergh) English 8

Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, Elliout Gould

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Cool. Witty. Clever.

A remake that’s better than the original, Ocean’s 11 stars George Clooney as the recently paroled, Danny Ocean. Far from reformed, he plans his biggest heist yet with the help of his partner, Rusty (Pitt), and 9 other specialists to take down a Las Vegas casino, but it’s not just about the money this time. The slick, ruthless owner of the casino, Terry Benedict (Garcia), is dating Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Roberts). The whole film, heist included, works like gangbusters, and all the words that have become hackneyed in describing a crime flick-slick, stylish, etc.-are apt here. The dialogue in particular is excellent; snappy, humorous. The villain, as played by Garcia, is a worthy adversary, something missing from Ocean’s 8, and raises the stakes and the suspense of the operation. In a film like this, there’s not going to be much character development, so heavy star power is needed. Clooney effortlessly pulls off the detached coolness.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(152)

The Babadook (2014, Directed by Jennifer Kent) English 6

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Benjamin Winspear

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(6-Good Film)

Psychological. Strong. Spare.

Acclaimed by critics, I found The Babadook exceptionally tame. A widow, Amelia (Davis), seems at the end of her rope raising her bizarre six-year-old son, Samuel (Wiseman), by herself. Samuel is obsessed with monsters, and one in particular, The Babadook, but soon Amelia starts seeing The Babadook too, and Samuel’s the one afraid. What stands out are the tremendous lead performances by mother and son. They run the full scale of emotion in this film as their characters devolve, and play each note convincingly. I was less impressed by The Babadook itself. This isn’t meant to be a horror franchise, and as such, the film’s monster wasn’t supposed to be this unforgettable icon of horror. The Babadook lives in the shadows, and stays in the shadows, but I can’t put my finger on any subtext needed to make this horror classic. The story at its most horrific parallels a son watching his mother deal with mental illness.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(151)

 

Gone to Earth (1950, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 6

Starring Jennifer Jones, Cyril Cusack, David Farrar, George Cole, Hugh Griffith, Esmond Knight

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(6-Good Film)

Picturesque. Melodramatic. Illusory.

Typical of filmmaker pair, Powell and Pressburger’s, work, Gone to Earth is a stunning film. Set in the English countryside, where wild and naive, Hazel (Jones), is pursued by two very different men, brutish Jack Reddin (Farrar) and kind, Baptist minister, Edward Marston (Cusack), Gone to Earth fails, however, to reach the greatness of many of the their pictures. It’s too simple ultimately, though their mastery of craft is largely on display, and it has this wonderful dreamlike quality found in certain special films from the 1950s (Pandora and the Flying Dutchmen for example).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(147)

 

Notorious (1946, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 6

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Konstantin, Louis Calhern

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(6-Good Film)

Austere. Lean. Impressive.

One of the great Hitchcock’s more revered pictures, Notorious, in my opinion, is far from his best. It’s the kind of film that is more interesting than entertaining, which critics tend to love because there’s so much to write about or theorize. That’s not to say that Notorious doesn’t have much to admire. Every aspect of the filmmaking is admirably done. Ingrid Bergman is luminous as Alicia, a notorious woman (which reading between the lines means she’s a call-girl) in love with an agent, Devlin (Grant in a rare humorless role is excellent), who’s seemingly only interested in using her to get close to fugitive Nazi, Alexander Sebastian (Rains). With very few side characters and a slim plot for an espionage film, Notorious is really about a sort of warped love triangle. As such, it’s impeccably made and acted by the three leads, with a number of memorable directorial flourishes from the master of suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(146)

 

Late Autumn (1960, Directed by Yasujir┼Ź Ozu) Japanese 5

Starring Setsuko Hara, Yoko Tsukasa, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, Shin Saburi, Miyuki Kuwano

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(5-Okay Film)

Bright. Vibrant. Dull.

One of lauded Japanese director Ozu’s color films, Late Autumn chronicles three male friends still carrying a torch for their college crush, Akiko (Hara), now widowed. Unable to pursue a relationship with her, they turn their attention to helping her beautiful daughter find a husband. It’s a lovely story with gorgeous imagery full of warm, loving characters. To this point, however, of what I’ve seen, I haven’t responded to any of Ozu’s films. I haven’t swayed for a second in either direction away from cold neutral. His style keeps me at a distance, and eventually makes for dull proceedings. I’ll continue watching some of his essentials, and maybe something will click.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(141)