Lorenzo (2004, Directed by Mike Gabriel) English 7

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(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Entertaining. Slight.

A pompous, over-fed cat gets his due once a shabby stray puts a hex on him, or rather, his large, luxurious tail which then comes alive to torment its owner. Perhaps inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” the cat’s tail refuses to stop dancing, leading to some desperate acts and crazy situations, all in tune to its tango soundtrack. It’s an inspired piece of film-making, with incredible hand-drawn animation, aided by some computer wizardry. Beautifully expressionistic work recalling Disney’s masterpiece, Fantasia.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(797)

Just Friends (2005, Directed by Roger Kumble) English 5

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris, Chris Klein, Julie Hagerty,  Chris Marquette, Stephen Root

(5-Okay Film)

Decent. Jocular. Juvenile.

An obnoxious comedy about a former fat teenager, Chris Bander (Reynolds), who returns to his hometown a successful music producer and seeks romance/ revenge on the girl, Jamie (Smart), who kept him in the friend zone all through high school. It’s hard to be juvenile and romantic, and so this film settles for being a mediocre rom-com with a few better moments. Very derivative; almost a lightweight There’s Something About Mary.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(795)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, Directed by Mario Bava) English 5

Starring Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Lea Lander, Arianna Gorini, Dante DiPaolo

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(5-Okay Film)

Gruesome. Skilled. Disjointed.

A killer in a blank mask. A damsel in distress. I’ve seen enough of these films to know that no one is coming to save her. She’ll die. Much of the director, Mario Bava’s, skill lies in how creatively and artfully he kills off his cast (primarily women from what I’ve seen). By the way, that wasn’t just one scene from Blood and Black Lace that I was describing. That’s about six or seven consecutive scenes. That’s the whole movie, and it would become so influential that it spawned dozens of like-minded pictures to the point that these films became their own sub-genre (specific to Italian cinema) known as Giallo films.

  I’ve seen about a dozen now of varying quality and there are certain details that you find in most, if not all of them. Large cast of female characters. This one isn’t true of all Giallo films but it’s true of some of the best I’ve seen (Suspiria, What Have You Done to Solange, Phenomena). You find this a lot in American horror films as well and I don’t think it’s a matter of pure misogyny. I’ve always defended horror films on this matter. I think a woman (or a child) in peril is simply more terrifying than a grown man, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. The gratuitous nudity in American horror films is a different matter but I haven’t noticed any of that in the Giallo pictures I’ve seen, although the women characters are always gorgeous, regardless of the setting. Another common characteristic is the whodunnit, killer in a mask aspect of all these movies. It’s a gruesome shift from the friendly, witty whodunnit pictures of classic Hollywood that were entertaining but devoid of any malice or horror. Also, Giallo films all emphasize color. Lush, over-saturated color. Even the ones from the ’60s when most films were still using black and white. They all seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses too. Though they may differ in overall quality, all of these films eschew witty dialogue, character development, plot logic, and believable acting in favor of fluid camera movement, mise en scène, set pieces, lighting, and gore. Mario Bava and Dario Argento are masters of the latter crafts. 

Blood and Black Lace features an ensemble cast of beautiful women and creepy looking men all working at a fashion house in…Italy, I suppose. The top-billed character, played by Eva Bartok, is named Countess Christina Como, but then the rest of the characters are Nicole, Peggy, and Greta so I don’t know. I’ll have to pay more attention to the location next time. In any case, one of the girls is killed, and everyone working there is a suspect. Everyone working there is in danger for that matter. You can’t have a slasher film (which Giallo films ushered in) and have only one victim. The majority of Blood and Black Lace is extended scenes of random female characters (all the characters feel random with the complete disregard for development) being killed off. If there’s a plot, it wasn’t understood by me, and the final act, rather than upping the ante, simmers down to a dull rather unsatisfying conclusion. The dialogue and acting are unsurprisingly asinine, and the previously mentioned, generously deemed ensemble acting is actually just an exercise in episodic horror that amounts to an awfully disjointed whole. What stands out and what’s positive about Blood and Black Lace is the visual elements. The killer’s mask, the elegant camera movement, the command of space. Bava is great and he’s done better than this film. What I appreciate most about Blood and Black Lace is the obvious influence it had on much better pictures. As an early example of the Giallo film, it seemed to spark something deeply appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(794)

Shadow (2018, Directed by Zhang Yimou) Mandarin 6

Starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Wang Qianyuan, Leo Wu, Wang Jingchun

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(6- Good Film)

Stylized. Spare. Arresting.

Director, Zhang Yimou, is a prolific storyteller and consummate showman. A filmmaker with countless classics in his filmography. His newest film, Shadow, is reminiscent of two of his very best, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, in its colorful use of ancient Chinese history blended together with almost comic book visuals and stylized action. Deng Chao stars as Jingzhou, a servant who looks exactly like his master, Commander Ziyu, and has assumed his identity for a time while the Commander heals. The Commander, loyal to the kingdom of Pei, lost a one-on-one battle with the powerful Yang Cang, leader of the rival kingdom. The intrigue runs deep but not deep enough for me, a devoted fan of The Prisoner of Zenda and even Yimou’s own Hero. Shadow hints at a great many directions but never fully follows through on them. For example, the illicit romance between Jingzhou and his master’s wife, Xiao Ai (Li), is unsatisfying. The secrets aren’t really that secret, it turns out, and this historical epic isn’t that epic. Shadow eventually resembles more the old Hollywood cloak and dagger pictures than the historical epics and fantasy romances I hoped it would be. On the positive side, Yimou’s black and white color design is remarkable and the final battle sequence is stellar.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(793)

Klaus (2019, Directed by Sergio Pablos) English 7

Voices of Jason Schwartzman, J.K Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, Norm MacDonald

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(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Offbeat. Winning.

Young, rich, entitled Jesper (Schwartzman) is given an ultimatum: post 6,000 letters in a year or face being cut off from his inheritance. His family owns the postal business, so working as a mailman in a miserable, remote island of Smeerensburg is a real come down. Finding, on arrival, a town torn by family feuds, Jesper doesn’t see any chance of hitting that 6,000 letter-mark until meeting a mysterious toymaker named Klaus (Simmons) who gives Jesper an idea to turn things around. Fresh take on the Santa Claus myth, Klaus tells a good story and compliments it with unique, well-crafted animation. It may seem an odd complaint but it lacks what I would describe as the Christmas spirit for most of the film. For the majority of its run time, we see everything through Jesper’s jaded eyes and Christmas is seen as a commercial opportunity. It’s not until the very end that Klaus really brings it home.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(792)

Crossroads (2002, Directed by Tamra Davis) English 3

Starring Britney Spears, Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Cattrall, Anson Mount, Justin Long

(3-Horrible Film)

Awkward. Clichéd. Poor.

Three teenage girls and a brooding older guy take a soul searching road trip across the deep south. Meant to be a dramatic vehicle for pop star Britney Spears, the film is just way too much. There are plenty of clichés, but worse still, they’re lifetime channel clichés; date-rape, cheating boyfriends, pregnant teens, distant mothers, a girl’s first time. It alternates between laughable and hard to watch. That being said, the film is much better than fellow pop star, Mariah Carey’s debut Glitter (2001), and that does count for something.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(791)

Monsters Inc. (2001, Directed by Pete Docter) English 9

Voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Frank Oz

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(9-Great Film)

Endearing. Cute. Attractive.

In the city of Monstropolis, monsters can live freely away from the terror human beings can inflict. Two monsters and best friends for life, Sully (Goodman) and Mike (Crystal), work as “scarers,” monsters whose job it is to get human children to scream which fuels their city. Soon the two buddies get caught up in a plan that sees an infant girl kidnapped and set about returning her to her home. Endlessly creative and inspired family comedy. Represents what makes Pixar king when it comes to animation. Funny and endearing, with top-notch voice acting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(790)