All About Eve (1950, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) English 10

Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders. Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe, George Merrill, Gregory Ratoff

ALL ABOUT EVE: Life Imitating Art

(10-Masterpiece)

Sardonic. Intelligent. Classic.

Margo: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, is a bonafide star of the theater- perhaps its biggest star-but Margo is getting older (past forty), and life for an actress after forty looks pretty bleak to her. Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, is an ambitious, young nothing hoping to have center stage for herself. She works her way into Margo’s inner circle, affecting modesty and innocence, but she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, longing all the time to take Margo’s place. The crisscrossing stories of Margo and Eve’s careers make for a classic satire, one that seems like it could be as much about Hollywood as it is about theater. All About Eve’s also a stirring melodrama, beautifully written, beautifully performed, with a handful of classic characters. Bette Davis is a force of nature, Baxter’s breathy manner of speaking serves her pretentious, insincere character well, and George Sanders’ voice and demeanor almost single-handedly give the film it’s indelible, sardonic tone.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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He Got Game (1998, Directed by Spike Lee) English 8

Starring Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, John Turturro, Jim Brown, Bill Nunn, Ned Beatty, Lonette McKee, Leonard Roberts, Jennifer Esposito

He Got Game (1998)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Stirring. Messy. Bold.

Jake Shuttlesworth: I pray you understand why I pushed you so hard! It was only to get you to that next level, Son. I mean, you’s the first Shuttlesworth that’s ever gonna make it out of these projects, and I was the one who who put the ball in your hand, Son! I put the ball in your crib!

There’s a lot more to it, but at its heart, He Got Game is about a father who pushes his son too hard. There have been countless versions of this story. It’s potent material. He Got Game is one of the more moving examples. Denzel plays Jake Shuttlesworth, a convict given a week’s chance to convince his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (future NBA star, Allen), the nation’s top high school prospect, to play basketball at the governor’s alma mater. Despite the implausibilty of this scenario and the apparent unrealistic moments involving college recruiting, this movie hits home. I think it’s because character is more important than plot, and Jake is one of Denzel’s finest; as flawed as he is charismatic. The final duel between father and son is powerful, and I even enjoyed the grandiose fantastical touches to end the film. Like several great filmmakers that I admire, Lee doesn’t care much for subtlety. With him, it’s bold stories told boldly. He Got Game reminds me of the flamboyant melodramas of the ’50s. I happen to love those films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Vera Cruz (1954, Directed by Robert Aldrich) English 8

Starring Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Sara Montiel, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, George Macready, Morris Ankrum, Jack Elam

The Ace Black Movie Blog: Movie Review: Vera Cruz (1954)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Violent. Exciting. Compelling.

Benjamin Trane: You just can’t do enough for me, can yuh, Joe?

Joe Erin: Why not? You’re the first friend I ever had.

Friends, indeed. Much of the underlying drama in Vera Cruz centers around this so-called friendship. Ben Trane’s (Cooper) older, seems wiser and less violent, but that doesn’t stop him from being mercenary when he can. He’s an ex-confederate soldier trying to start again below the border, during the Franco-Mexican War. His new partner, Joe Erin (Lancaster), has been there longer and built up a reputation as the most lethal crook around. They’re hired by Emperor Maximilian (Macready) himself to escort the beautiful-and treacherous-Countess Marie (Darcel) to Vera Cruz. There’s a good deal of plot in this film for a western and a number of relationships. The two male stars’ is the most interesting. The relationships between the stars and their love interests aren’t hard to figure out and their outcomes are more or less predictable. Trane and Erin’s relationship is more tenuous and I, for one, wasn’t sure how it would shake out. Vera Cruz, though slight in running time, feels like a great big western. Expansive setting, a large cast of characters, an abundance of plot, as mentioned. Despite finding Cooper unimpressive and rather stiff in westerns, he gets the job done here, and Lancaster wasn’t afraid to put his star power on the line to play crazed characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Mank (2020, Directed by David Fincher) English 8

Starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard, Charles Dance, Tom Burke, Bill Nye, Tom Pelphrey

Lost In Film on Twitter: "'Mank' (2020, David Fincher). Cinematography:  Erik Messerschmidt.… "

(8-Exceptional Film)

Fascinating. Splendid. Enigmatic.

Herman Mankiewicz: You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.

What impression are we left with of Herman Mankiewicz’s life? He’s a drunkard, it seems, first and foremost; reckless. He’s also brave and full of integrity as played by Gary Oldman in David Fincher’s new movie. A Hollywood hand during the Golden Age, Mank lived in the background rewriting other people’s scripts and never getting credit for it. As this film begins, the Golden Age has passed and Mank’s burnt out. He accepts a deal writing a script for newcomer, boy wonder, Orson Welles, a script that would eventually become the great Citizen Kane. I wonder about a lot of things with this movie. For one, how enjoyable is it if you don’t know these people (Thalberg, Mayer, Hecht, etc.) and this setting (Hollywood’s studio era)? I have a passable knowledge of these things and, perhaps as a result, I found this film fascinating, but it’s one that risks alienating its audience, not just because it’s so specific, but also because I’m not sure yet if it has a point. What’s it saying if it’s saying anything? There’s hints of betrayal but it’s a paltry betrayal if that. There’s moments in the narrative when Mank is asked to sell out, but he never does and it never seems to be any kind of temptation to him either. There’s no conflict that I can put my finger on and single out, but I’ll take this film at face value. It’s a technically astounding, enriching piece of history; an important backstory that often gets treated as a side note if remembered at all.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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In a Lonely Place (1950, Directed by Nicholas Ray) English 9

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Jeff Donnell, Martha Stewart, Steven Geray

Gloria Grahame, Humphrey Bogart - In a Lonely Place (1950) | Gloria  grahame, Film noir, Film

(9-Great Film)

Brusque. Neurotic. Fierce.

Dixon Steele: I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Film director, Nicholas Ray, had his own style of Hollywood melodrama. His best known movies- Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, and In a Lonely Place-feature characters whose struggles are psychological more than anything else. The conflict is inside, which gives the films weight and drama worthy of Greek tragedy. Wasn’t it the tragic hero that is ultimately doomed by his own weaknesses? If so, Dixon Steele (Bogart) is such a character. An intelligent man with wealth, charisma, and some influence in the Hollywood film industry where he works as a scriptwriter, Steele is attractive to any number of women. He falls for his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Grahame), who reciprocates. When he becomes the lead suspect in a grisly murder of a young secretary, she believes his sardonic assurance that he had nothing to do with it. Eventually, and all-too-frequently, his violent temper pops up, leading her to question her faith in him. In a Lonely Place is a classic noir, efficiently told and paced, beautifully acted and directed from an eloquent, razor-sharp script.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Scream 4 (2011, Directed by Wes Craven) English 7

Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell, Alison Brie, Marley Shelton, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale, Britt Robertson

Classic Craven With A Twist: Scream 4 — Talk Film Society

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Clever. Worn.

The Voice: This isn’t a comedy, it’s a horror film. People live, people die and you’d better start running.

Scream returns! A little older, slightly tired. Like most horror sequels, Scream 4 pales in comparison with the original. But Scream is a superior horror franchise and Scream 4, especially compared to the fourth entry in most series, is still pretty good. The freshness is gone, and most of the surprise has dissipated, but the cleverness is still there. Sydney Prescott (Campbell), the series’ final girl, returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, where it all started. Naturally, some new psycho rises up to don the mantle of Ghostface and wreaks havoc on the town’s teenagers. The first film spoofed horror films, the second one spoofed sequels, skip the third film, and then the fourth film spoofed internet culture and fandom. Best of all, Scream 4 gave Wes Craven one last chance to show his flair for horror and gruesome thrills.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947, Directed by Roy Del Ruth) English 8

Starring Victor Moore, Charlie Ruggles, Don Defore, Ann Harding, Gale Storm, Edward Brophy, Alan Hale Jr.

Top Holiday Picks: It Happened on 5th Avenue

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wonderful. Charming. Classic.

Aloysius T. McKeever: And I would like to feel that you’re all my friends. For to be without friends is a serious form of poverty.

Wise words from Mr. McKeever (Moore), a wanton leech and scoundrel. He wanders through life, sneaking in and out of mansions while their owners are away on vacation. This Christmas season, he’s staying in the home of Michael J. O’Conner (Ruggles), the second richest man on Earth. Gradually, other people join Mr. McKeever in the house: principled Jim Bullock (Defore), O’Connor’s daughter, Trudy (Storm), who’s fallen for Jim, Mr. O’Connor himself, as a favor to his daughter, and Mary (Harding), O’Connor’s estranged wife. This is a really wonderful movie that takes its zany, promising setup in a number of surprising directions. Victor Moore is called on to be both comedic scoundrel and Christmas angel all at once. He achieves this effortlessly. Though light on actual Christmas content, It Happened on 5th Avenue is still regularly described as a Christmas classic. Really, it’s a comedy for all seasons.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Godmothered (2020, Directed by Sharon Maguire) English 6

Starring Isla Fisher, Jillian Bell, Jane Curtin, June Squibb, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Santiago Cabrera, Stephnie Weir, Utkarsh Ambudkar

Godmothered Trailer Looks Like A Spiritual Successor To Enchanted

(6-Good Film)

Pleasant. Amusing. Satisfying.

Tagline: Be careful who you wish for.

Inspired (quite conspicuously) by Disney’s earlier hit, Enchanted, and Will Ferrell’s Elf, Godmothered attempts to put a similarly modern touch on the classic Princess fairy tale formula. Jillian Bell plays Eleanor, a fairy godmother-in-training. Belief in magic has greatly diminished in recent years and the fairy godmothers aren’t doing too well. They’re running out of business and appear destined to close shop and restart as tooth fairies. Eleanor runs away on a last ditch effort to save fairy godmothers by helping a widowed mother, Mackenzie (Fisher), find her happily-ever-after. Godmothered has a solid foundation of sweetness and goodwill to carry it along. The cast is full of charming people. It’s a lovely, colorful film, but it’s light on laughs and fairly conventional even with its modern touches and ideas on relationships (again, because it’s so much like Elf). Ultimately, though, this is a nice movie and an enjoyable one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Babylon (1980, Directed by Franco Rosso) English/ Patois 7

Starring Brinsley Forde, Karl Howman, Trevor Laird, Archie Pool, Mel Smith, Brian Bovell, David N. Haynes

Babylon (1980) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

(7-Very Good Film)

Gritty. Compelling. Foreign.

Alan: You got too much of this.
[mouth]
Blue: Yeah?
Alan: Yeah.
Alan: Especially for a coon. I don’t like moneys who get too clever in my garage.

South London, 1980. A group of young men from immigrant backgrounds live and go about their days as their xenophobic neighbors tell them to get lost. Blue (Forde), their leader, chases his dream of being a reggae DJ while working a menial job at a repair shop. He, along with his group of friends, is about to be pushed to the limit. Babylon unfolds naturally and even though the course of the story follows along the same lines as popular melodrama, it always feels real; authentic. I suppose that’s in part because of the non-professional but excellent performances. It’s also a triumph of direction and writing. This is a fascinatingly foreign culture and setting to me and Babylon captures it well. If the film leads to a familiar conclusion, on the strength of the storytelling, I’d call it inevitable rather than predictable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Underground (1995, Directed by Emir Kusturica) Serbian 6

Starring Miki Manojlović, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Joković, Slavko Štimac, Ernst Stötzner, Srđan Todorović 

Underground (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Bawdy. Irreverant.

Marko: A war is no war until the brother kills his brother.

I’m afraid I was never taught about the Yugoslav war that resulted in six seperate countries rather than one large one. I’ve also never thought about or heard of World War II’s affect on those slavic states. Underground, a massive film, by revered Serbian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica, spans five decades and covers both world changing events, and I still have very little understanding of either. Underground follows two seemingly degenerate friends, Blacky and Marko, from the ’40s where they lead a resistance movement against the Nazis occupying Serbia, through the Cold War, and, finally, to the 90s where civil war breaks out while the men are still dealing with the trauma from decades earlier. With its broad, irreverent humor, Underground moves fast for such a long film and is never boring. At the same time, and how much a lack of background knowledge affected my experience, I couldn’t say, this film never strikes me as very insightful or poignant. Perhaps it was content to reflect the overwhelming madness of it all, and on that score, I think it succeeds.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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