Werewolf By Night (2022)-Okay

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Leonardo Nam, Kirk R. Thatcher, Daniel J. Watts

Directed by Michael Giacchino

Ulysses Bloodstone, legendary monster hunter and leader of an international band of monster hunters, has died. To determine his successor, his widow hosts a dangerous competition between 5 candidates and his estranged daughter to see who can track down and slay a mystery monster. Jack Russell (Garcia Bernal) is one of these candidates, but, as the film’s title suggests, he’s also a monster himself.

I’m not completely sure what to make of this…film? With 50 minutes of runtime, naturally, there’s not going to be much of it wasted on context or character development. Why, for example, do the monster hunters need a leader? Why is Jack Russell a part of this group in the first place? I don’t entirely see the point of Werewolf By Night being 50 minutes long. Why not just make a full-fledged film? The premise of a host of characters participating in a dangerous hunt is nothing new but still promising. This film completely undermines it immediately though by revealing that its protagonist has no interest in winning. The plot shifts gears more times than a full-length feature but never in a way that’s surprising. I would have been happier if it had just gone through the motions of a “The Most Dangerous Game” type film. As it is, the characters will likely return for better fare than this, so Werewolf By Night, it seems, is meant to be an appetizer. It plays more like a bonus feature than a fully satisfying short film. The visual style is attractive and responsible for the majority of any interest I did have. The other elements: undercooked.


Viy 2: Journey to China (2019, Directed by Oleg Stepchenko) English Bad Film

Starring Jason Flemyng, Xingtong Yao, Anna Churina, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Dance, Rutger Hauer

(Bad Film)

Three disparate men, a Chinese master (Chan), a Russian in an iron mask (Kolokolnikov), and an old westerner, lie locked up in the Tower of London under the thumb of its warden, the bullish James Hook (Schwarzenegger), who ensures that no one ever gets out, but the Russian must get out, you see, because he, we learn, is Peter the Great and his country needs him desperately to avoid war. At the same time, cartographer, Jonathan Green (Flemyng), travels east with a Chinese princess, falling victim to supernatural forces and his wife scrambles to help him. This is surely the most convoluted plot either Jackie Chan or Schwarzenegger have ever been involved in and, despite the film’s promotion, they’re not actually that involved. Their characters are superfluous and their presence does little to elevate the muddled material or its unspectacular effects. From start to finish, I asked myself, “where is this going?” or “how did we get here?” or “why is this necessary?” Scenes from Viy 2 are, at times, enjoyable enough divorced from the whole, but the film, all together, is a mess and never a fun mess.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Small Soldiers (1998, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson, Denis Leary

Voices of Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker, George Kennedy, Harry Shearer

Small Soldiers Soundtrack Music - Complete Song List | Tunefind

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Limited. Retread.

Major Chip Hazard: You’ve got a lot of guts. Let’s see what they look like.

Desperate to impress their boss and keep their jobs after a corporate takeover, two toy designers unwittingly create weaponized toys with artificial intelligence known as the Commando Elite led by Major Chip Hazard (Lee Jones). They also give the same artificial intelligence to a meek set of toys known as the Gorgonites led by Archer (Langella). Unleashed in a small, All-American town, teenager Alan Abernathy (Smith) befriends Archer and gets caught in the middle of the Commando Elite’s relentless pursuit of the Gorgonites. If it all sounds very serious, know that this film is a little strange and difficult to explain, because it’s actually very silly and played almost entirely for laughs despite being somewhat frightening. One critic for Empire Magazine described it as, ” Gremlins with toy soldiers, except not quite as dark or funny,” and I find that to be an apt description. Apparently, director Joe Dante (Gremlins being his most famous film) was held back by the studio from being as dark as he would have liked. The film, as it is, entertains (I particularly liked Chip Hazard’s one-liners) and makes an impression but hardly warrants serious consideration or repeat viewings. Its spoofing of small-town life, military movies, and corporate greed are nice touches though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Matrix Resurrections (2021, Directed by Lana Wachowski) English 5

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci

The Matrix Resurrections: Did Neo Choose to Be Plugged Back In? | Den of  Geek

(5-Okay Film)

Inessential. Intriguing. Flat.

Neo: I still know Kung Fu.

The thrill of seeing something new, being challenged with fresh ideas, working my way through a complex but involving plot; the Matrix was a colossal experience. In it, Todd Anderson (Reeves), later Neo, learns that the world around him (known as the matrix) is not real, but something artificial designed by machines to enslave humans and distract them from reality. He meets a band of resistance fighters led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who provokes Neo into opening his eyes, teaches him all the possibilities of the matrix, and professes to him that he is the chosen one, or “the One,” destined to save the human race. Just as importantly, Neo meets Trinity (Anne-Moss), the woman he comes to love and who comes to love him. The original Matrix is a masterpiece in my eyes. Its sequels were a disappointment, to say the least, debased, being a more accurate description. The Wachowskis (writers and directors of the franchise) lost the thread. Now we come to The Matrix Resurrections, a third sequel and possibly a reboot. Nearly twenty years after the last sequel, is the world of The Matrix still worth the trip down the rabbit hole? For the whole of the first half, I was hopeful. It begins again with Todd Anderson, a successful video game designer, whom we come to find invented the events of the first three films in his head for a gaming franchise…or did he? I found this premise to be an interesting one even if it’s not entirely original, but you can likely guess the answer to that question and that’s part of my problem. The Matrix 4 was never going to be as fresh as the original and the franchise hasn’t proven it can deliver without that sense of novelty. Other problems include a dull second half, unappealing visuals (especially during the bullet-time sequences), and a performance by Abdul-Mateen II (taking over from Fishburne) as Morpheus that doesn’t measure up. I’m going to continue pretending that The Matrix has no sequels.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Aliens (1986, Directed by James Cameron) English 9

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein

Retro Review: 'Aliens' (1986) - CROMEYELLOW.COM

(9-Great Film)

Expert. Muscular. Thrilling.

Ripley: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

Good question, Ellen Ripley (we find out her first name in this film). Fifty-seven years after the terrifying events in Alien (1979), Ripley wakes up from stasis to find a new generation of “explorers”/idiots want to return to the scene of the massacre to investigate. Accompanied by marines this time around, you’d think the cast of characters had a better shot at surviving, wouldn’t you? Of course not. Hunted by not one but dozens of ferocious aliens, the humans are once again forced into survival mode, with an even more impressive Ripley saving the day. Thrilling to watch, Aliens is, in my opinion, the greatest example of director, James Cameron’s, craft and skill. It’s beautifully designed and perfectly paced with simple but effective characterizations. At its core, you have an iconic character in Ripley, still grieving the death of her own daughter, leading a young orphan girl to safety.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Eternals (2021, Directed by Chloé Zhao) English 6

Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Don Lee, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Kit Harrington, Harish Patel, Barry Keoghan

Marvel Invites Fan Questions For The Eternals Premiere

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Intriguing. Flawed.

Sersi: We’re Eternals. We came here seven thousand years ago, to protect humans from the Deviants.

Ten godlike superheroes (known as Eternals) preside over Earth and help it grow at a distance, but overtime discover some shocking secrets about their origins and their purpose. Martin Scorsese took a lot of flak a couple of years ago for saying that Marvel films aren’t cinema. Being, at most, lukewarm about these films myself, I was actually excited that someone I admire made this grand statement, was willing to stand by it, and even back it up with a well-thought out essay he submitted to the New York Times. I’m not qualified to declare what is and is not cinema, but there is something about Marvel’s shared universe that has always left me apathetic, unsatisfied, and, at times, bored. I have never quite been able to put my finger on what exactly the problem is. I like the majority of the characters, the acting is good, the production slick, and there’s often a fair amount of wit and humor. Could it be this quality, this not being cinematic that holds me at a distance? More recently, I’ve determined a simpler explanation. Marvel movies are action films with no good action sequences. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but across their 26 productions, there are maybe only 4 or 5 action scenes I like. I’m not interested in CGI Iron Man fighting CGI aliens. It’s even less interesting when one of the Avengers fight each other. You know that neither one of them can die, so there are no stakes.

Now we come to Eternals, part of Marvel’s phase Four that started earlier this year with Black Widow. Having never been excited for a Marvel film before, I certainly wasn’t expecting to like this one, noting its rotten status on Rotten Tomatoes with much criticism claiming it to be dull at times. To someone who finds most of these movies dull, I wrote Eternals off before watching it. Add to this, the director, Chloé Zhao, despite being celebrated and winning an Oscar, has, to this point, built a filmography of work that bores me to tears; Nomadland, Best Picture winner and all, included. In spite of my low expectations, or maybe because of them, I was impressed with Eternals. I enjoyed it. Forget the critics, this is a solid film. The characters are absorbing, for one, and there are big ideas lurking beneath its, admittedly, messy story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974, Directed by Joseph Sargent) English 8

Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, Jerry Stiller, Doris Roberts

(8-Exceptional Film)

Tense. Humorous. Classic.

Mr. Blue: I once had a man shot for talking to me like that.

Mr. Gray: Yeah, well, that’s the difference between you and me. I’ve always done my own killing.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is so lowkey that you might write it off as simply a breezy, entertaining action flick. Looking at its contemporary reviews, that seems to be what most critics did; a lot of 3-star reviews, positive, but hardly spectacular. With time, and perhaps in comparison to its inferior remake, the film has become a classic. Starring Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber, a quartet of violent criminals, known only by their aliases (Mr. Gray, Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, and Mr. Brown), hijack a high-speed subway train and hold its passengers hostage. Scrambling to meet their demands, the cool-headed, wry Lt. Garber, fights to outsmart the thieves. Funny, suspenseful, and efficient, The Taking of Pelham 123 is so well-done. The score, as offbeat and eccentric as it is, really works and Matthau’s face for a finale is perfect. This is a film very clearly of its time (the ’70s). Rather than that being a weakness, it’s a major strength. It’s why it has grown in reputation over the years. Not only is it an exceptional action caper, it’s also a sort of a time capsule.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Black Rain (1989, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 7

Starring Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takukura, Yūsaku Matsuda, Kate Capshaw, John Spencer, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root

Black Rain - Movies on Google Play

(7-Very Good Film)

Stylish. Hard-boiled. Atmospheric.

Nick Conklin: Sometimes, you just got to go for it.

Nick Conklin (Douglas) is a loose cannon of a New York City cop. He might even be on the take; Internal Affairs certainly think so. Enjoying a drink at a local bar, Nick and his young partner, Charlie (Garcia), witness the violent killing of two Japanese men in what turns out to be a Yakuza hit. Catching the assailant, Sato, Nick and Charlie are charged with escorting the criminal back to Japan and handing him over to the local authorities. Once in Japan, Sato escapes and the two American cops, despite not being wanted, take it upon themselves to get him back. Black Rain has its flaws. I’ve never had the sense that Scott cared much about romance (see A Good Year, his one attempt at a romantic comedy) and here the female characters fall flat, but much of the criticism it received from contemporary reviews seem unfair to me. It’s not racist just because its hero is ignorant and the Japanese characters aren’t stereotypical. I especially don’t understand complaining about Michael Douglas’ likability. He’s an antihero in the mold of a lot of 1940s noir characters. How sympathetic is Sam Spade? Black Rain has a fairly straightforward story that gives way to an interesting antihero as played by Douglas and awesome visuals designed by Ridley Scott and his crew. A worthwhile action flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Flight of the Phoenix (1965, Directed by Robert Aldrich) English 9

Starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Christian Marquand, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser

Cult Movies: Original disaster movie The Flight of The Phoenix rises from  the ashes - The Irish News

(9-Great Film)

Dramatic. Brutal. Character-driven.

Heinrich Dorfmann: Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?

A cargo plane goes down in the middle of the Sahara desert, hundreds of miles off course and away from any apparent civilization. Its pilot, Captain Frank Towns (Stewart), navigator, Lew Moran (Attenborough), and many passengers face death from all directions: lack of resources, limited water, oppressive heat, and a hostile band of Arab thieves. One passenger, a German and a pariah among the men, Heinrich Dorfmann (Kruger), has an idea that he can rebuild a functioning aircraft, but its up to the others whether or not they put their faith in his unlikely plan. The Flight of the Phoenix is an outstanding survival drama and maybe the best film about leadership, ego, and disparate personalities forced into working together by brutal circumstance. Captain Towns is a proud man with decades of experience fueling his stubbornness, but perhaps there are things he doesn’t know, things the younger men can teach him. Lew is the mediator. He loves and respects his Captain but he suspects that they might need Dorfmann in order to survive. Dorfmann, meanwhile, is a tyrant when it comes to it. He’s petty, arrogant, confrontational, and it’s unclear whether he’s a genius or a madman. Captain Harris (Finch) is the stereotypical British soldier, stiff upper-lip, brave, adheres ceaselessly to the book, even when the elements make that book absurd. Ratbags (Bannen) is sarcastic and apathetic. Dr. Renaud (Marquand) is compassionate. Trucker Cobb (Borgnine) loses his mind. Standish (Duryea) leans on his religion, and Sergeant Watson (Fraser), perhaps the most-loathed character across all film, is a coward. These characters are what make The Flight of the Phoenix so compelling. When the action sequences do come, they’re riveting and impressive, but it starts and ends with the actors and the fine work they do.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Next (2007, Directed by Lee Tamahori) English 5

Starring Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschman, Peter Falk, Jim Beaver

Next (2007 film) - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

(5-Okay Film)

Intriguing. Shoddy. Silly.

Cris Johnson: Here is the thing about the future. Every time you look at, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.

When a high concept film is done poorly, it becomes silly. Next, taken from a story by the high concept king, Philip K. Dick, is done poorly. It stars Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson, who also goes by Frank Cadillac, a seemingly inconsequential magician performing in Vegas. But Cris actually has one extraordinary ability. He can see the future up to two minutes in front of him. The FBI are after him because they believe his ability can help them prevent a terrorist plot for nuclear disaster. The terrorists are after him because they agree. It’s a potentially interesting premise, but one that’s difficult to wrap one’s head around. The implications of Cris’ talent and the variations of time that he creates seem infinite. It would take a brilliant mind to make this material work, or at least a thoughtful one. Next is neither thoughtful nor brilliant. It’s fast-paced enough not to be boring but it’s also pretty crudely done.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-