Everybody Knows (2018, Directed by Asghar Farhadi) Spanish 8

Starring Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Bárbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta, Elvira Mínguez, Eduard Fernández, Ramón Barea

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Gripping. Considerable. Adept.

There’s a series of mystery novels-for my money, the best series in all of literature-written by Ross MacDonald and featuring his ace detective, Lew Archer. I think about a certain quote from time to time, written, not in one of those books, but about the series as a whole. I’ve tried for a while now to find out exactly who said it to no avail, but it goes something like this, “Most mystery writers write about crime. MacDonald writes about sin.” With the amount of time I’ve spent reading, rereading, or thinking about Lew Archer’s cases, I come back to this quote often. It’s perfect. It’s exactly and succinctly the distinguishing characteristic of MacDonald’s writing and what I love most about his novels. I was reminded of this quote again while watching Asghar Farhadi’s most recent drama, Everybody Knows. Farhadi, an Iranian director, has made a number of great films in his own country (A Separation, The Salesman, Fireworks Wednesday) and abroad (The Past). He’s won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film twice. Only the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, and Frederico Fellini have won that award more times. I have no idea if Farhadi has ever read a Lew Archer novel, but he works in a similar vein. He takes the holistic view of each mystery he untangles. Every character has secrets. Every character’s actions affect someone else in the story significantly. Every character has motives. Motives for Farhadi, and for me, are more interesting than the crime itself. None of his films that I’ve seen have that kind of Agatha Christie summation at the end that’s tremendously satisfying but also simplistic. It’s a release of tension and when that you know everything, when you understand completely, you don’t have to spend any more time thinking about what happened. Farhadi never gives you that satisfaction. He never releases the tension.

His most recent film, Everybody Knows, takes place in Spain; a small town, apparently near Madrid. Cruz stars as Laura, returning home from her life in Argentina to attend her younger sister’s wedding. Laura has two children, a girl named Irene and a younger boy named Antonio, and an Argentinian husband, Alejandro (Darin), that most people in her hometown imagine to be a big-shot, stemming from the devout Alejandro’s generous donations to a local church. Bardem stars as Paco. He’s never left their hometown and from the beginning of the movie, we get the sense that he’s pretty popular. Paco’s married to Bea but they have no kids together. Laura and Paco used to be together and they’re both so attractive, you can imagine how admired they’d be as a couple in such a small town. Everything, every relationship, every past mistake, becomes important later on when Laura’s daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. Everyone becomes a suspect. The kidnappers send their demands to Paco, as well as Laura (who would seem to be the natural target) and the characters, like us in the audience, wonder why would they do that? The things the friends and family members say to each other while they’re wondering form the real basis for the film. What’s interesting about Everybody Knows and, again, Farhadi’s films in general, are the minor twists. This is a very small town he’s using here and everyone knows each other. A lot of what’s revealed is already known by most of the characters. It’s us in the audience who are in the dark; who are learning as the film unwinds. The reveals, the would-be bombshells, the secrets aren’t very secret. The character’s responses suggest that it’s more about hearing it said out loud than it is what was said. The performances, from the supporting cast to the stars, are unaffected and observant. I admired little moments like when Paco has just learned something momentous. The next five to ten seconds or so are devoted entirely to this character thinking; no one speaking. I also appreciate Farhadi’s most common motif throughout his films of kids as witnesses; kids on the periphery of the main plot but still affected by the drama. That Farhadi can not only successfully tell an engaging story in another language, using a separate culture, but for him to make this film, Everybody Knows, fit so comfortably with the rest of work is an impressive testament to his skill. Whether working in his native language, Persian-A Separation, About Elly, etc.-or French-The Past-or now, Spanish, he’s an auteur. His vision transcends and shines through. Everybody Knows is yet another occasion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(849)

Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948, Directed by John Paddy Carstairs) English 6

Starring Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis, Rona Anderson, David Tomlinson

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(6-Good Film)

Light. Intelligent. Exciting.

Spies, murderers, adulterers, and the French police collide aboard the Orient Express on its way from Paris to Trieste (evidently a small town in Italy). Two agents, Zurta and Valya, kill a man and steal an important diary from the embassy in Paris with secrets that could prove catastrophic in the wrong hands. A man, Poole, thought to be an accomplice, double-crosses them and takes off aboard the train through Europe, hoping to sell the diary for himself. Zurta and Valya catch the train too and a host of characters are introduced as Poole evades his old partners. Short, with no stars or substantial characters, Sleeping Car to Trieste focuses on suspenseful situations, witty dialogue, and an exciting setting. It was an enjoyable old-fashioned thriller though I’ve already started to forget what happens.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(837)

Take One False Step (1949, Directed by Chester Erskine) English 6

Starring William Powell, Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt, James Gleason, Dorothy Hart, Felix Bressart, Sheldon Leonard

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(6-Good Film)

Tame. Typical. Solid.

Happily married Professor Andrew Gentling (Powell) reconnects with an old flame, Catherine Sykes (Winters), while visiting California on a business trip. Soon after, she’s murdered and the cops are after the professor for questioning. It’s a prime setup for noir, and Take One False Step delivers on so many fronts that it’s disappointing that it watered down the tone instead of being the dark cautionary tale it set up. First of all, the professor is too much of a saint. Even when he’s having drinks with a woman that’s not his wife, there’s no threat that he’s tempted to cheat. There is genuine suspense in this film, however, and Shelley Winters, as demonstrated on many occasions, excels as a dangerously unstable woman.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(832)

The Irishman (2019, Directed by Martin Scorsese) English 9

Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Sebastian Maniscalco

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(9-Great Film)

Fascinating. Sweeping. Melancholic.

Despite the unsettling, far-from convincing “deaging technology” used to make its trio of legendary stars-De Niro, Pesci, Pacino-appear younger at different stages of the story, despite what some immature Marvel fan throwing a temper tantrum might say, The Irishman is a great film. Relating labor union official, Frank Sheeran’s account of his time spent working under the Buffalino crime family, his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, and ultimately, Hoffa’s murder, The Irishman is a 3 1/2 hour look at the intricacies of gangster life and how it merged with politics over the decades. It’s fascinating. Scorsese has always been masterful with the details. The performances are excellent, aside from the problematic age effects (even if the effects were seamless, De Niro still moves and sounds like an old man). De Niro as Sheeran and Pesci as Russell Buffalino are understated, compelling, while Pacino is hilarious as the bombastic Hoffa. His last scene where he looks at his friend and makes the unwise decision to trust him is so poignant. One absurd complaint that I’ve heard is that Anna Paquin, playing Sheeran’s daughter, only has six lines. Sheeran is estranged from his daughters. The impression Paquin leaves as Peggy is one of hard silence.  I thought that spoke volumes. If Casino and Goodfellas showed the appeal and glamour of the underworld life, The Irishman shows the pettiness. “Microaggressions” is a serious concept these days. The Irishman is full of microaggressions. I picture gangsters as these tough guys, but The Irishman shows its criminals being passive-aggressive. Arguing over someone wearing swim trunks to a meeting, for example, in my favorite scene of the year.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(829)

Quick Change (1990, Directed by Bill Murray and Howard Franklin) English 8

Starring Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Jason Robards, Randy Quaid, Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Philip Bosco, Phil Hartman, Kurtwood Smith

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Clever. Cynical. Funny.

The fact that Bill Murray has only directed one film suggested to me that it must not be very good. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. His lone directorial effort, Quick Change, is modest but effective, clever, funny, and best of all, a showcase for an exceptional cast from the top down. Murray, himself, stars as Grimm, a New Yorker who’s had enough. So he walks into a bank and holds it up, Dog Day Afternoon style, before walking out scot-free with a million dollars thanks to his well-executed plan. The problems don’t really start until afterwards when he attempts to flee the country. He gets Police Chief Walt Rotzinger (Robards) after him and every possible situation New York can throw at him slowing him down.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(816)

Cobra (1986, Directed by George P. Cosmatos) English 7

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Brian Thompson, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Cool. Entertaining. Simple.

Marion Cobretti, a.k.a “Cobra” (Stallone) is a one-man army. Part of the LAPD’s “zombie squad,” he only gets called into the cases deemed to difficult for ordinary measures. His latest case is a whopper. Someone known as The Night Slasher is killing off citizens at an alarming rate and after an attractive model named Ingrid witnesses an attack and confirms Cobra’s theory that The Night Slasher is a gang and not one man, Cobra must do all he can to keep her alive. This is a simple-minded, action-packed ride and one of a number of films that I really disagree with the critical consensus. What are you expecting from Cobra? Literate dialogue, dramatic heft, plot complexity? If so, don’t bother here. You’re wasting your time. Cobra is pure action, cool, macho Stallone with those glasses and the matchstick dangling from his mouth. The villains are evil, ineloquent, and need to die. Guess who’s going to kill them: Cobra.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(815)

Inside Man (2006, Directed by Spike Lee) English 6

Starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe

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(6-Good Film)

Engaging. Smart. Solid.

Denzel Washington takes on a man (Owen) who has masterminded a perfect bank robbery, but there’s more at stake than just money, and the criminal’s motives may not be what they seem. Mostly effective, clever heist film with good performances, but I actually think the direction (by the great Spike Lee) could have been sharper. I also think the soundtrack is ill-fitting. I would have preferred a grittier approach than the glossy, over-edited style seen here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(800)