I, the Jury (1953, Directed by Harry Essex) English 5

Starring Biff Elliot, Peggie Castle, Preston Foster, Margaret Sheridan

(5-Okay Film)

Standard. Forgettable. Confusing.

B-Movie all the way, adapting one of Mickey Spillane’s dime store novels into a decent enough but never special noir film. As far as I could tell, the classic protagonist, Mike Hammer (Elliot) wants revenge for the murder of an old friend which takes him through several hard to follow plot points. Like all Hammer stories, it’s impossible to keep up with the mass of characters and their individual motivations. Unlike Kiss Me Deadly (1955), the best Mike Hammer film, here the lack of coherence becomes grating after a while. Elliot does a passable job displaying the violence of Mike Hammer, but can’t capture the intelligence of the character. There are some cool stylistic things that make the movie passable as a means of entertainment, but it shouldn’t be at the top of any lists.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(699)

Bedtime Story (1964, Directed by Ralph Levy) English 7

Starring Marlon Brando, David Niven,  Shirley Jones, Marie Windsor, Dody Goodman, Parly Baer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Clever. Appealing. Amusing.

The inspiration for ’80s classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Marlon Brando stars as Freddy Benson, a soldier who cons women into sleeping with him. David Niven plays Lawrence Jameson, a rich gentleman who cons women out of their fortune. The two meet and decide the French Riviera isn’t big enough for the both of them, instigating a wager. The first to swindle Janet Walker (Jones), a beautiful tourist on vacation, gets to stay, while the other leaves town. Very funny and well-played between the stars (Brando surprisingly shows a knack for comedy, strengthening his case for best actor of all-time status). I do feel the remake surpasses this film with a few slight changes and a twist ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(690)

The Black Dahlia (2006, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 4

Starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, John Kavanagh, Rose McGowan

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(4-Bad Film)

Miscast. Underwhelming. Confusing.

Can someone please give The Black Dahlia another shot? Reading that David Fincher was initially attached and wanted to turn James Ellroy’s novel into a miniseries has me mourning what could have been. Too much studio interference apparently caused the director to flee the project, and so David Fincher’s Black Dahlia became Brian De Palma’s Black Dahlia and what a bad film. What a bad, gorgeous film. Brian De Palma’s obviously immensely talented but he’s as susceptible to uneven storytelling as any great director ever. Anyways, this film deserved its Oscar nomination for best cinematography and Mia Kirshner deserved the praise she received for playing Elizabeth Short among the dozens of otherwise excoriating reviews. If you don’t know the story, Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old girl from Massachusetts found brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Forty years later, the great Ellroy wrote a fictional, speculative novel about the ensuing investigation. His book is riveting. In this adaptation, detectives Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) join the crusade to catch Short’s killer, both becoming obsessed with the case while dealing with their love for the same woman, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). There are probably other issues but I simply couldn’t get past the cast, primarily the leads. They are bad. They are not Troll 2 level bad, but they are either unconvincing in their roles (Hilary Swank is miscast as a femme fatale despite being a talented actress) or boring in their roles (Josh Hartnett delivers his lines monotonously, especially during the crucial narrations). Plus, I’m not sure the narrative makes sense. I only understood certain aspects by remembering the book.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(687)

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, Directed by Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, William Frawley, Fred Clark

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exuberant. Endearing. Manic.

Bob Hope plays the titular character, also known as Sidney Milburn, a con artist who messes up and cons the wrong guy, mob boss Moose Moran (Clark), who gives Sidney until Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks, to pay the money back ($10,000). Sidney then connives the help of his few remaining friends to pull off his biggest scheme yet: street-corner Santas taking money from the kind-hearted. Of course, this is a Christmas film so the wicked Sidney eventually has a change of heart. The source of the classic Christmas song, “Silver Bells,” The Lemon Drop Kid is a wonderful light comedy and star-vehicle for Hope who delivers his nonstop one-liners and zany buffoonery in highly amusing fashion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(683)

Widows (2018, Directed by Steve McQueen) English 6

Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O’Connor

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(6-Good Film)

Polished. Sprawling. Unsatisfying.

Three women-Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Debicki)-lose their criminal husbands and owe crime boss, Jamal Manning (Henry), a couple million dollars. To pay him, the three devise a heist based on a plan drawn by Veronica’s late husband, Harry Rawlings (Neeson), and add a fourth member, Belle (Erivo), a getaway driver once they get closer to the heist. Anyone who’s seen Widows will know that the film is about so much more than what I just described, but for me, that’s part of the problem.  There’s much too much going on. Politics, social commentary, a scene touching on police shootings, and about 4 or 5 characters too many. Even interesting characters, Belle and Robert Duvall’s Tom Mulligan, weren’t necessary. Widows has many great aspects though. Beautifully filmed and acted, the story, despite being unfocused in my eyes, does draw you in. I do think, however, that here is a rare case where a bastardized version of this plot would have been better. The film is so elegantly shot that the heist needed to be more clever. The film’s final act dedicates maybe 10 minutes to the actual heist and it’s a trainwreck. That would be fine in a grittier crime film, but this one sets up its heist and characters for too long for that haphazard ending to be satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(674)

Blood Simple (1984, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen) English 8

Starring Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, John Getz, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams

(8-Exceptional Film)

Suspenseful. Lean. Effective.

The debut feature film from the Coen Brothers about a cuckolded husband, Julian (Hedaya)  who hires a sleazy private detective, Lorren Visser (Walsh), to do his dirty work established them right from the start as masters of filmmaking. Though very inexpensive and sparse, Blood Simple works by relying on visual suspense, such as the brilliantly bloody sequence of one of the characters’ hands being impaled, but the entire film showcases their talent for tone, dark humor, and unforgettable violence.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(670)

Shanghai Surprise (1986, Directed by Jim Goddard) English 4

Starring Sean Penn, Madonna, Paul Freeman, Richard Griffiths, Philip Sayer, Victor Wong

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(4-Bad Film)

Miscast. Miscast. Miscast.

A pair of missionaries in China-one, a beautiful, if stuck up blonde named Gloria Tatlock (Madonna)-enlist the help of a sleazy expatriate, Glendon Wasey (Penn), to track down a haul of opium that could help them nurse their suffering patients. Shanghai Surprise isn’t as complete a disaster as contemporary critics deemed it. It has an engaging setting, some exotic appeal, and a couple of decent songs by George Harrison, but it is bad. Mainly, because Madonna is so bad. I’m not particularly tough on actors. I love Bloodsport and Red Sonja for example. But romantic comedies depend so much on chemistry and strong lead characters. The writing perhaps deserves some blame but there’s no getting past how badly out of her element Madonna is. I don’t buy her as a prim missionary and she’s not a good enough actress to sell it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(665)