The Woman in the Window (1944, Directed by Fritz Lang) English 7

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Ryamond Massey, Edmund Breon

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nightmarish.

An ordinary man pushed to the limit. A classic setup for a classic noir. Edward G. Robinson plays Professor Richard Wanley, loving husband and father of two . He, along with his friends, grow infatuated with a portrait hanging in a random store window; a portrait of an unknown, beautiful woman. One day, gazing at the portrait, the professor gets the shock of his life when a woman shows up, Alice Reed (Bennett), apparently the subject of the painting. She invites him to her place, and he sees no harm in going. From that decision on, Wanley’s life spirals out of control leading to murder, blackmail, and lies. Legendary director, Fritz Lang, deals in archetypes: perfect nuclear family man, dangerous femme fatale, slick investigator, slick blackmailer. It’s potent stuff, though almost undone in my eyes by the ending. The three leads are perfect, and true prototypes for their roles.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(23)

 

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Directed by Drew Goddard) English 8

Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intricate. Exciting. Engrossing.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” So says technology pioneer Steve Jobs. Every story has been told in one way or another, and every filmmaker borrows from the greats that came before. Bad Times at the El Royale bears many of the trademarks of a Quentin Tarantino film: chapters, nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence. Indeed, in more than just the style, Bad Times at the El Royale is reminiscent of The Hateful Eight. Here, seven strangers with dark secrets meet at a secluded, rundown motel split between California and Nevada. Who they are along with their motivations gradually become clear as they spiral towards violent conclusions. All this said, the similarities understood, the important thing is that Bad Times at the El Royale is an excellent film. Best of the year so far. The actors, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo especially, give their characters and this film a pathos sometimes missing in even the best of Tarantino’s work, and the El Royale offers a handful of exceptional, memorable set pieces. Some films focus solely on shock and awe, confusing the audience, or seeming ultra-hip. This film starts with a great story, and then tells it in a way that maximizes the suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(60)

Dead Again (1991, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English 7

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nifty.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are both immediately recognizable as British. I’ve seen them do Shakespeare, E.M Forster, Richard Curtis, and Harry Potter. So watching them play Americans, as they do in Dead Again, can be a bit distracting, but once the film’s elaborate plot builds up and unfolds, and Branagh’s confident direction develops, I soon got over it. Their performances are in fact, very good, and the film’s cast is filled out with Sir Derek Jacobi as a hypnotist, Robin Williams as a crooked psychologist at rock-bottom, Andy Garcia as a snooping reporter, and Wayne Knight as a dependable friend and photographer. Thompson plays a mute amnesiac, Grace, with nightmares of herself being murdered. Branagh plays private detective, Mike Church, hired to help the woman solve who she is, and why she’s having these dreams. They discover the secret may dwell in their past lives, and the film inter-cuts with black and white passages, also starring Branagh and Thompson as newlyweds Margaret and Roman Strauss. A mystery, a romance, Dead Again could easily have become a silly potboiler. Branagh takes the premise seriously, and shows a knack for suspense and style as a director.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(63)

A Simple Favor (2018, Directed by Paul Feig) English 6

Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend, Andrew Rannells

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(6-Good Film)

Twisty. Sly. Lurid.

Gone Girl came and shocked a lot of people. Amy Dunne, portrayed by Rosamund Pike, is an unforgettable character. Like every huge Hollywood hit, Gone Girl has a host of imitators. What separates A Simple Favor from the cheap imitations is its playful take on the sensationalized material; director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and writer, Jessica Sharzer pace the twisty plot with the occasional riff that feels like a wink at the camera. They know this is derivative of Gone Girl and its rip-offs, so that A Simple Favor works both as a comedy-a spoof of sorts- and a thriller-the plot is absorbing and surprising. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, the perfect stay-at-home mom who befriends Emily (Lively). They both have grade school age sons, but that’s where the similarities would seem to end, until Emily disappears and it comes out that both women have secrets. Lively plays her role straight and plays it well, creating an enigmatic character that you know is trouble but can’t help but be drawn towards. Anna Kendrick gives the material its gently satirical edge; a fish out of water at first glance, but with the ability to surprise you. Like most of these stylish, over-cooked thrillers, A Simple Favor is incredibly entertaining, well-plotted, and effective, but loses something upon further viewings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(42)

 

Burn After Reading (2008, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen) English 6

Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, J.K Simmons, Tilda Swinton, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Elizabeth Marvel

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(6-Good Film)

Ponderous. Interesting. Dry.

The Coen brothers have quite possibly the most eclectic filmography of any film-makers. They’ll give you a genre classic like No Country for Old Men, and then follow it up with this baffling espionage comedy. As far as comedies go, Burn After Reading is dry as hell, and occasionally, memorably violent. Do we like any of these bumbling idiots as they create a tangled mess over worthless CIA secrets? Does it matter? The plot is thick but inconsequential, the characters are rich but unrelatable, and, in the end, the CIA head summarizes our feelings, when he asks, “what did we learn?” On the one hand, the film is funny, an absurdist comedy wherein the Coen brothers make a movie doing what most script gurus explicitly tell you not to do: push the plot forward with character’s stupidity. On the other hand, for a film to be loved, something has to matter, and a good portion of Burn After Reading’s laughs could be described just as easily as viewed. Plus the supporting cast in this ensemble outshine the headliners. Malkovich is hilarious as the fired CIA agent on a profane rampage to get his stolen memoirs, Richard Jenkins infuses the story with at least some pathos when he’s on screen as the victim of unrequited love, and J.K Simmons, as the aforementioned CIA head, is called on to deliver what I would say is the punchline, with the film being one very long joke. He delivers it admirably.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(37)

 

L.A Confidential (1997, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 10

Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, James Cromwell

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(10-Masterpiece)

Potent. Dazzling. Masterful.

Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film, based on James Ellroy’s novel, has many elements usually found in a bad adaptation: bastardized plot, watered-down themes (especially the racist qualities of the protagonists), and a cast that veers rather strongly from their original character descriptions , including an Australian and a New Zealander playing American cops in key roles. It’s a credit to the filmmakers, or truly everyone involved- the writers, the cinematographer, the stars, composer Jerry Goldsmith, who did the terrific score-that instead of feeling like a hack adaptation, L.A Confidential feels like a perfect movie; perfectly paced, perfectly performed, and perfectly filmed. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce play three disparate cops, at odds mostly, who all get swept up from different angles into a massive crime plot involving prostitution, police corruption, heroin, and Mickey Cohen. Kim Basinger merges two Hollywood clichés (hooker with the heart of gold and the classic femme fatale) in her role as Lynn Bracken, but makes the part vital, and reminds us why we like the clichés.  The plot, as it is, seems as complex and mystifying as any ever portrayed on screen, and remembering that it’s working with maybe a third of the book begs the question of how I ever seemed to understand the book. In any case, those tough choices, the decision to go for Ellroy’s spirit rather than exact faithfullness, were judicious, and the resulting film is a major triumph.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(2)

Charade (1963, Directed by Stanley Donen) English 10

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau

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(10-Masterpiece)

Enchanting. Sparkling. Suave.

Two of classic Hollywood’s greatest stars pair, with Audrey Hepburn playing Regina Lampert,  the widow of a man who stole a fortune during the war. Her husband’s old partners in crime come calling, betrayed and left out of their cut, to follow Regina, believing that she knows where the money is hidden. Cary Grant plays the mysterious and charming Peter Joshua. Regina quickly falls in love with the man, but can she trust him? Excellent script, full of snappy lines, and romantic patter. Also an excellent whodunnit, an excellent romantic comedy, and an excellent thriller. Charade works tremendously on all levels.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(53)