Baywatch (2017, Directed by Seth Gordon) English 5

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Hannibal Buress

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Limp. Entertaining.

An elite team of lifeguards dedicated to keeping the beach safe stumble upon a plot to smuggle in hardcore drugs. The Rock plays their leader, LT Mitch Buchannon, and Efron plays an arrogant party boy who won two gold medals at the Olympics before self-destructing. Meant to be self-referential, this raunchy remake of the campy hit ’90s show owes a lot to the 21 Jump Street films. I suppose it’s probably the only way to approach this material-a story about an elite lifeguard unit-but the film is not quite funny enough. It’s entertaining. It has the right energy. The cast is fun, but the jokes don’t land, and so the film is merely passable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(656)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Directed by Alexander Mackendrick) English 8

Starring Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Same Levene, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Gritty. Quotable. Classic.

J.J Hunsecker (Lancaster) is a powerful newspaper columnist in New York City. For reasons hardly mentioned and best left to be inferred, he has his most persistent flunky and press agent, Sidney Falco (Curtis),  destroy his sister’s engagement to an up and coming Jazz musician. Sidney will do anything for some spotlight. I love the way the characters (mainly Sidney and Hunsecker) talk to each other. “You’re dead son. Get yourself buried.” Sidney’s mile a minute verbal style perfectly fits his grimy desperation and Hunsecker’s deadpan demonstrates a man who doesn’t have to yell. The performances are perfect. The dialogue is first-rate. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is brilliant. Stellar noir.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(645)

Crooked House (2017, Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner) English 6

Starring Max Irons, Terrence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Stefanie Martini, Julian Sands, Christian McKay, Christina Hendricks

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Adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel following private detective Charles Hayward (Irons) as he investigates a case given to him by an ex-girlfriend. The case involves the death of an enormously wealthy and corrupt patriarch, and, of course, all his relatives are suspects. Hayward meets the entire family of greedy eccentrics, as he tries to catch a killer. Christie became a world-renowned master of the whodunit mystery, and nobody does it better. Her story has been transported to the screen with skill and a cast full of strong performances. While this is not the best Christie adaptation, it is a perfectly good time though devoid of any truly memorable moments.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(643)

Victor/Victoria (1982, Directed by Blake Edwards) English 6

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Silly. Farcical.

Desperate in the extreme to eke out a living in ’30s Paris, two American entertainers (Victoria played by Andrews and Toddy played by Robert Preston) cook up a scheme that can make them rich and famous. Victoria will pretend to be a man who pretends to be a woman on stage. Things grow complicated when an American gangster (Garner) falls for her, and she for him. It’s an elaborate and exuberant farce that features fantastic musical numbers, a torrent of gags, and witty one-liners. Feels old-fashioned and edgy, which is why, even today, the film seems progressive. Rather than being laugh out loud funny, Victor/Victoria has tremendous energy, and even amidst the madcap plot and never-ending misunderstandings, the characters are authentic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(641)

The Crimson Kimono (1959, Directed by Samuel Fuller) English 7

Starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw, Anna Lee, Paul Dubov, Gloria Pall, Pat Silver

(7-Very Good Film)

Progressive. Compelling. Solid.

Two cops-a white one, Detective Sgt. Charlie Bancroft (Corbett) and his Japanese-American partner, Detective Joe Kojaku (Shigeta)-hunt down the murderer of a popular L.A stripper in Little Tokyo. The case brings them to a young and beautiful painter, Christine (Shaw), leading to a potentially volatile love triangle as they hunt for a killer. Melodramatic and hard-boiled, this film features Fuller’s characteristically energetic camera movement and an exciting finale to go along with its take on forbidden love and race relations.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(634)

The American Friend (1977, Directed by Wim Wenders) German 8

Starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller

(8-Exceptional Film)

Enigmatic. Elusive. Haunting.

This bilingual, international classic will probably benefit from a second viewing. I admit, if I wasn’t familiar with its source material (Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith), I’m not sure  I would have understood what was going on. There are some major deviations from Highsmith’s novel, but essentially her most famous character, Tom Ripley, gets involved in seducing a decent German man, Zimmerman (Ganz), over to the dark side. Told he has just a short time left to live, Zimmerman agrees to kill a man for a large amount of money that he will give to his family. Dennis Hopper makes a strange but engaging Ripley. He projects almost nothing, while easily capturing the characters contrasting sides (Ripley the criminal manipulator and Ripley the American friend). Ganz is immensely watchable, in a way few people are. He doesn’t have to do anything to hold your attention. The photography, hallmark of Wenders’ work, is superb. The plot and themes take backseats to the mood and feel of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(629)

Grand Central Murder (1942, Directed by S. Sylvan Simon) English 5

Starring Van Heflin, Sam Levene, Patricia Dane, Tom Conway, Virginia Grey, Cecilia Parker, Millard Mitchell

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(5-Okay Film)

Decent. Well-acted. Typical.

Broadway performer, Mida King (Dane), is murdered and since she was a horrible human being, everyone who knew her is a suspect. That includes slick private eye, Rocky Custer (Heflin), who argues with Police Inspector Gunther (Levene) constantly, but ultimately helps him solve the case. Typical whodunnit with a room full of suspects and a clever detective figuring it all out and then summarizing what happened so that we can understand it. The heavy use of flashbacks is an interesting addition though. None of the characters are especially intriguing outside of maybe Mida, the dead girl who we meet in the flashbacks. Levene plays the contentious but likable policeman well, but did so better in the few Thin Man films he did. In fact, the film as a whole suffers under comparison to the Thin Man series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(621)