Reservoir Dogs (1992, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 9

Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Wright, Edward Bunker

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(9-Great Film)

Cool. Classic. Gripping.

Six men, strangers with aliases- Mr. White (Keitel), Mr. Blonde (Madsen), Mr. Orange (Roth), Mr. Pink (Buscemi), Mr. Brown (Tarantino), and Mr. Blue (Bunker)-team up to rob a jewelry store. The plan is sound. The execution goes astray. Three of the men meet up at the rendezvous point, realizing that they’ve been set up, but by who? One of them is a rat. A great premise for a crime film is brought to life by Tarantino’s stellar dialogue and the actors’ ability to pull off the hyper-masculine posture without it feeling like posturing. There’s not much time for character development, so Reservoir Dogs, like an old Peckinpah film, relies a great deal on the presence of its actors and typage.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(449)

Jackie Brown (1997, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 8

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Pam Grier, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Bridget Fonda

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Cool. Funny. Underrated.

An L.A arms dealer (Jackson) has a flight attendant, Jackie Brown (Grier) transporting money for him. When two law enforcers get a hold of her, she decides to strike out on her own, stealing the money, and keeping the two agents off her back. She enlists the help of a smitten bail bondsman (Forster). Funny, typically sparkling dialogue by Tarantino. Expertly plotted. Clever use of nonlinear storytelling. Memorable characters. All-time great soundtrack.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(445)

The Big Sleep (1946, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 9

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, John Ridgely

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(9-Great Film)

Iconic. Stylish. Classic.

Private detective, Phillip Marlowe (Bogart), gets in way over his head when an old retired General hires him to find and suppress his wild daughter’s blackmailer. The case spirals, and pretty soon, there’s a string of murders complicating matters. Marlowe can’t help getting all the way down to the bottom of things, despite several warnings and bribes to quit. One coming from Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), married and calculating daughter of the general, and Marlowe’s eventual flame. Mystery, tough-guy detective, femme fatales, I love this stuff. Novelist Raymond Chandler is a well-acknowledged master of the style, and this is one of the best film adaptations of his work. Bogey and Bacall are timeless, and the dialogue is sterling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(442)

Nightfall (1957, Directed by Jacques Tourneur) English 8

Starring Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, Rudy Bond, Frank Albertson, Jocelyn Brando, James Gregory

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Taut. Spare. Expert.

Average Joe James Vanning (Ray) might know where some money is hidden; money stolen from a bank. An insurance investigator, Ben Fraser’s (Gregory), been following him for months now, and things escalate when two men from Vanning’s past catch up to him-the two men who actually robbed the bank, John (Keith) and Red (Bond). Anne Bancroft plays the femme fatale turned angel who takes it on the lam with Vanning. This is a terrific film. The plot, structure, characterizations, acting are all first-rate in what I think was considered a B-film. Aldo Ray, who I was previously unfamiliar with, has a very easy going demeanor that belies the situations he’s put in throughout this film, and it doesn’t seem forced. He’s a natural. The villains-the two criminals on Vanning’s tale-are excellent; cold-blooded and menacing, sadistic at times. At roughly 80 minutes, Nightfall is a masterclass on economy of time and gripping from start to finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(417)

Searching (2018, Directed by Aneesh Chaganty) English 7

Starring John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Sarah Sohn, Joseph Lee, Ric Sarabia, Steven Michael Eich

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(7-Very Good Film)

Tense. Inventive. Surprising.

Told exclusively through web cameras and found footage, Searching follows David Kim (Cho), a widower, through every parent’s nightmare: his teenage daughter is missing. Police seem pretty sure that she’s run away, but David knows that she wouldn’t do that… would she? In searching for his missing daughter, he finds out how little he knows about her. Marketed as the first found-footage thriller, the style, poorly done, would be just a cheap gimmick, or, done slightly better, a neat trick. In Searching, the found-footage, the suspenseful, gripping story, and the acting make for a fantastic thriller. The style ratchets up the intensity. Like most thrillers, Searching depends a bit on farfetched solutions and contrivances, but it’s so expertly done, that there is no reason to complain.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(406)

The 39 Steps (1935, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 10

Starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie

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(10-Masterpiece)

Stylish. Thrilling. Fast-paced.

Classic Hitchcock thriller about a man (Donat), a victim of chance, who gets wrapped up in international espionage and a conspiracy plot. A couple of romantic subplots spice up the proceedings. One with Margaret (Ashcroft), a bereaved Scottish wife who helps him elude police, and the second with Pamela (Carroll), an uptight, unhelpful British blonde who, of course, turns out to be the love of his life. Stylish and efficient (the film’s only about 80 minutes or so), this is one of Hitchcock’s most entertaining movies, which is to say one of the most entertaining movies period.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(402)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Directed by Lewis Milestone) English 8

Starring Van Heflin, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Judith Anderson, Roman Bohnen

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Surprising. Dramatic. Suspenseful.

How many classic Hollywood films can you say that you didn’t know where it was going by the end of the first scene? The Strange Love of Martha Ivers kept me guessing all the way through. Not because of any great mystery or some revelatory plot twist, but by its unique structure, its host of compelling characters, each flawed, and its blending of genres and styles. Part film noir, part melodrama, the film begins with its main characters as unhappy children. Martha is a young, orphaned girl raised by her cruel but wealthy Aunt Ivers (Anderson made a rich career out of perfecting these ice queen roles). Martha has a crush on the town delinquent, Sam Masterson, and asks him to take her away, far from their small, claustrophobic town lorded over by her Aunt. While Martha pines for Sam, another young boy, the meek Walter O’Neil pines for Martha. Loyal and infatuated, Walter covers for Martha as often is required. As the first act plays out, Walter’s loyalty is pushed to the limit but doesn’t break, as he witnesses Martha striking her Aunt, causing her to tumble down some stairs and die. Martha claims innocence, Walter corroborates, and Sam makes his way out of town by himself.

The film picks up some twenty years later. Sam, now played by Van Heflin, is a drifter and a gambler with an extensive criminal and war record; a classic antihero. Like the movie itself, Sam is capable of surprising you, whether that means rising to an occasion or letting you down. He arrives back in his hometown by accident and hopes to leave as soon as possible. Waiting on a car repair, he meets a troubled young woman, Toni Marachek (played by the film producer, Hal Wallis’ infatuation, Lizabeth Scott). She shows an interest in him, and Sam, being only human, reciprocates. Toni is gorgeous and is set up as the film’s femme fatale (trouble). She, too, has a criminal record and is soon hauled off to jail for violating parole. Sam finds out that old, meek Walter O’Neil (played by Kirk Douglas) is now the town’s D.A, and sets out to persuade his “old friend” to help. He also finds out that Walter ended up marrying Martha (played by Barbara Stanwyck). The rest of the drama unfolds in a surprising, bold, exclamatory fashion. The femme fatales, blackmail, murder, and antiheroes mark the film as noir, and the over-done performances, alcoholic tantrums, thunderous musical score, and family secrets point towards melodrama.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers works as a tribute to both styles. It’s also a big, elaborate production (A-list stars, director, and producer) as opposed to many of the noirs of its era. Its best quality, however, is its distinct characters, each tremendously flawed and inconsistent. Sam is a brute and a cad, Walter is insecure and a drunk, and as for the women, it’s best just to watch the movie and find out for yourself. Kirk Douglas makes his entrance into film with a bang, leaving the biggest impression out of the cast. Lizabeth Scott was a highly criticized actress in her day, and, to be fair, you could reasonably call her performances inanimate; wooden. I enjoy her presence and what she brings to the screen, especially in the role of “dream girl,” which she is usually given. It’s a fantasy, an unrealistic role in the first place, and her one-dimensional, distant performances make her presence seem out of place, out of time, and timeless. She doesn’t seem real, and I say it adds something to the roles. It’s a pleasure to watch rather than being awkward.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(400)