Written on the Wind (1956, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, Robert Stack, Robert Keith

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(6-Good Film)

Lurid. Heavy-Handed. Torrid.

Mitch Wayne (Hudson) is in love with his best friend’s wife,  Lucy (Bacall). His best friend, Kyle Hadley (Stack), heir to a multi-million dollar oil business, believes his wife is in love with Mitch, and spends his time drinking himself to death. His sister, Marylee (Malone) is obsessed with Mitch, has been her whole life, and when she can’t have him, settles for whatever man is nearest to her. It’s a highly explosive melodrama cooked up by master Douglas Sirk, who films in beautiful, striking technicolor, and again uses star Rock Hudson. Written on the Wind, considered by some to be his masterpiece, isn’t as entertaining as its trumped up familial strife sounds. It bogs down at times into unpleasant and sometimes over-acted fluff. Malone gets the juiciest role as the nymphomaniac but sympathetic sister, and won an Oscar for it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(71)

The Invitation (2015, Directed by Karyn Kusama) English 8

Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy CorinealdiLindsay Burdge, Toby Huss, John Carroll Lynch

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Slow-Burn. Gripping. Unhinged.

   Dinner parties can be dreadfully awkward affairs. This film is the dinner party from hell. Will (Marshall-Green) is surprised one day with an invitation from his ex-wife, Eden, played by Tammy Blanchard (they tragically lost a son), and her new husband, David (Huisman). Will arrives, greeted by his old friends, but quickly comes to suspect that something strange is going on. In classic mystery-thriller fashion, no one’s suspicious but him. The hosts, Eden and David, are acting really odd, one friend, Choi, hasn’t shown up even though he said he would, plus, there’s two unexplained strangers as guests, and why did David lock all of the doors? Excellent psychological thriller smartly done. You know that something is going to happen, you’re certain it won’t be any good, but director, Kusama, builds the suspense to a fever pitch, and the resulting climax is well-worth the wait. Plays off of the anxiety of someone who is antisocial having to interact with a large group of people. You could also point out its relationship to Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel wherein a group of people at a dinner party are unable to leave a dining room, and react to the growing madness. Terrific finale, strong acting from a terrifying premise.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1)

Interlude (1957, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring June Allyson, Rossano Brazzi, Marianne Koch, Jane Wyatt, Keith Andes, Françoise Rosay

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(6-Good Film)

Opulent. Superficial. Slight.

A timid American woman, Helen Banning (Allyson), moves to Germany for a new job. She reconnects with an old friend, Dr. Dwyer (Andes), who offers her marriage and security for life. It’s a good offer, she knows, but she’s recently met a moody symphony conductor, Antonio Fischer (Brazzi), and can’t help but be drawn to him, though he’s a married man. Rich, lush color bring out the passion in this melodrama, which curious enough seems under-cooked, or too restrained, at least until the climax. The film’s director, Sirk, is an auteur, and as such, each and every picture he made deserves to be seen. Interlude just happens to be one of his more modest efforts. It lacks the undercurrent themes, subtext, or sly tone of his greatest works.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(3)

Spellbound (1944, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, Michael Chekhov

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(7-Very Good Film)

Hammy. Intriguing. Interesting.

The great Alfred Hitchcock fashions a mystery thriller out of cheesy movie psychology; an excellent one at that. Overwrought to the point that it sometimes resembles a B-movie science fiction film (the type that were popular a decade later), Spellbound stars Ingrid Bergman as a prim psychologist, Dr. Peterson, working at an elite mental hospital. Her male coworkers note that she’s like a robot, the way she works coldly without emotion. One day, the hospital director, Dr. Murchison (Carroll), is asked to step down and retire, making way for a younger outsider, Dr. Edwards (Peck), to replace him. Edwards seems strange on arrival, morel like a patient than a doctor at times, but that doesn’t keep Dr. Peterson from falling in love with him. Soon, the doctors at the hospital find out that the new doctor is not Dr. Edwards at all, and that the real doctor is missing. Peterson is the only one that believes in the imposter’s innocence, perhaps blinded by love, and discovers that he’s suffering from amnesia. The two go on the run, and try to get to the bottom of the fake Doctor Edwards’ psychological problems. Kooky science aside, sentimental romance and all, Spellbound is a thrilling film, with beautiful stars, and a gripping mystery.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(15)

 

First Reformed (2018, Directed by Paul Schrader) English 8

Starring Ethan Hawke, Cedric the Entertainer, Amanda Seyfried, Philip Ettinger, Victoria Hill

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Challenging. Powerful. Thoughtful.

What exactly does God expect from men and women as stewards of the Earth? Reverend Toller (Hawke) asks himself this question after meeting a serious young man and environmentalist, Michael, written off by some as a lunatic. After Michael kills himself, Reverend Toller, in ill health and growing increasingly wary in his faith, picks up the mantle the young man left. Toller also develops feelings for the young man’s widow, Mary (Seyfried), as the 250th anniversary of his church, First Reformed, approaches. Provocative material aside, Toller’s struggles and inner monologues represented by his daily journal entries are compelling and relatable, making his unraveling, or enlightenment, in the end powerful. First Reformed is a painful viewing, so unlike most “faith based” films designed to give a message, wrap up, and leave the audience feeling comfortable. First Reformed, raises difficult questions, makes us uncomfortable, resolves nothing, and leaves us to think. Ethan Hawke is superlative, and his character’s quiet intensity, personal demons, and passion make him a sort of battered, beaten down hero by the end.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(22)

First Man (2018, Directed by Damien Chazelle) English 6

Starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Lukas Haas, Patrick Fugit, Shea Wigham, Ciarán Hinds

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(6-Good Film)

Austere. Accomplished. Dispassionate.

Neil Armstrong, American hero, first man to set foot on the moon, and family man, gets the A-list Hollywood treatment. Played by Ryan Gosling, reteaming with Oscar winning La La Land director, Damien Chazelle, Armstrong appears in First Man as a quietly driven man, unflappable and stoic. The film opens with the death of his young daughter. He cries for her, and seems unable to cry again after, despite the loss of friends and colleagues throughout Project Gemini’s run. Gosling makes Armstrong a credible man, complete with flaws. He struggles to relate to his wife, Janet (Foy), and two sons, communicating less and less as the movie goes on. His sit-down talk with his sons before taking off for the moon is, for me, the best scene in the film. I was less interested in Janet’s passages. The strong supportive wife is crucial to the story, but not exactly gripping. The rest of the cast of characters is filled out with familiar faces that make up for the lack of character development. Chazelle goes for more of the impressionistic approach, less compelled to give us all the details, instead opting to immerse us in the key events and let us fill in our own blanks. We know much of the history already. I think his approach is right, though I still came away from the picture underwhelmed. It’s technically astounding, well-acted, and paced, but perhaps too stiff, especially for those like myself with only a marginal interest in space exploration.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(58)

People Will Talk (1951, Directed by Jospeh L. Mankiewicz) English 8

Starring Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Walter Slezak, Hume Cronyn, Sidney Blackmer

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Endearing. Eloquent. Moving.

I wonder what it is that makes me quicker to forgive an old movie for being sentimental. I enjoy a degree of treacle in Hollywood’s classics, but use it in a modern picture and that film will be written off as old-fashioned, or, maybe old Hollywood was just better at it; pulling the heart strings, signaling the violins to come sweeping in, having its stars hold each other in perfect framing as they look off into the distance. People Will Talk is such a film. Dr. Noah Praetorius (Grant) is as whimsical a doctor as he is mysterious. He gets one of his toughest cases when he meets a woman, Deborah (Crain), who is in a bad way, and feeling suicidal from fear of telling her father. The stars are wonderful here and Grant givies one of his very best performances, with much help from a script that takes a maudlin plot and instead goes for an intelligent, poignant tone that eschews popular melodrama. The dialogue, written by Mankiewicz a year after his masterpiece All About Eve, is sparkling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(6)