Pinky (1949, Directed by Elia Kazan) English Okay Film

Starring Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan, Kenny Washington

(Okay Film)

Born to a poor black family in the deep south, Pinky Johnson (Crain) grows up pale enough to pass for a white woman. She moves to the North, studies, becomes a nurse, and gets engaged to a young doctor. Returning home to visit her grandmother, Dicey (Waters), Pinky’s confronted with all manners of injustice and bigotry. Knowing that she could walk away from it all-return North-at any time proves to be a crisis of identity for Pinky. Dealing with a most serious subject at a time when the majority of people were not ever going to be receptive makes Pinky something of a noble cause. Racism and the idea of “passing” is handled well, but at the center of the film is its biggest problem. Rather than cast Lena Horne or another light-skinned black actress of the time, the studio forced the director, Elia Kazan, to hire a white actress for the role. It undermines the film and blunts much of its sharpness. Crain lacks the righteous anger that the role calls for and instead looks perpetually apathetic. It’s still a compelling drama but not the heavyweight its material had the potential for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-14-

India Sweets and Spices (2021, Directed by Geeta Malik) English Okay Film

Starring Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Rish Shah, Adil Hussain, Anita Kalathara, Deepti Gupta

(Okay Film)

Returning home to her affluent neighborhood and family in New Jersey, UCLA student, Ali Kapur (Ali), meets a handsome, working-class boy, Varun, and finds a host of family secrets among the classist society she grew up in. India Sweets and Spices is not the wise family-drama you might expect from its material. Nor is it really a comedy-of-manners. Honestly, it’s mostly a Lifetime movie, but that isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable, at times, or engaging, at times. The acting is strong and I’m not above shameless melodrama, but I did hope for more. Not a very thoughtful movie, it will likely be best appreciated in terms of its feminist-edge and solid female characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-9-

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005, Directed by Rob Marshall) English Good Film

Starring Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Ken Watanabe, Kaori Momoi, Mako, Youki Kudoh, Kōji Hashimoto

(Good Film)

At the end of the 1920s, a young Japanese girl, Chiyo, with unique eyes begins working in a geisha house where the work is hard and jealousy abounds. As she grows up and Japan enters into World War, Chiyo (Ziyi) becomes one of the most desired geishas in the area but never gives up her dream of being with a kind older gentleman, the Chairman (Watanabe), she met as a child. Doomed to unfair criticism by casting controversy-the three leads are Chinese-Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful escapist fantasy provided you understand that this is what it’s aiming for. It’s not a gritty, realistic look at the hardships these women faced during that era. It’s a glossy, sumptuous fairy-tale and the director, Rob Marshall, excels. Those looking for weightier themes may want to look elsewhere, but those who can accept beauty as a theme and happiness as an ending will be glad to lose themselves in the world of Chiyo. As for the casting controversy, I believe that it was only an issue because the three Chinese women are so famous, so recognizable that for some, it may be a distraction.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-7-

The Unbelievable Truth (1989, Directed by Hal Hartley) English 7

Starring Adrienne Shelly, Robert Burke, Christopher Cooke, Julia McNeal, Matt Malloy, Edie Falco, Paul Schultze, Bill Sage

(7-Very Good Film)

Odd. Engaging. Clever.

Josh Hutton: The last time I took a drink, I got into a car crash and I killed a girl.

Josh Hutton (Burke) seems like a kind, quiet soul. When he returns to his hometown after a stint in prison, he’s mistaken by some for a priest, but the majority of the people in town know what he did. He killed his girlfriend and her father. Meanwhile, beautiful Audry (Shelly) prepares for life after high school deciding between colleges and a burgeoning career as a model. To her overbearing parents’ dismay, she’s attracted to Josh. You’d be correct to think this sounds like the stuff of overwrought melodrama, but The Unbelievable Truth is mostly an irreverent comedy with a deadpan manner. Bizarre conversations, recurring gags, call-backs, and an off-kilter tone may take a while to grow used to, but I found the film clever and eventually charming.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,118)

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965, Directed by Robert Aldrich) English 9

Starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Christian Marquand, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser

Cult Movies: Original disaster movie The Flight of The Phoenix rises from  the ashes - The Irish News

(9-Great Film)

Dramatic. Brutal. Character-driven.

Heinrich Dorfmann: Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?

A cargo plane goes down in the middle of the Sahara desert, hundreds of miles off course and away from any apparent civilization. Its pilot, Captain Frank Towns (Stewart), navigator, Lew Moran (Attenborough), and many passengers face death from all directions: lack of resources, limited water, oppressive heat, and a hostile band of Arab thieves. One passenger, a German and a pariah among the men, Heinrich Dorfmann (Kruger), has an idea that he can rebuild a functioning aircraft, but its up to the others whether or not they put their faith in his unlikely plan. The Flight of the Phoenix is an outstanding survival drama and maybe the best film about leadership, ego, and disparate personalities forced into working together by brutal circumstance. Captain Towns is a proud man with decades of experience fueling his stubbornness, but perhaps there are things he doesn’t know, things the younger men can teach him. Lew is the mediator. He loves and respects his Captain but he suspects that they might need Dorfmann in order to survive. Dorfmann, meanwhile, is a tyrant when it comes to it. He’s petty, arrogant, confrontational, and it’s unclear whether he’s a genius or a madman. Captain Harris (Finch) is the stereotypical British soldier, stiff upper-lip, brave, adheres ceaselessly to the book, even when the elements make that book absurd. Ratbags (Bannen) is sarcastic and apathetic. Dr. Renaud (Marquand) is compassionate. Trucker Cobb (Borgnine) loses his mind. Standish (Duryea) leans on his religion, and Sergeant Watson (Fraser), perhaps the most-loathed character across all film, is a coward. These characters are what make The Flight of the Phoenix so compelling. When the action sequences do come, they’re riveting and impressive, but it starts and ends with the actors and the fine work they do.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,097)

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971, Directed by Claude Jutra) Québécois 6

Starring Jacques Gagnon, Claude Jutra, Jean Duceppe, Monique Mercure, Lynne Champagne, Olivette Thibault

Mon oncle Antoine (1971) | MUBI

(6-Good Film)

Measured. Bitter. Foreign.

Jos Poulin: To hell with them all! The English, Euclid, the undertaker, the priest, the boss, the whole gang. I’m getting the hell out.

Neither the whimsical jaunt nor the blissfully nostalgic piece I expected based purely on its title, Mon Oncle Antoine is surprisingly bitter. Sure, there are light moments and, at times, it takes on elements of the slice-of-life drama, which is what I anticipated goin in, but this film more accurately is about a young boy’s harsh coming-of-age in a harsh environment (Quebec, 1949). He lives with his Aunt and Uncle who run an undertaker business and flirts with the young shop girl, Carmen, that boards there. The story is quiet; the drama understated. By its end, all taken into account, you’ll notice that a lot actually does happen in this movie and there’s so much more that I feel that I missed or didn’t understand. There’s almost no context given by the film and I have no context of Canadian history, so Mon Oncle Antoine is especially foreign with very little to relate to. I wouldn’t be surprised if it grows with each viewing, but my first impression is that Mon Oncle Antoine is cold and bleak.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,095)

History is Made at Night (1937, Directed by Frank Borzage) English 6

Starring Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer, Leo Carrillo, Colin Clive, George Meeker, Ivan Lebedeff, George Davis

Antti Alanen: Film Diary: History Is Made at Night (1937)

(6-Good Film)

Melodramatic. Unique. Engaging.

Irene Vail: You’re right, Bruce. This time you’re right. This time there *is* another man.

Irene Vail (Arthur) has been faithful to her husband, Bruce (Clive), whose insecurity and jealousy have caused her to file for divorce, but Bruce is also obscenely wealthy. He hatches a blackmail scheme meant to keep her tied to him but instead introduces her to Paul Dumond (Boyer), a French waiter who’s suave personified. The two fall in love but Bruce’s jealousy and his wealth threaten to tear them apart. Shifting through tones skillfully, History is Made at Night, which starts as a sort of romantic comedy, goes in several surprising directions. I’m not much a fan of what I call the “weepies,” melodramas designed to induce tears, but Boyer and Arthur are magic together.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,093)

The Woman in the Window (2021, Directed by Joe Wright) English 4

Starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, Tracy Letts, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, Fred Hechinger

5 Things to Know Before Watching The Woman in the Window Movie

(4-Bad Film)

Clumsy. Butchered. Gaudy.

Anna Fox: You don’t think it’s paranoid if I wanna change the locks. Do you?

Who would have thought that a film written by Pulitzer-prize winner, Tracy Letts, directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Hanna), and starring Amy Adams and Gary Oldman, among others, could be this bad? I’ve read the book; a bestseller and a skillfully written page-turner. Following a former child psychologist, Anna Fox (Adams), agoraphobic after a family accident, who sees, or at least thinks she sees a violent murder across the street, The Woman in the Window is an excellently paced, diverting, and satisfying novel. Its adapation, despite a strong performance from Amy Adams, is clumsy, suspenseless, silly, and dull. I know that the film’s release was hit hard by last year’s covid outbreak, but did something happen during production as well? It’s an inexplicably bad movie. The characters are ill-defined. The cops are useless. The dialogue is full of exposition, and I’m not sure any of it makes sense. Had I not read the book, I don’t know that I’d follow what happened in the film. I probably wouldn’t care.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,077)

Presumed Innocent (1990, Directed by Alan J. Pakula) English 7

Starring Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Brian Dennehy, Gretta Scacchi, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield, John Spencer, Sab Shimono, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Bradford, Jeffrey Wright

Presumed Innocent (Film) - TV Tropes

(7-Very Good Film)

Alluring. Intriguing. Deceptive.

Rusty Sabich: I’m going to need a lawyer, a very, very good lawyer, an expensive lawyer. It could break us.

Murder novels, like the one this film is based on, aren’t generally considered great literature, though they dominate the bestseller lists, and this attitude carries over to cinema as well. Very rarely will you see anyone receive an Oscar nomination for a murder mystery, because they very rarely offer any amount of depth. They go down easy and they usually satisfy, but how many murder mysteries have you seen or read more than once? Presumed Innocent is a murder mystery in the classic tradition and a courtroom drama with Harrison Ford playing Rusty Sabich, a lawyer investigating the brutal murder of his work colleague and mistress, Carolyn Polhemus (Scacchi). Soon, the evidence stacks up against him and he’s tried for the killing, while his wife, Barbara (Bedelia), who knows of his affair, stands by his side. Whether Presumed Innocent warrants and rewards a second viewing remains to be seen for me, but I’m confident that it’s, at the very least, a superior mystery film. It features a strong lead performance from Ford, a sure, seductive tone, and a rich sense of atmosphere to go along with a slowly surprising story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,073)

Casablanca (1942, Directed by Michael Curtiz) English 9

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z Sakall, Dooley Wilson

Casablanca (1942)

(9-Great Film)

Classic. Immaculate. Beloved.

Rick: Here’s looking at you, kid.

Rick (Bogart), as I’m sure you know already, sticks his neck out for nobody. Heartbroken after a lost love affair in Paris, he’s become the enigmatic owner of a happening bar in Casablanca during World War II. While all around him people are scrambling and killing and stealing for a means of getting out of town and over to ally territory, Rick seems in his element. That changes when an old flame, Ilsa (Bergman), the one who broke his heart in Paris, shows up with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), a hero to the resistance movement. Casablanca is often proclaimed the best-loved or most cherished of Hollywood classics. It’s a strong testament to what the old studio system could do. Premier production values, invisible editing, great dialogue, and a terrific cast of characters matched with the right stars and character actors. Of course, Bogart and Bergman are immaculate but think about how invaluable the supporting cast is, right down to Sakall in his brief moments (The studio system had the best character actors). I resisted Casablanca for many years, perhaps partly due to my innate contrary nature, but also, I think, because its so famous and influential, so often imitated, that its components are almost cliche. It’s impossible for it to feel fresh at this point, but watching it again, I found myself admiring every aspect of its storytelling. It’s a great film, but you probably didn’t need to be told that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,063)