Avanti! (1972, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 8

Starring Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews, Gianfranco Barra, Giacomo Rizzo

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Long. Charming. Romantic.

Carlo Carlucci: Here, we take our time. We cook our pasta, we sprinkle our Parmigiano, we drink our wine, we make our love…

Wendell Armbruster: What do you do in the evening?

Carlo Carlucci: In the evening, we go home to our wives.

Wendell Armbruster (Lemmon) is as stiff and tightly wound as can be; an American in Italy, not for pleasure but for business of a sort. His father died while on his annual “therapeutic trip” to Italy and Wendell is charged with bringing the body back to Baltimore for the funeral. Wendell finds out that his father was actually, once a year, shacked up with his mistress at the local hotel run by the worldly Carlo Carlucci (Revill). While struggling to get his father back home in time, Wendell meets and slowly falls for Pamela (Mills), the sweet but insecure daughter of his father’s mistress. Life is complicated but Billy Wilder makes it seem worth it. He’s obviously one of the best and he can make the messiest of scenarios charming and sometimes funny. Avanti!, however, is not a wild romp or as comedy-driven as you might expect based on its poster. This is more often a serious romance with bouts of humor and wit. Lemmon and Mills are fantastic. Mills, in particular, is very sweet, and Revill, whom I learn is actually from New Zealand, is convincing and charming as the Italian hotel manager. Avanti! may be too long but I personally don’t think so. I don’t mind long films so long as they’re not boring. Avanti! isn’t boring. It slowly becomes one of the great romances.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(906)

Blue Velvet (1986, Directed by David Lynch) English 9

Starring Kyle McLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dean Stockwell, Hope Lange, Brad Dourif, George Dickerson

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(9-Great Film)

Strange. Illusive. Unforgettable.

Frank Booth: In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you’re mine, all the time. Forever. In dreams…

There have been hundreds of essays trying to get to the bottom of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Following Jeffrey Beaumont (McLachlan), a college kid returning to suburban Lumbertown after his father has a stroke, Blue Velvet quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. Jeffrey finds a severed ear walking home from visiting his father and feels compelled to investigate. Like a dark Alice in Wonderland, Jeffrey goes down the rabbit hole and finds himself in an underworld populated by people like the seductive lounge singer, Dorothy (Rosselini), and pure evil in human form, Frank (Hopper). Of the theories I’ve read about Blue Velvet, and most hold water, I like the Oedipal idea wherein Frank represents the father (whom Jeffrey wants to kill) and Dorothy represents the mother (whom Jeffrey wants to sleep with). I also think voyeurism is a huge part of the film, as it is with any film noir or mystery (private detectives are called “peepers” right?). Jeffrey peaks in through the closet door and sees sex and violence. It’s attractive. Blue Velvet is a gorgeous film with a number of wtf moments. My personal favorite is the prostitute jumping up on the car and dancing while Jeffrey is beaten. A strange film for a strange world.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(904)

Harlem Nights (1989, Directed by Eddie Murphy) English 7

Starring Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Della Reese, Michael Lerner, Charlie Murphy, Jasmine Guy, Lena Rochon, Danny Aiello, Arsenio Hall, Robin Harris, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Berlinda Tolbert

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(7-Very Good Film)

Leisurely. Appealing. Brash.

If anyone remembers Harlem Nights, Eddie Murphy’s lone directorial effort, disappointment or unsuccessful are probably the words that come up quickest. Murphy stars as Quick alongside a terrific cast that includes Richard Pryor, Della Reese, and Redd Foxx among many familiar faces. Murphy and Pryor’s characters run a speakeasy in Harlem during the 1930s and are doing so well that local big-shot, Bugsy Calhoune (Lerner), wants a cut of their action. They have to use their wits to outsmart the gangster. Harlem Nights isn’t funny. Parts of it are humorous and the actors perform with natural charisma but it’s not what you’d expect from a film starring Murphy, Pryor, and Foxx. I’m sure that’s where the disappointment comes from. Aside from that though, I think there’s a lot that is worthwhile about this film. The setting, the score by Herbie Hancock, and the performances above all. Murphy seems to have a deft hand at working with actors. Harlem Nights is better than it’s given credit for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(899)

The Little Foxes (1941, Directed by William Wyler) English 7

Starring Bette Davis, Teresa Wright, Herbert Marshall, Dan Duryea, Patricia Collinge, Charles Dingle, Carl Benton Reid, Richard Carlson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Stagey. Masterly. Brutal.

The Hubbards, a southern aristocratic family, are always scheming. Wealthy, greedy, they’re led by three siblings, Regina (Davis), Ben (Dingle), and Oscar (Reid). Regina’s unhappily married to Horace Giddens (Marshall), suffering from a heart condition, whom the three siblings plot to bamboozle into funding their latest venture. Teresa Wright plays Alexandra Giddens, Regina and Horace’s daughter, threatened with marriage to her unscrupulous cousin, Leo (Duryea), in order to keep the family strong. Set in the early parts of the 20th century and based on a successful play, The Little Foxes is immaculately staged and well-performed by its cast who are given plum roles to dig into. Bette Davis is a force of nature and she excels in her role as a heartless, ruthless wife.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(895)

Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951, Directed by Raoul Walsh) English 5

Starring Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty, James Robertson Justice, Terence Morgan, Denis O’Dea, Christopher Lee

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(5-Okay Film)

Serious. Dry. Well-Acted.

C.S Forrester’s famous literary hero, Horatio Hornblower, is adapted for the big screen, played by Gregory Peck with his natural austerity. English Naval Captain Horatio Hornblower guides his ship through every possible hardship during the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century. Along the way, although married, he falls hard for Lady Barbara (Mayo). Compared to the jolly romps of Errol Flynn, this film seemed to me, overly serious. Well-crafted, well-acted, Captain Horatio Hornblower simply wasn’t much fun. Perhaps it’s an issue of expectations. This isn’t a swashbuckler. It’s a romantic drama set on a ship. Many people would welcome that. I didn’t care.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(893)

Fireworks Wednesday (2006, Directed by Asghar Farhadi) Persian 8

Starring Hedye Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Hamid Farokhnezhad, Pantea Bahram, Houman Seyyedi, Sahar Dolatshahi

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Painful. Assured. Poignant.

“Human beings are condemned to consequences.” Some wise old British writer once said that, though I’m struggling to place who. I, perhaps erroneously, remember reading it in some Graham Greene novel many years ago (The Heart of the Matter), but maybe it was Aldous Huxley as someone else has suggested to me. In any case, the quote perfectly underlines what’s at the heart of each film by the great, two-time Oscar winner, writer-director, Asghar Farhadi, a master in his prime. He found international acclaim and came to my attention back in 2011 with his powerful fifth feature film, A Separation, which won that year’s prize for Best Foreign-Language Film at the Academy Awards. He went on to win a second Oscar in that same category years later for The Salesman, and, as his reputation grew, some of his earlier works were made available to us in the Western world. One of these early films is Fireworks Wednesday. Young bride-to-be, Rouhi (Alidoosti), takes on short-term work helping the wealthy, dysfunctional Samiei family. The wife, Mozhdeh (Tehrani), is almost certain, let’s say ninety-nine percent sure, that her husband is cheating on her, and it’s that one percent doubt that is wearing on her. He makes her think that she’s crazy. Maybe she is. Like his other films, Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday focuses on the collateral damage, the innocent victims of domestic strife. In this film, it’s Rouhi, who’s like a third wheel in a toxic relationship, and it’s the Samiei’s young son. This is an involving drama and a potent one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(890)

The Karate Kid Part II (1986, Directed by John G. Avildsen) English 5

Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Rob Garrison, Nobu McCarthy, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Joey Miyashima

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(5-Okay Film)

Retread. Unnecessary. Inferior.

When you see a film you love, you may have the feeling that you want to find something else just like it. Studios cash in on this feeling, leading to a lot of unnecessary sequels (or even worse rip-offs), but usually, what we actually want is to be surprised and blown away again. I love The Karate Kid. Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Morita) are iconic characters but they only needed one film. They went on for three together, and, for Mr. Miyagi, four films total. Each subsequent film got worse and worse (more over-the-top and unnecessary with each sequel). Part II sees the pair traveling to Mr. Miyagi’s home in Okinawa, where a decades-old feud with a former friend, Sato, resurfaces. Part II is, to me, very watchable. I like it actually. The returning heroes and their corny romances are very enjoyable to me, but can I call it a good film? I don’t think so. It meanders in the back end and the conclusion is far less satisfying than its predecessor. Mainly, because the villain, Chozen, is psychotic and unbelievable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(881)