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-


Some Like it Hot (199, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 8

Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Joe E. Brown, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Mike Mazurki, Edward G. Robinson Jr.

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Risqué. Skilled. Iconic.
I wrote earlier in reviewing Tootsie that cross-dressing doesn’t hold the same taboo comical effect it once had. Watching Some Like it Hot, imagining how it must have hit in the ’50s is fun, but the film doesn’t need you to make allowances for its time. It’s still funny, bawdy, wild, and a consummately made picture viewed today. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two down-on-their-luck musicians during American Prohibition. After witnessing a mob hit led by Spats Colombo (Raft), the two disguise themselves as women and catch a ride to Florida alongside an all-female band named Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators. There they meet Sugar, played by the unforgettable Marilyn Monroe. This is a rather long film for a comedy, but it flies by on zaniness and comic invention. There are only a few substantial characters but they’re great characters and even the minor roles are cast perfectly (just look at the faces of Colombo’s henchmen).
-Walter Tyrone Howard-

The Irishman (2019, Directed by Martin Scorsese) English 9

Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Sebastian Maniscalco

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(9-Great Film)

Fascinating. Sweeping. Melancholic.

Despite the unsettling, far-from convincing “deaging technology” used to make its trio of legendary stars-De Niro, Pesci, Pacino-appear younger at different stages of the story, despite what some immature Marvel fan throwing a temper tantrum might say, The Irishman is a great film. Relating labor union official, Frank Sheeran’s account of his time spent working under the Buffalino crime family, his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa, and ultimately, Hoffa’s murder, The Irishman is a 3 1/2 hour look at the intricacies of gangster life and how it merged with politics over the decades. It’s fascinating. Scorsese has always been masterful with the details. The performances are excellent, aside from the problematic age effects (even if the effects were seamless, De Niro still moves and sounds like an old man). De Niro as Sheeran and Pesci as Russell Buffalino are understated, compelling, while Pacino is hilarious as the bombastic Hoffa. His last scene where he looks at his friend and makes the unwise decision to trust him is so poignant. One absurd complaint that I’ve heard is that Anna Paquin, playing Sheeran’s daughter, only has six lines. Sheeran is estranged from his daughters. The impression Paquin leaves as Peggy is one of hard silence.  I thought that spoke volumes. If Casino and Goodfellas showed the appeal and glamour of the underworld life, The Irishman shows the pettiness. “Microaggressions” is a serious concept these days. The Irishman is full of microaggressions. I picture gangsters as these tough guys, but The Irishman shows its criminals being passive-aggressive. Arguing over someone wearing swim trunks to a meeting, for example, in my favorite scene of the year.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Widows (2018, Directed by Steve McQueen) English 6

Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Kevin J. O’Connor

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(6-Good Film)

Polished. Sprawling. Unsatisfying.

Three women-Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Debicki)-lose their criminal husbands and owe crime boss, Jamal Manning (Henry), a couple million dollars. To pay him, the three devise a heist based on a plan drawn by Veronica’s late husband, Harry Rawlings (Neeson), and add a fourth member, Belle (Erivo), a getaway driver once they get closer to the heist. Anyone who’s seen Widows will know that the film is about so much more than what I just described, but for me, that’s part of the problem.  There’s much too much going on. Politics, social commentary, a scene touching on police shootings, and about 4 or 5 characters too many. Even interesting characters, Belle and Robert Duvall’s Tom Mulligan, weren’t necessary. Widows has many great aspects though. Beautifully filmed and acted, the story, despite being unfocused in my eyes, does draw you in. I do think, however, that here is a rare case where a bastardized version of this plot would have been better. The film is so elegantly shot that the heist needed to be more clever. The film’s final act dedicates maybe 10 minutes to the actual heist and it’s a trainwreck. That would be fine in a grittier crime film, but this one sets up its heist and characters for too long for that haphazard ending to be satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-


The Godfather (1972, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) English 10

Starring Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, John Cazale, Richard Conte, Talia Shire

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Iconic. Peerless. Timeless.

A familial epic about the Corleone crime family led by its patriarch Vito (Brando), and his four, very different sons: the volatile Sonny (Caan), adopted son Tom (Duvall), slow Fredo (Cazale), and war hero Michael (Pacino) who stays out of the family business. Their individual lives, and the outsider entanglements that come with a life of crime spark this masterful saga that would continue for another two films. Used by many cinephiles as a model of perfection in filmmaking. Every aspect of it is flawless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Godfather Part II (1974, Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) English/Italian 10

Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Robert De Niro, Bruno Kirby, Michael V. Gazzo, Lee Strasburg

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Stunning. Powerful. Epic.

The Corleone saga continues, this time interweaving the rise of young Vito Corleone (immortalized by Marlon Brando in the first part, here portrayed by De Niro) in turn of the century New York with the continued exploits of a, now, powerful and influential Michael Corleone (Pacino). After Michael’s home gets shot up, he makes maneuver after maneuver to ferret out the traitor who set it up. Longer, more intricate, deeper than the first part, part II manages to be even greater than one of the greatest films of all-time in its predecessor. Pacino in his prime was a force of nature, bottled up in the all-too calculating character of Michael, which makes him a threat to implode at any moment. The slow-developing familial betrayals are devastating, and there are at least a dozen unforgettable characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Untouchables (1987, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 8

Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Slick. Roaring.

Elliot Ness is the man who took down Al Capone. He’s a legend. Brian De Palma and writer, David Mamet, expand the legend in their ultra-entertaining gangster flick, The Untouchables. Ness (Costner) assembles a ragtag crew of cops-the mentor Malone (Connery), young hotshot Stone (Garcia), and meek accountant Wallace (Martin Smith)-  to go after Capone (De Niro) and his crooked empire. It’s Wallace’s income-tax idea that ultimately gets the job done. The Untouchables takes several liberties with the story, and Connery takes considerable liberty with the Chicago Irishman accent. In fact, The Untouchables features just about every cop and gangster cliché you can think of. I say it works for that reason. It’s a fantastic piece of pop entertainment: thrilling, suspenseful, dramatic. I also see a lesson to be learned in Connery’s performance: making no attempt whatsoever to do a realistic accent is less distracting than doing a bad accent. So if you aren’t going to get the accent right (Keanu Reeves in Dracula), then you might as well not even try. I got over his Scottish accent pretty quickly, and he’s awfully charismatic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Departed (2006, Directed by Martin Scorsese) English 6

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone

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(6-Good Film)

Flashy. Entertaining. Superficial.

Oscar winning remake of the Chinese Infernal Affairs trilogy, The Departed stars DiCaprio as Billy, a cop gone undercover in local big-shot, mob boss, Frank Costello’s (Nicholson) organization, but Frank has a mole of his own planted in the police department in the form of Colin (Damon). Neither side can seem to get the drop on the other, as a game of cat and mouse begins. Infinitely entertaining premise provides the thrills and suspense, but also an over the top style and hyper-active camera work. Nicholson’s large performance with his profane and crude character is fun to watch, but kept me at a distance in terms of taking the film seriously. I also didn’t like many of the aesthetic choices, including the jarring editing, dutch angles, and screwball delivery. It highlights the film’s lack of depth.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-