The Leopard Man (1943, Directed by Jacques Tourneur) English 6

Starring Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabell Jewell

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(6-Good Film)

Effective. Striking. Limited.

Jerry (O’Keefe), a promoter, gets a leopard to bolster his girlfriend’s act, but when it gets loose and women are killed, Jerry’s not sure if he’s after a rogue leopard or a human killer. A fairly obvious mystery plot with a running time of 66 minutes and no character development, the film is reduced to a series of drawn-out suspense sequences, with three, in particular, standing out. A terrifying scene in a graveyard, blood pouring in under the door, and the character, Margo’s cigarette lighting up the dark alley. Three great scenes are enough to recommend any movie, and the amount of creativity and inventiveness that transformed a shoe-string budget into a memorable horror classic is staggering.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(423)

Paranorman (2012, Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell) English 7

Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garland

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(7-Very Good Film)

Impressive. Fun. Anticlimactic.

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an odd little boy. He can see and talk with ghosts, and since no one in his small town of Blithe Hollow believes him, Norman is looked at as a bit of a freak. A reckoning from beyond the grave is coming, however, and Norman is the only one with the power to stop it, with some help from his friends. The combination of stop-motion and computer animation is stunning. It’s a beautiful film and there’s a lot of humor and great detail in the animation. The story, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. The finale is a bit of a let down; not delivering on scares or thrills. Paranorman was set up to be something of an homage to the Goonies but eschews adventure about midway through, and instead becomes more about hijinks and physical humor.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(401)

The Skin I Live In (2011, Directed by Pedro Almodovar) Spanish 9

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet,  Roberto Álamo

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Mesmerizing. Potent.

Wow. I was determined to jump ahead of this film’s twists, and yet, I still found myself stunned and elated at its slowly unraveling plot. Beginning with Antonio Banderas as a renegade surgeon reeling from his wife’s death and Elena Anaya as his special patient/prisoner, the film jumps back and forth in time oozing sinister undertones and tossing out red herrings until the big moments that left me floored and unnerved. All the actors are quite good in Almodovar’s slightly campy, melodramatic manner, and the director once again proves to be a master at blending tones and styles.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(389)

The ‘Burbs (1989, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Henry Gibson, Corey Feldman, Brother Theodore, Wendy Schaal, Rick Ducommun

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(6-Good Film)

Wacky. Odd. Campy.

Ray Peterson (Hanks), husband, father, suburbanite, wants to relax, or more accurately, his wife (Fisher) wants him to relax. He wants to find out what’s up with his weird new neighbors, the Klopeks. They dig holes at night, throw large bags into trash cans, and never say anything to anybody. Ray’s not the only one who’s curious. His friend and neighbor, Art (Ducommun), doesn’t hesitate to believe something’s up with them. Neither does Ray’s retired military neighbor, Lt. Rumsfeld (Dern). They investigate while their wives roll their eyes and try to talk them down. It’s pretty obvious territory for satire. Director Joe Dante’s made several films lampooning the suburbs, mixing horror with looney tunes humor. He’s quite good at it, with his Gremlins films being his best. This is an often funny, mostly aimless comedy light on the thrills. The jokes and characters are there, but the filmmakers skimped on the horror. Henry Gibson and Brother Theodore make up for some of this by being so amusingly creepy, and Hanks is a joy in pretty much anything. He’s way over the top here, but it suits the material.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(379)

Alien: Covenant (2017, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 6

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smoltz

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Interesting. Intriguing.

The Covenant, a ship full of people searching for a new home find themselves on a detour from hell after the captain stops on a mysterious planet. The Covenant’s crew explore, and the film becomes a sci-fi slasher flick thereafter. Horror films and big-budget spectacle don’t have a great track record. The best horror flicks are often inexpensive sleeper films (this year’s Get Out for example). Ridley Scott’s third venture into his Alien franchise is successful enough as an entertainment. The visuals are incredible, the cast with limited depth of character to work with are fine. Michael Fassbender is given the only truly interesting role (double roles actually) in David and Walter, androids of different models. The film is a bit of a mess thematically, but still intriguing with thoughts of creation and power. That aspect of Alien: Covenant might warrant a second viewing down the road. Otherwise, it’s an ambitious slasher film, complete with a ridiculous, gratuitous sex/murder scene that seems straight out of a Jason flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(368)

Happy Death Day 2U (2019, Directed by Christopher Landon) English 6

Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews

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(6-Good Film)

Convoluted. Fun. Free-wheeling.

Early on, there’s a scene where the three returning protagonists-Tree (Rothe), Carter (Broussard), Ryan (Vu)-go to a science lab to search for a demented serial killer. Carter leads the way with a baseball bat. The other two go empty-handed. Looking for a killer is one thing, but going empty-handed is too much. I’m resisting the urge to scream, “Grab a weapon!” at the screen. Then, almost a slasher film miracle. Ryan grabs a mop handle, and I think, “this might be a superior slasher film with characters that make decent decisions.” Sadly, no. Another scene, not long after, Ryan, in the middle of a crowd of people, runs from his masked pursuer to hide in an empty room with no witnesses and no one to help him should the killer find him. Thankfully, Happy Death Day 2U is barely a slasher film. A sequel, this film continues with the time loop conceit (borrowed from Groundhog Day) but takes it to some fun, surprising, adventurous places. Still silly, still tame, and the whodunnit element proves fairly uninteresting, Happy Death Day 2U works more as a young adult adventure flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(361)

Rings (2017, Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez) English 4

Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bonnie Morgan, Aimee Teegarden

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(4-Bad Film)

Dull. Incoherent. Unscary.

Watching a certain videotape prompts some strange entity to call your closest phone, and give you seven days to live. That is unless you get someone else to watch the tape. Unwilling to ensnare anyone else, Julia (Lutz) and her boyfriend, Holt (Roe), investigate, hoping to break the cycle once the mystery has been unraveled. The Ring movies never held up to questions of logic, but they moved past that with creative visuals, strong acting, and genuine horror. The original Japanese version never even bothered with explanations, making it scarier. This newest entry, with none of the cast or crew from the first two American remakes, wants to explain everything. That was a horrible idea. This film is so boring, which is remarkable for a “horror” film. Even the hack-jump scares aren’t exciting since they’re hollow. I know that this is a PG-13 film, and the two main characters aren’t going to die. That takes the thrill out of all of the “danger.” The acting is fine, given that the actors have nothing to work with. I hope D’Onofrio made a lot of money to justify him being in this. To be fair, his scenes in the movie are the only ones even slightly interesting (though still not good).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(358)