The Evil Eye (1963, Directed by Mario Bava) English 6

Starring Letícia Román, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo, Luigi Bonos

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Nora Davis (Román), apparently an American, though played by an Italian actress, arrives in Rome to care for her sick Aunt. She meets her Aunt’s attractive doctor, Marcello (Saxon), an Italian played by an American, and the two are instantly attracted to one another. Later, after a bad episode where her Aunt’s health fails, Nora runs out to the streets and witnesses a murder, or at least she thinks she does. The police believe she had a hallucination brought on by trauma. Slick, incredibly lithe camera movement highlight what was an early example of the Italian giallo genre( horror or thriller). Beautiful visuals and star in hand, the film gets by, but is never truly thrilling or surprising. Still, very entertaining.

The Narrow Margin (1952, Directed by Richard Fleischer) English 8

Starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White, Queenie Leonard, Paul Maxey

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Hard-boiled Detective Seargeant Walter Brown (McGraw) has to escort a mobster’s widow (Windsor) from Chicago to Los Angeles by train where she’s set to speak before a grand jury. Powerful underworld figures are willing to do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen. Brown, whose partner was already murdered protecting the big-mouthed dame, has his work cut out for him, standing alone against a team of crooks and murderers. They even try bribing him. Meanwhile he meets a married woman, Ann (White), on the train, and quickly grows attached to her. Fast, tightly plotted tale with strong performances and a surprising finale. Very suspenseful. Prime B-movie.

The Hateful Eight (2015, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 10

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum

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Shacked up in a remote lodge, snowed in by the blistering Wyoming conditions, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) reluctantly requests the help of a fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson). Ruth is carrying precious cargo, Daisy Domergue (Leigh), with a massive bounty on her head, and while the reward states dead or alive, Ruth insists on seeing her hang (meaning taking her in alive). Ruth senses something’s afoot at the lodge as he looks at the fellow guests: there’s the weaselly Sheriff Mannix (Goggins), fork tongued Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), the quiet Joe Gage (Madsen), notorious Confederate General Smithers (Dern), and shifty Mexican Bob (Bichir). Ruth believes that one of them, maybe more than one, maybe all of them, is working to free Daisy, and so he recruits Warren, the only one he basically trusts. What follows is a trademark Tarantino extravaganza: killer dialogue, wild tonal shifts, extreme violence, and a gallery of unforgettable characters. Race is a major issue, and many critics complained how it is used in this film for provocation rather than enlightenment or insight. I see it as a continuation of Tarantino’s recent films that were grounded in wish fulfillment. Here, the black guy, Warren, is the smartest guy in the room. As the murder mystery unfolds, we watch him unravel the deception and conspiracy through intelligence and deception of his own. There’s a shocking (to some) scene in the middle of the picture exemplifying this where Warren uses a story I believe to be fictional simply to elicit a dumb response from an enemy so that he can dispose of him. Some characters work better than others. Mobray and Bob aren’t given much to do, and Gage, while being a textbook western character, seems boring next to the outlandish surrounding cast. There’s also an odd cameo that I’m unsure of. However, Jackson, Russell, Jason Leigh and Goggins are outstanding, and the setting, as filmed by Robert Richardson, is glorious.

Friday the 13th (1980, Directed by Sean S. Cunningham) English 6

Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby III, Kevin Bacon, Mark Nelson

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Twenty two years after the murder of a young couple on its grounds, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening, and a group of spirited youngsters work to get it ready. As night falls, however, they begin dying off one by one, in typically horrific slasher fashion. Disparaged by critics in its time, perhaps chuckled over by modern viewers, this slasher standard actually has a few genuine scares. This makes up for its paper-thin characters (they’re indistinguishable beyond their appearances), and thoroughly silly last act when all is explained and nothing makes sense. The remaining survivor’s tango with the killer lasts entirely too long, dragging out a fight that should really be no contest. Every horror cliche about stupid characters is on display. Please, God, don’t let me be serial killed, going, “hello? hello? hello?”

Se7en (1995, Directed by David Fincher) English 10

Starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey

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Supremely dark and controversial at its release, this police procedural follows two odd couple cops- one, a calm, intelligent veteran on the cusp of retirement (played by Morgan Freeman) and the other, a hot-headed greenhorn (played by Brad Pitt)-as they track down a diabolical killer using his murders to reflect each of the seven deadly sins. At first viewing, I found the film entertaining, but vapid. Aside from the genuinely shocking material, the film is a pretty by the numbers thriller. After watching it again, I haven’t necessarily shifted from those views, only now, I appreciate its strengths more. First and foremost, Morgan Freeman’s rock solid performance is one of his best. He’s never hit a false note in his career, and I could watch him investigate a hamster’s disappearance. Secondly, and it shouldn’t be a huge spoiler at this point to say it, but Kevin Spacey’s killer is perfectly calculated. It could have easily been over-acted, and the whole picture would have been ruined since the last act depends so much on him. As with many David Fincher films, Se7en is grungy and gorgeous, and the finale is like a gut-punch.

 

Crooked House (2017, Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner) English 6

Starring Max Irons, Terrence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Stefanie Martini, Julian Sands, Christian McKay, Christina Hendricks

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Adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel following private detective Charles Hayward (Irons) as he investigates a case given to him by an ex-girlfriend. The case involves the death of an enormously wealthy and corrupt patriarch, and, of course, all his relatives are suspects. Hayward meets the entire family of  greedy eccentrics, as he tries to catch a killer. Christie became a world renowned master of the whodunit mystery, and nobody does it better. Her story has been transported to the screen with skill and a cast full of strong performances. While this is not the best Christie adaptation, it is a perfectly good time minus any truly memorable moments.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 10

Starring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee, Genevieve Page, Tamara Toumanova

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Years after his death, the letters of Dr. John H. Watson, one of literature’s most famous narrators and chronicler of the eminent Sherlock Holmes  are found. In them, he relates a Sherlock Holmes story theretofore untold, deemed to private for the public. In Sherlock’s most personal case of his career, a strange and beautiful woman with amnesia winds up on his doorstep. Deducing that she’s looking for a missing husband, Sherlock sets out to solve the mystery, all the while falling for the woman. This is a later work from Billy Wilder, and probably his last great film. It’s beautifully, lavishly constructed sets, wit, and style belie the poignant sadness at its core which make it a special take on the character. A late sequence featuring a Morse code message by way of umbrella is an indelible, agonizing image.