A Simple Favor (2018, Directed by Paul Feig) English 6

Starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend, Andrew Rannells

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(6-Good Movie)

Twisty. Sly. Lurid.

Gone Girl came and shocked a lot of people. Amy Dunne, portrayed by Rosamund Pike, is an unforgettable character. Like every huge Hollywood hit, Gone Girl has a host of imitators. What separates A Simple Favor from the cheap imitations is its playful take on the sensationalized material; director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and writer, Jessica Sharzer pace the twisty plot with the occasional riff that feels like a wink at the camera. They know this is derivative of Gone Girl and its rip-offs, so that A Simple Favor works both as a comedy-a spoof of sorts- and a thriller-the plot is absorbing and surprising. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, the perfect stay-at-home mom who befriends Emily (Lively). They both have grade school age sons, but that’s where the similarities would seem to end, until Emily disappears and it comes out that both women have secrets. Lively plays her role straight and plays it well, creating an enigmatic character that you know is trouble but can’t help but be drawn towards. Anna Kendrick gives the material its gently satirical edge; a fish out of water at first glance, but with the ability to surprise you. Like most of these stylish, over-cooked thrillers, A Simple Favor is incredibly entertaining, well-plotted, and effective, but loses something upon further viewings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

Charade (1963, Directed by Stanley Donen) English 10

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau

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Two of classic Hollywood’s greatest stars pair, with Audrey Hepburn playing Regina Lampert,  the widow of a man who stole a fortune during the war. Her husband’s old partners in crime come calling, betrayed and left out of their cut, to follow Regina, believing that she knows where the money is hidden. Cary Grant plays the mysterious and charming Peter Joshua. Regina quickly falls in love with the man, but can she trust him? Excellent script, full of snappy lines, and romantic patter. Also an excellent whodunnit, an excellent romantic comedy, and an excellent thriller. Charade works tremendously on all levels. Enchanting. Sparkling. Suave.

And Then There Were None (2018, Directed by Rene Clair) English 10

Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, June Duprez, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, Judith Anderson, Mischa Auer

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Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was a dark, terrifying murder mystery set on a remote island, and possibly one of the earliest precursors to the modern slasher.  In her novel, eight strangers and a married couple meet, all with criminal secrets, for what was supposed to be fun and games, but turns out to be psychotic retribution, as one among them is a killer, picking off the others one by one. This 1945 adaptation, due to restrictive production codes, couldn’t match its source’s ferocity, so instead, it provides a witty, stylish, and entertaining thriller, light on scares, but full of suspense. By going with all character actors, the film lets you know that any one can die over the course of the movie, whereas a movie star would have to survive until at least the end. Breaking the fourth wall with the character introductions was just one of director, Rene Clair’s numerous wonderful touches. Droll. Skillful. Hair-raising.

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945, Directed by Roy William Neill) English 6

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Aubrey Mather, Paul Cavanagh

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Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) is called in with his earnest sidekick, Dr. Watson (Bruce), to investigate the deaths of two members of a secretive club, whose deaths were preceded by threatening letters. The remaining five club members fear for their lives, while it becomes clear that one of them is likely behind it all. Rathbone and Bruce, who played the iconic pair, more times than anyone are in their element here. Rathbone always looks amused and one step ahead of the rest, while Bruce provides the comic relief and every now and then stumbles on to some important clue. The film, short and sweet, wraps up with a very satisfying conclusion. Suspenseful. Assured. Solid.

The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970, Directed by Dario Argento) English 7

Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi, Mario Adorf, Enrico Maria Salerno

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An American tourist, Sam (Musante), in Italy witnesses a near fatal attack on a woman in an art gallery, but failed to get a clear look at the would-be assassin. Local police believe the attack is part of a string of recent murders, and hold Sam as a key witness, hoping that he’ll recall some important detail that will lead to the killer. Director, Argento, works in almost exclusively in this genre, with several variations of this same plot. His talent lies in his staging, framing, and elegant camera movement, which is on full display in this, his debut. Incredible mise en scène.  Most notably in the key early scene in which Sam witnesses the attack, with its snow white interior, wall of glass, and the night time merging to delirious effect. Dialogue, acting, and character development are of little importance in his films. I will say The Bird with the Crystal Plumage offers a solid mystery plot with an excellent conclusion. Surprising. Striking. Lurid.

Windows (1980, Directed by Gordon Willis) English 4

Starring Talia Shire, Joseph Cortese, Elizabeth Ashley, Kay Medford, Michael Lipton, Russell Horton

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Shy, passive Emily Hollander (Shire) is the subject of an unhealthy obsession: her neighbor, Andrea (Ashley), watches her nightly from a telescope situated across the street. Andrea hires a taxi driver to rape Emily and record the act for Andrea’s voyeuristic enjoyment. Yes, it is as obscene and unpleasant as it sounds. Inspired by a love of Hitchcock and Rear Window, I’m sure, this film captures none of the old master’s skill for telling a gripping story. Directed by legendary cinematographer, Gordon Willis, this is a great looking, very atmospheric film. The problem is the script begins with an offensive premise, proceeds with no mystery or suspense, and ends with a ridiculously hollow climax. Bad. Misguided. Superficial.

And Then There Were None (2015, Directed by Craig Viveiros) English 8

Starring Aidan Turner, Maeve Dermody, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Noah Taylor, Sam Neill, Burn Gorman, Toby Stephens, Douglas Booth

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10 strangers meet on a secluded island for different reasons, or so they think, since the real reason becomes clear soon after arrival: someone has brought them there to pick them off, one by one. Each of the ten strangers has an alleged crime they got away with, some admit to their crime, some don’t, and after searching the island for their killer and finding no one, they realize that the killer has to be one of them. Not the first adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic, and I might give the edge to Rene Clair’s 1945 version for its sense of style, but this is easily the closest adaptation to the feel of Christie’s novel. With the number of times I’ve read or seen this story, it’s an incredible achievement that this 4 part miniseries had me hooked as if I didn’t know what was coming. Genuinely scary and exceptionally performed, and the flashbacks offered to slowly establish the characters are a very nice touch. Wicked. Haunting. Engrossing.