Get Carter (2000, Directed by Stephen Kay) English 5

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Miranda Richardson, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming, Rachel Leigh Cook, John C. McGinley

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(5-Okay Film)

Tame. Misguided. Inferior.

The original Get Carter is a classic British gangster film: raw, relentless, bleak, and brutal. Michael Caine starred as Jack Carter, a gangster out for revenge on his brother’s murderers. As portrayed by Caine, Carter was nearly as ruthless as the “bad guys,” cold and methodical. Stallone’s Carter is a big softy. That’s not to criticize his performance. Stallone is quite good in this role, but the filmmakers or writers or whoever decided to water down the material. It’s as if Get Carter was remade by people who didn’t even like the original. Instead of raw, gritty filmmaking, we get polished, overly-stylized filming here, and instead of a morally ambiguous hero, we get a righteous mob enforcer. Maybe if they had just called it a different name, severed its ties to the original, this film might have had a chance. We know that Stallone is very compelling in these roles, but this Get Carter is wildly inferior.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Directed by John Frankenheimer) English 10

Starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva

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Raw. Gripping. Brilliant.

Political thriller about a group of soldiers returning to the States after a harrowing campaign in the Korea War. But Captain Marco (Sinatra) starts to doubt his own memories and understanding of what took place overseas, and all signs point to brainwashing. Soon Captain Marco finds a major Government conspiracy that involves turning soldiers into helpless killing machines, and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), son of Svengali-like Senator’s wife Eleanor Iselin (Lansbury), is at the heart of it. Communist paranoia at its finest, as well as a razor-sharp satire of the McCarthy era, this is such a fine film. Gripping, odd, suspenseful, layered. A masterpiece of its genre.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Gosford Park (2000, Directed by Robert Altman) English 10

Starring Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Kristen Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi

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Intricate. Masterful. Witty.

It’s 1930’s England. Sir William McCordle is throwing together a hunting party and the list of invitees include friends and enemies alike, though there’s little distinction between the two in his case. Soon he is dead, and we’re left with a good old fashioned whodunit, but this is a Robert Altman film, so it’s a little bit more. Full of amusing characters (Maggie Smith’s subtly insulting dame, chief among them). Filled to the brim with secrets. This is an odd whodunit where none of the characters in the film actually care who killed the victim, and a murder mystery film that invites multiple viewings and improves with time. Written by Julian Fellowes who went on to great heights with Downton Abbey, another take on the upstairs-downstairs dynamic of Old English life.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Searching (2018, Directed by Aneesh Chaganty) English 7

Starring John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Sarah Sohn, Joseph Lee, Ric Sarabia, Steven Michael Eich

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(7-Very Good Film)

Tense. Inventive. Surprising.

Told exclusively through web cameras and found footage, Searching follows David Kim (Cho), a widower, through every parent’s nightmare: his teenage daughter is missing. Police seem pretty sure that she’s run away, but David knows that she wouldn’t do that… would she? In searching for his missing daughter, he finds out how little he knows about her. Marketed as the first found-footage thriller, the style, poorly done, would be just a cheap gimmick, or, done slightly better, a neat trick. In Searching, the found-footage, the suspenseful, gripping story, and the acting make for a fantastic thriller. The style ratchets up the intensity. Like most thrillers, Searching depends a bit on farfetched solutions and contrivances, but it’s so expertly done, that there is no reason to complain.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Definitely, Maybe (2008, Directed by Adam Brooks) English 8

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, Derek Luke, Abigail Breslin, Kevin Kline

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intriguing. Likable. Fresh.

Maya Hayes (Breslin) demands that her father (Reynolds) tell her the story of how he and her mother fell in love. He tells her the story, but includes two other romances in his life and changes the names so she doesn’t know which one ends up being her mother. As Maya puts it, it’s like a romantic mystery. Great or even very good romantic comedies are few and far between. It’s rare that I see one that is actually romantic and funny. Definitely, Maybe succeeds on both counts. The mystery element in the film is interesting, and, ultimately, you want him to end up with the person he ends up with (and isn’t that all that matters). Granted, it’s a little far-fetched that he would be telling a lot that happens to his 12-year-old daughter, but besides that, the film is smart, well-acted, and well-written.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Letter to Three Wives (1949, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) English 8

Starring Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Celeste Holm

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intelligent. Intriguing. Literate.

Writer/director Mankiewicz wrote some great scripts in his day. A year before his masterpiece, All About Eve, he won the Oscar for directing this, A Letter to Three Wives, a film boasting razor-sharp dialogue and a terrific structure that turns this melodrama into a whodunnit. Rita Phipps (Sothern), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Darnell), and Deborah Bishop (Crain) make up the three wives of the title. They receive a letter from the vindictive local beauty, Addie (voiced by Holm), who tells them that she’s run off with one of their husbands. The three wives think back on their marriages and wonder if it could possibly be their husband. Terrifically written and acted drama with a clever premise. Terrific film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Black Widow (1954, Directed by Nunnally Johnson) English 6

Starring Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, Peggy Ann Garner, George Raft, Reginald Gardiner, Otto Kruger

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(6-Good Film)

Tense. Surprising. Well-executed.

Bigshot Broadway producer, Peter Denver (Heflin), gets mixed up with a seemingly sweet young woman and aspiring writer, Nancy Ordway (Ann Garner), but when he comes home one day to find her dead in his apartment, all the evidence points to him being the murderer. He has to race to find the killer before the cops settle on him, and then there’s his wife, Mrs. Denver (Tierney), who’s bound to get the wrong idea. This is a very satisfying murder mystery with a couple of twists and a handful of well-drawn characters. Ginger Rogers is a scene-stealer as the theater diva, Carlotta Marin, who loves gossip and hurls thinly veiled criticisms any chance she gets. The Black Widow is fairly by-the-numbers as far as whodunnits go, so if you’re weary of conventional mysteries, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and never tire of a solid murder mystery, this is a solid picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-