The Woman in the Window (1944, Directed by Fritz Lang) English 7

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Ryamond Massey, Edmund Breon

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nightmarish.

An ordinary man pushed to the limit. A classic setup for a classic noir. Edward G. Robinson plays Professor Richard Wanley, loving husband and father of two . He, along with his friends, grow infatuated with a portrait hanging in a random store window; a portrait of an unknown, beautiful woman. One day, gazing at the portrait, the professor gets the shock of his life when a woman shows up, Alice Reed (Bennett), apparently the subject of the painting. She invites him to her place, and he sees no harm in going. From that decision on, Wanley’s life spirals out of control leading to murder, blackmail, and lies. Legendary director, Fritz Lang, deals in archetypes: perfect nuclear family man, dangerous femme fatale, slick investigator, slick blackmailer. It’s potent stuff, though almost undone in my eyes by the ending. The three leads are perfect, and true prototypes for their roles.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Seventh Victim (1943, Directed by Mark Robson) English 6

Starring Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Hugh Beaumont, Ben Bard

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(6-Good Film)

Stark. Incomplete. Erratic.

An innocent young woman, Mary Gibson (Hunter), gets sucked in to the plotting of an underground satanic cult while searching for her missing sister, Jacqueline (Brooks). The premise sounds more exciting than its tame representation in The Seventh Victim, perhaps strongly hampered by its contemporary Hollywood production codes. It’s not that I demand gore and action in a horror film. The Seventh Victim is produced by the great Val Lewton who made several better features working with less. I also don’t mind the idea of the satanic cult being a society of intellectuals rather than violent sadists, which would be more obvious, and a less fresh take on the subject, but by the end of the show, I was struck by how abruptly the film ends, and how little really happens. It’s an amazing case when the most memorable, interesting thing about a movie is the hair of someone in the supporting cast. Jean Brooks as the lost sister is stunning, unforgettable, and iconic thanks to what I would describe as a long haired bob that matches her fur coat. The story, unfortunately, as it unravels, is confounding.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Secret Beyond the Door (1947, Directed by Fritz Lang) English 5

Starring Joan Bennett, Michael Redgrave, Anne Revere, Natalie Schafer, Barbara O’Neil

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(5-Mediocre Film)

Ridiculous. Resplendent. Unsatisfying.

If the theories and ideas of Sigmund Freud were going to make their way into film, then noir was the natural destination. Noirs were typically psychological thrillers built around ambiguous characters and sordid settings. The great German director Fritz Lang made several noir films after moving to Hollywood, and although Secret Beyond the Door might be his most articulate in terms of surrealism and psychological motivations, it’s ultimately unsatisfying thanks to a plot borrowed from Hitchcock’s Rebecca and twisted until it makes no sense literally. A woman, Celia (Bennett), is swept off her feet by an enigmatic architect, Mark (Redgrave), and marries him after a quick courtship. Come wedding night, she finds that Mark has a son from a previous marriage that ended in his wife’s death, and that might not even be his biggest secret.  As an exercise in style, genre, and symbolic expression, Secret Beyond the Door is fascinating, but this is a rare case for me when the superficial positives (as potent as they are) don’t outweigh the story’s clumsiness and contrived happy ending, which is simply preposterous. A product of its time, but the conclusion might have worked better as a more explicitly perverse love story rather than a happy ending that’s only happy because in classic Hollywood, it had to be.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Mission Impossible (1996, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 5

Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voigt, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ving Rhames, Emmanuelle Béart, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Reno, Emilio Estevez

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(5-Okay Film)

Fast. Convoluted. Disappointing.

An action film starring Tom Cruise, directed by Brian De Palma, with this supporting cast, should be so much better than it is. Tom Cruise plays IMF agent Ethan Hunt (his signature role at this point) for the first time, setup and framed, after a mission goes awry, and everyone else on his team is assassinated. He teams up with two disavowed agents to find the real traitor and clear his name. It’s such a promising premise that as Mission Impossible unfolds with its non-existent character development and obvious twists, I couldn’t help but be incredibly disappointed. As Tom Cruise’s first big action role, Mission Impossible at least gives us a taste of things to come from the star, and the famous sequence of Cruise dangling on a line as he breaks into CIA headquarters is a sensational one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


What Have you Done to Solange? (1972, Directed by Massimo Dallamano) English 7

Starring Fabio Testi, Karin Baal, Camille Keaton, Günther Stoll, Cristina Galbó, Claudia Butenuth, Joachim Fuchsberger

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(7- Very Good Film)

Skillful. Sordid. Gaudy.

The Italian giallo films are generally over-the-top, devoid of hard logic, stylish, violent, tawdry, and entertaining as hell. They ushered in the slasher flick, and remain among the best  examples of the subgenre.  What Have You Done to Solange? made in Italy, set in England, with an international cast and poor English dubbing, is such a film; a fantastic slasher-horror-mystery. A philandering professor, Henry (Testi), is out on a boat with one of his young students, Elizabeth, when she glimpses a bizarre and ugly murder. One of her fellow classmates is stabbed, and soon others follow, but she can’t get a clear image of what she’s seen.The murder mystery is hardly surprising, but gradually a revenge element creeps in giving the story some substance, and a truly gruesome undertone. Don’t question the characters’ decision making or why every female character in the film looks like a model and just be impressed by the incredibly deft camera movement and fun directorial flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



Bad Times at the El Royale (2018, Directed by Drew Goddard) English 8

Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intricate. Exciting. Engrossing.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” So says technology pioneer Steve Jobs. Every story has been told in one way or another, and every filmmaker borrows from the greats that came before. Bad Times at the El Royale bears many of the trademarks of a Quentin Tarantino film: chapters, nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence. Indeed, in more than just the style, Bad Times at the El Royale is reminiscent of The Hateful Eight. Here, seven strangers with dark secrets meet at a secluded, rundown motel split between California and Nevada. Who they are along with their motivations gradually become clear as they spiral towards violent conclusions. All this said, the similarities understood, the important thing is that Bad Times at the El Royale is an excellent film. Best of the year so far. The actors, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo especially, give their characters and this film a pathos sometimes missing in even the best of Tarantino’s work, and the El Royale offers a handful of exceptional, memorable set pieces. Some films focus solely on shock and awe, confusing the audience, or seeming ultra-hip. This film starts with a great story, and then tells it in a way that maximizes the suspense.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Dead Again (1991, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English 7

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight

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(7-Very Good Film)

Mysterious. Suspenseful. Nifty.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are both immediately recognizable as British. I’ve seen them do Shakespeare, E.M Forster, Richard Curtis, and Harry Potter. So watching them play Americans, as they do in Dead Again, can be a bit distracting, but once the film’s elaborate plot builds up and unfolds, and Branagh’s confident direction develops, I soon got over it. Their performances are in fact, very good, and the film’s cast is filled out with Sir Derek Jacobi as a hypnotist, Robin Williams as a crooked psychologist at rock-bottom, Andy Garcia as a snooping reporter, and Wayne Knight as a dependable friend and photographer. Thompson plays a mute amnesiac, Grace, with nightmares of herself being murdered. Branagh plays private detective, Mike Church, hired to help the woman solve who she is, and why she’s having these dreams. They discover the secret may dwell in their past lives, and the film inter-cuts with black and white passages, also starring Branagh and Thompson as newlyweds Margaret and Roman Strauss. A mystery, a romance, Dead Again could easily have become a silly potboiler. Branagh takes the premise seriously, and shows a knack for suspense and style as a director.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-