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-

(380)

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)

The Brasher Doubloon (1947, Directed by John Brahm) English 6

Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Conrad Janis, Florence Bates, Fritz Kortner, Roy Roberts

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(6-Good Film)

Derivative. Inferior. Entertaining.

Iconic detective of film and literature, Phillip Marlowe (portrayed unconvincingly by Montgomery) is on a case chasing down a rare 18th-century coin known as the Brasher Doubloon but finds it to be more complex than it at first appeared. It’s not long before he stumbles onto an unsolved murder, blackmail, and corruption. All private eye fiction is indebted to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon in some way or other, but I don’t recall Raymond Chandler’s novel, The High Window (the book in which this film is adapted from) being as derivative as The Brasher Doubloon feels. You have a handful of people searching for and ready to kill for a priceless antique item. That’s The Maltese Falcon all over again. The Brasher Doubloon also opens with a scene that’s heavily reminiscent of Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep which came out just two years earlier. The supporting players and the leading lady are better suited to their roles than the lead, and The Brasher Doubloon isn’t a very good title for a film. The filmmakers would have been better off sticking with The High Window. Unoriginality aside, this is a decent film, and all private detective movies are entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(351)

 

Foreign Intrigue (1956, Directed by Sheldon Reynolds) English 8

Starring Robert Mitchum, Ingrid Thulin, Geneviève Page, Eugene Deckers, Inga Tidblad, Lauritz Falk

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Suspenseful. Fantastic. Surprising.

Foreign Intrigue is a shameless soap opera, only instead of illicit romance, domestic strife, and Jane Wyman, we get espionage, assassins, and Robert Mitchum. The classic Hollywood star, usually of noirs, plays Dave Bishop, a cool customer and right-hand man to a secretive millionaire, Victor Danemore. After his employer dies, Bishop does some digging into Danemore’s past, which leads across the world and into a web of lies involving war-time traitors and Nazis of all things. It comes as no surprise to me to find out that this was originally a television serial. It unloads one moment after another that would make a great commercial break cliffhanger. There is no depth whatsoever in Foreign Intrigue, so it’s a matter of knowing what you’re in for, and seeing if it fits your taste. For me, Foreign Intrigue is a fantastic fantasy; a laconic hero, beautiful women (one dangerous, one true), twists, action.  What else do you need?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(336)

The Hateful Eight (2015, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 9

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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(9-Great Film)

Gripping. Gruesome. Wild.

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 hanged (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, are 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 about 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.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(334)

Disturbia (2007, Directed by D.J Caruso) English 7

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, David Morse, Carie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo

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(7-Very Good Film)

Suspenseful. Breezy. Familiar.

This film has no deeper qualities beyond its appeal as a suburban thriller. It doesn’t have any large-scale ambitions or notions of being great popular art like its predecessor, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.  That film featured a recently handicapped Stewart, laid up in his urban apartment, forced into the role of peeping Tom, watching his neighbors as he grows to suspect one of them of being a killer. Disturbia, released over fifty years later, updates this premise, making its protagonist, Kale Brecht (LaBeouf), a delinquent youth on house arrest in some Californian suburb. This reworking of the plot proves to be a lot of fun, and the movie even throws in a little teen romance to boot, overcoming its one flaw: the utter uselessness and stupidity of the adults.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(268)

8mm (1999, Directed by Joel Schumaker) English 6

Starring Nicholas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Norman Reedus, Amy Morton, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Myra Carter

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(6-Good Film)

Schlock. Gripping. Sordid.

Not to everyone’s taste is the polite way of saying it, 8mm is, for me, trash entertainment. I have a real fascination with this kind of sordid material. Nicholas Cage plays a private detective, Tom Welles, hired by a wealthy widow to investigate a tape she found in her deceased husband’s safe. The tape appears to be an authentic snuff film, with a teenage girl as the star and victim. The widow wants Welles to investigate if the snuff film is real by finding out what happened to the girl in the video. Welles accepts the case and begins his descent into the world of underground pornography to find the truth. A few years after Seven, 8mm lacks the skill of that classic, but succeeds on the ability of its subject to engross and thrill. Cage, over-the-top at moments, delivers as the film’s wearied protagonist. Phoenix and Morton ground the film, and give it some pathos.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(267)