Unaccompanied Minors (2006, Directed by Paul Feig) English 4

Starring Dyllan Christopher, Tyler James Williams, Gia Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Wilmer Valderrama, Lewis Black, Rob Cordry, David Koechner, Brett Kelly, Jessica Walter, B.J Novak, Mindy Kaling, Teri Garr, Rob Riggle

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(4-Bad Film)

Unfunny. Spiritless. Aggravating.

A group of kids-Spencer, Grace, Charles, Donna, and “Beef”-are cooped up in D.C’s international airport on Christmas Eve thanks to a snowstorm. Grouchy Head of Passenger Relations, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), seems determined that they have no fun during their stay, so the children respond by running wild and “outsmarting” him at every turn. Maybe the filmmakers thought they had a bit of the Home Alone formula in hand. Neglected, resourceful child (in this case, children) versus dimwitted adults. The problem is, in Unaccompanied Minors, the children’s cleverness isn’t all that clever, the adults, though militant, aren’t necessarily even wrong, and the children are basically brats for most of the film. Unaccompanied Minors is never funny and often annoying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(839)

Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948, Directed by John Paddy Carstairs) English 6

Starring Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis, Rona Anderson, David Tomlinson

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(6-Good Film)

Light. Intelligent. Exciting.

Spies, murderers, adulterers, and the French police collide aboard the Orient Express on its way from Paris to Trieste (evidently a small town in Italy). Two agents, Zurta and Valya, kill a man and steal an important diary from the embassy in Paris with secrets that could prove catastrophic in the wrong hands. A man, Poole, thought to be an accomplice, double-crosses them and takes off aboard the train through Europe, hoping to sell the diary for himself. Zurta and Valya catch the train too and a host of characters are introduced as Poole evades his old partners. Short, with no stars or substantial characters, Sleeping Car to Trieste focuses on suspenseful situations, witty dialogue, and an exciting setting. It was an enjoyable old-fashioned thriller though I’ve already started to forget what happens.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(837)

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019, Directed by John Schultz) English 5

Starring Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, Honor Kneafsey, Sarah Douglas, Tahirah Sharif, Theo Devaney, Crystal Yu

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(5-Okay Film)

Retread. Predictable. Corny.

There’s no reason, as far as I can tell, that Netflix shouldn’t just keep rolling out these ultra-cheesy, predictable Christmas Prince movies every year. The Royal Baby, the third film in this watershed trilogy, brings back Queen Amber (Rose McIver) and King Richard (Ben Lamb) as they prepare for the birth of their first child and also to sign a treaty that would continue the alliance between their made-up country, Aldovia, and some other made-up country, Penglia. When someone steals the treaty before it’s signed, the king and queen go into detective mode. Enjoyable, treacly to the extreme, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby is satisfying viewing for those who like laughable, corny entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(836)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, Directed by Martin Scorsese) English 5

Starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, David Bowie, Harry Dean Stanton, Verna Bloom, Irvin Kershner, Andre Gregory, John Lurie

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(5-Okay Film)

Challenging. Raving. Fervid.

Playing devil’s advocate, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, upon release, was widely accused of blasphemy. His film depicts Christ (Dafoe) sitting in brothels, watching with anguish as Mary Magdelene services customers, Christ coaxing Judas (his most devoted disciple) into betraying him, and, most saliently, Christ in a state of doubt. This doubt eventually weaves its way into a dream sequence that became one of the most controversial moments in film history. Stranded on the cross, Christ fantasizes about a life lived fully, married to Mary of Bethany, with a litter of children, and seeing himself in old age. Made to be provocative, the question is then (since this is a Scorsese film and not Bunuel who was a gleeful provocateur), is any of it substantial, or moving? For me, not so much. It resembles the message of some street corner disciple handing out pamphlets with some alternative theological ideas (in Korea, where I live at the moment, you get a ton of people preaching “God the Mother”). These conversations, like this movie, are interesting, odd, but most of all, uncomfortable. Can there be value in a film that’s so deeply unsettling? Certainly. But it means that entertainment value is null and void-at 166 minutes, The Last Temptation of Christ is a bit of a slog-and what’s left better be worth the toil. There’s plenty to admire in this film. Dafoe, being miles away from your traditional portrayal, is fiercely moving. Rather than Christ, the austere figure, robed in white, Dafoe’s Christ is enigmatic, passionate, and not afraid to get his hands dirty. And obviously, Scorsese is a master craftsman. In the end, though, I wasn’t willing to go out on the ledge that this film exists on. Its questions are wild and self-defeating, and I’m pretty disenchanted by all-white casts in Biblical pictures at this point.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(830)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, Directed by Mario Bava) English 5

Starring Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Lea Lander, Arianna Gorini, Dante DiPaolo

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(5-Okay Film)

Gruesome. Skilled. Disjointed.

A killer in a blank mask. A damsel in distress. I’ve seen enough of these films to know that no one is coming to save her. She’ll die. Much of the director, Mario Bava’s, skill lies in how creatively and artfully he kills off his cast (primarily women from what I’ve seen). By the way, that wasn’t just one scene from Blood and Black Lace that I was describing. That’s about six or seven consecutive scenes. That’s the whole movie, and it would become so influential that it spawned dozens of like-minded pictures to the point that these films became their own sub-genre (specific to Italian cinema) known as Giallo films.

  I’ve seen about a dozen now of varying quality and there are certain details that you find in most, if not all of them. Large cast of female characters. This one isn’t true of all Giallo films but it’s true of some of the best I’ve seen (Suspiria, What Have You Done to Solange, Phenomena). You find this a lot in American horror films as well and I don’t think it’s a matter of pure misogyny. I’ve always defended horror films on this matter. I think a woman (or a child) in peril is simply more terrifying than a grown man, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. The gratuitous nudity in American horror films is a different matter but I haven’t noticed any of that in the Giallo pictures I’ve seen, although the women characters are always gorgeous, regardless of the setting. Another common characteristic is the whodunnit, killer in a mask aspect of all these movies. It’s a gruesome shift from the friendly, witty whodunnit pictures of classic Hollywood that were entertaining but devoid of any malice or horror. Also, Giallo films all emphasize color. Lush, over-saturated color. Even the ones from the ’60s when most films were still using black and white. They all seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses too. Though they may differ in overall quality, all of these films eschew witty dialogue, character development, plot logic, and believable acting in favor of fluid camera movement, mise en scène, set pieces, lighting, and gore. Mario Bava and Dario Argento are masters of the latter crafts. 

Blood and Black Lace features an ensemble cast of beautiful women and creepy looking men all working at a fashion house in…Italy, I suppose. The top-billed character, played by Eva Bartok, is named Countess Christina Como, but then the rest of the characters are Nicole, Peggy, and Greta so I don’t know. I’ll have to pay more attention to the location next time. In any case, one of the girls is killed, and everyone working there is a suspect. Everyone working there is in danger for that matter. You can’t have a slasher film (which Giallo films ushered in) and have only one victim. The majority of Blood and Black Lace is extended scenes of random female characters (all the characters feel random with the complete disregard for development) being killed off. If there’s a plot, it wasn’t understood by me, and the final act, rather than upping the ante, simmers down to a dull rather unsatisfying conclusion. The dialogue and acting are unsurprisingly asinine, and the previously mentioned, generously deemed ensemble acting is actually just an exercise in episodic horror that amounts to an awfully disjointed whole. What stands out and what’s positive about Blood and Black Lace is the visual elements. The killer’s mask, the elegant camera movement, the command of space. Bava is great and he’s done better than this film. What I appreciate most about Blood and Black Lace is the obvious influence it had on much better pictures. As an early example of the Giallo film, it seemed to spark something deeply appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(794)

Crossroads (2002, Directed by Tamra Davis) English 3

Starring Britney Spears, Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Cattrall, Anson Mount, Justin Long

(3-Horrible Film)

Awkward. Clichéd. Poor.

Three teenage girls and a brooding older guy take a soul searching road trip across the deep south. Meant to be a dramatic vehicle for pop star Britney Spears, the film is just way too much. There are plenty of clichés, but worse still, they’re lifetime channel clichés; date-rape, cheating boyfriends, pregnant teens, distant mothers, a girl’s first time. It alternates between laughable and hard to watch. That being said, the film is much better than fellow pop star, Mariah Carey’s debut Glitter (2001), and that does count for something.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(791)

Pensées #10: Christmas Challenge (2019)

I love Christmas and I love Christmas movies. Though there are only a handful of Christmas films that I consider great, binge-watching more than my share of Holiday flicks is my favorite way to anticipate December 25th. Last year, I attempted to watch 25 Christmas movies from the beginning of November to Christmas Day, and, despite a late push, I fell short by 4 films, eagerly awaiting this new holiday season in order to try again. Same mission: 55 days to watch 25 Christmas movies. This time, I am confident I will succeed. Like last year, I hope to have a good mix of classics like Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. with a host of new movies that I haven’t seen yet. Films like Holiday Affair, Joyeux Noel, and We’re No Angels are on the top of my yet-to-see list.  Netflix has really found a niche in lightweight holiday entertainment and a fair percentage of the movies I watched for the first time last year were on their streaming service. That will likely be the case this year as well. I got a quick start this year, watching both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Netflix’s latest Holiday in the Wild yesterday. That’s 2 down, 23 to go.

#1: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Image result for the nightmare before christmas1993, Directed by Henry Selick

(9-Great Film)

I opened with this film last year. Availability is partly the reason but it’s also obviously appropriate for both Halloween and Christmas. For people like me who like to start Christmas season entirely too early, the Nightmare Before Christmas is perfect for transitioning. It’s also just a wonderful movie. Technically stunning, if you’ve watched it enough times, you might find it interesting to really absorb the visuals frame by frame to consider what exactly the filmmakers had to do to achieve just that one shot. Then consider the seamless movement of the figures. Then the indelible soundtrack. Finally, the story. Jack Skeleton (voiced by Danny Elfman when singing and Chris Sarandon otherwise) reigns over Halloweentown, suffocated by his peers’ admiration and respect. He’s bored with his position in life. Having something close to a midlife crisis, he discovers a world outside Halloweentown which includes Christmastown, leaving Jack instantly smitten. Jack decides he wants to try his hand at being Santa which results in Christmas turmoil before he realizes to appreciate who he is and to be himself.

#2: Holiday in the Wild

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2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash

(5-Okay Film)

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-