Dune (2021, Directed by Denis Villeneuve) English 4

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Chang Chen, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Stunning New 'Dune' Trailer Is Begging You to See 'Dune' in Theaters | WIRED

(4-Bad Film)

Tedious. Hollow. Superficial.

Duncan Idaho: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

How long are you willing to stare at something beautiful that you don’t connect to? The newest adaptation of Dune, directed by Oscar-nominated director, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), helped me answer this question, because I couldn’t make it past the first twenty minutes without wanting to be somewhere else. With no prior experience with the world of Dune or its source material, my understanding of the plot is certainly limited. As much as I could follow, the story follows Paul Atreides (Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto (Isaac), as he and his family move to a new planet, Arrakis, and attempt to establish themselves there. While acclimatizing themselves to Arrakis, the Atreides are beset on all sides by hostile natives, rivals, and traitors. Dune is often as beautiful as advertised. The problem for me is that it’s devoid of personality. No humor, no distinct characters or character development, no compelling villain, no wit or colorful dialogue. Dune is a chore.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 9

Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Marie Richardson, Sky Du Mont, Vinessa Shaw, Alan Cumming, Leelee Sobieski, Thomas Gibson, Rade Šerbedžija

Stanley Kubrick's hard out with "Eyes Wide Shut" | Yardbarker

(9-Great Film)

Cold. Seductive. Suspenseful.

Victor Ziegler: Listen, Bill. Nobody killed anybody. Someone died. It happens all the time. Life goes on. It always does, until it doesn’t. But you know that, don’t you?

Working through random reviews on the internet, I laughed at one viewer’s comment that Eyes Wide Shut has meaning, it’s just hard to find. I suppose that’s a positive critique. I, on the other hand, do not find Eyes Wide Shut especially deep or thoughtful; in the same way that I don’t find dreams very meaningful. Eyes Wide Shut is dream-logic stretched over 2 1/2 hours. Every woman is attractive, and around every corner seems to be the promise of sex or nightmare. Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Hartford. Handsome, wealthy, successful, Bill is surrounded by temptation; every woman in his life is available to him. When his wife, Alice (Kidman), admits to lusting after another man, Bill wanders out into the night seeking retribution or maybe just feeling free for the first time to do what he wants. He meets a handful of strange people throughout the night, ultimately ending up at the film’s infamous, mysterious orgy party for the elite where each party guest wears Venetian masks. Eyes Wide Shut is a great film, again, not because it’s brilliant but because it appeals to my sensibilities. I love the night, I love mystery, I love Murakami, missing women, shadows, cloak and dagger, etc. Eyes Wide Shut is a suspenseful film without being very tense. It’s almost entirely about anticipation; with muted pay-off. That’s also like a dream. Pursuit without reward, suspense without consequences (for the main character). There’s very little point in asking logical questions.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974, Directed by Joseph Sargent) English 8

Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, Jerry Stiller, Doris Roberts

(8-Exceptional Film)

Tense. Humorous. Classic.

Mr. Blue: I once had a man shot for talking to me like that.

Mr. Gray: Yeah, well, that’s the difference between you and me. I’ve always done my own killing.

The Taking of Pelham 123 is so lowkey that you might write it off as simply a breezy, entertaining action flick. Looking at its contemporary reviews, that seems to be what most critics did; a lot of 3-star reviews, positive, but hardly spectacular. With time, and perhaps in comparison to its inferior remake, the film has become a classic. Starring Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber, a quartet of violent criminals, known only by their aliases (Mr. Gray, Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, and Mr. Brown), hijack a high-speed subway train and hold its passengers hostage. Scrambling to meet their demands, the cool-headed, wry Lt. Garber, fights to outsmart the thieves. Funny, suspenseful, and efficient, The Taking of Pelham 123 is so well-done. The score, as offbeat and eccentric as it is, really works and Matthau’s face for a finale is perfect. This is a film very clearly of its time (the ’70s). Rather than that being a weakness, it’s a major strength. It’s why it has grown in reputation over the years. Not only is it an exceptional action caper, it’s also a sort of a time capsule.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Black Rain (1989, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 7

Starring Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takukura, Yūsaku Matsuda, Kate Capshaw, John Spencer, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root

Black Rain - Movies on Google Play

(7-Very Good Film)

Stylish. Hard-boiled. Atmospheric.

Nick Conklin: Sometimes, you just got to go for it.

Nick Conklin (Douglas) is a loose cannon of a New York City cop. He might even be on the take; Internal Affairs certainly think so. Enjoying a drink at a local bar, Nick and his young partner, Charlie (Garcia), witness the violent killing of two Japanese men in what turns out to be a Yakuza hit. Catching the assailant, Sato, Nick and Charlie are charged with escorting the criminal back to Japan and handing him over to the local authorities. Once in Japan, Sato escapes and the two American cops, despite not being wanted, take it upon themselves to get him back. Black Rain has its flaws. I’ve never had the sense that Scott cared much about romance (see A Good Year, his one attempt at a romantic comedy) and here the female characters fall flat, but much of the criticism it received from contemporary reviews seem unfair to me. It’s not racist just because its hero is ignorant and the Japanese characters aren’t stereotypical. I especially don’t understand complaining about Michael Douglas’ likability. He’s an antihero in the mold of a lot of 1940s noir characters. How sympathetic is Sam Spade? Black Rain has a fairly straightforward story that gives way to an interesting antihero as played by Douglas and awesome visuals designed by Ridley Scott and his crew. A worthwhile action flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Downsizing (2017, Directed by Alexander Payne) English 6

Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis, Margo Martindale, Niecy Nash, James Van Der Beek, Niel Patrick Harris, Laura Dern

Why "Downsizing" is the Most Bizarre Movie-Watching Experience I've Had in  Years — Sydney Yaeko

(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Thoughtful. Incomplete.

Paul Safranek: If I don’t do this, who am I? I mean, really. Who am I?

Ngoc Lan Tran: You Paul Safranek. You good man!

Imagine if we had the technology and the science to shrink ourselves down to about 5 inches. Downsizing imagines us doing this for reasons of economy (each dollar would go an awful lot farther) and reasons of preservation (it creates space and fights overpopulation) only in the world of this movie, it’s optional. Paul Safranek (Damon) decides to do it because he believes it will be good for his marriage; alleviate some of their financial stress and allow him and his wife, Audrey (Wiig), to spend more time together. However, on the day, Paul goes through the elaborate procedure only to find out that his wife backed out at the last minute. Not knowing what to do with himself in the aftermath, he meets and falls in love with a blunt Vietnamese woman, Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau), made a refugee by the downsizing process performed against her will. There are so many ideas and possibilities with this material which is part of what draws me to Downsizing and ultimately what I think leaves it unsatisfactory. Alexander Payne’s world-building is impressive and compelling but he might have been better off making a television series out of it, allowing him to expand and flesh out every stray idea he has. Within the confines of this film, it’s too much. Downsizing goes in too many directions, teases more than it can deliver on, and ends rather limply in my opinion. That being said, it’s interesting and enough fun while it lasts to be worth seeing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Paths of Glory (1957, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 10

Starring Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, George Macready, Timothy Carey, Adolph Menjou, Wayne Morris

History of Cinema - Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957)


Stark. Infuriating. Powerful.

Colonel Dax: Gentlemen of the court, there are times that I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion.

When General Broulard (Menjou) asks General Mireau (Macready) to attack a well-fortified enemy base known as “the anthill,” the latter knows it’s a fool’s errand. It can’t be done, and yet, when the former suggests that the attack could lead to a hefty promotion, Mireau goes ahead with the mission, ordering his soldiers, led by Colonel Dax (Douglas) to push forward, despite the monsoon of bullets and apparent hopelessness, and take the anthill. When the mission fails, Mireau has to cover his own tracks and deflects blame by accusing his soldiers of cowardice. As a result, three men go on trial and face execution, with Colonel Dax doing his best to defend them against the stacked deck of military justice. Surprising for a Kubrick film, Paths of Glory is unsubtle, emotional, even sentimental at times. Kubrick, often thought of as an emotionless, almost-robotic genius, is constantly provoking our anger throughout this film. He does so expertly. Certainly a technical genius, he doesn’t get enough credit sometimes for the performances in his movies. Paths of Glory is still potent.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Directed by Chuck Russell) English 7

Starring Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Craig Wasson, Laurence Fishburne, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin

Case File 032: Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)  - 27th Letter Productions

(7-Very Good Film)

Imaginative. Gory. Effective.

Kristen Parker: The man in my dreams… he’s real, isn’t he?

Nancy Thompson: He’s real.

Freddy Krueger, vengeful pedophile and horror icon, is back for more in his third outing, Dream Warriors, in my opinion, his best. He’s terrorizing a group of teenagers who’ve all been admitted to a local psychiatric hospital to deal with their apparent suicidal tendencies. None of the adults or doctors really believe their stories about a boogeyman stalking them in their sleep. Finally, Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp), survivor of the first film enters the picture and convinces the head doctor, Neil Gordon (Wasson), to take Freddy Krueger seriously. No, this movie is not particularly scary or thrilling or suspenseful (by this point, Krueger could just as easily be a comedy icon) but it more than compensates with its insanely grotesque effects and imagery that spring up from the Krueger-induced nightmares.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Tall T (1957, Directed by Budd Boetticher) English 9

Starring Randolph Scott, Maureen O’Sullivan, Richard Boone, Henry Silva, Arthur Hunnicutt, Skip Homeier, John Hubbard

Don't Get What's So Great About Westerns? Start Here - The New York Times

(9-Great Film)

Lean. Brutal. Gripping.

Willard Mims: Would I save my own skin and leave my wife here?

Usher: I think you would.

Pat Brennan (Scott), just a hired hand, finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping as three violent outlaws (Boone, Silva, and Homeier) hold up his stagecoach and ransom off its female passenger, Doretta Mims (O’Sullivan), the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Her scheming husband soon leaves her behind, so it’s up to Brennan to help her. Boetticher and Scott made a number of fine films together, none finer than The Tall T. Not a moment wasted, no superfluous detail or action, and surprisingly brutal, The Tall T seems at once old-fashioned (in the best sense) and original. Stripped down to the bare essentials, the emphasis then becomes its characters who are fascinating and well-played. Brennan’s budding relationships with Doretta and the leader of the outlaws, Usher, are unpredictable and give the film its suspense. Top-tier western.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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

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

Criminally Underrated: Dead Again - Spectrum Culture

(7-Very Good Film)

Lurid. Twisty. Effective.

Cozy Carlisle: You take what you’ve learned from this life and use it in the next. That’s karma.

Soul mates, fate, hypnosis, murder, red herrings, sharp objects. Dead Again is pretty kitschy. Maybe too much for some, it’s enormously appealing to people with taste like mine. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars, playing a private detective, Mike Church (adopting an American accent that’s done well-enough but still slightly awkward as it’s such a departure from his usual British manner). Mike is persuaded into helping a lost, mute woman (Thompson), who suffers from amnesia and visions of murder from an apparent past life. Like many of the best Alfred Hitchcock films that inspired it, Dead again is wild and ludicrous upon further inspection but still proves wonderfully entertaining thanks to Branagh’s skill and panache directing it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Flight of the Phoenix (1965, Directed by Robert Aldrich) English 9

Starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Christian Marquand, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser

Cult Movies: Original disaster movie The Flight of The Phoenix rises from  the ashes - The Irish News

(9-Great Film)

Dramatic. Brutal. Character-driven.

Heinrich Dorfmann: Mr. Towns, you behave as if stupidity were a virtue. Why is that?

A cargo plane goes down in the middle of the Sahara desert, hundreds of miles off course and away from any apparent civilization. Its pilot, Captain Frank Towns (Stewart), navigator, Lew Moran (Attenborough), and many passengers face death from all directions: lack of resources, limited water, oppressive heat, and a hostile band of Arab thieves. One passenger, a German and a pariah among the men, Heinrich Dorfmann (Kruger), has an idea that he can rebuild a functioning aircraft, but its up to the others whether or not they put their faith in his unlikely plan. The Flight of the Phoenix is an outstanding survival drama and maybe the best film about leadership, ego, and disparate personalities forced into working together by brutal circumstance. Captain Towns is a proud man with decades of experience fueling his stubbornness, but perhaps there are things he doesn’t know, things the younger men can teach him. Lew is the mediator. He loves and respects his Captain but he suspects that they might need Dorfmann in order to survive. Dorfmann, meanwhile, is a tyrant when it comes to it. He’s petty, arrogant, confrontational, and it’s unclear whether he’s a genius or a madman. Captain Harris (Finch) is the stereotypical British soldier, stiff upper-lip, brave, adheres ceaselessly to the book, even when the elements make that book absurd. Ratbags (Bannen) is sarcastic and apathetic. Dr. Renaud (Marquand) is compassionate. Trucker Cobb (Borgnine) loses his mind. Standish (Duryea) leans on his religion, and Sergeant Watson (Fraser), perhaps the most-loathed character across all film, is a coward. These characters are what make The Flight of the Phoenix so compelling. When the action sequences do come, they’re riveting and impressive, but it starts and ends with the actors and the fine work they do.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-