Shadow (2018, Directed by Zhang Yimou) Mandarin 6

Starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Wang Qianyuan, Leo Wu, Wang Jingchun

Image result for shadow 2018

(6- Good Film)

Stylized. Spare. Arresting.

Director, Zhang Yimou, is a prolific storyteller and consummate showman. A filmmaker with countless classics in his filmography. His newest film, Shadow, is reminiscent of two of his very best, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, in its colorful use of ancient Chinese history blended together with almost comic book visuals and stylized action. Deng Chao stars as Jingzhou, a servant who looks exactly like his master, Commander Ziyu, and has assumed his identity for a time while the Commander heals. The Commander, loyal to the kingdom of Pei, lost a one-on-one battle with the powerful Yang Cang, leader of the rival kingdom. The intrigue runs deep but not deep enough for me, a devoted fan of The Prisoner of Zenda and even Yimou’s own Hero. Shadow hints at a great many directions but never fully follows through on them. For example, the illicit romance between Jingzhou and his master’s wife, Xiao Ai (Li), is unsatisfying. The secrets aren’t really that secret, it turns out, and this historical epic isn’t that epic. Shadow eventually resembles more the old Hollywood cloak and dagger pictures than the historical epics and fantasy romances I hoped it would be. On the positive side, Yimou’s black and white color design is remarkable and the final battle sequence is stellar.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Short Film About Love (1988, Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski) Polish 8

Starring Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko, Stefania Iwinska

(8-Exceptional Film)

Intriguing. Thoughtful. Intelligent.

A timid young man, Tomek (Lubaszenko), falls in love with a beautiful older woman who lives in an apartment across from his, watching her from his window obsessively. He watches her failed relationships with numerous men, watches her cry by herself. He plays tricks just to get close to her. Eventually, she confronts him, and he’s forced to tell her his feelings. This is a slow, steady, compelling film; deceptively simple.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


I Am Love (2009, Directed by Luca Guadagnino) Italian 5

Starring Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Alba Rohrwacher, Marisa Berenson

Image result for i am love

(5-Okay Film)

Pretty. Superficial. Melodramatic.

As the affluent Recchi family prepares for a changing of the guard, wife and mother, Emma (Swinton) begins an affair with her son’s friend, Antonio. Heavily melodramatic. Spare to the point of emptiness. I was not impressed with this film despite its sumptuous visuals and spirited score. The constantly wandering camera movement, while appealing, really serves no purpose upon further review, much like the film itself. Lovely but empty.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Pixote (1980, Directed by Hector Babenco) Portuguese 10

Starring Fernando Ramos da Silva, Marília Pêra, Gilberto Moura, Jorge Julião, Tony Tornado


Brutal. Moving. Unforgettable.

Some movies depict parts of the world as bad as I can imagine. Pixote is worse. I never could have imagined the things it shows. Pixote is a hellish vision of youth in third-world Brazil made all the more brutal with its documentary-like approach to the subject. Apparently, at least at the time this film was released, São Paulo was overrun with orphans. As a result, a law was made that under the age of 18, regardless of the crime committed, you could not be put in jail. There was no room in jails for kids who would likely commit crimes just to have a place to stay. Because of this, kids were often paid by adults to commit crimes for them. Seen through the wide expressive eyes of the eleven-year-old titular character, kids are reduced to savagery in order to survive. Shocking, sobering, unforgettable, Pixote is a great film with one of the best child performances ever.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Dragon Inn (1967, Directed by King Hu) Mandarin 8

Starring Chun Shih, Lingfeng Shangguan, Ying Bai, Chien Tsao, Feng Hsu, Han Hsieh

Image result for dragon inn 1967

(8-Exceptional Film)

Thrilling. Efficient. Cool.

Strangers collide in ancient china, with the mysterious and powerful Hsiao summoned to Dragon Inn to meet with its owner, Wu Ning, for unknown reasons. Once there, Hsiao finds a barrage of rogue warriors under the leadership of power-hungry Tsao waiting, hoping to capture the remaining children of General Yu, Tsao’s political opponent. The names and different characters may seem confusing for a while when watching Dragon Inn, but once everything falls in place and the lines are drawn between good guys and bad guys, this film is exciting and compelling stuff; endlessly creative with nonstop action and beautifully shot.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958, Directed by Mario Monicelli) Italian 9

Starring Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Memmo Carotenuto, Marcello Mastroianni, Tiberio Murgia,  Claudia Cardinale, Carla Gravina, Totò

Image result for big deal on madonna street

(9-Great Film)

Clever. Zany. Memorable.

Heists are usually deadly serious affairs. There is something timelessly compelling about a group of people coming together to pull off a grand scheme, planned and executed to perfection. Italian comedy Big Deal on Madonna Street shows that watching a plan go to pieces can also be a lot of fun. An ensemble full of Italy’s most popular actors play a gang full of petty thieves, led by Peppe (Gassman), who plot what would seem a pretty low-stakes jewelry store robbery. Unfortunately, despite having the earnestness and resources to pull it off, none of them really know what they’re doing and the film flows from one hilarious hiccup to another. Adding to the fun are two subplots involving the exceptionally beautiful Claudia Cardinale and Carla Gravina as love interests for two members of the inept gang.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Directed by Ingmar Bergman) Swedish 8

Starring Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlbeck, Ulla Jacobsson, Harriet Andersson, Jarle Kulle,  Margit Carlqvist, Björn Bjelfvenstam

Image result for smiles of a summer night

(8-Exceptional Film)

Spirited. Charming. Bawdy.

No great fan of Ingmar Bergman’s, I often relish saying so to other film fans and steeling myself to their protestations. He has his moments though and Smiles of a Summer Night is one of his most entertaining, centered around an insular group of Swedish nobles around the early 1900s that prove to be most dysfunctional. They all love someone else other than the one they’re with. Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is married to a sweet but much-too-young-for-him girl named Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) who, in turn, quietly admires her stepson, Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam), and Henrik loves her but wrestles with his faith and his lust for playful maidservant, Petra (Harriet Andersson). This all may sound heavy but a few more players are introduced and Smiles of a Summer Night becomes a wonderful, charming romantic farce with happy endings all around. Filmed in beautiful, shimmering black and white.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-