American Graffiti (1973, Directed by George Lucas) English 8

Starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Charles Martin Smith, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, Bo Hopkins, Wolfman Jack, Mackenzie Phillips

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Evocative. Memorable. Vital.

There have only been a small number of hangout films over the course of cinema’s history. It’s difficult to abandon plot and trust that characters and setting will be able to carry a movie. I think you’d have to know the characters well and have a strong sense of the time and place in which they live. So it is with American Graffiti anyways, one of the best examples of a hangout film. It follows a group of teenagers, most of them, recent high school graduates on a seminal night of their young lives. Curt Henderson (Dreyfuss), set to head off to college, is having second thoughts. Steve (Howard) and Laurie (Williams), long-time sweethearts, negotiate a temporary break in their relationship-more Steve’s idea than Laurie’s. Terry (Smith) meets the girl of his dreams but one episode after another threatens their time together. And John Milner (Le Mat) has been the man as far as street racing goes for a long time, but there’s a new guy in town and he’s looking for John. As someone born well after the film’s setting, I am only qualified to say that American Graffiti feels authentic. The characters are relatable and likable, though far from perfect, and the soundtrack is classic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(657)

 

Baywatch (2017, Directed by Seth Gordon) English 5

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Hannibal Buress

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Limp. Entertaining.

An elite team of lifeguards dedicated to keeping the beach safe stumble upon a plot to smuggle in hardcore drugs. The Rock plays their leader, LT Mitch Buchannon, and Efron plays an arrogant party boy who won two gold medals at the Olympics before self-destructing. Meant to be self-referential, this┬áraunchy remake of the campy hit ’90s show owes a lot to the 21 Jump Street films. I suppose it’s probably the only way to approach this material-a story about an elite lifeguard unit-but the film is not quite funny enough. It’s entertaining. It has the right energy. The cast is fun, but the jokes don’t land, and so the film is merely passable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(656)

Rush Hour (1998, Directed by Brett Ratner) English 8

Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Leung, Elizabeth Pe├▒a, Tzi Ma, Philip Baker Hall, John Hawkes, Chris Penn

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Funny. Entertaining. Familiar.

Formulaic isn’t, in itself, a negative. Most movie formulas are pretty good. If a film is following a formula, it’s because that formula worked before, and the challenge, then, is to make the familiar feel fresh. Rush Hour accomplishes this in stupendous fashion. It’s the fastest hands in the east meets the biggest mouth in the west, or so the poster’s tagline tells us. It’s a buddy cop film with Jackie Chan as the straight guy and Chris Tucker as the clown (though he’s not stupid). Chan plays Lee who comes to America to assist a longtime friend, Chinese Consul Han, in rescuing the latter’s daughter from a dangerous hostage situation. Tucker plays Detective Carter, LAPD’s black sheep, tasked with babysitting Lee and keeping him away from the case. Instead, the two team-up. Rush Hour is at the top of its under-appreciated class. Action comedies are meant to be pure entertainment and on this end, Rush Hour delivers. Chan and Tucker are fantastic together and the supporting cast is filled out with consummate character actors.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(655)

Red Sonja (1985, Directed by Richard Fleischer) English 6

Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Paul L. Smith, Sandahl Bergman

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(6-Good Film)

Clumsy. Silly. Extravagant.

The great Schwarzenegger declared that Red Sonja is, “the worst film I have ever made.” Critics mostly agreed. I’ll concede some of their points. The acting is wooden. The dialogue reminds me of bad fanfiction, and yet, I would watch Red Sonja 100 times before sitting through Amour ever again. This tale follows the eponymous character (Nielsen) as she sets out on a quest to rid the world of the mystical Talisman and the evil tyrant, Queen Gedren (Bergman), who wields it. Along the way, she bands together with Lord Kalidor (Schwarzenegger), a mouthy child-prince named Tam (Reyes Jr.), and the Prince’s last faithful servant, Falkor (Smith). These actors weren’t chosen for their line-reading ability. They were chosen for their looks, and, on that end, Nielsen and Schwarzenegger are quite memorable. Nielsen with her flowing red hair and Schwarzenegger in his prime, impossibly buff form. This is a visual movie. Plenty of outlandish costumes and stunning colors. It’s also extremely entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(654)

Dinosaur (2000, Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton) English 6

Voices of D.B Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, Joan Plowright, Della Reese

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(6-Good Film)

Compelling. Minor. Aged.

A meteor crashing down causes all types of displaced dinosaurs to band together in order to find a new home. Aladar, an Iguanodon raised by Lemurs, does his best to help the weaker ones make it as the brutish leader, Kron, practices survival of the fittest. The plot is very simple (some might even say thin), but I find it enjoyable. The characters are strongly defined and the voice work is excellent. Known mostly as a technical marvel when first released, the special effects have naturally aged, but well enough. It’s minor-league Disney but still very enjoyable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(653)

Lured (1947, Directed by Douglas Sirk)English 7

Starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Joseph Calleia, Allan Mowbray, Boris Karloff, Charles Coburn

(7-Very Good Film)

Suspenseful. Intriguing. Tame.

Breezy thriller about a serial murderer luring victims through personal ads in the newspaper. The baffled police department enlists a struggling dancer (Ball) to work for them as bait for the killer. This setup leads her through a string of perilous situations, but the worst comes when she falls for and subsequently suspects a rich revue producer played by GeorgeSanders. Not as dark or sinister as a noir should be, it nevertheless works as a fun detective fantasy. It’s also fun to see that the great Boris Karloff doesn’t need special effects makeup to be terrifying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(652)

Howard the Duck (1986, Directed by Willard Huyck) English 4

Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, David Paymer, Holly Robinson, Paul Guilfoyle

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(4-Bad Film)

Inane. Unpleasant. Unfunny.

Beverly says it best, “Howard, you really are the worst.” I don’t know a thing about Marvel’s comic book series from which this movie was made, but as voiced by Chip Zien and portrayed in this film, Howard has to be one of the least charming heroes of all-time. Combining not-so-witty duck puns, general hostility, sarcasm, sleaziness, and bad animatronics, Howard’s pulled away from his planet and brought to Earth (Cleveland, to be specific) where he befriends Beverly (Thompson) and gets roped into stopping a violent alien form, the Dark Overlord (Jones), from taking over. This isn’t the worst film ever. It’s not even the worst Marvel adaptation. I’d vote one of the Fantastic Fours for that distinction. But I didn’t like anything about Howard the Duck. I have an affinity for the ’80s, its aesthetic and vibe, there being a number of bad films from that decade that I love, but Howard the Duck is an eyesore and painful to listen to.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(650)