The Prisoner of Zenda (1979, Directed by Richard Quine) English 4

Starring Peter Sellers, Lynne Frederick, Lionel Jeffries, Elke Sommer, Gregory Sierra, Stuart Wilson, Catherine Schell, John Laurie

Image result for the prisoner of zenda 1979(5-Okay Film)

Unfunny. Squandered. Crude.

     The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, is a timeless adventure romance and an endless source for film adaptations. Like Kipling’s Jungle Book, no matter how many times The Prisoner of Zenda has been done before, no matter how perfect one particular version may be, I will never be disappointed to hear a new take is on the way.

A foreign commoner, Rassendyll, travels to the fictional Kingdom of Ruritania to do some fishing and discovers that he’s the spitting image of their prince, Rudolph V, soon to be crowned and named king. A sinister plot by Rudolph’s half-brother, Michael, leaves the would-be king comatose and imprisoned which would allow Michael to take the crown, but Rudolph’s loyal guards convince Rassendyll to step in and assume the king’s identity until they can save him and place the rightful man on the throne. While portraying Rudolph, Rassendyl meets Princess Flavia, the king’s intended, and the two fall in love. It’s an exceptional premise and a wonderful novel made into a great film back in 1937, starring Ronald Coleman, Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., David Niven, C. Aubrey Smith, Raymond Massey, and Mary Astor. There were apparently a few adaptations that came before and there have been several since, but this remains for me the essential version. That being said, I think the premise is ripe with opportunities to go in any number of directions. 1993’s Dave reimagined the story in a modern, American setting with Kevin Kline as an average Joe assuming the president’s identity.

This 1979 version, the one I most recently viewed, is billed as a comic adaptation starring Peter Sellers in three disparate roles. On paper, this is a promising idea. Sellers plays both the king-to-be, Rudolph V, and the commoner, renamed Sydney Frewin, and reimagined as an illegitimate bastard brother who works as a Hansom cab driver. Sellers plays Rudolph as a sniveling brat with a lisp and Sydney as a simple but honorable Cockney Brit who’s basically the straight man to a lot of the surrounding foolishness. Most of film’s ensuing plot is the same as what we’ve seen before. This Prisoner of Zenda’s problem, though, is one of tone. It’s played too straight for a majority of the time to warrant the occasional buffoonish interludes that crop up every once in a while. If they were going for zany, it needed to be zany from start to finish. The obvious comparison is Sellers’ own classics, The Pink Panther series. The formula for those films is basically inverted for Prisoner of Zenda. In Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau (Sellers) was a buffoon and generally, everything surrounding him is played straight, while in Prisoner of Zenda, Sellers gives a solid, serious performance while silly, distracting subplots weave in and out of the background. Or maybe the film just needed to be funnier. None of the gags work, and too many of them use crudely done special effects. What does work is Henry Mancini’s score, and Anthony Hope’s story shines through just enough to make this Prisoner of Zenda watchable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Directed by Wallace Ritchie) English 7

Starring Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley, Alfred Molina, Peter Gallagher, Geraldine James, Dexter Fletcher

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(7-Very Good Film)

Clever. Amusing. Likable.

American, Wallace Ritchie (Murray), loves movies and always secretly hoped to be an actor someday. Dropping in unannounced on his brother, James (Gallagher), in England, at an especially bad time, Wallace has nothing to do his first night overseas, and it’s his birthday. James pays for him to enjoy a new program called “Theater of Life,” an improv acting experience that throws paying customers in to seemingly real life situations. A mix-up occurs and Wallace switches places with a hitman, leading him into an elaborate espionage plot while he still believes it all to be improvised acting. Considered too light and frivolous by some, I think The Man Who Knew Too Little is great fun and consistently clever. It might help to see some of the classic spy thrillers being spoofed like The 39 Steps or The Man Who Knew Too Much.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(607)

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard and Rich Moore) English 10

Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, J.K Simmons, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer, Shakira, Tommy Chong

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(10-Masterpiece)

Ingenious. Involving. Fantastic.

The Story goes that when John Lasseter (one of the great pioneers of computer animation and Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios at the time) was presented with the idea of Zootopia, he responded by hugging the man behind its conception. That man, writer/director Byron Howard imagined a city of anthropomorphic animals that looked as if it were designed by animals. The city has different areas and neighborhoods that reflect the different climates animals are able to inhabit. And in this city, he populates his creation with animals that reflect human characteristics. This is, of course, a perfect setup for an adorable animal adventure movie, had Howard and his team at Disney decided to settle, and indeed there is plenty of cuteness present within the film, but this film does something unique with the classic animation trope of anthropomorphic animals in that the animals reflect some of the darker sides of human nature; not just the cute or the charming. There is a timely and provocative theme of prejudice coursing through the narrative of an adorable country bunny (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to the big city to fulfill her dreams of being a top cop. She meets the slick and jaded street hustling fox, Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman), and sees firsthand how prejudice can shape a person’s life as much as anything. She’s even forced to confront her own prejudices that she didn’t even know were there. But this is a Disney movie and a great one at that, so the bunny and the fox find on their way to stopping a city-wide conspiracy that you can overcome other people’s prejudices by never buying in and believing in yourself.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(606)

Batman and Robin: So Terrible, it’s Amazing (1998, Directed by Joel Schumaker) English 3

Starring George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle

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(3-Horrible Film)

Campy. Goofy. Idiotic.

1998’s Batman and Robin is, simply put, a joke. They notoriously gave Bruce Wayne’s suit nipples, they chose for their lead villain, Mr. Freeze, played by a blue painted Arnold Schwarzenegger, spouting one bad ice-related pun after another (“let’s kick some ice”), and made Poison Ivy look like Divine from a John Waters movie (google it). I’d like to catalog for you, the film’s many shortcomings and harebrained moments, though it’s a Herculean task to try and catch all of them, but it’s also important to note and preface this with the truth, which is that I love this film. Definitely falls within the “so bad, it’s good” variety. I think it’s hilarious. I laughed out loud on more occasions during the length of this superhero flick than, let’s say, 95% of the straight-up comedies I’ve seen.

Technically the fourth entry in the pre-Christopher Nolan series of Batman films. It’s amazing how silly all of the Batman movies before Bale and Nolan seem now that I’ve seen their grittier, more realistic take on the material. Batman and Robin stars George Clooney as the billionaire playboy slash caped crusader. It’s incredible, and not enough is said about how Clooney was able to have a career after this film, let alone the Oscar-winning, lifetime achievement award receiving career he has had. Bat nipples should have been career ending. I will say that among the cast, who should all feel embarrassed, Clooney comes off the least foolish. He gives the role some gravitas, granted, masked behind layers of inanity, bad dialogue, and bat nipples (I’m going to keep coming back to bat nipples; they color the entire film). I would even go as far as saying that Clooney could make a great Bruce Wayne in a much better, more competent picture. Now, if you think I’m being over dramatic about bat nipples being potentially career-ending, take a look at the rest of the cast of then-stars. Chris O’Donnell returns as  Batman’s close ally, Robin. O’Donnell, who’d given a very strong performance six years earlier in Scent of a Woman (1992) with Al Pacino, never recovered from this dud. Neither did Alicia Silverstone, at the time of the film’s release, still riding the waves off of her early success in Clueless (1995). Here, she plays Barbara Wilson, grand-niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. She appears to be a nice, wholesome girl, but is later revealed to be a hardcore, action adventure heroine, and dons the ready-made Batgirl suit Alfred leaves her. Together, Batman (having trouble trusting his young sidekicks), Batgirl, and Robin take on Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane (3 on 3) who team up, rather improbably, to take over the world (or at least Gotham) with a telescope Mr. Freeze turned into a freeze gun. The villains are where the film really reveals its suckage. I’m going to address them one by one.

I’ve already referenced Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, and you probably got the point, but not enough can be said about his puns:

Cop #1: Please show some mercy!

Mr. Freeze: Mercy? I’m afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy.

See too, a scene where he sings along to the snow miser song from A Year Without Santa Claus (1974), while his henchman, who dress in fur coats and talk like they’re from the Bronx, provide backing vocals. Where does he get these guys? Honestly? He goes to New York and posts hiring notices? It’s insane. And they help him, why? Then again, Ted Bundy had followers. Perhaps, it’s one of those things that defy explanation. Like when Mr. Freeze zaps Robin with his freeze gun, and Robin’s cemented in a block of ice. The solution: Batman picks Robin up and puts him in hot water, and Robin’s perfectly fine. Science! What’s the point of Mr. Freeze’s gun if it doesn’t even kill anybody? It looks cool on an action figure?

Poison Ivy, as portrayed by Uma Thurman, is, against all odds, even worse. She escaped this travesty thanks to Tarantino casting her in his Kill Bill saga, otherwise, I’m certain this would have been career curtains. Let’s start with her “origin story.” The origin stories in the old Batman movies were the worst/most hilarious parts. She’s working in some kind of lab, minding her own business one minute. She opens a door, and all of a sudden, she’s in some weird underground cult room, complete with evil experiments. That’s it. All she did was open a door. The mad scientist in this new room goes, “how did you get in here? Now, I’ll have to kill you. You know too much.” What do you mean, “how did you get in here?” You didn’t even lock the door. His attempt to kill her somehow imbues her with the power to manipulate plants and toxins, and the sexy ability to kill men with a kiss. Almost lost amid Mr. Freeze’s bad puns are Poison Ivy’s equally lame lines: “They replaced my blood with aloe.” “Animal protectors of the status quo.” Worst of all: “My garden needs tending.” Smh. Uma’s performance is bad too. The dialogue is horrible and does her no favors, but her delivery only compounds the terribleness. She talks like a bad theater actress. And then there’s the striptease she does while wearing a gorilla costume. Has to be seen, to be believed. Yes, someone thought that was a good idea.

Bane, while equaling his compadres in stupidity, has far less screentime, thus leaves far less of an impression. Still, in his rare moments to shine, the filmmakers turn him into a Frankenstein figure; like a campy Frankenstein figure. He starts off as a scrawny child molester or something and is then given serum that makes him jacked. How to defeat him? Robin simply pulls the rather large tube from the back of Bane’s head and he disintegrates. So, so bad.

There isn’t much logic to Batman and Robin. Instead, there are pointless cameos from Elle MacPherson and Coolio. I’m sure the filmmakers were convinced their target audience wouldn’t notice (their target audience being 8 year-olds), and they were right. There was a solid 3 year period when I legitimately thought it was the greatest film ever made. Now, I see clearly. It’s in my exclusive top ten worst movies ever made list. So many poor choices, lapses of logic, head shaking moments, and bat nipples. Never forget bat nipples.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(604)

The Great Wall (2017, Directed by Zhang Yimou) English 4

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

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(4-Bad Movie)

Silly. Unspectacular. Unsatisfying.

Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going too easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(602)

Tarzan (1999, Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck) English 8

Voices of Tony Goldwyn, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, Minnie Driver, Lance Henriksen, Brian Blessed, Wayne Knight, Nigel Hawthorne

(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Bold. Spectacular.

Orphaned as a baby and left alone in the jungles of 19th century Africa, Tarzan is adopted and raised by gorillas, the loving and kind, Kala (Close), and the disapproving Kerchak (Henriksen). Years later, as an adult, Tarzan (Goldwyn), who’d grown up believing himself to be an ape, but always felt like he was different, discovers who and what he really is once he meets explorers Clayton (Blessed), Professor Porter (Hawthorne), and the Professor’s daughter, Jane (Driver), with whom he quickly falls in love. Innovative animation teamed with a classic adventure romance, Tarzan represents the last of an era, a special time in Disney animation, known as their renaissance. Phil Collins’ new age songs amazingly work perfectly with this story of a boy raised by gorillas in Africa.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(600)

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 7

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

Image result for the incredibles 2

(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Dazzling. Lesser.

The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength, the mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), who can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), who has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids, dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever-growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the supervillain of the piece, is good, not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings has been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as family commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene-stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movie, The Incredibles 2 is a fantastic superhero film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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