The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 10

Starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, Ronald Culver, John Laurie

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Forty years in the life of Clive Candy (Livesey) as he grows from Lieutenant in the Boer War to Major-General in World War II. Deborah Kerr costars as the woman who keeps cropping up in his life, playing three separate roles, and Anton Walbrook plays Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer chosen to duel Clive on behalf of all German officers, who later becomes his closest friend. Romantic vision of a British soldier, beautifully captures the passing of time, with much joy and sadness in between. Endearing performances from the leads who would all factor in to other great Powell and Pressburger films, and like these other films, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a magnificent testament to Technicolor. Among the most handsome pictures ever produced. Epic. Intimate. Lovely.

Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016, Directed by Tyler Perry) English 4

Starring Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Diamond White, Liza Koshy, Bella Thorne

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Brian Simmons (Perry) worries about leaving his rebellious daughter alone for Halloween, especially since there’s a frat house party going on next door, so he calls his Aunt Madea to come and watch over her. I’ve never minded any of the Madea movies. They’re crass and not very good, but I end up laughing at least 3 or 4 times. That’s not enough to recommend any of them, and A Madea Halloween is par for the course with a bevy of ignorant behavior and sporadic sermonizing.  Predictable. Witless. Heavy-handed.

Idris Elba Would Make an Excellent James Bond

What is it that we like about James Bond? My first experience with the character and the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), starring Sean Connery, left me bewildered and significantly entertained. Bewildered because, at times, in one scene in particular, Bond wasn’t very heroic. I remember a stressful sequence where his “love interest,” Tilly (Tania Mallet) gets in a bind, and I’m thinking, how will Bond rescue her? The answer: he doesn’t. She dies, and he moves on pretty quickly. Not to mention, Tilly was already the sister of another girl, Jill (Shirley Eaton), he slept with and saw die earlier in the film. I’ve since seen at least 20 Bond flicks, and you learn to put up with a fair share of eye rolling and questionable antics (though the franchise has improved in some areas). All the accusations of misogyny and sexism are valid, and yet I, along with many people around the world enjoy these films, and it has to do with the opening music number, the title sequences, the action, the gadgets, the cars, the beautiful women, outlandish villains, and exotic locations, all surrounding a central character that’s supposed to embody cool. Sean Connery, the prototype, did that, and I think Idris Elba could do that too, given the chance. Rumors leaked out at the end of this past week that he’s being given strong consideration, and I think (though there could always be some dark horse unknown candidate) that he’s the right man for the job.

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Before getting in to his qualifications- because I honestly think they should go without saying-let me address the objections people seem to have. He’s 45 at the moment. In other words, too old for the role. That’s pretty weak, and there’s precedents in the Bond franchise (as well as the fact that Tom Cruise is 56 years old and going strong in his Mission Impossible franchise) that render that argument groundless. I mean, Daniel Craig is 50 right now, and everyone seems pretty excited about his coming back for one more Bond film. Roger Moore did Bond until he was 58, and did his best Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, at 50. Honestly, the only young Bonds were the first two, Connery and the woeful George Lazenby. I don’t believe people actually care how old Bond is. The real objection is, of course, the idea of a black Bond, and I don’t personally dismiss it as mere racism. “Why not get your own character,” some say? I think Doctor Who’s dealing with some of these feelings with the casting of Jodie Whittaker; a female stepping into a, heretofore, male role. I know I might be a little upset if, say, they rebooted Indiana Jones as a female character, but a reboot is different from Doctor Who and Bond, series without end. Changing Bond’s skin color, in reality, does not alter his character in any way. It doesn’t, and that’s the distinction I would make. Bond is a supremely skilled assassin and lady killer, always ready to save the world. Idris Elba in that role would still be that.

The original author, Ian Fleming, supposedly modeled the character after himself and American pianist Hoagy Carmichael.

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Eon Productions, the studio behind the films, has long left this image behind. Sean Connery became the standard bearer, truly, as soon as Dr. No hit. Tall, dark, and handsome became synonymous with Bond, and I’d argue that Daniel Craig veers furthest from this original film image. Shorter in comparison to earlier Bonds, blonde, and yet he proved to reinvigorate the series, and was a wise choice. How do you follow Craig? Eon could get a younger Craig-type, or they could be bold, which they always have been, which is why the franchise is ongoing and successful. Idris Elba already has an audience, he’s a strong actor, he’s cool, and I’d be anxious to see what he did with the role. Picking Elba is rolling the dice, whereas going with what’s already been done will make Bond stagnant. To be clear, Bond doesn’t need to be black to be exciting moving forward. I’ve heard Tom Hardy’s name tossed around. That could be good, or maybe there’s some guy that I don’t know, but the next Bond needs to be different, and why not Idris Elba?

-Walter Howard-

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959, Directed by Ed Wood) English 2

Starring Bella Lugosi, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, Tor Johnson

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A U.F.O, grave robbing aliens that look like humans, and zombies that look like vampires fill the scattered narrative of Ed Wood’s infamous film, but basically it’s about evil invaders from a more advanced planet who want to wipe out humanity. Besides being amateurish and inept in several aspects of filmmaking, Plan 9 is also awfully hard to follow. There’s no discernible character development, introduction, or suspense to speak of, and only towards the end do we get a sense of character motivation. Ed Wood was just as woeful at script writing as he was at directing. Incompetent. Silly. Confusing.

Mac and Me (1988, Directed by Stewart Raffill) English 3

Starring Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Martin West, Danny Cooksey, Jade Calegory, Lauren Stanley

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A young alien, given the nickname Mac (mysterious alien creature), crash lands on Earth, separated from his family. Discovered and befriended by brothers Eric (bound to a wheelchair) and Michael, Mac looks to reconnect with his family. If this premise sounds awfully similar to E.T: Extra-Terrestrial, it’s because Mac and Me is a blatant rip-off of that classic, released just six years prior. Add to that, Mac and Me is a lousy rip-off, devoid of any imagination, and damned by poor design for the central alien figure. There are two especially bad scenes: one where Eric loses control of his wheelchair and falls off the side of the cliff, and another set in McDonalds, where everyone begins a choreographed dance number. The latter is mind-blowingly bad. Baffling, really, and not the only embarrassing moment of product placement. The former is unintentionally hilarious. Surprisingly, the acting is professional, keeping Mac and Me out of the seventh circle of movie hell where The Room and Troll 2 live. Third-rate. Shoddy. Laughable.

BlackKklansmen (2018, Directed by Spike Lee) English 6

Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Corey Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Ryan Eggold

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Trailblazing within the Colorado Springs Police Department, black cop, Ron Stallworth (Washington), leads an undercover investigation into the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, with the help of his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Driver). Subtle? No. Nor is BlackKklansmen as deep or thoughtful as some of the real life figures it glorifies (there’s a stirring scene involving Kwame Ture early in the picture). However, Spike Lee hasn’t lost his ability to provoke,  and hasn’t lost his trademark panache, and he’s working with a story people want to hear. He packs the film with footage from recent white lives matter rallies, Trump speeches, a clip from Gone With the Wind, and an erratic but humorous opening featuring  Alec Baldwin flubbing through a eugenics video. Some of the extracurricular material works better than others, and Stallworth’s penultimate scenes feel too pat to be real, before concluding with a sobering cross-burning that should have been the end. What sticks is Stallworth’s story, both funny and incredible. Exuberant. Outrageous. Provocative.

Faith Based Films Aren’t Good

It isn’t the subject matter that holds me back from movies like I Can Only Imagine (2018), Fireproof (2008), War Room (2015),  God’s Not Dead (2014), God’s Not Dead 2 (2016), or God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018). It isn’t a case of religious discussion making me feel awkward, I’m sure. I can handle it. Besides, making someone uncomfortable, believe it or not, can be in service of a superior film.  My problems with the newly popular genre of “faith-based movies” is that they aren’t any good.

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True, some are better than others; we’re starting to see talented actors attached to these small films. Many of them make an enormous profit: I Can Only Imagine made $85 million on a $7 million budget, for example. However, I’ve yet to seen a movie that falls under the “faith-based” label that was interesting beyond replacing your end of the week sermon.

They are not challenging. Obviously, a sizable audience likes this. I don’t. I can look at the trailers for most in this genre, and tell you what’s going to happen, and what the moral will be. The resulting feeling is that of hearing a sermon. I don’t want sermons from film. I don’t think much of messages (whether they’re religious, political, social) in film. Themes are what give movies depth and what makes them last. I look at literature, at some of my favorite novels, Silence by Shusaku Endo for example, and I would call this a faith-based novel. Catholic priests in the 17th century persecuted in Japan grow involved with underground worship, since Christianity was outlawed. The premise alone is intriguing, but Endo created a protagonist, Father Rodrigues, who was self-righteous and looked down on the native Japanese, so that the narrative has an extra-dimension of interest with Rodrigues’ personal arc, climaxing with his moment of shame, but resulting in his being humbled. Silence deals with themes of questioning God, feeling like God is being silent in your life, and forgiving those who’ve wronged you, but Rodrigues’ personal growth and these themes are understood through inference and a thoughtful examination of the text, not spelled out in some wrap-up to close the novel.

There have been recent films that aren’t often associated with the faith-based set, that are, in my opinion, stronger works. Calvary (2014), starring Brendan Gleeson as a priest in a small Irish town who’s told in confession that he will be murdered by the end of the week, deals with the tragedy of Catholic priests molesting children in a way that’s really powerful, funny, sad, and surprising. Maybe that’s the key word that’s missing from many faith-based flicks: surprising.

-Walter Howard-