Highlander (1986, Directed by Russell Mulcahy) English 4

Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart

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(4-Bad Film)

Corny. Gimmicky. Bizarre.

I’m amazed that this film is as favored as it is. Highlander is a poorly executed action flick with a handful of good ideas. Lambert (a Frenchman) plays an immortal Scottish warrior in the 16th century who lives out his eternal life mourning the loss of a loved one and battling his archenemy, The Kurgan. There’s, of course, more to it than that, but I stopped caring. The acting is bad (even Sean Connery is squandered playing an Egyptian in a film about Scots). The camera trickery is cool at times before it becomes ultra-gimmicky.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Directed by Michael Powell and 4 others) English 8

Starring John Justin, Sabu, Conrad Veidt, June Duprez, Miles Malleson

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Stunning. Dreamy. Inventive.

One of the great special effects films, Alexander Korda’s remake of The Thief of Bagdad (1924, starring Douglas Fairbanks) stars John Justin as the usurped Prince Ahmad and Conrad Veidt as the usurper, Jaffar. Tricked out of his throne and tossed in jail, Ahmad befriends the endlessly loyal, common street thief, Abu (Sabu), and the two escape to set out on high seas adventure. Once they arrive in a distant kingdom, Ahmad’s able to sneak a look at its nameless Princess (Duprez), a woman so beautiful, her father endeavors to keep her hidden, out of sight from men. Determined to be with her, Ahmad finds that she’s promised to his mortal enemy, Jaffar, and plans for love and revenge blend together. This film is one inspired sequence after another; a series of spectacular, ingenious special effects. Special effects age, but the creativity and Technicolor lavishness endure. I find the old-fashioned special effects mixed with the wonderfully corny overtures of romance give the film an appealing dreamlike quality. The Thief of Bagdad is also unforgettably strange at times; the incredible many-armed dancing statue scene for example. Not top-billed, Sabu, eventually, and to our pleasure, becomes the hero of the story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Mulan (1998, Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook) English 9

Voices of Ming-Na Wen, B.D Wong, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Pat Morita, James Hong, George Takei

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(9-Great Film)

Grand. Rousing. Unique.

Spectacular animated adventure derived from an ancient Chinese legend, Mulan makes an excellent addition to Disney’s tradition of female protagonists. She impersonates a male warrior fighting against the Huns in order to spare her crippled father. Themes of identity, self-empowerment, and feminism give the film its weight, and Eddie Murphy as the underwhelming dragon Mushu makes sure there is always enough comic relief, also a number of fantastic songs.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994, Directed by Stephen Sommers) English 8

Starring Jason Scott Lee, Lena Headey, John Cleese, Cary Elwes, Sam Neill

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Thrilling. Old-Fashioned. Well-crafted.

Loosely inspired by Kipling’s stories of India, here, a grown Mowgli, raised by wolves, reunites with a childhood friend and attempts to find his way in human society (one formed by an imperialist culture). Superb action adventure fantasy featuring several exciting and terrifying sequences like runs from tigers and baddies being buried alive. Lee does a credible job of selling the fish out of water aspect to his Mowgli character. There have been several excellent adaptations of The Jungle Book, and this is definitely one of them.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Jungle Book (1942, Directed by Zoltan Korda) English 9

Starring Sabu, Rosemary DeCamp, Joseph Calleia, John Qualen

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Classic. Exciting.

Though made in Hollywood during the war years, this production of Rudyard Kipling’s classic feels very British. Former servant turned star, Sabu, gives his greatest star turn as Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves and coerced into leading a group of greedy men to a lost treasure. This version was filmed in a studio, but the incredible set design and live animals more than make up for the artificial surroundings. It’s a fantasy, but also a strong morality play. Among the best works produced under the Korda brothers.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Get Carter (2000, Directed by Stephen Kay) English 5

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Miranda Richardson, Michael Caine, Alan Cumming, Rachel Leigh Cook, John C. McGinley

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(5-Okay Film)

Tame. Misguided. Inferior.

The original Get Carter is a classic British gangster film: raw, relentless, bleak, and brutal. Michael Caine starred as Jack Carter, a gangster out for revenge on his brother’s murderers. As portrayed by Caine, Carter was nearly as ruthless as the “bad guys,” cold and methodical. Stallone’s Carter is a big softy. That’s not to criticize his performance. Stallone is quite good in this role, but the filmmakers or writers or whoever decided to water down the material. It’s as if Get Carter was remade by people who didn’t even like the original. Instead of raw, gritty filmmaking, we get polished, overly-stylized filming here, and instead of a morally ambiguous hero, we get a righteous mob enforcer. Maybe if they had just called it a different name, severed its ties to the original, this film might have had a chance. We know that Stallone is very compelling in these roles, but this Get Carter is wildly inferior.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Captain Marvel (2019, Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) English 6

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Lashana Lynch, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Satisfying. Solid.

We are about a million miles away from what Roger Corman had in mind for his unrealized production of Fantastic Four back in ’94. It’s amazing how far the superhero genre has come in those 25 years. Captain Marvel arrives in theaters with a cast full of A-listers and Oscar nominees, led by star Brie Larson. She plays Vers, an inhabitant of a distant planet called Hala, where the race of Kree lives, at war with the shapeshifting Skrull. Captured by the Skrull and prodded by their leader, Talos (Mendelsohn), Vers has visions or memories of people that she doesn’t recognize. Escaping to Earth, with the Skrulls right behind, she teams up with a younger, visually non-impaired Nick Fury (Jackson) to fight back the enemy invasion and unravel the mystery of who she is really is. Brie Larson is not a naturally charismatic star. That’s okay. A lot of great actors aren’t. They need compelling characters and things to do on screen to be interesting. For that matter, Steve McQueen, a limited actor, is extremely charismatic, without doing very much at all. The point here is that for much of Captain Marvel’s first act, where the storytelling is basically setting up a dynamic second act, Larson is asked to carry the show. For this reason, Captain Marvel is rather dull in the beginning. Eventually, several characters join her in her adventure, and, with help from a minor but welcome twist, Captain Marvel becomes a much more entertaining film as it gets going. Much has been made about a cat named Goose. Much ado about nothing as far as I’m concerned. I am apparently not amused by the same things as everyone else. I was, however, impressed with Mendelsohn, who I believe gives the film its heart, and the friendships Vers acquires on her way to becoming the great and powerful Captain Marvel.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-