Diamonds are Forever (1971, Directed by Guy Hamilton) English 5

Starring Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Lana Wood, Charles Gray, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot

Diamonds Are Forever Movie Review

(5-Okay Film)

Substandard. Campy. Uneven.

Blofeld: Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in.

That’s right. Sean Connery is back as James Bond, after Australian and subpar actor, George Lazenby, briefly took over the role. A return like this should exist in the same sphere as Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA. Instead, it’s a bit of general trivia for Bond aficionados. The reason? It’s because the film, itself, is mediocre. In fact, I might argue that it’s the silliest of the Bond films (not having seen Moonraker yet), which is saying something. Diamonds are Forever has Connery talking to rats, making out with his self, and driving a space buggy of sorts. It’s also set mainly in Vegas which, after Japan and Switzerland in the previous outings, comes as a letdown. Bond poses as a a diamond smuggler to infiltrate a high-level operation, but the plot is one of the franchise’s most irrelevant, the main villain represents an uninspired take on the role, and the henchman are laughable (maybe they were supposed to be). What are Diamonds are Forever’s redeeming features? It’s entertaining, up until the end which is surprisingly uninteresting. Jill St. John, the first American Bond woman, is fun and memorable. The theme song, of course, is one of the best, and, above all, Sean Connery. I can see why he was tired of doing this material, but he made it iconic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Mulan (2020, Directed by Niki Caro) English 4

Starring Liu Yifei, Yoson An, Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Ron Yuan

What Time Will Mulan Be on Disney Plus? How To Watch With Premiere Access

(4-Bad Film)

Inferior. Misguided. Dreary.

Mulan: Yes… I will bring honor to us all.

If you asked me ten years ago for one classic Disney animated film that could be interesting as a live-action remake, Mulan would likely have been my choice. The original is one of my favorites of all Disney films but I feel (or felt) that there was plenty of directions its story could go. It didn’t need to be a carbon-copy of the original to work. The folks at Disney obviously agreed and this new Mulan, Mulan 2020, is, in a lot of ways, a new film; its own film. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good film. Mulan 2020 starts out the same. She takes her aging father’s place in defending the country. The enemy is different, however. China’s facing Rouran warriors being manipulated by a vengeful witch (Li). Most people would have probably preferred that it recycle what worked so well in the animated version (catchy songs, colorful adventure, funny characters like Mushu, and light romance between Mulan and Li Sheng). I like the initiative to make something different, but every choice seems like a slap in the face to the original. It feels like the filmmakers were embarrassed by the original and spend the majority of this movie catering to China (turns out China hates it too). Everything is described as an effort to be “more historically accurate.” They forgot to make it entertaining. Everything that was fun about the first film is gone now. What’s left is dreary (and somehow still campy at the same time). There is nothing wrong with musical fantasies. I can’t believe Disney tried to make a fantasy “more realistic.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, Directed by David Yates) English 8

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - (500) Days of Summer - Death in  Love -- New York Magazine Movie Review - Nymag

(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Intriguing. Satisfying.

Professor Minerva McGonagall: [to Harry, Ron, & Hermione] Why is it, when something happens, it is always you three?

After all that Harry’s done and been through, you would think his friends could give him the benefit of the doubt. I thought about this through most of The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment, as Harry (Radcliffe) tries to warn anyone who will listen that Draco Malfoy is now a Death Eater and planning something. His warnings fall on deaf ears. Elsewhere, Harry deals with his blossoming feelings for Ron’s sister, Ginny, and is given the difficult task from Dumbledore (Gambon) of prying into Hogwart’s new Potions teacher, Professor Slughorn’s past. This is one of the most entertaining Harry Potter films with a healthy dose of humor, thanks in large part to Jim Broadbent’s Slughorn, and an abundance of romantic intrigue. I do wonder if certain plot points make sense to those who haven’t read the books. Certain elements feel rushed (it’s unavoidable having to condense such a lengthy novel into a film of reasonable length), but, overall, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a job well-done.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Revenant (2015, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) English 8

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnhall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Lukas Haas, Paul Anderson

The Ace Black Movie Blog: Movie Review: The Revenant (2015)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Brutal. Severe. Impressive.

Hugh Glass: As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.

America’s west was the birthplace of many of our legends. Hugh Glass may not be the best known but he’s been a consistent figure in film and literature, and with The Revenant, he finally gets the big-budget treatment. Glass, played by DiCaprio, was a fur trapper in the 1820s, leading a group of soldier-hunters that includes the wily John Fitzgerald (Hardy). After a harrowing attack by a grizzly bear, Glass is left for dead, and watches his loyal son killed by Fitzgerald. Somehow surviving, Glass maniacally seeks vengeance on his son’s murderer. Imposing, bleak, and single-minded, The Revenant is less entertaining than it is impressive. This is a stunning piece of visual storytelling and DiCaprio’s largely unspoken performance is a part of that. I could be critical of the rather heavy-handed racism of many of the characters, but I feel it works. This is not a subtle film, and though I was less impressed with the CGI bear (I’m never impressed by CGI animals), I do think it would have probably been too much to let a real bear maul DiCaprio, so what are you going to do?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Tenet (2020, Directed by Christopher Nolan) English 5

Starring John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Martin Donovan, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy

Christopher Nolan's movie 'Tenet': What is this movie about? – Film Daily

(5-Okay Film)

Tedious. Solemn. Convoluted.

Lady in a Lab Coat: Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” a lady in a lab coat tells our protagonist, simply referred to as Protagonist (Washington), for the whole of the film. Protagonist appears to accept this there and then-though it’s hard to determine what he’s thinking, if he’s thinking, at any point. I could not accept it. I don’t want to not understand. I don’t enjoy being lost, in general, but if I am to be lost, I’d prefer a vibrant setting, a character or two to care about, and a sense of humor. Not this gray oblivion devoid of humor that touts intelligence and sophistication at the expense of humor, entertainment, and emotion. In thinking about it, it’s strange what the lady in a lab coat says to Protagonist. The line is clearly meant as a clue to the viewer on how to experience Tenet and in this sense, it does its job, but within the context of the film, does Protagonist ever “feel” anything? Don’t try to understand it? I don’t even understand who she is.

Any film made by Christopher Nolan bears the weight of exceptional expectations. Nolan is quite possibly the most popular filmmaker working today and, perhaps more impressively, he’s also almost universally admired by his peers. His popularity was built chiefly on his take on the superhero genre with Batman and The Dark Knight saga. Since the final film in that trilogy though, The Dark Knight Rises, his films have grown increasingly austere and opaque. Those two words combine to mean pretentious in my eyes. I was not a fan of Interstellar (the second half meandered its way to the goofiest ending I’ve seen in years), I was apathetic towards Dunkirk (admittedly, I’ve seen this once and I’m willing to see it again before I mark my opinion in stone), and now, Tenet, Nolan’s worst film; an interminable barrage of noise and poor sound design, unintelligible, obscure dialogue, superficial characters, wrapped around a “high-concept” central conceit that I don’t give one damn about.

The story follows Protagonist, hired by some unknown figure to…(I don’t know what this film’s about and you probably don’t want me to tell you anyways.) Let’s go broad strokes instead. John David Washington is the good guy. Kenneth Branagh is the bad guy. The end of the world is at stake. Time can be manipulated. Robert Pattinson is in this movie. He’s helping the good guys. Elizabeth Debicki is married to the bad guy, but reluctantly helps the good guys. Will subtitles help? Do I want to give Tenet a third try on DVD where I’ll at least know what’s being said? Half of the dialogue is spoken through thick accents or obscured by masks which has become a trademark for Nolan and not one of his better ones.

In order for there to be suspense, the audience needs to be in on what’s going on. Alfred Hitchcock famously explained (explained it best, in my opinion), saying, ““There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” There’s no anticipation in this film because we’re never given a solid enough picture of what is happening. We’re meant to be overwhelmed. Everything, from the bombastic sound design to the narrative structure, conspires to overwhelm us. This is not a spy film like some critics claim it is. Cinematic espionage is not knowing who to trust but knowing that good and bad will reveal itself by the end. Tenet is knowing who’s good from the start, Protagonist, but not knowing who he is or why he does anything. The good guys are emotionless suits with no backstory whatsoever and no clear motivation.

Perhaps the large-canvas, awfully convoluted plot is simply a means to an end; an excuse for large-scale spectacle and masterfully crafted action sequences. I’d never accuse Nolan of being a hack. He’s a technician. Many of the action set-pieces are incredible. Tenet is consistently beautiful and well-acted in the rare moments when acting is called for (aside from Debicki, the cast is mostly called on to look good in a suit and spout pseudo-clever dialogue). However, as I said in a different review (Highlander 2, I believe, another nonsensical sci-fi flick), when I can’t follow the plot, I have no sense of what a scene’s purpose is in the grand scheme. Then, I can only hope to enjoy each scene independent of context. There are a number of scenes in Tenet in which I was able to do this, but it’s hard to do for 2 and a half hours. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” No lady in a lab coat. I felt nothing, and in the time spent between seeing Tenet and writing this review, I didn’t think about the film once.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Arabesque (1966, Directed by Stanley Donen) English 6

Starring Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, Alan Badel, Carl Duering, Kieron Moore, John Merivale, Duncan Lamont

Film - Arabesque - Into Film

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Vibrant. Superficial.

David Pollock: Let us through! That man’s about to be killed!

Policeman: I hardly think so, sir. This is England!

Written with Cary Grant in mind to star, Stanley Donen (the director), himself, admitted to the script not being very good, “Our only hope is to make it so visually exciting the audience will never have time to work out what the hell is going on.” I think his comments are spot on and I guess, with that in mind, he succeeded. Arabesque, off the heels of Donen’s Charade (which had a phenomenal script), is convoluted rather than clever, exciting rather than romantic. As far as I could work out, Peck plays a professor, David Pollock, asked to spy on a nefarious middle-eastern tycoon, Nejim Beshraavi (Badel), who wants him to crack a code. David gets tangled up with Beshraavi’s mistress, Yasmin (Loren), who is hard to trust but even harder to ignore. Arabesque is solid light entertainment but far from essential.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Underclassman (2005, Directed by Marcos Siega) English 3

Starring Nick Cannon, Shawn Ashmore, Roselyn Sanchez, Kelly Hu, Hugh Bonneville, Cheech Marin

(3-Horrible Film)

Dumb. Unoriginal. Uninteresting.

Tracy Stokes: [at a five-star restaurant with Rob] I’m telling you, in my old neighborhood, gettin’ crab is something totally different.

Nick Cannon is a young out of control cop with smarts. He pretends to be a student at a prestigious high school. He’s investigating some huge scandal. He has a weird relationship with his Spanish teacher (Sanchez), who looks like a supermodel. Lots of lame jokes. Really bad movie. Lord Darlington from Downton Abbey is in it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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One-Armed Swordsman (1967, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 8

Starring Jimmy Wang, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Angela Pan, Yeung Chi-hing, Tang Ti, Wong Sai-git

The One Armed Swordsman (first film of 2013) | voidagger

(8-Exceptional Film)

Rousing. Vibrant. Glorious.

Shih Yi-fei: Pei, don’t worry. So what if you cut off his arm? He’s not coming back anyway. We’ll just never bring it up in front of Sifu.

The opening chapters, Fang Kang’s (Wang) origin story, if you will, are to me, a product of the western world, comparable to the story of Joseph’s misfortunes in the Book of Genesis; jealousy, betrayal, conspiracy. Here, Fang Kang is lured into a trap by his peers at a martial arts school, tired of being shown up by his skill and strength of character. He loses an arm but is saved by a kind, beautiful farm girl, Xiao Man (Chiao Chiao), who eventually gets him back on his feet and watches him regain his fighting prowess, this time with the handicap. Later the honorable Fang Kang is called upon to save his old school from a rival gang of thugs. Deeply compelling, this film is classic action entertainment. Vibrantly filmed and creatively choreographed, the One-Armed Swordsman is rightly iconic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Charlie’s Angels (2019, Directed by Elizabeth Banks) English 6

Starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Honsou, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker, Noah Centineo, Chris Pang

Charlie's Angels': Review | Reviews | Screen

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Likable. Misjudged.

Sabina Wilson: [with a playful giggle] I think women can do anything.

Jonny Smith: Well, just because they can, doesn’t mean they should, right?

The “angels,” Sabina (Stewart), Elena (Scott), and Jane (Balinska)  take on a corporation covering up a newly invented energy device that has the power to be a world weapon. I don’t consider myself the target audience for “girl power,” and most attempts over the past few years at rectifying 80 years of “male gaze” have left me unmoved; mainly because they were ham-handed. This iteration of Charlie’s Angels is still ham-handed but slight too, and, in any case, it’s much better than the last 2 films led by Drew Barrymore. For one thing, this is a pretty solid action flick. The “angels” are likable, there’s a red herring or two to keep us invested and a certain knowingness about the humor that makes the film slightly more intelligent than goofy. This is not a great film by any means but watch Charlie’s Angels after reading the IMDB reviews and it will easily exceed your expectations.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Princess Mononoke (1997, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 10

Voices of (English Dubbing) Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Keith David, Gillian Anderson

Princess Mononoke

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Spectacular. Awesome.

Hii-sama: You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.

We fade in. Keith David’s voiceover sets up the world we’re entering. We’re all of ten seconds into the running time, but it’s clear: this is an awesome movie. The master, Hayao Miyazaki, brings his stunning animation to a unique story about gods and monsters and cursed warriors, with no black and white villains. Its hero, Ashitaka (Crudup), prince of a small village, travels far from home after being cursed from fighting a demon-possessed boar. He stumbles into a conflict between humans (of Irontown) and the forest (the gods and spirits that dwell there) and falls in love with San, a female warrior raised by wolves and taught to hate humans. Princess Mononoke feels like an anomaly in Miyazaki’s career in a few ways. His clear love of flight is nowhere to be found, an adult male protagonist rather than a young girl. There’s a level of violence not seen in any of his other work, as well, but as an anomaly, it only further proves his greatness. He has never stopped evolving though his themes may stay the same. His animation is awe-inspiring (there are a dozen incredible action sequences in this film) and his stories are always infinitely satisfying while never traveling the expected path.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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