Eragon (2006, Directed by Stefen Fangmeier) English 4

Starring Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Djimon Honsou, Robert Carlyle, Garret Hedlund; Voice of Rachel Weisz

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(4-Bad Film)

Anemic. Hackneyed. Boring.

Eragon, a humble farm boy in a distant, fantasy land, Alagaësia, receives a stone of rare magical ability sent out by Princess Arya. This thrusts him right in the middle of an epic struggle between the oppressed people of Alagaësia and the evil tyranny of Galbatorix (Malkovich) with old Brom (Irons) as a guide and a faithful dragon, Saphira (Weisz), as an ally. I don’t fault a film for ripping off a classic, it’s just they always do it so badly. Eragon, based on a popular novel written by Christopher Paolini but clearly deeply indebted to the original Star Wars film, should, at the very least, be so much more entertaining than it is. How do you steal the formula from Star Wars and still bore me to tears?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Sea Hawk (1940, Directed by Michael Curtiz) English 8

Starring Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, Una O’Connor, Donald Crisp

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Skillful. Rousing. Compelling.

Reteaming the director, Michael Curtiz, with the swashbuckling star, Errol Flynn, and joined by a familiar cast of supporting players (Claude Rains and Alan Hale), The Sea Hawk is every bit as rousing and entertaining as their previous work, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn plays an English privateer, Geoffrey Thorpe, loyal to his Queen, Elizabeth (Robson), caught up in the political maneuvering of rival Spain preparing their legendary armada. Brenda Marshall plays Flynn’s love interest, a Spanish subject who initially despises Thorpe. Masterful action sequences, compelling characters including a fantastic turn from Flora Robson as the Queen, and plenty of intrigue which I always find fascinating. The Sea Hawk is a testament to the classic Hollywood studio system which made countless great films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Prince of Foxes (1949, Directed by Henry King) English 7

Starring Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Wanda Hendrix, Marina Berti, Everett Sloane, Felix Aylmer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Absorbing. Rousing. Expert.

In the beginning years of the 16th century, Andrea Orsini (Power) serves the ruthless Prince Cesare Borgia (Welles). Hired to assassinate the kindly, wise Count Marc Antonio Verano (Aylmer), Orsini begins to question his allegiances just as he falls for the count’s young wife, Camilla (Hendrix). Prince of Foxes is an expertly crafted swashbuckler and star vehicle for Power, who may be the king of swashbucklers (Errol Flynn being his chief competitor for this title). Orson Welles is charismatic and riveting as Cesare Borgia. There’s no shortage of plot or intrigue either.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Mask of Zorro (1998, Directed by Martin Campbell) English 9

Starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Lescher, Tony Amendola, L.Q Jones

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(9-Great Film)

Fun. Exciting. Well-crafted.

I often think that an actor making no attempt to do a realistic accent is less distracting than getting an accent wrong. I submit for evidence Anthony Hopkins in The Mask of Zorro. He’s wonderful in this movie despite not making much sense with his British accent and blue eyes. He plays Don Diego de la Vega, the original Zorro, a vigilante in corrupt California during the 1800s. After his life is torn apart and his daughter, Elena, stolen from him by Don Rafael (Wilson), twenty years pass before Don Diego gets an opportunity for revenge. Teaming up with the much younger Alejandro (Banderas), whose brother was killed by one of Rafael’s minions, the sadistic Captain Love (Lescher), the two Zorros attempt to thwart Rafael’s plans. Rousing action-adventure with a perfect balance between humor and drama, several outstanding scenes (like the sword duel between Banderas and Zeta-Jones as Elena), and an engrossing plot that borrows shrewdly from Count of Monte Cristo.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Assassination (2015, Directed by Choi Dong-hoon) Korean 8

Starring Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae, Ha Jung-woo, Oh Dal-su, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Deok-moon, Lee Geung-young

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Stylish. Action-packed. Appealing.

It’s 1933 and Koreans live under the oppressive rule of neighboring Japan. Kang In-guk, a Korean businessman and an ally to Japan, becomes the target for the resistance, along with Japanese general Kawaguchi Mamoru. Three wild card resistance members are picked for the assassination-Big Gun, Duk-sam, and Ahn Okyun (Ji-hyun)-and hired by Captain Yem (Jung-jae), a double agent secretly helping Japan. Ha Jung-woo plays a rogue assassin named Hawaii Pistol who eventually joins Ahn Okyun in her mission as the two imagine life together in easier times. There’s a lot of plot in this film, a lot of interesting turns and suspense. It’s not, however, the somber, earnest type of movie that I imagine when I hear the term “period film;” the prestige pictures that win awards but are usually pretty boring. Assassination uses its historical background as a springboard for an outstanding action flick with romance and intrigue and a group of villains that could give Indiana Jones’ nazis a run for their money.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


You Only Live Twice (1967, Directed by Lewis Gilbert) English 6

Starring Sean Connery, Mie Hama, Donald Pleasance, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba, Teru Shimada, Bernard Lee, Charles Gray

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(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Ridiculous. Convoluted.

Oh, Bond.  Only you could get away with “transforming” yourself into a Japanese man for a mission, or instantly moving on to the next love interest days (maybe hours, I forget) after your previous one was murdered. Bond, as written, in most of the ’60s films isn’t a very complex character. He’s pure male fantasy. Sean Connery is so great, though, so charismatic, so cool, that I forgive myself for cheering him on despite all of his nonsense. In this outing, which I struggled to follow but was never bored, Bond hurdles towards his archenemy, Blofeld (Pleasance), pulling strings from the shadows, in some kind of space-related take over the world plot. Bond navigates Japan’s back alleys and evades SPECTRE’s attempts on his life. I loved the locations and the title song, Pleasance as Blofeld and the trio of Bond girls. I was less impressed by the plot written by Roald Dahl, which is obscured even by Bond standards.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


12 Monkeys (1995, Directed by Terry Gilliam) English 10

Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, David Morse, Christopher Meloni

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Intriguing. Vivid. Thrilling.

The year is 2035. Lions and other feral animals roam the post-apocalyptic cityscape. It’s been nearly 40 years since a deadly virus wiped out most of humanity. James Cole (Willis), a prisoner, is sent back in time to locate the source so that a cure might be created. He gets sent back too far and his pursuit of the virus’ origin is derailed by his being locked up as criminally insane. Based on a short film by Chris Marker, La Jetée, Terry Gilliam uses this intriguing premise to fashion his bizarre version of a classic Hitchcock film (there are several references to Vertigo in the picture). You have a protagonist, Cole, thrust into a situation with dire implications, mostly against his will, who begins doubting his own sanity. Along the way, there are several red herrings and an odd but satisfying romance with his doctor, Kathyrn Railly (Stowe). 12 Monkeys is a skewed vision of the future matched with a delirious odyssey through time. I, for one, have never been able to fully wrap my head around the paradoxes or the implications made throughout the film, but I love these kinds of thrillers. Think of Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, one of the most entertaining films ever made, wherein the protagonist is chained to a woman who loathes him, while unknown enemies chase them. We get that recycled wonderfully here with Cole and Kathryn.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-