Last Action Hero (1993, Directed by John McTiernan) English 7

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance, Robert Prosky, Tom Noonan, F. Murray Abraham, Mercedes Ruehl, Anthony Quinn, Bridgette Wilson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Over-stuffed. Clever. Underrated.

Danny Madigan (O’Brien), is having a tough time in life. His father’s died, his neighborhood is rough, and he can’t seem to concentrate in school. His one escape is the movie theater, where he enjoys the action packed movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing himself), and the company of Nick (Prosky), an older projectionist. One day at the theater, while watching Schwarzenegger’s latest, Jack Slater IV, Danny gets warped into the picture, and teams up with Jack Slater himself to take down the bad guys. Last Action Hero is action-packed, yes, but more amusingly, it’s packed with in-jokes, meta-humor, and cameos. Considered a dud at its release, I think action fans will love it. Schwarzenegger, as a character that knows he’s a character in a movie, is a blast. This is one of his best vehicles. The film blossoms from the question of what it is that brings people to the movies, specifically action flicks, and why they’re more meaningful than given credit for. As someone who escapes into movies similar to Danny, the film speaks to me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(285)

 

Jumanji (1995, Directed by Joe Johnston) English 7

Starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier, Bebe Neuwirth, Patricia Clarkson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Nostalgic. Intriguing.

Sometimes it’s impossible to separate the actual quality of a film from the nostalgia it produces. Jumanji is a childhood favorite. In 1969, a boy, Alan, and a girl, Sarah, sit down to play a mysterious board game that promises fun and excitement. The game turns out to be all too real, conjuring up a new jungle threat with every role of the dice. An especially unlucky roll lands Alan in isolation, keeping the two from finishing. Nearing thirty years later, two new kids, Judy and Peter, find and join the game. At the time, some critics complained about Jumanji being too scary. Kids like to be scared. Jumanji is the proper amount of scary in controlled doses. Williams makes for a nice hero with what’s actually a somewhat limited amount of screen time. Hunt, too, is engaging as the childhood crush grown up.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(252)

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018, Directed by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston) English 5

Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Jane lynch\

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(5-Okay Film)

Dragging. Flat. Creative.

There are some nice ideas in Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it-Ralph. It explores friendship, insecurity, and visually articulates what it might look like inside the internet in an appealing way. However, for all of its cleverness, there aren’t many laughs to be found, and the story never pulled me in completely at any point. This new Ralph resembles Homer’s Odyssey in structure: kind of wandering, with no apparent villain, and slow to reach its point. I was slightly bored for much of the running time. The plot is rather simple: Vanellope (Silverman) and the gang at Sugar Rush are in danger of becoming homeless as their game is close to being shut down. Their only hope is that the arcade set gets a new wheel to replace the broken one, so the game can go on, and the only way to get a new wheel is for Ralph and Vanellope to enter the internet and find one. There’s not a lack of action. Plenty happens. The animation is vibrant. I just never truly cared.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(251)

Watership Down (2018, Directed by Noam Murro) English 6

Voices of James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, Tom Wilkinson, Peter Capaldi, Freddie Fox, Taron Egerton, Olivia Colman, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Kaluuya, Gemma Chan

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(6-Good Film)

Involving. Different. Disappointing.

The incredible fantasy adventure novel, Watership Down, by Richard Adams, about a group of rabbits on an exodus gets a reworking in this BBC led production. I was all for it. Though the 1978 film adaptation is marvelous, let’s see what an updated, CGI miniseries with a first-rate voice cast can do with the material. The result is disappointing. The voice cast is first-rate, and do excellent work, but the animation lets them, and, ultimately, the story down. It’s surprisingly shoddy, lifeless work for such a prestigious production. It’s often difficult to distinguish between characters, and the picturesque beauty from the 1978 film is absent here. I also didn’t care for the “minor” changes to the story. Mainly, my favorite character in the novel, Bigwig, is made less likable by constant grousing early on. Finally, the story, which is still gripping, manages to push through and make this miniseries at least worthy of one viewing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(238)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Directed by Frank Capra) English 10

Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, Ward Bond

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(10-Masterpiece)

Classic. Immortal. Moving.

Clarence (Travers), an angel 2nd class, is given an awfully tough assignment: selfless, devoted family man, George Bailey (Stewart) of Bedford Falls, wonders if the world would be a better place if he was never born. Clarence gives George a glimpse of what that would look like. The quintessential Christmas standard, It’s a Wonderful Life is the best of Christmas movies for any lover of classic Hollywoood. James Stewart and Frank Capra were an awesome pair, and I’m not sure any one has looked more beautiful in a film than Donna Reed when she and Stewart huddle around a phone, trying to stay angry at one another. I’ve mentioned before people’s tendency to forgive overt sentimentality in older films. In fact, it’s what people love most about films like It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s life isn’t easy, or what he dreamed for himself, but in the end, he’s given the gift of seeing that he has a purpose. Aside: Like any true traditionalist, I prefer this film in black and white.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(227)

Christmas Challenge Film #11: The Santa Clause (1994, Directed by John Pasquin) English 6

Tim Allen was on top of the world in 1994. Hit television show, hit book, and hit movie; the latter being The Santa Clause, my 11th film for my Christmas film challenge. This is an intermediate film for me. It’s a Christmas movie I’ve seen numerous times, enjoy very much, but don’t love. That’s no great indictment. It’s a hopeful film with a definite sense of Christmas cheer, good spirit, and a strong message. It’s an ideal family Christmas movie.

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Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, a mildly cynical, divorced father whose son, Charlie, would rather spend Christmas eve with his mother. Despite his wish, Charlie spends Christmas eve eating at Denny’s with his Dad looking around at a bunch of other unhappy children eating with their dads, but things pick up later that night. Investigating a noise coming from the roof, Scott accidentally kills Santa Clause. Not as dark as it sounds, this necessitates that Scott become the new Santa. Charlie and he finish the Christmas presents circulation, and are told the deal by an elf named Bernard once they arrive at the North Pole. Scott can return home to put his affairs in order, but starting next year, he’s full-time Santa. Naturally, Charlie is overjoyed. Scott is less enthusiastic. In fact, he’s convinced when he awakes in his own bed the next morning that the whole episode was a dream. This explanation becomes less likely once he physically begins to transform. This is one of The Santa Clause’s best moments as Scott goes through a less scary, more humorous metamorphosis than Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The last third isn’t as much fun as it drives home the sugar and syrup.

The Santa Clause is a  fine Christmas film. It’s relatively witty, with a host of fresh ideas, and a nice message about faith and family.

(6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(202)

Aquaman (2018, Directed by James Wan) English 4

Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

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(4-Bad Film)

Colorful. Dumb. Senseless.

“Not Orm. Ocean Master” So says Patrick Wilson’s character, the villain of the piece. The general consensus about Aquaman seems to be that it’s “cheesy fun.” I love cheesy fun movies. Remember I liked Venom. Aquaman is bad. I can’t get over the fact that it’s about grown men riding on dolphins. It’s so dumb. Jason Momoa gets his first solo adventure following the woeful Justice League, as the titular hero, Aquaman. He can dwell on land or in water (not unlike a turtle), and can communicate with sea creatures. In the secret underwater world of Atlantis, his half-brother, the evil Orm, later “Ocean Master” (eye roll) plots an attack on land dwellers. Arthur teams up with Princess Mera to find the trident from Little Mermaid that will prove he’s the rightful king of Atlantis. I became bored of this fairly early on, and never recovered. There are moments of vibrant color (not unlike a child’s artwork), but many more of poor jokes, and pseudo-serious lines of villainy. James Wan has made so many good films before this-The Conjuring, Fast and the Furious 7- Aquaman doesn’t belong with those movies. The opening resembles 1984’s Splash minus Tom Hanks, and who wants that?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(201)