Tarzan (1999, Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck) English 8

Voices of Tony Goldwyn, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, Minnie Driver, Lance Henriksen, Brian Blessed, Wayne Knight, Nigel Hawthorne

(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Bold. Spectacular.

Orphaned as a baby and left alone in the jungles of 19th century Africa, Tarzan is adopted and raised by gorillas, the loving and kind, Kala (Close), and the disapproving Kerchak (Henriksen). Years later, as an adult, Tarzan (Goldwyn), who’d grown up believing himself to be an ape, but always felt like he was different, discovers who and what he really is once he meets explorers Clayton (Blessed), Professor Porter (Hawthorne), and the Professor’s daughter, Jane (Driver), with whom he quickly falls in love. Innovative animation teamed with a classic adventure romance, Tarzan represents the last of an era, a special time in Disney animation, known as their renaissance. Phil Collins’ new age songs amazingly work perfectly with this story of a boy raised by gorillas in Africa.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Singing Detective (2003, Directed by Keith Gordon) English 5

Starring Robert Downey Jr. Mel Gibson, Robin Wright, Adrien Brody, Katie Holmes, Jeremy Northam, Carla Gugino, Jon Polito, Alfre Woodard

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(5-Okay Film)

Drudging. Unpleasant. Ambitious.

The Singing Detective, that is the original British miniseries, is unique, dense, mysterious, and original. It is not, however, all that much fun to watch. By turns bizarre and hallucinatory, it’s also relentlessly grim. So too is this, a 2003 adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr., only it’s a remake. A remake of something bizarre and unique starts off at a loss as far as I’m concerned. It’s no longer original and that was the miniseries main appeal. Downey Jr. takes over the lead role from Michael Gambon as Dan Dark, author of dime store mystery novels. An extended stay at a hospital suffering from a severe skin disease has Dark losing touch with reality, alternating between painful episodes from his past to present dealings with his doctors to hallucinations about his written creations complete with musical numbers. There’s much to admire in this film, but little to love, or justify watching it when you could watch the superior miniseries. This plays like the abridged version.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


High Society (1956, Directed by Charles Walters) English 6

Starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm, John Lund, Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer, Louis Armstrong

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(6-Good Film)

Sparkling. Snappy. Misguided.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) is one of Hollywood’s most popular classics. I’ve never been really taken with it. On paper, it’s a glamorous romantic comedy starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. You can’t beat that combination, and yet I have only ever been mildly interested in their tangled love triangle and have gone nearly a decade now without rewatching it. Perhaps it’s due for another viewing. To be fair, I was underwhelmed by The Awful Truth (1937) my first time watching it, but years later found it to be charming and marvelous, watching it several times since. Seeing High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly in lieu of the previously mentioned trio, however, hasn’t made me question my earlier judgment. High Society is entertaining, certainly, lovely to look at with its elegant technicolor visuals, but held back in the end by Grace Kelly’s character, if not her performance. It’s reminiscent to me of a much later picture, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), which too had everything going for it but couldn’t escape its disappointing leading lady. Like Andy MacDowell in that film, Grace Kelly is beautiful and alluring and we can definitely understand the men running after her, but she never proves herself to be truly worthy of any of the male characters’ affection. Is she supposed to be a “modern woman?” Independent, strong, and intelligent? Because to me, she’s the Daisy Buchanan character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby published thirty years earlier except with a happy ending. Also like Andy MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the charming male lead had a better option. Hugh Grant had Kristen Scott Thomas and Bing Crosby and Sinatra should be fighting over Celeste Holm here.

Kelly plays the wealthy socialite, Tracy Samantha Lord. On the eve of her wedding, where she’s to be married to a George Kitteridge (Lund), a nice enough man but bland of course, her ex-husband, C.K Dexter Haven (Crosby) shows up with eyes on sabotaging the engagement and reconciling with her. He still loves her, he admits. Later, two employees of a tabloid newspaper, reporter Mike Connor (Sinatra) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Holm), arrive to cover the event. Connor, initially convinced that he doesn’t like Tracy, soon falls for her and becomes Dexter’s rival in stealing her from George.

Bing Crosby is cool and as appealing as ever. Musical numbers between him and Sinatra and Louis Armstrong are the film’s real strength, as you’d imagine they would be. Armstrong narrates the film and backs Crosby up on one or two snappy numbers, but High Society, as fine as the supporting cast is and as impressive as all the auxiliary details are, is dependent on its stars. I don’t blame Kelly as much as I do the character. We’ve seen Grace Kelly in other films; magnificent films like: To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, and Mogambo. She was magnificent in them, but in High Society, she’s asked from the beginning to be a spoiled brat for much of the movie, and though she’s humbled in the end, it doesn’t erase the fact that she was a brat for the majority of the “romantic” scenes. As a result, High Society really isn’t romantic at all (hence me putting romantic in quotation marks). That’s a huge limitation. As a romantic musical, High Society only delivers on the musical aspect, which is good enough to make it worth watching, but probably not more than once.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Young at Heart (1954, Directed by Gordon Douglas) English 6

Starring Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Gig Young, Dorothy Malone, Ethel Barrymore, Elisabeth Fraser

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(6-Good Film)

Melodramatic. Engaging. Self-defeating.

With their sister’s engagement, Laurie (Day) and Amy (Fraser) contemplate their own impending spinsterhood. Then a brash musician named Alex (Young) enters the picture, and both sisters fall for him. As if that weren’t complicated enough, Alex’s depressive friend and music partner, Barney Sloan (Sinatra), arrives, and Laurie can’t help but be drawn to him, despite his moods. Finely tuned melodrama in the mold of the Douglas Sirk movies which were popular around the same time, though not quite as effective. It is well-acted, particularly by Sinatra, and any time he or Doris Day break out in song, it’s a beautiful thing. The ending loses something by not following through on what it set up so well.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Anchors Aweigh (1945, Directed by George Sidney) English 8

Starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dean Stockwell, Pamela Britton

(8-Exceptional Film)

Imaginative. Hokey. Endearing.

Imaginative movie musical following two sailors on leave in Hollywood. The more experienced Brady (Kelly) promises to help Doolittle (Sinatra) with a woman they meet, and whom Doolittle has fallen for. Things become complicated, however, once Brady finds himself attracted to her. There’s a great fantasy interlude in the picture where Kelly is transported to an animated world where he shares a dance with Jerry from Tom and Jerry. It’s the real standout from Anchors Aweigh, but the whole movie is wonderful. I can forgive and even expect a level of corniness in these old MGM musicals.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Brigadoon (1954, Directed by Vincent Minelli) English 9

Starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson, Albert Sharpe, Barry Jones

(9-Great Film)

Corny. Vibrant. Wonderful.

Spectacular musical fantasy about two wandering city slickers, Tommy Albright (Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Johnson), in Scotland¬†who get lost before finding themselves in a magically¬†idyllic town, stuck in the 18th century. Tommy loves the charming town owing in large part to the beautiful Fiona (Charisse), an unmarried resident, but Jeff is unimpressed and his bitterness and cynicism lead Brigadoon to its first real tragedy. The premise certainly owes a lot to James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, and like most fables, it doesn’t work if you sit and analyze it literally, but if you can put away your own cynicism, you’ll enjoy an excellent movie musical.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


School of Rock (2003, Directed by Richard Linklater) English 9

Starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove

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(9-Great Film)

Funny. Inspired. Appealing.

Dewey Finn (Black) lives the life of a rock star, minus the success, the women, or the money. Already kicked out of the band he created, and on the verge of being kicked out of his patient best friend, Ned’s apartment, he jumps at an opportunity to pretend to be Ned in order to pick up some money as a substitute teacher at an elite private school. Another brain wave hits, and Dewey decides to turn his overworked pupils into a rock band in order to compete at a talent competition. Easily could have been a miserable comedy, but thankfully, Richard Linklater, the script, and Jack Black (in a role tailor-made for him) squeeze every possible laugh out of the material, making the film a blast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-