My Week of Films (September 9-September 15)

Solid week. Watched a number of good films. Saw It in theaters. Meanwhile, I’ve been watching a few television series: Sneaky Pete, Gravity Falls, and Glow. The week’s highlight? Seeing Jaws again for the first time in over ten years.

The Naked Spur   100% on Rotten Tomatoes                  8 (Filmstruck)

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Starring James Stewart, Ralph Meeker, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan

Plot Summary-Wanting to begin again in life, Howard Kemp (Stewart) tracks down a wanted fugitive and plans to collect on his bounty. The venture is complicated by two strangers-one a caddish soldier and the other a deceptively meek prospector-who want a piece of the pie. The three men transport the criminal and his girl, while always keeping an eye on each other.

My Take-The best of what are termed the Anthony Mann psychological westerns. With shades of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the chief pleasure of the film is its clash of distinct characters. As a Hollywood western of the classic tradition, it’s a little too glossy at times. Still a superb picture. Simple story, complex western.

-Directed by Anthony Mann, 1953

Jaws       97% on Rotten Tomatoes                        9 (Netflix)

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Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Plot Summary- An island resort town is in chaos when it’s found out that a shark is terrorizing their water in the heart of the summer season. A bereaved mother puts a bounty on the shark’s head, after it kills her son, which brings dozens of insane hunters to the beach. Sheriff Brody (afraid of water) deals with all of this.

My Take-Exemplary monster film. Holding off on revealing the monster is cliche now thanks to how perfectly that technique was demonstrated here, and then copied by later films. There are only three real characters with any depth here, but Spielberg makes them interesting enough to carry the action. Quint (played by Shaw) steals most of the scenes as the most colorful character. Later scenes drag a little. I’d say early in the third act. The first half and the movie’s conclusion though are top notch.

-Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975

Road to Hong Kong     No Rotten Tomatoes Score                          7  (Youtube)

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Starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joan Collins

Plot Summary-Zaniness, gags, and meta humor abound as Hope and Crosby (both long in the tooth) get roped into a world domination plot that brings them to Hong Kong.

My Take-The last in the Road to… series maintains all of the humor and fun of the previous movies. Bob Hope has at least a dozen clever one-liners, the songs are catchy, and I really enjoy the exotic locales. Naturally there’s plenty here in terms of cultural representations that is outdated. (Whites playing Asians or Indians mainly.) Peter Sellers is hilarious though as a shady Indian doctor.

-Directed by Norman Panama, 1962

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery   70% on Rotten Tomatoes           7 (VHS)

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Starring Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Robert Wagner

Plot Summary- Austin Powers, a ’60s super spy, is cryogenically frozen, literally put on ice, to be thawed out once his arch nemesis, Dr. Evil, returns. thirty years later, the two return and have to adjust to the ’90s.

My Take-Very episodic, with a plot that is nearly irrelevant. Mike Myers is, however, a comedic genius of sorts and the characters he creates here are classic. Austin Powers is mostly a feature length series of jokes, but the jokes are very good, and even the lesser jokes are milked for humor by Myers successfully. Works especially well if you’ve seen the Bond films.

-Directed by Jay Roach, 1997

-Walter Howard-

My Week of Films (September 2-September 8)

A return to form of sorts. Though still a modest week of films, after last week’s 2 film performance, this was a little more what I’m used to. Finally made it to the theater to see Wind River (an excellent neo-western).

Sweet Smell of Success   98% on Rotten Tomatoes                              10  (DVD)

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Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner

Plot Summary-J.J Hunsecker (Lancaster) is a powerful newspaper columnist in New York City. For reasons hardly mentioned and best left to be inferred, he has his most persistent flunky and press agent, Sidney Falco (Curtis),  kill his sister’s engagement to an up and coming Jazz musician. Sidney will do anything for some spotlight.

My Take-“You’re dead son. Get yourself buried.” I love the way the characters (mainly Sidney and Hunsecker) talk to each other. Sidney’s mile a minute verbal style perfectly fits his grimy desperation, and Hunsecker’s deadpan demonstrate a man who doesn’t have to yell. The performances are perfect. The dialogue is first-rate. Stellar noir.

-Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, 1957

Jackie Brown         87% on Rotten Tomatoes                                9 (Netflix)

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Starring Pam Grier, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert Forster, Chris Tucker

Plot Summary-An L.A arms dealer has a flight attendant transporting money for him. When two law enforcers get a hold of her, she decides to strike out on her own, stealing the money, and keeping the two agents off her back. She enlists the help of a smitten bail bondsman.

My Take-Funny, typically sparkling dialogue by Tarantino. Expertly plotted. Clever use of nonlinear storytelling. Memorable characters. All-time great soundtrack.

-Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1997

The Love Witch          96% on Rotten Tomatoes                            6 (DVD)

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Starring Samantha Robinson

Plot Summary-Elaine, a beautiful witch, is forever searching for the perfect man. Her husband left her, and her newest conquests grow too clingy. All the men in her life end up dead. This leads a handsome detective to come knocking, and she feels, at last, here is the man for her.

My Take-Is it entertaining? Eh, at times. The ’60s horror look that permeates the film is novel and a big part of the Love Witch’s draw. The acting isn’t good in the strictest sense of the word, but ’60s horror film acting wasn’t good, and the filmmaker is clearly drawing on those old pictures to offer a new point of view.

-Directed by Anna Biller, 2016

Dirty Dancing     72% on Rotten Tomatoes                6   (VHS)

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Starring Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach

Plot Summary-Frances “Baby” Houseman takes a trip with her wealthy family to a New York State resort in the early 1960s. Though meant to mingle with the affluent kids at the resort, Baby falls in with the help, who have a late night culture of “dirty dancing” to rock and roll tunes, and falls in love with Johnny, from the wrong side of the tracks.

My Take-Cliche in a lot of ways, but its all pretty well done. The dancing, the nostalgic soundtrack, the acting from Grey. The maudlin drama is a bit much at times, but overall, it’s a fine feel good flick.

-Directed by Emile Ardolino, 1987

My Cousin Rachel          75% on Rotten Tomatoes              7   (Redbox)

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Starring Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin,  Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger

Plot Summary-Certain that she is responsible for the death of his beloved cousin, Philip invites his cousin’s widowed wife, Rachel, to his estate with plans of revenge. When she arrives, however, he can’t help falling under her spell.

My Take-It’s hard to have a clear takeaway on the film and its story with just one viewing, mainly because it plays so much off of point of view. Philip is a jealous, naive, inexperienced man, and it’s his perspective we get for most of the film’s action. Rachel, played beautifully by Weisz, is harder to read. The filming is stately and straightforward, so it doesn’t get any points for style, but in terms of confident, strong storytelling, it’s a good film.

-Directed by Roger Michell, 2017

-Walter Howard-

My Week of Films (August 26-September 1)

Woe is me. This past week was potentially my worst ever for film watching. 2 films is the lowest number of films I’ve watched in a week since Navy boot camp. No excuses either. It was a substandard week, and I’m looking to turn the page. I vow to make amends in the upcoming weeks.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword  28% on Rotten Tomatoes                       4 (Redbox)

Starring Charlie Hunman, Jude Law, Djimon Honsou, Annabelle Wallis, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana

Plot Summary-Vortigern (Law) usurps his brother, Uther, for the throne of Camelot, bu Uther’s young son, Arthur, escapes, destined to one day return and claim his birthright. As an adult, Arthur joins the resistance after pulling the powerful sword, Excalibur, from the stone.

My Take-Dingey rehash of the oft told tale, I was bored from the jump. It’s not that Guy Ritchie’s film is unoriginal. Though I’ve seen many of his tricks before in better movies (funky soundtrack, disorienting editing, slow-mo), I will say that I’ve never seen a King Arthur story told like this before. It fails, however, to create any compelling characters. I’ve yet to see Charlie Hunman emote on screen, and continue to be skeptical of his leading man ability. The side characters are forgettable. Jude Law’s villain is the most interesting character in the film, and even he feels like a miscalculation (too much emotion with no obvious motivation except I guess he’s power hungry). The action and moments of spectacle also fail to connect. Overall, a harmless but definite misfire from a director I like.

-Directed by Guy Ritchie, 2017

The Parent Trap  86% on Rotten Tomatoes                 8 (VHS)

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Starring Lindsey Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Lisa Ann Walter

Plot Summary-Annie from London and Hallie from California meet at a summer camp in Maine, and realize that they are identical twins. One is raised by their dad and the other by their mom. Having never met half of their parentage, the two decide to switch places with the ultimate idea of getting their parents back together. Unfortunately, a beautiful gold digger has her hooks in their dad.

My Take-Lohan pulls the trick off nicely, creating distinct personalities for both characters, and Quaid and Richardson do a nice job as the parents, making us care about them ending up together right along with their screen daughters. Writer/Director Meyers has a deft touch with light comedies. Fantastic family romantic comedy.

-Directed by Nancy Meyers, 1998

-Walter Howard-




My Week of Films (August 19-August 25)

Had a good week of movies ranging from an oddball foreign classic to a modern masterpiece by possibly the best filmmaker currently working. Unfortunately, did not see one film in theaters, but I plan on returning to form this week.

Punch-Drunk Love 79% on Rotten Tomatoes                           10  (Netflix)

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Starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

Plot Summary-An implosive and lonely bathroom supply salesman, Barry (Sandler), constantly bullied by his seven sisters, finds love when he meets one of those sister’s coworker, Lena (Watson).

My Take-It’s probably too strange for the mainstream, and some might find its peculiar soundtrack grating, but this is a great movie. The movement, that soundtrack, and the suspense of watching an always on-edge Sandler give the film a sense of energy and a tone sustained to the end. I think it’s the best depiction of the anxiety and desperation that can sometimes come with love.

-Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002

Opening Night   No Rotten Tomatoes Score                     6  (Netflix)

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Starring Topher Grace, Rob Riggle, Taye Diggs, Anne Heche, Alona Tal, JC Chasez

Plot Summary-A production manager deals with an assortment of problems concerning his aging leading lady (Heche), womanizing star (Chazez), ex-girlfriend (Tal), and back-up dancers (Diggs and Margherita) competing for the new guy all on the opening night of their new show.

My Take- The cast is solid. The musical performances are all well-done. There’s a lot of creativity, but my basic problem beyond that the film seems so slight, is that the fake Broadway show in the background of the movie could have been better than the backstage drama which makes up most of Opening Night.

-Directed by Isaac Rentz, 2016

The Road to El Dorado 48% on Rotten Tomatoes                     6 (Netflix)

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Voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Jim Cummings

Plot Summary-Two con artists steal a map, and through a zany sequence of events end up in the fabled El Dorado, a city of gold. The two are mistaken by the locals for gods, and use the misunderstanding for their greatest con yet. Unfortunately, a woman comes between them and a fanatical priest gets in their way. Clearly inspired by Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King.

My Take-The two main characters, thanks to great work by Kline and Branagh, and the writing, are fantastic. As witty and compelling as the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby pair that inspired them. Their adventure, however, is caught between being too serious (human sacrifices, flogging) and light-hearted (Elton John songs, the happily ever after). Part of this is due to the intended audience being children, but I think the filmmakers (like Disney did with Hunchback of Notre Dame) could have went with something epic and meaty, closer to its source. Or, like the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movies, just go full comedy, joke every second. As it is, it’s a decent enough picture. Only a couple of the Elton John songs are good, none of them memorable.

-Directed by Don Paul, Eric Bergeron, 2000

Tampopo   100% on Rotten Tomatoes                        7 (Filmstruck)

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Starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Hashimoto, Ken Watanabe

Plot Summary-Two truck drivers help a widowed noodle shop owner achieve her dream of creating the perfect ramen dinner. Thrown into the mix are random group of vignettes, sometimes funny, sometimes erotic, sometimes just weird.

My Take-This is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. It throws a number of things onto the screen, and still manages to be charming, if not coherent.

-Directed by Juzo Itami, 1985

The Parent Trap    89% on Rotten Tomatoes                     7 (Netflix)

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Starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara

Plot Summary-Long lost twin sisters meet at a summer camp and collude to get their parents back together. Their biggest problem, their dad’s new girlfriend, the young and attractive Vicky.

My Take-The acting, production values, and script all stand-out. One of the best Disney live-action films.

-Directed by David Swift, 1961

How to be a Latin Lover 38% on Rotten Tomatoes          7 (Redbox)

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Starring Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Kristen Bell, Rob Riggle, Rob Lowe, Raquel Welch, Michael Cera

Plot Summary-Determined never to work after seeing his father work his whole life and then die tragically, Maximo latches on to a wealthy heiress entering her golden years. Fast forward 25 years and Maximo is out on the street after his wife throws him over for a younger model. Looking to rebound with an even wealthier grandma (played by Raquel Welch), Maximo stays with his estranged sister and her 10 year old son.

My Take-Not well received by critics, I found Maximo’s exploits highly enjoyable and sporadically funny. Derbez is great fun as the pompous gold-digging male.

-Directed by Ken Marino, 2017

-Walter Howard-

My Week of Films (August 12-August 18)

Attempting to find time between work and vacation time while in Key West, I managed to sneak a few films in to my schedule. I even scratched a couple of films off my list that had been there for years, namely Senso, Luchino Visconti’s operatic classic, held in high regard by many (Scorsese for one). Besides these movies, I saw Annabelle: Creation and Logan Lucky in theaters.

Opening Night 92% on Rotten Tomatoes                  6   (Youtube)

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Starring Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzarra, Joan Blondell

Plot Summary-Myrtle Gordon, a star of the theater world, is on a downward spiral, exacerbated by the sudden, violent death of a young fan before her eyes.

My Take-Elusive theater drama with hints of the supernatural, this, my first Cassavetes film, was too confounding to be truly engaging. The main draw, the thing talked about most when Cassavetes is brought up, is the acting. Gena Rowlands, his wife and star, is exceptional. She has a broken down glamour in this picture that serves the story and makes her character haunting. I was less interested in the picture within a picture element to this film. The stage performance which the plot revolves around takes up close to half of the 2 and half hour running time.

-Directed by John Cassavetes, 1977

Pretty Woman 61% on Rotten Tomatoes              7  (VHS)

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Starring Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander, Ralph Bellamy, Hector Elizondo

Plot Summary-A cold-hearted business man and a Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold meet through a chance encounter and make a deal. She will pretend to be his girlfriend for a week as he closes a multimillion dollar deal. The two gradually fall in love.

My Take-The premise is pure Hollywood fantasy. Contrived, sure. The stars gorgeous. It’s unnecessary to comment on how unrealistic the film is, and yet I find it important to preface my review with that disclaimer. I like Pretty Woman. It’s not great. Despite it’s superficial grit, it’s a fairy tale. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere have that chemistry that’s essential for romantic comedies to work.

-Directed by Gary Marshall, 1990

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West  45% on Rotten Tomatoes           7 (Netflix)

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Voices of Dom Deluise, Amy Irving, John Cleese, James Stewart

Plot Summary-Fievel and his family return, this time moving west thanks to a scheming gang of cats. Fievel, overhearing their plot, attempts to find help and thwart the evil cats.

My Take-Don Bluth’s productions have always suffered from uneven storytelling. His animation and artistry, however, is incredible. The story is just engaging enough, and the voice work is top notch. This was James Stewart’s last role.

-Directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells, 1991

Cool Runnings 75% on Rotten Tomatoes                          7 (Netflix)

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Starring Leon, Doug E. Doug, John Candy, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis

Plot Summary-After his chances at running in the Olympics are dashed, Derice Bannock sees potential in bobsledding as his ticket. He enlists a disgraced former champion (Candy) living on the island to help train him and the Jamaican team.

My Take-Disney consistently finds gold when they mix the familiar sports genre with colorful cultural settings (Queen of Katwe, McFarland U.S.A, Million Dollar Arm). Well acted, though light. Winning.

-Directed by Jon Turteltaub, 1993

Senso       85% on Rotten Tomatoes                      6   (Filmstruck)

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Starring Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Heinz Moog

Plot Summary-Set in Italy during Austrian occupation, a married Italian Countess strikes up an affair with the Austrian officer responsible for her cousin’s exile.

My Take-Viewed as one of Luchino Visconti’s best, I remain mostly indifferent to his work though I love the individual parts. The imagery is gorgeous. The acting, in the context of a melodrama, is very good. The setting and story are intriguing, and yet this picture never grabbed me. Like the few other films by Visconti that I’ve seen, there’s a character at the center of Senso that’s completely deplorable, making for a difficult watch.

-Directed by Luchino Visconti, 1954

-Walter Howard-





Girl’s Trip-First Reaction

Starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter

My biggest surprise of the year is last month’s Girls Trip. It’s a funny, character based comedy about a group of friends reconnecting in New Orleans during the Essence Festival. Ryan Pierce (Hall), the most successful of the group, is a writer who authored a bestselling book based around having it all (meanwhile her husband’s cheating). Sasha Franklin (Latifah) is a rumor mongerer on the rocks looking for a big scoop to get her back on her feet. Lisa Cooper (Pinkett-Smith) is a prim nurse who needs help in letting loose for the weekend away from her kids. Dina (Haddish) is their wild friend just looking to have fun as usual. The movie works, one, because it’s funny, and two, because the characters seem real and likeable. Even the outlandish Dina is a rounded out character by the end. The friendships also seem real. The setting provides a lot of excitement, plus cameos. Overall, this was a perfect summer comedy.

Atomic Blonde -First Reaction

Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones

Three years ago two stunt directors came together to make John Wick. The stylish, narratively simple, stunt-heavy film was a hit, breathing life into the American action genre which had become complacent over the years. One of these directors, Chad Stahelski, went on to make John Wick 2, an even better action flick; in fact, probably the best American action flick over the past ten years. The other director, David Leitch, made Atomic Blonde. Like John Wick, it’s heavily stylized, with outstanding fight choreography and camerawork. Unlike John Wick, it has a challenging, sometimes convoluted plot that is alternately intriguing, confounding, and distracting. Set in the ’80s East Germany, agents from all over compete for an informant’s top secret information. Spying for the British, Charlize Theron is told to also be on the look out for a British rat as she teams up with the roguish James McAvoy. There’s a fight sequence in the middle, more towards the end, that is stunning. It’s handled in what appears to be one long, impressive take over a stairwell and ending in a car chase. That scene is masterful. The soundtrack is full of cliché choices for ’80s music that all somehow still works tremendously. Theron is excellent. The pacing is possibly too slow at times for an action movie, but overall, this was a strong film. Better than the first John Wick film, although not as great as the second.