My Week of Films (July 10-16)

It was a slow movie week for me, as I was unfortunately pretty busy, but I managed to scratch a few films off my to-do list. I also rewatched a personal favorite, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Apart from these films, I saw the epic War for the Planet of the Apes in theaters, and am still working my way through the sprawling British mini-series, The Jewel of the Crown.

Victor/Victoria    96% on Rotten Tomatoes           7     (DVD)

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Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies

Plot Summary-Desperate in the extreme to eke out a living in ’30s Paris, two American entertainers (Victoria played by Andrews and Toddy played by Robert Preston) cook up a scheme that can make them rich and famous. Victoria will pretend to be a man who pretends to be a woman on stage. Things grow complicated when an American gangster (Garner) falls for her, and she for him.

My Take-It’s an elaborate and exuberant farce that features fantastic musical numbers, a torrent of gags, and witty one-liners. Feels old-fashioned and edgy, which is why, even today, the film seems progressive. Rather than being laugh out loud funny, Victor/Victoria has a tremendous energy, and even amidst the madcap plot and never ending misunderstandings, the characters are authentic.

-Directed by Blake Edwards

Christine No Rotten Tomatoes Score            7           (Filmstruck)

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Starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Micheline Presle, Fernand Ledoux

Plot Summary-Tragedy about a young officer caught in an affair with the wife of his superior, just as he has fallen in love with a local Austrian girl.

My Take-The fatalism of its ending was, for me, contrived, but that didn’t keep me from caring. The stars-Schneider and Delon- are two of the most beautiful and photogenic ever to be on screen, and their romance is brief but sweet.

-Directed by Pierre Gaspard-Huit

The Spy Who Loved Me 79% on Rotten Tomatoes       6          (DVD)

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Starring Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel

Plot Summary-The threat of a complete psychopath bent on sparking World War III forces James Bond to team up with Russian spy, XXX (a female counterpart equal to him), to take the villain down. Meanwhile, a henchman named Jaws with metal teeth stalks the heroic duo.

My Take-I though about my feelings for this movie long and hard. Many of the elements are great and very memorable. The intro song by Carly Simon might be my favorite Bond song. The villain, who wants to start a new world under water, and his silly but terrifying henchman, Jaws, are unforgettable. I also like that Agent XXX (Lord, that name) is seen as a sort of parallel to Bond. My main problem was that I didn’t find a majority of the action sequences thrilling, and that severely dampened my overall enjoyment of the film.

-Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 85% on Rotten Tomatoes     (VHS)

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Starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri

Plot Summary-Indiana Jones, through chance or fate, winds up in a small village in India in desperate need of a hero. The village’s people are afflicted ever since their sacred stone was stolen. Indy promises to help, leading him to a beautiful palace, discovered to be a base for an underground Thuggee cult. He’s aided on this quest by his loyal and diminutive friend, Short Round (an eleven year old Chinese boy), and Willie (a high-maintenance lounge singer).

My Take-I love this movie. It was the first Indiana Jones film I saw, and that probably played a part in why it’s my favorite of the series. India, to me, is one of the most exotic, mysterious, adventurous locations, and I’m constantly drawn to films that feature it as their setting. The weirdness, the grotesque dinner scene, the bizarre violence that caused the MPAA to step in and create a PG-13 rating, are compelling attractions to me. It’s all part of the amazing spectacle, and Spielberg is at his best here, showcasing his ability of layering the suspense and telling a story.

-Directed by Steven Spielberg

-Walter Howard-

My Week of Films (July 3-July 9)

Spent most of my July 4th weekend, and actually just most of this week watching long movies. Fortunately, though I’m still working on the Taiwanese epic Yi Yi (2000), the ones that I have finished have been long and worth it. I show a couple of classic films to my siblings, and got to the movie theater once for this week’s blockbuster, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Top Hat 100% on Rotten Tomatoes    10   (VHS)

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Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore

Plot Summary-Though American tap dancer sensation, Jerry Travers (Astaire), falls instantly in love with Dale Tremont (Rogers), and she can’t help falling for him, things become very complicated when she mistakenly believes him to the husband of her close friend.

My Take- Astaire and Rogers are charm personified. Whether dancing are feuding, they give the impression that there is no one in the world they’d rather be with. The supporting cast, who are semi-regulars in Astaire and Rogers’ films, are fantastic. Horton as the self-important fool, Eric Blore as the seemingly always insulted servant, and Helen Broderick as the eye-rolling wife. The dance numbers are eternal aided by some of Irving Berlin’s best music. “Cheek to cheek” is pure joy captured in film. The best of Astaire and Rogers.

-Directed by Mark Sandrich

Grand Prix 100% on Rotten Tomatoes           8          (DVD)

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Starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Francoise Hardy, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter, Toshiro Mifune

Plot Summary-Follows the lives of four Formula One drivers through the 1966 racing season as they compete to be world champions. There’s Pete Aron (Garner). A stoic, but somewhat reckless American driver who’s blamed for his teammate’s wreck. Sarti (Montand), a Frenchman. The best in the sport, but starting to grow weary of it. He starts an affair with an American journalist (Saint). Scott Stoddard (Bedford), an Englishman recovering from a major wreck and his wife leaving him. And Barlini (Sabato), an arrogant and carefree Italian racer.

My Take-The women, though certainly beautiful, are completely short-changed in this picture. As a result, the surrounding drama around the stunning race sequences do not measure up. Yves Montand’s character is the only one with any real depth. That being said, the racing scenes truly are special. John Frankenheimer is an amazing craftsmen, and the film’s nearly three hour running time flew by thanks to his vision.

-Directed by John Frankenheimer

The Wind and the Lion 75% on Rotten Tomatoes              7      (DVD)

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Starring Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston

Plot Summary- An American widow and her two children are kidnapped and held for ransom by a brigand named Raisuli (Connery) in early 20th century Morocco. President Teddy Roosevelt gets involved in saving the widow, just as she begins to form some respect for her captor.

My Take-Okay, so Sean Connery is playing a Muslim leader. Right away, that’s pretty ridiculous. The crazy thing is that, though he makes no discernible effort to be convincing as a Berber, he’s still pretty compelling in this role. My main problem with the film is that at 2 hours (so not a short film), it still felt like it wanted to be much longer. Splitting time between President Roosevelt and Raisuli with the American family didn’t allow enough time with either. I did love the old-fashioned spirit of the movie; soaring score, epic battle scenes, romanticized characters. Overall, it’s a good film.

-Directed by John Milius

The Secret Life of Pets 74% on Rotten Tomatoes            6     (Netflix)

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Voices of Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, Steve Coogan, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks

Plot Summary-Beloved, spoiled dog Max has a rude awakening when his owner brings home, Duke, a monstrous dog that he’s asked to see as his brother. The two don’t get along, and this leads to them being lost in New York City for a crazy ninety minute adventure.

My Take-Animation studio, Illumination, certainly don’t over-exert themselves. On the positive side they consistently deliver movies that are generally pleasing with enough jokes to pass the time and a whole lot of mass appeal. On the other hand, they’re not aspiring for much. The voice work is super solid. The animation is bright and appealing. There’s just nothing special about this movie.

-Directed by Chris Renaud

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 94% on Rotten Tomatoes          10         (DVD)

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Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Thomas Howard, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold

Plot Summary-After the death of one of the Senators in an unnamed state, it falls to the governor to pick a replacement. But it’s a corrupt state of affairs, and the governor takes orders from Jim Taylor a man who has his hands in everything. They want a dummy in the Senate. Someone who will look pretty and say nothing. They pick Jefferson Smith (Stewart), and the young idealist proves them wrong, taking on all political corruption in the fight if his life.

My Take-Classic Capra combination of ideals mixed with comedy and tears. Wonderful movie. James Stewart is in his best role here, and Jean Arthur is the perfect romantic foil as the cynical, intelligent Saunders. The supporting cast is great from the top down.

-Directed by Frank Capra

-Walter Howard-

 

My Week of Films (June 26-July 2)

Had a pretty random assortment of movies this week, starting with License to Drive (1988). Although I didn’t see anything especially great at home this past week, I was able to get to the theater three times to see The Mummy on Monday, Baby Driver on Thursday, and Despicable Me Saturday night.

License to Drive  17% on Rotten Tomatoes        5    (Netflix)

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Starring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Heather Graham, Richard Masur, Carol Kane

Plot Summary-A teenage boy on the cusp of getting his drivers license fails the test, thus, in his mind destroying any chance of a social life. He responds by going joyriding for a night with his two friends and the girl of his dreams, who happens to be unconscious for most of the movie.

My Take-It’s not as horrible as its reviews would suggest. It does a good job of making its silly premise (Haim getting his license) seem vital, and the adult actors are all very good. I like the parents in the film. They’re given more to do than the typical teen comedy where the parents play the heavies. It’s problem is that it’s not very funny, and nothing that exciting happens on their night of adventure.

-Directed by Greg Beeman

Atlantis: The Lost Empire 49% on Rotten Tomatoes 7     (Netflix)

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Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Don Novello,  David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy

Plot Summary- Milo Thatch has always been considered crazy for believing that the lost empire of Atlantis exists. Than one day, he’s asked to meet Preston B. Whitemore, an eccentric millionaire who wants to fund an expedition and wants Milo to lead the way. Set in the 1910s, this is Disney animations first sci-fi flick.

My Take- I think critics focused too hard on the flaws of this film, and missed out on some of its greatness. No, it’s not a great film, but it is ambitious, gorgeous, innovative, and entertaining. The voice actors are fantastic. Michael J. Fox is always an engaging protagonist. Its flaw is the lack of character development. It carves out nice characters, but we don’t get enough time to care about them. I actually think it could have been interesting as Disney animation’s first epic, meaning longer than an hour and twenty minutes.

-Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

The Lamp   Short Film       5     (Filmstruck)

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Plot Summary-When a toy maker leaves his shop, the parts come alive. Whispering amongst each other.

My Take- It’s pretty bare-bones and inconsequential outside of the fact that the great Roman Polanski directed it. It’s one of his student films, and it without question shows off his talent at suspense and intrigue, but it’s not very interesting.

-Directed by Roman Polanski

Scared Stiff    83% on Rotten Tomatoes     7     (YouTube)

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Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lizabeth Scott, Carmen Miranda, Dorothy Malone

Plot Summary-Thinking he killed a man, Larry Todd (Martin) goes with a pretty heiress to her ancestral home on an island said to be haunted. He brings with him his best friend, Myron (Lewis), a hapless and most ridiculous sidekick.

My Take-I’m no great Jerry Lewis fan. I find him generally annoying, but I love Dean Martin, and this movie was a blast. A decent mystery plot, a haunted mansion, Martin crooning, beautiful leading lady, non-stop jokes, action. It’s all here.

-Directed by George Marshall

Phantom of the Paradise 91% on Rotten Tomatoes    9  (YouTube)

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Starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper

Plot Summary-A nobody composer, Winslow Leach, has his work, what was to be his magnum opus, stolen by a ruthless record producer who runs a night club called the Paradise. A heinous plot against Winslow leads to disfigurement, and so he stalks The Paradise looking to exact his revenge. There’s also touches of Faustus and The Picture of Dorian Gray in addition to the obvious Phantom of the Opera.

My Take- What a trip this movie is. It’s completely nuts. The eye-popping colors, Brian De Palma’s technical wizardry, the excess. It’s incredibly silly at times, but often clever and satirical. “Beef” will forever live on in my mind, but you’d have to see the film to know what I mean. Hilarious and the music is fantastic. Easily my favorite adaptation of Phantom of the Opera.

-Directed by Brian De Palma

-Walter Howard-

 

License to Drive (1988, Directed by Greg Beeman) English 5

Starring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Heather Graham, Carol Kane, Richard Masur

Am I too forgiving of ’80s movies? This critically maligned teen comedy stars “the two Coreys,” as they were billed back when people cared, and centers around one night of gleeful and destructive joy riding. The film has its moments. It has a good amount of energy, the acting is all credible, but it stalls at points. I think it could have benefited from an antagonist, or more focus on the romance between our dorky protagonist (Haim) and the girl of his dreams (Graham).

A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995, Directed by Michael Gottlieb) English 5

Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Joss Ackland, Art Malik, Kate Winslet, Daniel Craig, Paloma Baeza, Ron Moody

Goofy, nostalgic fun adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A Californian teen gets time warped to King Arthur’s days of ruling Camelot, just in time to foil a treasonous plot. It’s dumb, entirely inconsequential but also mostly entertaining. Early roles for Winslet and Craig.

Cars 3 (2017, Directed by Brian Fee) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Nathan Fillion, Chris Cooper, Cristela Alonzo, Tony Shalhoub, Kerry Washington

A return to form for the series which was never high on originality, this third installment once again focuses on Lightning McQueen, now a living legend fighting against becoming a washed up has-been. New racers have taken over the sport, Jackson Storm, chief among them. After a major crash, Lightning goes on a journey, along with his overly enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez, to get his groove back. The story’s been told before, but it’s a compelling one. The animation is technically great, rather than creatively inspired. The voice actors all do good work. My problem, and it’s hard to explain without spoilers, is the film’s resolution. It’s a good message to be sure, but just not as satisfying as the ending they spent much of the movie setting up. It undid much of its own build up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010, Directed by David Yates) English 7

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton

Star-studded, big-budget spectacle adaptation of J.K Rowlings’ seventh book in the Harry Potter series. Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, seek out horcruxes and try to decipher recently deceased Dumbledore’s cryptic instructions to them. Since the filmmakers decided to cut the book in half and make two movies, this first part doesn’t have a very strong structure to it. Also, like other films in this franchise, many plot points don’t make much sense if you haven’t read the books. Still a very compelling narrative despite its problems; well-acted, with three excellent action sequences.