A Room With a View (1985, Directed by James Ivory) English 8

Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliot

(8-Exceptional Film)

Lavish. Passionate. Intelligent.

Extremely British affair based on the lauded, classic novel by E.M Forster. Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham Carter) along with her insufferable cousin, Charlotte (Smith), travel to Italy as a part of her upper-class education. Once there, the two meet the Emersons, a father and son, who stand out abominably as high culture square pegs. Eventually, the Emersons rub off on young Lucy, with a half a dozen other characters in the mix adding color. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of his earliest performances in this film, and, as has become standard, he’s brilliant. It’s a beautiful romance-drama.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Holmes and Watson (2018, Directed by Etan Cohen) English 4

Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald, Pam Ferris, Hugh Laurie

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(4-Bad Film)

Crude. Ham-handed. Bomb.

Roger Ebert had a theory about comedies only working if the characters weren’t in on the joke. Michael Scott in The Office, for example, has no idea how ridiculous he is. This theory explains in part why Holmes and Watson, yet another take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, doesn’t work. The actors, including stars Will Ferell and John C. Reilly (hilarious together in Talledega Nights and Step-Brothers), are too aware of their punchlines. There’s a lot of mugging and hammering home each obvious line. The plot offers little to amend for the lack of wit as Holmes and Watson set out to catch a mysterious threat to the Queen posing as Moriarty. Not the worst movie ever made, but probably the worst Sherlock film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Shanghai Surprise (1986, Directed by Jim Goddard) English 4

Starring Sean Penn, Madonna, Paul Freeman, Richard Griffiths, Philip Sayer, Victor Wong

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(4-Bad Film)

Miscast. Miscast. Miscast.

A pair of missionaries in China-one, a beautiful, if stuck up blonde named Gloria Tatlock (Madonna)-enlist the help of a sleazy expatriate, Glendon Wasey (Penn), to track down a haul of opium that could help them nurse their suffering patients. Shanghai Surprise isn’t as complete a disaster as contemporary critics deemed it. It has an engaging setting, some exotic appeal, and a couple of decent songs by George Harrison, but it is bad. Mainly, because Madonna is so bad. I’m not particularly tough on actors. I love Bloodsport and Red Sonja for example. But romantic comedies depend so much on chemistry and strong lead characters. The writing perhaps deserves some blame but there’s no getting past how badly out of her element Madonna is. I don’t buy her as a prim missionary and she’s not a good enough actress to sell it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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High Anxiety (1977, Directed by Mel Brooks) English 6

Starring Mel Brooks, Madeline Khan, Cloris Leachman, Rudy De Luca, Barry Levinson, Dick Van Patten, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey

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(6-Good Film)

Deft. Zany. Fun.

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Nobody embodies this line from This is Spinal Tap more than Mel Brooks. High Anxiety reveals in its opening frame that it’s going to be spoofing Hitchcock. More than his other, similar comedies, your enjoyment of High Anxiety will likely depend on your familiarity with the movies being spoofed. Brooks plays Dr. Richard Thorndyke, a psychiatrist taking over the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Upon arrival, the Dr. finds a wealth of fishy goings-on, but he’ll have to overcome his own affliction, something called high anxiety (a lot like vertigo), to get to the bottom of things. Shamelessly silly, which I appreciate, and boasting a committed cast  (Cloris Leachman shows a remarkable lack of vanity), High Anxiety is an enjoyable romp. Not as funny or memorable as Young Frankenstein, but funny and memorable nonetheless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017, Directed by Guy Ritchie) English 4

Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Annabelle Wallis, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana

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(4-Bad Film)

Dull. Uninteresting. Uneven.

Vortigern (Law) usurps his brother, Uther, for the throne of Camelot, but Uther’s young son, Arthur, escapes, destined to one day return and claim his birthright. As an adult, Arthur (now played by Hunnam) joins the resistance after pulling the powerful sword, Excalibur, from the stone. This dingy rehash of the oft-told tale had me 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 Hunnam 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.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Pensées #5: Disney Making Waves

Remakes of classics don’t generally garner much excitement. Curiosity maybe, but think of films like The Truth About Charlie, The Manchurian Candidate (with Denzel), or the shot for shot remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn. Those aren’t horrible movies, but the consensus seemed to be, “Who cares?” or “What’s the point?” More successful remakes usually benefit from the original film being unfamiliar to a large number of people. How many people have seen every version of A Star is Born? What superstar diva you think of when I say, “A Star is Born” likely depends on your age, and my point is that Judy Garland’s greatness (in the 1954 version) didn’t affect most of Lady Gaga’s audience (for the newest version), because the majority of them haven’t seen the former. Disney doesn’t have this advantage. Most people across the world have seen Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King, and so on. These movies are universal. I don’t believe any remake, regardless of what they do, can measure up to their animated origins. None of the remakes that have come out so far have even remotely altered my opinion on that, and yet, I’ve enjoyed the lot of them, and more important to Disney, with the exception of Dumbo and Alice Through the Looking Glass, they have made a massive amount of money at the box-office. I suppose it’s a credit to how beloved these stories are that people are willing, and excited even, to see them told again, with the surprise, freshness, and mystery gone.

To this point, the remakes have emphasized faithfulness to the source and that’s paid off. Over the past week or so, however, news of The Little Mermaid and Mulan has caused a stir, because absolute faithfulness is certainly gone from these two. I’ll start with The Little Mermaid because there’s very little known about it except for two interesting casting choices. Ursula, one of Disney’s best villains, will be played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy is a great actress but the reaction to her casting appeared mostly negative. It’s hard to gauge because Twitter is a fake-outrage machine, but my thoughts are that she’s not scary. She’s proven she can do great dramatic work, but can she be threatening? A lot of times, when an actor is miscast as a villain, they are forced to overact to make up for their lack of natural ability to be intimidating (see: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor). We’ll see. To be fair, I doubted Heath Ledger and look how wrong I was. Bigger news was made when Halle Bailey (whom I’m unfamiliar with) was cast as Ariel. Halle Bailey looks like this:

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This is interesting. Is it a sign that the new Little Mermaid is willing to be different, or is it superficial? Do we want The Little Mermaid to be different? In any case, the filmmakers, I have no doubt, looked at a countless number of young actresses and found Bailey to be the best one for the job. I’m sure she’ll be great. I’m now very curious as to whether Prince Eric will be black. There has never been a black male love interest in any of these films. Not even in The Princess and the Frog. I expect the support for black Ariel to be strong and, provided that the rest of the film holds up, to lead to huge box-office returns.

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Almost coinciding with The Little Mermaid news, a trailer for next year’s Mulan remake released yesterday. The trailer showed off a live-action Mulan that appears vibrant, stirring, and well-crafted. There’s also a conspicuous lack of singing, romantic interest, and Mushu. Live-action Mulan is apparently going its own route and I’m slowly trying to get on board. I’ve complained about films like Beauty and the Beast being exactly the same as their source, so how can I complain now that one is daring to be different? I am skeptical though. Will Mulan be entertaining? It’s still a Disney movie. No Mushu or cricket leaves a huge hole for comic relief. No Li Shang likely means no romance. No musical numbers is just so disappointing since that music is great, and what they’re selling sounds a lot like pandering to China’s burgeoning movie theater market. What is this new Mulan? A gritty, serious PG war film? I’m not feeling that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Victor/Victoria (1982, Directed by Blake Edwards) English 6

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

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Silly. Farcical.

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. 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 tremendous energy, and even amidst the madcap plot and never-ending misunderstandings, the characters are authentic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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