The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Directed by John Frankenheimer) English 10

Starring Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva

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(10-Masterpiece)

Raw. Gripping. Brilliant.

Political thriller about a group of soldiers returning to the States after a harrowing campaign in the Korea War. But Captain Marco (Sinatra) starts to doubt his own memories and understanding of what took place overseas, and all signs point to brainwashing. Soon Captain Marco finds a major Government conspiracy that involves turning soldiers into helpless killing machines, and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), son of Svengali-like Senator’s wife Eleanor Iselin (Lansbury), is at the heart of it. Communist paranoia at its finest, as well as a razor-sharp satire of the McCarthy era, this is such a fine film. Gripping, odd, suspenseful, layered. A masterpiece of its genre.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(415)

Come and See (1985, Directed by Elem Klimov) Belarusian 5

Starring Aleksei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova, Vladas Bagdonas, Jüri Lumiste

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(5-Okay Film)

Monotonous. Striking. Dull.

In Belarus, 1943, a young boy, Flyora, joins the local resistance movement and witnesses the atrocities perpetrated by the occupying Nazis. With such a potent subject, how could I call this film dull? Even with a dozen or so piercing images and an unforgettable sequence early on where Flyora and a new companion make their ways across nearly gelatinous mud, Come and See is monotonous. Like many well-respected foreign films, it has one tone and never wavers for a second from it. It’s like being pounded in the head relentlessly until you get used to it and bored by it. Its style has garnered it many admirers. I’m not one of them.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(387)

The Patriot (2000, Directed by Roland Emmerich) English 6

Starring Mel Gibson, Jason Isaacs, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson, René Auberjonois

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(6-Good Film)

Preposterous. Thrilling. Entertaining.

A reluctant patriot, infamous war hero of the French and Indian campaign, and intimidating father figure, Benjamin Martin (Gibson), now a widower, does all he can to protect his family as the Revolutionary War rages on. After a sadistic Redcoat Colonel, Tavington (Isaacs), murders Benjamin’s second son, the old veteran finds that he can standby no more. There’s such a long and equal list of pros and cons for this film that they should cancel each other out, rendering me neutral on its verdict. However, though the cons may equal the pros in quantity, there’s a significant difference in quality. All this to say, I recognize that The Patriot is a flagrant Hollywood fantasy. I recognize some of the absurdities of the action sequences and their contrived nature (Benjamin and Tavington having a one on one in the midst of a battle for example). I wince at some of the treacly moments, and yet The Patriot is a completely satisfying film. It’s 18th century Die Hard, and I’m fine with that. Mel Gibson goes a long way to making the trumped-up revenge plot believable, giving an excellent performance, and Jason Isaacs makes a character that is over the top evil seem perfectly natural. The visuals and action sequences too, are first-rate.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(323)

Robin Hood (2018, Directed by Otto Bathurst) English 4

Starring Taran Edgerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Jamie Dornan, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

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(4-Bad Film)

Ill-conceived. Misguided. Drab.

Robin Hood’s back. He wasn’t gone for long. It’s been just 8 years since the last big-budget Robin Hood adventure starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. This reboot stars Taran Edgerton as the famed crusader who steals from the rich and gives to the poor of Nottingham during King John’s reign. Jamie Foxx plays Little John, or actually just John, an anglicized version of his Muslim name; just one of the odd choices the filmmakers made in their storytelling. The sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelsohn) taxes the people beyond their means to fund his plot to take control of the country, and only Robin can stop him. Borrowing heavily from Zorro or the Batman myth, Robin plays up to the Sheriff, pretending to be a snooty aristocrat, while moonlighting as a vigilante. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films also seem to be an inspiration. The bottom line is it’s just not very good. It’s not incompetent, and Mendelsohn is a compelling villain (as he’s shown in countless movies now), but the new Robin Hood simply makes me miss Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. The color, the fun, the romance. All things missing from this outing. The first act largely follows the failed crusades in the middle east, and I’m baffled that the filmmakers thought this would be appealing. Immediately Robin Hood becomes a dull affair. This is Robin Hood, not The Hurt Locker. Fortunately, the second act picks up a little, but not enough to make this a good film. It’s also almost entirely humorless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(107)

The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Directed by Michael Mann) English 8

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Wes Studi, Jodhi May, Steve Waddington

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Rugged. Beautiful. Skilled.

The Last of the Mohicans is an expertly crafted epic and a truly rare adaptation that is better than its source material. Telling the story of Hawkeye (Day-Lewis), white adopted child of Chingachgook (Means), the last of a dying tribe of Mohicans, who, like other Indians, gets caught in the struggle between the French and the British during the French-Indian War. Hawkeye, his father, and brother rescue the Munro sisters, Cora (Stowe) and Alice (May), daughters of Edmund Munro, a British Colonel, who have the embittered Magua (Studi) chasing them with unknown motives. A big reason this film overcomes whatever inherent silliness goes with the plot is the authenticity the actors and technicians achieve, and the respect given to each character. Magua is not only a terrifying villain, but also a sympathetic one. Studi is excellent in the role. Day-lewis is considered by many to be an all-time great actor, and here, he makes the ridiculous character of Hawkeye a fierce and stoic hero to root for. Stowe is gorgeous and a worthy object of his affections. This is, in the end, an epic romance; a lovely fantasy with war as a backdrop.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(106)

Robin Hood (2010, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 6

Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Mark Strong, Léa Seydoux, William Hurt, Matthew Mcfadyen, Max Von Sydow, Mark Addy, Eileen Atkins

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(6-Good Film)

Dry. Well-crafted. Anti-climactic.

This is Robin Hood in that era following The Dark Knight when studios wanted to reboot every franchise and make it dark, but the “dark origin story” pretty much didn’t work for any other film; think Fantastic Four, Spiderman, or DC’s subsequent films. It didn’t work for Robin Hood either, but at least this film was made by Ridley Scott with a cast of talented actors. Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard’s army during the Crusades. He, and his merry men, stumble upon an opportunity to improve their fortunes by impersonating lords, but the deceit puts them in the middle of a bigger plot of a rogue royal aid, Sir Godfrey (Strong), and a ruse involving the loyal Maid Marian (Blanchett). The cast is very good, despite Crowe’s apparent muddled accent (I couldn’t tell). This was my introduction to Oscar Isaac, and he’s a standout as the cowardly Prince John. The story is too inconsistently entertaining, and the final act doesn’t deliver, but Robin Hood is still an impressively mounted epic of modest virtues.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(99)

Seventh Heaven (1937, Directed by Henry King) English 5

Starring James Stewart, Simone Simon, Jean Hersholt, Gale Sondergaard, Gregory Ratoff, Sig Ruman

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(5-Okay Film)

Overdone. Ham-fisted. Dramatic.

I can forgive a level of corn, especially when it comes to classic Hollywood, but Seventh Heaven overdoes it. James Stewart plays Chico, a lowly sewer cleaner in 1914 Paris and self-proclaimed atheist, burdened with an exploited young woman, Diane (Simon), through his own actions and the work of a kindly priest, Father Chevillon (Hersholt). It’s not difficult to see where the story is heading, and part of the fun in getting there is diluted by the soppy monologues and religious theme that seems to me to be built on questionable theology. In any case, the wonderful stars can’t pull the material off, and the result is only for the hard-core fans of weepies.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(87)