The Wind and The Lion (1975, Directed by John Milius) English 7

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

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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 (Keith) gets involved in saving the widow, just as she begins to form some respect for her captor. 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.

The Vagabond King (1956, Directed by Michael Curtiz) English 6

Starring Oreste Kirkop, Kathryn Grayson, Rita Moreno, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Leslie Nielson, Walter Hampden, Vincent Price

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Inferior to If I Were King (1938) in depicting Francois Villon’s unlikely rise from street poet to King’s confidante during the Burgundian invasion in 15th century France, the folk hero of sorts is played, here, by unknown opera singer Oreste, who’s a fantastic singer but limited dramatically. The supporting cast is strong, most notably, Walter Hampden as King Louis XI, and the operatic music is good, but the films suffers from no sense of dramatic tension. It’s a respectable diversion devoid of any real spectacle.

The Great Wall (2017, Directed by Zhang Yimou) English 4

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

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Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going to easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.

Frantz (2016, Directed by François Ozon) French/German 7

Starring Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber

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In the aftermath of World War I, a young German girl, Anna, mourns the loss of her fiancée, Frantz, when, one day, she notices a mysterious Frenchman visiting her beloved’s grave. “Who is he?” Anna wonders, as he begins spending time with her and Frantz’ family, and as she slowly begins to fall for him. At its core, the film is a fairly simple story, but it’s  strengthened by themes of forgiveness, xenophobia, truth versus lies, and illicit romance. Plus, Ozon’s direction gives the film the suspense and tension of a classic Hitchcock. Switching between black/white and color, I believe to signify times of mourning versus times of moving past the war (a sense of closure), Frantz is an excellent  foreign drama, though I can’t shake my disappointment with the resolution, despite it probably being the right ending for the film.

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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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 Seargeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), son of Svengali-like Senator’s wife Eleanor Islin (Lansbury), is at the heart of it. Communist paranoia at its finest, as well as razor-sharp satire of the McCarthy era, this is such a fine film. Gripping, odd, suspenseful, layered. Masterpiece of its genre.

Wonder Woman (2017, Directed by Patty Jenkins) English 6

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremnor, Saïd Taghmaoui, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Word on the street was, the new Wonder Woman movie knocks it out of the park. I tempered my expectations. Just as critics have films they’re ready to shred, they also have films that they’re prepared to love. I knew Wonder Woman would benefit from following pure, unfiltered garbage in Suicide Squad. I knew that DC’s string of lousy offerings would lower the bar, so much so that any sense or sign of quality could clear it. Add to that, it’s a female superhero movie. We all know, we’ve heard the rumblings, that here aren’t enough female protagonists in movies. The damsel in distress model still far outweighs the strong battle-ready woman, and people are tired of that. So in comes Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins-her first film since the critically acclaimed Monster (2003). The first superhero movie directed by a woman apparently? Do I have that right? That’s crazy if it’s true, but regardless, the question remains does Wonder Woman hold up as a film? Aside from the social importance of it, aside from the message it offers, aside from gender politics, is it a good movie? I say, yes. Yes, it is.

The film progresses in three distinct acts. Act one is Wonder Woman’s origin story. Born Diane, the offspring of gods, molded by Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen looking remarkably fierce) and given life by Zeus, an absentee father. Raised as a princess by her mother on Themyscira, an island nation inhabited exclusively by tall beautiful women warriors, and trained by her aunt, General Antiope (Wright), from a young age, she quickly becomes Wonder Woman, ready to take on all challengers. From here, Diane is played by Gal Gadot, perfectly suited to the iconic role, and a big reason why this film will likely be a massive hit. Her Diane is strong, beautiful, intelligent, and sweet; and what’s more, she makes it look effortless, which is crucial to making the character someone we can aspire to be rather than feeling too much like a heavy handed social message.

Second act is where the film gains steam. An Air Force intelligence officer, Steve Trevor (Pine), crash lands on Diane and her people’s island, bringing news of cataclysmic war-World War I to be exact. Diane feels it incumbent upon herself to join in, and so she travels to early 20th century London with Trevor, wanting to put an end to the war. The film’s able to pull a good amount of humor from its social inequality agenda. This Diane, a creation of 21st century minds made for a 21st century audience,  has no respect for society’s rules of the day. They hire a ragtag team of scoundrels to help sneak into enemy territory and fight Dr. Poison and General Erich Ludendorff.

Some quibbles. The third act is where the film began to lose me slightly, as the CGI took over from the actors who were thoroughly more interesting. It’s not so much a problem that a big-budget feature like this should be 2 hours and twenty minutes in runtime as it is that it feels 2 hours and 20 minutes long. That’s due to acts 1 and especially 3 over staying their welcome. The fish out of water material with Diane in London, the romance between her and Chris Pine, and the scrappy, underdog crew they employ to help them are what I enjoyed. Also, the film’s best action sequence comes around halfway through with Diane leading the charge out of the trenches of No Man’s Land. I was also disappointed by the villains. There’s extensive build up for one villain in particular, and, outside of the well done mystery element to it, the payoff is a letdown.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and I imagine most people will too; probably even more so than me. It’s not a groundbreaking superhero film the way I believe this year’s Logan was, or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was however many years ago, but it does show that DC hasn’t completely forgotten how to make a movie after all. I look forward to seeing Wonder Woman in later adventures.

 

 

The Great Escape (1963, Directed by John Sturges) English 10

Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Donald Pleasance

During World War II, these prisoners of war have escaped from every camp that they’ve been held captive in. So the Nazis build a special camp made just for them. Thought to be impossible to escape out of, the POWs plan a massive prison break, revealed in elaborate detail from the planning to the exciting execution. Thrilling adventure film with real stakes and a cast of some of the coolest men ever, each given their chance to shine. The tunnel sequence when the lights go out on Charles Bronson is an all-time great suspense  scene. And, of course, the score is iconic.