The Deer Hunter (1978, Directed by Michael Cimino) English 8

Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Intense. Intimate. Epic.

The lives of working-class buddies in a small Pennsylvania town are interrupted when three from the group head to Vietnam with the Army. There, Mike (the most serious of the group), Nick, and Steven are forced into a game of Russian Roulette that scars them well after they manage to escape. Mike might be De Niro’s best performance and most compelling character (and yes, I have seen Raging Bull). Walken and Streep with the two key supporting roles also stand out. My problems with the film have been noted by others, and mainly concern its lack of complexity. It wears its emotions on its sleeve. The other side, the Northern Vietnamese, are foreign and brutal. Rather than condemn this aspect as racist, I simply saw it as an extension of the film’s simple-mindedness. This being said, the three-hour long epic was engaging and moving. The crap-shoot chance involved in the Russian roulette sequences plus the acting makes for two memorably brutal and sad scenes. I also admired the odd three distinct act structure that makes the film feel epic and not drag. The scenes between De Niro and Streep are some of the best in the movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(477)

The Wind and The Lion (1975, Directed by John Milius) English 6

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

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(6-Good Film)

Handsome. Appealing. Muddled.

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, no more.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(473)

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 10

Starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, B.J Novak, Diane Kruger, Michael Myers, Eli Roth

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(10-Masterpiece)

Bold. Brilliant. Suspenseful.

Unfolded in a lengthy episodic style, a renegade (or clandestine) group of Jewish soldiers led by Aldo “The Apache” Raine wreak havoc and vengeance on the Nazis during World War II. Meanwhile, pure evil masquerades as a mischievous rogue in the form of Colonel Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Waltz in a star-making turn). He’s coined the Jew hunter and makes it his mission to track the Basterds down. With only a handful of scenes, the film’s 2 and a half hour running time blows by. Each scene is a tour de force of verbal suspense and the finest example of Tarantino’s unique gift. A fantastic cast fills out even the bit parts making every character memorable; Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz for example. At the end, when Pitt’s character says, “I think this might just be my masterpiece,” I feel that it applies to Tarantino and this incredible film he wrote and directed.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(471)

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

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

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(7-Very Good Film)

Intriguing. Gripping. Appealing.

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 post-war 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.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(438)

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)