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-


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-


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-


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-


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-


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018, Directed by Mike Newell) English 6

Starring Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton

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(6-Good Film)

Picturesque. Engaging. Well-crafted.

Just after World War II, a writer based in London, Juliet Ashton (James) starts a correspondence with Dawsey Adams (Huisman), from Guernsey, who tells her of his unique and peculiar book club. The club began during German occupation, which intrigues Juliet, and she soon goes to visit. Arriving on the island, she grows fond of the members of the club as she learns of their remarkable story. A very familiar romance plot mixes with a different perspective of the war to fine results. I had no idea that Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis, and that lesson alone makes the film more than its typical story book romance. Though its sadder elements failed to strike a chord, and you know exactly where the story’s going, sometimes you want what you expect, and this is a well done movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 9

Starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, Ronald Culver, John Laurie

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(9-Great Film)

Epic. Intimate. Lovely.

Forty years in the life of Clive Candy (Livesey) as he grows from Lieutenant in the Boer War to Major-General in World War II. Deborah Kerr costars as the woman who keeps cropping up in his life, playing three separate roles, and Anton Walbrook plays Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer chosen to duel Clive on behalf of all German officers, who later becomes his closest friend. Romantic vision of a British soldier, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp beautifully captures the passing of time, with much joy and sadness in between. Endearing performances from the leads who would all factor in to other great Powell and Pressburger films, and like these other films, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a magnificent testament to Technicolor. Among the most handsome pictures ever produced.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, Directed by Peter Jackson) English 9

Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian McKellan, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Bernard King, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean

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(9-Great Film)

Unforgettable. Indulgent. Satisfying.

The final chapter in Peter Jackson’s landmark fantasy series finds Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) following Smeagol (Serkis) into a trap on their quest to rid Middle Earth of the One Ring once and for all. Sauron, having suffered a defeat at the end of Two Towers, launches an all out assault on humans in this installment. Aragorn (Mortensen), knows that Gondor, his kingdom, will not stand a chance unless he can muster reinforcements, so he looks for aid from the Dead Men of Dunharrow (an army of undead warriors) with the help of Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davies). Gandalf and Pippin fight to defend, Gondor stronghold, Minas Tirith from a devastating siege from Sauron. Wholly gratifying end to the Lord of the Rings tale, with multiple absorbing story lines, dozens of indelible characters, and a vast array of technical skill. One of the great visual spectacles of modern cinema. Surprisingly, I found The Two Towers superior to The Returns of the King, which ends on at least thirty minutes of unnecessary epilogue. The battle of Minis Tirith also ends frustratingly with the Dead Men of Dunharrow finishing the battle within minutes. While not quite “deus ex machina,” because there is plenty of build up towards it, the conclusion of the battle did make the preceding hour seem like a waste. And then there’s the eagles. They are “deus ex machina,” and a bewildering turn in the plot. Still a great film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Directed by Peter Jackson) English 10

Starring Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian Mckellen, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Cate Blanchett, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies

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Epic. Involving. Awesome.

Continuation of Frodo Baggins’ (Wood) epic journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mordor, led by the pitiable, treacherous Gollum (Serkis), and accompanied by brave, loyal Sam (Astin). The rest of Frodo’s former travel mates-Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom), and Gimli (Rhys-Davies)-search for Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), who’ve been captured by Orcs. This leads them to the center of Saruman’s plan to wipe out the remaining humans. Aragorn fights back with the men of Rohan. The entire Lord of the Rings Saga is top of the line fantasy and world building. This second chapter brings in new great characters, and offers one of the best battle sequences in movie history: the final 40 minutes is dedicated to the extended fight at Helm’s Deep in the rain.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Their Finest (2016, Directed by Lone Scherfig) English 6

Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Richard E. Grant

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Catrin Cole (Arterton) works closely with a sardonic screenplay writer, Tom Buckley (Caflin), on a propaganda film in 1940’s London. Though married, Catrin begins to have feelings for Tom, as they work through the daily struggles of filmmaking and interference from the government. Though structurally generic and predictable in many ways, Their Finest is very humorous and insightful on the process of filmmaking. It’s also and engaging period drama and romance.