The Crimson Pirate (1952, Directed by Robert Siodmak) English 6

Starring Burt Lancaster, Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok, Torin Thatcher, Leslie Bradley, Christopher Lee, James Hayter

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(6-Good Film)

Frantic. Fun. Jolly.

Captain Vallo (Lancaster) leads his ship and his crew through the waters of the Caribbean late in the 18th century. He agrees to capture and turn in a man calling himself El Libre, an enemy of the British Empire. Instead, he meets and falls in love with El Libre’s daughter, Consuelo (Bartok), then decides to help their cause. According to Christopher Lee who plays a small part in this swashbuckler, The Crimson Pirate started out as a more serious pirate film. Its director, Robert Siodmak, changed that and what resulted is a light, fast-paced adventure anchored by a charismatic performance by Burt Lancaster. I’m more familiar with Lancaster in heavyweight dramatic fare, so seeing him swinging through the impressively elaborate sets and playing the rogue is a welcome surprise. Though lightning-fast paced and non-stop action, The Crimson Pirate did take a while for me to invest in. Eventually, however, its star and sense of fun win the day.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(870)

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020, Season 1) English 7

Voices of Karen Fukuhara, Deon Cole, Coy Stewart, Dee Bradley Baker, Sydney Mikayla, Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens

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(7-Very Good Show)

Bright. Engaging. Unique.

To my mind, Dreamworks Animation has been complacent for over a decade now when it comes to film. They’ve given us nothing but sequels. Thankfully though, their television offerings have been excellent, specifically She-ra: Princess of Power and now Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. The titular character, Kipo, is an altruistic teenage girl who’s lived her entire life underground. After her home is suddenly attacked by a giant creature known as a megamute, she’s flushed out into the surface where megamutes and talking animals reign. She teams up with Wolf, a tough young girl, Benson, a resourceful teenage boy, and Dave, a mutant bug that can regenerate, to find her home and her dad. Beautiful, vibrant animation, strong story, a unique sense of humor, fun, oddball soundtrack. This is a fantastic first season. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(869)

El Dorado (1966, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 8

Starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt, Michele Carey, Christopher George, Ed Asner, R.G Armstrong

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fun. Endearing. Rousing.

Apparently, its director, the legendary Howard Hawks, claimed this film wasn’t a remake of Rio Bravo, one of his earlier works and one of his best. I’m not sure who he was trying to fool. It clearly is, and more than that, I don’t know why he felt the need. No one’s complaining. At least not now, forty years later. I’m certainly not. Rio Bravo is a bonafide classic. So is El Dorado. It stars John Wayne as Cole Thorton, a gun for hire, who strolls into the troubled town of El Dorado to find an old friend, J.P Harrah (Mitchum), is the sheriff. Harrah fills Cole in on the situation: a greedy businessman, Bart Jason (Asner), is hiring men to bully land away from a local family, the McDonalds. Time passes before anything comes of this situation and when it comes, Harrah has devolved into the town drunk after a woman leaves him. It’s up to Cole, Harrah’s loyal friend and Indian fighter, Bull (Hunnicutt), and a young hotshot named Mississippi (Cann) to protect the McDonald family while helping Harrah to come to in time to turn the tide. Jason has a lot of men led by a mercenary, McLeod (George), who knows what he’s doing. Fantastic classic western made in a time when revisionist westerns ruled, El Dorado is terrific fun. The ending is slightly unsatisfying. Not that it’s a bad ending; it might even be the right ending, but like its characters, I wanted to see Thorton and McLeod face off. As it stands, the good guys basically cheated. Also, you’ll have to ignore a quick interlude in which Caan pretends to be a “chinaman.” Other than that though, this is one of my favorite westerns.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(868)

Birds of Prey (2019, Directed by Cathy Yan) English 5

Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong

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(5-Okay Film)

Frenetic. Superficial. Unsatisfying.

I like all types of movies but if I had to put my finger on one type that wasn’t my cup of tea, it would be ultra-violent superhero flicks. Naturally then, I didn’t go into Birds of Prey very excited.  The material covered by a lot of DC adaptations but now Birds of Prey strikes me as pretty ridiculous-a woman with a voice that can fight bad guys, a psychiatrist who comes across as a martial arts master despite not having any training. There’s no sense of logic in these characters but Birds of Prey handles that in a more interesting way than its travesty of a predecessor, Suicide Squad. It tells a simple story in a manic, hyper-stylized manner. Harley (Robbie) has been kicked to the curb by the Joker and no longer has any protection from the low-lives she’s hurt in years past. Rosie Perez plays a jaded cop, Renee Montoya. Smollett-Bell plays lounge singer-turned-vigilante, Black Canary, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a mysterious assassin calling herself Huntress. The women eventually team up for separate motivations to protect a young girl, Cassandra, who made the mistake of robbing a local mob boss, Roman Sionis (McGregor). Much of Birds of Prey is underwhelming to me. McGregor’s bad guy is only intimidating with a weapon in his hand. Anybody can be scary with a gun in their hand. Thankfully, the women make more of an impression. It’s their film and they’re suitably convincing. I genuinely felt like an hour and a half flew by which is a positive on the one hand-the film was going for a madcap pace and style and succeeds-but is also the reason the overall experience feels fairly insubstantial.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(867)

Time to Kill (1942, Directed by Herbert I. Leeds) English 6

Starring Lloyd Nolan, Heather Angel, Doris Merrick, Ralph Byrd, Richard Lane, Sheila Bromley

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(6-Good Film)

Brief. Light. Appealing.

Raymond Chandler’s series of private eye novels following Phillip Marlowe are masterpieces of style and content for those who are willing to give them their proper consideration (which includes most people now, decades later). I’m guessing back in the day, however, many only saw the style, with early adaptation, Time to Kill, as evidence. Taking Chandler’s third novel, The High Window, and mixing it in with a popular movie series featuring the character, Michael Shayne (Nolan), Time to Kill is awfully slight. About an hour-long and offering very little in the form of stakes, Time to Kill instead aims for humor with quick setups and payoffs. The plot is a bastardized version of the one Chandler wrote. Private detective, Shayne, is hired by a rich old battle-ax to get back a rare coin stolen, convinced that it was her no-good daughter-in-law. The real selling point, as with all films in this series, is Shayne himself. He’s a slick, likable character. Not much of an adaptation though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(866)

Porco Rosso (1992, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 8

Voices of (Dubbed) Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Odd. Singular.

Its premise may be slightly reminiscent of the popular French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but that’s where comparison stops. Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, even the adaptations, Porco Rosso is wholly original. Marco Pagot, also known as Porco Rosso, was an ace pilot for the Italian military before going rogue after the events of World War I. Now he’s a notorious bounty hunter with the long arms of fascism reaching out to claim him from one side and jealous pirates trying to kill him on the other. Along the way, he befriends a young, spirited teenage girl named Fio, who has a talent for designing planes. Miyazaki’s obvious love of flight is on full display, perhaps never rendered as spectacularly as it is here. Typical of the master’s work, this is an artistic tour de force with a strange, engaging story and a fantastic score by Joe Hisaishi.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(865)

Black Narcissus (1947, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) English 10

Starring Deborah Kerr, David Ferrar, Kathleen Byron, Jean Simmons, Sabu, Flora Robson. Esmond Knight

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(10-Masterpiece)

Stunning. Provocative. Elusive.

There’s something mysterious about Black Narcissus, one of Powell and Pressburger’s many masterpieces, about a group of nuns led by the young sister superior, Clodagh (Kerr), who set up camp in the Himalayas and find the locale has a strange effect on them. For something so melodramatic, so sensationalized and emotional, I have always felt that there is so much more underneath it all. The characters are transparent. I feel that their desires are well-understood if not explicit, but what the film itself feels about these characters is a mystery to me, still, after a couple dozen viewings. Black Narcissus seems somehow both provocative and aloof, emotional and detached. It’s one of cinema’s greatest enigmas on film, which is why it gets better each time I come back to it. Seen by some as a reflection of Britain’s relationship with colonized India, this glorious technicolor drama with incredible set designs and subtly passionate performances is among the best films ever made.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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