The Narrow Margin (1952, Directed by Richard Fleischer) English 8

Starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White, Queenie Leonard, Paul Maxey

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Hard-boiled Detective Seargeant Walter Brown (McGraw) has to escort a mobster’s widow (Windsor) from Chicago to Los Angeles by train where she’s set to speak before a grand jury. Powerful underworld figures are willing to do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen. Brown, whose partner was already murdered protecting the big-mouthed dame, has his work cut out for him, standing alone against a team of crooks and murderers. They even try bribing him. Meanwhile he meets a married woman, Ann (White), on the train, and quickly grows attached to her. Fast, tightly plotted tale with strong performances and a surprising finale. Very suspenseful. Prime B-movie.

School of Rock (2003, Directed by Richard Linklater) English 9

Starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove

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Dewey Finn (Black) lives the life of a rock star, minus the success, the women, or the money. Already kicked out of the band he created, and on the verge of being kicked out of his patient best friend, Ned’s apartment, he jumps at an opportunity to pretend to be Ned in order to pick up some money as a substitute teacher at an elite private school. Another brain wave hits, and Dewey decides to turn his overworked pupils into a rock band, in order to compete at a talent competition. Easily could have been a miserable comedy, but thankfully, Richard Linklater, the script, and Jack Black (in a role, tailor-made for him) squeeze every possible laugh out of the material, making the film a blast.

When Harry Met Sally (1989, Directed by Rob Reiner) English 9

Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford

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Harry Burns (Crytsal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) meet one day through a mutual friend, as they move from Chicago to New York. Harry makes a pass, Sally says let’s be friends, and then Harry informs her that men and women can”t be friends. Years pass before they see each other again, this time Harry’s willing to give it a shot, but their close friendship seems destined for more. Romantic comedy that is, in fact, both romantic and funny. Endlessly inspired, whether it’s the old couple interviews, or getting huge laughs from a scene involving Pictionary, When Harry Met Sally is gold.

Innerspace (1987, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo

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A hotshot marine officer, Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) is miniaturized for a government science experiment where he’s to be placed inside the body of a test rabbit, but, due to an attempt from rogue agents looking to steal the work, gets placed  inside the body of a hypochondriac named Jack (Short) instead. Jack and Tuck team up to return the latter to his normal size, as well as keep him out of the hands of mercenaries. Along the way, Jack becomes smitten with Tuck’s girlfriend, a reporter named Lydia (Ryan). Goofy, fast-paced with some excellently performed gags and stunts, Innerspace is more about the individual scenes than the picture itself. Promoted as a “what if” type picture wherein a Dean Martin type gets put inside the body and the head of a Jerry Lewis. They might have done well to push that idea further, but as it stands, Innerspace is a fine adventure.

The Ten Best Disney Channel Original Movies

This may be the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. These might be the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make.To sift through the canon of masterworks Disney Channel put out every month for close to two decades. How does one do that? How can you pick between parts of yourself? Petty minds argue over the official dates that represented their classic period, or “golden age.” I assert it started on August 29, 1998 with Brink!, and ended January 14, 2005 with Now You See It, starring Oscar nominee Frank Langella. True, the channel’s greatest ratings came later with offerings like The Cheetah Girls 2 (eye-roll), Camp Rock, and High School Musical 2, but this is a typical case of mass appeal versus quality. Disney Channel executives sold their soul, and then gave us Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. Whoever watched that should be deeply ashamed of themselves. I don’t care how old you were. Anyways, back to Sophie’s Choice times ten. Back to The Godfather versus The Godfather part II.What are the ten best Disney Channel Original films? After heavy thought, deliberation, and prayer, I’ve come up with this:

10. Quints    August 18, 2000

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A controversial opener, I know. Oft forgotten, this was a marquee film for Disney Channel for a solid three years. Starring A-list Mickey-Mouse talent like Kimberly J. Brown as Jamie Grover, a teenager coping with the birth of quintuplet siblings, Quints was first rate coupling of smiles and tears, à la James L. Brooks in his heyday. Likely inspired later comedy hit Knocked Up, starring Seth Rogen.

9. Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire    October 13, 2000

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Anyone who came up during the golden era will remember waiting on the October movie like it’s a separate Christmas. Children like to be scared, and Disney knew how to supply the thrills in controlled doses. Case in point, the Hitchcockian Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. In it, Adam and Chelsea Hansen have their plans foiled once they’re grounded by their tough single mother (Caroline Rhea of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch). They scheme to set their mom up on a date with suave foreigner, Dimitri Denatos (Charles Shaughnessy), but problems arise when their younger brother, Taylor, realizes that Dimitri is a vampire. Textbook horror. Plays with our innate fear of not being believed.

8. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century    January 23,1999

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Zoom, zoom, zoom. That’s all I have to say.

7. The Luck of the Irish     March 9,2001

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By 2001, Disney Channel star Ryan Merriman was a seasoned veteran, and it showed in his performance in The Luck of the Irish. He played high school basketball star, Kyle Johnson, whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that all Irish people are leprechauns, and watches some bizarre changes take hold, like meeting his 200 year-old grandpa, Reilly O’Reilly (Henry Gibson), and an evil leprechaun, Seamus (played by Timothy Omundson, who’d go on to great successes like Psych, Deadwood, and Galavant). This is just a terrific film, filled to the brim with excitement, excellently choreographed basketball sequences, and nonstop visual inventiveness. Sidenote: Disney  tested the waters on interracial couples in this film, and, after being satisfied with the audience reaction, finally gave the okay to Rey and Finn in the Star Wars reboot.

6. The Other Me     September 8, 2000

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I’m just going to say it. Andy Lawrence was the most talented of the Lawrence brothers. Evidence, you ask for? How about turn of the millennium sci-fi mind-bender, The Other Me? He plays underachiever Will Browning, who accidentally clones himself, and, after ignoring the billion dollar potential of such a discovery, toils through high school passing his clone off as his cousin. What puts this film over the top is its cutting edge soundtrack featuring the likes of an in-his-prime Aaron Carter. Released 18 years ago, it still feels as fresh as ever. The movie also boasts strong supporting work by Alison Pill and Sarah Gadon.

5. Johnny Tsunami    July 24, 1999

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Disney went ethnic, and the results were dazzling. Johnny Kapahaala, a Hawaiian cool kid, has to move to Vermont once his dad gets a new job. Surprisingly, he does not fit in to his new surroundings, and a struggle between remaining true to his self, and conforming ensues. After the success of Brink! with rollerblading, Johnny Tsunami elevated the profile of skiing and snowboarding, which were, at the time, considered to be sports for Caucasians.

4. The Thirteenth Year       May 15, 1999

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“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That great line may be from Spiderman, but it relates even better to early superhero favorite The Thirteenth Year. Cody Griffin, unbeknownst to him, is a mermaid. Raised by adoptive parents who found him as a baby, and sheltered all his life, only after his thirteenth birthday does his true form begin to take shape. He was always a strong swimmer, but now he can climb walls, you know, like mermaids do. How often is this film brought into the conversation when discussing great superhero movies? Many don’t even consider it a part of the genre, but watch it again, and you tell me. I’m honestly willing to say M. Night Shyamalan flat out stole his idea for Unbreakable from The Thirteenth Year.

3. Halloweentown  October 17, 1998

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You’ll notice how many of these films deal with self-discovery. That theme continues here when Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown again) discovers that her mother is a witch, from a town creatively named Halloweentown. She meets her grandmother Aggie (played by late-great Debbie Reynolds), also a witch, who shows her the ways of their people. The golden standard for October Disney Channel movies, thanks to a shocking twist ending.

2. Don’t Look Under the Bed     October 9, 1999

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Remember when you thought that Halloweentown could never be beat? And then the very next year, they drop Don’t Look Under the Bed. Talk about twist endings, but, I’m getting ahead of myself. Frances, a high school girl, is much too serious. Once strange things start happening all over her small town, she’s forced to turn to her brother’s imaginary friend, Larry, since all the evidence points to her being the culprit. Larry tells her that she’s being framed by the boogeyman, and they must work together to take the boogeyman down. I really don’t even have anything insightful to say. This is just an amazing movie.

The Phantom of the Megaplex       Novemeber 10, 2000

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You already knew. How could it be anything else? Mickey Rooney is in this movie. It perfectly combines my two favorite things: the whodunnit and the movie theater. Taylor Handley plays Pete Riley, the overworked assistant theater manager, trying to keep everything together for the special premier going down, but someone keeps sabotaging the megaplex, and that someone feels the need to wear a costume. The main suspect: Mickey Rooney, of course, mainly because he’s old, and somehow, inexplicably, he lives at the theater. But the finale is more surprising than that. Perfect mystery thriller.

Honorable mentions? How about every single other movie they made between 1998 and 2004? Except for True Confessions. That was a little too indie for me. And Fullcourt Miracle, where the Jewish kids won the big basketball game, because I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief, even at 11.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Rings (2017, Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez) English 4

Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bonnie Morgan, Aimee Teegarden

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Watching a certain videotape prompts some strange entity to call your closest phone, and give you seven days to live. That is, unless you get someone else to watch the tape. Unwilling to ensnare anyone else, Julia (Lutz) and her boyfriend, Holt (Roe), investigate, hoping to break the cycle once the mystery has been unraveled. The Ring movies never held up to questions of logic, but they moved past that with creative visuals, strong acting, and genuine horror. The original Japanese version never bothered with explanations, making it scarier. This newest entry, with none of the cast or crew from the first two American remakes, wants to explain everything. That was a horrible idea. This film is so boring, which is remarkable for a “horror” film. Even the hack-jump scares aren’t exciting, since they’re hollow. I know that this is a PG-13 film, and the two main characters aren’t going to die. That takes the thrill out of all of the “danger.” The acting is fine, given that the actors have nothing to work with. I hope D’Onofrio made a lot of money to justify him being in this. To be fair, his scenes in the movie are the only ones even slightly interesting (though still not good).

A Live-Action Princess and the Frog

Former Pixar and Disney Animation titan, John Lasseter had this to say about the midling success of The Princess and the Frog back in 2009, “I was determined to bring back [hand-drawn animation] because I felt it was such a heritage of the Disney studio, and I love the art form … I was stunned that Princess didn’t do better. We dug into it and did a lot of research and focus groups. It was viewed as old-fashioned by the audience.” The film, as mentioned in the quote, was a return to the hand-drawn style of animation used during Disney’s hey-day and all the way through until about the mid-2000s when computer animation took over. Was the style the problem? Has 2-D animation really become so antiquated that audiences were unwilling to turn up for a film of that type. Pretty much every single  other Disney Princess movie has made a boatload of money. The directors of Princess and the Frog had previously made Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, and have since made Moana. All of which raked in the dough. I’m just not sure Princess and the Frog’s limited commercial success can be attributed to the art style, and I’m not ready to bring race into the picture, since Moana (Pacific Islander), Aladdin (Arabic), and Mulan (Chinese) all did very well at the box office. Another titan believed it had more to do with marketing, saying that putting princess in the title led people to believe that the film was only for girls. Whatever the case may be, does Princess and the Frog stand any chance of a live-action reworking?

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I, personally, would rather see live-action remakes of films Disney didn’t get 100% right (reference my Black Cauldron article) than a remake of Aladdin (I remain highly skeptical). Why not take a chance and see if you can’t remedy your earlier mistakes with a remake? I’d also consider making Prince Naveen black since that was one of the main complaints people had regarding the movie. There’s never been a black prince. Granted the animation and special effects would have to take over since most of the film is centered on talking frogs and an alligator. Hmm?

-Walter Howard-