Small Soldiers (1998, Directed by Joe Dante) English 6

Starring Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson, Denis Leary

Voices of Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker, George Kennedy, Harry Shearer

Small Soldiers Soundtrack Music - Complete Song List | Tunefind

(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Limited. Retread.

Major Chip Hazard: You’ve got a lot of guts. Let’s see what they look like.

Desperate to impress their boss and keep their jobs after a corporate takeover, two toy designers unwittingly create weaponized toys with artificial intelligence known as the Commando Elite led by Major Chip Hazard (Lee Jones). They also give the same artificial intelligence to a meek set of toys known as the Gorgonites led by Archer (Langella). Unleashed in a small, All-American town, teenager Alan Abernathy (Smith) befriends Archer and gets caught in the middle of the Commando Elite’s relentless pursuit of the Gorgonites. If it all sounds very serious, know that this film is a little strange and difficult to explain, because it’s actually very silly and played almost entirely for laughs despite being somewhat frightening. One critic for Empire Magazine described it as, ” Gremlins with toy soldiers, except not quite as dark or funny,” and I find that to be an apt description. Apparently, director Joe Dante (Gremlins being his most famous film) was held back by the studio from being as dark as he would have liked. The film, as it is, entertains (I particularly liked Chip Hazard’s one-liners) and makes an impression but hardly warrants serious consideration or repeat viewings. It’s spoofing of small-town life, military movies, and corporate greed are nice touches though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, Directed by Harold Young) English 7

Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce, Anthony Bushell, Joan Gardner

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Frenzied. Slight.

Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!

Sir Percy Blakeney is an English nobleman during the late 18th century. While England enjoys its time of peace, nearby France is plunged into hell by the Reign of Terror and its new leader, Robespierre’s penchant for the guillotine. Blakeney, in response, becomes “the Scarlet Pimpernel,” masked vigilante determined to rescue condemned aristocrats from France and bring them over to England. He also affects the role of idiotic fop in his own country so that no one would ever suspect him of being the masked hero; including his beautiful wife, Lady Marguerite (Oberon), who’s ashamed of him. This premise has been recycled through the decades and told much better in my opinion through the characters of, first, Zorro and, later, Batman, but I believe it started with The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a well-crafted swashbuckler with a compelling romance between Blakeney and his estranged wife, but I do wish the ending was more exciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Foreign Correspondent (1940, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Edmund Gwenn, Harry Davenport, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley

American Genre Film Archive FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Uneven. Hokey.

Mr. Powers: I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables. I want a reporter! Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an -ism and a kangaroo. A good, honest crime reporter. That’s what the Globe needs. That’s what Europe needs!

Wanting a fresh set of eyes, the New York Morning Globe sends crime reporter, John Jones (McCrea), overseas to Europe, where a second world war is brewing and several diplomats gather to invoke peace. Instead, Van Meer (Basserman), a leading diplomat, is assassinated and Jones gets thrown into a whirlwind conspiracy of spies and foreign plots. He’s determined to break the story and get the girl, Carol Fisher (Day), in the process. If Foreign Correspondent afforded Hitchcock a greater budget than his previous work in his home country of England, it also demanded he appeal more conspicuously than ever before as a sort of war propaganda. Certain touches, monologues seem hokey now, 80 years later; the use of our (America’s) national anthem in its ending credits, for example. Add to this, the opening act far exceeds the following two so that the film begins to feel anticlimactic for the majority of its running time. As soon as Van Meer gets shot in that spectacular sequence with the assassin and the umbrellas, Foreign Correspondent has reached its apex. Despite its deficiencies, it’s a sprawling, exciting film with an incredible opening and a slow but satisfying conclusion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Matrix Resurrections (2021, Directed by Lana Wachowski) English 5

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci

The Matrix Resurrections: Did Neo Choose to Be Plugged Back In? | Den of  Geek

(5-Okay Film)

Inessential. Intriguing. Flat.

Neo: I still know Kung Fu.

The thrill of seeing something new, being challenged with fresh ideas, working my way through a complex but involving plot; the Matrix was a colossal experience. In it, Todd Anderson (Reeves), later Neo, learns that the world around him (known as the matrix) is not real, but something artificial designed by machines to enslave humans and distract them from reality. He meets a band of resistance fighters led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who provokes Neo into opening his eyes, teaches him all the possibilities of the matrix, and professes to him that he is the chosen one, or “the One,” destined to save the human race. Just as importantly, Neo meets Trinity (Anne-Moss), the woman he comes to love and who comes to love him. The original Matrix is a masterpiece in my eyes. Its sequels were a disappointment, to say the least, debased, being a more accurate description. The Wachowskis (writers and directors of the franchise) lost the thread. Now we come to The Matrix Resurrections, a third sequel and possibly a reboot. Nearly twenty years after the last sequel, is the world of The Matrix still worth the trip down the rabbit hole? For the whole of the first half, I was hopeful. It begins again with Todd Anderson, a successful video game designer, whom we come to find invented the events of the first three films in his head for a gaming franchise…or did he? I found this premise to be an interesting one even if it’s not entirely original, but you can likely guess the answer to that question and that’s part of my problem. The Matrix 4 was never going to be as fresh as the original and the franchise hasn’t proven it can deliver without that sense of novelty. Other problems include a dull second half, unappealing visuals (especially during the bullet-time sequences), and a performance by Abdul-Mateen II (taking over from Fishburne) as Morpheus that doesn’t measure up. I’m going to continue pretending that The Matrix has no sequels.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Aliens (1986, Directed by James Cameron) English 9

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein

Retro Review: 'Aliens' (1986) - CROMEYELLOW.COM

(9-Great Film)

Expert. Muscular. Thrilling.

Ripley: Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

Good question, Ellen Ripley (we find out her first name in this film). Fifty-seven years after the terrifying events in Alien (1979), Ripley wakes up from stasis to find a new generation of “explorers”/idiots want to return to the scene of the massacre to investigate. Accompanied by marines this time around, you’d think the cast of characters had a better shot at surviving, wouldn’t you? Of course not. Hunted by not one but dozens of ferocious aliens, the humans are once again forced into survival mode, with an even more impressive Ripley saving the day. Thrilling to watch, Aliens is, in my opinion, the greatest example of director, James Cameron’s, craft and skill. It’s beautifully designed and perfectly paced with simple but effective characterizations. At its core, you have an iconic character in Ripley, still grieving the death of her own daughter, leading a young orphan girl to safety.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Man of the West (1958, Directed by Anthony Mann) English 8

Starring Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, Royal Dano, Tom London

Man of the West (1958) | MUBI

(8-Exceptional Film)

Violent. Impressive. Harsh.

Link Jones: You know what I feel inside of me? I feel like killing. Like, like a sickness come back. I want to kill every last one of those Tobins. And that makes me just like they are. What I busted my back all those years trying not to be.

Like Will Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven many, many years later, Link Jones is a man with a violent past who fancies himself reformed, and like Will Munny, you’ll find yourself wanting Link to go back to being the man he swore he’d never be again; at least long enough to save the day. Played by Gary Cooper (56 at the time) in one of his best roles, Link used to run with the Tobin gang, a savage bunch led by his Uncle Doc (Cobb). Now Link is a small-town family man, riding a train west to Fort Worth to find and hire a school teacher for his community. Along the way, he meets Sam Beasley (O’Connell), an amiable gambler, and Billie Ellis (London), a beautiful saloon singer who catches his attention despite his already being married, but he also runs into the new Tobin gang with Uncle Doc still pulling the strings. Man of the West was made during the 1950s classic era of westerns and apparently wasn’t all that successful. Still, famed French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, gave it a glowing review and perhaps he saw clearly that it’s ahead of its time. Man of the West is an early revisionist western with a compelling brutal streak. It’s hero has a checkered past, to say the least. It’s villains are unspeakably ugly and evil. The innocent get caught in the middle and the film is clearly not beholden to your cursory Hollywood, happy ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Encanto (2021, Directed by Byron Howard, Jared Bush) English 7

Voices of Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Wilmer Valderrama, Maluma, Adassa, Diane Guerrero, Alan Tudyk

Disney debuts trailer for its Latino-themed animated movie 'Encanto,' set  in Colombia

(7-Very Good Film)

Bright. Appealing. Frustrating.

Tagline: Magical house. Magical family.

Encanto, as far as I can tell, is Disney Animation’s first dysfunctional family film. Historically, Disney is notorious for its characters’ parents and families being nonexistent. It’s a storytelling trope. If there are no parental figures for the main character to fall back on, then that character is left to figure things out for his or her self. Encanto is different. It’s charming protagonist, Maribel (Beatriz), is surrounded by family. Starting with her domineering abuela, her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sisters all live under the same magical roof (their house is alive and helps them in their everyday routines) and they all have some special magical gift except for the ones who married into the family…and Maribel. Something went wrong for her and she’s left to be treated like the black sheep of the family. Heavily advertised spotlighting Maribel’s unique family and their gifts, I wasn’t prepared for what Encanto actually is, a film about its protagonist being mistreated for a large portion of the movie by a family that mostly stinks. The result is frustrating at times but it’s intentional, and though there is no real romance or legitimate villain, by the end, Encanto does tell a satisfying story. The music is interesting (some of it great, some of it strange) and the second half is less enjoyable than the first, but overall, it’s a solid entry into Disney Animation’s 60 film canon.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Eternals (2021, Directed by Chloé Zhao) English 6

Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Don Lee, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Kit Harrington, Harish Patel, Barry Keoghan

Marvel Invites Fan Questions For The Eternals Premiere

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Intriguing. Flawed.

Sersi: We’re Eternals. We came here seven thousand years ago, to protect humans from the Deviants.

Ten godlike superheroes (known as Eternals) preside over Earth and help it grow at a distance, but overtime discover some shocking secrets about their origins and their purpose. Martin Scorsese took a lot of flak a couple of years ago for saying that Marvel films aren’t cinema. Being, at most, lukewarm about these films myself, I was actually excited that someone I admire made this grand statement, was willing to stand by it, and even back it up with a well-thought out essay he submitted to the New York Times. I’m not qualified to declare what is and is not cinema, but there is something about Marvel’s shared universe that has always left me apathetic, unsatisfied, and, at times, bored. I have never quite been able to put my finger on what exactly the problem is. I like the majority of the characters, the acting is good, the production slick, and there’s often a fair amount of wit and humor. Could it be this quality, this not being cinematic that holds me at a distance? More recently, I’ve determined a simpler explanation. Marvel movies are action films with no good action sequences. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but across their 26 productions, there are maybe only 4 or 5 action scenes I like. I’m not interested in CGI Iron Man fighting CGI aliens. It’s even less interesting when one of the Avengers fight each other. You know that neither one of them can die, so there are no stakes.

Now we come to Eternals, part of Marvel’s phase Four that started earlier this year with Black Widow. Having never been excited for a Marvel film before, I certainly wasn’t expecting to like this one, noting its rotten status on Rotten Tomatoes with much criticism claiming it to be dull at times. To someone who finds most of these movies dull, I wrote Eternals off before watching it. Add to this, the director, Chloé Zhao, despite being celebrated and winning an Oscar, has, to this point, built a filmography of work that bores me to tears; Nomadland, Best Picture winner and all, included. In spite of my low expectations, or maybe because of them, I was impressed with Eternals. I enjoyed it. Forget the critics, this is a solid film. The characters are absorbing, for one, and there are big ideas lurking beneath its, admittedly, messy story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Dune (2021, Directed by Denis Villeneuve) English 4

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Chang Chen, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Stunning New 'Dune' Trailer Is Begging You to See 'Dune' in Theaters | WIRED

(4-Bad Film)

Tedious. Hollow. Superficial.

Duncan Idaho: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

How long are you willing to stare at something beautiful that you don’t connect to? The newest adaptation of Dune, directed by Oscar-nominated director, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), helped me answer this question, because I couldn’t make it past the first twenty minutes without wanting to be somewhere else. With no prior experience with the world of Dune or its source material, my understanding of the plot is certainly limited. As much as I could follow, the story follows Paul Atreides (Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto (Isaac), as he and his family move to a new planet, Arrakis, and attempt to establish themselves there. While acclimatizing themselves to Arrakis, the Atreides are beset on all sides by hostile natives, rivals, and traitors. Dune is often as beautiful as advertised. The problem for me is that it’s devoid of personality. No humor, no distinct characters or character development, no compelling villain, no wit or colorful dialogue. Dune is a chore.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 9

Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Marie Richardson, Sky Du Mont, Vinessa Shaw, Alan Cumming, Leelee Sobieski, Thomas Gibson, Rade Šerbedžija

Stanley Kubrick's hard out with "Eyes Wide Shut" | Yardbarker

(9-Great Film)

Cold. Seductive. Suspenseful.

Victor Ziegler: Listen, Bill. Nobody killed anybody. Someone died. It happens all the time. Life goes on. It always does, until it doesn’t. But you know that, don’t you?

Working through random reviews on the internet, I laughed at one viewer’s comment that Eyes Wide Shut has meaning, it’s just hard to find. I suppose that’s a positive critique. I, on the other hand, do not find Eyes Wide Shut especially deep or thoughtful; in the same way that I don’t find dreams very meaningful. Eyes Wide Shut is dream-logic stretched over 2 1/2 hours. Every woman is attractive, and around every corner seems to be the promise of sex or nightmare. Tom Cruise plays Dr. Bill Hartford. Handsome, wealthy, successful, Bill is surrounded by temptation; every woman in his life is available to him. When his wife, Alice (Kidman), admits to lusting after another man, Bill wanders out into the night seeking retribution or maybe just feeling free for the first time to do what he wants. He meets a handful of strange people throughout the night, ultimately ending up at the film’s infamous, mysterious orgy party for the elite where each party guest wears Venetian masks. Eyes Wide Shut is a great film, again, not because it’s brilliant but because it appeals to my sensibilities. I love the night, I love mystery, I love Murakami, missing women, shadows, cloak and dagger, etc. Eyes Wide Shut is a suspenseful film without being very tense. It’s almost entirely about anticipation; with muted pay-off. That’s also like a dream. Pursuit without reward, suspense without consequences (for the main character). There’s very little point in asking logical questions.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-