The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) Review

Directors: Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch

Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 66 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

What’s the world’s oldest surviving feature-length animated movie? Something by Disney? Nope, that honor goes to a silent German film by the name of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (originally titled “Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed“) from 1926. The story is about young, fearless Prince Achmed setting out to restore order to the land after a devious magician crashes his father’s birthday bash. This picture uses silhouette animation (think stop-motion shadow puppets) to transport viewers to far away worlds. Home video releases are color-tinted.

This fairly short (only 66 minutes long) classic has visuals that are nothing short of entrancing. It’s certainly nothing like any other movie from…well, any time period. The silhouettes are surprisingly detailed, and almost every character, despite being little more than a shadow puppet, has a distinctive look. In addition to its astounding appearance, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is greatly aided by an energetic musical score by Wolfgang Zeller.

Based on old Arabian fairy tales, this feature has a timeless quality to it that keeps it fresh after all these decades. There is some swashbuckling action and some special effects that made me wonder “how did they do that?” The only time the pacing threatens to lag is when Aladdin shows up (yes, Aladdin and his magic lamp are here) and explains his backstory. It certainly doesn’t kill the film, but these flashbacks slow things down just a tad. Just a tad.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is definitely no musty museum piece. It’s amazing from its character introductions at the beginning to its hair-raising finale. I’m not sure how much kids will enjoy it, considering it’s silent and all (despite bombastic music), but people who’re accustomed to pictures with no spoken dialogue will be floored. This one comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Little Caesar (1931) Review

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 79 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Little Caesar is famous for being one of the first major gangster movies of the sound era. It may be a bit creaky by today’s eye, but it holds up pretty well. The plot, which may sound familiar, is about small-time hoodlum Rico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) joining the mob to make a name for himself. Made during Hollywood’s Pre-Code period (before the enforcement of the Production Code), this picture raised concerns that it was celebrating the outlaw lifestyle.

The standout element of Little Caesar is Edward G. Robinson’s performance as the titular character. He’s really a natural, making most of the rest of the cast look like they’re made out of wood. Check out the flophouse scene for some of Robinson’s best acting in the feature. While we’re on the subject of acting, take a gander at Thomas E. Jackson’s turn as police officer Sergeant Flaherty. I can’t tell if it’s the most brilliant performance I’ve ever seen…or the worst. Not every character registers, but enough do to make it coherent.

Little Caesar has fair-enough pacing. Sometimes things move pretty quickly (the first shot of the movie, after the opening credits, is a stickup, after all), and sometimes there’s just a hair too much talking. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, because it’s never boring and the runtime is only 79 minutes. The whole flick is a little primitive-feeling at times, but that’s pretty much expected for a 1931 release.

It’s Robinson that breathes life into this entertaining crime-drama (it’s the role that made him a star). It’s not an action movie, so don’t expect a bunch of explosions and you might have a good time. There are better Pre-Code gangster films out there – namely Scarface (1932) and The Public Enemy (1931) – but this one beat them all to the punch.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween (1978) Review

Director: John Carpenter

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 91 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Slasher films are often derided as trash cinema, but the first entry into the Halloween series is one of the few that is beloved by both audiences and critics. 1978’s Halloween didn’t invent that subgenre, but it did do more than any other movie to popularize it. After fifteen years of being locked up in a mental hospital for murdering his sister (Sandy Johnson), Michael Myers (Nick Castle, Tony Moran, and Will Sandin) escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois…to kill again. Brace yourself, because this is one great horror picture.

Halloween was made on a low budget, but the film never feels limited by this. This is all about terror and menace coming to familiar locations, as Michael Myers stalks the inhabitants of a small town (no haunted castles or sweaty South Seas islands here). Speaking of Myers, the filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping him offscreen or at a distance to maximize the impact of the instances when he does strike.

The musical score by the movie’s co-writer/director, John Carpenter, is simply iconic, although a few bits of music do feel stuck in the 1970s. It helps the flick truck along nicely. There’s little-to-no pacing issues, as this is a lean, focused production (it’s only 91 minutes long, so there’s no time for monkey business). For a slasher picture, the violence is surprisingly restrained, meaning that the squeamish are invited to watch this one as well.

Halloween works well because of how brutally simple it is. Even viewers skeptical of watching a horror movie about a madman walking around murdering people may want to give it a chance. It really doesn’t have a high body count, but manages to wring just about as much tension and suspense from its subject matter as is possible. It’s a rightly famous film that spawned a lengthy franchise.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Ten Tall Men (1951) Review

Director: Willis Goldbeck

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, War

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Burt-Lancaster-joins-the-French-Foreign-Legion is the “hook” of this 1951 war/action-adventure film. During the Rif War in Morocco, a trouble-making sergeant in the French Foreign Legion, Mike Kincaid (Burt Lancaster), assembles a group of fellow Legionnaires (all of whom are rotting in prison) to launch a preemptive raid on desert rebels before the aforementioned insurgents can launch an assault on an undermanned French-occupied town. This flick has an interesting proto-The Dirty Dozen (1967) story, but it’s much more light-hearted than that hard-boiled World War II film.

Ten Tall Men starts off awfully comedic and retains a jokey tone for much of its runtime. The humor here doesn’t really land most of the time. The romance isn’t really effective, either, and many of the supporting characters aren’t as well-defined as they should’ve been for a men-on-a-mission film. The action-adventure elements are what saves this movie from the trash bin. Sure, it’s apparent that they didn’t have a large budget to work with, but the combat scenes are fair.

The story that eventually became Ten Tall Men was actually originally a western. However, the sort of western/war film that the filmmakers were aiming for was considered old hat by the time of this picture’s production, so the action shifted across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to see how the U.S. cavalry were substituted by the French Foreign Legion and the Native Americans by the Moroccan guerrillas.

When it’s all said and done, Ten Tall Men is an adequate war movie that goes somewhat heavy on the comic relief. You should also be warned that a romantic subplot breaks out. The final action scene is hardly the strongest one in the feature, but this film clips along at a decent pace, so it doesn’t dwell on any of its faults for too long. It’s okay, but there are better French Foreign Legion flicks out there, like Legionnaire (1998), Beau Geste (1939), and March or Die (1977).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Untamed Africa (1932) Review

Director: Unknown

Genre(s): Adventure, Documentary

Runtime: 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This nature documentary comes as a bonus feature on the DVD for Kongo (1932). It follows the Hubbard family on a safari deep into Africa where they will befriend a few animals…and kill or capture the rest. Yeah, this one feels like it should’ve been titled “Let’s Hurt Animals: The Motion Picture” at times. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and some of the hunting seems justified (like when a crocodile is shot for getting too close to the boats).

Untamed Africa benefits from humorous narration and some incredible animal footage. Some of the creatures encountered are pretty cute and some are apparently pretty vicious. The journey documented seems perilous, with the aforementioned crocodiles lying in waiting, lions on the loose, and a highly destructive grass fire.

The movie’s attitude towards the native peoples of Africa could probably be described as, uh, backwards. It does, however, take an interesting peek into the lives of these folks. It can sometimes be difficult to tell what’s genuinely real and what, if anything, has been staged for the camera in this documentary. It’s quite well-edited in that regard.

Untamed Africa is agreeably short (only 56 minutes long), and, if you can get past the animal violence (which includes a lion-on-hyena fight over some food), it’s makes for decent entertainment. I can see audiences in the Great Depression-era United States eating this stuff up at the time of its release (this Pre-Code documentary was released in 1933 in the States, but, apparently, Denmark beat the U.S. to the punch, sending it to theaters in late 1932…hence the release date used for this review). If you have a DVD copy of Kongo, you might as well watch this one, too.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Kongo (1932) Review

Director: William J. Cowen

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Four years after the silent West of Zanzibar (1928) was released, a sound remake, titled Kongo, was sent to theaters. This forgotten gem ups the macabre and salacious content of the original, making it one of the more boundary-pushing films of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood (the time period in the early 1930s before the Production Code started being enforced). This twisted tale is about a magician living in Africa named “Deadlegs” Flint Rutledge (Walter Huston) plotting his vengeance on Gregg Whitehall (C. Henry Gordon), the man who paralyzed him from the waist down in a brawl and ran away with his wife. This one’s so nasty (for its time) it sometimes gets classified (incorrectly, in my opinion) as a member of the horror genre.

Like the original movie, West of Zanzibar, Kongo is all about its depraved, slimy atmosphere. Like fellow Pre-Code adventure film Island of Lost Souls (1932), it has the stench of sweat and cruelty all over it. One notable aspect of this one is Walter Huston’s sleazy performance. Check out that scar on his cheek that resembles one of the facial markings that the Joker from The Dark Knight (2008) would have.

Kongo is based on a 1926 play of the same name, and, yeah, it sometimes shows. The action rarely leaves Huston’s character’s African compound or its immediate surroundings. When it does leave this setting, it’s sometimes footage reused from West of Zanzibar. Still, it’s a pulpy movie that doesn’t really feel as claustrophobic as this might lead you to believe.

As with the silent original, I can’t exactly recommend this one to everyone, as the depiction of native Africans is problematic and bound to offend many. However, those who can overlook that aspect will be rewarded with one of the best motion pictures of the Pre-Code period. It’s not quite as taut as the shorter West of Zanzibar, but it is more lurid, so I guess I prefer this version by a hair.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Raid 2 (2014) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a lean, mean action machine. So, how does its sequel stack up? This ambitious, Indonesian-language picture (originally titled “Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal“) follows Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of the first one, as he goes undercover in the mob to expose crooked cops and gangsters. It can’t top the original, but The Raid 2 certainly gives it its all trying to do so.

While the first movie was a simple story of a S.W.A.T. team trapped in an apartment building of criminals, the second film tries to be an epic-scale crime saga…with lots of martial arts thrown into the mix. I don’t really think The Raid 2 pulls it off. It lacks the effective “hook” of the The Raid: Redemption and goes on for way too long (it’s two-and-a-half-hours long, for Heaven’s sake!). It also wallows in ineffective melodrama on an occasion or two.

Of course, the action scenes are the real reason to watch, and they are just as impeccably choreographed as you’ve hoped. Unfortunately, some of them just made me wonder “why should I even care about what’s going on?” Also, for a mob movie set in modern times, there seems to be a noticeable lack of guns. I guess these guys (and gal) just prefer to beat the shit out of each other with fists, feet, and melee weapons. Who am I to judge?

This violent-to-the-point-of-self-parody action film is a disappointment after the magnificent first flick in the series. When people aren’t getting pummeled, it can be a bit of a clock-watcher. The drama just doesn’t quite work and the runtime is a monster for a martial arts movie. I suppose it might be worth a watch for hard-core action fanatics, but I wouldn’t expect much outside of the insane fights.

My rating is 6 outta 10.