Wings (1927) Review

Directors: William A. Wellman and Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 144 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1927 war-time aviation epic Wings was the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (then called “Outstanding Picture”). It’s not my favorite film of 1927 (that would be Metropolis [1927]), but this is unquestionably a solid choice for that honor. During World War I, two American pilots – Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) – are in love with the same woman, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), and have to put aside their differences to be effective servicemen. The resulting feature is one of the best of the silent era.

Extraordinarily, two of the leads, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, had to learn how to fly aircraft so that it would be the actual actors in the cockpits of the fighter planes during the flying sequences. The film’s credited director, William A. Wellman, flew an airplane for the French Foreign Legion during World War I (scoring three confirmed “kills”), so this guy knows what he’s doing (IMDb also claims that Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast was an uncredited co-director for the project). The action scenes, both on the ground and in the air, are astounding. They’re huge in scale and feature insane stuntwork.

The flaws with Wings are few. There is a fairly lengthy scene dealing with Rogers’ character’s adventures in Paris while he’s drunk off his ass that slow the movie down. The flick also goes on for a tad too long after the war ends. However, these are just about the only things that I can think that go wrong with this action-filled picture.

This is a truly massive production with an energetic musical score by J.S. Zamecnik. It may be silent, but some of its heart-pounding spectacle still hasn’t been topped in the age of computer-generated imagery. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a very early appearance by Gary Cooper (as Cadet White) as a pilot who greets the main characters at flight training. He even has a Hershey’s chocolate bar, in an early piece of product placement. Don’t miss this one!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

FDR: American Badass! (2012) Review

Director: Garrett Brawith

Genre(s): Comedy, War

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Warning: If you have any dignity, taste, reverence, self-respect, integrity, class, culture, or decency, turn off your DVD/Blu Ray player right now and avoid this film like the plague. However, if you lack those traits, you’ll probably enjoy this ultra-low-brow comedy about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Barry Bostwick) preventing Axis werewolves from taking over the world. Yes, there will be polio jokes.

The humor in FDR: American Badass! ranges from Airplane! (1980)-esque silliness to randy, raunchy punchlines, including a couple revolving around taking a dump in a flower vase. This comedy certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a great deal of joy to be had from the anachronistic swearing and dialogue. The hammy acting and the horrible, low-budget special effects only add to the “funny factor.”

Yeah, a couple of the “sketches” that make up the movie may last a little too long, and not every joke lands (of course, there’s so many that some duds are expected). The introductory sequence is pretty cringe-inducing, but, if all you want are cheap laughs and obscenities aplenty, it’s smooth sailing after that. It’s not an action picture, despite some claims, so don’t expect the titular character’s tricked-out wheelchair to be used as much as you might hope.

FDR: American Badass! is perhaps the first film that pops into my head when I hear the phrase “dumb comedy.” It’s pretty undemanding and “politically incorrect,” and will probably end up a personal classic for those who watch it and don’t expect anything more than gags about polio, promiscuity, pot, and poop. I laugh a lot at it, despite its trashy aesthetic, so I’m going to give it a thumbs-up for certain audiences.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Review

Directors: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood was the first major film released by Warner Bros. to use the new three-strip Technicolor process to generate realistic colors on the big screen. It was a wise choice for that distinction. Set in medieval England, renegade Saxon lord Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) launches an insurrection against the vile Prince John (Claude Rains), who has taken over the throne of the country while the true king, Richard (Ian Hunter, not the one of Mott the Hoople fame), is off fighting in the Crusades. This is one of the best action-adventure flicks of the 1930s.

The movie benefits from an abundance of skillfully-made and very rousing action sequences (Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood even beats up a couple of goons with a dead deer at one point). This must’ve been one of the most action-packed motion pictures yet made back in 1938. Amplifying the thrills is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s wonderful musical score. It’s a remarkably merry actioner, with characters constantly bursting out laughing at the slightest comic relief.

If there’s one fault to be had with The Adventures of Robin Hood, it’s that the film seems to endorse the foreign policy isolationism that was all the rage in the United States at the time of its release. Robin Hood chides King Richard at one point for his foreign adventurism, a sentiment that would look mighty dated one year later when World War II broke out (this is not to say that the medieval Crusades were justified, of course). Robin Hood’s traditional steal-from-the-rich-to-give-to-the-poor narrative also seems a bit muddled by the fact that he’s largely fighting for the sake of restoring a monarch to his throne here.

This is a lively and, dare I say it?, colorful quasi-historical action-adventure feature with a dash of romance (between Robin Hood and Maid Marian [Olivia de Havilland], of course). The characters are well-defined and Errol Flynn is perfectly cast as the titular hero. The action scenes and the musical score also hit the bull’s-eye, so watch it if you haven’t seen it already.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Review

Director: Robert Mulligan

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 129 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems like one of those books that just about everybody has to read in school, and the 1962 film of the same title is a great companion piece to it. Set in the Great Depression-era South, lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) must defend in court a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), while his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford), try to learn more about a shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). Yes, this is a terrific tale of childhood innocence and ignorance that has become a classic in the decades following its release.

The two heavy hitters of the movie are Gregory Peck’s central performance and Elmer Bernstein’s top-notch musical score. Peck’s serious-minded, conscientious character, Atticus, radiates integrity, self-control, and quiet dignity, so much so that the American Film Institute named him the number one hero of American cinema as part of their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. The rest of the performances are terrific as well. On the musical front, Bernstein knocks ’em dead with one of the best scores of his prolific career (which is certainly saying something).

To Kill a Mockingbird is a moving motion picture, but I can’t say that it is without faults. It definitely feels like it was based on a novel, like there are (minor) parts of the story being left out to condense the story into about two hours. Speaking of the plot, the two major story threads (the court case and the kids investigating Boo Radley) don’t really come together until the end of the film.

What To Kill a Mockingbird lacks in physical action (although there is a sequence where the children sneak up on Boo’s house and it’s handled like a war movie scene involving soldiers stealthily crossing a battlefield strewn with mines and barbed wire) it makes up for with heart. The characters in the flick certainly have their ups and downs, but, in the end, it’s a feel-good feature. It’s easy to recommend this one.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Super 8 (2011) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

After watching the television series Stranger Things and going back to the 2011 motion picture Super 8, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the two. The film mentioned above feels like a condensed two-hour story that would’ve been stretched out to an entire season in Stranger Things. Anyway, Super 8 is about a group of kids in 1979 small-town Ohio who witness a mysterious train crash while filming their own zombie movie. The flick borrows heavily from the works of Steven Spielberg (who produced it), but I think it’s highly watchable, thanks to it having an identity of its own and the Stranger Things connections.

For all the big explosions and whatnot found in this movie, it’s the human element that keeps it grounded. The coming-of-age drama involving the well-drawn characters is delightful to watch, only making the action scenes have more impact when they kick in. Most of the film focuses on child actors, which could’ve been a disaster, but the kids here know what they’re doing. The adults in the feature are just as colorful and the struggles that they face interconnect with the ones facing the children.

If you’ve read anything about this picture before, you probably already have a good grasp of what the twists and turns will deliver, but I’m going to be as spoiler-free as possible and just say that the ending, which may sound unsatisfying on paper, really delivers the goods, both in terms of emotion and thrills. It’s hard not to use words like “nostalgic” and “Spielbergian” when describing Super 8, although those phrases have become almost cliché when being used to articulate how one feels about the flick.

There might be some confusion over Super 8‘s target audience (it follows around a group of kids, yet contains brief strong violence and swearing), but this is still a terrific summer blockbuster. Yes, this review has been fairly vague to avoid revealing certain details of the film, but just trust me on this one. I can’t say that it’s one-hundred-percent original (something that gets held against the movie quite a bit), yet audiences who want to see where Stranger Things may have got some of its ideas should watch Super 8 and some of the other features that inspired the latter.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

There It Is (1928) Review

Directors: Harold L. Muller and Charles R. Bowers

Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy

Runtime: 19 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Charles R. Bowers is sometimes considered one of the forgotten comedic actors of the silent era of cinema, and 1928’s There It Is is probably one of his more famous works. In this short, silent surrealist comedy, Scotland Yard detective Charley MacNeesha (Charles R. Bowers) is called upon to investigate a mansion in the United States that’s apparently haunted by the Fuzz-Faced Phantom (Buster Brodie). Think of it as a more overtly-humorous version of Un Chien Andalou (1929) with an actual plot and you’ll have a great time.

The laughs in There It Is are mostly derived from the slapstick nature of the proceedings. Like any surrealist motion picture, it’s certainly random and bizarre, but it’s hard to beat something like somebody getting hit by another person wielding a table. Being so old, it’s hard to tell what was meant to be intentionally surreal and what was just the style of silly comedy at the time of its release.

The impressive special effects are inventive and top-of-the-line for 1928. One of the scene-stealers is the main character’s partner, a tiny, stop-motion, Greedo-looking, insect-like, kilt-wearing Scotland Yard detective named MacGregor (who lives in a matchbox, of course). No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s a cute touch that adds to the insanity of the flick and contributes to its adorable ending.

Running only nineteen minutes, there’s no reason not to watch There It Is if you enjoy crazy silent movies like the aforementioned Un Chien Andalou. It’s not as off-the-wall bonkers as that Luis Buñuel-directed masterpiece, but it’s still an odd trip. There It Is is not the most dream-like/oneiric film I’ve ever seen but I still love it anyway.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Simpsons Movie (2007) Review

Director: David Silverman

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 87 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The Simpsons, along with Futurama (another Matt Groening creation), are my favorite television shows of all time. Fortunately, 2007’s The Simpsons Movie largely does justice to the iconic series that it’s based on. Here, the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield becomes so polluted that the Environmental Protection Agency decides to place a giant glass dome over the city. Naturally, it’s up to the community’s most famous family to save the day.

The humor found in The Simpsons Movie is perhaps broader than the comedy found in a typical episode from The Simpsons‘ classic era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the laughs here come with surprising frequency. The satire’s not as brutally laser-focused as it is in some of the show’s golden age T.V. episodes, but it works well enough. Moving to the big screen hasn’t made the filmmakers push the boundaries of what jokes they include too much, although somebody finally gets to say “goddamn,” among another thing or two that I won’t spoil here.

Being a full-blown motion picture, the animation in The Simpsons Movie is more dynamic and eye-popping than it is in the television series. There are some neat moments of action because of this. The universe that The Simpsons is set in has a tremendous wealth of characters and locations, and these are put to good use in the film. Most of the fan favorite inhabitants of Springfield get a moment or two to shine, but the focus is generally on the Simpsons family, which is perfectly understandable, considering the 87-minute runtime.

Is The Simpsons Movie as delectable as the classic era of the show that spawned it? I’m not sure if I can answer that question, as the golden age of that show lasted eight or nine seasons. Still, fans of the series will almost certainly fall in love with this picture. Almost every joke lands and the characterizations appear to be consistent with what was established in the early years. That’s enough for me to recommend a comedy.

My rating is 8 outta 10.