Category Archives: Raves

The Little Prince: Worth a Watch (or Rewatch)

This is one of my rare time-sensitive posts, so bottom-line up front: if you want to watch The Little Prince on Netflix — and my premise is you should — it’s leaving on May 4th, so do it now!

Those of you who have read last year’s installment of my Favorite Films list already know I hold this film in high esteem, but I believe the 2015 film version of The Little Prince is one of the best animated films released in the past 10 years. And there have been some good animated films in the past decade.

And here’s the thing, due to a distribution kerfuffle, people here in the United States almost missed an opportunity to see it until Netflix stepped up — and we’re all better for it.

Many people may not realized just how many different adaptations of The Little Prince that have been made. It’s a story that touches all of us (assuming we’re not too much of the wrong kind of grown-up). And while some people of my generation may remember Stanley Donen’s musical version from the 70s (aka the one with Bob Fosse as the funkiest yet disturbing snake you ever saw), the story of The Little Prince is not, to my mind, a feature film length tale. Much like Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it’s better as a compact and moving half-hour special — though look how thoroughly Hollywood has ignored that assessment.

So what I love is that the 2015 film version tells the original story, but wraps it in another story of The Aviator passing the story along to a little girl. The girl herself is being raised by a single mother who, while loving, has clearly been buffeted by events offscreen in ways far too many of us can imagine. And so she wants her daughter to be serious and “essential” to better survive this crazy thing called life.

What I love, and why I would urge all of you to give it a rewatch on Netflix, is how many lovely little notes are adding into this as the story unfolds. There’s great truth and depth beyond the dialogue that hearkens to Terry Gilliam’s ‘Trilogy of Imagination’ (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of the Baron Munchhausen). In this way, I find the film to be great family viewing, because adults can get references and moments understandable only by experience, but it doesn’t make the tale too scary or dull for kids.

And for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, you will be treated to great voice work by Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, and more (the French version is similarly impressive from what I’m told for you French speakers). The score from Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey is exhilarating, and the mixture of computer animation and stop-motion animation just feels right.

At the end, you’ll find you’ve seen a film that clearly tackles themes of imagination and the human spirit, but softly meditates on how we face life and face death. And that’s no small feat to introduce to a child, or remember as a grown-up.

So I hope some of you make the time to watch it before it leaves Netflix and, yes, I am aware of DVD/Blu-Ray technology and already have my copy in preparation for its departure. But for those of you on the fence, you’re more likely to click over to Netflix than order a disc. So go ahead. Treat yourself to a little movie magic.

Let’s Go Over the Bonus Situation: Remembering Yaphet Kotto

An actor whose magnetic presence matched or exceeded his six foot, four frame, Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 81.

Parker in the classic sci-fi film Alien is one of his best known roles

Remembrances can be found across the internet, including:

While it’s almost certain I first saw Kotto in Alien, the performance that will always stick with me was seeing him on stage as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences.

A publicity still from the 1990 London production of Fences (couldn’t find the DC one)

Through all the power, fragility, strength, and weakness in that character was a presence that just couldn’t be faked. As an actor and as a casting director, I obsess about actors “inhabiting” their characters to the right degree — and Kotto always did so. Amazingly so.

And I should point out he could inhabit all sorts of characters in a variety of genres. For Midnight Run, his turn as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely is a perfectly realized straight man in an action-comedy whose plot was anything but straightforward. His gravitas weathers all the shenanigans and manages to ground the film in the stakes, especially at the end.

His moment at the end is pure acting gold.
This man has seen things you recent Starfleet grads wouldn’t believe…

Although he turned down an opportunity to be Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, evidently in part to avoid being typed in “space” films, he did come awfully close to being in another venerable sci-fi franchise.

Yes, apparently he was close to being Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That would have been a very different Picard, but man would I like to see the stories from that timeline.

Time and again, the appearance of Yaphet Kotto has meant you’re getting a damn fine performance. I’m overdue to revisit his turn as Lt. Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Street, a series I should check out again anyway.

You want to talk about the bonus situation? The bonus situation was whenever Yaphet Kotto showed up. May his memory be a blessing.

And give the man his badge back (still from Midnight Run)

My 50 Favorite Films, 2020 Edition

It’s an even year, although the nicest thing you can say about 2020 is that it was odd. But, in any case, even years mean it’s time for my Favorite Films sort, something I have done offline for about 30 years and have done online for the past eight years. You can see my previous entries here (including how I do the sort by pairwise comparison).

You’ll have to read on to determine if The Godfather was deemed better or worse.

This year, the total of films sorted was a little over 400. Two years ago, it was around 570, but I was able to do a deeper culling as I added cards for the newly watched films for this year.

Just as with two years ago, there was some major shakeup in the top 10, along with 15 additions to the top 50 that were either new or sorted lower on a previous year. Some of the results are shocking. Why, Die Hard isn’t even my favorite Christmas film any more!

What?!? How does Smeerensburg replace Nakatomi Plaza?

Hush, you. One Christmas movie delivered because it clearly had correct postage.

Anyway, here are the ground rules:

  1. These must be feature films (narrative or documentary). Short films aren’t included.
  2. Film series or franchises do not count as one entry. Each must fend for itself.
  3. TV movies can be included (I don’t think any are in the top 50)
  4. TV mini-series are not included.
  5. Regular TV series are right out.
  6. These are my favorite films, not a “best of.” If anyone else entirely agrees with my list, one of the two of us is an evil doppelganger/replicant/host.
  7. There is no rule # 7.

So, without further ado, counting down from 50:

50) The Hunt for Red October
49) Tangled
48) A Few Good Men
47) Casino Royale
46) The Court Jester
45) Koyaanisqatsi
44) Inception
43) Gattaca
42) Black Panther
41) Arrival
40) Hamilton
39) Big Fish
38) Ghostbusters
37) Das Boot
36) Amelie
35) The Godfather
34) Midnight Run
33) Minority Report
32) Never Cry Wolf
31) Breaker Morant
30) Rob Roy
29) The Godfather, Part II
28) The Count of Monte Cristo
27) North by Northwest
26) The Namesake
25) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
24) Schindler’s List
23) Citizen Kane
22) 2010
21) Children of Men
20) The Princess Bride
19) Singin’ in the Rain
18) Galaxy Quest
17) Once Upon a Time in the West
16) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
15) Guardians of the Galaxy
14) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
13) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
12) The Little Prince
11) Spotlight
10) Black Hawk Down
9) Field of Dreams
8) The Empire Strikes Back
7) Casablanca
6) The Lives of Others
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4) Ran   
3) The Shawshank Redemption
2) Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
1) Raiders of the Lost Ark   

And, as before, here are some…

Basic Stats (note: genres overlap, based on IMDb genres)

  • Total Comedies: 7
  • Total Dramas: 30
  • Total Action-Adventure Films: 27
  • Total Sci-Fi/Fantasy Films: 23
  • Total Westerns: 1
  • Total War Movies: 13
  • Total Musicals: 4
  • Total Animated Films: 3
  • Total films with Liam Neeson: 2
  • Mean average year of the 50 films (rounded up): 1992
  • Decade with the most favorites: 2000s (13 films), followed closely by the 1980s (12 films)
  • The film at #51 which at least one reader will insist should rank higher: Sense & Sensibility (1995)

All right, here’s some other thoughts…

What a lot of war

Okay, I guess it’s not the majority of films, but 13 is “nontrivial.” You pair that with all the dramas, and it does seem heavier. I’ve also noted that, in general, though I inhale TV shows these days — thanks to the omnipresent streaming services — really none of them are sitcoms. Evidently I get my comedy in the ‘quippiness’ inherent to many an action-adventure (the majority of the films in the 50).

Perhaps I should revisit a few more comedies for next time.

No Trek and Star Wars goes Rogue

In perhaps a strange turn of events, considering my epic Star Trek TV sorting earlier this year (whose sorting methodology I adapted from here) no Star Trek film is in the top 50.

Trek films 2, 4, 6, and 8 are all in the sort and “Wrath of Khan” has been in the Favorite 50 frequently. I guess the familiar is no longer the favorite.

Similarly, The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps always in my favorite list, has retired to a lower place behind young upstart Rogue One.

As with other longstanding films on the list, I guess the personal resonance only goes so far and I’m ready for new things, which may explain why…

Hamilton did have the votes

Because I maintained a strict personal blackout on the play, I didn’t know most of the details or any of the music about Hamilton (musicals not being my thing anyway, despite working on dozens of them in a former life). And then it came to Disney+ and blew us all away.

But Hamilton was a damn fine musical and if “concert films” like The Last Waltz and Woodstock are eligible for the sort (which they are), then Hamilton certainly was. And I watched it several more times after my wife and my initial watch just to be sure. I wasn’t going to throw away its shot.

Besides Hamilton and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being brand new entries to the sort that also got in the top 50, I also noticed the average age of the top 50 went from ‘1986’ in the 2018 sort to ‘1992’ now. I suspect that average will continue to rise in 2022.

As with the comedies, should I delve into the deeper trove of classic films? Maybe.

No Christmas in the Favorite 50

There’s always a few films that are undoubtedly favorites that, nevertheless, fail to break the top 50 — and that seems frequently the case with both spy-fi and holiday films.

While a Bond film actually broke into the top 50 this year (Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale), Die Hard, which supplanted the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street as my favorite Christmas film, was itself supplanted.

The interloper, Klaus, narrowly missed out by coming in at #54, so perhaps it’ll get in next time, as The Little Prince did this time. Die Hard is still in the overall 100 at #80. You really should check out Klaus though. It’s delightful.


So there you have it. Another sort in an altogether too long two year interval, this year being at least 14 years long. Here’s hoping there’s more joy in 2022, and if I’ve inspired anyone to check out some films, my job here is done.

Another Fine Mess with Laurel and Hardy

The end of this week will feature the latest edition of my biennial Favorite Films list, so I suppose I have films on my mind.

Some of the earliest films I saw were short films, thanks to my dad and the Arlington County library which had them. And I do mean films! We had a projector at home, which was often used for birthday parties and other events. This inevitably meant those masters of movie comedy, Laurel and Hardy.

Now, I’m by no means a Laurel and Hardy scholar, for that sort of discussion, you’ll want to check out this excellent interview with film historian Leonard Maltin and general pop culture history maven Mark Evanier, but I am looking for ways to introduce my kids to these classic (Looney Tunes have gone over pretty well, but they’re not the biggest fans of live action… yet).

And as another argument to make sure Laurel and Hardy are in their cinematic upbringing, there’s this remembrance from Mark “Jedi” Hamill:

Every Episode of Every Star Trek Series, Ranked

As long-time readers of this blog know (all seven or nine), I am a bit of a Star Trek fan, as may be deduced from my manic series Crisis of Infinite Star Treks alone.

Cue theme music!

Where that series delves into fannish hand-wringing and minutiae, it did remind my of how much I enjoy Star Trek in its seemingly infinite combinations. I wanted to do something special for its official 50th anniversary, but life has intervened (quantum filaments, holodeck mishaps, Borg incursions… the usual).

So what better way to express rampant fandom while looking back at the history of Star Trek than to rate each of its 700+ episodes? Think of it as a gift of the pandemic (well, for those of us in Sector 001).

Regardless, doing a retrospective of previous TV Trek seemed appropriate before now… and by the time I was fully invested in rewatching and ranking everything, new TV series started appearing (and may never abate). Yes, Lower Decks, the next seasons, of Discovery and Picard, and who knows how many other series will all find their way into the rankings ’cause I’m as foolish as Stamets wanting to do one more jump.

Oh what I wouldn’t give for a fortuitous temporal anomaly right now.

Anyway: to the links! (Not great links, perhaps, but links none-the-less)

Rigorous and logical

The Methodology
The short version? Every TV series (even the original animated one) is in. I had to make command decisions on how to judge two-parters and continuing storyline episodes, so I did. Movies are not included.

Time for peer review!

How to Rank ‘Em Yourself
Even an honest Vulcan will tell you their logic is susceptible to mortal foibles as emotions and other intangibles creep into their calculations. It could be that ranking Star Trek episodes objectively is a no-win scenario, but tell me your Kobayashi Maru solution in the comments, whether it’s the top 10, the whole list, or anything in between (be civil, please).

What if you Object, Dislike, or Outright Hate My Rankings?
No self-respecting Starfleet captain nor honorable Klingon commander would take such injustice lying down. Do something about it!

Is judging better in the original Klingon? I guess we’ll find out.

The Lists

Re-watching (and in some cases, watching) all 700+ episodes of Star Trek took an inordinate amount of time over the past few years, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to comment on everything, including both spoilers… and a certain amount of irreverence. If you’re not ready for potential spoilers and snark, stick to the links marked “episode names only.”

(As alluded above, these lists will be updated as new episodes premiere.
The lists below include all episodes for all series before July 2020)

The Whole Enchilada (All Series)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek (The Original Series or TOS)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek (The Animated Series or TAS)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: Voyager (VOY)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Enterprise (later Star Trek: Enterprise or ENT)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only
Viewing Guide

Star Trek: Discovery (DSC)Up through the first two seasons
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: Short Treks (ST)
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: Picard (PIC)Up through the first season
With Comments (includes possible spoilers & snark) | Episodes names only

Star Trek: Lower Decks (LD)
(To be added sometime after season one finishes airing)

I hope reading these lists reminds you of some of your favorites, encourages discussion, and maybe prompts you to a check out an episode –or a series– you may have overlooked.

In whatever you do, live long and prosper… unless it’s breeding tribbles. One way or another, that will probably end badly.

Video

“I’m standing in a very happy place right now” Behind-the-scenes of Hamilton

As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.

Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.

As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.

So many moment of “Squee!”

If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:

Video

Happy Centennial, Ray Harryhausen

Somewhere in the Heavens, and in glorious Dynamation, Ray Harryhausen is celebrating his 100th birthday.

There’s nothing I can say that can surpass what many, many, many people in the film industry can say about Ray Harryhausen, so I’ll simply link to two videos. The first, a tribute made on his death:

The second, a review of all his creatures, set to music you know you want to do stop action animation dancing to:

Ready for another adventure so soon? Farewell, Ian Holm.

As he was 88, I guess I shouldn’t ask “so soon?,” but news of Ian Holm’s passing is sad news for me this Friday. We collectively have seen him in so much.

You can read more about him and his career from articles and related material at:

I know many people, and the articles, cite his turn as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings movies or his absolutely chilling performance as Ash in Alien, but for me, Ian Holm burst into my memory in 1981.

The first film, Chariots of Fire, is included in the montage below. He didn’t win an Oscar for supporting actor, but he did win a BAFTA and one from Cannes and the moment you see below is about a nice a quiet payoff moment as you can want as a character actor.

The second film, Time Bandits, was another family favorite and, perhaps being exposed to it in my formative years, Ian Holm’s portrayal of Napoleon remains one of my favorites (one of the three times he played Napoleon).

Ian Holm as Napoleon in Time Bandits

As the years went on, it was always a pleasure to see him pop up on screen. He had incredible presence in the moment, yet didn’t skew the scene or chew the scenery: a consummate character actor. Even where he plays a major role, he’s part of a team.

So let’s close with something that Ian Holm (as Napoleon) professed to like: little things hitting each other!

What’s the cure for boredom? Brian Dennehy (R.I.P.)

I just re-watched Never Cry Wolf the other week, so Brian Dennehy’s ability to fully inhabit characters was fresh in my mind.

Sadly, Brian Dennehy has passed away at the age of 81.

One of the nice things about his work was that his characters were perfectly at ease with who they were, be it an alien, a corrupt sheriff, or entrepreneurial pilot. If he turned out to be a villain, his character would metaphorically or literally shrug, as if to say, “Do you get surprised that a wolf is a carnivore?”

My all-time favorite scene with Brian Dennehy comes from Never Cry Wolf below:

The beauty of this scene is all the character and clues about motivation that Dennehy puts into Rosie. You think it’s just a fun, kooky scene when you first watch the film, but when Rosie turns up later in the film, you realize that everything he does is completely in line with what he told you in the beginning. His entire performance, as with so many of his others, is a kind of zen: totally in the moment.

That’s damn fine acting.

The Chess Game has Ended: R.I.P. Max von Sydow

A towering presence in cinema –literal and figurative– had died. Max von Sydow, an actor we’ve seen on screens since the 1950s, has died at the age of 90.

You can read (and listen) to accounts in the BBC, Variety, and NPR among many others.

What struck many of us moviegoers was the wide range of parts he would play… and could play with such quiet conviction. Here is a man who played the Son of God as well as the Eternal Adversary. But whether as tormentor or tormented, he would bring a bit of gravitas to whatever work he was in, even if the work was more than a little cartoony (I’m looking at you, Ming).

You never ask why Max von Sydow is in a film, but you may ask, “How much?”

His unequivocally prolific body of work means that audiences will find him in dozens of films for decades to come — and personally, that has always been a delight. Especially for some of his later work, where he moved from leading man to supporting character, his presence wasn’t always announced, so I adored his appearance in Intacto and wished for a few more scenes of him in Star Wars, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

It’s hard to wrap your head around him being gone.

As some have noted, he’s been a presence in our cinema lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine him not popping up again in this TV show or that movie, whether to be chilling or entertaining, but always affecting.

It’s been one amazing chess game, sir. Well played.