Ni No Kuni (2019, Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose) Japanese 8

Voices of Kento Yamazaki, Mei Nagano, Mackenyu, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kenjiro Tsuda

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Escapist. Striking. Exciting.

High schoolers Yuu and Haru have been friends for almost as long as they can remember. When Haru’s girlfriend, Kotona, whom Yuu secretly pines for, disappears, the two boys travel to a parallel fantasy world that mirrors their own in a lot of ways. Each person from the real world has a counterpart in the fantasy world including Kotona, whom the boys find to be a princess in this strange place. Based on a spectacular video game series, this film is pretty spectacular itself. While it lacks any truly amazing animated sequences, it is consistently lovely to look at and boasts a sufficiently engaging story.  Ni No Kuni is the kind of entertainment an escapist like me loves to get lost in.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(860)

Summer Stock (1950, Directed by Charles Walters) English 7

Starring Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins

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(7-Very Good Film)

Familiar. Cozy. Joyful.

Judy Garland is a hardworking farm girl named Jane Falbury. One day, her vain, inconsiderate sister shows up with an acting troupe, unannounced, to rehearse and Jane reluctantly agrees to let them stay if they carry their weight on the farm. Jane meets Joe Ross (Kelly), her sister’s fiancée and the troupe’s director, and over the next several days, inconvenient as it is, the two fall in love. As with all classic MGM musicals, it’s not about being surprising as much as it is being spectacular. Summer Stock showcases two ultra-talented stars in Kelly and Garland with a handful of good numbers and a picturesque setting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(859)

Eragon (2006, Directed by Stefen Fangmeier) English 4

Starring Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Djimon Honsou, Robert Carlyle, Garret Hedlund; Voice of Rachel Weisz

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(4-Bad Film)

Anemic. Hackneyed. Boring.

Eragon, a humble farm boy in a distant, fantasy land, Alagaësia, receives a stone of rare magical ability sent out by Princess Arya. This thrusts him right in the middle of an epic struggle between the oppressed people of Alagaësia and the evil tyranny of Galbatorix (Malkovich) with old Brom (Irons) as a guide and a faithful dragon, Saphira (Weisz), as an ally. I don’t fault a film for ripping off a classic, it’s just they always do it so badly. Eragon, based on a popular novel written by Christopher Paolini but clearly deeply indebted to the original Star Wars film, should, at the very least, be so much more entertaining than it is. How do you steal the formula from Star Wars and still bore me to tears?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(858)

Shoplifters (2018, Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda) Japanese 6

Starring Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki, Naoto Ogata

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(6-Good Film)

Curious. Interesting. Muddled.

Acclaimed worldwide at its release, I was at a loss as to what to make of Shoplifters. It follows a ragtag, thrust together family of misfits living in poverty in modern-day Tokyo, collectively known as the Shibatas. None of them are actual family, apparently. The “dad,” Osamu, relies heavily on shoplifting and passes the dubious skill on to his adopted children, Shota and Yuri. The “grandmother”, Hatsue, collects payments from her ex-husband’s family. The “mom” works a menial factory job, and the “aunt” works as a performer at a hostess club. The idea of a makeshift family living together under one roof, shoplifting, to my Hollywood-influenced mind lends itself to the sentimental, family-friendly genre so well. The charming miscreants go through ups and downs but find that they all love each other in the end. That’s not what this is. Shoplifters looks to be more of a social drama, going for realism, I suppose, but I think that’s my biggest problem with it. I don’t know Japanese culture well enough to say anything with authority but I didn’t buy these faces as the look of abject poverty. They are a beautiful family with some dirt rubbed on them occasionally. It’s also a pretty shallow portrait of what it means to be a family. Shoplifters is a group of people using each other. That doesn’t take away from the acting, which is strong, or the storytelling but by the end, it didn’t add up to much for me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(857)

The Sea Hawk (1940, Directed by Michael Curtiz) English 8

Starring Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, Una O’Connor, Donald Crisp

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Skillful. Rousing. Compelling.

Reteaming the director, Michael Curtiz, with the swashbuckling star, Errol Flynn, and joined by a familiar cast of supporting players (Claude Rains and Alan Hale), The Sea Hawk is every bit as rousing and entertaining as their previous work, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn plays an English privateer, Geoffrey Thorpe, loyal to his Queen, Elizabeth (Robson), caught up in the political maneuvering of rival Spain preparing their legendary armada. Brenda Marshall plays Flynn’s love interest, a Spanish subject who initially despises Thorpe. Masterful action sequences, compelling characters including a fantastic turn from Flora Robson as the Queen, and plenty of intrigue which I always find fascinating. The Sea Hawk is a testament to the classic Hollywood studio system which made countless great films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(856)

Call Me Madam (1953, Directed by Walter Lang) English 6

Starring Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, George Sanders, Vera-Ellen, Billy De Wolfe, Walter Slezak, Steven Geray

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(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Witty. Stagey.

Brash, wealthy socialite, Sally Adams (Merman), is appointed America’s ambassador to the tiny, fictional country of Lichtenburg. She takes with her an amiable, recently fired journalist, Kenneth Gibson (O’Connor), as her press attaché, and the two, while managing the political responsibilities of her job, both fall in love during their time in Lichtenburg-Sally with the country’s general, Cosmo (Sanders), and Kenneth with the Princess, Maria (Vera-Ellen). Based on a stage musical, the transfer to film still feels stagey much of the time, but the small cast of characters are strong and the dialogue is excellent. The main attraction, though, is O’Connor’s inspired dance numbers, particularly his drunken, balloon-popping number.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(855)

Prince of Foxes (1949, Directed by Henry King) English 7

Starring Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Wanda Hendrix, Marina Berti, Everett Sloane, Felix Aylmer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Absorbing. Rousing. Expert.

In the beginning years of the 16th century, Andrea Orsini (Power) serves the ruthless Prince Cesare Borgia (Welles). Hired to assassinate the kindly, wise Count Marc Antonio Verano (Aylmer), Orsini begins to question his allegiances just as he falls for the count’s young wife, Camilla (Hendrix). Prince of Foxes is an expertly crafted swashbuckler and star vehicle for Power, who may be the king of swashbucklers (Errol Flynn being his chief competitor for this title). Orson Welles is charismatic and riveting as Cesare Borgia. There’s no shortage of plot or intrigue either.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(854)