Toy Story (1995, Directed by John Lasseter) English 10

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Laurie Metcalf

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(10-Masterpiece)

Classic. Nostalgic. Wonderful.

What if when kids aren’t looking, their toys come alive? That’s the central idea behind the adventures of Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear. Woody (Hanks), his owner Andy’s favorite toy, feels insecure and jealous when the newest, coolest toy on the block, Buzz Lightyear (Allen), arrives on the scene to steal most of the attention. What could easily have been a one-note conceit, thanks to superior writing, spirited voice acting, and imagination, has become a perennial classic. You relate to Woody’s anxiety, and his contentious friendship with Buzz is one of the most endearing in film history. The Randy Newman songs are unforgettable. If the visuals show some wear, we overlook them, because the story is as engrossing as ever, and it is still one of the funniest animated films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(354)

Stranger Than Fiction (2006, Directed by Marc Forster) English 8

Starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tony Hale, Tom Hulce, Linda Hunt, Kristen Chenoweth

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Imaginative. Likable. Absorbing.

Harold Crick’s (Ferrell) life moves like clockwork. He’s a boring, dour IRS auditor. Then, one day, he finds out that he’s a character in some unknown novel and he begins to question the meaning of it all, just as he meets the woman of his dreams. Stranger Than Fiction is a thoughtful, provocative film wrapped in a light, charming exterior. Ferrell gives his best performance as Crick, a man examining his life and his place in the world at long last, and the supporting actors are all wonderful. Stranger Than Fiction reminds me quite a bit of Being There, another comedy that eschews the broad humor that would have been easy with its premise, instead, searching for something more profound.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(353)

Inspector General (1949, Directed by Henry Koster) English 5

Starring Danny Kaye, Barbara Bates, Walter Slezak, Elsa Lanchester, Gene Lockhart, Alan Hale Sr.

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Light. Unexceptional.

A Gypsy clown, Georgi (Kaye), is mistaken for a high-ranking public official in a corrupt town in an unclear 19th-century European country. Having to keep up the charade or face execution, all while fending off the mayor’s wife (Lanchester) and resisting his feelings for the servant girl Leza (Bates), Georgi’s adventures should be much more entertaining and suspenseful. This film misses the satire of Gogol’s play and squanders the intrigue. It’s too preoccupied with the comedy. The best Danny Kaye films rein him in a bit and allow his talent to service the plot rather than the other way around. The Inspector General is a decent picture but had the potential to be more.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(352)

The Brasher Doubloon (1947, Directed by John Brahm) English 6

Starring George Montgomery, Nancy Guild, Conrad Janis, Florence Bates, Fritz Kortner, Roy Roberts

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(6-Good Film)

Derivative. Inferior. Entertaining.

Iconic detective of film and literature, Phillip Marlowe (portrayed unconvincingly by Montgomery) is on a case chasing down a rare 18th-century coin known as the Brasher Doubloon but finds it to be more complex than it at first appeared. It’s not long before he stumbles onto an unsolved murder, blackmail, and corruption. All private eye fiction is indebted to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon in some way or other, but I don’t recall Raymond Chandler’s novel, The High Window (the book in which this film is adapted from) being as derivative as The Brasher Doubloon feels. You have a handful of people searching for and ready to kill for a priceless antique item. That’s The Maltese Falcon all over again. The Brasher Doubloon also opens with a scene that’s heavily reminiscent of Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep which came out just two years earlier. The supporting players and the leading lady are better suited to their roles than the lead, and The Brasher Doubloon isn’t a very good title for a film. The filmmakers would have been better off sticking with The High Window. Unoriginality aside, this is a decent film, and all private detective movies are entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(351)

 

The Towering Inferno (1974, Directed by John Guillerman) English 6

Starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, O.J Simpson, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner, Richard Chamberlain

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Intriguing. Unfulfilled. Overcooked.

The idea of being trapped at the top of a towering skyscraper as the lower levels slowly burn to the ground is an incredible premise for a disaster film. Add to that, a cast filled with legends, and this follow up of sorts to Poseidon Adventure (1972) should have been much better. None of the characters outside of Richard Chamberlain’s insufferable jerk are even slightly memorable. They’re easily eclipsed by the special effects. Also, not enough people die for my liking, and unlike Poseidon Adventure, where the cast does great work, the stars sleepwalk through this picture. It is, however, entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(350)

The Year of Living Dangerously (Directed by Peter Weir, 1982) English 8

Starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, Michael Murphy, Bill Kerr, Noel Ferrier

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Thoughtful. Passionate. Expert.

Despite its romantic potboiler premise and  poster, this movie is handled with subtlety and thoughtfulness, as all the director Peter Weir’s films are. Mel Gibson plays an Australian journalist stationed in Jakarta during the 1960s civil unrest, eager to break a big story-maybe even at the expense of everything and everyone else. Linda Hunt won an Oscar for her performance as Billy Kwan, the diminutive guide and photographer working with Gibson, who essentially becomes the film’s hero. Sigourney Weaver plays Gibson’s British love interest. It’s a quietly stunning film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(349)

Son of Paleface (1952, Directed by Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Roy Rogers, Bill Williams, Lloyd Corrigan, Paul E. Burns

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(7-Very Good Film)

Inventive. Zany. Fun.

A loose sequel to The Paleface (1948), Bob Hope and Jane Russell return in new roles, once again facing off against the Indians (played by white people), outlaws, and ravenous townspeople who have been cheated out of money by Hope’s father. Like all Hope films that I’ve seen, there is a lot of witty one-liners, clever use of the fourth wall, and self-deprecating humor. Standing out from some of his others though, this film has some truly incredible stunts that rank among the best and most creative put on screen.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(348)