The Emperor’s New Groove (2000, Directed by Mark Dindal) English 7

Voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton Wendie Malick, Tom Jones

Film - The Emperor's New Groove - Into Film

(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Wacky. Small-scale.

Kuzco: D’oh! You threw off my groove!

Originally intended as an epic musical inspired by Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, The Emperor’s New Groove turns out to be Disney’s first Warner Bros. cartoon. Bearing little resemblance to the hit Disney flicks preceding, it instead features the mischief, irreverence, slyness, and wacky physics of the old Looney Tunes shorts. Kuzco (Spade) is a selfish, tyrannical emperor turned into a llama by his advisor, Yzma (Kitt), in a failed attempt to kill him. Coming to his aid is Pacha (Goodman), despite Kuzco’s promise to build a summer house in place of the peasant’s family home. The Emperor’s New Groove is familiar drama and I can easily point out the comedic influences (again, it’s Looney Tunes), but the film still feels special. It’s an outlier in Disney’s canon. It’s also probably the funniest Disney feature with great voice work to thank for that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(960)

The Last Dance (2020, Directed by Jason Hehir) English 8

Featuring Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, John Stockton

ESPN Last Dance audience up 128% via VoD; Netflix success |

(8-Exceptional Film)

Expansive. Thrilling. Compelling.

Following Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates through the 1997-1998 campaign (what would be his final season as a Bull), The Last Dance weaves across the careers and upbringings of several of the key contributors, showing what made that team and that season so special. If someone contends that they don’t understand why people care about sports, let them watch an ESPN documentary, and The Last Dance is one of ESPN’s finest. Epic in length and coverage, it will likely be a new standard setter. It’s not a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It’s clearly shaped mostly around Jordan, and though it does reveal a little of his vulnerable side, his sociopathic side, what-have-you, it is still told largely with him as the protagonist. As a result, you might have heard other players complaining about certain things being depicted and other things left out. That’s a creative choice. That’s a story-telling choice. Michael Jordan is a sports hero for the ages, and what I think The Last Dance does best is reveal the human side of MJ that makes his superhuman athletic triumphs all the more impressive. In any case, it is massively entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(959)

Shaolin Soccer (2001, Directed by Stephen Chow) Cantonese 6

Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man-tat, Wong Yat-fei, Tin Kai-man, Zhao Wei, Lam Chi-chung, Patrick Tse

Shaolin Soccer - Wikipedia

(6-Good Film)

Goofy. Original. Absurd.

Sing: That’s a great idea – kung fu soccer! Why didn’t I think of that?

I wonder how the prolific Stephen Chow’s films are viewed over in mainland China or his native Hong Kong. He’s obviously insanely popular (The Mermaid, one of his more recent works, made over $500 million) and though the idea of a “spoof” isn’t a new concept, his movies tend to baffle me. In Shaolin Soccer, Chow spoofs sports films (the rival team is known as “Team Evil”) and probably more Kung Fu films than I even recognized (although I could at least appreciate the Bruce Lee reference). Chow plays Sing, a peon with extraordinary Kung Fu skills, discovered by Fung (Man-tat), a former soccer great looking to coach his way back to the big-time. The two assemble a team of Shaolin monks and find that the monks’ Kung Fu skills translate remarkably well on the soccer field. Like many Chinese or Hong Kong classics I’ve seen, Shaolin Soccer is a bizarre treat. I laughed often and was bemused often. Chow, for example, uses CGI frequently and crudely, but it seems to be integral to the humor. His humor in general is one of excess and absurdity. I simply wonder if his films are as bizarre to his native audience or if films like Shaolin Soccer qualify as a culture shock.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(958)

Pompeii (2014, Directed by Paul W.S Anderson) English 4

Starring Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie Ann-Moss, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris

Movie Smack Talk | Movie Review: Pompeii (2014)

(4-Bad Film)

Crude. Unoriginal. Entertaining.

Cassia: Is this the end of the world? Why would the gods let this happen?

Entertainment is something I value in nearly all contexts, so I do give Pompeii some credit for being entertaining despite not being much of anything else. Directed by Paul W.S Anderson, the king of garbage entertainment (though Michael Bay might argue that distinction), Pompeii follows orphaned slave, Milo (Harrington), as he’s taken to the famed Roman city to compete in gladiatorial matches where he meets fellow slave Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and later, Cassia (Browning), the instant love of his life (rolling my eyes). This is an awfully silly film heavily indebted to much better ones, chiefly Gladiator and Titanic. There’s plenty to enjoy for those like me who appreciate camp and crude craftsmanship but almost nothing to admire.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(957)

The Mercenary (1968, Directed by Sergio Corbucci) English 5

Starring Franco Nero, Jack Palance, Tony Musante, Giovanna Ralli, Eduardo Fajardo, Franco Giacobini

Jack Palance as Curly in The Mercenary (1968) | Once Upon a Time ...

(5-Okay Film)

Jumbled. Undeveloped. Uneven.

Kowalski: When our story began, Paco was only a peon. But one… with a difference.

Sergio Leone made great spaghetti western epics by stretching about twenty minutes of plot into 3-hour films. He understood revenge is an infinitely compelling character motivation. The Mercenary, directed by Sergio Corbucci (a talented director of many excellent westerns, some great), tries to condense several hours worth of plot into an hour and fifty minutes. The film follows Paco (Musante), who goes from peasant to revolutionary, through the eyes of a seemingly indifferent Polish mercenary, Kowalski (Nero), and a garble of flashback, obscure narration, and Mexican history. The result is an often confusing film with scattered moments of inspiration and sometimes greatness. The score, for instance, by Ennio Morricone, is as beautiful a piece of music as you’re ever likely to hear. Jack Palance plays the villain, Curly, sporting one of cinema’s worst haircuts (he resembles Little Debbie and it’s frightening). Unfortunately, The Mercenary squanders his performance.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(956)

Whisper of the Heart (1995, Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō) Japanese 8

Voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, James Sikking, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Ashley Tisdale

Whisper of the Heart – IFC Center

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Vibrant. Light.

Shizuku: Stupid jerk, stupid jerk, stupid jerk!

Who knew Studio Ghibli produced so many wonderful light romances? While I ask that rhetorical question jokingly, certain that millions of the studio’s large fanbase have known for ages, I’ve only recently discovered Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, and this film, Whisper of the Heart. Whisper of the Heart follows Shizuku, a young girl dealing with teenaged romance and all the drama that goes with it. She meets Seiji, a boy at school who is always rude to her, and she’s determined not to like him though the rest of the school believes that they’re a couple. I was most surprised to find that the great Hayao Miyazaki wrote this screenplay as it bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to any of his other work. Otherwise, Whisper of the Heart has all of the distinction, the artistry, and the confident storytelling of Ghibli’s work. I see now that they are equally skillful at these lovely small-scale dramas as they are at epic fantasy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(955)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Directed by Goerge Miller) English 9

Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz

Mad Max: Fury Road Review | Den of Geek

(9-Great Film)

Frenetic. Exciting. Classic.

Nux: If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the Fury Road!

Five years later and I’m still disappointed that Mel Gibson isn’t in this movie. Gibson’s Mad Max Rockatansky is iconic and I believe the actor’s growing age would only add to the mystique of the character. Imagine a grizzled, bearded Gibson wandering through the Australian wasteland. That’s a movie I’d like to see, but that doesn’t happen to be what Fury Road is, and it’s a real credit (as backhanded as it sounds) to Tom Hardy that I’m able to overcome my initial disappointment and appreciate the film for what it is; a benchmark action film. Hardy takes over the Mad Max role, reluctantly helping a group of women, led by Furiosa (Theron), escape their tyrannical husband, Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne). Theron is nearly as iconic in her role as Gibson was all those years ago. Director, George Miller, reimagines his own creation and delivers something visionary.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(954)

The Apartment (1960, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 10

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, Edie Adams, David Lewis

The Apartment (1960) | The Medium

(10-Masterpiece)

Sad. Sweet. Masterful.

Fran Kubelik: When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.

C.C Baxter (Lemmon) is an enabler. His philandering bosses walk all over him and his apartment, using it whenever they can get away from their wives to be with their mistresses. Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), Baxter’s office crush, isn’t doing much better. She turns out to be one of these mistresses, in love with the head honcho, Mr. J.D Sheldrake (MacMurray). A particularly low night for both of them results in the two spending the weekend together in Baxter’s apartment, helping each other. This film is a masterful balancing act between tones for director, Billy Wilder. Elevated beyond its sordid subject matter, The Apartment is sad (I love the image of Baxter completely alone in his enormous office space surrounded by empty desks or sitting by himself on a long New York bench) and sweet (I love the final exchange between Baxter and Ms. Kubelik) in equal measure and like its protagonist, hopeful. Even when he is cleaning up after someone else’s’ party early on in the film, he’s humming cheerfully. There’s a lightness to the humor in this movie that would seem inappropriate if not for how deftly Wilder and his actors manage it. Certainly, one of my favorite films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(953)

Ocean Waves (1993, Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki) Japanese 8

Voices of Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Kae Araki, Yuri Amano, Takeshi Watabe, Hikaru Midorikawa

i can hear the sea | Tumblr

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wistful. Lovely. Skilled.

Taku: The whole thing was starting to feel like a bad soap opera.

Though produced by the famed Studio Ghibli, Ocean Waves doesn’t compare to most of the company’s typically grand, epic output such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, or Castle in the Sky. Ocean Waves works on a much smaller scale so that I don’t believe it would be condescending to describe it as modest, or you might prefer “a gem.” Told in flashback, set in the small city of Kōchi, a high school boy, Taku, develops feelings for Rikako, the aloof new girl in school, which causes a rift between him and his best friend, Yutaka, who saw her first. Working with fewer resources (apparently, the film was originally meant for T.V), Studio Ghibli managed to fashion one of their best works. It’s an endearing story, beautifully animated, and told sweetly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(952)

The Barefoot Contessa (1954, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) English 8

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Rossano Brazzi, Warren Stevens, Marius Goring, Valentina Cortese

Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa 1954 (photo taken by Annoth ...

(8-Exceptional Film)

Sumptuous. Cynical. Unique.

Jerry: What she’s got you couldn’t spell – and what you’ve got, you used to have.

I admire the way Joseph L Mankiewicz, both director and writer, plays with structure. He showcased this originality earlier with the films, A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve. In The Barefoot Contessa, we begin at dancer-turned-movie star, Maria Vargas’ funeral, and then flashback to her life episodically through different characters’ recollections of the great diva. Harry Dawes (Bogart) is a jaded Hollywood director and played a significant role in luring Vargas to movie acting. Oscar Muldoon (O’Brien) is a lap dog but a consummate publicist and makes Maria a star. Alberto Bravano (Goring) is a spoiled multimillionaire who always gets his way until he meets Maria, and Count Vincenzo (Brazzi) loves Maria too much for any good to come of it. It’s maudlin, soap opera material but the great directors of the time (and I certainly include Mankiewicz) infused the melodrama with great style, wit, and biting commentary. The Barefoot Contessa is one of the most glorious exemplars of color ever produced. The stars are well-suited to their characters- Gardner, in particular, is given her most substantial role- and the dialogue is magnificent.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(951)