Beverly Hills Ninja (1997, Directed by Dennis Dugan) English 5

Starring Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Robin Shou, Nathaniel Parker, Will Sasso, Nicollette Sheridan, Soon-Tek Oh

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Affable. Unexciting.

The story goes that there will come a day that a Great White Ninja emerges and saves the day. Somewhere in Japan, at a temple, Haru (Farley) trains, hoping one day to fulfill that prophecy. When the chance come to prove himself by helping the beautiful Alison Page (Sheridan), Haru, in true Inspector Clouseau style, proves only that he’s a fool. This is a fairly likable comedy brimming with Farley’s kind persona, but fails to deliver the big laughs of its clear inspiration, The Pink Panther. I liked some of the supporting characters: Rock as the over-enthusiastic bellhop/ disciple and Robin Shou as Haru’s far more competent brother, Gobei (reminiscent of François, going back to Pink Panther). The action sequences are all very dull, which is forgivable in a comedy if it’s laugh out loud funny. Beverly Hills Ninja is not laugh out loud funny.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(288)

 

Last Action Hero (1993, Directed by John McTiernan) English 7

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance, Robert Prosky, Tom Noonan, F. Murray Abraham, Mercedes Ruehl, Anthony Quinn, Bridgette Wilson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Over-stuffed. Clever. Underrated.

Danny Madigan (O’Brien), is having a tough time in life. His father’s died, his neighborhood is rough, and he can’t seem to concentrate in school. His one escape is the movie theater, where he enjoys the action packed movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing himself), and the company of Nick (Prosky), an older projectionist. One day at the theater, while watching Schwarzenegger’s latest, Jack Slater IV, Danny gets warped into the picture, and teams up with Jack Slater himself to take down the bad guys. Last Action Hero is action-packed, yes, but more amusingly, it’s packed with in-jokes, meta-humor, and cameos. Considered a dud at its release, I think action fans will love it. Schwarzenegger, as a character that knows he’s a character in a movie, is a blast. This is one of his best vehicles. The film blossoms from the question of what it is that brings people to the movies, specifically action flicks, and why they’re more meaningful than given credit for. As someone who escapes into movies similar to Danny, the film speaks to me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(285)

 

Kung Fu Panda (2008, Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson) English 8

Voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Bright. Exciting. Appealing.

Kung Fu Panda is one of Dreamwork’s best films. If you’ve fantasized about being a great ninja warrior, Kung Fu Panda is all the more appealing. It follows the unlikely hero, Po (a panda voiced by Jack Black), as he attempts to fulfill the prophecy that announced him (overweight and out of shape) as the dragon warrior of legend, destined to defeat the fearsome Tai Lung (a snow leopard). The animation is inventive and vivid, and the vocal performances, especially among the leads-Black, Hoffman, and McShane-are first-rate. At times, Dreamworks delivers big name casts at the expense of character building, but here the cast do great work.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(275)

Jumanji (1995, Directed by Joe Johnston) English 7

Starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier, Bebe Neuwirth, Patricia Clarkson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Nostalgic. Intriguing.

Sometimes it’s impossible to separate the actual quality of a film from the nostalgia it produces. Jumanji is a childhood favorite. In 1969, a boy, Alan, and a girl, Sarah, sit down to play a mysterious board game that promises fun and excitement. The game turns out to be all too real, conjuring up a new jungle threat with every role of the dice. An especially unlucky roll lands Alan in isolation, keeping the two from finishing. Nearing thirty years later, two new kids, Judy and Peter, find and join the game. At the time, some critics complained about Jumanji being too scary. Kids like to be scared. Jumanji is the proper amount of scary in controlled doses. Williams makes for a nice hero with what’s actually a somewhat limited amount of screen time. Hunt, too, is engaging as the childhood crush grown up.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(252)

The Matrix Reloaded (2003, Directed by The Wachowskis) English 6

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Randall Duk Kim, Monica Bellucci

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(6-Good Film)

Unfocused. Meandering. Inferior.

The Matrix Reloaded is at the top of any list made about disappointing sequels. Neo returns, now a full-blown super hero, and so does Morpheus, his mentor, and Trinity, the woman he loves. Neo is having visions (or are they just nightmares?) of Trinity dying in the future, while Morpheus and the rest of the resistance argue over how best to fight back against the computers. A sequel to the extraordinary original was a tough prospect. I think so much of The Matrix’s greatness depended on the mystery and not fully understanding everything going on. The Matrix Reloaded widens its story, clarifies a few things, and the film becomes less interesting as a result. The attempt at epicness also hurts it, seeming more pompous and rambling than grand scale. The special effects which were cutting edge and blew everyone away in ’99, are overused here and resemble more an old video game at times than human beings. It’s funny to me, but the first film, released four years earlier and made with less money, looks better than its sequels. The Matrix Reloaded isn’t devoid of all virtues. It holds several intriguing ideas mixed into its long ramblings, the world building, carrying over from the first film, is incredible, and Neo is a hero for the ages.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(247)

The Matrix (1999, Directed by The Wachowskis) English 9

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano, Anthony Ray Parker

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(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Provocative. Enigmatic.

Thomas Anderson (Reeves) follows a series of puzzling messages that lead him to Morpheus (Fishburne) and the rest of his crew, as they explain the Matrix. This film blew most of us away back in 1999. It blends cutting-edge special effects, a diverse array of philosophies, martial arts, and the cyber punk subgenre into a mainstream action flick. I honestly would have described it as mind-blowing back in the day.  Time and the criminally disappointing sequels may have dimmed its appeal slightly, but not too seriously. It’s still cool as hell, still provocative, still exciting, and I will forever love Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. Hugo Weaving gives an indelible performance as the evil Mr. Smith. It’s a confusing concept this film builds around, but rewarding, at least in this installment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(229)

Bumblebee (2018, Directed by Travis Knight) English 7

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, John Ortiz Voices of Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Dylan O’Brien

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Fun. Spirited.

I was pleasantly surprised. It’s possible that I’ve never been more surprised to find myself enjoying a movie, as I did with Bumblebee, the newest installment of the Transformers series, a franchise I’d long since stopped caring about. Set in the 1980s, a source of much fun for the film, Charlie Watson (played wonderfully by the engaging Steinfeld) is still grieving the death of her father when young autobot, B-127, enters her life. B-127’s mission is to scout out Earth for the Autobots as they attempt to regroup and fight back against the evil Decepticons. I don’t especially care about the grand plot involving the Transformers. Fortunately, this film plays more like an ’80s monster friendship comedy. Think E.T or Little Monster or even ’90s classic The Iron Giant. Bumblebee belongs in their company. It’s a fantastic flick, directed by Travis Knight, who’d previously worked in animation for Laika studios.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(228)