The Cat and the Canary (1939, Directed by Elliot Nugent) English 8

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Gale Sondergaard, John Beal, George Zucco, Douglass Montgomery, Elizabeth Patterson

The Cat and the Canary (1939) – Journeys in Classic Film

(8-Exceptional Film)

Funny. Creepy. Effective.

Cicily: Don’t big empty houses scare you?

Wally Campbell: Not me, I used to be in vaudeville.

Quentin Tarantino once explained why Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was his favorite film as a kid, “it bent my mind that my two favorite genres could be put into one movie.” Bob Hope, my favorite classic Hollywood comedian, made a career’s worth of films in this mold-he’s lampooned westerns (The Paleface), private detectives (My Favorite Brunette), spies (My Favorite Blonde), costume dramas (Monsieur Beaucaire), and pirates (The Princess and the Pirate). Among his best films, however, are his ventures into horror. Horror and comedy (both dependent on the element of surprise) go well together and they go well together here. The Cat and the Canary is one of Hope’s finest. He arrives at a creepy secluded mansion on the bayou along with a host of other guests including Joyce Norman played by Paulette Goddard to find out the will of their wealthy deceased relative. When Joyce is named the sole heir, she spends the rest of the night with a target on her back with only Bob Hope as an ally. Psychics, murder, mystery, secret passageways, monsters in masks, and Bob Hope, it’s Scooby-Doo meets Agatha Christie. Sheer fun.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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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-

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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-

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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-

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Penelope (2006, Directed by Mark Palansky) English 6

Starring Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Nick Frost, Catherine O’Hara, Richard E. Grant, Peter Dinklage, Simon Woods, Reese Witherspoon, Burn Gorman, Russell Brand

Penelope - Movies on Google Play

(6-Good Film)

Agreeable. Light. Undercooked.

Penelope: They always run. Why can’t you accept that? For seven years I’ve been watching them run. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?

Fairy Tales are an ancient form of storytelling at this point and the idea of a romantic lead being cursed with animal features along with it. Disney reimagined and popularized fairy tales as wish-fulfillment, and now most modern fairy tales, including Penelope, owe more to Disney than they do to the Brothers Grimm or to Beaumont or to whomever else. Penelope is wish-fulfillment. A smart, wonderful girl, the titular Penelope (Ricci), wonders if any man could truly love her as she is, with a nose cursed to resemble a pig’s. The Beast in Disney’s classic not only looked like a beast but acted like one too, and he, of course, found love. I find it amusing that Penelope is virtually flawless aside from her nose and it’s a serious question as to whether or not she’ll find someone. Alas, this is a fantasy. The characters are broad, the reactions extreme. I like Penelope a good deal as entertainment, but find it wanting as a fairy tale. There’s not much depth to the story, whereas the great ones speak volumes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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My Sassy Girl (2001, Directed by Kwak Jae-yong) Korean 7

Starring Jun Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, Kim In-moon, Song Ok-sook, Han Jin-hee, Yang Geum-seok

My Sassy Girl' (2001): An Inexplicable Non-Romance | Express ...

(7-Very Good Film)

Quirky. Cute. Appealing.

The Girl: Wanna die?

It’s rare and largely unnecessary for a romantic comedy to feature any measure of originality. Most people look to the genre for easy laughs, cute faces, and a reassuring story. My Sassy Girl is now nearly twenty years old, but I’m struck by how fresh it feels. The setup is familiar enough. On the subway one evening, a young man, Gyeon-woo (Cha), meets a very drunk girl, simply referred to as The Girl in credits, played by Jun Ji-hyun. She throws up, he’s burdened with seeing her home, and later, through a serious misunderstanding, Gyeon-woo is tossed in prison. So begins their relationship and it’s a strange one, chiefly because she’s a bizarre girl; demanding, moody, reckless. Gyeon-woo can’t help himself from falling for her, and it’s a credit to the actress that we fully understand. Mean girlfriends aren’t anybody’s idea of a romantic lead but Jun and the quirky writing make The Girl a slow charmer. My Sassy Girl relies heavily on misunderstandings; for its humor and its story. That’s generally considered a weakness in movie storytelling but it works here and the final misunderstanding leads to a surprising and satisfying finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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This Means War (2012, Directed by McG) English 5

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, Chris Pine, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett, Abigail Spencer, Jenny Slate, Rosemary Harris

This Means War << Rotten Tomatoes – Movie and TV News

(5-Okay Film)

Ridiculous. Flat. Diverting.

Lauren: I’m going out. I’m dating. I’m having fun.

Two spies-best friends-happen upon the same woman. Tuck (Hardy) is a divorced father. Franklin (Pine) is a womanizer. When the two realize that they’re both chasing Lauren Scott (Witherspoon), a competition ensues. They’ll let her decide, but they don’t tell her that they know each other or tell her that they know about her seeing two men at the same time. As their feelings for her deepen, they resort to using their CIA tricks to get the upper hand. It’s a ridiculous premise not meant to be taken too seriously but with the proper execution, could have made an interesting throwback to the old screwball classics of the 1930s. The leads are certainly likable enough, but This Means War is not very funny which leaves it feeling like chaotic nonsense.  Chelsea Handler as Witherspoon’s friend is given most of the comedic lines but delivers them monotonously, never appearing comfortable on screen. At no point did I mind watching this fast-moving dud, but there are thousands of better movies to watch in the world.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Hustle (2019, Directed by Chris Addison) English 4

Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Dean Norris, Timothy Simons

Weekend Box Office: 'The Hustle' Opens With $13.5 Million As 'Poms ...

(4-Bad Film)

Inferior. Misguided. Painless.

Josephine Chesterfield: Why are women better suited to the con than men?

Are they? Who knows, but this film doesn’t do much for feminine pride. Anne Hathaway stars as Josephine Chesterfield, a glamorous con-artist working the French Riviera. Her business is threatened by a small-time crook, Penny (Wilson), who will likely scare off the big fish with her short cons. You’re probably aware that this is a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. Some people know that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, itself, was a remake of Bedtime Story starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. For that reason, I don’t object to a remake, though Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is one of my favorite comedies. I object to the casting because it doesn’t work and I object to simply recycling all of the best jokes from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and making them less funny. Hathaway hasn’t proven yet that she can do comedy and Wilson has no one to work off of. As for the recycling of jokes, to me, it undermines much of the film’s focus on female empowerment. They’re just doing what men have already done. Why not do your own thing like the wonderful Bridesmaids? If you’re going to remake a movie, especially a comedy which relies on the element of surprise, you should work up some fresh material.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(943)

The Animal (2001, Directed by Luke Greenfield) English 4

Starring Rob Schneider, Guy Torry, Colleen Haskell, John C. McGinley, Ed Asner, Louis Lombardi, Michael Caton, Norm MacDonald, Adam Sandler

Ten Years Ago: The Animal – 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective

(4-Bad Film)

Idiotic. Bemusing. Brief.

Rianna: I just want to thank everyone who sent me food and letters of support, especially the mentally handicapped child who sent me this sweet book of poems.

Marvin Mange: She read my poems.

Rob Schneider gets plugged into the Adam Sandler formula for comedy: a kind goofball protagonist learns how to stand up against the jerks in his life. As dumb and as poor as some of the Adam Sandler films are, I’m basically a fan. He also has plenty of movies that I consider good comedies (not to mention his impressive dramatic turns). I get the feeling that he turned this role down before it fell to Schneider who is convincing enough as the kind, put-upon hero but never delivers any laughs with this broad comedy’s ludicrous premise. He plays Marvin Mange, a police-hopeful, who gets badly hurt in a car accident and is put back together by a mad scientist who endows him with animal parts. The animal parts make him a natural as a police officer but eventually begin to run rampant, just as he’s getting close with a beautiful animal lover, Rianna (Haskell). There’s some promise with this material. I think perhaps with Jim Carrey, although it’s probably too close to Ace Ventura for him to ever be interested. As it is, The Animal is a brief ordeal, at times watchable, amusing, bizarre, unfunny, but always completely moronic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(937)

My Spy (2020, Directed by Peter Segal) English 5

Starring Dave Bautista, Kristen Schaal, Ken Jeong, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Greg Bryk, Chloe Coleman, Devere Rogers, Noah Danby

My Spy Heads to Amazon Instead of Theaters Amid Shutdowns – Adweek

(5-Okay Film)

Unambitious. Hackneyed. Enjoyable.

Tagline: He works alone…She doesn’t care.

JJ (Bautista) is former special forces turned CIA, but after a botched job, his boss, David Kim (Jeong), gives him the lowly surveillance assignment of watching a single mother and her daughter, Sophie (Coleman), since they’re connected to a big-time international arms dealer. Sophie finds out about his little operation and blackmails him into spending time with her. It’s a pretty well-worn formula and I was surprised to see it used for a film made more for adults (this isn’t the kids’ film I expected, going in). Bautista is the antithesis of what a spy should be; inconspicuous, versatile, patient, average. He’s a massive man who stands out like a sore thumb. The film doesn’t make any effort to show him as a capable spy either. He’s pretty bad all the way through to the end. There’s a difference between an action hero and a spy but this film disregards that distinction. That being said, My Spy is actually quite enjoyable. Despite no big laughs and its typical premise, My Spy has a lot of likable faces, chiefly the young girl, Chloe Coleman, playing Sophie, and is much more pleasant than I anticipated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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