American Graffiti (1973, Directed by George Lucas) English 8

Starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Charles Martin Smith, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, Bo Hopkins, Wolfman Jack, Mackenzie Phillips

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Evocative. Memorable. Vital.

There have only been a small number of hangout films over the course of cinema’s history. It’s difficult to abandon plot and trust that characters and setting will be able to carry a movie. I think you’d have to know the characters well and have a strong sense of the time and place in which they live. So it is with American Graffiti anyways, one of the best examples of a hangout film. It follows a group of teenagers, most of them, recent high school graduates on a seminal night of their young lives. Curt Henderson (Dreyfuss), set to head off to college, is having second thoughts. Steve (Howard) and Laurie (Williams), long-time sweethearts, negotiate a temporary break in their relationship-more Steve’s idea than Laurie’s. Terry (Smith) meets the girl of his dreams but one episode after another threatens their time together. And John Milner (Le Mat) has been the man as far as street racing goes for a long time, but there’s a new guy in town and he’s looking for John. As someone born well after the film’s setting, I am only qualified to say that American Graffiti feels authentic. The characters are relatable and likable, though far from perfect, and the soundtrack is classic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(657)

 

Baywatch (2017, Directed by Seth Gordon) English 5

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Hannibal Buress

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Limp. Entertaining.

An elite team of lifeguards dedicated to keeping the beach safe stumble upon a plot to smuggle in hardcore drugs. The Rock plays their leader, LT Mitch Buchannon, and Efron plays an arrogant party boy who won two gold medals at the Olympics before self-destructing. Meant to be self-referential, this raunchy remake of the campy hit ’90s show owes a lot to the 21 Jump Street films. I suppose it’s probably the only way to approach this material-a story about an elite lifeguard unit-but the film is not quite funny enough. It’s entertaining. It has the right energy. The cast is fun, but the jokes don’t land, and so the film is merely passable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(656)

Rush Hour (1998, Directed by Brett Ratner) English 8

Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Leung, Elizabeth Peña, Tzi Ma, Philip Baker Hall, John Hawkes, Chris Penn

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Funny. Entertaining. Familiar.

Formulaic isn’t, in itself, a negative. Most movie formulas are pretty good. If a film is following a formula, it’s because that formula worked before, and the challenge, then, is to make the familiar feel fresh. Rush Hour accomplishes this in stupendous fashion. It’s the fastest hands in the east meets the biggest mouth in the west, or so the poster’s tagline tells us. It’s a buddy cop film with Jackie Chan as the straight guy and Chris Tucker as the clown (though he’s not stupid). Chan plays Lee who comes to America to assist a longtime friend, Chinese Consul Han, in rescuing the latter’s daughter from a dangerous hostage situation. Tucker plays Detective Carter, LAPD’s black sheep, tasked with babysitting Lee and keeping him away from the case. Instead, the two team-up. Rush Hour is at the top of its under-appreciated class. Action comedies are meant to be pure entertainment and on this end, Rush Hour delivers. Chan and Tucker are fantastic together and the supporting cast is filled out with consummate character actors.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(655)

Howard the Duck (1986, Directed by Willard Huyck) English 4

Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, David Paymer, Holly Robinson, Paul Guilfoyle

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(4-Bad Film)

Inane. Unpleasant. Unfunny.

Beverly says it best, “Howard, you really are the worst.” I don’t know a thing about Marvel’s comic book series from which this movie was made, but as voiced by Chip Zien and portrayed in this film, Howard has to be one of the least charming heroes of all-time. Combining not-so-witty duck puns, general hostility, sarcasm, sleaziness, and bad animatronics, Howard’s pulled away from his planet and brought to Earth (Cleveland, to be specific) where he befriends Beverly (Thompson) and gets roped into stopping a violent alien form, the Dark Overlord (Jones), from taking over. This isn’t the worst film ever. It’s not even the worst Marvel adaptation. I’d vote one of the Fantastic Fours for that distinction. But I didn’t like anything about Howard the Duck. I have an affinity for the ’80s, its aesthetic and vibe, there being a number of bad films from that decade that I love, but Howard the Duck is an eyesore and painful to listen to.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(650)

Ratatouille (2007, Directed by Brad Bird) English 9

Voices of Patton Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Peter O’Toole, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Ian Holm, Will Arnett, Lou Romano

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(9-Great Film)

Unique. Sophisticated. Intelligent.

A rat living in the French country dreams of being a great Parisian chef. What a dumb idea, or else, that’s what I would have said if presented with this idea on paper. The resultant film, however, brought to life with some of Pixar’s finest animation, writing, and voice acting, is a triumph. Remy (Oswalt), the rat with grand ideas, gets his chance in a Parisian kitchen but needs the help of a garbage boy,  Linguini (Romano), to act as a sort of puppet for the operation, seeing as rats aren’t well-received in kitchens. The first step in making this odd story work is the design of Remy and all the rats. Nobody hates rats more than me, but Pixar successfully makes them cute. Secondly, they establish Remy as hygienic. It seems silly but it’s an important part of helping accept him as a chef.  After that, disbelief suspended, Ratatouille is one of the most enjoyable films, animated or otherwise, of the past 15 years.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(646)

Turbo (2013, Directed by David Soren) English 4

Voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudolph, Richard Jenkins, Snoop Dogg, Bill Hader, Chris Parnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez

(4-Bad Film)

Rip-off. Inferior. Unfunny.

Turbo (Reynolds) is a snail that dreams of racing in the Indianapolis 500. Seemingly impossible, a miracle leaves him blessed with super speed and gives him the opportunity he’s always wanted. This weaker effort from DreamWorks animation feels like a blatant rip-off of Pixar’s fantastic Ratatouille. What the antithesis of a gourmet chef and fine dining? Rats. What seems like the antithesis of speed? Snails. Their family tells them it will never happen. A human befriends them and helps them achieve their dreams. It’s a completely unnecessary if not downright terrible movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(642)

Victor/Victoria (1982, Directed by Blake Edwards) English 6

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, John Rhys-Davies

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Silly. Farcical.

Desperate in the extreme to eke out a living in ’30s Paris, two American entertainers (Victoria played by Andrews and Toddy played by Robert Preston) cook up a scheme that can make them rich and famous. Victoria will pretend to be a man who pretends to be a woman on stage. Things grow complicated when an American gangster (Garner) falls for her, and she for him. It’s an elaborate and exuberant farce that features fantastic musical numbers, a torrent of gags, and witty one-liners. Feels old-fashioned and edgy, which is why, even today, the film seems progressive. Rather than being laugh out loud funny, Victor/Victoria has tremendous energy, and even amidst the madcap plot and never-ending misunderstandings, the characters are authentic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(641)