Shakespeare in Love (1998, Directed by John Madden) English 6

Starring Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Anthony Sher, Jim Carter, Simon Callow, Ben Affleck, Imelda Staunton, Rupert Everett, Martin Clunes

Shakespeare in Love – a minor masterpiece. | Tim Haslett's Blog

(6-Good Film)

Amusing. Attractive. Overrated.

Viola De Lesseps: This is not life, Will. It is a stolen season.

What to do with this film? I can’t agree with what seems to be the majority’s consensus; I don’t consider Shakespeare in Love a great film. That’s forgivable, and it’s not because of the Best Picture Oscar that I say that, but I don’t even consider Shakespeare in Love a superior romantic comedy. It follows the famous playwright early in his career, played by Joseph Fiennes, toiling in obscurity and struggling for inspiration until he meets the beautiful Viola (Paltrow). A romance ensues and motivates him to write Romeo and Juliet.  There’s a lot more involved and most of it is very interesting. I enjoyed the period detail, the backstage antics, and much of the humor. I enjoyed Judi Dench’s portrayal of Elizabeth I, and the supporting cast, in general, is fantastic. I’m less enthusiastic about what might be considered the heart of the film; the romance. I don’t wish to pile on Paltrow or Fiennes, who strike me as easy targets (Fiennes especially), and I don’t say that they are bad, but I’m mostly indifferent to their characters and their relationship. It’s superficial and dull.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(975)

Yolanda and the Thief (1945, Directed by Vincente Minnelli) English 7

Starring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Frank Morgan, Leon Ames, Mildred Natwick, Mary Nash

Yolanda and the Thief: An Out of the World Place | Bright Wall ...

(7-Very Good Film)

Lofty. Peculiar. Beguiling.

Yolanda Aquaviva: Mr. Brown doesn’t dance… except, perhaps, on the head of a pin.

Yolanda and the Thief, I gather, was not a success. Astaire retired for a period after and its leading lady, Lucille Bremer, hardly ever worked again. The critics sneered and modern opinion hasn’t exactly warmed to it. As it stands, I think Yolanda and the Thief will have to settle for being a niche picture; a film made for a very select group of people, and if that group doesn’t exist yet, I’ll start it, because this is a film that’s at least as special as it is flawed. Astaire plays the thief, Johnny (some people, evidently, didn’t like the idea of dapper, refined Astaire as a thief) and Bremer plays Yolanda, a young woman raised in a convent who’s suddenly inherited a vast fortune. Several con artists set their sights on her but Johnny’s got the perfect con cooking. Overhearing her prayer for a guardian angel, he poses as one, convincing her to sign over the power of attorney and all of her wealth right along with it. The trick, of course, for Johnny is getting the money and running before he falls for the mark. Set in some imagined Latin-American country, but designed on a Hollywood backlot, Yolanda and the Thief is a gorgeous fantasy with an unforgettable detour by way of a mid-movie dream sequence. In fact, it has a kind of dream-like, illusory quality all over that I enjoy very much. Bremer’s performance is heavily criticized and not without reason, but I, for one, find her artificial, syrupy performance at home with the aesthetics and tone of the picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(973)

Guys and Dolls (1955, Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) English 7

Starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Viviane Blaine, Stubby Kaye, Robert Keith, B.S Pully

The Ace Black Blog: Movie Review: Guys And Dolls (1955)

(7-Very Good Film)

Snappy. Colorful. Brash.

Sky Masterson: I am not putting the knock on dolls. It’s just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy… like cough drops.

The good girl falling for the bad guy and then vice versa isn’t a unique concept. It wasn’t a unique concept in 1955 when this film was made, or in 1950 when Guys and Dolls premiered as a Broadway musical. I doubt it was a unique concept in the 1930s when Damon Runyan wrote a pair of short stories that inspired the show. The point is “good girl and bad guy” seems to be an endless source of escapism and, perhaps, wish fulfillment. Guys and Dolls has a lot of fun with it. Sky Masterson (Brando) is a big-time gambler. His newest wager is that he can woo any girl- of Nathan Detroit’s choosing-to go to Havana, Cuba with him. Detroit (Sinatra), a fellow gambler in need of $1,000 quick, chooses prim, proper Sister Sarah Brown (Simmons), a local missionary, to win his bet for him. Sinatra is a natural in his part, turning every song he sings into a great one, and there are great songs all around. Brando is less natural in his role, mainly because of the singing that’s required, but the film doesn’t lose any points from me on that score. Brando is a movie star for the ages; one of the best. Seeing him in a role so far afield his usual dramatic fare is a pleasure, and I feel he and Jean Simmons do work in their roles. The dialogue is as fine as the music.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(972)

The Reluctant Debutante (1958, Directed by Vincente Minelli) English 6

Starring Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, Sandra Dee, John Saxon, Angela Lansbury, Diane Clare, Peter Myers

The Reluctant Debutante | Trailers From Hell

(6-Good Film)

Vibrant. Easy. Slight.

Sheila Broadbent: No, darling, it’s Jane. She’s no good with men. She doesn’t know any, and she doesn’t want to know any.

Vincente Minelli, like most old Hollywood studio directors, was prolific. Through dozens of films of varying quality (all entertaining), his skill and level of craftsmanship were constant. The Reluctant Debutante, in a career primarily made up of musicals and romantic comedies, happens to be one of his lightest of efforts. It’s champagne bubbles and garnish; not a full-course meal. Seventeen-year-old Jane Broadbent (Dee) travels from her home in America to England to stay with her father, Jimmy (Harrison), and step-mother, Sheila (Kendall). Sheila, meaning well, wants to introduce Jane to upper-class society’s finest and most eligible young men. Instead, Jane falls for a drummer, David Parkson (Paxon), a working-class stiff with a bad reputation. The cast shines brightly (Kay Kendall is a fantastic comedienne) and there’s fun to be had in the rapid-fire dialogue.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(971)

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-

(969)

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)

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)

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)

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-

(950)

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-

(949)