The Nice Guys (2016, Directed by Shane Black) English 7

Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Keith David, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley

(7-Very Good Film)

Cool. Breezy. Irreverant.

Ryan Gosling plays a sleazy private-eye, Holland March (with a teenage daughter considerably more intelligent than him), who teams up with an enforcer with a guilty conscience, Jackson Healey (Crowe), to track down a lost porn star. Like any good noir, the setup leads to a bigger plot involving murder and government corruption. The two stars work well together with Crowe as the stoic brute with a soft side and Gosling as a fool who every once and a while gets something right. It’s a little uneven in terms of comedy, but overall it’s a fine film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(609)

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard and Rich Moore) English 10

Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, J.K Simmons, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer, Shakira, Tommy Chong

Image result for zootopia

(10-Masterpiece)

Ingenious. Involving. Fantastic.

The Story goes that when John Lasseter (one of the great pioneers of computer animation and Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios at the time) was presented with the idea of Zootopia, he responded by hugging the man behind its conception. That man, writer/director Byron Howard imagined a city of anthropomorphic animals that looked as if it were designed by animals. The city has different areas and neighborhoods that reflect the different climates animals are able to inhabit. And in this city, he populates his creation with animals that reflect human characteristics. This is, of course, a perfect setup for an adorable animal adventure movie, had Howard and his team at Disney decided to settle, and indeed there is plenty of cuteness present within the film, but this film does something unique with the classic animation trope of anthropomorphic animals in that the animals reflect some of the darker sides of human nature; not just the cute or the charming. There is a timely and provocative theme of prejudice coursing through the narrative of an adorable country bunny (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to the big city to fulfill her dreams of being a top cop. She meets the slick and jaded street hustling fox, Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman), and sees firsthand how prejudice can shape a person’s life as much as anything. She’s even forced to confront her own prejudices that she didn’t even know were there. But this is a Disney movie and a great one at that, so the bunny and the fox find on their way to stopping a city-wide conspiracy that you can overcome other people’s prejudices by never buying in and believing in yourself.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(606)

Batman Begins (2005, Directed by Christopher Nolan) 8

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe

(8-Exceptional Film)

Fresh. Compelling. Masterful.

It’s hard to look back and remember what it was like to be surprised by this film, a comic book film with serious ideas. It kicks off Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that many feel set the bar for superhero films. In Nolan’s world, a brooding Bruce Wayne (Bale) trains as a ninja assassin, then returns to the state of nature that Gotham’s become to clean up the mess. The ensemble performances are uniformly excellent, and Bruce Wayne’s evolution from vigilante to author of justice is compelling, though we know the best is to come later in the series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(588)

 

Parasite (2019, Directed by Bong Joon-ho) Korean 8

Starring Kang-ho Song, Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Sun-kyun, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Jung-eun

Image result for parasite 2019

(8-Exceptional Film)

Sly. Unexpected. Deranged.

Meet the Kims: the father, Ki-taek (Song), the mother, Chung Sook (Jang), the son, Ki-woo (Choi), and the daughter, Ki-jung (Park). A loving family of four. A classic family unit. They have a whole lot going for them. They’re a devoted group. The children are both attractive. They’re all intelligent and charismatic (the latter two qualities manifesting themselves as their story progresses), and yet, when we first meet the Kims, they’re living in some kind of damp, underground dwelling with the city’s sewage as a neighbor.  There’s never an explanation for how they ended up here. The opening scene shows the children wandering around the not-so-cozy cave trying to freeload off of someone nearby’s wi-fi, finally hitting pay dirt in the farthest corner of their bathroom, tucked in next to the toilet. The Kim family is a part of the lower-class. Parasite makes that point abundantly clear from the outset in over-the-top comedic fashion, setting the tone for the rest of this absurd, explosive, clever, surprising satire.

Naturally, the Kims are given a counterpoint. Ki-woo, with the recommendation of a friend, takes a job as an English tutor to Da-hye (Jung), a member of the beautiful and wealthy Park family. Her father (Lee), simply referred to as Mr. Park throughout, works some kush, corner office job. Her mother, Yeon-kyo (Cho), is a homemaker. Her younger brother, Da-song, is an energetic, artistic boy with an affinity for American Indian culture. The Parks, too, are a loving family of four. Classic family unit. Parasite’s first act unfolds as the unemployed Kims cleverly, one-by-one, become employed in the Park’s household. Ki-woo gets his sister a job as Da-song’s art teacher. She gets her father a job as Mr. Park’s driver, and her father gets her mother a job as the Park’s housekeeper. How they manage this is one of Parasite’s great pleasures. Knowing (at least at this point) what the film was doing and watching it play out provided huge laughs. The problem, though, is that the Kims get their jobs by pretending not to know each other. If you’re thinking that this might explode in their faces later, I’d say it’s a very minor spoiler to say that you’re right. How it happens and not that it happens is the surprise and what makes Parasite special.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that writer-director Bong Joon-ho made both families mirror images of each other (one upper-class and the other lower), or that he gave both families the two most common Korean surnames. The interesting touch to me though, as I’ve pointed to briefly before, is that both families are attractive. The Parks are younger. The parents look like models, but it’s not as if the lower-class Kims look like cave trolls compared to the upper-class Parks. Nor are the Parks more intelligent than the Kims. In fact, as the film plays out, the Kims are clearly more intelligent. The Parks are very trusting. They are completely dependent on their servants, and I think you could say that their servants are too dependent on each other, maybe even their phones demonstrated in the opening scene. On top of that, there’s a surprise character that needs help from another person just to survive. Overdependency seems to me to be one of the culprits of both the Parks’ and the Kims’ downfall because their outcomes are nearly identical. Knowing that makes me question the film’s title. Not that it isn’t appropriate, but who exactly are the parasites? Which family is using the other more? Who’s benefiting more at the expense of the other? I think it’s not as clear cut as you would guess in the beginning. Then the surprise character, part of a third family, I won’t mention who they are, but they play a huge role in what happens. I would say that they are all parasites. All three units.

Like Bong Joon-ho’s previous work, Parasite balances a number of tones and revels in straying from the expected path. It’s a comedy built around absurd reactions from its characters, an obvious satire of high and low culture, maybe even a comedy of manners, though, I’m unable to say for certain, since I would need to know more about Korean culture. I do think it went on for another 15 or so minutes after it could have ended. I prefer a blunt, pointed ending over this extended fade out of an epilogue. Aside from that, Parasite is a unique, memorable film that should hold up as one of the year’s best.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(587)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Directed by Shane Black) English 6

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Larry Miller

Image result for kiss kiss bang bang

(6-Good Film)

Funny. Slight. Clever.

Private detective mysteries aren’t like Agatha Christie mysteries. The plot doesn’t need to be airtight. Roger Ebert argued that the plot doesn’t matter at all in his review of The Big Sleep, one of the best of its kind. He’s right to an extent, but I think the plot needs to feel like it matters at least for the course of the movie, or else there’s no suspense. Case in point, the very funny but mostly meaningless Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Robert Downey Jr. is Harry Lockhart, a minor league thief that stumbles across an opportunity at acting in a Hollywood movie in a major role as a detective. This leads him to study Gay Perry (Kilmer), an actual detective, on a case that coincidentally involves Lockhart’s childhood sweetheart, Harmony (Monaghan). The film barely cares about its plot and instead becomes a series of comic setups based on other films of this subgenre. I don’t mind too much. Downey Jr., Kilmer, and Monaghan are excellent and there are several memorable scenes. I do think there was an opportunity to be more, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a pretty cool, clever film as it is.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(585)

Ransom (1996, Directed by Ron Howard) English 7

Starring Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo, Donnie Wahlberg, Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Dan Hedaya

Image result for ransom 1996

(7-Very Good Film)

Gripping. Intelligent. Anticlimactic.

Ruthless, controversial businessman, Tom Mullen (Gibson) gets thrown into action once his son is kidnapped. The kidnapper, Jimmy Shaker (Sinise) is a cop, and knows all the angles, asking for 2 million in return for the boy. Mullen, against the wishes of his wife, and the advice of the FBI, turns the table on Shaker by refusing to pay and instead puts a bounty on the kidnapper’s head. Ransom is a riveting drama that might have benefited from sharper, more inspired direction or a less generic ending. The thrill of this film comes mainly from the high stakes chess match between Gibson and Sinise who both do great work here. Both men wrestle with their pride and practicality, and their collision was inevitable. I just feel this material deserved a darker, nastier conclusion. This wasn’t a happy ending type of film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(573)

No Way Out (1987, Directed by Roger Donaldson) English 6

Starring Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, George Dzundza, Iman, Howard Duff

(6-Good Film)

Intriguing. Surprising. Preposterous.

Costner plays Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell, an officer working inside the Pentagon having a torrid affair with his boss’s mistress; his boss being Secretary of Defense (Hackman). A murder follows, and the plot gets plenty thick with Costner knowing what really happened but also in danger of being set up as the culprit himself. It’s a remake of a forties classic, itself adapted from a novel, though this version is awfully convoluted. That’s not a problem for most of the film, but there’s a twist at the end that threw me. On the one hand, it’s a truly shocking revelation that changes the whole film. On the other hand, did the film need that? Regardless, entertaining and engaging thriller.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(570)