Downsizing (2017, Directed by Alexander Payne) English 6

Starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Jason Sudeikis, Margo Martindale, Niecy Nash, James Van Der Beek, Niel Patrick Harris, Laura Dern

Why "Downsizing" is the Most Bizarre Movie-Watching Experience I've Had in  Years — Sydney Yaeko

(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Thoughtful. Incomplete.

Paul Safranek: If I don’t do this, who am I? I mean, really. Who am I?

Ngoc Lan Tran: You Paul Safranek. You good man!

Imagine if we had the technology and the science to shrink ourselves down to about 5 inches. Downsizing imagines us doing this for reasons of economy (each dollar would go an awful lot farther) and reasons of preservation (it creates space and fights overpopulation) only in the world of this movie, it’s optional. Paul Safranek (Damon) decides to do it because he believes it will be good for his marriage; alleviate some of their financial stress and allow him and his wife, Audrey (Wiig), to spend more time together. However, on the day, Paul goes through the elaborate procedure only to find out that his wife backed out at the last minute. Not knowing what to do with himself in the aftermath, he meets and falls in love with a blunt Vietnamese woman, Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau), made a refugee by the downsizing process performed against her will. There are so many ideas and possibilities with this material which is part of what draws me to Downsizing and ultimately what I think leaves it unsatisfactory. Alexander Payne’s world-building is impressive and compelling but he might have been better off making a television series out of it, allowing him to expand and flesh out every stray idea he has. Within the confines of this film, it’s too much. Downsizing goes in too many directions, teases more than it can deliver on, and ends rather limply in my opinion. That being said, it’s interesting and enough fun while it lasts to be worth seeing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Directed by Steven Spielberg) English 9

Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina

Raiders of the Lost Ark' cast: Actors and their characters in the 1981  Indiana Jones film

(9-Great Film)

Classic. Expert. Fun.

Indiana: Meet me at Omar’s. Be ready for me. I’m going after that truck.

Sallah: How?

Indiana: I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.

Jaws is considered the first “blockbuster,” but Indiana Jones is the one that I see as the benchmark. Not because Jaws isn’t a great film, but because I see traces of Indiana Jones in just about every major blockbuster since. Starring Harrison Ford as the iconic, titular hero, Indy (an archaeologist, university professor, and globetrotter) is caught up in a race with the Nazis to find the Ark of the Covenant. Helped along the way by an old flame, Marion (Allen), a work colleague, Marcus Brody (Elliot), and a loyal friend, Sallah (Rhys-Davies), Indy works his way through one great action set-piece after another. Like a few other great American classics-Casablanca or Chinatown, for example-Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t necessarily my favorite film. My taste gravitates towards stranger things; movies like its sequel Temple of Doom, which I adore. Raiders of the Lost Ark, however, is a nearly perfect film. It’s tremendous storytelling by the master of blockbuster filmmaking, Steven Spielberg, and in Harrison Ford, he had a star who was instantly compelling. Consider how much is happening to Indy and around him throughout this movie, then consider if you ever felt the character was overshadowed by the action. That’s a tribute to Ford that he’s never lost in the maelstrom. He’s one of the great movie stars.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Croods: A New Age (2020, Directed by Joel Crawford) English 7

Voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran, Clark Duke

The Croods: A New Age, a sequel that's unambitious but entertaining | The  Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Busy. Light.

Guy: The sleep pile reeks, Eep!

Grug: Reeks of love!

I don’t remember much about The Croods (2013), apparently released seven years before this sequel. I remember having no expectations going in and being pleasantly surprised to find that it was, at least, an entertaining distraction. The Croods: A New Age struck me almost exactly the same way. Here is a sequel that nobody asked for, and yet, it turns out to be a worthwhile, if forgettable, flick. The Crood family embark on a journey to find a place to settle, eventually stumbling upon an oasis already occupied by the Bettermans. The Bettermans are pretty stuck-up and the two families clash before, inevitably, coming to accept one another. The Croods feels like old-fashioned animation with a frenetic pace, constant, zany humor and sight gags. It also owes a bit to The Flintstones, of course. I enjoyed its sense of humor and its light touch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Luca (2021, Directed by Enrico Casarosa) English 6

Voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen

Luca Images Give First Look At Pixar's 2021 Theatrical Movie

(6-Good Film)

Low-key. Bright. Amusing.

Luca Paguro: This is gonna be the best summer ever! We’ll ride down every road, see the whole world together! It’ll be amazing! But there’s just one thing no one can find out…

Young Luca Paguro is a restless sea monster with over-protective parents. Sea monsters have the ability to transform into humans once they reach land, but their fish-like qualities are revealed with the slightest touch of water, putting them at risk with the prejudiced locals. Still, Luca longs to explore the surface, falling in line with animation’s long tradition of pent-up protagonists with parents that just don’t understand (Ariel, Rapunzel, Remy, etc.). It’s kind of hackneyed at this point, and so, the film’s first 20 or so minutes suffer. I was actually quite bored for the first act of Luca. Thankfully, the film picks up once Luca and his new reckless but loyal friend, Alberto, run away together and do their best to fit in with a quaint seaside town on the Riviera. It’s here that they meet Giulia and team up for an Italian-style triathlon. I consider “cute” a condescending description for an animated flick. I revere animation and the best animated films are as great and as substantial as any Oscar-winning drama. However, in Luca’s case, cute is probably the best way to describe it. Luca holds no surprises. It’s hardly spectacular and never seems to even want to be. I appreciated Luca more as soon as I stopped expecting it to blow me away. Pixar has made some of the best animated films of all-time. Here, they’re content to have fashioned a sweet, simple coming-of-age tale with bright, cheerful animation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,086)

Sleeping Beauty (1959, Directed by Clyde Geronimi) English 5

Voices of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Bill Thompson, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen

How Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) Solidified Animation as an Art Form

(5-Okay Film)

Bland. Superficial. Humorless.

Princess Aurora: Well, I’m really not supposed to speak to strangers, but we’ve met before.

Sleeping Beauty, the movie and the character, is beautiful and not much else. I’ve maintained for many years now that this is the worst official Disney animated feature. It follows the dark, fantastic tale of Princess Aurora, cursed at birth by a bitter fairy, Maleficent, her parents send her away with a trio of kind fairies to protect and hide her until the day she’s old enough to marry. One day, in the woods, she meets and falls for a handsome stranger, only to learn later that she’s already promised to a prince. Not knowing that the prince and the stranger are one and the same, Princess Aurora is heartbroken and lured to Maleficent. The problem in my eyes with Aurora applies really to all the Disney princesses before their Renaissance. She’s boring. She has very little personality and her driving characteristic is her sweetness and innocence. That was okay with Cinderella and Snow White, because they had an outstanding supporting cast of humorous characters. Snow White had the dwarves and Cinderella had the mice. Sleeping Beauty has an incredible villain in Maleficent (though she has little screen time) and several nice characters in the good fairies and the blustering father figures. There are no charismatic characters, little-to-no humor, and only one song.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Love and Monsters (2020, Directed by Michael Matthews) English 7

Starring Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing, Ellen Hollman, Bruce Spence, Ariana Greenblatt

Review] Delightful Monster Mash 'Love and Monsters' Embraces the  Comedy-Horror Spirit of 'Zombieland' - Bloody Disgusting

(7-Very Good Film)

Fantastic. Exciting. Fun.

Joel: Don’t settle. You don’t have to. Even at the end of the world.

Toxic chemicals cover the earth and monsters are born. Now, your garden-variety slug could be a giant flesh-eating mutant. Seven years into this new world, the good news for Joel (O’Brien) is that he’s more or less safe within an underground community that takes care of each other. The bad news for Joel is that everyone within the bunker is paired off, except for him. He’s lonely and he misses his girlfriend, Aimee (Henwick), from before the apocalypse, who told him she loved him as they were dragged away from each other. After, finally, finding out her location, Joel sets out on journey across the monsterpocalypse to make it to her, meeting new friends along the way. Love and Monsters is a simple story done surprisingly well. The monsters, in particular, are a major triumph; well-designed and rendered with impressive special effects. Characters usually take a back seat in monster movies, but here, there are at least 2 to 3 humans we care about. The disappointment comes from the love story, which the filmmakers described as a John Hughes style romance. Love and Monsters goes for a bittersweet conclusion and that’s probably less corny and more realistic than what I might have hoped. I still think in a movie featuring massive toads and leeches the size of baseballs, an unrealistic fairy tale romance wouldn’t have seemed too crazy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Mortal Kombat (2021, Directed by Simon McQuoid) English 6

Starring Lewis Tan, Joe Taslim, Jessica McNamee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Josh Lawson, Mehcad Brooks, Tadanobu Asano, Chin Han, Ludi Lin

Mortal Kombat (2021) Movie Trailer Song Officially Released

(6-Good Film)

Satisfying. Silly. Bloody.

Sonya Blade: Throughout history, different cultures all over the world reference a great tournament of champions. That dragon marking, I think it’s an invitation to fight for something known as Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat is one of the most popular game franchises in the world and spawned some of the earliest attempts at adapting a video game into a movie back in the ’90s. Those films, like nearly all video game adaptations, were entertaining but low-quality. Happily, it wasn’t but five minutes into this new Mortal Kombat before I knew that it was better than all previous attempts. It begins in medieval Japan, where fan-favorite characters Scorpion and Sub-Zero duke it out against a beautiful landscape and a tragedy. It a fantastic opening. The rest of the film sets up a mythic fighting tournament where heroes from Earth- Cole (Tan), Sonya Blade (McNamee), Jax (Brooks), and co.-will face off against the deadly foes of Outworld. Personally, I wasn’t all that interested in the lore and exposition that’s in this film, but I suppose it’s a small price to pay for a video game adaptation that’s actually enjoyable without a surplus of camp. Mortal Kombat (2021) takes its story and its characters seriously, which is not easy to do considering how outlandish they all are. I also found myself taking it seriously which is an impressive achievement on its part. Most importantly, though, because this is an action flick, the new Mortal Kombat is entertaining and a pleasure to watch with its exciting fights and gruesomely satisfying kills.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,071)

Pinocchio (1940, Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske) English 10

Voices of Dick Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub, Clarence Nash, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels, Evelyn Venable

A 'Pinocchio' Live-Action Movie Is Coming, So He'll Finally Become A Real  Boy

(10-Masterpiece)

Simple. Brilliant. Imperishable.

The Blue Fairy: A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

I truly believe that this version of Pinocchio (with respect to Carlo Collodi), will last as long as the Earth has people on it. Given the chance and an audience, it is as simple and powerful as the ancient myths created by the Romans and the Greek that we’re taught in school. Pinocchio is a wooden puppet created by the lonely Geppetto and brought to life by the kind blue fairy. His task is to become a real boy by proving himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, a task that I think would be difficult for anyone, let alone a wooden boy with a day’s worth of life experience and a cricket for a guide. The world Pinocchio dwells in is forever ingrained in my mind-scary, dangerous, magical, beautiful-but the genius of Disney was to mix it all together; the joy and the tears. He also knew that kids enjoy a controlled amount of fear. There are images of boys turning into donkeys and a lifeless Pinocchio face down in a pool of water that stick out to me. And, of course, the animation is first-rate. The sequence of the whale, Monstro, swallowing Pinocchio’s raft and then sneezing it back out again is incredible.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005, Directed by Jon Favreau) English 7

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz

Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) Review |BasementRejects

(7-Very Good Film)

Solid. Surprising. Restrained.

Walter: Don’t push that button.

I’ve put off every opportunity that I’ve had to watch Zathura for many years now. The spin-off of a popular childhood favorite, Jumanji (1995), I saw its cover and judged it to be an unnecessary, special-effects laden rip-off. Finally, having watched it, I was happily surprised. Following bickering brothers, Walter (10) and Danny (6), the two stumble upon a gaudy board game called Zathura, a sci-fi version of Jumanji. In other words, a game with drastic consequences and much too much excitement for its players. If it was left up to the action, this film wouldn’t make much of an impression, though the special effects are excellent. A matter of preference, Jumanji’s animal adventures and urban jungle mash-up is considerably more exciting to me than this minor space escapade. Also, despite comparable runtimes, Jumanji felt epic while Zathura feels intimate. What Zathura does well, though, is establish a dramatic relationship between the two brothers and build an adventure around it. It’s well-acted, intriguing material with an especially strong ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021, Directed by Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall) English 7

Voices of Kellie Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Alan Tudyk, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Benedict Wong

Raya and the Last Dragon movie review: Disney animation inspired by  Southeast Asian culture | South China Morning Post

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Beautiful. Engaging.

Raya: My whole life, I trained to become a guardian of the Dragon Gem. But this world has changed, and its people are divided. Now to restore peace, I must find the Last Dragon. My name is Raya.

There aren’t many people left after an apocalyptic storm blows through, turning bodies into stone. Raya (Tran) lives in its aftermath; a world of five kingdoms at war and little to defend against the darkness quickly spreading. She’s still fighting though, searching for Sisu (Awkwafina), a legendary dragon that might be the world’s only hope. The plot and tone are reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender (my favorite show) and if Raya and the Last Dragon was a television series, I would say I can’t wait for season 2. The characters are charming and distinct, the world is beautifully animated. I wanted to stick around. But Raya and the Last Dragon is a movie, Disney’s latest animated production and their 59th overall. The chances for a follow-up are pretty slim. Disney has made less than a handful of theatrically released sequels in their long history, so I have to look at Raya as a stand-alone piece, and on that score, it suffers a bit in my estimation. I wanted more which is both a compliment and a criticism. The world is so epic. The story, while solid, is less so.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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