Ni No Kuni (2019, Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose) Japanese 8

Voices of Kento Yamazaki, Mei Nagano, Mackenyu, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kenjiro Tsuda

Image result for ni no kuni movie

(8-Exceptional Film)

Escapist. Striking. Exciting.

High schoolers Yuu and Haru have been friends for almost as long as they can remember. When Haru’s girlfriend, Kotona, whom Yuu secretly pines for, disappears, the two boys travel to a parallel fantasy world that mirrors their own in a lot of ways. Each person from the real world has a counterpart in the fantasy world including Kotona, whom the boys find to be a princess in this strange place. Based on a spectacular video game series, this film is pretty spectacular itself. While it lacks any truly amazing animated sequences, it is consistently lovely to look at and boasts a sufficiently engaging story.  Ni No Kuni is the kind of entertainment an escapist like me loves to get lost in.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(860)

Eragon (2006, Directed by Stefen Fangmeier) English 4

Starring Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, John Malkovich, Djimon Honsou, Robert Carlyle, Garret Hedlund; Voice of Rachel Weisz

Image result for eragon movie

(4-Bad Film)

Anemic. Hackneyed. Boring.

Eragon, a humble farm boy in a distant, fantasy land, Alagaësia, receives a stone of rare magical ability sent out by Princess Arya. This thrusts him right in the middle of an epic struggle between the oppressed people of Alagaësia and the evil tyranny of Galbatorix (Malkovich) with old Brom (Irons) as a guide and a faithful dragon, Saphira (Weisz), as an ally. I don’t fault a film for ripping off a classic, it’s just they always do it so badly. Eragon, based on a popular novel written by Christopher Paolini but clearly deeply indebted to the original Star Wars film, should, at the very least, be so much more entertaining than it is. How do you steal the formula from Star Wars and still bore me to tears?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(858)

Missing Link (2019, Directed by Christ Butler) English 6

Voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, David Walliams

Image result for missing link

(6-Good Film)

Dry. Rudimentary. Bright.

The premise isn’t terribly original. British explorer, Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman), discovers Big Foot (Galifianakis), far more amiable and eloquent than expected, and must get him back to the English “Society of Great Men” to prove it and thus receive his membership. Society leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Fry), goes out of his way to make sure that doesn’t happen, including hiring a dauntless hitman, Stenk (Olyphant), while fierce beauty, Adelina (Saldana), joins Frost and Big Foot on their journey. It’s very reminiscent of Around the World in 80 Days. The humor is pretty dry as well. Missing Link overcomes its shortcomings with typically impressive animation by Laika Studios and a couple of excellent scenes. Particularly, the climax where the trio of protagonists attempts to escape Stenk on a collapsing bridge.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(851)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Directed by Burny Mattinson) English 8

Voices of Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Clarence Nash, Hal Smith, Will Ryan

Image result for mickey's christmas carol

(8-Exceptional Film)

Short. Sweet. Endearing.

Splendid version of Charles Dickens’ much-told tale, this 26 minute short special might be my favorite Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck takes his natural role in the story as Ebenezer Scrooge, a hard-hearted old businessman without any empathy or love. One night, on Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts-the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. They open his eyes and force a change of heart, causing old Scrooge to turn his life around. Short and sweet, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a fantastically animated special.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(844)

Shrek the Halls (2007, Directed by Gary Trousdale) English 6

Voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Conrad Vernon, Gary Trousdale

Image result for shrek the halls

(6-Good Film)

Fun. Unspectacular. Satisfying.

How Gary Trousdale went from directing two of the best-animated films of all-time (Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to directing this, I’ll never know, but it’s a decent Christmas special without being essential. Shrek prepares for his first Christmas spent with friends and family but when the day comes, he finds it doesn’t go as planned. There’s not a lot of meaningful action here, but the characters are still classic despite being worn out by their studio, and the story is amusing with a number of good jokes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(835)

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019, Directed by Jake Kasdan) English 5

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karren Gillan, Danny Devito, Danny Glover, Awkwafina, Nick Jonas, Morgan Turner, Colin Hanks, Alex Wolff, Rhys Darby, Bebe Neuwirth, Rory McCann, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Dania Ramirez

Image result for jumanji: the next level

(5-Okay Film)

Fun. Familiar. Mediocre.

Robin Williams’ Jumanji was a big part of my childhood and an entertaining adventure film to this day. I didn’t expect much from its reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but it proved to be a diverting, amusing good time on its way to close to a billion dollars earned worldwide. Naturally, they’d make another one and naturally, it’s less surprising and inspired than its predecessor. The four principals-Spencer, Bethany, Fridge, and Martha-have returned to the real world. Though they’ve gone on to their own paths, they stay friends and plan to reunite for Christmas break. Spencer, however, is struggling in the real world with insecurity and willingly puts himself back in the thrilling world of Jumanji where his friends are forced to follow after in order to rescue him. There are a couple of twists this time around. One is that Spencer’s grandpa, played by Danny Devito, is pulled into Jumanji along with his estranged business partner, played by Danny Glover. The second is the video game characters, played by The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, are occupied by different players this time around. The Rock and Kevin Hart are old men. Jack Black is a black jock. The movie moves quickly, is fun without being especially funny, and manages a serviceable amount of pathos between the Glover and Devito characters, but I can’t help thinking that each new Jumanji film is getting progressively less interesting (pardon the oxymoron).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(826)

Donkey Skin (1970, Directed by Jacques Demy) French 7

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Delphine Seyrig, Jacques Perrin, Micheline Presle

Image result for donkey skin

(7-Very Good Film)

Campy. Imaginative. Distinct.

Donkey Skin, as adapted by Jacques Demy, is a genuinely bizarre fairy tale. Based on a story by Charles Perrault (who also wrote Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty), I was unfamiliar with this one. A king (Marais) loses his wife (Deneuve) but promises just before her death to only remarry if the girl is more beautiful than her. Finding no one that qualifies for so long, the king eventually notices his daughter, the Princess (also Deneuve), has blossomed into the most beautiful girl in all the kingdom. Determined to produce a male heir, he demands his daughter’s hand in marriage. She responds by consulting a kind but mischievous witch, The Lilac Fairy (Seyrig), who has her wear the carcass of a magical donkey in order to escape a life as her father’s bride. Yes, it’s a strange tale told with relish. It’s a beautiful film to look at with Deneuve at its center in the most spectacular dresses, and like Demy’s other musicals, the soundtrack is lovely. There’s horror, beauty, humor, romance, fantastic creatures, lessons to be learned, songs to be sung. All expressed with Jacques Demy’s abundant imagination and a profusion of style, though, unlike some of Perrault’s other stories, Donkey Skin seems to lack any true depth.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(825)