Joe Versus the Volcano (1990, Directed by John Patrick Shanley) English 8

Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Dan Hedaya, Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Nathan Lane, Amanda Plummer

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“Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.” So says Joe (Hanks), once just a worker ant, pondering the big questions with a bad case of hypochondria. After being diagnosed with a “brain cloud,” and given six months to live, Joe is offered by a kooky millionaire, Graynamore (Bridges), an opportunity to jump in a volcano for the good of an island tribe; essentially sacrificing himself for their well-being. He accepts, and goes off on an adventure led by Graynamore’s daughter, Patricia (Ryan, in one of three roles). Wonderful, wonderful movie as far as I’m concerned. Beautifully strange, mixing the profound with the bizarre, but always witty. Hanks and Ryan are great together, and give the film a rooting interest beyond all of the offbeat antics, and the dialogue is peerless.


The Secret of NYMH (1982, Directed by Don Bluth) English 8

Voices of Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Dom Deluise, John Carradine, Aldo Ray, Shannen Doherty, Hermione Baddeley

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Mrs. Brisby (Hartman), a mouse, and widowed mother, looks after her three kids with some help from an overbearing Aunt on the land of a farmer. She prepares to move her family as their current home stands in the way of a forthcoming plowing, when one of her children falls sick with pneumonia. Unable to move him in his condition, she looks for old friends of her deceased husband’s, hoping they can help her and her boy. Soon she discovers a secret society of rats with strange abilities and intelligence, but they’re in a fix themselves. Scary, exciting stuff from Don Bluth and his team of animators, in their first foray away from Disney. The animation is top-grade, the story intrigues, and there are several suspenseful scenes that had me holding my breath.

Brave (2012, Directed by Mark Andrews) English 6

Voices of Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson

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A teenaged Scottish Princess and world class archer, Merida (MacDonald) dreams of following her own dreams rather than do what’s expected of her. She has a complicated relationship with her loving but domineering mother, Queen Elinor (Thompson), which leads to a hasty mistake from Merida ending in the Queen being transformed into a bear. With all the makings of a modern classic fairy tale, first-rate animation and voice-over work, this film should have been so much more. The problem lies with the story which feels half-baked. With no compelling villain and no romantic love interest, there’s not much to push the story forward. It becomes a series of hijinks towards the end, and that’s really disappointing.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001, Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) English 7

Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Don Novello,  David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy

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Milo Thatch (Fox) has always been considered crazy for believing that the lost empire of Atlantis exists. Than one day, he’s asked to meet Preston B. Whitemore, an eccentric millionaire who wants to fund an expedition and wants Milo to lead the way. Set in the 1910s, this is Disney animation’s first sci-fi flick. I think critics focused too hard on the flaws of this film, and missed out on some of its greatness. No, it’s not a great film, but it is ambitious, gorgeous, innovative, and entertaining. The voice actors are fantastic. Michael J. Fox is always an engaging protagonist. Its flaw is the lack of character development. It carves out nice characters, but we don’t get enough time to care about them. I actually think it could have been interesting as Disney animation’s first epic, meaning longer than an hour and twenty minutes.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017, Directed by Guy Ritchie) English 4

Starring Charlie Hunman, Jude Law, Djimon Honsou, Annabelle Wallis, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana

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Vortigern (Law) usurps his brother, Uther, for the throne of Camelot, but Uther’s young son, Arthur, escapes, destined to one day return and claim his birthright. As an adult, Arthur joins the resistance after pulling the powerful sword, Excalibur, from the stone. Dingy rehash of the oft told tale, I was bored from the jump. It’s not that Guy Ritchie’s film is unoriginal. Though I’ve seen many of his tricks before in better movies (funky soundtrack, disorienting editing, slow-mo), I will say that I’ve never seen a King Arthur story told like this before. It fails, however, to create any compelling characters. I’ve yet to see Charlie Hunman emote on screen, and continue to be skeptical of his leading man ability. The side characters are forgettable. Jude Law’s villain is the most interesting character in the film, and even he feels like a miscalculation (too much emotion with no obvious motivation except I guess he’s power hungry). The action and moments of spectacle also fail to connect. Overall, a harmless but definite misfire from a director I like.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Directed by Ron Howard) English 6

Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

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Staying true to their word of a new Star Wars movie a year, Disney gives us Solo, an origin story for the iconic character first played by Harrison Ford. He’s played here by Alden Ehrenreich, a good actor and a fine Han Solo, despite not looking very much like Ford. His story follows his humble beginnings on Orellia, where an orphaned Han and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Clarke) struggle to survive at the mercy of a local crime syndicate. It all seems very Charles Dickens-esque or Dickensian if you will, which could have made an interesting film by itself, however, we light-speed past this part of his life, and pick up years later when through a series of events, Han meets a gallery of thieves, and decides to join them, along with his new pal, Chewbacca. The mission details hardly matter (and perhaps that’s the film’s main fault). All that matters is that the stakes are high, it’s going to be extremely difficult, and there will be a ton of action. The film delivers on all of the basics of popular entertainment: action, great special effects, romance, mystery. In the end though, it feels too much like the B-Side to a great album. I haven’t been overly impressed with the Star Wars spin-offs. You lose certain elements of surprise since we know where Han is going, but I did find Han and Chewie’s budding friendship worth the watch.

Beautiful Creatures (2013, Directed by Richard LaGravanese) English 5

Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum

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A teenage boy (Ehrenreich) in a hick town dreams of getting away. Soon he falls for the weird new girl, and discovers that she comes from a long line of witches, or “casters.” The family disapproves, and a more serious plot involving an evil caster surfaces. Lame, if not completely terrible, teen romance. The acting is uniformly good. Ehrenreich, set to star in the Han Solo spinoff, shines here, and will likely go on to much better things. The story is rife with cliches, and the portrait of a southern town as full of idiotic bible-thumpers is tiresome.