Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020, Season 1) English 7

Voices of Karen Fukuhara, Deon Cole, Coy Stewart, Dee Bradley Baker, Sydney Mikayla, Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens

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(7-Very Good Show)

Bright. Engaging. Unique.

To my mind, Dreamworks Animation has been complacent for over a decade now when it comes to film. They’ve given us nothing but sequels. Thankfully though, their television offerings have been excellent, specifically She-ra: Princess of Power and now Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. The titular character, Kipo, is an altruistic teenage girl who’s lived her entire life underground. After her home is suddenly attacked by a giant creature known as a megamute, she’s flushed out into the surface where megamutes and talking animals reign. She teams up with Wolf, a tough young girl, Benson, a resourceful teenage boy, and Dave, a mutant bug that can regenerate, to find her home and her dad. Beautiful, vibrant animation, strong story, a unique sense of humor, fun, oddball soundtrack. This is a fantastic first season. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(869)

Porco Rosso (1992, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 8

Voices of (Dubbed) Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Odd. Singular.

Its premise may be slightly reminiscent of the popular French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but that’s where comparison stops. Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, even the adaptations, Porco Rosso is wholly original. Marco Pagot, also known as Porco Rosso, was an ace pilot for the Italian military before going rogue after the events of World War I. Now he’s a notorious bounty hunter with the long arms of fascism reaching out to claim him from one side and jealous pirates trying to kill him on the other. Along the way, he befriends a young, spirited teenage girl named Fio, who has a talent for designing planes. Miyazaki’s obvious love of flight is on full display, perhaps never rendered as spectacularly as it is here. Typical of the master’s work, this is an artistic tour de force with a strange, engaging story and a fantastic score by Joe Hisaishi.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(865)

Street Fighter (1994, Directed by Steven E. de Souza) English 4

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Kylie Minogue, Byron Mann, Wes Studi, Damian Chapa, Simon Callow, Roshan Seth, Miguel A. Núñez Jr.

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(4-Bad Film)

Entertaining. Colorful. Ridiculous.

It’s difficult for me to grade films like Street Fighter. No, it’s not a good movie. Admittedly, it’s a pretty bad movie. At the same time, there wasn’t a single second I didn’t enjoy and I would happily watch it 100 times rather than sit through the critically acclaimed film, The Assassin (2015), just once more. Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Colonel Guile; who’s army he’s Colonel of, I don’t know. Street Fighter takes place in some undefined, fantasy world at war with General Bison (Julia) threatening global-dictatorship. He enlists wayward but noble street fighters, Ryu (Mann) and Ken (Chapa), to infiltrate Bison’s operation and take it down from the inside. The action is juvenile and uninventive. The characters are one-dimensional at best. The plot is ludicrous and some of the special effects (specifically the makeup) are laughable. And yet…

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(861)

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

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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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)