Frozen (2013, Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck) English 6

Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Santino Fontana

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(6-Good Film)

Strong. Bright. Satisfying.

Before Tangled was released in 2010, Dinsye bigshot Ed Catmull said it would be the last Disney princess film. Tangled was a huge success, and four years later comes Frozen, with two princesses for the price of one. Anna (Bell) feels shut off from her sister Elsa (Menzel) after the death of their parents. On Elsa’s coronation day, Anna, as well as the rest of the kingdom, learn the secret she was concealing when she turns the land into a frozen tundra and runs away. Anna sets off to find her with the help of her new companions: courageous Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and the loyal snowman Olaf. Frozen was a colossal success, and it’s easy to see why. It has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic. It fails to rank for me with the cream of Disney’s crop, however, falling somewhere in the middle of the studio’s canon. Mainly, I feel there’s a huge gulf between the classic work of Alan Menken with the various brilliant songwriters on old Disney films during the Renaissance, and the soundtrack to Frozen, as popular as it is. There are plenty of catchy tunes, but they’re just not on the level of, say, The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast. The story lacks a strong villain in my eyes, and though the female empowerment elements prove a nice message, films like Mulan and The Princess and the Frog covered similar territory with more compelling endings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-




High Spirits (1988, Directed by Neil Jordan) English 5

Starring Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenberg, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Riotous. Inconsistent.

High Spirits has the ingredients for a really good comedy. Peter O’Toole plays owner, Peter Plunkett, who sees his shabby, secluded hotel in Ireland going to pieces, and quickly devises a scheme to pick business up. He’ll pass his hotel off as a haunted resort, and appeal to the paranormal enthusiasts, but as the first wave of tourists roll in, he discovers that the place might actually be haunted. One of the main problems of the film is star, Darryl Hannah, as Mary, a lovely ghost who is saved by one of the tourists, Jack (Guttenberg), and subsequently gushed over. She’s playing an Irish lady, which means she does an Irish accent (which is notoriously difficult to do). Hannah’s accent work is distracting and mars many of her scenes, key scenes at that. Jack and Mary’s romance is meant to be one of the main charms of the film, and it doesn’t come off thanks to that accent. O’Toole on the other hand proves once again to be a fantastic comedic actor. Unfortunately, he’s not in this film more. Overall, there’s much to enjoy. High Spirits is silly fun, but something as small as a main character’s accent really did hamper the entire picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Shrek 2 (2004, Directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon) English 9

Voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Jennifer Saunders, Rupert Everett, Larry King

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(9-Great Movie)

Funny. Clever. Imaginative.

Shrek 2 represents the last great movie made by Dreamworks Animation, in my opinion, but they really did nail it here. The first Shrek took everyone by surprise with its edginess, creativity, and humor. Most of the freshness is gone by the sequel, but Shrek 2 overcomes that by being deeper, better story-wise,  with much help from the wonderful new character of Puss in Boots (Banderas). Newlyweds Shrek (Myers) and Fiona (Diaz), with Donkey (Murphy) tagging along (does anyone have a last name, by the way?), are invited to the Kingdom of Far, Far, Away to meet the King and Queen (voiced by John Cleese and Julie Andrews), a.k.a Fiona’s parents a.k.a the in-laws. It’s a frightening prospect for Shrek, and, just as he fears, the King immediately disapproves of him. In fact, the King goes so far as hiring the aforementioned Puss in Boots to kill Shrek. Behind the scenes, a sinister Fairy Godmother (Saunders) plots for her son, Prince Charming (Everett), to steal Fiona from Shrek and become next in line as King. Shrek 2, like the first, is very funny, playing off of expectations and the audience’s knowledge of fairy tales. It’s the right amount of sweet, spoofing fairy tales, while also delivering a great fairy tale story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


17 Again (2009, Directed by Burr Steers) English 6

Starring Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight, Melora Hardin

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(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Funny. Modest.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen basketball portrayed well (realistically) on film, so that when I say I’ve never seen basketball portrayed worse than it is in 17 Again, starring Zac Efron, that’s saying something. Fortunately, lame basketball sequences aside, 17 again is a fun film. Mike O’Donnell (Perry) is like the reverse of Tom Hanks in Big. He’s an adult who longs for the carefree days of his youth. On the cusp of a divorce, with kids who no longer speak to him, O’Connell’s wish is granted, and he turns into 17 year old Mike (Efron). How Efron becomes Perry in twenty years according to the film’s logic will forever be a mystery, but there are several scattered laughs, mostly thanks to supporting actors  Lennon and Hardin, and that over-the-top movie high school atmosphere (psycho bullies, models for popular kids, vicious cliques) which is a complete fantasy, but eternally entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Shrek (2001, Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson) English 9

Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassell

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(9-Great Film)

Funny. Clever. Unforgettable.

 After maybe a few dozen viewings in my life, watching Shrek will never be fresh again. No matter how long I go without seeing it, as soon as it’s on, I will know it line for line. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of when I first saw it in theaters, and was so blown away by how funny it was, but Shrek remains a wonderful movie. So well-written, animated (though somewhat diluted by time), and performed, with iconic voice work from its stars. The best spoofs to me are ones that poke fun at their genre, but also tell a great story within that genre (Scream, The Incredibles, The Princess Bride). That’s definitely the case with Shrek. The adventures of Shrek (Myers), the ogre, Donkey (Murphy), and Princess Fiona (Diaz) still make me smile.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Isle of Dogs (2018, Directed by Wes Anderson) English 6

Voices of Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Courtney B. Vance, Koyu Rankin, Bob Balaban, Liev Schreiber, Anjelica Huston, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Kunichi Nomura, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Scarlet Johansson, Ken Watanabe

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Set ahead in dystopian Japan where dogs are reviled for carrying an incurable disease, Mayor Kobayashi signs a decree that isolates the canine population to trash island. Once there, Chief (Cranston), a stray, and four other alpha dogs spend their days scavenging for food, before the arrival of a human boy searching for his missing dog gives them new purpose. It’s a unique and tremendous vision Anderson and his team of animators create, but, like all of his films, I simply felt no connection to the material. His distinctive style keeps me at a distance. I find Isle of Dogs more impressive than moving, more amusing than funny, and not endearing enough to be memorable. The voice work, the character design, and fluid, imaginative camera movement are extraordinary, but Anderson rarely reaches for more, and there is more to film than technical brilliance. Idiosyncratic. Striking. Stiff.

We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story (1993, Directed by Simon Wells, Ralph Zondag, Dick Zondag, Phil Nibbelink) English 5

Voices of John Goodman, Walter Cronkite, Julia Child, Rhea Perlman, Jay Leno, Kenneth Mars, Felicity Kendal, Charles Fleischer, Martin Short

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Rex (Goodman), once a vicious predator, transformed by a scientist’s invention into a kind dinosaur, travels to the 20th century to fulfill children’s dreams. He joins a group of transformed dinosaurs meant to visit the Museum of Natural History, but they get sidetracked after meeting two runaways who get locked into a dangerous contract at a spooky circus. There’s plenty here for children to enjoy, but We’re Back lacks the intelligence, depth, and artistry of the best animation, many examples of which were coming out at about the same time as this film (The Lion King in 1994 and Aladdin in 1992). Pedestrian. Harmless. Childish.