Yolanda and the Thief (1945, Directed by Vincente Minnelli) English 7

Starring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Frank Morgan, Leon Ames, Mildred Natwick, Mary Nash

Yolanda and the Thief: An Out of the World Place | Bright Wall ...

(7-Very Good Film)

Lofty. Peculiar. Beguiling.

Yolanda Aquaviva: Mr. Brown doesn’t dance… except, perhaps, on the head of a pin.

Yolanda and the Thief, I gather, was not a success. Astaire retired for a period after and its leading lady, Lucille Bremer, hardly ever worked again. The critics sneered and modern opinion hasn’t exactly warmed to it. As it stands, I think Yolanda and the Thief will have to settle for being a niche picture; a film made for a very select group of people, and if that group doesn’t exist yet, I’ll start it, because this is a film that’s at least as special as it is flawed. Astaire plays the thief, Johnny (some people, evidently, didn’t like the idea of dapper, refined Astaire as a thief) and Bremer plays Yolanda, a young woman raised in a convent who’s suddenly inherited a vast fortune. Several con artists set their sights on her but Johnny’s got the perfect con cooking. Overhearing her prayer for a guardian angel, he poses as one, convincing her to sign over the power of attorney and all of her wealth right along with it. The trick, of course, for Johnny is getting the money and running before he falls for the mark. Set in some imagined Latin-American country, but designed on a Hollywood backlot, Yolanda and the Thief is a gorgeous fantasy with an unforgettable detour by way of a mid-movie dream sequence. In fact, it has a kind of dream-like, illusory quality all over that I enjoy very much. Bremer’s performance is heavily criticized and not without reason, but I, for one, find her artificial, syrupy performance at home with the aesthetics and tone of the picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(973)

Princess Mononoke (1997, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 10

Voices of (English Dubbing) Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Keith David, Gillian Anderson

Princess Mononoke

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Spectacular. Awesome.

Hii-sama: You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.

We fade in. Keith David’s voiceover sets up the world we’re entering. We’re all of ten seconds into the running time, but it’s clear: this is an awesome movie. The master, Hayao Miyazaki, brings his stunning animation to a unique story about gods and monsters and cursed warriors, with no black and white villains. Its hero, Ashitaka (Crudup), prince of a small village, travels far from home after being cursed from fighting a demon-possessed boar. He stumbles into a conflict between humans (of Irontown) and the forest (the gods and spirits that dwell there) and falls in love with San, a female warrior raised by wolves and taught to hate humans. Princess Mononoke feels like an anomaly in Miyazaki’s career in a few ways. His clear love of flight is nowhere to be found, an adult male protagonist rather than a young girl. There’s a level of violence not seen in any of his other work, as well, but as an anomaly, it only further proves his greatness. He has never stopped evolving though his themes may stay the same. His animation is awe-inspiring (there are a dozen incredible action sequences in this film) and his stories are always infinitely satisfying while never traveling the expected path.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(970)

Artemis Fowl (2020, Directed by Kenneth Branagh) English 4

Starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Judi Dench, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Hong Chau, Nikesh Patel, Joshua McGuire

Artemis Fowl looks like Harry Potter with Men in Black's weaponry ...

(4-Bad Film)

Incomprehensible. Uninteresting. Poor.

Artemis Fowl: I’m the next criminal mastermind.

Having read each of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl novels many years ago, I recall joyously working my way through the self-proclaimed criminal mastermind’s adventures without remembering much of what happened from book to book. Therefore, I cannot summon explicit details to prove to you how different this Disney adaptation is from its source material. As unreliable as memory can be, I remain quite confident in this: the books were good. This film is bad. Artemis Fowl (12) is a local Irish genius devoted to his enigmatic father, Artemis Sr. (Farrell), who goes missing. Some masked antagonist kidnapped him. I didn’t understand the plot past these two points. Somehow this leads to the son searching for the hidden fairy world which leads to him kidnapping a fairy named Holly Short. I can count on one hand the number of films that I don’t understand but still like. Artemis Fowl is not one of them. I gave up trying to follow the plot pretty early and instead focused on the visual spectacle. That proved a meager venture in itself. The cast and crew of this film look good on paper. Disney provided a sizable budget to get this movie made, but the script, above all else, is terrible. Put this on a double bill with Eragon where it belongs.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(965)

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000, Directed by Mark Dindal) English 7

Voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton Wendie Malick, Tom Jones

Film - The Emperor's New Groove - Into Film

(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Wacky. Small-scale.

Kuzco: D’oh! You threw off my groove!

Originally intended as an epic musical inspired by Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, The Emperor’s New Groove turns out to be Disney’s first Warner Bros. cartoon. Bearing little resemblance to the hit Disney flicks preceding, it instead features the mischief, irreverence, slyness, and wacky physics of the old Looney Tunes shorts. Kuzco (Spade) is a selfish, tyrannical emperor turned into a llama by his advisor, Yzma (Kitt), in a failed attempt to kill him. Coming to his aid is Pacha (Goodman), despite Kuzco’s promise to build a summer house in place of the peasant’s family home. The Emperor’s New Groove is familiar drama and I can easily point out the comedic influences (again, it’s Looney Tunes), but the film still feels special. It’s an outlier in Disney’s canon. It’s also probably the funniest Disney feature with great voice work to thank for that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(960)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Directed by George Miller) English 9

Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz

Mad Max: Fury Road Review | Den of Geek

(9-Great Film)

Frenetic. Exciting. Classic.

Nux: If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the Fury Road!

Five years later and I’m still disappointed that Mel Gibson isn’t in this movie. Gibson’s Mad Max Rockatansky is iconic and I believe the actor’s growing age would only add to the mystique of the character. Imagine a grizzled, bearded Gibson wandering through the Australian wasteland. That’s a movie I’d like to see, but that doesn’t happen to be what Fury Road is, and it’s a real credit (as backhanded as it sounds) to Tom Hardy that I’m able to overcome my initial disappointment and appreciate the film for what it is; a benchmark action film. Hardy takes over the Mad Max role, reluctantly helping a group of women, led by Furiosa (Theron), escape their tyrannical husband, Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne). Theron is nearly as iconic in her role as Gibson was all those years ago. Director, George Miller, reimagines his own creation and delivers something visionary.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(954)

Penelope (2006, Directed by Mark Palansky) English 6

Starring Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Nick Frost, Catherine O’Hara, Richard E. Grant, Peter Dinklage, Simon Woods, Reese Witherspoon, Burn Gorman, Russell Brand

Penelope - Movies on Google Play

(6-Good Film)

Agreeable. Light. Undercooked.

Penelope: They always run. Why can’t you accept that? For seven years I’ve been watching them run. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?

Fairy Tales are an ancient form of storytelling at this point and the idea of a romantic lead being cursed with animal features along with it. Disney reimagined and popularized fairy tales as wish-fulfillment, and now most modern fairy tales, including Penelope, owe more to Disney than they do to the Brothers Grimm or to Beaumont or to whomever else. Penelope is wish-fulfillment. A smart, wonderful girl, the titular Penelope (Ricci), wonders if any man could truly love her as she is, with a nose cursed to resemble a pig’s. The Beast in Disney’s classic not only looked like a beast but acted like one too, and he, of course, found love. I find it amusing that Penelope is virtually flawless aside from her nose and it’s a serious question as to whether or not she’ll find someone. Alas, this is a fantasy. The characters are broad, the reactions extreme. I like Penelope a good deal as entertainment, but find it wanting as a fairy tale. There’s not much depth to the story, whereas the great ones speak volumes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(950)

Dragonball: Evolution (2009, Directed by James Wong) English 3

Starring Justin Chatwin, Jamie Chung, Emmy Rossum, Chow Yun-fat, James Marsters, Joon Park, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson, Megumi Seki

15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Dragonball Evolution – IFC

(3-Horrible Film)

Inept. Lame. Childish.

Goku: Teach me, how to talk to a girl. I mean, I’m different, and everyone at school can see that, teach me how to get a girl, how to be smooth… how to be normal!

Evil Lord Piccolo returns to Earth after millenniums emprisoned. He seeks the seven magic Dragonballs that grant the owner one wish. The young, powerful hero, Goku (Chatwin), teams up with Bulma (Rossum), Chi-Chi (Chung), Yamcha (Park), and Master Roshi (Yun-fat) to unite the Dragonballs before Lord Piccolo can get to them and unleash his minion, Ōzaru. This is not a good film. The immediate comparison is The Last Airbender because the two movies vie for worst adaptation of something great in film history. Like The Last Airbender, Dragonball: Evolution feels like it was made by people who didn’t even like the source material. They hack it to bits. Here, at least, the characters’ names are the same (this much is not true of The Last Airbender). It’s not a painful watch, unlike a number of terrible films, but it’s consistently poor, juvenile, and unexciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(948)

The Tai Chi Master (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu-ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai

Tai Chi Master 1993 – Enter the Dragon

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Uneven. Frenetic.

Junbao: The past is what makes up who we are. Don’t let it become your burden.

Junbao (Li) and Tienbo (Siu-ho) grow up together as brothers in a Shaolin Temple studying as monks in the ways of martial arts. After the generally misbehaving pair are expelled, they move out into the world and see first-hand their new town’s rampant corruption. Junbao joins a group of rebels in response, while Tienbo lusts for power and joins the soldiers. Shocked by Tienbo’s betrayal, Junbao loses his mind and it’s up to his new friends, Siu-lin (Yeoh), for one, to help him find himself in time to master Tai Chi and save the people. This is a fast, fun action flick with a heavy dose of legend and history mixed in. There’s always a bit of a bizarre acclimation process that goes on when I watch these Hong Kong action epics-the flying, the defying of physics, what-have-you. I know we, of course, have fantasy in western culture but I’m never quite prepared for it. I think maybe because films like this one look so grounded in history and reality. The action scenes are well-done, showing off the impossible speed of its performers, particularly its star Jet Li, naturally. The story, however, falls short of the epicness it strives for and underuses its supporting cast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(945)

Onward (2020, Directed by Dan Scanlon) English 6

Voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, John Ratzenberger, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama

Pixar's 'Onward' on Disney Plus: The perfect family film to stream ...

(6-Good Film)

Reliable. Promising. Disappointing.

Wilden Lightfoot: Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. It was exciting. And most of all, there was magic.

In an alternate universe closely resembling our own, mythical creatures like elves, pixies, and dwarves have let magic go from the world and are instead reliant on technology and modern invention to get them through their lives. Brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Holland and Pratt), live in a suburban corner of this world. They have very relatable problems. Barley’s out of high school and seems reluctant to leave the nest, still living with his mother. Ian lacks confidence. When they discover a magical object that could have the power to bring their deceased father back (for one day), they set out on a quest to find a rare gem needed to complete the process. Onward is solid, sure-footed filmmaking with an ending that strikes the right note. It’s more than anything a film about two brothers bonding, and succeeds in that respect, but I don’t love this film. Full marks for an original premise but the animation giant that is Pixar usually shoots for the moon and Onward doesn’t. It’s more than happy to follow the well-trodden path of family pictures that have come before it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(928)

Holes (2003, Directed by Andrew Davis) English 7

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voigt, Tim Blake Nelson, Khleo Thomas, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, Dulé Hill, Eartha Kitt, Roma Maffia, Rick Fox, Siobhan Fallon Hogan

Holes is a Cinematic Masterpiece – The Blue & Gold

(7-Very Good Film)

Idiosyncratic. Faithful. Rich.

Madame Zeroni: If you forget to come back for Madame Zeroni, you and your family will be cursed for always and eternity!

Stanley Yelnats IV (LaBeouf) has been cursed since the day he was born. His whole family bears the curse, or at least the men, ever since Elya Yelnats failed to fulfill his end of a bargain with Madame Zeroni (Kitt) back in the old country. Now the youngest Stanley is headed to Camp Green Lake, an ironic name for a hellish juvenile delinquent program, where he’ll have to dig a hole (5 feet by 5 feet) every day for the next 18 months, and did I mention he didn’t even commit the crime that he’s sentenced for? Holes is a faithful adaptation of a classic novel I read as a child. I was enchanted with its sense of mystery, foreshadowing, adventure, dark humor and thrills. It’s certainly a favorite of mine and the movie absolutely does it justice. Shia LaBeouf is a very natural performer and he’s surrounded by a tremendous cast of veteran actors.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(925)