Untold: Malice at the Palace (2021, Directed by Floyd Russ) English 8

Featuring Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, Reggie Miller

(8-Exceptional Film)

Compelling. Rousing. Effective.

Less than a month in to the 2004 NBA season, the league-leading Indiana Pacers visited the defending-champion Detroit Pistons. Very few people remember the actual game, but no sports fan can forget the finale. After being hit by a thrown cup, Ron Artest of the Pacers charged up into the stands and a massive brawl ensued, resulting in suspensions for several of the players. As I watched episode 1 of Netflix’s new sports-documentary series, Untold, I was reminded of how great the early 2000s’ Indiana Pacers were. Going into 2004, they had Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jamaal Tinsley. That I often forget about these Pacers is the underlying tragedy at the heart of Malice at the Palace. No, it’s not a tragedy on the scale of a natural disaster, the loss of life, or a war, but the consequences of Malice at the Palace were an injustice and had a lasting effect on these players and their legacies. It’s more than just basketball. The players took all of the blame. Sure, Artest was a volatile personality, but he did not instigate this event. I don’t know many people who could have something thrown at them and not react. The point is, the league did nothing to the fans of Detroit who rioted and attacked the Indiana Pacers players, and instead labeled the players being attacked, “thugs.” Though only an hour long, this is an exceptional documentary with an abundance of great footage and different perspectives including those of some of the key fans who prove to be exactly how you’d imagine them: jerks.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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White Men Can’t Jump (1992, Directed by Ron Shelton) English 6

Starring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell, Kadeem Hardison, Marques Johnson, Freeman Williams, Duane Martin

Pictures & Photos from White Men Can't Jump (1992) | Iconic movies, Tv show  couples, White man

(6-Good Film)

Fast. Fresh. Memorable.

Sidney Deane: [before winning a bet with him] Billy, listen to me. White men can’t jump.

White men can’t jump. Can clichés be iconic? The spirit of the film, the originality of its characters, and its cleverness went a long way to popularizing the myth that all white men aren’t athletic. It stars Woody Harrelson as a basketball hustler, Billy Hoyle, who doesn’t know how to walk away from a bet, much like Paul Newman’s Eddie Felson. Unlike Eddie, however, who always looked smooth and competent, Billy looks like a fool, and besides that, he’s white, so when he shows up to courts in southcentral L.A, the locals assume he can’t play. One of these locals, hardworking Sydney Deane (Snipes), sees the potential in Billy’s hustle and decides to team up with him. Rosie Perez plays Billy’s supportive but exhausted wife, Gloria, always studying for a chance on Jeopardy. White Men Can’t Jump isn’t a great movie in my estimation (despite being a favorite of Stanley Kubrick of all things). It’s not realistic enough for serious social commentary, it’s not a satire, and it’s not hilarious. I would also argue that basketball is one of the least compelling sports cinematically and one of the most difficult to portray accurately. What works are the characters who smart, fresh, and perfectly cast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,082)

National Velvet (1944, Directed by Clarence Brown) English 8

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, Angela Lansbury, Donald Crisp, Reginald Owen

National Velvet - Posts | Facebook

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Joyous. Old-fashioned.

Mrs. Brown:  You’re twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life.

Velvet Brown, played by a preteen Elizabeth Taylor, is the wonderful heroine of this impossible-not-to-like sports classic. Velvet lives in a small English town with her loving family that includes her patient father (Crisp), wise mother (Revere), two sisters, and a younger brother. When a vagrant young man, Mi Taylor (Rooney), a stranger to the family, but the son of an old friend, shows up one day, he sets in motion a series of events that lead to Velvet and Mi training a wild, local horse for the Grand National’s. National Velvet is likely the most beloved horse movie, which is a niche, sure, but a popular one. It’s also an endearing family film with the Browns ranking with the Marches (Little Women) and the Smiths (Meet Me in St. Louis) as my favorite family from classic Hollywood. It’s a simple story that trusts its distinct characters and setting to hold your attention.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,074)

Cars 2 (2011, Directed by John Lasseter) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Emily Mortimer, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, John Ratzenberger, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna

Cars 2: Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Misguided.

Finn McMissile: I never properly introduced myself: Finn McMissile, British Intelligence.

Mater: Tow Mater, average intelligence.

I am a sucker for the “accidental spy” trope in movies, done best by Alfred Hitchcock with such films as North by Northwest or The 39 Steps. It’s to a point that I even really enjoy critically reviled examples like Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little or Cars 2, the worst reviewed Pixar offering to this day. Cars 2 shifts focus from the orginal film’s hero, swaggering racecar, Lightning McQueen (Wilson), to his friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a tow truck with limited intelligence but a heart of gold. Mater stumbles into a spy plot to sabotage organic fuel at the same time that Lightning McQueen battles in the first ever World Grand Prix. I’m not a fan of Larry the Cable Guy’s schtick and that includes his character here. Mater is far from a charming protagonist. For me, however, the remaining aspects of the film are sufficiently entertaining. The animation is still first-rate Pixar even if the story isn’t. Many consider this the worst Pixar film. I disagree. Cars 2 is a fine movie, and much more satisfying than Brave or The Good Dinosaur.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars (2006, Directed by John Lasseter) English 7

Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, Jenifer Lewis, Michael Keaton, Paul Dooley, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond, Jeremy Piven, Richard Kind, Edie McClurg

Lightning McQueen (Cars) #ESTP | Cars 2006, Cars movie, Cars 3 lightning  mcqueen

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Skilled. Derivative.

Lightning McQueen: Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer.

I know that this is an animated picture, but the world of Cars does not hold up in the slightest. It makes no sense. If they need gas to move, how did the first cars (the Adam and Eve, if you will) start moving? Where did they get the gas? These questions bothered me more this time around most likely because this was my first time watching the film as an adult. It’s also my first time watching Cars after seeing the superior Doc Hollywood, which Cars clearly ripped off. All this aside, I still rather enjoy this movie. It follows Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a hot shot race car, on the way to his big race. After an accident, he finds himself stuck in a small town surrounded by local characters. Eventually though, they win him over and teach him that racing and winning isn’t everything. The animation is exciting and the characters are well-drawn, but Pixar really should have given proper credit to Doc Hollywood for this one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,068)

He Got Game (1998, Directed by Spike Lee) English 8

Starring Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, John Turturro, Jim Brown, Bill Nunn, Ned Beatty, Lonette McKee, Leonard Roberts, Jennifer Esposito

He Got Game (1998)

(8-Exceptional Film)

Stirring. Messy. Bold.

Jake Shuttlesworth: I pray you understand why I pushed you so hard! It was only to get you to that next level, Son. I mean, you’s the first Shuttlesworth that’s ever gonna make it out of these projects, and I was the one who who put the ball in your hand, Son! I put the ball in your crib!

There’s a lot more to it, but at its heart, He Got Game is about a father who pushes his son too hard. There have been countless versions of this story. It’s potent material. He Got Game is one of the more moving examples. Denzel plays Jake Shuttlesworth, a convict given a week’s chance to convince his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (future NBA star, Allen), the nation’s top high school prospect, to play basketball at the governor’s alma mater. Despite the implausibilty of this scenario and the apparent unrealistic moments involving college recruiting, this movie hits home. I think it’s because character is more important than plot, and Jake is one of Denzel’s finest; as flawed as he is charismatic. The final duel between father and son is powerful, and I even enjoyed the grandiose fantastical touches to end the film. Like several great filmmakers that I admire, Lee doesn’t care much for subtlety. With him, it’s bold stories told boldly. He Got Game reminds me of the flamboyant melodramas of the ’50s. I happen to love those films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,047)

The Love Guru (2008, Directed by Marco Schnabel) English 3

Starring Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Romany Malco, Justin Timberlake, Ben Kingsley, Verne Troyer, Meagan Good, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, Samantha Bee, Daniel Tosh, Telma Hopkins

BRIANORNDORF.COM: Film Review: The Love Guru

(3-Horrible Film)

Unfunny. Gross. Dumb.

Guru Pitka: Give me a pound. Lock it down. Break the pickle. Tickle, tickle.

Every comedian bombs. Every film comic puts out a dud or two or even several and it doesn’t mean their good comedies get forgotten. Think of John Candy. Are you picturing the ghastly Wagons East or are you smiling fondly, remembering the classics? I say this as an olive branch to Mike Myers whom I do think is funny, because The Love Guru is an awful comedy. Myers plays Guru Pitka, a white man raised in India by gurus (at least he’s not in brown face, he spares himself that embarrassment). He’s brought in to help raddled, star hockey player, Darren Roanoke (Malco), reconcile with his wife, Prudence (Good), in time to focus for the Stanley Cup. The plot is reasonable enough but it’s really just an excuse for one misguided, unfunny gag after another. There are no laughs in this picture but an abundance of second-hand embarrassment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,007)

Above the Rim (1994, Directed by Jeff Pollack) English 6

Starring Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, Leon, Marlon Wayans, Wood Harris, Tonya Pinkins, David Bailey, Michael Rispoli, Shawn Michael Howard, Bernie Mac

Above the Rim (1994)

(6-Good Film)

Rough. Spirited. Lasting.

Kyle-Lee: Why are you doin’ this man? It’s just a game.

Shep: Not to me.

Basketball is easily my favorite sport to play, but not my favorite sport to watch. More pertinent, it seems to be particularly difficult to portray dramatically. Boxing would appear to be the most cinematic of sports while basketball is way down on the list. The speed and tenaciousness that comes with a good game of basketball have yet to be shown convincingly on film. The basketball sequences are mainly what make Above the Rim an uneven experience. The story and the characters are enduring; engulfed in basketball culture over 25 years later (Drake wore Tupac’s outfit from this film at a recent NBA playoff game). Kyle-Lee (Martin) is a good kid but a little cocky. Growing up in Harlem, raised by a single mother, he might have what it takes to play at the next level; D-1 college basketball, full-ride. Shep (Leon) used to be that guy. He led his school to a championship and seemed destined for big things in the basketball world. Now he’s a security guard with demons. Birdie (Shakur) is his little brother who’s bad news. These three figures are common character types used and performed well here. Tupac’s energy serves the film well, as does the outstanding soundtrack in which he features heavily. Above the Rim moves fast and might have benefited from a slower, more contemplative tone. As it is though, the film feels raw which works in its own way.

-Walter Lee Howard-

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The Last Dance (2020, Directed by Jason Hehir) English 8

Featuring Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, John Stockton

ESPN Last Dance audience up 128% via VoD; Netflix success |

(8-Exceptional Film)

Expansive. Thrilling. Compelling.

Following Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates through the 1997-1998 campaign (what would be his final season as a Bull), The Last Dance weaves across the careers and upbringings of several of the key contributors, showing what made that team and that season so special. If someone contends that they don’t understand why people care about sports, let them watch an ESPN documentary, and The Last Dance is one of ESPN’s finest. Epic in length and coverage, it will likely be a new standard setter. It’s not a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It’s clearly shaped mostly around Jordan, and though it does reveal a little of his vulnerable side, his sociopathic side, what-have-you, it is still told largely with him as the protagonist. As a result, you might have heard other players complaining about certain things being depicted and other things left out. That’s a creative choice. That’s a story-telling choice. Michael Jordan is a sports hero for the ages, and what I think The Last Dance does best is reveal the human side of MJ that makes his superhuman athletic triumphs all the more impressive. In any case, it is massively entertaining.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Shaolin Soccer (2001, Directed by Stephen Chow) Cantonese 6

Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man-tat, Wong Yat-fei, Tin Kai-man, Zhao Wei, Lam Chi-chung, Patrick Tse

Shaolin Soccer - Wikipedia

(6-Good Film)

Goofy. Original. Absurd.

Sing: That’s a great idea – kung fu soccer! Why didn’t I think of that?

I wonder how the prolific Stephen Chow’s films are viewed over in mainland China or his native Hong Kong. He’s obviously insanely popular (The Mermaid, one of his more recent works, made over $500 million) and though the idea of a “spoof” isn’t a new concept, his movies tend to baffle me. In Shaolin Soccer, Chow spoofs sports films (the rival team is known as “Team Evil”) and probably more Kung Fu films than I even recognized (although I could at least appreciate the Bruce Lee reference). Chow plays Sing, a peon with extraordinary Kung Fu skills, discovered by Fung (Man-tat), a former soccer great looking to coach his way back to the big-time. The two assemble a team of Shaolin monks and find that the monks’ Kung Fu skills translate remarkably well on the soccer field. Like many Chinese or Hong Kong classics I’ve seen, Shaolin Soccer is a bizarre treat. I laughed often and was bemused often. Chow, for example, uses CGI frequently and crudely, but it seems to be integral to the humor. His humor in general is one of excess and absurdity. I simply wonder if his films are as bizarre to his native audience or if films like Shaolin Soccer qualify as a culture shock.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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