Underground (1995, Directed by Emir Kusturica) Serbian 6

Starring Miki Manojlović, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Joković, Slavko Štimac, Ernst Stötzner, Srđan Todorović 

Underground (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Bawdy. Irreverant.

Marko: A war is no war until the brother kills his brother.

I’m afraid I was never taught about the Yugoslav war that resulted in six seperate countries rather than one large one. I’ve also never thought about or heard of World War II’s affect on those slavic states. Underground, a massive film, by revered Serbian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica, spans five decades and covers both world changing events, and I still have very little understanding of either. Underground follows two seemingly degenerate friends, Blacky and Marko, from the ’40s where they lead a resistance movement against the Nazis occupying Serbia, through the Cold War, and, finally, to the 90s where civil war breaks out while the men are still dealing with the trauma from decades earlier. With its broad, irreverent humor, Underground moves fast for such a long film and is never boring. At the same time, and how much a lack of background knowledge affected my experience, I couldn’t say, this film never strikes me as very insightful or poignant. Perhaps it was content to reflect the overwhelming madness of it all, and on that score, I think it succeeds.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Conformist (1970, Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci) Italian 9

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Dominique Sanda, Enzo Tarascio

The man who decided to go along | Far Flungers | Roger Ebert

(9-Great Film)

Mesmerizing. Impressive. Compelling.

Marcello: I’m going to build a life that’s normal. I’m marrying a petty bourgeoise.

At the center of The Conformist, a dazzling feat of style, creativity, purpose, and graceful camera movement, is Jean-Louis Trintignant’s character, Marcello. Mostly stoic and bound by secrets, he is the mystery at the heart of this film. What led him to become a fascist? To kill his former college professor? To marry a woman, who, though beautiful, holds very little interest for him? The main clue is in the title, of course. To be normal. Through flashbacks, The Conformist weaves around Marcello’s life and past traumas as World War II looms, culminating in the film’s finale where he no longer seems like a distinct personality at all but a shell of a man. Equal parts artistic and intellectual. A great film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) Persian 7

Starring Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Ana Lily Amirpour

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night' Gets Stunning New Trailer - Bloody  Disgusting

(7-Very Good Film)

Cool. Affected. Intriguing.

The Girl: I’m bad.

A film marketed as the first Iranian Vampire Western is sure to be looking for cool points, therefore, it could hardly achieve the effortless cool of an old Steve McQueen flick. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is calculated; the soundtrack, the black and white photography, vampires. It’s a cavalcade of hipster touchstones. That being said, hipsters are people too, and I’m probably one, at my core. This is a hypnotically interesting movie. In a town simply called “Bad City,” corruption and moral decay abound. Arash, a young man with a good heart in a bad situation, meets the Girl (Vand), ominous and beautiful. A vampire, she lurks through town, righteous and violent, much as Clint Eastwood used to in old spaghetti westerns as the Man with No Name. Spaghetti westerns are clearly the biggest influence on this bizarre work; desolate town, sparse dialogue, visual storytelling, moral anti-hero. By its end, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does what it set out to do. It’s a cool movie.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Let the Right One In (2008, Directed by Tomas Alfredson) Swedish 7

Starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm

Review: Let the Right One In

(7-Very Good Film)

Striking. Thoughtful. Memorable.

Eli: I’m twelve. But I’ve been twelve for a long time.

Any feelings I have about Let the Right One In are inevitably affected by my love for its American remake, Let Me In. In truth, I prefer Let Me In. It’s more polished, more tense, and better acted. Let Me In’s decision to “make the story more accessible,” as they put it (sounds horrible), I would describe as simplifying or chiseling it down to perfection. This has been one of my more unpopular opinions over the years and a good topic for debate, but I will focus the rest of this review solely on the film at hand, and it is a very good film, obviously laying the foundation for its successor which I consider a great film. A beautifully dark fantasy, Oskar is a bullied 12-year-old (the movie is set in the ’80s and you remember how intense ’80s bullying was, at least in movies) just trying to make his way in life when he meets and befriends Eli, a vampire, eternally 12-years-old. So starts easily one of the strangest relationships in film history, at times, romantic, sweet, sinister, twisted, what-have-you. Watching its course is mesmerizing and Let the Right One In is often a beautiful film. Nitpicking, maybe, or perhaps just a consequence of seeing the film long after its initial release, the effects, while still effective, are unpolished at many points in the film. It obscures some of Let the Right One In’s beauty.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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One-Armed Swordsman (1967, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 8

Starring Jimmy Wang, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Angela Pan, Yeung Chi-hing, Tang Ti, Wong Sai-git

The One Armed Swordsman (first film of 2013) | voidagger

(8-Exceptional Film)

Rousing. Vibrant. Glorious.

Shih Yi-fei: Pei, don’t worry. So what if you cut off his arm? He’s not coming back anyway. We’ll just never bring it up in front of Sifu.

The opening chapters, Fang Kang’s (Wang) origin story, if you will, are to me, a product of the western world, comparable to the story of Joseph’s misfortunes in the Book of Genesis; jealousy, betrayal, conspiracy. Here, Fang Kang is lured into a trap by his peers at a martial arts school, tired of being shown up by his skill and strength of character. He loses an arm but is saved by a kind, beautiful farm girl, Xiao Man (Chiao Chiao), who eventually gets him back on his feet and watches him regain his fighting prowess, this time with the handicap. Later the honorable Fang Kang is called upon to save his old school from a rival gang of thugs. Deeply compelling, this film is classic action entertainment. Vibrantly filmed and creatively choreographed, the One-Armed Swordsman is rightly iconic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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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-

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Only Yesterday (1991, Directed by Isao Takahata) Japanese 7

Voices of (English Version) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Tara Strong, Grey Griffin

Only Yesterday (1991) - Little White Lies

(7-Very Good Film)

Evocative. Contemplative. Beautiful.

Hirota: Rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days… which do you like?

Taeko: …cloudy days.

Hirota: Oh, then we’re alike.

Taeko (Ridley), a young woman from Tokyo, was raised to feel like an anomaly. We see her childhood in beautifully animated flashbacks where her adventurousness was called selfishness by her family and her older sisters were constantly calling her a brat. Now an adult in her late twenties, Taeko, takes a working trip to the countryside where she meets Toshio and thinks back on some of the small but significant moments of her youth. There are a number of interesting aspects to Only Yesterday making it unique, the most conspicuous being its alternating between two distinct animation styles to portray the change in time periods. Less prominent but still uncommon is having such a seemingly passive protagonist. Taeko, mostly because she spends the majority of the film as a child, has her decisions made for her, but we get the sense watching her adult form that she still hasn’t made many choices for herself. The ending, so simple, is a perfectly satisfying turning point.

-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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Whisper of the Heart (1995, Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō) Japanese 8

Voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, James Sikking, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Ashley Tisdale

Whisper of the Heart – IFC Center

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Vibrant. Light.

Shizuku: Stupid jerk, stupid jerk, stupid jerk!

Who knew Studio Ghibli produced so many wonderful light romances? While I ask that rhetorical question jokingly, certain that millions of the studio’s large fanbase have known for ages, I’ve only recently discovered Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, and this film, Whisper of the Heart. Whisper of the Heart follows Shizuku, a young girl dealing with teenaged romance and all the drama that goes with it. She meets Seiji, a boy at school who is always rude to her, and she’s determined not to like him though the rest of the school believes that they’re a couple. I was most surprised to find that the great Hayao Miyazaki wrote this screenplay as it bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to any of his other work. Otherwise, Whisper of the Heart has all of the distinction, the artistry, and the confident storytelling of Ghibli’s work. I see now that they are equally skillful at these lovely small-scale dramas as they are at epic fantasy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Ocean Waves (1993, Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki) Japanese 8

Voices of Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Kae Araki, Yuri Amano, Takeshi Watabe, Hikaru Midorikawa

i can hear the sea | Tumblr

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wistful. Lovely. Skilled.

Taku: The whole thing was starting to feel like a bad soap opera.

Though produced by the famed Studio Ghibli, Ocean Waves doesn’t compare to most of the company’s typically grand, epic output such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, or Castle in the Sky. Ocean Waves works on a much smaller scale so that I don’t believe it would be condescending to describe it as modest, or you might prefer “a gem.” Told in flashback, set in the small city of Kōchi, a high school boy, Taku, develops feelings for Rikako, the aloof new girl in school, which causes a rift between him and his best friend, Yutaka, who saw her first. Working with fewer resources (apparently, the film was originally meant for T.V), Studio Ghibli managed to fashion one of their best works. It’s an endearing story, beautifully animated, and told sweetly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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