The Great Wall (2017, Directed by Zhang Yimou) English 4

Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe

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(4-Bad Movie)

Silly. Unspectacular. Unsatisfying.

Mercenaries, William (Damon) and Pero (Pascal), on a quest for black powder in China during the 11th century are captured by a group of elite Chinese warriors. While imprisoned, they get wrapped up in their captors’ fight against a race of mythical creatures. One of China’s most expensive productions, I was surprised and disappointed to find the CGI especially bad. Of course, the plot is silly, the characters are thin, and the dialogue stilted, but I thought they could have at least stepped up on the visuals. It’s actually very bad all around, and I might even be going too easy on it, since, for some reason, it was still rather entertaining. However, with the level of talent involved in this picture (Zhang Yimou, Edward Zwick, Matt Damon for example), I can’t understand why it falls so flat. Yimou made a much better film about the Great Wall in 2002’s Hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Ip Man 3 (2015, Directed by Wilson Yip) Cantonese 6

Starring Donnie Yen, Zhang Yin, Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Mike Tyson, Karena Ng, Kent Cheng

(6-Good Film)

Solid. Entertaining. Overworked.

Ip Man (Yen) returns, the famed disciple and teacher of Wing Chun, a branch of martial arts. In this sequel, Man battles personal tragedy, his wife is diagnosed with cancer, along with social strife as local triads beleaguer his town. Man’s friendship and later rivalry with Cheung Fung, a man who claims superior and true Wing Chun skills, gradually moves from the background to the forefront of the story just in time for the climax. The inclusion of Mike Tyson signifies the film’s all around appeal to commercialism. It loses some of its previous installments grit and realism on that account, but it remains a well acted, well-choreographed action film with a number of impressive fight scenes and a protagonist we love.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Parasite (2019, Directed by Bong Joon-ho) Korean 8

Starring Kang-ho Song, Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Sun-kyun, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, Lee Jung-eun

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Sly. Unexpected. Deranged.

Meet the Kims: the father, Ki-taek (Song), the mother, Chung Sook (Jang), the son, Ki-woo (Choi), and the daughter, Ki-jung (Park). A loving family of four. A classic family unit. They have a whole lot going for them. They’re a devoted group. The children are both attractive. They’re all intelligent and charismatic (the latter two qualities manifesting themselves as their story progresses), and yet, when we first meet the Kims, they’re living in some kind of damp, underground dwelling with the city’s sewage as a neighbor.  There’s never an explanation for how they ended up here. The opening scene shows the children wandering around the not-so-cozy cave trying to freeload off of someone nearby’s wi-fi, finally hitting pay dirt in the farthest corner of their bathroom, tucked in next to the toilet. The Kim family is a part of the lower-class. Parasite makes that point abundantly clear from the outset in over-the-top comedic fashion, setting the tone for the rest of this absurd, explosive, clever, surprising satire.

Naturally, the Kims are given a counterpoint. Ki-woo, with the recommendation of a friend, takes a job as an English tutor to Da-hye (Jung), a member of the beautiful and wealthy Park family. Her father (Lee), simply referred to as Mr. Park throughout, works some kush, corner office job. Her mother, Yeon-kyo (Cho), is a homemaker. Her younger brother, Da-song, is an energetic, artistic boy with an affinity for American Indian culture. The Parks, too, are a loving family of four. Classic family unit. Parasite’s first act unfolds as the unemployed Kims cleverly, one-by-one, become employed in the Park’s household. Ki-woo gets his sister a job as Da-song’s art teacher. She gets her father a job as Mr. Park’s driver, and her father gets her mother a job as the Park’s housekeeper. How they manage this is one of Parasite’s great pleasures. Knowing (at least at this point) what the film was doing and watching it play out provided huge laughs. The problem, though, is that the Kims get their jobs by pretending not to know each other. If you’re thinking that this might explode in their faces later, I’d say it’s a very minor spoiler to say that you’re right. How it happens and not that it happens is the surprise and what makes Parasite special.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that writer-director Bong Joon-ho made both families mirror images of each other (one upper-class and the other lower), or that he gave both families the two most common Korean surnames. The interesting touch to me though, as I’ve pointed to briefly before, is that both families are attractive. The Parks are younger. The parents look like models, but it’s not as if the lower-class Kims look like cave trolls compared to the upper-class Parks. Nor are the Parks more intelligent than the Kims. In fact, as the film plays out, the Kims are clearly more intelligent. The Parks are very trusting. They are completely dependent on their servants, and I think you could say that their servants are too dependent on each other, maybe even their phones demonstrated in the opening scene. On top of that, there’s a surprise character that needs help from another person just to survive. Overdependency seems to me to be one of the culprits of both the Parks’ and the Kims’ downfall because their outcomes are nearly identical. Knowing that makes me question the film’s title. Not that it isn’t appropriate, but who exactly are the parasites? Which family is using the other more? Who’s benefiting more at the expense of the other? I think it’s not as clear cut as you would guess in the beginning. Then the surprise character, part of a third family, I won’t mention who they are, but they play a huge role in what happens. I would say that they are all parasites. All three units.

Like Bong Joon-ho’s previous work, Parasite balances a number of tones and revels in straying from the expected path. It’s a comedy built around absurd reactions from its characters, an obvious satire of high and low culture, maybe even a comedy of manners, though, I’m unable to say for certain, since I would need to know more about Korean culture. I do think it went on for another 15 or so minutes after it could have ended. I prefer a blunt, pointed ending over this extended fade out of an epilogue. Aside from that, Parasite is a unique, memorable film that should hold up as one of the year’s best.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Yojimbo (1961, Directed by Akira Kurosawa) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai,  Yoko Tsukasa


Iconic. Grand. Flawless.

A nonchalant drifter (Mifune) arrives in a town beset by rival gangs. Without a name or any explicit motive, the drifter feigns support for both sides while secretly playing them against each other. Inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Glass Key (great in its own right), Yojimbo is wildly entertaining, funny, cool, and, with its anachronistic soundtrack, the source of inspiration for Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Mifune is unforgettable as the mysterious and deceptive nameless rogue.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Viridiana (1961, Directed by Luis Buñuel) Spanish 8

Starring Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Margarita Lozano, Lola Gaos

(8-Exceptional Film)

Subversive. Provocative. Exciting.

A subversive drama about an aspiring nun, Viridiana (Pinal), on a final familial visit before she takes her vows. A tragedy occurs, and Viridiana responds in saintly fashion. She takes a group of vagrants into her home at the same as her proud and handsome cousin moves in. Subtly transgressive, striking in its imagery (the beautiful Pinal, the repulsive vagrants), provocative, funny, bleak. There’s much left to interpretation, but this is the first Buñuel film that I’ve seen that’s iconoclastic imagery mixes with what I find to be a compelling narrative.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Mohabbatein (2000, Directed by Aditya Chopra) Hindi 6

Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Sharukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Uday Chopra, Shamita Shetty, Kim Sharma, Jimmy Sheirgill, Anupam Kher

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(6-Good Film)

Long. Involving. Excessive.

A mysterious, charismatic new music teacher, Raj (Khan) begins at Gurukul Academy, a prestigious all-boys school, run with an iron fist by Headmaster Shankar (Bachchan). He quickly develops a rapport with his impressionable students, encouraging them to pursue their passions. Three of his students, Vicky, Samir, and Karan, find themselves head over heels in love with three unattainable beauties and look to their new teacher for guidance. Bollywood blockbusters are typically epic in length, genre-mixing, tonally varied, and melodramatic. Mohabbatein is a solid film but even among its Bollywood peers, it feels excessive: three and a half hours, overlong speeches, overdone drama at times. On the bright side, it’s vivid, engaging, and boasts a fantastic soundtrack.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci) French 6

Voices of J.K Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti

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(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Beautiful. Shallow.

High concept meets alternate history in this animated film about a family of scientists seeking to create an elixir that cures mortality. Standing in their way is the French government who enslave all scientists in order to monopolize their creations. The youngest of the family, April, is left alone after her parents mysteriously disappear, and finds herself in the middle of a nefarious end-of-the-world level plot. The comic strip art style is appealing and the world it creates is enticing, but the film lacks depth in certain aspects (namely character) that keep it from achieving the epic status it strives for. As is, it’s creative and diverting, without being spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-