My Favorite Edmund Goulding Films (New)

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Dark Victory (1939)

2.   Grand Hotel (1932)

3.   Love (1927)

4.   Nightmare Alley (1947)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   That Certain Woman (1937)

2.   The Great Lie (1941)

3.   The Dawn Patrol (1938)

My Favorite Jules Dassin Films (New)

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Brute Force (1947)

2.   Uptight (1968)

3.   Rififi (1955)

4.   Thieves Highway (1949)

5.   Night and the City (1950) (Not the 1992 version)

6.   The Naked City (1948)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Topkapi (1964)

2.   Never on Sunday (1960)

My Favorite Stephen Chow Films (New)

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

2.   The Mermaid (2016)

3.   CJ7 (2008)

4.   Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)

5.   Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Pete’s Dragon 2016 Version Review By Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi. I wanted to share some of his reviews by posting them on my website. All credit goes to him, not me. I think he is a great reviewer 🙂 I know this version of Pete’s Dragon was released back in August (it is now September), but so what. 🙂 Here is Yaseen’s review of Pete’s Dragon below.

Pete’s Dragon 2016 version
A Review
Yaseen Fawzi
August 17, 2016

Pete’s Dragon is the second Disney live-action remake released this year, the first one being The Jungle Book. Based on the 1977 film of the same name, it tells the story of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend, a dragon named Elliot. One day, a logging crew from the town of Millhaven discover Pete and he is soon taken into custody by park ranger Grace Meachem. Pete makes friends with Grace, her husband Jack, and their daughter Natalie. However, Jack’s brother Gavin soon hears about Elliot, believing him to be a ferocious monster, and gathers a hunting party to track the creature down. The stakes are raised when Pete and his new friends have to prove the townspeople wrong in their assumptions about Elliot before it is too late.

Director David Lowery handles the material with a more delicate touch and greater degree of subtlety than the original ’77 version. Gone is the emphasis on madcap hijinks and in its place comes a quaint tale with a greater sense of danger as Pete and Elliot are taken out of the forest. The film firmly establishes Elliot as being the only real connection for Pete after his parents’ deaths, along with a visual motif of a picture book Pete carries around as a memento. Much of the “Pete’s Dragon” remake also calls to one’s mind such films as The Neverending Story and The Black Stallion, both of which were made at a time when live-action family films put more focus on story and character development than obnoxious humor and flash-in-the-pan trends. There are still a few doses of humor thrown in, but they are not as in-your-face this time around. Overall, the remake follows enough of a different structure from its earlier counterpart that it is one of those few that actually work as a standalone film as well.

The effects on Elliot by Weta Digital actually make him look much more lifelike here than in the cutout-like pencil animation effects of the original, especially on his detailed fur, camouflage, and fire breathing, to the point that one gradually starts to see him as a natural part of the scenery. Most of the human characters, especially the Millhaven townspeople, also seem better developed, with more three-dimensional personalities being established, as opposed to the cast comprising mostly of bumbling coots, like in the 1977 film. Setting a majority of the film in the forest (with the locations being filmed in New Zealand) gives it a greater scope that the original didn’t have, which adds to its stronger appeal. With no musical numbers in sight, the score by newcomer Daniel Hart is left to further enhance the heartwarming character moments between Pete, Elliot, and their adoptive family, as well as the rousing action.

In terms of performances, the young leads, Oakes Fegley as the feral Pete and Oona Laurence as Natalie, achieve that delicate aspect of innocence in great child performances without overacting or coming across as annoying. Bryce Dallas Howard adds a fine touch of motherly affection to the character of Grace. Robert Redford portrays Grace’s father with a great deal of warmhearted honesty and nuance. Wes Bentley and Karl Urban play the brothers Jack and Gavin as opposite personalities, Jack being very levelheaded while Gavin is more paranoid. All of these actors add in the necessary nuances to develop believable personas for their characters.

Like the Jungle Book remake from Disney earlier this year, Pete’s Dragon is one of those rarest of birds: a remake on par with (or in this case, better than) the original.

* * * * (Out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”


Kubo and the Two Strings: A Review by Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi. I wanted to share some of his reviews by posting them on my website. All credit goes to him, not me. He writes a lot of great reviews and this is yet another one 🙂 I am aware that Kubo came out in August (this is now September), but this is a great review. Here is Yaseen’s review of Kubo and the Two Strings below:

Kubo and the Two Strings
A Review
Yaseen Fawzi
August 20, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings is the new animated film from the acclaimed stop-motion house LAIKA. In ancient Japan, young Kubo, whose late father was a master samurai, lives with his mother and tells stories to the civilians of his town by the seashore by summoning to life origami figures, wielding a magical three-stringed instrument called a shamisen. However, he inadvertently summons his grandfather, the vengeful Moon King, who snatched Kubo’s left eye and calls upon the equally sinister twin Sisters to steal the other one. Aided by Beetle, an insect-samurai hybrid, and the wise Monkey, Kubo goes on a journey to retrieve his late father’s three pieces of armor that will prove impenetrable against the Moon King.

Directed by LAIKA CEO/animator Travis Knight, the film features a small but exemplary voice cast, which despite coming across as being mostly Western in an Asian setting, elevates the material. Matthew McConaughey provides a light touch of humor as Beetle, while Charlize Theron conveys subtlety and nuance as Monkey. Behind the Noh masks they wear, the twin Sisters hide a hypnotic and threatening presence, and equally as haunting is the sultry voice of Rooney Mara. Art Parkinson captures that delicate balance between innocence and bravery as Kubo, and Ralph Fiennes savors every single moment in his vocal portrayal of Raiden the Moon King. The cast is rounded out by supporting players George Takei, Cary Hiroyuki-Tarawa, and Brenda Vaccaro.

The storytelling methods prevalent in Kubo are structured as a loving tribute to the stories of ancient Japanese culture, along with greater influence from anime and the films of Akira Kurosawa. Kubo faces great dangers during his quest than he has ever known, causing him to show greater responsibility as he discovers who he really is. This Japanese influence is also most evident in the photography by Frank Passingham, which very much resembles the establishing shots and overall mise-en-scene of Kurosawa. Every single detail in the set pieces, from the exteriors of the dojos, lush oceans, and sweeping mountains to the tiniest rocks and foliage, makes them the equivalent of Impressionist and Japanese paintings combined.

With every new film LAIKA makes, the stop-motion models become much more diverse, as Kubo, Beetle, and the village civilians are designed with Japanese facial aesthetics in mind. The animation itself, including the magical origami and a large skeleton obstacle with swords on its head, is so lifelike that it is comparable to the works of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen, except on a much larger scale. There are certain moments when you forget you are watching stop-motion figures, especially in the quieter scenes of interaction between Kubo, Beetle, and Monkey. Although the fight sequences are admirably choreographed and well-animated, they are much too short to inspire anything of greater substance. The soundtrack by Dario Marianelli is filled to the brim with East Asian woodwinds and shamisen, adding to the thematic prowess of Kubo’s journey.

With its respectable cultural awareness and ode to ancient Japan, Kubo and the Two Strings represents another milestone in LAIKA’s small but acclaimed output.

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”

Finding Dory Review By Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi. I know this film first came out back in June (it is now September), but I felt like sharing this review by displaying it on my blog because Yaseen is a great reviewer in my opinion 🙂 What was written below does not express my views on the film, but Yaseen’s and I felt like posting what he wrote. Here is his Finding Dory review below:

Finding Dory 
A Review
Written by
Guest Reviewer
Yaseen Fawzi
June 18, 2016

Finding Dory is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Pixar undersea film Finding Nemo. One year after the events of the previous film, Dory, who is prone to short-term memory loss, suddenly remembers the family she thought she had lost during a field trip with Mr. Ray’s class. With the help of her friends Marlin and his recently-found son Nemo, Dory goes on an adventure to find her parents, Jenny and Charlie. She winds up at the Marine Life Institute in California, where she meets a cynical “septopus” named Hank, Bailey the beluga whale with the ability of echolocation, and a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, who turns out to be an old childhood friend of Dory’s. Along the way, Marlin and Nemo bump into the lumbering sea lions Fluke and Rudder, as well as a loon named Becky who guides them on their own quest finding Dory.

The original leads from Finding Nemo return, and that includes Ellen DeGeneres as the forgetful but lovable Dory. Albert Brooks plays more of a supporting role as Marlin this time around, while Alexander Gould has been replaced as Nemo by newcomer Hayden Rolence. New additions to the cast include Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, Ty Burrell as Bailey, and Ed O’Neill as Hank. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy are spot-on casting as Jenny and Charlie, along with a special vocal appearance by Sigourney Weaver herself as the Marine Life announcer. Probably the most unique casting is Idris Elba and Dominic West playing Fluke and Rudder, as these two acclaimed British actors portray large characters (in stature and personality) lazing around in the sun.

The film’s themes of family and memory are firmly evident as Dory goes on her quest to search for her parents and gradually remembers more about them. The story itself is full of different twists and turns within the Marine Life institute as Dory goes between remembering and forgetting. The character development is neatly structured, with Dory becoming more and more confident as she starts to remember more about herself. Hank also gradually turns into a more believable character as he goes from being curmudgeonly to dependable. Besides the storytelling aspects, what has also improved greatly since the original film’s release is the advances in technology that make greater additions to the ocean environment while also maintaining the look and feel of the original characters, especially such subtle details as the multiple species of sea creatures or the rays of light reflecting in the ocean. Unique character traits that show off this technology include Hank’s ability to camouflage onto various objects or when Bailey’s hearing is visually depicted via radar detection. Another great display of character animation is how Hank is able to emote with his eyes and speak dialogue, even though his mouth isn’t centered. Once again, Thomas Newman’s music also adds to the very ethereal and atmospheric feel of the oceanic environment.

Just when it seemed like Pixar was going downhill, Finding Dory qualifies as both an exemplary sequel and another surefire winner in the Pixar canon.

* * * * (Out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”

The BFG Review By Guest Reviewer Yaseen Fawzi

This review was not written by me, it was written by my friend Yaseen Fawzi and I thought I would share what he wrote by posting his review of Steven Spielberg’s film version of The BFG here on my site. I know it came out back in July, but he has written some reviews of films that he has seen and I thought I would post them on here 🙂

A Review
Guest Writer
Yaseen Fawzi
July 7, 2016

Steven Spielberg’s newest, highly-anticipated film. The BFG is based on the classic children’s story of the same name by Roald Dahl. When the young orphan Sophie is whisked away by a mysterious being, she ends up meeting that being known as the BFG (Big Friendly Giant). However, beneath the BFG’s intimidating presence is a kind and gentle figure who is an outcast, because he does not want to eat children. Unfortunately, this grabs the attention of the more fearsome flesh-eating giants, including Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler. Sophie and the BFG soon enlist the help of the Queen to vanquish the flesh-eating giants once and for all.

The film starts recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance in the title role and newcomer Ruby Barnhill in her film debut as Sophie. In the roles of Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler are popular New Zealand musician Jemaine Clement and comedian Bill Hader. Supporting roles include Penelope Wilton as the Queen, along with Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall. Out of all the actors in this small cast, the stand-out performance belongs to Rylance, who goes beyond limits in his mo-cap performance as the BFG to give the character a tender soul filled with childlike innocence. For her first major role, Barnhill delivers a stunningly spot-on performance as Sophie. Clement and the other flesh-giant cast members, also acting in motion capture, play their roles like those of large bullies, taunting and humiliating the BFG.

The script, as written by the late Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), to whom the film is dedicated, captures the innocence and sense of wonder prominent in many of Spielberg’s films while also retaining Dahl’s quirky charm and wordplay. This includes such fictional terms as snozzcumber, fizzwiggler, and frobscottle, the last of which refers to a special kind of drink in which its air bubbles go down rather than up and give off a special kind of fart. At the heart of the film is the budding friendship between the BFG and Sophie, which gives the film an element of minimalism, since they are the primary characters throughout a majority of its length. Spielberg is one the few directors who still knows how to balance special effects with effective storytelling. Another commendable trait that is ever so rare nowadays is how the film, particularly during the beginning, jumps straight into its plot points without the need for expository dialogue or endless padding. The flesh-eating giants are especially fearsome in their stature, towering over even the BFG, which further exemplifies how much of a loner he really is. Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg’s fantastical production design is most evident in such locations as Dream Country (which is akin to Aurora Borealis located near a tree and magical pond), the nightly ghost-town streets of London, and the BFG’s home, with an interior and objects extremely large from a human’s perspective, but small enough for him. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski has that fine, delicate balance between shadow and light, and adds a greater depth of field that is the BFG’s huge environment. John Williams’ musical score is just as whimsical and orchestrally endearing as that of E.T.

The BFG is quite a quirky candidate in Spielberg’s line-up, but he ultimately respects Dahl’s classic story while also adding a great deal of cinematic flair to it.

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”

My Favorite Jean Cocteau (New)

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Les Parents terribles (1948)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

2.   Beauty and the Beast (1946) (Not the 1991 animated version)

3.   Orpheus (1950)

4.   The Blood of a Poet (1930)

5.   Testament of Orpheus (1960)

6.   The Eagle with Two Heads (1948)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

7.   8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957)
(co-directed with Hans Richter)

(I watched it on youtube)

8.   La Villa Santo-Sospir (1952)
(Short Film)
(I watched it on youtube)