You won't find "The Year of the Yao" on a Chinese lunar calendar, but the 2002-03 NBA season to which it refers was an eventful one for basketball fans and cultural watchdogs around the world. It was the year that Shanghai's Yao Ming made the leap to the NBA, the subject of a glossy documentary by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo. Not yet 22 years old when he was selected first in the 2002 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, Yao was under tremendous pressure from a nationalistically minded homeland eager to see him make good and from many basketball insiders dubious of the 7-foot-6 center's ability to translate his height advantage to in-the-paint dominance against aggressive rivals such as then-Laker star Shaquille O'Neal.
The extremely likable young man's ability to handle the situation with grace and humor and the warm friendship he develops with his diminutive translator, 28-year-old Colin Pine, form the heart of the film, but its failure to delve deeper leaves it a little flat. As bright and shiny as you would imagine something co-produced by NBA Entertainment to be, "The Year of the Yao" provides little insight beyond hanging out with its super-sized star and would not be out of place as halftime filler except for its nearly 90-minute running time.
A case can be made that this vertically enhanced leading man might have benefited from the Imax treatment afforded one of Stern's earlier films, "Michael Jordan to the Max."
"The Year of the Yao," rated PG for some mild language. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Loews Cineplex Beverly Center 13, 8522 Beverly Blvd., (310) 652-7760; and Edwards Atlantic Palace 10, 700 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 458-9748.
'Milwaukee' nicely quirky, but flawedWritten by R.D. Murphy and directed by Allan Mindel, "Milwaukee, Minnesota" is not quite the sum of its occasionally interesting parts. Most of its cast makes strong impressions, but the plot and motivation don't quite jell, resulting in a minor item that shows its star Troy Garity to good advantage. Garity's Albert is a champion fisherman who knows just where to poke through the ice but is mildly retarded and overly protected by his mother (Debra Monk), whose sudden death sets the story in motion. Albert's kindly employer (Bruce Dern), much despised by his late mother for reasons easy to suspect, strives to protect the confused Albert from being conned by the ruthless Tuey (Alison Folland) with a sickly brother (Hank Harris) in tow and by Jerry (Randy Quaid, wonderfully slick and slimy), who persuades Albert that he is his long-lost father. The overly familiar point is that Albert may not be quite as slow-witted as he seems; that Folland is out of her depth in a key role is a further detriment to "Milwaukee, Minnesota." On the plus side are vivid cameos by Holly Woodlawn and Josh Brolin.
"Milwaukee, Minnesota," rated R for language, sexual content, some violence and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-4010.
--Kevin ThomasCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times