Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

100 Years of Suspenseful, Tragic Stories

Movie Review #732

The Tragic Story of Nling

Directed by Jeffrey St. Jules. Written by Jeffrey St. Jules. Produced by Larissa Giroux for Intrepid Film Arts. Starring Tom Barnett, Steven McCarthy, Kate Campbell, and the voice of John Neville. Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2006; and at Sundance Film Festival in January 2007. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 14 minutes.

“The Tragic Story of Nling” was a Canadian short film created in 2006, but it’s very stylistically convincing as a 1940’s movie. That’s a high point, or might I say, the high point. Everything else runs from confusing to blah. Yeah, the use of stop-animation is neat, but this could have been so much better as a live-action short. And as far as substance, it’s about a desolate island named Nling where a guy who’s suffering an alcohol shortage with his donkey friend. Or maybe that’s just a human being with a donkey head. Whichever it was, I was reminded so thoroughly of Bottom in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a grueling, abstract film that really gives the alcoholic’s frame of mind. But I struggle with something huge. Is it even a tragedy? Or is it actually a comedy? Whichever one it truly is, this is a really silly short film.

100 Years at the Movies

Directed by Chuck Workman. Produced by Chuck Workman for TCM. Archive footage: Clara Bow, Rin Tin Tin, Eugen Sandow. Distributed in 1994. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 9 minutes.

Turner Classic Movies’s centennial celebration of cinematic evolution is just as good as any of the movies it spotlights. (I must be honest: it’s also a whole hell of a lot better than some of them). This may be “just” a short film, but yes, it’s absolutely riveting for anybody who cherishes the movies half as much as I do. We do tend to take for granted how much movies have changed over the years and even if this short is two decades old now, it’s still completely relevant and thoroughly moving. The single most amazing aspect “100 Years at the Movies” has to offer is the art of brilliant choice of music and triumphant movie clips, and absolutely no dialogue. It’s quite remarkable, just watching how we came from one heavyweight epic (“The Birth of a Nation”) to another (“Schindler’s List”)—with films of all shapes, sizes, and colors in between. It’s remarkable, and too fascinating to believe it’s only nine minutes.

Suspense

Directed by Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber. Scenario by Lois Weber. Produced for Rex Motion Picture Company. Starring Lois Weber, Val Paul, Douglas Gerrard, and Sam Kaufman. Uncredited, unconfirmed cameo: Lon Chaney. Distributed by Universal Film Manufacturing Company in wide release on July 6, 1913. Not rated by the MPAA. Runs 10 minutes.

As old as it is, “Suspense” is actually very suspenseful. This is a 1913 short from Lois Weber, often referred to as cinema’s first female director. However, the directing credit jumped around a number of male directors (including D. W. Griffith and Phillips Smalley, who is still co-credited) for decades. The story concerns four key characters: The Wife (Lois Weber), The Husband (Valentine Paul), The Pursuer (Douglas Gerrard), and The Tramp (Sam Kaufman). Incidentally, the ten minutes that those four account for could very well be—and, I don’t doubt, has already been—elongated to a feature-length story. The fact that so much happens in this little film feels fast-paced and exciting. A woman and her infant alone in their isolated house. A tramp discovers how to break in, but not before the woman sees him lurking about her house. When she calls for help, complications begin to unfold. Maybe that’s a story we could find today without trying too hard, but the absolute apex of what “Suspense” offers is its cinematography. This film was released over a century ago, and many filmmakers today fail to match the creative camerawork we see here.

“Short Film Smorgasbord” is Cinemaniac Reviews’s spotlight for the movies we most pitifully tend to overlook. Independent filmmakers, don’t hesitate to submit! Contact cinemaniacreviews@gmail.com and we’ll feature your short film.

ALL TITLES ARE AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

Movie Review #665

persepolis

2.4.7 Films present…

…in association with Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, and Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Country: France – USA
Spoken Languages: French – English – Persian – German

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.  Produced by Xavier Rigault and Marc-Antoine Robert.  Comic by Marjane Satrapi.  Scenario by Vincent Paronnaud.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – mature themes, violence, mild sexual content, profanity, drug material.  Runs 1 hour, 36 minutes.  Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2007.  Limited release in the USA on December 25, 2007.  Wide release in France on June 27, 2007.

Featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, and Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

I don’t have a problem with a depressing animated movie.  In fact, I honor any such movie for not believing that animated movies are automatically “for kids.”  But I have a real hard time bestowing any honor unto “Persepolis”.  The movie deals with the horrors of living in the Middle East through the eyes of a young French girl.  Yes, it’s depressing, but at the same time, it’s made into a near-comedy by the kind of humor you’d find on the Cartoon Network.  Expect obnoxious voice acting and much more.

I won’t deny that “Persepolis” is stylish.  Its black and white stop animation—complemented with occasional color—is beautiful.  The simplicity of it, I’m sure, is exactly what we’d find in its comic book source.  Of course, I’ll never know, if I have my way.  The movie hasn’t piqued my interest in the comic book (let alone its own story) in the least bit.  The worst part about this is that while Marjane Satrapi is inexcusably an uninteresting protagonist in this true story, the actual Marjane Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed the movie.  Is she mocking her past or embracing it lightheartedly?  The movie blurs that line.

Especially near the end, when we’re exposed to one of the very worst covers of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”.

The flaws pile up, and that mountain all comes down to the movie’s insipid, lackluster overlooking of the obvious: that war and corruption just aren’t things you make a kiddish movie about.  There’s not a head that gives a somber nod in this depiction of the years between 1978 and 1992.  They’re all shallow nods.

Postscript: Seemingly, it’s pretty hard to get the much hated product placement into animated movies, but they’ve nailed it here.  Nike shoes and Michael Jackson’s Thriller make their way into the movie during the same breath.

Tomorrow’s Review

Exorcist: The Beginning

Persepolis

Note: Persepolis was a France-USA co-production. There is a widely available English dubbing (which I watched, by pure mistake), but since the movie was originally recorded in French, my review has been written that way, as well. If you need an English translation, stay put for two days.

Movie Review #665

persepolis

2.4.7 Films présente…

…en collaboration avec Celluloid Dreams, Sony Pictures Classics, Sofica Soficinéma, et Sofica Europacorp…

Co-production: France 3 Cinéma – The Kennedy/Marshall Company – French Connection Animations – Diaphana Distribution
Participation: Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) – La Région Île-de-France – Fondation Groupama GAN pour le Cinéma – La Procirep – L’Angoa
Distributeur: Sony Pictures Classics
Pays d’origine: France – États-Unis
Langues: français – anglais – persienne – allemande

Realisé par Vincent Paronnaud et Marjane Satrapi. Produit par Xavier Rigault et Marc-Antoine Robert. De comique par Marjane Satrapi. De scenario par Vincent Paronnaud.

Classé PG-13 par l’MPAA, pour du matériau thématique maturité y compris des images violentes, des références sexuelles, d’impiété, et le contenu bref de drogue. Passé 1 heure, 36 minutes. Première disclosure au Festival de Film de Cannes le 23 mai 2007. Distribution limité aux États-Unis le 25 décembre 2007. Distribution complète à la France le 27 juin 2007.

Avec les voix de Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, et Gabrielle Lopes Benites.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

Je n’ai pas de problème d’une animation déprimée. En fait, j’honore de film qui ne croit pas que les animations sont “pour les enfants.” Alors, c’est difficile pour moi que donner d’honneur à «Persepolis». L’histoire est des horreurs de la vie d’un fille française en Moyen-Est. Oui, c’est déprimé, mais aux même temps, le film s’est fait entre une chose qui est près de comèdie par la type d’humeur on peut trouve en Cartoon Network. On besoin d’attendre les voix ennuyeux et beaucoup de plus.

Je ne vais pas nie que «Persepolis» est stylisé. Son animation monochrome–complété par du couleur occasional–est beau. Le simplicité de ça, je suis positif, est exactement qu’on peut trouve en le livre comique d’origine. Bien sûr, je ne vais savoir jamais, si je peut l’assiste. Le film ne m’ai capturé; pourquoi fait le livre comique? Le plus mauvais facteur de ça, c’est que Marjane Satrapi est inexcusablement une protagoniste ennuie–et elle est le co-auteur et le co-réalisateur. Est-ce qu’elle rigolait de son histoire, ou elle l’embrasse avec trop de levité? On n’a discuté pas.

Particularement près du fin, quand on s’est exposé à un d’une rendition terrible d’«Eye of the Tiger» par Survivor.

Les défauts s’ajoute, et ce mont finit à un défaut fatal: le film ne savait pas que de guerre et de corruption simplement n’est pas des choses pour qu’on produit un film pueril. Il n’y a pas d’un tête qui faire oui que d’attitude sombre en cette depiction des ans entre 1978 et 1992. Tous les faits ouis sont superficials.

Tomorrow’s Review

Persepolis (in English)

Despicable Me 2

Review No. 520

“Despicable Me 2″ is a pretty abeebin dwah doo dee doe do movie!

Despicable Me 2 teaser poster

B-PLUS

DIRECTED BY PIERRE COFFIN AND CHRIS RENAUD. PRODUCED BY CHRIS MELEDANDRI AND JANET HEALY. SCREENPLAY BY CINCO PAUL AND KEN DAURIO. FEATURING THE VOICES OF STEVE CARELL (FELONIOUS GRU), KRISTEN WIIG (LUCY WILDE), BENJAMIN BRATT (EDUARDO PEREZ / EL MACHO), MIRANDA COSGROVE (MARGO), RUSSELL BRAND (DR. NEFARIO), STEVE COOGAN (SILAS RAMSBOTTOM), AND KEN JEONG (FLOYD EAGLE-SAN). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF COFFIN, RENAUD, ELSIE FISHER, DANA GAIER, MOISÉS ARIAS, NASIM PEDRAD, AND KRISTEN SCHAAL. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES ON JULY 3, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 38 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

DESPICABLE ME 2 WAS WATCHED ON JULY 7, 2013.

Despicable Me 2 picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with a similar appreciation for “evilship,” regardless of how much the hero has changed. Felonious Gru (Steve Carell) has now abandoned his career as a supervillain and instead become a loving father to his three adopted daughters. But his supervillainy is still a major part of his past. He’s brought to the Anti-Villain League, an association that uses former supervillains to think in the minds of current supervillains.

Despicable-Me-2-Movie

Abeebin. Dwah. Doo. Dee. Doe. Do.

Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio must’ve had a lot of fun writing the script. It flows along ever so freely. As a result, we get a lot more of the minions, which is such a delight. Unless you simply do not have an inner child to let loose with, it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at their antics. I hear there is a spinoff simply called Minions due for the holiday season of 2014, and I’m already excited. Where the script fails is in a cohesive plot. After the story has come to be, it’s subplot after subplot after subplot. A good eighty to eighty-five percent of the time, the jokes can distract you from the fact that there’s no real glue to hold this movie together.  The other fifteen to twenty percent of the time, it drags.

When I watched Despicable Me not too long ago, I was convinced it was the new Shrek: an animated film that coaxes you into loving an undeniably bad guy. Perhaps, then, Despicable Me 2 is the new Shrek 2. Particularly when it had every nerve to take the money and run, it’s a worthwhile followup. Not quite as great as the original, but worthwhile by any standards.  It’s splendidly animated and abeebin dwah doo dee doe do.  I’m not sure what the hell all that means, but the minions (directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud) said it ever so enthusiastically, and it stuck.

STAY TUNED FOR MY “RUN LOLA RUN” REVIEW @ 4:30

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Review No. 511

Watch it immediately…or steer clear.

south_park_bigger_longer_and_uncut_xlg

A-MINUS

DIRECTED BY TREY PARKER. PRODUCED BY PARKER AND MATT STONE. WRITTEN BY PARKER, STONE, AND PAM BRADY. BASED ON “SOUTH PARK” BY PARKER AND STONE. FEATURING THE VOICES OF PARKER (STAN MARSH ERIC CARTMAN / SATAN / MR. GARRISON / PHILLIP NILES ARGYLE), STONE (KYLE BROFLOVSKI / KENNY McCORMICK / SADDAM HUSSEIN / BUTTERS SCOTCH / TERRANCE HENRY STOOT), MARY KAY BERGMAN (LIANE CARTMAN / SHEILA BROFLOVSKI / SHARON MARSH / CAROL McCORMICK / WENDY TESTABURGER), AND ISAAC HAYES (CHEF JEROME McELROY). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF JESSE HOWELL, ANTHONY CROSS-THOMAS, FRANCESCA CLIFFORD, BRUCE HOWELL, DEB ADAIR, JENNIFER HOWELL, GEORGE CLOONEY, BRENT SPINER, MINNIE DRIVER, DAVE FOLEY, ERIC IDLE, NICK RHODES, TODDY E. WALTERS, STEWART COPELAND, STANLEY G. SAWICKI, AND MIKE JUDGE. DISTRIBUTED BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES ON JUNE 30, 1999. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 21 MINUTES. NOT FOR CHILDREN, DUE TO PROFANITY.

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 30, 2013.

“Blame Canada! Blame Canada!
With all their beady little eyes
And flapping heads so full of lies
Blame Canada! Blame Canada!
We need to form a full assault
It’s Canada’s fault!”

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is the feature-length film released to theaters less than two years after the TV series first aired and frankly, I’m surprised the series is still in production, almost a decade and a half later. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually rather daring. South Park began on the premise that if fourth graders knew how to do something, they’d do it. If they knew how to swear, how to be racist, how to be sexist, and how to involve themselves in matters that were larger than life as they knew it–then they would. And this film rendition makes sure that anything too unspeakable for TV, made it to the silver screen.

Written by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and their collaborator Pam Brady, Bigger, Longer & Uncut jumps deftly and wildly around all sorts of political satire. The story unfolds on a snowy Sunday morning in the mountain town of South Park, where Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick are going to the movies. They convince a homeless man to buy them tickets to an R-rated Canadian movie from their favorite comedy duo, Terrance and Phillip; a few hours later, they exit the theater with more colorful vocabularies. Things start to get out of hand when these “new words” make their way into the classroom, and that’s only the beginning. Somewhere down the road, the parents intervene. In fact, they blame Canada for their children’s expanded vocabulary, and then begin a third World War with them!

South_Park_-_Bigger,_Longer_&_Uncut-30

This is where it all begins…

The movie’s one fault is in its pacing. Bigger, Longer & Uncut clocks in at just over an hour and twenty minutes, though it’s obvious it could have told a more fluent story in just an hour. Of course Kenny dies and, after an operation scene in which his heart is accidentally replaced with a baked potato, he is deported to Hell. Much from here on is set in Hell, but the focus isn’t on Kenny; it’s on a love affair between Satan and Saddam Hussein. Funny, but entirely tangential. Furthermore, the climactic moments are extended to lead up to an overly thoughtful ending.

But no harm, no foul. It’s everything you’d expect from a South Park episode, save for the musical numbers, which are as memorable as the highly original plot. As I type this, the Oscar-nominated “Blame Canada” is still playing over and over in my mind.

FUN FACT: PRODUCERS TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE MADE SURE THE FILM RECEIVED AN R RATING AT ALL COSTS, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS CALCULATED THAT A PG-13 WOULD HAVE BROUGHT IN A MUCH LARGER PROFIT. INCIDENTALLY, THE FILM EARNED AN NC-17 ON SIX SUBMISSIONS TO THE MPAA, AND DIDN’T RECEIVE ITS R RATING UNTIL LESS THAN TWO WEEKS BEFORE RELEASE.

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Monsters University

Review No. 506

A welcome return to Pixar’s “best in class” status.

monsters_university_ver2

A-MINUS

DIRECTED BY DAN SCANLON. PRODUCED BY KORI RAE. SCREENPLAY & STORY BY SCANLON, DANIEL GERSON, AND ROBERT L. BAIRD. FEATURING THE VOICES OF BILLY CRYSTAL (MICHAEL “MIKE” WAZOWSKI), JOHN GOODMAN (JAMES P. “SULLEY” SULLIVAN), AND STEVE BUSCEMI (RANDALL “RANDY” BOGGS). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF NOAH JOHNSTON, JOEL MURRAY, SEAN HAYES, DAVE FOLEY, PETER SOHN, CHARLIE DAY, HELEN MIRREN, ALFRED MOLINA, NATHAN FILLION, AUBREY PLAZA, TYLER LABINE, JOHN KRASINSKI, BONNIE HUNT, BILL HADER, BOBBY MOYNIHAN, JULIA SWEENEY, BETH BEHRS, BOB PETERSON, JOHN RATZENBERGER, AND FRANK OZ. DISTRIBUTED BY WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES ON JUNE 21, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 44 MINUTES. SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 22, 2013.

Monsters University is a prequel to a movie that hit theaters over a decade ago, and its effort proves that while Pixar is in business for the money, they’re more concerned that the audience gets their money’s worth. I do remember Brave, which defied this rule with every soporific cliché possible, but now I’m willing to forgive the studio. I can only do my best in explaining how the magic of Disney has brought Pixar back to its Golden Age, but if explaining means honoring Disney, I’m more than obligated.

Particularly for those who have seen Monsters, Inc., there isn’t anything unexpected about the setup. It’s basically a story about friendship, competition, popularity, and when each one is most important. Therefore, it’s the exact same idea as Inc., but it feels as fresh as ever, provided the back stories of cyclopean Mike (Billy Crystal), bearlike Sulley (John Goodman), and reptilian Randall (Steve Buscemi).

monsters-university-movie-image-mike-sully-1-600x337

Do the Harlem Shake.

The screenplay is structured not as a single plot, but as several continuous events. Through this, you can literally tell what time of day it is through the animation, which uses a wide range of visuals to illustrate the weather outside, the atmosphere of the scenes, etc. Never has Pixar released such a beautiful film. On the other hand, the script’s one fault is a verification of why the similarly structured (albeit much, much different) Catcher in the Rye has never made it to the big screen: the shifting between a vast number of events causes pacing errors. As a result, the film does drag toward the end, particularly with its precise lead-in to the 2001 film. But it’s constantly making up for these slights by amusing the entire family.

I’ll leave those as a surprise to be revealed in experience only. Monsters University is exactly what I’d imagine an Oozma Kappa (the fraternity featured in the movie) party to be: in a nutshell, everybody’s smiling, always.

FOOTNOTE: With regard to the first paragraph, I know Brave won an Academy Award, but if you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph, Frankenweenie, and perhaps anything else in the category, you know deep down that you’re about as pissed at the Academy as I am.

Despicable Me

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Review No. 497

“Fantastic” film.

fantastic_mr_fox

A-PLUS

DIRECTED BY WES ANDERSON.  PRODUCED BY ANDERSON, ALLISON ABBATE, SCOTT RUDIN, AND JEREMY DAWSON.  SCREENPLAY BY ANDERSON & NOAH BAUMBACH. BASED ON “FANTASTIC MR FOX” BY ROALD DAHL. FEATURING THE VOICES OF GEORGE CLOONEY (MR. “FOXY” FOX), MERYL STREEP (MRS. FELICITY FOX), JASON SCHWARTZMAN (ASH FOX), BILL MURRAY (CLIVE BADGER), WILLEM DAFOE (RAT), AND OWEN WILSON (COACH SKIP). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF ERIC CHASE ANDERSON, WALLACE WOLODARSKY, MICHAEL GAMBON, ROBIN HURLSTONE, HUGO GUINESS, HELEN McCRORY, JARVIS COCKER, BRIAN COX, ADRIEN BRODY, GARTH JENNINGS, WES ANDERSON, ROMAN COPPOLA, AND MARIO BATALI. DISTRIBUTED BY 20TH CENTURY FOX ON NOVEMBER 25, 2009. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 27 MINUTES. NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SMOKING AND MILD VIOLENCE.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 10, 2013.

“Boggis, Bunce, and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks,
so different in looks,
were nonetheless equally mean.”
–music and lyrics by Alexandre Desplat

Creative writing prompts are a matter of reusing and recycling; I think the one I land on the most happens to be: “Choose two different people from two different periods of time. Let them have a conversation with one another. What does one person say, and how does the other react?” The next time I face this prompt, I shall write a response concerning Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson. The problem I’ll run into is the time constraint. These two would sit around all day and not notice sunrise become midnight. You just can’t condense a high-spirited conversation the length of ten, elaborate novels, into a three-page short story.

ashfoxandkylie

From a “West Side Story”-esque scene – the Foxes vs. the Humans.

The animated comedy at hand is tremendously enjoyable for all ages. Wes Anderson has always been fond of expressing stories with adult humor and youthful attitudes, but he’s never been able to channel his work to both parties, due to the inhibitions of the R rating. Fantastic Mr. Fox is rated PG, and in almost every scene, there’s a melodic balance in humor. Anthropomorphism is outstandingly realized. One of my personal favorite moments was a rather fleeting instance: it’s funny for both young and older audiences when Kylie the Opossum starts playing the piano. One age group would laugh at the thought that an opossum can actually tickle the ivories; the other age group would find it amusing that an opossum is able to serenade his critter family as if he were George Gershwin.

My theory is, these five seconds were a subtextual cameo of Anderson’s. If there’s anyone who can adapt Roald Dahl’s work, it’s Wes Anderson. Henry Selick, Danny DeVito, and Tim Burton have all tried and failed. Proverbially, they knew the notes, they just couldn’t play the music. Anderson doesn’t just play the music, he plays it like George Gershwin. It’s been a while since I’ve read Dahl’s book, so I can’t say so for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if along the way, Anderson gave the notes a little twist. A twist that would make even Roald Dahl smile and remark, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Warm Bodies

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Spirited Away

Review No. 496

A movie for all ages, and for THE ages.

spirited_away

A

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY HAYAO MIYAZAKI. PRODUCED BY TOSHIO SUZUKI. FEATURING THE VOICES OF RUMI HIIRAGI (CHIHIRO OGINO), MIYU IRINO (HAKU/SPIRIT OF THE KOHAKU RIVER), MARI NATSUKI (YUBABA / ZENIBA), TAKASHI NAITO (AKIHIKO OGINO), YASUKO SAWAGUCHI (YUMIKO OGINO), TSUNEHIKO KAMIJŌ (CHICHIYAKU), TAKEHIKO ONO (ANIYAKU), AND BUNTA SUGAWARA (KAMAJII). ALSO FEATURING THE VOICES OF YUMI TAMAI, RYUNOSUKE KAMIKI, AND AKIO NAKAMURA. ENGLISH DUBBING FEATURES THE VOICES OF DAVEIGH CHASE, JASON MARSDEN, SUZANNE PLESHETTE, MICHAEL CHIKLIS, LAUREN HOLLY, RODGER BUMPASS, JOHN RATZENBERGER, AND DAVID OGDEN STIERS; AS WELL AS THOSE OF SUSAN EGAN, TARA STRONG, AND BOB BERGEN. DISTRIBUTED BY WALT DISNEY PICTURES ON JULY 20, 2001. PRODUCED IN JAPANESE BY JAPAN. NOT FOR ALL AGES, DUE TO SCARY MOMENTS AND MILD VIOLENCE.

SPIRITED AWAY WAS WATCHED ON JUNE 8, 2013.

“Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.” –Zeniba (Japanese: Mari Natsuki / English: Suzanne Pleshette)

There’s an adage that if something can go wrong, it will. Spirited Away is a tale that presents this perfectly. Young Chihiro is instinctive, but she’s also shy. She’s moving into a new house, and as soon as she opens the car door to get out, she’s petrified with fear. Her parents’ one mistake is in dismissing this as pure shyness. They proceed to an abandoned carnival, notice food, and eat it. They’ve been corrupted by their own greed so much that they don’t even notice how the food is so hot in a carnival so deserted. They are transformed into swine, and in order for them to change back, Chihiro is sent to work herself to the bone in a bathhouse, run by spirits who could care for nothing more than to get their grubby paws on some money. Chihiro is able to forgive her parents for betraying her, only because she is devoted to them. But is it possible that one little girl can use devotion as a weapon against greed, the single driving force that motivates the hundreds that now surround her?

spirited-away-large-picture-1

Miyazaki has an imagination, and he isn’t afraid to use it.

The ending is a dead giveaway. It’s in getting there that an unpredictable beauty takes over. Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a brilliant “good vs. evil” fable. The story takes the fantasy genre and does it inside-out, similarly to how Guillermo del Toro constructed his Pan’s Labyrinth. This is, in fact, the exact opposite of Pan’s Labyrinth. That film featured a young girl who used her dream world as an escape from her father, a fascist World War II captain, and ended up getting the two worlds dangerously confused. Spirited Away concerns a girl whose reality becomes a world full of nightmares, which she must escape in order to return to her parents.

Spirited Away is either a wholesome film in the costume of a horror movie, or a horror movie in the costume of a completely wholesome film. I’m flummoxed as to which of the two it is, but I’m sure that this is a movie that has touches of both tameness and horror. Hayao Miyazaki proves flawlessly that it’s possible to craft reality out of a fantastical anime. The dangers Chihiro encounters aren’t accessible, but the one fear she has is one that every human has. You could say Spirited Away is more accessible to children who cannot afford to lose their parents, to which I’d argue that there’s someone, something, or some concept in your own life that you can’t possibly separate yourself from. I first watched Spirited Away when I was in the fifth grade, and it struck an emotional chord for me. Although the one this time was an emotional chord of a different pitch, it was just as strong.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Frankenweenie

Review No. 415

frankenweenie_ver2

The Bottom Line: Not one of the director’s better works, but still quite enjoyable.

Directed by: Tim Burton
Screenplay by: John August
Story by: Tim Burton
Based on: “Frankenweenie” by Tim Burton and Lenny Ripps
Victor Frankenstein: Charlie Tahan
Mr. Rzykruski: Martin Landau
Elsa van Helsing: Winona Ryder
Edgar “E” Gore: Atticus Shaffer
Bob: Robert Capron
Also Featuring the Voices of: Catherine O’Hara, Christopher Lee, Conchata Ferrell, Frank Welker, James Hiroyuki Liao, Martin Short, Tom Kenny

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures on October 5, 2012. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 87 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements, scary images and action.

Frankenweenie was watched on February 10, 2013.

“Look! It’s moving. It’s sha — it’s… it’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive! It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive! It’s ALIVE!” –Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in Frankenstein (1931)

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie is a huge step up from his previous effort, the chaotic Dark Shadows. This time, he’s taking on another horror archetype: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The film functions like the mind of a child. It’s often absurd, slightly shallow, all the while fun. Although many jokes here are aimed at young children, none are gratuitously juvenile and many of them draw laughter willingly from just about any audience. Most of all, this “horror comedy” is imaginative and even heartfelt. But if you’re seeking down several novel twists on the story we all know, I’d actually advise keeping away from Frankenweenie.

The film succeeds in its script. Color me surprised, as this feature-length animation is based on a half-hour short. I’d assume that one doesn’t go into nearly as much depth, as the subplots are only available here to give the tale coherence.

Victor Frankenstein is a timid boy who loves his dog Sparky to pieces. I’ll let the clichéd name slide; it’s merely a step up from “Fido,” but a dog is a dog is a dog. He accompanies the boy everywhere. Victor wants badly to participate in the science fair, but his dad wants none of it, instead insisting that he play baseball. But during one game, Sparky is hit by a car while trying to catch a baseball for his kind owner. Grief stricken, Victor uses his demented science class to his ability, using lightning as a defibrillator for his dog.

Frankenweenie is a joyously strange Halloween flick. It’s great to know that “weird” isn’t a term definitive of only directors like David Lynch, who target their bizarre films at mature audiences. Tim Burton has embraced his macabre style as violent and adult (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow), and as wholesome and giddy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland). Frankenweenie is an immensely strong instance of the latter.

It goes without saying, however, that Frankenweenie is not entirely original. Most disappointing are the climactic moments. I know the younger audience may not get the overly direct allusion, but at this point, it seems like an overblown knockoff of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. Burton claims they’re sea monkeys, but as I’ve seen that timeless ’80s movie several times, I beg to differ.

Frankenweenie warrants a bona fide recommendation in my book. Even those who have never seen the B-horror flicks at which this pokes fun (in black and white, no less) will surely enjoy its featherweight humor. But a less expected ending and a few more touches of Tim Burton’s genius could have done so much in making the passing cartoon a highly memorable fanfare.

B MINUS

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Simpsons Movie

Review No. 395

simpsons_movie_ver7

The Bottom Line: The best episode of the greatest American TV show still around. I said it.

Directed by: David Silverman
Screenplay by: James L. Brooks and Matt Groening & Al Jean and Ian Maxtone-Graham & George Meyer and David Mirkin & Mike Reiss and Mike Scully & Matt Selman and John Swartzwelder & Jon Vitti
Based on: “The Simpsons” by Matt Groening and James L. Brooks & Sam Simon
Homer Simpson: Dan Castellaneta
Marge Simpson: Julie Kavner
Bart Simpson: Nancy Cartwright
Lisa Simpson: Yeardley Smith
Other Voices: Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer

Distributed by 20th Century Fox on July 27, 2007. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 86 mins. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for irreverent humor throughout.

The Simpsons Movie was watched on January 19, 2013.

Bart: “You didn’t bring my pants?”
Homer: “Who am I, Tommy Bahama?”
Bart: “Ohhh. This is the worst day of my life.”
Homer: “The worst day of your life so far!”

The Simpsons isn’t a TV sitcom about a dysfunctional family. It’s actually about the entire town of Springfield, where inhabitants are any demographic from comic book fanatics; to rednecks; to wealthy octogenarians; to quirky, religious next door neighbors. The humor is never selective. When it’s well written–and only on the rarest occasion is it not–it’s bound to appeal to almost anyone and everyone.

Look in the Oxford English Dictionary for “D’oh!” You will find it, all thanks to The Simpsons. And knowing all this, The Simpsons is far more than an animated TV series, per se. It’s a phenomenon that began as an animated sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show, before Matt Groening liberated it into a grand, hysterical world of its own just before Christmas of 1989. Yes, a world of its own, often representing the missteps of ours. The Simpsons is currently facing its 23rd season; for it to suddenly end would be an apocalypse.

I’ve taken every permitting chance to make it clear that I am a diehard fan of The Simpsons. I’ve seen every episode from seasons one, twenty, twenty-one, and twenty-two, and it was only shortly after I became a fan that I set a goal: to see every episode before I kick the bucket (I have some time to check that off the list).

Recently, I watched The Simpsons Movie for the ninth time. It’s amazing how although the humor its quite predictable by now, and I have at least half the screenplay absorbed into my psyche, I’m still picking up on subtleties I hadn’t in my eighth viewing, and perhaps laughing even harder than before.

What’s even more amazing is how well done the film is. I never saw The Simpsons Movie during its time in the theaters, back in summer of 2007, but I remember seeing each trailer as if it were yesterday. The film was advertised as eighteen years in the making. Whether Matt Groening had actually proposed a film adaptation right around the series’ genesis, few can quite know, but considering that a significant drop in the series’ humor came with the new millennium, the claim is quite probable.

The Simpsons Movie takes a humble approach in its story. It really isn’t much different than any other Simpsons episode, except it runs a feature length and is as witty as the best moments in the program. While his daughter is advocating for Springfield’s environment, Homer takes the liberty of saving a pig from being butchered, keeping it as a pet, pampering it…and dumping a massive silo of its feces in the already polluted lake.

These events are precipitated by Grampa Simpson’s chaotic, nonsensical outburst in the middle of church. Throughout the movie, his words begin to make perfect sense: “twisted tail” is the pig; “a thousand eyes” is the creature that appears as a squirrel’s reaction after jumping into a lake infused with pig droppings; “EPA” is the Environmental Protection Agency, who orders that President Schwarzenegger enclose Springfield inside a dome.

Homer doesn’t realize what he has done caused until a mob comes at 7:00 one night. (He remembers it being at 4:00, though, because Access Hollywood is on at both times.) The Simpsons are forced out of their home with ten dollars and a wedding video. They leave for Alaska, but cannot leave their psychotic, unconditionally catastrophic past.

The Simpsons Movie is a gem, filled with the creative genius of its creator and writers, and featuring voice cameos from Green Day, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oh wait, that last one was apparently just a damn good Ah’nold impression. There are several in-jokes only fans of the series will get, but the best way to discover the fandom for which you are destined, than to start right here.

“I was elected to lead, not to read.”

A PLUS




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