Tag: adventure

Movie Review: Hoshi o ou kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices) (2011)

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Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up.

I realize I’ve never actually reviewed any of his films on here, but know that I really love and respect the films of Makoto Shinkai. He’s a terrific animator and visionary artist, and I like how his works are all kind of sad and tinged with longing. It gets to me. His latest feature, Children Who Chase Lost Voices (aka Journey to Agartha) is a bit of a change for him in that it is mostly high fantasy, and works much more in the Miyazaki vein than his other films, but it still retains some of his signature as a storyteller and artist. The plot revolves around Asuna, a hardworking preteen loner who briefly befriends a mysterious stranger. She discovers he is from a mythical land known as Agartha, a kind of underworld where all the old gods fled after people stopped believing in them, along with some human groups who followed them. Asuna unintentionally breaks into their world with her grieving teacher, who hopes to resurrect his dead wife with the land’s power. He and Asuna move through Agartha, generally unwelcome among the locals but managing to pick up a couple of friends (and several terrifying enemies). Asuna is unsure of her ultimate goal, but feels it is important that she somehow find closure for both recent and long-ago losses.

It can’t be avoided: this movie feels derivative of Miyazaki. Its imagery, its setting, its overall story and characters- they can all be easily related back to the influential Ghibli director. And I’ll admit that was a little frustrating, coming from a filmmaker like Shinkai whom I associate with individuality and experimentation. It is also, however, in keeping with his general themes and mood, though aimed at a younger audience than his earlier films. Amidst the fantastical visuals and mythological creatures, the film dwells thoughtfully on issues of mortality and loss, and it is clear that Shinkai is using this somewhat over-familiar concept and unreal setting to underscore the realities of his characters. Their situation is unreal, but their resolution born out of grief feels true. Moving along at an easygoing pace, Shinkai develops their stories gradually while peppering in action sequences and memorably surreal surprises. For the most part, though, I think he just really wanted to paint the sky. There are a lot of lingering shots of breathtakingly gorgeous day- and night-time vistas here, and it just blows my mind how beautiful it all is and how soft and inviting and detailed Shinkai makes his worlds. It’s the kind of film you can drink up and keep within you for a bit, instead of just watch.

Admittedly I didn’t all-out love this film, it’s overlong and just didn’t have the spark of originality I was hoping for. I’ve seen some people calling it a rip-off, but I don’t think that’s fair. It’s more just influenced by Miyazaki and they are both pulling from similar mythological/cultural sources. Overall it is a beautiful film, but the plotting is a little clunky at parts and a few narrative points didn’t quite come together (like, where did Asuna’s dad get the crystal key thing?). I do think it’s an interesting addition to Shinkai’s filmography, mostly because with Miyazaki’s retirement there’s some question as to how that void in critically-acclaimed, family-friendly fantasy anime will be filled, and I hadn’t really considered him a candidate for that area. But he can obviously do it, and still add his own adult themes and visual flair. I’m definitely interested to see how his work advances, and will be revisiting his earlier films soon.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: A like-minded Miyazaki would be good, especially Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, or Nausicaa. Alternatively there’s always room for more Shinkai, like The Place as Promised in Our Early Days or 5 Centimeters Per Second.

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Seen: In 3D at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

Thor is never something I’ve had Big Opinions about but I like all those Marvel movies so I go to see them, you know? This time around the big guy (Chris Hemsworth) is hanging out in space or whatever, fighting aliens and sucking up to his benevolent dictator dad and pining for his brilliant earthbound girlfriend, Jane (Natalie Portman). Through the wonders of science she discovers a portal to other worlds and accidentally absorbs a destructive energy that makes her a target for a host of evil elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who holds an old grudge against Asgard. Thor brings Jane to Asgard as Malekith is gearing up for war, planning to reclaim this mystery power from her. There’s lots of fighting and whizzing around in space. Also Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is really tortured.

This is the kind of movie that I know I enjoyed as I was watching it, it’s just mindless humor and action and I appreciated that about it. Just before heading out to the theater I’d received some bad news about my MA thesis and I was kind of freaking out, so a “shutting my brain off”-type of movie was actually just what I needed. In retrospect, while I don’t think it’s a bad film, Thor: The Dark World doesn’t really hold up as well upon further consideration. It just didn’t bring anything new to the table, aside from some interesting developments with Loki, so it’s ultimately forgettable. The general conflict isn’t particularly gripping, the character arcs are static, and the direction is competent but un-extraordinary. I liked that Jane Foster was given an important role in the overall plot, but she barely had any agency within that story so it wasn’t exactly satisfying.

There are some fun action scenes, but the final showdown felt anticlimactic. The best part was when Idris Elba single-handedly took down an enemy spaceship. Like, remember that? That was so awesome. But! Not enough Sif, she had one fight in the opening battle scene and then a couple of dramatic stares and that was it! Wtf? Also not enough Darcy, but I guess that’s just because I want to gaze at the drop-dead gorgeous Kat Dennings all day (though not enough to watch the uncomfortably racist Two Broke Girls). For me the major highlight was Loki. I’m not one of those people who is obsessed with his character, though I think Tom Hiddleston is a very good actor and has been so fun to watch in the role. But something about his broken-but-still-haughty demeanor and crafty personal revenge mission made me want the entire movie to be about him. He’s just more interesting than Thor, who is funnier and more compelling when working in a group as opposed to the title character. Admittedly, the film spread itself out among various characters but their many individual stories made the movie as a whole feel disjointed.

An enjoyable enough film, fun to a point and with a strong cast that makes up for the less-than-impressive direction and script. That’s about it I guess. Loved the Benecio Del Toro bit, though.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: I guess the first Thor makes the most sense, or The Avengers.

Movie Review: Walker (1987)

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Seen: On Criterion dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Miles found this at his work and we were all ready for another Alex Cox movie to fall in love with since Repo Man is basically constantly on a loop at our house. Walker sounded rigoddamndiculous and I was intrigued by the premise alone. Based on a real-life figure, the film stars Ed Harris as William Walker, a doctor/lawyer/adventurer who acted as a “filibuster” in the mid-19th century, going into South American regions and attempting to set up American colonies. He is hired by opportunistic Cornelius Vanderbildt (Peter Boyle) to bring order to Nicaragua so that the wealthy tycoon can control their major trade route. Conquering local soldiers with a small army of mercenaries, Walker eventually installs himself as dictator and rules for almost two years. He becomes more and more irrational in his rule, killing on a whim and attempting to institute slavery, until eventually the people revolt against him and he finds himself burning down his own capitol city.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully process this movie, I mean I don’t know what the hell is happening. It’s like this bizarre satire and it’s kinda funny and kinda serious and generally fucked up. It wears its unreality on its sleeve, throwing in blatant anachronisms left and right and never dwelling on its own inconsistencies. This gives it an underlying humor, a sense of the ridiculous that encourages the audience to laugh at this larger-than-life, delusional figure. The thing is, though, this was a real person, and he was AWFUL. Most of this movie is just watching a terrible man do terrible things, and I was shocked to read how much of the story was actually true. Though told in this wacky manner, the big plot points were basically all correct. The film’s surreal and disjointed approach is actually fitting, a way to filter the atrocities of this period and make them easier to swallow. Of course the whole film is meant to be a commentary on Reagan-era imperialism, but that too is a historical period to me (as opposed to a lived one).

I don’t know, I think I liked this movie? But maybe I didn’t? It’s definitely entertaining, and it’s so weird you just have to keep watching. And it is funny. The cast is amazing- including Rene Auberjonois, Sy Richardson, Peter Boyle, and the always-delightful Gerrit Graham. Marlee Matlin plays the best character, but she’s only in one scene. She is also one of two women in the whole movie. The score is fantastic, composed by Joe Strummer just after The Clash broke up. He’s also in the film, somewhere, but I’ll admit I didn’t spot him. There are so many white dudes with beards hanging out in large groups that it was tough to really pick people out. ANYWAY Walker is a strange time, but I guess that’s what makes it worth it, even if it was hard to watch sometimes because everything was the worst. I know Alex Cox is definitely not condoning the acts of William Walker, but just showing the fucked up world he created during his short time in Nicaragua is enough to make me queasy.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I’ve heard some comparisons to Dead Man, which I haven’t seen in a long time but remember liking.

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part II

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Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. But first! Read Part I!

After a very satisfying dinner and some much-needed caffeine, we were ready to sit through the next 4 Terrorthon films, continuing our cinematic odyssey into the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Again, not much “terror” to be had here, but a really solid offering of sci-fi adventures with mild horror elements. The only one from this grouping I hadn’t seen was Tremors, but I’d tried watching it just a few weeks ago and my internet was being fussy so it didn’t work. I was really excited that I could actually see it, and on a big screen no less! And since this Thon went from 12pm-12am, I wasn’t even that sleepy (as opposed to the all-night escapades of the other marathons I go to). Anyway, read on for some sci-fi goodness!

5 Planet of the Apes (1968)
It’d been a while since I’d seen watched this one straight through, and it was both better than I remembered and just as silly. I mean, it’s tough, because conceptually there are some pretty serious ideas in this movie, and of course it can all be read as a parable relating to our own culture, but between Charlton Heston’s toothy, yelly performance and the privileging of spectacle over substance, it’s hard to really get into its more dramatic implications. Also obviously certain scenes have been parodied to the extent that the film feels like a parody of itself. It’s still a pretty good movie, though, with a fascinating ape society that I wish was elaborated on more, and great turns from Kim Hunter and a super evil Maurice Evans. Fantastic make-up as well, and I love the varied landscapes and weird biomorphic architecture. I just get bored with Heston’s exaggerated macho act pretty quickly, as with many of his performances.
3.5/5

6 Westworld (1973)
Westworld has such a good premise (super fancy vacation spot where guests can act out fantasies with robots in Western, Roman, or Medieval settings but then the robots go CRAZY) that I’m always kind of bummed that I don’t love it. Revisiting it now I feel much the same as I did the first time I watched it: It has some great ideas and a good cast, but the slow pacing and flat characterization is frustrating. I love love love Yul Brynner as the creepy, homicidal robot cowboy and how the whole movie basically turns into The Terminator in the third act, but the first two thirds are kind of boring. I didn’t mind the glimpses into this strange amusement park and its inner workings, but the protagonists are all kind of boring (yes, even James Brolin, though he’s looking good). Also: where are all the women? There are like zero ladies in this movie except for some sexbots and a few female tourists who are barely referenced. I mean I know all 70s movies are just about dudes but come on, can’t that NOT be a thing, somehow, retroactively? Oh well, the title links to my original review.
4/5

7 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)
My love for this movie is no secret, and surely it’s painfully obvious how much a film like this suits my sensibilities- it’s wacky, it’s funny, it’s from the 80s, it’s got a lot of attractive, bespectacled nerds, and it doesn’t make ANY GODDAMN SENSE. Which I love. The titular hero is a rock star, comic book hero, heart surgeon, and physicist who saves the planet from asshole aliens with the help of his snappily-dressed crew. I’ve always wanted to see this film in a theater, so I was so psyched it was part of the line-up. It’s a fun film to watch with a crowd because it’s so weird and silly, that the audience reactions add to the fun. I’ve gotta say though that after watching this movie who knows how many times over the years, I only registered that Buckaroo is supposed to be half-Japanese a few months ago, and now I’m bummed by the whitewashing. I love Peter Weller and I think he’s great in the role, but it’s always frustrating when a white person is playing a character of color. I always thought he was just a white dude who was into Japanese culture because he’d been raised around Japanese scientists or whatever. This is revealing a not-very-well-kept secret of mine: I am terrible at paying attention to exposition. Like in every movie, I will constantly forget where the story is set, what year it is, how people are related to each other, what the overall goal of the protagonist is. It’s embarrassing. ANYWAY the title links to my original review.
4.5/5

8 Tremors (1990)
Ok! New movie time! This is the cautionary tale of two best friends (possibly/probably boyfriends?) who work as handymen in a small, isolated desert town. The day they finally decide to leave to seek a better life, they are suddenly surrounded by vicious, man-eating monster worms who move about underground. The few people remaining in town all band together to try and blow these fuckers up but it’s pretty hard when they keep eating everyone. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s action-packed, and it somehow makes Kevin Bacon into a kinda charming goofball. Also it has an adorably frumpy lady scientist! AND Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a trigger-happy couple! There are lots of reasons to watch Tremors, clearly. It’s also the only movie in the whole pack that actually scared me once or twice, with these unexpected jump-scares of huge worms bursting out of the ground, it’s kind of freaky stuff. Though it’s primarily an action-comedy, the premise is actually pretty terrifying because honestly how would we handle a monster that sensed our movement and attacked from below-ground? Like, where can we hide? They’ll just level all the buildings until they get to us, oh my gosh. The world is ending.
4/5

Well there you have it! Over 12 hours of movies, cartoons, and trailers and we came out mostly feeling like we had to brush our teeth. Which we did.

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part I

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Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, all on 35mm.

This year the Somerville Theatre has revived its horror marathon (some might recall I attended its last incarnation in 2009), and of course we took the day off to attend because of priorities. It was a lovely time, complete with cartoon shorts and lots of horror trailers, and I even won a raffle prize that included From Dusk Til Dawn on blu-ray! Wow! Also lots of fantastic posters were hanging all around, courtesy of long-time Thon-er Francisco Urbano. I loved that they programmed it in chronological order (and one offering per decade), too, since I haven’t been to a marathon that’s done that before and you could sort of see the progression of style and writing in genre films. They called it a “Terrorthon” but honestly there was not much terror to be had, and the majority of the films were straight sci-fi with maybe some horror elements. Not that I’m complaining, since I love sci-fi and there were some very cool selections, but “Terrorthon” is misleading! They plan to do it again next year and if they do I hope it’s actually scary movies. Then again I’m sure my horror lust will be sated at the Coolidge Corner Horrorthon this Saturday night. Anyway. Here are the movies, several of which I’ve already blogged about but that’s ok.

1 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
I saw this years ago streamed on my laptop from netflix, which isn’t really the best way to experience it. Seeing it on a huge screen and with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis really heightened its effects, because this is such a goddamn beautiful film. I still think the protagonists are dull, and the pacing is totally off, but the artful visuals make it completely worth those drawbacks. I just can’t get over the contorted, painterly sets, fantastic use of color filters, and absolutely stunning make-up. I’ve also come to appreciate Conrad Veidt’s early use of leggings-as-pants, and his amazing face that I want to draw sometime. The title links to my original review.
4/5

2 The Invisible Man (1933)
I watched this for the first time three years ago, and remember not really loving it because I felt the horror elements didn’t work and didn’t like most of the characters. On second viewing I found myself really responding to the more comedic elements, because this movie is funny! All the scenes with the hysteric townspeople (especially birthday girl Una O’Connor) and bumbling police force are hilarious and I realized the film is more of a satire than anything else. Plus I still love the effects and Claude Rains’ performance. He sure does love yelling. And fancy smoking jackets. The title links to my original review, but I’m upping its score.
4/5

3 Dr Cyclops (1940)
This is one of the few films that was new to me, and I was excited for it when I saw it was on an icheckmovies horror list, but it was mostly a let down. The story concerns a mad scientist (Albert Dekker) experimenting with uranium in the Amazon Jungle, and some scientists he invites to help him out. He is very secretive about his work and after he gets what he needs from the group he kicks them out, but they are determined to learn what he’s developing. Turns out he’s shrinking living organisms, which feels really anti-climactic. Of course he soon shrinks the gang and they run around as rodent-size people for a while and Dr Cyclops (named for his glasses) chases them around the jungle. Eh. It’s mostly boring, definitely racist (hellooooo Latino stereotype!), and underwhelming in its premise. Dekker is good as the nefarious title character and I was happy to see a lady scientist who was mostly useful, and sometimes its silliness won me over, but that’s really minor praise. I felt like I might as well just be watching The Incredible Shrinking Man which is totally amazing and way way way better.
2/5

4 Forbidden Planet (1956)
I watched this movie the year before I started this blog, I can recall watching it in my depressing dorm room sophomore year on my tiny tv. I don’t remember it very well, something about Leslie Nielsen in outer space macking on Anne Francis and her dad’s a dick and Robby the Robot is there. Right? Yeah. Well my companions and I were getting hungry and didn’t want to miss any of the later films so we decided to take a break for dinner (at the meat-tastic M3, mmmm) during this one, sorry. We even braved walking into Honk! which just so you know was a very courageous thing to do. Oh, and there was a really fantastic Tex Avery short shown just before Forbidden Planet about televisions of the future, and it was literally laugh-out-loud and also fairly prescient.

Continued with Part II!