Tag: adventure

Movie Review: Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) (2004)

Yay! Of the Miyazaki films I’ve seen, Howl’s Moving Castle has remained my favourite. It transforms me back into the imaginative bookworm I was in grammar school, constantly losing myself in romantic and adventurous magical daydreams. Appropriate response, I suppose, since this is based on the young-adult fantasy book by Diana Wynne Jones that I still haven’t read (soon!). UPDATE: I read it, it was awesome.

The story is sort of complicated and several points are not explained well but everything else in the film easily makes up for this. The action unfolds in a steampunkian England- a world in which witches and wizards are common enough to be respected and feared, and war between kingdoms is brimming due to a missing prince. Reclusive, timid, young hat-maker Sophie mistakenly insults the powerful Witch of the Waste, who curses her into old age with no clue how to turn back and the inability to tell anyone what happened to her. She leaves her home and family, and eventually catches a ride in the Wizard Howl’s mobile, fire demon-powered castle, where she stays on as a housekeeper after striking a deal with the demon: she figures out a way to break the curse on him and Howl, and he’ll break her own old-age curse. Sophie quickly ingratiates herself with the house, Howl’s young assistant Markl, and the demon Calcifer.

Howl pops in and out of the castle’s magical door (leading to 4 separate locations so that he can keep it hidden), remaining kind but aloof and eventually proving to be surprisingly insecure. As a devoted pacifist, he refuses to answer the summons from the king to fight in the war, instead disguising himself and enlisting to Sophie go to the palace claiming to be his mother. She meets up with the Witch of the Waste, who has a vendetta against Howl but has been reduced to a powerless and fairly incapacitated state and so can’t remove Sophie’s curse. Soon Howl takes it upon himself to transform into a monster and defend his home, and Sophie takes it upon herself to save him as well as break the curse upon him and Calcifer. Love triumphs over all, there’s magic, etc.

Ok, so like I said, it’s oddly complicated, especially in written form. But it is easy to get caught up in it when you’re watching. The visuals are, of course, stunning, especially the landscapes and architecture/machine design. I wish I could dissect and reassemble that castle, so I could understand it and then live in it! I really dug the magic/steampunk combination. The story is really interesting and epic, while still full of those little endearing details Miyazaki injects into all of his films. I have read many comments talking about the film’s departure from the source novel, which apparently is much more in-depth and includes more characters and development. It’s understandable that drastic changes would frustrate fans of the book, and I look forward to reading it and having certain points more explained/expanded upon, but for me the overall effect of the movie is not altered with this knowledge. Miyazaki set out to combine Jones’ basic story and characters with his own visual sensibilities as well as certain contemporary influences such as the war in Iraq. And in this he did a wonderful job. There are flying machines and magical disguises, betrayals and schemes; a weak-willed man finds his heart and an unconfident but hard-headed woman finds courage. It’s all pretty great.


Extra Stuff:

Holy papercut Ben Millet has made an insanely detailed, meticulously crafted model of the castle out of paper. My god.

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Ok, I feel sort of silly even talking about this movie, since probably any of you who are interested in it have seen it already, and the story line is probably known to everyone anyway. Plus I feel like my opinion isn’t quite as valid as many other movie bloggers since I have barely seen any other Bond films. Oh well. This is the story of a really badass dude (Daniel Craig) who gets pretty caught up in his revenge. He’s after the guy who set up his now-dead girlfriend Vesper, intending to find him through a huge, super-secret, super-mysterious worldwide organization… of evil. He specifically targets Dominic Greene, a powerful environmentalist taking part in many sinister deeds behind the scenes, including engineering a governmental coup in Bolivia in exchange for land rights containing (it’s assumed) oil and having a henchman with the worst haircut. Bond spends a lot of time acting against orders from M (Judi Dench) and his ethics are rather skewed (he needlessly kills several people, etc). Thus, he is often secret-agenting with limited resources, making the stakes higher and the plans improvised. He runs into Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman connected to Greene, who harnesses vengeful plots of her own. They’re at odds at first but eventually realize their teamwork is mutually beneficial. There’s a lot of chasing, fighting, killing, shooting, traveling, and betrayal, with a little bit of sex and torture thrown in.

Um so I thought this movie was pretty good? Not sure why a lot of people are dissing it so much, but I assume it’s because of its extreme departure (more so than Casino Royale it seems) from older Bond films. Also a big criticism that I’ve heard, which I agree with, regards the hyperactive camera work in the action sequences. Several scenes were incredibly hard to follow, especially the opening car chase. It was very choppy and over-stylized, making it more annoying than sleek. Director Marc Foster has previously done quieter, slower films like Stranger Than Fiction and Finding Neverland, so maybe he just wasn’t accustomed to doing such fast-paced action sequences? Anyway good things: I liked the “rogue agent”, no-holds-barred, has-to-fend-for-himself aspects of Bond’s adventure. The action scenes were generally really well done and engaging, despite the sometimes-confusing shooting style. James Bond is a man who will be involved in a chase no matter what kind of vehicle he is in or not in- on foot, in a car, in a boat, in a plane: any of these situations are appropriate for chasing or being chased. Awesome. I also was pretty impressed with Camille’s character, compared to how I’m told Bond girls usually go. She was very independent and pretty damn badass. She had her own background and story going on, and was for the most part not reliant on Bond. She wasn’t in the movie enough, unfortunately. It’d be nice to see these two team up again but I don’t know if that is a thing that would happen. Yeah so it was overall a very engaging action/thriller, with a decent, darker-themed storyline. There could have been more gadgets and there could have been more sex (though it would have felt inappropriate plotwise) but if you really want that stuff, aren’t there like 20+ other Bond movies to watch with those things in them already?


Another Way to Die“- Jack White and Alicia Keys (I like this song but the opening credits were weirdly done- too many nude giant sand ladies. And why was he falling? Also the song itself was out of place)

Movie Review: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) (1926)

The Adventures of Prince AchmedA few weeks ago I was playing around on Wikipedia, looking at articles on Pixar and Brenda Chapman when I stumbled across the silent German movie The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated full-length film (and some consider it the first ever). Directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger, with assistance from her husband Carl Koch, it is one of the few feature-length films to utilize silhouette animation, in which figures and backdrops are painstakingly cut out of cardboard and moved over a backlight. The story is a mash up of several Arabian Nights tales: An evil magician creates a horse that flies and presents it to the king in order to obtain his daughter. The king’s son, Prince Achmed, tries it out and rockets up into the heavens. He eventually lands on a mystical island, where he falls for Peri Banu, princess of demons. After some coercing she decides to love him back, only to be kidnapped by an Asian king. Achmed rescues her, but must now defeat the demons who don’t want her to leave their island. They get the help of The Witch (the evil magician’s enemy) and meet up with Aladdin, who’s been trying to win the hand of Achmed’s sister. They defeat the demons together, with the brunt of the work done by The Witch (female empowerment!) and arrive home safely just in time for a double wedding. Sweet.

The Adventures of Prince AchmedThe story is interesting and told well, with minimal intertitles and good pacing, but really it is apparent that Reiniger made this film almost purely for its visual stimulation. It is breathtaking to see- the movements of the characters are so fine-tuned and choreographed, reflecting her interest in Chinese puppetry. Each individual set piece and figure contain a wealth of details and intricacies of design. Her dedication and sacrifice for art are easily recognized in every frame. In the spirit of the Expressionist movement influencing German cinema at the time, experimental smoky effects populate the magic scenes and the prints were evocatively color-tinted with soft blues, greens, and yellows, though unfortunately the original final print is missing and the available version is a restoration of the black and white. Additionally, the music is gorgeous and emotional, composed by Wolfgang Zeller as his first film score (the start of a prolific career). The Adventures of Prince Achmed is fascinating for any animation enthusiast, and will surely be entertaining for any fan of fantasy and adventure stories. Also let’s support women in animation! For once! (And really, female filmmakers in general.)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed4/5

Here’s a collection of scenes from the movie. Ignore the song; I watched it on mute.

Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006)

There was so much freaking poker in this movieBecause the Quantum of Solace trailer looks so rad, I figured I’d ready myself for it by finally seeing Casino Royale. I have a pretty uninformed perspective, as I have seen like two Bond films in my lifetime and admittedly don’t really know/care much about the franchise. (Though after watching that Mythbusters about the gold paint, I do want to see Goldfinger.) Anyway this re-invention of the Bond icon has him (Daniel Craig) as a fledgling spy out on his first 00 mission: Stop a bad guy from winning a poker game because then he would be funding terrorism. Or something. I have to be honest here: I didn’t really follow the plot of this movie. Mostly I had no idea what was going on. It started off with a really really kickass chase sequence that involved scaling a half-constructed building but then before you know it it’s like an hour of people playing poker. He is accompanied by the gorgeous Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), assigned to babysit Bond and ensure he doesn’t lose all his money. He of course tries to charm her, but, for what I’m told is a first in the series, she is actually very intelligent and has a mind of her own and therefore resists his advances (at first). After the poker game and a near-death experience there is some torture and betrayal and ultimately a building collapses (it’s awesome). Bond learns he should never trust anyone, etc. I suspect this was all just a so-so set up for a super-amazing revenge-themed sequel, which is cool.

Casino Royale had some excellent action sequences but I felt the middle of the film dragged a lot. I was ok with the fact that I couldn’t/didn’t really follow the story, since I was in it for the fighting and chasing, not plot. It might be the kind of movie I’ll enjoy more after repeated viewings. Daniel Craig was good and I liked Eva Green. Dame Judi Dench was ice-cold as M. I guess the bottom line is, probably you will enjoy this movie a lot if you are a Bond Person, and a fair amount if you aren’t? Either way I’m still psyched for Quantum of Solace.


Movie Review: City of Ember (2008)

Call me a tool, but I guess I’ll always be a sucker for post-apocalyptic children’s tales with uncanny color schemes. Despite lackluster reviews, City of Ember looked like the kind of movie I’d get into and would definitely dig for its visuals. It takes place in the underground city of Ember, the “only light in the dark world” after unknown events caused the earth above ground to become uninhabitable. It was the original plan of the architects to have its citizens emerge after 200 years, but time has caused this knowledge and the exit strategy to be lost (parts of it were reminiscent of WALL-E). Now those centuries have elapsed and the city’s massive generator is failing, causing increasingly frequent blackouts. Teenage Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) believes he can fix it, and tries to infiltrate the building where its contained through his new job working the pipes. Meanwhile his friend Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), a descendent of one of the city’s mayors, has just been arbitrarily assigned her adult job (sort of in The Giver style) as messenger and through it gets closer to the corrupt Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), believing he knows the mystery of a box she finds in her house that contains an inscribed glass token and a half-destroyed set of instructions. As the blackouts worsen, Doon and Lina team up to solve the city architects’ puzzle so they can lead everyone out of Ember before it is completely submerged in darkness.

Ok so we all know steampunk is awesome. Like, seriously awesome. Not very popular in mainstream films though. But, much to my delight, I realized 20 minutes in that City of Ember was its own kind of steampunk… electricpunk, I’d call it! This stylization increased my enjoyment of the film immensely. Everything had a wonderful sense of clutter and decay. The costumes, the gadgets, the lighting, the architecture- it was all stunning, especially for a “family” film. Speaking of family films, I was really impressed with the overall dark tone of this movie and with many of the issues it dealt with. Lina was an orphan, and eventually left alone with her little sister. She and Doon were fighting against something people of every age in the city feared: darkness. They had little help from adults, finding many of them to be cowardly or in denial. It hearkened back to fairy tales of abandoned, self-sustaining kids like Hansel and Gretel or The Little Match Girl, or Roald Dahl‘s cynical anti-grownup books. I think many of today’s TV shows and movies geared toward children and tweens are prone to coddling. Shit happens, and people have to deal with it despite their youth. Not that everything for kids should be depressing, I’m just glad a film can talk about some of these issues realistically while still providing entertainment and a happy ending. (Oh yea, spoiler alert, it’s a kids’ movie and there is a happey ending.) Overall I thought City of Ember had some interesting ideas, which were executed fairly well by Monster House director Gil Kenan, but its visual imagery and dark tone are what kept me engaged. Also Bill Murray was great.