Tag: double feature

Studio Ghibli Double Feature: Majo no Takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service) (1989) and Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (Kiki dubbed, Only Yesterday subbed).

I am very excited that the Brattle in Harvard Square has been doing a Studio Ghibli retrospective, since this time I can actually go to more than one! (When they came to the MFA last spring I could only catch Princess Mononoke.) Last weekend I caught Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and Only Yesterday, one I hadn’t seen before and didn’t even know much about. It was nice to revisit the former, but I got more out of the latter. It was so nice to take in more anime in a theater, since I rarely have the opportunity, and I look forward to hopefully catching Nausicaä on Thursday, one of the few Miyazaki films I haven’t seen!

Set in an alternate 1950s/60s slightly askew from our own, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the adventures of Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training who must spend a year in a big city by herself in order to attain full, er, witchhood. With her broom and talking cat in tow, she lands in a beautiful seaside town where people are unaccustomed to magical folk flying about. She starts a delivery service after befriending a kind baker who lets her stay in her extra room in exchange for help around the bakery. Kiki befriends various townspeople but feels like an outcast among kids her age, as she tries to navigate both teenagery coming-of-age stuff along with witch-related problems.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is definitely a Miyazaki for the younger set, with a simplistic plot, very little conflict, and at times very corny dialogue (though part of that could be the dub translation). Kiki is a spunky, determined character who’s easy to root for, and it’s fun to see her learn more about the world and its inhabitants. She meets an independent artist (voiced by Janeane Garofalo! Hello!), a kindly old lady who makes the most horrendous-sounding pie ever in existence (pumpkin with HERRING what the fuuuuuuck), and a SuperNerd who wants to romance her because he fetishizes witches as a group.

It’s cute, and at times very funny (primarily for Phil Hartman’s deadpan jokes as the sarcastic cat Jiji), and of course the animation is superb. I loved the watercolor-like backgrounds and the sort of hodgepodge Europeanism of the city’s design (though I know the bulk of it was inspired by Stockholm). But I feel the script and story leave something to be desired, and I would ultimately put this near the bottom of my Miyazaki list (which still means it’s a good film, obviously). I found I had too many questions about this world and the whole witch/magic premise, as there were a lot of ideas put forth but not explained or expanded. How can a “witch-in-training” be trained if she’s just hanging out by herself and not actually being trained? And why are some people anti-witch? Could Kiki actually do any other magic or was flying all she would ever do? I imagine the book it’s based on might have more answers, so I hope to eventually read it for a more well-rounded view of the world, as well as hopefully a stronger narrative since the film is sort of loose and episodic.

Oh and side note: the cheesy country-esque pop songs over the opening and end credits are suuuuuuuper shitty, and I don’t think they’re in the Japanese version, so be aware.

3.5/5

Brought to us by the man who made the most depressing film of all time, Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday showed promise as another introspective drama but with a lady. 27-year-old Taeko lives and works in Tokyo but has long yearned for a taste of country life. She gains extended family on a faraway farm through her sister’s husband, and spends her vacation with them for the second year in a row, helping pick crops used in a dying process. During her trip she finds herself lost in memories of her childhood, specifically her ten-year-old self, and the film moves back and forth between Taeko’s past and present as she questions some of her adult choices.

With a gorgeous visual style and a quiet, straightforward script, Takahata weaves a deceptively simple tale of love and regret that never sinks into melodrama. It’s a little slow-moving, but generally interesting enough in its characters and aesthetic to remain compelling. I’m completely in love with the faded wash effect used for the flashback scenes, juxtaposed with the intense floral colors of Taeko’s present. The characters are fun and energetic, and I was especially taken with the realistic and often quite funny portrayal of 10-year-olds. The small period touches (like the family’s confusion over an exotic pineapple) are charming, and the subtle love story that develops is sweet and not overdone, though I did find her beau’s speeches about organic farming a little grating.

While the film overall is a little too subdued for me to all-out love it, I absolutely adored the very end, it might be one of my favorite endings ever. It’s just this beautifully sweet, visually perfect scene that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Lovely.

4/5

Seeing Ghosts Double Feature: ParaNorman (2012) and The Frighteners (1996)

I’d been pretty psyched for ParaNorman for quite some time, ever since I saw a trailer for it last year and became instantly smitten with its Coraline/Tim Burton-y aesthetic. Stop-motion has this effect on me, it’s one of my favorite art forms and certainly my favorite type of animation. When accolades for the film began pouring in I was nodding my head along with them before I’d even had a chance to see it, just so elated that a non-CG animated film was receiving such widespread recognition. Then I finally saw the damn thing and guess what? IT RULES. The general premise reminded me strongly of The Frighteners, aka the only Peter Jackson movie I own, so I went home and watched that right after. It was a wonderfully spooky, funny, generally ghost-tastic double feature!

Norman is a weird kid, a self-made loner with poofy hair, a love of zombie movies, and the ability to see and talk to ghosts everywhere. No one believes him of course so he finds solace in his ghost friends, especially his caring grandma. But when a centuries-old witch’s curse (he lives in a Salem, MA stand-in) threatens his whole town, Norman takes matters into his own hands, joined by some unlikely companions- including his vapid sister, the school bully, and eventually, his gabby parents.

This movie is soooo fucking good you guys, sorry to cuss but GODDAMN. The visuals, as expected, are absolutely stunning. I want to drink in everything I see so I can make it a part of my being, or something. I’m really into how it looks, basically. The animation is fluid and the character design is great, with strong elements of caricature and emphatic expressions. The sets are fantastic and I loved the ghostly effects. Seriously, that witchy storm-cloud sky? MY GOD, MAKE THAT MY SKY.

While I could gush about the visuals for hours (isn’t that what you want?) I have to say that the script is completely great, too! It’s funny and interesting and surprisingly progressive. At first I was like “Ugh, witch’s CURSE, really? Shouldn’t we be teaching these kids how shitty the pilgrims were and how young girls were being killed needlessly?” But then the plot develops into something much more nuanced and I was really happy with how it all turned out. No one is the all-out “villain”, here, everyone has understandable motivations and eventually they all realize their wrongdoing. The biggest threat is the mob mentality of the present-day townspeople, who ransack the town center the second a few zombies walk harmlessly into their midst. What dicks.

ParaNorman stresses acceptance and open-mindedness, so it’s like the opposite of Cars 2. There’s even an out gay character, which for a kids movie is pretty cool, right? Has that happened in a mainstream family film before? I was sure early on that Mitch was gay, mainly because there was a point made about how he totally wasn’t into Courtney and her very obvious advances. I figured I was wrong, because how could that happen, but there’s a cute reveal at the end that confirms it. At first I was frustrated that a character’s sexuality was used for a joke, but it’s not mean-spirited, and revealing this big super-jock as a gay character at the end is probably the best way to make it easily acceptable to any kids who aren’t familiar with the idea- the character reads as stereotypically straight and you come to like him as this sort of dumb jock guy, but then he’s revealed as gay and you realize you were buying into that stereotype and you shouldn’t assume things about people. Right? I hope that’s how it works for anyone who didn’t realize right away, and everyone is cool with it.

Anyway I’m really in love with this movie, I hope that’s obvious. It’s got lovely little horror references and a good story and strong voice acting and drop-dead-gorgeous visuals and I LOVE IT OK.

4.5/5

So Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) is probably what Norman would grow into if he wasn’t such a well-adjusted kid to begin with. A former architect, he’s been seeing ghosts since he witnessed his wife’s mysterious murder years prior, and now he employs his ghost buddies to haunt local houses so he can exorcise them for cash. A number of healthy people in his community keep dying of mysterious heart attacks, and it’s up to Frank to stop the ghostly Death Specter who seems to be the culprit. After teaming up with Lucy (Trini Alvarado), a doctor whose asshole husband is among the victims, he realizes that the deaths are connected to a serial killer (Jake Busey) thought long-dead.

This has long been one of my favorite horror movies, but it had been a good few years since I’d last seen it. Luckily it totally holds up as a movie, even if the effects reeeeeally don’t. The Frighteners is from the mid-90s and it definitely looks it, from Trini Alvarado’s hilarious Andie MacDowell complex to the super dated CGI. Some of the imagery is quite scary- especially the house that comes alive with killer Johnny Bartlett’s haunting- but it’s so fake-looking it’s hard to be really affected. This was made during that interim period when CG effects were a hot new thing that everyone wanted to use, but they hadn’t developed the technology enough to actually look good. Just a few years after this Jackson would knock it out of the park with the visuals of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I guess this was kind of like a practice run. The first pancake, as it were. Some great ideas, not the best execution.

Dated visuals aside, this movie is pretty swell. I love Fox in the more serious role of Frank (this is his last starring film role to date, actually), where he’s able to combine his sarcastic delivery with a more tragic character. Supporting stars Chi McBride, John Astin, and Jake Busey are all having fun, but it’s Dee Wallace as Johnny’s committed girlfriend Patricia and Jeffrey Combs as disturbed FBI agent Milton Dammers who really steal the show. The former switches between childlike innocence and sociopathic mania with chilling ease, while the latter is his usual darkly wacky self, only covered in weird tattoos and a Hitler hairdo. Ugh, Jeffrey Combs! The best guy. This is the first time I ever saw him, actually, though it took me a while to connect him with his younger Re-Animator self.

4/5

I seriously recommend The Frighteners to any ParaNorman fan, and vice versa. Not only are both about dudes who see ghosts, they’ve also both got freaky flashback visions, long drives through forests, great soundtracks (Danny Elfman and Jon Brion!), historical mysteries, supernatural comedy, tragic pasts, and lessons in friendship. And while the effects are at times distracting in the former, they don’t detract enough from the film as a whole to make a huge difference. The ghosts looks pretty good, actually, it’s the Death Specter that doesn’t work so well. Oh also even though it’s filmed in New Zealand, I’m pretty sure The Frighteners takes place in New England? So that’s another connection. What a good pairing.

Totally Goth Double Feature: Underworld (2003) and Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Seen: Both on dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from a friend.

Even though it’s a fairly popular action-fantasy series with a kickass female lead, somehow I never got around to checking out the Underworld films. Luckily a friend of mine has the first two on dvd so I treated myself to a double feature last week on our big screen. I was expecting something like Blade but with more white people, and that’s pretty much what I got. Everything looks kind of like an Evanescence music video. Plus it’s got traces of Romeo and Juliet, I guess? I hate that play so I don’t want to compare them, but it’s always described as “Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves”. Anyway, let’s get into this.

Underworld introduces a universe wherein vampires and lycans (werewolves) have been warring for centuries, centering on a dark, ambiguously European city (Budapest) with a lot of British people. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a specialized killer, part of a force that seeks to eradicate the entire lycan population one by one. She abducts a human, Michael (Scott Speedman), because the lycan force led by Lucian (Michael Sheen) wants him for some reason. She tries to solve the riddle of his tactical importance while also navigating possible treacheries afoot in her own coven, where she’s learned not to trust their temporary leader, Kraven (Shane Brolly).

Sure, it’s trying too hard to be dark and slick and cool, but on the whole I quite liked Underworld. I thought I was sick of vampires and werewolves but the film manages to bring some new ideas to the table (well new to me anyway, I recognize it’s almost 10 years old). I like that it really wasn’t much of a romance despite the Romeo and Juliet comparisons, it was really more focused on the mythology surrounding these two groups of people and their age-old conflict. And action scenes starring Kate Beckinsale’s tightly corseted body, obviously! The camera loves her, what can anybody do. I actually generally think her character was pretty cool, and depicted well. She’s cold and ruthless, but sympathetic for her determination and desire to find the truth. She’s good at killing, and she likes it because it’s the only thing she knows how to do, but she doesn’t want to kill needlessly.

The best part, besides Bill Nighy, is that Scott Speedman’s super lycan/vampire form looks like Nightcrawler! All I want is X-Men in my movies, guys, you’ve found me out. The second best thing is that every other scene features a dude ripping his own shirt off because he has to transform into a wolfman or whatever. I want a video compilation of this happening. Get to it youtube, I have already done a search for this and yielded nothing.

Afterthought: Are there no female lycans? Is this a gentleman’s club?

4/5

The sequel picks up immediately after the end of the first film, with Selene and Michael on the run after killing vampire leader Victor and generally upsetting the balance of things. Marcus (Tony Curran), the first vampire, is awakened and turned into a hybrid like Michael, only with wings and a vendetta against seemingly everyone. He wants to free his long-imprisoned brother, the first lycan, and it turns out Selene is the only one who can lead him to his cell. Problems, problems, problems. Also, we see sunlight for the first time, briefly. Just to remind you it exists in this world.

So this movie is pretty ok too only there’s too much flashbacky stuff. The story is more concerned with all this heavy stuff that happened centuries ago than it is with its central characters as introduced in the first film. I think the history is interesting- and it’s great for more Bill Nighy screen time- but it’s a strange shift in focus and leaves less time for Selene and Michael to finally start banging (don’t worry, though, they totally do). There’s lots of bloody action, middling CGI, and a road trip. Selene gets to be a total badass while Michael is knocked out for a while, and the ending manages to be kind of sweet.

I don’t have much interest in the follow-ups, though, I feel like two films is the right amount for this story. Unless the sequels are really good, somehow?

3.5/5

Machete Order Double Feature: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Seen: On dvd on my friend Rachel’s tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Ok, ok, before you question my seeming lack of sane judgment, let me explain! A school chum and I have been watching the Star Wars series in the Machete order, which goes like this: 1) A New Hope, 2) Empire Strikes Back, 3) Attack of the Clones, 4) Revenge of the Sith, and 5) Return of the Jedi. There is no Phantom Menace because it sucks and according to this method it isn’t really imperative to the overall story. We also fit in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars tv series between AotC and RotS, because that show is SO great! Genndy Tartakovsky is SO GREAT you guys, he should be making shit tons of movies. He should have made all the Star Wars prequels. Anyway. So I had already written about the original trilogy which is why I haven’t been talking about this, but now for the first time on this blog here are my thoughts on Lucas’s newest live-action Star Wars offerings.

Um so plot… Anakin (Hayden Christiansen) and Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) are fighting and going on missions for the Jedi Council, Anakin’s grown up to be a whiny asshole, the Trade Federation is seceding from the Republic and starting a war, Padme (Natalie Portman)- now a senator- is almost assassinated so Anakin becomes her protector, Obi Wan stumbles upon a clone army being built for the Jedi to use in war against the separatists, uuuuuuuuuum that’s all I can remember right now.

The main thing I remembered about Attack of the Clones was how goddamned boring Padme and Anakin’s stupid fucking romance is, jesus. NO ONE GIVES A SHIT YOU GUYS. At least she gets to wear some kickass outfits though. This movie is pretty dumb in general, really. The dialogue is the worst thing in the world, and the CG is already showing its age. Hayden Christiansen just sucks so hard, and I do not want to watch him whine for two hours. Sadly this is the only film where Padme gets something vaguely resembling a personality, and it’s nice she gets to use a gun at one point. Obi Wan has the more interesting storyline as he finds the clone making factory and fans learn the origins of Boba Fett, BUT I’m totally distracted by his weird mullet. Without all the awfulness, Attack of the Clones does have some cool world-building and interesting connections to the original trilogy. Plus I like lightsaber fights.

Aside from the tedious romance my main issue with this movie (and all the prequels, really) is that I am incapable of following any of the political subplots. Every time people are talking about the Trade Federation or the Senate or the Republic, I just sort of zone out without meaning to. It’s hard enough to care about most of the characters (aside from Yoda, Mace Windu, and Obi Wan), how the hell am I supposed to care about convoluted trade disputes and an old dude masterminding a war? Just get back to the fighting and flying around!

2/5

Here’s an image from Clone Wars to remind you that this show is awesome! It’s got badass lady Jedi and General Grievous and Mace Windu and lots of fighting and Jedi lore and rat people! The whole thing is only about 2 hours so it’s basically like a bonus Star Wars movie.

Ok back to the actual movies, blegh. Revenge of the Sith is definitely the most watchable of the prequels. Padme is pregnant, Anakin is having scary dreams about her death, the Republic is crumbling under the weight of the Clone Wars. Anakin gradually goes over to the dark side because he believes Sith power will allow him to save Padme from dying. Also because Darth Sidius is mad manipulative, it’s kind of hilarious how stupid Anakin is whenever they talk because it’s SO. OBVIOUS. Alsooo Obi Wan does stuff, I don’t really remember. Leading clones into more battles or whatever. Chillin’ with the Jedi council.

Hayden Christiansen still sucks and Natalie Portman has even less to do than usual, but Obi Wan’s hair gets better so it’s not a total loss. Also Yoda gets to be totally badass, which is everyone’s favorite thing even if I miss the puppet version (the CGI just doesn’t really sell it). Various characters and plot points finally come together in this one, including several things that will lead us into A New Hope. There are still a lot of inconsistencies and half-assed explanations, but for the most part things add up, if you sort of stretch it a little in your head.

The whole things gets better as it goes on, climaxing in very dramatic final battles and an unintentionally ridiculous moment when Darth Vader is unveiled. Watching them in this order I’m definitely able to see more parallels and in-jokes among the films, but mostly I’m looking forward to get getting back to all my old friends from the original trilogy when we watch Return of the Jedi this week!

3/5

Crappy 90’s VHS Double Feature: Arcade (1993) and Masterminds (1997)

Seen: On VHS on our big screen/projector set-up, both drawn from friends’ collections.

Last weekend I- along with some like-minded friends- took in a nice late-night double feature of two horrendously dated VHS tapes from the 1990’s. It was truly a glorious period, filled with ridiculous hairstyles, skateboarding, silly lingo, video games, and an apparent deluge of whiny white teenagers with the uncanny ability to outsmart and out-perform their elders. So not much has changed, really. First up was Arcade, a delightful romp through some evil video game bent on world domination, or something. It’s got baby Seth Green! We followed it up, sort of accidentally, with Masterminds, a weird “Die Hard in a Private School”-type thriller that I’m sure Patrick Stewart wants to forget.

When a new cool arcade game is released, our cool slacker teen heroes are the first to try it out at their cool underground hangout spot THE INFERNO. Also shit I just realized I don’t know who anyone is in Arcade except the main character, sooo I might just make up epithets. Overconfident Gamer Kid is the first to test-drive this new game ARCADE, and then he disappears. His girlfriend Alex (not me, a different person!), who can’t play games because she’s a girl (and also maybe crazy? It’s mentioned briefly.), is the only one worried about him. She finds out that all her friends who took home the test version of the game are getting sucked into it or something, so she tries to save everybody herself because adults just don’t LISTEN. Her cocky turtle-necked friend Nick (Peter Billingsley, aka Ralphie from A Christmas Story) helps her out. But the game is possessed by some evil spirit and everything is totally scary.

With hilariously shitty special-effects- which primarily amount to the same shot of a CG maze re-used twenty times and some flying skeletons-, a frequent lack of proper lighting, weird cheap sets, and a cast of adorably bad actors, Arcade is fun for all the right reasons. Interesting facts: This straight-to-video masterpiece was written by Charles Band (Trancers I AND II, plus producer to a billion awesome movies including Re-Animator), and David Goyer (Dark City, Ghost Rider II: Spirit of Vengeance, Blade I and II, The Dark Knight Rises!), and directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Alien From LA, the original 1990 Captain America movie). SO BASICALLY SOME PRETTY HEFTY TALENT.

It’s a dumb movie, the script doesn’t make any sense, but boy oh boy is it entertaining, especially from our worldly 2012 perspective. It’s the kind of movie that confirms all the stereotypes we already had from foggy memories of the early 90s, from the seemingly infantile CG graphics to the abundance of baggy t-shirts. It’s pretty terrible, but definitely watchable. And hey, a lady saves the day, for once! And it’s got a weird twist (sort of?) ending that I guess is scary if you are put off by creepy video game children with deep-voiced potty mouths (which I TOTALLY am).

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4/5

The night took a bit of a turn with Masterminds since it’s actually not a horrendous movie, just super dated and weird for the recognizability of its actors. Vincent Kartheiser (aka Pete on Mad Men, aka Connor on Angel, aka a surprisingly pretty teenager) stars as Ozzie, a slacker hacker (hah!) who finds himself the sole witness to a hostage situation when his younger sister’s private academy is taken over by criminal security expert Bentley (Patrick Stewart). Having dropped his sister off for class, Ozzie is trapped in the school but able to hide from the large group of militaristic terrorists who take control. He’s able to outwit Bentley’s henchmen in a series of dangerous scenarios while the villain waits for ransom to be paid from the wealthiest children’s parents, and the people outside try to find a way in that won’t endanger the kids. Like I said, it’s basically Die Hard.

While the premise is obviously derivative, Masterminds manages to be entertaining thanks to some legitimately intense action scenes, charismatic leads, and some charmingly archaic fashions and plot conventions. Also the more it goes on, the more it doesn’t really make any sense. Good use of the castle-y prep school location, though, and some nice digs at snooty rich people, especially businesspeople. I was excited to see Bradley Whitford in the opening credits but he’s only in like two scenes. The best part is probably the adorable romantic subtext between Ozzie and his BFFL, K-Dog (actual name). They are totally in love.

Also the ending is rad. Like, an explosive chase scene just finds its way into this movie with no warning. And the frumpy principal gets to be a badass!

As a movie: 3/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5