思い出のマーニー (When Marnie Was There)

8 08 2016


思い出のマーニー (When Marnie Was There), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is the most recent movie in Studio Ghibli’s filmography, was very well-received by Japanese audiences, and was nominated for Best Animated Film in the 2016 Oscars. It has been a long time since I have seen a new Ghibli film, so needless to say I was a bit hyped to settle in with Evan and watch this.

When Marnie Was There is a highly sentimental film which explores the psychological frailness of Anna, a young preteen struggling with ideas of self-worth and social anxiety. When this anxiety begins to impede on her physical health, Anna is sent away from Sapporo to her Aunt’s house in the country. It is Anna’s mother’s hope that the clear air and change of pace might help sort Anna out both physically and emotionally. After just a short time in her new surroundings, Anna is drawn to a mysterious mansion and meets Marnie, its equally mysterious inhabitant. Anna quickly becomes infatuated with Marnie and works to learn more about her. Therein lies her major character arc.

Although it was marketed as a children’s movie, I don’t believe that Marnie has much to offer child audiences. Anna is a brooding, moody lead character. Even though I can see how she could be relatable for many people, I personally found her a bit insufferable. The story also has troubles with pacing, feels both overly long and sentimental, and could stand for a bit more editing. For adult audiences I believe that the eventual plot reveals are too predictable, and feel quite disconnected  from and didn’t truly address the real underlying issues that seemed to be causing Anna’s suffering. At times I felt as though Marnie had potential to give me more, and that the film would push into more exciting terrain, but at the critical moment the tension would ease off and fall suddenly flat. Marnie‘s settings are gorgeous and beautifully rendered, a quality typical of all Ghibli films, but despite that it lacks the immersiveness of Ghibli at its finest.

Looking back at what I’ve written I see this review is rather scathing. It isn’t that I hated When Marnie Was There. I think I had been hoping for another Ghibli masterpiece without realizing it and was let down when it didn’t deliver. My bar has been set incredibly high for Ghibli, and Marnie was well below it in underwhelming, though not horrible, territory.

My Rating: 5/10

Beasts of the Southern Wild review

12 10 2012

The heroine of Beasts of the Southern Wild is not all sugar and spice like most little girls. No, she is definitely part slug, snail and puppy dog tail, which is made endearingly apparent by her name: Hushpuppy. Together with her father, Hushpuppy lives in the Bathtub, a fictional Bayou-type swamp community filled with a lush environment and an equally vibrant cast of characters with whom it is easy to fall in love. Plot aside. this movie is visually compelling. Married with its incredible story, which tugged my heart strings toward fear, anger, tears and laughter in turns, Beasts is undeniably beautiful all round. Its triumph stems not only from how touching it truly is, but that at its end I was not left emotionally drained. Instead I was invigorated by Hushpuppy’s life and world, and left feeling thankful and with a craving to become both more brave and more wild. And for Creole cooking. Mmm.

My rating: 9/10

The Illusionist

19 02 2011

The Illusionist is an incredible story directed by Sylvain Chomet, the same man who brought us Triplets of Belleville in 2003.  I should say that I loved Triplets, and so I came into The Illusionist with very high expectations.  It absolutely delivered, and on a more heart-wrenching level than Chomet’s first animation. 

The Illusionist follows the life of an older gentleman, a French traveling magician looking for work and finding it only in the lowliest of places.  His particular breed of stage performance is shown being eclipsed by young, up and coming rockstars, to both our amusement and dismay.  When he is invited to Scotland to perform in a bar, he meets a young woman who, seeking adventure, decides to go with him when he departs town.  Their lives are forever changed by this momentous decision. 

It is needless to say that the animation is absolutely breathtaking.  Each frame is a masterpiece unto itself.  Every character is completely different from every other but still they manage to exist seamlessly in the same universe.  Chomet is a genius because aside from a few muffled words and fully intended grunts, gasps, and yells, the film is devoid of a spoken narrative.  The storyline is propelled forward by subtlety and happenings that are fully compelling despite their quiet.  Chomet is able to make every movement and event have this momentousness and sensation that would have been lost on viewers if it were not for its silent treatment.  Quiet as it may be, the pacing is not sped up to make up for it.  In fact, the pacing is steady and bracing, slow but tension-building simultaneously.  This is aided also by an amazing score, some of which is done by Chomet himself.

I don’t want to talk about the story too much.  I want everyone who is reading this to go out and watch it instead of having it ruined by me.  But I will say a few things.  Each character is fully realized and goes through a tumult of development.  I feel as though there was more character development in this single 80-minute “cartoon” than I’ve seen in most movies from this past year combined.  They are charming, witty, and filled with hilarity as befits their whimsical illustrations and beautiful world, but they are also devastatingly believable, and force reality into firm view rather painfully at times.  In the end, The Illusionist is truly a film of intense self-reflection, made possible only through the viewing of the vulnerabilities and plights of the characters we easily come to love as the story unwinds. 

I give it a 10/10, easily.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

27 12 2010

Very much by accident I ended up watching this “classic,” Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember that, as a child, I was enthralled by this movie, and Robin Williams was my own personal king of comedy.  What could be funnier than a man dressing up and acting like an acient English woman, and what could be more touching than his doing it for the sake of his children, torn away from him by his ex-wife?

Memories abounded as I watched this ridiculous movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I found myself often times bursting with laughter.  Each time that happened though, I was profoundly embarrassed, both for me for having laughed at all, and for the scene which I had laughed at.   To exemplify this point, I leave you with this scene.  It is emblematic of the film and the way it makes me feel.  Try watching it a. without laughing and b. without feeling silly for having done so:

My rating: 3/10

Game of Thrones

27 12 2010

For a long time I have been an avid reader of fantasy novels. One such favorite of mine is the series Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. When it was first rumored that this super awesome story was going to be transformed into a television series, I was skeptical. When I found out that it is in fact being done on HBO, I got a bit more excited. With its release around the corner, and after seeing some promos and interviews, I am officially stoked. Here’s the trailer. Enjoy!:

And, if that got you interested enough, here’s some behind the scenes action:

True Romance (1993)

23 12 2010

Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, True Romance is an oldy but goody.  No, more than that.  It’s absolutely great.  It’s one of those movies that makes you sit back, sigh and say to yourself as the credits are rolling: “They just don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Made up of one part sweet dialogue, one part badass-ness, and one part fairy tale, True Romance unfolds at a dizzying pace revealing an awesome narrative that is made better by its star-studded and aptly chosen cast.  Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette act as the leading couple, and the question quickly becomes: can their quirky love and charm together withstand the strain of their murder of a pimp, accidental theft of a big time amount of cocaine, and the drama that ensues from there?

If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat!  Just check out this cast list: Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, and Val Kilmer… as Elvis??  Not to mention Gary Oldman as the excellently rendered pimp that gets the axe to start the tale!

My rating: 9/10

Black Swan

19 12 2010

Watching Black Swan has a similar feeling of intensity and horror as watching a car crash in slow motion.  From the start the viewer knows that this is a story about a ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) plagued simultaneously with a yearning for perfection and a penchant for doubt resulting in self-abuse, paranoia and neurosis.  Upon receiving her break-through role as the Swan Queen, Nina’s ambitions are tempered by the accusation that her performance may be technically impeccable but lacks the passion required to snare the audience.  This is delivered by the director of the play and company leader  Thomas (Vincent Cassel) who encourages her repeatedly to “let go.”  Thus ensues an incredibly visceral journey through Nina’s mind over the course of her rehearsals.  Violently and sexually charged, Nina’s succumbing to the neccesities of her demanding role as both White Swan and Black Swan unravels in a stomach-churning performance.   Questions of what is real or not real arise but take a back seat to Nina’s development and her overwhelming drive to play her parts.  In a word, the movie was chilling. 

My rating:  8.5/10