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

Enter the Void

13 11 2010

Enter the Void is directed by Gaspar Noe, who is responsible for two other notorious and horribly disturbing films, Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998), as well as many shorts, one of which is included in a collection titled Destricted (2006).  Destricted compiles erotic films that aim to illuminate the points where art meets sexuality (fellow short directors include: Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Marco Brambilla, Larry Clark, Richard Prince and Sam Taylor-Wood).

I must confess now that despite the fact that I’ve seen my fair share of disturbing films, I could not bring myself to finish Irreversible.  It is known to have some of the most violent scenes out there, including a very disgusting bludgeoning which occurs in the first few minutes and a viciously executed rape scene.  With this in mind I was wary but intrigued to hear about Noe’s new Enter the Void, and upon seeing the teaser trailers was aptly stoked for it to come out so that I could experience the next installment in Noe’s oeuvre.

The trailer sends mixed messages.  Tender images of a young man and woman with a tinkling melody collide with psychedelia-infused Tokyo night scenes, strippers, drugs and violence that are editted together with a tempo matching the intense beat of electronica.  The only other point I knew of the film before I went into it is that Noe was going to continue his exploration of a roving camera that makes it look as though the entire film is done in one take, a style that he explored in Irreversible.

I was riveted by the film from the opening credits.  That intense electronica beat from the trailer picks up immediately and amid it the credits flash graphically in bright, ever-changing neon colors.  I got pumped in seconds.  When the credits are over the film transitions abruptly to near-silence in a Tokyo apartment, and all of a sudden we are a character.  The gaze of the camera moves as though we are the man acting in the film, and a subtle but highly off-putting effect of the camera “blinking” emphasizes this. This effect is maintained throughout the first 45 minutes or so of Enter the Void, and these are easily the best 45 minutes in the film. 

Noe organizes the narrative of the film ala Momento or Pulp Fiction by revealing most of the ending first in the opening 45 minute sequence.  This only becomes distracting due to the fact that the narrative slowly nose-dives as it unwinds.  All of the most delicious story-telling and camera work occurs in the first hour.  The final hour and 20 minutes seem to drag and becomes repitive and, while dark and macabre, a bit boring. 

I want to give Noe credit for taking his camera work to such an ambitious and conceptual level, although I felt that his use of the roving, surveillance style camera as a transitional tool happened a few too many times and was a big part of why the film felt so long.  Another creative point that I want to commend Noe for is his incredibly interesting and beautiful filmic depiction of what it is like to experience psychedellic drugs.  During these scenes, the viewer truly feels at the mercy of Noe’s creativity, and is forced to experience along with the protagonist these arresting visions that leave no room for escape by either party as we are completely immersed in psychedelia. 

If you are a viewer who perhaps has dabbled in psychedlics yourself, or who has a penchant for the weird, the dramatic and the disturbing then  you should certainly put this movie on your list of must-sees.  Otherwise, this is a movie to avoid at all costs.  Although I think that Enter the Void has its share of flaws, I believe that Noe has definitely created an experience that should not be missed by the adventurous movie-goer.  Looking back, I must certainly add that it is an incredibly beautifully shot movie.  All of its cinematography is on point and exceptionally well done.  At the very least, don’t miss it for that.

My rating: 7.5/10

American Zombie (2007)

17 09 2010

“We’re here, we’re dead — get used to it!”

While casually browsing movies to watch, friends and I stumbled upon American Zombie.  Deciding that there really is no poor time for a zombie movie, bad or good, we put it on.  Nobody knew anything about it aside from the fact that is was described as a kind of mockumentary.  I preoceeded with caution.  Any doubts were quickly erased from my mind though, and now I can easily say that American Zombie was indeed a very welcome and engaging surprise. 

This film felt incredibly fresh.  I credit it for combining a subtle sense of humor/satire and documentary-style film-making with high levels of suspense and horror.  American Zombie has a uniqueness of vision that made it very convincing and, to me, incredibly stylish as well.  The movie had me on the edge of my seat with anticipation and curiosity.  So the next time you’re thinking about watching a zombie movie, be sure to check out this unorthodox yet awesome little gem! 

My rating: 8/10


20 07 2010

Inception has been one of my most anticipated movies for 2010, and the bar for my expectations was incredibly high.  I am exceedingly happy to say that director and writer Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Memento) did not fail to deliver above and beyond what I expected.  From start to finish every aspect of Inception is remarkable and breathtaking, from the score, pacing, and effects to the acting, dialogue, and concept.  It joins together all the best aspects of almost every genre (suspense/thriller, action, romance, comedy, sci-fi/fantasy, and a touch of horror) but combines it with an ensemble of super bad-ass yet believable characters that take on incredibly unorthodox protagonist/antagonist roles to create a truly unique screenplay that can be enjoyed despite/because of its complexities by all.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Well, if you have any doubt in your mind it means you haven’t seen it yet.  And seriously: don’t miss this.

I think that if I allowed myself I could probably gush about every aspect of this film, but I will try to keep this short so I will attempt to only talk about up to three of the more important things about it I can think of: the relationship between Inception’s screenplay and the pacing of scenes, the acting, and the effects. 

Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is masterful, and the thing that impresses me most about it is the way in which he is able to weave together different plots in different settings while maintaining very believable characters who exist in all of them simultaneously.  And he manages to do this without compromising his strong concepts, especially when it came to the rate of time passing in each of the simultaneous scenarios.  He manages to do this especially via pacing, both with cuts and with real-time versus slo-mo.  I won’t say more than that; those who’ve seen it know what I mean, and those who haven’t simply must see it for themselves!

A screenplay is nothing though without those who would deliver its dialogue, and Inception is certainly not lacking in the cast department.  There is not one weak link in the film; everyone in it delivers nothing less than their best.  Cillian Murhpy plays arrogant perfectly, and has an incredibly tender and beautiful scene towards the end with Pete Postlethwaite.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy together have a great but subtle chemistry; I’m excited to keep on eye on the both of them and their future roles from here on out.  Ellen Page, who I’m not a particularly huge fan of in the first place, does remarkably well in this movie and (this was surprising to me) is not eclipsed by the action and high profiles surrounding her.  For me though, the two stand-out roles were Leonardo Dicaprio and Marion Cotillard.  Although Leonardo is a huge household name and is completely recognizable in Inception, the magic of his acting lies in the fact that he is a complete chameleon; Leo becomes Cobb through and through, and the caliber of his acting leaves no room for the audience to question this.  Cotillard is beautiful as always, but is above all powerful in her performance as she juggles the loneliness, madness, and furiousness of her character Mal. Together Marion and Leo are a force to be reckoned with.

Lastly, the effects.  The effects are present from start to finish of the movie, and sometimes they seem to permeate every scene.  But the thing that keeps the effects in Inception fresh, new, and so believable are their authenticity.  This authentic feel springs from the fact that so much of the movie is not done with a computer, but rather were done with actors playing out intricate fight scenes in real time in real sets; the overwhelming energy of each scene is easily translated because the actors were really slipping, sliding, banging and fighting most of the time.  For example, consider the hotel hallway scene (pictured below):

“To pull off the scenes, multiple hotel sets were constructed in a converted airship hanger north of London, most notably, a more than 100-foot hotel corridor that was able to rotate 360 degrees with the help of eight concentric rings, 30-feet in diameter, which surrounded the set. Capable of spinning up to eight revolutions per minute, the centripetal hallway was powered by two giant 225-kilowatt electric motors (the equivalent of two new Mercedes S350 V-6 engines). Working with stunt coordinator Tom Struthers, another “Dark Knight” veteran, Gordon-Levitt and the other stuntmen rehearsed within the rotating sets for over two weeks.

To create the effect of zero gravity, several other sets were constructed: vertical sets; horizontal sets; upside down sets; at the same time, the “weightless” actors were hung on wires, or supported by rigid poles like big Popsicle sticks, or even laid down in fiberglass molds built to fit their bodies.

One particular challenge for the sequence was a scene in which Arthur takes five weightless sleeping bodies, wraps a chord around them, and floats them down the hall into an elevator. “How did we do it?” Corbould asks. “Chris has sworn ourselves to secrecy on that one.””

And that’s just one particular set of action sequences in one of the simultaneously occurring plots!

Inception is simply the best new movie out there, and is officially a favorite of mine. 

My rating: 10/10

Evan’s review:

^More or less how I felt during the last 45 minutes of Inception.  Maryann pretty much covered everything, and I agree completely with her review, so for now I’ll just leave it at that.  I may add a write-up later, but needless to say I thought it was amazing.