思い出のマーニー (When Marnie Was There)

8 08 2016

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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
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The Immigrant (2014) – James Gray

22 01 2015

The Immigrant

First unveiled at the 2013 Cannes film festival, James Gray’s The Immigrant was originally primed for a strong awards run that same year, but was then suddenly put into release date limbo before quietly being released in just a few theaters earlier this year.  The studio has also gone back and forth on whether to market or campaign the film for awards honors. I bring this up because it seemed that the studio couldn’t decide whether or not they liked their own movie, and the film is such a mixed bag that I feel much the same way after a first viewing.  The film starts as a fascinating look into 1920’s immigrant life centering on a Polish immigrant who gets quarantined at Ellis Island, before a mysterious man bribes an officer to set her free.  But what was a brilliant period piece with an intriguing character study is derailed midway through, when the plot turns into a melodramatic love triangle. There are many beautiful moments, including the film’s final shot (might even be the best of the year), and the film is anchored by two amazing performances by Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, but sadly the third act is completely at odds with the rest of the film in content and tone, making the overall package an odd one.





Two Days, One Night (2014) – The Dardenne Brothers

21 12 2014

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The new film from minimalist directors the Dardenne brothers, who have won the Cannes film festival’s top honor twice in their career (only 6 other filmmakers have accomplished that feat since the festival began in 1939).  Their films, and especially Two Days, One Night, have always been deceptively simple on the surface, but underneath are raw and poetic and will leave you pondering its messages for long after.  Emotionally and stylistically, Two Days, One Night is a modern day counterpart to Bicycle Thieves.

This follows a working class woman who learns that she may be losing her job, as the staff have been asked to choose between receiving a substantial bonus or keeping her on the payroll.  She has the weekend to visit her 16 coworkers and try to persuade them to let her keep her job.  Through her struggle, which sort of plays out in a series of vignettes, we see glimpses into different family lives, the many ripple effects caused by her actions, her own character arc, and even a rounded portrait of the working class.

In casting Marion Cotillard, this is also the first time the Dardenne brothers have not worked with a complete cast of unknowns.  Marion Cotillard is brilliant, as she usually is, and it wasn’t until after the film that I realized how little dialogue she actually has, as she’s incredibly expressive, but without resorting to chewing the scenery or lashing out.  It’s a wonderful, subtle performance.

9.5/10

 





Tusk (2014) – Kevin Smith

9 12 2014

I was excited for Tusk.  I loved the concept, I love campy B-movies, I was intrigued by Johnny Depp and Haley Joel Osment’s surprise casting, I’m a fan of some of Kevin Smith’s work, and I thought this looked like a kind of return to form for Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp.  But nope, this film failed on almost every level.  I did love the Walrus suit, it was disgusting and campy in all the right ways, but outside of that nothing worked. The humor ranged from bad to cringeworthy, tons of scenes were either completely unnecessary or just dragged on and on, and a lot of the dialogue was awful (most surprising coming from Kevin Smith), and not in a fun B-movie way.  This one’s for Kevin Smith’s die hard fans only.

2/10





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





Cosmopolis

22 09 2012

A collaboration between director David Cronenberg and writer Don DeLillo seemed like the perfect match, but unfortunately DeLillo’s heavy dialogue didn’t translate so well to the screen in Cosmopolis, at least when it’s being spoken by lead Robert Pattinson.  Not to unfairly put all the blame on him, as just about everyone in this ensemble cast save for Paul Giamatti and Juliet Binoche seem to struggle with the dialogue and/or chemistry.  The book itself seemed cold and detached, but that feeling is amplified in this adaptation.  The saving grace comes in the film’s final confrontation where Pattinson comes out of his shell and the movie seems to finally find its pulse.

This is a short review partly because the film felt so empty (even as a fan of the book, to which it is mostly faithful) that I just don’t feel strongly enough to spend more time on it.  I felt similarly after Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method last year.  I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time, and I hope he can regain whatever edge he had, as his last few films have been strangely hollow.

5/10





The Raid: Redemption

22 08 2012

I’d been hearing amazing things about The Raid for a long time, so maybe my expectations were a little too high since for the most part, the whole thing fell flat with me.  The movie seemed confused: at times, it was an ultra-realistic action flick with some of the best stunt work I’ve ever seen, while at other times it turned into an over-the-top spectacle where all the characters turned into borderline superheroes. Spoilers: As awesome as it is to see a villain fighting with a fluorescent lightbulb sticking out of his throat and taking (literally) 500 punches to the face with seemingly no side-effects, it didn’t really fit with the rest of the movie’s vibe.  They also just couldn’t resist giving the hero the most generic and overused “wife and kid waiting at home” backstory.  I wish the filmmakers had picked one route, either realistic or fantastical, and stuck to it.  That being said, there’s some incredible fighting sequences (one rivals the awesome hallway scene from Oldboy)  and again, the stunts are really amazing.  Despite my complaints I still think this is worth seeing, especially if you’re a big action fan, in which case it’s unmissable.

7/10