Monday, August 31, 2009

Oscar Watch: Part 1

Today is the last official day of the Summer movie season. That means that we are now entering what is deemed awards season. I've decided to take a look at all the films that have come out this year so far that I think might be Oscar worthy in one way or another, and then shed some light on some hopefuls coming out later this year. Today I will feature Part 1 of my two-part series where I look at the films that have already been unveiled at this point.

As a whole I've been fairly impressed with all that I saw this past summer and many of them I think could have a legitimate shot when it comes time for the Oscars. (500) Days of Summer was a charming, highly original romantic comedy that could easily follow the path of something like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine and wind up in the original screenplay category, and possibly since there are now ten nominees, Best Picture.

As well I think it is safe to say that both Star Trek and District 9 should have a strong presence in the tech categories, in particular visual effects and sound mixing/editing; while both of these films were really good, the Academy tends to ignore science fiction, still both were liked enough to get Best Picture consideration, but if one got in it'd most likely be District 9.

There were two films that failed to live up to expectations so far this year and they were Watchmen and Public Enemies. While I actually quite enjoyed Public Enemies (Watchmen not so much) the film failed to impress the way in which an Oscar film must in order to wow the Academy, which is a shame for something that was so well made and in the end quite entertaining.

Then we had Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, probably the most polished Harry Potter film since Prisoner of Azkaban. The cinematography in this film is the only cinematography I've seen thus far this year that has any shot in this category when it comes time for year's en, but as much as I loved this film (being probably my favorite film of the year so far), I don't think the Academy will give it much recognition in the major categories.

Another solid Oscar hopeful is Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo. After winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Miyazaki walk away with it once more after seeing this enchanting film. The only film that could rain on Ponyo's parade in this category is Up. Up is one of the finer films released thus far this year, and not only has it pretty much been guaranteed a slot in the animated race, it is also being touted as a possible Best Picture contender. Course if Up is pushed heavily for Best Picture, that'd possibly take away from the money needed to promote it for the animated category and could allow something like Ponyo or Coraline to swoop in there and take it away.

Moving on there was also The Hurt Locker. While I never saw this film, it opened to rave reviews, becoming a critic's favorite for the Oscars already. It could easily be a hopeful in both the Best Picture race and Best Director.

Then the festival circuits have already given us three more Oscar hopefuls, while none of these have been released in theaters just yet, they've already had their premieres so I think it's safe to include them in this first part of my Oscar Watch. An Education and Precious stormed out of Sundance last Winter to rave reviews and have held up amongst analysts to become Oscar hopefuls in nearly all the major categories. As well Bright Star, the winner of the Palm d'Or in Cannes, has gotten much early Oscar attention, but the Academy rarely lines up with Cannes so this is a hit-or-miss situation.

And that'll do it for today. Tune in later in the week to catch Part 2 of Oscar Watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trailer Rush: The Men that Stare at Goats

Psychic military officers, gun carrying immigrants, and George Clooney, that is what awaits in the trailer for The Men that Stare at Goats. Believe it or not this film is based upon a true story. Back in 2004 a reporter investigated a government experiment where they were trying to develop methods of psychic warfare. Take a look:

This looks to be a hilarious dark comedy, in the vein of a Coen Brother's film. George Clooney seems to be in top form, alongside with such terrific actors like Ewan McGreggor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges (who looks to be reprising his Lebowski character) this all adds up to make this film one to look out for. Then the story's premise is so original, so unique, ripe with hilarious opportunities. My only question after viewing this trailer is how many of the true events have been embellished to make this film funnier? Either way this film looks to be hilarious and I'll definitely be seeing it when it's released.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Spielberg, The Current State of Things

The director I most admire is Steven Spielberg. I think anyone who knows me knows this to be true. Ever since I was a child I've been entranced by the magic of many of his films. Though recently he seems to have hit a bit of a dry spell. Since about the late '90s his work has seemed very uninspired to me, which pains me because I'm such a big fan of his work. But things seem to be changing.

While I'm not terribly excited about Spielberg's remake of the Jimmy Stewart classic Harvey, his upcoming film The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, seems to be a return to classic Spielberg. Tintin is based on a classic French comic book about an adventurous reporter and his dog sidekick. The film is being done in 3-D motion capture, now while I'm usually opposed to such methods, the word is that the film was done in this way in order to fully capture the visual style of the original comics and cartoons. With a terrific cast, ranging from Simon Pegg to Daniel Craig, a script by Hot Fuzz director/screenwriter Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson producing alongside Spielberg, this could be Spielberg's next great adventure, similar to many of my favorite films from Spielberg.

As if all this isn't enough, word got out the other day that Spielberg is developing Michael Crichton's last novel, Pirate Latitudes (which is due in bookstores in November), into a movie with the possibility of him directing. The story is supposedly a swashbuckling tale of pirates, done in a more authentic way than the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I think this film has some genuine possibilities and could be a genuine hit for Spielberg. Overall this coupled with Tintin makes me feel more optimistic that Spielberg might still have a few more classics left in him. I'm greatly looking forward to both of these films.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trailer Rush: Avatar

The teaser trailer for director James Cameron's latest, Avatar, debuted online late last week. It's the story of a paraplegic war veteran who travels to a distant planet called Pandora. Here he becomes part of a military experiment, becoming an Avatar, quite simply becoming a biologically produced alien. He is then sent to the planet, falling in with the natives and having to choose his side in the impending war. This is James Cameron's first film since he directed Titanic 12 years ago. Take a look:

I'm not gonna lie, I had fallen into the unstoppable hype machine for this film about a year ago. I was so pumped for it, each and every time the media published a story about this film they kept on talking about how it was going to change how movies are made, be as big of a change as the advents of sound and color. Course after viewing this trailer, I have had to put my true expectations in check.

From just this trailer the film simply looks like a video game to me, not a film. The CGI looks so fake when imprinted next to the live action footage, and when there are the scenes that are entirely CGI, I might as well be watching the cut scene to a video game. While many are stating that when you see the film in Imax 3D, as it was intended to be seen, it will look better, but I'm still skeptical.

It makes me feel awful to be skeptical about one of the few original films being made at the current moment, but this trailer failed to live up to my expectations. I just wonder why, instead of going full blown CGI, that Cameron and company didn't decide to invest in using makeup, prosthetics, and real sets and locations in order to get a cleaner, far more realistic look. This is one of the secrets of the universe that puzzle me.

While I still want to see Avatar, and I still hope that it is as good as I deep down want it to be, at the current moment this trailer has rained on my parade.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Unicellular Review!

The unicellular blog has decided to extend its reach with the creation of the unicellular review, a blog devoted entirely to the worlds of film and television. Here many of our same contributors will be giving their thoughts on the latest bits of news from the film and television industries, while also giving us their thoughts on the latest film releases or episodes of our favorite television series. So be sure to check it out, you might even find a few surprises in store.

The Imax Bat?

An interesting rumor about the currently untitled third Batman film has recently cropped up online. While it will most likely pan out to be nothing, it's still very interesting and would be awesome if it happened.

Various respectable sources across the web are stating that Warner Bros. is deeply considering filming the next installment of the Batman franchise entirely in Imax, and we're not talking about the new Imax Digital stuff being used on films like Avatar and Tintin, but rather the legitimate 70mm film stock. While twenty minutes of The Dark Knight were filmed using 70mm Imax film, the result was greeted with such great critical and commercial response that they're really interested in possibly giving Chris Nolan the chance to do the third outing entirely in Imax.

I for one think this is a spectacular idea. While I was never able to see The Dark Knight in Imax, I heard it was astounding, and even still I could tell a noticeable difference between the quality of the image and the depth of the world in all the sequences that were shot in Imax even without ever seeing it on an Imax screen. For this reason I am totally behind WB doing it all in Imax, it will definitely give the world more scope and overall more detail. Of course the drawback to this is that Imax film stock and cameras aren't cheap.

The Dark Knight had a budget of $185 million and that was with only twenty minutes of the film being in Imax, so it's safe to assume that if the third Batman film was shot entirely in Imax it could cost anywhere from $225 to $275 million. That's a lot of money to invest in just one movie. Of course The Dark Knight is the most successful film of this decade thus far, so it is entirely reasonable for Warners to conside plopping down the necessary amount of dough it'll require to make this a reality.

But I think it is important to keep this all in check, nothing has been set in stone, technically director Chris Nolan hasn't even officially signed on yet. Anyway, to keep up anticipation, take a look at the trailer for Chris Nolan's latest film, Inception, which hits theaters next summer. I'm highly excited for this film, even if it isn't Batman 3.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

Aliens have been the source of many films since the fifties. Over the years, alien films have gotten far more sophisticated and less corny. District 9 is a perfect example of an alien film steeped in realism.

District 9 is the story of an alien race, referred to as Prawns, who twenty years agohad their ship break down over Johannesberg, South Africa. The Prawns were feared by humans and forced into slums called District 9. The story follows Wikas, an agent for MNU, the corporation who controls the Prawns. Wikas accidentally gets infected with Prawn technology, and after many odd outbursts, slowly begins to transform into an alien himself.

It is safe to say that District 9 is a fairly bizzare film, but in the best sense. It is odd at times, but that is mainly because there has never been anything quite like this before.  Originality is bursting from the seams. The story is a superb allegory towards racism, the way in which the humans treat the Prawns is heartwrenching to watch, at times even disturbing as military soldiers hold guns to alien's heads. Very often when a film includes such themes and moralistic messages, many skip out upon viewing it, but District 9 manages to lace these themes within the package of a sci-fi action/thriller and it works beautifully to reach a wider audience.

The film was directed by first time director, Neil Blomkamp. Blomkamp has done a superb job here, evoking sympathy from his audience for these not too attractive alien creatures, in particular the father and son Prawns, who are probably the most prominent aliens in the film. Blomkamp has done the film in a pseudo-documentary style. It switches back-and-forth between a propulsive narrative, like your normal film, and between the faux documentary aspect, making the film and its world feel very rich and alive, while still getting a certain layer of depth to the characters. Of course the standout aspect of the film is its visual effects. I sat there wondering how this film was made for $30 million. The CGI is spectacular, being some of the finest I've seen this year and definitely worthy of Oscar contention in the visual effects category.

Overall, there isn't much bad to say about District 9. It's a deep, philosophical film that also has tons of action to boot, though due to the disturbing nature of certain scenes and the fact that this film is so different than anything you've probably ever seen, many filmgoers will probably not appreciate this film. Even still, District 9 is a terrific film, well worth a look for any diehard fan of science fiction.

I give District 9 a 9 out of 10!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Metamorphasis of Indiana Jones

When it comes time to list my favorite film character of all-time, Indiana Jones usually crops up somewhere near the top. The whip-totting archaeologist is one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, with his hat, whip, leather jacket, and his satchel, Indy is the classic action hero. While Indy is loved by many, none every truly look within the depths of this character to see how complex he truly is.

When examining Indy on a film by film basis, he doesn't seem to be that complicated of a character, he's your average red-blooded adventurer. But when one looks at Indy's overarching journey throughout all the Indy films, they find that he is a genuine character with many layers. Follow on a journey through the metamorphosis of Indiana Jones.

The beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade shows us a young Indiana, probably about thirteen years old. It is within this short prologue that we learn much about Indy's background. Indy's mother died while he was young, leaving Indy alone with his archaeologist father, Henry Jones Sr., who was more interested in ancient artifacts than his son. Indy and his dad had a very strained relationship, which explains why Indy preferred to be called Indiana (the name of his beloved dog) rather than his birthname of Henry Jones Jr.

It is within this prologue where Indy fights a group of graverobbers trying to make off with a valuable treasure. Through this ordeal he develops his iconic get up; the head of the graverobbers is a man in a fedora and leather jacket. After the graverobbers chase Indy down and retrieve their treasure, out of respect the head of the graverobbers gives Indy his hat, thus causing Indy to go on and model himself after the graverobber.

After these events Indiana went off to college, as we learn from Raiders of the Lost Ark, he became close personal friends with his teacher Abner Ravenwood and even fell in love with his daughter Marion. After a series of falling outs Indy parted ways with his mentor and his love, but not until he had learned all that Abner could teach him. Indy then meets an old family friend, Marcus Brody, and begins to work at Brody's university while pursuing artifacts and selling them to the museum for gain.

We then find Indy in 1935 India in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Here Indy has become much like his original mentor, the graverobber, caring only for fortune and glory. When Indy learns of the myth of the Sankara Stones from the locals, Indy begins a search for the stones, leading him into the lair of the evil Thuggee Cult. Here Indy learns that the Thuggee are using children as slaves to try and find the remaining Sankara Stone. When Indy tries to intervene and steal the stones from the Thuggee, he is caught and forced to drink a cocktail that turns him to the dark side.

Indy has fallen into darkness, but his young sidekick, Short Round, refuses to give up on his best friend. Short Round pierces Indy with a flaming torch, bringing him back to the light. After this encounter Indy has a newfound appreciation for life and frees the slave children while returning the Sankara Stone to the locals.

What Indy demonstrates here is that he no longer cares about fortune and glory, but rather keeping potentially harmful artifacts away from evil. We also see the genesis of Indy's understanding of what it is to be a father through his relationship with Shorty, which will later come into play in mending the relationship with his own father.

We next find Indy in 1936 Egypt. He is no longer obsessed with profiting off of ancient artifacts, but rather he pursues priceless artifacts in order to ensure that they don't fall into the wrong hands. This is very evident in his pursuit of the Ark of the Covenant. Indy battles the Nazis, knowing that if they get hold of the Ark it could mean doom for all.

Even though the Nazis end up opening the Ark, Indy uses his knowledge in which the Nazis did not know, and closed his eyes in the presence of God. The Nazi troops are destroyed by the spirits from the Ark, and Indy escapes unscathed, but rather scorned by the U.S. Government who take the Ark and pack it in a warehouse for safe-keeping, angering Indy.

After this Indy becomes more protective of the artifacts in which he seeks, humbled by his search for the Ark, he is now pursuing these artifacts for academic purposes. Indy begins to believe that these things belong in a museum.

We find Indy in 1938 Europe, up against the Nazis again. Indy takes chase after the Nazis when he learns his father was kidnapped by them. Indy rescues his father and assists his father on his search for the Holy Grail, because the Nazis are after it as well. This begins their race to reach the cup, while over the course of their journey Indy and his father manage to mend their strained relationship by realizing that they are not all too different from one another.

When Indy's father is shot, Indy must journey deep within the Knight's Temple to save his father with the water from the Grail. Indy's faith is tested, and he manages to pass and save his father. But after this the Temple begins to collapse. Indy nearly falls down a bottomless chasm chasing after the Grail, but then he forever changes his outlook upon archeology when his father calls him Indiana for the first time in his life. Indy accepts his father's hand and they ride off into the sunset together, finally reaching an understanding with one another and reaching a deep place within their relationship that had never existed.

Indiana Jones is a red-blooded adventurer. He began as a simple treasure hunter and wound up being a stoic academic who cares more for the sanctity of the artifact rather than any fame and fortune it could grant him. There is no denying, Indiana Jones is an amazing character, full of knowledge and faith.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Fifty Year Test

I was looking round the internet the other day, and I began thinking, how many films made fifty years ago are still remembered today?

There are countless films made long ago that were both critical and commercial hits, but if you mentioned them to people nowadays they'd have no clue what you're talking about. The Wizard of Oz was panned by critics upon release and wasn't all too successful either, and it's gone on to become one of the most popular films of all-time. Even the Academy has gotten it wrong on many accounts looking back through the looking glass. Such timeless classics like It's a Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane were overlooked for the top prize both in their respective years, beaten by films that I've never even heard of. All of this got me wondering, fifty years from now, what are the films from this past decade that will be remembered?

I've decided to try and use some foresight here and predict the ten films that I think are most likely to be remembered fifty years from now. My choices range from films that were both well received and successful, to films that were not so lucky. Without further ado, here it goes (in no particular order):

* Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Eternal Sunshine is a really terrific film and was well received upon its release, growing in popularity to become a cult classic. I feel that in fifty years time this film will be considered one of the best films from this decade and will be remembered as a genuine classic. It's a film that gets better each time you watch it, and I feel it captures the spirit of this generation perfectly. Besides, who knows, fifty years from now the premise of the film could be for real.

* Once - A delicate love story that flew under the radar of many. It was an all digital production about two musicians falling in love through their music. It went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song and it has a sense of timelessness about it that will allow it to transcend generations.

* The Dark Knight - I'm going ahead and getting one of the more obvious ones out of the way. Not only is The Dark Knight a Batman film, it's a modern day Western that echoes the chaos of the times so perfectly. It's a film that is timeless in its story, but will also be seen as a time capsule of what the new millenium decade was like.

* Brokeback Mountain - While I'm not the biggest fan of this film, there is no denying that it was well made. This was a film that was covered in controversy upon its release, but in fifty years time I think it will be seen in a far better light by future generations.

* Up - The most recent film on this list has easily earned its place as an instant animated classic. Not only is the film probably one of the funniest I have seen in the longest of time, it also happens to one of the most touching I have seen in a while. It will be remembered for years to come.

* Big Fish - I'm not the biggest fan of Tim Burton, but Big Fish is one of his few films that I enjoy a great deal. It's an odd fairy tale that is anchored with a genuine heart. I think it is Tim Burton's best film he's ever made, and I think it is a timeless story that many will continue to enjoy for years to come.

* Stranger than Fiction - A highly enjoyable film featuring a terrific performance from Will Ferrel. The film was not a big hit upon its release, but the few that did see the film have morphed it into a cult classic, one that I think future generations will catch on to and love.

* Elf - Spreading a bit of pre-seasonal cheer, I've decided to include the only Christmas film from this past decade that I think will be remembered fifty years from now. Elf is a funny, heartwarming film about a human who was raised by Santa's elves. It's a film that is smart, witty, and highly enjoyable. A true holiday classic.

* Minority Report - Spielberg's best film of the past decade manages to make the list. Minority Report was a very fresh take on the science fiction genre upon its release. While the film didn't perform up to Spielberg's usual standards at the box office, the film went on to inspire countless sci-fi films and not to mention it's a highly entertaining thrill ride to boot. Minority Report has all the makings of a science fiction classic.

* Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Saving this one for last, I strongly believe that this film will go on to become the Wizard of Oz of its time. This first Harry Potter film is a genuine children's classic, filled with tons of laughs, adventure, and heart. It's already got a huge following, one that I think will only increase through the years.

Sound off in the comment section to display your thoughts on my list and perhaps post a list of your own.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Review: Ponyo

It's rare for a film to sweep you away within its world and leave you wanting more once the credits roll. Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo is such a film.

The film is the story of a young goldfish named Ponyo who wishes to become human. She swims to shore and is found by a young boy named Sasuke who promises to take care of her. Of course Ponyo's father, an ecologically obsessed sorcerer named Fujimoto, tries to keep Ponyo from becoming human in order to maintain the balance of nature, which is eventually upturned when Ponyo finally transforms into a little girl, causing a massive typhoon.

Ponyo is a very rich film. It is full of wondrous fantasy, lovable characters, and genuine heart. What director Hayao Miyazaki has done here is tell a simple little story, and in the process, has created authentic movie magic.

Ponyo is an enchanting experience. The love between Sasuke and Ponyo is very pure and true. As well the environmentalist within Miyazaki is still as evident within this film as in all his previous works. Miyazaki shows the filth and grime that fall into the ocean in an almost startling light, not to mention Ponyo's father is on an obsessive mission to clean the world's oceans. While the story is simple, Miyazaki manages to add this extra layer to provoke thought with expert proficiency.

The film is a beautiful work of art, each hand drawn cell looks like a wondrous pastel painting. The film looks very different than many other Studio Ghibli productions, but the artistry is still just as spectacular as ever before. The scenes underwater are simply beautiful to watch, Fujimoto's fortress under the sea is highly inventive, and the sequence where Ponyo runs across the jumping fish within the typhoon is iconic.  Of course it is thanks to the wonderfully executed characters that makes this film such a memorable experience. Sasuke is a young boy who acts older than he actually is, and the energetic Ponyo is a laugh a minute. Every character is just so enjoyable and highly memorable.

Overall, Ponyo is a wondrous experience, enchanting in every single way. While the film may be sold as a children's fairy tale, I believe many adults will be swept away within its fantastic world along with their children. While the film may lack the density of some of Miyazaki's previous works, here he keeps it pure and simple, being true to himself, delivering a film that is funny, heartwarming, and entertaining all in one. This is a magnificent film.

I give Ponyo a perfect 10 out of 10!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top 5: Hayao Miyazaki

In celebration for the American release of Hayao Miyazaki's latest flim Ponyo tomorrow, I've decided to count down my top five favorite films from the famed Japanese filmmaker.

For those who do not know, Miyazaki is essentially Japan's equivelant of Walt Disney. His films tend to be highly imaginative, deep, thought-provoking, emotional, and above all else fun. Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo, released in Japan last year to great reviews and wound up being the highest grossing Japanese film of the year. Tomorrow Ponyo releases here in America with the help of the head of Pixar John Lasseter, who has overseen the American release of all of Miyazaki's works. I'm very excited about Ponyo, but needless to say this is not about his new film, but is more about what truly is my favorite film from a filmmaker that I deeply admire?

5. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - Nausicaa is the story of Princess Nausicaa who leads the people of the Valley of the Wind, one of the few remaining places in the world that hasn't been consumed by toxic jungles. Nausicaa is an epic adventure filled to the brim with deep ecological and pacifistic messages. Not to mention the film features some trully thrilling action set pieces and has a wonderful heart that is inherent in nearly all of Miyazaki's works. The film finely treads the line between science fiction and fantasy to create a spellbinding film that is an animated classic for adults, not children and it definitely deserves its place on this list for its sheer scope and wonderment. The last ten minutes of the film are some of the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen in any film, whether it be live action or animated.

4. Spirited Away - For many Miyazaki fans this film would top their lists, and I must say that it surprised even me to find it at number four, but alas these things happen. Spirited Away is the story of a young girl named Chihiro who finds herself working in a bathhouse for the spirits. The film is a deep film that is about the triumph of the human spirit. It's a serious film that many children will not appreciate, but adults will revel in the density of the story and the genuine emotionality inherent in the film. It is a film that has all of Miyazki's trademark themes alive inside of it, and it might just be his most personal film he has ever made. Even though the ending to the film feels slightly rushed, there is no denying that Spirited Away is a genuine masterpiece.

3. Princess Mononoke - This one nearly made the top spot for me, but the two films that precede this one are just a slight notch ahead. Princess Mononoke is an epic story set within feudal Japan about the war between the spirits of the forest and the encroaching humans that try to destroy them. Princess Mononoke is a beautiful film, rife with imagination, wonderful characters, and epic battles. The film is sweeping in its scope, giving live action epics like The Lord of the Rings a run for its money. The story is wonderfully told, the romance between Ashitaka and San is truly beautiful, and the finale is one to be remembered. This is an emotional film that truly deserves all the accolades bestowed upon it; one of the few animated films that transcends its hand-drawn exterior to become simply an amazing film.

2. My Neighbor Totoro - I featured this film a few weeks back in my Hidden Gems segment, and I stand by what I said then. My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film; it's funny, emotional, and entertaining all wrapped into one. It is quite possibly Miyazaki's most human film he has ever made, the human characters taking the forefront and the fantasy the back. This is easily one of the finest children films ever produced. It's a film that is all about hope and it is because of this that this film is so high on the list.

1. Howl's Moving Castle - No other film on this list can make me feel quite as good as Howl does. It's a quirky love story about a wizard and a bewitched woman who transforms into a 90 year old woman. Howl is a funny film, highly imaginitve, filled to the brim with awe-inspiring fantasy. When I say that I have never seen a film quite like this before, it truly applies to this one. There is no other film I've ever seen that it can be compared to. The film is deep and thought-provoking, it features a very dense story without ever feeling convoluted, and it tells a very sweet story of romance and true love. Miyazaki has made what I think to be his finest achievement with Howl's Moving Castle. The characers are all lovable and very well layered; the action within the film is exhilirating and really adds to the story; and the world is so intricately conceived and jam-packed with detail its beautiful. This is a film that will have you with a smile on your face for the rest of the day after watching it. It's one of the most enchanting films I've ever seen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer

500 days. Doesn't sound like a very long period of time, but when given the right circumstances those days slowly creep by. A lot can happen in just a mere 500 days, one can find love, lose it, and then discover their true happiness and have their beliefs completely reaffirmed. That is the film (500) Days of Summer in a nutshell.

(500) Days of Summer is the story of Tom, a greeting card writer, and his romantic relationship with Summer, his boss's assistant. The story follows the ups-and-downs of their relationship over the course of 500 days. Tom, a hopeless romantic, hopes to find true love around every turn, while Summer doesn't want a serious relationship.

The film unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, beginning at the end, then skipping to the middle, and then back to the beginning again. At first it catches one by surprise, throwing all anyone has ever known about story structure out the door, but after the midpoint of the film these transitions simply feel natural in order to tell the story the way it was meant to be told. Director Marc Webb infuses the film with a very pleasing visual style, giving the film this dream-like feel. As well the acting from the two leads, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel is fantastic, in particular Gordon Levitt. Gordon Levitt's performance as Tom is deeply affecting. He is funny while also being the everyman. Gordon Levitt at times reminds one of a young Tom Hanks or Jimmy Stewart, and I feel with the right role he can become a mega star.

(500) Days of Summer is a film that feels as if it is a modern day fairy tale, while also being highly realistic at the same time. The dream-like look of the film and the hilarity that ensues in many situations is not always channeling realism (not to mention the omniscient narrator who comes in from time-to-time), but what makes this film feel real is the emotions of the characters and their relationships. I think every guy can relate to Tom and his pursuit of true love. Every guy has known a girl like Summer, a girl that they wanted but could never truly have. It is because of this I believe that this is not your typical romantic comedy. It's actually a romantic comedy told for men rather than women, and it's from this viewpoint that I managed to identify with Tom so much. Of course what this film offers most importantly is hope, letting us realize that there truly are other fish in the sea.

(500) Days of Summer is a highly entertaining film. It is funny, charming, and hopeful all in one. While this film will ultimately not appeal to all, it is definitely worth a look.

I give (500) Days of a Summer a 10 out of 10!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hidden Gems: My Neighbor Totoro

I've decided to start a new series highlighting movies that perhaps the casual filmgoer may have never heard of. This current edition I'm choosing to take a look at a film from Mr. Hayao Miyazaki, considered by many to be the master of Japanese animation. He has made many classic films in his career, but I've decided to highlight one of his finer films that tends to get lost in the shuffle of his more popular works. A truly heartfelt adventure that kinda makes one think of E.T., called My Neighbor Totoro.

Hayao Miyazaki's films always seem to amaze me. Whether it be the dense and extremely poignant Princess Mononoke, or the beautiful and deeply affecting Spirited Away, he always manages to capture the viewer's imagination, but no other film in his catalog manages to ensnare the viewer quite like My Neighbor Totoro. In a way it is very different than many of his other films.

My Neighbor Totoro is a simple film, but told in a very affecting way. It's the story of two young girls who move to the country with their father so that they can be near their ailing mother in the hospital. While at their new home the girls discover an ancient forest spirit called Totoro that can only be seen by children, and Totoro helps them to find hope within all their inner turmoil.

It is safe to say that My Neighbor Totoro is quite possibly Miyazaki's most human film he has ever made. While there are many other Miyazaki films that are perhaps more breathtaking in scope and may have far more intriguing plots, My Neighbor Totoro puts all of its focus on the characters rather than the fantasy. As a matter of fact the fantasy within the film is very sparse, and appears at all the right moments to strike the perfect chord with your emotions. Though this should not lead one to believe the film doesn't have some awe-inspiring fantasy. It wouldn't be a Miyazaki film if it didn't. There are many sequences, such as the catbus scenes or the flight with Totoro that are simply magical and help solidify this film amongst the pantheon of other Studio Ghibli productions.

Miyazaki makes the smart choice of telling the story through the eyes of the children rather than giving it a cynical adult spin. In doing this he draws us into this world; you literally feel as if you stepped in a time machine and went back into your childhood. The children treat the world as if it's this magical place, full of mystery and wonder. We never see the dark side of human nature within this film, cause as children we never did. What Miyazaki does show is how to enjoy life and its simplicities, but not only that he makes us remember that it's alright to feel emotion; to be scared, to laugh, to cry. As adults we very often forget these simple things, bottling everything up, making us bitter and cynical beings.

Of course My Neighbor Totoro is just as gorgeous as any other Studio Ghibli production. My Neighbor Totoro features some of the finest hand-drawn animation I've ever seen. It's amazing that this was done back in the days before computers. Many of the shots are so complex to draw that most animators would shy away from doing without a computer, but not Miyazaki. Now while some fans may despise the dubbed versions of Miyazaki's films done by Disney, I've never minded them, and this is easily one of their better dubs thus far. Dakota and Elle Fanning are perfect as the two sisters. Their authentic chemistry really comes through on screen.

Overall My Neighbor Totoro is a funny, heartwarming film. Miyazaki perfectly struck a chord with the audience on this one. It's an innocent look back at childhood, bringing back the sheer wonder that following a mysterious animal in the backyard could have. Though what this film truly does is make us as adults forget what we are truly missing, but as Totoro does with the girls, Miyazaki shows that there is hope in us rediscovering that innocence and simplicity once more.