osprey_archer: (books)
We bought Emily Arnold McCully's Mirette on the High Wire at a Scholastic Book Fair when I was in first grade (does anyone else remember the glory of going to the book fair? Books, books, an entire room in the school suddenly filled with shiny new books), and I dug out my old copy to read it for the Caldecott project.

The illustrations still delight me: the flaming red of Mirette's red hair, the deep blue of her dress and the white froth of her petticoats, the impressionist feel to it all - so appropriate for a book set in fin de siecle Paris. And the loveliness of Paris in these illustrations! No wonder I always had the idea of Paris as an enchanted city.

This is one of those books that has a moral point that is quite clear to an adult - learning an art, any art, not just walking the high wire - requires work, and more work, and many mistakes. You'll fall down and pick yourself back up and get overconfident and fall again. But it's not blunt - obvious - obtrusive about it - I never felt I was being preached at when I read this book as a child, only enchanted by the illustrations, the city, Mirette's slowly mounting competence, the way that her courage and determination inspire her teacher who thought his own days as a high wire walker were done.

***

I haven't posted recently not because I have nothing to say but because I am quite, quite behind on things I've meant to post about: the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal, books I read on Netgalley (Ta-Nehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years in Power; a series of historical sketches by Stefan Zweig), and all the movies I saw in August, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't but most of which inspired lots of thought and feeling and therefore an intimidating number of things to say.

I'll start here with one of the less thought-provoking ones: I finally saw The Lego Movie, which I found moderately amusing but did not like nearly as much as Lego Batman (which had a surprising amount of emotional heft and perhaps set my bar for The Lego Movie too high). And I wasn't particularly impressed by the twist, when Spoilers )

May movies

Jun. 1st, 2017 08:46 am
osprey_archer: (Default)
I need to start my May movies post with a movie I watched in April and then forgot to write about, even though it was one of my favorites: The Painting, a French animated film about the figures in a half-finished painting, who decide they must set out on a journey to find the painter and convince him to finish it, because the fully-finished figures are (what else?) oppressing the partly-finished ones and the “sketchies,” who exist as little more than rough stick figures.

This makes the story sound heavy-handed, which it isn’t really; the characters slip out of their painting and explore the painter’s studio, traveling from painting to painting, and it’s all totally charming. And the animation is simply gorgeous.

Onward to the movies actually watched in May!

The Fox and the Child, also a French movie, strange and slow-paced and not quite like anything else I’ve ever seen, and enchanting, once you get over expecting it to have a plot like a normal movie.

A ten-year-old girl lives with her parents (whom we never meet; in fact the girl is the only human we ever see) in a mountain wilderness, where she ever so slowly befriends a wild fox. The fox and the girl are both fun, but the mountains are the real star of the show: the leaves turning, the snow falling, the flowers blooming again in the spring, the clear blue sky and the dramatic mountainsides. Wikipedia tells me these are the Jura Mountains in France, and they are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (the 1982 version with Anthony Andrews, who also played Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited) is a swashbuckling hoot and I highly recommend it if you need a fun adventure movie with enormous capes and even larger hair.

Dinotopia, which I think is actually a miniseries? Except they put it on the DVD without any episode breaks even though it’s like four hours long, WHO DOES THAT. In any case, it’s aggressively mediocre. I supposed Dinotopia would be a difficult book to adapt in any case - it’s short on plot and long on gorgeous drawings of the world - in fact it aggravates me that the miniseries makers, who had essentially a book of the most gorgeous possible concept art for their show, ended up with something so visually incoherent. It’s like they raided the costume department for everything faintly weird looking without ever realizing that they would have to harmonize this to some overall aesthetic.

Jackie, which is a total bummer, although honestly I should have expected that from a movie that is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy focusing mostly on the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Unfortunately, on top of being a bummer, I just didn’t find it that compelling. The movie hops around in time a lot, to the extent that it obscures the emotional arc, which is especially frustrating because I see little reason why they couldn’t have just told the darn story in chronological order and done away with the talking-to-a-newspaper-reporter frame story entirely, because it seems to exist mostly so the filmmakers can spell out their point just in case any of us are being a bit slow about it.
osprey_archer: (Default)
I saw lots of movies in April! Among them, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (I know, I know. How have I made it twenty-eight years on the earth without seeing it?), which was quite fun, although I think my favorite part of the movie was the bit at the beginning where young Indiana Jones steals an artifact from a bunch of artifact stealers (“It should be in a museum,” he says indignantly) who then chase him onto a circus train to try to get it back.

Why a circus train? And what circus needs an entire train car full of snakes? Who knows! Who cares! It’s awesome, that’s what it is!

(Seriously though. Where are all the circus performers? There’ve got to be some Night Circus type shenanigans going on here.)

We also celebrated Earth Day with a double feature: Ferngully and Once Upon a Forest. I had of course seen Ferngully before - I think it was more or less required viewing in the nineties - and I must say the animation no longer seems as impressively lovely as it did to me then. I think I also kind of mixed it up in my mind with the scenes where Pocahontas shows John Smith around the forest and it’s all so breathtaking and then there’s a song, because I kept expecting that to happen and it didn’t.

Once Upon a Forest, meanwhile, is about a trio of forest creatures who go on a quest to find special herbs to save their friend who has been poisoned by humans, and learn important lessons about friendship & discovery. They make a weird flying machine! It’s cute.

I liked having themed movies, and have been trying to think of thematically appropriate movies for Mother’s Day and/or Memorial Day - well, I suppose any appropriately sad war movie would work for the latter? Will have to think about this.

Other April movies include:

Only Yesterday, which I believe is the final Studio Ghibli movie that I hadn’t seen. It’s sort of two movies in one: Taeko is heading out to the countryside for a summer farming vacation, and as she goes, she’s also reminiscing about her fifth-grade self, which - taking into account cultural differences, of course (and this film must be a real nostalgia trip for people who grew up in Japan in the sixties) - nonetheless reminded me of my own experiences in fifth grade. Taeko’s conflicted anxiety about menstruation (the director and producer are both men. How did they know that?), her confusing relationships with the girls in her class (are they her friends? Her enemies? Friends who don’t know how to be good friends yet?), the way she seesaws between trying to be grown up and being very bratty indeed.

It’s an odd, meandering, thoughtful film, not very concerned with having any kind of plot, not in terms of action and not even, perhaps, in terms of character growth - although on second thought, perhaps yes? Certainly there’s character exploration, character unfolding. Good food for thinking with.

(And upon reflection, there is one Ghibli film I still haven’t seen: Grave of the Fireflies. But everyone always says “Grave of the Fireflies will make you cry LITERAL BUCKETS of tears!” and, you know, that’s just not something I want generally. I’ll wait until the opportunity to see it foists itself upon me and then I’ll bow to my fate.)

9 to 5: Three women (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin) all work in the same office under a domineering and incompetent male boss; they get their revenge on him, and it is at once delicious and hilarious. Why hadn’t I heard of this movie before? Why do I always seem to end up hearing about movies with multiple female stars through the grapevine and only the grapevine because no one ever mentions them anywhere else?

This is a rhetorical question. I’m just feeling salty about it.

On Golden Pond, which stars Katherine Hepburn! Sixty-something and as lovely and feisty as ever. This is a movie about an older couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer, who are joined at their holiday cottage on Golden Pond by their semi-estranged daughter Chelsea - played by Jane Fonda, the real life daughter of Henry Fonda, who plays the dad. This makes me super curious about the Fondas actual relationship. Were they drawing on life?

I hope they weren’t drawing on life too much because that would make Henry Fonda a pretty rotten dad. Norman is an emotionally unavailable, crotchety old man who never quite knew how to connect with his daughter, but probably should have realized that teasing her about her pudginess was never going to bridge that gap.

Norman and Ethel are very well-matched, though; it struck me as an illustration of the fact that “Is this the man I want to spend the rest of my life with?” and “Is this a man I would want to be a father to my children?” might well have opposing answers.
osprey_archer: (window)
I intended to post more assiduously about the movies that I saw this year, and then… I totally didn’t, oops. So here are the movies I saw in 2016!

They are a beguiling mixture of animated movies and stuff from the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Movies of All Time, because my friend Myra has made it her goal to watch all of them and who am I to turn down the chance to check things off a list?

1. In the Heat of the Night. This is an excellent movie, but I admired it more than enjoyed it. Netflix calls it a “riveting study of racism that still strikes a chord,” which is accurate - near the beginning there’s a scene where Virgil Tibbs (our hero, played by Sidney Poitier) gets arrested because there’s been a murder in the town and he’s a strange black man sitting the train station - and therefore painful to watch.

2. The Flight of Dragons. This movie is a HOOT. It’s a Rankin/Bass movie from the 1980s, and it’s about a guy who gets enchanted into the world of a D&D-type board game that he created, and has to fight the powers of an evil sorcerer and also win the heart of a fair maiden, who is incidentally a character he created to have all the qualities he has ever wanted in a woman.

He literally wins the boss fight by yelling out the names of different branches of science. “Astronomy! Psychology! Sociology!” The wizard cannot withstand this onslaught! Highly recommended for a drinking game.

3. The Garden of Words. I watched this movie because I saw some completely gorgeous stills on Tumblr, and it is, it really is a gorgeous movie: lots of beautiful scenes of falling rain rippling through the leaves and across the pond in a park.

I didn’t like the story as much as the animation - I think partly because the title led me to expect a magical garden, and it’s not a fantasy story at all - and also because it’s about a high school student falling in love with a teacher (although he doesn’t realize she’s a teacher, and she’s not his teacher - but she is a decade older than he is), which makes it uncomfortable.

4. The Wind Rises. This movie upset me, not because of any of the political content - I remember there was some controversy about whether making a movie about Jiro Hirokoshi, designer of the Zero fighter plane, glorified or at least swept under the rug Japanese imperialism - but because the second half of the movie is pretty much 100% about Jiro’s girlfriend/eventual wife’s slow agonizing miserable death from consumption. Beautifully done. DID NOT EXPECT. DO NOT WANT.

5. Miracle on 34th Street. Classic Christmas movies bring out the Grinch in me; I didn’t like It’s a Wonderful Life and I don’t particularly like this one either. It’s one of those heavy-handed “Believe in the miracle of Christmas!” films, and the kind of belief it peddles seems shallow and cheap to me, and also I thought the film browbeat the heroine for her lack of belief and it annoyed it.

6. Raging Bull. This is one of those “Let’s explore masculinity!” films that litter the AFI Top 100 list. I drag my feet about watching them because I never expect to like them, but in this case I actually did quite enjoy it in the end. Scorsese makes his boxer protagonist human and rather tragic without exonerating him from the fact that he’s actually a pretty awful husband; there’s something small and sad about the story, the inverse of a usual sports movie of triumph.

7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This film is an experience utterly unlike any other film I have ever seen, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or just, like, a thing. But I totally recommend seeing it if you’re at all interested in the history of film or art or just enjoy an infusion of head-spinning weirdness in your life from time to time.

8. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Everyone told me this movie was a devastating trip down cynicism lane, so I was actually kind of disappointed when I saw it. So much less betrayal than I expected! I mean, yes, there is that one guy who is a traitor mctraitorsin, but he’s also clearly becoming unhinged, which is less devastating than a guy who betrays all his supposed friends while totally in his right mind and is not driven mad by his conscience afterward.

9. Bonnie and Clyde. After I saw this movie I meant to learn more about the historical Bonnie and Clyde, which I didn’t end up doing (note to self: must resurrect this project), but the fact that I wanted to is testament what an intense and vivid picture the movie paints of them.

10. My Neighbors the Yamadas. I loved this movie! It’s a very odd movie, more a bunch of vignettes from the life of a pretty average family than a cohesive storyline at all, but there’s such emotional truth to them - the Yamadas are in many ways not like my family, but at the same time watching the film reminded me of my family, the sense of life as a lot of small moments together. A sweet gentle film.

11. The Swan Princess. I think I missed the critical viewing window for this movie. My friends who saw it as children gush about it nostalgically, but it dragged for me, even though it’s only about 75 minutes long.

12. Thumbelina. I know I watched this movie this year, but I can’t remember a darn thing about it. I really expected I would like it, too; usually I love things about tiny people. (The Borrowers!)

Moana

Dec. 3rd, 2016 06:51 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Went to see Moana yesterday! And it was gorgeous, really stunning animation and beautiful songs - quite different from the usual Disney song style; more epic maybe? I'm not sure how to define it, but it was a lot of fun, very epic sounding, quite appropriate to a magically intrepid ocean voyage.

Other things I enjoyed: the underwater sequences, the beautiful lush jungles, Moana practicing her speech to give to Maui (and the way that speech changes over time, gathering emotion like a snowball rolling down a hill gathers snow), Moana just in general, in particular Moana's beautiful hair, Maui's moving tattoo that talks (or I guess gestures) back at him when he's making bad life choices, and Spoiler I guess )
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My mom and I went to see Finding Dory, and I liked it a lot! I haven't seen Finding Nemo for years (I was actually not that enthusiastic about Finding Nemo, but it's been so long I can't remember why. It may have been Marlin. I definitely thought the Dory parts of Finding Dory were stronger than the Marlin parts), so I probably missed some of the subtleties there, but Finding Dory holds together just fine without it.

I particularly liked Dory and her grumpy octopus friend! The bubbly happy friend and the grump with a heart of gold is one of my favorite types of screen buddy pairing, and this is a beautiful example of it.

Also I found Dory's memories of her childhood very affecting. Her parents are so worried about her and her ability to take care of herself because of all her memory problems, but also trying so hard to help her build confidence in herself, and using the things that she likes - shells! - as building blocks so those lessons will be fun and loving and memorable.

Finding Dory did not make me cry like some other Pixar movies have, but I did tear up a bit Spoilers )

I also really enjoyed the short film at the beginning, the fluffy little sandpiper chick learning how to deal with the waves. So cute! It's like they found the cute! button in the brain and just jammed their finger on it for five minutes, the whole thing was so adorable. And the feather fluff was so beautifully rendered, and the sea, and I'm always so impressed by how much emotion Pixar can manage without using any words at all.

In fact, I think Pixar should consider doing more movies like Wall.E, where part of the film is almost wordless. It really showcases their strengths as a studio - and it's a strength that I don't think any other film companies can match right now, so it would showcase their uniqueness as well.

Not that Pixar needs any advice from me. Many of their movies are stunningly unique already (who else would come up with something like Up or Inside Out?), and I'm always happy to see whatever they do next.
osprey_archer: (art)
A week or so ago, Google had a Google doodle based on the work of Lotte Reiniger, a German woman who made the first feature-length animated film in 1926 using silhouette cut-outs. (This article about Reiniger includes a section about the making of the Google doodle, which is also pretty fascinating.)

Naturally I had to watch one of her movies, and lo! Netflix had her first feature film, The Story of Achmed. Or at least something approximating her first feature film; the original was lost, so this one was restored from a nitrate version found in the London Film Archives.

It's interesting - I might say interesting more than enjoyable? The animation is gorgeous (such intricate cuttings!), but I think there was a big shift in story-telling when silent films transitioned to sound, which makes it hard - for me at least - to become immersed in most silent films. I'm not quite sure what the difference is. I think they're slower-paced, perhaps because the images need to bear more story-telling weight?

But then again, I'm not sure how much of this is a change in story-telling style that was caused by the transition to sound, and how much of it is a shift that coincided with that technological change without being caused by it. Modern silent films (The Artist, Blancanieves) work fine using more modern story-telling techniques.

I wonder what children today would make of The Story of Achmed. I think ninety-nine out of a hundred would think it was boring: no dialogue, no jokes, what's this? But the hundredth might be totally transfixed.

Zootopia

Mar. 11th, 2016 07:32 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
I went to see Zootopia, and you guys, it's totally awesome and you should totally see it, I had a wonderful time. The plot is not the best - it has the problem I have with a lot of movie mystery plots, which is that the clues basically fall in the heroes' laps, because the running time is simply too short for anything else. I loved the characters, though, especially rabbit Judy Hopp and fox Nick Wilde's enemies-to-reluctant-buddy cop schtick; I'm such a sucker for buddy cops. And also the secondary characters, Judy's worrywart parents (strangely endearing for all that they are horrified, horrified, horrified by their daughter's plan to become the first bunny cop in Zootopia), and the chief of police, who is a total jackass but hilarious.

But what really got me is the WORLD-BUILDING, because you could just see the filmmakers and animators sitting down together and having a grand old time hashing out, say, the logistics of living in a city with citizens who range in size from giraffes (15 feet) to hamsters (3 inches). Near the beginning, for instance, our hero Judy Hopp (off to the big city to become Zootopia's first rabbit cop!), gets on a train with three doors: one for big animals, one for medium size animals, and one for the itty bitty rodents.

AH THAT'S SO CUTE. The whole movie is just so cute like that, but unobtrusively cute (for the most part: there's a scene where Judy has to chase a suspect through a special rodent enclave and EVERYTHING IS SO TINY AND CUTE, OMG, they have hamster tubes between the buildings like pedestrian overpasses!): it's a side effect of their aesthetic, which is effusively detailed with incidentally adorableness. There are just so many little details and they're all so fun, like the scene where Judy catches a bootleg movie dealer and he's selling Disney movies - except they've all been revamped so they're animal themed (and I'm so sad I can't remember any of the puns right now, they were so cute), so Frozen is about otters, for instance.

And they've clearly put so much effort into the animation: I read somewhere that they had animated 43 (or maybe 63? A LOT) of different kinds of fur for all the animals, and you can really tell just looking at it, it's such a beautifully detailed movie. The attention to detail reminds me of Big Hero 6.

And I also thought that the filmmakers did a great and sensitive job depicting prejudice in Zootopia, because they've clearly put so much thought into the prejudices that might grow up with all these different (and in some cases, formerly antagonistic) species living and working together: it draws on analogies to real-world racism and sexism, but at the same time it doesn't map precisely onto them, because Zootopia is so different from the world as we know it.

For instance, it's Judy Hopp's species, not her gender, that makes people doubt her ability to be a cop, but at the same time I don't think it's an accident that she's female, and her struggles to be taken seriously as a cute li'l bunny mirror women's struggles to be taken seriously in the workplace. But there are also interspecies tensions that draw more clearly on the history of racism, like Judy's comment to that it's okay for a bunny to call another bunny cute, but if someone from another species does it, well... Or Judy's parents warning her that foxes are inherently untrustworthy, and indeed this seems to be a common prejudice; there are no foxes on the police force.

You could go into this in a lot more depth (and I'm sure someone has), because the movie does a ton of work with this sort of thing. It's really a joy to watch a film where the film-makers have taken such pleasure in designing the society they're telling a story about.

I'm not sure I'd want a direct sequel to this movie, but I would definitely love to see more stories set in the same world.
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[livejournal.com profile] poeticknowledge asked: What are the top 10 best films you have seen this year (or in the past year, either one)?

Oh, wow. I actually think that if I listed my top ten films this year, I might end up listing every film I’ve seen, because I haven’t seen that many. I tend to watch more TV than movies, probably because I’m already invested in the characters.

...Okay, I actually went and did a count, and in fact I saw seventeen movies this year, seven of which I already posted about, so this is clearly a providential opportunity to post about the other ten.

This got long. Short reviews of Wreck-It Ralph, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Electric Horseman, Inside Daisy Clover, Rebel without a Cause, Snowpiercer, Blackfish, The Hot Rock, Antman, The Incredible Hulk, and Mosquita y Mari follow )

In short, here are my movie recs from the things I watched this year.

For something funny and light, I’d recommend Night at the Museum 3.

For something that will make you sob like a baby even as you delight in its clever world-building, Inside Out. Blackfish is also quite sad, although in a very different way.

For tense and cynical with a tough, complicated heroine, Inside Daisy Clover or Fried Green Tomatoes. (Fried Green Tomatoes also has some delightfully light-hearted and funny moments. Inside Daisy Clover is pretty much 100% intensity, all the time.)

For tense but uplifting (with great scenery), The Martian.

I don’t think I’d anti-rec anything I saw this year, but the others are all flawed in some way that means I wouldn’t rec them unreservedly.
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My mom and I went to see The Good Dinosaur this afternoon. It was fun, but it didn't blow me away like Inside Out did, and I thought the animation was maybe a bit too flashy. I mean, it's terribly impressive - their water scenes in particular blew me away; it looks like real water! - and I can see why they wanted to show that off. But at the same time, I don't think the animation in an animated movie should call so much attention to itself that it knocks me out of the story to go "Oh wow, those animated light ripples reflecting off the water are gorgeous."

I actually liked the short at the beginning more than the movie itself: young Sanjay is trying to watch his superhero program, only for his father to come in and start praying at his shrine in the opposite corner. Cue a duel over the volume on the television, ending with Dad turning off the TV and relocating Sanjay to pray too... Only for Sanjay to drift off into a fantasy where the gods in the shrine fight the evil monster from Sanjay's TV program. It gives Sanjay a new understanding for his father's prayers, which until then he had only seen as an irritating distraction from superheroes.

I thought it was awfully sweet without being saccharine.

Inside Out

Jul. 7th, 2015 10:34 pm
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One of my birthday resolutions (birthday resolutions, that's totally a thing, right?) was to post here more often, and I got to a good start on that and then sort of fizzled and...now I'm giving it another go.

I have a lot of movies I want to post about (I saw Snowpiercer, you guys, it's like someone saw Les Miserables and was like "I wanna make something sadder where more people die!"), but I think the one I liked best is the new Pixar movie, Inside Out.

I must confess I was a little disappointed with Brave - "Of course their first movie about a girl had to be a princess movie," I griped, and of course they ended up doing something different with their princess movie, but I don't come to Pixar for different takes on other people's tropes; I come to Pixar for totally weird movies like Wall.E or Up where you're liking, "That seems so simple and brilliant and obviously a good idea for a movie, but how on earth did you come up with it?"

And Inside Out, Pixar's second movie about a girl, is that kind of movie. After a idyllic childhood in Minnesota, twelve-year-old Riley moves to San Francisco, and her emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust - are thrown into upheaval by this change. A failed bid to keep the situation under control ends with Joy and Sadness thrown into the depths Long-term Memory. Can Joy and Sadness make it back to headquarters before Fear, Anger, and Disgust send Riley's life into a tailspin?

I love all the neat world-building details in this movie. The orb-like memories that are shipped to long-term memory each night as Riley sleeps; the workers in long-term memory who cast faded memories into the pit of forgetfulness (and also occasionally send up long-forgotten jingles to play through Riley's mind at inconvenient times); the entire land of Riley's imagination.

(I laughed so hard at Riley's imaginary boyfriend. "I would die for Riley." Ugh, there's no way to show the intonation just writing it out; he says it so breathlessly, like he has been waiting all his imaginary life to die for Riley.)

I wasn't sure about the fact that Disgust was coded as so stereotypically feminine, but the more I think about it, the more I think I like it; disgust and shame are such intertwined emotions, and shame is often so heavily gendered. I expect a lot of guys would have a Disgust who looks like a frat boy and barks out "Man up, pussy!" whenever they enjoy a kitten picture or consider reading a Jane Austen novel or otherwise fall short of the dictates of manliness.

Plus the movie made me cry, like, three times. Well played, Pixar. Well played.
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“That’s not a house. That’s termites holding hands,” protests the taxi driver, when he drops MK off at her father’s house. MK also looks at the house with trepidation, although not for the same reason: she hasn’t seen her father in ages, ever since her father wrecked his career and his marriage because of his belief that tiny people live hidden in the forest fighting an epic battle and good and evil.

Naturally he turns out to be completely right: the premise of the movie demands it. MKe’s ability to enter completely into his obsessions - by accidentally becoming a tiny forest person herself, in fact - reconciles father and daughter and apparently makes up for his years as an absentee father.

I must confess I have a pet peeve about this sort of plot. He turned out to be right about the tiny people, but that doesn’t erase the fact that researching the tiny people - research that will benefit no one, research that the tiny people themselves oppose - was more important to him than his own wife and child. I wish he had to meet MK at least halfway, rather than having her do all the work.

For all that, however - and for all that the plot is made of tissue paper and the characterization serviceable, but predictable - it’s a charming movie, particularly if you love tiny person stories. The animators clearly had great fun turning flowers, sticks, mushrooms, and sundry other things into tiny people, as well as choreographing the hummingbird-back flights.

***

Whisper of the Heart is a very different beast. I wish I had reviewed it alongside From Up On Poppy Hill, because they’re very similar movies: gentle, peaceful love stories with lovingly detailed backgrounds and no fantastical elements.

Or at least, Whisper of the Heart has no obviously, incontrovertibly fantastical elements. The DVD packaging on Whisper of the Heart is misleading: it suggests that the film dives into a fantasy world, when in fact the closest it gets are sequences from the story that Shizuku writes.

The film is nonetheless enchanting: there’s a sort of magical thinking logic behind it, so although nothing technically magical happens, it still has a fairy-tale feel. The story proper kicks off when bookworm Shizuku, on her way to the library, sees a cat riding the train with her. The cat seems so much like something out of a story that Shizuku follows it up a hill to a strange store full of rare and beautiful things - like a cat figurine with eyes that seem to wink at her in the light.

And a boy: a boy who makes violins. There is a really magical scene where Shizuku, accompanied by the boy, sings her own translation of “Country Road,” and the boy’s grandfather with two friends come in, quietly fetch their own instruments, and play an accompaniment.
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And now for three movies that are most quite different! From Up On Poppy Hill is a gentle, picturesque period piece about Japan in 1963, which focuses on the first post-World War II cohort’s coming of age. It is perhaps the only animated film I’ve seen that has no magical elements, but there’s a gentle, nostalgic glow about the story and the settings that gives them a sort of magic of their own.

The most picturesque setting of all is the Latin Quarter, as the high school students call their clubhouse, a creaky three-story building with stained glass windows and a cobweb-encrusted chandelier. The building is redolent with character, by which I mean “so much dust that the dust may well have become necessary to the building’s structural integrity.”

The school, presumably out of concern that all that character has made the place a fire trap, wants to tear it down. But a few of the students band together to do battle for their Latin Quarter. Although our heroine, Umi, is busy with home responsibilities, she becomes embroiled in the struggle to save the clubhouse as she grows closer to one of its architects, a boy named Shun.

For all that there’s a touch of the soap-operatic about a particular part of the storyline, it’s a very peaceful movie to watch.

The Merry Gentleman, on the other hand…is actually a surprisingly quiet movie, which I did not at all expect from the description. It’s about the friendship between Frank, a suicidal assassin, and Kate, who just escaped from an abusive relationship. After committing a hit, Frank considers jumping off a roof, only to fall backward onto a rooftop when Kate sees him and shouts for him not to do it.

She didn’t get a very good look at his face, so she doesn’t recognize him when he shows up at her apartment later and helps her carry her massive Christmas tree inside. It is, in an odd sort of way, a Christmas movie: the “merry gentleman” of the title is a reference to the Christmas song, and ideas of hope, love, and redemption thread their way through the movie.

I sometimes had a sense that perhaps the director was just tossing religious imagery at the wall to see what stuck, but I think the fact that it doesn’t add up to a coherent thematic argument, that there isn’t an answer, is perhaps the point. It’s in keeping with the movie’s other choices: it’s an interesting movie, but also a deliberately frustrating one. We never learn why Frank is assassinating people (or why he’s suicidal. Is he suddenly suffering from scruples?), or much about Kate’s background, and we only get hints at the things that make them tick.

And if anyone has seen it, want to talk about the ending with me? )

I also watched The Mask of Zorro, which is definitely not peaceful but does tend to the picturesque. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie, except that it would have been a clear improvement if Elena cut up Zorro’s shirt during their sword fight. Just think how much more exciting the horse-chase would be if Zorro’s shirt blew away from his chest at appropriate moments!
osprey_archer: (Disney)
[livejournal.com profile] lycoris asked: Your favourite Disney film in childhood and do you still feel the same about it now?

Either Cinderella or Fantasia, although I only liked select parts of each. In Cinderella, I was all about the mice. In fact, we usually never got to the ball: once the mice put together their dress for Cinderella, the movie was over as far as I was concerned.

With Fantasia, I liked the seasonal fairies, the Nutcracker songs - the dancing mushrooms and the waltzing flowers particularly - the Greek myths, and occasionally the dinosaurs, but the stegosaurus’s death was too sad to bear much watching. :( The dancing hippos were totally disturbing, though, and as for the giant Satanic figure at the end - good night! I saw that part once and it still pops into my mind to scare me.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen either movie, so I don’t know how I would feel about them now. I think Cinderella tends to get a worse rap than she deserves: people say she’s weak, but would a weak person be able to pull herself together to go to the ball after having her first dress ripped apart by her stepsisters? Indeed, could a weak person withstand her stepfamily’s constant campaign to undermine her self-worth? Her fairy godmother only gave her a new dress. Cinderella had to supply the self-confidence to wear it like she meant it.

This is not to say that Cinderella is an unproblematic story. The stepmother and ugly stepsisters can send a variety of misogynistic messages, depending on the choices made in the retelling, and in Cinderella Disney makes mostly the bad choices. But Cinderella’s character and in particular her supposed weakness are not one of those bad choices.

Frozen

Dec. 8th, 2013 08:04 pm
osprey_archer: (Disney)
You guys you guys! I just saw Frozen in the theater and IT IS AMAZING. I mean, everything about it is amazing, except the annoying comic relief snowman, but WHAT CAN YOU DO. I have hated Disney comic relief characters ever since Mushu, clearly there is no pleasing me in this regard.

But everything else is awesome! And the visuals are just as stunning: I love the careful detail put in everything, the painted decorations on the door and the embroidery on the dresses (all the clothes are beautiful. If they sold Anna's boots in stores, I would so buy them) and especially the excellent animation of snow and ice. It's at once enchanting - it reminded me of the scene in Tangled where everyone releases their lanterns into the sky, not in the particulars, but in that it had the same overwhelming loveliness - while being, at the same time, always cold and hard edged.

This is a dangerous place as well as a beautiful one, and that is clear right from the first shot, when the ice cutters saw through the ice and sing.

And I loved loved loved Anna and Elsa, right from the first scene when Anna wakes Elsa up to come play in the snow. Not because it has snowed, but because Elsa can conjure snow and ice with her magic powers, and they like to have snow adventures in the ballroom. How adorable is this?

Spoilers, naturally )
osprey_archer: (friends)
Becky came down to visit me and see Despicable Me 2 this weekend. Her visit was awesome! But the movie itself, not so much.

First: I thought the minions were adorable in the first movie, but they really get too much screen time in this one, and it made the movie drag. Their scenes seemed flabby: they neither advance the plot nor get any character development - one might object that the minions can’t talk, but then, neither could WALL-E or EVE in WALL-E, and they had had a full-blown romance.

Second: I think Gru’s love interest Lucy was supposed to come across as adorably awkward, but she tended to strike me as embarrassment-squicky awkward, which made her scenes rather painful. Moreover, a lot of the humor in the movie revolved around romance, and it just struck me flat. I particularly disliked the scene at the beginning, with the busybody woman trying to set Gru up with her ugly friend. Haha, ugly women, their existence is hilarious!

Mostly the movie strengthened the impression that The Lorax gave me of Illuminations Entertainment: their work is cute and fun and flashy, but that’s a pretty wrapping that only half-hides the fact that their stories are soulless.

***

A few weeks ago Emma and Rick and I had an argument about Most Feminist American Animation Studio, with them on the side of Pixar and me on the side of Disney, partly to be contrarian, and partly because - Pixar. We are talking about the company that didn’t make any movies with a female lead for more than two decades, right?

Sure, they have some great female characters (Dory! EVE! Ellie! Never mind she dies in the first ten minutes of the movie...). But the female characters are woefully outnumbered by male characters, and until Brave it was always, always the male characters who were the center of the story.

Whatever else Disney does wrong, it’s the only major American animation studio that has a commitment to making films with female main characters who are the center of the story rather than a love interest or a sidekick, and who drive the forward motion of the plot. Films that are specifically aimed at girls.

I tend to think this makes people more willing to criticize Disney - that making stories for girls puts a target on their back, because culturally we’re more willing to criticize things that are aimed at women. Look at the scorn heaped on romance novels.

In any case, thinking back now, I think the whole premise of our argument was flawed: both Pixar and Disney have strengths in their portrayals of female characters, but they also both have such massive blind spots that it’s rather silly to argue about which is more feminist. The correct answer is clearly “neither.”

And perhaps also “Why should this contest be limited to American animation studios?” Because if we open it up to include the whole globe, then clearly Studio Ghibli wins hands down.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
My papers are finished, almost a week early, so I have nothing to do but relax and READ READ READ. Fun books, I mean; I have put a moratorium on all serious for-school reading until I get back from my jaunt to Chicago.

And reading I have been!

1. Gail Carson Levine’s A Tale of Two Castles.

This was cute. I don’t know, I think perhaps I’ve outgrown Levine’s prose style: it may be time to stop reading her books in the hope that another Ella Enchanted will arise.

It doesn’t help that A Tale of Two Castles is a mystery as well as a fantasy. I have Feelings about how mysteries should work, and A Tale of Two Castles just doesn’t come together the way I like.

2. Speaking of mysteries! I read Sam Eastland’s Archive 17, which is the third in his series of Inspector Pekkala mysteries, which are set in Stalinist Russia and thus unite two of my minor passions, murder mysteries and Russian history. Stalinist Russia sort of lends itself to conspiracy theories, which generally I hate, but so far Eastland has avoided tripping my “Oh, please, people just do not conspire that secretly for that long” feelings.

This book also deals with one of the things I didn’t like so much in the earlier Pekkala books, the romanticization of the tsar - Pekkala discovers something about the tsar which compromises his previous admiration for him. Unfortunately we see almost none of the emotional fallout of the discovery, although I guess being stuck in Siberia, Pekkala doesn’t have a lot of excess emotional energy.

Given that Pekkala spends the book in a camp in Siberia (investigating the murder of a special prisoner, although if I were Pekkala and Stalin sent me to a camp “to investigate,” I would be wondering the whole way there if the investigation was just a ruse to get me to go quietly), one expects it to be pretty grim - and it is - but I rarely got the feeling that Eastland was wallowing in the grimness, the way grimdark authors often do.

3. And a bonus movie! Someone recommended The Road to El Dorado to me as “the gayest animated conquistador movie ever made,” to which I said, one, “Is there competition for this honor?” and two, “I guess I’d better watch that.”

Unfortunately it doesn’t have much else to recommend it, although it is, in fact, the gayest conquistador movie ever made, even though the love interest Chel has clothes so flimsy that only the miracle of animation physics kept them on her. She is sassy, because sassy seems to be the hot new thing to do with love interests you don’t want to characterize too much; but then none of the characters in this movie are overly characterized. I never did figure out which one was Miguel and which was Tullio, never mind they look nothing alike.

Seriously, Chel’s wearing like...a tube top and a loincloth. It looks so uncomfortable.

Even more uncomfortable: I have now had the theme song, “El Dorado,” stuck in my head for three days. Make it stooooooooop.

The Lorax

Mar. 10th, 2013 10:34 am
osprey_archer: (kitty)
Watched The Lorax - the new version, not the 1970s version. I started out with mixed feelings about it, because the animation is adorable and does a great job capturing the fun of Dr. Seuss - but writing this review has just made me more and more aware of how thoroughly the movie undercuts the original Lorax’s message, while simultaneously being even more preachy.

But first, I have to say - the animation is adorable. I want nothing more than to visit truffula land pre-deforestation, cavort with the various truffula animals, and sleep in a truffula tuft. The movie captures perfectly the visual fun of Dr. Seuss. They don’t just faithfully transport his illustrations to the screen; they seem to really understand what makes his visuals fun, because the movie-designed town has the same zany spirit. I love the tree with its different modes: “Summer, autumn, winter, disco!”

Also, the bar-ba-loots (basically, living teddy bears) are so cute. They’re like a fuzzy version of the minions in Illumination Entertainment’s earlier movie Despicable Me If they keep using this “adorable mischievous non-speaking mass of creatures” conceit in all their movies, it will eventually get old. Presumably. I’m perfectly happy to watch two or three more movies with the same conceit just to make sure.

My very favorite part of the movie, and I think the strongest part, is the bit in the middle where the Once-ler is settling into Truffula land and getting to know its inhabitants. Even though the ending is rushed, the contrast means there’s still a sense of the tragedy of the destruction of the Truffula trees.

But nonetheless, the ending of the Once-ler’s story is rushed. The filmmakers focus instead on their happy ending for their framing story. Given that The Lorax is essentially a tragedy, this drains the heart out of the whole movie, making it preachy but essentially soulless.

In a sense it’s churlish to complain about the preachiness, because it’s not like the original didn’t have an adorable, mustachioed sledgehammer to propound its message. But the preaching worked better in the original book because it’s more sincere. The book is a challenge to readers: it ends with the Once-ler throwing the truffula seed to the young reader stand-in, because we have to go out and change the world.

The movie, on the other hand, seems to be almost patting us on the back for not personally being corporate fat cats. And in that context, tossing the seed to young Ted - a character in his own right, not a reader stand-in - makes no sense. If the Once-ler had the seed this whole time, why didn’t the he replant the truffula forest himself rather than sulking his life away in his ramshackle house?

The more so, because movie shifts the blame for the deforestation from the Once-ler to his family, which I hate. In the book, he’s a tragic antihero, who destroys the truffula trees because of his lust for money and repents too late to save them. In the movie, he cuts down trees because his family talks him into it. Never mind he’s promised the Lorax not to cut any trees! He’s not tragic, just pathetic.

Brave!

Sep. 15th, 2012 09:18 am
osprey_archer: (flying)
I saw Brave! In the theater at the Union, which was not quite packed but very busy! I had forgotten how much I enjoy seeing movies in theaters, when everybody laughs and claps and gasps together. It's a pleasure to feel in tandem.

And! It was so much fun! Tiny!Merida! Grown up Merida, riding! People turning into bears! (The little brothers turning into bear cubs! SO CUTE.) (Also, I thought they struck an excellent middle between making Merida self-centered but still sympathetic.) And Merida's hair!

Seriously, I think she and Rapunzel from Tangled should join together as the Awesome Hair Duo, fighting for justice with bow and frying pan. Yes? Yes? The fact that Rapunzel's hair is no longer magic at the end of the movie is a minor problem, but...maybe it regenerates eventually. Yes! I like this idea!

And I really liked the ending, the last shot, with Merida and her mother going riding.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
You know what is cuter than a swashbuckling, sword-fighting cat in boots and a feathered hat? Two swashbuckling, sword-fighting cats in boots!

Yes, I just saw the movie Puss in Boots and you guys, it is so cute! Not only are there the adorable boot-bedecked cats, but they climb up a beanstalk! and have a snowball fight in the clouds! and visit a giant's house, where they are tiny, tiny creatures surrounded by very large things!

(I have kind of an obsession for tiny creatures in an oversize world. Blame the Borrowers. The Borrowers are soooooo awesome. APPARENTLY THE MIYAZAKI VERSION WAS RELEASED IN THE US IN FEBRUARY HOW DID I NOT NOTICE THIS????)

Adorable as it is, the movie isn't only cute: it's also very funny. And Puss in Boots and Kitty Softpaws are such a good pair: they're both badass kitties, evenly matched, and when they work together they're an unstoppable juggernaut. It's how the relationship between Jack Sparrow and Angelica should have been done in On Stranger Tides.

***

I also saw the first couple of episodes of the animated show Josie and the Pussycats. I think it's the kind of thing you have to grow up with to really appreciate.

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