Spirited Away, Hopefully Not For Long

Hayao Miyazaki wows viewers with his style once again with Spirited Away (2001). Spirited Away is about the journey a young girl must take in order to save her family when they are trapped in the spirit world. In order for Chihiro to ensure her safety, she must enroll in a job right away in the spirit world and through some literal ups and downs she becomes employed at a bathhouse. Although she begins this challenge on her own, she quickly gains aid from the spirit and monster community as she grows as a character. She begins as a clumsy child that is easily scared to a daring young girl willing to do anything to save those she loves.

As before, Miyazaki’s particular mixture of animation, comedy, adventure, and fantasy shine through. The creatures that are displayed are imaginative and vivid. When a “Stink Spirit” arrives at the bathhouse the viewer can practically smell the odor emitting from his body just from the animation style and the realistic reactions of all the characters. There is something so real about Miyazaki’s films although the viewer can clearly tell that it is a fantasy through the animation style. That is, unless you personally know a radish spirit? If so, contact me, ASAP.

Just like Miyazaki’s other works, Spirited Away is full of defining lessons. Among them is the fact that you are much stronger than you believe. You just need to work hard and believe in yourself and you can do the impossible. You can travel long distances, unravel curses, and help a friend all at the same times. He also emphasizes the importance of love. Be it familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love—they all give you strength and allow you to show your true colors so you must be kind. You must work hard and you must believe in yourself.

The characters were definitely the most important part about the film. Miyazaki crafts them with the eye of a sculptor and as a result, he gives his audiences the most realistic animated characters around. Their natures truly shine through in all the small things about them. Their looks of worry, the way they scrunch their eyebrows, and even the way they put on shoes. Miyazaki takes notes of all of these mundane movements in order to bring his characters to life.

Spirited Away has a very direct effect on its audiences through the attention to detail it pays and its guidance through the mind of a child. I could not imagine this movie would have the same effect if it were not animated under Miyazaki’s particular style. Let me tell you, there is a scene where Chihiro has to cross a bridge holding her breath and I dare you to not hold your breath along with her. I certainly did, in fact, any time that the bridge was approached by her I found myself holding my breath, just in case. This film may anger some people in bouts because of the treatment that Chihiro is given but these feelings are quickly mollified as she is taken care of by others.

The main conflicts in this movie have to be Man vs. and to an Man vs. World. Chihiro must survive in the spirit world without the aid of her parents and as a result she must become a stronger person. All of this has to be done in order for her to save her parents and to return to the human world. However, to do this, she must work at a bathhouse and find a way to undo the curse placed on her parents by the witch Yubaba. She must also learn about the world and its customs in order to navigate in her time there.

This film is amazingly strong from start to finish. It doesn’t narrate the characters and their situation to the audience, rather, it sticks them in the action and allows them to get a feel for the characters through their speech and actions. Additionally, it accomplishes all of these things without over-exaggerating the characters actions. Miyazaki trusts his audience to be observant in order to understand what is going on. This movie made me laugh and hold my breath in multiple different times. It also made me very excited when it introduced little monsters that were shown in some of Miyazaki’s other films. Let me tell you, the Soot Sprites are very endearing little creatures.

Spirited Away displays many of Miyazaki’s trademarks. There are flying sequences all around. The movements of Haku in his water dragon form are absolutely inspiring. The weather is a barometer of what is to come, particularly the use of rain and clouds. As always, there is a journey that must be taken that has transformative effects on the main character. The use of Miyazaki’s drawing style, the attention to detail he has, and the vast amount of creativity needed to provide a multitude of monsters and spirits make this movie Oscar worthy.

If you can’t tell by now, let me tell you: I LOVE Miyazaki films. They always leave me in awe and make me want to become a better person. Spirited Away is no exception. I would have to give this movie 9/10 strawberries. It is absolutely delightful.

Lucky Number Slevin, Giving Gangsters Another Shot

A series of unfortunate events arise in the film, Lucky Number Slevin (2006), directed by Paul McGuigan. Lucky Number Slevin takes you on a multilayered journey that makes you wonder if you’re eating tiramisu (you really need those coffee layers to pay attention to all the details). Through a case of stolen identity, Slevin Kelebra (Josh Hartnett) finds himself tucked into the street between the penthouses of two rival mob bosses.

Lucky Number Slevin is a mix of crime, mystery, and drama, with a dash of comedy for good measure. That is, if you enjoy dry-sarcastic humor. Paul McGuigan wastes no time delving into he story with, you guessed it, a murder. However, he lets the audience find their way about the movie by not forcing the audience along on the trip with narration. Instead, he allows for events to just flow with little quirks of dark comedy. Slevin and Lindsey’s (Lucy Lu) interactions are particularly hilarious as they try to figure out what is going on with good advice from Columbo.

Like many other movies concerning gangsters, the first moral of the story is: don’t get involved kid. Meddling in the affairs of mobsters is always messy and in this case there is a maze for added measure. Another moral that would be seen in the film is that communication is key. Sometimes misunderstandings happen and you get into fights with others, that doesn’t mean that you have to stew in hatred of one another forever. Don’t be like the Montagues and Capulets, that’s no way to live.

In this case in particular I would have to say that there is a mix of importance between the characters and the story. There are certain characteristics you could get from any character but there is a certain spark that some bring to the table in this film. Lindsey in particular was absolutely delightful in her role and serve as a nice contrast to all the mayhem that was occurring around Slevin. The plot itself is key to keep the audience watching, even if it’s 3 a.m. and they should really be sleeping. The film is a bit of a yarn ball and it is so satisfying when you finally reach the end and everything makes sense.

I really enjoyed about this movie was the sequencing that the director brought to the movie. The way that characters paralleled each other and the way scenes were revised with a different angle to show a completely different story was truly entertaining. In the beginning, we don’t see the perpetrator of the scene, which brings a nice tie in later when Lindsey and Slevin speak about who the best Blofeld villain is in the James Bond franchise. Slevin answers that it’s Anthony Dawson and that is when the villain is most effective, when you can’t see their face. It was such a clever tie-in I couldn’t help but laugh. In the beginning, this film elicits confusion, both in the action of the characters and in the question of time; however, as you go on patiently, everything is revealed in its own time.

This film’s main conflict of man vs. man really keeps it going. Whether it’s mob boss vs. mob boss, bystander vs. henchmen, or neighbor vs. neighbor, there is always someone fighting. This can be wearying to an extent, but it is also what keeps the story on its rails. If you do not want to keep up with a movie and a series of cat vs cat vs cat vs cat then I would not suggest you watch this movie. However, if you want a lot of action and a bit of a puzzle, you should take a look at this one.

Overall, this film weakest point has to be its dependence on a puzzle to keep the audience watching. I feel like if they worked a bit more on the depiction of some characters this film would have been a lot more successful. When you have actors like Morgan Freeman, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis and Lucy Lu, you really have to use their talents to the fullest. I also wish that there would have been a few interesting shots made to balance out the fact that they revisited scenes. A nice effect or angle could have gone a long way rather than just shooting the scene from the opposite direction.

Taking everything into account, this film was pretty successful. It made me gasp, laugh, made me sit still with anticipation, and it made me stare at the credits for a while thinking did they just do that? Because let me tell you, if I have to be quiet after a film is over to appreciate it and process everything I saw, you did a great job.

Morgan Freeman was very convincing in his role. He plays to his strength as a bit of an enigma and riddler with his conversation with Slevin when he introduces himself. He has a way of portraying characters in power that grabs your attention. It doesn’t matter if you believe his character is good or bad, he has a way of drawing you in with charisma and makes you keep your eyes on him until his scene ends.

I might be put in the corner of shame for this, but I really like this movie and would prefer watching this to a Scorsese film. This is because it balances comedy and the mob aspects quite well. The blood splatters are also way more believable than Scorsese’s pools of blood. I would have to give this movie a solid 7/10. Although this is not a movie I would have found on my own, it found its way to my view list.

Julie & Julia….annndd now I’m hungry…

Julie & Julia (2009), directed by Nora Ephron, is based on the true stories of two women and the inspiration and journey that they undertake through the art of French cuisine. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is a soon-to-be thirty year old lost in her life who soon finds a guidebook in a cookbook. Said cookbook is written by the one and only Julia Child (Meryl Streep). This film is a back and forth response of the bumpy ride they set forth on, from burnt stew to editing books, it has it all.

This film is primarily a biography but with a heaping serving of comedy with a few dashes of drama. Let’s face it, it’s not a movie about cooking without someone having a minor breakdown over cooking something incorrectly. Yet the film balances all the laughs with serious moments such as dealing with family, loss, and the constant movement towards a goal.

There are two main morals that this story touches on. First, you should value yourself and your endeavors, you will never get to a goal if you do not push yourself. Second, sometimes your role models will let you down, that’s ok, they’re only human but you shouldn’t let that crumble you. You are your own person.

The director seamlessly connected the stories of both women throughout the movie and the editing was quite lovely. Conversations linked their lives together, a lamp turned off by Julia could turn into a light switched on by Julie. There are particular scenes that are mimicked by Julie on purpose. One of these is Valentine dinner party she hosts, which, because it happened several years after Julia’s Valentine party, had a very meta feel to it. It reminds viewers that although the lives of the two are linked, the timelines are different which only adds to the charm of the movie.

This movie for the most part made me laugh, but there are moments when I felt morose. These melancholy feelings are mostly brought on by the main conflict in the story: man vs self. Both Julie and Julia have their own problems. They have issues with work to the lack thereof, and marital problems, and they both meet roadblocks that they have to take a shovel through, or maybe even a bulldozer. Both Amy Adams and Meryl Streep make themselves relatable in their parts. Meryl Streep in particular makes her viewers feel deeply empathetic towards her as she subtly displays her character’s  main strife.

This film is amazing, however, it appeals to a certain audience. I don’t think little kids would be milling around this movie but it you enjoy cooking or just a well written movie without explosions, this is the movie for you. The strongest points in this film are when the characters are actively working towards a goal and not taking no for an answer. The weak points are very few but are mostly seen in Julie’s timeline. These however can’t be helped. When the character feels like giving up or behaving a bit like a petulant child it makes the audience want to act the same and call it quits but worry not! These moments are seen only twice and together they make up about 7 minutes.

Overall, this movie reminded me that I needed to make the best out of situations and treat myself well. It absolutely helps that Meryl Streep was in it, let’s be honest, she is a truly gifted actress. Her accent was amazing yet I have no idea how she came to study the accent of a posh Texan as they tackled the French language—it’s mind blowing. She is so convincing in her role as Julia Child that after watching this movie, when I watched a video of he real Julia Child, I felt it was off because Meryl Streep wasn’t the one being filmed. How crazy is that?

I have to give this movie 7/10 strawberries, just for the acting alone. Have I mentioned I love Meryl Streep? I love her, she is fantastic in this film. This is definitely a movie that needs to be watched at least twice. Not because it’s over-complicated, but because it’s a good reminder of personal growth. You need to watch it once to ensure you introduce yourself to the message, and a second time to check your progress.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off #Goals…minus destruction of property

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John Hughes proves once more that he understands the teenage experience through  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) which he wrote and directed.It is a story about Ferris (Matthew Broderick) who fakes an illness in order to enjoy a beautiful day in Chicago to the fullest. He is joined, somewhat reluctantly by his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), and enthusiastically by his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara).

Above all else, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a comedy. Pure and unadulterated comedy, no drama, dashes of mystery. Just a few teenagers figuring their lives out through a series of comedic events. John Hughes uses classic humor themes such as misunderstandings and close calls with authority figures.

Although this is a very light-hearted film, it does have a message you should take to heart: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In a way, it’s the popular carpe diem, however, this lesson is more about taking joys in the mundane and being spontaneous every once in a while. One of the main vehicles of displaying this ideal is the progress that Cameron makes as the story progresses.

Characters definitely take the main stage in this film. What would Ferris Bueller’s Day Off be without Ferris? The amazingly charismatic, magnetic high school senior who is probably the luckiest guy on the face of the earth? For that matter, what would the movie be without his anxious sidekick Cameron? Let’s face it, we all wish to be like Ferris Bueller (and, I don’t know about you guys, but I grew up to be more like Cameron. Love of hockey to boot).

Hughes concentrated on ensuring that this movie was not only aesthetically pleasing but also highlighted the comedic effects well. He absolutely crushes the fourth wall in this film which in itself is hilarious. His close up shots of faces for reactions only add to the giggle-fest. On the other hand, the framed shots inside of the Art Institute of Chicago were marvelous, specially the closeup competition between Cameron and The A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte Painting. The sweeping shots of Chicago and the movement towards his characters from the cameras were interesting and cheeky.

Between bluffs, bravado, and legitimate destruction of property, the most important conflict is man vs. self. Particularly, the development and conflicts of Cameron and Bueller’s sister Jeanie. Cameron, bless him, is a ball of anxiety and has a hard time relaxing, even in their spree around Chicago. Jeanie on her end, is very resentful of her brother and the attention he gains. This is the root of the fights between her and her brother.

This film was strong because it was delightfully entertaining and had very interesting characters. The film was constantly in motion and as a result so were the three main characters. As a point of contrast, Hughes sprinkled in how the other half lived on Bueller’s day off. Jeanie and Mr. Rooney in particular were used as a fold of the main plot. If I were to assign a particular fault to the movie it would be that it needed to provide a bit more growth for Sloane. She was a great character with so much untapped potential. Delving into her character a tad more would have made the movie more enjoyable.

Let me tell you, this movie is hilarious. Well, if you enjoy puns, laughing at subtle signs in the background, and awkward situations this is the movie for you (it definitely was for me). I absolutely love watching this movie with friends. The characters are so relatable to any friend-group it’s so much fun to nudge each other when something that happens in the movie is similar to something that happened to you and your friends.

This movie has a truckload of Hughes’ trademarks which is what made it so quirky and fun. The film was set in Illinois and was centered around the lives of a few teenagers and how they grow and see the world. He gave little shout outs to art through Bueller’s room which was filled with posters and banners of some of the best bands of the era on his wall. There was also the more obvious trip to the art museum and the use of popular music. The scene surrounding the use of the song “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles lively and made you want to sing along and dance. There was also his attention to the facial expressions of the actors, including close up shots of their eyes and comedic music in the background. This movie has become so iconic it is referred by many other movies like Deadpool and Easy A. 

So, as you may gather, I really really enjoy watching this movie. It’s lively, quirky, and one of the very few movies that manages to use the 4th wall to it’s advantage. The characters are interesting, the music makes you nod along, and flail if you sit on an unbalanced rolling chair when try to dance along…not from experience or anything… nope, definitely not me. Anyways, this movie deserves 8/10 strawberries. (Also the “I Dream of Jeannie” pun with the theme music was very cute)

 

 

 

…ok, it’s been a slice…??? Do you…do you have somewhere to be?

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is based on the novel written by Diana Wynne Jones. Once again, Miyazaki delves into the world of fantasy where he explores the nature of magic and wizards in a world where they are well known and utilized in war. In this story, we follow a young girl’s journey after she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste after she meets the wizard Howl. The curse placed on Sophie severely ages her and to top it all off, the curse itself prevents her from explaining the burden placed upon her!

Howl’s Moving Castle is animated and uses Miyazaki’s favorite mix of adventure and fantasy and, in this case, a dash of romance. As the audience watches Sophie’s journey unfold they hold her breath every time she transforms back to her original age before the curse holds her back and like a rubber band, she reverts back to an 80 year old woman. However, this doesn’t stop Sophie from being feisty and even taming a fire demon when the opportunity presents itself.

Just like all other Miyazaki films, this one is very rich in morals and teachings. This one shows the healthy balance of self worth and confidence needed to flourish as a person. It also shows the detrimental effects of greed and vanity on a person. This movie also shows that people can change, not fully in nature but they can still change for the better. This is done through both extraordinary means and also through gradual growth. As Sophie says, “the best blaze brightest when circumstances are at their worst”.

Because growth and change of the characters is so vital to the story, it must be said that the characters are the most vital part of the story. Sophie in particular is such a complex character, it is hard to see any other character in her role. The plot simply wouldn’t suffice without her. She is so incredibly brave, she speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to challenge those who may be more powerful than her. She is an absolute gem, some might even say a star.

This is by far one of the most beautiful Miyazaki films. The details are absolutely breathtaking. It shows a complex dichotomy of the most beautiful fields and seasides to battered battleships and a fiery war-torn town. The animation of How’s castle itself is so intricate you find a new detail every time you watch the film. The movements of the castle are divine and it is a perfect balance of the absolute chaos of how it is put together and the seamless way all the parts function together. It is so aesthetically steampunk and that in itself is way before its time.

The challenges that Sophie faces are many but I feel that the most important one is man vs. self. Although she is so fiery and fearless she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in herself. This is mainly due to the fact that her mother and her sister are portrayed to be very feminine women who always have men milling about her and Sophie doesn’t fit this mold. Because she isn’t like them, her confidence was stunted and she doesn’t take compliments very well. As if this wasn’t enough, she faces a few other challenges such as (one of Miyazaki’s favorites) man vs. nature. Let me tell you, rain shall come and when it rains in a Miyazaki film, it pours.

This film is so strong, it is despairingly hard to find a weakness. The characters are well-written and unique, the graphics are divine, and the plot is fantastic. There is a perfect balance between action and mundane little actions. The music is absolutely beautiful and it is lovely and it helps set the mood during wide shots and as characters trudge forwards.

Howl’s Moving Castle always captivates me every single time I watch it and boy, let me tell you, that is hard to do. I have watched this movie so many times but I love it every single time I see it. This film is so inspiring and reminds the watcher to value themselves. To stand up and protect those they care about and even to forgive those who have harmed them. I can’t watch this movie without smiling so much my face hurts, I simply can’t.

This movie is such a beautiful bundle of what I love about Miyazaki films. It is a transformative journey with great obstacles and well-developed characters. It deals with moral issues of self but it also deals with broader issues such as war and sacrifice. Miyazaki’s drawing style is phenomenal in this film and it deals with the elements and of course, the wonder of flight.

This film is one of my top 3 all-time favorite movies. It is just so strong and wonderful and a delightful pick-me-up. I can’t tell you how stressed and tired I have been this week but this movie made me feel just a bit better. This movie deserves 10/10 strawberries. If you haven’t watched this movie yet, I am literally begging you to do yourself a favor and watch this one. You won’t regret it.

Prisoner of Azkaban No More

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) directed by Alfonso Cuarón is a movie about our dear hero, Harry Potter and a mountain of misunderstandings. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is a wizard who attends Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches. In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry (as he often does), finds himself in the eye of danger with his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) as backup. This time, the danger is Sirius Black, a notorious murderer, has broken out of Azkaban (a high-security prison which no one had ever escaped from before) who is coming after Harry.

 

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This installment of the Harry Potter series like all the others is fantasy and adventure, however, it mixes with this thriller elements. The constant action at the end of the movie is preceded with many allusions and symbols at the beginning. As a result, the audience gets a sense that something important and/or dangerous is about to happen but they are kept on the edge of their seats as to when it’s going to happen.

One of the many reasons I love this series so much is because of the many lessons and morals you can learn from the story. The over-riding moral in this film is: don’t judge a book by it’s cover. You shouldn’t make assumptions based on rumors, you should always get the facts before you judge. Secondly, remain loyal to your friends, and defend them when the need arises.

What makes this series of films so special is the characters themselves. Cuarón took initiative in this movie to ensure that even in darkness, the characters shone through. These characters have minor flaws which mostly have to do with their tempers and quick judgements; however, they are very likeable characters. When watching this movie you can’t help but to root for this trio as they face dangers in order to find the truth and save those who are dear to them.

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Cuarón used many elements in order to paint the mood of the film. His unique understanding of darkness allowed this film to be a success. His portrayal of the movements and the sounds of the dementors (the supernatural guards of Azkaban) really set the stage for the rest of the movie. His shooting style was also exceptional and really added to the aesthetic qualities of the movie. His transitions of seasons with a wide span on the whomping willow were delightful. I especially loved his complex shots where he moved quickly through the inside of the clock tower. They were such beautiful moving shots and I could not get enough.

Although there are some Man vs. Nature elements, Man vs. Man and Man vs. Self were most prominent in this film. Man vs. Man is evident in the panicked search and hiding tactics utilized by Harry and his friends in regard to Sirius Black. However, at the same time, as the plot unfolds, the audience is made aware that there is a lot of internal conflict seen within many characters.

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I found that the strongest part of the story was the aesthetic value it portrays and the continuity of established characters and their growth. Just one look at the film allows the viewer to get a strong something wicked this way comes vive. The use of cool tones, the use of creeping ice, and the darker atmospheric color all work together harmoniously to set the mood. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, grow closer together in their bonds and they are willing to do anything in order to protect the others. Something I found a bit lacking in this movie is the use of the same iris fade-out to scenes. There are several more creative ways that a scene could have shifted of faded away.

Cuarón was definitely the right choice in directing this film because many of his trademarks are seen in the source material (the original book). His use of darkness which is pierced by light is very fitting in this movie because of the light that is emitted through certain spells used in this movie. There is also the use of foreshadowing which is rampant in this film. Be wary, if you see something that is repeated in a manner in the film, it will become important later on. His unique implementation of music was amazing. He truly captured the fun yet challenging atmosphere that Professor Lupin would have invoked in his class on the countering of Boggarts.

Although I was a latecomer to the Harry Potter book series, I first fell in love with the movies. The Prisoner of Azkaban always stuck with me because it was such a shift in the atmosphere and mood that the preceding films did not have. Although the books were not done being published, Cuarón correctly estimated where the series was going to go. People always joke that the beginning of each Harry Potter film always got darker and darker and I am convinced that Cuarón’s vision is one of the factors why this came to be. I am a 100% fan of this genre and this universe and you could probably bribe me into helping you study if you buy me Harry Potter merchandise. This movie is a solid 8/10 strawberries.

Big Fish, Blue Fish

Big Fish (2003) directed by Tim Burton is a bittersweet tale about a man who comes back home to see his dying father. Burton takes the audience on a journey as the son tries to piece back together the life his father truly lived. Through the mirage of fanciful tales of fish, witches, delightful towns, robberies, and a swing in a circus, the son finds that—to his frustration—nothing is as it seems. 

Tim Burton unfolds the life of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor [younger], Albert Finney [older]) through the use of fantasy and adventure with a slight sprinkle of tragedy. Don’t be discouraged, the film is primarily in the fantasy/adventure slot. The use of tall tales is a bit of a talent to Ed Bloom, which is shown from the beginning as he tells the story of how he caught an uncatchable prehistoric fish. The audience is kept at the edge of their seats as they wonder where Bloom will find himself next and how he can get out of his spot of trouble.

Through the journey, the son, Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) learns the hard lesson of acceptance. Although he and his father are both very different people, after he pieces some of his life together, he finds that he understands his father a bit better. He learns why he was told such beautiful tales from his birth and how to treat others. Will also learns that he shouldn’t judge people at glance. “Most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely, and lacking in the social niceties.”

In this particular movie, it is quite clear that the movie would be nothing without Edward Bloom. In part, because this is a bit of a biographical tale of his life, but mostly, it is because who he is as a person. His yearning for adventure and his fearlessness are some of the main drivers to the plot of the movie. There is also the spark that is seen through his kindness, his charisma, and his witty ploys. Even in the film, to others he is a character. His tales are enrapturing and although some have heard them before, they enjoy listening to them again and again.

Unlike other films by Burton, for the most part, this movie utilized vibrant and soft colors. He makes a stark different between the present and the past through the palate that he uses. When it is set in the present, the color are very muted and dark gray, hospital white, and shadows dominate the screen when Ed’s conditions worsen. The past however, works as a foil of these shades. It is filled with light, gold, reds and blues along with the most beautiful grass you have ever seen. The only times that the palate seeps back to dark in the scenes about the past is when Ed is battling against something. Because the story is sometimes told in a different order, it is sometimes hard to keep up, however, Burton aids this with cinematography. One of the best uses of this in the film is the use of flashbacks. Burton uses flashbacks to show a complete different side of the story when he relays the montage of Ed’s teenage years in his hometown near the end of the story. There are also the shots of the mythical prehistoric fish shown throughout the film which keeps its mysterious theme in the undercurrent of the story.

As Ed’s tales are told, it is clear that the main struggle is man vs. world. Although the audience is kept in the dark about exactly how much of the story is real, the cause of most of Ed’s challenges are things that are unpredictable. Right when the audience believes that Edward will settle down and be happy somewhere, he is thrown for a loop. There are several causes to these shifts: giants, poets, and even the United States government. Yet, as the main struggle plays out, a secondary struggle is seen through man vs. self. Both Edward and Will are privy to this struggle. Edward, because he is uncatchable, always becomes unsettled when he is about to be caught. Be it by a community, a job, and normalcy. Will experiences this as he struggles to keep his rigid views on the past and his father.

The best part about the film are those in Edward’s past. The mystery behind the witch, the elaborate rouses utilized to escape unscathed, and the fact that the audience never knows what comes next. Yet, there is weakness within all of this intrigue because the audience is never quite sure what is real. Sure, this keeps the audience on their toes, but too many hours on your tippy-toes can be taxing, ask any ballerina. There is also the use of a character more than once which messes with the timeline of the story.

Despite all of this, the film is quite enjoyable to watch. The characters were interesting and were so varied, anyone could find one to relate to. They were fun and complex, even if they did not get a lot of screen time. I couldn’t help but feeling like one of the people within the movie while I watched. Those who sat attentively with Edward as he was older and he told his tales.

Although this was a bit different from the usual Tim Burton movie there were definitely some things that he kept stylistically. He used outsiders to bring about a different view of the story. He used the supernatural as in seen in scenes where a tree literally picked Ed of the ground. There are even some peculiarities to structures such as the way Spectre was laid out and Jenny’s house. There was also the use of nature and how rapid change is seen through the use of time-lapse.

Over-all the film was very interesting and felt a bit like a bedtime story. It leaves the viewer questioning what is real and is not but allows them to cherish the points that it tries to delineate. I believe that it is one of Burton’s more beautiful films. This film deserves 7 out of 10 strawberries.

The Dearly Departed

Martin Scorsese brings the gangster underworld to light once again in his direction of the film The Departed (2006). This time, instead of the Italian mob, he introduces a sector of the Irish mob in Boston led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). In this film, the police attempt to catch Costello and his crew in order to rid themselves of the gang. This jumpstarts a game of cat and mouse featuring a rat and a mole.

The Departed slots itself in the dramatic/crime/thriller movie section. Scorsese implements dramatic irony throughout the movie as it allows the audience to see both what Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) are doing as they work as foils of the other. The moments the audience leaves one character for the other leaves them in suspense as they can’t help but wonder what the next scene will bring.

Morally, Scorsese sends out a pretty clear message: do not get involved in a life of crime, it doesn’t lead to a very good place. Also, authority figures are not always what they seem, because of this, one can’t work under the assumption that those in charge are morally sound. Some may be more obvious than others but you need to make the right choices.

Through their twists and turns, the characters of the film and become well developed. Every kink in their armor is shown to the audience and every scrap of information slipped here and there allow the viewer to get a grasp on each character. Yet, having a good grasp on a character doesn’t exactly endear you to them. Scorsese brings forth flawed characters whose motivations usually hinge on survival which isn’t the best platform for sympathy. Specially when they deal with death as much as gangsters do.

If any emotion jumped out of the screen in this film it’s paranoia. Paranoia is seen in every character through every step of the way and leads to the demise of many through multiple. It eats away at their psyche as they face man vs. self scenes and over-all it leads to violence and anxiety in man vs. man battles. Although man vs. man conflicts are to be expected in a gang movie, the man vs. self conflict was the central conflict. As characters questioned their nature, their nurture, and their actions the film develops and the suspense of who will win? and how will they react? adds up.

The film is definitely strong in its depiction of characters. Watching this movie, I felt like I understood their intentions and their motivations although I did not agree with their reasoning. Because of this, the actors in this movie definitely made the story click. There were points where the violence was so prominent I turned down my volume so I wouldn’t have to hear them suffer so much. I also paused the movie after some intense scenes just to get a break from the painful action. To be honest, if it weren’t for this class I probably wouldn’t have watched this movie.

This movie did not mind getting its hands dirty—or bloody— and that’s honestly not my style. There was also no satisfactory ending to this movie. It was good in the fact that I did not predict it, however, I was really annoyed about how it ended. It felt like someone had a blood splatter effect and said gee, we have not used this enough, let’s get a bang for our buck in the ending.

This film was very heavy in Scorsese’s trademarks. It dealt with crime and violence, it showed a depart from religion, held corrupt leaders, had beautiful sky shots, and used sound and the lack-thereof to its advantage. The gang characters were always very dismissive towards religion and a clear visual of this was when DiCaprio took a portrait of Jesus and smashed it over the head of a victim.

There was also the interesting dichotomy between DiCaprio’s and Damon’s characters in how their roots and pasts haunted them. They were regarded differently by their peers and the law although they were both treated unfairly. Damon began as an altar boy and DiCaprio came from a family of criminals. They both did not fit in with their roots and it is because of this disparity that we had a movie to begin with.

Yet, it is so important to the movie that they both fight their roots. Through the technical lens, I felt like the introduction of DiCaprio’s character was a lot stronger. With just a flash of a few images the audience knew he was keeping himself tightly in check. The way he dressed, his lack of movement towards an exam until the second hand reached 0, and his neat circles in his exam. I thought those visuals were spectacular and told a story without words.

Sound wise, it is clear that Scorsese kept up with contemporary artists in the film and used very popular songs. However, I found his silences more interesting than the music cues. The long pauses between translations, the moments taken to find the right answer, and moments when characters literally had to sit in the dark in silence to cope. Those scenes were like deep breaths taken before a punch lands.

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Although this was a good technical movie I would not watch this again. As I said, this is not my style. The blood splatters, the unending streams or curses, and the uncomfortable addresses to female characters left me cringing. I would give this movie 3/10 strawberries.

Kiki’s Delivery System

Hayao Miyazaki directed and wrote the screenplay for Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). Kiki’s, is a film about a 13 year old witch on a journey. As is customary for witches in her world, she has to leave home for a year when she’s 13 and train to become a witch in a new community. This film accompanies to her journey to a new place as she meets new people, animals, finds a new job, and discovers what makes her magic work.

Kiki’s is an animated, comedic movie that captures the essence of a young colt trying to walk for the first time. Kiki’s journey is a little bumpy at times and clumsy but it only endears the audience to her. Although the film has comedic little moment sprinkled throughout, they aren’t what makes the audience laugh all the time. It is what is captured that keeps the smile on your face. Although most of us aren’t witches, I can vouch in saying that most of us can relate to Kiki even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Most of Miyazaki’s work are imbued with a moral lesson, Kiki’s is no exception. He often uses strong, resilient, pure-hearted characters to bring his stories to reality. Kiki’s lesson is about stubbornness, confidence, and about finding yourself when you are lost. As always, acts of kindness always go a long way in Miyazaki’s films and were integral to this story.

Because of this, I would say that Kiki’s is more about the character than it is about the story. We have all heard the story before of someone traveling and finding themselves but there is a spark created when Kiki is added to the mix. Without Kiki, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell. I don’t know about you, but I am up to here but stories about people vacationing and finding themselves in, say, Rome. However, add a young witch to the mix and her fellow animal companion and BOOM you have a story. It also goes a long way that Miyazaki always ensures that the character is well rounded and their growth is continual throughout the film.

There is also the added effect of the design that goes along with the film. Miyazaki is well known for his consistent art style. It’s soft, and (of course) animated, but it holds a simplicity that is hard to replicate and goes a long way for his young characters. His style is iconic and fluid and it has a way of endearing you even more to the characters it portrays. Miyazaki relies on his drawing style and his character’s actions to deliver the movie so the music he uses in it is sparse and only used to add a whimsical mood. Because our young witch is always flying, there are multiple sections of her flying upwards into the air (if somewhat clumsily). Through the story of Kiki’s journey, it is clear to see that the message behind the film is to find yourself, find what makes you spark, and help those in your journey.

For the most part of the movie, Kiki battles with nature and herself. Whether it’s new animals, the wind, or simply just some rain, Kiki just makes things happen sometimes. We all know how it feels to be caught in a downpour without an umbrella, and trust me, Kiki has been there. Because this is about Kiki’s journey there is also the added parameter of Kiki vs. Kiki as she tries to strengthen her magic.

This film is amazing. It gives you child-like wonder packed in an hour and forty-three minutes in a way that only Hayao Miyazaki can. This movie has been one of my favorites by Miyazaki since I first saw it when I was ten. The simplicity just latches on to you, makes you laugh, smile, and totally forget about anything else. It is simply captivating. It teleports the viewer back to childhood and allows them to just relax and remember. The film gently eases the viewer back in the first 10 minutes but after that initial nudge, I find it very hard to believe that someone would stop watching this movie.

9 out of 10 strawberries

Family Plot, It Thickens

Alfred Hitchcock showed the playful side of suspense in his direction of Family Plot (1976) through the actions of a cab driver, a charlatan, and two kidnappers with shady pasts. Hitchcock uses dramatic irony to push forward the humor of the plot of the movie as these two sets of couples try to find the other because of very different reasons.

Comedy, suspense, and mystery blend together to make the batter of the cake that is Family Plot. Each element is perfectly balanced to bring about a film that is funny but not over-the-top silly with high stakes brought from the actions of the characters with a dash of sprinkles caused by explosions. The script leaves the audience wondering what will happen next until the very end where they can have their cake and eat it too.

If there is anything to be learned from this movie it’s this: lying is hard and usually gets you into ridiculous situations. Also, try not to kill people. That’s just a general rule but Hitchcock felt like it needed to be addressed and so here we are people.

So, let’s move on to a little section called characters vs. film. What was most important in this scenario? The answer here is film. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are great and well developed—it’s Alfred Hitchcock we’re talking about here—but if an actor was changed in the middle of the movie I would just accept it and carry on. Why? You may ask, well the answer is quite simple: I cared more about the plot and what would happen next than about the well-being of the characters. What kept me on the edge of my seat was the dilemma, not the character styles.

In addition to this, I also cared more about the angles and special shots of the movie than I did about the characters but to be fair they were AMAZING. There was a shot in particular that caught my eye where it smoothly transitioned from a ground view to an aerial view of a cathedral and it was fluid and simply genius. Some shots were so good that I had to shake my friend who watched with me and point at the screen whispering woah did you see that????!!!!???

Artistically, the movie was a ride but the themes and the characters helped along the emotional reaction of the viewer. Although my initial view of Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) was that she was very annoying and high maintenance, she began to grow on me. One could argue that her acting was a bit over-the-top at times but she helped create a light hearted mood. Her silly actions, although dangerous at times, allowed the audience to take a break from the plan that was formulated and simply laugh in the moment. This in itself allowed the film to take away the viewer from the stresses of daily life and just laugh at the screen.

One could argue that there is always a lesson to be learned from films but this time I’m going to let it slide. Not because it lacked morals—it was very adamant about the results of lying and the fact that things of the church should not be trifled with—but that was not the point of the movie. Hitchcock often makes very moralistic films that leave audiences breathless with anticipation and anxiety but this one was humorous which gave toned down versions of those emotions which were washed over by snorts and giggles. 

Through the ups and downs of the two couples followed, it is very obvious that the main point of this story is to be a conflict by man vs. man. One could argue that the characters had fights between themselves and society but the bulk of the movie held a spy vs. spy quality to it that would be welcome after a long week at school, work, or what have you.

In conclusion, this movie was very fun to watch. Sure there were certain scenes I didn’t like (mostly because of acting) like the scene at the gasoline station and the one in the car with Barbara’s little performance but other than that the film was very solid. The best parts were definitely any scene that involved Fran (Karen Black). Her dynamic with Arthur Adamson (William Devane) was interesting, particularly the power play between the two as the film grew in intensity. As mentioned before: I giggled, snorted, and found many shots aesthetically pleasing. I enjoyed myself way more than I expected to and that in itself is awesome. Out of 10 strawberries I would give it a solid 7, and I should add–this type of film isn’t really my style so that in itself proves it’s a good film.