Reviews written by registered user
|16 reviews in total|
2016 was a pretty solid year for horror films, with major releases like
Don't Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lane faring well with audiences and
critics. While many releases were sequels, prequels, or lazy reboots,
there were several that ended up as genuinely scary films. The Witch,
an indie gem distributed by A24 (Ex Machina, Swiss Army Man), is one of
these, and many people simply haven't heard of it. I'm not going to
hide how much I like this movie. It fascinates me. I'm generally not
much of a horror fan, but at the end of the day, a good movie is just a
The story takes place in 16th-century New England and follows a Puritan family of seven who have recently been banished from a plantation settlement. Distressed, they set out blindly into the wild, in hopes of building a new home for themselves. When a witch from the nearby forest abducts their youngest, the mother of the family completely snaps, and the rest must try to survive in the untamed wilderness as their relationships and minds deteriorate further. As they grow more paranoid and even accuse the oldest daughter of witchcraft, they threaten to destroy themselves.
The pacing of this film has remained its most contentious quality among audiences since its release. The slow and deliberate pacing starkly contrasts the exciting scare-fests that more casual horror fans expect today. Instead, this movie is oppressively tense, refusing to break the mood that it builds at almost any point. What the pacing and atmosphere of this film are able to create is utterly horrifying. The witch herself is introduced to us in just about the most repulsive way possible, and from that point onward, the film essentially builds as an hour-and-a-half nightmare. Without the relief provided by unearned jump scares, the tension from these scenes builds mercilessly and doesn't let up.
I also have to be sure to mention the acting in this film. Each member of the family, which serves as most of the cast of the movie, is thoroughly believable, from the parents to the young twins. While children in movies are with rare exceptions painfully hard to watch, both the child and adult actors in The Witch give convincing performances. This is a film featuring many relative unknowns who can remind us that a film doesn't have to be helmed by A-list stars to be effective. In particular, lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy delivered a well-rounded and convincingly emotional performance; I'm excited to see where her career takes her over the next several years.
The characters' mutual descent into madness is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece The Shining. Visually, they are both exquisitely constructed, though instead of the bright symmetry of the older film, The Witch presents itself visually in a sharp grayness of frank poverty, uncomfortable character closeups, and shrieking nature shots. Honestly, you'll end up afraid of just about everyone and everything in the movie from the paranoia that the visuals help produce and the chilling score of period instruments and melismatic chanting help to fully bring out.
There's a terribly vulnerable nakedness to the characters' condition in their small homestead. Protected from the wilderness by a shabby split rail fence, the members of this family appear so cold and fragile. While the titular witch is the villain behind what happens to and between this family, the land around them is so oppressively ambivalent that it become a villain all its own.
The film is a surprisingly spiritual film. Christian iconography is common in western horror films, but The Witch is able to meaningfully incorporate otherwise cliché themes and imagery into its narrative. The characters are deeply religious, often praying and quoting scripture, though a good deal of drama and tension derives from how horribly they treat each other in the worst times. By rejecting the joy and forgiveness that is central to the Christian faith, this devout family allows for a very real and present evil to tear them apart. Each of these characters is fast to instruct the others to pray for forgiveness because they refuse to offer it to each other, and in the end, they all suffer horribly.
Beyond its strengths as a horror film, The Witch is an undeniable accomplishment of period filmmaking. From the characters' way of life and view of the world to their immediately apparent costumes and speech, most elements of this film are placed and held believably within seventeenth century America. The dialog could have sounded contrived and artificial, and given the inexperience of many of the actors involved, I am impressed by how well it turned out.
Director Robert Eggers heavily researched speech, farming, religious attitudes, and more from the time period portrayed in order to authentically transport us there; his efforts paid off. I particularly appreciate his transformation of dialog produced by twentieth century actors into everyday speech of seventeenth century English expats. To my knowledge, the accent that the characters use in the film is accurate to what the English language sounded like at that time. The words used are also largely accurate; Eggers went as far as to incorporate records of actual alleged possessions and bewitchings from around that period in time into scenes in the film. The ease with which these lines fit the rest of the film is a testament to his efforts.
It's a shame that because of this movie's pacing and relatively understated scares I can't recommend it to many horror enthusiasts, but that hardly takes away from its artistic quality. The Witch is a testament to what can be accomplished in a film conceived and driven by a passionate and skilled mind. It is proof that there is more to the horror genre today whatever Blumhouse Productions is pumping out this month. Like the best horror films, it exists where fear and helplessness meet and holds you there with it until the screen has gone black.
I haven't covered a single original film this summer, but that's hardly
surprising at this point. Heck, every new release that I've covered has
been a comic book adaptation. This week, though, I get to shake things
up a bit I'm covering a cinematic sequel to a Stephen King series.
Going into the movie, I had in mind that it would be an adaptation of
the Dark Tower books; I haven't read them myself and so do not know if
there is material for fans to recognize or if everything is fresh. I've
since read online that it's supposed to take place after the events of
the books, or maybe it's a sort of half-sequel/half-adaptation.
Regardless, it's another big box office bomb to add to an
The movie follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy who suffers from nightmares of a giant tower, a dangerous Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and a mysterious Gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). We learn that the tower, which is located at the center of the universe and is the source of all things, is under attack from the Man in Black. This villain attacks it with the minds of psychically gifted children and personally sets out to bring in Jake for the great power the boy never knew he possessed.
The movie isn't without merit. While some special effects were iffy, shots of the tower itself are impressive; one toward the end of the film that simply showed the structure peaking thousands of feet above the clouds made me want to pause the screening and just look at it. I also feel that the film is paced well enough, and even though it isn't particularly long, I was surprised when the screen faded to black at the end. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are pretty interesting to watch. I enjoyed Elba as Jake's reluctant father figure, and McConaughey's character was fairly intimidating in a couple scenes. He obviously hammed up the performance a bit, but sometimes a smiling man in a black trench coat is just what your overstuffed, stupid movie needs.
Beyond this, the movie is a failure. The main character is a boy, and that is his entire personality; the movie doesn't give him a single identifiable trait. He has dreams, draws compulsively, stumbles through a portal, and then follows Roland around. Is he smart? Funny? Angry? Does anyone like or dislike him aside from that one bully in that one scene? What does he want? What does he like? He is passively drawn along the film's plot points, and in the end, the story concludes without his input. Spoiler.
The side characters are just as bad but are at least forgettable, and this ends up being the sort of movie where you shouldn't expect to care about anything. Whether it's a random 19th-century-style village or bland CGI monsters that we are told are a threat, people, places, and ideas are picked up and dropped in service of the journey to save the tower. There's a prescient homeless guy, there are rat people wearing fake human faces . I could list elements of the story that come right out of nowhere and contribute nothing to the overall experience, and I would have a perfectly long review.
I can't help but think of a bonding scene where Roland teaches Jake to shoot his pistol, only to suddenly stop and say that the boy's mind is his weapon. Jake doesn't hold a gun for the rest of the movie, and the scene only serves to teach him an oath from the Gunslingers' past. The boy goes back to following Roland around and occasionally fall into another disorganized, poorly lit action scene.
Much like Valerian from a few weeks ago, this movie is a bloated mess. Unlike that sci-fi blunder and its nice visuals, though, this one doesn't have much of anything going for it to make it worth seeing. The material that The Dark Tower produces simply gets lost within itself. Let Jake and the Gunslinger save the universe; you just save your money.
Film is a unique medium in that it communicates to us through our two
most important senses, sight and sound. By these mechanisms, we
experience much of the world around us, and by their reflections, we
hold our memories of those experiences. Film is then in a special
position to present the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of a character
or characters by a creator talented enough to convey them. This can, of
course, come in the form of a thrilling action movie with scenes and
dialog that stick with us long after we see them, and in its purest
form, it can come as an expression of the inner workings of someone's
The Mirror, the fourth feature film of the Russian master auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, is a semi-autobiographical film presented as the memories and dreams of Aleksei, a dying poet. In no particular order, we see scenes from his early and late childhood, as well as more recent events in his adulthood. The unconventional, stream-of- consciousness structure of the film presents these scenes as one might recall them in real life, connected by moods and moments that prompt recollection of others.
Many of his earliest memories have little bits of dialog, giving a general sense of what is happening since the specifics have been long forgotten; memories of his adult life with his son and ex-wife contain more complete conversations.
At several parts in the film, Aleksei's memories are also paralleled by reflections on Russian history and society, as we are shown footage of soldiers in World War II and hear an excerpt from a letter written by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, among other moments. Audio is also played over some scenes of Tarkovsky's own father, Arseny Tarkovsky, reading his poems. The camera moves deliberately through all these scenes as an observer; the long takes, as well as the movie's manipulation of time and sound, are key to accomplishing the intended effect.
Tarkovsky himself maintained that he structured The Mirror as one would a piece of music, focusing on the material's form rather than on its logic. More Ligeti than Mozart, though, this film is challenging and eschews anything resembling a standard structure or plot.
I often comment on the score of a film especially a great one and how it contributes to the overall viewing experience. The problem with The Mirror in this regard is that the formal score is so sparse that it hardly stands out as a strong or weak aspect of the film. Passages from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion play through a few key scenes, and electronic ambient music plays over others. Instead, the deliberate soundscape of the film itself becomes a sort of score in its own right, such as a strong wind blowing over a field or the oppressive noise of a printing press.
Visually, the film is rife with haunting, surreal imagery. In a black-and-white dream, Aleksei's mother stands in a large, empty room, shaking water off of her arms and the hair covering her face, before the room dissolves around her in a dampened cascade of rain and wet plaster. In another, the same woman levitates several feet above a bed until a white bird flies over her. In one of the film's more well- known scenes, the family's barn burns as Aleksei's family and neighbors watch, their small figures helplessly standing at a distance as the structure simply burns.
Watching The Mirror is artistic bliss. The depth of many of Tarkovsky's shots is enrapturing; the texture of the world around the characters is palpable. You feel the cold, hard wood of the floors and walls of Aleksei's childhood home and the cold of a Russian winter. The film reaches a certain part of your mind and supplants a man's consciousness into your own, leaving you in something of a trance.
I can never fully explain this movie, and in that knowledge comes some of my enjoyment and appreciation of it. Each idea and realization I make about particular aspects of the film is nothing compared to the work as a whole. The Mirror is ultimately a film that is meant to be experienced rather than to be fully understood or explained. The human mind is itself nebulous, and how appropriate it is that a film meant to visually portray one should be as such.
Over the past few months, I've been catching up on Studio Ghibli's
legendary catalog of anime films. For almost 30 years, they released
some of the most highly acclaimed animation and with incredible
consistency. They co-produced last year's The Red Turtle, and I've
heard rumors that they will be coming back from their hiatus in the
near future. Until then, though, I have plenty more to catch up on; my
most recent experience has been with one that I have heard a whole lot
about 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service.
In this film, a young witch named Kiki (Takayama/Dunst) has just turned 13, the traditional age for her to leave her family and train her magic on her own. With her black cat Jiji (Sakuma/Hartman) at her side, she sets off and ends up in a large coastal city. There, she finds work at a local baker, befriends a lively artist, and catches the attention of an energetic boy named Tombo (Yamaguchi/Lawrence). As she struggles to find her purpose, she has to learn to make something of herself in a place that doesn't seem to have much use for witches.
This has got to be one of the most charming movies that I've seen in a while. Through the combination of story, music, and Kiki herself, director Hayao Miyazaki creates a tone similar to that of his childlike masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro. We see Kiki's enthusiastic personality take her from place to place, and through the score and some good visuals, we feel every bit of this with her. Kiki proves once again that Miyazaki is an absolute master of character.
One aspect that I respect about this movie is that to show us Kiki's life and personal growth, it doesn't follow a standard plot structure and instead tells its story emotionally. We follow Kiki in her everyday life as she responds to different situations and learns more about herself and the world around her. I described the plot of the film in just a few sentences above; I honestly wouldn't have much more to say in terms of particular moments, but that is part of the magic of this movie. Kiki's Delivery Service is a story about Kiki herself, and the fact that the film doesn't send her along common plot points keeps the focus entirely on her.
The movie is also grounded, given its mystical elements. It takes place in essentially our world, only people are used to the existence of witches some are fascinated, and some don't care at all. In one scene, Kiki lands on a street corner and enthusiastically shares her goals to the few people standing there, who then continue with their day as usual. You are given a real sense of the size of the city and how little Kiki seems capable of at her age, despite her high ambitions.
At its core, this is a very down-to-earth movie about a teenage girl figuring out her place in the world and struggling with her conflicting desires of comfort and independence. At 13 years old, she wants to do so much, but she often finds herself inhibited by other kids, by her emotions, and by the environment surrounding her.
Long-time Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi wrote the score for Kiki, and this is in my opinion one of his best. Each piece uniquely contributes to the character of the film and provides an emotional backbone without smothering or controlling the viewer's experience. His scores are often . I recommend listening to "A Town With An Ocean View" online to get a sense of not only the score but for the tone of the film as a whole.
Overall, Kiki's Delivery Service is a wonderful coming-of-age story about a girl finding herself in a strange place. This movie probably won't work for someone who watches anime for amazement, but it is just about perfect for lovers of people and their stories. I really wish that I had discovered Studio Ghibli's movies before they went on hiatus. In my experience so far, the quality of their films ranges from good to some of the all-time best, and this one in every way deserves its status as a classic.
This weekend saw the release of two big-budget blockbusters, and while
I will be sure to watch Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk in the near future,
I decided to check out Luc Besson's most recent feature instead. His
best-known science fiction movie, The Fifth Element, is remembered
fondly for its imaginative world and characters, and I came into this
one hoping for something similarly new. I'm afraid that isn't what I
got, though, and the exciting visuals promised in the previews ended up
being just about all that Valerian delivered.
The film, based on the long-running French sci-fi comic Valérian et Laureline, takes place several decades into the future when thousands of sentient species from different galaxies come to live together at space station Alpha. Human police agents Laureline (Cara Delevingne) and Valerian (SKU #283826) are sent to interrupt a black market transaction on a desert planet, but when a particularly vivid dream takes hold of Valerian, a few routine missions give way to reveal an intergalactic scheme of cover-ups and corruption.
The universe of this movie is truly impressive. We spend some time on the beach paradise of planet Mül, whose inhabitants are something like a cross between Avatar's Na'vi and the Zora from The Legend of Zelda series, and the film contrasts this effectively with the techno- urban climate dominating much of the rest of the film. Valerian draws visually and thematically from The Fifth Element, presenting a vast, multi-cultural city with flying cars and exotic aliens and works with themes of the human condition and the power of love. This environmental work and the film's visuals are, however, the film's only real strengths.
Valerian feels like the movie from a thousand minds, and none of them communicated well with each other. The story jumps around wildly, action scenes come out of nowhere, and some really interesting ideas are introduced and immediately forgotten. As an example, the mission I mentioned at the start has our protagonists using special equipment to interact with a marketplace in another dimension. Valerian is able to send only his hand and gun over and then pop back into our reality, but the technology is never seen again. This is all treated as a run-of-the-mill tourist trap and could have been expanded on dramatically, but the plot moves on, and future conflict is handled through standard running, flying, and shooting.
Instead of feeling like a cohesive movie, Valerian comes across as an effort to put as many ideas and elements from the comic series as possible on screen at once; the best word to describe it is "bloated". I feel that there is material here for an incredible movie trilogy or TV series if handled properly, but if the box office return is as disappointing as many have projected, we likely won't see that anytime soon. As it stands, this is all too big and boring to bring in new audience members.
Probably the strangest decision on the part of the director was casting a 2×4 in a lead role of a major motion picture. It is certainly a historic moment in cinematic diversity, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for Cara Delevingne being asked to play off of a piece of propped-up hardware. Despite Ms. Delevingne's okay performance, the movie comes to a complete stop at each scene meant to develop their romantic bond, and any strengths of Valerian's character or abilities must be told to us rather than actually shown. The characters have absolutely no chemistry together; splinters received from kissing unfinished yellow pine in fact result from a physical reaction and not a chemical one.
Coming back around to the film's big strength, though, I hold the highest respect for the dozens of visual artists behind Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This is a very good-looking movie, and I can only imagine how much time and effort went into its design. Ultimately, though, while I can often recommend movies for a wide variety of reasons, this one is long enough that unless you are a devoted Luc Besson fan, your time is likely better spent elsewhere.
It's been about a month since a major superhero film release, so here
we are again!
Marvel is at bat now, and they've brought out their most iconic superhero, Spider-Man. We got a peek at him in last year's Captain America: Civil War, so now that he has his own film, let's see what it has to offer.
Spider-Man: Homecoming follows a teenage Peter Parker (Tom Holland) shortly after his discovery by the Avengers. He can't seem to keep their attention, though, as he dreams of saving people on a larger scale. Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a local construction worker, has been hoarding leftover alien technology from the attack on New York in The Avengers and is selling hi-tech weaponry around New York City. Parker must learn to balance his high school life with his desire to impress the Avengers to hopefully stop this homegrown menace.
Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is our main character. His two most recent representations on film have been strong in their own ways, but were fairly weak in their portrayal of high school. In Homecoming, Parker's life and struggles as a smart kid with a huge crush on a classmate are now shown with refreshing sincerity; one particularly heartfelt and awkward scene hit me in such a genuine way that I immediately felt a dozen high school memories of my own come rushing back. Holland is infectiously enthusiastic throughout in his portrayal of the young hero and might be my favorite take on the character to date.
With great heroes must come great villains, and Michael Keaton absolutely knocks it out of the park with his performance as Vulture. In the tradition of other Spider-Man villains, Homecoming presents an ordinary, down-on-his-luck man who goes in over his head and is corrupted by power. The suit that he wears is genuinely intimidating, and Keaton portrays his character with a mix of the charismatic persona we're familiar with from the '80s and '90s and the unhinged performance he gave in 2014's Birdman. I hope we see more of him in the future.
While the film succeeds with several of its characters, though, it is very shallow and ultimately lacks heart. Homecoming is a fun movie, but it is little more than that and fails to offer real emotional depth. The movie actually seems afraid to let the viewer really feel something; dramatic moments are consistently broken with jokes, and we learn only in passing dialog that Peter and Aunt May have recently lost Uncle Ben. This tragedy was traditionally the kicking-off point for Parker's heroic journey, but we don't meet him at any time, and neither of the "mourning" characters so much as frowns over the event.
Maybe Wonder Woman has me spoiled, but Spider-Man also doesn't feel like much of a hero in this one. Homecoming nailed the character of a high school Peter Parker but left Spider-Man awkwardly stumbling through people's back yards with almost no character growth throughout the film. This is a sort of origin story, but I had hoped he would feel more amazing by the end credits. My concern is that he is left to develop in the time before the next film or carry his clumsiness into it.
Despite its flaws, though, Spider-Man: Homecoming is absolutely worth a watch. It offers a fun, colorful experience that corrects some of the shortcomings of our hero's recent outings while standing alone as both a Spider-Man film and a worthwhile entry to the ever- expanding MCU.
There's been a weird trend recently of companies making uninspired
movies about nostalgic toys: we had Battleship a few years back, and
the Transformers series has been a huge hit, so now we've got Trolls.
Why is there a movie about brightly colored toys from the '60s? Sure
this isn't as bad as The Smurfs, but it's nothing special.
Trolls is a simple adventure movie starring the cheery Princess Peppy (Anna Kendrick) and downer Branch (Justin Timberlake). When a group of trolls is captured to be eaten by the evil Bergens, our leads set out to rescue them, and you can guess the rest of the story.
Just about everything is bright and adorable, and the plot is punctuated with pop songs that range from Justin Timberlake to Earth, Wind & Fire. There are a couple original songs as well my favorite is written by the duo behind last year's La La Land and Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen and the big show-stopper is without a doubt the ubiquitous "Can't Stop The Feeling!".
Despite featuring a whole lot of songs, though, Trolls is hardly a good musical. Very little of the music contributes to the story itself, and your enjoyment of the songs will come more from recognizing them than from their quality or what they accomplish for the story and characters. While this can work in another film, Trolls simply isn't strong enough to support itself under threat of its viewers thinking of something else. If you're not pulled in by the bright colors and flashy musical numbers, you'll sit there bored until you notice that you're only about 20 minutes in.
It may appear unreasonable for me to care much about the quality of a kids' movie like this, but I want to hold DreamWorks Animation to a higher standard. They have put out some great work; their second film ever, The Prince of Egypt, features some of the best animation that I've seen in a movie, and the How To Train Your Dragon series has provided some of the best reasons for us to continue paying for 3D theater tickets. DreamWorks has been very hit-and-miss lately with their releases, though, and I would call this one a miss. Movies like Trolls, as well as Home from the year before it, just look lazy in comparison to what the studio can make.
Overall, Trolls is innocent enough and is a fine movie to put on in front of kids; they'll be entertained by the colorful visuals, and it has a fine enough moral. You won't find much in terms of quality, though, and the movie ends up feeling about as plastic as the toys it is based on.
A lot of movies are bad, some movies are good, and a handful of movies
are so bad that they are great. Then, there are those movies those
very, very few that transcend any established ideas of "good" or
"bad" and find themselves a special place in the world of cinema. For
years, movies like The Room and Rocky Horror Picture Show have been
loved by thousands around the world, not for their merits as works of
art but for something different from and far better than what could
have been intended by their creators. New cult hits come about once or
twice a decade, and while it is still relatively new, Fateful Findings
has quickly proved itself among the greats.
The movie follows Dylan (Neil Breen), a man gifted with magical powers by a magical rock he found as a child. He works as an author but is secretly hacking into government and corporate computer networks in order to expose their corruption to the world. As he dives further into his work and his life becomes stranger and more dangerous, he must find the strength to finish his work.
I love this movie so much.
Like many other cult hits, Fateful Findings is a film that is uniquely its own. It is ostensibly a psychological thriller, with clear inspiration from David Lynch and others, but it fails to deliver a genuine thrill. Instead, it delivers comedy, a little bit of boredom, and a whole lot of weirdness. Characters in Fateful Findings tend to repeat their lines and to repeat them, and everything is a bit too stilted for us to treat them as real people. Breen himself works at a desk with no fewer than three powered-off laptops that he abuses regularly by throwing books at them or swiping them onto the floor.
This film is all over the place in terms of its plot, characters, and themes. For example, I never knew that I could laugh so much at a scene of murder, but Breen's deadpan delivery of "I can't believe you committed suicide. I cannot believe you committed suicide. How could you have done this? How could you have committed suicide?" is absolutely hilarious. The film's finale, which features a self- proclaimed human insurance company and the President of The Bank, is one of my absolute favorites of any movie and for all the wrong reasons.
Much of what makes this film such a pleasure to watch is the earnestness with which it was made. Neil Breen works professionally as an architect but makes movies in his spare time and does so simply because he wants to. I personally can't find much enjoyment in intentionally bad movies, as there's a certain cynicism behind movies like Sharknado or Samurai Cop II that I can't get behind. "So bad it's good" is a profitable section of the industry, and any schmuck can spend a few thousand dollars and very little effort on a film that ends up potentially making them millions.
With Fateful Findings, we instead have a man with a vision. Neil Breen hates corrupt governments and corporations, and by gum he's gonna make movies about them. This one acts as a sort of wish- fulfillment for Breen in that he stops these powerful entities by exposing their wrong-doings to the world. Publicly sharing his evidence or in his words, "the files and supporting documents and supporting truths: the factual documents" allows him to bring them down and save us all.
I can't recommend this movie to everyone, as plenty of people will understandably see it as simply a bad movie. For those of you who enjoy cult films, though, I can't recommend it highly enough. You will laugh, you might cry, and you will never forget Fateful Findings.
Wonder Woman is the fourth movie in the DC Extended Universe and its
second film following a single hero. Given the quality of the movies
that preceded it and Wonder Woman's anemic presence in last year's
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I really didn't have high hopes for
this one. I figured I'd give it a shot, though, and to my surprise, it
wasn't awful; in fact, I mostly enjoyed it.
Diana (Gal Gadot) is an Amazon from the island of Themyscira, a land occupied and governed entirely by women. When American fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands off their coast, Diana rescues him and leaves her home to try to put an end to the First World War, which she believes to be the work of Ares, the god of war. Matters aren't as simple as she planned, though, and she ends up learning uncomfortable truths about humanity, as well as secrets of her own identity.
For the most part, Wonder Woman is a relief from the dour, clunky DC films that have preceded it. First off this one is in color! Gone are the days of gray-and-orange sludge; this movie has green grass and a blue sky. More importantly, Wonder Woman's costume has taken on some classic red and blue. The requisite sexist and fish-out-of- water scenes are mostly given their appropriate time on screen without becoming tedious, and a good deal of the intended humor actually lands. There's an improvised scene early on featuring the two leads on a boat at sea, and they play off of each other wonderfully.
Unfortunately, the film still suffers from a lot of the issues that the previous DC films have: awkward pacing, on-the-nose dialog, weak villains, and an overwhelming score that beats you over the head with what you're supposed to feel at every step of the way. The movie is also incredibly cheesy, and while there is an appropriate, or even desired amount of cheese in a comic book movie, I found myself groaning a bit too much from it all. The battle scenes also manage to out- Snyder Zack Snyder in terms of their overuse of slow motion and "awesome", impractical fighting. When Wonder Woman herself isn't involved in scenes, I tend to lose interest, and the reveal toward the end of the film hit me like a handful of Triscuits.
Far and away the best aspect of the movie is Wonder Woman herself. Gal Gadot's performance as a naive hero with an overpowering sense of duty is impeccable, and I loved watching her work. This character saves people because she wants to save them, and it is truly compelling to watch such a pure expression of a superhero. We have seen enough movies about heroes begrudgingly doing their work; in BvS, Superman looks pained to help, and Batman doesn't even try to save anyone.
Wonder Woman in this film just might be my favorite superhero in the current cinematic universes, across both Marvel's and DC's movies. We see a hero who fights for those who can't fight for themselves. Marvel has produced quippy dialog and some fun fight scenes, but its heroism has faltered lately. For their deity superhero, they gave us a pile of cardboard with a hammer and a sexy accent. I haven't been this excited for comic book movies since the first Avengers film, and I really wasn't expecting that from DC at this point.
I recommend this movie, not for its intrinsic qualities as a film but for the direction it is potentially taking the DCEU and for its main character. I still don't have high hopes for Justice League, but if they keep this hero doing what she does best, I'll probably be just fine with it.
I can look back to a few experiences that completely changed the way
that I watch movies; one of these is the first time that I saw Stanley
Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Oddysey, which showed me the
purest example of film as an art form that I had ever seen. I saw it
not too long after I graduated high school and had never experienced a
movie that expressed complex and confusing thoughts in the way that it
did nor in such a visually stunning way. The film went beyond
conventional narrative and filmmaking to deliver something entirely new
In a similar manner, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya represents a level of artistry that I had never before seen in an animated feature. From the brilliant mind of Studio Ghibli's lesser-known co- founder Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday), the film is an adaptation of Japan's oldest folk tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It tells the story of a strange girl (Asakura/Moretz) who is discovered inside a bamboo stalk and who shoots through her childhood at a rapid pace. Her adoptive parents (Chii/Caan, Miyamoto/Steenburgen) bring her into the city, where she is groomed as a noblewoman and comes to be widely sought after for her beauty.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is simply gorgeous; its visual style combines watercolor painting and charcoal sketching to create something that is entirely its own. Personal and often unnecessary care is given to the smallest details, such as a toddler crawling after a frog or the princess casually putting her hair up. The character and quality of the animation even change with the tone of the story, most noticeably in one instance in which the princess' despair completely overwhelms her. As the world is stripped away and sound is simplified to almost nothing, the scene so perfectly expresses the character's personality and mood and presents such a perfect image of her story that to me, it fully represents the reasons that animation exists as a medium. Because there are no live actors or sets and no real world in which the filmmakers must do their work, the artists are free to fully express themselves as artists, without the constraints of the real world. Rather than use animation to simply bring color to a bland story as many animators are wont to do, the creators here use the deep story and visuals to produce situations and imagery that would otherwise be impossible to create. The movie spends much of its run time grounded firmly in reality sometimes uncomfortably so but at its most powerful, it extends far beyond what live action can achieve.
The film is also thematically rich, particularly exploring the societal roles of Japanese women at the time depicted. When she is no longer allowed to live her simple life around her childhood friends, her life becomes dedicated to presenting herself as beautiful and submissive to the world. She is instructed to sit still and to look pretty, never mind the fact that she is often hidden from view. She is whisked away to be married as soon as she reaches puberty and is told by both the men and women around that a rich husband will be the source of her greatest happiness.
Kaguya herself is a wonderful character to watch. She is at times one of the happiest people you could imagine but at others one of the saddest. After all, she started walking over the course of a day and grew into the body of a teenager in less than a year's time. Her innocence is shown as a blessing and a curse, and seeing her interact with the variety of people she encounters provides the film plenty of joy and drama.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya uses the language of cinema in a way that, in my experience watching animation, has been truly special; through blocking of scenes, visual symbolism, color, and much more, the film is able to speak to us beyond its surface narrative and to tell a more robust story. It makes full use of the opportunities unique to animation and combines them with tools of the great live- action masterpieces of the past.
The film, for example, often separates the princess from the rest of the world, particularly in scenes in which she is hidden from sight. She is often placed behind a screen or behind bamboo blinds for narrative purposes, but even when these are not present, there is often an element visually keeping her from other characters, such as a bamboo stalk or a tall blade of grass placed between them. While not forming a true wall between the characters, the viewer can see them separated and feel their distance.
This film also offers a wonderful experience of sound and silence through the use of its score, which consists of tracks mostly under two minutes long. This allows each moment of music to have its power and meaning, while not overwhelming the viewing experience or directing the viewer along every step of the film's vast emotional landscape. Through contrapuntal folk sounds or delicate solo piano, the film is able to sing its story to us as it shows it and tells it. The musical pieces and the silence between them are given the full attention that they deserve and in turn give us exactly what we need.
I cannot recommend this film highly enough. While critical response at its release was overwhelmingly positive, far too few people have heard of it, and even fewer have seen it. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a movie that you will never forget and offers an experience not quite like anything else you will ever see.
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