Posts categorized “Movie Reviews”

Friday, 19 September 2014

New Movie Review: The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises (2013) ★★★

The Wind Rises

Le vent, se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre!

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

I have such conflicted feelings about this movie! Much of it is a disappointment of expectations, though. The Wind Rises is a highly-fictionalized film about real-life person Jiro Horikoshi, who is most famous for being the designer of the infamous Japanese A6M “Zero” fighter plane for WWII. In movies about famous artists, designer, architects, or what-have-yous, I have a certain minimum expectation: I expect to learn about the hows and whys of the creative process that led them to their most famous work(s). How shocked and frustrated I was, then, when this film ends (spoiler alert) with the test flight of the prototype of the A5M—the fighter that came before the A6M Zero!

In fact, much of the movie hinges on Horikoshi’s thoughts on an inverted gull-wing shape that is used in the prototype of the A5M—but which is not actually used in the final version of the A5M, let alone the Zero!

The scenes that interested me most were the ones where Horikoshi makes a breakthrough of some sort in the design of his planes. The introduction of flush rivets, for example. The design of wing strut supports. Laughing with his team about how to reduce weight when the military demands two gigantic machine guns be mounted to the plane. In other words, the creative side of things.

Less interesting to me was the dying-girl romance between Horikoshi and his wife. Especially because it was completely fictional, and too perfect to find interesting. Horikoshi’s wife is the absolute perfect 1930s Japanese woman. There is no conflict in their relationship, only the specter of chronic illness. Guess what my least-favorite genre of movie is? The dying-girl romance. Horikoshi himself is portrayed as such a meek milquetoast that if it weren’t for his unending creative drive there would be little of interest at all in this relationship.

Other relationships in the film are great though. Horikoshi and his tiny but bombastic boss at Mitsubishi, Horikoshi and his lackadaisical best friend, and strangely enough the friendship that is formed with an enormous, exiled, big gay German. Wow, now there is a character who chews up the scenery! Also nice are dream sequences where Hirokoshi converses with a European plane designer (a somewhat hero of Hirokoshi)

The main theme of the film is handled exceptionally, though, that of creativity versus the exploitation of creativity. Hirokoshi is designing essentially war machines, but he has no love for war at all; it is the sheer creative and artistic process that drives him to design these planes, not any patriotism or idealism. He expresses great ambivalence about the way his designs are being used to essentially kill people. He believes he is creating something beautiful; but his beautiful creations are being used in less-than-benign ways. Does that negate the beauty of their design? Is the end-use usage of a creation inextricably entwined with its design? Or can the beauty of the design be held separately from the horror of its usage? Wisely, I think, the film never takes a stance either way, and the whole complexity of the situation is simply presented for the viewer to think about. In a wonderful ending dream sequence that takes place after the war, Hirokoshi sighs as a fleet of Zeros (the ony time they’re ever presented on screen) flies away. They are beautiful planes.

So the film is visually spectacular, of course. Especially wonderful are dream sequences of fanciful, old-fashioned airplanes. And dynamic scenes of harrowing test flights are great. But much of this is visually similar to the fantastic Porco Rosso, so I didn’t feel like I was seeing much new there. Scenes of 1920s & 1930s Japan and Germany are extremely detailed and specific.

So is this a good movie or not? It is enjoyable in many parts, and fascinating in many parts, and certainly gorgeous. The ambiguities of creativity and war and the corruption of beauty are handled very well. It also has an hilarious and bizarre Big Gay German in it. But it also feels somehow insubstantial and frustrating, focusing too long on the things that interested me the least and too little on the things that interested me the most. So, three stars sound good? Yeah, I suppose.

Categories: Japan, Movie Reviews.

Friday, 22 August 2014

New Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Something rotten in the state of SHIELD...

Something rotten in the state of SHIELD…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): ★★★½

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

This is easily one of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whereas the first Captain America was a purebred, Feel-Good WWII War Action movie, and The Avengers was a top-notch Tentpole Popcorn Movie, The Winter Soldier takes a completely different tack: it is an extremely tense Dark Political Thriller. More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.

Friday, 25 July 2014

New Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Keep your hands off my lobby boy!

Keep your hands off my lobby boy!

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): ★★★½

Directed by Wes Anderson

What a glorious, weird, artificial and joyful film this is. If you’ve seen other Wes Anderson films, the style and much of the trappings will seem intimately familiar. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, this is a film about an ensemble of oddball figures orbiting around one central, lovable oddball. Like all his films, there is very deliberate and nostalgic art direction, frame composition, and camerawork. As is usual for Anderson, he creates a giddily rich visual tapestry, delving with fetishistic verve into the tiniest minutiae of his settings. More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.

Friday, 30 May 2014

New Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

That's our monster...

That’s our monster…

Godzilla (2014) ★★★½

Directed by Gareth Edwards

I must confess that I am a Godzilla movie fan. For some reason I can’t explain, I am just drawn to his movies even though the hugely-vast majority of them are utter, utter crap. Nonetheless, much like the entire James Bond oeuvre, I really enjoy them. Started by the original Gojira, a very serious and scary film, the series devolved over the decades into cheesy, B-movie, Saturday-morning kiddie affairs (I mean, Jet Jaguar—come on). The series tried to right this starting with Godzilla 1985 and going through a couple of iterations in the 90s and the 00s, but with the quirkiness of Japanese pop-culture of the times, these movies were bright, colorful, cartoony spectacles.

That is one of the main reasons why I really enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ new Godzilla movie. This is by far the most realistic Godzilla movie to date. And though there are a couple of fun nods to previous Godzilla and Kaiju movies, this one really treats its source material with great respect and much-due gravitas. This isn’t a tongue-in-cheek, ironic “re-imagining” of Godzilla. This is a distillation of what makes Godzilla the King of the Monsters. Gareth Edwards brings Godzilla back to his roots.

More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.

Friday, 23 May 2014

New Movie Review: Veronica Mars (2014)

Veronica Mars: she's watching you... watching your every move...

She’s watching you… watching your every move…

Veronica Mars (2014): ★★★½

Directed by Rob Thomas

After being cancelled for low ratings, Veronica Mars has returned to the big screen via the most successful movie Kickstarter campaign of all time!

More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

New Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Muppets Most Wanted

Hi-ho, Kyer-mit thee Frog heere

Muppets Most Wanted (2014): ★★★

Directed by James Bobin

The previous Muppet movie (The Muppets (2012)) banked its appeal on being absolutely drenched in nostalgia. It was for lapsed Muppet lovers, adult children who loved these characters when they were kids who could now share it with their own kids. It had heart and sweetness and, like the original Muppet Movie, a genuinely moving story.

Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have the advantage of access to all that nostalgia; the previous film is only a couple of years old, so what is there to be nostalgic about? So instead it goes a different direction: with a wink and a shrug it eschews all the feely-feely nostalgia and goes straight for the laughs. And it is funny. Great gravy, is it funny. This might be the overall-funniest Muppet movie yet made.

More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.

Monday, 10 March 2014

New Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

Let it go...

Let it go…

Frozen (2013): ***½

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In very many ways a spiritual successor to Disney’s Tangled, Frozen takes many very similar elements and improves on most all of them. It also does an excellent job of taking many familiar tropes of fairy tales and twisting them in clever and new ways. I don’t like to review movies by comparing them to other movies, but Frozen really does make Tangled seem like a rough draft in many ways. More… »

Categories: Movie Reviews.