24 December 2011

Happy Holidays and Movie Review: Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind

Happy holidays everyone! I hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable season through Christmas, the New Year, and all of the other holidays that you, your friends, and your family enjoy celebrating.

I'm glad to be able to post again for a second time in a month, and both the holiday well-wishes as well as the subject of the post (movie review!) are good excuses. You can likely tell that I'm not the tweeting type, and I need to have at least something substantive to put on the blog. I opened this blog up so many years ago for two main reasons... one was to make sure that people knew that both Megane and myself were still active and posting. The non-cynical reason was so that I could post quick-hit reviews of MSTings, movies, and other stuff that came our way (like Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic).

Unfortunately, the world of online MSTing has all but dried up, so that leaves movie / television show / anime reviews. Again, many thanks to NetFlix for tonight's selection, the 1984 Studio Ghibli production of Nausicca in the Valley of the Wind

As quickly as the movie starts, the art is already off of the charts. The initial scene (a deserted city) is empty of people, but it is still filled... with artifacts of plants, fungi, and animals (specifically insects). Spore sacs blast pink clouds and the art gains more color, though it is still a bizarre mix of Dr. Seuss with realism, almost as if the artists were trying to figure out all of what they could get away with and still be believed.

And this is a world that will allow you to immerse yourself into it. On the outside looking in, I can see where some people may immediately fold their arms and refuse to believe in a world were the "toxic jungle" is coming to wipe out all humanity, especially if they are of the opinion that ecology (and specifically pollution) is not a major concern. The world is just different enough (and there's so little ability for the story to try to latch on to "Earth history" so to speak) that this may as well be one of the planets surrounding Alpha Centauri.

It is a longer movie, and there's quite a few messages that Studio Ghibli packed into it. The aforementioned ecology message (which seemed very similar to the one in Mononoke Hime), the pacifism of the main character who is very adamant about the lack of necessity of killing, and her very singular focus on not only trying to understand the world around her, but actually LIVING in the world around her. Nausicaa is the type of person that will adapt to any situation and immediately be not only trying to figure out how she can make herself work with it, but she would be thinking of all of the characters around her first.

I say that, and maybe this may be the start of a few posts in this subject, but the above description may sound like a Mary Sue. I truly believe that this is not the case. She does have clouded decisions, the pacifism at one point turns into a rather bad decision down the road as the rest of the world intrudes on Nausicaa's titular valley, and seems so very reckless in many cases. The selflessness would almost become overbearing, and there's probably a terrific article lurking somewhere about how Miyazaki was able to show a protagonist that had so few "flaws" but still felt... human.

While the soundtrack did dip into the 80's in a few regrettable spots, overall it was a terrific movie and very understandable why both Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were able to build such a subsequent catalog of movies. This movie is definitely between a 3 and a 4, and I would certainly enjoy seeing it again when given the chance. There are certainly places that can be pointed out as weaknesses, but the movie is overall terrific and you'll almost find yourself not necessarily as a viewer but as an experiencer.

We'll see you again in 2012, hopefully with our completed project soon!

05 December 2011

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In our latest installment of "Review the Movie Within Forty-Eight Months", we tackle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. For those who don't already know, the movie is a whopping 166 minutes long, and it will take up an entire evening.

This, as a matter of fact, will be the first comment. The movie could have used an editor. BADLY. Yes, I do understand the hypocrisy in this statement, but I am also not a professional who charges $7.50 per viewing either. I appreciate the "show, don't tell" school of filmmaking, but I did not appreciate the time it took to set up the story in each excruciating detail, and it seemed that many scenes were rather superfluous. During one scene, the filmmakers chose to show ten minutes' worth of footage describing an accident. It took ten minutes because they not only wanted to set up all of the various little causes of the accident in detail, but they literally filmed each of these various causes and possible consequences. On top of this, the filmmakers used narration through the scene so that they could lead the audience all the way to the inescapable conclusion, though to be fair to these filmmakers they used the same narration all the way through the film.

The narration sets up the next point nicely. This movie felt like a derivative Forrest Gump in that you have the narration going on, a protagonist moving through the years and who makes sure to touch on all of the high points of the era (in this case, from World War I through about the late 60s), Southern accents that turn almost unintelligible, and the sense of groundlessness that both protagonists really seemed to share. If I wanted to see Forrest Gump again, I'd go get that. I would daresay that this movie wasn't as popular as Forrest Gump if only because there were more Baby Boomers alive in the early 90s than Greatest Generation members alive in the late 00s, but you didn't hear such cynicism from me. The same scriptwriter wrote both movies, which can certainly account for many of the similarities.

The last complaint is that the movie couldn't even keep its central message down very well. The main conceit in the movie is to have a character that is aging backwards. While Brad Pitt's face was certainly made up to appear as if he was going into different ages, I felt that the entity "Brad Pitt" was in the movie rather than seeing "Benjamin Button". In the first few scenes it was fine, but he started looking like John Denver (or maybe Philo from UHF) somewhere in the mid-1930s. After that, Brad Pitt's character seemed to jump in apparent age from about 55 or so directly to 30. When the 60s come and the plotmeat needs to be splurted into casings, it's Brad Pitt surrounded by a set from the 60s. If not for reading some of the story from Wikipedia, I would have thought that the whole movie was purely a Brad Pitt ego project rather than the filmmakers signing him to be part of their movie.

I will also admit some idiocy on my part too. The filmmakers were doing everything they could to make thunderstorms into a sort of leitmotif, but I could not divine any sort of consistent message from this leitmotif. Bad things happened during thunderstorms, good things happened during thunderstorms, I couldn't really grasp what they were trying to say. I suppose I could attempt to watch it again to really try to nail the message down, but then I'd be sitting for another 166 minutes and I'm not eager to start that again.

While researching, I read in more than a couple of places that it is a fantasy. It is not, it is pure and unadulterated love story and sentiment. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett did what they could to generate sparks but the jarring narration and the length were just too much to overcome.

Final rating (with the scale below) --- less than a 1, I wouldn't rewatch this movie.

An extra special Bronx cheer goes out to the one-bridge-too-far, when a filmmaker wants to make a heartwarming story of togetherness and tie it to a heartrending story of love and loss, yet names the main character "Button" and have his family run a button factory which goes by the name "Button's Buttons". Really, movie? If you're going to turn the original short story into something COMPLETELY different, make sure your details at least try to match the new somber mood.

* You love Brad Pitt
* You love hearing Brad Pitt's voice narrating stuff
* You want to relive your youth in 1920's and Depression-era United States (or remember being roughly 20 years old in the 60s)
* You're interested in seeing what Oscar voters see

* You can't make out simultaneous Southern Accent and Old Person Mumble and it bugs you pretty badly (Cate Blanchett, I'm looking at YOU.)
* You'd rather get schmaltzy about age by spending seven extra minutes watching Toy Story AND Toy Story 2 back-to-back.
* You have any other plans this evening.
* You want to understand why Oscar voters vote the way they do.
* You want to make a Rifftrax (seriously, too long and bloated, unless you're an awesome writer)

Don't miss these POINTS OF INTEREST:
* Cap'n Mike the artist
* The lightning dude
* Trying to figure out why the hell an American tugboat is being based out of Murmansk in the runup to World War II.