Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Kumo no MukĊ, Yakusoku no Basho, lit. "Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place") is a 90 minute Japanese anime film created and directed by Makoto Shinkai, following his previous work Voices of a Distant Star. As in the previous film, the soundtrack was composed by Tenmon. Unlike the previous film which was largely created by Makoto on his own, Kumo no Mukou was a full scale production as reflected by the better animation quality and the longer overall length. It has been broadcast across Japan by the anime satellite television network Animax.

Directed by Makoto Shinkai

By Bailey Z. Rose (Orlando, FL)

While 'The Place Promised in Our Early Days' left me with an empty feeling, ended without the conclusion for which I'd hoped for over half the movie, I still have to give it five stars. 'Promised...', in my opinion, fell into the vast category of anime movies with enormous imagination, incredible animation... and a plot so exotic that it simply didn't permit a satisfying and complete story.

So much of 'Promised...', such as the majority of the plot and personality development/establishment for all characters, isn't supplied by the movie. In fact, the plot seems so incomplete, the characters so flat, that it's almost too much to bear. But through the almost instant bewilderment the viewer is bound to experience, and through the frustrating lack of real character substance... the overall dreaminess of the movie and the purity of those simple characters' motives shines so brightly as to obscure 'Promised...'s shortcomings

Visually, the movie is breathtaking. The scenery is always incredible -- surreal and super-real at once, vibrant and vast and absolutely gorgeous. Emotionally, the protagonists' story and its presentation through snatches of flashback/daydream/real-dreams, speaks to the viewer on some level too deep to be hindered by critical thoughts.

This movie left me muddled, and awed. I don't quite know what to say, other than that while I was in some ways disappointed, I still felt... enriched... on some indefinable level. Get the movie! You need to watch it to know what I mean.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spirited Away

Spirited Away - literally Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) is a 2001 film by the Japanese anime studio Studio Ghibli, written and directed by famed animator Hayao Miyazaki.

The film received many awards, including the second Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award, and the only winner of that award to win among five nominees (in every other year there were three nominees). The film also won the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday).

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

DVD Review
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann (the Lehigh Valley, PA)

"Spirited Away" could never be confused with a traditional Disney flick. After taking a wrong turn on the way to their new house, Chihiro and her parents stumble upon what they believe is a deserted theme park. In a terrifying scene, they are ripped apart - the parents transformed into obscenely greedy pigs and Chihiro literally fading away. Rescued by Haku, the apprentice to the witch Yubaba, Chihiro soon discovers she is trapped in a bathhouse for spirits and gods. Many hilarious, other frighteningly evil, these spirits give the bathhouse an eery surreality that Chihiro comes to embrace.

Using his considerable talent, Miyazaki has once again created an inspired, stunningly animated film. Those raised on Disney might find themselves off-balance without the moralistic overtones, but Miyazaki does not create his films for young children. As with ?Princess Mononoke,? this film is far too intense and complex for those under eight. Miyazaki's films are about story and visual delights - and ?Spirited Away? is no exception. His characters are well-defined and multi-dimensional, often charming in an off-beat way. Chihiro makes an irresistible heroine, and Haku is a magnetic, appropriately mysterious hero. Even the comedic giant baby (I laugh as I think of him) fills the screen with life.

The dubbed version of this movie is actually better than most dubbed versions of Japanese movies, with added lines to help those not familiar with Japanese culture orient themselves. For example, the Sumo-like radish god is named in the English, but not in the subtitled version. Also in the English, the parents grunt like pigs before they morph, foreshadowing their fate in a way the Japanese language edition does not. Although I?m a purist and always prefer the original language version, those watching the dubbed will still be rewarded.

I highly recommend this film for everyone over eight years old. Don't confuse animation with simplicity because "Spirited Away" is anything but two-dimensional. Treat yourself to this remarkable film. I doubt you'll regret the entry into Miyazaki's fantastical world.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stand by Me

Stand by Me is a 1986 adventure-drama film directed by Rob Reiner. The title comes from a song with the same title by Ben E. King (which plays during the closing credits) and is based on the novella The Body by Stephen King, who called it his favorite adaptation of one of his works up to that point.

This is a coming of age film set in the fictional Castle Rock, Oregon in 1959. It portrays a journey embarked upon by four 12-year-old boys across the woodlands near their hometown to see the dead body of another boy who was close to their own age. The film is told through the recollections of the main character, Gordie Lachance, a freelance writer. It describes how his friend Vern overheard his older brother discussing the body of a missing boy after accidentally coming across it in the woods with his friend.

The lead characters go on a journey into the woods to find the body of a boy named Ray Brower, who was struck by a train while picking berries in the woods. Through the boys' misadventures and conversations, the viewer learns about each character's personality. Each of the boys, for varying reasons, lives in the shadow of their fathers and older brothers. Gordie's talent for storytelling (as illustrated by his improvised short story "Lard-Ass") pegs him as the most likely of the four to have a promising future.

The film contrasts the four main characters, who are depicted as well-meaning and relatively virtuous, with a gang of bullies led by a local hood, "Ace" Merrill.

Wil Wheaton - Gordie Lachance
River Phoenix - Chris Chambers
Corey Feldman - Teddy Duchamp
Jerry O'Connell - Vern Tessio
Kiefer Sutherland - John "Ace" Merrill
Casey Siemaszko - Billy Tessio
Gary Riley - Charlie Hogan
Bradley Gregg - Richard "Eyeball" Chambers
John Cusack - Denny Lachance
Marshall Bell - Mr. Lachance
Frances Lee McCain - Mrs. Lachance
Bruce Kirby - Mr.Quidacioluo
Scott Beach - Mayor Grundy
Richard Dreyfuss - Gordie as an Adult/The Writer

Rob Reiner

DVD Review
By S. Sarhan "matured reviewer" (Dearborn, Michigan United States)
This review is from: Stand By Me (Special Edition) (DVD)

Stand By Me has always been one of my all-time favorite movies. The chemistry between the four boys out to find the body of a kid their age has always been an inspiration for me growing up.

Rob Reiner's direction is tops. How he managed to get those four boys to act their hearts out is still a mystery today. The best comes out of River Phoenix as the troubled leader of the pack Chris Chambers, and Jerry O' Connell's part as the way-too-innocent scaredy cat Vern Tessio, Corey Feldman's turn as the crazy Teddy Duchamp, and Will Wheaton as the narrator of the story, the more focused than the others Gordon Lachance. Cameos by Richard Dreyfuss as the older Gordon, and John Cusack as Gordon's deceased brother Denny add an overwhelming feeling of delight to the entirety of this magnificent movie.

Special features include a behind the scenes of the film plus interviews with nearly the entire cast, a tribute to River Phoenix, Ben E King's music video of the theme song Stand By Me and commentary by director Rob Reiner.

This is one of those movies that no matter how many times you've seen it, you don't get bored of watching again.

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