Tangled

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     Disney has had a long history of creating imaginative retellings of classic fairytales in a way that no other production company has managed to pull off. Often times these stories that are well known are taken and tweaked, adding musical elements and a level of detail rarely afforded to otherwise small stories. The Disney Princess line of products and films is one of the most lucrative business models on the planet, because of this the company is always eager to expand that universe. While, arguably, the messages behind the stories are dangerously optimistic, few can deny that when they’re on their game, Disney Animation studios manages to give the world entertaining stories of extreme optimism with fantastic attention to detail. Tangled was released in 2010, expanding the Princess universe to include a computer animated counterpart in Rapunzel. The film managed to capture most of what makes the classic animated films so great, namely beautiful animation, quirky humor, and catchy musical numbers.

     Tangled retells the story of Rapunzel, the princess who is locked in a tower for, what she assumes is her own protection. Her most noticeable attribute is, of course, her incredibly long hair. What she doesn’t know is that the woman she believes to be her mother is actually her captor. She was kidnapped at birth for her hair’s magical ability to rejuvenate the elderly and wounded. When the dashing thief, Flynn Rider, enters her life, they embark on an adventure together filled with one liner quips and bouncing musical numbers. As things progress, the villainous “mother” attempts to reclaim her prisoner, while Rapunzel begins to remember her true family.

    Computer animated films are filling a void left by traditional animation. This higher saturation of CGI, has created an expected amount of mediocre films, which is exactly what I expected Tangled to be. These cartoons are huge money makers for the studios that produce them. What I loathe about Pixar, happens to be their single largest cash cow, and that is the Cars franchise. What I was unaware with this particular project, was the amount of money it cost to produce. To date, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, costing an incredible 260 Million dollars. While that kind of money is never a guarantee for quality, it appears that it was put to good use.

The Land Before Time

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When it comes to animation, there are few American names that can even attempt to stand up to Walt Disney in comparison to quality and recognizably. The animation game, especially as of late, has always been a battle between cheaply crafted cartoons and quality pieces of art. On one hand there are those willing to painstakingly portray masterful stories not just with well written scripts, but with beautiful animated images, sweeping scores to carry the watcher into the heart of the emotion being portrayed by expert voice actors. On the other hand is the opportunity to make a quick buck by producing something cheaply for the purpose of making a film that children will be eager to see. Don Bluth, maintained a level of animation excellence that remains unparalleled. His stories, unlike the majority of films produced by Disney at the time (whom he was once employed by) dealt seriously with issues of death and emotional trauma. In The Land Before Time we’re introduced to a world filled, not only with vivid color and cute characters, but with danger, death and heartache.

 

    The Land Before Time was co-produced by Don Bluth, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Ultimately, Bluth had the reigns as the director of the film. The story follows Littlefoot, a small “long neck” dinosaur who lives during a time when the earth is changing and becoming less hospitable to his kind. The herbivore dinosaurs speak of a legend called “The Great Valley”. In essence it is a utopia where food and water is plentiful. Littlefoot’s mother teaches him to memorize the way to the great valley. As he soon finds himself quite alone, finding this legend becomes the premise of the whole movie. While Littlefoot’s mother is loving, she did manage to instill some serious prejudices in him. The majority of the young dinosaurs have been taught to stick to their own kind. When Littlefoot finds that he is alone, he realizes his best chance for survival is to team up with a group of other young dinosaurs that have also been separated from their family. Not only are they in search of The Great Valley, but they must fend off a number of dangers, including the dreaded “Sharptooth”. Pride, anger and devastating loss fuel the heavy themes laden throughout this animated feature.

 

     The Land Before Time name has unfortunately become synonymous with the cheap animated film. With at least 12 sequels, the franchise quickly became a cash cow. Needless to say, Bluth was not involved with the lesser sequels. What has become a common rabble of animation initially started as a rare gem. Bluth took the time to craft a deeply moving film for children about real issues that any number of the audience could have been dealing with, and he did it in an engaging way that upheld his artistic integrity to both story and the visual medium. The fact that Bluth managed to give Disney a run for their money is testament enough to his skill as an animator and a story teller, but he continued with his creations, constantly coming out with weighty cartoons that had dark character in dark worlds searching for that glimmer of hope, much like what life actually is. Given the resources and the manpower, one can’t help but wonder what other works Bluth would have created in his career. The Land Before Time has, in my house, stood the test of time, it’s sitting on my shelf on VHS, one of the few reasons that I keep my VCR.

Lupin the III: Castle of Cagliostro

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) 2

    Hayao Miyazaki is an uncontested master of animation. His films have steadily increased in popularity with American audiences, winning him awards, including an Oscar for Spirited Away. His legendary animation studio, Studio Ghibli, produces some of the highest quality animated materiel ever made. I stumbled across an early Miyazaki film, something that he directed before Studio Ghibli. The stories spawned from the escapades of the master thief Lupin the III are somewhat legendary in Japan, having influenced numerous Manga series, television specials and even a music CD. It is this master thief that Miyazaki centers this early masterpiece around.

 

    Lupin the III is a mix between James Bond and Indiana Jones, a fact that becomes almost immediately evident with an elaborate chase scene at the start of the film involving guns, cars, gadgets and a woman who is the object of desire. Lupin rescues, albeit temporarily, a wedding gowned young Duchess who is fleeing in a car from a group of  gun toting men. Lupin and his partner-in-crime, Daisuke, happen to be driving on the same road and witness the chase. Wasting no time, the flirtatious and adventurous thief joins the pursuit and manages to rescue the Duchess. The rescue is short lived, however, as he falls from the side of a cliff knocking him unconscious long enough for the Duchess to be recaptured. The adventure he embarks on to save the princess is just one of the many intricate aspects of the story in  Lupin the III: Castle of Cagliostro. Among other things there is arranged marriage, Ninjas, a counterfeiting ring, Interpol agents, a Samurai, gadgets and romance. It’s a fast paced action adventure film the likes of which very few measure up to.

 

    Though this is one of Miyazaki’s early films, his attention to detail and excellent storytelling through visuals is as present as ever. The film may lack a certain polish that comes from Ghibli’s recent offerings, but it’s nothing too distracting. Each character has an entirely unique personality that adds different elements to the plot as a whole. The villainous Count Cagliostro is a square shaped broad man with henchmen to spare, he is calm, collected and all business. His enemy, the flamboyant Lupin III on the other hand is cocky, cleaver and just as devious as the Count. Both the protagonist and antagonist have a veritable army at their disposal. Lupin’s rag tag bunch of friends and allies are far more colorful than the count’s, but the count’s calculating strike force is one of the most frightening aspects of the film. The elements within the movie are just as beautiful and intricate as the animation. It manages to jump from different emotions with absolute ease. It leads the audience to feel fear, joy, anger, laughter and every emotion in between as the events flawlessly parade across the screen.

 

    While the rumor floating around at the time was that Steven Spielberg claimed Castle of Cagliostro to be one of the greatest adventure films of all time, it’s a praise that has yet to be verified (though the studio thought the rumor credible enough to put on the back of the DVD case). Spielberg very well may not have made that proclamation, but I have no problem doing so myself. The animation allows for rich action sequences and beautiful landscapes alike. The writing is witty and the pacing allowed for a steady understanding of the characters and their personalities while never finding itself in danger of boring the audience.

Wrapping up the case for the Turtles: TMNT

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Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

This is it, the final installment into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise until the Michael Bay produced re-boot happens sometime next year. While I will continue to remain overly optimistic about the project until proven wrong, it is getting harder and harder to not groan at some of the casting and artistic choices he’s taken. Anywho, where were we? Ah, yes! TMNT the fourth and final chapter in the original Turtle saga. When we last left the Turtles they had visited ancient japan in a zany and pun-ridden adventure to save April. This plot line essentially left us waiting 14 years for another movie. Perhaps it was the rapid succession that the first three films came onto the scene that made public movie goers a bit weary, but thankfully, we got to see the four reptilian crime fighting brothers in action once again. This time, the whole thing is wrapped in a medium that may have been more suited to their particular needs.

 

TMNT, although a direct sequel to the previous three live action movies, is completely computer animated. As impressive as Henson’s costumes were, and as cool as it was to see Casey Jones and April as real life actors for the first time on screen, it becomes immediately apparent that the turtles are just as comfortable in an animated environment as a live action one, perhaps more so. The film picks up on the Turtles roughly a year (perhaps more?) after their last adventure. Leonardo left for leadership training/self discovery in the forests of south America. He is eventually discovered by April, who is no longer a reporter but a procurer of rare artifacts. April convinces him that his year absence from his brothers has put the Turtle team on stand still indefinitely. He returns just as a group of stone warriors and monsters begins to tear apart the city. Before they can confront the monsters however, they must learn a valuable lesson about the importance of teamwork and they value of differences.

 

The basic message of this film is as obvious and as blatant as a locker room pep talk. Work together, you’re only as strong as your weakest link etc. etc. But in a way, that’s what the Turtles are all about, so it’s unsurprising. The story actually holds up quite well in spite of certain dialogue issues. The characters have changed slightly, overly emphasizing the differences in personality. The biggest and most annoying change happens with Michelangelo, who has kept his jokester demeanor, but is significantly dumbed down to the point of irritation. Goofy wit is exchanged for dimwittedness. And what the whole plot boils down to is the conflict between Raph and Leo, with the most emotionally charged scene being a martial arts battle between the two of them.

 

Visually, this movie nailed it. It uses a mixture of vibrant colors with dark shadows to convey the unique universe that has become home to the Turtles, and the cinematography allows for some truly cool looking action sequences that are unparalleled in the series. The voice acting is pretty great as well, particularly with the addition of Mako, who voices Splinter. While different than any other version, Mako brings a surprising range to the character, with more humor but the same amount of weight and seriousness behind his words and warnings.

 

TMNT found it’s stride early on in the opening sequence. By the time the logo flashes onto the screen I was already amped up for the return of the pizza loving, heroes in a half shell. While script issues are obvious (a problem that has plagued every Turtles movie) TMNT steps it up visually and compliments it all with a story that fits the animated world that the franchise cozies into. The film both ties in nicely with the previous three movies, while at the same time giving hope of a continuation of the animated re-boot . The end of the film promised an animated sequel with old enemies returning. Instead, they handed the reigns to Michael Bay. That, however, will never discredit the four film series that gave the Turtles a shot at the big screen, with incredible results.

“ParaNorman” Should Have Won Best Animated Feature

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I liked Brave, the 2012 Pixar film starring an adventurous and independent Scottish princess. I enjoyed it, it was beautiful and entertaining; it was not, however, the best animated movie of the year. Despite what “The Academy” says, I was not as impressed as they were with the movie. Pixar has done some truly great films in the past, some of them deserving the coveted Best Picture award and yet losing to a live action film.  Brave was not their best work, it was slightly generic and borderline formulaic. If my say had meant anything and I was given a chance to vote for the award for Best Animated Feature of 2012, my vote would have undoubtedly gone to ParaNorman. I wrote briefly about ParaNorman here. The movie was far less generic, it was new, fresh and exciting. There were aspects of the film that I had never seen in an animated movie, they took creative risks that ultimately paid off for the betterment of the story. Unfortunately it didn’t get near the amount of the attention that other animated features did.

In ParaNorman we’re introduced to a little boy, Norman, who is the only one capable of seeing and communicating with the dead. Needless to say, he is an outcast with very few friends. Even his parents think there is something wrong with him. The gist of the movie comes from Norman being commissioned by his, estranged, crazy uncle (voiced by John Goodman)  to prevent the release of a curse on their tiny town. Things get really bad when a group of zombies rise from the grave and head strait  for the heart of the town. This is one of the few zombie movies for children I have seen (to be honest, the only other one I can think of at the moment is a Scooby-Doo VHS). ParaNorman is a horror movie for children. Not a slasher movie, but a well thought out horror film, it deals with real situations and fears that kids may have in a supernaturally theatrical way. Norman must deal with bullies, being different and the pain that comes with holding on to anger. It’s a my-first-zombie movie with a powerful message about forgiveness. Also, it’s pretty hilarious. Many nods and winks to horror movie fans and plenty of slapstick humor widen the range of audience appeal.

The unique visuals associated with stop motion animation is in full force. The movements of the characters and the somewhat jerky nature of the atmosphere of the film’s reality certainly adds to the supernatural tone that ParaNorman strives for. The color scheme offers some truly stunning scenes, often times transcending the expectations of a film in it’s genre. Every visual aspect of the movie worked in it’s favor, convincing me that this would not have been as good a film had it been traditional animation, computer animation or live action. Scrounging up a stellar voice cast also added to the experience. Each voice was quirky yet not over the top and matched perfectly to the individual character.

It’s a strange type of movie to impress the importance of acceptance and forgiveness to the audience, but as the movie winds down it becomes apparent that that is exactly what the whole film is about. The most prominent of the messages presented in this film is a warning against holding on to anger, even if someone has done something truly horrible to you. In a sea of revenge centric action movies, it was refreshing to see this truth played out in such an unexpected movie. Hate is an addictive poison, one that once we allow ourselves to get caught up in, becomes increasingly hard to give up.

 

Alternatives to 2012s Top Grossing Movies

Without a doubt, 2012 had plenty of entertaining movies with mass appeal with which to slop the hoard of cinephiles and assuage their glutton for moving pictures. The box office stats certainly show a trend in the types of movies that people enjoy watching, and it was absolutely no surprise. Action/adventure seems to always get people out to the theaters, particularly those originating from comic books and consisting of monumentally large budgets. I thought it might be fun to take a look at the top 5 grossing films from this year and pair them with lesser seen alternative films that compliment them quite nicely. I will admit that at the time of writing this list I have not seen the 3rd and 5th top grossing movies from this year, so my recommendations will be educated guesses..

5. Ice Age: Continental Drift 

As I mentioned before, this is one of the films I didn’t see this year. Having seen two and a half of the previous Ice Age films, I think I have a pretty good idea of what this one was all about. These movies are pretty much the animated kiddie staples for the box office; giving parents a few hours of respite from their little monsters while offering as little artistic value as possible. It’s for this reason I recommend my favorite animated movie of the year ParaNorman.

ParaNorman could easily be viewed as an animated sequel to The Sixth Sense. It follows a young boy named Norman who is the only one in his town capable of seeing and communicating with the dead.  When a curse summons a group of zombies from their graves, it’s up to Norman to stop the carnage. It’s essentially a “my first zombie movie”, in that it presents horror movie themes and scenarios in a childlike and visually fun environment. Paring excellent voice acting with interesting and engaging animation allows it to be engrossing both visually and through its narrative.

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4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit was my favorite movie of 2012, and I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. It was the best fantasy movie I’ve seen in years. Everyone pretty much knew what to expect going into this due to the wild success of The Lord of the Rings and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

There is another fantasy movie that features a young and unlikely hero embarking on a quest of immeasurable importance (come to think of it there are probably thousands of fantasy films with the exact same basic premise.) The Dark Crystal is a film that is often referred to, but rarely seen. Jim Henson created a fascinating world filled with a ridiculous amount of puppets. Behind the scenes are probably twice as many people controlling these same puppets. Henson created some of the best creatures on film which is part of what makes The Dark Crystal so intriguing. It’s darker than anything The Muppets have starred in and not as lighthearted and “fun” as Labrynth offering a side of the Henson legacy that is rarely seen.

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3.  Skyfall

Skyfall is one of the movies that I really regret missing. I have every intention to see it when it’s released on DVD and Blu-Ray, however for this post I’ll have to refer to my knowledge of past Bond movies and recommend based on what I know. When figuring out what movie to recommend with Skyfall I eventually thought about some things that make the bond character so enjoyable to watch. Bond is a skilled assassin, he’s able to adapt to different situations and environments and he’s able to keep his head when he’s in terrible danger. The titular character in the movie Hanna shares many of these qualities with one major difference. She’s a 15 year old girl.

Hannah is trained by her ex CIA father to be a skilled assassin from the age of two. Throughout the course of the film we see her put various skills to use as she’s on the run, hunted by the CIA. The movie takes cinematic liberty, treating us to exciting and visually unique action and chase sequences. The story can be a bit confusing at times, but the dead-on character acting from everyone involved makes it well worth the watch.

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2. The Dark Knight Rises

 

This was another movie that I really loved. As a matter of fact, there are few Batman movies I don’t like (namely Batman and Robin) so I’m going to cheat a little bit and offer up another of the Dark Knight’s many cinematic tributes.

Batman the Animated Series is fantastic. They provided excellent quality cartoons that, although kid-friendly, certainly didn’t shy too far from the source material. The series produced a number of feature length movies, among them was Mask of the Phantasm. The film used the signature dark style of the series which used black paper as a starting background for the frames in lieu of white to maintain that same dark feel. In this film, Batman is blamed for the deaths of numerous crime bosses, the murders are actually being committed by another masked and caped vigilante. This puts Batman in a position that forces him to save and protect his enemies while keeping his own demons at bay.

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1. The Avengers

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has seen The Avengers; Marvels all star masterpiece was the highest grossing movie of the year. Joss Whedon delivered a super hero tour de force that left the entire world impressed with what he accomplished. For this reason I want to recommend another movie written and directed by Joss Whedon: Serenity.

The differences between Serenity and The Avengers is staggering. One is based on a successful comic book empire, preceded by dozens of movies over the past few decades culminating in the mega-blockbuster that was The Avengers. and then there is Serenity; a film that almost wasn’t made, continuing a TV show that was cancelled with only 14 episode completed. Still, Firefly (the television show that preceded the movie) and Serenity gained a large cult following. The show had a fairly simple plot, it followed a band of guns-for-hire that took whatever jobs they could, legal or otherwise. It was a fun mixture of the Science/Fiction and Western genres. The movie was a chance to both tie up loose ends and wish the loyal fans of the franchise a well deserved goodbye. There is no need to see Firefly before Serenity (I hadn’t even heard of Firefly) though it may make it more enjoyable. The catchy-sometimes-corny  dialogue and ever-so-slightly melodramatic tones create a dramatic mixture of sci-fi, comedy and adventure that feels like Indiana Jones in space.

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The Plague Dogs

An increasingly difficult element to measure is the enjoyment level of a movie in the genre of tragedy. Attempting a tragedy is a bold task, it requires the viewer to become more involved with the characters than almost any other genre, not only do the viewers need to be actively involved and sympathetic, but the reason for the tragedy must be believable and not over the top. An over exaggerated tragedy quickly becomes a comedy, something that is far easier to accomplish. I did not enjoy The Plague Dogs in the sense that I had fun time watching it. Quite the contrary, within the first two minutes I realized there wouldn’t be anything remotely close to a fun watch. That being said, it was well made, engaging and incredibly sad. To date the only cartoon I have seen to match the emotional weight behind this movie was Grave of the Fireflies. The Plague Dogs takes a critical look at the highly debated issues surrounding animal testing and experimentation.
The film follows Snitter and Rowf, two dogs that have been subjected to numerous experiments that have put them on the brink of death on multiple occasions. While Rowf knows only the inside of the laboratory, Snitter knew what it was to have a master at one point, an experience that he assures Rowf awaits them once they escape. Once outside, the two find themselves in the midst of a national park where shepherds maintain their flocks of sheep. In order to survive, the two team up with a cleaver fox.Their inexperience plays a pivotal role in the story, these dogs, though subjected to torture routinely, have only known a domesticated life. While Snitter still longs to find a “master”, Rowf all but renounces any shred of domestication in order to survive and never be taken back to the “white coats”. As news leaks out that the two strays may have escaped from the laboratory in the center of the park, a hunt begins. The hunt is intensified when it is learned that the dogs may have inadvertently infected themselves with the bubonic plague during their escape.
For am movie that packs the amount of emotional weight that Plague Dogs does, it severely lacks in animation. Not to say the animation is bad, however when compared to the likes of Disney or  Studio Ghibli it pales in comparison. The lower quality, however, becomes a testament to the strength of the story and the ability for the voice actors and storytellers to get us emotionally involved in a pair of dogs. A lot of heavy philosophical and ethical themes are brought up in this movie and the thematic elements and violent images (as well as the PG-13 rating) suggest that this cartoon might not be suitable for younger children.
Very few movies maintained both an element of concern and sadness for me while I watched them the way The Plague Dogs did; something that a tragic film should do. It was frustrating to see what a terrible lot these dogs were given, then to watch them continually struggle against all odds. This isn’t one of those “inspirational animal movies that makes you cry” this is the kind that punches you right in the gut, and it’s great.

Arthur Christmas

I don’t particularly like “Christmas Movies” unless they are able to adequately set themselves apart from the hoards of films that pollute this odd sub-genre. I don’t necessarily hate Christmas movies, some I actually love, but the overwhelming majority, particularly in the last 10-20 years can simply be clumped together in my memory as one big blob of movie lore that continues to accumulate mass year after year. For this reason I had low expectations for Arthur Christmas. Perhaps these low expectations aided in my enjoyment of the movie, but more I think it was due to a superb voice cast, a fun an interesting story, relatable characters that mixed well with the normally dismal attempt at cinematic holiday humor.

We’re introduced to our reluctant hero in the introduction of the Movie. Arthur, Santa’s younger son, works in the letter writing department of the North Pole. He reads and responds all day every day to children that write letters to his father. Decked from head to foot in novelty Christmas apparel, it becomes extremely apparent that Arthur loves his job, he displays enthusiasm and dedication to a job that almost anyone else would find abysmal. Despite being surrounded by Christmas themed everything all year round, he maintains a childlike sense of wonder, something that most of his family has lost after years of perfecting the “business” of delivering presents with militaristic precision. The story follows Arthur and his quest to get a present that was missed to a little girl before sunrise.

The relationship between the members of the “Claus” family are plagued by emotions and complications shared by most of the world. So, while they’re an extraordinary family, they are a group of people that we, as the audience, can easily relate to. Relatable characters in Christmas movies has become increasingly rare as exaggerated antics and cliches of the Christmas season are often overused. Santa is an aging man on the cusp of retirement, too afraid to let go of a career that has defined him. In his refusal to step down his older son Steve becomes increasingly frustrated that he can not take the position of “Santa” yet, a fact that is fueled due to his hard work and revolutionizing of the Christmas delivery system. The Grandfather figure is an old, withered rendition of his Santa, he lives in the past and talks about his days relying on reindeer and an ancient sleigh to deliver presents instead of the new spaceship like method of transportation. Then there is Arthur, selfless and joyful, always excited and optimistic in increasingly pessimistic circumstances. Three generations of the Santa Claus family all with their unique struggles.

The film is genuinely heart warming. All the characters wrestle with selfishness and are forced to face obstacles ranging from annoying to life threatening. The humor is fresh and funny and the animation works perfectly with the story. Having expected much less, I was pleasantly surprised that I found this to be one of the most enjoyable Christmas movies in recent memory.

Millennium Actress

Art and life have always imitated each other. With the rise of film this fact has become more evident than at any other point in history. People want their lives to play out like movies while film makers strive to make their movies feel more like real life. It’s a tantalizing dichotomy that will go on until humanity has ended. In Millennium Actress we are told the story of a famous actress who, in her old age, agrees to be interviewed by a documentary film maker. She tells the story of her life. What could have become a rather dry fictional dramatic film, becomes something entirely different when each scene that she describes unfolds onscreen through the various genres she has worked in. The story though simple, is sweet, enduring and very human. Although the story is simple, the way it’s portrayed is complex and often times confusing, in the same way that life is.

We are introduced to Chiyoko Fujiwara in the opening scenes of the movie through segments of the films she has been in. Two men prepare for a meeting with one of Japan’s greatest film stars, whose career has lasted 70 years. What starts as a simple enough interview, develops quickly into something very unusual. Chiyoko starts by talking about her birth and childhood, then changes gear into her career as an actress. The remainder of the film becomes one elaborate pursuit. As a teenager she briefly met a wounded young man that she aided in escaping from the authorities. In an attempt to follow him, she agrees to a star in a movie being filmed where she believes him to be. Her rise to stardom is paralleled by her constant search for the man she loves. Her pursuit is shown through a patchwork of scenes crossing nearly every genre of film.

What could have easily become a cheap novelty becomes one of the strongest aspects of this movie. Flawlessly the scenes between movies are switched crossing genres and timelines all while maintaining the continuity of Chiyokos life story. The scenes fit perfectly. Too perfectly. The movie, obviously, is not made up of actual film footage from different movies, so it doesn’t have to play by those rules. If one were to be too nit-picky, you might say that everyone of her films over a 70 year period all had the same story; which would be true in a sense. In this movie art and life don’t just imitate each other, they are the same thing. Despite the fact that the movie is animated, we’re treated to a very high level of dramatic respect, we can relate to the characters, the losses, the emotions, the fears, the love; this is a human being, not just a beautifully animated character.

Satoshi Kon Directed and animated Millennium Actress and is therefore responsible for not only a beautiful cartoon, but an eclectic but cohesive film that stands as one of the most unique creations in the industry (though not nearly as confusing or unique as his later film Paprika which was on a whole other level). This movie can certainly be confusing sometimes, especially if you have a hard time following a single story over multiple times and genres; most of which are allegories for the actual story. Regardless, it’s a fantastic film that’s very ambitious.

Personal Milestones Measured in Movies

Note* These movies in no way represent any significant meaning to my life event, rather this is a simple slice of progression of film history throughout my lifetime with specific picks that I found interesting and entertaining.

I tend to shy away from posts about my personal life on this blog, as it is first and foremost a movie blog. However I thought it would be fun to give selections of movies corresponding to the years of my personal milestones. I will give an event with the year it happened, after which I will select a film recommendation from that year in the hopes of presenting you with potential watching material from the span of my 24 year life thus far. This list isn’t necessarily my “favorite” movie from any given year, rather they’re just snippets that I found particularly interesting. Each of these films deserves a full review, which I may get to at a later date.

1988 – Birth

My Neighbor Totoro

 

It’s fitting that the film that introduced me to the wonderfully rich universes created by Hayao Miyazaki came out the same year that I was born. My Neighbor Totoro has become a cult classic since it’s release in 1988. The story follows a family in 1958 as they move to the Japanese countryside. The film is beautifully animated and the plot is simple and heartwarming. Mae, the youngest of the two daughters, discovers a kind, gentle, giant and incredibly fluffy forest spirit in their backyard. This spirit accompanies the young sisters as they embark on a journey of discovery and wonder through their new home and the surrounding area. There are no villains and for the majority of the film there is no danger. Where most films require confrontation and conflict to be compelling, Totoro relies on the audience relating with the wonderment that is so familiar to childhood, but often lost as we age.

1992 – The year I became a Christian

Porco Rosso

 

Studio Ghibli makes it on the list twice! And it’s no wonder, Hayoa Miyazaki is practically the Japanese Walt Disney, thanks to his masterful animations and wonderfully told stories. Porco Rosso is the story of a 1920s fighter Pilate who was cursed to continue his life with the head of a pig. Porco (the titular character) is a well known expert flyer for hire. He’s often contracted out to rescue captives from sky pirates. The movie plays like an expertly crafted feature film version of the Disney animated show Tailspin, but with far more emotional weight. Though Porco Rosso is a “pig”, he used to be a man and must deal with relationships he had from his days as a human as well as prejudices that spring forth due to his new form. Every day he accepts his differences from humanity, he runs a deeper risk of losing all ties with it entirely. (I would also like to note that Reservoir Dogs also came out this year. If you would like the read a discussion on the movie between myself and Paul Boyne do so by clicking here)
1998 – The year I was Baptized
The Truman Show

 

The Truman Show follows the life of a man that was born into a lie. Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, the most popular man in the world due to his role on the hit reality show “The Truman Show”. The catch is that he has no idea he’s being filmed, that his environment is completely controlled or the fact that his entire life has been lived in the confines of a massive sound stage. The film asks questions about life, our fascination with reality television and the moral boundaries that tend to get smudged for the sake of gratifying our craving for entertainment and self gain. The strongest aspect of this film is the performance given by Jim Carrey. We follow his character from complete ignorance to his situation to a gradual understanding that something is very wrong about the world he lives in.
2006 – Graduated from High School
Slither

 

Simultaneously one of the funniest and grossest alien movies I’ve ever seen, Slither is the story of a small town that is almost entirely overrun by an alien species that takes control of human hosts and uses them as incubators. Nathan Fillion plays a police officer who finds himself the last defense from a full scale earth take over. It’s equal parts B movie horror and gross out humor blended together with some very solid film making.
2010 – Graduated from College
The King’s Speech

 

Fantastic performances from it’s entire cast was matched by the equally talented film makers behind the production of The King’s Speech. The internal and external struggles of the man that would become King George VI is shown through close up shots giving an atmospheric claustrophobia that perfectly captures the feeling one has just before giving an address before a large crowd for the first time. Beautiful scenes expertly convey the emotions of the actors, allowing the audience to connect and feel what the characters feel.
 
2011 – The year I married my best friend
Source Code

 

Duncan Jones’ second feature directorial endeavor is another Sci-Fi (his first was Moon which I review and recommend here). Jones certainly seems to have found his stride, as this film is emotionally weighty and intriguing, however with this film he amps up the action and thrills. Capt. Colter Stevens wakes up, confused, in a chamber with various video monitoring systems on the walls. He is unable to escape. He is informed that his mission is to locate the bomber of an event that has already happened. he is given an eight minute window to locate the bomber so they can prevent his next attack. He enters the scenario each time as one of the victims of the bombing and must figure out the perfect way to utilize his small window while simultaneously figure out where he, himself, actually is. Exciting, fast paced and solid performances make this film well worth watching, even for a second or third viewing.
2012 – We bought our first house
Chronicle

 

Another example of great film making overcoming the constraints of a (relatively) low budget. The cast is filled with lesser known actors, all of whom give great performances. This dark take on a superhero origins stories explores the reality behind the angst experienced by many teenagers today. When a group of three High School boys receive telekinetic powers, their true colors begin to bleed through. Power proves to be the ultimate test of character. In most movies I dislike the hand held shaky camera gimick, however in this instance it blends right into the narrative.