Rating: A/ Once in a while a movie comes out that’s just plain fun. Stardust is such a movie. If there was ever a film that was able to invoke the spirit of The Princess Bride while still managing to bring something new and interesting to the table, Stardust is it. It’s a simply magical romp featuring witches, princesses, spells, and crusading sky pirates, a hip, funny, a raucous fairy tale with some genuinely scary moments and a unique sensibility all it’s own. Continue reading Movie Review: Stardust (2007)→
If you’ve never seen anything by master animator and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, you’re missing out. The esteemed filmmaker has several fantastic films to his credit, and 2001’s coming-of-age fantasy Spirited Away may be his most magical of all. The wealth of creativity on display in Spirited Away more than makes up for it’s occasional holes in plot and character development, and the heroine Chihiro’s wondrous (if sometimes scary) adventures should appeal to both the young and the old.
At the film’s start, Chihiro (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is a somewhat whiny and entitled nine-year-old girl with an even more entitled pair of parents (Michael Chiklis and Lauren Holly) who are moving their moody preteen daughter to a new house. In the spirit of adventure (or so he thinks,) dad takes a short cut and finds himself in what he thinks is an abandoned theme park. He gets out of the car to take a look around, finds an unattended banquet, and he and his wife throw caution to the wind and begin to arbitrarily chow down (sure, wouldn’t anyone?)
Chihiro refuses to partake and is spared the fate of being transformed into a pig, but her parents are not so lucky. Turns out the ‘theme park’ is a bathhouse for the spirits, and Chihiro must get over her orneriness and aversion to hard work in order to save her parents from becoming the next entree for the creatures inhabiting the magical realm. Along the way, she meets a brooding and mysterious boy (Jason Marsden) who moonlights as a dragon, and evades the evil clutches of Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette,) a malevolent sorceress and overprotective mother of a infant monstrosity worthy of Eraserhead.
There’s commentary abound concerning (American?) decadence, greed, and laziness, including a creature called ‘No-Face’ who idly feeds off the materialism of others while becoming increasingly grotesque and corpulent, but Spirited Away never becomes pedantic in it’s nuanced delivery of it’s message. One issue I see with the script is that the supporting characters don’t always have a lot of motivation for what they do. For example, the six-armed Boiler Man spirit (David Allen Ogden Stiers) sticks up for Chihiro shortly after her arrival at the bath house, more or less because the script requires him to.
He’s not developed in a way that this is a particularly feasible decision for him, just as Yubaba’s twin sister is a wildly inconsistent creation. One moment she threatens to ‘tear Chihiro’s mouth out’ if she blabs her secret, the next she asking her to call her ‘granny.’ Whaat? The exceptions Yubaba, whose behavior is unkind, but consistent, and Chihiro and the boy, Haku, who have a fluid and interesting character arc.
However, Spirited Away is boundlessly inventive and visually stunning; a menagerie of intense color and bizarre creatures that stands up to multiple watches and should enrapture the imaginations of kids and adults alike. It’s certainly not dumbed down to the intellect of a slow five-year-old like a lot of kiddie matinee, it takes it’s young audience seriously and doesn’t treat them like morons; that’s what’s so great about Hayao Miyazaki as a filmmaker, isn’t it? He trusts that kids will get things and doesn’t talk down to them.
The difference between something like this and the average animated comedy by Dreamworks studios is like the difference between a mountain and a rockpile. Like Pixar’s best films, Spirited Away combines eye-popping animation with memorable storytelling and a genuine sense of wonder to create pure movie making magic. Regardless of whether you’re a huge anime enthusiast, Spirited Away (and by extension, most of Miyazaki’s films) is utterly worth your time. If you like feverishly imaginative fantasy that transports you for a few hours from the mundanity of daily life, you’ll find a lot to love in Miyazaki’s masterpiece.
Beware, 80’s kids- I am here to pick apart your childhood classic. There is so much wrong with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Mind, there are moments of creative genius at play too, and the puppetry aspect of the film is, well… quite cool, even for a cynic like me. But it’s pretty sad when puppets outshine Jennifer Connelly’s Godawful acting and David Bowie’s mannered affectations as Jareth, the codpiece-donning goblin king (what the Hell people? This is a kid’s movie, is there really room for a villain with his pants stuffed so as to make his dick look big?)
Sarah (Connelly,) a bratty adolescent deep in the throes of puberty-induced teen angst, calls on the goblin horde from her favorite book to take her perpetually crying baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) away when she is forced to babysit him one stormy night. Much to her chagrin, the goblins, who are- unbeknownst to her- very real- take Toby away to the Goblin King (David Bowie)’s castle. Spurred on by regret and concern for her brother’s well-being (and for the allowance cut she will most certainly receive if her father (Christopher Malcolm) and step-mother (Shelley Thompson,) like, totally come home to find their son gone,) Sarah is taken to a magical land where she much brave the labyrinth- and Jareth’s cunning charms- in order to save her brother.
This seems like mostly a vehicle for musician David Bowie (Bowie sports lip gloss and awful hair, and, for no particular reason at all, bursts into song in several instances,) and I’ve heard rumors that Bowie regrets the project to some extent. I can see why. Allegedly the movie is a fantastical portrayal of the labyrinthine trials of puberty, and the connections are all too obvious. Connelly (who was better off going ass to ass in “Requiem for a Dream,”) can’t act to save her life poor dear.
She hems, haws, and blinks vacuously, but to be fair, the damage isn’t entirely her fault- the scriptwriter gives ‘Sarah’ the most inane lines imaginable. Moreover, unlike fantasy stories like “Harry Potter,” the ‘great evil’ (I.e. Jareth) that Sarah fights doesn’t seem that sinister at all. Weird and gay, yes. Sinister, no. Sure, Jareth wants to turn Sarah’s baby brother into a goblin and the sexual tension between him and Sarah seems Borderline pedo, but he fails as a truly malevolent or interesting presence. When Sarah meets up with him for the big confrontation, he spends half of the time singing (!) and the other half being humbled in the presence of her womanly power.
It’s bad when the most threatening presence in a film that strives to be epic fantasy is a stench-emitting, farting bog. That said, the puppets are wonderful. My personal favorite, Didymous the mace-wielding Chihuahua, was a steady mix of cute and cool. It was just so easy. Pit Sarah against any legit fantasy villain- Voldemort, Sauron, the baddies from Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”- and she would crumble like the inconsequential schoolgirl she is. Jareth’s main powers consist of looking fabulous and talking you to death, with an extra helping of ‘blah.’
“Labyrinth” leaves me conflicted in that I want the movie studios to bring puppetry back and use it on a better movie, My review is unfair in that the film didn’t have a part in my childhood, and fair for the exact same reason. Sentimentality can muddle your perception of the way things are. And “Labyrinth,” my friends, is no classic. You are free to leave comments championing your nondescript piece of whimsy. if you wish. It’s all the same to me. The puppets, the sets, some of the creative elements were awesome, sod all the rest.
For mild-mannered office drone Richard Mayhew, stopping to help an injured stranger has a multitude of consequences- some good, some bad, but all undeniably bizarre. The stranger in question is Door (yes, that’s actually her name,) a waif of many talents who resides in the underground wonderland of London Below, and is on the run from the duo of thugs who killed her family. Door’s special ability is that of ‘opening,’ i.e. the ability to open any door or simply conjure one into being just by concentrating.
Richard has a big heart but is a bit of a pushover and is totally out of his element while scurrying after Door, who feels obliged to protect him, through the cavernous kingdom of the Underside, a realm that exists beneath London. Together they meet a plethora of odd characters- the beautiful and icy Hunter, the smooth-talking Marquis de Carabas, and the predatory but lovely ‘Velvets,’ to name a few. On the run, from sinister antagonists. Richard must find his inner strength if he is to survive.
This is my first book by Neil Gaiman (shame!) and I found it to be a quite captivating work. With a mind-blowing fantasy world full of shady characters and a pair of uproariously weird villains such as Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup, how can a novel fail to be supremely entertaining? I liked Richard as a protagonist, but I often found him to be a bit of a burden to the group, such as when he blindly allows himself to be bested by a seductive female creature and falls to pieces when his fear of heights is tested.
“Neverwhere” is witty and fun and has a weird and wonderful mythology behind it. I found the writing to sometimes be alternately repetitive and vague (so that I had trouble picturing the characters and situations) and the author tended to use extremely strange similes that didn’t really work in the context. The last chapter went on too long as well, compared to the fast paced majority of the book.
Apparently the television series “Neverwhere” (1996) came first- Neil Gaiman wrote the book in order to add the extra substance that couldn’t be featured in the series. I’m torn about watching the series- on one hand it’s tempting to see the origins of the book, on the other hand I have read it was an extremely cheap (and some say badly-acted) production, and part of me wants to imagine the story rather than see it played out on screen.
I love how ambiguous and odd the beings who inhabit the Underside are- if they agree to help Richard and his friends it will be entirely for their own reasons, not out of loyalty or nobility or any moral-based traits. With the odd exception, the creatures of London below are not really good, nor very bad for that matter. The just are. They want to be left alone, and they’ll provide help when it’s in their best interest. But do the people of London above, our world, really support Richard and his moral center either?
When you look at mankind’s reaction to discord (Richard’s fickle girlfriend, Jessica, futilely tries to coerce him to leave the bloodied Door in the middle of the sidewalk to get to an important dinner,) the unwashed underground wackos don’t seem so otherworldly after all. “Neverwhere” might in part be a commentary on London’s less privileged classes, but it doesn’t feel like a lecture. It’s unabashedly imaginative, vibrantly alive, and just as wildly original as a modern fantasy novel should be.
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