10 Movies That Will Get You into Anime

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From girls with big eyes and multi-color hair to fans who dress up in elaborate costumes, anime can seem like an impenetrable fortress of weirdness. However, don’t let that impression fool you into thinking anime is just for geeky teens and creepy basement dwellers. There are genuinely good anime that are comparable to the best of American entertainment. Even if you don’t become a hardcore fan, there are quite a few movies or shows that you might enjoy. Here are an assortment of movies that will definitely get you (at least partially) into anime!

 

The Garden of Words

In Hollywood, there aren’t many directors who specialize in tragic romance. In the anime industry there’s only one: Makoto Shinkai. He has a certain obsession with relationships being torn apart, so much so that it’s the focal point of every work he’s made. The Garden of Words is the most optimistic of his movies, but in no way has a happy ending. It is the shortest movie on this list, clocking in at 45 minutes. Though what The Garden of Words lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. It’s incredibly gorgeous, so detailed and colorful that it practically transcends reality. This beautiful hyper-reality amplifies the emotions involved, leaving even the most stone-cold viewer a little teary-eyed.
What to watch next: The Wind Rises, Five Centimeters per Second

 

Summer Wars

Out of all the movies on this list, Summer Wars is the biggest crowd-pleaser. It’s the movie you watch with your kids (be they 8 or 18) or, conversely, the movie you watch with your parents. It’s well made and entertaining, a genre piece and yet accessible. Summer Wars’ best scenes, its emotional core, rest in the family drama, but its action scenes are still exciting. It pulls you in with sci-fi intrigue, holds you there with a beautiful family dynamic, and rewards you for your time with an over-the-top, yet worthy, climax.
What to watch next: Wolf Children, Porco Rosso

 

Millennium Actress

In four movies and a TV series, Satoshi Kon pushed the boundaries of storytelling by fully exploiting the unique abilities of animation. His remarkable works are known for bending reality, but despite this he manages to be a remarkably humanistic director. Even if you’re not sure where or when you are in the story, you’ll always connect with who you’re watching. Millennium Actress is the best blend of the two, finding a near-perfect balance between mind-bending and heart-breaking.
What to watch next: Tokyo Godfathers, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

 

Spirited Away

Like any culture, Japan has its own history of legends and beliefs. Part of anime’s appeal is the foreignness of it- it’s something you can’t get in America. Most anime are somewhat Western influenced, but there are many works that stick to very Eastern stories and ideas. Typical Western Tolkien-esque fantasy gets tiring, but the story and style of Spirited Away can provide a refreshing break. If a peek into the style of Japan’s unusual legends and fantasies intrigues you or your kids, then this is a great place to start.
What to watch next: Princess Mononoke, Mushi-Shi

 

Akira

Anime fandom in the US grew mostly out of the sci-fi community and with good reason: most of what was created was sci-fi or fantasy. Decades later, anime has more genre diversity, but there is still a backlog of great sci-fi and fantasy works. The king of all sci-fi anime is easily Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece set a new benchmark for animation when it came out, being the most expensive anime movie up to that point. Akira‘s cyberpunk style is certain of its time, but the visuals are still breathtaking and the story engaging to this day.
What to watch next: Ghost in the Shell, Arcadia of My Youth

 

My Neighbor Totoro

Finding good children’s media is rather hard, and finding good children’s media that’s tolerable for adults is even harder. Disney movies may be the most beloved kids movies here, but in Japan the movies of choice are Studio Ghibil’s. My Neighbor Totoro is one of their movies that is more distinctly for kids, however its fantasy images are so heavily steeped in childish wonder that adults are sure to be charmed too. (Don’t let the trailer fool you, there is an english dub)
What to watch next: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Welcome to the Space Show

 

Redline

Japan is weird. We all know this. Our country’s weird too, but Japan is that special variety of weird. In anime there is no limitation to what can be shown and therefore no limit to potential weirdness. Redline is a simple paint-by-numbers racing movie story-wise. Everything else, from the characters to the world to the animation itself is very weird. However, this is, in no way shape or form, a bad thing. Rather, this weirdness fuels the movie, projecting it forward with all the speed and intensity a racing movie should. If you can get past the unusual design of Redline, you have quite the unique experience ahead of you.
What to watch next: Gurren Lagann, Space Dandy

 

The Castle of Cagliostro

Clear-cut bad guys and good guys. Big stakes and bigger action scenes. Battles across the globe, be it in the air, sea, or land. All these elements are key to creating a certain spirit of adventure that’s rare in cinema today. You feel like a kid again when you experience the blood-pumping thrills of movies like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The Castle of Cagliostro has adventure galore, with car chases, counterfeiting, and condemnable counts! Its goofy, yet swashbuckling, gentleman thief hero, Lupin the Third, has an established franchise behind him, but this movie boils things down enough that anyone can enjoy it. It has a special blend of wonder and excitement that is sure to bring a goofy smile to your face.
What to watch next: Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Steamboy

 

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise

There are many movies on this list that qualify as great dramas, but Wings of Honneamise particularly excels in this genre. The filmmakers carefully craft a familiar sci-fi world to tell a very human story about space exploration. Wings of Honneamise is less story-driven and more a character piece about a reluctant astronaut who doubts the reasons for going into space. If it were live action, it would probably star Dustin Hoffman and definitely sweep the Oscars. Like a lot of the movies on this list, there’s far more to this Wings of Honneamise than its genre elements.
What to watch next: Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor/Patlabor 2

 

Ninja Scroll

Anime used to be known as extreme, far more violent than Western animation ever dared to be. This reputation has long since expired, as nowadays anime is better characterized as lots of cute girls in high school. Although, for those who love some fun and bloody action, Ninja Scroll will always be in our hearts. The struggle of a samurai to stop eight powerful demon ninjas may seem generic, but mixed in with unhealthy doses of sex and violence degrades into some of the finest pulpy schlock in anime. Certain to satisfy the most blood-thirsty horror hound or action addict.
What to watch next: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Hellsing Ultimate

I think we’ve covered a sufficient variety of tastes, so hopefully you’ve found one to your liking. Let me know in the comments below what you thought or if you have any suggestions of your own. Happy viewing!

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The Imitation Game (2014) Review

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With four of the 2014 Best Picture nominees featuring the struggles of historical figures and two specifically being the struggles of geniuses, it makes sense that Benedict Cumberbatch would star in one of said films. Cumberbatch has moved safely within his comfort zone from Sherlock Holmes to the character of Alan Turing, dubbed the “Father of Computer Science.” While Turing led a very interesting life, The Imitation Game focuses on his work cracking the infamous German Enigma code of World War II, by creating a computer to sift through the millions of possible solutions to its cypher.

In 1951 a police officer is curiously investigating a break-in at Alan Turing’s residence, only to find that all information about the man is classified. In 1939 Turing is hired to be a part of the top secret program to crack the German code, making enemies out of his bosses and colleagues immediately. Slowly he gains support and enlists several mathematical geniuses to help him, including sole female member Joan Clarke, played by Kiera Knightly. The film’s drama operates mostly on people’s lack of faith in Turing, with several scenes of him stammering out a confused defence to either his military overseers or his partners. It seems astounding that so many people of such a high intelligence can’t comprehend Turing’s rather logical plan. While not an expert on Turing’s life, it seems that this is a cliche and lacking source of drama, probably because it wasn’t one in reality.

Turing’s homosexuality would seem like the obvious choice for Oscar-worthy drama, but despite the epilogic captions emphasizing its greater historical context, it is ultimately a sub-plot. While Turing’s social ineptness and homosexuality may be the emotional heart of the film, the key scenes and major turning points all hinge on his machine. Turing himself acts as a machine, but with the aid of Joan Clarke as the one true friend he gains, Turing comes out of his emotional shell as the film goes on. It’s certainly interesting to see emotions bubble up inside someone incapable of handling them due to a lack of exposure, but it never quite emotionally resonates. Towards the end of the film when Turing’s outed and subjected to hormonal treatment, it becomes painfully clear that the emotional connection the film thought it was building up, isn’t there. Perhaps it’s the film’s emphasis on narrative and melodrama in the first two-thirds that result in its genuine efforts feeling empty. When you attach a film’s core to a machine and not a person, you’re leaving out factors in the equation, bits in the cypher, and creating a flawed and hollow result.

While smooth and comfortable to watch, easy and entertaining to digest, The Imitation Game is nothing more then a well-oiled machine. A machine pumping out a calculated and predictable result. One that imitates the genuine films that came before it, but without the key that will crack the code of greatness. If the film’s thesis of “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” then it is also evident that those we can easily imagine something of can do the things we easily can imagine.

Boyhood (2014) Review

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Boyhood: a film shot over the course of 12 years, starting in 2002. Having been born in 1995, I’m only a year older than the protagonist, Mason. His childhood is my childhood, and to a small extent, his film is my film. There are thousands of people out there who will review this film but only a handful will be able to connect to it on this level. That’s not to say the events in the film happened to me, but rather it’s just a fundamental understanding of what a character is feeling because you felt it at the same time, with the same music, styles and, events floating around your head.

Of course this film was going to work for me. Of course I was going to like it, but as I watched it I wondered how this film appeals to everyone else. What do they get out of it? Boyhood is ultimately three stories, that of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his father (Ethan Hawke), and his mother (Patricia Arquette). Through the eyes of Mason we see the stories of his parents (and everyone else around him) unfold. The stories of their lives weaving through his. Hawke’s Dad struggling with maturity and responsibility; Arquette’s Mom trying to find herself outside of her family, but struggling to care for them nonetheless; Coltrane’s Mason, a boy thrown from home to home, with a constantly evolving idea of family and of life.

Boyhood is less a narrative and more an experience, and a tightly constructed one at that. For being shot over 12 years, Linklater’s film manages to be even smoother than a documentary covering the same time period would be. The experience is so immersive at times that you forget you are watching fiction. As the film goes on though, what became puzzling for me was the thematic question: What is this film actually about?

Your identity? Your path in life? The people around you?

This question started to bother me about two thirds through and I finally started taking notes, probably a little too late. Appropriate, putting it in contrast with my life. Normally I wouldn’t review a film I don’t feel I have full grasp of, but in this case, as in life, I think the experience is more important than the analysis.

In case you haven’t guessed, Boyhood is ultimately about life, and because of this, it’s somewhat open-ended as to what its themes are. Everyone will (hopefully) pull something different from it, as they would any other two hours of their life.

In the final moments of the film a high teenager yells to a beautiful desert landscape that “all of time” has opened up to him. Meanwhile, Mason and a cute girl are talking about moments: how they seize us and how life is just a series of them. In there is perhaps the most important message to me: Despite the fact that Boyhood is all of time, Mason’s time, laid out in front of us, what ultimately matters are the moments.

Boyhood is not a film with some overarching plot or fight against a bad guy, but rather just that: moments that compound onto each other until they finally start coalescing into something with meaning, hence why it took me so long to realize I should be paying attention.

The best films try to teach you something about life. Boyhood is a film that asks you to teach yourself about life. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will watch this. Out of them, most will find it cute, but ultimately uneventful. Some will feel the meaning, but go to bed unaffected. A handful will be impacted, permanently and deeply. I like to think I’m the latter. Boyhood is a film that will stay with me forever. A film that encapsulates my childhood, but will hopefully still find lessons to teach me no matter what period of my life I’m in.

So there it is. What a 19 year old with the same video games, dorky clothes, and angsty attitude towards the world thought of Boyhood. Thought you ought to know.

Princess Mononoke (1997) Review

Note: I meant to publish this article months ago and just found out today that I hadn’t… oops

So as a writing crutch I’ve been comparing the other Studio Ghibli films to the epic fantasies that they so iconically do. Being one Ghibli’s most notable and praised films, Princess Mononoke is the epitome of that epic fantasy. It’s a crowning jewel of animation and visual storytelling and it deserves it’s place as one of the best animated films of all time, if not one of the best films of all time. It’s not as light-hearted as most other Ghibli films, but what it lacks in charm it makes up for in tense engaging drama.

While defending his village from a Boar God turned Demon, Ashitaka gets burned by the creatures touch and is now cursed to die unless he finds a way to remove the mark. Following the boars trail leads him to a small village producing two things: Iron and rifles. It’s their guns that killed the boar and turned him into a demon, and it’s their cutting of the forest that’s causing the wolf clan, including the wolf-adopted human San, to attack them. While Ashitaka fights to maintain peace and find a cure, the leader of the village Lady Eboshi strives to obtain the head of the Great Forest Spirit that nurtures and protects the forest and its creatures.

Princess Mononoke is in many ways a retread of Miyazaki’s previous environmental masterpiece: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It has a lot of the same themes and makes a lot of the same ideological arguments, but Mononoke does it far better, if only because it has stronger characters to give such heavy-handed messages. What he created in Mononoke, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is a powerful story. There are scenes in here that after they conclude you will realize you spent not blinking. He’s tapped into something that can’t be describe, that magic of storytelling. I truly wish that there weren’t so many other great American films that same year so this could have won best picture.

Mononoke is chock full of unique and intriguing concepts. Right off the bat I was fascinated by the predicament the hero is in. A lethal infection that also gives him inhuman strength, but grows as his hate and anger grows. It would be the perfect superhero origin. From the way the women in the village act, to the interactions and relationships between the creatures of the woods as well as the idea of legendary larger versions of the beasts we know today and the day-to-night changes of the Great Forest Spirit. These interesting concepts are worth the trade for me from the more simple and charming Ghibli film, because they serve as the fuel for the more dramatic world that’s established. It’s a true testament to the adapted script that it was able to convey these ideas seamlessly to a western audience.

Mononoke is a far more serious film, with a story developed for four years by Miyazaki. While other Ghibli films can be hard to invest in if you aren’t immediately engaged by the material, I would argue it’s hard NOT to get invested in the movie at all. Mononoke delves into a few very basic human conflicts that we’ve been struggling with since the dawn of man, and unlike Nausicaa presents them in a slightly more unbiased light. Instead of Nature over Man, the movie prefers Coexistence, but they still give you no answers as to how this is supposed to be achieved, they just intertwine it into the plot. Anyway, the story of Mononoke is well developed and without a ton of cliches, leaving you genuinely uncertain of where it’s going until it actually gets there.

The art design here is absolutely amazing, let alone the animation. The animation here is, in my opinion, the peak of Ghibli’s capabilities as it is their last cell animation work, as well as the most ambitious of theirs to animate. The backgrounds, creatures, battles, everything is more impressive to me then the arguably better animated, but more subdued Spirited Away or Howls Moving Castle. Back to the designs though, I don’t know if there’s background in Japanese culture, but even if there isn’t I’m still amazed at the unity and yet individuality to all the designs. The characters all have distinct and detailed looks to them, with visual aspects I’ve rarely, if ever, seen. I think San’s design is half the reason people like her so much, despite the fact that Ashitaka is arguably the hero of the film. Ghibli has a habit of not only making things beautiful, but also things incredibly gross and the possessed boars are the the most memorizing and disgusting things to look at outside of a gore scene in a horror film.

Assuming you get the Miramax release of this, the dub is absolutely amazing. I’m not going to go over all the actors, but I will assure you that the dub gets the characters across well, with no hiccups that other dubs may have. It was left in the hands of Neil Gaiman, who has a great respect for folklore and mythology, which is why not only is the adapted script so good, but the dub as a whole. It’s truly one of the best dubs out there so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to see it in Japanese, because you aren’t missing anything. Due to the gore and mature storytelling, this really isn’t a movie for kids, so please wait for teenage years to show this one. It does have important themes that I want kids to learn about, but I highly doubt a kid could sit through it.

Princess Mononoke, in all of it’s beauty and mystery took me for a ride quite unlike anything before. I truly felt immersed in the world I was watching and the characters were all worthy companions on the journey to the end. It’s easy on the eyes, ears, and mind as most Ghibli films are, if not more so. I only wish there were more films out there like this one. This is not only mandatory anime watching, but it’s a movie you need to see before you die. End of story.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Review

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As much as I love gory horror films like Friday the 13th or more highbrow films like The Artist, I’ve come to appreciate small quiet films, like the ones Studio Ghibli puts out, just as much. Now before any question of my manhood comes in let me state that 1. Kiki’s Delivery Service is an adorable film and 2. I absolutely love Kiki’s Delivery Service. There thought ought to cover me right? Nah in all seriousness, Kiki’s is an excellent and cute movie that really acts as a pallet cleanser for the rougher works out these days.

Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) is a young witch who, upon reaching the age of 13, leaves home to find a new town and start her year of witch training. With her cat familiar, Gigi (Phil Hartman), she settles into a large oceanside city and is taken in by a kind baker. Utilizing her ability to fly on a broomstick, she starts a delivery service and thus her struggles begin as she tries to understand how to balance out being a normal girl and following her witch training (while still keeping up her deliveries).

On a personal note let me say that I used to see trailers for the original release of this movie all the time on Disney VHSs and DVDs. I was always fascinated by the animation and the catchy (but shitty) pop song they played, but the concept never seemed that intriguing to me, nor was it at Hollywood Video so I never got around to watching it. So finally seeing this movie was really interesting as it was an experiment in challenging long held expectations. While we’re on the subject, that original VHS/DVD release is different then the one currently out on DVD/Blu-Ray. The old recording is reused, with the same great performances from Kirsten Dunst and especially Phil Hartman, but a lot of the excessive lines that Hartman had are taken out and the original sound effects and music are put back in. The dub you find nowadays is rather close to the original japanese and quite good, so check it out.

Now Kiki’s is another remarkably simple film from Ghibli, more so then the others. It’s a rather plotless journey of a girl as she learns to adjust in the city. If the first twenty minutes don’t grab you then the rest of it won’t, because all in all it’s paced rather slowly. It takes its time to address a lot of the issues that Kiki faces and while for some of the audience it will be really interesting and/or identifiable, others may find it boring. It doesn’t have the visual splendour of other Ghibli works because there’s not much to animate, but what there is is rather nice. It’s just a cute, simple film and I know I’ve said that but that’s because thats what it is. It’s simplicity is what makes it so refreshing and it really hit some interesting notes for me. The characters all rather simple too, but not in a bad way. With the exception of Kiki or Gigi we don’t get much from each character, but they’re far from cliche and we can definitely tell that there’s more to all of them. If I had to make a complaint it would be that every girl besides Kiki seems to be an asshole, but thats kind of the point.

Kiki’s Delivery Service may be too slow for kids, but it’s perfect for the nostalgic adult or the cinephile looking for a pallet cleanser. It probably could have stood to have more going on in it, but it sacrifices quantity for quality and rightfully so. It’s in many ways the antithesis of Howl’s Moving Castle, an overly ambitious film I still enjoy. Kiki’s is probably the most Western of all of Ghibli’s movies, with it’s witch-centric premise. It’s very easy to get into the world and characters of Kiki’s Delivery Service as the themes of growing up and finding acceptance are very universal. All in all it’s worth at least one watch even from the most tough and stubborn of moviegoers.

The trailer here is the aforementioned one from the old release. Holy Nostalgia Batman!

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Review

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Studio Ghibli is no doubt the “Feel good” studio. Almost all of their films are awe-inspiring fantasies or small stories that remind you of the good things in life and give a warm feeling inside. Now this is nothing new of me to say or for anyone to say for that matter, but it bears repeating because even with one of their most controversial works, Howl’s Moving Castle, I still get that Ghibli charm I just can’t get anywhere else.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the fantastical tale of hatter Sophie who after being saved by the mysterious wizard Howl gets cursed by his nemesis The Witch of the Wastes. The spell manifests itself by aging her tremendously and she decides to travel to Howl’s moving castle to see if she can get turned back. There she meets an annoying fire demon, a child apprentice and, of course, the mysterious and childish Howl. Sophie and Howl soon develop a romance, but their love seems in jeopardy as the country’s war escalates further and Howls involvement and demise seem inevitable.

Howl’s Moving Castle‘s quality is contested by fans because while it’s a good movie… it’s really not as good as other Ghibli works. At least thats my theory, and there’s evidence to back it up. Howl’s has strong characters, animation, and sound, far above most animated features, but it’s convoluted story weighs it down for people and prevents it from hitting that Ghibli standard.

I absolutely love the characters in Howl’s. It takes a while for you to get invested in them, but once they start acting as a family you can’t help but feel attached to them and really appreciate not only the individuals, but the cast as a whole. Even Billy Crystal’s Calcifer the fire demon, who’s pretty annoying for a good chunk of the movie has a hint of charm to him at the end of the movie. The aging dog that enters in the second half and the speechless scarecrow Turniphead both have a distinct personality despite a lack of lines and screen time. There’s just something about this ensemble and their chemistry that works for me and makes me want to see more.

The animation… do I even have to say it? It’s fucking gorgeous. It’s Ghibli and Miyazaki for christ’s sake. Everything from the character designs, backgrounds, and animation itself is high quality and meshes well. I really liked the design of the castle itself and it added a steampunk element that fit in this magic/science world. There are moments where you can tell that the animation jumps in quality so for an anime junkie who will notice that kind of thing it’s rather jarring, but for the average viewer it’s sure to not be a problem.

The soundtrack is standard Ghibli fare and rather unnoticeable which I guess means it did it’s job, but what I really want to talk about it the dub. I love the casting choices for the Disney dub and it’s probably one of the best out there. For the most part it’s unknown actors, but there a few celebrities in this cast. Christian Bale plays Howl and he does a fantastic job. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to pull of the more boyish aspects of the character, but he did and admirably at that. It’s a character archetype in Japan that has no real translation in the West and changes were made so if you’re a fierce loyalist to the original you may have problems with it. Billy Crystal, as I said before, plays Calcifer and does a fine job at that giving it that annoying touch without breaching into Jar-Jar territory. THE Lauren Bacall plays The Witch of the Wastes and she’s, of course, fantastic. She has this disney villainess quality about her, but it really works in this context. The rest of the cast is great too, but if I had any gripes it’s that the actress that plays the young Sophie has an accent that doesn’t match up with the speaking mannerisms of old Sophie and when they switch back and forth it’s quite distracting.

I suppose we should get to what doesn’t work… Howl’s Moving Castle is an extremely ambitious film in that it tries to juggle several different themes and plots. It unfortunately doesn’t succeed and the two aspects that end up suffering the most are the romance between Sophie and Howl and the war subplot. Now I understand the war subplots point of existing, that being to add a little tension and action to what would have been a rather quiet movie, but it could have been implemented better as it just pops in and out and there’s very little involvement or context with it. Sophie/Howl’s relationship gets pushed to the background while all this other stuff goes on and while you get a sense that their relationship is developing, there’s a lot of stuff I wish we could have seen to clarify it. One other fatal flaw of this film is that towards the end of the movie the plot just… goes all over the place. I’m not entirely sure how half of it worked or even what happened as the film tries to cram a lot into the last half hour and it doesn’t really take the time to explain properly. Everything’s jumbled and messy until the last two minutes where everything’s tied up in a neat bow, with too much convenience for my tastes.

I’ve said this about a lot of movies lately, but Howl’s Moving Castle is a ton of fun. It’s got a great mix between dark and light content as well as just enough maturity to keep an adult engaged while still keeping that childhood innocence for kids to enjoy. I thoroughly enjoy the characters and concept, and while I know there’s story flaws, who cares? If you know what you’re getting into and you let yourself get taken away by the characters, the weird pacing and underdeveloped story won’t matter to you (as much). A rottentomatoes rating or my recommendation really doesn’t do this movie justice as this is one film where I truly believe you must form your own opinion about so please check it out.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

Martin Scorcesse is a legend of the cinema and I am so delighted to have seen one of his movies in theaters, kind of like how I’m excited to see a Was Anderson movie in theaters. Leaving my fanboy love at the door, I must however concede that The Wolf of Wall Street is not his best movie. That being said, it’s still an amazing movie. A little long, but excessively fun nonetheless.

The Wolf of Wall Street is told from the perspective of Jordan Belfort (Leo Dicaprio), a stockbroker who climbs the ladder of success when he starts his own trading company. The not-so-legal hobbies of him and his coworkers, paired with the not-so-legal practices of his company get the attention of the FBI. And so we see the arc of Belfort as he becomes engulfed with money, drugs, and sex leading to his imminent implosion.

TWOWS follows a LOT of Martin Scorcesse’s cliches. A lot. Imagine Goodfellas mixed with… well again Catch Me If You Can (Even though thats Speilberg). Matthew McConaughey acts as the mentor/rule-establisher. He tells the audience the rules and once the main character breaks them, we know his descent will begin a la Goodfellas. We have the New York centered main character and his big-haired brunette sassy wife, as well as the iconic use of narration and the very intentional use of music. Now these are all cliches yes, but they still make a fantastic movie, so no real complaints here.

TWOWS has one big thing going against it for me. It’s really fucking long. At 2 hours and 55 minutes, this movie is a real endurance test. Thats not to say it feels overly long, in fact it feels shorter then 3 hours, but after a while you do really feel the length. Scorcesse has this interesting style with these biography movies, in that he structures them to be a collection of vignettes that compound onto each other to create this arc. There are subplots that come in and out, but ultimately we hop from scene to scene like each is it’s own episode of a TV series. This is what really helps the movie along, because it keeps the pace brisk. Theres no need for long connections and establishment we just hop into the middle of the action and let the narrator fill in the rest.

Narrators are rarely used these days, at least not continuously like Scorcesse uses them and I really enjoyed it in this mostly due to the actor behind it: good old Leo Dicaprio. He does a fantastic job in this movie. He really is the character and in fact most of the people in the movie do the same. Jonah Hill is unrecognizable as Jordan’s right-hand man and he definitely deserves the Oscar for his performance.

Speaking of Oscars, let me say that this is definitely a far better competitor for the best picture award then American Hustle. While Hustle had energy, this has energy, and charm, and a sense of uniqueness due to the director at the helm. I still don’t think it will win, partially due to 12 Years a Slave being a thing, as well as the elephant in the room that will put off a mainstream audience and the old, rich, white conservatives running the Academy: It’s excessiveness.

TWOWS is balls to the walls insane. Literally. It has no qualms about what it’s showing, because it all fits perfectly into the world we’re looking at. There are no less then 2 orgies in the movie, copious nudity and sex, drugs, violence, language, offensive language and crude jokes. However… it’s god damn fun to watch. Scorcesse has the amazing ability to seduce us into the crazy backwards worlds of delightful sin he shows us and by god if I wasn’t cheering for the main character all the way. Some people won’t be able to handle it and thats fine, but there may be a few hesitant folks that are swept away by the story and characters and will be able to let it slide.

TWOWS breaks no new ground, does nothing innovative or technically spectacular. It’s just a damn good movie from damn good director and by the gods will I watch it again and again. I’m so excited for the DVD to see all the extra vignettes that Scorcesse couldn’t quite fit into the movie. I have high doubts that it’ll win, but if it does I’ll be one happy fanboy. Check this flick out in case by some small chance you weren’t going to already.

American Hustle (2013) Review

On Friday I saw a Scorcesse double feature, but only one of the films was directed by Martin Scorcesse. The other, American Hustle, was directed by David O Russell, and boy oh boy does he want to be Scorcesse. It’s almost sad really, because maybe if he had taken a few more liberties with this movie, American Hustle could have been something truly great, not just pretty good.

American Hustle is the “true” story of a con man (Christian Bale), his mistress (Amy Adams) and their arrest by the FBI. Rather then go to jail for a long ass time they work with Special Agent Asshole (Bradley Cooper) to ensnare a few people in similar cons. Their first victim is a New Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Reiner) who take a “donation” from their fictional Sheik in order to build up Atlantic City. As their deals go on they realize that they can not only ensnare this mayor, but Congressmen and Mafia bosses too! The game is afoot Watson!

As I stated before, Russell really wants to be Scorcesse, using shots like Scorcesse, characters like Scorcesse, music like Scorcesse, and DeNiro like Scorcesse. Not a bad thing per say, but it’s really noticeable and gives a feeling of unoriginality to the movie that it really shouldn’t have. So while the directing style may be similar to Scorcesse, the story is actually more akin to Catch Me If You Can mixed with Oceans 11. That’s not a bad thing, in fact the movie is fairly well written, with plenty of emotional and intense scenes. The movie doesn’t really get going until about 30 minutes in, but it’s certainly not boring as the charisma of the actors keeps you engaged. What didn’t work for me, and this is something that bothers me about a lot of the twist-ending-con movies, is that the twist at the end isn’t preceded by any indicators whatsoever. It’s like reading a mystery book and the killer is a person we’ve never met before, meaning the audience couldn’t figure it out on their own. American Hustle‘s twist is out of nowhere and it feels like a trick, because you had no clue. It’s a fine line to walk and it’s more a pet peeve then a true criticism of the movie.

This is an Actor/Character driven movie and an effective one at that. The characters are all rather unique and by the end of the movie you’re quite attached to them. Bradley Cooper’s character in particular was rather interesting to watch as his arc led him down a darker and darker path, but not in the stereotypical way. Reiner was a joy to watch, as his mayor was honourable and corrupt all at the same time. Louis CK also has a small role as Cooper’s boss and his is great! It shows that his acting range is a little wider then just a fat comedian dad and I’m excited to see his future film projects. Bale, Adams, and Lawrence are all great of course, but the drama between them was a little eye-rollingly stupid at times and the end was a little too neatly wrapped up for my tastes.

Since this movie is up for some Oscars and that’s pretty much why I saw it I should probably address a few of the categories it’s up for. The production design is absolutely amazing and it definitely should win. It truly feels like the 70s without missing a beat. Christian Bale is pretty good as the lead, but I don’t think he should win over Leo. Amy Adams certainly holds her own in this movie, and pulls off all the emotional twists and turns her character goes through. Jennifer Lawrence was believable in the role despite her age, but her performance was just kinda… meh. It didn’t strike me as particularly oscar worthy, even if it was really good. The editing… is meh for an oscar-nominated movie. There were a few continuity flaws, so hopefully there was a better movie, but I’m just being a prick now.

American Hustle has everything going for it. The budget, the actors, the director, the soundtrack, everything. However, unlike most great films, it fails to become more then the sum of its parts. It’s no Goodfellas, or The Godfather, or even The Sting. It’s a damn good movie, don’t get me wrong and I’ll say right now that everyone should go see it, but it fails to be anything more then just good. Let me emphasize that I’m not criticizing the movie for not being perfect, I’m just stating my reasons for why it shouldn’t win Best Picture.

Enough negativity! American Hustle is a fun movie! It doesn’t take itself too serious and while it is a emotional drama, it’s also a very funny movie. The witty writing and the charismatic acting makes it hard not to enjoy the fun adventure these characters are on. The whole movie has this energy to it thats hard to ignore, and it almost makes up for a lot of the flaws in it… almost. You may not have a best picture winner awaiting you, but you certainly have a film worth the outrageous ticket prices. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010) Review

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the follow-up film to the beloved anime series of a similar title and in brief summary it’s fucking amazing. Taking the series as groundwork and using it to build a fantastic and heart-felt story, Disappearance manages to create a justified and satisfactory ending to the Haruhi story, even if you still want more at the end.

Disappearance picks up where the last episode (chronologically) ends and we are accompanied as always by the begrudging Kyon as he’s being dragged along for one of Haruhi’s schemes. The next day when he gets up and goes to school he finds that the world has changed and that no one knows who Haruhi is, or is there any evidence that she exists. With everything and everyone normal, Kyon struggles to find out what happened, what to do, and where in the world Haruhi is.

Lets get the technicals out of the way first. Practically everything about the original series is either maintained or improved on in Disappearance. The animation is even better then before, only showing weak spots on rare occasions. The music remains extremely well used, but this time there’s nary an annoying track to be found. The voice acting is astounding, with both Kyon (Crispin Freeman) and Nagato (Michelle Ruff) putting in memorable performances. The story is well paced and with little plot holes or objectionable content and the script is also good, with the same level of dialogue and wit being well balanced with more serious material. I really need to emphasize that the story is incredibly engaging and there are scenes that are so well done and impactful you may get goosebumps.

So yes. Go see it. Even if you haven’t seen the series give it a go. It’s themes are fascinating and it’s setting and story make it great for Christmas. What gets me most about this movie, and what really makes it a good film, is the characters. With a movie, you rarely have enough time to get particularly invested in the characters even if the story is more epic. With a TV show or anime you get invested, but the show rarely has a good finale to pay off your investment. However, with Disappearance, and with a lot of follow-up films to series (ie FMA, Firefly), you get an epic story that allows for all the proper payoffs with the characters you’d been hoping for. What Disappearance did for me was make me realize how much I was invested not just in Kyon, but in all of the characters. It had nods to subplots I had been curious about and it had callbacks to things that I had experienced with the characters (Endless Eight makes Nagato’s character parts all the more powerful). The SOS Brigade I realized meant the same to me as the Scoobies, Angel Investigations, the crew of Serenity, and the cast of Friends, Scrubs, HIMYM and Steins;Gate. They’re a group of people whose adventures I shared in a way, and who I got to see grow. There are so many poorly written movies and TV series these days that I’ll have to suffer through and hopefully along the way I’ll come across other characters to get invested in, but what Disappearance showed me by being a proper finale was that no matter what I can always come back to that club room and share in the adventures of Kyon, Koizami, Nagato, Ms. Asahina and the always happiness-spreading Haruhi Suzumiya. No I’m not some crazy fanboy of the series, as it’s in no way going to become an obsession of mine. It’s merely another moment of my life, but an enjoyable one. So don’t be a dummy and watch the show if only so that you too can take part in this excellent film. Unfortunately The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya isn’t available for legal streaming anywhere, but you can pick up the DVD again from Bandai Entertainment (until they go out of business).

Crash (1996) Review


(excerpt from my Cronenberg paper)

When one looks at the films typically considered “Cronenbergesque” it’s clear why. Videodrome, The Fly, Scanners, eXistenZ all have the clear melding of man and technology with plenty of sexual content strewn about. Cronenberg in his later years has done quite a few films that on the surface seem very odd for him, but actually end up fitting his style perfectly. Crash is one such film. On the surface it’s about a group of people who get sexually excited by car crashes, but just underneath the surface is a slow commentary on sex and technology. The tropes of a Cronenberg film are there, just shown in a different light.

The editing in a lot of Cronenberg films is very discontinuous, forcing you to read between the lines and most of the time creating the feeling of a labyrinth. This usually makes sense with the descent that most characters make into madness/sanity/clarity/etc… With Crash it also fits, marking the characters James Spader’s and Deborah Unger’s descent into the world of erotic crashes. This descent is clear, but what isn’t clear in the story is where it’s going. There’s no end goal, no antagonist. There’s just an ever increasing amount of sex and violence that ends with (big shocker) a car crash (with more sex). While this may turn off some viewers, what it does allow is for an audience to mull over the images presented in front of them and fully understand or at least interpret Cronenberg’s metaphor.

Cronenberg’s movies tend to take place in the shadows, and Crash is no stranger to them. Sure there are scenes that take place during the day, but a good chunk of the film contains low-key lighting. The lighting, coupled with the editing, is what really gives the film it’s Cronenberg feel. Be it to emphasize the shady world the characters are descending into or to show how certain characters have a dark side, the lighting gives life to the world we’re viewing.

The score is a unique listen, containing little more than an electric guitar. The eerie sounds it emits blanket the movie in this strange surrealistic ambience. The lack of any other instrument helps also to create a feeling of isolation, despite the frequent sexual activity on screen. In fact Cronenberg plays on isolation not just with the sound, but with the framing as well. There are several points in the movie where despite characters sitting right next to each other, their close-ups are framed to show just them, leaving empty space to the side if necessary. In one particular scene were James Spader, Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette are sitting on the couch and their close ups show only their heads, but immediately following those shots is a single shot showing all of their crotches, where they are stroking/fingering each others genitals. It’s isolation of the mind, despite intimacy of the body.

Cronenberg’s metaphor that runs through Crash is that the meeting of metal violently in a car crash is not unlike the meeting of flesh during sex. The only difference is the speed at which each happens. Hence Holly Hunter yelling at the VCR to go slower when watching car crash test footage. Cronenberg seems to speak occasionally through the character Vaughn, bringing some of Cronenberg’s traditional ideas into context. For example the Cronenbergesque idea of body manipulated by technology is quite relevant to Crash. The bodies of the characters are not only twisted and broken by the car crashes, but also manipulated by the medical technology. These manipulations, as the true melding of technology and body, Cronenberg and his characters fetishizes them, making out with the scars and bruises. At the end of the movie where Deborah Unger’s car crash proves to provide her no real bodily harm, James Spader whispers “Maybe next time.” It’s as if these manipulations are the ideal furthering of the body, or as Videodrome calls it “The New Flesh.”

Cronenberg uses long, and what could be considered gratuitous sex scenes. These scenes are plentiful and often times long, but they do serve a purpose. The NC-17 this film earned prevented people from seeing what Cronenberg was trying to do. There are so many sex scenes and each one is different, conveying different emotions and serving different purposes. They are not only important for character development and showing their addiction and descent into a sex-crazed madness. That’s not to say that the plot of the film doesn’t becomes lost amongst the constant sex and soon it becomes clear that we’re as lost as the characters are. Whether this was Cronenberg’s intent or not is up for debate, but it does make for a viewing experience that requires a lot of patience.

Can you believe that my professor thought my analysis of Cronenberg’s metaphor (with some revision) would be worthy of publishing?