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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 movie)

Marvel Studios

My rating: 3.5 of 5

An unlikely band of misfits and unsavory types is thrown together–mostly by their own greed and/or hatred of each other, surprisingly enough. And in the midst of their joint efforts at prison breaks, selling of stolen goods, and running for their lives, they somehow manage to go from being at each others’ throats to having each others’ backs. Which is good, because they might just be the only thing standing between the galaxy and total destruction.

I’ve probably stated this before, but I’m generally not a big fan of superhero/comic-based stories–and Marvel ones in particular. I actually mostly watched Guardians of the Galaxy because Karen Gillan is in it. That was a bit of a disappointment; I felt like her character ended up being pretty flat. *cries* But I did enjoy other aspects of the story and characters. It was weird to me that the entire main group of characters are really not what would typically be considered good people–thieves, bounty hunters, traitors, and individuals bent on revenge. But they made for an amusing and sympathetic group, I have to admit, and the tension between the characters is a big part of the enjoyment of the film. Obviously, Rocket and Groot are the best (and funniest) part of the whole story. But with that, I also have to give fair warning that this is PG-13, and it shows in the humor–as well as in the language and the violence, although it’s not particularly bloody or anything. I think one of the things I loved the most is how integral music and dance are to the story throughout. Plus, it’s an origin story of sorts, which I generally enjoy, so there’s that. Overall, the whole film has a funky, off-kilter flair that feels almost indie, although that’s immediately belied by the impressive visual production, which is quite attractive and fun. While it will probably never be my favorite movie, I think Guardians of the Galaxy was a funny, quirky tale that I did enjoy and will likely watch again sometime.

Written by James Gunn & Nicole Perlman/Directed by James Gunn/Produced by Kevin Feige/Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Music by Tyler Bates/Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, & Benicio del Toro

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My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker

 

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Ten Inch Hero (2007 Movie)

Follow Spot Entertainmentten-inch-hero

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R

The help-wanted sign outside the quirky little sub shop tells you everything you need to know: “normal people need not apply.” The employees certainly attest to that, from the owner Trucker, a surfer child of the sixties who is obsessed with owner of the crystal shop across the street, to the new hire Piper, a bright young artist who came to Santa Cruz in search of her daughter. Then there’s Priestly of the crazy hair and ironic t-shirts, Tish who mostly uses her (formidable) sex appeal to get what she wants, and Jen who feeds the homeless and is sure she’s met her true love online. Together, these individuals form something more than just a group of co-workers–they’re a family. Which is a good thing, because for all the fun, flirtation, and laughter that permeates the very foundations of the shop, there’s a large measure of tears and broken hearts to get through as well. . . . Which they will do, together.

Ten Inch Hero is definitely one of those movies that I would normally never have watched and that I basically picked up just because Jensen and Danneel are in it–because I feel like you can hardly be a Supernatural fan and not watch the movie where they fell in love. And I have to say, the Priestly/Tish dynamic in this story is superbly adorable. But I found that I loved this movie for so much more than just that. Actually, I found myself entirely captivated within the first five minutes. The characters are–every single one of them!–unique, well-written, and excellently cast. They cast some seriously talented people (not what you’d typically expect on an indie film like this), and the actors fit the roles beautifully. The story itself is adorable and heartwarming–a quadruple love story, no less, so if you’re in the mood for romance, this should fit the bill. Plus you’ve got all the friendship dynamics within the shop and Piper’s interactions with eight-year-old Julia, which are just wow. Those are aspects I would love to see a lot more of in any and all stories. Honestly, the movie could easily have been disgustingly Hallmark-y, but the combination of indie quirkiness, funky humor (it’s very funny), and the language/sex/nudity that make it R-rated help to counterbalance the sappiness and keep the story grounded. Just be warned that the rating is earned; there is a lot of sexual content here, although surprisingly I found it a lot less embarrassing to watch than some PG stuff I’ve seen. That’s probably just me. In any case, for adult viewers who like a cute romance with a refreshing indie tone, quality acting, and nice original music, Ten Inch Hero would definitely be on my recommended list; it’s certainly a happy place for me.

Directed by David Mackay/Written by Betsy Morris/Music by Don Davis/Starring Elisabeth Harnois, Clea DuVall, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jensen Ackles, Danneel Harris Ackles, Alice Krige, & John Doe

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Frozen

Walt Disney Studiosfrozen

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Two sisters separated by a secret. A stunning power. A storm that could destroy the kingdom. An epic quest through the snow. The promise of true love. . . . Oh, and an adorkable snowman who dreams of warm weather.

So . . . I’ve been avoiding this movie for over two years now, mostly because I hate the whole hype. But my brother finally made me actually watch it, and I have to say that I enjoyed Frozen for the most part–certainly more than I have liked most Disney princess stories. The characters were a huge part of that; Elsa and Anna felt like real people with personalities and quirks (Elsa with a fantastic bad-girl vibe and Anna with a more funny/adorable feel). They work well together, as characters. The pacing of the story works well also, and it’s not quite so cookie-cutter Disney Prince Charming of a story–much more a girl-power and nice-sensible-normal-guy sort of story, which is great. Supposedly, this movie is based on Andersen’s The Snow Queen; I’ve only read one retelling, but as far as that goes, there’s almost no resemblance at all. Visually, Frozen is very nicely done; the CG is very attractive, with nice color schemes, great character expressions, and some absolutely stunningly gorgeous shots (most notable the whole “Let It Go” ice-castle scene). Which brings me to the music: over all great compositions that are musically attractive and that contribute a lot to the story lyrically. I really appreciated that the music was used as a story-telling element so much. And of course, the voice actors did a great job both in the acting and the singing; superb choices for the roles (I especially love Idina Menzel’s work as Elsa). There were a few minor negatives that kept this from being a full 5 stars, however. First of all, although I loved Olaf as a character, he seemed off in relation to the rest of the story–and how does a snowman created by a princess in a fairy-tale setting know about sunglasses and beach umbrellas? It just doesn’t fit. And I just don’t like the trolls, although I realize they’re a necessary storytelling element. Still, Frozen was a very enjoyable movie with a nice modern fairy-tale feel that’s great for all ages.

Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee/Produced by Peter Del Vecho/Screenplay by Jennifer Lee/Story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, & Shane Morris/Based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen/Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, & Santino Fontana/Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Christophe Beck, & Frode Fjellheim

 

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When Marnie Was There

Studio GhibliWhen Marnie was There

Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, & Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura & Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Music by Takatsugu Muramatsu/Based on When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Anna very well understands the way the world works, the fact that some people are accepted and others are necessarily outsiders for whatever reason. She doesn’t question that she herself is an outsider, alone at school, ill-tempered at times, a worry to her foster parents. When her asthma causes the doctor to recommend she be sent away to get some fresh air away from the city though, things begin to change a bit. She stays with relatives (of her foster parents) on an out-of-the-way island where everything seems to be more laid back and she can spend time exploring and drawing alone without being fussed over so much. And in her explorations, Anna finds herself drawn to an old, abandoned manor house across the bay . . . . and it’s at that old manor that she meets Marnie, a girl who will change her life in all sorts of unexpected ways but also a girl who will baffle Anna in many ways.

Okay, before anything else, I’m just going to say that there are going to be spoilers here. Because I have no idea how to honestly review this movie without spoilers. Sorry. So . . . I truly enjoyed When Marnie Was There, although I was kind of baffled through most of the story. It was worth sitting through the confusion, because when everything was explained it was extremely moving to the point that I cried. The way the story develops is almost dreamlike at parts, or rather, it’s as though dreams are being woven throughout Anna’s reality. Or perhaps it’s more as though two disparate points in time are briefly connected. In any case, although at times confusing, the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is really sweet and cute. And this is where the spoilers come in: the story totally seems like it’s shoujo ai through most of the plot, but the end reveals something very unexpected and different and absolutely touching. All in all, it’s a sweet story that’s developed quite nicely with plenty of drama and mystery. I appreciate that it also delves into deep issues like child neglect and the insecurity that orphans can feel sometimes even in loving homes. And of course, being a Studio Ghibli film, the art is absolutely stunning; I always enjoy their attention to all the fine details that make the illustration not just nice but amazing. Essentially, I would recommend When Marnie Was There to pretty much anyone, although I will note that if you’re not comfortable with shoujo ai, you might find watching this a bit weird (even though it’s technically not).

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My Neighbors the Yamadas

Studio Ghiblimy neighbors the yamadas

Written & Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Seiichiro Ujiie, Takashi Shouji, & Toshio Suzuki/Music by Akiko Yano/Based on Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Yamada family are rather a peculiar group–certainly not your ideal Japanese family. Mr. Yamada isn’t nearly as successful and well-viewed as he’d like to imagine. Mrs. Yamada would rather snack and watch daytime TV than keep house–she’s actually a rather atrocious housekeeper. Their son, Noboru, isn’t making the grades his parents expect–but then, he’d probably do better if he studied instead of goofing off. Their little daughter Nonoko is mostly okay, I suppose, although her chatter could get old. And of course, Grandmother Shige oversees the lot of them, raining unasked advice, criticism, and archaic adages aplenty. . . . Actually, maybe they aren’t that different from the rest of us, when it comes down to it. In any case, in spite of their issues, the Yamada family are sure to be united against everything life throws at them.

I have this obsession over Studio Ghibli works–I’m determined to watch every one I can get my hands on. And I must say, My Neighbors the Yamadas is unique among the Ghibli works I’ve seen so far. It’s based on a 4-koma comic strip, and it retains that slice-of-life comedy feel. It’s arranged as a set of vignettes, which follows nicely from the 4-koma style. These vignettes are broken up by more traditional paintings decorated with traditional calligraphy, usually something by Basho or other classic poetry. (It probably says something about the movie as a whole that these divider screens were probably my favorite part of the show.) The art style is extremely different from Ghibli’s typical works, which kind of made me sad since one of the things I love most about Ghibli films is the amazing art that typifies stories such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Still, the more cartoon-like, pen-and-watercolor style does fit the Yamada family’s story, rather. Probably the best aspect of this movie is the keen observations it makes as to the relations between the Yamada family members. But still, I can definitely say that this was not my favorite Ghibli film; it probably wouldn’t go into my favorite lists at all. I would recommend My Neighbors the Yamadas mostly to folks who enjoy a more comic-strip sort of story (folks who like Peanuts and suchlike), and yes, to other people who obsessively watch all the Ghibli movies just to say they did (but for you, you probably won’t like it particularly; you’ve been warned).

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Interstellar

Directed by Christopher NInterstellarolan/Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, & Lynda Obst/Written by Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan/Music by Hans Zimmer/Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, & Michael Caine

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Once, Cooper lived his dream, piloting spaceships and living a life of discovery and adventure. Now, seemingly lifetimes later, he and his family live on a dying planet, eking out a living by farming–barely keeping ahead of the dust enough to survive. No one goes into space anymore. Actually, the kids in school (his daughter Murphy included) are being taught that no one ever went into space, that it was all a lie. But even in the midst of this worldwide depression, Coop can’t forget; he still dreams of the life that’s gone forever. . . . Or so he thinks. When an unexplained phenomenon (which Murph calls her “ghost”) gives them the coordinates to a secret NASA base, the future opens up to Coop–a life once again pursuing his dream as an astronaut. Only this time, the stakes are unimaginable: the lives of everyone on the dying planet he’s leaving behind. But is saving the world worth leaving his family behind, possibly forever?

First of all, I need to make it clear that Interstellar is not a movie I would have picked for myself, and my rating is unfavorably (and probably unfairly) skewed just because this isn’t really my sort of movie. In other words, my brothers made me watch this. There is honestly a lot that is good about this story. For one, the music is epic–I always love Hans Zimmer’s OSTs. Visually, the entire movie is incredibly striking as well. The acting is very well done. The science is convincing. I was intrigued by the exploration of topics such as the nature of time and the theory of relativity. But what I found most fascinating about this story was the psychological studies is provided: the lonely few who venture into the unknown, those left behind feeling abandoned, those who had given up all hope of ever seeing another human again. I think the writing and acting both dealt with these excellently. Oh, and the suspense levels throughout are absolutely killer–mostly in a good way. So, with all these good things, why the low rating? I think it’s mostly for personal reasons, honestly. Although the way the creators dealt with the isolation of space was well done, it was just too sad and lonely for me. And the attempt to redeem that sadness was too little, too late, in my opinion. Also, as I said before, the science was convincing (except for Murph’s poltergeist) . . . up until the last little bit when they got into extremely theoretical science, to the point that it was quite unconvincing in my opinion. More like fanciful guesswork? Maybe they had some basis in real scientific theory for how they wrote it, but it was lost on me. Finally, I just found the whole movie to be too long–I mean, it needed to be that long to get the story in, but between the length and the suspense, I was completely exhausted by the end. So, I guess it really just depends on your taste–if you like this sort of movie, Interstellar is a pretty outstanding story. But personally, I prefer Nolan’s work on The Dark Knight and Inception.

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