Day Twenty-One: Hobo with a Shotgun (MotM 2017)

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The point of the film is to be stupid. The point of the film is to be bloody. The point of the film is to pay homage to the bloody action films of yesteryear. The point of the film is to be simplistic and relatively apathetic. The point, the point, the point. I don’t really care what the point is. The movie’s bad. Really bad.

Much like Zombeavers or Kung FuryHobo with a Shotgun is a passion project for movies that simply aim to please. Any and all effort is put forth into the one thing that makes the movie unique from the rest—in this case, it’s the super gory action flick. Clear good vs. evil. Characters soaked in sticky red in what seems like every other scene. Dismemberment, raunchy behavior, and drugs galore. I believe one line went as follows: “You make me want to cut off my dick and rub it all over your cheeks.” Such classy lines and more (Many, many more) await in the shock factory known as Hobo with a Shotgun. Make no mistake, it’s not nearly as bad as, say, The Human Centipede, but anyone with a weak stomach should stay very clear.

And… that’s basically it. I just described the whole movie. It’s simplistic, relatively apathetic, establishes clear good vs. evil, and super gory. Characters reflect these characteristics, the plot reflects these characteristics. Special effects are incredibly minimal, but campy enough to appear realistic in their setting. They are also very gory. Needless to say, it’s ridiculous at its core, with everything being used to satisfy the basic terms this film leads by.

So, the issue of quality simply boils down to enjoyment, because speaking objectively, this is the very definition of a “Turn off your brain and enjoy” film. It’s completely within the taste of the observer to gauge its worth. If one revels in gore and good triumphing over evil, with not a lick of true character development or plot intricacies along the way, Hobo with a Shotgun is a fantastic eighty minutes. If not, one will never get those eighty minutes back. I certainly won’t.

Final Score: 2/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Twenty: Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (MotM 2017)

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Quick disclaimer: Not a film for grieving mothers.

Jokes aside, there has been an enormous amount of positive press surrounding this film since its release in 2012. Many have compared this to works by Hayao Miyazaki, which is already setting the bar fairly high. With these kinds of expectations surrounding the film, how could I, with as rebelliously contrarian as I can be, expect to watch this without any sort of expectations? Simple: I forget the buzz. I forget everything I had previously heard about the film and watch it as if I know nothing about it. For some, this is impossible. For me, it’s rather easy, as once the lights come on and the scenes begin to roll, it’s only the film and I. Reality may as well not exist, for my perception is locked in tune with the beat of the film’s weighty instrument. It’s almost quite literally a “blocking out” method that happens the moment I become invested. Miscellaneous thoughts become irrelevant.

Wolf Children, as its dubbed in English, has everything it could possibly need to be a masterpiece, and to some extent, it is. Not often do I come across a film that simply does everything it needs to do and still flourishes in its own emotional gravity. Some could say that the only reason this film stands out as much as it does is because there’s wolf children, and wolf beings. With all respect to the film, this is somewhat true, as without that added spice, there likely wouldn’t be as much significance added to the final scenes. However, it is because it does not rely so much on the animalistic qualities that make this film so pleasantly relatable.

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When one describes this movie, what do they say? They could say it’s about wolf children growing up with their mother after the untimely death of their father. They could also say it’s the determination and spirit of a mother facing the challenges of being a mother—not just to humans, but to wolves. Excuse for a moment the furry phenomenon, how often do anime focus on being a mother? Typically the kids are the stars, but with this perspective comes a fresh angle to focus the movie on, something the likes anime only hints at in various pictures.

Pacing is a wonderful thing if done correctly. Not only does each scene receive as much length as it requires, but the effort put into adding details to symbolize things to come and things to consider should one be in that situation aids in the film’s sense of individuality. While the use of timeskips is a popular method of moving things along, Wolf Children‘s sense of time reflects something more than “moving the plot forward.” Not only does it feel natural in the sense of the setting, it also shows just how quickly kids grow up. Perhaps out of bias, being the oldest of five siblings, it astounds me how one day I look to my siblings and wonder when they became taller than me. It’s a subtle, but sweet detail that’s placed within a blanket of sweet details that the film cherishes like a hidden treasure.

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Still, sentimentally sweet can’t do much for those expecting a little more thrill. There is certainly a question as to how Wolf Children can expect to be entertaining to all audiences, especially those looking for something other than sappy fluff. In a way, it’s an acquired taste, though more in line with falling within a certain demographic. It’s slow, simmering, and relatively devoid of nail-biting drama and suspense. While things get somewhat heavy in parts, it never swerves further than a child’s ride at your local theme park. As noted before, it does all it needs to do with the materials it has, never reaching, never taking chances.

Though I may receive some heat for this, I’m not entirely thrilled with the art direction. Not with the natural setting, as each scene vibrantly boasts its spectacular attention to detail, but with character design. Each character has one color palette to their facial features, with not a lot of attention to shadowing or depth, even in places there definitely should be. This allows the characters to stand out from their fantastically detailed backgrounds like sore thumbs. Or, perhaps, like a wolf in human clothing. While animation is typically fluid throughout, there are times, especially early on, that seem a little more static than others. Some of the finer animation comes from when the wolf children are transformed and running around their home.

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Characters are also a bit of a mixed bag, though many of the major characters benefit from a strong narrative focus on their development over time. Hana, the lead character and mother to Yuki and Ame, doesn’t have much of a personality other than being a mother, but damn is she a great mother. Her determination, love for her children, and undying will to give them all they need to survive and be happy gives her enough characterization without having any distinguishable personality traits. Ame and Yuki are the characters that have unique personalities, ones which change as their expectations with who they are and what they begin to hold dear develop as they grow. It’s fascinating how Wolf Children plays with the idea of using the ploy of the children being wolves to shape their personality, and how it begins to create conflict as they adapt to the human world. Most importantly, it feels natural, and ultimately rewarding for everyone involved, even if it means making hard decisions.

If only the same could be said about minor characters, who become important at certain points of the film, only to be erased from existence when they’re no longer useful. The aura of hospitality surrounding the ultra-rural neighborhood was something I was quite fond of early on, and was unfortunate to see them let go of so soon to focus on developing Ame and Yuki. No harm could have come from showing a few scenes of concern from other villagers about Hana’s or her kids’ behavior, or having Hana go back to the aid of one of the few villagers that helped her when she first moved to town. A decent trade-off considering the way Ame and Yuki develop, if only it tried to do something more with a previously started air of union amongst town members.

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Even with the pacing, the good temperament, and the relatable characters, there’s something tremendously anticlimactic about the ending. With all the build-up leading into it, there’s a sense of abruptness that reeks underneath the ultimate emotional climax. While everything else felt natural, the “What now?” effect becomes more poignant as the credits begin to roll. It leaves a little more to be desired with what took place, especially with the side of Yuki, who had done something that could affect the family’s place within the town. Much like a train slamming into a mountain of jell-o, a rapid pace of energy bounces into an unmovable finality that destroys the drive the film once had.

It takes all this to basically say that it’s a good film. Not the greatest, nor does it match the hype around it, Wolf Children embodies the love of telling a story in a more maternal sense. The perspective is a refreshing change, allowing for a more personal touch to the characters and the long-established maternal instincts taking the lead with unapologetic vigor. If one clamors to see truly powerful female leads, Hana is one that would absolutely receive my vote; not because she does opposite of what her gender is expected to do, but because she does everything her gender is expected to do and more. She lost her partner, she lost her natural disposition moving to a rural setting, but she never lost her hope or her desire to be the best mother she could be. This alone makes Wolf Children worth watching.

Final Score: 7.5/10

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Nineteen: The Blind Side (MotM 2017)

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I don’t have an excuse for getting this post out this late tonight. Just ended up being this late.

Sandra Bullock won an award for her role in this film. Her character is caring, traditional-minded, and strong-willed. She has sass, with a number of biting remarks for a number of different characters. She’s likable—about as likable of a character as it sounds. But does this deserve her an award? If the rest of the movie is any indication, she’s the only bright spot in a world of muddy water.

Without sugar-coating it, I don’t think Bullock deserved an award for her performance. I think this was a case of the judges liking her character more than her acting, as there was little here that could justify Bullock’s finest quality of acting. I could put any number of actresses here and very little would change about the film. Some of this is due to her character not having much of a personality outside of her usual demeanor, while some is simply Bullock acting as she should. I suppose 2009 was a thin year for lead actresses.

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Popping the biggest zit on the metaphorical forehead that symbolizes The Blind Side as a whole, let’s continue on with the greasy skin which groomed the zit to substantial size. Bullock’s character is an interesting point to start off with, as she is the only positive one. Despite my claim that she doesn’t deserve the award she received for this film, she did do a decent job. And her character is likable, if not a little too stubbornly within her role. Everything else about this film feels forced, uninspired, and far too safe to impact the viewer with the messages it tries to convey.

For those who kept up with the month, recall my review of Space Cowboys and how I demolished it for its use of one-role/one-joke characters and by-the-books narrative structure. In that film’s case, some interesting characterization and two likable characters save it from being completely derivative. In The Blind Side’s case, Sandra Bullock is the only savior. It’s amazing how watchable Space Cowboys feels in comparison, as The Blind Side seems to have read up on every “How To” book on creating dramatic underdog stories and threw in every detail without developing a single one. It’s to the point where it’s almost insulting; insulting to the viewer and insulting to those who actually have to face the reality that’s only hinted at in this film.

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So self-indulgent in its own masterpiece, the scenes play out and garner all sorts of strange, tonal shifts that go from inspiring to traumatic to… funny? One scene goes as such: the son of the woman who adopts Oher as her own, and Oher himself are driving the family car down the road, goofing off and singing to a song on the radio. Not paying attention, Oher crashes the car into a truck that’s slowly backing out into their lane. It cuts to the woman receiving a phone call notifying her of the accident. Cutting again to the scene of the accident, she rushes to Oher, who’s sitting down on the sidewalk away from the accident, who tells her to check on the kid. Seeing that her son is being tended to, she shoves an officer out of the way and runs to him, asking if he’s okay. To this, he replies: “Mom. Do you think the blood will wash out of my shirt?”

It was at this point I decided not to take the film seriously anymore. Here we have a kid, who’s bloodied from a car accident, being tended to on a stretcher, making one-liners to his mother, who is worried sick about him. On top of that, she smiles and answers his question seriously, only to go back to Oher and tell him that everything’s fine and that it happens to everybody. Not one ounce of anger. Astounding. The film doesn’t have the guts to have a single lingering negative circumstance surround the characters for any extended period. Not only that, but the guts to show any negative event that would shock the viewer into believing the hardships of Oher’s life. All throughout, things are simply stated, and if shown at all, are shown only to the most minimal degree. Nothing truly gets any attention, other than Bullock’s face and Oher’s rise to football stardom (though even that feels lopsided).

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So the story is laughably benign of all tension and personality. Are the characters any better? Unfortunately no, as they all stick firmly within their characters’ roles and nothing more. Oher’s a tragic hero, bullied by life and mistreated by just about everybody. A sad sack who’s good at heart and couldn’t hurt a fly. Bullock’s character is the sweet-hearted angel who takes him in and provides him all he needs to survive and flourish athletically. Her family is there. The teachers and football coaches are there. They receive next to no development as people and hardly provide anything worthwhile to anything. Bullock’s husband and daughter may as well have not been in this movie. Bullock’s son I wish wasn’t in this movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly every character is only to provide a single driving point: Oher is to be pitied, and Bullock is to be praised.

It doesn’t give a single shit. It doesn’t give a shit about Oher or his real-life struggles. It doesn’t give a shit about the traumatic experiences that happen behind the scenes. It doesn’t give a shit that everything about this film is but a big-budget straight-to-VHS movie. It doesn’t give a shit that its own narcissistic telling of a genuinely interesting story ruined everything about this film for me, and likely others. It doesn’t give a shit how the only real thing they wanted to do was make a flimsy “zero to hero” story without any effort. The Blind Side is blinded by its own grandeur, which may have been the most insulting thing involved, and what makes it so easy to forget.

Final Score: 3/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Eighteen: Sleepless in Seattle (MotM 2017)

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I’m starting to feel bad with all of these shorter posts. I’d like to write more about these films, but they’re either too one-dimensional to talk at length about or life catches up with me and I can’t find the time or motivation to write paragraph after paragraph. Today in particular has been a tiring one for me, so once again, I’ll keep this relatively short.

Romance has always been my favorite genre to indulge in. When a good romance grips me, I’m normally blinded to all the flaws that surround it, should the aspect of romance be treated kindly enough. In Sleepless in Seattle, the romance is treated like a sort of magic, a sense that things bigger than what normal humans are capable of comprehending are at play and are urging people’s subconscious into satisfying their irrational desires. Before watching the film, I had the impression that its premise would make it a tad unconventional. It turned out so, as while unconventional, it’s almost unbelievable.

That’s why I fucking hated this movie.

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As some clarification, I don’t consider Sleepless in Seattlebad movie. It has good acting, a decent pace, and an intrigue that continues along that makes it watchable all throughout. However, there is one giant, irrefutable flaw in the film and that is its writing. My, does it relish in making some of the most contrived plot conveniences in cinematic existence. My, does it enjoy making characters into walking plot advancers. The kid, specifically. Tom Hanks’s child in the film has too blatant a self-insert style of characterization, one who conveniently knows everything his father wants despite him being a god damn eight-year-old. His behavior, and some of his lines, make him like that character that authors throw into stories as a sort of wink to the audience that the author know what they want to happen in the story. You know Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are gonna get together in the end. It’s obvious. The kid’s there to cozy him into the idea of pursuing her (or forcing him). That’s what makes him immensely unlikable.

Meg Ryan’s fiancé in the film, Lone Star or something, is another character that lacks any genuine humanity. Early on it’s implied that he’s simply in the way. And when the moment arrives of their inevitable split, he not only accepts it, but encourages it. The fuck?! This film is so obvious with its intentions that it makes everything else feel just as tired. It’s unfortunate, as Ryan and Hanks’s characters seemed cute and quirky, like real people. Even Rosie O’Donnell’s character seemed nice. At times, it comes across as a made-for-TV movie, just with well-known actors in the starring roles. The romance falls flat because the characters never really get to know one another, as the audience is only left to yearn for them to get together because “they deserve each other.” Nothing says romantic quite like filling a void to prevent long-term depression.

At its core, the film is roughly average, with some potential for an above-average viewing for those who flutter towards the characters’ love for destiny. Being brought down by horribly transparent characters that force the plot forward ruined the experience for me, as it went downhill the longer the movie went on and I realized just how long the leads would go without meeting. It could be a fine watch for some, but for those looking for something a little more passionate or logical, hit the skip button.

Final Score: 4.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Seventeen: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (MotM 2017)

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Is it a meme to claim that Monty Python in general is overrated? Nevertheless, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the most beloved films of the franchise. It’s created a number of memes and quotes that, even out of context, are fairly humorous. Even those who have never seen the movie once are sure to know that the film is never serious, and never takes itself seriously either. A type of comedy that’s far different than the American standard, it relishes in the whimsical absurdity it concocts with every scene. However, this is all one can expect, and with that in mind, there’s not much to say.

The Holy Grail makes fun of medieval things. It makes fun of chivalry and heroic conquests of epic bombast. It makes fun of the common tropes that come with epic action/adventures. And it delivers them with such enthusiasm that half the jokes run on for far too long. Commitment, they’ll call it. Committed to running down on time, I suppose. It truly is a specific taste for comedy, and while some will claim that it’s the wittiest and sharpest writing this side of early aged Europe, that sort of expectation is sure to make something as subjective as comedy falter. There is some credit to what kind of humor the film harbors, as it’s fairly varied in some regard, but ultimately, it doesn’t make for a hearty “LOL.”

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There’s a good runner-up term that indicates when a film isn’t exactly funny, but charming enough to be memorable. “Quotable.” No, quoting the term “quotable” isn’t a double-negative that nulls its effect. The Holy Grail is a very quotable movie, which almost works better for the truly zany moments during its span. Certain scenes are funnier than others, while some serve as filler for better things to come. Unevenness is the name of the game when all sorts of jokes are thrown with every other line. There’s use of fourth wall breaking, playing characters for fools, even animation is incorporated to good use. It all accumulates into a rather entertaining experience, but nothing truly worthwhile. Though this fault is my own, as I have a certain set of priorities with films, many of which The Holy Grail scoffs at.

For me, this film was a mindless watch, something as a means of baseless entertainment. I had no expectations because in a ridiculous parody film, one shouldn’t. I simply watched and allowed myself to be entertained. Was I? To some extent. It had its moments of genuine ingenuity and some characters shined within their roles. For the most part, the performances were spirited and perfect for the nature of the genre. If not for the varying degrees of long-running spiels, the film would’ve made for an eternally amusing piece. Forgive me if I type as though I’m disappointed in the film by means of lost potential. The Holy Grail makes use of any and all potential within the genre it resides in. It just didn’t tickle me in the same way as others did, particularly films by Mel Brooks or Kung Pow.

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Just because I didn’t care for the comedy doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. The thing is with parody is that it’s fairly straightforward most of the time. If the art of parody doesn’t amuse you, there isn’t much else to hold onto, as just about every aspect holds true to that art. Whether it be story, characters, humor, performances, sound, tone, etc. Everything directly ties in some way to parodying a certain prospect. I appreciated the quotability of the film, though not the type of comedy—well, most of it. It’s recommendable on the merit that it employs a number of different styles that could possibly have a very strong hit for certain people. Plus, it’s nice to find out the origins of such classics as “It’s just a flesh wound.”

Final Score: 5.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Sixteen: Mononoke Hime (MotM 2017)

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It’s about time. After nearly falling asleep with Spirited Away and only bordering the line of magical entertainment with Kiki’s Delivery Service, Studio Ghibli has finally managed to crack open my world of imagination with Mononoke Hime, or Princess Mononoke. What it lacks in subtlety and good vibes it more than makes up for in an exciting and sobering atmosphere. If I may describe it in popular video game terms, this is the Twilight Princess of Ghibli’s library.

Right off the bat, there’s a notable lack of depth with the characters and the narrative. Some may consider it cliché, and they’d probably be justified for it. It’s a relatively straightforward story of blurring good and evil, with a heavy focus on environmentalism and a Man vs. Spirituality angle coming in about halfway through. It’s not something that will win awards for its writing, nor is it something that will blow the minds of anyone who’s read any story ever. While Studio Ghibli isn’t typically noted for amazing stories, after seeing spirited Away, I leave with the hindsight that Princess Mononoke could’ve done more.

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Still, the film survives through its grim outer shell. It was around the time the male lead decapitated a man with a single shot from his bow and arrow that I perked up in my seat. This is the kind of imagery one can expect. Slicing, dicing, bloodshed, and oozing, demonic tentacles. There’s nothing wrong with being family-friendly or magical through means of naivety and whimsy, but something about Ghibli’s use of animation and the “epicness” of narrative grandeur feels so much better under Mononoke‘s direction. A clear focus, the quest to dissolve it, and finding all new conflict along the way has a way of making things more interesting without relying on the depth of the overall story. In a sense, my Legend of Zelda reference describes this film in more ways than one, as the magic of adventure is very much present throughout.

Someone on Twitter predicted I wouldn’t like the characters in this film (You know who you are). Looking at them objectively, they’re not entirely round, but not entirely flat. Development flatlines for most upon their initial introduction, though some have a different side revealed through interaction with others. Had I needed to grade it, it would probably be in a ‘C’ range, with characters doing what they have to do to keep things interesting, but not enough to make them impactful or memorable long-term. No characters stand out from one another, though the male and female lead have a natural chemistry based on one discovering more about the humanity she has that she constantly rejects. The male lead… well, his only admission is that he finds the female lead “beautiful.” Men, am I right?

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Comparisons to other Ghibli films aside, Princess Mononoke on its own has more depth to it than, say, epics told by word-of-mouth. Environmentalism is present quite a bit, with attitudes toward the forest (which translates to most of nature) directly relating to a character’s personality and ambitions. Some, such as the female lead and her wolf family, hold the forest and its spiritual beings to high esteem, warding off all who dare to encroach. The Ironmakers, a group of workers directly under an ambitious female leader, are more practical, seeing the forest and its spirits as roadblocks to their desires. This could almost be seen as a new-look Manifest Destiny, a slogan used by olden settlers as an excuse to expand the United States as far as possible for their means of power and productivity. The groundworks of a decisive divide linger in the background, reinforced by the repetition of characters accusing the male lead of choosing sides. Said male lead, try as he might to be neutral, ends up favoring one side more than another, which suits his role in the argument.

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An issue I have with the sort of “gray” approach the film tries to have is that it eventually settles to one side. The ending creates an ambiguous happy ending for all those involved, immediately after facing the wrath of going against one particular “side” of the argument at hand. One can pass this off as a teaching of moral lessons, but at what point does a moral become an opinion? Environmentalism isn’t necessarily a clear-cut evil aspect along the lines of rape or murder. Just to reiterate, it’s not that it promotes environmentalism, but that it takes a fictional setting and works it into a moral message that isn’t entirely accepted and promotes it as “the right or wrong choice.”

On the discussion of endings, Mononoke’s ending felt somewhat anticlimactic. It’s one thing to have all the conflict go away, it’s another to have it all literally dissolve on top of the characters. And such little time to think over everything that happened! The final resolution comes to fruition and then the movie ends after a couple lines from the surviving cast. What a minimalist way to rush the end. I would’ve expected something a little more insightful, something that felt as though it simmered the ingredients to bring them to a thorough state. It felt more like flipping pancakes.

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It’s by and large my favorite Ghibli film thus far. How ironic that a viewer who normally indulges in symbolism and subtext wrapped in flamboyant characters could find such amusement with a relatively tame story with semi-flat characters. I suppose it’s the type of simplicity that works when all other aspects are competent enough to work, with a strong emphasis on the way its presented. Needless to say, Princess Mononoke has amazing animation and design. Personally, I think it’s the best movement-wise of all the Ghibli films I’ve seen. The perfect wrapping for a film that entertains more than it impresses, but has enough vitality to make up for it.

Final Score: 8/10

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Fourteen: Life Itself (MotM 2017)

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For a time, Roger Ebert’s opinion meant the world to me. A possible future suddenly fulfilling my every desire my junior year of high school, I went and read every review for every movie that came out, but took special notice of anything written by one Roger Ebert. He had the sophistication, the charisma, and the expertise of writing as a utensil to bring new life to the old, repeated words of his reviews. I was obsessively fascinated by his opinion and what he found characteristic of a good film. Right up until his death, I followed the man’s ratings every week as updated by Rotten Tomatoes (where I would write my own reviews at the time). I’ve never dreamed of being Roger Ebert, but should I be able to accumulate the impact he’s had on others and reach even a hint of the type of quality and effort he put into his writing, I’d be able to take pride in knowing I’m headed down a sufficient path.

Life Itself is Ebert’s movie, dedicated to his life and his accomplishments. Life was something that he knew very well, as shown in this documentary, and something that always seemed to be something he reveled in taking part of. It makes me, as hermit-like as my habits are, feel as though I’m missing out on all that life can provide me should I ever take the plunge into the outside world. Not only does it take on all of the joy in his life, but the amount he had suffered because of it. Showing the good in the bad, and vice-versa, Life Itself is a documentary that submerges the audience both in melodramatic tragedy and sparkling sentimentality.

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With each documentary I see, the more I become accustomed to the things it incorporates to cement itself as a documentary. For a little more context, take A Football Life for example, which is a series of a hour-long documentaries on players or associated subjects of the NFL. I have seen at least thirty episodes of this documentary series, so the structure of “Insert photo of subject in the past here, have a personal friend talk about their character or impact there,” is not lost on me in the slightest. For me, a good documentary should be able to paint a story about its subject, something that makes them real, makes them seem human or revolutionary in the sense that they deserve a documentary about them. And in that way, it becomes easy for a documentary to become dull based on the amount of praise one can receive with each and every speaker or flip of the photobook turnstile. The most boring episodes of A Football Life either don’t mention any sense of drama or negative input on the subject or gloss over them as “bad mistakes” in an altogether perfect life. One doesn’t need to have imperfection to make them more interesting, but it is the flair of personality that breaths life into this horribly clichéd set-up. Roger Ebert has enough gusto to keep the picture at the very least interesting.

An entertainer, a once problem drinker, an intellectual, a lover of all things cinema, an uppity snoot, a man of wit and social charm, and strong determination. These are all things that can be used to describe the man that was once Roger Ebert, with every negative and positive stereotype that comes with it. Life Itself isn’t just a film that creates the legend of Roger Ebert the critic, but Roger Ebert the human being. It teeters the fine line between creating an idol in his image and breaking him down to be as real as any other person. While I feel there’s far more positive relishing of his success and personality, that’s to be expected in a tribute to his life, rather than an act-by-act retelling of cynical objectivism.

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Of course, the structure of the film is little different than documentaries created throughout time. People come in and speak about his greatness, his contributions to the field, and every so often the things that may not make him seem so good a person. A slideshow of photos from his past, along with miscellaneous tapes of his past endeavors (which may have been the highlight of the film) litter Life Itself as though it came straight out of PBS. Even present (at the time of filming) events occur that chronicle his battle with many of his medical setbacks very late into his life. In this sense, the documentary has a tendency to run into the same structure of passing scenes that are only relieved through occasional stories of intimacy from others or Ebert himself. If not for these things, there would be little that differentiated it from that of, say, A Football Life; subject not specified, of course.

Those who know Roger Ebert’s television career are also familiar with one Richard Roeper, who’s mysteriously absent from the film, despite co-lining Ebert’s television program At the Movies for a number of years. Some research shows that based on the direction of the documentary’s narrative, any and all mention of Roeper and others after Gene Siskel’s death was cut to give further focus to Ebert’s struggle with his health. I’ll provide a link to a Screenprism article here in case anyone is interested after watching this film. With that said, I don’t see why they couldn’t have at least gotten him in for an interview, as cutting him out completely seems to be skipping over a turbulent period of Ebert’s life. Coping with the death of a longtime partner and friend could have made for some interesting potential.

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In what Life Itself does right, it does so with excruciatingly excitable detail for any and all fans of Roger Ebert or his work. Even without the bias, anyone can sit down and appreciate the type of commitment one must have to do what Ebert had done in his life. At its core, it’s the type of movie that inspires others to do what they really wish to do, while providing the knowledge to have one think for themselves. It’s a very poignant love letter to the bright sides of stardom and the artistry of making and reviewing films. A deeply personal and human aspect to a seemingly cold and calculative world that is critiquing finds a great balance within Life Itself. It certainly takes a deeply fascinating character to make that possible. Roger Ebert was perfect as its ambassador.

Final Score: 7.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Thirteen: Brothers (MotM 2017)

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Y’know, why is this film called Brothers? It involves brothers and there are some themes that play with the idea of how the brothers affect one another, but the film seems more than just that. It feels more like it wants to do a thousand things at one time, with Brothers being the convenient choice due to its source material. Of all things present, they decided that the aspect of brotherhood was the most important, despite scenes that play more into the effects of war on a human’s psyche. One could call this foreshadowing of the film’s quality. One would be right.

In 2008, American producers watched a movie called Brødre and thought, “Wow! That was great. Let’s do an American version for American people!” They then called up Spider-Man, Queen Amidala, and one half of the Brokeback Mountain couple to star in the leading roles. A year later, Brothers was born.*

*This information is not cited.

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Focus can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the topic and the extraneous circumstances. In this case, focus is something of a foreign concept—perhaps Danish or something. At first, there is a clear indication that the film wants to establish a contrast of expectations between the brothers, Sam and Tommy. It follows this by showing off the lifestyles of Sam and Tommy, as polar opposite as they are. Sam goes off to war and supposedly dies, this trauma leading to the recreation and redemption of Tommy’s life. Only thing is, Sam is actually still alive and experiencing horrific things due to the hostility of warring countries. He is eventually rescued and returned home, where he begins to crack under the pressure of converting to a normal lifestyle, combined with the actions he had to do to secure his life. In-between this, a number of different things involving character and plot are also unveiled.

This may sound slightly spoiler-y, but the synopsis on various websites shares all of this and more. The meaning behind sharing so much is to instrument the focus one needs to have to pick all of this up in a single watch. Numerous characters, settings, moods, and things to develop make Brothers a somewhat tiring watch, as it tries to overanalyze itself and its characters, causing the ending to feel a little flat compared to all that followed. Its execution, however, makes it feel a tad more tiring.

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One of the things I noticed while watching was just how forced some of the more tense situations are. The emphasis on Tommy being a questionably-moraled guy, his father’s constant comparisons of him to his brother, Sam’s kids being literal walking drama-spouters. A lot of scenes feel far more dramatic than they need to, precisely due to the writing trying to crank up the drama to a twelve. Characters feel like they have a single role, then become more varied, only to revert back to their original form. Even characters that develop for the better, such as Tommy, end up becoming so developed that their original issues don’t feel as if they were that much of an issue to begin with. The film makes an effort to show that Tommy was arrested, is constantly relying on Sam and his wife, and really enjoys drowning his sorrows in alcohol. An hour into the movie later, all of this disappears and is never brought to light again. He essentially loses who he was as a character and becomes “Reformed,” and that’s it.

Another victim of this is Sam’s wife, whose only role is that of Sam’s (and later Tommy’s) beacon of light. There’s a point where some attempt is made to make her more human, as interacting with Tommy brings out a bit of a wild side to her, only to have it go back to trying to maintain her family. Her faithfulness is her only defining trait, with her character blooming slightly through Tommy’s care as juxtaposition, only to go back once Sam returns. It all ends up becoming a question of “What’s the point?” A number of things develop just to be squashed by a larger plot point, specifically revolving around Sam. It’s almost funny that Sam’s children end up caring more for Tommy than him, as I enjoyed Gyllenhaal’s scenes and character more than Maguire’s.

Speaking of Sam’s children, they’re written really poorly. And can hardly act.

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On the acting front, movie sites such as Rotten Tomatoes will have the audience believe that the actors in this film carry the weight of its faults. I’m not so sure about that. Tobey Maguire is an interesting specimen, as his acting is a both good and bad. Think Kristen Stewart, with all the shit she gets for her standard of acting and the constant blank stares and monotone mumbling of her voice. Maguire is essentially her male counterpart, as this film very much establishes his mastery of the awkward, dumbfounded blankness of facial expression and vocal range. He manages to show his full extent of uncontrolled rage at the end, but even that feels like overkill. Portman and Gyllenhaal are better together than apart, but still suffer somewhat from a lack of emotional effort. They act their parts according to what their character should be feeling and nothing more. Some would call this unrealistic. I call it getting the job done to go home. And the kids are borderline cringey.

Despite all the flaws, there’s passion behind this piece that makes it entertaining all throughout. While some developments wither away at the mid-point, others feel poignant and powerful. The moods are definitely good for each shot and a lot of subtle hints at what’s to come (as predictable as they may be) are enough to carry the film from scene to scene. I liked the detail to things such as finding solace in darkness, trauma being used to steer people straight, and the importance of talking out internal conflict. There are good things happening within, and while there’s a lot of lost potential, the potential lingers upon the ruins of the film’s final state.

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Brothers is an unfortunate example of a film that becomes worse the more one thinks about it. Characters, plot, and overexerting the drama that comes out of it makes it a must-see for lovers of soap operas or, say, Degrassi. All others should look harder for a drama that establishes itself with proper foundations and more likable characters. Or, perhaps, look up the source material.

Final Score: 5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Twelve: The Great Dictator (MotM 2017)

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Another short post today. Feeling a tad ill.

Nazis are a popular subject in movies. They have been for quite some time. The Great Dictator is one of the earliest examples of using the Nazi movement to prove a point about its cruelty, as the movie makes it abundantly clear its intentions. Those who still believe in Nazism would paint this film out to be propaganda, but it’s still enough of an actual movie to be considered such. It just has very clear expectations of the audience.

In this sense, it’s hard not to fault the movie for being transparent. On the other hand, what’s being promoted should be universally accepted. Unless you really enjoy war and violence and treating others as inferior. Just because a movie has a good message doesn’t automatically make it a masterpiece, though The Great Dictator has enough going for it to make it entertaining on its own accord.

Charlie Chaplin is most known for his role in the silent movie days, which makes his starring role in this film all the more intriguing, as it is his first feature film to have him speak. He certainly used all that pent up vocal expression to good use, as combined with his bodily acting prowess, Chaplin makes for a riveting performer. More so as Hynkel, the titular dictator, which ironically uses more of the vocal aspects of performing than anything else. What came as a pleasant surprise was just how funny his performance of Hynkel was, especially early on during his maddening speeches that were little more than gibberish. I really enjoyed how Chaplin used what many would call into question about his role in the film and blew away all of it out of the water with his acting talent.

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Still, Chaplin alone doesn’t make the movie, as a number of other characters inhabit the stage along with him. To be honest, the best parts of the movie were when it focused on Hynkel’s empire and subordinates, rather than the people he was putting fear into. Not to say the characters whose roles were primarily that of the victims were bad or bland, but they didn’t exhibit the same charisma or charm as the attention dedicated to making the “evil” characters idiotic or menacing. There was more dimension to Hynkel and his men than to those they pursued, as their only role came to be the pursued, and little more. They act in accordance to their ordinary lives. There’s not much really interesting to them.

In essence, the great thing about this film is Charlie Chaplin. Others perform to varying degrees of quality entertainment or comedy, but Chaplin is the true star. He almost makes the whole movie, and the movie feels listless without him. A number of memorable scenes, from the ending speech, the globe dance (which I personally think is the best scene), and the food fight with the “Bacterian” dictator wouldn’t have been as tremendous if not for Chaplin’s energy. If not for the blatant device of peace and humanity, and a more endearing supporting cast, The Great Dictator would’ve been a more easy recommendation of mine.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Day Eleven: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (MotM 2017)

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I’m going to be completely honest, because I feel I owe it to the reader to not beat around the bush. I didn’t like this film. I spent a large majority of the film bored out of my mind and wondering how I’m going to justify giving it a bad score than actually caring what was going on. Now, don’t take that as a sign that I wasn’t paying attention, as I was, obsessively so. This is something that I wanted to enjoy, knowing how legendary Studio Ghibli is and my own nostalgic value of the film, seeing it many years ago. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find any enjoyment with it, and should I rate this strictly by enjoyment standards, it’d probably be as low as a two or three out of ten. I couldn’t do that, though.

There is a lot of weight to this film that makes it more than what it seems, something that requires a keen eye for detail. Symbolism, moral messages, subtle character development, wonderful design and animation, and a fantasy world that feels vibrant and organized. An uppity cynic could watch this and say it’s nothing but a frank message of being good-moraled. That kind of viewpoint is setting aside a lot of the “magic” that hides behind the scenes, something that becomes apparent with a full analysis. All of this is technically impressive with how well it’s incorporated into the world, as most of it isn’t directly involved with the plot.

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Issues involved with my experience personally boils down to a single aspect: characters. That’s not to say it is my only issue, as I’ll get into more later, but for the most part, it is the characters that bore me so. They’re developed fine. They’re presented fine. Are they likable? That’s where the line becomes somewhat murky. Some could argue yes, some no; in the end, it’s a subjective point. I didn’t find most characters likable, and while some ended up more likable by the end (Zeniba), most were persistently set in stone, stubbornly similar in design from beginning to end. People praise the characters for being multi-dimensional and relatively neutral in moral standing, but when that becomes they’re only charming point, they begin to blend together. Some are snobbier, some are nicer, some are more serious; all blend in to a monotonous transitional picture that feels too safe.

Perhaps if not safe, formulated would be a good way to describe it. Indeed, something of a jumping point for my cynicism towards modern Disney films, Spirited Away has a straightforward and to-the-point narrative structure. Though not always a key issue, when combined with my already disconnected feelings towards the characters, it makes the movie move at a snail’s pace. Scenes play in slow-motion, with the only relief coming from anything out of the ordinary, such as the constant attention to dirty, stinky, vile filth from a myriad of different creatures. In addition, symbolic themes feel too blatant, bombarding the viewer with repetitive images of creatures constantly clamoring for gold and being punished for it. This is just one thing, however, as other themes are visualized wonderfully. It’s a hit-and-miss process.

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Something of an interesting debate is the usefulness of Chihiro as the starring character. Many will debate whether she’s a good or bad character based on personality or growth, and while I didn’t care for her but acknowledge she had development, there’s another aspect regarding her I don’t think is discussed enough: her morality. With one of the most integral aspects of Spirited Away being resisting the temptations of Earthly desires concerning greed and gluttony, I find her character somewhat disappointing. To reiterate, I think she does grow, though I feel her potential was lost by making her a squeaky-clean lead, oblivious to all the things that should at least tempt her. The starting point only paints her as being uppity and slightly spoiled, but nothing of a bad child. Her role eventually becomes the eyes and ears that the viewer can relate to coming into a new world. She doesn’t really change as much as she could’ve, and her character would’ve been a lot more interesting had she expressed anything other than the blank slate that most anime leads embody.

Does anything really need to be said about the animation? Studio Ghibli hits basically every category when it comes to this field. Animation is fluid basically 99% of the way, the design and detail of the world, its characters, and fantasy aspects are wondrous and lovely (even the disgusting images), and the way it interacts with the subtle details of character-building is extraordinary. It’s good. Very, very good. Apparently the sound is really good, too, but I hardly heard it throughout.

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I think I’ve said enough to make a few enemies describe why I plan to rate this film the way I plan to. There’s enough here to warrant the praise that it receives and it wouldn’t surprise me if I were to watch this again and enjoy it more, but as it stands, the film just didn’t click with me. It’s a slippery slope when a major aspect of a movie doesn’t work, tainting the rest of it (perhaps unfairly) for the worse. For me, the characters don’t hold up enough weight to keep the ship from sinking into a sea of grating time watching, along with some holes concerning the blatancy of the narrative’s structure and the role of the female lead. For many, and I mean many, this film is an unquestioned classic. Putting it lightly, I find it overrated. More acutely, I find it disappointing that it couldn’t live up to the expectations of others, and most importantly, to myself.

Final Score: 5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!