Charlotte’s Web (2006)

[Screenshot]Any film adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, of course, will find itself in comparison to the classic 1973 animated musical version. By and large this actually stands up pretty well: it’s faithful to the text of the original, and matches the classic film in most respects. As I’m used to the older version, the lack of musical numbers threw me, but I can’t rightly count that as a flaw. The integration of animal actors/CG works as far as I’m concerned; if there were flubs, I didn’t catch them, and the voice actors are competent if a bit dubiously chosen (more below). So in production, tihs is a Charlotte’s Web which can hold its own.

Now, as to those voice actors. I had only a few problems, but they were awfully irksome. Wilbur’s voice actor has a gratingly young voice: yes, he’s supposed to be a young character, but he could be given a less grating young voice. The gander’s voice bugged me too, but that’s because I’m kinda tapped out on the “sassy black man” comic patter (aren’t we all? Even “sassy donkey” and “sassy gander” are tedious). Otherwise, it’s a pretty brilliant voice cast (no complaints about the sheep, cows, Templeton, or Charlotte), and the role of Fern is well-played too. As to the other human actors, eh, they do their part. They hardly get any screen-time anyways.

The ’73 verison will always be the classic to me. But this is at least an honest and solid recreation.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

天空の城ラピュタ/Castle in the Sky

[Screenshot]I actually saw this one ages ago: surely you don’t think I’ve missed a longstanding part of the Miyazaki canon? It hits all the right points: flying girls, self-determination, kids with all sorts of moxie. Even the sky-pirates are a type rather typical of Miyazaki. None of this is to run this film, or Miyazaki’s general oeuvre down. The man knows what he likes, and he likes it a lot, and he does it well enough that the rest of us forgive him for it. There are a couple things which set it apart from the Miyazaki mainstream, though, and make it (dare I say it) more mature. The one which struck me most on the first watching was that it’s one of the few to include an unrepentantly malicious character. Muska’s the most undeniably evil character I’ve encountered in Ghibli film. The bar’s rather low, between films lacking a villain (Totoro), ones full of well-meaning but deluded people (Nausicaa, Mononoke), and fairy-tale-style villains lacking actual malice (Spirited Away, The Cat Returns). So encountering a character who, say, slaughters an entire platoon of his allies for countermanding him is kidn of a shock. The other aspect, and one I’d missed until I saw a lot more Ghibli films to compare, is that of romantic relationship. Miyazaki’s more about the hot girl-on-world action than any sort of individual relationships, but Shita and Pazu get a lot of shared screentime, a lot of dialogue, and a lot of intimate moments (no, not that intimate; those are on the outtakes reel). There’s a lot more chemistry than I’ve seen in any Ghibli film except Whisper of the Heart.

Anyways, as regards its place in the canon: Castle in the Sky is definitely one of the more complex Miyazaki films. It’s worth watching and departs from his formula in some non-obvious ways. Also, it’s one of the few Ghibli films I find the dub particularly annoying on. Disney generally does OK by them, and even in this case they got good voice talent (including Mark Hamill), but they bollocksed up the script a bit, adding an awful lot of jokey banter and voiceover which, in my estimation, somewhat lowered the tone of the film.

See also: IMDB, Nausicaa.net, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Csillagosok, katonák

[Screenshot]Occasionally, a film will make me wonder if I’m a complete philistine, or just not in tune with the way film critics view things. This is one of those times: Csillagosok, katonák is well-regarded, and generally considered one of Jancsó’s best films, but I find myself disagreeing. I found this film jumbled, disordered, and largely incoherent. The cinematography follows a style somewhat familiar from Szerelmem, Elektra, which means it reminds me just a little of Kurosawa. But in this film, which follows a number of individual characters and their individual fates, the wide perspective tends to obscure rather than illuminate: significant actinos may be happening way off in the background while nothing at all happens in the foreground. Add this to a plot which is oriented around a number of vignettes, and an incomprehensible significance attached to the removal of shirts (seriously, if we classified films by disrobings per minute, this would be way out with the voyeur porn), and you get something which is very difficult to watch.

Adding to this difficulty is the poor quality of this particular release. I never shut up about thelow quality of Hungarian releases stateside, so I’ll run through my usual laundry list: burned-in subtitles, poor translation, rough interlace. In addition there’s the issue of a poor-quality original print (probably a function more of its age and production than anything else), and the truly unforgivable oversight that a great deal of the dialogue seems to have gone untranslated. That, more than anything else, made this film basically unfollowable.

So, for any Anglophones interested in the sparse, stylized cinema of Miklós Jancsó, I’d have to continue suggesting Szerelmem, Elektra as the best example out there, since this release is disappointingly incomplete and Szegénylegények isn’t out stateside. But I’m not sure if, even with all the dialogue, this movie truly makes sense. I couldn’t figure out much of the action and I don’t know how much the dialogue would have helped.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia

Tomboy Commando

[Screenshot]Again, Netflix with the explanation:

May, Aeh, Tar and Pui are the hard-rocking stars of a popular all-girl band, but offstage they’re a hard-hitting quartet on a quest to find a magical potion that will transform the tomboys into real men. Along the way they must face off against dwarfs, a gang of overweight women and a mob of vicious bandits. This Thai cult classic stars Alice Crystal, Katalina Gross, Marisa Seefah and Nunthayaporn Munthatatikul.

I figured there were many things this could be, most of them pretty awful. I didn’t expect the boring kind of awful, though. Despite the posing with guns, there are no acts of female badassery in this film. Or even half-assed attempts at female badassery. Really, it’s four actresses in search of something to do.

Oh, and a point on subtext: as the synopsis suggests, this movie doesn’t particularly make distinctions with regard to sexual divergences: the title characters are presented as tomboys; dialogue and plot seem to suggest that this condition is considered isomorphic to lesbianism and transsexuality. There’s definitely some overlap among the three groups, but they’re not identical by a long shot. Negative points social-consciousnesswise, dudes.

The cinematography’s no great shakes either, as the screenshot shows. I didn’t intentionally choose a dirty, blurry shot: that’s actually a pretty representative one (although, in motion, it’s almost viewable). The sound is dreadful: clearly everyone’s got their own mike, so occaisonally one character’s dialogue will sound like it’s being recorded from inside a bathroom, or as the voice of God, or (and this is particularly unfortunate in what was supposed to be a climactic scene) from the far end of a tin-can telephone. Also, not all dialogue is subtitles. Nor is on-screen text.

I was expecting a quirky action comedy, possibly with kickboxing. Instead I got a dull movie about a bunch of people wandering around until they stumble into a moral. I guess I should rent Ong-Bak at some point to get my Thai kickboxer fix (not something I felt any need for until I watched this film and spent 90 minutes not watching people kick each other).

See also: there’s no IMDB page on this, as far as I can tell. Or Wikipedia page. Or page of any sort except for English-language retailers selling this exact DVD. Draw your own conclusions.

The Tick, episodes 1–6

[Screenshot]Hrm. The Tick is a franchise which has done, by and large, not so badly for itself. It started as a comic book, had a respectable number of spin-offs, got picked up as a pretty well-regarded animated series, and also was optioned for a doomed, doomed live-action series. These 6 episodes are, apparently, two-thirds of the latter. It’s fairly easy, on seeing them, to see why it was not a success: it was far to campily quirky for the mainstream, while the fanbase—the sort of folk who like quirky comedy—were turned off by both the obvious and unobvious divergences from their beloved source material.

Probably the most obvious and glaring point of contention is the composition of the main cast. Captain Liberty and Batmanuel had these subplots which were sort of detracting from the whole Tick-Arthur dynamic. Also importantly missing were any actual villains. The Tick and Arthur’s interactions with exoteric society form a fair bit of the humor in every version of The Tick, but the superhero angle doesn’t work unless we have a villain or two occasionally (especially since Tick villains are such delicious hams). We saw only one actual supervillain in these 6 episodes, I think.

The sad thing is that except for plot and structural issues, this was actually well-done. Patrick Warburton got into the role and delivered a brilliant Tick, and David Burke’s Arthur was excellent in a more understated and human way. The other two principals did an OK job but would have been better served by being on a different show entirely. The dialogue between the Tick and Arthur works well in the context of the established comic characters, so if they’d let these two bounce off of eachother and a recurring cast of supervillains, we’d have a good show. Alas, ’twas not to be.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Sans Soleil

[Screenshot]Chris Marker apparently had one good film in him, and this wasn’t it. Lord, is this dull. I kept expecting it to go somewhere, or at least make a point. I like philosophy, and the narration in this quasi-documentary occasionally dipped into the philosophical, but it never actually said anything worth saying, just made odd baseless assertions about society. Boring, pointless, and way way way too long. This may be a sign of the times. Maybe back in the ’80s, Japan’s idiosyncrasies were still considered interesting, but even in that context, the long shots with droning, seemingly irrelevant voiceovers can’t have been that appealing.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

La Jetée

[Screenshot]Pretty much all I knew about La Jetée is that it was one of the first serious sci-fi films, and that it was one of the major inspirations for 12 Monkeys. The latter isn’t worth harping on too much except to indicate that Gilliam did in fact treat the source material with a fair bit of respect (he even managed an homage-to-an-homage, by including the scene from Vertigo to which Marker alluded with one still). But I’d rather focus on this film’s own merits, even though I’m quite fond of 12 Monkeys.

Stylistically, La Jetée is already pretty idiosyncratic. I wasn’t expecting a photomontage: I thought it was live action. Most of my usual comments about cinematography, characterization, etc. go out the window: there’s no cinematography to speak of (although the composition of the stills is excellent), no dialogue, and no acting except what can be captured in a moment of time. And yet, as a film, it still felt, intrinsically, like it worked. There was a good story narrated solidly, and the images over which it was narrated accentuated the story. I’m not sure what to make of photomontage as an art form, and it’s not a style I particularly like or get into, but within the constraints of the medium, this film was successful at telling a story, and a solid, original story too (apropos of which: both French and English language tracks were well-delivered, although the timing on the English track was significantly off).

So, yes, worth the time. The photomontage medium might start to wear if it were longer, but at under half an hour it stays fresh and interesting.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.