Aug 18, 2009


Hayao Miyazaki. The name alone puts a smile on my face. Through all of my cinematic exploits, there have been very few things that bring me as much joy as visiting a world created by Hayao Miyazaki. Ponyo is no exception. I already had a bias toward Miyazaki and the films of Studio Ghibli (four of which are among my favorite films ever made), so I expected to like Ponyo. I never would have guessed I'd walk out of the theater having seen a movie I would call perfect.

Studio Ghibli and Pixar are often viewed as equals when comparing both their body of work and their inner workings as a company. Both are overflowing with imagination, integrity, and a deep-rooted love for the medium. Both produce films that are lightyears ahead of the other animation studios, both visually and with masterful storytelling. The attention to detail and vast effort put into their films result a higher caliber of filmmaking. They don't make "kid's movies," they make movies that are marketed to children, because animation equals kids. But what sets Ghibli apart, and puts them closer to my heart, is their love for hand drawn animation. As much as I love Pixar and their films...I will never love computer animation. The layers of hand-painted cells, each one every bit as important as the last, all starting out as a single line from a pencil. I feel more connected to and have more respect for hand drawn art than I do something run through a computer, made up of microscopic bits of data; rendered and perfect. I want to see flaws and imperfections. Because through imperfection I see perfection. I see beauty! And Ponyo is beautiful. You'll notice I haven't really said anything about the movie itself. I don't intend to. The story is simple and it's themes are universal. It doesn't tread any uncharted waters. But the magic of it, for me, is unreal. I don't mean the magic of the world in the story, I mean the hold the film had on me. Jaw wide, head tilted, eyes absorbing eveything they see. Feeling like child again, but not at all. That's what makes Miyazaki a master at his craft. No matter your age, child and adult are synonymous when watching his films. A G rating doesn't have to denote "kid's movie." This is a film for anyone who dreams, loves, hopes, laughs, cries, feels. I'm sure Ponyo isn't going to make a profound impact on your life, or make you stand in the street shouting praise to the heavens, but I hope it will touch you in some way.

I dare you to watch it and not smile uncontrollably.

Aug 16, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

District 9. It is I watched. It's also a movie I'm having trouble writing about. I've been staring at the monitor for well over 40 minutes now with nothing but the words District 9 on the screen, so bear with me.

District 9 leaves me very much on the fence. This sentiment will eventually change (and I feel the pull toward the positive side), but my problem lays in how...alien it all was. It's a familiar film, yet entirely new. The mockumentary style feels like it's been done to death, but it works really well here. However, it still feels like this style of film hasn't been perfected. It's still very much experimental, therefore, doesn't feel like a finished product. But at the same time, I can't quite put my finger on how to resolve it. The same problems arise in a biopic that is dramatized yet heavily references stock footage. The stock footage (the real footage) tends to take you out of the reality of the film. At some point, District 9 needed to stop being documented. And to some extent it did, but it didn't feel confident about this decision.

With District 9, some things worked and others didn't. It feels like a Catch-22. The mockumentary aspect worked...except when it didn't. The action (namely in the third act) went on too long and was your average popcorn fare, yet the movie needed more action. It's like a recipe that you followed to the letter but the meal still doesn't come out right. What variable is missing?

I loved the shifting sympathies in the film. You start out really liking Wikus van der Merwe and detest the disgusting, bottom-feeding prawn. Wikus and his armed goons are sent to District 9, the camps outside of Johannesburg where the aliens live, to serve them all eviction notices. The aliens are to be relocated some 20 miles outside of the city. So they go around confiscating weapons and evicting alien residents, fining them on unfair grounds, shoving rifles into their faces. Yet the prawn never once raise arms at the humans. The only thing they use these weapons for (weapons humans can't operate) is as tender; they trade Nigerian gangsters the guns for food. They don't seem very dangerous. And they love cat food! How menacing! You spend a good while remaining neutral until introduced to the alien named, presumable by humans, Christopher Johnson and his son. You instantly cling on to them. You also come to realize that they are the most human element in the film. Their desire to get home, to be free, takes precedence over anything else in the film. Although you follow Wikus, he never quite recaptures your sympathy until the very end. Since he is your main protagonist, I think this also means you never really care about the human race throughout the course of the film. While Wikus' motives are self serving, Christopher's are for the benifit of his entire race. The aliens, the prawn, are never fighting amongst themselves. Bickering sometimes, but they never harm or kill one of their own. They never even harm or kill humans unless provoked past the point of their own safety. They are not invaders. They are a lost people. And they can't go home because they are prisoners living in internment camps and the human government wont allow them to. This isn't too unfamiliar considering we're talking about South Africa under apartheid. Why is it I sympathize with these conditions more when it's an alien race this is happening to? Because I can say "It's only a movie?"

I'm put in a love/hate relationship with District 9 because of the disdain I feel for the human race. The cliché is aliens come to wage war and humanity can unite against a common foe. That isn't present here, of which I'm very grateful, of course! But humans are so stupid and don't learn from their mistakes. There's still war. There's still money in war. A peaceful alien race gets lost, we capture them, enslave them, and exploit them to the fullest. It leaves you wanting those clichés. Send the howling beam from the belly of your mothership and wash away this big blue blemish called Earth. We deserve it.