Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale

People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.

First and foremost, one thing that Diane Setterfield, the author, does very well is to make The Thirteenth Tale essentially a tribute to writing, to reading, to book lovers, and to the famous romantic Gothic novels a la the Brontes. The protagonist is an avid bibliophile and that mood, that feeling, and what it means to write and why reading can be oh so very special is all handled very well. (Personally, that's what I liked the most about this book.)

And then w/o considering the books Setterfield is trying to pay tribute to through emulation- the novel stands on its own, strongly. The story, the mystery is well crafted, and I didn't give Setterfield as much credit as I should have while I was reading (b/c for a lot of modern books that have been on the best seller lists, imho- they're decent, solid writing sometimes, but oftentimes they take the easy way out). Setterfield has certainly done her share of the work thinking and mapping out the story and I do admire her for that. Sure there are characters and plot points (eg. the protagonist's own family history and the whole Aurelius storyline) that really seemed more like plot devices than genuine character development but ultimately, it works and many of the characters do feel well-fleshed out. And you end up caring about some of them despite their faults that it is very sad when you reach the fire and understand why Miss Vida Winter's story had ended there.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Mostly Miyazaki Kick

Tonari no Totoro

Probably my very favorite of Miyazki movies b/c I loved it as a kid and also b/c it's just a really great movie. It's magical (but more in a Shintu spirit/more spiritualistic form) and whimsical and ultimately quite melancholy. Rewatching it this time, I felt particularly affected- quite saddened in general about these two girls growing up w/o their mom and especially at Satsuki (SPOILER) breaking down completely to the grandmotherly neighbor after the telegram b/c she's just been so strong and so put together. And despite how ultimately short Totoro's appearances are in the film, he makes such a lasting, lasting impact.

Hot Fuzz

[Doris knocks down a female shop assistant with a yellow "Slippery floor" sign]
DS Andy Wainwright: Nice one, Doris.
PC Doris Thatcher: Nothing like a bit of girl on girl!
Through a good deal of the movie, I thought that the who-did-it question was so very obvious, as expected, b/c this is a parody movie and parody movies don't generally need a very good, logically thought out plot with non-obvious answers.


Oh how very wrong I was. The majority of the movie is pretty funny, full of ironic British wit and general slapstick. Eg. b/c I can't have a post about Hot Fuzz w/o quoting the protagonist, Nicholas Angel- it just seems wrong.

[Nicholas Angel is having a crackdown on underage drinkers in the pub]
Nicholas Angel: Oy! When's your birthday?
Underage Drinker #1: 22nd of February.
Nicholas Angel: What year?
Underage Drinker #1: Every year!

But wow, the last 30 minutes or so of the movie, after Nicholas walks in on the townspeople were epic. Purely epic and from then on I understood why this movie got the amount of good buzz that it did. So yes, I highly recommend the last 30 minutes of the movie, especially if you're someone who likes movies that mislead you. Often.

Kiki's Delivery Service It's always tricky watching a dubbed version of a movie. I wish I'd been able to watch the subbed version b/c I can imagine that in a lot of ways, it'd be more subtle and less direct than the dub. The English dub of Kiki's isn't bad per say, but there were definitely moments when I'm sure that in the original, everything wasn't quite as spelled out. Eg. Kiki voicing at one point that she really felt like an outsider.

This wasn't ever really one of my favorite Miyazaki movies growing up (probably due to the fact that I had a subbed version in Mandarin and I can't/couldn't read it very well) but I do like it a lot. The scenery is beautiful- a quaint European city by the ocean. Kiki works in a bakery with lots of tasty looking bread...there are no monsters or demons, just a little witch delivering various items. One thing I love about Kiki's world is how nonchalant everyone is about magic and while it wasn't in the scope of the movie, I'd be curious to learn about the backstory of witches and their training- if they left the towns after their one year of training when they were 13, if they stayed, if they had more training away from home, etc.

It goes to show how great a director Miyazaki is when the movie effortlessly shifts tones. It's generally a very episodic, leisurely paced movie, but in the final sequence with the dirigible- there's such great tension. And then of course there's the ending...which is just very beautiful and gives the story such a great sense of completion and finality.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Massive Catch Up Post

500 Days of Summer
Paul: Robin is better than the girl of my dreams. She's real.
In a lot of ways, I wanted to like this movie, but couldn't quite bring myself to. It was really hard for me to connect with the characters b/c while they weren't your atypical indie romantic comedy leads, they just...something just seemed like it was missing. Essentially "500 Days of Summer" just focuses on the two main characters Tom and Summer and while Tom's friends and sister made appearances, they really weren't there long enough for me to see who they really were like as characters- as characters with more to do than just being involved in Tom's life. And it's so hard to have a movie with just two main characters- it really gets myopic at times. While I don't mind a fragmented narration (actually I love it when movies/shows mess with time) nor an omniscient narrator in a movie when it's done well, these two elements don't work quite so well with the movie either.

What I did like about the movie that I wish they'd hit on harder is the idea of whether or not love was a result of fate or a result of random chance/coincidences- kind of reminded me of one of the main themes of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Other great moments in the movie: there is this great, profound sense of sadness seeing side by side, Tom's wishes of what would happen at Summer's party versus what actually happened- and then as he walks away and the background melts into animation- quite a beautiful moment. The other one, is when Paul, his friend who's had a girlfriend forever, talks about how he feels about his gf. I couldn't find the whole quote but essentially he talks about how his dream girl would have had larger breasts and liked sports more, but that "Robin is better than the girl of my dreams. She's real." That is...I think, is a very romantic, a very mature take on love that's very rarely seen in movies, and now I wish that the movie had perhaps, gone into that idea a bit more- perhaps let us see what Paul's relationship was like with Robin.

Ponyo on the Cliff
Lisa: So, what's your Mother like, then?
Ponyo: She's big, and beautiful! But, she can be very scary.
Sosuke: Just like my Mom.
Perhaps I'll come off sounding Scrooge-like by saying this but I felt a bit too old for this movie. It's not that I don't like movies about kids- I love love love Totoro for example b/c it's so magical and so precious and makes you feel nostalgic about the days when you could really let your imagination run wild but Ponyo was a bit more on the fantastical juvenile side and just sort of felt like a bit of a mashup of elements of his earlier films. Eg. the water reminded me of a less horrific version of the demon worms, the final task reminded me of the final task in Spirited Away, etc. A stand out moment in the film was perhaps when Sosuke and his mom were signaling to his dad away at sea. So essentially, while the movie made me crave ham+ramen, it doesn't really make me want to go back and re-watch it again.

I Love You, Man
Peter Klaven: I will see you there, or I will see you on another time!

Another entry into the genre of guy-oriented romantic comedies, which I prefer over female-oriented rom coms (naturally). I haven't watched too too many of these but I still think that the very first of these was the best: The 40-Year Old Virgin, which somehow despite all its crudeness still managed to be very cute and endearing. I Love You, Man is another solid entry into this category and I liked it more than I thought I would (gauging from expectations after watching the trailer). Essentially Peter has trouble making friends with other guys and sets out to find a best man for his upcoming wedding. Also has Adam Sandberg playing an amusingly flamboyantly straight gay guy.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Juan Antonio: Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.

Second time watching this movie- it's still a great movie. Barcelona is beautiful. Penelope Cruz is absolutely fantastic in this- as Maria Elena, she's crazy, funny, and ultimately full of this despair/sadness. What I love the most about this movie though, is how it really infuses this sense of summer within it.

Julie & Julia

The main reason to watch Julie & Julia is for Meryl Strep's performance as Julia Child. Even with an accent that will tend to come off as obnoxious, Strep's Julia Child is still lovable, adorable, and fearless. In general, Julia Child's storyline always tended to be the more interesting one, doing a good job in the background of showing the partnership that the Childs had, supporting each other as they had ups and downs in their careers/endeavors. In particular, I loved this one scene where at a Valentine's dinner, Paul Child tells everyone how much Julia means to him and she looks at him, thumping the paper heart attached to her blouse.