Monday, August 31, 2009

Reviews with observations, and a disappointment...

Oh ... it's Monday (I really have nothing interesting to say about Monday, except that it exists). I had the unparalleled pleasure of seeing not one, but TWO movies this weekend. This does not happen very often, so I thought I'd take advantage of this rare occurrence, and share some thoughts with you. I'm a rather opinionated little bear, and this is my blog ... so here we go.


1) Taking Woodstock

I think this movies is proof that you can't always believe what you read. The reviews for the film have been horrible to ambivalent, at best. And for the life of me I can't understand why. Of all the movies to hate, this is not one of them. I think is probably the best microcosm of the opinion divide on the interwebs. Read it, don't read it; but I think the point is that the film has clearly had a polarizing effect on its viewers. And I don't know about you, but some of the best movies I've seen have created the same disparity.

Ang Lee focuses on the gritty and minute details that made Woodstock a reality. THIS IS NOT A MOVIE ABOUT THE MUSIC. It's a movie about the people and the place, and as one reviewer aptly described, "Dear-hearted but fuzzy in a way that unintentionally mirrors the hippie aesthetic of the Woodstock festival, Lee's film is interested not so much in the massive concert as in the Catskill Mountains community which hosted it, however unwillingly." I'm not sure that I agree with the "unintentional" quality this gentleman mentions, but the rest is certainly true. Ang Lee is, for me, one of those directors who is able to achieve what Brecht could only dream; a full-heart in league with a full mind - and I don't think that's a bad thing. Imelda
Staunton and Henry Goodman are fascinating, Liev Schreiber is illuminating, Emil Hirsch is heart-breaking, and while Demetri Martin is slow-to-boil, he gets there. Some critics have mentioned the word "stereotype," but there isn't a two-dimensional character in the lot.

A hippie experimental theatre troupe (The Earthlight Players), Liev Schreiber as a heat-packing transvestite, Paul Dano on a mushroom trip, and Meryl Streep's charming daughter, Mamie Gummer, in an understated, yet interesting role. My question is, why not?

Interesting note: Last year, when I was working for Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Massachusetts, Imelda Staunton came to the premier of the Fall Show, The Canterville Ghost. She stood right next to me (she's tiny!). At the time, I thought she must have been there to visit Tina Packer, the Artistic Director, but since the film was shot in New Lebanon, NY,
View Larger Map which is only a hop over the MA/NY border, my dad and I came to the conclusion that she must have been shooting this film. Awesome.

Polar Bear Rating:

3 out of 4 paws

2) Ponyo

Let me begin this by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Hayao Miyazaki. This all started back in college when my friends and I rented a little, unknown movie from the school library called My Neighbor Totoro. We laughed for almost two hours straight, without having consumed ...substances... of any kind. It was love at first sight. I have at least half of Miyazaki's films in my collection, and while I had iffy feelings related to Disney being the Studio Ghibli distributor in the states, I love that American children are getting to see these stories.

At any rate, I love Mr. Miyazaki. I asked my parents if they wanted to go, and my dad said, "Anime just isn't my thing." But the wonderful thing about Miyazaki is that it's not *really* anime. It is, in terms of the aesthetic and some techniques of the animation, but certainly not in terms of story. Ponyo is no exception to this. There is a simplicity about the animation ... it's functional, but not fancy. The point of animating films, in my opinion, is to allow the creators to do the impossible on screen, and in doing so, broaden the imagination through the art - the art makes the story possible. I'm babbling about this, I know, but it's important. It's why Miyazaki is a master at what he does.

Ponyo is the most positive apocalyptic film I've ever seen. Everyone lives at the end. It's kind of like the Japanese version of The Little Mermaid, fused with Water World. Yes, I realize how awful that sounds, but it's really quite ingenious! The environmental theme is HUGE, but it's not dark and dour. It strives to return balance, and "begin life anew." The seas take over, the Cambrian Age comes back, true love is kept sacred, commitment and responsibility marry them all, and children prove, once again, to be the most honorable and pure-hearted characters in the movie.

For those other Miyazaki fans out there, Ponyo is less fantastic in scope than Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, but never lacks in charm or interest. The wonderful thing about this Miyazaki creation, is the English voice casting; it's the best yet. Tina Fey (kicked voice-over ASS!), Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson ... seriously. awesome. Definitely worth seeing.

And please don't be detracted by the thought of screaming, talking, ill-behaved children crowding the theater. When Lara and I went, there was scarcely a peep from the kids; adults, however, were another matter entirely.

Polar Bear rating:

3 out of 4 paws


It's too depressing to talk about, so I'll only provide you a link.
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Phoenix said...

yay for liking those movies; barf for Disney buying out Marvel. A sadder day has not been witnessed since Ryan Reynolds(!) beat out Nathan Fillion (!!) for the upcoming Green Lantern role. Last time I checked Hal Jordan was not a smarmy twenty something.


Radical Bradacal said...

Grumble indeed. It really did make my insides turn.