Friday, January 25, 2008

Ratatouille - Reaction

Pixar's stylishly atmospheric computer animated tale, filled with vibrant colors and sumptuous, dazzling visuals, about the adventures of a rat, Remy, who loves to cook. He's irresistible. Further, all of the varied characters are unique individuals. In addition to their personalities and actions, the generally great voice acting helps flesh them out. Regardless, though the last third is fantastic, I found my attention wandering throughout the first two-thirds. It would've helped to have another character with whom to identify or a consistent threat/problem/opposing force.

I want to commend many features of the film:

  • Multiple visually stunning scenes, especially panoramas of Paris. They should be printed and framed.
  • The amazing scene of the kitchen at work near the end of the movie. It's like ballet.
  • A chase scene along the Seine. It's simply pretty. I especially liked the attention to the leaves and how they blow in the air.
  • Two imaginative scenes showing visually what it's like to experience food.
  • Good rendering of water, better than most computer animation.
  • The consistency of Remy's actions. He's only able to talk to other rats, and only walks on four paws when in the presence of his father.
  • The quick, funny image of a rat playing his whiskers as a musical instrument.
  • The subtle death imagery about the restaurant critic who "killed Gusteau: his skull-shaped typewriter, and his casket-shaped study.
On the other hand, I felt the movie had a bit too much slapstick, especially scenes of Remy crawling over Linguini.

Some reviewers have aptly remarked that this film is a portrait of an artist. As such, it has an interesting message about art, talent, and success. Think about it.

The DVD includes a cute short special feature on the history of rats. I wish I knew how much of it is true. The DVD's special features also describe how some Pixar employees trained with Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry) in order to get restaurant details right, and how early versions of the film had Gusteau alive.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stardust - Reaction

A fairly good, fun, often whimsical, swashbuckling, energetic adventure. A casual film, it flows over the viewer, making it a harmless way to pass the time. My reaction is rather like Roger Ebert's from the Chicago Sun-Times:

"There is a kind of narrative flow that makes you want to be swept along, and another that's just one thing after another."

The movie is sophisticatedly executed with attention to the details such as the opulent costumes, the idiosyncratic characters, and the good (not overwhelming) special effects. The colors often radiate/glow, which seems appropriate for a fantasy. I enjoyed the peanut gallery / supernatural Greek chorus of dead Stormhold rulers who comment on the action. On the other hand, I thought the homosexual ship's captain was dramatically overacted.

Stardust is a fantasy about one man's quest to retrieve a star in order to show his devotion to his love. As such, it's a fairy tale, though aimed a bit more at adults than children. Based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, I felt as if the book captured the fairy tale feel more than the movie. Also, the movie changed the story somewhat. One change involved removing some scenes which I thought were significant. For instance, the movie lacked the scene in which the hero leaves the star unchained, a scene I thought important to show how the hero's relationship with the star grows. In the end, I'm not sure what I'd think of the movie if I hadn't read the book--whether I'd like it more or less.

Incidentally, given the movie's fantastic setting, its humor, and the romantic plot element, it's often compared to the Princess Bride.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Princess Mononoke - Reaction


An epic, masterful animated film by Miyazaki. It's a fanciful, memorable film with a mythic story involving men literally trying to kill the old gods (who represent nature). In particular, the hero finds himself in the middle of a war between a mining and gun building colony (i.e., humans and technology) and the creatures of the forest (i.e., nature). The hero is overflowing with compassion. He attempts to save everybody, on every side of each battle.

Everything in the film is richly alive and imagined. The creatures are visually (and conceptually) inventive and stunning. In addition, some vistas are tremendously beautiful.

The movie is slow in short segments, perhaps because it occasionally conveys information through exposition, not action. Nevertheless, the movie is usually quite exciting. Indeed, the climax involves multiple scenes and lasts thirty minutes. I kept thinking each scene was going to be the last. I was wrong multiple times. Note, however, the movie continuing was natural; I wasn't disappointed by or frustrated by the length of the conclusion.

The film explores some of the same themes as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, such as the importance of living in harmony with nature / old gods. Making an interesting statement, the film presents no easy/clean resolution. Also like Nausicaä, this film has strong female characters. One new theme explored here is prejudice. The film shows how prejudice, which can lead to hatred, can literally possess someone.

The subtitles in the version I watched almost went by too fast to read at times.

Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times film critic, has a great quote about the movie:

"We are presented with a haunting, even unsettling magical mystery milieu of frustrated gods, angry spirits and overmatched humans in which images of startling beauty alternate with violent acts and nightmarish terrors as if that were the most natural thing in the world."

Neil Gaiman has some interesting thoughts on the movie (1, 2, 3). He was involved because he wrote the English translation of the script. As I watched the Japanese DVD with English subtitles, I don't think I saw any of his work.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds) - Reaction


A very good, fast paced, animated movie set in a post-apocalyptic world. It's dark, violent, and suspenseful, and therefore not for kids. The storyline is complex, twisting and turning, and often we see events happen before it's revealed why they're happening. As with other Miyazaki films, the film includes very imaginative creatures.

The movie warns about the generally irreversible destruction caused by war, and the need to be environmentally conscious / balance man's needs with nature's. It advocates that one should treat other people, as well as animals, insects, and plants, with compassion and sympathy. Also, as all major characters in the film are strong women, the movie implicitly has an undertone of female empowerment.

The ending has religious overtones.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Helvetica - Reaction

An interesting talking-head documentary, mostly interviewing various typographic designers about their opinions about Helvetica, an amazingly pervasive font, and about their thoughts on how graphic design can help express ideas. Also covers the history of the type, the passions behind it, its rise and fall according to fashion, and how it has come to be so ubiquitous. Some of the people interviewed are real characters, with extreme, passionate views of Helvetica (it's perfect, or it's used only by the brain-dead). My only complaint is that I wish there was more depth about graphic design and its history, and less about opinions on Helvetica--that aspect got repetitive.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The People vs. Larry Flynt - Reaction

A smart, funny, and entertaining movie based on the life of Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler, and his personal battles and battles with the judicial system. I had effectively no knowledge of this story beforehand and enjoyed learning it. The movie is a bit too long. That doesn't mean it gets slower at any particular point but rather just that I ran low on patience. Also, I was slightly bothered that people don't seem to age, despite the story happening over more than a decade.

Courtney Love deserves a special commendation for seeming to inhabit her character, a kittenish, brazen, vulgar, quirky free spirit.

The film is fundamentally about freedom of speech. Some reviewers complain the message is too strong--the perspective too assertive and sugarcoated--but I disagree. It's impossible to overstate the importance of freedom of speech. Other reviewers complain it omits some of Flynt's opponents, such as the feminists who protested his pictures of sexual aggression against women. Despite watching all the special features, I learned while researching the movie later that the original advertising poster was banned in American! How ironic.

Speaking of special features, the DVD was full of them. And they were all good! There's a documentary about making the movie and the reaction to the movie, and another about the evolution of the court's interpretation of the right to freedom of speech. There's also a commentary track with the actors. Courtney Love is funny! Her commentary is great, and personally revealing. There's another good commentary track by the writers. They discuss the research they did for the movie and what they decided to change and what they decided to omit.

One scene amused me so much that I want to document it here: after Flynt says, "I ought to move somewhere where perverts are welcome," the movie cuts to the Hollywood sign.