Jungle Cruise

Release: Friday, July 30, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Michael Green; Glenn Ficarra; John Requa

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Dwayne Johnson; Emily Blunt; Jesse Plemons; Jack Whitehall; Paul Giamatti; Édgar Ramírez

 

 

***/*****

The long, predictable meanders of the river are more enjoyable when you’ve got a good crew to float with. Such is the case with Jungle Cruise, a family-friendly adventure deeply indebted to the charms of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, playing a mismatched pair on a dangerous mission deep into the heart of the Amazon circa the early 1900s.

Jungle Cruise remains rooted in classic adventure tropes even as the whole kit-and-caboodle swings wide of classic status and despite the expensive, flashy CGI ballast. There’s a map, a hidden treasure, cursed conquistadors (the film at its most unfortunate, casting a slew of Latinx actors, most notably Édgar Ramírez, and extras in thankless background roles smothered in digital Disneymagic), a bad guy after the same treasure, and even a wisp of romance, although this proves to be about the only thing Johnson and Blunt fail at as a team. Less trope-y is the characterization of the aforementioned competition, Jesse Plemons in fine bizarre form as a largely submarine-bound German memorably seen consulting a swarm of bees on navigational strategy.

On strategy, helming this old-school-feeling rig is director Jaume Collet-Serra, who sets aside his more violent filmmaking tendencies in favor of a breezy, good-natured bit of escapism where the exploration (and exploitation) of character foibles and differences outweigh more tangible narrative concerns. The plot finds Blunt’s danger-courting, pants-wearing Dr. Lily Houghton traveling to the Brazilian jungle in search of a riverboat captain willing to take her and her brother MacGregor (a third-wheeling but really fun Jack Whitehall) to the secret location of the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree whose incandescent pink petals she believes could change the course of modern medicine and, thus, her status amongst her peers who all too happily laugh a lady out of any serious discussion. Meanwhile, Plemons’ Prince Joachim is hoping to get there first, thinking it could change Germany’s fortunes in the Great War.

Johnson’s Frank Wolff, a down-on-his-luck river guide with more puns in the bank than dollar bills, is motivated to journey down the Mighty Amazon due to his increasing debt to port manager Nilo (a haggard-looking Paul Giamatti). Naturally, personalities and philosophies clash immediately and about as comically as MacGregor’s wardrobe choices do with the climate. Along the way a mutual respect for one another is eventually gained. However, trust turns out to be more of an uphill battle for the Houghtons, who understandably tire of Frank’s penchant for pranking. As it turns out, there is more to Frank than deception and a pet jaguar.

Jungle Cruise is the latest in a line of movies “inspired by” real theme park rides. Like the actual Disney World attraction itself, for maximum enjoyment it helps to not get too curious about how the machinations work. Once you look over the sides and see the rails guiding the thing along a lot of the fun tends to get lost. Jungle Cruise is a cash grab but there are certainly more cynical ones out there.

So quiet you can’t even hear the critics chirping

Moral of the Story: I’m not sure I should be admitting this, but I actually got to experience this movie in an empty theater. Much to my surprise, it didn’t make much of a difference. Jungle Cruise, like many a Marvel movie, just seems like it would play better to a packed house. And it probably still does. Yet it speaks to the charisma of the two leads that I had a good time anyway. Plus the beer probably didn’t hurt (Señor Krunkles IPA — pretty sweet, hoppy and fruity. Made for a great pairing.)  

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “I had a girlfriend once, she was cross-eyed. Didn’t work out. We could never see eye to eye!”

Check out the creepy-crawly jungle-brawly trailer here!

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.actionra.com 

A Quiet Place Part II

Release: Friday, May 28, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: John Krasinski 

Directed by: John Krasinski

Starring: Emily Blunt; Millicent Simmonds; Noah Jupe; Cillian Murphy

 

 

 

 

****/*****

Speech is silver, silence is golden.

The old proverb has turned into a post-apocalyptic motivational poster in the brave new world John Krasinski has created with A Quiet Place, one in which survivors of an alien attack must mute their every move, their every syllable to avoid being gobbled up by these terrifyingly sound-sensitive invaders. When characters do communicate words and gestures carry weight. Sorry to the aliens, but it is the human factor — fear of failure, coping with loss — that is bringing audiences back for a second helping. The question is, was the prolonged wait worth it?

Short answer: an enthusiastic (but whispered) ‘Yes.’ The secret sauce may not have the same kick twice, for now we’re expecting unbearable silence, but Krasinski has great insurance against damages done by the element of predictability: He’s got strong characters (now handled by Part 1 scribes Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) and the caliber actors to take those creations to an even higher place. Big Tuna’s genius stroke, though, is in shifting the perspective to the kids, turning Part 2 into a legacy film wherein the younger actors have much more agency and influence over events. If the original was an allegory for parental fears of failing your kids, Part 2 swings the other way — Regan’s fear of not measuring up to Dad coming through in her damn-the-torpedoes attitude as she increasingly takes matters into her own hands.

More or less picking up right from where we left off in 2018, barring a prologue that gives us the origins of the creatures in chaotic fashion, A Quiet Place Part 2 wastes no time in justifying the big-screen treatment while along the way introducing some new faces and new albeit not surprising threats. Krasinski, who returns as sole screenwriter this time (and for a brief cameo in the film), sacrifices the intimacy of Part 1‘s more insular location for a larger playing board loaded with even more hazards, some of which truly catch you off-guard, while others might have you cringe for the wrong reason.

Jump ahead 474 days and the Abbotts, the world’s most resourceful family, are now on the run, bereft of Dad and the relative safety of their farmhouse. They are down but far from out. Mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt — Edge of Tomorrow; Looper), with her surviving children Regan (Millicent Simmonds — A Quiet Place; Wonderstruck), Marcus (Noah Jupe — Honey Boy; Wonder) and newborn in tow, is hoping, perhaps against hope, for someone out there to be kind enough to let them in.

They eventually come across a grizzled man hanging out in a dilapidated factory. It turns out to be an old friend from back in the day, Lee’s buddy Emmett (Cillian Murphy — Peaky Blinders; Batman Begins), now uncannily sporting a face covering and a shell of his former self having failed to protect his own family. Understandably he’s reticent to allow anyone else in to his safe space. Of course, uh, he does (otherwise this is going to be A Very Short-lived Quiet Place). It’s not long before the kids are getting restless and Regan, by way of Marcus, discovers there may well be other people worth saving out there. Maybe, upon uniting with them, both factions can help each other. Marcus, however, is not as willing to embark on a suicidal Stand By Me-esque venture into the unknown. And Emmett has made it clear there is nothing out there left to save.

A very likable cast goes a long way in offsetting some of the movie’s shortcomings. For example, it helps to have Murphy and Djimon Hounsou (Captain Marvel; Blood Diamond) fulfill archetypes. While the latter is almost comically incidental to the plot, discarded in a third-act sequence that feels rushed at best, he at least brings a quality of calm to a movie where quietude usually does not translate to peacefulness. As a flesh-and-blood character Murphy fares better. His presence, which evolves from estranged, put-upon uncle to supportive father-figure, becomes integral to the sequel’s themes of perseverance and learning how to move on, especially when he begrudgingly agrees to return Regan to Evelyn.

Part 2 is certainly the louder film. That’s not a bad thing. As the narrative opens into a trident of nerve-racking objectives that finds each Abbott uniquely in peril Krasinski blitzes us with moments of pure thrill while never compromising the humanity at the heart of his story. In fact some of the best character work in either film can be found in Part 2, whether it’s Regan showing compassion for a man who clearly is not her father (skilled in nonverbal communication, possessed of the patience required to work through such difficulties in moments of high anxiety), or Marcus battling something more than monsters as he holds down the fort/furnace while Mama Bear goes searching for precious supplies of oxygen.

Superficially Part 2 doesn’t offer a vastly different experience than what we went through in 2018. I’m not sure it is actually a superior movie but consistency counts for a lot here. Thus far we have two films whose structural integrity very much resembles that of the Abbott’s old farmhouse: Plenty of reliable, sturdy support beams in the form of well-worn genre tropes but also a few really neat, custom bits you won’t find anywhere else. It’s those little details, the way Krasinski and company relate the characters to situations, that will make A Quiet Place worth returning to again, hopefully sooner.

Ya did good, son.

Moral of the Story: The rare sequel that truly works on a conceptual as well as emotional level, A Quiet Place Part 2 welcomes audiences back to theaters in exciting, chilling fashion while laying a clear foundation for more to come. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “Run!”

Check out the “nerve-shredding” Final Trailer here! 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.buffalonews.com 

A Quiet Place

Release: Friday, April 6, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Bryan Woods; Scott Beck; John Krasinski

Directed by: John Krasinski

As a relatively newly minted father himself, actor-director-Scranton prankster John Krasinski seems to be sharing with us in his horror debut something deeply personal, an epiphany that has struck him, like it might another parent, as horrifying: There will eventually come a day when your children need you and you just can’t be there for them. Whether that is by way of natural order or unfortunate circumstance, it is an inevitability. It is this deep-seated yet commonly-held fear of failure that has given birth to A Quiet Place.

For a filmmaker who has confessed to generally avoiding consuming scary films, Krasinski seems scary natural at the craft. I was going to try and omit the horror label in my review — I find A Quiet Place more an acutely distressing survivalist thriller than a bona fide SCARY MOVIE — but then I had an epiphany of my own. Scary movie, survival thriller, those are semantics and phooey on them. A Quiet Place is just a good movie period, a delicious and consistent batter of chilling supernatural thrills and heartbreaking human drama, and a strong credit to a résumé that has heretofore touted lovable goofballs and hopeless romantics. That we learn through some rather nerve-shredding trials just how much of a family man Krasinski really is is a bonus.

His film, an original story first conceived in 2013 by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck which he later reworked himself, tells of a young family trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by terrifying creatures that hunt by sound. Krasinski stars as head of household and de facto frontiersman Lee Abbott, and in a bit of potentially gimmicky casting that quickly proves to be anything but, he casts his real wife Emily Blunt in the role of his tough-as-nails (pun not intended) on-screen wife Evelyn. Lee and Evelyn have three kids in tow, each played magnificently by the young actors — little Beau (Cade Woodward), middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe) and eldest Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).

In the aftermath of some unexplained catastrophe life is now governed by one simple but vitally important rule — keep as quiet as possible at all times. This is more a family policy as we don’t meet very many strangers, but we can assume the same applies to anyone who doesn’t wish to get eviscerated at 100 miles an hour. We can infer from an opening title card that it is the couple’s resourcefulness and determination that has enabled the family to navigate a strange and oppressive world for at least three months. Like the Abbotts’ daily routine, A Quiet Place is an exercise in restraint, and I was reminded immediately of this concept of rule-abiding and extreme isolation that was intensely focused upon in Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night — incidentally one of those modern titles that has encouraged Krasinski to give horror another chance.

A Quiet Place opens up at the pace of spilt molasses as compared to the chaos in which it concludes, but these first scenes are crucial in earning our sympathy. Krasinski’s meticulous planning is on full display as we are taken on a guided tour through the detritus of their humble community while the group endures a hair-raising tiptoeing from their farmhouse-cum-fortress to gather essential supplies. Credit the writing how a lack of detail with regards to the big picture actually enhances the experience while in smaller moments and individual scenes the complete opposite holds true — detail is everything. The gravel paths, color-coded Christmas lights, dinners and game nights on soft surfaces are little bits of consideration that generally offset Krasinski’s clumsier spells as director (his foreshadowing is pretty on-the-nose, for example).

Like the aforementioned primitive thriller of yesteryear, A Quiet Place relies heavily upon its technical department to evoke mood. Krasinski differentiates himself by doubling down on aural stimulation, nearly gutting the screenplay entirely of spoken dialogue and having his characters communicate largely through sign language and simple gesticulations. This isn’t a technique employed just to give agency to Simmonds’ character, whose deafness eventually becomes vital to the plot, but it is a matter of practicality that brings attention to all the ways in which we take verbal communication for granted.

Admittedly, the brilliant sound design is likely what audiences will leave the theater talking about more than anything. It makes sense. Like Mike Flanagan’s Hush, a home invasion thriller that debated whether an immunity to sound works to one’s advantage in situations that require heightened sensory awareness, silence becomes a character unto itself in A Quiet Place. Yet it becomes something more than just a theme park attraction. Here, silence comes in different forms — as punishment meted out by a frustrated child to their parents whose rules they perceive to be unfair; as the result of a physical condition that could well be the deciding factor in whether a character lives or dies; as the gut-wrenching aftermath of something or somebody lost.

The premise doesn’t boil down to much beyond good guys outwitting (or flat-out avoiding) their nameless and faceless opponents in a stripped-down, neo-western setting. That is unfairly reductive to the point of being inaccurate, though. A Quiet Place offers a road map for nervous new parents who are trying to figure things out for the first time and find themselves struggling more often than succeeding. It is part coming-of-age for Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, part-labor of love for a filmmaker who has come to appreciate the unique entertainment value of the genre, and a thrilling, surprisingly emotional adventure for the rest of us.

Recommendation: John Krasinski’s family values are things I came to admire in A Quiet Place. More pleasantly surprising to me was that he doesn’t smash you over the head with his sense of scruples. That element is absolutely there but in my view he isn’t asking anyone to side with him. In fact the whole point of the exercise is to challenge us and to make us question what we would do as parents in this situation. What would we do similarly? What would we do differently? And all-around strong performances from an innately likable cast only solidify A Quiet Place as a must-see film for fans of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Sicario

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

In Sicario we get to take a tour south of the U.S.-Mexico border, heading to Ciudad Juárez to infiltrate the infamously violent and complex system of drug cartels that has consumed Juárez so completely it has become responsible for the random abductions of tourists and citizens alike from the streets of El Paso (an American city about 10-20 minutes from the official border), some of which occur in broad daylight. Villeneuve’s seventh feature film takes us into the lion’s den and forces us to wait around for the lion. It’s the kind of spine-tingling fear horror films wish they could inspire.

What’s most horrific is there’s nothing about Sicario that feels removed from our present-day reality. If you live in the United States you have almost no escape from news stories about escalating tensions along the Mexican border. The term ‘war on drugs’ has been ingrained into our vocabulary and on occasion we might find ourselves even using the term, almost unwittingly, in conversation. History books need to update what they consider to be the murder capital of the world, because for now it is Juárez. While the film’s events are fictionalized, they often carry the weight of the surreal headlines we’ve been appalled by. Bodies hanging from bridges with parts lopped off, as one example.

Unlike with a great many films you pay to watch in a comfy theater, you don’t simultaneously leave this movie and the problem it introduces behind. Although you’re not likely to lose sleep over the matter — especially a film that technically is dramatizing reality — Sicario is a different kind of film, one that doesn’t really feel cinematic. On that ground alone Villeneuve has accomplished something remarkable here. His latest effort is more journalistic than a fictional account, taking us deep into a dark and dangerous world that is often bypassed during our daily channel surfing from the couch because, well, the whole situation is sort of depressing.

Emily Blunt, playing idealistic (maybe naïve is the better word) FBI agent Kate Macer, serves as our access into the action. She is asked if she would like to join an elite task force that will be going after an anonymous drug kingpin, a group whose methods are going to differ from her own by-the-books modus operandi. She’s quickly persuaded by Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver, a man whose laid-back attitude is at once comforting and unnerving, to volunteer because he makes a good point: the work she’s doing in Arizona is trivial in comparison. Thus Sicario is viewed from her perspective; our discomfort owed to escalating violence and unspecific mission objectives that constantly put Kate at odds with her colleagues.

Blunt is once again a revelation in an increasingly familiar role (I mean this in the best way possible) as a no-nonsense woman who finds herself out of her depth. She’s soft-spoken but her actions demonstrate the confidence we’ve been getting used to seeing from her as of late. Adding another strong female lead character to 2015’s all-too-elite list of names, Blunt effects a stoicism that may not be quite as strong as her bulletproof jackets, as she does occasionally come undone at the seams as the pressure of her duties mounts. But because she breaks — has anyone counted how many cigarettes she goes through? — she exposes the humanity buried underneath protective gear and a lot of ammo.

As good as she is though, she can’t deliver all the drama, much less react to it, alone. Taylor Sheridan is responsible for writing one of Benecio Del Toro’s career best roles as mysterious operative Alejandro Gillick, whose past experiences make the unit’s new mission extremely personal. His is not a talkative character, but when the stakes are this high what he doesn’t say is often as important as the things he does. Along with Brolin’s loose cannon Matt Graves, the trio assembled on screen is going to end up being one of the most impressive all year.

The casting certainly goes a long way in establishing Sicario as Villeneuve’s most solemn film yet (although I guess the jury’s still out on that as I have yet to see his Incendies and Polytechnique). Once again, though, it must be Villeneuve who deserves slightly more credit. As was the case in his unbearably tense Prisoners and to a lesser degree his mind-bending Enemy of last year, his directorial touch is driven by a need to take his characters to their breaking point and far beyond it. Think Alice in Wonderland, where Alice spends virtually the entire film tumbling down a rabbit hole to hell. Only . . . there is no Wonderland, and instead of magical talking cats and some semblance of whimsy (I realize I’m making a comparison to an already fairly dark tale) we get bullet-riddled bodies and no Mad Hatter tea party to look forward to.

Whereas Alice stepping into a world entirely not her own felt dreamlike and fantastical, this situation is a nightmarish hell on earth; the fact that Kate’s moral compass does her no good only exacerbates the collective stress in the room. Alejandro and Matt ensure us that their operation is legitimate despite their methods. I guess in this world you fight fire with firepower. Borders don’t exist; even the physical one doesn’t mean much. Like Prisoners, Sicario blurs the line between sound and corrupt morality and judgment, creating one of the most captivating cinematic events of 2015. Villeneuve drops his latest film like a bomber plane drops its primary weapon: confident it will hit its target with brutal force and that the effects will be both far-reaching and devastating. His confidence isn’t misplaced.

Recommendation: Sicario is heart-pounding, fist-clenchingly tense stuff, elevated to ridiculous levels by a game cast who might never have been better. In a business where movies often struggle to overcome the need to simply entertain, it’s nice to come across another one that has a bigger agenda than that. This crime drama is a real eye-opener, a stunningly well-crafted film that has a great chance of landing high on my list of the year’s best. A must-see.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “You’re asking how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Edge of Tomorrow

edge_of_tomorrow_ver11

Release: Friday, June 6, 2014

[Theater]

Pinch me, I must be dreaming (over and over again).

This cannot possibly be the summer blockbuster whose early previews seemed to indicate (perhaps warn us cynics of) the coming of merely yet another summer bust. From the outset the odds seemed stacked against this film, a sci fi romp whose gritty-gray trailers made the thing look less original than a robotic compulsion to try and be grimmer than the last doomsday flick.

For all intents and purposes, everyone’s favorite scientologist was poised to star in the Oblivion of 2014 — not exactly a death sentence for such an iconic career, but the deflating sounds of a balloon losing air are really becoming audible now. Even if this recent romp went belly-up for Tom Cruise, at least there would still be something to ogle at (or that’s what one tends to think whenever a woman is paired alongside Cruise, but then you meet Emily Blunt, and, well. She’s not that gal.) Breathtaking backdrops always do their best to compensate for whatever else of the movie audiences have a hard time taking seriously or even engaging in, be it the dialogue coming out of actors’ mouths or the script conveyed through their characters’ actions.

It seems as if Doug Liman’s the last man to receive the memo about the list of cliches Cruise’s career has been constructed out of. After mumbling “to hell with this,” he tossed the list out the metaphorical window and defiantly directed Edge of Tomorrow, a film about a group of worldwide soldiers uniting to save the world from total destruction. It’s a summer blockbuster film that is as far from average as you might get. As such, it is probably not possible for the Academy to even consider something as gigantic as a movie like this for any category — and truthfully, this isn’t quite that good — but this entry is just that one step closer. Action packed and perhaps stuffed even thicker with moments of refreshing and hilarious self-awareness, this epic adventure film about fighting for humanity’s right to live on is one of the biggest surprises of 2014.

Major William Cage (Cruise) may be the catalyst for filmgoers’ collective “oh my god, no way!” This is a role so unlike Cruise, a man whose honor, he feels, should be proven enough because he’s earned the high-ranking title of officer and whose contributions to the war should also be considered enough because he has a desk job and shiny cuff links. His whiny officer is given a major gut-check time when he’s brought before General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and ordered to the front lines in the first wave of what appears to be humanity’s last stand against an alien creature — known as ‘the mimics’ — on the French beaches.

A parody of Saving Private Ryan this is not, but there are obvious references, and not to mention, it’s release date is more than convenient, coming on the 70th anniversary of the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy. The drama that unfolds, on a visual spectrum, reaches blindingly brilliant. This might even be a film that could properly support the 3-D technology, though that experience is less than necessary. A standard format will immerse most of the senses in the same compelling way. From the moment Cage’s mission officially gets underway as he plummets from a crashing aircraft, we are into the thick of it. He’s still trying to figure out who’s going to answer for this grave mistake of sending him into battle. We are trying to figure out how any of this can possibly work out for the better.

And so begins a beautiful relationship between Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow‘s global audience. What we don’t expect next is the very thing that is waiting around the corner for us. This is true of Cruise’s latest performance and of the script itself. A routine cycle of living for a few moments, quickly getting killed off and re-spawning once more doesn’t seem like a recipe for hilarity, and yet the writers have a field day with this. There’s even a joke or two about suicide somewhere along the way, and even these fail to register as offensive. Meanwhile, Cruise does his best to not break the fourth wall in any of his major fight scenes. Not once does he turn to the camera, hair blowing back epically in the wind of the destruction and loss of life around him, with the fortitude to whisper to us all (just once): “this is all a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately he never comes right out and says it but his performance, especially when measured up against a great dramatic turn from Emily Blunt, certainly is suggestive. Perhaps that’s more the work of brilliant writing from it’s four writers and direction from Liman. I don’t really care upon whom I should heap more praise, though; it’s the fact that the collective effort that went into this film — a film sitting smack-dab in the middle of the year, mind you — seems to have figured out a different policy for entertaining mass audiences. It neither panders to viewers nor does it have such a high-concept plot so as to come off condescending.

Fast-paced, funny and constantly engaging — not to mention, bolstered by some of the coolest aliens this side of Men in Black — Edge of Tomorrow is blockbuster filmmaking as it should be. The way the narrative develops is far from perfect, as the climactic final thirty minutes take to somewhat secure ground compared to the film’s refreshingly extemporaneous tone earlier on; however, I refer you to the previous line as to why slight slip-ups are not going to spell the end of the world.

emily-blunt-poed-at-tom-croooooze

3-5

Recommendation: Critics and audiences agree: Edge of Tomorrow surprised the shit out of us. This is a real treat. Again, it could be argued there has been too much anti-Tom Cruise/scientology sentiment going around that perhaps cast a very unfavorable light upon his newest outing. Or it could be I, personally, am just becoming very cynical the more movies I watch, and it very well could be that this was always going to be a great movie from the start. I would like to read the book now. Yes please.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “On your feet, maggot!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Wind Rises

The-Wind-Rises-Poster

Release: Friday, February 21, 2014

[Theater]

Hayao Miyazaki’s final film is poetry in motion. It was also Oscar-worthy this year, receiving a nomination for Best Animated Feature. Unfortunately the spotlight fell upon Disney’s Frozen in a move no one is really going to call surprising. It is unfortunate only because this is a film that deserves more than just the tip of the hat. Its a hats-off kind of motion picture event, not just because of the gorgeous animation but due to its epic sweeping narrative that has the presence of mind to include a heartfelt romance, engaging historical context and a dreamlike, thought-provoking perspective.

The Wind Rises is the Japanese artiste’s eleventh outing as a director whose filmography dates back to 1979 and includes the likes of critically and commercially successful animations such as Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Spirited Away. If Miyazaki’s other works are as colorful and emotionally satisfying as this film — and according to major sites, they seem to be that way — we are looking at a unique director insofar as he’s in a tier of consistently satisfying filmmakers that a great many will fail again and again at breaking into.

His swan song concerns the fascinating life and career of a hardworking and intelligent Japanese youth named Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English language version), as well as his quest for finding love and happiness in the arms of a woman.

The film opens with a young boy going for an early morning joy ride in a single-propeller plane mounted to the top of his parents’ home before things take a turn for the ugly. As it so happens, this all occurs in a dream sequence. One of the focuses of Miyazaki’s film is that Jiro tends to live a life filled with these. Unfortunately he is also acutely near-sighted, a condition that disqualifies him from ever becoming a pilot. So he decides to dedicate his life to working on planes. In time he would carve out a career as one of the world’s leading aerospace engineers. His efforts almost single-handedly propel his country into the forefront of technological advancement during the years of World War II.

The Wind Rises is filled to the brim with gorgeous animation. You’d have to dig deep to find another film not made by this master of animation that is as vibrant and passionately detailed as it (okay, one that’s also not this year’s Oscar winner). The sky is a robin’s egg blue canvas upon which planes streak like paintbrushes in little strips of white, diving and soaring. The places in which major character developments occur epitomize the romanticism in Miyazaki’s farewell film. Sunsets bleed oranges and reds. After watching, one tends to carry around in their memory vivid snapshots of the film’s strongest images, including the one found on the movie poster.

Color doesn’t just apply to the artwork, though. Characters bubble with eccentricities, and this includes our protagonist. Although Jiro remains as a relatively static character in terms of his genuine likability and affection for aircraft, it’s his obsession that makes him a curious specimen. As previously mentioned, he daydreams often and is frequently teased about this by some of his peers, including another brainiac named Honjô (John Krasinski). Jiro’s boss straight out of school is a comically short and ill-tempered man (Martin Short) who grows to appreciate Jiro as a company asset. This man’s greatest quirk is his hair, bouncing up and down whenever he moves or yells. Other, lesser characters are also imbued with some cartoonish elements as well.

What really distinguishes this anime, though, is its level of realism. A great many films that fall into the category of ‘anime’ tend to really overdramatize the stories they tell — such is the appeal of the genre. Characters’ voices are manic, their mouths and bodies move frenetically and the action surrounding them often can be chaotic to the point of causing headaches. By contrast The Wind Rises is patient, perhaps even a little plodding at times. At over two hours in length, it’s a sprawling journey that not only pays homage to a troubled nation in a time of great crisis, but one that features a tender love story at its center.

When in the earlygoing Jiro helps save a young girl named Naoko (Emily Blunt)’s maid by carrying her from the site of a train accident following a massively destructive earthquake, he seems to win her affection then and there. It would be many years before a chance run-in with the same woman, Naoko, would reunite the two. The couple’s passion for one another feels real and honest; sweet and worth the time required to buy into it.

Slow pace aside, The Wind Rises is a breathtaking production wherein style beautifully complements the spectacle.

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4-0Recommendation: Here is a thoroughly engaging film that many should spend the time watching, in whatever format they possibly can. It’s historically significant and emotionally rewarding. I, for one, have a great deal of homework to do as I attempt to go back and invest myself in Miyazaki’s other equally praise-worthy films that have been created over the course of several decades.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 126 mins.

Quoted: “Airplanes are just cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com