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Rating History

Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba) (If You Listen Closely)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

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[i]Whisper of the Heart[/i] [i]
directed by Yoshifumi Kondo (1995)

[/i] [left]Second only to [i]My Neighbor Totoro[/i], Whisper of the Heart proves fully, that inspiration is a delicacy, often romanticized over, but usually, clumsily depicted. Written by Hayao Miyazaki, with direction by the late great Yoshifumi Kondo, Whisper of the Heart was an anomaly, and remains one to this day. Miyazaki - a reigning master of anime and hand drawn animation - was set to retire, handing over the thrown to Yoshifumi. They clashed beautifully, only once, with Whisper of the Heart, for this was to be the only film Yoshifumi directed before his untimely death. A true master remained; and another with enormous potential dissipated, away, long gone, never to know what would become of his brilliance. Even though the news is tragic, Yoshifumi's only film is a stable for film excellence. Directed with much of the finesse of a Miyazaki picture, Whisper of the Heart is a timeless, modern masterpiece depicting childhood innocence and that rupture of inspiration that can strike at any moment. There's no giant mystical creatures here, no far off lands, but, it's every bit as magical while only being reliant on a single girl's imagination. Flawless, neverending cinema.


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[i]Au Hasard Balthazar[/i] [i]
directed by Robert Bresson (1966)

[/i] [left] The intimate piano of the title screen suddenly breaks, to the squealing cry of a donkey, presumably, during its birth. Christened Balthazar, the donkey sifts through a begrudging group of owners. The film's central focus, its first master, a young girl of sweet charm, who returns to the donkey years later, closer to adult hood, to real life thinking, is that much closer to destroying youth's innocence. Obviously of lyrical treatment, Au Hasard Balthazar revolves around that gigantic, universal metaphor of life, as seen through a donkey - ridiculed, beaten, ignored, and caressed. Each of Balthazar's owners attribute whatever it is, a particular weakness or anything else a human is capable of on this creature. The young girl - now ridden with adult responsibilities - is at times the safe keeper of the donkey, at others, a witness only, to the cruelty unleashed upon it. The more she indulges in a life away from Balthazar, the more her life is constricted with sin. She struggles, only to realize the one true path. One of film's best philosophies, and perhaps, its most bitter.


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[i]Le Samourai[/i] [i]
directed by Jean-Pierre Melville (1967)[/i]

[left]Being one of cinema's greatest anti-heroes is a tough business. Seemingly without purpose, you must wander around rainy street corners, unknowingly to those around you, that you're on a mission, there's also the covering of one own tracks, and obviously, the two fold paradigm of hate and love. Le Samourai, essentially a gangster movie, is in essence, also a samurai flick, somewhere, underneath the trench coats and fedoras. Our anti-hero, walks with a steady drawl, each step carefully placed in front of the other, with the utmost finesse and style. He's a hired man that dwells in a samurai's loneliness, and possibly, a dead man who'll die by a samurai's code if he thinks too slow. His only equal comes from the pacing of the movie, and how the plot unravels with calm dignity of a cigarette left to dangle off the side of an ashtray. The camera follows an event from a distance, but never separates the viewer from the meat of the action, or subtlety of the killer's barren apartment. Always, Melville leaves the camera on the target for as long as it takes to get the job done. With very little spoken dialogue, we still feel the same about the characters, that we've peered into their souls. We're immersed in their world, and at the edge of our seats as we root for the murderer; the economics of filmmaking at its finest.
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The Best Years of Our Lives
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

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[center]The Best Years of Our Lives
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directed by William Wyler (1946)


[left]Violins swelter under the heavy melodramatic shlock of puppy dog love and high-heeled patriotism. Three veterans return from the war that spurred America into a utopia of glossy kitchen appliances and cookie cutter lawns (you'll know you're part of the club by the time your business suit dries). And even when these young and old veterans stumble into the night for a glass of cold milk The Best Years of Our Lives is only a couple steps away from soap opera technics, and, right in the thick of Spielberg's orchestra. A composer, obvious, blunt, and attrusive almost always sparks a plague for me. With some luck, a plentiful supply of brilliance, and a script so perfected it's blinding, we scarcely begin to care, and it speaks volumes for the film that this isn't even a fly on your back as much as you actually being comforted by it. Yeah, it's frightening, I know. The real puncher comes in a spoonful of realism, unwhich we've hardly ever seen in the golden era of cinema. I can't even fathom an audience so raw to the second world war (one year after actually) witnessing their heroic patriots returning home, crippled, depressed, and distracted by the mundanity of suburbia. After what seems like the a-typical setup to an a-typical patriotic splurge of a movie we meet our youngest veteran. He's looking to sign the paper for his return flight home, and without hesitation reveals his metallic, claw-like hands he now uses to grip a pen, or hug a loved one. These moments are undismissable, and like in real life, can happen at any time. The script keeps a magnifying glass on the human soul. This isn't so much a film about veterans as it is the human condition. How we operate under disconnection, staggering change, and adulthood. It's all there, under the finely veiled cover known as Hollywood. When the youngest of the three veterans is sent back home without the hands he grew up with, he returns to warm welcomes (wry looks are kept behind his back). His fiance from before the war is passionate to continue their relationship, and continue their plans toward marriage. Our hero is apprehensive, secluded, and apathetic. She insists. But it's only when he's at the bar with friends - away from the digging dirty shame and embarrassment of his tragic self - then and only then can he let loose a smile. A climax is imminent. People seem to fall onto answers that appear out of the blue, but it's love on closer inspection that breaks their doomed spirit. The best years of our lives can happen once we realize that we're loved regardless. Moments rupture out of nowhere fast, and are seen and heard through ample eyes and ears agreeing that loving truth can be oh so simple, and that that swelling violin can be oh so soothing.
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X-Men: The Last Stand
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

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[center]X-Men: The Last Stand
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[center]directed by Brett Ratner (2006)
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[left]You'd be surprised at how many people actually like this movie. Hell, even Roger Ebert gave this film a pudgy thumbs up. It's no surprise that Ebert's relevancy as a critic is now as stale as the Dorritos he carelessly swept under his bed. But I confess, it's really not him or his kind I'm concerned with, it's Charlie who worries me. You know him. When you talk to Charlie about the latest movie (a Hollywood blockbuster no less), he likes to swing his bat with generalized, feeble, attempts at truths that just lead you closer to that Advil bottle. For instance, you might've heard him say that these types of films aren't meant to be masterpieces. That they're only supposed to be taken as entertainment and that you really can't enjoy them unless you shut your mind off for a couple hours. It's like taking a led pole up the ass every time I hear it. Every time.


It's equally offensive for both the comic fan and the critic. Batman was eventually taken seriously ([i]Batman Begins[/i]), so, I really don't know why X-Men shouldn't. I can assure you, Ratner and friends took themselves very, very seriously with this project. I'm sure they thought they had some sort of saving grace on their hands here. More than not, the sentiment that we need to dumb ourselves down to have fun with a certain movie, speaks loads about how terrible the film really is. It's like we've deluded ourselves with some sort excuse for our guilt of paying ten bucks for an obviously bad movie - and then worst of all, actually coming out liking it. I think they're getting their logic confused with their bad taste.


As a long time X-Men fan I'm offended by such reasoning. The comic, while pretty juvenile at its conception, always had themes laden with societal problems at the time. Then there was a swift change in the 80s towards more thoughtful, and challenging writing. It distanced itself from the playground more than it ever had, and has pretty much stuck with it, as the majority of comics today are a lot more complex and realistic than a shoddy cover of Captain America punching a buck-tooth Japanese in the face. Film is wonderfully subjective. If you're entertained here, or elsewhere, that's fine, but please don't denote two separate frames of mind in order to enjoy the medium. There's only camp, and all the rest. Ratner, having got the job after Singer left for [i]Superman Returns[/i][i][/i] (already better than X-Men 3) wanted to do something worthy of the franchise. He even set out to mimic Singer's style. Just remember that The Last Stand isn't camp; it's meant to be taken seriously, and you should too.


Straight up, I'll tell you that even before I actually began to see the production stills for the film I had a problem with Ratner (or any of the other directors that could've possibly have replaced Singer). The few replacements all had rather unimpressive resumes to tackle such a huge franchise. Contrast that to the smaller venue of Spider-Man, which Sam Raimi just, and I mean just, happened to "get". (Singer for example, didn't actually get anything until [i]X-Men 2[/i] - when he actually began to pay attention to the fans, and actually read the comics.)


With some caution, about half way through The Last Stand, I began to realize that maybe I was totally wrong, about everything. About Ratner. About Hollywood. About... life. Sure, it wasn't going great, but it somehow all seemed like a respectable follow up. I think I cowered my eyes behind my hands for a little while, and was pleasantly warmed by reality soon enough. The reality I've come to know. The reality where Brett Ratner sucks. With a title like "The Last Stand", surely, someone's gotta die. And it ain't gonna by pretty. And boy, does someone ever die. It's shocking alright, and when we come to our senses, we realize it's just shockingly stupid. Good news for you sadists, the pain doesn't end anytime soon.


The whole movie feels rushed. It feels as if we're riding a train that's about to fly off its tracks. The writers evidently have no sense of pacing. Tension is supposed to be built. Characters are supposed to be sprouted. The Last Stand is virtually barren when it comes to character development. Coming back to Charlie and his disgusting lust for this movie, he says rather boldly, that this final installment doesn't need the character development of the last two. You know, because the previous two already developed them all. I guess that's why it feels awkward to see Colossus hunkering around everywhere. Just, who the fuck is [i]that[/i]? I think the only line he had in the movie is when he was talking to Bobby Drake in the mansion, something along the line of, "No, I didn't just fart Bobby! Why do you always make fun of me?!" The next scene had him flailing his arms down the mansion hallway like someone just stole his lollipop.


Another example falls onto one of the new characters - Hank McCoy, Beast. Every time I look into his yellowy eyes, it's as if he's just jacked off to Teen Beat. Or, maybe he's just wondering why he's not in the new Teen Wolf instead. Who knows? Maybe Beast isn't a serial rapist, maybe he just wants the cure for his mutant puberty. Maybe that erotic pain in his eyes is due to his wandering mind, trying to decide what's right for mutant kind, and then himself, and his present condition. But we wouldn't know. We never do for sure. It's just all assumption.


When the President of The United States (should be the world for this movie) says , "...God help us", I can't really give a shit. I want the villainous mutants to win. With a new plot, must come new character development. Even if this were one gigantic film, wouldn't it be fairly ridiculous to find the last couple hours empty of any new, interesting emotion? When Rogue hears of the cure she makes a half-retarded facial contortion. Dramatically, Wolverine spies her mental anguish (which is later brought to the forefront by a bizarre, yet hilarious sex scene). Poor Rogue. She just wants to touch another human being. She wants to be able to have that physical contact. Well, with this half-witted script, the only thing I learned about Rogue, is that she's a fat whore. And that she likes Wolverine's animal instincts, if you know what I mean.


Right when all the awesome is supposed to happen, everything begins to warp into a Ninja Turtle corral of martial arts and psychic prowess. I have to say, I kinda half expected Vanilla Ice to jump out of nowhere and start singing "Ninja Rap". If you're looking for action, this movie is about as limp as Splinter's dick. I don't know, maybe I don't have my physics right, but, if the Juggernaut were to plow his helmeted head into an indestructible wall by accident, wouldn't he still be conscious, in order to really take place in something we can actually call a battle? Before the little bruise on his head began to swell he went head first in like, 80 different walls. But thankfully, I can forgive such writing, because Juggernaut did manage to squeak out one ingenious line before he met his maker. And Charlie likes to quote it nonstop for its awesome visceral effect, "Don't you know who I am? I'm the Juggernaut, BITCH!!" For the cherry on top, this line is said in a thick British accent. That's what I call flavor.


Geekdom is really, actually, pretty frightening. I fear my sanity every time I enter one of these God forsaken movies. The Last Stand (when staying true to the comics) fails on multiple levels. But in the end, things like: Juggernaut is Xavier's half brother you idiot! Why isn't anyone mentioning this!? Or: Hank McCoy would never say something like that you pieces of shit! All of that doesn't really matter. Though, there are some things that are totally unnerving. Take the portable cure, which can reverse your genetic code in a matter of seconds. And Charlie, I'm really sorry that I notice little worthless things like this. It's cool. We're cool, right? The cure can conveniently be placed inside a gun? How awesome is that?! Look! We can either shoot a major character whenever we want, plus, there is the constant fear that someone will use this trump card at anytime! Man, X-3 Team... you rock!


Regardless of all the hoopla, this is only a couple notches worse than the first X-Men. A couple, huge, glaring, Splinter's limp dick in your face, notches. Honestly, I didn't really have a problem with the film up to a point. When the culminating ending hits though, it pretty much seals the deal. It all roughly ends, right where we began. Of course, a few key players are dead, missing, hanged-over. But the calm is utterly ridiculous. Especially after what just happened. How can I walk away from this feeling satisfied? Popcorn flick or not? It seems like the surgeon of this film forgot to sow his patient back up. It's like nothing really happened at all. The truth is, it's just that nothing important did.
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Manderlay
Manderlay (2006)
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

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Manderlay
directed by Lars von Trier (2005)


[left]Being the second film in Trier's controversial trilogy of bleak truths and dastardly absurd characters, Manderlay begins where the startling magnificent [i]Dogville[/i] left off. Grace (this time played by newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, in reality, at least half the age of Nicole Kidman's Grace) has been snatched away - by force, threats, and promises - from the corruptly hidden town of the south - Dogville- by her Father, a corrupt gangster from the city. Strategically in typical Trier fanatical fashion, Manderlay continues Dogville's visual style. That is: a stripped set, chalk outlining a house, boards and beds filling empty space that's supposed to be a town, all equal to something resembling a theatre stage, where whenever an entrance is needed characters knock on invisible doors and open invisible entrances. Disappointingly, Manderlay doesn't extend the visual ideas of Dogville much but actually creates, maybe on purpose, ugliness. There's no brilliant sunsets or sunrises this time. The background is forcibly dark, barren, and disconcerting. The divine purpose here? With the visual stimulus of colorful landscapes and enclosured roofs and walls almost nonexistent, we're forced to pay even greater attention to the emotional restrains of living in Manderlay. In short - characters emotions are heightened. Particularly important when dealing with Manderlay's distraught script. The central idea? Grace stumbles upon Manderlay; a town still in the throes of slavery - seventy years after it was abolished.


Dogville immediately separated viewers into two groups: those that loved the film dearly, and those that hated it with every fiber of their being. Not only because of its excessive theatrical style, but its residue of overt dramatics, and especially its prevalent themes. Themes which dug deep into the soil of American history. Not always intrinsically literal to the bone - Manderlay's continuation of slavery for example probably never happened - but mostly metaphorically representative of a mass group of people in America. Many overcharged patriotic critics took it a step further and labeled Dogville anti-American. And of course, like always, a discussion or viewpoint incongruent with flag-waving blindopia is shunned, turned around, and kicked in the ass. Trier's assessment of America's most formidably corrupt can be taken in many shades. I think, more often than not, that the social problems of both films merely represent the problems humanity faces across the entire planet, regardless of country. Of course, America distinctively has its own flavor, but they only stem from the perpetuating amount of problems the whole world sees. Manderlay's distorted morality is extremely telling. For many, it may be too difficult to digest. Lars von Trier, a native of Denmark, has never actually been to America. Interestingly enough, I find that the essence of his portrayals and estranged figures accurate. Trier, with what seems like ease, reveals truths no one wants to hear. Or at least not without a fight.


How I see it, Grace plays the part of America, right after the emancipation of the slaves. And unlike Trier's other beaten down and bloody female leads, Grace's suffering isn't through external violence, but internally, a product of her own naivete. After a little thought, I seriously doubt that every action or word Grace articulates hasn't been proposed by Trier for some specific, thematic reason. Her gleefully innocent smile, confused idea of leadership, and brazen overacting, could be all part of Trier's plan to symbolically link Grace's actions with a supple America after 400 years of tyranny. Once the first (and far from last) row of cobwebs are cleared, Grace takes the position of the town's president/leader/dictator/mother. She attempts to show the former slaves how to a adapt to a life of freedom. America's little gift - late as all hell. Grace steadies herself in Manderaly, with the now freed men, women and children of African decent under her belt, as well as a white family. The family, forced (by Daddie's gangsters and lawyers) stay under her surveillance until they grow to like the black people. Or at least, until their bigotry cools to an acceptable level (the family immediately jumped at the chance to contract the now freed peoples to a life of hard labor, a less threatening form of slavery - employment). This strange, curious, occurrence, among many others, is one of the reasons why people, confused, and bewildered by such a thought, have proclaimed Manderlay a racist film. They also appropriate racism to the use of the word "nigger", on countless occasions, among, still, many other things. And while I may not be able to totally discern the importance of every tiny little theme in this movie, I'm pretty sure Trier's intentions were a little more complex and varied than these blatantly obvious ones.


Manderlay, in its deepest darkest corners, depicts a fascinating, untapped idea of how oppression can spur reliance, personality traits, forever lasting changes. A question like, can institutionalized slavery ever be solved by emancipation? just doesn't seem that outrageous a question once seeing this film. And quietly (mostly...), we see how the other side - Grace - uses their power and authority. She's a rich white girl, who essentially entitles these oblivious people democracy suddenly. At once, an absurd concept for the freed families, frightening and uncotrollable. At its best, Manderlay is its most shocking. Through a carefully crafted barrage of dramatic moments, we watch, with eyes pried open by something entirely alien.
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United 93
United 93 (2006)
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

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[center][i]United 93[/i]
[i]directed by Paul Greengrass (2006)[/i]

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[left] United 93 isn't what you think it is. It's not a jingoistic, patriotic orgasm, depicting Flight 93's passengers as heroic, flag-waving Bush supporters. If I had been on Flight 93 that day, I know the last thing I would be thinking of is my patriotic duty, and the part I play as an American. More than likely, I would be thinking about loved ones - and with any slight possibility - what I could do in order to see them again. We don't exactly know what took place on that plane, but the film Greengrass created, is the most logical formation yet. It's definitely a lot better than anything the media or government has officially stated. It's an unbiased, realistic account of what [i]could[/i] have happened that day. Greengrass's politics, whatever they may be, are not present. But there is still a lot of revealing truth to the film, and whatever you are, democract or republican, Bush supporter or not, you will come out of this film energized, and with your particular beliefs, fears, and hopes, all the more powerful. United 93 isn't applicable for just one specific group of people.


The buildup to the unfliching climax is remarkable. We see the terrorists, quiet, and somber, hours before take off. Like most of the beginning, Greengrass stands back here. His camera stays somber; we all know what is about to happen, even though things seem relatively innocent. When little things begin to happen here and there, events pick up and plummet into one another, creating a domino effect until the very end. With each passing minute, the story builds and builds tension. Those slight moments where you get a chance to breathe, are short, and ultimately useless in you regaining any type of composure. It is here when Greengrass is at his most commanding. Brilliantly, his camera tumbles and rattles with every moment of suspense, creating an intense feeling of sea sickness (or plane sickness). You'll need your vomit bag before the box of tissues. United 93 is brutal on a whim.


During the film's end, United 93 stops being a thriller, and becomes a horror movie. It is at this point where I get upset. Not patriotic, not angry, not even teary-eyed, but upset, about a lot of things. It is in these ruthless last few moments that a lot of questions arise. A lot of questions dealing with the incident, that day, what could have been done to prevent it, what is not being done now, and ultimately, questions dealing with humanity. Questions that no one is asking. I thought back to the opening shots of the film: the New York skyline, massive, powerful, and then in the airport lobby, one of the terrorists trapped between cover girls and a man babbling on his cell phone. And I wondered why, these would be, very successful, even intelligent men, would do a thing like this. I have my theories, but they're only backed up with only more questions. United 93 doesn't answer anything, it asks questions. This is a great thing, I think, for the thinking people of America. The people that are looking or searching for some sort of truth amongst the insanity.


During those last, fleeting, desperate, and futile moments, admist a group of hands, bloodied, stabbed, knife-wielding hands clenching anything they can grasp, it doesn't matter what side you're on. We're in this together. Maybe Greengrass left room for one universal message? If so, it's the most admirable choice possible for this particular subject. We're all in this together. United 93 didn't come out too soon; we're just too late.
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