So I picked up a few DVDs yesterday. Haven’t watched them all but here they are (and also some I didn’t pick up but would like to or will just mention)
This is the first release this week from Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli company. To understand the importance of this you first might need a little background. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese Animation studio; think the Jpanese version of Disney. Only instead of creating family oriented movies with minium storytelling and cheap animation, they weave deep and enriching storys inside some of the finest animation ever to be put on screen.
Nausicaä was, previous to Spirited Away, considered Miyazaki’s crowning achievment. It is a story about how man has destroyed Earth’s environment in the far distant future and Princess Nausicaä’s attempt to prevent to warring tribes from destroying it even further. However despite the mature sounding themes present Miyazaki has approached the story as he always has and made it entirely accessible by kids as well. It is a wonderful story and at the same time very emotionally satisfying. While Spirited Away is his crowning achievment, and may well be never replaced (it is currently the highest grossing movie in Japan, even beating Titanic over there) this movie is still certainly no letdown and arguably better than anything released in the US in the past few years.
This movie comes to you on an outstanding two disc DVD collection, with plenty of insight into the story as well as the animation and history of the movie. You are also able to watch the movie in a dubbed english track or in its original japanese language audio track and English subtitles.
This is the second release from Studio Ghibli this week. Like Nausicaä, this film was also written and directed by Miyazaki-san. Instead of going for the morality of Nausicaä or the sheer wonder of Spirited Away, this instead is Miyazaki’s attempt at a more straight forward action adventure story, and the results are unbelievable. The story centers around Porco, or The Crimson Pig (literal English translation). He is a man whose head was turned into a pig’s head for some reason. He spends the entire movie fighting evil (in the form of Facism) anbd rescuing people. The movie has an level of fun and excitement to it equal to any similar live action movie released. Fair doses of comedy and action keep the movie going while rarely slowing down. I am not a big fan of the voice dubbing which was newly create for this release. The Japanese track is better IMHO though then you have the subtitle translation which similar to the voice dubbing falls a little flat.
Unlike many of Miyazaki’s other movies, there is no message or morality or enviornmental awareness here. This is a pretty straight foward look at high adventure fantasy, with some elements of self-awareness thrown into the mix. Definitely a good time. Like the other two Ghibli releases this week, this is a two disc special edition with plenty of extras to find out more about the movie.
The final film this week to be released by Studio Ghibli, this one was not written or directed by Miyazaki himself as he served as Executive Producer only. However, it is still not to instantly see the tremendous amount of charm and passion put into this movie. It is an excellent fairy tale about a girl who saves a cat, one who turns out to be a prince and begins to change her life forever out of gratitude. It brings back characters originally seen in Whisper of the Heart which in fact WAS written by Miyazaki in an effort to begin grooming other directors and producers for work at Studio Ghibli. Sadly, the director of Whisper of the Heart died shortly after the movies release. The director for The Cat Returns does an admirable job though and the story, while not Ghibli’s finest, definitely holds up against virtually any non-Pixar American animated movie released over the last 10 years. As with the other two this is a wonderful 2-disc special edition and is available in either it’s original japanese language with english subtitles or dubbed in english.
Seriously, what is there not to like about this movie. It has one of John Travolta’s best performances, it has an outstanding non-Italian role by Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini, Renee Russo, Danny DeVito, Gene Hackman.. the list just goes on and on. To sum it up brief, Travolta plays a mob shylock (money collector) who is sent out west to get some money back. After getting out he decides to get into the movie business, using Gene Hackman, a different guy he was sent to collect money from, as his in.
The sheer number of side plots in this movie are outstanding. The writing is outstanding. The acting is outstanding. The script is witty, sharp, and never pandering. The humor is definitely dark and a little dry, but if you don’t need to see someone slip on a banana to get the joke this movie has more than enough comedy to go around. But by far, some of the best comedy in the entire thing has to be just the dead perfect delivery of the lines and the body language and facial expressions that accompany them.
As you can tell, I am a huge fan of this movie, and if you give it a chance, you will be too. As an added bonus, for a limited time copies of the movie come with a free movie cash ticket (i.e. works with pass list suspended) for the sequel coming out next month, Be Cool.
I know nothing about this movie, though have heard good things about it. Best Buy has it on sale for $15.99 this week. I bought it. That is all. Though I will post the editorial review from Amazon to not totally leave you hanging.
Billed as “an existential comedy,” I Heart Huckabees is a flawed yet endearingly audacious screwball romp that dares to ponder life’s biggest questions. Much of director David O. Russell’s philosophical humor is dense, talky, and impenetrable, leading critic Roger Ebert to observe that “it leaves the viewer out of the loop,” and suggesting that Russell’s screenplay (written with his assistant, Jeff Baena) is admirably bold yet frustratingly undisciplined. Russell’s ideas are big but his expression of them is frenetic, centering on the unlikely pairing of an environmentalist (Jason Schwartzman) and a firefighter (Mark Wahlberg) as they depend on existential detectives (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman) and a French nihilist (Isabelle Huppert) to make sense of their existential crises, brought on (respectively) by a two-faced chain-store executive (Jude Law) and his spokesmodel girlfriend (Naomi Watts), and the aftermath of 9/11’s terrorism. No brief description can do justice to Russell’s comedic conceit; you’ll either be annoyed and mystified or elated and delighted by this wacky primer for coping with 21st century lunacy. Deserving of its mixed reviews, I Heart Huckabees is an audacious mess, like life itself, and accepting that is the key to enjoying both.
Some other releases I was interested in or just discs in general I looked at were Heat Special Edition, Farscape Starburst Edition Volume 2, The Grudge, South Park Season 5, and X-Files Season 1 (when will they ever lower that price.. ugghh).
Until next Tuesday (yes, it will be next Tuesday….)