February 02, 2017

Movies I Watched Recently

A quick round-up of movies I've seen in the last couple of months (at least, the ones I can remember). Probably spoilers ahead, but most of these aren't new movies anyway.

I caught the newly restored version of Tampopo during my Christmas trip home to Toronto at my favorite theater, the TIFF Lightbox. I had such a delightful experience watching it that I'm now seeking out more of Juzo Itami's work. I liked the way it alternated between a main story and mostly unconnected vignettes on the overall topic of food. There were also a lot of entertaining filmmaking ideas in it. I really need to get the upcoming Criterion release and watch this one again.

Under the Skin
I saw this at the Lightbox too. I don't know if I would've quite had the patience to sit through it at home, but seeing it late at night in a big theater allowed it to wash over me and command my attention as it deserves to. I was expecting more of a traditional narrative, but it's really more of a surreal mood piece. There are haunting images in the film, and beautiful scenery. I appreciated the way it combined a horror/sci-fi element with weird Scottish slice-of-life scenes.

My mother introduced me to this a long time ago. It was one of her favorite movies. The Beatles' second movie gets a bit of flack for having such a loose narrative and generally being overindulgent, but I still have a soft spot for it. There are a couple of moments in it that make me laugh harder than just about anything, and I think it probably had a big hand in shaping my sense of humor. I can't honestly say that it's a great movie though. Having also watched The Knack for the first time recently (which I also liked but felt conflicted over), I noticed that about 15% of the 'humor' in Dick Lester's movies is just two conversations happening simultaneously, which isn't really ever that funny to me.

Planet of the Apes original film series (1968-1973)
Man these are depressing, and mostly awful. The original isn't amazing but at least it works on its own terms. My main beef with it was that in every situation, Charlton Heston's character does the stupidest thing possible. But that bothered me less as it became more clear that he's doomed no matter what he does... which is the general message of every film in the series except maybe the final one, and probably why I had such a hard time liking any of them. I can handle stories where individuals go through sad experiences, but larger stories about humanity's bleak future just hit too close to home for me. I have very little hope for the future, and honestly the only way I can function is to try not to think about it.
The Apes series are relentlessly miserable, unpleasant films, with the second one being the worst in that and many other respects. It suffers from a drastically lowered budget, missing key players from the first film both on- and off-camera and a mishmash of terrible ideas at every level. The third one is the least miserable but feels like an average TV movie at best. The fourth and fifth filmls are devoid of much personality, feeling like vague plot synopses blown up into movies. Oh, and apart from the first film, they all have ridiculously ill-conceived endings.

Ocean Waves
I caught this at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. It's definitely a B-tier Ghibli production, conceived to give the younger staff something to do, but I like it a lot. In fact it's probably one of my favorite Ghiblis. The low-key story is charming and refreshingly doesn't follow much of an arc. Possibly because of that, the ending was somewhat underwhelming to me, but it's worth it. The weird turns the story takes make it feel like real life, for example a trip to Tokyo where they just stay at the hotel rather than going on some wild adventure like you'd expect in a movie. I want to watch this again, now with a better understanding of what the movie is, and maybe adjusting my expectations. I might like it even more. Definitely picking up the GKids release when it comes out.

The non-Miyazaki movies from the 90s are some of my favorite Ghibli films. Miyazaki is obviously a great filmmaker and I love his stuff too, but his movies all feel pretty similar in tone and characters. I'm drawn more towards Takahata's unpredictability and variety, which was probably helped by the fact that he was a non-animator -- an outsider in the medium unbound by conventions. And although Miyazaki wrote and storyboarded Whisper of the Heart, the fact that it's largely grounded in the real world makes it feel different from most of his films, which is maybe why he chose not to direct it.

Tokyo Story
My first Ozu movie. I bought it at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Little Tokyo. It's awe-inspiring in its simplicity. Very moving storyline, and relatable universal characters. I'm looking forward to seeing more Ozu. It's obvious why he was such an inspiration to so many other filmmakers including notably Isao Takahata (whose brilliant Only Yesterday I saw earlier this year). I think reading on the Ghibli Blog that Ozu was a major influence on that film is what finally made me want to seek out his work.

The Red Turtle
Very interesting film. The turn from survivalist realism to fantasy/fable was a bit hard to swallow for me, since I was so on board with the storyline so much up to that point. I continued to enjoy it, but in a different way. I'm not sure I totally understand the film, or if I'm even supposed to. But it's good.

Letter to Momo
A very direct hybrid of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away that doesn't reach the levels of either. Letter to Momo is cute but also quickly forgotten. I didn't find the goblin characters as funny as I was clearly supposed to, but there were some nice set-pieces with them. My favorite element was the Japanese island village setting, which thankfully the film puts to good use.

Ah, it's fine I guess. It's for kids and kids like it. I used to care more about the formulaic nature of mainstream American animated films, as if I might enjoy them if they just did one or two things differently, but now I've pretty much given up on them. This one was okay, especially compared to the shit Illumination puts out. I'm not big on musicals, or fake musicals that needle drop the first few seconds of a pop song to get a laugh from recognition alone rather than actually making a joke. "Check out our music licensing budget! Isn't that funny?" Sometimes cheap laughs really annoy me.
But this is still probably better than Sing.

Supermarket Woman
Another Juzo Itami film, from 1996. This one has a very similar basic plot to Tampopo - someone steps in to advise a potential romantic partner on how to improve their food business to serve the customers better. I think this one was missing some of the creative spark that filled Tampopo, but there are some very fun performances in it. It's about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be though.

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