The Secret World of Arrietty is the latest release from Studio Ghibli, where the great Hayao Miyazaki wrote and directed the likes of Spirited Away, My Neighbor Toroto, Nausicaa, and Princess Mononoke, which was bigger in Japan at the box office than Titanic. For a man who frequently makes noises about retirement, Miyazaki is still pretty active, serving as the producer and co-screenwriter for this new adaptation of the children’s classic The Borrowers. I am guessing he also served as the inspiration for director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who sprinkles references to other Ghibli films throughout, especially Totoro.
The film is narrated by Shawn, a sick young boy taken to a cottage in the country by his grandmother to rest before undergoing a dangerous operation on his heart. His parents are divorced and his mother, for whatever reason, is too busy to be at his side but also does not like to return to her parents’ cottage, due to disappointment at never seeing the “little people” that her father believed were around. In many ways this is of course like the plot of Totoro. Shawn catches a glimpse of one of the borrowers – so called because they only take tiny amounts of food and other things from the human household, so as not to arouse attention – and he wants to be her friend. Arrietty trusts him but her parents do not; when a borrower is seen the family must move or risk being captured or destroyed by curious and excited humans. When the cottage’s interfering old housekeeper discovers the truth, their fears prove to be well-founded.
While there is some suspense, this is a film that plays out with the languid pleasure of a summer day, a coming of age tale for two friends sharing the same rooms and yard with vastly different perspectives. The hand-drawn cel animation, lush painting, and quiet moments brought tears to my eyes more than once. For some reason Disney felt that they had to do multiple English voice casts (one for the UK and one for the US), but I certainly have no complaints; the US cast includes Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as Arrietty’s parents, Carol Burnett as the housekeeper, and Disney Channel regulars Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie as Arrietty and Shawn.
The Secret of Arrietty is a beautiful film in every way, the best film I have seen so far this year, and a fine successor to some of the most beloved animated films of all time. Catch it on the big screen if you get the chance.
Again, I’m late to a party, but what the hell. I finally got around to reading the first volume of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series on the train ride home from Kingston yesterday. I had attempted to start it before but it didn’t grab me for whatever reason; this time I got as far as the reaping ceremony and I was hooked. For those who are even less informed than I, The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who has learned to hunt and trap game for her family’s survival in the rough mining world of District 12. Each district of her post-apocalyptic North America has different job to do in service of the Capitol, where the wealthiest citizens and government live comfortably with a strong military and technology at their command. Every year, the Capitol stages the Hunger Games as a reality show, randomly drawing the names of two teenagers from each district so that they may fight to the death; the winner is given a luxury mansion and must train future contestants from their district. The games were created as a punishment for a failed rebellion which also led to the destruction of a thirteenth district.
This horrifying concept, a sort of combination of The Lottery and Battle Royale, is presented through Katniss’ eyes as she bravely volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Prim. She and her fellow champion Peeta are transported to the Capitol, prepped and trained and packaged for television, and released into a wilderness to fight for their lives. To say that the game is rigged is an understatement. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler that Katniss prevails- this is a trilogy, after all- the thrill of this book is in how she uses her experience to do so, and the dilemma she faces afterward. Katniss is one of the most appealing characters I have read in quite a while, and Collins puts together a compelling plot that transcends prose that is sometimes a little clunky. It reminded me of many lesser young adult novels that I read when I was younger, but it is very much of our time, commenting on our cultural obsession with “reality” television and competitions that we know are edited to present a false narrative. It is also not much of a stretch to see modern North America, its relationship with the third world and its own class divisions, in the Capitol.
I certainly wouldn’t describe this book as fun, but like all classic young adult novels it is an exemplary depiction of a young person in an ethical dilemma. It was a simultaneously beautiful and terrible world to explore and I look forward to (and fear) reading the rest of the series.
As a Buddhist, I don’t consider myself a person of faith. But I respect those who do: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, native American, whoever. I truly do. But your churches, man; the organizations that go around shooting off their mouths on your behalf, and less established fringe elements who do the same, they are starting to scare me.
And it must drive you crazy too. Here you are, trying to live your life in a decent way, enjoying the community and comfort you feel from attending your church and doing your charity work and so on, but when you turn on your TV news (especially in America), you are being spoken for by those who make you sound unreasonable at best; insane and heartless at worst.
The obvious recent example is the Republican nomination process, where a field of candidates, none of whom have a real-world chance of defeating the incumbent president, get inordinate amounts of attention from a press corps with so little imagination or initiative that they will “report” on the pandering and proclamations as if they reflected the average person of faith. Every passing day brings us stories of attempts to roll back civil rights and human rights in the name of what someone calls faith or scripture, but is in fact nothing less than bigotry.
I don’t think it’s enough to shake our heads and collectively ask “what are you gonna do?” If you care enough about your faith to observe it, then care enough to speak up for your community and challenge those who are trying to pervert what ought to be a message of peace. Instead of waiting around for your saviour to return and make the world right, have you ever considered the possibility that he is waiting for you?
Colin Farrell stars as Mitchel, an ex-con who takes a job at the estate of reclusive actress Charlotte (Kiera Knightley) as a way to avoid sliding back into gangster life. Unfortunately, this only arouses the interest of local kingpin Ray Winstone (his character has a name too, I suppose), who wants Mitchel to help him rob the estate. Meanwhile, Charlotte is falling in love with Mitchel because he doesn’t mind breaking the faces of tabloid photographers who bother her.
This is the directorial debut of William Monahan, who adapted the Hong Kong franchise Infernal Affairs for his screenplay of The Departed in America. He wrote the screenplay for London Boulevard as well, adapting a novel by Ken Bruen, but in this case he comes off much better as the director, keeping the film moving and finding interesting shots. For all of that and its impressive cast (which includes David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin), it just never quite comes together. I get the feeling that the script wanted to be another In Bruges, and it certainly never approaches the sparkle of that film. I also knew exactly where the film was going to go, including the “surprise” of the ending, which is lifted from several Triad-trying-to-go-straight films in Hong Kong. London Boulevard is ok for what it is, but the unrealized potential is disappointing.
Hey, this blog passed 3000 all-time views yesterday, and over 1/4 of those views have been since New Year’s. Thanks very much for your patronage and don’t forget to check the new Tumblr site too for more comics-oriented stuff.
As I like to do from time to time, I keep an eye on what brings people to the site. Sometimes it’s referrals from Twitter or Facebook or my pals at Giraffecycle, and sometimes it is a search engine. The following is a list of what you sick fucks have searched for in the last month that brought you here. Don’t ever change, internet.
occupy my ass
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rachel bilson the vampire diaries
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“til debt do us part” show complaints critics errors true story myths
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Note to self, more articles about spanking and Nicolas Cage.
It’s called How to Draw Comics the Marshall Way, and it will be a progress report on my own stuff as well as a resource for useful links about making comics. Head on over and have a look, say hello, and be my tumblr friend if you have one too!
I signed a petition recently addressed to Vic Toews, a Canadian MP who is championing legislation that would allow law enforcement to obtain a lot of information about private citizens’ internet usage without obtaining a warrant first. His office sent an automated reply listing myths about the bill and trying to justify it. My reply follows:
Thanks for your reply. However, I still don’t accept your responses as reasonable compromises for so-called safety. Furthermore, I resent you wrapping this intrusive legislation (and yes, gathering people’s IP addresses and ISP information is intrusive) as “Protecting Children from Internet Predators”. We have a due process of law, a system where law enforcement must prove to a judge that this sort of intrusion is warranted.
Vic, I think this entire exercise is political grandstanding on your part, your own little branch of your boss’ attempt to push through an expensive and unnecessary crime bill. I’m sure you and your people and your party also have good intentions – at least I hope you do – but we have bigger problems in this country than the crime rate (which is in decline, have you heard?)
If you really want to do something about the internet that would be of value to Canadians, you might want to consider making it more accessible to remote communities; to investigating the pricing policies of major ISPs like Bell and Rogers; and campaigning against proposed changes to fair use and copyright laws that keep content out of the public domain. If you really want to do something that benefits children, take a look at the state of education across the country. Do schools and teachers have the resources they need? Do kids have safe places to play in every city? Are arts and recreation programs well-organized and -funded? If you take a moment to investigate any of these questions I bet you will find room for improvement; places where you can really make a difference as an elected official of the Canadian people instead of your grandstanding.
It’s not too late to do the right thing, Vic. I know it’s hard to admit when you make a mistake, especially when the eye of the media is upon you. I hope you have the integrity and sense to do something that actually matters while you are in your position of privilege.
Citizen of Canada
If you want to write Vic’s office, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this adaptation of a play about a Governor in the home stretch of a Democratic nomination campaign; Clooney also directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Gosling plays Steve, the up-and-coming strategist helping his mentor Paul (Hoffman) get the handsome liberal Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) elected. Steve is successfully tempted to spend the night with a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and unsuccessfully tempted to jump to a rival’s campaign by another strategist (Paul Giamatti), both of which lead to complications that threaten to ruin his own reputation and the Governor’s campaign.
Much like in Drive, Gosling does a good job of portraying a strong silent type faced with an ethical dilemma when it turns out that those he trusts are not the people he thought. This is not an earth-shaking story with car chases or explosions; it is a depiction of people from both ends of the political chain, their ideals and the compromises that they choose (or are forced) to make in the hope of doing good afterward.
It says a lot for one’s career that I can watch a film like this and say that it is only the third best film of Gosling’s last year, and the second best of Clooney’s, but there it is. The Ides of March does not deserve any Oscars, but it certainly deserves to be watched, and it would be nice to see its political ideas discussed instead of the silly horseshit that the Republican candidates are currently throwing around.
As an actor, Clooney makes his nice-guy-with-a-dark-streak look easy. As a director and screenwriter, he has the wisdom to let Gosling do the heavy lifting. Clooney is not Clint Eastwood yet, but he is well on his way.
American Vampire is an award-winning series created by Scott Snyder, with an origin story by Stephen King and artwork throughout by Rafael Albuquerque.
The obvious question is: why read another vampire story in a world that already has too many? Of course, any old monster can be interesting again in the right hands, as Stephen King’s early career demonstrates. What makes American Vampire interesting is the concept of class warfare within the vampire world set against periods of American history. The first story arc alternates between Hollywood on the verge of the talking picture and the last days of the wild west, with a new vampire created in each: aspiring actress Pearl Jones and clever criminal Skinner Sweet, respectively.
Skinner Sweet, as the original American vampire, discovers that he has an advantage that the older, European vampires do not: he can walk in the daylight. As the old guard tries to reach a truce with him, they also build wealth in the human world by investing in and influencing projects like the Boulder Dam. Sweet sees them as weak and decadent, like an ambitious gangster that wants to eliminate the old mafiosi. Meanwhile, a few of the humans who understand vampires have created their own elite corps of slayers, and don’t mind working with some vampires in order to eliminate others.
While I’m sure having King’s name on this book didn’t hurt sales, it is Snyder who has developed a compelling series here; and while I don’t always feel that Albuquerque’s artwork is well-served by digital colouring, it does work more often than not. Skinner Sweet is one of those charismatic villains that I perversely root for. If like me you have grown weary of franchises that are past their sell-by date like True Blood, American Vampire is an excellent replacement.
Chronicle is the tale of three teen boys who explore a hole in the ground and encounter a glowing crystal structure that bears some resemblance to Superman’s escape vessel from Krypton; which is appropriate, because afterward the boys develop super-powers, primarily telekinesis, which they adapt to learn to fly and make themselves nearly invulnerable. One of the kids, Andrew, is particularly skilled with using the powers; unfortunately he is also emotionally unstable, with a dying mother and abusive father at home. Despite encouragement from his friends, he starts using his powers to hurt others, and of course the other superteens have to stop him.
There is nothing too unusual about the plot points. The script is fairly smart and the actors do a good job, particularly Dane DeHaan as Andrew. Where the film really takes off, pardon the pun, are the set pieces where the superteens learn to use their powers (such as playing football in the clouds) and the final battle. Depicting superpowers in a “realistic” sense is nothing new either, thanks to films like Hancock, so to make them interesting onscreen becomes a matter of choreography and editing, both of which are well done here.
The biggest failing of Chronicle is the unnecessary conceit of the found footage and hand-held camera. It allows for a few interesting shots but it also gets in the way frequently, especially in the final act, and it makes a movie that should be big-screen wondrous look like a piece of crap sometimes. I understand the aesthetic of found footage films, I get how they can work with the right script, but it is completely unnecessary here. It’s kind of a joke, really, to spend millions of dollars on a major studio picture to make it appear as if it was shot on a camera phone. If that “realism” was so important to the director, why not have a few shots with the camera-phone or security camera look and use proper equipment the rest of the time?