Anime, Movies

Spirited Away

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away at the cinema, its not my favourite Miyazaki (or Studio Ghibli) movie, that goes to Princess Mononoke, but its not often that many of us get to see these films on the big screen, especially somewhere like Bedford (there’s a showing of Princess Mononoke at the end of the month that I’m also hoping to attend).

It’s a film I’ve seen many, many times before. I bought it when it first came to the UK on DVD, and over the years its a film my partner and I have loved and shared with our children. This time round I happened to see it with the group of friends I’ve made through the book club I attend and it was awesome to see that there wasn’t an empty seat in the whole screening, (well, there was one, for a while, right next to me, then a weird guy came in half way through the film, asked me what it was called and what the time was, kept his coat on, then as the credits began to roll informed me that it was a “bit of a head fuck”).

Seeing it on the big screen was a real treat though, I’ve never had any trouble following it, but with the screen and sound system dominating your senses Miyazaki’s beautifully crafted, spiritual world is brought to life.

In this environment you really feel the pace of the film as it flies through some sections, throws gags at you and then takes some important moments to drop everything and just let you breath in this world, you really appreciate the craft thats gone into every single scene, especially during the quiet moments that are full of reflection that come at just the right moment to move onto the next act.

However, whilst most of Spirited Away is hand-drawn, there are moments of the film that have been created via computer. The most noticeable of these are when Chihiro is following Haku through the fields of flowers to get to the pig pens to see her parents. Now this might have been done on purpose, it could be to amplify the contrast in locations to the bathhouse where we’ve spent most of the film up to this point, it could be to help us appreciate the confusion and feeling of being rushed off her feet that Chihiro is no doubt going through, but the visual impact is very noticeable. Especially when blown up onto a cinema screen. Thats not to say it detracts from the film overall, its just very noticeable.

The music really has an impact here too. Maybe I’ve watched it too many times with the kids or other distractions, but I’d forgotten some moments of the music. There’s obviously the soaring moments such as when Chihiro is riding upon Haku’s back, but theres other moments such as on the bridge outside the bathhouse when we are first introduced to No-Face. There’s a few quiet notes playing, but then some really awkward sounding strings come in and the jankiness (for want of a better, maybe real, word) really sets the tone that even within this completely alien world where Chihiro is at odds with everything, theres are encounters that are stranger than others.

One last thing, I’ve been reading The Handmaids Tale for book club (more on that on Wednesday), and theres a bit of a cross over in themes between the two that I didn’t expect at all. There’s a strong conversation about the strength in ones name. In both of these stories the lead characters name is used to opress them and place them in servitude and both have their names replaced. Chihiro becomes Sen and its only through keeping the memory of her name alive, and also discovering/remembering Haku’s real name, that she is able to break out of Yubaba’s contract and leave the spirit world. In The Handmaids Tale, the protagonist also has her name taken from her, we’re never told what it is, it is forbidden for her to ever use it, but she remembers and its her name that helps her keep her memories of the world as it was before she begun telling the reader her story, but in both cases, they are given a new name, and in this case its also the narrators title Offred (Of Fred, Fred being her commander).

Both offer a commenatary on the power of words and how they can be used to control individuals and ultimately a group of people. There’s probably a lot more there to be discussed by somebody with far more intelligence than I have.

Again, I’m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to see this in a community setting, where people laughed at the funny moments and were swept along by Miyazaki’s story telling, all played out on a huge screen, and it’s thanks to the services of Our Screen that I was able to do so.

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Movies

Jaws

I’m going to be playing catch up on this #100 Movies tag over the next few weeks as during October my partner and I took it upon ourselves to watch a horror movie for every night of the month (okay one was a TV movie split over two discs so we only actually watched 30 movies in October). Some of these movies were on my “100 Must-See Movies” poster and thus will receive a write-up, Jaws was on that list.

Much has been made of Jaws over the decades since it was originally released, what with it pretty much launching the career of one Steven Spielberg, and the attention and praise its received since its release in 1974 is more than warranted. Okay, the shark looks awful today, but it’s still easy to get lost in the moment and feel the dread that Brody, Quint and Hooper feel when out at sea hunting for the infamous shark.

There are three things that Jaws is very famous for, we’ve already mentioned the shark.

By modern standards, it is very, very rubbery looking. But at the time this was groundbreaking. Of course, Spielberg would go on to make a very similar movie advancing a lot of this technology nearly 20 years later when he released Jurassic Park. Spielberg is quoted as saying that he wanted the shark to be the star and at the time it most certainly was. But now? I’m not so sure, personally I found a lot of Quint’s scenes would offer up the level of tension I’d assume the shark was supposed to be providing, especially any dialogue between himself and Hooper, which isn’t really surprising when you take into account that the two actors took an immediate disliking to each other on set.

There’s one scene in particular, late at night, the three men have all been drinking, making jokes, but there’s a sense of tension in the air. The conversation turns to Quint’s time in the US Navy and him being aboard the USS Indianapolis and the shark attacks the crew suffered. As his story unfolds you can see the atmosphere inside the boat change, as tense as things had been prior, things are ramped up even further with Brody and Hooper looking genuinely terrified of Quint at this point.

The other big thing Jaws is famed for is its soundtrack. Duh-Dun Duh-Dun Duh-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun Dun-Dun. Famously scored by John Williams (who would then score many many huge films, most famously George Lucas’ Star Wars), the aim was to create something akin to human respiration whilst bringing tension to the view, your heartbeat raises as you hear the famous notes and you begin to expect the worse. It’s since become the go-to piece of music when anyone wants to act like they’re sneaking up on someone as a joke. It’s not just that theme that is key to the tone of Jaws though and once again its Quint that’s the focal point. We frequently hear him sing an old British Naval song “Spanish Ladies”

Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

He sings this at various points in the film, and its almost our first introduction to the character, who’s perceived to be drunk (he probably was, its likely Robert Shaw, who played Quint, was drunk himself), but it almost always sounds threatening, we’re given the impression that the character is on the brink of sanity and, I feel anyway, that whenever he’s heard singing this, he’s literally on the precipice of turning on the rest of the cast.

The last thing it’s infamous for is Brody’s  line to Quint after seeing the shark for the first time

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Though I don’t really have much to say on that, it is what it is.

If Jaws were filmed today, I know it would be a very, very different movie. The temptation to show the shark at any given opportunity would be far too high and I don’t think the characters would be given the chance to shine like they are. I know Spielberg wanted the shark to be the star, and it is, but the threat of the shark doesn’t carry the characters, its the tension between them that does far more than just fill the gaps between shark attacks. This is apparent during the aforementioned USS Indianapolis tale. I think if this was a modern movie, we’d cut away and be shown what happened, instead the panic and fear that Quint felt at that time begins to show through and being stuck in such a confined space, out at sea, in shark-infested waters, with that character is when the film really shows its teeth as a horror film. The monsters just there to get bums on seats.

Movies

Reservoir Dogs

Imagine living with someone for nearly 18 years and in that time watching many, many movies, some of them your favourites, some of them theirs and some of them movies that neither of you have ever seen before. During that time you’d pretty much know what films each of you haven’t seen and surely there should be no surprise? Well, looking through my “100 Must See Movies” my partner, whom I have three children with, announced she’d never seen Reservoir Dogs before!

Now this confused me, I’m certain I’ve watched it since we met (I obviously watched it before we met), and thats not to say we only ever watch films together as thats not always the case (work, sleep, life etc means thats not always going to happen, not to mention individual tastes, there are films she loves I dont enjoy so will do something else when she fancies watching them, as is the case for every couple out there). So one day recently, once the kids were at school, I cooked us up a meal and we sat down and watched the film that introduced the world to Quentin Tarantino.

Reservoir Dogs wasn’t my first Tarantino, I think that was technically From Dusk Till Dawn, its also technically a Robert Rodriguez movie as he directed it (Tarantino provided the script), which also started a lifelong infatuation with Salma Hayek. Anyway, onto the film itself.

It’s a very simple affair and going back to it now we’re reaching what feels like the end of Tarantino’s career (there’s been alot of noise about Once Upon A Time in Hollywood being his last movie, but then I’m sure that happens with every film he makes) you can see alot of the stuff thats become what people look for in a Tarantino movie.

Most notable, and obvious, is the dialogue, there’s something very distinctive about Tarantino’s dialogue. Not just the language used, but the references being thrown around, but the tempo of the dialogue is always the giveaway in his films. It’s very fast paced, back and forth, everyone trying to out do each other throughout. It grabs the attention but it can also be exhausting and whilst it felt fresh in Reservoir Dogs, that element of each character trying to be a bigger character than the last makes it difficult to want to see more of these characters. I get that their not really supposed to be likable, with Mr White being the only one with any semblance of some humanity, but it also makes them feel very one dimensional. He does get better at this, but we’re not looking at his other films, we’re looking at Reservoir Dogs.

He does like to let them act though, they really are given every opportunity to show us just how good they are and its no real surprise that he’s managed to work with most of the long-term big names in Hollywood at least once with many of them returning for multiple films. Here whilst the two characters we, arguably, spend the most time with are Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi, who both put in excellent performances, the two stand out performances in my opinion are Tim Roth and Michael Madsen (the latter of which appears in many of Tarantino’s movies). It’s easy to say that Roth over-acts the dying man, but I think thats the point. Yes he’s dying and desperate, but he’s also trying to be a believable criminal, he’s the only one who’s background isn’t known to their boss and, being an undercover cop, he has to make sure he’s not found out or no one is going to get him the help he needs.

Michael Madsen seems to excel at playing an unhinged, menacing bastard and thats more than obvious here. You always get the sense that one comment is enough to push him over the edge, but not into the mad shouting crazy man that you’d expect in any other movie. No, Madsen is cold, calculating and appears to enjoy seeing people suffering, be it physically or emotionally. He knows what buttons to push to get someone to that point, but also enjoys playing the game to get them there rather than just simply pushing and pushing. He’ll push, back off and give the impression that its not him thats the problem, its everybody else, then applies the tension again.

There were a few points where I had to explain things to my partner, or remind her who was who, but she did seem to enjoy it. She was a bit confused that Tarantino didn’t show the heist at first but then grew to understand that that wasn’t the point of this film, that thats every other heist film out there and I did say that if she wanted to see something like that we could always watch something like Heat or Ronin (I think she’s seen the former, but I’ve never watched the latter with her). Overall though I think she enjoyed it and, for me, its one I love returning to mainly because of the performances mentioned above (though its not my favourite Tarantino, that goes to Deathproof).

Movies

Jurassic Park

Back in June I turned 35, one of the gifts I was given was a posters featuring 100 must see movies and each movie features a scratch off panel with some artwork behind. It’s not proclaiming to be a list of the 100 best movies of all time but its a pretty good list, although it cheats on two occasions: the Star Wars Trilogy (the Original Trilogy) is listed as one movie as is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are some films on there that I’d switch for others (an example that immediately springs to mind is Spirited Away, I love that movie but of Miyazaki’s movies it comes third to Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro). Now, I’ve already seen over 60 of the movies listed before already but my better half has decreed I cant scratch those off until I’ve rewatched each of them, and so with me seeing The Matrix at the cinema a couple of weeks back, I got to scratch off one panel, we’ve since re-watched Jurassic Park.

First things first, my eldest daughter and my other half/her Mother, both love the Jurassic Park movies, even Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World: Fall Kingdom, but to me the series has blown cold with each instalment, aside from that very first one.

From the off it still stands tall as an excellent bit of film making, the characters all feel grounded and, if not relatable, at least realistic and the decisions they make throughout aren’t outside of the realms of possibility.  The core three, Dr Ian Malcolm, Dr Ellie Sattler and Dr Alan Grant all shine throughout and even the kids have some really excellent moments and don’t ever get as annoying as kids in films often do, they’re squabbling feels like that of a brother and sister whilst it also feels like there’s genuine familial love between the two.

It’s funny, you can a film, dozens and dozens of times but sometimes you still spot things you don’t remember before, a case in point during this rewatch of Jurassic Park was during the sequence where Malcolm, Grant and Sattler are in the electric Explorer together prior to the energy going on out and Malcolm is teaching (and flirting with) Ellie about Chaos Theory, then Grant jumps out of the car and Malcolm says that Grants actions prove Chaos Theory as no one could have predicted he’d do that (or words to that effect). Sattler follows and Malcolm is left alone in the car and continues his speech about Chaos Theory, even showing how he himself has a part to play in it, but its that particular moment that had completely passed me by and shows alot of who Ian Malcolm is as a person, he loves to talk and loves to theorise and if somebody happens to be listening or remotely paying him attention, then thats just the icing on the cake.

This leads us into the films big centre piece, its most famous scene (well, apart from the bit following that with Jeff Goldblum’s shirt open), the Tyrannosaurus Rex attack. It’s utterly amazing that it still stands the test of time, the film is twenty six years old and yet that T-Rex looks and feels more real to the viewer than any of the offerings they’ve used since, even the latest two movies the T-Rex looked and felt CG, and while I know they blended the two with 1993’s Jurassic Park, doing so enabled the cast to really play out and act as terrified as they appear to be during that particular moment of the film.

It also feels like its of a time when family films were allowed to have genuine peril in, now big blockbusters that everyone watches, the heroes always get through and the danger never feels genuine (I’ll say now I’ve not seen End Game so I’m not going all in on defending that comment, as Infinity War was definetly a “Part One” movie). the moment when Timmy, Alan and Lex are climbing the electric fence, not knowing that Ellie and Robert Muldoon have worked their way through the jungle to get to the generators and bring power back to the park after Dennis Nedry had shut it all down, there’s an incredible amount tension for both groups, on the one hand you want Alan and the kids to get over the fence safely, but on the other the power needs to come back on, with Ellie and Robert having the major issue of the Velociraptors being loose, it ends up being a close call for Sattler but we/the park loses its Games Keeper.

The Raptors are an almost every present threat, from their introduction during the films opening moments when one of the workers is dragged into their pen, through to the scene in the kitchen with Lex and Timmy trying to sneak their way around and avoid them, a scene that has been aped elsewhere, such as in the last season of Game of Thrones. Even at the end of the movie, their the bigger threat to the group prior to them managing to escape the island, and its only through the actions of the T-Rex picking a fight with the raptors that they are all able to escape from the visitors centre.

It was always going to be difficult for any follow up films to be as good as Jurassic Park was, we’ve seen this problem before in other franchises, and unlike, say Alien/Aliens and The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgement Day, taking a completely left field approach would have been a very difficult sell. I don’t mind The Lost World, but its not a patch on Jurassic Park, and the final third of Jurassic Park 3 had the most potential out of the entirety of that film, but as with the westernised versions of Godzilla, it would have been a little more problematic to make into a full film, especially when the western Godzilla movies (not including 2018’s King of Monsters, which I’ve also not seen yet) pretty much miss the entire message that Kaiju movies have tried to carry in their home land (though the first Pacific Rim did manage to hit those notes to some degree).

Movies, Uncategorized

The Matrix, a 20th anniversary viewing

People who follow me on Instagram will know that on Monday 29th July I went to a late night showing of The Matrix to mark 20 years since its original release, now that was actually 6 weeks later than its actual anniversary, as it was released on 11 June 1999. I didnt see it until it came out on VHS and my Step-Uncle brought it round and showed us the first scene with Trinity, now he and my Step-Dad were gawping over Carrie Ann Moss in that outfit, I on the other hand, was transfixed by what Lana and Lilly Wachowski were doing with their cinema work.

I’ve watched it many times since, I even spent one summer shortly after the sequels were released diving down a rabbit hole of plot theory, figuring out what each and every scene was going on about, and maybe giving the Wachowski’s writing more credit than it possibly deserved. There’s no doubt they had high idea’s for their story but ultimately its hard to see exactly what they were trying to say. Besides, alot of that has now been consigned to long lost memories and I’d struggle to go further into its lore without spending many more hours digging through the internet, Neo style, trying to find answers.

So, we go back to the original movie, I’ve seen it on VHS, I’d seen it on DVD, I’d never seen it at the cinema before so was very excited to do so.

There were a few problems with the showing though. Vue’s website says it was 4k and whilst I’ve never seen anything in 4k before (that I’m aware of anyway. I don’t have the home set up for it and the last film I saw at the cinema was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at Milton Keynes, which I’ve no idea whether it was a 4k showing or not), there were times I was seriously unimpressed with the picture. The stand-out moment was during the scene where Smith and his cronies have Thomas Anderson in the interrogation room, when Smith mutters the line “what is the point of a phone call if you are unable to speak?” (or words to that effect) the picture of Keanu Reeves, his mouth sealed up, struggling to fight off the Agents, was really quite blurry. Likewise the scene with Trinity I mentioned early didn’t look as sharp and clean as it was in my mind.

These moments didnt detract from the overall experience though, the shift from Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” into Neo’s alarm is still a really cool scene switch that still leaves the viewer questioning whether Neo was dreaming about his meeting with Trinity, the visit to The Oracle is still as mind-bending and funny as it always was “Don’t worry about the Vase” etc, and everything from Cypher’s betrayal to Neo’s resurrection (and his position as a Christ-like figure within the world created by the Wachowski’s) is still seriously fucking awesome.

Obviously the technology on show has dated, the phones and computers we use now compared to what we see within the Matrix (both the machines program and the film itself) are ridiculously more advanced, whilst the technology used to create its visual impact has also aged and been used to death. The costumes have, again, been used to death to make someone stand out as being “cool”, which wasn’t the intention of the costume designer, instead her intention was to create a clear difference between ones appearance in The Matrix and in the real world.

And that aesthetic, and the films theme, still stands true today, maybe even more so as the internet has become a place that one can very easily create an entirely new persona for themselves, only showing the rest of the world, through their social media platforms, what they want the world to see. We live in a world of “influencers” and more than even in the 80’s what you wear and how you portray yourself is the be all and end all. One mis-judged social media post, be it something something untoward on Twitter, or wearing something on a new picture of Instagram that upsets enough people, and that image falls to pieces.

Okay, thats not the central theme of The Matrix, which is about humans becoming an energy source for the very things they created, but there’s not a huge difference.

So, 20 years after the Wachowski’s amazed the world with their visionary masterpiece, does The Matrix still stand up today? You better fucking believe it does.