From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)
Masami Nagasawa, Aoi Watanabe, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita, Jun Fubuki, Yuriko Ishida, Takashi Naito, Shunsuke Kazama, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruka Shiraishi, Tsubasa Kobayashi, Rumi Hiiragi, Toshimi Kanno, Aoi Teshima and Goro Miyazaki.
Goro Miyazaki returned to the director's chair last year with this Studio Ghibli feature called "From Up on Poppy Hill". Son of the anime master Hayao Miyazaki and aspiring to be a good filmmaker on his own, the comparisons and expectations are still inevitable. However gladly, I never stress on those things. My expectations from any film have to do more with their outcome and not with my personal requirements. Watch and experience a film as if it's the first of its kind, leave criticism and thoughts for later. This film is written by both Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa while its based on the 1980 comic of the same name illustrated by Chizuru Takahashi and written by Tetsuro Sayama. Papa Miyazaki was still attached to his son's project in a way and I believe its a great thing to have such an inspiring figure in your life both as a father and somebody who is best at what he does to provide useful insights and guide you. By no means is this a bad film but something that could have been so much better. So this film tells the story of Umi Matsuzaki who is a 16-year-old high school student living in a boarding house. Her mother is abroad and she lives with her younger siblings, grandmother and two other older students. She basically runs the house, a responsible and committed girl who looks after everything. Every morning, she raises signal flags for the ships. You realize from the very first instance that this film is going to be simple and somber fare which isn't a negative. I liked the usual slow introduction of the time and place. It is set in 1963 Yokohama, Japan. We see people waking up for a new day, breakfast preparations and everything. A sweet and simple introduction of a family, like Ozu used to do in his films but this is far from his masterful work of course.
From Up on Poppy Hill is in the same vein as some of the other Studio Ghibli films like "Whisper of the Heart" and "Ocean Waves" which too revolves around younger or teenage characters. But it unfortunately lacks much of the character development and engaging drama that made them such beautiful works. This film also doesn't evoke much of the nostalgia which is found in such films specially considering the historical setting here. Neither does the characters stand out in any particular way considering their age and dynamics and growth. Not raising the bar or creating anything spectacular, which is something that every Studio Ghibli film does but you can forget it in the larger sense because not every film needs to do that. The reason why I am mentioning it here is because it affects the film. While never bored or distracted, From Up on Poppy Hill failed to evoke much. Not a particular response of any kind nor much feelings. The lukewarm proceeding and uninspiring characters makes this an ultimately flawed film. While that is a problem, this film still doesn't disappoint in its smaller moments when you see the characters engaged in some kind of activities or search that are indirectly associated with their 'growth' but more particularly has some sorts of historical importance. History is what this film juggles without presenting or exploring it in a more upfront manner. Korean War, World War II, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics etc are mentioned. Umi's father died in the war but she still hopes for his return. Umi meets a boy named Shun Kazama who runs the school newspaper and begins helping there. The significance of Quarter Latin (where they work) and its future plans of demolition concerns Umi and she convinces the students to renovate it. A friendship is formed between Umi and Shun. A plot development later which the kids won't understand, challenges their relationship with the implication that they might be siblings. Incest in a Ghibli film? Well it almost happens. From Up on Poppy Hill isn't dazzling or visually creative but it is still well-drawn animation. The given material wasn't handled well but Goro Miyazaki is better this time. Too gentle for its own good and slightly weak. Not much warmth or complexity, uninspiring but fairly comforting storytelling in a sense which constitutes only to what it is.
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Dakota Goyo
"Rise of the Guardians" was one of the few in-flight films which I watched during my visit to Hong Kong last year. Others included re-watches of "Skyfall" and "Good Will Hunting" while first-time viewing of "Out of Africa". At first, this film looks like The Avengers: Holiday Edition for kids. And then it actually turns out that way as well. DreamWorks Animation always had its highs and lows but this was one of the cases when it was just lazy and uninspiring. This is a film which came to being when a bunch of people decided to exploit little kids with their favorite/not-so favorite characters associated with different holidays and just shove them in a cliche narrative to earn some bucks. There is no holiday spirit or spirit of any kind to be found, no touching or moving stories but lots of action and joyless to watchable animation. This 2012 3D fantasy-adventure animation film is based on William Joyce's "The Guardians of Childhood" book series as well as a short film titled "The Man in the Moon". Animation debut by director Peter Ramsey, this project was also supervised by Joyce himself as well as Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is a film which some children will no doubt like very much. They don't really understand the technicalities or an ability to rationally distinguish between what is on-screen and how they relate with it or see it in more than one way. Adults will no doubt find it somewhat a chore to sit through, infuriating for others. The basic problem of this film is its subject matter and the need to add as many popular characters to charm the hell out of people while not really looking beyond all that. When you don't have that strength which supports the very foundation of a film, be it an animation (subject-characters-story-morals) then everything else will fall apart as well. The saving grace of this film to some extent is the action and other technical aspects. The visuals, animation design etc aren't really pleasing all the time but tolerant. I wasn't even very pleased by the voice performances in this film. Except for Jude Law I guess because he plays the villain.
Rise of the Guardians is about the Guardians (obviously!), Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Sandman joined by Jack Frost at the last moment to stop Pitch Black from taking over the world. Their names are different in the film but they are what they are. It is an interesting story how the main character of this film Jack Frost comes to being. The film begins with his spirit being raised from a frozen lake, a new life given to him by The Man in the Moon. He is unseen by people because nobody believes in him. He also has no idea where he came from and has lost all of his memories. A few hundred years later, the world is a happy place as children believe in every one of those characters except Frost. Poor Frost is very childish in nature, not seen by anyone but continues to play with children during their snowball fights. He has to later on join the Guardians after the threat which North (Santa Clause) envisions by the boogeyman (Pitch Black). He questions his place. Being left for so many years to be unseen and not believed in while he is needed all of a sudden. The threat soon begins to take a bigger form when children around the world are affected by Pitch Black's tyranny. He makes every effort to stop each holiday celebrations which in turns makes children to lose hope and belief in those characters. I make it sound so touching isn't it? We always talk about the 'heart' of a film, its missing here mostly. Even Frost's storyline isn't particularly well-presented or developed but its way better incorporated than all of the other Guardians' parts. They are all used and abused for the usual brand of things which people associate with them. The writing here is below the mark for a film which does at least try to add some darkness and darker themes to the story. But there is no urgency or emotional honesty to them. They are your standard variety flashbacks which contradict with the rest of the film because it takes such an easy way out most of the time. Before even thinking about the good triumphs evil, truth above lies, kindness before evilness themes, Rise of the Guardians is basically "Holiday themed superheroes can be badass as well". And don't even start me on the superficiality of the faith, belief and religion themes in the film. Talk about a faith-based film for 8 years and below and a misleading one for that matter.
Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shernaz Patel, Raj Kumar Yadav, Vivan Bhatena, Pariva Pranati, Aditi Vasudev, Subrat Dutta and Gulfam Khan
2012 was the year when I dialed down on my Bollywood films consumption. By this time I had truly realized that most of the films that comes out now are strictly directed towards audience who are willing to spend only to watch the films they want, the way they do and with the same stars and their persona amplified. Gone are the days when their films, despite being big and glossier, would still provide enough emotional satisfaction and entertainment hand in hand to please everybody. There are a handful of actors whose films I always look forward to. Aamir Khan is probably the best working actor in the industry alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Then you have actresses like Vidya Balan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra who occasionally go for the same tired roles but still find some time to do meaningful work. Talaash directed by Reema Kagti is a film which feels and looks like the cop neo-noirs that Bollywood used to churn out in the late 80's and 90's, except for the final twist which almost derails the film. I was looking forward to this mystery film expecting something different. The end result for me was both pleasing and disappointing to some extent. In Talaash: The Answer Lies Within as the full title is, a well-known actor Armaan Kapoor dies in a mysterious car accident. There is no proof of whether it was a suicide attempt or that somebody was behind it. Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Khan) is handed this investigation and he literally drowns himself in it as the film goes along. Surjan and his wife Roshni (Mukerji) are going through some marital troubles. We later learn that their son died of accidental drowning for which Surjan blames himself. Aamir Khan looks good sporting a moustache, giving gloomy looks as his character keeps his troubles and sadness deep inside.
In Talaash, the characters are constantly searching for something which is what the title of this film indicates. The search leads them into the many corners and unexpected places. They are running away from their past, running towards a future they imagine for themselves, trying to find redemption or inadvertently drown themselves as a result. For a film that relies on so many characters from different walks of life caught in this web that they indirectly weave, the result is very engaging. The mystery and thrill are there. The atmosphere is drenched in neon, slow melodies, forbidden areas and desires. Desperate characters are always fun to watch. The investigation of Armaan's death is boosted by a tip that Surjan receives from an escort named Rosie (Kapoor). He slowly feels drawn to her because she seems to understand him. There is a hold that this girl has on him. The investigation is taking a toll on Surjan as is his marital life. There are some other characters as I mentioned earlier that are revealed to be involved in the murder in some way or the other. Money, blackmailing, prostitution, murder. The classic whodunit plot elements in Bollywood films. Fine performances by Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Kapoor's turn as the enigmatic escort I found quite good if it wasn't for the final act revelation which becomes yet another "I See Dead People". And then the absurd final moment in which the dead son wants to see his parents happy together. I mean after all that happens in the film, they just had to so bluntly emphasize on the couple embracing each other. Despite these final act flaws, I still ended up liking the film. There is enough to keep you going and involved in the mystery and the plot. The dialogues are written quite good, Kagti is a competent director. The music I found quite beautiful. Nothing too distracting, keeping it all in the context of the ongoing plot. Songs like "Jee Le Zaraa", "Jiya Lage Na" and "Hona Hai Kya" are all related to the characters and their situations. The lyrics by Javed Akhtar are beautiful and in touch with the emotions that the characters are going through. Even the glossier introductory song "Muskaanein Jhooti Hai", an item number of sorts which in any other Bollywood film would distract and throw you off for some relief after serious turn in a plot, work as a stand-alone number highlighting the journey these characters will go through. Darker side of the characters, moody and chilly strokes with some nice performances and well-written proceedings boosts Talaash. The ending though, is so so so weak.