I’m feeling much better after a couple days of laying about in bed, so let’s get back to the movie reviews. This time around, let’s talk about some sparkling little gems I’ve seen recently.
- Spirited Away – A delightful, wonderfully skewed animated film about a girl that crosses over to the spirit world and finds work in a bathhouse for the gods. This animated treat is the masterpiece of Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki. I can’t imagine why it took me so long to finally watch this movie, I thought Princess Mononoke was an amazing feat. Chihiro’s adventures in the bathhouse are the stuff of classic children’s literature, similar to Roald Dahl or Maurice Sendak. Thankfully my sister has excellent tastes in movies and brought it home from her library for my enjoyment.
- Afterlife – Another sleeper I found laying around at my sister’s house in Chicago. A poignant, humorous look at what happens when we die, this Japanese film was absolutely delightful. If you could only remember one memory from your life, what would it be? The movie poses some interesting questions and told a good story with a wry sense of humor. And it saved me from wallowing through the complete five DVD edition of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, Fannie and Alexander. I’m only good for one movie marathon per holiday season please, and my brother trumped Bergman with the complete Lord of the Rings Extended DVD collection.
- Hotaru No Hoshi (Fireflies: River of Light) – This was by far the best film I watched on the long, long flight to Narita. A bumbling young schoolteacher discovers how to be a teacher through a project on reintroducing fireflies to the local streams. An intimate and beautifully filmed movie, it was a joy to watch. I understand the director turned down a role in Tom Cruise’s lame ass Hollywood blockbuster The Last Samurai to spend a year filming this exquisite little film. I understand the movie is based on a true story, not like the usual Hollywood “this movie is inspired by something that might have possibly happened to somebody vaguely familiar to something you could have heard about on the evening news before we scrubbed out the unpleasantly realistic parts, tossed in a blonde bombshell with a huge rack and maybe an airplane blowing up ‘cuz that looks really cool kind of a story.”
- Finding Neverland – I heard good things about this movie from people that saw it, so when it showed up at the bargain theaters I made a mental note to go watch it. I finally made it the other night, since I figured it days are probably numbered at the second run theater. Kate Winslet radiates life and energy in her role, and Johnny Depp brings real depth to his portrayal of J.M. Barrie. The fanciful interplay between imagination and reality was a great effect, seamlessly combining childhood fantasies with reality. A nice trick, it reminded me of the way Julie Taymor blended reality into Frida KahloÂ’s artwork in Frida. I think Finding Neverland is the weakest of the movies I’ve mentioned here, but it’s about as enjoyable a movie I’ve seen come out of Hollywood all year, with the exception of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Funny, most of those movies are Japanese. And the two Hollywood movies I admitted to enjoying in the past year both star Kate Winslet. Hmmm. Maybe I’m still in a delirious fever dream…