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last update 5.Jul.11
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
aka The Secret World of Arrietty MUST SEE
dir Hiromasa Yonebayashi|
prd Toshio Suzuki
scr Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa
voices Mirai Shida, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ohtake, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Shin'ichi Hatori
English voices Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Law
American voices Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett
release Jpn 17.Jul.10,
UK 29.Jul.11, US 17.Feb.12 10/Japan Studio Ghibli 1h34
Based on Mary Norton's classic novel The Borrowers, this film features striking animation and a story that's rich, detailed and full of vividly engaging characters. And it refreshingly refuses to play by Hollywood rules about narrative.
When the sickly young Sho (voiced by Kamiki) goes to live with his aunt (Takeshita) in the country, he spots a tiny girl in the garden, just like his mother remembered seeing when she was young. But housekeeper Haru (Kiki) denies they exist. Indeed, the girl was Arrietty (Shida), who lives with her parents (Miura and Ohtake) in a small home under the floor full of things that are borrowed unnoticed from the house above. But being seen has consequences, and even though Sho is clearly friendly, Arrietty's world is about to change.
While keeping character design recognisably their own, Studio Ghibli inventively enriches the imagery with lush shadows and textures. Frankly, you don't need 3D gimmickry when the sounds and images are this vivid. Scenes feel so deep we want to fall into them. Clever visual touches fill each setting, most notably in Arrietty's family home, which is made up of gigantic borrowed items. And perspective is so carefully developed that we feel the comparative sizes in ways that are literally breathtaking, including freaky scenes involving enormous rats, insects or a manic crow.
Not only does this capture the scary, vertiginous feeling of being a tiny person in an oversized world, but it also beautifully imagines the feeling of reading the book: wishing we had tiny people in our own home to befriend and help in some way. Sho and Arrietty's friendship is warm and involving. And alongside this, Sho's hilariously grumpy cat and the deranged Haru add wonderful comical counterpoints. Thankfully, neither becomes the villain they'd be in an American movie of this same story.
Along the way, the film is packed with thrilling set pieces as Arietty and her dad navigate the dangers of the world around them, and then as Arrietty befriends Sho and things take some startling turns. As the story develops, there are also pointed comments on endangered species as well as the delicate irony of the fact that even humans who try to help can't actually do much. This is very subtle, but it adds a resonance to the film that makes it timeless.
U themes, some violence|
R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Daniel Monzon|
scr Jorge Guerricaechevarria, Daniel Monzon
prd Emma Lustres, Borja Pena, Juan Gordon, Alvaro Augustin
with Alberto Ammann, Luis Tosar, Antonio Resines, Manuel Moron, Carlos Bardem, Marta Etura, Luis Zahera, Vicente Romero, Fernando Soto, Manolo Solo, Miguel Martin, Jesus Carroza
release Sp 6.Nov.09,
US Apr.10 wff, UK 15.Jul.11
TORONTO FILM FEST
This fierce and inventive Spanish prison drama combines strong internal emotion with a sense of righteous indignation at the corruption in the nation's prison system. No wonder it has swept up most of the film awards in its home country.
Juan (Ammann) is a 30-year-old who has taken a job as a prison guard to support his pregnant wife Elena (Etura). But during his first tour of the cellblocks, a riot breaks out and he's stuck in a cell that has a dark history. Now surrounded by marauding inmates led by the charismatic Malamadre (Tosar), Juan pretends to be a prisoner himself. And as a violent guard (Resines) and a weaselly government official (Moron) show their true colours, Juan starts to take the prisoners' side. Then the situation takes some violent turns.
Shot without any pretence like an earthy documentary, the film is completely centred on its characters, which gives us several points of resonance. We can instantly identify with Juan's terror at his predicament, which is an odyssey of brutality. Within minutes he knows he must become a very different person to the man he is at home, seen in glowing flashbacks. But filmmaker Monzon carefully refuses to either sensationalise the menace or sentimentalise the happy couple.
That said, Monzon does have a rather self-conscious approach to physicality (cutting away from nudity or violence, except for one particularly graphic suicide). And beyond the complexities of the prisoners, the script leaves little room for shades of grey in the shady officials and guards, who are always clearly signposted as "good" or "bad", while Elena is never anything but a pure innocent.
Fortunately, the cast is so strong that they breathe life into even the most monochromatic characters. Novice film actor Ammann is terrific as a slightly too-pretty man who has to become a ruthless thug, and quick. His interaction with the always-electric Tosar is riveting, especially as Tosar so beautifully draws out Malamadre's intricate layers. And Resines also makes much more of his vile character than is in the script. In the end, it's the performances that lift this film into something genuinely unmissable.
18 themes, language, strong violence|
R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Yuya Ishii|
prd Mayumi Amano
with Hikari Mitsushima, Masashi Endo, Kira Aihara, Shiro Namiki, Kotaro Shiga, Ryo Iwamatsu, Miyoko Inagawa, Toshiaki Inomata, Natsumi Suzuki, Isamu Sugama, Emi Makino, Tokiko Kudo
release Jpn 1.May.10,
US Feb.11 piff, UK 8.Jul.11
BERLIN FILM FEST
This Japanese comedy-drama's original title translates as "Hello From the Bottom of the River", echoing the sense that we're powerless against life's strong currents. And the combination of black wit and warm emotion is surprisingly hopeful.
After five years, five jobs and five boyfriends in Tokyo, Sawako (Mitsushima) is tired of settling for second best. Constantly belittled at work, her nice-nerd boyfriend Kenichi (Endo) wants her to be a mother to his 4-year-old daughter Kayoko (Aihara) from a previous marriage. Then her father (Iwamatsu) falls ill and her uncle (Shiga) summons her home to run the family river clam-packing business. So she heads back home, accompanied by Kenichi and Kayoko. Can she tough it out and give it her best shot?
The film is dryly hilarious as Sawako acknowledges that she's nothing special but becomes increasingly tetchy about being pushed around. Writer-director Ishii continually catches us off-guard with hilarious interaction, usually a sharp glance or a silly gesture in a scene that otherwise should be darkly disturbing. And Sawako's matter-of-fact approach is extremely amusing, especially as she's forced to return to a life she ran away from five years earlier.
The cast is terrific, playing these relentlessly unexceptional people in realistic ways that are funny and sometimes surprisingly emotional. Endo's always-knitting Kenichi is often the butt of the joke, especially when he runs off with Sawako's former nemesis (Suzuki), but his journey is unexpectedly engaging. And Mitsushima holds the film together as a young women who chooses to stand up for herself. And the black comedy is continually underscored by real human warmth.
Although slightly overlong, the film is shot in a straightforward way that underscores ordinariness, showing how outside pressures determine our fate unless we make difficult choices. Sawako's escape to Tokyo five years earlier was one of those, and now here she is again. On the other hand, maybe she can make something of this life And find herself in the process. Cleverly, there are no cathartic moments of self-discovery. as Ishii allows the characters to come of age by embracing their mediocrity. This might not be a revolutionary message, but it's helpful to be reminded that we can be happy even if we don't achieve some five-year plan.
12 themes, innuendo, language |
R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
Trolljegeren MUST SEE
dir-scr Andre Ovredal|
prd Sveinung Golimo, John M Jacobsen
with Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmila Berg-Domaas, Hans Morten Hansen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Naerum, Erik Bach, Inge Erik Hnejesand, Tom Jorgensen, Benedicte Aubert Ringnes
release Nor 29.Oct.10,
US Jan.11 sff, UK 9.Sep.11
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
With its found-footage premise, this film feels like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, but it's actually far more original than either as it playfully takes us on a riotous romp into troll mythology.
Journalism students Thomas (Tosterud), Johanna (Morck) and Kalle (Larsen) are chasing notorious poacher Hans (Jespersen) in the spectacular Norwegian countryside. And when they catch up with him, the fantastical rumours turn out to be true: he's actually hunting trolls as part of a secret government agency headed up by slippery bureaucrat Finn (Hansen). Their job is to make sure the trolls stay in their territory and that no one finds out about them. But something's wrong, and restless trolls are on the rampage.
The script hilariously weaves in all kinds of present-day issues, initially blaming troll behaviour on climate change and then explaining all kinds of other phenomena on the trolls. Meanwhile, the action is viewed through Kalle's camera, a skilful blend of expert cinematography and handheld terror, augmented by extremely clever special effects. So the film is also reminiscent of Monsters, another creature thriller hidden within a comical road movie that never wastes a single effects shot.
The combination is both funny and exhilaratingly scary. Tosterud's Thomas is a likably hapless kid with ambitions to be the next Michael Moore; watching this through his sceptical eyes is thoroughly entertaining. Especially his interaction with Jespersen's amusingly weary-gruff hunter. There are several superb side characters who add plot wrinkles, comical asides and even romantic interest. And everyone's at the mercy of the premise, especially the central mythology that trolls hate the smell of Christians. Whether they feel the same way about Muslims is something they'll put to the test.
Along the way, writer-director Ovredal continually includes sight gags, references to other films and his own fiendish originality. The only possible complaint is the set-up itself: surely it would have been more effective to present this as an underground student film about a government conspiracy rather than use that tired "we found this camera footage" disclaimer. But he kicks off the suspense so early that we forget about it and just enjoy the ride.
15 themes, language, violence|
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall