ゲド戦記 (宮崎 吾朗, 2006)

US title: Tales from Earthsea (Goro Miyazaki, 2006)

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Lucía and Jun-Dai at home on 29 December 2013.

Jun-Dai:
The animation style is pretty weak for a Ghibli film. From the very beginning the film resonates with an unearned emotional significance, which quickly becomes quite tiring. The story makes about as much sense as a Wagner opera, which fits in pretty well with the confusing motivations, bizarre pauses, unexplained happenings, and odd character behaviour.

Probably the only thing I really liked about the film was Cob’s castle, which felt very much like an abandoned castle ruin.

It bears no real resemblance to the Earthsea I remember reading, but that was a pretty long time ago.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

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Jun-Dai and Lucía at home on 28 December 2013

Jun-Dai:
Amour is a film I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. It is the most devastating film I can recall watching. Emotionally, it is a bit like the first 10 minutes of Up (which I consider Pixar’s finest work), but without the relief of the subsequent 80-minute adventure film (which I consider one of Pixar’s most disappointing works). And Amour is much more human, because it lacks the sweetness of the perfect devotion that Carl and Ellie have for one another, and because it lacks the unifying theme around which the story of their marriage is told.

Instead, in Amour we see the end of a marriage where the husband tries his best to keep his wife’s dignity intact as three blows of fate—a silent stroke, an unsuccessful operation, and another stroke—render her basically immobile and largely unable to communicate.

That the characters are pianists is not particularly relevant to the story—it provides some context and gives the characters enough depth that they can seem real, and it provides some continuity to the story. What is more interesting, however, is what is left out of the film. We have no sense of what the couple would have been like 20 years earlier. Were they always this close? Did they separate, or have affairs, or get into vicious fights? All we know is where their marriage has settled late in life and after their careers have come to a close, and even this is just something we glimpse in how they behave towards one another after a concert and over breakfast.

What is important about these characters? I think it is important that they are, in their old age, fairly co-dependent, and that they are closer to each other than they are to their daughter. It is also relevant that they are wealthy enough to have options—the characters are perhaps much like the sort of people that might see the film. It is not a film about the tragedy of old age in poverty; it is a film about the tragedy of old age.

Haneke makes some very deliberate choices that give the film much of its power. We do not see Anne in the hospital. Her reaction to the diagnosis of her stroke, the decision to undergo an operation, and the realisation that the operation was unsuccessful are never shown to us, and we can only infer them from our own experiences and from her demand to Georges that he promise never to put her in the hospital again. We never see Anne being abused by her nurse, all we see are two moments in her tending to Anne where we can see that she is doing her job effectively but in a way that is detached and somewhat lacking in compassion. We can understand why Georges fires her, but we can also understand why she is so outraged.

Similarly, much of the dialogue feels familiar in the way that none of the characters say things quite the way they want to say them.

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)

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Jun-Dai and Lucía at home on 28 December 2013.

Jun-Dai:
I’m not sure why a film that would try so hard for historical accuracy would film a scene set in Daly City in front of the Sunset Super on Irving St.

Zodiac certainly kept my attention. I always like seeing period films set in San Francisco, and this was no exception. Interesting that so many would consider the acting spot-on, given that the major actors seemed so much like themselves. Jake Gyllenhaal felt so much like Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey, Jr. felt like he’d walked right off the set of Iron Man and directly into this film, and Mark Ruffalo’s performance felt pretty indistinguishable from his performance in Now You See Me. This was, however, no barrier to prevent me from getting sucked right into the story.

Harry Potter 1–8 (various, 2001–2011)

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Lucía and Jun-Dai at home over the Christmas holidays.

Okay, so we didn’t actually watch all eight. Having seen the first and third ones already, we skipped those.

Jun-Dai:
For all its fun, the Harry Potter series leaves a few questions in my mind. Was the whole story largely contained within the world of the UK, or was it meant to be a global matter? We see at one point a glimpse of a larger magical world when the French and Russian schools some to compete in the Goblet of Fire context, but then there’s no further glimpse of that world in the rest of the series. Is the Ministry of Magic a body that governs the magical world in the UK, or is it a body that governs the magical world around the globe (in which case why does it seem to consist solely of British people?)?

Also, what’s with the house elves? There’s a bit of fuss when Harry frees Dobby, but partly because this is largely unheard of in the magical world. When he inherits Sirius Black’s house he seems to inherit Kreacher with it, but he makes no effort to free him. I’m not really sure what to make of this weird form of slavery endorsed in the Harry Potter world.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

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Jun-Dai and Lucía at the BFI/Odeon IMAX at 9:00 on 21 December 2013.

Jun-Dai:
A visual spectacle that I’m glad I saw in the IMAX theatre. The film does an impressive job of capturing the terror of being in space when things go wrong, and it’s the most convincing film about the experience of being in space that I recall seeing. That said, the film isn’t really that interesting as a story. Certainly Sandra Bullock and George Clooney do well with the parts they have, but their characters are a bit shallow, each defined largely around a single characteristic (Clooney’s Kowalski is on his last spacewalk and gives the impression that he won’t have much to live for when the spacewalk is done. Bullock’s Stone is a lonely woman who has never recovered from her daughter’s accidental death).

The plot is ridiculous, but the effects and the tension were more than sufficient to keep me engaged to the end. But it didn’t leave me with a lot to think about afterwards, other than trying to figure out which details were more plausible than others.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)

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Lucía and Jun-Dai at the Odeon West End at 20:00 on 14 December 2013.

Jun-Dai:
It’s hard not to enjoy a film with such great beards and with Ian McKellan as an old grey wizard. Probably the main thing that The Hobbit has going for it as a film series that The Lord of the Rings didn’t have is Martin Freeman, who is much more convincing and engaging as a hobbit. Stephen Fry has a wonderful bit part as the mayor of the lakeside town.

Jackson’s films do a good job of capturing the sense of awe that the books evoke. While the sense of history seems less rich in the films, the attention to detail in the set design and the films’ sense of space do a decent job making up for it. This film has fewer fun parts (e.g., the trolls), but also fewer stupid parts (escape from the Goblin’s mountain home).

Movies on planes

More movies I saw while flying around.

Now You See Me (Louis Leterrier, 2013) — Pretty dumb, but could have been a lot worse.

Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine, 2013) — A fun idea, but not really enough to sustain a feature film. Probably it could have made a nice 10-minute film, but instead I think it managed to make my flight seem even longer than it was :-P

The World’s End (Edgar Write, 2013) — Really quite fun. Pretty much exactly the sort of thing I want to watch when passing time on a plane.

Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927)

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Jun-Dai and Lucía at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Centre at 13:30 on 30 November 2013.

Jun-Dai:
Napoléon is one of the best examples of what was lost with the introduction of sound film. In his attempt to depict the scale, the chaos, and the larger-than-life nature of the French Revolution, Abel Gance seems to have used every trick he could find and he invented new ones when those didn’t suffice. There is a world of ingenuity and expressive inventiveness in those last years of silent filmmaking that has never been matched since, and no film brings as much of that to bear as Napoléon. It is painful to consider how much richer our modern cinematic language might be if sound film had not become mainstream for another decade (allowing, among other things, the possibility that Gance would have been able to film more than the first part of this intended six-part series on Napoléon).

Napoléon is not a perfect film. It is engaging for something that lasts six hours (in this case, spread out over eight hours with three intervals), but it does drag on. Some of the battle scenes were too chaotic for me to follow. The film repeats itself quite a bit, and a lot of characters don’t really seem relevant to the story. If I were editing the film, I would most certainly cut Violine out of the film—assuming of course that she does not play some vital role in the missing scenes or in the unmade sequels that Gance had in mind.

Regarding the score, I was prepared for worst. Not knowing much about Carl Davis, I imagined a repetitive, soaring, oppressive Hollywood score of the worst kind. What I got instead was a repetitive, soaring medley of mostly Beethoven, with bits of Mozart and various classical pieces thrown in, all excellently performed by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. In particular the use of the Coriolan overture and the theme from the final movement of the Eroica symphony are expertly woven into the film. They were certainly overused, but the repetitiveness of it matched the overly repetitive nature of the film itself.

Some memorable scenes: the snowball fight at the beginning of the film, where the spatial layout and battle strategy remain fairly opaque in my mind, but the rhythm and mise-en-scène provide a very musical sort of development. It is not clear how Napoléon wins the snowball fight, but it is clear that he does so decisively.

The Quick and the Dead (Sam Raimi, 1995)

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Jun-Dai and Lucía at home on their newly painted grey wall on 6 September 2013.

Jun-Dai:
The premise of the film is incredibly stupid. It’s a fun ride, though. It’s a good-looking film with some classic Sam Raimi touches, and the acting carries it quite far considering how cliched and poorly developed the characters are. In particular, Ellen’s constant hand-wringing over whether she can accomplish this one thing that is the only thing we know about her character. Cort is a sort of tortured, mysterious man that no one really cares about.

I liked the bullet holes, especially the early one where the sunlight shines through it.

Herod’s house was amazing.