Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Key Party!Like the frosted creations contained within, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel looks like a delicate, appetizing confection of no particular nourishment, but hidden inside are tools needed to make the film work. (That analogy will make much more sense to folks after they’ve seen the film.)

If ever Anderson has come close to overdosing on whimsy (and this is coming from a huge fan of his work), this is probably it. He Inceptions us into the tale, layer after layer, taking us back through the decades in increasingly stylized fashion to different eras of history, each one seemingly more fictional than the last. While doing this, he is changing aspect ratios to reflect the particular thread one is following at the time. It sounds more difficult to grasp than it is, but it does seem like a lot of effort to go through for what amounts to a framing device, and an extraneous one at that. Especially given how elegantly simple a similar concept was executed in The Royal Tenenbaums. (Both films are ostensibly based on books that do not exist.)

That said, the film itself is witty and quick moving, so any issues with this will most likely disappear once the main storyline begins. That story being the tale of M. Gustave, concierge of the opulent Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictional Alpine country in central Europe, and his new lobby boy, Zero Moustafah. While Zero is the classic Anderson hero (deadpan, quick and with unexplained quirks), Ralph Fiennes is something new. A blustering perfectionist that seeks to be masculine and foppish at the same time, he is not only a perfect foil in a screwball comedy, but he is an excellent representation of old Europe and how it fell away during the second world war.

The whole film is a metaphor for it, in point of fact. Taking place in the 1930s, Anderson never actually uses Nazis as bad guys, but anyone that can’t see that the Zig Zag is his fairy tale version of the 3rd Reich is denser than anyone I’d want to know. One would assume he was inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator in that regard, representing the Germans in similar fashion to the Double Cross of Chaplin’s evil regime. It also seems to have a lot in common with another filmmaker that created an anti-Nazi comedy before it’s time, Ernst Lubitch. Like To Be or Not To Be, Hotel finds itself being a screwball caper pitting the self-appointed proponents of society and culture against thugs and violence. In To Be it is a theater troupe. In Hotel, Gustave fancies himself an expert lover and a poet of exceptional… length.

The film’s cast is overloaded to the point of exploding. Typically I am in favor of finding the best person for the role, even if it happens to be a famous person. Here, admittedly, it is employed so much as to be distracting on occasion. One can understand why so many actors would agree to it though. Anderson films are, to this point, pretty universal critical darlings. An actor can show up, put on a funny costume for two or three days work and end up with a high rated film on their imdb page. (And as many people have made multiple appearances in his films, one would assume he’s enjoyable to work with.) While a lot of people like Bill Murray and Harvey Keitel have quick but memorable cameos, the standout for me was Willem Dafoe as a heavy for the well-to-do family who’s matriarch dying is the kick-off for the whole plot. He manages to exude perfect comic menace. It’s something a lot of actors have tried to pull off, but Dafoe makes it seem effortless by never chewing scenery. Also in a villain’s role is Adrien Brody and his spoiled brat cum murderous Zig Zag man is equally intriguing as he delivers a playfully angry character seeking what he believes is rightfully his by birth. Rounding out the main cast is Saoirse Ronan, who I’ve enjoyed in various projects before. She is more talked up than actually given things to do, but she manages to imbue her character with a lot of pathos despite her limited screentime.

The film itself has an odd look to it as Anderson pulls from his established bag of tricks whilst adding just a little bit of the new. To help solidify the aspects of the film being like a comedy of the time, he goes back to using miniatures and stop motion effects for things that could easily be accomplished by CGI. However, there are some shots in the film where it looks like he’s using full-tilt CGI in conjunction with these old-fashioned and purposely cheesy techniques. It can be a bit jarring, but it does reinforce the idea that CG is just another tool in a director’s bag and that it is neither better or worse than anything else if it creates the visual they are trying to accomplish. It’s also not a coincidence that the bulk of the film takes place in the Academy 1.33:1 ratio that was common of the time and is now thought of as being the old TV format. It also eschews Anderson’s usual penchant for creating a soundtrack of retro-pop hits for only classical music and film score. The film draws the line at keeping to the era’s content limitations, however, and far exceeds the pre-code allotment for language and sexual imagery.

Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t the best Anderson film, becoming a victim of its own grandiose ambitions. It’s always under the threat of collapsing in on itself. However it’s hardly a failure either. It’s highly entertaining, if a bit flawed, and the more I think about his choices, the more I seem to like many of them. It’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny. I get the feeling that this film, like most of Anderson’s work, will grow on me over repeated viewings.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Muppets Most Wanted

Two frogs, no waiting

Muppets Most Wanted is a worthy follow-up to the characters’ 2011 comeback film and it starts right where the last one left off. In a strange opening, it is implied that the last movie was the film version of the story of their reunification. This isn’t unheard of in Muppet-dom, of course. It is reminiscent of the revolutionary framing device of the original Muppet Movie when the whole crew gathered to watch a film based on the story of their origins.

Leading into a song about making a sequel (and the law of diminishing returns), it is not the last time in the film that they make self-deprecating and effective references to the prior film, including a perhaps deserved jab or two at Walter, the Muppet introduced in the last film that wisely takes a backseat in Wanted so the spotlight is back on Kermit and Co. This film isn’t his story and the filmmakers understand that, not trying to force him into the proceedings more than is organic. It’s great seeing this kind of continuity built into the Muppet films, allowing them to build on each other even as they change in tone and focus.

Whereas the last film did a great job taking its cues from the original Muppet Movie, the new film feels like a retread of The Great Muppet Caper. In this way it reminds me of Star Trek Into Darkness; it feels unneeded and smacks of wasted opportunities to try something new, but it is too well made to deny its quality. The most positive change may be the introduction of the fantastic villain Constantine, aka the world’s most dangerous frog. With his awful Russian accent and penchant for blowing up everything in his path with a detonator (not to mention maliciously punning his way through Kermit’s catchphrases), he is not only effectively evil, but hilarious. He beats the hell out of Charles Grodin.

In a lot of ways, the sequel feels like a very confident statement from James Bobin and company that they feel they’ve survived trying to live up to the Muppet legacy and now they get a well-deserved chance to play around. The film doesn’t have the same heart as the previous outing. We don’t have anything like the relationship between Walter and his brother (Jason Segal doesn’t even cameo this time out) or the effectiveness of Kermit’s reunions with his old comrades in harms. Instead we get what may be the funniest 90 minutes yet featuring the characters. At times it comes across as more of a classic spoof movie than the type of Muppet films we got last time, sort of like if the Zuckers had used Kermit for the main character in Top Secret. There is a joyous absurdity to the film that carries across it from start to finish, only interrupted (as usual) by the obligatory Miss Piggy song. Though even that has more kick than usual and includes one of the most delightfully horrifying visuals ever put in a family film.

In addition to that, Bret McKenzie puts together what I feel is an even stronger set of songs which manage to continue the comic energy of the film rather than pull it back, something he is excellent at given his pedigree in Flight of the Conchords. He deftly maneuvers from one song styling to another and keeps them short and sweet.

As for the humans in the movie, the one that comes off best is probably Ty Burrell as a Cluseau-like inspector for Interpol. This is partially because of the writing, partially because of his chemistry with Sam the Eagle and especially because of the great writing poking fun at European work norms. Ricky Gervais also does well as Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced Bad-gzhee.”) Tina Fey is surprisingly the one that seems a bit out of her depth in comparison, never hitting quite the right tone in her role as a Gulag warden. That said, she still manages to elicit some good laughs when she finds her rhythm.

As someone that doesn’t find sentiment particularly enticing, it’s surprising that I actually find the film not quite as good as its predecessor. I would guess perhaps some of it was the element of surprise over how well it had turned out and some of it is definitely related to just plain how long it had been before we’d gotten a Muppet movie that good. Sure, their takes on Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol weren’t exactly slouches, but unless you’re a member of the generation that grew up on them as kids (and I know a few), they don’t tend to be seen as classics. The Muppets was pretty darn close. Muppets Most Wanted is not quite to that level, but darned if it isn’t a great time.

(Three and a half damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Veronica Mars

They put those things in cameras now, you know?

A long time ago, we used to be friends. But we hadn’t thought of her lately at all. At least until last year when Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas started their infamous Kickstarter campaign to make a feature film continuation of the beloved but nigh unseen jet-black TV show about a wisecracking teen sleuth.

Full disclosure, I am one of the fans of the show that threw in on the effort to get it made and have proudly worn the good looking but kinda flimsy t-shirt they sent me, so this is coming from someone familiar with the material. I’d say that isn’t a huge deal though. After all, if a person is a fan of a novel or a comic book character, the movie still has to work on its own and that’s the case with Veronica. The whirlwind wrap-up of the film’s first season and series finale might be a bit much to digest for a few folks at the beginning of the film, but the relationships are pretty easy to grasp and there’s still a good crime to chew on for mystery buffs.

So how is the film for a fan? Pretty satisfying. There’s plenty of the show’s trademark wit and a goodly amount of the kind of darkness that always seemed so contrasting against Kristen Bell’s adorable demeanor. The neo-noir qualities are what made the show work as well as it did in the first place. It’s what made the property function on a different level than most mystery series and certainly any other show centered around a teen. Any Nancy Drew comparisons should disappear quickly in the seedy world of murder, sexual assault and petty crime that oozes through Neptune, California.

The nights always seemed darker in Neptune. (Maybe SoCal’s now endangered sodium street lights helped with that.) After leaving for nine years, the contrast between the sunny days and the inky nights is more pronounced than ever as corruption and secrets have further eaten away at the soul of the town.

I certainly am not happy about everything that happens in the film, (I’ll say that I could be in the minority on that one) but thankfully I’ve never lived or died by which fictional characters have hooked up. Speaking of which, Logan Echolls is back. And he’s changed not a whit. He’s still the same hare-trigger psycho that he’s always been. Not that his backstory hasn’t provided him with plenty of reasons to turn out that way, but you’d think time and military service would have mellowed him a bit. Nope. He still hasn’t grown up. A lot of fan favorite characters return and it helps liven up the experience for fans while simply providing more depth for the casual viewer. It’s great to see Tina Majorino again as Mac and Wallace doesn’t get much to do, but he’s a necessity. We get a great smattering of people from the show and other Rob Thomas alumni, many of which get glorified cameos if nothing else. But it’s so nice to see folks like Ken Marino’s Vinnie Van Lowe, who cares if it’s fleeting? (I’m sure this paragraph means little to new viewers, so I hope they’re indulging me.) Even Piz, who was a wet sack of crap in the series, has a great role. I’m not one given to hysterics over the replacement of a love interest in series. I’m still a defender of Riley Finn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Piz was awful. I don’t know how much of this is the writing and how much is goodwill built into Chris Lowell’s role on the criminally underwatched show Enlisted, but there is a complete turnaround in the character. Suddenly he’s not the annoying lame ass hipster guy that he was. Of course the truly important thing is that Enrico Colantoni is back as Keith Mars, probably the best character he’s ever played (yes, I’m including Galaxy Quest) and the guy that would normally be the star of a detective show like this. Hell, I’d throw in for a Keith Mars spin-off film and I bet a lot of other people would too.

The main mystery revolves around Logan being accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend (who happens to also be a character from the show) and it builds from there, tying in directly to Neptune’s ten-year reunion of the class of ’03. If there’s a downside to it, it’s that we’ve seen Veronica solve better cases. And while Thomas and his writing is still great, sometimes the show still FEELS more or less like a TV show despite the ultra-widescreen format because the cinematography is simply not particularly dynamic and that’s to be expected considering Thomas’ pedigree is completely television based. When the climax doesn’t seem as hugely exciting as Veronica facing down the murderer of her best friend, part of that is because we haven’t had a whole season leading up to it and part of it is because Thomas hasn’t learned that bag of tricks that can amp up the menace the way someone like DePalma could do in his early days. In the end it doesn’t matter though, because the characters are what’s important and the ending finds a great note that serves as both a finale and a beginning (apparently to a series of novels, the first of which comes out today.) I say check it out, but not just as a selfish fan of a TV show or a promoter of PI-based detective fiction. I say check it out because it is worthy of your time and it is an important step in the world of filmmaker independence within the studio system. I don’t know any other TV show that would have the perfect alchemy to achieve this the way Veronica did, but it’s still got to be good news to filmmakers with followings that they can do something like this if they put their heart and soul into something good enough to capture the hearts and minds of people.

(Four damns given out of five)

Kent’s Movie Diary: Dead birds for everybody!

LRresizeTHE LONE RANGER- “I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake to try to mash up Pirates of the Caribbean and Unforgiven.” -Nobody associated with The Lone Ranger film

Anyone else remember that Night Court episode where they had the Lone Ranger-ish guy that wouldn’t take off his mask because some Hollywood schmuck was trying to do a gritty reimagining of the character? I can’t help but feel that he was trying to prevent a misfire of a crap pile like Disney’s Lone Ranger. Apparently the Mouse House didn’t watch their own Muppet movie, because this is the Moopet Lone Ranger. A hard, cynical Western comedy for a hard, cynical time.

I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did. And the reason it hurts most is because the zygote of something good is here, but nine out of every ten decisions made in the making of the film are completely mind-boggling. And they’re mistakes that seem like they’d be so easy to pinpoint at the script stage.

I’ll start with the good. First off, Armie Hammer is actually not a bad choice as the Ranger. He has some of the same kind of wooden charm that the cowboy heroes from the thrilling days of yesteryear (see what I did there?) possessed in their simple morality plays. In theory he is a fitting replacement for Clayton Moore. The problem is that he’s given so little to work with. Instead of being a capable Texas Ranger who was ambushed and left for dead, he is a nitwit lawyer in over his head. In many cases he’s heroic by accident and rather than simply being a great lawman-cum-cowboy, he has some kind of supernatural “spirit-walker” powers. I have nothing against doing some kind of supernatural western genre concept, even if they seem to be tough to pull off. But there’s very little left that makes him the Lone Ranger in anything but name. So the fact that he’s still even partway likable is a testament to Hammer.

There’s also one hell of an amazeballs action sequence at the end in which the film seems to finally figure out what it is, complete with the William Tell Overture and jumping Silver from train car to train car. Right before it falls on its face again trying to take its own piss. But for about twenty minutes, it is the Lone Ranger movie that it should be. The type of fun action Western that it was sold as. It’s like the characters are completely different in this sequence as well. You feel as if you suddenly are transported into an alternate universe in which they got the movie right and then, sadly, back again.

The fact is, the people involved seem to be completely ignorant about the property. It’s not just the title character that is different. Tonto is unrecognizable. For all the complaints about Jay Silverheels’ speech patterns, I remember Tonto being a rather competent sidekick who saved the Lone Ranger’s life. He certainly didn’t resent him. Or drag his head through horse poop. Depp’s Tonto is (forgive me) Injun Jack Sparrow. He’s a white face, psychotic goofball mostly concerned with revenge and mugging for the camera. I know the look of the character was inspired by a piece of artwork, but it’s almost as over-the-top as his horrible Mad Hatter get up.

The script is determined to make jokes at the expense of iconic things that they think people either don’t remember or are too sophisticated to enjoy. But if that’s the case, why are they making a Lone Ranger movie in the first place? The use of “Hi-yo Silver, away!” is met with derision as though it’s something cheesy. As opposed to a guy with a dead bird on his head. (Seriously, that stupid bird is the worst.) Instead of celebrating the character and the adventure of the old west, it is an exercise in seeing unpleasant a film can be and how many corrupt, horrible white guys they can pack into a liberal arts professor’s vision of the time period. Add to that a constant barrage of non-sequitors, gross-out gags and a framing sequence that adds nothing to the film but padding on it’s already bloated runtime, and you’ve got one of the worst summer tentpoles this side of Michael Bay.

Trek9resizeSTAR TREK: INSURRECTION- I finally saw the ninth film of the Star Trek franchise. First thought: Become a rapper called Trek9 and do songs only about this film. (OK, so only Kansas City people might get that gag.) Anyway… It shouldn’t surprise me to see an anti-technology fetishist Star Trek movie, but somehow it still does.

Yep, the crew of the Enterprise, whilst zipping around in their starship, seeks to stop some white Indians that live “in harmony with nature” and never age due to their planet’s unique atmosphere from being displaced by a bunch of grotesque beings.

It’s obvious from the outset that the vaguely European luddites are stand-ins for Native Americans being forced off their land. (Settlers from another land that live “unspoiled” lives being relocated by a more powerful group for the sake of progress. Not really historically accurate, but what else would you call it?) However, the themes of the film are so muddied that it completely falls apart while they’re trying to make whatever vague point that they think they’re making.

The settlers are, of course, pacifists. Though they have no trouble with the crew of the Enterprise locking and loading on their behalf. Later on we also find out that they do not tolerate change or any kind of opposing views amongst themselves, but this is completely brushed over because it’s inconvenient to actually ask about the morality of the people Picard and Co. put their chips in with. Not when there are imperialist villains to fight in the name of the Prime Directive. Or not. Whatever.

It’s just one big episode of Next Gen, which for me is not a selling point since I’m much more of a TOS fan. This explains why this was my first viewing of Insurrection (and the upcoming Nemesis.) On a technical level it’s not all bad. Jonathan Frakes does a good job of directing and misdirecting, as it were. It looks good, even if the renaissance fair opening credits are eye-rollingly boring as hell. The effects are more than comparable to the task. It’s even got some good character moments. It’s just not a good story. If it were nothing but a think piece, I would be more behind it. I’m one of the defenders of the first Trek movie because I love the ideas behind it. But the film is trying to serve two masters in trying too hard to duplicate First Contact by grafting in some rather generic action sequences. Together with the half-baked screenplay, it ends up less bad than simply bland.

V&DresizeVIOLET AND DAISY- Everything that’s right about Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the beginning. During the first few minutes the title teen girl characters, dressed as nuns, clean out an apartment full of armed men with handguns, culminating with a pretty faithful cover of “Angel of the Morning.” Everything that’s wrong with Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the mawkish, sentimental ending. A story of two unusual assassins, it definitely has its moments, but ultimately falls under its own pretension, like someone trying to set a Thomas Pynchon novel on a Jenga tower.

I decided to watch the film based on the cast, who are the bulk of what works about it. Saoirse Ronan is Daisy. Light and airy like the spongecake that seems to exist between her character’s ears, she seems to be drifting through much of the film on a pink cloud. Alexis Bledel is Violet, the more hardass of the two and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t mean to disregard her acting ability because I actually thought she was pretty great on Gilmore Girls, but if it had been a more one-note performance and not included some pretty wild temperamental shifts, she probably would have been better. As it is, I wonder if the chemistry between them would have worked better if they’d switched roles, especially having seen Hana. A pre-death James Gandolfini is a target that takes the girls by surprise. He’s not bad. But like the film itself, he descends into mawkishness eventually. I’m not sure how much of this is problems with the script and how much of it is issues with the directing.

The performances/directing is definitely stylized and reminds me almost of the performances in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, despite being very different films. Probably because it involves a couple of young characters spouting nonsense dialogue with severe conviction like it’s gospel. Plus both include really bizarre surreality at random as well. Now inject into that a sense of Quentin Tarantino-style cartoonish playfulness for some of the crime aspects, including a complete disregard for linear storytelling and the (albeit more subtle) use of graphics. The titlecard reveals, among other things, that the film is in technicolor and 3D, but it is very small, almost like they intend it to be an inside joke for the filmmaker. It also divides itself up into chapters, some very short, with a brief name for each.

It’s a fun film stuck with some horrible dead spots. Or is it a mediocre movie with small flashes of delirious coolness? Either way, it’s not a film I can recommend, but I did laugh a decent amount and I don’t regret seeing it. Even though it’d probably make a better play than a film. It feels like an effort of someone with potential but who needs to learn more about tone and structure and rein in the instinct to deepen the story by creating an aspartame ending full of false sweetness.

KoSresizeKINGS OF SUMMER- If I were 16 years old, The Kings of Summer might be one of my favorite movies. As it is, it made me laugh a lot, both at the a-holish behavior of Nick Offerman as a recently widowed father and the angst-shellaced pubescent antics of a trio of teens that decide to build a home in the woods to assert their independance and masculinity.

Like a guaze-wrapped summer daydream, it spins a golden tale of boys becoming men (in the traditional sense, not the way that most teen comedies do by having them lose their virginity) and failing along the way. Joe is the defacto leader of the group, ironic as his friend Mike is the larger and more centered of them. Then there’s Biaggio, a strange kid that seems like the ethnic offspring of Dwight Schrute, spouting nonsense and playing with a machete the size of his arm.

Sick of their parents’ interference, they retreat to the middle of nowhere so that no one can find them and proceed to live (almost) off the grid, building a suprisingly sturdy house out of found objects. They play, swim, explore and basically do what boys do in the woods. Of course this can’t last forever and a combination of hormones and hurt feelings threatens to destroy their Eden, but that’s always the way it goes. In the meantime, there’s some great one liners and deviations about Chinese food and board games.

The cast is largely excellent with some surprise actors taking part. Alison Brie, one of my official crushes and star of Community, is a secondary player and there are appearances by 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub¬†and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale. The music is also interesting as it liltingly flips from indie to chiptunes.

I highly recommend taking up Kings of Summer for a viewing, especially once the season finally hits and we get out of this winter hellhole. As it was, at least it reminded me of a time without snow. And that was something I really needed after the last couple of months.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Wind Rises

The Japanese North by Northwest

Author’s note: This review is for the original Japanese language version of film. There is a dubbed version also being shown in the U.S., but I have not seen it. Check your local listings to see what is being shown in your area if you’re lucky enough to have it screening near you.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is a little tough on us history majors, especially those of us who’ve studied World War II. Tough because the focus is on the creator of Japan’s Zero fighter plane, Jiro Horikoshi.

The film is a true story only in slightly more of a sense than was, say, Disney’s Pocahontas. Minus the anthropomorphic tree and plus fantastical sequences where he interacts with an Italian plane designer in their dreams. And that’s the tricky part. Jiro’s creations were used by the Japanese military to kill a lot of people. It would kind of be like doing an animated film where Wernher Von Braun is the hero. Regardless of the person or their intentions, they were working for some horrifying regimes.

In response to this, there are some things placed into the movie about Jiro speculating that Japan “will blow up.” At one point he is sought after by the Japanese “thought police” as one of his bosses refers to them, perhaps as a way to distance him from the people that would use his machines, though this is a plot thread left dangling and unresolved. But it can still be difficult to wrap your mind around the central character arc of the film, especially as a Westerner. We want to see Jiro succeed because Miyazaki makes him very sympathetic and human. But we also don’t want him to succeed at all because of what his success means. Jiro’s obsession and passion is creating “beautiful airplanes.” He wanted to be an aeronautical engineer since he was a boy and he worked hard for it. But we know his creations will be used in Japan’s attempt to conquer China and kill many Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Zero itself went on to become the plane most often used in kamikaze runs when the war was reaching its end.

As for the film itself, moral implications of its story aside, it is classic Miyazaki in tone and beauty. Like many of his films, it is mostly quiet, contemplative and often gentle, taking its time to unfold before the viewer. It is a story about feeling the need to create, regardless of what it takes. Jiro dreams of flying, but with his eyesight it is impossible. So he does the next best thing; he creates aircraft. (Seemingly under the direction of a Japanese version of Bob’s boss from The Incredibles.)

The film mixes elements about the driving nature of creation with a romance featuring no less than three “meet-cutes.” While the way the relationship comes together is ridiculously coincidental in the way that can only happen in cinema, the actual interactions between them are charming and tender, helping you care what happens to them. Despite its typically Miyazaki design and a color palate that is often quite bright, this is far more of an adult feature than most of his work. If Ponyo was for small children, this film is for the parents. There is definitely humor built into the storytelling, but the film is often moody and introspective.

It isn’t, as a friend of mine mused, Grave of the Fireflies-level depressing, though. Far from it. And it isn’t completely static, either. Early on there’s a stunning rendition of an earthquake that is such a new way of representing such an event, I was actually puzzled as to what was going on until a character explained. It is far more interesting than just a shaking camera with things falling over.

What’s great about the film is that it exactly what an American animation company would never do. Instead of an animated film, this is the kind of film we’d see made as a mid-level, live-action biopic starring someone trying to win an Oscar. For some reason, people are blind to the opportunities of the art form and put it in a box. But for Miyazaki, it is a way to capture a bygone era of Japan’s recent past. It is a way to show Tokyo being destroyed without resorting to spectacle. It is a way to show fanciful dream sequences that would be considered out of place and tone deaf in a live-action film. It is a way to resurrect dead technologies. There are so many logical reasons to film this story this way, but it isn’t an inherently family film or a straight comedy, so I have the sinking feeling some American audiences will come out of it confused based solely on their media conditioning.¬†(Though for the record, there’s nothing in it that I’d be worried about kids seeing unless you’re fervently anti-smoking, because damn, the guy’s like a chimney.) If I’m wrong, I’ll be ecstatic about it.

Miyazaki has said this will be his last film, but then he’s said that before. Perhaps it would be wiser for him to say that he’s done until he finds another story that he feels a driving need to tell. If there’s any one thing that a person should probably be taking from The Wind Rises, it is probably that standing in the way of a creative passion is pointless.

(Four damns given out of five)