Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Fish Outta Water

By Alec Horowitz

Four Stars

The film “Ponyo” could of started with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. Though, it’s quite a sunny day when the film opens, Japanese animation god Hayao Miyazaki’s new film is a whimsical story of a boy and his first pet, girlfriend and sister. Heck, it’s the story of all three, who happen to be the same creature. Where does Miyazaki come up with these stories? I don’t know. The man is a natural storyteller, but this one is so out there that even a seasoned film critic like myself found myself shaking my head in wonderment. The story is a little far fetched in some places, like the reaction of the boy’s mother when she first comes upon the fish turned human during the end of a rain storm, where she looks at the boy and his new found friend and simply says “Life is amazing” right away, with any more bewilderment. Though, it has to be let passed. To enter the world of Miyazaki is to enter one of unquestionable, joyful and even dark magic.
Many of the reoccurring themes of a Miyazaki film are played out in this film. Ponyo comes from the ocean, from a wizard father who used to be a human himself. In the American translation, Liam Neeson voices the father with effort, as he angrily acts as both a father trying to keep his young daughter under control. He scoffs at the idea of his daughter turning into a human. “I used to be a human once” he says with distain, “They use the ocean as their own personal garbage can!” Much of the scenes with the water have trash floating around. This is a similar environmental message that Miyazaki presented in his 1997 film “Princess Mononoke,” which dealt with the environment in a similar way. A young knight meets a girl who thinks she’s a wolf and was raised by wolfs, but falls in love with him, a human. She is in fact, a human too but is torn between her human blood and her wolf family, as she feels a reasonability not to join those who are destroying the forest where her adopted film lives.
Ponyo, though, unlike the heroine in “Princess Mononoke”, isn’t an adult and isn’t adopted. She is a part of nature. She isn’t someone who is adopted by nature. She desires not to be one with nature. She wants to be human. Though, this brings up an interesting question. Though, we as humans abuse nature. Are we a part of nature? She wants to be with this boy she meets. She and this boy have formed a magical friendship with this boy and the boy with her. Watching the boy in this film, there’s an interesting progression. We see the boy’s love go from a gold fish to a girl, all in one. Though, at the end of the day, this film is about as much about forces of nature as it is about children.
Maybe the biggest connection Miyazaki is drawing between a young child and forces of nature that the connection of innocence and joy they have. This film is about the forces of nature, and children too, symbolized by the friendship between a boy and his goldfish. One of the wonderful things about Myazaki film is he strikes that right balance between the innocence of children and magic and something deeper and dark as a undercurrent. Each film he makes is a journey into the mind of a master storyteller. Let the magic begin. It's a dark and stormy night out. Let the magic begin.
A interesting side note here. Someone over at NPR wrote a interesting piece about about how his autistic daughter related to the main charater in "Ponyo".

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Film Isn’t Shot In Order. Either Is Our Memory.

By Alec Horowitz

Four stars

Films aren’t shot in order. Either is our memory. Films are edited in an order to make the events look like they happened in an order that makes sense. “500 Days of Summer” plays like a person’s memory; because we don’t remember our past romances and adventures in chronological order and neither does Tom (Joseph Godern-Levitt) as he tries to piece together what went right and wrong with his former girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel). In fact, the story begins not on day one, but day 488 and jumps around randomly between the different days. Sometimes the film is taking place on day 5 and other times it takes place on day 482, but don’t expect to see day 3 before day 482 because the film takes place mostly in the memory of Tom, as he pieces together what has happened.

One of the remarkable things about “500 Days of Summer” is how many different ways are used to show how a relationship is played out. When Tom gets to sleep with Summer, it turns into a scene of song and dance, a territory Marc Webb knows well, considering he is a veteran of the music video. At times Summer is charming, at other times, she doesn’t quite do right by Tom. The screenwriters are smart, as to make the movie a bit quirkier than the two main characters. This isn’t to say the characters aren’t quirky. Tom is quiet and obsessive, a bit of an emo kid who sits on the hill commenting on how there are too many parking lots. Though, still the movie is a bit quirkier than the characters in it, which lets the characters have a nice charm to them that doesn’t charm it down your throat. The third person narration, the different ways that are used to describe the relationship, such as a scene where the screen splits and on one side reads expectations and the other reality are examples of using the medium in different ways.

What is nice about Tom is that he isn’t going to be saved by the girl and be remade or anything. It’s more like we are watching Tom grow as a young man, as his obsession with a failed relationship becomes more about him and his problems that Summer herself. We aren’t stuck with the usual clich├ęs of romantic comedy like the sexes don’t really understand each other or stupid prate falls. It’s been a while since we had this. The film is about Tom coming of age and trying to learn a mature way to deal with a relationship that didn’t work out, and even as his little sister (Chloe Moretz) suggests, to look back on his relationship and realize it’s not quite the way he romanticized it. The film does cut back to those scenes that we first saw as so romantic, and shows little differences, not big differences in the way they played out. Even something as little as a hand hold. That's refreshing, I thought, to see a film that plays with our concept of a romantic gesure that plays in our head and the real thing. That almost becomes a reflection on the genre itsself.

The film isn’t wrapped up in a neat little bow, and as such isn’t a simple romantic comedy where guy meets girl, and than it goes into autopilot and runs the motions. It’s been a while since I seen a romantic comedy that dares to be a little quirky. “500 Days of Summer” is a neurotic and pitch perfect comedy that doesn’t play by the rules of how romantic comedey is the simple plot of boy gets girl. "500 Days of Summer" isn't really about the girl. It's not about the whole cliche of how the sexes don't get eachother either. It's about the boy, and the growing experience he has because of his failed relationship with the girl. The film comes to conclusion that isn't in order. Maybe that's what the film is about. Just because it's a story of how boy meets girl, doesn't mean it's a love story. It might just be a story about boy trying to figure things out.