Posts Tagged animated

Perfect Blue (Pafekuto Buru)

Year of Release: 1997     Directed by Satoshi Kon.               Voices of Junko Iwao, Rika Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, and Emi Shinohara.

“Excuse me…who are you?” Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao) nervously repeats her only line as she prepares to shoot her first scene as a television actress. After a successful career as a Japanese pop idol, the young celebrity wants to expand her work to include more serious forms of entertainment. However, change is difficult, and due to obsessive fans and crippling self doubts Mima begins to question her profession and her identity as hallucinations that blur her television series with her personal life cause her perception of reality to start slipping away.

On the other hand, Mima’s hallucinations might not be projections of her uneasy subconscious. It is clear that a devoted fan is stalking her, the threats she has received are very real, as are the murders of those who exploit her vulnerability.

Then again, the police can find little connection between the murders, and by the time they happen, Mima is already so upset and self-conscious that she is sure everything is somehow connected to her. Regarding the obsessive fan, after the opening scene where he threatens a rioter trash talking Mima, no one notices him again. Mima is the only one who sees him loitering in the shadows everywhere she goes.

To compound Mima’s confusion and anxiety, a devoted fan has set up a webpage called “Mima’s Room,” which functions as an online diary of Mima’s daily activities. When she first discovers it, Mima is amused at how well one person knows her idiosyncrasies. However, as the online account deviates more and more from her daily activities as an actress, instead detailing her daily activities when she was a pop star, Mima begins to wonder which version of her life is real. To make things worse, Mima is discovering tangible proof in her apartment of the online account of her supposed activities, activities of which she has no memory.

The driving force behind Mima’s fear is a projection of her subconscious which criticizes every choice she makes, calling her a traitor to her real self. Mima is susceptible to these criticisms, because she does feel uneasy. She misses her friends with whom she used to perform, but more notably, the television executives are writing scenarios that are freakishly similar to her personal life, and they are exploiting her and trying to force her into racy situations that will boost ratings. The first appearance of Mima’s critical subconscious is synchronized with the arrival of a script that demands she film a rape scene. When Mima is tricked into a nude photo shoot, the subconscious informs her that she is no longer the real Mima and that the real Mima (the subconscious) will return to performing as a pop star while the actress fades into obscurity.

Until the very end, it remain unclear whether Mima is being driven insane by a dangerously obsessed fan, whether her own guilt is making her uneasy, or something else entirely. The depiction of this uncertainty and the possible surreal obfuscation of multiple mentalities is what Perfect Blue captures brilliantly. The editing effortlessly fluctuates between different realities, and towards the end, the film begins to show repetitions of the same event. One time it is depicted as it takes place in Mima’s television series, the other time it is within the nightmare of Mima’s subconscious. Each version concludes with Mima waking up in her apartment, distressed and confused, heightening the mystery of what is real and what is not.

Perfect Blue was released in 1997, and director Satoshi Kon makes excellent use of the novelty of the internet. The world wide web was a new phenomenon and obsession, and in the film it is used to manipulate Mima’s perception of reality as well as mirror her uncertainty as she begins a new career. Even five years later, that sensation would have been lost.

The film is also very culturally aware of other horror films, and there are references to two of the greatest psychological thrillers concerning split personalities and character transformations: The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. The television series Mima is filmingconcerns a serial killer who skins his female victims so he can become a woman, like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Another scene refers to a role that Jodie Foster played before The Silence of the Lambs. And the ending takes a page directly from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror masterpiece.

Before his tragic death in 2010 at age 46 from pancreatic cancer, Satohsi Kon directed four feature length anime films and created one anime television show. Perfect Blue was the first of those, and it is an incredible achievement for a debut film, capturing a terrific sense of mystery and showcasing the danger of obsession that twists reality until it is almost unrecognizable.

 

Content Advisory: Graphic depiction of rape, full frontal nudity, several very gruesome murders, and an atmosphere of horror throughout.                         Not rated, would be NC-17 if it were live action.

Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment

Personal Recommendation: A

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Despicable Me 2

Year of Release: 2013     Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.        Voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elise Fisher, Benjamin Bratt, and Russell Brand.

The success of the original Despicable Me can be mostly attributed to two factors: the cute and touching relationship between super villain Gru and his adopted daughters, and more importantly, the goofy, subservient minions.  The relationship between Gru and the girls is still developed and forms a decent part of the sequel, even though it was more important in the original film.  And the minions are back in spades.

Steve Carell reprises his role as Gru, no longer a villain, adjusting to life as a good guy and as a father.  He has turned his laboratory into a jelly making factory.  However, his longtime associate Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) feels unfit for this line of work and quits to take up a new job offer where he can be evil again.  Meanwhile Gru’s neighbors and his daughters are encouraging him to get married and setting him up on blind dates so the girls can have a mother, even though Gru has no interest in tying the knot with anyone.

When Anti-Villain League (AVL) agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig, in a much funnier role than the mean Miss Hattie in the original) kidnaps Gru in order for him to help the AVL with a top secret assignment, he is reluctant to accept, but changes his mind after Dr. Nefario quits and the jelly business goes awry.  Gru’s assignment is to find the villain who stole an arctic laboratory where a serum was being developed to turn innocent creatures into brutal, invincible killers.

While searching for the serum and for the thief, sparks begin to fly between Gru and Lucy to the delight of Agnes, (Elsie Fisher) while Edith (Dana Gaier) routinely says “Ew” at any sight of romance.  Edith’s protestations form comic relief as Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) strikes up a relationship with a boy whose father may or may not be a former nemesis of Gru’s.

The story is fairly formulaic for a family film, and there are a couple places where it lags.  In recent action flicks from this summer, lags in storytelling have been masked by noisy explosions and fight scenes.  Despicable Me 2 has a much more welcome and enjoyable approach to insert energy into the story the few times that it stalls: add comic relief via the minions.  Hardly five minutes pass without some sort of their antics.  There are a couple times when one could almost say there is too much of the minions, but they are so much fun that their frequent presence seems justified.  The minions do feature prominently in the story’s climax, which ties together and explains the earlier segments that featured them.

After my screening was over, some children were already quoting some of the minions’ funniest lines as they exited the theatre.  I imagine parents will be listening to many scenes reenacted for days.

There are a couple subtle references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is always a good path for a comedy to go.  At Agnes’ birthday party, a group of minions dress up as bumbling incompetent knights and wreck havoc on the proceedings.  A surveillance video of a science lab shows a harmless rabbit transforming into a vicious killer, recalling the Rabbit of Caerbannog.  The entire concept of the serum is based on the same humorous principle of the killer rabbit: a cute innocent creature is somehow made a monster.  In both films the monster is stopped by a ludicrous weapon as well.  A chicken also serves as a fierce guard.

Co-directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud studied what worked in their first film, they repeat it here, and it still works well.  As of right now, another sequel/spinoff is in the works.  Instead of being titled Despicable Me 3, its current title is Minions.  As longs as the screenwriters can keep coming up with decent minion jokes, which is not that hard given their inherent goofiness and cuteness, the franchise will continue with decently entertaining films.

Content Advisory: Occasional rude humor and mild peril.                              MPAA rating: PG

Suggested Audience: Kids and up.

Personal Recommendation: B

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WALL-E

Year of Release: 2008     Directed by Andrew Stanton.  Voices of Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight.

Have you ever been in love with a film as a work of art?  A film that not only entertains you, but challenges you, inspires you, and takes you on an adventure to another world, giving you what seems to be a glimpse of Heaven?  Every time you watch it, you notice something new which only increases your admiration even more.  If so, you will forgive this review euphoric rave, because WALL-E is one of those films for me.

The very first shot of WALL-E instantly begins the transportation to another world.  The camera pans across an animated shot of the universe, with breathtaking clarity and beauty, looking every bit as realistic as an actual photo, making the viewer feel as if he is truly admiring the night sky.

Unfortunately, the wonder and beauty of the universe in the opening gives way to the mountains of garbage that have taken over the earth.  All human beings abandoned the world seven hundred years ago, leaving the Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class (WALL-E) robots to clean up the planet.  Now the titular robot is the only one left.  As he goes about his daily work, compacting the trash into squares, he saves small, simple treasures that he finds: a Rubik’s cube, bubble wrap, Christmas lights, a Frisbee, a paddleball,  a toaster, an incandescent bulb, the box of a diamond ring (not the ring) and a VHS of the 1969 film, Hello, Dolly! to name a few.

Simultaneous with the opening shot of outer space, a voice sings, “Out there, there’s a world…full of shine and full of sparkle.”  That voice belongs to Michael Crawford from Hello Dolly!  Director Andrew Stanton said he selected Hello Dolly! because he played one of the leads in his high school production of the musical, but the choice is surprisingly appropriate, especially given the two songs that WALL-E most frequently watches: “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

WALL-E’s own adventure will mirror the adventures of Crawford’s character in Hello Dolly! which begin and conclude with those two songs.  When WALL-E goes “out there” to outer space, he will find a world “full of shine and full of sparkle.”  On his adventure, he meet will make surprising friendships: giant robots of himself, an OCD cleaning robot, and several whimsically malfunctioning robots.  The screen literally sparkles during a dance through the cosmos fueled by the foam from a fire extinguisher, which may be my personal favorite sequence in any film ever.

However, the more striking use of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” inversely reflects the trajectory of the people whom WALL-E meets onboard the spaceship during his journey.  When WALL-E first boards the spaceship, these people are unaware of any world outside the virtual reality that computers have substituted for actual reality.  Needless to say, like WALL-E, they will discover another world out there and full of beauty.

In Hello Dolly!, “It Only Takes a Moment” refers to the love which blossoms between Cornelius and Irene (his beloved) at the end of the story.  WALL-E quickly discovers that type of love when he first meets EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), but this song metaphor also goes much deeper as well.   WALL-E (the film) is all about the small moments that make a difference.  Those moments are first reflected in the opening sequence as the viewer admires the natural beauty of the world, and are then continued as WALL-E (the robot) finds simple joys in his daily work.

As with the previous song, “It Only Takes a Moment” also refers to the journey of the people whom WALL-E encounters.  Simple things that occur in an instant, such as an accidental collision, a service delay, or tampering with electronic equipment irrevocably alter the outcome of several story lines.

The adventures undertaken in WALL-E are foreshadowed through hommages to one of the greatest space adventures, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  When WALL-E first enters outer space on the outside of the rocket, The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss forms the underscoring; it also underscored the first outside shots of the spaceship floating through space in Kubrick’s masterpiece.  The computer that jeopardizes the mission has the same red eye that HAL 9000 has.  At a crucial moment, WALL-E’s soundtrack uses the dramatic opening of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, which 2001 made famous.

Thomas Newman’s original music works just as well as the classical music.  The repeating staccato melody captures the whimsical and inquisitive nature of WALL-E as he goes about his daily work, always alert as he browses the dump for valuables.  The descending arpeggios suggest the vast expanse of garbage in which WALL-E lives alone, as well as the tragic state of the earth due to poor stewardship.

Those who see the film as a preachy, environmentalist message film have completely missed the point, and unfortunately I know quite a few people who do.  The film does say that mankind needs to be good stewards of the earth, which is completely in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church.  It says nothing about global warming or climate change or whatever it’s called now.  According to the film, the best way to become good stewards of God’s gift of the environment is to savor the simple moments that awaken one to the encompassing beauty of the world, which can be found anywhere: in the midst of a heap of garbage to a network of computers to the vast night sky.

Many scenes are shown reflected in WALL-E’s eyes to remind the viewer that the film is his adventure, and ours as well, provided that we can adopt his wonder, awe, and simple acceptance of the beauty surrounding him.  When a major event happens in the first half of the film that disrupts WALL-E’s routine, the impending arrival of that event is shown through a reflection in his eyes.  At the most significant moment of that event the camera cuts to a shot through WALL-E’s eyes, so the viewer can experience the moment as WALL-E does.  Other shots that make brilliant use of this technique are WALL-E admiring his collection of treasures or seeing the universe for the first time.  The shots reflected in WALL-E’s eyes reinforce the idea of seeing the world from a new perspective and appreciating the simple, natural beauty of the environment.

WALL-E provides a dazzling and heartfelt perspective of the world, a perspective that is too often forgotten in the frantic rush that can predominate our culture.  Stepping back and appreciating even the simplest things can make one see a transformed world, redeemed and “full of shine and full of sparkle” as God intended it.  When one sees this world, the best response is to echo WALL-E’s “Whoa!”

Content Advisory: Mild Peril.                                      MPAA rating: G

Suggested Audience: Kids and up.

Personal Recommendation: A+

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