Monday, July 30, 2012

Polisse [2011]

MPAA (NR, would be R)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing

Polisse, directed and cowritten by Maïwenn along with Emmanuelle Bercot (who both also costar in the film), is a generally well-regarded French film (subtitled) about the Juvenile Protection Division of the Paris Police Department that recently played in Chicago at Facets' Multimedia.

Well written, the film feels like a potential pilot for a French version of the American television series Law and Order, Special Victims Unit or one of the CSI franchises.  The ensemble cast interacts well and the various subplots are often quite compelling and sad.

As someone in my position however, I do have to note that though this unit of Paris' Police Dept was certainly dedicated to protecting minors, the personal morality of the individual members of the unit was often all over the place.  At least half of the characters were having affairs with each other, cheating on their spouses and so forth.  For a more prudish American (and yes, I'm also a Catholic priest) that personal behavior does inevitably seem rather incongruous to the unit's "mission," THOUGH THIS MAY HAVE BEEN PART OF THE FILM'S POINT.

There's also a rather ambiguous scene in the film that COULD portray INFANTICIDE: a thirteen year-old presented as a rape victim is presented after having had a late term abortion (?) or delivering a stillborn child (?) as asking the nurse to hold the (dead) baby.  Then when she has the dead baby in her arms, she apologizes.  Why?  It's a very strange scene.  And it makes it impossible for someone like me give the film a positive review.

Was the scene necessary?  No.  What was the purpose of the scene's more or less obvious ambiguity except to blur distinctions between STILL BIRTH, ABORTION and EVEN INFANTICIDE?  Sigh ... But there we are ...

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Ruby Sparks [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Ruby Sparks (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, screenplay by Zoe Kazan) is an appropriately R-rated (not for any nudity but for theme) young adult oriented romance about struggling writer Calvin Weir-Fields (played by Paul Dano) trying to make lightning strike twice: he had an enormously successful first novel some ten years previous but hasn't been able to produce anything of consequence since (shades of one of my all time favorite films Wonder Boys [2000]).  Worse, he's retired to an existence that doesn't extend much beyond his type-writer, visits to his shrink Dr. Rosenthal (played by Eliott Gould) and meeting up with his brother Harry (played by Chris Messina) who is concerned but still loves/hasn't given up on him.  To get himself out of the house more (and in hopes of meeting more people, especially potential girlfriends) Calvin had gotten a dog.  However, the dog, though a cute terrier, ends up being about as shy as he is.

Anyway, Calvin starts dreaming of a young attractive woman who he'd never met.  Taking this as an inspiration, he starts writing about her.  Then suddenly, one day, there she is, Ruby (played by the film's author Zoe Kazan) materialized in his home.

How could this be?  He doesn't understand.  Neither does his brother.  Yet after becoming convinced that she's really there in Calvin's house they accept her and present her to others as Calvin's girlfriend.  And as Calvin's creation that's what she certainly is ... initially.

The rest of the movie becomes a very nice reflection on relationships, what one wants of them, and what one really wants for one's loved ones.   It's one of those "romantic comedies" that at times is not particularly funny.  But it is a very nice story.

Indeed, as I write this there could be even a very nice THEOLOGICAL DIMENSION to this story.  After all, Calvin was Ruby's "Creator."  But ultimately, what does Calvin want for his Creation?  It's just a lovely, lovely story!

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pom Poko (orig. Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko) [1994]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Pom Poko (orig. Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko) [1994] directed and cowritten by Isao Takahata [IMDb] along with Hayao Miyazaki [IMDb] co-founders of the internationally acclaimed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli [IMDb] being honored this summer in a truly remarkable animated film series entitled Castles in the Sky playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center is a children's animated cartoon (dubbed into English) about an "epic struggle" between generally mild-mannered, gifted but rather lazy Japanese raccoons (called tanuki) and human developers seeking to build a new subdivision on their land somewhere at the outskirts of Tokyo.

The film begins with two bands of Japanese raccoons, one band dressed in blue shirts, the other in red, fighting each other (though not particularly seriously) on a nice meadow in the foothills outside of Tokyo as they had been doing for ages past.  A elderly "wise woman" raccoon named Oroku (voiced in the English version by Tress MacNeill) interrupts the fight, telling the raccoons that unless they band together to resist the encroaching humans, the land on which they are fighting will be taken away from all of them.

So the raccoons decide to band together to fight the common enemy -- humans.  But how?  Well here there's a problem.  Though the raccoons quickly agree with Oroku and the other elder, an Buddhist-raccoon Abbot named Tsurugame (voiced by Kozan Yanagiya), that they are going have to "work together" be "very clever" and indeed have to _relearn_ their traditional "shape shifting" skills, raccoons, though amiable and yes, generally clever are ... well ... easily distracted/lazy ;-).  So when one of the raccoons brings back a television set from a garbage dump for the purpose helping the raccoons "better understand their human opponents," the narrator (voiced in the EV by Maurice Lamarche) notes that pretty soon most of the raccoons "just wanted to sit around and watch TV" ;-) to the consternation of the Elders, who were frustrated that the younger racoons just didn't want to take anything seriously ... ;-).

Nevertheless, the raccoons' traditional shape-shifting skills were simply too cool for the younger raccoons to resist forever and so they gradually got on board ;-).  When these raccoons living at the outskirts of Tokyo reached a certain level in their "shape-shifting" skills, the elder Tsurugame sent-out for even greater "raccoon masters" who lived on the Japanese island of Shikoku where presumably raccoons were less urbanized and were able to better maintain their traditional skills.

Wonderful, a fair number of the raccoons were able to learn quite well the art of shape shifting, but what now?  Well, the raccoons learned that they could really, really scare human construction workers by shape-shifting into ghosts and monsters.  But when they decided to "go on the offensive" and stage a massive shape-shifting display all across a fairly large section of the suburbs of Tokyo, suddenly the owner of a local amusement park claimed that this display was just a big publicity stunt for his new park.  Darn!  All that work and now instead of being scared, now humans were just being amused!  Who could be that clever to turn something that the raccoons worked on so hard into something that humans would just find quaint and amusing?  There's an explanation and it's clever, but see the movie ... ;-).

The rest of the movie is about the raccoons trying to figure out what to do next.  Do they continue to resist?  Do they try to make some sort of a peace with the humans?  And hey, if one can "shape shift" couldn't one just "shape shift into being a human" and take the view of "if you can't beat them, join them?"

It all becomes a really fun story (and leaving one obviously with _much_ to think about ;-).  Pom Poko [1994] like the other films in the Castles in the Sky series shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center this summer is available for rent through the a la carte (no subscription needed) $5/film rent-by-mail service.  And honestly, this is fun movie to see!  I'll never think of racoons the same way again ;-) ;-)

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Step Up Revolution [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Step Up Revolution (directed by Scott Speer, characters by Duane Adler, screenplay by Amanda Brody) is a summer dance movie, the fourth in the Step Up [IMDb] franchise.  I would add that IMHO it's a pretty good one.

First, this film is stationed in Miami.  I had been stationed previously in Orlando, Florida for three and a half years.  So during that time, I did get to know Miami somewhat: Little Havana and yes South Beach (during the day).  And from what I saw, I could tell that Miami would be a great place to stage a "really cool dance movie."

Second, I've always liked "Avant Guard" / Contemporary Art (I admire the creativity and often enough its humor -- a 3 foot "sheep" covered by "steel wool" ;-), a "kitchen scene" painted on a "canvas" of broken plates...).  I've regularly attended the gigantic Art Chicago art fair held here in Chicago each May.  Hundreds of galleries from every continent / corner of the globe converge here each year for this event.  (Indeed 2012 was the first year since my coming to back to Chicago that the Art Chicago exposition was not held.  Perhaps it was a casualty of the Chicago NATO Summit held here this year at about the same time). I mention Contemporary Art here because one of the "flash mob" dance scenes in the film takes place at supposedly "a contemporary art museum" somewhere in Miami and IMHO the scene was "just awesome" ;-).

Finally, I also have to say that this movie "brought me back" to "dance films of summers past" when I was in my 20s when films like Flashdance [1983], the original Footloose [1984] and Dirty Dancing [1987] were first released.

So what's the film about?  Well certainly it doesn't run like a Hemmingway or Dostoyevski novel ;-).  Just like the Fast and Furious [IMDb] franchise is about showcasing "really fast cars," the Step Up [IMDb] franchise of films is about showcasing "really hip modern dance."  So the plot's "kinda thin."  But even here even if the plot's broth is quite spare, honestly, plot's not necessary bad.

The film is about two childhood friends, Sean (played by Ryan Guzman) and Eddy (played by Misha Gabriel Hamilton), who grew-up in Miami were part of an avant guard dance troupe of friends.  Along with those friends, the two came up with the idea of staging "flash mob" dance events with their group across Miami and putting video of these performances onto YouTube in hopes of winning a large cash prize for being the first non-commercial channel on YouTube to get more than 10 million hits.  The well choreographed "flash mob" scenes are of course awesome and (in the movie) quickly gain attention.  Indeed, (in the film) awestruck passerbys happily capture these performances with their own cell phones, etc and "post them online" as well.  (If I saw something like what this group of performers were doing, I'd probably doing the same ... :-)

However, despite their emerging notoriety, dance certainly wasn't paying their bills.  Both Sean and Eddy had day jobs working as waiters at a Miami Beach hotel, owned by a Midwest real estate tycoon named Bill Anderson (played by Bill Gallagher).

It turns out that Bill Anderson has a 20 year old daughter Emily (played by Kathryn McCormick) who has dreams of becoming a professional dancer.  Sean and Emily meet accidently at the hotel's bar and do some flirting which proceeds to some dancing.  Much ensues ... (though all remaining on the film's PG-13 level)

Things come to a head when it turns out that Bill Anderson's firm applies to demolish the neighborhood where Sean and Eddy grew-up, including their "salsa playing" hang-out where they and the rest of their "mob" first met.  What to do?  It's Emily who suggests turning "Performance Art" into "Protest Art."

Yes, the fans of our nation's notorious Gas Bags and Billionaires would probably initially hate this turn.  But actually the movie does quite well here.  To have the characters in the film do nothing would be in effect to tell the young people of our time to just "shut up and let them demolish your house," and yet the now "Protest Artists" learn that even in protest _one has to remain positive_.  Negativity gets one _no where_.  What a great lesson!  And one that could give hope to all kinds of young people who, being young, would like to make a contribution/mark in this world, rather than simply sit, perhaps complain and eventually grow old and die.

So my hat off to the makers of this film.  You made not only a very good, perhaps even great dance film, but also one with a simple and yet positive message.

One final note.  This film was made in 3D.  However, I saw it in 2D (and therefore for the 2D price).  It worked perfectly in 2D.  So there's no need to pay the extra $4/ticket to see the film in 3D.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Watch [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

The Watch (directed by Akiva Schaffer and written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg) can perhaps best be summarized as a mash-up of two 1950s era genres -- the screw-ball comedy and the alien invasion film -- updated in both cases, for better/for worse (arguably more for worse than for better ...) to contemporary America today.

I write "arguably more for worse" because both the CNS/USCCB and Roger Ebert took the film to task for its gratuitous crudeness.  I don't often directly quote other reviewers in my own reviews but I do think that Roger Ebert had part of this criticism exactly right when he wrote: "The dialogue by Jared Stern and Seth Rogan benefits from the practiced comic timing of the actors, and by some astonishing verbal imagery. But I dunno. It's so determined to be crude, vulgar and offensive that after a while I grew weary. Abbott and Costello used to knock out funnier movies on this exact intellectual plane without using a single F, S, C, P or A word.  It's not that I was offended; it's that I wasn't amused. This movie is easily the equal of Abbott and Costello, however, in scenes where the characters stare in disbelief from behind shrubbery."  The CNS/USCCB review adds complaints/concerns about some of the film's occasional but certainly needlessly graphic sexual antics.

To these two complaints (which I also agree with), I would add a third issue, though this may be, in fact, what the movie was intended to be about: the questionable opinions of "aliens" that we hold in our society.

I say this because the "alien invasion" movies of the 1950s about "strange blobs" often with _mind controlling properties_ "dropping out of the sky" causing havoc to the good folks in small good ole' American towns "in the heartland of America" have long been understood to have mirrored Cold War anxieties that somehow Communism would "drop out of the sky" and infect the minds of good-ole Americans in the States.

With this scenario in mind, I would submit that this movie is actually very similar to those "space invasion" movies of the past:

In The Watch, a community minded / do-gooder, Evan (played by Ben Stiller), a manager of a local Costco in a non-descript Ohio (midwestern) suburban town decides to organize a "Neighborhood Watch" after one of his employees, night watchman and recently naturalized immigrant Antonio Guzman (played by Joe Nunez) was killed at the Costco one night in a particularly bizarre fashion.  Not only was he killed, but whoever killed him _stole his skin_.

A few days later, Evan slips the nice/conscientious high schooler doing the play-by-play announcing at the local high school football game a 20-dollar bill (yes, it's kinda a bribe, but a nice/small/gentle one...) to let him "take the mike" for a brief moment during half-time at the game to "make an announcement."  Evan announces that wants to create a "neighborhood watch," to help the police solve this bizarre crime.

He gets three other volunteers -- Bob (played by Vince Vauhn) a local contractor (a small businessman) with a big pick-up truck and a really, really cool "man cave" that he made out of his garage complete with a gigantic flatscreen (bought at Evan's Costco), a pool table and a bar; Franklin (played by Jonah Hill), a younger guy, somewhat of a loser still living with his mom, who "always wanted to be a cop" but was rejected for a rather impressively long list of deficiencies -- lack of both physical and mental aptitude as well as, well, anger issues... ; and a wealthy sounding Indian named Jamarkus (played by Richard Ayoade) who had recently moved into the neighborhood from "across the pond" in England.

Okay, what is the fundamental job of a "neighborhood watch?"  Answer: to keep "aliens" out.

The whole movie becomes then about aliens, different kinds of aliens.  And yes, this _ought_ to make us squirm:

Antonio was actually a kind of "good alien."  He worked hard, he even got his citizenship, but then AN EVIL ALIEN apparently attacked him, killed him AND EVEN STOLE HIS SKIN so that the "Evil Alien" could "hide" covered by "the skin" of a "good one."

Jamarkus was another kind of alien.  Sure he was foreign, his skin was brown (browner than Antonio's in fact) and he didn't necessarily get all the jokes that the other three, Bob, Franklin, and Evan, were telling each other.  BUT JAMARKUS WAS A RELATIVELY RICH ALIEN.  So no one ever really questioned whether or not "he belonged."

Finally, of course, there were the really lizardy, green saliva dripping EVIL Aliens who "lurk in the shadows," looking to kill good people to cover themselves with their skin. 

So, yuck.  This is really a rather fowl mouthed and yes, at times, sexually crude film which then portrays foreigners even seemingly "good foreigners" in EVIL / untrustworthy light.

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Is this, for better and probably mostly for worse, really what we've become?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Farewell My Queen (orig. Les adieux à la reine) [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Farewell My Queen (orig. Les adieux à la reine) directed and screenplay cowritten by Benoît Jacquot along with Gilles Taurand based on the novel by Chantal Thomas) is a French film (subtitled) about the French queen Marie Antoinette [IMDb], wife of Louis XVI [IMDb], both of whom along with their son were eventually beheaded during the French Revolution.

I found the film interesting first and foremost because it was FRENCH.  During the course of my lifetime, I've read and seen much about the period of the French Revolution.  However it occurred to me as I read about the arrival of this film to Chicago this week that almost none of what I had read or seen actually came from France.  Instead most of what I had read/seen of the time came from either England (one thinks most famously of Charles Dickens' novel ATale of Two Cities [wiki][IMDb]) or from the United States (various documentaries and so forth).  So I could not help but find the prospect of seeing a film about the period which actually came from France to be interesting.

Second, I found myself in accord with the general thrust of the film, which continues a recent movement to re-evaluate the life and person of Marie Antoinette [IMDb] (one thinks also here of Sofia Coppola's recent film Marie Antoinette [2006] staring Kirsten Dunst in the title role).  In previous times, Marie Antoinette [IMDb] had been portrayed as, in effect, "the true villain" precipitating the French Revolution, never mind that she had been an Austrian Hapsburg Princess (the youngest daughter of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa [IMDb]) who simply married into the doomed French Monarchy and its court at Versailles while her husband, Louis XVI [IMDb] was largely incompetent both as a husband and as a monarch.

The recent movement to partially rehabilitate her has noted above all her youth.  She was a TEENAGER after all, 14 when she was sent to from her home in Vienna to Versailles to marry the 15 year old Louis Auguste, then "Daufin (heir to the throne) of France" and only 19 when he became King (at 20).  And she was still only 34 when the Bastille was stormed and still only 38 when the guillotine sliced off her head. 
She was no Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel of our day who were both already in their 50s when they reached power (admittedly by election).  And yes, while Marie Antoinette's mother Maria Theresa became Empress of Austria at 23, that may actually prove the point:  Maria Theresa had been the oldest daughter in her court with no brothers and thus had been raised to become Empress of Austria.  Marie Antoinette in contrast was Maria Theresa's youngest daughter, 'the baby' as it were, and was raised basically "to enjoy life" and to be married off at some point in hopes of securing a beneficial alliance for her Mother's kingdom. 

One suspects that more than a few contemporary teenagers / 20-somethings could "bring down a Monarchy or two" simply by rolling their eyes and saying the dreaded words "this is stupid" when faced with, well, the stultifying stupidity of life at a royal court. Indeed, the Court at Versailles kept itself afloat and 'relevant' through the social control of Gossip and, well ... Torture at the hands of "the King's men" when additional persuasion was needed.   (Indeed, one _could_ think of the life portrayed in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette [2006] or this current film Farewell My Queen by Benoît Jacquot as that of Gossip Girl [2007] played out in "18th century aristocratic period clothes" and, of course, _played out for real_ ...

Farewell My Queen takes the point of view of one of Marie Antoinette servants, a fictional Sidonie Laborde (played by Léa Seydoux).  Marie Antoinette [IMDb] herself is played by the German-born actress Diane Kruger.  The entire film takes place in the Court at Versailles in the days immediately following the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14, 1789 (which today is remembered as Bastille Day, marking the beginning of the French Revolution).   The various people, including Marie Antoinette, begin to appreciate that the storming of the Bastille was going to be a memorable day in their lives (perhaps in the same way as anyone who lived in Southern California would find the Los Angeles Riots that followed the Rodney King Trial to have been "memorable"), but it wasn't entirely clear yet how bad (for them) the situation really was going to become.  News, afterall, filtered through the Court largely by means of Gossip.

In the midst of the confusion existing at the Court during those tumultuous days was Sidonie, who served Marie Antoinette [IMDb].  Marie Antoinette, by then 34, but living in a milieu of perpetual adolescence/young adulthood, was portrayed to be something of the scatter-brain that she's been remembered in history, asking Sidonie to fetch her everything from what passed for "fashion magazines" at the time (when she felt okay) to "maps" to plot escape back to "Metz" on the Border with Austria (when she felt things were _not_ going okay).

Sidonie herself did not seem to know what to make of the Bastille riots or their future significance.  However, even though one could feel Sidonie wanting to roll her eyes on occasion over the frivolity of "Life at Court" and over the frivolity of her Mistress, one also got the sense that she did like Marie Antoinette.  And this was the case even if Marie Antoinette was her Boss, indeed her Queen, and as her Boss/Queen she did treat her at times as the servant that Sidonie was to her. 

So the story presented is, in fact, complex.  There is the formal relationship between the two protagonists in the story of Queen and servant.  But also because of being of similar age (Sidonie was, in fact, even younger than Marie Antoinette) there was also a relationship of relative "sisterhood" of trying to make sense of life in a Court that often didn't make much sense.

Added to the story was Marie Antoinette's desire to protect a particular young woman (of noble birth but of lower rank) Gabrielle de Polignac [IMDb] (played by Virginie Ledoyen) who in history served as the Governess for Marie Antoinette's (and Louis XVI's children) with the film suggesting that "there could have been more ..." (What would a film focused on the "soft power" of Gossip be if it didn't provide "something new" to the Gossip mill ... ;-).

This irritation aside, I did find the film fascinating for its portrayal of the Royal Court at Versailles consumed with the petty application of the "soft power" of Gossip even as a "mob with torches" was mobilizing to march on its Gates.


(1) In the week following seeing this movie, I did go back and rent Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette [2006] (which I hadn't been particularly interested in seeing when it had come out and which had come out a few years before I began my blog in any case).  I wonder, can one give a movie a couple of Oscar nominations retroactively (and not just for "costume design")? ;-).  As many have said in light of this current film (which, as I've written here is excellent in its own right) Sofia Coppola's film was _far better_ than it seemed initially and certainly deserves far more credit than it received when it first came out.  And want to say that, honestly, I'm in agreement with this revised assessment.  Coppola's film, perhaps like Marie Antoinette herself, seems to have been initially unfairly judged / misunderstood.

(2) The following is a rather interesting article present in the 1917 Edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia (available online...) on Marie Antoinette.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Trishna [2012]

MPAA (R) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -
Times of India -

Trishna, directed and screenplay by Michael Winterbottom is a remarkable transposition of Thomas Hardy's [IMDb] Victorian era novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles [IMDb][wikipedia] (originally set in England of the 19th century) but set in this film in contemporary India.  Indeed, so remarkable, creative and yet often spot-on faithful to the novel is this transposition that I would say that this is without question the best (largely English-language) movie that I've seen this year.   Yet since it was arguably released (at various film festivals) already in 2011 (though not in the United States or UK until 2012) it may not get the recognition that it deserves.

To appreciate the achievement here, honestly buy and read the book.  Yes, the Victorian novel that it is, it's over 500 pages, but it is worth the read and it will definitely stay with you (I read the book in high school and have never forgotten it).  Further with awestruck admiration I note here that EVERY PIVOTAL SCENE IN THE BOOK is both _creatively_ and _faithfully_ adapted in the film to its new time and setting.

What's the story about?  It's about double standards and a horribly unequal relationship between Trishna (the "Tess" character in the film, played here by Freida Pinto) who is a peasant girl, and Jay (a conflation of the two principal men in Hardy's novel, played in the film as a single character by Riz Ahmed) who is the son of a very rich (in the book a noble) man.  In current the film, Trishna is from a small non-descript town somewhere in the countryside of India, while Jay is the son of a rich Indian hotelier who actually had spent most of his youth living in London, England.

On a site-seeing trip back "to the old country," Jay and Trishna (both 20-something) meet, when he sees her dancing in her hometown's main square one evening as part of a local festival.  He runs into her some days later as he's leaving the town.  He becomes so entranced by her that he comes back to find where she lives and offers her family to hire her to work at one of his father's hotels for a salary that Trishna's family simply could not turn down.  But nothing, of course, comes "so easily."  The story un-spools in all its tragedy from there...

As a note to parents, I do believe that the film does deserve the R-rating (for sexuality, none explicitly shown, but a great deal implied).  Hence, your kids/teens really shouldn't go to see the film without your knowledge.  However, I do believe that the film would be a very good one to take your older teens to.  The film shows a fair amount of India, both urban and rural, which in itself is worth the viewing.   The film also offers families with older teens the opportunity to talk about both the Victorian Era and even double standards regarding both men vs women and rich vs poor, which continue to exist -- and not "just in India" but really across the world including the West -- to this day.


While "in theaters in major markets," many "Independent" / Foreign Films and Documentaries are  available for home viewing in the U.S. through the IFC Video On Demand service (type in your zipcode and cable provider to see if this service as available to you) or for download via services like Sundance Now and/or Itunes / Amazon Instant Video.  Eventually, these films become available for rent in the U.S. via NetFlix or   More obscure titles can also be found via Facets Multimedia's DVD Rental Service.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (1 Star)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The Dark Knight Rises (directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan along with Jonathan Nolan, story assisted by David S. Goyer, based on the Batman characters of Bob Kane of DC Comics) is probably destined to be remembered primarily for the tragic killing of 12 theater goers and wounding of 58 others at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater on the opening night of the film.

This in itself ought to encourage some introspection by both film-makers and investors into what could have been done differently with regard to the making of this film and others like it so as to help prevent this tragedy and similar one's in the future.  The whole world's hearts go out to the victims of this tragedy and their families.  This is not the first Dark Knight/Batman picture marked by tragedy -- Heath Ledger, who played the character, "the Joker" in the previous film, The Dark Knight [2008], died shortly afterwards of a drug overdose.  Many people around Ledger thought that he had partly lost his mind as a result of playing the Joker's psychotic role all too well.  So one wonders if at least some reflection ought to be put into the question of whether these "Dark Knight" movies have been made _too_ "darkly" for the public's good.  

However, even aside from this terrible tragedy, I do believe that this movie had other problems with it that deserve airing.  For instance for better/worse, this current film,The Dark Knight Rises, forces us back to the origins and the ideological milieu out of which the Batman character arose.  Originating in the 1930s, the original Batman comic, after all, proposed that a super-wealthy "captain of industry," Bruce Wayne, would use his vast financial resources to save the populace of Gotham City from corrupt government and crime.

Now mind you, the United States had at that time recently survived the era of gangster Al Capone.  But it wasn't any billionaire/"captain of industry" who saved Chicago (or the United States) back then.  It was Eliot Ness and the Treasury Department/FBI.  Further, by 1939 when the first Batman comic was issued, the United States was well into the second administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.  So Bruce Wayne/Batman was always something of a Republican-leaning counter point -- A mythical super-rich captain of industry would appear and paternalistically save Gotham from itself to the gratitude of all the "little people" (in the current film, literally "orphans") who could not possibly do this without the guiding hand (err guiding extra-legal fist) of the Darkly Armored Modern Aristocrat who "knew best ..."

Perhaps more than in any other recent cinematic incarnation of the Batman legend, this story plays out in Dark Knight Rises most clearly and in all its modern-day right-wing splendor:

The movie's villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy) vaguely RUSSIAN ACCENTED and with his mask even looking LIKE A "MOLE," burrows himself along with his initial gang of _foreign sounding thugs_ deep in the sewers and subway passages of Gotham until his gang rises suddenly from these deep recesses (of Hell???) to try to take-over Gotham City demanding the release of fellow ("comrades in arms") criminals locked-up in the years previous following the passage of the Patriot Act sounding "Harvey Dent Law" passed in honor of the crime fighting District Attorney who viewers would remember from the previous film, The Dark Knight [2008]).

Much often eye-crushing right-wing propaganda ensues ... making the film feel like "Batman meets Chuck Norris' Invasion USA [1985]."  Seriously, anyone who honestly believes that Hollywood is dominated simply by "left-wing ideologues/Communists" ought to see this movie, remember that Chuck Norris film (and others like it, like Red Dawn [1984], or Amerika [1987] and then recall that Hollywood is, after all, at its core _a business_ and thus will always be far more Conservative/Traditionalist and at times even Right-Wing than critics give it credit for.

And the ideological heavy-handedness in this last film is a shame because the performances of Christian Bale (as Bruce Wayne / Batman), Michael Caine (as his butler Alfred), Morgan Freeman (returning as Batman's gadget-man Fox) and Gary Oldman (as Commissioner Gordon) are excellent, as are those of Anne Hatheway (as Selina / Catwoman) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as the once orphan, now Batman admiring Gotham City Cop ...).

So this movie, and indeed, this series of movies is now bound-up in tragedy, first on account of the loss of actor, Heath Ledger, following the release of the previous Dark Knight [2008] movie, and now as a result of the the Aurora, CO Massacre.  However even beyond that, Christopher Nolan reminded us in this film of the origins of the Bruce Wayne/Batman legend and asks us: Do we really believe that our actual Billionaires will care to "save us" like Bruce Wayne/Batman of this series saves people of Gotham?  And do we really want to be saved, so paternalistically, at all?

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Neighbors the Yamadas (orig. Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun) [1999]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing

My Neighbors the Yamadas (orig. Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun) [1999] written and directed by Isao Takahata [IMDb] co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli [IMDb] being celebrated in a truly remarkable animated film series entitled Castles in the Sky playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago this summer (June-Aug 2012), is an award winning anime film based on the Japanese manga-style comic by Japanese cartoonist Hisaichi Ishii [IMDb]. Adapted wonderfully into English by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia for Disney, THIS FILM IS A GEM.

The film is available for purchase through and for rent through Blockbuster's DVD-mail service (Note offers a $4.99/DVD 1 week a la carte rent-by-mail service without a need for a subscription).

The film is about the Yamadas, a "typical Japanese family" living in contemporary Japan.  Living together in their suburban/residential house with a small yard are husband Takashi (voiced in the English version by JIM BELUSHI) and wife Matsuko (voiced in the English version by Molly Shannon), Matsuko's mother Shije (voiced in the EV by Tress MacNeille) nearly teenage son Noboru (voiced in the EV by Daryl Sabara) and younger sister Nonoko (voiced in the EV by Liliana Mumy).  They also have a dog who lives in a small dog house in the back yard.

The film begins with approaching teenagehood Noboru wishing out loud that he had different parents.  Mom Matsuko tries to explain to him that if he had different parents, he'd be a different person.  But as is typical of that age (and really of that rhetorical question) it's to "no avail."  Noboru begins the film wishing he had different parents.

So the film then continues as a gigantic flashback to the "very beginning" -- Takashi and Matsuko's wedding -- and continues then through a series of lovely, lovely vignettes to the present day.  (Without it being MUCH of a SPOILER ... I think the Reader here could guess how it all ends up...).

The "wedding reception scene" itself is worth noting however.  This is because it begins with a toast.  A woman (Matsuko's mother?) rises to talk to the newlywed Yamada's future.  And as she begins by saying "As you begin your life's journey together ..." the scene changes from the reception to Takashi and Matsuko dressed as a determined bobsled team in "helmets and all" sprinting together with their sled down a bobsled run (which turns out to be the wedding cake).  A "sports commentator" is heard saying "looks like they're off to a great start! ;-)" as they jump in together into the sled and zoom down the first two layers of the cake ... WHAT A LOVELY IMAGE ;-).  The imagery then changes repeatedly as the woman giving the toast continues ... So 3 minutes into this film with jaw dropped and tear drops forming in my eyes, I was hooked for the rest of the film.

What follows are situations that Americans could immediately relate to -- losing little Nonoko in the store, walking the dog, etc -- all done with a slight Japanese twist.  Note the imagery used in this film to describe the births Noboru and Nonoko ;-).  Storks and cabbage patches are present but also a couple of clearly Japanese images as well ;-).

All in all, in contrast to the other two films of this series that I have seen, Castle in the Sky [1986] and Kiki's Delivery Service [1989], I found this film to be one that would be immediately relateable without any conceivable caution or qualification by virtually all contemporary western families.  Yes, Takashi was some sort of a "manager" (in American-speak a "white collar worker").  So the film portrays a white-collar/suburban experience rather than either a rural or blue-collar/industrial one.  Still the experience presented felt "more real" than that presented by American family-based sitcoms like The Brady Bunch (1969-74) [IMDb], Family Ties (1982-89) [IMDb], The Cosby Show (1984-92) [IMDb] or even According to Jim (2001-2009) [IMDb] (in which Jim Belushi himself had played), all of which traversed much the same ground over the years.  (IMHO by far the best family-oriented American sitcom was the more blue-collarish Everybody Loves Raymond (1995-2005) [IMDb]).  The Yamadas were definitely "white collar."  However, with grandma/the mother-in-law at home, the feel of the humor felt like a cross of According to Jim [IMDb] and Loves Raymond [IMDb] with, of course, various aspects of contemporary life peculiar to Japan thrown in.

So while I understand that since this movie is not exactly easily available to most American families (one really would have to go onto Amazon or to buy or rent the film) and I would imagine that it would be similarly challenging to find in Europe or Latin America, I would say that if you did find the film ... most families would probably enjoy it.  And the experience could help us to appreciate that (so long as we live near a mjor urban center these days...) our experiences aren't altogether that different from each other. We're all human beings with families which, for better or worse, Love us ;-).

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Elena (orig. Елена) [2011]

MPAA (Unrated)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's Review - - [Russ. Orig] [Eng Trans]

Elena (orig. Елена) [][Eng Trans] directed and co-written by Andrey Zvyagintsev [][Eng Trans] along with Oleg Negin [][Eng Trans] is a 2011 Russian film that has received acclaim both inside and outside Russia, winning 4 Nikas (the Russian Equivalent of the Oscars) and 4 Golden Eagles (the Russian equivalent of the Golden Globes) as well as awards at that 2011 Cannes Film Festival and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and one nomination at the 2011 European Film Awards.

The film is about Elena (played by Nadezhda Markina [][Eng Trans]) a retired nurse who had a few years previous married Vladimir (played by Andrey Smirnov [][Eng Trans]) a retired and very wealthy Moscow business-man.  They had met a number of years before when Vladimir had found himself in the hospital with a burst appendix.  Elena had helped nurse him to health.  Vladimir had apparently thought himself in need of a live-in nurse afterwards and decided get one by marrying Elena.  Vladimir's wealth seemed an attractive factor for Elena as well.  Pragmatism rather than love seems to have motivated both of them.

Both Elena and Vladimir have problematic adult children from previous marriages.  Elena's son Sergei (played by Alexey Rosin) lives with his family at the edge of Moscow in a dilapidated housing complex of the style built throughout the Eastern bloc during the Communist era.  To underscore the point, the housing complex appears to be next to a number of huge, rusting, yet still operating cooling towers normally associated with nuclear power plants ... Yet, Sergei isn't even working in that nearby power plant.  Instead, he appears to be unemployed, spending his time drinking an occasional beer, knocking-up his wife (they seem to be expecting a third child, which for Russia appears to be a lot, especially if they live in a very small flat) and playing video-games with his similarly unimpressive teenage son, Sasha, who's growing-up to be "just like dad."

Vladimir, in turn, has a burnt-out and quite angry daughter, Katerina (played by Elena Lyadova [][Eng Trans]) in her late-20s/early-30s who "went the way of her mother ... a hedonist."  Apparently, Vladimir had used his money to basically purchase a different kind of wife when he was younger, who gave him this largely ingrate daughter who had lived it up when she was younger.   Marvelous...

The movie is driven by what's awaiting Sergei's son (Elena's grandson) Sasha.  He's approaching maturity (in the U.S., high school graduation age).  Yet his grades have been awful.  Elena and Sergei fear that he's going to be drafted.  Sergei tells Elena "Just look at him.  He's exactly the kind of guy their going to draft and send straight down to Ossetia after basic training." (Ossetia is the disputed territory between Russia and country of Georgia in the Caucasus).  American viewers would understand the situation because the Russian military today appears to operate under almost exactly principles (at least with regards to conscription) as the United States did during the Vietnam War era: those who could get into universities are able to get deferments, those who could not (or are forced to leave college) become eligible for the draft with the attendant shenanigans and corruption that such a situation produces.  Elena decides to ask Vladimir for "some help."  The rest of the movie ensues ...

The movie is quite dark.  None of the characters in this picture are portrayed in a particularly good light.  As such, one could understand why a fair number of Russians have complained over the post-Communist years that "Russian movies are not what they used to be."  (Soviet-era films used to be basically propaganda films ... where 'bad' things generally only happened in places outside of Russia/the Soviet bloc or were caused by Communism's opponents).  So while critically acclaimed both inside and outside of Russia, this film is characteristic of currents in contemporary Russian cinema that would have more in common with American directors like Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese than someone like Steven Spielberg.

Don't get me wrong, I did like the movie.  I think it shows an obvious and exemplary seriousness / critical eye within the contemporary Russian artistic community.  I just hope that in coming years some "lighter" Russian films also make it to the United States rather than just "dark" ones such as this one. 

I would simply note that one of the web-sites for movies that I've come to enjoy since starting my blog is the Russian youth oriented [Eng-trans].  (Note: I do know some Russian, but I for a quick look I generally run it through and then if the translation doesn't make sense, I go back to better parse the original Russian).  If it's obvious that Russian young people liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Eng-Trans], Mark Fassbender as "Magneto" in X-Men: First Class [Eng-Trans], and voted Mila Kunis (of Ukrainian ancestry) as the "sexiest actress" in 2012, (for the whole list check -- KinoNews Awards 2012 / Eng-Trans) it'd be nice if over time some more popular/youth oriented films from Russia would make it to the United States as well.  Otherwise, we in the United States will remain with a largely propagandized view of Russia and Russians, that movies like Elena (orig. Елена) [][Eng Trans] (if this is all of Russia that we are able to see) inadvertently end-up supporting.  And that would be a shame.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Ice Age: Continental Drift (directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier, written by Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs) continues the highly successful Ice Age animated film franchise, and the film provides exactly what one would expect from this new installment in the series.

Most of the actors who've voiced characters in the past are back again.  So Manny the Mammoth continues to be voiced by Ray Romano; Ellie, his Mammoth wife, continues to be voiced by Queen Latifah, Diego the Saber Toothed Tiger continues to be voiced by Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo continues to voice Sid, the loveable if somewhat out of it Giant Sloth.   Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer), Manny and Ellie's daughter Mammoth returns as well.  Finally Scrat, the acorn-obsessed saber-toothed squirrel, voiced (in as much as it is voiced) by Chris Wedge, continues to have an always funny and surprisingly important role in the story.

Additionally, a fair number of new characters are introduced.  These include:

Ethan (voiced by Aubrey Graham) a "cool" teenage Mammoth who Peaches finds adorable, along with Ethan's often "attitude driven" posse composed of  Steffie (voiced by Nicki Minaj) and Katie (voiced by Heather Morris) both also teenage Mammoths. and Louis (voiced by Josh Gad) a soft-spoken and (needless to say, diminutive) Hedgehog who had been Peaches' best childhood friend and has a deep crush on her.

Then, after the _sudden appearance_ of a fault-line (normally these things take place in glacial geologic time, but appear in this movie very, very _rapidly_) and Manny, Diego and Sid and Sid's seemingly crazy Granny (voiced by Wanda Sikes) find themselves separated from the rest of the group floating on an iceberg, they come to encounter a "rag tag band" of "pirate" mammals, led by Captian Gutt (voiced by Peter Dinklage) a gigantopithacus (a now extinct ape) and including Shira (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) a saber toothed snow cat who serves as his first mate; Flynn (voiced by Nick Frost) a not all-to-bright elephant seal, and Gupta (voiced by Kunnal Nayar) a bengali badger who because of the black and white markings on his pelt often ends up (after scampering up a pole and biting into it when he reaches the top) serving as the pirate band's flag; among others.

Finally, during their the course of their adventures, the four -- Manny, Diego, Sid and Granny -- come across an island of adorable, not-particularly-bright-looking, but then (as a group) surprisingly clever Hyraxes [IMDb] (voiced in as much as they are voiced by Alexa Kahn).

With a cast of characters like this, needless to say ... "much ensues."

I found the movie to be certainly entertaining.  As with just about all the children's movies these days, the film is available in 3D.  This time because of scheduling reasons, I found myself forced to see the film in 3D and have to say that it was quite good.  As always, however, I would tell parents there's _no absolute need_ to see it in such a way, and that I certainly do appreciate that the $4 extra per ticket to see the film in 3D could be a deal breaker for a family.  So if you can, catch the film in 2D, you won't miss all that much.  But I would say that if you find yourselves forced to see the film in 3D as I did, you could do worse than seeing this one in such a way.  Again, the 3D in this film is quite good.

So all in all, while this is certainly not a particularly profound movie, it does work.  And the film, which is after all, about the earth's land-masses splitting-up into continents (the reason given in the film for this happening is, as always, hilarious ... ;-), does have something to offer to viewers of all ages (kids, teens, parents).  So all in all, I do believe that it makes for a nice "family film."

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Castle in the Sky (orig. Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) [1986]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing

Castle in the Sky (orig. Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) [1986] written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki [IMDb] is the flagship movie of a remarkable animated film series entitled Castles in the Sky playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago this summer (June-Aug 2012).  The series celebrates the works of the famed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli [IMDb], which last year celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release its first feature film, which was none other than  Castle in the Sky (orig. Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) [1986].

In the years / decades following, Studio Ghibli [IMDb] has received accolades of praise the world-over for the beauty of its animation, considered at the very-top of the Japanese anime style. Indeed, so impressed was Disney, the American children's animation giant, that it has purchased the international distribution rights to most Studio Ghibli [IMDb] films including all of its most recent ones.  (Readers of this blog could recall The Secret World of Arrietty (orig. Kari-gurashi no Arietti) [2010] one of Studio Ghibli's [IMDb] most recent films passed through theaters here in the United States last winter).

In the United States, most of the films of the series (dubbed into English by American actors, in good part thanks to Studio Ghibli [IMDb] alliance with Disney) are available for purchase through and for rent through Blockbuster's DVD-mail service (Note offers a $4.99/DVD 1 week rent-by-mail service without a need for a subscription).  As such, while it may be difficult for readers of this blog to find time to see these films, they can look the films up through either of these two services and watch them at home.  Certainly, animation / film lovers in general would find the films worth looking-up and renting. 

However, I would offer Parents (from the United States and perhaps Europe) the following caution:  Note where this series is being shown (at the Gene Siskel Film Center which is affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a scholarly venue) and that except for films like The Secret World of Arrietty [2010] most of these films have been relatively hard to find in the United States, this despite Disney's control of the distribution rights.  I believe that this is because Studio Ghibli [IMDb] began as an animation studio with its target audience being Japanese.  Only with time has the Studio's focus become (or it has become more adept at reaching) a more global audience.  As such, I would recommend to adults/parents to see/rent one or two of the Studio Ghibli [IMDb] films before showing them to your kids. 

This is not to say that the films are flawed in some way.  Instead the issue would be that even when dubbed (and Disney makes sure that the films are dubbed well) the early films are (unsurprisingly) "Japanese."  As such the films, especially the early ones like Castle in the Sky [1986] and another, Kiki's Delivery Service (orig. Majo no takkyûbin) [1989] about which I hope to write later, were made based on cultural assumptions that Japanese film-makers took for granted that to American/Western viewers would seem a little strange (because they don't meet cultural assumptions that American/Westerners would take for granted).  Such is the nature of culture.  One often doesn't even appreciate the cultural assumptions that we take for granted until we are exposed to something outside our culture.

What am I talking about? 

For instance, it would seem that the Japanese have a far more positive (even eco-friendly) view of technology than Americans/Europeans do.  In Castle in the Sky [1986], a lost floating city of Lapita (hidden from our view by a veil of thunderstorm clouds) continues to be maintained by robots long after the lost civilization's people have largely disappeared to the benefit of the city's plants and animals who consider the robots to be their guardians/friends.

Similarly, Studio Ghibli's film makers appear to equate magic with knowledge/technology/engineering, magic being simply portrayed as "knowledge/technology/engineering of another kind."  In Castle in the Sky [1986], the floating city of Lapita is kept aloft by means of a large "etherium" crystal. And the residents of Lapita especially its elite were adept in other kinds of "magic" which seems to involve the manipulation of nature in some way to suit the purposes of the magic user (or the larger society into whose service the magic-users' skills are/were employed).  In effect, on Lapita magic-users appeared to have been simply "engineers of another sort."  Compare/contrast this view of magic to western conceptions where conceptions of magic have generally been polemicized. 

Finally, since the Studio Ghibli films often involve stories in which both magic and technology interact, the times/settings in which the stories take place could seem initially rather strange: Both Castle in the Sky [1986] and Kiki's Delivery Service [1989] appear to take pace in "Europe" (sort of).  The architecture of the buildings appear to be such that it would fit into a "sort of Europe" and the facial characteristics of the animated characters could pass for either Asian or Caucasian.  Finally, both of these movies appear to take place "at the turn of the 20th century."  So the technology, from airships to the robots, as well as the dress/uniforms of the soldiers/public officials, all seem to be from that particular era, which is both "long gone" and "not so long gone" and hence an era in which both magic and technology could conceivably exist together.  Fascinating, isn't it?  In a sense, both Castle in the Sky [1986] and Kiki's Delivery Service [1989] appear to exist in the world that appears on the banknotes of today's Euros (which famously have been drawn in ways so as to elicit the sense of "Europeness" without being particularly specific about it -- and perhaps avoiding arguments among the European Union's nations as a result).

These then would all be, IMHO, fascinating characteristics of the Studio Ghibli films like Castle in the Sky [1986] and Kiki's Delivery Service [1989].  However, I think that a lot of Catholic readers of this blog would probably appreciate why I would suggest that parents perhaps see a movie or two of the Ghibli series before bringing them home and "showing them to the kids." Again, it's not that the movies are "evil" or "flawed" some way.  Instead, they are, above all, disorienting/surprising at least initially.  And parents may not want to be initially "surprized"/"disoriented" in such a way in front of their kids.

So then what is Castle in the Sky [1986] about?  It is about a young girl Sheeta (voiced by Anna Paquin in the 2003 Disney version) who is a descendant of the lost city of Lapita.  She had been given a crystal as an heirloom by her grandmother when she was little (and she was taught by her grandmother in some of the most rudimentary "ways of her people of the past" even though Sheeta no longer would have any idea of where exactly her people would have lived).

Sheeta finds herself being pursued by both pirates and the armed forces (dressed for in uniforms that look vaguely like that of Bismark's Germany) for reasons that she initially does not understand.  It turns out that they are after that crystal of course, which both the pirates and the armed forces believe would be a key to finding this rumored city that as of yet had never really been found.

In the course of her adventures she literally "drops out of the sky" and into the life of a little boy named Pazo (voiced by James Van der Beek in the 2003 Disney version) who immediately has an inkling of where she might be from: His father had been a pilot and had taken a picture of a floating city that no one had ever seen before and no one has ever seen since.  Pazo explains to Sheeta that his father had died in disgrace, having been ridiculed for looking for spending the rest of his life looking for that floating city that no one, credible, had ever seen.

Why did Pazo believe believe that Sheeta was from there?  Well, she did "fall out of the sky?"  And yet, when she fell, she came to fall gently so that she was unhurt when she hit the ground.  How could that be?  Eventually, the two figure out that the crystal she wore around her neck had something to do with it.  Of course with both pirates and the armed forces after Sheeta (and soon Pazo) much ensues ...

I found Castle in the Sky [1986] an to be an interesting and as far as I could find, original story written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki [IMDb], one of Studio Ghibli [IMDb] founders.  I found the film (and indeed the whole film series being shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center) offering me a window into a culture, that of Japan, that I would not have seen in quite the same way before.  As such I do believe that both the film and the whole film series would definitely be worthy of the film / animated film lover's time.

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