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John Wick: Chapter 2

Not as satisfying as I hoped, but still good.
The decision to flesh out the world more in the followup movie was the correct and obvious one. The story is the tired "one last job" routine and watching John Wick killing dozens more random bad guys is only partially going to fill that interest gap. Going back to the Continental and expanding on that curious and baroque society with new characters, locations, and mechanisms ... good! That's what I wanted.

The problem of course with explaining what was originally mysterious and ambiguous is it risks an explanation we might reject as nonsensical. Unfortunately with John Wick 2, the more you see the less sense it makes.

So, good things first: fun, memorable characters, well acted, beautifully shot and choreographed.

Bad things: tacked on, pointless opening sequence, poor soundtrack, insufficient time spent developing what could otherwise be poignant emotional or dramatic beats.

Worse things: (spoilers)

I was pulled out of the movie on several occasions. Small things, but they add up.

I'll accept that this is an alternative, matrix-y universe where the world is controlled by all-powerful crime syndicates with an assassins guild maintaining order and balance at the center. That's actually a really cool idea, but the movie doesn't do anything with it. The political and social consequences are not explored, not even hinted at. (Do they have police, is there a functional government, what criminal activities is the Bowery Kind involved in?) So in the last act, when we are thrown into world of regular commuters and city-dwellers, things unravel because the groundwork of how that world fits in with the world of the Continental hasn't been laid.

So, hundreds of people in the city are members of the assassins guild. A contract to kill John Wick goes out, for 7 million dollars and suddenly every 100 yards someone pulls a gun on him, only to be killed - in public view - by Wick. An no one reacts or even notices.

Why don't ordinary people react to gunfights or knife fights happening in the same subway car as they are in? But moreover, why would any assassin, who all know who John Wick is and how impossible he is to kill, make spontaneous, clearly suicidal runs at him for the remote chance of getting a paltry 7 million dollars? ... If John Wick knows that the homeless people are members of a similar assassin criminal network, why don't the guildmember assassins after him also know this? Last example, the gold tokens used to pay for goods and services by the guildmembers. Clearly the value is somewhat arbitrary, but it's understood they are valuable, who knows, say $10000 or more. Wick's rainy day stash only has 50 or so, and just one of them is enough to stay at the Continental for a few days for example. Then there's a scene where one character uses one to pay for another characters drink, turning everything you thought you understood about the system on it's head.

The movie should be structured in such a way as I'm not forced to think about these kinds of petty details. I'm not asking for everything to be spelled out, I'm just asking for things to make sense within its own made-up world.

Finally a comment on the fight scenes. They aren't as memorable or as good as the first film, with the exception of the fight with Cassius, and perhaps Ares. When Wick was attacked in his home in the first film, we knew roughly how many people were after him, and could follow their progress through the rooms as well as Wick's efforts to hide from them take them out. It was a tense and suspenseful sequence. Even the nightclub sequence had a stealth aspect and different spaces to interact with. Here, two dozen goons pop around corners only to be killed instantly one after the other. There is no progression or inventive use of space or geometry outside of immediate blocking cover, just run in, get killed, repeat 20-30 times.

I'm still signed up to watch the next one, I just hope they do a better job next time.

The Avengers

My one star reference.
I can't think of many movies I've seen that I'd only give one star to. I preemptively avoid things I'm not going to like, but this one slipped through as I watched it with friends in the theater when it came out 20 years ago.

The interesting question to me 20 years later is not how bad it was, but why it was so bad.

It's not the fault of the people in front of the camera, all more than talented enough to pull this off. I'm not inclined to blame the people behind the cameras either. The movie is competent enough at a technical level. Though the script, direction, and camerawork were all lackluster, that just makes a film dull, not terrible. No, I think the responsibility for this one is ultimately the Hollywood system as it existed in the 1990s. Studios imposed a lot of requirements on any film which was going to be marketed as an action blockbuster. Chase scenes, big special effects set-pieces, explosions, Sean Connery's name on the marquee, more chase scenes.

The Avengers (TV series) is not action, the draw is the amiable, flirting but non-romantic interaction between the lead couple, the sixties glamour and charm, and lightheartedness mixed in with campy international intrigue.

I'd say that The Avengers (movie) got Micheal Bay-ized except that's being unfair to Bay. He made Pain and Gain after all so we know even he can manage stylish humor, at least of the sardonic variety.

Nope ... this movie is just dead. An assembly-line commercial product with no redeeming qualities. All the interesting and fun things cut out, nothing of value added in.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Incompetent and incoherent
Good performances from a number of very talented supporting actors, and an excellent portrayal of Lara Croft by Angelina Jolie cannot save this movie from incompetent filmmaking.

Maybe there was once logically and tonally coherent vision for what this film was to be, but what ended up in theaters was a total mess.

The ridiculous plot is not the problem, in fact the story is good precisely because it is so over the top and just "out there". It provides a lot of interesting locations and original scenes.

Which don't, you know, actually add up to anything fun or memorable because the editing is so terrible.

It's telling that the only scene where the stakes feel high is the opening action sequence which is revealed to just be Lara's elaborate training room. The "fake" training room feels more dangerous (and cool! and memorable!) than anything in the rest of the movie which is supposed to be "real". Yeah.

The editing is bad. As in "worst I've ever seen" terrible. At a storyboarding level, key establishing shots, connecting shots, reaction shots etc. are missing. The dramatic pacing is completely off, narrative foreshadowing/callbacks are MIA, otherwise good fight scenes mishandled. Characters do inexplicable things. Events happen for no reason. There are a few great visual scenes, and some good framing and composition, and some nice stunt work, but it never joins up into sometime worth your time.

The Nice Guys

It's not Boogie Nights.
After the positive reviews I was expecting better.

A lot of work was done on the locations, wardrobe, and sets to make it look like 1970's Los Angeles, that's probably the highlight of the film, though Russel Crowe, Ryan Gosling, and Angourie Rice all do fine work here.

It's not a bad movie. Watching it I bounced between enjoyment and annoyance. Overall though, it ended up frustrating me.

I assumed this was going to be a detective procedural. That's how it starts out, and the first half of the film builds up a puzzle/mystery that drew me in and, normally, should have led somewhere. Then around the half way mark it drops that idea and in favor of ... well, stuff.

Maybe this one got hacked to bits in the editing suite, maybe it was just put together incompetently but the end result is a mess. It starts out as Get Carter, ends as Beverly Hills Cop, with bits of the A-Team and Boogie Nights spliced in for good measure. It's hard to stay on board for the ride.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The movie does not fulfill it's basic promise.
The trailer teases Bebop and Rocksteady, Shredder, Krang, and the return of the Technodrome. Also, Casey Jones. If all the characters of the original cartoon are back, we expect something of the original story dynamics, too. Krang is supposed to come up with some evil plan, which either Shredder (out of ambition) or Bebop/Rocksteady (out of stupidity) will screw up. Either Krang or Shredder will blow a fuse, hilarity ensues. On the good guy team, Casey or April will provide info or help out, maybe get into trouble, and the Turtles will deal with whatever new crazy threat Krang &co have brought down on the city.

Instead .. how can I put this? The plot of the movie is just a series of events. That happens, then this happens, then this other thing happens. There's precious few dynamic character interactions that could make the story interesting: "this character does this, so this character gets angry and does this, which causes the other characters to change their plans, which the consequence that.."

The movie has a bad case of origin story disease. We don't want to see how Bebop and Rocksteady became Bebop and Rocksteady. We want to see Bebop and Rocksteady annoy Shredder and generally make a mess of things. We want to see Shredder and Krang bickering. Too much time is wasted on collecting the artifacts needed to summon the Technodrome, or worrying about the mutagen that Shredder used to create Bebop and Rocksteady, or contemplating Megan Fox's admittedly fine physical attributes. As a result Krang and Shredder have almost nothing to do except stand around. The Technodrome is literally gone before it arrives. Even on the Turtles side, the story is so rushed that there is no time for them to be confused or undecided about what to do, no time to ask Splinter for advice, no time to get to know Casey, or to contemplate alternative plans of action. It's just do this, fight this, go there...

And speaking of Casey Jones. He's supposed to be a scruffy brawler, someone who takes a shower once a week at best, who likes the Turtles sewer hideout because it smells nicer than his apartment. Not this guy.

On the plus side, Bebop/Rocksteady are done really well and steal the movie. Kudos to Micheal Bay for making them a mixed-race gay couple, that was a nice gesture. Krang is also pretty great, he just isn't given enough agency. The Technodrome for what we saw of it looked awesome. And overall the movie, from a technical standpoint is really impressive.

It's just that if you want a fun Turtles movie you gotta let the characters interact with each other, and not just participate in a scripted string of action set pieces.

Pain & Gain

Finely pitched entertainment about extortion and murder.
Watching this movie I had a sudden insight, hitting me like a van driven by Dwayne Johnson: the Transformers are not bad movies because Michael Bay is a bad director. They are the way they are because that's what people pay to see and Michael Bay can make that kind of movie better than anyone else.

Pain and Gain is a movie that Michael Bay wanted to make, and it's a great movie because he didn't need to make it a blockbuster and he didn't have to go for a lowest common denominator audience. Left to make a fun, small scale movie, he demonstrates just how good he can be.

The story of Daniel Lugo and co. is horrifying and lurid, but also entertaining and fascinating. For the movie to work the protagonists can be portrayed as neither sympathetic nor repulsive. It's a demonstration of just how good Bay is that he nails this perfectly from start to finish.

The events are not so much based on a true story, so much as it is a faithful re-telling of the actual events. They are already so crazy that there was no need to add anything - the main changes are some compression for dramatic tightness.

Cast is game, very game. Ed Harris is particularly good in the role of Ed DuBois, the private detective who is our sole window of sanity in the film. Tony Shalhoub also hits just the right mix of abrasive jerk and sympathetic victim as Victor Kershaw.

The camera work is lush, Miami Vice style, full of saturated and warm tones. Editing is tight. Soundtrack well chosen.

All-in-all I can't knock a point off. It perfectly succeeds what it set out to do. The subject matter may not be to everyone's taste, the combination of fascination and horror, but no one should deny the skillful execution of the telling of it.

Rob Roy

Root for the bad guys
A well-researched, carefully made period film which tells of the struggle of a good, honest man (Rob Roy, Liam Neeson) against powerful, evil rogues (Cunningham, Tim Roth and Montrose, John Hurt) who have unjustly wronged him. It is set in early 18th Century Scotland.

The problem is that Montrose and Cunningham are far more interesting, witty, fun, and entertaining to watch than Rob Roy, who is portrayed here as a bland, unrealistically perfect hero gifted with the beautiful, loving wife and two adoring children.

If we were ever shown Rob Roy getting angry at his wife, yelling at his kids, or indeed demonstrating any kind of human failing - greed, malice, selfishness, anger - there might have been a chance to feel sympathy towards him. Instead he basically walks though the film as the empty "good guy" avatar.

So it's a very unbalanced movie, with memorable, exciting and deeply human villains that you long to see more of, and a boring hero with no discernible human personality you don't care about.

Watch this for the duels, especially the final one, and Tim Roth's captivating performance as Cunningham. If only Rob Roy had been written and played to the same caliber as Cunningham - the battle presented as between two equals, both flawed and both resourceful - this movie would have been catapulted into 10/10, classic for the ages territory but alas it was not to be.


"A" for effort, but execution too sloppy.
The cast is clearly committed. The special/practical effects, props, and battle reenactments are convincing. The historical details seem well-researched. The production values are very high.

And here's an action/drama that isn't a superhero franchise or any kind of existing property - you really want it to succeed.

So it's all the more annoying that it doesn't quite come together.

I'm OK with the cliché-ridden story. The story arc basically works. It gets us what we want to see. It's in the smaller, technical details - and at the thematic core - where things falls apart.

1. The editing and cinematography feels off. For example, the movie opens with a sweeping Laurence of Arabia horseback entrance which doesn't fit the European rural setting. Little things, but almost the whole film is like this: wrong composition, wrong music cue, poor choice of edits and shots.

2. The filmmakers flinch. So it's clear we are going to be shown the "hard realities" of the closing months of WWII in Europe. German women selling themselves for a packet of cigarettes or some fresh eggs... yet the movie bends the story into contrived knots to avoid giving the crew of the Fury in any really hard moral choices to agonize over. Any Germans they have to kill in cold blood are conveniently SS (or accused of "murdering" US soldiers.. huh?). The German women they have sex with are willing and grateful for the experience.

3. *Spoiler* Look, as many others point out: you explode two grenades inside a tank with 4 bodies inside, I think anyone can fairly extrapolate what the interior decor might look like afterwards. Instead, we are shown it's like nothing happened. The incredulity of that late scene just totally dropped me out of the movie. I get the feeling that the final battle scene was reedited and significantly reworked - studios demanding more action or something along those lines. It feels very sloppy, with many continuity errors and none of the historical fidelity visible in earlier sequences.

4. It was well-acted, Pitt especially, Logan Lerman (who played Norman) also, but I never bought into the other characters as anything more than a collection of random (if historically accurate) personality ticks. Again, maybe the choppy editing is at fault here - but there isn't enough interplay to get to know them well enough to care about - or even empathize - with them. Which brings us to the biggest fault,

5. Why are we supposed to be watching this movie again? There are a bunch of themes or dramatic arcs, but what, if anything, the filmmakers want to say about them remains pretty much a mystery. So it ends up being a movie with some cool reenactments of WWII tank battles ... and not a whole lot more.


Hysterical. Unstoppable. Unflappable.
This series is the funniest thing to come along for a long while.

The creators seem to have a deep affinity for the 60's and the tropes of cold-war spy series like The Saint, The Avengers, Man from Uncle etc. The stories don't doesn't play out like another cheap Bond parody - its roots go much deeper.

The series is set in a surreal mishmash of 60's~90's technology, architecture, and culture. Definitely a retro vibe, but the cast of characters also seem to be from very different time periods. The plot lines and situations are usually lifted from 60's spy thrillers though, and it's the fidelity to that period of history, tied together with caustic, droll humor and sharp, sharp writing that makes this series a home run.

OK, fine, but what is it that makes this soo- much better than anything else I can think of right now? It has to do with the characters. They are all crazy, damaged nutcases ... but endearingly human for all that. Not sentimentally so, but believably so. They seem like real, fun, and rather crazy people in a crazy and largely unfair world and a lot of the humor works because we can relate and empathize with them.

Ocean's Thirteen

Maybe went over the heads of a lot of people? Holds up well, anyhow.
Holds up well. Not as tight as the original because the original had surprise working for it. You know the formula now, so there is nothing for it but to sit back and enjoy the show.

So we go back to Vegas, we leave the girls at home this time, and line everything up for exquisitely executed revenge. It's a lazier, less suspenseful pace than the first film. It's not the "if" but the "how" that matters, and what good lines characters will give us as it all goes down.

I find I remember 13 a lot better than I remember 11 now. I like many of the scenes more, and I like many of the characters more. Ellen Barkin is a particular treat to watch. There is a lot of absurdest comedy, and lots of great, quotable lines. Music and visuals are absolutely top notch.

No, I really don't see why the hate is so strong for this one. A lot of people didn't didn't connect with it. Pity.

John Wick

A movie of focus, commitment and sheer will.
It's a basic gangster revenge movie, where bad men disturb a sleeping bear and live just long enough to regret it. It is also complete fantasy, a New York city where no one who dies has has family, no innocent people get hurt, and super-assassins stay in their own luxury hotel.

The movie makes up its own rules, but it sticks to them: John Wick is destructible, he is not stronger than his enemies but merely faster, more resourceful, and more determined. His weapons run out of bullets, and do not do more damage than those of his opponents ... he just shoots them more accurately. It is not realistic - it isn't supposed to be - but the conflicts are balanced enough that his revenge feels earned.

It is also stylishly shot, the small depth of field technique adds a otherworldliness, that does not distract from the entertainment but does serve I think to distance us enough from the violence that it doesn't feel sickening.

But the best things about the film, what really makes it work, is the tight, focused plot, the minimal-yet-eminently-quotable dialogue, and the commitment of everyone in the cast to make their characters memorable.


Too uneven in tone and style to be memorable.
The elephant in the room is The Princess Bride, to which Stardust compares poorly. There are many ways to make a fairytale-romance movie, and rats of unusual size need not feature, but Stardust gets it so inexcusably wrong on so many levels that you can't help coming back to "Princess Bride" to show how its done.

Which is a shame, because there a lot of good elements here, some great cinematography, and some first-class special effects / set design. One of the few instances I can think of where the witches' magic spells actually feel dangerous. The casting is solid, and the acting is nothing if at least good-natured.

So what went wrong?

With a fairly tale, the cardinal sin is winking to the audience letting them know the characters know its all a big joke. The characters have to take themselves and the story - the risks, the danger, and the emotional investments - seriously. The silly stuff (i.e. rats of unusual size) can be silly, but only to the audience. The characters must behave as if those rats are really dangerous. That's part of the fun.

Stardust strives for a similar mix of humor and emotional weight, but 1. there's very little actual wit, just sight gags and slapstick and 2. no one seems to take anything seriously. Certainly not Robert De Niro or Michelle Pfeiffer. They are clearly having way too much fun chewing scenery to care about what happens Yvaine and Tristan.

That's problem one. Problem two is the story. The concept is basically fine, I'll accept the basic premise that there's this magical world you can get to from just outside an English village, a world with evil witches and unicorns and where stars fall to earth as young women. If that's the conceit, fine, let's run with that. And I'll accept that there's a king who has seven sons all out to kill each other over the inheritance. And, sure, lets add in a flying pirate ship that collects lightning. No wait. A flying pirate ship, which isn't actually doing anything piratical, since, I mean, they are just out there harvesting lightning for some reason. I mean, wouldn't they be more like fishermen? And why would people want to buy the lightning? What can you do with it? And why do we never see any other kind of flying ship? Why is everyone else traveling by road, by horse, even the king's sons? I mean if lightning harvesters can have flying ships, you'd think the king would have access to cool flying dreadnoughts or something.

And while we are at it, what's up this enormous kings palace, at the center of a city which looks to hold hundreds of thousands of people? Why is it we never meet anyone from there, outside of the kinds son's and one or two attendants? Until the last scene that is, when suddenly there's a football stadium filled with people! And if there's this clearly large, prosperous, and powerful city - what is their relationship with the witches? They would seem to be a nuisance, why wasn't there a war or something to get rid of them. What do the people do all day? And if there are unicorns, are there dragons? Why not? And what happened to that unicorn anyway?

The movie does a very poor job of convincing you the world it wants you to believe in actually exists. It's like no one thought it through, even superficially.

All nicely rendered/shot, mind you, just totally unconvincing as a unified, functioning world.

Finally, the last complaint, which concerns the traditional flow of a fairytale. Yes, we know roughly how things are going to end. But a fairytale is about the journey where the hero proves to us he is deserving of getting the girl, the gold, and of living happily ever by being both smart and good. The point is there are challenges, puzzles, riddles, and often actual suffering, which by overcoming the hero both learns some important lessons and proves his worth.

In Stardust, Tristan never proves his intelligence, resourcefulness, or moral fortitude in the face of need. He's given two incredibly powerful magic items by his mother. He's taught how to fight by Captain Shakespeare - for no especial reason, there was nothing he did to deserve the special treatment. And Yvaine stepped in to save him in the final battle with the witches. Basically anyone could have taken his place and done just as well, it was a cakewalk.

I think that's the most irritating thing with this movie. For all the great special effects, and cool cinematography, and can-can dancing, the vital elements which make a fairytale work as a fairytale got left out.

009 Re:Cyborg

Well drawn, but devoid of anything resembling character interaction.
Well, that was a train wreck.

From about 1/3 of the way in, 009 Re:Cyborg steadily goes from passable to bad to worse to horrible, eventually coming to rest at "WTF?".

The last anime I can think of to spend such massive resources so ineffectively from a dramatic standpoint was "Metropolis" (2001). And that was a considerably better film.

Indeed 009 Re:Cyborg is as close to "cost no object" animation as there is these days. The military hardware is all rendered with fetishist detail, the backgrounds are sumptuously drawn, and all manner of computer- assisted effects enlisted.

The main problem with this film isn't even the overwrought and meaningless plot. I'll buy a lot of things, and though a 9/11-inspired story about pseudo-religious communion with "voices" that induce terrorist acts isn't really my bag, I'd be prepared to let that just drive the movie along and join the ride.

I should add I have no emotional investment in the original series, so they can preserve or desecrate the memory of the Cyborg: 009 TV show all they want. As an aside though I note uncanny resemblances of two characters in particular to Tony Stark and Eric Banner will probably seem odd to Western audiences.

No, the main problem with this film is that its empty of any genuine emotional content or character interaction. Stuff happens. Characters stand around staring vacantly, stating in the declarative what needs to be stated to convey information to the audience. To break the monotony there are frequent bouts of wordy philosophical ennui. Then there's a gunfight or some random and frequently ludicrous action sequence. Rinse and repeat.


And the ending has to rank up there as one of the weakest and laziest bit of scripting in the history of anime.

Get Carter

Actually ... good!
97% less nasty than the Micheal Caine version, which was, face it, about as nasty as they come. And so yes, it lacks the raw feeling of disgust and with it most of the dramatic tension. And, yes, there are some some nonsensical plot moves especially towards the end, unlike the rather spartan, bleak, and more thematically satisfying resolution of the 1971 film.

But taken on its own merits, it's a good movie. I'll go one step further: surprisingly good.

The styling works. The music works. Stallone works, though he's a little too cuddly perhaps. Rachael Leigh Cook works, her character is just believable enough to hold the movie together. Without that the movie would be throwaway.

Highlight of the movie is Micheal Caine lecturing Stallone on how revenge is pointless and Stallone's blunt reply: "no its not". Come on? The original Jack Carter telling this to John Rambo? Worth the price of admission right there!

Though I admit you will have to make some allowances especially if you've seen the original:

  • Too many gratuitous car chases. - Bad guys are ridiculously bad shots, even for an American action film. - Playing Jeremy Kinnear for comic relief leaves the bad guys toothless. - Botches the "Jack Carter is having an affair with his boss's wife/girlfriend" side plot completely.

Kudos though for keeping the names intact while moving from the North of England (a train ride from London) to Seattle (an even longer train ride from Las Vegas). That was cute.

Kudos also for keeping the pornography angle, but that was also a bit of a problem, since, well, the filmmakers decided they couldn't push the _underage_ angle and without that the main motivating force of the plot evaporates.

Check your brain at the door, enjoy the show. It's not a terrible film.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

A Lost Opportunity
So much of the hard part of making a movie about the Crimean War and those who fought there they got right, it's a shame the film-makers couldn't nail the last 30%.

The reenactment of Victorian society is impeccable. In dress, manner, and speech. The battle scenes, too, are remarkably faithful to the original locations and deployments, given the obvious limitations in budget and pre-CGI effects.

The actors playing they major characters, Raglan (Gielgud), Lucan (Andrews), and Cardigan (Howard) all do an excellent job.

And I actually likes the Punch-style animated cut scenes. There was, after all, no way they could show a fleet of several hundred war ships sailing into the Black Sea. Best not try.

So, the problems:

The charge, a comparatively minor screw-up book-ended by major Allied victories at the battles of the Alma and at Inkerman, was the result of a combination of small oversights, fog of war, and bad luck. So while there is a story to tell here there are no clear cut heroes except for the soldiers themselves, and certainly no villains.

So, to make a movie, you can choose either to change history and make larger than life, cartoon characters based on the exaggerated media reports of the day, and the 1950's book which was something of a anti- Cardigan hit piece, ... or you can play it straight, say "this is what it was like" and try to relate the experience, the esprit-de-corps, and yes, the interpersonal tensions, as raw as possible from the top of the command chain to the bottom.

This movie tries to have it both ways, it's cartoony but only for the intention of scoring cheap anti-war satire (all generals are imbeciles!), rather than to actually make the movie more enjoyable or engaging. When the war gets close and personal, it reverts back to just showing events... realistically, but with little or no emotional investment. The mechanics of the charge itself are done well, though.

And then the movie just ends, way too suddenly.

Now maybe, just maybe, Captain Nolan was supposed to be the "hero", the romantic sub-plot (distracting and totally irrelevant to the movie) seems to suggest it, but instead he just comes across as an impatient, vain, inexperienced know-it-all, a thin and unflattering caricature.

So, worth watching, but in better hands it could have been so much more.

Kurenai no buta

Adult escapism.
Of the Miyazaki canon, several films are often put forward as the "best one". The anime fans usually tip the epic "Nausicaa", while most regular Japanese people go with the nostalgic masterpiece "Totoro". People with less emotional connections with the older works will tell you "Spirited Away". For a solid minority though, including myself, "Porco Rosso" will always be no. 1.

The main reason: the narrative here is not carried by children, who, in Miyazaki films, are nearly always portrayed as uncomplicated, morally perfect little heroes. As charming as they are, once the action stops things get boring really quickly. In Porco Rosso, the characters are fun, memorable, and often deeply touching.

Second reason: Miyazaki is at his best when he's directing in the air: the epic air battles in Nausicaa, the fantastic flying ships in Laputa, ... and in Porco Rosso he's in the air almost ALL THE TIME! Everything about the planes is done just so ... damn... well. Exhibit A is the opening sequence. The pacing is sublime. The camera movements and animation of the planes in flight, breathtaking. Best opening scene of any movie I have ever seen, bar none.

Like many Miyazaki films, it wanders a bit too much in the middle section and has a weak, contrived third act. Unlike many Miyazaki films, though, it has the good sense to end on the offbeat, rather than spell a generic happy ending out point by point.

The attraction of this film is the escapism, the unabashed romanticism: we can so easily imagine we are Marco, flying our red seaplane to Madame Gina's island hotel under the starry Mediterranean sky. The animation, characters, music, and overall attention to details draw us in to this world, time after time.


Live action anime, with heavy feedback applied.
So the challenge is to make a full length live action movie from an anime series which did not stray too far from "Dudly Do-Right" in scope.

One way, and this is what director Miike chooses, is to keep the visuals and story at the original "Loony-Tunes" level, but make the characters and subtext more adult. This will either work for you, or leave you aghast, depending on if you expected a kids movie or not.

It's obvious from the opening shot of Doronjo where Miike is headed with this movie. It's a kids movie for adults, not to be confused with a kids movie with jokes thrown in for adults. I enjoyed it.

Kyoko Fukada as Doronjo is hot enough to burn celluloid; the rest of the Dorombo gang is well cast, too. The Yatterman side is weaker, but probably deliberately so. The running gag of the movie is that the Dorombo gang must always lose, this is funnier if the good guys don't really seem to be worthy opponents.

There is a lot of CG animation in this movie, and while it's well done for the most part, the extended CG fight scenes get less and less interesting as the film rolls on into the second half.

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