kriitikko

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Reviews

Tomorrow Never Dies
(1997)

Excellent 90's Bond film
"Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) is so far the only Bond movie directed by Roger Spottiswoode. It is the second film in the series featuring Pierce Brosnan as 007. It is also the first Bond film I saw in cinema as a little boy.

A British navy ship mysteriously sinks at the Chinese waters and a Chinese fighter jet is shot down. When media mogul Elliot Carver reports of these events in his Tomorrow newspaper faster than should have been possible, the British Secret Service becomes suspicious. M sends James Bond to investigate Carver, as Bond used to have an intimate relationship with Carver's current wife Paris. Along the way Bond meets Wai Lin, a Chinese spy also investigating Carver. The two become positive that Carver is trying to instigate World War III simply because it sells papers.

After the "GoldenEye" brought James Bond successfully to post cold war world, it remained to be seen if the series would be able to remain as good. "Tomorrow Never Dies" is once again one of those Bond films that other people love and other hate. Personally, I belong in the former group. There's a lot of good things going for this film. The whole media angle in the plot is not only interesting, but also very believable way for modern day world domination. This movie also has surprising amount of action, with car chases and jumping down from buildings. The ending battle in Carver's ship brings "The Spy Who Loved Me" to mind. Yet the most memorable, and possibly one of my favorite action scenes, is the one where Bond and Lin, handcuffed to each others, ride a motorcycle through the busy streets of Saigon while a helicopter chases them.

Brosnan pulls through the movie with same confidence he had in "GoldenEye" and he doesn't seem old news at all. Jonathan Pryce must have had fun playing Elliot Carver, a villain with an ego so big it would make Auric Goldfinger blush. He's definitely the life of this movie, just watching him being a gleeful evil bastard is a joy. Another great thing is Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin. There's nothing much to her character, but having Michelle Yeoh kick ass in a movie is never a bad idea. The weak link of the cast is Teri Hatcher as Paris Carver. She's nice to look at but not right person to play sympathetic love roles. Judi Dench and Joe Don Baker return to reprise their roles from previous movie and give good support.

"Tomorrow Never Dies" is not the greatest Bond movie in the series, but it's a real fun to watch and good follow up to the excellent "GoldenEye". After this Brosnan's Bond era sadly started going south.

Dr. No
(1962)

The first still works, even after 50 years
"Dr. No" (1962) is the first movie in the official James Bond movie series, though a less known TV adaptation of Casino Royale had already been made in the 1950's. It is directed by Terence Young, first of the three Bond films he directed, and stars then unknown Scottish actor Sean Connery as the 007 agent James Bond.

The producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli chose to film Ian Fleming's sixth James Bond novel, because of a relatively simple plot. Bond is send by the British Secret Service to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent in Jamaica. The said agent had been investigating the strange radio jamming of an American rockets and believed that a reclusive Chinese scientist, Dr. No, was behind them. As Bond starts to also investigate the scientist several attempts on his life are made.

Watching the movie now, nearly 50 years after its release, I can honestly say that while better Bond films have been made after "Dr. No" it still holds pretty well on its own. Unlike the later Bond films which introduce crazy gadgets and logic defying stunts, "Dr. No" leaves most of its action to the end, being far more of a "secret agent investigating" than "Bond kicking ass" film. That being said the film has several classic Bond moments, as the first time we hear the line "Bond, James Bond", the first mention of international criminal organization SPECTRE (which continued to be Bond's adversary in several early films) and of course Monty Norman's classic Bond theme music that never gets old.

The casting of Sean Connery was without a doubt the best thing for this film. Connery set the standards of who and what James Bond is and everyone after him have been more or less measured with those standards. Connery's Bond is charming, witty and suave man whose duty is only to his country, extremely successful player with both cards and women which have made him a bit arrogant and sometimes unlikeable. He is also a lethal agent who doesn't hesitate to kill an unarmed enemy, but still doesn't approve vigilantism as his conversation with Honey Rider shows.

In other parts Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman also set standards for a typical Bond girl and villain. Andress' Honey Rider says everything we need to know about her in her first scene: she is strong, beautiful and independent. Wiseman's Dr. No is a brilliant but twisted genius to whom human life means nothing and who likes to impress his enemies with his own superiority. He also has two mechanical hands and a physical defect would become a tradition in several later Bond villains. We also have Bernard Lee as M, the head of Secret Service, and Lois Maxwell as his secretary Miss Moneypenny. Both would reprise their roles several times.

Compared to other Bond films I would say "Dr. No" is still well above average and works best as a spy film of the 1960's. The story has a good flow, lots of memorable scenes, beautiful settings in Jamaica and Sean Connery making himself into a movie legend. Great start for a movie franchise.

Sherlock
(2002)

Not bad, not really great either
A young private detective Sherlock Holmes becomes famous overnight when he discovers and kills the most dangerous man of England; Professor Moriarty. The fame is short lived as a series of killings start that indicate Moriarty being still alive. Holmes sets out to discover the truth with a help of Doctor Watson, a mortuary who takes interest in Holmes' cases.

I watched this movie "Sherlock: A Case of Evil" (2002) during sort of a Holmes obsessed time in my life, even when I had heard lots and lots of bad things about it. To tell you the truth, movie is not all bad. Production value is decent, sets and costumes nicely Victorian, and music, while a bit modern, not at all distracting. The plot also had some nice things going on for it, I thought the idea of Moriarty inventing heroin was clever, and there are some touches for Arthur Conan Doyle's stories like the rifle-stick and the game Sherlock and Mycroft play.

So the story is not the worst thing here. The characterization is. This film wants to be sort of beginning for Holmes career as the famous detective we all love, wanting to explain his drug addiction and why there is no romance in his life. However, as the film starts Holmes is hot-headed party favorite who likes to have a different girl every night (sometimes two). His sudden change at the end to the Holmes of Doyle's stories is not a least bit realistic. It also doesn't help that James D'Arcy isn't least bit interesting. Well, he's not as annoying as Matt Frewer but still horribly miscast here. I can understand they wanted to make Holmes younger but they should have found someone else.

Richard E. Grant seems a bit wasted in this movie, playing Holmes' brother Mycroft. I can't believe that he's already appeared in two Sherlock movies (other being The Hound of the Baskervilles with Richard Roxburgh) and not having played Sherlock himself, even when he has the perfect looks for the part. On the other hand, I did like Watson in this movie, played by Roger Morlidge. It's interesting to see that Watson doesn't become Holmes' best friend instantly but actually dislikes the detective very much first. Gabrielle Anwar as Holmes' supposed love interest is just a wallflower.

The highlight of this movie for me was Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of Moriarty. It's a bit sad to say so because he is awfully campy and theatric, nothing like Professor Moriarty from Conan Doyle's stories, but he does play a competent villain. Though God only knows what kind of accent he is trying to have.

All in all, "Sherlock: A Case of Evil" is not the worst Sherlock Holmes movie I have seen and while it certainly could be a lot better with very little effort, it does make a nice evening watch. However, if you really want to see a film of Sherlock Holmes' early years that actually tries to keep characters faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, watch Barry Levinson's 1985 underrated movie "Young Sherlock Holmes" instead.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
(1931)

The Best of all Jekyll and Hyde movies
Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 classic "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" has inspired countless story, movie and theater adaptations. I have personally seen more than dozen different movie adaptations of this story (if that is a proof of undying love or utter sadness I'll leave for you to decide) and I can honestly say, no later adaptation can overshadow this 1932 Paramount Pictures production, simply titled "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

The basic story is pretty much a common knowledge already but let's put up the basics: Dr. Henry Jekyll is a young and successful scientist living in late Victorian England. He is greatly admired by the students of science because of his new and revolutionizing theories but, for the very same reasons, looked down by elder scholars and his colleagues, amongst them his good friend Dr. Lanyon. Jekyll is engaged to be married to a lovely Muriel Carew, daughter of Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carew. While Jekyll and Muriel want to get married, Carew disapproves their eagerness and makes them go through a long engagement time. Jekyll deals with his frustration by working day and night with his private research. One night he invents a chemical formula which in theory should separate the good and evil in man. Jekyll tries the drug and transforms to a brutal, cruel and absolutely evil "Mr. Hyde". Hyde soon sinks his claws on Ivy Pierson, a prostitute who becomes victim of his dark pleasures having simply been in a wrong place at a wrong time.

This is not the first time story of Jekyll & Hyde has been turned to a film. A notable silent adaptation had already been made in 1920 starring John Barrymore and that had already established the setting of women in the story: one "good girl" of upper class for Jekyll, one "bad girl" of lower class for Hyde. However, this film version far succeeds the previous ones and, I dare say, all or most of the later ones as well.

The collaboration of director Reuben Mamoulian and cinematographer Karl Struss is technically flawless. The moving camera, ambitious point-of-view shots and definitely the still impressive transformation scene (where Fredric March was already wearing make-up but it would come visible only when changing the filters in front of the camera lens) were all ahead of their times, making this one of more liveliest and impressive 1930's horror films (probably most impressive along with RKO's "King Kong" and Universal's "The Bride of Frankenstein"). The foggy streets and Gothic architecture set the mood perfectly, making London appear as labyrinth like maze.

The film also has a great deal of hidden meanings in it, that weren't clear for me when I first saw it (granted, I was only 12 or 13 then). The scene with Jekyll and Muriel in garden, telling how they can't wait any longer to get married, may at first seem like an innocent scene between two young people in love, but it also means they're two young people tired of waiting to get it on like rabbits. Especially watching Muriel in this light (a young innocent looking daddy's little angel) is quite startling and bold for its time. Also, Mr. Hyde's apelike make-up may seem a bit over the top, but it's actually really fitting when thinking of the time the story takes place. In Victorian England Darwin's evolution theories had caused quite an uproar when thinking man has evolved from an ape. Giving Mr. Hyde the apelike look establishes how Jekyll is a man of science and reason who doesn't believe everything bible says like the older established people did. Releasing the evil in him Jekyll proves Darwin's theories by taking a step backwards in evolution.

When it comes to actors in Jekyll and Hyde movies, it's obvious the whole movie depends of getting a good actor to play the dual roles. Fredric March deservedly won an Oscar and Favorite Actor Award in Venice Film Festival (where this movie was also awarded as Most Original Story) for his part. As Henry Jekyll, March is ambitious, excited and full of passion for his work, but also reserved, dignified and frustrated. He makes a great character development when Jekyll is forced to realize he has no control over Hyde and becomes beaten, desperate and tormented. The scene where he breaks down in front of Muriel is truly touching moment. As Hyde, well, he is everything Hyde is expected to be; impulsive, sadistic, cruel animal with very obvious sexual desires. The finest part of March's work is that he truly makes you believe he is two different persons. Aside of Jean-Louis Barrault no other actor has managed to make me think "is he really playing BOTH parts?" ever.

Other actors are totally left in March's shadow, but they're not exactly bad either. Rose Hobart has just too little time to make Muriel really interesting (aside of the already mentioned garden scene) but Miriam Hopkins is fantastic as the unfortunate Ivy. She starts out as a really funny and lovable girl who just wants to have fun and it's heartbreaking to watch how Hyde breaks her spirit and drives her to the edge of insanity. The scene where she cries for Jekyll to save her, making him listen the horrors he has inflicted on her, shows both March and Hopkins at their best, and the great chemistry they have.

Long story short: Reuben Mamoulian's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson's story. While there have been very good adaptations later also (most notably Jean Renoir's French version "Testament of Dr. Cordelier" and Terence Fisher's "Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll") this is the one to tower above them all. Atmospherically and technically great, with fantastic transformation scene, screenplay that for once improves the original story and a fantastic performance by Fredric March, make this movie one of the best 1930's horror films to enjoy.

Vampires
(1998)

Good old fashioned monster vampires
Let's get the facts straight right now: VAMPIRES, made in 1998, is not the best vampire movie ever made. It's neither director John Carpenter's best work and doesn't come even close to his best movies (HALLOWEEN, THE THING etc.). However, in this day and age, when all the vampires seem to be brooding, good looking teenagers who try to avoid killing people, it feels good to watch a movie in which vampires are what they're meant to be: monsters.

The film starts with a group of vampire hunters, lead by man named Jack Crow, attacking a nest of vampires in New Mexico. All the blood suckers are killed and the gang go to celebrate in local motel. At night a vampire named Valek attacks them and none of their weapons seem to work on him. Valek slaughters nearly the entire group, only Jack, his friend Montana and a hooker bitten by Valek survive. Jack decides to hunt down Valek who turns out to be the oldest and most powerful vampire.

This film is not meant to be anything more than an entertaining popcorn movie to relax with and then go on with your life, and it works like that. Carpenter keeps the story going, doesn't even try to create any unnecessary plot twists or minor characters, but keeps the story very clear and simple. Music is good, actors capable and the action sequences don't go over the board.

James Woods is the definite show stealer here. His Jack Crow is definitely one of the more entertaining vampire hunters I have seen in movies. He's not an old Van Helsing clone, or a superhuman hybrid like Blade, nor does he have an arsenal of ridiculous weapons like Hugh Jackman's modernized Van Helsing. Only things Crow has are a handgun, crossbow and smart-ass comments. Woods obviously has had fun playing the "been there, done that" guy to whom killing vampires is just an everyday work.

In other roles Tim Guinee is a good counterpart for Woods, as the nervous and inexperienced priest who joins the group. Especially the scenes where Woods has to teach him the "facts of life" are enjoyable. Thomas Ian Griffith looks really awesome as the vampire Valek. Although he doesn't have much to do, just watching him ripping people to pieces is a pleasure, since not many vampires these days has that bite anymore. In fact, all the vampires in this movie look awesome, with pale skin, long teeth and nails, glowing eyes and dressed all in black. This is what vampire are about!

So VAMPIRES is not truly memorable film, but if you want to watch a little better film from director John Carpenter's 1990's works, where James Woods is at his best and vampires are not brooding teenagers, then this is a film for you. Put it on, sit back and enjoy.

Gojira
(1954)

Classic monster AND anti-war movie
Ever since King Kong was shot down from the top of the Empire State Building in 1933, giant monsters have become a staying addition amongst the movie monsters. Though I consider myself as a very big fan and admirer of horror movies, my preference is usually the more classic sort like vampires and mad scientists. The "huge monsters attack and destroy cities" is not truly my thing. That said, there are still some movies of this genre that I adore. The already said original King Kong is a definite classic, but it is the 1954 original Gojira, commonly Godzilla, that is closest to my heart.

The opening of the film alone is memorable. Just the bold title "Gojira" on the screen, with the sound of the famous roar in the background. Cut to a peaceful shipping boat on a sunny day, that is suddenly attacked and destroyed by something mysterious. More ships follow the same path, and government of Japan is facing a crisis. Meantime, on a nearby island all the fishes seem to have disappeared from the sea. Old superstitious people tell it is Gojira, legendary monster from their myths. The said island is soon attacked by a huge dinosaur like monster that breathes fire and is radioactive. It's an unseen creature from pre-historic era, awakened and mutated by atomic bombs, and it's heading towards Tokyo.

Unlike its 30 or so sequels, the original Gojira was never meant as cheap entertainment movie. There are no aliens, super vehicles or other monsters fighting Godzilla here. This film was meant as a very direct objection against nuclear tests and wars in general, warning men that nothing good will come out of them. The shots of destroyed Tokyo, injured people being treated and the girl chore singing in the background, must have had a pretty strong effect on Japanese people, who were still recovering from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The black and white cinematography gives a nightmarish, almost apocalyptic feeling, and it helps hiding some of the out-dated special effects. Thanks to it most of the miniatures and Godzilla's rubber suit do not bother in the film. Also worth mentioning is the music score, one of the greatest I've heard, and that was still used as Godzilla's theme music in many of the later films. The final scene, where Godzilla gives his dying roar before sinking to the depths of the ocean, is strangely melancholic and sad.

Godzilla itself still deserves the title "king of the monsters". A gigantic fire breathing mutant dinosaur that destroys everything from its way, like a force of nature, is astonishing to say the least. Not to mention that unlike King Kong, army can't do anything to this guy. Godzilla is shot with tanks, missiles, airplanes, high-voltage electricity fences and what else, nothing works. In the end it is brilliant Dr. Serizawa's kamikaze-attack with his life work that stops the monster.

The original Japanese "Gojira"(1954) remains as one of the best monster movies of all time, as well as a great anti-war film.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
(1960)

Truly original and underrated take on the classic story
In the 1870's London, the middle-aged Dr. Henry Jekyll lives a reclusive life with his young wife Kitty. Jekyll has given up lecturing in Universities and dedicates his time for charity works and his personal research in his private lab. He completely neglects his wife Kitty, who has started an affair with Jekyll's friend Paul Allen, who also spends Jekyll's money on his gambling debts. One night, Jekyll tests a drug he has invented to separate the good and evil in man, on himself. As a result he becomes young and handsome Edward Hyde, who soon begins his mission of not only to destroy Kitty and Paul, but Jekyll as well.

Terence Fisher's film "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" is one of the most original and underrated adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Since the three most well known movie versions of Jekyll & Hyde before this (1920 silent film with John Barrymore, 1931 classic with Frederic March and 1941 remake with Spencer Tracy) all repeated similar plot pattern, the Hammer Films wanted to give something different.

Like with Hammer's other adaptations of classic horror stories, the film only keeps the essential backbone of the original story and changes all else. Unlike in the three previous movies where Jekyll was presented as a young handsome and likable man and Hyde as evil looking ugly monster, here Jekyll is middle-aged bearded and very cold and harsh towards others. Hyde on the other hand is smooth, handsome player who gets everyone to like him like that. However, he is no less evil then other versions of Hyde. This time Hyde doesn't use Jekyll as a hiding place to escape to, but he puts the blame of his crimes on Jekyll. Nasty piece of work.

The film has been much underrated because it doesn't have the same kind of Hammer horror feel to it. But Fisher and others are not even trying to make this same kind of shocking horror film as their previous works "The Curse of Frankenstein", "Horror of Dracula" and "The Mummy" are. Instead Fisher and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz are telling a tragedy of how one man's quest for knowledge ultimately destroys everything and everyone around him. The makers are more interested in showing the duality of Victorian era, where people were respectable during the day and transformed during the night. Jekyll in the movie is just the only one who does it literally.

The role of Jekyll/Hyde was originally meant for Christopher Lee, but not wanting to be type casted as the monster, since he had already played Frankenstein's creature, Count Dracula and the Mummy, Lee was casted as Paul Allen instead. Obviously glad to play different kind of part, Lee delivers one of his best Hammer performances as the suave and unreliable gambler. Lee played Jekyll and Hyde later in a movie called "I, Monster" from 1971, which follows Stevenson's book more faithfully than this one.

In the role of Jekyll/Hyde, Paul Massie is really underrated. Sure, I could name half a dozen other actors who have played the part better. But Massie is one of the few actors, along with Frederic March and Jack Palance, who managed to make both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde interesting characters. Most actors I've found are rather boring when playing Jekyll, only coming to life when changing to Hyde. In the role of Jekyll's cheating wife Kitty, Dawn Addams is not just a candy to the eyes, she really fits the part perfectly and is one of the few Hammer leading ladies with some other talent than just their looks. In minor roles you can see Norma Marla and her very erotic snake dance, as well as young Oliver Reed in one of his earliest movie roles.

All in all, "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" is a forgotten gem, an enjoyable film from Hammer's highlight era, as long as you keep open mind and not expect gallons of blood.

The Hunchback
(1997)

Harris and Hayek make this decent enough to enjoy
Victor Hugo's book "Notre Dame de Paris" has had a weird luck with film adaptations. No film has been truly faithful to the original story, but none is really bad either. I've seen six films: the 1923 silent film with Lon Chaney, the 1939 classic with Charles Laughton, 1956 Anthony Quinn version which did come closest to the book, 1982 TV adaptation, Disney film and this 1997 TV film, done either at the same time with Disney version or right after. This is also the worst of the six, yet it's not bad, in fact I find it to be nicely entertaining version, though I'd probably recommend any other adaptation before it.

The story is extremely simplified and owes a lot to 1939 film, some of the dialog is copied from the film rather shamelessly. The basics are still there: the deformed Quasimodo has lived inside the Notre Dame his whole life, being raised by Archdeacon Dom Frollo. Quasimodo falls in love with beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda who shows him little compassion. Esmeralda also becomes the target of Frollo's deranged passion and soon she finds herself framed for a murder she did not commit.

The biggest difference with this version to others is that Phoebus hardly appears in the whole story and Esmeralda's love for him has been cut out. Instead of stabbing Phoebus in a moment of mad jealousy, Frollo kills here a minister who has wanted to bring printed books to public use and framed Esmeralda for his killing. This is my biggest problem with this version. Although it's nice that we see Frollo's crusade against printing machines here since they haven't appeared in other versions since 1939, this also makes Frollo seem as a calculating villain and takes a lot out of the character.

Still, the late Richard Harris does really good job as Frollo and he certainly has his fine moments in the film that bring him close to the superb performance of Derek Jacoby in 1982 version. Harris is definitely the most memorable in the film, doing his best even when material is not so good. Another great thing is Salma Hayek as Esmeralda. Not only is she ridiculously good looking but her Esmeralda is more compassionate than other adaptations of her, which I like a lot. Sure Hayek is no 16 year old girl here, but previous versions of Esmeralda, like Gina Lollobrigida in 1956 film or even the Disney version, were really neither.

In other parts Jim Dale as Clopin and Nigel Terry as King Louis have delightful minor performances here. Mandy Patinkin as Quasimodo and Edward Atterton as Gringoire both do decent job but they're also both left in the shadows of their predecessors. It is though nice to see Nickolas Grace here. I haven't seen him in anything else since his wonderful performance as Blanche in "Brideshead Revisited" series.

The 1997 TV version doesn't really come out as any better than other versions of Hugo's book, yet its entertaining film if you give it a chance, if for no other reason, than just to see Harris and Hayek who are both great in their roles.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1996)

A nice Disney film
Disney's animated film "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" is my first experience with Victor Hugo's story. I saw this film first time back in the 1996 while being eight years old and the film did impress me greatly. Seeing the opening song "Bells of Notre Dame" on a huge screen is one of the best movie experiences I've had. Since then I've seen the film few times again and although it's not as great as the directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise's previous project "Beauty and the Beast", it still remains as a very good Disney film.

I can imagine the difficulty writers have gone through to transform Hugo's dark tragedy to a film that would keep the essence of the book but also be suitable for the children. In many parts they have obviously used the 1939 Charles Laughton film as an inspiration. In the end the film does include all the most famous scenes of Hugo's book like the Feast of Fools, Court of Miracles, the invasion to Notre Dame, Esmeralda's saving from the execution, the nearly fatal stabbing of Phoebus (though in different circumstances than in the book) and other things.

Beside the story becoming more comfortable for children, characters themselves also have gone through changes. Quasimodo is not as bitter towards rest of the world as in the book, Frollo has become judge instead of priest (like in 1939 film) and apart of few scenes appears to be nearly pure evil character. Esmeralda is more mature here than in the book. I don't really understand why so since Disney has used young girls as their heroines before, I can only guess they didn't want an old guy like Frollo lust after a girl. The biggest problem I have with the story is making Phoebus the hero. I know this was done back in 1923 also, but in the book Phoebus was certainly no hero. Why not use Gringoire again like in other movies? Or better yet, why not make a film where Esmeralda would have accepted Quasimodo? Wouldn't the theme of loving people for who they are and not what they look like be perfect for Disney?

Visually and technically the film is a feast for eyes. Animation is constantly moving and colorful, and very detailed works of Notre Dame is superb to watch. Also a great thing about this film is music and songs by Alan Menken. Along with the opening song "Bells of Notre Dame" another memorable ones are Esmeralda's beautiful "God Help the Outcast" and Frollo's "Hellfire", which is one of the darkest scenes in Disney history. From voice actors Tom Hulce as Quasimodo, late Tony Jay as Frollo and Paul Kandel as Clopin all provide great voices for their characters and they even sang their own songs.

So Disney's take on "Hunchback of Notre Dame" may not be in the list of top 5 greatest Disney movies, but it is wonderful animation to watch and certainly a good way to introduce Victor Hugo's story to kids. Just prepare an explanation for them when they ask "why did Frollo sniff Esmeralda's hair?"

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1982)

Decent film with great performances from Hopkins and Jacobi
In the 15'Th century Paris, a young priest named Claude Frollo finds a horribly deformed child abounded in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Frollo names the child Quasimodo and raises him in the church. 25 years later Frollo has become the Archdeacon of Notre Dame and Quasimodo the bellringer, who amongst the citizens of Paris is also known as "the Hunchback". During the Feast of Fools, a young gypsy dancer Esmeralda unintentionally wakes the carnal desires inside of Frollo. She also gains the attentions of Quasimodo, a poet Gringoire and Captain Phoebus of King's guards.

This 1982 TV movie of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is an interesting mix of Victor Hugo's book and previous movies of the story. During some parts of the film the story seems to be very close to Hugo's book, whereas in others it seems to follow the footsteps of the famous 1939 version. Not only that, but film does include some ideas of its own. Frollo's pupil Philippe never appeared in the book or other movies, and this is the only version along with the Disney movie where Esmeralda gives Quasimodo a kiss.

Technically the movie is quite well done for a TV production. Replica of Notre Dame is extremely well made, but some scenes really suffer. In other versions the Feast of Fools has always been presented as an extremely festive event, but here I see none of it. Almost looks like there's not a single person in Paris who would want to celebrate. Also the Court of Miracles scene is a letdown. On the other hand, the angry mob invading Notre Dame is surprisingly well managed.

As for cast, the film includes two amazing performances from Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi. Hopkins, nearly a decade before his fame as Hannibal Lecter, goes right there with the first Lon Chaney as my favorite Quasimodo. You can hardly recognize the man under all the makeup but he really puts passion to his role and makes a touching performance. The scene of Quasimodo crying after receiving water from Esmeralda, and later when we see how ashamed he is of his ugliness when near her, are truly heartbreaking ones. Jacobi completely nails the character of Claude Frollo, showing a priest dedicated for God, but who becomes obsessed of a girl who woke his hidden needs. Jacobi is fantastic in the role, showing a good man on his journey to madness. His scene with Esmeralda in the dungeon shows actual torment and conflict.

Rest of the cast is so and so. I was really excited to see David "Hercule Poirot" Suchet as Clopin, but the film keeps his part frustratingly short and Suchet doesn't really have any chances to explore the role. Pity, because he does look great for the part. Robert Powell is a great actor and he does capture the egoistic gambler and skirt-chaser that Phoebus is, but he doesn't look right to the part for me. Biggest disappointment comes from Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda. Not only is she the weakest link of the cast but she also lacks the looks. She is pretty, but not pretty enough to make entire Paris drool after her. Her dance scene is a big disappointment, no thrill whatsoever. Gerry Sundquist is okay as Gringoire but that's it. I certainly fail to see why he should get Esmeralda. Tim Piggot-Smith's invented character Philippe serves no purpose in the story.

The film is lacking in some parts but is decent to watch and it does have two remarkable performances from Hopkins and Jacobi, which alone are worth seeing for. Also during Esmeralda's trial scene you can enjoy cameos of Nigel Hawthorne as Judge and John Gielgud as the Inquisitor.

Notre-Dame de Paris
(1956)

Not the best, but does come closest to the book
It's no wonder that people who have been introduced to the story of "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" by big movie versions, like the 1939 classic or 1996 Disney animation, don't often know what really happens in Victor Hugo's classic book "Notre Dame de Paris". I have seen totally six different movie version of the story, and although none of them is completely bad, only one has actually been really accurate to the events of the book.

Although I will always say that the 1939 Hollywood version is the absolute best, this 1956 French/Italian film is closest to the book, as far as plot is concerned. Esmeralda does not fall in love with Gringoire, it's Claude Frollo and not his brother Jehan who lusts after Esmeralda and in the end almost all the main characters die. Yet, in a strange way, it does make some subtle differences also. Esmeralda is not young and innocent girl unaware of the reactions she causes in men. This Esmeralda is more mature, yet even she can't help but fall under Phoebus' charm. Claude Frollo is not an archdeacon, filmmakers probably still afraid of making a priest the villain. Instead he is an alchemist who has lived in the tower of Notre Dame almost his whole life. This is kind of strange since it's said in the film "he is in disgrace with the church". It also diminishes bit of the conflict that happens in him when he becomes obsessed of Esmeralda.

Still, I'm sure fans of Hugo can enjoy this version, if they are ready to forgive the few artistic liberties. For a film made in Europe that obviously doesn't have the big budget Hollywood could use, the sets of Notre Dame's cathedral and the 15'Th century Paris are surprisingly well done. Although the low budget does make some scenes suffer, like Quasimodo' "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"- scene, Jean Delannoy's direction keeps the story going and Georges Auric's music is beautiful to listen to. However some of the English dub does bother in the film that really should have been released in French.

The Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, ones called "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World", plays the more mature and sensual Esmeralda, and she makes it very clear why half the Paris is drooling after her. I was surprised to see how little makeup Anthony Quinn wears as Quasimodo, yet he completely convinces that this person has been seen as a freak his whole life. His performance is very physical, making Quasimodo seem like a beast who tries to be human, instead of Charles Laughton's poetic soul. Alain Cuny is bit too brooding as Frollo, but he does look up to part. Still, I feel screenplay didn't give him enough chances to fully explore the role. Jean Danet as Phoebus is not really anything but a jerk full of himself, but since that's how I see Phoebus I have nothing against him. Philippe Clay seems nothing like the Clopin I pictured from the book, yet there's something about his rather humorous performance that I like. Jean Tissier also makes a very subtle and slimy performance as King Louis XI, who in previous 1939 film was portrayed as a rather good guy. Robert Hirsch as Gringoire is not memorable and Maurice Sarfati as Jehan is simply annoying.

Although the 1956 film is neither the best nor the finest version of the story, it does come closest to the book than any other film I've seen and is definitely worth watching. It's not a bad film, yet it could have been far better also.

EDIT: I recently saw original French speaking version of this film. I recommend seeing that one. Not only because they speak French so you don't have to bare the horrible English dub, but it also has scenes that were deleted from English cut and Alain Cuny shows a lot more torment and conflict as Frollo.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1939)

Simply the best film version of the story
The 1939 Hollywood version of "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" is without a doubt the finest film adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel "Notre Dame de Paris". Visually stunning, technically ahead of its time with memorable casting and a powerful direction together create a beautiful historical drama that overshadows all the other adaptations of the story.

Director William Dieterle has obviously wanted to make everything better than it was in Hollywood's first film version of "Notre Dame" back in 1923. The film is filled with spectacular scenes. In no other versions has the Feast of Fools, Court of Miracles, Esmeralda giving water to Quasimodo, Esmeralda's saving from the gallows and Quasimodo defending Notre Dame from angry mob- scenes been so lavishly presented. The sets of the 15'Th century Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral are pure Hollywood gold. This film has also been an obvious inspiration to many of the later film adaptations, like the two TV films from 1982 and 1997, as well as Disney's 1996 animation. Quasimodo's famous line "Why was I not made of stone like thee?" especially has been repeated in almost every version.

Word of caution though; the fans of Victor Hugo's book should not think that "best adaptation" also equals "most faithful adaptation". Like the 1923 version, this too has gotten quite a makeover, makers obviously didn't want to make a tragedy where all the characters die. This is the first version that creates a romance between Esmeralda and a poet Gringoire, who in more faithful versions usually appears as comical relief of the film. This film also didn't want to present the priest as a villain so, like in the 1923 version, archdeacon Claude Frollo is a good man, whereas his brother Jehan is the bad guy. To still be close to Hugo, Jehan in this version has been made Chief Justice of Paris, a position later given to Claude in Disney version.

Rarely does one see a film that has such a great casting as this one. Charles Laughton is the most well-known actor to play Quasimodo. Though I personally prefer the performances of Lon Chaney and Anthony Hopkins over Laughton, that is not to say that he would be bad. Laughton makes his Quasimodo a gentle, kind character with an almost poetic soul trapped in a horribly deformed body. Laughton's performance has been an inspiration to many later actors trying the role and his physical look was copied almost completely to the Disney version character. Thomas Mitchell gives the most powerful performance of Clopin ever. His King of the Beggars is hot blooded, realistic man of the action who knows every trick in the book. Out of all more heroic Gringoire's ever made to films, Edmond O'Brien is the only one who really nails the part. In minor roles Walter Hampden as the Archdeacon Claude and Harry Davenport as King Louis XI are doing great job.

Still, for me the real stars of this movie are Maureen O'Hara and Cedric Hardwicke. O'Hara is quite simply the best Esmeralda ever to appear on screen. Beautiful yet innocent and somewhat naive girl, who cares deeply for her people and has enough heart to see more in Quasimodo than just his looks. No other actress has been as enchanting and moving in the role as she. As the Judge Frollo, Hardwicke creates a cold man of authority with a strong prejudice against gypsies. Yet when he becomes obsessed of Esmeralda, you can see a tremendous conflict happening in him, until he decides that he must either have her or be rid of her. Hardwicke shows all this with his eyes while still keeping the cool composure. The scenes where he tries to get Esmeralda to come with him and later when he confesses to his archdeacon brother that he killed Phoebus (yes, in the version Phoebus dies) are acting in finest.

Although certainly very freely adapted version of Hugo's book, this 1939 version is still the best of them all. For those wanting to see more faithful film of the book, turn your attention to the 1956 version.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1923)

Stunning big production silent classic with the amazing Lon Chaney
Victor Hugo's classic story "Notre Dame de Paris", or as it's more commonly known as "Hunchback of Notre Dame", was filmed in Hollywood as early as in the 1920's, during the era of silent films. The result is one of the biggest silent film productions, with a budget of over one million dollars and a team of hundreds.

If there ever comes a moment when you think that silent films are really primitive and don't have much a quality, just take a one look of this classic and dare to think so again. The sets of the 15'Th century Paris, along with very detailed replica of Notre Dame Cathedral, are absolutely stunning to view, even in this day. The actor's are overall all doing a superb job and the director, Wallace Worsley, keeps the entire production nicely together.

Hugo's story has gone through some changes, producers probably thinking that they can't let every character in the film die. So unlike in the book Phoebus is presented as a really chivalrous good guy. Not wanting to anger church by making a priest the bad guy of the film, Claude Frollo is a good archdeacon of Notre Dame, whereas his not-so-good brother Jehan is the scumbag lusting after Esmeralda. On the other hand, film does also have some scenes and elements from the book that other movie versions have failed to show, for example the crazy old woman living in cathedral has never appeared in any other film. Also not many versions tend to show Quasimodo's acrobatic skills of jumping from one gargoyle to another, but this film has one amazing scene where he literally climbs down from the bell tower to the streets of Paris.

19 years old Patsy Ruth Miller is both beautiful and innocent in her demanding role as Esmeralda, and her performance just might be the most closest to Hugo's book. Norman Kerry starts in the film as a bit too egoistic Phoebus but soon turns into a good guy and delivers an okay performance. Ernest Torrence is fantastic as Clopin, king of the beggars, who dreams of better times for his "people" and Raymond Hatton delivers the only genuinely funny Gringoire performance I've seen, most memorable the scene where he tries to eat from Phoebus' table. Nigel De Brulier plays the saint-like good archdeacon and Brandon Hurst his evil, wicked brother. Both men are fine in their roles and I think either one could have also survived a more faithful performance as Frollo, if the character had been kept like in the book.

But seriously, the true star of this movie is Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. Although Chaney had appeared in numerous films before "Hunchback", it was the role of Quasimodo that finally brought the much deserved recognition for "the Man of Thousand Faces". The makeup that Chaney designed for himself alone is impressive, with deformed face and heavy hunch, but to be able to perform so many emotions through that makeup and without a sound…truly amazing work, even better than Charles Laughton. The most touching moment of the film is when Esmeralda softly strokes Quasimodo's head and Chaney shows so many emotions while doing very little. Also Quasimodo's death scene has never been as touching as in this movie. Chaney would couple years later play the title character in "the Phantom of the Opera", the film he is best remembered from. Yet he does deserve equal amount of good credit from his role as Quasimodo.

Although often marketed as "early horror film", the silent version of "Hunchback of Notre Dame" is most of all a historical drama. It's certainly not the most faithful version to the Hugo's book and is pretty long film also, over two hours. However it's also visually and technically stunning film and has a great casting. Recommended to both silent film lovers and the fans of Victor Hugo's works.

Hauru no ugoku shiro
(2004)

An enjoyable film
In an alternate world where magic is taken granted, a young woman named Sophie Hatter, lives a quiet life. While her sister gets all the attention in the world, Sophie has accepted a far less visible role as a silent woman who works in the back room of her family shop. Then one day, by a misunderstanding, Sophie angers a powerful Witch of the Waste, who transforms Sophie to an old woman. Sophie starts to look for a possible cure for the spell and ends up working in a moving castle, run by Howl, a young sorcerer with a questionable reputation. How will a headstrong young/old woman who has finally started to come out of her shell manage with a vain and self-centered sorcerer, who might be her only hope?

"Howl's Moving Castle" (Hauru no ugoku shiro, 2004) is loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones' novel of the same name. Those who have read the book, especially if they loved it, should prepare themselves that although settings and the characters are mostly the same, the movie does not follow book from word to word, but makes its own version of the same situation. There are some rather notable changes; like that Howl's young student is much younger in the film than he was in the book. However, the themes of the book are present in the film, as well as characters have retained their personalities mostly. Wynne Jones herself gave the film her blessing and enjoyed it, so I guess there is no harm done.

Technically the film is once again a delight from maestro Hayao Miyazaki, though it doesn't reach the heights of his previous works. The many details of the alternative, very European looking, world and the moving castle itself (which gives the feeling that it will fall to pieces any given moment) are amazing to watch. Joe Hisaishi also delivers once again a beautiful score to the film, also very European sounding. From the voice acting department I can only comment on the great original Japanese ones, though I've heard that the English dub is not too bad either. Biggest difference would probably be that in Japanese audio Sophie only has one voice actress, whereas in English dub her young and old self are voiced by two different women.

After such amazing masterpieces as "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away", "Howl's Moving Castle" is a slight step back in Miyazaki's career. However, it certainly is not a bad film and easily outshines majority of western animations of the past five years. A recommendable film.

Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi
(2001)

One of the most amazing films ever made!
A 10 year old girl Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new town, when they get lost on the way. They arrive to what seems to be an empty amusement park in where they find tables filled with delicious food, even when there seems to be not a soul around. Greed possesses both mom and dad and they start to eat from the tables. Sadly, it turns out that the amusement park is actually a gateway to another dimension, and the food was meant for many Gods and spirits who dwell there. A powerful witch Yubaba transforms Chihiro's parents to pigs. To save herself and her parents, Chihiro starts to work in Yubaba's bathhouse. There she meets a young dragon-boy Haku, a big sister like Lin and a strange spirit called No-Face who starts to stalk Chihiro.

After the success of his masterpiece "Princess Mononoke", Hayao Miyazaki planned to retire from animation business. Thank God, some quality time with family persuaded Miyazaki to return to Studio Ghibli and make this, his second masterpiece, and in my opinion his best film. "Spirited Away" (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, 2001) is the most visually amazing, imaginative and heart warming animation I have ever seen (and should definitely have a place in Top 10 Best Fantasy films ever- list). Not only is this, again in my opinion, best Miyazaki film, it is also best Ghibli film and, if not the best, one of the best animations ever made. This film shows more imaginative story telling and detailed characters than all the Star Wars films together. Miyazaki's regular composer, Joe Hisaishi, also deserves special mentioning. Although his music has always been perfect for Miyazaki's earlier films, I really think that he too reached completely new levels here. From the simplest piano notes to the full orchestra symphony, Hisaishi creates some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard in…well, anywhere really.

Not only visually fantastic, the movie also manages to keep a very clear plot together and create actually characters viewer truly cares about. Chihiro, despite her rather fantastic surroundings, appears as a very realistic little girl. She is incredibly clumsy at times (I am amazed she didn't break any of her bones during the film) and at times can't take anymore of her new situation and just wants to curl up and cry. Despite that she does finds the energy and determination to strive forward. You just can't help but love her. Also her first-love romance with Haku is really touching.

"Spirited Away" is Hayao Miyazaki's own kind of version of "Alice in Wonderland" and also the most fantastic movie he has made. The film deserved to be awarded with the best animation Oscar in 2001. If Miyazaki ever creates a movie that can surpass this one, as both visually and emotionally fantastic, then he is not a man but a God. One of the most amazing films ever to come across.

Mononoke-hime
(1997)

Miyazaki's first true masterpiece
In an ancient Japan, at a time when Gods and demons walked the earth, a young prince Ashitaka defends his village from a furious demon. Ashitaka slays the beast, but is cursed to suffer an early death. His only hope is to travel to a forest where the Great Spirit is said to dwell. As Ashitaka approaches his destination, he gets in the middle of a war. On the other side is an iron town, lead by Lady Eboshi, who wants to expand their town and live in peace of the beasts. On the other side are the Gods and animals of the forest, who also want to protect their homes. In the forest lives also San, a young girl raised by wolves, who fights for the forest and is after Lady Eboshi. While trying to find a cure for himself, Ashitaka also tries to put a stop to war that will have no winners. But how does a cunning monk Jiko fit in this picture?

"Princess Mononoke" (Mononoke-hime, 1997) is maestro Hayao Miyazaki's first true masterpiece. I'm not saying his previous movies would be bad; on the contrary, you can read my reviews of them and know I love them. However, "Princess Mononoke", as well as Miyazaki's later film "Spirited Away", reaches a whole new heights. In this film, Miyazaki returns back to his anti-war and protect the nature themes that he already had in "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind". Especially the mindlessness of the war is well shown in this film. Miyazaki has avoided the cliché situation that on the other side are good guys and on the other bad guys. Both sides have their reasons to get rid of the other one. Both are good guys because they protect their homes and communities, but both are also bad guys: iron town wants to destroy the forest and the beasts want to kill humans. By making Ashitaka, an outsider, the main character we are able to see the war also as an outsider's point of view. We understand the reasons behind both sides, but we can also see that this war will not bring a happy ending to either of the sides.

The first time I saw this film I was truly awed. Still at the time being relatively unfamiliar to Miyazaki's works there was nothing that could have prepared me for this. Visually this film is so much more powerful than anything I have seen from Disney or in any other western animation (or in most of Japanese animations for that matter!). The only animations to come to same level with such detailed designs and visual awesomeness are Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" and Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira" (both also from Japan). And what would Miyazaki movie be without the music of Joe Hisaishi. From the epic opening score to the beautiful theme song, Hisaishi offers only the best.

It should also be mentioned that "Princess Mononoke" has a surprisingly good English dub. I usually prefer original Japanese audios, often finding dubs either lacking or going over board. Only few times do I find dub to be as great as the original audio (anime series "Fullmetal Alchemist" is one of these cases). In "Mononoke" the English lines are written by Neil Gaiman, author of the books "Stardust" and "Neverwhere". This might explain why "Mononoke" is the only case when I found the dub even better than the original audio. This has never happened before or later to me. Japanese audio is by no means bad, but talented dubbing cast (including Claire Danes, Minnie Driver and Billy Bob-Thornton) seem to bring just a little bit more life to it.

"Princess Mononoke" is an awesome movie, both visually and as a story telling. It has great characters, meaningful story, beautiful score and sequences that make your jaw drop. To me only "Spirited Away" tops this as the best Hayao Miyazaki film.

NOTICE: unlike other Miyazaki films, this can not be recommended to the smallest of the family. Some scenes during the battles are rather graphic.

Mimi wo sumaseba
(1995)

Ghibli's realistic and warm take on romantic movies
Every year, we are blessed (or cursed in most cases) with lots and lots of romantic films, that usually repeat the same formula: boy and girl meet, they don't like each others, find out they share something, spend more time together and ultimately fall in love. For the past 15 years alone there have been made more and more of these films than I can count, most coming from America or England. While some of them are original and enjoyable, most just follow the same pattern without much else. So what then when Studio Ghibli made their own film about the subject?

The plot, based on Aio Hiragi's one volume manga, follows a young girl named Shizuku, who reads a lot and has a hobby of making lyrics. Her dream is to become an authoress. While struggling with her hobbies, dreams and every day problems, like getting her friend hooked up with a certain boy, Shizuku notices that most of the books she has loaned from library, have also been loaned by some unknown person. At the same time she meets a boy named Seiji who, in her opinion, is jerk jerk jerk!!!

Sounds like a plot of a movie you've seen already? Think again. "Whisper of the Heart" (Mimi wo sumaseba, 1995) is a very different kind of high-school romance movie. In fact, the actual romance is hardly even there to be seen. Shizuku is the main character of the film and we see just about everything from her point of view. And we follow her life as it contains her friends, family, school, hobbies and dreams. The sudden appearance of love is just something that happened on the way and is presented far more realistic here than in most of the live action movies I have seen. This film thankfully avoids all the clichés of this genre.

The film does capture the warm feeling though and is highly recommendable. Some people might view it as a "chick flick" and maybe the girls are the primary targets for this film. Yet I enjoyed it greatly too, and I certainly am not "a chick". The only way I can think of calling this film is a realistic romantic movie. Maybe hard to believe since it is animation but I've learned to expect the unexpected from Ghibli. Also, the song that Shizuku is trying to make in the film is Olivia Newton-John's "Take me home, Country road" translated to Japanese. I enjoyed the translation, possibly because it was sang by Youko Honna, the voice actress who plays Shizuku with talent, and who had previously worked for Ghibli in another little movie called "Only Yesterday".

This film was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, a man who had worked as an animator in numerous previous Studio Ghibli films. Hayao Miyazaki himself had intended Kondo to be his successor when he would retire. Sadly, Kondo died in 1998, leaving this film as his first and last direction. One can only guess what kind of films he might have made.

"Whisper of the Heart" is a warm little film from Studio Ghibli, that tells about striving to achieve dreams and finding love unexpectedly. Recommended to those who want to see more realistic high-school romance or simply watch another great Studio Ghibli movie.

As an interesting side note; the talking cat, Baron, who appears in Shizuku's dream later became main character in Ghibli's fantasy film "The Cat Returns" that hardly has anything to do with this film.

Kurenai no buta
(1992)

Miyazaki's tribute for flying and old Bogart films
The film is set in the 1920's Europe, when the sea planes ruled the Mediterranean. The main character is Marco, a pilot of a red aircraft, who for some unknown reasons happens to look like a humanoid pig and for this has earned a local nickname Porco Rosso. He spends most of his days flying with his plane, making the lives of many air-pirates in the area difficult and meeting with a beautiful Miss Gina in the local restaurant that she owns. Marco's easy life however gets complicated when an American pilot Curtis comes around to challenge Marco for the title of best pilot. Also, a young mechanic girl named Fio gets in the picture.

"Porco Rosso" (Kurenai no buta, 1992) is once again a proof that Hayao Miyazaki is the grand master in the area of animations. Miyazaki's long time obsession with flying and aircrafts has shown in his previous movies also (especially in "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind") but in "Porco Rosso" he truly gets to put his visions to screen. The many sequences of flying are visually stunning, so that even when flying is a common element in animations, "Porco Rosso" towers above others in this area. Animation is once again simply great and Joe Hisaishi never fails to make a perfect soundtrack.

The story is very easy going, almost like an old time adventure film from the 1930's and 40's Hollywood. The character of Marco also has many qualities that many of Humphrey Bogart's roles at the times had: the way he dresses in civil, the constant drinking and a little bit of cynical touches in his views of life, but despite them he still does what is right. Marco is very lovable character, no matter how grumpy he appears (lighter version of Dr. House, if you prefer). Also his on/off romance with Miss Gina is interesting to watch.

"Porco Rosso" is another sample of the Hayao Miyazaki's great works. It is also a fantastic tribute for his love towards flying and plane as well as an interesting animated version of Hollywood's old classic films.

Omohide poro poro
(1991)

One of the loveliest films about life
As far as I am able to tell, Disney has refused to distribute only two of Studio Ghibli's films. One is Isao Takahata's masterpiece "Grave of the Fireflies", which is understandable considering that a film is about two children dying in a war, which might be too much for Disney's image. The other film is also Takahata's direction, "Only Yesterday" (Omohide poro poro, 1991). However, unlike with "Grave of the Fireflies" I fail to see any reason why Disney would be against this one.

The story is about a woman named Taeko, who works in a city and during her holidays travels to the country to visit her childhood hometown. On her way from the crowded streets back to the quiet country side, Taeko starts to go through her memories of when she was a child. The film itself doesn't have much of a plot to reveal because it is the little things in the film that matter. Taeko doesn't get dragged in a huge adventure with the faith of the world on her shoulders and she doesn't have some amazing achievement or dark secret in her past. The things she has gone through in her past and the things she goes through present are all simple everyday things that I am sure most people can appreciate and relate to.

It is once again viewers' emotions that Takahata strikes. Where "Grave of the Fireflies" made viewers cry for the unfairness of life, "Only Yesterday" will make you smile. It is a simple little film pointing out how the littlest things in life are the ones worth living: the first time you tasted an exotic fruit, went to a popular place, had your first crush to that cute boy/girl in your school, and other things. It also shows how sometimes it is good to go back and revisit those events of your life.

Technically the film offers once again the best of animations from Studio Ghibli and the brilliant voice acting (this only goes for Japanese audio, I have no idea what the English one sounds like). Also worth mentioning is Masaru Hoshi's beautiful piano music.

Once again Isao Takahata has managed to make a film that hits the emotions of the viewers, this time causing nostalgia, and random happiness. I remember seeing this film first time and how it caused me to smile the following hours (which didn't stop until I started watching Galaxy Express 999, which I also saw for the first time that day). A simple, lovely film from Studio Ghibli, far more for adults than children. Which might be the reason why Disney is not distributing this.

You gui zi
(1976)

So bad it's great!
I saw this Meng Hua Ho's film "Oily Maniac" (You gui zi, 1976) few days ago then and I loved it. It is a terrible film but it's so bad that it's good.

The main character is a gribble named Shen Yuan (Danny Lee) who works for a slimy prosecutor. Job is terrible and relationship with the girl he's loved since childhood is not working. Then one day Shen's friend accidentally stabs a man to death and is sentenced to be executed in half an hour (talk about a legal system!). As his last wish the man asks Shen to copy a tattoo from his back that is supposed to be a spell that Shen's father, who was a shaman, put there (why he did so, is never revealed). Later on as Shen curses how bad his life is he remembers the spell. As a part of the spell you must dig a hole in the middle of your house. Good thing Shen doesn't live in a storehouse or any decent looking house either, so the digging is pretty easy. When the spell is completed Shen turns into Oily Maniac, a super powerful monster. After done the spell the first time Shen can turn to Oily Maniac by washing himself with oil. Shen decides to use his powers to kill all the bad people in the world (or in the neighborhood area at least).

The monster in this film, Oily Maniac, is one of the most cheapest and ridiculous looking film monsters ever: dressed in black overalls and with yellow eyes. His movements sometimes are so slow and clumsy that he resembles a turtle on his back (which makes other actors panicked reactions all the more hilarious). Oily Maniac also only has one roar that then is repeated over and over again. He can also turn to a puddle of oil that can move under doors (some of the worst special effects I have ever seen!) and when he moves he is accompanied by a rip-off music from "Jaws".

This film is just about as bad as it can be, but if you watch it with humor then you'll be rewarded with great laughs. The illogical plot alone would make me smile any day, but when the film is also added with bad special effects, self-ironic acting and a decent amount of nudity (I imagine the film is mainly directed for guys) the result was truly enjoyable. Not to mention that not all of the humor in the film was accidental: the court room scene was obviously meant for laughs and works perfectly.

Want to see a film so bad you won't believe it? Want to have great laughs at the expense of cheap movie? Want to see a clumsy monster killing a rapist and then decently covering the unconscious victim's breasts? If so then "Oily Maniac" is your film!!!

Majo no takkyûbin
(1989)

Warm and delightful film for young and old
Hayao Miyazaki is a surprising bloke. Just when you think you know what to expect from him, he pulls the carpet right under your feet. After "My Neighbour Totoro" you'd think that Miyazaki possibly could not make another as delightful animation that is suitable for all ages, and you know what he did? Another delightful animation for all ages! Man deserves to be saluted.

"Kiki's Delivery Service" (Majo no takkyûbin, 1989) is adaptation of Eiko Kadono's book. Like almost all Miyazaki's movies, the story is set in a world that may look much like the real world, but is not. This time the film would seem to be placed in the 1950's Europe, except the existence of witches and magic is taken as granted and neither of the World Wars ever happened. The protagonist Kiki is a thirteen years old witch who must, as all young witches must, leave her home for one year and live in another town on her own. Her mother is worried, for Kiki doesn't posses any other kind of magical abilities than flying on a broom. This doesn't put young girl down, who is filled with enthusiasm. Along with her talking black cat Jiji, Kiki moves to a town by the sea, where she then tries to fit in a community. Along the way she meets various different people, like baker woman Osono and her quiet husband, young artist woman Ursula and Tombo, inventor boy to whom flying is almost an obsession.

Though "Kiki" has more plot than "Totoro" has, they are both the most delightful films Miyazaki has made for all families to watch. I don't know how he has manages to capture such a good feeling to these animations, but I for one am brightened up by "Kiki" and I didn't see this movie till I was 17-18 year old. The town where Kiki settles in looks very European, and was most probably inspired by Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, along with other European cities. The animators have done a grand job with it, and I personally wouldn't mind living there. Miyazaki has gotten a good excuse once again to bring his fascination with flying to the film, through both Kiki's broom flying and Tombo's obsession of aircrafts. And music is, of course, done by the always amazing Joe Hisaishi who certainly doesn't let us down this time either.

I've never heard neither the original nor new Disney English dubs, so I honestly can't compare them to each others or Japanese audio. The original Japanese is done of course with perfection in mind and the film features not one but two just-starting-their-career-famous-voice-actors. Minami Takayama (Nabiki in "Ranma ½", Dilandau in "Vision of Escaflowne" and Conan Edogawa in "Detective Conan") voices both Kiki and Ursula, and especially as the protagonist her voice is so perfect for the part, I honestly can't imagine how Kirsten Dunst could top that. As the inventor boy Tombo, we hear Kappei Yamaguchi, famous for his roles as Ranma in "Ranma ½", Shinichi Kudo in "Detective Conan", title character in "Inuyasha" and L in "Death Note". Rei Sakuma also deserves to be mentioned for voicing Kiki's companion Jiji.

I've heard that especially young women have found liking to this movie. This is probably due to the fact that movie does, subtly, tell about young girls difficulties to find her own place and how hard it is for her to keep her faith in herself. Whenever Kiki starts to doubt herself, it shows as a lack of ability to fly anymore. I'm sure many people, women and men alike, can relate to this problem and therefore feel sympathy for the character.

Do I need to say it? Miyazaki did it again with this film and if people back in 1989 started to think he can't improve from this, he proved them wrong.

Tonari no Totoro
(1988)

A warm and delightful animation that can be enjoyed many times.
In 1988, Studio Ghibli took quite a financial risk in making two films at the same time. One was "Grave of the Fireflies", Isao Takahata's undeniable masterpiece. The other one is this, Hayao Miyazaki's final break through as an internationally known director, "My Neighbour Totoro" (Tonari no Totoro, 1988). Although the difference between the two films is like a day and night, they have both earned their places amongst great animations. If "Grave of the Fireflies" made you cry, "Totoro" will quickly put a smile back to your face.

The story centers around two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who move to country with their father, while their mother is recovering in a hospital from an unspecified illness. While the girls try to cope with their mother's situation and their new environment, they also meet a strange spirit named Totoro who lives in the nearby forest.

There really is nothing more to tell about the plot without giving away too much. "Totoro" is a very simple film and works that way. It's absolutely positive film, one that makes you smile, no matter if you're a child of not. This may be the most "suitable for children film" Miyazaki has made, but it is certainly suitable for more mature viewers also. I am nearly 20 year old guy and I think this is a fantastic film. It's such a perfect family movie in many ways. For one there are the fantasy elements with Totoro (who looks so utterly incredible that it's no wonder it made to Ghibli's logo) and the various incredible things the girls experience with it. But there are also suitable amount of realism (with the mother and her illness) that the film stays nicely close to earth.

I really have difficult time explaining what makes this film so unique. Like most Ghibli films you just have to experience them. The various scenes in this film are at the same time so simple and yet so imaginative you wouldn't believe it (my favorite is the scene where Satsuki and Totoro both wait a buss in the rain). "Totoro" simply has that magic of animation that makes you love it. Technically the film is yet another sample of Miyazaki's talents, and with this film I believe he finally reached his own style that has followed to his later films. Joe Hisaishi once again creates the most magical music that a film like this deserves. I haven't heard either of the two English dubs so I can't tell about them, but Japanese audio is once again done with professional talent. The older sister Satsuki is voiced by Noriko Hidaka, whom anime fans know as Akane in "Ranma 1/2", Jean in "Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water", Kikyo in "Inuyasha" and Near in "Death Note". In a minor role as the mother of the girls, is Sumi Shimamoto, who voiced the title character in early Ghibli movie "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind".

I really would want to recommend this film more and tell about how fantastic and adorable it is, but I simply can't find words for it. I happily recommend this film, no matter if you watch it alone or with a whole family. It made me smile like a ten year old, and that doesn't happen very often. This film lasts through many views.

Hotaru no haka
(1988)

Takahata's Masterpiece
Most of the famous war films ever made, like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Cross of Iron", usually try to show the film and the war from the point of view of soldiers, those who fought in there. It is rare to see a film from the point of view of the innocent victims of the war. Probably the most famous film of victims is Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List". Even rarer is an animated film of victims of war. Animations in western countries are usually labeled as children's stuff, so it is no wonder Disney has refused to distribute this film, one of the Studio Ghibli's greatest works.

"September 21, 1945… that was the night I died"

With those words starts director Isao Takahata's most famous film, "Grave of the Fireflies" (Hotaru no haka, 1988). Unlike his long time friend and colleague Hayao Miyazaki, Takahata prefers to leave fantasy elements in his films to minimum. This is the way how Takahata amazes viewers. If Miyazaki's fantastic visions make our jaws drop to floor with amazement, Takahata's close to reality stories touch us deeply by hitting our emotions. And "Grave of the Fireflies" certainly does that masterly, being the only film that has ever managed to move me to the point of tears (and I am *not* a teary guy).

The film, based on a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, tells the story of a young boy named Seita, who with his little sister Setsuko, lives in the 1940's Japan, during the World War II. After loosing their mother during a bombing, Seita does everything in his power to create an illusion for Setsuko that things are fine and there is nothing to worry about. The film has been often blamed of being too depressing and having a sad end, but I think it's the opposite. Of course this certainly is not the kind of film to make you smile, but it is already revealed in the beginning that both brother and sister will die. So when we reach the end of the movie, with an image of them as spirits, sitting on a bench looking happy and healthy, with a modern day city around them, this is actually a happy ending after all the suffering they went through.

It's very hard to say exactly why this film should deserve full stars from me. It just does. It's full of little beautiful scenes that instantly have an effect on you, accompanied by Michio Mamiya's peaceful music. Maybe the fact that it can make me wonder why it is so good is the proof enough to make it a masterpiece. And that is what "Grave of the Fireflies" is; a masterpiece. One of the most amazing films from Studio Ghibli and Isao Takahata's most famous film. And definitely the ultimate proof that animations can be used for other than children's stories.

Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta
(1986)

Action filled adventure to the whole family
Two years after the success of "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind", the makers released their second film, officially Studio Ghibli's first motion picture. "Laputa- Castle in the Sky" (Tenku no shiro Rapyuta, 1986) is one of maestro Hayao Miyazaki's most action filled adventure films, where his imaginative visions and never aging animation is once again combined with Joe Hisaishi's beautiful music.

This time story is set in an alternative world that has futuristic flying aircrafts but seems otherwise still be in the early 20'Th century. Film's protagonist Pazu is a young boy working in mines, and who dreams of one day finding Laputa, the legendary castle in the sky that his late father claimed to have seen, but whom nobody believed. Pazu's chance to prove his father was right comes unexpectedly when a girl literally falls from the sky to his arms. The girl is Sheeta and she carries with her the key to find Laputa. Since Laputa is claimed to have limitless riches and unforeseen science, Sheeta is chased by air-pirate Dola and her gang, as well as Muska, a power hungry man working for the government. Pazu helps Sheeta and together they try to find Laputa before others.

I can imagine how a nowadays Hollywood would probably use a plot like this as an excuse to create a movie with lots of special effects and very little contents. Miyazaki on the other hand over 20 years ago then gave us a film that is both entertaining action film for the whole family and that has interesting and believable characters (interestingly though, this is Miyazaki's only film that has a truly evil villain character, unlike in his later films). As "Nausicaä" this film's animation has not suffered much during the last decades and is still far more pleasant to watch, than most of the nowadays western animations. Miyazaki's love for flying and aircrafts shows throughout the whole film and everything is crowned with Joe Hisaishi's wonderful score music.

I can't comment the original English dub since I've never heard it, but I can compare the original Japanese audio to Disney's 2003 English audio. The new dub has divided opinions a lot since it has altered the original score and added much more lines to the film. The extra lines may be more helpful to the youngest of the family, but really unnecessary for others. Since Joe Hisaishi himself conducted the altered score for the new dub, there really isn't anything bad to say about this and since dub has even more music, it just might be better. Fans of the original Japanese audio though may be puzzled by the changes in the original score. Voice actors differ. Both Mayumi Tanaka and Keiko Yokozawa are believable as kids, Pazu and Sheeta, but neither James Van Der Beek nor Anna Paquin convinces in the dub, having too mature voices. Kotoe Hatsui and Cloris Leachman are both on the same level as pirate Dola, both making the character witty, funny and sarcastic. On the other hand, Mark Hamill completely surpasses Minori Terada in the role of villainous Muska, Hamill's voice being more menacing and evil (10 years of voicing Joker probably helped). So, Disney's dub has more music and Mark Hamill, but otherwise I recommend original Japanese audio. But to each their own taste.

Miyazaki's style is not quite there on the top still in this film, but the story telling takes you completely from the very start that you can't but love this film. It is also suitable for all ages, though has moments that mature audience appreciates more. Another classic from Ghibli.

Kaze no tani no Naushika
(1984)

24 years old and outshines many modern animations
"Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" (Kaze no tani no Naushika, 1984) is often credited as Studio Ghibli's first major film, though technically Ghibli didn't exist at the time film was made, but was founded with the money the film made. However, since the people behind "Nausicaä" became the leading forces of Ghibli (Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki plus the films music is composed by Joe Hisaishi) it is often marked as Ghibli's first film.

The story is set thousand years into the future, where majority of the world has been destroyed in wars and the planet is covered by constantly spreading jungle, that is poisonous to humans but not to gigantic insects living in them. The jungle and insects may seem like the primary concern for the last living human cities, but truthfully the danger is brought by humans themselves, who still haven't learn from past mistakes. A small Valley of the Wind is caught between a war of two bigger nations that are set to destroy the jungle and insects. The Princess of the Valley, Nausicaä, however knows that destroying the jungle would only bring more suffering and determines to stop the war before it is too late.

After 24 years of its release, Hayao Miyazaki's second film (first is "Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro" from 1979) has survived to this day remarkably well. The traditional animation is far more pleasant to eyes than the nowadays computer-animated-CGI-3D-whatever films that Disney and Pixar give us. "Nausicaä" combines all the great elements Miyazaki would use in his later film: interesting characters, multi-layered plot, Joe Hisaishi's beautiful music and of course the great animation. One of the important animators in the film was Hideaki Anno, who later directed anime series "Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion". The plot of the film deals with wars, protecting the nature and flying, all things that usually repeat themselves in Miyazaki's works.

In voice acting department, Sumi Shimamoto (who had voiced Lady Clarisse in Miyazaki's "Castle of Cagliostro") could not be more perfect to voice Nausicaä. Her voice truly becomes part of the animated character we see, and Alison Lohman really doesn't stand a chance against her in English dup. Neither can Uma Thurman beat the original Yoshiko Sakakibara (who usually voices tough women like Shinobu Nagumo in "Patlabor" and Integra Hellsing in "Hellsing") in the role of Kushana, who commands one of the nations in the film. Patrick Stewart on the other hand does come close to the level of original Goro Naya in the role of Yupa. Still I'd recommend the original Japanese audio more.

All in all, "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" is a film that will keep both adults and children interested and is definitely worth of watching. The film may be just a little bit longer than it should, but with a great story, music and animation it doesn't bother so much. Disney and Pixar should remind themselves that this is how great animation is made.

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