From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli is known for its whimsical fantasy movies, featuring fantastic creatures (literally) and colorful characters.

But the studio is also really good at producing calm, slice-of-life films featuring nothing other than regular human beings.

Kokuriko-zaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill) is such a movie, following the lives of high schoolers in 1968 Yokohama, Japan, who are trying to save their run-down and decrepit club house from demolition while dealing with personal problems in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War.

Continue reading “From Up on Poppy Hill”

Red Tails

Red Tails

Old war movies are frequently smeared as jingoistic and morally simplistic. There is also the reckoning with François Truffaut, who argued no movie can ever truly be antiwar.

But the history enthusiast in me always finds something to enjoy in these movies, where heroic Americans, Britons and Allies (almost always from the Anglosphere) in awe-inspiring tanks and sleek propeller planes fight the good fight against cruel Nazis and Imperial Japanese.

Nor are these films as uncritical as they are sometimes made out to be. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Bridge at Remagen (1969) and even bits of The Guns of Navarone (1961) show the sheer cruel madness of war.

It is in this context that we must consider Red Tails, the 2012 movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American fighter pilots who battled both American racism and German military might in Italy.

It does much the same things as The Great Escape (1963) or The Guns of Navarone, where Americans are heroes and Germans are villains, with the twist of race relations woven into the plot as any movie about the Tuskegee Airmen must. In this, it is far more nuanced morality-wise than the stereotypical old war movie, moving it more into the territory of The Bridge of Remagen and showing that American racism deeply affected the war effort, both in Europe and at home.

Continue reading “Red Tails”

Hugo

Hugo

I must admit that when I heard Martin Scorsese had made a kid-friendly film, I was taken aback, given his pedigree of Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990) and most recently The Irishman (2019). It seemed like something out of character for the man, and so it was in the spirit of curiosity, more than anything else, that I watched Hugo on Netflix.

I was enthralled the entire time. My doubts were entirely misplaced.

First and foremost, this feels like a Scorsese movie even without the grit and mobsters. It has his trademark tracking shots, one through Gare Montparnasse in Paris, and it’s gorgeous. It has his way of using music that I can’t quite put my finger on, but is undoubtedly filled with a certain je ne sais quoi that shows how much the man loves the medium. More generally, it has the craftsmanship that Scorsese excels at.

Continue reading “Hugo”

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines has one good idea: put cities on wheels. The rest of the movie is a succession of clichés.

Humanity has nearly destroyed itself in the equivalent of a global nuclear war. What remains of Western civilization are bandits and imperialists. In the East, peace-loving people thrive behind the protection of an enormous wall. Angry girl Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) eventually mellows and falls in love with well-intended but naive boy Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who together avert doomsday at the last minute.

Continue reading “Mortal Engines”

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The second Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, takes us to Paris in 1927 at the height of the Jazz Age.

As the title suggests, the movie continues to feature the plans of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the greatest dark wizard of his time. While he is featured, their paths cross and we do see him plot, the movie equally revolves around the personal adventures of Newt (Eddie Redmayne), his friends and other characters, separately from what Grindelwald is getting up to.

If you haven’t seen the first Fantastic Beasts movie but are familiar with Harry Potter, you might be a tiny bit confused at some points, but not so much that you can’t follow the storyline. If you are wholly unfamiliar with the Wizarding World universe, however, the movie be more confusing. But I wouldn’t say you won’t be able to enjoy it.

Continue reading “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”

Alita: Battle Angels

Alita: Battle Angel

The cyberpunk adaptation of the beloved manga is definitely a step up from many other anime adaptations we’ve seen. With names such as Christopher Waltz and Jeniffer Connely, you know that at least the cast is strong and there to support the story.

You don’t have to be familiar with the setting of Alita, although you may be left with some questions if you aren’t. The entire history of the setting isn’t explained very well.

All we know is there’s a post-apocalyptic war and people are scrambling to survive in a mostly mechanical city. Cyborgs are common and some kind of evil villain lives in a splendid city in the sky.

It’s all a bit Hollywood-esque popcorn entertainment with, to be perfectly fair, a run-of-the-mill action/love story.

Continue reading “Alita: Battle Angels”

Ostalgie in Cinema

From Deutschland 83 to HBO’s Chernobyl, “Ostalgie” — which is what the Germans call nostalgia for the communist era — has become a trend in period and alternate-history fiction.

There are many variations of this. There is “Yugo-nostalgia” in the former Yugoslavia, Soviet nostalgia in Russia, and “Communist chic” in the West.

Here is an overview of the best productions.

Continue reading “Ostalgie in Cinema”

Fail Safe

Fail Safe

Fail Safe (1964) accomplishes a lot with very little. Almost the entire movie is shot on just four sets. There is no score. Many of the shots are closeups, which feels appropriate to the crisis atmosphere. The movie succeeds because it has a solid plot and solid acting from such actors as Henry Fonda, Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau and Frank Overton.

Fail Safe was compared unfavorably to Dr. Strangelove when it first came out (a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis). Both show how a nuclear war might happen accidentally between the Soviet Union and the United States. Strangelove is superior, but, judged on its merits, Fail Safe is a strong entry in the Cold War genre.

Continue reading “Fail Safe”

The Island at the Top of the World

The Island at the Top of the World

Back in the 1970s, the Walt Disney Company produced a series of adventure movies, some of which fit right into the steampunk genre. One is The Island at the Top of the World (1974).

The movie was co-written by John Whedon, grandfather of Joss Whedon of Buffy, Firefly and Avengers fame.

The story starts in 1907 London, where a British aristocrat is mounting an expedition to the Arctic to find his lost son. He travels there accompanied by an archeologist and the aeronaut and inventor as well as captain of the airship that is taking them there: the Hyperion.

Continue reading “The Island at the Top of the World”

Iron Sky: The Coming Race

Iron Sky: The Coming Race

It took quite a few years, but the long-awaited sequel to 2012’s Iron Sky has landed! (Pun intended.)

The sequel takes place 29 years after the events of the first movie (our review here), which you’d have to see to understand what’s happening in the second. Considering the first is an absolute dieselpunk classic, you absolutely should if you haven’t already!

I won’t go into the plot of this movie. Suffice to say that, like the first Iron Sky, it is utterly and completely out there and I’m here for it. Old villains, old heroes, new villains, new heroes. A total sarcastic approach to non-fictional personas, dieselpunk tinkering and utter madness: it’s Iron Sky alright.

Continue reading “Iron Sky: The Coming Race”