Tag Archives: spirited away

Failed Critics Podcast: Tearing you apart!

Spirited AwayI did not hit her. It’s not true! I didn’t do it, it’s bullshit. I didn’t hit her– oh, hi listeners. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics podcast, full of excessively long sex scenes and soundtracked by MTV Base circa 2002.

Following Carole’s quiz triumph last week, Owen and Steve were forced to watch the cinematic masterpiece* that is The Room., written by, produced by, directed by and starring the unstoppable sex machine and all round nice guy Tommy Wiseau.

(*At least, that’s what Carole led them to believe.)

Amongst the reviews of new releases The Babadook and Mr Turner, the not-quite-as-new releases Turtle Power and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and the blu-ray re-release of Spirited Away, the team chew over the nominations for this years BIFAs.

Join us again next week for a review of the highly anticipated Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic, Interstellar!

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Failed Critics Podcast – COP: Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor TotoroWelcome to a mini-edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, and in this special episode we pay tribute to the latest inductee into our Corridor of Praise, the Japanese masters of animation Studio Ghibli.

James, Owen, and Gerry discuss their favourite Ghibli films, as well as discussing the history of the studio, and it’s impact on opening new eyes to world cinema, as well as exploring its influence over Disney and Pixar.

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Film4’s Studio Ghibli season: The highlights

Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4's Studio Ghibli season
Princess Mononoke, one of the films showing in Film 4’s Studio Ghibli season

Today marks the beginning of two and a half weeks of cinematic excellence on Film4, as their Studio Ghibli celebration begins. Of course, very few people will have time to watch them all (Owen Hughes of this parish will probably manage it) so we thought it would be useful to pick out five to watch. These five would provide a perfect entry point into the magical world of Studio Ghibli but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a large number of great films in their canon and I urge you to watch as many as you can – I will certainly be taking the opportunity to catch the ones I haven’t yet seen.

Wait, Studio Ghibli? What the hell is that?

First, a little intro to Studio Ghibli for those unfamiliar with this powerhouse of Japanese animation. Set up by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in 1985 following the success of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the studio has always prioritised artistic integrity over commercial appeal. This, famously, has extended to a “no cuts” policy when distributing internationally; Harvey Weinstein, upon suggesting that Princess Mononoke be cut to give it more commercial appeal, received a Samurai sword in the post with an accompanying message of “no cuts” from the film’s producer*. Frequent themes are nature (and man’s destruction of it), childhood and magic. The studio is notable for its frequent use of female leads who are very different from the typical Disney Princess.

Of the ten highest-grossing films in Japanese history, Ghibli has produced four of them – including number 1, Spirited Away. John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer and director of Toy Story among others, describes Miyazaki as “the world’s greatest living animator”. Outside of Disney and Lasseter himself, it is hard to think of anyone who has had more influence on animated films.

Spirited Away – Tuesday 26th, 6.30pm [subtitled]; Saturday 6th April 4.35pm [dubbed]

Previously discussed here and here, this is one of my favourite films. I’ll leave it to the BBC’s Jamie Russell, writing in 2003:

With none of the sentimentality of Disney nor the computerised sheen of Pixar, this traditional animé even blows the brilliant Finding Nemoout of the water. It’s epic story is more imaginative, rousing and luscious than anything American animation has produced since the halcyon days of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsIn two hours Miyazaki offers more magic and innovation than most animators could manage in over two decades.

Princess Mononoke – Wednesday 27th, 6.05pm [subtitled]; Wednesday 10th April, 1.10pm [dubbed]

The highest-grossing film in Japanese history until Titanic came along and ruined everything, this is a Princess tale unlike anything Disney has provided. Set in an imagined 14th Century Japan where humans and forest creatures live side-by-side, there is a surprising complexity and ambiguity to this tale. The familiar tropes of animated fantasy in the West are gone here: no black-and-white morality with a valiant hero and a damsel in distress for Miyazaki and co. Instead we find that everyone has their reasons and not everything about them is bad; in terms of educating children how the world works, this is far better than the classic Disney tale. Visually stunning throughout, whilst the film may appear a little impenetrable on the surface please don’t be put off – Princess Mononoke is a landmark in animation.

My Neighbour Totoro – Saturday 30th, 4.55pm [dubbed]

Again, I’ve written about Totoro before so I will leave it to the great Roger Ebert to describe this, the only competitor with Toy Story in my mind for the title of best animated film:

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy… Whenever I watch it, I smile, and smile, and smile… It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

Howl’s Moving Castle – Monday 1st, 4.35pm [dubbed]; Friday April 12th TBC [subtitled]

Surprisingly, this film is based on a book by a Welsh children’s author and Miyazaki himself is a big fan of the country; its predecessor and sister film Castle in the Sky draws heavily on his experiences of the Welsh Miner’s Strike a couple of years before its release. Not quite achieving the clarity of thought and purpose of his previous efforts, this is nonetheless a tremendously entertaining film. Here we see Sophie, a young girl, transformed into a witch and journeying to the aforementioned castle to free a fire demon from a curse in the midst of a war.

Grave of the Fireflies – Friday 5th, 12.15am

Takahata’s tale of two children struggling to survive among the bombs in late WWII Japan is more ‘adult’ than the other films here, as evidenced by it being on late at night. One of the most powerful war movies ever made (seriously), this remains the only film to make me cry. You have been warned. That said, don’t be put off by the tragic element at all. The opening scene reveals that our narrator is dead so we know throughout that this is a doomed story; however there is joy, as well as sadness, to be found in the life he tells us about. That is the real power of the film – the characters are brilliantly formed and  we care about them. This is a tale of two lives, innocently caught up in war and the societal breakdown accompanying it. That an animation can feel so real and so relevant is testament to the skill of all involved.

*Miyazaki explains: “…I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”

Best films on TV – week commencing 25th March 2013

Here is my selection of the best films showing on UK free-to-air television this week. Yes, these are the ‘best’ ones in my opinion, not some kind of universal truth. Tweet me about how wrong I am if you like but I’m hardly going to change my mind!

The Battle Royale of 'Battle Royales'Monday 25th March – The Godfather: Part II  (Film4, 9pm)

You watched The Godfather on Sunday at 9 right? We did tell you in last week’s article before you start claiming ignorance. Just like 24 hours earlier, it’s an unusual day when this film isn’t the best film on TV. Pacino is outstanding, the story is phenomenal, it’s a classic of cinema. I don’t really need to say anything else. You will be up to nigh on 1am though, which isn’t great if like me you are boring and like to get 8 hours a night, every night.

Tuesday 26th March – Spirited Away (Film4, 6.30pm)

Today marks the start of Film4’s Studio Ghibli season, which everyone should be taking advantage of. Like a Japanese Pixar/Disney, Studio Ghibli is a byword for top-notch animation. Spirited Away found fame in the West by winning the Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003 and, slightly more prestigiously, being recognised as one of the year’s best films by yours truly on a site not a million miles from here. The film tells the story of a young girl who, on the way to moving to a new house, finds herself in a magical spirit world trying to save her parents who have been turned into pigs (happens to me all the time). It encapsulates childhood, fantasy and the sense of magical wonder we all unfortunately seem to lose when we hit puberty; frankly, if you don’t like this film you and I are probably not going to get on. A masterpiece.

Wednesday 27th March – Copycat (More4, 10pm)

On a truly magnificent day for films, I’m avoiding the two obvious choices quite simply because otherwise this will look like a Film4-sponsored piece). Nonetheless, an evening of Princess Mononoke (6.05pm) followed by The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (9pm) might be bum-numbing but it sounds bloody fantastic to me. Assuming people have lives, though, set those to record and watch Copycat, the 1995 tale of Sigourney Weaver’s agorophobic criminal psychologist trying to catch a serial killer who seems to be a fan of a whole bunch of other serial killers. It’s not as good as The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, films it clearly draws heavily upon, but if you like either of those you will find a lot to enjoy here. Sigourney reckons this is the performance she’s most proud of, which should be enough to sell it to you, and it’s a shame this got lost amongst a deluge of serial killer thrillers in this period.

Thursday 28th March – Doubt (BBC4, 10pm)

Yes, the 2nd LOTR film is on tonight. Watch that if you haven’t seen it already. I think pretty much everyone who wants to has, though, which makes Doubt today’s best film. Quite simply, if you like good acting, you will like this film. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman do battle in mesmerising fashion, supported by an astonishing Amy Adams (who showed the world she should be taken seriously with this performance) and future Oscar nominee Viola Davis. In fact, all four got Oscar nods – PSH for best supporting actor, Streep for best leading actress and Adams and Davis competing for the supporting actress gong – along with writer/director John Patrick Shanley for best adapted screenplay. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be – a combination of Heath Ledger, Slumdog Millionaire, Kate Winslet and, most bizarrely, Penelope Cruz (in forgettable Woody Allen Spaniard vehicle Vicky Cristina Barcelona) denying this excellent film success.

Friday 29th March – Battle Royale (Film4, 12:55am)

I don’t care what anyone says, The Hunger Games is a poor man’s Battle Royale. And I liked The Hunger Games quite a lot. Which means, beloved reader, Battle Royale is bloody outstanding. It’s as shocking today as it was on release (which I’ve written about previously) yet despite the copious amounts of gore, communicates a deeper message. Like the best of all art, it tells us something about society as well as entertaining. ‘Like Tarantino, but they’re Japanese’ as a mate once said.

Saturday 30th March – My Neighbour Totoro (Film4, 4:55pm)

Possibly the animated film that has filled me with joy more than any other (and I really do like animated films), My Neighbour Totoro is Studio Ghibli at its finest. Of course, you’ll have already watched Spirited Away on Tuesday so by now you will have an idea of the sheer magic that is a Hayao Miyazaki film. This 1988 masterpiece tells the story of two young girls who discover that the woods around their new home are inhabited by magical creatures. All I can say is that on its initial release in Japan this was only available as a double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies, which sounds like the most perfect combination imaginable if one wanted to represent all the aspects of childhood on screen. Watch it. Love it. Worship it. Rave about it to all your friends and family. Wish you had a real Totoro as a constant companion. Remember how bloody amazing being a kid was. Yes, it really is that good.

Honourable mention today for The Secret in their Eyes (BBC4, 9.50pm), the quite brilliant Argentinian film that took home Best Foreign Language Oscar 2010 and currently sits ahead of Rocky, The Exorcist and others at #155 on the IMDB 250 [in fact, it’s rated 8.1 – the same as Mary and Max which we discussed on a recent podcast]. Totoro followed by this would make an excellent evening’s viewing, most certainly.

Sunday 31st March – The Girl Who Played With Fire (Film4, 11pm)

On an Easter Sunday packed with cinematic choice, this was a hard one. There’s such a feast of films, you could go for a theme. Family films or Westerns for instance. The Goonies or True Grit (the original) might occupy your afternoon from 1.30 and 1:45pm respectively. Then you could move on to Arrietty (5.15pm) or the best Western ever Wild Wild West (5.55pm). That last one was a joke before you start tweeting me.

This Scandinavian powerhouse of a film is rather good though. There may or may not be an American remake but proper cinema fans will want to see the (superior) Swedish trilogy, with the excellent Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. Violent, thrilling and with a powerful storyline – what’s not to like? 

A Decade In Film: The Noughties – 2002

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

As this is podcaster Gerry’s idea, he’s nabbed the noughties. Here he gives us his top five from 2002 – be sure to check out the entries for 2001 and 2000 if you haven’t already done so. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these so please get in touch with a comment or on twitter.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-large-pictureI think we might have made a mistake leaving the Shire, Pippin.

The first was a towering achievement of storytelling and fantasy narrative brought to life on screen; the follow-up continued that great work and showed a generation of film fans and aspiring film-makers what epic productions are like. With more action than its predecessor, The Two Towers stepped up the cinematic intensity and silenced criticisms from some corners that the films were long and boring. Jackson builds steadily towards a triumphant final hour centred around the battle at Helm’s Deep, a battle scene which absolutely captivated my imagination as a 13 year old watching this in the cinema. I have, of course, since seen many epic films with epic battle sequences but this film is often a benchmark to compare them with. Podcast listeners will know I moaned about The Hobbit recently but as you may guess from this series, I bloody love TLOTR trilogy, and a decade on The Two Towers remains a staggering achievement, a lesson to us all on how to do exciting fantasy drama on a massive scale.

4. Spirited Away

spirited-away-large-picture-1Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember. 

Studio Ghibli films are widely regarded by cine-literate people as outstanding. Yet the majority of the population seem blissfully unaware of their work. Spirited Away is much like their other films – it gets to the heart of childhood and imagination, transporting us forward into a hitherto unseen world of the creator’s making while simultaneously catapulting the viewer back to their own youth, that sense that magic lurked so close that a wrong turn could mean you winding up in a vastly different reality to your own. That is precisely what happens in this film. Chihiro’s family end up getting lost and wandering into an abandoned theme park – her greedy parents eating the tempting food left seemingly unattended and, of course, being transformed into pigs. Fans of Disney and particularly Pixar will find much to love in this classic animation, both in thematic content and the rich visuals our senses are practically assaulted with from the word go. I don’t think it quite matches up to My Neighbour Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies (note to Matt Lambourne – they’d better be 1 and 2 for 1988) but nonetheless, this is better than 90% of the kids films you will ever see – whether you’re a nostalgic adult or a child who hasn’t yet lost that wonder at the potential marvels of the world around them. [I’ve included this for 2002 as it was released in Japan in 2001, film festivals around the world in 2002 and in the UK in 2003, making 2002 the middle ground in such a confusing and drawn out release schedule]

3. Punch-Drunk Love

punch drunk love adam sandlerI have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.

I’m not going to lie to you – I only watched this film about a month ago. I absolutely loved it. No, in fact, I fell in love with it. A mild introduction to art-house cinema for the uninitiated (or soft-core art house if you like), Punch-Drunk Love is a quirky tale featuring Adam Sandler as a possibly autistic, possibly partially psychotic entrepeneur who falls for slightly-less-odd Emily Watson.  Despite the backdrop of constant belittlement from his seven sisters, their romantic journey begins, alongside Sandler’s efforts to disentangle himself from a scam he fell into by ringing a phone sex line to chat about his life. It sounds weird and it is a bit, but if you doubt Sandler’s credentials for this then you’ve obviously never listened to Mark Kermode before. Literally the only downside to watching this film is that you will now be even more annoyed by the constant stream of utter shit Sandler is churning out these days when he is capable not only of genuinely funny films like Happy Gilmore but also excellent serious acting performances like he puts in here. Psst Adam, here’s a hint – make more films with people like Paul Thomas Anderson and less with Dennis Dugan and you might be ok.

2. City of God

city-of-godYou need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas. 

A gripping tale of corruption, poverty and crime in the underbelly of Rio de Janeiro, City of God did wonders for Brazilian cinema. I actually studied a module on Brazilian cinema in University purely based on the fact that in doing so I could watch City of God again and find out the context behind it. For all the complex and important social issues it explores, City of God has a fairly standard cinematic trope at its core: two boys grow up in the same place, take different paths in the face of external pressures, yet their lives always seem to be intertwined and meet with dramatic consequences. Famed for its use of first-time actors taken from the streets of the favelas themselves (even including the mother of one of the real-life criminals depicted in the film), there is a brutal realism to Cidade de Deus that some viewers may find unpalatable. In my view it is that harsh realism which makes the film so powerful and for it to be viewed as anything other than a strength is missing the point entirely. This war between drug lords really happened. It wasn’t nice. With brilliant cinematography that captures the lo-fi 70s vibe of the time whilst still producing stunning visuals and some iconic shots, it is no wonder that the film remains one of the most successful and well-known films in ‘world cinema’ to UK viewers. Fernando Meirelles hasn’t made the move to Hollywood big-shot as many predicted but is trying to make himself the Brazilian Almodóvar. Speaking of my mate Pedro…

1. Talk to Her

On the face of it, Hable con Ella is a pretty odd film. It centres on the solitude and inner turmoil of two men who bond over the beds of the female coma victims who they care for, the gradual entanglement of their lives – whilst in parallel the events leading up to the film’s present are slowly unravelled in flashbacks. There is a quiet power to the film which draws the viewer into this world so deeply that it is impossible to forget. Essentially, old Pedro tests how far he can push an audience (again), this time in terms of how much you’re willing to forgive because you like someone. I often say this about foreign films on the podcast but THIS IS WHAT CINEMA IS ABOUT. Tremendous performances, a director whose vision is so clear and whose skill is so well-developed that they are able to interweave symbolism and narrative to devastating effect, a story which engages throughout and an exploration of wider themes and societal issues without being preachy or ever failing to entertain.

Like all of his films are to some extent, at heart this is an exploration of gender roles. We have the two male leads crying over a performance at the ballet; a female bullfighter who is harsh and masculine, while her boyfriend is vulnerable and openly emotional; a male nurse; and a now infamous scene from the film-within-the-film which seems outrageously shocking, but is in fact less shocking than what it masks. There are a number of genuinely haunting scenes in Talk to Her, precisely because we are drawn into the drama so powerfully by the cast and crew. Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti are mesmerising. Almodóvar was under some serious pressure after the global success of All About My Mother and this was what he came up with.

In my opinion it’s his finest work – in a catalogue of films that most people in Hollywood would be proud to have in their DVD collection, let alone make. This is cinema. This is art without being arty or pretentious. This is a film about humanity, morality, imperfection, societal conditioning, sex, solitude, normality, mental illness… There is a disturbing, unsettling effect as you question your morality and precisely why you feel sympathy or empathy at certain points. It pushes you to think outside normality and ask questions of yourself and the world because it has engrossed you so totally and manipulated you so delicately. That, for me, is what cinema is.