- Ponyo - The first new Hayao Miyazaki film since 2004, this one is probably an improvement over Howl's Moving Castle (which had a great first half, but fell apart in the final act), but it does not approach the top of his oeuvre (which consists of classics like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro). Fortunately, this still makes for a pretty darn good film and something that tops most animated releases this year (though Up certainly stands on its own). The film has a great opening sequence, free from dialogue but expressive and visually striking. The story concerns a fish creature who escapes from her father, the lord of the sea. Young Sosuke, who lives in a house on a cliff by the sea, discovers the sea creature trapped in a bottle. He frees the creature and names it Ponyo. Thus starts their relationship, and when Ponyo's father eventually catches up to her and brings her back home, she spouts legs and arms, essentually turning human (an ability she gained from her contact with Sosuke). Her second escape causes some commotion in the underwater world, eventually flooding Sosuke's town, prompting Sosuke and Ponyo to take a magical voyage accross the flooded town to find Sosuke's mother. This ending portion reminded me a lot of My Neighbor Totoro, which is a shame, because that is clearly the superior film. The ending was somewhat anti-climactic to me, and anyone prone to thinking through the consequences of certain choices might be a bit befuddled. Still, the film is well made, visually interesting and certainly worth a watch. The one caveat to the current theater experience is that they are showing the dubbed version of the film, featuring the likes of Frankie Jonas, Noah Cyrus, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson. They do a fine job, to be sure, but I would be interested in hearing the original version as well... Anyway, good stuff, though not Miyazaki's best. *** (3 out of 4 stars)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society - It appears I've finally reached the end of Ghost in the Shell, a set of movies and series that I have thoroughly enjoyed. This is a feature film that follows the two Stand Alone Complex tv series, and as such, it hits on similar themes. In this instance, much more so than the 2nd Gig series, the focus is on how an individual can make a difference in the world. At the start of the film, it appears that the Major has left Section 9 to pursue her own goals. Interestingly, Togusa ends up taking over as the head of Section 9, and Batou, perhaps missing his friend, seems kinda forlorn. It doesn't take too long for the Major to reappear, however, and things get going from there in typical GitS fashion. I don't really have a ton to say about it at this point - if you've gotten this far in the series, you'll probably like this movie. The animation style and art is a little better than the two series, but not as good as either film. The story is byzantine as expected, though perhaps not so much as the series. Like with the GitS: Innocence movie, I missed the Major, though at least she does show up for a good portion of the film this time. Again, if you're a fan of the series, you'll like this. *** (3 out of 4 stars)
A couple quick reviews of Anime movies...