Category: Entertainment

Studio Ghibli and the Imagination of Hayao Miyazakis

I remember being a child, probably 9 or 10, and having to stay inside because it was raining. My brother and I were watching HBO, I think, and whatever it was we were watching had just ended. The next movie coming on had a curious title that we couldn’t help but be in intrigued. It was called Princess Mononoke. Much to our surprise, it was an animated film. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was written and directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazakis and Studio Gibli. And since then, it has cemented itself as my favorite animated movie that I have ever seen, period.

Let me start with the summary of Princess Mononoke from IMDB, “While protecting his village from rampaging boar-demon, a confident young warrior, Ashitaka, is stricken by a deadly curse. To save his life, he must journey to the forests of the west. Once there, he’s embroiled in a fierce campaign that humans were waging on the forest. The ambitious Lady Eboshi and her loyal clan use their guns against the gods of the forest and a brave young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. Ashitaka sees the good in both sides and tries to stem the flood of blood. This is met be animosity by both sides as they each see him as supporting the enemy, which concludes in an epic battle between the spirit of the forest and the humans looking to destroy it.”

Ashitaka and San (Princess Mononoke)

Miyazakis and Ghibli have an ornate ability to captivate your senses and draw you into a world you would otherwise believe existed. They re also known for the movies Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service,  Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo. Everything from the wonderfully crafted stories, amazing sounds, and beautiful animation will leave you in a state of ecstasy. And I honestly can’t stress enough how beautiful the movies look. If you don’t believe me, check out the stills of Spirited Away in the gallery below.

Another very unique aspect that Miyazakis bring to his movies are the themes. Now, I’ve only seen two of his movies, Princess Mononoke and Spritied Away, are the themes that are presented throughout. I’ll start with Princess Mononoke. The very essence of the story is based on the battle between nature and mankind. Iron Town, and Lady Eboshi, represent the greed and necessity to destroy the earth at all cost in order to make a profit. Nature is represented by not only the forest, but by the gods and demons that seek to protect it. Ashitaka and San (Princess Mononoke) represent the eternal conflict of good and evil; both are good, but both have done bad things. It amazes me that, even though I was about 10, I was still able to pickup on the subtlety of these ideas and have applied them to many experiences since.

Then there’s Spirited Away, which is considered by many to be the pinnacle of animation across the globe. It was even the first animated film to win an American Academy Award, as well as Best Film for Japan’s Academy Awards; of all films released that year. It’s also the highest rated animated film IMDB’s Top 250 list. More importantly, it’s the highest grossing film ever to be released in Japan. Here is a short description from IMDB, “During her family’s move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters, and where humans are changed into beasts”.

Haku and Sen (Chihiro)

Spirited Away is a coming of age story; similar, to say, Alice in Wonderland. Chihiro, the ten year old girl, is met with the complications of leaving her former identity behind and making a transition into adulthood. Her parents are turned into beasts, and in order to save them, she must leave behind everything she knew, including her name, and fight the corruption of the spirits that fill the bathhouse; which serves as the main setting. To do so, she teams up with Haku, a river spirit/dragon, to take down Yubaba, the evil witch running the bathhouse. After leaving everything about her childhood behind, she transitions into adulthood and ultimately comes out on top. It’s a very unique take on life and personal development. There are, again, themes on pollution in the likes of the river spirits and how it affects them.

My Neighbor Totoro

Well, to end, I most definitely plan on watching the rest of Miyazakis’ work, and will be updating this post when I do. I would like to say, if you are ever in the need of something to watch and want to be transported to another world, immersed in the most emotional of ways, give a Hayao Miyazakis movie a try. You won’t regret it. The English versions are dubbed by Disney and feature many well known actors; Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Kristen Bell, Ann Hathaway to name a few.

 

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Sloppy Seconds: The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies

If you're anything like me, you are floored when you go to the theater to see a movie. The experience of spending a small fortune on seeing the next big thing, on the biggest screen, can leave you breathless. You leave the theater thinking that, whatever particular movie it is that you saw, is the best movie you've ever seen; or at least I do. Well, after a few months, the effects of your infatuation have gestated and you enjoy time to regain yourself. Your movie is eventually released to home media and, to your surprise, you find yourself with different feelings. That's what "Sloppy Seconds" is, an ode to the opinion of a movie after watching it for a second time.

Now, I’ve got to let you know, I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings; the books and the movies. The Hobbit book is also my favorite book in “The One Ring” saga; so I may be a little biased in this.

***** Spoiler Alert ******

The first thing you’ll notice when you start this movie is how incredibly awesome it is to watch Smaug absolutely destroy Lake Town. Smaug is by far the most organic and smoothest dragon to ever be depicted on a movie screen. His movements are fluid in nature, and Benedict Cumberbatch voices him with fearsome grace. The set piece, sounds, and lighting were practically perfect. The only problem… it was way too short. Like every opening in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth pictures, the opening sequence is small in comparison to the rest of the movie, yet they offer some of the most intriguing narratives. On top of that, Smaug was a powerhouse in the previous movie, yet it was so easy for Bard to fell the beast. It felt cheap, and somewhat forced. Shortly after, you gained the same feeling when the White Council took on the Necromancer (Sauron). Again, cheap and forced.

Smaug in Lake Town

Now, one thing I really liked about the movies was Luke Evans’ portrayal of Bard. There was many a time when he felt like the main protagonist, as opposed to Bilbo. However, this only lasted for about the first half of the movie. Whether the villain (Furious 6), or the hero, Luke Evans is always a blast to watch. However, for such a strong performance, there was bound to be someone that’s just plain annoying; Alfrid. Watching Alfrid really, really, frustrated me. The character was poorly written, and crudely represented by Ryan Gage.

The actual battle itself was actually quite good. You could argue that it was worth the 7 hours it took to get to it, but the crappy CGI kind of hurt to watch. It was nowhere near on the same level as the rest of the series (Smaug, Azog), or even the epic battle of the Lord of the Rings; and those were years older than this movie. The Siege of Gondor, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and Helm’s Deep were much better and way more theatrical. Anyway, it was still satisfying to watch and offered a lot in terms of entertainment. Other than the CGI, the only other thing I didn’t like was **MEGA SPOILER** Kili, Fili, and Thorin dying. It was more in the way they died… It was poorly executed, but although, this could be due to the fact that they made three movies out of one piece of source material. The end of Azog and Bolg were definitely high points near the end.

Azog’s Army

One of the last things I have to say is that the entire movie was paced in a very different way than the rest of the saga. Like, seriously different, and extremely noticeable. As I mentioned, they turned one book into three movies. So this last movie was nonstop action. I’m a guy, and I like action, but I also like dialogue; especially in fantasy movies. The first movie had too much dialogue, but the second, the second had a perfect blend of action and conversation. Watching this one fail at the precedent set by the Desolation of Smaug was painful. The ending, which was really good with setting up the The Lord of the Rings, was broken by the Sackville-Bagginses’ declaring him dead and selling off his estate. Oh well… Other than that, it still ended great. Roll the credits with the very fitting Billy Boyd’s (Perry from The Lord of the Rings) “The Last Goodbye”.

Martin Freeman’s Bilbo

I want to say that I still enjoyed the movie. Smaug was awesome, Bard was great, the battle epic, and the ending damn near perfect. I can really summarize many of my griefs with this film by comparing it to the Star Wars prequels. Which is kind of a shame. The first two didn’t come across as post 1999 George Lucas-esque, which makes it extra shitty that this one did. This movie, Peter Jackson final foray into Middle Earth, never had the grandiose that every other movie he made had.

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The Bungie Paradigm

For me, Halo is the game that defined my teenage years. I spent more time playing Xbox Live than I did with my friends; and idolized Master Chief and his creator, Bungie. After four glorious outings with the big green guy, Bungie has released their newest IP, Destiny. As an adult, my feelings towards the game could not achieve a higher level of admiration. However, the similarities Destiny shares with Halo have been tugging at my youth since the first time I booted it up; and have been consistently bothering me.

Upon awakening on the outskirts of the Cosmodrome, the game instantly feels like Halo. The user interface may be changed a bit, but the way it feels and sounds is way too reminiscent of prior games. The general gameplay is that of a standard first person shooter. You are given an objective, and although it’s considered an open world, you are still confined to a single, linear path, to complete your goal. Although this is a common similarity among all FPS’s, when advertised as an open world, you would expect a few more options in terms of missions.

Destiny HUD

Destiny HUD

Another, strikingly comparable feature would be the weapons and enemies. The pulse rifle is practically a duplicate of the battle rifle, the scout rifle is used in the same way as the DMR, and the auto rifle fires exactly as the assault rifle in Halo does. Actually, every weapon type in the game can be traced back to a weapon in Halo. As for the enemies, there are four factions; the Fallen, the Hive, the Vex, the Cabal. Now, I have to say, these enemies are varied enough so that they don’t become completely stale after hours of gameplay, but they were clearly familiar to me when I first started. Using the Fallen as an example, the Vandal’s not only share a silhouette of their Elite counterparts, but the AI inherently feels to be the same as well. It should also be noted that the Hive serve almost the exact same role as the Flood did.

Fallen Vandal

Fallen Vandal

My last gripe would be the story. Between Marathon and Halo, Bungie was always able to build a mythology into their games that would leave a lasting impression. I went out of my way to absorb as much of Halo’s lore as I could. After I finished the main campaign, I found myself caring less what happened with the Traveler, the Speaker, or the Ghost. But why? The legends that were so easily cemented in the previous games were notably absent in Destiny.

I would like to admit that I started this post with a negative attitude and the intention to point out the flaws in my favorite studio’s new game. However, not everything about Destiny is negative. One of the things it it does extremely well is that there is a substantial amount of social interaction; even when stifled through technicalities. In my opinion, raids were perfectly executed. Having never played World of Warcraft, or the such, I didn’t quite know what to expect when the Vault of Glass opened up. After running through it with my friends, it was made abundantly clear that without precise teamwork, everyone would fail. Every person in the Fireteam had a part, and if they didn’t perform flawlessly, you had to restart. Something very new and fresh to me. Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the way you level your character and equipment. Even though you had to suffer through the grind, leveling up was quite satisfying. Skill trees felt a lot like Diablo or Borderlands, and leveling equipment was very natural in terms of progression.

Guardian Classes

Guardian Classes

It’s quite obvious that I am upset that Bungie, which in my opinion is a developer in the highest regards, released a product that was undeniably a rehash of their older games. But, you know, that’s what Bungie is good at. And I have to say, I think my infatuation with the Halo franchise has, without a doubt, clouded my opinion of Destiny. Since it has been announced as a yearly franchise, I look forward to seeing what Bungie and Activision have planned for this new IP, and in what directions they take it.

UPDATE (3.18.15): After many more hours spent in Destiny, as well as the release of The Dark Below, I can positively say that my opinion of Destiny has been changed. In all honesty, other than a lack of story, I believe that it was easily the best game of 2014. However, I still wish that they deviated from the Halo formula and genuinely built a new and exciting universe with all the expectations that I, along with many others, had for the game.

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Sloppy Seconds: Godzilla

If you're anything like me, you are floored when you go to the theater to see a movie. The experience of spending a small fortune on seeing the next big thing, on the biggest screen, can leave you breathless. You leave the theater thinking that, whatever particular movie it is that you saw, is the best movie you've ever seen; or at least I do. Well, after a few months, the effects of your infatuation have gestated and you enjoy time to regain yourself. Your movie is eventually released to home media and, to your surprise, you find yourself with different feelings. That's what "Sloppy Seconds" is, an ode to the opinion of a movie after watching it for a second time.

***** Spoiler Alert ******

Now, I don’t want to bullshit anyone, Godzilla (2014) is an excellent movie and I highly recommend it to any fans of monster fighting and destruction in general. Although, after my second viewing, it is not without its flaws. The foundation of this iteration of Godzilla is that he’s been around for a very long time, hunting radioactive creatures when it is necessary.  As Americans, we remember the 1998 Godzilla where the nuclear testing created the mighty Godzilla. However, in this movie, the nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll were a means to try and get rid of the “King of Monsters”. As the main plot starts, two radioactive creatures are awakened and Godzilla makes his way across the Pacific to dispose of them in ways only he can. My first grievance with Godzilla, along with the rest of the Internet, is that I was expecting a Bryan Cranston movie. Fresh off the success of Breaking Bad, Legendary Picture went to great lengths to advertise the movie with Bryan Cranston seemingly in the lead role. However, his son, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is the main character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also happens to be Kick-Ass in the Kick-Ass movies, and is practically unrecognizable in this role. The movie ended up involving his journey home from Japan after his dad (Bryan Cranston) dies and the first MUTO is awakened. Now, it’s not to say that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen did a horrible job portraying the human story, because they didn’t, it just wasn’t well thought out. The human plot felt lazy; especially since Aaron’s character happened to always be where a MUTO or Godzilla was. It was just way too coincidental and seemed quite cheap.

No Bryan Cranston here...

No Bryan Cranston here…

As far as Godzilla himself goes, he was FUCKING EPIC!!! The only downside was the very little screen time he actually received. The King of Monsters appeared about an hour into the movie, and when he did, the director choose to reveal him about ready to fight a MUTO, and then cut away from the action and just show the aftermath. It’s kind of a shitty thing to do to your audience; especially when the reveal looked absolutely great. Another thing I appreciated about this movie, as opposed to Godzilla (1998), was that they went back to Godzilla being the Alpha Predator. Gozilla (1998) took the approach of a creature protecting and finding a home for it’s offspring. There wasn’t a sense of urgency, or avocation, on the monsters part. Now, Godzilla is just a monster playing his role in the food chain. Radioactive creatures show up and the big man comes in to take them out. You want Godzilla to win, you’re on his side. The last great thing about this movie was when Godzilla finally did his signature fire breath; and goddamn was it glorious. It’s one of those movie moments that can’t be accurately explained in text, you just have to see it for yourself.

Atomic Breath FTW!!!

Atomic Breath FTW!!!

Now, a lot of people have asked me which Kaiju movie I liked more: Godzilla or Pacific Rim? If you are a fan of Pacific Rim, you will love Godzilla. But now that I have taken the time to see both movies a multitude of times, I think it’s safe to say that I prefer Godzilla. I LOVED the action scenes in Pacific Rim, probably more so than I do in Godzilla, but the movie lacks the appeal Godzilla has. Godzilla takes the time to make it feel authentic, like it’s something that can actually happen. Pacific Rim was more about testosterone fueled fights and human characters you could care less for. This comparison, however, is one for another time.

FIGHT!

FIGHT!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Make it a point to see Godzilla (2014). Upon first viewing, this rendition of the Alpha Predator is one of the best to ever grace the screen. The main appeal the movie has is it’s authenticity. On your second viewing, you will immediately notice some annoying, and lazy, plot points in the human story, but that genuine feeling the movie produces never falters.

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