Movie Project #23: The Karate Kid [1984]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Karate Kid [1984]

The Karate Kid [1984]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Robert Mark Kamen
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Drama/Family
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Running Time: 126 minutes

The Karate Kid falls under the same category as previous project entry, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in that I’m sure I saw at least a good chunk of the movie as a kid. Once again, I remembered a scene here or there (who can forget “wax on, wax off”?) but it was fascinating to sit down and watch it in its entirety as an adult.

While the fashion and spirit of the 1980s are running wild in the film, I’m happy to report that it still holds up quite well as a fun, inspirational movie.

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Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Mitchell Kapner & David Lindsay-Abaire
Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis
Running Time: 130 minutes

Oz the Great and Powerful begins with a wonderful black-and-white prologue. In 1905, a hack magician named Oscar Diggs (James Franco) performs a small-time circus act in between trying to shag the local women. He flirts with the wrong girl, however, and ends up running for his life. Diggs (also known by his stage name, Oz) escapes in a hot air balloon, only to get sucked into a nearby tornado. Somehow this tornado takes him to the Land of Oz, and it is here that the film pans out to full technicolor, bringing this magical new world to life.

Oscar, confused but grateful to no longer be in danger, wanders around his new surroundings before meeting the witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis). She believes that Oscar is actually the wizard that has been prophesied to return and overthrow the Wicked Witch, and she brings him to meet her sister, fellow witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz). They send him to the Dark Forest to destroy the Wicked Witch’s wand, but he discovers that this witch is not so wicked after all — she’s actually Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams). Now Oscar finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between the two sides, all while being forced to masquerade as the powerful Wizard of Oz.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

As a film, Oz the Great and Powerful is likely exactly as you might expect it to be. It works well as a kid’s film — Oscar meets some crowd-pleasing fantasy characters on his way, including a china doll and a flying monkey — though its 2+ hour running time might be a burden for some little ones. The Land of Oz is colorful and vibrant, and the Munchkin inhabitants of Emerald City are sure to be a hit (despite having a very small role). In this regard, the film succeeds.

However, it’s hard not to expect more in the hands of director Sam Raimi. The characters are hardly interesting. James Franco makes Oz come across as a total sleazeball, and it’s hard to buy in to the fact that he has any ‘good’ values underneath. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz do well with their material, but Mila Kunis is completely out of her element as Theodora. Kunis isn’t given much to work with, but her performance is devoid of any real emotion.

Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]

I also noticed some issues with the CGI — there were multiple occasions where the actors’ interactions with the artificial characters were completely off (i.e. Franco trying to shake the china girl’s hand but there being a noticable gap in between). For a film with a budget north of $200 million, these quirks are inexcusable.

And so goes Oz the Great and Powerful, a superficially pretty film without any real depth. Judging from my audience’s reaction, the kids seem to be digging it, so the film has that going for it. It’s just a shame that it isn’t as magical as it could have been.

6/10

Movie Project #6: My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

My Neighbor Totoro [1988]
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Country: Japan
Genre: Animation/Family/Fantasy
Starring: Hitoshi Takagi, Noriko Hidaka, Toshiyuki Amagasa
Running Time: 86 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I wanted to continue to watch more Studio Ghibli films, and this seemed to be the most highly-regarded out of those I hadn’t seen.

Accolades: Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film, Animage Anime Grand Prix prize, Mainichi Film Award for Best Film, ranked #163 on IMDB’s Top 250, ranked #41 on Empire magazine’s 100 Best Films of World Cinema

My Neighbor Totoro is as simple as it gets, but it is infinitely rewarding. Originally released on the same bill as Grave of the Fireflies (still the greatest animated film I have ever seen), Totoro remains one of Hayao Miyazaki’s crowning achievements, a children’s film that can be passed down from generation to generation.

Set in 1958 Japan, the film tells the story of a university professor and his two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, who move across the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from a serious illness. Their new residence is an old house that the girls immediately believe is haunted. Rather than allow themselves to be scared — “they’re just dust bunnies” — the sisters embrace the spirits and settle in as best as they can.

My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

While the older sister, Satsuki, is off at school, Mei notices a small, white rabbit-like creature playing outside. She chases after it, eventually reaching a well-hidden area inside the forest. Inside, she finds an even bigger creature, a very large “totoro” who is in such a deep sleep he doesn’t even notice the little girl. She instantly becomes attached to this creature, dubbing him Totoro, and begins seeing him on their property from time to time.

Even though Totoro only speaks in loud roars, he becomes a much-needed friend for Mei, and it isn’t long before Satsuki starts seeing him as well. When the girls tell their father about these mythical creatures, he smiles and doesn’t act for one second that he doesn’t believe them. As such, it’s refreshing to see an adult in an animated film not dismiss a child for these whimsical thoughts.

My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

It’s difficult to put into words what makes My Neighbor Totoro so great. The wild imaginations of children are expertly captured, and I can’t think of a better film that nails the general sensibilities of youth. The bond between the little girls and Totoro is heartwarming, especially as they are essentially using this creature as their way of coping with their sick mother. “Adult” issues are brought up and handled with care, and there is not even the slightest notion of condescension.

The sisters are believable, lifelike characters, and their jubilant behavior while exploring their new house is fun to watch. Totoro and his many smaller relatives are wonderful creatures, and it’s easy to see how they have remained popular worldwide over the years. There is also an incredibly unique “cat bus” that transports Totoro around the forest, one of the coolest looking modes of transportation I have ever seen.

My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

In a nutshell, My Neighbor Totoro is a beautifully-animated film that has a little something for everyone. It made me feel like a kid again, which is rare in itself. An absolute must see, even for those who generally sway away from animated films.

9/10

Movie Project #47: The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]
Director: Henry Selick
Genre: Animation/Family/Fantasy
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara
Running Time: 76 minutes

Although this is only the second movies project I have put together, I am noticing a trend. There is one film from each that garners the biggest “how have you not seen this?!?” reaction. With last year’s project, hands down it was Back to the Future. This year it’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (with apologies to Rocky and The Bourne Identity).

Set in the spookily morbid world of Halloween Town, the film follows the plight of one Jack Skellington, a thin skeleton who wears a snazzy black pin-striped suit. Every year the monsters and mutants that make up the town’s population rely on Jack to lead their Halloween celebrations. This year, however, Jack has become disillusioned with their proceedings. While wandering about, he stumbles upon a portal into a new world — Christmas Town — and becomes enchanted with what he sees there. Seeking to bring that Christmas spirit into his hometown, Jack decides he wants to be Santa Claus and hires a group of residents to kidnap the jolly fat man.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

Clearly this is a bad idea, but it sets the precedence for some of the film’s greatest moments. As a trio of kids — dubbed Lock, Shock and Barrel — chase down Santa, a ridiculously inappropriate (but wildly amusing) song starts playing that discusses how they want to “chop Santa into bits.” I don’t know how appropriate that is for children, but I got a kick out of it. It was also a lot of fun watching Jack masquerade as Santa Claus, delivering frightful gifts to little kids.

Outside of these comical bits, however, I felt little attachment to the film. Most of Danny Elfman’s musical numbers, outside of the opening tune, are forgettable, and the film’s emotional development rests its weight on the skinny little shoulders of Jack Skellington. Most of the supporting characters fall flat, and I did not feel connected to any of them.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

On the flip side, I did find it amazing that Burton’s stop-motion animation still holds up remarkably well nearly 20 years later. I can’t use the word “beautiful” because of the grotesque subject matter, but this is one slick-looking film. The character designs are especially imaginative, and there’s always something new to catch the eye.

I can’t help but feel that a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ appeal rides heavily on nostalgia from those who saw it in their youth. It’s a solid film, but is it truly worthy of its near-unanimous praise (IMDB Top 250, 96% on Rotten Tomatoes)?

7/10