Movie Project #18 and #19: Big (1988) and When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

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.

Big (1988)
Big [1988, dir. Penny Marshall]
Big is a movie that could have only happened in the ’80s. The idea of a young boy wishing to become a grown up — and succeeding — is so ridiculous that it simply shouldn’t work (or make for a good film, anyway). Never doubt Tom Hanks, though. His performance as a grown up child is magical.

Going into the film, all I knew of was the iconic scene where Hanks and Robert Loggia play a giant piano at FAO Schwarz. While that is certainly a great bit, what surprised me was how genuinely funny Big is through its entirety. The humor is generally light-hearted, even as it dabbles in areas that are hardly appropriate (i.e. Hanks, technically a 12-year-old, hooking up with an adult Elizabeth Perkins), and I found myself laughing quite a bit (especially during the first trip to New York). The film is also heartwarming, and it absolutely nails that feeling of what it’s like to be a kid. And let’s face it — anyone who is even remotely still a kid at heart would kill for Hanks’s toy-testing job. 8/10


When Harry Met Sally... [1988]
When Harry Met Sally… [1989, dir. Rob Reiner]
Why is it so difficult to make an intelligent romantic comedy these days? When Harry Met Sally… sure makes it look easy. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan play two acquaintances who meet periodically over the years before finally forming a friendship when both are fresh off of breakups with their significant others. Harry (Crystal) doesn’t believe men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way. Sally disagrees, and this debate constantly lingers over them.

Nora Ephron’s sharp script is the biggest highlight, but Crystal and Ryan also happen to have some terrific chemistry. Crystal’s deadpan wit and Ryan’s bubbly personality play off each other wonderfully, and their gradually progressing relationship is entirely convincing. The film doesn’t rely on contrived tropes to tell the story — it all happens naturally. It’s just a good all-around film that both men and women can enjoy. 8/10

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

Movie Project #46: Dead Man [1995]

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.

Dead Man [1995]

Dead Man [1995]
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Western
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henriksen, Robert Mitchum, John Hurt, and Gabriel Byrne
Running Time: 121 minutes

“Do you know my poetry?”

Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, shot entirely in black-and-white and labeled a “psychedelic Western” by the director himself, is unlike any film I have seen. What starts out as a familiar Western plotline — a foreigner arrives in an unwelcoming new town and gets in trouble — quickly flips itself on its head and turns into an absurd existential journey.

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, who we quickly learn is a “dead man” even if he doesn’t know it yet. An accountant from Cleveland, Blake rides by train all the way out to the frontier town of Machine where he has been promised a lucrative new job. It’s clear upon arrival that Blake is woefully out of place. He shows up in a preposterous checkered suit, and he is nearly laughed out of the company building by the business manager (John Hurt). It turns out the job position has been filled, and even after appealing to the company’s truculent owner, John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum, in his final film performance), Blake walks away empty-handed.

Dead Man [1995]

Things only get worse from there. Blake somehow manages to bed a woman, only to have her sulking ex-boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne) show up afterward. In an act of self defense, William shoots the man, getting himself shot in the process. The bad news continues as it is revealed that this was the son of Dickinson, and the wealthy business owner hires a posse of hitmen to snuff out the accountant.

While on the run, Blake meets a large Native American guide, Nobody (Gary Farmer), who attempts to help him come to terms with his impending death. It is from this point forward where the film takes a surreal turn, as Nobody takes Blake on a journey of spiritual enlightenment. They meet some bizarre characters along the way (including an unforgettable group of mountain men played by Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris), and we are kept up to speed on the hitmen via seemingly random interludes. The film fades in and out of the paths of each side, much like Blake goes in and out of consciousness.

Dead Man [1995]

Quite frankly, there’s a lot to take in, and it can get difficult to piece it altogether. By all accounts, this seems to be a film in which multiple viewings are necessary to get the full effect. Critics were divided upon its release — Roger Ebert famously gave this 1 1/2 stars, while Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote an entire book on the subject — but it has built a cult following since then.

I can’t say I’m entirely on board with the film, but I loved the cast, led by Johnny Depp’s meek protrayal of William Blake. Gary Farmer makes for an intriguing spiritual guide, a more contemporary take when compared to the early Western time period. The supporting cast is nothing short of phenomenal, with memorable performances from the likes of Mitchum, Hurt, Iggy Pop, Thornton, Harris, Alfred Molina, and even Crispin Glover. Throw in Neil Young’s improvisational guitar score and you have all the makings of a bona fide cult hit.

My first impression of Dead Man is mixed, but there are enough ideas in place that make me believe I could enjoy it more on a second viewing. I may need to go on my own spiritual quest beforehand, however.

6/10

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]
Director: Peter Jackson
Genre: Fantasy
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
Running Time: 169 minutes

Right from the start, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was destined to divide its audiences. Peter Jackson’s decisions to not only film at 48 frames-per-second — double the normal rate — but to also split J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel into three full-length films were unabashedly controversial. As someone with fond recollections of reading The Hobbit in my youth, I met these announcements with large sighs and lowered expectations. Was it really necessary to stretch a 200-page novel into three epic films? Quite frankly, no, it wasn’t, but this move didn’t become the disaster it easily could have been.

After a bit of an expendable prologue documenting the demolition of a dwarf kingdom by the immense dragon, Smaug, the story begins as expected. Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is sitting alone on his eleventy-first birthday, writing out the details of his crazy un-hobbitlike adventure some 60 years prior. We are then sent to follow along on this “unexpected journey,” as young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is granted with a surprise appearance by famed wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Soon thirteen dwarves, led by the proud Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are at Bilbo’s door ready to embark on a quest to take back their homeland. Per Gandalf’s recommendation, they have sought out Bilbo to fulfill their need for a “burglar.” After much deliberation, Bilbo eventually concedes to leave his hobbit hole, and so the real story begins.

Along the way, the crew runs into trolls, orcs, goblins and gigantic mountain creatures. There’s far more action than expected based on the source material, and one or two of the chase/battle scenes could have been omitted with little consequence. In fact, more content in general could have been removed entirely.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

As expected by stretching out a relatively short novel into three long films, Peter Jackson has dipped deeper into the Middle Earth lore, including a handful of characters seldom mentioned or not found at all in the book. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) has a noteworthy role despite only being mentioned in passing in The Fellowship of the Ring. The Orc chieftain, Azog, also has an expanded role, predominantly to give the film its own central antagonist. This is not a faithful adaptation of the book by any means, which can be both a positive or negative depending on one’s viewpoint. Those wanting to see Tolkien’s words brought to life without any changes will be disappointed, but those who enjoy spending as much time in Middle Earth as possible will surely get a kick out of this.

For me, I’m somewhere in the middle. Certainly a few scenes could have been excluded in order to make a more compact, arguably greater film, but damn if I didn’t get sucked into this fantasy world. This is a beautifully realized vision with well-designed characters and environments, and the special effects are amazing. The difference between the CGI used in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is mind-boggling — this is especially notable during the film’s centerpiece, the much-loved riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum. Although he looked great before, Gollum really comes to life here, with his wild-eyes and spastic movements. Once again, Andy Serkis delivers an incredible performance.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

Now, most people will know right away whether they want to see The Hobbit or not, but the big question here is: should I see it with the high frame rate? Yes, yes you should. I had little interest in this new gimmick, but was persuaded to indulge by some friends. I’m glad I did. Seeing the film in 3D at 48 frames-per-second (not to mention with the fantastic Dolby ATMOS sound system) was an experience unlike any other I have had in a theater, and it is absolutely worth checking out if only for the sheer novelty of it all. The general consensus has largely been a “love it or hate it” type deal, and I’m surprised that I fall in the former camp. It takes some time to get used to the quicker movements and video game-like visuals, but the high frame rate makes the 3D much more bearable.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t a perfect film, but I respect Peter Jackson for trying something new while undoubtedly pleasing countless fans begging for more Tolkien. Despite its excess length, I greatly enjoyed my time in the theater. Anyone even remotely curious in the film should seek it out, preferably with the higher frame rate.

8/10

Movie Review: Ted [2012]

Ted [2012]

Ted [2012]
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi
Runtime: 106 minutes

In theory, Ted shouldn’t work. Not only is this the first feature-length film from director Seth MacFarlane, who is responsible for the long-past-its-prime Family Guy (among other animated TV shows), but this is also a movie about a freakin’ talking teddy bear. The odds were against Ted being a quality film, yet somehow it manages to surprise and stand out as one of this year’s better comedies.

The movie revolves around the friendship between John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and his talking teddy bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). As a child in 1985, John didn’t have a lot of friends so he made a wish that his teddy bear would be able to talk to him. As luck would have it, his wish coincided with a shooting star, and his request was fulfilled. Ted sprang to life the next morning, startling the hell out John’s parents, but he quickly became accepted as a new member of the family.

Flash forward 27 years. John and Ted still live together, but now John is in a serious relationship with a hard-working office professional, Lori (Mila Kunis). While she is determined to rise through the corporate ranks, John seems content to work at a car rental business while getting high in his spare time with his buddy Ted. Lori has had enough of this childish behavior and presents John with an ultimatum: it’s her or Ted. What transpires is a juggling act from John, as he tries to keep the two most important people (er, things) in his life.

Ted with hookers

The plot is paper thin, but that’s all irrelevant thanks to the charismatic teddy bear. Ted has a foul mouth with a thick Boston accent, and he has a penchant for drugs, booze and hookers. His banter with John is oftentimes hilarious and raunchy, and their shared devotion of the campy 1980 Flash Gordon film lends itself to some of the film’s brightest moments. Naturally, as this is a Seth MacFarlane creation, there are dozens of one-liners that reference obscure 80s pop culture targets, and many of them will go over the heads of younger viewers. There’s also at least one Diff’rent Strokes joke, which seems to be a mandatory inclusion in everything MacFarlane does.

In order to stretch out the running time, an additional subplot is presented in which Ted is targeted by a creepy stalker played by Giovanni Ribisi (as crazy as ever). This adds more dramatic elements to the film, but its inclusion ultimately feels tacked-on and unnecessary.

Ted [2012]

In essence, this movie is all about Ted, and his CGI is very impressive. Ted fits in seamlessly with the rest of the actors on screen, and it feels like he is just one of the gang. Mark Wahlberg does an admirable job playing off this invisible presence, and he seems right at home while testing his comedic chops. Mila Kunis, while stunning as ever, doesn’t have much to work with thanks to her dull character, but she does the best with what she has.

While I’m not ready to label Ted as a *great* movie, it is easily one of this year’s biggest surprises, right up there with 21 Jump Street. This film is better than it has any right to be, and it makes for one of this summer’s more enjoyable comedic offerings. Fans of Family Guy will appreciate this most, but its concept can appeal to anyone. Just be warned: this is not a family-friendly comedy.

7/10

Video Game Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [Xbox 360]

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [Xbox 360]

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: November 11, 2011

For the last few weeks, Skyrim has been owning my soul. Other video games have taken a backseat to the massive, incomparable world of Bethesda Softworks’ latest RPG. Despite warnings from others, I didn’t expect this to happen. Sure, I had played and enjoyed Oblivion, but I was able to expand my playing time with that one by spreading it out over months. With Skyrim, I was hooked, line and sinker.

I have put about 30 hours into Skyrim so far, and I still feel like I have barely scratched its surface. Better yet, I am still *eager* to play more. This is a rarity with me, especially when it comes to single player games. Usually I will tear through the main campaign or quest line, work on some random side quests here and there, and then move on to something else. I have a habit of trying to maximize my time by playing as many new games as possible. With Skyrim, that all went out the window.

Much of that credit goes to the impressive in-game world that allows for a seemingly infinite amount of possibilities. After starting the game and going through its mandatory opening sequence (in a nutshell, you are about to be beheaded before a dragon appears and wipes out the town), you are then dropped into this world alone with the freedom to do whatever you like. There is a quest to start, sure, but you can just skip this entirely if you wish. I felt obligated to check out the nearby town, as recommended, but after that I just said “screw it” and started wandering around on my own.

One of my favorite aspects of Skyrim, and possibly the biggest curse to some, is that it is so easy to get sidetracked. I tend to start up a quest and head out in that direction, only to find a new enticing path or cave or dungeon or whathaveyou, which I promptly decide is of greater importance to explore. The ability to just get lost in the game world and explore whatever looks appealing is simply amazing. See that mountain in the distance? Go ahead and climb it. Wait, is that a sunken ship in that lake over there? Shit, I need to check that out. Oh wait, there’s a bandit lair on that ridge. I bet they have some good loot.

Skyrim’s countless questlines (divided into main, side and miscellaneous) provide all sorts of opportunities to explore new locations as well. The quests offer a wide variety of stories to go with them, offering you the opportunity to join more “evil” factions if you desire. Two mainstays from Oblivion make welcome reappearances: the Dark Brotherhood (where you act as a hitman/assassin for hire) and the Thieves Guild (where you use stealth capabilities while stealing from others). Throw in all sorts of oddball errands and requests, including many of which that are just bizarre and/or hilarious, and you have all the makings for a game that never gets old.

Perhaps best of all is that your character is entirely customizable, meaning you can play the way that *you* want to regardless of your selected race. Be a warrior, a mage, a necromancer, a thief, a marksman. Whatever you like. There are dozens of perks available to help level up your character in your envisioned mold. You can even find areas scattered around the various in-game towns to create your own potions, weapons and equipment. Hell, if you feel like doing menial labor jobs, there are options to do that as well.

All of this is presented in a beautiful, snowy Nordic environment. No matter where you turn, you are bound to find some sort of eye candy, whether it be breathtaking waterfalls, lakes covered in ice, or blizzardous mountains. Skyrim’s visuals are a huge improvement over Oblivion — just wait until you happen across a late-night aurora borealis. I don’t know if there is a better game that captures the cold, wintry feel present in Skyrim.

If it isn’t clear by now, I love this game. Skyrim holds its own against the last two Fallout games, both of which are personal favorites of mine, and its fantasy setting lends itself to all sorts of possibilities. There are some bugs to be found, such as characters/enemies getting stuck on walls and/or disappearing, as well as issues with graphical draw-ins, but these are to be expected with an in-game world this vast. These problems are incredibly minute in scope, and do not hinder the overall gameplay experience in any way.

Simply put, Skyrim is fantastic. Just be warned: this may consume your life.

10/10

Movie Project #47 and #48: Tokyo Story [1953] and Army of Darkness [1992]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Tokyo Story [1953]
Tokyo Story [1953, Yasujirō Ozu]
Starring Chishû Ryû, Chieko Higashiyama and Sô Yamamura.

My first Ozu film is a sad one. This highly-regarded classic follows the lives of a Japanese family in the country’s post-war recovery period. An elderly couple take the all-day train trip to Tokyo to visit their children and spend some time with them. The children, however, are all busy and have little time to be with their parents. Their eldest son, Koichi (Yamamura), is a doctor who is always on the go, and their eldest daughter, Shige (Haruko Sugimara) is a busy hair salon owner. That leaves the couple’s widowed daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) as the only person who is able (or willing) to sacrifice work to be with them. Everyone means well, they just can’t help always being occupied.

The movie takes a depressing turn in the second half, as the mother grows ill on the return trip home. The children make immediate trips to be with her, but nothing changes. They spend little time with their parents and ultimately leave earlier than expected. In this regard, the film is bleak and depressing, yet it is also realistic. Everyone has their own lives, and sometimes it is hard to break away from them even to spend time with their loved ones. Ozu paints this in a very straightforward manner, and we are merely seeing what is a common occurrence. The movie is remarkably well-made, but it crawls along at such a slow pace that extreme patience is needed for most of it. Tokyo Story demands attention, and while I appreciate its value, I found it to be one of the more challenging films in my project. 7.5/10

Army of Darkness [1992, Sam Raimi]
Army of Darkness [1992, Sam Raimi]
Starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz and Marcus Gilbert.

To prepare myself for Army of Darkness, I re-watched The Evil Dead (it had been several years) and also checked out Evil Dead II for the first time. Both were a lot of fun, though I think I prefer the original due to its stronger horror emphasis. Evil Dead II sent things in a more comedic direction, and Army of Darkness took this idea and ran with it. With only a slight reliance on horror, the trilogy’s conclusion opts for a greater slapstick influence. While I was entertained for the most part, I can’t say I was a big fan of some of the humor presented. There were a handful of scenes that annoyed me more than anything, such as when Ash (Campbell) is fighting several miniature versions of himself.

Still, I loved the movie’s cheesy one-liners, several of which were later unashamedly ripped off by Duke Nukem. The epic battle between the medievil soldiers and the army of dead was great fun, and the special effects were aesthetically pleasing. I can see why this has a cult following, and I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I would rather watch the first two in the trilogy if given the choice. 7/10

Movie Project #9: Akira [1988]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Akira [1988]

Akira [1988]
Directors: Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Genre: Anime/Action/Fantasy
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan

When it comes to anime, I have no problem admitting that I am very much a novice. I have seen a few Studio Ghibli films, and a handful of random TV show episodes here and there (mostly Ranma ½ and InuYasha), but never fully explored the genre. One movie that I have heard come up time and time again whenever anime is mentioned is the 1988 film, Akira.

Based on the massive eponymous manga series, Akira is a cyberpunk-themed sci-fi film set in dystopian Neo-Tokyo. The story revolves around Tetsuo, a motorcycle gang member who develops powerful psychic powers. He’s not alone in having these abilities; he comes to find out that there are multiple youths who have unique powers, including Akira, the child who caused Tokyo’s destruction 31 years ago. However, Tetsuo soon becomes megalomaniacal and begins to threaten the city in his own way. His buddy and fellow gang member, Kaneda, sets out to stop the potential devastation, all while getting caught up in the middle of a battle with the city’s oppressive government. Naturally, there is a lot of violence and crazy shit happening throughout.

Akira [1988]

As someone unfamiliar with the original manga, I couldn’t help but get lost during the movie. The story moves along at a fast clip, and I had no idea what was happening at times. I had no interest in the main characters, and couldn’t empathize with Tetsuo, even as he was fighting back against the evil government. From what I have heard, it really helps to have read the original material before watching the movie, and I certainly got that feeling myself.

The animation, while obviously dated, still looks cool and I thought it was a strong suit for the movie. I dug the cyberpunk feel, as the visuals do an excellent job portraying a gritty city that is still feeling the effects of its previous destruction. For a 20+ year old film, Akira still looks sharp.

I feel like I may need to watch Akira again to appreciate it more, but I am also wondering if I am just not a fan of this style of anime. I liked the visuals and the environment they portrayed, but I felt hopeless as the story began to spiral out of control.

Akira fans, what am I missing here?