Movie Review ~ The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, Ronan Farrow

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: After all these years of going to the movies it took The Wind Rises to finally get me to ask myself the question…can you truly appreciate a movie and not wholly like it?  If so, then legendary Oscar winning animator (and driving force behind Japan’s animation juggernaut Studio Ghibli) Hayao Miyazaki has wrapped up his storied career with a highly respectable and deeply personal tale that’s free of the whimsy of fantasia found in his early work and one that’s more grounded in historical reality.

Though the film is a highly fictionalized work, its central character Jiro Horikoshi was no figment of Miyazaki’s imagination.  Known today for creating the Zero fighter plane, Horikoshi served as chief engineer of many of Japans fighter planes during World War II.  Miyazaki takes the idea of the character of Horikoshi and his life’s work and fashions a biographical tale that has its share of moments that soar into the heavens but more often than not feels too earth bound.

A story that could have (and should have?  and will?) be told as a live-action film, it falls victim to the Miyazaki style of animation favors featureless characters that unfortunately all start to blend together after a while.  Even the animals have odd human-like faces that are more than a tad off-putting for a picture that seems to resist going for a mythical element as is found in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro

Yet even though Miyazaki is going for something more naturalistic, he finds ways to let his imagination run wild such as in the sequences of Horikoshi’s dreams that find him commiserating with Carponi, an Italian aeronautical architect who conjured up some awe-inspiring designs for the future of travel.  Accompanied by a soundtrack made up of human voices that stand in for an orchestra or sound effects, these passages may be cool to the touch but are warm in spirit.

Between earthquakes, sickness, the threat of war, and a love affair with a girl from his past, Horikoshi’s story is revealed in metered bits that somehow manage not to feel choppy or overly episodic.  As with most of Miyazaki’s work, the film runs over two hours and this one feels like it…so I could have done with the film clocking in twenty minutes shorter.  Even so, the value of seeing the final work of Japan’s master makes it worth the extra time in your seat.

Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2014 Oscars, several theaters will be showing The Wind Rises in its original subtitled version or in a dubbed edition for those that are averse to hearing a film in its native tongue.  I saw the film with the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement), John Krasinski (Promised Land, Big Miracle), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Darren Criss (Girl Most Likely), though none of the Hollywood voices add much to the mix.

A work to be respected, I’m still not sure if I truly liked the film.  It’s slow and a bit of a slog to get through.  Still, like walking through a museum of fine art, I came out of the screening appreciative to have taken the journey.

Movie Review ~ Non-Stop

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m that weird duck traveler that loves to head off for an adventure but dreads the flight that will take me to my destination.  I don’t know why I have this irrational fear of flying and though I’m not someone that white knuckles it from wheels up to wheels down let’s just say that the sooner I’m back on solid ground the better.   

All that aside, can I just tell you how much I enjoy a thriller that involves any sort of in-flight dilemma?  I’m sure the root of some of my fears has come from seeing various maladies befall passengers in the Airport films and the hostile takeovers of Flightplan, Executive Decision, Passenger 57, Turbulence, et. al.  Though flying is the safest way to travel it can be the most dangerous when you toss in an action star like Liam Neeson looking for a killer on a transatlantic flight.

Let’s get this straight…Non-Stop is exactly the quality of film that you think it is.  It’s all muscle with little logic available to explain away large leaps of faith that it asks the audience to just go with.  And y’know what…for the most part it works well as a short fused thrill ride that gets you cruising along nicely up at 40,000 feet before encountering some midflight turbulence in anticipation of a watery landing.

Neeson (The Grey, The LEGO Movie) doesn’t have to stretch much to play a weary air marshal first class-ing it on a plane bound for London.  The film opens by letting us know there’s more than a few red herrings that will be joining him as each person he passes in the airport somehow manages to turn slllloooowwwlllly around with a grimace on their face.  For all we know, the entire plane is full of psychopaths.

Though he’s seated next to a kinda quirky kinda mysterious female (Julianne Moore, Carrie) and doted on by a lovely trolley dolly (Michelle Dockery, showing she’s capable of more than merely looking glum on Downton Abbey) his attention turns to the mysterious in-flight texts he receives from a passenger threatening to trim the flight manifest every twenty minutes until a payload of 150 million dollars is delivered…to a bank account in Neeson’s name.

So begins an in flight cat and mouse game that gets less interesting the more implausible it gets.  Non-Stop shows early promise with its slow burn first half but winds up flaming out long before the end is near.  And that’s too bad because had it capitalized more on the Hitchcockian mystery it aspired to it may have been a film that would be worth repeat viewings. 

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has been behind the camera for several flawed but interesting thrillers in his short career.  After the guilty pleasure House of Wax he scored nicely with the creep-fest Orphan before scaring us even more by casting the awful January Jones alongside Neeson in the marginal UnknownNon-Stop is more middle of the road work and wind up being best known for wasting 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o in a throwaway role – though she does rock some serious Fresh Price of Bel Air meets Grace Jones afro realness. 

If you’re willing to check your logic in the overhead bin and keep your rolled eyes in the upright position, Non-Stop is harmless entertainment.