Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie Review

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie Review

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a 2008 animated sci-fi action film which is the only animated entry in the franchise. It is also the weakest one.

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Master Kenobi, always chasing after Skywalker. How predictable.

Anakin leaves quite a mess, which always leads me to you, Ventress

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie Review

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I really did not care for this film although I have to say that it is far from the levels of worst proclaimed by most critics and audiences. Certainly it is mediocre, but never truly bad and of course far from horrible. But still it remains the weakest Star Wars film right in the alley of ‘Attack of the Clones’.

So it follows Anakin who gets himself a Padawan named Ahsoka. The two must help Jabba the Hutt’s son in the ongoing titular war. So let’s first state those rare positives here. I liked the interactions between Ahsoka and Anakin even though they are boring. And I really liked the villain Asajj Ventress. She is badass, powerful and all the lightsaber duels with her were the highlights of the film.

But the rest of the action is entirely forgettable and not to mention overwhelming. The movie is frenetic in pacing and filled with action scene after action scene to the point where it became very exhausting and incredibly dull to watch.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie Review

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Obi-Wan is okay, but Anakin’s story here does not match the rest of the prequels and he is portrayed as overly good and thus this entire film is one big, sugar-coated lie. Count Dooku is very good, but Yoda and Mace Windu as well as all of the others are underutilized. But I liked Jabba’s son and he was endearing. As for Ahsoka, I do realize that she is an important character, but here she came off as rather unappealing, dull and just your regular, boring protagonist with no personality whatsoever.

The voice acting here is quite weak. I have to commend the actors on doing the voices that are so similar to the actual actors from the prequel trilogy, but still the performances lack any emotion to them and are so flat.

And that brings me to the movie’s worst aspect – its animation. Wow, does this film look bad. Certainly the backgrounds are okay, but the character design and the animation of the humans is simply horrible as they look like robots and they move and talk in such a robot-like, puppet manner that threw me off completely. Rarely have I seen worse animation than this one.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie Review

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So The Clone Wars not horrible, but the dialogue is overly simplistic, the script is pretty weak and the overall film is of TV quality which is obvious as these act as four initial episodes of a future show. It shows and they made a mistake for putting it in the theaters.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars has a very good villain and some memorable action sequences, but most of the action is still boring and highly overwhelming. The script is quite weak, the characterization is slight and the dialogue is rather simplistic. But its worst offender is its animation which is okay in backgrounds, but absolutely horrible in humans who look and act like robots. It isn’t a terrible film, but it is very mediocre.

My Rating – 2.5

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Zathura (2005)

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Zathura Movie Review

Zathura is a 2005 family sci-fi fantasy film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo. It is a pretty good, endearing flick.

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You guys actually set the house on fire?

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Zathura Movie Review

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Two brothers do not get along and once they set off on a space adventure through a board game, they must win it in order to get back home and in the process they become closer together and learn some brotherhood lessons. So this is a message film for sure, but it isn’t too preachy and it gets the message across while still making it a fun experience. That is why the film is most definitely a wonderful, highly recommended adventure for kids.

But it is also pretty good for adults, at least it was to this adult. I liked the mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements and the film is mostly wonderfully childlike, much more so than purely childish which I liked. The sense of wonder and adventure is quite evident here. The plot isn’t original for sure, but the setting is and it left a lot of room for imaginative and entertaining storytelling.

Josh Hutcherson is very good in the main role. Jonah Bobo is not as good, but is okay. Josh was definitely a child star back in the mid 2000s as evidenced also by his turn in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. It is great that he managed to stay in the business as an adult as well, but as a kid he was more than competent enough to carry an entire film which is exactly what he did here.

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Zathura Movie Review

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Certainly Kristen Stewart’s character got better near the end, but at first she was an overly stereotypical teen girl who really annoyed me. But Stewart is definitely good in this role. I liked Tim Robbins as their dad quite a bit, but Dax Shepard is also solid in his role, though not as memorable as he should have been.

Zathura is best when it centers on the relationship between two brothers. It portrays a very realistic brotherly relationship and bond with a lot of bickering, but evident care too. I really enjoyed it and it should prove terrific for anyone who has a brother. Very relatable.

I did not like the Zorgons at all. Their design was just unappealing to me and not creepy enough. Lisa should have had a bigger role in my opinion and the astronaut should have had a smaller one. I liked the twist quite a bit and it made sense and was really well hinted previously. But the overall third act was just not as entertaining as the film was previously as it was so much fun.

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Zathura Movie Review

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Zathura features a stylized, somewhat less realistic depiction of space which suits its kids’ format quite a bit. I liked the effects for the most part and the imagery was memorable. The interiors of the house are also quite well realized. The acting is good and the direction from Jon Favreau is quite good and he has always had a good eye for fine, old-fashioned family fun which this movie certainly is. It isn’t original or particularly inspired, but it does what it set out to do really well and I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Zathura manages to elevate its unoriginal premise and a couple of uninspired, overly action oriented scenes with a very good performance from Josh Hutcherson and a great brotherly relationship at its core which is sweet but also quite realistic. It is a good message film but also a lot of fun to watch thanks to evident sense of childlike wonder and a couple of very interesting plot points.

My Rating – 4

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Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is a 2005 space opera film directed by George Lucas and starring Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor. It is the best Star Wars prequel by a mile.

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You were the chosen one!

It was said that you would

destroy the Sith, not join them!

Bring balance to the force…

not leave it in darkness!

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

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I really liked this film, quite a lot actually and that I did not expect. This is finally a prequel Star Wars film which we deserved as it does everything a prequel should do – it sets up ‘A New Hope’ stupendously well with the entire third act being incredibly emotionally rewarding.

The duel between Yoda and Palpatine is simply fantastic and of course the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan is amazing and emotionally devastating. It is a long, but worthy fight which is unforgettable in the Star Wars lore. Obi-Wan’s final lines are simply devastating to hear and that scene is immensely powerful.

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

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I also really liked the birth of Leia and Luke as well as the creation of Darth Vader. Another highlight includes the fight between Obi-Wan and General Grievous. That was a lot of fun. All of the scenes with Anakin being manipulated by Palpatine are of course superb.

I do not understand why George Lucas did not put at least some of this storyline into ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’. This movie is so good, but also rushed and just stuffed with too many important plot points and some of those should have been put in the first two films which are by comparison almost unnecessary to watch how pointless they are whereas this one is incredibly important in its story. That was a huge mistake and Lucas is the only one to blame for such a pure structure of this trilogy.

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

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Hayden Christensen is still not good, but much better than before. Anakin is definitely overly naive and easily influenced, but still his story is so powerful and emotionally devastating. It felt like some grand tragedy of yesteryear. Padme is still boring, but Mace Windu is very good and tragic. Count Dooku is disposed of too quickly, but Grievous is a very memorable, creepy villain.

The robots take little screen time thankfully and Jar-Jar is almost not here at all. That is why the film is so serious tonally and I loved that. Yoda is of course phenomenal and I loved his every single line of dialogue. And of course the highlight is Palpatine or Darth Sidius who is such a powerful villain who was excellent and mysterious in the original trilogy, but is well utilized and explored here which is also interesting. His quest for power and his entire story is so well written. He is an immensely powerful villain and although Ian McDiarmid’s performance is at times borderline cartoony, it still fits the character properly.

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

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Revenge of the Sith has too much action for sure. It needed more calmer scenes. But the action is still excellent for the most part which is why I enjoyed watching this film a lot. It is actually the most rewatchable of all Star Wars films as it’s just so much fun. The dialogue is as weak as I’d come to expect from Lucas and this great script needed much better dialogue. The film is very well shot and with great effects (except that unfortunately dated lava at the end). It is a powerful culmination of this story overall and a very underrated film in its own right.

Revenge of the Sith again has clunky dialogue and it has way too much story and a highly important story at that. I do not understand why George Lucas stuffed all of this greatness into one film and left the first two films ultimately pointless and unnecessary in the bigger scope of things. But there is no denying how powerful this film is and how emotionally rewarding that third act is. Its story is important, grandiose and so well realized and the highlights include all of the scenes between Palpatine and Anakin, the ending, the Yoda-Darth Sidius duel and of course the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan which is not only cool, but also very tragic. It is the most fun and rewatchable Star Wars film of them all and easily the best of the prequel trilogy.

My Rating – 4

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Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Movie Review

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Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones Movie Review

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones is a 2002 space opera film directed by George Lucas and starring Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. It is the worst entry in the entire series.

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I don’t like sand.

It’s coarse and rough and irritating

and it gets everywhere

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Movie Review

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Yes, I really did not like this one. ‘The Phantom Menace’ has a couple of truly great scenes, but this one doesn’t even have those. It is certainly less insufferable and less childish with a thankfully reduced screen time for Jar Jar, but the other introduced elements are worse than its predecessor’s aspects quite a lot.

I am talking about the overwhelming action and the romance. The action is fun in the lightsaber duel and some other scenes, but for the most part it was dull as it is basically a war film with the clones fighting the Jedi. Those scenes bored me and the film is definitely overlong and dragging quite a bit.

But oh boy does the romance suck and carry this entire film down significantly. This has to be the worst romance ever put on film. The relationship between Padme and Anakin is boring and uninteresting. The two actors lack chemistry and their performances are terrible. Their lines of dialogue are awful and all of their scenes are basically giant detours with no purpose whatsoever other than to make you laugh how ridiculous they are.

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Movie Review

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Attack of the Clones is an honorable, but failed experiment. And what I mean by that is that the film tries to give us Anakin’s troubles with his temperament and we are meant to witness his shift to the dark side. It is thematically an interesting film and it does that shift really subtly and in an anti-cartoony manner. However, because the dialogue is so horrible across the board and the execution is so bad, those scenes that should have been dramatic and emotional are the worst ones here which is just unfortunate.

Natalie Portman gave one of her worst performances here. She is usually a very good actress, but here she is mediocre. But Hayden Christensen is just awful and he gave such a horrible, undeniably atrocious performance in an essential role that he single-handedly destroyed this entire film. I do think that he was cast in this role for looks alone as he has no acting talent whatsoever.

Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been used more here and Mace Windu is solid, but somewhat forgettable. The robots are quite amusing in some scenes, but mostly unnecessary. Palpatine and Count Dooku are excellent villains and again they should have been used in more scenes. Yoda is also reliably great. The fight between Yoda and Dooku remains the only truly good scene in this film as it is a great fight and easily the highlight of this otherwise unexciting film.

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Movie Review

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Attack of the Clones has reliably terrific special effects and also some of the scenes featured excellent imagery and planet scenery. The score and the sound effects are both pretty good too. This script I think was good in its initial stages and it had potential as certainly its intentions were excellent, but the execution is so bad that it rendered the entire affair dead in tracks. The dialogue is some of the worst that I have ever heard in a film. That’s why it’s the worst film in the entire franchise.

Attack of the Clones looks great, the duel between Yoda and Count Dooku is excellent and the film had very good intentions, but the execution is so bad that it rendered the entire film mediocre. Rarely have I heard worse dialogue than this one as many lines spoken here are ridiculous and even hilarious. The action scenes are overwhelming, the film is too long and the romance between Padme and Anakin is so bland and all their scenes together are terrible. Hayden Christensen is simply an atrocious actor and he single-handedly destroyed this entire film. It is undoubtedly the worst entry in the entire franchise.

My Rating – 2.5

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Ponyo (2008)

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Ponyo Movie Review

Ponyo is a 2008 fantasy family film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is one of Studio Ghibli’s most childlike films and one of their sweetest.

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Ponyo loves Sosuke!

I will be a human, too!

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Confession time – I did not care all too much about this film when I first saw it about five years ago. I thought it was a rip-off of a much better film ‘The Little Mermaid’. However, even though it is similar to that tale, it does have enough crucial differences that it can be said that it is inspired by it and certainly not a copy of it. Upon my second viewing, I find the film much better and it endeared me so much.

I liked that it’s a confined drama as much as it is a fantasy flick. I loved the beginning and the ending, but to me the highlights are the interactions between the two kids in the middle parts which could prove to be boring to some, but to me they stopped the story and they did it beautifully and I loved being in the moment with these kids and on this lovely small island. Some of the later scenes are actually more tedious to me than those in the house.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Ponyo is just such a wonderful character – she is innocent, sweet, caring and always interested about the world and people around her. Sosuke is a good-natured, sweet boy who is actually the protagonist here and I found him incredibly endearing. As I said, their relationship is phenomenal and so well realized. I cared for both of them so much and just watching them together made my heart melt.

Lisa is just such a wonderful mother and a great role model for all mothers out there. She is a single parent in a way and she manages to do an amazing job with Sosuke. I loved how the two were friends as much as they were mother and son. Koichi as their father is also quite memorable if used sparingly and I adored the signaling scene which is so heartwarming.

Granmamare as this mythical creature-woman is the most fantastical and intriguing part of the film. Fujimoto as the villain of the story is not all that great. He has his moments and I absolutely loved his lair, but he was too weak a villain which is typical for children’s films. And I wouldn’t even call him a villain personally. As for the three grannies, I found their characters somewhat unnecessary, but they still brought quite a lot of charm and humor to the film.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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Ponyo is simply stunning in terms of animation. It is a modernized animation, but still a classic hand-drawn animation in style and approach and I loved that. It is a proof that underwater animation can be just as strong and just as beautiful as CGI. It is a very pleasing to look at, extremely colorful film with a great use of the color blue and especially red.

I loved the various memorable imagery here such as the underwater scenes, the overall island which is unforgettable and the house which is cozy and sweet. My only gripe is the character design. It is mostly excellent, but Ponyo looked weird as a fish and particularly odd as half-fish, half-human with those very unappealing chicken legs. I am definitely not a fan of that design.

So Ponyo is unoriginal in its story, but it does have its authentic quirks and turns. I thought that some of the scenes in the second half were not as interesting as the ones in the first half and the ending was kind of abrupt. The film is slow paced which I definitely enjoyed, but sometimes that approach came at the expense of the story.

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Ponyo Movie Review

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But even though it isn’t one of the studio’s strongest films, it also isn’t one of the weakest. It is so sweet and emotionally resonant that I think not a lot of people could possibly resist it. The voice acting is absolutely terrific on all fronts and the direction from Miyazaki is excellent, though his themes here are his typical themes. I found the pacing great and the dialogue quite good. The score is also very good as is the sound design.

Ponyo is such a charming, cozy and wonderfully endearing family film. It has its problems such as some of the character designs and the unoriginality of the plot, but still Miyazaki added enough quirks and interesting ideas to make it his own story. Ponyo and Sosuke are lovely  characters and their wonderful interactions are the highlights here. I also really enjoyed the slower pace as well as its simply gorgeous, detailed and colorful hand-drawn animation with a lot of memorable, beautiful imagery at display.

My Rating – 4

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Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

Tales from Earthsea is a 2006 fantasy anime film directed by Goro Miyazaki. It is not one of Studio Ghibli’s strongest films, but still a solid fantasy.

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But only to men is it given to know that we must die,

and that is a precious gift

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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It is based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin and that is evident, especially near the end. The film suffers from being too short. Yes, it is a two-hour long film, but I had the impression that it was ridiculously rushed at times and obviously trimmed for movie treatment. It is an overly epic and detailed story that needed more time to develop properly.

But thankfully the first half is slower in pace and particularly engaging. To me that is the highlight of the film as it flowed really well, it was very involving to watch and quite mystical and magical. But the film definitely stumbles near the end with a somewhat abrupt conclusion and rushed approach at concluding this story. The plot holes are sometimes evident too.

I loved that Tales from Earthsea is a period piece but with magic, wizards and dragons. It is an epic fantasy work which is surprisingly mature and brutal for a Studio Ghibli film which usually does not go into such dark territories. The film is at its core about death and it is has a pro-life message which was great. It also has some inevitable environmental themes. But it also includes drugs, attempted rape and violence which was unexpected, but well done for the most part. The ripping of the arm was unnecessary and too brutal though…

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the characters. The character development here is surprisingly solid for such a maligned Ghibli film which is not great, but certainly not bad as the studio never made a bad film and this one is perfectly solid and quite underrated. I found Prince Arren to be a very strong and not too heroic protagonist which I always appreciate.

I wanted more from Sparrowhawk. He was so cool, but he never got enough action sequences unfortunately. The henchmen were goofy but memorable and those two gossipy women were hilarious. I liked Tenar and I loved that Therry was the savior in the end. She really got a moment to shine in the end which was great.

As for Lord Cob, he is your typical gender-bending anime villain, but those always work and he truly is one of the standouts here. He was so well animated and designed and with such a creepy voice. His quest for immortality is typical but still well realized. And he is just a very menacing presence felt throughout the entire film.

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Tales from Earthsea Movie Review

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Tales from Earthsea is gorgeously animated. Not as artistic as some earlier Ghibli efforts, but still beautiful to watch and absolutely magnificent at times. The attention to detail is expectedly spectacular, I loved the English look of the towns and villages and both the imagery and action sequences were terrifically animated.

The action is very good here and not at all excessive. The end battle was very memorable, but rushed. The pacing is off as at first the film is slow but later on it becomes somewhat abrupt. The direction from Goro Miyazaki is obviously problematic as this is his first effort, but still he showed promise here. The voice acting is terrific, the dialogue is solid but somewhat standard. The standout remains the villain, that beautiful song that stops the film at the middle and of course the entire interesting first half.

Tales from Earthsea is definitely problematic in direction and pacing. It has familiar themes and it is obviously overly rushed in its second half which is much weaker than the first one. But still for a much proclaimed “worst Studio Ghibli film”, it is actually pretty solid and not bad at all. The animation is frequently gorgeous, the first half is very interesting, the action sequences are excellent, the film is admirably dark in tone and the characterization is quite good with the villain being very memorable and menacing.

My Rating – 3.5

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle Movie Review

Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is far from the best that Studio Ghibli has to offer, but still a solid film in its own right.

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I don’t cook!

I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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I actually liked this one much more upon second viewing as I really did not care for it the first time around. But watching it now, I could certainly appreciate it more. The storyline is admittedly quite good and I particularly loved that it is an alternative historical film. This is early 20th century for sure, but with magic added as a bonus.

The story is fascinating, magical, endearing and as imaginative as you would come to expect from the studio. I loved the magical elements and I really liked some of its themes with aging being particularly well explored.

However, the major problem I’ve had with it is that it is undercooked. The narrative is very problematic as it doesn’t give us too many answers to some really crucial questions such as whether or not Sophie is a witch, Howl’s origin story is left unexplored as is his entire relationship with Suliman.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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To me the film just happened and it gave us way too many characters and way too many plot points that some were seriously shortchanged. That is the problem of the script but also of the action as the runtime is more than long enough for it to develop properly. But the action is frequently quite overwhelming that we do not get to spend enough time with some characters and story points.

I liked Sophie quite a bit. She has excellent development and growth in this film and is a likable protagonist for whom you root for. Howl is also very good and interesting as this man obsessed with looks and young age. The relationship between the two is moving and one of the film’s highlights.

The Witch of the Waste is excellent and I ended up liking her quite a bit. Underutilized for sure, but she is at first excellent and memorable as a villain and then quite sweet as their companion. Calcifer is a cartoon character in his appeal and design, but a good one nevertheless and having fire literally be a character was interesting and he was so well animated and very endearing.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Markl is sweet, but entirely underutilized unfortunately. But his relationship with Sophie is heartwarming. Madame Suliman is memorable as the film’s greatest villain, but once again entirely underdeveloped. The voice acting is superb and everyone did a great job across the board.

Howl’s Moving Castle features brilliant animation. Yes, that is certainly one of the standout aspects here. I loved seeing for once the early 20th century in a fantasy flick and the attention to detail is so meticulous that I was transported to that era from the first moment. The costumes look great, the hairstyles, the various imagery is highly interesting and in particular the interiors looked awesome with the castle itself being so well imagined. This anime surely is beautiful to look at.

To me the highlight in terms of the scenes was the beginning and especially the transformation scene which was very intriguing and wonderfully reminded me of fairy tales. The film is very much a Japanese fairy tale which I loved of course. The ending with the imposed end credits was not my cup of tea, but each scene in the house was wonderful and Howl and Sophie’s scenes were all heartwarming.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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The action is very well executed even though it is overwhelming. The pacing is frenetic for sure and the film should have been much calmer as its runtime demanded it. Miyazaki’s direction and vision are reliably strong, but he was influenced by ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and the film never is comparable to it. The score is also not as memorable as some other scores from the studio. In the end, I liked the film, but it is way too flawed to be considered in the top half with Ghibli’s biggest classics.

Howl’s Moving Castle is admittedly much better upon second viewing and it features excellent world building and attention to detail. I really liked its historical period and the magical elements. The two main characters and their relationship are strong and the animation is magnificent and beautiful to look at. But this is still one of the more flawed Ghibli films with overwhelming action and a problematic narrative that leaves too many things unanswered and too many characters underutilized. Miyazaki was influenced by his ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and this is obviously a pale imitation of that classic film.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Cat Returns (2002)

The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It is one of their most pleasant, most underrated works.

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I respect a woman who stands up for herself.

Even if she does like sticking her nose in other people’s business!

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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This film is about a directionless teenage girl Haru who, after saving a young cat prince from certain death, is brought to the cat kingdom where she is supposed to marry a prince. I adore this film. It is actually one of my childhood favorites and I still love it now as an adult. The story reminds of Disney Princess movies as here we basically get a Ghibli princess which was awesome to witness.

The plot is similar to ‘Spirited Away’ in a sense that the protagonist is changed after going on a fantastical journey and is now a more responsible, more adult person. I loved that they repeated that journey and message and they did it wonderfully once again. But it is different than the aforementioned film because it is much more fun, childlike and jokey in its approach.

Let’s talk about the characters. Haru is an excellent protagonist. I really liked her and she is such a likable, sweet person. Her mother and her friend are solid for the little screen time that they received, but this is the movie about cats and they are the strongest characters here.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Baron is absolutely fantastic. This movie is literally a spin-off of ‘Whisper of the Heart’ as in that movie this character was just a figurine, but now we get him in full flesh. I loved that connection between the two movies even if they are the complete opposite of each other. He is badass, cool and like a dashing hero of yesteryear. The relationship between him and Haru is sweet, if a bit creepy when you think about it.

I really liked Toto as he is a wonderful bird. Prince Lune and Yuki are a great couple and I loved her backstory. The Cat King is such a great throwback to classic cartoon villains from decades ago – he is villainous, but very funny and over-the-top which I loved.

And of course Muta is the very best character in this film and the highlight for me. His constant obsession with food brought us many funny moments, his bickering with everyone else was great, I liked his very amusing backstory and the highlight was seeing him get angry mostly for being called fat. He is a phenomenal sidekick for sure.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns is very well animated, but it is just not up to par with Ghibli’s previous classics in my opinion as it is never as moving or as memorable or as artistic. Still, the imagery is frequently beautiful, the action is so well executed, I loved the sky scenes and of course the highlight was the cat kingdom with the castle and especially the labyrinth and the tower. I also really liked the character design of the cats and the cats themselves were fairly realistically portrayed here in both their animal design and their moody, selfish behavior.

The Cat Returns has a bunch of memorable sequences so let me say which ones are my favorites. I loved the beginning and the scene where she rescued the cat prince was so well done. Baron’s little house was so cute and the attention to detail was so overwhelming in there. Overall, the architecture in this film is beautiful to witness.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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That scene where the king threw some cats from the window because they did not provide proper entertainment was hilarious as it was basically murder but portrayed amusingly. It was both dark and funny. The labyrinth was of course absolutely fantastic. I loved the king’s cheating and how The Baron realized that. This film is such a wonderful, enchanting adventure and those labyrinth and tower scenes are the best examples of that. And of course the descend through the sky is gorgeous to watch and the ending itself is poignant and emotionally satisfying.

The Cat Returns has absolutely brilliant voice acting. Yes, this is one of Ghibli’s strongest works when it comes to acting as each performance is phenomenal and everybody did a great job with the highlights being Tetsu Watanabe and Tetsuro Tanba as Muta and The Cat King, both very funny characters.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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Yes, the humor in this film is absolutely terrific and it probably is Ghibli’s funniest film as I laughed out loud many times while watching it. The film is so poignant, sweet and emotionally resonant while also being very funny and wonderfully childlike in its approach. The only problem is the pacing which is rushed as the film is just way too short in its runtime which was unfortunate. But the dialogue is strong and the score is particularly great with a wonderful closing number. It is one of Ghibli’s best and most underrated films.

The Cat Returns is overly rushed in pacing owing to ridiculously short runtime, but it remains one of Ghibli’s better and definitely most underrated works thanks to brilliant voice acting, excellent characterization (Muta, Haru, The Cat King and The Baron are all great characters), a wonderful story and terrific humor as it made me laugh so many times definitely being the funniest film from the studio. It is wonderfully childlike in its quality, very adventurous and enchanting in its journey and highly resonant emotionally. It is such a wonderful follow-up to ‘Spirited Away’ thematically and such a successful spin-off to ‘Whisper of the Heart’.

My Rating – 4.5

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Solaris (2002)

Solaris Movie Review

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Solaris Movie Review

Solaris is a 2002 science fiction drama film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney. It is such a competent, stupendous remake.

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I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know

if it would really tell you what’s happening

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Solaris Movie Review

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Certainly the original Soviet classic is much better and a science fiction classic in its own right. But this one is surprisingly good, especially when watched on its own. I also really admired that it is very much its own thing and not a straight remake.

I am talking about the storytelling and the approach here which is very different than the one in the previous film. Tarkovsky’s approach was much more artistic, longer, slower and more ambiguous and ambitious, but this one is much simpler which is done for better and for worse.

I disliked that it ran through the first act so quickly, but I still liked that it got to the point and it stayed on that trajectory longer and in a stronger way. That means that as a drama and as a romance it might be even better than the original as it centers on these two people and their relationship and the results are more moving in terms of emotional investment.

George Clooney gave such a good performance and I do not know who Natasha McElhone is but she admittedly did a pretty good job in her charismatic role. The relationship between the two is great as the actors share solid chemistry and the dialogue is particularly strong and playful. The romantic elements were surprisingly strong here. I also have to praise Viola Davis who is excellent here per usual and it was great seeing her so early in her career and she was awesome even then.

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Solaris Movie Review

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Steven Soderbergh directed the movie pretty well though not as greatly as he should have done. The pacing is solid and the film is slow, but rarely boring and it is quite engaging in its romance and dialogue. The characterization and script are pretty good as is the score and special effects. I just wish that the ending was stronger and the science fiction elements too as they were underutilized this time around.

Solaris is a surprisingly strong remake and a good movie in its own right. Certainly it is inferior to the original as the ending and the science fiction elements are not as good, but the performances are strong across the board, the dramatic and romantic elements in the story really worked and the film is simpler in runtime and approach which worked in its favor as it distinguished it from the original quite well.

My Rating – 4

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Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away Movie Review

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Spirited Away Movie Review

Spirited Away is a 2001 anime fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is the best Studio Ghibli film and one of the best films ever made.

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Once you do something, you never forget.

Even if you can’t remember

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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I have seen Spirited Away at least three times by now and upon this fourth viewing I again confirmed its greatness. Rare are films that get better and better upon each subsequent viewing and this is one of those films. It has an amazing replay factor. I have always watched it in a dubbed version as that is how I first saw it so I cannot comment upon the Japanese sub acting, but the dub is actually one of the better anime dubs.

Let’s first talk about the story and the highlight scenes. This film is obviously influenced by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and it is a much darker, much better crafted version of it. It managed to eclipse that story due to a sheer epicness of it. It feature an amazing use of Japanese mythology and spirits and every creature here looks great and is highly memorable.

The beginning is excellent and very eerie in its atmosphere. Highly mysterious and otherworldly. All of Chihiro’s first sequences in this world are great and a wonderful build-up for the rest of the story. As for the stink spirit scenes, they are slightly extended, but still very memorable and the character is fascinating. So the film sometimes feels like a series of vignettes, but those vignettes are all fascinating and the editing is great so it still ended up being tight and well structured.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Then the story gets much more intriguing with the introduction of Yubaba’s sister. The second act and mostly the latter half of it features a terrific use of build-up to the action and it rises the tension and stakes superbly.

Of course my favorite act is the third one as it is the culmination of everything we had learned previously about this world. That train is just breathtaking, those travelling scenes are transcendent in quality and the imagery is unforgettable.

Then we have the greatest scene from this film which is of course the goodbye scene between Zeniba and Chihiro and then the marvelous dragon flight which includes a great realization and an excellent, fascinating answer to the mystery of how she and Haku met. The final test was great and of course everything about that ending rings awesome. Beautifully filmed and immensely resonant in terms of emotion. The film reward you for taking this long trip with such a moving, deep final scene.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the film’s characters. Chihiro is a one of a kind protagonist and quite possibly the studio’s best creation. She is spoiled, clumsy and childish at first, but upon taking this amazing, fantastical journey, she becomes much more independent, stronger and more responsible and brave. It is an archetypal hero’s journey, but the one done infinitely better than most as it takes its necessary time to develop and thus feels all the more special.

Haku is also excellent despite appearing in not so many scenes. His mystery backstory is intriguing and very well resolved and his dragon form is striking and his job is very well utilized. The relationship between him and Chihiro is never overly emotional and just right.

Yubaba is such a hilarious character. At first menacing and all-powerful, but later deconstructed to a mean old lady. I loved her interactions with each of the characters. Her giant baby is so funny and her story with Zeniba is realistic and a lot of fun. Her sister is the polar opposite of her and a good witch. Loved her and her heartwarming relationship with Chihiro.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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No-Face is fascinating. He is a famous Japanese spirit, but he can be interpreted as being the metaphor for loneliness which many of us deal with and people are struggling much more these days and thus he is very relatable and endearing. I loved his many forms and how his backstory remained a mystery. I also loved that he stayed with Zeniba in the end as both need some company. Certainly the film resolved each of the characters’ stories successfully.

Boiler Man is very sweet and caring and I just loved everything about his working steampunk environment and those employees of his are so incredibly cute and feisty. Chihiro’s parents serve their purpose and to me Lin is wonderful as this on surface calculated, yet ultimately very caring and good friend to Chihiro. Every character here is great and every spirit and creature is memorable even if they are not too present.

Spirited Away features absolutely breathtaking animation. What is there yet to say that hasn’t already been said? This film utilizes on the power and pure imagination and art of hand-drawn animation superbly and rare are animated films with better animation than this one. Only Walt Disney’s earliest films can compare honestly.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The film is colorful in just the right amount, it is both dark and light in equal amount both in terms of animation and atmosphere and it has absolutely terrific character designs with each spirit being fascinating, different and unique. The humans also look great. The various sets are amazing, each one of its locations is beautifully explored and mesmerizing and the action is so well executed.

It has some of the best world building that I have ever witnessed. I felt as if I really went into this spirit world and I felt as if I also learned something and became more adult just like Chihiro. The movie gives the child in all of us the opportunity to dream again and because it is so dark and serious at times while being funny and lightweight at other times, it manages to be perfect for both children and adults. A perfect mix of everything that the best of animation can offer.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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In terms of the humor, it succeeds. It is rarely used, but quite enjoyable and endearing when it happens. I loved the cutesy factor here, but I also admired the inherent darkness of this world as well as it reach themes which span from growing up to greed (best exhibited in those bathhouses) to environmentalism (refreshingly subdued here for Ghibli) to Japanese folklore. The film truly is very smart and consistently deep and transcendent.

The action is never overwhelming and is excellent and sparingly used. The runtime of two hours is perfect for this film and it never feels long despite for animation long runtime. That is because this world and this story are so rich that they needed more time. And the pacing is excellent.

The tone is diverse and the score is phenomenal! I loved this score and in my opinion the dragon flight scene is the best scene in the movie not in small amount thank to that gorgeous, moving and highly transcendent score which is honestly magical in its quality.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The attention to detail is magnificent, the dialogue is terrific and the film is unforgettable in its every aspect. Hayao Miyazaki directed Spirited Away marvelously and it clearly is a work of art and magnum opus from this famous director who was clearly making a masterpiece here. It thankfully got its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and it is critically acclaimed for all the obvious reasons I stated above. It is the best that both Studio Ghibli and anime have to offer and one of the best overall film of all time.

With breathtaking, absolutely wondrous animation, stellar direction, meticulous world-building with an overwhelming attention to detail, terrific character development and extremely powerful score which is honestly one of the best in film history, Spirited Away is an undisputed masterpiece and one of the rare films that can easily be called art. The story is well crafted with great influences, a diverse tone which ranges from cute and endearing to dark and atmospheric, high emotional resonance and a great character journey for the protagonist. The film manages to be magical, sometimes serious, at times funny, but always engaging and simply fascinating. The entire, wonderful new world is created here with an impeccable attention to detail which is a reason why it has such a lasting appeal and endless replay factor. Consequently, it is a pure masterpiece and undoubtedly one of the best films ever produced.

My Rating – 5

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