Tag Archives: bluray

DVD Showcase: The Thinning Hairline Between ‘Knowing’ and Believing

7 Jul

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Knowing (PG-13) 121 min. Directed by:Alex Proyas. Written by:Ryne Douglas Pearson & Juliet Snowden. Starring:Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson.

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Is the universe governed by determinism or by random event? Do we as human beings exist in it all alone, or is there a greater omniscient force which rules over all of our lives? Are the worlds of science and religion exclusive to themselves, cancelling one another out, or are they simply different lenses through which we view the same events? And the greatest conundrum of all; is Nicolas Cage still capable of making a good movie?  Alex Proyas’ new thriller Knowing, which opened in theaters last March and hits Dvd and Bluray today, raises all of those questions and answers concretely only one. Yes, Virginia, Nicolas Cage managed to not ruin a movie. You will believe a man can stare vacantly and have just cause for doing so.  Continue reading

DVD Showcase: The exceptional James Gray tells a tale of ‘Two Lovers’

30 Jun

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Two Lovers (R) 98 min.  Directed by: James Gray. Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas Cinematography:  Joaquin Baca-Asay

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James Gray’s Two Lovers is potentially the best movie you didn’t see this year. Released last February for a brief stint in theaters and simultaneously on On-Demand, the film was mostly overshadowed by the stunts of its star, Joaquin Pheonix, who showed up on the Letterman Show looking like a stoned Amish rocker. It turns out though, that Gray’s film is far more worthy of the attention and discussion that inevitably was aimed at Phoenix and his ill-advised rap career (it’s all an elaborate film stunt, wait and see). Continue reading

DVD Showcase: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ director Oshii flies high with ‘The Sky Crawlers’

27 May

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The Sky Crawlers (PG-13) (2008) 122 min. directed by: Mamoru Oshii. voicework: Rinko Kikuchi, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shosuke Tanihara, Bryce Hitchcock, Ryo Kase.

 

cinemagrade b+They are known as the Kildren; eternally youthful adolescents who pilot WWII-style futuristic fighter-planes and participate in to-the-death aerial dogfights for the benefit of the mega corporations Rostock and Lautern. In the world they come from, there is no more war or conflict, and to ensure it stays that way the Kildren will compete in these global death games, filling the vacuum with an endless battle in the skies. Living like the lost boys and partaking in various adult activities including smoking and sex, the Kildren live a continuous, looping childhood; the banality of this existence is only brightened by the thrilling shooting matches they engage in while up in their planes.

That plot could be the center of a big Hollywood sci-fi picture aping Top Gun, but it’s actually the work of anime maestro Mamoru Oshii, the director responsible for films like Ghost in the Shell, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade and the live-action Avalon. Oshii, typically known for his philosophically dense dialogue and languorous, complex visual style, takes a step closer to main-stream storytelling with Sky Crawlers. The plot almost reminds one of a Howard Hawks adventure pic or even the recent French film Der Rote Baron, and while the film contains its share of thoughtful and introspective moments its primarily centered around characters and story.

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The beautiful hand-drawn animation blended together with a near photo-realistic CGI presents rolling English countryside, vast manor houses and golden-hued cloudscapes where soaring machines fire endless rounds of ammunition, shells raining down to the world below. The battle scenes recreate the daredevil antics of WWI pilots and there is even a Red Baron character called The Teacher. When I saw the stills for Sky Crawlers months ago, I was worried that those sequences would come off like video-game cut scenes. At first, thats exactly what they seem like, but Oshii frames even these images with a painters eye for composition and the zig-zagging planes, framed against either rain-clogged thunderheads or wispy white cotton balls, are almost poetic in their movements.

Visually lush and patient in regards to it’s texture and detail, set to a sometimes tranquil, sometimes thrilling score,  The Sky Crawlers works as a purely sensory experience. In fact, all of Oshii’s films do. My previous gripe with his work, and indeed most of the recent anime feature films, is that its almost too obscure in its intent and holds the audience at an unecessary arm’s length. The Sky Crawlersis the first Oshii film in, well, perhaps ever, that actually manages to cultivate a strong emotional core in addition to an aesthetic one. The general layout is still subdued, but there are humans here behaving as humans  and each of them has human issues. The Kildren do not age, and this brings its own set of problems, but ultimately they still struggle like your average person.

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Yuichi Kannami is the Kildren pilot at the center of the film and it opens with him landing his plane on the Rostock air-base in Northern England. He has no memory of the base or where he previously was, but picks up the swing of things quickly, befriending fellow pilot Tokino and starting a tension-filled relationship with his  commander, the icy Suito Kusanagi. She obviously posesses information she refuses to share with Kannami, and as the plot evolves secrets both on the ground and in the sky begin to manifest themselves. The battles in the air punctuate the human drama and the movie finds a nice balance between the action and the intrigue.

The story is speculative fiction and it’s been intelligently adapted from the novels by Japanese author Hiroshi Mori. Mori’s other novels are known as rikei mysterys because they revolve around some sort of scientific or mathematical puzzle. The Sky Crawlers novels were constructed in such a way where it was not always immediately clear what was happening or why, and as the series progressed all of the elements became available to solving the mystery.

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To a lesser extent, Oshii does that here, weaving events in and out of one another and suggesting what the flow of time must feel like to a person trapped in an endless state of youth. However, theres a clear narrative thrust and the film doesn’t fly off on too many theoretical or existential tangents as the Ghost in the Shell sequel did. Instead there is a far more natural rhythym to the drama in Sky Crawlers and the film has an almost pastoral idealism that reminded me more of Hayao Miyazaki (particularly Porco Rosso, another anime involving dog-fights) than any of Oshii’s ouvre.

I haven’t enjoyed an anime film this much in quite some time, and the market has been rather scarce with quality product. A new Miyazaki is on the way right now, and there have been a few choice entries like Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and the recent The Place Promised in Our Early Years,but that’s about it. Oshii’s Sky Crawlersis a breath of fresh air in that respect and an exciting remembrance of the potential of anime to tell thoughtful stories in detailed fantasy worlds. It’s not just a great animated film, it’s a great film period and well worth recommending to the both the hardcore anime fan and the filmgoer who could care less about little moving scribbles. Yes, it really is that good.

The Sky Crawlers was released on dvd and Bluray on May 26th, 2009.

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