Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies

“Why must fireflies die so young?”

I’m reluctantly a fan of some anime, but I’ll admit, the medium has been really hit or miss for me. There are some brilliant stories and a lot of stuff that’s just not for me. But when I heard about an anime film that shows World War II through the eyes of two orphaned Japanese children, I knew I had to give it a shot. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) who was a colleague of Hayao Miyazaki, is a moving and heart-breaking story about the horrors of war and the importance of family in a setting that American viewers don’t often think about. I’ll warn you now: it’s quite sad, and your soul will undoubtedly die a little bit as you watch this. But it’s still a beautiful story that I’m glad I experienced. And if you’re wondering, there is an English dub and it’s pretty decent.

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Spirited Away

Spirited Away

“Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.”

Think back to the Disney movies you probably watched as a young child. There was that sense of wonder and enchantment, like you were swept away into a new, magnificent world that just seemed so magical. I don’t really get that feeling from Disney movies anymore, nor do I from most movies. That’s one of the sad parts about growing up. Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle), brings me right back to that place of magic and wonder. Miyazaki is often described as the Japanese Walt Disney, but that’s not a fair comparison. Miyazaki’s work is often more mature, a little darker, and even further into the realm of fantasy. And this film may be his best work. It’s the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, and the only anime film to be nominated for—and win—an academy award. It rightfully earns its place among the best animated films of all time.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

“Be careful with that gun! This ain’t no cartoon, you know!”

Every once in awhile, a movie comes along that asks, What if cartoons were real? These are usually cute and funny—for instance, Space Jam answers the age-old question of how well cartoons can play basketball. The original, though, is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and it tells a very different story. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) and starring Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a film noir that asks what happens when a cartoon murders someone. It follows the classic film noir formula, but injects it with classic cartoon gags and logic. The result is a darkly funny and unabashedly unique mystery-comedy that’s unlike any other movie out there.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

“We’re all different. Especially him. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?”

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animated film written and directed by arthouse darling Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel), based on a book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach), and packing an all-star cast including George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and many more. The writing is clever, the art direction is stellar, and the characters are charmingly quirky. It’s suitable for kids, but smart enough for adults, and accessible to just about everyone.

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