This is one of the very few animated productions where Studio Ghibli’s fantastic storytelling is given a hint of European flavor. While “The Red Turtle” is branded a Studio Ghibli production it garners much of the same elements from Ghibli’s library including a wide open world, a menacing series of creatures and the overtones of the symbioses of nature and humanity. It’s best to think of “The Red Turtle” as a fairy tale, as the movie relies on a lot of inexplicability to tell its thin narrative. The narrative being thin is by no means a criticism as “The Red Turtle” is a lot about raw events, and simplicity at its finest.
Time seems to be the central theme of the animated shorts for the Oscars this year, as all of the animated shorts have some semblance of the theme of time. Most of the shorts spend their story examining the beauty of the past and the present, while others examine the tragedy of the past, the present, and the future. As with most years at the Oscars, you won’t always find typical animated entries, but this year’s crop have been quite special and incredibly thought provoking. I take a second glance at the shorts this year, and what I am voting to win come February 26th.
Made in 2012, Art as a Weapon is a documentary about using street art to publicly send a message, may it be of peace, hope, a political one, or any other messages sent to the mass public by way of graffiti, paintings, etc. The film follows an art class in Burma learning to use art with the most effectiveness and contrasts this with American street artist Shepard Fairey. Directed by San Diego documentarian Jeffrey Durkin, the film mixes the Burmese school students’ scenes with scenes shot in San Diego while artist Shepard Fairey was in town painting a Buddhist monk on the side of a building.
I truly, truly hope that when “My Life as a Zucchini” comes to the states that people to come to see it. I want people to seek it out, I want people to take their families, and I want everyone to tell others about what is easily one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen. “My Life as a Zucchini” is simple and it’s short, but its rich in human themes, and complex characters that you’ll fall in love with. Rest assured I fell in love with every single character, and understood even the antagonists. “My Life as a Zucchini” isn’t a film that shoehorns in a villain. It’s merely a slice of life about the pitfalls and emotional turmoil that comes with being an orphan in a very cruel, and often difficult world.
Olive Films brings the 1955 Republic movie serial “Panther Girl of the Kongo” to blu-ray form with every episode of the cliff hanger adventures for fans. Phyllis Coates as Jean Evans is the heroine and adventurer who has been taken in to confidence by the African tribe the Utange. There she lives among the natives and begins helping them fend off various threats to their way of life. This includes a mad scientist who uses various monsters and experiments to battle with Evans. He and his cronies will do everything to push the Utange out of their village for the sake of a very valuable diamond mine.
Following a massacre in a church, a priest who really is a vampire attempts to get funding and new followers as a vampire hunter works to take out as many of his followers as he can. In this ambitious ultra-low budget horror-comedy by writer/director/star Matthew Rocca, a typical story of good versus evil becomes less typical when the bad guys and good guys are not clear-cut with each of them having qualities that make them more complex and thus harder to pigeonhole. The story has interesting elements and some definitely good ideas. The dialogue balances between funny and just ok. The film’s issues in the story are where it seemingly gets lazy. Rape as a character establisher or changer or even as a shocking method is cliché, overdone, and a lazy plot tool when used the way it is here. The rest of the film uses a few other overdone plot devices but they are not as annoying and can be forgiven more easily.
Director Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” explores the prospect of a family at war, and a family that will likely always be at war. Director Baumbach has a lot to say about family and how parents can decide what kind of people we ultimately grow up to be. “The Squid and the Whale” is a weird, darkly comic and often demented look at how the eternal grudge of a man and his ex-wife will likely keep their sons at odds with then and one another for the rest of their lives. Director Baumbach contorts the dynamic of a grudging family, but also stays true to a lot of themes that find two sons on a diverging road and a dark path. Jessie Eisenberg is great here as the son of Jeff Daniels’ Bernard, an educated often pompous individual who has a keen sense of attempting to make his equals feel inferior.
Every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in! Keanu Reeves’ action starring vehicle “John Wick” ended up being one of the best films of 2014, and three years later, we’re granted what is essentially “The Empire Strikes Back” of the John Wick saga. When John Wick went in to retirement, violence found him once and he wrought unholy vengeance one last time. Now that he’s been a few years in exile, living alone with his trusty pit bull, his past has returned once again. Italian gangster Santino D’Antonio shows up at John’s door aware of his mission of vengeance and now plans to take advantage of a decades old blood oath he made to him when he was working as an assassin. Handing him a very sacred reminder called a “marker” with John’s own blood in it, he plans to hold him to his oath, despite John’s protests.