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KF Animation Editor
Location: Tasmania
Birthday: August 27
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Well, I actually quite enjoyed this movie, more than I was expecting. I'm going to keep this uncharacteristically brief, because I think there's a bit of a temptation to overanalyse what is basically just a ripping yarn, which really doesn't do much wrong, if you can accept its a mocap Indiana Jones type thing. Of course the motion capture is exactly why a lot of people will have a problem with it. I admit it s somewhat unsettling at first, but I found I merely teetered on the edge of the uncanny valley rather than plunging headfirst into it as some viewers apparently did. But then I was one of the few reviewers who didn't totally pan 'Polar Express', and this is considerably less weird than that. In fact the biggest problem I had was that Tin Tin, when he first appeared, looked exactly like the guy in the video store who rented it to me.

There are some pacing problems toward the end: the non-stop action climax, which did drag on a bit, but to be honest many highly esteemed movies - 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' springs to mind - had a similarly overlong last act, and 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' just got visually exhausting.

When I grew up you were either into Asterix or Tin Tin, and myself and most of my friends were in the former category, so I don't have - can't have any beefs with it from a 'true to the priginal' POV.

I suppose my expectations were rather low, but I found myself pretty quickly settling into the groove and just enjoying a good, refreshing adventure, shelving any ethical considerations about whether or not it qualified as animation. It didn't strain my brain watching it, and I don't really have anything very deep to say about it.


animated movie From Up on Poppy Hill © Studio Ghibli
From Up on Poppy Hill
Rated it: 3
posted: Jan 23, 2015
Warning: long preamble.

When they first appeared on the West's radar, Ghibli were often referred to as 'Japan's Disney' or somesuch, and the comparison persisted. Recently it's struck me how misleading such analogies are. Leaving aside the different styles of the respective studios, there is simply the matter of quality. At least the consistency of it.

Without actually doing the math, I would guess that my own review average for Ghibli movies is above 3.0. That's remarkable for ME to begin with, but it's even more so when compared with Disney's batting average, which is far too difficult for me to be bothered working out, but - let's face it; Disney have been making movies for nearly 80 years, and in terms of classic periods, what do they really have? The very early 40's, a second, let's say 'silver age', almost as brief, mainly in the mid 50's - and their second golden age, riding the late 80's wave into the early to mid 90's. Since then the odd very good movie or near classic, and previously, occasional against-the-odds miracles like 'The Fox and the Hound' - but these generally being the exceptions.

That blurb probably more properly belongs at the start of my review of 'Frozen', which I watched yesterday, but what makes it pertinent here is the astonishing average which Ghibli have kept up since their inception (or before it, if you count 'Nausicaa' and Miyazaki's 'Castle of Cagliostro'). This now represents an unbroken period of over thirty years, from 'Nausicaa' onwards - a period of quality which Disney never came close to IN TOTAL, let alone continuously for their entire history.

And yet there is one sobering statistic, if my opinion's worth anything. During what I guess I'd have to call Ghibli's peak - from 'Grave of the Fireflies' in 1988 to 'Spirited Away' in 2001, they produced nine movies ALL of which scored either 4.0 or 3.5 stars in my reviews.

By contrast, in the time since 'Spirited Away', none of their movies have bettered 3.0 from me, and a couple of 2.5's have popped up. Still a formidable average, but in my eyes Ghibli haven't made a masterpiece in so long that, with the real possibility of the studio folding, they maybe never will again. I say 'maybe' because there are still several I've not seen, some of which haven't been released here yet.

A closing observation in this overweight preamble: my top three Ghibli movies were directed by Kondo or Takahata, not by either of the Miyazaki's. One of those dudes is dead, and the other has only directed one Ghibli film in the past 20 years (though, encouragingly, his name IS on the upcoming one).

So, the review. Honest!

After the tempest supposedly surrounding 'Tales of Earthsea', which apparently saw father and son refusing to speak to each other, Goro is back for a sophomore stint in the director's chair, though this time with his father responsible for the screenplay. This results in 'Poppy Hill' being a rather more recognisable Ghibli outing than 'Earthsea'. Who knows if they've put aside their differences, but the Miyazakis work pretty well together on this one.

With its awkward teen romance, missing and/or dead parents, conspicuous bicycles, teenage creativity (poems this time, rather than music), and country music (’Red River Valley' this time) it struck me on several occasions that 'Poppy Hill' was alluding to 'Whisper of the Heart', and once or twice, maybe even 'Grave of the Fireflies'. Although it's a pretty and warm movie though, this one doesn't approach the passion, either positive or negative of either of those masterpieces. It's difficult to say whether it was trying to be another 'Whisper' and falling short (it tends sometimes to be my impression), but 'Poppy Hill' lacks the delicate intensity of 'Whisper'.

I wonder if other people have a fascination for movies set in the year of their birth? Here, Japan is preparing to host the Olympic Games. Old parts of the city are being torn down to make way for new facilities, and the main characters in the movie are the first generation to have no link with or memories of The War. If I were Japanese they might have been my parents. Perhaps here we see some of the true themes of the film. A sense of a new, young country and a generation trying to define itself; trying to establish something which does away with the bad parts of the old, whilst hanging on to the better parts (the main characters meet against the backdrop of a student groups campaign to stop the demolition of the old 'Latin Quarter', which includes many school buildings, to make way for new structures. This theme isn't obvious though, and it seems important to me whether Miyazaki the younger achieved the balance he was presumably seeking. Because 'Poppy' does seem unable to deploy the themes I mentioned very clearly. It would have been easy to be hamfistted about the topic, and the Miyazakis avoid that, but in its place we get a teen romance which never gets as engaging as it ought to.

Umi is a teenage student whose father died during the Korean War, working on supply ships for the Americans. Her mother is absent, in America. One of her many responsibilities is to run up the signal flags for the ships in Yokohama harbour. Poignantly these will never be seen, of course, by her father. They are noticed by a flamboyant male student, however. Shun is politically active in the school's newspaper, whose headquarters is in the threatened Latin Quarter. He too has parentage which is mixed up with the war.

Uni is initially attracted simply by Shun, but his passion for convincing the student body to get behind his campaign to save the clubhouse is infectious. She soon finds herself involved, and a romance blooms, only to be threatened when it comes apparent that they share a common parent.

All of this is handled adequately, but without the mature perspective of films like 'Whisper of the Heart' or 'Only Yesterday'. Quite probably this is because the screenplay is based on a famous Manga of a sub variety aimed at teenage girls. Nevertheless it fails to invoke the depth of emotion of the other movies I mentioned.

So what does 'Poppy Hill' do well? As is nearly always the case with Ghibli, the attention to detail, and, in films like this, to local atmosphere and setting is marvellous, now and then bordering on sublime - particularly given the backdrop of mid 60's Yokohama to work with. One scene in particular sticks in mind, where colour and detail is used to depict a delicatessen at night so effectively I could l almost smell and taste it. Ghibli excel at this sort of thing. It makes up for their 'limited' character animation. At least I assume it is. I don't know if Ghibli shoot 'on threes', twos, fours, or more likely a combination of various frame rates - but as I've bemoaned before, the movement of characters in Ghibli seems weirdly cheap and at odds with their amazing backgrounds, and if they are cutting back on their frame rates it can't possibly have been for financial reasons, for a very long time.

That gripe aside, Poppy Hill is a very likeable movie, with rich eye candy and atmosphere, but it's disappointingly ineffectual at conveying really strong emotion, which it appears, at least in part, to be aiming at. It also doesn't help that Goro's character design tends toward the bland, and (from memory I made the same complaint of his previous film) the characters sometimes break out into classic anime visual tropes, like bug eyes and impossibly dramatic facial expressions -which undercut the realism he'd been building up. At least to me.

Good, but it won't be remembered with the same reverence as their classic 90's movies.


animated series Last Exile © Victor Entertainment Inc. / G.D.H. / Gonzo
Last Exile
Rated it: 3
posted: Sep 05, 2014
‘Last Exile’ gave me a whole new perspective on anime: 90 degrees.

I recently bought a 19” portable DVD player and, finding it rather larger than I’d forseen, stuck it on my chest of drawers on the left side of my bed. I watched this entire series sideways. FWIW this works surprisingly well, so long as you don’t have to deal with subtitles.

And it’s been nearly 10 years since I bought and added this series here. At last I watch it. All thanks to right angles.

‘Last Exile’, which is a decade old now, manages something which had hitherto seemed impossible: combining hand drawn and CG into a more or less seamless whole. For this alone it gets points. My constant complaint of anime is the cringingly slow number of frames per second. This persisted right up til at least ‘Spirited Away’, which, last time I checked was the highest rated animated film on IMDB. But here is a TV series where the block, stop-start animation of even the best Ghibli films is absent. Furthermore the CGI, which would be so awfully obvious in, for instance ‘Steamboy’, gels here with the hand-drawn backgrounds that you barely notice it.

Technical matters aside, what do we have here? Claus and Lavie are childhood friends who grow up as (respectively) pilot and navigator of a ‘vanship’. These flying machines, initially at least, are used to deliver messages. Their parents died doing such, whilst trying to cross the ‘Grand Stream’.

Which is where my complaints of anime creep in. What the hell is the ‘Grand Stream’? Who is really fighting who, and about what? Is this character a woman, a guy or a post-op transsexual? And (I must admit I can only level this criticism at the English language version), the ‘Maestro’ falls into that idiotic evil-genius insane-laughing debauched stereotype which lets things down. Other supporting characters are much more interesting.

There are other flaws which I’m always somewhat careful of assigning to an anime: for example the fact that the background to the main plot unfolds so slowly that the series is mostly over before you understand what it’s really about – but am I just coming at it from a linear, western POV? Perhaps this isn’t really a fault?

I also must admit that whereas few of the characters seemed absurd or objectionable, few of them genuinely engaged me emotionally. That, perhaps is just me.

This isn’t a truly great anime, but it’s head and shoulders above so much other dreck. I actually had to toss a coin as to whether this got 3.0 or 3.5. So, for my money, it’s a very strong 3.0.


animated cartoon Lucky Ducky © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Lucky Ducky
Rated it: 3
posted: May 20, 2013
Avery meets Freud. Two dogs (a father and son who look like a cross between Droopy and Goofy) are preparing to duck-hunt. The ducks of course know exactly what time the season starts and ends, and… this is really peripheral.

They wing a mother duck. Her egg falls onto the boat and hatches. The hatchling is disturbingly sensual and seductively feminine, even doing a strip-tease with her shell.. The father and son try to kill (him/her); they stick their obviously phallic shotguns into the water and shoot, to no effect. The duckling screws up through the bottom of the boat. The guys ejaculate through their ears. The younger male sticks his cock/rifle down through the orifice in the bottom of the boat; the duckling clamps the muzzle with a peg, rendering it impotent. The father touches it: it explodes.

More impotency ensues as son tries to start outboard motor without success. Loads of good sight gags follow, from Mt Rushmore, School Crossing to the wonderful running out of technicolor into b/w (shades of running off the edge of the frame). Then a magic, phallic tree sprouts; the father uses the son to try to cut it down; the son rebels.

Other than that, good Tex Avery.


animated cartoon Bad Luck Blackie © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Bad Luck Blackie
Rated it: 3
posted: May 19, 2013
I find myself so much in agreement with the previous reviewer, in terms of just about everything, including his rating, that I wonder if I shouldn't merely write 'see above', or merely give a rating without a written review.

I'll try to justify this excursion into 'ibid', however fractionally.

To me this short rings bells not merely with MGM and Avery cartoons, but with (yes, you probably see this coming) the 'Spy vs Spy' format of Warner shorts. More expressly the prey thwarts the predator; the herbivore thwarts the carnivore; the smart little guy beats the dumb big guy.

This has been so done to death so predictably that I just wish a wolf would kill a sheep for once. Well, at least here the whole cast are predators: two feline, one canine - but in the end it's still the Tweetie effect: the weakest character triumphs.

That being said, I enjoy Avery's Bren-gun sight-gags and edgier narrative somewhat more than I enjoy the average WB analog from the same era. Avery always gives the impression that he's in danger of really running amuck, rather than contriving a cleverly controlled opus ala Chuck Jones. Maybe it's a Beatles vs Stones thing. Ironically I like The Kinks.

When I stumbled across this cartoon in my WB vol whatever, I remembered Disney's 'Black Pete', and how he was revised over the years into the same sort of denial as 'Song of the South'. Is Bad Luck 'Blackie' a similar figure?

No, not really. He's just a black cat, far as I can see.


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