Violet Evergarden in Film Form

Violet Evergarden movieWhen I saw Netflix was releasing a movie sequel to the Violet Evergarden anime series, I was excited to see the story continue.  The movie was visually beautiful, much like the original series.  However, not much happened in the 90-minute runtime.  The plot was rather simplistic, and it felt like the scriptwriters took the story for a 20-minute TV episode and stretched it to cover an hour and a half instead, without adding any depth or plot intricacy.  I actually thought that Violet’s initial assignment was going to end after the first portion of the movie and that then the film was going to show her completing other assignments or delve more into her personal life or past like in the TV show.  Instead, Violet’s job as a tutor at a private girls’ boarding school and her interactions with her student and her student’s adopted sister turned out to be the whole plot.  While the story was pleasant enough and had nice moments involving loyalty, friendship, and sisterhood, I don’t think the plot would have even made a particularly great episode in the original series.  This movie had a lot of promise, but I felt disappointed after I finished it and slightly bored as I watched it.  If someone could produce a film that capitalized on all the potential the anime series has in terms of plot, mystery, themes, characters, and beautiful animation and music, then I think that would be a movie well worth watching.  This one, though?  Not so much.

If you haven’t seen the original series, check that out instead.  I highly recommend it.  My review of the TV show is available here.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

A Flower for the Winter

Violet Evergarden letterI am no connoisseur of anime, but I have dabbled a bit.  One series that I watched on impulse last year was Violet Evergarden.  This seemingly simple show turned out to be quite touching.

From the moment she awakes in a hospital, Violet’s only thought is where “the Major” is, if he is all right, and when he will give her a new mission.  Her preoccupation might seem unusual, given the fact that she has just lost both her arms in battle and now has robotic prosthetics.  In fact, a lot about Violet is unusual.  Why does she seem so emotionless?  Why does she care so much about the Major and her missions?  How did she lose her arms?  The mystery of who, or what, she is and what happened to the Major is a driving force in the story of the anime series Violet Evergarden.

Eager to end her convalescence and begin her next mission, Violet accepts the position that Colonel Hodgins, one of the major’s old acquaintances, offers as her next assignment.  The job is to work as a letter-writer for a company that hires “auto memories dolls” to ghostwrite and deliver messages to people around the nation, working from the capital city Leiden.  At the CH Postal Company, Violet witnesses auto memories dolls translating people’s emotions into written messages.  Wanting to understand other people’s emotions too, Violet determines to train to become an auto memories doll.

Violet Evergarden header

This series is not only beautiful with its gorgeous animation and soft piano soundtrack but also develops thoughtful themes.  Violet Evergarden learns many lessons through her letters and her travels as an auto memories doll, and the audience gets to share these experiences with her.  The story’s topics range from the meaning of love to friendship, war, courage, and family.  An especially poignant part of the story is Episode 10 “Loved Ones Will Always Watch Over You.”

One of my favorite aspects of the show is how it explores the power of letters.  Sometimes written words can express ideas better than any other medium, and letters can even become treasures to be reread through the years.  The challenges Violet and her coworkers face as they try to turn other people’s ideas and emotions into letters is something that resonates with me as one of my passions is to become a better communicator and transform others’ messages so they can reach their audience.

Like its name, this show really is a flower.  The story is seemingly simple, but full of sweetness, beauty, and depth.  Violet Evergarden brims with the vivacity and color of a garden that blooms evergreen—a place for quiet comfort and refreshment, tears and smiles and growth.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Review: JOKER

Joker is a film that could have been set anywhere, in a universe without Batman, Joker, or superheroes of any kind, and the characters and plot would still work. What is the point of a tale like this? A tale where the setting no longer directly informs the plot?

With a wandering plot and ambiguous detail, I can only speculate about the point director Todd Phillips intended for audiences to see. Nevertheless, as a memorable and gripping story of mental illness, and as a display of the extremes people will go to be noticed in a society that promotes and accepts loneliness, Joker succeeds on all counts.

Arthur Peck works as a clown by day and dreams of being a stand-up comedian by night. The only problem? He’s not funny, and he is crippled by uncontrollable laughter, a result of childhood trauma, that makes him socially awkward. It’s very tragic to see him laughing, at times almost wheezing and crying at the same time, while onlookers only see him as creepy and awkward. The stigma he feels is something relatable to anyone who has ever been judged for something about their manner or appearance that they can’t help.

The film inevitably takes a darker turn as Arthur descends into the persona known as Joker (for those squeamish about violence – be warned!). Inspired by elements from the film The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this is a film that has generated a lot of discussion and buzz, both positive and negative. Almost as if the movie is a mirror, reviewers have seen everything from depictions of Antifa to a glamorization of incel culture (if you have to look up the term incel as I did, you are not alone) in the frames of this dark character portrait. My opinion? Todd Phillips wanted to shock audiences by mixing a bunch of interesting themes into his film without committing to a single one idea. The result is something that is well-acted, thought-provoking, yet ultimately wandering and bleak. But memorable cinema nonetheless.

-BONE-

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Besides a chance trailer and a friend’s hearty recommendation, I began Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with very few expectations and little info.  I came out of it quite satisfied, with many pros and only a few cons.

Positives

One of the best bits of this reboot is that it is a fun celebration of the character Spider-man and the comic world.  The film provides an entertaining exploration of parallel universes and how many ways the Peter Parker Spider-Man we all know could have turned out differently.  In fact, I noticed that the film created an unstated Spider-Man formula.  The hero is not one person.  Peter Parker doesn’t equal Spider-Man.  Instead, power from a radioactive spider + a desire to help others + personal loss + a leap of faith = Spider-Man.  This creates an “everyman” theme, reminding the audience that a hero can be anyone.

Spider-Man poster

In fact, this formula ties directly into some of the movie’s other key themes.  When Miles Morales attempts to quote “with great power comes great responsibility” to a disillusioned Spider-Man, Peter Parker abruptly cuts him off.  Previous Spider-Man movies, especially the Tobey Maguire trilogy, emphasized this theme, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse instead focuses on “leaps of faith,” perseverance, and second chances.  While those may sound cheesy, I found the themes more broadly applicable to real life than the original heroic themes.  After all, we constantly take risks and choose to be vulnerable.  Being determined enough to try in the first place and try again when something doesn’t work out the way you want it to is critical in life.  Yet, as the movie shows, fear often paralyzes us from taking the leap.  Pride stops us from asking for second chances or trying again.  And our relationships and lives suffer, even as we attempt to protect ourselves.

Another aspect of the movie I enjoyed was the style and artwork.  Into the Spider-Verse introduced me to a fresh perspective on Spider-Man movies as it incorporated comic-style animation in an impressive, creative, and entertaining way.  I especially like the way the movie uses comic panels and textboxes to make the movie appear to be a literal comic book come to life.

Negatives

I only have a few minor criticisms.  First, if you have a tendency to experience ocular migraines, you may not want to watch this movie, or at least parts of it.  Several scenes are headache-inducing with their psychedelic palettes and flashing lights.  Also, I occasionally found the soundtrack very jarring, and the grating moments in the music seemed disconnected from the rest of the movie and its overall style.  And a final tiny criticism I have is that the final fight scene felt really long, and the action was hard to follow during it.

Wrapping It Up

Until my friend recommended Into the Spider-Verse, I hadn’t seriously considered watching it.  The trailers and other ads hadn’t really piqued my interest, and I was becoming more and more burnt out on superheroes in general and Spider-Man in particular.  But I ended up having a blast watching the 2018 animated reboot.  I hadn’t expected that moviemakers would be able to add anything worthwhile to the current Spider-Man film portfolio.  With its creative aesthetic, thoughtful themes, fun characters, and freshened up storyline, though, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a pleasant surprise.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Dear Mr. Watterson

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us,” Bill Watterson once quipped.  How appropriate that quote seems, coming from the creator of Calvin and his alter ego Spaceman Spiff.  After years of enjoying random Calvin and Hobbes collections that my brothers owned, I was surprised and delighted to learn how much more there is to both the comics and their creator.

Dear Mr. Watterson portraitI encountered Dear Mr. Watterson while scrolling through movie suggestions online.  Intrigued to see that this was a documentary, I read the film’s description and decided to give it a chance  Now those of you who are true Watterson fans probably know that he is a recluse and values his privacy.  So you may be wondering how this documentary handles Watterson’s personal story and whether it invades his life in any way.  I know when I saw the documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson on my computer screen, my first thought was that it would be about Bill Watterson and might cross a line by prying into his personal life.  Despite initial misgivings on this point, though, I decided to find out what it was really about.  I’m glad that I did because the film is not what I had expected and is surprisingly good.  Rather than divulging Watterson’s “secrets” in some sort of scandalous fashion, the film tactfully avoids Watterson’s life for the most part and focuses more on his work, his influences, his legacy, and why Calvin and Hobbes is so popular worldwide.

Dear Mr. Watterson is charming and fun.  The music is cheerful and accompanies the comic exploration perfectly.  Most of the documentary consists of interviews, and I enjoyed hearing other comic artists share their thoughts on Watterson and his work.  Putting faces and voices with the names of all these famous comic artists was especially neat.  I never thought I would listen to an interview with Bill Amend or other artists whose work I have perused in the Sunday funnies.  Watterson has left an impressive legacy behind him, having inspired and influenced many modern comic artists in their work.  Additional interviewees include cartoon museum curators, syndicate administrators, and other people involved or interested in the comic world.

Calvin and Hobbes first strip

Calvin and Hobbes debut in their first comic strip.

In addition to appreciating the new perspectives the film provides on Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, I especially enjoyed the beautiful colors and the animated renditions of Watterson’s watercolors, which would begin as sketches and then fill with pools of color in a very artistic fashion.  One of the challenges in documentaries is supplementing interviews with footage that shows the story instead of telling it, and I think the animations of Watterson’s art are a tasteful solution that keeps the documentary visually interesting.  Often, these colorful displays of Calvin and Hobbes art accompany Watterson’s witty quotes, which gave me new insight into his personality and perspectives and often left me with a smile or a laugh.

That ability to bring joy to his audience is key to Watterson’s success, I think.  Through Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson found a way to touch people in a surprising way as they shared in the characters’ emotions, humor, and adventuresome spirit.  Calvin and his tiger friend remind their audience of many things, from the preciousness of friendship to the fun of imagination, and I think that touchstone with readers is what has made these characters so timeless.

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-

Review: Captain Marvel

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger Nick Fury, who still has two functioning eyes. This film marks the first time a woman has taken a leading role in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film. This feels less significant in the film than it does on paper, because the movie doesn’t highlight the gender of the main character. I think this is appropriate–the film seeks to tell a good story, free of politicization.

While the story was not bad, I am sad to admit that, other than some well-placed bits of belly-laugh-inducing humor, this movie failed to excite me in a visceral, lasting way. But regardless, it’s a fun popcorn flick. Will I watch it over and over as the years go by? Unlikely. But like the recent glut of Marvel films, if you like seeing movies at the theater, this is another one that feels hand-crafted to pair best with a big screen, a massive sound system, soda, and a bag of popcorn.

A Marvel Movie Trio

In the midst of a busy summer, I have managed to explore some new (to me) Marvel cinematic creations.  Here are some of my impressions.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor-ragnarok-920x518I had wanted to watch Thor: Ragnarok ever since it came out but only just saw it for the first time earlier this summer.  After hearing so many positive recommendations of this movie from friends, you might think my expectations would have been disappointed, but I found Thor: Ragnarok to be as much good fun as I had hoped.  From the opening to the closing shot, the movie is packed with hilarity and adventure.  I think the tone of Ragnarok is reminiscent of the first Thor movie with its comedic flair, in contrast to the more serious Dark World.  Plus, the rock music soundtrack perfectly complements the film and adds to the action sequences and overall humor of the movie.  If you haven’t already, be sure to look up the lyrics to the Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” that the movie features as it is surprisingly suited to the characters and story.

Black Panther

Black Panther poster

Black Panther is another movie I had been meaning to watch and had heard positive comments about.  When I finally saw it for myself, I did like it, but I found the character development a bit lacking.  The movie spends too much time on Wakanda’s flashy technology at the expense of the characters and even the plot.  While I admit Wakandan culture and futuristic gadgets are interesting and worth exploring, I feel like focusing on these takes too much time and attention away from more important elements of the story.  Also, I think T’Challa’s antagonist could have been much more compelling; he has a lot of potential but fails to live up to it.  All that said, though, I do like Black Panther as a superhero and think he and Wakanda are a valuable addition to the Marvel cinematic universe.  I especially like the Wakandan “special forces” the Dora Milaje, and I enjoy how the movie pays homage to African culture and traditions.

X-Men: Apocalypse

https_blogs-images.forbes.comscottmendelsonfiles201605X-Men-Apocalypse-launch-quad-poster-1200x903Any movie with an ancient Egyptian villain automatically tempts me to laugh, but ancient mutant En Sabah Nur aside, I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse.  As always, the exploration of X-Men characters’ backstories is intriguing, and I appreciate the depth the latest film series has given characters like Raven (Mystique) and Erik (Magneto).  My favorite installations of the latest movies are still First Class and Days of Future Past (in that order), but I think this film shares some of the same worthwhile elements as the first two.  If you can endure the somewhat laughable villain, Apocalypse is another enjoyable and interesting addition to the latest X-Men series.


All in all, my Marvel movie summer has been fun, and I’m glad to have finally caught up on these three films.  Now, I’m ready to jump into the next one I have heard so much about:  Avengers: Infinity War (Bone’s review of this is available here).

Happy viewing!

arrietty pic

-ARRIETTY-