Library Wars is one of those Japanese pop phenomena that appears in all formats in rapid succession. It started its life as a light novel series, then a manga, then an animated TV series, then an anime feature film two years ago, followed by the live action film that I am reviewing today. If the process goes on, there will be a live action 10 part drama, followed by a live action film of that drama, followed by another TV series. I guess we do something similar here in the USA with comic book heroes and Star Wars, but we really don’t have the habit or process in place to release the same story in various formats so swiftly. When this rapid fire process happens in Japan, it usually means that we are dealing with a product aimed at younger audiences, and in this case, younger female audiences. With that in mind, I will review the Library Wars live action movie with a bit of caution. Not being Japanese, a teenager, or a woman of any sort, I’m not the target market. Is this a movie worth watching?
There was a time when inserting an army into a film meant hiring and outfitting a large cast. CGI has made raising one no more costly than shooting any other scene, so our fantasy worlds have been filled with siege engines, legions, giant trolly things and whatnot for quite some time. Simple magic is no longer enough, and its existence in film has become tied to armies and epic saga, even in the fairy tales. Sure, we would like to update and recast these stories for modern times, but that hasn’t meant making them more psychologically challenging or complex. Instead that has meant Tolkienizing everything. Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful all have their pitched battle scenes. It’s not enough for Jack to get one giant mad at him any longer. We need thousands of giants wearing armor trying to take over the earth. I bring this up because I was very nervous after watching the trailer for Into the Woods, with its crumbling castle, that somehow, someone would think that in moving Sondheim’s musical modernization of Grimm to the screen, it would be a good idea to add a battery of trebuchets because they are cheap.
The setting for much of Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is late 1950’s early 1960s San Francisco. Bruno Delbonnel and supporting crew have done an excellent job capturing the city. I don’t think that period has been captured on film so splendidly since Vertigo. It is bright, incredibly hip, vibrant and cool at the same time and there are constant reminders that on a sunny day, there is probably no more gorgeous city on earth for a view of the world. I often found myself wondering where they found or created such pristine examples of 1950s storefronts and neighborhoods. I know a little of how the magic works, but I was impressed by the exterior vistas and the mid-century interiors of the movie. If Margaret and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Walz) weren’t such a tense couple going through marital troubles, I probably would have wanted to move right in with them. Unfortunately, I seldom am willing to recommend a film based on technical production quality alone. I found the picture as a whole to be just so-so. There just isn’t enough of a story here to be interesting.
Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell traces its roots back to yakuza films, kung fu classics and light romances. It tells the story of a group of guerrilla film-makers fated to make one masterpiece together. That the film is about two yakuza gangs fighting a final battle with each other would not be noteworthy, except that the film is financed by the one of the gangs and involves an actual raid and fight to death. Beyond the buckets-of-blood stylings of the film, there is a little something for everyone, and as far as Japanese comedies go, it is accessible to western audiences.
To start with, let’s dispel the idea that Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia is somehow the “Gay Harold and Maude.” Since there aren’t that many comedies, or dramas for that matter, about the subject of young men romantically linked to senior citizens, I can see why looking for a comparison to the best-known example on film would be natural, but these really aren’t the same film. I guess one can say that in both films a rather distant young man learns about life from an a senior citizen lover so they are loosely equivalent. But I think that the fact that we make such comparisons points to the fact that there aren’t many films out there on the topic. Just because the pairing of Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) and Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden) happens to be of two men doesn’t diminish or increase the unease we may feel about their relationship. LaBruce isn’t making a “gay” anything here. Instead he’s making a fairly straightforward film about a type of relationship that isn’t often put on film. Unlike Harold and Maude the young male isn’t learning to appreciate life, but trying to understand and act on his desires and learn how to deal with the trials of dating men in their 70s and 80s.
As a series, the Night at the Museum films have been mostly premise without much payoff for adults. However, I think the first one was among the best zany, live action kids films released by Hollywood in the past decade (that’s not saying much). The second one had lost its purpose and the final installment has suffered from that derailment. If we ignore the special effects, at its heart, Night at the Museum had been about a father an son overcoming divorce and a loss of respect. A bumbling father made good, so to speak. The parenting issues were dropped from the second installment, and that film simply became a special effects comedy at the Smithsonian instead of the American Museum of Natural History. The father and son were simply best friends. Secret of the Tomb attempts to bring the family drama back into the picture, but awkwardly in a way that makes the picture pure juvenile fantasy.
The Hobbit trilogy is finally over. There is not much I am going to write about this series that probably hasn’t been noted in other reviews. As a whole, the series hasn’t moved me. While I’m not the biggest fan of the book, I felt that the focus of the movies has been a bit off in ways that made each film less compelling than it could be. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as a light children’s novel about the development of Bilbo’s heroism. That story has always seemed lost under extraneous subplots and characters from the Lord of the Rings which set up those films awkwardly, but do little to help tell the story that we’ve paid to see.
“Top Five” is Chris Rock’s third pass in the director’s chair and first attempt at a more serious movie. It is a comedy, but relatively low key one for Saturday Night Live alums. It tells intertwined stories, both of which are well-worn. One is a straightforward romantic comedy about man having second thoughts about a pending wedding after meeting a much better match. The second is of an actor, Dre Allen (Rock), whose star is starting to fade a little, who is trying to stretch his career in a new direction, framed as an interview with a reporter. That the reporter (Rosario Dawson) happens to be the new potential love interest for Dre makes for a rather choppy narrative, but nonetheless one with many comedic highlights.
Stephen Chow returns to the director’s chair for the first time in seven years to create a prequel to the oft-filmed and always beloved Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West. Chow is probably best known outside of the China-zone for Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and Sholin Soccer (2001), but he has had a long career portraying comedic heroes. After Kung Fu Hustle, he surprisingly went relatively quiet, with only 2008’s CJ7 on the docket as a starring vehicle. I was pleased to find out that he was back, although he doesn’t make an appearance in the film. Last years Journey to the West is apparently the all time box office record holder for a Chinese language film, and I probably would have sought out the movie because of that. However, Kung Fu Hustle established Chow as a comedic director worth watching and I was curious to see if he would showcase those skills again and if he’d spent that time off extending himself.
It has always been difficult to locate the audience for Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries. They are institutional profiles that capture moments of activity. There isn’t a call to action or requests for engagement. Any emotional connection that the viewer walks away with are his or her own. There is structure and maybe a narrative without much in the way of a climax in his documentaries. In the case of National Gallery, that narrative isn’t immediately apparent. It is a movie for the patient who enjoy learning facts serendipitously.