Movie Review of THE WIND RISES and JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME by Howard Casner

If one is Japanese, I suppose The Wind Rises, the latest and quite possibly lastest animated movie from celebrated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, et al.) is about an aviation engineer who brought Japan into the 20th century in his design of airplanes.


For anyone else, quite possibly the movie is more about the events leading up to the invasion of China, the Rape of Nanking, the takeover of Korea, WWII and Pearl Harbor, though you might never know it by the often wistful comments made at times during the movie that rather vaguely refer to these events at all, some of which were quite possibly happening during the time period in which the movie takes place.


In many ways, The Wind Rises is like Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which is a story that built up to events that helped devastate the U.S. economy and ruined the lives of many people, but also a story that manages to leave out all that unpleasant stuff at the end.


The Wind Rises revolves around Jiro Horikoshi, who as a child dreamed of making huge airships and as an adult created, instead, sleek, metallic fighter planes and bombers.  In Miyazaki’s version, Horikoshi is presented in terms of being a hero to youth everywhere, someone to aspire to, a biography that one might read when one is in elementary school of a celebrated role model, like a book about Edison and Carnegie that leaves out all the juicy parts.


There’s not a lot to Horikoshi, really.  There’s no real inner conflict and not much of an outer one either.  He wants to design and builds planes and very little stops him.  Any obstacles are small and annoying, or irrelevant, rather than crises to overcome.


Even the prospect of a coming war and that he is helping prepare for it is little more than a passing whimsy of an occasional thought that is less than dimly annoying.


Of course, I can’t really blame Horikoshi for that.  If I was in his shoes, and grew up where he did and when he did, I probably would have done the same thing and had as much inner turmoil over it as he does here.


So the portrait from that angle is probably an accurate one, but it’s not the most dramatic either and because of this, the story doesn’t always have a lot of forward momentum.  It’s just a series of events, often low key ones, in Horikoshi’s life that are interesting at times, at others, less so.


Even Miyazaki seems to realize that not only might Horikoshi’s life not be the most inherently involving, but that his lack of conflict over the upcoming Japanese military action might also be problematic from a dramatic point of view, as about half way through, he completely changes the course of the story and turns it into a Dickensian romance as Horikoshi falls in love with Nohoki Satomi, a young woman with tuberculosis (the literary reference in the movie is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, but don’t let that fool you—the story line has Dora and David Copperfield written all over it).


Now, this has nothing to do with Horikoshi’s design of airplanes, but since that story wasn’t really going anywhere fast, why not change subjects and hope for the best?


But since the subject matter changes so abruptly, it takes awhile to catch on to the fact that a totally new movie has started with the result that it feels like Miyazaki is taking a bit too long to tell a rather simple story.


At the same time, The Wind Rises is still a must see and this is because of the magnificent and imaginative animation used to tell the story.  It’s filled with surrealistic dreams and visions on one hand and intense detailed realism on the other.   But even the detailed realism has a surrealistic edge to it as tears and sweat are as big as marbles and blood flows from a nose like it’s the Red Sea.


The look of The Wind Roses is exciting, stunning, at times transcendent.  Even when one is losing interest in the story, it’s hard to lose interest in the visuals, with the highlight coming early on in a terrifying and devastating earthquake that hits Tokyo while Horikoshi is arriving by train to go to school.  This is a series of scenes that are riveting, even searing.  You’re both amazed at the artistry of it all while being emotionally overwhelmed by the event itself.


The Wind Rises is one of those films that may not quite work the way one would hope, but at the same time is quite worth seeing.  It’s a visual triumph, even if it’s not quite a dramatic one.



In 1961, Alan Resnais gave the world that classic mind fuck of a movie (that also inspired the look of commercials for years to come), Last Year at Marienbad, about a man and woman who may or may not have met before, but who knows because the story is told in a surrealistic manner where time and logic or not supreme, to say the least.


Last Year… is a great movie, riveting, even when one doesn’t know what is going on, or what anything means or if it even means anything.  I’ve seen it a number of times and each time I found it as mesmerizing as the first time I experienced it.


Well, in 1968, Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Jacques Sternberg, tried to mind fuck one and all again in the movie Je t’aime je t’aime.  But this time round, they’re not quite as successful.


The basic plot of I Love You, I Love You (as they say in English) involves Claude Ridder, an author (I think) who just tried to commit suicide and because of that, has become the perfect human lab rat to take part with other literal lab rats in a time travel experiment at a research center just outside of Paris.


And since Claude has no interest in life anymore, he goes, sure, why not?  What have I got to lose, my life?  Well, maybe this time I actually will.


He’s put into a strange, muslin covered type structure that looks vaguely like a brain monster from a 1950’s B sci-fi film.  The idea is that he will travel back exactly one year for one minute, which will then prove that all those rats that did the same thing actually did do the same thing.


But something goes wrong and Claude is bounced all over the place, with no logic, rhyme or reason, over the past fifteen years of his life (for some reason, the movie doesn’t go far enough into his past such that a different actor would be required for the part).   We then sort of get an idea as to why he ended up trying to end his life.


I make the story sound sillier than it is and I shouldn’t.  It starts out very well, the whole thing written, directed and acted in a low key style that gives everything a certain realistic feel to it.  It’s also filmed with that certain flatness that was becoming popular at the time and that always gave films of that era a stronger feeling of reality as well.


And at first, the time travel jumping around is kind of interesting as one tries to fit all the puzzle pieces together.  But the story also eventually becomes more and more repetitious in tension and build, until it doesn’t always feel like it’s going anywhere.  It gets interesting, then tedious, then interesting, then tedious again.


However, what may really be missing here is that big build up to the revelation of whatever happened in Claude’s life that makes his life worth watching in the first place.  There’s no Rosebud here, or if there is, it’s so subtle that you’ll blink and miss it.


And without that, the whole thing feels a bit anti-climactic until one wonders whether Sternberg and Resnais were really interested in exploring what made this character tick, or if the whole thing was more just a set up with no purpose other than to tell a story out of linear order?


See this only if you have seen Chris Marker’s La Jetee first.  It’s a much better movie.


With Claude Ridder as Claude Rich, which must have been a bit convenient on the set.


Byzantium is the new vampire flick written by Moria Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan.   Neil Jordan also did that other vampire flick, you know the one, uh, Interview With the… something or other.  Let’s just say that he’s come a long way since then.


The story is about two women, mother and daughter, trying to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as vamps are wont to do these days.  But because of the relative times in which they turned, the two masquerade as sisters.   They are on the run from a brotherhood who want to eliminate them because women are not allowed to be vampires (yes, Gloria, the whole thing has a somewhat feminist slant to it; not only are they female vampires in a male vampire world, the mother takes over a group of prostitutes from a twitchy, male pimp).   The daughter is played by Saoirse Ronan, who played the title role in Hannah, and her mother/sister is played by Gemma Arterton, who played Gretel in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.  Both are more than quite good (Ronan is especially riveting) and are quickly gaining a reputation for playing characters you would not want to meet alone in a dark alley…or in broad daylight on a public street for that matter.


They are backed up by a slew of British B listers, including Daniel (Made in Dagenham) Mays as a hapless, shaggy dog looking motel owner;  Sam (Control) Riley, as a sympathetic vampire (giving a much better performance than he did in the recent outing, the somewhat embarrassing On the Road); Johnny Lee (Elementary) Miller as a woman hating cad; Tom (In the Loop) Hollander as a well meaning teacher; and Maria Doyle (Orphan Black) Kennedy as a fellow teacher.   All provide much more than adequate support.


To say Byzantium is a poetic mood piece is an understatement.   It lives, breathes and exults in its moodiness.  It’s filmed with dark, muted colors.   The scenes always feel overcast, even during the day.  There’s a menacing atmosphere in every shot set as it is against a fun fair, the dark streets of a coastal city and an ominous looking deserted, broken down pier.    And it takes its moody time in telling its tale.  Of course, there’s the rub.  How you react to it will probably depend on how you feel about the pacing.  If you like it, you will probably think of it as deliberate.  If you don’t like it, you will probably think of it as sloooooooooow.  I loooooooooooved it, so that’s that.



Writer/Director Pedro Almodovar’s new film I’m So Excited opens with a wonderful Saul Bass like set of titles that felt like it had that perky and fun feel so often associated with an Almodovar film, especially, to quote Woody Allen, the early, funny ones.  Unfortunately, that was the last wonderful thing about it.   The movie never gets off the ground.


I know, I know.   That was a really groaner of a pun.  But I think I’m more than in the right since the whole movie is sort of one big metaphorical groaner of a pun type thing.  The basic premise is as fabulous as the three gay flight attendants that serve everyone’s needs (everyone’s).  A commercial airline has taken off for South America, but when one of its landing gears won’t work, they must make an emergency landing.  But to do so, they have to find an appropriate airport.  This requires them to go around and around and around…and around, in circles, not getting anywhere.  On top of that, the flight attendants have drugged everyone in second class so they won’t cause any trouble, leaving the first class passengers wide awake to deal with their personal soap opera like problems.  Yes, indeed.  The whole shebang is a metaphor for Spain today as it tries to grapple with their disastrous economy, beset by a variety of scandals.


But to reiterate: it’s a fabulous idea that, very sadly, just doesn’t work.  And it’s easy to see why, and in a “if it was a snake it would have bitten you” way.  Almodovar begins the whole rigmarole in the middle of act one.  There’s no set up for the characters and their conflicts and much of what set up there is takes place off screen (like the drugging of the second class passengers).  Because of this, we have no idea who anybody is or why their actions matter or why their actions are funny (everyone seems terrified of one particular passenger, but why is unclear until almost half way through the movie).  And though the movie is suppose to be about the passengers on board, at a couple of points, the whole movie stops to go back down to earth to follow the actions of the lover of a famous actor who is also on the plane.  The screenplay has no focus, no shape, no discipline.  Normally, that would be positives for an Almodovor film; but here, I’m afraid it’s not—it actually takes focus, shape and discipline to create a satisfying lack of those.


With Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in cameos for some reason as unclear as most of the plot.



The movie The Look of Love (written by Matt Greenhalgh and director Michael Winterbottom) also opens with a wonderful title sequence, this time one that seems inspired by James Bond films.  But also like I’m So Excited, that’s just about the last wonderful thing about it too.


The Look of Love is the based on the true story of Paul Raymond who became Britain’s richest man by building up an empire of erotica (not pornography as he has to keep telling people who for some reason, just don’t seem to believe him).  The movie gives us the facts of his life; it gives us the fashions and styles of the various periods; it gives us erotic sex, including such oddities as a British farce Raymond produced that has as part of its set a swimming tub inhabited by naked women who have nothing to do with the play’s plot (it was a huge hit).  What it never gives us is a reason why anyone wanted to tell this story.


And like I’m So Excited, it’s also incredibly clear (see snake comment above) why the movie doesn’t work.  By the time you get to the end, it becomes apparent that the movie was supposed to be a study of Raymond’s relationship with his daughter (played by Imogene Poots) who died from a drug overdose.  But since half the movie doesn’t deal with this relationship (especially the half before she’s even born), the movie never seems to be going anywhere or to have any real purpose to its existence.


The cast does what it can with the material.  Steve Coogan, as Raymond, who was excellent in the recent What Mazie Knew, is as bland and dull as his character is written here.  But the movie does better in the supporting area, including Simon Bird of The Inbetweeners, almost unrecognizable in Sgt. Pepper hair and mustache, as the jingle writer who marries Raymond’s daughter; Chris Addison from In the Loop, also unrecognizable as Raymond’s right hand man and photographer; James Lance as Raymond’s attorney; and David Walliams of Little Brittain in a witty performance as a randy vicar (Matt Lucas can also be seen in a blink and you’ll miss him scene as Divine).


At one point, the movie has a scene between Raymond and the illegitimate son (Liam Boyle) he’s never met.  It’s a painful study of awkwardness and suggests everything that the movie could have been, but wasn’t.



You Aint Seen Nothing Yet is the latest from legendary director Alan Resnais.  It’s about a stage director who dies and in his will invites a number of the legends and soon to be legends of France’s acting community to an isolated mansion (including Mathieu Amalric, Hippolyte Giradot, Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema and Lambert Wilson).  There the director’s attorney shows them a new production of a play the director staged many times, Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice (though the play seems to be a combination of two of Anouilh’s stage works).  All the invitees have at some time been in a production of this play under this director’s direction, so as they watch the play they begin to act out the parts themselves.


This is actually the most interesting aspect of the film, watching the way different actors would say the same lines; seeing actors who are far too old for the parts (since they originally played them when they were younger) still giving convincing performances; seeing the setting switch from the director’s home to modified sets.


But this movie never quite comes together.  I suspect whether it works for you will depend on what you think of the play within the play they are performing.  As was said, it’s a combination of two of Anouih’s works (adapted by Resnais and Luarent Herbiet) and though it starts out well, it eventually becomes almost incomprehensible until you lose all emotional connection to Orpheus and his doomed lover.


After the play is over there are a couple of surprise endings that aren’t that surprising and aren’t that interesting.  Perhaps it’s best to say that the whole thing just went over my head.