Miyazaki craftsmanship tells small-scale story in 'Poppy Hill'
The latest from Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki's famed Studio Ghibli is From Up On Poppy Hill. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the maestro's son, it's an unusual outing for Ghibli in that the story features no overt eco-advocacy message nor any magical, otherworldly elements like gods, demons, or witches. Instead, it's a simply-told tale of two Yokohama teenagers facing life-sized issues of identity, loss, and love in the real world.
Love vs. gravity in charming, implausible sci-fi romance, 'Upside Down'
If Upside Down were in print, it would be an outline, not a complete novel. The grand sweep of the story is there, the big, climactic scenes are all plotted out exactly where they should be, and marvelous, fanciful, poetic images decorate key passages. What's missing from Juan Solanas' ambitious, interplanetary sci-fi romance are the details—the solid conceptual underpinning that would make it all plausible, and a final polish on the dialogue that would bring the characters and their unique story to life.
Authentic girls' voices highlight coming-of-age drama 'Ginger & Rosa'
Just in time for the end of Women's History Month comes Sally Potter's thoughtful and involving Ginger & Rosa. Very much a "woman's movie," with its emotional, relationship-driven storyline, it also has a distinct historical setting—London in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis—as the backdrop before which its two teenage protagonists struggle to come of age. And while the plot may seem a bit far-fetched at times, there's something so touching about the authenticity of these young female voices and their nameless, formless yearning that will speak to anyone who has ever been a 17-year-old girl.
Ideas vs melodrama in meandering beat odyssey 'On the Road'
There are about 45 minutes of a great movie in Walter Salles' adaptation of On the Road, the thinly fictionalized Jack Kerouac novel/memoir that helped define the beat generation of the early 1950s. These occur mainly at the beginning of the film, informed by the writer protagonist's narration, when the characters are first meeting up and hanging out, pinging ideas, dreams, and creative energy off of each other like random electrical charges, and in the final reflective scenes, when the writer lets go of his last illusions and starts hammering out Kerouac's spontaneous "bop" prose on the typewriter.
Despite dubious plotting, Disney's 'Oz' a mostly entertaining trip
How did the Witch of the West get so wicked? If you know Gregory Maguire's novel, “Wicked,” or the stage musical, you know one version of the story of the magical land of Oz before Dorothy touched down in her flying house. And now that the Disney corporation is buying up the rights to every fantasy property ever conceived (from the Pixar animation studio to the Star Wars universe), it's offering its own take on the material in the lavish Oz the Great and Powerful, which imagines the witches and the wizard of Oz in their heedless youth.