movie, review

From Up on Poppy Hill

 The latest American release from Studio Ghibli, From Up on Poppy Hill is easily the best movie I have seen in months, with the possible exception of Random Harvest. It is everything a Studio Ghibli movie ought to be. Exquisite visuals, a sweet and lovely plot, winsome characterizations, characteristic attention to homely details, an enchanting remembrance of times gone by.
There are two strands to the plot. The first involves a relationship between a sixteen-year-old (according to Wikipedia) girl named Umi and a slightly older boy named Shun. The second is the attempt of a group of charming schoolboys (including Shun) to save a delightful decrepit clubhouse known as the Latin Quarter, which is crammed with nooks, doors, and dust. It may be the best thing in the film.
Out of all the Ghibli films I have seen, it is easily most similar to Whisper of the Heart. For those who enjoyed that movie, it will undoubtedly be ninety minutes of bliss. As Whisper may be my favorite film of all time, it was intense happiness to me. I would like to see it again now that I know the plot, which, incidentally, is considerably more melodramatic than Whisper.
Here is a list of locations where you can see it. Note that not all locations are listed in the main page; many are on the sidebar. It was not released by Disney, so its release is much more limited than The Secret World of Arrietty. Here is a good, brief review. Please do see this movie in theaters and take some friends and family. If we want to see a wider release of Studio Ghibli films in America, we must support it with our wallets. There are still a number of Ghibli movies which have never been released in America, to my knowledge.
Content advisory: Some rather squicky plot material, which involves major spoilers. I have written it as ambiguously as possible below. My 11-year-old sister saw it, so I think it’s okay for that age range, especially since it was handled very innocently.
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Two main characters who love each other find out that they may be brother and sister.
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Books, movie

Charles Dickens

I’m currently on a Charles Dickens reading binge. He’s AWESOME. Since September 1, I’ve read David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, and Our Mutual Friend. Right now I’m over halfway through Little Dorrit. So far, all of them have been extremely enjoyable except Great Expectations, which I didn’t care for.

I watched the version of David Copperfield with Maggie Smith as Betsy Trotwood and that kid who plays Harry Potter (which I’ve never actually seen or read) as young David. It leaves out a ton, and the last ten minutes or so are about as compressed as anything could be, but it’s pretty good. Maggie Smith is note-perfect.

Anyway, Dickens is excellent. He’s comic, romantic, tragic, dramatic, and poetic. You can’t do better than read Dickens. I would regret that I started reading him so late, but now I get to enjoy all of his books for the first time. Delightful!

By the way, if any of my three or so readers is familiar with any good movie or TV adaptions of Charles Dickens, I would appreciate it if you would share them in the combox.

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femininity, movie, Music, review

My Fair Lady

Yesterday night I went to see a local production of the musical “My Fair Lady”. I thought it was quite well done, though I don’t have much to compare it to. This review will not further discuss the particulars of that production; rather, I will speak about the aspects of the musical itself, apart from any one presentation of it. (Let it be known, however, that last night’s viewing and the Audrey Hepburn movie are the sum of my acquaintance with the play.)

It’s good entertainment. The songs are catchy and pleasant to hear, the story is romantic, and it is quite funny in parts (particularly the scene at the races). However, there are serious deficiencies in the play as well. WARNING: spoilers from now on.
Firstly, the character of Eliza Doolittle is not sufficiently developed pre-transformation. She’s not much more than a yowling, greedy, dirty child, and her sudden change into a lovely, clear-voiced, romantic young woman after learning how to correctly pronounce her A’s injures the suspension of disbelief which is already under strain. I love the song “I Could Have Danced All Night”, and I think her emotions under the circumstances are completely believable. However, it is almost as if it is the first time we meet Eliza. There was not the slightest hint that she was capable of such affections earlier in the play, save perhaps the short scene with her father in the street. I recognize that the entire point of the play is Eliza’s rebirth, and I can swallow the huge implausibility of the plot, but the change needed to be at least a bit more gradual, and there needed to be some sign earlier in the play that Eliza had more personality than a feral cat.
Then there is the character of Henry Higgins. He’s certainly amusing, but as the play goes on he almost seems to become worse as Eliza becomes better. By the end of the play he swears at her almost continually and even lays hands on her. Her words to him after he does this are cutting, and I could feel his horror at his own behavior; but it never comes to anything. After her magnificent song “Without You”, she returns to him, apparently leaving poor Freddy completely in the lurch, and he returns to asking her rudely where his slippers are. This might have made sense if she had heard Higgins singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”, but as far as we know, she had no idea. By the end of the play, Eliza still unreasonably loves him, despite the fact that as far as she knows he’ll still treat her like dirt, Higgins continues to curse at her, and not a word is said in apology for his outrageous treatment of her.
What the play needed was a scene where Higgins clearly repents his behavior, tells Eliza that he is unworthy of her with tears in his eyes, and she consents to marry him after he desperately apologizes to her. Or, at least a scene where he confesses his contrition to Colonel Pickering, who goes on to tell Eliza of his sorrow.
My dissatisfaction with the play consists in this: Higgins predicts repulsively that she’ll come back to him. And she does. She has no idea that he’s sorry; she simply cannot live without him, even at the expense of her self-respect. I find this deeply unsatisfying. Certainly, there are many men and women like this, but to portray Eliza as one of them undermines Eliza’s character arc and makes the song “Without You” meaningless. Evidently, the world won’t go on without him. (And what’s with Higgins’ mother? She is clearly a strong-minded woman, but she puts up with his yelling and cursing at her, and even comes when she’s called. If he were my son I hope I wouldn’t put up with it. So much for honoring your mother and father.) He never apologizes.
Yes, Higgins shows jealousy and suffering when Eliza leaves, but that’s not enough (and she isn’t even aware of that when she opens the door!). He needs to show that he’s truly sorry that he manhandled her, swore at her, and ignored her. He doesn’t. I’m no feminist, but you don’t have to be a feminist to see that this is unacceptable on his part. I still like My Fair Lady, but it will never be a favorite of mine.
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