I wasn't sure what to expect from this. I hadn't heard anyone else hyping this one up. Dammit internet, what is WRONG with you?
So anyway, the movie starts up with a young boy being driven somewhere in a car, so pretty similar to the beginning of Spirited Away. However, eventually we reach the house and suddenly the focus shifts from the boy moving into the house, straight to a tiny thumb-sized girl hiding from the cat in the bushes. The girl is Arrietty and it turns out she's been venturing to get a bay leaf from the garden for her mother.
It's a good thing we get introduced to the borrowers themselves nice and quickly because it means the pacing can be nice and quick from the start. Studio Ghibli are able to work some real magic with the world of "borrowers" the small people who live inside the structure of the house and live from the tiny amounts they need to borrow from humans. Where the film really impresses, however, is where Arrietty is taken out borrowing with her father. We'd already seen her bravely venturing into the garden for flowers and leaves, so when she is confronted by the vertigo-inducing drop off the sides of tables that need to be braved in order to retrieve items from the house, we really feel it.
Naturally Arrietty will eventually meet up with the boy we were introduced to earlier and relationship between the two is set up very carefully. It's also interesting to see that Studio Ghibli find an environmentalist message here (which is quite a common theme in their films). I don't remember the book of "The Borrowers" because it was so long ago, so I don't know if the original source material ever mentions the constant loss of endangered species, but I thought it was an interesting idea to employ, even fleetingly.
Any fan of Studio Ghibli shouldn't miss this out. To my mind this is up there with Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Sure, it doesn't feature the supernatural elements that were in those two films, but to me that makes it all the more remarkable. One thing though: Watch the Japanese subtitled version. When I finished the film I decided to quickly check out what the dubbed version was like. Saoirse Ronan plays Arrietty as if she thinks it's massively important that she remind us when this book was written. Sure, the book was written in the early 50s, but that doesn't mean you have to give a 1950s performance. (Apparently the US dubbing is a different set of actors, so I can't speak for that version. I can strongly vouch for the Japanese version though...)A+Red State (2011)
This was looking pretty impressive to start with. Oddly perhaps the biggest problem with the film was its portrayal of its only named gay character. Three older teenagers decide that they are going to have sex with a prostitute. On their way there, they scrape against a car. They don't realise anyone is in the car to start with, just thinking it was parked by the side of the road randomly. Then it becomes pretty clear that there is a man inside the car who was getting a blowjob from another man. The man in the car is a police officer. When he gets back to the Police Station he asks another officer to track down the car for him before staring at a photo of his wife and crying.
What I've described would all be fine, if it wasn't for an event that happens later, the underlying suggestion behind it and the complete failure to follow it up properly. Considering that the central bad guys in this film are a militant homophobic Christian fundamentalist cult, the way this single gay character is portrayed seemed to be lacking the level of nuance he deserved.
Anyway, anyone who has seen the trailer knows that the prostitute they meet up with isn't what she seems. They also know that there's a Westboro Baptist
style Church involved (y'know, the ones who hate everything except Twilight
). What you probably don't know, though you might have guessed, is that unlike Westboro, this fundamentalist group are stockpiling guns. As such, the plot leads into a shoot out with police, Waco-style.
The problem comes when the lead police officer, played by John Goodman, is told by his superiors that he is expected to leave no survivors. (Apparently because that would be better than involving the FBI???). Michael Parks and Melissa Leo give absolutely fantastic performances, but sadly there's a clear point where the film loses all sense of direction, constantly limiting where the plot can progress by killing off major characters. The final ten or so minutes of the movie involves several people in a room talking. Some quite convoluted explanations are given for some of the earlier events and this scene is also used to crowbar in references to the "war on terror" and to nudge us to wondering whether the homophobic death cult at the centre of the movie are really so bad. Um... yes they are! What the hell are you smoking Kev?
Some great acting and some great moments particularly towards the earlier half of the movie, cannot make up for the dreadful tacked-on ending. Perhaps this'll be a sign of better things to come from Kevin Smith in the future, but "Red State" is distinctly flawed. Also, if Kevin Smith wants to write his own films, he really ought to think more carefully about what he actually wants to say first.D+