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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Casting Emily Blunt as the iconic title character in Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel 54 years in the making, proves to be a stroke of genius.

Casting Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack, a character modeled after Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in the original classic … well, not so much.

Blunt plays the role with her own, sensible spin—not by any means copying what the great Julie Andrews did more than a half-century ago, but offering a practically perfect variation on the infamous nanny. Miranda sports the same cockney accent (though it’s not nearly as gloriously, wonderfully bad as Van Dyke’s) and plays a lamplighter in London instead of a chimney sweep. His part of the film feels like a giant missed opportunity, because while he can sing and dance up a storm, he isn’t funny. Van Dyke was funny.

The result is a movie that has a lot of charm, and some amazingly good sequences, with Blunt powering us through. When Miranda does a Hamilton-like rap in the middle of one of his numbers, it all feels a little off, as do many of his moments.

The movie takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression; the two Banks children, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), are all grown up. Michael, who has lost his wife, is raising his children alone. He’s taken a job at the bank where his dad used to work, but he’s way behind on the mortgage, so the very bank he works for is set to repossess his house. The problems have distracted him as a parent … so in flies you-know-who on a battered kite during a stormy wind.

As soon as Blunt shows up, the movie becomes fun. Blunt is a different Mary Poppins, yet she very much is Mary Poppins. And, man, can she sing and dance. This is most evident in a dance-hall sequence to the new musical number “A Cover Is Not the Book,” where she performs some nice vaudevillian dance steps alongside, yes, DANCING ANIMATED PENGUINS! Blunt sings the song with a cockney accent that puts Miranda’s to shame, and she out dances her co-stars, both animated and live. It’s moments like this that make Returns very much worthwhile.

Because the film is so good for substantial stretches of time, the strange, sloppy moments really stand out. Director Rob Marshall has made some stinkers (Into the Woods, Nine) to go along with his one, genuinely good film (Chicago). Some of the staging in his films, this one included, go from tightly choreographed and impressive to sloppy and unfocused within seconds. There are shots in this movie I’m surprised made the final cut. They look like a dress rehearsal.

For every brilliant sequence like the animated journey into a porcelain bowl (one of two scenes combining live actors and animation), there’s a baffling sequence, like one during which people get really jazzed about riding a bicycle—and there’s just too much of Miranda singing into lampposts. The whole time Miranda was on the screen, I was thinking stuff like, “Christian Bale would’ve been better in this role, because, ya know, Newsies, right?” I suggested this to my Disney partner in crime via text after the movie, and she basically told me to shut the fuck up.

While I might’ve been sitting on the fence regarding this film as it headed into the final turn, my attitude went full positive when none other than the man himself, Dick Van Dyke, all beautiful 93 years of him, showed up as a helpful banker. He not only shows up but gets on top of a desk and dances better than anybody in the movie. It’s only a few seconds but, I’m telling you now, they are some of the best seconds any 2018 film has to offer. Pure nostalgia heaven!

Mary Poppins Returns might be uneven, but lovers of the original will appreciate its honest and semi-successful attempt to recapture the Poppins magic. As for Blunt, she’s miraculous, effectively cancelling out any of the film’s shortcomings.

Mary Poppins Returns is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Maybe it was because Emily Blunt opted to make A Quiet Place. Or perhaps it was because she agreed to star in the new Mary Poppins movie. Whatever it was that kept her from saying yes to a Sicario sequel, her refusal should’ve made producers say, “Oh, well. Maybe later, when Blunt frees up?” After all, she was the main reason to watch the original.

Nope. They went for it anyway, and the result is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, an excuse to trot out Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin in a nasty film that’s plotted in such a way as to assure it will give Sean Hannity and his ilk monster boners—ginormous, Fox News red boners right there in the middle of the theater.

The timing of this movie is … shall we say, interesting. As real-life tensions build along the Mexican border, with families being separated, along comes a movie that shows ISIS terrorists crossing over the Mexican border and blowing up strip malls. Wait a minute … wasn’t Sicario supposed to be about America’s beef with drug cartels? This ISIS stuff feels, well, tacked on.

The terrorism element is introduced near the beginning of the movie, but it later falls away in favor of a subplot about a kidnapping intended to start a war between the Mexican and U.S. governments. In fact, a character dismisses the terrorist element later in the movie by saying, “Oh, they were from New Jersey,” or something along those lines. It’s as if screenwriter Taylor Sheridan started one movie, got scared and finished with another one. To say the movie lacks focus is an understatement.

Brolin returns as agent Matt Graver, a nasty guy who will blow up your brother as you watch on a laptop if you don’t tell him what he needs to hear. Del Toro is also back as Alejandro, an operative once again hired by the U.S., this time to stir up trouble with the cartels and eventually kidnap Isabel (Isabela Moner), a drug kingpin’s daughter.

Moner—you might remember her from her unfortunate participation in the latest Transformers movie—is a big star in the making. She gives the kind of performance that breaks your heart, because it is so good in service of something so mediocre. There are moments when she makes you forget you are watching a very unimportant movie.

Del Toro works hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings, but this is basically a sadistic action thriller with little brains. There are some decent sequences put together by director Stefano Sollima, who replaces the excellent Denis Villeneuve from the original. While Villeneuve provided real dramatic heft with the gunfights, Sollima gives us the shock minus the depth. The result is a hollow movie.

Catherine Keener shows up as Brolin’s boss, who makes him do things that only a truly despicable POTUS would put into play. It’s hard to tell if the movie is an indictment of U.S. policies, or a celebration, although the dudes whooping and drooling in the front row made me think it was more of a celebration. Matthew Modine is on hand as the secretary of defense, and plays it like a beefier meditation on his Stranger Things villain.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado avoids being one of the summer’s worst films thanks to Moner, who makes stretches of the movie worthwhile. She’s slated to play the title character in a live-action Dora the Explorer film. Whatever she does, she will probably wind up a star.

As for the Sicario franchise? It probably now has a place as what’s essentially Trump porn … intended or not.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Noise-intolerant neighbors are taken to all-new levels in A Quiet Place, a new horror film from director John Krasinski.

Krasinski also stars as Lee, a father trying to protect his family in a post-apocalyptic world besieged by horrific aliens who will tear you apart if you make so much as a peep. The opening sequence shows Lee, wife Evelyn (Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt, aka the next Mary Poppins) and three children taking a very quiet walk home from a drug store. One of them makes a sudden noise—and the results are pretty scary for a PG-13 movie.

The aliens are blind, so they hunt by sound—not, say, the sound of a river running or a bird chirping, but sounds that are more “interruptive,” like fireworks, a person screaming after stepping on a nail, etc. The gimmick lends itself to some faulty logic at times, but it does provide an interesting premise: If you speak audibly in relatively quiet surroundings, you will get your head bitten off. It’s as if everyday life is a hellish library where the penalty for gabbing or dropping something is death.

Krasinski’s film gives no real back-story about the aliens. A few glimpses of newspaper front pages share that the world has been wiped out by the species. One look at them (they are a cross between Ridley Scott’s aliens and the Cloverfield monster), and you know that just a few days with these things running around would decimate the population.

Blunt gives the film’s standout performance as somebody forced to keep quiet after not only a painful injury—but while giving birth in a bathtub while an alien claws nearby. It’s scenes like this, and one involving a crying baby in a flooded basement, that give Blunt a chance to call upon myriad facial expressions that will chill your blood. She pulls you into every moment with an earnestness that is real and relatable.

The film, Krasinski’s second as a director, shows true ingenuity behind the camera. He’s done well with family drama before (2016’s The Hollars was a good if little-noticed movie), but this one takes his directorial value into the stratosphere.

The monsters themselves are stellar CGI creations—a nice achievement, considering the movie was made on a relatively low budget. Charlotte Bruus Christensen provides excellent camerawork, while Marco Beltrami’s score actually offers something to listen to. The performers communicate mostly through sign language and whispering, which makes for a pretty quiet movie (unless you are watching the movie next door to an IMAX screening of Ready Player One—bad planning from the theater manager, I say).

Krasinski complements his directing chops with a fine performance as a guy doing everything to keep his sanity and protect his family, which includes a young deaf daughter (the superb Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf) and son (Noah Jupe, the little guy who broke your heart in Wonder). The kids are terrific, so Krasinski gets more kudos for casting. Did I mention he co-wrote the screenplay, too?

Apparently, there was some talk of making this a Cloverfield movie, but that got scrapped early in production. That’s a good thing, because this one stands on its own. Given it made a big pile of dough on its opening weekend, it’s a safe bet a sequel will get the green light. Lee observes signal fires from other survivors during the early part of the movie, so perhaps a story with another family could happen. I hope not; they should leave well enough alone.

While there are some “Yeah, right!” moments in which the screenplay’s own rules about the aliens are broken, there are far more sequences that are extremely well-done. Krasinski and Blunt combine for a movie that you won’t soon forget—one that will have you being a little quieter around the house after seeing it.

A Quiet Place is showing at theaters across the valley.

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Despite good performances from a cast including Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux and Allison Janney, The Girl on the Train winds up being a little too ridiculous for a movie that wishes to be taken seriously.

Blunt spends much of the movie blotto-drunk as Rachel Watson, a slurring alcoholic who aimlessly rides a train to New York City everyday, spying on the people living in her former house, as well as the neighbors. Rachel is divorced from Tom (Theroux), who couldn’t take Rachel’s drinking ways; he was also upset about their inability to have a child. Tom is remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); they have a child—and they would really like Rachel to stay away.

Tom and Nancy’s nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), lives nearby with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel spies on them during their most intimate moments as she races by on the train, envying what she sees as a perfect young romance. Then she sees Megan with another man, setting off an odd, drunken tailspin that results in her getting involved in the drama when Megan goes missing.

For starters, I’m not down with this premise: A deliriously drunk woman is able to decipher the goings-on inside homes—as she races by in a train? Yes, sometimes the train slows down, and she does know the inhabitants somewhat, but this is a highly unlikely plot gimmick that’s stretched out to unrealistic proportions. Then she gets involved with the missing woman’s husband, and eventually finds herself a target in the investigation.

Rachel is the most unreliable of characters, constantly blurred by the hard alcohol she’s slurping from a sippee cup. The script calls for many of her observations and actions to be unreliable due to her constant intoxication. She blacks out, loses time and even has other characters telling her lies to convince her she’s behaving abnormally. However, she’s able to put together key elements of a woman’s disappearance while racing past on a train with a blood alcohol count in the stratosphere.

Sorry, sometimes scripts ask me to go places where I can’t go, and I couldn’t go along for the ride on this one. Too much of this movie calls for the viewer to accept unrealistic circumstances and situations.

Did I still enjoy the movie on some levels? Yes, somewhat. I like how Emily Blunt plays inebriated in this movie. She’s a total mess, but Rachel keeps herself sympathetic. Theroux is great as the confused, protective ex who pleads with his current wife to cut Rachel a break—up until the point where he can no longer defend her. Janney is awesome as the grinning investigator who doesn’t buy Rachel’s story. I want another movie with her as the main character.

There’s a big mystery at play here, and the answer to that mystery becomes obvious perhaps earlier than director Tate Taylor suspects it does. Still, I liked how the mystery played out, and the performance opportunities it offered to some of the performers. Some members of the cast gets to go to truly dark places, and they do it well.

This is also a very good-looking movie, creepily shot by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, with a terrific score by Danny Elfman. Even though his movie goes to some goofy extremes, Taylor clearly knows how to get strong performances from his cast, and he’s assembled a nice one.

The Girl on the Train has its problems, but it isn’t a complete waste of time. See it if you are a Blunt fan, and if you are a fan of the book. If you haven’t read the book, or could care less about Blunt and like your thrillers a little more plausible, this one might not be for you.

The Girl on the Train is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Four years ago, when Snow White and the Huntsman came out, Kristen Stewart was all the rage. The film made lotsa money, and it looked like the former Bella had a new franchise on her hands.

Not so fast. Kristen, in a moment of shameful and delicious wickedness, made out in public (well, in front of somebody’s unauthorized camera, anyway) with that film’s married director, much to the chagrin of then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson—and, consequently, her fan base. Plans for a sequel starring her were scrapped, and a whole new plan centering on co-star and budding movie giant Chris Hemsworth (Thor!) was hatched.

What producers didn’t realize at the time was that Hemsworth basically sucks when he’s doing anything other than playing Thor. Blackhat, In the Heart of the Sea, Vacation and now this mighty slice of hell are proof of this.

While Snow White was no creative party, it was a tolerable misfire. However, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a complete mess. It probably looked good on paper or around the pitch table, but the finished product plays like a drunken, straining renaissance festival after the organizer was strung out on heroin.

Because sorcery and magic mirrors were involved in the original, Charlize Theron is allowed to return as the evil Ravenna, even though she was dead. Because Stewart is gone, there’s enough money for two new stars, so in come Emily Blunt as Queen Freya, and Jessica Chastain as Sara. Of course, you have Thor on hand as the Huntsman, the most useless, banal role this guy has taken on in his mostly useless, banal career.

Despite all of this talent on hand, the movie largely consists of the two main villainesses talking all slow and evil, as if they were related to the elves from the Hobbit movies. Meanwhile, Hemsworth is garbling all his lines through some sort of Scottish accent. Note to directors: Hemsworth, from Australia, is capable of American and Australian accents. That’s it. Attempt other accents at your own peril.

The plot involves some sort of bullshit involving the magic mirror that allows Ravena to come back. Ravena takes the time to explain just how she came back, and how she’s only sort of dead, but not really. It doesn’t make much sense, even with her detailed, slow, deliberately paced explanation.

The movie actually starts years before the first movie, with Freya all excited about having a baby with some married dude. An unfortunate event inexplicably turns her into an ice queen, and she freezes a bunch of the countryside (echoes of Disney’s Frozen). The movie then jumps over the events of Snow White into a new, sequel-type adventure. So it’s a sequel and a prequel, all in one.

It’s unfortunate to see Blunt embarrass herself like this. She’s coming off the triumph of Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. Then again, Into the Woods sucked, too, so perhaps Blunt’s agents need to keep her far away from fairytale based films. Theron, who has an impressive track record, sometimes shows up in clunkers, so her presence here is no surprise, and should buy her another decent house. Chastain is clearly looking for a franchise, and she’s not going to get it here.

Hemsworth certainly has movie-star looks, and he’s perfectly fine when he’s playing exaggerated forms of himself. Beyond that, he’s possibly the worst actor on the planet when he has to do difficult accents and emote. If he’s not wielding Thor's hammer, he’s horrendous.

The lesson here, I guess, is that if you have Kristen Stewart in your movie, and she makes out with the director, don’t kick her out of your franchise; give her a raise! Christ, you are in Hollywood, so all bets are off as to who’s doing whom.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who deals with kidnappings, inadvertently finds herself in the middle of a Mexican drug-cartel war after being enlisted by a shifty government type (Josh Brolin).

After she finds a houseful of dead bodies, Brolin’s character shows up, has a little meeting, recruits Kate and puts her on a private jet with Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a mysterious man who seems to be some sort of consultant. After being told she is going to Texas, she winds up in Juarez, Mexico, and eventually needs to fight for her life in a border gun battle.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) keeps things intense, especially when Del Toro is on the screen. The real reason for his character’s presence, revealed late in the film, is a real kicker. Brolin is great as the crusty agent who wears sandals to meetings and sleeps on planes.

In the end, this is Blunt’s movie, and she is dynamite as Kate. It’s another action-intensive role for the versatile actress (she was great in Edge of Tomorrow)—and she’s an early contender for a Best Actress Oscar.

Sicario is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Disney’s Into the Woods is utterly clueless and boring—an adaptation that renders a musical play into a dreary movie.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway hit was a slightly sick, plucky wink at the audience—a look at the dark side of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As captured in a 1991 broadcast of American Playhouse, the play, starring Bernadette Peters, was a 150 minute-long romp with an adult sense of humor. It was hardly the stuff of Disney.

Director Rob Marshall has cut the film version down to about two hours, yet it feels twice as long as the play. Onstage, the music of Into the Woods was perky, tightly choreographed, consistently funny and almost frantic. In the movie, most of the songs just fart along. The singers are looking for emotive, warm, soulful qualities in Sondheim and Lapine’s musical. However, the musical didn’t emphasize those qualities. It was more of an intelligent, operatic goof.

This is just another princess movie. Marshall shoots most of the film on a soundstage, and while that’s admirable as far as catching live music goes, the resulting film has a bland, monotonous look to it.

The story puts a humorous spin on characters such as Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy). Most of the film’s plot centers on the Baker (James Corden) and the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt), cursed with a childless marriage by the Witch (Meryl Streep) after somebody messed with her garden. While Corden and Blunt sing well, their work is missing something. Only Streep manages to capture that strange, Sondheim whimsy. She is, far and away, the best thing about the movie.

Streep takes her musical moments, including “Witch’s Entrance,” and rises above the production. “Witch’s Entrance” occurs early in the film, and at that point, the film looks promising. That promise gets dashed on the rocks in moments like Crawford’s dreadful, wrongfully earnest rendition of “I Know Things Now,” Red Riding Hood’s post-wolf-encounter recollection. Sondheim’s wit is totally lost on Crawford and director Marshall.

Johnny Depp shows up for a few minutes as The Wolf in a stupid outfit that makes him look more feline than canine. His “Hello, Little Girl,” a song that is supposed to be rife with innuendo, makes him sound simply like an animal who wants to eat some food. Marshall and Depp give the number a slow, crooning presentation, as opposed to the former jaunty, obnoxious edge. It’s just wrong.

Blunt, Corden and Kendrick deliver their numbers as if they were in The Sound of Music rather than a clever fairy-tale parody. Tracey Ullman changes Jack’s Mother from a snarky bit of comic relief into a disgruntled, cranky mum. Huttlestone, who was awesome in the latest Les Misérables movie, does nothing memorable with Jack.

Understandably, Marshall deleted the character of The Narrator from the proceedings. The Narrator acted as a ringmaster in the stage show, and wouldn’t transition into a movie as a physical presence. Instead, Marshall has Corden’s Baker provide a voiceover that lends nothing fun.

The final act, involving the Giant’s Wife terrorizing the countryside, falls flat due to terrible special effects. This sequence had me thinking that Into the Woods has no business being adapted to the big screen.

Still, in those moments when Streep soars, I can’t help but think a director with a more-twisted vision, and a studio with a little more balls, could’ve given us something more suitable to Sondheim and Lapine (who, oddly enough, participated in the film’s production).

Dreamworks and Tim Burton did a masterful job with their very R-rated Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Disney should’ve taken a few cues from them, and allowed Into the Woods to retain its sense of mischief rather than neutering it.

Into the Woods is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s a sad state of cinematic affairs when the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow bombs domestically at the box office, while the latest Transformers debacle brings in the big bucks.

Tom Cruise might be a kook, but he usually participates in good movies, and this twisted sci-fi experiment is easily one of his best. Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of spectacle best-suited for the big screen, but it looks like it will have to find fame via home viewing. I have a feeling it will—it’s that good.

Cruise plays a military man handling public relations during an alien invasion. After a rather intense meeting with a commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson), he finds himself sent off to combat—and he quickly dies. However, he wakes up and finds himself living the same experience again—and again, and again.

Yes, the movie has similarities to Groundhog Day, and it does use a sort of sick humor in the many ways Cruise’s character meets his end. Emily Blunt, a new queen of sci-fi after this and Looper, shows up as a soldier who knows exactly what is happening; that creates other interesting scenarios.

This is a movie that delights with every frame; you will kick yourself for missing it in theaters. Yes, Tom Cruise is maddeningly strange sometimes, but he knows a good script when he sees one.

Special Features: You get some decent behind-the-scenes docs and deleted scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Cruise must’ve had that Risky Business grin from ear to ear when he first read the script for Edge of Tomorrow: He had to know he had a magnificent movie on his hands.

Watching Edge of Tomorrow is like watching James Cameron’s Aliens or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. It provides many surprises, is often scary, has a lot of laughs and always feels original. This is one of those science-fiction movies that truly brings something new to the genre.

In the future, Earth is fighting a crazed, vicious alien force that is shredding armies. Cruise plays Cage, an armed-forces officer who serves as a public-relations man and doesn’t necessarily belong on a battlefield. After a publicity tour, he sits down with a hard-nosed general (a cold Brendan Gleeson)—and finds out that he is going into battle.

Cage is justifiably terrified, and his first taste of war doesn’t go well. While he does score a couple of decent hits, he is killed in an especially gruesome fashion. For reasons I won’t give away, he instantly wakes up after his death, and is transported back to a moment shortly after his meeting with the general.

Cage is in a seriously messed up situation.

He starts repeating the same day, dying every time. Cage does his best to change that outcome, but he always winds up meeting a grisly death and waking up back in the same place. He eventually comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), the military’s poster girl for the perfect soldier. By repeating days with Rita, Cage starts to build himself up as a soldier, discover secrets about the enemy, and increase longevity for himself and mankind.

It’s not usually cool to laugh when somebody dies, but you will laugh at some of the ways in which Cage meets his end. Cruise embraces the comedic elements of the situation, but he and director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) keep things away from total silliness. At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is a well-oiled, sometimes-horrific thrill machine that never stalls out or missteps.

Cruise is becoming a major modern-science-fiction force. War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Oblivion and now this movie have established the guy as a sci-fi legend. The same can almost be said for Blunt, who occupied a major role in Looper, another terrific science-fiction film.

Cruise and Blunt are great together. Whether their characters are shooting each other in the head, or getting themselves irreparably bashed up during training sessions, they offer unyielding professionalism and commitment.

Another factor that gives the movie a nice Aliens vibe is the presence of Bill “Game Over!” Paxton as Cage’s ruthless commanding officer. It’s a great role that allows Paxton to take the crazy eyes out of that box in his sock drawer. Remember how edgy Paxton used to be? This movie gives him back some of that edge.

Edge of Tomorrow works on so many levels that I’m going to dare to call it a masterpiece. It’s also one of the year’s funniest movies: It’s not a comedy by definition, but when it gets laughs, it gets big ones.

As for that ending, it might feel a little strange at first, but think about it on the way home. It’s actually quite brilliant.

If you are a Tom Cruise hater, bury that hate. See Edge of Tomorrow—and discover how a blockbuster can be smart, funny, thrilling and totally insane at the same time.

Edge of Tomorrow is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting and somber The Wind Rises, Jiro (a character based on one of the designers of World War II Japanese bombers) shares his dreams with Caproni, an Italian airplane-builder who intends to retire.

Caproni has something in common with Miyzaki: The Wind Rises is allegedly the last animated feature from Miyazaki, the legendary director of such films as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. If this is, indeed, his final film, Miyazaki, 73, is going out on a high note: The film is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and it’s my pick for the award.

The Wind Rises stands as my favorite Miyazaki film. There’s a hand-drawn beauty to every frame; the sounds are astonishing; and, most importantly, it tells a compelling and heartbreaking story in a graceful and touching way.

We first meet Jiro as a young boy, as he dreams about airplanes. (This is also where we meet Caproni, who sometimes “shares” Jiro’s dreams.) Jiro’s early dreams contain the beauty and wonderment of flying—but they also include his plane disintegrating, and his body falling helplessly toward the ground. Jiro is a complicated sort.

The film then jumps to Jiro as a young man, heading to work in Tokyo on a train, when a frightening earthquake hits. This earthquake is the film’s most-stunning sequence, bolstered by exaggerated drawings of the earth rolling. It’s also here that we see Miyazaki’s extraordinary attention to detail. (The earthquake’s end is shown via a pile of small rocks, with the natural disaster coming to a pause after a couple of final, tiny stones tumble.)

Jiro helps a young woman and her younger sister, Nahoko, in the accident’s aftermath. They lose touch as Jiro goes to work under the tutelage of the cantankerous Kurokawa; he designs wing struts for a Japanese corporation that’s building warplanes. Jiro notices details in the bones from his mackerel lunch, and incorporates their sleekness into his designs. Through a series of dreams, paper airplanes and hard work, we eventually see the culmination of Jiro’s work: the bombers that will attack Pearl Harbor and turn Japan into one of the world’s most-sinister war machines.

Miyazaki doesn’t explore the politics of such an invention all that much. There are some rough dealings with German engineers, and brief mentions of Nazis and how Japan will eventually “blow itself up.” That particular statement is very eerie in a film that is so beautiful. We see the creation of the bombers from the designer’s standpoint; Jiro is the Walter Mitty of airplane daydreamers, in a sense. He simply wants to build majestic flying machines, with no political leanings toward their wartime significance.

A love story kicks into gear when Nahoko is reintroduced. She and Jiro come together and are married as Nahoko is in the throes of tuberculosis. As with his airplane dreams, his dreams of eternal love are hindered by the distinct hint of death.

The dream sequences with Caproni are full of wonderment. He and Jiro can walk on plane wings and observe huge passenger-plane prototypes that look like the Howard Hughes Spruce Goose. These beguiling sequences distinguish Miyazaki’s work from all other animated-film directors.

Miyazaki integrates human voices in a lot of his sound effects. You can hear them a bit when plane engines start up; it lends to the film’s organic feel. Those human voices work best when Tokyo catches fire during the earthquake sequences. The earth belches and moans as the fire starts, almost as if to say, “What’s about to happen here is really quite bad.” It’s a subtle, distinctive touch from Miyazaki.

We see those subtle touches in the visuals as well. Watch the way cigarette smoke billows from a smoker’s mouth, or the way vegetation reacts to hard raindrops. Everything is treated with an amazing amount of focus and detail. As amazing as Pixar’s computer-animated movies are, they miss the humanistic quality of a Miyazaki film.

I watched The Wind Rises with its original Japanese language track (with a little bit of German, Italian and French mixed in). The film is being released nationally with an English-dubbed track featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jiro), Emily Blunt (Nahoko), Martin Short (Kurokawa) and Stanley Tucci (Caproni). English translations usually go OK with Miyazaki movies, but if you want to see it in the original Japanese, it’ll probably be included on future home-video releases.

I could see why, thematically, Miyazaki would want this to be his last animated feature; The Wind Rises feels like a proper culmination of his work. The selfish movie fan in me wants him to keep making movies as long as he breathes, but there’s something quite befitting and satisfying in the way this movie, and possibly Miyazaki’s film journey, comes to an end.

The Wind Rises opens Friday, Feb. 28, at theaters including the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615) and the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews