5 centimeters per second (makoto shinkai, 2007)

This is the twenty-first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 21 is called "Advanced Anime Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Owen Shapiro's Advanced Anime list.

This was a challenge, all right. First off, Shapiro's list disappeared, making it hard to complete the actual challenge. The list had been replicated by others, though, so it looked good, until I found that almost every film on the list was unavailable to me. I decided to pick something that 1) I could access and 2) was at least nominally anime, if not "advanced". And thus, 5 Centimeters per Second.

The film is quite subtle. It follows the story of young Takaki Tōno, and contains three episodes from different points in Takaki's life. In the first, he meets a girl, Akari, in elementary school, and they have a deep friendship that fades somewhat when Akari moves away. In the second, Takaki is in high school, and a classmate, Kanae, is in love with him. But she can never express her true feelings to Takaki. Finally, in the third, Takaki is grown and a programmer, still thinking of Akari. They seem to meet on a road, but a passing train comes between them and they don't end up contacting each other.

There is a bittersweet feel to it all. Relationships are intense, but they don't last, and lives move on. The movie is gorgeous, even when the tale is melancholic. But, to be honest, I found it all a bit boring, even with its short 62-minute running time. It's a typical movie for the challenge, something I wouldn't have seen on my own, but ultimately far enough outside of my taste preferences that I appreciated it without loving it.

guillermo del toro's pinocchio (guillermo del toro and mark gustafson, 2022)

This is my 10th Guillermo del Toro movie, and there hasn't been a stinker among them (well, I didn't get Hellboy when I saw it, but by the time of Hellboy II, I was locked into del Toro ... I imagine if I saw the first one again, I'd like it more now). He has at least one all-time classic, Pan's Labyrinth, and one close-to-classic that I'm about to reevaluate (The Shape of Water). He's made top-notch noir (Nightmare Alley) and top-notch Kaiju (Pacific Rim). His Gothic romance was a good one (Crimson Peak). He's even good at television ... The Strain lasted for four seasons. So there shouldn't be any surprise that when he turned to stop-motion animation, the result would be a wonder to behold.

My memories of the Disney Pinocchio are vague enough that comparisons aren't much use. I've never read the book, so I'll just take people's word for it that del Toro and co-writer Patrick McHale came closer to book than to Disney. Having said that, there are obvious changes from the book as well, most notably that this time, the action takes place in Italy under Mussolini (the book was written in the 19th century). Del Toro often manages to work Fascism into his stories, and this time, he lets Pinocchio have an enjoyable moment as Mussolini watches:

The animation is uncanny in that you forget it's stop-motion almost immediately. It has a look of its own ... this is not a Pixar movie, or something from the classic Disney period. The uncanny feeling comes from the painstaking detail the animators put into the project; it appears seamless, although we know that can't be the case.

Del Toro and McHale offer some interesting takes. Pinocchio doesn't want to be a real boy this time. He just wants to be accepted for who he is. Geppetto, the wood carver who creates Pinocchio, wants him to replace his dead son, but Pinocchio is incorrigible, and eventually Geppetto learns to love the wooden puppet on his own merits.

There are some excellent choices for the voice actors ... I often wish people who work as voice actors would take precedence over star casting, but the stars certainly work here. There are Oscar winners (Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton), Emmy winners (Ewan McGregor, John Turturro), young Gregory Mann as Pinocchio, and Ron Perlman, who has now been in eight del Toro movies ... he was even in del Toro's first feature, the Spanish-language Cronos, even though Perlman doesn't speak Spanish. Finally, David Bradley is perfect as Geppetto, and he, too, is a semi-regular for del Toro (he played a main character in The Strain).

With all of this, you might wonder if del Toro has come up with another classic. For me, Pinocchio is a near-miss. Good as it is, it suffers from the bane of modern animated features: it's a musical. The songs aren't as obnoxious as usual, here, but I wouldn't have missed them if they were gone.

film fatales #162: turning red (domee shi, 2022)

I guess I should have gotten the hint from the title. Back when Turning Red was released, there was a lot of controversy about its representation of puberty and its use of metaphor to refer to menstruation. I wasn't paying attention then, and watching it almost a year later, I patted myself on the back for coming up with this unique take on the film, at which point my wife pointed out that this was a major topic of discussion at the time. So I wasn't being original, I was just late to the party.

To be honest, if I was going to watch a movie that used menstruation as a plot device for getting to larger issues, I'd go for Ginger Snaps, the wonderful Canadian werewolf movie. Mostly, I'm disappointed that people took offense at Turning Red. Guess what, not every animated movie is aimed straight at 6-year-olds. I found the more mature perspective of Turning Red to be its best feature. Overall, I found the movie so-so, but that's my taste preferences popping up. I usually hate cartoons-as-musicals, but the songs here are well integrated (part of the plot revolves a young band, 4*Town), and while I didn't really notice until the credits, it's nice to see that Billie Eilish and Finneas were involved in the music. As Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature, but it seems unlikely to win. (Don't place bets on my opinions, though ... I really have no idea how the Oscars will turn out).

a few 2022 movie lists

I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:

Best movies I re-watched this year (all 10/10):

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Last Waltz (1978)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The ongoing Geezer Cinema list. We watched 48 Geezer movies this year, beginning with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse back on January 4:

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

And this list of everything I watched this year:

[Letterboxd list of movies I watched in 2022]

the simpsons movie (david silverman, 2007)

This is the eleventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 11 is called "TV Adaptations Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen theatrically released film adapted from a television series. Here's a good list.

I wish there was more to say about this movie. Its built-in audience should be happy, and newcomers to The Simpsons will likely tolerate it. As Glenn Kenny wrote, "If this is in fact merely a longer Simpsons episode, it's a damn good Simpsons episode." There are the endless pop-culture references (many of which refer back to The Simpsons TV show), the characters we know and love, and, perhaps, a bit more moralizing than I, at least, was used to. The plot is good enough to get us through 87 minutes, Tom Hanks and Green Day make celebrity cameos, and Marge says "goddamn".

journey to the beginning of time (karel zeman, 1955)

This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 9 is called "Central/Eastern European Animation Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen animated film from central or eastern Europe. Here is a list to get you started.

This movie was a challenge, indeed, for I had to struggle to find a movie that fit the category. The suggested list did not have anything I could stream, other than a few shorts. I stretched out, did a little research, and opted for something by Karel Zeman, an influential Czech director and animator. Journey to the Beginning of Time was Zeman's first recognized classic, combining live action and stop-motion animation. It is perhaps more of a hybrid than the challenge asked for, but I did my best.

Four young boys embark in a row boat on a trip that takes them progressively back in time through various prehistoric eras. Zeman follows the science as it was known at the time, and his representation of the various creatures was influenced by Zdeněk Burian, a Czech artist known for his "palaeo-art". The blending of the live actors and the animated creatures is fairly sophisticated for its time. While the boys are on an adventure, the film works more as an instructive display on prehistory. As such, it is a clever movie that, during its running time, distracts us from the nonsensical setup.

A few years after its release, an American version was created, with a new introduction and dubbing. The core of the film was the same, but the framing device was silly, and there is no reason to see this version (I watched ten minutes or so just to see what it was like).

aladdin (ron clements and john musker, 1992)

I make a lot of Letterboxd lists. Too many, really. One of my favorite kinds of lists is what I call "Blind Spots". These lists (I have 35 of them) are full of movies I've never seen. The vast majority are based on IMDB lists of the top this or top that. Before I watched Aladdin, for instance, it was on five Blind Spot lists: the Top 50 IMDB lists of Animation, Family, Fantasy, and Musical movies, as well as the Top 250 IMDB list for all movies. You could say that it was about time that I watched Aladdin, 30 years after its release.

There's a reason I never got around to it. I'm not all that fond of the Disney movies of that era. In particular, I don't like the songs. But for some reason, the songs in Aladdin didn't bother me that much, so I liked the movie more than I expected. It's an OK film, and yes, Robin Williams gets to be Robin Williams.  He's all over the place, although it takes a while for his Genie to appear. According to Wikipedia, "Because Robin Williams ad-libbed so many of his lines, the script was rejected for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination."

The version on Disney+ also contained this disclaimer before the movie started:

This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.

Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.

To learn more about how stories have impacted society, please visitwww.disney.com/StoriesMatter

All I can find specific to this was a line in a song in the original which went, "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face". This was changed to something less stereotypical.

Thanks to Robin Williams, and the relative absence of crappy songs, Aladdin is a good movie. (It did win Oscars for Score and Best Song, so don't listen to me about the quality of the tunes.) It's still a standard bland boy meets bland girl tale. Gilbert Gottfried does a notable turn as a parrot, but he inadvertently shows the problem with using names to dub dialogue in animated films rather than professional voice actors. Gottfried's voice is so recognizable that it takes you out of the movie ... you don't think hey it's a talking parrot, you think hey it's Gilbert Gottfried.

coco (lee unkrich and adrian molina, 2017)

Coco is a multi-award winning film, including an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It filled absences in many of my "Blind Spot" Letterboxd lists of popular movies I haven't seen. It is a landmark in Latino cinema, "the first film with a nine-figure budget to feature an all-Latino principal cast." I am pretty picky about animated features ... I love Miyasaki, like a lot of Pixar films, but am not a fan of a lot of the animated musicals that are ever-present. Coco comes from Pixar, and it is one of their best.

I watched in Spanish ... dubbing for animated films doesn't bother me, but ordinarily I'd have opted for English. But I knew they had made a specific Spanish-language version of Coco, and given its setting in Mexico and its emphasis on Mexican culture, Spanish seemed like the proper choice. (The only voice actor to appear in both versions is Gael García Bernal.) I can't make comparisons, but at the least, I was very satisfied with the Spanish voices.

I was also satisfied with the songs, which is often where I check out. I don't know if it was the way the Spanish-language versions felt less intrusive or something else, but I didn't gag. Meanwhile, the way Coco shows not just that Family Is Good but that Family Is Difficult was done in a pretty powerful way. Honestly, I didn't expect to like Coco ... now I can't wait to watch with my grandson.

the lion king (roger allers and rob minkoff, 1994)

Am I the last person on Earth to see The Lion King? We all have blind spots in our viewing histories ... I'm no different from anyone else, we just all have different blind spots. The Lion King never appealed to me, because I knew it was animated Disney with songs, and the songs don't usually appeal to me (this makes it hard for me to enjoy modern musicals in general). And sure enough, I can't think of a single song in The Lion King that I'd need to hear again (outside of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which isn't specific to this film).

So while I finally got around to watching it, I was never going to be its biggest fan. And I admit that every time a new song appeared, I wanted to hit the fast-forward button (since the movie is only 88 minutes long, I'd have ended up with a short subject). But I'm glad I watched it, because when characters weren't singing, I found The Lion King interesting. The music by Hans Zimmer is evocative. The visuals are good to look at. The story is elemental, but what the heck. It seemed a bit emotionally wrenching for kids, despite its "G" rating, with one death that evokes that of Bambi's mom. The Lion King isn't my favorite animated feature, nor is it my least favorite. It's a good movie, outside of what I usually find worth watching, but given that everyone else has already seen it, you don't really need my opinion.

The vocal cast includes just about everyone. Since I tend to disagree with the idea that famous actors are better than professional voice-over actors for animated films, I was distracted by people like James Earl Jones, who sounds like himself even when he is playing a lion. Having said that, Jeremy Irons was wonderfully effective. And I liked the idea of laughing hyenas who were also bad guys, no matter who did the voices.

what i watched

Inside Out (Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, 2015). I'm never quite sure what I think of the use of celebrity voices for animation. It's not that they do a bad job, it's just that they are taking work away from actual voice-over artists. The ingenious Inside Out takes place largely inside the mind of a young girl, Riley. The world-building is impressive ... while the gimmick is fun and at times evocative, room is also made for the events happening to Riley outside of her mind. In her mind, five characters connected to emotions help guide her actions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Joy seems to be dominant, and to the extent we want a happy ending, we root for Joy. Sadness runs a close second in importance, though, and much of the plot hinges on Sadness mucking things up.

Anger is voiced by Lewis Black, and even I have to admit it's a good use of a celebrity voice. I have a feeling even the most accomplished voice-over actor would appreciate this casting, for who else would you cast for a character filled with anger than Lewis Black. It's inspired.

There is plenty going on for the adults in the audience, as is true in the best Pixar movies, which Inside Out is. I don't know how little kids would take it, but 11-year-olds would surely connect with Riley. Inside Out is #139 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, and that seems a bit much, but it is almost universally acclaimed, and won't argue too much about that ranking. And I'm always in the mood for anti-broccoli sentiment.

Geezer Cinema: Cha Cha Real Smooth (Cooper Raiff, 2022). I knew next to nothing about this film prior to watching it. I'd never heard of Cooper Raiff, who wrote it, directed it, and starred in it. I read a positive review the morning I had to decide what Geezer Movie to watch, and decided on the spot to choose this one. I'm glad I did. It constantly threatens to turn bad ... the basic rom-com setup of a young man just out of college falling for Domino, a woman in her early-30s, doesn't work for me on the page (good thing I didn't know anything in advance). But Raiff gives us an entire movie of characters with some depth, and even the people who seem at first glance to be creeps turn out to be OK, which works better than you think. The film has a positive feel, even though it's not exactly filled with happiness. Raiff gets an excellent performance from Dakota Johnson as Domino, who manages to give an honest picture of someone who is depressed a lot but trying hard to change. The real find, though, is Vanessa Burghardt as Domino's autistic daughter, Lola. Burghardt, who is on the spectrum, makes her debut, and Raiff apparently encouraged her to make Lola as realistic as possible. As with most of the characters in the film, Lola is complex but believable. Toss in a couple of better-known actors like Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett, and you have a low-key indie film that hopefully will find its audience.