Saturday, June 25, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ) (2008)

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am in no way a fan of anime or manga. I don't mean anything by that besides exactly what that sentence is indicative of. I largely ignore all things anime or manga related, but I will admit that in my admitted ignorance I can find a lot to like from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. If I misspell or misrepresent myself in anyway, I claim full ignorance of the subject matter, but even with that said, I really liked this film.

Ponyo is a film that I would have so much trouble disliking. It is beautiful with its imagery and its use of both characters and setting to move the plot around. I think some of the scenery is absolutely brilliant and gorgeous, easily allowing it to become the best looking animated film I have ever seen. Seriously, watching it for the imagery alone is enough to bring this film into masterpiece territory. It reminds me somewhat of the visual imagery of a movie such as Fantasia, but with a great plot to go with it.

I guess a mention of the plot, a goldfish (the title character) turns herself into a little girl and falls in love with a little boy (Sōsuke) who falls in love with her. It is cute, but also poignant. It tugs at heart-strings while making you laugh. And a scene towards the end of the movie with Ponyo and Sōsuke in a little boat is probably the single greatest thing in the entire film and if you don't find a smile cracking on your face then you simply cannot feel happiness.

It's a cute film, let's be honest here. It's easy to follow and although easily accessible by adults clearly seems intended for a younger audience. Even saying that, I found myself drawn in by the fantastic story and the characters so cute that you just wanted to give them all a hug and make everything better. It's hard for me to say something like that. I am a huge fan of horror, with psychological horror being my genre of choice, but I can admire a well-done film, even one that seems to be the antithesis of everything I love about the films that I love. The quality is so wonderful and the feeling you get at the end of the film, just by watching it... well, it's just absolutely priceless. It could bring a smile to the face of one as cold as stone.

I can't really make my review extra long here. I don't have a lot to say but praise of it. It's not my favorite film of Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki. That honor would go to Spirited Away, which is also in my favorite films of all time. Ponyo though stands up on its own merits and its own quality. Take a look at it if you want to see something of great quality and great beauty.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book Evaluation: Abarat (2002) by Clive Barker

Abarat is a young adult book with elements of fantasy, horror, and dreams. It is a well thought-out  novel with an intricate story, characters, and setting. It does have some more negative elements as well, but I'll get to those later. First, I'll start with what I know about Mr. Clive Barker. It's not much, I assure you. He's an author of primarily dark fantasy and horror fantasy and what I know about him the best are two video games that have his name attached to them: Undying and Jericho and the Hellraiser series of movies. That's about it.

Growing up I wasn't a fan of Clive Barker. I was for Stephen King all the way. I didn't really know much about him and his stories never seemed to interest me, at least what I knew about them, which again, video games and the movies. Other than those things I knew almost nothing. Unfair, I know, but there's the truth. Well, recently I read through Abarat and I have to say I really liked it.

Yes, it is very obviously aimed at the young adult market. So, don't read this if you're not expecting something for the twelve to fifteen demographics. That being true, it holds up remarkably well. It is a well-written young adult novel that, albeit heavy-handed at times, exploring a fantasy realm that stands well on its own. Some of the characters, most of them not exactly the friendliest crowd, are fantastically well-rounded even if the main character, a twelve-year old girl named Candy Quackenbush who acts much older than she is, is much more of a generic heroine character.

The setting, with twenty-five islands representing the twenty-four hour clock with one extra, is an incredibly well done idea and work fantastically in this novel.

The problems are easier to jump on though. Although the novel is well-done, it seems that it sympathizes with the wrong characters (in my opinion, of course). It has a bland protagonist and the story seems fairly generic once you take a step beyond the new kind of setting and some of the more brilliant characters. The writing, as I said before, can be heavy-handed, and seems to be written by a man who does not usually write for young adults. (This is where I wink knowingly. Clive Barker is not usually an author for the young adults and kids of the world.) It comes off as if he is trying desperately to dumb down his own language. Clive Barker, when I was eight I was reading The Lord of the Rings. You don't have to dumb down your language for young adults. They'll understand if you use big words, and if they don't then they should pick up a dictionary and learn. My point is the writing is simplified in many ways.

I'm also going to clarify my "heavy-handed" statement. It seems that there is a working morality within the story and that the readers and audience are supposed to go, "Oh boy, that's wrong." or "Oh man, that's right! You go girl!" I don't like either of these things. I guess I like the vague ideas better. This novel seems to be more a take on fairy tales. Actually that is one of the first things I thought about when reading this. It's a modern fairy tale with clear cut good and clear cut evil, and I find that tedious.

Altogether though, it is well done. The beginning of the novel is particularly great. It starts the story off ridiculously well. The lighthouse scene is one of the best in the entire book and even holds up well against many other, better novels. The ending is weaker as the novel clearly wants me to side with the good guys, when the big evil dude is clearly more sympathetic and the stronger character, a selfless character who gets dragged into evil because of a very selfish woman... or maybe I'm being unfair... although I don't think so. I think people can make sacrifices for peace... I guess that's just my limited imagination or something...

Oh, I don't have a limited imagination? Huh. HUH, I say.

Anyway,if you want to read a decently done young adult fantasy novel done by a horror novelist, this is well done and is very interesting, but you should really read The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King instead. Great novel, standalone and, in my opinion, brilliant. Plus, it's connected to The Dark Tower series. How can there be a loss there?