My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro, by Hayao Miyazaki My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is a quiet, calm, beautiful film. There is no dialogue for very long stretches of story while characters explore, watch, and discover—akin to the opening sequence of WALL-e. There is no sass talk, there are no quick cuts, no pop-culture references, and no special effects.  Nothing explodes.  The movie is rated G.  It is a hand-drawn animated film made a quarter-century ago.  I watched it together with my two children, aged 3 and … [Read more...]

At Any Price: A Study in Discontentment

Review of At Any Price, Directed by Ramin BahraniProfoundly American and profoundly disturbing, At Any Price, the newest release by acclaimed director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, Chop Shop), strikes at the heart of our enterprise and reveals the broken souls drifting along this cycle of greed. The Whipple family is steeped in Iowa’s agriculture business, which must “expand or die.” In one sense, the Whipples and their neighboring farmers are required to play this game of economies of scale, … [Read more...]

Iron Man 3 is worth every nickel

Review of Iron Man 3, Directed by Shane BlackDoes this movie even really need a review? As with everything else in the Avengers oeuvre to date (with the possible exceptions of Hulk and The Incredible Hulk), Iron Man 3 is a lot of action-y goodness with light moral thematic underpinnings. Which is exactly what we want from a comic book movie. Those that over-moralize at the expense of action inevitably fail, as do those that cut the moral out completely in favor of big-name stars or … [Read more...]

Kon-Tiki and the Risk of Faith

Review of Kon-Tiki, Directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen SandbergKon-Tiki is a name that has faded from popular memory, but launched a generation of explorers and adventurers, including astronauts. Kon-Tiki is the name of a raft that carried a crew of five Norwegians, a Swede, and a parrot named Lorita, all the way from Peru to the Polynesian islands. The point of the journey? To prove that people from the east (that is South Americans), not the west (that is Asians), populated Polynesia. … [Read more...]

At Any Price: Interview with Dennis Quaid and Ramin Bahrani

At Any Price tells the fictional, but oh so real story of the Whipple family, caught up in the Darwinian struggle to survive in the modern agriculture business, which thrives under the banner “expand or die”. We watch as this attitude of never having enough seeps from the corporate level down to the individual lives of farmers and their children. My review of this film will come out tomorrow. In the meantime, we thought our readers would enjoy a special interview to whet their appetites.I had t … [Read more...]

The General: A Train Full of Laughs

Review of The General, Directed by Buster KeatonIn our effort to blog our way through the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films, I picked out one of the few movies on the list I had not only not seen, but never even heard of:  The General (1927).  For some reason I expected a somber silent drama about some military officer’s dreary, tragic life.  I think the one-word nondescript title sounds drab and pretentious, so I assumed the movie would be too.The General (available on Netflix stre … [Read more...]

Last Train Home in Industrializing China

Review of Last Train Home, Directed by Lixin FanThe documentary Last Train Home tells the heart-wrenching story of a family caught in the turbulence of an industrializing China. Every Spring, for Chinese New Year, 130 million migrant workers trek back to their rural homes to rejoin their families, only to return again to their urban employment. The film was released in 2009 and now, four years later, the story is still relevant.Zhang Changhua (father) and Chen Suqin (mother) have a teenage … [Read more...]

Wreck It, But Be Nice to Your Sister

Review of Wreck-It Ralph, Directed by Rich MooreConfession:  I love video games.  When I was 2, my dad bought the Apple II computer.  Some of my earliest memories are playing stone-age video games together as a family.  I remember playing Cranston Manor.  This was a game only slightly more sophisticated than Pong. It was a mystery game. A still image was on the screen, painted in plain 8-bit color graphics. Two lines of text described the scene. “You are standing in the forest. A piece of pap … [Read more...]

If you love America, go see Pain & Gain

Review of Pain and Gain, Directed by Michael Bay"Don't be a don't-er, do be a doer." Such is the motto of body-builders/gym-rats Danny Lugo, Paul Doyle, and Adrian Doorball (Marky Mark, the Rock, and Anthony Mackie). Okay, if we're being all technical about it, it's the motto of Johnny Wu—the hottest self-help guru to come along in the history of ever. But good advice is good advice, and Danny, Paul, and Adrian have decided to be doers instead of don't-ers by going out and taking their own l … [Read more...]

Here’s Looking at You, Casablanca!

Review of Casablanca, Directed by Michael CurtizIt’s December of 1941 in sunny, depressing Casablanca, where refugees flock in an attempt to flee the ravages of Nazi-infested Europe. They flock to Vichy-controlled Casablanca, and there they stay—unless Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) cares to bestow upon them the coveted exit visas that will allow them to catch the plane to Portugal and thence to freedom. These visas are a precious commodity, and Renault is careful only to trade them for … [Read more...]