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Chibi Maruko-chan (1990)
A kinder, gentler, folksier Japanese "Simpsons"
Chibi Maruko-chan has been a mainstay of Asian television for many years. The film echos the basic plot of the animated TV show. A Japanese family living in a smaller city, with a caricatured mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, older sister, and -- of course -- Maruko. They yell, fight, do dumb things, but always seem to come together at the end. This film focuses more on Maruko's school and classmates. There are no English subtitles, so what I know is based on having watched the film (and many many episodes of the TV show) with my Chinese wife and daughter (who translate as best they can while busting their guts laughing). I wish very much that someone would either dub in the English or put in subtitles. It's a great series and a good movie!
Great cinema, weak screenplay
I had a much higher opinion of this film until I read Jack Schaefer's novel. As another poster observed, the boy comes off mostly as a toe head in the film, but as quite thoughtful in the book. But the thing I dislike most about the film adaptation is how it changed the role of the mother from a brave and strong-willed woman to a sniveling preacher of non-violence. At times in the book, Marian seems more determined than Joe to stick it out and fight. In the book, Shane teaches Bob (Joey in the film) about shooting without interference from Marian. The line about a gun being just a tool is spoken from Shane to Bob, not to Marian, as it is in the film. It seemed to me as if the screenwriter bent backward to create a weak woman stereotype. Maybe that's what sold tickets in 1952, but it wears very thin today.
But there's no doubt that this is a beautiful film to watch.
Omohide poro poro (1991)
A beautiful classic
I saw this for the first time this evening on the TCM network and was completely swept away. This happens nearly every time I see a new Studio Gibli film, but this was exceptional. The story of a young Japanese woman's 10 day vacation to the old safflower farm; a trip by train during which she recalls memories of her school days and how her earlier experiences shape who she is today. If you've ever seen the Japanese TV show Chibi Maruko Chan, you might think, "This is Maruko all grown up!" There are many moving scenes, one of the most interesting involving the woman's memory of her struggle with 5th grade math. She can't solve the logic of dividing fractions, and her discussion with her rather rude older sister on this topic reveals tremendous insight on the part of the filmmaker. It's simply a very touching story of a young girl's growth. It would make a great double feature with another Gibli film, "Kiki's Delivery Service."
War of the Worlds (2005)
One of those "lifetime" film experiences
I took my family to see WotW today and we all agreed it was one of the most amazing, astounding, intense, and frightening movies we'd ever seen. The film conveys better than any other what it would be like to actually experience an alien invasion. There are few heroics of any kind, mostly just fear, mayhem, and inhumanity. Of course, it's choppy and rough edged at times and not all the "solutions" are smooth. But that was part of its charm and power for me. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the alien attack genre or anyone who just wants an extremely heart pounding experience. My nearly 11 year old daughter was fairly terrified, but held up well overall and wants to see it again. It's the kind of film you will talk about all the way home from the theater and want to call your friends about when you get home.
Hotaru no haka (1988)
I have a somewhat different take on this film
I'd heard about this film for several years, finally saw it at Target for a bargain price, and gave it to my 10 year old daughter for Easter. We're both big Studio Gibli fans. Yes, I knew it was sad and I warned my daughter about how sad it would be. But she's fairly mature and it's about time for her to see films about some of the horrible events of history.
Grave of the Fireflies is a beautiful but frustrating film. The first five minutes caused tears to well up in my eyes and shivers to run down my spine, which I had to shake away before watching the rest of the film. I said I've got a spoiler here, but I'm not sure if it is or not. The spoiler is that despite the good heart of brother Seito, it is he who is really most responsible for his sister's death. His pride and, indeed, arrogance prevent him from taking the right steps toward protecting her. The film is anti-war and not anti-American. I actually saw it as being more anti-Japanese. I saw it as allegorical. Brother Seito represents Japan, whose pride and arrogance led to them waging war, promoting the war, and continuing the war long after it knew it would lose the war.
Yes, I'm reading something in here. But, as other reviewers have mentioned, Seito makes so many errors in judgment--not just failing to return his sister to his aunt, but also in failing to use his mother's money to buy decent food until it is too late. It just all fell together for me that Seito was more a victim of wartime Imperial Japan than of the American bombs.
The Devil's Arithmetic (1999)
I'm quite amazed at the negative comments I see here
The point of this film was not as much to be "great art" as it was to educate people about the Holocaust. In that sense, I think that many posters here are unfairly blasting it, holding it up to some high artistic standard. Believe it or not, there are many in this world, especially younger people, who have not clue one about the atrocities committed against the Jewish people. This film would be an excellent introduction (along with other films such as Diary of Anne Frank) for young people into this very real and recent historical nightmare. To read comments here about how bad the German accents were and how the Germans deserve better than this, lead me to suspect the sincerity of those posting them.
A moving, inspirational film
I show this film in my classes on leadership. Though some may find it "corny" or condescending, it is a fine and "human" portrayal of how stubbornness, faith, and a sense of justice can lead one toward great acts of courage. It's also simply an extremely interesting story. I understand that the real Gladys Aylward, on whose life the film is based, was embarrassed by the fictional "love story" portion of the film. I'm not sure why I read so many negative reactions to the film. The depictions of how Aylward inspires those around her are timeless. The three main actors, Ingrid Bergman, Robert Donat, and Kurt Jurgens, put in excellent and nuanced performances. Ms. Bergman is at her most beautiful in this film, conveying so much meaning simply with a glance. My Chinese students tend to like the film very much. Perhaps the finest scene occurs when Jen Ai (Aylward's Chinese name in the film) goes to the village to persuade the mothers to unbind their daughters' feet. So many of my students didn't even know about this cruel practice.
Strange thing about this film
In the mid 1980's I lived in an upper flat on the east side of Dearborn Michigan. Parked out my back window most days was this old, gray, strange looking exterminator's van. One day I turned on the TV and started watching Crimewave on cable. Pretty good, I thought. Then I saw the scenes with the exterminator van, the very one that was parked outside my window. I guess I should have walked over next door and asked "what the heck?!" but I didn't. Years later I was at an education policy conference at Harvard. I sat with a nice older couple. When I told them I was from Dearborn, the lady asked me if I knew Sam Raimi. I said "no, but I think he parked his van outside my house!" Anyway, Crimewave is a decent funny film.
A Town Torn Apart (1992)
Good case study, could be used in education courses
The story here is over simplified, "progressive" vs. "traditional" teaching methods, but this movie is really more than its story. What's interesting here are the pedagogical techniques introduced by this principal as well as his apparent inability to sense "trouble" just around the corner. I was disappointed not to find this on vhs or dvd because I would love to use it in my educational leadership classes. It is quite thought provoking and lends itself well to class discussions.
Red Dawn (1984)
I like this film a lot
We know it's a fantasy, but it's a damned good one. Sure, it's got its scenery eating scenes, but generally the characters are not one dimensional. If you have an ounce of patriotism, you'll get teary-eyed at the end. What bugs me about the critics of this film is that they tend to rave about futuristic fantasies when they lean to the left (e.g., "The Handmaiden's Tale). "Red Dawn," however, must be destroyed.