Observations on science fiction, writing, life and whatnot

Three short movie reviews

The Secret World of Arrietty
From the studio that gave us Spirited Away and My Neighbor Tortoro, this is a Japanese take on The Borrowers, a British series of stories about little people who live in the walls of our houses and borrow what they need. “Japanese” because no real villains threaten the main characters (just a befuddled housekeeper), no one chases anyone else all over the place and nothing blows up. It’s subject is connections we make with other beings, courage, and ties to family. It ends on a bittersweet note, and I’d bet the last voice-over by the boy was added for American audiences because the Disney company — the distributor — doesn’t think Americans will accept ambiguous endings. It is a lovely, tranquil movie, paced more for quiet meditation than over-the-top action. While Hayao Miyazaki, the director of most of the studio’s famous films, co-wrote the script, he stepped aside for Hirosama Yonebashi, a young director at the studio. The passing of a torch?

I had high hopes for this. It started out well enough exploring what teen-agers could do if given nearly limitless power. It then goes cliche on us, becoming just another story about the oppressed, neurotic kid taking revenge. If you’ve seen Akira, if you’ve seen Carrie, you know how it turns out. A main rule in science fiction literature is that if the science is removed and the story still stands, it’s not science fiction. The same is true for movies: If the fantastic element is removed,and the story still stands, then it doesn’t need the special effects. Such is the case here; the deterioration of an adolescent soul can be explored better with mundane reality. Add that to the plot holes and the movie just collapses.

The Descendants
Nothing fantastic here, just a story about human beings in the mundane world. A story where the locale is, as has been noted by other reviewers,a character, too. Part of the plot revolves around Hawaii’s landscape and the human history that has swirled around the islands. George Clooney plays a father who has paid too much attention to work instead of family. When his wife is knocked into a coma in a boating accident, he has to reconnect with his daughters. And he has to decide whether to sell a huge plot of land on Kauai to developers who plan to build more hotels, more golf courses, more places for people unconnected to anything on the islands to come and stay few days, lie in the sun in scanty clothing, then go home without touching, or being touched by, the place at all. Yes, the family story could be told without the Hawaii subplot, but this is a film about connections: connections with family, connections with the family’s ancestors, connections with the place you live, connections to the history of the place you live — and the impact you have on all of this. (The novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings is good, too.)

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