Top Ten Studio Ghibli Films

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Instead of a review this week, I’d figured I’d write a top ten list of my personal favorite Studio Ghibli films. I must point out that the Studio Ghibli movies I haven’t watched (yet) are “Only Yesterday”, “Ocean Waves”, “Pom Poko”, “My Neighbors the Yamadas”, “The Wind Rises”, “The Tale of Princess Kayuga” and “When Marnie Was There”. After I watch those movies, I will do an updated version. I hope you enjoy reading this list…

10.) The Cat Returns

Remember that Cat Baron in “Whispers of the Heart”? Apparently they made a spin-off movie starring that character and it’s awesome. It’s the closest thing to an animated version of “The Princess Bride” we have (Cary Elwes voices the titular Baron in fact). The reason why it’s not higher on the list is because of its rather short runtime of 75 minutes.

9.) The Secret World of Arrietty

Based on a fairly popular children’s novel, “Arrietty” manages to take its intriguing premise and make it larger than life (pun intended). I really liked the friendship between Arrietty and Shawn. I’m glad that I managed to watch this particular movie in theaters.

8.) My Neighbor Totoro

I’m quite aware this is a favorite of Studio Ghibli fans. Heck, Totoro is pretty much the mascot for Studio Ghibli. The reason that this movie isn’t higher up on this list is because it lacks a plot. Whatever it lacks in plot, it makes up for in situations. This film is a perfect example of a typical childhood Saturday.

7.) Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s another great example of a coming-of-age story by Studio Ghibli. Like My Neighbor Totoro, it makes use of situation instead of conflicts. It’s a very unique that witches aren’t seen as outcasts but as gifted individuals.

6.) Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

Although it was made a year before Studio Ghibli was founded, it is retrospectively referred to as one by fans. Even Studio Ghibli considers it to be an honorary Ghibli film. It’s a well-animated post-apocalyptic tale with strong characters. Not only that, “Nausicaa” has a surprisingly subtle environmental message.

5.) Porco Rosso

Out of all the movies on this particular list, “Porco Rosso” may be the most underrated Studio Ghibli film. This film deserves more attention. Michael Keaton is perfect as the titular character with his abrasive yet lovable personality. Out of the more humorous Studio Ghibli movies, this may be the best one.

4.) Grave of the Fireflies

This is a very emotional movie. It’s a great film that contains great animation and a very mature script dealing with how people can get desperate in a bad situation and how pride could get the best of us. It’s not the type of movie you would watch over and over again but it’s special in its unique way.

3.) Castle in the Sky

Considered the first “official” Studio Ghibli film, it is a great old-school adventure film in the vein of such classics like “Indiana Jones”. Not only it has a great story, it also has some great action scenes that are also very comedic in nature. It also has some very memorable characters such as band of pirates led by their mother (played by the always awesome Cloris Leachman) and the antagonist Muska (played by Mark Hamill…yes that one).

2.) Princess Mononoke

This may be Hayao Miyazaki’s most mature work to date. The best part about this film is its great characters. The film eschews the traditional good vs. evil plotline in favor of character development instead. For example, we have the character of Lady Eboshi. In another movie, she would be an outright villain if it weren’t for the fact that she provides not only employment but also refuge for the outcasts of society such as prostitutes and lepers. Like Nausicaa, it has a very subtle environmental message.

1.) Spirited Away

This is the movie that won Hayao Miyazaki the Oscar. It is very imaginative movie with very imaginative characters. It may be the “Alice in Wonderland” of the 21st century. Not only that, it also serves as a great coming-of-age story in which Chihiro becomes a more mature individual because of the experience she had in the movie.

“Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” Review

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SUMMARY: Despite its previous successes, the Impossible Missions Force is absorbed into the CIA due to the high collateral damage on its mission during a Senate hearing thanks to the testimony of CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). As a result, the former IMF members help the rogue Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) take down a mysterious criminal organization known as the Syndicate.

ANALYSIS: The best aspect about the “Mission Impossible” film franchise is that they portray IMF as a team rather than the Ethan Hunt show (nothing against Tom Cruise…I’ll get to that in a second). Sure, Ethan Hunt is the field agent for IMF, he couldn’t do it without the help of Benji Dunn and William Brandt. That’s amazing for a long-running franchise such as this one(the original “Mission Impossible” movie will be twenty next year) because the supporting cast all have unique personalities instead of relying on the main protagonist. Speaking of the general cast…

Say what you want about his personal life but Tom Cruise usually puts a lot of effort into his performances. What makes the Mission Impossible franchise stand out amongst other action movies is that Tom Cruise is willing to put himself in danger in order to give an effective performance whether its dangling from the Burj Khalifa in “Ghost Protocol” or from outside an airplane in this particular movie. It’s nice to see Ving Rhames return as Luther Stickell after only appearing in a cameo in “Ghost Protocol”. It’s also great that Simon Pegg’s character of Benji Dunn has a much bigger role in the latest two “Mission Impossible” films.

Like the previous films in the series, “Rogue Nation” has some well thought out action sequences. Director Christopher McQuarrie is better known as a writer in Hollywood. I really liked his writing on “The Usual Suspects” (in which he won the Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay”) and “Edge of Tomorrow” (my second favorite movie of last year). It is with “Rogue Nation” that he proves he can helm a big budget action movie. Ever since the first “Mission Impossible”, it seems that the series tries to raise the stakes in its action scenes with each successive sequel. Although it doesn’t beat the Burj Khalifa scene in “Ghost Protocol”, the film has some notable action scenes such as the aforementioned airplane dangling scene and a scene that involves Ethan Hunt diving into an underwater server in order to retrieve a ledger that supposedly contains the list of Syndicate agents. Although “Rogue Nation” is very well-written thanks to McQuarrie, I felt that the antagonist Solomon Lane felt rather bland. This is a let down since the third Mission Impossible had a great villain (brought to you by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Despite this, Sean Harris does fine despite having very little to work with.

OVERALL: Although it’s not as groundbreaking as “Ghost Protocol”, “Rogue Nation” is another great addition to an ever-growing franchise.

SCORE: 4.5/5

“Paper Towns” Review

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SUMMARY: Quentin “Q” Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) befriends Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) after she moves in next door when he was young. Although they were the best of friends while growing up in the suburbs of Orlando, they drifted apart during their high school years. On the verge of high school graduation, Q and Margo have a final night on the town…only to skip town the next day. With the help of his friend, Q puts together the paper trial to track down the whereabouts of Margo.

ANALYSIS: This film, based on the 2008 young adult novel by popular author John Green, follows the sleeper success of the adaptation of his latest novel “The Fault in Our Stars”. Like “The Fault in Our Stars”, “Paper Towns” knows how to balance comedy and drama. Not only that, the film doesn’t talk down to its intended audience when it deals with subjects that are considered taboo.

The two leads, Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, have a believable chemistry. Delevingne’s character is a mysterious yet intriguing one. The film has a good supporting cast even they rely heavily on the two lead characters in terms of dialogue.

The film’s storyline is an intriguing one that involves the sudden disappearance of Margo Roth Spiegelman and the scavenger hunt for clues of her whereabouts that follows. The mystery of the situation is what drives the movie’s plot…until the movie’s third act unfortunately.

For such a good buildup with its plot, the movie has a rather disappointing payoff. The movie tries to pass off as a coming-of-age rite of some sort when in reality it was a weak ending.

CONCLUSION: Although not as memorable as “The Fault in Our Stars”, “Paper Towns” manages to stand on its own due to its intriguing plot and characters despite a lackluster ending.

SCORE: 3.5/5

“Trainwreck” Review

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SUMMARY: Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) is a hard-partying, hard drinker who sleeps with any guy she can gets her hands on. As a part of her job as a reporter for a tabloid magazine, she is assigned to interview sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) despite being not interested in sports. They manage to hit it off almost instantly despite being total opposites.

ANALYSIS: If anyone knows how to do romantic comedies right, it’s Judd Apatow. He knows how to humanize otherwise one-note characters. This film is no exception as he takes a potentially unlikable character in another movie and puts her in a realistic situation in which she changes her self destructive ways. While this movie has some pretty hilarious scenes, it has also has some heartfelt serious moments that felt real and not melodramatic.

I liked Amy Schumer as the lead. She knows how to carry an entire movie with her comedic timing. She also has a believable chemistry with Bill Hader. Usually, I’m not a big fan of cameos as I see it as a distraction from the overall story of the movie but this movie is an exception. Apatow knows how to make cameos work in his movies and he does it well here.

My main complaint with this movie is a common one for Apatow’s filmography: the over-reliance of improv scenes. While most of them are great, some of them are rather unnecessary and it messes with the pacing of the entire movie as a result. Sometimes it feels like more of a party at Judd Apatow’s house than a fictional movie.

CONCLUSION: It’s another fine addition to Judd Apatow’s already impressive catalog.

FINAL SCORE: 4/5