“Howl’s Moving Castle” – The Power of Compassion

Revered animation writer and director Hayao Miyazaki has built his illustrious and inspiring career around certain themes that he has returned to time and time again in his many decades of work. These include the spiritual realm, the sanctity of nature, and the wonder of flight. But perhaps his most defining theme, which pervades each of his works to some degree or another, is the crucial need for compassion toward one another. In Miyazaki’s films, it isn’t violence or deception or debate that changes the world and saves other people, it’s displays of compassion that come from pure love for other people.

No other film in Miyazaki’s canon of great animated features has this more prominently displayed in its story and themes than 2005’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

Based on a novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, but with many elements and themes largely changed for the film, Miyazaki’s fantasy romance is set in a fictional kingdom where modern technology and magic coexist alongside one another. It’s in this setting, where two kingdoms wage war against one another, that Sophie, a young hatter, meets the wizard Howl and is suddenly turned into an old woman due to a curse from a witch who is after Howl. In search of a way to break the curse, Sophie moves into Howl’s home (the titular moving castle) and changes the lives of the people around her as well as the war itself through her compassion.

Read more on Miyazaki analyzed in Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

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10 Essential Wolverine Comics for New Readers

Does heroic mutant and X-Man Wolverine’s latest cinematic adventure in Logan have you hankering for more stories featuring the man formerly known as Weapon X? While there have been plenty of films and cartoons featuring the clawed mutant, most of wolverine’s greatest stories have been on the comic book page.

But where to start?

The following 10 comic books are perfect starting points for new readers interested in Wolverine. From his origins to his post-apocalyptic adventures, these stories tell the best of the best of Logan. After reading the following comics, you’ll have a strong grasp on the character and be ready to dive even deeper into this fascinating character’s complex and compelling history.

Find more to read with 10 Essential Batman Comic Books for New Readers.

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On Anger, Guilt, and Atonement in “Raging Bull”

Director Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull is a masterwork of violence and its all-too human repercussions, as told through the real life story of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. Filtered through the acclaimed director’s Catholic background, Scorsese’s biopic may seem to be a common boxing film at first glance, but its true purpose is as a meditation on the destructive nature of anger and what it truly means to atone for one’s sins. It’s a film that is as beautiful in its cinematic explorations of its themes as it is repulsive in its stark depictions of one man’s rage-filled path of self-destruction.

That dichotomy is the key to its most powerful ruminations on atonement, as it holds nothing back in exploring the wages of sin and anger, as well as what it may truly take for some to change their deepest and darkest natures.

When we first meet boxer Jake La Motta (Robert DeNiro), it’s in the midst of a punishing and ugly bout that sees the boxer lose his first ever fight due to his opponent being saved by the bell.  From the very first moments, it’s clear that Jake is a man consumed by anger, as shown by his unflinching willingness to take punch after punch directly to the face just to lay out his opponent with devastating haymakers. And the boxing ring itself as well as the crowd surrounding it are direct reflections of his rage, with the audience erupting into mayhem both during and after the fight.  Onlookers attack one another, women are trampled in the chaos, and a riot threatens to engulf the ring itself. This is only the first example of how Scorsese’s boxing matches throughout Raging Bull will work as metaphors for LaMotta’s inner turmoil, and their examinations are crucial for understanding what is being said throughout the film

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“John Wick Chapter 2” Review

A Worthy Follow-Up to a Modern Action Classic

john-wick-2-posterWhen the Keanu Reeves-starring John Wick hit theaters in 2014, audiences and critics alike were blown away by the stellar craft behind this small yet explosive action film. With the first John Wick quickly gaining status as a modern action masterpiece, writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski have a great deal of hype to live up to in John Wick: Chapter 2.

With a bigger budget, wilder action set pieces, and a deep dive into the weird and wild world hinted at in the first film, Kolstad, Stahelski, and Reeves have crafted a strong, exciting second installment in this sudden franchise, even if their massive action film can’t quite capture the magic of experiencing John Wick for the first time.

Picking up only a few days after the end of the original film, John Wick: Chapter 2 quickly sets out to tie up several loose ends of the first installment before rocketing off on a new mission of mayhem and destruction for its deadly ex-hitman. But with John’s main motivation for revenge that so expertly propelled the first film now ended, Chapter 2 has to work hard at creating a reason for its hero to get back into action once again. This time, it’s a powerful crime lord played by Riccardo Scamarcio who comes back into John’s life to force him into one more job. Surprise, surprise, things quickly get complicated and John finds himself targeted by all manner of goons and deadly hitmen. But it’s those complications that somewhat bog down the narrative, with several twists and turns needed to get the central character fully invested in a new mission. When combined with the world building at hand, Chapter 2 is hit with a few unfortunate moments of slowdown that the first film’s lean and aggressive storytelling never encountered.

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The Lego Batman Movie Review

A Silly, Fresh Take on The Dark Knight

lego-batman-movie-posterBatman films, and the character of Batman himself, are often a reflection of their times. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy questioned government power and vigilantism in the aftermath of terrorism and war. Tim Burton’s Batman was the first step in a darker and grimmer reimagining of superheroes. Now, The Lego Batman Movie arrives with a fresh, hyperactive, unabashedly funny take on The Caped Crusader that works as a treatise against the ever-darkening interpretations of the hero and the consistently self-important franchisement of superheroes on film as a whole.

It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to so many previous live action Batman movies, even if it’s sense of comedy and wonder can’t quite match up to its Lego predecessor.

Serving as both a follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie and a new spin on a character that has been given countless incarnations on both film and television, The Lego Batman Movie manages to be both a loving revitalization of Batman on film as well as a good natured skewering of the character and his many iconic elements. With so many jokes that it is literally impossible to catch every single one on the first viewing and enough Easter eggs to make the most diehard Batman fan swoon from fan service, The Lego Batman Movie is positively manic with the amount of material stuffed into its 1 hour 40 minute runtime. It’s surely enough material to warrant multiples watches, even if the sheer amount of material unfolding on screen at any given moment may make it hard to focus when it’s truly needed.

Most importantly, The Lego Batman Movie isn’t afraid to do what nearly every live action incarnation of The Dark Knight has not done – have as much fun with the character as possible. With the willingness to include nearly every element of the character that has caused fans across the decades to love him – including a massive stable of villains, numerous supporting characters, a lengthy history that ranges from the deadly serious to the extremely campy, and wild action scenes that aren’t afraid to be big and colorful – The Lego Batman Movie feels more true to the character than most of his other interpretations, even when it frequently makes The Caped Crusader into the butt of the joke. It can do so as easily as it does because it’s clear that the team behind the film has a massive love for him and his humongous history in comics and film.

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Reparenting and Healing the Inner Child in “The LEGO Movie”

Have you ever found yourself going about your day, only to be struck with a thought or experience that propels you back years in time to your childhood? You find yourself suddenly young again, feeling the joys and pains of years gone by and are left wondering how your childhood self turned into the person that you are today. While happy childhood memories may feed into feelings of nostalgia and help shape a person’s priorities as an adult, the truth is that childhood trauma and our most difficult experiences in our early years are just as, if not more, formative of our character later in life.

In psychotherapy, “reparenting” is an approach that sees a person’s personality as being made up of both an adult and a wounded child. While our adult selves define much of how we rationally approach our daily lives, the wounded child is the part of us that is made up of the emotional wounds and traumas experienced during childhood, which still impact and shape us years later. During reparenting in therapy, a person will be guided into identifying the moments in time that caused such severe, long-lasting wounds and learn how to show love, protection, and nurture to his or her wounded child. This means stepping back in time to those painful moments and speaking love and truth to ourselves when we needed it most, yet most likely never received it. In essence, your adult self takes on a parental role with your child self in order to bring healing and love to wounds that may have been hurting for decades.

The idea of reparenting can be found in small moments of film and television, where the beauty of reconnecting with the inner self is represented in characters arcs in film such as Elf, Hook, and Regarding Henry. However, these films can often overlook the steps necessary to truly reparent and heal old wounds.

What may surprise you is that the most poignant and thoughtful depiction of reparenting can be found in 2014’s The LEGO Movie.

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“Justice League Dark” Review

DC Comics’ Vibrant Supernatural World Comes to Life

justice-league-dark-animated-posterThe supernatural side of DC Comics is ripe with vibrant characters, iconic stories, and exciting ideas that have largely been ignored by the brand’s live action film adaptations and much of its animated films and series until now. In Justice League Dark, the DC Animated Movie Universe dives headlong into the supernatural realm, bringing many of its greatest characters to life in a film whose strengths are the direct result of how fantastic those characters are in their pure, unadulterated forms. While the storytelling may leave something to be desired, the thrill of experiencing these iconic characters should entice both longtime comic fans and uninitiated viewers alike.

Justice League Dark, the latest in DC’s ever-growing line of interconnected home video animated films, sees a mystical threat in the DC Universe cause a group of its most powerful supernatural heroes to band together. As the group assembles, including Batman, John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, and Etrigan the Demon, they investigate an escalating series of supernatural occurrences that only they are equipped to stop. In the process of unpacking the mystery at hand, they grow closer to one another.

As the third R rated animated DC Comics film since 2014’s Assault on Arkham and 2016’s The Killing Joke, it’s clear that the creators behind Justice League Dark wanted their first big foray into the supernatural side of DC to make a mark. However, it’s not entirely clear why this had to be rated R. Aside from some extra blood, a little cursing, and a monster that is literally made out of poop, it doesn’t seem all that necessary. It’s not like the darker, edgier ideas of the story wouldn’t have worked with a PG-13 rating. In fact, it almost feels arbitrary, like the rating would gain some extra attention for the film. And those R rating-causing moments are rather forgettable, especially when the action itself doesn’t feel all that different from your standard PG or PG-13 rated animated film. You won’t be left shocked by the supposedly “mature” storytelling decisions of Justice League Dark, mostly just left wondering the reasons behind the choice.

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“La La Land” Review

Old School Charm for the Modern Era

la-la-land-movieMuch has been made of the ambition and excitement surrounding director/writer Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, an unabashed musical done in the style of classic Hollywood entries into the genre. From the film industry buffs who adore its old school charms to the less-than-enthusiastic audiences who have already become worn out by the constant praise and awards being heaped upon the film, it seems like everyone has extreme reactions to Chazelle’s film. And with the film making waves by being tied for the record number of Academy Award nominations with a total of 14, it’s difficult to not hold the highly lauded movie musical up to a massive amount of scrutiny.

But what Chazelle, director behind 2014’s stellar Whiplash, is seeking to do with La La Land is to create a movie-going experience that captures the magic of old Hollywood filmmaking while also paying tribute to its many irreplaceable films. In doing so, Chazelle has made a movie that must be compared to many towering giants of film history while also introducing the idea of a musical to audiences who may not be all that familiar with the genre.

It’s a tough spot to be in, but Chazelle and his fantastic lead actors pull it off with ample grace and wit. Though there may be some rough spots in the process and La La Land is far from groundbreaking, this modern musical has grace, energy, and wit to spare, which more than make up for its few shortcomings.

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“Arrival” Review

Stunning, Timely Sci-Fi

arrival-2016-movieThe greatest science fiction films use the genre’s trappings to say something crucial about the human condition, with even some of the most explosion-filled entries into the genre having layered and meaningful metaphors deepening the silly spectacle on screen. Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival takes one of the most tried and true sci-fi scenarios, first contact with an alien race, and turns it into an intimate affair that strikes a deft balance between the scientific and the emotional.

With an intimate focus on its limited cast of characters off-setting the massive stakes of the story, Arrival is a film that engages the brain and creates layers of emotional investment without sacrificing either aspect. In return, Villeneuve’s film becomes a highly rewarding experience that feels universal yet extremely timely in what it has to say concerning the value of communication, connection, and acceptance.

Those ideas play out when aliens arrive on Earth for the first time, sending governments worldwide into a confused frenzy. In the midst of that chaos, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is contacted by the U.S. Government to attempt communication with the mysterious aliens who have landed in Montana – just one of 12 space crafts that have landed around the world. As she attempts to decipher and understand the language of the aliens, Banks must also confront her grief surrounding a personal loss and the perils of misunderstandings that come from cross-cultural communication.

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