Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

retsuko: (girl & her dog)
In Books:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin: What an amazing piece of work. It's very seldom that I go through a reading experience with no clue where I'll end up; even in the last few pages, there were twists and revelations that I wasn't expecting. I was sad to stop and start this so often (even though I know that's what my reading life is right now), because I suspect that this is a work that should be read cover to cover in one sitting if possible. The reading experience in that case would probably be like floating in the middle of a vast and beautiful ocean. The way I read it, I kept getting pulled out of the water at regular intervals and forgetting what the subtle currents had been. Still, I do recommend this and look forward to starting the next one in the series.

At the Movies:

From Up On Poppy Hill: Despite an abrupt ending, this is a lovely little movie, where almost all of the conflict is internal, and that conflict is expressed in beautiful, poignant ways. I felt so sorry for the main character because she worked so damn hard at everything and, for most of the film, she didn't seem to get anywhere as a result. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, though, and I had the distinct impression that almost everyone who'd worked on the film loved all the characters and wanted to do right by them. The backgrounds and side characters were illustrated with loving detail, especially the decrepit club building next to the school that the main character (and almost all of the other characters, really) helps to refurbish so that it won't be destroyed by the administration. The English dub was mostly pretty good, except for the always awkward handling of itadakimasu, which stood out like a sore thumb.

I've read a few reviews online that slammed this film as lacking a soul. Since it's under Goro Miyazaki's direction (not his father's), and his last movie was so utterly and regrettably terrible, I can understand the harder scrutiny. However, I didn't see anything in Poppy Hill that lacked soul. Sure, this movie may not have the resonance or spectacle of a movie like Spirited Away, but, seriously: how can you do something better than that, even on your second try? Poppy Hill is a solid film, with the trademark Studio Ghibli attention to detail. It may not be their greatest work ever, but it does nothing to tarnish their reputation at all.

The Sapphires: This is getting next to no publicity here in America, which makes me sad, because I think it's a story that a lot of people can understand and be entertained by, regardless of their national origin. If you enjoy music, especially crowd-pleasing pop and soul hits of the late 60s and early 70s, this movie is for you. If you want to see a story about four strong women of color and their path in life overcoming some tremendous odds, then this movie is also for you. If you enjoy some very dry comedy in the form of Chris O'Dowd snarking at anyone and everyone around him, then you won't regret this. Sure, there are parts of the plot that you'll see marching up from a million miles away, but they're tempered with a good blend of pathos, comedy, and above all, optimism about the power that music has. Hopefully, this will find a wider audience on DVD.

A side note, about visiting the ArcLight cinema that opened nearby: That was nice, but not worth $13.75. For starters, the cashiers are all awkward teenagers equipped with iPads who are made to talk to you as you make your purchase and reserve your seat (more on that in a second.) This would have been fine, except we ended up with the socially inept teenager who clearly did not want to talk with us at all, and that was weird. (I also wondered if these people would implode if presented with straight up cash.) Inside, the atmosphere trying very hard to emulate "swanky/sophisticated Parisian cafe!" and succeeding, but only barely. It's nice that you can buy alcohol, but it seemed fairly delineated that you couldn't take it into the theater with you (unless you were at a special showing, which we weren't.) Our theater was on the small side, and I noticed that the floors, even though they were brand new, were pretty much the same as our local AMC or Landmark: mostly clean, but sticky in patches. The reserved seats were comfortable, though, and I do think double arm rests are a good idea. But in the end, we could have just as comfortable an experience at our local, cheaper theater, and I see no reason to recommend this place over any others.

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