‘Ponyo’ excellent Japanese animated fare

‘Ponyo’ is the latest animated creation from the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, whom I consider one of the best directors of our time, having done ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and recent Oscar-winner ‘Spirited Away’. He captivates the audience not with one-liners or explosions but with images, with his incredible hand-drawn animation.
 
‘Ponyo’ is a variation of ‘The Little Mermaid’: A young fish named Ponyo rises from a Japanese shore, and is found by a 5-year old boy, Sosuke. They develop a very close friendship, although when she begins to transform into a human, her background as a princess comes to light and although she doesn’t know it, she wields a power that could bring an end to Earth.
 
‘Ponyo’ represents a somewhat rare thing these days: A simple story that doesn’t stoop to its audience, a heartfelt tale that doesn’t feel forced. Simply put: Mayazaki emulates the best of 1930’s-era Disney, which makes one feel depressed that you consider that recent Disney trash ‘G-Force’ stands at $104 million in ticket sales. ‘Ponyo’ has $6 million. 
 
One objection I have: To make the film more marketable to young audiences, Disney re-dubbed the film into English, using young siblings of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers as voices. They obviously did it to sort of slide their foot in the door for eventual super-stardom, whilst I would prefer more gifted voice actors to do the job. On the other hand, having Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon as voices is simply awesome. 
 
I must make this open plea. Parents, want to expose your kids to great film-making? ‘Ponyo’ is as close to high art as children’s films can possibly get. A-

‘(500) Days of Summer’ a unique, charming comedy

‘(500) Days of Summer’ is a huge breath of fresh air in a genre more cliche-ridden than any other: the romantic comedy. It’s still a basic boy-meets-girl story but it’s in a class all its own. ‘500 Days of Summer’ is the story of Tom, who is looking for love and Summer, who doesn’t believe in love. The film jumps back and forth during the 500 days they are together, detailing the highs and lows of their friendship.

The film occasionally breaks the fourth wall, using an array of gimmicks, including one scene where the screen divides into two, displaying Tom’s expectations next to what actually happens. A song-and-dance sequence in the middle of L.A. is really fun. Similar to the Woody Allen comedy ‘Annie Hall’, theres enough plot twists and devices to keep it fresh and inventive, but they never get in the way of the story, they never get distracting.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel play the two lovers, Tom and Summer, both with charisma and charm. Levitt in particular is fantastic, who is giddy, but thoughtful and occasionally heartbroken. Zooey Deschanel is sort of impossible not to adore, she’s sort of been tuning the exact same dry, witty character to perfection since 2003’s ‘Elf’.

The film would have seemed cold and calculated had the characters not been so lovable – which essentially means that the actors are anchoring the film away from disaster. The film would have been a fiasco had the actors not had the charisma to handle the comedy, the depth to handle the drama, and simply if they didn’t have chemistry with each other. Luckily, both of the lead actors possess these three qualities and the film is great because of it.

‘(500) Days of Summer’ isn’t just another breezy, forgettable summer comedy. It’s got great acting, a hilarious script and doesn’t feel as calculated as all the other romantic comedies of the year. A-

‘G.I. Joe’ funniest movie of summer…not intentionally

My, my, my. Before my lifetime, films were either based on novels or were original stories by screenwriters. Now it seems all films are based on toys, video-games, are sequels, or remakes of a Japanese horror movie. ‘G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra’ is much, much better than a certain other summer blockbuster based on a toy. (I refuse to utter the words ‘Transformers 2’ outside of parentheses) ‘G.I. Joe’ doesn’t take itself seriously, but that’s no excuse for terrible dialogue, plotting, and some of the worst visual effects in a major summer film since the 1970s. On the other hand, to its credit, it does have one or two action sequences that are pretty mind-blowing.

In the film, two soldiers named Duke and Ripcord (go ahead, chuckle) are recruited to a special team called G.I. Joe who apparently are the back-up plan in case the United States is severely threatened. They are tasked to retrieve chemical warheads capable of demolishing several cities. The film attempts to feed us emotion when one of the people trying to take over the world is *shock* Duke’s ex-girlfriend! But she only went evil because she thought her brother was killed, but he’s alive and is really a bad guy! Let the corny emotional speeches ensue.

Now, I’ll try to be fair. The Paris chase sequence (which is a bit long at 30-some-odd minutes) is quite memorable. It throws exploding cars and buses at our protaganists, who annoyingly, still wise-crack even when the Eiffel Tower is toppled by a chemical missile. (Don’t ask. Please.) The film is weighed down by constant flashbacks, which include a random assortment of East Africa combat scenes and two adolescent karate students attempting to murder each other. (Once again, don’t ask. Pretty please.) And the visual effects (gritty voice). In my opinion, the special effects looked more like a PIXAR movie than a live action one.

This film is rife with awful dialogue. “Go get him, Ripcord!” “Nice move, Snake Eyes!” I recieved several bad looks in the theater during this film, given that I simply couldn’t stop laughing. Even when the characters are not talking, there’s some awful visual effect or failed melodramatic film that warrants laughter. Simply put: this might be the funniest film of the summer. And it doesn’t even realize it. D

Letters To The Editor: Young critic draws laughs, insight

Young movie critic brings laughs, insight

I wanted to express my sincere appreciation for the hilarious movie reviews featured in your newspaper this summer.

It is even more interesting to read them because they are the intelligent insights of a very wry, witty and outspoken 12-year-old film critic, Ryan Michaels. 
               
His latest review on the new “Transformers” movie was so funny and insightful that our family was laughing out loud as we read it. 
               
Ryan is very sophisticated for a pre-teen critic and we anticipate we will be reading his reviews for years to come. Thanks to your paper for carrying his wonderful commentaries. 

Gail Lutey
Ann Arbor
 
Young reviewer should stay away from ‘R’ movies
               
Congratulations and best of luck with the A2 Journal. I look forward to reading a local paper again.
               
However, I must take exception to the film critic piece by young Ryan Michaels. Putting aside the moral argument of a child of 12 watching an R-rated movie and the message this sends to other 12- through 16-year-olds who are not allowed to buy a ticket to such movies, I found that it was indeed his age that made the review so unbearable.
               
Movies are rated “R,” not only for violence but because of the adult complexities that they explore. I need that adult understanding to be in a review, in place of the immature observation that an actor, “Looks insanely cool firing off a Tommy gun with one hand.”

Terry Ramsdell
Ann Arbor

‘G-Force’ inspires one… to feel intense hate

‘G-Force’ may go down in history as the film that made me realize that I need to bring a notebook to the movies, be it to jot down observations, help me remember certain parts, note certain actors…Or to list all the truly horrific lines of dialogue that a film can possibly have. ‘G-Force’ is about talking guinea pigs that are actually secret agents. I have opted to not do a conventional review, but rather, list my reasons for my stance against ‘G-Force’ and to pose questions to the people that made it.

1. I hate the fact that it cost $150 million dollars. $150,000,000 TO FUND TALKING GUINEA PIGS. That’s like President Obama using a 5000th of our bailout to fund a kids movie.

2. Two Academy Award winners, Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz star in this, along with Bill Nighy and the hilarious star of ’30 Rock’, Tracy Morgan. So why do they pool their talents into voicing lifeless animals with one-dimensional personalities? Money probably, but doesn’t it shame their resume to list ‘G-Force’ next to ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, next to ‘Moon’?

3. The fact that it thinks it’s so hip, that it thinks because it randomly samples classic quotes from ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Terminator 2′ that it’s clever when it’s really just stealing lines from other, better movies? When a talking guinea pig screams “PIMP MY RIDE” randomly you know the film’s trying to cater to an older audience.

4. There’s nary a recent hit song that isn’t pointlessly edited into this. Try counting how many times they play “Boom Boom Pow” or “I Gotta Feeling”.

5. The fact that in the film, the villain plots to take over the world with coffee machines.

6. The number of self-important, melodramatic speeches that the film takes seriously, but you can hear the cringe in the actors’ voices. Try not to chuckle when one character says “Lets do it for Speckles!”.

7. One very simple line of dialogue from an FBI agent: “Calling all units! Calling all units! We are in pursuit of four guinea pigs. in a gerbil wheel!”

8. The film’s premise is that there’s a team of genetically engineered, walking, talking guinea pigs, correct? Except that there’s a twist at the end…They’re just normal guinea pigs that were told they were special, you follow me? But here’s the trick. This means all 500 billion rodents can all perform superhuman feats, i.e., talking. And yet there’s an entire FBI division devoted to making animals talk, would the employees of said division pretend to enhance them and “make them talk” to fake progress to their bosses? And if all these rodents could talk, how could everyone with a pet guinea pig could not notice? How come a kid steals one of the guinea pigs and when the pet screams “Woo-hoo!” there’s no reaction from him? And how come there’s ANOTHER plot twist toward the end that reveals one of the team is secretly a bad guy but yet there’s literally just a 5-second explanation for his motives to eliminate mankind?

9. Why on Earth is the poster for ‘G-Force’ donning a huge slogan saying “The world needs bigger heroes” when the heroes are nine inches tall? It makes no sense unless you view it sarcastically, which I doubt Disney would do.

10. Perhaps most of all, I despise this because it’s going to be so successful. I imagine Disney’s putting a dozen writers to an assembly line to crank out a sequel, not to mention toys, video games, probably a TV show. It’s an endless, self-sufficient enterprise built on cute CGI rodents.

Now, if you walk in as an adult, you will walk out with anger or a migraine. Walk in as a child, you’ll forget half the film halfway to the car. To walk into ‘G-Force’ is to burn $10 and 1000 brain cells. If I haven’t made my position clear enough, ‘G-Force’ is trash. F