Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August Quick Picks and Pans

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) Mami Sunada’s fascinating, insightful documentary provides a fly-on-the wall glimpse inside Studio Ghibli, and is a must-see for fans of anime and Hayao Miyazaki. We get to see Mr. Miyazaki at work on The Wind Rises, and hear from some of his closest business associates, including producer Toshio Suzuki and production manager Yumiko Miyoshi. Miyazaki waxes philosophical about life and the creative process, and candidly assesses Ghibli’s future in the wake of his retirement. We also see the portrait of a master artist, at the top of his game, but still prone to experiencing periods of self-doubt. Hayao’s son Goro (who’s directed two films for Ghibli) is also heard from, discussing his reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The film succeeds on so many levels that it’s almost too easy to overlook the conspicuous absence of Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, who mentored Miyazaki before they built an animation empire. Although it would have been nice to include some interviews with Takahata, his presence is felt throughout, via vintage photographs and recollections from other Ghibli personnel. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a bittersweet love letter to one of the masters of animation. We observe the joys and anguish of creating an animated work, and witness the possible end of an era. After spending two hours with such a formidable assembly of talent, I can only hope this is the latest chapter, and not the studio’s epitaph.

Rating: ****½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Housebound (2014) This quirky little New Zealand indie film from writer/director Gerard Johnstone subverts your expectations from beginning to end. Repeat offender Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) is sentenced to spend the next several months at her mother’s house, with an electronic ankle bracelet to keep her from wandering away. During her domestic incarceration, she experiences strange phenomena, which might (or might not) be tied to the home’s dark past. Kylie is an unconventional choice for a protagonist, as she starts off as unlikeable, but we gradually come to appreciate her by the film’s conclusion. With the exception of a drawn-out ending, Housebound is full of surprises, and sports a refreshing blend of genre elements that defy easy classification.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Inferno (1980) The second installment in writer/director Dario Argento’s loose “Three Mothers” trilogy takes place in New York City and Rome, and is a semi-sequel to 1977’s Suspiria. A young woman discovers an old book about three witches, and tries to investigate the connection between the legend and her old apartment building. Of course, in Argento’s world, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and those that attempt to learn more about the Three Mothers meet their demise in spectacular fashion. None of it makes a whole lot of sense, but that should come as no surprise to fans of the director. Inferno is visually stunning, with sets illuminated in abundant blues, reds and greens, and the suspense is palpable. The film doesn’t quite reach the levels of greatness of its predecessor (Keith Emerson’s score doesn’t hold a candle to Goblin’s work in Suspiria) but there’s still much to like.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu (streaming)

Nightbreed (1990) This dark fantasy/horror film was written and directed by Clive Barker, and based on his novel Cabal. Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) finds his place among the freakish residents of the secret, subterranean city of Midian. Barker’s movie is full of interesting ideas and unique creatures, but the muddled story makes it tough to appreciate. The extended director’s cut adds little, except for additional running time. Although we see more of Midian and its denizens, we only have a vague notion about the ancient city’s origins. Danny Elfman’s rousing score promises a more epic sweep than the film delivers. David Cronenberg (yes, that David Cronenberg) is interesting as a psychiatrist/serial killer, but it’s unclear why his character is determined to destroy Midian. As the star-crossed lovers Boone and Lori, Sheffer and Anne Bobby fail to ignite sparks. Because of my respect for Barker, I’ve always wanted to like Nightbreed more than I have, perhaps for the film that could have been.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming


  1. I should watch Inferno. I quite liked Suspiria, but I know I wont enjoy it as much. Housebound is a movie I should rewatch it again. I just had a problem with the main character. I hated her. The Doc about Studio Ghibli I should rewatch because I love those movies they make. Great picks man

    1. Thanks, Vern! Regarding Houseguest, I can't really argue about the main character, but I suppose she grew on me like a fungus.