There you have it. Almost every commercial is narrated by cool, in-the-know people who recognize your specialness and want to sell you something to distract you from your mortality.
Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese producer/director, animator/author/screenwriter, and manga artist. Over the past 50 years, he achieved widespread acclaim as the creator of anime feature films that are commercial successes in Japan, mostly through his production company Studio Ghibli. Most people in the West hadn’t heard of him until Princess Mononoke.
Miyazaki is a traditionalist, favoring hand-painted animation, often using water colors. He usually starts the animation before the script is finished and the storyboards are still developing.
His work is amazing. I’ve been working my way through his films thanks to friends Ron and Ella. So far, I’ve seen Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, Castle of Cagliostro and Princes Mononoke. My favorite is definitely Porco Rosso, the tale of a WWI fighter pilot who lives his life as a pig.
Miyazaki manages to convey a breathtaking sense of wonder in his films, amazingly charming characters, and interesting stories. He infuses each character with very human traits revealed through action, which conveys a deep sense of empathy and realism.
If you enjoy anime and haven’t watched his films yet, I recommend you check them out.
While STRANGER THINGS grabbed a lot of attention on Netflix this summer, another amazing Netflix original blew my mind even more: THE GET DOWN. I loved every minute of it.
THE GET DOWN is a six-part musical drama set in the South Bronx in the late 1970s. Described as a “mythic saga of how New York … gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco,” it focuses on two teenagers, Ezekiel (Justice Smith, who devours the role) and Mylene (the stunning Herizen F. Guardiola), each with great musical talent. Ezekiel, a wordsmith who writes poetry that later becomes rap lyrics, wants to find himself and remake the Bronx. Mylene, a beautiful choir singer who wants to sing disco, yearns for a life outside the Bronx.
Set in Bronx housing projects, the SoHo art scene and the World Trade Center, THE GET DOWN is a time machine to New York in 1977. It attacks issues like class, poverty, drugs, gangs, city politics, neglect of the Bronx, and historical events like the blackout, weaving them into the story without making them the story. The main issues center on the characters finding and expressing themselves through art–graffiti and music. The characters are all wonderfully flawed yet extremely likable. The musical scenes are powerful. The series has an emotionally satisfying conclusion with a montage that serves as a stirring homage to New York City.
Two big thumbs up for this culturally rich drama. I’m looking forward to the second season.
Wow, this looks great. Aliens arrive with an imposing presence. It’s up to humans to try in some way to communicate with them to learn what they want. I’m intrigued.
WATERLOO is one of my favorite movies. This Soviet-Italian film is nothing short of astonishing. It was directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and produced by Dino De Laurentiis in 1970. It presents the events leading up to WATERLOO and the battle itself. Rod Steiger nails his portrayal of Napoleon, while Christopher Plummer is superb as the Duke of Wellington. About 15,000 Soviet soldiers and 2,000 cavalrymen reenact the battle with excellent historical detail.
If you’re a history buff and haven’t seen this one, you should check it out however you can. Here’s the History Buffs review:
PREACHER (AMC), produced by Seth Rogen and based on the comic series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, tells the story of Jesse Custer, a criminal who came home to follow in his father’s footsteps as a clergyman in Annville, Texas. Custer is possessed by a spirit that escapes from Heaven, which gives him the power to compel people to do his will simply by talking. Custer is joined by Cassidy, an Irish vampire, and Tulip, his ex-girlfriend and ex-partner in crime. Custer tries to understand and use his new power, which leads to plenty of unintended consequences.
I haven’t read the comic (I know, I know, I’m a bad nerd) so I got to enjoy the show as something entirely new, the way I experienced GAME OF THRONES.
I loved every minute of this show. For me, the characters, acting, sets, direction, action, quirkiness and spiritual questions were all spot on. I was completely hooked by the end of the first episode.
Particularly interesting to me is the theology of the show. It presents God as real and something worthy of belief and worship without being sappy and silly. Something very hard to do in art. Consider Dean Koontz’s THE TAKING (spoiler alert). The apocalypse arrives, and almost everybody is slaughtered in horrific, sadistic ways. But the main characters find out it’s God culling the earth, so it’s all a-okay. They’re smiling at the end, knowing God loves them. The message: Sadistic genocide is horrifying until God does it.
Contrast approaches like that with James Morrow’s stunningly brilliant TOWING JEHOVAH, BLAMELESS IN ABADDON and THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN. In this trilogy, God wills himself to die. A sea captain is hired by the Catholic Church to tow his giant naked lifeless body across the ocean to colder regions to help preserve the body. Along the way, the crew falls into existential despair and give into their animal urges because hey, nobody’s watching, nobody cares. In BLAMELESS IN ABADDON, a judge who’s dying of cancer sues God’s corpse for allowing evil in the world. In THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN, God’s body decomposes, and his skull flies into the sky to become a second moon, reminding everybody they will one day die and that there is no eternal life. As a result, humanity starts dying of existential malaise until one man creates a new religion around humanity itself and its achievements, its great monument a giant human brain.
Also consider THE LEFTOVERS. In the book/HBO series, 2% of the world’s population simply disappears. Three years later, people still search for closure, meaning, a way to move on. The world’s ending very, very slowly due to existential angst. Nagging everyone is the idea that God rejected the people who were left behind, that this giant impossible miracle happened that can’t and possibly will never be explained.
PREACHER similarly takes a very intelligent and accessible view of humanity’s relationship with God. People want to love and serve God but don’t know how. People and their lives are complex, and often the right thing to do is elusive. Trying to do the right thing often backfires. People who have done evil wonder if God really forgives them. Custer stubbornly affirms his dedication to God in the face of clever denunciations of God’s existence or, if he does exist, the job he’s doing running the universe. (spoiler alert:) A character at one point asks God why bad things happen to good people. God answers with platitudes and says, was that helpful? The character smiles on the verge of tears and says, yes. Then she adds: But why? As God didn’t answer the question, just as he didn’t answer Job either in the Bible.
PREACHER is brilliant, quirky viewing, and I’m looking forward to devouring Season 2 next year.