Ghiblisgiving: Porco Rosso

Up to this point all the films covered were movies I had never seen before, but as we enter the 90s phase of the studio we also enter the movies I’ve seen. None moreso than another fun adventure, Porco Rosso!

Porco Rosso, the Crimson Pig, was a man turned pig-man and the fiercest bounty hunter in the Adriatic. When a group of his foes, a collective of seaplane pirates, hire an American hotshot named Donald Curtis to hunt Porco down, Porco must come to terms with getting help from unlikely places and deal with his past as an Italian fighter pilot in the Great War.

The film is a freaking blast of a good time. It really leverages and builds on the adventure feel of Castle in the Sky. Building on some of the tropes in that film, the gang of misfit criminals, much more cartoony aesthetic contrasted with well lived in world, and message. From frame one it is just so clear how much fun and energy was put into every frame of animation. The dogfights, in particular, are real standouts. With complicated and overlapping animation along with a strong sense of weight and dimension. It’s clear so much time went into that one aspect while not leaving even the smallest detail outside that to go unnoticed. It’s just a party on display the whole time and that is deeply appreciated.

Of course what makes it special is how it seems like just a fun adventure flick on the surface, but does have a message underneath. This message being unique to Ghibli films, a look at what it means to be a pig. Neither choice, making the main character a pig-man, or the fact it is set between World War I and World War II, was purely for aesthetics. Though let it not go unsaid that the team certainly takes advantage of both. Instead both are used as an examination on what it means to be piggish, boarish, and selfish. Porco, real name Marco, often lifts his nose to the rest of society. He sees so little of it to be of any importance and looks out for himself. This puts him in opposition to the pirates, a group of individuals looking out for themselves, and Curtis, a man obsessed with his own status and building up fame. They’re all taken to task in some regard but does come back to Porco as he grows to care about people, or care about them again if he lost that part of himself. It is why the owner of the Not-Casablanca hotel cares so much for him. Porco can be a good guy, and ends up being one once he sees past the front he puts up. He just has to realize he doesn’t have to be as much of a pig. Which, it’s also fun that he says he’s a pig and not a fascist. A line that strikes just as hard as Nausicaa’s “If I take my mask off for five minutes I would die.”

The American dub for this film is more hit or miss, but overall great. The biggest weakens is Michael Keaton. He is by no means bad. He gives Porco a lot of weight and regret behind his words, but doesn’t get the fun most everyone else does. Cary Elwes in particular gets to have a great time as Curtis, and Susan Egan is able to thread that needle of being weighty while also giving the character a sense of having a good time.

Porco Rosso feels like an easy film to overlook. Because, again, on the surface it seems like just a good time with some mild misogyny and focusing too much on how attractive this 17 year old girl is (which Castle in the Sky kind of did too know that I think back on it), but it’s more than that. Even the weird stuff it does with said 17 year old mechanic builds on Porco and his fight to remain a pig inside or not. The film is almost ahead of its time in the way it seeks to criticize middle-aged men like that. But even as it does that it is still a gorgeous film that is just an amazing time to watch. Also Porco shoots at actual fascists and we need more of that.

Film Ranking:

Porco Rosso 

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind 

Castle in the Sky 

Kiki’s Delivery Service 

Only Yesterday 

My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Only Yesterday

It’s hard to remind ones self, but Stuido Ghibli is more than just Hayao Miyazaki and his fantastical stories. There is a whole studio full of talented directors, writers, and animators. Famous of all is Isao Takahata. We should have covered his downer Grave of the Fireflies had it been available for streaming, but his next film, a grounded drama based on a novel, is available for streaming and is unlike any of the other movies thus far.

Only Yesterday follows Taeko, a businesswoman in the city as she take a summer vacation trip out to the countryside and work the fields. Only she isn’t going alone as memories of her fifth grade life flood back into her and color her week long trip living with the farmers and their son, another former businessman turned farmer.

The film feels incredibly ahead of its time. The mid-life crisis film is an incredibly common genre of fictional film, but the quarter-life crisis less so. Those films, ones like this one, featuring people who are just starting careers and yet already feel unsatisfied and wanting more from life have been gaining in popularity more recently. That makes this one about a girl being restricted as a child due to how she was brought up and following that path into adulthood feeling unsatisfied in what that life brings at such a young age so refreshing. Even the fixation on decades old foibles and flops feels like something a more modern film would focus on as a thing millennials talk about now, but making a film in the 90s about it is so shocking.

It is unfortunate then that the film isn’t more watchable. That’s in no way saying it is a bad film. Ill-paced for sure. Some of the flashback to childhood segments go on too long or don’t feel connected enough with the springboard. Similary, continuing to introduce new elements of her past even near the end feels off when a setup earlier wouldn’t have made it feel so forced. Also the constant hyping up of farm life does get tedious from time to time. Regardless, it’s a contemplative movie. Fun only in the academic sense, but oddly enough the best written movie yet. Written meaning the dialogue and exchanges. The previous films were all mostly transactional. They were used to get across a direct point without any flowery language or doublespeak. Only Yesterday goes the extra mile of having words say less or more than they imply. The use of silence is also awe inspiring.

Similarly awe inspiring is the use of animation in a film that could easily have been live action. Most of the Ghbili movies could have been, but used the fantastical as the excuse. This film, instead, uses changes in art style to get the changing emotions across. The use of a more cartoony art style that grows from sparse watercolors to more solid backgrounds as the memories get more concrete in the flashback segments is great and contrasts with the realistic present scenes so much more. The scenes in the present have their own grounded feel that’s carried more by the soundscape and ambiance than flashy cuts. That’s to say the animation is consistently smooth without going that cartoonish extra mile the previous films did.

This is also one of the more recent dubbing attempts. It makes sense to an extent. Ghbili was under Disney and this is a hard film to market to that demographic, so waiting till now makes sense. Getting talent like Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel to give really weighty and serious performances while also fighting their English accents back at every corner is great. They also contrast well with the more seasoned voice actors in the cast to feel distinct but not bad.

See what I mean. All of this is good stuff. Fun to talk about and analyze in this hypothetical space. Looking at how the last scene on the train plays with everything that came before is neat, but that doesn’t make this a joyful experience to watch. That makes it doubly hard to judge because it wasn’t fun. Kiki, for all its poorly mixed flaws and odd pacing, was still fun. This has a place and a strong message to send but isn’t a constantly rewatchable film. It’s a quintessential Oscar drama. A film to watch once and get its meaning (maybe twice or three times to really absorb it), but not to put on when you’re having a bad day or just need something on in the background. It’s a great film. The one I was most looking forward to in fact because of its more mature nature, and I guess I got what I wanted out of it. Heck, even this malaise feels almost intentional, but it doesn’t make it more fun or one I would rewatch.

Film Ranking:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Service

4. Only Yesterday

5. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Despite the classical nature of Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films it is odd how the only adaptation up to this point was of Miyazaki’s own work. However that changes after this point and lends more credence to the Ghibli as Disney comparison (I bet they feel bad letting that license slip now that Disney+ is around. That would have been a killing for them). Disney usually stays to well worn fairy tales while Ghibli likes to branch out into newer tales.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, follows burgeoning witch Kiki as she goes out on the rite of passage for every witch at her age. She must leave home and make a place for herself among a new town and find out who she is. Kiki finds herself in a port city where she uses her singular talent of flying to make a name for herself as a delivery girl. She is a teenager, so of course the winds of passion can change and she must find a way to make those passions her own with her powers and friends she makes along the way.

The movie has a problem. Not the base film but movie posted to HBO Max. I am unsure of this problem persisted in the original 90s Disney release or there was a change made in the transition to streaming, but the vocal mixing on Kiki in particular, but everyone at certain points, is terrible. Her voice is often incredibly tinny or like her voice is coming from a blown out speaker (having since watched the next set of movies on the same system with the same settings and this problem never repeating it is definitely something wrong with this movie). What’s worse is how it happens to everyone at certain moments, and it only seems to affect the voices and no other sound effects. This made it a harder film to watch than intended because literally hearing the characters speak was testing. It’s an unfair thing to criticize a movie on, but it was still part of the experience and must be taken into consideration.

Outside of that (far, far outside) the film is incredibly cozy. Watching Kiki make her deliveries and deal with the residents of the town is just nice. It has the feel of a kids TV show that could go on forever. It means the pacing on the whole is not as good. It takes too long for Kiki to really make her way and for the movie to really show what it is about. However just seeing Kiki being nice to people as she works and watching that kindness come back to her (hypothetically. Her voice is grating to listen to because of the aforementioned mixing problems, but I get the intent)

The animation even reflects that TV feel. It feels even more restrained this time around with more focus spent on the mechanics of her flying and what that would realistically look like. That’s not to say there aren’t little touches thrown in. It’s a Miyazaki movie so of course there are. But on the whole it feels more like it wants to be a long running series over a splashy movie.

The advantage to it being a movie is it’s more individual focus on the idea of growing up. This is a consummate coming of age story, but what sets it apart is what it’s all about. At first glance it seems to be about trying to maintain old traditions in an evolving world. It is about that to a certain extent. The struggle Kiki finds when she first arrives seems to be in contrast to what her mom went through. Meanwhile scenes like using the old school oven in place of an electric one to bake a pie shows how not all old things need to be discarded. However it comes into focus that it’s about Kiki finding her passion and what she wants to do in life, and be accepted for it. Having to deal with burnout as well is an interesting choice, and provides a neat way to rethink it. But I don’t think it’s handled nearly as well as it thinks it is. That comes mostly from the lack of conveying why she doesn’t feel accepted. I mean I understand it being a completely internal struggle for her, but that struggle is not given an external example (some would argue her losing her powers is that example, but that’s the consequence not the inciting reason). Everyone she meets likes her and thanks her and even still she feels exiled from everyone. That’s a fine feeling but never shown in a way to understand it from her perspective. But her inherent drive to help and friendly nature does come through in why she is accepted and finds her place. It just could be conveyed better.

This is a film I want to watch again. Not just so I can see if that vocal issue persists in other copies of the movie but because it’s just kind of a nice world to live in. If it were a series I could see it still going to this day, and totally see why it was one of the highest grossing movies in Japan. It’s charming, cozy, sweet, and has a good character guiding us along the way. Her arc could have just been conveyed better.

Movie Rank:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. Kiki’s Delivery Serivce

4. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: My Neighbor Totoro

I am aware there is a moving missing. Grave of the Fireflies by Isao Takahata came out before this film. But, due to what I must assume are licensing and rights issues it’s not streaming anywhere (thanks why I use Surfshark… no NordVPN… no, I’m not cool enough to get sponsored). Doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to watch it, but for now I’ll power through and circle back if I find the time.

In the meanwhile I always wondered what the Studio Ghibli logo looked like before Totoro came out. I mean they needed to have something, but it seems odd that I can’t imagine the study without it. Odder still that I never saw the film.

The film, by the way, follows sisters Satsuki and Mei as they move to the countryside with their father. While moving in and exploring their new home the girls find that they have some unexpected but not unwanted spirits in the troll (interesting translation) Totoro and his mythical friends. Of course their life is not perfect. With a sick mother in the hospital, and a busy father they must find ways to live and fill their days with life, and their neighbor can help.

Ghibli and Miyazaki are often compared to Disney and their stable of animated films. Interestingly the previous films don’t really feel like Disney films. Totoro on the other hand totally feels like one.

Totoro feels like a storybook. It’s mundane world made fun by a trickster character and his minions and friends are the plot to many an actual children’s book. Classics like Cat in the Hat and Puff the Magic Dragon and the like all come to mind and all feel true to the spirit of this film.

A film, by the way, which should be incredibly boring yet is not. Most of the film is just hanging out with Satsuki and Mei. Watching them go on adventures or spend time with their dad or Totoro and his forest spirits. Not much honestly happens but the characters are honestly so fun loving and hyper-energetic that you fall into their rhythm. Seeing the world both normal and magical from the perspective of the little girls makes even the boring act of laundry or growing seeds into something fun.

It’s helped immensely that the sisters, played by real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, having an amazing chemistry (for obvious reasons) and totally fit the roles of the girls. Satsuki has to act more mature than she lets on while Mei is far more emotional but open to new things. Their interplay, especially early on, sells the film the most. Well that and the father.

It would be easy to overlook their father played by Tim Daly (the voice of the best Superman). He’s kind of nothing. Just a generally nice guy who works hard and cares for his family. Of course it’s in the details that he shines. His ability to turn any event into a supernatural game or fun adventure builds the themes of the movie without even thinking of it. He just so easily and naturally turns the mundane into the games the girls play with simple framing. He is the backbone of the story more than a giant cat guy.

Not to say the giant cat guy isn’t important. But Totoro, the movie, is about facing life with the imagination and heart of a child. When seeing the world through their inventive eyes everything becomes fun. It’s not just dust but soot spirits. Acorns don’t grow because of rain and sun but from a cats magic. The wind blows because it’s a cat bus carrying its passengers across the fields. These are great visuals that help both us and the sisters keep their mind off the hardship in their life. Only the secret is that anyone can do this. They face hardships in the film, but they are often worse because they don’t try and find whimsy in it. Not to say you always need to. It’s okay to be sad, but being only sad doesn’t help you grow.

The animation this rime around is still smooth but far subtler than Castle in the Sky. That movie focused more on the grand adventure. This decides to keep it tight like the story. The character movement is far more detailed. The scene of the girls running around the house is great for all the little touches. Same can go for even simple interactions or Totoro moving. A lumbering furball like that needs to really feel furry and he does. Of course the standout is interior of the cat bus and how it moves and breathes with the ease of a real cat. It’s not as visually stunning as a train chase, but just as impressive.

It’s hard to place this film. On one hand this type of slice of life family film is not my thing. It’s valid and a really good story, but not for me. On the other it is just so incredibly charming that having to rank it as 3rd only because it’s not nearly as fun as Castle in the Sky is sad. It’s a movie that kind of deserves its spot. It’s simple, but so is the life and eyes of a child, and that’s okay sometimes.

Movie Rankings

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

2. Castle in the Sky

3. My Neighbor Totoro

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Laputa – Castle in the Sky

Nausicaa was a major passion project for Miyazaki and his team. It was also based on his own manga series of the same name so of course he would want to do it justice. Of course he can’t rest on his laurels forever and had to come back with a new hit, Castle in the Sky.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is far more of a classic family adventure film than Nauscaa was. In that this film follows Pazu, an assistant to the coal miners in a small town. His life changes when Sheeta, a mysterious girl floats down from the sky with a Crystal both pirates and the military are after. The two then must band together in order to find the secret behind the crystal and how it connects to the floating city of Laputa all while dodging the military colonel Muska and female pirate Dola and her family of misfits.

The film is less story or idea driven than Nauscaa was, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less energetic or has worse pacing. It’s even arguable that the pacing in this film is better. There is far more connective tissue between scenes and events. The structure is tighter, and there is more setup and pay off. The fact that we are given time to sit in Laputa before the plot shows up gets us more invested in the location and it’s meaning than the quick bursts of location in Nauscaa.

Even with the better pacing the characters are weaker than in Nauscaa. Well, the main duo of Pazu and Sheeta do not hold a candle individually to Nauscaa. They are much younger and more generic. Both hardworking, adventurous, and forced to grow up early, they work great as a pair and seeing their bond grow is legitimately sweet. It is kind of easy that Pazu just so happens to want to find Laputa just as the person to help him shows up, but the initial jumpstarts for these far more family affairs are like that. Once it gets going it works. Mostly. Their voice actors, James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, do their best to match the characters but just don’t fit the more throwback look of the character designs.

This vocal problems seems to only affect them as they try to give much more grounded performances. The rest of the cast seems to get it let loose like the film wants. The standouts in that regard is the pirate captain Dola played by Cloris Leachman, and her family. They get to be totally wacky but earnest. They fit perfect in a far more cartoonishly evil world. Same can be said for Mark Hamill’s Muska. Muska, the secret king of Laputa, gets to go all out and hit every vocal range he can. From the more subdued Skips like performance to the menacing Ozai, and off the wall anger of the Joker. He gets to have a ball and it shows in his voice.

It also shows in the movies animation, which was clearly where most of the focus went. That is not a bad thing. A simple story told well, but with some of the most expressive, colorful, heightened-realistic animation you can see it is worth it. So much thought and time clearly went into how everything would move. From the fantastical airships, to the machinery, to the people who live in the world. The little touches Nauscaa had are taken to the next level. The characters scramble, I mean like a dog on hardwood, scramble. It’s more impressive, though with the crowd shots of individual people moving and doing their own thing, and the drifting of the giant planes. It was all taken to the next level and just looks amazing.

That doesn’t mean there is no story. It’s just a lite version of Nauscaa’s appeal and purpose of nature along with how humans need to act in order to get along with it. Muska’s hatred and annoyance at Laputa getting overrun with nature contrasted to Sheeta’s awe being the best example. That’s as far as it goes though. It is not nearly as deep as Nauscaa but is a better time.

Both this and Nauscaa felt like passion projects to an extent. This just felt like more of an animation showcase than a serious story. It is far more commercial and has kid appeal. That’s not a problem. It is one of the better child focused adventure films. It is incredibly inventive and thrilling but doesn’t feel nearly as personal. Not every movie has to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a movie to just be fun and show really cool imagery and it succeeds at that.

Film Rankings:

1. Nauscaa

2. Castle in the Sky

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Ghiblisgiving: Nausicaa Valley of the Wind

This might come as a surprise to hear, but writing and maintaining a blog (functionally solo – no shade. We’re all busy people) by writing for five days a week is tiring. It makes the process of enjoyment a task and I needed a break but instead crafted a months long project, Ghiblisgiving: a look at all the Stuido Ghibli movies since they’re available to stream on HBO Max. So it’s best to start at the beginning!

Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind is an incredible first showing for a new studio. It certainly helps that Miyazaki was a veteran director before this point, but even with that experience it is impressive what he and his team could accomplish in one film.

Set 1000 years after the end of modern society the film finds the world plagued by toxic jungles filled with unnatural and mysterious insects while humans have been cordoned off into seperate kingdoms. The film follows Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. When a bug and spore infested airship from a neighboring kingdom crashes into their village, followed quickly by that kingdom invading and killer her father, Nausicaa must set out and explore more of the world to find the truth behind the spores and forest while the other kingdoms seek to use old world technology to burn it all and reclaim their place in the world.

Despite being incredibly dense the film has great pacing. It does throw a few too many concepts and has a couple pieces of throwaway dialogue explanations for some events, but outside of that it manages to pack tons into its two hour run time without it feeling too rushed. The balance of exhilarating action paired with incredibly calm and quite moments, and daring adventure all make it feel totally complete.

It helps that most of the film is from Nausicaa’s perceptive because she is an absolute joy of a main character. She is incredibly reminiscent of what JJ Abrams and the team would do with Rey decades later. A high spirted, resourceful teen with incredible compassion and intuition. She brims with personality from the first scene and just keeps building. It’s even more impressive that her arc is kind of completed in the first act so she spends the rest of the film trying to convince others of her new mindset. Of course it helps that her actress, Alison Lohman, gives her such a range of emotions.

The whole American voice cast is strong. Patrick Stewart makes an appearance as Lord Yupa, a world traveler and skilled fighter with a strong edge, and Uma Thurman gives a good snark to the invading ruler, Kushana. They help bring what could be and kind of are unmemorable characters to life. The biggest surprises are a young Shia LeBeouf and Mark Hamill making an appearance as citizens of another land. They don’t get enough screen time to really shine, but their presence gives them a weight unknown actors couldn’t give.

This is a Ghibli movie so it of course looks amazing. The art direction is incredibly solid, and the small details are nice to see. It is, however, primative compared to what they will be able to do in later films. This can be seen most of all in how simple some of the bigger elements like the airships and giant bugs move. What would be done with more detail later now moves in bigger chunks. It makes them see slower, but doesn’t take away from the heft and feel. This is not to say it’s bad. It’s not at all. But they are shooting to do a lot and have to make some compromises.

A Ghibli film is also not without its messaging, and from the plot description it seems pretty obvious what that message is. Humans need to live in harmony not just with the world around us but with each other. It is more complicated than that and for what American animated features were doing at the time. The idea that there could be multiple factions that are wrong, and that nature reacts to humans and looks out for us more than we think is novel and true without being nearly as heavy handed as things like Ferngully.

This film was clearly a passion project and a jumping off point for many peoples careers. It is a film brimming with life, personality, and a unique visual style. Hard to believe that it can get both up and down from here.

Film Rankings:

1. Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Cabin in the Woods: A Movie I’m Conflicted About

Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s horror opus is a movie that I should absolutely adore. It’s by two of the best creators of all time taking their pass at once of the most time tested concepts of all time with a great twist. Unfortunately it’s not that. Instead it is a film that I constantly go back to, not because I think it’s an amazing film, but because I can’t figure out if I like the film or not.

Despite Joss Whedon being one of my favorite creators I don’t like everything he’s done. Firefly and Serenity among them. He sometimes runs with ideas that sound good on paper but are missing some connective tissue. In other words he falls into the trap of trying to be too clever for his own good. Drew Goddard has had a better track record, but isn’t perfect.

To back up and in case you haven’t seen the film, it follows a group of teens who get trapped in a cabin in the woods and are subjected to horror beyond their imagination. Unbeknownst to them they are in fact part of a ritualistic experiment by a sinister group who are using them as a ritualistic killing in order to prolong the earth. Creative and common horrors abound.

On the whole it is a good movie. It has this incredibly infections energy. The dialogue is so sharp, and the acting is great. Though poor baby Chris Hemsworth can’t keep an American accent to save his life, literally. The one big problem is in the setup. Much of the movie is about the teens acting irrationally and out of character, but we don’t get an amazing sense of who they are beforehand. It wants to be a tight film, and I respect that, but it comes at the cost of being told a character is acting weird instead of being shown. Also the whole dang budget is on screen. It’s both wonderful and leads to some poorly aged effects. They’re noticeable, but don’t distract from the point of the film.

The film is primarily a satire setup to mock the industry that birthed the ever more gruesome and elaborate horror films. Constant talk of please those with certain mandatory events, and a checklist of scares to get along with a whole system outside that’s setup to run the scenarios with nary a hitch in design. Though it also makes fun of those tropes, specifically the horror arch-types, in how they need a whole system just to make it work. They have to pump chemicals into the body, force rational scenarios out the window, and bend a person to fit a mold instead of finding someone the mold fits. It’s unrealistic, even video gamey.

Wait…

I think the reason this film always gets under my skin is how it feels like it should change every time you watch it. The nature of the scares the movie creates, having the teens select their own doom and then showing us the whole treasure trove of horrors they could have dealt with makes it feel too safe in spots (I’m not saying the whole film is safe, but making the primary threat in the cabin red neck zombies feels far too standard and boring when you have Wolf bats and giant snakes and discount pin-head). I want it to change when I watch. The teens pick and I wish every time that it could change just like— Until Dawn, a cinematic survival horror game released onto the PS4 in 2015 and is exactly that!

Until Dawn, it’s spiritual sequel the Man of Medan and Little Hope (which I haven’t played yet but am hype too) feel like the successor to what Cabin in the Woods was trying to accomplish. Though Cabin in the Woods has a far harsher take on humanity and what humanity wants (why do you think the character who said our modern world should end just so happens to be the reason it does), but Until Dawns family tries the same thing but with the added interactivity and inherent replay-ability. Though they are not better stories they are what everything right that Cabin in the Woods fails at. It provides our chosen fears when we want and how we want. We want monsters, not bureaucracy.

Yeah, that might seem odd to say, but once the monsters start coming it is all too clear that they aren’t the threat in Cabin in the Woods. Instead it’s the systems. The teens were twisted and changed to fit what society needed from them. Two literal middle-aged white men (which I can’t help but see as author inserts for Whedon, an aged master, and Goddard, a strong up-incomer), placating their bosses by manipulating those younger than them is not a coincidence. Just like how the after-party they throw once they think they won is used to show how easy people can just accept brutality. They’ve accepted that they need to do all of this elaborate sacrifice just for those who want it (of course this gets tricky for an analogy because the world does literally end because the audience of evil gods is not happy, but the point stands).

I’ve watched this movie a bunch of times because I never got it. The first time I thought it was fine. I had seen Avengers of course but thought it odd the superhero guy was doing a horror thing. The second time, after watching a few horror movies, it felt shallow. This time, however, now that I have watched Buffy multiple times and know what Whedon is about and have watched more horror films, I can see what the goal was. It’s a Cabin in the Woods because that is what audiences wanted, but not what they needed. They need something that will shake up the status quo, push the boundaries of what can be horror and action all while being pretty quick witted. It’s honestly surprising someone like Blumhouse hasn’t thrown all their money at Whedon to do carte blanche. It’s a good movie about things. I just wonder how I’ll feel about it next time I watch it.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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The Strange (de)Evolution of Halloweentown

Halloweentown is a very unique series with such a simple and genius premise. What if Nightmare before Christmas was also Sabrina the Teenage Witch. A kid friendly take on all the monsters that go bump in the night along with a celebration of the spoopiest time of the year. It was also one of the few Disney Channel Original Movies to get continuous airplay on their channel around this time of year. It has engrained itself nicely into millennial public consciousness, but seems oddly under discussed. The sequels even less so, maybe it’s time to change that.

The first film, Halloweentown, is kind of perfect for what it wants to be. 13 year old Marnie Piper loves Halloween but cannot participate in it because of her mom. When Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie, turns up she ends up hearing about how she’s a witch and that there is a threat to Halloweentown. Marnie, with the help of her younger brother and sister, stow away with Aggie on her bus ride home only to find out themselves in the mystical of Halloweentown. Goblins, skeletons, and ghouls galore follow.

As an individual film it succeeds really well. Marnie working to learn her magic and uncovering this whole other world is great. She has a strong dynamic with Ethan, her brainy and skeptical younger brother, that is funny without going on too long. The acting from everyone is strong. Debbie Reynolds of well this series fame in Aggie, and being the mom to Carrie Fisher, stands out as the best grandmother ever. A Mary Poppins type that is clearly wise and deadly, but is so effervescent and charming.

The production values, though clearly dated, still give a sense of life to the town. It’s small Main Street America dipped in a fall fair aesthetic is strong. The costumes, though hit or miss, do help sell the town as real. It’s not deep. The politics of how the city works doesn’t matter, but all the diverse costumes and playing the only monstrous on the outside shtick gives it a Gravity Falls vibe.

The biggest weakness the film has is its pacing and plot. Though it gets through a lot quickly, not enough of the stakes are setup. Halloweentown is changing and there is a mastermind with a goal that’s never made tangible. It also ends a little too easily.

What really, I think, helped it standout aside from the aesthetic is the theme of not sepersting sides of the family and personhood. Not having to hide what makes you special because it could also be weird. It’s very whimsical about that, but the struggle to be human and be more than human is real. The cutaways to the mom watching informercials that’s their products is magic and her simply scoffing at that is proof enough.

Halloweentown was a success which meant there were sequels to come. The issue is that Halloweentown is such a simple movie that trying to expand the series is not as easy as expected and they each go in a different direction.

Halloweentown 2: Kalabar’s Revenge, is a very classic sequel idea. On Halloween someone tries to sabotage Halloweentown and make mischief in the mortal world, so Marnie and the Piper family must stop it. This time the machinations are being done by the son of the villain in the first film.

The film is more ambitious but less impressive. This is because it focuses on a couple different ideas that are good but also don’t totally work. One is that Halloweentown is being turned into a generic “Human World.” The whole Main Street and people are grayed out in an amazing practical effect. This is fun in concept, but the whole point of the series is to see this fun magical world. Now you get less of it. Marnie and Aggie have to save it, but that also means being stuck with comically dower characters.

The second focus is on the magic. The film goes into a lot more detail about how magic works. Spells are no longer just wishes but have meanings to be solved. It fun to make Marnie have to solve a puzzle to save the day instead of just wishing, but that is what ends up happening anyway so all that work is pointless.

The film is more ambitious with its effects and stunt work. The whole grayed out city looks amazing considering its all practical. Along with that, the new sets and costumes when they finally appear are defiantly impressive. It’s unfortunate that it feels like it is just all waiting makes the film more dull than intended.

Halloweentown High, the threequel, dives more into the Sabrina the Teenage Witch aspect to the series. It’s closer to a teen drama with supernatural elements than a Halloween movie. It also makes the title a let down.

Set a couple years after the previous film it finds Marnie taking on a group of exchange students from Halloweentown and letting them spend time in the human world at the cost of her family’s magic. Unfortunately a group called the Knights try to stop the progression of magic in the human world.

The idea of the monsters from Halloweentown coming to our world feels uninteresting. Again, the whole point of the series is to see that world and the costumes. The costumes that we see are great. A pink troll, cat girl, werewolf, and giant, are way more expressive and tangible than the past films, but you don’t see a lot of them. Instead they are stuck in human suits in order to push a pretty forward thinking message about tolerance for different people and to not give in to stereotypeing others.

The other big issue with the film is just how much it goes into the Sabrina the Teenage Witch feel. That show was incredibly punny, cheesy, and mushy. Those aren’t bad qualities. That was a great show, but that wasn’t what Halloweentown was about. It takes the fantastical and processes it down for us and then wants to say we need to treat others as people. We already did in the first two films and did that on their terf. It isn’t made better by doing it the other way around. This is also the one I saw the most and have the most nostalgia for. So even though I am harsh on it I think it’s still a fun watch. Just not the direction I would have gone. Also the mid 2000s look is strong with this one.

The final film, Return to Halloweentown, also feels like a misnomer. Not because the title is a lie. It’s true, Marnie and brother Dylan do go back to Halloweentown as college students while their mom is an empty nester and tries to do hijinx to sell a house. The misnomer comes from how this is much more of a classic portal fantasy like Harry Potter (even comes with a prophecy that makes the Cromwell line Marnie comes from ex-royalty and keeper of magical power and Magical Mean Girls). It’s less fall festival and more Ren Fair.

With that said the film is still incredibly charming even with the change from Kimberly J Brown to Sara Paxton. The dialogue feels sharper for one. The expanded costume for background characters is great, and expanding the ideas from the previous film, saying that getting to know others as people is important, but having powers that make you different doesn’t make you better is an important lesson. It’s just unfortunate that it ends with such a flop. The film seeming to want to set up another sequel or mini series to explore and never getting the chance to do so.

The fourth film has a negative reputation and has even less of that Halloween feeling, but taken as a whole series that was on the decline. Just so odd that as the series got better at writing characters and having better budgets they lost more and more focus on what made the first film so good and what they failed to carry over. They are still great watches for younger ones and I think that’s all that really matters

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Enola Holmes is a Better Mulan movie than Mulan 2020 (a Review)

Sherlock Holmes might be one of the most perfect properties in the public domain ever created. The skills of deduction, crime solving, and wit can be used, rearranged, deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied, and everything in between. That makes anything after the original stories more an exercise in expanding the scope of what a Sherlock story can be (you know, like secret sisters and my favorite story being turned into a dog and not a secret society of people with red hair). This leads to a varying range in the quality of said stories too.

This preamble takes us to the Millie Bobby Brown star vehicle, Enola Holmes. She too is a secret (or more surprise to us the audience) sister to Sherlock and Mycroft, only this time left abandoned with her mother after the death of their father and her brothers leaving. She was then raised to be strikingly independent by her mother. Teaching her life lessons and skills over a classical education. It was a good life that is thrown off course when her mother disappears leaving only a box of coloring utensils and book of flowers. When the Holmes brothers return Mycroft threatens to send Enola away. Enola, in turn, realizes the secret message her mother was trying to send and runs off in search of her. Upon her travel she runs into the son of a nobleman, next in like for the House of Lords whose life is in danger. It is then up to Enola to find out what her mother is up to, save the life of the young lord and evade capture from her brother. The game is truly afoot.

The film is surprisingly good. Not shockingly good. It’s not an amazing film or anything, but when all the trailers painted the film as a cringe fest it was a nice surprise to get a smarter film than that. A film that is actually about something, seeks to use its protagonist in a compelling way, make an actual role model for young girls, and when watching those same clips in the film are clearly more to be cheeky jokes than taken absolutely seriously.

Cheeky is often the tone of the film. It does have some far more hard boiled moments that are reminiscent of the Guy Ritchie films, but is often far poppier, lighter, and closer in tone to a mid-90s Disney live action film. The world can pop but is often rather basic in terms of sets and world design. Not a visionary style, but works.

It is more of a detective story than it seems on the surface. It takes quite a while for the plot to fully reach the surface, but when it does it is satisfying enough. You could put the clues together easily, feels fresh for a Holmesian mystery, and focuses on the stories main theme.

That is right, a movie about Sherlock Holmes having a smart, strong willed sister who must go out on an adventure alone in and use the skills she acquired by her feminist mother to save a white man does far more than dress the part. The film is expressly about the future and the power women have in that future. It uses the strict Victorian setting well in that respect. Enola gives a strong contrast to the rest of the women she runs into, and is shown to be competent but still make mistakes (even though no one would complain if it was Sherlock who did the exact same things but made no mistakes). It is helped that Millie Bobby Brown is a phenomenal actor.

Millie Bobby Brown seems to be the Emma Watson to Finn Wolfhard’s Daniel Radcliffe. As in to say (the internet ruined me because I know there are creeps who are waiting for her to turn 18 and proclaim how attractive she is in gross ways. Just like Selena Gomez Ariana Grande, or the Jenner Sisters) she is certainly a far stronger screen presence that can flow from emotion to emotion with ease. Can adapt well to any scenario she is in all while still feeling like a kid. She is truly a standout in the film and by far the best part in it. She turns what should be cringey dialogue into believable phrases that feel almost iconic. Some of her 4th wall breaking chats do get gratting, and the she can’t make the opening and closing voiceover work to save her life (no one could), but she does great.

The only other standout is Henry “The Chin” Cavill as Sherlock. It is no secret that British men were often incredibly withdrawn folks. Cavill plays him that way and forgoes the excentric weirdos of Rober Downey Jr and Benedic Cumberbatch and focuses on that. His Sherlock seems to have a lot more going on under the hood. Refined, but still ever observant, sharp, and quick with hints of that outgoing nature. An interesting take that, along with the lack of a Watson, makes it feel like he’s still early in his career.

This film shares an odd amount in common with the 2020 crime Mulan. Both have highly competent women going out into the wider world in search of a cause connected to family, and deal with larger political themes around a less interesting male. They also are saved from being stabbed by the trapping they hide themselves in. difference, of many, is framing and character. Enola works hard, is shown to be outgoing and easy to like. She is shown struggle and works through it, and deals with the political issues directly as a example of why they work. The future is women not because they sometimes have super powers to help the totalitarian government, but because they are just as capable when given the proper education and challenges. They will rise (also the mother, played by Helena Bonnem Carter, because of course, is kind of dropped with no follow up which is weird but not movie breaking).

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Vampires vs The Bronx is on the Neck (a Review)

It’s finally spooky season. Yes I am late. Writing for 5 days a week is kind of draining so I needed a recharge (still do probably), but the movies stop for no one (not even a plague). That takes us to the first really horror film out, and it’s a throwback no less, Vampire vs The Bronx.

Vampires vs The Bronx is a throwback to the kids vs monster sub-genre of horror movies popular in the 80s and 90s. This one updated to follow Miguel and his friends Luis and Bobby. They are middle schoolers growing up in the Bronx and see it changing. Business going from small time owners to fancier white people brands all headed by one real estate company. When Miguel finds out that the company is run by vampires trying to buy out the Bronx and use everyone left as their meal ticket he teams up with his friends, the owner of a local bodega, and crush, Rita, to slay the vampires and keep everyone safe.

As far as one of these types of films go it is pretty solid. The cast is really good and has a real easy chemistry. Netflix consistently finds amazing kid actors for these roles. The side cast isn’t the best, but are memorable. The cinematography is great but it’s clear they are working on a limited budget. Some of the big action scenes feel lacking because of that limitation. It’s not bad, gives it some charm in fact, but does hold it back from being what the team probably envisioned it could be. A solid film that is way too on the neck-I mean nose.

The themes are what honestly set it apart and make it stand out. Vampires targeting marginalized groups is not new, neither is them choking out neighborhoods in order to get what they want, but the change in scenery to a minority heavy location makes everything more obvious. That clash between uptight, posh, European vampires acting like they’re in a classic film going against more grounded level crime and gangbangers is where the heart of the films fun and thoughts come from. Those moments lead to the best scenes. The film also uses those moments to help lift up what it considers good about those diverse communities while making it pointedly obvious what harms the communities… kind of.

The film is short. Just under 90 minutes and that is a shame because it could have used that time to better hone in on the central question the film poses. It sets up how siding with those who have money is better than giving into the dangerous criminals you know if it helps you escape. It sets up a gangsters vs vampires idea that it doesn’t follow through on. Instead it positions them as a secondary antagonists. That’s not wrong. It makes sense with the arc of one of our principle characters, but also feels it misses the point of its own movie. If both are supposed to be rejected then they need to be given a deeper dive. It gives some reading into how they’re the same but should do more.

It sounds like I want to change the movie. I do but don’t. The movie wants to be more fun, light, and a good early age horror film. It succeeds at that. But it clearly wants to be more and succeeds at that from time to time; it just could be more.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box: TowerCityMedia@gmail.com!