This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 17, 2012)

17 Feb 2012

Opening this week are GHOST RIDER 2 (no reviews as no press screening was provided, so beware!!!!), THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY and IN DARKNESS among others.


IN DARKNESS (Canada/Germany/Poland 2011) ***1/2
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Agnieszka Holland’s (EUROPA, EUROPA, THE SECRET GARDEN, WASHINGTON SQUARE) latest film takes a moralistic look at a Polish Catholic working the sewers in Lvov, Poland during WWII.

The film is a suspenseful drama based on the true story outlined in
Robert Marshall’s book IN THE SEWERS OF LVOV.  The setting is Nazi-occupied
Lvov, Poland, 1943 where the weak prey upon the weak and the poor steal from the

Jews often hid in the sewers to escape capture from the Germans.  Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) works the sewers and aids the Jews hiding there when he comes accidentally comes across a group of them during his rounds.  If not, he is robbing the rich homes of the Jews now occupied by the Germans.  His morals are questionable, but his wife is the one that puts him in his place.  But he learns what is right soon enough when he sympathizes with the plight of the Jews.

Director Holland has created a claustrophobic atmosphere so authentic that the audience could even imagine the stench of the rubbish and rodents running around the filthy waters.  The lighting is impressive and the night or ‘lightless’ cinematography close to perfect.  The only problem is that Holland trivializes the film a few times for example in the segments where Socha is piggy-backing the Jewish kids or finding lost children or over dramatizing as in the child birth segment in which the mother is not allowed to scream as they are all hiding underneath a church where the sounds travel easily through.  Still, all this is powerful stuff especially watching Socha transform from unsympathizing Catholic to dauntless hero.

IN DARKNESS is nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film this year.  It is Agnieszka Holland’s third film nominated for this category.  Third time lucky?

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Gary Rydstrom

Ever since the successful SPIRITED AWAY, Disney and Japan’s Ghibli Studios’ first collaboration, the two major world studios have continued their animated features and the latest THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is no exception as another example of excellent animation.  Of course more Japanese than American, all Disney did was Americanize it with American voice-overs but at least North America gets a chance to view Hayao Miyazaki’s great works.

Miyazaki is the ageing master of Ghibli as Walt was to Disney.  For THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY, he penned the script while Hiromasa Yonebayashi directed.  But Miyazaki’s touches are clear from the start to end.  The most obvious is Sho’s menacing fat cat that eventually turns into a purring aide to Arrietty.

This fantasy film, as are all of Miyazaki’s films fantasies, is based on Mary Norton’s THE BORROWERS which itself was a feature film released years back with John Goodman in the starring role.  But the animated feature is quite different.  It is very, very Japanese in outlook, from the behaviour (and dress of the characters to the surroundings especially the Japanese foliage in the garden.  Where and what items (sewing material, dolls etc.) are kept are totally eastern.  And everyone drinks tea, not coffee.  The notion of obedience to the elders is also paramount to the story despite the daughter’s love for adventure. 

The film tells the story of Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler in the U.S. version), a young Borrower who lives under the floorboards of a typical household. She eventually befriends Sho, a human boy with a heart condition since birth who is living with his great aunt Sadako. When Sadako''s maid Haru becomes suspicious of the floorboard''s disturbance, Arrietty and her family must escape detection, even if it means leaving their beloved home.

The characters are voiced by different actresses depending on where the film is screened.  In Japan, Arrietty is Mirai Shida but I would rather have heard the U.K. voice characterization of Saoirise Ronan (HANNA and ATONEMENT).

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY is a simple story compared to say, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE or the recent PONYO.  But the story’s charm overflows into the film, with its story beautifully told accompanied by outstanding music.  The bond between the dying Sho and the borrower Arrietty is a relationship that transcends love.  Sho discovers bravery and to stand brave before his crucial operation.  With a story dealing with the fundamental elements of life and death, heroism and bravery, this film will reach both children and adults alike.

The film was a booming success in Japan grossing more than US$126 million worldwide.

Best Film Opening: The Secret World of Arrietty

Best Film Playing: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Best Action:  Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
Best Drama: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Best Foreign: A Separation
Best Comedy: The Artist
Best Family: The Adventures of Tin Tin
Best Documentary: Pina

Avoid: The Innkeepers

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