December 21st: Frozen

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Release Date: 2013
Director: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
Why I picked this: Disney classic-ish?

Coming soon

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January 28th: Magnolia

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Release Date: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Why I picked this: It is supposedly P.T Anderson’s best film

Clocking in at a whopping three hours and containing a large ensemble cast, this movie surprisingly never confused or bored me. The movie begins with such energy and momentum, completely drawing me in, and while the movie did slow down during the second half, it made sense why it did in the context of the story. This is a movie about connects us or draws us to seemingly unrelated people. It is about coincidence and chance. It is about the common struggles that human beings struggle through. Most of these problems appeared to revolve around family issues and loneliness. Some minor gripes about the film emerged as I was watching it, but they were mostly alleviated when I realized that they made sense with the themes of the movie. Some of the characters from different plot threads had similar flaws or problems, but that was the movie telling me how we are alike. The movie has a bizarre climax, but I tied it with the movie’s theme of unlikely and coincidences that bring us together in the most unexpected way. It is difficult to further analyze the climax without giving it away. I will say that eagle eyed viewers should find some foreshadowing. As said, the movie has a large ensemble cast, and I didn’t see any weak links. Tom Cruise as misogynistic motivational speaker Frank Mackey gives the strongest performance. He is instantly memorable from his first monologue, and explodes emotionally by the end of the film. His character evolution is the most intriguing to watch. Next is Julianne Moore as the unstable trophy wife of a dying elderly man. She breaks down, complains, and yells, yet the audience feels from her. She has made poor decisions, but she is still human facing unfair situations. Child actor Jeremy Blackman impresses as Stanley, a child prodigy on a fictional game show. He is intelligent and pensive, but you are still reminded that he is still a child. Other cast members include the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the nurse who cares for Moore’s dying husband, Phillip Baker Hall as the host of the game show, William H. Macy as a lonely, occasionally dim-witted former game show champion, and John C. Reilly has a slightly incompetent police officer. Great performances all around, but they weren’t exactly stand-out to me. The plot thread involving Reilly’s police officer character was my least favorite, as I couldn’t exactly grasp what I was supposed to gain from his story. There are some moments where the movie tries to connect all of the characters emotionally, but it sometimes feels forced, especially at one point of the movie where the characters literally sing the same song together. P.T. Anderson’s directing was magnificent, with many great tracking shots and dolly shots. Probably the most reoccurring visual element was the camera slowly approaching a character or some other subject. It is used constantly, especially near the beginning, but the technique is used for different reasons in different situations, and it always makes sense. The editing from plot line to plot line usually works.

It begins with so much energy and slows down, but this three hour epic character study is worth watching for its themes, wonderful visuals, and some great performances.

January 14th: Princess Mononoke

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Release Date: 1997
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Why I picked this: Recommendation and lack of exposure to Miyazaki

Beautifully animated and with an outstanding attention to detail, this historical fantasy epic can be appreciated by anyone who admires traditional hand drawn animation and Japanese art. The forests and towns look amazing, the sometimes graphic violence is smooth, and some sequences feature an extra layer of computer animation that seamlessly enhances the hand drawn animation. The story of the movie blends both historical and fantastical elements to create a relatable and magical world. This world truly feels alive with likable human characters and both charming and intimidating animal and spirit characters. The movie has very basic themes about hate, and the environment, nature, and how the humans ultimately affect it. The movie showcases the humans as progressing and innovating, developing newer technologies such as the gun and the grenade. The struggle between the two forces is not exactly black and white, and Ashitaka, the protagonist, does his best to fight for both sides. All of the female characters are as strong as the male characters, some even being stronger, with San and Lady Eboshi being the most interesting characters of the movie. However, I didn’t feel that the main characters got what they deserved when the chaos in the movie ended, and I felt uninterested some parts in the middle of the movie. Still, any appreciators of animation should give this epic movie a watch.

Crisp and smooth hand drawn animation with a layer of computer animation, this Japanese fantasy film is beautiful. A bit on the long side, but that’s to be expected from such an epic.