Tales from Earthsea (Studio Ghibli)

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Was excited to watch this because I’ve read the first book of the Earthsea novels, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, and I wanted to see how Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, would keep up with his father’s legendary filmmaking magic under Studio Ghibli. My verdict? Despite not-so-rosy feedback from critics and reportedly from the author herself, I personally liked most of it. Here’s why.

  • It’s a visual treat. The magic of the fantasy realm is in this land where dragons, men, wizards, mages, and witches co-exist. The color palette is rich and warm in the introduction of town life. Here’s an example of an early scene that started to impress me (it’s a screenshot so it doesn’t do justice).

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  • The music is lovely. The orchestration for the whole film is really good and perfectly enhances every scene, but Teru/Therru’s song was a particularly haunting and moving a capella even Arren cried in this scene! Here’s a YouTube clip of the lyrics in Japanese, English, and Vietnamese. The second song is a closing one, typical of animes.

  • The themes were demonstrated well (spoiler alert). Despite the narrative’s failure to be cohesive, two sets of themes saved it. I initially thought that the protagonist, Arren, was running away from a dark shadow. However, the plot twist was that he was more of a captive of his darkness, and it was his “light” side that was following him!

It also tackled about the desire for eternal life and the fear of death, which the antagonist wanted to gain from his use of magic/alchemy. Invincibility meant control, and Arren’s teen existential angst was emphasized by losing his will to live as he has succumbed to darkness, but Teru argued to knock him to his senses.

  • Roles were consistent with Ghibli stereotypes. As always, the teens saved the world. Teru is a fierce young lady that Arren is such a wimp until he redeems himself, and the adults had the trust in the young ones to figure things out. And can I just add that Lord Cob is the stuff of nightmares???

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I’ve spoken about the good stuff, and now I’m about to drop the bomb on this one: the story doesn’t quite make sense. Why? Because this adaptation is a mix of elements in Le Guin’s novels, hence her critical disappointment despite being a good-looking piece of work. What I read as a novel was the life of a younger Ged, the archmage in this story, but this was sort of a spinoff. The burning question in my head was why Arren did what he had to do because it didn’t have any clear purpose other than he was taken over by evil spirits or something. That could be a probable reason for committing that “sin,” but it felt stretched. It’s understandable that the Le Guin fan base would want to shun this project, but as a Ghibli fan, I still find it remarkable.

It is a must-see for a fantasy ride. I will place this high over some mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, honestly.

 

 

 

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The Girl With All the Gifts

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It’s been a while since I read anything in one sitting, and this book made me. Borrowed this from my sister to read something new and I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Thoughts:

  • The dystopian world fades into the background as the author focused perspective on Melanie, the special girl in the class, before shifting POV to the minor players in the story. The shift in the narrative was a welcome surprise.
  • The relationship of Melanie and Ms. Justineau strongly evokes Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Ms. Honey. While Matilda had to fight tyranny with magic, Melanie’s self-awareness, wonder, and goodness fought off the icky fungal whatever that body-snatched her biology.
  • Not for the faint of heart. While it may be common nowadays to depict people as the walking dead, having a child army kill you and run after you is gripping and also heartbreaking.
  • Loved the Greek myth references. It is, I think, necessary literature to read kids or make them learn about the gods to awaken realizations of humanity, and the title of the book itself is a clue about a girl who had a special box of evils that she unleashed to the world. Melanie, like Pandora, is symbolic of hope in the post-apocalyptic world they live in.

There’s actually a film adaptation! I loved the book, so I’m looking forward how the movie holds up.

The Beauty of Irony in The Zookeeper’s Wife

While everyone was still flocking the cinemas for Marvel’s Guardians on its second week, R & I went to see a less popular flick, The Zookeeper’s Wife, because we heard of its heroic connections to saving the Jews during the Holocaust (I was coincidentally carrying a copy of Elie Wiesel’s Day in my bag that time). Rated R-13 for nudity, violence, and mature themes, most of the moviegoers were mature Filipino and American audiences.

There is something chilling about anything connected to the Holocaust, and the beauty of the Polish petting zoo and its inhabitants were soon marred by the arrival of bombs. Antonina and Jan Zabinski, along with their son Ryszard, witnessed the heartless killing of their animals by the Nazis because the bombing set the zoo inhabitants loose. In comes the villain in the guise of a friend, Dr. Lutz Heck, Germany’s top zoologist who wants to work with Antonina and use the zoo for his experiment. On the other hand, the Zabinskis thought that they could raise a pig farm as a way to extract the Jews from the ghetto by covering them with the fruit peelings they collect at the mentioned camp as food for the pigs. In the zoo’s premises is an underground passageway that served as quarters and hiding place of the “fugitives” of war.

The movie tried its best to not sugarcoat the cruelty and harshness of the true-to-life accounts, especially the rape, but it artistically diverted the heaviness by always juxtaposing goodness right after. There was a lot of emphasis on the empathy and the care for others in the midst of great danger. In the Warsaw Zoo, the animals were loved as much as the humans while the war treats the Jews as helpless creatures. The couple managed to save 300 people, and what courage they had to shield them from death!

Jessica Chastain, who played the role of Antonina, met the couple’s daughter, Teresa, during the premiere.

If there’s any film that could show compassion, include The Zookeeper’s Wife in your list. This world needs real-life heroes like them.

The Beauty and the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

It’s the most successful live-action Disney remake to date, judging from the box office records it smashed and everyone’s hangover with its merchandise, photos, and scoring. My Instagram feed was filled with Beauty and the Beast photos from all over the world, and it took me the second weekend of screening the chance to sit down and watch it in the cinema.

I was crying like a baby from start to finish.

The Beauty of It All (Spoilers ahead)

The Music Served the Backstories

I already spoiled myself rotten by listening to the pre-released soundtrack on YouTube, but I still didn’t expect the impact the new songs had on the actual film itself, especially “How Does a Moment Last Forever?” Disney was able to convince the iconic Celine Dion to sing again for the live-action soundtrack, and I’m going to make a prediction that this particular track will be nominated for Best Song for next year’s Oscars.

How does a moment last forever?
How can a story never die?
It is love we must hold onto
Never easy, but we try
Sometimes our happiness is captured
Somehow, our time and place stand still
Love lives on inside our hearts and always will

Minutes turn to hours, days to years and gone
But when all else has been forgotten
Still our song lives on

Maybe some moments weren’t so perfect
Maybe some memories not so sweet
But we have to know some bad times
Or our lives are incomplete
Then when the shadows overtake us
Just when we feel all hope is gone
We’ll hear our song and know once more
Our love lives on

How does a moment last forever?
How does our happiness endure?
Through the darkest of our troubles
Love is beauty, love is pure
Love pays no mind to desolation
It flows like a river through the soul
Protects, persists, and perseveres
And makes us whole

Minutes turn to hours, days to years then gone
But when all else has been forgotten
Still our song lives on

How does a moment last forever
When our song lives on

Of course, we all know Ms. Dion is not in the film, so it came as a sucker punch that Kevin Kline, who plays Maurice, Belle’s father in the movie, sings a portion of this in such a gentle, sweet way to remember his long lost wife as he repairs his daughter’s music box. *cue waterworks*

This age-old fairy tale managed to gain more depth as the screenplay made the creative license to present a backstory on why Belle doesn’t have a mother. It turns out that she died because of the plague in France after her daughter was born. Watson sings a reprise of this tune when she time traveled with the Beast to Paris to know the truth about that painful topic for her father.

This is the Paris of my childhood

These were the borders of my life

In this crumbling, dusty attic

Where an artist loved his wife

Easy to remember, harder to move on

Knowing the Paris of my childhood is gone

 

The inventor role also went to Emma Watson instead of Kline, for the latter was more of the artist who longs to preserve the memory of the deceased wife. Somehow, it made sense that Belle is an inventor because she would likely read anything and learn a lot from theory.

Meanwhile, it is not just Maurice who had the chance to sing of his loss. In “Days in the Sun,” the cast are able to reminisce of their lives as human beings since their time as living creatures is dwindling if nobody breaks the curse. It starts with young Beast singing to his dying mother, then Stanley Tucci’s new character, Maestro Cadenza, lovers Lumiere and Plummette, Mrs. Potts. Belle then interjects, empathizing with their state in life, where Audra Macdonald’s gorgeous soprano voice responds to being hopeful to the very end.

Last but not the least, “Evermore,” which I wrote about previously. It was heartbreaking to see the Beast sing of his sadness on his way up his towers to let go forever the girl he has fallen in love with. I also predict this in the list of Best Song because a movie can have two songs in the Oscar category! I’ll be waiting, Academy Awards!

The Wit Goes to LeFou

Josh Gad’s lines are the funniest if nobody else noticed.

And his name’s G-A-S-T… I believe there’s another T… It just occurred to me that I’m illiterate and I’ve never actually had to spell it out loud before…

Hilarious!

Luke Evans Is a Singing Revelation

Acting-wise, he’s perfect as Gaston. I’ve heard some feedback that he’s still “thinner” than the animation. Peeps, he’s not supposed to look like Johnny Bravo. Anyways, in the song “The Mob,” I could hear the grit and arrogance in his voice that just gave the chills. And you’ll really get mad at him when he starts taunting the sad Beast you’d really want to punch him in the face. As a singer, he was a delight. In the promotional videos, he and Gad just have so much fun it’s great. In one interview, he said he’d really have to internalize narcissistic Gaston or else he’ll burst out laughing or cringing doing the scenes!

The Moment Everyone Stood Still

It was easy to imagine this in the animated film; the hurried goodbyes, the fact that they were “dying.” Despite their deaths, everyone was grateful to each other for a life well-lived. That scene was set-up beautifully, considering they were just collateral damage to the consequence of the ill tempers of their master.

Overall, the visual effects met my expectations. It felt like home in the original, this is only grander. Even the Beast’s transformation was almost the same thing!

Belle and Maurice are Stuck in a Time Loop???

A recent fan theory went around the internet explaining why Belle stuck out like a sore thumb in the provincial life. In “Little Town,” she sings,

Little town in a quiet village. Every day, like the one before…

It apparently explains why she’s bored and aims to break free from the routine (but she still did run into a trap of slavery of rights with the Beast, eh?).

The Ugly Beast of Issues

  • There was too much criticism of the protagonists’ non-singer voices, Watson and Stevens. I appreciate Disney’s move to not cast professional singers because some would just tend to oversing (yes, it could be a tendency, just listen to Ariana Grande for the pop version).
  • LeFou’s sexual orientation reveal was blown out of proportion. Wouldn’t you think that his idolizing Gaston so much in the original animated movie would have made sense because he has a crush on him other than being a blind follower?
  • Overreading the fairy tale to be a dangerous example of Stockholm syndrome. Can’t you guys just have fun and be a kid at heart once again to not make everything a literal interpretation?
  • People disliking Prince Adam’s real face than the water buffalo. SERIOUSLY?

On a more academic note, The Atlantic wrote an article on the topic of the love for animals and arranged marriages.

“Beauty and the Beast,” Tatar writes, is a love story about “the transformative power of empathy,” but a dark and weird one. Coded inside it are all kinds of cultural neuroses regarding the social and emotional structure of marriage: fear of the other, fear of leaving home, fear of changing oneself by forming a new partnership.

These neuroticisms, however, is a way to show adults and children alike “a desire to transform fairy tales from adult entertainment into parables of good behavior, vehicles for indoctrinating and enlightening children about the virtues of fine manners and good breeding.” Belle and Prince Adam/Beast contrast in values despite going through the same maternal loss. It’s just helping each other conquer the monsters within.

I think I’ve made my case, and I think I’ve been obvious in explaining this is a favorite adaptation at this moment. If the next live-action remakes tops this, I’ll let you know.

P.S.

Mulan is in shambles now, so it has huge shoes to fill in terms of expectations.

Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba

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The genesis of writing as an art is usually generated by the life authors live in. The writing process is shaped by family, friends, love, opportunities, and the idea of mortality. This is what this wonderful graphic novel is about. It’s a must-read for all.

While it deals mostly about death(s), it is not a morbid piece. It’s more nostalgic and a tad sentimental, really, because as the graphic novel states,

And sometimes we die to prove that we live.

What’s particularly special for me is how it incorporates the life of a writer, which I’m trying to be now. Sometimes it poses questions on the craft.

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Sometimes, it just lets people in on lives of writers like me and our inability to believe we have something good to say.


This is definitely one of the most memorable graphic novels I’ve ever read. There are no metaphors, no allegories, no morals to tell.

It just tells life and how it is, how it could be, and how it could end. This novel is not just for writers. I’d recommend that you read this before you die.

Troll Hunting

Even if I have a regular subscription to Netflix now, I try not to binge-watch and just pick a few enjoyable episodes/programs to relax after a long work day. The latest series that I finished is not a mainstream trending topic because, well, it’s in the children’s category. When I saw that DreamWorks and Guillermo del Toro had an animated series voiced by the late Anton Yelchin, I knew I had to watch it.

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I didn’t know of the books it was based on, but Trollhunters season one is a TV series for everyone, not just kids. If you need something light-hearted and funny, then have a go at it. The pacing and foundation of the mythology takes a while. There are no limits to streaming channels, anyways. By the end of the 26 episodes, though, you’ll feel like Jim, Toby, Claire, Blinky, and AAARRRGGHH!!! is your new squad. Because of repetition, you’ll also be able to memorize Jim’s lines when he whips out his amulet thingie:

For the glory of Merlin, daylight is mine to command!

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For a TV budget, the animation is very impressive. Del Toro was quoted to have been grateful to the team who really stretched the limits of imagination and went the extra mile to create something magical for the small screens. Of course, what brings the animation to life are the voices behind it and the late Anton Yelchin did a brilliant job in articulating the woes of teenage life while training to be a hero. Del Toro assures, however, that Yelchin is not going to “leave” the program despite his death because as it turns out, they have material to last until another season. Yep, they’ve just been renewed for season 2! Woohoo!

For comedic punchlines, I LOOOOVE Toby, voiced by Charlie Saxton. He’s super funny and chubby and cute, but so are Blinky, the wise and formal mentor of Jim and AAARRRGGHH!!!, Toby’s wingman and the group’s muscle guy/troll. The characters are voiced by Kelsey Grammer and Fred Tatasciore, respectively. Claire’s okay. I like the boys better.

Speaking of funny moments, the best laugh out loud moment for me was when Toby adopted a gnome and named it…

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GNOME CHOMPSKY

(I want their Funko Pops! AAAAAARGHHHH)

The first season ended on a cliffhanger and will be continued with 13 more episodes in the next installment. I’m now a fan and I’m even considering watching it again just for fun. I am glad I found this gem on Netflix and I can’t wait for next season!