Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Last: Naruto the Movie

This movie came out last December in Japan, and it took less than a year to make it overseas to the US, which I'm very pleased by. I was ridiculously hyped for this movie at the time, despite the fact that it would be a while yet before I would even get a chance to see it for myself. But now that I have, I'm happy to say that this one delivers on a lot of that hype.

Taking place two years after the conclusion of the main series (but before the time period of the epilogue), The Last focuses on the romance that lead to Naruto and Hinata finally ending up together. The story was written by Kishimoto himself, and is also the first Naruto movie to be entirely considered canon material. And sure enough, as with the other films he has assisted on, this also happens to be one of the most solid of these movies yet.

For one thing, one of my biggest gripes with literally every single Naruto movie up to this point, as well as most Naruto anime fillers, is just how consistently out of character almost everyone acts in these things, as if the writers who work on the anime have no actual concept of these characters or their progression beyond their very first introductory points, despite working on this series with these characters for as long as they have. However, for the first time ever, there's not a single out of character moment to be had in this movie, which is really just a huge relief at this point. Also, the main villain is directly connected to the canon Otsutsuki clan, so in addition to characters actually acting correctly, we also don't have to be burdened by out of place character designs by, again, the usual filler writers who appear to have no basic grasp or concept on the Naruto world. No, the main villain here, Toneri, clearly fits in this world, both in design and personality, and feels like a genuine addition to this world.

But anyways, the central core of the movie itself is definitely the brewing romance between Naruto and Hinata, and this actually acts as both the movie's strongest point, as well as its weakest. On the one hand, the way this aspect plays out feels sorta rushed and, at times, forced. See, Naruto learns of Hinata's feelings for him via a genjutsu dream sequence, in which the two's minds were momentarily connected, and he was able to relive their moments from the past and see things from her perspective. This, in turn, gives Naruto a new perspective of his own when looking at her, and he begins to grow feelings for her as well. This definitely feels sorta cheap, and I do wish they could have figured out a better way to more organically allow for their relationship to blossom. But on the other hand, it does still seem to fit with the tone of the series in certain thematic regards, and the dream sequence itself was actually executed rather well, so it wasn't a major hindrance or anything.

However, later on, when Naruto finally does profess his love for her, this moment appears to almost come out of nowhere, and I really didn't buy it as a result. It felt too soon, like Naruto shouldn't have been that sure of his feelings at that moment. Perhaps if there was more uncertainty in his deliver, like he thinks he loves her, but isn't quite sure yet, then I could've bought it. But as is, his conviction was too certain, and it came too soon for me to really be able to swallow.

But again, that's just one moment, and that moment aside, the rest of their love story was actually quite touching to see play out. Throughout, there's an element involving Hinata knitting Naruto a red scarf, and the themes that tie into this, of the two's lives intertwining, bonding together, was very cleverly interwoven into the narrative. It was nice to see a Naruto story where not only did such an aspect take center stage over the action, but it did so while still genuinely feeling like a Naruto story.

So yeah, there were a couple if iffy moments, but on the whole, The Last is probably the most all around solid Naruto movie to date that definitely met my expectations. It's not quite as action-oriented as most of these movies, but that's also not the focus, and where it does focus, its emotion, is what makes this movie truly excel. It's a nice change of pace for the series, while being the only one of these movies that actually feels like a genuine entry in this series.

I also sorta love how this was released following the end of the manga series, despite the fact that the anime series is still on going with a quite frankly embarrassing number of fillers at this point to stretch it out to its absolute thinnest, milking it for all its worth. But even so, they're continuing on with these movies anyways, which take place after the series and completely spoil what's left to be seen in the anime, for those few who have still somehow managed to stay spoiler free up to this point. And I'm also quite pleased with how short we had to wait for them to bring this over to the States, so here's hoping for that same quality and timeliness to equally follow suit with the next Naruto movie, Boruto.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria is a movie that I had been interested in getting around to for some time now. It's just sorta funny how timing works out sometimes, and almost more fitting that I only just now got around to it, seeing how so much of this movie focuses on an actress rehearsing for a part in a play.

The main story here sees Juliette Binoche's character get offered the role of an older character in a play, 20 years after she had previously played the younger character in that same play during its initial run. And this was just a really intriguing story to watch play out, as there are several clever parallels between the play in question and our main cast's personal lives that come to the forefront throughout, in addition to some really interesting conversations looking at the deeper meaning behind their characters' motivations.

I especially loved this aspect of the movie, particularly as their conversations expand into other mediums, such as superhero movies, and the different takes one can take away from it. One character sees a world of character depth, while the other laughs it off as just a silly superhero flick. It just feels so true, because I've been in those kinds of conversations myself when defending the deeper meanings and symbolism in some of my favorite not so well received films, the likes of which include Spider-Man 3 and Sucker Punch. The writing in this thing was just a delight, in some ways even inspiring, and one that I especially took quite a bit away from as a writer myself.

But as I mentioned in the beginning, a lot of this movie does revolve around our main characters practicing for their part in this upcoming play, and seeing as I've just come off a month straight of rehearsing non-stop for my own first play, the timing of seeing this movie couldn't be more fitting. I honestly went into this movie completely blind, which made this especially satisfying a discovery. But it was just interesting to see this aspect play out, and what I loved so much about these scenes was, as they were rehearsing, there became moments where you almost couldn't tell if they had dropped out of character to continue their personal discussions in the middle of things, which just goes to show just how immersed a lot of those aforementioned parallels really were.

Now, it's not an entirely perfect movie, mind you, as there were a few minor discrepancies that irked me a bit. For one, in regards to editing, the film decides to end a number of scenes by needlessly fading to black, which just felt awkward and choppy, and sorta pulled me out of the movie every time. This sort of editing just kind of gives the movie a cheap feel, like it was made for TV and we were fading to a commercial break or something, when really, they could have just as easily cut instantly to the next scene and avoided this jarring effect. That may seem overly nitpicky of me, but it's something that happened enough throughout that I feel warrants pointing out as an issue that could have very easily been avoided outright.

The movie also feels like it reaches a natural conclusion, only to continue on into one last act that sorta feels to drag on a little too long as a result. But there's a specific reason for that, which I won't get into here, and otherwise, those issues aside, I really quite enjoyed this movie. It was gorgeously shot (though the hokey superhero film that they go see coulda been shot in a more sincere manner), and as I keep gushing over, I loved the writing here, which I just absolutely ate up.

And the movie was also very well acted as well, with a seriously great cast. Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart were both phenomenal and played off one another fantastically. And then one of my favorites, Chloƫ Moretz, showed up, which was a nice little surprise, and she unsurprisingly held her own and put on yet another solid outing, playing the trainwreck young actress taking on the role of the younger character Binoche had originally played, and those two have a number of interactions that only grow more gripping as the movie goes along and Moretz's character's true intentions come more to the forefront.

And as for Kristen Stewart, this was her performance for which she became the first American actress to win the Cesar award, which is essentially the French version of the Oscars, and damn did she earn it. She gives an absolutely captivating, commanding performance here, so much so that you instantly and genuinely miss her presence anytime she's not on screen. Seriously, this girl can act, and she's damn good at it, and anyone who still wants to write her off due to her outings in those Twilight flicks needs to see her in this movie and promptly proceed to shut the hell up on the matter once and for all.

So yeah, I had heard a lot of nice things about this movie, and had been interested in checking it out for a little while now. I didn't know entirely what I was getting into, but once I found out, the timing of my finally getting to it was just sort of awesome, and the overall content within certainly delivered on all of those nice things I had heard about it. The performances were great, the writing was great, and this is definitely the kind of film I can see myself returning to at some point and taking more and more away from it. Clouds of Sils Maria is a delightful film worth checking out.