Gake no ue no Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki
Voice acting: Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Tomoko Yamaguchi, George Tokoro, Kazushige Nagashima, Yuki Amami
Release year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 8.0

When a goldfish stranded off the shore of small fishing town, a little boy named Sosuke rescued it and named the goldfish Ponyo. He made a promise to protect Ponyo forever of which made Ponyo fell in love with Sosuke. Accidently, Ponyo came in contact with Sosuke’s blood, and this later enabled her to transform her into a human. Sosuke lost Ponyo for a while when Fujimoto who apparently is Ponyo’s father, took her back into the ocean. Despite her father’s attempt to keep Ponyo in his underwater castle, Ponyo managed to escape and with the help of her sisters went out to find Sosuke. This however, created a great imbalance and threatened the very survival of earth.

Gake no ue no Ponyo (or Ponyo of the Top of the Cliff) from Hayao Miyazaki may not be as good as Spirited Away nor the 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle, but it still impressive enough to captivate the audience throughout the course of the film. As usual, the environmental issue was raised and this time regarding how humans have been polluting the ocean. The plot is simple and light but very much enjoyable. The visuals were great as usual and the voice acting by the seiyus were also impressive (sorry to Disney, but I always prefer to watch Japanese version rather than the dubbed version of any anime movies). Finally, at the end of the movie, the audience will surely enjoy the theme song performed by Fujioka Fujimaki and Nozomi Ohashi (NOT the version performed by Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus).

In Japan, Ponyo won the 8th annual Tokyo Anime Awards, including Anime of the year and the Best domestic feature. Hayao Miyazaki himself won the best director and best original story. Additionally, Noboru Yoshida won the best art direction for this movie. As from me, I award the movie the rating of 8.0 out of 10.0 for its beautiful animation, captivating plot, excellent voice acting and great theme song. Oh and you don’t have to be a child to love this movie.

State of Play

Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray
Based on State of Play, BBC One miniseries by Paul Abbott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.5

Based on the BBC One series by Paul Abbott, State of Play is a political thriller which attempted to condense a six one-hour shows to a 127 minutes feature film. While the original took place in England, the feature film was set in Washington DC.

Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey investigated a story about robbery and a shooting which left one man died and another one in comatose which was then followed by the death of a woman who worked as an aide to McAffrey’s former roommate Congressman Stephen Collins. Initially thought as a suicide case, the death of Sonia Baker eventually developed into a more complicated case which involves PointCorp, a private defense contractor which was under investigation by the congress, of which Stephen Collins had a place in the investigation committee. Cal was later joined by Della Frye, his colleague at the Washington Globe in his investigation and both later uncover an even bigger case than what was previously expected.

For a political thriller, State of Play surely offers some interesting twists in the story. Still, however baffling the final truth is, it was rather poorly delivered. It’s probably due to rather average performance by anyone other than Crowe. Sure, Helen Mirren and Jason Bateman were fantastic, but Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, and Rachel McAdams which have more important roles in the flick were not able to deliver equally superb performances. It is clear that Crowe dominated nearly the entire movie.

This movie reminds me to All The President’s Men which starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Unlike Hoffman and Redford who were impressive, both McAdams and Affleck were unable to match Crowe’s performance. Nevertheless, despite this shortcoming, State of Play is still an interesting movie to watch. For the rating, I give it a 7.0.

Banlieu 13 - Ultimatum

Directed by Patrick Alessandrin
Written by Luc Besson
Starring: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 6.8

When I watched Banlieu 13 which was released in 2004, the first impression was: “Wow!” The action-packed movie was filled with parkour, or the art of movement. Thus what I saw back then were not computer generated tricks. How the fight scenes were performed by the lead actors David Belle (especially) and Cyril Raffaelli made the original Banlieu 13 a joy to behold, offering something unique in the action genre. Of course, the story was practically simple and the ending was easy to predict.

The sequel takes place in 2013, three years after the first movie. The corrupted DISS set up a scheme to frame the citizens of the Banlieu 13 so that it would provide a reason for the government to completely demolish the district filled with gangster factions. To ensure the smooth execution of the plan, Captain Damien Tomaso was set up and sent to prison for possession of drugs. Later, Damien managed to contact Leito asking for help. Now Leito must find a way to free Damien while dodging the chase from the DISS, and prevent the annihilation of Banlieu 13.

Compared to the first movie, B13-U was a disappointment. Sure, there were still parkour scenes in the movie, but after seeing the first movie, there’s barely anything feels new in the sequel. The story was even more simple than the first and this made the film even less appealing. Acting was not the main strength of the first movie and it wasn’t as well in the second one.

Overall, B13-U was a mediocre action movie, completely unsuccessful in picking up the success of its predecessor. For this movie, I give a 5.0.

District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Based on a short film Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.8

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, District 9 is based on Alive in Joburg, a short film also directed by Neill Blomkamp. Sharlto Copley played as Wikus van der Merwe, an MNU (Multinational United) agent who was sent to work on the non-humans relocation from District 9 to District 10. The non-humans (sometimes referred to as the prawns) arrived in Joburg 28 years ago in a spaceship which still hovers above District 9 in the present day.

During the relocation process, Wikus came into contact with a substance that apparently transforming his left hand into an arm similar that of a non-human. MNU then did some tests on him, including the use of non-human weaponry. Later MNU decided to harvest Wikus’ organs in order to replicate them. Wikus however, managed to escape and went back to District 9 to hide there.

From start to finish, the plot unfolded in a fast-paced manner. Although some questions arise in my mind regarding the plot, this sci-fi thriller is surely exceptional. It is however, missing from the plot on how the non-humans and humans managed to establish communication given that the words coming from the non-humans are barely recognizable in the movie. Another oddity is the fact that the spaceship remained hovering over District 9 for 28 years. Looking at how fast the folks at MNU came to the decision to harvest Wikus’ organs, how come they haven’t harvest the spaceship? They could bust into the ship, why not disassemble it altogether for scientific study? Nevertheless, despite these questionable details, the film managed to deliver the message regarding greed and discrimination (after all, why do you think it was set in Joburg?).

It is not without reason why I list only Sharlto Copley in the cast. The movie is singlehandedly focused on Wikus that it made everyone else’s performances insignificant. Copley’s performance however, was outstanding and made as if the movie is actually a documentary. He managed to portray the transformation of Wikus’ character from a jovial fellow to a … well, not so jovial fellow, perfectly. I’ve seen character transformations before but this one is surely one of the best that I’ve seen.

Overall, I consider this movie as a great sci-fi thriller. The acting was dominated by Copley, but he did it superbly. The plot itself provided a thrilling ride from start to finish, but with some questionable details. For District 9, I give it a 9.0 for giving me an awesome entertainment.

Oh, by the way, given the success of the movie, I expect Christopher Johnson will return as promised in 3 years. Since at the end of the movie the District 9 was demolished, he’ll bound to arrive at District 10.

Here's the Alive in Joburg. I thought this could be a good supplement for this post. Enjoy!