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    • Princess Mononoke (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 05:08

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      • "Spectacular artwork and animation"
      • "Fantastic movie and dub"

      Disadvantages

      • "May be too violent and intense for younger viewers."

      Breathtaking Miyazaki masterpiece - watch it with eyes unclouded!

      It is difficult for me to select a favorite Miyazaki movie because I happen to be fond of all of them, but if I were to choose, PRINCESS MONONOKE would definitely be one lucky candidate (although CASTLE IN THE SKY, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, WHISPER OF THE HEART, and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE all tie in this category for me). This aesthetically breathtaking, multi-layered epic about the legendary clash between man and beast set in a forest-covered world became Japan's hugest box office grossing movie ever upon its 1997 release (that is, until it was overtaken by James Cameron's TITANIC as well as Hayao Miyazaki's own SPIRITED AWAY). Taking the whole movie into account, it's really not hard to understand why. Not just a depiction of what happens when hatred gets out of hand and/or when nature is threatened, this is a lavishly animated spectacle as well as a compelling exercise of portraying its characters neither as perfect heroes or deplorable villains, but flawed, believable people displaying tangible emotions.

      The film's action begins when the courageous and compassionate Emishi prince, Ashi-taka, is forced to protect his village from a rampaging demon--a terrifying mass of writhing bloodworms which could give youngsters nightmares for weeks. In killing the monster (who turns out to be a Boar God), Ashi-taka becomes infected with a deadly curse. In the hopes of finding a cure, Ashi-taka sets off toward the West astride his faithful elk, Yakul, and finds himself caught in the midst of a war. On one side is a proud clan of human commanded by the ruthless Lady Eboshi, who is clearing the forest mainly for the sake of her own people (a group of outcasts which consist of lepers and brothel girls).

      On the other side are the Animal Gods of the forest who want to destroy the humans and protect their natural environment, led by the intimidating wolf matriarch Moro. Her human cub, Princess Mononoke herself, aka San, harbors a grudge against all humans and desires to kill them all (namely Eboshi)... or die trying. When Ashi-taka rescues her, however, she finds herself developing feelings for him that she's never felt before--are *all* humans truly evil, or is there at least one who can be trusted?

      Families who have been spoiled by Disney movies may probably have a hard time determining who is "good" or who is "evil", but as mentioned, this is not Miyazaki's intention. His movie is meant to display the flaws of human beings and their inability to understand how their own inner demons and/or consummation of another world can bring about deadly consequences. The only character in the movie that comes close to being a villain is a squat monk known as Jigo, who wants the head of the mystical Forest Spirit to bring to the Emperor. Such a deed would destroy the entire forest (as we find out in the film's chilling climactic scenes) but even Jigo has his own motives, too. He is not so much evil as much as he is just "trying to get by".

      It is tempting to draw comparisons between this film and NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (interestingly, Miyazaki made PRINCESS MONONOKE partially out of dissatisfaction for the way he concluded the previous movie); after all, both films involve two tribes at war, ecological messages about respecting nature, and of course compassionate protagonists who, rather than joining forces with any of the opposing sides, instead try to settle the conflict in their own way possible. Indeed, as much as Ashi-taka resents Eboshi's killing of the animals, he cannot bring himself to kill her. Likewise, while he respects the Animal Gods' motives, he does not help them in their struggle against humanity. His goal is to bring peace to both sides and allow them to live together in harmony. I think this makes him all the more compelling as a character, and he, like Miyazaki's heroine Nausicaa, serves as a good role model for people who want to "see with eyes unclouded."

      Where NAUSICAA and PRINCESS MONONOKE differ from each other, though, is what group of viewers they're aimed at. Grown-ups and children can enjoy the former, but in the case of the latter, I believe that Miyazaki has a more mature audience in mind. Indeed, out of Miyazaki's films, this is probably his most "adult" film to date (until his more recent THE WIND RISES), for it contains more violence than most of his other work. For example, in one scene, Ashi-taka, possessed by the curse on his arm, tries to stop samurai from attacking innocent people, and in doing so slashes off one man's arms, and later, another's head with two arrows. Horrifying and disturbing as the sight is (as well as some occasional blood spurts), such moments are included only to show its devastating effects. Some Japanese animated features tend to go overboard in depicting such gory sequences (e.g. NINJA SCROLL, WICKED CITY, and even AKIRA). In the case of PRINCESS MONONOKE, however, the violence never overpowers the meaning of the story, and is actually done in a way that is neither gratuitous nor shock value-style. Even so, this is a movie that is arguably best appreciated by older viewers rather than youngsters.

      For those who love to watch Studio Ghibli productions for their state-of-the-art production values, PRINCESS MONONOKE will do little to disappoint you in this area. Every frame is painted with rich visuals and exquisite detail I have rarely seen matched in other animated films. Not only are the forests lush and magical but the creatures who inhabit it are difficult to forget, especially the cute little Tree Spirits who appear and disappear at will as well as the Great Forest Spirit himself — a tall, human-faced deer whose every steps make plants grow. At night he becomes the Nightwalker, a ghostly specter that towers over the trees. This is one of the many spectacular moments of wonder that, if anything, warrant the purchase of this movie — in addition, of course, to the compelling, multi-faceted characters and equally sweeping storyline.

      PRINCESS MONONOKE was picked up for distribution by Disney (or rather, their former subsidiary Miramax) in 1997 (it premiered two years later). While everyone loves to fault them for the many mistakes they made in handling this movie (such as giving it only a non-existent marketing campaign), I'm sure there are those who will argue that their English tracks for Miyazaki's movies are some of the best around, and this is no exception. Acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman was brought in to pen the English script for MONONOKE, which remains an impressive feat even to this day. Not only is Gaiman's adaptation faithful to Miyazaki's original screenplay (changing around only a few things here and there for comprehension purposes for audiences unfamiliar with its Japanese customs), but also just about every word of dialogue seems to avoid the somewhat clunky, odd-sounding lines that some dubs can sometimes suffer from. He obviously was aiming for a natural, poetic sounding translation that does Miyazaki justice, and his work pays off.

      The English vocal cast chosen consists of various famous stars; these include Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Billy Bob Thornton, and Claire Danes. Some have argued that bringing in such big-names can ultimately distract from the experience of a movie (and tend to unfairly pass judgment on such dubs as a result), but in the case of any of the Disney-Ghibli dubs, I have to say that hearing these familiar voices along with others known for cartoon voice work and/or Anime dubovers brings a multi-cultural feel to these movies, making them a lot of fun to listen to. Crudup is fantastic as Ashi-taka, eliciting charisma and warmth; Driver's Lady Eboshi is elegantly ruthless yet caring; Anderson supplies chilly sternness and matriarchal benevolence as Moro; and Pinkett-Smith is bubbly, tough, and friendly as the no-nonsense brothel girl Toki. Danes does a mostly decent job handling San's scenes of rage and awkwardness around Ashi-taka, although she does occasionally miss several lines. Not enough to bring her down, though. Oddly, I even found myself liking Thornton's Jigo, even if other viewers didn't. His Southern drawl actually conveys that his character is something of a foreign traveler, and he really does bring out Jigo's sneakiness yet never makes him a villain. Rounding out the cast are several other voice artists such as John DeMita (as Toki's hilarious husband Kohroku), John DiMaggio (as Eboshi's grizzly second-in-command Gonza), and especially Keith David, who brings theatricality and powerful resonance to the part of the ancient Boar God Okkoto. Added to which the lip synchronization is impeccable; you'd swear that Japanese was not this picture's origin of language.

      In short, I earn PRINCESS MONONOKE my highest recommendation and urge any fan of animation (as well as non-fans) to check it out. As a visual tour-de-force and a tale about the complexities of humanity, few films match it.

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    • My Neighbour Totoro (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 04:51

      Advantages

      • "Just about everything"
      • "Excellent dubbing (both versions)"
      • "Outstanding movie"

      Disadvantages

      • "May be a bit too slow for some."

      Wonderful Miyazaki masterpiece—in any version.

      What more can be said about MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO? Get this movie. Immediately. Without a doubt one of the best animated features ever made, Japan or otherwise, TOTORO is an outstanding original creation from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

      Before I delve into what makes MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO a fascinating movie, allow me to provide a little history lesson about the film: shortly after the release of LAPUTA - THE CASTLE IN THE SKY (known in America as CASTLE IN THE SKY, since "laputa" is a bad word in Spanish), Miyazaki was determined to produce another movie. However, Tokuma Shoten, Ghibli's backing executives, didn't believe that TOTORO guaranteed box office success, so it was eventually decided that Miyazaki's movie would be paired as a double-billing with another Ghibli production, Isao Takahata's heart wrenching GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.

      It was a decision that proved to be nightmarish; the production period for both films was tumultuous, and the box office release was disappointing. In the end, however, the trouble was worth it, for both GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO became major classics on Studio Ghibli's resume. In particular, demand for merchandise based on Totoro was so strong that the studio distributed cuddly plush toys, resulting with enormous profits. (It was KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE that would catapult Miyazaki and Ghibli into box office success status.)

      A common generalization about Japanese animated features is that they are nothing but a showcase of graphic violence and sexuality, yet MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO could very well change your mind. This is a simple, heartwarming original tale involving two sisters -- Satsuki and spunky little Mei -- moving with their somewhat scatterbrained but loving father (Mr. Kusakabe) to a new home in the Japanese countryside. As it turns out, though, the new house is far from deserted. Every nook and cranny is dominated by tiny, fuzzy black balls of soot, frightened away only by laughter. A tall, luscious camphor tree towers above the other trees in the back yard. And, lastly, the Totoros themselves, absolutely adorable little creatures who look like a cross between a raccoon, rabbit, owl, and guinea pig (a personal bias here, since I owned such a pet who reminds me so much of the Totoros here), live in this very forest, carrying acorns, making huge trees grow at night, and playing ocarinas on the branches of the trees.

      There is even one really BIG Totoro (which we'll call just Totoro, for the sake of continuity) who sleeps under the tree, so cuddlesome and gentle that you'll swear that he's the equivalent of your pet. Of course, he doesn't just allow Mei to snuggle on his chest. He lets out thunderous roars, shake the ground by jumping with full force, grins as wide as a Cheshire cat (albeit with warmth and generosity), helps others when they're in trouble, and gives acorns wrapped in bamboo leaves in return for gifts.

      Arguably the most memorable creation in the movie aside from the Totoros is a giant, ginger-colored cat who takes on the form of a bus, with glowing yellow eyes for the headlights and twelve--count 'em, TWELVE--legs to roam around the countryside faster than the speed of light (I swear, I'm not making this up). Like Totoro himself, he shares a wide, infectious grin showcasing generosity and warmth. The Cat Bus only appears two times in the movie, yet every minute we see him in is a delight.

      What gives MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO its heart is in the characterizations of the girls who propel the story as well as their family and neighbors. Satsuki and Mei are portrayed as real, believeable children with their strengths and weaknesses. Satsuki is the older of the two, and at times comes across as bossy, yet she is a sweet, caring young girl and obviously cares for her little sister. Mei, the youngest, is also the most interesting--bursting with uncontrollable energy and curiosity just like any girl her age would; she constantly demands attention, occasionally competes with her sister, throws fits of frustration, and all around, absolutely adorable. Their father, who, as mentioned, is a bit of an oddball yet very patient and supportive of his girls, cares for the duo.

      Their next-door neighbor is Granny (Nanny), an equally loving and helpful old woman who comes to help the girls when their father isn't around. Her grandson, Kanta, meanwhile, is that typical, impish young boy from everyone's childhood; he does not know how to deal with girls his age, and initially the best way he can communicate with Satsuki is to tease her, "your house is haunted!" Naturally, this begins a series of humorous scenes where we see the two of them exchange rude faces at each other. Later on, however, when Satsuki and Mei are strolling home from school in the rain, Kanta shows by to lend them his umbrella, and even proves to be a true friend, especially during the finale. Characters as interesting and well defined as this are what makes a movie (or Anime series, TV or OVA) gripping from start to finish, and like most Ghibli movies, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO's cast is the kind that one can identify with or relate to.

      The story isn't all hearts and flowers, however. An emotionally charged subplot involving the sisters' ailing mother (shades of Miyazaki's personal life here) gives TOTORO a dramatic edge. This is particularly evident in the third act, when the girls receive a distressing telegram about their mother. Both Satsuki and Mei are extremely traumatized by this as any real child would be if such a situation occurred in their lifetime. Mei gets upset and throws a temper tantrum; Satsuki loses patience and lashes out at her sister. Later Mei sets off for her mother's hopsital, igniting an intense yet understated climax where Satsuki and everyone else around the neighborhood tries to search for the missing youngster. Of course, everything turns out happily, but not before these emotionally charged sequences pry tears from the viewer's eyes.

      This mixture of real-life situations, emotions, and magical discoveries found in your nearest back yard make MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO feel authentic (even with its fantasy elements). One cannot help but find this quality in any of Miyazaki's films, this one included.

      Not only is MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO beautiful as a story, it's gorgeous as a movie. The backgrounds are lavishly detailed and many of the sequences literally overflow with imagination, especially the thrilling setpiece where Totoro, the children, and his companions use their energy to create a giant camphor tree and then fly through the night air on a spinning top, bellowing all the while. While the animation doesn't have the flashy, high-tech computer graphics we commonly see in cartoons today, its simplicity and charm compliment the (mostly) lighthearted tone perfectly. (I don't know how MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO would have looked if done with computer graphics, but I doubt it wouldn't feel the same as admiring the immense effort put into every cel and background painting as we see in the finished film.)

      Once again, Joe Hisaishi supplies a very memorable score which recaptures the childlike innocence and wonder we see in many of the sequences; the theme for Totoro himself is infectiously catchy as is the bouncy march song over the opening credits. And while it is sparsely used (and sometimes not as grand sounding as his later scores), Hisaishi's music, whenever we hear it, is a fitting accompaniment to the movie.

      The movie was originally dubbed into English by Carl Macek and his infamous company, Streamline Pictures in 1993. Believe it or not, this was one of the "best" dubs they've ever produced, with everyone involved, particularly Lisa Michelson and Cheryl Chase as Satsuki and Mei, turning in very fine performances. As Disney has acquired the rights for Ghibli's movies, though, it was inevitable that they would produce their own version. Many longtime fans of the former version were furious, declaring that the Disney version is an abomination of something from their childhood. However, I beg to differ. As someone who fell in love with TOTORO with the Mecak version, I have to say that this new Disney production is entertaining in its own right. The script is a fresh new translation from the original Japanese (clarifying the origin of Totoro's name), and remains faithful to the meaning of Miyazaki's screenplay, despite a few line changes here and there (nothing major, though). Script translators Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt are clearly Miyazaki scholars -- they've adapted every script for the dubs since KIKI, MONONOKE, and LAPUTA (all of which were handled very well by Jack Fletcher).

      At first, I was a little worried about hearing Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei, but both ended up captivating me from the start; personally, I think it was great for Disney to cast two actual sisters to play the young girls--it helps their chemistry come alive. Elle is actually the juicier of the two, although that's mainly because she's blessed with a great role to begin with. That isn't to discredit Dakota, though; my only quibble is that she underplays some of the more emotional scenes toward the end, but otherwise I have no problems with her performance. The only issues is that neither are Lisa nor Cheryl, but that's just it: they are bringing their OWN interpretations to these characters, not copying the originals. The other actors, including a warm, understated Tim Daly, and delightful Lea Salonga provide similarly top quality work. My favorite performances? Pat Carroll, displaying maternal charm and whimsy as Granny (not sounding anything like her most-famous role, Ursula from THE LITTLE MERMAID), and Frank Welker, who does outstanding vocal foley for both Totoro and the Cat Bus.

      Probably the only (minor) false note of Disney's dub is in the handling of the opening and ending songs. The translated lyrics are the same as in the FOX version, but the singer is different. Unlike the warm tones of the nameless singer who delivered "Hey Let's Go" and the showclosing "Totoro", respectively, these songs are instead handled by one Sonya Isaacs. Her voice is competent enough and she hits high notes appropriately, but her approach to the opening song has more of a "gung-ho" attitude and as such, is a bit less charming. She does fare a little better in the ending song, particularly in the bits that she harmonizes parts of the last couple of verses. One other difference is that the songs sound more crisper and vibrant in the new dub but come across as somewhat scratchy-sounding in the older one. So, basically, there are pros and cons to both versions: one is more soothing but more "old" in terms of clarity, while the other offers technical improvements but not so much on the singing end.

      Otherwise, however, there really aren't any major quibbles I can find with Disney's dub of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. There is no denying that the FOX dub is a classic of its time, but the newer reinterpretation is by no means a disservice. While the arguments over which version is superior may rage on until the very bitter end, it's obvious that the creators of both dubs are fans of Miyazaki, and it shows in both takes. Each takes their own approach to the story, and are neither better nor worse. They simply are what they are.

      The initial release of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO was a pan & scan DVD which contains only the Streamline dub and zero extras. Years later we saw a two-disc DVD set from which provided a remastered widescreen presentation of the film as well as the original Japanese language track. Now the film has been brought to BD alongside the Miyazaki collection. The Fox dub is still not there, sadly, but on the flip side, the content of extras are great (ported over from Disney's recent 2010 repackaging of the movie) and the picture quality is magnificent -- this is the best TOTORO has ever looked, period.

      Either way, however, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is far from just another kid's story. With a little bit of luck, grown-ups (and those who consider themselves too "sophisticated" for cartoons) will enjoy it too.

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    • Laputa - Castle In The Sky (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 04:27

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      • "Excellent dubbing (Disney's version)"
      • "Terrific movie"

      Disadvantages

      • "Streamline Tokuma dub is REALLY BAD"

      Fantastic animated adventure — one of Miyazaki's greatest!

      Having scored a box office success with NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, Hayao Miyazaki was on his way to becoming a respected animator in his native country of Japan. Yet this was only the beginning; with the help of Isao Takahata, Miyazaki enlisted the backing of their financial distributor, Tokuma Shoten, to establish their own animation company, known today as Studio Ghibli. Under this new facility, Miyazaki directed his third feature--and the first to be produced under the "Ghibli" banner - a rollicking, fast-paced action-adventure tale called LAPUTA: THE CASTLE IN THE SKY. The basis for the film's title is derived from Jonathan Swift's famous book "Gulliver's Travels", in which there is a chapter dedicated to floating islands bearing the name "Laputa". But wait a minute--"Laputa" is an offensive phrase in Spanish. Swift was aware of this when he wrote his book, but Miyazaki wasn't. It did cause for an obstacle in bringing the film stateside, though, hence it was decided to re-title the film as just CASTLE IN THE SKY for its North American release. (So this is what I will be referring the film as from this point on.) Initially, the film wasn't as financially successful as NAUSICAA in its Japanese debut, proving to be something of a box office disappointment. But CASTLE IN THE SKY has nonetheless earned its legion of fans over the years and is today hailed as a classic... and rightfully so.

      For viewers who may be more familiar with Miyazaki's later work, such as PRINCESS MONONOKE, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, and even SPIRITED AWAY, CASTLE IN THE SKY might seem more like a "simplistic" good vs. evil fairy tale, and it unashamedly is. Its characters are based on "archetypes" and are consequently not as multi-layered as the aforementioned films. That said, the film maintains all the ingredients for the kind of timeless classic Miyazaki is capable of:

      Breathtaking animation? Check.

      A wondrous musical score? Check.

      A solid and intriguing plot? Check.

      An aural of warmth and wonder? Check.

      Memorable characters (despite the aforementioned issue)? Check.

      So in short, one can easily pinpoint how this movie differs from most of Miyazaki's output, but there's so much to appreciate in CASTLE IN THE SKY that one would be hard-pressed to dismiss it.

      The film begins with a bang, literally, when a magnificent airship is attacked by a gang of "sky pirates" and their leader, a wizened but still vigorous woman named Dola. The pirates are in search of the airship's prisoner, a lonely little girl who has been taken away from her home. Her name is Sheeta, and she possesses a crystal that contains mysterious powers. Just when they are about to grab her, she escapes by climbing outside her cabin and dropping through the clouds. (All of this, before the opening credits!) As she falls, the crystal around her neck sparkles to life, and Sheeta literally floats down from the sky, landing safely into the arms of Pazu, a boy her own age who works as a miner.

      When she stirs from unconsciousness, Sheeta learns that Pazu is an instant friend and eager to help her in any situation. But the genial youth has a tragic burden on his shoulders: his late father once discovered a mysterious floating island named "Laputa" and took a picture of it while astride an airship, but nobody except Pazu believes it exists. As further proof, he shows Sheeta a book which contains further evidence of Laputa, including its people and supposed treasures. (In the original Japanese version, this is, in fact, "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift, but in the Disney-produced English language version, it is simply his father's journal.) He is eager to clear his father's tarnished name by building an airplane to discover Laputa for himself. Just then, however, the two find themselves on the run from Dola and her sky pirates (which include a trio of burly but not very smart or brutish "boys" who refer to Dola as "mom", when the latter always chides them, "Call me Captain!"). After a thrilling chase on a train chugging over a steep chasm, Pazu and Sheeta escape into the mines where they meet a kindly old man named Uncle Pom, who "speaks" to the rocks underground--he tells them that Sheeta's crystal is a long forgotten mineral (volucite in the original, aetherium in the English version) that was used to empower the island of Laputa. If Sheeta's crystal is misused, he warns, the world will suffer great unhappiness. Pazu and Sheeta set off again, only to be captured by military soldiers under the command of the shady Colonel Muska, who, it turns out, is also interested in Sheeta's crystal and will stop at nothing to unlock its darkest secrets. In a surprising turn of events, Pazu is sent back home, where he finds Dola and her gang; these guys transition into true allies as they help Pazu rescue Sheeta and set off in search of Laputa before Muska does.

      It's not hard to guess how the story is going to turn out, but Miyazaki nonetheless manages to cram in enough interesting plot points, depth, and momentum to keep audiences interested for two full hours. Part of this aspires to how he designs the world of CASTLE IN THE SKY. Aside from settings underground, above ground, and, well, above the clouds, the artwork is rich with detail and imagination. From Pazu's simplistic hometown to the haunting caverns with shimmering rocks, from the dreary interiors of the army's stronghold to the titular structure itself, everything is as fully realized and gorgeously rendered as any of Miyazaki's other worlds. Contrasting the primitive settings are the technological marvels that are very reminiscent of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. There are airships (from the ominously powerful, zeppelin-like Goliath that the army provides, and a much more run-down, comical craft called Tiger Moth), dragon-fly shaped flight-crafts called "flapters", trains, and robots. Yep, robots. But don't worry, these robots are not the kind of shapeshifting, bulky, heavily armored giants one would expect to see from, say, Transformers, but rather, they are more simplistic in design. These robots are extremely powerful and can decimate anything with massive laser blasts, but at heart, they are gentle creatures who only serve to look out for remnants of the citizens of its home country.

      Speaking of which, Miyazaki's love for nature is also highlighted in this film: in the latter half of the story, when our protagonists finally find Laputa, the wonders it holds are similarly fascinating. At its heart-a grassy garden with beautiful plants, and a gargantuan tree serving as its center. The only creatures who dwell there are the aforementioned robots as well as birds and little animals (in fact, the robots who protect the garden seem to be especially fond of the creatures). In what may also be an amusing bonus, fox-squirrels from NAUSICAA (probably Teto's cousins) make a cameo appearance in this very scene.

      Adding to the charm are the characters which populate this tale; Dola, in particular, is arguably the most memorable of the cast. An initially gruff and bossy elder, mainly driven by greed, is actually softhearted (however hard she tries to show otherwise), and it is endearing to see her gradually transition from a potentially villainous character to a true ally. (This is a common trait of most Miyazaki films.) Impeccably voiced by Cloris Leachman in the Disney dub, she provides for the funniest moments in the picture, as do her boys, the brash but shy Louie (Mandy "Inigo Montoya" Pantinkin), burly Charles aka Shalulu (Mike "Friar Tuck" McShane), and freckle-faced Henri (Andy Dick). One particularly hilarious scene involves a street brawl between the pirate boys and Pazu's boss, in which both men compare their muscles before rushing into a punching match (this can be seen as a somewhat "cartoonish" moment in the film, but not at all to its detriment). In another, all three become fascinated with the sweet-natured Sheeta, requesting her to bake desserts and even resorting to helping her out in the gully... or rather, competing to do so. (Videogame fans should also notice that a character on Dola's ship bears an uncanny resemblance to Dr. Eggman/Robotnik. This is because the creator of SONIC was inspired by this film.)

      Muska also deserves mention, mainly because he serves as the major antagonist of the film. Most Miyazaki features are often devoid of a villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and that's what makes Muska stand out--he is obsessed with power and is simply evil personified. He's manipulative, smooth, sly, and dangerously treacherous--when Muska unveils his true colors, he becomes totally psychopathic and ruthless. Like Dola, he commands every scene he's in with a deliciously villainous aura and is all the more memorable for it. In what may be a clever casting choice, his voice is supplied by Mark Hamill, who has had quite a career in voice acting after STAR WARS. It helps, too, that the character is a dead ringer for the former Jedi Knight. Even the supporting players, from the kindly Uncle Pom, to the army soldiers (including their easily exasperated but not very intelligent General), Pazu's boss, and even the high-pitched little girl who chases a pig out of a house are all memorably defined. In fact, the supporting cast is so strong that the lead characters, Pazu and Sheeta (as played by James van der Beek and Anna Paquin, respectively), may seem like the least interesting characters in comparison. They're likeable, skillful, and loyal, and develop a very nice relationship. But that's really all they really are. That said, it really is not a deal-breaker--and other than that, both are very much worth rooting for. (It is also to Miyazaki's credit that, even though Sheeta does have to be rescued, she still manages to show some backbone.)

      Viewers spoiled by the more lavish, flashy backgrounds found in PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY may find the visuals in CASTLE IN THE SKY somewhat dated, as the film was, after all, animated more than twenty five years ago. As such, there are some places in which the animation comes across as a bit limited. Frankly, however, compared to many other films produced in this era, the actual artwork is phenomenal, the character designs are classic Miyazaki, and every frame is lovingly crafted with skill, detail, and wonder. The animation is all the more spectacular during the action set pieces of the film, which are every bit as exciting and thrilling as a George Lucas/Steven Spielberg blockbuster... perhaps even more so.

      The major attraction to CASTLE IN THE SKY, however, is in its musical score, as provided by Joe Hisaishi. The main theme for the title structure is haunting and melancholy, and the rest of the pieces have a distinctively beautiful style that the composer has become synonymous for. Every note of this score enhances the images onscreen and inject the overall tale with a quality that goes above and beyond its requirements. Interestingly, the score has also become a major source of debate for many fans of the film. The original Japanese version has a rather sparse approach to its music, totally contributing to about 45 minutes of the overall film. It's also obvious that the score was produced electronically, as there are certain cues that come across as somewhat dated in their gratingly synthy nature. In the Disney-produced English version, Joe Hisaishi was commissioned to extend and rework his score for a full performance with a symphony orchestra. A lot of purists have detested this new score vehemently, declaring that it only succeeds in destroying the film, yet anyone unfamiliar with the original score won't even notice. But it ultimately doesn't matter whether this new score was composed to appeal to audiences uncomfortable with lengthy periods of silence (as one executive declared), or if it was a case of Hisaishi trying to improve his work. What really counts is that the new score is simply phenomenal; the tunes are every bit as vibrant, and the crisply recorded quality of the orchestra lends a very fresh, epic tone to CASTLE IN THE SKY. There are many scenes in the film which are arguably much more powerful with the new score, particularly an initially acapella choir piece at the end of the picture (which is abruptly cut short); in this new version the orchestra gradually crescendos as the piece reaches its climax. It's the sort of music that would make John Williams blush.

      Touching on Disney's English version (produced in 1998 but delayed until 2003), it is admittingly a much more boisterous interpretation as opposed to the more subdued take from the original, but that doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, for the most part, Disney's version excels in many areas, and at times, rivals the original. As mentioned, Hamill and Leachman play their roles perfectly and arguably the biggest hitters in the whole show -- both are arguably among the best performances of any Ghibli dubs. Patinkin, McShane, and Dick all sound like they're having a great time with their parts, and most of the other actors such as Jim Cummings as the General, Richard Dysart as the kindly Uncle Pom, and the ubiquitous Tress MacNeille in a memorable cameo as the wife of Pazu's boss all turn in fine performances. The script is also well written, with lots of lively exchanges and sounds smooth throughout. As with KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, scriptwriters John Semper and Jack Fletcher seize opportunities to include some extra lines of incidental dialogue. Sometimes this approach works well: the pirates, for instance, are much more fleshed out with the banter supplied to them, and there's a very amusing moment where Sheeta tries to talk like a pirate to a disgruntled Dola. Both of these are harmless little bits which expand on the character interaction of the film. That said, there are some places where Semper and Fletcher do go overboard, such as Pazu and Sheeta commenting on things the audience can clearly see when they explore Laputa in the latter half of the film. None of which are deal breakers by any means, but they seem a bit like much. However, I do have at least one major criticism about the adaptation, and that may be the alteration of the last part of Sheeta's speech to Muska toward the end of the film. I personally think it would have worked much better if Disney had left it as "you can't survive from Mother Earth", as the replacement "the world cannot live without love" feels out of place. That said, it's really the only false note of an otherwise fluently written adaptation script. Van der Beek and Paquin do decent jobs overall as Pazu and Sheeta, but it should be known that both sound more like teenagers as opposed to their more higher-pitched counterparts in the Japanese version. Neither can be considered ideal choices for their roles or the strongest in the dub, but I do have to commend James for the enthusiasm that he brings to his part (and not being so shrieky) and Paquin, although sometimes inconsistent in her delivery, otherwise acquits herself fairly well. (The somewhat mixed-up New Zealand/Canadian accent she speaks with actually works in favor of her character, too, even though its shifts from dialect to dialect can be jarring at times.) In short, the dub may be too jarring for those who grew up on the original version, but for all its minor faults, Disney's version is still a worthwhile dub in its own right, and one that I can recommend wholeheartedly to anyone willing to give dubs a chance.

      For the record, I also liked the Japanese version, but it's not better or worse than Disney's, only different. In short, both are great entertainments, but getting the most out of one or the other may depend on what you bring with you to it. And both are miles better than the hideous '80s JAL dub, which, in all fairness, is more "accurate", but has some of the worst voice acting I've ever listened to. Though the leads sound younger in this older dub, neither of their actresses turn in anything of the way of an inspired performance and are actually more lifeless compared even to James and Anna. No offense to Barbara Goodson or Lara Cody; both are capable voice actresses, but because the older dub was produced in such a quick time, neither were able to provide their characters with any spark. The supporting cast fares even worse, with Rachel Vanowen screaming with no charisma as Dola, Dave Mallow, Barry Stigler, and Eddie Frierson all sounding embarrassingly cartoonish and hokey as her sons, while Uncle Pom sounds like a goofy cartoon character. Muska is the real reason the older dub spirals uncontrollably to Earth, though. With all apologies to the late Jeff Winkless, his Muska sounds like he's cold reading from the script with zero charisma and no menace. He sounds like an emotionless robot, and is saddled with even worse dialogue. Voices aside, the dialogue is not very well written either, with a lot of phrases that sound choppy, bizarre, awkward, and just laughable. Even the one asset that it doesn't alter the last part of Sheeta's speech isn't enough to counter for all its other faults. (The fact that Disney recently reissued their dub WITHOUT the newer score and extra chatter for U.S. audiences also nullifies the argument that this was the only dub to use the original Japanese sound effects and music.) In short, it's not worth the trouble of importing the Japanese DVD just to hear this older dub unless you're a diehard fan who happened to hear it long ago.

      CASTLE IN THE SKY took a bafflingly long time to be released outside its home country of Japan, with varying qualities of DVD releases. Recently, however, the film has been brought to BluRay along with a combo DVD pack, which viewers in the UK will probably have their hands on with by now. The movie looks fantastic on BluRay, the colors especially rich and vibrant. It is easily superior to the DVD transfers, which, although not bad, suffered from a lot of ghosting and edge enhancement issues. There is also a smattering of more extras: there are interviews from Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki as well as the U.S. featurette in which the English voice cast from the Disney dub demonstrate their vocal acting skills. The meatiest extra is arguably a 12 minute long "promotion" video from 1986, in which we get a glimpse at a younger Miyazaki as well as his production staff. We even get to see the creative talents behind the film at work.

      The Japanese version is offered in a lossless stereo mix, while the English version gets a 5.1 lossless channel. For fans who would rather hear it in English, though, it should be noted that this release of the Disney dub makes a few changes. The extra dialogue is all but dialed out of the BD remix, for instance, and in the U.S. release, the rescore is also unfortunately omitted, reverting back to the original Japanese mix. This also has the unintentional effect of making Disney's dub sound more empty than it actually is. Thankfully on the UK BD, the rescore is still intact. (For those who want the Disney dub uncut, it's still on the DVD.)

      All in all, CASTLE IN THE SKY is a mesmerizing, thrilling, funny, and ultimately delightful film that could very well be considered Miyazaki's most accessible film. Even if the plot is predictable, it is told with skill and manages to keep one intrigued. Its characters are endearing, it looks great, even after all these years, and it is simply "a joy to watch" (as the New York Times quote describes.) Be sure to put this film on your "must-see" list if you're going to discover Miyazaki--it's one of his best films ever, and I highly recommend it.

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    • Dreamscape (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 02:18

      Advantages

      • "Solid performances"
      • "The dream sequences"
      • "Kate Capshaw isn't irritating (YAY!)"
      • "Modestly enjoyable"

      Disadvantages

      • "Unintentionally funny bits"
      • "Ineffective love story"
      • "Cheap production values"
      • "Cheesy special effects"

      A precursor to INCEPTION? Probably not, but interesting nonetheless (if cheesy at times)

      I don't know if Christopher Nolan had inspiration from this unashamedly cheesy (albeit entertaining) sci-fi flick when he made INCEPTION, but the concept in DREAMSCAPE is not all that different from his later film. Imagine entering another person's subconscious dream and saving them from a terrible fate, facing monsters from their worst imaginations, and, perhaps most disturbingly, kill them? That's the role that Dennis Quaid as a cynical, gambling psychic gets involved with. Kate Capshaw, surprisingly, isn't annoying in the least as the scientist of his "desires." The film's real fun is in exploring the dream sequences. Campy though they may be, there is something darkly amusing and fun about seeing fake, stop-motion snake monsters pursuing our heroes through similarly trippy scenery like staircases suspended in space, runaway trains, a city all but crushed by nuclear technology, and even on skyscrapers. Christopher Plummer portrays the film's major villain; a government official who hires a similarly psychopathic "psychic" (played disturbingly well by David Patrick Kelly) to deal with his "friend", the president (Eddie Albert). The best I can say about this movie is that Plummer plays it believably straight, providing enough gravity to what could have otherwise been a typical B-movie. Max von Sydow also does well as the kind scientist who originated the whole "dream traveling" setup. However, DREAMSCAPE's entertainment value is hindered by its low-budget production values (the "snake man" scenes are pretty laughable at best) and a love story that doesn't really connect. All in all, DREAMSCAPE succeeds as primary fodder for fans of this kind of escapist, low-budget entertainment, but little more.

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    • Ponyo (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 02:12

      Advantages

      • "Interesting characters"
      • "Good dub"
      • "Beautiful music"
      • "Luscious artwork"

      Disadvantages

      • "Somewhat sluggish pace"
      • "Minor flaws in dub"
      • "Disappointing ending"

      Miyazaki does "The Little Mermaid" -- sort of.

      It has been widely agreed that Hayao Miyazaki is a master at his craft when it comes to combining rich animation with thoughtful storylines and similarly imaginative characters. His movies, from NAUSICAA, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, CASTLE IN THE SKY, and PRINCESS MONONOKE are all not only gorgeously rendered in terms of art, but in terms of moviemaking as well. Can this man do no wrong? Not really, but it is impossible to expect everyone of his movies to always be five star marvels. His newest film, PONYO, an unashamedly family-friendly tale of a "goldfish out of water", is as lushly animated and alive with interesting characters as you would expect... and yet this is the first film of his which treads into "lesser" territory. Don't get me wrong, PONYO is not a bad movie by any means. As mentioned, it is a sight for the eyes and is as charming and adorable as TOTORO and KIKI. The problem is that the story doesn't stay afloat to satisfy anyone eager for another engrossing, in-depth plot.

      It starts out on a moonlit night underwater, in which we see one Fujimoto, a mysterious (and somewhat neurotic) magician on the prow of his submarine, metamorphosizing plankton into live-size jellyfish. During this, a cute little goldfish (with the head of a human) swims out of his craft and takes a forbidden voyage to the "human world". Before you know it, she finds herself in the arms of Sosuke, a little boy (who bears a strange resemblance to Kanta from TOTORO but is more like Pazu from CASTLE; interestingly, the director created him after his own son) who finds himself quite taken with her. What begins is a variation of the "boy gets goldfish-struggles to hide goldfish-loses goldfish" scenario. This is the best part of the entire movie, in which it showcases Miyazaki's fascination with childlike discovery and the struggles of keeping a new friend a secret. It should be interesting to note that he never butts heads with his mother about this.

      At this point I am going to take a break and talk about who is my favorite character in the movie--Lisa, the mother of Sosuke. She's caring, kind, and very supportive of her son, but also has a bit of an aggravated temper, particularly when she gets annoyed with her seafaring husband, Koichi, for continually staying out at sea instead of keeping his promise to return home. In one memorable and hilarious scene, where Sosuke is sending a flash signal from the front porch of his house, an incensed Lisa makes no secret showing her disdain for her husband staying away from his family (Sosuke, naturally, softens the whole thing by sending a friendlier message after seeing a light show from his father's ship). She is also a VERY reckless driver, as witnessed in the scenes where she narrowly zooms her car across a dock where a ship is about to pull in. It helps, too, that I happen to have a parent named Lisa, who is pretty much the same person (save for the driving part).

      Anyway, Fujimoto takes the goldfish (whom Sosuke has named Ponyo) back to his underwater farm and tries to talk her into staying away from humans. Ponyo, however, who has taken a liking to Sosuke's ham sandwich (and tasted his human blood from a cut on his finger) insists on becoming human. So, of course, she breaks into her father's secret chamber and drinks his magic elixir. Before you know it, Ponyo becomes a hyperactive four-year old with short crimson hair (the spitting image of Mei from TOTORO) with magic powers; she rides on an oversized tsunami of fish across the ocean in search of Sosuke, sending a hurricane all over the entire town. (This sequence, in which gargantuan ocean waves threaten to swallow Sosuke and Lisa's car as they blaze toward their home on a cliff, is the most exciting in the entire movie.) The storm ends when Ponyo finally finds Sosuke and is subsequently taken in by Lisa.

      It is after this moment, unfortunately, when PONYO starts to run out of momentum. Although the scenes where Ponyo and Sosuke share a dinner of ham and noodles are cute and funny, many of the subsequent sequences slide into somewhat sluggish territory. The focal point of the plot is when environmentalist Fujimoto and his wife, a diaphanous sea-goddess named Gran Mamare (with the ability to shift from a titanic giant into a human sized woman) decide to test both Ponyo and Sosuke to see if the youngsters' love can save the entire planet, which, at this point, is in danger of becoming totally enveloped by water (the moon having grown to enormous size and satellites drifting into the ocean). Using a toy boat (oversized by Ponyo's magic), the two youngsters set out across their world, now transformed into an underwater aquarium, complete with gargantuan fish in search of Sosuke's mother. These scenes are still a lot of fun, especially when they are stopped by a fleet of friendly passengers, including a mother with her sickly baby.

      Naturally, one would expect a finale of tension and real trauma to cap off such a story, and that is where PONYO finally takes on water; the actual ending is both anti-climactic and undermines the joy and imagination that came before. It really is a shame, too, because for the opening hour and fifteen or so minutes, PONYO is the embodiment of a child's watery fantasy captured on film. In fact, the entire aura of PONYO feels like a fairy tale for children, and the movie plays out as such, and it is disappointing to discover that it doesn't finish as strongly as it starts.

      On a technical level, PONYO cannot be faulted. The animation is absolutely gorgeous to look at, produced entirely without a single shot of computer-generated-imagery, and naturally Joe Hisaishi provides us with yet another breathtaking musical score; the best moments being the rousing sequences underwater, accompanied by a chorus and a soprano voice. And the backgrounds are lovingly painted and detailed as any other Ghibli movies.

      Having proved themselves worthy on translating and dubbing Ghibli's previous movies into English with top-quality results, Disney Studios and Pixar once again provide an English translation (courtesy of E.T.'s Melissa Mathison) and a mostly capable cast of actors. Compared to most of their other dubs, though, I do have some issues, although in all fairness, not enough to discourage anyone from giving it a view. Frankie Jonas (youngest member of the Jonas Brothers) is surprisingly good as Sosuke, sounding very natural and believable throughout. Noah Cyrus (younger sister of Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana) as Ponyo, on the other hand, sometimes goes overboard in shouting her lines before eventually settling down toward the end. Leads aside, the rest of the cast includes Liam Neeson as the overprotective Fujimoto (who manages himself unsurprisingly well in the character), Cate Blanchett as Gran Mamare (in a reverberated voice and omnipresent tone which is not much different from her Galadriel in THE LORD OF THE RINGS), Matt Damon as Sosuke's father Koichi (who is good but nothing to write home about), and Tina Fey as Lisa. Of them, Fey is the best voice in the entire cast, imbuing the character with just the right amount of spirit and personality. Her scenes with Sosuke show real chemistry. On the other hand, Cloris Leachman, who was spectacular as Dola in CASTLE IN THE SKY, is disappointingly wasted as one of three handicapped elderly women (she barely has any lines!), who are also voiced by Betty White and Lily Tomlin. Of them, only Tomlin's character, a cantankerous woman named Toki, shows any real personality, but if I were casting the movie, I'd switch Tomlin with Leachman. The script adaptation flows well for the most part, although the inclusion of Japanese honorifics, like "sensei" and "san" feel somewhat out of place for a dub that's supposed to be targeted toward a wider audience. Probably the only really jarring drawback of the dub is a blasty techno-remix of the film's catchy (but ridiculously repetitive) title song, which thankfully doesn't occur until midway through the closing credits. Considering that the rest of the movie features a lovely score and a soprano-belted opera number at the beginning, it's a very curious, unfortunate marketing ploy. Compared to Disney's other dubs for Ghibli, this one is less seamless, but it still does its job well for the most part.

      On the whole, PONYO is a good film; a fine piece of animated work which is perfect for youngsters and family audiences. Due to the loss of momentum toward the end, though, it falls far short of classic status. Since Miyazaki at his least is still better than a majority of other animated films, though, I'll be generous and give PONYO a full star recommendation, because any feature of his is still very much worth watching.

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    • Masters of the Universe (DVD) / DVD / 1 Reading / 1 Rating
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      24.09.2014 01:22
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • " and Billy Barty"
      • " Meg Foster"
      • "Great turns from Frank Langella"
      • "Exciting at times"

      Disadvantages

      • "Unnecessary "modern-day Earth" subplot"
      • "Threadbare story"
      • "Cheesy and unintentionally funny dialogue"
      • "Unimpressive performances by the other actors"

      In serious need of the power of Greyskull.

      Based very heavily on a toyline from Mattel (which in turn spawned a TV show), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE aspires to be a fun, solid action sci-fi flick... and it could have very well achieved its goal if not for some unfortunate crippling flaws. The movie looks great in Eternia, but budget cuts do hamper the look of the film at times, making it look cheap and tacky. The film especially derails when He Man and his companions are taken to modern-day Earth. Here the film drags torturously and throws in an unnecessary subplot involving an Earthling teenager (Courteney Cox) and a crusty police officer. But perhaps the biggest failing is that the story is very lacking in depth and substance. Matters are not really helped by the dialogue or direction, which results for some unintentionally funny bits that sabotage the potential atmosphere. The only highlight of this otherwise cheesy flick is Frank Langella's performance as the evil Skeletor. Completely unrecognizable in makeup, he obviously relishes his part and gives his all (unfortunately some of his lines DO border on cheesy, which is a bit of a problem, but the effort he provides earns him points). Meg Foster is also icily cold as his aide-de-camp EvilLynne. Billy Barty has a fun role as a dwarf hero, but the other actors rarely impress. Dolph Lundgren, although bearing a resemblance to his toy counterpart, is both wooden and forgettable as He-Man. All in all, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE is at least fair for unintentional humor and hamminess on Langella's part, but it should have been a much better film, and I cannot recommend it.

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    • Krull (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 01:12

      Advantages

      • "Great music"
      • "Freddie Jones' performance"

      Disadvantages

      • Boring
      • "Even worse acting"
      • "Atrocious dialogue"
      • "Poorly paced and staged"
      • "Cliche and overblown"

      Trainwreck fantasy in need of better treatment.

      The most compelling scene in KRULL is one where an old man visits an old widow in an enlarged spider's web. The ideas behind that scene bring a lot of potential for a story that would have been far more intriguing than everything else about this movie, which is not something that I, as a fantasy fan, would ever have dreamed of saying. Released during the same year as RETURN OF THE JEDI, KRULL is a hodgepodge of sci-fi/fantasy concepts, few of which interest (a fortress that teleports at daylight as well as the aforementioned spider scene) and many others of which pull every cliche from the book. It tries to be so many things (but mostly it's a "hero must rescue his bride from a monster" plot) that it ultimately backfires. Director Peter Yates obviously bit off more than he could chew with the material, and was obviously the wrong person for the job. His picture unfolds at a torturously SLOW pace, and even the action sequences are detaching and depressingly unexciting... mainly because its characters are all basic cardboard cutouts with zero personality. I did like Freddie Jones' performance and James Horner's bombastic if derivative score, but these two elements cannot save this picture. The dialogue is both cheesy and laughable and the acting is depressingly terrible, including a then unknown Liam Neeson, who has done far better elsewhere. Ken Marshall is boring (and I mean BORING with a capital B) as the hero and Lysette Anthony (whose voice was dubbed for bizarre reasons) is even worse as the damsel in distress. I really hate to come down on a movie that has a cult following, but I just couldn't get engaged with KRULL, and so I cannot recommend it. Despite the occasional moment of visual intrigue, this film is both boring and an ambitious failure in every regard, mainly because it was made by all the wrong people. Get a better cast and crew and this would have been something unique. Instead it's just a waste of time and talent. Too bad.

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    • More +
      24.09.2014 01:08
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Made in England"
      • "Healthy alternative dog treat"
      • "100% fish-skins"
      • "No additives whatsoever."

      Disadvantages

      • " A tad smelly"
      • Expensive

      My dogs love sea Jerkies treats, I love the fact the treats are healthy

      Many dog treats available in supermarkets and pet shops contain artificial colourings and all manner of additives to make them the equivalent of sweeties to children.

      On voicing my concerns to the vets, Fish-4-dogs Sea Jerkies was their recommendation.
      They stocked a variety of those treats, some in the form of 2 to 3-inch plaits and some in the form of cubes.

      I initially purchased the cube shaped jerkies to see if my two dogs would enjoy them in preference to the less healthy options.

      Cost
      ****
      100g bags can be purchased for £3.30 on line at www.fish4dogs.com. Postage free. It is however, cheaper to buy in bulk.
      I paid £2.50 for a 100g pack at the vets. The platted ones, called ‘Fish-Twists,’ are a little more expensive, for these I paid £3.08 a pack.


      Description.
      *********
      Sea Jerkies are low calorie, gluten and grain free, cubes of oven-dried fish skins, with no added colourings or artificial preservatives. Simply 100% fish-skins and nothing else .

      They are made by pressing fish skins into approximately 25mm cubes and oven drying them at very low temperatures for many hours; and although of a hard texture, do not take a great deal of effort to crumble and consume by our canine pals, yet at the same time hard enough to attack any tartar on the teeth.

      Be warned though, for a minute or so, whilst a cube is being consumed, the room takes on the feint aroma of Billingsgate fish-market.

      My dog’s unanimous opinion.
      ************************
      Delicious and moreish.

      My opinion
      *********
      At first both my dogs were cautious about taking a jerky cube from my hand...and gave it the once over with their noses before taking it; but when in their mouths and having savoured their first taste, their tails began registering approval.

      Even though the cubes might seem too large for small dogs to handle, my Yorkie had no trouble whatsoever eating the jerky, it took her about three minutes to eat the whole cube; my collie cross just half a minute.

      The smell of fish lingered on their breaths for a short while, but not long enough to necessitate flinging open the windows.

      I like the fact that the sea jerkies are made in England, simply because there has recently been major concerns over jerkies containing a dangerous additive made, I believe, in an Eastern country.

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    • Frozen (DVD) (2014) / DVD / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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      24.09.2014 01:07

      Advantages

      • "Great CG animation and music (mostly)"
      • "Fully fleshed characters and plot twists"
      • "Surprisingly mature take on a classic story"

      Disadvantages

      • "A bit too much comedy in places"

      Exceeds frozen expectations.

      I have to admit I almost feel a little embarrassed giving FROZEN my highest rating. However, in spite of my reservations about this retelling -- er, Disneyfication -- of Hans Christian Andersen's SNOW QUEEN -- being a CG film and not a traditional one (the latter format could have been used just as effectively for a film like this) -- FROZEN is surprisingly really good. Which is not something I was expecting to say given how disappointed I was with TANGLED. However, FROZEN earns my highest rating for the following reasons.

      While this is a "Disneyfied" SNOW QUEEN, it's not done in the manner one would normally expect. This is arguably a darker, edgier re-imagining; the title queen in this story is Elsa, one of two sisters whose primary motivation for causing eternal winter is not out of outright evil, but for more complex issues. The whole conflict starts off because of an accident that traumatized her and her sister, Anna, in childhood, leading the girl to become emotionally distant. This lends a surprisingly more "adult" angle to the story.

      But the best part about FROZEN is how Disney turns two of its tried and true cliches completely on its heels. There IS a handsome prince, yes, and he does romance Anna, but not for the reasons one would expect. Furthermore, the climactic "act of true love" needed to break Elsa's spell isn't romantic, but sister related. It's because of this that FROZEN emerges as one of Disney's best fairy tales in a long time.

      The chemistry between the principal characters is also very well done, especially the sister dynamic between the more aloof, distant Elsa and the outgoing, socially awkward (but sweet-natured) Anna. Prince Hans, as mentioned, isn't the picture perfect figure you'd expect. If anything, the most interesting character has to be Kristoff, a somewhat grumpy ice hauler who grudgingly agrees to help Anna find her, but naturally he turns out to be a real soft-hearted gentleman. Naturally, this DOES give this film a "love triangle" angle, but to reveal how it is resolved would be the equivalent of giving spoilers.

      The music is also great, especially Elsa's charged ballad "Let it Go." (The only exception is a gospel-flavored song involving trolls, which isn't BAD by any means, it just struck me as out of place with the tone of the story.) Even the occasional comic relief (from a snowman and a mute elk) doesn't overpower the dramatic depth of the story. There ARE a few places where I think Disney could have toned down the laughs, though, but it's nowhere nearly as grating as in TANGLED.

      I'm not quite sure where FROZEN ranks in terms of Disney's all-time greatest films, but I WAS pleasantly charmed by it and it exceeded my expectations.

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    • secretsales.com / Online Shop / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
      More +
      24.09.2014 00:59

      Advantages

      • "product variety"
      • bargains
      • "great prices"
      • "top brands"
      • convenient

      Disadvantages

      • "limited product availability"
      • "can't exchange items"
      • "delivery time"

      Fun, efficient shopping at your fingertips

      Secret Sales is a great site for people who are too busy to make it out to shop with any frequency but love the browse-and-shop method of purchasing. Additionally, since the stores made available on a daily basis are limited in number, it's easy to target your interests and do a quick scroll-through to find what you like. While I enjoy shopping in physical stores, I often feel overwhelmed by the availability of every category of product and often end up leaving the store without purchasing any item. With Secret Sales, I can hone in on a category I want to focus on.

      There are a good variety of product offered on the site, many of high-quality with the occasional dud. It is easy to purchase a small haul and return unwanted items using a pre-paid Collect+ bar code.

      I have so far had satisfactory experiences with the customer support department. They seem to respond quickly and wish to keep the customer happy.

      I do wish, however, that there would be a fresh infusion of brands, as there are some stores that appear quite frequently and sell the same products every time. Though there are some brands I love to see on the site over and over, it would be great to have access to some newer designer brands.

      There have been several times in which I have tried to purchase--both on my computer and by smartphone--that I have run into some type of glitch or bug, and I was unable to complete my order, or (this just occurred today) purchase the Collect+ label, or to order an item using only vouchers.


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    • More +
      24.09.2014 00:13
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "lasts pretty well"
      • "adapts to skin tone"
      • non-greasy

      Disadvantages

      • "doesn't adapt 100% to skin tone"
      • "can settle into pores"

      A decent foundation for oily skin

      Max Factor Colour Adapt Foundation adapts to your individual skin tones to provide a flawless finish that is perfect for you. It's priced at £9.99.


      My thoughts
      The packaging of the foundation is not exactly great to look at, I htink it looks quite old fashioned actually! But it's very practical with a dispenser on top to make it quick and easy to use and also makes less mess.

      The foundation is quite thick and feels really creamy in texture. It's smooths on easily and doesn't dry too quick so you have time to blend it before it's set and won't budge. It feels quite light on my skin and not greasy or cakey or like it's clogging my pores.
      I do like the finish this gives me, it looks quite natural and it has a matte look so my skin doesn't look greasy after I've applied it which is always a worry when you have oily skin. I have the lightest shade which is called Creamy Ivory, and although it's not a perfect match for my skin I do think adapts slightly like it's supposed to, though it still never matches my skin perfectly!

      I would say this is a medium coverage foundation. It will conceal minor imperfections but for more serious ones like scars and massive red spots I do still need to use a concealer.
      It lasts pretty well on my skin, though I do find after about 5 hours it can start to sink into my pores and draw attention to them, but this seems to depend on the weather really, if it's cold it doesn't happen as much as in the warmer weather. Apart from that it stays on well and it's never rubbed off onto my clothes, but it's easy to remove when it comes to taking it off.


      Recommended?
      Yes, I would recommend this foundation if you want a medium coverage that is light on the skin and won't leave you looking greasy.

      Comments

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    • Quinoa / Recipe / 2 Readings / 2 Ratings
      More +
      23.09.2014 23:04
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "It is very healthy"
      • "It is quite easy to cook"
      • "This tastes very good"

      Disadvantages

      • "Some of the ingredients are expensive "

      Spiced quinoa with chicken

      SPICED QUINOA WITH CHICKEN

      Quinoa is a grain that is called a superfood and I like to eat it sometimes but it for me is not so nice as couscous or rice so I choose not to eat it very often. There are alot of recipes for quinoa but I think it is best to have basic flavours even if you have to use many different ingredients, this recipe uses quite a lot of ingredients but it is worth all of the effort because in the end the quinoa will be very delicious and have a nice curry taste.

      WHAT YOU NEED TO COOK THIS DISH

      2 tbsp peanut oil
      2 tsp curry powder, that is to your taste either mild or medium
      1 tbsp black mustard seeds
      2 tsp garam masala
      1 big onion, grated
      3 long green chillies with the seeds have been taken out, sliced thin
      210g quinoa
      110g green split peas
      750ml fresh chicken stock
      300g shredded cooked chicken
      80g shredded baby spinach leaves

      TO MAKE THE SPICED QUINOA WITH CHICKEN

      Rinse the quinoa thorough under cold running water and let the water run through for quite a long time to remove all of the bitter taste Sent from my iPhone
      Heat the peanut oil up in a large pan and then add the mustard seeds and cook them until they pop. Into the pot add the garam masala, curry powder, onion and green chillies then cook it until the onion has started to go brown all over. Pour the quinoa and the peas into the pan and stir it all so that the spices coat all of the peas and the grain.

      When you have done that you should add the stock and simmer it over a low cooking flame for about 20 minutes. After that time add the chicken and stir it through then heat again for another 5 minutes and then it is done and you should serve it immediate.

      5 Dooyoo Stars.

      Comments

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    • More +
      23.09.2014 22:47
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Stoped sneezing for short time"

      Disadvantages

      • "Not as effective as other sprays"
      • "Hard to use "

      Found it difficult to use

      As a hayfever sufferer,I have tried lots of things to help cure it Beconase Hayfever Nasal Spray being one of them.

      I have lost count as to how many different things I have tried now.This year my hay fever has been the worst it has ever been. I was chatting to a friend and she noticed my eyes which were just streaming - it looked like I was crying! It is just so annoying! She pulled the benconase hay fever nasal spray out of her bag to show me what she used for her hayfever.

      I found Beconase in my chemist - I had never used this before but was willing to give it a go. I don't usually like nasal sprays I just find it uncomfortable to use them for some reason. This spray was difficult to use - for me anyway, purely because I found it difficult to press the spay part, maybe there was something wrong with it or maybe it was just me I don't know.

      So, it is 2 sprays in each nostril, once in the morning and once in the evening every day until you feel like you no longer need it. To be honest, the spray did stop my nose from feeling really stuffy and controlled my sneezing for a while. But it did nothing for my eyes, they were still sore and watery.

      For me, I have had a few better treatments which have been more effective for my eyes plus the nasal spray wasn't the easiest so I wont be buying again.

      Comments

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    • More +
      23.09.2014 22:31
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Want to please"
      • Loyal
      • Clever
      • Beautiful

      Disadvantages

      • Hyper

      Great family dog

      The Springer is a fabulous dog, originally a hunting and retrieving dog they can still be found at the foot of many a hunter still today and are many's number one choice. They are very capable dogs and aim to please their masters at all times. They are biddable and can be rock solid if trained well. Traditionally the Springer Spaniel has a docked tail, Springers when hunting will regularly be sent into heavy cover, their tails can get caught on brambles and other such cover and the tails can be damaged or injured.

      Springers are the type of dog that do well with a job, once they know what is wanted and expected of them they will do anything to please their masters. They can be very hyper as pups and young dogs, every dog can really regardless of the breed, but some persistent training will have the Springer rock solid in no time.

      Their shaggy coats need to be brushed out daily to remove dirt and debris, and to prevent mats. Particular attention should be paid to the ears and the inside of the legs. Mats are very commonly found in these areas. Mats can be uncomfortable and even painful if particularly tight so it is important to prevent them.

      After a run around they will love nothing more than lazing by the fire. They make excellent family pets and really seem to enjoy the company of children, some springers can be bouncy and excitable though which is something to take into account.

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    • The Fisher King (DVD) / DVD / 3 Readings / 3 Ratings
      More +
      23.09.2014 22:25
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Darkly (and overtly) humerous"
      • Heartwarming
      • "Perfect character relationships"
      • "Stellar cast"

      Disadvantages

      • "Occasionally laboured"

      A touching story about redemption and forgiveness

      When you see a movie starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, it's hard not to be biased from the outset - at least if I made a list of two of the finest actors of the last two decades, they would be somewhere in the top 10. You expect a film, a stellar performance, and the Fisher King delivers.

      It's a tale of a shock jock's (Jack, played by Jeff Bridges) quest for redemption after he blames himself for causing the death of a listener's (Parry, played by Robin Williams) wife. Chancing upon and being saved by, the now homeless, Parry, Jack sets goes out in an attempt to assuage his guilt by offering Parry money. However, he's dragged into Parry's world and, as circumstances unfold, we wonder if Jack will manage to find his redemption.

      The film oozes warmth, although it's so well done that you hardly notice the touching bond between Jack and Parry creeping up on you. Despite the dark opening of the film, the film does a good job of toeing the line between a light-hearted buddy film, and a rather more serious treatise on blame, punishment and redemption.

      With a supporting cast that superbly fulfils it's role, we are treated to the gamut of emotions - we see distressing, inspiring, romantic, humorous and all-out-whacky scenes that lead you through a deeply engaging story. Visual effects are used superbly where necessary - enough to elicit a response from the viewer, but nowhere near enough to detract from the marvellous storytelling.

      And the film is a little more complex than your average blockbuster. Yes, some of the storytelling is at times a little unsubtle, and the point is occasionally laboured, but the film also offers a great deal to mull over afterwards. It is a film that asks questions of redemption, and what we all truly seek in trying to amend wrongs - and indeed how we react to those wrongs that have been committed against us.

      But, don't worry, while there is plenty to think about, if you are looking for a touching story of companionship to fill an evening, with a good deal of classic Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams thrown in, this is definitely your film.

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