The Turning

If I said that I didn’t know what was going on in The Turn of the Screw, how would you know whether I was talking about the novella or the movie?

Well, the tip off is that I used italics. If I had meant the novella, I would’ve put it in quotes. Though, honestly, having read the story about 2 1/2 years ago, the movie is probably easier to follow overall, at least until the end.

That's the look the producer should've had.

“We had to stop making sense to be true to the source material.”

This is about the 40th version of this story, which became popular to film in the ’50s. (A quick Ctrl+F on IMDB reveals it to be the 39th version, but I’ll bet some are missing.) What’s it about? Well, a nanny goes to take care of a young orphan girl and her brother who are being tormented by the ghosts not of their parents, but of some mysteriously missing or possibly deceased staff. Or the nanny is going crazy.

I’ve read the book, as I’ve pointed out, and I don’t know. I do remember reading passages of the story over and over again trying to figure out what the hell James was getting at. I mean, just the physicality of it, let alone the “is she or isn’t she?” issue. I probably should take another stab at it—though I did not have difficulty with any of his other stories. (“The Aspern Papers” is really fine work, all intimation and implication.)

Movies, of course, can only be so coy: They almost have to show you things, but then—if they want to create ambiguity—they have to convince you that what you saw was or might have been a hallucination. Where (long-time music video, first time feature) director Floria Sigismondi does well here is to give us enough solid grounding in the various haunting up front, but then slowly increasing the unreliability of our narrator-nanny (Mackenzie Davis, who’s in a lot of mainstream stuff I don’t know, like Terminator: Dark Fate).

And then the doorbell rings.

Trying to convince the younger generation “Terminator” used to be a great franchise.

To this viewer’s eyes, though, there’s some cheating here. I think if you’re going to have an unreliable narrator, then you can’t show things that she’s unaware of and completely don’t affect her. That is, if you show the ghost in the mirror, if the ghost isn’t real and at the same time the unreliable narrator both couldn’t see it and isn’t affected by it, then it either has to be real or you’re lying to the audience. This happens a lot: I can imagine the Nanny hallucinating a ghost that she couldn’t actually see, but she must be affected by it or the ghost must be real.

See what I mean?

Another thing on the positive side, but which probably doesn’t endear it to the popcorn horror crowd is the pacing. It’s pretty good at building without being rushed. The deterioration of the nanny, and her periodic quasi-recoveries, work well to create a sense of instability, whether warranted or not.

Then you won't be wolfing so hard, will you?

Some day puberty will come for you, Finn Wolfhard.

The acting is good: Finn Wolfhard (most famously of “Stranger Things”) is getting a little old for this stuff, but that age ambiguity sort of works in his favor here. Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project and The Lego Movie 2, both of which I’m sure I reviewed but cannot find now) pivots nicely between innocent and/or possibly evilly-possessed demon child. Barbara Marten does a fine job as the creepy (or is she?) chef, and Joely Richardson (late of Color out of Space) has a nice little role as the Nanny’s insane mother.

How is it, though, as a movie experience? Well, I’ve mentioned that a lot of these recent horror movies (The Grudge and Gretel and Hansel, in particular) have really fallen flat in terms of atmosphere, which is something I sort of expect the humblest of horror films to manage, and this is true here. The house looks more lovely than spooky. The “forbidden area” of the house doesn’t seem especially foreboding. This is true even when the scenes themselves have genuine menace.

Scenes of the nanny being threatened, as a young woman might be in those circumstances, are rather effective.

The first ending makes a certain sense and is ambiguous enough for my taste. But the second ending is contradictory and makes things downright murky, as does the stinger. I liked it better than The Grudge and I may have liked it better than Gretel and Hansel, but none of them are easy to recommend.

Sometimes that's ALL they make!

Hey, now, everybody makes a bomb once in a while.

Color Out Of Space

A strength of the written word over visual media is that it can convey abstractions that extend or even violate literal description. In a comically broad example, a writer can tell you “To all outward appearance it was a happy scene—but horror lurked underneath!” (And when filmmakers do this, as in Blue Velvet, it can be just as ridiculously ham-handed.) Personally, I can seldom bring myself to watch filmings of Ray Bradbury stories because, in my mind, those stories are always wondrous and emotionally vibrant, and that seldom comes out on screen.

But in the area of abstraction, the Waukegan poet had nothing on the Providence patrician, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who was fond of defining things in terms of impossibilities: Non-Euclidean geometry meaning “things that don’t conform to the laws of natural space”, sounds unlike any sounds a human could comprehend, and of course, weird alien colours (with the affected English spelling). And he managed (not always but often enough to persist over 100 years) to create a wondrous, weird, malignant universe with impossibly abstract visuals and a few choice details.

Which is damned hard to film. (I’m reminded of Adriane Lyne’s query to Bruce Joel Rubin over a script direction in Jacob’s Ladder: “The walls crack open revealing the unfathomable void.” Lyne asked him, “How many carpenters will it take to build the unfathomable void?”)

Aren't movies magical?

These days you could do it with a half-dozen doughy middle-aged dudes and a case of Monster.

Horror films generally are plagued by Joyce’s “ineluctable modality of the visible”—that’s an in-joke I’ll explain in the comments—but what I’m getting at is that the instant you show something, it becomes defined and you lose some of the horror. The original theatrical cut of Alien does an excellent job of teasing the alien, showing hints and having the human crew chase around clues that fill in the picture. Then, by the end, when you see it in all its glory, you’re suitably awed by it.

When the threat is known and clearly defined in a film, it becomes more an action/adventure picture no matter how many horror effects it borrows. The label “Survival Horror” sometimes get applied to such films, but one isn’t usually scared by, e.g., the Resident Evil movies. Or, say, Tremors, a fine film with a lot of suspenseful moments, but not scary. You can also contrast Alien to Aliens, or Night of the Living Dead to Day of the Dead. Particularly the latter: Zombies don’t even seem like much of a threat once you know their “rules”. But zombies are easy to do, and even Alien just needed a very tall, very skinny dude in an (excellently designed) rubber suit.

Now, get your costume designers on Yog-Sothoth:

“Imagination called up the shocking form of fabulous Yog-Sothoth – only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness.”

The very first (and still one of the best) adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories is Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace, featuring said Yog-Sothoth. It recapitulates the mood of his successful, broody Poe stories, but with a somewhat different flavor, all to build up to one of the great cinematic disappointments:

It’s actually worse in the movie, as they do a “wavy vision” effect over this static picture, and you’ve been built up to something dramatically that’s…well, you feel like the movie—and the world—deserves better. (Coincidentally, Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon directed a version of this story in 1991.)

Five-hundred words is a lot of preamble for any movie review (though not my record) but I think it’s important to understand the mindset of the HPL fan in going to a mainstream-ish feature based on his works: You hope (without much hopefulness) that it manages to capture some of the characteristics of the writing and that it does so without some utterly embarrassing issue cropping up.

On that front, this movie is a resounding success. For the most part, the CGI reminds me of the Eastern movies we see: It’s not the best technically, but it’s not trying to fool you—it’s trying to win you over. So let’s get into the deets:

The story is updated from the sullen New England family to modern-day refugees from city life. This is savvy: Our characters are isolated by choice, and instead of being ignorant, moody farmers, they’re all-too-hip post-hippie homeschoolers. Another great aspect is that they’re not cartoon cutouts. Our scarcely involved narrator Ward (Elliot Knight) first meets daughter Lavinia—an irritable poseur—as she’s casting a spell that she hopes will take her out of the forest life but also will cure her mother’s cancer.

Nicholas Cage plays Nathan, who’s brought his brood back to the family farm, out of the city to a safe, sane place where you drink water from the well, grow organic produce, and emotionally support your financial wizard wife (Joely Richardson, The PatriotThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who’s recovering from cancer, and raise your three kids who aren’t entirely sold on this whole hicksville thing. The movie does a good job getting you to like these people which, well, it’s kind of a shame what happens to them. (Contrast with the 1987 version of this story starring Claude Akins and Wil Wheaton, The Curse, or even the recent Annihilation.)

Hey, kid, don't put your lips on that!

“What the HELL is that?”

What happens is that a meteor strikes their small farm. This is where we first get a taste of the movie’s regard for the source material: The meteor doesn’t just hit. There’s a build-up. Again, contrasted with other versions of the story (like the Creepshow entry “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”), director Richard Stanley infuses the scene with an alien intelligence. As such, when the horrifying transmogrification begins, the plot feels almost like a sci-fi invasion story. Tonally, this is spot-on: HPL’s universe was cold and hostile, and his monsters flew through (or lived in) the vacuum of space or sat at the bottom of the ocean for eons.

The aesthetic is also spot-on: Given the limitation of having to present an actual color, the choice of the sort of purple-pink never-occurs-in-nature oddly-saturated hue works well. The color shows up in glints and flashes everywhere, though more and more prominently as the poison from the well spreads. The family experiences the meteor differently as well, the two teenagers (played by Brendan Meyer and Madeleine Arthur, both of whom have appeared in R.L. Stine material in the past, amusingly enough) seem to be the least affected, though they experience time shifts/loss, while young Jack Jack (Julian Hiliard) seems to commune with the voices only he can hear coming from the well. Meanwhile Nathan is assaulted by a smell no one else seems to be able to detect and Theresa (Richardson) seems to be semi-possessed.

We won’t even go into the alpacas.

They Get Thinged.

Concerned reader “Al” writes in to ask “WHY? WHAT HAPPENS TO THE ALPACAS?!”

A nice thing is that the characters’ behaviors are understandable. If I recall the original story, the transformation takes quite some time whereas here it happens in days. It’s not that everyone acts rationally—they are, after all, under the influence of a malignant space disease—but that you could see how a mildly diminished capacity would result in misunderstandings which result in fatal delays. So we are spared from the whole “Why don’t they just…?” syndrome common to horror films.

Some good spooky moments. No jump scares. A lot of disturbing things that felt Lovecraftian. Therese and Jack Jack have an encounter with The Color that is positively upsetting. A brief glimpse of an alien world. Another scene has Lavinia casting a spell by carving letters into herself with a box-cutter but you’re not sure whether this is the influence of the meteor or her attempt to fight that influence. A nice updating of the parental characters going mad: They start acting like their parents. (So to those who wonder, yes, Nic Cage does go crazy but it’s a different kind of crazy.)

One scene rips off John Carpenter’s The Thing which, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Tommy Chong has a role as paranoiac hermit Ezra (another rather savvy update to “the crazy old coot who lives in the woods” trope) whose exeunt is very effectively done. Producer Josh C. Waller (who also produced Mandy) plays a sheriff who, if I’m not mistaken, has a run in with a Shuggoth.

His Royal Alien Purpleness

Prince lives.

I’m not sure about that one, but easter eggs abound: The narrator is a hydrologist from Arkham (the nearest big town) and wears a Miskatonic University shirt. He reads Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, considered by HPL to be the finest horror in the English language. And his name is “Ward”. (I think they say “Philip Ward” at some point but I may have misheard that.) The weather report is for Arkham and surrounding cities like Dunwich and Innsmouth. The book Lavinia tries to cast her spell from is the Necronomicon, (but it’s the Necronomicon you can buy on Amazon, not HPL’s version). Fortunately, the references settle down as the action picks up.

The Boy and I had to catch it separately but we both agreed that we liked it, that it was solid, but no Mandy, a comment which isn’t meant derogatorily because I probably liked this more. As good as the atmosphere is in most respects, we couldn’t help but wonder if it might not have benefited from a little more of Mandy’s surrealism. Nonetheless, for a guy whose last feature directing job was being thrown off Island of Dr. Moreau 20 years ago, Richard Stanley has shown a very sure hand here and I’m looking forward to the next movie in the trilogy: The Dunwich Horror.

The Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts (2020)


I realized after watching: Cancer, death of a parent, dementia, abortion, dogfighting, deformity and death of a bird, that the Oscar-nominated (and honorable mentioned) shorts were almost relentlessly melancholy. Then a couple extra French shorts came on and they were cute, funny and charming—I mean, to the point where they didn’t really fit with the rest.

But still.

Cute, safe, predictable, “diverse”…only a little melancholy.

The first one was “Hair Love”. Watching this I knew it would win, not because it was the best, but because it was diverse. It was also one of the less melancholy entries, as a (black) father struggles to do his daughter’s hair. Black people and hair, man. It’s cute. The punchline involves cancer in a fairly predictable way, but it was not ineffective.

It's Czech.

Not cute, predictable or diverse. Very melancholy. But not ineffective.

The second was from the Czech Republic, “Dcera”, which means daughter. The animation here was a very rough stop-motion (or stop-motion-like) thing. I found it effective in telling the story of a woman watching her father die and recalling an incident in her youth when he failed to comfort her (though not callously), and a later incident where he’s putting her on a train. The Boy and I probably liked this the least, but I think it was because we didn’t really understand what was going on in parts of it. That is, I think part of the issue was cultural.


Cute, diverse, unpredictable, but probably “edgy” by modern Hollywood standards.

The third one was primitively animated—and, again, this isn’t an insult. It was actually interesting all the different modes of animation, and how they were used to different effect. In this case, the characters are simply drawn, and it’s a simple story of a man’s “Sister”. It’s a real gut-puncher and one of the best of the lot. Let me add that the topic here was abortion, and I don’t know when or why the word went out that China’s One Child policy law was bad, but I’ve been seeing a lot of indications TPTB are backing off their ZPG dogma (publicly). This doesn’t reflect on the creator of this short, whom I believe to be very sincere. But the gatekeepers control what gets out…and this got out.

Ceci n'est pas un pistol.

The imagery seemed artistically “true”…what dementia might feel like.

Another gut punch came in the form of the first French entry, “Memorable”. This depicts a man’s increasing dementia by diverging from a realistic depiction to an increasingly abstract one, with pieces missing. The Boy thought this one was the best. But…melancholy.

Not so cute.

It’s cute, right? Wait, why does the dog have so many scars?

The last of the nominated shorts was “Kitbull” about an adorable little kitty who befriends a pitbull kept chained up in the yard where the kitty hides out. Adorable, no? Well, not when you realize the pitbull is being trained as a fighting dog and his owner plans to beat him for losing. Good lord, people.

I know you’re depressed about Trump being President and probably winning a second term, but jeez.

It's like a theme.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m afraid you’re going to live.”

The first of the “honorable mention” shorts was “Henrietta Bulkowski” about a young woman with a hunchback who wants to fly. It’s sweet, but heavy-handed. I like that kind of…parable? allegory?…fairy tale, I guess, so I probably liked it more than The Boy. I think what weakens it is that Henrietta’s character is too self-possessed, when we finally hear her talk. It turns her into an emblem and makes her less sympathetic thereby.

Happy ending?

Shipwrecks are hard on the animals. I mean, the animals on the ship. The underwater animals seem to enjoy them just fine.

This was followed by the Irish “The Bird and the Whale”, another very melancholic fairy tale that isn’t allegorical, I don’t think. At least, if I start thinking about it in literal terms, it becomes horrifying. The medium of oil (?) on glass was interesting and lovely, for sure.


They look like Don Martin characters, don’t they?

“Hors Piste” is French for off-road. This was our favorite. It’s done in an ’80s style TV-action show with a couple of Don Martin-type characters who helicopter into the Alps to save a skiier. But they crash their helicopter and end up having to ski back down. It’s just five minutes of silly fun, like a Road Runner cartoon, and while neither the Boy and I favor slapstick, it won us over. Now, part of this may have been the previous 70 minutes of melancholy, but still I think it’s much harder to make people laugh for five minutes than to cry or tug on heartstrings.

Fun, too.

Cute, charming and VERY short.

The last one, also from France, was a two minute pond-life-as-orchestra gag. It was done in a “realist” style and was charming and not melancholy.

That sums it up. We were glad to have seen it, overall, and found it interesting and entertaining, if depressive.


An American In Paris (1951)

I’m singin’ in the…Paris. Actually, Singin’ In The Rain was the next year and would win zero Oscars, while this film would take home six including Best Picture (over, e.g., A Streetcar Named Desire). And yet, An American In Paris is really a dance movie with a whopping 17 minute climactic dance number. That’s right: 15% of the movie is one dance number. It is the ultimate Golden Age of Hollywood dance musical.

Suffice to say, if you’re not a dance fan, this is not the movie for you.

Guess which one.

One of these guys is more into the musical aspect of musicals.

The plot is as lightweight as can be: Gene Kelly plays a painter living in Paris, spontaneously breaking out into song and dance with minor prompting from struggling pianist Oscar Levant and their mutual French friend (Georges Guétary), the two Americans (playing much younger men, presumably) are struggling to get by. Kelly’s fortune looks to be on the rise when he finds a benefactor in Nina Foch, who is a dowager preying on handsome young artists.

Her primary crime—besides being only ten years younger than Gene Kelly instead of twenty—is not being Leslie Caron, with whom Kelly falls in love-at-first-sight. Quoth the Flower: “She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen…” Well, I don’t know about that, but she’s certainly love and good enough a dancer that we didn’t miss Cyd Charisse. Her acting is primarily emotive and motion-based—a good thing since she didn’t really know English—and very effective for all that.


She’s ancient and hideous.

Kelly and Caron have a sub rosa affair, the latter hiding her feelings from Georges, whom she has committed to marry due to his saving her during the war. (Guétary was actually younger than Kelly but, as I said, Kelly’s supposed to be playing a young man probably ten or more years younger than is actual 38.) Kelly’s more upfront with Foch about not feeling for her, but he’s still in dubious moral standing.

The plot is paused for Oscar Levant imagining he’s a successful concert pianist and Guétary’s show number, and it all comes to a head about 90 minutes in. Then we have the lead-up to the finale.

It’s thin and most modern estimations place it well below SitR but again, I think the key here is the dancing. If you’re into the dancing, there’s not going to be much like it. If not, you’ll probably find it pleasant, but not as engaging as many other musicals, six Oscars or no.

I mean, they're ALL cute.

There are actually a paucity of pix of Caron from this movie, but this one’s cute.

The Grudge (2020)

You could say I’ve got a grudge against The Grudge. I mean, you could say that but it wouldn’t be accurate. I do have a slight history of it, as when I went to see the 2004 version with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the two front rows (immediately in front of me) were occupied by teenagers who talked incessantly and…I wanna say they texted each other, but I’m not sure that was a thing in 2004. I remember it, though.

I was apoplectic. It’s a miracle I, and they, survived. I’ve never encountered such rudeness and I never hope to again. And I never did learn what The Grudge was about. I tried to watch it on TV once. At least, the original Japanese version by Takashi Shimizu (who did one of my favorite After Dark Horror Festival movies, Best of Fest) but…yeah, I’m not sure I made it all the way through or that it held my attention. It made little impression, in any event.

Same ol' funhouse.

Cool image, bro. But it’s kinda been done to death and 20 years later, you’re sorta looking for this to have some symbolic or resonant meaning.

To further add to the lore, my mother fell and fractured her femur shortly before I went to see this. The Flower and I were in the OC for another of her art classes (and we’d just seen Ashfall) when I got the message she was in the hospital. Since there was nothing we could do, The Flower decided to go to her class and I was just marking time with the new version of The Grudge, specifically because I didn’t want to have to care if I was interrupted.

I was interrupted, but I would not have cared. This review will be a little spoilery since I don’t really care.

Anyone remember the heartbreak of "bathtub ring"?

It was spoiled when I go there, I swear.

Nicholas Pesce directs his own screenplay—yeah, I don’t know who he is either, and I think the draw on this is Sam Rami’s name attached, and maybe Takashi Ichise (producer on the original)—but it’s just…well, it’s not very good. In the broadest sense, this is a “fun house” horror, which I do not mind, especially if they’re going HAM on the cool imagery. But lately the Blumhouse horrors (like last year’s The Curse of La Llorona and Annabelle Comes Home) seem to be falling back on the “funhouse” style just because it’s easier than writing a cogent script.

No, no, no. You’ve gotta wow the audience if you want them not to notice that nothing makes sense. And there’s no wow factor here. It’s very paint-by-numbers. Which makes the awful stupidity of the plot really jump out at you.

The premise is that if someone is pissed off when they die, that makes The Grudge, which is curse that kills all who encounter it.

I imagine most people are pissed off when they’re murdered. OK, ok, but they gotta be really pissed off. Oh, and it’s gotta be real violent. So, Chicago is littered with grudges. Which, maybe explains Chicago. OK, ok, so let’s assume they have to be extraordinarily violent, the sort of thing that only occurs when you need to reboot a horror franchise.

Really. Wouldn't piss me off at all.

This is fine.

Our story begins with a prologue where a (very!) enterprising American realtor goes to Japan to visit the Grudge House. Presumably she doesn’t know that it’s the Grudge House and is just there for all the spicy input only Japanese realtors can give, but once she goes to the Grudge house, she’s doomed. The Curse follows her home and she kills her family.

The main story starts when our heroine Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough, the eponymous Mandy!, though honestly I didn’t recognize her) joins the rather hearty police department of what seems to be a pretty podunk town, and her first case is tied to the realtor’s Murder Home. Apparently, after the realtor killed her family, several other people (literally everyone who ever stepped foot in the house, per the movie) also ended up dead or insane (but then dead).

So, what’s the first thing we know? Well, The Grudge is apparently highly mobile. It moved from Japan, not just to kill the realtor and her family, but everyone else who ever stepped foot in that house forever. Do you see the immediate issue here? This means that everyone who steps foot in a Grudge house carries that contagion to…well, maybe not every other house they step into, but at least their own home.

Also, Muldoon immediately steps foot inside the house, so she’s screwed. She spends the whole movie piecing it all together, and decides (spoiler?) that she’s going to solve the problem by burning down The Grudge house. Well, obviously, that’s not going to work, because…I mean, we started with The Grudge moving from Japan!

She's kinda cute.

I couldn’t find a picture of the fire from this film, so enjoy a picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar from 15 years ago.

But that’s the shocking twist, I guess. You’re supposed to be surprised that it didn’t work. In the end, she gets flashes of the original murder (which we didn’t see at the time) and I could see that the Pesce was trying to tie in the mysterious ghostly images with the murders. OK, points for that, because up till then, quite a few of the images seemed really arbitrary. But it doesn’t really make up for so much of the rest of the movie seeming arbitrary. How ghosts come and go and what they can do and not do. I mean, I think the thing was they couldn’t do anything but they could make others do things, which makes the final seen where Muldoon is dragged off Raimi-style sorta pointless.

I actually became fascinated with this movie early on, in a meta-sense. You know, when a movie completely fails to get your buy-in, you start to wonder why (because what else do you have to do?). I thought maybe it was me being distracted. I was worried about my mom, to be sure. But I was noticing that the movie somehow fails to convey any atmosphere.

That, to me, is fascinating, because even the worst movies of the “After Dark Horror Festival” managed a convincing atmosphere. (At first, anyway.) So I kept thinking, “I’ve seen shots of spooky houses done just like this, but this one seems perfectly lovely.” And “What a nice day!” Just very weird. Made me want to analyze it against other films. (Later I would see The Turning and Gretel and Hansel and note that the former managed some pretty good—but not great!—atmosphere while the latter tries very hard but somehow doesn’t manage atmosphere at all. Maybe I’m broken.)

The movie is not told sequentially, and at first that’s annoying as hell. It’s four or so different stories all taking place between about 2004 and 2006-ish. This is fine once you get used to it, and probably the only way you were going to get this thing told. There’s: The realtors, the crazy cop, the interracial couple, the young and pregnant couple, and of course the Muldoon framing story. (Muldoon is a widow/single-mom for no real reason.)

The acting is good. Demien Bichir (A Better Life) is Muldoon’s partner who’s too smart to go into the spook house. Lin Shaye is great, as always, as is her “husband”, Frankie Faison, with Jackie Weaver as a Kervorkian-type consultant called in to dispatch Shaye. John Cho and Betty Gilpin are the young pregnant couple. Tara Westwood is the murderous realtor.

Music by The Newton Brothers. Something about it struck me at the time but damned if I can remember what.

A lot of competent, talented people and the biggest shock here is how ineffective it is, even by modern Blumhouse standards. That’s kind of spooky.


Who snuck up behind me? It’s the Grudge! Boo!

Weathering With You

We memed ourselves, as the kids these days say, by going out to see this at the “special premiere” showing, because we didn’t realize it was going to get a wide opening the next week. For a Japanese anime like Weathering With You (Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to his smash hit Your Name, based on his novel) “special premiere” means you’re in a theater packed to the gills with weeaboos who are going to cheer inexplicably at some things and weep loudly at the emotional parts.

Not cute.

Like this but with pasty, pudgy Americans.


If you’ll recall, Your Name was a movie that struck me as so odd because it had these crazy good reviews, and as you’re sitting down to watch it, it basically starts up in full, standard Japanese-highschool-sitcom-anime mode, complete with a theme song that would not be out of place on Crunchyroll. And the first two-thirds of the movie is just a very good, light-magical-realism romantic comedy about a teen boy and girl, strangers, a hundred miles apart, who switch bodies at random.

And then it just ups the stakes to an existential level, cranking up the romance to a capital-R Romance, with lovers whose destinies entwine those of thousands of other people—people who may, in fact, just die if the two of them don’t figure out what to do.

Quite a surprise, well done, and dramatically increasing expectations for Weathering With You.

Hi, hi, hi.

High expectations.

In this story, we again have high-school protagonists: Morishima is a runaway trying to get by in rainy Tokyo without any kind of credentials, something which is apparently nigh-impossible. He meets a cheesy tabloid publisher who “saves his life”, then mooches off of him but gives him his business card. Later, he’s roaming the streets of Tokyo with no money, crashing in a MacDonald’s where a kind girl gives him a Big Mac. Not long after, he rescues that same girl, Amano, from a Very Bad Situation.

But their paths cross most significantly when Morishima is trying to “research” Sunshine Girls: these are legendary maidens who have the ability to make the sun come out simply by praying. Of course, his publisher doesn’t care if it’s true or not, he’s just generating clickbait, but it turns out that Amano is, in fact, a genuine Sunshine Girl. Tired of the pittance he’s being paid, Mori convinces Amano to go into business selling her power.

Classic magical realism, but there’s a catch: Every time she prays for sun, she gets it—but the subsequent weather gets a little worse. And it hasn’t stopped raining in a month. (It’s August.) And every time she prays for the sun, she becomes a little more less-of-the-earth and more-of-the-clouds. Traditionally, the sun maiden is sacrificed for good weather, and Mori and Amano struggle with keeping her alive vs. Endless Rain.

Don't walk through the gate.

If nothing else, this movie is a source of high quality desktop wallpapers.

And the thing about Shinkai is, he’s not afraid to massively change the world in his little magical RomCom, as we learned in Your Name. So it all turns out different than you’d probably expect going in. Subverting expectations, even. (Everyone seems to forget the second half of successfully subverting expectations: not sucking.)

Beyond the narrative, there was something else about this movie that really subverted expectations: It’s a movie about weird weather that doesn’t once mention Anthropogenic Global Warning. Weirder than that, it actually takes a stance that can only be described as “settle down about AGW, already”.

See, everyone’s freaking out about the weather. But when Mori and Amano go to the wise, old knows-about-sun-maidens sage they get a lecture on how short human experience is and how long the time-span of the earth is. Oh, you don’t ever remember it raining this long? Well, you’re 20 years old on a billions-year-old planet, so maybe dial back the hysteria. Back when they called the city Edo, Tokyo was actually a harbor.

Apart from being a good message when it comes to climate (“settle down”), it places Amano and Mori’s choices against a larger, yet still intimate backdrop. One of the problems with the blockbuster movies these days is that they always gotta save the universe, and you end up not really caring about the characters doing it. Much like Your Name, though, Shinkai presents the couple with an immediate peril, and direct, dire consequences of making the wrong choice.

Anyway, it’s a fine use of magical realism: Make a point that’s true about human beings, both in large groups down to pairs, by making the metaphorical actual. My kind of thing.

The Boy and The Boy’s Girl also liked it, as did the roomful of sniffly weeaboos. If you can hack the Japanese cartoon scene, it’s worth a watch (subbed or dubbed).

April showers

See it with your Sunshine Girl.