Films I Neglected To Review: Yesterday Is Today
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/11/16 11:47:07
Please enjoy short reviews of "Boom Bust Boom," "The Brothers Grimsby," "Only Yesterday" and the Blu-Ray of "The Peanuts Movie"
There have been so many documentaries in the last few years that have tried to dissect the economic crash of 2008 and how we could use those lessons to avoid such things from happening again in the future that anyone attempting a new one has to bring some new things to the table. In the case of "Boom Bust Boom," there are a couple of intriguing new twists on the familiar tail—one obvious and one subtle—that set it apart from the pack. Co-directed and hosted by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, the film explains what went wrong not just through the usual talking head interviews with economists, journalists and, oddly enough, John Cusack, but with wacky songs, animation and extensive use of puppetry. (Okay, maybe that explains the Cusack connection.) This stuff is interesting enough, though perhaps a bit repetitive to anyone who has seen any of the previous documentaries on the topic or the recent "The Big Short," but the second half is far more interesting as it offers up a new and eminently plausible reason for the housing bubble and the inevitable collapse—it suggests, using historical precedents like the 17th-century tulip craze and the 1929 stock marker crash, to suggest that mankind is hardwired to follow crazy economic turns even when disaster is imminent and it is only if we change the fundamentals of the system to recognize this that such crises can hopefully be avoided. It also calls for better education in economic matters so that future generations can actually learn from the past instead of letting those details fade from memory before the beginning of the next boom/bust event. Thanks to this shift in focus in the second half, "Boom Bust Boom" is an entertaining and informative film that offers an intriguing new angle into an overly familiar subject.
Despite such comedic dead spots as "Bruno" and "The Dictator," there are still people out there willing to celebrate Sacha Baron Cohen as a comedic genius on the basis of "Borat," the 2006 film that saw him making millions off of the same anti-comedy schtick that viewers crucified Andy Kaufman for three decades earlier. My guess is that those people will finally be rid of those illusions once and for all while watching his latest and least effort, the worthless and witless spy comedy "The Brothers Grimsby"—will it be during the part where two guys holing up inside an elephant’s vagina (don’t ask) get hit with a full load of pachyderm semen fresh from the source or will it be during the part where there get hit with a second load a minute later? The two unlucky recipients are a pair of long-separated brothers, one an elite secret agent (Mark Strong) and one a cheerfully oafish lower-class dope (Cohen), who are unexpectedly reunited and find themselves trying to stop a terrorist attack for reasons that one will be hard-pressed to remember even as the events are unfolding. Little more than a collection of uninspired grossest gags strung together in the limpest manner imaginable, the whole thing feels like a rejected Tom Green vehicle whose calculated stabs at outrage (including a much-reported climactic joke involving a certain presidential candidate) are more tiresome than amusing. The only remotely funny thing about it—and it is obviously of the inadvertent variety—is that Penelope Cruz makes an appearance as well and by doing so ensures that "Zealander 2" will be at most only the second-worst spy spoof from an overrated comedy auteur that she appears in during the first quarter of 2016.
Originally produced in 1991 by Japan’s fabled Studio Ghibli and the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and now being released in America with a new English-language soundtrack featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, "Only Yesterday" is a little marvel of a film that shows that animation can be utilized to lovely effect in presenting a low-key drama. Based on the manga by Hotaro Okamoto and written and directed by Isao Takahata, it tells the story of Taeko (Ridley), an ordinary office worker in her late 20s in Tokyo who takes a brief vacation from work to spend time in the country taking part in a harvest. The trip triggers off a number of flashbacks to her childhood to her early teens and allow us to bear witness to the mildly traumatic moments that helped to form the lonely and mildly depressed person that she has become. With the help of Toshio (PAtel), an acquaintance from a nearby farm that she begins a shy romance with, she begins to confront the ghosts of her past—both the thoughtless cruelties inflicted on her and the ones she inflicted on others—in the hopes of being able to go forward with her life.
It might sound overly sentimental in the recounting but "Only Yesterday" is anything but a mawkish melodrama. It is, in fact, as wise and perceptive in its depiction of human behavior as anything I have seen of late. Even though it is a 1991 film about a Japanese woman in 1982 thinking back to her childhood in 1966, the issues it deals with—how relationships with family and friends can turn on a dime and how the emotional scars accumulated as a child, no matter how seemingly minor, can affect you as an adult—still ring powerfully true today. This is not to say that the film is on a par with “Grave of the Fireflies” in terms of bleakness because it also recalls the joys and silliness of adolescence as well—one charming bit involves a baseball game between classes in which the boy that Taeko likes is playing for the opposite side. In fact, this would be a great movie for adolescent girls who have found themselves on the same kind of emotional roller-coaster depicted here so as to assuage them that what they are going through is a universal thing. Actually, it is a great movie for everyone and one that remind viewers that animation, an art form usually associated with kids stuff, can handle more serious topics with plenty of grace and style.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: You may be wondering why it has taken "Only Yesterday" a quarter-century (longer than Daisy Ridley has been on this planet, FYI) to finally arrive on these shores, especially since Disney, which acquired the American rights to the Ghibli catalogue, has successfully released all of the other films. From what I understand, Disney objected to a couple of references to menstruation that pop up in the film and refused to release the film unless they were removed. However, Ghibli had a clause written into their contract with Disney that forbade them from removing or altering anything from their films and as a result, it was never released in the US in any form until GKIDS, a distributor that apparently doesn’t find the realities of adolescent female biology to be icky, managed to acquire the rights. Maybe Disney didn’t realize that back in 1946, Walt Disney himself produced the short "The Story of Menstruation" that was shown in schools across the country without causing much distress and which would be selected for the National Film Registry in 2015. Guess they were more liberated back then. . .
I wound up missing the press screening of "The Peanuts Movie" last fall—partly because of timing and partly because of my suspicion that it was going to be a nightmarish updating of material that simply didn’t require it—and by the time I finally caught up with it, other films began to take precedent and I never got around to reviewing it formally. Now that it has hit DVD/Blu-Ray this week (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.95), I figured I would take a minute to mention how not bad it turned out to be in the end. Instead of blowing it up into some overstuffed, pop-culture savvy blockbuster, it largely retains the quiet wit and gentle nature of the original Charles Schultz comic strip and while the move from his simple illustrations to CGI is disconcerting for a few minutes, the look should appeal to longtime fans and newcomers alike. If there is a problem with the film, it is that there are times when the various plot threads hew a little too closely to the old comics for comfort—as if they were the equivalent of Linus’s security blanket—but if I had to pick between that and the dicey plots invented for the Peanuts gang’s previous feature film excursions, I would take this any day of the week. The end result may not be perfect but it is a lot better than it probably had any right to be and makes the prospect of future installments a reasonably welcome one indeed. The Blu-Ray includes such special features as behind-the-scenes featurettes, the video for a Meghan Trainor song which is its most overt contemporary touch and, if one splurges for the Limited Edition Gift Set, a stuffed Snoopy doll geared up to do battle with the Red Baron.