Top 20 film list – more definitiver than ever

When I thought about updating my top ten film list to lazily reuse and repackage previously published material to reflect recent developments, I realized that this would leave me with an odd number of 11. As that could not stand, the only recourse I had was to increase the list by nine.

Roughly the same rules apply. 20 thru 6 are more or less arbitrary. The top five less so.

My tastes remain rather conventional, so there will likely be few surprises.

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QotD: Scary edition

Apropos of my comments on The Secret of NIMH, I found  a retrospective on the 1990 Roald Dahl adaptation, The Witches, another flick I haven’t seen since childhood:


The Witches tells the story of a young boy (Jasen Fisher) who learns from his cigar-smoking grandmother (Mai Zetterling) that in every town lurks evil witches who love nothing more than killing children. These witches also know how to disguise their hideous appearances. “You can never be sure,” the grandmother says, “if you are gazing at a witch or just a kind lady.” While on vacation in an English resort town, Luke and his grandmother discover their hotel is hosting a convention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a front for the witches of England. The meeting is presided over by the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston), “the most evil woman in the world,” who plans to turn the children of England into mice—and she decides to use Luke and another boy, Bruno, as test subjects.


In his landmark book The Uses of Enchantment, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim writes about the importance of fairy tales, frightening fairy tales, in the psychological development of children. For kids, he argues, life can seem as incomprehensible and terrifying as any scary movie. By eradicating monsters from fairy tales, well-meaning parents “missed the monster a child knows best and is most concerned with: the monster he feels or fears himself to be…” Scary fairy tales or scary movies created for children give them a way to process their fears of themselves, and of the world. “If our fear of being devoured takes the tangible form of a witch,” writes Bettelheim, “it can be gotten rid of by burning her in the oven!”

I’m starting to realize that the, “scary movie for kids,” movie may be my favourite movie subgenre. There’s even a parallel association in my own life: since I came into this world the day before Hallowe’en, my childhood birthday celebrations always blurred a bit with that holiday.

Which goes some way to explaining why Paranorman bugged me so much. In addition to being inappropriately crass and vulgar, it rendered itself ineffective because it was trying to deconstruct all this in the service of a lame platitude: that there are no real monsters, only people you don’t understand.

Frankly, I’d rather go witch hunting with grandma.

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America, what a place!

american tail

So it turns out that I was just hallucinating the availability of The Secret of NIMH 2 on Netflix. And, as the idea of shelling out actual money to see it was just too depressing, I decided to chronologically move to the next film in Don Bluth’s oeuvre: An American Tail.

This being the first of Bluth’s movies to be co-produced by Amblin Entertainment and with Steven Spielberg as an exec, one would expect to find a step up in production values. But this is not the case, and in my ultimate assessment, An American Tail is a heartfelt film that is undone by its own mediocrity.

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A single mom


Don Bluth’s career has a rather tragic trajectory. Upon realizing that Disney, after its founder’s death, was a chicken running around without its head, the animator left the studio to found his own – Don Bluth Productions. And for much of the 80s, he seemed like a force in animation that could hold his own against the older institution – particularly after partnering with Steven Spielberg. But then Disney temporarily regained its footing and the whole 90s animation Renaissance took place. The resulting rise in competition effectively pushed Bluth out of the ring, his final film being 2000’s rather eh sci-fi action flick, Titan A.E. In a way, his demise neatly marks the ascendancy of our contemporary era of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation

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Evolution of R & L

It seems that, with the arrival of these longer animation editorials (and there’s another on the way), Res Studiorum et Ludorum has quietly completed its shift from personal blog to animation/sci-fi/pop misc. blog.

While I appreciate that some people have found the personal stuff here to be moving or helpful, I’m kinda glad that that phase seems to be over. I’d rather write about something other than me.

As I believe I mentioned a few months back, the past couple of years in my Masters program have constituted a major shift: before, I was something of a lone Catholic who didn’t have much of a place for talking about the Faith outside of here. Now all that talking and intellectualizin’ is academically expected of me. While that is a blessing, it also means that there’s a lot less of a need for an online outlet here; it’s far more fun now to talk about lighter fare that interests me.

Still, part of me wants to be making some sort of an intellectual and spiritual contribution to this internet thing (or at least keep myself sharp), and so I’ve been thinking about maybe starting a blog that would focus on my chosen area of interest: The Old Testament. It’d likely consist of my own (amateurish) translations and commentary. While I’ve had a bad track record for spinoff blogs, since I’m theoretically becoming a pro in this field, it might be easier to get a fire started, and allow for more fancypants stuff without interrupting the development of this blog.

While we’re at it: time to retire the Kandinsky painting?


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Back before we ordered our stuff from plucky heroines

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) Japan_1

Thus does our Miyazaki marathon come to an end with the 1989 flick, Kiki’s Delivery Service. Of his 80s movies, Kiki is an anomaly, being the only one directly adapted from someone else’s source material (a novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono), and in being a project which Miyazaki didn’t helm from the start. For reasons which I don’t feel like getting bogged down on, he was only supposed to be the film’s producer, but wound up backing into the roles of writer and director as well.

I mentioned Inside Out in my previous post, but if Pixar’s latest success is going to be compared to any Miyazaki film, Kiki is the closest analogue. Both films are about growing up, and both center on a 13 year old girl.

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Better than the previous neighbour

Whittaker Chambers has an essay on St. Benedict, where he claims that one of the saint’s important contributions to the cultural revival of Europe was the reinfusion of meaningfulness into manual labor – something which Ancient Rome in its decadence had lost.

It may seem odd to begin this post on  My Neighbor Totoro with an observation about Benedict. But Miyazaki’s 1988 film, which is set in rural Japan, has among other things a fascination with manual labor, and is an explicitly Shinto film, seeing the lives of its characters as intertwined with the spirits inhabiting the locales. To make my second name-drop of the post (I love how loose citational standards can be when it comes to blogging) I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that Christians often have more in common with pagans than with the modern secular mindset. I think this is particularly true of us Catholics, for whom physical things can become manifestations of God’s grace, who recognize the idea of sacred space, and have in the communion of saints a colourful cast of folks to help us out.

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All good pirates listen to their mom!

Castle_in_the_Sky posterWhy yes, I am attempting to marathon-post on all the 80s Miyazaki movies. You see, very soon my life will be swamped with thesis and coursework, which will make these sorts of indulgences more difficult to pull off. Yolo, as the kids say.

In 1984 Miyazaki made a trip to Wales in time to witness some of the UK Miners’ strike. He both fell in love with the country and felt a strong degree of admiration for the miners. This would directly impact the aesthetics of his third film, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which was also the first film made by Studio Ghibli (co-founded by Miyazaki as a result of Nausicaa‘s success).

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Blue eyes good, red eyes bad

Hayao Miyazaki is legendary. Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 animated film Akira made serious waves in America, but it has never really risen above cult status. Japanese shows like Sailor Moon, Dragonball and Pokemon won the hearts of a lot of my generation, but have hardly been taken seriously as art. Miyazaki’s oeuvre, on the other hand, represents the one major body of anime that has transcended otakudom to achieve mainstream international success – to the point where Disney owns the North American distribution rights – on the basis of its artistic merits and commercial success. He has achieved a kind of guru status, in spite of his jaundiced and at times contemptuous opinion of anime culture and the lifestyles of those who participate in it. And he is one of those curious things: a man of the left (an ex-Marxist, in fact) whose ideals translate into a kind of traditionalist cultural pessimism that is rarely seen in mainstream entertainment outside of Tolkien.

But let’s turn back the clock to the early 80s, before all of that reputation accumulated. His first film, The Castle of Cagliostro was a success, but it was a success in someone else’s franchise: Monkey Punch’s Lupin III. It did, however, put him on a radar, and led to the creation of his manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind for Animage magazine.

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Twitterpated indeed

bambiI seem to have picked up a bad habit of watching and writing about so-called golden era Disney movies. And while I certainly can use some practice in the 1000+ word pop culture essay, if I’m going to gush about animation I should probably get some Studio Ghibli up here. It also wouldn’t hurt to update my Reading Wolfe series, which remains weirdly popular (to the extent that anything on this humble blog can be considered popular).

(Fair warning: I am totally going to spoil Bambi and The Lion King in what follows, for the two or three of you who don’t know what the big twists are)

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