From Up on Poppy Hill
⋆⋆ ½ out of four stars
Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images.
This English-dubbed offering comes from Japan’s illustrious Studio Ghibli animation workshop, home to so many epic fantasies from Hayao Miyazaki (“Howl’s Moving Castle,” “My Neighbor Totoro”). He co-wrote this period piece with his son Goro, who seems more drawn to low-key naturalism than his father, a specialist in playful spirit creatures and visual extravagance. The setting is Yokohama during a nationwide wave of rebuilding in anticipation of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. One of the neighborhood treasures likely to be swept away is “The Latin Quarter,” the makeshift clubhouse where high-school students congregate. Teenage Umi is drawn into the controversial movement to preserve the old pile. Also fighting to defend the hangout is Shun, Umi’s first crush. The film is a gentle-spirited light drama, with subplots about postwar adoption and a mildly eccentric cast of secondary characters who rent rooms from Umi’s grandmother. It’s all well and good, but far off the Ghibli gold standard. Is there a Japanese word that combines “pretty,” “demure” and “boring”?
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for sexual content, language and some drug material. In French with English subtitles.
An irresistible if entirely calculated Québécois crowd-pleaser. Movie ideas don’t get a lot more high-concept than this. Fortysomething goofoff David (Patrick Huard), the delivery driver for his family’s butcher shop, has vowed to get his life in order and marry his pregnant girlfriend (Julie LeBreton). Then he learns that his old gig as an anonymous sperm donor sired 533 kids. They’ve filed a class-action lawsuit to reveal his identity, which would sink his upcoming marriage. Curiosity gets the better of him and he tracks down his offspring, hoping to serve as a “guardian angel” while hiding his connection to them. Oh, and did I mention that loan sharks are aiming to beat $80,000 out of him? Director Ken Scott shuffles broad comedy, witty complications, sincere drama and heart-tugging family sequences like a wizard. The film seems aware when it’s being shameless (it ends with the mother of all group hugs) and its goodhearted generosity is utterly endearing.