Ruk Ranks Every Movie He Saw in 2017 (50-46)

50. Ancien and the Magic Tablet/Napping Princess (Seriously, which is the goddamn English title?)

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Ah… Now, how exactly do I describe this movie to a newcomer? Imagine Inception, except where the dream involved has a significantly more fairy tale/fantasy bent, mixed with a corporate political thriller and a huge dollop of anime tropes, including giant robots and school girls.

That feels like it might be a start to describing Ancien and the Magic Tablet.

The movie, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, is about a young schoolgirl named Kokone who has a tendency to drift off and get caught in her own dreams. In said dreams, she is a sorcerer princess named Ancien, battling against a Colossus that threatens her kingdom, via use of a magical computer tablet. However, when Kokone’s father is arrested in the real world and thieves attempt to steal his personal computer tablet, Kokone is sent on the run, drifting between dreams and reality in an attempt to find out the truth behind all these goings-on.

Now, when I first walked out of the cinema after having watched this movie, honestly, I really wasn’t entirely certain how to feel about it. There was some things I really liked about it, other things not so much. I definitely wasn’t too fond of the movie at the beginning, as it felt confusing, bland and I wasn’t particularly engrossed with the worlds or characters in neither dream nor reality. But, as the movie went along and pieces started to slot together, I started to get more and more into it, leading to a climax that I actually really kinda enjoyed… almost.

See, the thing is, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is a movie that I don’t think quite realised how brilliant its own premise was.

Now, that may sound like an odd statement, but let me explain. (Note: I’m going into minor spoilers here.) The thing is, partway through this movie you come to realise just how much Kokone’s dreams reflect reality. Indeed, many of the fantastical characters and elements in Kokone’s dreams are actually symbolising real-life characters and events from Kokone’s life/past. And this all culminates in a big finale where fantasy and reality comes together and you get to see the real-life events play out through this exciting fantasy dream lens.

And that’s honestly a really awesome idea. Seriously, I had a blast watching the finale of this movie, theorising what each individual element represented and how the story was playing out in real life. It was a brilliant and inventive intellectual exercise and like nothing I’d ever watched before. I’ve always been a sucker for these sorts of films that can blend fantasy and reality together (probably why I’m such a big fan of Mamoru Hosoda) and this was a unique and fascinating take on the concept.

At least it was at first. Because then it turned out I’d been entirely wrong about what the movie was doing and we learned that 50-60% of said climax was entirely fictional and had no actual equivalent in the real world. I’d simply been reading too much into it the entire time.

That was kind of a bummer.

And that’s also kinda why I think the movie didn’t quite realise how smart it was. It has a brilliant and unique idea for its grand finale but, rather than take it all the way, it almost feels like the filmmakers went ‘Hmm, maybe this is a bit too far’ and ended up scaling it back instead. Which was entirely the wrong move. The idea was fantastic. The movie just needed to follow through on it.

It also didn’t help that the movie insisted on shoehorning in a small subplot of ‘maybe Kokone’s dreams are actually secretly real magic’. An idea which was already somewhat ridiculous, forced and unnecessary and becomes outright laughable in the finale when they demonstrate it in a single throwaway line that just feels completely out of place and is never referenced again.

But, all that aside, would I recommend Ancien and the Magic Tablet? Honestly, kinda yeah. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot of flaws and rough edges. The protagonist is somewhat bland and ends up feeling like a side note for a lot of the movie. The antagonist is just a laughable, moustache-twirling villain who is obviously evil from the go. And also, like I mentioned before, it takes a while before it really gets interesting.

But, once it does get interesting, there is really quite a lot to like about it. The story is actually really interesting and compelling once you begin to see how the jigsaw pieces of the plot, there are some moments of genuinely really good drama scattered here and there, there are enough mysteries to keep you engaged and, like I said before, the climax is actually a really interesting and unique idea, even if I’d prefer for it to have gone all the way. Plus, the animation is also fairly good, albeit nothing spectacular for an anime film.

To sum up, Ancien and the Magic Tablet is definitely an interesting ride. It might not be for everyone and there are certainly quite a few problems here and there but, for me, the positives make it worth checking out at least once.

 

49. The Love Witch

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I’ll give this movie credit, I watched it all the way back in March and had no idea what to think of it. It is now nearly 12 months later and I still don’t know to think of it. So, kudos?

It’s definitely a unique beast, a surreal colourful mindtrip that looks almost fresh out of the 1960’s Hammer Horror library. And there’s no doubt it kept me fascinated throughout. But I don’t feel like I can rank it that high on my personal list because I don’t think I quite got it? It felt like there was something I was missing, some sort of nuance or metaphor to make it all make sense that never really quite came to me. I’ve read other peoples interpretations and the like, but even now, I’m still not entirely certain that it matched up to what I watched.

That said, like Ancien, it is something I’d definitely recommend people check out at least once, just to make their own conclusions on it. It’s definitely does a good job of keeping your attention and the throwback 1960’s filming style is fascinating to watch. I’m just not all that sure how I feel about it.

 

48. The Florida Project

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Speaking of ‘I’m not that sure how I feel about it…’

Okay, I will start by admitting that this really isn’t my kind of film, to be honest. I give it kudos for very realistically capturing that sense of being a child and childish behaviour, both in terms of sense of imagination and adventure and also kinda being a bit of a shithead as well. Plus Willem Dafoe was great, bringing a real friendly, safe, everyman sense to his character and performance. Honestly, as much as I like Sam Rockwell, I’d much prefer Dafoe to win the Oscar this year, as unlikely as it seems.

I also give credit to the way the movie captures the setting, this dirty, yet saccharine area, with its faded and rusted bright colours, like a sweet that it’s been dropped on the floor and left to gather lint and dirt and stuff. A lot of the places and the world really become kind of familiar through the movie, so I give it definite credit for that.

That said, I really didn’t like the mother character in this movie, probably waaay more than the movie intended me to. Yeah, I get that we’re probably supposed to think that’s she kind of a bad mother, but that she loves her kid and has her good points as well, but no, I was actively glad when Moonee got taken away from her by the movie’s end. She was just a really awful person who I felt little-to-no sympathy for.

Also, I was a bit iffy on the movie’s structure. It’s a very fluid film, with not much of a ‘through’ plot, instead jumping from day to day, adventure to adventure, etc etc. And like with Boyhood, I’m kind of iffy as to how much that worked for me? I mean yes, you can definitely argue that it’s very realistic as that is indeed how real life works. But, like with Boyhood, I question the idea that just because it’s realistic necessarily makes it good? And it definitely felt like the first two thirds of the movie were missing a hook, if you will, to keep me interested. But chances are that might just be me, since, as mentioned, this isn’t really my sort of movie.

That said, my personal foibles aside, I still thought it was a pretty solid film overall. Like I said, not really something for me, but it definitely had more than its fair share of good points.

 

47. Murder on the Orient Express

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Kenneth Brannagh movies are kinda like comfort food to me. I like them just fine, but they usually slip from my mind within a week. I rarely have that much bad to say about them, but they also rarely inspire that much passion in me either. They’re just enjoyable little tidbits. Not really filling, but I won’t turn them away if offered.

And yeah, that more or less sums up my thoughts on Murder on the Orient Express. It’s a nice little movie that I don’t have much bad to say about (aside from a few weird direction choices) but neither do I feel all that much in the way of passion towards it either. It’s just a solid film.

 

46. Spiderman Homecoming

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Okay, I feel I gotta get this out of the way first. Sony’s marketing campaign for this movie was fucking abysmal. And I’m not just referring to the shitty posters here. I don’t know about you, but when I see trailers, I don’t want them to give away the entire fucking character/emotional arc of our main protagonist! Seriously Sony, what the actual shit? And even if I wanted too, I couldn’t avoid it because the trailer played at like half the movies I saw in Spring/Early Summer. I’d say that crap probably cost this movie about 4 or 5 places on this list because I knew exactly what would be coming and what the emotional beats would be. People give the Two Towers trailers shit for revealing Gandalf was coming back, but at least that didn’t reveal most of the story arc.

Ahem. Okay, now I’ve finished ranting about Sony’s inability to market a Spiderman movie, I thought this was fine. Just fine. I’m not fanboying over it like most people, but it was still mid-to-low tier Marvel, which is miles ahead of most blockbusters. I’ll admit, I’ll admit I’ve never been the fondest of Highschool Spidey, my nostalgic experience with the character was the 90’s animated show, so it does annoy me a tinge that they keep coming back to the same setting, but this was a fine adaptation of that sort of story.

I mean, if there was one thing I had to give it a lot of credit for, it was that it did a pretty damn good job of differentiating itself from the previous two incarnations of Movie Spiderman and also managed to dig its own unique niche into the MCU. Holland and Keaton are both great, obviously, and there were a lot of decently funny moments. But, I dunno, something about this movie just didn’t get me all that hyped compared to most Marvel movies.

To sum up, the movie was solid enough, if you ignore the bad marketing, but honestly I’m more interested in seeing where they go with that animated Miles Morales Spidey movie than Homecoming 2.

 

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