Once again, National Poetry Writing Month has come to an end. Looking back at all the poems and films I covered in April, it’s amazing how every post feels like I wrote it just yesterday, yet here I am with 28 behind me, thankfully clearing much of my backlog of watched movies that I might not have ever gotten to review otherwise. True, I unfortunately missed a couple days, just like last year, but I’m still very pleased with how well I was able to keep up. (While I was finally free of school this year, I didn’t have any reviews pre-written before April started, which has helped me in the past, so it felt like the daily posts took up more time than usual.) And I had the special thrill of being featured on the NaPoWriMo website, which hasn’t happened since 2016!
I’m actually relieved to be on the other side of April and free to work on another writing project that’s been on semi-hold for the last month. Still, it’s always satisfying to stretch my poetic muscles alongside a slew of other poets here in cyberspace. Big thanks to the NaPoWriMo website for all the prompts and to everyone who wrote, read, liked, followed, and commented throughout the month! And here’s a recap of all the films/poems covered in NaPoWriMo 2022:
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a cento, a tricky form made up of lines borrowed from other poems. I probably spent more time on this hodgepodge of feminism than anything else this month. I only changed some punctuation here, and I’ve included annotations for where I found each line at the bottom of this post.)
I have not stood long on the strand of life, And I’m learning (though it sometimes really hurts me) The irresponsibility of the male. Everything was theirs because they thought so; ’Tis paid with sighs a plenty, And you just know he knows he knows The woman to be nobler than the man. Meekly we let ourselves be diverted, And woman in a bitter world must do the best she can.
Mere women, personal and passionate, Somewhere ages and ages hence: ‘Thou shalt not live by dreams alone. Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store Of blue midsummer loveliness, Of love’s austere and lonely offices, Of lads that wore their honors out, Of lusting, laughter, passion, pain.’
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come. Why do you show only the dark side?” It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard. For men may come and men may go, But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— I might as well be glad! I shall not pass this way again. ________________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
While playing Eleven in Stranger Things made an instant star out of Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes let her put that star power to use as not only the titular character but also a producer for this adaptation of Nancy Springer’s YA book series, one of Brown’s favorites as a child. As the previously unknown sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (here played by Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin, respectively), Enola shares their natural precociousness, thanks in large part to the unconventional homeschooling of her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). When Eudoria suddenly disappears, leaving only vague clues behind, Enola flees the expectations of her brothers to become a conforming Victorian lady and runs off to London in search of her mum while also stumbling into a murder plot involving a young marquess (Louis Partridge).
Despite some menace and light violence, the film is a light-hearted affair through and through, and I’m glad to see that clean, tween-friendly adventures of this quality are still being made. Brown shows far more charisma than in the role of Eleven and uses it to playful effect as she breaks the fourth wall, conversing freely with the audience like a first-person narrator. Some Sherlock Holmes fans might be disappointed (I understand many were) with Cavill’s restrained and less-than-omniscient portrayal of the famous detective, but he’s more of a side character here and still employs his famed deductive ability on occasion. Claflin’s Mycroft is more of an antagonist, acting as the aggressively traditional authority figure trying to crush Enola’s spirited individuality with corsets and boarding school, which by now have become clichéd forms of Victorian oppression.
The period costumes and locations are top-notch, and Enola’s puzzle-solving and gentle subversions keep the plot engaging, despite it feeling overly complex at times. One element that felt odd was Enola’s mother, who is shown to be her hero and dearest inspiration for thinking outside the box yet also is implied to be involved in some kind of feminist terrorist plot. That storyline is never resolved, and her final scene doesn’t really compensate for how she abandoned her daughter without explanation, leaving her character in a strange position of semi-sympathy. Hopefully, the sequel due later this year will address that further and give Brown another opportunity to bring her appealing character to life.
Best line: (Sherlock, giving sleuthing advice) “Look for what’s there, not what you want to be there.”
‘I have not stood long on the strand of life, (Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) And I’m learning (though it sometimes really hurts me) (“Learning” by Judith Viorst) The irresponsibility of the male (“Parturition” by Mina Loy) Everything was theirs because they thought so. (“The Last One” by W. S. Merwin) ’Tis paid with sighs a plenty (“When I Was One-and-Twenty” by A.E. Housman) And you just know he knows he knows. (“The Sloth” by Theodore Roethke) The woman to be nobler than the man, (Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Meekly we let ourselves be diverted (“Great Infirmities” by Charles Simic) And woman in a bitter world must do the best she can. (“The Harpy” by Robert Service)
Mere women, personal and passionate, (Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Somewhere ages and ages hence: (“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost) ‘Thou shalt not live by dreams alone (“Religious Instruction” by Mina Loy) Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store (“The Rights of Women” by Anna Laetitia Barbald) Of blue midsummer loveliness, (“A Summer Morning” by Rachel Field) of love’s austere and lonely offices? (“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden) Of lads that wore their honors out (“To an Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman) Of lusting, laughter, passion, pain, (“Prelude” from Ballads of a Bohemian by Robert Service)
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come; (“The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet) Why do you show only the dark side?” (“Käthe Kollwitz” by Muriel Rukeyser) It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard. (“The Quitter” by Robert Service) For men may come and men may go (“The Brook” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson) But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— (“First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay) I might as well be glad!” (“The Penitent” by Edna St. Vincent Millay) I shall not pass this way again. (“I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” by Anonymous)
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem balancing the gifts you were born with and some kind of curse. I started out with that goal, but I’m not sure the result quite matches the prompt today. Still, in going more general, I think I tapped into why I’m an optimist.)
It’s tempting to wish for a different life, To notice how easy another’s would be. If I were not stuck With such miserable luck… As if the potential were some guarantee.
Yet when I feel like that, beguiled by grief, Envisioning tragedy somehow undone, I catch such a muse, So intent to abuse, And show it each smile from trials I’ve won.
The good that I’ve seen and at least tried to do Could likewise be gone, both the sorrow and gifts. Life’s not simplified Looking on the bright side, But I’ll take what’s true over trading in ifs. ______________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
I can’t seem to find much agreement on whether The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is better or worse than its predecessor. I’ve read reviews that acclaim Andrew Garfield’s charisma when wearing his Spidey suit, and it certainly does have more personality than the somewhat bland first film. Yet I’ve also seen certain scenes mercilessly mocked, like the unresolved ending with Paul Giamatti as a hammy Russian Rhino. Personally, I think the second film does improve on the first, at least in answering some of the lingering questions, and it certainly took guts to put to film one of the most famous and gut-wrenching twists from the comics.
Garfield may still be the third best Peter Parker (sorry!), but he’s still quite a good one, especially alongside Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Haunted by the dying words of Gwen’s father (Denis Leary), he still fears for her safety, and with good reason as numerous supervillains threaten the city. Like many other nerds-turned-villains, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) starts out idolizing Spider-Man before an accident and a misunderstanding turn him into the vengeful Electro, while Peter’s old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan as a pale stand-in for James Franco) is spurred by a terminal illness into Green Goblin-hood.
There’s much to enjoy in Garfield’s second outing, from several outstanding action set pieces to the continued winsome chemistry between Peter and Gwen. While the backstory about Peter’s father isn’t the most interesting aspect, it does supply a logical answer to an unspoken question. I like to say that the freak accidents in these movies, like a radioactive spider bite or falling into a tank of electric eels, either kill you or give you superpowers, and there’s a pretty good reason why it was the latter for Peter specifically. The plot is rather long and busy with all the villains and laying the groundwork for future sequels that never materialized (Felicity Jones never gets to do much as Felicia Hardy), but I can appreciate how much this film tries since the first seemed content to be underwhelming.
It’s notable how both Garfield’s series and Tobey Maguire’s run as Spider-Man both ended on rather dour notes. Neither Spider-Man 3 nor Amazing Spider-Man 2 end very happily, so it’s all the better that No Way Home managed to provide some much-needed closure for some of its predecessors’ loose or less-than-satisfying ends. I’m still hoping for more, though, and with the renewed appreciation that No Way Home inspired for Spider-Men past, perhaps we’ll see even more of Garfield’s Peter Parker.
Best line: (Gwen Stacy’s valedictorian speech) “It’s easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too. There will be days where you feel all alone, and that’s when hope is needed most. No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer. My wish for you is to become hope; people need that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live? As we look around here today, at all of the people who helped make us who we are, I know it feels like we’re saying goodbye, but we will carry a piece of each other into everything that we do next, to remind us of who we are, and of who we’re meant to be.”
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a concrete poem, one that is written in the shape of its topic. These are always tricky for me, but I opted for the shape of a prominent letter befitting this film.)
What is a hero? Someone who sees What needs doing and does, Who knows what they’re losing And loses that others, even Strangers, may win, maybe Never knowing the name Of their hero. ______________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
Like many others, I was quite impressed with 2017’s Wonder Woman and thought it signaled an overdue increase in entertainment value for DC’s superhero lineup. Gal Gadot was perfectly cast as the idealistic Diana, her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor provided sacrificial pathos by the end, and the World War I setting was a unique contrast to all the modern superhero settings. So there was good reason to think that Wonder Woman 1984 would be a similar success, which only makes its failings more disappointing.
Set in 1984 (obviously), this second adventure sees Wonder Woman contending with less impressive threats than the Olympian god she took down in the first film. Pedro Pascal plays a desperate businessman Max Lord, who uses a wishing stone to gain the power to grant wishes himself, always with an unpleasant twist to them, while Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is the recipient of one of those wishes, a clumsy geologist whose initial hero worship for Wonder Woman turns to resentment as she becomes the confident Cheetah. Of course, Diana gets a wish of her own as well, which enables the return of her long-lost love Steve, albeit in a way that is problematic for long-term happiness.
There was a good movie somewhere in the pitch for Wonder Woman 1984, but it got lost in the overload of themes and complete lack of subtlety. There are some decent action scenes, like during a truck chase in Egypt, while one set in a mall is laughably mediocre in tone and execution. Both Lord’s monkey-paw-style mania and Barbara’s descent into villainy have good moments as well, with Pascal’s smarmy façade especially fitting his character to a T, yet their final confrontations with Wonder Woman are too chaotic with obvious CGI to be taken seriously. The moral of the wish storyline especially falls flat, implying that everyone would only wish for evil things if given the chance (President Reagan is literally shown wishing he had more nukes as opposed to something like, I don’t know, world peace), and it’s bewildering how incoherent the finale is, with Barbara somehow getting a second wish and both Lord and Diana somehow speaking to everyone on Earth via a satellite.
I went into Wonder Woman 1984 wanting to like it and did enjoy seeing Steve reunited with Diana and introduced to the 1980s, but not even the same director and stars from the first film could save a plot this half-baked. It does have some silly-enough-to-be-entertaining appeal, though. Gadot is still an ideal Wonder Woman, so I hope she can still get a worthy sequel at some point. I’d wish for it, but now I know that can be risky.
Best line: (Max Lord, repeatedly) “Life is good! But it can be better.”
Rank: Honorable Mention (since I’d still probably watch it again.)
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was a “duplex,” a complex sonnet form “organized into seven, two-line stanzas. The second line of the first stanza is echoed by (but not identical to) the first line of the second stanza, the second line of the second stanza is echoed by (but not identical to) the first line of the third stanza, and so on. The last line of the poem is the same as the first.” Hopefully, this attempt fits the bill.)
What has a beginning must have an end, And no one can see it until it arrives.
Though no one can see it, we still comprehend The subtle impermanence of our own lives.
Impermanent, yes, but our lives leave a mark Upon those who follow the traces we leave,
And so we must leave traces here in the dark And give without knowing who else will receive.
For no one has known who will follow their wakes; No great name of history read the next page.
The page being written no doubt has mistakes, But let them inform the next coming of age.
The next age that comes is another’s to tend. What has a beginning must have an end. ________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
The Midnight Sky is an odd installment in the sci-fi genre, combining bits of post-apocalypse, survival, space exploration, and emotional introspection into an aspiring whole. Based upon the novel Good Morning, Midnight and directed by star George Clooney, it’s essentially two separate films that come together toward the end. In one, Clooney plays dying astronomer Augustine Lofthouse, who chooses to remain at an Arctic observatory as an unstated catastrophe destroys the earth with radioactivity. He finds a young girl left behind as well and takes her on a snowy journey to another weather station so he can warn a spaceship of the disaster before they reach Earth. The spaceship is the other half of the plot, in which five good-natured astronauts (including Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, and Kyle Chandler) return from an exploratory mission and naturally run into unforeseen dangers.
I liked both halves of this slow and somber drama about the near-end of humanity, but I’m not sure they quite fit together. A twist connecting them is quite moving the more I think about it, but my initial reaction was more confusion than pathos. Still, the acting is strong across the board, with Clooney especially excelling as a grizzled man weighed down by regret, and his journey across the Arctic with a quiet little girl was oddly reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ turn in News of the World, particularly a part where he loses track of her in a storm. Clooney’s artful direction is evident both on Earth and in a gravity-defying space walk sequence that earned the film a well-deserved Oscar nomination for its visual effects. The Midnight Sky is an overly familiar hodgepodge, and a rather depressing one at that, but its individual strengths still add up to a worthwhile journey for sci-fi fans like me.
Best line: (Augustine, telling the spaceship crew about Earth) “I’m afraid we didn’t do a very good job of looking after the place while you were away.”
(Sadly, I missed another day yesterday, thanks to an unpleasant misadventure that spoiled my creative mood, but I’m back for the home stretch. Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for an epic simile, a more detailed and flowery comparison like those of Homer and Milton.)
As when the soldier staggers home to stay And greets the eyes of wife and son and daughter With satisfaction that his time away Has made them safer from the tides of slaughter,
Or as the shrewd inventor lays his last Concluding touch upon the work of years With satisfaction that the future vast Will see his name alive among his peers,
Or as the farmer tends his fussy field To balance needs of water, sun, and shade, With satisfaction seeing labor yield The fruits that prove his knowledge of his trade,
So did the two comedians on stage Endure each other’s kicks and pokes and taunts, Still satisfied as crowds of every age Would laugh and share what every showman wants. __________________________
MPA rating: PG
While I consider myself a cinephile, I must admit I have never seen any of the dozens of films in which Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy starred, though I think everyone recognizes their names as icons of comedy. Yet even with my limited knowledge of the bowler-hatted duo, I can tell that Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy do a marvelous job replicating their acclaimed slapstick down to their physicality, which is made obvious when the actual Laurel and Hardy are shown during the end credits. While an early scene (with one of those marvelous tracking shots that I love) shows them in their Hollywood prime, most of the film is set in 1953 when the pair were struggling to capitalize on their former fame through a music hall tour of the UK and Ireland. Having had a falling out years before, they attempt to recreate their comedic chemistry on stage, while dealing with sparse opportunities, old resentments, and Hardy’s failing health.
At first, the comedy routines recreated by Coogan and Reilly seemed too simple and quaint, but as we see audiences howling with laughter at their antics, it became clear just how far modern comedy has strayed from its humble roots and how much easier to please and impress audiences were in decades past. Yet their high jinks do have an innocent charm that comes through here, even as the film shows the discord and physical strain that was only visible offstage. Reilly is especially game wearing a fat suit, but both leads are excellent while never showboating; the same is true for Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as their wives, who have their own odd-couple chemistry while clearly caring for their husbands’ welfare. By the end, there’s a feeling of triumph in something as simple as a vaudeville dance, highlighting how rare and lovable their partnership was. Even if you haven’t seen the original Laurel and Hardy, Stan and Ollie makes clear their understated talent and bond, a small but sweet testament to two comedy legends who shouldn’t be forgotten.
Best line: (Stan Laurel) “You know, when you watch our movies, nobody else in the stories knows us, and we don’t know anybody either. It was just the two of us. All we had was each other.”
(I was delighted to be one of today’s featured poets on the NaPoWriMo website for yesterday’s poem, and I again thank everyone out there for reading and taking part in this writing challenge. Today’s prompt was to channel old detective novels with hard-boiled similes, which lend themselves perfectly to colorful descriptions.)
The fire burned like it knew its own death And when it would have to be tamed, And so it ran rampant upon the wind’s breath Not caring for what it be blamed.
Like a convict escaped from the eve of death row, It guzzled and ravaged and razed, As if it but cared that all people would know It had lived, and though briefly, had blazed.
Like the contents that ruptured from Pandora’s box, It can’t be returned to its source. It only can steal, like a wretched red fox Who feeds without any remorse. ____________________________
MPA rating: R (for language and violence)
One more 2020 film whose release was sabotaged by a certain pandemic, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a competent thriller that deserved better than its understandably poor box office showing. Based on a novel by Michael Koryta, who also helped pen the screenplay, the film is a natural fit for writer-director Taylor Sheridan, whose works like Hell or High Water embody the modernized western. This story of a young boy being hunted by assassins through the mountainous forests of Montana could have been set in the Old West, yet the modern setting makes it that much more believable and engrossing.
Angelina Jolie plays smokejumper Hannah Faber, who is haunted by lives lost in a recent wildfire. When she stumbles upon a young teen (Finn Little) fleeing a pair of ruthless hitmen (Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult), she decides to protect him at all costs. There aren’t any major twists to the story, but it’s a taut tale well told. Jolie is quite good, but the standouts are Gillen and Hoult as the two murderous brothers who are both clever and callous enough for mortal danger to never be far behind the protagonists, especially when they start a wildfire to distract authorities and hem in their prey. Medina Senghore also gets a moment to shine as a pregnant wife who proves her mettle against the villains.
I have not read the original novel, but my VC has and noted that the book was better (of course) and that the film had several differences and focused more on Jolie’s character than the novel did, which Koryta must have approved as co-screenwriter. The movie did remedy an odd decision toward the end that allowed the movie to have a more satisfying ending, albeit with several unresolved story threads. My VC has become a big fan of Michael Koryta’s after reading this first book of his to be adapted to the screen, so hopefully others will follow.
Best line: (Jack, one of the hitmen) “I hate this f***ing place.” (Allison) “It hates you back.”
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem in the style of poet Kay Ryan, whose work is characterized by short lines “with a lot of rhyme and soundplay.”)
Everybody Has regrets. We only pray That ours will not Result someday In death or debts We cannot pay, The kind of blot That none forgets, The kind that nought Can wash away. ___________________________
MPA rating: PG-13 (for heavy subject matter and some language)
It’s hard to believe that Mass wasn’t based on some existing play but rather an original script from actor Fran Kranz, who also made his directorial debut with this small but emotionally potent drama. Set mostly in a small back room of an Episcopal church, the film is essentially one long conversation, or more of a therapy session between two middle-aged couples: Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), whose son was killed a few years before in a school shooting, and Richard (Lee Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), whose son was the shooter before committing suicide.
It takes time, but awkward pleasantries soon evolve into accusations, unanswerable questions, and mutual attempts at empathy. Shouldn’t Richard and Linda have seen what their son was capable of before it happened? Should Jay and Gail blame them for not raising their son differently? The film doesn’t give any definitive answers or go deep into the political attempts at a “solution,” instead seeking to bare the emotions of all and find compassion for those whose lived experience and responses to trauma can never be completely understood. And while neither couple evokes God or religion as part of their anger or recovery, the very setting in a church and its final scene imply that grace and comfort can be found by those who seek it.
I watched Mass with some detachment, admiring the award-worthy performances by all four of the main actors (shame on the Oscars for snubbing all of them) and sympathizing with each to different extents. Yet I found it interesting that my VC had a different reaction, one with more anger toward Richard and Linda for not recognizing their son’s descent into darkness before it was too late. Yet I felt such a scenario was all too realistic, since no mother or father wants to believe the worst in their child. So Kranz’s screenplay certainly manages to plumb the depths of its sensitive topic, which viewers will react to differently, yet hopefully gain an added perspective into how the victims of such tragedies extend to those left behind. Some of the story framing with a neurotic church employee didn’t seem necessary, and I’m not sure what a repeated scene of a field was supposed to represent, but Mass is still a hard-hitting Triple A film (one that’s All About the Acting) whose raw but valuable premise highlights the power of grace over finger-pointing in the universal expression of grief.
Best line: (Richard, to Jay) “You think you can attach one word to something in order to understand it? To make you feel safe? Well, I won’t say it. I don’t believe it. It’s not simple; it’s everything you cannot see.”
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem featuring repetition, so what better film to inspire me than one about a time loop?)
I woke up this morning And jumped out of bed. I woke up this morning And lay there instead.
I woke up this morning To paint the town red. I woke up this morning And ended up dead.
I woke up this morning, My wild oats spread. I woke up this morning To tears and bloodshed.
I woke up this morning And panicked and fled. I woke up this morning And just shook my head.
I woke up this morning, To nothing but dread. I woke up this morning With nothing ahead.
I woke up this morning Again, as I said. I woke up this morning, Tomorrow still gone. So how many mornings Will this hell go on? ______________________
MPA rating: R (mainly for language)
Time loop movies have gotten a sudden surge of interest recently, from the action of Boss Level to the teen romance of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (both of which I still need to see), but 2020’s Palm Springs was a pandemic-era hit that brought the subgenre to the fore. I don’t want to sound dismissive, but no time loop movie will ever top the fantastically original Groundhog Day, which every other such film will inevitably be compared to and found lacking. Still, Palm Springs proves there’s room for more than just one ‘90s classic.
Set in the titular California desert resort, Palm Springs mixes up the usual time loop scenario by throwing in two loopers (well, actually three) rather than a single sufferer. The two in question are wedding guest Nyles (Andy Samberg) and the sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti), both of whom stumble upon a mysterious energy source within a cave at different times and end up endlessly repeating the wedding day, “one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about,” as Nyles calls it. Like Bill Murray did before, the reactions of the pair range from hedonism to despair to eventual nihilism as they both decide that nothing matters when time itself won’t let you move forward or even die, though each of them are in the rare position of having someone else sharing the same predicament, someone who may offer them something worth caring about.
I can certainly appreciate an unconventional rom com, and Samberg and Milioti make a likable pair to root for… eventually. Truth be told, I didn’t much enjoy either of them at the beginning, owing to their casual promiscuity and growing cynicism, but they both reach a point where they realize their own failings and strive to be better. And while one finds their way to an actual solution to the time loop problem, the other grows confident enough to give a stirring confession of love reminiscent of the end of When Harry Met Sally…. Plus, there’s J.K. Simmons as a third time looper who naturally steals his few scenes with a different response to eternity than the other two.
I suppose my main complaint is one that few will share, just disappointment that this had to be R-rated when Groundhog Day remained clean enough to be watchable by all. Even so, Palm Springs caters to my fondness for time loop stories and becomes a far more satisfying and endearing rom com than I expected from its first half. Like its predecessor, it cleverly finds ways to keep its potential repetition from getting boring and has more original ideas than its borrowed concept might indicate, so I can give it some respect. But Groundhog Day was still better.
Best line: (Nyles) “You’re my favorite person that I’ve ever met, and, yes, I know that it’s crazy odds that the person I like the most in my entire life would be someone I met while I was stuck in a time loop, but you know what else is crazy odds, getting stuck in a time loop…”
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was rather detailed, to “recall someone you used to know closely but are no longer in touch with, then a job you used to have but no longer do, and then a piece of art that you saw once and that has stuck with you over time. Finally, close the poem with an unanswerable question.” I decided to adapt the prompt to the viewpoint of a character from this film.)
He made me laugh until the day He made me cry and went away. Though where he’s gone I cannot say, I like to think he rues that day.
My sister worked me to the bone When she was young and trouble-prone, But now that she is nearly grown, I hate to think of her alone.
I still recall the song he played, And when my sister can be swayed, She plays and makes me wish he’d stayed. Why can’t I let the memories fade? _______________________________
MPA rating: Not Rated (a tame PG-13)
While modern anime films are dominated by Mamoru Hosoda and Makoto Shinkai (plus the plethora of films based on existing properties), there are some underrated original gems that don’t get as much attention as they should. Her Blue Sky is yet another example of the poignancy so easily captured by writer Mari Okada, known for emotion-heavy tearjerkers like The Anthem of the Heartand Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. This one doesn’t really aim for tears as those do, but it certainly appeals to one’s sense of nostalgia and the regret that comes with looking back at how much we change over the years.
Set in the mountainous Chichibu area (where Okada was born herself), the film focuses on a young bassist named Aoi and her older sister Akane, who has cared for Aoi alone for the last thirteen years, choosing this responsibility over running off to Tokyo with her musician boyfriend Shinno. As a music festival approaches, Aoi remembers her fondness for Shinno and is shocked when he appears in her shed, looking exactly as he did thirteen years ago. While she suspects he is a ghost, the arrival of a grown, still-living Shinno back to town catches them off-guard, and the difference between his optimistic younger self and jaded older self puts both sisters through the emotional ringer.
While some may be disappointed at the lack of explanation for the supernatural elements, especially during a climactic sequence that is both delightfully touching and a little silly-looking, Shinno’s younger self is supposedly an ikiryō, a Japanese spirit that can manifest from a living person, a bit of interesting folklore I didn’t know, much like the 1970s song “Gondhara,” which features prominently in the film. The animation is a treat, with particular detail afforded to the instrument-playing, which is so often obscured to avoid the effort of animating authentic performances, and I’ve always enjoyed the character designs of this creative team, who previously worked on shows like Toradora.
While Aoi’s moody teenager shell may seem pretentious at first, her relationship with her sister is strained but quite sweet, as are the interactions with Shinno as she questions her feelings toward her sister’s ex. Thankfully, it all wraps up in a satisfying end, which is surprising since much of that end is only suggested in still images during the end credits. Her Blue Sky isn’t very easy to find and doesn’t even have an English dub yet, but it’s a small and tender drama of music and sisterhood that is worth seeking out.