This tender tale of a loyal dog is inspired by a real story about a dog who has become a beloved legend in Japan and is memorialized in a popular statue.
Richard Gere plays a professor who finds an abandoned Akita puppy at a railroad station. He and his wife (Joan Allen) keep the dog, and while Hachi never learns any of the usual tricks, he shows his devotion by coming to the station every night to meet his master, even after a tragic separation.
Though it has top stars, a heart-warming story, and an outstanding director (Lasse HallstrÃ¶m of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “The Cider House Rules”), the movie never got a theatrical release. You can see it this weekend on the Hallmark channel and it is available on DVD. (NOTE: a sad death, sensitively handled)
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day, about a butler who devoted his life to service without questioning his master’s authority or the validity of his judgment became a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. And now his book, Never Let Me Go is a movie that while very different in genre addresses some of the same themes. Once again, the setting is the English countryside, and once again the main characters are born into a life of service that they do not question.
It’s a science fiction story without a single lab coat, spaceship, or gizmo. It isn’t even set in the future, but the recent past. It appears very much like the world we knew in the the 1980’s, but we are told before it begins that a medical discovery in 1952 has led to life expectancy of 100 years in 1967.
Then Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan of “An Education”) starts to tell us her story. She is a “carer,” and thinking back on her childhood at a school called Hailsham. As we go back to see her there with her friends Ruth and Tommy, it all seems perfectly normal at first. But there are some elements that seem strange. The headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) makes the usual speech after finding cigarette butts at the school, but why does she emphasize that for these children especially “keeping yourselves healthy is of paramount importance?” Why do they seem to have no families or even last names? And what is that panel on the wall that beeps when they casually touch their wrist to it every day as they come back indoors?
The excitement in the children’s lives comes from the visits by “Madame,” who examines their artwork and selects the items she thinks are the best for her gallery, and even more on the rare opportunities they have to buy trinkets with the tokens they are given for good behavior. They are very happy when they hear they are getting a “bumper crop” and enjoy their treasures but to our eyes the items look like garage sale cast-offs. These are not poor children; they attend school in an almost-idyllic countryside setting. But they do not seem to have anything.
Just once, a teacher tells them the truth, and then she is fired. SPOILER ALERT: the secret not fully revealed until the end of the book is disclosed much earlier in the movie so I am going to include it here. If you don’t want to know, skip this paragraph. The fate of these children has already been decided. They have been bred for use as spare parts. They are to be kept healthy and happy like farm animals until, in their 20’s, they will become “donors.” And after three or four “donations,” they will “complete.” Their purpose is to give of themselves literally and ultimately to keep others alive.
Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) understands that just as “Rosemary’s Baby” tapped into a whole new category of dread by putting a Gothic story in modern Manhattan, giving us an alternate reality that seems so familiar to us is eerie and unnerving. It is not familiar through experience, set in the recent past. But it is also familiar through movies. The accents and Hailsham setting lull us into a Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater civilized world of tea being served at four. The fact that the truest horror happens off screen is haunting. When the headmistress says, “We were answering questions no one wanted asked,” it is as devastating as any gory attack by zombies or aliens. When the characters show their humanity by hoping for a better outcome, we see how much has been taken from them because they have no idea of how to insist on it.
The title comes from a “bumper crop” treasure, a used audio cassette by a torchy 60’s singer (performed by Jane Monheit), given to Kathy by Tommy. She plays it over and over. What does it mean to have someone who wants to hold on to you that way? Kathy knows how it feels to care deeply about someone. She loves Tommy. As they grow up, though, it is Ruth who becomes his — what? Girlfriend does not seem the right word as they have little sense of what that means. Ruth does tell Kathy that she will not let Tommy go. But then things change and as she has to let go of so much more, she thinks about what she can leave behind, what will give her life meaning beyond the limited scope that has been set for her.
Romanek, best known for music videos, is stronger on visuals than with story. He does very well in creating a world so believable, so thoroughly familiar and sturdily institutional, that the slight variances from what we know quickly seem natural. Like the people who proposed and approved and benefit from this system, the ones who are never seen and hardly referred to, we can watch without considering too deeply the consequences and significance of what we see — for a while.
The three sections of the film are starkly different in architecture and color scheme. Hailsham shows a little of the benign neglect of institutions that have existed for hundreds of years and are expected to be around forever. After graduation, they move to “cottages,” rural, rustic, remote. They make shy ventures into the world but can barely order a soda in a restaurant and feel most at home on a beach where an abandoned ship washed up on the shore somehow seems to resonate with them, an empty vessel, once useful, with nowhere to go.
Zack Snyder tries to do for feathers what he did for abs and biceps in “300” in this 3D animated adventure based on three books from the 15-book series of Ga’hoole novels by Kathryn Lansky. Every snowflake, feather, and talon is vivid, arresting, and (apparently) literally in your face, but the story is not as clear. the striking visuals do not make up for a muddled story with too many characters and a plot that seems to be pulled together from the usual Joseph Campbell/George Lucas/J.R.R. Tolkien box of plots and characters.
Two owl brothers, Soren (a likable Jim Sturgess) and Kludd, not quite ready to fly, fall out of the nest and are captured and flown to the headquarters of Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton) and his wife (acidly voiced by Helen Mirren), where kidnapped owlets are assigned to be soldiers or drones. Look at those names again — any question about which one is going to have the heart, I mean force, I mean gizzard to lead the rebel forces and which one is going to buy into the whole “we’re the pure and the strong so we get to oppress everyone else” side of things?
Wait, you say — but where are the colorful sidekicks? Right over here, where we have a lute-playing warrior-poet and a snake nanny and a future-predicting echidna (an egg-laying spiked mammal that looks sort of like a porcupine) and more. Well, then, you add, there must also be a wise mentor. Step this way, and meet Ezylryb (voiced with asperity by Geoffrey Rush). There are storms and battles and betrayals and a secret weapon made from blue flecks pecked out by owls turned “moon-blinked” (think zombie) from coughed up owl pellets (undigested bits of mouse, we are helpfully told).
Those not familiar with the book will find it hard to follow, especially because of the strong accents of many of the Aussie voice actors. Those who are looking for what they enjoyed in the books may miss the narrator’s voice. There is some impressive sound and fury, but it does not signify much. “Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real,” says the father owl. But, as this and too many other movies show, just because you do see something, even in sharpest 3D, doesn’t mean it is.
I loved “Babies” and I am very honored to be able to give away three copies of the Blu-Ray/DVD.
As I said in my review,
Until they make a movie entirely consisting of raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, Hallmark cards, and puppies in the window, this will hold the record as the most awwwwwww-inspiring movie ever made.
It’s about babies, but it’s also about families and about our common humanity.
The Blu-Ray and DVD have lots of great extras including an update showing the babies today with their families watching themselves.
BONUS FEATURES EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAYTM HI-DEF: Unleash the power of your HDTV with perfect picture and purest digital sound.
BD-LIVETM: Access the BD-LiveTM Center through your Internet-connected player to watch the latest trailers and more!
MY SCENES: Bookmark your favorite scenes from the movie.
pocket BLUâ„¢: USHE’s groundbreaking pocket BLU app uses iPhoneâ„¢, iPodÂ® touch, iPadÂ®, BlackberryÂ®, Androidâ„¢, Windows and Macintosh computers to work seamlessly with a network-connected Blu-rayTM player and offers advanced features such as:
Advanced Remote Control: A sleek, elegant new way to operate your Blu-rayâ„¢ player. Users can navigate through menus, playback and BD-Liveâ„¢ functions with ease.
Video Timeline: Users can easily bring up the video timeline, allowing them to instantly access any point in their favorite film.
Mobile-To-Go: Users can unlock a selection of bonus content with their Blu-rayâ„¢ discs to save to their device or to stream from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi network, enabling them to enjoy content on the go, anytime, anywhere.
Browse Titles: Users will have access to a complete list of pocket BLUâ„¢-enabled titles available and coming to Blu-rayâ„¢ Hi-Def. They can view free previews and see what additional content is available to unlock on their device.
Keyboard: Enter data into a Blu-ray player with your device’s easy and intuitive keyboard.
BONUS FEATURES (DVD and BLU-RAYâ„¢):
THE BABIES – THREE YEARS LATER FEATURETTE: Director Thomas BalmÃ¨s revisits all the babies – who are now four years old – and their parents.
EVERYBODY LOVES… YOUR BABIES SWEEPSTAKES WINNERS: See the winning photos and videos from our fans – whether it was their first words, playing with siblings, or simply sleeping.
If you’d like to submit an entry, send me an email at email@example.com with “Babies” in the subject line. Include your address (used for prizes only, I promise) and tell me the cutest thing you ever saw a baby do. On Oct 2 I’ll pick three winners at random. And if you’d like to try for the grand prize, a Complete Air Convertible Car Seat, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with Car in the subject line and give me your address and your favorite music to listen to with the baby in the car. Good luck!