"The Secret World of Arrietty" and "Act of Valor"
The Secret World of Arrietty - Studio Ghibli is considered by some to be the Pixar of Japan (or is Pixar the American Studio Ghibli?). Its films, comprised mainly of the work of Hayao Miyazaki, have dazzled children and adults around the world for decades. Their latest, based upon the popular Mary Norton novel, The Borrowers, tells the story of miniscule people who live in the walls and under the floorboards of human homes. Arrietty (voiced for the American release by Bridgit Mendler) is about to be thirteen and is very excited about her "first borrowing." She'll be accompanying her father Pod (Will Arnett) on a mission to get some necessary items from the kitchen of their hosts. Her mother Homily (Amy Poehler) frets for her daughter's safety.
The venture seems to be successful until a human child, Shawn (David Henrie), who is around Arrietty's age, sees her from his bed. Arrietty has been taught all her life to fear humans but Shawn is a gentle soul and she seems to know it. The frail, bed-ridden Shawn seeks out a new friend, while Arrietty tries to reconcile what she's been told her whole life with her own intuition.
Written by Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, "The Secret World of Arrietty" is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It's a very quiet and thoughtful film and tells a nice, if somewhat slight, story. If you're a Miyazaki fan it probably won't top your list but you will enjoy it. 7/10.
Act of Valor - Going into this unique film I knew that it starred real active duty Navy Seals. This would mean it would have spectacular action sequences, the likes of which we've never seen before. It also meant that I would lower my expectations as far as acting and dialogue were concerned. These guys put their lives on the line in dangerous situations and kill terrorists for a living. I'm willing to look past the fact that they don't possess the acting chops of Edward Norton. This movie would have to be judged by a different standard.
Having said all of that it's difficult not to judge it by well, the same standard as anything else. As expected, the action scenes in which the Seals really get to show what they can do, are incredible. It's the inclusion of a narrative that is problematic. Making a documentary style drama that didn't require these men to act outside of the action scenes surely would have worked better. As it is, the non-combat dialogue scenes amongst the Seals are limited but it's still asking more of them than should have been asked and the scenes are meant to be powerful. I don't blame the non-actor actors for this, I blame the filmmakers who asked them to do that kind of dramatic heavy lifting.
There is, it should be said, one moment in which one of these non-actors gets to shine in a one on one face off. Senior Chief Petty Officer Miller (we are given no full names of characters or Seal actors), whose overall performance is a little less wooden than the rest of the Seals, interrogates a captured suspect (played by actor Alex Veadov) aboard the suspect's own yacht. In this moment, we see a man with a playful streak to his menace. ("You've never seen 'Star Trek?' That's insane.") As the scene progresses he becomes more terrifying by the second, using nothing but his words. Knowing he interrogates real terror suspects for a living made me feel that much safer. It's the one genuinely good piece of Seal acting in the film and it is the most memorable scene in the entire movie.
Honestly, I feel bad saying anything negative about a film that so positively portrays the people who protect this country every day. There are many things to recommend here but I can't go so far as to say that "Act of Valor" is a truly good movie. You just can't ask non-actors to carry emotionally powerful scenes like so many key moments in this film are meant to be. While I certainly never expected them to be great actors, the filmmakers shouldn't have expected them to be either. It's a glaring fault that I just can't ignore. 6/10.