There are scores of legends throughout the world that describe an apocalyptic flood with a lone survivor who repopulates Earth. From the Seminoles to the Senegalese, from the Mayan to the Malaysian, from the Inuit to the Egyptian, these are passed down through the ages with spooky similarities.

As this movie began, it occurred to me that some of the kerfuffle from the fundamentalists might have been avoided if writer/director Darren Aronofsky had used something other than the Judeo-Christian version for inspiration. Then I realized he used the familiar names as a sort of shorthand to avoid the need for lengthy explanation. No matter what his rationale, by the time I left the theater, I felt I had been led through the book of Genesis (including all those "begats") with generous doses of artistic license: the animals are computer generated images with only a slight tip of the hat toward realism. Do NOT trouble yourself with this film if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible.

You see:
  • Russell Crowe ("Winter's Tale") as Noah, the paterfamilias who gets one upsetting message after another from The Creator. He's doing his best to obey; it is clear that he is the world's first conservationist.
  • Jennifer Connelly ("The Dilemma") as his wife Naameh, who seems part loving wife and mother, and part shaman (she paces through the ark swinging a sort of incense burner with which she anesthetizes the creatures).
  • Anthony Hopkins ("RED 2") is Methuselah (see, I told you "familiar names"), sitting on his mountain, who wants to enjoy the taste of berries one more time.
  • Logan Lerman ("Percy Jackson" franchise) does some of the heavy lifting as Ham, who asks the obvious question, "Where will I find a wife if all of mankind is wiped out?"
  • Emma Watson ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") is Ila, their adopted daughter, gravely wounded when she was a child.
  • Douglas Booth ("Romeo and Juliet") is Shem, the lucky son who gets the girl.
  • Ray Winstone ("Hugo") is Tubal-Cain a descendant of Cain, perpetrator of the world's first fratricide. He says "I am a Man" and knows he has dominion over the animals.
This PG-13 movie tries to cover too many issues and relies on computer generated imaging (rock warriors, anyone?) for all of the action. In my opinion, this only detracts from a fairly involving story, if only they had focused on it. Connelly, Crowe and Lehrman are all three very capable actors, so they brought more to the table than this script deserved.

I saw this in a theater with closed captions. I suspect I would have missed some of the dialogue if I hadn't worn the glasses. There were some very quiet, murmured moments.
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Please note all the CGI!
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The Lunchbox

Brace yourself. This gentle PG-rated drama has no gunshots, no car chases, no sweaty bodies and no blowie uppie stuff. It does, however, have several people to root for and a very clever premise.

An unappreciated wife prepares her husband's lunch each day but he never acknowledges the effort and planning she puts into it. One day, through some sort of clerical error, the lunch is delivered to a widower who thinks it is from the contractor who usually furnishes his meals. He eats every bite and she is gratified to see that her food is appreciated. Her husband however, says he liked the cauliflower, which wasn't in the lunch she sent.

We smile with:
  • Irrfan Kahn ("Life of Pi") is the widower, soon to be retired, but delighted with the food that comes daily from the wrong cook! He wants to be left alone and has a deep fear of aging.
  • Nimrat Kaur ("Peddlers") is the lovely but unappreciated wife, happy that her food is finally being enjoyed.
  • Nawazuddin Siddiqui ("Liar's Dice") is the ebullient (and VERY handsome) young man hired to replace our hero when he retires. His mother says, "Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station."
  • Nakul Vaid ("Stalker") is that unappreciative husband. He has many things on his plate, but his wife's cooking is not one of them!
Mumbai's byzantine lunch-box delivery system is famous for its efficiency. (You have to see it to believe it!) When our heroine tells the deliveryman her lunches are going to the wrong person, he tells her the system was approved by Harvard and they cannot make mistakes.

The actors switch seamlessly between Hindi and English, so if you don't see any captions, they are probably speaking English.
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Please take a peek at this preview:
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Ernest and Celestine

In this 2013 Seattle International Film Festival entry from France (English captions), "Ernest & Celestine" teaches us that the Tooth Fairy is actually a busy bunch of orphaned mice, gathering baby teeth for a clinic that provides implants. Each little mouse has a quota to meet and if you come up short, you will be very, very sorry.

Our industrious little heroine, Celestine, hasn't met her tooth quota, because she is busy writing happy fantasies about animals who get along with one another, like mice and bears. This is in direct contradiction of the proprietress of the orphanage, who frightens her charges with bed- time stories about Big Bad Bears. To disagree is to disobey!

In the meantime, we also join Ernest, a less-than-successful bear who tries to entertain his fellow bears with clowning, juggling and a unicycle. He becomes very hungry; thus begins our story of an unlikely friendship.

This award-winning story isn't Disney-fied and children would probably find it charming; I know many of us did. The biggest problem is language. If children are too young to read the English captions, they had better be in a French class! Which might be a good idea, come to think of it. By the second grade, my nephew was able to watch a foreign film, read the English captions and follow the story with no problem at all, so it will probably depend on the child.

As you can see by the art work in the trailer, the gentle watercolor art- work evokes memories of A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh.
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Take a peek at the trailer:
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Cesar Chavez

This tepid PG-13 biopic illustrates the life and times of the civil-rights activist and labor organizer "Cesar Chavez." Director Diego Luna ("Milk" and "The Terminal") starts at the hot, dusty beginning and takes us up through the historic signing of the agreement between the California growers and the United Farmworkers' Union after a five-year strike and grape boycott which extended as far as Europe. (Yeah... I know, "Spoiler," but we all know, don't we?)

We see:
  • Michael Peña ("End of Watch" and "American Hustle") does a capable but strangely non-charismatic job of portraying our eponymous hero. I'm a fan of Peña's, but ...maybe it's the direction?
  • Rosario Dawson ("Gimme Shelter" and "Zookeeper") is front and center as Dolores Huerta, the dynamic co-founder of the United Farmworkers' Union.
  • America Ferrera ("Under the Same Moon" and "Ugly Betty") is wonderful as Peña's stalwart wife, Helen.
  • John Malkovich ("Red 1 & 2") demonstrates his multilingual skills by pronouncing the "v" in "Chavez" as a "b" which is correct; made me smile... His character is affiliated with the growers and disagrees with his attorney son who wants to negotiate. He thinks it's a big waste of college tuition. He too, is an immigrant, although the script doesn't explain.
  • Jack Holmes ("Live at the Foxes Den") doesn't really look like Robert Kennedy, but the voice is spot on!
Through the judicious use of actual news clips plus staged scenes which illustrate the brutality of law enforcement agencies and Chavez's struggle to keep his strike non-violent, we witness an important piece of American history. We also see the price he and his family paid for his efforts.

Sometimes the soundtrack seems muted, particularly during the scenes that surround his hunger strike, so if you have a hearing problem, find a theater that offers Closed Captions. Perhaps Oscar-nominated script- writers Keir Pearson and Timothy J. Sexton did a better job than I thought; maybe I just couldn't hear the dialogue. Somehow, this just didn't seem to generate the passion and excitement I expected. In my opinion, it deserves better.

Our Latino population has discretionary money to spend on movies that interest and entertain them. Look at the phenomenal success of "Instructions Not Included" ("No se Aceptan Devoluciones") in 2013. I own that DVD and love it! The last I heard, at $65M, it was the top-earning Spanish language film in American history. 
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Here is a preview of Cesar Chavez:
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As a rule, I mention it when a movie is made for a targeted audience; this one definitely is, and it hits the bullseye! Every 20'ish young man in the audience applauded with each knife thrust, bullet smack, beheading and torture. They laughed out loud at the R-rated vulgarities that flew off the screen and chatted happily as we exited the theater. Needless to say, I am NOT part of that targeted group, so I was less than thrilled.

We begin with an elite DEA undercover team as it raids a drug cartel's safe house. Our heroes do something illegal with $10M before blowing up the rest. When they go back to pick up their stash, it's gone. With the investigation that follows, our story begins....

One by one, our guys are killed in horrific ways (not necessarily in this order):
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Last Stand") Breacher is the team leader. While he is under investigation, his team starts to suspect each other.
  • Sam Worthington ("Somersault") Monster has one weakness: his wife.
  • Terrence Howard ("Prisoners") Sugar keeps a low profile.
  • Joe Manganiello ("Magic Mike") Grinder wants to set things straight.
  • Max Martini ("Captain Phillips") Pyro is my favorite.
  • Mirelle Enos ("Gangster Squad") Lizzy seems to be a loose cannon.
  • Kevin Vance ("End of Watch") Tripod has his own safe house.
  • Josh Holloway ("Mission Impossible") Neck has poor taste in tattoos.
  • Olivia Williams ("Hyde Park on Hudson") is a homicide detective pulled in waaay over her head!
Writer/Director David Ayer ("Fury") is far more focused on gruesome action than finesse. That suited his audience just fine. Not me....
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Here is a sample:
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This new series is based on Veronica Roth's world-wide best-selling Young Adult trilogy. Again we have the alienated teenager in a post-apocalyptic world, whose population is divided into five disciplines: Candor (Honest); Abnegation (Selfless); Erudite (Intelligent); Amity (Peaceful); and Daunt- less (Brave). Each faction has its own responsibility; this separation creates a smoothly running society.

Each young adult is tested so he or she will make an informed decision as they bet their life (kind of a Harry Potter Sorting Hat). Problem is, there are a few unusual folks who have aptitudes for more than one discipline ...to their great peril, as they aren't allowed to change their mind! Our heroine could belong to three different factions, so begin her troubles...

We watch:
  • Shailene Woodley ("The Decendants") is our heroine Tris, trying to fit in, despite her "special mind." She opts for the Dauntless faction even though her parents are Abnegation. (Her brother goes to Erudite.)
  • Theo James (he was that dead Turk in Lady Mary's bed in Season One of "Downton Abbey") is Four, a demanding Dauntless training instructor.
  • Kate Winslet ("Labor Day") is the icy Christine Matthews; she utterly believes in the system.
  • Zoë Kravitz ("After Earth") is Christina, a sweet colleague who, like Tris, is just trying to survive.
  • Ray Stevenson ("Thor"); Marcus Eaton wants forgiveness from his absent son.
  • Ashley Judd ("Dolphin Tale") is Natalie Prior, our heroine's mother.
  • Tony Goldwyn ("Scandal") is Andrew Prior, her father.
This is far more "Hunger Games" than "Twilight," in that we have a strong heroine who doesn't wait to be rescued. In addition, our heroine has to work hard to develop her skills, like Katniss in "Hunger Games," not just be born beautiful and irresistible like Bella.

Director Neil Burger ("Limitless") never loses sight of the PG-13 rating, we can expect some gunfire, martial arts and a teeny bit of profanity, but no sweaty bodies, e.g., our heroine tells a would-be lover, "I want to take it slow." The YA bones show, but that is to be expected. The young gals in the audience seemed to have a splendid time, and I did NOT suffer!
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Here is a trailer:
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Muppets Most Wanted

Kermit has a doppelgänger. And he is dastardly! Therein lies our PG- rated story. (I think the rating is based on some subtle sexual references, but later, we couldn't recall what they were.) All that distinguishes Kermit from his nemesis Constantine, is a wart on the bad guy's upper lip. That, plus the Russian accent....

As you probably know, The Muppets can invite an astonishing number of name-brand performers to one of these capers. In this one, if you recognize one familiar face, you'll see 30 more! I am in bewildered awe that so many performers (on both sides of The Pond) seem delighted to provide cameos for these fuzzy folks. I could easily name scores of actors I recognized without breaking a sweat. We have seen them in everything from "Downton Abbey" to "Machete." What fun!

Along with the familiar voices of our favorite characters, here are a few of the guest celebrities we enjoyed:
  • Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") is Jean Pierre Napoleon, an Interpol agent who is determined to bring Constantine, The World's Most Dangerous Criminal to justice, so long as it's BEFORE his American counterpart!
  • Ricky Gervais ("The Invention of Lying") is Domenic Badguy (pron. "Bah ghee" it's French), Constantine's evil sidekick (his "Number Two." Maybe THAT's the reason for the PG rating. ...smile...).
  • Tina Fey ("30 Rock") Nadya makes "Siberia" rhyme with "superior." She enlists her prisoner Kermit to bring some class to her Siberian prisoners' annual musical. She LOVES Broadway!
  • Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") as himself, dances with a Muppet. What kind of dance you may ask? Yup! A Waltz!
  • Salma Hayek ("Grown Ups") as herself. She suspects that a proposed "Indoor Running of the Bulls" event in a crowded theater might present a bit of a problem.
I LOVED the world's smallest police car; the visits to Berlin, Moscow, Dublin, London and Siberia; the glimpses of famous American, Canadian, French, Spanish, Mexican and British actors; music from "A Chorus Line" done by a line-up of Siberian prisoners (you won't believe all the familiar faces in THAT bunch!); and Miss Piggy's dilemma. There were times I was the only one giggling, but then again, movies are my hobby.

The children in the screening audience adored The Muppets and their lively production numbers, the adults loved all the familiar faces, laughed at the clever dialogue and applauded the surprise guest in that iron box. Me too!
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Here is the silly preview you wanted:
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Bad Words

Adults acting like selfish children? In today's cinematic world, this should be a surefire winner, but... In this R-rated comedy (raunchy language, giving alcohol to a child, anatomical humor, sexual situations and partial nudity) a grown man intends to compete with school children so he can win a spelling bee and get revenge for a long-held grudge.

Jason Bateman wears a director's hat for this one; he has often directed TV shows, but this seems to be his first film. I wish he had chosen a more likable character to portray. This guy seems to be in a state of... should I say it? "Arrested Development." ...smile...

Here is his cast:
  • Jason Bateman ("Identity Thief") Guy finds a loophole in the rulebook and really, really wants to win that contest! Even after we learn his motive, he remains an abrasive, self-centered loner (this character is a proof reader by trade).
  • Rohan Chand ("Lone Survivor") Chaitainya Chopra is the boy equally determined to bring home that trophy...well, his dad is.... Being bullied at school is only part of his problem.
  • Kathryn Hahn ("We're the Millers") Jenny is a reporter for the on-line publication that sponsors Guy. She is trying to discover his real motivation for this outlandish maneuver.
  • Allison Janney ("The Way Way Back") Dr. Bernice Deagan is the director of the spelling bee. She is determined to thwart our hero's attempt to win this contest.
  • Philip Baker Hall ("People Like Us") Dr Bowman originated this spelling bee and is proud that this will be it's first year on national television.
I did NOT like the dirty tricks played on other contestants, nor did I like our hero's lack of redemption, but I laughed long and hard at the most outrageous spelling bee finale I have ever seen!

YOYO (You're on your own.)
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Here is a quick little trailer:
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Portentous: Giving a sign or warning that something unusually bad or unpleasant is going to happen. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Pretentious: Showing the unpleasant quality of people who want to be seen as more impressive than they really are. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Now my review: Have you ever been told you have a doppelgänger (someone who looks exactly like you)? I have.... But I have never been motivated to investigate, unlike our hero in this chaotic Mystery/Thriller, where we see a glum history professor become fixated on meeting his dynamic double after he spots him in a movie.

Based on the novel by the late José Saramago and directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners"), our R-rated story has nudity, sweaty bodies and a car crash, but no gunshots, blowie uppie stuff or much profanity.

Here are some of the cast members:
  • Jake Gyllenhaal ("Prisoners") is both the professor and the actor. Give this guy some points: his physical bearing is very different, based on which character he is playing. I was impressed.
  • Mélanie Lauren ("Inglorious Basterds") is the professor's girlfriend, far more patient with his moods than I would expect.
  • Sarah Gadon (Lots of TV) is the actor's porcelain-skinned, very pregnant wife. She seems uncommonly smart.
  • Isabella Rossellini ("Infamous") may or may not be the professor's real mother.
Shot back-to-back with the filming of "Prisoners" this pretentious work of "Art" was off-putting to me from the beginning. It had gloomy lighting and mystifying relationships, plus unexplained weeping. These were compounded by two unlikable characters, each with an identical scar on his torso...which is never explained.

The music, photography and production design all send portentous signals that all is not as it seems, particularly when the spider theme keeps showing up. The abrupt ending felt to me like a Shaggy Dog joke, you know, no punch line...
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Here is a preview:
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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Writer/Director Wes Anderson ("Fantastic Mr. Fox") is at it again. I find this movie far more accessible than some of his previous films ("The Darjeeling Limited") so I'm happy. Inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig ("Letter From an Unknown Woman"), this is a goofy triumph of R- rated filmmaking.

We follow the (mis)adventures of a legendary concierge in a legendary hotel at a time when a legendary war threatens the borders of this legendary country. I can't recall a recent film that tickled so many of my funny bones: from the amazing production design (both interior AND exterior); the machine-gun dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor; to a demonstration of the brotherhood of hotel concierges; plus, for movie fans, one famous face after another.

We spot:
  • Ralph Fiennes ("Coriolanus") has a blast as Gustave H., the super-efficient concierge. Compared to his usual dramatic roles, this whimsical comedy is a great change of pace for Fiennes.
  • Tony Revolori (Lots of TV) is Zero, his loyal lobby boy.
  • F. Murray Abraham (Lots of TV) is, many years later, the older Zero.
  • Tilda Swinton ("Moonrise Kingdom") is soon a corpse. That's all I'm gonna say...
  • Mathieu Amalric ("Quantum of Solace") may or may not be her killer.
  • Jeff Goldblum ("The Switch") is a lawyer who comes to read her will.
  • Adrien Brody ("Midnight in Paris") is a frustrated would-be heir.
  • Bill Murray ("Monuments Men") is one of MANY resourceful concierges
  • Saoirse Ronan ("Hanna") is a candy maker. I'm including her because there are so few women in this cartoony cast!
I'm running out of space and haven't scratched the top layer of actors.

Frantic and silly, this absurd adventure out-Andersons the previous works of Wes Anderson! Remember, in Anderson's comedies, everyone plays his or her role absolutely straight. This always enhances the comedy.
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This will give you a general flavor:
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The Great Beauty

Oscar-winning "La Grande Ballezza" (Best Foreign Film, 2014) is directed by Paolo Sorrentino (who also wrote the story and screenplay). We see the hedonism and lack of direction displayed by the privileged classes in Rome, complete with gyrating dancers, gorgeous homes, snide gossip and lavish lifestyles. Our charming hero is a one-trick pony who wrote a best seller decades ago and has been coasting on that glory ever since.

As this Fellini-esque film unfolded, I felt it was a bit too Artistic for my taste, but then, after leaving the theater, it generated a lively discussion; so it did exactly what Art is supposed to do. Now I have ordered "La Dolce Vita" from the library; I am number 64 in line, so I'll have to wait a bit before I can draw an informed comparison. (My thanks to the JayFlix.net participant who made this recommendation. You know who you are...)

You'll want to see:
  • Tony Servillo ("Il Divo") the appealing 60ish lead actor who plays the disenchanted bon vivant who wryly observes all the absurdity.
  • The peek into our hero's past which may explain his detachment.
  • The skewering of affectations; at one point he rips into a woman who has been bragging about her credentials: as a woman, as a mother and as a Communist. 
  • The hilarious Botox clinic ("take a number").
  • The sight of the Colosseum, in all its bedraggled glory.
  • The ironic views of Performance Art: e.g., a nude woman with a veil over her head runs smack dab into a rock wall. She's disappointed that she wasn't able to transcend it. Audiences are consistently bewildered but polite.
  • Many views of the ancient viaduct, designed by Roman engineers and built by slaves, to deliver fresh water to the city. Even in decay, it's impressive.
  • The exposure of the religious charlatans who surround today's "saints."
  • The Catholic priest who was far more interested in cooking and recipes than in religion.
  • A glimpse of some of the tourist spots: museums, art galleries and impressive cityscapes.
The film is not rated, just remember it's Italian, so expect nudity (both male and female), but no sweaty bodies, car chases, gunshots or blowie uppie stuff. The photography is lovely, especially the exteriors with those historic locations.

I'm still not sure if I actually liked it, but I DID find it interesting.
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This is a good example:
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Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The tagline says "He's leaving his mark on history," which is funny when you remember that Mr. Peabody is a dog. Of course this is the brilliant dog who invented the WABAC ("Way-Back") Machine and adopted a little boy named Sherman.

This animated PG movie is based on the wonderful television series by the same name that started in the late 50s and ran in the 60s. By now, fans should have children and grandchildren to bring along...smile... They will be exposed to a smattering of history and will be entertained all the way. Much of the sly humor is aimed at the adults who buy the tickets.

Here are the characters:
  • Mr. Peabody swears Sherman to secrecy, particularly about the WABAC.
  • Sherman can't keep a secret, particularly from a big-eyed little girl.
  • Penny Peterson is a cruel, cunning, curious little charmer.
  • Patty and Paul Peterson are her parents.
  • Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, King Tut, George Washington, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein (with a Rubic's Cube), Abraham Lincoln, and too many others to count, e.g., combatants in the Trojan War. Of course they were wasted on the little 'uns, but we recognize their names.
My VERY favorite segments:
  1. A montage of Mr. Peabody adopting Sherman, then teaching him to walk, ride a bike, and many more lovely moments of parenting, with "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon playing in the background.
  2. "I am a dog," which echoed, "I am Spartacus!" of classic cinema.
This is a wild ride; I am positive the parents had a better time than the children, but I didn't hear any complaints. Me? I really enjoyed it.
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You'll enjoy this trailer:
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The Wind Rises

When people see "Animated" they automatically think "Aha! It's for kids!" and bring them to the theater. Imagine their surprise when they figure out that this movie is biographical, about an ill-fated love affair and the man who designed Japan's ferocious "Zeros," Mitsubishi's World War II fighter planes. Dialogue about "extruded aluminum alloy" and "flush rivets" for a "smooth skin" probably went right over the kids' heads, don't you think? This is just as well because children won't automatically think of Pearl Harbor or the War in the Pacific.

I was dismayed to discover that the version I attended was in English, so I'm afraid I missed a lot; I expected it to be in Japanese with subtitles. When I realized my mistake, it was too late to go to the lobby and ask for closed-caption glasses. Oh well... My companion filled me in as best she could afterwards.

There were many "name brands" providing the English-speaking voices, but I'd rather talk about the characters:
  • Jirô Horikoshi is our main character; we follow him from childhood, see how he is inspired to design airplanes by reading about an Italian aeronautical designer, then we see his engineering studies and his demanding employment at Mitsubishi. (We also see some of the failures.)
  • Caprioni is the Italian designer. (He has wild dreams and a large family!)
  • Honjô is Jirô's friend and fellow employee at Mitsubishi. It is so satisfying to see two honorable gentlemen treat each other with respect.
  • Nahoko Satomi is the lovely (doomed) young woman our hero loves. Her illness was another aspect of the film that escaped the youngsters in the audience.
  • Kayo Horikoshi is our hero's sister; she was one of my favorites because she was in a perpetual snit, which masked her loving heart.
We also have an impatient boss, a Swiss acquaintance, parents, military fellows (both Japanese and German), landladies and various other characters. (Miyazaki creates delicious characters whose movements are authentic and breathtakingly real.)

To me, however, the main reason to watch this Oscar-nominated film (Best Animated Feature) is to admire the exquisite art work. Every frame deserves to be mounted on a wall somewhere. There is nothing quite like Hayao Miyazaki's meticulous artistry, whether he is writing the story, drawing the frames or directing the movie, he is one of a kind. His previous works include "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle," and "Princess Mononoke."

This is PG-13; it includes no profanity, nudity, warfare or gunfights. We see the Great Kanto Earthquake which occurred in 1923, but again, no blood or horror. It includes a tuberculosis epidemic, but we mostly see patients wrapped snugly at a sanitorium. We also see heavy cigarette smoking because pretty much everyone smoked in the 30s and 40s, so that is a non-issue.

Come see the amazing artwork!
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Here is a sample:
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