I've come to the realization that I've been heading into the city a lot more at the dawn of 2014 than I did at the start of 2013. This time last year, I'd seen just one movie before summer blockbuster season rolled around. Doing the count on my way home last night, I realized I'd seen four so far in 2014. Of course, one factor is that, at this time in 2013, I was still knee-deep in moving to Westlock and settling into my new radio gig. Another factor is there's just a lot more movies out now at this time that I want to see than this time last year.
The one that caught my eye this week was The Wind Rises. Purportedly the final film from renowned Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. He'd grumbled about retiring in the past (1997's Princess Mononoke being the most famous example), but this time he held a whole press conference to say, "And this time, I mean it!" Disney signed a big distribution deal with Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki's studio) back in the late-1990s, and whenever I see Disney is giving one of their films a big release, I make the effort to go see it. Trust me, you guys, Studio Ghibli animation just looks amazing on the big screen.
There was some fear that Disney wasn't going to give The Wind Rises a big theatrical release. The subject matter -- a highly romanticized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, one of Japan's most renowned aircraft designers -- seemed not Disney appropriate. In fact, the last Studio Ghibli film, From Up on Poppy Hill, was distributed by a smaller company called GKIDS because Disney felt a tender coming-of-age story in early-1960s Tokyo wasn't marketable. But, no doubt, with Miyazaki announcing this to be his final film, Disney felt there was a certain prestige to releasing it. Disney circulated the subtitled version of the film back in the fall around the film festivals to qualify it for a Best Animated Film Oscar nomination, and then dubbed it for a wide release this February.
I scanned the movie listings for where it was playing in Edmonton, and ran into a snag. The only theatre in Edmonton where it's playing is at South Edmonton Common...quite some distance out of my way. As I've confided to some friends, I've found winter driving -- especially winter driving in the city -- to be a lot more...panic-inducing this year. I think I still might be a little spooked from when I hit that deer last year. And when you get in the city, with icy streets and a dozen other cars crowding around you...it gets tough. But, I'd been to South Edmonton Common a few times in the past, and I was fairly confident I could make the trip. We are winter, after all. Although, when they came up with hashtag, they were talking about winning gold Olympic medals, not driving in below-40 temperatures on icy city streets for a Fatburger.
(Yes, I noticed South Edmonton Common has a Fatburger, so tentative lunch plans were also made.)
I actually used to frequent South Edmonton Common quite often. Back during the Great Year of Unemployment, when I was fresh out of NAIT and looking for my first radio job, I wasn't really unemployed. I was working for my parents in the oilfield consulting firm. The laboratory they used was on Edmonton's south side, as are several of Edmonton's radio stations. So I'd hit the city, drop off the latest batch of soil samples at the lab, drop off my latest resume and demo at a few radio stations, and then hit South Edmonton Common for a movie. I even discovered this little back way to South Edmonton Common. Drive though town on the Whitemud, head south on 99th Street, and BOOM! You're there. And, what's changed since those years, is great swaths of the Anthony Henday Drive have been completed. I theorized that I should be able to zip around to the south side on the Anthony Henday, head north on Gateway Boulevard, and be right there. Google Maps confirmed my theory, so I was off to the city.
But I wanted to hit my usual haunts on the northside first. Dropped by Wal-Mart, where I got myself a cheap little shelving unit for $10. If you ever visit my place, you'll notice all these muddy footprints leading from my front door, all the way across my kitchen to my kitchen table, and then back to the front door. That's because, when I come home with an armful of groceries and/or the mail, first thing I want to do is put that stuff down. And my kitchen table was the closest shelf. So I've been thinking, "I need a shelf right by the front door where I can put this stuff down, and stop with the muddy footprints." And a cheap plastic shelving unit for $10 will fill the bill quite nicely.
From there, to Best Buy, to spend the last of the Christmas gift cards. Both Thor: The Dark World and Gravity came out this week, and I wanted to add both of them to my collection. Back on Tuesday, I made the crack on the air that I'd probably be blowing my rent money on new Blu-Rays this month, only to quickly get a Facebook message from my mother joking, "You'll get no help with the rent if you spend it all on DVDs!" Not to worry, Mom, the Christmas gift cards covered everything quite nicely.
With my purchases stowed in the trunk, I was off to the south side! My plan was perfect, for as soon as I got off the Anthony Henday and onto Gateway Boulevard, South Edmonton Common was the first thing you saw on the right-hand side. South Edmonton Common has grown quite a bit since I was last there some 8 years ago. For those unfamiliar with Edmonton's geography, South Edmonton Common is a power centre. It was one of Edmonton's first, I believe. A power centre is when you've got three or four big box retailers as your anchor tenants, and the parking lots are filled with all manner of chain restaurants, outlet stores, and strip malls. They've become synonymous with urban sprawl. I, personally, am not a fan. As many have pointed out, one of a power centre's big drawbacks is they're not pedestrian friendly. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my malls and small town main streets where I can park in one spot and walk wherever I need to go. But at a power centre, everything's sprawling, and you have to drive everywhere.
I drove into the complex, immediately got lost in the maze of parking lots and chain restaurants as I looked for the Fatburger. I gave up looking and pulled into my beloved Wendy's. South Edmonton Common has grown quite significantly since I was last there some 8 years ago. A lot more big boxes, and a lot more strip malls. While I having lunch, I actually had to pull out my iPhone and use Google Maps to figure out how to get from the Wendy's to the Cineplex. That still didn't stop me from getting lost amongst the strip malls, though, as I made my way across the Common. I did marvel at some of the new additions (I don't think I'd ever seen an HMV that wasn't in a mall), before I finally got the Cineplex Odeon theatre. I sighed a little bit. 8 years ago, I was amazed at how the theatre just kind of rose out of this great, empty parking lot, like a great cathedral to movies. Now, it's just another big box amongst big boxes.
I remember how the Cineplex Odeon at South Edmonton Common made a big splash in Edmonton when it opened up some 10 or 15 years ago. It was the first theatre in Edmonton to feature such modern innovations as stadium seating, curved screens, and reclining seats. And it's still a pretty impressive theatre after all these years. Spent the last of my Cineplex Christmas gift card on my ticket, then went over to the concession. I generally don't eat at the movies any more. I tend to mostly go to matinees these days, and I find that I'm still full from lunch to actually eat more. But along with that Christmas gift card, I got a pack of Cineplex coupons. Upon closer inspection, I saw a lot of those coupons expire at the end of March, so I'd better use them. I decided to at least get my free small popcorn. Then the clerk pointed out that the coupon could also be used to get a regular popcorn for 50¢, so I upgraded to a regular. And then I paid the extra 75¢ for butter on my popcorn because of course they charge extra for that. And then of course I needed a Coke to wash it down. With snacks in hand, I made my way into the theatre and settled in for The Wind Rises. A foreign film without a lot of promotion, so of course there was only about a dozen other people in the theatre.
I'm still kind of digesting The Wind Rises. It's one of those movies that sticks with you. In doing a biography of a real individual, Miyazaki has made his most realistic film to date. However, because you are doing such a tale in animation, it also makes it his most dreamlike. Especially where you throw in scenes where young Jiro converses with idol in dreams, and the lines start blurring between dreams and reality in such scenes, makes it...interesting.
It does seem a tad like Forrest Gump, as Jiro manages to be on the scene for some of Japan's greatest historical events at the dawn of the 20th Century. Forrest Gump is a good comparison, because much like Gump, Jiro doesn't seem to do much, but a heck of a lot happens around him. And we don't really get to understand why his love of airplanes borders on obsession.
It does kind of spark to life halfway through, though, when Jiro's childhood sweetheart Naoko returns and they begin a passionate romance that leads to marriage. I'm a sucker for the romance.
I watched the English dub. Disney has released it subtitled in some markets, so consult your local listings. The dub was directed by veteran Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who's directed the last couple of Studio Ghibli dubs. The dubbing is pretty good, although I did find Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Jiro to come across as sleepy at times. If this man loves his work and his wife so much, he should have more passion in his voice.
So, yeah. I'm still digesting the film. It's a thinker. It'll stick with you. I've got my proper movie up over on my website, so click on the link to check that out.
As I left the theatre and went back to my car, I came to a strange realization. While I Google Mapped how to get into South Edmonton Common, I didn't figure out how to reverse the situation. I had no idea how to get back on to Calgary Trail, and then the Anthony Henday. As I pondered my fate, I looked over and saw the exit onto 99th Street. "Well, may as well go the old way," I thought to myself. I went north on 99th Street, let my instincts take over, and before long, I was on the Whitemud and heading for home.
And I think that'll do it for me. I think I need a break from heading into the city. It does get costly to travel so much when you're on a radio salary. Besides, looks like things are going to get quiet now, movie-wise. Not much else coming out now until Captain America hits theatres in a month. So, like the rest of everyone, I think it's time to hunker down, put on a fire (if you have a fireplace), switch on Netflix, and wait out the cold.