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Capone's Art-House Round-Up, with YOUR NAME. and THE TICKET!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

Animation’s latest living master is Japan’s Makoto Shinkai (THE GARDEN OF WORDS), who is frequently (if not quite fairly) compared to the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, likely due to his approach to storytelling and not as much for the content of his films. Shinkais’ latest is an absolute masterpiece called YOUR NAME., based on his novel, which incorporates ideas about time, love, fate, and the many ways we can be connected to others, even those we may never meet. I also love that Shinkai isn’t afraid to make his lead characters smart younger people, who do what they believe it right and not just what is expected of them.

As it begins, YOUR NAME. feels like a story of young love, in this case between high schoolers Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi), who lives in a provincial town, and Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), living in Tokyo. One random night, they both wake up in the other person’s body and spend the day seemingly lost in a state of confusion only to wake up the next day back in their own body. This phenomenon happens several times, and when they eventually figure out whose body they’re inhabiting, they start to communicate with without through the use of notes and other clues.

During the course of the film, we see news reports of a comet heading to earth so closely, that it will be huge in the night sky. But when that day finally arrives, the comet splits up and pieces of it come crashing down to earth—one of which lands in Mitsuha’s town, presumably killing her and everyone she knows. The body switching stops, and Taki is intent on traveling to the village, seemingly unaware of what has happened. Without giving too much more away, it’s at this point in the story that Taki realizes the true nature of his communications with Mitsuha, and he recruits his closest friends to help him possibly warn Mitsuha what is to come before it actually happens. To say this film involves bending time doesn’t even really begin to describe it, but it all makes sense in this universe, and it’s a bold and beautiful wonder to behold.

It’s clear that above all else, director Shinkai has carefully mapped out how his trippy timelines and situations are going to play out, and he has a great deal of fun taking us on the ride. As much as the film incorporates very life-and-death moments, YOUR NAME. never feel overbearing or too heavy for younger audiences. The visuals, especially when it comes to the comet and its destructive power, are spectacular and so wonderfully detailed as to take one’s breath away. There’s a certain amount of tension to the story, but that mostly involves whether the two leads will ever actually meet (let alone whether Mitsuha gets to live).

But the real splendor of YOUR NAME. comes from watching the two leads grow up during their days spent in each other’s skin. For example, Taki’s shyness around women is handled in unexpected ways when Mitsuha is “visiting” him. And through his warnings about the comet, she taps into her resourceful nature to save as many people as she can. As strange as it may sound, this is a fairly traditional love story, with a tinge of the supernatural and a whole lot of disaster movie destruction thrown in to underscore the power of love and the universe. This is simply a fantastic film, animated or not, and missing a chance to see it on the big screen would be a whole other kind of disaster.

In this truly odd sophomore effort from director Ido Fluk (2011’s NEVER TOO LATE), we meet James (Dan Stevens, currently playing the Beast in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), a man who has been blind since he was a kid because of an inoperable tumor pressing against his ocular nerve. He’s managed to carve out a peaceful, loving existence with his wife Sam (Malin Akerman) and their son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), when one morning James wakes up and can see perfectly. The tumor simply shrunk, and the doctors are baffled and not above calling it a miracle.

Rather than be grateful for the people and things he has in his modest life, James becomes obsessed by bettering himself—he begins to work out and dress better in hopes of getting a promotion at his low-level position at a real estate company that seems to specialize in snatched homes from people in deep debt and reselling at a massive profit. Not surprisingly, he also takes a good look at his wife and decides he can do better, despite her devotion to him in his less sighted years, and he starts flirting with a younger co-worker (Kerry Bishé, currently starring in AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”). He also decides that he can do better in the best friend department and starts to argue regularly with his buddy at work, Bob (Oliver Platt), who also happens to be blind.

If you’re thinking James is a bit of a dick, you’d be correct, and director Fluk (who co-wrote the movie with Sharon Mashihi) doesn’t excuse any of James’s behavior, which is not to say he doesn’t want to make sense of them. This is a man who was so afraid of disappointing his father as a kid that he would lie about how well he could see until he couldn’t any longer. It’s not particularly difficult to figure out where things go once James has settled into his new existence, but the filmmaker and Stevens make the journey interesting. They’re all not above saying that God is as capable of taking away as he is at giving, especially if you act like an asshole after receiving something resembling a second chance. Fluk does a nice job, especially in the film’s opening shots, giving us some idea of what James’s blind world looks and sounds, which makes contrasting his seeing life all the more joyful.

Probably the greatest praise I can give the film is for Stevens’s deeply felt performance. We see him at every stage of despair and happiness, reserved and full-on cocky. Since his days on “Downton Abbey,” Stevens hasn’t truly broken through as the recognized acting giant that he can be, but between a slew of recent films (including next week’s COLOSSAL and NORMAN) and his transcendent work on the FX series “Legion”—not to mention his work in the little Disney remake that is likely to be one of the the biggest-grossing films of 2017—Stevens is about to break out big. And he’s still got three or four more films left to be released this year.

THE TICKET—a reference to a joke James tells his clients about a man praying to God to let him win the lottery—is a flawed film about a deeply flawed man, but that might almost be the point. It entirely conceivable that some audience members will despise James’s decisions to such a degree that they’ll never make it beyond what happens to him in the final third of the film, or the directions his family and friend’s lives go in the aftermath of his awful choices.

I’m of a school that believes you don’t have to like your lead character to enjoy watching their story, but you do have to get enough of a glimpse into their heart and mind to understand why they do what they do. It’s the same principle behind great villains. No smartly written bad guy thinks he’s bad; his reasons for doing evil make sense to him. I’m not making James out to be evil. He just gets dazzled with his the pretty things around him.

There’s no getting around that THE TICKET is a tough movie to embrace, but between Stevens’s performance and Fluk confident, solid directing, there are things here to appreciate and even really like.

-- Steve Prokopy
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