The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 5:46 AM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) - Christopher Nolan

"[Batman] is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector…. a dark knight."

As the Caped Crusader "races up a ramp into blinding light," the credits of The Dark Knight begin to roll, and we all thought to ourselves: How is director Christopher Nolan going to come up with a conclusion as satisfying as this? On a first note, the title of this concluding film is enough to intrigue and make us wonder, just by adding one word: Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after the Joker incident, when Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Christian Bale) vanished into the night. During his absence, Gotham City went into a state of peace, thanks to the anti-crime Dent Act, executed in honor of the passing of Harvey Dent. But after Wayne meets the mysterious Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), things begin to change. The stakes are quickly raised by the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham forces Bruce back out of his hiding.

The film begins rather slowly, but at an understandable and forgiving pace. Similar to all other action thrillers, it efficiently builds up its intensity until its final climax. Within ten minutes, we are introduced to at least four new characters. At this point, critics have described the plot as "murky." Though it may present so many new faces as so little time, the narrative eventually catches up with their personalities and their motivations. Some of these new characters include Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a millionaire who attempts to do business with Wayne, and Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young heroic cop.

One of the main strengths that drives The Dark Knight Rises is characterization. Blake stands as the new symbolic character of this piece, for he represents all the ideals Batman and Gordon (Gary Oldman) used to have before the Joker tore it all down in the predecessor. As a "rookie hot-head" of a cop, Blake is well portrayed by Gordon-Levitt, though I can argue that he bears too much of a resemblance to his previous Nolan character, Arthur from Inception. Nevertheless, his persistence and hope for the rising of Gotham from ashes powers the film's narrative that there is still good that will brawl with evil.

Michael Caine throughout his career has been nominated for the Oscar six times, winning two of them. Furthermore, he was knighted twelve years ago by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his contribution to cinema. Today, he has been highly respected as one of the most experienced actors, similar to Jack Nicholson or Robert de Niro. As for the Batman trilogy, Caine was always there as the loyal butler Alfred, delivering memorable lines that prove the writing skills in the movie screenplays. But it is not until this film where we can finally see his Oscar-worthy talents within Alfred. Caine here represents the second element that propels the film forward: raw emotion. In my experience in watching movies, emotional deliveries are the most compelling when delivered by two types of people. The first type is young people, kids in their 10s or below, a type that renowned director Steven Spielberg uses often. The second type is elder people, seniors in their 70s or above, a type that Scorsese used with Ben Kingsley in Hugo. Stronger than it was before in Batman Begins, the chemistry between Bruce and Alfred in The Dark Knight Rises is as riveting as ever, thanks to emotionally charged dialogue and lengthened screen time between the two actors. To the Academy, bring out another nomination for Sir Michael Caine.

As for the two new characters pitted against Batman, they have their own backbone. The first time I heard that Anne Hathaway was going to portray the Catwoman, I said two things to myself. One: Why is Catwoman going to be in this movie? And two: Why pick Hathaway to play that character? After viewing, I can proudly say that if you are questioning the actress just like I was, you can confidently put those worries aside. Her performance may not be Oscar-worthy, but she brings the message and idea along productively. Her chemistry with Bale on screen somehow works, not physically but mentally. With the help of the screenplay once again, the personalities link easily, as if they are just puzzle pieces waiting to be put together. For once, I have shown my respect for the Bat as well as the Cat.

Finally, for the great antagonist of the film: Bane. Conceptually, Bane is exceptionally designed. The mask itself is menacing, conforming perfectly to Hardy's face as well as having an appearance similar to a skull. With an army jacket and a coat that bears a resemblance to the French, Bane stands as a revolutionary tyrant, a muscular dictator with dominating authority.

The Dark Knight Rises is almost not a superhero film. Like Ebert's words, "This is a dark and heavy film; it tests the weight a superhero movie can bear." In a way, it is more of a war film. Surprisingly, it presents itself to the audience with some sort of a political agenda that calls for patriotism and anti-terrorism. The film plays with larger scale elements, both physically and theoretically. In simple words, the third film gets the bigger toys. With a more military-like flavor to its substance, The Dark Knight Rises might just earn itself a Best Picture nomination for its address to Americanism. Just hope to the cast and crew that the Oscar trophy comes in black.

The majority of Christian Bale's screen time is Bruce Wayne, and the Caped Crusader himself only appears briefly once in a while before the climactic battle. Relying on the cast and dialogue, the movie is also more of a drama. Many critics call the first half of The Dark Knight Rises "long and bloated," which I may describe as a little too harsh. I was, however, not fully sure what was going on. Regardless, the film's narrative is tolerable, for it waits in the darkness like a bat until the second half. That is where your jaws will finally drop, before Bane breaks them.

Ever since its announcement, Rises was hyped due to the critical and financial success of its predecessor,The Dark Knight. Thus, it inevitably comes down to the important question: Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? Despite it being a great movie on its own, Rises has no chance, and this is me without hesitating.

One of the reasons why Rises fails to rise above is the storyline. The Dark Knight's plot is far more crafted, showing proof that it took much more time to develop. It has brisk pacing. It has intelligence, and above all, it has depth. On a side note, the opening scene of Rises has no comparison to the opening of its predecessor. Unlike RisesThe Dark Knight explores the philosophical aspects of human nature, a far more captivating and thought-provoking feature. Speaking of human nature, that very principle discussed by the film is what motivates The Dark Knight's villain, The Joker, to do what he does. 

From Ledger's words, the Joker is a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy" who desires to upset social order through crime, to prove that deep down, everyone is as ugly as he is. Not that Bane is a bad villain, but it is difficult to render what his true motivations are. Furthermore, to quote Ebert once again: The mask, despite its sinister design, "robs [Bane] of personality." To fear Bane is to fear his physical strength and towering posture. But to fear the Joker is to fear…. Can you finish that sentence? Even I cannot. That is the true horror of a villain, where we are psychologically disturbed, unable to predict what he will do next. In an all-out "Clash of the Villains," the Joker wins over Bane effortlessly. Just take the Joker's laugh and you are the victor.

As a message to all the Dark Knight lovers who are hyped over Rises, listen to Mark Keizer: "Lower your expectations a drop, otherwise you are being unfair to the movie. No matter how dense it gets, it is still clean storytelling that refuses to buckle under its self-imposed moral burdens. The production is of the highest order." The Dark Knight Rises should still be seen as a movie alone, and as a movie alone, it is one of the big summer films of this year. As the concluding film of the Batman trilogy, Rises does complete justice with great direction, acting, political agenda, and a cinematic scale of being grand and intriguing. It is a satisfying conclusion, a straightforward one. However, if The Dark Knight Rises is compared to its predecessor, it will fall short and not rise up to the exceedingly high standards.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 6:46 AM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10


First, in 2002, came Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, then came two sequels, Spider-Man 2 and 3. It has been five years since we saw another film that features the web-slinger. Finally a new film has been announced, called…… The Amazing Spider-Man. At first, I asked myself: "Why not just call it Spider-Man 4?" But that was before I realized that this film does not involve Sam Raimi as well as Tobey Maguire. That was also before I realized that The Amazing Spider-Man was a reboot of the franchise and not a sequel.

In my lengthy review of the Raimi trilogy, I have expressed how all three films met financial and critical success. Is there any reason why we would want to hear the same story again? That was my burning question ever since its announcement.

Similar yet original still, The Amazing Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, respectively). As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance — leading him to Oscorp and the lab of the one-armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father's former partner. At the lab, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, granting him spider-like abilities and transforming him into the vigilante known as Spider-Man. With a goal to devise a cure for the dying as well as his missing arm, Dr. Connors develops cross-species genetics with lizard DNA to regenerate limbs. Pressured to test human subjects, Connors uses the serum on himself, transforming him into the ferocious Lizard. As its narrative progresses, the film revolves around Peter and his new relationship with his fellow classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Clearly different from the original trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man introduces the new plotline about Peter's parents. This efficiently becomes a plot device that invites the audience to follow Andrew Garfield as he slowly becomes the beloved superhero. With more humanity to his character than heroics, this new Peter Parker has much more reason to become a hero, compared to Tobey Maguire in the first film.

Andrew Garfield plays a completely brand new Peter Parker, with a personality radically different from Maguire's approach. According to the original comic book fans, this new Parker is much more accurate. Now he is sarcastic and has his own "wicked" sense of humor. Unlike Maguire, Garfield bears a sense of innocence to his appearance, with nervous stuttering when he encounters Gwen and naturalism in his performance, whether he is being funny, angry, or downcast. Do not get me wrong - Tobey Maguire was a great Peter Parker nonetheless. However, if one asks me to compare Maguire to Garfield, I would say Garfield is much more appealing. Then again, saying Garfield is superior to Maguire is like saying Heath Ledger is superior to Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the Batman movies. It is extremely difficult to compare, as they approached their characters in different ways. In this critic's opinion, it is much easier to say that both actors portrayed Peter Parker very well and the fans of the original movies will not be disappointed by the new lead actor here.

Now that I got the burning question as to which lead actor is better out of the way, on to the next burning question: Who is the better love interest? In other words, is Kirsten Dunst of the original trilogy better or is she moving aside for Emma Stone to take the chair? Without even hesitating, Emma Stone takes it. Although Dunst is extremely well-casted for her appearance fitting the character of Mary Jane Watson, her acting has always felt contrived and wheezy in some times. This makes her words, actions, and facial expressions hard to convince, not natural in her act. Emma Stone is a talented actress, one of my favorites in Young Hollywood. Different from Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy is a smart and well-educated girl, daughter of the police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary). Just like Dunst, Stone's appearance almost automatically fits the description of "smart girl." But instead, Stone goes the extra mile. With a brilliantly written screenplay, Stone is able to take her Easy A ego out for all the high school dialogue as well as interactions with Garfield. Although several critics call the relationship elements "cheesy, sappy, and awkward," that is the reality of high school relationships. Director of 500 Days of Summer, Marc Webb captures the chemistry between the common high school male and the common high school female with skilled dialogue, expressing the "awkward moment" phrase that everyone today use.

Rhys Ifans portrays a great villain. Despite the Lizard having "a comparable quality to Godzilla," his humanity and personality is what drives his actions. The Lizard is no Green Goblin nor Sandman, where we barely understand what their motives are and how they closely become villainous, away from their original human forms. As a Spider-Man movie villain comparison, Dr. Connors comes in at second place, behind Alfred Molina portraying Doctor Octopus. The Amazing Spider-Man here did something which was the very thing that made Spider-Man 2 a great movie, create a parallel narrative between Parker and the villain. The film is not about the superhero fighting the supervillain. Not just that. It is about characters developing self-identity and self-confirmation of who they are and what they do. Spider-Man 2 accomplished this greatly, bonding Parker with Doc Ock closer than ever. Here in The Amazing Spider-Man, it accomplished the same thing. The visual effects and fighting sequences are simply, mentioned before in other films, "fancy decorations on the already delicious cake."

What Marc Webb does differently here with The Amazing Spider-Man that Sam Raimi never quite fulfilled before is capturing the raw emotion of the story. Here, I want to find out the truth alongside Peter Parker, and I honestly felt gloomy when he lost his uncle. In the original Spider-Man, the death of Uncle Ben came and went. Although it was a pivotal moment in the film, it was never emotionally pivotal for us, the audience. Story-wise, The Amazing Spider-Man may not feel new to the audience, but the tone, atmosphere, and acting all pave way to make the movie feel new and organic.

Finally, now for the question we have all been waiting for: Out of all the Spider-Man films, where does The Amazing Spider-Man rank at? Although it is unquestionable that a reboot is completely unnecessary right now, The Amazing Spider-Man amazingly ranks second in place, behind the still superior Spider-Man 2. In spite of the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man explores the same plot points of the original, it packs a far more emotional punch that touches the heart, a part of the story scope that the original never shown. It may not have the Osborns (Harry and Norman), but this new villain of Dr. Connors fits this newly "untold" story quite perfectly. As for Spider-Man 3, we do not even need to compare.

In conclusion, The Amazing Spider-Man is quite amazing. It exhibits a new side of Parker's story, enough for us to find ourselves intrigued once again. It may sit as an old-fashioned superhero movie, but the film manages to spin its own unique web with impressive visuals, skillful directing, and amazing performances from an equivalently amazing cast. As stated before, there really is no reason why we need a Spider-Man reboot, but if you suit up, get your spider senses going, and watch this movie on its own, The Amazing Spider-Man might just have you swinging with joy.

Upcoming Reviews (7/8 - 7/14)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 9:03 AM | Posted in

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
21 Jump Street (2012)
Clash of the Titans (2010) vs Wrath of the Titans (2012)

AVP - Alien vs. Predator (2004) vs AVPR - Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 8:52 AM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
AVP RT Critics Rating: 2.2/10
AVPR RT Critics Rating: 1.2/10

AVP Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 4/10
AVPR Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 1/10

AVP - ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) - Paul W.S. Anderson
AVPR - ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007) - Colin Strause, Greg Strause

In the deep space of 1979, no one can hear you scream. In the deep jungle of 1987, no one can save you from the invisible killer. The two greatest creatures in the world of science fiction: The Alien and the Predator. Now pit them against each other and see what happens….

Believe it or not, this crossover originated in comic books published by Dark Horse all the way back to the year 1989, only two years after the release of the first Predator film. Fifteen years after the original idea, director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) applied a movie screenplay, influenced by the comic book series as well as Aztec mythology. The story surprisingly came out making logical sense.

Set in the present time, the film follows a team of archaeologists assembled by billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) for an expedition near the Antarctic to investigate a mysterious heat signal. Weyland hopes to claim the find for himself, and his group discovers a pyramid below the surface of a whaling station. Hieroglyphs and sculptures reveal that the pyramid is a hunting ground for Predators who kill Aliens as a rite of passage. The humans are caught in the middle of a battle between the two species and attempt to prevent the Aliens from reaching the surface. So just like the promotional tagline: "Whoever wins…. we lose."

As mentioned before, the story actually makes some logical sense. For a movie that needs to have continuity and plausibility, it made a pretty satisfying achievement in combining the xenomorph with the invisible hunter. Just like Scott's direction and McTiernan's direction at building suspense by not fully showing the creature until late in their films, Anderson does the same thing here by barely revealing the monsters until a good forty minutes in. The only problem is that the screenplay is a lot weaker, capable of losing our interest already before any action kicks in. Still, if one is patient enough, once the action kicks in, it keeps on going, vicious and persistent. If looked at in its overall sense, Anderson has come up with the perfect premise for this memorable clash of the sci-fi titans. However, this also marks Anderson's weakness as a director.

Unlike the original Alien and original Predator, which both relied on a heavily convincing cast, Alien vs. Predator is fully composed of cardboard characters, the only interesting figure being Weyland simply because it is nice to see the familiar face of Henriksen in the Alien universe. Other than that, barely any emotions can be felt when an unlucky fellow falls to the hands of a creature. It seems that Anderson was so into the idea of the two species fighting that he no longer bothered to develop the characters to make them memorable and engaging to follow. The only possible parts of Alien vs. Predator that can keep you intrigued are the actual fight scenes. But then again, even those have problems.

A good user of visual effects knows how to combine computer generated imagery with animatronics and set pieces. One of these masters is Spielberg managing Jurassic Park. In fact, both Alien and Predator use a fair fraction of both elements to create sensational action scenes. Though Anderson tries to tackle visual effects the same way, there is a difference between building animatronics with realism and building "shiny and metallic kitchen appliances fighting it out" (New York Daily News). According to the crew of the film, 70% of the film uses suits, puppets, and miniatures. With a hydraulic Alien built to represent the hostile species, we are given a creature who's movements are stiff and robotic, with a tail that moves at an un-realistic and un-fluent motion. At the end of the day, you much rather have the entire Alien be composed out of computer generated imagery.

In conclusion, Alien vs. Predator sits as a disappointing but not dreadful attempt at making a plausible combination. For the Alien fans, there is enough stickiness and gore to satisfy their thirst. For the Predator fans, there is a tolerable amount of fancy weaponry and pure slice and dice. As a movie alone with cinematic appeal, do not even go near there, because this is not even close. If a mindless and silly kill fest is what you are looking for, then Alien vs. Predator might be able to please. The nightmarish factor of this film is that it leaves us with a cliffhanger of an ending, opening the possibility for a sequel, which unfortunately came out three years later.

Aliens vs. Predator Requiem begins right after its predecessor, revealing a chestburster erupting from a dead Predator's body in the Predator spaceship; this is a new creature called the Predalien, a hybrid of Alien and Predator characteristics. It quickly matures into an adult and begins killing Predators. A Predator's weapon punctures the hull and the ship crashes in the forest of Colorado. With the Predators dead, the hybrid and several facehuggers escape, implanting embryos into several inhabitants of a local town. A distress signal from the wrecked ship reaches the Predator home world and a lone Predator responds, traveling to Earth to clean up the mess.

Now that you know what Requiem is about, you may be asking "So there is only one Predator in this movie?" To my greatest dismay, the answer is yes. Then again, it is not a total loss, since this one single Predator is probably the fiercest and most agile of them all. As for the Aliens, there is nothing new to offer.

The fight scenes this time are shorter but more vicious. It is definitely bloodier and gorier than its predecessor, being that it is rated R when the previous is actually PG-13. The visual effects look far improved, probably because of the murky lighting. Speaking of murky lighting, this is where Requiem quickly becomes an aggravatingly torturous piece of trash.

Words cannot describe how god-awful the lighting is in this movie. Dismal, dreary, bleak, dull, horrid, and appalling. Unlike its predecessor which has 70% of its scenes having animatronics, Requiem has 70% of its scenes being so dark that one can see his/her own reflection on the television screen. Even more disheartening, the climatic battle is a combination of dark lighting and heavy rain, making it the greatest challenge to see what is going on. The entire film is shrouded in a black cloud, making Requiem a film with not much to see, both literally and figuratively.

Remember what I said about cardboard characters in the first Alien vs. Predator film? Well, the characters here make those archeologists look like the original Nostromo crew and Schwarzenegger commando team. Every figure has a familiar personality, with a lack of creativity. Again, we end up not caring if any of them survive. In fact, just kill them all, to put us, the audience, out of our misery.

In conclusion, Requiem is the biggest excuse for a movie, let alone a sequel to Alien vs. Predator. With inexcusable lighting, fast editing, shaky camerawork, shallow characters, and excessive violence, Requiem is an agonizing pain. The worst thing about it is you cannot comprehend what the pain is. It is arduous to follow, and plagues our heads with atrocious content.

In overall, without even thinking, the first Alien vs. Predator is superior. Compared to RequiemAlien vs. Predator is a masterpiece that gives Ridley Scott and John McTiernan a run for their money. At least its storyline makes rational sense and sounds consistently organized. But based on the standards of a plain movie, that's not saying much. Saying that Alien vs. Predator is better than its sequel is like saying getting killed by a Predator is not as bad as getting killed by an Alien. In the end, we all suffer, and no one can hear us scream.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)


Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 7:37 AM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2010) - Hiromasa Yonebayashi

We all live our everyday lives as objects and events transpire around us. But underneath our daily experiences, events can occur in such minuscule proportions that we are unaware of their existence. This is where the Borrowers live their everyday lives, under our houses, under our noses.

A Borrower is a little creature resembling the appearance of a human, whose job is to sneak into houses every once in a while to "borrow" items that we humans are unlikely to notice to be missing. These items include sugar cubes and tissue. Conceptually, Borrowers take only what they need to survive, and never what they want. Of course, these "borrowing" missions must be carried out without our awareness, or else their very existence is spilled into our world, where curiosity drives us indefinitely.

The Secret World of Arrietty is based on the 1952 novel The Borrowers written by Mary Norton. The film tells the story of Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a young Borrower, who lives under the floorboards of a typical household. She eventually befriends Shawn (David Henrie), a human boy with a heart condition since birth, who is living with his great aunt, Jessica. When Jessica's maid, Hara, becomes suspicious of the floorboard's disturbance, Arrietty and her family must escape detection, even if it means leaving their beloved home behind.

Like every Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty provides us with a great cast of characters. There is always the determined figure with a great soul. There is always the comic relief character who is there for humorous innocence. As usual, the film's ability to engage its audience within ten minutes is a power greatly managed by direction and writing, this time by Hayao Miyazaki himself. Nevertheless, if the characters are deeply analyzed, there is a plethora of elements similar to other Studio Ghibli characters. Arrietty bears a resemblance to Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle, with a similar personality to the elder sister Satsuki in My Neighbor Totoro. Hara stands as a combination of old Sophie and the Witch of the Wastes in Howl's Moving Castle. As for Shawn, he himself even looks like Howl. Nevertheless, the film's characterization and storytelling are both old fashion at their best. It may be old school, but like in The Incredibles, there is "no school like the old school."

The film's narrative is eloquently paced, despite the actual plot being familiar. Simply put, The Secret World of Arrietty is the Studio Ghibli version of Tangled: old-fashioned animation that can still transport the audience into a magical reality. The animated visuals are dreamy. Like all other Studio Ghibli films, Arrietty combines hand-drawn moving objects with beautifully painted backgrounds. However, this time around, Yonebayashi added a cinematic flavor to its content. This time around, the artwork bears a sense of depth. For example, in a panning shot, the foreground plants move faster than the background house. Along with several shots that switch focus on its subjects, The Secret World of Arrietty adds a touch of filmmaking to its power, similar to Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin and Verbinski's Rango. The attention to detail is visually fascinating, with lush colors and lovely landscapes. On a visual standard, the film is a great improvement in the field of Studio Ghibli's animation.

Although it offers a lavish treat to the eyes, its narrative is a little slow-paced, exploring a world that is inevitably still similar and familiar to our own. The plot, in a literal way, is not adventurous nor exciting, but possibly more as predictable. However, if all these are looked ahead of, Arrietty can still be a delightful luxury for the younger and less demanding folks.

In conclusion, The Secret World of Arrietty is a satisfying continuation of the Studio Ghibli franchise. It delivers the sense that underneath the ordinary, lies something extraordinary. From TIME Magazine: "Unlike most Ghibli escapes that liberate us from reality, Arrietty brings the same magic to the mundane, elevating the ordinary confines of daily life into sumptuous surprises." Similar to Spirited AwayThe Secret World of Arrietty manages to transport us into the world of the Borrowers and, at the same time, makes us observe our own world in a whole new perspective.