Revisiting ’71 in Belfast

About a half an hour into Yann Demange’s directorial debut, “’71,” we’re seated behind young British soldiers in a classroom. Like them, we’re getting a brief lesson about “the Troubles” in Belfast.

“This is the front lines, boys,” says a commanding officer, pointing at a map of Northern Ireland. It’s sectioned into clashing reds and greens, the color-codes for the civil war’s main participants. “Catholics and protestants living side by side, but at each other’s throats, divided by the Divis flats,” he says.

That, of course, is the cliff notes version of the 30-year conflict — indicative of Demange’s 99-minute movie. This 10-second soundbite is the only bit of context we’re given before we’re thrown into the war-ravaged streets of 1971-Belfast.

Like the film’s protagonist, a wide-eyed British soldier named Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell), we’re strangers to the Troubles of Ireland. The country and its conflict are seized and rewritten by conquering British forces. With each rewriting, their language (Gaelic) and stories become an even more distant memory.

That’s how “’71” handles the Troubles. The “victors” have taken Ireland’s history and have collectively rewritten it into a universal one. Ireland is directed by France (Demange), written by Scotland (playwright Gregory Burke) and filmed in the U.K. (Sheffield, Liverpool and Blackburn). The film is Irish in the way that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day: throwing back those Irish Car Bombs while decked out in green.

There’s plenty of car bombs in this film, but “’71” isn’t really about the opposing Irish factions blowing each other up. The narrative’s hijacked by this young British soldier who’s accidentally left behind by his platoon.

Hook inadvertently becomes both the vehicle for us to see the Irish peoples and a symbol for the conflict. The IRA want him dead. The British troops, stationed to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary, want him back. It’s a deadly game of capture/eliminate the flag and the players are either fighting for a United Kingdom or an independent Ireland.

Of course, this game isn’t without its casualties. Hook’s British comrade is shot suddenly and violently. Buildings blow up. Cars and busses are set on fire. The boys with guns are kids with mums and sisters.

Among them include a perceptive, young Loyalist boy (Corey McKinley) who’s as spirited as the young Gavroche from “Les Miserables.” McKinley is fantastic, holding his own among men twice his side. With a stick in his hand, he boldly leads a mute Hook through a barricade of Loyalist men, who hand him and his comrade a beer. This self-assured boy’s about the same size and build as Hook’s timid younger brother, Darren (Harry Verity) — who’s waiting for him back in Derbyshire.

Demange and Burke fill their film with wonderfully poetic foils. Hook and his platoon’s first Irish opponents are a group of rowdy children, throwing water balloons rather than hand grenades. The British soldiers laugh when they realize the absurdity of the situation, but in subsequent scenes, children aren’t as harmless and enemies aren’t so clear-cut.

“’71” is a coming-of-age story of sorts, which teaches us as much as it teaches its characters. Like the “Dubliners” in James Joyce’s short stories, these characters are in a state of paralysis. Catholics and Protestants point their guns at each other in a Mexican standoff while the sun sets on both their dreams.

“’71” was written by Gregory Burke and directed by Yann Demange. 


‘The Broadway Melody’ sounds out of tune

Opening the 65th annual Tony Awards, host Neil Patrick Harris sang a showstopping number about the status of Broadway: “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore!”

His tongue-in-cheek song signifies how the tune of Broadway has changed from its golden era of “The Broadway Melody” (1929) to its current clientele: “the gays and the Jews; and cousins-in-from-out-of-town that you have to amuse.”

The changing lifestyles and viewpoints might explain why the familiar, melodramatic storyline of “The Broadway Melody” sounds sour. Although the film won the second annual Academy Award for best picture in 1930, the overplayed storyline (written by playwright Edmund Goulding, Sarah Y. Mason, Norman Houston and James Gleason) is trite and oversimplified.

Directed by Harry Beaumont, “The Broadway Melody” stars Anita Page and Bessie Love as sisters, Hank and Queenie Mahoney. Like Katharine McPhee’s character in NBC’s cancelled television series “Smash,” Hank and Queenie have dreams of stardom: to sing and dance on Broadway, playing back-up dancer to Hank’s fiancé Eddie Kearns (Charles King).

Like “Smash,” this tale stars drama, jealousy and ego; however, this “Broadway” isn’t synonymous with a “broad’s way.” Men make the rules and Hank and Queenie have to fight for one spot: to be the leading lady in Eddie Kearn’s life. After all, his leading lady gets to star behind him — both on and off stage.

If anything, “The Broadway Melody” got its award for its production value at the time. The film was MGM’s first musical and its among the world’s first talkies. This one was complete with “bigger” song-and-dance numbers than anything before 1929.

There’s even long tap dancing sequences.

But life isn’t a musical and we’re not charmed by neither the film’s formulaic script nor its dated production. Instead, we’re wishing for “better” rather than “bigger.”

“The Broadway Melody” was directed by Harry Beaumont and written by Edmund Goulding, Sarah Y. Mason, Norman Houston and James Gleason. The film won Best Picture in the second annual Academy Awards. 

‘Wild’s’ one big leap for womankind

When “Wild” begins, we’re greeted by Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) scream from the top of a mountain. She has a prominent bruise on one of her legs and is missing one of her toenails, but those aren’t the only things that mars her. Her journey up that mountain was a sort of personal atonement — the reconciliation she needed in order to absolve herself.

That’s the story Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (of the “Dallas Buyer’s Club”) creates with his 115-minute film, “Wild.” Based on the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, the film (whose script is penned by author Nick Hornby) is a sort of docu-drama. Witherspoon plays Strayed, a likable girl setting on a personal quest for redemption.

Along the way, Mother Nature beats her up. She loses toenails, boots and a string of condoms as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by her lonesome. Meanwhile, she’s forced to confront some of harshest truths about her past. Among them: grieving for her mother’s (Laura Dern) death.

“Wild” is a long film. For almost two hours, we’re largely left alone with Reese Witherspoon as a companion. She’s personable and unassuming, but like her, we feel the repetitiveness of the hike. Each minute is a chore. The backpack is heavy on our backs. The hot desert sun is burning our skin. The taste of cold mush is hard to swallow. Meanwhile, we’re running out of water.

It’s as if Vallée has a running tally on the screen: Strayed vs. Mother Nature. And Mother Nature is winning by a longshot. Day one: Strayed carries a backpack more than half her size. Day two: she discovers that she bought the wrong fuel for the stove she packed. Day 30: she encounters snow.

Of course, those aren’t the only roadblocks on the road less traveled. There are multiple times when we think Strayed will either be raped or injured. She looks honest and vulnerable. A man tells her to wait in his van.

Meanwhile, Witherspoon mutters a litany of swear words with each step. “Remember, you can quit at any time,” she reminds herself.

She doesn’t. Strayed’s a survivor, persevering beyond stereotypes. Her walk is symbolic and empowering — as if one small step is one big leap for womankind.

“Wild” was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Nick Hornby, based on Cheryl Strayed memoir. Reese Witherspoon was nominated for Best Actress in the 87th Academy Awards and the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards for her performance in the film. 

Manipulating ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’

Director Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” begins much like Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber’s 2004 picture, “The Butterfly Effect.” Its heroine/hero is running from the past.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has a lot to be running from. Memories of her time in both the 74th annual Hunger Games and the third Quarter Quell. Death threats from Panem’s oppresive tyrant, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Stings from tracker jackers and screams from jabberjays. Her post-traumatic stress keeps her up at night.

Still, she claws desperately at a future like a cat chasing after a laser light. She can see the ray of hope in her grasp, but it’s as empty as a hologram.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” — based on the bestselling young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins — picks up where “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” left off. Katniss and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) are rescued by a group of rebels led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her second-in-command, Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As the film opens, it appears as if Katniss and Finnick have traded one prison for another. They are the rebels’ weapons — lured into a propaganda scheme to stir rebellion throughout the districts. Their loved ones, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson) and Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), are separated from them — residing in the clutches of the Capitol.

“I wish they were dead,” Finnick soberly tells Katniss. “I wish they were all dead and we were too.”

This sets the tone for director Lawrence’s grim picture. Katniss’ home resembles the aftermath of an earthquake — a mountain of skeletons and debris. Meanwhile, we’re privy to messages from the Capitol: public beheadings throughout the land. Bombings of sick and injured at hospitals. It’s as unsettling as watching a child execute two adult soldiers in broad daylight.

But war forgives extreme actions. While the rebels may be fighting a cruel and unjust dictator, they are like ISIS — hijacking the public channels of communication. Instead of Twitter and YouTube, these rebels breed discontent via outdated TV airwaves. Katniss is seen shooting flaming arrows at Capitol planes. “If we burn, you burn with us,” she says. This precedes a scene where a group of rebels lure a group of Capitol police into the woods in order to bomb them.

Like any war, though, history’s written by its victors.

The Hunger Games’ victors move us. Lawrence with her “performance” as Katniss, the “girl on fire” in the rebels’ propaganda films and Claflin as the sexy Finnick Odair, keeper of Capitol secrets. They’re talented actors, but you have a feeling that they’re being pulled on a leash.

This becomes apparent when Katniss is rehearsing her first propaganda, repeating words the rebels have scripted for her. Katniss is behind a glass, much like she was when she was trying to impress Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) during the 74th Hunger Game. A committee consisting of Coin and Heavensbee watch and examine her words and costume. They discuss her, but they don’t really see the girl behind the glass. All they see is a symbol — a false figurehead that they can manipulate: Katniss Everdeen, the mockingjay.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -Part 1” is directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, based on Suzanne Collins’ book. 

‘House of Cards’ topples down: season three review

“You don’t add up and I’m intrigued,” novelist Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks) tells President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey).

We might have shared Yates’ sentiments when we were first introduced to one of Netflix’s top moneymakers, “House of Cards,” two seasons ago, but the narrative’s changed. We’ve grown out of the honeymoon phase and fallen out of love — realizing a man we were infatuated with is a cruel and violent monster ruling with a Machiavellian fist. Once upon a time, he charmed us with his witty Shakespearean asides. Now, he leaves a coldness in our hearts and an uneasiness in our bellies.

It’s not pleasant. Which is why the third season of “House of Cards” is difficult to swallow.

Before season three, “House of Cards” followed the first of two major story arches: the one where a man has nothing and remakes himself from rags to riches — the Horatio Alger myth that America’s so fond of. For two seasons (and 26 episodes), we watched “House of Cards'” Frank Underwood’s ascent — from majority whip to vice president and now POTUS.

Now, the narrative’s evolved. Frank may have initially sought respect and revenge. But now he has what he wants and he has everything to lose.

When “House of Card’s” third season begins, President Frank Underwood’s visiting his father’s grave.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice,” Underwood tells us, “but I have to do these sort of things now. It makes me seem more human and you have to be a little human when you’re president.”

While we may have been charmed and intrigued with Underwood’s confidence in us (after all, every time Spacey breaks the forth wall, he’s confiding in us — even as he fooling others), President Underwood scares us. We’re not alone. No one likes President Underwood.

His polls are lower than former President Garrett Walker’s (Michael Gill). The Democratic Leadership don’t want him to run for re-election in 2016. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), has her own political agenda and doesn’t think he’d win a re-election bid. In one scene, she even recoils from his touch.

Meanwhile, his Chief of Staff Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) still has feelings for his former fling, the ambitious democratic whip Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker). And Underwood’s esteemed henchman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), is out of his inner circle and consulting with troublesome opponents: hacker Gavin Orsay (Jimmi Simpson) and democratic presidential candidate Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). There are a lot of Brutuses and Cassiuses in Frank Underwood’s court.

But friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears. While President Frank Underwood is ambitious, he is an honorable man. He wants to revolutionize entitlements and create more jobs — implementing a new piece of legislation, America Works. Everyone one who wants a job will have one. You just won’t have social security, medicare, medicaid, universal health care or anything else.

Sure, that’s a frightening prospect, but President Frank Underwood promised you a job. And President Frank Underwood is a smart, calculated and honorable man. He doesn’t want to be a seat filler. He wants to revolutionize America — and he doesn’t care who or what is in his way (even if its his own wife or inner consciousness). He will leave a legacy, he says.

Underwood’s greatest accomplishment, though, is twisting words and re-packaging them. Like Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, Underwood’s a skilled orator — who’s greatest gift might include fooling himself.

“Is this how you live with yourself?” Attorney General Dunbar questioned him. “By rationalizing the obscene into the palatable?”

Underwood’s pills are tough to swallow though — despite how much sugar he coats them with. Underwood’s a bully and a tyrant — who shields his not-so-hidden agendas under a thin veil of threats and pleasantries. Like the current slew of politicians, he’s fluent in double-speak and dancing around a presidential bid. 

Meanwhile, he makes satirical cracks at the other dysfunctional branches of government — especially this year’s Republican-controlled Congress. (“I’m not declaring war on Congress,” he says. “I’m declaring war on atrophy. But these days, who can tell the difference.”)

While “House of Cards” was a smart commentary on the rotten underbelly of Washington, this season doesn’t add up. The plot’s unbelievable far-fetched as if the show’s creator, Beau Willimon, is courting scandal — aiming for shock value rather than substance. While president, Underwood pees on graves of dead men and spits at the image of Jesus on the cross. We always knew that Underwood is ruthless, but this Frank Underwood seems more controversial, sacrilegious and taboo.

After another 13-episode season, Underwood’s exhausted our sympathy and curiosity. And while Spacey’s deep voice still carries gravitas, his words hold no meaning; his likability suffers; and we’re no longer intrigued by his story.

Instead, we long for the good old days — when American TV presidents were idealistic and inspirational as “The West Wing’s” Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen). At least back then, America seemed to work.

Season 3 of “House of Cards” is now streaming on Netflix. “House of Cards” was written by Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies and others, based on the 1990 BBC mini-series and the novels by Michael Dobbs. 

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ sedates us with non-stop action

Director Matthew Vaughn has once said that his film, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” is a “postmodern love letter” to James Bond.

It shows.

james bond vs kingsman

Directed and co-written by Vaughn, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is chock-full of fun gadgets, expensive liquor, leggy women, “far-fetched theatrical plots,” and “futuristic colorful megalomaniacs.”

His script — co-written with Jane Goldman (who was also Vaughn’s writing partner during “Stardust,” “Kickass,” “The Debt,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) — even says so. “Kingsman’s” hero, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and villain, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), have a conversation about their shared love for old-school spy movies.

Loosely based on the 2012 comic series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is the fictional British spy equivalent of the American freemasons. The secret independent organization models themselves after King Arthur (Michael Caine) and the “king’s men” — the modern knights of the round table.

Hart’s secret code name is Galahad. Gary “Eggsy” Unwin’s (Taron Egerton) father was the former Sir Lancelot, who saved Hart’s life during a Middle East mission circa 1997. When the Kingsmen’s latest Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is sliced in half, Hart recruits Eggsy to audition for Lancelot’s position.

Filmed by George Richmond and edited by “Kick-Ass'” Eddie Hamilton and Jon Harris, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a magic show, akin to Louis Leterrier’s 2013 picture, “Now You See Me.” This time, director Vaughn is the magician — orchestrating highly stylized and precise fight scenes that could be from video games such as “Assassin’s Creed” or “Mortal Kombat.”

Egerton’s character performs parkour — jumping off buildings in order to escape bullies. Firth’s cane whips a glass on a poor bloke’s head. Gadget after gadget fires. A grenade that looks like a lighter. An umbrella that doubles as a shield and stun gun. Appendages of razor blades. Cars driving backwards and spinning donuts. And then there are the fireworks — heads exploding in syncopation.

It’s a deadly dance of stunt work, special effects and computer mishaps. But not all of the final picture is an optical illusion. On the first day of filming, actors and crew were accidentally submerged in 20 feet of water.

“Those actors were not acting, they were absolutely terrified,” Vaughn said.

Perhaps we should be too. Underneath the R-rated bloodbath, Vaughn and Goldman’s write a subversive geo-political plot, disguising evilness with altruism. Sure, it’s over-the-top (and it’s hard to remember any didactic moments when everything’s coated with blood), but as Vaughn swings his pendulum back and forth, you have to wonder if all of the masses were sedated by the non-stop action, cheap almost-deaths and other parlor tricks.

“Kingman: The Secret Service” was directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic books. 

‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Gets on TV!

If there’s a hole in your heart where “30 Rock” has been, fear no more. NBC-turned-Netflix’s sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the new and improved “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”

Created by Liz Lemon — I mean, Lemon’s real-life alter-ego Tina Fey — and co-writer Robert Carlock (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “The Dana Carvey Show”), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the type of show Lemon wanted to produce during her stint as a TV writer at 30 Rockefeller Plaza: the quirky feminist New Yorker comedy unapproved by the big corporate networks. In reality, the show was released by NBC because the network thought “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (like “30 Rock”) would be too niche.

They were right. But that doesn’t bother Netflix — whose micro-genres include “quirky TV shows,” “irreverent TV sitcoms” and “witty TV comedies with a strong female lead.” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is all these things — and delivered in 23-minute chunks (which makes it even more binge-worthy than “Orange is the New Black” or the latest season of “House of Cards”).

While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” would have been a pioneer a decade ago, Fey’s “30 Rock” paved the way for dozens of female-centric TV shows from “Parks and Recreation” (with Fey’s SNL co-star Amy Poehler) and “The Mindy Project” to “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,” “2 Broke Girls” and “New Girl.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is like an unofficial “30 Rock” spin-off, who looks and feels like its predeccessor. As the pilot opens, the show’s heroine, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”), is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the familiar set of NBC’s “Today” show. Sitting across from her is anchor Matt Lauer.

Schmidt and her sister-wives were snatched up by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) 15 years ago and forced to live in a religious underground cult in the fictional small-town of Durnsville, Ind. Its news threads resemble a cross between the “bedroom intruder” story and the Cleveland kidnappings. 

Fey and Carlock satirizes Amanda Berry‘s story among others, even auto-tuning the girls’ release. But the show isn’t about life locked up in a bunker. It’s about life after.

Approaching her 30s, Schmidt’s (like Kemper’s “The Office” co-star, Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project”) trying to navigate the Big Apple as a strong woman. That means living despite her past as an “Indiana Mole Women” — the adopted moniker for her and her kidnapped peers. So she lives with her sunny wardrobe and unbelievably bubbly optimism (which rivals Kenneth the Page’s).

Fey models Schmidt after her character in “30 Rock.” Once upon a time, Liz Lemon bought a whole cart of hot dogs because a guy cut her in line. Like Lemon, Kimmy Schmidt is a stickler for rules. Schmidt follows a kid (Tanner Flood) who stole a candy bar, returning him to his incompetant socialite mother, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock”). When she finds out that Mrs. Voorhees has no plans to punish her son, Schmidt takes it upon herself to punish him.

This leads her to her first job as Buckley (Flood) and Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula)’s nanny as well as Mrs. Voorhees’ assistant/personal slave. Meanwhile, she finds boarding with gay diva Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and his cat-lady landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane).

These characters rival the quirkiness of the cast of “30 Rock.” Like Lemon, Schmidt spends her days like a TV producer — trouble-shooting for her insecure friends (Titus has enough attitude to rival Tracy Jordan and Jacqueline can be as self-centered as her “30 Rock” persona Jenna Maroney). Unlike Lemon though, Schmidt doesn’t have a mentor like “30 Rock’s” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). Instead, girl power carries the show.

Fey and Carlock’s 13-episode pilot season showcases female empowerment. While Kimmy Schmidt isn’t a doctor like Mindy Lahiri of “The Mindy Project” or a politician like Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation” or a TV writer/producer like Liz Lemon of “30 Rock,” she conquers mundane everyday tasks like solving math, getting a GED, or breaking up with a guy. Despite her strange beginnings, Schmidt proves that anyone can conquer anything and that women are truly unbreakable.

It’s as Kimmy Schmidt says: “I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds… All you gotta do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey. Season one is available on Netflix. 

Taking flight with Alice Hoffman’s ‘Nightbird’

Editor’s Note: This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from Wendy Lamb Books, a children’s books division of Random House. 

Twelve can be a tough age. You’re going through puberty and peer pressure, oscillating between childhood and adulthood. You’re learning that the world can be an isolating and disappointing place. But you still hold on to some of that wonder, magic and hope.

"Nightbird" By Alice Hoffman. 208 pp. Wendy Lamb Books. $16.99 U.S. Mar. 10, 2015

By Alice Hoffman.
208 pp. Wendy Lamb Books.
$16.99 U.S.
Mar. 10, 2015

Alice Hoffman reaffirms some of those feelings in her 208-page coming-of-age children’s novel, “Nightbird” — to be released Tuesday. The book is told from the perspective of lonely 12-year-old Twig Fowler, a resident of the small and superstitious town of Sidwell, Mass.

It’s not hard to relate to Twig. She’s a lover of books and owls and pie. (Her mother also makes the best homemade pink apple pie, whose recipe can be found here.)

But Twig and her mother, Sophie, are bound by a secret — which keeps them isolated in their apple orchards. A jilted witch named Agnes Early is said to have cursed their family 200 years ago. When Early’s distant descendants return to Sidwell and a mysterious stranger starts leaving blue graffiti all around town, the Fowler family secret is in jeopardy.

“Nightbird” is “Beauty and the Beast” meets “Romeo and Juliet” meets “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Hoffman puts us under her spell, engaging us with stories of magic and monsters. She creates a beautiful and bewitching novel — blending a wistful heroine with mystery and magical realism. And like all fairy tales, this one also has a happy ending.

“Nightbird” is written by Alice Hoffman and published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House. The novel will be released in the U.S. on March 10, 2015. 


‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’: the tale of girlhood

Last month, Dr. Sharon Marcus and Dr. Anne Skomorowsky wrote a through-provoking piece examining Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film, “Boyhood.” Their Wall Street Journal article argued that “while boyhood is filled with possibility, girlhood is limiting.”

This is evident in Iso Takahata’s poignant hand-drawn animated Oscar contender “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” — a Studio Ghibli production produced over the past five years. While “Boyhood” feels very real, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is a fabricated fable about a celestial being who came under the care of a couple of peasants — a bamboo-cutter named Okina (Takeo Chii) and his wife (Nobuko Miyamoto).

Okina thinks the tiny Thumbelina he found in a bamboo shoot is destined to be a princess, so he does everything in his power to raise her like a daughter and to give her a better life. This includes moving the “Princess” away from their rural village and into the city. Okina even hires a private tutor (Atsuko Takahata) to teach her.

Based on the Japanese folk tale, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” Takahata’s film shows how a girl’s options are limited. “A noble princess does not frolic,” Kaguya’s tutor, Lady Sagami, tells her. A noble princess doesn’t open her mouth. She doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t even attend her own naming ceremony (that’s a three-night celebration for men like her adopted father — whom dictate her path).

“I might as well not be here,” Kaguya expresses.

Instead, a noble princess is expected to look beautiful and marry well. Her beauty attracts the attention of five noblemen, each asking for her hand.

This is very different from the choices “Boyhood’s” Mason is given. For him, the sky’s the limit. For her, her only decisions revolve around marriage.

Although Kaguya is a resourceful heroine, she confined as she grows up. Initially, we see a cherubic and carefree baby, amused by nature. She captures a frog. She befriends baby swine. She’s charmed by the wind blowing and the cherry blossoms. We even see her swinging on a vine with the rural neighborhood’s lost boys, led by their Peter Pan/Robin Hood, Sutemaru (Kengo Kora). But her laughter and smile disappears as she’s forced to adapt to humans’ inhumane definition of beauty.

That’s a beautiful and illuminating lesson — as hard to watch as Takahata’s 1988 WWII piece, “Grave of the Fireflies.” Bring the tissues.

“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” was written by Iso Takahata and Riko Sakaguchi and directed by Takahata. The film was nominated Best Animated Film in the 87th Academy Awards.