Sunday, 26 June 2016

When Marnie Was There (2014 in Japan, 2015 in the west)

(I have only seen this in its native language (Japanese) with subtitles so cannot comment any dubs)
It is rumored that this is going to be the final film from Studio Gibli. If this is true, I can happily say that they went out on a positive note. This is a sweet film that, in true Studio Gibli fashion, should appeal to a wide audience while pondering deep, topical themes. In this case they chose to focus in on depression, especially where it related to both parenthood and people who grow up without a true family.

The film is centered around Anna, an introverted 12 year old girl who has lived with foster parents most of her life. She suffers from asthma and is consequently sent to live temporarily with relatives of her foster parents where the air is cleaner. While living there she discovers an abandoned mansion where she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie. She agrees to keep a secret Marnie a secret from the rest of the world as they use each other to keep themselves mentally stable.

It was written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayshi based on the young adult novel of the same name. Hiromasa Yonebayshi had his directorial debut in 2010 with Arrietty, a film I believe to be one of Studio Gibli's greatest (among a large list of gems). I consider him to be one of the most exciting directors of animated features to watch moving forward as he has shown, for a second time his top-notch instincts.

The characters are created with such layering and detail that you could believe them to be real people. In particular, it is hard not to get taken in by Anna and Marnie who truly enhance one another and Anna's kindly caregivers help to give a warm overall feel to a film that could easily be too draining. There are arguably very few villainous parts in the film, with life itself being the main focus of tension (although tension is largely unnecessary due to the film's ponderous nature). 

The animation is, as expected from a Studio Gibli picture, absolutely top notch. The hand drawn look to the backgrounds are beautiful, with the abandoned mansion being a particular stand out. The character animation is also very well executed. Marnie particularly, is beautifully drawn to have the look of someone to be envious of but also feel truly safe around.

The script is sharp and captivating with a story that will keep you constantly fascinated. However the film is also warm, ponderous and will leave will leave you emotionally enthralled. The greatest aspect of this film to me is that while it is made for a young audience, it is not afraid to be filled with deep, adult themes. Most studios will not even consider discussing themes of this nature in an animated feature aimed at children. 

The original song, Fine on the Outside by Priscilla Ahn, gives the film a fittingly harmonious finish and understated score helps to keep the viewer drawn in throughout the film. I would recommend this film to absolutely anyone. It is an pure delight that is not to be missed. 5/5

Saturday, 25 June 2016

X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

The X-Men movies are one of those franchises that can go both ways for me. For the most part I have thoroughly enjoyed what fox has done with the franchise. Some entries, however, have fallen very flat and recently others are have been starting to feel a little tired. Somehow, X-Men: Apocalypse manages to embody most of what can frustrate me about the franchise, while also not being an altogether terrible film.

This film takes place in the prequel story-line, following on from days of future past. The story this time involves an ancient mutant by the name of apocalypse waking from a long hibernation to announce himself as king of the earth. He quickly comes up with a plan to destroy everything "weak" in the world including all non-mutants, leaving the Xavier and the other X-Men to stop him.

It should come as no surprise at this point that Magnito is initially on board with this plan much of the tension in the film involves an attempt to stop him from getting out of control. To say this scenario is getting tired in the X-Men universe would be an understatement. Despite this, Michael Fassbender is still a perfect actor for the part, as is James McAvoy in the role of Charles Xavier. They both play so brilliantly off each other, that you are almost willing to forgive the fact that similar scenarios have been exhausted in the previous two films. Nicholas Hoult also continues to bring depth to Hank/Beast, despite having less screen time than in the previous two entries.

Oscar Isaac is one of the most expressive and versatile actors working today. Unfortunately he is nearly unrecognizable beneath a very fake looking prosthetic and is given dialog comes across stiff and emotionless as Apocalypse. The same could be said for Sophie Turner who is introduced in the role of Jean Gray, a character who should be the most interesting in the entire series but comes across dull and detached. The rest of the large ensemble cast give fine, if unexceptional, performances with Jennifer Lawrence looking exactly as bored as she did in the previous two entries in the role of Mystique.

As with most of Bryan Singer's X-Men films, the film has a slightly dated look, with serviceable special effects and action choreography. There are, however, a few impressive sequences early on as Apocalypse is being introduced. Adding to the unspectacular special effects, the costumes, makeup, set pieces and props all look like they're made of plastic, making the film look almost messy. To top of the look of the film, the color palette is rather confused, as if the Bryan Singer wanted to both give the film the bright, colorful look of a comic book as well as keeping a dark, gritty look. These looks clash rather badly leaving us with the worst of both.

Its not all terrible though, despite similarities with previous films the plot ticks along at a decent pace and the writing allows the characters (exception of Jean and Apocalypse) to feel as animated as you can expect. The film also still manages to retain a certain sense of fun despite its shortcomings. It can be recommended as a serviceable popcorn film, which may not have any lasting impact but will also not offend anyone's sensibilities. 2.5/5

A bunch of films I have watched recently

Here I am doing a bunch of very short reviews of films which I have seen this year. This is far from all the films I have seen and am not doing longer reviews for but it is the films that I can remember most vividly (as such it is probably some of the better or more noteworthy films I have seen recently).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This film has been on my radar for years but I only got around to watching it today. An absolute treat of a film. Particularly strong are the performances by both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey and the screenplay by charlie Kaufman.

This is an optimistic yet slightly melancholic look at modern day relationships, with depth and heart to spare. While being very moving it can also be very comedic at (albeit in a heartfelt way) with strange, witty characters that are hard not to fall in love with. A real gem that comes thoroughly recommended. 4.5/5

The Jungle-book (2016)
One of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. For a film that is entirely filmed in a studio the jungle looks very real and absolutely gorgeous.The character animations are extremely impressive and the voice actors are impeccably well cast. Of particular note is Bill Murry who may well be perfectly cast in a comic relief role as Baloo. A beautiful score gives the whole adventure a magical feel, which is topped by several well timed musical numbers from the 1967 animated feature.

Neel Sethi is a fantastic discovery as Mogli. My one criticism is that Neel does occasionally appear unsure what he is acting to. This is, however, forgivable considering his inexperience and way the film was shot. Overall this is a thoroughly recommended film. 4.5/5

Batman vs Superman (2016)
I don't have much to say about this one beyond that while trying to emulate the gritty, meaningful, interesting nature of the dark knight trilogy Zach Snyder has simply made a dreary, tepid, uninterested mess of a film. This is not helped by an uneven screenplay where characters often find themselves explaining the plot (although its generous even calling it that) to us directly.

I get it, the dark knight trilogy is great and a deeper, darker look at the characters is an interesting idea... In theory. However in order to pull off what Christopher Nolan did, one actually needs to have something to say. Unfortunately Zach Snyder does not and instead the film ends up looking and feeling scattered with too many badly staged clusters of CGI. Ben Affleck's casting, however, is a saving grace of the film and I am interested in what he can do with the character when he develops his own script. I also believe Henry Cavill could make a great superman with the right director/ screenplay.   2/5

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War is a lot of fun. It contains excellent choreography, cinematography and effects in the main battle sequences. This is in true Russo Brothers style, where anyone who enjoyed the winter soldier will more or less know what to expect from the film. The characters you have come to love are still the same great as always, with excellent castings/ performances of/by Tom Holland as Spiderman and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.

It is exactly what you expect it to be, that is a fun, not too serious, witty, interesting movie that will leave you with a smile on your face. What you may not expect is a much deeper look into the emotions of these characters in the third act. This helps to make the fun, which is had in the second act, to feel much more earned. My only complaint in the film is that some parts of the script are a little contrived, especially when building to the main confrontation in the second act. 4/5

Deadpool (2016)
Okay I have written about a lot of superheroes in quick succession. This is the last of them. Daredevil is a near perfect version of exactly what it wants to be: a fun, silly, energetic, over the top, R rated superhero movie.

Deadpool is intentionally light on story but is as consistently funny as anything you'll see this year. The action is very good looking and Ryan Reynolds is basically the most perfect casting in the part. A thoroughly recommendable R-rated comedy. 4/5

Eddie the Eagle (2016)
I had a large struggle to determine my feelings on this film. On one hand it, at least on the surface, is the sort of cliched, predictable,"based on a true story" film that normally comes out in December pretending to be important to try to get Oscar buzz and flops. On the other hand I kind of enjoyed it. For a start Taron Egerton, who plays the title character, is shaping up to be a very fine young actor and both he and Hugh Jackman commit head-first to the cliche riddled script.

What also stands it apart from other films of a similar nature is it is filmed in a non-invasive fashion, without any failed attempts to be overly creative. This, in a sense, could be a criticism because it adds to the unremarkable nature of the film, however this is the exact reason why it doesn't fail hard like so many similar films before it. It knows its not remarkable. The filmmakers have been happy to make a fun little distraction of a film that is never going to change your life but is always gong to be watchable. 3/5

Zootopia (2016)

The idea here is that Zootopia is large urban city akin to New York or San Fransisco home to all kinds of anthropanthropomorphic (human-like) animals. In Zootopia it is said these animals can live simultaneously free of discrimination, where anyone can be or do anything. Unfortunately when our main character "Judy Hopps" a bunny who has always dreamed of being a police officer moves to Zootopia she finds that finds a society much less equal than she had imagined.

If that descriptions sounds a little familiar to you, that is what I thought coming into this film too. Little did I know the Disney movie about talking animals walking around on two legs could end up being one of the best films of the year. I cannot think of a single aspect of the film that I would change if given the chance.

Both the scenic and character animation are absolutely gorgeous. The world detail has particularly being meticulously designed, hilariously allowing for many different species to coexist despite being vastly different shapes and sizes.The voice cast all do a very good job, especially Jason Batemen and Ginnifer Goodwin who are impeccably cast in the two leading roles. Also to be mentioned is Shakira whose original song "try everything" perfectly captures the tone of the movie.

One of the largest strengths of the film are the beautifully written characters throughout the film. Together with a deep, engaging story-line they make for a funny and moving film. This is enriched by the often hilarious satire and epanse that comes from Zootopia being, at its core, a metaphor for discrimination, acceptance and racial profiling within our society.

This is a rich, layered, gorgeous film, which gives a breath of fresh air to the tired "talking animal" genre. I absolutely fell in love with this film and it is a must see for people of all ages who enjoy animated movies. 5/5

A plan of attack

So I decided that before I make my first post I should figure out what format this will actually take. I wish to include my opinion on as many films as possible, however, I have seen hundreds of films and am not about to review every single one of them now. Therefore I will use this post to provide an outline for how this may work. So without further ado let a tacky list be created:

  1. I will start by providing a brief review of some of the noteworthy films, which I have seen this year. I will label each of these to simplify any searches undertaken.
  2. Films will from thereon be reviewed when I see them or as a list when there isn't enough to talk about or I get lazy (most likely the latter). Reviews will be very short form because I do not have a lot of time in my life and wish to include as many as possible.

    • Films will be assigned a rating out of 5, which will not necessarily mean much at all. I will occasionally provide lists of favorite films and they may not fit together cohesively with rankings. 
    • A 5 does not necessarily mean the film is perfect, as this is in theory unattainable. It will instead mean that a film is all that I could realistically hope for it to be.
  3. I will occasionally make posts showing trailers or any other stuff I feel like mentioning, this may help me compare how hyped I am for a movie to how much I actually like it.
  4. I will add to this list whenever I feel it is necessary.