Spirited Away


Viewed – 26 November 2014  Blu-ray

How long has this acclaimed, Academy Award winning entry in the Studio Ghibli cannon taken to reach Blu-ray?  It feels like an age since I first watched it, my very first introduction to the mind and talent of famed director Hayao Miyazaki – but sitting down to it’s immediate charm, I was transported back to a fantastical world, part Alice In Wonderland, part The Wizard of Oz, but woven together from a rich tapestry of Japanese mythology and sheer uninhibited imagination.

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Chihiro is a young girl moving to a new house with her parents.  Forced to go to a new school, the prospect fills her with uncertainty and dread as she sits disgruntled and winey in the back seat of the family car.  However on route to their destination, the small family come across a mysterious tunnel in the woods, and venturing inside soon stumble upon an abandoned village.  Yet this is no ordinary village and when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into greedy pigs after eating from a banquet, the frightened young girl begins a journey of self discovery and finding strength she never knew she had, by working in a bath house, meeting a magical boy who can turn into a dragon and bumping into all manor of spirits, monsters and witches.  This is a stunning achievement in ideas and wonder … Miyazaki really out did himself and the world we are treated to is rich in detail with spooky, weird and creepy inhabitants and locations … the boiler man and his many legs, the giant baby, the ‘no-face’ monster, the stink spirit, the witch and so much more.  On first seeing this the sheer wealth of creations and extremely bonkers ideas was overwhelming, but done with such style and skill – the experience stayed with me.  Now with more familiarity with the world of Studio Ghibli, I found it easier to get to grips with, not as strange as I recalled and just enjoyed it for what it was.  Traditional hand-drawn animation at it’s best, borrowing from some of the most memorable stories ever written but adding a vibe all it’s own, that makes it stand proud.   One of the most magical movies ever made.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is really impressive.  The image quality looks sharp and is bursting with colour and vibrancy.  Shimmer and softness that has marred some other Ghibli releases is absent here thankfully, and I was also pleased to see a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that truly brings this classic to life.  That orchestral soundtrack is amazing and with a decent English dub with clear voice work as well as some great use of the surrounds (the boiler room sounds amazing) – this really can’t be faulted.  The disc itself isn’t exactly brimming with extras with an archive introduction from John Lasseter (who was still at Pixar when it was filmed apparently), yet an interview with Hayao Miyazaki and a making of are both good additions.  We also get the usual Studio Ghibli story-boards to watch as the movie plays, which can be worth a look for enthusiasts.

Verdict:

The Blu-ray:  4 /5

The Movie:  5 /5

X-Men Days Of Future Past


Viewed – 21 November 2014  Blu-ray

Probably next to that Apes movie, the next most acclaimed summer blockbuster of the year.  A welcome return of the mutants headed by Dr Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a time-bending mission to prevent shape-shifting femme fatale Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a scientist who brings about a war against mutants.  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called in to send his conscience back to the seventies, with the help of Kitty Pryde (an under-used Ellen Page).  There he must recruit the younger Charles Xavier as well as an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his mission.

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This was a bit of a strange ride….whilst I dig time travel storylines, this was sometimes hard to get into, although the seventies setting with the backdrop of the Vietnam war was welcome and done really well.  James McAvoy is again very good as Xavier’s more troubled, younger-self and Hugh Jackman’s grizzled, dead-pan Wolverine is always a joy to watch.  The stronger emphasis on Mystique was good too, and well she’s smoking hot strutting her blue-skinned stuff in some stand out acrobatic fight sequences.  However with the long history of Magneto generally being an evil megalomaniac, busting him out of a prison quickly proves a bad idea and sitting here I’m still wondering what the point of his involvement was, considering they had Wolverine, Beast and a memorable Quicksilver (Evan Peters from American Horror Story).

Effects were of course top-drawer with a superb ‘let’s rip a football stadium out of the ground’ scene … but much of the plot relied heavily on having a good knowledge of the previous X-Men movies with many small details like nods to Rogue and Jean Gray probably going right over the heads of newcomers.  So it felt like I’d come into the show half-way through with the whole Sentinals situation just going on, wiping out Mutants like a continuing part of a TV series.  That being said the principle actors all did a decent job (especially Lawrence) with somewhat muddled material .. so no, for me at least … this wasn’t as good as I had heard.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Wind Rises


Viewed – 19 November 2014  Blu-ray

In some ways I was a bit nervous going into this.  The much anticipated swansong for arguably one of the finest animation directors in the world.  Hayao Miyazaki chose this very personal and understated story as his final feature for the famed Japanese animation house ‘Studio Ghibli’ following an illustrious career that spawned such classics as Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howls Moving Castle.  However this is not the fantastical world we may have become used to but more a thought provoking biopic of a famed aircraft designer.

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I’d say Miyazaki has always had an interest with aircraft and flight, and this is certainly his love letter.  Jiro Horikoshi (voiced in the very good English dub by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) since he was a child has had a fasciation with air travel and the designing of planes.  He often slips into fantastical dream sequences where he meets and talks to famed Italian Aviation pioneer Giovanni Battista Caproni.  As time passes Jiro studies aeronautical engineering, and soon begins working for a plane building firm.  However with the advent of World War II, his designs become increasingly involved in the Japanese Army’s invasions plans, and Jiro finds himself questioning his conscience.

With a similarity to the Martin Scorsese / Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Aviator, and boasting several quirky characters, (Jiro’s boss is classic Ghibli), I did find this interesting even if all the plane building and Jiro’s enthusiasm went over my head.  More absorbing was his gentle love story with Nahoko (Emily Blunt) who develops Tuberculosis.  Yet this storyline also brought into question some of Jiro’s actions, with him having full knowledge that his planes would be involved in mass genocide but he seems to have more focus on building them than looking after his sick fiancé.  Thankfully the art and animation on show distracts from such a morally dubious main character and should be heralded as one of the studio’s most beautiful works – a real treat for the eyes that shows there is plenty of life left in traditional hand drawn animated movies.

Perhaps not as uplifting or as boundlessly-inventive as Miyazaki at his best, but with a good story and some great moments (the 1923 Tokyo earthquake is portrayed like the ground breathing and groaning…), this is still worth checking out.

Verdict:  3 /5

Birthday fun and reflection


Well I turned 39 yesterday and it was a really enjoyable day, despite the fact I was at work.  I am fortunate to have many really good colleagues and friends at work and they all made a fuss of me, giving me cards, prezzies etc.  I also had money and gifts off my family which included the ‘Atlas Limited Edition’ of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare for Xbox One as well as the official, limited edition Call of Duty Xbox One control pad.  The game itself seems pretty decent but I’ll report more on that in another post.

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At times like this, especially as I approach forty, I certainly find myself reflecting on life, and especially the past year, which emotionally has been very up and down.  Some people come into your life and have a dramatic effect on it, then before you know it, they are gone for good.  It’s certainly hard when that happens but sometimes can’t be avoided.  Yet when I look to the things I have managed to achieve, the loving family I have around me, and the genuine friends who are still in my life, I do realise I have a lot to be thankful for.

I love writing this blog, I love watching movies, playing games, and I love my job … it challenges me and makes my life something once upon a time I never thought it would be.

I also want to thank anyone who regularly reads my posts, occasional visitors and the community here as a whole.  You’re a joy to write for and make this a very rewarding hobby.