Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

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This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5

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Police Story


Viewed – 22 August 2018  Blu-ray

A few years ago I was heavily into all things Hong Kong Action Cinema and explored not only the movies of the legendary Jackie Chan but everything from John Woo to Tsui Hark and Jet Li.  I got pretty burnt out it has to be said but occasionally I’ll revisit that interest when I see one of the classics get the Blu-ray treatment.  This 1985 action comedy has Chan as rule-breaking super-cop Ka-Kui, who following a successful raid on a shanty town to capture a notorious drug dealer, finds himself looking after a witness (played by genre queen Brigitte Lin).

Police Story

This 1985 movie, the first in the long-running series … was a huge hit and won awards in it’s native land whilst helping turn Jackie Chan into the superstar we all know him as.  Watching this movie now, whilst well structured and entertaining throughout, seems to lean a little too heavily towards comedy with drawn-out scenes devoted to silly gags and comical situations involving his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) and often bumbling co-workers.  Thankfully when the action does kick in it’s terrific, showcased in three varied scenes that prove without a doubt why Chan’s so respected, not just as a martial artist but also as a choreographer and daredevil with his unique brand of environment-using stunt work.  Influences from the likes of Buster Keaton are obvious and even all these years later, watching him is mesmerising.  Not exactly the greatest action movie Chan’s ever done or even his best movie but it’s still a classic for what it set in motion.

Police Story Blu-rayThis UK Blu-ray from Eureka! Is presented as a double feature box set with Police Story 2 and boasts a detailed booklet as well as a wealth of extra features.  We get three cuts of the movie (the original release, the Japanese extended cut & a shorter American home video cut), behind the scenes featurettes, archive interviews, a brief over-view of Chan’s stunt wok, deleted scenes and trailers.  The movie itself is in decent shape, with a 4K re-mastered image that whilst boasting nice detail and vibrancy, some darker scenes suffer from a smudgy, overly dark appearance.  The soundtrack is good though with both 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks presented in English dubbed and Cantonese subtitled, although the movie’s age means those surrounds are barely used.  Overall, solid treatment for a movie that’s still a great deal of fun.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Ant-Man and The Wasp


Viewed – 08 August 2018  Cinema

I really enjoyed the first Ant Man movie and thought it was a fun concept with some excellent effects and comedy.  This follow up has Paul Rudd’s Ant Man under house arrest following his actions during Captain America: Civil War and when Michael Douglas’ scientist and his daughter discover a way to possibly retrieve Douglas’ wife from the Quantum Realm, they turn to Ant Man for assistance.

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Not the deepest of storylines and one of the failings of this sequel which is mostly surface level entertainment more interested in gags and some slick action than having anything new to say that wasn’t already covered by the last movie.  The house arrest subplot also seemed shoe-horned in to tie-up loose ends from other movies.  I’d also add the pointless appearance from Walton Goggins (in his unending quest to be forgettable in every movie he appears in), and that motor-mouthed friend who like last time balances awkwardly between funny and annoying … even if he still gets some of the movie’s best lines.

Thankfully then, this energetic romp is bolstered by plenty of memorable sequences and welcome support from Lawrence Fishburn who plays a rival to Douglas.  The relationship between Ant-Man and his little daughter is also really charming (if underdeveloped since last movie).  I should also mention the mysterious, bad-ass character of ‘Ghost’ – an assassin who can phase in and out of form, enabling them to walk through walls etc who nearly steals the movie.  For such a concept Ant Man never stayed in shrunken tiny perspective for long enough for my liking, preferring to jump in and out of sizes … but usually to great comedic effect (the school sequence).  So quibbles aside this was still a solid follow up, but hopefully for the inevitable Ant Man 3 we’ll get something with a little more ahem… scale.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Lady Bird


Viewed – 28 July 2018  online rental

Saoirse Ronan has become one of those go-to names for me.  This chameleon-like actress sometimes delivers roles that aren’t simply a recognisable name in a movie, but far more method for someone of her years.  She has one of those faces that isn’t Hollywood starlet and can absorb a character fully.  So we come to this coming of age drama about semi-rebellious Christine, who has given herself the name ‘Lady Bird’ as a way of standing out from the crowd and rebelling against a controlling but loving mother.  Yeah she’s a typical teenager trying to find her place in the world and as we follow this story, ‘boys’ come in and out of her life, friendships are formed and lost and she grows to learn a lot about herself along the way.

lady-bird

I really love these kind of small town America dramas, and although the premise is fairly typical, it’s all done with a whimsical charm, realism and quirky sense of humour that proved utterly absorbing.  Ronan is excellent as a young girl who is immediately likeable even if some of her actions made me want to shake her.  Surrounding characters like a nerdy friend,  an out of work dad and her mother (a brilliant Laurie Metcalf) also added to the movie’s personality.  Lady Bird’s story and her journey tugged at the heart strings in places and felt very relatable … with those typical high school teenage yearnings and mistakes we’ve likely all made.  I have to say that the movie gave me a sense that a big dramatic event was going to happen, such is par of the course for these kind of movies, but it never did … and somehow the movie is all the better for avoiding such a cliché.

As the directorial debut from Greta Gerwig this is nothing short of amazing … capturing a convincing portrayal of adolescence whilst at the same time being a love letter to her home town of Sacramento.  Despite it’s general familiarity there’s a real effortless joy to behold in spending time in this setting and with these characters.  Highly recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


Viewed – 12 June 2018  online-rental

I find myself liking Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson more and more with every movie I see him in, and this sort-of sequel to the Robin Williams original has him on fine, comedic and action hero form joined by a colourful cast.  He plays the videogame counterpart of a nerdy kid who along with a bunch of high school misfits, gets transported into the world of Jumanji after unwittingly powering up a videogame console.

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By attempting to bring the board game comes to life idea of the first movie, up-to-date by making Jumanji a videogame, some of the charm is lost but replaced by a unique twist of the usual high school teen movie formula, and I certainly enjoyed seeing actors like Jack Black and Karen Gillan play somewhat the opposite of how they look for some great fun moments.  Jack Black eyeing up The Rock, anyone?

I’d have liked to learn more about the world and what makes Jumanji what it is and it’s rules etc, but we get nothing.  This goes hand in hand with the thin characterisation, that although playing on clichés, are still clichés regardless.  Yet we do get some decent action and the people transported into a world with videogame logic works every bit as well (if not a little better) than it did in Ready Player One.  So yes, this is easy watching and a lot of fun.  However it’s not much more.

Verdict:  3 /5