I am not sure why I’ve taken so long to see this acclaimed entry in famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli’s cannon. Telling the story of a young woman who is cursed by a witch and turned into an elderly lady. As a war ravages the city where she lives, she takes refuge in wizard Howl’s legendary moving castle. Can she lift the curse, or are Howl’s own problems more pressing?
Directed by studio head HayaoMyazaki (Ponyo, Princess Mononoke) and boasting quite boundless imagination and visual beauty, this is one of those movies that you can easily lose yourself in. The story is utterly charming, told gracefully and packed with ideas. Voice acting from ChristianBale,EmilyMortimer and BillyCrystal (as a lovable fire demon) amongst others is also enjoyable and although at nearly two hours it can feel a bit hard going, this remained classic fantasy storytelling that kept me glued throughout.
I think compared to similar Ghibli movie Spirited Away; being based on the children’s novel by British writer DianaWynneJones helps it break free from the studio’s otherwise very Japanese style. Sometimes the bizarreness of Ghibli can leave me cold, but that wasn’t the case here. Although, what was that war about? Never the less, an enchanting, very well made and totally gorgeous evening’s entertainment.
The blu-ray from Optimum is very pleasing. The image is vibrant and sharp. Some slight juddering during fast movement seems evident occasionally but not very noticeable. The soundtrack in DTS HD Master Audio is immersive and full of little details, with the music and quality voice acting all impressing. Extras consist of several featurettes, including Myazaki’s visit to Pixar as well as behind the scenes voice over footage. Sadly many are in 1:33:1 format so we get ugly black boarders either side of the screen.
Michael Caine is a British institution. Probably the most celebrated actor to come out of ol’ blighty, he has, over a long career been in some of the most iconic movies ever made and played some of the most memorable characters to ever grace the screen. Although these days I find it a shame he’s playing second fiddle to Christian Bale in the Batman franchise, at least it takes a British movie to put him back where he belongs.
Harry Brown is a retired ex-marine living out his remaining years on a crime infested housing estate overrun by thugs, with a high drugs & murder rate. Recently widowed, his only friend is an elderly man called Lennard, who himself is constantly in fear of his life from increasingly dangerous pranks. Before long though, Harry realises that the Police are not going to change things and he must take the law into his own hands, even if it gets him killed in the process. Caine is mesmerizing and believable as a man who has lost everything and faces up to the hoodie threat with vulnerability and convincing menace, obviously out of his depth and way past his prime, but with the willpower to take them on. Supporting him is a strong performance from Emily Mortimer as the Police Detective heading up the investigation who sympathises with Caine’s plight if not entirely condoning his actions. The cast members playing the hoodie thugs are less impressive, one-note scum bags with no real depth or personality, and I felt this was a missed opportunity to delve deeper into their lives and motives, and the remaining Police are portrayed as bumbling out-dated suits with little regard for public safety and more interest in ticking boxes and filing reports.
Daniel Barber’s movie has been compared to Clint Eastwood hit Gran Torino, but I feel this does both movies a disservice as they are about very different things, and although Harry Brown has a similar old man up against thugs premise, the violence and the rather sickening portrayal of sex and drugs, puts the movie in much darker territory than Eastwood’s on a whole heart-warming modern classic.
Overall though, this is a definite recommendation for both fans of Michael Cain and gritty Brit-thrillers.
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