Ghost in the Shell


Viewed – 05 April 2017  Cinema

Although I enjoyed the original 1991 anime of the same name by Mamoru Oshii, I always felt like something was missing from it, that it wasn’t the complete package.  So the prospect of a live action remake was for once, intriguing.  Scarlett Johansson plays a cybernetic agent who’s only human part is her brain and fragmented memories of who she used to be.  Other than that she’s a highly skilled killing machine, who’s agency ‘Section 9’ is killed in when a cyber terrorist begins killing various members of a robotics organization by using innocent people and hacking into their minds.

Ghost in the Shell

This took a little getting into.  Translating a cyber-punk future Tokyo-like aesthetic to live action takes no end of CGI and visual flair, and initially it’s overwhelming, all weird holograms in the streets and bizarre costumes and gadgets.  Yet once the story kicks in I really began to get absorbed in this world.  Johansson is aided well by several recognisable faces, especially Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) as a scientist and veteran Japanese actor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royal).  Johansson herself is good as a character trying to figure out what it’s like to be human and adjust to her robotic body, and she conveys the not-quite-human personality eerily well.  The movie is also filled with several action sequences, although these are a little hit and miss – full of cool looking imagery for the trailer or poster, but fail to flow as well as say, The Matrix – there’s a little too much style and choppy editing to fully make them ‘zing’.  Also the suit that Johansson’s character wears to go invisible … I’m still undecided if it looked sexy or silly (the original movie’s was much more skin-like and could easily be seen as naked).  Such a look was probably avoided however to maintain that 12A/PG-13 rating (another issue that impacts the action).

Thankfully where it all leads is much more fleshed out and satisfying than the original movie and has more closure for the lead character.  So for the always difficult task of translating anime to a mainstream audience, director Rupert Sanders has done a commendable if somewhat rough around the edges job, that’s still worth your time if you like your sci-fi with style cranked up to 11.

Verdict:  3 /5

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Dark Water


Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen.  However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face).  So my attention waned.  Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.

Dark Water

Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it.  Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband.  Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment.  Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread.  Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness.  I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here.  Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here.  The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment.  It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self.  One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.

Dark Water ArrowAs expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release.  Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie.  I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read.  Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective.  We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD.  Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes.  No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

When Marnie Was There


Viewed – 02 October 2016  Blu-ray

It’s with a heavy heart that I review this movie.  You see, it’s officially the final film of the famed and I’d say culturally important animation house, Studio Ghibli.  It’s a crying shame that the company chose to end, but at least I’m happy to say they’ve ended on a high with this wonderfully sweet and very heart-warming tale.

WhenMarnieWasThere

Anna, a teenage girl finds she can’t fit in with school or in general and is often sad and lost.  After an asthma attack and a visit to the doctor however, her parents send her to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer.  Once there, still shy and struggling to enjoy the time away, she spots an old, abandoned mansion across the river and feels incredibly drawn to it.  One night on visiting the mansion she see’s a young girl and the two of them quickly bond.  But who is this girl?  Is she real or just part of Anna’s imagination?

AnnaDirected by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) and based on the book by Joan G Robinson, this gently observed story is full of the as expected gorgeous hand-drawn animation with obsessive attention to detail and captivating, quirky characters.  Anna is introverted and got her issues, whilst Marnie, the girl in the mansion is the exact opposite; free spirited and full of energy, but also hides her own troubles.  I really enjoyed the mystery of this, the fantasy elements reminding me of that classic children’s tale The Secret Garden, and it was fun having my own ideas where it was all going.  Yet the movie is clever enough to lead you in one direction then take a sudden turn that for me proved even more surprising … and rather powerful.  It also got quite creepy in places and for a moment I wondered just how dark this story was going to get.  Yet as a swansong for the famed studio, this may lack some of the absolute visual wonder of say Spirited Away but it’s more subtle yet no less engrossing story proved a worthy conclusion to an illustrious legacy.

I’m going to miss having new Ghibli to look forward to.  Although I’m grateful they’ve given us such works of art, like this to cherish for years to come.

Verdict:  4 /5

Big Hero 6


Viewed – 17 September 2016  Blu-ray

You can’t accuse Disney of not trying new things these days…after the rather inspired idea of a video games homage in Wreck It Ralph we come to this somewhat Japanese anime inspired story following a young kid who yearns to follow in his elder brother’s footsteps and go to science school.  He also so happens to be a genius at robotics.  However following a disastrous turn of events said kid, Hiro finds himself befriending his brother’s invention instead and seeking out the answers to a mysterious accident at the local university.

Big Hero 6_

At first I wasn’t really sure where this one was going, it felt like a weird mix of things and it’s tone was uneven.  Not helped by a cast of supporting characters that either ticked all the clichés or were otherwise forgettable.  Yes, we have the cool outsider girl, the bookworm, the stoner (!) and the token black guy.  Yet it’s the friendship between Hiro and Baymax, his brother’s robotic inflatable nurse (not as sleazy as that sounds…) that makes for the heart of the movie, and even plot developments that turn the whole show into The Avengers meets Power Rangers don’t detract from what turns out to be rather emotional and feel good.  Despite a quasi-future setting (in San Francisco – you know, where ALL movies are now set), the inventions by these kids seems so amazing and powerful that they defy logic.  But this is a Disney movie so I’m guessing believability goes out of the window?  This can’t excuse however a villainous plot that’s rather thrown together with a twist that just felt like it had been sneaked in by the writing room cleaning lady last minute.

Which is all a shame as aesthetically and script-wise this often shines.  There’s some stand-out action scenes in the final act, and the in-jokes and banter between the characters got pretty funny.  Baymax is a brilliant creation, part tech-demo for the animation gurus and also a really likeable presence.  So another Disney to check out, if not quite as essential as some of their other movies.

Verdict:  3 /5

Only Yesterday


Viewed – 13 August 2016  Blu-ray

I love the movies of famed Japanese animation house ‘Studio Ghibli’, which I have made no secret of and collect pretty much anything they have done.  So it was sad to hear about the studio closing and greatly anticipate their final feature ‘When Marnie Was There’ which releases on Blu-ray in the UK in October.  For now I have stumbled upon this much older release which has been given a long-awaited western release outside of it’s native Japan with a brand new English dub for those who don’t favour the original language.

only-yesterday

This tells the story of Taeko, a young woman who whilst travelling to the countryside, finds herself reminiscing about her childhood and at the same time trying to figure out her place in the world.  A gentle, whimsical tale not unlike more recent Ghibli movie ‘From Upon Poppie Hill’.  So you’ll find no sorceresses or magic castles in this one folks, as it’s more of a drama about life, love, growing up etc.  It’s all done in an utterly charming way with great voice work from it’s cast most notably The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley.  However despite interesting flashbacks and keen observations of puberty, childhood, friendship etc. I did find my mind wondering, and once Taeko reaches the countryside the story does start to plod quite noticeably to the point that watching flower picking, cooking and family meals got a bit boring.

Thankfully the art style, all hand-drawn traditional animation is beautiful – the flashbacks are done in soft-focus almost water-colour and modern day is all vibrant and brimming with detail.  Also the character of Taeko was well realised and I did find myself relating to her, causing me to reminisce over my own schooldays.  Yet it’s a movie that takes a long time to get to it’s point, focusing on the mundane a bit too much (as some Japanese animation has a tendency of doing) and is a story that’s simply ‘nice’ rather than all that engaging.  If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli it’s still worth a look, but for me, the studio has done better.

The Blu-ray looks lush…very sharp and colourful and only slightly soft I guess when the movie requires it.  The English dub although only in Dolby 2.0 is clear and works well.  This isn’t a particularly atmospheric movie so don’t expect it to wow in that department – although that closing theme song was quite lovely.  The extras are slightly above average for a Studio Ghibli release – storyboards, behind the scenes of the voice casting, a detailed (subtitled) making of and some trailers.  So decent treatment for an enjoyable if not exactly essential movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5