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

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Update


I feel I’ve been neglecting my readers of late and not posting as much as I should.  What can I say, life get’s in the way and yes I have a life.  But apart from that I really do like posting on this blog even if only a handful of people ever read it…those handful are important though!  Anyway I digress.  What I wanted was to give you the heads up about a few things I’ve been doing of late.  There’s been an emphasis on gaming and well, I got myself some games I need to get around to finishing before the big slew of releases leading up the Christmas.  There are too many good games coming out to actually manage to play them all let alone complete – but I have my beady eyes on a few.

Uncharted-4

For now though two games are on regular rotation, that being Uncharted 4: A Thieves End on PS4, arguably the best looking PS4 game and a rather polished adventure with that as expected Naughty Dog mastery of detail and game design.  I won’t say for such a game it’s grabbed me as much as Rise of the Tomb Raider did, but then that game was more about survival and this game’s more a summer blockbuster.  But I’m enjoying it.  The other game I took a gamble with and downloaded is the much underrated Recore for XB1, like Uncharted an exclusive but nowhere near as well received, which is understandable – Uncharted is clearly a flagship title for PS4 and Sony whereas Recore was under-Recoremarketed and isn’t really meant to be a system seller as much as the forthcoming Gears of War 4 will be.  However what it is is a rather classic throwback to platform shooter / exploration games like Metroid and I’m enjoying it a lot.  I love exploration, puzzle solving and platforming and this does those three things brilliantly.  The surrounding game, it’s story and it’s character design isn’t anything to write home about and it suffers from a few technical issues here and there … but it’s nowhere near as bad as the media will have you believe.  I’d say If you like the sound of it, give it a chance.

I also have Mafia 3 pre-ordered on the XB1 and have asked for Watchdogs 2 on PS4 for my birthday (note for your diaries readers, it’s 14 November lol).  I also would like to dive into the latest expansion that’s been released for Destiny namely ‘Rise of Iron’.  I really like Destiny and it’s world and the upgrading of my character and weapons and exploring etc.  keeps pulling me back far more than The Division seems it ever will.    But to save money and give me a chance of completing those two games above, I’m holding off on taking the leap as of yet.  I can also see even Dishonoured 2, a game I’m particularly excited for being put on the back burner until there are not so many games to play.

Daredevil S2

TV is taking up some of my time too and I’m trying to finish off current seasons of certain shows that I like, such as having just finished Daredevil season 2 (it was great, sometimes amazing, started a little slow but really delivered half way through.  I think I still favour season 1 more though).  Also nearing the end of the current season of Orange is The New Black which I feel has failed to really hit it’s stride this season apart from a strong opening and the return of a favourite character…I just wonder where it’s going.   I’m also watching House of Cards season 2 … yes I’m waaay behind but love it.  Its been pretty strong this season too.   Also enjoying British police drama Luthor…I think I’m on series 3…but I lose track.  Suitably violent and disturbing and well, Idris Elba is fantastic.  I’ve also lined up two more Netflix Marvel shows to get into, Jessica Jones which I keep hearing good things about and the imminent Luke Cage which looks a lot of fun.  I may focus on Jones first as the two shows seems to connect with one another by looks of it.

jessica-jones

Now back on topic … for movies I have a few in the pipeline you’ll be seeing reviews of.  I need to get around to watching Everybody Wants Some!  Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to one of my all time favourite movies, Dazed & Confused.  Also I’m hoping to see The Magnificent Seven with friends from work next week sometime.  Did I also mention that I have a special edition of Donnie Darko coming?  Look out for an in-depth review of that and how it stacks up on Blu-ray.  Also there’s that final Studio Ghibli movie When Marnie Was There that‘s out soon so I can’t wait to get my paws on that.

I’ve not forgotten about my continuing series My Gaming History which will have a new post in the coming days so look out for that.  But for now that’s what’s going on with me as far as a few of my hobbies, interests and this blog is concerned.

Craig.

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

2015 – a look back


2015

I usually like to do a blog post looking back at the year and the highlights it’s held both for me personally and on this blog as far as entertainment is concerned.  For a good portion of the year, from about March onwards I was all excited and geared up to see my favourite band, ‘Garbage’ of which I’ve already reported on here how it went seeing them at Brixton Academy in London in November – so the lead up to that was a big focus to my year.  However I did try and distract myself from this by playing various videogames and watching plenty of movies … reaching about 60 movies in total in the last twelve months (phew).  During this time my job and various other activities have kept me busy and of course I’ve enjoyed writing this blog as well.  So I’ll take a look back now and give my thoughts over the year that was 2015.

January – March

I started off the year with the enjoyable but not amazing ‘Maleficent’, enjoying Angelina Jolie’s turn as the iconic evil sorceress.  The first high point though for me was ‘True Detective’, which I’d borrowed off a friend … season one with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson which turned out to be riveting.  For some reason however I didn’t get around to season 2.  Then we came to the very impressive ‘Ex_Machina’ … my first taste of true science fiction this year that would turn out to be a great year for the genre.  I also very much loved ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and found it a breath of fresh air and endlessly inventive.  The Oscar’s overshadowed much of February and it was good to see Eddie Redmayne picking up a statue for his turn as Stephen Hawkins in ‘The Theory of Everything’.  Also Birdman picking up best picture was it would turn out, marvellous considering it’s one of my favourite movies of the year.

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I borrowed the much hyped but beyond the gorgeous visuals, disappointing ‘The Order 1886’ for the PS4 and thought it was a fun game that failed to reach it’s full potential.  Still worth it for the story and the graphics, especially if you can rent it or get it cheap …just don’t pay full price.  Then I experienced the underwhelming cash-grab that was ‘The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One’ … which I’m hoping proves a better experience when I finally see Part Two.  A pleasant surprise however was the Sean Penn thriller ‘Gunman’, coming from the creators of Taken I was half expecting another poorly conceived rip-off of that classic movie … but no, this was hard-hitting action packed and well acted.

April – June

One of my major highlights for the year as far as games was concerned was the indie title ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ …a superb, fiendish old school puzzle-platformer that was really addictive, had a beautiful Studio Ghibli-like art style and a large world to explore and get lost in.  I also enjoyed the comedy road movie ‘Identity Thief’, discovering the entertaining Melissa McCarthy for the first time.

Around this time I noticed I had reached a milestone, that of writing this blog for 8 years…wow.  I wrote a post reflecting on this and how I was feeling at the time.  I went through various observations of my life, work, dealing with depression that comes and goes to this day, and of the satisfaction this blog and my hobbies have given me when times haven’t been ideal.  I do venting and such from time to time as readers on here will be aware and hope you can excuse some of the more negative ponderings in between the movie reviews and gaming impressions.  Anyway on with the show…

john wick

‘John Wick’ turned out to be nearly everything I could want in a John Woo inspired action thriller and Keanu Reeves was back on blistering form.  Kevin Costner’s thriller ‘3 Days To Kill’ turned out rather poor and finally getting around to seeing ‘Donnie Brasco’, mob drama with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp was equally underwhelming.  Garbage’s new single and collaboration with singer Brian Aubert ‘The Chemicals’ left me with mixed feelings for a long while, and although I don’t consider the track amongst the band’s best work – it’s really grown on me over the last few months.  Nicholas Cage vehicle ‘Joe’ proved very interesting however and was one of his better recent performances, and Tim Burton’s subdued ‘Big Eyes’ proved decent if fairly lightweight for that particular director.

Also during April I was gifted with finally seeing the remarkable ‘Birdman’, from the increasingly impressive director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, The Revenant) and also proved a unique return for Michael Keaton.  On the gaming front I got my teeth into the PS4 version of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and the much hyped ‘The Witcher 3’ on Xbox One …er, two games I still haven’t finished.  TV offered up the Breaking Bad spin-off ‘Better Call Saul’ which proved highly entertaining and I can’t wait for season 2.  The biggest disappointment around this time however was the news that ‘The Following’, one of my favourite shows was to be cancelled after the current season ended.  I was gutted but at least the final season 3 turned out to be excellent.

The summer blockbuster season kicked off in fine form in June with the exhilarating ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ which despite me not loving as much as some of my friends, I still got a kick out of.  E3 also dominated the gaming calendar around this time with plenty of exciting announcements for both the PS4 and the Xbox One.  Brit spy-spoof ‘Kingsmen: The Secret Service’ had it’s moments but didn’t impress me all that much … and Project Almanac was a fun yet forgettable time travel drama.

July – September

‘Terminator Genisys’ was one of the most purely ‘fun’ movies of the year and ticked many of my Terminator fan-boy boxes.  I don’t really care what others think of that movie.  ‘The Babadook’ also proved a refreshing horror movie that dealt with psychological trauma and the stresses of being a single mother with intelligence.  Around that time I also checked out ‘It Follows’ which was probably one of my horror movie highlights of the year.  Studio Ghibli animation ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ also proved heart warming, magical and captivating just how a Studio Ghibli movie should be … and ‘Chappie’ was a highly enjoyable sci-fi actioner that once again made me a big fan of director Neil Blomkamp.   ‘Still Alice’ was a powerful story of one woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s and Julianne Moore rightly deserved her Oscar nod.

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As I rolled into August I got around to seeing some very good movies such as ‘American Sniper’ which proved very powerful, and ‘Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’ which was again another very exciting entry in the franchise.  Then we came to another great sci-fi drama in the name of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which although at times confusing was full of wonder and amazing ideas backed up by amazing visuals.  ‘The Gift’ also turned out to be a surprising and very well acted psychological drama with a brilliantly complex Jason Bateman, whilst Iranian vampire drama ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’ proved visually striking but lacking in pretty much everything else.  Liam Neeson vehicle  ‘Run All Night’ also sadly showed that this gifted actor had found himself stuck in a rut of forgettable thrillers.

Although late to the party, I thought ‘The Conjuring’ was one of the best horrors I had seen in a long while, and Disney remake ‘Cinderella’ proved suitably enchanting whilst offering little new.  Crime thriller ‘The Drop’ seemed a suitable swansong for the late James Gondolfini (sob) whilst ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ was fun but lacked that special ‘something’ to stand out in a crowded superhero market place.

October – December

As autumn and winter rolled around, disaster flick ‘San Andreas’ turned out to be a very enjoyable CGI-packed vehicle for Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson, and on TV some of my favourite shows came back, namely ‘Homeland’, ‘The Returned’, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Fargo’, which have all proved excellent this season.  Dinosaur sequel ‘Jurassic World’ was a lot of fun and one of the better entries in the popular franchise, whilst Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous looking ‘Crimson Peak’ was one of my biggest disappointments of 2015 as I had hoped it would be another masterpiece by this talented director rather than the uninvolving style over substance it turned out as.  Thankfully Kevin Bacon thriller ‘Cop Car’ turned out quite the breath of fresh air and is well worth checking out.

Garbage 20YearsQueer (2)

November was for me, dominated by both seeing ‘Garbage’ and turning 40 (!!).  They were amazing live and I highly recommend you check them out for yourself if you get the chance.  I also visited London with my brother and pretty much that whole week will stay with me for a long time to come.  I hope to see the band again next year but don’t know if that will happen for sure yet.  Fingers crossed!  Yet I did get around to seeing a couple of movies as well, such as the intense, Oscar winning drama ‘Whiplash’ and entertaining animation ‘Minions’.  Yet one of the major highlights and probably my gaming experience of the year was finally getting my hands on ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ which was sheer gaming joy from start to finish and one of the best looking games yet on Xbox One.

So we come to December and much of this was focused on the imminent release of ‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’ which thankfully turned out a fantastic experience.  However aside from this movie I checked out comedy spy spoof ‘Spy’ with an again enjoyable Melissa McCarthy and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ which proved enjoyable and visually impressive, but let down by a confusing plot.  I also finally managed to see Pixar animation ‘Inside Out’ which blew me away and was one of their best efforts yet.  Other than that ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ is one of the best entries in the franchise yet, with Victorian London a great setting full of atmosphere.


So there you have it, 2015 all done and dusted.  So what is left to say?  My end of Year Top Ten will be revealed on New Year’s Eve (this Thursday) and I’m already looking forward to compiling it.  There have been some amazing movies this year with some pleasant surprises.  My gaming calendar has been a bit underwhelming with only a small handful of titles truly impressing, but I am hoping 2016 fairs better.

For now though I’ll leave you waiting in anticipation for what I’ll crown my favourite movie of the year…

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya


Viewed – 18 July 2015  Blu-ray

Following up Hayao Myazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises and perhaps continuing the brittle future of the famed Japanese animation house, this latest offering was a nerve-racking prospect to say the least.  In Myazaki’s absence could Studio Ghibli still deliver?

Kaguya

Isao Takahata (Grave Of The Fireflies, My Neighbours The Yamadas) has created a truly breath-taking example of traditional hand-drawn animation.  The whole movie is presented in a beautiful, minimalistic water-colour style that is really something to behold.  The story (based on a folk tale) follows an ageing bamboo cutter who one day discovers a tiny girl inside one of the bamboo stalks.  Taking her home to his wife, they quickly decide to raise the girl as their own.  Then rapidly and magically she grows into a beautiful young woman.  However on realising that his surrogate daughter should be treated as a Princess rather than a lowly country girl, the bamboo cutter sets forth a plan to have her married off to a wealthy man and truly realise her potential – and his own dreams of wealth.

Kaguya 2This is a very well observed movie, full of that Ghibli character I’ve come to adore (with plenty of fascinating Japanese historical detail) and the story reminded me somewhat of classic Oscar winner The Last Emperor in Kaguya’s journey from free-spirited child to forced-on-her palace rituals.  It’s at times whimsical and full of comical and interesting characters (the four suitors especially) and offers up a gentle love story as well as a powerful coming of age for the title character.  It’s probably too long for what it is, and plods along at times, yet makes up for this in it’s sheer artistry and leads to an ending that I’m not afraid to admit, got me quite emotional.

I was slightly underwhelmed by The Wind Rises, but this was a gentle return to the magic and heart of Studio Ghibli.  Another gem from what was (if rumours of their closure are to be believed) one of the finest animation studios ever conceived.

Verdict:  4 /5