A challenge begins…


So last night began this fun little challenge of mine to watch one movie each in my collection of Blu-rays for each letter of the alphabet. I have devised a working list that I may swap and change as I progress, but I plan to write weekly blog posts detailing what movies I have got though in this endeavour.

So where did I begin? Well there were a few choices for A, but eventually I landed on the rather under-appreciated Studio Ghibli movie ‘Arriety’. I’ve now watched it about 3 times inclusive of last night’s viewing and stand firm on my opinion it’s one of Ghibli’s best. The take on the classic Borrowers story is well done and pretty much sticks to source material and that theme song by Cecile Corbel is utterly enchanting. I still find the sickly kid a bit annoying but everything else, the gorgeous hand-drawn animation and scenery, the characterisation, different moments (the escapade to steal a sugar cube) and sound-design are all utter class.

As you’ll now be aware I chose 80’s French drama ‘Betty Blue’ for B and have chosen to do a full review for that which I’ll leave you to check out. Now onto letter C and beyond. I’ll report back how it all goes soon!

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.

Mary-and-Witch-Flower

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

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

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