Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

Title: Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt
Released: Mar 2017 (US & UK)


Well, what do you know. They’ve only gone and made a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. This would have been a dream come true for my teenage self, but sadly the Rupert Sanders film is a far cry from the original manga and its various incarnations.

The main problem with the new Ghost in the Shell is its simplicity. The 1995 film isn’t as philosophical as it’s often remembered being, but it has a meditative ambience and the idea of the ‘ghost’ is well expressed and worth pondering. Here, the ‘ghost’ is reduced to a simple noun — a word for an individual’s consciousness and nothing more. There is no commentary on humanity or singularity; in fact it bares such little weight on the plot, they could have done away with the concept of the ghost and simply given the principal character drug-induced amnesia. Here, the main theme is how actions rather than memories define a person.

95

By doing away with the philosophy and changing the film into a mystery-vengeance story, where Motoko is the “first of her kind” and seeks answers about her obvious past, they’ve gone a well trodden and thoroughly uninspired route, which is bolstered by some terrifically mediocre writing that is filled with clunky exposition and many contrivances. At one point, the head of the company behind Motoko’s synthetics orders her to be terminated, after which there’s a disagreement between the head and a cybernetics doctor who clearly cares about Motoko. The company boss then instructs the doctor — the sole person who sympathises with Motoko — to do the honours. Where do you think this is going? It’s painfully predictable and lacks so much of the nuances present throughout the franchise.

There’s also a scene where the cybernetics boss says to one of his creations; “you came close, you freak.” I don’t know if the character is supposed to be a supercilious ass who doesn’t quite realise he made the ‘freak’ or if the writers just don’t think about the implications of certain dialogue. Either way, the dialogue is often heavy-handed, inconsistent and partial on details.

The plot itself is an amalgamation of various Ghost in the Shell products, but namely the 1995 film and the Stand Alone Complex series. There are a couple of shot-for-shot sequences that match well the aesthetic of Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation, along with some subtle references only fans of the franchise are likely to notice, but sadly they serve more as a reminder of better material than a homage. Still, the ‘shell’ is at least present. The world of Ghost in the Shell is fully realised and they include direct reference to the prevalence of cybernetic enhancements, though there is little commentary on transhumanism.

96

The visual effects are top-notch and the practical effects and props made by Weta — though utilised far less than I expected — were impressive. I thought much of the cast had a good likeness to their anime and manga counterparts, too. Effort had gone into making Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano resemble their illustrated equivalents. The performances and the action scenes were satisfying, but nothing particularly applaudable.

One aspect that was tremendously unsatisfactory was the score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe. I generally enjoy Mansell’s music and adore his work on The Fountain, but here the music just isn’t notable. It lacked a presence and was neither emotive nor thrilling. At certain points, it contains tiny fragments of Kenji Kawai’s original Ghost in the Shell score, but does not attempt to hone or replicate the composers enthralling sounds. Then, almost as a joke, Kawai’s prominent ‘Making of a Cyborg’ theme from the 1995 film is played during the credits, as if to say — this is what you could have had.

As a generic action movie, Ghost in the Shell is passable, but relatively unexceptional. However, as an adaptation of such a breathtaking and esoteric franchise, it misses the mark entirely. It is formulaic and devoid of any substantial philosophy — ultimately another great concept dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. It’s frustrating, as the allusions to the prior material generally translate well to live-action, but the vast alterations and perplexing union of sources hindered what could have been a terrific film. They couldn’t even commit and go whole hog with the ending, which seemed to be going the direction of Oshii’s initial adaptation before fizzling away and becoming completely vapid. It seems the ghost was far too much for them.

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

Title: 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills
Screenplay: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
Released: Dec 2016 (US), Feb 2017 (UK)


“My mom was born in 1924. When she was my age, people drove in sad cars to sad houses, with old phones, no money or food or televisions. But the people were real.”

20th Century Women shows that, no matter how old, we are always coming of age, absorbing new traits and moulting others. Continually, we gain fresh knowledge and learn about new things, all the while imparting and perfecting our wisdom as we traipse through a turbulent existence. Never stationary, we come to terms with past experiences and see old memories anew, forever revealing new layers of ourselves. No one is too old nor too young to teach or to learn. 20th Century Women is a film about growing and living, depicting the relationships and the fleeting emotions that form our lives.

92

Annette Bening is mesmerising as Dorothea, a single mother attempting to understand and nurture her son in a time that seems so distant from her own childhood. She’s backed by two younger women, each with stunning individuality who are going through their own instability.

The film possesses such a terrific authenticity, which is bolstered by its use of prose and historic footage. It deftly avoids contrivances with a cast of well-written, fully-fleshed out personalities who embody their own thoughts are desires, and the cinematography and production design capture well the ambience of the late 1970s.

The plot unravels with great finesse and fluidity, with dialogue that is tremendously pensive and poignant. It’s depiction of the highs and lows and the confusion and comprehension of life is so fervent and genuine — it’s one of those movies that goes far beyond sole entertainment.

I feel like I could have sat through many more hours of those wondrous Californian vistas, accompanied by that dreamy principal theme, observing those truthful people, with their routine thoughts and emotions that feel so keen and touching and real.

Upcoming 2017 Movies (You May Have Missed)

Hello, tomodachi. A belated welcome to two-thousand-and-seventeen. I’ve been devouring movies to escape reality, so my first Watched This Month of the year is probably going to look like a hot mess. Let’s worry about that later, though. For now, I want to share with you five upcoming films that I am eagerly awaiting. I’ve gone with some more obscure and less talked about features to hopefully add a little variety to the babble. Last time I wrote a post like this, only three of the five mentioned actually found a release date. Let’s hope I’m more accurate this time!


83

First and foremost, we have Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which is due for release on Netflix in the Summer. It tells the story of a young girl named Mija, who risks all to prevent a powerful, multi-national corporation from kidnapping her best friend, who happens to be a giant animal.

From what I’ve read thus far, the film will provide a commentary on capitalism, which brings it in line with Mr. Bong’s 2013 feature Snowpiercer, which was somewhat of an action-packed political allegory.

Okja is said to be set 60% in South Korea and 40% in New York, with a Korean lead and an English-speaking supporting cast, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins and Giancarlo Esposito — certainly a cast to get excited for.


86

Next up we have the French coming-of-age, cannibalistic drama Raw, which is currently making the rounds at Sundance. The film is directed by Julia Ducournau and stars Garance Marillier in the lead role. It follows a vegetarian veterinarian who is forced to undergo a carnivorous hazing ritual at school, after which she develops a lust for meat.

I’m not a fan of body horror, but I hear that Raw is more a ‘gross concept’ than an out-right gore fest. After hearing about it last year, it had my hesitant attention, but the trailer — which released last week — has me keenly interested. It’s due for release in the US in March and in the UK in April.


84

I’m cheating slightly with Over the Fence, which released in Japan last September, but there’s a good chance it will materialise outside its home nation at some point in the coming months. For now, we have to make do with the trailer.

The film is directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita, who had a massive hit in 2005 with the endearing high-school drama Linda Linda Linda. The much loved Joe Odagiri and Yu Aoi star as broken individuals who meet by chance and begin a seemingly tumultuous relationship.

This film has my attention mostly due to the talent involved, but Japanese movies often portray dejection and the more lonesome, subdued aspects of relationships and everyday life with keen precision. They let the camera do the talking, which is something I hope to see in Over the Fence.


85

Moving on to Breathe, which is Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. This is a film I expected to have a lot more buzz, but then again, not a lot of information has been revealed. It tells the true story of Robin Cavendish, a handsome, brilliant and adventurous man whose life takes a dramatic turn when polio leaves him paralyzed.

Man of the moment Andrew Garfield plays Robin, with Claire Foy playing his long-time wife Diana. The only ‘footage’ thus far is this sole set picture, which is unusual given the film is rumoured to appear in Switzerland next month. Hopefully a trailer will emerge soon.


87

Finally, we have The Discovery, which had its world premiere at Sundance two days ago and is due for release on March 31st via Netflix. It’s a love story set in a reality where the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically verified. Inevitably, people begin killing themselves to reach to supposed paradise.

It stars Rooney Mara and Jesse Plemons in the leading roles and is the second feature from American director Charlie McDowell. The plot sounds very enticing and the trailer is intriguingly haphazard and very fascinating in tone, though anything with Rooney Mara is generally worth watching. I also loved Jesse Plemons in Fargo, so I’m excited to view more of his work.


That’s but a snapshot of what looks to be an interesting year for film. Initially, I was also going to write about Colossal, which is a movie I heard about so long ago that I thought it had come and gone already, but the teaser made its way online two days ago and has generated a lot of attention.

Anyway, thank you for visiting. For a sort of too long, didn’t read rundown…

The Discovery is due on 31st March via Netflix, which will also release Okja in the Summer. Raw is due on 10th March in the USA and on 7th April in the UK, the latter of which is the same date as Colossal‘s US release. Over the Fence has already been released in Japan and will hopefully make its way overseas at some point this year and currently Breathe doesn’t have a solid release date, but I expect a trailer will appear in the coming months, which will likely bring it more widespread attention.

Best Movies of 2016

Good day, everybody. I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to a special New Year, but for now – it’s list time! This post will be all about my favourite movies of 2016, compiling my most loved this year using the convenient and well-tested top ten formula (though I couldn’t resist including a special mention, too).

Swing by my letterboxd or previous blog post to see a rundown of every film I watched this year, but let’s save the rest of my waffling for the end and get down to business.


73

Special Mention goes to Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hun)

Tunnel is a multifaceted disaster movie in which a man becomes trapped after a road tunnel collapses around him. I wanted to give it a mention, because – while it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre – it’s but one of many worthwhile movies from South Korea this year and features some very powerful and evocative moments. It’s a well-paced and skillfully shot film that successfully maintains suspense despite some predictability, which also excels in its exploration of sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints — depicting what feel like very human and true-to-life scenarios.


72

#10. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)

Kicking the list off at number ten is Kubo and the Two Strings, which follows the titular character on a journey across ancient Japan to locate a suit of magical armor in order to defeat the vengeful Moon King. It suffers from some contrived exposition, but ultimately comes together as a moving and exquisitely animated piece. It’s gorgeously visualised – with a number of attentively choreographed and well designed action scenes – and while the characters are rather conventional, they manage to be memorable and enjoyable iterations, humanly developed and brought to life with some engaging voice work.


75

#9. Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Swiss Army Man really is as strange as it sounds, but it’s also wonderfully enjoyable, terrifically imaginative and at times even beautiful. It opens with a man about to hang himself beside a desolate beach, but when he’s interrupted by a farting corpse that washes up on the coast, he mounts the dead body and it begins propelling them across the shoreline. Thereafter, the two develop a peculiar bond. Alongside its alluring eccentricity, the film features an ending and reveal nothing less than magnificent, with a remarkable a cappella score and solid performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.


74

#8. Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

Matt Ross’ touching drama follows an unorthodox family who live in a Washington state forest. The children learn about survival, philosophy and coexistence with nature from their father, who has become disillusioned with capitalism and society, but due to their mother being hospitalised, the children gradually begin to lose focus. Captain Fantastic is a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, that feels well balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity and allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.


81

#7. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

Tom Ford’s second feature follows a disillusioned art gallery owner named Susan, whose life has become rather joyless and undesirable, but a glimmer of hope beckons when her ex-husband sends her a manuscript out of the blue, with which Susan becomes entranced. Nocturnal Animals is one of the years most compelling features, with a steady and meticulous divulgence of details that builds a layered, ever-suspenseful and stunningly haunting tale of redemption and revenge. The sinuous narrative is expertly employed, with Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson giving fiercely evocative performances.


76

#6. The Little Prince (Dir. Mark Osborne)

The Little Prince was released in most parts of the world last year, but didn’t make its way to Britain and the United States until 2016. It follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of a small boy who lives on an asteroid. It’s beautifully illustrated, with wonderful contrast between the two narratives. I’m sad the film didn’t reach a wider audience, because it is incredibly profound and evocative in its exploration of innocence, inner peace and companionship, with some intensely poignant and memorable dialogue.


77

#5. Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

John Carney’s musical drama Sing Street makes its way into my top five. The film follows a ragtag bunch of youths in 1980s Ireland who form a band with the goal of impressing a girl. It’s an utterly charming but brilliantly grounded feature, portraying not only gleeful musical numbers but also some rousing, hard-hitting family drama, with Jack Reynor giving an unexpectedly impassioned and memorable performance. It’s a completely absorbing film – from the music to the characters – with a tremendous ending that leaves a lasting impression, evoking brilliant uncertainty despite an overt sense of exuberance.


78

#4. Your Name (Dir. Makoto Shinkai)

Just missing out on my top three is one of Japan’s most successful films of all time. Your Name is a visually arresting and incredibly moving body-swap drama with a couple of very inventive and unconventional features. The director masterfully weaves between humour and sorrow as the plot proceeds in directions unforeseen, all the while employing his wonderful knack for imbuing typically ordinary settings with a delicate touch of fantasy and science fiction. Shinkai has been highly regarded within the anime community for some time; it’s nice to see someone other than Miyazaki garnering broader recognition.


82

#3. The Handmaiden (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

Park Chan-wook’s beguiling adaptation of the Fingersmith commences the top three. It’s a slinky, seductive and beautifully provocative period piece that tells of a plot to defraud a mysterious heiress by a conman who hires a thief to act as her maid, but complications abound when the two women begin to fall for one another. It’s a tantalising exploration of sexuality, with a mesmeric quality and stunning proficiency — attentively crafted and brilliantly layered in so many respects. Certainly, one of the years most alluring films, with gorgeous set design, bewitching performances and some masterful cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, who maneuvers the camera with extreme finesse.


79

#2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

Taika Waititi’s extraordinary New Zealand based adventure was my firm favourite for many months, before being pipped to the post in December. Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a delinquent teenager and his new eccentric foster family who end up on the wrong side of a national manhunt. It’s enormous amounts of fun, with a near faultless script loaded with impeccable witticism. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill meld into their roles with seeming effortlessness; their bond developing organically on a journey through the bush as we venture between hilarity and despair. The gorgeous geography of New Zealand is of course on display, too. It’s a thoroughly enticing and joyous affair.


80-5

#1. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

My favourite film of the year is Shunji Iwai’s three-hour masterpiece about an unassertive girl named Nanami, who struggles to find fulfillment and true companionship in an all too connected world that can – ironically – sometimes leave people feeling isolated.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle has the ethereal and poignant quality of All About Lily Chou-Chou, with the director molding forlorn into fascinating through his stark imagery and exquisite characterisation. The handheld camera work creates an alluring sense of intimacy and delicate observation, quietly dissolving viewers into Nanami’s world, making the three-hour runtime seem like no time at all.

In many ways, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a character study, following the formation of Nanami’s very essence through a number of encounters and experiences; some distressing, some jubilant and some intensely passionate. Iwai develops the character very attentively, with actress Haru Kuroki giving a first-rate performance, communicating soft, unspoken emotions with absolute precision.

It’s a gorgeously bittersweet and entirely bewitching film, with Nanami a terrific representation of the younger generation, whose voices are aflutter online, all too often contradicted by their passive realities. It has an other-worldly, dreamy aesthetic, but is in many was, incredibly grounded, intimate and relatable.

Shunji Iwai isn’t as active as he once was in the 90s and early 21st century, but he hasn’t lost an ounce of the understated, extraordinary quality that makes his work so distinctive, evocative and beautifully haunting.


There we have it, folks. I think 2016 has been a terrific year for film (much better than last year), but I’m a little disappointed there’s such a disparity between the release dates of some of the latter films this year. I see Hacksaw Ridge popping up on many year-end lists, with its release come and gone in most territories, but the UK is one of the last places in the world to receive it (late January), so it’s a little annoying not being able to form a complete rundown of the years best. Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are another two features for which I am playing the waiting game. Such is life, though.

I have a couple of films on my radar for next year, with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja my most anticipated, which is released on Netflix in the Summer. Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe also has my attention, along with Logan – Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine – and of course Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which I will be going to see in just a few days. I’m also intrigued to see the outcome of the Ghost in the Shell and Death Note adaptations, but I’m not counting on anything particularly impressive.

Good or bad, I’m sure I’ll be writing about all them and more next year, so please swing by on occasion. I hope everybody has an enjoyable New Year celebration, or just a relaxed, peaceful time if preferred. And if you have the time, let me know your top ten! I’m always eager to share opinions and discover new movies. See you in 2017, my friends.

Silence is Golden

This was already a peasant face that would, in time, come to resemble that of Mokichi and Ichizo. This child, also, would grow up like its parents and grandparents; to eke out a miserable existence, face to face with the Black Sea in this cramped and desolate land. It, too, would live like a beast and – like a beast – it would die.

I read Shusaku Endo’s Silence a couple of years ago and often recall its fluent prose and stirring imagery to this day. It’s one of the few novels to have stuck with me and – like many – I’ve been awaiting Scorsese’s adaptation with bated breath. I wrote about it at the beginning of last year when a tentative 2015 release was floating around, but while that didn’t materialize, after a prolonged twenty-six year production, the film is finally just around the corner. Here’s the long awaited trailer…

Silence tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan in search of their lost mentor after hearing of his apparent apostasy. Set in 1639, Silence occurs at a time when Japan was strictly closed off to foreigners and Christianity was forcibly outlawed, with followers frequently tortured and brutally murdered.

The cinematography looks stunning – the Taiwanese landscapes doubling up for Japan – and the footage thus far evokes the novel well. I’m incredibly excited for the cast, too. Many will likely be discussing Garfield, Driver and Neeson, but personally I’m also very interested in seeing Yōsuke Kubozuka, who will play the important and memorable role of Kichijiro, a sort of bumbling companion to the missionaries. I have very fond memories of him as the energetic table tennis prodigy Peco in Fumhiko Sori’s Ping Pong, a 2002 adaptation of a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto. He was one of my favourite aspects of the movie, so I can’t wait to see how he performs in a role so entirely different.

Silence will open with a limited release in the U.S. on December 23rd, before expanding worldwide in January. It premieres this month at the Vatican to an audience of several hundred Jesuit priests.

Movie Talk: All About Lily Chou-Chou

Title: All About Lily Chou-Chou (リリイ・シュシュのすべて)
Director: Shunji Iwai
Screenplay: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Shûgo Oshinari, Ayumi Itô, Yû Aoi
Released: Oct 2001 (JP), Jul 2002 (US), Aug 2002 (UK)


Ever since I discovered All About Lily Chou-Chou in 2006, it has held a special place in my heart. Along with Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, it is one of the first Japanese films I remember watching and – still unlike anything I have seen since – it remains to this day one of my all-time favourites. It is a film rich in detail, substance and beauty; a story of youth culture, escapism and loneliness just as important now as it was fifteen years ago. Rather than present a straightforward review, I wanted to take a moment to write somewhat about the films aesthetics, why it is so important and continually relevant, and why it should be on your radar.

Japanese director Shunji Iwai released his third full-length feature – All About Lily Chou-Chou – in 2001. The film – a rather eerie and melancholic drama about the escapism of a group of children through cyber culture and the fictional pop sensation Lily Chou-Chou – follows Yuichi, a particularly shy and lonesome youth, who becomes entranced by the mysterious pop star. The film charters the increasing solace and comfort Yuichi discovers in Lily’s music – and explores others touched by the enigmatic figure through messages posted on a ‘Lilyphilia’ internet forum – to the backdrop of the harsh realities of the outside world. In many ways, All About Lily Chou-Chou was ahead of its time. Released fresh into the new millennium, it portrayed a generation of youth caught in a seemingly endless adolescence, enthralled by cyber culture and confused with their identity and emotions, isolated in the all-too-big world and seeking escape through electronic communication rather than physical interaction.

55

The characters find redemption of sorts in the form of ambiguous pop-sensation Lily Chou-Chou. Her music provides them with an emotional resonance; the characters confide in her songs and revel in the other-worldly feeling her music creates – what they label as the ‘ether’. With music and a fan-base reminiscent of the Icelandic ambient scene (think Sigur Rós, amiina and múm) back here in the real world, the characters empathetically discuss the singer on the ‘Lilyphilia’ forum and listen intently to each other’s stories of self-discovery and what Lily’s music has brought them. But as the characters progress deeper and deeper into the ‘ether’ and engage more and more openly with their online counterparts, thus begins their descent into isolation and withdrawal from reality. Their internet messages are communicated to the viewer through text on the screen, though with only internet handles and vague clues to go off, it’s up to the audience to work out which of the characters are typing what. Very little is explicitly stated in the film; the audience – more so than usual – are mere observers and it is clear Iwai has great respect for the viewers’ intelligence.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a film that could only be made in this millennium, in the here and now, as it centers around the evolving of communication – or perhaps degrading, depending on how you look at it – in the age of the internet. It captures the disconnectedness of the current youth and, as Empire note; “portrays a generation in a world of electronic communication which promises greater interaction, but instead fosters isolation.” Loneliness and isolation are major themes within the film and the characters are all grounded in their attempts to connect physically with one another. Iwai even presents an underlying barrier between adults and children; in fact, the adult characters take a step back and almost have no place in the story at all. Iwai displays them as very distant and incomprehensible; people, despite social constructs, which the children struggle to look up to or trust in. All About Lily Chou-Chou spares no expense at posing questions, yet it seeks to answer none – Iwai displays the world as anything but simply black and white, as anything but straight forward.

This is emphasised in the narrative, told in a non-linear fashion with the middle first, followed by the beginning and then the end. References to disconnectedness are left, right and center, and for such emotionally compromised characters, the hugely dominant child cast work wonders. The films main characters are Yuichi (Hayato Ichihara) and Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari) – mutual admirer’s of Lily Chou-Chou whose friendship collapses after a fateful holiday – and the films back-drop is largely rural Japan, with much of the middle chapter set in Okinawa; largely secluded and alien areas, again referencing that isolation. The cinematography and tone is very melancholic, with the crew creating some stunningly bleak visuals, often contrasted with the hypnotic beauty of the Japanese countryside. Iwai presents a spellbinding, starkly beautiful and wholly unique visual flair, which has since become one off his trademarks as a filmmaker.

56

Another key aspect is the music and the films almost God-like idol, Lily Chou-Chou. The singer herself is rarely glimpsed, but is always portrayed as some near-deity, an ethereal Goddess, absolutely worshipped by her fans, which displays the level of idolisation and the prominence and development of pop culture through technology and social media in the current generation. The music in All About Lily Chou-Chou works as a narrative element and a vessel for the main characters, helping to communicate their thoughts, feelings and desires to the audience. The soundtrack is actually made up of two complete CDs, one being the film score (a stunning collection of melancholic piano compositions written and arranged by Takeshi Kobayashi, along with three wonderful Claude Debussy renditions by actress and pianist Yui Makino) and the other an album by Lily Chou-Chou titled Breathe, which was made specifically for the film and features prominently. The film and its music was actually received so well that it established a career for Japanese singer Salyu, who portrayed Lily Chou-Chou.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a master class in filmmaking, displaying completely how every element in sync creates one tremendous piece of art. The film just oozes emptiness and desolation, but it is tackled in such a calm and – dare I say it – ethereal way, that it isn’t necessarily depressing so much as it is enlightening. Like the music of Lily Chou-Chou, the film has an other-worldly feel to it, something magical resides there. It isn’t light viewing, but once you wrap yourself around the narrative and delve into the minds of the characters, it’s comforting in a slightly haunting way. Anyone who has ever felt disconnected or apart from society should watch All About Lily Chou-Chou; it is a film about what it is to be human in the 21st Century and quite possibly one of the most important of its generation.

Movie Talk: Warcraft

Title: Warcraft
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell
Released: Jun 2016 (US & UK)


I saw Warcraft earlier on and wanted to offer some quick thoughts. I feel obliged to say I’ve never played the Warcraft strategy game series, but my girlfriend has played World of Warcraft for years (and I had a draenei mage at one point), so I am familiar with bits and pieces of the world and the lore.

There will be spoilers below.

First and foremost – as a fan of high fantasy – Warcraft delivers. The world of Azeroth is – thus far – stunning. Stormwind has translated beautifully to the screen and the small glimpses of Dalaran left me eager for more. The Orcs are superbly rendered and appear very life-like and authentic next to their human counterparts, as do the dire wolf and gryphon mounts.

The Fel – depicted as a magical green mist – looks a little typical for the genre, but the visuals honor the source well and the magical elements – spells, conjurations and teleportations – were all visually impressive and felt wholly genuine.

The films world building was one of its strongest aspects and is absolutely key if Warcraft is to become a film franchise. The first installment is a strong one, but it does falter somewhat in the development of its cast and ultimately, I feel the film could have benefited from some more exposition.

60

Medivh was a character that felt extremely important yet underutulised. He was essential to the plot, but there were only a couple of hints before the Guardian had succumbed entirely to the Fel. I wish more time was spent showing his corruption and descent into mindlessness. Of all the characters, I felt he should have had a larger role.

I also wish Lothar was given proper time to grieve after losing his son, rather than being spurred into action, and that more time was spent on Durotan’s demise. Durotan was perhaps one of the most appealing and agreeable characters, but his death wasn’t lingered upon a great deal.

I didn’t have any major gripes with the story, but a little extra development and some more exposition would have helped with cohesion and solidified a stronger flow and pace. However, I know that Duncan Jones had to cut just under forty minutes from the film, so here’s hoping an extended version is released at some point in the future that rectifies or at least improves upon any developmental or pacing issues.

I had no problems with the acting (although the human characters were certainly overshadowed by the orcs) and thought the orc cast did a phenomenal job of humanising big green monsters. Furthermore, though the supporting cast need some more time and focus to grow, they mostly all left an impression, which is more than I can say for another recent blockbuster (X-Men: Apocalypse). I also loved the little bits of fan service. Getting glimpses of dwarves, draenei and high elves was brilliant and if the franchise takes off, I can’t wait to eventually see taurens.

61

As for the music; Ramin Djawadi is clearly a talented composer and I love his work on Game of Thrones, but it was all rather satisfactory in Warcraft. I couldn’t tell you if Durotan had a theme or if Stormwind had a particular leitmotif. It certainly wasn’t bad – the music is suitably uplifting during passionate dialogues and fittingly dramatic during moments of tension – but it wasn’t entirely memorable or dissimilar to what you may expect. I love the music in World of Warcraft (particularly in Dalaran) and hope the film series is able to develop its own, unique score throughout the sequels.

Lastly, the action was exciting, but the climatic battle was a little by the numbers. I enjoyed the first human vs. orc confrontation in the forest and the Mak’gora between Durotan and Gul’dan the most. The orcs movements and attacks – both with their fists and their humongous weaponry – genuinely felt like they had tremendous force and authenticity behind them.

All in all, Warcraft isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a wonderful start to a franchise that has magnificent potential. It was engaging from title to credits and ended on a great note. I adore the world and with a little polishing and some further melding, the characters will become deeper and all the more engaging. I really hope a sequel is possible and that it isn’t another ten years from announcement to release.

Movie Review: Warsaw ’44

Title: Warsaw ’44 (Miasto 44)
Director: Jan Komasa
Screenplay: Jan Komasa
Starring: Józef Pawlowski, Zofia Wichlacz, Anna Próchniak
Released: Sep 2014 (PL), Jun 2016 (UK)


On the 1st of August, 1944 the Polish Home Army put in motion a plan to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The Warsaw Uprising was to coincide with the arrival of the USSR and endeavored to drive the German occupiers from the city. However, the Soviet Army stopped short and did not advance beyond the city limits, which allowed the Germans to regroup and defeat the Polish resistance, obliterating the already decrepit Warsaw in the process.

Warsaw ’44 portrays these indelible and deeply tragic times in a very audacious but nonetheless harrowing manner. Komasa’s vision is very stylistic and at times hyperreal – utilising slow motion and synthesisers – but it’s also deeply immersive and provocative, with worldly themes of love, apprehension and self-fulfillment and a lot of stirring imagery that leaves little to the imagination.

58

The film opens with Stefan (Józef Pawlowski), a good-natured young man who lives with his mother and younger brother. After being harassed at his workplace by a Nazi officer (who tears up his work papers), Stefan finds himself in the company of old friends who are preparing for the Uprising. At first, he’s hesitant to get involved, but ultimately joins the Home Army. Initially, all is well. The resistance are able to push the Nazis back and Stefan finds himself aflutter after falling for medic Alicja (Zofia Wichlacz), but the arduous, tragic and deeply unsettling nature of war begins to wear them all down and with a lack of outside support, the Uprising begins to crumble.

Stefan has a tremendous character arc, starting as a personable but somewhat anxious boy who melds into someone keen to display bravery in the face of adversity, and then into almost a husk of his former self. Józef Pawlowski displays a superb range and is entirely convincing in the face of both family and war. His love interest Alicja starts off as a bit of an enigma, but blossoms into a tenacious force and a truly awe-inspiring character, played very naturally and with great passion by Zofia Wichlacz.

59

The romance aspect lends itself to some of the films more stylised sequences, with a dramatic use of slow motion and some very quirky musical choices as far as wartime dramas go. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary – ranging from Debussy to dubstep – challenging conventions and presenting a thoroughly unique if not sensational experience. However, despite the artistry, the film remains grounded in its portrayal of war. It’s gritty, gruesome and tragic, with many poignant and distressing scenes able to rival some of the most stirring Hollywood productions.

Visually, the film ranges from downright beautiful to frightful, in a very striking and poignant way. There’s a stark contrast between beginning and end, with the visuals and imagery changing from attractive to wretched. It’s shot very provocatively, with the more harrowing sequences often shown center frame, leaving little to the mind’s eye and ensuring the audience witness the same horrors as the characters. In that way, it’s very immersive and powerful, similar to how striking the Omaha beach assault is in Saving Private Ryan because of its no holds barred depiction of real life atrocities, violence and sorrow.

57

However, Warsaw ’44 doesn’t really compare so straight-forwardly to other World War II films. Komasa presents a unique and unexpectedly fresh vision, which is daring given the subject matter. The films use of slow motion – which slightly sensationalises the subject – could bare comparison to a modern day action movie rather than a historical war drama. Some viewers may see it as a tad gratuitous or self-indulgent, but I found it a remarkably bold and captivating style. The slow motion is used conservatively in Warsaw ’44, where it is able to capture a lot of detail and raw emotion in a single shot and express and emphasize well moments of heightened tension and drama.

All in all, Warsaw ’44 is a thoroughly tremendous film; as engrossing and powerful as it is haunting and frightful. It’s beautifully shot and aesthetically rich, which almost leaves as much an impression as the sorrowful story and soul-stirring subject matter. Yes, it’s slightly sensationalised and picky on details, but it’s also a very credible piece that – terrifically – is both thrilling and instructive.

Movie Review: The Little Prince

Title: The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)
Director: Mark Osborne
Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Riley Osborne, Mackenzie Foy
Released: Jul 2015 (FR), Aug 2016 (US)


Based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince is one of the most significant and sincerely beautiful animated films I have seen in a long time. Mark Osborne – the director – has only three features behind him, but already two Oscar nominations. I’ve been interested in his work ever since I came across his short film More about six years ago. More was extremely touching but also very sorrowful, somewhat akin to The Little Prince.

The film follows a young girl in a grown-up world whose outlook on life is changed when her eccentric neighbour tells her extraordinary tales of the Little Prince; a small boy who lives on an asteroid. Quite simply – it’s beautiful. The Little Prince is one of those films that tugs at the heartstrings and leaves you with such evocative, bittersweet feelings.

36

It is exquisitely illustrated, with a wonderful contrast between the mundane, stony-faced adult world and the wondrous land of the Little Prince. The sequences with the Little Prince are absolutely alluring, with the Little Prince himself always compelling, much thanks to the fascinating dialogue, along with his manner of speech and charming innocence.

The film has a slightly shaky third act that will likely divide audiences (as I understand, it diverges quite drastically from the novella) and while I was a little dubious about its direction at first, by the end I was close to tears with how much it had affected me. The film touches upon themes of innocence, inner peace, human relationships and the beauty of childhood and if you aren’t stone cold, I would be surprised if it didn’t leave an impression.

37

The Little Prince features some first-class talent, including James Franco, Rachel McAdams, Benicio Del Toro and Jeff Bridges, just to name a few. Many of them only have a couple of lines, as the film chiefly focuses on the Little Girl, the Aviator and the Little Prince, but there are so many remarkable and incredibly deep dialogues – especially from the characters encountered by the Little Prince – that the script is wholly memorable and stirring. Furthermore, the score by Hans Zimmer is exceptional; heart-wrenching, hitting all those emotional beats and amplifying the film to even greater heights.

The past year alone has seen some superbly evocative and deeply psychological animated films – such as Inside Out and Anomalisa – and The Little Prince sits comfortably among them. It’s a beautifully endearing film that succeeds on both on an emotional and aesthetic level. While the source novella is often labelled a children’s book, on many levels it’s an adult fable and Mark Osborne’s adaptation follows suit. It has a child-like playfulness and imagination, accompanied by social criticisms and profound dialogues. It’s an extraordinary film with an otherworldliness to it that feels surprisingly grounded and relatable. Certainly, one of the best animated films of recent times and one of the most poignant and bittersweet that I can recall.

2016 Oscar Snubs

Nominations for the 88th Academy Awards are out (click here for the full list) and as usual, they’re an upset in one way or another. The Revenant leads the nominations with a total of twelve, followed closely by Mad Max: Fury Road, which has ten. The Martian has the third most nominations with seven and then Bridge of Spies, Carol and Spotlight all have six. Last year, there were five snubs I was slightly miffed about and this year – funnily enough – I have another five complaints.


Alicia Vikander
Snubbed of: Best Actress in a Leading Role
Vikander was a shoe-in for Best Leading Actress at the Oscars this year, having already received both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe nomination for her role in The Danish Girl, along with unanimous praise. Somehow, though… she has been nominated as a supporting actress. While that’s all well and good – any Oscar nomination is quite a feat – it just doesn’t make any sense. She was central to The Danish Girl and a definite co-lead with Eddie Redmayne. Heck, she may even have more screen time. Simply puzzling.

Rooney Mara
Snubbed of: Best Actress in a Leading Role
Like Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara has been nominated (by both the Academy and BAFTA) as a supporting actress when she was undoubtedly in a leading role and equal co-star with Cate Blanchett. The Golden Globes nominated both actresses, but if I had to guess, there’s likely some unfortunate rule that prevents actors or actresses from the same film being nominated in the same category at the BAFTAs and Oscars (that, or the producers didn’t want to push for both actresses to avoid splitting the votes).

Idris Elba
Snubbed of: Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Apparently Beasts of No Nation and Idris Elba generated the most Oscar-snub buzz online following the announcement of this years nominations. Elba was so memorably tense and endlessly captivating, but the actor and the film – which had a limited run in the US likely for the sole reason of qualifying for the Oscars – ultimately ended up with nothing in what looks to be a ceremony surprisingly void of diversity this year.

Quentin Tarantino
Snubbed of: Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
I said in my review that I would be shocked if Tarantino isn’t up for Best Original Screenplay this year and I truly am. His screenplay was wholly unique in its play-like presentation and the dialogue was always on-point, but I guess The Hateful Eight hasn’t been as well received as I first thought (to the Academy, anyway). The writer-director recently said how he wants to have more original screenplay Oscars than anybody, so that when he dies the award can be renamed ‘the Quentin’.

Ridley Scott
Snubbed of: Best Director
Despite garnering seven nominations – including Best Picture and Best Leading Actor for Matt Damon – Ridley Scott apparently missed the cut for Best Director this year. George Miller – director of Mad Max: Fury Road – was “taken aback” that Scott wasn’t also up for the award and added that he was a huge fan of The Martian and his body of work. Ridley Scott has been nominated for Best Director three times before, but has never won the award.


Those are my most surprising snubs this year! I’m most shocked about Alicia Vikander’s nomination and Tarantino’s exclusion, but it’s not all bad. Leonardo DiCaprio looks set to win his first Oscar (though Edie Redmayne shouldn’t be underestimated) and I’m super glad Brooklyn is up for Best Picture and Saoirse Ronan is up for Best Leading Actress. Really great to see Stallone nominated for Creed, too. Carol being nominated for cinematography and costume design and both The Martian and The Danish Girl up for production design are also well deserved in my books.

The 88th Academy Awards will take place in Los Angeles on the 28th of February, but until then – what about you! Any nominations you’re particularly pleased or miffed about? Let me know and I’ll see you next time.