Spirited Away – Blu-ray Review

Spirited Away

Today is a notable day for fans of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli as it brings forth the beloved Japanese animation Spirited Away on Blu-ray in the UK. I was lucky enough to give the disc a spin in advance and what follows are words written by me after watching said disc.

Film
You don’t need me to tell you that Spirited Away is a charming and beautiful masterpiece but if you do…

Spirited Away is a charming and beautiful masterpiece with a wild imagination capable of bringing delight to all ages and plenty of lessons for impressionable young minds to benefit from. The hero of the story is a 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, who stumbles into the spirit world while travelling to a new home with her parents. Alone in a reality populated by witches, monsters, and ghosts Chihiro must find the strength within herself to move forward and forge her own identity. The plot is littered with metaphors touching on environmental, political, and psychological issues but rest assured if you aren’t willing to look too deep everything looks pretty too.

The film is internationally recognised as Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest film, Studio Ghibli’s greatest film, the greatest film of its decade, and the greatest animated film of all time. In summary; it’s pretty great.

The transfer to Blu-ray looks great stunning with lovely legible subtitles, vibrant colours, and crisp lines. The disc comes with the option of Japanese or American dialogue and while everyone has their opinion on what is the better option I do not have the energy to argue the case either way. Thankfully both English subtitles and audio have been assembled with care so you can’t go wrong. And if you speak Japanese then you needn’t trouble yourself with all this petty squabbling.

In short; Spirited Away is the greatest and looks sexy in high-definition.

Spirited Away 1

Extras
I hit Play All on the extras so as to be able to give you a comprehensive review then immediately skipped past the first feature on offer. The Blu-ray allows you to watch the entire film with the original storyboards overlayed in the top right hand corner for comparison. This is interesting to see, I am sure you will agree, but perhaps a feature to dip into rather than watch for the full running time. I smiled appreciatively and then skipped away.

What I watched next makes up the bulk of the extras on the disc and is a documentary made for Japanese television about the production of Spirited Away. The image quality is less than high-definition, stark contrast to the film itself, but what this extra lacks in pixels it makes up for in behind the scenes insight. The documentary introduces the story of the film and how Miyazaki was inspired to write it by a friend’s 10-year-old daughter who became the template for Chihiro. We get to see Miyazaki himself hard at work briefing and inspiring his animators; often seen poring over drawings with a cigarette in hand.

It is fascinating to see inside the animation studio as it resembles any regular office filled with cluttered desks and overworked employees. Pixar may be filled with individual animators’ offices decorated in wacky fun ways but Studio Ghibli is much more basic. What comes across between the animators is a sense of community and a desire to work hard to get the film, which was running behind schedule, finished on time. We are also shown what happens in the recording of the dialogue, background noises, and musical elements. The dialogue recording in particular makes working on a Ghibli film seem like lots of fun and surprisingly low-tech. At the end I got the feeling that Spirited Away was affectionately handmade; metaphorically and literally. Not often that features make you love a film all the more.

I will admit to skipping the next set of special features as they consisted of the original Japanese trailers for the film and there were eight of them. I cannot only indulge you guys so far I am afraid.

The remaining three features surround John Lasseter. A big wig over at Disney and Pixar Lasseter provides an introduction to the film and later introduces us to Miyazaki. Neither of these feel necessary or sincere. Of more interest is a mini-feature on the American re-dubbing of the film as we see actors having to deliver dialogue at the right pace to match the speaking pattern of a totally different language. What was most interesting about this feature was how polished and false the cast and crew came across when interviewed compared to the unguarded authentic feeling their Japanese counterparts had given earlier on.

There are plenty of extras here but I would advise that you only really need to give your time over to the full Making Of; the rest is mostly filler.

Spirited Away is on Blu-ray & DVD in the UK right now.

Out Now – 21st November 2014

The Hunger Games Mockingjay - Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Oh my days. Katniss is back. The first half of the final third of the Hunger Games trilogy (plus one) is here and everyone is thoroughly excited. As for plot? Katniss becomes a symbol for the rebellion against the Capitol and tries to save Peeta from the grip of President Snow. If this doesn’t immediately make sense you might need to do some homework.

Get on Up
A music biopic about the life and rhymes of James Brown. Expect a real rock and roll lifestyle; sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, and swearing. But all in a nice 12A fashion.

The Homesman
Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in a feminist western about a woman travelling across America. Her journey will take five weeks as transports three insane women to Iowa. I don’t necessarily understand the plot but reviews are good and a female lead in a western is a rare thing.

My Old Lady
An English/French comedy/drama so mediocre and harmless that my review bores me a little. Maggie Smith is mean and then sweet to some people if you need that gap filling now Downton is on a break.

What We Do in the Shadows
Finally a comedy to get properly excited about. Co-written and co-directed by one half of Flight of the Conchords (YAY) and the guy who directed the American remake of The Inbetweeners (BOO) we have a mockumentary about three vampires who share a flat. It might not sound like much but the reviews are almost embarrassingly positive and stars are being thrown around in a generous fashion. Let’s go!

No Good Deed
Idris Elba plays an unstable escaped convict who terrorises a woman and her children. Not a lot of laughs to be had here and a step down for the man who recently played Mandela and won none of the awards for his trouble.

Happy Ending
Bollywood romantic comedy about a writer trying to write a Bollywood script in a Hollywood style in Hollywood. Can’t wait for the sequel set in Dollywood.

Winter Sleep
On the plus side this Turkish drama about a former actor running a hotel during a snowstorm won the Palme d’Or this year so is guaranteed to have all manner of artistic merit. On the minus side the film is over three hours long and not everyone has the spare time or patience for that.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy
Thai drama based on a Twitter feed. Sounds terrible but is apparently a timeless coming of age story. For your consideration as an alternative to the mainstream and the fêted.

My Old Lady – LFF Review

My Old Lady

New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) has inherited a large Parisian apartment from his estranged, and now deceased, father. Having driven his life into the ground this windfall comes at a time where a large lump sum are all that stands between Mathias and ruin. Sadly a bizarre French law means that the apartment’s former owner and current tenant Mathilde (Maggie Smith) has the right to live in Mathias’ new property until she dies. On top of this the bankrupt American must pay her a monthly maintenance or forfeit the entire abode. With nowhere else to go Mathias rents a room in his own apartment and lives with Mathilde and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) while he judges how long Mathilde has left to live and whether he can possibly sell the place while it remains tied up in the strange Parisian legal bind.

Hilarity ensues.

For the most part My Old Lady features just this cast of three and rarely strays too far from the all important apartment. The plot is driven by plenty of dialogue, the acting is delivered with a little too much vigour, and the machinations of the story get a little contrived towards the end. All of this should scream one thing to you; the theatre. Indeed with its modest headcount, singular setting, and final act revelations My Old Lady does very little to disguise the fact that it started life on the stage in a play by the film’s director Israel Horovitz. When a play is adapted well it can make for great cinematic fare equally as lauded as its original incarnation. When done badly a big screen adaptation can feel stale and unconvincing; the melodrama that was captivating on stage not translating so well on-screen.

My Old Lady 2

For the most part Horovitz does not seem to have done much to make My Old Lady justify a conversion to film. There is nothing contained within the adaptation that could not have been performed on stage any less easily and the style of direction is one without flair or excitement. It is hard to see what filming his play has added to its story and why he felt the need to do so.

The film, and presumably the play, is perfectly pleasant. Not quite as many laughs as I had been led to expect but a funny and charming story is there to be enjoyed. Maggie Smith gives her trademark performance as a snippy but loveable aging matriarch and is as enjoyable to watch as always. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a tender edge to her role as the indignant daughter and Kevin Kline slightly over-eggs his performance as the boorish American disrupting the lives of incredibly English Parisians. The experience of watching My Old Lady is one of bemusement and mild unrest. Nothing too exciting happens, a few laughs are had, and then it ends without ever fully convincing.

Not a bad film but not spectacular either. My Old Lady is a film to be watched on a rainy weekend afternoon with a blanket keeping you warm.

My Old Lady has a UK release date of 21st November 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

Mike Nichols 1931 – 2014

Mike Nichols

6th November 1931 – 19th November 2014

“A movie is like a person. Either you trust it or you don’t.”

Out Now – 14th November 2014

Life Itself

Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!
The horrendous Nativity series is now officially a trilogy. What next for this Coventry-based Christmas caper? I cannot bring myself to even imagine what the plot might be. Bonus points to the writers for referencing a popular film from over a decade ago in the title.

The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Alan Turing in a film that brings his story to the big screen but doesn’t quite do it justice. I kinda liked it.

The Drop
Another good but not great film in the form of a thriller starring Tom Hardy as a bartender embroiled in gang business. I saw it, enjoyed it, and have no reason to see it again.

Redirected
Action comedy starring Vinnie Jones about four criminals who end up in Eastern Europe having all manner of 18 certificate mishaps. I haven’t seen Vinnie Jones in a European romp since the golden days of Euro Trip.

Life Itself
Documentary exploring the life, career, and sad passing of the world’s most popular film critic Roger Ebert. Lots of good reviews from critics hoping that one day a film this good is made about them too.

Third Person
An impressive looking cast star in a series of intertwining stories about love set across the globe. Writer/director Paul Haggis has won many Oscars but this film has a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 24%. When you remember that one of his Oscars was for Crash suddenly the quality of Third Person isn’t such a surprise.

Diplomacy
“A historical drama that depicts the relationship between Dietrich von Choltitz, the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling.” This week is a very strange week at the cinema.

We Are the Giant
“Since late 2010, more than a dozen nations have experienced popular uprisings that have collectively been called the Arab Spring. Protests, buoyed by predominantly young participants and social-media organizing, have exposed repression and led to regime changes. What does it mean to take part in a collective action that has the potential to unseat dictators and bring previously undreamed-of freedoms to a people?” If nothing else this week has plenty of films that defy me trying to simplify their narratives.