Mary and The Witch’s Flower

My review of Mary and The Witch’s Flower, the first anime from Studio Ponoc, is over at Filmink and below…

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Mary, an imaginative and inquisitive young girl, is spending the last week of the summer break with her great aunt Charlotte at the village of Redmanor. Bored at home with no working TV set or friends of her own to play with, she tries to help out around the house, but constantly drops things due to her clumsiness. This boredom, plus anxiety over her self-image and red hair, brings out a multitude of worry and stress ahead of the new school year. After not immediately seeing eye to eye with local boy Peter, she meets his two cats Tib and Gib wandering through the misty woods. Following the cats directly leads to the discovery of a bunch of eerie fly-by-night flowers growing in the wild. She takes them home and before knowing too much about it, Mary and Tib are whisked away into the sky on a broomstick.

Eventually crashing into Endor college (no relation to the Forest Moon in Return of the JediStar Wars fans), a training camp for would-be witches and magic users, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is immediately enrolled as a student on the strength of her impressive powers. Unbeknowst to headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) and head scientist/mage Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent), all of Mary’s magic comes directly from the fly-by-night flowers. With some quick thinking and a little deception, she manages to keep the unexpected untruth going for an entire day, impressing the college with not only her magic skills, but also her red hair, which is a sign of tremendous power. However, when the untruths begin to mount up, Mary indirectly puts her new friend Peter in danger. She begins to discover exactly what kind of experiments Doctor Dee is undertaking, and just why he and Madam Mumblechook are so obsessed with the so-called witch’s flower.

The first movie from Studio Ponoc, this new anime is directed by Hirmoasa Yonebayashi, an acclaimed graduate of the famous Studio Ghibli. Known for When Marnie Was There and Arriety. Released in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and a dubbed version featuring well-known actors, the film creates a spellbinding atmosphere of classic wonder with a lively script that zips along at a fast pace. While not veering off so far into the fantasy (there is only one non-human with a speaking part, the fox or dog-like Flanagan, the caretaker of the College’s broomstable) of Spirited Away style-surrealism, the world is exceptionally well-drawn and creates an energetic and transporting fairy tale.

Based on Mary Stewart’s children’s novel The Little Broomstick, the film takes rural England as its setting and conjures up the country landscape vividly. Drawing comparisons with Ghibli favourite Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as the Harry Potterseries of books and films, Mary and The Witch’s Flower can hold its head above the magic lava with the best of stories about young witches. With a powerful message of trusting animals and the natural world above and beyond science and technology – sometimes referred to as ‘magic’ – this is a delightful film that kids – and adults – of all ages will enjoy and remember fondly.

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A Woman’s Life

My review of ‘A Woman’s Life’, an adaptation of de Maupassant’s Une Vie, is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Life is never as good or as bad as one thinks, wrote Guy de Maupassant in his novel Une Vie, the source material for this sombre and touching film from Stéphane Brizé (The Measure of a ManMademoiselle Chambon).

Essentially this is a story of expectations. Jeanne (Judith Chema), the daughter of nobility in mid 19th-century France has led a sheltered existence for most of her early life. Days spent tending the garden and learning about the natural growth of things with her father the Baron Simon (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) fill the innocent convent school educated Jeanne with happy delight.

This life rapidly changes following a semi-arranged marriage to Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), an unpleasant young man whose family are not as affluent as Jeanne’s. Emasculated by this fact, he takes every opportunity to stake whatever claims on authority he has – from pettily controlling the temperature of the farm house by restricting the use of fire wood, to far more sinister and abusive actions. The unsuitable young man forces himself upon the maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) and also conducts an affair with another member of the aristocracy Gilberte de Fouville (Clotilde Hesme). 

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A melancholy tone thus descends upon Jeanne’s life. A young woman, once so innocent and in love with nature becomes progressively depressed and dejected by the cruel twists of the events that evolve around her. Her own motherhood offers little hope, merely bringing out the divisions between men and women even more clearly. Constantly brought down by the realities of life, the audience is left hoping for Jeanne to take decisive action. When this does not appear to be likely, the hope switches towards the future and the possibility for change.

A mostly handheld-shot work of dreamlike ambience, the story is partially told through remembered scenes and fractured interpretations of past events. Occasionally scenes, such as Jeanne and lost best friend Gilberte dancing around the garden in their Sunday best are played out more than once, heightening the intensity and Jeanne’s dwelling on previous happier times.

Music is used sparingly in the film, with just one piano piece from Oliver Baumont used throughout. Jeanne’s poetic narration segments are metaphoric diary entries, adding another layer of what is a film of despairing fragility. Finding emotional depth in long scenes with little action or no dialogue, Brizé’s film brings out markings of the anxiety and complex details of the everyday of Jeanne’s life. And it is unmistakably her life – for there is no other perspective on the actual events that have so damaged her and brought her into such despair. This experimental style of approach is a courageous one, telling a tale of personal tragedy with no other witness than the central player herself. A deeply expressive and thoughtful film.

Movie Review – House of Salem

Review of Brit crime/horror film is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Writer/director James Crow (Curse of the Witching Tree) makes stylish use of genre mixing in this feature, with a blend of British crime thriller and supernatural horror keeping suspense up to the max with plenty of surprises in store. Calling to mind the 1970’s psychological thriller output of Hammer Films (films like Demons of the Mind and Fear in the Night (both 1972) or more recent examples of Brit Horror crime thrillers such as Kill List (2011) which meld different genre elements into a horror film, House of Salem delights in never really letting the audience know where it’s going. Both weird and unnerving, it succeeds in creating a disarming level of edgy terror.

Following the abduction of young Josh (Liam Kelly) by a group of big-city clown masked villains, the group soon finds out that their safe-house is not so safe. Receiving their demands for cash becomes the least of their concerns as it becomes apparent that the child is wanted for something completely different and far darker. A grim playfulness takes part in the situation and the location’s psyching out of the gang, with blood and shadows messing with their heads and disrupting the usual work-rate of a kidnapping job. All of this unsettling weirdness and well captured strange visions moves the story away from its crime thriller beginnings into strange horror.

The performances are notably good, with Jessica Arterton (the debut of the cousin of Gemma Arterton) interacting well with both Liam Kelly’s stolen kid and Leslie Mills’ bullying tough-guy boss. The sense of the gang stepping out of a Brit crime drama into something far darker adds a whole other level to the movie, and scenes of the group struggling to figure out exactly what is going on have a dreamy, surreal quality to them that works well.

The main criticism is that the film could have been edited of a few scenes just before the climactic ending – which although chilling is working with one too many ideas and a whole load of characters, some introduced without much background information or actual need. By the time that the majority of characters have been killed off and new ones have appeared, a little of the drama has been lost. However, at its best House of Salem is a creepy example of a devilish horror thriller mixed with Brit crime and home invasion genres, with a decent amount of scares and surprises thrown in.

In Praise of Daydreaming

I am waiting for a delivery of an item of technology that will make life easier. It will adapt our home’s existing telephone output and update it into something more suitable for a modem connection, thus allowing access to the Internet, or the World Wide Web as it was once known. The telephone output adapter will be packaged in various plastic materials that will not decompose for at least thirty thousand years, and possibly never.

Right now I am in that enviable position of being in the present – the Here and Now – and not needing to do much other than simply wait. As I am – I think – a sentient creature, I ruminate and write at the same time.

Much has been made recently of the psychological practise mindfulness and how it can help keep thoughts focused and mental energy more efficient. While I believe it is helpful to not dwell on thoughts, be they positive or negative, some proponents of the technique claim that for a mind to be functioning at its optimum it needs to be in the Here and Now and not daydreaming or wandering. I feel this does a disservice to mental strolls along imaginary pathways and lanes. I think the mind is capable of being both in the present and also able to let things free-up and lose itself down different routes.

In short, I’m a big fan of daydreaming.

I believe daydreaming reveals the different aspects of the mind and personality to the I, without the codified stern warnings and rebukes of the ego. It lets forces of the imagination out into the internal world, with the option of creative interpretations finding a space in the external world. Dreams and nightmares make us what we are. Keeping hold of a route to discover and rediscover the forces beyond and behind the everyday, as well as the universal themes and designs of what we call reality can only be a good thing in my opinion.

Now back to the wait… and the daydreaming.

Like an abandoned shopping trolley in the breeze

Like an abandoned shopping trolley in the breeze

He moves back and forth on the bench

Shuffling his notes around

Waiting to speak

The time doesn’t arrive

He moves back and forth on the bench

The Mower

Under a clear azure sky

The lawn is kept in shape

Like so many other mowers up and down the land

Uniform headphones protect the ears

Cap and glasses from the orange sun

The work is set

*

I hear the whirring of activity every afternoon

There is always more grass to cut down

More growth to dominate

Our advancement shapes the earth

And challenges the natural fit

How long will the work go on for?

Australia!

As of nearly 2 weeks ago, I am a resident of Sydney, Australia. There is a lot to write about and explore, but for now, here is the first of many responses to this new life…

 

From over and out to under and around, the day seemed clear enough

We’d pack all our things and depart on the wings 

And go from there to here.

Australia chimes through as melody

A loud enough blast of intensity and colour 

The shine directed with no hidden extras

Everything in shot and strictly in focus.

The smell of the lotion mixes with the sea spray 

The early morning birdcall sounds out an age-old greeting :

The sun, the sun – the giver of life!

Europe at Sea

The following review of the documentary feature ‘Europe at Sea’ appears below and over at Flickering Myth.

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Europe at Sea, an hour-long documentary film covering a wide range of issues all centred on the EU’s ability to cope with the various threats to its security, is a skillfully produced investigative feature.

Focusing on Federica Mogherini, the head of the EU Foreign and Security Policy as she formulates a global approach to world and European issues, the film mixes her personal responses to the job with insightful journalism on the ongoing issues of the day.

Mogherini is in effect the lead of this film, and her willingness to discuss and put across new ideas in the planning and development of security issues is the film’s most important comment. Her relative youth for such a high position is looked at, with her experience and ability being cited alongside the EU’s desire to bring fresh ideas into play for tackling new and unexpected concerns.

Produced by the film company Springshot, the documentary blends powerful cinematography with animated segments to present hard-hitting facts and information. A balanced and occasionally dryly humourous voice-over also helps to contextualise the quick delivery of information. Designed partly to take viewers away from dull political rhetoric and ill-informed tirades, Europe at Sea takes a close look at how Europe is able to combat the rapidly growing security and humanitarian challenges that are present both within and outside its borders.

The sobering and disquieting footage of the migrant crisis and its impact is one of the areas the film looks at in detail.  Operation Sophia – named after a rescued Somali woman’s baby born on a German frigate and operating since 2015 – is followed closely as the camera crew were allowed exclusive access to their working schedule in the Southern Mediterranean Sea.

The film also examines the implications of Donald Trump’s America, the threat of North Korea and the confusion surrounding the UK’s Brexit vote.  All of this is presented taking a methodical and balanced approach, making the most of both the powerful visuals and Mogherini’s practical and professional approach to showcase the essential work being done.

J.D.’s Revenge

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This review also appears over at Flickering Myth.

An entertaining slice of genre horror that moves away from and surpasses its Blaxploitation roots, J.D.’s Revenge takes a sure-footed look at supernatural possession, inner city crime and religious propaganda.

The calm and thoughtful law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends, taking in New Orleans bars and night spots before venturing into a nightclub hosting a hypnosis act. The violent personality of a 1940’s mobster (portrayed with a haunting intensity by David McKnight) becomes embroiled with his own, gradually taking over and leading to a series of brutal attacks as the spirit in the body of Ike searches for those who led to his murder.

J.D.’s Revenge is a powerful mix of horror and social commentary that brings a surprising view of New Orleans life into play. The mysterious angles and architecture of the place combine with its unique religious history and imagery to provide a powerful backdrop for this unusual and affecting story. Becoming more complex and psychologically moving as it plays out, this is an urban thriller that offers far more than it initially promises. Fantastic suits and funk music too, natch.

Special Features on the Arrow Video release include interviews with producer-director Arthur Marks, star Glynn Turman, audio interview with actor David McKnight and Arthur Marks trailer reels.

The Voice of the Moon Review

The following review also appears at Flickering Myth.

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Federico Fellini’s last film is a jaw-dropping experience.  Bringing together a surreal template of dream logic with wry humour and sardonic swipes at society, The Voice of  the Moon – or in ItalianLa Voce Della Luna – provides the magical realism and wonder of life that the Italian filmmaker is best known for.

Adapted from Ermanno Cavazzoni’s  poetic novel, the story follows the recently released mental patient Ivo Salvini (Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) as he navigates his way around a strange and compelling landscape. He encounters the entrancing Aldina (Nadia Ottaviani) by accident and falls in love immediately. As he attempts to win her heart, he finds himself in all sorts of weird, fantastic and phantasmagorical situations, surrounded by various peculiar characters all motivated by unknowable forces. These include Gonnella (Paolo Villaggio), an old man given to wildly paranoid conspiracy theories and also a group of demented brothers determined to capture the moon. This, plus a stirring nightclub dance-off to Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, highlight the bizarre offerings in place from this incredible tour-de-force. Salvini asks no questions of this alternately nightmarish and inspiring backdrop, simply going about life searching for love and contentment while sharing an infectious enthusiasm for the world’s – and the moon’s – oddities.

Initially emerging in 1990 without the attention it deserves, Fellini’s swansong appeared at Cannes out of competition and did not receive any distribution deals in North America or the UK. An influence on filmmakers such as Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King12 MonkeysThe Voice of the Moon is further evidence of Fellini’s prowess at experimental styles and techniques that help to create an enchanting and beguiling atmosphere. The director’s earlier works including La StradaLa Dolce Vita and 8½ cemented his place as one of Europe’s most pioneering cinematic artists – this release provides a fresh impetus to reaffirm that status and to celebrate a triumphant career finale.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Towards the Moon with Fellini, a rarely seen hour-long documentary on the film’s production, featuring interviews with Fellini, Roberto Benigni and Paolo Villagio
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain