Category Archives: On The Big Screen

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When Marnie Was There – Review

It appears even the western world has become familiar with Miyazaki’s cutesy characters, enduring stories and magical universes – and quite rightly so. When such a Studio as Ghibli decides to branch out and focus on something a tad more human, the likes of Only Yesterday (1991) and My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999) spring to mind, it can take a minute or two to adjust. Yet, adjust rather quickly we will to Arrietty (2010) director, Hiramasa Yonebayashi who skillfully paves the way with a poignant and full of heart tale with an Eastern take on Joan G. Robinson’s novel, When Marnie was There.

First penned in 1967, Yonebayashi brings this British tale to rural Japan, where chronic asthma sufferer and somewhat of a troubled 12 year old tomboy Anna is sent to stay with relatives in the hope of replacing the smog of Tokyo with clean air. With nothing but heightened emotions and fits of misunderstanding, this adolescent becomes bewitched by an abandoned mansion which quickly leads to an infatuated with the elegant, yet disobedient Marnie who seems to resides there. The concept of imaginary friends is well and truly ingrained into every culture. Here in Marnie, there is a fine line between the mind playing tricks on you and the saddening truth of Anna’s current state.

Dazzling animation fronts this friendship fueled narrative. The studio’s hand drawn and intricate approach to the art enhances this story so much more than if it were live action, which adds to this simple, yet deeply meaningful message that resides at the centre of Marnie.  This is nothing other than a powerful female friendship and take from it what you will, it’s beautiful, it’s real and it’s meaningful however it is meant to translate. At time this is unbelievably enchanting and the fact that this is done on human interaction only illustrates just how darn good they are at getting their point across. The film tackles the everyday struggles of teenage girls and the harsh truths that most young girls will utterly deny whilst  still embracing the person you truly are and realising what the world has in store. But, just as Anna discovers, things will eventually stop spinning so fast.  For something that was written in the late 60’s, this certainly transfers on screen and every teenage girl is sure to connect with the expressive Anna on some plane.

Some may instantly disregard this due to its seemingly slow delivery and overly emotional dialogue; yet this only accentuates how our natural surroundings can aid in eliminating the problems the universe throws us. Even if the many dream-like sequences are placed to throw us off course, this is not a scary ghost story, and what we have here is a clever child’s film that adults will undoubtedly gain more from. The crazy and terribly stereotypical Oiwas bring much needed comic relief, offering us chortles of laughter when we, along with Anna, greatly need them. A nice twist leaves you feeling warm and glowing, desperately trying to fight back a few tears as the credits roll. An altogether rather downbeat tale of a girl who simply can’t find her place in the world that carefully offers messages of concern, but also offers much joy and copious amounts of hope simultaneously.

This isn’t as awe consuming as the various Miyazaki adventures we have witnessed over the years. Marnie takes a much more delicate form and reaches out to us humans in an unexplainable manner. Every emotion flies through you, just as Marnie flies through the depressed Anna. The sad and unbearable thought that this may be the Studio’s final production makes this all the more hard hitting – a high note to end on, that’s for certain. Sheer wonderment consumes you with every bite of this one.

A curious thing it is, that Ghibli, no matter what they touch, always manage to tug on every sentiment possible and does so with utter ease – a mystery, it seems, that is better left kept a secret.


The Call Up – Review

Gaming is often a misperceived by the major publications. The influx of violent game play and real life implications have been a hot topic for years. The idea that you could rampage on with believable graphics and shoot life-like things but then separate it from reality is baffling for some people. The grip of those unable to see the escapism of gaming have imposed strict propaganda and calling it fact. Truth be told, people can play video games without turning into killers and can separate computers from the real world.

However, if you were presented with a game that immersed you so realistically in modern warfare and you really felt was though you were shooting a gun, would you?

That’s the theme of The Call Up, a brand new science fiction thriller from director and writer Charles Barker. It revolves around a group of online gamers who are invited to try out a brand new virtual reality experience. Excited, the gamers leap on the chance to play state-of-the-art equipment and soon, they are playing in the immersive shenanigans. However, they start to realise that something more sinister is happening. Could the game be real?

Similar to last week’s low budget British sci-fi Kill Command, The Call Up has an interesting premise and starts of phenomenally well. The conflict of modern warfare in popular gaming, especially in a world where the industry relies on killing and shooting games, clearly drives the movie forward. The intriguing and brooding initial narrative allows the audiences to be immersed into this question of how far we can push gaming and how your morals can be thrown into turmoil when the life at the end of your hyper-realistic trigger could actually be real. On these aspects, the actors and the film thrive in a thrilling cinematic product.

But sadly, these interests don’t last and the movie relies heavily on action flick clichés and bounds forward in unoriginality. The film sticks to a one-note story that turns boring as you long for exploration of those leading the charge and despite presenting us with all the moral conflicts, it safe side-steps them without making a clear conclusion. Without stepping out into an edgier and grittier intellectual movie, The Call Up wanes into an explosive and “pretty to look at” movie that is garishly predictable and somewhat dull and that’ll add to your frustration because there are could elements here.

The combination of aesthetics and a team of great actors pull the film away from its downfalls and actually has you enjoying the experience, as average as that may be. What’s disappointing is that the simplistic approach to a complex story, particularly with the character motives, is that the bones of a phenomenal film are there but it’s as though those involved are too afraid to flesh it out beyond the idea. With that in mind, the film is wasted.

However, for science fiction nerds and gamers, the chilling thriller could be worth a watch.


Sing Street – Review

Oh, John Carney. You are a brilliant mastermind! You can bring joy and humanity to your films and make us truly sing! You are the master of gloriously echoing music throughout this charming films such as Once and Begin Again. Indeed, it looks like you are back to take the world by storm again with the excellent Sing Street that features everything that makes your movies such rambunctious and infectious fun and broiling devastation..

Set against the backdrop of an economic recession, this Irish movie revolves around Conor, a young boy who is moved from his comfortable life in a private school and into an inner city Dublin school.  There, he discovers the super-cool Raphina and attempts to impress her by forming a band so she can star in their music videos. Bringing in random boys from the school, Conor – otherwise known as Cosmo – tries his hand at wannabe musician – emulating the likes of The Cure, Duran Duran, and Adam Ant!

“The Commitments for Kids!” – a few reviewers have been saying, likening Sing Street to Alan Parker’s seminal musical adventure and the familiarities may tarnish an almost impeccable feature. However, in the young collective, brimming with delightful kinetic joy and unbridled talent, the band takes form and becomes the vocal point for artistic expression and emotional puberty that populates the film so brilliantly.  Ferdia Walsh-Peelo allows Cosmo to come alive with his own brand of anarchism when life and love literally punch him in the face. Walsh-Peelo tackles the gravitas of visceral scenes alongside the boisterous band and their aims for freedom.

Helped by Jack Reynor’s outlandish “hippy” notions as an older brother Brendan guiding Cosmo to glory, and Lucy Boynton’s stunning Raphina marred by circumstance, Sing Street is a collection of young actors enlivening the film with youthful ambition and more!

As with Carney’s work, the songs are a collection of songs as compelling as anything.  Eighties odes and melodious originals are bountiful in the film. The soundtrack mixed with classic pop tunes and unique masterpieces such as The Riddle of the Model and Drive It Like You Stole It allow this “sort of musical” to brim with undeniably amazing songs.

Simply having a band churn out some guitar riffs and capturing the eighties music in a loving homage would be enough to sail Carney’s masterful comedy into a slick and entertaining film. But Carney is adept at juxtaposing emotional and difficulty in a human way. With his parent’s separation pending, bullying at school from teachers and pupils alike, and Raphina’s panache for older men, Conor is plagued by life that he escapes from in his music. Carney also delivers an accurate look at working class Ireland which is loving contrasted against that coming age notion to escape. It all mixes together to create a near-perfect musical adventure.

The energetic happiness that beams throughout you as you skip merrily from the screening is unparalleled in this year’s collection of gritty superheroes, damned dramas, and the misery in between.  Certainly, that spirituous effervescence that waves excitable and determined emotion through you way past the credit roll is unique to Carney’s cinematic portfolio. Not without the ebbs of devastation flowing underneath this inspirational ditty, Sing Street is power song, a fist pump, and a charge for something greater than the one life has given you. Its hope and courage; rolling with catchy tunes and a beating heart that makes the world a little bit brighter…


X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

“Bununununuuuununuuuh, Bununununuuuununuuuh”

That may seem like gibberish but if you’ve spent the whole of the nineties enjoying the dramatic tunes of the X-Men cartoon series – aptly named X-Men – during the nineties that captured us all (well, some of us.) Exciting, the adaptation of the popular comic book series became our colourful, hyperactive series that we watched munching over our sugar addled cereal.

That eventually evolved into – well – X-Men: Evolution (my personal favourite) becoming more hype and exploring darker storylines.

And then, in the noughties, we had Bryan Singer’s first cinematic outing of X-Men which has since seen five sequels, two Wolverine spin-offs, and, of course, Deadpool.

Oh, and don’t forget about the initial comic book series.

So, it’s natural that we all feel all exhausted with the mutant movie musings and it’s only fair that this year, the excitement has ebbed to a quiet lull for the latest entry into X-Men fare…X-Men: Apocalypse: A film that is good but dotted with mindless and rubbish moments.

Spoiler Alert: James McAvoy isn’t one of them…

X-Men: Apocalypse is a middling film that relies on an uneven foundation to build up its premise and charm. After the events of Days of Future Past, there is something stirring within the mutant community. Worshipped as a god since his birth, Apocalypse hunts down powerful mutants to become immortal and invincible. Recruiting more mutants to his fold, including the heartbroken Magneto (after leaving Charles and walking this world alone,) the fate of the world is left in the hands of Raven, Professor X, and the young X-Men.

The action-packed slice of X-Men pie delves straight into the juicy helping with blood-splattering, bone-crunching mayhem that should have Fox whetting their R-Rated trousers as it’s clearly where the studio is heading. From the introduction of Apocalypse to the epic finale of the film, the sequences of hand gestures and CGI-ed powers are enthralling enough to keep our geek pants in a moistened excitable twist. The whole world is on the verge of complete annihilation and Singer fires up the fights to keep us all on the edge of our seats.

Simon Kinberg’s script is a lot less convoluted than Days of Future Past and actually impresses when it comes to the simple Mutant vs God narrative. There is a lot of humour and silliness too that marries charisma with characters, as well as keeping a gleeful cartoony element to the series that never faded since we first clapped eyes on Wolverine’s side-burns.

This being said, Kinberg and Singer have moments that drag down a possibly brilliant movie into an average and mindless affair. Cheesy stuffy dialogue shoved into the crevices of accomplished actors (certainly some of the best of our generation.) These awkward scenes really trembles the film’s triumphant storyline until it crumbles into a pile of average dust, making the overall feel anti-climactic.

Yet X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t terrible cinema and you can once again enjoy the scene stealing Quicksilver whose explosive re-entry into the X-Men lore has you wishing for a literally spin-off! James McAvoy masterfully transform into the wise and encompassing Professor who still has to battle with wits and telekinesis (telekinewits?) whilst Fassbender’s troubled bi-polar respect for the X-Men is underused. The big traumatic and larger than life villain, played well enough by Oscar Isaac, is too somewhat wasted – never aspiring beyond a simplistic human destroying bad guy and never embracing complexities that Brian Cox’s Stryker and Ian McKellen’s Magneto would do.

Apocalypse isn’t the best superhero flick off the year – that goes to foul-mouthed cousin Deadpool. It certainly isn’t the worst (*cough* Dawn of Justice *cough cough*.) And it definitely isn’t the best of its own series. A completely unnecessary film that has a surprising enjoyment to it or an actually alright action film with absolute tosh thrown in for no good reason – Apocalypse meagrely pleases.


The BFG – Brand New Trailer!

Remodelling our children’s movies have become a gradual annoyance to the cinema lover. It seems nothing is sacred from the grabbing, greedy hands of Hollywood. Everything we’ve ever loved is going to get the big screen treatment, even if it has already a film before.

This is all good and done – but nothing will stop us being excited for The BFG.

Based on a book by Roald Dahl, The BFG revolves around a world where Giants are child chomping beasts who gobble kids up in the night. Sophie, a bright young girl, has been trying to spy them but comes across something completely new – The Big Friendly Giant whose sole purpose is to give dreams to young’uns. Together, they enter the biggest adventure ever!

The BFG has already had a collection of great reviews from its premiere at Cannes. We’re certainly wholly excited the adaptation, especially as Spielberg is handling it….The man can manipulate our childhood like a fine saxophone.

The BFG is out June 22nd

Our Kind of Traitor – Review

by Ren Zelen

With the legion of fans garnered by the recent TV adaptation of novelist John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, now would seem to be a fortuitous time for distributors to be releasing Our Kind of Traitor, another adaptation which may serve to alleviating the pangs of ‘Le Carre withdrawal’.

Our Kind of Traitor stars Ewan McGregor as Perry Makepeace, a quiet academic who has taken a holiday in Marrakesh in order to salvage his relationship with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) after Perry’s affair with a student.

When Gail brusquely leaves their restaurant table to make a conference call, Perry succumbs to an invitation from wealthy Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) to spend the remainder of the evening at a party. Perry finds himself somewhat out of his depth as he enters Dima’s mansion and notices that this hedonistic, drug-fuelled spree is populated by some very dodgy characters.

The two men continue to bond the next day over a game of tennis, and Gail gets to know Dima’s wife Tamara (Saskia Reeves) and the various children in their entourage. It soon becomes clear that Dima’s enthusiasm for befriending the couple is down to an ulterior motive: He wants them to help him negotiate a defection for himself and his family with the British government. The Russian mob for whom he works, is now under new leadership by a cold-eyed oligarch (Grigoriy Dobrygin), known only as the ‘Prince’.

The ‘Prince’ is intent on revitalizing his organization and his plan includes disposing of the ‘old guard’ of employees. Dima rightly fears for the survival of himself and his family but his only bargaining chip with MI6 is his promise to provide proof that British MPs, including the influential Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam), are being bribed by the Russian mafia to abuse their power in order to facilitate the laundering of blood money.

When Gail and Perry arrive back at Heathrow, they meet with Hector Meredith (Damian Lewis) from MI6 who persuades the reluctant couple to help him smuggle Dima and his family into the U.K.  Meredith is also keen to get his hands on the information as he has an old score to settle with Longrigg.

Although Our Kind of Traitor proves to be a decent enough spy thriller, well told, the feature length doesn’t always suit the dense storytelling of Le Carre’s work. With so much backstory and explication to shoehorn into the dialogue; there is never enough time to fully explain character, incentive or motivation.

This results in some good actors being underused (Gatiss, Reeves, and Northam) as well as motivations being glossed over. It is never convincingly explained as to why Perry would want to swap a quiet life lecturing on poetry (at what appears to be UCL), in order to risk his life for a violent Russian criminal that he barely knows. Is he trying to prove to his wife that he really is a decent and trustworthy bloke and atone for past sins, or is he perhaps trying to prove it to himself?

This is where even a responsible, competent, well-intentioned feature adaptation like Our Kind of Traitor may suffer somewhat in comparison to a lengthy TV version such as The Night Manager.

Director Susanna White, whose résumé includes some fine TV work (Parade’s End, Bleak House, Jane Eyre) as well as movies Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, opts for a quieter tone rather than underlining the drama with big explosions, histrionics or the frequent inclusion of graphic violence.


This gives the brutal scenes more impact and allows some of the most tragic or shocking moments to happen at a distance or just out of reach while characters watch, helpless to stop the unfolding of events. One of the most refreshing aspects of the movie is how it evokes the sense of clandestine power struggles, political shifts in allegiance, shady dealings and tragic events happening quietly but inexorably behind the scenes, while ordinary people continue on in ignorance or indifference.

The screenplay by Hossein Amini, a writer who has dealt with literary adaptations (Jude, Wings of a Dove, The Two Faces of January) and action (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman), makes only modest changes to the original novel. These mostly stem from a decision to cast younger actors (such as Damian Lewis, whose character is much older in the book) or the need to take advantage of financial incentives in using certain locations. As most Le Carre adaptations, Our Kind of Traitor provides a series of glamorous and gritty settings to appease viewers who like to revel in location porn such as was evident in the BBC’s The Night Manager.

All in all Our Kind of Traitor is a good, workmanlike spy thriller, particularly if cinemagoers are looking for a change from the slew of superhero movies on offer, but for my money, it proves no great threat to the 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which remains the best cinematic adaptation of a Le Carre book made so far.

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