Mary and the Witch’s Flower

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PG

Mary And The Witch's Flower
©2017 M.F.P

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Producers: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Will Clarke (English version)

Written By: Riko Sakaguchi, Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Based on: ‘The Little Broomstick’ by Mary Stewart (novel)

Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Lynda Freedman (English adaptation)

Pleasantly surprised. Fantastic storytelling, took me back to my childhood, back to the early days when I discovered films were a window into another world, an escape from reality.

The film’s story is based on a children’s novel The Little Broomstick, written in 1971 by the English author Mary Stewart, long before Kiki’s Delivery Service and the Harry Potter series. When I watched Mary and the Witch’s Flower, I did not know that, and even though I noticed certain similarities, to focus on these would not be objective nor fair.

I love Japanese animation and the word ‘love’ doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I feel about it. I grew up rewatching season after season of Dragon Ball and Captain Tsubasa to name a couple. Combine that with films such as Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and you’ll know what I mean. I had expectations, I won’t lie.

The storytelling is strong enough to fly high.  I was skeptic for about 30 seconds but then I was charmed. Popcorn in hand, I became a child again, sitting at the movie theatre and going along with Mary’s adventure.

Mary and The Witch’s Flower is much more than an animation based on a book. It all started when producer Yoshiaki Nishimura was charmed by one bit of dialogue that he read in the original story: “And it wouldn’t be right to use the spellbook to unlock the front door, either. I’ll do it the way it’s used to, even if it does take longer…”

Set in a magical world, Mary goes through many fun and scary adventures filled with heart-beating excitement, thrills and suspense, flying the skies and travelling beyond the clouds. After these dazzling adventures, Mary finds herself without any magical powers, only a simple broom and a single promise she made. This is when Mary discovers the true strength within her.

Unusual harmony with one musical instrument is heard throughout the film. It is the sound of the stringed percussion instrument called the hammered dulcimer. In search of an uncommon musical instrument to set the tone for the entire film, producer Nishimura learnt from animation director Isao Takahata, about the hammered dulcimer, Nishimura decided to make it the central instrument for the film.

After leaving Studio Ghibli at the end of 2014, Yoshiaki Nishimura established his own animation studio on April 15, 2015. The origin of the studio’s name, ponoć, comes from an expression in Croatian meaning “midnight” and “the beginning of a new day”. The current film Mary and The Witch’s Flower is Studio Ponoc’s first feature animation, and involved a large number of creators and staff from Nishimura’s days at Studio Ghibli.

The attention to detail throughout the film makes me excited about what’s to come from the new-born Studio Ponoc, where talented artists and creators who worked on past Studio Ghibli productions have come together to work on director Yonebayashi and producer Nishimura’s newest work.

If I were you, I would be keeping an eye out for them. I know I will.

Justice League

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MJustice League

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Screenplay Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

Story by: Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Produced by: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns

DC Super Heroes: Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg

Also starring: Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta and Joe Morton as Silas Stone, and expands the universe by introducing J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf, and Amber Heard as Mera.

Based on characters from DC comics, Justice League is a team of superheroes brought together by Wonder Woman and Batman to fight against the world’s old nemesis, Steppenwolf.

Previously conquered in the ancient past by the Amazons, the inhabitants of Atlantis before the city sunk into the sea, and even the gods; they all fought side-by-side to stop the warlord from Apokolips from taking over the world.

Now, Steppenwolf has returned with an army of parademons (think a cross between an insect and vampire) to claim what he believes is rightfully his.

After seeing Wonder Woman in the recent film set during World War I, Justice League is present day – depicting an, approaching-middle-aged Batman and the ageless yet, powers-unseen-by-the-public, Wonder Woman.Justice League

Now that Superman is dead, the population is grieving and unable to see any hope for the future – chaos is gaining power as the people sink into darkness with newspaper headlines asking, Why are all the superheroes disappearing?  With Prince and David Bowie pictured alongside Superman.  Which I thought was quite clever, but also depressing, right?

I was also beginning to think the film was going to be a history lesson into each character.

Yet, the introduction of: Aquaman, shown to be just as strong on land as under water; Flash, the hero in training and Cyborg, a biomechanic meta human (and a new addition and update in the current techi-driven world), was necessary and brief.  And somewhat offset by the antics of Flash, adding some light humour to the mix.

The story could have gotten messy trying to give weight to each hero, but it worked.

Each character had their own personal conflict to conquer, giving the film layers beyond action.  And I could feel the humanity of Batman, not quite metahuman, his self-professed only super power being rich.

The need for this super-powered Justice League team fighting together stems from the power of Steppenwolf – the super villain.

The film flashes back to the past, giving Steppenwolf backstory, yet I wanted more grit, more than just another villain wanting to conquer worlds.  I would have also liked to have seen more of his home world of Apokolips…  But I had fun watching this film.

Gal Gadot has continued to shine as Wonder Woman and the sparks of humour from Ezra Miller as Flash were funny.

I wasn’t blown away, but Justice League was a fun ride – more of Aquaman in the water next time!

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

GoMovieReviews Rating:
MA15+Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Produced by: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Edward Holdcroft, Michael Gambon and Poppy Delevingne.

I like to think I have a dark, somewhat, twisted sense of humour, but about 15 minutes into, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it stopped being funny and became ridiculous.

As with the first, Kingsman (Kingsman: The Secret Service), there is the intentional push into the bizarre with sociopathic villains sporting robotic attachments – akin to a Bond film, yet modernised.

Which led to the huge success of the first Kingsman: entertaining action with a spot of difference that refreshed the British Secret Service while retaining all the charm.

The attempt to modernised the spy genre here, however, was a script filled with the cliché and the just plain stupid.

The inclusion of the Glastonbury Festival and the aged-before-her-years bimbo and terrible dialogue with pick-up lines such as, ‘My crow is looking for a place to nest’, led to confusion with a blurred line between the film making fun of itself and being silly, or not, and therefore coming across as stupid, try-hard and gross.Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Funnily enough (ha, ha, there’s my lazy pun for the day), the apparent obsession with the sh#tter was some of the most amusing parts.

Following on from Clara (Poppy Delevingne), the Swedish Princess getting it Greek style at the end of, The Secret Service, we now have Eggsy (Taron Egerton) swimming in a sh#t filled sewer, an old man having the best sh#t in two weeks, and Elton John offering a backstage pass if Eggsy once again, saves the world.

So, you can tell the style of humour… And those were the funny bits…

The storyline had holes (ha, ha, just can’t stop those puns) as well.

Enter Eggsy, battling Kingsman-rejected, Charlie (Edward Holdcroft) leading to the Kingsmen being hacked by drug lord, Poppy (Julianne Moore) – a woman stuck in the 1950s, living her days in the jungle in a replica of the setting of, Happy Days, but with robotic killer dogs and a drive to serve-up minced human flesh as prime hamburger meat.

This is a super-successful business lady who’s getting no cred.

So, Poppy decides she wants illicit drugs legalised and therefore taxed to get credit for being a successful business woman?  And to give the government control of the drug trade?  The elaborate plot Poppy, the drug lord, devices is not going to give Poppy more money or a prize for, Business Woman of the Year.  It doesn’t make sense.Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Add the American branch of independent secret service, resplendent with cowboy hats, code names like, Whisky, and the sound track of Country Road that seems to be following Channing Tatum around after, Logan Lucky, you’ve got the original idea of Kingsman, a modern James Bond, to modernised B.S. (the sh#t included).

What I did like was the amazing camera work with the audience being spun around and skidding and kicking and Kung Fu fighting right along-side Eggsy.  And the character, Eggsy, was still likeable here.

But instead of the class of the iconic British gentleman, it felt like the entire cast was given a touch of the idiot.

Even Colin Firth as Harry Hart played a doe-eyed, brain-damaged, butterfly enthusiast for most of the film.

So, yes, there’s explosive, huge-budget action, but riding on a patchy plot, filled with the ridiculous.

The LEGO® NINJAGO® Movie

GoMovieReviews Rating:
PGThe Lego Ninjago Movie

Directed by: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan

Produced by: Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Chris McKay, Maryann Garger, Roy Lee

Screenplay by: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington

Story by: Hilary Winston, Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman

Based on: Lego Ninjago by The Lego Group

Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Michel Peña, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn, Jackie Chan.

The second spin-off from, The LEGO® Movie, The LEGO® NINJAGO® Movie is based on characters from the Ninjago books, TV series and LEGO® toy-line.

Being a complete novice to the Ninjago world, I took my 5-year-old nephew, an avid fan, to provide some background information (which he enthusiastically supplied, bringing his book full of Ninjago characters).

Thankfully, for a newbie such as myself, the film focussed on the basics of the story, opening with a very human, Jackie Chan as a shop keeper, explaining to a young boy the philosophy and wonder of Ninjago.

And diving into the world of Ninjago, the animation begins:

An evil warlord, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) AKA, The Worst Guy Ever, is forever trying to destroy and takeover the city of Ninjago.  He also happens to be the father of, Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), the Green Ninja, who is the secret leader of the Ninja Force.

Constantly having to battle his evil father (who’s also kind of a doofus and the funniest character of the film), it’s a stressful life, being hated by everyone because he’s the son of the villain constantly attacking the city.  Only Lloyd’s fellow Ninjas:The Lego Ninjago Movie

Kai (Michel Peña), Red/Fire

Jay (Kumail Nanjiani,) Blue/Lightening

Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Gray/WaterThe Lego Ninjago Movie

Zane (Zach Woods), White/Ice

Cole (Fred Armisen), Black/Earth

(See how much I’ve learned about Ninjago?!!)

know of his secret identity as a ninja who’s also protecting the city from his father.

Even the warlord himself doesn’t know the Green Ninja’s his son, leading to many funny and awkward moments.

There’s a weird kind of humour here, filled with an abundance of puns, aimed at the pre-teen/teen sense of silly.

The themes of being different at 16 years old, yet trying to fit in – the difficulties of relationships with parents and the advice from Master Wu (Jackie Chan) of finding strength within, are all relevant for teens and younger.

However, butt jokes and the tongue-in-cheek vibe with overlying sarcasm didn’t always gel with the father/son dynamic, as some things, I felt, you can’t joke about.

So, some of the film translated for me, some missed the mark.

What I did appreciate was the clever, added detail like the attack sharks expressing their hunger with, nom, nom, nom sounds (hilarious!), and fire for tears and kids trying to hide thinking they’re hidden but very obviously not (like closing your eyes and thinking no-one can see you) – there’s a real tapping into that funny bone.

And some weirdly wonderful montages of the animation cutting to people doing stuff like slapping their painted bellies to highlight the importance of the, ‘ultra-weapon’.

So, it’s a colourful film, and kinda weird and definitely aimed at a younger audience.

As an adult I had a few laughs, and certainly enjoyed sharing the experience with my nephew.

American Assassin

GoMovieReviews Rating:
MA 15+American Assassin

Directed by: Michael Cuesta

Produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Nick Wechsler

Screenplay by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz

Based on: ‘American Assassin’

Written by: Vince Flynn

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet, Navid Negahban, Scott Adkins and Charlotte Vega.

In the same vein as previous characters adapted for on-screen action-thrillers, Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne, American Assassin is based on a series of action-thriller novels written by Vince Flynn, featuring Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien): a tortured soul out for revenge.

Training and fighting to kill the terrorists responsible for the death of his fiancé, Rapp is eventually recruited into the CIA by Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to become part of an elite black ops outfit under the guiding, unwavering, cold hand of legend, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).American Assassin

Although a later book in the series, production decided on, ‘American Assassin’ as this shows the origins of Rapp and how he became such an angry, one-man terrorist killer.

There’s a familiar feel to the classic formula of the CIA super-recruit. And I’m a big fan of action-thrillers.  But the character Mitch Rapp didn’t have the same humanising warmth as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon).  Rapp is such a hard, angry, focussed young buck, that the film became twee at times with borderline over-acting from O’Brien.

Michael Keaton has the military bearing and intensity needed for the role of trainer, Hurley.  And the fight scenes and bloody bits (spraying into the camera at times) are all believable, giving the film the action-thriller title it deserves.

Yet, there’s just so much macho going on here.American Assassin

The villain, Ronnie, AKA, Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) was the softer of the assassins, to the extent I was tempted to root for him!

Director, Michael Cuesta previously directing, Kill The Messenger (2014) and TV episodes from the likes of Homeland and Dexter, gives American Assassin that dry, flat, violent feel without humour.  This is a serious movie.

And without the colourful Michael Keaton (although kept on a short leash), the film would have been relentless.  As is, I still felt myself drifting with the overdose of action so I lost interest as the film progressed.

Add some of that cheesy attitude of blind-sighted need for domination with exclamation from the soundtrack, I got put off, the suspension of belief wavering, so when Deputy Director Irene Kennedy kept calling Mitch Rapp, ‘Rapp’, I started to cringe.

So, better than Jack Reacher (particularly the first!) but not as good as Bourne.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+The Hitman's Bodyguard

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Written by: Tom O’Connor

Produced by: John Thompson, Matt O’Toole, Les Weldon, Mark Gill

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, and Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Joaquim De Almeida, Kirsty Mitchell, with Richard E. Grant.

Darius Kincaid: Well, when life gives you shit, you make Kool-Aid.
Michael Bryce: Life doesn’t usually give you shit and then turn into a beverage.

When Triple A rated executive protection agent, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) loses or should I say, watches in disbelief as his client is shot by a seemingly impossible bullet in front of him, his life falls from living the dream, like, right up there, to right down there: escorting coked-up stock brokers.

It’s a wasted talent.

So, when super-hitman, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) is put under witness protection so he can testify against, Vladslav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), an Eastern European fallen dictator for crimes against humanity, it’s up to Bryce to get him to court alive.

If only Kincaid hadn’t tried to kill Bryce 28 times and wasn’t a complete pain in the arse.

The Hitman's Bodyguard

The Hitman’s Bodyguard uses that old-school formula of two guys who annoy the crap out of each other, leading to funny one-liners in between the explosive action of car, boat and motorbike chases to jumping from buildings gracefully or being ejected through a car windscreen.

There’s loads of action here and plenty of gun fights and bloody bits – a surprising amount of blood and swearing.

But the bromance/comedy/action formula is a classic one and works well if you’ve got the right cast, such as Ryan Reynolds versus Samuel L. Jackson.

It was interesting between Jackson and Reynolds because they’re both strong leads. Yet, they worked well with two very different characters bouncing off the other – Bryce (Reynolds) completely unfazed by the intensity that was Samuel L. Jackson as Kincaid which added to the comedy.

Ryan Reynold’s deadpan facial expressions of disbelief and perfectly timed deliveries were what really made the film for me.
The Hitman's Bodyguard

I can understand why the script written by Tom O’Connor was immediately sold as it’s a lot of fun, particularly with so many cars getting blown up (being more of an action entertainer then a thought provoker) but there’s enough development of the characters to create a satisfying emotional tone, so it’s not all just superficial explosions, there’s also a roundness to Kincaid and Bryce that develops as the relationship progresses.  And thankfully not sappy try-hard, but believable, funny and a bit cute with hard-arse Kincaid giving Bryce love advice.

Director, Patrick Hughes, who’s becoming an experienced hand at superstar casted action flicks (think The Expendables 3 (2014)) has put together a well-balanced and entertaining film.  And I was happy to leave the cinema with a grin.

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American Made

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA 15+American Made

Directed by: Doug Liman

Writer: Gary Spinelli

Produced by: Brian Grazer, Brian Oliver, TylerThompson, Doug Davison, Kim Roth

Executive Producer: Ray Angelic

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Roger Mitchell, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke, Alejandro Edda, Benito Martinez, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays.

When a film is promoted as ‘based on a true story’, I’m always curious to know which parts are factual and which take more creative options.

This was the question lingering at the back of my mind as I watched American Made, the story of Barry Seal, a TWA pilot, recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance over the camps of communist rebels in South America in the 1970s. In Universal Pictures’ American Made, Tom Cruise reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director, Doug Liman.

Barry, played by Tom Cruise, establishes his ‘devil-may-care’ attitude in the movie’s opening scene when he tries to liven up his own TWA flights occasionally by turning off the auto-pilot and giving the passengers a quick bouncy thrill.

Barry’s entrepreneurial skills also include picking up black market cigars on his South American stopovers and soon CIA agent Monty Schafer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) makes an offer that Barry just can’t refuse.

Very quickly Barry’s taking more than holiday snaps as he flies low over Communist guerrilla camps in Nicaragua. He’s a natural adventurer and next he comes onto the radar of the Medellin drugs cartel, an organized network of drug suppliers and smugglers originating in the city of Medellin, Colombia.American Made

Barry’s task is to pick up drugs in Colombia and drop them off to contacts in America so when he is eventually nabbed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he does a deal that sees him further recruited to deliver arms to the Contra rebels who are fighting for the overthrow of the Sandinista left-wing government in 1979 in Nicaragua.

Yes this sure is a bumpy ride and viewers need to hold onto their seats lest they get lost in the dramatic twists and turns of Barry’s story.

There’s not a lot of acting required here.

Cruise as Barry, whose moniker became ‘the gringo who just gets things done’,  roller-coasters through the action despite a slightly puzzled look on his face.

Sarah Wright as Lucy, his wife, plays the role of a pregnant, frazzled mother one minute and next the good-time party girl when the dollars start rolling in.

Domhnall Gleeson, as the CIA agent, is really just the stereotypical, emotionless cog in a well-oiled machine.American Made

However, the surprise for me was Caleb Landry Jones, playing ‘Bubba’, Seal’s brother-in-law. He was outstandingly creepy in the recent excellent thriller, Get Out. Here his character displays a truly believable feeling of pathos, with albeit, just a little bit of creepiness too.

This movie is billed as comedy and plays for laughs and even occasionally morphs into Keystone Cop routines, choosing to pay no attention to the hidden but real human casualties of the drugs cartel and of the arms Contra deal. The USA-supported Contras were later accused of widespread kidnapping, torture, murder and rape of civilians.

However, in the end it’s difficult not to be swept along, as Barry obviously was, by the movie’s excitement and adrenalin rush and to leave these more serious questions for another time.

The 1970s – 80s look of the film is totally convincing in music, costume and style – there’s a sort of brown and orange haze that reminded me of an Australian 1970s beach house.

And despite his tragic end, Barry obviously made the most of it all so why, I suppose, shouldn’t we?

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