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.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MStar Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Written by: Rian Johnson

Based on Characters Created by: George Lucas

Music by: John Williams

Cinematography by: Steve Yedlin

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Frank Oz, Billie Laurd, Joonas Suotamo, Amanda Lawrence, Jimmy Vee, Brian Herring and Dave Chapman.  

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was the best episode of Star Wars made to date…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) is epic people!

This film has everything: fantasy, drama and conflict and betrayal and action with lightsaber fights that last just long enough…

And I was surprisingly emotional through-out the film with General (Princess) Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) filmed and thankfully not animated so she looked so real and so there.

It was such a pleasure to see Carrie Fisher up on the big screen for the final time… See what I mean about emotional?!Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Director and writer, Rian Johnson has spent a lot of time getting the detail of the story right.  There’s new characters mixed with old that keep the story interesting with the familiar and the excitement of seeing new critters adding to the lightness and wonder of this visual story.

Rian Johnson also wrote and directed, Looper (2012) and has brought that same attention to the script here, revealing layer upon layer of story to take the audience on a journey totally unexpected.

And I liked how the film was set both in space and on land – the effects of space fantastic on the big screen and the grounding of seeing the ocean crash into rocks and the salty sand of the desert kicking up red dust visually surprising.Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The island where the previous episode, The Force Awakens, leaves us with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is expanded upon, the thought put into the vastness of the landscape impressive with new sea creatures and those cute Porgs (that look like a cross between a penguin and a puffin) alongside old favourites like Chewbacca.

This episode sees the story unfold around the never ceasing Resistance as they fight The First Order led by Supreme Leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis) as he takes hold of the universe.  The final threads of the Resistance making that final last stand with Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeking the return of the equally resistant Luke Skywalker hiding on his island after losing all faith when his student and best friend and sister’s son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turns to the Dark Side.Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Adam Driver has really grown into his role as Kylo Ren (the highlight for me) – the film taking time to explore this new character, making him as deep and fascinating as Darth Vader.

But like life, there’s dark and there’s light.  There’s good and bad in everyone – the conflict of the Force in Luke and Rey and Kylo adding to an otherwise action and suspenseful film.

And, for me, the most suspenseful Star Wars so far.

The Last Jedi is a further exploration into the Dark Side giving this episode a sharper edge and depth – the fantasy element making the story more griping and thought-provoking than the usual Sci-Fi weight of the previous instalments.

And the timing of the story was perfect.  The twists in the tale, many.

Prepare for an epic experience: it’s a long one (2h 33m) but well worth the journey.

The Mummy

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MThe Mummy

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Screenplay by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman

Screen Story by: Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet

Executive Producers: Jeb Brody and Roberto Orci

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari and Russell Crowe.

Welcome to Universal Picture’s Dark Universe:  A series of Monster-Verse movies to be distributed in the coming years beginning with the release of, The Mummy.

This is the first time we’re seeing the monster as a female mummy – Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess cheated out of her rightful place as ruler and a god amongst men.

Ahmanet draws on the power of evil to reclaim what she believes is rightfully hers only to be thwart at the verge of succeeding.  Erased from history and imprisoned for 5000 years, she’s unwittingly released by Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a careless soldier of fortune who has no scruples using anything and everyone to get what he wants.  The perfect match for a monster.

But is he evil or just an idiot?

There’s chemistry between Nick and the British officer of Cultural Heritage, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), with a sprinkling of humour that sometimes missed the mark for me but made the pair tolerable.

Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), Nick Morton’s side-kick, was a bonus providing comic relief, lifting the film out of taking itself too seriously, allowing the audience to laugh intentionally.  It can be a close call – to laugh with or at seemingly ignorant action-types.

Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was well-cast as the evil Egyptian princess.  The costuming (Penny Rose) and make-up (Lizzie Georgious) creating the rune-style writing on her skin very effective and the double iris a unique look l’ve never seen before.

This leads me to the explosive effects and setting which made the film worth watching on the big screen.  Shot in three countries from the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford for those creepy dark and dank moments, to Namibia in southeast Africa for the heat and desert surrounding the discovery of the Sarcophage containing, The Mummy.

If the story remained the light-hearted, explosive action, sometimes scary zombie, Mummy-come-to-destroy-London movie, this would have been a familiar, successful formula.  What I don’t understand is the addition of Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  Adding a character so different to the rest of the story stretched the suspension of belief too far leaving me to question – why?!

I was absorbed with the explosive opening and the effects, so-much-so, I put off that desperate need for the bathroom because I didn’t want to miss  what was coming next.

But there was a wrong turn in the story with too much weight put on the already thin character of Nick.  Add the Henry Jekyll character and you’re losing the audiences enthusiasm for the characters’ survival.

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Wonder Woman

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MWonder Woman

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Screenplay by: Allan Heinberg

Story: Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs

Produced by:  Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder and Richard Suckle

Executive Producers: Stephen Jones, Geoff Johns, Jon Berg, Wesley Coller and Rebecca Steel Roven

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Eugene Brave Rock and Said Taghmaoui.

With the couple ahead in line, kissing.  Just a quick smooch, but often.  Making that, kissy-kissy, sucky-wet sound, constantly.  Perhaps out of nerves or because they’d just found each other and were terrified the other would disappear if they didn’t lock lips and suck the air out of each other’s mouths every 30 seconds…

You can probably tell I wasn’t in the mood for a romance.

And unfortunately Wonder Woman wasn’t all Amazons and action, there was romance here with love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American World War I fighter pilot who finds himself in the Amazonian magical world of Themyscira while being chased by the Germans.

Which brings me to the classic Wonder Woman guitar rift.  You’ll recognise it when you hear it and it does add to that cringe.

But that’s all I have to complain about.

Overall, Wonder Woman was a well-thought and executed film.

The story of Diana (Gal Gadot), growing up in Themyscira allowed a beautiful setting of crystal clear blue waters and souring cliffs, and women warriors fighting from pure white horses with long braids falling down their backs.  This magical place allowed the story of the gods to be shown like a moving painting brought to life to then shift to WWI and all the shock and tragedy of death.

After hearing of the violence, Diana vows to fight in the war to bring peace, as she was trained to do.  All very dramatic.

But the addition of humour made the film for me, particularly Charlie (Ewan Bremner), the Scottish marksman suffering from shell shock and Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) the ever reliable, can-do secretary.  I was constantly tickled by Etta Candy’s humour and the writing here is to be commended.  As is the story of the film.

There’s a slow build.  And yes, it felt like a lengthy movie, understandably at 2 hours and 21 minutes.  But the time spent on building the momentum was worth it.  There’s plenty of action and funny bits so as the story developed, the further I was pulled in.

So even with a bit of cheese and romance, I found the character, Steve Trevor better than expected, and more down-to-Earth (just can’t resist a pun) then James T. Kirk played by Chris Pine in the recent Star Trek films (but hey, I liked those films too), and that comes down to the fantastic script.

There was a tug and pull of the lasso for some depth into human nature.  But like the above statement, it was somewhat half-hearted.  Wonder Woman is more about how Diana evolves into a superhero.

By playing with the time sequences and using clever camera work and images (like the moving painting montage), the film is given a bit of spice.  It’s always good to see something different as it keeps the attention.  Because wow, there have just been so many superhero movies that the trickery of the director becomes the point of difference; Patty Jenkins succeeding here with help from director of photography Matthew Jensen.

I wasn’t blown away but this is a quality film with the resurrection of a fantastic character who we’re left in no doubt will return in the very near future.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MA15+King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Director: Guy Ritchie

Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Steve Clark-Hall

Screenplay: Jody Harold, Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram

Story by: David Dobkin and Jody Harold

Starring: Charlie Hunnam (Arthur), Jude Law (Vortigern), Astrid Berges-Frisbey (The Mage), Djimon Hounsou (Bedivere), Aidan Gillen (Bill), Eric Bana (Uther).

I love a good action film with a healthy dose of fantasy, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword delivered.

This isn’t a tale about King Arthur and the Round Table, this is more about the magic of Excalibur.

Director, Guy Ritchie has taken a classic story and turned it into something else.  If you can forget all you know about the previous tales of King Arthur and all the romance, gallantry and honour, it’s worth letting go and getting taken for the ride.

King Arthur is one of those big budget films with thought put into the camera work with director of photography, John Mathieson bringing the audience right up close to run along-side the characters.  Add burning towers, giant snakes and elephants as big as football fields, weird water creatures and the magic of The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey): you’ve got an entertaining film.

Jude Law as Vortigern, brother of King Uther (Eric Bana) and uncle to Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), gives a solid performance, legitimising the film by making the villain of the story believable.

No-one can pull a look of disdain like Jude Law.

Not to take away from Hubbard.  There is a consistent air of nonchalance he gives to every role: the laid-back smart arse hiding a sharp mind.  Deviation from this persona brings disaster, think of his role as Dr. Alan McMichael in Crimson Peak.  But he was cast well here, with the action scenes and sword fighting perfect for his physic (not that I’m a perv, well… maybe a bit…).  And the comradery with his mates, growing up in a brothel and learning the hard lessons of life off the street reminiscent of his character in, Sons of Anarchy (of which I’m a fan).

There was certainly the Guy Ritchie-esq feel to the film with fast

exchanges of dialogue and sharp changes in camera work, jumping from past to present to future in seconds.  The technique reminding me of scenes from Snatch (2000).

To get the audience up-to-speed this way can be exhilarating; to catch a train of thought, to run with it to flash to the next part, the exciting part.  But there was some definite glossing over of story that was sometimes OK and sometimes not, leaving me with the thought, That’s just lazy.  And glossing over essential aspects of Arthur’s character weakened the story.

The cracking soundtrack and music by composer Daniel Pemberton helped to lift and smooth each scene; the first thought after the film finished being, ‘Jeez, the soundtrack was good.’

And there were satisfying circles of storyline but the pacing felt patchy
with weight and time given to some scenes where essential timelines were past in fast forward.  And this was the biggest downfall of the film.

So, although the editing and story was not always consistent, the strong performance from Law and the cocky English, Guy Ritchie flavour, kept up the entertainment factor to reach expectation.

Beauty and the Beast

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: PGBeauty and the Beast

Director: Bill Condon

Producers: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Based on: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Music: Alan Menken (composer), Howard Ashman (lyricist), new material by Tim Rice

Starring: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (Lefou), with Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Emma Thompson (Mrs Potts), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Stanley Tucci (Cadenza), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette)

Watching the live action re-make of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which has been successfully updated without losing the original’s charm, the first thought that occurred to me was why has it taken so long to make this film?

The new version is vibrant, entertaining, full of catchy songs, impressively realistic sets and gorgeous costumes plus energetic choreography, making the transition from animation to live action most effectively.

I watched the original version again after seeing the new film, and aside from a few lines of dialogue or moments of visual humour not being retained, the live action version works better because it provides the opportunity to create beautiful costumes and sets, and enlarge the number of performers in crowd scenes.

There are also new songs, which have transformed some characters from stereotypes to convincing individuals.

I particularly loved the Beast’s new song “Evermore” (sung with throbbing undertones by Beast Dan Stevens during the film and less heroically by Josh Groban over the end credits).

The townspeople clearly indicate their opinion of Belle as being odd in the rousing song “Belle”, which is how it was originally, but apparently the actress Emma Watson wanted Belle to be more in keeping with modern feminist portrayals so her independent streak seems stronger and she has added talents beyond being just a supportive daughter.

Although Emma Watson is not a strong singer, her solemnity and occasional hints of humour allow her to carry off her role with conviction, as she shows bravery and selflessness and is more than a match for the moody yet fascinating Beast.

A few scenes have been added or extended which help make Belle and the Beast’s burgeoning love seem more convincing as they go from being “barely even friends” to something more.

The updated screenplay has fixed a few plot-holes, including how long the curse has been in place. There is also an underlying urgency to end the curse because of the long-term effect it may have on the Beast’s servants, who have been animated beautifully, making me long to buy some of the merchandise.

The servants’ rendition of “Be our guest” is an absolute showstopper, this time with the added benefit of wonderful special effects and a fuller-bodied orchestra and chorus.

The villain Gaston is played with relish by Luke Evans, who is fêted during the boisterous tavern scene by faithful sidekick Lefou (a delightful Josh Gad). Gaston’s penchant for antler décor and his skill at “expectorating” are still laugh-inducing but he doesn’t appear as two-dimensional now, despite still being vain and self-centred. Ironically his inflated ego marks him as more “monstrous”, making him a far greater beast than the titular one.

A lot has been said about Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, who was an under-developed bumbling fool before, but who is now given depth, partly through his implied sexual orientation.

It’s pleasing to see Disney is trying to reflect modern-day sensibilities, while the racial diversity amongst the townspeople and servants at the castle is also refreshing.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and could barely resist humming along.

This version has refreshed and updated the original film without losing any of its enduring appeal, and no one should be “gloomy or complaining” about the result.

A visual and aural delight for young and old.

Power Rangers

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Rated: MPower Rangers

Director: Dean Israelite (Project Almanac)

Producers: Haim Saban (Power Rangers creator), Brian Casentini (Power Rangers TV series), Wyck Godfrey, and Marty Bowen (The Twilight Saga, The Fault in Our Stars, The Maze Runner franchise)

Executive Producers: Allison Shearmur, Brent O’Connor, John Gatins, Joel Andryc, Takeyuki Suzuki

Screenplay: John Gatins (Kong: Skull Island)

Story by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold) and Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney (based upon Power Rangers created by Haim Saban)

Starring: Dacre Montgomery (Jason Red Ranger), Naomi Scott (Kimberly Pink Ranger), RJ Cyler (Billy Blue Ranger), Becky G (Trini Yellow Ranger), Ludi Lin (Zack Black Ranger), featuring Bill Hader (Alpha 5 cyborg), with Bryan Cranston (Zordon) and Elizabeth Banks.

Having never seen an episode of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series (1993), loosely based on the Japanese 1970s Super Sentai TV series, I had no preconceptions or even expectations about the latest incarnation, Saban’s Power Rangers.

From the brief snippets I had seen, I knew there were energetic people who dressed in colour-coded costumes and leapt about doing heroic things, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the new Power Rangers film entertaining, humorous, with effective use of the latest in spfx technology, and awesome Ranger suits designed by Weta Workshop.

The action is set in the small American fishing town of Angel Grove, and focuses on five teenagers, each with their own particular problems, who stumble upon an ancient, alien spacecraft and five coloured “coins” which bestow upon each of them extraordinary power and the ability to morph into Power Rangers, as they face a world-wide threat from an evil alien.

Television producer Haim Saban, who produced the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series, wanted the updated cinematic version to retain the original’s idea of five teens with attitude who must battle evil whilst also dealing with “today’s issues of cyber-bullying, peer or family pressure and the uncertain future.”

I appreciated that sufficient time was spent to develop each Ranger’s backstory so that they all emerged as clearly defined individuals rather than anonymous teenagers, one with a “spectrum” disorder, another dealing with their sexuality and another with a sick parent.

For established fans of the series, the carefully plotted introductions of each teenager may drag, but I appreciated how their trust issues and self-imposed isolation made it difficult for them to quickly achieve the required togetherness necessary to become a team of Power Rangers.

The fact that they trained, fought and had their own individual problems to overcome before they could become a united fighting team made their eventual transformation feel more “earned” than if it had occurred within a shorter time frame.

Other supernatural hero films often lavish huge chunks of screen time on drawn-out action sequences where entire cities get obliterated in mind-numbing CGI effects extravaganzas, and

I find those types of films to be boring and non-engaging.

The battle sequences in Power Rangers still occur, but because they don’t happen until the last section of the film they seem more effective.

There is one rather large plot loop-hole involving the Power Rangers and their evil opponent Rita Repulsa (played with relish by The Hunger Games’ Elizabeth Banks in a gorgeously over-the-top green and gold costume), which would have ended the battle very quickly and with far less destruction, but aside from this, the story line and character arcs were all well written and believable within this specific world.

The fact that there was no swearing was a big plus in this age of profanities, which makes this a great family-friendly film, which won’t disappoint anyone seeking an entertaining and well-made diversion. (The version of the song “Stand by me” used during one scene made me want to dash out and buy the soundtrack.)