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Review Mary and the Witch’s Flower by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

With the fate of Studio Ghibli still uncertain, what are all the talented artist and storytellers to do that worked there to do? Get up, form their own studio and make a movie. Good for them!

Mary and The Witch’s Flower is the movie debut of Studio Ponoc and they take it upon themselves pick up the baton to create accessible movies for children that are just as filled with whit and inspiring images that would wow an adult.

From its first scene, it is here to intrigue and impresses. A hooded figure runs away from other hooded figures, they carry something. They grab a broom and fly away on it, grey, blobby being chased them and the tree city they came from explodes. While being pursued what the hooded figure has is dropped into a forest and so is their broom. We instantly have many questions and there is a lot of color, sound, music and beautifully realised animation to kick off the movie already.

We then see a little house in the countryside and a young girl by the name of Mary (Hana Sugisaki) is moving in. She wants to help but she is a terrible clutz, not even being able to tie a flower or pick of a box of her stuff without causing a mess. While exploring her new home she comes across two cats, one grey one black. They lead her into the forest and there she finds a broom held by a tree with vines and a flower that is so blue it seems to be glowing. One night the broom starts moving by itself and takes Mary through the clouds and to a place like no other, Endor College for witches.

It is the sequence where Mary is introduced to the headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Yuki Amami) and is shown all the facilities of the college that is easily the best part of the movie.

The animation is just like that of Studio Ghibli, with thick lines, blobby movement, and simple but expressive character designs. Being that the new studio is composed of almost entirely former Ghibli staff this isn’t really a surprise.

There is a wealth of generosity paid to the animation. Sure it’s pretty and smooth but the generosity comes in little things that most people wouldn’t even notice but they did and put in the extra effort. Take a moment where Mary is being guided through the school, we see the big establishing shot and when the camera is closer to her face we can still see something going on with someone else. Animation, particularly hand-drawn animation requires one drawing at a time to be produced to create the illusion of movement and when it’s done must be colored in, which is also time-consuming. These little things which take up much time and go by so unnoticed shows that the people working there are passionate about bringing the whole world to life.

Eventually, sinister intentions are revealed, our hero must use her wits and bravery to overcome them and we are left with a satisfying ending.

The movie is the tale of a normal person being swept up into a world of magic and having to maneuver this new world where there are stakes and plenty of creative visuals along the way. It will entertain your children with it’s easy to understand plot, likable character and vivid color pallet. Adults will also be sucked in.

 

Review Peter Rabbit by Jonathan Evans

 

(1 / 5)

Ow, my. What a waste of talented animators time and effort. Such a shame that pretty cinematography would be used to portray such pandering material. A cast that could lend itself to much better material yet is stuck in this feature that is trying so hard to impress yet comes off as desperate in the end.

Is this really the hardest thing to get right? A family of rabbits need to survive and there is a source of food in a nearby garden, so they go and take what they need from it, but the owner of the garden is the mean old Mr. McGregor. This is essentially a tale of Tom & Jerry but with a rabbit and a human.

We have the titled character Peter Rabbit (James Corden) getting up and getting ready for another day of stealing from old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neil). He takes his triplet sisters Cottontail (Daisey Ridley), Flopsy (Margo Robbie) and Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki) and their cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody). Instantly the problems start, Peter, is a motor-mouthed, obnoxious twit that believes themselves to be so great and even speaks right into the camera and addresses the audience telling them about how smart, fast, well dressed etc. he is.

The special effect people really have created good work in bringing the animal characters to life. They do look like the actual animals they’re based on and have found a way to have them stand on their hind legs and emote their faces without looking off or ending up in uncanny valley territory. The rendering of the fur and the denim jackets they wear are also rather convincing. It’s such a shame that all this effort was wasted on pandering, obnoxious characters.

One day, in the midst of a conflict old Mr. McGregor, dies of a heart attack and with his dead body laying there Peter repeatedly pokes him in the eye. Survearly distasteful. So with him gone his great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Donmhall Gleeson) has inherited him home. So now the rabbits have a whole new McGregor to deal with.

The dynamic between a hero and a villain is simple really. We root for the hero because they inhabit goals and morals we connect with while the villains oppose them. So through experiencing the story playout we root for our hero and hope they overcome the villain. There are variations on this but this is a basic staple. I more morally complex material we can understand the villain and why they do what they do but a sign of failure is when we agree with the villain. Thomas McGregor is uptight and quite odd but it is shown that he is indeed a hard worker and is capable of being considerate as well as having a reasonable goal. Now, these obnoxious rabbits break into his property and give him such a hard time. Sure the argument is made by Bea (Rose Byrne), the neighbor, that they’re animals following they’re basic instincts, but they’re not, we see that they talk and discuss and wear clothes, they are aware of their actions. So I’m rooting for the “mean” human that has a dream and is willing to put in the work while the hero is selfish and would support cooking him into that pie.

How is it that the moments with the human characters are so much more concise than the moments with the animated animals? It costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time to render these talking animals on-screen and yet the filmmakers seem to fall in love with the material the actors were either improvising behind the microphone or reading from the script and decided none of it need editing down or being cut out. It does, so much of this, a waste of time or isn’t funny and sometimes both.

When I was sitting in the theatre one child was laughing and the adult next to them was on their phone, I can’t say I blame them. This will probably make the children laugh but it won’t make them any smarter by the end of it and when they’re older they’ll probably realise it’s tripe.

If we took out all the animated rabbits and had an off-beat story about a city slicker coming to the country and being charmed by someone then we might have had something here. Yes, I know that that formula has been done to death but at least it would have been something stomachable. I have no patience for these rabbits.

For a well made, charming, intelligent children’s movie based on a British series of books, I point you towards Paddington.

 

Review Professor Marston & The Wonder Women by Jonathan Evans

 

(4 / 5)

 

She is one of the most iconic female characters in pop culture. She is instantly recognisable and you most likely know her name. She stands for truth. But in creating her secrets had to be kept to preserve love.

Earlier this year the mass audience were introduced to Wonder Woman through her first film. Now she is more popular than ever, this is the perfect time to tell this fascinating story of the deep psychological ideas that went into her creation and first few stories as well as the just as interesting behind the scenes situation of the people that inspired her.

The man who co-created her was man named William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), a university professor who teaches psychology. He would go on to invent the lie detector machine. While there with his wife one of his students catches his eye. His classes teach about the mindset of giving yourself up to an authority figure in a relationship.

Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) is his official wife whom he has known since childhood, she has dark hair and is more than qualified to be a lecturer at any University, but because she is a woman she cannot gain any diploma. Her and Marston enjoy heated debates. Olive (Bella Heathcote) is blonde, a few years younger and even though she is descended from two of the most outspoken and radical feminist of her time was raised by nuns so is timid and tacked but still very intelligent.

He loves his wife, however he also loves Olive and they love him as well as each-other. What are they to do? The love is real but the society in-which they live will never accept them, is it even worth trying?

Luke Evans himself is a gay man and the writer/director Angela Robinson is a lesbian. They are both open about their sexuality but the world still does not fully embrace people of non hetero sexuality so they are probably the perfect people to tackle this material.

Adding to the revealing nature of the movie is the layering of the actual Wonder Woman comics that were written by Marston and indeed do feature Wonder Woman herself and other women caged, tied-up, spanked etc. The fact that they were able to get approval for the actual material shows and bravery and how unashamed on behalf of DC Comics. This is the story and ideas that went into the character and are addressing it.

The theory of loving submission isn’t just all about getting tied-up and/or spanked (though the physical acts are a part of it) it is about letting go of control, it has been said that you cannot love someone and control them, the acts allow the others to be the master to ones who would otherwise not be.

Being that this takes a look behind the public perception of a famous character and shows the story of the real people behind the scenes one will probably be reminded of Hollywoodland (an equally good movie).

This movie tells the story of love that is still rather unconventional now and seemingly impossible at the time it happened. There are details about the production of the character of Wonder Woman that are skimmed over as well as a few other moments that take a leap in time in order to fit the correct running time. But the story it tells is one of love and understanding and it effectively conveys that message.

Jonathan Evans

 

Review The Snowman by Jonathan Evans

 

(3 / 5)

 

The snow covers the entire land, only in scenes that take place indoors is it nowhere to be seen. People dress in thick coats to try and  be as warm as possible. If something was as cold on the inside as the environment, it would be a snowman. Like in Fargo or even directors Tomas Alfredson’s previous movie Let the Right One In, the snow itself is more than just a setting, it is a character itself. It plays into the theme of the movie, of a cold world where only the strong can survive.

This is one of the most disturbing murder mysteries you’ll see (along with The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo). It shows you just enough visually to make you wince and cut away at the right time so make up the worse bits yourself. This is the world it seeks to show and it stands by its very harsh mentality and images.

The premise is basic, someone is going around killing women. Before or after the act a snowman is built.  This is their calling card, or signature. Whoever it is they are always watching the main characters and seem to be unaffected by the cold. Taking up the case is Detective Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender)which seems to be the best cure for his hangover.

Detective Harry Hole is one of those rugged detective characters that’s good at their job but a very dysfunctional human being in nearly every other category. He drinks and forgets personal obligations, though not so bad as other portrays of this type of character. He clearly wants to do right and when he forgets he feels bad, it’s just that he priorities the job more. You can see someone like Bogart take this role if it was made a few decades ago. Fassbender fill’s the role very well, you are able to see and understand that this man (like Sherlock Holmes) lives for the case, he needs to wrap his brain around these twisted acts of violence, because if he doesn’t he falls into the bottle.

The average, or at least less keen eyed movie watcher will probably let some scenes go by without thinking twice. However if so do you will pick up on some leaps in realism. Some things like where does the killer go exactly? Or isn’t the timing a little to convenient? And some other things that simply allow things to happen.

Through the use of them I have a feeling that the movie seeks to make Snowmen scary, at least the ones here. Snowmen just aren’t, they do their best, actually giving them minimal features so they can be easily registered and more invoke the feeling for the act of the killer rather than the snowmen themselves. They are an effective icon for the movie, both while it plays and for it’s promotion.

I was able to predict the identity of the killer, is this a negative to the movie? Well in a mystery it isn’t about being able to hide who it is, it’s about telling a good story. Millions of people will most likely see the movie and some of those people will at least guess correctly, that’s just statistically likely. A good writer isn’t trying to trick you, they’re trying to engross you. While watching you will understand the characters and their points of view of the world and the reveal does add up. So it’s fine.

Leaps in logic can be forgiven if the overall product can suck you in. This movie has very good acting and crisp cinematography as well truly creating a scene of the cold environment that the characters inhabit. Everything’s sturdily constructed, allowing for some blank spaces. In terms of modern Gothic mystery’s this one is quite well made.

 

Review Blade Runner 2049 by Jonathan Evans

(4 / 5)

 

The images and themes of Blade Runner are some of the most iconic in movie and even pop-culture history. They have influences and been ripped off so many times and yet there’s still nothing quite like the original. Whether a sequel was necessary or wanted is now irrelevant, it’s here and the story now continues.

I have to confess that I’ve never been a fan of the original movie. I ‘ve seen it three times, I like hearing analysis of it and talking about it and it is undeniably influential and amazing to look at, but frankly actually sitting down and seeing the movie play-out has never given me a thrill.

We get a black screen where writing comes up informing us of the essential information we need to know going into the movie. Replicants are synthetically grown humans that developed their own humanity, they rebelled but a new company has emerged which makes Replicants that obey absolutely, the old models are still running around Earth so there are still agents that hunt them, which are still called Blade Runners. The  first shot, as the original, is with the opening of an eye. Who eye? It does not matter. We then see a flying car hover above a grey landscape, where eventually there’s some kind of farming land. The car lands and a man gets out, he enters the house and waits for it’s owner (Dave Bautista), through a series of questions it’s obvious that he is a Blade Runner here to “retire” this runaway Replicant.

The Replicant fights back, slamming him through a wall but he is stronger than him. Yes this Blade Runner is a Replicant. The Replicants name is K (Ryan Gosling). Before he heads back he finds a buried box under a dead tree and number carved into them that have meaning for K.

Being that he’s not human most of his emotions are subdued, for a large portion of the movie Gosling is rather stone-faced throughout it. That’s fine because there are other  more expressive characters that keep the energy alive, his real effort goes into his body movement, being sleek and efficient. However you can still see the glimmers of the thoughts that are going on under the surface that come out in little eye movements or furrowing of his brow. Plus there is a scene in which he comes to a realisation about himself and without going over the top delivers an amazing reaction. For this, I believe it is one of his best performances.

Something I applaud this movie for is it’s very little amount of action. There are hand-to-hand sequences and a shootout scene or two but this movie really relies on creating images, atmosphere and provoking deeper questions. Science Fiction isn’t supposed to simply entertain you with things going bang and flashing lights, its meant to give you ideas.

Blade Runner has never been a typical science fiction movie. It was more like an existential Film Noir set in the future. It had a lonely man wandering the streets of a dark city and asked questions about what makes us human. This is still that movie.

In the directors chair is not Ridley Scott but Denis Villeneuve. He made Arrival last year which really impressed me so I had no objections to him taking the realms on another science fiction movie. He has clearly done his research for what this world is like. He and cinematographer Roger Daekins have created the same dark, rainy world lit with headlights and advertisements, as well as a few other images that will most likely become classic. Whats striking is the way many scenes are composed with the minimal amount of detail and only a few shapes to help fill in what they are. Take a shot where its mostly black but a few coloured lights help us register that there is a car behind the character.

Someone else that’s taking over is Hans Zimmer and Benjamine Wallfisch on the music where it was previously handled by Vangelis. They have a frame to work within and I believe to sounds like the original. For the big city shots it’s your traditional piece you would expect to hear but there are other moments where the characters dwell on other things and it becomes a deep meditation. They use electronic instruments but create an organic sound with them.

I have no idea how well this movie will be received by the public or by other critics. I also cannot guess how successful it will do at the box-office or with the fans of the original. But I do admire the visuals and the technical achievements put into this movie. I remember some of the shots very clearly and the feeling of the atmosphere it created. It shows a world far off in the future where technology is capable of so many things but the greatest question man faces is within themselves.

 

Review: The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke by Sian Thomas

(5 / 5)

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke has been a long time favourite book of mine. I read it first about five years ago, and I remember reading it, loving it with my whole heart, finishing it, and instantly reading it again.

Once upon a time, I was recommended it. Someone that I knew once knew how much I loved the Professor Layton game, “Professor Layton and the Last Spectre”, as within this game there was a small gang of poor and homeless children who banded together to keep each other safe and warm who I took an overwhelming attachment to. The Thief Lord reminded them of these characters, and in turn, of me. And I could not be more grateful to have discovered a book that reminded me so much of characters I already loved, and created whole other characters who I loved just as much – perhaps more. Not only did these characters hold such a special place in my heart, they’ve stayed there undeterred for years. Even as I continue to consume new media and content and entertainment, there has yet to be something that knocks Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord from its #1 spot in my heart.

The plot is sweet, and something I loved all those years ago an equal amount as I still love it now. It is mysterious and alluring and downright fun – and to top it all off, the way it’s presented is unimaginably atmospheric, which is a factor I love an immeasurable amount. Being set in Venice, somewhere I have always wanted to go but have yet to find the opportunity to get there, it was like I got to go there for myself. And even better, it was like I got to go and I got to relive this story again and again in a place as beautiful in real life as it is in my mind’s eye.
The writing made this atmosphere even more incredible. The way Funke would describe the water and stone, the pathways and alleys, the boats and the famous buildings was mesmerising. The way it was written had a hand in shaping my own writing goals, as I also love at atmospheric touch in my own work. This has shaped me for so long and is so intrinsically a part of me that honestly I am so, so happy.

The characters are all lovely, each with their own unique personality and lovable traits. My favourites were always Prosper (our main character), Victor Getz, and Ida Spavento. I always thought, and continued to think of them, as lovable forces who would keep anyone safe – which they did. Prosper takes care of his younger brother, Bo. Victor Getz helps care for them (and the other runaway kids), as does Ida Spavento. They all just seemed like the sweetest  characters, who I feel unimaginably lucky to have discovered and cherished as much as I do.

I give the book 5 stars, as it holds such an important place on my bookshelf and in my heart. It remains my absolute favourite book, and I’m sure that will continue to be the truth in the foreseeable future, and probably also beyond that. I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those who love  heart-warming tale.

Review 300 Things I Hope, Iain S Thomas by Sian Thomas

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(5 / 5)

 

Iain Thomas has, for a long time, been one of my absolute favourite authors. This title of favourite has not wavered since I read I Wrote This For You: Just The Words some few years ago, and continues to stand strong as his other works, such as this, find a place in my hands and a home on my shelf. I come short of saying I adore him, his writing, his books, his style. All of it has meant a lot to me, and this has not fluctuated – ever.

300 Things I Hope is, at the title suggests, 300 things that he hopes. For you, me – for us – the readers. They are simple sentences, little lines, all of them hopes I do not doubt are wholeheartedly sincere and stretch all the way from the author straight to me, here. A part of it I can’t deny is a little odd. To be talked to through pages like this, indirect and directly, not in a way that’s exactly poetry or a story or an article. I know there are more people than only me that these words are going to be reaching, but it always feels like they were written just for me to read and love (which I do).

I like words. There’s the brunt of it. I love words, and I love writing, and I love reading. I love finding work that somehow manages to shake up my thoughts and make me remember this so clearly. I put post-it notes on my favourite pages, because they did just that. For example, number 84, “I hope love moves through your heart like light moves through glass” because is that not a gorgeous sight to see? The glass on my front door reflects rainbow coloured sunlight on to my floor, and the idea that it could equate to love was such beautiful imagery that in went the post-it note because I felt changed, because I felt reminded of words and what they can do. They did this, after all.
Or, number 101, “I hope that any noise you hear in the night is only someone you love coming home” because I have a lot of fears about things like this, and I was soothed.
Or, number 144, “I hope that if something bad happens to you, that the world suddenly starts turning backwards and it unhappens to you” because a word that isn’t a word is used but it makes sense, and I liked that.
Or 161, “I hope you find something unexplainable on the side of the road, like it was left there just for you” because I liked the idea of writing something that could stem from this idea myself, in all honesty.
Or 211, 212, and 213: “I hope you write a message, put it in a bottle and throw it into the sea”, “I hope it’s a secret, and that someone, somewhere, knows it.”, “I hope you are someone’s secret and that somewhere in the ocean, there’s a bottle with your name in it”, because this also sounded like something lovely to write, and they way I imagined that glimpse into a story from a simple three phrases was so captivating that I didn’t want to let it go. Also, I think everyone quietly romanticised the idea of putting a message in a bottle and hoping someone, somewhere, picked it up. I did, even though I’ve never done it (though I have found one, once – it was, I assumed, a child’s drawing of a house. There was a lot of blue.) – but after the little helpful push from these three hopes, could I not do it through words? I could, I think, and I would like to.

I’m trying to say that I love words. I love this book. I love this author. Not many other words or books or authors have pinched my mind and stolen my interest and held it, inspiring me to do something of my very own, and never letting me forget the spark in me at words strung together in a way that makes me so immeasurably happy.

Five stars, because I have a lot of love to give, because this deserves every piece of it I am able to give.