“Mary and the Witch’s Flower” stars Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yūki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata, and Hikari Mitsushima. Released in Japan on July 8, 2017, followed by a North American release on January 18, 2018, the film is about a young girl who discovers a flower that grants her powers.
The film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also directed Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. It is based on the book, The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart. Before I get into some of the latest R-rated features that are releasing this weekend, I thought it would be best to talk about a new animated feature from Japan. One that is not produced by Studio Ghibli. This film is produced by a new Japanese animation studio known as Studio Ponoc, which was founded by former Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura back in 2015. The first time I noticed it was from the short trailer I watched during my big-screen experiences with some of the Studio Ghibli classics. It definitely looks like it came from Studio Ghibli in terms of the animation, even though it’s not, so it would be interesting to see if Studio Ponoc’s feature film debut can capture the same appeal as the famous Japanese studio. I managed to attend an exclusive one-night-only premiere of the film at my closest cinema, and while it was nothing too special, I still find it fun to be a part of these types of theatrical experiences. As for the film itself, all I can say about it is that it’s a strong debut for Studio Ponoc. For this review, I will be looking at the English dub version of the film, which features the voices of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, and Teresa Gallagher.
Like the other films from Studio Ghibli, the story in “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” has a simplicity that makes itself easy to follow for the little kids as well as investing and well-balanced for the older fans of Japanese animation. While it does offer a couple of plot points that we’re familiar with, its storytelling has enough gas in its tank to deliver a charming and invigorating piece of anime art. The English voice cast did a solid job with their performances, including Barnhill as Mary. For those who don’t know, Ruby Barnhill was mostly known for her live-action debut in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG back in 2016. Her voice acting debut was far from perfect, but she definitely showed some effort in bringing a character like Mary to life. If you’ve been following Studio Ghibli for quite some time, like myself, you’ll immediately notice the familiar animation style that the film provided. That’s because they were done by the former employees of Studio Ghibli. I’m very glad that they went in that direction because I couldn’t see anyone else creating something as gorgeous as this. The character designs, the locations, the visual appeal. All of these qualities point to the fact that Japanese animation is the type of art that should be appreciated by everyone. The musical score by Takatsugu Muramatsu was pretty entertaining to listen to. It doesn’t compete with the soundtracks provided by Joe Hisaishi, but it has its moments.
Overall, while far from being an anime masterpiece, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is a visually stunning debut for Studio Ponoc. Thanks to its characters, the voice performances, the animation, and its musical score, the film successfully allows the art of Japanese animation to continue inspiring both kids and adults alike for future generations. Based on what I saw, I’m sensing some very good things to come for the new animation studio as well as the filmmakers involved in it. I would highly recommend it to anime fans and families if it comes out on Blu-ray in the States.
“Paddington 2” stars Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Hugh Grant. Released in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2017, followed by a United States release on January 12, 2018, the film has Paddington attempting to buy a unique book for his aunt’s birthday.
The film is directed by Paul King, who also directed Bunny and the Bull, and it is a sequel to the 2014 family film, Paddington, which is also directed by King. Since the film premiered in theaters last year before the U.S., this will count as a 2017 release. Paddington was considered as one of the most delightful and well-executed family films to ever hit the big screen. I was one of the many people who found the movie to be a pleasant and generous introduction to a new generation of Paddington fans. To me, it’s one of those types of live-action/CGI family films that rely on charm, heart, and storytelling over the absurd amount of gross-out humor and pop culture references that’ll make every adult act like an uncivilized jerk. So now we have the latest chapter in the marmalade-loving bear’s series of theatrical adventures that’s already been getting a lot of unanimous praise. I should know because the film still has that 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. Can it really be as great as the original? If not, better?
Like its predecessor, the film contains a simplistic and charming story that involves Paddington (Whishaw) and the Brown family on another misadventure in London. Paddington’s attempt to buy a rare pop-up book for his aunt leads him behind bars when he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. So it’s up to the Brown family to find the real culprit and clear his name. When it comes to sequels, it’s usually hard to come up with a good story while maintaining the same qualities that made the originals so special, which was one of my main concerns going into this film. Luckily, Paul King was able to break that unfortunate pattern by delivering a rare family sequel that’s as charming and irresistible as the original. The main cast reprised their roles from the first film, including Bonneville and Hawkins as Henry Brown and Mary Brown, respectively. They once again delivered some very suitable and entertaining performances, with the main highlight being Ben Whishaw as the voice of the title character. I honestly couldn’t imagine someone else voicing this character. Whishaw was absolutely perfect in bringing this friendly and innocent bear to life. Brendan Gleeson was also pretty entertaining as one of the prisoners that Paddington befriends. A nice change of pace compared to his other roles. While the story can be a bit predictable during a couple of scenes, it has a way of blending in imaginative kid-friendly fare with a screenplay that’s more suitable and harmless for the adults. The film also contains some heartwarming messages that fit pretty well with its storytelling. As for the film’s humor, they did a marvelous job at providing some laughable gags without going too far-fetched. The music and the visuals were both stunning in their own way. The former, composed by Dario Marianelli, for providing an innocent and fun tone, and the latter for some of the imaginative sequences and the design of Paddington.
Overall, like its predecessor, “Paddington 2” is as sweet as a jar of marmalade. With its charming cast, Whishaw’s portrayal of the title character, and a story that’s suitable and well-written for all ages, this is another rare sequel that surprisingly works. If you’re a fan of the first film, I believe that you’re going to love this one as well. I would also recommend it to those who are familiar with Paddington Bear as well as those who aren’t. Your turn, Peter Rabbit.
“The Post” stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, and Matthew Rhys. Released in limited theaters on December 22, 2017, followed by a wide release on January 12, 2018, the film chronicles the newspaper journalists and their attempt to publish the Pentagon Papers.
The film is directed by Steven Spielberg, who also directed films such as Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal, and Lincoln. My desire to see award-potential films still rages on as I head on over to the latest biographical drama from one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg. The Pentagon Papers has been known for uncovering hidden information about the U.S. government’s involvement with the Vietnam War. Even though I’m not a huge history buff, I was very eager to see it anyway because of Spielberg and the cast, most notably Streep and Hanks. Now that I finally saw it for the first time, did it do the fact-based story justice? Yes, yes it did.
One of the things that I found impressive was, of course, Spielberg’s sense of direction. He did an incredible job at painting a realistic portrayal of the event as well as how the publishers handle this type of situation. The film truly specifies that even in political situations, speaking the truth is a much better option rather than lying or covering it up despite the consequences. Not only were these themes well-handled, but the screenplay also helps in providing some depth in the characters. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep both delivered some really good performances from start to finish as Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham, respectively. In fact, these two talented people were the only ones that kept this film going for me. The story alone has plenty of interesting moments, but to me, it was having a hard time maintaining that amount of interest throughout the entire first half of the film. I’m not joking, I was on the verge of falling asleep a few times before the second half starts. Now, I can easily blame myself for not getting enough sleep last night or blame the film for its slow pacing. Probably both. I’m sure that when I watch it again, my opinion may change a little bit, but my experience alone has left me concerned that the film may have the same effect on people who aren’t into films that are slow-paced and full of history.
Overall, aside from its pacing and my unusual experience with its first half, “The Post” is another solid piece of history filmmaking from Steven Spielberg. The performances from the cast were impressive and Spielberg’s direction towards this concept was well-executed as well as inspiring. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a big Spielberg follower or if you’re interested in how the Pentagon Papers came to be. Also, I would like to apologize for not loving it as much as you guys do. To be honest, I did not expect myself to almost fall asleep in front of a Steven Spielberg film, but apparently, it happened, and I’m going to regret that action for the next couple of weeks or so. Hopefully, my opinion will change when I watch it again on television. Until then, this final grade will have to do.
“Proud Mary” stars Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Neal McDonough, Xander Berkeley, and Margaret Avery. Released on January 12, 2018, the film is about a hitwoman who befriends a young orphan boy.
The film is directed by Babak Najafi, who also directed Sebbe, Easy Money II: Hard to Kill, and London Has Fallen. Looks like I got myself another action film to look at, and it involves Taraji P. Henson kicking some bad guy butt. When I first saw the trailer for this film, my mind was like, “Taraji P. Henson in an action movie? This should be interesting.” Honestly, I have only seen this talented actress in drama films like the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, Think Like a Man, and Hidden Figures, so seeing her in a full-on action thriller should be considered as a nice change of pace for her. The only question that remains is this: does this change of pace translate into a good action movie?
Henson portrays a successful assassin named Mary Goodwin, who is working for a dangerous criminal organization. When her latest hit goes awry and leaves a young boy orphaned, she finds her violent life going in a much different direction. The way I see this story is that it shows what life is like living in an organized crime family as well as the main character’s path to redemption that started with her taking care of the orphan boy (played by Jahi Di’Allo Winston). I can easily understand what they’re going for, but if they’re attempting to impress people who wanted strong storytelling in an action thriller, I think they could’ve done a much better job with its execution. It’s far from good, but that doesn’t mean it’s not watchable. One of the things that kept this film going for me was Henson’s performance. What I liked about her is that she can play a character who’s feisty like a ticked-off cat after its bath and caring like a supportive mother. For her first action role, I thought she did a good job at portraying her character while maintaining her usual traits from her other roles. Danny Glover also makes a solid impression as the crime boss that Mary is working for as well as newcomer Winston as the orphan boy. The film didn’t have a lot of action sequences compared to the number of dialogue-driven scenes that were in it, so if you’re hoping for a shootout to appear every five to ten minutes, you might be a bit disappointed. The action was mildly enjoyable, especially the third act, but they’re neither memorable or thrilling. Besides its average story and its mediocre execution, the only major flaw I had with the film was that the first act felt a bit rushed, which might have explained its short running time. If they expanded the first act a bit by showcasing more of Mary, it would’ve made the character depth much more convincing for the rest of the film.
Overall, “Proud Mary” is nothing to be proud of, but Taraji P. Henson’s first attempt as an action star is an enjoyable treat nonetheless. While the story won’t impress most of the strong-minded critics, I can surely bet that it will satisfy people who enjoy some of Henson’s other works. Oh, before I forget, the film does include the Tina Turner version of the song “Proud Mary” in case you’re wondering.
“The Commuter” stars Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern, and Sam Neill. Released on January 12, 2018, the film is about an insurance salesman who is forced to find the identity of a hidden passenger on his train.
The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed films such as House of Wax, Orphan, Unknown, and Non-Stop. This next film I’ll be reviewing is the latest collaboration between Collet-Serra and Neeson, the duo who made us afraid of having an identity crisis and going on a plane ride. Even though his filmography is far from perfect, Collet-Serra has a knack at delivering some well-executed thrills, and this movie appears to be no different. Plus, Liam Neeson has done very well as an action star, especially in his 60s. With that said, let’s see if this latest action thriller is a hit or a miss for the “thrilling twosome”.
If I were to describe a film like this, let’s just say that it’s a life-or-death version of "Where’s Waldo” on a train, with Neeson’s character trying to search for a specific passenger. This concept alone sounds like it could work as some sort of mystery thriller that makes audiences think. Instead, we wound up having an ordinary action-packed thriller…that makes audiences think. While it does have its usual action thriller cliches and a couple of predictable moments, Jaume Collet-Serra did his part in making every scene entertaining, enticing, and, more importantly, thrilling. Liam Neeson once again delivered a solid performance as Michael McCauley, an ex-cop turned insurance salesman. Vera Farmiga also did well as a mysterious woman who is throwing Michael into this situation. Her reasons behind it were either brief or vague, which pretty much explains why she’s so mysterious. Like his other films, Collet-Serra relies on thrills and twists to drive his average storytelling forward, both of which were nicely executed, especially the former. There was that one twist near the end that was a bit too obvious for me, but other than that, the director did a nice job of handling the twists without overdoing them.
Overall, “The Commuter” may have derailed itself into familiar territory, but its execution on the thrills and its engaging male lead are enough to carry itself to its final destination. It’s clearly not for the strong-minded who prefer well-written and realistic action thrillers, but for those who want an entertaining, edge-of-your-seat experience, it’s a train ride that’s worth taking. I wonder if the director is going to put Neeson on a cruise ship next?