“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.
“Downsizing” stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig. Released on December 22, 2017, the film is about a couple who volunteers to shrink themselves in order to live better lives in a downsized community.
The film is directed by Alexander Payne, who also directed films such as Citizen Ruth, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. Just because 2017 is over doesn’t mean I can’t review at least a couple more films from last year. This next film sees Alexander Payne tackle a concept that involves a solution to overpopulation. That solution, my friends, is shrinking people and placing them in a minuscule town. It does sound insane when you think about it, but hey, you never know what the future might bring us. Despite the film’s mixed reception from critics and its underwhelming box office performance, it was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of the year. Plus, one of the supporting actors, Hong Chau, is receiving plenty of awards recognition for her performance, including a Golden Globe nomination. So far, I’ve only seen two of Payne’s other films (The Descendants and Nebraska), both of which are very well-made in my opinion, so it would be interesting to see if he can impress me again with this.
The story takes place in the near future, where scientists have invented an environmentally friendly process known as “downsizing”, which involves shrinking volunteers to the size of a fairy. The catch? It is irreversible, so better make your choices carefully. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the husband and wife (played by Damon and Wiig, respectively), who went through the procedure and the latter backed out at the very last minute. So now, the husband has to adjust to his new life as a small human being in a small community all by himself. The film’s marketing does describe it as some sort of a light-hearted comedy with a concept that reflects how people’s lives are affected by a procedure that may solve one of humanity’s biggest problems. Well, it is light-hearted and comedic during certain occasions, but it’s actually more of a small-scale drama that’s literally as small as the tiny people themselves. The film’s story does express the idea of how the process of “downsizing” can affect people’s lives, mostly Matt Damon’s character. Unfortunately, the concept took a massive detour at the start of the second half and reinvented itself as a cliched romantic comedy that involves Damon’s character and a Vietnamese activist, played by Chau. The idea still exists, but the deliverance on its themes wasn’t portrayed well enough. Despite these flaws, Alexander Payne was able to keep the story interesting thanks to some likable characters and its tolerable screenplay. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig both delivered some very good performances as Paul and Audrey Safranek, respectively, but my personal highlights of the cast have to go out to Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau. Waltz absolutely nailed his role as Dusan, a playboy who is also Paul’s neighbor. I can definitely tell that he was having fun portraying his character due to his humor and his personality. As for Hong Chau, I can easily say that her first impression on screen was nothing but impressive. Although I would like to see Waltz get some awards recognition for his performance, it’s nice to see her grabbing some love from the other critics as well. Another aspect that I enjoyed the most was the visuals. Despite not being a science fiction blockbuster, the film shines in providing some beautiful visual effects that felt condensed and stunning in scale. Payne was able to create a satisfying small-scaled world that’s full of grace and majesty, as well as blending the small people in with the big people during a few scenes. It makes me wonder why it’s not getting any recognition for its visually stunning achievement.
Overall, despite its inability to fully explore its concept and its familiar romantic comedy elements, “Downsizing” is another solid effort from Alexander Payne. It does fall short (no pun intended) compared to his other works, but its talented cast, splendid visuals, and an engaging story provide enough juice to soar into “good watch” territory. I can understand why the film left a lot of people with mixed feelings, whether it’s the misleading trailers or the execution of its concept, but I don’t think it deserves some of the hate it’s been getting. Just saying. If you’re a fan of Payne’s filmography, you might like this one as well. Just don’t expect anything really special and you should be fine.
“Molly’s Game” star Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, and Bill Camp. Released on December 25, 2017, the film is about a young woman who is targeted by the FBI for being involved in an underground poker empire.
The film features the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, who wrote screenplays for films such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. It is based on the memoir of the same name by Molly Bloom. Aaron Sorkin has been known for writing stories that captivated a ton of critics, but now he’s taking on the task of directing the story that he wrote himself. After experiencing the beautiful majesty that is The Shape of Water, I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts on another movie before New Year’s Eve falls upon us. I would’ve watched it sooner, but my mother wanted me to take her to see it because she loves some of the actors that are in the film, especially Idris Elba. I wasn’t familiar with the events involving Molly Bloom before I saw the marketing for it, but based on what I read about her, she seems to be very attractive to the law. Now her story about her recent arrest is being told on the big screen, but is it worth telling? Well, in terms of the direction they were going for, I would have to say “yes”.
The cast delivered some invigorating performances from start to finish, especially Jessica Chastain. With her energetic charm and her sense of personality, Chastain was able to shine bright as the female host of a high-stakes poker game while also delivering some enticing dialogue to boot. Idris Elba also turned in a solid performance as Molly’s lawyer who attempts to help her win her case. Kevin Costner was really good as Molly’s father and Michael Cera was an unexpected surprise as one of the poker players. One of the things that made the film interesting for me was how they told the story. Most biopics tend to move at a pretty slow pace, but the narrative in this movie moves at a more steady pace while also providing plenty of information that doesn’t feel too much or too little. With the running time of around 2 hours and 20 minutes, I can definitely feel its length by the time the third act comes into play, but there wasn’t a single scene that felt unnecessary or dragged out. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay has a lot of impressive moments including Chastain’s highly entertaining narration and some smartly-written dialogue between the characters, most notably Bloom and her lawyer. As for his direction, I would clearly say that he did a really nice job at bringing this story to life as well as making the characters absorbing.
Overall, Aaron Sorkin has successfully played the right cards in terms of his direction and his screenplay. “Molly’s Game” is an enticing and well-written observation of the Poker Princess herself. Jessica Chastain’s riveting performance as Bloom may provide some sort of challenge for the other nominees at this year’s Golden Globes, especially Sally Hawkins from The Shape of Water. If she’s lucky, she might be able to pull off an upset. If you’re a fan of the actors that are in this film, it’s definitely worth checking out.