Thursday, December 29, 2011

Whisper of The Heart, an animated film written by Hayao Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, was first released back in 1995. Thanks to Edith at StudioCanal, I got a screener of the film and she was also generous enough to give me three copies to give away. Find out how you can win a copy after my review of the film.
Miyazaki does have a very distinctive style so that even a film that's not directed by him still has a very unique feel to it. Whisper of The Heart is a teen drama about Shizuku, a young girl living in Tokyo who falls for a boy in her school, Seiji. Their relationship, which begins when she sees his name on all of the library books she takes out, forces her to think about her own life, sending her on a different path. Whisper of The Heart is a sweet teen romance with some of Miyazaki's classic idiosyncratic touches like cat figure The Baron in the antique shop owned by Seiji's grandfather, which has a tragic story attached to it, and a dreamlike feel to parts of Tokyo. The animation is very sophisticated and the voice talent is well-chosen as you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli English dubbed film. Whisper of The Heart is perhaps a little less sophisticated than Miyazaki's more recent efforts but if you're a fan of him and Ghibli, then this is a Blu-ray that's worth picking up…

To win a copy of Whisper of The Heart, then just email me at with your answer to the following question:

Q: Which university did Hayao Miyazaki go to and which course did he complete there?

Closing date is February 28th 2012. I shall pick three random correct answers from three entrants. Good luck…

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Thursday, December 22, 2011


In 2009, director Guy Ritchie moved away from sometimes questionable gangster films to release Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. The film was a little bit of a revelation so here we are two years later with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Downey Jr and Law are back as Holmes and Watson but this time we are joined by Jared (Mad Men) Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as gypsy Madam Simza and Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. Moriarty, a respected professor at Cambridge, has a plan to manipulate the world's powers for his own ends and so it is up to Holmes and Watson with the assistance of Madam Simza to prevent this happening. Watson has decided to take the plunge and marry his sweetheart Mary (Kelly Reilly) but Holmes has endangered both his friend and his new bride by interfering with his evil nemesis's plans. A Game of Shadows moves Holmes even further away from Doyle's source material than the first film but the fact is that it just doesn't matter. Ritchie, with the help of Downey Jr and Law, has created a pulp adventure tale which is fun and entertaining to watch and beautifully shot and edited. Harris is exceptionally sinister as Moriarty although you wish he had a little more to do in this film and the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law is further developed. Fry as Holmes' eccentric brother provides a few laughs and acquits himself decently. Paul Anderson as Moriarty's henchman, crackshot Sebastian Moran, works well on screen. There's no love interest for Holmes here unlike the first film and Rapace as the gypsy whose brother holds the key is very watchable. It is quite refreshing that the script didn't throw Holmes and her into bed but uses her as another member of the team. The location shooting in Switzerland and France look spectacular on screen and Ritchie with production designer Sarah Greenwood also synthesise a London that looks fresh and yet familiar at the same time. Ritchie tips his hat to Doyle's end for Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls but leaves things open for a third instalment, which would be welcome if the quality remained as consistent as this. A Game of Shadows is a superior sequel to its progenitor, pure unadulterated fun with a strong cast and a real sense of adventure to it…

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tom Cruise has had a very chequered career in recent years thanks to his association with Scientology. Mission Impossible is a series of films that still appeals to the worldwide cinema audience and I went to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the latest instalment in the series. Cruise returns as agent Ethan Hunt in a story that's helmed this time by director Brad Bird (The Incredibles). The IMF is shut down after they are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, forcing them to go on the run to clear their names. Ghost Protocol is being shown in IMAX and sometimes this gives the action scenes impressive impact (the sequence where Hunt has to climb onto the world's highest building in Dubai is a piece of genuine exciting cinema) but the script is quite weak. Ghost Protocol feels like a film where the production company have come up with a number of impressive setpieces before the script is even written and so it lacks cohesion. The script feels a little old-fashioned and anachronistic, like an Eighties Bond film. Jeremy Renner as Brandt doesn't ring that true as action man material but Simon Pegg as comic relief Benji does what he always does on screen in that annoyingly likeable fashion. Cruise is rather bland and unengaging but sometimes, like in the opening prison break sequence, he works rather well. The other problem with the film is that, despite Bird as director, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol feels like a star vehicle for Tom Cruise. It passes the time pleasantly enough but feels pretty forgettable. It's bound to do well at the Christmas box office as it's pretty review-proof. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a pleasant enough piece of fluff but it doesn't stay with you once you leave the cinema…

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Friday, December 16, 2011

The film Kill List, which came out early this year at the cinema, has just hit DVD and as I missed it on the big screen, I thought I'd check it out on the small one. A British film directed by Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace), Kill List has as its central protagonists ex-soldier and now assassin Jay (Neil Maskell) and his partner Gal (Michael Smiley). Jay has a wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring), who is fully aware of what her husband does for a living but Gal is not married. Promised a big payoff for three seemingly simple jobs, the pair find themselves in a situation that's anything but simple. Kill List is well-acted, well-directed and with a decent script but the big reveal at the end, where the film takes a different direction, isn't totally credible and it doesn't quite hold together as a single cohesive idea. However Maskell and Smiley are both very good as is Buring and director Wheatley also acquits himself well, so it's definitely worth watching. Kill List isn't a wholy satisfying production but people interested in modern British filmmaking should check it out…

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Last week saw my Michael Moorcock feature run in the Big Issue in The North. It was very exciting to see it because it also contained one of my portrait photos run as a full page with a picture credit. I have interviewed him a number of times and he is a true gentleman. Here is the feature for those who haven't seen it…

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

I went to see two prominent children's films over the last couple of weeks so I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two in terms of approach and assessing whether they work.
First is Puss In Boots, a spin-off of Dreamworks' successful Shrek animated movies featuring the swamp's most likeable character. Voice talent Antonio Banderas returns as the ginger swashbuckling cat in a tale (pardon the pun) that gives us his origin story. Director Chris Miller throws the eponymous hero in a story that owes a lot to Jack and The Beanstalk with his partner in crime Humpty Dumpty, a fellow fairytale orphan who betrayed Puss years ago and seemingly wants to set things right. Voiced by The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis, Humpty has an accomplice, Kitty Softpaws (Penelope Cruz), who is a very talented cat thief. So they decide to steal Jack and Jill's magic beans to allow them to reach the giant's castle. The film is a clever pastiche of classic westerns and obviously things like Zorro and Miller has a deft hand for action and character. There is chemistry between Banderas and Cruz (not the first time they've collaborated) and Zach Galifianakis acquits himself pretty well as do Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Jack and Jill. The 3D animation works nicely and visually Puss In Boots looks lavish and cinematic. Now that Shrek has been retired from the big screen, expect to see more outings from the ginger furry lothario. Puss In Boots is an enjoyable, occasionally smart and very likeable mainstream animated feature…
Hugo, based on illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is director Martin Scorsese's first foray into children's films. The Hugo of the title is an orphan who lives in the works of a fictional Paris train station, making sure that the clocks run on time, who has spent a number of years trying to unravel the mystery of his father's untimely death. His life appears to change when he meets curmudgeonly watch seller Georges (Ben Kingsley) and his young charge Isabelle (Chloe Moretz). It's a very strange film: it starts life as an epic mystery seemingly about Hugo's father (played by Jude Law) and an automaton that he was obsessed with and then changes tack and direction about halfway through. It is being shown in 3D but the 3D doesn't add a lot to proceedings except when Scorsese is showing off the inner workings of the station. Asa Butterfield as Hugo is very good on screen but Moretz tries far too hard as she plays against her usual type. Kingsley is excellent: rather than chewing the scenery and the script as he usually does, he underplays what is arguably the pivotal role here, and you do feel genuine sympathy for him. The cast is a bit of a mixed bag: Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector with a clockwork leg, shows that he isn't an actor, merely a comic turn but a small cameo from Christopher Lee as the sinister-looking Monsieur Labisse at the grand age of 89 makes you wish they did more with the character. Stepping outside of Scorsese's comfort zone of gangsters and killers doesn't quite work as some of Hugo feels very artificial but it is still a very charming film with mostly a strong cast and some well-excecuted ideas. It isn't as creatively successful a kid's film as Tintin but at a time when Hollywood blockbusters usually consist of giant robots beating the shit out of each other or meteorites destroying the Earth, there is something refreshing about what is such a nostalgic affair. Hugo passes two hours very pleasantly indeed and will do decently at the box office for cinemagoers looking for something a little bit different to the usual fare…

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