Bohemian Rhapsody

BohemianRhapsody-covI never considered myself a fan of Queen (but my wife was one), however, as I was watching this movie, I realized that I knew (or had heard) all the songs featured in the movie. Bohemian Rhapsody is, of course, a biopic about the music band Queen — telling us how would-be graphic designer (lead vocalist & songwriter Freddy Mercury), electronician (bass guitarist John Deacon), dentist (drummer Roger Taylor) and astrophysician (guitarist & songwriter Brian May) got together to make musical history. It seems a relatively faithful depiction of their collective life — or at least its highlights in fast-forward — focusing on the dynamic of the group interaction, the fact that they created music that allowed the audience to participate in their live performances, and giving some interesting insight on the genesis of some of the most iconic songs. As it is to be expected, the movie is centred mostly around Freddy Mercury and his bisexuality.

The choice of actors is excellent as they really look like the part. The acting is also good and their stage and musical performances are particularly remarquable. This movie will certainly get an entirely new generation to discover Queen’s music. It is rather uneven, far from being perfect, but it is well-made and the musical number makes it quite entertaining. It was well received (with a 8.1 rating on IMDb — although there is an interesting discrepancy on Rotten Tomatoes between the critics’ rating, 61%, and the audience’s rating, 86%). In any case, it certainly deserves to be seen, wether you like Queen or not. stars-3-5

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Mirai

Mirai-jpFrom acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children) comes a daringly original story of love passed down through generations. When four-year-old Kun meets his new baby sister, his world is turned upside down. Named Mirai (meaning “future”), the baby quickly wins the hearts of Kun’s entire family. Kun becomes increasingly jealous of her, until one day he storms off into the garden, where he encounters strange guests from the past and future – including his sister Mirai, as a teenager. Together, Kun and Mirai go on a journey through time and space, uncovering their family’s incredible story, in this magical and emotionally soaring adventure about the ties that bring families together and make us who we are.” (From Universal website)

Mirai (未来のミライ / Mirai no Mirai / lit. “Mirai of the Future”) is a beautiful story about good parenting and loving our siblings or family. Kun is a young boy who is jealous of his newborn sister Mirai. However, the genealogical tree that sits in the courtyard of their small house in Yokohama shows him scene of past and future life of his family members (his teenage sister, his mother, his great-grand-father, even the family dog!) so he can relate to them and learn to appreciate them better. Or this is a boy with an extraordinary imagination!

The animation is excellent and offers very realistic background illustrations that you would think it’s CGI but they are actually hand-drawn (although there is CGI in the movie). In fact, it is so crisp that it feels a little cold. For such a story about family I would have preferred a style that evoke more warmth. I particularly like the design of the modern house, conceived by the father (who’s an architect), that takes advantage of the narrow space and the hill to build in several level, with lots of steps.

Animated by Studio Chizu and distributed by Toho (GKids in North America), Mirai was created, written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and The Boy and the Beast), with character designs by Hiroyuki Aoyama, animation direction by Ayako Hata & Hiroyuki Aoyama, art direction by Takashi Omori & Yohei Takamatsu and music by Masakatsu Takagi. The voice cast includes  Haru Kuroki / Victoria Grace as Mirai, Moka Kamishiraishi / Jaden Waldman as Kun, Gen Hoshino / John Cho as Father, Kōji Yakusho / Victor Brandt as Grandfather, Kumiko Asou / Rebecca Hall as Mother, Masaharu Fukuyama / Daniel Dae Kim as great-grandfather, and Mitsuo Yoshihara / Crispin Freeman as Yukko the dog. 98 min., rated PG (for thematic elements including some scary images). It was favourably received by the audience (rating of 7.1 on IMDb and of 92% / 83% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s a fine exemple of Japanese animation that everyone should see. stars-3-5

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Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern

My wife read an interview of Waki Yamato in Fujin Kōron (a Japanese women’s public opinion magazine) where she was talking about a recent anime adaption of her manga Haikara-san. My wife, who enjoyed the manga when she was a teenager, told me she would like to see this animation. Therefore I obliged.

Haikara-san_ga_toru-manga

Excerpt from the manga (from Frederik L. Schodt Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, p. 90).

Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern (はいからさんが通る / Haikara-san ga tōru) is one of those shōjo manga published in the 70s that I wish would be one day translated either in French or English so I could read them. This traditional shōjo style might not be very popular amongst today’s manga reader, but it was beautiful in many ways and their stories were always quite compelling. The manga was serialized in Shōjo Friend between 1975 and 1977 and compiled into 8 volumes by Kodansha. The manga was first adapted into an animated TV series (TV Asahi, 42 eps, 1978-1979), then into several live-action TV movies (on KTV in 1979, on Fuji TV in 1985, by Toei in 1987, and on TBS in 2002) and was even the subject of a Takarazuka revue in 2017. Finally, it was adapted into two anime movies: Gekijōban Haikara-san ga Tōru Zenpen – Benio, Hana no 17-sai  [劇場版 はいからさんが通る 前編 ~紅緒、花の17歳~ / lit. “Theatrical version, Here comes miss modern, first part: Benio, 17 years’ flower”] (November 2017, 97 mins, already available on Blu-ray from The Right Stuf) and Gekijōban Haikara-san ga Tōru Kōhen – Tokyo Dai Roman [劇場版 はいからさんが通る 後編 ~花の東京大ロマン~ / lit. “Theatrical version, Here comes miss modern, second part: Tokyo great romance of flower”] (October 2018, 105 mins). 

[ ¡ WARNING: The following MAY contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing/reading the story themselves are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further ! ]

Haikara-San-Movie1-bluRayIn the first movie, we follow the life of 17-year-old Benio Hanamura who was raised by her military father. She is a tomboy who likes to practise kendo with the girly neighbour Ranmaru (who was raised to become a kabuki actor). The story is set in the Taishō era, when Japan is trying to “occidentalize” itself. She wants to be “modern” and believes in a woman’s right to have a career and to marry for love. Unfortunately, her father want to arrange a marriage with one of his young subordinate, lieutenant Shinobu Ijuin, because their grand-parents were in love but could never marry and made the pact that the Hanamura and Ijuin families would be one day reunited. Benio refuses and tries to elope with Ranmaru, who is secretly in love with her. She also discovers that her best friend Tamaki is in love with Shinobu. She is nevertheless sent to Shinobu’s household to help and learn the domestic duties of a wife. As she is finally falling in love with him, she infuriates her father’s superior and Shinobu is sent to the front in Siberia. Not long after, he is reported missing in action or maybe dead…

The movie was written and directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi, with character designs by Terumi Nishii, art direction by Kentaro Akiyama and music by Michiru Oshima. The cast includes Mamoru Miyano as Shinobu, Saori Hayami as Benio, Asami Seto as Tamaki, Yuuki Kaji as Ranmaru, and Unshō Ishizuka as Major Hanamura.

In the second movie, Benio tries to go on with her life and hopes that Shinobu might come back one day. In the meantime, she keeps taking care of his grandparents household and tries to find a job. After many unsuccessful attempts she is finally hired as reporter by a small newspaper headed by Tosei, a handsome but misogynistic editor (he’s literally allergic to women due to issues with his mother). She goes to Manchuria to investigate a band of rebels supposedly headed by a Japanese deserter. She meets with him and discovers he is Onijima, a friend of Shinobu in the army, who tells her how Shinobu got missing after saving his life. Later, back in Tokyo, she is covering the visit of a Russian noble couple in exile, Count Michaellov and countess Larisa. Benio is shocked to see that the count looks exactly like Shinobu. Actually, it’s him but he suffers from amnesia. Larisa saved and nursed him to replace her dead husband Sasha (who was in fact Shinobu’s younger half-brother, because Shinobu’s German mother left to marry a Russian noble—yes, I know, it’s complicated). When Shinobu eventually recovers his memory, he cannot marry Benio because he is now married to Larisa and feels indebted to her as she is dying of tuberculosis. Heartbroken, Benio decides to marry Tosei instead (who has discovered that he actually loves her). But on their wedding day the great Kanto earthquake occurs and Larisa finally dies of her disease. Benio and Shinobu can finally be reunited…

The second movie was directed by Toshiaki Kidokoro, with a script by Kazuhiro Furuhashi, character designs by Terumi Nishii, art direction by Kentaro Akiyama and music by Michiru Oshima. The cast includes, besides the cast from the first movie, Kazuya Nakai as Shingo Onijima, Maaya Sakamoto as Larisa, and Takahiro Sakurai as Tōsei Aoe. 

[ ¡ END of possible spoilers warning ! ]

Haikara-San movies are beautifully animated, with crisp, up-to-date quality animation (quite different from the style of late-70s anime, which tend not to age very well—although the TV series is now also available on blu-ray in Japan). The story offers typical Japanese romantic drama filled with lots of comedy. However, despite the funny antics of the characters, the story tackles very serious subjects like feminism and war. I enjoyed it a lot and I highly recommend you to, at least, have a look. If only someone would translated the manga… stars-3-5

For more information you can consult the following web sites:

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© 2017 Waki Yamato, Kodansha / “Haikara-san” Partners.

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Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers_InfinityWarThis is a very depressing movie mostly about sacrifice and loss. The sophisticated and over-the-top special effects are not enough to make you really appreciate this over compartmented story which is a literal who’s who of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they pit almost EVERY Marvel superheroes against Thanos in order to try saving the universe. It is just too much (too much non-stop action, too many character killed). And it is also “To be continued” ! ;(

Of course, it was greatly appreciate by the Marvel Universe fans (score of 8.5 on IMDb and critic/viewer ratings of 85% / 91% on Rotten Tomatoes), but for me it wasn’t enough to prevent me from feeling bored (beside the occasional “what? Those characters are part of the same universe” or “oh no, they didn’t dare going there” or “you means, he’s dead, dead?”)—although I almost sympathized with the supervilains who has a very gordian way of solving the universe’s problem (who knew? Earth is not the only place with an overpopulation of idiots!). It might have helped to have watched some of the one shot movies (like Spider-Man: Homecoming,  Ant-Man or Doctor Strange) as well as some of the TV series. Now, they will really need new characters (oh, yeah, that’s probably why they dug out Ant-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel !). However, I am curious to see how the heroes will manage to find their way out of this dire situation… Which we will know, of course, with Avengers: Endgame coming out next month !

It is an entertaining movie, the kind you watch with friends, beer and chips, or that you distractingly watch while fiddling with your phone. stars-2-5

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Logan

Logan-covThis movie from the Marvel universe is far more darker than the comedic Deadpool movies I commented earlier. Here, an aging Logan (aka Wolverine) is taking care of an Alzheimer Charles Xavier (Prof. X) along with Caliban. The X-men are no more–as mutants has been chased into near extinction. Although Transigen, under Dr. Zender Rice, is trying to create and weaponize new mutants. A compassionate nurse helps a bunch of mutant kids escape, but they are separated. With only one kid left under her care, she seeks Wolverine to help bring them to a sanctuary in the north. He first refused but grudgingly takes up the task when the nurse is  killed and he realizes that the young mutant girl, Laura (aka X-23), has the same powers as he and that his own genes were probably used to create her. It is the end of a generation and the birth of another…

The obvious comment about this movie is that it is very violent. It is even quite troubling to see such a young girl committing extremely violent acts (and even more having such a young actress performing it!). However, the story is very reflective and rich in emotions. You wouldn’t think that those could go well together. It works only because the acting is quite excellent as the actors give superb performances (particularly the young Dafne Keen, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart) in expressing a nuanced range of feelings : angst from not seeing the path forward, rage for being somewhat “powerless“ over their situation, regrets from bygone days and past mistakes, longing for a normal life and family, etc. Also it is clear that the director, James Mangold, has put lots of stylistic research into this movie (notably taking inspiration from film noir and old westerns like Shane, which is featured into the movie).  All this makes of Logan a surprisingly good superheroes movie. And indeed it was successful, both at the box office (earning five time its budget) and in reviews (with ratings of 8.1 on IMDb and of 93% / 90% [critics/audience] on Rotten Tomatoes). It is well worth seeing. stars-3-5

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Deadpool 2

6252772_sa.jpg;maxHeight=640;maxWidth=550It was unavoidable: the bad guys kill his girlfriend. The anti-superhero tries to redeem himself to be worthy of her but he remains a jerk. It offers the usual thin story (this time about family and friendship), senseless violence and teenage humour, but even worse than the first movie. Although it IS amusing to see the Marvel universe NOT taken seriously. It was a success at the box office (earning seven times its cost) and it got a surprising rating of 7.8 on IMDb and 85% on Rotten Tomatoes! Again, it’s mostly the performance of Ryan Reynolds that sustain the film. For myself, I would say that it was an entertaining movie but only if you are a hardcore fan (which I’m not). stars-2-0

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They Shall Not Grow Old

91lwssevehl._sl1500_That movie has been hyped so much that when I finally got to see it I was rather disappointed. It is not really a documentary as the picture are shown as it is without any context (places, dates or names). It is just footage of the First World War (the war to end all wars they said, but it ended up being the most useless, senseless war of all time) with voiceover by survivors who describe their experience. Not all footage has been restored, retimed and colourized — but most of it. And I am wondering when those testimonies were recorded — as the voice sounded like old men and the recording seems of pretty good quality, so it must have been done at a time when they already had good equipment, although the sound had probably been restored the same way the pictures were. Both the original footage and the audio recording of the British soldiers come from the archives of the Imperial War Museum and the BBC.

All in all, the movie is still pretty interesting as it give us the chance to witness the Great War in colour, as it was experienced by the men who fought it. It gives a really good impression of what it must have felt like. The war is not an impersonal historical event anymore as we get closer to the soldiers. It is a fit tribute for the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. I was expecting more visually, but Peter Jackson’s team did a really good work (it’s a great technological feat to gather, edit and restore all this footage) and it is therefore a must-see movie. Through this those young men will indeed never grow old and hopefully such horror will never be repeated.

The movie was shown on the BBC and is already available on Blu-ray & DVD in U.K.. It was shown in theatre for one day in North America and hopefully will be picked up for broadcast (Netflix? Amazon?) and released in DVD/Blu-ray soon. The critical response was very positive (8.6 on IMDb and 98% on Rotten Tomatoes). stars-3-0

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