Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Mary_and_the_Witchs_Flower-covThis smooth and beautiful animation was produced by the Studio Ponoc, staffed with people who worked at the famous Studio Ghibli. The movie is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who was a key animator at Studio Ghibli and director of The Secret World of Arrietty [2010] and When Marnie Was There [2014]), with a screenplay by Hiromasa Yonebayashi & Riko Sakaguchi and character designs by Akihiko Yamashita. It is based on Mary Stewart‘s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick (although it is never mentioned in the staff interview included with the Dvd).

Mary and The Witch’s Flower (メアリと魔女の花 / Meari to Majo no Hana) offers a good storytelling and quite a cute story but it doesn’t really look original at all. It rather feels like it is a mishmash of every Ghibli designs: the witch part is vaguely reminiscent of Kiki’s Delivery Service, the witch school in the sky reminds me a little of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, a herd of animal fleeing seems similar to a scene in Princess Mononoke, a costume design evokes Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the girl being away from home with some distant family members is similar to When Marnie was There, etc. This could be explained by the fact that most animators learned their skills while working at Ghibli. However, the influences are not limited to this source: Doctor Dee’s design makes me think of Dragonball’s Master Roshi and even Harry Potter makes a cameo appearance in one of the school classroom! I guess it was all intended as hommage or humour.

If I found this a little odd, I was not really annoyed by it. The movie is good entertainment (critical rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes) and, if you don’t feel the same depth as in Ghibli’s productions,  I was still quite glad that another major studio (even if this is their first real movie) would continue to produce traditional full length anime. Indeed, with the closing of Studio Ghibli after Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, I really hope that Studio Ponoc will become its rightful heir… So, all in all, it is definitely worth watching. It is available on Netflix and on Dvd. stars-3-0

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Ready Player One

ReadyPlayerOneIn a dystopian future (Is it? It realistically could be just our future or it could be a “trumpian” future), the reality is too tough to take and people are looking to forget their troubles. What was originally created as a virtual reality game become the perfect source of escapism for the people. In virtual reality they can be whoever or whatever they want! It is based on the novel by Ernest Cline. 

This is a typical fantasy story where the hero (with a group of companions) must find an artifact to save the world from an evil overlord (or a nefarious corporation plotting to control the world). The only difference is that, this time, the artifact is a legendary Easter Egg in a virtual reality video game. It is also a quest to find the heir to the Halliday’s fortune and ownership of the entire virtual world, known as OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). The movie improves on the book by providing a great visual: the part inside the virtual reality (60% of the movie) was created with motion capture CGI. It is certainly not very original, but it’s brilliantly written and well orchestrated.

For me, what makes the movie interesting is that it’s a treasure trove of popular culture references (mostly related to movies and video games) from the 80s (including a few anime like Akira, Dragon Ball, Godzilla, or Gundam !) that plays on the nostalgia of a long gone era. In that aspect, it can particularly appeal to two different audiences: those who grew up in that era (the Millenials or Generation Y) or those who grew up hearing stories from their parents and have a glorified impression of the era (the Generation Z or iGen, Centennials). It is so rich in references that you could see the movie a dozen time and still discover new ones! 

The movie was well received (with a Rotten Tomatoes critical score of 72% and a slightly better audience score of 78%) and did well at the box office (bringing back in revenue three time its budget of $175 millions). Unfortunately, even if it’s directed by Spielberg, it has the usual flaws of most teenage action movies: it offers an heroic but superficial story (and characters) where the exploding action (full of car races, fights and magic!), a shared cultural trivia, visual overload and an expedited storyline replace the depth and richness that usually make truly excellent movies. However, it remains a great and funny movie that celebrate geek culture. It is entertainment at its best. I enjoyed it immensely and, if you are in the right demographic, you will certainly too. stars-3-5

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Winchester

Winchester-DvdI am not a big fan of horror movies but I like Helen Mirren. So I watched the movie with the expectation that I would not like it. It is not a bad movie after all. Not a great movie, but a good entertainment nonetheless. 

The heiress (Helen Mirren) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co is cursed and haunted by the spirits of all the people killed with a Winchester rifle. To appease their spirits and help them moving on she built for each of them a replica of the room where they were killed so her mansion is in constant construction, resulting in a huge building that doesn’t make much sense. The board of the company think she’s crazy and hires a doctor (Jason Clarke) to evaluate her mental state. He was himself widowed and almost killed in an incident involving a Winchester rifle and became addicted to laudanum as a result. Of course, the moment of his arrival at the mansion coincide with the appearance of an evil and vengeful spirit seeking pay back on the Winchester family! Will the rational mind of the doctor let himself be convinced and help fight against the murderous supernatural forces at play? Or is it all the result of the convergence of natural events and the power of suggestion of their own minds?  

It is quite an interesting take on the legend of the Winchester mansion and of Sarah Winchester. I also like the way they used other events of the era to add to the story, so it is really based on “real” events. After all, the mansion is well known for being the most haunted building in America. The storytelling is good and managed to follow the Todorov definition of the fantastic genre (if the characters seem to believe in the supernatural aspects, at least the viewers are well aware of the possible rational explanations for them). The acting is respectable, and the visuals are good considering that this is a very low budget production (shot in Australia for $3.5 million). So it is nothing to get excited about (besides the cheap scary tactics), but it is still worth watching. Although the reception was not very good (the critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes was 14%, with an audience score of 35%) the movie still managed to make over ten times its production cost at the box office! stars-3-0

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Isle of dogs

IsleOfDogs-covIn a timeless and fictitious Japan, the dictator of Megasaki — a cat lover — has banned all dogs to Trash Island. A twelve-year-old boy will sneak out on the island looking for his dog and unwithingly start a revolution. The stop-motion animation is amazing and quite stunning. The story is clever and cute — but, frankly, I’m a cat lover myself. The movie was well received (with a critic rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes) — although there was some harsh critics claiming it was succumbing to “the trope of the white savior” as the white foreign-student is organizing the revolt (but lets not forget that the REAL hero is the young boy!) and that it was a prime “example of racial stereotyping and cultural appropriation” ! On this I totally agree: it was a great hommage to the popularity of Japanese culture in the West (anime & manga, Kurosawa’s movies, etc.) and it’s an outrage that they didn’t select real dogs to play the parts! All in all, it’s beautifully entertaining, a great animation that I fuzzily recommend to everyone (although I am quite sure my cats will not like it). stars-3-5

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The Mummy

L9677659I found this action movie rather average and, if they wanted to do horror, well, I wasn’t scared. It is well paced and the acting is good (although Tom Cruise is getting a little old for this, his two female co-stars, Annabelle Wallis & Sofia Boutella, are great), but the story is rather predictable — however, mixing Jekyll & Hyde (Russell Crowe) with it was a surprise! I also like the “Egyptian” designs (the flashbacks, the look of Princess Ahmanet, the tomb & sarcophagus — a little reminiscent of Giger style). It’s interesting that, just in case the movie would be successful enough, they’ve put an open ending to allow for a sequel. I hope not. This reboot of The Mummy franchise offered a nice mindless entertainment but, alas, nothing more (Rotten Tomatoes concurs with a critical rating of 15% !). What’s scary is that The Mummy is supposed to be the first movie in the reboot of Universal’s Dark Universe (Jekyll & Hyde [with Russell Crowe — now the cross-over with The Mummy makes sense!], Frankenstein [with Javier Bardem], Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man [with Johnny Depp], etc.). The next movie in line should be Bride of Frankenstein [dir. Bill Condon, with possibly Angelina Jolie or Gal Gadot in titular role] first announced for Valentine’s Day 2019 but its release has now been delayed!  stars-2-5

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In this corner of the world

InThisCornerOfTheWorld-covAnother great animation—this time by a less known director (at least in this corner of the world, but Sunao Katabuchi has also directed the TV series Black Lagoon and the movies Princess Arete and Mai Mai Miracle). This is a very traditional Japanese animation which is not drawn in the cute style we usually associate with anime. It is soft, pastel-like, yet a little sketchy. It is also realistic in its concept but yet cute in its own way. However, despite a good dose of humour (through the awkwardness of the main character and how she sees the world through her drawings), the story is quite serious as it chronicles the life and hardships of a young bride in the pre-war and, later, the WW2-era Japanese countryside in Kure. Despite the cartoony style, it is very precise in the description of the everyday life, the clothings, the food rationing, and the military details (warships, bombings, etc.). It is really touching, beautiful, educational and entertaining (although it is a bit long at 129 mins). Like Grave of the Fireflies describes the life after the firebombing of Tokyo, this movie is painting a detailed portrait of the life of ordinary Japanese citizens in the Hiroshima area before the A-bomb and a little after. It is a must-see movie that has been nominated for and received several awards both in Japan and abroad. stars-3-5

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Tokyo Fiancée / Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam

“La tête pleine de rêves, document.write(“”); Amélie, 20 ans, revient dans le Japon de son enfance. Pour gagner sa vie, elle propose des cours particuliers de français et rencontre Rinri, son premier et unique élève, un jeune Japonais avec lequel elle noue une relation intime. Entre surprises, bonheurs et déboires d’un choc culturel à la fois amusant et poétique, elle découvre un Japon qu’elle ne connaissait pas…”
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Tokyo Fiancée : Belgique/France/Canada, 2014, 84 min.; Dir./Scr.: Stefan Liberski (d’après le roman d’Amélie Nothomb); Ed.: Frédérique Broos; Phot.: Hichame Alaouie; Mus.: Casimir Liberski; Cast: Pauline Étienne, Taichi Inoue, Julie LeBreton.

« Stupeur et tremblements pourrait donner l’impression qu’au Japon, à l’âge adulte, j’ai seulement été la plus désastreuse des employés. Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam révélera qu’à la même époque et dans le même lieu, j’ai aussi été la fiancée d’un Tokyoïte très singulier. »
                         -Amélie Nothomb.

Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam, par Amélie Nothomb. Paris, Albin Michel, 2007. 252 p. 13.0 x 20.0 cm, 18.20 € / $11.95 Cnd. ISBN 9782226179647.

Tokyo Fiancée nous offre une intéressante réflexion sur la diversité culturelle, l’étrangeté de l’autre, et particulièrement sur la difficulté des couples mixtes à concilier cette différence qui les sépare.

Si le film en lui-même est assez bon, il est aussi une excellente adaptation du roman de Amélie Nothomb. Il y a bien sûr de nombreuses différences entre les deux (quelques scènes manquantes dans le film, la motivation des personnages expliquée plus en profondeur dans le roman) mais dans l’ensemble tout l’esprit du livre est présent dans le film. C’est non seulement agréable et divertissant à regarder mais aussi très intéressant.

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Cette histoire de couple, que ce soit dans le film ou le livre, est particulèrement intéressante lorsqu’on la remet dans le contexte de l’oeuvre (et de la vie) de l’auteur. Elle fait non seulement partie des titres de Nothomb qui sont en partie autobiographiques (mais ne le sont-ils pas tous un peu?) mais est également l’un des éléments de sa “trilogie japonaise”. Stupeur et tremblement raconte le retour de l’auteur au japon, où elle avait passé son enfance, mais traite surtout de ses mésaventures au sein d’une corporation japonaise et comment l’esprit collectif japonais du jeune travailleur y est façonné par des règles strictes et par l’humiliation afin de le conformer au modèle uniforme et docile auquel s’attend la société japonaise — ce qui est toujours pire dans le cas d’une femme. Dans Nostalgie Heureuse, l’auteur raconte son second retour au Japon dans le cadre d’un reportage tourné pour la télévision française. Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam lève le voile sur la partie de l’histoire à laquelle elle avait mainte fois fait allusion sans jamais donner de détails: la relation amoureuse qu’elle a entretenu au cours de son premier retour avec un jeune japonais.

Ayant grandit au Japon, elle s’était toujours considérée comme japonaise mais son expérience durant ce premier retour lui fera réaliser que la nature nippone est beaucoup plus complexe et profonde qu’elle ne se l’imaginait…

Le livre, quant à lui, offre une narration très fluide, parsemé de l’humour sarcastique et un peu déjanté si particulier à Nothomb. C’est une très bonne lecture (comme la plupart des Nothomb).

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