Review of When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There (2014) Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Studio Ghibli (2016), U

Just over two years since it’s Japanese release and just under a year since the film premiered in the UK at last year’s London Film Festival, this month sees the release on Blu-ray and DVD of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Oscar-nominated film When Marnie Was There (2014).

Based on Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel of the same name sees young asthmatic Anna (Hailee Steinfeld / Sara Takatsuki) on the outside of society sent to live with her foster mother’s relatives in the country, for clean air to elevate her asthma. While staying with relatives she is befriended by the enigmatic Marnie (Kiernan Shipka / Kasumi Arimura).

The film is an amazing story of friendship, acceptance, and love for someone who is socially on the outside and having difficulty placing any belief in herself and thinking that she is and deserves to be alone in the world. Anna’s friendship with Marnie is transformational. She realizes that she doesn’t have to be angry for not knowing where she comes from or who she is.  The confidence that this gives her enables her to make relationships with other people in the village and a close friendship with another girl who is new to the village. The power contained within this is aids to healing the fractured relationship she has with her foster mother and reinforces that she doesn’t have to live in isolation and can make connections with others.

As you can imagine, with any Studio Ghibli film the artwork and animation are top class and this-this regard it does not disappoint. The cinematography and shot composition also very much on point and you are immersed in the world, letting yourself be captivated and transfixed by films beauty. It is worth pointing out while some films can be visually pleasing and beautiful but they can lack in story and narrative drive, this is not the case with When Marnie Was There. Visually the film acts in service of the narrative, not the other way around.

This film has to be one of my favorites so far this year. There is the question of it matters if you view this subtitled versus dubbed version. In my opinion no, if the English language dub makes the film more accessible to you or it is your preference than that is ok. I would highly recommend this film you, will not be disappointed.


Review of Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon (2016) Dir: Peter Berg, Summit Entertainment / Participant Media / DI Bonaventura Pictures / Closest to the Hole Productions / Leverage Entertainment / Lionsgate, 12A

After Lone Survivor (2013) Deepwater Horizon (2016) reunites Director Peter Berg and Actor / Producer Mark Wahlberg and stars John Malkovich, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien. The film is a dramatized account, based on the New York Times article ‘Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours’, of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the blowout and explosion on the drilling rig which claimed 11 lives and went on to spill 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was nervous going into this film, primarily because it has been advertised on the basis of being “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by real events” this usually sets alarm bells ringing in my head since these type of films can have a tendency to over dramatize and sensationalise the events that they are portraying. Secondly, Mark Wahlberg’s performances in the past have been hit and miss.

For me, some of the most powerful and those that created the most impact weren’t the action set pieces but the smaller, quieter scenes in the film. For example, the confrontation between Mark Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and BP manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) as Vidrine challenges Williams over his concerns for the safety of the oil well, explaining to Vidrine that hope is not a tactic.

What we have with Deepwater Horizon is an efficient drama which puts you in the heart and the viscera of a disaster on an oil rig.  The physicality of the set, the attention to detail of the correct equipment in the correct place, terminology and dedication to in-camera special effects place you on the rig in a believable working environment. There also is a palpable sense of the mounting tension and mounting pressure, bubbling from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. A pressure that is only relieved in the film’s third act.

Tonally, and in the way which Peter Berg builds tension in the film it is vaguely reminiscent of Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips (2013). At first, I was nervous coming into this film but I do have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the film and the execution of the action set pieces. It serves as a reminder of how dangerous the world of offshore drilling is and the ability of people to survive through situations which could only be described as their worst nightmare.

This film isn’t an instant classic or what I would consider to be up there with the masters of cinema. However, Deepwater Horizon isn’t a bad work at all, a slick drama with action elements that doesn’t fall into being a cheap emotional ploy and not a bad way to spend 107 minutes.

Review of Zootropolis


Zootropolis (2016) Dir: Byron Howard & Richard Moore, Walt Disney Animation Studios, PG

Zootropolis also known as Zootopia is the new animated buddy cop feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios directed by Byron Howard and Richard Moore. The film takes place in a fictional universe where both prey and predator animals have evolved to co-exist together. Since childhood Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always dreamt of being Zootropolis first bunny cop, in order to solve a missing mammal case, she partners with a streetwise fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) however they find out not all is right in the big city.

What makes the film brilliant is the way in which the film deals with and explores complex and difficult issues such as race, gender, discrimination, intolerance and who society thinks we should be.

One narrative thread that is at the forefront of the film is what it means to be female and to make it in a male-dominated industry she is the first of her species to become an officer in the city and one of a few female officers in a male precinct. Her first obstacle is her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) who at first ignores her presence and assigns her to menial traffic duties followed by an unsolvable missing mammal case. In excelling at this and through perseverance and determination she eventually wins the respect and recognition of her boss.

There is a smaller but significant interaction later on in the film pertinent to this topic. The macho Chief Bogo is interrupted by one of his officers, Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) whilst enjoying an app featuring the recording artist Gazelle (Shakira) instead of condemnation for engaging with something outside of his stereotypical perceived masculinity, this is met by enthusiastic fandom from Clawhauser.

The predator vs prey relations in the film can be seen as a foil for exploring the theme of racism, racial profiling and race relations between communities and the police. However, this is imperfect as the prejudice of racism is put on the same level of discrimination and prejudice as other injustices. This is problematic since it doesn’t acknowledge the imbalance of power present. Taking this into account it still is noteworthy because the film attempts to talk about this issue away which is appropriate for the target audience. Yes, the reading of the film in this way can be problematic, however, it raises the question in my mind of how far do you go and how do you raise the issue in an effective and honest way in a children’s / family film?

Despite its flaws where the film shines through is the message of the importance of love, understanding, tolerance, and difference in a time of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. In all, we have a fantastic film which, although in some places, could be read as problematic, that manages to pack in several positive messages in a way which isn’t condescending to its target audience.