The Canadian DVD release of the Studio Ghibli animation feature From Up On Poppy Hill follows the recent announcement that the studio’s co-founder and established animation director Hayao Miyazaki is in full retirement. His eleventh film The Wind Rises premiered in competition at Venice Film Festival which is currently underway. The news was broken by Studio Ghibli president Koju Hoshino and a formal statement by Hayao Miyazaki is to follow at a press conference in Tokyo next week. Fans worldwide have known the director to be in partial retirement for years, so it won’t come as a surprise as the most recent films have subsequently involved Miyazaki in more senior roles with less and less involvement in the animation progress. Working on the vast amount of the studio’s productions, film industry and animation has never been just a career for the now seventy-two year old Japanese master.
Author Laura Shearer
A Hijacking follows the taking of a Danish cargo ship boarded and held hostage by Somali pirates in open ocean. In the past few years there has been so much international news breaking about ships being held by Somali pirates and it feels like time a fictional narrative was brought to the big screen. It’s not a big budget Hollywood blockbuster with stars acting out for their Oscar award glory, which for me is a sigh of relief because that’s what I’d have written a film title like this off as. A fresh alternative is on offer with the Danish language feature that uses actors virtually unknown to worldwide audiences. Receiving international acclaim at film festivals last year, there’s a lot of excitement around the national theatrical releases and rightly so.
The title says pretty much all you need to know about the content, what the title doesn’t say the poster demonstrates. I caught it on theatrical release in the UK earlier this year and there was a lot of hype around the release. Director Harmony Korine is known for indie favourite Gummo (1997) and I can’t quite make the link between that very strange film and this feature. I was completely unimpressed by how quickly I got bored by this lengthy film that in my opinion sells itself short. Not worth the cinema ticket, but is it worth a revisit?
Byzantium is the latest of a host of vampire films in recent years. A steady interest in revamping the old horror film favourite characters has been applied in various different forms and angled at interesting choices of audience demographics. These range from the shiny romantic types of the Twilight saga, to the strangely relatable figures of friendly family types in Hotel Transylvania. Byzantium is indeed a reworking of what the vampire narrative originated from, but in a subsequently new way that offers a fair amount of discourse on the topic.
UK audiences were delighted late last year when the surprisingly dense but entertaining horror pastiche Berberian Sound Studio did the rounds in theatres. Popular British actor Toby Jones, who previously enjoyed a wealth of TV and small film credits, takes centre stage as a film sound technician requested to work in Italy during the heyday of the elaborate Italian cinema movement giallo.
Snubbed in mainland China as being too westernised, widely praised in the Western world as it’s more attainable in terms of narrative content, easily fluid compared with traditional wuxia films from the 1920’s mainland Chinese cinema. Largely defined as a period film and a martial arts epic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took the wuxia genre to a new and larger audience in terms of global distribution. The term wuxia refers to a genre know also as the heroic genre, where narrative favours heroism and elaborate swordsmanship. Traditionalist Chinese cultural values and the mystery of legend play a part in the wuxia genre, but it’s most popular for the themes of love and loss. The characters are central to the storytelling and their emotional states are often reflected in a series of powerful sword fights. Wuxia films are usually taken from popular wuxia genre novels and the idea for the film came from a novel of the same name by Wang Du Lu. The novel was part of a trilogy and the author’s widow reportedly visited the Beijing film set during the making of the feature. There is a grand tradition in Chinese culture where elders are respected, so it’s perfect that the wife of the novel’s author was given the rights to see it being brought to life by other artists in a new form.
Set in ancient China before the rule of the first emperor, where the six nations hold strong on their freedom, Hero follows the tale of one man. The man who became the hero to unify China as the great empire history books tell of. It’s hard for most to imagine mainland China as it was in medieval times, and what Hero does well as a period piece is that it develops a nuance that creates a magical sense of wonder for a time when legends seem possible. A lot of this is down to the simplicity of the mise en scene, and element that in previous Chinese films is a classic style of Chinese cinema. Director Yimou Zhang makes superb use of barren landscapes and the cinematography style that it offers. Lands of fantasy and exoticism abound, unlocking an adventure of epic proportions and mysterious grandeur.
Don’t be put off by the target audience demographics; Beautiful Creatures is understated in the hype it’s receiving and definitely worth giving a chance. Generally bypassed by many as the latest in a long line of teen fiction series gone popular phenomenon and brought to the silver screen, there’s a lot more to the resulting feature film than I’d expected. Coming off the back of Twilight many are dismissing it without giving it the time of day, mostly in the well-judged respect that the Twilight films were teenage pop fodder for the masses of fan girls, with little else to hold them in place at the top of the UK box office. In the case of Beautiful Creatures, yes it did come from the same circumstances, and I’m sure that somewhere down the line it was pitched in a producers’ meeting for funding as the next big thing for that demographic, using the unrivalled success of the Twilight franchise to gain the go ahead. The reality is that figures aren’t just quite as even in the stakes on opening weekend in the UK and I’m with the producers on this one, as it is surprising.
After many years of hype and even more years of discussion on the project, Peter Jackson’s latest blockbuster offering The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey finally hits the box offices worldwide. To say that audiences the globe over have given the first of the trilogy a warm welcome is an understatement. Figures have been rolling and rolling in during opening weekends and continuing into the festive season. Grossing highly was expected, but considering the diversity of audiences, The Hobbit is branching out to demographics that previously had little interest in the fantasy genre. Nothing but a good thing in my opinion, as it’s opening the boarders of genre classification for those who previously selected their infrequent cinema trips by well known genres they loved. The media circuits’ promotion of the film as watchable by all and a UK 12A ratings certificate has certainly helped encourage viewers of all ages to take part in the ambitiously epic instalment, of what will likely become a modern classic if it’s following in the popularity of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Harnessing the full potential of a novel is a real problem when it comes to film adaptation as much is often lost in the translation process. Jackson has used the footnotes and appendixes of the original novel to indulge fans and give the narrative the fullest exposure possible.
Action packed and oozing cool, Andrew Dominik takes on a narrative that demonstrates how the criminal economy in America runs on a thinly laid web of trust and relationships. Hit men, mafia mobs, gambling, amateur criminals and all sorts of lies and truths are easy game for Dominik, whose previous film Chopper proved his worth as an understated director. Killing Them Softly sees Dominik return to a grittier side of crime in a more modern setting.