Spirited Away - Blu-ray Review

'a discordant joy, full of scenes and monsters that don't belong together and that consistently balk at expectation'

The last of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films to make it onto Blu-ray in the UK, Spirited Away's stand alone release arrives in advance of the director's box set, which hits UK shores on 8th December and will be reviewed on these very pages in the near future. Far from pointless, this stand alone release in advance of that set actually feels like a moment of common sense from all involved. The box set is currently on pre-order at a slightly staggering £180 on Amazon, so if you're only a film away from finishing it anyway, your chance is now here.

The Animated Oscar winner of 2003, you wonder how a film with quite this level of luscious visual has managed to hide away from HD for so long. Perhaps Miyazaki's main strength is to take somewhat familiar stories (Alice In Wonderland is mentioned here, as are a range of Japanese folk stories) and reinvent them in unfamiliar landscapes. The spirit world of Spirited Away is a discordant joy, full of scenes and monsters that don't belong together and that consistently balk at expectation. The iconic No-Face is a prime example. With a ghostly visage not dissimilar to a Scream mask he should be a villain, where in actual fact his role is much more complex.

Unlike other Ghibli films (My Neighbour Totoro springs to mind) the way Miyazaki deploys his almost trademark patience here feels developed to a greater degree, ultimately to the film's benefit. There's no hiding of the characters or the world they inhabit, for example, as there is in Totoro. In fact, there's hardly an introduction at all and barely 15 minutes have passed before heroine Chihiro is standing in front of Spidergrandfather Kamajî, asking him for a job so that she can maintain her place in the world and attempt to rescue her parents.

If the opening is close to breathless it is the other moments in Spirited Away where Miyazaki takes care and allows us to take a moment to view his artwork. How many other animated films, for instance, pause to contemplate their heroine's face, whilst she stares out of a train window, taking her to an uncertain future? Miyazaki makes animated films as if they are grown-up epics, which of course they are. If only more creators thought the same way.

With an introduction by John Lasseter, you could argue that Miyazaki's only contemporary comparison is Pixar but only their heights (Wall.E) approach narrative in the same way as Ghibli does in all of their films I have seen so far. The idea here is not simply to entertain children, it is to take them to a world where they are forced to live and work and moralise along with the heroine, who must negotiate the dual looks and identities of the characters here and find trust and meaning and direction. Oh, and it also entertains. Incredibly heady film-making.




Spirited Away is released on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday 24th November 2014.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

LIFF28 - Song Of The Sea - Cinema Review

'A beautiful piece of art to behold from start to finish, single-handedly making the case for hand-drawn animation as a cinematic medium to continue long into the future'.

From its opening moments, Song Of The Sea draws you in simply by presenting some of the most sumptuous and distinctive visuals seen in an animated feature in recent years, enveloping you within its enchanting blend of traditional folklore and contemporary culture. Visually, this is located somewhere between the polished styles of Studio Ghibli and Belleville Rendez-vous, with a generous infusion of Irish charm to set director Tomm Moore's film apart as its own entity. Quite simply, Song Of The Sea is a beautiful piece of art to behold from start to finish, single-handedly making the case for hand-drawn animation as a cinematic medium to continue long into the future as a worthy entity distinct from computer-animated fare.

There's a sense of irony therefore that Song Of The Sea's handling of some serious and emotional themes throughout its narrative feels closest in execution to Pixar's best work. Themes such as dealing with loss and moving on from personal tragedy are handled deftly by Moore from both child and adult perspectives. Whilst the film's fantastical elements are often closely interwoven with these ideas alongside carefully placed humour as distinctively Irish as the folklore, this never cheapens or trivialises the weightier issues that the director impressively and confidently places at the centre of his film. The way in which fantasy and reality curiously inhabit the same world within Song Of The Sea feels akin to the expert storytelling found in Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, especially in relating how youngster Ben (David Rawle) deals throughout the film's narrative with the loss of his mother that occurs during the prologue-like opening.

Equally, the Irish legends that are featured prominently throughout are never demoted to the function of an easy metaphorical device for Moore; on the contrary, the director clearly has great reverence for the mythology he takes on. Moore does however allow his handling of the considerable amount of lore featured in Song Of The Sea to occasionally become slightly unbalanced. There are times when the film finds itself tangled up in the complexity of its own mythology, and also one or two occasions where things go too far in the opposite direction, becoming too conveniently simple from a narrative viewpoint. That said, these minor missteps are never enough to damage the film overall, with Moore consistently demonstrating his confidence and adroitness as a modern-day fabulist.

Backing up the director's storytelling abilities are a truly talented voice cast. Rawle is impressive in the lead, making Ben an authentic young presence whilst skilfully putting across an impressive range of emotion. Supporting the young actor are superb turns from Irish veterans Fionnula Flanagan and Brendan Gleeson, the latter in particular putting in a flawless understated vocal performance as grieving widower Conor, doing his best to raise Ben and his younger sister Saoirse. Song Of The Sea is utterly spellbinding, genuinely emotional and - thanks to its wondrous blend of the modern and the mythological - effortlessly timeless, deserving to be hailed in the near future as a contemporary animated classic.




Song Of The Sea plays LIFF28 again on Thursday 20th November at 17.00 at Vue in The Light.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

LIFF28 Day Summary - Tuesday 18th November - How does Reece like to eat her ice cream?

My final day at this year's LIFF, and another two films to add to my tally, both of which screened in the Victoria Room of Leeds Town Hall. It's worth noting that, having now watched several films in this venue during the two years I have attended LIFF, it is fast becoming one of my favourite places to experience cinema. True, the acoustics of the large auditorium aren't ideal, especially if there aren't a great deal of people in the room with you, but the setting is so grand that it's hard not to feel that the whole idea of watching a film is elevated whilst you're there. Leeds offers such a variety of locations during LIFF, all of which seemingly have something special about them (I've yet to experience Everyman, which I know divides opinion as a venue, so I will withhold judgement on it until I do). It's brilliant that the array on offer is expanding to locales such as Cottage Road Cinema and The Carriageworks, both of which I didn't get the chance to experience this year but will make a concerted effort to do so should I be lucky enough to attend the festival in 2015.

My first film was Love Is Strange, which feels cut from a similar cloth to My Old Lady but for me was less successful overall. The co-leads of Alfred Molina and John Lithgow - playing a gay couple of thirty-nine years who finally tie the knot - deliver two brilliant performances (it's also great to see them in something like this rather than in fleeting supporting roles in Hollywood fare). However, the film as a whole seemed lacking in several ways. I'm currently torn between my feelings whilst watching, which were more positive - most probably thanks to Lithgow and Molina - and how the film has left me feeling about it since it finished, which is decidedly more negative. One that I think will need some more thought.

Thankfully, that wasn't the case for Wild, my second and final film of the day and indeed the festival. Telling the story of Cheryl Strayed - played superbly by Reece Witherspoon - and her arduous trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, the film seriously impressed me throughout. I must admit, I didn't realise Strayed was a real person whose life the film is based upon until the end credits, a revelation which only made me even more enamoured with Wild. Films such as Into The Wild and 127 Hours are likely to come to mind at some point whilst you watch, but Wild more than justifies itself and, in the case of 127 Hours at least (I haven't seen Into The Wild), ends up the superior film. Based on how much I liked Wild, it might be time to finally take director Jean-Marc Vallée's last film - Dallas Buyers Club - off the shelf and pop it in DVD player, as it has now been sitting unwatched within my collection for some time.

My second year at LIFF has allowed me to take in eleven films over four days, films which have spanned both the spectrum of genres and the globe. And, just as I felt this time last year, I can't wait to hopefully return to Leeds in 2015 to do it all over again.


The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

LIFF28 - Drew: The Man Behind The Poster - Cinema Review

'When it comes to the posters of Drew Struzan, the artwork speaks for itself, and that's exactly what Sharkey allows to happen for a considerable portion of his film'.

Go into Drew: The Man Behind The Poster expecting a documentary that reinvents the genre and you’re likely to come away disappointed. It’s almost certainly the only way you could be disappointed by the film however, being as it is a charming and heartfelt celebration of the work of film poster artist Drew Struzan.

His may not be a name that everyone knows, but there can’t be many people who grew up watching films in the closing decades of the 20th Century who aren’t familiar with Struzan’s work, even if they don’t know it. His most famous posters are almost certainly those for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, which the film spends some time considering. But we are also given a comprehensive tour through Struzan’s work for a wide variety of films (including a few peeks at some that were never used) as well as the album artwork he produced early on in his career and personal pieces he has painted most recently. Director Erik Sharkey sticks with a straightforward documentary style largely consisting of talking heads and new and archive footage edited together simply because he knows that's all he needs to do. When it comes to the posters of Drew Struzan, the artwork speaks for itself, and that's exactly what Sharkey allows to happen for a considerable portion of his film.

The affection for Struzan within the film industry comes across tremendously throughout Drew, with heartfelt praise and admiration heard from an impressive roll call of major Hollywood names including directors Steven Spielberg, Frank Darabont and Guillermo Del Toro and actors Michael J. Fox, Harrison Ford and, er... Steve Guttenberg. Whilst the love for Struzan is allowed once or twice to become a little too prolonged, Drew backs up the incredible esteem the artist is held within in the world of cinema remarkably well. Sharkey's film is built upon the belief that Struzan is to film posters what Ray Harryhausen is to stop-motion animation and John Williams is to orchestral soundtracks, and the director consistently succeeds in making us believe the same.

Struzan himself comes across as unassuming, humble and very likeable in an entirely authentic way. The footage taken at Comic Con 2013 of Struzan receiving an award for his years of service to the film industry demonstrates this best - it's clear that Struzan has not allowed the big names he has worked with throughout his career to go to his head. Even when he speaks about his troubled relationship with his parents, Struzan never feels as though he's expecting sympathy, simply relating the facts of his life in a genuine, candid fashion.

There are a few structural issues that come up within Drew: a sequence in which Struzan meets Harrison Ford for the first time feels dropped in haphazardly by Sharkey; another, focused upon his soured relationship with a former colleague who presumably couldn't be named for legal reasons, feels drawn out and never really recovers from the fact that the person's name has to be skirted around. But these are minor issues in what is an overwhelmingly enjoyable, intimate and lovingly crafted documentary celebrating a truly worthy subject. Drew ultimately wants you sit back and let Struzan's incredible artwork cascade over you, and that's exactly what you should do.




Drew: The Man Behind The Poster plays LIFF28 again on Wednesday 19th November at 18.00 in the Albert Room at Leeds Town Hall.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

LIFF28 - My Old Lady - Cinema Review

'This is a story which quite easily could have been written as a straight drama; whether that would have made a more or less successful film than the comedy Horovitz presents us with is hard to say'.

For much of its running time, My Old Lady is quite happy to be a perfectly serviceable gentle comedy, unremarkable from a cynical perspective but consistently charming enough to get away with it. It's to the credit of writer and director Israel Horovitz, adapting his own stage play for the screen in his feature directorial debut, that not only does he manage to address some considerably weighty issues within his mostly light-hearted story, but also that he does so in a way that feels both natural and successful.

Horovitz's story centres around New Yorker Jim (Kevin Kline) coming to Paris after inheriting a large apartment from his late father, only to discover the property is a "viager" - a complex and archaic French system of ownership which means that the current occupant, the elderly Mathilde (Maggie Smith), can remain there until she dies. It's a smart set-up which benefits from likely being completely unfamiliar to most, as well as giving Horovitz ample opportunity for some naturally funny scenarios. Kline and Smith are reliably excellent, playing off each other well, whilst Kristin Scott Thomas as Mathilde's daughter Chloé rounds off the central trio pleasingly. Horovitz's assembled main cast emerges as one of the strongest elements of his film, even if there's a lingering feeling that Kline and Smith in particular are ever close to being stretched by their roles here.

The humour works well, although it often feels a little too good-natured to truly stand out. Jim's ongoing interactions with a mounted boar's head in particular become increasingly amusing throughout and successfully provide some comedic highlights. It's in Horovitz's choice to delve into more serious territory, however, skilfully and delicately exloring themes including depression and suicide, that My Old Lady is regularly at its best. This is a story which quite easily could have been written as a straight drama; whether that would have made a more or less successful film than the comedy Horovitz presents us with is hard to say.

There are elements here, however, which firmly position My Old Lady as a good film but not a great one. The most frustrating of these is Horovitz's presentation of Paris, which is only a shot of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe away from being the full-on tourist version of the French capital. The Paris of the film feels trite and false: a city populated by cyclists who almost run people over, omnipresent stone gargoyles and women standing by the Seine and singing opera for no reason. The fact that the soundtrack also opts for the most hackneyed of French musical clichés - whimsical accordion-playing - only makes matters worse. Horovitz seems perfectly happy to go with a bromidic version of Parisian life rather than something more original and authentic, and his film loses something of its charm as a result.

Outside of the three main characters, others here feel somewhat underdeveloped; Stéphane Freiss' character, for example, may as well be called "generic cold-hearted French businessman". Dominique Pinon fares better as estate agent Lefebvre, although he too feels as though he could have done with a bit more depth to justify the character's most impactful scene towards the end. Ultimately, however, the issues within My Old Lady are annoyances rather than fatal flaws. Comedies of this ilk rarely take on the issues Horovitz successfully tackles head-on at times within his story. That, coupled with the trio of strong performances leading the film, certainly make My Old Lady worthy of your time.




My Old Lady plays LIFF28 again on Tuesday 18th November at 18.00 and Wednesday 19th November at 15.30, both at Vue in The Light.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

LIFF Day Summary - Monday 17th November - Brought to you today by the letter M and the number 2

My third day in Leeds ended up being the least busy yet in terms of film watching, with only two screenings attended both taking place in the town hall's Victoria Room. First, I took the opportunity to experience Fritz Lang's M on the big screen, having never before seen what is often considered Lang's greatest film. Now over eighty years old, the film holds up superbly with some incredible use of sound (and indeed silence) alongside Lang's masterful camerawork. I can therefore add my voice to the countless others from the past eight decades in agreeing that M is a cinematic masterpiece.

Second film of the day was Catch Me Daddy, a Yorkshire crime thriller that has done the rounds of many a major film festival throughout the year, including Cannes and London, where it received its only other UK screening before Leeds. Gauging the reaction of the audience and on Twitter, it's one that seems to have divided opinion at LIFF. I will go into more detail in my upcoming review, but the major sticking points for many seem to be the relentlessly bleak tone, graphic (gratuitous?) violence and the lack of inclusion of subtitles during some scenes. All matters on which I have an opinion, but that I will leave to elaborate upon further when writing my review.

Also worthy of note was the fact that the cast and crew of Catch Me Daddy were in attendance at the screening, three of whom (including young lead actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) were brought onto the stage before the start of the film. Unfortunately, this opportunity was rendered entirely pointless thanks to the LIFF representative speaking to none of them, resulting in the three of them saying nothing to the audience and exiting the stage around a minute or so later. Whilst a Q&A wasn't scheduled like it had been for One Rogue Reporter on Saturday (something which almost certainly wouldn't have worked here due to the Victoria Room's much larger size than Screen 1 at Vue in The Light), bringing three cast and crew members up there felt like an exercise in pointlessness - almost as if the festival was trying to say "Look! We've got these people from the film here! Isn't that great?", when actually it would have been much more interesting and worthwhile to hear a few words from at least one of them.

The cast and crew's attendance was also noteworthy for a second reason, and unfortunately it's another negative. An entire row had been reserved on the balcony for them - a few rows behind where I had chosen to sit in fact - and at several points during the quieter moments of Catch Me Daddy several cast and crew members could be heard talking to each other with no effort to be quiet. It seems working in the film industry is not a prerequisite of knowing how to watch one in public. Grumblings on Twitter have already made the rounds about this, although I have also been informed by Daniel Thomas that this is not the worst cast and crew interruption experienced at Leeds: the 2011 festival apparently saw actors from Wuthering Heights taking pictures of the screen during the film. I'm not quite sure how I would have reacted to that, so it's probably a good job I wasn't there to experience it.


The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

LIFF28 - Bird People - Cinema Review

'Just because Bird People's realism feels incredibly genuine, that doesn't make it an interesting film to watch.'

It's worth mentioning from the start that there is a fairly major and sudden twist within one of Bird People's complementary narratives, and to allude to it even in broad terms would most likely ruin its impact. It's a moment writer and director Pascale Ferran clearly wants to take you by surprise, and in that sense he certainly succeeds, but which unfortunately is ultimately marred by the issues that can be found throughout Ferran's film.

After a relatively succinct first act introducing us to American businessman Gary (Josh Charles) and Parisian hotel maid Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier), the film presents each characters' story as a separate sequence. After a night in a hotel plagued by anxiety during a business trip to Paris, Gary makes the decision to cut all ties from his life in the US and start again in Europe. It's a decision some have perhaps toyed with at least once - what your life would be like if you could start afresh and leave everything of your old self behind - and Ferran presents the ramifications of Gary's decision in a realistic and matter-of-fact fashion.

The main problem here is Gary himself. Charles' performance is convincing, but the character comes across as a selfish and petulant arsehole to the point that it's very difficult to engage with or care about the decisions he's making. Business partner Allan (Geoffrey Cantor), initially irate at the impact Gary's decisions will have on their company, soon shows genuine concern for his colleague's state of mind, something of which Gary is insultingly dismissive. From the Skype call we see between the two, it's clear that Gary and wife Elizabeth (Radha Mitchell) have issues within their relationship; but whilst Elizabeth, after her initial shock, shows willingness to work through any problems, Gary is set on shying away from his responsibilities and leaving anything remotely negative behind him for someone else to deal with. The character is essentially a self-obsessed hypocrite: the fact that he's jacked in his career without giving any notice, and yet is content to extend his stay in a Paris hotel, glugging mineral water and chainsmoking his way through cigarettes charged to the room his company is undoubtedly paying for, says all you need to know.

Audrey's story is somewhat more satisfying, thanks in no small part to Demoustier's performance and her character being considerably more likeable than Gary. As stated previously, it's hard to say anything specific that won't spoil what Ferran clearly wants you to get out of Audrey's segment of the film. Ferran sticks with his realistic feel, whilst introducing more fantastical elements, which - initially at least - feels fresh and pleasingly unexpected.

However, there are issues to be found across both of Ferran's narratives. At 128 minutes, this feels markedly longer than it needed to be. Gary and Audrey's stories both contain sequences which could easily have been edited down considerably and would have felt tighter and more successful as a result. Ferran's choice to shoot his film in a remarkably unembellished manner works in terms of generating a realistic tone, but this is outweighed by the fact that it quite regularly makes his film a somewhat bland and tedious experience. Just because Bird People's realism feels incredibly genuine, that doesn't make it an interesting film to watch.

The way in which the two narratives inevitably eventually come together is also something of a simplistic anticlimax that the film takes far too long to arrive at - it's also not the ending Gary deserves, further ramping up the ire his character provokes. Perhaps most critically of all, Ferran's message of breaking free at the centre of Bird People, delivered both literally and metaphorically through his parallel tales, just isn't nearly as subtle and revelatory as the director clearly thinks it is.




Bird People plays LIFF28 again on Tuesday 18th November at 13.30 at Vue in The Light.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.