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Thoughts On When Marnie Was There

I don’t often get to see new Ghibli films at the cinema. Despite having a poster up for ‘When Marnie Was There,’ they didn’t have any showing times for it. On hearing about the closure of Studio Ghibli with the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss what could be their final film. Luckily I located a smaller cinema that specialises in screening a wider variety of films from around the world. I knew I was up for an emotional experience as reviews were claiming the film to be upsetting. The opening also contained warnings of emotional distress. I found it more to be bittersweet. It was very touching in places, but the ending felt like a happy one that resolved the main character’s conflicts. I think much of it was tinged by thoughts of how the studio is changing. When Marnie Was There is based on a children’s book of the same name, written by Joan G Robinson.

The beginning of the film was a little slow. They didn’t seem to be making any efforts to create a likeable main character. She was aloof with those around her. I could still empathise however, as I sensed that this character was deeply troubled and this maintained my interest through the start. I wanted to learn more about why she was this way. Although many will take it to be the usual problems faced while growing up, it struck a chord with me due to my own struggles to connect with others. I loved that she was also a keen artist, carrying her sketchpad with her everywhere. The film is about friendship and self-discovery, which feels all the more powerful in contrast to how we’re initially introduced to the character. Her friend contrasts her well and seems to be everything that she is not. She also becomes more expressive of her emotions as the film continues.

During this new found friendship it’s immediately apparent that there’s something unusual going on. I like that they didn’t obscure this fact just to get a twist at the end. Instead, it keeps you guessing all the way through to try and figure out what the story is behind this girl is. The final explanation is satisfying and believable. I like that it was all finished up properly and made sense. As you’d expect, there are some upsetting moments, but overall I felt happy for the main character who had undergone an arc during the story. It’s difficult to write much more about it without giving too much away.

I really enjoyed When Marnie Was There. It’s a sweet tale, beautifully animated and I loved the music too (‘Fine On The Outside’ by Priscilla Ahn is such a fitting song.) It’s not one of my favourites (I prefer the more fantastical films such as Nausicaa, Laputa and Howl’s Moving Castle), but it’s certainly high on my list as being one of their better films.

Goosebumps Nostalgia

My mum enjoys reading books by authors such as James Herbert and Stephen King. My older sister use to collect Goosebumps by R.L.Stine, Shivers by M.D.Spenser and eventually moved onto point horror. Naturally, I was drawn towards giving horror stories a go myself and Goosbumps was where I started. My reading skills weren’t actually good enough at first, but having an older sibling means that you get a preview of what’s to come before you’re old enough to tackle it yourself. The covers with that bright bubbly goo attracted my attention. My first one was Monster Blood, because the hamster stood out to me. Once I was able to read them comfortably I was hooked and my sister and I enjoyed collecting them together. We avidly watched the show too.

So when I heard there was going to be a Goosebump’s film I was overjoyed. Admittedly I wasn’t expecting much from it, but just a revisit to the nostalgia of my childhood was exciting enough. I’d made the assumption that it was going to be childish and cheesy, although such films have never made sense to me as I’m not sure if they’re still popular with kids today and the rest of us have grown up (I imagine there were many other adults like myself eager to see this for the same reason.) Luckily I was wrong and Goosebumps turned out to be a highly entertaining film. There’s a lot of comedy in it that can appeal to adults as well as kids. There was no point at which I felt out of place being there, and as I looked around I noticed there were lots of other adults enjoying it too. The references were fun, bringing me back to the roots of what got me into the horror genre in the first place.

The film doesn’t focus on just one story, but on a collection of R.L.Stine’s monsters. They become freed from the pages of the manuscripts and start to wreak havoc, with Slappy the dummy as their leader. This creates the opportunity to re-visit a lot of our favourites. Some monsters seemed to get more screen time than others and I would have liked a bit more variety than what was shown. The first few encounters didn’t feel like they fit in too well, as they saw one monster at a time sequentially. Eventually more of the monsters are shown on screen working together. I guess one of the issues with trying to fit so much into one film is that while there’s a greater chance of seeing our favourites, we don’t get to see many of the distinctive qualities that made them special. Each monster overall feels similar in terms of threat, just with a different appearance. The encounters are fun, but Slappy is really the main star of the film. Luckily I was a fan of the Night of The Living Dummy and it felt right for him to take centre stage.

The actors in this film also put on a great performance. Jack Black is brilliant as R.L.Stine, a role he takes with a lot of humour. The main protagonists are also very likeable, despite all of their shortcomings. We see some depth and character growth throughout the film. I also loved the cameo from R.L.Stine at the end, who I was fond to see again after all the introductions he made during the show.

Overall the Goosebumps film was a fun nostalgic trip that didn’t disappoint. It might not appeal if you haven’t read the books, but for any person that grew up on horror stories this is very much recommended.

Thoughts On Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I tried to keep my expectations at bay for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. With the franchise changing hands to Disney I didn’t know how well they’d be able to pull it off; Well, they seem to have succeeded. When the film came to our cinemas everybody seemed to be singing it praises and I allowed myself to feel the excitement fully for the first time. Unfortunately, I feel like this is one of those cases where coming to it as a major Star Wars fan has actually been a drawback. The Force Awakens is a brilliant movie. It was fun, had great humour and appealing new characters. So why afterwards did I feel a little empty inside?

If you have a preference for the original Star Wars films then you’ll probably love The Force Awakens as it’s definitely a return back to its roots. In fact, one of the main criticisms of the film is that it’s a little too much like A New Hope. I’m one of those rare individuals that didn’t mind the prequel trilogy, and I also find the expanded universe interesting, particularly the Old Republic Era. These times feel more exciting because they’re set before the collapse of the Jedi. Each individual has more training, and this results in far better lightsabre combat. I also like the mysticism surrounding the Sith. The Force Awakens has reset everything so that once again the rebels are on the back foot. Not only does this make the victory at the end of Return Of The Jedi feel less meaningful, but also limits the possibilities for exploring the force. I would have liked to have seen them rebuilding the Jedi temples and searching for lost knowledge, something that we haven’t yet seen. There were some moments during the plot that felt a little rushed and unclear too.

The story in The Force Awakens wasn’t bad as such, but felt somewhat lacking at the same time. It creates more questions than answers, and I reckon that how well we remember this film will depend on how the next ones follow it up. Parts of it also confused me based on previous knowledge of Star Wars. There were moments where it felt like they were taking liberties with how the force works. Initially I thought they were only planning to scrap everything set after the original trilogy. This didn’t bother me as there would be benefits to keeping the direction of the new plot a surprise. Well it turns out that the entirety of the expanded universe has now been moved to Legends, even events that happened years and years before the new film. Even if this decision turns out for the better, it’ll take a long time to soothe fans that have dedicated years to all of the books, comics and games. I personally feel that if you have a wealth of material to work with, then why not use it? It seems like they have definitely been inspired by it however, so perhaps in time parts of it will gradually move back into canon.

I’ve seen some criticism for how the new villains don’t seem to be evil enough. I actually really like Kylo Ren as I feel like his insecurities make him an interesting character. Perfect heroes can be flat, and the same is true of villains. Something that has always drawn me to Star Wars is that most of the bad guys were driven from the light at some point, and this can result in a potential back-story. I wasn’t so keen on Snoke’s appearance however, as it felt a little too much like something they’d do in a Marvel film. I guess there’s still not enough that we know about him yet though. I haven’t yet gotten around to reading any of the new books either, which may help to fill some of the gaps for me.

As a cult classic any attempt to add to the Star Wars franchise is going to be under pressure to deliver. There are lots of different elements to the franchise too and I imagine it appeals to people for different reasons. My partner and I love it more for the fantasy, mysticism and lightsabres than the space battles, and in all honesty we weren’t too fussed about seeing more of Luke, Han Solo and Leia. Overall The Force Awakens has probably delivered, but I’m still waiting to see what will come next before I can decide for sure what I feel about it.

Random Star Wars Facts

  • It was 17 April 1973 when George Lucas first sat down to start writing Star Wars. Although May 4th is known as Star Wars day.
  • Star Wars was inspired by the things Lucas liked as a child, including Flash Gordon, Lawrence of Arabia and The Hidden Fortress.
  • George Lucas also loved fast cars and originally dreamed of racing, but had a near fatal accident before his high school graduation. His passion for fast vehicles can be seen throughout Star Wars.
  • Lucas used tips on structure from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand faces. It follows The Hero’s Journey, including stages such as the call to action, the initial refusal to meet the call and then meeting with a mentor.
  • Star Wars had a very troubled production process and many believed the film would flop. Instead it became one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
  • The scenes on Tatooine were shot in Tunisia, during which they had to deal with an unexpected storm, the first one in 50 years.
  • A new Hope was released in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Return of the Jedi in 1983, The Phantom Menace in 1999, Attack of the Clones in 2002, Revenge of the Sith in 2005 and now The Force Awakens in 2015.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an animated feature film released in 2008, set during the prequel trilogy. It served as an introduction to the animated series of the same name.
  • Lucasfilm was launched in 1971.
  • Blue Harvest was used as a working title for Return of the Jedi, along with the slogan ‘Horror Beyond Imagination.’ It’s also the name of the twelfth episode in the first season of Star Wars: Ewoks the name of a Family Guy episode.
  • George Lucas preferred to spend his time editing and working with special effects to writing and directing. According the the actors he wasn’t the easiest person to work with.
  • Lucas had little involvement with The Empire Strikes Back, which was directed by Irvin Kershner. It is considered to be the best film of the franchise.
  • In the original films Darth Vader is played by David Prowse, but voiced by James Earl Jones. Although Sebastian Shaw was used at the end when Luke unmasks him. In the prequel trilogy Anakin is played by Hayden Christensen.
  • Jake Lloyd played Anakin as a child in Episode I, for which he gained worldwide fame. Unfortunately the stress of this caused him to retire from acting early and he destroyed all of his Star Wars memorabilia.
  • Lucas continued to edit the films to improve the audio/visual affects and to bring it closer to his ideal vision for it. One such change is a scene in the cantina where Greedo is shown firing a shot at Han Solo who responds in kind. Originally Han was the only one to fire, but this took away from the ideal image of his character. The force ghost of Anakin that appears at the end was also replaced. Some of these changes angered the fans.
  • Harrison Ford didn’t agree with how Han Solo was being treated and hasn’t enjoyed being associated with such an iconic character. He didn’t find the character to be interesting even though Han has become a fan favourite. Harrison Ford made a few changes, such as the moment before carbon-freezing in the Empire Strikes back when he says to Leia “I know” instead of “I Love You.”
  • There’s a moment during A New Hope when a Storm Trooper accidentally bumps his head on the top of a door. A homage is paid to this scene in Attack of the Clones when Jango Fett also bumps his head.
  • George Lucas always intended Star Wars to be for kids, but didn’t account for the fans growing up during the creation of the films. This probably explains the Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi and Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. Star Wars continues to attract new and younger fans while maintaining its older fan base.
  • Jar Jar Binks was intended as a comic relief character, but wasn’t well received. His role is severely cut down in the following films, during which he becomes a representative for his people in the galactic senate. Although I wouldn’t trust him in politics myself, and he’s seen as supporting Chancellor Palpatine.
  • The prequel trilogy attempts to shed light on the force by explaining the midi-chlorians, microscopic life forms that live inside the cells of all living things. When in subsequent numbers they allow their host to manipulate the force. However, this took away from the mystery surrounding the force and wasn’t well received by fans.
  • The highest known midi-chlorian count belongs to Anakin Skywalker, measuring at over 20,000 per cell. It is believed that he was conceived by the force. His creation could also be down to Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious who attempted to manipulate the midichlorians to gain control over life. The legend of Darth Plagueis is briefly mentioned to Anakin during Revenge Of The Sith.
  • Padmé Amidala passes away after giving birth to the twins Luke and Leia. This is explained in the film as a loss of will to live, but one of the books puts it down to a broken neck as a result of Anakin grabbing her in a force choke.
  • The prophecy spoke of Anakin bringing balance to the force. This doesn’t specify that he will extinguish the dark side. While he sways too far in favour of the dark side, he is also responsible for ending Palpatine. Luke on the other hand was key in helping to bring him back to the light side.
  • Some characters disappear on death. This means that they have become one with the force, and they are shown as reappearing as ghosts. This requires great wisdom and strength to achieve. Anakin Skywalker appears as a force ghost and it is his suit alone that we see burning after his death.
  • TIE fighter stands for twin ion engines.
  • There are seven traditional forms of lightsabre combat and it’s possible to tell what characters are using during the films. Obi-Wan uses Soresu and Yoda uses Ataru for example. The names of the forms are also seen as skills in some games such as The Old Republic.
  • We only ever see one master and their apprentice as a result of the Rule of Two, which was introduced by Darth Bane. Previously there were too many problems with infighting due to the nature of the Sith. The rule of two ensures that they will continue to grow in strength as an apprentice will eventually destroy their master to take their place.
  • The Jedi ranks are youngling, padawan, knight, master, grand master and master of the order. Padawans have a braid that is cut off with a lightsabre when they are promoted.
  • Star Wars has expanded way beyond the films to include books, comics and games. This was known as the expanded universe and had very few continuity errors. However, since the arrival of the new sequel trilogy it was announced that the expanded universe would no longer appear in any future Star Wars material. It’s now classified as Star Wars Legends.
  • In 2002, a continuity-tracking database was created known as the Holocron Continuity Database to manage all of the Star Wars material. It includes classifications such as G-canon (coming directly from George Lucas.)
  • Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4.05bn (£2.5bn) in October 2012. George Lucas had already been developing the third trilogy, but was ready to retire and spend more time with his family.

For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. – George Lucas

It Follows – A Genuinely Creepy Concept

At the time of watching It Follows I didn’t find the film to be particularly scary. It was only afterwards as I took the time to consider the concept behind the film that I genuinely managed to creep myself out. The premise is a simple one, after what seems like an innocent sexual encounter something starts to follow the main character. There aren’t many jump scares or any big build-ups. Unlike a lot of other horror films it’s incredibly subtle, but also why I think it’s so effective. There will be spoilers, so if you want to keep it a surprise then stop reading.

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Getting Into The festive Mood With Krampus

“That’s a thing in Don’t Starve, I have to see it,” was my reaction to seeing a trailer for a new comedy/horror film. I don’t think the Krampus folklore is very well known where I come from, but it’s an idea dating back hundreds of years, originating in Europe. Krampus is best described as the shadow of Saint Nicholas and comes to punish those that have been naughty. It’s often depicted as a devil with horns, hooves and a monstrous tongue.

The new Krampus film came out just in time for Krampusnacht, a festival held on the 5th of December where people parade around dressed up as demons. I was able to go and see it on that very day and was thoroughly excited about it. Unfortunately I can’t say it was a perfect film, but I found it entertaining nonetheless.

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My Thoughts On Adam Sandler’s Pixels

Pixels is the new Adam Sandler film based on the charming short by Patrick Jean. It’s about saving the world from aliens taking on the form of classic arcade video games. To be honest, my expectations were never particularly high for the film – Wreck-It Ralph being the only good game inspired film I’ve seen – but I was curious enough to want to see it. However, before its release I was pointed to a review that absolutely slates it. It seems it is now considered to be one of the worst films of 2015. It didn’t put us off going to see the film however as we wanted to judge it for ourselves. Could it be so bad that we’d find it entertaining or almost endearing? Had our expectations been set so low that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as we were thinking? Well, after seeing the film we definitely had a lot to complain about, but I still found I was able to enjoy its colourful and fun antics. Rather oddly the film also contains a handful of really interesting actors such as Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean.

When I first heard about the plot it sounded really silly, but somehow the film manages to put together an explanation that seems somewhat decent and believable. Unfortunately, there are also many plot conveniences that are lazy or make no sense. I won’t go into detail here as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers and there are already many reviews out there that cover these problems in detail. When there are too many mistakes in relation to the chosen subject matter, it suggests that they didn’t do the research to understand it or even care about it. As many gamers are very passionate about their interest, this can be a major obstacle to their ability to enjoy a film.

One of the issues that really bothered my friend was that at times the film appears to be insulting its own target audience – assuming that they are people with an interest in games. Many of the characters are based on tired stereotypes – the typical nerd. One of the characters for instance, is shown to be socially awkward and is in love with a video game character. Some of the humour also seems to revolve around making comparisons between the ‘nerds’ and the buff militaristic guys. I think this could be justified by explaining that a contrast was needed to show the transition of nerd to hero (along with the realization that all of that time spent playing games was worthwhile), but it could have been toned down a lot and still have the same affect. I try not to let this sort of thing bother me too much as I know that most game enthusiasts – and I’ve met a fair few – are not like these stereotypes and I can laugh it off because of how silly it really is; Although I do prefer a wider range of character types to be represented if possible.

It seemed to me like Pixels was confused about its target audience. If the aim was to create a nostalgic experience then presumably it’s for adults, but on the other hand most of the humour seemed very childish or just simply wasn’t funny. Mind, I also find it hard to believe that kids wouldn’t have heard of some of the classic games (such as Pacman) as the film implies, considering that they are cultural icons – or so I thought anyway. Then again the film also contains some drawn out romance scenes that were just predictable and not very entertaining for any kind of audience. The film shines when it comes to the colourful and bright interpretations of the games and everything else feels like a distraction from the fun. Unfortunately, I did feel that I’d already seen the best parts in the trailer already.

Despite the niggles, I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near being one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I found I was still able to engage with the plot/characters and enjoy it, which is more than I can say for others that I have attempted to watch (I couldn’t even make it to the end of Mr. Turner.) In answer to my initial questions, while I understand why Pixels has so many negative reviews it turned out to be better than I expected; Despite all of the problems it was still somewhat entertaining to watch. I’ve always considered games to be great because they are something we choose to do for fun. Games are not always meant to be taken seriously and this could be said for Pixels as well. There were moments where it seemed to me like they were just trying to have a good time with it. At one point during the film I found myself longing to play some of the classics again. In some ways it felt like they were more focussed on gameplay with clean and precise mechanics; As Adam Sandler’s character himself mentions, you have to be able to spot the patterns to play them well.

I get the feeling that the film Pixels irks a lot of people because the idea behind it is actually pretty cool and we want to love it, but there are just too many flaws. It always disappoints me when something that could have been great falls short or in this case plummets.

… Also, giant Pacman is kinda creepy :O.

Why Do I Enjoy Horror?

I enjoy a horror game or a movie from time to time, but most of the people I know find them to be really unpleasant or even distasteful. I find it difficult to explain why I’m drawn to horror, but it’s something that humans have been enjoying for a long time. I do have some barriers about what sort of content I feel is appropriate – I think this is different for each person -, but I also think that macabre is another way for us to express ourselves. It doesn’t mean that I like the thought of people suffering, but can be a way of coping with the darker side of life.

I have problems with anxiety, but horror gives me an opportunity to be brave. For some of us it’s a personal journey to test our own courage. Usually the scarier it is the better; The sense of achievement we get comes from sticking it out to the end. It can also help us to feel better about our own lives due to the stark contrast; No matter how bad times get, it doesn’t compare to our horror protagonist.

Horror gives us a bit of an adrenaline rush. I don’t actually enjoy the feeling of being scared, but I do like the relief that comes on the other side. When I reach the end credits of a survival horror game for instance, it can leave me feeling pleasantly giddy as the tension is released. This might also help to release some of the tension I’d already been feeling in my own life before starting the game. This is why I keep coming back; I walk away only remembering feeling good at the end, having forgotten all the scary parts. Apparently there have been studies that show we feel happier right after experiencing such an adrenaline rush. I can also make jokes and laugh at myself when I realize how silly I was for being scared.

I also like a good mystery, and it’s something that usually goes hand in hand with horror and our fear of the unknown. There’s that part of you that is terrified to go onwards, but at the same time curiosity gets the better of me. The exploration of the plot and learning to understand why things are happening is a part of the reward I get for sticking it out. I think I also enjoy exploration more when risk/reward plays a factor in it. I like my stories to be atmospheric too and as horror can be so emotionally heightened it can add to the engagement I feel with the world; My senses are more open to taking things in.

It’s difficult to explain why we would enjoy what are considered to be negative emotions and the reasons may differ from person to person. I think it’s OK to express ourselves in that way because it’s not real and it doesn’t have to define us. I’m actually a really sensitive person in real life, but horror gives me a bit of a thrill from a safe place.

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Different Interpretations Of The Same Character (Black Widow)

I came across an interesting post from the blog ‘Doorway Between Worlds‘ about the portrayal of Black Widow in the Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Apparently a lot of people feel that she has been reduced to a damsel in distress. Now that I have heard this I can see why, but at the time of seeing the movie the thought never crossed my mind. (Some spoilers ahead.)

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What I Took From After The Dark

A while back I watched a film called After The Dark aka The Philosophers. For me personally, it could have been better executed and the ending disappointed me, but the concept behind it was really interesting regardless. The start of the film was perhaps far more interesting than the final conclusion. It was about a philosophy teacher challenging his class to make decisions in the event that the human race is nearing extinction. He did this by getting them to choose random cards, assigning them jobs and traits, and then having them choose who they would take into an underground shelter to save – there are limited resources. Throughout the film they go through a number of different scenarios. If you want to avoid spoilers then stop reading now.

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