What I’ve Been Watching

Well it’s been a long time (5 months) since I’ve done one of these, so for this post I think I’m going to share my thoughts on a selection of the movies and TV series I’ve been watching recently.

Studio Ghibli films: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Whisper of the Heart, When Marnie Was There

studio-ghibli

  • Studio Ghibli’s anime films really are something special. They’re all made in a particular style: at one level they’re films for children, but the narratives are so well-constructed and the themes are so intelligent that they very much appeal to adults as well, and unsurprisingly Studio Ghibli has a substantial following of grown-up fans as well as kids. They’re magical, emotional, heartwarming films that bring out the inner child even in adults.
  • These four — Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Whisper of the Heart and When Marnie Was There — are the only Studio Ghibli films I’ve seen so far, but I want to watch more of them. I liked Spirited Away (the studio’s most popular film) the most, but they’re all wonderful.
  • One thing Studio Ghibli does really well is creating wonderful, complex, relatable, well-written characters with whom it is easy to empathise and become invested in. Chihiro from Spirited Away seems like an obnoxious brat at first, but you come to love her as you go on a journey with her over the course of the movie. Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart is a romantic, exuberant, free-spirited young schoolgirl and an aspiring writer with a brilliant imagination. Anna from When Marnie Was There is a troubled, introverted, anxiety-ridden young girl whose friendship with a mysterious girl called Marnie one summer turn her into a happier, healthier version of herself. All fantastic characters, with fantastic stories to go with them.

Arrow

arrow

  • As of writing this, I’ve finished the first season and am two episodes into the second season. Season 1 was very good—I found the season arc involving the “Undertaking” really absorbing, with a well-executed climax in the season finale. There were also a couple of interesting side-plots, including that involving Helena Bartinelli, a character I’d love to see return at some point.
  • Although I’m only two episodes into season 2, I’m not sure how the show is going to follow on from season 1, though. The Undertaking is finished and there’s no obvious Big Bad left to fight for season 2. So far it’s just been Oliver cleaning up his mother’s mess and being a bit more angsty. And this kind of show really does need an intriguing season- or multi-season arc to keep it interesting, because “masked vigilante cleans up the streets” gets boring very quickly unless there’s something bigger going on. But don’t let’s pass judgment too soon…
  • Something the show needs to work on (again, keeping in mind I’m only 1.2 seasons in) is its character writing. The characters are good, but the writing is a bit lacklustre. These characters for the most part don’t feel like real people—their motivations and reactions and even the dialogue feels artificial, Felicity Smoak perhaps being a notable exception.

Rogue One

rogue-one

  • Excellent film. I was much more impressed by Rogue One than I was by The Force Awakens. The Force Awakens itself was a good movie in its own right and a tour de force in demonstrating what modern filmmaking can do for an established franchise like Star Wars, but I felt that as the latest instalment of an established franchise it failed to take up the opportunity to continue the story in a meaningful way, opting instead to rehash old tropes and indulge in nostalgia.
  • Rogue One on the other hand, although a prequel of sorts to A New Hope, really was a fantastic and worthwhile addition to the franchise. Although indulging in the obligatory fanservice, it didn’t feel like fanfiction as The Force Awakens did, it expanded the narrative universe of Star Wars meaningfully and, above all, was a wonderfully well-written and well-directed sci-fi movie. I think it’s easily one of the better Star Wars films of them all.
  • To say something in The Force Awakens‘ favour, though, it did introduce some really brilliant new characters in Rey, Finn and Poe (I’m not as much a fan of Kylo Ren). Rogue One continued this trend with an equally wonderful cast of new characters. Jyn is fantastic, and I think that sassy robot is my spirit animal.

Doctor Strange

doctor-strange

  • The latest notch on Benedict Cumberbatch’s theatrical bedpost was a very enjoyable Marvel film, if not the most memorable of Marvel’s or Cumberbatch’s showings. As far as I was concerned it was typical of Hollywood’s superhero-themed output: enjoyable enough to watch, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering to buy the DVD (or download it).
  • I did enjoy the distinctiveness of this superhero story, though. Doctor Strange is a distinctive character, a prodigous surgeon who happened upon a society of magic-users in Nepal in the course of trying to find a way to fix his hands, broken in a motor accident. It makes for engaging viewing, and Strange’s training with the magical monks in Nepal is also very fun.
  • To be honest, while there’s a decent script there, for me it really was Cumberbatch who made the film. He’s a magnetic screen presence once again and really did turn what could have been a fairly ordinary movie into an enjoyable and engaging one. Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor also put in some worthwhile performances, as did Rachel McAdams as Doctor Strange’s love interest, but I wasn’t all that convinced by Tilda Swinton as the “Ancient One”, and I question the casting of a white, middle-class English woman as the master of an ancient secretive Himalayan spiritual sect.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

fantastic-beasts

  • I really enjoyed this movie and I’m really looking forward to the next four films in the series. When I first heard that there were going to be three five Fantastic Beasts films, I was sceptical: “how and why are they going to milk this for five films?” But since seeing Fantastic Beasts and realising that the series is, in a way, a prequel to the Harry Potter stories, I came to see how this could work and how it could be a very valuable addition to the Harry Potter narrative. I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it’s becoming clearer how the Fantastic Beasts films are going to tie into the backstory of the Harry Potter stories, especially with respect to certain events and characters…
  • Newt Scamander is a Hufflepuff and this is very very very good.
  • As a huge and longstanding Harry Potter fan, I’m generally very happy about the Harry Potter renaissance that 2016 has been, with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stageplay and the release of the first instalment of the five-fold Fantastic Beasts film series. I’m just happy that the Harry Potter franchise is developing into something that isn’t just contained to the seven books and their movie adaptations, that J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros are willing to keep continuing the story and expanding the universe in meaningful ways and that both the fans and the creator(s) are coming to realise that Harry Potter doesn’t have to be something that ended with the film release of Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011—it can, if we all want it to, keep going, keep expanding in the way that Fantastic Beasts is showing it can. Why not a film or TV spinoff about the Marauders? Why not a spinoff about the next generation? If we all want it to, it can happen.

Victoria

victoria

  • Ah, wasn’t it good? I usually don’t go in for historical dramas, because I usually don’t find them very good (Jenna Coleman was really the only reason I decided to watch this in the first place)—I feel it’s difficult to get historical drama right, and they usually either don’t do justice to actual history or are unfortunately constrained by historical events so that they can’t tell the stories the writers and directors really want to tell. But I think Victoria is one of the historical dramas I’ve genuinely enjoyed, and I think what it did right was using history as a foundation, a springboard for making what was really a period drama like Downton Abbey. In Victoria, the drama came first and history second, in that they weren’t trying to dramatise history, they were trying to historicise drama—if that makes sense… In any case, the formula worked and Victoria ended up being one of the few historical dramas that have won me over.
  • Jenna Coleman was the reason I decided to watch Victoria, and she was lovely to see on screen again and playing the queen that she is. However, I hate to say it but I actually think she was one of the weaker aspects of the show. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed watching her, but her acting still leaves something to be desired when it comes to playing a figure like Queen Victoria: I felt that her performances lacked, to an extent, the precision that such a role demanded. Still, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a joy to watch and that I’m not looking forward to seeing her again in series 2.
  • There were plenty of standout performances in this show, most notably Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert.
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