When Marnie Was There (2014)

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The final Studio Ghibli production is another adaptation, this time of the eponymous children’s novel by Joan G. Robinson. Transposed from its original Norfolk setting to Sapporo, it’s the story of fostered child Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) whose asthma attacks prompt her government-paid carers to send her to the seaside where she is drawn to an abandoned mansion across a salt marsh where she becomes faint.  There she sees the blonde-haired Marnie (voiced by Kiernan Shipka) who has blue eyes like her and they form a close bond through their experience of adversity:  Anna’s parents died years ago, Marnie’s ignore her and throw parties, leaving her in the hands of nasty household staff. Marnie wants Anna to keep everything a secret. The mansion seems abandoned still but only comes to life when Anna visits. When Anna meets an artist, Hisako, the woman looks at Anna’s sketches of Marnie and remarks that the likeness resembles a girl she knew when she was young herself … There are revelations of long-buried stories and the teary ending will have you hugging whatever comes in handy as Anna comes to terms with the reality of her real parents’ lives and her origins.  A proper, old-fashioned romance. Adapted by Masashi Ando, Keiko Niwa and Hiromasa Yonebayashi the director, who previously made Arrietty.

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The Great Gilly Hopkins (2016)

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This adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s popular Seventies novel for tweens gets a decent treatment. It’s about a chippy foster kid (Sophie Nelisse) who makes life difficult for everyone charged with taking care of her, the latest being eccentric Trotter (Kathy Bates) whose next door neighbour is an elderly black man Mr Randolph (Bill Cobbs) who dines with her each evening. They make a different kind of family, reading at meals and being each other’s best support. Little WE (Zachary Hernandez) is also being fostered by Trotter and Gilly – real name Galadriel – impresses him the way she carries on her mean girl bullying at school, until she sees he’s being bullied by horrible boys and she teaches him how to handle himself. She creates friction with her teacher Miss Harris (Octavia Spencer) and although she’s very bright she pretends she’s dumb as a post. The teacher sees right through her act. She wants desperately to be with the birth mother Courtney (Julia Stiles) who’s dumped her and who has finally sent a postcard from San Francisco, a long way from Maryland. This prompts Gilly to write her a letter lying about the terrible circumstances in which she’s found herself. Since her mother has finally made contact with her grandmother, Glenn Close, she turns up on Gilly’s doorstep to meet the grandchild she never knew existed until that correspondence which also brings social workers to Trotter’s door. The letter means she’s going to be removed from the only happy home she’s ever known and she regrets it but can do nothing about it…. This could have been a deliberate, messagey work but it’s tough love tenderised by humour and really smart performances. That it’s directed by Stephen Herek is the big surprise – the man who brought us Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Dude!

Jem and the Holograms (2015)

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Apparently this poptastic creation is an adaptation of an Eighties animation (can’t say I remember it) and was a labour of love for its writer/director Jon M. Chu but for an audience over the age of 12 it’s mostly a chore. The original premise was about the owner of Starlight Music who has a double life as a pop star by virtue of a hologram but technology has moved on. Starring TV’s Nashville songstress Aubrey Peeples as the orphaned girl Jerrica Benton whose spectacular singing voice brings her stardom via the internet (that vehicle for epic narcissism).  She is still in mourning for her father, who appears to her in a pre-recorded hologram and gives her strength, materialising from a little robot that bears a striking resemblance to Star Wars‘ BB-8. Peeples was probably cast not merely for the power of her pipes but for the very K-Stewness of her appearance: she even has one side of her head shaven to resemble her at one point (in one of the several wigs she’s made wear.) She and her sister Kimber have two foster sisters out of juvie and Molly Ringwald is her aunt Bailey (when her face is in repose she’s barely recognisable:  that’s how long it’s been since we’ve seen her). They all live in one happy multi-ethnic home  which is going to be repossessed in 30 days so that’s how long they have to become stars and make money. The skinny ruthless manager Erica Raymond who sees them online is played very well by Juliette Lewis as (presumably) a figure she might be familiar with in her own offscreen rock career and she does it very well as a sort of wicked stepmother to the Cinders girl who feels cornered when confronted with a solo contract and is rechristened Jem. Erica has a handsome son who fancies ‘Jem’, that enigmatic character who is, ultimately, what her audience decides she is …. A product of that well-known pop auteur, Scooter Braun, presumably on an off-day from managing someone he found online. I don’t remember a single song but I believe that’s probably not the point.