Out on Friday 10 June
It’s sayonara from Studio Ghibli. Melissa McCarthy takes charge. Michael Moore takes a tour of Europe.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of When Marnie Was There, The Boss, Where to Invade Next, Fire at Sea, Learning to Drive, Mother’s Day, Embrace of the Serpent, Miracles From Heaven, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Te3n.
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WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
There are rumours that this may be the last ever feature to emerge from the revered Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. Let’s hope not. Over the past few decades the studio has created some of the most beautiful, exhilaratingly imaginative, lovingly detailed animated films ever made.
Still, if WMWT is their final offering, it can’t quite be claimed that Ghibli is going out at the top of its game: Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s film never quite attains the soaring narrative scope of Ghibli cofounder Hayao Miyazaki’s finest (Princess Mononoke (opens in new tab), My Neighbour Totoro (opens in new tab), Spirited Away (opens in new tab)), nor does it plumb the tragic depths of Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (opens in new tab).
Even so, it’s a warm, highly appealing film, full of quiet grace, and executed with all the unforced charm and painstaking visual subtlety we expect from Ghibli. Like Yonebayashi’s previous film Arrietty (opens in new tab) (based on Mary Norton’s classic The Borrowers), it’s adapted from an English young-adult novel – in this case by Joan G. Robinson. Voiced by Sara Takatsuki in the subtitled version and Hailee Steinfeld in the English dub, Anna’s a shy 12-year-old who suffers from asthma and is convinced – partly because she’s an orphan, living with foster parents – that she doesn’t belong. “In this world,” she muses, “there’s an invisible magic circle. There’s inside, and outside. And I’m outside.”
Worried about her health and her depressed state of mind, Anna’s foster mother sends her off to stay with relatives in a coastal village. There, in a seemingly derelict marshland mansion, she meets a girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes called Marnie (Kasumi Arimura/Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka). They become friends – but Marnie keeps mysteriously vanishing. Is she a ghost? A time traveller? Or an imaginary companion dreamt up by a lonely girl?
The mood, for the most part gently wistful, now and then turns darker: a storm sequence in a ruined silo even gets scary. But for all her lack of self-confidence, there’s a resilience to Anna that tells us she’ll come through; she’s a Ghibli heroine, after all, and the studio’s at its best with spunky female characters.
As ever with Ghibli, the glowing immediacy of the images is what enchants. Wind on water, a train seen from way overhead snaking through the countryside – there are vivid, tactile details to dwell on in every frame. Anna’s journey to self-discovery and acceptance, as she gradually discovers what it is that links her to Marnie, is traced with sympathy but shuns sentimentality. Yonebayashi’s film may not give us Ghibli at the height of its powers, but there’s an emotional depth and maturity to it that leaves most conventional animation work looking trivial by comparison.
THE VERDICT: A gentle tale, tinged with melancholy told with all the loving attention to detail you expect from Studio Ghibli.
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi; Voices: Sara Takatsuki (subtitled version)/Hailee Steinfeld (English dub), Kasumi Arimura/Kiernan Shipka, Hitomi Kuroki/Vanessa Williams; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
Based on a character she created while part of improv group The Groundlings, The Boss is Melissa McCarthy’s baby. Shame, then, that like Tammy (opens in new tab), it squanders her comic brilliance. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an Oprah type who falls from grace and rediscovers her humanity on the way back up. It’s not funny or inspirational, just loud and trite. At least Peter Dinklage has fun as the baddie.
Director: Ben Falcone; Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT
In a cheery travelogue, documentarian Michael Moore trawls Europe (and Tunisia) for socially conscious solutions to things America botches, be it race relations, workers’ rights, women’s rights, healthcare... Idealised? Sure, but Moore admits he’s out to “pick the flowers, not the weeds” and the end result is witty, moving and brimming with passion and purpose.
Director: Michael Moore; Starring: Michael Moore; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
FIRE AT SEA
Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary shines a powerful spotlight on the migrant crisis. Filmed on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, it provides a snapshot of local life as migrants pass through the area. Rosi offers a simple, stark contrast between quiet moments of everyday life and tragedy as mass fleeing results in sunken boats, horrific injuries and death.
Director: Gianfranco Rosi; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
LEARNING TO DRIVE
This heartfelt exploration of middle-aged companionship is both meet-cute romcom and sensitive character study. Newly single literary critic Patricia Clarkson befriends Indian driving instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley), who’s considering an arranged marriage. Kingsley essays both authenticity and humour, but it’s often hard to know what’s steering the story.
Director: Isabel Coixet; Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Jake Weber, Sarita Choudhury, Grace Gummer; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
Valentine’s Day (opens in new tab), New Year’s Eve (opens in new tab)… Garry Marshall has been stealing holidays from the slasher-film canon and replacing them with equally exploitative romcoms. He ploughs on with four intertwining stories illustrating the blessings and curses of motherhood, played by stars like Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston. There is less depth to this film than a petrol station greeting card, but it’s essentially harmless.
Director: Garry Marshall; Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Jack Whitehall; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT
Colombian writer/director Ciro Guerra’s mesmerising film follows Amazonian shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolívar) on two journeys 40 years apart as he helps explorers search for a sacred plant. A late plunge into cannibalism is terrifying, but for the most part the mood is contemplative, as Guerra explores the differences between natives and outsiders.
Director: Ciro Guerra; Starring: Jan Bijovet, Brionne Davis, Antonio Bolivar, Yauenku Miguee; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN
Though the title guarantees uplift, this gruelling drama spends an hour dragging you into a well of depression as Anna (Kylie Rogers) contracts a stomach illness. Cue graphic scenes of tears, spasms, and vomiting. Though Anna’s church-y mother (Jennifer Garner) tries everything to save her, it’s – spoiler alert! – divine intervention that saves the day. But not the film.
Director: Patricia Riggen; Starring: Jennifer Garner, Martin Henderson, Hannah Alligood; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT
Authentically tense and sweatily claustrophobic, this faithful reconstruction of the famous 1971 Stanford University six-day ‘prisoners and guards’ experiment gets scary fast. Since it’s all played on one bullying note, a whiff of student-drama workshop creeps in, undermining the nail-biting question of just how far the brutality will go.
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez; Starring: Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Mosies Arias, Nicholas Bruan, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016
Doggedly hunting his granddaughter’s kidnapper, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan alternately sleepwalks and shines in this patchy revenge thriller. The plot scores high on twists, but is rendered confusing by intercut timelines. And while Calcutta’s hustle and neon bustle makes for an arresting location, too often the filmmakers mistake ‘noir’ lighting for drowning the shot in darkness.
Director: Ribhu Dasgupta; Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vidya Balan; Theatrical release: June 10, 2016