WIN Spirited Away on Blu-ray

To celebrate the UK Blu-ray premiere of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, Spirited Away, on November 24th we've got 3 copies to give away.

It follows stubborn 10-year old girl, Chihiro, who comes upon the entrance to a strange ghost world. Once inside, her parents having been turned into swine for unwittingly eating the food of the spirits without permission, she finds herself frightened and utterly alone. To survive she’s forced to take a job in a magnificent bath house, whose proprietor is a wicked sorceress named Yoruba, and whose patrons are gods, demons and nature spirits. Rife with familiar influences from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland to Japanese folklore and legend, SPIRITED AWAY was a phenomenon on release, swiftly overtaking TITANIC to become Japan’s highest grossing film of all time and going on to become the first anime to ever win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, capping a string of accolades including The Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival.

Spirited Away is available now from StudioCanal.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply complete the form below by liking us on FACEBOOK, answering the simple question or with one of the other easy methods.

Read our review here.

Winners will be notified on 21st December. Open to UK residents only.

WIN Spirited Away on Blu-ray

Spirited Away

Spirited Away | 2001 | Film Review | SHELF HEROES


As Hayao Miyazaki’s remarkable directorial career draws to a close with the poignant The Wind Rises, the Studio Ghibli founder's undisputed award-winning masterpiece, Spirited Away, finally receives the pin sharp Blu-ray treatment in the UK. There aren’t many films we can all agree on, but I’ve never met anyone who was left untouched by the spellbinding magic contained within Miyazaki’s ethereal bathhouse for the gods.

The most widely known and praised of Ghibli’s – and all Japanese – animation, it’s cheering to see that this particular experience is one that so many have identified with. Ostensibly it's a focused Alice in Wonderland re-imagining that sees 10-year-old Chihiro catapulted from the land of the living (where she’s a stroppy sourpuss, sulking at the thought of moving home) to a mythical fantasy land of weird and grotesque creatures. There is a wide-eyed wonder and haunting melancholy that we share with Chihiro, cast adrift in this strange, magical place, resigned to a life without her parents. As Chihiro feels her way around the spirit world she must seek work and make alliances to avoid the wrath of the house’s owner, the witch Yubaba. The story is small, and so is Chihiro, but the transfixing scope of the world is the closest cinema has ever come to real magic.

With this immaculate high definition release, the beauty and detail of the creator’s vision is vividly present in every frame: scenic paintings so textured and ambient they should be framed; incidental characters or objects that barely register but are shaped with as much love and inspiration as the central focus. The world, and all of its magic, feels real because it has been drawn and painted by people who believe in it. Underscored by longtime Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi, the music is every bit as iconic as the visuals. Jaunty piano melodies appear when required, as do soaring moments of triumphant orchestration. Perhaps the highest praise that can be paid to the music, though, is that it just feels right. As with every hand-drawn and digitally animated line, every note of the score is a deeply interwoven part of the Spirited Away experience.

The character design alone is an overwhelming achievement of creativity, melding folklore and fantasy to conjure beings the like of which those of us fed on a rich diet of Disney could never conceive. Not cute, anthropomorphised animals and teapots, but bobbing severed heads, terrifying stink monsters and the glutinous drifting No-Face. For there is a darkness in Spirited Away, and that real fear that children crave. We can all remember the stories and films that freaked us out as youngsters – they are the ones that touch us the most.

Most importantly this is not a morality tale. Every character is capable of both good and bad, and the only victory to be sought is a personal one for Chihiro, as her confidence and bravery begin to grow – making friends at a new school will be small potatoes after this. And who couldn’t identify with that? 

[ 2001 — Dir: Hayao Miyazaki — 125 mins — PG cert — IMDb ]

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows | 2014 | Film Review | SHELF HEROES


“I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool,” says Vladislav, one of a quartet of vampires who share a flat in Wellington, in the uproariously funny mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. There is a spectacular gag about sandwiches that follows this, but you can discover that yourselves. Co-directed by and starring Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi it’s a masterclass in riffing on an idea, plundering all the best material and knowing when to quit.

The four vampiric bachelors all carved from their own centuries go through the foibles of cohabitation (“Vampires don’t do dishes”) while unanimously failing to fit into 21st century New Zealand. The dandyish Viago (Waititi) is the would be leader, to the sadistic Vladislav (Clement), young badboy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and the basement dwelling Nosferatu-like Petyr (Ben Fransham). Repeatedly making a hash of throwing ‘dinner parties’ for guests, attracting victims in nightclubs while dressed in frills and leather, they generally fail to be inconspicuous. That is until Petyr turns local Wellingtonite Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), and the undead boys have a guide through the modern world of the living.

The mockumentary format is a pretty played out device which from Christopher Guest to The Office has been seen in every conceivable incarnation. Apart from a kiwi flatshare vampire comedy. The key attribute of the faux-documentary is that it can rush straight into the comedy of a piece, eschewing the bog standard backstories and introductions and just tell us verbatim what we need to know. With material as daft as this it is debatably the strongest approach, allowing the jokes to keep flowing without worrying about any kind of rationality of dutiful narrative arc. 

After a flawless parade of gothic gags early doors, the suspicion is that What We Do in the Shadows has played its cards too early – but with sharp writing that wrings every drop of blood from the concept the hilarity is relentless. Throwaway lines and well crafted illustrations all have a laugh in them, with not a second of dead air present. The pace and laughter never drops off, and as each movement begins to flag a new character or dynamic effortlessly picks up the slack, Stu the human – who introduces them to the internet and mobile phones – being a particular highlight. 

It’s all pretty silly stuff, with much hissing, floating and suspect Transylvanian accents, but the level of parody is targeted perfectly, allowing playful fun with visual effects (“Bat fight!”) and a catalogue of references while it carves out its own identity. An identity that is similar in deadpan, self-effacing tone to Flight of the Conchords, but the one thing that series lacked was Jemaine Clement’s head on a cat’s body, and vampires, and Rhys Darby as a werewolf. Twisted, giddy brilliance that never hits a bum note, What We Do in the Shadows is a destined cult classic that has a surplus of killer jokes and is eminently quotable enough to withstand repeated viewings. The best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead. And what a double bill that’d make.

[ 2014 — Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi — 86 mins — 15 cert — IMDb ]


Interstellar | 2014 | Film Review | SHELF HEROES


Ever since Cobb’s top continued to spin – or did it? – in Inception I have been feverishly anticipating Christopher Nolan’s next mind-bending journey through time and space, freed from the shackles of the gruff caped crusader, with enough studio backing to run wild. And after four years of relentless hype, teasers and features here I sit in my grotty flat on Earth, back from taking the journey of a lifetime the night before.

When writing about film it’s all too easy to slip into a cold critical detachment, forgetting what the best cinema is capable of – forging an emotional bond from an all enveloping sensory experience. There are precious few moments in life when we sit still in a distractionless room and give ourselves over to someone else’s vision. Something a sold out IMAX crowd did last night as a rich, dust-flecked 70mm print of Interstellar rolled through its projector. From the reserved serif title to the credits three hours later, I doubt if I blinked or drew breath, swept up in the fight for humanity on a gargantuan scale. This film is not perfect, but the awe-inspiring experience it provides cannot be faulted.

“Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.” So says a soft-spoken, leather-tanned Matthew McConaughey as Cooper – a former test pilot turned farmer on a near-future Earth where dust storms and acrid land leave food in short supply. Faced with the devastating choice of helming a secret NASA mission to find us a new home, or staying with his children – Cooper reluctantly blasts off for the greater good, leaving swaying cornfields for spiralling wormholes and distant stars. Departing on a sour note with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy, and later Jessica Chastain) Coop is determined to return home and make peace – but the film’s main antagonist, time itself, is against him, stealing years and decades as the crew of the Endurance (including Anne Hathaway, David Oyelowo and Wes Bentley) search the far reaches of the galaxy with increasing desperation.

Kubrick’s obsessive precision and Spielberg’s soft heart. Vast gliding spaceships and small human stories. This is where Nolan has placed Interstellar. A bonafide tear-jerking blockbuster entwined with legit science and staggeringly beautiful imagery. The science in question – driven by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne – has been a contentious issue for some killjoys, unable to suspend their disbelief long enough to engage in the clean accessibility and twisting pleasures of the narrative. For although the facts – and general exposition – are heavy handed, the story is a small one about love and family and regret. Human tragedy on a vast, operatic scale. Belief can be suspended so much more readily when things are real. The tactile stock of the film, physical models and in-camera effects, real locations – we are catapulted into the deepest reaches of space but Interstellar is a film we can reach out and touch. There is no gloss and digi-crispness, no sterile sets – this is a film built and shaped by calloused human hands to touch our weakest spots. For Nolan really wants us to break down and cry, taking great pleasure in some old fashioned Hollywood sentimentality to get audiences welling up. And for those of us still crushed by Spielberg’s A.I. or Zemeckis’s Contact, we stand little chance of dry eyes.

As with Nolan’s other work we are placed in a hyper reality where no line or composition feels accidental. When Cooper says “Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, cause our destiny lies above us” it feels like this was what he was meant to say – as if the words had been carved in stone on some distant planet. What this limits in characterisation and fluidity it gains in vast overarching presence. If the chitchat was more idle, if performances were more loose – Interstellar would be weakening its gravity, losing the solid importance of every frame. The father and daughter relationship may be the pivot to all that takes place, but the film's strongest impact is conjured through a dwarfing, grand scale.

Not since I saw living breathing dinosaurs for the first time in 1993 have I had such an overwhelming, majestic cinematic experience. There are better space movies than Interstellar, but I can’t picture a stronger masterpiece of spectacle and strained emotion. The Earth will dry and crumble, but its intelligent, adventurous filmmaking will ensure Interstellar lives forever.

[ 2014 — Dir: Christopher Nolan — 169 mins — 12A cert — IMDb ]


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