I hate to think that When Marnie Was There (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) may be the last film to come out of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, the great animation studio created by filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away). Miyazaki didn’t direct Marnie—Studio Ghibli animator-turned director Hiromasa Yonebayashi helms this lovely tale—but the studio’s dedication to the art of hand drawn animation and quiet, calm, introspective storytelling is present in every frame of this film.
Based on the novel by Joan G. Robinson, it’s the story of a shy schoolgirl named Anna, an orphan who feels unloved and unwanted (all evidence to the contrary from a protective adoptive mother, who she calls “Auntie”) and is unable to forge friendships with others, preferring to lose herself in sketching. Sent away to the country for her health, she meets Marnie, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreign girl who lives in the Marsh House, an abandoned manor on the sea that comes to life when Anna visits it one evening. “Are you real?” Anna asks on their first meeting, a fair question. Anna isn’t sure if Marnie is real, a ghost, or a dream and doesn’t really care. There’s an emotional connection between them and Marnie sweeps her into her world, a fantasy life of magnificent parties and doting parents that turns out to be more idealized fantasy than reality.
The Marnie adventures are an escape from her fears of social interaction and her crippling sense of self-doubt and inability to forgive her parents for abandoning her in death. It’s illogical and that’s the point: Anna can’t confess these terrible, unfair, yet very real feelings to anyone but Marnie, who shares her own disappointments in return. It’s the beginning of Anna’s healing. When a new family buys the Marsh House and their little girl discovers Marnie’s diary, the revelations continue the process in the most emotionally satisfying ways. When Marnie Was There is a gentle, touching story of confronting turbulent emotions that acknowledges that, however unfair, such feelings are real and cause real damage. It is also a delicately-told tale by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who previously directed The Secret World of Arietty. Yonebayashi hasn’t the sense of wonder or fantasy that define Miyazaki’s films but he gently suggests the gravity of the drama and the turmoil of the emotional storm within Anna.
On Blu-ray and DVD with both original Japanese language and dubbed English language soundtracks (Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, John C. Reilly, and Geena Davis are among the English voice cast) and a wealth of supplements. While the film was co-produced by Disney Japan, the disc is released stateside by Universal under their GKids imprint—it also released previous Studio Ghibli film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)—but they have access to the same extras that Disney’s deluxe editions present. Studio Ghibli films are beloved in Japan and released on disc with featurettes, interviews, and other supplements, all dutifully presented here (in Japanese with English subtitles). One of my favorite extras is the “Feature-Length Storyboards,” which is basically a slide show of storyboards and production art set to the soundtrack of the movie. It plays like an alternate storybook version of the film. There is also 42-minute “The Making of When Marnie Was There” and featurettes on art director Yohei Taneda and the voice cast.
In Magic Mike XXL (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), Channing Tatum reunites with the old gang (minus Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer, who have abandoned them for a new venture in the far East) for one last blast. It’s been three years since Mike left to start his own business and he’s struggling, but when he’s lured to a reunion (thanks to a little subterfuge) he proposes they team up and go out on top at a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It’s a buddy comedy, a road movie, and a story about teamwork and creative passion (Mike convinces them to toss out the tried and true acts and create something new that reflects who they are now, not what they’ve done), all in a film about beefy guys who take their clothes off in elaborately-choreographed performances where success is measured in the squeals of female audiences and the showers of folding green that comes raining down (or is slipped into their shorts).
Those contradictions—a drama about appreciating the erotic delights of playing a sexual fantasy for women hungry for such ideals while also acknowledging that such a fantasy has its limits (both as a mode of personal fulfillment and as a profession limited by the inevitability of age)—are part of what makes the film so engaging. Tatum and the cast (returning colleagues Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez, new additions Stephen Boss, aka tWitch, and Donald Glover) bring an easy-going camaraderie to the reunion and infectious energy to their performances. They are good company and sustain the film, which rides a wisp of a plot to explore male friendships and aspirations while enjoying one last fling as performance artist-as-sex object. It really shouldn’t be as good as it is, but there you go. Gregory Jacobs, a longtime producing partner of Steven Soderbergh (who directed the first Magic Mike) makes his directorial debut on the film and Soderbergh keeps his hand in as cinematographer and editor (under the pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) as well as producer.
On Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and an extended dance sequence.