Ghost In The Shell, Iconic

With the release of the live action remake of  Ghost in the Shell this year, I had the opportunity to watch the original 1995 anime at one of the few limited screenings at the cinema. Even though a fan of anime & manga, I’ve never got round to watching this film, so it was time to see what the hype was about!

Following on from 1988’s Akira, GITS follows on with the cyber-punk genre, with a captivating foresight into the future, with a movie that still holds up today. The film was such an inspiration, that the Wachowski’s showed the film to producers when pitching their idea for The Matrix!

GITS revolves around Major Motoko Kusunagi, an android who works for Sector 9, a branch of law enforcement; she is joined by Batou, her partner, and Togusa, the only human in the force, as they attempt to track down the manipulative ‘Puppet Master’ , but things are not as they seem, as they uncover a hidden government conspiracy!

Although I watched it last week, I decided to wait a couple of days before writing about it, as it’s a movie that requires some level of thought, and you may not grasp everything immediately afterwards! Similar to Your Name, it’s a movie that requires some time to go over the finer points!

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The film takes place in the not so future 2029! But considering this film was released over 20 years ago, it does manage to predict what society would be like, and frankly, what it’s like now! The central plot to the movie is that the entire world is interconnected by a computer network, which controls most things, and enabling the authorities to go as far as using wonders such as satellite tracking. Sound familiar? This was all before the internet was really a thing, where a concept of satellite tracking was pure fantasy! How people access this network is via their cybernetic bodies, their ‘shells’, via the ports in the back of their neck. A concept The Matrix franchise used as inspiration for its own lore! The film even inspired the ‘code rain’ that The Matrix films used to great effect, the falling screen of green numbers.

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The very concept of androids and life is the vocal point of our protagonist’s internal conflict, though the Major is an all-powerful robot, who very much looks and thinks like a human, she comes to realise, that at the end of the day, she isn’t. Her ‘ghost’, who is the term used to describe someone soul, is just something that has been programmed into her, and it’s this that eats away at her every night. The search for being human is so concerning for her, the she goes diving underwater in her free time, in order to feel human, knowing if there was any equipment failure, it would doom her in her metallic shell.

It’s important to understand that this is not an action film, though it may be emblazoned with guns on the cover! It’s very much a thriller, with its action set pieces. There are the standard police chase scenes, and stand offs, but don’t expect it to be all guns blazing for the entire run time.  It’s also a slow paced movie, and depending on your personal taste, this may be something you may not be a fan off. The film has a tendency to cut to scenes of the city, showing everyday life, this may not bother you, but others may find it abit too much.

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Let’s for a moment, discuss the sheer beauty of the movie. The animation is gorgeous, for a film made in ’95, it still looks lush now. The detail in the scenery is immaculate; the backstreets of the city are bought to life, simply due to all the signs and colours! The accompanying score is majestic; Kenji Kawai does a magnificent job in telling the story through music. The opening credits to the film are haunting and chilling, in which they depict the creation of the Major, without the music, the scene would be nowhere near as memorable. Showing the Major being created in a factory, gives the character a lot more depth, when it comes to her existential crisis.  It’s great to see that the Hollywood remake will use the same piece of music in its film, a tribute to how iconic the music is.

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The final act is very melancholic and  dialogue heavy. As our hero and villain engage in conversation, regarding their purpose of existing.  It does delve into some very engaging points such as requiring genetic variation, in order to survive. It does require intense focus; otherwise it may just end up as one big mess to the viewer. The ending of the film does film rather abrupt, as it sets up subsequent chapters to the saga. It feels like the movie could have run on for an extra half hour, just to make things a bit easier to grasp, just as you feel like the heroine is set up to make one final charge, it ends!

Ghost in The Shell is not the perfect movie, nor will it appeal to everyone. But the theme and motives of the film were far ahead of its time, and it’s gone on to influence several films since its release.  If you’re a fan of science fiction, even if you don’t have an interest in anime, this film will certainly give you a lot to think over!

Passengers : Style over Substance

Fortunately, we have seen a revival of good space ferrying films, some of my favorites of recent years have been Interstellar and The Martian, so I was highly anticipating watching Passengers with the cross genre between Romance and Science Fiction.

Set on the self-navigated spaceship Avalon, 5000 people are travelling in hibernation pods to start a new life on the colony Homebound 2. The trip should take 120 years but due to an unexplained jolt in space, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and then Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are awoken 30 years too early. The story revolves around Jim and Aurora accepting their 90-year journey together forming a deep and meaningful bond. However, not all is quite what is seems when a series of supposed malfunctions put the lives of the 5000 unconscious human beings under threat, and it’s up to the only human passengers, Jim and Aurora to save the day. There is a short guest appearance from Laurence Fishburne which keeps the film ticking along, but the most notable performance goes to the Android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen).

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The overall premise of the film is compelling, but the first 30 minutes of the film is a disappointment mostly due to Chris Pratt’s lacklustre performance, as he tries desperately to illustrate the highs and lows of living alone. From waking from his chamber, Jim tries to make the most of his unfortunate circumstances and turns his attention to the delights of the ship including holographic dance offs to indoor space basketball. This quickly dissipates into Jim becoming depressed knowing he would never speak to another human being again. It reminded me a little of the loneliness portrayed by Tom Hanks in Castaway, a forlorn soul longing for human contact becoming more disheveled in appearance as the days go on. However, Chris Pratt is no Tom Hanks nor can he shine in stand alone scenes.

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The story becomes a lot more watchable when Aurora steps into the picture. Jennifer Lawrence stuns in every film, not only visually, but her wit, charisma and has a good backstory to her character. As a writer, Aurora start to narrate the story of her life on board the starship, telling the viewers she wanted to travel to Homebound 2 to be the only writer  on ‘overrated Earth’ to share the experiences of colonist life. Her character has purpose, momentum and sass, in stark comparison to Jim’s weak performance and lack of character development. There is some chemistry between the two main leads, but you quickly feel that the plot was designed to showcase two beautiful individuals on screen together.

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The saving grace of this film is the android bartender Arthur. Michael Sheen effortlessly conveys a witty and heartfelt performance still maintaining mechanical expressions, which is a difficult feat in itself. Even Michael Sheen said it was hard to ’make drinks and not look down’. I especially loved how Arthur had a human body and electronic legs to remind the audience that Arthur is a part of the Ship and Jim and Aurora are really alone.  The film also uses Arthur as prop to become a sounding board to the main characters, which allows the film to explore the depths and questionable ethics the characters must face, being the only conscious human beings in space.

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Overall this film fails to be a cutting edge science fiction debut or memorable romantic comedy. I think the film’s greatest strength was the notion that perhaps one day that we will be able to travel in space cryogenic-ally frozen, but for now as the film likes to remind us, that we are simply passengers on this journey, and its far better to be happy to accept our surrounding than long for a life that’s unobtainable. Would I see this film again, no, but if you want to sit and watch two beautiful stars for 2 hours then by all means watch this film.

 

Rogue One ends 2016 in style!

The Force Awakens, managed to bring back the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy, together with making Star Wars a huge Box Office draw once again. Rogue One was announced as the first of a collection of stand-alone films, known as the Star Wars Anthology. The Force Awakens (TFA) strongly lent on the influences of past movies, but could Rogue One replicate its success without using past foundations to build upon?

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Rogue One is the story of an intrepid group of rebels, who attempt to steal the plans which would aid the resistance to take down the impending creation of the apocalyptic Death Star. Our protagonist, Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mikkleson), who as a child, witnesses her father being taken away by the Galactic Empire to assist the completion of the super-weapon. Several years in the future, fate has her confront the consequences of the father’s actions, and plans one final assault to save millions of lives.

She is joined by several resistance fighters, who are all willing to go into a battle against all the odd. Cassian Andor (Luna), a member of the Rebel Alliance together with his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Tudyk). Defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), who has the vital intel for the mission. Chirrut Imwe (Yen), a blind fighter, who believes that he has ‘The Force’ and his best friend, Baze Malbus (Wen), who provides the firepower and muscle for his blind friend!

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The biggest challenge facing director Gareth Edwards was to take a group of virtually unknown characters, and make them work in a Star Wars film with very little Jedi & Lightsabre action! The film even goes as far as skipping the iconic ‘opening crawl’ during the opening credits, nor does it have the triumphant John Williams score at the start. What’s important to know here, is that these heroes do not have ‘The Force’, they are not Jedis, nor do they have any kind of super-power to make them stand out from the crowd. They’re just a group of regular (in the grand scheme of Star Wars!) people.

What we get, and it’s a huge compliment to the director, is a wonderful addition to the franchise. It’s a departure from the norm, and that’s what makes this film shine brightest. The overall tone of the movie is very dark; death and tragedy are a big part of the film. Even the Stormtroopers look like they mean business! There’s just something about the black uniform that makes them feel that much more imposing.

The casting here was on point. Donnie Yen as the blind warrior was a master-stroke! Providing not just the fine choreographed fight scenes he is well known for, but also giving the film some of its more humorous moments. Speaking of humour, Tudyk is a show stealer as the Droid devoid of any empathy! Regardless of the situation, K-2SO will give his brutally honest opinion. It was also nice to see Riz Ahmed get a role differing from his usual typecast, which allowed him to show another side to his acting calibre.

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One casting decision that did raise a few eyebrows was to digitally recreate the late Peter Cushing to reprise his infamous role as Commander Tarkin. The director believed that only Cushing could portray the villain, as controversial as the decision was, we had to admit, that the CGI technology has come a long way! Considering Tarkin has a considerable amount of dialogue in the movie, it could have looked awkward, but the result is mightily impressive. Apart from the longer moments of dialogue, it shouldn’t bother viewers too much. There is also one brief cameo from another character CGIed to look like their selves from Episodes 4-6. It’s only a few seconds, but I believe it was worth it, the scene would not have had the same impact had it only been filmed from behind.

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A quick mention regarding a spoiler from the trailers. Yes, Darth Vader does appear in Rogue One! James Earl Jones once again reprises one of the most iconic roles in all cinema! His presence in the movie is minimalist, only appearing in 3 scenes. The last of which is simply outstanding, and will leave all fans in awe! From a critical standpoint, does he really need to be in this film? Not really, like the Joker from Suicide Squad, his role could have been removed entirely. But unlike Suicide Squad, the decision to put him in was justified just for his final appearance!

So we have a dramatic storyline, a likable bunch of heroes and a new sense of danger not seen before in any SW move before, but what’s going against the film?

One criticism has to be that compared to TFA, the characters here are just not as memorable.  Even after just one film, Rey, Finn & Poe had a chemistry that the characters here just did not have.  We also didn’t get enough time to build up each of the team. Why did Rook decide to defect? The reason is never fully explained. Baze & Chirrut are just stumbled upon and join the team a few scenes later.  The film takes a while to get going, and it would have been better to use some of that time to give the team abit more of a backstory.  Another point to mention is that several scenes from the trailer were removed in the final cut. Will these scenes be in the extended edition? Or were they simply edited in to tempt viewers? Regardless, it’s become a worrying trend recently in Hollywood.

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With those gripes aside, Rogue One may have entered the year very late, but it’s already laid a marker in being the best film of the year. The supporting cast, including the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker & Ben Mendelsohn, all deliver stellar performances. TFA was impressive, but it did lack a spark of originality, it was more of a tribute to the films from before, also relying on bringing back past characters to help. What Rogue One manages to do is create a brand new film, without any major assistance. It also answers a burning question fans have been asking ever since A New Hope, which actually makes this film rather important in Star Wars lore!

Is it the best film if the year? Personally, Captain America : Civil War takes that crown. But Rogue One pushes it mighty close! Go and see it now!

 

 

 

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