Words in My Head

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Category: Movies

Review: Ghost in the Shell

When Ghost in the Shell was first touted in the media as a live action movie in the works, I was intrigued — but not overly so. I’ve owned the DVD for years and never taken the time to sit down and watch what has been claimed to be one of the pillars of the anime movement. An exploration of what it means to be human using a far flung future where androids and cybernetic human enhancement run wild.

It’s not the first time this idea has been brought to the screen (big or little). Blade Runner covered this back in the 1980s with what I think of as one of the pillars of my geekdom. If artificial creations gain sentience, do they have a soul? (By the way, I’m both intrigued and terrified of the Blade Runner 2049 sequel/follow-up coming out in October. I’m not a Ryan Gosling fan, but am concerned at what they will do to trample on this treasure from my youth.)

Rather than exploring it from the AI side, Ghost in the Shell takes a human mind and stuffs it inside a robot body and asks if it’s still human. As such, I found it more than a little disturbing at how little emotion there actually was throughout the picture. It was as though the main character was so detached that she was unable to even be the conduit through which the audience is drawn into this world.  We know ScarJo can emote — she does it with the Black Widow in the Marvel universe. This was a case where her character wasn’t really allowed that sort of emotional leeway.

And that doesn’t even bring up the whole idea of the whitewashing that occurred. This is a classic Anime piece with traditional Japanese values throughout. It was quite bizarre to see Scarlett Johansson play a character I assumed to be Japanese. She wasn’t alone either, with Takeshi Kitano playing the only true Japanese character in the whole film. It’s not that it didn’t have a good cast, just that it seemed weird that in such an Asian-based world (with Geisha girl robots, painful shoes, and iconic koi fish) we had so many gaijin. It’s possible that was done in the original anime as well, but I doubt it.

I was glad I rented the film instead of going to see it in the theater. Ghost in the Shell was visually stunning. The level of detail in the background and world building was astonishing. I just wish I cared about the main character more. It was an OK film, but mostly forgettable as a character piece for me. I wanted to care more about the characters and really just got distracted by the cool stuff behind her in every scene.

A few thoughts on a big ape

A couple of weeks ago I went to see Kong: Skull Island with my wife for a long lunch on a Friday. I had some bad vibes about the film, but was hoping to be blown away by a new take on the old tale. I like a good monster movie, after all.

It turned out that Kong was more about the filmmaker trying to recreate Apocalypse Now than create a monster movie. But even so, I found myself saying two very positive things about the film when we were done. 1. It was a very pretty monster movie. And 2, it had a great soundtrack.

When I saw Apocalypse Now in high school, it was in AP English during a unit on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I honestly didn’t like either the book or the movie and I think the movie soured me pretty much on war movies in general, not that I was really a war movie kind of guy. (I did appreciate the parody in Hot Shots! with Charlie Sheen however.)

Kong is the story of a small collection of characters and their relationship with the big ape. One wants to prove it exists. One wants to kill it because he can’t stand the idea that he lost the Vietnam War. One has accepted Kong as a force for balance in a world of monsters. And one, well, I’m not sure why he was there. And I think that was part of the problem.

The girl (played by Brie Larson) was not there for a good reason other than the fact that King Kong needs his Fay Wray. Tom Hiddleston was there for the money. Sam Jackson was crazy. John Goodman wasn’t far behind. And John C. Reilly was the only character in the whole damn film who I felt I really believed.

Did I mention it was a very pretty movie with a great soundtrack?

Kong and Skull Island was amazing. The special effects were fantastic. I want to just get an animated gif of Kong snacking on some squid tentacles at some point just for fun. And the soundtrack was right out of the early 1970s. I jammed along to every single song.

But I couldn’t get emotionally invested with any of the main characters except for John C. Reilly — and I don’t even like Reilly. His crazy little pilot character was the only grounded thing in the whole damn movie for me.

Maybe I missed something, but I want an emotional connection to a character in the flick if it’s going to really do anything for me. It doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the Tom Cruise Mummy movie that’s coming this summer, though I know I’m going to go see it and hope that it is better than this one.

It seems I’m in the minority on this one, so go form your own opinions. The big ape deserved more than a nod to Vietnam in my book.

A Bunch of Mini-Reviews for January 2016

On a business trip to Germany last week, I had the opportunity to not only watch movies on my flights but catch up on some reading, so I thought I’d just do some mini-reviews of the things I managed to digest.

Movies

  • Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – If you liked the first one, you’ll probably like this one too. No Robert Duvall this time, but I thought that it was fun even if it was a little predictable in places. And, as with all Tom Cruise movies, it could be subtitled “Run Tom, Run!” (3/4 stars)
  • Morgan – This looked like an interesting movie and turned out to be a rehash of every other Frankenstein-like plot. Why is it that monsters, machines, alien/human hybrids, and nanobot/human hybrids always turn on their masters? Far too predictable and boring for me. (1/4 stars)
  • Legend of Tarzan – Funny enough, I enjoyed this one with Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robie, and Sam Jackson. They didn’t go overboard on talking with the animals and all the characters were pretty clearly motivated. (3/4 stars)
  • Swiss Army Man – This has to be the weirdest movie I’ve seen in a very very long time with Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that I will never think about farting quite the same way. (3/4 stars)
  • War Dogs – When I saw the trailers for this one with Jonah Hill, I have to say I wasn’t all that interested. But I decided to give it a shot on the plane. It turned out to be pretty good. Reminded me a bit of Deal of the Century with Chevy Chase.  (2/4 stars)

And since I’ve been back, I watched the latest animated DC Comics movie – Justice League Dark.  I really enjoyed this one. One of the best of the rebooted DC universe animated flicks by far. (4/4 stars)

Books

  • Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen – Wow. Amazing follow up to her first book, Wake of Vultures. If you like urban fantasy and an alternate Wild West, this series is phenomenal.
  • Monster Hunters International: Sinners by Larry Correia and John Ringo – Another fun entry in the MHI series, though not my favorite. I liked MHI: Grunge better, though this one ended pretty well. If you like guns, action, and monsters, you should definitely check out this series starting from the beginning. Check out Larry’s website for more.
  • The Purloined Poodle by Kevin Hearne – If you are a fan of urban fantasy and haven’t read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, you’re missing out. And this is a fun side quest for Atticus and his hound Oberon. Definitely light reading and entertaining! Check out Hearne’s site for more about his series!
  • Shadowed Souls  a short story collection from Jim Butcher & Kerrie L. Hughes – Another amazing urban fantasy series is the Dresden Files series from author Jim Butcher. This short story collection has one story in Dresden’s world and a great mix of others from a variety of authors. Fun collection of varied voices and tones. If you want more of the Dresden Files, check out Jim Butcher’s site for the complete list!
  • Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia – I have been enjoying his Monster Hunters International series, so thought I’d dive into his new epic fantasy series. And I was not disappointed. I’m VERY curious to see where it goes in the next book.

And there you have it. I had a lot of time to kill in airports, airplanes, and in the hotel when I was between meetings. 🙂

Have you read anything good recently? Let me know!

Review: La La Land

We’ve managed to see a few films over this Christmas break. Rogue One. Collateral Beauty. And the girls saw Sing. And now, for Mickey’s birthday, we went to see La La Land staring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Essentially this is the Hollywood story. An aspiring actress, Mia (Emma Stone) works as a barista serving drinks to movie stars while she auditions endlessly, never getting a callback. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) plays jazz piano and has dreams of opening a jazz club in Los Angeles. They bump into one another, have a love affair, and eventually attain the dreams they worked so hard to achieve — but in separate lives.

Neither Gosling nor Stone has a fantastic voice. But even so, the strongest part of the film was the music. As a fan of jazz, I hope this movie sparks some interest in this genre of music. There are some amazing arrangements and performances throughout, including some music from John Legend that I didn’t mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the songs with Gosling and Stone. You could tell they had fun with it. And there was an innocence or organic nature to many of the singing and dancing numbers.

But there were far too many parts of the film where I just closed my eyes and waited for the music to start again. One particular scene where the two characters were having an argument seemed to last forever. And in an already long film (a little more than 2 hours), I thought they could have done better with the story parts.

There were quite a few moments that looked great and sounded great too. Any time the main characters were doing their singing and dancing thing, I was engaged.

But the best part for me was how they captured what a composer puts into a song towards the end. From the first note to the last, there was meaning and story. Musical phrases linked to moments in their own lives. Lyrics and licks that tell tales through melody, rhythm, and pacing. And the story ends with the last note.

I really wanted to like this film more. Musical film is rare these days. Some of the better ones from the last few years include Into the Woods, Enchanted, Across the Universe, and Moulin Rouge. And I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones I can remember.

The story from each of those (except for the creepy Johnny Depp wolf in Into the Woods) held up better for me than the one in La La Land.

But I’ll still buy the soundtrack. 🙂

Collateral Beauty, Some Observations

From the moment I saw the trailers for Collateral Beauty, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Will Smith has become an amazing actor in the days since the Fresh Prince oF Bel-Air. But more than that, he seems to pick projects that make you think. For every Men in Black or Independence Day, there’s a Seven Pounds or The Pursuit of Happyness. He balances entertainment with philosophy in equal amounts, and we are better for it.

Collateral Beauty is not a romantic comedy or visual feast of special effects. It’s about a man dealing with the loss of a child and the ripples that form around not only that event, but the fallout.

Due to its subject matter, this will likely not be a huge box office success. But it should quietly gain notice from the people who choose to give it attention. It’s a topic no parent wants to contemplate. I don’t want to outlive my children. And yet it’s a situation we’ve had friends deal with in recent years. One that we respect and treat as gently as possible because it will never be ok. That comes up in the movie in fact and made my wife and I think about our friends, their struggle, and our own children.

It’s not a perfect film, but I want to talk about it in two major areas.

First, there’s the cast, which is amazing. Will Smith. Helen Mirren. Edward Norton. Michael Pena. Naomie Harris. Jacob Latimore. Keira Knightley. Kate Winslet. How can you go wrong with those names on the marquee?

It’s Smith’s movie, though the others come in and out like characters in a Shakespearean play passing through the stage. For a good chunk of the film, Smith says nothing at all, but you can feel the pain and anguish. You can see it in his face. In his body language. In the way he starts to say something and then stops. And later when he starts talking again, you hang on every single word.

Mirren is delightful, playing the aspect of Death. And I don’t mean that in any way other than she’s amazing. Death is a part of life and she embodies it with every line she says in the role. She continues to impress me with her depth and breadth as an actress.

Pena is also amazing. His role in Ant-Man was charming and funny, but this role is so far removed from those concepts that it’s incredible. His character here is the definition of a stoic in word and deed.

Harris offered an understated calm in the storm Smith’s character is going through and by the time you see how things are connected, you’re ok with it because she never forces it. She speaks. She listens. She observes. And she fills a void connecting worlds to one another.

And Latimore in the role of Time… I think he had some of the greatest lines in the film discussing how we take the gift of time for granted. He attacked that role with a vengeance and we came away enlightened as a result. Though I’d seen him in other things, he was an unknown to me. I think we’ll be seeing great things from him in the future.

I didn’t even mind Ed Norton. He’s not one of my favorites, but his character changed through the film in unexpected ways. He went from a damaged middle-aged man pursuing love to explaining why being a parent is one of the most beautiful and terrifying roles anyone will ever play in a lifetime.

The biggest weak point was Knightley. Sorry, but though she has a great role to play as the abstraction of Love — I just never felt anything. She’s not one of my favorites anyway, but I wish she had done better with the role. The words were there, but I felt the conviction was lacking.

Second, there’s the writing. This is honestly one of the best scripts I’ve seen on screen in a long time.

Why? Because it didn’t drown in words. There were entire chunks of the film in which we simply FELT as we watched Will Smith move through the story. It allowed the audience time to breathe, to accept what had come before and digest it a little before we were hit by another brief barrage of philosophy, anger, or the unfair nature of the world. There was an organic rise and fall that never felt rushed in any way. And when we reach the end of the story, it’s almost a cathartic release as it is with Smith’s character.

Collateral Beauty has to be one of my favorite films of the year. It was beautiful. It was sad. It was perfect despite its few flaws. And I hope I never have to experience the loss of a child.

Bravo.

My 2017 Movie List

This is my first SWAG at a list of movies I’m either definitely going to see or may see…

Top Films to See in 2017

  • John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10)
  • Logan (March 3)
  • Kong: Skull Island (March 10)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)
  • Alien: Covenant (May 19)
  • Wonder Woman (June 2)
  • The Mummy (June 9)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (October 6)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (November 3)
  • Justice League (November 17)
  • Star Wars: Episode VIII (December 15)

The Full List of Definites and Maybes

January 2017

  • January 6
    • Hidden Figures (a bit of the hidden history of NASA)
    • Underworld: Blood Wars (let’s see if Kate Beckinsale still fits in the leather suit – probably a renter)
    • A Monster Calls (looks like a fun, original kids movie – probably a renter)
  • January 20
    • xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage (just looks like fun – definitely a renter, but will probably see at the theater anyway)
  • January 27
    • Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (the last turn of Milla Jovovich, zombie hunter – definitely a renter)

February 2017

  • February 10
    • John Wick: Chapter 2 (also known as “Valentine’s Day, Bloody Valentine’s Day” – must see in the theater)

March 2017

  • March 3
    • Logan (one last Wolverine movie – must see in the theater)
  • March 10
    • Kong: Skull Island (can Sam Jackson beat King Kong? – must see in the theater)
  • March 24
    • Life (looks intriguing as a science fiction horror – probably a renter)
  • March 31
    • Ghost in the Shell (not sure what to make of this – probably a renter)

April 2017

  • April 21
    • The Lost City of Z (amazing book, probably a renter but hopefully worth seeing)

May 2017

  • May 5
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (must see)
  • May 12
    • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (??? probably a renter)
  • May 19
    • Alien: Covenant (hopefully no rolling doughnuts in this one – want to see though)
  • May 26
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (also known as “Johnny Depp needs a paycheck” – will probably see)

June 2017

  • June 2
    • Wonder Woman (looks exciting, must see)
  • June 9
    • The Mummy (Tom Cruise vs. the Mummy, I’m rooting for the Mummy, must see)
    • World War Z 2 (the first one was better than I expected, will probably see this one)
  • June 16
    • Cars 3 (let’s see just how photo-realistic and scary Pixar can make this film for children)
  • June 23
    • Transformers: The Last Knight (this is going to be an awful film, but will probably see it)
  • June 30
    • Despicable Me 3 (again, probably an awful film, but we’ll probably go see it)

July 2017

  • July 7
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming (please be good!)
  • July 21
    • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (please be good!)
  • July 28
    • The Dark Tower (never read this Steven King series, but maybe the film will be good?)

October 2017

  • October 6
    • Kingsman: The Golden Circle (the first one was more fun than it had any right to be, so let’s try again)
    • Blade Runner 2049 (this has the potential to be awful, but the first teaser looks good… so maybe?)

November 2017

  • November 3
    • Thor: Ragnarok (Thor + Hulk buddy movie? I’m in!)
  • November 17
    • Justice League (can it really be any worse than Batman v. Superman?)

December 2017

  • December 15
    • Star Wars: Episode VIII (yes!!)
  • December 22
    • Jumanji (the Rock + Kevin Hart + Jack Black? could be fun!)
    • Pitch Perfect 3 (at least the music will probably be good)

 

 

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