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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.

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. 🙂

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