‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review

Director: Rupert Sanders

Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara, and Juliette Binoche

Synopsis: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved form a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based, maybe to many loosely based, off the comic by Masamune Shirow and the hit anime in the early 90s, Ghost in the Shell has been under the radar for some time now. Whether it be the fact that most people think it shouldn’t have been remade or – the big one – the white washing controversy, the film has certainly been in the public eye so it indeed to impress a lot of people to justify it being made. Unfortunately, Ghost in the Shell impresses at the right moments, but then it becomes a bit bland and shallow.

Set in future Tokyo where people are now okay with doing cybernetic implants, we follows Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), who after an accident which only leaves her brain intact, a company called Hanka places her brain in a state-of-the-art robot body that will allow her to pass as human. We skip forward  a year, and she now works for a government division called Section 9, a tactical response unit tasked with hunting down terrorist, and is now known as The Major. The team soon realizes that they have a serious threat in Kuze (Michael Pitt), a terrorist who is hacking into and killing members of the Hanka robotics company. However, as the investigation goes on The Major starts to remember things from her past that throws the investigation in a different direction.

I’m going to throw this out there now, I haven’t seen the original anime – yet – I’ve wanted to for some time now, and wanted to before watching this, but time caught up with me and I couldn’t. So everything in this review is going to be based off this film, and solely this film. So please forgive me if I think something works or doesn’t work, but is essential to the anime or original source material.

Let’s start off with the cast, since that’s the biggest thing everyone was talking about before watching the actual movie. Scarlett Johansson does fine playing the conflicted character trying to figure out her place in the world, but also bound by duty to take down Kuze. Pilou Asbaek plays Major’s friend and partner Batou, who, honestly, doesn’t get enough screen time, Peter Ferdinando is a Hanka company man named Cutter who’s has a history with the program Major was a part of. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki, Major and Batou’s boss who only speaks in Japanese, who also could have used more screen time considering the role he plays later on in the film.

Juliette Binoche plays Dr. Ouelet, the lead scientist that makes Major who she is, and while Binoche puts her best effort into the role, her character – to me – doesn’t rise up to the stakes her character should have been. Speaking of that, Michael Pitt’s Kuze is pretty disappointing. Not only is he not in the film enough, he only has one real good scene with Johansson which reveal the beginning of the secrets for Major. It’s nothing against Pitt either, he’s just not in the film long enough to really give Kuze that level of importance the film tries to five him at the beginning of the film. The rest of the cast, well, they’re just there unfortunately.

Ghost in the Shell also tries to ask the important deep question like what makes you human and can Major be an actual individual? But the film spends little time actually digging into to those questions, and instead takes the sci-fi crime thriller action route. Which would be fine if this wasn’t a remake of Ghost in the Shell – from what I heard anyway – and this was an original film, but it isn’t and it hurts the film in the long run. What also hurts the film is the white washing controversy does come to the forefront in multiple ways.

One is like I mentioned earlier, Kitano’s Aramaki only speaks in Japanese – and everyone else speaks to him in English. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s one of the only real Asian in the film who has a major role – Yutaka Izumihara plays a character named Saito, who I’m not even kidding, I think only has two scenes and Chin Han, who plays a character named Han, who is a member of Section 9, but doesn’t really do anything to stand out. However, the biggest way the issue lingers is near the end when you figure out what happened in Major’s past. You can make the argument that it makes sense to do that, but at the same time it is kind of stupid and disrespectful to the point that it took me out of the film completely. It’s not the best way to go, especially in a film that people were already up in arms about.

All in all, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a groundbreaking film like its predecessors. The one redeeming thing about the film, if you want to look at it that way, is the visual effects. It really gives you a sense of how different the world is, and it should be too much of a shock considering it is directed by Rupert Sanders, who got his start doing visual effects. However, like his previous film in Snow White and the Huntsman, Ghost in the Shell is all show with very little substance.

Ghost in the Shell

3 out of 5

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‘The Great Wall’ Review

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Director: Zhang Yimou

Writers: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Lu Han, Hanyu Zhang, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Ryan Zheng, Karry Wang and Willem Dafoe.

Synopsis: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Great Wall received a lot, and I mean a lot, of criticism when the trailer was released showing Matt Damon surrounded by Asian actors and by the look of it, saving them and China from monsters. After all of it, director Zhang Yimou and Andy Lau came out and said that was not the case, and that the character was always written to be non-Asian, but people still were angry – without watching the film. Now, that the film is out, I know people will still keep to their stance not seeing past Damon’s casting, but if you can get past that – especially seeing that Damon is the true savior of China in the film – we get a descent and passable action film.

The film follows William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), mercenaries that came from Europe to China seeking the fabled “black powder” to make them rich. However, they find The Great Wall of China instead with a massive army inside that call themselves The Nameless Order. Once within, they discover that China is under attack from monsters the Order have called the Tao Tei. Once they prove themselves to the Generals, including Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), they are recruited to stop the monsters from breaching the Great Wall and attacking the world. However, Tovar and William are conflicted once the fight becomes more dangerous. Tovar wants to complete the mission they were on, while William wants to stay and fight.

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People will have their opinions about The Great Wall, but the way I looked at it – without spoiling it of course – Damon’s William isn’t the “White Savior” many thought he would be. Does he play a factor to the end game? Yes, there’s no denying that, but at least from what I saw, he isn’t the key to killing the monsters like many thought or the trailers would have you believe. Is he special? Sure, he’s really good with a bow. That’s it. Once you get past Damon’s weird accent, and sometimes what feels like wooden acting, William is a character drawn to two worlds. He’s a mercenary that kills for others and money, but once he meets The Nameless Order and Commander Lin, he sees there are other reasons to fight.

When it comes to the rest of the cast Pedro Pascal has great chemistry with Damon, and because of that I wished he had more screen time. Tian Jing’s Commander Lin has some great moments scattered throughout, and being the only real female character in the film it was good to see. Also, she’s not a love interest! She does have an effect on Damon’s William, but it more of a respect than romantic – although you can make the argument probably. Willem Dafoe on the other hand is pretty much wasted here. Besides adding some insight in what is going on, he doesn’t really do anything and could have been played by anyone else.

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When it comes to the action, it’s pretty good despite the massive amount of CGI monsters. That shouldn’t be too surprising considering the man that directed this in Zhang Yimou. From films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, the action is pretty great and filled with great cinematography, and heart-pounding score that Zhang is accustomed to. Moreover, when it comes to the creatures, the designs aren’t that bad and their design makes them difficult to fill as well. Also, the fact that most TV spots or trailers never really fully showed them off was impressive.

All in all, people are going to have their opinions on The Great Wall as a film and politically, which is fine. I just hope people can look past that and find some enjoyment in the film. It’s not perfect, most of the characters don’t get enough screen time or are not even developed at all, and there a small subplot that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t do really anything for the film – at least personally. But, the end game of it all, the film is a passable action film.

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The Great Wall

3.5 out of 5

Mini-Reviews: Allied & Manchester by the Sea

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Allied

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Daniel Betts, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney.

Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fight on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressure of war.

 

Robert Zemeckis is back with a World War II drama that sees two great actors come together to give the genre a little twist. So it’s a little hard to fathom how Zemeckis was able make a bit of a water-downed film with great performances, but overall the structure of the film really hurts the film.

Allied follows spy Max Vatan (Pitt) who goes undercover in French Morocco in 1942 where he meets with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) to pull off a mission to kill the German ambassador. The two eventually fall in love with each other and move to London where they get married and have a child. However, Max suddenly gets called in by British intelligence and is told that his wife could be a German spy. Not only that, if it is true, Max has to kill her himself. What follows is Max’s quest for answers to something he doesn’t believe.

Allied works on some levels. Pitt and Cotillard are great together and hold their own when need be. However, the first half of the film is much better than the second half. Also, Cotillard has much more to do and is fleshed out a lot more in the first half than the second. Seeing her work her charm against high ranking German officials so they can get close to the ambassador they need to kill was fun to watch, but afterwards it becomes Max’s story on whether or not his wife is a spy and what is he willing to do to prove it’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with it becoming Max’s story, but when it does turn all its attention to him, Cotillard doesn’t really do anything until the final twenty minutes of the film.

The film also loses some of its intensity after the first half of the film. Some of the big tension moments don’t have the sense of level of urgency or intense moment of fear or not knowing, so it doesn’t really help considering this is a spy drama thriller. There are great moments, I don’t want to take away anything from the film on that front, but overall the film lacked a certain push the film needed to push it over the top.

All in all, Allied is a fine film with good performances, but the sudden change of perspective and it lack of focus and intensity like the first half hinders the film from being great.

Allied

3 out of 5

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Manchester by the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Writers: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick

Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

 

Manchester by the Sea’s synopsis sounds rather simple, add in the fact that it’s getting a limited release at first will add to people’s decision to maybe pass this up. However, the film has been making a ton of waves on the film festival circuit, and is already getting people predicting this is a huge front runner come Oscar season. Finally watching the film, I can see why. Manchester by the Sea is truly one of the best films of the year, and one that is very human when it comes to dealing with loss and grief.

The film follows Lee Chandler (Affleck), a loner janitor/handyman in Boston who is a bit rude and doesn’t seem interested in anything going on around him. That changes a bit when he gets a phone call saying his brother Joe (coincidently played by Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Lee makes the journey back to the small town of Manchester to settle his brother’s affairs, which also includes dealing with Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Hedges), and Joe’s wish of Lee watching over him. What follows is Lee and Patrick’s story of the both of them dealing with the loss of Joe, and how the deal with their situation as well as Lee dealing with linger thoughts of his own traumatic event.

Like I mentioned before, the synopsis sounds rather simple but there is a lot to unpack in the film, and all of it is worthwhile. The film doesn’t rely on usual character yelling at each other before reaching that peak moment of emotions that they forgive each other and are finally happy. The film feels real, and lets every character go through their own emotions like everyone does. Everyone grieves differently, and the film shows that in its way.

The great thing is that we spend enough time with Lee and Patrick, and get to know them. Casey Affleck continues to show that he can handle great material and isn’t just Ben Affleck’s brother. Affleck as Lee is rather intriguing to watch. A good chunk of Lee’s backstory is told through flashbacks that not only make us understand a bit of where Lee is coming from, but is tremendous effective and dramatic. I’d be surprised if Affleck isn’t at least nominated for Best Actor come Oscar season. However, it’s Affleck’s rapport with young actor Lucas Hedges that carries the middle of the film. Hedges has done some projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and even a small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but this really allowed him to break loose and show his range. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Hedges in a lot more things soon. The rest of the cast fairs well too with Michelle Williams making the most of her small screen time with a powerful performance near the end of the film.

All in all, Manchester by the Sea is one of those films you should experience for yourself. It’s a very real emotional film that is lead by Casey Affleck in one of the best films of the year. All the buzz surrounding the film is completely worth it, and while at times the film may feel aimless, it’s done in a way that actually works.

Manchester by the Sea

4.5 out of 5

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New Podcast: Rogue One Trailer, Charlize Theron Joins Fast 8, Warner Bros. Shifts Focus & More

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s podcast. Once again, another late upload, this time because of slow internet. Not an excuse I know, but I am trying here guys! Anyway, take a listen and let me know what you think and what were you’re favorite news items.

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MoviePit

 

What’s to Come?

If you followed me over then hello again but, this is my second blog here on wordpress but due to the fault of my own and the deadly spam on the interwebs, I had to make a new account. Nonetheless, I will be (obviously) using this one to bring all of you reviews, trailers, news and anything else movie related.

The first thing I’m going to be doing here is probably one of the biggest things from my past account. At the end of the year I do my own “Award Show” where YOU get to vote for your favorite or best actor, actress, supporting actor & actress, horror, fight, animated, comic book, and director.

Other than that I hope you enjoy the page if you’re new.