Ghost in the Shell (2017)

★★

Anime-to-film adaptations, at least in American productions have been rough in the past to say the least. Some range on terrible like Dragon Ball Evolution (2009) to “worst of all time” like The Last Airbender (2010). Ghost in the Shell (2017) rises above all the failed adaptations of other anime (except Speed Racer obviously) and manages to still be quite bad.

Ghost in the Shell, a live action remake of the 1995 animated movie takes most of the philosophy of the source material and instead spoon-feeds it the audience, telling them how to react to what is happening rather than having the choice be up to them. It is padded with forgettable additions to the story that does not add anything but instead increases the run-time. Answering questions that did not even need answers to in the first place.

But, even if all the source-material is put aside and the film is just analyzed by itself, it’s just a science fiction film with little to say and with some PG-13 action scenes thrown into the mix. Scarlett Johansson tries to play an actress trying to act like a robot and could easily be replaced with anyone else, the special effects range from good to laughably bad, and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the score. So, even when what it was adapted from is taken into account, it still kinda sucks. The one redeemable thing in this whole film (other than the design of Tokyo) is the fight scenes and even those are ruined by the terrible use of slo-mo as if we are watching a Bollywood action film. Tokyo in Ghost in the Shell is reminiscent of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence‘s (2001) Rouge City and is a quite amazing thing to look at. In every frame the city is shown there is always thousands of things going on and it is especially vibrant in color.

Please, whatever you do, do not see this movie. It is a waste of time and money and will only encourage studios like Paramount to make more movies like these, watered down not only in violence but thematically as well. A much better experience would be to watch the original film or if you want to watch something live-action, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) would suffice, a movie that shows its audience instead of telling.

Life (2017)

★★½

Life is a movie filled with references to Peter Gabriel and Re-Animator (1985) of all things and minimal on jump scares. Oh yeah. and it’s actually quite terrifying…but stupid at the same time.

Life taps into one of humanity’s deepest fears. Extra-terrestrial life capable of destroying all of humanity as we know it. The little monster’s name is Calvin, and for a single-celled organism he’s quite intelligent. Even a little…too intelligent for my tastes. A little suspension of disbelief is needed when you see the things Calvin can do and how the plot is forced along by what happens.

A major inspiration for life is definitely Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). But the movie does differentiate itself enough to not just be a cheap ripoff of that film. The International Space Station that the astronauts are on is beautifully designed and was very interesting to just look at in awe, the same way the Nostromo was just as incredible to look at (okay that’s the last Alien comparison, I promise).

As far as how the suspense builds, Life uses only one jump-scare in the whole movie and the rest of the suspense feels earned until it is given thought to what is exactly happening. You feel on edge throughout most of the movie wanting to know what the creature is doing. But then, after the movie is over, you think about the plot and you realize how stupid and contrived it is, then it’s horror elements slowly begin falling apart from there. However, if there is a another factor that helps this film be scary is the R rating that the movie has. Gore is abundant in many parts of the movie, and watching seeing blood all over the place in zero gravity is not really like anything else I can explain.

The characters were all decent, but nothing special of any kind. Jake Gyllenhaal just had a very by-the-numbers performance that sadly wasn’t anything special, which would be ok for anyone else but the expectations for Gyllenhaal are so high that it is a shame. The rest of the astronauts were just as forgettable.

So if you like horror and sci-fi and movies like Alien and Event Horizon (1997) I think that Life is well worth the price of admission. It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre and is really just here to entertain. I mean, it’s not like we expected to get something on the level of Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) right?

 

AUTHORS NOTE: The ending to this movie is probably the thing that has polarized people the most. You kind of see the ending coming at least three minutes before the reveal.

Ang Lee’s Hulk, A Different Kind of Superhero Movie

In a world where most superhero movies are disposable entertainment like many of the comic books the characters spawned from, one movie happens to be even more erased from most of the public’s memory. Ang Lee decided to try something different with the superhero genre, with Hulk (2003). Lee was given over 130 million dollars and creative freedom from Universal to pretty much do anything he wanted and what we got was a flawed masterpiece that definitely requires another viewing.

What puts the movie above other superhero films is Bruce Banner’s (Eric Bana) inner struggle to control his anger as the main plot of the story. Lee used influences such as Beauty and the Beast, King Kong, Jekyll and Hyde, and Greek Mythology. And used his references to craft a think piece about the struggle between man and monster. The film explores the character of Hulk as being the repressed memories of Bruce. Showing that both Bruce and The Hulk disliked each other and wanted to completely take over the other’s body. In a very pivotal dream sequence in the movie, the Hulk grabs Bruce in the bathroom and snarks “puny human”, representing the struggles of both characters. Bruce even states that he when he loses control and the Hulk takes over he “likes it” but at the same time wants the monster in him to be destroyed.

Hulk also includes two villains who can be seen as parallels to each other, General Ross (Sam Elliot) and Bruce’s father, Doctor David Banner (Nick Nolte). General Thunderbolt Ross has motives for containing Bruce and is not completely one dimensional and unlikable. He wants to protect his estranged daughter, Betty (Jennifer Connely) (Bruce’s ex-girlfriend) and knows about his dark past and bottled up emotions after witnessing the death of his mother. However, Ross really wishes to use Bruce’s DNA to create a super soldier serum. David Banner is the first villain introduced in the movie. He is a military scientist working to create super soldiers. He is denied to do experiments with the serum on humans so he begins to test it on himself instead he then discovers that his child, Bruce has inherited some the effects of the serum and works to cure the disease. After being found out that he experimented on a human, he is then forced to stop his experiments and attempts to kill Bruce, accidentally killing his wife instead. This makes David Banner a tragic character as he is a man that was corrupted and destroyed his family due to his thirst for power. Another reason to have David Banner be in the movie is to have the father and son relationship which is important as it shows the repressed emotions Bruce has held onto and tries to forget about and ignore in his mind. Because Bruce’s transformation is because of his father, we see the villain create the hero in this case. Rather than the other way around in most stories. Both General Ross and Dr. David Banner can be seen as parallels because both of them do not really love their children and are simply using them to obtain the power they want so badly.

Danny Elfman’s score is terrific and that Hulk main theme is something that is so easy to hum without even knowing.  Just like all good scores it is a perfect fit to the movie that stands out when it needs to. It also makes terrific music to listen to by itself.

The real reason why people detest this movie so much is probably because of the editing and the CGI. Lee used quick cuts and split-screen to keep viewers interested and to many, it came off as weird and gimmicky. But after re watching it, the cuts are actually fit to the tone of the movie. The editing is crazy, just like the Hulk. It is also used to build tension in certain scenes. As far as the CGI goes, it is pretty terrible. But that is not the main point of the movie. Lee wanted Hulk to be more about the story rather than effects. They still manage to do some great action scenes with the CGI however, like the desert fight scene. Which is one of the best scenes in the film.

Please give this film another look. There seems to be a bandwagon to dislike this movie without much merit and without giving it an honest objective look. Ang Lee did a good job directing a movie that if fixed in a few ways could have been much more respected by people and should be more respected now as well.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

★★½

While viewing Disney’s latest foray into their live action adaptations of their animated films, the only question running through my mind was why? Why did Disney decide to make a live-action version of one of their most acclaimed works? Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated films has up until now been of their weaker films. As both Cinderella (1950) and The Jungle Book (1967) were not as highly regarded as The Little Mermaid (1989) or Aladdin (1992). But Beauty and the Beast (1991) was fine the way the film was. Which is the biggest problem with the movie. It was all done better almost three decades ago.

As far as set design goes, everything looks perfect and grandiose just as expected from Disney. The color is nice and vibrant when needed and dark at the correct times as well. The only glaring issues such as the disturbing CG of Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), Lumière (Ewan McGregor), and the other living objects in The Beast’s castle. All of them are quite beautifully detailed and well voiced but yet the models don’t look necessarily right and come off as just looking odd. Even the soundtrack is exactly the same as the 1991 animated film. No new score or anything, just the exact same music.

And it’s not that anything else is wrong with the movie, people are well cast for their roles. Villans Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) have good chemistry together and Emma Watson does well playing Belle ( but oddly using her natural British accent in a movie set in France).

The low effort to add to anything new or innovative to this live-action remake is worrisome to Disney’s future live-action projects. “Why change things if audiences will watch the same movie with a near-identical script and music?” If this will become the case then these movies are already doomed artistically.

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

 

★★★

Before I got to see Kong: Skull Island I heard many mixed opinions on the movie overall. It made me quite anxious as it was a heavily anticipated blockbuster I was excited about during the first half of 2017. To my surprise, Kong: Skull Island turned out being a film that is uneven but thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.

While Skull Island may not be as grand or epic as Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong, the film offers some good cinematography with a solid cast with Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson, John C. Reilly, and Tom Hiddleston as the stars. Hiddleston’s character as a game tracker was found to be very unconvincing and quite forgettable. However, Reilly’s performance is what kept the movie together for the most part and if he were not in the movie it would not be as engaging to watch.

Yes, this film is set in the seventies. And it will be reminded to you many times throughout the movie. Music of the era is oddly played frequently at the beginning then is absent until near the end. Which means it is guilty of using the Suicide Squad formula of film soundtracks (but at least all of these tracks fit) what else can you expect from them both being from Warner Brothers right? CCR is also played more than once and many shots allude to Francis Ford Coppala’s Apocalypse Now. Such as of the sun on the Southeast Asian horizon which were all very smart decisions by Jordan Vogt Roberts to include in Skull Island which puts it at least a couple points above other blockbuster fare.

As far as the actual King Kong in this movie, there is a disappointing little amount of him to be shown. The other monsters on skull island were all well designed and all but, people payed money for the titular character! Thanks to the human cast, the movie manages to keep you interested but it was just a shame that we did not get to see more of the monster in this monster movie.

Overall, I’d say Kong: Skull Island is a just an entertaining monster movie with little other substance than that. Vogt Roberts also shot some beautiful action scenes and had top notch set design. But if it was not for John C. Reilly the characters would be nothing special and overall forgettable as it his him that pushes this movie above mediocrity.