Ghost in the Shell (2017): True to the World and Ideas of the Anime but a bit Jumbled in Execution

  The new film “Ghost in the Shell” is complicated. I enjoyed it but there were certain things about it that annoyed me, largely tied to how the Major’s story is told and presented. This was film that was on the edge of being really good and possibly even great, but it tried to tie into many things and how they handle and present Major Kusanagi. To give my non-spoiler thoughts as what I mean with the problem of the Major will be spoilerific, is that the world works and feels like the world from the show but combining too many stories from the films and show and failing to give us the Major kept it from being great.

   The film was directed by Rupert Sanders, written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler an Ehren Kruger and produced by Avi and Ari Arad, Steven Paul and Michael Costigan.

   The story involves Major Killian (Scarlett Johansson) and the government organization she is with known as Section 9 hunting down a hacker who is killing people tied to Hanka Robotics. As the Conspiracy unfolds the Major learns the secrets of her past and who she once was.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world if Neo-Tokyo is a really beautiful and diverse cyberpunk world. While in the films and movies the city is largely homogenized with the exception of immigration zones, this one the diversity is one display everywhere. I loved this version of Tokyo and felt it lended power to the film, as it felt like the future. This cyberpunk world has androids, human brains in robotic bodies, spider tanks and the hacking of human minds. It is very much the world of the show in all of it’s glory.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack with Lorne Balfe and it is absolutely stunning. It pulls inspiration from the tv show and films and gives it the epic movie level quality that was needed.

The Special Effects – The special effects are absolutely stunning. This is a beautiful film and it captures the future in a stunning way. Giant holographic adds hang on buildings, the Major going invisible is handled well, the spider tank looks and feels like it is actually present and the Major’s android body feels artificial.

Section 9 – Section 9 is the government organization that deals with threats to Japan both internal and external. They are a diverse organization in this with people from all over the place (like in the show). You don’t really get to know anyone besides this version of the Major, Batou and Chief Arakami but they get some good exploration.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and second in command. He’s the kind to her hard and we see he will do anything for her (just like in the show). Pilou Asbaek gives a lot of empathy and strength to the role as we see him supporting the Major through her journey and in unraveling the conspiracy.

Chief Arakami – Arakami is amazing! In this film we get to see why he’s the leader of Section 9 and that he is a combat veteran (something you never see in any of the films or shows that I’ve watched so far). He’s protective of the Major and has her back too. Even when Hanka tries to blackmail him he doesn’t budge and throws it right back at them as well as taking out a few of their goons when they ambush him. Takeshi Kitano make not look like how he looks on the show (he’s usually presented as small, in this he’s a little tall and big) but he captures the core of the character beautifully.

Okay: The Major – I don’t consider this character Major Kusanagi. Kusanagi is a character who is always striving to be more and pushing her limits…and that means more than just injuring her robotic body. In this that is the only way she pushes the limits. There isn’t that search and desire for knowledge and truth (outside of her past), which was a shame. Johannson is fine in the role but this isn’t the Major.

The Cons: Lack of Focus on a Past “Ghost in the Shell” Story – At first it looks like they are going to be having the Puppet Master story be key with a rogue A.I. that develops intelligence, than we find out it is a childhood friend and we get the Individual 11 storyline from Season 2 of “Ghost in the Shell,” and we get echoes of early Major…so maybe trying to do own story? I would have preferred they just pick one and focus on it.

Missing the Point of the Major –  I can’t express this enough because this is what bothered me the most…the Major is the philosopher warrior, she is always seeking more and will dive into another’s mind to become more if given the chance. She is willing to risk all to not just learn the truth but to become a higher and better overall. The show had none of that and just made her a superhero who wants to know about her past. She is simplified and in turn I don’t know how anyone can see her as the Major.

Representation and the Major’s Character – They made this Major’s past important they even reveal that she has her Japanese name like in the manga, film and shows…so why not give her a Japanese body or have her choose to have one at the end since she knows who she is now and that her Killian persona is a lie and that the Hanka corporation stole her childhood before making her a weapon. This show rightfully gets criticism for white-washing when this was so easy to avoid, even within what they setup within the story. There is zero reason for her to keep the same body at the end or to have even had it in the first place given Hanka is always a Japanese name. The corporation seems to be run by Mr. Cutter who is European…but he is defeated in the end, so what is preventing her from choosing another shell since her past and present as Kusanagi (She even has a friendship with her Mom Mrs. Kusanagi after she finds her, who is obviously Japanese) so why not follow through?

   This was a film that rightfully got called out for white-washing. The Major learns about her past as Kusanagi and even finds her mother, and though she rejected becoming more we never see her choose another shell rather she keeps the one the corporation used when they turned her into a weapon. Given that her past was so important to her (in the films and show I don’t remember it being as important, it was her desire to be more and transcend, her shell wasn’t important…in this her past makes her shell important) it felt like a major missed opportunity. Fans of the show I’ve talked to still enjoyed the film and actually had less to nitpick than me but for me, besides the jumbling together of a few different stories and missing the core desire of the Major to become more kept it from being good. If you like the show I’m curious to hear your thoughts if you saw the film.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

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Moon (2009): A Sci. Fi. Exploration of Self and Identity

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This is a great film, which is saying something considering that it is mostly a one person performance with the only real addition being Kevin Spacey as the voice of the robot GERDY. In that way this film could have easily been a flop. It takes an amazing actor, of which I discovered Sam Rockwell is, to carry a film beyond cinematography and music.

“Moon” was directed by Duncan Jones, who also wrote the story. The screenplay was by Nathan Parker and the producers were Stuart Fenegan and Trudie Styler.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned. The point of this movie is in the twist and the reveal so I can’t review this movie and do it justice without talking about that reveal.

The story involves the character of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who has been living for years on the Lunar Base run by the corporation of Lunar Industries who provides an alternate fuel source of Helium-3 which is mined from the base that Sam and the robot GERDY run. Sam’s contract is almost up and he can return home to his wife and daughter. The story unfolds from there as all is not as it appears to be on the station.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a man alone with a robot mining resources on the Moon is very cool and very high concept science fiction. It gets even more high concept when we learn this has been going on for years and that the person who we think is just one person is in fact many and has been many clones of the same individual, with slight different genetic variations.

The Tone – The tone of the film is dark and introspective, you can feel claustrophobic sometimes in certain scenes and and Sam Rockwell’s performance is so subtle that it’s easy to see the things from the characters’ points of view and what each of them is going through and what it means on an individual level as well as the societal level of some of the messages explored.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is also very introspective and does a great job capturing the desolation of the moon, and the hope or despair characters feel. It’s Clint Mansell so I wouldn’t expect any less. The guy is a genius and one of my favorite composers.

The Cinematography – Visually, this film is stunning. It feels like one is actually on the moon during it and the base feels lived in and real, with an element threat to it and leaves you guessing at certain times as the mystery unfolds.

Sam1 – I’m going to call the first Sam we meet, Sam1, he is similar to the past Sam’s but some of the things that set him apart are an extreme attachment to the family he believes he has, a love of life as seen by his caring and talking his plants and in how when he is sick he chooses to help Sam2 escape, partially because he knows he himself is dying but also because he’s grown fond of the one other connection on the station who isn’t GERTY or false memories. He is the most attached to those memories and breaks down after GERTY tells him the memories are implanted and when he talks to “his” daughter and hear’s his own voice, the voice of the original Sam calling to her on the other line. It is at that point he gives up, knowing he is already dying and wants to give Sam2 a chance. He has Sam2 bring him back to where he crashed which is what happened when Sam2 was activated since Sam1 was believed to be dead.

Sam2 – Sam2 is more of a jock in personality. He’s more aggressive, is usually working out and active and is less likely to take GERTY’s advice to rest. He is also more suspicious as he is the one who discovers Sam1 trapped and learns that central is sending a team to kill them so that word doesn’t get out about the Clone program. He is also empathetic though and he is the one trying to help Sam1 get out until Sam1 convinces him to let him die and that he should be the one who escapes and tells the world what’s going on.

GERTY – GERTY is a pretty awesome AI voiced by Kevin Spacey. His whole programming is to protect Sam until Sam fulfills his contract. We learn that his applies to all Sams that are created and he even goes as far as to let Sam2 who escapes to wipe his memory so that he can escape the Moon safely without being killed by the forces Lunar Corporation sent. We never know if he makes choices beyond his programming or if he is just like Baymax fulfilling his programming but his letting Sam2 wipe his memory when he didn’t have to showed that there was more going on. He chose, even if it was within the parameters of his programming to save Sam and help him escape. If that doesn’t make him sentient, than he is at least getting there or near sentient. Also, he has a great design as he has a screen that moves around the station and communicates in emoticon faces as well as having lots of arms to help with the work the station needs or helping the Sams recover and do tasks.

Sam Rockwell – Sam Rockwell plays so many different versions of Sam Bell in this film, and in all he does a great job. Sam1 and Sam2 get the most exploration but we see others when Sam1 pulls up the video of the past clones and history on the station after GERTY accesses the memory banks with the password. Sam is truly a master at the craft as every person he was felt like a unique individual, yet similar enough that you knew they were clones. This is something that very few actors can pull off and after this film I have to consider Rockwell to be one of the best.

The Message – The core point that this film captures is that we are more than our memories. We are our choices and personality and as long as we are aware of our own existance and striving for survival we are worthy of life. The movie ends with Sam2 revealing the Lunar Corporations wrongs to the world (all the past Sams who have died and been used to the Corporations own ends) and it ends with people having the discussion the movie begins. Is a clone as much of a human being worthy of rights as any other human being? I believe and the movie believes that the answer is, “Yes.” No human should be used like a slave, we see the human cost of people getting cheap energy.

Okay: Sam’s Wife and Daughter – These two never felt like wholly realized characters. I think part of this might be purposeful as the Clones are having old memories related to the wife and we don’t have enough time to talk with the daughter to really get to know her. I’m not putting this as a con as it helps the clones separate themselves from the original person they were cloned from. It is the fact that they can’t connect that helps them create their own identity beyond the memories of another.

This is an amazing film and one of my favorites. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack and the cinematography create beautiful scenes and Kevin Spacey’s and especially Sam Rockwell’s performances are so deep and layered that it is hard not appreciate how great they are as actors. Their characters are real and the struggles matter as well as giving us a great “So what?” No one deserves to be slave and we shouldn’t create slaves through cloning. If sentient life is created it deserves just as much respect as us, as it is us, just born different. If you like a dark film, that ends with hope and has an amazing point…check this film out. I know this film has me interested in any other work Duncan Jones has done.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Near perfect, only thing that brings it down are the side human characters who don’t feel like real people.

Filth (2013): A Morbid Trip Into a Demented Mind

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“Filth” is a highly unpleasant movie that took quite a while to get through. Movies that have an antagonistic, unlikable protagonist are hard to pull off since from the beginning you are rooting for the person to fail, when in the narrative they are the ones you are supposed to root for. Bruce isn’t a Walter White or Frank Underwood…their motivations are clear and there are good aspects to their character that offset how ruthless they can be. Not so much for James McAvoy’s Bruce. I’ll get into the why in the assessment.

“Filth” was directed by Jon S. Baird who also was one of the producers and wrote the screenplay. The screenplay was based on the novel Filth by Irvine Welsh and the other producers were: Christian Angermayer, Will Clarke, Stephen Mao, Ken Marshall, Jens Meurer, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler and Mark Amin.

This movie took 3 attempts to watch to finally finish, which isn’t usual for me and a film. Usually I can get through a film in one go. So because of this I don’t want think about this film too much. Suffice to say it was a waste.

The premise of the story is Bruce (James McAvoy) is a sociopath, insane, bi-polar detective who enjoys abusive relationships and playing “games” with the people around him. When we meet him his core desire is to get his promotion so his wife will be with him again and this drives his actions and he continues to descend further into insanity as he sees people with animal faces and his life crumbles around him as his illusions are broken.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music – Clint Mansell does the music and it’s one of the things that got me through this train wreck of a film. The music keeps things compelling even if the characters are poorly written archetypes and Bruce is someone we hate. He’s one of my favorite composers and was perfect for the idea behind the film.

Cinematography – This film is beautifully done, it is stark, harsh and dark and the images we are given all look good in how they are filmed. This doesn’t help the script or the characters but it is very well done. Matthew Jensen knew what he was doing.

Inside Bruce’s Head – If this film just took place in his head it would be a little better. He has conversations with his therapist there and the scenes are trippy. If the movie had only been this and we hadn’t seen how much of a bastard he was outside it could have been a great film. Cause the scenes in his mind are fantastic.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Because we are seeing all of this through Bruce’s eyes the script never gave us a chance to truly know and sympathize with the surrounding characters. This was a huge disservice as the idea behind them was interesting and could have been explored if they weren’t archetypes to be exploited by Bruce.

The Cons: No Comedy – This film marketed itself as a dark comedy, but there was nothing funny about it. Everyone’s world and struggles were serious and the only one taking it as a joke was Bruce. For this reason it marketing itself as a comedy was false advertising.

Bruce – We have no reasons to sympathize with this character. He lost his wife and daughter, but for good reason…he cheated, did drugs, lied and no doubt abused them too. We see he wants to be with his wife as he dresses up as her to be closer to her but we have no reason to believe it’s anything more than want. He’s a character who kills himself at the end but I felt no sympathy for throughout the film or after. He was never going to start a new life he was so deep into his own psychotic world that nothing could pull him out of it, not demotion, not the family he was close too. My lack of sympathy really started with him picking on a rookie and after having a teen give him a blow job in order to blackmail her to stay quiet. That is messed up and initially how the movie presents it as we are supposed to like this guy? Really? This guy is one of the most unlikable fictional characters and even one of my favorite actors James McAvoy cannot change that fact.

This is a film I can’t recommend. It isn’t bad persay, it looks and sounds beautiful because of the music and cinematography…but it gives you no reason to care for Bruce or anyone else. It’s a very detached film, and when you are in a story you need to feel attached to the characters, or there isn’t any point to telling the story in the first place.

Final Score: 6 / 10. Check out the music and visuals, but don’t bother with the film unless this type of film is your kind of thing.

Noah (2014): The Meaning of Humanity

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We end the first Apocalypse Week with Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” This was a film I’ve been curious about for sometime since Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors and it really does have an all star cast, and the subject matter is interesting.

I’ve always been interested in mythology, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek, Norse, Egyptian or other…there are so many rich stories that have conflict and premises that are left pretty open ended giving a lot of creative leeway, assuming the director has vision. Aronofsky clearly did for this film.

The story is that after Abel was killed by Cain, Cain’s descendants spread throughout the world and over industrialized it the point of making it a wasteland while hunting down the descendants of Seth who saw it as their duty to protect the world. The story begins with Noah and his father Methuselah doing the ritual of Seth for caring for the Earth. They are than attacked by a tribe of Cain who attack Methuselah. Noah believes him dead and we flash forward. We than see Noah dealing with visions from “God” of the Earth being destroyed which sets the story in motion as Tubal-cain and his men attempt to take the arc and Noah’s wife Naameh and family try to save more of the line of Cain and humanity as Noah resists at every turn. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect any less of Darren Aronofsky. Some of the moments that stand out though is when Noah tells the creation story and it shows us the creation of the universe and the evolution of life on the planet. The other scene is when the flood occurs and the descendants of Cain are destroyed as they fight the Watchers (fallen Angels defending Noah and his family).

The Music – Clint Mansell is one of my favorite composers and he does a great job creating tension in this film. We see this especially when Noah believes it is his duty to keep man from spreading so when Ila is pregnant he plans on killing her children if they are girls. The music has it set so that the ship feels claustrophobic and being trapped with a mad man (Noah). It is brilliantly done.

The Writing – The screenplay is top notch, Aronofsky and Handel did a great job. Every characters’ lines feels real and it does mostly showing rather than telling. Especially as Noah is facing the consequences of what he has done. We are presented with dilemmas. The Canaanites who are men are bad people trying to enslave and kill Noah and his family…but the women and children are innocent…and Noah does nothing to save them. His wife and Ham call him on this, but he ignores it, blinded by his religious devotion to a being who doesn’t speak clearly and maybe is all in his head. It is really awesome.

The Watchers – Giant Rock beings that were once angels who came to fight for humanity. These guys are cool. They start out resistant to Noah and his clan because of how Cain’s line turned on them but in the end fight for Noah as they are rewarded with being returned to Paradise and Noah and his family treat them kindness. They have great designs and good voice acting.

The Line of Seth – They are vegetarians and planters. Tenders of the garden of the world. Kind and only willing to fight as a last restort seems to the theme. They are survivors, but mostly because they know when to run.

The Line of Cain – These are the warriors. Anything weak is prey and the story is empire. In extreme cases they are cannibals because they’ve killed off most of the animals and hunted them to extinction. They are the apocalyptic survivors in the apocalyptic world they created.

The Characters – The characters in this film are really solid. No one is really wasted except for Noah’s son Shem who is mostly a passive character and is only there to protect Ila.

Methuselah – Anthony Hopkins is great as Methuselah. He is found to be alive after Noah receives some of the visions and gives Noah the magic seed that creates an oasis of life that Noah and the Watchers use to build the arc. He doesn’t go with them and dies in the flood after a moment of bliss when he finds a berry. Why he decides not to go is unknown. He seems to be there as a guide and a counter to Noah as he gives Ila the ability to have children when she was barren before.

Naameh – Jennifer Connelly supports Noah but always reminds him of life, which he mostly ignores if it isn’t animal and plant life. She sees the bigger picture and fights him when he plans to kill Ila’s twin girls. You can see how powerless she feels given that she’s expected and told to follow Noah, when Noah, especially when they are on the arc and before hand in how he saves no one else and has gone insane. You can see the trials she faces dealing with that. She is the one truly good person in the film.

Tubal-cain – Played by Ray Winstone, he is the primary antagonist outside of Noah. He is a king and believes that humans were made in God’s image in order to dominate rather than to care and create. He is the one who tries corrupting Ham and almost succeeds as he taps into Ham’s anger at his possible partner being left behind by Noah in Tubal-cain’s attack. He fights to the end and is a crafty and interesting foe. He is survival of the species in the most extreme sense, though his inability to see how in ancestors had destroyed all life is sadly missed. I wish that had been brought up in the many talks he had with characters.

Ham – Played by Logan Lerman, he is the character walking the line between the way of Cain and the way of Seth. In the end when they find land he chooses to go his own way. He wants to learn how to care, since all his actions are tied to his own wants and desires. He does this really well too and you can see why he hates Noah for a lot of the film.

Ila – Emma Watson is the most successful of the “Harry Potter” cast post “Harry Potter” and rightfully so. She is damn talented. We see that hear too where she was a survivor of an attack on the mine where her family was raising her and Noah and his wife take her in. She is barren and it implied she was cut as a child. Because of this she has a lot of fear connecting but is able to heal from literally and figuratively after speaking with Methuselah. She is a great character and defends her children to the end. It is her showing them their innocence that staves Noah’s hand.

Noah – Is he mad? This is the big question throughout the film. So much of the film you are left wondering if it is all just in Noah’s head as he thinks God wants to annihilate man completely given the near extinction of all life by many of Cain’s line. You can see where he is coming from too as miracles do happen throughout the film. The big issue is when the daughters are born and he has to break away from what he believes God’s message is. He believed God wanted them to restore the Garden, so after they help the animals all survive…they would die out. What he misses in his nihilism is that humans are part of the world too and it is only after accepts that that we see him deal with the guilt of letting the innocent Canaanites die and the fact that he nearly killed his grandchildren and planned on doing so for quite a while once he knew they would be born, and if they would be girls. Russell Crowe does this really really well. He is good at playing complex mad characters, which Noah is. We see him wrestle with his decisions and face the reality of his character relationships. He eventually becomes a drunk when they reach land once more but is brought out of it when he is reminded once more of life carrying on…showing that he has changed from the man he once was.

The Message – The message is dilemmas. Is humanity redeemable? What makes a civilization worth saving or not saving? What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we we have as human beings? This film deals with all of this and lets us make our own decision. Noah is not a good person, but he is a human being. It is through his eyes that we are shown the question and can judge Noah for the decisions he makes. This is powerful and makes the film truly a masterpiece.

I’m glad this is how Apocalypse Week ends. This is one of the greatest films I’ve watched, though I can see why so many were torn about it. The thing to remember is to take it on it’s own merits. Like all films it is a story and a good story at that. What message you choose to take from it is up to you as Daronofsky leaves it pretty open ended. He leaves the hope for us with Seth’s line surviving after the flood, but doesn’t say that the flood was Just. That is up to the viewer. The actors and actresses, cinematography, music and writing are phenomenal and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great film based off fantasy and mythology that lets you find the meaning in it.

Final score is 10 / 10. Shem isn’t a great character, but he isn’t bad. None of the minor characters who don’t get exploration hurt the film in anyway.