Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – True to the Anime in a Rich World

In my experience, it is bad to adapt anime into live-action films. You either end up with dumpster fires like “Dragonball Z,” or they are passable as with the first “Deathnote” movie. Live-action isn’t friendly to animation, and that runs true in the United States, too. I didn’t think “Beauty and Beast” was good, and I’ve not been a fan of Disney adapting more animation in the same way. Animation has a freedom of form that you don’t get in CGI, or human actors, and that is true here. So the question I ask is, “why did this work for me?” It works because they delved into the lore where the initial anime didn’t. I can see why this was in development hell for a long time, and this time it was worth it.

“Alita: Battle Angel” is a cyberpunk dystopian action film that was adapted from the manga by Yukito Kishiro.The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez (an action director I’m a fan of), and written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. James Cameron was also a producer, and you can see his care with CGI in this.

Alita is a cyborg seeking to discover her. Her adopted father, Ido, brings her back to “life” upon finding her in the wastes below the last sky city of Zalem years after The Fall, a war that devastated Earth 300 years prior. From here she must face multiple threats as she protects the people she loves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Tom Holkenborg does a wonderful job honoring the original anime’s soundtrack. You can hear the “Blade Runner” inspiration, while it also manages to develop a voice and feel of its own. The music captures the sci. fi. epic past, as well as the present desperation of the characters.

The World – The anime touches on a rich world that the live-action film explores more extensively. There are hundreds of years of history. We learn about the war with the Sky Cities, and how Zalem became the last one. We learn about a cyborg military force from Mars, and how they nearly succeed before being defeated. We see the wastes where there is a gladiatorial competition of motorball where the winner of the tournament is rewarded by going to Zalem. I loved this world. It made me want to read the manga, and learn more. I hope this film gets sequels, so they can further explore it.

The Action – The action is amazing. This is a film where you feel every punch. For example, there is a villain who Alita easily beats while defending Ido. He returns later, and it takes all she has to beat him. She loses so much of her cyborg body but fights on. I was never bored during this film. I even thought motorball was handled well, given how they presented the action with so much color, movement and increasing stakes as players tried to kill her. The action is truly one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ido – Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Ido. He is a scientist, and Hunter-Warrior, exiled from Zalem with his wife, whom his relationship with ended after their daughter was killed. We see him wanting that second chance in Alita as he gives her his daughter’s name. Their arc is him treating her as her own person, and respecting just how powerful she is. She is the protector and he is the “father.” He reactivated her and gave her the cyborg body he was going to give his real daughter. Through a set of Berserker Armor he Ido gives Alita, she discovers her past as a soldier for the United Republics of Mars (URM). Waltz is an award winning actor for a reason and this film is a great example of why.

Alita – Rosa Salazar does a fantastic job as Alita. She is a woman seeking out her past, and also discovering her own humanity as a sentient android. We see her fall in love with and save Hugo, only to later lose him. We see her relationship with her “father” Ido become one of partnership, and family, rather than her being treated like a child. We see her discover what it means to fight the greater fight, as losing Hugo reminds her of the larger fight against Zalem and the man behind the scenes Nova. Nova has been the one manipulating Vector, Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren, and taking all the remains of humans he finds worthy below. You can see why Alita wants to end him, and when she discovers where her fight truly is, it is empowering and also sets up possible sequels.

Implications of the War – From what we can tell the URM lost the war and Earth stayed oppressed by Nova and Zalem. The world of “Alita: Battle Angel” is broken, and the desperation of people makes it so sociopaths like Nova can easily manipulate them into tools he can use to strengthen his city. The war ended but the fact that Alita survives implies that the old way may return, especially if she becomes a uniter of the people below Zalem.

Okay:

Minor Characters – Hugo, Vector, Dr. Chiren and a few others are fine. In the case of Vector, they end up often being possessed by Nova, so we never really learn who Vector is. Dr. Chiren has some good moments with Ido, and her choice to save Hugo is powerful. Ultimately her character underdeveloped. Hugo is okay, I liked him more in the anime because he was a bit more naive. In this film he is more grown up, which makes what he does as a mercenary all the more revolting. He does leave, and it costs him his life, but I felt he needed more development. I didn’t care about him nearly as much as I did Dr. Chiren.

The Promise of Nova – Nova is a powerful force and we know how oppressive Zalem is but we never learn who Nova is. I put him as okay because the mystery gives potential for a compelling backstory, and he could become much more of a threat than he is in this. Edward Norton is extremely talented and plays Nova. There was some missed opportunity in his role. He is a good enough constant threat in the film, and I like that he’s been around since the war with URM. Hopefully his story pays off in sequels.

For any fans of anime or post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci. fi., this is a film worth checking out. I’ve been wanting to see a solidly good anime adapted to film for some time, and it looks like this time they managed to do it. The acting is solid, the action is great, the story is compelling and it is true to the anime while expanding on it and enriching the world. This film is a great example of adaptation done right.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

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The Shape of Water (2017): A Transcendent Romantic Fairy Tale

   “The Shape of Water” might end up being my favorite film of the year. This is a film that is beautifully told and reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast,” meets “Amelie” but with so much more going on than either of those stories. This is a film where every character, whether minor or major matters and out of it we get a compelling love story that is so much more. This is a story about characters who aren’t given a voice (both literally and metaphorically) finding their voice and from there, a level of transcendence or change within themselves or their situation. The cast was wonderfully done and for my non-spoiler thoughts…I can’t wait to watch it again. This is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best work, and given that he was co-writer and co-producer as well as the director, this story was clearly his vision and it is beautiful. Seriously, check this film out if you get the chance.

The film was directed, co-wrote and co-produced Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Vanessa Taylor and co-produced with J. Miles Dale.

The story follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a secret government agency with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and sharing an apartment with her closeted friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her world is soon changed when a government agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious “asset,” a creature who changes Elisa’s life forever.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is that of the 1950’s of the United States but with fairy tale, fantasy and sci. fi. elements…both in how the story is presented and the amphibian man being so central to the plot, as well as the abilities he has. It is also a world full of twists since spies and government agents inhabit this cold world universe and the secret lab where most of the action takes place.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. From Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, who is Elisa’s translator and calls out how bad their situation is (as the help no one notices or cares about them, just takes them for granted), Giles, who understands Elisa’s love for the creature and helps protect them and both rescue the creature from the lab and getting them both the docks. He is the narrator. Michael Shannon’s Colonel is unhinged and broken and is sympathetic in that, even though he never stops being a threat and monster. Elisa’s and the creature’s romance drives the story and it is awesome. I loved how confident Elisa is in her sexuality and her attachment to the creature as well as the creature’s humanity slowly being revealed as he opens up to her. Doug Jones once again owns this alien type role he is in. I can’t wait to buy this movie when it comes out.

The Soundtrack and Cinematography – The soundtrack has a fairy tale and jazz feel to it, intermixed with this dark foreboding when we are at the lab and the Colonel is on screen. The cinematography is amazing too, it reminded me of “Amelie” with the use of color contrasts but focusing in on Elisa’s perspective. Alexandre Desplat did a great job on the soundtrack and I loved Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.

The Romance – The romance is the main drive of the story and it is beautifully done. It starts with Elisa and the creature touching hands separated by glass, to her leaving him eggs, to eating in his area with him and teaching him sign language…to his rescue and eventually having to let him go as he dies not being in the salt water but has given Giles back his hair and healed a wound he caused on Giles accidentally. The romance is the core of the film and because it illustrates different aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Surrealism and Fairy Tales – The Fairy Tale element is revealed most profoundly in the opening shot where Giles is giving the premise of a monster who turned two lovers’ world upside down…as we see a drowned how with Elisa floating, as if sleeping in the water. There is other imagery like this that gives the film a surrealist element and from that the fairy tale elements of the love story are given more power in their presentation. I love stories like this (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude, most Haruki Murakami, etc.) and this is one of the best presentations of this type of story.

Fighting Adversity and the Voice of the Voiceless – This is a film about giving voice to the voiceless in both the literal sense (our heroes being a mute and an amphibian creature who cannot speak), Zelda, who is black lady with an oppressive husband and Giles being in the closet and kept out from the wealth he once bad before as the marketing world just sees him as a has been. Each of them are trapped (the monster) or oppressed in different ways in a society that ignores them and it is the rescuing and finally freeing of the monster that Zelda finally speaks up against her husband and calls the cops on the Colonel, Giles fights and defends the monster and Elisa and Elisa transcends as she sacrifices herself to save the creature and her cuts she received as a baby are turned into gills, she is reborn by the creature and free to be with the creature, something that would have never been possible before. It is also her drive that helps the others to change their lives too, as she is directly fighting to system by freeing their “asset.”

Okay: First Act Goes a Little Long – The only real criticism I could find with the film is the first third of the film does go on a little long, but it picks up the moment the rescue plan is put into action by Elisa and after that, it doesn’t stop…and it does a good job setting up the world so I can’t put it is a con.

I highly recommend “The Shape of Water.” This film is going to make my Top 5 films of 2017 and if you are looking for a film where you will notice more each time around, as well simply enjoying a beautiful fairy tale that gives voice to the voiceless and has wonderfully compelling characters, who each get full arcs. I cared about where each their arcs were going, even the villain as no one was as simple as they first appeared to be. The film was all about layers and reveals, both in the nature of the characters and the creature and the payoff of their arcs. Check this film out, if you haven’t yet. Guillermo del Toro has done it again and I can’t wait to see what masterpiece he makes next.

Final Score: 10 / 10

“The Orville” Season 1 – A Show That Draws Inspiration From the Best Aspects of “Star Trek”

    “The Orville” is a show that only exists because of how much of a fan Seth MacFarlane is of “Star Trek” and Fox knowing just how great the cultural impact of “Star Trek” has been that a show that pulls full inspiration from it (while having it’s own tone and lore) and not get sued. What do I think of the show? I think the humor doesn’t always work but I love the drama and the characters. Seth MacFarlane put a lot of love into this show and it was perfectly cast in regards to the characters and their roles…and I can’t wait to see where the show is taken next.

The story involves Ed Mercer being given the chance to Captain the Planetary Union ship known as the U.S.S. Orville. He soon learns his ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson will be his First Officer as they must sort out their issues as the new crew faces the drama of one another and the wider Universe the Planetary Union inhabits in the 25th Century. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is a lot like “Star Trek” but a bit similar to our reality in that rather than the vague spirituality of Trek, everyone in the future is an atheist if they are part of the Planetary Union or any future person. There are countless aliens, most are humanoid (like “Star Trek”) but the Union is strong but not the strongest. The highly religious and zealotesque Krill are and they are a fantastic enemy in the episodes they come up in. Most of the episodes are solving dilemmas though, whether it is finding ancient ships and a civ. on board, interacting with a bronze age people that advances rapidly, or passing into 2D space. Like “Star Trek” this is a universe rich with possibilities.

The Crew of “The Orville” – The crew is overall amazing. I’m giving certain characters special treatment though, because they stood out to me and will mention some other notable things in this summary. The characters are complicated, you have Doctor Claire Finn who is woman who chose single motherhood because she wanted to be a mom and could have kids without needs a spouse or partner, you have Lt. Commander LaMarr who hid his intelligence because in the colony he came from it was looked down upon, but in turn becomes the Chief Engineer on the ship, you have Bortus who fights for the right of his child to choose his own gender in a species that has only males and a few others who I will go into deeper into the review of the show. The least notable is Lt. Gordon Malloy who is comedic and good at being a pilot and that is the extent. He isn’t complicated.

Alara – Alara is one of my favorite characters. She is the security officer on the ship and comes from a planet where her gravity is heavier so her species is stronger than most. We learn they also as a culture look down on military and similar professions as they see it as below their intellect. She went against her parents to join the Planetary Alliance and because of it holds herself to an impossible standard, and we see it when in an episode she faces her worst fears and the worst fears of her crew members and succeeds. It is a powerful episode and reaffirmed why she is one of my favorite characters on the show.

Isaac – Isaac is from a race of artificial non-biological beings who believe themselves to be the most superior life forms in the galaxy. Isaac joined in order to learn about humankind, and is our Data stand in. His arc is him learning how to care for humans and organics beyond just studying them and it is handled really well. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes.

Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson – The main arc that drives the story is the relationship between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson. They are divorced after Grayson cheated on Mercer with a blue alien. We later learn the alien can make anyone fall in love with him when it is going through mating and that might have been what happened. There are a few false starts and with each friendship grows between them but Grayson cuts it off in the finale when she realizes that their love is causing Mercer to do things he wouldn’t have usually done as a Captain that put him and others at risk so they cut it off. It is touching and the arc is fun.

The Secular Future – The future is won by science and I loved it. This is a future where humanity has myths still but they mostly come from television shows and past knowledge, as far as we know there isn’t supernatural and there is no religion to speak of beyond the Krill or less advanced species and it usually comes up as a problem. Seth MacFarlane wrote this and it shows, and for what its worth as a secular agnostic humanist, I enjoyed this future greatly. Like “Star Trek” it showed a world not defined by religion but by even deeper ideas of self.

Exploring Dilemmas – One of the great things about “Star Trek” that “The Orville” does well is the exploration of moral dilemmas. Be they dilemmas of culture and technology (justice by “likes” and “dislikes”) the agency of a person within in a nation in regards to their family (an all male species forcing a newborn born female to be turned male and her choice being taken away, and this species if a major player in the Planetary Union) why there are rules for first contact (Kelly sets off a religion on a planet that exists orbiting through universes when she heals a little girl with her technology)  and countless other dilemmas where crew-members have to make choices where there isn’t always a clear answer.

Okay: The Humor – The humor is good at times but falls short on others when it has characters like Lt. Gordon going on away missions, when all he does is jokes, or Lt. LaMarr grinding on a statue on an alien society and no one on the crew being briefed on how the culture they were down studying worked as they searched for scientists who had gone missing…The humor made these stories that were largely solidly written otherwise, to go down in quality. Cheap laughs are not the way to go. When the show nails it, it is amazing, but it wasn’t consistent.

The Series Arc / The Episodic Nature of the Show – The show is largely episodic with the only consistent arc being Ed and Kelly working through what their relationship is now. I would have preferred more of an arc with the Krill, they do still a giant Krill warship in the last episode the Krill are in but it doesn’t go anywhere after that. That was missed potential that made the show not really get the great exit it deserved, since it really did have a great entrance. Solidly good show, but not great.

This is a show that if you are a fan of sci. fi., “Star Trek” or Seth MacFarlane, you will probably enjoy. This is easily the best thing he’s ever done by miles and I’m glad the show was renewed for another season. Where he chooses to take the show remains to be seen, as it could remain like TNG and TOS and largely remain episodic with some powerful episodes along the way, or it could go the way of DS9 and later ENT and give us some powerful arcs that payoff on a personal and galactic scale. I’m all for finding a good medium inbetween as well, arc episodes and bottle episodes together. As someone whose missed “Star Trek” since it went off the air and all we had were movies, this and “Discovery” made this Trekkie happy. If you like “Star Trek,” you should at least give this show a chance.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Humor often time hurt the drama and lack of an overall arc kept the season from greatness.

 

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

What Happened to Monday (2017): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller That Explores Identity and Human Value

  “What Happened to Monday” is the type of dystopian Science Fiction that I love. It feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, which has lead to some of my favorite films adapted from his work…from “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and the original “Total Recall.” The films give us future tech. but also a world that is fascist and dehumanizes it’s population in some way, this film is cut from that same cloth and is executed so well it has become one of my favorites.

The film was directed by Tommy Wirkola, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, Fabrice Gianfermi and Philippe Rousselot.

The story takes place in a overcrowded, polluted dystopian future where families can only have one child. When Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace who also plays her daughters) has 7 identical twins her Grandfather Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides their existence by having them adopt their mother’s identity and pretending to be one person. When Monday goes missing years later it is up to her sister’s to solve the mystery and keep their secret safe.

The Pros: Self and Identity – One of the major themes that the film explores is the issue of identity, given that the 7 sisters have each adopted the identity of Karen Settman and can only be themselves when they are trapped in the house. This leads to some of them to fully embrace the idea of the character and believe they are them, forgetting the day of the week they are as each of them deals with it in different ways by either escaping (Tuesday is a druggy) or embracing their roles outside of the identity of Karen as we have the one always in training to protect and the tech. who is tracking all the events that happen in the search for Monday. Each of them express who they are in different ways and in the end we see how that connection to identity shapes the survivors as there are a few name changes at the end tied to the history of the characters.

Individualism, Collectivism and Human Value – The film starts out showing how global warming has been leading to mass destruction and starvation and the steps the government takes to make sure the overall human population can survive. This is most scene in the one child policy and how C.A.B. takes the siblings when that happens so that they are out of the competition for food. At one point Glenn Close’s character debates with one of the sisters on that very question and points out how if more people had been like their mother the world would be dead given the lack of food. This question is never fully answered and the fallout of the finale leaves things open as far as what will happen to humanity. Glenn Close’s character was a villain whose intentions were good but we see how in going collectivist it misses the point of the value of the individual contrasted with the beginning that showed how individualism taken to the extreme with no thought of the world and future lead to the dystopia in the first place. The film comes out on the side of individualism but given the opening, I believe it leaves things open enough as to what the future of this world and ours hold.

Okay: The 7 Sisters and the Danger of Stock Characters – Noomi Rapace is an amazing actress. We see her play 8 characters, each with different levels of depth. Honestly this film would have worked better as a show as a few of the sisters I couldn’t even place in regards to their motivation, they only existed as a stereotype (the tough woman, etc.) She did give a lot of depth to certain characters though, the greatest being Saturday, Friday. Monday and Tuesday. We can see where their conflict comes from too as Dafoe’s performance as their grandfather is amazing given he is willing to go any length to protect them (if one loses a finger, they all have to if they are continue playing the role of Karen Settman so suspicion will not occur) to keep the lie going, even though that leads to harm to them all and shows just how broken this world and he himself is. Each of the sisters carry that damage with them as well as carrying the lie of Karen Settman, the role each must play during their day of the week. The stock types make the reveal a little predictable at the end but it still managed to surprise me in other ways in regards to who lives and dies when the government is hunting them and in regards to what happened to Monday after she goes missing.

This is a film I highly recommend. I’m staying away from spoilers because it is an easy film to catch, as it is on Netflix currently. I was never bored during this film and the action and ideas kept me waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know whether it will make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is certainly one of my favorite films. Dafoe and Rapace owned the roles they played and the ideas of identity and human value are explored so beautifully through the world and the sisters that I can’t help but recommend this film. This is an original and isn’t based off any prior property. I really want to see more sci. fi.’s of this level of quality in the future, that pull from themes and show the different costs of existence, society and identity.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 1: Ghost Pain – A Conspiracy to Start the Major’s Beginnings

      “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series is a great re-imagining of the character and series as it gives different more to each of their backstory and recruitment into Section 9 as well as giving us the story behind who the Major is and how she became the person she is. It is masterful (I’ve watched the first 2 episodes thus far, this being the first review) and I like what they’ve done. It is better than the recent live action film and the character redesigns work. If you are a fan of the anime films and the show as I am, you will no doubt appreciate this OVA. The series of films were directed by Kazuchika Kise and written by Tow Ubukata.

   “Ghost Pain’s” story involves the Major investigating the death of an arms dealer who was killed by a robotic land mine after the end of World War IV. Batou is investigating as well as he believes her to be responsible as is Detective Togusa as Colonel Kurtz of her unit the 501st is trying to stop her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The re-imagined world is amazing! Adding the context of World War IV, and from that most cyborgs are now veterans of some sort adds a context to the character that only really came in the show later when we got character centric episode. It lended power to the world and made it interesting. It also explained the tech. as war often times leads to technological advances.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and like the show and some of the films is a mixture of 2D and 3D animation. It flows seamlessly and I enjoyed most of the character designs, even if it took a while for me to get used to the Major being in a smaller body. The characters are still themselves, they are just given a different and more context to who they are which the animation helps illustrate.

The Conspiracy – The conspiracy is fascinating and involves a member of the 501st covering up that one of their own was the one involved in the weapons dealing and in turn was infected by a “Ghost Hack,” which lead to her loss of memory, which when she realizes her unit was behind the cover-up leads to her using to gain control of her body and gain her freedom from the unit.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Ghost Pain” is no different. Each of them is given time, though what they needed was more time to make this film great.

Togusa – Togusa is the Detective who stumbles upon the area where the mines are after he is tracking the killings of prostitutes in the district. It is here he works with Batou and the Major to fight them off and take on the two officers controlling them as they than escape.

Colonel Kurtz – Kurtz is the one who repairs Kusanagi and is the closest thing she has a to a friend in her unit. There is clearly more going on with her as we learn she is behind the conspiracy at the end, so she isn’t to be trusted…but Major does because of their history. How true that will be later remains to be seen.

Batou -Batou blames Major for the death of the man who was the weapon’s dealer from her unit. He is stubborn and tough but Major is better and we see they have a history together as his Rangers worked with her unit. By the end she is proven innocent but he still doesn’t fully trust her.

Aramaki – Aramaki is the one believes in the Major and sees her potential when she figures out the trap early on, as her commander, the weapons dealer in the coffin was replaced by a living mine. By the end she somewhat accepts his help in the formation of Section 9 and we see they have a working relationship.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is a genius hacker and a bit of the black sheep in her unit as she hates being owned by them by having the artificial body she grew up in after her parents were killed when she was born from a chemical attack. She is hardened but we see her quest for knowledge as the driving force, which is the most essential part of the Major. Through the film we see her deal with the ghost pain which makes her vulnerable and freeze and the “Ghost Hack” that was done to her commander who was the weapons dealer. In finding the truth she reveals the conspiracy, which finally gives her freedom from her unit.

The Cons: Not Enough Time – Togusa and Batou both feel very underdeveloped. I put them as pros because they still feel like their characters and it is fascinating to see what they were doing before Section 9 but they could have been more fully formed. This film needed another half hour and that would have brought it to a 9.

The Need for Clearer Answers – At the end I still had questions about some of what was going on. Whether the Major’s parents had died of the chemical attack, etc. I felt we never really got that when it was okay to give a clear answer after the Logicomo was linked with the Major. The answers could have been much clearly stated.

  This animated film beats the live action film as it captures the Major perfectly, even if she is physically smaller, she still has the same personality and it is great seeing her beginnings and getting her backstory, as well as seeing that she is a hacker and that is why she is great at entering the net and dealing with giant threats later on. She is also vulnerable too and I loved the “ghost pain” idea as an inborn trauma. It gave her vulnerablity and I really loved how the episode was her quest for freedom from the 501st so she could own her own body. It was really good at the characters each feel real, even if the lack of time keeps many of them from getting as developed as they could.

Final Score: 8 / 10

The Twilight Zone – Season 3, Episode 24 – “To Serve Man” – A Critique of Colonialism and Idealism

to-serve-man-the-twilight-zone

   We continue “Horror Month” with The Twilight Zone’s, “To Serve Man.” This is a fantastic and powerful episode on the show and so far is the best episode I’ve watched from this series. It has many layers and a depth that I’ll get into further into the review.

    The story was written by Rod Serling and directed by Richard L. Bare.

      The story involves a man being transported on an alien ship as he recounts how he got there when the Kanamits arrived to bring peace to Earth.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of aliens arriving and bringing peace, with a catch is a fascinating one and one that the show does really well.

The World – The world is really cool as they showed a time during war that the Kanamits were able to take advantage of, so the prosperity and technology they brought would obviously make people sated or want to visit where these strange saviors come from. The Kanamits look humanesque but are just alien enough to for their motivations to remain hidden.

The Reveal – The reveal is that the book the Kanamit leaves behind called “To Serve Man” is actually a cookbook and that they wanted to bring peace to the world in order to breed them as livestock.

Empire and Colonization – The Kanamit’s conquest is powerful and one that makes sense too in regards to history. How many Empires were able to hold power was by bringing “civilization” to other people and than using that as cover to exploit the populace, whether it was for soldiers, taxes, slaves, etc. This episode just shows one of those forms of conquest down to it’s base form.

Comfort and Resistance – When humanity was happy they stopped resisting. In a way the episode reminds us not to ever be satisfied that it is in striving and struggle that we are aware, which fits in regards to evolution and animal survival.

The Cons: Character Development – This is a problem in most episodes of “The Twilight Zone” as the writers at the end of the day are more focused on exploring concepts rather than characters. There are a few exceptions but I didn’t care about the code breaker or his girlfriend because we don’t see them do anything beyond reacting to what the Kanamits do. They don’t have a motivation beyond being props to serve the story.

   Minus the human characters this is actually a great episode and is very High Concept Science Fiction as it explores deeper ideas in a simple premise of aliens coming in peace but really having another agenda. If you are a fan of sci. fi., especially of the classic variety, check this episode out.

Final Score: 9 / 10