Tag Archives: film

Ghost Busted in the Shell

Science fiction is a large genre, so large, in fact, that there are sub genres within it. One such niche enjoys a nearly rabid fan base and those devotees refuse to brook any content not in keeping with a narrowly defined parameter for the niche, and that is cyberpunk. In the late 80’s and 90’s, cyberpunk was a growing segment of the Sci Fi phenomenon with its dystopian view of a future where people are fully integrated with technology so that entertainment is had by plugging one’s brain directly into the network. Many cyberpunk movies have enjoyed widespread appeal, such as the Matrix series, while others have fallen flat. One of the more eagerly awaited cinema treatments of a cyberpunk classic is The Ghost in the Shell, and the cyberpunk faithful have resoundingly decried the movie as a failure. Their beef with the film centers more around the casting of Scarlet Johansen as the protagonist, because Johansen is white and the story features an Asian in the role, rather than discussing the real problems with the film, and there are many.

The story centers around a cyborg referred to as “Major” who works for the ministry of security, section 9 in an unnamed future metropolis that looks like a concatenation of Hong Kong, San Francisco,Beijing, New York and any number of other large cities. Major is hot on the trail of a cyber terrorist whom she believes is responsible for the death of her parents and her current condition as a cyborg. During the course of the story, she uncovers a conspiracy that shakes the foundation of her understanding of her identity.

The contrived plot is not a new one and it has been depicted in TV shows and other films several times. The characters are flat and unworthy of empathy and the cinematography is a cacophony of color and light that hurts the eyes and disorients the viewer. The action seems disconnected from the plot and is used just to distract from the otherwise boring and uninspired story.

The one redeeming aspect of this film is Scarlett Johansson, but not for her performance. Johansson’s characterization of Major doesn’t let the viewer into her personal struggle, despite scenes written just for that purpose. She coasts through those scenes, looking confused and detached where one would expect a sharp focus. Her performance was less “Natalia Romanov” and more “Lucy,” with a lot of jumping, running and shooting. The only thing about her performance, and the film in general, that could be construed as positive is the skin tight body suit she wear during combat scenes. The effects of peeling her artificial skin, or detaching her face are interesting, but they’ve been done before. Her nearly perfect physical form, however, is unique and is the only reason to sit through this dismal failure of story telling.

Major’s partner in the film, Batou played by Pilou Asbæk, is the only character that creates a connection with the viewer, but the writers don’t give him enough story. For those who follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he could be excellent casting for Cable in any upcoming X-Men film.

If you are a fan of Scarlett, see it at the matinee, otherwise, wait for cable. It is not worth full admission price at a mainstream theater.

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Doctor Strange Casts a Powerful Spell

I never was a big fan of Doctor Strange, until now. Marvel is well into its “Phase 3” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and fans have almost universally loved every one. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man were long shots that surpassed everyone’s expectations, including mine. This week’s Doctor Strange follows suit.

Benedict Cumberpatch of Star Trek Into Darkness and Sherlock fame plays one of the country’s leading surgeons, Dr. Steven Strange, who through negligence born of his own ego, crashes his car and ruins his hands. Despite several cutting edge medical procedures, he cannot regain the full use of his hands and his career looks like it’s over. Never one to accept failure, he travels to Nepal to seek out a rumored alternative treatment, only to find out it involves mysticism, something his rational mind cannot grasp. Enter Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One, a guru who shows Strange the limits of his mind. He begs to be trained and quickly learns the art and could become one of its masters, if he can only let go of his own demons before he has to combat other worldly ones.

While I have only read a little of the comic title from which this movie is drawn, Cumberpatch is the perfect casting both physically and stylistically for the character. He is clearly one of the best actors of his age and he delivers a flawless performance as the nascent sorcerer, destined to save the world. As Dr. Strange learns to accept his injuries and work around them, the viewer gets a real sense of the loss and acceptance through Cumberpatch’s portrayal. And as he learns more of the art, his confidence grows and becomes more obvious in each interaction (read fight) with the bad guys.

Rachel McAdams plays Christine, Strange’s erstwhile love interest who serves to keep the sorcerer grounded while he deals with the astral plane. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a sorcerer who helps Strange learn the arts and combat the bad guys and Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, the evil sorcerer bent on destroying the world.

The action is not overdone and just enough to keep the viewers riveted in their seats while the outstanding cast develops a fine plot with enough drama to emote and the occasional gut wrenching laugh Marvel is famous for.

The special effects in this film are gut wrenching, in that as the characters alter reality, they change the orientation of the world to suit their needs. Vertigo is a real risk here, especially if one sees the 3-D version, which I fully recommend. No film since Avatar is as good in 3-D as this one.

I put Doctor Strange into the top three of MCU titles, alongside Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Civil War. This is a must see even if it wasn’t critical to setting up next year’s Avengers: Infinity War (which it is, by the way). Go see it and not only that, spring for the 3-D, and that is a recommendation I have never given.

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