Tag Archives: film

Ghost in the Shell

GHOST IN THE SHELLFor a movie whose very title references souls and finding meaning within glossy shells, Ghost in the Shell is unbearably hollow.  The packaging is nice but there is nothing underneath. At all.  It will leave you with a number of questions but none of them will be existential.

The first question is how uncomfortable should you be that in what I’m guessing is future Japan (judging from the robot geishas and the right-hand drive cars), basically everyone is white and speaks English. The answer, as always with Hollywood, is VERY.

The next question is how much are you allowed to take inspiration from classic sci-fi (and also shitty sci-fi) before you’re ripping people off. The answer is NOT THIS MUCH OBVIOUSLY YOU LAZY BASTARDS. Ghost in the Shell drops us into a grimy, dark, rainy future full of 3D billboards. To describe it as drawing from Blade Runner is too generous. There are elements of other fictional futures as well, like the Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, and even Tron (lightcycles!). While this movie looks great at every turn, the total lack of originality left me cold.

Next question: does it count as good acting when Scarlett Johansson convincingly plays a Ghost_in_the_Shell_Scarlett_Johansson_2_aeac805303d6c795b51ea920f763a012.pngbeautiful but emotionless robot? As always, the answer is DEFINITELY YES AS LONG AS SHE RSVPS from the Hollywood Foreign Press and PROBABLY SINCE WE NOMINATED ENOUGH BLACK PEOPLE LAST YEAR WE HAVE A 5TH SLOT FOR A WHITE IN 2018 from the Academy.

Bonus question: does it count as nudity when a nipple-less female robot fights while basically naked? That’s a tough one but after much thought, the answer is SHOWING NIPPLES MAY AT LEAST HAVE DISTRACTED THE AUDIENCE SO THEY DIDN’T WONDER WHY THE ROBOT THAT CAN TURN INVISIBLE DOESN’T JUST STAY INVISIBLE ALL THE TIME DURING FIGHTS.

Obviously, lots of questions were raised by Ghost in the Shell, but none of them engage in anything interesting. Instead of the mundane, the film could have delved into questions like what are the attributes that make us human, whether memory is vital to identity, or why are we as a society unable to ascribe value to function in the same way we do to beauty.  Elements of those interesting questions are present in Ghost in the Shell but the film seems incapable of dealing with them. That is Ghost in the Shell’s biggest failing and the reason it gets a score of four glitches in the Matrix out of ten.

 

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SXSW: Small Town Crime

small-town-crime-F68309No matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything at a festival like SXSW. To prepare for these big festivals, we study the schedule like our lives depend on it, read the synopses repeatedly, and try to see as many of our favourite artists as possible.  All that prep work helps a lot, but sometimes a tight schedule makes a choice for us. That happened today with Small Town Crime and we were better off for it. Put simply, Small Town Crime is an indie gem that is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.

Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime sparkles.  We are introduced right away to Hawkes’ suitably pathetic, yet undeniably charming, alcoholic ex-cop. He’s got a few skeletons too many in his closet, so he needs some breakfast beers in order to get underway each afternoon. But he is determined not to let that disease keep him from solving a mystery that falls right into his lap.

ian-nelms-F68309Functioning both as a whodunnit and an offbeat action-comedy, Small Town Crime is consistently good, especially when Hawkes’ character shares the screen with Forster’s concerned grandfather and Clifton Collins Jr.’s refreshingly self-aware pimp.  Writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms clearly recognized what they had and give those three characters a hefty share of screen time. That must have been particularly difficult here since the cast is extremely deep. Even with the focus on that trio, I was left wanting to see more of them. I’d be first in line for a sequel (or a television series) showcasing more of their adventures.

In addition to its fantastic characters, Small Town Crime also delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts). Small Town Crime is a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

If you’re at SXSW, you still have two more chances to see Small Town Crime on March 12 and 17, and otherwise, you should cross your fingers for this film to get a well-deserved wide release.

Logan

loganWe reached comic book movie overload several years ago and the number of those movies has only increased since. It seems clear they are not going away anytime soon. At least there are a few I can sell to Jay as having something original to offer. It helps that she has endless patience for the things I enjoy. Based on its trailers and positive reviews, Logan was one of the easier sells in recent memory. And while I doubt it justified the superhero movie genre’s continued prominence for her, I think she may have enjoyed it. Well, once the Deadpool trailer ended – I’m pretty sure she hated that especially since it pretended to be the start of the film.

nepbctpbbkoesw_2_bLogan is an interesting take on a superhero movie. It’s based on Old Man Logan but barely. It includes X-23 and Professor X, but that’s about it for recognizable mutants. It’s not a franchise builder; it’s a coda. And that’s a refreshing change that helps the movie immensely. We’re so used to these movies going bigger and bigger that I found it immensely refreshing that Logan chose to act like a regular, standalone movie, and tell a self-contained story that entertained on its own merits.

I also found it fascinating that this movie is set in a quasi-apocalyptic America, circa 2029, where all the Americans wanted to escape to Canada, and it was an entirely believable situation. ikea-mexico-border-wall-spoof_dezeen_heroThanks to the election of Donald Trump, the collapse of the U.S. in the next 12 years feels like a realistic scenario. So you best be nice to us or we will build our own border wall at your expense. Yeah, it sounds just as stupid when I say it as when Trump does.

Anyway, in conclusion, Logan is awesome and you should go see it. It’s a really good movie that happens to star everyone’s favourite X-Man, a few times over. Farewell, Hugh Jackman. I am comforted somewhat by the fact your Wolverine will continue to exist in the hundred alternate timelines created throughout the course of the past nine X-Men movies. So let’s not say goodbye, let’s just say, “Hugh! Come back!”

Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!

Patriots Day

patriotsday-markwahlberg-marathonbannerTerrorists are despicable. They take lives or limbs and create chaos and fear, sometimes in support of twisted ideology, sometimes just for kicks, and always demonstrate a complete lack of humanity. Sensational as their actions are, what deserves recognition are not the acts themselves, but the responses by the terrorists’ targets.

Patriots Day revisits Boston’s response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It is a difficult watch but it has to be. We have to feel the weight of the loss in order to appreciate Bostonians’ courage in the face of a homegrown terrorist attack by two brothers who, from outward appearances, were just a couple of millenials trying to find their way (bizarrely, at least one apparently was a 9/11 truther).

Patriots Day provides a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the bombings and then the hunt for these monsters who intended to strike Times Square next. They killed three people with their bombs and killed two more cops in the aftermath. Amidst the carnage, the police remain focused on bringing these suspects in alive, and it seems they might have succeeded in that endeavour but for the brothers’ lunacy.

Peter Berg and Mark Walhberg have turned these real life disaster movies (tragopics?) into big business for themselves, and Patriots Day improves on their formula from Deepwater Horizon.  Both movies take an arms’ length approach and do a good job of sticking to the facts. These characters are not perfect because they don’t need to be. Some, like Mark Wahlberg’s character, are composites. That is a bit weird when we are introduced to the real people at the end of the movie and the main character is missing, but in the middle of the crisis the character feels real and that’s what matters most. This movie feels real as well and is definitely worth watching.

I suspect even if Wahlberg’s character were real, he would not have given such a perfect off-the-cuff speech at the climax, but again, it works. It works because it captures how the people of Boston responded to this terrible event: not with hate or fear, but with determination, resolve, and strength. In the immortal words of David Ortiz (who appears in the film):

 

 

Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

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It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Collateral Beauty

collateral-beauty-trailerWhile searching for Will Smith’s filmography, I was surprised to see the pleasure with which critics are tearing this movie apart. The reason I was looking for Smith’s info was to try to figure out whether Collateral Beauty is his best dramatic performance (and I quickly realized that since I haven’t seen Ali, I’m disqualified from weighing in on that topic). With that lead-in, it probably goes without saying that I again think it’s been too long since the critics were thrown a juicy morsel, they’re searching for anything to bite down on as a result, and Collateral Beauty has been flagged as an easy target.

Collateral Beauty is not a great movie by any means, but it’s very watchable for several reasons. First, Smith reminds us that he can hold his own against anyone, no matter how many Oscar nominations/wins they may have (his co-stars in Collateral Beauty, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightly, have two Oscar wins and countless nominations between them – incidentally, how does Michael Pena not have any yet?). Smith is consistently the most interesting person on screen even though for a significant portion of the movie he doesn’t say a word.

Second, there’s something undeniably watchable as the movie tries to take aim at cliches, even when it does so by using other cliches. Perhaps it’s just that the cliches that bother me the most were the ones under attack. I can’t really say any more without spoiling some of the characters’ arcs, so if you want more of a rant on that point then feel free to request more details in the comments section.

Third, I found out early on that I was wrong about how the movie’s plot would play out in a major way, which almost never happens nowadays due to the sheer number of trailers foisted on me (especially when half of them have no qualms about spoiling the best parts of the movie they’re promoting). On a related note, seeing a movie in Hawaii earlier this week was sobering because I think they showed every trailer currently in rotation. I am sure Canadian theatres will soon follow suit and it’s already too much here! Just let me watch the movie I paid for already.

Since I’ve started complaining (it never takes too long), it seems like a good time to talk about negatives from Collateral Beauty, and there are some significant ones.  The bigggest problem is that Smith’s character’s supposed friends treat him in the worst way imaginable during the worst time of his life, and it seems we are supposed to forgive them for it. The film attempts to make it easier for us to do that but its method requires a major swerve by Smith’s character that came too quickly to feel natural, as well as a twist that seemed too convenient a fix.

That same convenient fix also transformed the tertiary characters’ motivations from awful to divine and again the turn felt too abrupt. While it made thematic sense and actually tied the movie together well, the execution was too rough to be satisfying (and it also gave rise to a new (/old) complaint about the trailer that I can’t discuss without getting into spoilers so again, comment if you’re curious to hear more of a rant on this point).

All in all, Collateral Beauty is worth a watch and is definitely not deserving of the hatred it’s receiving from critics. It’s quite decent and gets bonus points for making me choke up a few times (something that doesn’t happen very often). Sure, it’s cheating a bit by focusing on death and loss, but Collateral Beauty is intended as a tearjerker and wholeheartedly embraces its nature. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Collateral Beauty knows what it is and delivers exactly what you’d expect. If you’re in the mood for a sob story then this is your horse. I think riding this teary pony wore Jay out, though, so be prepared if you’re a real cryer like Jay as opposed to a robot who occasionally feels sad (which is the category Jay has put me in and I’ve really got no valid argument against it – beep-boop).

Collateral Beauty gets a score of six teary-eyed robots out of ten.